Sketches of a Life

Happy Birthday Stevie!

The legendary Stevie Wonder turns 61 today and he continues to be the Sunshine In Our Lives with his musical mastery and keen ear for a hook.  Like other massively talented pop musicians (Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel and Lady Gaga just to name a few) he is Overjoyed by his love for classical music.  He’s a Part-Time Lover of Stravinsky, Bach and Beethoven.  Can you dig it!?  Send One Your Love!

Perhaps it was from those soulful composers that the Master Blaster drew inspiration and Ribbons In The Sky for his own “classical” composition, Sketches of a Life, which he began writing in 1976 at the peak of his pop-songwriting powers.  The work was finally Signed, Sealed and Premiered in 2009 when he accepted the Library of Congress’s second Gershwin Prize in Washington (Paul Simon was the prize’s first recipient in 2007).  The instrumentation made up of a 21-piece chamber ensemble, with Stevie alternating between the Ebony & Ivory of the piano, electric keyboard, and his trusty harmonica, he tells the story of his life in nine movements.  Among classical influences, you’ll also hear some blues, jazz, and pop.  One critic describes it as “chamber funk” and I dig that.  Do I Do.

These Three Words.

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Orchestras on the Run

Heading out for a run. Hoping to slim down to at least a size viola by July.

Ahhh…Spring is finally here!  (I think)  And as the countdown to summer is on, so is the pressure to work off the winter wobblies and tighten up the beach body!  Full body makeover in full effect.  Not to mention, the sunshine does something special for all of our personalities.  Plus it’s just too beautiful outside not to be soaking in some much needed Vitamin D.

So as I’ve been attempting to kick my butt into gear, motivation is key.  For me, part of the fun is the music!

Most turn to the bass-thumping tunes, but I thought I’d put together a playlist of Overtures, Allegros, Prestos, and Scherzos for those of us who are looking for something a little different — a classical music running playlist.  Uplifting and dramatic, it’s the perfect soundtrack for breathing in the fresh air, being one with nature, clearing your mind, jacking up your muscles, and there’s even a point of applause to cheer you on if you’re feeling weary. You’ll feel like a champ.

  • Mozart – Overture to Marriage of Figaro (7:29)
  • Holst – The Planets, Jupiter (8:05)
  • Beethoven – Symphony No. 7, iv. Allegro con brio (8:21)
  • Mendelssohn – Symphony No. 4, iv. Saltarello (6:39)
  • Dvorak – New World Symphony, iii. Scherzo (7:05)
  • Mussorgsky (orch. Ravel) – Pictures At An Exhibition, “Hut on Fowl’s Legs” (3:23) and “Great Gate of Kiev” (6:03)
  • Berlioz – Symphony fantastique, Op. 14, iv. Marche au supplice (7:02)
  • Holst – The Planets, Mars (7:20)
  • Bernstein – Overture to Candide (4:25)

Try my classical mix “Orchestras on the Run” at 8tracks.com HERE.  Also suitable for general jaunts and frolics.  Enjoy!  And good luck to everyone running this weekend’s Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon.

Tell me what you think.  If you likey, maybe I’ll start publishing more mixes?

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The Dying Swan

Alicia Markova "The Dying Swan" by Vladimir Tretchikoff

An incredibly beautiful and expressively eloquent performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and dancer Lil Buck has recently gone viral. But it’s not the first time The Dying Swan has inspired a collaboration of classical and modern, music and motion, simplicity and complexity.

The Dying Swan was first choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokine for legendary prima ballerina Anna Pavlova.  It was inspired by three loves: nature, poetry, and music.  She was a bird watcher, fascinated by feathers and enchanted by the majestic swans.  She even had a pet swan named “Jack”.  (Funny, he doesn’t really look like a Jack to me, maybe more like a Mortimer.)

Anna Pavlova and her pet swan Jack

As a lover of all things Cygnus (nerdcore for ‘swan’), Pavlova introduced Fokine to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Dying Swan”.

The wild swan’s death-hymn took the soul
Of that waste place with joy
Hidden in sorrow: at first to the ear
The warble was low, and full and clear;
And floating about the under-sky,
Prevailing in weakness, the coronach stole
Sometimes afar, and sometimes anear;
But anon her awful jubilant voice,
With a music strange and manifold,
Flow’d forth on a carol free and bold;

And Fokine suggested the obvious choice, the haunting cello solo Le cygne (The Swan) from The Carnival of the Animals by French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns, written in 1886.

Pavlova performed this dance about 4,000 times during the last 25 years of her career.  About three weeks short of her 50th birthday, she died of pleurisy. Grasping her swan costume, her last words were, “Play the last measure very softly.”

The Dying Swan was never about a woman impersonating a bird, but the fragility of life and the passion with which we hold on to it.  And almost 100 years later, it’s apparent through Lil Buck’s interpretation that this message still resonates through the music.

Even in this hilariously tragic parody by Maya Thickenthighya from Les Trockadero of Monte Carlo.

Thank you Serotonin Junkie for sending me the link to the video by Spike Jonze, which inspired the rest of this post.  XO

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All A Twitter

I’ve been a very bad blogger.  The negligence all began when I decided to be more diligent at tweeting (I’m a late adopter), and ironically enough, now my first post in weeks is about, Twitter.

So what’s so pleasurable about Twitter these days?  Well, for a classical music lover like me (and you)…LOTS.  It’s the place to catch up on the latest news and musings of classical music from around the world — hear it from the venues, orchestras, critics, record labels, publicists, fellow fans, and my favourite, the performing artists themselves — and all in one place.

Maybe it’s a symptom of Peeping Tom syndrome, but in addition to keeping up with their performances and the like, Twitter is a window into the life and minds of the people behind the music.  After all, we’re all just people, who need people, right?  With only select media putting the spotlight on our classical talent, and concert protocol remaining pretty traditional with little or no verbal interaction from the stage, Twitter is a great venue for dialogue about the music and anything else.  And it restricts the long-winded to only 140 characters.

Here’s a list of classical stars I’ve found on Twitter so far.  (As of March 31, 2011).  I hope this group grows and a little friendly competition for followers would do no harm!  Please let me know who I’ve missed.

Sarah Chang, violin — 1,739 tweets.  33,309 followers.

Gustavo Dudamel, conductor — 78 tweets.  18,633 followers.

Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor — 146 tweets.  13,289 followers.

Lang Lang, piano — 613 tweets.  7,422 followers.

Kronos Quartet — 822 tweets.  5,566 followers.

Lorin Maazel, conductor — 305 tweets.  4,952 followers.

Hilary Hahn’s violin case — 358 tweets.  4,733 followers.

Joyce DiDonato, soprano — 778 tweets.  2,613 followers.

Yuja Wang, piano — 299 tweets.  2,604 followers.

Stephen Hough, piano — 1,426 tweets.  2,461 followers.

Gil Shaham, violin — 79 tweets.  2,253 followers.

Deborah Voigt, soprano — 502 tweets.   1,638 followers.

Evelyn Glennie, percussion — 702 tweets.  1,296 followers.

Gabriela Montero, piano — 86 tweets.   510 followers.

You can follow me where I tweet for work and for pleasure at:
The New Classical 96.3FM — 635 tweets.  748 followers.

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Family Day

The pleasure in having a February long weekend!  Hooray!

Thanks to Ontario for giving us a little break in the dead of winter to find some much needed vitamin D.  I found mine in the form of friends, a feast, dominos, and a few too many rum and cokes.  That’s what the extra day off is for, right?

I hope you’re enjoying your day.

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Super Bowl Classics

I have to admit, I did NOT watch Super Bowl this year.  I didn’t watch the opening anthems being sung; or any part of the game (not even a second); I did not tune in for the half-time show (although I heard that performances by the Black Eyed Peas, Slash and Usher were pretty sparktacular, but out of tune even in autotune); nor did I check in at the end of the game to watch the winning team celebrate (among my favourite TV moments).

So why is PleasureTroll even blogging about Super Bowl XLV?  Well, during the game, I had the pleasure of following Mike Nelson @Kickassical on Twitter as he tweeted the play by play of Classical music in Super Bowl commercials.  Loved it!

It all started with @KickassicalPop culture will always use classical music to set the stage, create a scene. #sb45 #adblitz

And @SoundIdeasCFRC: The only stupidbowl tweets that I care about tonight are @kickassical’s running commentary on the classical music in commercials.

Agreed!  Here are my favourites:

Verdi’s Dies irae makes a big crunch with Doritos

Handel Sarabande at the border with Coca-Cola

Best Buy, Bieber, Ozzy and Rossini’s Barber of Seville

Coca-Cola and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture under Siege

A romantic first date with a can of Pepsi Max and a Boccherini Minuet

Thanks @Kickassical!  Do you think the jocks of North America even realize how much classical music they have consumed with their beer and wings?

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Won A Kiss From Jonathan Biss

Photo Credit: Stefani Truant

The pleasure in meeting Jonathan Biss.  He’s a really nice guy…

And he’s an incredible piano talent.  Jonathan has been wowing audiences and critics around the world with his technical precision, exquisite tone, and intellectual approach to music-making (he’s funny too, read more in his smart blog).

Check him out for yourself!  Jonathan is in Toronto this Saturday to perform Beethoven’s mighty “Emperor” Piano Concerto No. 5 with Pinchas Zukerman and the National Arts Centre Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall as part of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Casual Concerts series.  (Find details here.)

Watch here as Jonathan plays and chats up Beethoven Piano Sonatas.  He’s been praised by Classic FM for how “he tantalizingly combines Classical concision with a Romanticised poetic sensitivity that gets right to the heart of Beethoven’s creative vision”.

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