Posts for:  November 2009

Liszt-loving pooch

kiz tilt hd

Could you play that passage again?

Two years ago, my husband and I took the plunge and got our daughters a dog. It was only after we brought Kizmit home for the first time did I belatedly read the dog training book that advised “choose a docile, eager-to-please eight-week-old puppy that you can train and socialize easily.”

I realized we had done the opposite: we had chosen the non-shedding, 10-month-old adolescent Lakeland Terrier with the intelligent eyes and aloof demeanor. My daughter and husband loved Kizmit’s red color and adorable face. I loved her calm stance –- unlike all the other canines bouncing around the breeder’s house, I had the feeling that she would stay quiet during my hours of piano practice.

Well…I realize now that her calmness should have signaled to me that she is an “alpha” dog. Our little pooch, all fifteen pounds of her, thinks she is Madame Mao. She snaps at our favorite friends (the nicer the people, the more she wants to dominate them,) she runs away given half a chance, she sits only for tasty treats, and she barks at deer from the window at ear-splitting decibels. But about her listening to music, I was right.

When I begin to play, Kizmit trots over to the piano and bumps my knee with her nose. Then she will choose a spot nearby, turn around three times and lower herself to the floor, as if submitting to the music. If it’s Bach or a contemporary piece I’m practicing, she lies down in an adjoining room. At the first strains of Liszt or Chopin, however, she walks directly to the piano, lies down by the pedals, rolls on her side or even on her back, and promptly falls asleep.

Despite her non-comprehension when it comes to obedience training, Kizmit can distinguish between good and bad piano playing. Once I brought her to an informal recital given by my college students. When a student stumbled and played wrong notes, Kizmit paced restlessly around on her leash. But when a student played smoothly, with technical ease and musical expression, she lay on her side and fell asleep, waking only to bark furiously at the applause.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that any creature with such an acute auditory sense might appreciate Ravel. Kizmit can hear a deer walk through the neighbor’s yard from an upstairs bedroom – she charges downstairs, ready to attack. What surprises us is the extent to which Kizzie is charmed by sonorous chords and beautiful melodic lines.

Whatever the books say, I know we’ve chosen the right dog -– one who loves music.

When the Orchard Dances Ceased, upcoming premiere by Curt Cacioppo

American elm

American elm

One of the most haunting compositions I heard last season was Curt Cacioppo’s Lenape Refrains, a large-scale orchestral work premiered by the Philadelphia Classical Symphony, Karl Middleman, artistic director. Refrains is a deceptively mild term for this eight-movement work, which depicts the celebration, dances, and fate of the Lenape people, who are native to the Philadelphia region.

From a musical standpoint, the piece convinces because of its structural integrity, but it also captivates because of its striking use of Native American rhythms, chanting by the orchestra musicians, solo singing, and Native American instruments. One instrument in particular, the corn husk rattle, caught my ear.

I asked Curt Cacioppo if it was difficult to come by such an instrument.

“No. I got it at Trader Joe’s,” he replied with his usual frank nonchalance.

Rattles, modern version

Rattles, modern version

He explained that an actual corn husk rattle would be too delicate to project in a concert hall, so he constructed his own more durable version, using strips of paper bags from the popular grocery store. Recently, he was kind enough to show me this unique instrument up close. I admired his ingenious use of the aforementioned brown paper strips, broom handle, rubber chair feet, and metal washer. The sound this modern instrument produces is surprisingly terrifying.

Happily, it will be heard again on November 30 at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City, in a new piece by Cacioppo called When the Orchard Dances Ceased, The American Composers Orchestra, Stefan Lano conducting. Besides the corn husk rattle, a Navajo water drum (filled with water to dampen its leather head and tapped by deerskin-covered mallets at different points to produce different pitches) and a beautiful large drum from Taos Pueblo will help the orchestra describe, in musical narrative, the scorched earth campaign by the U.S. Army against the Navajo people in Canyon de Chelly.

Navajo water drum

Navajo water drum

Tragedy weaves itself prominently and necessarily into the tapestry of both these compositions, but both also end on a redemptive note, symbolized by potent images from nature. In the case of When the Orchard Dances Ceased, peace comes in the remembrance of the peach orchards planted by the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly where their dances of celebration and life took place. In Lenape Refrains, peace is symbolized by the depiction of the magnificent elm tree under which William Penn signed a treaty with the Lenape in 1682. A scion of this same tree, one of the only remaining large elms in America, stands on the Haverford College campus, where I teach. One enormous branch descends and rests against the earth, and then, undaunted, reaches up toward heaven.

I’m looking forward to hearing the premiere of When the Orchard Dances Ceased. I think the spirits will be listening, too.

Angels on the Ohio

Due to a bit of ongoing drama lately, I’m behind in writing about my concert with The Ohio Valley Symphony, but here’s the short version: it was a wonderful homecoming. Beautiful weather along the beautiful Ohio River, and a sensitive and energetic orchestra. The musicians come from six states, and they’re young – a lot of them were probably scratching out their first Suzuki lesson when the orchestra and I played its first season 20 years ago! The OVS is the brainchild of Lora Lynn Snow, an oboist who dared to dream up her own professional orchestra for Gallipolis, the small town in Appalachia that is also my husband Tom’s hometown.

Beautiful Gallipolis

Beautiful Gallipolis

Lora Lynn involved the entire community (which numbers less than 5000 people) to fund a full symphony orchestra that is not only solvent but has a nice healthy endowment. She discovered an abandoned Victorian opera house in town and drummed up enthusiastic helpers — students, doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers, teachers –- to paint, build, and renovate the old place into a lovely and jewel-like theater. Did I mention she also plays principal oboe? (We had some lovely piano/oboe solos in the slow movement of the Mozart concerto.)

The day before the concert, as she drove me to Huntington, W. Virginia for an interview with Channel 3′s Carrie Cline, I asked her how the orchestra won the attention of its angel, Mrs. Ann Carson-Dater, who once lived in Southern Ohio but now lives in Arizona and who, without ever having heard or seen the orchestra, began her support of the OVS with a gift of 2 Million dollars,

“Well,” Lora said, as she navigated along Route 7, (and I’m paraphrasing a bit,) “about twelve years ago, I was running around taking care of my kids, and I got a long-distance phone call from this lady in California. I didn’t have time to talk just that second, but when I sat down to nurse my son, we finally had the opportunity for a more leisurely conversation. She asked me several questions, and I told her what the orchestra was up to. A few months later, she set up our endowment…”

No doubt Lora’s idealism and her absolute passion for classical music inspired confidence in Mrs. Dater, who loves classical music as well. A few years ago, Mrs. Dater bought the theater building for the orchestra so that it will always have a home. Classical music will never die, despite headlines to the contrary, as long as there are Lora Snows and Mrs. Daters around.

Marquee at the Ariel Theater

Marquee at the Ariel Theater

A few memorable highlights of the Saturday night concert: my dear friend and colleague David Kim, who, in addition to his position as concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, still concertizes as soloist around the world, played a gorgeous rendition of the Sibelius Violin Concerto though about to collapse from the flu. That’s a true artist for you! (David is fine now.) I also enjoyed working closely with Maestro Ray Fowler (he’s co-founder of The OVS,) who is so alive to the music the notes practically leap from his skin. Many old friends came from around Ohio and made my day (Olev, Trish, Bob, Sally, Ken, Bobbie, Waltraut and Richard, Manfred, Marille, RuthAnn, Hank, and many more.) My parents-in-law Sig and Alix took wonderful care of me.

And here’s the icing on the cake -– two music students from Marshall University asked me at the reception, “Did you write your own cadenzas? We loved them!” If you’ve read my last blog post, you’ll know that was a thrill for me indeed.