Arts & Culture

Arts and culture

Prima Donna

Sep 13, 2016

Of the many musical terms that have made their way into general usage, one of the most colorful—and useful—is Prima donna.  These days the term gets applied to anyone with an oversized ego—man or woman—but in Italian it simply means “first lady,” and it’s been in use since the 1600's as the title for the singer of an opera’s principal female role. By the 1700's the term was already associated with the artistic and commercial cult of the glamorous leading lady—a cult that met with little protest from the leading ladies themselves—and some prima donnas demanded to be called prima donna assoluta, “absolute leading lady.” 


I’d like to read you part of an interesting job application letter. It was originally in French:

“My Lord, As I had the honor of playing before Your Royal Highness… and as I observed that You took some pleasure in the small talent that heaven has given me for music, and [as] You honoured me with a command to send You some pieces of my composition, I now…take the liberty of presenting [you] with the present concertos… humbly praying You not to judge their imperfections by the severity of the fine and delicate taste that every one knows You to have for music …”


Jazz vocalist Gregory Porter had a breakout year in 2012. His album Be Good topped many “Best of” lists and was named iTunes Jazz Album of the Year. In 2014, Porter won a Grammy Award for his third album, Liquid Spirit, and NPR Music has called him “the next great male jazz singer.” On this Song Travels, Porter tells host Feinstein about his gospel roots and his musical upbringing. Porter is joined by Chip Crawford and Aaron James for a set that features songs from Liquid Spirit.

  Leonard Feather (1914 – 1994) was hailed as “the Dean of Jazz Journalists.” He critiqued artists for DownbeatMelody MakerWire, and his own weekly syndicated column for the Los Angeles Times. He authored works including The Jazz Years: Ear Witness to an Era and The Encyclopedia of Jazz. Feather also played piano and composed works recorded by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Sarah Vaughan, to name a few. On this 1988 Piano Jazz, he solos on “Lost in the Stars” and an original “Blues Medley.”

Bach Cello Suites

Sep 9, 2016

A word today about the solo cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. The melodies to which we’re most accustomed in the music of such composers as Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert, usually feature easily identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends.

Antonio Vivaldi

Sep 8, 2016

Antonio Vivaldi’s life story could easily be the subject of a novel.  Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678 and at the age of 25 he was ordained as a priest.

    

From the 1400's to the 1700's, the Italian word viola was the general term for any stringed instrument played with a bow.  Viola da braccio, or “arm viola,” was the generic name for any member of what we now call the modern violin family.  And even though it was always played between the legs, the instrument we now call the cello was first called the basso di viola da braccio, or “bass arm viola.” The word cello, believe it or not, comes from an Italian word meaning “little big viola.”

Johann F Fasch

Sep 6, 2016

Fame, they say, is fleeting. I recently came across a piece of music by a German composer named Johann Friedrich Fasch. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t.


In 1950 a musicologist named Wolfgang Schmieder published an enormous catalogue of J.S. Bach’s works, but Schmieder organized it by category, that is, by type of composition, not by date of composition. The catalogue is known in German as the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or BWV, and that’s why you often see Bach’s works listed in programs with their BWV numbers. 


Guitarist, vocalist, and composer Matt Munisteri has uncovered much of the forgotten jazz and swing from the early 20th century. His album Still Runnin’ Round in the Wilderness explores the “lost” compositions of American singer/songwriter Willard Robison. Munisteri and Feinstein share tunes that, while forsaken by the past, are certainly worth remembering.

News Stations: Sun, Sep 11, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Sep 11, 6 pm

Oliver Jones
Courtesy of the artist

  Oliver Jones is one of Canada’s premiere pianists and winner of the prestigious Oscar Peterson Award. As a child he took lessons with Daisy Peterson Sweeney, Oscar Peterson’s sister. With a long career as a performer, composer, and educator, Jones is an important player in the international jazz piano scene. Piano Jazz celebrates Jones’ 82nd birthday with this session from 1990. His music speaks for itself as he plays his own tune “Jordio.” Then McPartland and Jones say it all with “Three Little Words.”

Concert Etiquette

Sep 2, 2016

Concert etiquette. It’s really just a matter of common sense and good manners. If you think you may be at risk of a coughing or sneezing fit, sit on the end of a row, not in the middle. If you’re bringing a child to the concert and the child tends to fidget, sit in the back, not the front. Don’t take pictures or make videos if you’ve been asked not to or if you may be blocking somebody else’s view, and don’t use a flash even if you haven’t been asked not to. 


Ivan Moshchuk on Your Compositions

Sep 1, 2016
Marco Borggreve

Ivan Moshchuk is a Detroit based pianist and winner of the 2010 Gilmore Young Artist award. He is also a fine composer, or was a composer. Hear his lovely piece,  Album Leaf that's reminiscent of Sergei Rachmaninoff and learn why he can't focus on too many things at once. Currently he is a pianist, but let's hope this program is an encouragement to him to continue composing.  Piano Concerto anyone? 

Do you find traveling glamorous? Sitting around in airports, waiting in lines, carrying luggage, eating in unfamiliar places, sleeping in unfamiliar beds? Well imagine doing that for about ten months a year, and imagine doing it alone, while having to prove, over and over again every single week, that you’re one of the best in the world at what you do.


Paradox of Integrity

Aug 31, 2016

Musicians, like actors, have to deal with something a drama teacher once called the “paradox of integrity.” On the one hand, you have to be completely “in character” when you’re performing—moved yourself by the music in order to make it moving for others, and merged with the music, in a way… almost submerged in it. 


Conflict

Aug 30, 2016

I won’t mention any names, but many years ago there was a great string quartet that was famous for its members not getting along. People joked that it was a tragedy for this quartet if they showed up in a town that only had three hotels. I don’t know if we can blame this particular quartet, but one theory that took hold was that the best results for chamber music groups are produced by conflict, and the resolution of conflict. 


Pronunciation

Aug 29, 2016

Classical music lovers tend to worry about correct pronunciation, so here are a few refreshers that I hope will be helpful.

In America, people who play the flute call themselves flutists, not flautists, and we who play the viola, which looks like vie-ola, are called violists.

Handel’s Messiah was written by Handel, not Hondle, and though you can say Haendel if you’re feeling German, Handel himself changed it to Handel, so I’d stick with that. 


Born into Hollywood royalty, Liza Minelli made her own name on the stage and screen. Her role in the 1972 film version of the Broadway musical Cabaret made her an international sensation and won her the Academy Award for Best Actress.  She continues to wow audiences with her iconic presence and powerful voice. Minnelli joins her good friend and Song Travels host Michael Feinstein for a discussion of her life and the evolution of her approach to song.

News Stations: Sun, Sep 04, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Sep 04, 6 pm

Garden...and Gun?

Aug 29, 2016
Garden and Gun logo
Garden and Gun magazine

    Yes, Garden & Gun--a magazine that covers “the best of the South,” including the sporting culture, the food, the music, the art, the literature, the people and their ideas. With a national audience of more than one million passionate and engaged readers, the magazine has won numerous awards for its journalism, design, and overall excellence.

Walter Davis, Jr.
Carlo Rondinelli, via Wikimedia Commons

  Pianist Walter Davis, Jr. (1932 – 1990) spent more than four decades contributing to the development of jazz history. He worked with a wide variety of talent including Dizzy Gillespie, Donald Byrd, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Shortly after sitting down with McPartland for Piano Jazz in 1990, this great giant in the jazz world passed away. One of the great bebop stylists of his time, Davis plays his own tune, “Backgammon” and joins McPartland for a tribute to one of his main influences with “Blue Monk.”

If you’re allergic to highly technical program notes for classical music concerts, you’re not alone. Most musicians I know find such notes boring and irrelevant, and most non-musicians find them useless, not to mention seriously off-putting. Well, it turns out it’s an old problem, as I discovered when I read a wonderful essay by George Bernard Shaw from 1896. 


Walter Pater was an influential 19th-century English author and critic, and in 1870 he wrote a fascinating essay about the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. In one passage that particularly caught my eye, Pater wrote, “If [Botticelli] painted religious incidents, [he] painted them with an undercurrent of original sentiment, which touches you as the real matter of the picture through the veil of its ostensible subject.” 


Joseph Lanner

Aug 24, 2016

Don Drysdale was a great pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but you don’t usually hear his name mentioned without hearing the name of another Dodger, Sandy Koufax. Well, Joseph Lanner was a hugely popular and important composer and orchestra leader in Vienna in the 1820's and 30's, one of the first composers to create a refined version of the Viennese waltz and bring it into the dance hall. But you won’t often see Lanner’s name without also seeing the name Johann Strauss. 


Interpretation

Aug 23, 2016

Composers write pieces, and performers perform them. But for the performers, just about everything the composer writes, with the exception of the notes themselves, is a matter of interpretation. The composer indicates that a passage should be played softly? Fine. But how softly? It should get louder? Okay, but how much louder? Faster, slower? – same thing, it’s a matter of interpretation and personal taste. 


The body length of a full-size violin is about 14 inches, give or take a very small fraction. This is a standard length, and an optimum length, arrived at by trial and error over many years by the great violin makers of history. Violas, on the other hand, have no standard length. For the pitch range and acoustics of the viola there probably is an optimum length, but whatever it is, it’s way too great for the instrument still to be held up and played under the chin. 


Nellie McKay
David Kogut

  Performer, composer, and actress Nellie McKay brings a comedic flair to her stage shows, including Nellie with a Z, in which she plays a cabaret veteran three times her age! Her music has also been featured on the television series WeedsGrey’s Anatomy, and Boardwalk Empire. On this Song Travels, McKay and host Feinstein team up for “Pennies from Heaven” and “The Nearness of You,” and she performs her original “Beneath the Underdog.”

News Stations: Sun, Aug 28, 2 pm | Classical Stations: Sun, Aug 28, 6 pm

Marian McPartland and Norah Jones, 2002.
SC Public Radio

  Vocalist Norah Jones has a smoky, sweet voice that makes standards sound not only revived, but completely new. Her style branches out into the realms of folk, country and western, soul, pop, and jazz. In 2003, the year she was McPartland’s guest on Piano Jazz, she won her first Grammy Awards for her debut album, Come Away with Me. Jones brings her warm vocals to Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You,” and McPartland and Jones kick off a “Beautiful Friendship.”

News Stations: Sat, Aug 27, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Aug 28, 7 pm

Musicians' Nightmares

Aug 19, 2016

I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that most people have had what might be called recurring anxiety dreams… the kinds of dreams in which you find yourself in public with no clothes on, or about to take a test in a subject you’ve never studied. People’s anxiety dreams tend to be tailored to their particular personalities, circumstances, and experiences, and often to their particular professions. 


Master Classes

Aug 18, 2016

master class is a public lesson. A distinguished teacher—that would be the master—works with a student on a piece of music, but the teacher isn’t the student’s regular teacher, and instead of the lesson taking place in a private studio, it takes place in front of an audience. It’s a kind of double performance—the student is performing for the audience, but so is the teacher. And the idea is that whatever the teacher has to offer will be of value to both the student and the observers. 


Gabriel Faure

Aug 17, 2016

Gabriel Fauré is often referred to as one of the greatest  French composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But I wonder if that description goes far enough. It’s certainly true that his contributions to French music, especially in the areas of chamber music, piano music, and music for the voice -- are remarkable. But they’re remarkable because they’re wonderful music, not because they’re French. 


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