Friday, June 27, 2008

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

I am initiating a world-wide search for music that uplifts. It can be funny, celebratory, etc. We spend entirely too much time depressing ourselves with our art, so I wanted to find music that raises our spirits. What piece could possibly be more appropriate to start with than "Ode to Joy", Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

The story behind this piece is wonderful! Beethoven took approximately 12 years to write it, and of course was completely deaf throughout its composition. He and the Kappelmeister at Vienna were in charge of directing it for its premier, but because Beethoven could not deliver coherent instruction that was follow-able, the Kappelmeister instructed all of the performers to ignore Beethoven. That being said, Beethoven still conducted the premier at his pace, while the performers followed at their own (I have no idea how they pulled that off).

Here is an excerpt from wikipedia's story of the account:

When the audience applauded ... Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience's cheers and applause. According to one witness, "the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them." The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation gestures. The theatre house had never seen such enthusiasm in applause.

Ever since Beethoven composed his ninth symphony composers have been intimidated at the prospect of writing their own. This was the first symphony to include singing in the last movement, and here are the words as written by Friedrich Schiller, a famous German poet, author, and philosopher (the words in italics were written by Beethoven):
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let us sing more
pleasant and more joyful ones.
Joy! Joy!
Joy, beautiful spark of gods,
Daughter of Elysium (Heaven)!
We enter, drunk with fire ,
Heavenly one, your shrine.
Your magics again bind
What custom has strictly parted.
All people become brothers,
where your gentle wing alights.
Whoever succeeds in the great attempt
To be a friend of a friend,
Whoever has won a lovely woman,
Let him add his jubilation!
Yes, whoever calls even one soul
His own on the earth's globe!
And who never has, let him steal,
Weeping, away from this group.
All creatures drink joy
At the breasts of nature;
All the good, all the evil
Follow her roses' trail.
Kisses gave she us, and wine,
A friend, proven unto death;
Pleasure was to the worm granted,
And the cherub stands before God.
Glad, as his suns fly
Through the Heavens' glorious plan,
Run, brothers, your race,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, you millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the star-canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.
Finale repeats the words:
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods
This symphony celebrates those who love and are loved as being touched by God. Such a simple concept, to have someone to love, and yet for Beethoven that love was divine.

A couple of fun resources:

CLICK HERE for the entire wikipedia article (very informative).
CLICK HERE to "explore" Beethoven's ninth with conductor Robert Kapilow.
CLICK HERE to see actual scanned copies of the original score.

Here is Leonard Bernstein conducting the famous last movement:

Go to my forum (CLICK HERE) to discuss this piece and suggest more that strike you as uplifting in any way.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Alfredo Kraus Master Class

I just read the transcripts for a create Alfredo Kraus master class. CLICK HERE for the link.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fun Joke

One of my students sent me this joke. It may be a little confusing to non-musicians, but I think it's still a hoot:

C, E-flat and G go into a bar. The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve minors," and E-flat leaves. C and G have an open fifth between them and after a few drinks, G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough. D comes into the bar and heads straight for the bathroom saying, "Excuse me, I'll just be a second."

A comes into the bar, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor and sends him out. Then the bartender notices a B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and shouts, "Get out now. You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight."

Next night, E-flat, not easily deflated, comes into the bar in a 3-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender (who used to have a nice corporate job until his company downsized) says: "You're looking pretty sharp tonight. Come on in. This could be a major development." And in fact, E-flat takes off his suit and everything else and stands there au naturel. Eventually, C, who had passed out under the bar the night before, begins to sober up and realizes in horror that he's under a rest.

So, C goes to trial, is convicted of contributing to the diminution of a minor and sentenced to 10 years of DS without Coda at an up scale correctional facility. The conviction is overturned on appeal, however, and C is found innocent of any wrongdoing, even accidental, and that all accusations to the contrary are bassless.

The bartender decides, however, that since he's only had tenor so patrons, the soprano out in the bathroom and everything has become alto much treble, he needs a rest and closes the bar.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hello from Costa Rica - Hidden Talent

I always enjoy traveling to places I have never been. I create in my mind a picture or expectation of the place I am going to see, basing it on the concept I have of places that I think are similar that I have already visited. In this case I referenced my experience on my mission in Torreon, Mexico which I finished 9 years ago. Torreon (and the outlying areas) are all I know of latin america, and though I knew that Costa Rica is tropical and Torreon is desert, the rest I expected to be about the same.

For the most part my expectations were right. It is much greener here, and San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica) is surrounded by beautiful tropical mountains. There are waterfalls nearby, and other tourist attractions such as active volcanoes, beaches, and more. There is also extreme poverty just like in Mexico: houses made out of of cardboard or tin, low wages, old clothes, etc. The state of music however, is much different.

In Northern Mexico the popular music celebrates terrible singing. The hymns that they sing in church are the same five or six sung over and over again. I had no idea what to expect from a national symphony orchestra and chorus from here, and was so pleasantly surprised that I am already hoping that I get an opportunity to sing with them many more times. They love great music, and are extremely emotional and proficient in their performance of it. They appreciate and recognize artistry, and create art themselves.

I am traveling with Karen Esquivel, an American from Costa Rica who sings contralto with us and used to live and teach here. When she arrived many of her old colleageus and students rushed to greet her with great affection, and her husband Gustavo told us of what an impact she had and still has on the lives of all the young singers here. She is studying at Florida State University now to try and create opportunities for these singers to study in the United States, and those opportunities should be provided. They simply cannot afford the travel costs or the risk if they do not get accepted. We can help them create those opportunities (more on that later).

I have had a wonderful time here. The hotel is very nice with a lovely view of the mountains, and it has been a real treat brushing up my Spanish skills. The local paper "La Nacion" interviewd us a couple of days ago, so CLICK HERE if you would like to read more (sorry, it's in Spanish). I will have pictures when I return home.

(If you would like to join in a discussion on how to help those in places like Costa Rica CLICK HERE to go to my website forum)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Photo Blog & Alfredo Kraus

Recently my family and I made a couple of trips around the Tallahassee area while my parents were visiting, and I took some really fun pictures. If you would like to see them CLICK HERE to visit my photo blog (the new entries start on May 30th).

Also, Jamison (the endless source of great tenor videos) sent me another great one with Alfredo Kraus singing the Pearl Fishers aria. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jonas Kaufman & The Student Prince

I was talking with my friend Jamison tonight about my wonderful memories in Heidelberg (where I grew up), and what I great experience I had singing in the Student Prince. I told him about the two tenors that sang the role of the Prince, and how one of them was a great actor and the other had an incredible voice. Then it dawned on me that in my memory one of them (the one with such an amazing voice) looked a lot like Jonas Kaufman, one of my favorite tenors. I looked up his biography and much to my surprise, it WAS Jonas Kaufman.

So...I already sang with Jonas Kaufman!! I rehearsed with him every day for a couple of months, and remember enjoying that time immensely. What a fun realization!

I just looked on YouTube, and found a video of him singing the Student Prince with Dawn (our soprano) in the courtyard of the castle right where we performed it. These are the original costumes and everything (I wore the exact style and color he is wearing in the video). I was swept with all kinds of emotion from all of the memories. Here is the video:

It surely is a small world.

Rolando Villazon: Funny & Great

I wanted to post a few of my favorite Villazon videos (I am sure there will be many more to come).

First, one of my favorites (that's Thomas Hampson who gives him the high fives at the end):

Here he is learning "Lensky's Aria" (one that I am working on) from the opera Eugene Onegin. This has some great insight into the process (Russian, holy cow!):

And finally, a duet with him and Anna Netrebko. They really pull off this duet from La Boheme: