Monday, November 28, 2011

Concert Announcement

André Watts, Piano
Duke University
Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Ticket prices are $46, $38, $22, $5 for Duke Students
Tickets for Watts

André Watts was born to an American father and a Hungarian mother, the latter of whom famously used stories of Liszt's work ethic to inspire Watts to practice as a child. This paid off when he was selected to fill in for Glenn Gould with the New York Philharmonic in 1963, where he did a outstanding performance of Liszt's first concerto. In Durham, the Avery Fisher Prize recipient trains an all-Liszt program in honor of Liszts bicentennial. 

During my internship with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, I had the opportunity to work and spend time with Watts. He is one of the most humble and outstanding musicians of our generation. 

LISZT: Étude de Concert No. 3, “Un Sospiro”
LISZT: Les Jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este
LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor
LISZT: Bagatelle ohne Tonart
LISZT: Nuages Gris
LISZT: En Rêve
LISZT: La Lugubre Gondola No. 2
LISZT: Schlaflos, Frage und Antwort
LISZT: Étude No. 5, “La Chasse,” from Six Grand Études de Paganini
LISZT: Transcendental Étude No. 10 in F Minor
LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A Minor

CD of the Week: Diamond Music

This week I'm playing Palladio by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins.. This work has been used in a television commercial from the De Beers diamond corporation. This work has a special place in my heart because I played this work with a quartet during my 8th grade promotion ceremony.

Also here is a video of famous pop group, "Escala" playing their version of the work. Which version do you like the most?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Glass Harmonica

Check out this guy dressed like Benjamin Franklin, the creator of the glass harmonica....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Funk isn't Classical

Nothing bothers me more than these instrumentalists on YouTube who take famous classical works and translate them into upbeat and funky music. While I understand that everyone doesn't enjoy standard classical music, I don't think it is appropriate to alter music. The first problem with this is that the performer is sacrificing and downing musicianship. They are playing more for audience appeal so they loose the structure of the music -must I add that classical composers work extremely hard to establish and maintain structure through music. And secondly they are loosing the style and ultimately the history behind the music. There is no way that you can keep the Baroque style while sliding up and down the finger board of a violin and adding drum beats behind it. I wonder how Bach or Haydn would feel if they heard their music being portrayed in this way.

Talking about this, the image that I always have in my mind is Joshua Bell, VERY famous violinists, dressed as a normal person standing in the New York subway playing his violin and not making a dime. But the man across from him playing hip music on the guitar received a lot of money and attention. Why is this? Im pretty sure Bell was playing some works that even half of today's symphony musicians couldn't play. I just don't understand. Talking about Joshua Bell, this leads me to the next point about artists having to play contemporary music to stay interesting and appealing to artists. Why can't they continue to play standard music and develop new interpretations of standard classical music?

As I looked on YouTube its a shame that people who have altered classical music into funk receive more hits than standard musicians playing music -and pretty well I must add. As I looked at the people who commented and liked these video's I did find that more often, minorities especially African American's commented on the funk interpretations rather than the standard classical pieces. I also got upset when I look  at the McDonalds commercial and there are two African-American hip hop violinists. Why does it have to be this way to appeal to a certain audience. What do we have to do to expose minorities to this new world? I just want to be able to a classical concert and see people who look like me sitting on the stage and sitting next to me on the concert.

Check out this video to see this guy playing a 'Hip-Hop' version of a Paganini Caprice. What can we do to end this?

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Downward Spiral of the Ladies Man

Opera Review of the Metropolitan Opera’s Production of Don Giovanni
The Metropolitan Opera presented a dark and erotic interpretation of the new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The production premiered on October 29, 2011 at 12: 55 in New York City with a HD simulcast that took place in theatres throughout the country.
Don Giovanni, which is separated into two acts, is named after a nobleman and seducer Don Giovanni, who is said to have affairs with women all throughout Europe. The first act begins with Fabio Luisi entering the stage and conducting the mysterious and vivid “Overture.” The orchestra and Luisi exaggerated the drastic dynamic changes to emphasize the changing moods throughout the work. Additionally, Luisi took liberty during the whole note passages and sped up during the moving note passages, I believe to reveal the rise and demise of Giovanni. Despite that Luisi never conducted Don Giovanni prior to this performance, he was very meticulous in regaining the tempo whenever he slowed down.
The “Overture” seemingly moved to Leporello, a servant to Don Giovanni, standing outside the Commendateore’s palace complaining about his duties to Giovanni. During this production of Don Giovanni it’s clear that Michael Grandage, producer of the opera, wanted to emphasize the fact that ‘Giovanni’ is a comic opera. In the first act, especially during Leporello’s first aria, his frustration of working for Don Giovanni is presented in a very exaggerated and comical way. Additionally, Don Giovanni tries to seduce Donna Anna and kills her father who is the Commendatore during a duel. It’s obvious that from this point forward is the beginning of the end of Don Giovanni and the rest of his seduction attempts only placed him in worse predicaments. Don Ottavio, who is engaged to Don Anna, then promises her that he will seek revenge on the person who has murdered her father. “Ah, vendicar, se il puoi, giura quell sangue ognor.” Don Ottavio had a very beautiful tone and phrased and used dynamic contrast to create a memorable performance during his two arias.
Giovanni later goes to a tavern where he flirts with Donna Elvira who is also a woman that he once attempted to seduce in the past. Giovanni has Leporello distract Elvira as he escapes from the tavern. Giovanni then runs into a set of his friends, Zerlina and Masetto, who are planning to exchange their vows. Masetto sings with richness that helps to set the dark and pensive mood. Giovanni flirts with Zerlina until Don Elvira breaks her away. Despite that Giovanni knows that he is getting deeper into trouble, he still remains very smooth and charming while he flirts with women. Although Don Elvira removes Zerlina from the situation, Giovanni is most suave and elegant at this point as he attempts to ‘woo’ her. As Donna Elvira returns to tell everyone that Giovanni attempts to flirt and seduce a lot of women, he runs into Donna Anna and she recognizes his voice as the person who killed her father. Don Elvira was breathtaking during this scene. She presented a sensual performance that makes it clear that although she wants Giovanni punished it is clear that she loves him.
Everyone who is at the feast in celebration of Zerlina and Masetto overindulge in champagne as Zerlina is outside trying to convince Masetto to forgive her for her infidelity with Giovanni. Giovanni appears and convinces everyone to wear mask to the festivities. Eventually, Donna Elvira, Donna Anna and Don Ottavio recognize Giovanni. At this point of the opera, it becomes very confusing to keep up with all of the characters and everything going on. At times it becomes overwhelming to even watch the performers because they are each over exaggerating both their singing, their acting and motions: partly for the fact that this is a peak of the opera and mostly because the performers have to produce in a massive hall. Also, there were moments when the soprano Donna Anna seemed as though she was straining to be heard over the orchestra. The act ends with Ottavio and Giovanni sword fighting and Giovanni escaping.
The second act opened up with Leporello and Giovanni underneath Elvira’s balcony exchanging coats. Giovanni has Leporello to distract Donna Elvira as the Don attempts to flirt with Elvira’s maid. I was hoping for Donna Elvira to be more assertive during this portion of the scene, rather she was just very submissive and didn’t take control. Masetto passes with a group of peasants that want to help bring down Giovanni but Masetto is eventually beaten up. Elvira and the disguised Leporello end up running into Masetto, Zerlina, Anna and Ottavio. They all think that Leporello is Giovanni and threaten to punish him. Leporello reveals his true identity and breaks away to tell Giovanni what has happened and the two return home. Leporello was an impressive singer. He had to walk a fine line between being a servant, friend and peasant and in combination with his singing, his acting really helped to distinguish between each of these personas. As Leporello serves dinner the Commendatore’s statue is announced at the door. He gives Giovanni the opportunity to repent for all of his sins but because he is too proud, Giovanni refuses. Giovanni’s house catches on fire and he is dragged to hell.
I found the last scene to be the most melodramatic of the entire opera. Especially at the point when the Don grabs onto Donna Elvira, he held on so tightly that it was apparent that she was unable to move. I really liked when the flames burst as Don Giovanni was dragged to hell. Although I was watching the opera through a movie screen, it added to the fact that Don Giovanni was to be tortured and live a life of pain and despair.
I absolutely loved the set and that fact that there was a lot of attention placed on detail during each of the scenes. Although there was a lot of materials towards the back of the stage, it was still constructed and strategically placed in a way that pushed all of the action downstage while still allowing the opportunity for things to take place behind the singers. I also liked how the lighting was placed that supported the mood of each of the scenes, for example the gloomy street scenes. Although the production didn’t seem to take many risk from the other productions that I have seen of Don Giovanni every single thing from the choreography to the music to the committed cast seemed to have a clear point of view.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Don Giovanni is Coming

Non si picca – se sia ricca,
Se sia brutta, se sia bella; Purché porti la gonnella, Voi sapete quel che fa.

The Mets live production of Mozart's Don Giovanni is premiering tomorrow in theaters. Ive been hearing and reading mixed reviews of the opera but it should be interesting. Im also looking forward to seeing the new staging that caused millions of dollars to design. There is a limited showing of the opera, so check it out and tell me what you think. I will also be posting my review of the concert shortly after the concert.

Below is James Levine conducting the overture to Don Giovanni

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thought of the Day...

With the Met's production of "Don Giovanni" coming out next week I thought that this weeks thought should come from Wolgang Amadeus Mozart:
"I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings."
This quote has a deep impression on me because I feel that very often we worry so much about other people's ideas of us rather than connecting and meeting the desires of our own feelings. As you embark on your weekend, follow your feelings and have some FUN!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Need a Break- Play a Game

If you have some free time play this game sponsored by and test your ability to name the famous composers of these great works. Don't be discouraged... have fun!


CD of the Week: Shostakovich: The String Quartets

The CD of the Week *drumroll* everybody's favorite- Shostakovich: The String Quartets by the Emerson String Quartet. I just can't resist the pure anger and distress in all of the quartets.  Check out this video of the Emerson String Quartet performing the Shostakovich No. 3. AMAZING!

Dmitri Shostakovich was born on September 25, 1906 in St. Petersburg, Russia. He immediately stood out as a prodigy and by 1918 he wrote his first funeral march. Shostakovich became famous in the Soviet Union under Leon Trotsky's chief of staff Mikhail Tukhachevsky, but later had a complex and difficult relationship with the government.
Being heavily influenced by Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, Shostakovich developed a hybrid style, especially shown through Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. This single work juxtaposed a wide variety of trends, including the neo-classical style and post-Romanticism.
Shostakovich's orchestral works include 15 symphonies and six concerto. His symphonic work is typically complex and requires large scale orchestras. Music for chamber ensembles includes 15 string quartets, a piano quintet, two pieces for a string octet, and two piano trios. For the piano he composed two solo sonatas, a set of preludes, and a later set of 24 preludes and fugues. Other works include three operas, and a series of film music.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Celebrating 10 Years

Congratulations to Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conductor Robert Spano for his 10 years of service with the ASO. During my time interning with the ASO, I had several opportunities to meet and work with Mr. Spano and he is truly a remarkable and genuinely nice person. Click on the video below to watch the ASO's dedication video to Spano.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Race in the Classics

As an African American violinist, I have always been bothered by the fact that there are not a lot of African-Americans and Hispanics within the world of classics (orchestra,opera,dance). Yesterday as I sat in orchestra, I looked around and realized that I AM THE ONLY African-American in the Cornell Symphony Orchestra. In the past, there have been at least one or two other blacks in orchestra but now there are NONE! Now I have to ask everyone, Why is this the case?

From my personal experience, my parents had to struggle and re-shuffle money to pay for private lessons with top symphony musicians, pay to constantly upgrade and the general maintenance of my instrument and endure travel experiences to different orchestra activities. Is this why we don't see minorities, excluding Asians, in today's classical world? Do minorities not have the resources for their kids to be artists or because of the limited resources provided to minorities in general, they aren't willing to take the risk to invest in the kids as artist.

Looking in orchestra, its amazing that classic arts is still classified as a privileged and wealthy craft. But what is most surprising is how orchestra especially is dominated by Asians. A lot of my friends are first generation Asians however, they are still preserving to become the top musicians. I think that it goes far beyond cultural differences and perspectives and basically boils down to expectations. From my experience, in the black community we are not expected to become top artists because it sooo out of the norm. There is no stride to become classical artists. My entire life I have always been asked, "Why not Jazz." My question back is Why not Classical? Because jazz derived from African origins, I guess it is more familiar and seems more 'normal' for minorities to engage in jazz music.

Classical music is simply something that is not taken serious in minority communities and now it is really starting to become a big issue. Although competitive, there are several values, lessons and skills that are embedded within classical music and I really think that minorities need to start exploring these options. I am very familiar with the big outreach programs to encourage minority artists to become more engage in their craft but this clearly an issue that needs to start at the root -our community and our homes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book: The Healthy Dancer

The American Ballet Theatre just released a book, "The Healthy Dancer: ABT Guidelines for Dancers Health." The book gives easy-to-follow guidelines for teachers, parents, students and trainers. The book is broken into three parts:
Part 1- The Anatomy of a Dancers Body
Part 2-Advice for a Young Dancer
Part 3- Risk Management and Advice for Teachers and how to handle stress

The Academy Award Winner, "Black Swan" is one of my favorite movies, however it brought up a lot of issues that dancers have to face so I am really happy that ABT has released this book. Click on the link below to learn more information and to order a copy. This is a great book to give away for the Holidays!  ABT Book Link

CD of the Week: Reverse Thread

Jazz Violinist Regina Carter released her latest album, "Reverse Thread." This is a great album to keep your spirits high as it starts to get cold outside. Carter is currently on tour visiting cities throughout the country. The album plays on familiar themes with a twist. I saw Carter perform a few years ago and she and her accompanying band have a very distinctive sound. That distinction is very clear in Reverse Thread. Click on Free Download to get a free download from the album, visit iTunes to purchase the album and below is a video of Carter performing excerpts from "Reverse Thread."

Joshua Bell and the ASO

Violinist Joshua Bell is performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto this weekend with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Tickets start at $26.00.
This is defiantly going to be a magical performance. If you are in Atlanta during the time go and check it out!!!

Joshua Bell and the ASO Tickets and Program Notes

Sounds of a New Century

Check out this cool website for the Sonic Festival. The festival is targeted for composers under forty. The first concert is this Friday. Even if you can't make the actual concert the website includes a lot of information for aspiring composers and musicians. SONiC FESTIVAL

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Quote of the Day...

“Music is born out of the inner sounds within a soul; all the music that was ever heard came from the inner silence in every musician.” John McLaughlin

Thursday, October 6, 2011

'Face to Face' Exhibit Now at the Johnson Museum

There is a pretty cool exhibit going on right now at the Cornell University Johnson Museum called Face to Face. A range of haunting and intimate faces from Ancient Egypt and Persia, the exhibit celebrates faces and the pain and joy faces can display. The exhibit is going on until October 30th and would be a great Halloween activity so check it out. 

Below is a link to the Johnson Museum if you want more information. 

CD of the Week: New to Classics DeClassified

My friends always ask me, "What are you listening to today." So I thought I would share with you my weekly favorites.

Log in every week to see which CD's I just can't seem to stop listening to. 

This week's CD is "Valery Gergiev and Mariinsky Orchestra: Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4"
I have listened to several different works by Tchaikovsky by the orchestra and by far this is the best interpretation that I have heard thus far. Check out this video to hear and see the orchestra and if you like it, purchase it on iTunes. 

Here is a video with an interview with Gergiev talking about all of Tchaikovsky's Symphonies. 

Lang Lang: Liszt-My Piano Hero Review

In his new album "Liszt: My Piano Hero," Lang Lang presents one of the most ire performances of Liszt that I have heard. Although Liszt is most popular among pianists, everyone can really appreciate every work on this entire album. As I have been reading some other reviews about the album, several people have been arguing that his choice of pieces are pinched, he plays the works at a third rate and he is playing on the piano way too hard and it is taking away from the works in general. I totally have to disagree with this. It is already very clear that Lang Lang is one of the great pianist of our time and he adores Liszt, so I think that his selection choice especially, was well chosen. Every little aspect is taken into consideration with him presenting a cohesive and innovative interpretation of Liszt.

Check it out online and/or purchase it on iTunes and tell me what you think. Also watch and listen to Lang Lang perform Liszt.

Lang Lang is a chinese american pianist who grew up in New York studying at the Julliard School. His studies and talent gave him world recognition and he has been touring the world since he was five years old. Lang Lang has done several recordings of Liszt. Liszt was born in 1811 and became extremely popular for his virtuosic skills as a pianist. As he began to write his own compositions, he model his style after the great composers like Wagner, Saint-Saens, Grieg and Borodin. Through his piano compositions, Liszt helped to expand the knowledge of musical form and ultimately he coined the term 'symphonic poem' which allows a certain movement in a symphony a picture, dance or emotion is evoked on the stage.

Check out this video with clips of Liszt's music and some other composers that were mentioned above. 

Monday, September 26, 2011


Words can't express how excited I am that my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE violinist is back on the stage. After taking a break from her 175 World Concert Tour, Sarah Chang performed with the Pacific Symphony this week. Chang played Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor. The orchestra played to bring awareness to global warming; they played a series of works inspired by sustainability such as James N. Howard's "I Will Plant a Tree" under the direction of Carl St. Clair. While walking on the red carpet, Chang announced that she is working on a new album that will be coming out in the beginnning of next year. I CANT WAIT!!!!!

Child prodigy Sarah Chang made her first debut with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra in 1989. By age ten she was enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music where she studied with popular teacher, Dororthy Delay. With Delay's help Chang was performing throughout the world by eleven years old. Born in Philadelphia to Korean immigrant parents, Chang worked to develop her skills and by age fifteen she was signed EMG records. Chang has been signed to them since and now at only thirty years old she is one of the most popular violinist and most recognize musician in the world. Check out this video of Chang at her finest.

All of the WHITE Lights!

October 20th till November 19th, the Lincoln Center in New York City will be hosting the White Light Festival. Tickets start at $35 (which isn't too bad). Performers will include members from the London Symphony Orchestra, Huelgas Ensemble and speakers like Toni Morrison. I wished I was in the city for this because one of my favorite chorals, "Lux Aeterna" is being performed :( But Check it out and tell me how it goes!

For additional information, check out the link below:

Personal Note

I will like to send my condolences to the family of Troy Davis and Mark MacPhail (the officer who Davis was accused of killing)... Rather Innocent or not this is defiantly a sad case for both families. Hopefully, one day the truth will be revealed...

Piano-Rific: Bilson Concert Review

Malcolm Bilson, a fortepiano specialists and Cornell University professor, performed a collection of freewheeling works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven on September 18th at the Cornell University Barnes Hall. Playing each of the works on the standard fortepiano, an attentive listener could easily pick up on not only Bilson’s attention to minor details but also the creative liberties that he took to personalize each work in the performance.

The three movement opener, “Sonata in E Minor” (1784), by Joseph Haydn, involved fluid and light piano melodies. The work begins in E minor with a motive that includes an eight-note arpeggio. The first phrase ends in a half cadence with and then transitions into G major and ends in a half cadence. The main phrase is repeated and then ends in G major until the end of the section. The beginning section returns and modulates to the development that continues to modulate between C major and E minor until the end, when the work moves back to E minor with a small development section.

I enjoyed Bilson’s interpretation of this work. One major characteristic that I found interesting was that each time that he returned to the main theme he exaggerated the dynamics, which helped to shape the melodic lines and to contrast the different textures within the melody. The first movement was my favorite. As the downbeat began in the bass, Bilson intertwined each component of the accompaniment and melody making it clear that he is gearing towards the end of the phrase. Also in the first movement, there were several fermatas that Bilson tended to hold longer than other recordings that I have heard, however, he regained his original tempo throughout the rest of the piece.

Second on the program was “12 Variations on ‘Ah, vous dirari-je, Maman’” (1783), a series of variations on a melody from a French folk song by W.A. Mozart. Today the melody of the work is the same to many children’s works such as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Apart from the fact that the beginning variations, due to their familiarity, caused laughter among the audience, Bilson managed to give an amusing and spirited interpretation of each variation. Originally composed for solo piano, the first section is the theme and the subsequent sections are variations.

In the variations, I felt that Bilson worked to show some differences that Mozart made between each one. For example, in variation 2, there is a series of non-harmonic tones. In variations 2, 3 and 4 there is a series of cadences. In variation 5 the two voices go back and forth. And in variations 10 and 12 there is a series of diminished sevenths. Although the melody is something that each member of the audience heard since they were children, I felt that it was one of the most important works in the concert because Bilson performed each variation completely different from one another –with its own energy. Ultimately, depending on what sounds and textures a person likes to hear, there was at least one variation that adhered to that.

Third on the program was Mozart’s “Sonata in F Major” (1783), in which, the first movement especially, was my favorite work on the program. Mozart puts few chromatics and suspensions throughout the work to transition the listener into the non-chord tones that come later in the work. Although there is a smooth and continuous melody in the beginning, there is a grand crescendo that transition into the second phrase. Their dynamics then drop back and returns to the first phrase. What I find most interesting is that during the second phrase there is a rhythmic contrast, arpeggios in the accompaniment while the melody continues, that is not found any where else in the piece. I liked that although the melody is an important factor in any piece, Bilson managed to incorporate the accompaniment nicely with the melody in way that they were complementing each other rather than supporting.

Throughout each of the movements, especially in the first movement, Bilson took several repeats. I was appreciative for the fact that he continued to return to the main theme, because although I have heard this piece several times, it was beneficial to hear the melody and the transitions between them each time. Also, each time that Bilson returned to the first phrase, he emphasized the melody in a different way –rather it be emphasis on the dynamics or the small details such as the grace notes. What I noticed most about Bilson’s playing was that during the second and third movements, he continued to mute the fortepiano to play certain sections. Not only did I not realize that the work called for this alteration in sound, but it was interesting to see how it is done on the fortepiano.

Beethoven’s “Sonata in D Minor” (1802) opened up the second half and reinforced Bilson’s commitment to detail. The development began very slow and mellow and then build up to the exposition. Then modulates to the recapitulation until the end, which is fast and very suspenseful. The second movement begins in B flat major and resembles the largo section of the first movement. It continues to stay very steady with lots of rising melodic ideas. The third movement is the climax of the entire work. It re-emphasizes the main melody in the first movement and then transitions into the recapitulation, which has a cadenza in the melody. The melody continues to build up to the climax and then slowly returns to the beginning phrase.

A distinguishing factor of the work is how Beethoven developed the first part, which contains both Largo and Allegro. Due to the two tempos during the first movement, I think that of all of the works on the program, Bilson did an excellent job at distinguishing between the two tempos. I really liked how he used the dynamics to add a more dramatic effect to the tempo change. During the slower passages, the mood was more peaceful rather, during the allegro sections; there were extensive passages of rage and havoc.

Bilson closed the program with “Sonata in E-Flat Major” by Beethoven. The first movement consisted of lots of harmonic color throughout the introduction. The main melody is constantly repeated and then transitions to the development. During the second movement, although common of a scherzo, there were several unexpected playful pauses. Also as the melody carried on, the accompaniment included staccato which added a very interesting texture to the piece. The very serious yet sweet third movement consists of a minuet and trio and the fourth movement is filled with energy and spirited.

I think that during the fourth movement especially, Bilson took full advantage of the lively nature of the work. Although it was fast and upbeat, I liked that Bilson didn’t allow the notes to over power the total character of the work, rather it was clear that he had full control of every aspect of the work. Overall, I really enjoyed the concert. In each of the works, I really felt that Bilson seemed very knowledge about the history behind each of the works. Through his thorough knowledge he was able to produce a very insightful and enjoyable concert.