Archives for category: On the air

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Music has always been used to help us tell stories. Think of incidental music in plays, the music in songs, musicals and operas; and soundtracks to movies and video games.

But music also tells its own stories. 

Each instrument has such a distinctive voice – and I figure, if you mix together the most famous melodies that have been written for a particular instrument, you’ll find a fantastical character emerges – a character with a magical story to tell.

Starting this weekend on CBC Music and on In Concert, the show I host on CBC Radio 2, the instruments of the orchestra come to life on Orchestral Tales, a brand new season of The Signature Series. I’m pretty excited to share this – I’ve been working hard on this along with Denise Ball, the executive producer of In Concert.

On the previous seasons of the Signature Series, you met personalities based on the major and minor key signatures.

On Orchestral Tales, you’ll meet vivid characters inspired by the instruments of the orchestra.

Follow along here – new tales will be published every Friday for the next ten weeks, starting on Friday, January 6th.

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There are few places right now that have the electricity and the energy that is flowing through the city of Shanghai.

Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of the incredible skyline that’s sprung up in record time. It’s futuristic and sleek: right out of a science fiction movie. If there is a place to be in the 21st century, it feels like it’s on the streets of Shanghai.

In 2015, I was lucky enough to attend the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival at the behest of the WFMT Radio Network. When I came back, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on Shanghai Spring: an 8-part radio series about classical music in China featuring concert performances from Shanghai and mini-documentaries about life and music in the city.

On Shanghai Spring, you’ll get a front row seat at the Shanghai Spring Festival and get a look at bustling Shanghai in all its glory.

You’ll also be transported to rip-roaring, cosmopolitan 1920s Shanghai, when the seeds of Western classical music began to take hold in China. And you’ll get a glimpse of Chinese culture, beyond dragon boats and fortune cookies — a chance to see the real China through the lens of classical music.

Part 1 airs this Sunday on my CBC Radio 2 show, In Concert, and you can also hear it here.

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A gallery featuring images from 20 of the 24 keys personified in the Signature Series.  Graphics designed by Ben Didier of CBC Music.

The Prix Italia is one of the most coveted awards in broadcasting in the world. It’s an incredible honour for me and for my co-producer Denise Ball to announce that the Signature Series has won a 2013 Prix Italia in the category “Work on Music”.

Here is the citation from the Prix Italia jury:

“In a series of 5 minute programmes the listener is invited to discover how particular musical key signatures have been used by composers over the centuries to define certain specific human characteristics. The jury found that this was an innovative and simple format that was extremely effective in helping to bring new listeners to classical music.

By personalising each key signature – B minor: the dark romantic, A minor: the faded beauty – each programme takes the listener through a broad range of classical music genres and others, all very skilfully edited together, to form a specific character. This is continued online in the programme’s ingenious website which invites the listener to identify with a particular key signature, and share it with others.

This programme genuinely breaks new ground.”

Read the official CBC Music announcement here. Music critic John Terauds had this to say. (Thanks, John!)

I feel thrilled and very lucky that this the 2nd time one of my programs has been awarded a Prix Italia. The first was for my series The Wire: the Impact of Electricity on Music, co-produced with Chris Brookes and Jowi Taylor for CBC Radio 1.

Another instalment in The Signature Series:

B minor: The Dark Romantic

Also known as:
The Gloomy Gus.
The Pessimist.

B minors you might know:
Werther from Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther.
Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby.
Cliff Barnes from Dallas.

The notes: B – C♯ – D – E – F♯ – G – A♯ – B.

Number of sharps: two.

Relative major: D major.

What they said about B minor in the 18th and 19th centuries:
“Banished from music of good taste.” – Francesco Galeazzi, 1796

“Bitter, gloomy lamentation, on account of hard suffering … in these tones the shocked soul looks around exhausted and almost without hope.” – J. A. Schrader, 1827

More G minor listening:
The Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner.

Cello Concerto by Antonín Dvořák.

The Canadian connection:
“Robots” by Dan Mangan.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuriesby Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).

 

Another instalment in The Signature Series:

D major: Miss Congeniality

Also known as:
The Workaholic.
The Homecoming Queen.

D majors you might know:
The Goddess Athena from Greek mythology.
Oprah Winfrey.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The notes: D – E – F♯ – G – A – B – C♯ – D.

Number of sharps: two.

Relative minor: B minor.

What they said about D major in the 18th century:
“The key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing.” – Christian Schubart, 1784

“Enflames the heart. The spirit … is roused to impudent, joyful, even to somewhat boisterous songs of praise. Even the god of thunder has a claim to this key.” – Georg Joseph Vogler, 1779

More D major listening:
The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss, Jr.

Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky.

The Canadian connection:
“Past in Present” by Feist.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries, by Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).

This Sunday I’m lucky enough to begin a fantastic gig: hosting CBC Radio 2’s weekly classical music performance program, In Concert.

Preparing tomorrow’s show put me in mind of summer camp – and thus conjured up all kinds of feelings and recollections.

Once upon a time there was a camp called Toronto Music Camp that happened every June, right at the end of the school year on the shores of Lake Couchiching, near Orillia, Ontario. I spent five years there as a camp counselor. I think it still exists, but these days it’s called Music by the Lake.

TMC wasn’t all fun and games (although there were many of those, too) – it was a lot of hard work – hours of rehearsal every day. The large ensembles used to rehearse in a cavernous barn with a tin roof. I remember one year we were playing the Planets by Gustav Holst and it seemed as though our endless repetition of the first eight bars of section J provoked Mars, Bringer of War to open the heavens upon our heads. The sound of the rain thundering on the roof made it impossible for us to continue.

Another year it was so cold, the coldest June in decades, that we had to light as many candles as we could find just to stay warm in the 19th-century farmhouse where the chamber ensembles rehearsed.

Those were five of the happiest fortnights of my adolescence. In those days it felt like there was TMC, and the rest of the year until the next TMC – two different levels of existence.

The mother of all musical summer camps in this country is a residency with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada – and I think that the instant camaraderie of the camp experience must have something to do with the magic that the NYOC produces year in and year out. This Sunday you can hear a fabulous concert by the NYOC on In Concert, beginning at 11 am in all Canadian time zones (except 11:30 in Newfoundland) on CBC Radio 2 or online at cbcmusic.ca.

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For the next little while, I’m excited to be sharing a project I’ve been working on called The Signature Series.

Here’s how it works:

1. Select a musical key.
2. Gather together the most famous melodies composed in that key.
3. Mash up.
4. Meet the person behind the key.

To get to know G minor, click on the orange play button. Follow along with the pop-up comments to find out what composition is playing.

G minor: The Contrarian

Also known as:
The Moody Teenager.
The Complicated Man.

G minors you might know:
Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.
Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.
Pete Campbell from Mad Men.

The notes: G – A – B♭ – C – D – E♭ – F♯ – G.

Number of flats: two.

Relative major: B-flat major.

What they said about G minor in the 18th century:
“Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike.” – Christian Schubart, 1784

“It is suited to frenzy, despair, agitation.” – Francesco Galeazzi, 1796

More G minor listening:
Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell.

Der Erlkönig by Franz Schubert.

The Canadian connection:
“Your Rocky Spine” by Great Lake Swimmers.

Note: Historical quotes and translations from A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries, by Rita Steblin, UMI Research Press (1983).

 

The year I moved to Vancouver, I arrived in the middle of November. It was dark and gloomy and dreary and rainy. I did a lot of walking that month, to get to know my new neighbourhood and my new city, and my constant companion was Rufus Wainwright.

I know not everyone likes Rufus Wainwright. But I fell in love with his music on those damp wanderings through Vancouver’s West End, my headphones blocking out the pitter patter of the rain.

I’ve listened and re-listened to all my favourite Rufus songs dozens of times over the years, and I’ve gradually come to realize what it is about his music that I find so satisfying.

It’s that I can’t figure it out. His music is a mystery to me: I can’t imagine how anyone could conceive of those melodies, those harmonies, those orchestrations, and make those creative choices. It’s music I can’t dissect intellectually –in much the same way as does the music of Puccini or Debussy or Beethoven, it leaves me breathless and awestruck.

I think his music has as much depth, as much to discover, as classical song. Perhaps for that reason it came as no surprise to me when Rufus Wainwright decided to “cross over”, as they say, to the world of classical music with his opera Prima Donna or with his 2009 album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.

Say what you will about pop musicians going classical – and say what you will about Rufus’s voice or his persona or whatever it is that might rub you the wrong way, if you’re one of those people who hasn’t been able to get into his music – I’m here to tell you to give him a chance, if you aren’t already a convert.

His work has somehow tapped into the uncertainty of our times and has captured the imagination of millions – including mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta (pictured above), who gave the premiere performance of All Days Are Nights as a classical song cycle in March in Toronto.

I’m chuffed to be able to share that concert with you today on CBC Radio 2’s In Concert. And if you miss the show today, you can listen to Wallis’s performance anytime you like at CBC’s excellent Concerts on Demand website.

What makes something classical or popular? I’m not sure it’s a question we should even be asking anymore. But if you’re intent on classification, I’ll wager you’ll have a hard time placing All Days Are Nights. Some songs sound like “pop”, others sound much more like “Broadway”, others have a “classical” ring. But does it really matter, in a world that shuffles through music the way ours does?

Back in Mozart’s day, I imagine that music was just music. I imagine people thought about what kind of music it was (if they did think about it in that way at all) based on where they heard it rather than by genre the way we do today. Because back then you couldn’t divorce music from the place in which it was being performed, of course. Salon music. After dinner with the family at the piano music. Concert hall music. Tavern music.

Applying those categories to music today, a lot of songs we think of as being in different genres would end up as new bedfellows. But not, I think, as strange bedfellows.

When I was a kid, like many kids, I took piano lessons. I remember in my imagination all the different notes had their own personalities. I don’t know why, but I felt particularly sympathetic towards C-sharp. I felt sorry for him, for some reason. I wasn’t overly fond of F-sharp, and E always seemed cheerful.

Who knows what prompted these childlike musings. Perhaps the monotony of practicing scales (at which I was never very good – neither the monotony, nor the scales.)

Lately I’ve had a chance to revisit the idea of each note having its own characteristics with a new series I’ve been working on for CBC Radio called The Signature Series. If A Major were a person, who would she be?

Here’s how it works:

1. Select a musical key.

2. Gather the most famous melodies composed in that key.

3. Mash them up.

4. Meet the person behind the key.

 

Here are some of my favourite things about America: Win Butler. Big Sur. The drumming of Art Blakey. The Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago. My earliest memories, of splashing through the shallows of Cape Cod as a toddler.

That list is quickly cobbled-together over a bleary Sunday morning coffee – but needless to say I could go on and on. Today, though, what I love most is the music of Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein, and it’s my pleasure to bring you a superb performance of classics by these American masters on CBC Radio 2’s In Concert this morning.

Their music encapsulates the best of the American spirit: optimism, endless horizons; that bright-eyed American philosophy of rolling up your sleeves and getting it done.

Try your hand at the In Concert Quiz, which celebrates US travel destinations that have been immortalized in music.

And listen for a new series I’ve been working on called the Signature Series, in which I attempt to anthropomorphize the keys. Can you ascribe a personality to a bunch of sharps and flats? Today, we’ll meet A Major.