Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Handel's Sky

Troy has always been a good music listener, but this summer he began listening more thoughtfully and maturely – more into the music rather than just to the music. It was also this summer that he re-visited Handel’s Water Music and Music for Royal Fireworks, having re-discovered old favorites and discovered new ones.

This DVD,
dedicated to costumed recreation of the night of 07/17/1777 (numerology, anyone?) when Handel premiered his Water Music in front of King George I  on the river Thames, communicates a beautiful message.
One does not have to physically be on the barge on the river Thames or any other river for that matter to fully enjoy the beauty of Handel's music.
A bucket of water will suffice.
 Just close your eyes, suggests the narrator, dip your hand in the bucket and make a few light splashes. Listen to the music (so beautiful that it made King George I forgive Handel for fleeing his Motherland) and allow yourself to be transported to that glorious sunlit evening on the Thames.
About a week ago we were driving back from Ocean City, one of Troy’s most favorite places on Earth. The traffic was bad, and we were barely moving. That day Troy asked to listen to Handel’s Water Music in the car. So we did. By the time we got to Bay Bridge, we came to a complete stop. It was almost sunset time and the view with sunlit arrow-like and curly clouds and the water all around us looked almost unreal. In our earlier posts we referred to moments of pure perfection as to “moments of God”. That was one of them.
And then it began – Troy’s favorite Alla Hornpipe on our CD.

Having heard it, Troy got really excited, pointed to the sky and said: “ Look, mama, look, it’s Handel’s sky! We have Handel’s sky!”
As we were “standing” on the bridge for a good 10 minutes, he asked to listen to Alla Hornpipe again. And again. And again. And he kept watching the sky. Handel’s sky.
We tired to capture the view with our phone camera, but naturally, all the perfection of the moment stayed in that moment. Yet, the clouds and the sky which Troy called Handel’s are there!

We Are Back!

After a long summer filled with all kinds of musical experiences, we are back to report that we ready to catch up on a lot of things.

Firstly and most importantly, we will publish a number of updates on our latest musical revelations  - mainly Troy’s - as he discovers and learns more about music.
Secondly, we are still planning to publish our much belated La Cenerentola at the Met post. Brace yourselves, my friends, it is on its way!

We will start with the most recent update and go back in retrospective all the way up to La Cenerentola in May.
See you all very soon on the pages of Mandolin Vision!

Cheers and viva la musica!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Troy's 1st Cello Recital

Dear Friends:
After a long break Mandolin Vision is back with some wonderful news!

On Sunday, May 18th, after two semesters of Cello Fun Instruction (which included both a lot of fun and a lot of practice that happened to be part of the fun), Troy had his first cello recital! 

While we were getting ready for the recital, as Troy's cello coach-parent, I had to focus not only on rehearsing his repertoire, but also on prepping him emotionally for all kinds of unexpected situations: slips, mistakes, etc. If you ever studied music you know that every music student has to know how to deal with those.
Keeping in mind how much respect my son has for his two role-model performers "Ms. Joyce" and "Mr. Juan Diego", I recited (in my own words) what Joyce had said about messing up onstage in this wonderful message to young music students.
Keep going until you get back on track!
Troy got it.
He loved it.
Joyce certainly knows how to get through to her young colleagues. 

During his cello class the day before his recital, Troy's teacher told him that if he made a mistake at the recital, he should not stop, but keep going no matter what. Troy gave her a huge smile and said:" Yeah, just like Ms. Joyce said!" 

That same day Troy and I stopped by at his favorite store, to pick up some flowers, a thank-you card for his teacher and a refreshment for the post-recital reception.
“Mama, said Troy, let us get red roses for Ms. Bai-Chi, because I like roses and red is my favorite color”.  So red roses we bought 

along with strawberry and cream cupcakes as a refreshment

and this card 

which Troy also chose himself. Later that same day Troy dictated to me what he wanted to write in it, including the “I love my cello” part inside the heart that he had drawn himself. 

(The best and funniest thing about the heart message was that the first song on the program that the cellists were supposed to play was called I Love My Cello.)
The recital for young cellists and violinists took place in a small auditorium in one of Peabody affiliates – a perfect fit for a private event that it was.
Here is what the recital program looked like:

The cellists (Troy, his cello buddy and friend Soren and two girls who just finished their first semester of Cello Fun) opened the program with two songs that they did all together. The Ants Song (see the program above) was played pizzicato.
Both the songs included singing. So as soon as the kids onstage started singing, a lot of singing was heard from the grown-up part of the audience - both the cello coach-parents and the violin coach-parents chimed in to show their support to the young musicians. It was a very touching and very uniting moment. 

Then it was time for the solos.
Troy’s solo, his favorite King of the Castle, was the first on the program. He was ready to play it with a bow, but his teacher forgot about it and told him to do pizzicato. He did – and very well, but kept looking at me with I-don't-understand-what-is-going-on eyes.
When it comes to music Troy is really ambitious. He wanted to show how much he had learned and how he could play with a bow.
So I asked Troy’s teacher if he could do the King of the Castle again with a bow and of course, she said "yes". So after the other three cellists were done with their solos, Troy’s teacher announced that Troy would be playing another version of King of the Castle
Troy did very well. 
He was very calm and kept cool throughout the whole performance. 
Even when for a mere second his bow slipped from the D string to the A string, ("just like Ms. Joyce said!") he kept going with so much confidence that no one in the audience noticed it, especially because the following line had to have that A in it. 

The audience gave Troy a big applause and cheered for him. String students and their parents are a very supportive crowd. At the post-recital reception several parents actually walked up to Troy to shake his hand and tell him how great he did. 

He felt very special and very happy.
Thinking back about the wonderful afternoon that in our family will always be remembered as the day of Troy's first cello recital, I go back to that very special moment when Troy just came off the stage, sat down next to us, buried his smiling face in his hands and said: "This is what I always wanted - to be in a real concert, on a real stage! And now I was! I am so happy!"

Troy's cello classes continue until the end of June. According to his teacher, Troy's 1/10 cello has gotten too small for him and has to be exchanged for 1/8!  One more exciting thing to look forward to!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Great Start of 2014!

I have to admit that it has not always been an easy thing for Mandolin Vision to update this blog regularly. Sometimes this blogger gets tied up in so many things that it takes a month or even longer to catch up on the news. Nevertheless, today it is my pleasure to present you all with a joyful update on one of this blog’s favorite vocal artists, the voice of all voices, the one and only, Juan Diego Florez.
Mandolin Vision sends its most heartfelt congratulations to Juan Diego
on the birth of his daughter Lucia Stella on January 1st, 2014
and his operatic baby, that is still on the way and is due on April 15th, 2014 – his new CD L’Amour,

which can be pre-ordered on amazon.com.
Congratulations, Juan Diego!
What a fantastic start of 2014!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Mariinsky's Swan Lake: A Serious Ballet

Whenever the Mariinsky Ballet comes to our area, it makes a lot of noise. Most tickets get sold out instantly and those that do not get sold out are unaffordable. No surprise there – over the centuries along with the Bolshoi, Mariinsky Ballet has earned the reputation of one of the most prominent ballet companies in the world, bringing immense glory to Russia, the country by right considered the cradle of classical ballet. Needless to say, it is a dream of every Russian immigrant living in the USA to take their kids to a Bolshoi or Mariinsky ballet performance, and let the kids embrace the Russian culture at its best.

Therefore, when I learned that this season Mariinsky was bringing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, I got a little sad, firstly because at this point I am unable to afford two full-price tickets for a performance of this category, and secondly, because I knew how much Troy wanted to see it and how much this particular ballet ( with all the times that he had seen it on line and on DVD, with all the music that he had learned and hummed from this ballet and all the scenes that he had acted it out using his Swan Lake playset) meant to him.
But, I guess, some things are just meant to be, because Lady Luck smiled at us yesterday, when a friend offered me two free standing room tickets. Yeah, I know, standing room is not great for a kid of 5, but between my innate ability to find a good seat in the house no matter how few empty seats there are,  and the number of WNO ushers I personally know from being a Bachtrack reviewer, I estimated our chances of watching the performance from a nice seat to be pretty good. So after I got off work, Troy and I headed straight to the Kennedy Center.

The traffic was pretty light for Thursday night in DC, so we arrived at the Kennedy Center with plenty of time to find a good parking spot and get into the opera house early enough to figure out the best place to stand at, had we actually had to use our tickets and stand though the performance.
As for the seat that I was planning to find, we did not even have to look for it – it was right in front of us. It turned out that the one chair in the row in front of us was not taken, so, by the time the lights went down, we were seated in the last row of the orchestra, (very happy and relieved that we did not have to stand) and all ready to enjoy the show.
The performance was indeed the one to enjoy. From the beautiful idyllic sets to the breathtaking costumes, it was all about the precious classical tradition that never goes out of style.
Everyone, from the principal artists to the corps de ballet, was able to demonstrate the highest level of skill, technique, security and synchrony. But of course, it was the principals that earned the most admiration from the audience. Olga Esina,
once the soloist of Mariinsky and currently the prima ballerina at the Wiener Staatsopera was completely polar, yet equally breathtaking as both the fair Odette and her evil nemesis Odile. Her blonde Odettte was subtle and exquisite, her blonde Odille (somehow, a rare case in productions of this ballet) was especially impeccable in her famous 32 fouettes.

Even though normally it is the prima who steals the Swan Lake show, in this performance Esina had to split her success with her Siegfried, portrayed by young Mariinsky soloist Timur Askerov.

 His security in performing the most difficult pas as well as his command of the space and his ability to “sit in the air” kept wowing the audience throughout the performance.

The audience responded emotionally. People screamed “Bravi!” in Italian and «Молодцы!» in Russian, and of course, Troy was one of those people. No wonder – everything that he had been watching, listening to, and humming, came alive and became real.
I asked Troy which of the 2 ballets that we had recently seen he liked better, The Nutcracker or the Swan Lake.

“Mama, said Troy, the Swan Lake, of course. I like the Nutcracker too, but it is more for kids, and the Swan Lake is serious!”
Of course, beautiful and serious as it all was, there were still a couple of new things that earlier productions did not have, that I thought were a tad out of place, if not funny. And of course, you know me, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about those.

Firstly, in Act 1 the short-necked swans gliding along the lake looked disproportional and therefore, a tad school-playish.
Yet, the most surprising thing took place in Act 3, when the swan dance was performed by the corps de ballet dressed both in white and black tutus.
In any other ballet that would not be a problem, but in the Swan Lake color is everything. In the Swan Lake things are color-coded to the extent that white stands for good (Odette), and black stands for evil (Odile). And so if that is the case, then, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but what was a flock of black swans doing among the white-feathered friends of Odette’s? Moreover, from the esthetic point of view, this combination did not look nice either. Next to the shimmering tutus of “the white swans”, the dancers dressed in plain black tutus resembled black crows, rather than swans. You get my point: diversity is awesome, unless it interferes with the concept.

However, overall, it was a wonderful show, which was why Troy screamed “Bravi!” tirelessly at the curtain call and declared that he would go see it again right away. I am so grateful for having been able to take Troy to a performance of so much class and quality and let him learn first-hand what the real classical ballet is all about.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The World Saving Beauty

Music bloggers have their traditions. One of the best traditions among my fellow bloggers is to post an entry on January 27th, also known to the music world as Mozart’s birthday, and through it, pay a tribute to the greatest composer of all times.

The post you are about to read is not only about Mozart or his music. It is about kids and the power of kids’ talent.
One of Troy’s most favorite places in Baltimore is Walter’sArt Museum. Indeed, this is a great place to spend time at, just because there is so much to see and do there. Besides the permanent collections that Troy is very fond of, there are also great exhibits, theme festivals, creative family activities, shows, incredible Thursdays nights when the whole museum looks simply amazing by the night lighting, a café with all sorts of coffees, steamies, Italian sodas and deserts to die for… in short, you name it, they have it.

Since the Peabody and the Walter’s are conveniently located right across from one another, I take Troy to the Walter’s after his cello class if/when I have a chance to. The particular Saturday I am going to tell you about fell on the Winter Break at Peabody, so there was no cello class. However, true to himself, right after breakfast Troy asked to go to the Walter’s anyway. So we did.
After a game of chess in the Knights Hall, Troy and I were about to start our weekly Ancient World quest, when we heard the sounds that made us freeze with joy, the sounds of Mozart’s timeless Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The music was coming from the Sculpture Court, where, having forgotten all about Anubis and Ra, Ariadne and Medusa, we headed momentarily.
And here it was, seated in the middle of the Sculpture Court, the young and talented Peabody Prep string orchestra, performing Mozart under the baton of the Meyerhoff’s regular, Maestro Edward Polochick. The great acoustics of the Sculpture Court allowed the sound to gain immense power and volume. It was hard to believe that this incredible, all embracing sound was produced not by an orchestra of grown-up musicians, but an orchestra of 7-12 graders.

However, what struck me most about this performance was the amount of genuine passion for music and the selfless dedication with which those kids were performing. Their music did not just sound – it went straight into the heart! Needless to say, the performance found a huge response with the audience, especially with its youngest members. Troy moved both his arms in the air, pretending to play the music on the cello. A boy on the balcony was waving his arms as if “conducting”, just like Troy used to do. A girl right in front of us pretended to play the violin. In short, whether on or offstage, in reality or still just in their dreams, all the children were playing Mozart!

And then I had a thought: Dostoyevsky’s character Prince Myshkin claimed: “Beauty will save the world”. So here it was, right in front of us, sincere, unpretentious and therefore, the most powerful of all beauties – the beauty of children’s talent. Of course, there may be other types of beauty that may have just as much chance of saving the world, but you know what? Our future is in the hands of our kids, so as long as there are kids, who play Mozart, the world does have hope.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Miracles: A Snow Friend

Troy and I made this guy

a couple of days ago, on a beautiful snowy day, on the day when Baltimore ended up sinking into the whole 10 inches of snow.
The snow was powdery and would not stick, but we were persistent! (LOL)
As you can see, this picture was taken before the real snowfall.
Happy Friday to all!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

She Does It All!

In my “Highlights of 2013” post earlier this year I mentioned that the name of the best interviewee of 2013 would be revealed in one of this blog’s future posts.

Today, my friends, is the day when I can finally announce that the interviewee who earned that “best” title on this blog is … Me.
Yes, my friends, apparently, last year yours truly worked so hard and made so many people at work happy that my seniors and my colleagues joined together and surprised me by calling the very powerful and influential magazine, the Baltimore Jewish Times and asked to do an interview with me. In its turn, the Baltimore Jewish Times dispatched a reporter to interview me and a photographer to do a photo shoot. All this happened very fast at the very end of last year and tonight it is here.

Tonight the article can still only be seen in the online version of the magazine – so you, my dear Mandolin Vision readers, are getting a sneak preview and the first read of it, before  tomorrow’s issue officially hits all the local newsstands.
I hope that my dedication to the people I work with will come through in the article called “She Does It All”, which, without further ado, I am inviting you to enjoy. Please click here to read it.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Dear Mandolin Vision Readers!

Below please find a slightly belated, but very special holiday music card for you all!
Wondering what might be musical about this card?
Well, this fantastic snowman was built by the talented Peabody students after an overnight snowfall - right in front of Peabody Institute, Troy's beloved music school and the cradle of music in Baltimore.
(Washington Monument - center, Peabody Institute - right)
Cute, is he not?
And so, on that note, from Mandolin Vision to you all:
Happy Holidays! May music always live in your hearts!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Highlights of 2013

Most music bloggers are in a great habit of ending each year with a write-up of the past year’s highlights.

Most music bloggers already did so at the end of 2013. Regretfully, I did not happen to be one of them. Like most Russian women, I had too much roasting and baking, mixing and chopping to do during the last week of December. Such is the incredible Russian culture – New Year’s is our most significant and most beloved holiday. Fantastic celebrations start early. Enjoyable preparations take days. And when you expect company, many things have to be done, which, great as it is, is a tad time consuming.
But now that most of the food has been dealt with, and most cakes have been ruthlessly consumed (or lovingly given away), it is finally time for my slightly belated Highlights of 2013 post.

It was not an easy year, but it was full of great musical and non-musical happenings, some of which were quite memorable.
Thus, without further ado, here are our highlights! Click on the links to read about them:

Best recital: Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s Recital in the Kennedy Center

Best soprano: Diana Damrau ( Recital in the Kennedy Center)
Best mezzo-soprano: Joyce DiDonato ( Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda at the Met, seen in a movie theater)

Best tenor: Juan Diego Florez. Always.
Best baritone: Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Best bass: Ildar Abdrazakov
Best musician: Clinton Adams

Best interviewee: This interviewee's name will be revealed in one of the future posts
Best recital venue: The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts

Best opera appreciation trip: Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda with Joyce DiDonato
Best music appreciation event: Recital by Candlelight with Jacques-Pierre Malan and Clinton Adams

Biggest Blogger’s Honor: Blogger Award bestowed on this blogger by incredibly talented writer Gale Martin
Best blog project: Miracles

Best musical gift: the Swan Lake Theater Book & CD for Troy

Best musical happening: Troy started his cello instruction, loves it and is doing very well.

Best non-musical happening: moving to a beautiful condo in a fantastic area
Best non-musical achievements:

1. catching a big flounder in Ocean City (even though it was caught by someone else on our boat, who pays attention to those little things these days?!( LOL) Troy and I are still excited about that flounder).
2. teaching Troy Ancient Egyptian history and art and discovering the wonders of Egyptian Civilization together with him

3. Upon Troy's request, teaching him how to make his favorite meringues and watching him make some on his own

And on top of that, Troy’s musical discoveries in the year 2013 included:
Beethoven's Ode to Joy

Charpentier’s Acteon
Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D Major

Mozart’s Die Zauberfleute

Verdi’s Aida

Verdi’s Rigoletto ( I do owe you all a post on that)

Tschaikovsky’s The Nutcracker

Weber’s Der Freischutz

Harry Bellafonte

-        and, brace yourselves, my friends – CELTIC THUNDER!
On this high-spirited note, Mandolin Vision is wishing you all a very happy and healthy 2014.
May this year bring you all joy, peace, love and, of course, lots of wonderful music.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Nutcracker Marathon 2013

Every winter Troy and I happen to honor the immortal Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker with multiple fun activities. In the past we have painted a small wooden Nutcracker and made Masha/Marie/Clara out of fabric, doll hair, sequins and blue tulle. A few years ago I got Troy a music waterball with a slay dashing over the snow-up city with the Nutcracker and Masha in it. Around the same time Troy’s Grandma got him a DVD of a fantastic Nutcracker cartoon.

However, this year, when Troy is almost 5 years old, we were ready to walk an extra mile. Lo and behold, we read the book!
 And mind you, my friends, it was not a kiddie picture book with two sentences on each page. No, my friends, we read the full version, written by Hoffmann in a book with only one, but very special old-fashioned watercolor illustration in it.

Back in the fall, Hoffmann’s Nutcracker became our bedtime story – one chapter every night.  And I have to say that reading this book together with Troy was a wonderful experience. The way Hoffmann addresses his young readers, calling them “my young friend”, “Marie” and “Fritz” and asking them questions about how they would act if… makes understanding of the story so easy, and makes the child feel as if he plays an important role in the story and as if he can change the story if he/she chooses to do so.
However, you haven’t heard anything yet.
If you have been reading this blog for a while you probably remember that I am a make-it-yourself girl. It is my firm belief that every person can do so much more than he/she thinks he/she can, and when it comes to children’s toys, handmade toys are truly unique and special.
Troy loves making toys together with me. So this year our Nutcracker time turned into a real project when I bought an unpainted wooden Nutcracker in a craft store and we painted, lacquered and decorated it together.
Check it out, my friends – is this guy cute or what?

Finally, this past weekend the project got even bigger when I took Troy to see the Nutcracker ballet in our glorious Hippodrome Theatre. Of course, Troy brought his handmade Nutcracker with him and proudly showed it to everyone in the theater.
In my life I have seen quite a few ballets. In all honesty, I am a tad spoilt with the outstanding ballet quality that the Bolshoi ballet used to boast back in the 70s-80s, when I lived in Moscow and used every opportunity to attend the Bolshoi's performances.
Ever since I moved to the US, I have continued to see ballets, but only a few of them struck me as something of interest. One of the most memorable ones happened to be the Nutcracker that I saw a few years ago, presented by Moscow Ballet. The sets were nothing out of the common way, but the costumes were rich and the quality of the performance was pretty good. So, because I have been quite picky about the quality of performances that Troy sees, I told myself : “If Moscow Ballet brings the Nutcracker again, I will take Troy to see it”. So this year Moscow Ballet finally brought the Nutcracker back to Baltimore, and true to my intentions, I took Troy to see it.

Unfortunately, our seats (in the 3rd row of the Balcony), even though quite affordable in price, were not exactly our dream seats. But of course, it is all about how one takes it. Troy took it easy.
“Don’t worry, mama, said my optimistic son, the higher the better”.

It ended up not being bad,  but got even better in the intermission, after we scooted down to the two empty seats in the first row of the Balcony.

The production still boasted beautiful, expensive looking costumes,
 and nothing-out-of-the-common-way sets.
Some dancers were just great.  The prima ballerina portrayed a very beautiful Masha and the Arabian dance in Act 2 was in fact quite breathtaking.
However, the artist who performed the part of the Nutcracker/Prince did not impress at all. His was the performance that proved that people very rarely change from within. While his magical rescue did turn him into a human being, or at least so it seemed lookswise, overall, by the way he moved one could tell that this prince was still very much a wooden doll. Besides, the guy clearly had balance issues, and after several fouette's, he sort of went sideways, as if losing control of his movements. But of course, make no mistake about it, my friends - I did keep my sarcasm exclusively to myself and only spoke to Troy about things that I did like. As for Troy, he loved it all!

I have to admit that most artists demonstrated good dancing technique and moved quite in sync. Plus, of course, the live music and the luxurious costumes worked their magic. Overall, it was a very compelling performance, and if you want to see excerpts from the Snowflake Dance and the Waltz of the Flowers, please click here and here - and enjoy!

On this happy note, I would like to wish Merry Christmas to all of my readers who celebrate this holiday and hope to come back with a few more posts before the end of the year.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Translation or Magic?

Back in my college days, I was quite fluent in German. Even though I never stopped marveling at the peculiarities of the German Grammar (may those of my readers who believe it to be a perfect example of logic and common sense, forgive me), a linguist by trade, I have always been very fond of the German language.

One of the most striking things about German to me has been that while phonetically, it is certainly not the softest-sounding language in the world, it possesses an incredible musicality when used in opera. The hoarse, throaty sounds that the German phonetics is so rich with, somehow melt away and the rough prepositions at the end of the phrases give the line a nice ringing quality. In short, to my ears, if sung in German, operas sound no worse (and sometimes better) than operas sung in Italian or French.

When I listen to German operas, I always feel privileged because I am able to understand pretty much everything that the artists sing. Naturally, understanding is very important. Or at least so I thought, until just recently my son Troy was able to convince me otherwise.

Just recently Troy discovered a cello version of the Huntsmen's Chorus from Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischutz  on his cello CD and wanted to know what the music was, where it was from, who wrote it and, of course, what the story was about. In short, he wanted to know everything.

So I found this CD

in my rich home collection, told Troy the story and then we listened to some extracts together. He was mesmerized!

The spooky Wolf’s Glen Scene, the lyrical Agathe's Aria accompanied by the cello, Der Jungferkranz and, above all, the headspinning music of the Huntsmen's Chorus captured Troy's imagination.

When Troy only started discovering those pieces, he naturally asked me what this or that German word meant. I diligently translated it all word-to-word and even sang some of my own poetic Russian translations which I had written back in my early 20s, (which Troy grew very fond of).

However, soon enough I discovered that my son had been able to memorize some of Kasper's lines in the Wolf”s Glen Scene in German! While on the CD, Kasper was making the seven magic bullets, Troy would enthusiastically call out “Eins! Zwei! Drei!Vier! Funf! Sechs! Sieben! Samiel, hilf!” and then announce Samiel’s ultimatum "Morgen - er oder du!”

Apparently, Troy enjoyed saying those lines in German.

 And then one day an even more unusual thing happened.

"Mama, said Troy, "can you sing about the wreath [Der Jungferkranz] in German to me?" "In German?" I asked.” Not in Russian?” “No, said Troy, I really like how it sounds in Russian, but in German it sounds even better”.

I have to admit, I was most pleasantly surprised. To me, Troy’s words meant that at his early age, he was no longer dependent on translations and was now able to appreciate that special magic musicality that only the piece performed in the original language possesses.

Troy’s interest in listening to the German opera in German also made me think about all the new productions that offer foreign operas translated into English. It is common knowledge that any translation takes away from the original piece, yet the productions of translated operas keep multiplying and are quite popular.

The question is: do we gain or lose from seeing a foreign opera in English? And if the answer is “both”, then is the translation worth the loss of magic?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Grown-up

While in some situations my son is no different from any boy of his age, when it comes to music, Troy often surprises us with quite a bit of mature thinking, rather untypical for someone who is not even 5.

In this post I would like to share with you all a couple of Troy's "grown-up" statements that will hopefully put a smile on more than one face.

1. Who Needs a Winter Break?!

I know many people who do, but apparently, my son is not one of those people.
Last Saturday, Troy's cello teacher announced to her students and us, their parents, that there will be no cello classes on December 21st and 28th because of the Winter Break. Troy got most genuinely upset and said to his teacher:
"Noooo - I don't want this Winter Break! I don't need Winter Break! I love your cello and I love your class and I want to come to your class every day!"

2. When There Is Music in the House

Troy and I often play music at home. Troy, of course, plays the cello and I - the piano. We each have our own repertoires. Troy's repertoire consists of the Ants Song, King of the Castle, CGC Song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (which is still a work in progress), and mine - of Ombra mai fu (Handel's Xerxes), Caro nome (Verdi's Rigoletto), Wir winden dir den Jungferkranz (Weber's Der Freischutz), Voi che sapete and Non piu andrai (Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro), and some cute songs that Troy and I composed ourselves.
The other day after dinner, as usual, Troy wanted to play some music. So we did. After that Troy gave me a hug and said: " Mama, I love our home so much, especially when there is music in it. I play the cello. You play the piano! It makes me very-very happy!"

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Catch-up 2: Discovering Amneris and Radames

All summer and fall Troy was incredibly interested in everything-Egypt. Our every trip to Downtown inevitably winded up in Troy's beloved Walter's, and (since Egypt was Troy's it for months), inevitably, in Ancient Egypt room. Mesmerized with Verdi's Aida, Troy soon started looking for visuals to illustrate the music that he liked so much. And of course, soon enough he discovered some good illustrations.
According to Troy, this lovely lady above is none other than "Amneris, playing her sistrum (don't know how he got to remember that word!) to pray about peace to Egyptian gods."
And this gentleman, of course, became Radames,
or putting it in Troy's words, "Radames, when he won the war and came back".
Naturally, once the visual part of his Aida discovery was done (to some extent anyway), it was time to make other discoveries. Stay tuned - an update on that is coming up soon.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Recital by Candlelight

Many of my readers have been wondering what musical programs I have been planning for my seniors this season, and finally, my friends, I have something wonderful to tell you about.
Last month a wonderful musical event took place. I do hesitate to say grandiose about an event organized single-handedly by yours truly, but hey, maybe I should say it after all, it truly was truly grandiose.

Remember Jacques-Pierre Malan, an aspiring cellist and grad student at Peabody, who performed for my seniors about two years ago together with his friend Solomon Eichner?
Well, my friends, about a month ago I saw Jacques-Pierre in the place I least expected to see him - my son's cello class in Peabody Institute!
(It turned out that Jacques-Pierre came to observe Troy's teacher "in action" and get some teaching tips from her).

Shortly after this meeting, I contacted Jacques-Pierre to see if he was still looking for opportunities to perform, and it turned out that he was! So we planned a program of classical gems by Bach, Beethoven and Haydn. Aren't you getting excited yet? Believe me, you should, because this time Jacques-Pierre would be accompanied on the piano by the virtuosic pianist and Peabody professor Clinton Adams.
This recital was to open my brand-new recital series, called "Recitals by Candlelight", and was to consist of 2 parts: the Pre-Recital Reception and the Recital proper.
The fame well preceded the event and soon enough 65 seniors from near and far (there was a shuttle that brought 14 seniors from miles away) signed up for the event.
And so, the big day finally came.

From early morning I was busy as a bee, dressing the reception room in fuchsia and silver, designing  the cheese and fruit displays, carving baskets and flowers from red peppers and constructing veggie-stuffed rolls out of all sorts of cheese.

Yes, my friends, that's me.
I do not believe in paying $100.00 to the deli department in a local supermarket for something that I can make for under $30.00.

But of course, the highlight of the reception was Raspberrini's, my new alcohol-free creation made (especially for the occasion) of sparkling apple cider and fresh raspberries frozen inside ice cubes and served in champagne flutes.

Needless to say, my seniors had a wonderful time at the reception and, as my student Bonnie put it: " felt like a million bucks".
I believe it is now time to stop talking and let the pictures below speak for themselves.

Left to right: my students Sandra, Fran and Sally
Right to left: my students Bonnie and Bea

 Indeed, the champagne and the flowers on the tables were fake,
Left to right: my students Rosalie, Charlotte and Alla

the candles were flameless, but the music was real!

Jacques-Pierre Malan

The performance was absolutely incredible.
To me, the most striking thing was the contrast and, at the same time, the harmony of two polar performing approaches (Clinton Adams' being all class, and conservative flawlessness and Jacques-Pierre Malan's being all boldness, adventurism and humor). However, different as their performances were, the artists could not have possibly formed a more perfect duo, united by their endless passion for music and music making.
This recital set the room on fire. My students gave the musicians a standing ovation after every number, but especially after the 1st Movement from Haydn's Cello Concerto in D Major - everyone raved about (and even tried to sing!) that music days after the recital.
Clinton Adams
Of course, my seniors can't wait to see both wonderful musicians again. Having briefly discussed their and our schedules, I believe it is safe to assume that we will have another Recital by Candlelight in the spring 2014.
Edited to add:
If you want to join my students in listening to (or singing) Haydn's Cello Concerto in D Major, Movt1, please click here and enjoy! Viva Haydn!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The First Bow

And so there came the day when Troy and his cello buddy "graduated" from their carton feet boards (their feet were in perfect positions at all times) and received their very first cello bows. Troy was so excited that instead of listening to what his teacher was explaining, he started playing the cello with his new bow right away and ... his cello that sounded pretty good when he plucked the strings, sounded scre-e-e-etchy.

Only a tad longer than a pencil, the bow was not that easy to manage. Holding it was a big challenge (nothing like the wooden stick that Troy had been practicing with earlier). Making sounds with it was an even bigger one!

But for Troy it was all pure excitement. He kept practicing again and again, putting his ear closer to the strings and listening to the new sounds that his cello was making.

Even when I suggested we play his favorite board game, Troy said:

“No, mama, let me do this again first. Then we’ll play”.
Almost 5 going on 25?!

As Troy keeps practicing day after day, his hand starts looking much better when holding the bow and the sound is getting prettier as well. But above all, Troy is happy, and inspired and so proud to play like a grown-up, which, in my humble opinion, is the most important thing now.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Play the Story

A couple of years ago I posted an entry called Sing the Character , in which I shared my insights on expressive singing. In that post I stated that while it is certainly important to know your notes and pay great attention to the vocal technique, when it comes to performing an aria, it’s even more important to place  yourself in your character’s shoes and sing from his/her perspective. The post got a huge response and lots of comments from my readers, including one very special celebrity reader, world famous mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.
Those of you who started playing an instrument early may know that especially in the very beginning, how you sit or  how you hold your instrument or where you put your fingers is at times the most important thing. You are also learning the names of the strings and name them as you play your music, which makes it a great training, but a real challenge to hear any music behind all this activity. As a result, natural as it is for that learning stage, playing the right notes does become your ultimate  goal. And again, natural as it is, we have no time to think about music...
As Troy got more familiar with his CGC Song, I noticed that he did not pay much attention to the melody of the song, having to focus on naming the strings and counting the rests. However, the melody was there and a great one too! Without piano accompaniment it sounded just a bit dark and creepy. I played the song for Troy and asked him what the music made him think about when I played it. Troy immediately said that in that song you could hear all kinds of footsteps on squeaky stairs. Heavy footsteps.  Light footsteps. Meek  footsteps. Hasty footsteps. And that maybe those were Halloween ghosts!
I told Troy that as people listen to his performance, they should be able to see and hear what the song is about. And he, Troy, should be able to tell his listeners a story through his music. Troy took it in with an open heart.
He played it once. Then again. And again.
"Why don't we switch to another song now?" I suggested after Troy played it quite a few times.
"No, mama, I want to play this song again!" said Troy. He played it, and as he played it he added more expression and character to his music.
 And the music did sound different. It became alive. Troy  heard the difference too and laughed happily.
That Saturday, in his cello class he played it really well for his teacher, got praised by her several times,  and informed his teacher that the song was called “A Halloween Ghost House”.
It is his favorite song now, and maybe years later he will still cherish the memory of the first song in which he played real music.

Stay tuned for an event, much anticipated by Troy: the Bow Acceptance.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Cello: A Wonderful Journey

October was a busy month, and hard as I tried to find time to post, I did not have a chance to. However, I am determined to do better in November, and would like to start this month with an update on Troy’s cello instruction.
The cello classes are in full swing and I have to tell you, my friends, that so far it has been a wonderful journey! 
Early in October Troy played his first cello solo, called the Ant Song. He sang in a really clear and nice voice and "pizzicato"-ed it quite flawlessly. He did it really well and was praised by his teacher. I don’t think I will ever forget that very first solo...
By now, with only 2 months of cello instruction under his belt, Troy has learned how to play 2 songs: the Ant Song and the King of the Castle Song, and is currently working on a very pretty new song called CGC  (which I have mentally nicknamed “The Haunted House Song”).

 In addition, Troy knows the name of every cello part, the name of each of the four strings and the number of every finger on both his cello hand and his bow hand. He is able to pizzicato the Ant Song with every single finger of his cello hand and his bow hand and, brace yourselves, my friends, he is able to do completely different things with each of his hands as he plays that song (a good pre-bow practice).
However, great as it all sounds, it would mean nothing had Troy not been so passionate about his cello and the very process of learning.
While some things in the learning process are quite fun, others may not always come as easy, but my son makes me extremely proud of him with his diligence, will and determination, quite untypical for a kid of 4 ¾ years old.

Performing onstage does not seem to be Troy’s ultimate goal. While it certainly pleases him to perform in class and hear his teacher and cello buddy applaud to him, his favorite part is the very process of learning the songs and producing better sound. And of course, when he succeeds, there is no happier kid in the whole wide world!

A couple of days ago an interesting conversation took place between Troy and our neighbor. I thought that this conversation would serve as the best illustration of how Troy really feels about playing the cello.   

“Troy, are you learning how to play the cello?” asked the neighbor, as she saw Troy carrying his cello.
“Yes, I am! “answered Troy proudly.
“Are you going to invite me to your concert soon?” asked the neighbor.
“No, said Troy, my concert is not going to be soon. I will be learning for a long time, and then, when I am ready, I will invite you to my concert”.

On another note, as his “cello parent”, aka his home cello coach, I am learning together with Troy. Before we start a new piece, I make it my priority to learn it and play it for Troy, so he knows where he is heading and what the song should sound like. And then we take it from there.
Stay tuned for more exciting updates on this truly wonderful musical journey!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Catch-up 1: Radames

This summer Troy got this gift
and immediately wanted to know everything about “Old Egypt”. After reading a couple of books together and exploring pyramids, sphinxes and mummies, which including creating our very own play dough mummy, Troy asked:
"Mama, let’s watch some movie about old Egypt."

And we did. This one!
Troy immediately fell in love with the music of the Triumphant March. He hummed and sang the Triumphant March to all our neighbors, friends and acquaintances, claiming that from now on his name was Radames and that's what everyone had to call him.
Our Radames, riding his horse, singing the Triumphant March very loudly inside his helmet

And then it was time for comments and questions, some of which, I thought, would be fun to share with you all.      

1. A Poor Choice

After Troy watched Aida for the first time, we had this peculiar conversation: 

Troy: Mama, so Radames loved Aida?

Me: That’s right, sweetheart. He loved Aida.

Troy: But why?

Me: Well, he loved her because he thought she was the best girl in the world.

Troy: But why couldn’t he just love Amneris? She looks better than Aida - and he would be alive if he married her!

Me: So I guess Radames didn't make the right choice then?

Troy: Nah, I would choose Amneris, but she is a mummy now.

2.      Survival Philosophy

Troy: Mama, when Radames went to that room underground, what did he eat and drink there?

Me: Nothing, sweetheart. He had no food or drink there.

Troy: Why not – why not?

Me: Well, they did not want him to eat or drink.

Troy: Did Aida bring something to eat and drink with her when she came in?

Me: No, I don’t think she did.

Troy: But why not? The soldiers did not see her, so she could bring some sandwiches and juice.

Me: Well, she probably did not think about food that much. She just wanted to sneak in, unnoticed, and be with Radames.

Troy: But Mama, they could live there a long time and not be hungry, if Aida only brought something to eat and drink.

Me: Well, maybe she did, Troy. Maybe they just didn’t show the food and water in the movie.

Troy: You think she did, Mama?

Me: She probably did, Troy. What do you think?

Troy: I think she did. But you just call me Radames now, OK, Mama?

Me: OK, Radames.

Troy: You’ll call me Radames now, right, Mama?

Me: Right, Radames.