Erwin goes to Salzburg for the Mozart Children’s Orchestra

A few years ago, Erwin Schrottner and his Erwin Cooks team travelled to Salzburg to film the below segment about Salzburg’s Mozart Kinderorchester — an ensemble of more than 60 performers aged between seven and twelve, run by the Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg. Annually, they present two concerts during Mozart Week, featuring music from C.P.E Bach and Mozart to Elliott Carter and Arvo Pärt under the baton of conductor and leader Peter Manning.

Unlike many youth orchestras, in which musicians are usually in their teens, the Kinderorchester gets its players when they’re particularly young. “The Mozart Children’s Orchestra is intended as a motivation for young musicians,” the ensemble’s web page says:

We are convinced that Mozart’s music is particularly suitable as the prime aim of such a project, and we hope the orchestra will provide a strong incentive and an exemplary contribution to early musical training. Even very young musicians are capable of fulfilling the technical and musical demands of works by Mozart and other composers, and of conveying their enthusiasm to audiences.

Above all the experience of playing in an orchestra is crucial for the motivation for young children. In our region it is difficult to become part of an ensemble at an early age (usually not before a musician is 15 years old) and so the orchestra should also be an example for other children, motivating them perhaps to learn to play an instrument.

As the segment below will indicate, this ain’t no high school band; if there’s anything like it in the US, I’d like to know about it. This is ensemble playing of a high order; no wonder Austria’s always been a capital of classical music. More about the ensemble can be found here, but for now, relax and enjoy the show. (And to learn more about Erwin Cooks, try this.)

Wuorinen at 80

Charles Wuorinen.

Composer Charles Wuorinen, best known recently for his opera Brokeback Mountain, is celebrating his 80th birthday this year, and this Sunday, February 11, “Charles Wuorinen at 80” will pull out all the stops (no organs allowed, however) with a program featuring a roll-call of performers that reads like an encyclopedia of America’s top new music pianists. Steven Beck, Alan Feinberg, Marilyn Nonken, Ursula Oppens, and Jeffrey Swann will present Wuorinen’s dual-piano The Mission of Virgil (1993), his solo Oros (2009), and Igor Stravinsky’s Sonata (1924). Composer-conductor Louis Karchin will also offer reminiscences.

Not only will Wuorinen be there to acknowledge their plaudits and congratulations; you can be there too for the price of a subway ride. The concert is free. It begins at 3.00pm at the Frederick Loewe Theatre, 35 West 4th Street. More information at the Facebook page for the event.

Blind Blake: “Early Morning Blues”

R. Crumb’s portrait of Blind Arthur Blake.

As my fingers wend my weary but increasingly accurate way into fingerstyle ragtime guitar, I’m boning up on the classics. Below is a lovely recording from October 1926 of Blind Blake’s “Early Morning Blues.” Jas Obrecht wrote this appreciation of the great blues singer and ragtime guitarist.

American humor, American blues

Blind Tom Wiggins.

When it came to music, Mark Twain professed to enjoy only two kinds: the songs of American minstrelsy and the proto-ragtime compositions and performances by pianists like Blind John Boone and Blind Tom Wiggins, about whom Twain wrote a lengthy appreciation for the Alta California in 1869. Along with evincing a proto-ragtime performance style, Blind Tom was also apparently a proto-Charles Ives, according to Twain:

Tom will play two tunes and sing a third at the same time, and let the audience choose the keys he shall perform in. I heard him play “Fisher’s Hornpipe” with his right hand in two sharps (D), and “Yankee Doodle” with his left in three flats (E flat), and sing “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the Boys are Marching,” in the key of C — all at the same time. It was a dreadful and disorganizing mixture of meaningless sounds, but you could easily discover that there was “no deception,” as the magicians say, by taking up the tunes one at a time and following them a little while, and then you would perceive that in time, movement and melody, each was without fault.

Jeffery Renard Allen wrote about Blind Tom for Buzzfeed in 2014.

Twain’s response to Blind Tom reminds me that of all aesthetic forms, two are particularly grounded in the national characters from which they spring: humor and music. In America, these are particularly fraught fields. Lacking a tradition of formal professional study or patronage, American popular music — especially ragtime and blues, which were the products of black American slaves and their immediate descendants — has had to depend on commercial appeal. And though the southwestern humor that led to Mark Twain’s work has had the reputation of beginning in an oral culture, for-profit journals and newspapers had the job of disseminating it around the country in the 19th century.

Blind Tom was a slave, and though his quasi-classical music doesn’t appear to be influenced by the work songs or other musical forms shared by slave populations, both emerged in the Delta blues and ragtime guitar styles that began to arise in the early 20th century.

Pianist John Davis has written extensively about Twain’s relationship to music, and his CD Halley’s Comet: Around the Piano with Mark Twain and John Davis collects a variety of music and texts that thoroughly explore this relationship. (The New York Times lauded his Le Poisson Rouge presentation of this material in 2010.)

In my spare time I’m taking guitar lessons in hopes of playing around with a little ragtime guitar myself, to go along with my casual interest in Twain and southwestern humor; in what’s left of that spare time, I’m filling in the background with these two books that have some affinity with the above:

American Humor: A Study of the National Character by Constance Rourke. Originally published in  1931. Reprinted, with an introduction by Greil Marcus, by New York Review Books (NYRB), New York, 2004. The NYRB edition was reviewed by Caleb Crain in the Boston Globe on March 28, 2004; by Philip Christman in Paste on August 1, 2004; and by Adam Kirsch in Slate on March 31, 2004.

Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta by Robert Palmer. Viking Penguin Inc., 1981. Reviewed by Peter Guralnick in the New York Times on August 7, 1981; by C. Michael Bailey in All About Jazz on March 8, 2004; and by Rick Saunders in Now This Sound is Brave on September 15, 2001.