May 23 Birthdays: Alicia de Larrocha and Jean Françaix

For your Friday enjoyment: A fabulous performance from 1997 of the seemingly-ageless Alicia de Larrocha (74 at the time) playing the Ravel Piano Concerto in G with Jesus Lopez-Cobos and the Cincinnati Symphony. As someone learning the ropes in the television world, I’m coming to appreciate really great camera work in shooting orchestras – far easier said than done! After a little rooting around on the Interwebs I discovered it was the handiwork of Brandenburg Productions, in tandem with Cincinnati’s PTV Station WCET 48.  (Turns out it was the CSO’s national television debut.)   For an example of the terrific camerawork, check out the beautiful harp close-up at about 5 minutes in.

Then there’s De Laroccha. Her usual ferocious technique, but at her age it’s also economical and elegant. No wasted movements or theatrics from this stately Queen…but utterly faithful to the energy and verve embedded in Ravel’s music!


nicolenarboniAs for Jean Françaix (1912-1997). I had always admired the froth and effervescence in his music (and he wrote for virtually every combination of instruments known to man), as well as the man’s craft, wit, and unpretentiousness. Then I got to know it a lot better when I got involved executive-producing a CD devoted to his complete piano works with pianist Nicole Narboni.  (You can also check out her video about the project here.) Like his Cinq Bis (Five Encores”)  – wherein the composer offers a tongue-in-cheek Chinese Menu of choices for pianists to play, depending on the success of the recital.   As Nicole explains in her liner notes:

Perhaps the most comical of all the works contained on this disc are the Cinq Bis, or Five Encores, from 1965.   In the preface, Françaix  quotes the 18th-century French author Nicolas de Chamfort …Quand vous êtes sur une scène, si vous n’êtes pas un peu charlatan, l’assemblée vous jette des pierres… (“When on the stage if you are not a little of a charlatan, the crowd will stone you.”)
These pieces have all the elements of great encores.  Pour Allecher l’auditoire (“To entice the audience”) is a sarcastic warm-up; Pour les dames sentimentales (“For romantic ladies”) is a wonderful combination of silly and serious.  The last three Bis are best saved for a third or fourth curtain call:  En Cas de succès  and En cas de triomphe  – no translation required!.  The fifth and final of the Bis, En cas de délire (“In case of delirium”)  suggests a scene from a Victor Borge concert…

Besides Nicole, the only pianist I know who plays these “Cinq Bis” with any regularity is the excellent Aussie pianist Simon Tedeschi…the acclaimed “stunt double” for actor Geoffrey Rush in the David Helfgott biopic Shine.  (Those were Simon’s hands you saw tickling the ivories in the close-ups!)  Here you can watch his fingers fly through all five of the Françaix encores!

 

 

 

 

Ever Wonder What Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Subscribers Watch? Take A Look

 

 

Ever Wonder What Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Subscribers Watch? Take A Look

Sure, Gwen Ifill gets the headline….but check out the other “Over The Top” performances by other PBS programs too…including, I’m happy to say, Great Performances…

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Netfilx views Household Rating Index – OTT devices

 

 

 

Amazon views

Prize-Winning Storytelling…in 25 Seconds

In and among the usual suspects to land Peabody Awards today (including AMC for Breaking Bad, NPR for The Race Card Project, FRONTLINE for the excellent NFL concussion expose “League of Denial,” and a host of other terrific PBS productions) was the first YouTube video ever to win. In the words of the judges:

“Short, simple and spot-on in its critique of rape culture, the ingenious PSA by two University of Oregon students takes just 25 seconds to make its point that real men treat women with respect.”

Amen.  Congrats to students Samantha Stendal and Aaron Blanton for such a succinct and brilliant little production.   The complete of Peabody winners for 2013 can be found here.

Chopin’s “Knocked Urn”

Melinda & Ethan getting their Downton on...

Melinda & Ethan getting their Downton on…

Still buzzing from the terrific performance at last night’s “Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey,” featuring soprano Melinda Whittington and pianist Ethan Uslan, playing classical, “jazz,” and other standards from the 1920’s in the WGBH Fraser Performance Studio.

And for an encore, since it was, after all, Chopin’s birthday and all, Ethan had to play one of his signature compositions. I explained to the Downton fans the title was inspired by what happened when poor Moseley the bumbling butler-turned-footman backs into an object d’art in the Crawley household….

 
Episode 183: Chopin’s ‘Knocked Urn’

 

Emmylou Harris: For No One

So after writing up the Paul McCartney – Loma Mar Quartet connection the other day, there he was on the tube last night, as part of the WGBH “Beatle Month” of programming.  Last night was a re-airing of the 2010 Gershwin Prize Concert for McCartney, held at the East Room of the White House in 2010 – with an additional concert at the famed (and tiny) Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, which administers the prize on behalf of the Gershwin estate.  (That’s where the footage of “Yesterday” was shot.)

A dizzying (and somewhat baffling) array of special guests sang and played Macca tunes before the honoree and the First Family, including Stevie Wonder, the Jonas Brothers, Faith Hill, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl (an uncanny ability to channel McCartney’s high tenor in “Band on the Run”), and even pianist Lang Lang.

But my hands-down favorite interpretation of the night came from Emmylou Harris, who managed to turn “For No One” into a convincing Appalachian ballad:

For Pete’s Sake

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I’ve been thinking for several days now about what I could say about Pete Seeger that hasn’t already been said, seen, or heard. Certainly it is impossible to overstate his influence on my generation. “How to Play the Five String Banjo” – both the tattered red music book and ten-inch LP  from 1954- were as ubiquitous in the households of my youth as the Glenn Gould Goldbergs, the Ormandy “Messiah” recording with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Kind of Blue, if not more so.  His was the first concert I ever attended in my life…in the glorious trappings of a school gymnasium in Acton, (or was it Maynard? or Harvard?) Mass. in 1963. As part of the concert Pete led a singalong of “Froggy Went a Courting” just for us wee ones, and I remember it to this day.  (And was totally tickled when Springsteen chose it for his tribute album The Seeger Sessions.)

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I’m certain it was the first time I had ever been invited to sing in my life. And decades later I joined the decidedly nonexclusive club of folks who have produced programs about Pete’s remarkable life.

But none of that is particularly new, unique nor noteworthy. What might be, however, is the saga of Pete Seeger the public television host: Before finally being “readmitted” to commercial television in the late ’60s, Pete made 39 episodes of a quirky, wonderful, and decidedly low-production-value program called “Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest.” Take a look at Episode 1, with Pete talking about his “distrust of this little magic box,” and then going on to teach us all at home how to play along, and join the chorus…

Miscellaeneous Musings: the NY Phil, Howard Theatre, WYPR, No Depression, Pete Seeger…

Any resemblance to Mike “I Was Just Thinking….” Barnicle is purely coincidental….

  • Kind of amazing to hear the wall-to-wall media coverage of the New York Philharmonic’s trip to North Korea….startling and gratifying to hear snippets of the New World Symphony in the middle of network newscasts. Worth reading:  Anne Midgette’s column in the WaPo on this not being a case of bringing Great. Western. Art. to poor benighted souls behind the Bamboo Curtain….

But in Vienna, Austria, there is another image of them: as conducting students. The elite conducting class at the University of Music and Performing Arts there has trained no fewer than 17 North Korean students in the past decade.

  • Which reminds me of a similar history-making venture I helped to orchestra for NPR in 1999: The Milwaukee Symphony’s trip to Cuba, which was the first time a US orchestra had performed on the island since the Philadelphia Orchestra had been there in 1959.  ‘Course, it was a little easier for our NPR crew to move around the country than it was for the delegation traveling to North Korea this week…I remember that producer Laura Bertran even managed to lend some technical and logistical help to the struggling public radio station in Havana to broadcast the concert live on the island. (Oh yeah, they played Gershwin, too….the Cuban Overture, natch)  Click here to hear some of the music from similar symphonic excursions in the past,  and here for a similar Washington Post story on other “Diplomacy Concerts” of that past half-century.
  • On the other hand, for the same station to air during afternoon drive a six-month-old repeat of a Mario Armstrong “Digital Cafe”  feature?  About an Internet startup being Beta tested?   With a casual disclaimer that “some information may be out of date?”  Incredibly. Lame.
  • Pete SeegerIt’s nice to see Pete Seeger getting his props from PBS this week, with an American Masters portrait airing tonight on most PBS stations around the country. Except, that is, in DC, where despite Pete being on the cover of the Post’s TV Week,  the local pubtv powerhouse WETA inexplicably is running a show a three-year old show on Judy Garland.    Huh?   I’ll have more to say on Pete in a later post.