Recently by Nancy Malitz
Quick note to California and New York City colleagues:
Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are on tour to San Francisco, Costa Mesa, Palm Desert and San Diego Feb. 14-19 and they will be in residence during opening week of the 2012-13 season at Carnegie Hall. Most of the draw is likely to be for Muti himself, and for the traditional works on his programs, which include "Carmina Burana," Schubert's ("Great") Symphony in C Major and the Franck Symphony in D minor.
But Muti is also aggressively promoting the orchestra's two young composers-in-residence -- Mason Bates, 35, also known as DJMasonic, and London-born Anna Clyne, 31. They have invigorated Muti while attracting their own followers. When was the last time you actually saw an auditorium thin out before the big romantic work on the program? It happened here in Chicago earlier this month. Here's a profile of the two composers.
These free concerts in Millennium Park can be easily overlooked by cultural travelers. I also tend to treat free events lightly when I visit a major city. Even though I take pains to line up my tickets and exhibit admissions well in advance, I figure the rest will take care of itself. Because of that casual approach, I nearly missed a performance of Bach's B Minor Mass at Notre Dame in Paris.
Those who love Bach are always looking to win him new followers.Glenn Gould's "Goldberg Variations" has been my gift of choice when people ask. I now pair it with a recent DVD film by Michael Lawrence called "Bach & Friends," which captures the insights of a novel cross-section of Bach interpreters.
The participants in this project include an A-list of musicians who extend well beyond classical music's usual suspects. We have -- in addition to composer Philip Glass, pianist Simone Dinnerstein and violinist Joshua Bell -- top artists of the banjo, mandolin and glass harp (with its water-filled crystal goblets). That's ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro, at right. We also hear from other brilliant people who specialize in computer infrastructure, video game design, brain chemistry and fractal theory. Bach lovers all.
The DVD project was a labor of love for film-maker Michael Lawrence, a classical guitarist and composer by training, with a healthy quotient of bluegrass and jazz in his mix. Lawrence's career veered early into the world of documentary film-making, where he composed film scores and mastered the other aspects of the trade. Now in his 60s, Lawrence has taken the path back around to the subject of music. Rightly determining that most Bach documentaries are dreadful, he decided to have a go at a Bach film himself.
You can't beat this DVD set if you're seeking a way into Bach's music. Assembled in Lawrence's Baltimore production studio, a former bedroom, on a shoestring budget, it was envisioned from the beginning to be accessible to the general audience. All manner of musicians volunteered their time. I instantly took to the cherub-faced organist Felix Hell, a sizzling virtuoso with feet as fleet as Savion Glover's, as he tore through the Fugue in D major (BWV 532) on a tidy three-manual Holtkamp. Here's an excerpt that the film-maker posted on YouTube, including some great interview footage that didn't make the film's final cut:
I was struck as well by the the boundary-crossing banjo player Béla Fleck who, after lingering over the Presto from Bach's Violin Sonata No. 1, confessed that this composer's music is "the way we all wish we improvised." These players generally speak without the customary academic inflection, and the connections they make may come as a revelation to classical musicians, such as these remarks by Fleck on Bach and the legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane:
Lawrence said he couldn't believe his luck at first. "I'd started making cold calls to the best people I could think of and one after another said yes," he told me by telephone. "Why were they doing this?" Continue ...