Ode To Joy: Part 4 of the Online Learning Guide to Beethoven

Beethoven’s last creative period, often referred to as the mature period, commenced in 1815 and lasted until his death in 1827.  Beethoven’s previous “heroic” period, which roughly coincided with the rise and fall of Napolean, was an extremely productive period in his life.  The majority of his larger works, particularly his symphonies, were composed during the heroic period.  Although Beethoven’s compositional output during this final phase dropped considerably, the compositions during this period are generally larger in scale, deeper in emotional content, and more harmonically adventurous and avant-garde than compositions produced during earlier periods.  These final phase compositions more strongly foreshadowed the Romantic Era than those of earlier years.

Beethoven’s final years were difficult for a variety of reasons.  Although he began to experience hearing loss as early as the late 1790’s, he was profoundly deaf by 1815.  His ability to publicly perform greatly diminished over the years as a result of this hearing loss.  Beethoven began relying on ear trumpets designed by his friend, the Viennese inventor Johann Maelzel, in order to maintain some degree of speech recognition.

Beethoven’s ear trumpets

Beethoven’s ear trumpets

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The Immortal Beloved: Part 3 of the Online Learning Guide to Beethoven

Beethoven, after coming to terms with his failing hearing, entered an extremely fruitful and productive phase in his career, otherwise known as the “Heroic” period.  After his return from Heiligenstadt, a notable pupil, Carl Czerny, recalls Beethoven exclaiming:

I am not satisfied with the work I have done so far.  From now on I intend to take a new way.”

This middle period, spanning 1803-1815, is characterized by a high level of musical maturity.  Works from this period are generally larger in scale, longer in duration, and overall more complex when compared to prior works.  Notable works from this period include his only opera, an oratorio, a mass, six symphonies (Symphonies 3-8), four concertos, five string quartets, three trios, three string sonatas, six piano sonatas and numerous other miscellaneous works. This middle “Heroic” phase roughly coincides with the rise and fall of Napoleon.

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1804

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1804

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Heiligenstadt: Part 2 of the Online Learning Guide to Beethoven

Beethoven permanently established himself in Vienna in late 1792, at the age of 22.  Shortly after his arrival, Beethoven learned his father had died in Bonn. Undoubtedly, this news generated mixed emotions.  Although Johann van Beethoven had been relatively forgotten in Bonn at the time of his death, Beethoven’s Bonn patron, Archduke Maximilian Franz marked the occasion by noting that “the revenues of the liquor excise have suffered a loss.”   Beethoven opted to not return for his father’s funeral.

Beethoven spent a great deal of time during his early years in Vienna focusing on his compositional studies.  Vienna was the center of the musical world at that time, which may have been partly due to its relatively central geography. Vienna is physically located between Italy and Germany, which made it an ideal crossroad for a blending of Italian lyricism and German counterpoint.  Vienna in the late 18th and early 19th century was an incredibly fertile environment, full of rich opportunities for musicians and composers.   Members of the ruling Hapsburg monarchy were ardent patrons of the arts.  Vienna contained a multitude of wealthy aristocrats that were willing and able to lend assistance to promising new talent such as Beethoven.  Unquestionably, he was delighted to encounter such a large number of professional, semi-professional, and amateur musicians at his disposal.

Schönbrunn palace in Vienna, summer residence of the Hapsburg monarchy

Schönbrunn palace in Vienna, summer residence of the Hapsburg monarchy

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From Bonn to Vienna: Part 1 of the Online Learning Guide to Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and influential composers of all time.  Historians generally regard him as the culmination of the Classical Era (1750-1830).   In fact, scholars frequently delineate the end of the Classical Era and the beginning of the Romantic Era with Beethoven’s death in 1827.  His works are considered among the finest of the classical repertoire.

Perhaps his best-known works are his nine monumental symphonies, which set a new standard for symphonic composition and are widely regarded as the cornerstone of orchestral literature.  Indeed, numerous composers throughout the 19th century were too intimidated to compose a symphony because of Beethoven’s supreme legacy.  For example, Johannes Brahms, born five years after Beethoven’s death, was widely regarded as the embodiment of German Romanticism.  He would spend his life in Beethoven’s shadow, and would not publish a symphony until well into his forties for fear of being perceived as woefully inferior to Beethoven.

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音楽 and 食べ物 with Fumiaki Miura

Konnichiwa! Hello in Japanese. Beyond that, I know how to say “arigatou gozaimasu,” which is a polite form of “Thank you,” and “Nihongo de hanashimasen,” which means, “I don’t speak Japanese.” (In the title are the words ongaku (music) and tabemono (food) which I had to look up.)


When I called guest violinst Fumiaki Miura, he was very impressed by the three Japanese phrases I know. Then again, it was really early in the morning in Japan, and maybe he was too tired to notice how badly I pronounced them.

Fumiaki is returning to Utah to play Camille Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3. He made his U.S. and Utah Symphony debut in 2012, playing Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy,” and we are very excited to have him back. I was lucky enough to see him play at his debut, but I never thought I would get to interview him. Fumiaki is only 21 years old, and he has been playing the violin since he was three. Even over the phone and over 5,506 miles, I could tell how much he adores playing the violin.


Fumiaki Miura

Fumiaki Miura

USUO: We are very excited that you are coming back to Utah. When are you arriving?
Fumiaki: I am arriving on the 19th. Quite late. I am flying from Tokyo, first to San Francisco and then I change planes. I will arrive at about 11 p.m. Last time I also arrived late. I came from Vienna last time.

USUO: What did you do last time you were here that you are excited to do again?
Fumiaki: My last time there I visited different shops and stores that I want to go to again. Also I visited a violin maker there, where the young people are studying to make violins. I would like to visit them again. It was quite wonderful. And I am interesting in buying an instrument, as well.

USUO: Is there something new you want to do here in Salt Lake?
Fumiaki: I have to think about it once I get there, but I want to visit many restaurants. Any recommendations?
USUO: Oh, um, on the spot. Of course, my brain goes blank.
Fumiaki: That is okay. I really love to eat, so I have to find a nice restaurant to go to while I am there.

USUO: What is your favorite American food?
Fumiaki: I love meat, so I love steaks and pork and burgers. And fries. I love fries. I like all these foods.

(I sent him a tweet with a few recommendations after I was able to think properly.)

USUO: If someone were to travel to Japan, what is the one food dish they must eat?
Fumiaki: People think in Japan, that sushi is the best; they are right, but there are other good things, different kinds of Japanese cuisine like tonkatsu. It is made of cooked meat. You fry the meat, basically, and usually it is pork, but sometimes it’s beef, also. It’s very tasty. Tonkatsu is very thin in Europe, but in Japan it is thicker. And also, I like to also recommend, curry on rice. It is Indian food, but it is popular in our culture. It’s spicy. In Japan, there are a lot of different curries, but I don’t think people know that.


Tonkatsu, recommended by Fumiaki Miura

USUO: What is your favorite drink?
Fumiaki: Before I could not drink in Utah, I was 19. Now I can drink everywhere. But my favorite drink in general is Coke. I love cola very much. And also an iced coffee.

USUO: I love Japanese rock music. Alice Nine, The GazettE, Dir en grey.
Fumiaki: Really? You know them? That is very cool.
USUO: Do you have time to listen to other music than classical?
Fumiaki: I listen to different music also, basically I love classical, of course, but I know the popular groups, and somehow I started listening to old songs from like the 1990s. Also, I love beautiful, traditional Japanese songs. We call them enka; it’s a beautiful Japanese traditional songs. If you google it,  you can find it. It is very special. I’d say sometimes they can be very heavy, also, but it’s a  beautiful melody.

USUO: I discovered that you were in the mock-umentary movie, “Noseland.” Can you talk about filming it?
Fumiaki: *laughs* I think now it will be on DVD . This is a movie actually about a  classical musician’s life. They made some funny interviews, but also some serious things. My teacher and mentor, Julian Rachlin, is a wonderful musician, violinist, violist, and conductor; he took this idea to do this different kinds of funny things when he was running a music festival at Croatia where you can see the beautiful sea. I was there twice. It was a fun time, but in the movie, they used the music from the festival, so it’s very nice.


Movie poster from Noseland with Fumiaki Miura’s teacher, Julian Rachlin

USUO: Let’s talk about the piece that you will be playing this weekend. What do you like most about Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto No. 3?
Fumiaki: For me, it’s beautiful music. Simply beautiful. Quite violin-istic. Technically it is also, well, it’s quite hard sometimes, but I think it’s good. People sometimes think this concerto is a bit rough, but the harmonies are great and there is great orchestration. It’s written very well. This is one of the pieces I learned in my early age. For the first time, I played this when I was 11 or 12. I studied this concerto hard, and I learned a lot with my teacher and my mother. The second movement is unbelievable. I’ve played it so many times. I am excited to play it with the Utah Symphony. And I will play it again next year in Japan with Maestro Fischer, where he was principal conductor and he’s coming back next season to conduct. I am happy to play with him in Japan.

USUO: I have spent the last couple days watching YouTube videos of you playing. It always seems like you’re enjoying every piece you play. Is there a piece that is your favorite?
Fumiaki: There are some nice pieces for violinists. It is hard for me to decide. I love many. When I must pick a concerto, I always pick Shostakovich or Prokofiev. It’s difficult to pick. But then again, I love Beethoven and Brahams, and I also ask for Saint-Saëns, and sometimes Mendelssohn.


USUO: You obviously love playing the violin, but are there any other instruments that you play?
Fumiaki: I play the viola also. I really enjoy it. I’m completely influenced by my teacher because he’s always pushing me to study. I started about two years ago, and now I’m practicing more and learning concertos. I am playing Penderecki’s Concerto for Violin and Viola on the viola in January. It is a duet and I will be on viola. I am very excited. It is also very hard when I started to learn the keys. It’s a different key than the violin. Once you understand it is easier, but it takes time.

USUO: Thank you so much for talking with me today. I appreciate your time, and I am so excited to see you play next weekend.
Fumiaki: Yes, yes, thank you! I am really looking forward to next weekend, also.

As much as I wished I to talk to Fumiaki all day long, I had to let him go. He’s a delight to speak with and a delight to watch play the violin. In a recent Salt Lake Tribune article, Fumiaki said of his last visit to Utah, “I really loved the orchestra and the concert hall — I remember everything very clearly. The audience was so nice, it was amazing.” Let’s not disappoint him as an audience and give him even better memories this time around.

For more information about this weekend’s concert, go here.

Mahler Memories: Tom Baron

Our Mahler Memories Series provides highlights from oral histories of Utah Symphony musicians who played under Maestro Maurice Abravanel. During interviews conducted during the 2014-15 season, these musicians recalled their days making music with Maestro Abravanel , especially during the period of recording the Mahler symphonies. The complete oral histories will be archived in the McKay Music Library in the school of Music at the University of Utah.

TOM BARON: Utah Symphony violinist, 1968-present (44 years so far)

Tom Baron

Tom Baron
Utah Symphony violinist
1968-present (44 years so far)












Abravanel recordings & performances

Abravanel was not one to placate us in any way. He would not cut anyone any non-professional slack. We did beautiful work with him. He demanded it and he got it from us, and we didn’t know how. We’d listen to those CDs later and say “Is that us?” We never could figure it out. He was in touch with something that collectively we would feel. The performance was quite often different from what we had rehearsed. It would be a certain way, and when it started moving in a little different direction, he would let it go. And it would build. We would play better than we should have been able to, and then we’d see five thousand people standing up applauding us in the Tabernacle. We would look around, thinking, “What happened?”  Something was in this room, something was here with us. Something incredibly special would happen, and it happened a lot with him. It really bonded us in those days. It was incredible.


The orchestra blend

I’m one of the few people who just loves to play in an orchestra. I learned a lot from Maestro Abravanel. I learned there’s great beauty even if no one else hears you, because then you’re blending, you’re contributing to this overall sound, you’re making your contribution.

Abravanel, a mentor to young musicians

He left his mark on us, whether we liked it or not, he was a formative influence for all of us. We were better people for having known him, guaranteed, 100%.


Highlights from an oral history interview conducted on October 13, 2014 in the Abravanel Studio of the McKay Music Library.

Stay tuned for more Mahler Memories.

Mahler Memories: Carolee Baron

Our Mahler Memories Series provides highlights from oral histories of Utah Symphony musicians who played under Maestro Maurice Abravanel. During interviews conducted during the 2014-15 season, these musicians recalled their days making music with Maestro Abravanel , especially during the period of recording the Mahler symphonies. The complete oral histories will be archived in the McKay Music Library in the school of Music at the University of Utah.

CAROLEE BARON: Utah Symphony cellist, 1968-2012 (44 years)

Carolee Baron

Carolee Baron
Utah Symphony cellist
1968-2012 (44 years)













New to Mahler

[Abravanel] called to tell me that I was in the orchestra and then he said there was a tour that summer. There was no summer season, just an extra thing that they had added—a five day tour to the west coast. And we were going to be playing Mahler 2nd and Mahler 4th. I was 17, and I was about this close to saying, “Who’s Mahler?” because I did not know who Mahler was. But some little thing in the back of my head (thank you, thank you) said “Don’t ask that.”


Playing Mahler’s 2nd Symphony for the first time

It was the Mahler 2nd , the “Resurrection Symphony,” and I have always remembered this, because [Abravanel] could tell a story that brought everyone’s focus to the same place. We were playing in a rehearsal for the performance, and he was talking about the moment when the choir comes in (after 3 movements of just orchestra). It is a very soft moment. He said, “At this point is the entire crux of Christianity. It is not a huge angel chorus, it’s not a full orchestra and trumpets blaring and harps and everything else, it is only the chorus. It is sopranos to basses, it is the human voice, and it is the one German word which means  ‘rise up’ and it is God speaking to his son, one on one, nothing spectacular. Very quiet. Very simple. ‘Rise up.’”  [Abravanel] said, “Upon this moment is built all of Christianity.” There are moments like that, when someone brings you to a focal point. Abravanel did that quite often.


Abravanel lets go but keeps everything together

We were at an age in our late teens to mid-twenties where that kind of thing (having a mentor like Abravanel) impacts you. That kind of a person guiding you can just make all the difference in the world. Like I said, I didn’t know who Mahler was, and we did quite a bit of Mahler. It was like this gate opening into this gorgeous garden – or I think about it as somebody who lives their whole life in Kansas, and is suddenly plunked down in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. That’s kind of what Mahler was.  He (Abravanel) had a way, especially with Mahler; he knew just how much to let it go. It is kind of like the human spirit – you cannot confine it in a box. He knew just how to let it go, and yet keep it all together.


An earthquake in rehearsal

We were in a rehearsal with full orchestra and the full chorus. And we had an earthquake. I felt this odd feeling in my feet. And I looked up and all of a sudden the chandelier started to swing. A couple of the basses just went right out the door, and Abravanel wasn’t through yet. He was almost out of time; we were getting ready to go and he kept saying “Quiet, quiet!  I’m not through. I’m not through.” Ardean was sitting behind him and leaned forward and said, “Maestro, I believe we are having an earthquake.”  And [Abravanel] said, “I’m not through! I still have things to say!”


We’ve all said, those of us who played under him, it’s kind of like we have his blood in us. We have Abravanel blood.


Highlights from an oral history interview conducted on October 13, 2014 in the Abravanel Studio of the McKay Music Library.


Mahler Memories: Julia Lawrence

Our Mahler Memories Series provides highlights from oral histories of Utah Symphony musicians who played under Maestro Maurice Abravanel. During interviews conducted during the 2014-15 season, these musicians recalled their days making music with Maestro Abravanel , especially during the period of recording the Mahler symphonies. The complete oral histories will be archived in the McKay Music Library in the school of Music at the University of Utah.

JULIA LAWRENCE: Utah Symphony violist, 1965-2011 (45 years)


Julia Lawrence

Julia Lawrence
Utah Symphony violist
1965-2011 (45 years)

Abravanel introduced his musicians to Mahler

I’m not sure I had ever heard of Mahler before I got into the symphony. Probably I had heard his name in my music history classes, but I’m sure I had never played anything by Mahler before I got into the orchestra.

Mahler symphonies are challenging for the musicians

[Playing] Mahler was hard because [the music] was so elastic. The meters change, the tempos change suddenly, and the notes were hard—it was all over the place. It was really challenging.

Mahler symphonies

I played in performances of the First and Second Symphonies a lot. It was obvious that [Abravanel] loved this music, and that love was contagious. He had a great way of communicating his feelings about all of this music.


Highlights from an oral history interview conducted on October 13, 2014 in the Abravanel Studio of the McKay Music Library.

Stay tuned for more Mahler Memories.

Together In Harmony: Q&A with Ilan Volkov and Marc-André Hamelin

We have two guests joining the Utah Symphony this weekend: Ilan Volkov will be conducting and Marc-André Hamelin will be playing the piano. Since they are performing side-by-side, I decided to post their Q&As side-by-side. Their answers reveal a partnership that both are eager to represent and strengthen this weekend at Abravanel Hall.

Ilan Volkov, Conductor Marc-André Hamelin, Piano

Ilan Volkov

Ilan Volkov

Marc-Andre Hamelin

Marc-Andre Hamelin

Have you been to Utah before?
Nope. I’m excited about it.
Have you been to Utah before?
I was in Provo in the early part of the year. I’ve been to Salt Lake City twice already. One was with the symphony. It’s been 10 or 11 years ago.
Will you have time to sight-see while you are here?
I hope so. I have a few other projects. Hopefully during the coming days I should be able to over the next couple days before rehearsal’s start.
Will you have time to sight-see while you are here?
I hope so. I have 2 concerts, so it gives me more time to do that. Usually when you come in for a recital, you’re there barely 48 hours and you don’t have time. You have to concentrate as much as possible, and only have practice time.
What are you looking forward to most in Utah?
I am excited to experience a new orchestra. You never know how it’s going to go when you don’t know anyone there, and it’ll be exciting to work with them. I am also looking forward to the contrast between the old pieces and Bartók pieces.
What are you looking forward to most in Utah?
I haven’t been there beyond Provo for a long time, but I have simple pleasures. I don’t do sports beyond walking, and I like to walk and look around places. I will do that. To me that’s sufficient. If I have an umbrella, it doesn’t bother me to walk in the rain. I will probably do that today, in Vancouver.
Marc-André Hamelin will be on the piano this evening playing Mozart and Strauss. What do you like about having a soloist play along with the orchestra?
It really inspires everyone in the room. It changes the way the orchestra is listening and playing, and that happens during the first rehearsal. One of the pieces we’re playing, I’ve done with Marc before. The Strauss Burleske. We recorded it back then, and it was the first time I worked with him. This is the second, and it will be exciting to see him again.
You are well known for your recordings. What has been your favorite piece to record?
One of the main projects was doing Stravinsky’s complete orchestra works for piano and orchestra.
You recorded this Strauss piece with Ilan Volkov in the past. He is excited to see you again. What is your experience working with him?
That’s very nice of him. I had a ball at that recording session. I don’t remember the date, four our five years ago. But we got along really superbly. He’s a wonderful musician and a very attentive musical partner. He really did everything possible to have a unified performance. I remember that the sessions were done in complete harmony.
This weekend’s show will be an evening of Bartók . What are your thoughts on Béla Bartók as a composer?
The pieces we doing are interesting because he came from Hungary and it’s folk music, but he moved to the States, and being there changed Bartók’s composition a lot; it changed the way he was writing, and other composers that he encountered had different styles that influenced him. The piece was commissioned by the Boston Symphony. It’s a very special piece because there are many wonderful sections in it and they use the orchestra in different way. The movements are dramatic and short and distilled compared to other symphonies that take twice as long to develop the sounds. It uses both folk and the symphonic form and he uses that through the work.
Of the two pieces you’ll be performing, which do you like more? Mozart/Strauss. What is your favorite piece to play? Why?
I really can’t compare them. The Strauss is an old friend that I have been performing since the 1990s. The Mozart Rondo will be the first time that I have played it. I thought it would be interesting to program because I am taking it on tour next spring. I want to get acquainted with it beforehand. It’s an uncomplicated piece, fresh and wonderful. It’s a piece that the audiences also like. There is another Rondo, in D major, that is often performed and I have played that before, but The A major is a new thing to me.
Traveling around as a guest conductor can make a schedule full, but is there a television show that you absolutely must watch, or that you’re addicted to?
*laughs* That’s a funny question. I’m watching stuff like “True Detectives.” I’m a bit behind though. I don’t watch that much, usually on the plane.
Traveling around as a guest soloist can make a schedule full, but is there a television show that you absolutely must watch, or that you’re addicted to?
No, but over the last few years, I like to buy a DVD set and go through the series. The most recent one was “American Horror Story: Coven.” But I’ve gone through “Heroes,” “Dollhouse,” “True Calling.” I’ve started a series that is largely forgotten, called “Carnivale.” I also went through the first 5 seasons of “The Big Bang Theory.”
Of everywhere you have been, what is the best food you have ever eaten?
That’s a hard one. I’ve lived a lot of places, the most exciting food was in Japan while working there. Especially in Kyoto. You cannot understand what goes on with the food there until you’ve been there.
Of everywhere you have been, what is the best food you have ever eaten?
That’s impossible. I’ve had so many culinary experiences. It seems like that last really good meal always feels like the best food you’ve ever eaten, so it’s unfair to other meals that I’ve ever eaten to pick just one.
What is on your iPod?
*laughs* I actually don’t have one. I’m still old school and still travel with a CD player and CDs. But I’ve tried to stop doing that as well. I listen to so much music at home, so when I’m traveling I listen to less things and try to read more. I have a huge record collection, and when everything went digital with downloading and computers, I decided not to go with it because I would spend even more time on it.
What do you like to read?
Novels usually. Modern or old. I read music books and art books and things like that. I can’t really read as much as I’d like because I have to concentrate on other things.
What is on your iPod?
*laughs* I don’t have one, but my iTunes has about 10-11 days’ worth of music on it. Very experimental and avant garde and electronic sounds, and classical music too. 20-30% of it is classical. It’s very little because I know so much already, when I want to look at a piece I look at the score because I can hear it when I look at it, so I get the recording where there isn’t a score.

I am looking forward to this performance of four works that I have never seen performed live. It will be a wonderful experience watching these two interact with the symphony. For more information about the performance including program notes, artist profiles and the program, go here.

Simple, Yet Not: Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7

The art of writing music and making notes blend into a seamless piece of wonder is beyond my talents. I don’t think I would ever call a symphony “simple.” The word has been used to describe Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 7, which the Utah Symphony will be performing this weekend.

This symphony was the final symphony written by Prokofiev in 1952 (Prokofiev died in 1953). It is often called the “Children’s Symphony” because of Prokofiev’s attempts to keep the music simple and because it was written for the Soviet Children’s Radio Division. He is well known for writing music for children including the score of Peter and the Wolf which the Utah Symphony will be performing in March 2015. There are many places where the notes are fun and simple. There are marches in the first movement and the final movement. And a reoccurring theme in both movements invoke Prokofiev’s fantasy and imagination, well suited for a children’s symphony.

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev

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