WDAV Blog

10 Songs to Add to Your Summer Workout Playlist

By Casey Margerum

Summer is here, and it’s time to get outside and get moving! In partnership with OrthoCarolina, WDAV is ready to be your workout buddy. Our new playlist is bursting with energetic, upbeat, playful pieces that are sure to get your blood flowing!

Jog through Italy with Mendelssohn and jump rope in the English countryside with Vaughan Williams. Race John Adams’ fast machine, row to the golden gates with Curiale, or dance to a summer thunderstorm with Johann Strauss, Jr. No matter your exercise style, you’ll find something on this playlist to energize your workout!

  1. Joseph Curiale: Gates of Gold (I. “Arrival: A View from the Sea”)
  2. John Adams: “Short Ride in a Fast Machine”
  3. Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4, “Italian” (I. “Allegro Vivace”)
  4. Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (II. Larghetto)
  5. W.A. Mozart: Symphony No. 23
  6. Dimitri Kabalevsky: “Overture to Colas Breugnon
  7. Antonin Dvorak: Five Bagatelles (No. 5, “Poco Allegro”)
  8. J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major (III. “Allegro”)
  9. Ralph Vaughan Williams: “English Folk Song Suite”
  10. Johann Strauss, Jr.: “Thunder and Lightning Polka”

Ready to run? Read OrhthoCarolina’s tips for training for your next race.

Composer prodigies: Baby geniuses? Maybe….

By Lawrence Toppman

A New York Times article last month acquainted me with Alma Deutscher, who at 14 has been writing and playing her own work for a decade.

Writer Melissa Eddy tells us, “In December, she will make her debut at Carnegie Hall, where she will play the solo violin and piano in her two concertos, while the orchestra will play selections from her opera (“Cinderella”) and her most recent work, a Viennese waltz. Next month, she will record a retrospective album with Sony of piano melodies she composed, going back to when she was just 4 years old.”

You can learn more at her YouTube channel, where you’ll get complete performances of her violin concerto – it reminded me of Bruch’s first, which also starts with a slow section — and Mendelssohnian piano concerto. She’s an accomplished soloist and polished composer who grounds her music in 19th-century structures, melodies and harmonic patterns.

The headline reads “A Musical Prodigy? Sure, but Don’t Call Her a ‘New Mozart’.“ Yet it’s hard not to.

Like him, she’s Austrian, a native of Vienna. She plays multiple instruments with unusual proficiency. She writes quickly in various genres. And like him, she has public eccentricities: She goes everywhere with a pink jump rope and skips to provoke inspiration. (Sviatoslav Richter, one of the 20th century’s great pianists, could not play near the end of his life unless his red plastic lobster sat atop the piano.)

Would we be so receptive to her story if she were less pleasantly modest, less photogenic, less young? Would these pieces excite the same interest if she were a 28-year-old New Yorker with purple hair and rings through her nose and lips? Never. This old-fashioned music, coming from such a person, would excite mostly scornful comment or be ignored altogether.

We’re taken with Alma Deutscher mostly because she fuels the myth of genius: God’s finger (or Fate, if you prefer) touched this baby and set creativity aflame. She fascinates us like a lottery winner who never had to buy a ticket: Why should she be so lucky?

Mozart the Patriot: Missing In Action

By Lawrence Toppman

Because America celebrates its 243rd birthday this week, I looked through the list of Mozart’s compositions for works celebrating Germany or Austria. I found exactly none.

Many major composers from the Renaissance through the late 20th century wrote music to commemorate a great public figure, an important event, the anniversary of a political or military action, the noble or sacrificial behavior of citizens, etc.

The most famous early example must be Handel’s “Water Music,” played for King George I on trips up and down the Thames in 1717. Shostakovich wrote pieces to celebrate the 1917 Russian Revolution more than 200 years later, though some of his public conformity to Soviet policy was lip service. Along the way came Beethoven’s “Wellington’s Victory,” Brahms’ “Triumphlied” and many more.

F.J. Haydn, Mozart’s greatest contemporary, wrote marches in honor of the Prince of Wales, the Royal Society of Musicians and Hungary itself. The adagio of his “Emperor” string quartet (No. 62) is a set of variations on “God Save Emperor Francis,” an anthem he wrote for Emperor Francis II that became the German national anthem. Carl Maria von Weber, whose cousin Mozart married, sometimes wrote songs to texts provided by a duke or prince.

Often these composers later trashed their occasional pieces. Prokofiev disowned the fervor of the cantata “Seven, They Are Seven,” written right after the Russian Revolution and revised under Stalin. Tchaikovsky had harsh words for his “gun for hire” work, from the Slavonic March (inspired by Russia’s part in the Serbo-Turkish War) to the “1812” overture, written for the 70thanniversary of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

But nobody asked Mozart for such a thing. Or, if someone did, he said no. Why would that be?

Perhaps, though he repeatedly described himself as a good citizen of his homeland, his constant travels around Europe prevented officials from thinking of him on state occasions. Perhaps other composers, such as Antonio Salieri, sprang to mind when a “Parademarsch” for wind quintet needed to be whipped up for a state function.

Perhaps people in power thought Mozart would be insulted by the idea, too unreliable to deliver on time or likely to grind out hackwork nobody liked, although his pieces commissioned by the Freemasons include minor masterworks. Whatever happened, patriotic music is about the only type he never gave us.

Six LGBTQ American Musicians to Celebrate This Pride Month and Beyond

By Casey Margerum

1. Lucia Lucas

Transgender baritone Lucia Lucas made history last month when she sang the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Tulsa Opera. Her performance marks the first time that a transgender woman has performed a principal role in the United States.

“The more authentic you are with yourself,” says Lucas, “the more authentic your art will be.”

Listen to her absolutely stunning performance in Verdi’s Falstaff. 


2. David del Tredici

Born in Cloverdale, California in 1937, Pulitzer-prize-winning composer David del Tredici is at one of the first neo-Romantic composers, and he earned the admiration of Aaron Copland himself.

“I know of no other composer of his generation,” said Copland, “who composes music of greater freshness and daring, or with more personality.”

Much of his recent work is devoted to exploring his own sexuality. These works include Gay Life, Love Addiction, and Bullycide. OUT Magazine has named him one of its People of the Year twice.


3. Jennifer Higdon

Neoromantic composer Jennifer Higdon came to music relatively late. She taught herself to play the flute when she was 15, began formal music training at 18, and didn’t start studying composition until age 21. Yet despite her late start, Higdon’s has an almost unending list of accolades. 

These include the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto and two Grammys, and she’s one of the most performed living composers. Her most popular work is the orchestral work blue cathedral, and her first opera is Cold Mountain.

She’s inspired by nature and especially by the mountains of Tennessee. Another fun fact? Higdon’s marriage to Cheryl Lawson was officiated by none other than the eminent conductor Marin Alsop. Which brings us to… 


4. Marin Alsop

In 2007, Marin Alsop became the first female music director of a major orchestra in the United States. She’s held that position (with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) ever since, and she also directs the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra and in September will take over the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Alsop was one of Leonard Bernstein’s most famous students, and she’s also a talented violinist. She’s vocal on issues of sexism in classical music and is an advocate for music education, beginning the OrchKids program for Baltimore’s most impoverished youth and the Rusty Musicians program for adult amateur musicians. She lives with her partner, horn player Kristin Jurscheit, and their son.

Pictured: Marin Alsop; photo by Adriane White.


5. Tona Brown

On June 25, 2014, Tona Brown became the first African American transgender woman to perform at Carnegie Hall. She’s also performed for Barack Obama, making her the first black transgender woman to perform for a sitting president.

The Norfolk native has been playing the violin since the age of 10, and on top of that, she’s a talented mezzo-soprano. She also has a series of YouTube videos, Conversations with Tona Brown, that began as a way of addressing the problematic ways in which the media often interview queer, and especially transgender, people.

Listen to her first album, This Is Who I Am, below.


6. Jory Vinikour

Jory Vinikour hails from Chicago, and he’s both a harpsichordist and conductor. In fact, he’s the first ever harpsichord player to be nominated for a Grammy for Best Classical Solo Instrumental Recording (and he was nominated for a second one, too!).

Vinikour advocates for contemporary harpsichord music, and he’s premiered many works—some written especially for him! He is both a sought-after soloist and accompanist, performing alongside major symphonies and artists. He’s lived in Paris since 1990, but he travels extensively to perform and conduct.

Grieving a mother’s death in music

By Lawrence Toppman

Anna Maria Mozart accompanied her 22-year-old son on a job-hunting trip in 1778, hoping to find commissions their native Salzburg had been slow to supply. She didn’t want to go; unlike her husband, she hadn’t enjoyed the countless tours the Mozarts undertook as a family when their performing children were the toasts of Europe in the 1760s.

But Leopold didn’t trust his son alone and out of sight. The kid had shown interest in women, and marriage might have removed a source of income from the family. So mama accompanied Wolfgang to Augsburg, Mannheim and finally Paris. She died there 241 years ago next week at the age of 57.

Mozart, the last of seven children – five of whom died in infancy — was devastated. He loved her deeply, and she had always treated him with more kindness than his father. Leopold, who’d ignored her requests to come home or improve their living conditions in Paris, quickly berated his son in letters for failing to take care of Anna Maria. He all but blamed Wolfgang for her death, though the young man had been busy composing.

Mozart created beautiful music from his sorrow: His eighth piano sonata, the first (and one of only two) in a minor key. It begins with an allegro maestoso touched by melancholy, goes on to an andante cantabile con expressione (“singing, with expression”) full of troubled reflections, and concludes with a presto that doesn’t let listeners off the hook: It plunges forward anxiously, like a piece of early Beethoven.

Yet while his mother languished, he also put the finishing touches on a buoyant, major-key symphony: The 31st, nicknamed “Paris.” The opening allegro assai surges forward, the final allegro introduces a mini-tempest but quickly blows it away, and even the slow movement in the middle saunters along jauntily. It premiered three weeks to the day before she died, while doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong with her. (They couldn’t.)

Insensitivity? No, pragmatism. It received warm reviews and stayed in the repertoire of the Concert Spirituel, which premiered it publicly, for a decade. Mozart wrote the sonata from his heart and the symphony from his head, satisfying himself in the first case and a mass audience in the second – another reminder that we can’t always know the artist by the art he makes.

Nobody dances to Wolfie

By Lawrence Toppman

I can think of countless composers whose works translate to ballet and modern dance stages, from J.S. Bach – whom Paul Taylor set brilliantly in “Esplanade” and “A Musical Offering” – to Philip Glass, whose “In the Upper Room” inspired Twyla Tharp to make the most ecstatic dance piece I know.

Leo Delibes, Aaron Copland, Peter Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev wrote copiously and beautifully for dancers. Guys we don’t think of as ballet composers often took one or more shots: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel.

Yet search Wikipedia for “Ballets to the Music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,” and you get exactly two nonentities: “Tributary” and “Twinkliana.” George Balanchine did set “Mozartiana,” but to Tchaikovsky’s Third Orchestral Suite, which bears that nickname. (Tchaikovsky loved WAM.)

I thought about this when I saw an ad for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s “Breaking Classical” concert Friday, in which The Gentlemen of Hip-Hop could be seen frolicking before portraits of Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart. I got excited for a moment, until I realized I couldn’t think of any WAM pieces they’d use.

Why should this be? Mozart wrote 200 dances over three decades, starting when he was 5 and going up to the next-to-last year of his life. He threw in unusual instruments that caught his ear, from the hurdy-gurdy to tuned sleigh bells.

He included dancelike music in quartets and symphonies, wrote ballets hardly anyone recalls (“Les petit riens”) and stuck ballets into some early operas, notably “Idomeneo.” He became a deft ballroom dancer himself, performing and writing minuets, contredanses and German dances with folklike flair. Yet nobody plays these nowadays, and nobody sets Mozart’s greater works in motion.

That can’t be because he’s hard to adapt: His music is rhythmic, precise and provides attractive tunes. It’s in the public domain, so having to pay royalties wouldn’t impede a choreographer.

I’d guess it’s because the music is an entire world in itself, so fully realized that dancemakers have nothing to add. The architecture of Bach suggests patterns for the stage; the dreamy melodies of Chopin make logical underpinnings for emotional ballets; the generic buoyancy of Rossini’s overtures permits an interpreter to go in any direction. But you can’t easily riff off Mozart’s perfection: He doesn’t leave anything to be expressed beyond what he himself has told us.

Making A Masterpiece Out of Mediocrity

By Lawrence Toppman

Joe Ceremsak, my history teacher in my junior year of high school, once defined genius as seeing the potential for success in others’ failures. I was listening to “The Beneficent Dervish” last weekend and realized how true that is. (Another time, he told us to marry people for their brains and personalities, not their looks. Of course, we rolled our eyes: He was old.)

Any composer given a dazzlingly witty or searingly dramatic libretto might turn out an inspired score. But Mozart wrote “The Magic Flute” using the same kind of literary hodgepodge Emanuel Schikaneder had already handed Mozart’s contemporaries over the previous year.

Schikaneder took over the Theater auf der Wieden in a Viennese suburb in May 1789. He not only produced and wrote plays – usually singspiel, a mixture of music and dialogue – but took the baritone leads himself. Paul Wranitzky’s “Oberon” became a hit, so Schikaneder decided to write three more fairy-tale operas over the next 18 months: “The Philosopher’s Stone,” “The Beneficent Dervish” and “The Magic Flute.”

Not to say he followed a formula, but all three heroes are princes accompanied by goofy companions. (Schikaneder took the latter roles.) They go through trials to win the hands of princesses, while their sidekicks end up with earthy partners. A benevolent guardian with mysterious powers guides these princes, warding off evil and handing out protective gifts: a sword and a bird in “Stone,” a pouch, drum and bells in “Dervish,” a flute and bells in “Flute.”

Mozart took a hand in “Stone,” though the bulk of it seems to have come from Johann Baptist Henneberg, Benedikt Schack, Franz Xaver Gerl and Schikaneder himself. I have listened to it and couldn’t find anything identifiably Mozartean, though he’s so versatile it’s hard to pin down a Mozart “style.” After hearing “Dervish,” I see why we’ve never heard any more compositions by the other guys, whose lack of memorable melodies and harmonic invention earned them obscurity.

But look what Mozart did when writing by himself in “Flute!” He terrifies us with the Queen of the Night’s vengeance aria, soothes us with Sarastro’s mellow musings, makes us laugh at Papageno’s antics and endows Tamino and Pamina with nobility and passion. He took the same cornball materials Schikaneder supplied to his contemporaries and elevated them to greatness. That’s a genius at work.

Keanu Reeves Walking In Slow-Motion To Music Is The Meme That Keeps On Giving

Music makes a difference. In your education, in your outlook, in your enjoyment of your day…all of that’s true.

But one of the places where music most noticeably makes a difference is in the movies.

Take one of the most recent Netflix films, Always Be My Maybe.  Starring and co-written by Ali Wong and Randall Park, the film explains its premise as: “Reunited after 15 years, famous chef Sasha and hometown musician Marcus feel the old sparks of attraction but struggle to adapt to each other’s worlds.”

It’s a pretty great film, led by an Asian cast. It has some of your typical rom-com moments, but one scene in particular has become quite a meme over the last week.

Here’s Keanu Reeves entrance into the film:

Since the film premiered last weekend, social media has been layering other tracks to Keanu Reeves walking and it’s the internet at its finest.

WDAV asked, what if you did a classical spin? Would a soundtrack from the 18th century work in that moment?

Keanu walks in to J. S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue.

Yes! Of course it does! It’s Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, after all.

Now, let’s say you’re the filmmaker. You use the music to help the audience learn more about a character without having to say more. Sure, Keanu Reeves plays himself in this film. But what’s his role going to be?

Is he the knight-in-shining armor? Sasha’s prince, her infallible love interest?

Keanu walks in to Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

Based on this version with Debussy’s Clair de Lune, you’d bet he is, right?

Now what about this one?

Keanu walks to Jaws.

AHH! How ominous – John Williams’s Theme from Jaws! He’s obviously the villain, just like that terrible shark!

Ultimately, no matter how Keanu Reeves walks into a room, if his soundtrack is classical, we’re here for it.

Learn more about film music and listen to some great movie soundtracks with Reel Music with Matt Rogers at 8pm on Friday evenings.