Sophia and I have been hard at work this winter season, not only with our seasonal concerts and committments, but we are always at work as usual with our music. Sophia composes daily, and for me to keep up with her musical genius I have to put in the time in our customized studio. No. Not all studios in our business are filled with Steinways! As you can see here in this picture, I am working on our computer system with software that enables us to create compositions, and also allows Sophia some previews of her work. It is complicated, but at least I am not trying to transcribe the work with a pen and parchment! I have to confess that the work is exciting and our true love. I can't wait for you to hear some of the amazing music that I get to listen to daily!
Sophia and I cannot believe that it is the beginning of November and that our holiday season is right around the corner! We were talking last night about how busy this October has been with the Opera Experience Southeast and several concerts, and of course now we need to prepare for the holiday programs. We love it! It has been such a fun fall, and most of all, the fun has been experiencing the enthusiasm we see in audience after audience of the youth in our area for all things classical. You know I always hear complaints about how the youth of today do nothing but waste time on social media and video games, but Sophia and I can tell you that our experiences are just the opposite. Students of Opera Experience Southeast, our own Trinity Academy Orchestra, and students of all ages seem to be more enthusiastic than ever about learning, playing and listening to the great composers. It gives us great hope for the future of our art. People ask me, how do you get a kid interested in such a challenging endeavor? I always look at teaching the classics like a game of checkers…if while they are playing you can change that board and those pieces out to the game of chess you will have them, and they will never look back! Classical music is like that; the intricacy of the patterns, the beauty of the tunes, and the challenge of the compositions yield an emotional satisfaction, that in my experience, youth always crave. Having a bad day at school? Try some Bach. Excited about the holidays coming up? A little Tchaikovsky! Well. You can see how much fun it all is. I challenge musicians everywhere to take the youth in your world seriously. Bring them to the classics, and their lives (and yours) will be better for it!
Paul and I are so excited to be back in the swing of a new season of concerts and venues after a relaxing and inspirational summer break! And what a wonderful time we had,,,,visiting the beach, working an opera in Ohio, visiting the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington DC, and just hanging out in our favorite small town USA of Troy, N.C. In addition to our downtime, I have to admit that we are ready to get back to work with an amazing new season of concerts and engagements. This year is full of promise and excitement. We are booked throughout the spring and are excited to have the opportunity to perform for you all. This fall has Paul playing the Clara Capel Memorial Organ on its twentieth anniversary in Troy, North Carolina I also have committed to the Opera Experience Southeast as we prepare and perform for Madame Butterfly during late October. We also have scheduled Christmas concerts and duo piano concerts throughout the season. I so hope you all can come out and join the fun and support the cause of 'classical always'! It feels great to be back. Come and see us, we look forward to your company! Check out our schedule and blog! We look forward to seeing you!
One of the most common questions that I am asked is, "What is the difference between organs, harpsichords, and pianos?" Sophia and I regularly play all three and regularly interchange these instruments in our concerts. Because we live and breathe on these music machines, I sometimes forget how mysterious they can be to the rest of the world. How these instruments work, where they came from, and the differences between them can seem almost mystical. Hopefully, I can shed just a little bit of light into your darkness and direct you towards a couple of the most basic points of the history and working parts of the tools that Sophia and I work on each day.
Compared to the piano and the harpsichord, the organ is the most complex of the three. It is also the oldest. It is also complicated to play. An organist has to operate not only multiple keyboards (manuals are the technical term) with their fingers but also a big one down below with their feet (called a pedal board). But put simply, an organ is anything that blows air through pipes to make sound. The pipes are made with different shapes and materials that give us the different sounds that you hear. For example, flutes sounds come from square pipes made with wood while trumpet sounds come from pipes are shaped like ice cream cones and made of metal. A big blower blows air through the pipes as valves are opened at the pipe bottoms allowing a sustained tone for as long as the performer needs. Different sounds and sustained tones are the primary differences of the pipe organ compared to the piano and harpsichord.
So, where did the organ come from? Now, we historians love nothing better than arguing about exactly when or where this or that occurred, especially looking this far back into history. For example, on the one hand, very early water driven organs were reported in ancient Rome. Many organists call those the first accounts of organs. Now comes my personal bias and opinion. I don't agree. I think these Roman instruments fall into the "steam whistle" category and have little to do with our modern organs. (But again, I have many distinguished colleagues who disagree with me on this.) I personally fall into the Constantinople camp. I am convinced our organs came out of the Eastern Church in what is now Syria and Turkey. At any rate, all of us organists agree that the organ has been in use in Christian churches since the time of Peter and Paul. In fact, the use of the organ in Christian worship actually predates the use of both the Cross as a symbol and the Holy Bible (Well…..at least the "New" part!). The primitive organ continued its development and rapidly spread across Europe on the Roman roads The air blowing through the pipes was said to represent the Holy Spirit blowing at Pentecost and heavenly choirs of angels. Germany gets the nod for the oldest truly complex and complete organ ever built and organs became much more innovative, versatile and reliable through the 1500's and 1600's. 1708 was a landmark year. During that year J.S. Bach wrote his first great Toccatas and Fugues and the organ was here to stay. At about the time of our Revolution, Mozart called the organ the "King of Instruments" because of its technical complexity and glorious sound. The high tech development race was on during the 1800's with France, England, Germany, and the Flemish lands all vying for top honors. As builders and players immigrated across the Atlantic, the old world powerhouses were soon joined by the great Canadian and American builders.
At this point, organ building split into two types - organs that "power assisted" the player's fingers in some way so they could play more notes and the old style "tracker" that literally ran wood strips from the keys to the pipes to open the air valves. Most of the time, you can quickly tell the difference. Mechanics have the keyboards in one place and the pipes somewhere else - usually in a pipe room or chamber. Trackers have the pipes in a single case of some type directly above the organist and keyboards.
The picture you see in this blog is of me talking with fellow organist Dr. Richard McPherson about the Skinner organ he plays in Northern Virginia just out of DC. We are laughing here because we agree that we organists each have our own "favorite heroes" of organ building. Mine is Samuel Sebastian Wesley (grandson of Methodist co-founder Charles). His best friend in the world was one of the sons of the Walker and Sons Organ Company. Samuel lived not far from the factory and designed what we would call the first truly modern organ around the time of our Civil War. Every Sunday I get to play an English "tracker" organ that was built in 1997 from his blueprints and then sent to America.
See? Now you know what I'm talking about. You passed the exam! Next time, we'll talk about the harpsichord.
Merry Christmas everyone! Just recently I was thinking about the fact that just like everyone I grew up listening to a Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty, and Burl singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer! But sometimes you want a little more for listening to holiday cheer. But where do you go? I understand how daunting picking out classical music can seem - especially at Christmas time. I hope these lists will help you get in your search. Use them as a starting point and then expand and move out. That's a big part of the fun. Once you get into this ballpark that I have put you in, you can't make a wrong selection. Pick what you like. I guarantee that your selections will be beautiful, elegant and the perfect complement to any Christmas evening.
My Top 10 - Instrumental Pastorale from the Christmas Concerto, Op. 6, No. 8 Corelli Overture from Messiah Handel Pastoral Symphony from Messiah Handel Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring Bach Sheep May Safely Graze Bach In dulci jubilo Bach Von himmel hoch (Prelude BWV 606 OR Variations BWV 769) Bach Overture from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky
My Top 10 - Vocal Every Valley Shall Be Exalted (commonly paired with Comfort Ye) Handel And the Glory of the Lord Handel Rejoice, Rejoice O Daughters of Zion Handel Cantique de Noel (O, Holy Night) - get a "real" version, please! No c&w. Adam Jesu Bambino Yon Hallelujah (technically not Christmas - but who cares?!) Handel Glory Be Unto God in the Highest from the Christmas Oratorio Saint-Saens Praise Ye, the Lord of Hosts from the Christmas Oratorio Saint-Saens The Virgin's Slumber Song Reger In the Bleak Midwinter Holst
Of course, my all time Christmas favorites are by Sophia Pavlenko! Christmas Festival for Two Pianos Christmas Christmas Medley God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Dobriy vechir tobi (the Ukrainian carol - Masters in this Hall) Christmas Rose