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Musique concrète

Someone should write a piece about Dad Noises.  Example:

Carmina Burana

This week I conduct Carmina Burana with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. It’s the big closing to our season! It’s epic, it will have the Grand Philharmonic choir, three great Canadian soloists, and more! It will sell a lot of tickets, people will dig it. There’s just one problem.

I kind of detest Carmina Burana.

How can I explain this? Let’s just say I look at this piece the way Werner Herzog looks at a shark attack.

I find this piece kind of “eroticizes” and makes pretty some nasty things that we human animals do. I’m not even going to get into the fact that this piece was written in 1930’s Germany (whoops, I just did). Now that may not really be fair. A lot of art eroticizes violence and makes it pretty, and I like quite a bit of it. Maybe I personally can deal with it in the movies (Quentin Tarantino, etc.) but get a little queasy when it gets mixed up with orchestras. Maybe orchestras are my mental and moral territory for the higher aspirations of humanity. Maybe it’s my problem. But the fact remains: Carmina Burana rubs me the wrong way. It’s creeps me out.

All of this however, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t conduct it or program it. Whether I like it or not, this piece gets my mind and emotions going. In fact, in all of my years watching concerts and being behind the scenes, I’ve found that sometimes artists do the worst performances of the the music they care about the most. They overthink and get lost in the details. On the other hand, when a performer has an ambivalent relationship with a work, truly fascinating things can happen in the performance.

So what am I going to do with Carmina Burana? First, I’m going pair it with a piece of music that also has a lot of banging and clanging, but celebrates PEACE and BEAUTY (Colin McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan).

Second, I’m gonna go really primal with the Orff. And my hope is that it will creep you out too.

Pagan Child brings hope for the future!

This pretty much says it all. I believe this is the son of my friend and colleague Larry Loh!  Please please please do not miss the end. No conductor has ever dared to end the Rite this way, but it’s so … right!

México DF

This week I’m in Mexico City conducting the Mexico City Philharmonic. I have to hurry up and write this post fast because my concert is at 6pm! It’s one of a number of things that are different here.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the largest city in the world, and the amount of people and traffic is astounding. In a city like this, with so many colors and traditions, orchestral music seems to play a niche role in the visual landscape of the city, rather than the central one it plays north of the border. In so many American and Canadian cities, the concert hall is in the center of town, a grand, expensive monument to Western Culture. And it isn’t really perceived as an accessible place.

Granted, Mexico City does have a grand concert hall called Bellas Artes, but the hall I’m working in is in the south part of the city, an unassuming bungalow painted with earthy stripes like high school in San Diego. The orchestra is huge and plays big programs every week; the hall is filled to 80% capacity each night the orchestra plays. But here’s the biggest deal: the tickets are 20 pesos (that’s less than $2US!). Can you imagine what orchestras would be like north of the border if the tickets were that inexpensive? Who would come to the concerts? How would the low-key hall and the cheap tickets change the experience for the audience? It really boggles the mind.

The only thing I could think of that came close were the $1 seats at the Hollywood Bowl when I was younger. I was going to tons of LA Phil concerts then, buying tickets in the back and then just moving up (there were plenty of empty seats further up on a Tuesday and Thursday night). A lot of people feel special when they shell out the big bucks for a concert they’re into, but I felt special because someone was letting me see an amazing orchestra for only $1. I felt like they wanted me there, and not just my money.


A few weeks ago at the Kitchener-Waterloo symphony, we had an open house in our new home and rehearsal space, the Conrad Centre for the performing arts (above).  It’s a fairly low-key building right on the main street.  Something was going on every half hour: there was dance, theatre, and singing (not all classical).  For our part, it was casual, There was no conductor entrance or exit — I just stood around and chatted with people in the audience before and after.  And it was a new audience — different people, different ages, different ethnic backgrounds.  It was who we wanted, and it was free and low key.

I think if we want new people to love  orchestral music, we have to invite them, and make them feel comfortable.  With orchestras constantly worrying about the bottom line, this is a challenge, but it would work.  We have to make our new audience feel important and the center of our focus, not like strangers in a strange land.

Just me and the kids!


Hmm, it seems like the design has disappeared from my sight. I’m aware of the hack and am working to make the site pretty again! Thanks for your concern!

I think I’ve been here … or was it a dream?

Prague’s Franz Kafka International Named World’s Most Alienating Airport


There was an Aflac convention at my hotel last night. They were partying really really hard. Did they bring the duck, I wonder?

Also: this is funny, but it does contain profanity. If you are offended by such things do not listen. Thanks Ken Woods!

James Brown ist der Hammer

Here’s a great example of how musicians are much more open-minded than audiences or critics expect them to be. During a snowstorm last week I had some time to watch a 3-hour documentary on Kraftwerk and German electronica. For those of you who don’t know Kraftwerk, you should. Here’s what they look like …

… and that’s more or less what their music sounds like.

Anyway they were saying how much they dug the music of James Brown because of the “pictographical rhythm” of his music. Yes! They’re absolutely right! In songs like “Get It Together” or “Let Yourself Go” you can really see the rhythm. That’s also true for the Rite of Spring and a lot of Stravinsky as well. Anyway — “pictographical rhythm” — what a great description. Music fits together an cool and unexpected ways.

You Tube Symphony

The YouTube Symphony is up and running. I think this is super-cool, and this is only the beginning. They started big, and they started right. Read the ARTICLE.