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The Pirates' walk-up songs — reimagined as classical music

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

What would happen if Andrew McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates' star center fielder, used classical music as his walk-up song?

pirateswalkup-08202015“It’s really dark,” McCutchen said, laughing, upon listening to "O rubor sanguinis" by Hildegard of Bingen. “It definitely sounds like, I’d be watching ‘300’ right now, and it’s right as they’re about to go into battle or something.”

I had some fun working out that hypothetical. On Thursday, the Post-Gazette launched a multimedia presentation about the Pirates' walk-up songs and what their classical equivalents would be. That means Steve Reich instead of AC/DC, Hildegard of Bingen in lieu of Taylor Sift, and "La donna e mobile" replacing "That's Amore." Designed by the Post-Gazette's talented developer Zack Tanner, the interactive presentation includes clips from my interviews with five players, a Spotify playlist, and selections from the original and reimagined walk-up music. (A slightly longer text is linked at the bottom of the interactive, and will appear in print on Sunday.) 

http://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/pirates/classical/

What do you think of the choices? Do you have other suggestions? Should the Pirates try this out for a game?

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The Met, "Otello" and blackface in opera

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

In case you missed it, the Metropolitan Opera in New York has opted not to use blackface on the title character of its upcoming production of Verdi's "Otello." 

Last November, when Pittsburgh Opera produced "Otello" for the first time in nearly 25 years, tenor Carl Tanner, who is white, played the title role and wore makeup. The director's notes in the program included this paragraph by stage director Kristine McIntyre about the question of race in the opera:

"One of the things that Iago is able to exploit is Othello's sense of otherness due to race, though it's not exactly clear what Shakespeare intended regarding Othello's appearance. In Elizabethan times, the term "Moor" could equally be used to describe someone of swarthy appearance (a Moroccan or North African) or someone black – or anyone in between. In the play, Iago and Desdemona's father are the only ones who even mention his appearance, and in both play and opera, the issue seems unimportant to the great majority of characters. What is important is that Othello himself acknowledges this otherness as part of a deep sense of insecurity that, combined with the difference in their ages and backgrounds, makes it all too easy for him to believe that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Their marriage is simply too new for him to have learned through time and experience that he can trust her."

Christopher Hahn, Pittsburgh Opera's general director, said in an interview that the company attempted to present a historically accurate depiction of Otello/Othello from Shakespeare's time. Two pictures – one of a Moroccan ambassador to the Elizabethan court, another of an Islamic scholar and diplomat in North Africa – served as a model for the production. "It was just makeup that seemed slightly olive-y, more Mediterranean than anything else," he said. "We believed that was Shakespeare's original model for Otello."

20141027lrotellomag05-4Danielle Pastin as Desdemona and Carl Tanner as Otello in the Pittsburgh Opera production of Verdi's "Otello." (Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)

For a story like "Otello," the title character's sense of otherness is germane to the depiction of the character, Mr. Hahn said. "He feels, perhaps, that he's other because he's from somewhere else," he said. "When you're in the theater, you're trying to elucidate the complexities of the situation so our audience learns about his pain," much like the cultural differences between Pinkerton and Butterfly are germane to Puccini's "Madama Butterfly"; makeup is one of many theatrical methods to portray these differences.

It's fair to assume that it will be a while before we see another "Otello" at the Benedum, but will Pittsburgh Opera follow the Met's lead next time? We'll see. Mr. Hahn pointed out that this production was informed by the 16th-17th century worlds that Shakespeare lived in; yet another could set the story in the Verdi's era of 19th century. With opera, the directorial possibilities are limitless, and often are changing. "I suspect we would find it difficult to envisage what a lot of stuff on stage is going to look like," Mr. Hahn said. "The theater is always a surprising place."

I also spoke with Thomas W. Douglas, who wears several musical hats throughout Pittsburgh as director of opera studies at Carnegie Mellon University, artistic director of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh and founder/artistic director of the Neighborhood Opera Company, which produces operas featuring African-American casts. 

While he opposes the use of blackface on white Otellos, he also wished the Met would seek a wider pool of candidates to sing the role. "You should be interested, if you want to tell that story, to find a character that reflects that story more honestly," he said.

"I think in a professional situation with the multitude of talent, if you're going to do an ethnic story, then find the right ethnic people to do it," he said. "He doesn't necessarily have to be a Moor or be African-American, but that contrast, it seems vital to good storytelling," not only in "Otello," but in other operas with roles for specific ethnicities.

"The goal-setting from the beginning should be, we're going to tell this story as authentically as possible," he said.

For further reading, here is a piece by Allison Kinney that broke the news about the Met's decision and looks at the barriers black performers have faced throughout opera's history.

 

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Chamber Music Pittsburgh announces new series

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Back in April, I blogged about upcoming series by Chamber Music Pittsburgh, called Pittsburgh Performs, which would feature local musicians performing in unusual places, but there weren't any details at the time.

On Tuesday, CMP sent a press release that explained the philosophy behind Pittsburgh Performs and announced the first two concerts in the series: DJ duo Tracksploitation along with a classical string quartet at BOOM Concepts in Garfield (Sept. 24) and the Fauré String Trio at Franktuary in Lawrenceville (Nov. 11). 

The series, it seems, is seeking to break down any barriers that could prevent new audiences from trying out chamber music. It's pay-what-you-can, thereby dissolving the pre-concert logistics of buying tickets and allowing new audience members to sample a show "risk-free." In addition, Pittsburgh Performs takes place outside of CMP's main venues — Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland and, over the summer, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty — with the apparent goal of bringing music to audiences, rather than expecting audiences to find their way to concerts. (The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has presented chamber music concerts in similar settings, such as Franktuary and the Livermore in East Liberty.) I knew the series would emphasize local musicians, but I was surprised to see a local DJ duo on the first program! In any case, I'll be eager to see how this experiment works out. CMP has made several changes in the last few years, from adding the multi-genre "Just Summer" series at the Kelly Strayhorn to changing its name from the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society. In my opinion, any effort to create meaningful and fun experiences around classical music is worth trying.

More from CMP:

Chamber Music Pittsburgh is thrilled to announce the fall portion of its newest concert series, Pittsburgh Performs. This series, created by Executive Director Kristen Linfante, seeks to showcase the multi-faceted musical talents that the Steel City has to offer by presenting affordable pay-what-you-wish performances featuring local musicians in non-traditional venues around town.

"There is a multitude of talented musicians living in Pittsburgh," says Linfante. "This series not only aims to celebrate their talents, but also to bring the music into the communities where people live, work and socialize." Pittsburgh Performs will lift the music out of the concert hall and make it accessible to more people by meeting them where they already are – in restaurants, bars, community spaces, galleries, and beyond. In the spirit of making music accessible within the communities, Chamber Music Pittsburgh will not be charging for tickets to the Pittsburgh Performs concerts. Instead, there will be a suggested donation amount that patrons may choose to pay. "The 'pay-what-you-wish' model really enhances the community aspect of Pittsburgh Performs," says Linfante, "because it breaks down that elite, ivory tower mentality that people have come to associate with classical music. Actually, Bach played his music in bars and coffeehouses. That's how people experienced music. Over time classical music became revered as something so sacred that some people felt it must be protected by putting it in a museum-like setting of the traditional concert hall. But with Pittsburgh Performs, we are looking to reclaim the fundamental truth that everyone is welcome to listen to great music – performed by great local musicians, in great local spots."

Pittsburgh Performs opens on Thursday, September 24, 2015, at 6:30 PM, featuring DJ duo Tracksploitation in collaboration with a classical string quartet at BOOM Concepts on Penn Avenue, Garfield. Tracksploitation's "galvanizing energy" has "fostered ... an artistic community" (Pittsburgh City Paper), and will feel right at home at BOOM Concepts, which is a self-described creative hub dedicated to the expansion of activity for artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. Refreshments will be served for free, though patrons are encouraged to donate what they can.

Pittsburgh Performs' second concert is on Wednesday, November 11, 2015, at 5:00 PM, featuring the Fauré String Trio at Franktuary on Butler Street, Lawrenceville. The Fauré String Trio has had the honor of premiering many new compositions since its inception in 2003, but this concert may be the first time they have the honor of being accompanied by a custom menu of gourmet hot dogs, grub and cocktails available for purchase and designed specially for the event by the folks at Franktuary.

Pittsburgh Performs will return for two more concerts in April and May 2016, to be announced.

 

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Vic Firth, 1930-2015

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Vic Firth, the legendary percussionist and drumstick-maker who served as the principal timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for almost half a century, has died at the age of 85. Check out the New York Times' excellent and colorful obituary.

I grew up playing drum set and percussion in the Boston area. Boston percussion and Vic Firth were inextricably linked, although, thanks to the supremacy of Vic Firth sticks, his legacy is wide-ranging and permanent. My primary percussion teachers studied with him at New England Conservatory; I was proud of that percussive lineage, and in awe of Mr. Firth, who won a BSO job at the age of 21.

Unlike centuries-old cellos or violins, most percussion equipment is somewhat impermanent. Sticks crack and split; the felt on timpani mallets puffs up and deteriorates, requiring regular repair. But the sound, weight, evenness and color of that fragile equipment are critical. Mr. Firth recognized that fact, and in doing so, he elevated the art of percussion.

I met Mr. Firth once, while dropping off or picking up some timpani mallets – I can't remember which – at his company's headquarters in Boston. He entertained my fandom, noodled with my sticks on a desk, made some approving comment, and went on his way. The interaction was brief, but the impact was permanent.

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Liner Notes Vol. XVII

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Some goodies from the music journalism world:

From NPR, the revival of Pakistan's classical music scene http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2015/04/18/400409262/in-song-of-lahore-a-race-to-revive-pakistani-classical-music 

From the Guardian, how music became free http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/18/how-music-got-free-stephen-witt-review 

From the Buffalo News, legal drama in the Buffalo Philharmonic's woodwind section http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/storm-rages-through-woodwind-section-of-buffalo-philharmonic-orchestra-20150530 

From the Cincinnati Enquirer, a shakeup at the Cincinnati World Piano Competition (with the surprise ouster of Pittsburgh native Awadagin Pratt) http://www.cincinnati.com/story/entertainment/arts/2015/07/09/shakeup-cincinnati-world-piano-competition/29922303/ 

UPDATE: Mr. Pratt has been reinstated: http://www.cincinnati.com/story/entertainment/arts/2015/07/29/ousted-artistic-director-back-cincinnati-world-piano/30836887/

From NPR, the revival of Ethel Smyth's "The Wreckers" http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/07/23/410033088/one-feisty-victorian-womans-opera-revived 

 

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