Thursday, September 10, 2009

see no evil, hear no evil

I was rehearsing today for a church service today when the church secretary started to talk to me about her disappointment at a concert she had gone to. It peaked my curiosity so I stood and listened.

She had paid real money to go to Carnegie Hall, to hear the New York Philharmonic accompany Andrea Bocelli.

How do I describe Bocelli? I hate him. I personally can’t stand his voice or his inability to phrase or sing half the music he attempts. His is a very small voice, with little carrying power. So of course my first question was “WAS HE MIKED?” Her answer was NO, which did not bode well. She said that from the first balcony at the front, she could not hear Bocelli, and that the orchestra was too loud. I beg to comment that the orchestra was just fine, Bocelli was too soft.

A number of years ago, I read that the Metropolitan Opera was getting bombarded by people writing them to ask when Bocelli would be singing at the met. RIGHT! Bocelli can undoubtedly fill the Met with people, however only a fraction of them would be able to hear anything that he had to say, sing, hum whatever.
Bocelli is a singer, nothing more nothing less. He does not possess a voice for opera, and should stay as far away from it as possible. His recordings of full opera are little more than curiosities, which are to be laughed at and played during parties as part of some obscene listening game.

When Pavarotti died, I was rather upset to see Bocelli singing at the funeral. First of all, he sang badly, second of all, this man HAD a career. He has sold more records as a “classical artist” than he had any business doing. What he should have done is stepped aside and asked that a young tenor from a small Italian town be given the honor of bidding the grand maestro good-bye. Thereby insuring that a new generation of operatic singer be given a good push onto the world stage. No, instead the media hog stood in and sung himself.

A number of years ago, my sister had a birthday party at Mohegan Sun. The room reserved was the presidential suite at the hotel. It was quite nice with a panoramic view and steps and all sorts of furniture and accoutrement. The people were trying to impress me in that Andrea Bocelli had been there the night before. I looked at them and said what a waste. This is a death trap for a blind man. What does he need with the view from the top of the building. His seeing eye dog will have a fun time peeing on the leg of the piano! You could have given him the first floor and he would have been none the wiser!

If Bocelli wants to sing his italian songs and make pop albums, that is fine with me, but leave the New York Philharmonic out of it. Don't let the youth of today believe that this is "singing." Trust me there are plenty of singers out there who have better voices than him, unfortunately for them they have their vision.

Monday, June 22, 2009

the Horrible Staccato

Great violin virtuosos are supposed to have a great staccato but for some this technique is quite elusive. Even great violinists like Milstein or Kogan didn't have the greatest staccatos.

However I give you that acid test of staccato...the Hora Staccato.

First we have the composer himself. Dinicu was a wonderful violinist whose one ethnic background peppered his playing and his compositions. No one can really copy this performance and really do it HIS way:

Of course Heifetz heard this and wanted to have a go, so he made his own arrangement and did both up and down bow staccato just to prove that he was, IN FACT, THE man!

Many people prefer the Michael Rabin recording which has an incredible velocity, however one wonders if Rabin's stacatto is only one speed.

whatever your choice i suppose it is still one of those guilty pleasures

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Train Robbery

Two differing views of the Great Train Robbery, by some of the greats of British comedy

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I happen to have performed this piece and know that both parts are fraught with technical problems. I find this amusing that the cellist plays the violin as he would a cello, unfortunately, as a violinist, it is highly unlikely that I will play the cello the way that I hold the violin.

There are other attempts at duets like these. Some instrumentalists like to play both parts of the Bach double violin concerto (Heifetz) or the Sarasate Navarra (Rosand), however the most interesting one is probably the recording that Artur Grumiaux made of himself playing the violin AND the piano part to a Mozart and a Brahms Sonata. Grumiaux was a great violinist and a very good pianist. The story goes that he excelled at both as a youth and his grandfather made the decision that he would study the violin at the conservatoire since there were lots of pianists.

The piano worlds' loss is the violin worlds' gain.

Then of course there is Ethan Winer who came up with this ditty.

maybe it is a cellist thing

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Branford, tell us what you REALLY think

I think once they get to him, these kids have been treated in such a way that it must infuriate him. I have to admit that this is a symptom of society, what we could call the Lake Wobegon effect. Lake Wobegon is of course the fictional town in Minnesota where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

It is hard for kids of today to understand what it was like growing up in a different age. A month today is the same as a year in the past. As technology hurtles past us at this incredible rate, the amount of recordings you can download on itunes far surpasses the amount of recordings that we had at our disposal at the local Sam Goody....sam what?

Monday, April 13, 2009

it's out of his hands

This video defies description, because we don't have a clear enough view of what has happened. The violinist looks like he knows what he is doing, but the violin looks like it has been pulled by the scroll away from him. I can only assume that the conductor with all of his waving got his sleeve caught in the scroll and pulled it with him.

The soloist is all smiles at the end so we assume that the instrument was not damaged.

I worked with a conductor who was telling me how he had conducted somewhere and the podium he was standing on gave way as he was leaning towards the cello section. He landed IN the cello section and let a cello break his fall. It was heavily damaged and he had to pay for thousands of dollars of repairs.

Friday, April 3, 2009

copying the greats

I find it amusing to watch people do impressions of others. I think as musicians we all copy someone else at some point in our studies. If it isn't some artist you admire, it may be a teacher. I myself seem to gravitate towards what I hear and copy that. I know as a student that i played with a pianist who also had played with my teacher. She said she had no problem with following me since I breathed like my teacher. I knew then and there that I had to stop that....copying the breathing, not breathing in general

So it is that I show you three videos of immitation.....

first the cellists:

Now the baseball players:

Then of course there is the great copying the not so greats.....

Friday, March 20, 2009

pulled over by the music police?

In our opinions there were perhaps no greater comedians than Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.....some of them are a bit more risque, but this one is a rarity.

Pachelbel is following me....

I agree with this guy that Pachelbel is everywhere. I have made more money from playing Pachelbel than any other piece I have ever played or studied. I once offered to play a wedding for free if they would let me play the march from for the love of Three Oranges by Prokofiev, rather than Pachelbel....and they paid

Saturday, March 14, 2009

enter the sandman...exit the sand bag

When I heard the news that A-Rod would need surgery and wouldn't be with the team at the begining of the season, I was not really concerned. That concern begins with the fact that I am a Met fan, and don't really care about the Yanks. However one thing has been as steady as death and taxes....and that is the entrance of Mariano Rivera.

Watching him in 1996 it was hard to imagine that the guy would be around 12 years later and still the greatest closer I have ever seen.

He has done everything you can to win games, hold leads, blow away the opposition etc. That any flaws he has had on his certain hall of fame career get overlooked. Blowing the 2001 World Series would have seemed like something that no player could come back from, and indeed some people have called that the night that the Yankee Dynasty ended, however Marian Rivera keeps coming back and throwing stuff that you know is going to come but you can't do anything about (reminds me of the joke that asks how are viola solos like premature know they are coming but there isn't a damn thing you can do about it).

Last year, he had a great year and played injured. Giving his all, he worked the innings that needed to be done and went out there to battle for every inning. When the war was lost he admitted to his physical deterioration and had surgery.

Rivera says he is ready for opening day. Even if he ISN'T ready, he will not make excuses he will give his all and get the job done as best as he can.

You wonder if A-Rod watches or notices these things.....or is he too wrapped up in himself!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

the state of baseball as I see it

World Baseball Classic is a tournament that seems to be named incorrectly, it is not really the world, it is neither for the whole world, nor really about baseball and it certainly is not a classic.

When you have an event with such a name you hope that the top world talent shows up and can participate. However that doesn’t happen. What teams will want to give up their prize players or even top prospects as they get ready to start the year long battle to win the pennant.

So it is that many of the stars of today are still in Florida.
You may very well ask yourself why we can’t just have this after the season. Yes that would be in November, well because the world really doesn’t care that much and frankly the TV people don’t find it that interesting.

The Yankees and Mets couldn’t figure out how to have a couple of post season games this past year, nor could they have a series of field of dreams games for new York baseball fans. They could have brought back the old mets and yanks of years gone by to play a series of games for charity and to say goodbye to the stadiums…..but nobody REALLY cared that much.

I watched one game in interest the other day. Chinese Taipei vs China…..Blue China vs Red China?

I figured Taipei should have an easy go of it since the Chinese of mainland china have little understanding of baseball. It has turned out that the Chinese baseball team is made up of players who were athletic but not good enough for the other sports. And don’t you remember how Taiwan ALWAYS won the Little League World Series. They had powerful squads with players who might have been ringers but either way, played the game with a tenacity and skill that was to be held in awe.
Obviously the Taipei team of today is not made up of kids who were the winners of those teams, because if they had been they would have at least made a better go of it against the Chinese. Taiwan did not have Chien Ming Wang the Yankee pitcher nor did they have Hong Chih Kuo of the Dodgers. But they lost and were beat WICKED Bad by a guy named Ray Chang……a ringer from the US who plays in the Pirates organization. This is a guy who is in the minors and has hit for an average of 258.
Now if he is just in the minors and he is teeing off on these asian pitchers it makes you think twice about how the scouting reports are on players who come from Asia and are “world beaters.”

Asians take the baseball quite seriously. Korea fields a good team and has good players, so do the Japanese (they actually know what the word team is), and of course the Americans have put together a good team, but one that isn’t quite as star laden as one would expect. Admittedly, if they just took the Yankee or Mets roster they would have had more real all stars.

I suppose until the Europeans really get into baseball there is no such thing as a WORLD baseball classic. Italy had Mike Piazza on their team the last time around and I guess he is a hitting coach on this team. That is nice, however how useful it is would be rather questionable to me.

But then look at what happened with the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is a team heavily made up of major league ALL-Stars. Without having A-Rod on the team (who will be spoken of later) they STILL should have beat the Netherlands like a drum. Some friends have complained that the Netherlands has ringers from the Caribbean, and that is somewhat true. The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) are part of the Netherland Antilles which are part of the kingdom of the Netherlands. So yeah, they belong on the team far more than say Mike Piazza did. And let’s face it, other than Sidney Ponson, and the pitching coach Bert Blyleven, who knew anyone on the Netherlands team?

Well David kicked Goliaths butt, not once but TWICE. It was an exciting game made better by the fact that the WBC did not have that idiotic rule they had last time with the tie break, where you put a guy on base if the game is tied in extra innings (don’t get me started on the idiocy of a MERCY rule in baseball).

Will the win of the Netherlands be a big boost to the credibility of the WBC? I really don’t know. If you looked at the players they seemed excited, but the stands were pretty empty and it was tough going to find the game on TV.

Now to A-Rod
When A-Rod became a New York Yankee it was with fanfare and certain amount of satisfaction that he was not on the Red Sox. In retrospect it might have been better if he had been with the Red Sox.

Many years earlier he had flirted with coming to New York , but to the Mets. The Mets in search of a star player and an identity tried to sign him, but he was just too difficult. He wanted to much, he wanted extra perks that he then denied, but in his behavior with resigning with the Yankees and opting out DURING the World Series one would have to think that they were all true.

A-Rod is that most curious of player. This is a guy who has studied the game to the n-th degree but does not understand it in the slightest. His belief that he is bigger than the team, the league, and the game is almost incomprehensible.

He used steroids for a couple of years because he was “young and stupid.” Let me just say that he is now a little older and just as stupid.

Apparently, we are to believe that he had a cyst on his hip. That hip had bothered him during last season and he played through it. If he were older and wiser would he not have gone to see a physician RIGHT after the last game of the season? Then he could have had surgery and rehabbed it in the off season and gotten better?
Didn’t Tiger Woods, win a championship on a damaged knee, and then after he finished had surgery and started working on things? Doesn’t that seem normal?

Not to A-Rod, who apparently thinks that he should show up to spring training deal with the steroids issue that he somehow thought would go away after reading a prepared statement that mind you, he should have at least looked at a couple of times BEFORE reading it to the press, and then say his hip hurts and he will need surgery.

The doctor said it was a successful surgery. The only way that surgery was successful was if they found his brains in his ass.

Lang Lang Bangs again....

I got a phone call a couple of weeks ago about how wonderful this asian pianist was. He had heard Bang Bang play with the Vienna Phil with Zubin Mehta conducting.

Let us not forget that though beautiful the chopin 2nd piano concerto is no deep well of musical thought.

Lang Lang should be able to get through the piece without problem, if in fact he has the technique that everyone says he possesses. Truthfully he does not have much of a technique and the following snippet from the New York Times review should illustrate that:

"The orchestra’s tone was among the most attractive attributes of the Chopin concerto too, but interpretively, it was a puzzle. Lang Lang was the soloist, and it was presumably at his behest that Mr. Mehta led the introduction at a needlessly breathless clip.

Mr. Lang’s own contribution ranged from a dreamy facsimile of poetry (and occasionally the real thing) to grandstanding assertiveness. He dropped plenty of notes along the way, particularly in the finale, but after the concerto he scooped those up and threw them into his encore, a blustery account of Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat (Op. 53).

That was appalling: in the usually restrained E major section (it’s marked sotto voce), Mr. Lang bounced on the piano bench as if he were riding a pony. And he pummeled the work’s louder, more ebullient passages as if the score had somehow taken human form and kicked his dog. The standing ovation he received must have been meant to acknowledge the sheer audacity of the performance rather than its musicality."

My friend was bowled over by the person, the emotion of the moment, and indeed by the theatrics. Unfortunately, this does not serve the music, or the audience. Just Bang Bang himself

So I have one thing to say, Bang Bang, go play with yourself.....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Luciano Pavarotti, opera singer

There is no doubt that Pavarotti was one of the greatest singers in recorded history, and certainly one of the greatest that I have been fortunate enough to see in live performance. Growing up as I did in the NY area, I went to the opera quite a lot with my mother from a very early age (I saw my first opera at the Met when I was 6 years old). I still remember vividly seeing Pavarotti perform the role of Cavaradossi in Tosca. Since Tosca is such a staple of the repertory, I think I must have seen it at least 15 or 20 times since then -- and many times with famous singers cast in the title roles. I have not seen anyone who could hold a candle to Pavarotti's entrance in Act I, singing with his back to the audience, and projecting effortlessly through the huge hall at the Met as if it was nothing at all.

Pavarotti was a vocal phenomenon -- he had an unmistakable, instantly recognisable voice. He was incredibly charismatic on stage. This is NOT to say that he was compelling in his interpretations of roles -- frankly, he didn't bother acting at all, but that didn't matter. What mattered was his incredible, clear tone and seemingly effortless power. (One wonders whether what opera houses today, with their bias towards trendy new productions with costumes designed by big names from the fashion industry, would have done with Pavarotti, who grew fatter and fatter with each passing year and blatantly refused to act out roles.)

That said, Pavarotti was a singer, NOT a musician. This was a man who (if we're honest) could barely read music, and often forgot notes and words of arias he had sung hundreds of times before. This is why, when his voice started to decline, he continued to try to belt out the same old arias and (god help us) Neapolitan songs again and again, if not to his embarrassment, then to the embarrassment on his behalf of those of us who remembered what he had been able to accomplish years before. (Not to mention the lip-synching incidents, one of which led to him being "banned" from the Met roster for a period of time.) This put him in strict contrast with Domingo, a consummate musician who has used his ability, drive and intelligence to reinvent himself more than once over his very long career.

It is unfortunate that most people only know Pavarotti from the ridiculous "Three Tenors" concerts. (Calling them concerts is a stretch - they were more like one big media circus.) These concerts captured him at the end of his career, when he was well on his way to becoming a caricature of himself. Recordings from the 1970s and 1980s, such as the clip above, show him in full voice and serve his memory much better.

I did not know him personally, but in addition to the wonderful clip of him recounting embarrassing moments, I think this clip from a series of televised masterclasses in the 1970s shows him at his best. Here he is instructing a young American mezzo soprano, Suzanne Mentzer, who has gone on to have a wonderful career in her own right. As you will see, she gives an outstanding performance, which he has absolutely no trouble acknowledging. (Those of us who have performed in masterclasses before famous musicians know that the lack of ego this demonstrates is truly unusual!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

there is a god.....

There is a joke about the viola....okay, there are a LOT of jokes about the viola. but here is the one that pertains to this item:

What is the best recording of the Walton Viola Concerto?


When Yuri Bashmet, one of the leading violists of the present day, showed up on stage and this happened, I thought, this is really how all viola recitals should begin. Tune up, instrument explodes. Luckily he did not get injured, however, it must be a sign from the heavens...don't you think?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NY Baseball report.....the first of many

now that A-Rod has informed the world that he has been using the juice, we now have to deal with the fallout. A-Rod being the little baby that he is, will have problems dealing with the media, with the circus, with Madonna, with living up to his contract.

So I say that the Yankees need to go for broke. They need to bring in Manny Ramirez.

How much is it going to cost them to have Manny in the outfield. If King George were an earlier incarnation, and not the MADNESS of King George, Manny would have a contract for 5 years at 25 million already.

Why do you want Manny in the outfield? Well, here is a guy who can play under pressure. He can flat out hit, carry a team and deal with the media. He doesn't care about much. Note, that this is the total opposite of A-Rod. With Manny in the line up, A-Rod will hit a lot better. Ask Big Papi how much he misses Manny right about now.

You should have him, just to irritate the Red Sox fans, just so that when he goes to Fenway, they can throw stuff at him and he can go and pee on the big green monster.

Let's face it, this year with the new stadium, with all the crazy new characters in the NEW Yankee stadium, A-Roid Central....why don't the yanks go the full nine innings and have TRUE Bronx zoo?

The Mets? That is an entirely different story. No lead will ever be safe in a game until the game is over, no lead will be safe in the division until the season is over. They will look over their shoulders every pitch while the hope K-Rod finishes each game and look up to the heavens.

Which first baseman will show up for the mets? The Carlos Delgado that took the field the first half of the season, or the Carlos Delgado who was the MVP of the second half?

Which old player will the mets try to sign in order to show that they have a soft spot for the elderly and decrepit? They had Julio Franco, El Duque, Tom Glavine, and MOises Alou. don't remind me of the time they signed Frank Tanana in 1993. Signing a man who pitched in the 90's in the 70's but only in the 70's in the 90's.

I heard that Oil Can Boyd wants a try out.....are you listening Omar?

Sunday, February 15, 2009


The masterclass is that event where the student gets out on stage to be torn apart by an established master in front of an audience. One can liken it to christians being fed to the lions in front of the Roman masses.

In this instance Alfredo Kraus helps a poor tenor, however is compelled to demonstrate:

The single worst operatic masterclasses I have seen are the ones given by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. This of course is the woman who when asked what were here Desert Island Discs, picked ten of her own recordings. She would pick on students regarding their pronounciation and the point where not a single note would go by and nothing was actually gleaned from the coaching, except perhaps a hatred for the older generation.

It takes a certain set of brass balls to get up and sing Casta Diva for Maria Callas. For someone who was supposed to be tempermental she is remarkably nice to these kids.

before there were three

Being opera lovers, people tend to come up to the both of us and profess their love for opera. When pressed for more details, they usually get to the point where they say, they love that Nessun Dorma song.....

Yup, everything you ever thought you wanted to know about opera summed up in a 90 minute concert broadcast on PBS. Is that opera, is that even singing for that matter.

Pavarotti is perhaps the most famous of the three tenors, he of the large size, but of the wonderous voice. Domingo was the more intellectual and more studied artist and performer And I quote Seinfeld when I call Jose Carreras as "the other guy."

there was somthing much more electric about Pavarotti. His voice had a sparkle and a gleam that was far greater than all the other singers of his generation. He had power, grace and elegance in his voice. IT was not for nothing that Karajan picked Pavarotti to perform the Verdi REquiem with him.

It is both a blessing and a pity that he got so famous. He did bring opera to the masses (lot of good that has done) but it took him away from true opera. The stadium concert amounts to little more than an event with some screaming.

We can be sure that he did not take himself that seriously.

but if you simply must listen to him sing NEssun Dorma, please listen to this version when he was still a singer and not just a celebrity:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Zino Francescatti

Amongst the youngsters of today, many violinists of the old days are considered weak and incapable of holding the jockstraps of the present day violinists, when in reality the opposite applies.

I have been told by many a student how great Maxim Vengerov is and that he has perhaps the best technique ever.

In my humble opinion the violinist with the greatest technique is NOT anyone of today. The greatest is up for debate, but there may not be a violinist who ever was able to mix technique with ease.

ZINO FRANCESCATTI. Zino was the product of two violinists. His father was a violinist and his mother was also a violinist. His mother had been his fathers student, so he took lessons from his father and his fathers assistant......his father had a unique pedigree, he had studied with Camille Sivori who had been Paganini's only true student.

Listening to Francescatti play Paganini is indeed a revelation. There is a live recital from the library of congress that is unreal.

This film of Francescatti playing Bazzini's La Ronde des Lutins gives you an idea of the balls on this guy. He plays it with such ease and musicality that you want to punch him, and when he finishs he looks like it is no big deal, and just has to fix the lapel on his tail coat.


and just to prove to you that it is indeed far better than vengerov.....

a note to all of you boys and girls....making faces does not make you play better

Itzhak Perlman on NYC

The violinist I identified with the most as a student was surprisingly Itzhak Perlman. In the 70's and the 80's he was the biggest violinist that there was.

Perlman is a New York guy....everything he says about the city is spot on. Of course he is a Mets fan, his old pianist Samuel Sanders was a Yankee fan.

But when Itzhak Perlman does a promo for the city of New York and makes fun of the Knicks, you know the team is in trouble.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

the show doesn't always need to go on.....

There is an old saying..."the show must go on." It is often recited as being in the best traditions of the stage, but in reality it is not the case.

This singer was on meds and went on ANYWAY. I will give her the benefit of the doubt that they could not find a substitute....however no performance would have been better and would have resulted in fewer views on youtube.

Medication is NEVER a good thing when you have to go on stage. Playing in pain, will at least tell you when to stop......

playing drunk? That is a story for a different day

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Here we have two pianists. Both are famous, both have cult followings, however Lang Lang, or as I prefer to call him BANG BANG, has reached into that stratosphere of musical celebrity reserved for the Beatles and the such.

Why? Honestly, I am not quite certain. Lang Lang as a pianist reminds me of the very worst of Horowitz. The large drops in volume, the excessive portamento, the extreme velocity and the extreme BANGING. Mind you, Horowitz went through this after having his own personal demons and issues. When Horowitz came through this in the mid 1980's he was a completely different pianist as well....satisfied to let his incredible gifts serve the smallest of musical pieces...indeed pieces that a talented amateur could play

One thing Horowitz never did was ape for the public or the camera.

Kissen is another matter....this is a strange man but with a power and ability at the piano that makes one wonder what deal he has made to play so cleanly. I heard him live in New York at Carnegie Hall and was astonished by the musical display. The critics were not happy with the program, thinking that it was too simple but he made up for it in the dynamic power and the demonic encores.

Bang Bang never quite gets to all the notes nor does he quite get to the music in the really hard technical pieces, whereas Kissen plays them so well and effortlessly, that he almost makes you forget how trully difficult these things all are!

These two videos will illustrate the difference:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Hello, we are Sir Arthur and Mr Spiggott. The aim of this blog is to NOT ONLY talk about classical music, BUT ALSO talk about sports.

As sometimes former musicians, we both enjoy classical music immensely and find that the public, rightly or wrongly...possibly both, has let too many horrid performers become well paid and culturally important.

This blog will be rife with anecdotes about the working musician and his struggle against the world, special guest writers from the world of classical music, news about the arts, and through the use of modern technology, we will endeavor to compare, point out, and rail against what amounts to poor taste in today's classical music scene.

In regards to sports, Sir Arthur is a Mets fan, and Mr Spiggott is a Yankee fan, so our mutual love for baseball is only rivaled by our hatred for each others team. It might surprise you to know that musicians are great sports fans....I suppose it has to do with the fact that they spend all their lives not being allowed to play sports for fear of hurting their hands and because they end up training in the northeast of the United States, where sports is if not the top religion, places second behind reckless driving and senatorial speculation.