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This week Naxos of America’s new e-marketing manager, Taylor Vick, weighs in on the revolution taking place in the way we consume music.

Run! The sky is falling!

Or at least, that’s what most of the media would tell you when it comes to classical music. But there is a classical revolution happening right in our back yard. As the older, traditional ways of performing classical music inspire less and less audience participation and subscription, newbies to the scene are bringing classical music to the masses. And not in conventional ways.

Take for example a great article on WBEZ. Lynette Kalsnes interviewed a group called Classical Revolution and asked them all sorts of questions about playing chamber music in bars and pubs in Chicago. One of my favorite quotes is from Mike Muszynsk, the group’s bassoon player,

I remember the first time I played, there was some guys watching the Hawks game and they were getting pretty hammered. At the end of every movement that we played, they were the loudest people in the bar, showing their praise for us.”

Classical Revolution isn’t the only classical group bringing their music to the masses. Classical music is also beginning to dominate the New York Club scene. Take for example, Le Poisson Rouge. One of our Naxos artists, Ge Gan-Ru, performed there last night. And, another Naxos artist, Philippe Quint, had an wildly successful CD Release party at Le Poisson Rouge last month, primarily because of all his fans! There are tons of these small, intensely loyal classical music communities bubbling up in major metropolitan areas in the US as well as in the UK. In fact, one of my favorite classical newsletters comes from the UK: DilettanteMusic.

So my Top 5 Reasons for digging the classical revolution taking place in the US are:

  1. Combining 2 of my favorite past times: Drinking adult beverages & listening to great music
  2. Hanging out with people who also dig classical music in a relaxed environment
  3. Clapping, whistling and generally carrying on when a musician does something extraordinary
  4. Watching friends faces as it dawns on them that classical music is cool
  5. Meeting the musicians afterward and congratulating them on great performances!

Have you gone to any of these kinds of performances before? What was your impression? Would you go again? Who’s been your favorite performer to watch?

I wish I could’ve been at Le Poisson Rouge for Ute Lemper, or for either one of Peter Breiner’s CD release parties. One of my all time favs was the New Amsterdam/Non-Classical Records concert. Talk about wild! That party featured artists such as The Elysian Quartet, John Matthias & Nick Ryan, NOW Ensemble, DJ Gabriel Prokofiev and Sam Z. Solomon. Most of these guys also played at SXSW, which I got to see when I was there back in March. It rocked.

I think opening up classical music to the masses and making it accessible can almost be synonymous with making the Bible available in languages other than Latin. Exposing my friends and family to all the great classical musicians and composers is a great first step, but I’m hoping to turn them into lifelong devotees! Well, at least expand their horizons…for now.

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On June 30, Naxos releases its first recording devoted to three chamber masterworks by the Shanghai-born composer Ge Gan-ru performed by ModernWorks (Airi Yoshioka, Mayuki Fukuhara, violins; Veronica Salas, viola; Madeleine Shapiro, cello): String Quartet No. 1, Fu; String Quartet No.4, Angel Suite and his String Quartet No. 5, Fall of Baghdad.

For anyone not familiar with this wonderful composer, you can meet him and hear his music performed by ModernWorks at Le Poisson Rouge on Wednesday, July 8 at 9:30 PM.

Born in 1954, the young Ge Gan-ru studied the violin until the onset of the Cultural Revolution, during which he was sent to a labor camp to plant rice. When the Shanghai Conservatory reopened at the end of the Revolution in 1974, Ge matriculated as a violin student, but, three years later, he shifted his focus to composition, studying with Chen Gang. During this time, he became familiar with scores by 20th-century Western composers including Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Cage, and Crumb, as well as music by the Japanese composer Takemitsu. In 1980, when British composer Alexander Goehr became the first Western composer to visit China after the Revolution, Ge was among the few students to receive lessons from him. Upon his graduation in 1981, Ge was appointed assistant professor of composition at the Conservatory. At that time, Chinese composers were still basing new works on traditional Western styles. The controversial 1983 Shanghai premiere of Ge’s Yi Feng (Lost Style; 1982)-a work for “radically detuned” solo cello-served as the “opening salvo” in what was to become the Chinese musical avant-garde movement.

In 1983, Ge began work on his String Quartet No. 1 – Fu (Prose-Poem), but before he could complete it, he relocated to New York City, recruited by Chou Wen-chung at Columbia University. While supporting himself as a restaurant deliveryman, Ge managed to complete the piece, and the Kronos Quartet-celebrated for its commitment to new music-soon made it part of their repertoire. Fu and Yi Feng are both milestones in Ge’s canon, as they represent the development of his individual style: “They are the first of their kind in China, exploring individualism and the essence of Chinese music characteristics while avoiding sentimental melodies then prevalent in China ”¦ Fu in Chinese refers to descriptive prose interspersed with verse. In this piece, I tried to express some of the most basic aesthetic feelings typical of Chinese classical poetry and calligraphy, such as subtlety, free form, and masterly strokes.”

The interval of the minor second figures prominently in Fu and generates much of its musical content. Unorthodox means of tone production dominate this work (though instruments are conventionally tuned), including snap pizzicato, harmonics, glissandi, tremolos, and various combinations of these techniques. Moreover, throughout the work, unmeasured, rhythmic passages alternate with more regularly-patterned music.

Some of the same sounds from Fu are prominent in the introductory measures of Angel Suite – String Quartet No. 4 (1998). And, interestingly, the minor second also figures significantly in its second, third and fourth movements. The composer writes: “Of all my works, this piece is the closest to the Western classical music tradition, and it offers a contrast to my other music … The title comes from my interest in Christianity ”¦ In this work, I try to express my curiosity in, and observation of, various aspects of Christianity. The titles of the movements (Cherub, Gnomes, Prayer, and Angel’s March) refer to the subjects that I wanted to represent musically. For instance, in the first movement, the harmonic glissando represents a cherub; the second movement focuses on dance rhythm ”¦ In the prayer movement, I use contrasting consonant and dissonant chords to draw out feelings of purity and sincerity in praying. In the middle section, I also use the beginning few notes from Schubert’s Ave Maria. For the last movement I chose to write a march, as I always imagine an angel as young and vibrant.”

Fall of Baghdad – String Quartet No. 5 is at once a tribute to George Crumb’s Black Angels for electric string quartet (1970) and an expression of the composer’s own feelings about the war in Iraq. Like Crumb’s work before it, the music comprises three long sections divided into thirteen shorter ones. “Hair-raising squeals” produced by “applying pressure to the strings behind the bridge to create a scraping sound of indefinite pitch” open the work. In this quartet, Ge uses extended techniques neither as cultural relics, as in Fu, nor as suggestions of ethereal spirits, as in Angel Suite, Instead, he uses his unique musical language to symbolize the devastation and despair associated with war. (For contrast and relief, the middle section, “Music from Heaven,” incorporates light percussion; the “Heaven” to which this movement refers, incidentally, is a different paradise than the one Ge depicts in Angel Suite.) Ge employs microtonal inflections to suggest Middle Eastern music (which shares some of its idioms with the music of his native country) and also makes use of (as he explains): “glissandi and distorted sound to create the ”˜hellish’ effects; playing col legno (striking the strings with the [wooden part of the] bow) both in front of and behind the bridge for the Caliph’s drum and using extreme high notes on low strings for ”˜moaning’ sounds.”

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This week composer Sean Hickey, Naxos’ National Sales and Business Development Manager, weighs in on the growing trend in alternative performance venues, a subject which has been covered at length in The New York Times and many other publications including the June issue of Gramophone.  On May 18 at 8 PM in Alice Tully Hall, [...]

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When I was a child, Blackglama® Mink used to run ads on TV and in all the fashion magazines featuring movie stars, models, and famous men and women from all walks of life all bedecked in luxurious mink coats, paired with the simple caption: “What Becomes a Legend Most? … Blackglama® Mink.” The ads were [...]

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This week Naxos of America’s Collin Rae weights in on Italian movie soundtrack music of the 1960s and 1970s:
So much has already been written about Italian movie soundtrack music of the 1960’s and 70’s that I certainly won’t shed any new light on this subject, instead I will simply highlight some of the wonderful [...]

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Collin Rae, Naxos of America’s Marketing and Special Projects Manager, recently started a series of email discussions with composers, which have been posted on PMS #286 Appreciation Society, the Naxos of America blog. This discussion with composer David Lang yielded some interesting answers— including one heck of a 15-track music compilation!
In February of this year [...]

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One of my favorite bloggers, the publicist Amanda Ameer, recently made these comments on her Artsjournal blog Life’s a Pitch:
I have found that the Grammies are a point of reference for the “outside world” about classical artists, that is, a way to let people who haven’t heard of a certain artist know he or she [...]

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Let’s face it, we haven’t been hearing a lot of good news about the economy lately. These tough times have also pushed the already strapped classical music industry into making some very tough decisions. Eleven layoffs at the City Opera, followed by workers asked to stay home for two days because there wasn’t enough money [...]

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Danish label Dacapo never fails to impress me with its superb recordings. Last month, they released a stunning performance of choral works by Hanne Ørvad, a composer who began her career as a professional singer (Dacapo 8226534).  
This month (on October 28, to be precise) they are releasing Kronos Plays Holmgreen (Dacapo 6220548), featuring works by renowned Danish composer [...]

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One of the terrific things about Naxos is the number of ways in which I can have my cake and eat it too … musically speaking, that is. If we don’t distribute a label physically, I mostly likely can stream it on Naxos Music Library or download it on ClassicsOnline. Of course, there are labels [...]

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