The Women Are Coming

Fifteen years ago, on my first Classical Discoveries program on WPRB, I played a work of the Polish violinist and composer, Grażyna Bacewicz. At this time it was hard to find a CD or LP with women composers and buying over the Internet had just begun.

Miniature painting of female musicians from Hasht-Behesht palace, Isfahan, Iran, from 1669

Before my marriage, I had no idea that March 8 was celebrated all over the world as International Women’s Day. My almost wife informed me that she was accustomed to receive her favorite flowers, freesia on that day.

When my first March came along, together with a Hovhaness birthday tribute, I played the music of a few women composers and my wife got a wonderful bouquet of freesia. Actually, to find freesia was easier than to find recordings of music by women, since this was the time of the Philadelphia Flower Show and the region exploded with flowers.

As my CD collection was growing I was able to eventually devote the entire month of March to woman composers.  This is how the annual series “In Praise Of Woman” was born and you know the rest.

Every March from 2004, in observance of Women’s History Month, Classical Discoveries pays tribute to music by women composers from all over the world and through the centuries. Every regular scheduled program (that includes the Avant-Garde Edition from 2009) is exclusively devoted to their music.

I heard many times the opinion that women are not capable to compose, write and paint, based on amount of work they left through the ages. On my webpage devoted to this program I quoted a few years ago the following:

History was not very kind to women in the past. They were destined to be wives and mothers, were kept away from education and culture by controlling fathers, brothers and husbands. Women were forbidden to write, compose, or paint and the only way for some to escape that path was to join a convent, however these often had many restrictions imposed by male superiors.

The lucky ones born to wealthy or artistic families were allowed to be creative, often only till they got married. Some of them could not escape the sad destiny of having their works claimed by men.  Many women did not sign their works or they used a male name. It has been suggested by many researchers that women are behind many anonymous works.

I think they did pretty well considering all the obstacles they faced and it is time for us men, to admit that we were responsible for those obstacles.

Of course, I did reference to the past, but if you turn on the radio and TV these days you wonder if we are going back in time and if the above comment will apply in the next 10 years. I hope it never comes to that.

Yes, I must admit that it is better for women now. Some have even gotten the recognition they deserve, but that is not enough.

There are not many places where one can learn about woman composers.  You definitely won’t learn much by attending most concerts or by listening to your typical classical radio station where most likely the average listener won’t be able to name 5 women composers.

I teach Music History for the Young Artist program at Westminster Conservatory and always make sure to include women composers in my presentations. I get a lot of pleasure seeing young women’s faces light up with pride on the news that we had women composers in all historical periods. You should have seen my surprise after asking if anyone knew who the first woman was who wrote a sonata and hearing the name Isabella Leonarda coming from the mouth of 16-year-old student. In fact, I wonder how many regular classical music listeners know who she was? Yes, my message is getting through.

Preparing for all of my programs of women composers reminded me about a rather disturbing Facebook incident, where I had been accused (not a long time ago) for patronizing women. Since I was devoting a whole Classical Discoveries program to music written by women I was sending a wrong message to a young impressionable women. (sic)

The whole incident started turn ugly and engaged many listeners and composers in my defense.  I tried not to get to involved with this, but eventually I had no choice but write the following statement to my attacker to stop her from continuing this farce.

I do consider myself as very sensitive guy, careful not to hurt someone feelings. I have never thought that calling a composer – a woman composer might hurt some. The English language does not give us flexibility like other languages to make that distinction. Is it really so bad to be called a woman composer?

I never thought in my life that a young impressionable woman would get the wrong message listening to only women composers on Classical Discoveries. I wonder why so many of them (young women) wrote to me over the years saying that I opened their eyes showing how many great women composers exist, and that they are very proud being women musicians or/and composers.

Someone does not need to patronize me by telling me that I might have good intentions. I do not.  I do the right thing by devoting whole programs to women composers even if one person does not like it.  As the creator of this program I have total artistic freedom how, what and when I present it. In my program, considering the limited time I have, I do the best to present unknown composers and that includes men also.

By the way I asked and never heard from you if it is ok for a woman radio host to devote a whole program to women composers. Guess what? Since you never answered, I am not interested to find this from you anymore. I would like to thank you in advance for bowing out and not continuing this farce. I would especially like to thank as well all of my (sometimes insulted) supporters. …I consider this subject closed, it seems that no one who responded agrees with your opinion, however, I promise you that I will respect any wish from any composer not to be played on my program.

At the end, the attacker claiming to be a musician, bowed out, and this is bizarre – she admitted to not having any idea what my program was about and admitted she never listened to it.

I do not expect any more problems like this and she is no more my Facebook friend. So far I have not received even one letter from a composer requesting that his/her music would not to be played on my program.

Persian Musician of Qajar Dynasty

So here we are on the brink of the 9th Annual  “In Praise of Woman” –  four weeks of nothing but music by women.

If you have not visited my website, here is the information:

The first two shows of the series will air Wednesday, March 07, 2012 at 5:30am and will be devoted to American Women composers. On March 14, Classical Discoveries will host live, in the WPRB studio, Cuban composer Tania León  and on March 21, English composer Roxanna Panufnik

and all that will happen on WPRB 103.3 FM Princeton NJ, or on the Internet at: http://www.wprb.com/listen.php

To find past playlists of the annual series and other programs devoted to music by women composers go to
In Praise of Woman page.

Please check the weekly posting for highlights and upcoming features at http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org

Also, this year you will be able to listen to archived programs for two weeks at: http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org/index_music

If you are on Facebok please join the Event at : https://www.facebook.com/events/361012613933524/

 

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More piano and me

I finally updated the Event Page on my website with my current affairs and both of the upcoming piano workshops are there.

Just a reminder, the first workshop will be presented on Monday, February 6, 2012 at 10:30am till 12:30pm in Princeton.

Also here is some exciting news about Tuesday’s workshop. Montgomery Media publisher of many papers in South Eastern Pennsylvania presented a story about our upcoming workshop in Willow Grove.  The story is by Joe Barron.

I hope that this story might entice some of you in the area to come and hear how new music sounds. You can go and read the story by following this link:  Montgomery News, or you can just read Joe’s story below.

Piano recital at Jacobs Music hopes to bring avant-garde to the fore

By Joe Barron
jbarron@montgomerynews.com

Marvin Rosen remembers the day he first heard the music of the composer Jennifer Castellano. It was April 18, 2010, at a piano recital given in New York City by Max Lifschitz, the contemporary music specialist.

“Basically, I was very impressed with her music without knowing much about her,” Rosen recalled Sunday, speaking by telephone from his home in Princeton, N.J.

An email correspondence ensued. Castellano sent Rosen CDs of her music, which he played on his radio program, “Classical Discoveries,” broadcast Wednesday mornings on WPRB Princeton, 103.3 FM. Eventually, Rosen asked to speak with Castellano on the phone.

“She called me the first time, I was floored,” Rosen said. “I mean, if you told me she was hearing-impaired, you could have knocked me over with a feather.”

Castellano, 30, is not only hearing-impaired, she is also legally blind; yet she and Rosen perform regularly as a piano duo. Together, they will conduct a music workshop and recital at Jacobs Music, Willow Grove, Feb. 7.

“The audience is mostly going to be teaching professionals,” Castellano said in a phone interview Sunday. “My mission is to show people that, you know, music can be taught to everybody, and there’s no limits to who can participate in music and who can study it.”

Disabilities are nothing in new in the arts, of course. The greatest composer in history was deaf, and Beethoven did not have access to the gadgetry that allows Castellano to talk on the phone or pick up cues from her conductor when she plays in the bell choir at her church in Hawthorne, N.Y.

Nevertheless, she remembers a distinct, uneasy vibe in the room when she auditioned for the music department at Manhattanville College in the 1990s. In addition to proving she could play the piano, she had to reassure the faculty that she would not need too much special accommodation. The final bit of resistance broke down when, one day in class, a professor asked who among the students had perfect pitch, and Castellano raised her hand.

“I don’t think they saw that coming,” she said. “You don’t have to have good hearing to have perfect pitch. You just have to have a good memory. I think it can be taught.”

Castellano’s greatest handicap, however, is one she shares with every composer alive today: The classical music world prefers composers who are safely dead. It’s usually after the composer dies that people start taking an interest,” she said. “It takes awhile. I don’t know how exactly that works.”

Rosen has tried to correct the imbalance in his weekly radio broadcast, which he has dedicated to unfamiliar repertoire, particularly that of living composers. He once devoted a morning to Castellano’s work, interviewing her on the air. For a young composer, it was like dying and going to heaven — or maybe, in classical terms, to just dying.

“It’s not easy to get any opportunities like that,” Castellano said. “There are not many radio shows that play current stuff, and if they do, it’s very hard to be included. … You can’t put a price on that. It’s a great thing if you’re a living composer.”

As a thank-you for the attention and encouragement, Castellano composed the “theme” for the avant-garde edition of Rosen’s radio show, taking his spoken introduction — “Welcome to another edition of ‘Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde’” — and subjecting it to a series of electronic mutations.

“It’s all based on my radio voice,” Rosen said. “She took samples, and then she started dissecting them. … I’ll probably share that at the workshop.”

It will be an appropriate choice, because, like “Classical Discoveries,” the workshop is of a piece with Rosen’s mission to promote the work of living composers. The program will include music from around the world, all of it written in the 21st century. His hope, he said, is that teachers who attend will take some of the music back to their students.

“Any style goes this day and age. There is something for everybody,” he said. “Students have a very exciting time when they say, ‘Oh, gosh, this thing was written when I was 5.’”

If you go:
Pianists Marvin Rosen & Jennifer Castellano will conduct a music recital & workshop at Jacobs Music, 1135 N. Easton Road, Willow Grove, PA 19090,
Tuesday, Feb. 7, 10 a.m. – noon. The program is being presented for the Bucks County Association of Piano Teachers. General public is invited.
Admission: $10; free to members of Music Teachers National Association chapters in the Philadelphia area.

Info: marvinarosen@gmail.com.

Contemporary music, piano and me

Since my sophomore year at Trenton State College (now College of New Jersey) I have had a fatal attraction to contemporary music against my parents’ wishes.  I often wonder if that was my way to escape to a place, where I could be myself without their interference, since they totally disapproved contemporary music.

During that year I heard for the first time a live performance of Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur with organist Albert Ludecke, who had a profound influence on developing my musical taste during college days.

No, I never played the organ, but thanks to him I became very interested in 20th Century French organ repertoire and composers such as Marcel Dupré, Charles Tournemire, Jehan Alain, Maurice Duruflé and many others.  That led to my research into the repertoire by those composers and into the discovery of a variety of their piano works.

I will never forget my excitement when I found and purchased a copy of the Préludes” of Olivier Messiaen, four of which I included on my college senior recital. As I recall, these pieces received the biggest applause at my recital.

Olivier Messiaen is almost a regular fixture on many recitals now, but years ago his music was not.

This led later to more discoveries of piano repertoire like the wonderful set of 12 “Préludespoèmes” by Charles Tournemire – something between the music of Debussy and Messiaen.  The interesting thing about this music was that some of it was written on 4 or more staves!

Through the years, I performed a number of these as well as the original piano version of Marcel Dupré popular organ workCortège and Litanie, Op. 19, No. 2” and of course, much Messiaen.

My master’s thesis at the Manhattan School of Music was of course, devoted to the music of one of the 20th century French organists and titled “A Seventy-Fifth Birthday Tribute to Maurice Durufle.” I still have 2 letters I treasure, written to me by the composer.

My fascination with obscure contemporary music continued when I discovered the music of Alan Hovhaness. This eventually led to the meeting and my friendship with the composer as well as to doctoral dissertation on a number of piano sonatas, and later 2 recordings of his piano music. I am planning in the near future to go more deeply into the subject of Hovhaness and my feeling about the very disappointing centennial year tributes.

From the time I turned my world upside down by researching piano music by French composers, I have that strange feeling, similar to hunger, that forces me to look for obscure music, almost to the point of obsession (at least my wife thinks so). When I see an exciting première recording coming out I almost get the shakes from all the excitement.

I do not know if I would be who I am without good music education and inspiring teachers. My interest in music has expanded in many different directions, and I do know that some of my interests have changed over the years. I might not care much now about music I loved before and vice versa.  Sometimes I must listen to a new work a few times before I like it, and I almost never reject anything permanently.  I am also evolving and a few years later I might change my opinion.

We should always try to remember that some of the musical warhorses of today were given poor reviews when they were first presented.

Regardless of what I am teaching, I always remember my teachers, what they did for me, and what I liked about them.  I might be the first to open the door of knowledge and encourage young students to discover the world of new music, the world I am so passionate about.

My students must learn repertoire from all periods, but I rarely see excitement when I hand them a new piece of Mozart or Schubert.  I know that eventually they may possibility learn to love this music, but for now I let them love the music of today such as that by Jennifer Castellano, René Eespere, Ludovico Einaudi, Philip Glass, Jaan Rääts, Yoichi Togawa, and the works of other living composers.

One of my young students confessed to me that after learning a piano work by Einaudi, he downloaded 20 different tracks of his music to his IPod. Not Lady Gaga but Einaudi? I was very excited to see this.

I enjoy seeing young faces when they shake the hand of a young composer (someone they can relate to) who wrote a work they just played.  I do remember how my student reacted after finding out the year a composer wrote a work she was playing. “Wow, I was 8 years old when this work was written.”

This is why new repertoire must be introduced to young students if we want them to step into 21st Century.

Whether I present, my Classical Discoveries program, a lecture or a piano recital, people are always asking me why we do not hear more music of our time. I know that only through exposure  you can change a person’s general opinion, but I also know that this is a rather complicated issue. Sometimes I do not know what to say to people without hurting their feelings.

The hardest thing for me is to understand why some people are so inflexible and closed-minded and are not willing to open their mind and ears, and accept the fact that there is much more to music than Mozart and Schubert. The answer may simply be is that people are comfortable only with the familiar.

These are typical comments I hear when strangers find out what I am doing:

  •      A.   I hate new music!
  •      Q.    When was the last time you heard music you hated?
  •      AO! In the seventies or eighties and now I never go to any new music concerts.
  •      Q.  That was many years ago. If you never heard any recently how do you know if you will still hate it?
  •      A.   No one can be better than Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky.
  •      Q.   Do you ever listen to recordings of new music?
  •      A.   No, I would not give this crap a chance, and all new music is crap!!!
  •      Q.    If you try just a little, you may change your opinion and like it.
  •      A .  No way.

It sounds like talking to the wall, but what is interesting, is that some of those non-believers have actually changed their mind. There was a commercial many years ago which included the phrase “Try it, you’ll like it.”  Maybe this should be the phrase to try to encourage listeners to give new music a chance?

A few weeks ago I presented a workshop “21st Century Piano Literature’ for the “Piano Teachers Forum” in Central New Jersey.  I performed and discussed new works from all over the world for all levels of piano students.

This is briefly what I wrote in my introduction to the list of recommended works for piano students:

I have been disturbed by the general lack of interest in the music of our time, for not only the piano, but for other instruments and ensembles as well.  Over the years, after speaking to some of my colleagues, I realized that it was not a lack of interest, but rather a lack of exposure. I have acquired many interesting recordings from all over the world for my radio program and have also received from composers some of their piano works for my personal use, due to my interest in contemporary piano literature. I am very happy to share some of that music with you.  In earlier centuries new music was greatly supported and I hope that this trend will eventually return.  I know that my students are very excited about playing music composed during their lifetime.

Based on the reaction during and after the presentation, as well as e-mails I received, the participating teachers were very excited about this workshop. Hopefully, some of the attending teachers will share this excitement about new music with their students. It is important for musicians and teachers to support the music of living composers.

I will be presenting 2 more workshops featuring 21st Century Piano Repertoire in the beginning of February. This time they will be with this year’s commissioned composer for “New Jersey Music Teachers Association (NJMTA), Jennifer Castellano. Jennifer will perform her own compositions and discuss her challenges as a visually and hearing-impaired musician. Jennifer (the second half of the Rosen – Castellano Duo) and I will be recording a CD of contemporary works for piano four-hands during the summer and will be presenting a few of these works during the upcoming workshops. The workshops will also include my performances of new piano repertoire as well, that I also intend to record soon.

If you are in the neighborhood of Princeton or Willow Grove and wish to attend as a guest either of those workshops please contact me at: marvinarosen@gmail.com

Music and copyright by Jennifer Castellano

Music and copyright by Jennifer Castellano

René Eespere:

Ludus Tactus (2008)

Yuko Yoshioka, Piano

Music: Yoichi Togawa
“Kaze no ha”for Piano
Piano: Yoshiko Takase

Why must we categorize music?

I do not like dividing music into categories.  I do not even like the term classical music.  Music is music and good music is good music!

Through the centuries in every part of the world music was created for religious, spiritual, and personal needs and most importantly for fun, joy and entertainment.  Music is a magical International language, which can be understood by all.  We should try to understand and embrace music from every source and culture. Our Western European classical music is only a small part of that equation.  India has classical music too, as well  many other countries.

We can find much similarity between past and present. Michael Praetorius was a Rock and Roller of his time. Magic Flute was a Broadway Musical. Chopin and Bartok were inspired by folk music and Gregorian Chant could be considered New Age music. There is a great similarity between Bach’s music and jazz, etc.  So, why do we have a problem with the music of our time?

Unfortunately, classical music (in its traditional form) has become music for a small aging élite, with no connection to a wider audience.   This is not what composers would want.

Since music education in the schools is generally almost non-existent it has become very difficult inspire a younger audience to listen to the traditional masterworks of the great composers such as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, etc.  Even students who study music privately generally only know the repertoire they are learning on their instrument.  How sad!

I feel that the music of our time is music that young people can relate to and can close the gap between various groups that are intimidated by classical music.   With our increasing population we should have more listeners enjoying the music of our time on the radio and concert halls.  The students in my Music History classes are exposed regularly to new music and they love it.  Many old forms that are found centuries ago can be found in today’s recent music.  In teaching the Concerto Grosso in my Baroque History classes for example I always find it valuable to see how the form is used in the music of our time as well.  After listening to a Concerto Grosso of Corelli, why not listen to a Concerto Grosso of Schnittke for example?  We need to make the experience of Classical music relevant to the experience of our younger students.

It is indeed very sad but many classical stations and orchestras have closed their door forever in recent years. I am really not interested to quote any numbers because this is not important. The fact is that they are closing.

Meanwhile booming New Music scenes in a few big cities around the USA are proving that new music attracts younger people.  Unfortunately all of this excitement is confined to a few cities and to a selected group of people.  We are also lucky now that we have many excellent new music Internet radio programs and stations, but they are confined to the Internet and technologically oriented listeners. This takes out of circulation a whole group of people and sentences them to listening to the warhorses and Muzak.

A sad excuse for continuing stale programming for classical radio is saying that according to the polls: “this is what listeners want.”

From my personal experience, the pollsters are professional statisticians, and often they do not know what questions to ask.  They also tend to bend questions to fit needs and expectation.  They should stick to calculating how many pair of shoes one person can produce in one hour, not how many Mozart’s you should listen to at breakfast and within 12 hours and how many Brahms pieces you should listen to at dinnertime.

How do listeners know what they want if they never heard anything else except what is played on their radio station?  This is like saying “I love bananas (Mozart) and strawberry (Schubert) for breakfast but I hate pomegranates and kiwis (new unknown music).” Did you ever try any out? “No, I never tasted them because they are too exotic for me.”

I get mad when I hear people saying that obscure music is obscure for a reason. Yes there is a reason, but not always because the music is bad. It is because no one takes the time to listen. Why take time? Let us play something that was tested 100 times at 100 stations each day.

Even a professional musician like myself, gets tired of listening to same old stuff and wants change. In fact, I do not attend concerts that have just standard repertoire. I rather listen to one of my CD’s.  Most radio programs are so predictable that it does not make any difference to me which station I tune to. To put it mildly, they are boring!!!  So many stations lack vision and do not look to the future. How sad!!!!

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet my radio hero, Jim Nettleton who was a rock and roll DJ and had a 50-year career.

He inspired me for many years, and was an incredibly personable man.  I met him few times before his early death of lung cancer at the age of only 69.  I felt I knew him for many years just after talking to him for just 1 minute at our first meeting.  I always think about him before beginning my radio show.  Of course we talked a great deal about radio and he said something that will always stay with me.  Hi said; “Unpredictability is entertainment.” How true this is in everything we do!!!

Please do not take me wrong. I still do love and have respect for Beethoven, Brahms, and countless others, and I remember growing up and being excited about so many works, but I am tired of listening to same works  over and over again.

I do not advocate not playing those composers. I just feel that we should have a good balance of all periods with a major focus on new music from the end of the 20th and the 21st century.  I would rather spend my energy on exposing living composers and little known music of other periods.

We are the only society that lives in the past and considers works written 80 years ago as a new 20th century work. Yes, it was a new work 80 years ago and guess what, it was most likely performed then. The time line for new music froze in 1943, when Rachmaninoff died.

Unfortunately, this applies not only to radio and the concert halls, but also to many institutions teaching future musicians. Just this last statement would take up a whole new blog.  Each century cherished it’s new music and older music was confined to libraries.

I chuckle when I try to imagine how music would develop if our ancestors in earlier centuries would treat new music like we do now. Composers would have to find other jobs, like cleaning barns full of cow manure, working as smiths, or working as horse carriage drivers.  Who would need new music if only Gregorian chants would be required in churches and at official ceremonies at the times of Bach and Handel.  For fun, everyone would dance to the tunes of the pilgrim songs from the “Llibre Vermell de Montserrat”. Hmm, Bach in Gregorian mode? Can you imagine Bach’s Gregorian St John Passion and what about a Gregorian Coronation Mass and a Gregorian Messiah?

It might be funny to imagine, but I am very sad………Do to the variety of music being written today, there is music for everyone from literally all over the world.  I feel  that because of this we are living in one of music’s most exciting times.  Unfortunately, most people who are in the position to help spread the word don’t do so.It is time that we give more support to all of our living composers from all over the world and New Music!!!!
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