Creatively Speaking

Creatively Speaking
10:41 pm
Sun January 13, 2013

Joyce, Queen of Mezzos

WRTI will broadcast Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda live from The Metropolitan Opera on January 19th. The performance will also be shown live in hundreds of movie theaters around the world.

In this tale of royal intrigue, set in 16th-century England, the title role of Mary, Queen of Scots is sung by Joyce DiDonato. WRTI’s Jim Cotter spoke with the superstar mezzo-soprano about her latest role, how she constructs her characters, and how her years at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts were more useful personally and professionally than artistically.

Today, Joyce DiDonato is firmly ensconced on opera’s "A" list. But when she was training at AVA in the 1990s, such a future outcome seemed very unlikely.

DIDONATO: I wasn’t a star singer there and it wasn’t clear that I would go on and have a career, I had to go deep inside myself and ask do I still want to stay with this?

COTTER: So why did stick with it?

DIDONATO: I had to.

After Philadelphia, she had spells in the young artist programs at Santa Fe Opera and Houston Grand Opera where she says it all began to come together for her vocally.

COTTER: The voice started getting free and I started too find my voice, and that needed to happen. And happily it did and I continuously work to find more freedom.

DiDonato believes that in order to fully explore roles she needs to understand what the composer wanted, the historical context of the story and bring her own life experiences to the process of creating a fully fleshed-out character.

DIDONATO: The pain that I’ve gone through, in various ways, it always comes out of nowhere and socks you over the head. Of course I use that. It informs who I am as a human being and therefore it informs who I am as an artist.

Creatively Speaking
10:40 pm
Sun January 13, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy!

New York Philharmonic Conductor Alan Gilbert

The hardest working people in show business, at least in the classical music world, can take a bow this week. As WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports, data on the busiest conductors and orchestras in 2012 shows The Philadelphia Orchestra maintaining its place in the top 10 ensembles, while the most active conductor began his professional career in the Philadelphia region.

The survey was undertaken by the website, which found that for the third year in a row, Beethoven was the most performed of all composers with Arvo Part the most performed living composer.

Predictably, Mozart and Bach came in 2nd and 3rd, but it was not a good year for Mahler who slipped from 9th to 25th -  and Liszt who fell from the 6th to the 24th. Their places in the top 10 were taken by Debussy and Schumann.

The busiest conductor in the world last year was Alan Gilbert whose first music directorship appointment was with Camden’s Symphony in C in the early 1990s. The orchestra he currently directs, the New York Philharmonic, was also, not surprisingly the busiest orchestra in the world, taking over the top spot from the San Francisco Symphony. The Philadelphia Orchestra came in at 9th; slipping one place from last year.

In repertoire, the top three most-performed operas were all by Mozart - two of which had librettos by the one-time Pennsylvania resident Lorenzo Da Ponte.  The Magic Flute was at number one followed by Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro.

And finally, the most-performed works in 2012 were, in ascending order: 3) Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, 2) Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, and in the top spot, 1)  Handel's Messiah.

Here's a link to the full results of that survey.

Creatively Speaking
10:39 pm
Sun January 13, 2013

Conductor Nicholas McGegan At 63

The renowned British conductor and early music expert Nicholas McGegan's 63rd birthday is January 14th. As WRTI’s Jim Cotter discovered, he’s a musician with a special talent for talking about music. 

Nicholas McGegan’s uncomplicated, witty discourses on the works of the great composers have made him an in-demand speaker at places such as Oxford, Cambridge, and London’s Royal College of Music. What does he say is his reason for mostly conducting without a baton? He’s a klutz. "The less things I have to drop, throw, or break, the better."

In truth, says McGegan, his focus on Baroque, and early romantic repertoire means that his communication with the musicians has a different goal to those doing later and modern works.

MCGEGAN: Generally, when I'm doing the kind of music I d,o which is essentially 17th, 18th and 19th century music, the beat is fairly stable. So I don't have to do those fancy beat patterns that (you) have to do if you're doing The Rite of Spring. We don't have to count in eleven, I'm not sure I can count to 11! What I am doing is trying to communicate the gestures in the music -  and hopefully there's enough of a beat that the orchestra can play together.

COTTER: Often he leads not from the podium, but as an instrumentalist, which presents a different set of challenges.

MCGEGAN: When I'm working with, say, a period instrument orchestra, I'm very often playing the harpsichord as well.  And so if I were to use a baton I'd have to put it between my teeth, and then I would probably look like Carmen with a rose.

Where Music Lives
10:38 pm
Sun January 13, 2013

Where Music Lives: 5th and Queen

More than 100 years ago, a settlement house in the Southwark section of Philadelphia provided services to immigrants, from English lessons to sewing classes. Soon it began offering music lessons, a mission it continues today.

In 1914, Settlement became an independent music school. And in 1917, it moved into what is still its main branch: the Mary Louise Curtis Building at 5th and Queen Streets. On a typical Saturday, the building is alive with the sounds of kids at play - playing music that is: 

Kid 1: I take ballet, violin and I go to music workshop.

Kid 2:  I play recorder and drums.

Kid 3: I play in a quartet, with piano, cello, violin and viola..

While its conservatory division became the nucleus of the Curtis Institute of Music in 1924, Settlement continued to offer instruction at all musical levels from beginner to pre-professional. Over the years, it has influenced hundreds of people who have gone onto success in various fields. Among them: Twister Chubby Checker, composer Michael Bacon, and the late Star Wars Director Irvin Kershner:

KERSHNER: I consider film as music, because its rhythmic, it has repeats, it has movements..

BACON: So Settlement to me was always a relaxed fun place to be, which is what you want to provide to children with music

CHUBBY CHECKER: Little did I know the things I’d learn there I’d be using in my music career, far beyond my expectations..

Today, in addition to its main building, Settlement has branches in Germantown, the Northeast, Willow Grove, West Philadelphia, and Camden.

Creatively Speaking
8:17 pm
Sun January 6, 2013

Pianist Imogen Cooper: Eloquence Personified

From the perspective of U.S. audiences, the British pianist Imogen Cooper was a late bloomer. Though this student of Alfred Brendell had been working steadily in the UK for decades, she was in her 50s before America became aware of this most eloquent interpreter of the classical repertoire.

This week, on January 10th, 11th, and 12th, she performs Mozart’s piano concerto No. 24 with The Philadelphia Orchestra. And, as WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports, she’ll lead this most rebellious of works - by that most rebellious of composers - with an ensemble that knows exactly how it should be.

Where Music Lives
8:17 pm
Sun January 6, 2013

Grand Opera Readings in Reading at the Berks Opera Workshop

Follow the Schuylkill westwards from Philadelphia - either the river or the expressway will do - and you’ll eventually arrive in Reading, Pa. The state’s fifth-largest city, John Philip Sousa spent his last days here, the Rabbit series by John Updike was set here, and, Reading once lent its name to a now-defunct railway company with a still well-known Philadelphia terminal. 

Today, it is best known for its outlet malls, its pagoda, and a wealth of regional cultural organizations including the Reading Symphony Orchestra, the Reading Public Museum, and the increasingly influential Berks Opera Workshop (BOW).

Listen to Jim Cotter's interview with BOW co-founders Francine Black and her daughter Tamara Black.

Creatively Speaking
8:16 pm
Sun January 6, 2013

Why Is The Philadelphia Orchestra Playing Mozart Without A Conductor?

The Philadelphia Orchestra Concertmaster David Kim

Listeners may not think about the visuals in an orchestra concert, but body language is an important way in which musicians communicate with one another. From his chair, Philadelphia Orchestra Concertmaster David Kim leads Mozart’s Serenade in G Major: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik the way it would have been done in Mozart’s time, without a conductor, on January 10th, 11th, and 12th in concerts at the Kimmel Center.

Kim talks with WRTI’s Susan Lewis about body motion and playing without a conductor. Concert information here.

Creatively Speaking
7:51 pm
Sun January 6, 2013

One Book, One Philadelphia 2013: The Buddha In The Attic

Julie Otsuka won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Prize for Fiction for her novel 'The Buddha in the Attic.'

A new year, a new book to nurture the hearts and minds of Philadelphians - and everyone!  The award-winning novel by Julie Otsuka - The Buddha in the Attic - is a Japanese-American story of things left behind. It's this year’s One Book, One Philadelphia choice.

Starting January 17th through mid-March, The Free Library of Philadelphia will lead readers on a journey through the lives of Japanese-American “picture brides.” Their story starts with a voyage in steerage in the early 1900s, and culminates as they’re sent away to government internment camps during World War II. Otsuka’s rich portrayal reveals as much about our national character during those years as the personal resilience of these first-generation immigrants.  

This past fall, the author shared her thoughts about writing The Buddha in the Attic - a prequel to her first celebrated novel, When the Emperor was Divine.

More about the Free Library of Philadelphia's One Book, One Philadelphia initiative.

Creatively Speaking
7:50 pm
Sun January 6, 2013

PAFA Explores The Female Gaze

Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), We Came to America, from the series; "The American Collection," 1997, Painted story quilt, acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, Gift of Linda Lee Alter
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)

Artist Linda Lee Alter began collecting art by women in the mid 1980s after finding a dearth of female artists represented in museums and galleries. She collected a variety of art in different styles and media, and in 2010 donated approximately 500 works to Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Now on view at PAFA, The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World, is an exhibition of nearly 250 works from the collection. 

Be sure to check out a companion exhibition opening at PAFA on Saturday, January 12th: Modern Women at PAFA: From Cassatt to O'Keeffe.

Creatively Speaking
7:50 pm
Sun January 6, 2013

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue: A Spry 89 Years and Counting

In the first part of the 20th century, George Gershwin found fortune as a composer of popular songs, which were used in dozens of Broadway and Hollywood musicals - many of which he created with his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin. 

The work that launched him as a classical composer, however, was Rhapsody in Blue.  It premiered in  1924, and was performed for decades by orchestras throughout the world. Before he died in 1937 at the age of 38, Gershwin would compose many solo pieces for piano, the first great American opera, Porgy and Bess, and a number of orchestral works.

WRTI’s Susan Lewis  considers George Gershwin and his musical legacy.