Wednesday, February 27, 2008

WFMW: Unstuffy Classical Music

This week for Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer's Works for Me Wednesday, I am going to give you an insider's guide to some of the coolest classical music and FREE internet resources for finding more you might like.

Broadening your child’s musical taste while expanding your own

As a professional classical musician (I’m a violist, in case you are bopping by for WFMW. Feel free to submit viola jokes in the comments if you like.), civilian friends sometimes ask me what music I like to play for my kid. There are a lot of pieces out there you are probably already familiar with (whether you know it or not) because they’re common in soundtracks, car commercials, produce departments and Muzak tracks worldwide. I’m looking at you, Pachelbel’s Canon and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

There are some really cool classical works out there that you may not have heard yet. I’m aiming for things that are accessible enough that you’ll enjoy them the first time but complex enough that you’ll still be enjoying in a few months (hopefully years!). Here are some of my (and my 2 year-old boy’s) favorites.
So let's dig in!

Bela Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
I’ve blogged about this piece before, but it really does get the job done. It’s got it all: huge brass and strings parts, rhythmic drive, beautiful melodies. Bartok was a fascinating character and also happens to have written a lot of great stuff for viola. If you like this piece, you might also enjoy his 44 Duos for Two Violins. Here's a link to a free listen of one movement on Rhapsody.

Maurice Ravel: String Quartet
This is an incredibly cool piece and I bet with a little legwork you can find it online free from some enterprising ensemble, because it's one of those pieces you have to play if you want to be the new hotshot virtuoso string quartet.

Felix Mendelssohn: Octet
Can you believe he wrote this at 16? Sheesh. I totally want this played at our 50th anniversary or some other huge party. Help me think of reasons to throw a fete.

The Naked Violin: Tasmin Little
Don’t worry, she just means naked as in unaccompanied. This is a FREE release for download by well-known British violin virtuoso Tasmin Little. I am in love with her concept, and have in fact been trying to get a similar (though currently not so famous) project off the ground. I would recommend starting with the incredible Bach Partita, then moving on to the intense Ysaye (pronounced Eee-sigh), and working your way through the Patterson. Her website even includes ideas for classroom use (cough- heyhomeschoolers- cough).

Which brings us to an intro to a few of the many Rad Online FREE Broadcasts
New York Philharmonic
Here’s a great site to get you started with listening to lots of different repertoire if you don’t happen to have a good classical station where you are. You can listen to whatever they had on the air that week through your computer for FREE. And NYPhil, they aren’t going to let you down.

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
If this orchestra were a person, for me it would be Johnny Depp. Maybe Will Smith. Anyway, it’s hot with a million t’s, and I have always loved them. Ask any classical string player about their dream orchestra job, and I’d lay money they’ll mention Orpheus sooner or later. They play without a conductor and every single musician is one of the best in the world. When I was a wee undergrad in New York, I had the pleasure of getting to know a few of them. Once I even got to listen to a dress rehearsal in which Gil Shaham (wonderful violinist) was playing and James Taylor was sharing our row in the seats at Carnegie Hall. It was neat, even though I didn’t know who James Taylor was at the time. So, that’s a tangent, but you should really look into any recordings/videos/podcasts/internet broadcasts you can find. I especially recommend their recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (I know, but it’s a great piece and actually deserves the fame), and the disc with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Britten’s Simple Symphony is one of our household favorites.

Alexander Street has a blog offering a free classical download once a week, which I just discovered while surfing for this post. Might be worth checking out, and I know there are more like this out there.

Many classical radio stations have excellent podcasts available free, as do a ton of orchestras. The last three top-tier orchestras I played with all had a free kid's program at their local libraries. Check around- I bet there is a whole community of vibrant, unstuffy classical music near you.

So that's what works for me- another WFMW whacked out at the JWards.
Thanks for sticking with it to the final cadences!

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