• November 2014
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PYONGYANG, North Korea — The New York Philharmonic is giving a historic concert in North Korea, becoming the first major American cultural group to perform in the country and the largest-ever delegation from the U.S. to visit.

Lorin Maazel arriving in Pyongyang

The Philharmonic began the performance with "Patriotic Song" — North Korea’s national anthem — and continued with "The Star-Spangled Banner." The audience gave both renditions standing ovations.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il did not appear to be in attendance at the 2,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theater.

Ahead of the performance in the isolated North, music director Lorin Maazel said the orchestra has been a force for change in the past, noting that its 1959 performance in the Soviet Union was part of that country’s opening up to the outside world that eventually resulted in the downfall of the regime.

"The Soviets didn’t realize that it was a two-edged sword, because by doing so they allowed people from outside the country to interact with their own people, and to have an influence," he told journalists in Pyongyang. "It was so long lasting that eventually the people in power found themselves out of power." When asked if he thought the same could happen in North Korea, he said: "There are no parallels in history; there are similarities." While the Soviets were viewed as a threatening superpower, Mr. Maazel said the Korean peninsula has a different role in the world because of its small size.

"To draw a parallel would be to do a disservice to the people who live here and who are trying through their art and through their culture to reach out to other human beings, to make a better world for themselves and for all of us," he said.

Still, he said the concert could be a very small step that would hopefully spark other cultural and social exchanges.

"We are very humble. We are here to make music," he said.

The U.S. and North Korean flags were displayed at opposite ends of the stage.

Following the brief prelude to Act 3 of Richard Wagner’s "Lohengrin," the orchestra was moving on to pieces that highlighted the ensemble’s importance in American music.

That included two pieces that premiered with the Philharmonic: Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 — popularly known as the "New World Symphony," written while the Czech composer lived in the U.S. and was inspired by native American themes — and George Gershwin’s "An American in Paris."


Lang Lang playing the piano in a fighting manner.

Lang Lang if you don’t already know is one of the most exciting piano soloists to enter the piano music scene and has the potential to achieve a historical legendary status, as such I went with great excitement to watch him play which, despite him being a Hong Kong resident, is unfortunately very rare.

I went to the Panasonic Anniversary Concert which was a blend of what looked like an anniversary party and tickets for sale. This concert had tickets available for sale to the public so plebians like myself can witness the spectable too. The event was held in the Hong Kong Coliseum which is in Hung Hom, which meant that the performance was actually in a Stadium which also means loudspeakers and not the best of acoustics unfortunately. To my big surprise the entire Concert Hall was full which is exciting because I cannot remember when there was a classical musician in Hong Kong that could command such an audience of many thousands or whatever the capacity of the Coliseum is. There were huge TV screens which provided for live video performances of the performers and close-ups of mostly Lang Lang and him playing the Piano.

The show (and I literally mean show as there were flashy pink lightings and small firework effects) opened with a performance by a Chinese Conservatory who was also to accompany Lang Lang in the Piano Concertos to follow, which unfortunately was a borderline disaster which is a shame because Chinese musical students are extremely talented, disciplined and capable but their performance was uncoordinated and the Violins slurred lacking precision and the pizzicato was out of sync. It really looked like they either didn’t rehearse enough together or the conductor didn’t do his job well. The wind instruments generally were either too loud or too quiet but I figured that this should just be a warm up performance and afterall, they were students, perhaps this was their first major performance? The drums were the higlight of that Orchestra. The Asian Youth Orchestra in contrast, with students from all over asia who don’t even speak the same language and only have a few weeks together rehearsing was exceptional in comparison (and 2007 class was particularly excellent).

Then Lang Lang came on stage in a loud golden outfit and performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Lang Lang himself performed with his usual bravado providing a stellar performance but the accompanying Orchestra made several serious performance blunders, sometimes not even matching the timing, in other cases playing very meekly, the Clarinet almost choking at some points. It almost sounded like they were intimidated by Lang Lang.

There was a 20 intermission and then it restarted with an Oboe Concerto, except that the Oboist was performing solo. It was not really very good and playing Oboe solo is already challenging enough because of its sound and slightly awkward presentation.

The highlight of the evening was Lang Lang’s final official performance wearing a black modern suit where he played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2, Op. 18 which opened with the right mood and power, unfortunately the Speakers could not handle the Piano which Lang Lang was hard hitting in his typical bravado-style so the sound screeched at times, I wonder if there were are better high-fidelity speakers available who can handle this for a Coliseum/Stadium setting? Performing like this will always be a challenge, but nevertheless it was very enjoyable to watch/see him play this piece.

Unfortunately, once again, the Orchestra dissapointed by trying to almost overpower Lang Lang. The piece provides for a playful and powerful banter between the pianist and the Orchestra and you could tell that Lang Lang was paying attention to the Orchestra but the Conductor was not playing with Lang Lang, he was playing against him, as if in competition! Nevertheless Lang Lang’s final performance was really quite awesome and the audience applauded and cheered for an encore.

Then there was a rather bizarre turn of events as the sponsors daughter (Shun Hing, the distributor of Panasonic in Hong Kong) who was 14 or so performed one piece with Lang Lang and another solo piece and Lang Lang said he tutored her "part-time".

It was a disaster.

The solo was Shubert’s march militaire which she played with Lang Lang with one hand only (the right hand), and she was off many times, making very critical mistakes (like pounding the wrong chord several times over) and obviously had not even practiced the piece to at least perform it without awful mistakes, with one hand no less! At 14 she should be able to perform this piece, both hands, not with bravado, but at least perfectly, otherwise please pick a different piece, from the handbook of Anna Magdalena Bach or Sonatinos from Debussy or something else. The errors are accentuated because of the microphone.

The second part was a solo performance by her, to at this point the perplexed and dissapointed audience (which was apparent with the murmurs and the large streams of people starting to leave), which made matters only worse because she performed the Phanttom of the Opera piece horrificly with mistakes, and this time without Lang Lang to help. It was full of mistakes, very agonizing. Some of us paid good money but not to see this! I don’t know who I felt more sorry for, the girl performing terribly infront of thousands or Lang Lang having to endure this, both looked bad and the impression left was one of poor taste.

By this point the audience clapped in a timid way, as if to respect an embarrasing performance but there were already streams of people leaving and Lang Lang did not wait for a big scream of "encore", for there was none, and quickly went to the Piano and performed his trademark Chopin’s in his trademark, over-the-top action which helped to partially recover the previous fiasco but it was too short and at stage the wind was already out of the sails and people walked away talking about the embarrasment more than the great performance of Lang Lang. If this happened in the US or Europe there would have been loud boo’s and harsh critics, but this is Hong Kong and as a practice of "giving face" in a very chinese way I suppose is acceptable.

Hopefully Lang Lang  will be performing more for audiences in Hong Kong as he can truy popularize classical music in ways nobody else is able to, at least in Hong Kong and perhaps, in time, big corporate sponsors in Hong Kong will be able to also be fine patron of the arts without embarrasing themselves or the artist in question.

Lang Lang’s performance in itself was 5 stars out of 5, but because of everything else the overall concert was more a 3 out of 5.

It was listed as the fastest falling search request as Nr. 2 behind the World Cup. Not that it should surprise anyone, last year was Mozart’s 250 year anniversary and a lot of activity surrounded it, infact if you look at the fastest falling you’ll see World Cup in there together with Mozart as nr. 2 which is actually very amazing. What does this tell you? That Mozart is infact so popular he is nr. 2 behind the World Cup, the most popular sport.

Deutsche Grammophon, a German classical music company founded in 1898 by Emile Berliner , will be launching on Wednesday an online store for MP3s called DG Web Shop It is probably the most well respected company in the classical music field for music distribution of High Fidelity classical audio products. The company was originally known as the Berliner Gramophon prior to the onset of the WWI when the name was changed to what translated means the German Grammophon which is the device that was a traditional way of listening to LP’s/Vinyl long time ago. For those of you don’t remember what that was, here’s a picture from Wikipedia.

For the longest time this was the only way to get decent quality classical music before the arrival of the CD player but still today it was largely impossible to get the best classical work originally online, it always had to be bought via CD and then ripped to go into your MP3 player but apparently no more.

Source: Techcrunch

Finally a champion of classical music joins the 21st Century, I can’t wait to augment my collection with this, DG has one of the best classical music libraries in classical music history. Remastered classics will be available online, can’t wait!

One of the most inspiring animated productions that won an Academy Award featuring Franz Listz Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2

The Cat Concerto is a one-reel animated cartoon short subject in the Tom and Jerry series, produced in Technicolor and released to theatres on April 26, 1947 by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. It was produced by Fred Quimby and directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, with musical supervision by Scott Bradley, and animation by Kenneth Muse, Ed Barge and Irven Spence. It won the 1946 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. In 1994 it was voted #42 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.

Vitava is an impressive piece composed by Smetana, a great performance by the Prague Symphony and conducted by Libor Pesek.

Bell studied as a boy first under Mimi Zweig, then switched to Josef Gingold after assurances from Bell’s parents that they were not interested in pushing their son in the study of the violin but simply wanted him to have the best teacher for their son’s abilities. Satisfied that the boy was living a normal life, Gingold took Bell on as his student and to this day, Bell speaks of Gingold fondly as a great teacher and mentor. At the age of fourteen, Bell appeared as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti. He studied the violin at the Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, while managing to graduate from Bloomington High School North in 1984, a year ahead of schedule.

Carnegie Hall debut in 1985 with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. He has since performed with almost all of the world’s major orchestras and conductors. As well as the standard concerto repertoire, Bell has performed new works—he is the dedicatee of Nicholas Maw’s violin concerto, the recording of which won Bell a Grammy, and gave the world premiere of the work in 1993. He performed the solo part on John Corigliano’s Oscar-winning soundtrack for the film The Red Violin and was also featured in Ladies in Lavender. Bell also made an appearance in the movie Music of the Heart, a story about the power of music, with other notable violinists.

Bell’s instrument is a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin called the Gibson ex Huberman, which was made in 1713 during what is known as Antonio Stradivari’s "Golden Era." This violin had been stolen twice from the previous owner, Bronislaw Huberman; the last time the thief confessed to the act on his deathbed.[5] Bell had held and played the violin, and its owner at the time jokingly told Bell the violin could be his for four million dollars. Shortly thereafter, by chance, Bell came across the violin again and discovered it was about to be sold to a German industrialist to become part of a collection. According to the Joshua Bell website (joshuabell.com), Bell is quoted as saying "I was practically in tears" in reaction to the sale of the violin to the German industrialist. Bell then reportedly sold his current Stradivarius, the Tom Taylor, for a little more than two million dollars and made the purchase of the Gibson ex Huberman for a little under the four million dollar asking price. His first recording made with the Gibson ex Huberman was Romance of the Violin (under Sony Classical) in 2003. It sold more than 5,000,000 copies and remained at the top of classical music charts for 54 weeks. Joshua Bell’s most recent CD is called the "Voice of the Violin" and was released in September 2006. It features vocal pieces arranged for the violin.

Some facts about the famous Mozart, probably the most famous composer of all time, classical or not.

  • Born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria
  • Died December 5, 1791 at the age of 35
  • He was born to Father Leopold and Mother Maria Anna Pertl
  • He was baptized at St. Rupert’s Cathedral
  • On August 4, 1782 he married Constanze Weber
  • He was buried in a peasant’s grave in Vienna at St. Marx Cemetery
  • His full legal name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart
  • Wrote of 626 unique works.
  • He composed his first symphony at the age of 8
  • Haydn once said Mozart is ‘the greatest composer known to me in person or by name; he has taste and, what is more, the greatest knowledge of composition’
  • Mozart had a special relationship with Prague - He premiered the opera Don Giovanni there on October 29, 1787, and supported himself for many years through commissions originating from the city.
  • He was a Freemason, and belonged to the same Masonic Lodge as Haydn
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