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Thomas Quasthoff -- Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels

“The leader of the jury looked at his papers and said in the first round: ‘I know a disabled person is coming. I want the jury to close their eyes. I don’t want them to be touched in any way.’ ”
As if, of course, one needed to know about Thomas Quasthoff's Thalidomide-related severe physical handicaps to be moved by the sound of his voice. He goes seamlessly from pianissimo to fortissimo, in his recitals a single Lied becomes "a major, stunning drama playing out in a few minutes". He sang jazz to support himself in university and it remains a passion (he likes to sing Paul Robeson or even Frank Sinatra encores), but he's famously leery of crossover artists like Andrea Bocelli. Just don't cough during his recitals -- "because I love this music so much". He doesn't like to talk much about his nightmarish childhood and teenage years, plagued by surgeries and body casts -- "I have in my past time had very difficult years, very difficult years" is all he'll usually say -- so please try not to consider him a victim, because he doesn't see himself as such: "I don't think people are moved because I am disabled. I think it's because I have something to say." More inside.
posted by matteo on Oct 2, 2006 - 21 comments

"I felt that something unusual was happening, that I had never heard the piano played like this."

"The sound was not of this world, it hovered in space like some celestial blessing".
He could play the piano ”before he had learned to smile”, his mother said, and he gave his first concert at the age of six. He studied under Alfred Cortot, Charles Munch, Paul Dukas, and Nadia Boulanger. He was an esteemed teacher and critic at 19, an international phenomenon at 24. He escaped from his native Rumania to Switzerland in 1943 with his fiancée, a joint capital of five Swiss francs in their pockets. After the war, just as he had arrived in the pantheon of great performing artists, Dinu Lipatti was diagnosed with leukemia. In September 1950, near death, despite the urgings of his doctors Lipatti insisted upon one last recital at Besançon. As his wife recalled, this was the only way Lipatti could bear to take his leave of the world. Lipatti was so weak he could barely walk to the piano. But once he began playing, he became transformed. After performing 13 waltzes, he could no longer muster the strength necessary to perform the final selection. So he substituted Myra Hess's piano arrangement of Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring".(page with sound). Three months later, Lipatti died at the age of 33. After Lipatti's funeral, his old mentor Cortot wrote: "There was nothing to teach you. One could, in fact, only learn from you."
posted by matteo on May 20, 2006 - 15 comments

Full Fathom Nine

Mahler performances were rare in Vienna in those days because Mahler's city had already been contaminated by the acolytes of Adolf Hitler. By their reckoning, Mahler's music was loathsome — a product of "Jewish decadence." To put Mahler's music on the program was therefore a political act. It was to protest and deny the hateful faith that blazed across the border from Germany. That much I understood quite clearly, even as a boy.
The New Yorker's Alex Ross reprints Hans Fantel's New York Times 1989 essay on Bruno Walter's 1938 performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony -- the last performance of the Vienna Philharmonic before Hitler invaded Austria.
posted by matteo on Apr 10, 2006 - 7 comments

"Ten Favorite Offbeat Musicals"

"Ten Favorite Offbeat Musicals" by Jonathan Rosenbaum
posted by matteo on Apr 4, 2006 - 30 comments

Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-53)

After a Noel Mewton-Wood performance of Hindemith's (.pdf) Ludus Tonalis, Dame Myra Hess exclaimed: ‘The boy is truly remarkable, and what shall he be like at 40-odd?’. Glowing testimonials to his ‘genius’ (Sir Malcolm Sargent) from Beecham, Schnabel, Bliss, Hindemith and Britten were countered by indifference from the major record labels and concert managements. In 1953, at the age of 31, the pianist, a shy young man susceptible to depression, committed suicide. Now, the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive of Middlesex University offers a scan of the The London Evening News page with the report of Mewton-Wood's death. And here is a mp3 page with some of his out-of-print work.
posted by matteo on Mar 24, 2006 - 11 comments

"It hit the public like a hurricane, like some uncontrolled primeval force".

The Riot of Spring. Théâtre Champs-Elysées, Paris, May 29, 1913. Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Proust, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy are among those present at the premiere of The Rite of Spring (the score is here), written by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by the great Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. The music and the choreography shocked the audience with its daring modernism, ripping up the rulebook of classical ballet with its heavy, savage movements. Many in the audience promptly booed, then yelled, insulting the performers and each other. Then fistfights broke out. The police was summoned, but was unable to stop an all-out riot.
Now the BBC has made a TV movie about that night. More inside.
posted by matteo on Mar 11, 2006 - 27 comments

Rise Stevens

For all the hoo-ha about Callas first bringing real acting to the operatic stage, one has only to view the footage of Risë Stevens legendary 1952 “Carmen” to see what kind of Method she brought to the Met. Stevens was the definitive gypsy wanton, and her performance has it all— fire, ice, and that impossible balance between elegance and sluttiness. Her technique is superb—licking her fingers before extinguishing the candles in what will be her death chamber, then flicking off the wax; flinging her unwanted lover’s ring at him, spitting out a contemptuous “Tiens!”.
The Metropolitan Opera Guild honors the Bronx-born singer, now 92. More inside.
posted by matteo on Feb 9, 2006 - 9 comments

"The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac".

The Niagara Fortissimo. “Mahler was to conduct in Buffalo, New York, and we took advantage of the trip to visit Niagara Falls. We spent hours near and even under the roaring falls... and then with that roar still in his ears Mahler went to conduct Beethoven’s ‘Pastorale’. I was waiting for him as he stepped off the podium. ‘Endlich ein fortissimo!,’ he said, ‘At last a fortissimo!’” The fortissimo in question is Beethoven's, not Niagara's. The point, as Alma elaborates it in her memoirs, is that music can offer experiences more overpowering than Nature itself — a kind of extreme aestheticism that Oscar Wilde also propounded in "The Decay of Lying" when he said that most sunsets are attempts at second-rate Turners. More inside.
posted by matteo on Jan 18, 2006 - 8 comments

Leonard Bernstein: Miracle on 57th Street

Miracle on 57th Street.
Thomas Wolfe said that America is not only the place where miracles happen, but where they happen all the time. This is the story of a miracle, a true-life fairy tale, and appropriately enough it begins with the intervention of the Almighty.
Artur Rodzinski, music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1943 to 1947, was an eccentric, a health nut who drank only milk from goats he raised himself and who kept a loaded revolver in his back pocket whenever he conducted. Rodzinski said that God told him to hire 24 year old Leonard Bernstein, to be his assistant conductor. In the fall of 1943 Rodzinski decided to take a vacation, spend a little time with his goats, and called in Bruno Walter to conduct seven concerts in ten days. Only hours before one of those concerts (in the program, works by Schumann, Rosza, Strauss and Wagner) Walter fell ill. Rodzinski was only four hours away, in his farm. But he declined to come back to Carnegie Hall: "Call Bernstein. That's why we hired him." The concert was broadcast over radio and a review appeared on page 1 of The New York Times the next day: "Young Aide Leads Philharmonic; Steps in When Bruno Walter is Ill". In the same size type as another that read, "Japanese Plane Transport Sunk." More inside.
posted by matteo on Dec 28, 2005 - 48 comments

Opera Guide: the Virtual Opera House.

Opera Guide: the Virtual Opera House. Cast information, synopses and libretti of the main operatic repertoire.
posted by matteo on Dec 11, 2005 - 7 comments

Kathleen Ferrier, "Klever Kaff"

"The extraordinary radiance of the voice. I still remember that. The extraordinary, enveloping, overwhelming beauty of Ferrier's voice."
When Kathleen Ferrier died at 41 in October 1953, she was as famous as the newly crowned Queen. A working class girl from Blackpool who had to quit school at 14 to work as a telephone operator, a young woman who lacked formal musical training and whose husband bet that she would never win a music contest, Ferrier -- under the guidance of the great conductor Bruno Walter -- went on to become an international superstar. An "ordinary diva" who humbly worshipped "Herr Doktor Bruno Walter", gave very few newspaper interviews, never appeared on television or in cinema newsreels. Her speaking voice can be heard only briefly and only twice, on a tape made at a post-concert New York party, and in a short speech she made for the BBC at an Edinburgh Festival. Her extraordinary career lasted only less than 12 years.
Half a century later, although her legacy lives on through her music, Ferrier herself -- "Klever Kaff" -- remains elusive. More inside.
posted by matteo on Dec 3, 2005 - 11 comments

Arik Shapira: instrumentalists linked by earphones to an electronic soundtrack

"It doesn't even need a conductor, and there is not even any need for rehearsals together. Each instrumentalist receives sheet music and a disc with the sound track to which he will be linked during the concert, and that way he can practice at home, by himself; and then they come straight to the concert and play freely, whatever they want. A sound that is random as opposed to planned, a precise pitch for a note, as opposed to a false note, that's what leads the work. And here, toward the end, order gradually prevails".
Arik Shapira talks about his new concerto for piano and orchestra.
posted by matteo on Nov 28, 2005 - 16 comments

The MacDowell Colony

"The spiritual, physical, intellectual, social or economic well-being of the general public".
Within the MacDowell Colony's rustic stone and clapboard cottages, Thornton Wilder wrote Our Town, Aaron Copland composed Appalachian Spring and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward wrote Porgy and Bess. Jonathan Franzen finished writing The Corrections and Alice Sebold worked on The Lovely Bones. For decades, the town considered the colony a tax-exempt charitable organization. Not anymore.
posted by matteo on Nov 14, 2005 - 9 comments

What I learned from Sergiu Celibidache

Music is nothing.
Sound could become music.
The end must be in the beginning,
and the beginning in the end.
I am here because I am not here.
Music lives in the eternal now.
Music is the now becoming now.
What I learned from Sergiu Celibidache, by Markand Thakar. More inside.
posted by matteo on Oct 14, 2005 - 6 comments

Beethoven's Ninth: the Score

Beethoven's Ninth -- the score.
posted by matteo on Oct 11, 2005 - 42 comments

Wilhelm Furtwängler

The Wartime Ninth. "Berlin. October 7, 1944. In the Beethovensaal a concert is about to begin, but the theater is empty, relieved of its usual audience studded with Nazi elite. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is on stage, awaiting its cue. Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler stands awkwardly on the podium. The vague meandering of his baton summons the first shadowy note of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. A Radio Berlin engineer starts his Magnetophon. The most extraordinary orchestral recording of the century has just begun". More inside.
posted by matteo on Oct 5, 2005 - 21 comments

The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music

The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music
posted by matteo on Sep 12, 2005 - 12 comments

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

The Song and the Singer For many he is the greatest Lieder singer of the 20th century. As he turns 80, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau reflects on his long career.
posted by matteo on Sep 8, 2005 - 7 comments

Wagner, the repulsive giant

Wagner, the repulsive giant If, on one hand, you ever wanted to know what a swine Richard Wagner was, this is the book to tell you. It does so at length, in reliable detail, calmly, without prurience, perfectly backed with documentation, and in a translation whose only fault is in giving no Translator’s Notes for in-house German references. Joachim Köhler sustains his story with new ideas, revises other interpretations and modestly deconstructs Cosima née Liszt’s creation of “Richard Wagner Enterprises Inc”. (This she developed so far as to keep Parsifal exclusive to Bayreuth, prompting George Bernard Shaw to remark in 1889 that it “would almost reconcile me to the custom of suttee”!).
posted by matteo on Sep 3, 2005 - 11 comments

Singing, Painting and the Holocaust: Interview with Leon Greenman

you'll then have a grave in the clouds where you won't lie too cramped
"No, no, I never met Paul Celan. This poem is too CLASSIC, too cold, and too difficult to follow. It does nothing to me".
Singing, Painting and the Holocaust: Interview with Leon Greenman, Auschwitz Survivor 98288
posted by matteo on Aug 29, 2005 - 9 comments

Charles Burney and the History of Music

The Doctor of Music. "A General History of Music From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, Volume IV", written by the English musician and historian Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814) was published in 1789. Its first volume, completed in 1776, was the first History of music ever published. The fourth volume is of particular interest as it discusses the state of music in Burney's own lifetime. He observed the music, and musicians that he wrote about first hand. In fact, Burney was close friends with composers such as Haydn and Handel, he even played violin in Handel's orchestra, and lived with Dr. Thomas Arne for two years in London, as his apprentice. The fourth volume, to Dr. Charles Burney, was the most interesting as he preferred the music of the current time, finding no interest in "antiquarianism." In the main link, the entire volume -- in facsimile -- is available to readers. Burney also translated Pietro Metastasio's Memoirs. Also: The Burney Collection of Newspapers at the British Library. More inside.
posted by matteo on Jun 19, 2005 - 6 comments

CARLO MARIA GIULINI | 1914-2005

San Carlo of the Symphony. Il Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini, orchestra conductor who passed away Tuesday at 91 "had an almost uncanny ability to transform the sound of an orchestra, any orchestra, into a dark and intense glow, which became his trademark over the years". "We have lost one of the greatest musicians of our time," says Esa-Pekka Salonen (.pdf), music director of the LA Philharmonic. Giulini has been called "the last humanist", a gentle man beloved by his orchestras, so humble in his approach to music that, always feeling the necessity to "fathom" each new work, it wasn't until the 1960s that he finally felt ready to conduct Bach, or the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven. This from a man who, at the beginning of his career (as a viola player) had played under Richard Strauss. "I had the great privilege to be a member of an orchestra," Giulini said in 1982. "I still belong to the body of the orchestra. When I hear the phrase, 'The orchestra is an instrument,' I get mad. It's a group of human beings who play instruments." More inside.
posted by matteo on Jun 16, 2005 - 11 comments

Follow the Leader

"I felt like hurting someone before, now I feel like hugging people". Only weeks after professing his belief in Jesus Christ, former Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch was baptized in the Jordan River last Saturday. With “Jesus” tattooed across his knuckles and “Matthew 11:28” along his neck, Welch received full immersion in the historic river, along with 20 other white-robed Christians from a Bakersfield, CA church. Welch said the ritual baptism, “washed away his anger.” "My songs are God saying things to me, him talking to people. He's going to use me to heal people and people are going to be drawn to it, just watch, they will be.” For the latest information (and a free mp3) go to Welch's personal website, http://www.headtochrist.com/
posted by matteo on Mar 10, 2005 - 148 comments

""But I'm 41 now. That era, it's gone".

Touch Me I'm Sick. Photographer Charles Peterson helped America see grunge from the inside out. His dramatic black-and-white images portrayed the energy of the music being performed in crowded basements and dingy dive bars featuring such bands as Nirvana, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Hole, Black Flag, Fugazi, and Sonic Youth, among others. "Touch Me I’m Sick: Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographs by Charles Peterson" will be on view at the Chrysler Museum of Art through May 1. More inside.
posted by matteo on Feb 18, 2005 - 24 comments

A film about Klaus Nomi, who dressed like an alien and sang like an angel

"His voice was otherworldly — you couldn't believe the sound". Everyone who ever heard Klaus Nomi's voice had the same comment: "It can't be real." You hear that response throughout "The Nomi Song," the documentary about the obscure German-born artist who was a fixture on the New York music scene in the late '70s-early '80s, and a legitimate pop star in Europe. He was also a mystery, even to those who knew him. The film primarily covers the years between his 1978 New York club debut - which was captured on film - and his AIDS-related death in 1983 at age 39. Nomi never had an album officially released in the U.S. but was wildly popular among New York clubgoers as well as in France and his native Germany. More inside.
posted by matteo on Feb 3, 2005 - 59 comments

Olga can get him to eat; I can't

Her name was Courage & is written Olga "Olga" (.pdf file in main link) is Olga Rudge, violinist, first promoter of the Vivaldi Renaissance, and longtime companion of the poet Ezra Pound. Pound maintained a complicated and delicate balance between the two most significant women in his life, Olga and his wife Dorothy Shakespear (who, among other things, was the daughter of Yeats's mistress). ‘‘Paris is where EP and OR met, and everything in my life happened,’’ Olga (listen to her voice here) said later of the chance encounter with Ezra at 20, rue Jacob, in the salon of Natalie Barney. They were together for fifty years, through the dark-night years of Pound's madness (arrested in 1945 for treason, deemed unable to stand trial and sent to an American mental institution, he once suggested to the UPI bureau chief in Rome that the United States trade Guam for some sound films of Japanese Noh plays, asked Truman many times to make him Ambadassor to Japan or Moscow; Guy Davenport reports dining with him one evening and all Ez said was "gnocchi"), until the poet's death in 1972. She lived on for another quarter century, turning up at conferences of Pound scholars --as far afield as Hailey, Idaho, Pound's birthplace, where she gave a lecture in the local movie theater. "Write about Pound", she told publishers who asked her to write her autobiography. (more inside, with Cantos)
posted by matteo on Jul 8, 2004 - 15 comments

Claud Johnson is finally enjoying the fruits of the legendary Robert Johnson's estate

Son of a Bluesman The legend was that if you touched Robert Johnson you could feel the talent running through him, like heat, put there by the devil on a dark Delta crossroad in exchange for his soul. It is why Claud Johnson's grandparents would not let him out of the house that day in 1937 when Robert Johnson, his father, strolled into the yard. "They told my daddy they didn't want no part of him. They said he was working for the devil. I stood in the door, and he stood on the ground, and that is as close as I ever got to him. He wandered off, and I never saw him again." Today, in the working-class neighborhood where he raised his children, Claud Johnson, a rich man, lives in a grand house on 47 acres of property. (After Claud won his court battle in 1998 and was recognized as the son of the blues legend, his lawyer handed him a six-figure cashier's check and begged him to quit hauling gravel. Claud kept hauling gravel for five months. "After 29 years, it just gets in your blood"). His victory stands out in the annals of Mississippi probate law. It took 10 years, two trips to the State Supreme Court and two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not to mention, most of the first two or three generations of blues musicians died without securing rights to their composition. Explains Thomas Freeland, a Mississippi attorney and blues historian: when the San Francisco-based band the Grateful Dead recorded songs by the North Carolina blues musician Elizabeth Cotten, Freeland said, "the story is, [she] bought a dishwasher with the royalties." (more inside)
posted by matteo on Jun 2, 2004 - 13 comments

Coal Miner's Daughter

"Who is this Loretta Lynn chick, anyway?". Jack White, in a skintight, red cowboy suit, seemed a little nervous when he came out to introduce his opening act. So nervous, in fact, that the White Stripes frontman offered a cautionary preface of sorts to the massive huddle of young fans at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. "Now I want you all to be very nice to my next guest. I think she's the greatest female singer-songwriter of the 20th century,". The crowd looked around at each other, visibly puzzled. In White, Loretta Lynn has found her Rick Rubin. Finally. Much like the producer who revitalized the late Johnny Cash's career with spare, homespun recordings, White has raised the notion of Loretta Lynn as a hip, renegade country artist. The transformation is of the same magnitude as Emmylou Harris's ethereal work with Daniel Lanois in the mid-'90s. more inside
posted by matteo on Apr 27, 2004 - 33 comments

A fight for Cobain's final song

A fight for Cobain's final song An unreleased gem, thought to be the last song Kurt Cobain recorded before his death. Now the two surviving members of the band and Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, admit in court records that it does exist. But fans may never get to hear it.
posted by matteo on Jun 29, 2001 - 69 comments

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