Musical meanderings

One of the pieces of classical music on YouTube I keep replaying is this performance of Dvořák’s String Quartet No 12, played by the wonderful Pražák Quartet. It’s such a lyrical piece, played with passion and vigour.

It’s fun to compare that early video of the four of them with this performance of Schubert’s String Quartet No 15 several years later.

Time marches on for all of us, though sadly it didn’t march for very long for Schubert himself.

A lost paradise of purityStandpoint
Of all the premature deaths among the ranks of the creative, none is more painful to contemplate than Franz Schubert’s. His cutting off in November 1828 at the age of 31 was not as brutal in strictly chronological terms as Keats’s at the age of 25 in 1821, but there is with Schubert a yearning to know the music which he never composed that is even greater than the regret for Keats’s unwritten poems. All Schubert’s works are in a sense early works, and it is striking to think that by the time Haydn reached the age at which Schubert died, he had written none of the music for which we now revere him.

Let’s move from Schubert to Bach, and from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Boomwhacker Bach: Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicauxThe Kid Should See This
This performance by Les Objets Volants is a wonderful mix of work and play… an exercise in “juggling” that requires an immense amount of concentration and teamwork. Boomwhacker Bach! In front of an audience in Luxeuil les Bains, France, this is Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicaux, or Johann Sebastian Bach’s first prelude played with boomwhackers.

All good stuff, but perhaps this musical post has been too male-dominated so far? Let’s address that.

New documentary Sisters with Transistors tells the story of electronic music’s female pioneersOpen Culture
“Technology is a tremendous liberator,” says Laurie Anderson in her voiceover narration for the new documentary Sisters with Transistors, a look at the women who have pioneered electronic music since its beginnings and been integral to inventing new sounds and ways of making them. “Women were naturally drawn to electronic music. You didn’t have to be accepted by any of the male-dominated resources. You could make something with electronics, and you could present music directly to an audience.”

“The history of women has been a history of silence,” Rovner writes. “Music is no exception.” Or as Oliveros put it in a 1970 New York Times Op-Ed:

Why have there been no “great” women composers? The question is often asked. The answer is no mystery. In the past, talent, education, ability, interests, motivation were irrelevant because being female was a unique qualification for domestic work and for continual obedience to and dependence upon men.

All good stuff, but perhaps this musical post has been too human-dominated so far? Let’s address that.

Composer transcribes animal sounds to sheet musicBoing Boing
Alexander Liebermann, an accomplished composer living in Berlin, has been challenging himself to transcribe the sounds of penguins, whales, and other animals as an exercise for ear training.

Ear training challenge – Emperor PenguinYouTube
During courtship, the male and female penguins trumpet loudly to each other, thus learning each other’s call (They recognize each other amidst breeding colonies that consist of up to 40,000 penguins because of their calls). Emperor penguins typically use both sides of their syrinx simultaneously, producing vocalizations using ‘two-voices’. In the videos I have seen, calls of adult penguins mostly consisted of two-voice vocalizations using three different intervals: M2, m3, M3. In contrast, those of the chicks consisted of single voices outlining numerous intervals: m3, M3, P4, TT, P5, m6.

A Christmas singalong like no other

Missing live music? Make some yourself, with another interactive musical thing from Google.

Google’s Blob Opera lets you conduct a quartet of singing blobs for instant festive joyIt’s Nice That
Whatever you’re doing right now, it can wait – because Blob Opera is probably the most fun you’ll have today. A new machine learning experiment by David Li for Google Arts & Culture, the online interactive instrument features four animated blob characters which you can conduct to create your own music.

Try it for yourself!

Blob OperaGoogle Arts & Culture
Create your own opera inspired song with Blob Opera – no music skills required! A machine learning experiment by David Li in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture.

it’s all very silly, but you have to admit, they do make a wonderful sound. That’s due, no doubt, to some clever coding, but also to the skills of the real humans behind these machine-learned voices.

You can now create your own 4-part ‘Blob Opera‘ with this addictive Google appClassic FM
The voices are those of real-life opera singers, tenor Christian Joel, bass Frederick Tong, mezzo-soprano Joanna Gamble and soprano Olivia Doutney, who recorded many hours of singing for the experiment. You don’t hear their actual voices in the tool, but rather the machine learning model’s understanding of what opera singing sounds like, based on what it learned from the four vocalists.

It’s all great fun. And I hadn’t realised how extensive the Google Arts & Culture site is. Lots to play with, whilst we wait for all the real galleries and museums to get back to normal.

Making music again #2

Back in July I shared a few ways we could still see live music in spite of the pandemic, but it was marvellous to experience it for myself recently.

Orchestra of Opera North: The Four SeasonsOpera North
From baroque Mantua to mid-20th century Buenos Aires, two radiant evocations of place and the passing of time. Celebrated British violinist Chloë Hanslip joins musicians from the Orchestra of Opera North as soloist/director in Vivaldi’s tour de force.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is so well known as to be almost cliche, but Chloe’s performance, together with a slimmed-down (though no less powerful) version of the Orchestra of Opera North, was stunning — so joyful and energetic. And following it with Piazzolla’s version was great fun, too.

Written in the mid to late 1960s, Argentine composer and bandoneon virtuoso Ástor Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas are a witty and playful tribute in tango to Vivaldi’s concerti.

I had never heard this piece before. My knowledge of Piazzolla starts and ends with Libertango, so it was wonderful to be introduced to some more. Here’s a performance of it by the Curtis Institute of Music.

I wasn’t the only one to appreciate being back in the Town Hall again, however different the seating arrangements might be now.

But let’s not forget opera and ballet. 25 October was World Opera Day, swiftly followed by World Ballet Day on 29 October.

Celebrating opera freelancers for World Opera DayOpera Holland Park
At Opera Holland Park, we know the most exciting part of the year has arrived when our team grows from just under twenty to around 300, as we’re joined by the talented freelancers who work onstage, backstage, Front of House and in our Box Office. For World Opera Day 2020, we want to share a few of the projects some of those freelancers have been working on over the last few months.

Calling all ballet lovers! World Ballet Day 2020 is on October 29Pointe
“Now, more than ever, the digital celebration of dance promises to unite us all as we face new, shared challenges across the world,” says Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare, adding that he looks forward to “bringing our art form to audiences who are missing live performances.”

2020, eh? Will things ever be the same again?

How hundreds of freelance musicians asked for help with a socially distanced protest and performance at WestminsterITV News
Parliament Square echoed to the sound of classical music today as 400 musicians staged a mini concert to highlight the impact of coronavirus. The pop-up performance of Gustav Holst’s Mars was limited to 90 seconds by the police to avoid attracting a crowd.

‘Being told to retrain is an insult’: 150 opera singers fight for the arts in Parliament protestClassic FM
“This protest today is really one of the largest musical gatherings in the UK since coronavirus,” said Romaniw, speaking to Classic FM. “It’s about coming together and singing together in unison, to really protest for the future of our industry, and to celebrate the importance of art and live music. There’s nothing quite like it.

Worth the wait?

Well, I’m back in the office for the first time in six months, surrounded by hand sanitisers and risk assessments, one child has returned to school for her final year after in effect six months off, another will be leaving home in a week to start university in a place currently under a local lockdown, so my head’s full of concerns and anxieties I don’t wish to think more about here thank you very much. So let’s put all that to one side and relax with some music.

John Cage, the man behind a much loved piece of nothing, perhaps hadn’t realised how literally some people would take his instruction to play ‘as slow as possible’ when performing one of his compositions. Piano notes eventually fade away, but notes on an organ can be held indefinitely.

A 639-year-long John Cage organ performance has a long-awaited chord change todayClassic FM
Organ2/ASLSP, ‘As Slow as Possible’ is a keyboard work written by John Cage in the mid-1980s. The score consists of eight pages of music, to be played at the piano or organ, well, very, very slowly. […] Up until this time, the most recent note change occurred on 5 October 2013, and the next change will sound on 5 September 2020, with the organ playing a G sharp and an E, until the next scheduled chord change on 5 February 2022.

The concert (installation art performance? sculptural exhibition?) is taking place in Halberstadt, in Germany, thought to be the place where the first modern keyboard organ was built in 1361, 639 years before the turn of the 21st century, hence the duration of this piece.

A 639-year concert, with no intermission for coronavirusThe New York Times
Andreas Henke, the town’s mayor, said that most of Halberstadt’s inhabitants probably didn’t even know about the piece, or, if they did, they referred to it as “that cacophony.” But, he added, “John Cage carries Halberstadt’s name out into the world.”He said the performance raises “philosophical questions about how we confront time.” “We are all so consumed by our daily working lives,” he said. “This forces us to stand back and slow down. It is very special to be a part of an art project that will connect generations and last for generations,” Mr. Henke added. He said that it was “his great hope” that the project would make it to 2640.

Of course it was livestreamed, but see if you can resist the urge not to fast-forward to the chord change moment, three hours and twenty minutes in…

Too subtle a change for me, I think. It’s an interesting idea, though: if you remove the human from the music-making process, you remove the need to constrain time to human scales. But without the human, can we still comprehend it as music? A drone that lasts for years and years just reminds me of my tinnitus.

Making music again

Our concert halls might be re-opening in the summer, but in the meantime:

A cello concert in a swimming pool – this is classical music during COVID-19 distancingClassic FM
The concert took place south of Stuttgart, in the empty swimming lanes of the Entringen outdoor pool. We fancy the shape of the pool, with its steady slope and cellist against a wall, would have provided quite a fantastic acoustic.

Some people are staying indoors, though.

IndoorsScottish Ballet
With 28 doors and 36 dancers, Indoors is a playful new work by Sophie Laplane, set to Mozart’s ‘Papageno, Papagena’. Rehearsed via Zoom and recorded in lockdown, the short film explores ways we can open our doors to new possibilities, all in Laplane’s distinctly unique style.

A taste of things to come?

Around the world, we’re getting a glimpse of what live music looks like post-lockdownClassic FM
Theatres reopen in Europe and concert halls around the world have started to implement social distancing policies to stem the spread of coronavirus – here’s how music, of all genres, looks in a new era.

Puccini and the plants

Something else I’d found around my birthday then forgotten to male a note of here was news of this wonderful concert. If playing music to plants helps them grow, there are thousands of ficus trees, palms and plants in Spain that must be feeling pretty healthy at the moment.

The artist Eugenio Ampudia inaugurates activity at the Liceu with a concert for 2,292 plantsLiceu Opera Barcelona
On the first day after the state of alarm instituted due to the pandemic ends, the Gran Teatre del Liceu reopens its doors, but it does so for an unusual audience. Conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia is preparing an original, unique and different concert, in which the 2,292 seats of the auditorium will be occupied on this occasion by plants. It will be on 22 June at 5:00 p.m., broadcast live online, when the UceLi Quartet string quartet performs Puccini’s “Crisantemi” for this verdant public, brought in from local nurseries.

2,292 plants fill the audience in opening performance at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del LiceuColossal
A collaboration with Madrid-based artist Eugenio Ampudia and the Max Estrella gallery, the concert was meant to reflect on humans’ relationship with nature. “I thought why don’t we go into the Liceu like weeds, take it over and let nature start growing everywhere and turn it into something alive even when there are no people,” Ampudia said in an interview.

Plants fill seats at Barcelona opera house concertAssociated Press
“I heard many more birds singing. And the plants in my garden and outside growing faster. And, without a doubt, I thought that maybe I could now relate in a much intimate way with people and nature,” he said before the performance.

At the end of the eight-minute concert, the sound of leaves and branches blowing in the wind resonated throughout the opera house like applause.

Here’s the performance in full, complete with “please silence your mobile phones and no pictures please” announcement.

It’s strange seeing these places, designed especially for large crowds, being so empty.

Plush seats and ornate balconies sit empty in Joanna Vestey’s unobstructed photographs of London theatersColossal
In Joanna Vestey’s Custodians for COVID series, one worker poses idly amid an otherwise unobstructed shot of a historic venue. The Oxford-based photographer has been capturing the empty seats and balconies of London theaters, which have been closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For the timely series, Vestey visited 20 venues, including Royal Albert Hall, The Globe, and National Theatre, to photograph the breadth of the vacant architecture.

Belated birthday wishes

I thought it would be fun to share this on my birthday (like I did with something similar the other year), but that was a few weeks ago — I had forgotten all about it.

Happy birthday in the styles of 10 classical composers – Nahre Sol

Some dazzling playing there, and those annotations really get across just how complicated these musical structures can be. I love the idea of Steve Reich and John Cage wishing me happy birthday.

Missing music

Like no doubt many other homes up and down the land, music is always playing here, somewhere—the kitchen radio, the kids’ laptops or Alexas, the piano and tuba even (that damned thing is so loud). But it’s been a long time since we went out to hear live music. For music fans like Rob Sheffield, that’s becoming a problem.

Life without liveRolling Stone
This is the longest I’ve gone between live shows since . . . the Replacements broke up? I go see bands every chance I get, and I live in New York City, where there’s plenty of chances. Live music is how I measure out the next week, month, year of my life. But on a bigger scale, the shows are how we measure history. When you picture the past or the future, you imagine what musicians are doing in a room and who shows up to hear it. You can define any point in the arc of human history by who was in Fleetwood Mac at the time. (And whose hotel bed they were sharing.) So what does music fandom mean at a time when we can’t gather together to celebrate, discover, experiment?

Here’s an interesting take on the future of the kind of concerts I’ve been missing recently.

Coronavirus conditions make us rethink classical music for decade aheadVoice of OC
So far, we’ve been assuming that there will continue to be problems that, at least now and then, require social distancing and home quarantines. It’s definitely something all these groups are going to have to consider over the next decade. Something good could come out of it, though, and that would be the end of subscription seasons as we know them. Subscription seasons, designed to attract a particular kind of listener, older, moneyed, more conservative, able to fork out for a year’s worth of tickets in advance, have long been holding classical music back from its better, more exciting and interesting self.

But for now, we have to make do with streamed performances at home, the equivalent of those art gallery postcards.

Symphonies silenced, sonatas streamed: The state of classical music during COVID-19Los Angeles Review of Books
Notwithstanding the quality of the audio — piped through his iPhone — the music felt exuberant, and also demanding and manic. “The concert halls are empty,” Levit had tweeted earlier. “Listening and experiencing music together is not possible.” It was mid-March — what feels like eons ago — and on both sides of the Atlantic, governments were starting to roll out isolation measures, suddenly putting all of us into suspended animation. With so much uncertainty in the world, his joyous performance provided a half hour of reprieve, disassociating us from the fear of contagion. Three hundred and twenty thousand users on Twitter and Instagram tuned in — more than at any venue he’s ever performed.

The way we experience music is bound to change in unexpected ways, but the strength of our appreciation of music can already be a little peculiar.

The pandemic hasn’t dulled Japan’s special love for QueenAtlas Obscura
“Queen Day is an important occasion for Japanese fans to reaffirm the bond between Queen and Japan,” writes fan Yoko Doi of Tokyo in an email. In 2019, Doi—along with 300 others—marked Queen Day with an outdoor screening of the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody, featuring band cosplay and plenty of Moet et Chandon, naturally (see the lyrics to “Killer Queen,” if you’re not an initiate).

Tracing Eastern Europe’s obsession with Depeche ModeDazed
Urbanovic, who has been a fan since 1986, runs the DM Bar in Riga, a nightclub completely dedicated to the band. There is another, non-affiliated and older club in Tallinn that has been visited by the band themselves. Both establishments are covered in Depeche Mode merchandise (from cardboard cutouts to tour scarves and lyrics scrawled on the walls in different languages) and both put on regular parties playing the band’s music as well as records by other ‘industrial’ bands. “Depeche Mode gigs in Latvia are very well-attended, especially when you take into account the relatively small population – and we get a lot of fans from other Eastern European countries who make a special trip to the bar,” Urbanovic adds.

Keeping yourself occupied?

What to do when you’ve got too much time on your hands? Play a video game? This one looks a little laggy.

Super Mario Rubik’s Cube stop motionBigWendy

Some people are just eating their way through this time of uncertainty.

Pass the pepper: Social distancing is nothing to sneeze AtJoseph’s Machines

Don’t overdo it, though, or you’ll be expanding your vocabulary as well as your waistline.

keeping-yourself-occupied

Do you speak corona? A guide to covid-19 slang1843

Coronaspeck

1. Coronavirus fat (noun)

German workers ordered to stay at home to help the government flatten one sort of curve have found themselves battling the emergence of another, just above the belt. Home workouts sound great, but the days are long and dull and your latest bout of Hamsterkäufe (panic-buying; lit. “hamster-purchase”) has left the fridge gloriously well-stocked. There’s always another variety of Ritter Sport to try, oder? Anyway, what’s a few kilos between socially distanced friends?

Coronaspeck is the helpful German word for the fat deposited by weeks of stay-at-home grazing. Shoppers in Germany may know Speck as a bacon-like foodstuff, perhaps found on a crisp Flammkuchen or inside hearty Swabian Maultaschen. But its broader meaning corresponds to something like the English “flab”.

Perhaps you need some exercise, but what if you can’t think of a routine or a soundtrack? No problem. This website will pair up a random move with a random piece of music.

Random workout generator

keeping-yourself-occupied-1

I’ll pass on that, thanks. But speaking of music…

Plink, Plank, Plunk! virtual performanceChicago Sinfonietta

RPO trombones play Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ over ZoomRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra

Le Boléro de Ravel par l’Orchestre national de France en #confinement #ensembleàlamaisonFrance Musique

That sounds more like it.

Peter and the Typographic Wolf

Let’s have some more orchestral goodness.

Pierre et le loup, a stunning, typography-filled animated storyThe Kid Should See This
In 2014, Camera Lucida and Radio France teamed up to create a series of classical music-filled apps for children. One of these shared Sergei Prokofiev’s Pierre et le loup in a typography-filled adaptation by Gordon (Thierry Guernet), Pierre-Emmanuel Lyet, and Corentin Leconte. It’s a stunning version that mixes animation, musical symbols, and musicians, featuring the National Orchestra of France, conducted by the maestro Daniele Gatti.

peter-and-the-typographic-wolf-3

Classical music and typography, two of my favourite things!

All together now, sprach Zarathustra

This is wonderful. There have been a few of these doing the rounds, but I felt duty bound to share the one from my home town.

2020: An Isolation Odyssey – Opera North
When our concert performances of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra were cancelled as the coronavirus pandemic intensified, two members of the Orchestra of Opera North decided that the show must go on – virtually.

“They sent their recordings back to us, and we added instrument by instrument, part by part, until this amazing ‘performance’ took shape”, Daniel says. “It has really felt like watching a huge building being constructed, and with Tobias’ musical vision as a starting point, the resemblance to the creative process of an actual rehearsal and concert has been remarkable.”

A concert, nonetheless

The Sinfonia of Leeds, the orchestra my wife ordinarily plays in, were supposed to be playing a concert this weekend. That didn’t happen, obviously, but they invited us to enjoy their programme anyway.

Their Facebook page directed us to live recordings of other orchestras performing the pieces they were going to play, and we watched along from the comfort of our sofa, starting at 7:30pm and with ice cream at the interval, as is only proper.

We had a wonderful evening (you can’t really go wrong with a Sibelius symphony), so much so that we’ve promised ourselves to create another YouTube concert evening next weekend. And it’s my turn to pick the programme.

Too soon?

The coronavirus outbreak continues apace, but has China turned the corner?

With its epidemic slowing, China tries to get back to workThe Economist
So along with reporting the number of new infections every day, officials are now reporting on the number of reopened businesses in their territories. The province of Zhejiang, a manufacturing powerhouse and home to Yiwu, leads the country so far, with 90% of its large industrial enterprises having restarted. But many of these are running at low capacities. Jason Wang is a manager with a clothing company that sells winter coats at Yiwu International Trade City. His factory started up again but only half of his employees have returned. “The government, enterprises, workers—everyone is making a gamble in restarting. But we have no choice, we have to make a living,” he says.

Meanwhile.

China pushes all-out production of face masks in virus fightNikkei Asian Review
Companies ranging from state-owned carmakers to oil producers are installing production lines as the government aims to raise output by at least 70%. But it will not be easy to meet demand from 1.4 billion people desperate for a measure of protection against infection.

Iran’s Deputy Health Minister has tested positive for coronavirusBuzzFeed News
Iraj Harirchi, the head of Iran’s anti-coronavirus task force, tested positive a day after a news conference where he appeared visibly sick. He wasn’t wearing a mask.

Coronavirus has now spread to every continent except AntarcticaCNN
Public health officials warned Wednesday that the spread of the novel coronavirus is inching closer toward meeting the definition of a global pandemic, as the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow, including in South Korea where a US soldier has tested positive for the virus.

Rush Limbaugh: Coronavirus is being ‘weaponized’ by Chinese communists to ‘bring down’ TrumpMediaite
“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” claimed Limbaugh. “I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus…. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

Pianist Yuja Wang issues emotional reply after critics shame her for wearing glasses on stageClassic FM
“Humiliated” after being detained at the airport, Yuja Wang says she delivered the recital in sunglasses to hide her tears.

How the coronavirus revealed authoritarianism’s fatal flawThe Atlantic
China’s use of surveillance and censorship makes it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on in his own country.

Mass coronavirus testing to be launched in Britain to uncover how far disease has spreadThe Telegraph
Thousands of Britons will be tested by GPs for coronavirus, amid fears that the explosion of cases in Europe means there could be far more cases in the UK than are known about.

Facebook is banning ads that promise to cure the coronavirusBusiness Insider
In a statement, a spokesperson told Business Insider: “We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention.”

I’ll just share this here, too.

An authentic 16th century plague doctor mask preserved and on display at the German Museum of Medical HistoryDesign You Trust
The mask had glass openings in the eyes and a curved beak shaped like a bird’s beak with straps that held the beak in front of the doctor’s nose. The mask had two small nose holes and was a type of respirator which contained aromatic items. The beak could hold dried flowers (including roses and carnations), herbs (including mint), spices, camphor, or a vinegar sponge.

too-soon-2

Bach’s perfect prelude

It’s an iconic piece of classical music, and even if you’re not a fan of the genre you’ve probably come across it before now—Bach’s prelude from his Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. It’s only a couple of minutes long, depending on who’s playing it (and on what instrument), but it’s perfectly constructed. To understand why, let’s take a closer look with Alisa Weilerstein. (via Kottke)

Bach’s G major prelude, deconstructedVox
If you hear the first few measures you’ll likely recognize it. A simple G major arpeggiated chord played expressively on the cello opens a short, but harmonically and melodically rich, 42 measures of music. Bach makes a single instrument sound like a full ensemble. How does he do it?

It’s simple, really (to some, perhaps!), just the tonic key G and the dominant key D playing off each other.

That famous cello prelude, deconstructedYouTube

I could listen to this over and over. Wonderful music. I just need someone to go through the rest of it.

perfect-2

(I wish I had stuck with it now.)

Sledging with Beethoven

Understanding music can be a challenge to those of us who have difficulty reading a score. Thankfully, there are ways to visualise what’s going on.

Some are helpfully straightforward, some are quite complex yet followable and others are more abstract and hypnotic, but I especially love this one, via Jeremy. As he says, “Have a look, but be warned once you’ve started you’ll be there to the end!”

Line Riders – Beethoven’s 5thYouTube

Check out the rest of DoodleChaos‘s YouTube channel for more clever animations. Can you imagine how long he spent rehearsing for this synchronised screen juggling, for instance.

Debauched Bach?

Whether alphabetized or not, when it comes to classical music composers, Bach’s at the top of the list. It’s hard to overstate his influence and legacy. But, as this excerpt from Ted Gioia’s Music: A Subversive History shows, he was no saint.

J.S. Bach the rebel
I’ve talked to people who feel they know Bach very well, but they aren’t aware of the time he was imprisoned for a month. They never learned about Bach pulling a knife on a fellow musician during a street fight. They never heard about his drinking exploits—on one two-week trip he billed the church eighteen groschen for beer, enough to purchase eight gallons of it at retail prices—or that his contract with the Duke of Saxony included a provision for tax-free beer from the castle brewery; or that he was accused of consorting with an unknown, unmarried woman in the organ loft; or had a reputation for ignoring assigned duties without explanation or apology. They don’t know about Bach’s sex life: at best a matter of speculation, but what should we conclude from his twenty known children, more than any significant composer in history (a procreative career that has led some to joke with a knowing wink that “Bach’s organ had no stops”), or his second marriage to twenty-year-old singer Anna Magdalena Wilcke, when he was in his late thirties?

Discordant ambitions

Seeing orchestral music played live is a marvellous thing. Years ago I wrote about how uplifting watching an orchestra can be, as opposed to just listening to a recording.

If only the same could be said for being in an orchestra. Here’s an impassioned account from Kate Wagner of the heartache and struggle you face when you come up against the “myth of meritocracy”.

Strike with the band
Classical music is cruel not because there are winners and losers, first chairs and second chairs, but because it lies about the fact that these winners and losers are chosen long before the first moment a young child picks up an instrument. It doesn’t matter if you study composition, devote years to an instrument, or simply have the desire to teach—either at the university level or in the public school system. If you come from a less-than-wealthy family, or from a place other than the wealthiest cities, the odds are stacked against you no matter how much you sacrifice, how hard you work, or, yes, how talented you are.

Piano guys

A couple of fun musical performances that caught my eye recently.

World piano playing record broken by 88 schoolchildren
The team created an enormous, multi-stringed instrument which allowed 88 children, aged six to 14 years old, to play at the same time. The record previously stood at 21 pianists.

The project began in 2018 when engineers from University of Cambridge decided to try and break that record, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci.

So much invention within each individual key. Here’s the fuller video.

88 pianists on one piano

And from the very large to the very small.

One of the world’s greatest pianists came to Classic FM, so we made him play our silly, pink toy piano
He’s one of the world’s finest keyboard virtuosos – and he composes, paints, writes and is brilliant on Twitter – a true Renaissance man. But can Stephen Hough master our pink piano? We wanted to find out.

Happy minimalism

I mentioned earlier how metal has the power to make us happy. Whilst I enjoyed riffing down memory lane, the music that lifts my spirits now is more orchestral.

Here, composer David Bruce introduces us to minimalism and the work of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and, in particular, John Adams. I remember being completely blown away when I first heard this type of music, on a CD just called Minimalist, and it’s great to understand a little more about some of the orchestral decisions that goes into such work.

How John Adams writes for orchestra (The Chairman Dances & influence of minimalism)
The early minimalists choice of instruments and ways of composing influenced a whole generation of composers, myself included. In this video I look at how the style they developed went on to influence later orchestral compositions, in particular looking at the orchestral technique in John Adam’s piece ‘The Chairman Dances’.

And here’s that performance in full.

The Chairman Dances by John Adams – BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Now for something completely different. I’ve been vaguely aware of the name Victor Borge for a while, but never really knew anything about him or his stage routines. Consider this one of the YouTube recommendation algorithm’s big successes.

Victor Borge – Piano jokes

Les Dawson, anyone?