Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Kronos Quartet and Purple Haze

Today, let’s wrap up our Classical Crossover month by looking at an example of a traditionally classical-type ensemble that pushes their boundaries far beyond classical music.

Have you heard of the Kronos Quartet? They were in Cincinnati this past March collaborating with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in MusicNOW. This ensemble, made up of musicians David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello), performs everything from classical, to jazz, to film music, and rock. Kronos began back in 1973 when Harrington, inspired by George Crumb’s Black Angels, decided to form a string quartet that would perform diverse repertoire, far beyond the traditional Haydn and Mozart chamber music. One such example of how a string quartet can push boundaries is Kronos’ performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

Can you think of any other traditionally classical ensembles that cross over into other genres? 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"Symphony of Sorrowful Songs"

This month we’ve been looking at various types of classical crossover. Today, let’s look at a classical symphony that shocked everyone, including the composer, when it topped Britain’s pop charts.

Henryk Gorecki (1933–2010) never thought his Symphony No. 3 would become one of the top selling contemporary classical recordings of all time, especially after it was quickly forgotten following its 1977 premiere. It wasn’t until his symphony, also known as “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” was released on a 1992 album with soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta led by David Zinnman that it became an international sensation.

Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 plays on deep emotions, each movement’s text taken from a Polish text. The first movement uses the “Lament for the Holy Cross,” a liturgical work dated from the 15th century. The second movement incorporates a prayer that was found written on the wall of a Nazi prison in Poland from World War II. The final movement uses a Polish folk song that refers to a mother who mourns the loss of her son in battle. Perhaps these moving texts and the stirring music are what sparked the symphony’s popularity?

Gorecki ended up becoming the first living classical composer to have a pop hit in the UK and a number one album on the US classical charts. You can hear the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs below. Does it move you? Can you see why it experienced success in both the classical and popular music worlds?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tosca Through the Years

Want to learn more about Tosca before attending the Cincinnati Opera's performance of Puccini's masterpiece? Check out "Tosca Through the Years" hosted by the Cincinnati Opera's Harry T. Wilks Artistic DirectorEvans Mirageas. This 30-minute special tells the story of Tosca, and includes recordings of famous artists who have sung the part with Cincinnati Opera over the last century. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Duke Ellington: A Crossover Musician

Did you know that Jazz Age leader Duke Ellington can be considered a Crossover musician? While known as the leader of the house band at the Harlem Cotton Club during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Duke did not want to be recognized as a jazz composer and arranger. He hoped to stretch people’s concept of jazz, from dance music to art music. To do this, he would rehearse arrangements ahead of time with his band, rather than improvising. Many of these arrangements had an alternating, concerto-like feel between the ensemble and the soloist.

While Duke loved jazz, he also enjoyed the music of many classical composers and longed to break down the barrier between the two types of music. He even arranged several classical favorites for jazz band, including Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. Enjoy these two pieces below:

Besides his arrangements of classical pieces, Duke also composed several of his own jazz suites, drawing from classical characteristics. One example is his Black, Brown, and Beige (1943), his first attempt at this type of composition. Black, Brown, and Beige traces the history of African American culture in the U.S. It was debuted in Carnegie Hall, a first for a black composer.

Can you hear any quotations from popular American tunes in this work?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sufjan Stevens and The BQE

Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens crossed over into the classical realm with his The BQE when it premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2007. Named for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, this orchestral suite-like work was a multi-media experience, complete with a video screening of road images to accompany the music. Since then, Stevens released the piece on a CD-DVD set, showcasing his vast talent and creativity to his fan-base. Today, we will look at The BQE and how it fits into Clef Note’s theme this month: Classical Crossover.

The BQE draws influence from classical-American composers such as Gershwin and Ives. The forward momentum Stevens uses reflects traveling vehicles. As various themes circle around, the music reflects the shifting of lanes. Stevens even uses the synthesizer during what sounds like a traffic jam midway through the piece. This may appear out of place surrounded by more traditional-orchestral timbres; however it accurately depicts the unknown adventure aspect when traveling in a vehicle.

Below you can listen to this example of a singer-songwriter crossing over into the orchestral realm. What do you think? Would you prefer to hear this on the stage at your local orchestra concert, or a pop concert, surrounded by screaming fans?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What do Deep Purple and classical music have in common?

This month, Clef Notes is looking at the idea of classical crossover, or when classical artists attempt popular genres and vice versa. We often think of the 1990s Popera fad when we think of classical crossover, but its history goes further back in time. Today, let’s look at one example of a rock band who dabbled in “classical” ideas back in the 1960s.

Have you heard of the British rock band Deep Purple that formed in the late 1960s? Did you know that their keyboardist, Jon Lord, wrote a Concerto for Group and Orchestra that was performed at Royal Albert Hall with Malcolm Arnold and the Royal Philharmonic back in 1969? The live performance was released on vinyl later that year.

Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra alternates between the group of soloists (Deep Purple) and the orchestra. At times, the two groups integrate, but for the most part, there’s a definite sense of alternating between the rock group and the orchestra. Incorporating rock into a classical medium such as this was appealing to some, and Deep Purple wasn’t the only group to attempt it. That being said, it was also seen by others as two musical forces that should not be combined. What do you think? Note the contrast, not only in the music itself, but in how the musicians carry themselves on stage. The orchestra maintains the very traditional formal black and white apparel, while Deep Purple displays the long hair styles and typical 1960s fashion. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What is Popera?

Are you familiar with famed singers Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli? They are two of many who became stars in the classical crossover arena during the 1990s, around the same time the Three Tenors made their debut. This type of crossover music has been referred to as “Popera”-- the fusion of pop and opera characteristics. Popera is marked by operatic voices that sing popular arrangements. It is known to use amplification, a large orchestra accompaniment, and to be performed in more popular venues rather than traditional concert halls.

With the Three Tenors performance in the early 1990s, the door opened wide to many who followed. This new genre made the idea of opera, which had always been labeled as elite, or for the musically educated, accessible to the masses. Many Popera stars have had no problem topping the Billboard charts with their work.  

Below you can watch “Time to Say Goodbye.” This duet sung by Brightman and Bocelli became one of their best known performances.

There are quite a few other names that come to mind when I think of Popera. Can you think of any? What is your opinion on this type of music? Does it lessen the art of opera? Or do you find it to be a positive factor in furthering the appreciation of opera by mass culture?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Origin of the Three Tenors

The video above comes from the Three Tenors’ performance at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, one day before the 1994 World Cup final. This performance marked the second time famed tenors Jose Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, and Placido Domingo collaborated in concert, and began a sensation in the music world that would change the course of music marketing.

The Three Tenors first agreed to perform together in 1990, to celebrate the World Cup in Rome. All three avid soccer fans, they came together in a performance that was viewed on television by fans across the globe. The Three Tenors provide the perfect example of what we call crossover music. This term typically refers to classical artists (in this case, three operatic tenors) who attempt pop genres and venues. It can also refer to rock or pop artists collaborating with an orchestra.

While the Three Tenors were known to “battle” back and forth on stage singing their favorite arias, they also were known to sing more popular tunes and Broadway hits. They also toured the world, most often performing in stadiums rather than concert halls. Their shows were unlike traditional classical concerts. The spectacle played a large role for audiences with multi-media, an impressive stage, and special lighting adding to the experience.

Selling more than 20 million recordings and topping the charts during the 1990s, Carreras, Pavarotti, and Domingo left a lasting mark on musicians who followed them. Their success led to what we can call the “Popera” movement represented by singers such as Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. We will look more at their role in crossover music next time. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Sousa Marches for Independence Day

Happy Independence Day! To celebrate, here are a few of my favorite Sousa marches! What music puts you in a patriotic mood?

Stars and Stripes Forever

El Capitan

Semper Fidelis

Washington Post March

The Liberty Bell