2015: A Year in Review

Well, here it is… New Year’s Eve. This is a time of year when my regular level of introspection kicks into high gear, as I reflect on all the things the past year brought to us—or in some cases, threw at us. By any standard, 2015 feels like a watershed year that was filled with stories I couldn’t have imagined back during those prehistoric days of 2014.

Before the clock strikes midnight, let me look back over my posts and share a few thoughts about some of the year’s most important stories. Continue reading

Merry Christmas 2015!

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day…two of my favorite days of the year! For me, both days are steeped in memories—memories of festive gatherings with friends, zany adventures with out-of-town family, beautiful church services that stayed with me throughout the year…

…and most of all, music.

Music has always been a part of the holiday. At parties, either I or my brother would plunk ourselves down at the piano and accompany the guests in rousing renditions of Christmas songs. A group of us from church would carol door to door, particularly reaching out to elders who didn’t get out as much. We had school concerts, and would try to sneak in a showing of Nutcracker or Messiah as schedules allowed.

It didn’t matter if we were performers or audience members; music was a shared activity that brought us together; it was a way to tell the Christmas story, share lessons, or simply to connect.

I can’t imagine Christmas without music.

With that thought in mind, let me share a pair of Christmas songs that get into the spirit. Although they were written centuries apart, they pair together exceptionally well; they are both for a cappella voices, and they are both serenely gorgeous. Plus, they use the same text:

O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio.
O beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt
portare Dominum Jesum Christum.
Alleluia!

.

O great mystery
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the Lord newborn
lying in a manger.
O blessed Virgin, whose womb was worthy
to bear the Lord Christ Jesus.
Alleluia!

The first is a Renaissance work by Tomás Luis de Victoria, that captures the mystical spirit of the age.

.

The second is by American Morten Lauridsen, which reverently looks on the traditions of the past, but brings them forward with a modern approach to harmony and chord clusters.

.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and may your days be filled with joy!

Scott

.

Xochipilli

Visions of Armageddon in Hartford

Here we go again.  Another orchestra-related labor dispute.  Over the same old issues, being fought via the same techniques.

A huge, above-the-fold article in the Hartford Courant balefully warns that “Hartford Symphony Could Shut Down Without Union Concessions.”

[…]

I’m losing the last vestiges of patience I have for this kind of thing. Continue reading

Christmas Carol Disasters

It’s that time of year again—a season filled with joy, wonder, hope… and for musicians, raw terror.

Christmastime.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Like most people I absolutely love all the joy, wonder and hope.  I love the closeness of family, the laughs of sharing memories, and finding that perfect present for my sweetie.  And I love sense of religious joy that pervades the season, as we seem more willing to let Light into our lives.

But I’m also a musician and I know the challenges December can bring.  The accumulated run of concerts, worship services, pageants, and other performances can leave you feeling more burned out than a year-old yule log.  Come Christmas Day I’m usually hiding under my bed… with a bottle of tequila.

The good/bad dichotomy is amplified when you are a professional caroler… as I was in my younger days.

In terms of the good, you personally bring the holiday spirit to people.  For example, when we were caroling through the airport, travelers would always brighten when we passed by, forgetting their delays, lost luggage, or general fatigue.  In various malls, shoppers would immediately surround us with huge smiles, sometimes joining in if the song was familiar.

Plus, we were privileged to sing some wonderful music—tunes that have survived the centuries because they are good. Years later, it’s still a point of pride for me that I can rattle off the words to most of the verses to nearly every Christmas carol the little baby Jesus has ever heard.

But over time, and uncounted hours of caroling… well, let’s just say that I’ve seen my share of Christmas-related disasters. Continue reading

My Sibelius List

Sebelius-logo-two-color-6.16.14

Hyvää Syntymäpäivää! Happy birthday to Jean Sibelius, on this the 150th anniversary of his birth!

I’ve pointed out before here on my blog that Sibelius has long been one of my favorite composers. Maybe it’s my Finnish heritage (my maternal family emigrated from Finland), but the musical and emotional language of Sibelius’s music has always spoken to me in a direct, personal way. Plus, I’ve long been fascinated by the Kalevala—Finland’s weirdly wonderful collection of epic poetry—which provided an endless source of inspiration for Sibelius’s music.

To celebrate Sibelius’s birthday, let me share my five favorite works by the Finnish master. To be clear, I’m making no attempt to assemble some “objective” list of his greatest works, let alone provide a comprehensive list of his music (click here for a wonderful segment on all seven of Sibelius’ symphonies from NPR, with commentary by the late Michael Steinberg). The selections below do, I think, present a great starting list of exploring Sibelius’s music… but in the end this is just a completely subjective, no-other-reason-than-I-love-them list of favorite works I can’t imagine living without. By all means, if you have your own favorites, let me know.

Kippis! Continue reading

Unexpected, Wonderful News from the Minnesota Orchestra

I’ve just received wonderful news—wonderful news that I would never have thought possible two years ago, and I can scarcely believe even now.

Good news regarding the Minnesota Orchestra.

The Orchestra held its annual meeting this afternoon here in Minneapolis, where it reported on the financial and artistic successes of the last year. As would be expected at such an event, there were reports of exceptional concerts, mentions of all the famous performers who had graced the stage, and of course confirmation that the organization ended the year in a strong financial position.

But the exciting news goes beyond these achievements, as notable as they were.

Today we were treated to powerful, undeniable proof that showed how thoroughly the organization has healed from the disastrous labor dispute that nearly ripped it apart.

And seeing this proof positive of how far the organization has come, and the spirit of generosity and cooperation that is now filling Orchestra Hall… well, it all but moved me to tears. Continue reading