February 2, 2011

The Most Romantic Classical Pieces of Music?

February is such an interesting month--a furry prognosticator either predicts an early spring (as he did today) or condemns us to a long harsh winter, and Valentine's Day means romance is in the air.  We've decided to do a little investigative journalism in keeping with the month's romantic theme.  We want to know what piece of classical music always sets you in a romantic mood.  Is it a special piano concerto? A fine adagio? A piece from a treasured ballet? Or a more eclectic selection?

And who knows, it just might show up in a concert sometime soon, too (though we won't promise).
After a quick glance at several on-line lists of the best romantic compositions, here're a few frequent contenders for the top spot.  Click to give each of them a listen:

This list could go on for days, the choices are so bountiful. But instead, why don't you share your favorite with us? Vote below.
Tell Us Your Romantic Music


Winner will be emailed Thursday February 10, 2011
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January 17, 2011

The Musical That Almost Wasn’t: “My Fair Lady”

Broadways most enduring (and endearing) musical

Julie Andrews, the original Eliza Doolittle
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein said no.  Noël Coward refused to write it, too.  Rights issues, the break-up of writing team Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and complications over adapting George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion to the musical theater form all threatened to keep My Fair Lady from being born.

Shaw’s original play lacked key elements considered essential to the romanticism of the musical theater stage.  The main story was not a love story, and there was no subplot or secondary love story.  There was no place for an ensemble.  Admitting defeat, Lerner and Loewe set the project aside and later the collaborators separated.  But during the ensuing two years, Lerner’s thoughts often returned to the task of adapting Shaw’s play as a musical.  When he and Loewe later reunited, he had solved many of the dilemmas that had daunted the team earlier.  “All we had to do was add what Shaw had happening off stage.”  They then began excitedly writing the show.

However, Chase Manhattan Bank was in charge of the rights to Pygmalion and those rights were being sought both by Lerner and Loewe and by MGM, whose executives called Lerner to discourage him from challenging the studio.  Loewe said to Lerner, “We will write the show without the rights, and when the time comes for them to decide who is to get them, we will be so far ahead of everyone else that they will be forced to give them to us.”  In the end, Loewe’s prediction was right--My Fair Lady belonged to them.

Noël Coward was first offered the role of Henry Higgins, but fatefully suggested instead that the team cast Rex HarrisonMary Martin was courted to be the first Eliza Doolittle, but refused the part.  Young Julie Andrews was cast instead after the team “discovered” her in her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend.  It took hearing only two of the songs to hook director Moss Hart.

My Fair Lady opened March 15, 1956 and ran for more than 9 years and 2,717 performances, making it the longest running musical at the time.  It has won seven Tony Awards, two Theatre World Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, five Olivier Awards, the film version won eight Academy Awards and My Fair Lady has been nominated another 14 times, giving it the most accolades of any production.  And all for a show that almost never was.

This weekend, join an orchestra of 35, a cast of 25 and relish in the magic of Eliza Doolittle’s transformation from cockney flower girl to a sophisticated lady of the ball as Broadway In Concert presents this most beloved of American musicals.  And in a harkening back to the days of the show’s original run, Sarah Uriarte Berry (who plays our Eliza Doolittle) was coached in the songs by Marni Nixon, Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice for Eliza in the Academy Award-winning film.

Sarah Uriarte Berry (Eliza Doolittle) – Broadway In Concert’s Hello Dolly, Broadway’s The Light in the Piazza, Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables.

Paul Schoeffler (Henry Higgins) – Broadway’s Rock of Ages, Sweet Charity, Beauty and the Beast, Victor/Victoria, Sunday in the Park with George.

Andrew Boyer (Alfred P. Doolittle) – Broadway In Concert’s Music Man, Broadway’s 2000 revival of Music Man, Gypsy with Patti Lupone.

January 22 & 23, 2011 ONLY
408-286-2600, Ext 23

January 4, 2011

“One Never-Ending Concert:” A conversation with Adam Golka

Adam Golka, Pianist
23-year-old Adam Golka is the winner of two of America’s most prestigious musical awards:  the 2008 Gilmore Young Artist Award and most recently the 2009 Max I. Allen Classical Fellowship Award of the American Pianists Association.  His professional career jumped into high gear in 2003 when, aged just 16, he ranked first in the 2nd China Shanghai International Piano Competition.  Since then, this truly prodigious prodigy has performed more than 300 concerts with such acclaimed orchestras and festivals as the Atlanta, Houston, Dallas Symphonies, the BBC Scottish Symphony, National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa, the Shanghai Philharmonic, the New York City International Keyboard Festival, the Ravinia Festival.  Closer to home for us, he has appeared with Music@Menlo and worked with San Francisco Opera’s Donald Runnicles.

A first-generation American, Golka comes from an immigrant family of Polish musicians.  His mother is a piano teacher, his father a trombonist who now makes his living as a piano technician.  And older brother Tomasz Golka was recently hired as musical director of Riverside County Philharmonic, to fill the void left when Patrick Flynn, their musical director and a frequent Symphony Silicon Valley guest conductor, died suddenly.

Here are Adam’s thoughts on music, life and the difficulty of playing favorites:

Your repertory this season includes many different solo works and concertos by Beethoven, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and others.  Do you have a favorite composer or set of works that has captured your heart?

I am very promiscuous with my musical loves.  Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms – these seven composers’ masterworks leave me in a never-ending state of awe.

Was there one singular moment or one piece of music that triggered your interest in music?

I could say that I remember one, not necessarily so significant piece of music, that got me drawn into music when I was about five years old.  The 6th and last Romanian Dance by Bartok, which is an obligatory piece for piano competitions.  My mother Anna is a piano teacher and she had 30 students coming to the house and taking lessons.  So they’d be preparing for this local contest and many of her students would play this same piece and I sort of picked it up by ear a little bit.  I remember that I was just crazy about it and I couldn’t stop playing it.

That was when his mother discovered his perfect pitch, his nearly photographic memory – and his passion for music.  “”I always tried to get him interested in other things, “ Anna Golka says.  “Baseball, karate, astronomy.  I told him he might come to a time when he couldn’t play the piano.  He looked at me and said ‘When the day comes that I can’t play the piano, I will die.’ “

Who are your favorite non-classical artists?

Well, I occasionally listen to past and present jazz legends like Tatum, Peterson, Fitzgerald, Monk, Jarrett and Mehldau—with enormous enthusiasm.  But I must admit that I am generally quite one-track minded.  There is simply so much “classical music” (I hate this designation; I prefer “art music”) that I am always dying to hear that I never find the time or energy to explore music of a more popular nature.

Some feel that there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before.  What do you tell them?

Why did Monet paint lilies over and over?  Why was there an American remake of Tarkovsky’s Solaris?  Why are so many films based on books already written, so many songs based on poetry already written?  I cannot answer this question practically, because art is not practical.  People need to say the same things over and over, and in their own unique way.  And that is beautiful.

If you hadn’t chosen music, what do you think you would do right now?

Well, it’s hard to answer this question…  Perhaps I feel like music chose me, and not the other way around.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t be anything other than a musician.  However, if I had the voice for it, I’d love to be a singer—maybe of Wagner.

This past year marked quite a few great firsts for you:  Your Carnegie Hall debut and collaborating with your brother Tomasz to play both of Chopin’s published concertos at the Chopin Society’s 200th Birthday Celebration of Chopin.

For a musician, Chopin’s music is like looking at the Pyramid of Giza.  Chopin is poetry at the piano.  It’s very moving.  It was quite an exhilarating experience celebrating the composer’s birthday this way:  My brother and I are developing a history of playing these pieces together.

You father is a trombonist, your mother a pianist, your brother Tomasz a violinist as well as a conductor and composer.  Did you try any other instruments before settling on the piano?

Yes, violin.  And my condolences to all who have heard me play it!

Is there a musical philosophy that you live by?

I treat my life as one never-ending concert.  In my preparation for concerts I try to find things to latch on to that will help me lose myself in the music and that will help keep an intense level of concentration.  Hopefully it works and my involvement leads me to moments of great mystery and revelation.  When those moments happen, I develop an unquenchable thirst for more and greater moments.

JOIN ADAM GOLKA JANUARY 15 & 16 with Symphony Silicon Valley
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December 27, 2010

"Everyone Loves Classical Music--They Just Haven't Found Out About It Yet"

Benjamin Zander Video at TED
Maestro Benjamin Zander at TED

If tween heart-throb Joe Jonas (of pop music group Jonas Brothers) has any influence on the peer pressure of today's teens and twenty-somethings, there should be a resurgence of interest in classical music in the younger set.  In a recent interview he insisted that he really loves classical music, saying
“I think I’ve always liked it, ever since somebody told me that if you listen to it while you're sleeping it’ll make you smarter when you wake up in the morning. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m trying that out.”  And while the so-called Mozart Effect is still highly debated, there's one thing Jonas and Boston Philharmonic Conductor Benjamin Zander agree on--classical music really is for everyone.  It's just that not everyone may know it yet.

In a short presentation at the annual TED Conference, "Ideas Worth Sharing," Zander demonstrated how everyone innately knows and grasps the concepts that classical music is built on and can develop a love and appreciation for it.  In his inimitable style, he gets an audience of classical music newbies to understand a Chopin piece (and even to predict it's ending), tells how classical music captivated an audience of hundreds of elementary school children and brought together a group of Catholic and Protestant teens in war-torn Ireland.  Watch this fascinating 20-minute video--well worth the time.  And let us know what YOU think by posting your comments here on our blog!

November 29, 2010

Mozartian Humor

Mozart had a wicked sense of humor.  Today, we hold his musical genius in such high esteem that it's hard to imagine him as the off-color joke teller he was with his friends.  How else do you explain the double entendre of his canon Difficile lectu (read more on this), for example?  And his friends and colleagues were often the unwitting targets of his jokes.  A frequent mark was famous horn soloist Joseph Leutgeb, for whom Mozart originally wrote all of his horn repertory.  A good friend of Mozart's, Leutgeb often opened his part to find insulting notes left for him.  In fact, Concerto No. 1 contains risqué references and disparaging comments on Leutgeb's playing throughout the solo part.  The dedication for the second concerto, that you'll hear this weekend, is signed: "Wolfgang Amadé Mozart takes pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox, and simpleton, at Vienna, March 27, 1783."  In the score itself he marks the orchestra part "Allegro" (fast, lively) while the same section of the solo part is marked "Adagio" (easy, slow)--a tongue-in-cheek reference to the tendency of the horn to come in late, dragging the tempo.

That levity suits Symphony Silicon Valley Principal Horn Meredith Brown just fine.  Asked what she thought would be most fun for the audience to know when listening to her perform Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 2 this weekend, she had one word "humor"--pointing to the close, joking relationship between Mozart and Leutgeb.  Here's the rest of our mini-interview with Ms. Brown.

Symphony Silicon Valley (SSV): How did you choose this particular piece for December's concert?
Meredith Brown (MB):  I love all of Mozart's writing for horn, but this concerto is my (current) favorite--I think it's just perfectly constructed.

SSVWhat attracted you to the horn?
MB:  My older sister played flute, and I was dragged along to see her middle school band concerts… I always thought the horn looked the coolest.

SSVWhat were some of your favorite concerts?
MB:  That's a really tough one...  I got to do Bruckner's 8th and 9th symphonies with Kurt Masur and I feel REALLY lucky for that, for example.

SSVBesides symphony, you also have played for a large number of theatrical productions.  What were your favorites?
MB:  My absolute favorite show is Ragtime!  The music and the story are pretty amazing, and it doesn't get done that often.  I also enjoyed Baz Luhrman's production of La bohème.  He made it even larger-than-life than the typical opera, but kept the integrity of the music tantamount.

SSVAny interesting anecdotes or stories you'd like to share with our readers?
MB:  It's hard to know what to do about the "water problem" (breath condensation) for brass players when we're the soloists.  Who wants to see someone in an evening gown or tuxedo dealing with the plumbing? A very nice friend of mine rigged my horn up so that if I pull one string, I can empty both water keys at the same time!

Mozart & Schubert: Saturday & Sunday, December 4 & 5

November 19, 2010

"Random Acts of Culture" Storms San Jose

Have you experienced a Random Act of Culture? Think ballet on the street corner. A little tango in the airport terminal. Poetry at the supermarket. Or perhaps Amazing Grace at the mall.

Last weekend, Random Acts of Culture arrived in San Jose as the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale sprang live choral music on surprised shoppers at the busy Westfield Valley Fair mall and startled attendees at a busy national conference by breaking into song during a reception.  These were the first of some 30 impromptu events a year coming to San Jose through an initiative funded by the Knight FoundationSymphony Silicon Valley will be producing these events throughout Santa Clara County as part of the 1000 Random Acts of Culture being staged nation-wide by the Foundation.  And judging from Saturday's reactions, fun will be had by all!

As shoppers bustled about the mall, several began to hum the same tune.  Other "shoppers" joined in and soon a chorus, really the Symphony's Chorale incognito, joined together in full voice, seemingly at random, and gave a full rendition of Amazing Grace while surprised shoppers stopped and stared and others peered over railings from above to see what was happening.  And when the song was over, the chorus melted back into the crowd as suddenly as it had formed while two of the spectators held up signs reading "You've just experienced a Random Act of Culture."  A little later, the chorus rematerialized in another corner of the mall to similar pleasantly surprised reactions.

Across town, a packed national conference was taking place at the Fairmont Hotel.  During an afternoon reception, conference attendees heard a faint humming.  Soon "attendees"--conference lanyards and all--joined in and the noisy crowd suddenly froze, realizing that something unusual was taking place.  Absolutely silent during the performance, the crowd of some three hundred stunned attendees broke into wild applause and whistles of approval as the "Random Act" sign was displayed, for this was a conference of arts marketing professionals from across the country who had just witnessed their first Random Act of Culture.

As Sal Pizarro wrote in his Mercury News column Monday, "Stay alert. You never know when some of this culture stuff might sneak up on you."  And while we won't give away the events or their exact locations and times, we might occasionally give you a heads up on our Facebook page and Twitter feed, so sign up for those to be sure you have a chance to experience a Random Act Of Culture in person.  But you'll always be able to watch the ones you missed via our YouTube channel and our own website.

Watch last weekend's Random Acts of Culture:
Random Acts of Culture: Valley Fair Mall 11/13/10
Random Acts of Culture: National Conference 11/13/10

6th Annual "Carols" Concert to feature Leigh Weimers

The Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale and conductor Elena Sharkova will bring the 6th annual holiday concert Carols In The California to the California Theatre concert hall December 11.   A fun and festive family-friendly holiday blend of music and story-telling, this annual treat brings together the Symphony's 90-voice Chorale, the Cantabile Youth Singers, the Symphony Silicon Valley Brass and features noted organist Walt Strony on the theater's Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ.  The evening is hosted by everyone's favorite San Jose commentator, Mercury News columnist Leigh Weimers.  “Leigh has a vast array of stories to tell that touch old San Jose” says Andrew Bales, president of Symphony Silicon Valley. “With more than 50 years in local journalism who could be better suited to entertain the audience with stories that uniquely reflect the holidays in San Jose?”

The concert features John Rutter’s Gloria, a radiant piece of 20th century music performed by the Chorale accompanied by organ and brass.  Symphony Silicon Valley Singers, a chamber group of 24 singers from the Chorale, and the critically acclaimed children's choir Cantabile Youth Singers will add a more intimate feeling with compositions from Handel to Renee Clausen as well as carols and spirituals rooted in folk tradition. Organ and brass holiday numbers along with choral arrangements of holiday favorites such as I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and Twelve Days of Christmas.  A highlight of the program are the audience sing-alongs.  "We want the audience to be more than spectators, to participate by singing with the chorus "says Elena Sharkova, the Chorale's conductor and musical director.

Ms. Sharkova is also delighted to be featuring her other musical ensemble, Cantabile Youth Singers, in the program for the third year. "With their sweet voices soaring high in the glorious acoustics of the California Theatre, the children bring freshness, warmth and excitement to the evening" she says.  Though she and the Chorale love to perform with the Symphony, this holiday concert is a special opportunity they look forward to each year.  "For my singers this is the time to be closer to our audience.  With no orchestra between us and the people in the hall, and with music that is both familiar and light, we are able to build a more intimate relationship with our listeners."

Plan to join Ms. Sharkova, the Chorale and musicians from the Symphony for this sparkling holiday treat.  Carols in the California takes place Saturday December 11 at 7:00pm and is always a popular concert.  Reserved seats are only $36 adults, $26 for anyone under 26 and are going fast.