Archive for the “Classical Music” Category

If you were having a conversation with fellow music lovers about the great American composers, Carl Ruggles would not be the first person to come to mind. The “Great American Composer” honor is most often bestowed upon Copland, Ives, or even depending on the company you are with, Bernstein.

Courtesy of SONY Music & Other Minds Records

This is not to say, however, that a popularity contest equates to greatness. An equally adept and creative composer, Carl Ruggles produced a small yet intriguing output of pieces for a variety of ensemble types. It is only fair, then, that when recording the complete works of a lesser known composer such as Ruggles, top-tier musicians should be brought in to lead the process. This recording does not disappoint, and the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the leadership of Michael Tilson Thomas, have produced an earnest and committed recording of Ruggles’ entire catalogue.

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Updated : 9/6/12 with added thoughts from Laura Kaminsky.

Every so often we have a conversation that changes us for the better. Sometimes, we have this type of conversation with our mothers, our fathers, our close friends and allies, our colleagues, or with an artist. Last weekend I had a profound conversation with the latter, an artist named Laura Kaminsky.

Laura Kaminsky, composer, is also the artistic director of Symphony Space, the renowned performance venue in New York City. She has received commissions, fellowships, and awards as both a composer and presenter from over twenty organizations including the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and the Aaron Copland Fund. Ms. Kaminsky also plays a large role in the operation of many musical and arts organizations including Chamber Music America, and, in the past, New Music USA (formerly the American Music Center), and as a member of the Artistic Advisory Council of the New York Foundation for the Arts, among others. Laura Kaminsky is an important and influential voice in the arts world today. Having the chance to speak with her by phone, I first asked her about her musical upbringing.

Laura Kaminsky (LK): I grew up in New York City, and was surrounded by musicians, painters, writers, and actors. As a very young child I thought I was going to be a painter when I grew up. But I started taking those typical piano lessons at about age ten or eleven, and quickly decided that practicing wasn’t nearly as much fun as making up my own music. This led me to start trying to figure out how to write down that which I made up. So, I was composing at a very young age, untrained, just writing the things that occupied my imagination. Still, I just thought of it as a fun thing to do. [Around this time] I began tormenting my younger sisters because I used to create family musical evenings that I insisted they participate in. We would perform these programs on the weekend for our parents. I think this is probably where I got my passion for producing.

When I was about 13, it was that time in New York when, if you were a public school kid, you could test and audition to go to a special high school. I wanted to go to [LaGuardia High School of] Music and Art, and originally I thought I was going to audition with an art portfolio. As I got closer to the day of the testing, however, I realized I was more passionate about my time spent in music, and requested that I switch my art audition to a music audition. I got in not because I was a particularly good pianist or clarinetist (that was my second instrument) but I think because I presented music that I wrote, and performed one of my own compositions. My four years at M&A were profound and formative; many of my friends today still date from that time, and many are living active lives in the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

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Today is the last day you can hear Derive 2 at the BBC’s web site–they stream for one week after the concert. There was a CD released earlier this year that contains this same version (which supersedes the earlier version released by DGG in 2005). I don’t generally think of double reeds in Boulez’s music, but he really gives the oboe and bassoon some wonderful music in Derive 2. It’s conducted by Daniel Barenboim, whose Boulez performances are always colorful and invigorating. You can listen to it here.

Some wonderful recent works heard earlier on the Proms: Canon Fever by Mark-Anthony Turnage (premiere), Laterna Magica by Saariaho (the strongest work of hers that I’ve heard in some time — I’m not a fan of her recent music, preferring her work from the 80s and 90s), and a tight, expressive performance of City Noir, conducted by its composer, John Adams, leading an orchestra featuring students from Juilliard and the Royal Academy of Music.

I’m still trying to catch up to this week’s concerts, which include more Boulez, Steve Martland’s Street Songs, and a Kronos Quartet recital. The home page for the 2012 Proms on BBC is here.

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Picture courtesy of Q2 Music

Sometimes, classical music gets a bad rap. To be perfectly honest, there is a chunk of the population that finds it to be synonymous with any number of derogatory terms: boring, annoying, or pompous.  Some classical music lovers and advocates will counter this popular belief with arguments that only go to further the opinion of the other side: “Some people want to listen to mindless music”, “Some people simply don’t have patience”, etc. These ridiculous arguments only go to further the stereotype that classical music lovers are all pompous windbags who believe themselves to be uniquely educated and informed.

How, then, do we get people to forget their misconception, and believe that EVERYONE can enjoy or even love classical music, regardless of education, socioeconomic standing, or profession?

It all comes down to how classical music is presented; and now, for a limited time,  you could join one organization that does it right.

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Le Poisson Rouge is a striking place.

This venue was the location of this past Sunday’s concert featuring Iktus Percussion (Cory Bracken, Chris Graham, Nicholas Woodbury, and Steve Sehman), pianist Taka Kigawa, and toy pianist Phyllis Chen. According to Iktus member Cory Bracken, one of the missions of the evening (focused entirely around composer John Cage) was to take some of his pieces that are almost exclusively performed in academic settings, and begin to inject them into the public concert repertoire. What the audience encountered, therefore, was a healthy mix of both often and not-so-often performed pieces by John Cage.

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[Ed. note: Composer and Peabody Institute faculty member Judah Adashi  has this appreciation of Ralph Jackson, retiring after 10 years at the helm of music-rights organisation BMI.]

L to R: Ralph Jackson, Judah Adashi, bassoonist Peter Kolkay, and Concert Artists Guild President Richard Weinert

I met Ralph Jackson in June 2001, when I received a BMI Student Composer Award. As the head of BMI Classical (and later President of the BMI Foundation), Ralph knew this to be a momentous event in a young composer’s life, not least because he himself had been a two-time recipient of the prize. One of the memorable charms of that initial encounter, as the winning composers gathered for dinner on the eve of the awards ceremony, was listening to Ralph recount his experience as a starry-eyed winner 25 years earlier. After dinner, Ralph welcomed all of us into the BMI fold.

To my surprise, this was only the beginning. My interaction with Ralph goes far beyond work registrations and royalty checks, though he has patiently fielded even the most mundane questions about these and other practical matters (always with the caveat, “remember, I am not a lawyer”). Ralph is continually on the lookout for opportunities that would be a good fit for particular composers on the BMI roster. It was Ralph who connected me with the Arc Duo, an ensemble that went on to commission, perform and record my music. And after several invitations from Ralph to apply for the BMI Foundation’s Carlos Surinach Fund Commission, I was proud to accept the 2006 award from him.

The fact that countless BMI composers could have written the preceding paragraphs captures the essence of Ralph’s generosity: he is personally invested in each one of us. From time to time, in conversations with my parents, they ask whether I might do well to hire an agent. I tell them it isn’t something I need or want to do; and besides, for all intents and purposes, I have one: Ralph Jackson. Apart from my family, it is difficult to imagine anyone taking as deep and genuine an interest in my music as he has over the past eleven years. When I look at the framed BMI certificates in my studio, I am buoyed by the thought of someone who has consistently believed in and supported what I do.

June 29, 2012 was Ralph’s last day at BMI, after 32 years of devoted service. He has decided to retire, to pursue his gifts as a visual artist, explore new paths, and spend time with his husband David and their beloved dog, Ringo. BMI has named Deirdre Chadwick to succeed Ralph as head of classical music, and I feel that I can speak for my peers in saying that we are immensely excited to work with her. But Ralph will always occupy a singular place in my musical life, and in the lives of so many of my fellow composers. To borrow Kyle Gann’s characterization of John Cage, Ralph has been “a walking, one-man healthy climate for new music.” He is the quintessential musical citizen, a joyous spirit who has made the world of contemporary music a better place.

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Jennifer Dautermann of WOMEX (the World Music Expo) and project manager of Classical:NEXT, has succeeded in building a new platform for classical music professionals at Munich’s well equipped, easy to maneuver, cultural center Gasteig.


The long overdue launch of classical music’s first dedicated forum took place over May 30 to June 2, hosting live and video showcases, conference sessions and presentations by leading professionals of the press as well as music institutions, the likes of Carnegie Hall and the Bavarian State Opera.


The forum also included easily accessible trade-fair booths showcasing the recording industry, dominated by the Omni-presence of the large Naxos team.

Part of the excitement was the presence of the eminent, Hong-Kong based Naxos founder and self-made man Klaus Heymann, who chose this forum to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Naxos’s position as the largest distributor of classical music. This in itself may have contributed in part to the eager participation of many of the labels distributed by Naxos at Classical:NEXT. Regardless, Naxos has proven time and again that it is equipped with an innovative entrepreneurial approach and a foresight that has succeeded with great projects like the Naxos library. They have managed to connect culture and commerce and impressively demonstrate their development from a low-budget start-up into a world-wide classical powerhouse.

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Princeton Symphony Orchestra

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, NJ

May 13, 2012

PRINCETON – The Princeton Symphony’s final concert of its classical season included two repertory staples – Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major – as well as a revised version of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s sole work to date for orchestra, Disquiet. Although Snider is a rising star in the world of contemporary music, she has thus far made her name as a formidable composer of vocal works, notably the song cycle Penelope, as well as theatre music and chamber compositions for groups such as yMusic and NOW Ensemble.

She first conceived some of the material for Disquiet back in 2000, and the original version of the piece was premiered at Yale while she was a graduate student there in 2004. The revised version given by the Princeton Symphony, conducted by Rossen Milanov, is a single movement tone poem around a quarter of an hour long. Rather than depicting “disquiet” primarily via its pitch or rhythmic language, creating abundant dissonances or angularity, Snider takes another approach: uneasiness is primarily delineated by the work’s formal design. Thus, one may at first be surprised to hear the its often lush harmonies and strong melodic thrust. But as Disquiet unfolds, a labyrinth of disparate gestures and contrasting sections, often supplied in quick succession, imparts the title’s requisite restive sensibility.

Milanov brought out the piece’s wide dynamic shifts, exhorting brash tutti and hushed sustained chords from the orchestra. The piece’s quick sectional shifts allowed several performers brief turns in the spotlight: concertmaster Basia Danilow, clarinetist William Ansel, and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld noteworthy among them.

One hopes that, with this performance under her belt, Snider will get the opportunity to create more works for  orchestra. Given  Disquiet’s colorfully cinematic use of motives, one also wonders whether she might try her hand at film-scoring.

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On Tuesday evening in New York City, Edmonton is taking Carnegie Hall by storm.

The “Spring for Music” series, a yearly Carnegie event, is an opportunity for symphony orchestras around North America to come and present their work in New York City- an opportunity that would not necessarily be possible for some of these orchestras if “Spring for Music” did not exist. This Tuesday will see the Carnegie debut of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, an up-and-coming star in the symphonic world.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 60-year anniversary this year. An integral and beloved part of the Edmonton community, the orchestra is travelling to Carnegie to present a program made up mostly of works they have commissioned over the years, with the exception of Martinu’s first symphony.  There is something thrilling about the three Canadian composers being featured on the program. Their voices are unique, in a way that only 21st-Century composers could be. Their inspirations and tastes range from Beethoven, to Brahms, to Stravinsky, to Adams; and they were not shy to have open conversations with me about their work.


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Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova Photo:Alex Fedorov

Pianists Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova are very much their own acts. But they became close partners when they debuted their Arensky CD and, in the process, founded their own record label, LP Classics, Inc. Since then, they’ve performed as a duo, as they will on May 6 at Get Classical’s inaugural concert series event at New York’s Rose Bar.But their friendship began much earlier, back in 1999, when the two pianists were freshmen at Julliard.


They instantly connected over their shared Russian heritage, but on top of that, their personalities just clicked. “Of course, we have had our share of fights, regular stuff that happens when two egos are involved…and we have our own lives,” volunteers Lavrova, during our animated interview over dinner with Primakov. “But we love each other.”

Photo: Alex Fedorov


Married to photographer Alex Fedorov, Lavrova often brings her husband on board withher projects.Fedorov is responsible for all of the photographic work featured on the Arensky CD, which Lavrova and Primakov recorded to great reviews. James Harrington of the American Record Guide wrote that the two “capture the essence of each suite, and through their considerable talents, share with us some of the most enjoyable almost unknown music I have heard in quite a while.”


Artistic collaboration was a natural extension of Lavrova and Primakov’s friendship, says Primakov. “We do think alike; there is a spiritual connection and a feeling for the music that just got more serious over the last two years, when we decided to get involved with recording the Arensky’s suites,” he says, reminiscent of their past years spent under teacher Jerome Lowenthal at Juilliard’s chamber music program (where they spend more time partying then practicing, they admit). “We were both excited, when we heard this music and started to perform it in concert to great reviews and decided we needed to record this interesting, yet virtually unknown program,” says Primakov. “We had two options—either pitch it to an established label or try to do it on our own. As we were thinking about this music, we both realized we wanted to have more control of the process, and it became a project that started so many things for the both of us. It also brought us even closer.”


While Primakov has already catalogued a number of recordings with Bridge Records, the Arensky CD was a first for Lavrova, who spends most of her time, when not performing, managing her own music school program. As the director of Music School of New York City, she teaches pianists of all levels and ages, applying her passion for music education that she inherited from her own teacher, Zalina Gurevich, who, many years ago, recognized their shared enthusiasm for teaching and kids in a young Lavrova. “She allowed me to sit in her lessons and gradually take over teaching some of her kids,” says Lavrova. “At first she would monitor the lessons and then give me feedback. It made all the difference in my learning how to become a good teacher.”


A very important factor in Lavrova’s teacher selections is a teacher’s performance experience. “That inspires students in a way nothing else can,” she says. One of her favorite teachers at her school, no wonder then, is Primakov, even though, between his busy performance and recording schedules, he can only take on a limited number of students.


But despite both of the artists’ busy daily routines, they are committed to and infatuated with their newest project, LP Classics. From the initial excitement over finding the pianos and dealing with tuners and sound engineers, they are both planning on fully integrating the record label into their careers. “We had turned to our friend Sarah Faust of Faust-Harrison Pianos to obtain two matching pianos for the recording.

Photo: Alex Fedorov

She had a new Yamaha CFX in her vast studio, which we loved, and then put us in touch with Bonnie Barrett, the director of Yamaha Artist Services, to find another. We tried it, and it sounded great, and this developed our future relationship with Yamaha.” Primakov and Lavrova are now Yamaha artists. Their Arensky CD was the first ever recording on two Yamaha CFX model pianos, and their CD release performance was live-streamed from the Yamaha showroom. Right now, the two are working on a lot of four-hand, one-instrument repertoire—an easier and more economical setup—exploring less-played pieces such as the Czerny Sonatas and works by Milhaud and John Corigliano, which they plan to perform at Get Classical at the Rose Bar.


In the future, Primakov says, they want to open up their record label to young artists looking to produce resume-building and career-launching first CDs. They also want to unbury historical, undiscovered past recordings of great, established performers, introducing old, forgotten gems to the public, as they did with Vera Gornostaeva Vol. 1 Chopin, a historical recording found through archived tapes in a Moscow library. “We obtained the rights and re-mastered the tapes of this amazing recording,” explains Primakov. “Another hidden secret we are now releasing is our teacher Jerry Lowenthal’s playing, which we both grew up on, and there are so many more to come.”


Very important to their mission is their ability to rely on efficient and passionate

Photo: Alex Fedorov

music professionals involved in the recording process. “You are so exposed as a performer, you have to be able to trust the people you work with to make you look your best,” says Primakov. “We have built a wonderful little family that includes Charlie Post, who became sound engineer, editor and producer in one, and technician Terry Flynn, who can achieve the most amazing results in the short in-betweens of the recording process. As soon as he hears just a slight irregularity in tone voicing, he informs the sound engineer and matches up everything in the matter of minutes while we step out for a glass of water.”


Also important to Primakov and Lavrova’s goals is the opportunity to constantly engage with new audiences, which they will have the opportunity to do this May 6, when the two perform excerpts of their four-hand program as well as some solo repertoire at Get Classical’s music series launch at the trendy Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar in New York. Primakov and Lavrova will be two of four pianists presenting a program geared to new and old classical fans, including readers, by bringing 19th-century salon-type performances to the 21st-century lounge. Hosted by the Gramercy Park Hotel and myself, your devoted blogger, Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring classical music to audiences that might prefer listening in the comfort of an armchair, aperitif in hand, to the formality of the concert hall. The series will give listeners the chance to meet artists in the intimacy of the cool Rose Bar and hear them talk about their music and lives as concert artists. And it is exactly this exchange that performers like Primakov and Lavrova, as well as David Aladashvili and Marika Bournaki, the two performers featured alongside them in the evening’s program, are looking forward to—to play and relate to both staying fans and interested spectators in a personal way. “We always want to test drive our program with new audiences. It’s one of the most exciting things one can do as a performer,” Primakov says.

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