Water music

After its test launch in August, Livio De Marchi’s floating violin headed off down the canals of Venice, like something from a Bosch Parade.

A giant violin floats down Venice’s Grand CanalThe New York Times
The craft, called “Noah’s Violin,” set sail accompanied by an escort of gondolas, and in no time a small flotilla of motorboats, water taxis and traditional flat-bottomed Venetian sandoli joined the violin as it glided from city hall, near the Rialto Bridge, to the ancient Customs House across from Piazza San Marco, about an hour’s ride. […]

It was mostly smooth sailing, though De Marchi mumbled anxiously whenever the prow (the neck of the violin) veered too sharply to one side or other. But even though the musicians played standing up (barefoot for a better grip), they scarcely missed a note. At one point the score for the viola flew off the music stand and into the water, but it was quickly recovered.

As is often the case in Italy, the real hitches along with way were bureaucratic. “We were told we needed a vehicle registration plate, but officials didn’t know how to classify it,” said Mario Bullo, a carpenter in the consortium. At first, they were issued the same plates given to rafts. “But the traffic police objected, saying that’s not a raft, it’s a violin,” he said with a shrug.

Il violino di Noè – Bach BWV 1043, adagioAngelica Faccani: YouTube
A fragment from Bach’s two violins concerto adagio played in Venice at the inauguration of Livio de Marchi’s ‘Noah’s Violin’.

They were playing Vivaldi, a Venice native, but perhaps Handel would have been appropriate too?

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.

Music at war

I’m familiar with the role drums have played during times of war, but not pianos.

When the pianos went to war
During the war, the U.S. government essentially shut down the production of musical instruments in order to divert vital resources such as iron, copper, brass, and other materials to the war effort. Yet the government also determined that the war effort ought to include entertainment that could lift soldiers’ spirits. But just any old piano wouldn’t do. They needed ones hearty enough to withstand the trying conditions out in the field—including being packed into a crate and dropped out of a plane.

From literal war, to a more symbolic musical clash.

The ‘implicit danger’ of a violin concerto
The concerto is the ultimate display of musical virtuosity – pitching a soloist against the orchestra as they alternate, compete and combine in a constantly changing dialogue. Those dynamics are crystallised in the word concerto itself, which has two, apparently contradictory, meanings: Competition and agreement.

And far from clashing and jarring, here are two genres working so well together you wonder why combining metal and jazz hasn’t been done before.

A funky mashup of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’, Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ and Herb Alpert’s ‘Rise’
Video editor Bill McClintock has created a really funky mashup of “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, “Master of Puppets” by Metallica and Herb Alpert‘s iconic instrumental “Rise”. It all sounds really good together, however what stands out, is Abraham Laboriel‘s phenomenal bassline punching through.

Mashup – War Puppets Rise to Heaven

There are plenty more where that came from.

Hilary and Johann

It’s pretty scary reading about how talented Hilary Hahn is, how much she achieved at such a young age. But, as this interview with Guernica shows, it’s all about the music, and Bach in particular.

Hilary Hahn: Entering the sublime
When I play the solo repertoire, the way Bach writes is pretty progressive. I believe he would be considered somewhat experimental even by today’s standards. He was a tonal composer as opposed to atonal or twelve-tone and he used acoustic instruments because he had nothing else; but when I listen to the progressive aspect of his music, I feel like he’s a master of disguise. You are going with him in one direction—you get there, but you realize you are not where you thought you were. You look around and notice a door, but when you get to the door, it’s a wall. You look around and notice that the floor you’re standing on is a trap door. You go down the trap door to what you think is the basement, but it’s the attic. Bach feels a lot like that—a really interesting fun house. The dimensions are different from a distance than when you get up close.

Hilary Hahn – J.S. Bach: Sonata for Violin Solo No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 – 4. Presto

Otherworldly talent. But as this video shows, she is human.

Hilary Hahn does the Ling Ling Workout

Let the violins sing

Research, which I don’t pretend to fully understand, has been undertaken on why the violins made by the Italian masters are so good.

Acoustic evolution of old Italian violins from Amati to Stradivari
The unique formant properties displayed by Stradivari violins may represent the acoustic correlate of their distinctive brilliance perceived by musicians. Our data demonstrate that the pioneering designs of Cremonese violins exhibit voice-like qualities in their acoustic output.

Thankfully, a few websites picked this story up and explained it for the rest of us.

Scientists find secret behind sweet sound of Stradivarius violins
The instruments achieve their sweetness and brilliance by mimicking aspects of the human voice, study says.

The world’s best violins sing like humans
A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that not only do great violins sing like humans, those built by different makers may remind us of different types of human voices. […]

“Although we did not perform any psychological experiments in this study, I speculate that the similarity between violins and voices can explain why violins are so popular,” Tai concludes. In other words, we may not yet understand quite how these instruments do what they do. But maybe we like them because when they do it, they sound like us.

It’s not the first time science has tried to understand what makes these instruments so special.

The brilliance of a Stradivari violin might rest within its wood
Why nobody has been able to replicate that sound remains one of the most enduring mysteries of instrument building. A new study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that answers may lie in the wood: Mineral treatments, followed by centuries of aging and transformation from playing, might give these instruments unique tonal qualities.

Violin-fiddling boffins learn that ‘f-holes’ are secret to Stradivarius’ superior sound
Although each violin maker inarguably possessed a good ear – in order to recognise and replicate the violins that sounded best – whether or not they recognised the particular design elements that contribute to a more powerful sound is still up for debate. In other words, the violinmakers knew what was a better instrument to replicate but they didn’t necessarily know that its slender holes were what made the sound it produced tonally pleasing.

The world’s finest viola?

Sotheby’s to auction $45 million Stradivarius viola
“This viola represents the pinnacle of human achievement in instrument-making, and it is in incredibly good condition. Almost as though you ordered a viola from Stradivarius and 300 years later he handed it you.”

But then…

Rare ‘Macdonald’ Stradivarius viola fails to attract a buyer
The rare 1719 ‘Macdonald’ Stradivarius viola failed to attract a buyer when its sealed-bid sale came to an end yesterday, despite ‘plenty of interest,’ according to Tim Ingles of auctioneers Ingles & Hayday. The result comes just days after news that the ‘Kreutzer’ Stradivarius violin, valued at between $7.5m and $10m by Christie’s, failed to sell.