Monday, January 30, 2012

What "The Soldier's Tale" Teaches Us About Temptation

            The story of “The Soldier’s Tale” is based on the age-old Faustian legend of a man who sells his soul to the devil. While the hundreds of tales that have been written deal mainly with adults, I find that it is a cautionary tale that can lead to very important discussions with children.
            Often children deeply desire something that they cannot have, and this leaves them vulnerable. Temptation. Will they simply take it and be forced to live with the guilt that follows, or will they be tempted by someone else who agrees to get them the desired item in exchange for something else.
            In “The Soldier’s Tale” the Soldier is tempted by the offer of a book that tells the future and can make him rich. What makes this story even more tragic is that the Soldier had not really thought about being rich and as he sat by the roadside, he was dreaming of his girlfriend, his mother, his home, and his 10 days leave. But when the prospect of wealth raised its head, he was tempted.
            In the beginning, these deals never seem like they will be so bad. After all, the Soldier’s violin was old and not of great value. In time, however, he discovers that it is the symbol of all happiness for him. He discovers that he has lost his financée, his family, in short, his life. In this tale, he is given the opportunity to recover his happiness. The Soldier cures the Princess and marries her. But the Devil is not so easily defeated, and says while he has let him off the hook this time, there is one condition: he must never leave the Princess’ kingdom.
            The Soldier and the Princess live in happiness, but the Soldier is tempted again. He wants to see his mother once more and hopes that he can slip out of the kingdom, thinking that no one will ever know.
            How often in life does one hope that no one will ever know?! (Cookies from the cookie jar – how did mother know? Wet the toothbrush instead of brushing – how did father know?) As the Soldier crosses the frontier, of course, the Devil does see him and turns him into stone.
            “The Soldier’s Tale” is a morality piece, a cautionary tale that appeals to all children because they have a visceral sense of wanting something that they occasionally cannot have. The lessons to be discussed with children after listening to "The Soldier's Tale" are many: Don’t make deals that you know are wrong.  Don’t hope that you won’t get caught. Discuss offers and trades that you have been offered with parents so that you can understand all the implications. And finally, if it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. 
           Stravinsky's magnificent music will make this morality lesson both pleasurable and memorable.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Music Library No. 11: A Wonderful Guitar Concerto

"The Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999), blind from the age of three, enriched Spanish music in particular through his concertos for guitar, compositions for which he is best known abroad. Rodrigo studied for a time in Paris, where he spent the turbulent years of the Spanish Civil War, his subsequent career largely centered on Madrid." Naxos

The Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra is his most famous piece. I heard it performed with Ben Verdery last week in New York City with L'Orchestre des Portes Rouges. It exudes Spanish style and is one of those works that I give to teenagers and young men in their 20s. It never fails to please, but it really is a work for all ages.

The program note read:

"On the banks of the Tajo River outside Madrid, the 300-acre Gardens of Aranjuez are part of an 18th century summer palace of the Bourbon kings of Spain. Infected by diphtheria at the age of three, Rodrigo, was nearly blind for almost all of his life. It was this event, Rodrigo said, that turned him towards a life in music. A talented pianist who showed a flair towards the concerto form, Rodrigo wrote works for such soloists as the guitarist Andres Segovia, flautist James Galway, harpist Nicanor Zabaleta, and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. The Concerto is meant to capture "the fragrance of the magnolias, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains" – in short, all the beauties that a blind man, such as himself, could appreciate. Rodrigo's gift for melody is brilliantly infused with Spanish style dances in the baroque form that matches the formality of the old palace, while the dances of the first and last movement and the plaintive melody of the second, have their roots in older, more primal folk Spanish forms."

The complete concerto can be purchased for less than $4 as a download:

If you have a moment, listen to samples of some other performances. John Williams is a famous guitarist, so less expensive does not mean less good. Beware: there are 4 movements to the concerto; make sure you get all of them when you purchase.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Music Library No. 10: Bernstein's Overture to Candide

Leonard Bernstein was one of America's most charismatic musicians. Composer, conductor, educator - Bernstein excelled in every one. Many American's know Bernstein as the composer for West Side Story; others know him for his televised educational concerts at Carnegie Hall, a truly pioneering endeavor both from the standpoint of television and of music education. Bernstein was a young man in his 20s when the conductor of the New York Philharmonic got sick and Bernstein was called upon to stand in. The reviews the next morning were raves and the rest is history. Eventually, he became music director of the NY Philharmonic.

Bernstein composed the operetta Candide in the 1950s. It was based on Voltaire's novella of the same name. Many thought that it was too sophisticated for Broadway, but I encourage you to go see it live if you ever have the opportunity. 

The overture is such a wonderful work, that it stands alone as a brilliant piece of musical composition.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kennedy Center Performance of The Merry Pranks of Master Til (Til Eulenspiegel)

Maestro Stephen Simon and I just listened to our Kennedy Center performance with Yadu narrating of The Merry Pranks of Master Til, our narrated story version of Richard Strauss' brilliant tone poem "Til Eulenspiegel." WOW! is all I can say.

"Til," as we call it for short here at the Maestro Classics office, is up on deck for recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in March and will be part of the Stories in Music series. This is rousing music that children and parents will never forget. I think that there will be room on the CD to include a performance without narration, as it was originally written, as well as the performance with narration.

I had forgotten how fabulous it is!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Music Library No 9: Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings in C Major

Maestro Classics' recorded the music of Tchaikovsky's great ballet, Swan Lake with narration and you now can purchase the music from that CD without the narration (or get it FREE for the next few weeks if you purchase The Story of Swan Lake CD or MP3.

Another wonderful Tchaikovsky work is his Serenade for Strings in C Major. If I could request one work to be played at my funeral it would be this one. The lushness of the sound and exquisiteness of the harmonies just melts your heart.

This would be a great piece of music to ask your children how it makes them feel.

Unfortunately, to get all the great parts you need to purchase the full album download, but you also get another great Tchaikovsky work, Souvenir of Florence. Download special on Amazon now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hilltown Family Variety Show on WXOJ

I am really excited to be DJing a show for Hilltown Family Variety Show on WXOJ (Valley Free Radio).  The station broadcasts out of Amherst, MA, home of Amherst College, UMass Amherst, Hampshire College, Mt. Holyoke College, and Smith College. It is a great part of the world with many, many wonderful families. The station has a public radio format and is  a Pacifica Radio Network affiliate.

Show will air Sat., Mar. 3, 2012. Podcasts are available if you live out of their area.

They have folk singers, Chinese performers, and so many others, but our show will be on great music that young and old can enjoy. Psst.... many classical composers had senses of humor.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Abbey Road Studios in London

The street actually look like this!
We are on our way back to The Abbey Road Studios in London, where the Beatles made all their famous recordings. All the Maestro Classics' CDs are recorded there in the big Studio No. 1. The first time I went to the studio, I was really surprised (and delighted) to find the crosswalk still there, just as it is in the photo on the Beatles Abbey Road vinyl album.

New Maestro Classics' Stories in Music CDs are on their way! It is a long road from this moment until the final CD wrapped in shrink wrap ends up in our offices, but the process has begun. The first draft budget, repertoire list, hiring of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, reserving the Abbey Road Studio big studio, and hiring the engineers has begun. Three new works will get the Maestro Classics Stephen Simon's conductor touch, and I will start writing scripts and finding children's book illustrators whose work reflects the quality of the music.

2012 will be a busy year!

The titles of the new CDs???

 Try to guess! Hint: one of them has been requested many, many times by everyone who loves The Story of Swan Lake.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

May I Brag a Little????

Great English Website

Very high praise when an English reviewer LOVES an American CD of their beloved Handel!

"My Name Is Handel

I have always believed that no composer is a better role model for aspiring musicians than Handel and that no music makes the introduction to classics more smooth and enjoyable than his Water Music. Whether you are a complete novice to the classical world or a professional musician, a truck driver or a philosopher, Handel’s music will find its way to your heart. Personally I feel certain that you must not judge classical music until you have heard Handel’s Alla Hornpipe, the piece known to spread beauty, happiness and energy of youth whenever it is performed.

Bonnie and Stephen Simon, the creators of My Name Is Handel CD, would probably second that statement, as their latest addition to the “Stories in Music” series devoted to Handel’s Water Music is centered around that particular piece.

Featuring popular selections from Handel’s greatest works performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Simon, this CD offers a multi-level and highly entertaining insight of the composer’s life, reviving the golden hour of his career: the 1717 premiere of the Water Music.

Even though originally this CD was created for ages 7 and up, it is just perfect for family listening with no age limits in either direction. Thanks to an enchanting and very expressive narrative by Yadu, listeners will get carried away by the feature story of the Water Music creation and its glorious Thames performance. Moreover, they will even have a chance to sneak inside the royal barge and overhear a very special conversation between the great English composer and his most powerful fan, King George I.

Older audiences will find Maestro Simon’s brief follow-up discussion unimposing, yet most helpful in understanding the main music genres of Handel’s days. Not only does this discussion open a door into the world of Baroque music, but also it inspires the listeners to explore the subject further on as they turn to the colorful booklet that comes with the CD.

Boasting a variety of ink-and-watercolor illustrations, this elegant booklet takes us on a brief tour of Handel’s London, as we embrace its music and architecture, and even take a look at its peculiar “chair” carriages. However, it is not until the middle of the booklet that we discover its real treasure: a simplified score of the glorious Alla Hornpipe, turned into a hit sing-along, called My Name Is Handel. Consisting of only four simple lines, this catchy song is sure to win the heart of any listener, including the youngest one. In fact, my three-year-old demonstrated a truly Handelian persistence as he asked to listen to it over and over again, until he was ready to sing it. We had a real blast “playing theater” while singing and accompanying on the piano at the same time.

Needless to say, My Name Is Handel will make a perfect gift for every music lover, no matter what age they may be or what level of musical preparation they may have. However, most importantly, this CD clearly proves that classical family listening does not have to be boring. Apparently, with the right CD, it can be a lot of fun!"

Raisa Massuda
29th December 2011