Collage of student artworks based on the Princeton Symphony Orchestra's performance of "Scheherazade"

Music Into Art

Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 symphonic suite Scheherazade, based on stories from the Tales of the Arabian Nights, is one of the best-known pieces in the orchestra repertoire. It has attracted adaptations ranging from the 1910 ballet choreographed by Fokine for the Ballets Russes to a piano adaptation by Sergei Prokofiev, as well as a 1947 movie, Song of Scheherazade, starring Yvonne De Carlo, that explores a fictional episode in the life of Rimsky-Korsakov. And now, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra has invited a group of students to create artistic responses to the work. More

Oberlin Orchestra strings rehearse under Raphael Jimenez. Photo by Will Roane

Oberlin in The City

From the cornfields of Ohio to the East Coast’s bustling musical metropolis they come. The Oberlin Conservatory’s 2013 Illumination Tour takes place this week, with students and faculty from a variety of disciplines in residence in New York City, collaborating with a handful of renowned alumni on four concerts spanning January 15-19. The residency is set to kick off with the Oberlin Faculty Jazz Ensemble performing standards and originals at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on January 15. On January 18, the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, led by Timothy Weiss, heads to the DiMenna Center for Classical Music to give the world premiere of John Zorn’s The Tempest with Joshua Rubin (Oberlin class of ’00) on clarinet. Also on the program are three works by Oberlin alumni More

Jackson Heights Orchestra with Pat Glunt

In The Heights

Sometimes it’s hard to predict how hungry a community can be for great music. This summer, Patricia Glunt, a retired New York City Public Schools music educator and resident of the richly diverse Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, fulfilled a longtime dream by forming a new musical group, the Jackson Heights Orchestra. Six rehearsals later, on December 12, the volunteer ensemble made its debut, eighteen strong, at a packed Community United Methodist Church, performing music of Handel, Holst, and Respighi, as well as arrangements of two traditional Christmas carols with New York-based soprano Jayne Skoog as soloist. The community support for the endeavor was tremendous More

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China Odyssey

In late November, I travelled to Beijing at the invitation of the China Conservatory for a weeklong residency. It was a densely packed schedule of chamber music coaching and orchestral readings, as well as performances by the China Conservatory Orchestra. More

Dudamel Bernstein Urbanski Karajan

Poll: Cult of the Conductor?

Discussions about an orchestra conductor’s importance and the role he or she should play never seem to go away. Part of that may be due the enduring mystery of what they do, the subtleties beneath those strange hand signals. But the debate may also stem from the way in which the conductor’s role is always changing.

The debate had a flare-up last month when Montreal Symphony Associate Trumpet Russell Devuyst took Montreal Gazette reviewer Lev Bratishenko to task over an October 27 review of the orchestra. More

David Heiss takes the solo stand the New York Pops under Steven Reineke. Photo by Richard Termine

Front and Center

Some of the biggest Broadway stars and marquee soloists have taken the stage alongside the New York Pops, but on Friday, November 9 at Carnegie Hall, the orchestra decided to feature some of its own. Music Director Steven Reineke, taking into consideration comments from patrons suggesting a night featuring just the orchestra—sans guest soloists—constructed a program of some of the most popular works from the classical canon along with a handful of pieces putting musicians of the orchestra out front-and-center. Among them were Concertmaster Cenovia Cummins, who performed Vittorio Monti’s sultry-to-fiery Csárdás, and Principal Cellist David Heiss giving a yearning rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne, from Six morceaux. More

An image from the Boise Philharmonic's poster for the world premiere of "Sacred Land," which tells the story of the intersection of Idaho's native peoples with the European settlers.

Idaho Tribute

As the year 2013 approaches, the city of Boise, Idaho prepares to mark an important date in its history: the 150th anniversary of its founding. Boise Philharmonic Music Director Robert Franz, contemplating what the orchestra might do to mark the occasion, dug a bit into Idaho history to find out, “What happened here 151 years ago?” He quickly discovered that the area’s two original native peoples—the Shoshone and the Bannock tribes—had been forcibly relocated by white settlers in the 1800s from what is now Boise to Fort Hall, near the Nevada border. And thus the seeds were planted for the Boise Philharmonic’s commission, Sacred Land: A Tribute to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, by local composer Jim Cockey. More

Elliott Carter by Philippe Gontier

Remembering Elliott

Elliott Carter, a composer whose works were as applauded as they were challenging, died Monday, November 5 at the age of 103. Carter remained productive right up until very recently: in April he completed Instances, a co-commission by the Tanglewood Music Center and the Seattle Symphony that is set to premiere in February 2013.

In our issue of November-December 2008, Symphony marked the iconoclast’s 100th birthday with an article by Frank J. Oteri, “The Carter Century.” We pay tribute to Carter by re-running the story here. More

A bystander documents a flashmob performance by the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, Germany.

Poll: Can’t We Just Listen Anymore?

A comment on a recent YouTube video of a flashmob orchestra performance has touched a raw nerve. The objection wasn’t to the YouTube performance itself, which was charming—music from Star Wars performed outdoors by the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, Germany—and can be viewed here and here. So what’s the problem? Nowadays at a “spontaneous” musical flashmob, almost no one watches the performance. Instead, bystanders are busy making video recordings of that performance. Of course, every orchestra hopes people will document these performances and share with friends. But an audience full of people all recording the performance maybe isn’t what they were hoping for, as it removes the event’s live, in-the-moment aspect. As that YouTube commenter put it, “I think it is crazy now how nobody can just watch a thing. They have to pull out their iPhones or cameras and watch it through the screen to record it.” More

Books in Brief

Piano Passion

How can words capture the soul of a classical pianist and his relationship with the art that consumes him? Widely divergent approaches to this can be found in two new books out this fall from Colin Eatock and Jonathan Biss. Eatock looks at the legendary pianist Glenn Gould, who died in 1982 at the age of 50, from the diverse viewpoints of managers, industry professionals, journalists, friends, and fellow artists. Biss, a young American pianist currently active on the concert circuit, writes from the heart about a composer who provides special inspiration for him—Robert Schumann—and with whom he in some sense identifies. More

Opening day at the Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, California

California Dreaming II

Up in California’s Sonoma County this past weekend, there was a lot to see and hear during the Green Music Center’s festive opening weekend. Concerts on September 29 and 30 on the campus of Sonoma State University—by the Santa Rosa Symphony, an assortment of choral groups, pianist Lang Lang, and the country/bluegrass band Alison Krauss and Union Station—were preceded by a flurry of behind-the-scenes preparations. More

Toru Tagawa leads the Tucson Repertory Orchestra in its debut concert July 2012 St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson.

Tucson Start-Up

As many orchestras across the country look to streamline their operations in the face of an unsympathetic economy, one musician is actually building something from nothing: conductor and violinist Toru Tagawa, co-founder of the Arizona-based Tucson Repertory Orchestra. More

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California Dreaming

For classical-music lovers, one of the best parts of fall is not the colorful foliage and cooler temperatures—welcome though these may be—but the return of The Orchestra Season. There is an extra layer of excitement when the season brings with it the chance to experience a brand-new concert hall, especially one with a fine pedigree. This season, one of the most highly anticipated new concert halls opens on September 29 and 30 in northern California, when Music Director Bruno Ferrandis leads the Santa Rosa Symphony’s first concert at the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, at the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center. More

Delta David Gier and the South Dakota Symphony in a community performance

Championing Music of Our Time

Are things looking up when it comes to programming contemporary music for orchestras? For conductor Delta David Gier, the answer is an emphatic yes. Gier has served since 2004 as music director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, based in Sioux Falls, where he has been spicing things up with everything from the Lakota Music Project—a side-by-side program with a Native American drumming group, now in its fourth year—to seasons featuring multiple works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composers. His accomplishments have not gone unnoticed: in June, he and his orchestra received ASCAP’s 2011-12 John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music, during the League of American Orchestras’ National Conference in Dallas More

The All-Star Orchestra, Manhattan Center, NYC, 2012, with Gerard Schwarz on the podium. Photo: Steve J. Sherman

Starry, Starry Days

What do you get when stellar musicians from multiple orchestras gather to make music for four intense days? The All-Star Orchestra, which corralled some of the best orchestral musicians in the country for a new television series about classical music. From August 27 to 30, players from the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, and more were led by conductor Gerard Schwarz in challenging repertoire that balanced established classics with contemporary works—think Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony colliding up against Philip Glass’s Harmonium Mountain. The goal, according to series creator Schwarz, is to make classical music—and music-makers—up close and personal for a broad television audience. More

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Maestro Demystified

It could be argued that no American-born conductor on the scene today has played a greater role in the nation’s orchestral life during the past 30 years than Leonard Slatkin, now in his fifth season as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with a distinguished record of leadership at two other major organizations, the St. Louis and National symphony orchestras. All three music directorships, and a host of other experiences in music, inform his new book Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro (Amadeus Press, 311 pages, $27.99). As Slatkin writes in the “Praeludium” to this book More

Wagner ban

Poll: Music and Morality

Controversy surrounding the music of Richard Wagner is certainly not new, but this summer was a big one for the composer, a notorious anti-Semite. A June 18 concert scheduled at Tel Aviv University featuring selections from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, to be led by Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, was called off after angry protests erupted. The University claimed to have not been fully informed about the program More

Jack Quartet Governors Island

Rite of Summer

From Piazzolla in the park to an evening of John Cage mayhem, summer is full of outdoor concerts and eclectic programming. Unusual music in unusual places—these are the kinds of performances you might not see the rest of the year. In New York City, summer staples like the Lincoln Center Festival and Mostly Mozart provide a broad range of programming—stay tuned to SymphonyNOW for more on Mostly Mozart’s bird-themed series—and there are plenty of other smaller festivals More

Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado. Photo by Zach Mahone

Gallery: Vail At 25

The Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado has just finished celebrating its 25th season, a quarter-century during which it transformed from its beginnings as a chamber music festival into one where three American orchestras now spend a chunk of each summer. The summer provided an additional milestone for Vail co-founder John Giovando, who celebrated his 25th and final season as executive director. Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott—in her second season as artistic director—presided over the festival from June 25 to August 4, welcoming the New York Philharmonic and Music Director Alan Gilbert; the Philadelphia Orchestra and Music Director Yannick Nézet-Seguin; and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Jaap van Zweden. More

Full orchestra rehearsal with Team Copland.

From Buckets to Strings

Alvaro Rodas is holding a cello-shaped object. Missing strings, a bridge, and f-holes, it’s a papier-mâché affair with a cardboard neck. It could be a musical piñata, but in fact this cello is a new addition to the Corona Youth Music Project’s paper orchestra. Paper instruments are an important stepping stone for children who are preparing to be part of a full orchestra in this Queens, NYC-based music-education program. With a paper violin, viola, or cello, kids can focus on the mechanics of holding an instrument, how to “play” together, and ensemble etiquette—without the distraction of noise. More