Classical KUSC


The Nutcracker: Dark Spirits in the Christmas Lights

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 12/10/2014 1:17:00 PM

Showing the rosy health of a ballet half its age, The Nutcracker, still comes around every Christmas, arriving in a flourish of pizzicato strings and tinkling triangles, exuding homey warmth, innocence, and sugary good cheer.  It proceeds to the holiday’s center stage and dances for audiences in the millions.  And yet -- kind reader, beware -- beneath its divertissement (shimmering!), beneath its perfumed pageantry, The Nutcracker also harbors a disconsolate spirit.

Before embarking on the ballet, Tchaikovsky was enjoying a rare period of fleeting happiness.  It was the summer of his fiftieth year.  Peter Ilyich told his friends he felt more at ease and sure of his talents than at any time in years.  His music, including five symphonies, was receiving praise across Europe.  Recently, Sleeping Beauty had scored a great success at the Imperial Theatre in St.  Petersburg.  He was flattered, as one is flattered by the praise of ...

Le Duel! (A Free Transcription)

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 11/19/2014 11:24:00 AM

Liszt snorted and stomped.  He vowed to cross swords with a man he’d never met, and in so doing bandy with the Parisian salonisti.  At the stoked-pipe age of twenty-five, Liszt considered himself the undisputed pianistic champ of Europe, 1836.  Had he not achieved greatness in Paris but eighteen months ago?  Now Paris had turned her back on him in favor of another virtuoso, and to this affront he, Franz Liszt, the virtuoso, would respond with all due harshness.

He gave the salonisti this much.  He had been away from Paris too long, traveling Europe with the Countess he stole on his way out of town – the calm and alabaster Marie d’Agoult, wife of the Count.  Theirs was a wondrous thing of naught, the two lovers electric with sin, triumph and amore.  Or could it be, thought Liszt, the salonisti had tossed him over for the love of the ...

Tomorrow’s Singer Was Here Yesterday

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 10/13/2014 3:23:00 PM

Hi friends. The recent production of Tosca staged by Pacific Opera Project marked the Los Angeles debut of tenor Brian Cheney. Stage and Cinema gave his Cavaradossi a rave. "Brian Cheney really blew me away. Cheney has that terrific tenor sound: the power, richness, and vocal color of a high baritone combined with ringing, awe-inspiring high notes." Such a response to Cheney is common today, where yesterday it was rare, for here is a tenor who after years of developing has found his voice and the opera world is discovering him even as you read these words, and mark my words, Brian Cheney is a tenor fast rising.

“This excellent singer revealed a voice of amazing power and great beauty,” writes one critic, while another writes, “Cheney sang with lustrous radiance that illuminated the text at every point. One became hypnotized with both his tone and expression.” A third writes, ...

Ravel Photo Essay

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 10/1/2014 12:30:00 AM
Ravel's family heritage can be traced to the Collogessous-Saleve, a village in France's Haute-Savoie, home to Ravel's grandfather Aime Ravel. Aime moved his family to Versoix, outside of Geneva, and became a Swiss citizen. Ravel's father, Pierre Joseph Ravel, was born there in 1832, one of five children. He pursued a career as an engineer, and would eventually play a role in France's developing automobile industry. He also maintained an interest in music. Ravel's mother, Marie Delouart, was of Basque descent. She spoke French well, but never learned to write it. Ravel was her first child, born when she was thirty-five. Her second and final child was Edouard, and it was no secret in the Ravel home that Maurice was his mother's favorite. She is said to have sung Spanish folk melodies to him in his cradle, and mother and child were very close all their life together. Three years ...

Everything is Possible with Bach

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 8/26/2014 5:13:00 AM

With his first wife Maria Barbara, his soul mate as history tells us, Sebastian Bach fathered seven children. The first child was a daughter, Catharina. Following her, a pair of twins died within days. The final son died within a year. Months later, Maria Barbara succumbed to disease.

         Maria Barbara Bach

Bach was then thirty-five and engaged in the full awakening of his genius. His workload was Herculean and mounting, and now there were five children at home without a mother, the oldest being twelve. Staggered by grief, Bach soldiered on. Hear the Old Master speak: "I was obliged to work hard; whoever works equally hard will succeed equally well."

I am hardly alone in observing that in ways indescribable, this forward-moving stoicism exists in Bach's music. To cite only one of countless examples, the strength of one instrument standing alone in the Cello Suites is ...

Encounters with Brahms

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 7/24/2014 9:39:00 AM

   Johannes Brahms

By this time in his life, but really all his life, Brahms (Doktor Brahms) was absolute master of his world, a world which included many of the most astute & serious-minded ladies and gentlemen in artistic Vienna. Unmarried to the end, Brahms had collected in his over-stuffed apartment the treasured objects of a lifetime. He had privately resolved to retire, and was in the process of destroying all his work that he determined to be incomplete or unsatisfactory. He had even retrieved his letters to his late mother and erased them from posterity. Putting his house in order. Late this spring afternoon, Brahms was expecting a visit from young Josef Suk.

Suk had recently graduated from the Prague Conservatory, where he’d been a favorite pupil of Brahms’ friend Antonín Dvořák. At the Conservatory, Suk enjoyed a goodly share of student success as a violinist, but he had ...

Knabe Pianos

Posted By: Dennis Bartel · 6/17/2014 11:11:00 AM

Lifetimes ago, Knabe pianos were among the finest in the land, manufactured in Baltimore by a venerable firm and played in home parlors, churches and school rooms, in the White House, and on the concert platform from Tennessee to Tokyo. Today, pianos – grand pianos, square pianos, and uprights – displaying the name "Wm. Knabe & Co." have nearly vanished from the cultural landscape, and a grand American contribution to music has disappeared with them.

The story of Wm. Knabe & Co. (pronounced Kah-nob-aye), is a 19th century tale of earnestness and pluck, salted with intelligence, taste and vision. It begins in 1803, in Germany, with the birth of Wilhelm Knabe in Kreuzberg, a small town near Berlin. Martin Friedrich Knabe, the town apothecary, and his wife Ernestine intended their son Wilhelm for a learned profession. But in 1812, Napoleon’s army marched through Germany, bringing the calamities of war. Like ...

Stay in the Loop

Receive our free monthly email newsletter filled with informative

commentary, news of upcoming events, special programming, one-time-only offers and much more. Sign up now!