Airlines and regulators are expected to ease up on those travel restrictions that made it impossible for musicians to take their valuable instruments onto airplanes as carry-ons. But while the ban was in effect, several musicians, determined not to check their valuable instruments in the cargo hold, found creative ways around the rules.
Violinist Viktoria Mullova, for one: on a late-August trip to perform in Helsinki with the Minnesota Orchestra, Mullova wrapped her Stradivarius in a towel and hid it at the bottom of a shopping bag so she could smuggle it into the passenger cabin. A couple of weeks later, however, she was less successful in her bid to get the instrument onto a flight from London to the United States. Unable to persuade security personnel to let her take the fiddle on the plane, she sent it back to her London home with a friend. In the U.S., she played a violin belonging to Sarah Kwak, the first associate concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra. It's no Strad, but the virtuosa reportedly likes playing it very much.
As music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas is immersed in classical music. But that doesn't prevent him from exploring other genres from time to time. Recently, MTT spent several hours visiting the South Carolina home of James Brown. The Godfather of Soul told The Los Angeles Times that Tilson Thomas was eager to learn what makes Brown tick. "He's one of the best in the world," says Brown, "... yet all the stuff he knows, James Brown got something different. Ain't that something?"
This month, MTT is back in California to open his 12th season at the SFO's helm. Then, in October, he heads back to the Southeast to take part in the four-day celebration marking the opening of the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, the Cesar Pelli-designed concert hall in Miami. Tilson Thomas will conduct the New World Symphony, the accomplished student orchestra that will be one of the Carnival Center's resident ensembles. MTT will lead a program that includes the world premiere of a festive fanfare by Stephen Mackey and the Beethoven Violin Concerto, with Maxim Vengerov as soloist.
Conductor Nicholas McGegan is also teaming up with a pop singer. McGegan, who made a name for himself as a Baroque specialist, joins forces with Broadway superstar Patti LuPone as well as soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and the Bay Area's leading period-instrument ensemble, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, for the November 2 premiere of Jake Heggie's one-act opera To Hell and Back.
The premiere is part of a busy season for the British-born maestro, who will be guest conducting major orchestras around the United States. He makes his debut with the prestigious Cleveland Orchestra in early February, leading a program of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi.
Back in 1991, McGegan began a long collaboration with the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. The pair made a number of acclaimed recordings together, including several Handel operas. In the wake of Hunt Lieberson's untimely death, Harmonia Mundi plans to release a box set featuring her work with McGegan.
Learning to speak another language can be intimidating enough. Just imagine learning to sing in one. The American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, currently working on her first German role — the Composer in Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos — says the language scared her silly at first. But now, with rehearsals moving forward in anticipation of her opening at Madrid's Teatro Real on September 27, DiDonato blogs that it's all coming together.
"During the entire first week of our staging, I would do a scene, stumble, fall, collapse, and grind the entire process to a halt while trying to get through the phrase, 'Ich habe mich ‹ber einen frechen Lakaien erz‹rnt, da ist sie mir aufgeblitzt.' ... However, I've been working my 'heilige' tail off, and it's finally starting to pay dividends, because now my mind can get out of the panic mode of WHAT WORD COMES NEXT? and start concentrating on lovely, meaningful things such as the character, listening, the scene in general, and the beautiful, naÇve, innocent, raw, sincere and earnest sentiments that this young man professes at every given opportunity." (The Composer is a trouser role.)
DiDonato will be able to use her new German skills again next summer. The Kansas City native will make her debut in another Strauss role, Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, with the San Francisco Opera in late June. DiDonato's venture into Strauss comes on the heels of a new French role, Massenet's Cendrillon (i.e., Cinderella), which she sang to glowing reviews this summer at the Santa Fe Opera. DiDonato also drew critical praise for a CD released in August, a live recording of a recital she gave in London's Wigmore Hall last season. On the disc, she performs songs by Faur_, Hahn and Head, accompanied by pianist Julius Drake.
Joshua Bell fanatics will have a chance to catch their favorite violinist on television later this month. On Saturday, September 30, Bell is scheduled to be featured on CBS's The Saturday Early Show. He will be interviewed and, with pianist Bradley Moore, will perform selections from Voice of the Violin, Bell's new album, which just debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard classical chart.