WXXI Classical Blog

His Funny Valentine

Alma Mahler interests me. One of the great muses of the early twentieth century, she fell in and out of love with composers, artists, an architect, and a writer. She inspired paintings, symphonies, buildings, and poetry. She even wrote her own music, suffocating artistically when her first husband, Gustav Mahler, asked her to stop.

Bruce Beresford’s 2001 movie about Alma, “Bride of the Wind,” takes its name from a painting of the same name by Oskar Kokoschka.

Six-word memoirs

Try to sum up your life in six words.

A new book, “Not Quite What I Was Planning," presents some of the best six-word memoirs culled from Smith magazine. You may have heard Neal Conan talking about this book on WXXI/NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Some of these are quite funny.

I made up a few fictitious memoirs.

“Secret to life: wine, women, song.” - Luciano Pavarotti
“Born in Churchville: conquered the world.” – Renee Fleming
“Got kicked out of the Met.” – Kathleen Battle

Grammy wrap

Rochester’s Ying Quartet was wise to skip the Grammy awards for a gig in Ohio. The group didn’t win in their category, Best Chamber Music Performance.

Here’s the scoop on Rochester’s classical/jazz nominees:

MARIA SCHNEIDER earned a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for Cerulean Skies from her new CD, Sky Blue. She beat Bela Fleck, Harry Connick, Jr. and Phillip Glass.

From Afar

On the day that Mitt Romney suspended his campaign to win the 2008 U.S. Presidential race, I sat down and listened to From Afar, a fantasy for guitar and orchestra by Joseph Schwantner. I’m starting to understand Schwantner’s musical language, and I’m beginning to like it, too.

State of bliss

A decade ago, when guitarist Sharon Isbin recorded the lullaby "Cancion de Cuna," by Cuban composer Leo Brower, she wrote that she was in a state of bliss, remembering her experience of "floating down the Napo River in a dugout canoe with piranhas, electric eels, and glistening crocodiles afoot."

This week, when she plays the same piece with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, she'll hear it in a whole new light. Read my concert preview in this week's City newspaper here:

http://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/music/articles/CLASSIC...

Mr. Oboe

Am I the only person alive who thinks Chester Pitts (a.k.a. "Mr. Oboe") might have a happier life if he rejects the NFL and plays the oboe instead?

Yeah, I guess I probably am.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPLX_ckw0G4

The incredible shrinking schools

My high school alma mater may drop its Latin program next year. That’s not a huge deal to most people, I know, but if you think of it an indicator, it signals change in the rural school districts around Rochester: a significant drop in the population of young people in small towns.

There are fewer kids in rural schools. Batavia Daily News reporter Tom Rivers (and, in the name of full disclosure, my brother-in-law) describes the changes in a thorough report below, posted with his permission.

As you’ll see, Tom’s story focuses on sports and science programs and the effects smaller classes may have on what schools can offer. Schools such as Elba, Byron-Bergen, and Oakfield-Alabama might have to team up to offer certain classes and sports programs.

Cellist wonders what to do next

I discovered a blog kept by a cellist living in Houston, studying at Rice University. He's preparing to audition in Rochester for a spot with the RPO. He writes:

Who let the dogs out?

If you walk your dog in Toronto’s Jean Sibelius Square, take a leash.

As of January 1st, unleashed dogs were officially banned from the park named for the famous Scandinavian composer, Jean Sibelius. The centrally located park lies near Bathurst and Dupont streets.

Dogs’ rights aside, the park underscores the incredible popularity of Sibelius, who lived from 1865-1957. I can’t think of a composer alive today so universally revered. I’ve been reading about Jean Sibelius, and my appreciation for his music is moving beyond “Finlandia” worship. He loved nature, birds, and drinking. He was a homebody, full of self-doubt, despite his fame.

Winter garden

Last week, I started complaining about the muddy, colorless winter weather. Today, I’m delighted every time I glance outside. The garden is etched in black and white, transformed into an Escher lithograph. Balls of ice-encrusted bee balm sway on brittle stalks. Privet bushes hunker down, nearly smothered by the heavy, wet snow. Cardinals flit, electric red. I declare this the loveliest winter weather ever, especially if you like shape and form and contrast.