Musical Marination

Listen to this: Operatic Aesthetics

As always, if you have any suggested listenings, please email me with your suggestions (check out my contact form).  Thanks!

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Mozart.  He did, after all, write the definitive clarinet concerto (well, at least according to some).  But Mozart did something else for me, which was completely unexpected.  He made me like opera.

Yes.  That’s right.

I didn’t really have much exposure to opera prior to 2000, when I went to study in Austria for a semester.   The experience I had had wasn’t overwhelming.  I wasn’t partial to operatic voices, and I hadn’t heard anything which wooed me.  However, while in Austria, I attended a performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute, the last opera he wrote (1791).  I was floored.  Completely astounded.

It was pleasing to the eye and the ear, all at once!  It was like an aesthetic paradise.

This week’s selection is one of the more famous arias from this opera, the Queen of the Night aria.  It demands vocal gymnastics from the soprano singing it, and it still gives me the chills.  The video excerpt is from the movie Amadeus (historically inaccurate, but a good movie nevertheless).  It doesn’t present the beginning of the aria, but it gives you an idea of the virtuosity required.

Acquisition: Flute!

I’d been meaning to buy a flute for quite some time.  Maybe even for over a year.  I had taken lessons in university and loved the portability, the sound, and most of all, the lack of reeds.  Occasionally I had a hankering to play, but alas, I did not own one.

Sometimes, when we had a little extra money in our pockets, I would roam through the listings on Craig’s List and dream about buying a flute.  However, the money was always spent on something practical (like food).  Then I had a birthday and got a big ol’ check from my mother-in-law, who instructed me that I was to use it on myself.  I love my mother-in-law.  A lot (and not only because she gave me money, mind you).

Also, now it wasn’t just a matter of me wanting to own a flute (which, on the whole, was a pretty impractical desire), but I could use it for In Harmony gigs.  Sweet.

Still, it took me a couple of months to get my act together and actually purchase a flute.  I knew I wanted a Gemeinhardt, and I discovered that there were better prices on ebay than on Craig’s List.  However, I kept forgetting to check on my items before the time ran out, and lost two opportunities. Eventually, I managed to spot a flute within my general price range which was close to the end of the auction.  And I totally won it.

It was kind of exciting.  Down to the wire, someone else bidding actively, upping my bid amount in return.  Cool.

A few days later, and here she is:

all bright and shiny

Listen to this: an “a-ha!” moment

Every Wednesday I’m going to suggest a piece of music for your listening enjoyment.  Please email me at with suggestions, I’ll take a listen, and maybe I’ll recommend your piece!  It could be from any genre, classical, world, pop, rock, whatever.

This week’s piece is the second movement of the Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat Major by Johannes Brahms (yeah, it’s a long title, I know).  It has a story to go with it, which goes a little something like this:

My sophomore year in university I took a Music History course.  Being a nerdy type, I absolutely loved it.  Memorize endless amounts of dates?  Sure thing!  Categorize pieces according to the proper time period?  Sweet!  But, hands down, my favorite part of the course was listening to loads of music.  I would go to the music library, check out the required listening, plug it into the CD player, put on the headphones and bliss out.

It was during one of these library sessions that I experienced my “a-ha!” moment.   Smack in the middle of this week’s piece, it was suddenly clear to me why I was studying music, and why I loved it so much.  It was so beautiful and moving that  I literally stood up (still in the library, mind you).  I didn’t actually say, “a-ha!” (probably a good thing, too),  but I felt it.

Here’s a video of the piece.  Feel free to listen to the whole movement (it’s under 10 minutes), but if you want to skip right to the juicy middle, the moment that I’m talking about comes at the 6:05 and is over by 6:25.  That’s right, it’s only 20 seconds.  20 seconds of sublimity.

A little background on the composer and piece:  Johannes Brahms was a German composer who lived from 1833 until 1897.  The Piano Concerto was composed from 1878-1891.  It was premiered by the composer, and was an immediate success.  I can see why.

I have friends who have listened to this piece and agree that it’s lovely, but they didn’t have the same visceral reaction that I did.  Music is funny like that.  It hits people in different ways. 

What did you think?  How did the piece make you feel?

5 ways to be a good audience member

Posted in classical music by Rivki Silver on 08/08/2010
Tags: , , , , ,

Several years ago, some of my friends came to see me in an orchestral concert.  I was touched that they shlepped all the way over to support me, since not all of them were classical music lovers.  They were, however, nice friends.  Unfortunately, sitting directly in front of my friends were a group of women who talked throughout the entire performance.   What a shame!

While most people have the common courtesy to not talk through an entire performance, attending a performance does require a certain etiquette.  The following guidelines can be applied to any event where there is a performer, be it speaker, lecturer, teacher, etc.,  and an audience.

1. Cell phone off.  Don’t just assume it’s off, double-check.  I’m always nervous that there is some unknown feature (since I really only use my phone for phone calls) which will make noise, so I completely power down.  Like I’m on an airplane.  There was a video class I attended once where there were at least six cell phones which went off during the lecture, even after many requests to silence them, including an appeal from the moderator, who was clearly dying of embarrassment.

2. Save the chit-chat for the end.  Was there something which you really enjoyed?  Great!  Make a mental note and tell your friend about it later.  Or, if you don’t always remember things so well (like me), bring a notepad and take notes.

3. Know when (and when not) to clap.  For classical music concerts, the program will usually list the number of movement for a piece.  It’s customary not to clap until all the movements are finished.  Sometimes movements run into one another, in which case, you may not be able to tell how many movements have passed.  The safest method is to wait until the majority of the audience is clapping, and then join in.  In other venues, it’s acceptable and even encouraged to clap after a soloist.  For a jazz, and other more relaxed genres, this works.

4. Show the performer that you are engaged.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  Close your eyes and gently rock your head side-to-side.  Do something to show that you have a pulse.  It’s lonely on stage when people are not engaged in the performance.

5. Let the performer know if you enjoyed the performance. In smaller venues, it might be possible to wait for the performer(s) and give kudos in person.  In larger ones, there might be an email, or other contact option, where you could give your feedback.

Now, get out there, enjoy and be a good member!