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Metcalf on Music

Steve Metcalf has been writing about the musical life of this region, and the wider world, for more than 30 years. For 21 of those years, he was the full-time staff music critic of The Hartford Courant. During that period, via the L.A. Times/Washington Post news service, his reviews, profiles and feature stories appeared in 400 newspapers worldwide.

He is also the former assistant dean and director of instrumental music at The Hartt School, where he founded the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series. Steve is also keyboardist emeritus of the needlessly loud rock band Duke and the Esoterics.

Reach him at spmetcalf55@gmail.com.

Walter Watzpatzkowski via Flickr.com / Creative commons

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been to a half-dozen live musical performances.

Thomas Hawk vis Flickr.com / Creative Commons

It’s wrong, I know, but I just can’t seem to quit the Grammy Awards show.

Wikimedia / Creative Commons

Just to get this out of the way, “My Funny Valentine” is not among my personal favorite Rodgers and Hart tunes.

Brooklyn Rider / Facebook

Among the many reasons why you should plan to see Brooklyn Rider on February 4 at The Hartt School is one bittersweet one: it will be among the last opportunities audiences will have to experience the groundbreaking string quartet with its founding membership intact.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Bullet dodged.

Crisis averted.

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra has managed to pull itself back from the edge, and for that there should be quiet thanks, as opposed to loud rejoicing.

Piano Piano! on Flickr.com / Creative Commons

I was literally jotting down a few thoughts about Pierre Boulez – the modernist French composer/conductor/musical tastemaker, who died last week at 90 – when the news arrived about David Bowie.

Metcalf's Musical Wish List for 2016

Jan 7, 2016
University of Illinois Library

The page turns, and I offer herewith my annual New Year’s musical wish list.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra / Facebook

So it’s down to this: the Hartford Symphony Orchestra -- which was born in the 1930s in the depths of the depression, which has weathered repeated fiscal crises and work stoppages, but which, in the end, has been our community’s shining flagship musical organization for three generations -- is declaring it will shut down if management and the musicians can’t agree on a contract in the next few weeks.

Demetri Mouratis flickr.com/photos/dmourati / Creative Commons

Last year at this time, I foolishly offered my choices for the ten best pop Christmas songs. I say foolishly because these list things are always a bad idea for so many reasons. In fact I’m working on a piece that will list the ten biggest reasons why list stories are a bad idea.

Ian Douglas Photography / Yuja Wang/Facebook

The calendar has just flipped over to December, CVS has stockpiled its ineffective windshield scrapers up near the cash registers, the newspaper food sections are starting to feature hearty soup recipes, and recently for the first time in many months I found the word “sleet” in the ten-day forecast.

Photo courtesy of Concora / concora.org

On Saturday night Christopher Shepard will, at long last, make his debut as the new conductor and artistic director of Concora.

Winston Vargas

A few days ago, quietly and with an irritating minimum of details, we learned that Martin Scorsese has committed to directing a full-length biopic about Leonard Bernstein.

taupupua.com

When I see a press release about a guy who started off being drafted into the NFL as a defensive end and then decided to become a professional opera singer instead, I reflexively think headlines:

"Former Gridiron Star Tackles Verdi."

"Defensive End Calls an Audible, With Vibrato."

"Now He's Holding High Cs Instead of Wide Receivers."

Please, somebody stop me.

Mark Garten / United Nations photo

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma turned 60 the other day.

That’s as good a reason as any to reflect for a moment on a life and career that seems about as well executed as that of any classical performing artist in our time, maybe ever.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra / Facebook

Maybe it's that my two older daughters have both gotten married in recent weeks. Or that my youngest daughter (married two years ago, for the record) is about to have a baby. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that Donald Trump -- Donald Trump -- is being taken seriously as a presidential candidate. 

Hartford Symphony Orchestra / Facebook

A new arts season dawns. And despite the lingering cloud of the Hartford Symphony labor impasse – it originally looked like the HSO season-opening concerts might be lost, but in fact they will go on as scheduled – the new cycle brings a reassuringly plentiful supply of music, both familiar and challenging.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra contract impasse staggers along.

As anyone reading this is likely to be aware, the HSO musicians continue to be engaged in a dispute with management over the number of services they will be contracted for and therefore the amount of money they will earn next season.

Cuatro Puntos

When we think about the major agents of social change we don’t immediately think of classical chamber music.

Thanks to groups like Cuatro Puntos, we need to perhaps start changing our thinking.

Hugh Burkhardt / robertblack.org

Whatever airline horror story you have about lost or mishandled luggage, I’m pretty sure Robert Black can top it.

Robert, as many of you around here know, is a brilliant, nationally recognized double bass player and teacher. He is perhaps best known for being a founding member of the avant-garde music ensemble, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, a group that regularly plays all over the world. Robert has also been a faculty member at The Hartt School for many years, and is currently the chairman of the school’s string department.

Juanibb / Creative Commons

I have seen the future of music.

I think.

I’m speaking here of Apple Music, the new music streaming service just introduced by our good friends out in Cupertino.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra / Facebook

In a previous post (“Saving the Hartford Symphony,” July 9), I offered a few observations about the situation at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

Briefly, the situation is that the management, which is now essentially the Bushnell under an agreement struck 16 months ago, is proposing significant reductions in the number of services offered to many of the HSO musicians. The musicians, needless to say, are resisting.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra / Facebook

As you may have noticed, tensions between the management and the musicians of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra have been heating up as the two sides try to agree on a new contract.

Farewell to a Musical Hero, Gunther Schuller

Jun 25, 2015
NPR Fresh Air

When historians a couple of hundred years from now rummage around in the life of Gunther Schuller, they may conclude that he was actually several people. 

Courtesy Long Wharf Theatre

Johann Sebastian Bach and John Coltrane are seldom invoked in the same sentence, much less the same piece of music.

Nevertheless, an ambitious new musical work – scheduled to receive only its second public performance later this month as part of the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas – makes a point of doing exactly that.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

The musicians of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, having just finished their regular Masterworks season with four subscription performances last week, have decided to play one more concert.

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