Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Five Things about the St Lawrence String Quartet

I caught the Penn State performance of the St. Lawrence String Quartet (pictured below left) with soprano Heidi Grant Murphy (seen right) and pianist Kevin Murphy (below right) last night in State College.

1. The program was re-arranged, and as violinist Geoff Nuttall explained on the second half - despite their manager's insistance - that "the best was saved for last", even though it was the "modern piece." Nuttall said his dad used to complain in Canada that he'd go to concerts and have to sit through the modern piece before he could get to the romantic stuff.
In this case, it was the world premiere of Roberto Sierra's Songs of the Diaspora (Sierra pictured very bottom left). Geoff also joked (with the help of an usher?) that the doors were barred, and a clunk was heard! No one left after the announcement either.
So the line up was Chausson, Shostakovich, intermission, Debussy and Sierra. (Originally and printed in the program were the Shostakovich, Chausson, Sierra, Debussy.)

2. Ernest Chausson’s Chanson Perp├ętuelle, or Song without End, was a delightful way to begin the program, and in the capable hands of Heidi Grant Murphy, Kevin Murphy and the St. Lawrence Quartet (hereafter referred as SLSQ), you really didn't want the song to end. Especially charming was the ease of Murphy's voice changing from silky smooth melodic lines to nasal French inflections.

3. The SLSQ were like cartoon caricatures, in the best possible sense. In a way, they reminded me of the Guarneri Quartet circa 1980s: a virtuosic, flashy First Violinist, and steady and reliable Second Violinist, and mellow yet astounding Violist, and a energetic and well grounded Cellist.
Really the lineup for the SLSQ is just right, they ineract superbly and with the same musical and physical motion. Their Shostakovich Third Quartet, out on EMI Classics with the 7th and 8th Quartets, is dead on. And live, it was superb.

4. After intermission, I was thoughly disappointed by the Debussy performance. It wasn't that the flippant and carefree reading wasn't without excitement or depth. At times, it was breathtaking and gorgeous, but too many times the tempos were overdone, ridiculously slow and predictable accelerations - which could have been effective if it were annoying and for no apparent musical reason. There were also some humorous missed notes, such as glissandi that never made it to the actual note. I should say it was all done in the SLSQ character and with a good unison ensemble approach. It just wasn't enjoyable for myself. Ol' Claude might have done a little spinning himself in the grave along with me in my seat.

5. Roberto Sierra's Songs of the Diaspora was the reason I was at this concert, and I wasn't disappointed. Again, Murphy & Murphy joined the SLSQ for perhaps what was the biggest workout of the night. Sure, there were some ensemble issues (Scott St. John taking the 1st Violinist spot wasn't together with Violist Lesley Robertson on the opening Ocean/Klezmerish run - although when it returned, they were spot on) but overall it was a dynamic and interesting piece. The mostly lyric and traditional songs are of a moderate tempo and let each member make some music - lots of harmonics, pizzicati and wonderful interaction for the quartet and piano.
Of the seven, two are at a faster tempo: the fourth, "My mother-in-law, the evil one" and the final "The siren" are engaging and dramatic. They help shape the cycle from the idyllic trance Sierra weaves. Besides the rhythmic uniformity, I thought there might have been more ensemble variety, but then again, if you're writing for a piano quintet and soprano, why NOT have them busy all the time?
While the director of the arts center mentioned to be quiet while following the texts (they had an insert of all the songs with translations) the performers still had to wait for all of the noise to stop as the audience turned pages quite loudly (at least it wasn't typically during the music, but between movements!)
All-in-all, the Songs are well crafted and suit the strengths of the ensemble in an imaginative way.

The Songs of the Diaspora will be played across the country by these artists, catch it if you can!

Afterthought, or Post-Script: I hate mentioning what the performer wore, but yes, Heidi made a wardrobe change (no manfunctions, hahaha) - from a gorgeous springlike ensemble for the Chausson to a elegant black outfit for the Sierra.
You can read another account of this evening here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Five Things about Ernesto Tamayo

I spent the day in Washington, DC on Sunday, to hear Cuban guitarist Ernesto Tamayo play at the Kennedy Center.
1. The program was packed with music! Ernesto played with very few pauses a dazzling program of Bach, Mangore, Sor, Brouwer and Rodrigo.

2. I've heard Ernesto perform for quite awhile, from chamber music performances in Wichita, KS to his Carnegie Hall debut. I haven't heard him sound finer than Sunday night. Simply put, Ernesto is at the top of his game.

3. Especially astounding was the Mangore set Ernesto included. Not only was it musically moving, but technically spectacular. As a string player, the harmonics Tamayo nailed were pleasing and unbelievable - lottery ticket buying performance - yeah, a performance that was awe-inspiring and jaw dropping.

4. The crowd was huge. And of all ages. There were two young kids in front of me that bobbed to the music, and unfortunately two kids to the side of me that did NOT behave as well - who eventually were quelled(?) or corrected by their guardian. This was my first but not last Millenium Stage concert. Definitely check out the link at the bottom to see their webcasts.

5. Ernesto's program was engaging and pleasing. It's too bad the actual music program wasn't printed, or that he would have known to announce the pieces from the stage. It was great to hear this young guitarist and look to many more concerts and recitals to come. If he's in your area, take some time out to hear a fine classical musician, one of the brightest of our time.

You can see and hear the concert later on the Kennedy Center website here.

There are also two interviews I've done with Ernesto, that you can read here and here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Some scenes

From my trip around DC on Sunday:
John enjoying a cigar in Dupont Circle.
A video screen from the Kennedy Center for the day's events (note Ernesto Tamayo performing.)

John having a petite cigar outside the Kennedy Center with Watergate in the background.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Audio or video

Well, I recently put together a "day in the life" track for a project. You see last Saturday I really was in Philadelphia in the morning interviewing Gerard Schwarz, and in the afternoon I went to York where I taped spots with Paula Poundstone for WITF, before her show at the Strand Capitol. Mondo busy!

So you can listen to the audio [mp3 file] here.
you can see the presentation, I take all the blame for the bad video edits/choices, [wma file] here.
Let me know if I should do other projects like these, leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Another chance

I have always enjoyed Knockin' on Heaven's Door, whether it was the original or a cover.
Here's another video from Bob Way of Paul, Zach and yours truly at Eckels playing it. Enjoy!
[photo of Friday's audience from the musician's view]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In case you weren't there

Last Friday we had a blast at Eckel's Drug Store in Mechanicsburg. Paul Zavinsky, myself and Zach Baldwin-Way played some tunes, from (Bob) Dylan to (John) Denver; folk, blues and originals.
Here's a video from Bob Way of our "blues jam." Enjoy!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Original Aboriginal!

Thanks to ArtsJournal music for this link: Observer article
It is Europe's oldest known music, with its own bloody history. Now the 'yoik' of the Sami people is being revived - with a hip new twist, reports Chris Campion from the Arctic Circle

Here in Harribsurg we've gotten a dusting of snow, so it's nice to read about this and think about the north.

Wildly popular composer

I spoke with Karl Jenkins yesterday afternoon. He's one of those wild success stories - his music is in commercials, recently in Carnegie Hall and even on the big screen.
You can read my posts and hear portions of the interview here and here for WITF.

I'll also post my performance from Wichita State University a few years ago where I conducted his Palladio with the summer orchestra.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Interviews and entertainment

From Philly to York, I was all over Pennsylvania, talking with some of my favorites on Saturday.
I started in the morning at the Kimmel Center, talking with maestro Gerard Schwarz, the director of the Seattle Symphony, who is in Philadelphia conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. [You might be interested in hearing part of my interview with the last guest conductor of the COoP, JoAnn Falletta here.]
It was a real joy to catch some of the rehearsal and see Schwarz work with the musicians. I had previously interviewed him for 20/20 Hearing over the phone, but it was great to make the connection.

Look for the interview audio soon.

I then went to York in the afternoon, to record some custom spots with Paula Poundstone. (Hear my original phone interview for ArtBeat here.) She was a hoot, and signed my copy of her new book. I'll post a few of the outtakes here soon.

It was great catching her act last night at the Strand Capitol, and hearing from WITF listeners how much they enjoy her on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Jamming and Java

Lots of fun Friday night in Mechanicsburg, as Paul, Zach and I played for a fun crowd at Eckel's Drug Store.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Oh the irony

I've watched all of two football games this year, both playoff games. Yet, I've won my fantasy football league on Yahoo!
Now, I enjoy and follow hockey much more than any other sport, and this year I'm #12 and #6 in those leagues. Go figure. Maybe I'll do better after the allstar break.

(Note the 2002 championship for hockey - and a 3rd place too! That 2003 2nd place should note it was a hard championship league from winning 2002!)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Now and ahead

There's a great question and answer going on over at maestro Stuart Malina's blog, check it out here.

Tomorrow night, from 8 to 10pm, I'll be performing with Paul Zavinsky & Zach Baldwin-Way ay Eckel's Drug Store in Mechanicsburg - it's the debut of Zach's new mandolin, come on over and check it out - have some coffee or ice cream and maybe even dance a bit!

Saturday morning I catch some of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia with Gerard Schwarz and have an interview with the maestro (read my previous review of the COoP here); then head back to York to catch the hilarious Paula Poundstone, and have her record some spots for WITF. (listen to my interview with Paula here)

Sunday I was going to go to Merkin Hall to hear Trio Soloisti & Friends, but I have to car shop, no way of getting around it anymore!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Voice of the Violinist

Take a peek and hear my interview with Joshua Bell on the New Releases Blog from WITF.
I spoke with him yesterday morning briefly. He'll be in Philadelphia on February 7th at the Kimmel Center. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

So this is how they start

[rumors that is!]
Anyone else a bit curious to two seemingly unrelated cancellations?
First, there's Renee Fleming not appearing this week with the NY Philharmonic in their Toscanini Tribute...

and Thomas Quasthoff not appearing this week with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Mahler's Kindertotenlieder...


Just kidding, I know nothing of a tryst with Quasthoff and Fleming, but it's a bummer, they have such amazing voices.

Hmmm, what WOULD their children sound like?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fantastic Fiddle

Violinist Janine Jansen has just released her Mendelssohn/Bruch concerti recording here in the US. It's fantastic to say the least. It also features her playing viola, yes you read that right, VIOLA, on a rarity, Bruch's Romance.
Take a listen to part of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto cadenza with Janine and her lovely Strad: mp3 file

It's also awesome that she is performing these and other works around the world. In this neck of the woods, she'll be in Washington DC in February, Philadelphia in April and NYC in May and September. See the rest of her schedule here. And buy the new recording here (a portion benefits WITF).

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Inner views of a new cd

Take a look and listen - my latest entries for WITF blogs, here for New Releases
and here for the Composing Thoughts.

You'll catch some great vibes from the Callisto Ensemble and composer Augusta "Gusty" Read Thomas. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Done Dun

You can catch a brand new opera today, from the Met, with the composer Tan Dun conducting. Hear the First Emperor on the radio, or in a theater!
Read more about it on Dr. Dick's blog here.

My friend Joyce is excited to be on screen soon in March in the Barber of Seville!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Food

My friend Derek tagged me for - a food meme! (slightly altered) I love to eat and eat to love…oh wait…uhm, anyway, I’m always looking for great food when on trips. Here are some of the faves!
Favorite food: NY Strip.

Favorite overall fast-food restaurant: In-n-Out Burger

Favorite Irish Pub: Mr. Dennehy’s

Favorite sit-down seafood restaurant: McCormick & Schmick’s

Favorite steak house: It’s a tie! Macelleria in NYC and Bob’s Steak and Chop Shop in Dallas

Favorite deli: Black Forest Bakery & Henk's European Deli

Favorite burger joint: Burger Bar Mandalay Place

Favorite sports bar: Hooter’s in Madison, WI

Favorite ice cream joint: Another Tie! Culver’s Frozen Custard & Luv it Frozen Custard

Favorite sit-down Thai restaurant: Aqua

Favorite pizza: Brother's Pizza

Favorite fast-food restaurant located in a city other than your hometown: The Pantry (LA)

Favorite sit-down restaurant located in a city other than your hometown: Pastis (NYC)

Sit-down restaurant you would miss most if you moved away: Cafe Fresco/Al-med

Fast-food restaurant you would miss most if you moved away: Zembie's

Out-of-business fast-food restaurant that you miss from your hometown: McDowells (oh wait that's from Coming to America)

Out-of-business sit-down restaurant that you miss from your hometown: BacHaus

Favorite donut shop: Druber’s Donut & Coffee & & & & &

Favorite romantic eating atmosphere: Nobu

Restaurant you are itchin’ to try: Luke's Diner (pre-season seven of Gilmore Girls)

One memorable eating out memory: Well, Derek has mentioned the Applebee's crowd - there are too many to list; I'll do a separate blog entry on dining out - promise!

Favorite Cigar Bar: The Library in Dallas; Hudson Bar & Books in NYC; atf is Old Town Cigars in Wichita.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

2007 State of Indian Nations Address

Native Voice One is pleased to bring you the 2007 State of Indian Nations Address, live from the National Press Club on Thursday January 25, 2007 at 12:00 - 1:00 PM Eastern Time. Similar to past year's broadcasts, this will be a live feed from the event. The hour will be moderated by NCAI Executive Director Jacklyn Johnson, and a question and answer session will follow the speech.
The Address will be carried live on stations across the country (check your local station listings) and on the NV1 live stream (
National Congress of the American Indian Joe Garcia (Ohkay Owingeh), President of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) - the nation's oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization -- will deliver the fifth annual "State of Indian Nations" address in Washington, D.C.
The address is planned not only as a response to President Bush's State of the Union address, which will take place on January 23, but also as a forum for relaying to the President, the American public and Indian Nations the general state of America's Indian nations. Themes will include: economic development; trust reform; the protection of American Indian tribal sovereignty; homeland security; and the many other issues currently facing Indian nations.

Conductor Interview

JoAnn Falletta
I recently spoke with conductor JoAnn Falletta while she was in Pennsylvania conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. We crossed paths in Wichita a few years back and had a delightful conversation, and she's really done amazing musical work, so it was nice to have another chat: from her poetry, commissioning new works, her start in conducting and much more.
Here's some of our conversation at the Union League of Philadelphia lounge.

Part 1 (opening) Talking about the role of a music director in the 21st century [mp3 file]
Part 2 (closing) Talking about career goals [mp3 file]

Keep an ear out for more of the interview on WITF-FM.
{photo of John and JoAnn by John Clare; conducting montage photo from JoAnnFalletta dot com}

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Now available

Let your literary 2007 begin with...
Danse Macabre 4
The Music Issue
featuring essays, poetry, and humour by
* Felicia Florine Campbell
* Adam Henry Carriere
* John Clare
* Robert David Michael Cerello
* Bob Priest
* Elizabeth I. Riseden
now available at

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Interview posted

Take a look at the Composing Thoughts site to hear and see my interview with bassist Harold Robinson about John Harbison's Concerto for Bass Viol and Orchestra.
You can read my review about it here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

5 Things about the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia

I heard violinist Cho-Liang "Jimmy" Lin with conductor JoAnn Falletta and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia Sunday afternoon in the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater.

1. The concert was perfectly planned and programmed. As Falletta spoke to the audience beforehand, there were three pieces that looked back in history (including Vaughan-Williams' Tallis Fantasy), and two gems for the violin. Overheard while she was talking and at intermission was how graceful and brilliant JoAnn is.

2. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Concerto Grosso started the program, looking back at Handel. The orchestra caught the lyric and angular sides of this work and kept things very fresh.

3. Jimmy Lin played beautifully in Dvorak's Romance (with wonderful solos from the principal clarinetist Doris Hall-Gulati) and gave great brilliance to Mozart's 2nd Violin Concerto. As he said in the Classical Chat afterwards, Mozart wrote three better concerti after the 2nd (and far more performed than the others) - you wouldn't have guessed he felt that way by hearing him. I asked at the end of the chat if there were more composer anniversaries they were looking forward to in 2007, and Jimmy zinged me, saying he was going to celebrate Mozart's 251st birthday this year - touche!

4. Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite (keeping the theme of looking back, in this case to Pergolesi) is so charming, and certainly came across from the great music making of the COoP. Especially impressive was the bass section, just two of them, really nailing their parts.

5. JoAnn Falletta is such a delight, both on cd and in performance. She gives the musicians what they need musically, and she lets the audience enjoy some ballet too. The energy levels and joy she exudes is infectious for all involved. I'm looking forward to hearing her and one of her regular posts, in Buffalo this June.

The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia has several more concerts ahead, including a performance with guest conductor Gerard Schwarz later this month.
Also keep an ear out here for my interview with JoAnn.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

5 Things about the Philadelphia Orchestra

I heard the east coast premiere of John Harbison's Concerto for Bass Viol and Orchestra Friday night. It was a really wonderful concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

1. The program started with Wagner's Tristan und Isolde Prelude. It was my first time to see Marin Alsop in person, I've enjoyed her recordings and videos. She really is the embodiment of Leonard Bernstein - yet more. The Wagner was very musical, exciting and different, which I appreciate from standard repertoire. The orchestra was responsive and passionate.

2. It's hard to say exactly what I like best about Harbison's new bass concerto. No not for that reason, but because there are some many amazing things about it: it's exciting - it's brilliantly set up for the soloist, not only well balanced virtuoso and lyric playing - but the bass is never covered up in heavy orchestrations. There are also lovely solos in the parts for the concertmaster, two members of the bass section and of course, normal woodwind solos. My favorite instrument makes an appearance in the last movement - the flexitone!
As for the performance, Harold Robinson nailed the work. And he was almost always in the stratosphere, leaning across the bass. He also went from a lyric classical style to hip jazz licks with ease wherever Harbsion called for it in the piece. Marin Alsop was less balletic with the work, seeming to lose the keyboard player in the last movement, but otherwise had a exciting work that the audience adored.

3. Aaron Copland's Third Symphony is very special to me. I can actually remember the very first time I heard it - on the radio at age 16. I immediately got a record of it (yes, an LP - of Mata and the DSO) and ended up collecting many others too. I was supposed to hear it the summer of 2000 in Dallas live and didn't make it, so this was the first chance I could hear it in person. I wasn't disappointed.
I had guessed there would be some missed notes - and mainly from the brass - since there are so many demands made by Copland. That wasn't the case though. Actually the funniest part of the evening came from an early entrance of the contrabassoon, insert your own junior high school joke here. There are also incredibly high parts written for the string section, and the sections "all rose" to the occassion! The bass section shown in their initial entrance and also in the third movement.
All in all, the Philadelphia Orchestra went to stellar heights with this concert. Any talk about their problems, should take a close listen, and as in many things in life, don't base things on one hearing. Performances vary, but the magic that the orchestra delivers is usually legendary.

4. Marin Alsop was a delight to watch. She led with grace and an amazing sense of line. And she was all about the music. Baltimore is lucky to get her as a Music Director.

5. Several things struck me about the audience. First, they adored their own principal bass, and were very warm (and Hal deserved it!); secondly, it was interesting to see the reception that Marin enjoyed from them - there was lots of talk about her, and there were four curtain calls after the Copland. I thought they should have encored Grainger's Sussex Mummer's Carol since the Mummers Parade was Saturday morning.

You can catch this concert again this evening and Tuesday night. Also coming up is Thomas Quasthoff singing Mahler with the orchestra later this month!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

happy NEW MUSIC year

Well, it's the 4th of January, 2007 and so far I've interviewed Augusta Read Thomas on the phone; had lunch with Robert Moran; and interviewed John Harbison. What an awesome start!

Of course, I don't think this pace will continue; but it certainly will have quite a few highlights!!!

[photo of myself & John Harbison backstage at the Kimmel Center by Andrew Gena]

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Interview with Paula

I was thrilled to cover Paula Poundstone's upcoming appearance in York, PA (find out more here at the Strand Capitol website) for WITF's ArtBeat. It will air Friday January 12th before her show on January 20th.

I had set my dvr to record her special a month or two ago when I saw it listed, and when I was emceeing the York Symphony saw the ad for her appearance - so it was logical to pitch it for a story. There's also a great tie in, since she is a frequent panelist on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.

So before I left on vacation, we had a chance to chat on the phone. I also picked up her new book that day and read the hilarious chapter on Beethoven. On my holiday vacation I finished the book, it's brilliant and funny.

Here's our conversation:

Part 1 On her live show [mp3 file]
Part 2 On her costume [mp3 file]
Part 3 On the idea of the new book [mp3 file]
Part 4 On Math and WWDTM [mp3 file]
Part 5 On Writing [mp3 file]

Tune in to WITF to hear ArtBeat Friday January 12th; and see her show in York on the 20th of January - the Bravo special is also repeated, check your local listings.
You can also see her tour schedule here. (She'll be back in PA in February!)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Vacation, Part Deux

The train ride from Chicago to Omaha was also quite easy and relaxing.

Here I am smoking a cigar while in front of the Citibank building in Chicago on my layover.

I also got some snaps of fave buildings/companies that I enjoy, including the Lyric Opera:

And of the Sears Tower (in the morning on the way out and at night on the way back):
While home I had a nice break from everything and time to enjoy with family. That included quite a bit of cooking - I made Curry in a Hurry from memory ala Rachael Ray; as well as some steaks, tuna & rice; and the old Grilled PB&J. Mostly it was nice to talk and catch up with my folks.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Holidaze 2006

Looking back at my trip home -as Terry would say, Smalltown, USA, mine's now in Nebraska as my folks have moved from Kansas- was just swell. It was nice to take some time off from both the violin and from radio for a week.
I did alot of cooking and helped around the house as best I could.
The travel itself was quite easy. I watched season five of Alias - almost the entire series but one on the trip there! I had bought a portable dvd player for my trip (I had broken it in on a previous NYC train trip) and specifically gotten the fifth season of Alias (I stopped watching it when I was bummed by plot lines - but ended up watching the few final episodes on TV last year) for this trip home.
On the way back I indulged in some of Buck Rogers in the 24th Century (ah, Erin Gray) and read Paula Poundstone's new book.

My first stop was in Pittsburgh. I walked up to an Irish pub and enjoyed a bowl of soup and some fish and chips. There were some good decorations for the holidays, including a large manger scene in front of US Steel corp and even the trees in front of the train station had nice lights.

My trip to Chicago was easy overnight, and quite restful. The lounge car was cool too, and I grabbed a diet coke to wake up.

In Chicago I walked around quite a bit, enjoying sites and buildings as well as some last minute Christmas shopping. Of course, I had a yummy breakfast and took time out for a cigar.

They do say

a sense of humor is an attraction...and there you go, Nikki Cox marrying Jay about it here.
Still catching up on emails, this blog and dvr programs. Oh, and interview transcribing...ugh. Good to be home again and to be busy.
Oh, and to top it off, a Bond Marathon on Encore, 007 in '07. Goldfinger is on right now.

Should auld...

Wonderful time last night in Hummelstown at Al Med. Thanks to everyone who came out and what a blast afterwards!
Also check out the Fly Magazine story about Paul, he's featured this month.
More about the holidays soon...happy NEW MUSIC year!