Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Missing Van Cliburn

I wrote about Van Cliburn on The Buffalo News' Gusto Web log. I feel bad about his death.

Back in 1999 I loved being in Van Cliburn's amateur competition and going to his house. He is such a sweet man. Was, I mean. Losing him will take some getting used to.

On a lighter note...

It is funny how the panel is sponsored by Geritol.

Also: "Are you better known for your work in the movies?" "I wish it were so."

Love that old-time TV!

Love Van Cliburn.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The stand-up maestro

It is a long and winding story how I stumbled on this, but there is this long list of funny things said by conductor Eugene Ormandy.

The list is titled: "Why Do You Always Insist on Playing When I'm Trying To Conduct?"

I had no idea Ormandy was such a funny guy! I mean, I knew something about him because of researching Leonard Pennario, because Pennario played with him, but I had no idea he had this reputation of saying goofy things.

I like guys who, like Prince Philip, say funny things. A few on the Ormandy list I especially like:

That's the way Stravinsky was - bup bup bup. The poor guy's dead now - play it legato.

Think of your girlfriend or your boyfriend or whoever you want to.

All of you are ready to start so I must be ready.

After two minutes after this time, and I am already here.

That was perfect. It was just the opposite from what I said yesterday.

With us tonight is William Warfield who is with us tonight. 

Please follow me because I have to follow him and he isn't here.

Ha, ha!

They do not make conductors like they used to!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bedroom community

 Ben Heppner singing the Italian Singer's Aria from "Der Rosenkavalier" ... that is so last week.

This week it is Jonas Kaufmann.

Howard and I were laughing yesterday at how Jonas handles the part. He behaves so Italian! He kind of swaggers good-naturedly in and is all smiles and charm.

The old guys watching the score are completely believable.

This clip comes from Baden-Baden, Germany, where part of my family is from. The costumes are kind of creative. They are modern era but somehow fit in among the wigs and breeches of the footmen. I always enjoy this scene, where the Marschallin is receiving petitioners in her bedroom. Imagine that, you hold court in your bedchamber for this parade of people who are bowing and scraping.

One thing bugs me, though. I am not impressed with the bed. This big, sloppy, lumpy bed, it looks like the futon in my old apartment.

But the singing, no problem with that. Kaufmann always sounds like a baritone to me. Something mysterious is going on there. He brings a lot of power to the aria and also I like his sense of fun.


Monday, February 18, 2013

A walk in the clouds

For all the millions of times I have listened to Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus" -- above conducted by Riccardo Muti -- I never actually followed the text. I know, how dumb is that? But it is so beautiful anyway, and usually the words are not right in front of you, so I never bothered.

It is terrible how nobody Catholic knows any of the ancient prayers that have come down, or should have come down anyway, through the centuries. Think of all the prayers that Mozart and Beethoven grew up with and knew just like breathing.

On the other hand it is a great experience to be learning this all bit by bit as a grown-up.

Yesterday at church we had to sing the Gregorian chant "Ave Verum Corpus." That is new to me and it is in its own way just as moving.

God love Leonard Bernstein, he knew what the words meant. I have posted this before but I never get over it. Look at his face. Look at him getting ready. He was not Catholic but he tapped into something universal in this hymn, in this prayer. I know millions of Catholics who are not half as reverent, I will tell you that.

Here is our crash course in the "Ave Verum Corpus":

Ave, verum corpus
Natum de Maria Virgine,
Vere passum immolatum
In Cruce pro homine,
Cujus latus perforatum
Unda fluxit et sanguine,
Esto nobis praegustatum
In mortis examine.

Hail, true Body,
born of the Virgin Mary,
who having truly suffered,
was sacrificed on the cross for mankind,
whose pierced side
flowed with water and blood:
May it be for us a foretaste [of the Heavenly banquet]
in the trial of death.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pope and change

A friend sent me a link to this story about how Pope Benedict XVI has worked to improve the music in the Catholic Church.

We have explored the Pope's efforts in this department on this Web log before. Remember, when Riccardo Muti spoke up about how the Catholic Church's music fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down? (My college-era roommate Daryle used to use that expression and I love it.)

I am sighing now reading what I wrote back then about how I pray for the pope's health every day and that I hope we can keep him for a long time. Alas. I mean, I am glad he is still alive and not dead. But I wish we could keep him.

The story up above, which appeared in Crisis magazine (crisis is right!) is interesting because it gives a history of how the music began sliding and what popes have done to try to stop it.

It says Paul VI regretted it and tried to help reverse the trend toward ugly by distributing a book of chants called "Jubilate Deo." Funny, I ran across that little book in the organ loft at church and was wondering about it. There were these Latin chants and yet the cover was in this '70s typeface. So this is the story behind it!

The author of the story is more optimistic than I am. He writes things like: "We started seeing chant workshops fill up. Groups began to form a the parish level ... A real fire had been lit in the Catholic music world..." I have not personally seen that.

Well, with luck the fire this guy is talking about won't die out anyway. Maybe it will continue to smolder. I am not sure I can hope for more than that.

I still cling to my hope that Benedict XVI will continue operating from behind the scenes.

And that he stays tuned in!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Big Ben

I wrote this screed in The Buffalo News on Sunday about "Tristan und Isolde" in Toronto, at the Canadian Opera Company.

It was a thrill, as I wrote, to hear Ben Heppner. He is one of those singers who is, ahem, too big to come to Buffalo. And he was in fine voice. I hear he has had his problems recently, but then who among us has not.

Poking around on YouTube I came up with Ben Heppner singing the Italian Tenor's Aria from "Der Rosenkavalier." This piece is so much fun, the way it soars.

In this aria Strauss is definitely guilty of stereotyping! But the aria is so beautiful at the same time. It is cool how Italian tenors, among other tenors, have embraced it. Everyone wants to step into the spotlight and sing the Italian Tenor's Aria and show what he has got.

There is all this talk in the comments section of that video about that Strauss hated tenors and that was why he made this aria so difficult, that Pavarotti hated singing it, etc. I will have to investigate. You cannot believe everything you read on the Internet. There is so much wrong-headed stuff out there.

Any way you look at it, it is a beautiful aria, and I like how Heppner holds the last note. I also loved seeing everyone cheering him.