The World Doctors’ Orchestra is an ensemble comprising about 100 full-time international medical professionals who are also part-time musical amateurs. It was founded in 2007 by Stefan Willich, who conducts the orchestra.
They recently performed their second public concert. It was a benefit for the Hugo Tempelman Foundation, which operates the only hospital serving 160,000 residents of Elandsdoorn Township in South Africa, and The Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland.
If you missed the Severance Hall concert, the live audio on Digital WKSU 3, the streaming video at wksu.org, and the delayed broadcast concert on WKSU, you can still view archival video, subscribe to an audio podcast, or download audio recordings of portions of their concert, at this page on wksu.org.
Musical instruments that play themselves are far from new. The barrel organ dates back to the 9th century; a 16th century example is still in use today. Mozart and Haydn composed music especially for the Viennese flute-clock, a mechanized organ favored from about 1720. The music box is a relative latecomer; it dates from the very last years of the 18th century.
What is unusual, though, is machinery that plays an existing instrument. One of the rare examples is the Vorsetzer, developed in the early 20th century. It was a piano player, rather than a player piano. It recorded not the sound of the piano, but rather the movements of the keys and pedals when a virtuoso played the instrument. The reproducing apparatus (the Vorsetzer; literally, "sitter-before") was rolled up to a piano, and it reproduced the actions of the pianist. Assuming a playback piano more or less equivalent to the recording instrument, the result was a performance that (in theory at least) sounded as if the virtuoso were playing for you in your own living room.
While one could certainly argue whether any machine can adequately reproduce the touch of a human pianist, a wind or string instrument is yet another matter.
You might say that musician and instrument are closely coupled. The wind player’s body is literally part of the instrument, the mouth and windpipe acting as a resonating cavity. The shape of the mouth and lips interacts with a flute’s lip plate or embouchure hole, a trumpet’s mouthpiece, or the reed of a clarinet, oboe, or bassoon. In a way, playing a wind instrument has a lot in common with singing — it involves the entire performer, body and mind.
Here we have a machine that holds and plays a clarinet.
But it does not sing.
Understand, I’m not dismissing this accomplishment. Any student who has struggled with a clarinet embouchure will tell you that machinery able to coax a more or less stable tone from a clarinet, be it carbon-based or silicon-based, is a long way from trivial. Even with modern computer control, the device demonstrated below is no mean feat.
Remarkable as it may be, it has a long way to go before the results can be called musical. Over 100 years later, this gadget doesn’t approach the Vorsetzer’s ability to preserve the performer’s interpretive skill and musicanship — at least not yet. Although my left brain is impressed with the technology, my right brain thinks it would rather hear a beginning student play Go Tell Aunt Rhody.
Aaron Copland never called Rodeo ‘Ro-DAY-oh’, as nearly all Classical announcers do (including Yours Truly). He simply called it ‘ROH-dee-oh’, just like the people who go to them. None of this nose-in-the-air as you go strutting down the famous shopping drive in L.A., but plain folks enjoying some distinctly Western-American Cowboy culture.
Why is it that sometimes when Classical music announcers and even aficionados grab hold of something that is down-to-earth like Rodeo from Aaron Copland, do they have to try to raise it from the rest of society, as though now only certain people are allowed to enjoy it? Hmmm.
Cleveland Orchestra Music Director Franz Welser-Most recently sat down with WKSU’s David Roden to discuss the upcoming Blossom season and next weekend’s Severance Hall production of Dvorak’s opera, Rusalka. Look for more on Blossom later – in the meantime, here is Roden’s interview on Rusalka in 6 parts.
I’ve had symphonies leave me just about breathless, but this is the first one that’s threatened to make me dizzy.
Ferdinand Ries was one of Beethoven’s students. Though he’s not too well known in the States, he’s a minor favorite in some of the German-speaking nations. An ad agency, Euro RSCG Zürich, produced this as a promotional piece for the Zürich Chamber Orchestra, using the music and the score from Ries’s second symphony in a surprising and creative way. (Hint: watch the note values as they go by.)