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Seiji Ozawa
Seiji Ozawa

Early in 2010, conductor Seiji Ozawa was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He said he’d take six months off for treatment and then return to conducting.

As it turned out, that objective was a bit optimistic.

Ozawa’s cancer treatment was a success, but when he tried to return to the podium that summer, severe back pain laid him low. Ozawa had to give up his post as music director of the Vienna State Opera (Franz Welser-Möst succeeded him), and cancelled a December 2010 European Tour.

Ozawa underwent surgery for herniated discs in January of 2011; that knocked him out of Carnegie Hall appearances in the spring of 2011. In August of that year, he was able to conduct a performance of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, but fatigue kept him from the tour of China that was to follow. Then in February of 2012, pneumonia struck.

The following month, Ozawa admitted that "I had too much faith in my own physical strength … Even if I didn’t feel anything during performances, once they ended I was always terribly exhausted." His physicians recommended more rest. However, he promised that from spring of this year (2013), he’d resume work "little by little."

As of today (19 February) the prognosis is good: Ozawa has just announced that he’ll conduct at this summer’s Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan. (Ozawa is the festival’s founder and director.) In August, he’ll lead a performance of Ravel’s Les Enfants et les Sortilèges.

Ozawa, who’s 77 this year, is probably best known to American music lovers for his 29 years with the Boston Symphony. Although the later years of that record-breaking tenure were marked by complaints from critics that he’d allowed the orchestra to decline, Ozawa was a well-liked figure in Boston. His fans were often delighted to spot him out and about in his off hours, something Boston music lovers didn’t get much of with his BSO MD successor, James Levine. Ozawa was a Red Sox fan, for example. Levine, not so much.

Here’s hoping that Maestro Ozawa’s physical trials are finally behind him, and that he’ll soon be back to a full conducting schedule.

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Philippe Quint
Philippe Quint
(Arts Management Group)

During the 2005-2006 season, the Akron Symphony was led by candidates for their music director gig. These auditions were all musically satisfying. You’d expect that, since any finalist in such a selection process is going to have pretty good chops.

The October 2005 concert was given a further boost by the presence of a rising young violin soloist. He played Mozart’s Turkish concerto (#5) with a heady level of musicianship and precision.

This impressive fiddler was Philippe Quint. Since then his career has continued to blossom. In 2009, he recorded the Korngold concerto; the CD hit the Billboard classical top 20 in its first week on the market. He’s been nominated for 4 Grammy awards. This month (March 2012) he’ll release a recording of the Mendelssohn and Bruch concertos, and Beethoven’s Romances.

It’s also taken an intriguing new trajectory. Quint has become an actor – at least for one film. He’ll reach the big screen in New York next month (April 2012).

Downtown Express turns on the tension between the tux-and-tails world of the concert hall and the blue jeans attitude of popular music. Philippe Quint plays Sasha, a Russian violinist on scholarship to Julliard. From the time Sasha was a child, his traditional cellist father has been grooming him for a career on the concert stage.

But Sasha finds himself drawn to the gritty, raucous attitudes and rhythms of New York’s downtown music scene. Then he meets Ramona, a bohemian singer-songwriter. Soon he is a part of her band – and her life.

Afraid of his father’s censure, for a time Sasha tries to live both lives, careening between concert violinist and pop fiddler. A crucial recital looms. Which path will he choose?

“I was instantly swept away by this story because it mirrored my life,” says Quint. He was born in Russia and defected to the US as a teenager, to avoid army service in Russia and to study with Juilliard’s Dorothy DeLay.

Many musicians have appeared in films as themselves or as famous virtuosi of the past. However, it’s not at all common for a classical musician to play a fictional character. To prepare for his role, Quint studied with producer and acting coach Sondra Lee.

Downtown Express is based on a true story. It was filmed on location in New York in the summer of 2010. Singer-songwriter Nellie McKay plays Ramona, the street musician. The director is David Grubin and the producer is Michael Hausman (Brokeback Mountain, Gangs of New York, Amadeus).

Does this mean an end to Quint’s concert hall careeer? Not likely, given the success that’s been bringing him. In addition to his CD release, just this year (2012) he’s played concerts in Bochum, Germany; Mons, Belgium; Sofia, Bulgaria; Mexico City; and in Santa Monica, El Paso, Brevard, and Harrisburg. Later this month (March 2012) he’ll head for Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Downtown Express opens on 20 April at the QUAD Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, New York.

Further reading:

Downtown Express (official public website)

Downtown Express at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB)

Downtown Express trailer

Philippe Quint at Arts Management Group

This is an update of an article first published in WKSU Classical on 2 February 2011.

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Edward Elgar circa 1917
Edward Elgar circa 1917
(Wikimedia Commons)

When you think of long-lost manuscripts rediscovered, you probably think of works by Bach or Mozart. Certainly it’s cause for celebration when such an ancient manuscript turns up, since it can give musicologists insight into the composer’s original ideas about the piece.

But such discoveries are rare. Let’s face it – in those days, most composers were writing for the moment. They didn’t consider the possibility that their works would outlive them. If they kept their manuscripts, it was mostly for reference.

Bach and Handel, for example, saved their manuscripts so they could recycle from them. They often lifted entire movements from those earlier works to adapt for their present needs. Handel’s Messiah contains sections of his Italian operas. Bach’s concertos draw on movements from his cantatas (and vice versa).

You’d think that by the 20th century composers would have realized that they might be writing for the ages, and would have learned to be more careful with their originals. Still, they clearly placed more value on some works than others. It’s not too surprising that a composer might not think a short work written for a special occasion would be of much interest beyond that day. And in fact it appears that Edward Elgar wasn’t too careful with the original manuscript of just such a work .

That manuscript turned up just this past Tuesday (14 February 2012) in Leicestershire, after being lost for over half a century.

It’s a work for carillon (church bells, usually mechanized and played with a keyboard, but sometimes played entirely manually). Edward Elgar composed it for the 1923 opening of the Carillon Tower in Queen’s Park, Loughborough, which was built as a memorial to the fallen in the first world war. Although copies of the manuscript have been known for some time, the original was thought to have been lost.

But on Tuesday staff at Charnwood Borough Council were cleaning and reorganizing a secure room, and they found a dusty old folder. It contained the original hand-written score for Carillon Chimes. They also stumbled across several letters from Elgar, and a film which may be footage of the tower’s opening. The items had been donated to the Council in the 1950s, filed away, and forgotten.

The film has been sent for analysis, to determine what it contains and whether it can be restored. As for the music itself, maybe this will bring new attention to a composition nearly forgotten.

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Hallelujah Chorus Manuscript
Hallelujah Chorus Manuscript
(British Library)

Most years at least one of the major Northeast Ohio orchestras – the Cleveland Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, the Akron Symphony Orchesta, or the Canton Symphony – slates a November or December performance of Handel’s beloved oratorio, Messiah. This year (2011), though, none of them has programmed that famous oratorio. Nevertheless, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to hear it.

Ross Duffin’s chorus, Quire Cleveland, is offering a Messiah performance as part of the Chagrin Valley Chamber Music Concert Series. They’ll sing with conductor Michael Gelfand and the Cleveland Virtuosi. Soloists: Dorota Sobieska, Lara Nie, Daniel Doty, and Brian Keith Johnson. It’s Saturday 3 December, 7:30pm, at Valley Lutheran Church, 87 East Orange Street, Chagrin Falls.

Orrville Community Chorus will present their 68th annual reading of Messiah on 4 December at 7pm. It’ll be performed at Central Christian School, 3970 Kidron Road, Kidron. The chorus and soloists will be accompanied by a 12-member chamber orchestra and piano.

This year’s will be the Cleveland Messiah Chorus‘s 90th performance of Handel’s famed oratorio. Virginia Wieland-Mast will conduct at Grace Lutheran Church, 13001 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights. It’s Sunday, 27 November, 7pm. As with public radio, the admission is free, but they’ll gladly accept your monetary offering.

Various area churches will present programs including excerpts and, in some cases, substantial portions of Messiah.

Some of them even invite you to join in. One such reading will be on 27 November, when Canton’s Christ Presbyterian Church, 530 West Tuscarawas Street, will offer their 3rd annual Messiah singalong. If you’ve sung Messiah, or if you’re a good sight-singer, you can take your score along and add your own voice. If you’d rather just listen, you can discover the heady feeling of immersing yourself completely in Handel’s music.

On 11 December at 5pm, Samuel Gordon will lead First Congregational Church’s Festival Choir, Singers Companye, and a chamber orchestra in Part One (the Nativity sequence) of Handel’s Messiah. First Congregational is located at 292 E Market St, Akron.

If you don’t mind a bit of a hike, the Cincinnati Symphony and May Festival Chorus will offer Messiah on the 18th of December at 2pm. It’s at Cincinnati Music Hall, 1241 Elm St. The Toledo Symphony‘s reading will be at 8pm on the 3rd and 4th of December, at Peristyle Theater, 2445 Monroe Street. The Dayton Philharmonic‘s is set for Sunday 11 December at 4pm, at Dayton’s Westminster Presbyterian Church.

One of the more intriguing Messiah performances this year is the one being assembled by the Pittsburgh Symphony and Mendelssohn Choir. This dramatization of the work reportedly de-emphasizes the three sections’ religious interpretations – Nativity, Passion, and Resurrection – and re-imagines them as eras in American history – the 1950s, the present, and the years round the turn of the 20th century. PSO music director Manfred Honeck will conduct. As in an opera, soloists Laura Heimes, Lindsay Ammann, William Ferguson, and Philip Cutlip will be costumed on a set stage, and the orchestra will play from the pit. Performances are on 2, 3, and 4 December.

Know of a Messiah performance that I’ve missed? Add it in the comments below!

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If you’re a book geek and library lover, you’d be in heaven in an orchestra’s library. It’s scores by the score (and parts too), on shelf after shelf.

The accumulated musical thoughts of the centuries are simultaneously inspiring and sobering. They also have an alluring aroma all their own. It’s as good as (but a bit different from) what you breathe in when you prowl the stacks of a good, well established public library.

Somebody has to take care of all that wisdom. Go to the website of any orchestra, large or small, and check out their list of musicians. Somewhere in there, among the violists and horn players, you’ll find a category for librarians.

Orchestra librarians are the folks who look after all these semibreves, crochets, and quavers (whole notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes).

But their job isn’t just handing parts out before rehearsals begin, and collecting them after the concert. Orchestra librarians have crucial behind-the-scenes roles before rehearsal can even begin. Here’s one example from the San Diego Symphony – complete with "bad attitude."

Courtesy of NBC San Diego

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