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Pinky on the Brain

June 13, 2011

  The official concert season is over now, and very soon the glitz and glamour and echoes of another stellar year will begin to fade.  Eventually, the musical memories that have carried me through the dismal winter months will be replaced once the sunshine (should it ever arrive in my fair city) lures me out into the mountains again and my musical distractions shift from the concert hall to God’s cathedral.   

However, one memory that won’t be disappearing so quickly is the night of my dream concert – an all-star line-up of a small handful of my most favorite pieces, guested by Pinchas Zukerman, a violinist whose performances command respect from audiences and peers no matter where he tightens his bow.  I run to get tickets whenever he’s in town.

The program looked like this:
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Op. 84, followed by
Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A major, Op. 92 , all topped off with
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61, performed by Pinchas Zukerman.

These pieces are “home” to me, the musical haunts of my childhood, and are as comforting to me as the lazy Saturday afternoons we used to spend as a family gathered around the radio listening to CBC broadcast live performances of Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic from across the ocean.

And the night of this concert, not even the white star-inducing headache I was battling could compete with the magic being created on stage.

I should confess that my expectations in seeing Pinchas the first time several years ago were pretty low, considering that I was basing my attendance at the concert solely on having heard his name in sentences with other A-list musicians I greatly admire (Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Yefim Bronfman, to name a few).  I figured, if he was pals with them, how bad could he be – I’d at least get my money’s worth…  It never crossed my mind that it might be possible that the guy could play.  Like, seriously play!

It’s easy to take excellence for granted when you go to as many concerts as I do, but, every now and then, someone comes along who redefines your previous hallmarks and becomes the new standard.  Enter Mr. Zukerman.  After an illustrious 45+ year career, you’d think he might allow himself to sit back and let concertizing take a back seat for a bit while he focuses on his work with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (not to mention his long list of other commitments…), or maybe prepare to enjoy his retirement years.  Nah, not Pinky.  Instead, he still plays over 150 concerts a year around the world.  And it’s kept him at the very top of his game, even in the company of artists 2 generations younger.

“Youth sticks with some people… Zukerman seems the forever-young virtuoso: expressively resourceful, infectiously musical, technically impeccable, effortless.”  (The Los Angeles Times)

This youthfulness has a few years of experience and swagger under its belt now, and so, when Pinchas walks on stage, he knows he’s earned the right to simply let go and play – the beauty being that he’s no longer held hostage by the technicalities of the music or the media game, but is free to engage in the creative interchange between artist, orchestra, and audience where the voice and experience of each is valued for what they bring to the overall conversation.  In a world where the performer gets the glory, the orchestra plays a mere supporting role, and the audience is mostly a passive spectator, this is a rare joy.  One that makes for a concert you don’t quickly forget.

Here’s what I’m talking about.


Lang Lang Inspires

May 27, 2011

  This video comes through TYWKIWDBI (“Tai-Wiki-Widbee”), master collector of online oddities and curios.  
While listening to a piano recital might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, the Royal Festival Hall in London definitely got an earful last Sunday, May 22, as one hundred pianists between the ages of 5 – 23 gathered together on stage to join international piano sensation Lang Lang  (that’s him at the Steinway without a lid) in playing a keyboard adaptation of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, 4th movement.  It’s all part of his Lang Lang Inspires efforts to raise up the next generation of classical music lovers and performers, and promote to music education.

I would have died for an opportunity like this…

The Miracle of Michael Maniaci

May 26, 2011

  There’s something about hearing a guy sing like a girl that tends to catch people off guard – kind of like a Tim Burton movie: it’s strange, surreal, slightly eerie…

You’ll probably need three looks the first time you hear male soprano Michael Maniaci sing.  Take one, you’ll realize that, no, it’s not, in fact, a woman singing.  Take two, you’ll be busy trying to figure out how sounds that high can come out of the mouth of a dude.  And only then will you be over your initial surprise enough to take note of the rare and great voice you’re hearing.  One in 6.92 billion kind of a great voice, to be exact.

Safe to say, Barry White he ain’t.

The Fry and the Sell Out

May 13, 2011

  Driving home late last night, I happened to catch the very end of an interview on CBC Radio 1 with British DJ Kissy Sell Out talking about the irrelevance  of classical music to today’s youth.   He had just finished participating in a debate on the subject at Cambridge University’s Cambridge Union Society with actor, comedian, writer, and avid classical music lover, Stephen Fry, and was giving CBC his run-down on the event.

Not having heard the entire interview, I can’t really comment on it, but to get an idea of where he was coming from you can read this pre-debate article Sell Out wrote for the UK’s “The Independent” newspaper defending his affirmative stance.

Then you can read this (not biased at all in any way) post-debate article from “The Telegraph” newspaper with the *Spoiler Alert* headline:  “Cambridge Union declares classical music not irrelevant after all”.

The full debate can be watched on the Cambridge Union Society website.

This wasn’t a tongue-in-cheek joke parading as a debate (I don’t think Greg Sandow would be involved if it was), although I’m sure it didn’t score low on the entertainment scale.  How could it with a dj and a comedian headlining?  No matter what direction the debate might have swung (although you can probably guess I’m okay with the final outcome), I’m just glad that this is even seen as a viable topic for discussion in a public forum.  I’m having an impossible time imagining a similar debate happening here in North America, let alone getting any coverage from mainstream media…  Uh, nope, wouldn’t happen.  (Cue ominous music as we see our musical crisis looming on the not-so-distant horizon.  Can it be averted??  Stay tuned…)

The debate itself will doubtfully do anything to sway people’s opinions as far as relevance vs. irrelevance –  you can’t transform the emotional landscape of a person’s musical DNA with an intellectual argument; and relevance ultimately finds its hold in education and understanding – but to engage in this dialogue says to me that classical music is far from going the way of the dinosaurs.  If it were, this would be a non-debate and a topic far from the forefront of verbal sparrings.  So, hopefully Classical fans everywhere can take heart – it looks like the fat lady is off on vacation and doesn’t plan to do any singing any time soon.

The Grandest of the Grands

May 4, 2011

  My roommates are coming home tomorrow after being gone for 2 months.  I should probably be tidying up around here but it’s more fun procrastinating for a couple of hours looking up interesting grand pianos.  How much of a dork does that make me?

Chichi, the rocking piano.  A few more details here.

Before Elton John came Liberace, the original King of Bling.  This bedazzled Baldwin was his baby.

I’ve been in the presence of this Steinway & Sons beauty a few times.  Hand painted by Haida artist, Jay Simeon, inside and out, it looks as good as it sounds.  More pics here.

A bold design by architect Daniel Libeskind for the Royal Ontario Museum.  A bit more here.

A Schimmel collaboration with artist and sculptor, Otmar Alt.

The Fazioli “M. Liminal‘s” inspired design.

The Bösendorfer “Edge”.  More here.

The Bösendorfer “Brüssel“, created by architect Jürgen Felsenstein for the 1958 World’s Fair.

And finally, there’s this little rainbow, guaranteed to give you a migraine if not brighten your listening experience.

Jesu Joy for Man’s Dialing

April 25, 2011

  Another quick gem.  This is a cellphone ad… but what a great ad!

 Watch the “behind-the-scenes/making-of” video here.

Slam Dunk

April 21, 2011

  A minor deviation from the usual musical fare, but listen to this.

Then listen again.