The Viola: An Imperfect Instrument

Wow…the viola and it’s predicament explained by a true artist. 


Jennifer Strum calls the viola the “middle child of the string instruments.” Through a mixture of talk and performance, she offers a compelling meditation on the viola’s capacity for emotion— and for making beautiful music.

Each week, we’ll choose four of our favorite talks, highlighting just a few of the enlightening speakers from the TEDx community, and its diverse constellation of ideas worth spreading. Browse all TEDxTalks here »

Artist Revenue Streams

An incredible new look at how musicians are making money these days as well as a list of 40 different revenue streams. 

Good news from Toronto

Greg Sandow finds a place where young people enjoy attending classical symphony concerts.

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Tchaikovsky - Romeo and Juliet, fantasy-overture for orchestra
Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
Gustavo Dudamel, cond.
from the album Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s work was demonstrably important to the literary-minded Tchaikovsky; in addition to this work, certainly one of the best-loved programmatic pieces in the literature, he also composed music based on Hamlet and The Tempest. Romeo and Juliet was a “breakout” piece for the young composer: in addition to earning him the (temporary) admiration of The Five, after an initially cool public reception it quickly rose to become a living staple of the concert repertoire. Tchaikovsky was so frequently asked to perform it at private gatherings that he soon learned to play the entire overture from memory at the keyboard.

Both Balakirev and Tchaikovsky considered the latter’s first symphonic poem, Fatum, a failure; afterward Balakirev proposed that Tchaikovsky write a work based on Shakespeare’s famous play, and offered numerous rather forceful suggestions as to how such a thing might best be done. The first version, premiered in March 1870, differs quite substantially from the final revision from 1880 which is the one almost exclusively performed today. 

The work is in a sonata-allegro mould framed by an introduction evoking Friar Laurence and an epilogue following the death of the lovers. The result, and the principal magic of the work, is that it does not attempt any linear narration. Rather, it musically depicts the opposing forces at work in Shakespeare’s plot and gives an abstract sense of their collisions and unhappy resolution through means of musical development.  

(photo of Verona by mario bellavite)


Mozart performed his twenty-sixth piano concerto twice in 1789-90 and as was his custom – especially in piano works conceived for himself – he improvised extensively, particularly in the left hand. Now composer and pianist Timo Andres inherits Mozart’s mantle, but with a twenty-first century twist. As Timo explains his re-imagining of K537 fills in the many incomplete sections of Mozart’s manuscript with entirely contemporary material:

I approached the piece not from a scholarly or editorial perspective, but more as a sprawling playground for pianistic invention and virtuosity, taking cues from the composer-pianist tradition Mozart helped to crystallize. The left hand gets an extended catalogue of gestures [no more tasteful, 18th-century Alberti bass]. It uses imitation, counter-melodies, and canonic interplay to participate in the musical drama of the right hand [sometimes even leaping above it in register]. Harmonically, new chords both thicken and undermine the existing progressions, adding allusions to music after Mozart’s time [Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Prokofiev, Ives, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, and Bartók all make appearances].

At the end of last year Andres and his colleagues from the impressive Metropolis Ensemble performed K537 at Angel Orensanz Center in NYC as an encore to their 2010 premiere of the work; the first movement from that reading is above. Timo arrives in Iowa today to begin rehearsals of the piece with the WCFSO ahead of our collaboration on Saturday night.

[Other movements from the Metropolis performance are here]

Rostropovich: The Genius of the Cello (BBC) 

No-one has done more for the cello than Mstislav Rostropovich, or Slava as he was widely known. As well as being arguably the greatest cellist of the twentieth century, he expanded and enriched the cello repertoire by the sheer force of his artistry and his personality and composers lined up to write works for him.

In this film by John Bridcut, friends, family and former pupils explore the unique talents of this great Russian artist, and listen to and watch him making music. Contributors include his widow Galina Vishnevskaya and their daughters Olga and Elena; the eminent conductors Seiji Ozawa and Gennadi Rozhdestvensky; and cellists who attended his famous classes in Moscow, including Natalya Gutman, Mischa Maisky, Moray Welsh, Elizabeth Wilson and Karine Georgian.

The film traces the development of Rostropovich’s international career amid the political tensions of the final years of the Soviet Union.

Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich, KBE (Russian: Мстисла́в Леопо́льдович Ростропо́вич, Mstislav Leopol’dovič Rostropovič, March 27, 1927 — April 27, 2007), known to close friends as Slava, was a Soviet and Russian cellist and conductor. He was married to the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. He is widely considered to have been the greatest cellist of the second half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest of all time. 

In addition to his outstanding interpretations and technique, he was well known for both inspiring and commissioning new works which enlarged the cello repertoire more than any cellist before or since. He gave the premieres of over 100 pieces, forming long-standing friendships and artistic partnerships with composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and especially Benjamin Britten.

Rostropovich was internationally recognized as a staunch advocate of human rights, and was awarded the 1974 Award of the International League of Human Rights.

Uploaded to YouTube by  on Jan 6, 2012

Shostakovich and a gathering of musicians

Juxtaposition of modern day Leningrad and photos of the Siege

Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony is one filled with brutality, uncertainty and utter beauty. The piece was written in the early 1940’s as a response to the German invasion of Leningrad. It was then considered an anti-war symbol to both Russians and the world but today is played as a remembrance of the effects of war and the human struggle. The Shepherd School Symphony will perform this massive work in its entirety, February 3rd, 2012, at 8pm.

An excerpt from Jonathan Kramer’s Listen to the Music:

The most moving performance took place on 9 August 1942. There were only 15 members of the Philharmonic left in Leningrad, but they resolved to perform the symphony dedicated to their besieged city. The word went out throughout Leningrad for all musicians, from whatever groups, to assemble. One of the organizers recounted, ‘My God, how thin many of them were! How these people livened up when we started to ferret them out of their dark apartments. We were moved to tears when they brought out their concert clothes, their violins and cellos and flutes, and rehearsal began!’. A score was sent from Moscow in a medical transport plane, and conductor, Karl Eliasberg, upon seeing that a huge orchestra was called for, realized that he still did not have enough musicians. The military command agreed to release the needed players from the front lines. A special order was given to knock out the enemy guns near the concert hall, so that the music could be heard. The concert took place and it was broadcast as a ray of hope to the citizens of Leningrad.

buzzword: innovation - NEW blog for classical musicians

buzzword: innovation documents the life of musicians on an unconventional path in today’s classical music world.  Written from the perspective of WindSync's French horn player, Anni Hochhalter, the blog focuses on the progress and development of her groundbreaking chamber ensemble as well as the art scene in Houston, Texas.  Follow Anni Hochhalter and WindSync and they chart a new path for classical musicians through non-traditional musical approaches and the discovery of skills in entrepreneurship, self promotion, and audience creation.