Led Zeppelin and Tchaikovsky

One of my earliest music memories is my Dad playing me Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. He was always more of a Led Zeppelin fan in truth, so his knowledge of classical music was surprising. Then again anyone who listens to the 1812 Overture with its cannon fire and chimes at the end would be forgiven in thinking this may have been the start of “heavy metal”.

I can and do stream the 1812 Overture on Naxos Music Library and Music Online. I only did it at work once and my productivity went up – true story. By the end of that piece of music I felt like I could run a marathon despite being stuck at my desk. I only did it once at work though, because people stared at my manic legs jiggling up and down and my hands waving invisible conductor batons.

If you enjoy music in all its forms then we have streaming eResources for you available 24/7. I mean who doesn’t want to listen to Turkish Hip Hop on Contemporary World Music? Or maybe watch Verdi’s La Traviata at the Royal Opera House in Convent Garden on Naxos Video Library? There is a huge range for everyone to help you rediscover past musical memories and make new ones. I think it was Dick Clark who said “music is the soundtrack to your life”. What will your soundtrack be? Mine started with cannon fire let us hope it doesn’t end with a whimper.

Alan Broadbent – unsung New Zealand hero

The All Music Guide has called New Zealand born jazz musician Alan Broadbent:

An unsung hero of acoustic piano.

Broadbent has played with, and composed and arranged music for, some the greats of the jazz world – Woody Herman, Chet Baker, Natalie Cole and Scott Hamilton among them.

He has visited New Zealand a number of times and on one occasion I was privileged enough to hear him at the Christchurch Town Hall. Judging by this one performance I could only call him a virtuoso. The complexity and grace of his improvisations left me quite stunned. He does indeed deserve to be much better known.

Fortunately the library can provide you with a chance to get to know our hero’s work through both CDs and via our streamed music resource Music Online. On The Jazz Music Library (part of Music Online) his albums cover genres from Bop to Smooth Jazz, Fusion and Contemporary, while our CDs are mostly of his own trio or collaborations with artists like Mel Torme and Michael Feinstein.

Try Ballad Impromptu composed by Alan Broadbent and played by The Alan Broadbent Trio from the Album Personal Standards

Finnish flair and the fabulous NZSO

The latest person to conduct the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is the Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen. Inkinen has moulded the orchestra into world class performers. He has also introduced Finnish repertoire such as Rautavaara, and last year the orchestra recorded a critically acclaimed set of all of the Sibelius Symphonies for Naxos.

The Guardian has praised Pietari Inkinen as ‘a conductor of bold, sure-footed intelligence’ and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as ‘a fine, responsive unit’.

This third volume in Naxos’s series presents the dramatic and highly popular Symphony No. 2, which emerges from the northern mists, cultivating a pastoral atmosphere along the way, to reach a grandiose, heroic finale. One of Sibelius’s best loved compositions, the Karelia Suite presents a series of musical tableaux based on stirring episodes from Finnish history.


CoverThe Christchurch Symphony Orchestra is launching the Lamb & Hayward Masterworks Series on 17 March 2012 with a concert called Homecoming. It is a homecoming for two musical New Zealanders – violinist Martin Riseley and conductor Tecwyn Evans – both back from successful careers overseas.

Violinist Martin Riseley is a Canterbury graduate who studied at the Julliard and has a successful career performing with chamber groups, appearing with orchestras around the world and teaching. He is now Head of Strings at The New Zealand School of Music. Tecwyn Evans hales from Otago and initially specialised in composition. He began conducting in 1997 then moved on to became Chorus Master at Glyndebourne Festival Opera and then his current position of Concertmaster and Deputy Chief Conductor of Grazer Opera, Austria.

They are presenting a programme featuring Ritchie, Prokofiev and Brahms.

The season brochure tell us that the work by Ritchie was composed in 2009 at the request of Tecwyn Evans, so this is rather a unique chance to hear a piece written for the person who is conducting it.

CoverThe concerto is Prokofiev’s lovely second violin concerto which he wrote whilst living in the West, but not long before he returned to Russia (initially to acclaim, but later to endure the stranglehold of Stalinism). It’s considered one of his more conventional works and has a romantic pastoral feeling, featuring Russian folk and Spanish influences. Its early champions included Jascha Heifetz who recorded it twice and Berman. Later David Oistrakh and Perlman are also known for their interpretations.You can test out all these versions, and many others on Naxos before going to the concert.

Brahms’ Symphony is one of his best loved works. He wrote his four great symphonies later in life when he was at the height of his powers and the third symphony is the most optimistic of them. Rich, melodic and lyrical, it reflects his interest in both Beethoven and Schumann. Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere of the symphony, proclaimed it to be Brahms’ Eroica. Listen to performances by well known interpreters such as Bruno WalterKlemperer, Weingartner and Rattle on Naxos and get the feel of them before the concert.

Happy birthday Gareth Farr

CoverGareth Farr was born on this day in 1968. Back in the 70s we would have called him cool. The New Zealand composer who is a world class drummer and used to have a drag act. He already stands out from the crowd before you hear his music.

I’m no judge of drag acts, but I was once privileged to hear his  Lilith LaCroix drum drag act and I can tell you that the drumming was fantastic – a once in a lifetime experience. As for his music, it is always compelling. His work is heavily influenced by his interest in percussion, especially of the Indonesian Gamelan, but also other Pacific and Maori drumming traditions, making him a New Zealand and Pacific composer.

Educated here and at New York’s Eastman School of Music, he launched his career with a number of works played at the 1996 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts. Since then he has been commissioned to create music for many high profile occasions including the 50th anniversary of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the opening of the Museum of New Zealand and the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney (a concerto for percussionist Evelyn Glennie ).

One of his most popular works is Kembang Suling, although the dramatic Te Papa has wider appeal. Try this version if you’re looking for something new and exciting. You might also recognise his theme to the TV programme Duggan.

He has also created some haunting works with Richard Nunn on Taonga Puoro, such as this farewell He Poroporoaki

Most recently at the NZSO Odes to Joy concert in 2011 he debuted Kaitiaki, a stunning new work which reflected the spirit of Beethoven’s Ninth. It was commissioned by the NZSO, with words by Witi Ihimaera and sung by an all New Zealand cast of Simon O’Neill, Jonathan Lemalu, Madeleine Pierard and Sarah Castle.

Explore more of Gareth Farr’s music on Naxos which contains many of his recordings from throughout his career.

Bruno Walter: Conductor

Bruno Walter died on this day in 1962.

The life of this great conductor Bruno Walter centred around music from a young age. His musical mother taught him piano and by age nine he was ready to attend the Stern Conservatory of Music in Berlin. At thirteen his piano playing was such that he was ready to launch a career as a pianist, but attendance at a concert conducted by Hans von Bülow changed his mind. He decided to be a conductor instead.

It wasn’t long before he found himself at the Hamburg Opera assisting Gustav Mahler, considered at the time as one of Europe’s leading interpreters of opera.  After moving on to Breslau, Riga and Berlin, he rejoined Mahler in 1901 as assistant conductor of the Vienna Imperial Opera. They worked closely together for the next 6 years. Consequently he became a leading interpreter of Mahler’s work (whose 7th Symphony is to be played in Christchurch later this year by the NZSO).

His successful career continued until 1933 when Liepzig’s anti-Semitic municipal authorities forbade him to conduct and the Nazis declared him “politically suspicious”. He then moved to Austria where he became principal conductor and artistic adviser of the Vienna State Opera until the annexation, at which point he emigrated to America. The Americans welcomed him with open arms and he lead a distinguished career there.

He recorded extensively right from the 1930s until the days of stereo, so many recordings are still available and you can listen to his characteristically mellow and lyrical style – something more typical of pre-war Vienna than todays more standardised international style. A comparison of his interpretation of the Bartered Bride by Smetana with a more modern one makes the brilliant tone our modern version sound almost shockingly clinical.

Naxos and Music Online contain many of his recordings from throughout his career.

Fritz Kreisler, boy wonder

CoverToday is the 75th anniversary of the death of Fritz Kreisler, violinist and Viennese boy wonder. He made his debut at age 7 and was accepted into the Vienna Conservatory at the same age. All of three years later he graduated with a gold medal and went on to study in Paris and then Rome. A detour through the study of  medicine, then a year in the army, led back to a second debut, which was wildly successful and he never looked back. He toured America during 1901-1903 and very soon he was world famous.

Known for his remarkable technique, expressiveness and beautiful rich tone, Kreisler came to be the dominant violinist of his day. Elgar wrote his violin concerto for him, he toured extensively and performed with many famous musicians including Enrico Caruso, Pablo Casals and Rachmaninoff. He is thought to be the first person to record an entire violin concerto, and was famous for his interpretation of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in particular.

He collected rare musical manuscripts, although some of these turned out to have been written by himself, but passed off as works by famous composers. This eventual revelation outraged the critics, but the public didn’t care. In fact some of these beautiful compositions are still considered part of the core repertoire for the violin today.

Part of the explanation for this curious behaviour rests in Kreisler’s unassuming character. Harriet Kreisler’s strong presence in her husband’s career  is said to have saved it. Left to himself Kreisler had surprisingly little confidence. The humility went with a kind heart and according to one of the entries for him in Biography in Context

During World War I, he assumed financial responsibility for the children of many soldiers who died in battle–not only the children of other Austrian soldiers like himself, but also the children of Russian and Serbian soldiers who died in the field hospital where his wife Harriet was a volunteer.

Naxos Music and Music Online both have many lovely recordings of his compositions and some of Kreisler himself playing. Try him playing the Beethoven violin concerto or his own short composition Liebesfreud (from Music Online.)

Christmas treats

CoverChristmas brings to mind a lot of treats, including watching the kids open their presents, good food and and atmospheric music. You may not get your choice for all of them, but you can for music. Not only can you raid our Christmas CD collections, but a quick look into Naxos Music Online gives a seemingly endless list of Christmas recordings to get you into that yuletide spirit.

There is nothing like being read a story out loud, even for us grown-ups. I once worked in a Rudolf Steiner community in Germany where we were read Christmas stories by candle light on Christmas Eve and it was magical.  I was pleased therefore to notice Classic Christmas Tales on Naxos, as well as The Night Before Christmas narrated by Stephen Fry. The latter supplies Christmas music with the story embedded into it (if you just want the story.

There is also a recording of Victorian carols with readings of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol embedded in the same way. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a quiet evening before Christmas than to listen to these with some youngsters. Another Christmas favourite which shows up in Naxos Video is The Nutcracker ballet and I will certainly be watching that.

Of course there are lots of traditional albums of Christmas carols to browse through  and plenty of classical Christmas music too, including the Bach Christmas Oratario and Handel’s Messiah. Or you might like a bit of jazz, or even some vintage 30s & 40s songs, or the Grimethorpe Colliery Band playing some of your favourites.

President Paderewski

CoverThe great pianist, composer and Polish nationalist, Paderewski was born on this day in 1860.

He had the most unusual fate to be both a famous musician and President of his country – although he fairly quickly moved on to being Poland’s representative at the League of Nations. He was the first musician to occupy such a post in any country. Known as a wit and raconteur, he certainly had the right personality for politics. This is one famous story told about him:

At one party, it was reported, the hostess confused him with a famous polo player who was also expected to be a guest, and greeted him effusively. ‘No,’ Paderewski is supposed to have replied, ‘he is a rich soul who plays polo, and I am a poor Pole who plays solo.’

In 1922 he retired from politics and returned to his musical life, although he was to come out of retirement during World War Two  protect his country’s interests once more.

CoverHe was considered a foremost interpreter of his fellow countryman Chopin and the greatest virtuoso since Liszt. His playing career spanned 50 years and he played in New Zealand twice,  performing in Auckland and Wellington in 1904 (wisely bringing his own piano) and visiting again in 1927.

His compositions were Neo-Romantic, among the most popular being Minuet in G major, Op. 14 No. 1 in Mozart style, Melody,” Op. 8, and Nocturne, Op. 16.


CoverThis year is the bicentenary of Liszt’s death and celebrations around the world are well underway. Tour companies are offering trips to places like Budapest where there are events during October as well as a Liszt museum. His birth place of Raiding in Austria has been offering concerts across the year, and there are festivals in England and America. Sony is also planning to reissue many important recordings of his music on CD.

We all know that Liszt is important for his musical works, but it is not so well known that he is also important for the changes he made to the musical world. Ken Russell knew what he was doing when he cast Roger Daltrey as Liszt in his film Lisztomania. He was the first great virtuoso, the rock star of his day. According to a Toronto Star article:

Liszt was the Justin Bieber of 1830s Europe; the Elvis Presley of the 1840s; the Mick Jagger of the 1850s and the Frank Sinatra of the 1860s and ’70s. In fact, he remained a god of the musical world right until his death in 1886.

He wasn’t just a rock star though. He was also a great innovator, being the first to play other people’s compositions in concert and the inventor of the musical recital as we know it today. Plus he gave the first master classes and was the first composer/conductor. In all these ways he contributed hugely to the music conventions and the way we experience classical music today.

Naxos has a huge collection of Liszt recordings to choose from. For an introduction try Liszt life and works, or listen to Alfred Brendel play some of his piano concertos