La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: November 30 (Lupu)

1945 - Radu Lupu, Galaţi, Romania; pianist


Radu Lupu plays Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 19, K. 459, 3rd mvt. (Deutsch Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, conducted by David Zinman)

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Saturday, 29 November 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: November 29 (Donizetti)

1797 - Gaetano Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy; composer

Donizetti Foundation website

Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor (Greg Turay, Ruth Ann Swenson, Beth Clayton, Valerian Ruminski, Kim Josephson, Eric Cutler; Julius Rudel conducting.  Richard Tucker Gala, Avery Fisher Hall, N.Y., 2001)

Duet from Don Pasquale Act 3 (Beverley Sills and Gabriel Bacquier, 1979)

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Friday, 28 November 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: November 28 (Anton Rubinstein, Lully)

1829 - Anton Rubinstein, Vykhvatinets, Ukraine; pianist, composer and conductor


String Quartet in F, op. 17, no. 3, 1st mvt. (Covington String Quartet, Washington, 2008)

1632 - Jean-Baptiste Lully, Florence, Italy; composer


Passacaille from Armide (danced by Philippa Waite)

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Thursday, 27 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 27 (Cozzolani, H. Hahn)

1602 - Chiara Cozzolani, Milan, Italy; composer


Cappella Clausura performs "Laudate pueri" from Cozzolani's Vespro della Beata Vergine

1979 - Hilary Hahn, Lexington, VA, U.S.A.; violinist

Official website

Hilary Hahn plays Korngold's Violin Concerto, 3rd mvt. (Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, conducted by Kent Nagano)

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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Discussion for a New Montreal Cultural Event

Subject: Ideas for a New Montreal Cultural Event to replace the Grand Prix

Now that Montreal has been bumped from the Grand Prix circuit for 2009, the City of Montreal is looking for a high caliber summer event to draw tourists and put Montreal back on the international map.

La SCENA invites businesses, politicians and the arts community to propose a new summer event with an arts theme. What will our rallying call be?

Sujet : Solutions de remplacement culturelles au Grand Prix de Montréal

Puisqu’elle ne fera pas partie du circuit de la Formule Un en 2009, la Ville de Montréal est à la recherche d’idées d’événements de grande envergure pour la saison d’été afin de conserver à Montréal son rayonnement international et son attrait touristique.

LA SCENA invite gens d’affaires, politiciens et artistes à proposer des projets d’événements centrés sur les arts. Sous quelle bannière nous regrouperons-nous?

Envoyez vos suggestions à ou


International Arts Festival - highlighting classical/opera music, theatre, dance, foreign films, paintings/sculptures, ...
Venue: Old Montreal and PDA area
Duration: 7 full days of spectacular highlights of the various arts disciplines

- Lilian Liganor



Au lieu d'avoir, un casino, pourquoi pas un complexe multi salle de concert pour toutes sortes d'événements : concert de jazz, concert classique, salle pour un opéra, pour le Broadway, un autre pour de la musique contemporaine, un autre pour la musique électro-acoustique, un autre pour les chorales et encore pour des groupes populaires etc.

Le cirque du soleil aimerait probablement investir dans un tel endroit avec d'autres partenaires qui ont une pensée plus éthique et plus verte. Le cirque pourrait avoir un spectacle permanent et au lieu de passer à travers un casino pourquoi pas une salle avec des oeuvres d'art.

Il pourrait même y avoir des salles pour diffuser des films musicaux.

Il pourrait y avoir des concours(national et international) de tout genre et dans tous les styles musicaux.

Bien sûr, il faudra trouver un site pour une telle attraction ou bien en construire un.


Richard Quinn


It seems to me that Montréal is just as capable as Toronto of having an International Art Fair. Why not invite Art Basel to think of a venue in our fair city? Look what Art Basel has done for Miami.

Jacqueline Hébert Stoneberger
Collins, Lefebvre, Stoneberger


Is there anything that could be done with Le Cirque du Soleil? Maybe some kind of circus festival.

Marguerite Corriveau
Vanier College


Problem is we have too many “cultural” festivals right now.

I think everyone agrees on that point. So if we were smart, we would rethink, restructure and reorganize (dates, venues, etc.) what we have now. This should be done in the spirit of what is best for the city and its citizens, without any one festival (even Spectra /FIJM) throwing its weight about. They are all getting public funding and most of them are grabbing a slice of the other’s turf. Think of the confusion between the jazz fest and the different festivals of world music. Last year, the FIJM was more world than jazz. Where does that leave the others, who are getting public funding too.

We should use this unique moment to pause, rethink and reorganize.

The media should not create and feed an artificial sentiment of loss, a void that has to be filled quickly or else. Rushing in at full speed is the worst-case scenario. Think of the mess around Le Festival des films du monde.

My God! What a mess that was. It did hurt the cinema scene of Montreal too.

-- Jean-Pierre Sévigny

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Today's Birthday in Music: November 26 (Istomin)

1925 - Eugene Istomin, New York, U.S.A.; pianist

The Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio play Schubert's Piano Trio Op. 100, D. 929, 2nd mvt.

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Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 25 (V. Thomson, Kempff)

1896 - Virgil Thomson, Kansas City, Mo., U.S.A.; composer

Virgil Thomson Foundation website

Thomson's The River accompanies display of photos of the Pacific Northwest by Darius Kinsey

1895 - Wilhelm Kempff, Jüterbog, Germany; pianist and composer

Majestic Poet

Wilhelm Kempff plays Beethoven's Sonata No. 27, Op. 90, 1st mvt. (filmed in 1970)

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Monday, 24 November 2008

Austin Explores "Hungarian Connection"

Classical Travels with Paul E. Robinson

It was a clever idea for Austin Symphony music director Peter Bay to preface a rare performance of Miklós Rózsa’s Violin Concerto with some of Brahms Hungarian Dances. Rózsa was born in Budapest and makes use of Hungarian folk music in his concerto. The major work on the program was Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, a work that has no apparent Hungarian connection. But who can be sure? Besides twenty-one Hungarian Dances and eleven Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy Songs), not to mention the "Rondo alla Zingarese" from his G minor Quartet, Brahms had Hungarian music in his blood.

How Hungarian are Brahms’ “Hungarian” Dances?
Peter Bay chose to program just three of the Hungarian Dances and only the ones that Brahms orchestrated himself from pieces originally composed for piano duet. To my mind these pieces best reveal their charm when they are played by two people – preferably very good friends – seated at one keyboard. But it is understandable that Brahms wanted to capitalize on the popularity of these pieces by making them available for performance by symphony orchestras. Incidentally, the discussion still rages as to whether the music Brahms used as the basis for his dances were really gypsy rather than Hungarian. The consensus is that the music Bartók and Kodály later uncovered in their travels through rural Hungary was both much more authentic and more complex.

Hungarian-Born Miklós Rózsa Prolific Composer of Movie Music
Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995) may have been born in Hungary but he lived most of his life in Los Angeles writing music for the movies. He was very good at it too and his skills contributed greatly to the success of films such as Ben Hur, Spellbound, Double Indemnity, Quo Vadis, and even the Steve Martin comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. But Rózsa wrote important concert music too. When Leonard Bernstein made his legendary debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1943 there was a Rózsa work on the program: Theme,Variations and Finale Op. 13. And it was Jascha Heifetz who encouraged Rózsa to write his Violin Concerto and gave the first performance in 1956 with the Dallas Symphony.

At the time Rózsa was at the height of his career as a film composer. Not surprisingly, the Violin Concerto does sound a lot like film music of the period. It has soaring romantic melodies and lush orchestration. What’s more, Rózsa borrowed chunks from the Violin Concerto for the film score he composed in 1970 for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The Violin Concerto is a well-made and very attractive piece that deserves a place in the repertoire. And Robert McDuffie is just the man to play it. He recorded it in 1999 for Telarc and lately he has been playing it all over the world, including on a tour with the Jerusalem Symphony.
McDuffie Dazzles with Tone & Technique in Rózsa’s Violin Concerto
There are certainly Hungarian elements in the Violin Concerto but they are not the gypsy elements popularized by Brahms. Rózsa makes use of the pentatonic scale and some rhythmic devices characteristic of some Hungarian folk music. But it would be misleading to say that the concerto is “based” on Hungarian folk music. It has a character all its own. When the music is not lyrical it is often virtuosic in the extreme, especially in the thrilling codas closing the first and third movements. I had never heard McDuffie live before and I was immensely impressed by his superlative playing and commanding presence. I was also amazed by the volume of sound he produced. After just a few concerts in the still-new Long Center it is impossible to say what the hall is contributing to the music. But it seems that the hall is very flattering to the sound of a solo violin. In any case, let’s hope that McDuffie returns soon. He is a wonderful artist. And let’s not forget conductor Peter Bay’s contribution to the success of this performance. He and the ASO were with McDuffie every step of the way.

A Scholarly Reading of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4
The concert concluded with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in a performance that sounded well-prepared and very satisfying on its own terms. Peter Bay gave us a scholarly view of the score, paying careful attention to balances – the low-lying flute solo in the fourth movement came through beautifully - and maintaining forward motion. Over the years orchestras have grown larger and conductors have tended to make Brahms symphonies richer and more powerful than they were in the composer’s lifetime. We know that at the first performances a much smaller string section was used. On the other hand, orchestras play in larger halls today and perhaps they need to produce a bigger sound for the music to make the same effect.

Orchestral Seating Plans & the Search for an Ideal Sound
Bearing all of these issues in mind I personally would still like to hear a more robust sound in the Brahms symphonies. Perhaps the acoustics of the hall were not entirely sympathetic to the conductor’s approach. Peter Bay and the ASO might want to experiment with different seatings. For this concert the double basses were lined up on the extreme right of the stage and from where I sat they hardly projected at all. Perhaps they could be moved to the left side facing out for better effect. The timpani was placed at the right rear of the orchestra and the sound was distant and muffled. Similarly, the trumpets seemed to disappear in the climaxes. In such matters Leopold Stokowski provides a useful role model. He never stopped searching for better seating plans for his orchestras. He realized that every hall is different, and that there is nothing scientific about the traditional orchestral seating. The point is to try to find the ideal sound for every piece in every place. We can’t do much to physically change concert halls after they have been built but we can certainly try to make them sound better. And Stokowski was legendary for making orchestras sound wonderful.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website.

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Today's Birthdays in Music: November 24 (Schnittke)

1934 - Alfred Schnittke, Engels, USSR; composer


Concerto for Piano and Strings (part 2) (Svetlana Ponomareva, piano; Omsk Chamber Orchestra conducted by Yuri Nikolaevsky; Omsk, Russia, 2003)

Suite in the Old Style: Menuett (R. Mints, viola d'amore, A. Karpenko, harpsichord, D. Vlasik, percussion; Homecoming Chamber Music Festival)

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 23 (Penderecki, Falla)

1933 - Krzysztof Penderecki, Dębica, Poland; composer and conductor


Excerpt from Polish Requiem, conducted by the composer

Concerto for Viola, Part 1 (Tabea Zimmerman, viola; conducted by the composer)

1876 - Manuel de Falla, Cádiz, Spain; composer


Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Céderic Tiberghien, piano; Orchestre National de Lille, conducted by Paul Polivnik)

"Ritual Fire Dance" from film of the ballet (El Amor Brujo

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Saturday, 22 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 22 (Britten, Nagano)

1913 - Benjamin Britten, Lowestoft, England; composer, conductor, violist, pianist

Biography and more

"To hell with all your mercy": finale of Peter Grimes (Peter Pears as Peter Grimes, Heather Harper as Ellen Orford, London Symphony Orchestra and Ambrosian Chorus, conducted by Benjamin Britten.  1969 TV production)

"Playful Pizzicato" from Simple Symphony (Ensemble Instrumental de Corse)

1951 - Kent Nagano, Berkeley, CA, U.S.A.; conductor

Biography (Orchestre symphonique de Montréal)
The Nagano Mystique (La Scena Musicale, January 2007)

Kent Nagano conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Mozart's Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter),1st mvt.

Kent Nagano, Robert Charlebois and l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

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Friday, 21 November 2008

J. Robert Oppenheimer as an Operatic Character in John Adams' Dr. Atomic

Classical Travels with Paul E. Robinson

I went to the Met HD Live at the new Cinemark complex in Cedar Park, one of Austin’s northern suburbs. Only ten people showed up for John Adam’s Dr. Atomic. Perhaps not surprising for a contemporary piece with no big names in the cast, but cause for concern about the future of this project. More about that later.

Timely Topic: A World in Crisis & the Question of MoralityWhatever else one may say about the Dr. Atomic it served the admirable purpose of reminding us that we live under the shadow of the atom bomb and that nuclear annihilation is only an irrational finger on the trigger away. Adams’ opera deals with the first test firing of the bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico July 16, 1945. J. Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Manhattan Project which developed the bomb and his anguish about the morality of the project is the focus of the opera. The leading characters in addition to Oppenheimer are his wife Kitty, their American Indian maid Pasqualita and another scientist even more troubled than Oppenheimer, Edward Teller.

But while the subject matter is very timely – concern continues to rise all over the world about possible development of nuclear weapons in Iran, the sanity of Kim Jong Il in North Korea and the shaky political situation in Pakistan – I am not convinced that Adams and his librettist Peter Sellars made the right choices. To bring to life the tragic figure Oppenheimer really was it is necessary to follow his life after the development of the atom bomb. That’s when doubt and remorse set in and his behavior and questionable past even led Washington politicians to destroy his reputation. He died essentially a broken man. There is plenty of evidence that Oppenheimer associated with members of the communist Party. What’s more both his wife and brother were members. Nonetheless, Oppenheimer was chosen to head up the most sensitive wartime program involving national security. In Dr. Atomic we get only a partial view of the man and not enough of him to carry the opera.

Dr. Atomic? Not Enough of Oppenheimer’s Life in this Opera!
Looking at the story from another point of view, it could be argued that it is hardly fair to blame Oppenheimer and his colleagues for the development of the bomb and for the horrors that followed when bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Adams and Sellars clearly take sides in this matter by using the Los Alamos badge photos of all the scientists involved as the equivalent of police mug shots to vilify them. But the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project were basically ordered by the President and the Congress to develop an atom bomb and to do it as quickly as possible. If anyone is to blame for the bomb and how it was used, it is the politicians from Truman on down. And yet there is not a single politician in the opera, nor does anyone seem to be in contact with one. Very strange.

Natural Bedmates: Politics & War Conceive Atom Bomb!
What was the motivation for the development of the bomb? Why did they do it? After the Nazis had been defeated in Europe early in 1945, the world turned its attention to defeating the Japanese. But this war was much more uncertain and most politicians believed that it could drag on for years and that many more people would lose their lives. If it could be ended quickly many of those lives would be saved; hence, the haste to develop the bomb. This issue is hardly touched on in the opera. Instead, the opera focuses on the creation and use of atomic weapons as a difficult moral issue. But to my mind, whether that can be done without touching on war strategy or the role of the politicians is doubtful.

Operatic Style, the Meaning of it all, and Some Inspired new AriasDr. Atomic is not primarily a political or philosophical treatise or even a documentary; it is a work of art. Adams and Sellars draw on diaries kept by some of the participants but they rely more on poetry by Donne, Beaudelaire and Muriel Rukeyser as well as lines from the Hindu epic the Bhagavad Gita.

In operatic terms much of the discussion between characters onstage is on the level of everyday speech, recitative-style, but when the characters are alone they tend to be given extended arias with poetic texts. With this procedure Adams takes the “story” out of place and time into a more abstract and universal milieu. The characters are seen ruminating not about the tactical use of nuclear weapons to win the war nor even about the use of nuclear weapons generally but about the meaning of it all, the ultimate philosophical questions.

Fair enough. Development of weapons capable of wiping out civilization as we know it easily gives rise to such questions. But from an artistic point of view, what does the borrowing of lines from Donne, etc. do for the success of the opera? The answer is a great deal in some instances. Adams’ setting of Donne’s sonnet “Batter my heart, three person’d God” at the end of Act I is surely one of the great set pieces written by any composer in the past twenty years. But elsewhere, especially in Kitty Oppenheimer’s “arias” I felt that the composer had lost his way.

Full Effect of Atom Bomb’s Aftermath Diminished by Artistic Choice
It is surely a major fault of the opera that nearly the whole of Act II seems to be about the weather. Characters talk endlessly about the storm interfering with the test. It is obviously getting on their nerves. And ours too. In an opera about big ideas – very big ideas – it makes no sense to spend so much time discussing the weather.

But am I missing the point? Surely the weather is a metaphor for the war, the troubled minds of the scientists and the military men, etc. It is also a device to build tension. Early on opera composers learned that there is nothing like thunder and lightning on stage to bedazzle the public. It is such an old and hoary device one is amazed that a composer as experienced as Adams would be caught using it.

To my mind we can only let Adams get away with it if there is a real payoff. In this case, it has to be the test itself, the explosion of the first atom bomb, immortalized in film footage we have all seen over and over. But the site of that monstrous mushroom cloud surely remains as frightening as it was the first time we saw it. But wait. This iconic image is not used in the opera. We don’t even get a blinding flash of light. Instead, while Oppenheimer and his colleagues wearing goggles and other protective gear stare out at the audience/test site we get words being spoken in Japanese, presumably by some of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we see projected translations. The connection is made between what Oppenheimer and his team created at Los Alamos and how it was used. We are left to ponder the Faustian connection between ultimate knowledge and soul-selling.

But as I mentioned earlier, Oppenheimer and his work had a context in which his country was engaged in a life and death struggle, and in which many Americans in elective office were agonizing over the use of nuclear weapons. And if one chooses to concentrate on the role of one man – J. Robert Oppenheimer – in this project, we need a far more comprehensive picture of the man than Adams and Sellars provide.

Fine Voices, Good Conducting, and More Technical ProblemsFor the record, Canadian baritone Gerald Finley sang very well indeed as Oppenheimer and Alan Gilbert making his Met debut was in total command of the complex score. The young American conductor takes over next season as music director of the New York Philharmonic.

Technical problems continue to be an issue at these Met broadcasts. In two different theaters I have had to go in search of a technician to turn up the volume, on another occasion to turn down the house lights, and on yet another to reset the satellite receiver when the broadcast was interrupted. The problem is that in multiplex theaters there is no projectionist in each theater so there is no one on site to rectify problems. And in spite of all the hoopla about surround sound in these theaters the audio quality for the Met broadcasts is awful. Voices come across quite well but the orchestral sound lacks weight and depth. EMI is now releasing some of the Met broadcasts from last season. I will be interested to hear if these DVDs provide better sound than we heard in the theaters.

A ‘Good Thing’, But Will it Last?
The Met HD Live project is a wonderful innovation but it is not where it needs to be if it is going to be of lasting artistic value. It worries me that so few people were in the theater for Dr. Atomic. I heard that at a repeat showing of Salome at one of the Austin theaters – with Karita Mattila giving a performance of staggering quality – hardly anyone showed up. The technical problems need to be addressed but much more needs to be done on the marketing side too. When the novelty wears off – and that appears to be starting to happen – there is work to be done at the local level to raise awareness and interest. In my experience, there is no signage for Met HD Live showings in the theaters themselves, let alone any local advertising. That is a recipe for disaster down the road.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website at

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Today's Birthdays in Music: November 21 (Lagacé, DePriest)

1930 - Bernard Lagacé, St-Hyacinthe, Canada; organist, harpsichordist

Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)

1936 - James DePriest, Philadelphia, U.S.A.; conductor

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Thursday, 20 November 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: November 20 (B. Hendricks)

1948 - Barbara Hendricks, Stephens, Arkansas, U.S.A.; opera and concert soprano

Official website

Barbara Hendricks sings:

"Salve o Maria" by  Mascagni

"Ah!  Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette

"You've been a good old wagon" (with the Magnus Lindgren Quartet; recording of Barbara Sings the Blues, Stockholm 2008)

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Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Wozzeck, Bavarian State Opera, Munich

Alban Berg: Wozzeck
Michael Volle (Wozzeck), Michaela Schuster (Marie), Wolfgang Schmidt (Hauptmann), Clive Bayley (Doktor), Jürgen Müller (Tambourmajor), Kevin Conners (Andres), Christoph Stephinger (1.Handwerksbursche), Francesco Petrozzi, (2.Handwerksbursche), Kenneth Roberson (Narr), Heike Grötinger (Margret). Bavarian State Opera, Soloists, Bavarian State Opera Orchestra, Kent Nagano (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich 10.11.2008. Andreas Kriegenburg (direction). Harald B. Thor (sets). Andrea Schraad (costumes). Stefan Bolliger (lighting).

Wozzeck stands ankle deep in water on the flooded stage of the Bavarian State Opera, above him hovers a huge, movable box – the dingy apartment he shares with Marie and their adolescent bastard – and he is surrounded by a freak-show worthy of a George Groszian nightmare and worse.

Michael Volle portrays Georg Buechner’s and Alban Berg’s character with unparalleled intensity, such a beautiful baritonal sound even in the most harrowing moments, and such ease beneath the tortured surface, that it is almost too good. He did everything as one could hope for in a Wozzeck on stage, but he never elicited much pity and never seemed quite as helpless-hapless as Wozzeck probably should. In a way, his great musical and dramatic strengths came at the expense of the character.

Something similar could be said about Andreas Kriegenburg’s direction – or more specifically the phenomenal lighting of Stefan Bolliger and how it works with the continuously fascinating set of Harald B. Thor and Andrea Schraad costumes: It is so absorbing, so good and stimulating to look at, it might distract from the psychological development of the characters. On Monday night, it also distracted from some so-so singing (Jürgen Müller underpowered and underwhelming as Drum Major and Clive Bayley with an average night as the Doctor) and in doing so, it unleashed the drama unto the audience in a visceral way that even Wozzeck-lovers might not have expected.

Because with this would-be quibbles taken care of, the fact remains that this was a stunning premiere, a spectacular performance, and indeed a striking success for the Munich Opera’s second new production under the new general director Klaus Bachler. Kriegenburg, a theater director, had done only two operas before (which I have not seen), but here he hit a nerve in just the right way. Instead of exerting a willful personality, ideology, or aching modernization on Wozzeck, he gives us an internalized picture (set roughly in the time of the play’s premiere) where the world as Wozzeck sees it is how the audience sees it. Except for Marie and his son, the characters are distortions of their personalities, one more disturbing than the next. The crowds are hordes of unemployed, shadows in the world of Wozzeck’s steadily slipping sense of reality. When the apartment-within-the-stage begins to very subtly shift left and right, the visualization of this losing grasp on reality becomes so perceptible, it’s as if you could touch it. I felt like I needed a splash of cold water or a slap in the face myself.

Amid this Michaela Schuster’s Marie altered between pleasurable cantabile and appropriate crudeness, Wolfgang Schmidt earned merits with his cleanly sung, morbidly obese captain, and Munich’s tenor-for-everything Kevin Conners delivered a fine, sonorous Andres. Wozzeck was also a good night – to the hesitant surprise of the Munich critics – for music director Kent Nagano.

Speculations about his contract not being renewed are only slowly residing, discussions about a rift between the music- and general director are still indulged in with tabloid-like diligence by the feuilletons. But this performance was one for a mark in his supporter's good books. Nagano’s strengths emerge best in modern works where clarity is part of the musical success.

The orchestra, apparently well rehearsed, gave the music an elastic, clear treatment; the score sounded taut and diaphanous. Only very occasionally was the orchestra too loud; more often it was very sensitive. When Nagano waded onto stage, barefoot and his trousers rolled up, he received as warm a reception as I’ve heard him get in Munich. Only Kriegenburg and his team got more – wholly absent of boos, too, perhaps a novelty for a premiere of a modern production in Munich.

If any Wozzeck production can convince the hesitating masses to listen to this difficult 20th century masterpiece, it would have to be this one.

Jens F. Laurson

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Today's Birthdays in Music: November 19 (Baltsa, Anda)

1944 - Agnes Baltsa, Lefkas, Greece; opera mezzo-soprano

Biography and pictures

Agnes Baltsa sings "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo (Salzburg; Herbert von Karajan conducting)

1921 - Géza Anda, Budapest, Hungary; pianist

Biography and pictures

Géza Anda plays Brahms Paganini variations, Book II (1953 recording)

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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 18 (Weber, Paderewski)

1786 - Carl Maria von Weber, Eutin, Germany; composer, conductor, pianist

Wikipedia (d.o.b. probably incorrect)
Biography (Grove Dictionary)

Overture to Abu Hassan (London Symphony Orchestra)

Clarinet Concerto No. 1, 3rd mvt. (Calogero Palermo, clarinet)

1860 - Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Kuryłówka, Ukraine; pianist, composer, statesman

Biography and pictures

Paderewski plays his Menuet in G (1937 recording)

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Monday, 17 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 17 (Kogan, Mackerras)

1924 - Leonid Kogan, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine; violinist


Leonid Kogan plays Hungarian Dance No. 17 by Brahms

1925 - Charles Mackerras, Schenectady, NY, U.S.A.; conductor

The Modest Maestro (The Guardian, UK, Aug. 2005)

The joint principal flautist of the Philharmonia Orchestra interviews Charles Mackerras

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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 16 (Hindemith, Tibbett)

1895 - Paul Hindemith, Hanau, Germany; composer, conductor

Hindemith Foundation website

Paul Hindemith conducts his Concerto for Orchestra

Glenn Gould plays the Fugue from Hindemith's Piano Sonata No. 3

1896 - Lawrence Tibbett, Bakersfield, CA, U.S.A.; opera baritone

Biography and photos

Lawrence Tibbett sings "Oh du mein holder Abenstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser

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Saturday, 15 November 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: November 15 (Barenboim)

1942 - Daniel Barenboim, Buenos Aires, Argentina; pianist, conductor

Official website

Daniel Barenboim plays the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, 3rd mvt. (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle; Athens, 2004)

Daniel Barenboim conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma Variations (Carnegie Hall, 1997)

Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim play Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 3, 2nd mvt. (1960s)

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Friday, 14 November 2008

Todays's Birthdays in Music: November 14 (Copland, Mendelssohn-Hensel)

1900 - Aaron Copland, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.A.; composer, pianist


"Hoedown" from the ballet Rodeo, arranged for piano by Copland (James Tocco, piano)

Andante from Copland's Clarinet Concerto (Richard Stolzman, clarinet; London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas)

1805 - Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Hamburg, Germany; composer, pianist

Life and Music

Klavierstücke for four hands (Duo Vela, Barcelona)

Diana Damrau sings Bergeslust

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Thursday, 13 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 13 (Richards, Kokkonen)

1921 - Joonas Kokkonen, Iisalmi, Finland; composer

Wikipedia (birthdate incorrect)
Obituary (The Independent, London, Oct. 1996)

1817 - Brinley Richards, Camarthen, Wales; composer


Philip Sear plays "Evening" (Nocturne) by Brinley Richards

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Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 12 (Borodin, Papineau-Couture)

1833 - Alexander Borodin, St. Petersburg, Russia; composer


Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa)

1916 - Jean Papineau-Couture, Montreal, Canada; composer, educator, administrator

Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)

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Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 11 (J. Simons, Ansermet)

1925 - Jan Simons, Düsseldorf, Germany; baritone, teacher, administrator

Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)
Winner of 2005 prix Hommage (La Scena Musicale, Feb. 2005)
Remembering Jan Simons (La Scena Musicale, May 2006)

1883 - Ernest Ansermet, Vevey, Switzerland; conductor

Biography and pictures

Ernest Ansermet conducts L'Orchestra de la Suisse Romande in Haydn's Symphony No. 90, 4th mvt. (1965 recording)

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Monday, 10 November 2008

Austin Lyric Opera Goes Hollywood!

Classical Travels with Paul E. Robinson

Austin Lyric Opera may not be able to afford the most famous singers but it invariably provides first-class entertainment. They’ve done it again with the current production of Rossini’s comic opera La Cenerentola which opened this past Saturday at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Garnett Bruce is the stage director and he created this production for Lyric Opera of Kansas City in 2004. It moves the well-known Cinderella story from Italy to 1930s Hollywood and the world of movie-making. From beginning to end in this production we are immersed in the fantasy world of fame and fortune. The fairy tale search for a royal wife becomes a search for a new leading lady in this updated telling of the story. With surprisingly little doctoring of the libretto and none at all of the glorious music, Rossini’s classic romp comes to life once again, and I think the greatest operatic showman of them all would have loved it.

The gist of the revised story line is acted out in mime while the orchestra plays the overture. Without any contrived additional dialogue we get the idea and the opera unfolds in pretty much its usual fashion. Musically, the production was well in hand with Robert Tweten wielding the baton. This young man has a remarkable flair for Rossini, invariably finding the right balance between singers and orchestra and capturing all the wit and sparkle in the score. He also had the courage and the skill to ‘press the pedal to the metal,’ as it were, with some blazing fast tempos. This fine cast and orchestra had apparently been rehearsed within an inch of their lives and in this opening night performance, they responded to Tweten’s beat with enthusiasm and musicality.

But there can be no La Cenerentola without a great leading lady. The role of Cinderella requires a great comedienne and a mezzo-soprano with mastery of bel canto lyricism and virtuosity. Sandra Piques Eddy may not have erased my personal memories of Cecilia Bartoli’s Cinderella in the near-legendary Houston Grand Opera production of a few years back; nevertheless, she was superb. Her voice is rich and full from top to bottom and she knocked off the technical stuff with almost effortless mastery. Her acting was somewhat less impressive. She handled the transformation from servant to star with conviction, but often seemed less involved than her colleagues. Perhaps director Garnett Bruce simply didn’t give her enough bits of business.

Not that the production wasn’t ‘busy’ enough! Bruce’s direction created a convincing illusion that the backstage lot at “Palace Pictures” was teeming with a ‘cast of thousands,’ and each person who showed up on the ‘set’ came to life as a distinctive character. While the inclusion of a couple of Marx brothers was fun, however, Bruce might have worked a little harder to make them more like the people they were supposed to be. Harpo could have been busier annoying people or blowing his horn and Groucho could have at least walked like Groucho. In the dance rehearsal scene – choreographed a la Busby Berkeley - the costumes of the chorus-line girls were appropriately ‘over the top’ and the dancing of the male group was amusingly inept.

Amongst the cast I would single out Cara Johnston and Liz Cass as Cinderella’s sisters, for both their vocal and histrionic efforts. They sang beautifully, their antics were hilarious, and their zany attire certainly added to the fun! Steven Condy as their father, Mr. Magnifico, practically cornered the market on the funny business in this production with endless mugging and all sorts of physical comedy. Tenor Michele Angelini as film director Don Ramiro looked every inch a 1930s Hollywood star with enough grease on his hair to lubricate a fleet of eighteen-wheelers. He was light on his feet too, sang with control, and his exposed top notes were generally ‘spot-on.’ John Boehr as Dandini – Ramiro’s chauffeur in this version – was funny and appealing and Kristopher Irmiter as the film producer Alidoro looked the part and sang with authority.

General Director Kevin Patterson never forgets that he is in the entertainment business; his Austin-oriented Die Fledermaus from last season was a great triumph and this fresh and funny version of La Cenerentola was not far behind.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website at

Blog Photos: Mark Matson

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Today's Birthdays in Music: November 10 (Couperin, Scholl)

1688 - François Couperin, Paris, France; composer, organist, harpsichordist


Tierce en Taille from "Messe des Couvents" (Jean-Baptiste Robin, organ; Cathedral of Saint-Pierre, Poitiers, France)

1967 - Andreas Scholl, Eltville, Germany; opera and concert countertenor


Andreas Scholl sings "Sicut erat in principio" and "Amen" from Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus (Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, conducted by Paul Dyer)

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Sunday, 9 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 9 (Alarie, Terfel)

1921 - Pierrette Alarie, Montreal, Canada; opera soprano, teacher

Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)

Pierrette Alarie sings "Voi che sapete" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro

Pierrette Alarie and Léopold Simoneau sing "Cara, non dubitar" from Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto

1965 - Bryn Terfel, Pantglas, Wales; opera and concert bass-baritone


Bryn Terfel sings:

 "Leb Wohl" from Wagner's Die Walküre (with the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland, conducted by Edo De Waart)

"Oh What a Beautiful Morning" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma

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Saturday, 8 November 2008

Nashville Symphony Showcases Yo-Yo Ma & Don Quixote in New Hall

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Two years ago, when the Nashville Symphony opened the doors of its Schermerhorn Symphony Center, named after its late (11/20/29-4/18/05), long-time music director, Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn, reviewers raved about the traditional shoebox design of its concert hall, With only 1,844 seats and wood everywhere, the new hall was modeled after Vienna’s Musikverein and Boston’s Symphony Hall.

Critics gushed over the fact that here, finally, was a modern concert hall that prized acoustics over profits. After the gala opening concerts, media reps virtually unanimously praised the quality of the sound and forecast an exciting new era for the orchestra.

After all the public ‘hoopla.’ I wanted to see and hear the Schermerhorn Center for myself. My visit in mid-October coincided with some of the first concerts led by the Nashville Symphony’s music director designate, Nicaraguan-born Giancarlo Guerrero.

Fine Dining, Architectural Delights & Great Music Combo Tough to Beat

classical music, Schermerhorn Center, NashvilleMy introduction to the the Schermerhorn Symphony Center complex was through its excellent restaurant, Arpeggio, located in the East Lobby. On performance nights the restaurant serves up a four-course buffet in a fine dining atmosphere. Arpeggio’s design is traditional with marble and granite floors and silver light fixtures. On the walls are black and white photographs of great musicians - classical, jazz and country. Nashville is, after all, home of the Grand Ole Opry. For music-lovers who don’t want to pay a $38 flat rate for dinner, there is a Café in the West Lobby offering more casual fare. There is also a courtyard patio which seems an ideal place to relax before concerts or at intermission.

Once inside the hall, one is struck by the European feel of the place with shallow boxes on tiers all around the hall, a very high ceiling with windows letting in natural light and light brown wood for the seats and floors. Chandeliers hang from the grey ceiling and 3,568 organ pipes face the audience. There is specially commissioned statuary inside and out and numerous touches in the art work celebrating Tennessee and some of its best-known residents. There is also a state of the art mechanical system which allows the ground floor seats to disappear and be replaced by a bare hardwood floor suitable for tables.

Maestro Guerrero’s Eclectic Programming Fresh & Challenging
The evening’s program was an eclectic one, to say the least. It began with Night Music: Voice in the Leaves composed in 2000 by Uzbek composer Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky. Then came the Percussion Concerto written in 1998 by Chinese composer Chen Yi. After intermission we heard Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote.

classical music, cellists, YoYo MaYo-Yo Ma was featured in the Yanov-Yanovsky and Strauss pieces and percussion virtuoso Joseph Gramley was soloist in both the Yanov-Yanovsky and the Chen Yi.

This concert was a heavy duty workout for soloists, orchestra and conductor – and for the audience too. Guerrero has a reputation for championing contemporary music in previous assignments with the Minnesota Orchestra (Associate Conductor) and the Eugene Symphony in Oregon. But it’s too soon to tell whether this kind of challenging program will be typical of his tenure in Nashville.

Night Music is actually a chamber work and was composed for Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble. It is a mostly quiet piece that explores the most subtle of textures. Towards the end of the piece, the eight instrumentalists blend with taped voices singing an Uzbek lullaby. It is atmospheric music, but I felt its effects were lost in such a large space.

Chen Yi’s Percussion Concerto makes use of the whole orchestra and a vast array of percussion instruments from East and West. Joseph Gramley was phenomenal in his virtuoso mastery of all these instruments and Guerrero and his orchestra navigated the complex rhythms with great skill. An added feature of the piece is a recitation of Chinese poetry, intended by the composer to be done by the percussion soloist. Perhaps Gramley’s Mandarin was not up to the task. In any case, in this performance we heard Mingzhe Wang intoning the words in what is described as “exaggerated Chinese operatic style.” This aspect of the piece was fresh and hypnotic. Overall, Chen Yi has written a very ambitious and largely successful hybrid piece that the audience found exciting to watch and to hear.

Schermerhorn Acoustics Help Bring Don Quixote to Life, But…Don Quixote usually features the principal cellist of the performing orchestra. It is not really a cello concerto, but rather uses the cello in a concertante role to depict the hapless Don Quixote. Other instruments in the orchestra – most notably solo viola, tenor tuba and bass clarinet play the role of his companion, Sancho Panza. Musically, the piece is a theme and ten variations with each variation depicting a different scene in Cervantes’ novel. The Nashville Symphony made excellent use of the screen intended for surtitles in opera performances, by projecting a short description of what happens during each episode as it occurs. This is especially valuable since the variations often flow into each other.

Yo-Yo Ma is one of the world’s great cellists and he is also a very physical player. Don Quixote gave him endless opportunities to play an unforgettable character and to act out his misadventures. ‘The Ride Through the Air’ was particularly vivid as Yo-Yo Ma appeared on the verge of doing exactly that as he swayed from side to side and the wind machine behind him rose to a crescendo.

Again, Guerrero showed fine control of his orchestra and brought out details that are often obscured. The horn section played brilliantly throughout and the unnamed tenor tuba player was wonderful. Another excellent idea in this performance: the tenor tuba player was seated on the opposite side of the stage from the bass tuba, horns and trombones, thus highlighting his special solo role in this piece.

Musically Speaking, Quixote’s Death is a Disaster!I enjoyed this Don Quixote immensely and due credit must be given to the hall for contributing so much to the overall effect; I was dismayed, however, by how difficult it was to hear the solo strings, and Yo-Yo Ma’s solo cello. I was sitting in row S, toward the rear of the ground floor, but the sound from the stage should surely be at least audible from every row. Most disappointing of all was the inaudibility of the famous glissando in the final variation, signaling the death of Don Quixote. I saw it, but heard no sound at all.

After just one concert, my impressions of the hall must be provisional, but its strengths and weaknesses are already apparent. I heard a lot of detail within the orchestra, and Gramley’s percussion playing was vivid and exciting, but I did not notice a strong double bass foundation in the orchestra, I had to strain to hear solo string playing, and the timpani playing was sometimes inaudible or muted. I began to think that for whatever reason, this hall suffers from the lack of an orchestral shell. Much of the sound seems to go straight up instead of out. I also wondered why the trumpets and trombones were the only instruments on risers. In this hall I think they would blend better if they too were on stage level.

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center is a gracious and distinguished addition to downtown Nashville and the NSO and its new conductor are giving intriguing concerts, but I am not convinced the sound in the hall is nearly as good as some have made it out to be. I was vastly more impressed with what I had heard two nights earlier at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Nashville Symphony Recordings with Slatkin Worth a Listen!The Nashville Symphony is making regular recordings for Naxos and those I have heard are very good. The latest features music advisor Leonard Slatkin leading the NSO in a fascinating version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Instead of the usual Ravel orchestration, Slatkin has put together a version which features a different orchestration for each episode. Among the fifteen different composers represented are Stokowski, Ashkenazy, Gorchakov, Wood, and Gamley. Gamley’s “Great Gate of Kiev” even makes use of a chorus. The album also includes a bizarre arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner by Rob Mathes and a phenomenal performance of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 featuring fourteen-year-old Chinese pianist Peng Peng.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website at

Blog Photos by Marita


Today's Birthdays in Music: November 8 (Bax, Hines)

1883 - Arnold Bax, Streatham, England; composer


Summer Music (1920), played by the Ulster Orchestra, Richard Howarth conducting

1921 - Jerome Hines, Hollywood, U.S.A.; opera bass and composer

Obituary (The Guardian, UK, February 2003)

Jerome Hines as the Grand Inquisitor, Paul Plishka as the King, in Verdi's Don Carlo (Metropolitan Opera, 1980)

Jerome Hines in The Last Supper Scene from his opera I Am The Way (Bolshoi, 1993)

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Friday, 7 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 7 (J. Sutherland, Forst)

1926 - Joan Sutherland, Sydney, Australia; opera soprano


Joan Sutherland sings:

"Come per me sereno" from Bellini's La Sonnambula (1960 recording)

 "Com'è bello" from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia (Covent Garden, 1980)

1943 - Judith Forst, New Westminster, Canada; opera and concert mezzo-soprano

Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)

Joan Sutherland and Judith Forst sing "Dal mio cor ... Va, infelice" from Donizetti's Anna Bolena (Orchestra and Chorus of the Canadian Opera Co., conducted by Richard Bonynge; 1984 CBC video)

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Thursday, 6 November 2008

Premier passage au Canada pour le chœur corse Barbara Furtuna

par Hélène Boucher

Le 3 novembre dernier, une rare performance avait lieu, à la Salle Pierre-Mercure. En vedette : les chants polyphoniques de la Corse interprétés par le quatuor Barbara Furtuna. Une invitation de l’ensemble Constantinople qui s’est rendue jusque sur l’Île de Beauté, à la rencontre de ces chanteurs. Rencontre toute en harmonie entre ces deux formations qui a mené à la création originale Canti Di A Terra. Un voyage musical d’inspiration orientale, nous transportant aussi loin qu’au 14e siècle, avec Kiya Tabassian au sétar perse et Ziya Tabassian aux percussions. Barbara Furtuna a partagé la scène avec Constantinople ainsi qu’en solo, a capella, sans instrumentation. Puisant à la fois dans la tradition du chant corse, avec ses folias et ses lamentes, le quatuor vocal a également offert au public des chants inédits de son répertoire. L’évolution du chant corse et sa pérennité passe par son renouvellement constant, comme l’a évoqué Jean-Philippe Guissani, chanteur terza. Grâce à ses interprétations contemporaines, Barbara Furtuna jouit d’une réputation internationale et ne cesse de conquérir un large auditoire sur le continent européen. Le concert présenté le 3 novembre a été enregistré par CBC Radio 2 qui diffusera ces splendeurs des polyphonies corses à travers le pays. Barbara Furtuna a enregistré deux albums, Adasgiu en 2004 et son plus récent opus, In Santa Pace. L’art vocal du quatuor se déploie par l’intensité de l’appartenance à leur terre natale (1) : « C’est sans aucun doute l’amour immodéré que nous portons à notre terre qui façonne nos chants et nous pousse à continuer avec la même passion intacte une aventure commencée au sortir de l’enfance. Nous poursuivons simplement notre chemin, sans presser le pas, avec nos doutes, certains cependant que l’avenir nous apportera autant de beauté que de douleur et bien décidés à jouir de chaque moment qui nous est donné »

(1)Infos Buda Musique

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La SCENA Introduces "I LOVE THE ARTS" Buttons

La SCENA is proud to introduce the "I LOVE THE ARTS" button. Three designs are available in full colour. Wear it with pride. Send $2 per button.

Fundraiser for Other Groups
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La SCENA, 5409 Waverly, Montreal, QC, Canada, H2T 2X8
laurabates [at]


La SCENA vous présente le macaron J’AIME LES ARTS, disponible en trois versions en couleur. Commandez des macarons en envoyant 2$ pour chacun.

Levée de fonds pour d'autres groupes
Vous cherchez une idée de collecte de fonds ? Le macaron J'AIME LES ARTS est également disponible comme outil de financement pour les écoles et les groupes artistiques. Informez-vous sur notre taux de vrac.

La SCENA, 5409 Waverly, Montreal, QC, Canada, H2T 2X8
laurabates [at]

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Today's Birthdays in Music: November 6 (Sax, Sousa)

1814 - Adolphe Sax, Dinant, Belgium; musical-instrument designer (inventor of the saxophone)

Extensive biography
Pictures of Sax saxophones

The Aurelia Saxophone Quartet (Uden, Netherlands) plays Jean Baptiste Singelée's Premier Quatuor Op. 53 on original Adolphe Sax saxophones

1854 - John Philip Sousa, Washington, U.S.A.; composer and conductor

Library of Congress website

Tufts University's Saxophone Ensemble plays Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever

Theme song for the Monty Python's Flying Circus TV show (aka Sousa's Liberty Bell March) (played by the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra)

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Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: November 5 (Gieseking, Cziffra)

1895 - Walter Gieseking, Paris, France; pianist

Biography and picture

Walter Gieseking plays "Ondine" and "Le Gibet" from Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit (1937/8 recording)

1921 - György (Georges) Cziffra, Budapest, Hungary; pianist

Biography and picture

György Cziffra plays Liszt's Transcendental Etude in F minor No. 10

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