South Africa Update: A True Exchange

Hi all, after a whirlwind of incredible tour performances, I’m getting ready to head out on Safari (it’s currently a bleary-eyed 6:30 AM local time). So blogging is on hold for a wee bit. But in the meantime, may I direct you to MinnPost to read my story on how the Minnesota Orchestra / Minnesota Chorale engagement activities are having a profound effect on folks here… as well as us?  Read the story here.

More soon!

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South Africa Update: Or, We Have to Go On After… THAT?!?

First, apologies for not writing on my blog since arriving in South Africa. The reasons are both complicated and quite simple… it’s been an endless succession of crazy, wonderful days crammed full of events and activities that change, re-change, and re-re-change more than once per day.  But in the end, the biggest reason for not writing has been my determination to… well, actually experience my experiences, and do to so fully and unabashedly, without detaching from them in order to chronicle them.

But, let me give you a quick peek behind the curtain. Continue reading

South Africa: A Reading List

Back in 2015 when I traveled with the Minnesota Orchestra on its historic tour to Cuba, many readers expressed an interest in me putting together a Cuban-related reading list.  I was happy to do so—having taught Latin American history for many years, it was easy to update the reading list I used to inflict on my students.

Some have wondered if I’m putting together a similar list for South Africa, as a set up for the tour to South Africa.  I was hesitant to do so… South African history is not a particular area of expertise.  In fact, since learning I’m going on this tour (both as a performer and a member of the media), I’ve been working overtime to dive into the country’s history, culture, politics and natural history.  But this gave me an idea for a new post—sharing some recommendations from the South African reading list I essentially assigned to myself.

I don’t pretend the following list is comprehensive, exhaustive, or the final word on South Africa… but it does provide a list of books I found particularly interesting and/or useful, and came highly recommended to me.

If the Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale tour has captured your attention, and sparked an interest in learning more about South Africa, read on!  Continue reading

Preparing for South Africa: This Is Why We Sing

It was one of those Moments…the kind of moments you are lucky to have every once in a rare while, in a career as a performing musician.

Funny enough, it came not at a performance, but at a rehearsal this week. And really, it didn’t involve me at all… I was just there to witness someone else’s Musical Moment.  No matter—it was a rare gift, and one that will stay with me a long, long time. Continue reading

Vive la France! A Classical Playlist for Bastille Day

Vive le France!

Today is Bastille Day for our good friends in France, and I thought I’d celebrate here on my blog with a collection of great French works.  But upon further reflection, I thought I’d take slightly different approach.  It is, of course, easy to assemble a collection of French favorites: slap together some Debussy and Ravel, throw in a dash of Berlioz, and tack on Fauré’s Requiem for good measure.  But ultimately I decided to focus the list more, and provide 10 of my favorite music that celebrates Paris itself—works that seek to depict its boulevards, cafés, architecture, its people… or simply life in the City of Lights.

Please note that I’ve deliberately sidestepped opera here, although Puccini’s La bohème, Verdi’s La traviata, and Massenet’s Manon certainly fit the bill!

Enjoy!

Continue reading

A Perfect Fourth: A Classical Playlist for Independence Day

It’s Independence Day!  The Fourth of July remains one of America’s favorite holidays—a time for patriotic celebration, cookouts with families and friends, and plenty of fireworks.  In almost all of these events, music is an absolute must, ranging from military bands and John Philip Sousa to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

In keeping with my blog’s overall theme, I’d like to share a list of classical works to help my fellow Americans get into spirit.  And while everyone seems to love having Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as background music for their firework displays, I bet I can find a few more honestly American-themed pieces for you to enjoy….

So grab a sparkler and have a listen!

And as long as we’re on the subject, for a great patriotic concert experience, check out PBS’s annual concert, A Capitol Fourth, which is broadcast live on July 4th from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It’s always a big hit, with performers this year ranging from Chita Rivera and Renée Flemming to Jimmy Buffet—click here for more info. Continue reading

Nicolas Fouquet and Château Vaux-le-Vicomte: The Danger of Eclipsing the Sun King

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
     Down to a sunless sea.”
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

“Vaux is the estate that I considered my primary seat, and it is there where I wanted to leave a mark of the status I had.”
~
Nicolas Fouquet

 

There are, of course, many great attractions to see in and around Paris, and many great country homes that stand tribute to France’s rich history.

One of the most remarkable is Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte—the great estate of Nicolas Fouquet, and a testimony to his extraordinary life. But beyond its stunning beauty, it has one element that makes it stand apart… an absolutely jaw-dropping back story.  A back story that involves the celebration of great art, deadly games of intrigue, high drama, sudden reversals of fortune, and a cast of characters involving many of France’s most legendary figures. And best of all… one of the most famous parties in French history….

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, as seen from the gardens

Continue reading