Hector Berlioz - Rob Roy Overture
Gabriel Faure Pavane
Giuseppe Verdi Macbeth: Part I (Hosted by Aidan Lang)
Georg Anton Benda Sinfonia No.12 in A
Suzanne Farrin Polvere et Ombra

The Classical Notebook

Classical KING FM announcers and featured musicians share their thoughts on local concerts, seasonal music and evergreen classical favorites.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Feb 4 2016 10:45AM
"If music be the food of love, play on," Shakespeare's Duke Orsino declares in "Twelfth Night." With Valentine's Day looming on the horizon, you can count on Classical KING FM to play plenty of romantic "food of love" selections in the coming days.

But what makes a piece of music intrinsically romantic? (We're not talking about the so-called Romantic Era, which evolved in the early 19th century, and is still occasionally operational in the rather frostier musical climate of the early 21st century.) Can music really convey romance to the listener?

It depends, of course, on the listener. What our ears perceive as "romantic" has a lot to do with our past associations: a pair of lovers who have decided that a given piece is "our song" have probably defined that music as a kind of soundtrack of their romance. Maybe the music in question was playing when they met; maybe it accompanied their first date or first dance, or the first time they recognized they were falling in love.

Another kind of association is equally obvious: music that accompanies love in a more formal soundtrack, such as a ballet score, a film score, or an opera. There are too many examples here to count, though since we're in Seattle, perhaps there should be a Wagnerian preference here for the ecstatic love duets between the ill-fated Siegmund and Sieglinde in "Das Rheingold" and Isolde's "Liebestod" in "Tristan und Isolde." And then, there's music that bears a romantic title inspired by a love story – the most famous example here is Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture," where the surging passages depicting the balcony scene are an instantly recognizable musical shorthand for romance.

Vocal music, in which there's a text that speaks of love, is another dependable conveyer of passion – and the intimate world of the art song is full of love songs. Both Schubert and Mahler are particularly good at love and loss (consider Mahler's 'Liebst du um Schönheit' from the Rückert Lieder as an especially lovely example). And for something completely different, there's Rachmaninoff's brief, exquisite song "Zdes' Khorosho" (check out soprano Heidi Grant Murphy, with her magical high B-natural, on YouTube).

In the realm of both orchestra and keyboard, as well, you can always count on Rachmaninoff for romantic backgrounds. His "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" – particularly the famous Variation No. 18 – are often cited as favorites for mood-setting. The gorgeous slow movement of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G is often cited as a tender love story in its own right. Liszt's familiar piano piece "Liebestraum" ("Dream of Love"), despite its frequent send-ups by the late piano humorist Victor Borge, is still considered an inspirer of romance.

And the brief, eloquent "Adagietto" movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 5 is essentially a love letter from the composer to his adored Alma Schindler (who became his wife). Finally, there's the Adagio movement of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," full of soulful guitar melodies and Spanish charm. It just might be the ideal accompaniment to wooing a valentine.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Jan 11 2016 12:48PM
Here’s a confession: I didn’t always love Mozart.

As a budding pianist back in grade school, I slogged my unimaginative way through the usual suspects in Mozart’s keyboard canon, including The Sonata Everyone Knows (the No. 16 in C Major, K. 545, sometimes dubbed the “Sonata Facile”). But my heart was elsewhere, and my thoughts were the exact opposite of the often-reported remark of the Emperor Joseph II to Mozart upon the premiere of The Abduction from the Seraglio (“Too many notes”).

There were too few notes! I wanted more notes, more impressive keyboard thunder-power, more … well, more 19th century.

“You will learn,” promised my patient teacher, and indeed I did. It has been a long time since Mozart’s ascent to the top of my musical favorites – lording it above all the usual composer suspects, including several other Austrians and Germans, a handful of French and Brits, several Russians, a scattering of Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians, and the occasional American (plus, of course, P.D.Q. Bach).

Why Mozart?

It’s the music, of course – the great works across such a spectrum of genres from bawdy ditties to the most seriously sublime operas and symphonies. Possibly it’s also because he is the most human of geniuses, enduring a lifetime of scrambling after money, suffering tragedy (the early deaths of four of his six children), knowing he was an incomparable but never attaining the level of prosperity and status he truly deserved. Knowing, at age 35, that he was dying, and that his unwritten works in all their rich possibilities would die with him.

Nobody can pluck at the heartstrings quite as poignantly as Mozart does, most of all in his final, unfinished Requiem. That work has a special link to Seattle, too: it was here that the idea arose for a worldwide 2002 “Rolling Requiem” observance of the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  In the “Rolling Requiem,” organized by members of the Seattle Symphony Chorale, choruses on nearly every continent performed the Mozart masterpiece in individual concerts at 8:46 a.m. – the time of the first World Trade Center attack -- in their own time zone, beginning with the International Dateline and moving with the sun around the world. Thus the Requiem “rolled” from country to country, as 145 choirs in 20 time zones lifted up their voices in succession. In Seattle, the Requiem took place in what was then Safeco Field, with Gerard Schwarz on the podium for a performance featuring soloists Terri Richter, Sarah Mattox, Vinson Cole and Julian Patrick, with members of the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras and the Seattle Symphony Chorale — the organization that started it all.

The Mozart Requiem speaks to us not only because of the pathos of its origins -- the last, great, unfinished work of a dying genius, whose life was ripped away at the height of his creative powers – but also because the music so powerfully invokes the terror we feel about death:  the awe, the anguish and the hope for an afterlife. It also expresses faith in “lux aeterna” (eternal light), providing hope and consolation for those left behind.

So we come to Classical KING FM’s “Month of Mozart” with gratefulness for what we do have, and for a refreshed start to a New Year after too much fruitcake and turkey -- and for a celebration of a genius whose birthday is January 27. (It’s his 260th, by the way.) We’re raising a glass in Mozart’s honor, and turning up the volume on our speakers.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Dec 22 2015 9:31AM
The Seattle Men’s Chorus holiday concerts always make audiences laugh — and sigh, and think. Those concerts are famous for packing an emotional wallop along with their music and choreography. This year, though, there’s an extra lump in the throat of listeners who realize that this is the last Christmas show with founding director Dennis Coleman.

Say it isn’t so! — but it is. Coleman will retire in July, after 35 years at the helm of the organization he built into the largest gay men’s chorus in the world. In 2002, he also founded the Seattle Women’s Chorus; together, the groups are the largest community chorus in North America. They’re bigger than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Now the search is on for Coleman’s successor: “replacement” isn’t the right word when someone is really irreplaceable. Crafting a tightly knit ensemble of as many as 350 men (many of them otherwise untrained as musicians), teaching them to sing with precision and artistry as well as wit and humor — this is no easy task. Designing and creating shows that somehow balance the sublime and the ridiculous with no apparent effort is a lot harder than it looks.

Coleman knows precisely how to get the audience wound up, as in this year’s “Not in Our Town” mini-drama about a small town that defeats anti-Semites by displaying paper menorahs everywhere in solidarity. And he knows exactly how to bring his listeners down to earth afterward, with the return of comedy troupe Captain Smartypants’ greatest sketch of all time, the “Kislev Cowboys” performing a yee-haw version of the Dreidel Song that must be experienced to be believed. (Thanks, composer Eric Lane Barnes!)

In every program, there’s something breathtaking — usually a new version of the Chorus’ trademark “Silent Night,” accompanied by sign language and always concluding with a truly silent, “signed” Silent Night. There are pieces that show the group’s imaginative command of the whole house, aisles and all, like this year’s opening number, Todd Smith/Mike Holmes “Noel.” Works like Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and Franz Biebl’s multi-layered “Ave Maria” remind the listeners of the SMC’s serious classical chops; somehow Coleman gets a luscious and precise ensemble that smaller choruses might envy.

And, of course, there’s the annual audience sing-along, usually with the audience jingling its collective car keys as the percussion section. For this season’s “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” Coleman divided up the house into geographic sections, each responsible for the swans or the maids a-milking or the drummers drumming, each section trying to outshout all the others to hilarious effect.

Pianist Evan Stults’ contributions, this season and through all the years since 1986, are immeasurably important to the success of these concerts.

This year, Coleman himself joined the singers as soloist in “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a reminder to listeners that before he turned to choral directing, he was a tenor whose performances are still recalled with reverence.

And just so we didn’t forget the Chorus’ love for excess, there was a wildly over-the-top take on Freddie Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”: “Christmas Rhapsody,” arranged by Kathleen McGuire and featuring Chris Hoffman as the soloist confessing to Santa that he’d been very bad. Not on the stage, he isn’t.

Happy, replete, and utterly Christmassy, the audience – gay and straight, old and young, everybody smiling – poured out of the hall and into a post-concert world where the Seattle Men’s Chorus has been a powerful agent for social change and acceptance of the gay community, as well as a major adornment of the region’s arts scene. What a legacy Dennis Coleman is leaving through all those years of beautiful and meaningful music.
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