Author Archives: admin

Diablo Ballet celebrates 25 years with Adam’s “Once Upon a Time”

Michael Wells in Julia Adam’s “Once Upon A Time”. Photo by Bilha Sperling

Diablo Ballet turns 25 this season, and that’s something worth celebrating. And celebrate, they did, with a world premiere of a full-length ballet, Once Upon a Time, on March 22 and 23 at the Lesher Center for the Performing Arts. Choreographer Julia Adam has woven a host of fairytale characters—Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and her stepsisters, Alice in Wonderland and the White Rabbit, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and more—into a narrative ballet that’s smart and funny, with broad appeal. The score featured George Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed live (and impressively) by the Contra Costa Wind Symphony, director Brad Hogarth conducting.

Michael Wells and Jackie McConnell were adorable and engaging as the Boy and the Girl around whom the story centers. The setting is a schoolroom, with Raymond Tilton their stern schoolmaster. Tilton is tall, and the way he fills a stage with his presence, delivers high entrechat jumps with impeccable feet and soft landings, made him perfect for the role. The band of cheerfully unruly students included Rosselyn Ramirez and Amanda Farris as sisters, Maxwell Simoes and Felipe Leon as brothers, with Jillian Transon and Jacopo Jannelli completing the ensemble.

L to R: Maxwell Simoes, Michael Wells, Jackie McConnell and Raymond Tilton. Photo by Bilha Sperling

Adams, a critically acclaimed choreographer with over 70 works to her name, has concocted a delightful romp of a ballet that holds equal appeal for adults (whew!) as well as children. Buoyant lifts and jumps abounded. Gorgeous partnered leaps from Ramirez and Farris were ably supported by Simoes and Leon (who later charmed the audience with their Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum). Adam’s choreography is both lushly classical and playful, such as when one partnered lift ended with forklifted arms for the lifter, the female’s legs out in the splits, feet flexed. Tilton’s sauté arabesques commenced a “follow the teacher” line of dancers. Wells promenaded in an attitude that sent his back leg over a sitting girl’s head. In the back row, dozed Jillian Transon (a precursor to Sleepy of the Seven Dwarves fame?) There was always something fun to watch. Antics abounded until the moment the Boy received a thump on the forehead that knocked him out, and he woke, à la Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, in a place populated by fairytale creatures.

The ballet, in two scenes, runs 45 minutes, which proved the perfect amount of time for Saturday afternoon’s family-friendly audience. The kids loved the production; their rapt silence was punctuated only by excited whispers each time a new fairytale character came out. For the adults, subtler entertainment: Raymond Tilton stole the show more than once in his various en travesti roles, including Cinderella’s stepmother, the evil queen from Snow White, the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, where he perfectly balanced hilarity and authority. Transom, new to the company via the San Francisco Ballet, was a grace-laden fairy godmother with lovely piqué arabesques. Ramirez and Farris, always strong, lyrical dancers, entertained as Cinderella’s two stepsisters. Jacopo Jannelli’s White Rabbit was so funny, with rabbit ears that quivered so realistically, they made me laugh like a kid.

L to R: Amanda Farris, Michael Wells, Rosselyn Ramirez, Raymond Tilton and Jillian Transon. Photo by Bilha Sperling

The troupe is small—only ten dancers—and for a ballet packed with multiple fairytale characters, it meant dozens of fast changes in and out of Mario Alonzo’s costumes. A decision to incorporate tie-in-the-back costumes was a good one, clever, effective and efficient. It also helped the kids (okay, and the adults) keep track of who was who, through all the fast changes. Costuming grew purposely convoluted later on, to great comic effect, as stepsisters Ramirez and Farris marched out with both dresses and dwarf beards. Scene one’s schoolroom motif returned when a huge load of papers was released from above like confetti, highlighted by Jack Carpenter’s lighting. And in the closing moments, as the Boy whirls the Girl around, her legs flying out, there’s a second paper drop, this time red bits, against a red glow (think: Red like the Riding Hood), and it was beautiful to watch as the curtain descended. A great ending to a great production.

The program also included a short film, “From the Foundation to the Pillars: A Diablo Ballet Retrospective,” by award-winning filmmaker, Walter Yamazaki, to help commemorate the 25th anniversary of this gem of a company, based in Contra Costa County.

“Looking back on 25 years warms my heart to know that Diablo Ballet’s mission has remained committed to enriching, inspiring, and educating children and adults through the art of dance,” artistic director Lauren Jonas shared in program notes. In this endeavor, the company has been wildly successful. Their PEEK Outreach Program, which began with one classroom in 1995, is now in six schools once per month for the entire school year, serving Bay Point, Hayward, Martinez, Oakland and a special-needs class in Walnut Creek. In addition, they are in their fourth year of working with at-risk teen girls incarcerated in Juvenile Hall. And since 2018, they’ve touched the lives of mentally ill and developmentally disabled individuals at a rehabilitation center in Castro Valley.

How I feel about Diablo Ballet was epitomized by a post-performance moment just outside the auditorium, when the lovely, smiling Jackie McConnell, still costumed as Snow White, squatted down and beckoned two little girls in their own costumes to come over. Their awe and excitement and her genuine warmth were so touching to watch. I stood there, pretending like I was caught in the crush of patrons milling around, but the truth was, I just wanted to keep watching the magic that every member of this company passes on, onstage or off.

                                

PS: exciting news from Diablo Ballet! In a press release, the following was just announced:

(March 26, 2019) WALNUT CREEK — As part of its 25th Anniversary, Diablo Ballet announced today that it will be opening its own ballet school at the end of summer at Performing Academy’s Diablo location in Pleasant Hill. Classes will be offered to students ages three through adult who enjoy dancing as well as those who wish to pursue a professional career in ballet.

The Diablo Ballet School will be the first in the East Bay to be run by a professional ballet company. Under the leadership of Lauren Jonas, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Diablo Ballet and School Principal and company dancer, Raymond Tilton, the School has a dual mission: to train classical ballet dancers who wish to pursue a professional career in ballet and to offer young children and adults in the Bay Area an introduction to classic ballet and the joy of dance by professional dancers.

The school will be located at the Performing Academy Diablo location in Pleasant Hill. This location will also be the new home of Diablo Ballet’s company rehearsals. Classes will range from Pre-Ballet to Adult Ballet classes, including Ballet I, Ballet II, Ballet III, Intermediate and Advanced Ballet. Students will have performance opportunities each year and Intermediate and Advanced Ballet students will be given the opportunity to perform with Diablo Ballet in one program during the Company’s regular season. Registration will begin in May on the company’s website. For information, please call (925) 943-1775 or visit www.diabloballet.org.

Possokhov and Scarlett bring two world premieres to the SFB stage

With The Sleeping Beauty all wrapped up at the War Memorial Opera House, it’s officially the halfway point for San Francisco Ballet’s 2019 repertory season. Last season’s Unbound: A Festival of New Works (which I blogged about HERE) gave the company twelve world premieres, several of which are being repeated this season. But 2019 brings its own two world premieres, which are forthcoming, in Programs 5 and 6.

Program 5, “Lyric Voices,” which runs March 27 through April 7, features the world premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s “. . . two united in a single soul . . .” It’s choreographer-in-residence Possokhov’s 15th work created for the San Francisco Ballet, and he’s drawn from the Greek myth of Narcissus, the hunter who falls in love with his own reflection in a forest spring and wastes away, pining for unattainable love. Possokhov, whose work for the San Francisco Ballet includes The Rite of Spring, Firebird and Swimmer, utilizes thirteen dancers, including Narcissus, who explore moments of connection, reflection and refraction.

Wei Wang and Joseph Walsh rehearsing Possokhov’s “. . . two united in a single soul . . .”. (© Erik Tomasson)

The ballet’s music holds its own allure to me. Possokhov commissioned a score by Russian composer Daria Novo, who has fused arias by Handel—performed live, in rotation, by countertenors Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen and Matheus Coura—with electronic elements (audio plug-ins, libraries, sound effects) and her own music. The music, the countertenors, might sound surprisingly familiar to some. Remember that 1994 movie, Farinelli, a biographical drama about the 18th-century castrato Carlo Broschi?

Countertenors are today’s equivalent to the famous castrati (do I need to translate what makes them sing so high?) of the 17th and 18th centuries, and Possokhov cites the music from Farinelli as further inspiration for his ballet. “It’s the combination of the dancing and the singing that I love so much. I knew I wanted voice, and I’m fond of countertenors. The ballet is set nowhere; it’s just space-somewhere, somehow. And the voice is like the echo in the myth.”

“Lyric Voices” also includes two ballets returning from last year’s Unbound Festival. They are Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem and Christopher Wheeldon’s Bound To. Additional information about the program can be found on San Francisco Ballet’s website, in its Discover section. Dates run Wed March 27  to Sun April 7 (concurrent with Program 6). Tickets start at $32 and may be purchased via the Ticket Services Office at 415 865 2000, Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm or online at www.sfballet.org.

I can’t stop thinking about the music from Farinelli –– it’s a favorite soundtrack of mine. I have a hunch Possokhov’s ballet will include the gorgeous “Lascia Ch’io Pianga” from Handel’s Rinaldo, so to get you in the mood, here you go, something for my ballet readers and classical music readers alike.

And now about the World Premiere for Program 6, Liam Scarlett’s Die Toteninsel. It, too, includes a stunning, memorable work of classical music, Rachmaninoff’s “The Isle of the Dead.” Die Toteninsel is its German translation, and is also the name of the iconic painting by Swiss Symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin (see the embed below). Rachmaninoff’s symphonic tone poem, like the painting, is stirring and spooky and amazing; it made the list for my “10 Spooky Classical Faves for Halloween” post, which you can find HERE.

English choreographer Scarlett, artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, has created other memorable works for The San Francisco Ballet: Hummingbird, Fearful Symmetries and Frankenstein. Similar to the latter, Die Toteninsel exhibits the darkness and uneasy qualities of beauty (or, paradoxically, the beautiful qualities of darkness and unease). As Caitlin Sims explains in program notes, Scarlett uses the music and its history as a jumping off point for a more abstract work exploring the deep-rooted questions about what lies beyond this life. If Scarlett’s Frankenstein was a choreographic novel, his new ballet is more a short story—in which symbolism, movement motifs, and ambiguity both color the work and give viewers room to make diverse, individual interpretations.

Liam Scarlett and Davide Occhipinti rehearsing Scarlett’s Die Toteninsel. (© Erik Tomasson)

Scarlett draws upon the music’s repetitiveness and its unique 5/8 time signature in creating movement that grows and builds, then unexpectedly echoes itself. As a central couple emerges, surging forward and sweeping back in great arcs, their movements are reflected by groups that form and dissipate as easily as waves, giving the ephemeral “a sense of weight, and passing through one another,” says Scarlett.

Give the music a listen. It’s stunning. And the image, by the way, is the famous painting.

Also featured in Program 6 are Justin Peck’s 2015 Rodeo: Four Dances and Arthur Pita’s Björk Ballet (from last year’s Unbound Festival). Additional information about the program can be found on San Francisco Ballet’s website, in its Discover section. Dates run Friday March 29  to Tuesday April 9 (concurrent with Program 5). Tickets start at $32 and may be purchased via the Ticket Services Office at 415 865 2000, Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm or online at www.sfballet.org.

Green Book and Chopin’s stunning Étude

 

If you’re a moviegoer who follows the Oscars, you might have seen Green Book, a 2018 movie about an Italian-American bouncer who chauffeurs an African-American pianist on a performing tour through the deep South in the 1960s. It stars actors Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, and I can’t say enough good things about it. What drew me, of course, was the classical music angle hovering on the periphery.

The film’s title derives itself from a publication, from 1936 to 1966, called The Negro Motorist Green Book, which pointed black travelers toward establishments where they would be welcomed throughout the deeply segregated South. The movie is based on a true story (the screenwriter is Nick Vallelonga, son of Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, the chauffeur, who chronicled his father’s shared recollections), although the film condenses the events into six weeks, when in real life, their travels together, on and off, lasted a year and a half. The two men remained friends for life.

Don Shirley, the son of Jamaican immigrant parents, was born in Florida in 1927. Considered a musical prodigy, he was invited at age 9 to study theory at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music. By age 10, he could play much of the piano’s standard concert repertory. He also composed his own work. He made his professional debut at age 18 with the Boston Pops, performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor and a year later, he performed one of his compositions with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. But he would soon come to discover that opportunities for classical black musicians were few and far between. Discouraged, he abandoned the piano as a career and studied psychology at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph D. It was around this time that playing music returned to his life. He was advised that, while American audiences would have trouble accepting a black concert pianist, he’d be brilliant in playing  what Shirley describes in the film not as jazz, but as “pop.” Doing so, as the leader of the Don Shirley Trio, he became highly successful, managing to infuse the music with enough classical elements to make it sound posh, unique.

‘‘The silky tone and supple rhythmic flow of Mr. Shirley’s playing is just as artful and ingratiating as ever,’’ Peter G. Davis wrote in The New York Times of a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1971. ‘‘’I Can’t Get Started’ heard as a Chopin nocturne, or ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ as a Rachmaninoff etude, may strike some as a trifle odd, but these — and everything on the program, in fact — were beautifully tailored to spotlight Mr. Shirley’s easy lyrical style and bravura technique.’’

But back to the movie, Green Book. Tony and Dr. Don Shirley — whom Tony quickly takes to calling Doc, embark on the concert tour and initially all goes [relatively] smoothly. One scene appealed to the classical lover in me. Tony joins Don in a hotel lobby, where Don opens up to Tony about how he loves classical music, and finds what he had to settle for, as a musician, to be a step down. Tony’s shocked by this. He’s heard Dr. Shirley play, telling his wife that “he’s like a musical genius — as good as Liberace!” and now says to Shirley, “Anyone can sound like Beethoven. But your music, what you do—only you can do that.”

It was a heartfelt compliment, mind you. Maybe the others in the audience felt the same way, that Tony was telling him the truth. I had this moment of recoiling, worried that this might be a story theme, like “jazz and pop are relevant and good, while classical music is dry and elitist.” But Don Shirley had embraced his classical training; it was where his musical prodigy existed. So Don only smiles over Tony’s words, too polite to scorn them, but likely aware (like myself) that, no, not everyone can sound like Beethoven. Not every professional pianist can play Beethoven, or, Shirley’s favorite composer, Chopin, in a way that is so knowing of the composer’s intentions, nuances, that, when they play it, it is like conjuring up Beethoven and/or Chopin, the composer’s spirit, the music’s spirit. It’s damned hard to play complex, note-heavy music and make it sound, paradoxically, as uncomplicated and organic as water trickling through a stream (or in Beethoven’s case, water thundering down Niagara Falls). Don Shirley could play this way. But the world wasn’t interested in hearing him play classical music, not in 1960’s America.

Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley in Green Book, directed by Peter Farrelly.

The movie is marvelous, plenty of humor, heart, expected (and unexpected) pathos as the two make their way further into the deep South. I’m not here to write a review, but if you’d like one, click HERE, for a good one by Jonathan Romney. But there’s a scene toward the end that I LOVED SO MUCH, I had to share it here. Following a racially spurred incident before a final performance, Doc and Tony walk out of the venue in a rage (whoops, should I have said “spoiler alert”? Um, SPOILER ALERT) and head instead to a roadside joint, which had been recommended to Don because it “served dinner to people of color.” You can visualize this great joint, the jazz playing, the soul food being served, and Tony loves the vibe of the place. He’s far more comfortable there than Don, who’s wearing a tux and can’t help the fact that he has the formal bearing of a king. It’s who he is. But the two take a seat, have a drink, some food, and Don relaxes. The female bartender, curious about Don’s posh looks and attire, asks what he does. When she hears he’s a pianist, she gestures to the piano on a small stage in the corner, currently unoccupied because the musicians are taking a break. Don hesitates, Tony prods him, and finally Don gets up and goes to the piano.

Oh, what a delicious moment. He sits, adjusts the bench, and softly plays eight notes, a simple melody. Dum dum du-dum DA dum dum DA. Repeats it more softly, with chords.

You can tell the other customers listening are bemused, thinking, okayyyyy, that’s the best he can do? But if you know Chopin, or saw the movie, maybe you know what’s coming. I felt the awareness like an incipient ache, a split second of “OmigodIKnowWhat’sComingNeeeeeext” and then, the crashing, stunning, unforgettable, searing cascade of notes that is Chopin’s Étude Op. 25, No 11 in A minor. (Subtitled “Winter Wind,” which is SO perfect.)

I think it’s time for you to hear it.

What I found so unforgettable was how, as Don played, you could feel his rage—but wait, that’s the wrong word. More like an energized sorrow, a lifetime’s lament, that this music by Chopin, this really kick-ass, hard-to-play music, was what stirred his soul, not the mainstream jazz he and his trio performed. Or maybe it was the pent-up frustration of dealing with the indignities of being a black man in the 1960’s, in the deep South, seen for his skin color and not his musical talent. Regardless, it was amazing. I love, love, loved this scene, this movie.

The Academy Awards are on Sunday, Feb 24th, and Green Book received multiple nominations, including for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay and, the most exciting category: Best Picture. I’m not sure how well this much-beloved film (to me) will stand up against the others. In the aforementioned/linked review above, Jonathan Romney says:  “Green Book is a road trip into another era, in more ways than one. It’s a quietly mischievous comedy-drama about race, unimpeachably well-meaning in an old-fashioned way—but something of a benign dinosaur in the age of Get OutBlacKkKlansman, and Sorry to Bother You.“ He brings up a good point. But me, I’ll be rooting for this wonderful film on Sunday night. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see it yet, run out and do so ASAP.

PS: Kudos and credit go to film composer and music mentor Kris Bowers, as well, whose hands and whose sound appear in the film. Curious about how much of a part he played in the movie? Click HERE for a great article by Pollstart.

Mystery revealed: Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat

Tell me if this has ever happened to you: you’re out and about when you hear a brief passage of gorgeous classical music, which never gets identified, and it goes on to haunt you.

Here was mine: I was in an art-house cinema years back, sitting in the semidarkness with my husband, waiting for the movie to begin. Back in those civilized days, they didn’t bombard you with commercials or junky “shows” before the film; you got to bask in music. This piece, a classical piano recording, was just stunning, dreamy and lyrical. All my thoughts fell away; even my breath stilled, in order to capture every note. “Who is this composer?” I asked my husband in a hushed voice. He shrugged.

“Schubert,” a man two rows behind us called out. I thanked him, murmured it to myself to mentally file it away, and as the piece ended, the lights dimmed, and the movie previews began.

I thought longingly of that piece on and off for the next several months. This was back in the old days, no iTunes, no internet to surf, no Google, Spotify, Amazon. To procure new music you—gasp!— had to go into a record store and hunt for it. It didn’t help that I couldn’t describe it well. (“It’s… very pretty. Haunting. And short.”) I sifted through Schubert’s music to see if I could find it, but we’re talking about a very prolific composer. In his all-too-brief life, Schubert wrote over 1000 pieces of music, 600 of them lieder or “songs”—short, lyrical, vocal compositions that, along with his waltzes (particularly the Austrian Ländler) brought Schubert great fame. (In his native Vienna, where he spent his entire life, these pieces became so popular, they comprised the core of social evenings, called “Schubertiads,” in the salons of the wealthy, where people would gather to sing and dance to Schubert’s music.)

But the mystery music was neither lieder nor waltz.

I searched on. I taste-tested. I bought compilation CDs. I bought a trio of Schubert CDs. No luck.

“Are you sure he said Schubert?” one of my classical music friends asked when I shared my frustrating search for this piece of music. “Was it maybe Schumann? Because that mystical, haunting feeling can be found in a lot of Schumann’s music.”

So I commenced a search through the Schumann repertoire. Bought those compilation CDs. I got to know his symphonies and concertos, some of which, indeed, carried a sense of the otherworldly (which I blogged about HERE). I read a biography on him that was as compelling as a novel. I fell in love with his music. But I never found the composition that haunted me.

The Great Search continued for, believe it or not, a decade. Granted, it didn’t occupy my every thought, but it was always there, in the back of my mind, this mysteriously beautiful piece that either Schumann or Schubert had composed. Every time I went into a music store, I’d grill whomever best knew classical music. I discovered more and more delightful pieces through obscure compilation CDs that I’d buy, which, actually, went a long way in expanding my classical music preferences.

And then one day I heard it again.

I was in the car, driving. And this is probably something other classical music lovers can relate to, as well. You hear it on the radio, and you sit in your car, still as a mouse, having arrived at your destination, but determined NOT to leave the car until the piece ends, at which time the radio announcer will state in that silken broadcaster’s voice that which you just heard, and if ANYTHING gets in the way of your hearing the title or the composer’s name, you will FREAK OUT.

“And that was Franz Schubert (“Aha!” you scream inside) and his Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat major,” the broadcaster purrs, and as he continues talking, you’re frantically grabbing for a pen and paper to scribble that down, and finally, you’ve got it. The name of the song that has haunted you for well over a decade.

It was another few years before I actually bought a recording of the Impromptu No. 3. Yes, I could have bought a CD of the 4 Impromptu collection for $16.99. Call me cheap — I spent most of my pennies back then on budget compilation CDs. For some reason, this astonishingly beautiful piece isn’t as well-known as other short classical compositions. It’s rare to find it on a compilation CD. Strange, since Schubert had such a keen sense of melody. Possibly because he himself began his music studies as a singer, and lieder truly was his claim to considerable fame during his lifetime. (The majority of his other music was published posthumously, where it found even greater popularity.) Thank goodness for the advent of iTunes, where I could buy a single piece of music, simply by typing in the name and clicking “buy.” Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3 is now mine to listen to, whenever I want.

Oh, the emotional images it stirs within me. A whiff of my childhood, dusk on a wintery Sunday, when the younger, chilled me has gone inside and Mom’s got a roast cooking in the oven, filling the air with an intoxicating aroma and a sense of security. An adult version: arriving home after a long day out in the world, but you’re home now, changed out of constraining clothes into something loose and roomy, and someone has just handed you a glass of red wine and told you not to worry, dinner will happen when it happens. In the music, I also catch a prescient glimpse of old age: the sweet ache of walking through a quiet house and seeing all the family photos, each with their own story, each story over, now, consigned to memory. Life lived, life passing.

Your turn to give Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3 a listen. Here are two different interpretations. First one is Vladimir Horowitz and the second one is Inon Barnatan.


And

Which do you prefer? Horowitz’s fingers are so flat against the keys, it’s crazy to watch. But shut your eyes and feel the way he channels a story. The guy is a master, a once-in-a-generation kind of talent. It’s slower than Barnatan’s; I can’t decide if that leaches some of the intensity from it for me. Pianist Inon Barnatan (whose recording is the one I bought through iTunes) creates such a marvelous mood with his articulation, the way he crescendoes and decrescendos — really, it renders me a little breathless, with awe, with pleasure. It’s just so many delicious aural sensations, packed into six minutes.

Schubert composed the Impromptu No. 3, part of a set of 4 Impromptus, in the two-year period before he died in 1828. He’d found tremendous success in the popularity of his short works, but surely he felt the sorrow of putting so much of his energy into longer works — operas that he could never find a publisher, patron or venue to champion, which had been his lifelong wish. His health was lousy (he contracted what was likely syphilis in his early twenties and spent a good deal of time in hospitals) and he struggled with depression. Readers who already are familiar with Schubert’s work might know that he wrote “Winterreise” during this time. I have to say, when I read the description, a “heartrending diary of the Winter Journey of a rejected lover, whose unquenchable pain leads him to quiet madness and a longing for death” — well, I took a pass. It’s a song cycle of 24 pieces, so if you’re a reader who likes [dark] lieder, HERE is a link. More cheerful and more recognizable is Schubert’s Quintet in A major, popularly known as the “Trout” quintet. I’m a longtime fan of the Rosamunde Overture.  I am currently listening to his lovely Piano Quintet in C major, which I prefer over the Quintet in A, actually. You will recognize the middle “Adagio” movement here — it’s been used in several movies and commercials. There’s his Quartet No. 14 in D minor, “Death and the Maiden,” that’s a must-listen, its first two movements in particular. His symphonies. His “Ave Maria.” (Maria Callas’ rendition HERE is simply stunning.) And more, and more.

Have you been haunted by a piece of classical music in a similar fashion? Do share! They are such fun stories to hear, and what fascinates me is how different each classical music lover’s tastes are. Beethoven, Liszt, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Wagner, Dvorák, Britten, Schumann, Brahms, Barber, Debussy, Hindemith—the list goes on and on, of composers who’ve written something either stunning or stark (or both) that speaks to the soul in a way nothing else can.

3 Gifts from Classical Girl Press

Here at the Classical Girl household, it’s been a spiritual month. We celebrated my husband’s Jewish heritage with a menorah and latkes during Hanukkah. I took my annual Winter Solstice retreat at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center last week (redwoods, silence, space, contemplation = heaven), and now it’s time to celebrate my Catholic heritage with Christmas and its sister holiday, Christmas Eve day, which, as I get older, becomes more and more precious, filled with enjoyment, good cheer, a brimming sense of happiness in having given, and the sweet anticipation of the buzz generated in a crowded Catholic church that evening. And, post-Mass, Christmas Eve at home with the family, fire in the fireplace, candles twinkling, a glass of wine, Christmas tree lights and ornaments glowing – aah. Followed by Christmas Day. Where magic meets spirituality in a delicious, undefinable way that has little to do with the presents you receive.

The season’s holidays, of course, expand well beyond what I myself celebrate. In November, there was Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, and Mawlid al-Nabi, the Islamic celebration of the birth of the prophet, Muhammed. There’s Kwanzaa, starting the day after Christmas. And January 7th, the 12th day of Christmas, marks the day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas. I’m a rebel Catholic girl. I say there’s room for all flavors of religion and/or spirituality. They all share this: beyond each religious holiday’s story, there is a giving of yourself involved, which activates a spirit of goodwill, which allows you to observe the divine coursing through everything, everyone. (Granted, during extended-family holiday gatherings, one might observe discord coursing through everyone, but let’s overlook that for now, shall we?) One other thing I’m going to hazard a guess that all the holidays have in common: eating lots of good food. Probably too much. Ah well, t’is the season.

Back to those “3 gifts” I dangled in the subject line. Classical Girl Press, my sister business, would like to extend three gifts in this season of giving. For the next five days, enjoy the Ballet Theatre Chronicles–Off Balance and Outside the Limelight for FREE. A Dancer’s Guide to Africa has been reduced to 99 cents through the 27th, and will be FREE on December 28th. 

                      

Have a wonderful holiday week, however you choose to celebrate (or not). I am well aware of how hard holidays can be for some people, for varying reasons, something to just “get through.” Been there. I say, no better way to escape it than with a good book. Getting a Kindle for Christmas? Perfect timing! Don’t have a Kindle or any other reader, but want to enjoy these freebies on an old-fashioned desktop? (That’s me, actually.) Click HERE (if you have a Mac) and HERE (for a PC)  to obtain and download a free app that turns your computer or laptop into a Kindle device.

And let me be the first to offer you a HAPPY NEW YEAR and best wishes for 2019.