Ready For Rhapsody

Last night Richard, Julianne, Kish and I went to the Columbus Symphony for the latest installment of the American Roots Festival series.  This performance was at the Southern Theater, a beautiful, more intimate venue than the mighty Ohio Theater, and featured engaging guest conductor Donato Cabrera and wonderful pianist Thomas Lauderdale.

IMG_4826It was a great program and will be performed again at 8 p.m. tonight.  It began with Dvorak’s delightful Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7, written when he was visiting the United States, which set the evening’s theme — American-inspired music, with jazz and ragtime influences.  Highlights for me were Scott Joplin’s Overture to Treemonisha and Kurt Weill’s Little Threepenny Music, both of which I had not heard before.  I also liked the recomposition of the orchestra from piece to piece as the composers added a banjos and large saxophone section, and gave the bassoonists a moment in the sun as they sought to capture an American sound.

According to the program the night was to end with Stravinsky’s Scherzo a la russe, but Maestro Cabrera announced during the performance that the order had been changed to close with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  This was a very wise decision, because it’s hard to imagine any piece following last night’s performance of Gershwin’s opus.

Last night was the first time I’ve seen the Rhapsody performed live, and I’ll never think of that music in the same way again.  From the meandering wail of the clarinet that opens the piece, to the beautiful melodies that pop up unexpectedly and are tied together at the end, to the piano trills and fills that give Rhapsody in Blue its spine, the visual aspect of the performance will be forever fixed in my mind.  Thomas Lauderdale is a consummate showman, and he gave his grand piano a workout that brought every bit of sound and texture from the instrument.  It was, in a word, epic.  See it if you have the chance!

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Sad About Pops

Recently SiriuxXM cancelled its over-the-air Pops channel that I listened to in my car.  That channel played a steady, commercial-free selection of terrific popular classical music selections.  That decision sucks in more ways than one.

I listened to the Pops channel regularly.  In fact, it was my favorite SiriusXM channel, and part of the crucial classical music rotation that I could quickly shift through to find something I really liked.  That included SiriusXM 74 (Met Opera Radio), 75 (Pops), and 76 (Symphony Hall), as well as WOSU-FM, the local classical music outlet.  Sure, the Pops channel self-promotions were kind of mindless and irritating (“Bassoons and oboes and cymbals, oh my!”), but it was a reliable refuge that could be counted on to play some baroque or Strauss when Symphony Hall was playing an interminable Brahms piece or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue when I felt like listening to something other than the theme music for a United Air Lines commercial.

It’s pathetic that SiriusXM has only one real classical music channel, as well as the Met channel.  After all, this is a satellite radio service that has dozens of pop and rock stations, each specifically devoted to a particular kind of music — say, music from the ’60s, or acoustic stuff, or heavy metal.  They’ve even had a station devoted to Billy Joel.  Billy Joel!  I think Piano Man is a perfectly good pop song, but how about some actual piano music from Beethoven or Mozart?

Can it really be that there are so few classical music fans out there that classical music is less in demand than Billy Joel?  My God!  What does that tell you about the state of our country?