Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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Fall In Love With The Hamburg Ballet

Monday, December 12th, 2011

A good friend of mine doesn’t remember the day that she fell in love with the ballet. But, she thinks watching Mikhail Baryshinikov dance in the 1985 film, White Nights, had something to do with it.

Her love of the dance means she doesn’t care where she sees it (New York, Paris, London); all she knows is she wants to go.

So, if you’re like her, and you’re going to be in Hamburg, why not check out this upcoming season’s fantastic ballets? A truly cultured activity for a truly cultured city, if I do say so myself.

Here’s just a few of the ballets playing at the Hamburg Ballet:

Nutcracker (Dec 14, 15, 23 (2 shows), 28, and 29, 2011)

Peter Tchaikovsky will forever be remembered as the composer for this Christmas ballet extravaganza, where a Sugar Plum Fairy and a Nutcracker come to life. Besides Scrooge, this is a Christmas Season must-see. Don’t worry if you don’t make this year’s performances—there’s always next year.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Jan 14, 20; May 16, 18, 19, 27; Jun 20, 2012)

A classic ballet (choreographed by none other than Balanchine himself) based on a classic comedy by William Shakespeare. Graceful is always the best adjective to describe one of the best ballets ever.

Death in Venice (March 6 & 9, 2012)

This isn’t your typical ballet by any stretch of the imagination. It’s based on Thomas Mann’s novella about a writer with writer’s block who heads off to the beach in search of inspiration. What he finds is a boy that captures his… uh, imagination.

A Streetcar Named Desire (April 18, 23, and 27, 2012)

Choreographed by John Neumeier, there’s no Marlon Brando screaming “Stella” in this ballet based on the Tennessee Williams play. Even so, the tragic story of Blanche transcends any media format.

The Little Mermaid (Apr 21, 25, 28, May 9, 12, Jun 22)

John Neumeier does his own adaptation of Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson’s tale. This ain’t no Disney version, that’s for sure. The “underwater” scenes are truly dramatic for us landlubbers.

In case you’re not a fan of ballet, or never seen one before—we do recommend watching Mr. Baryshinikov in White Knights or The Turning Point (with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine)—it did it for my friend.

And if you’re interested, here’s the calendar of the Hamburg Ballet.

After Bach Came Milli Vanilli?

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

German Music is a funny, funny thing. Germany is a land that’s given us Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, Stauss, and Milli Vanilly. Milli Vanilli?

Oh yeah, I sure did get a hearty chuckle of this. What isn’t so funny is when you under-25 folks ask me, “who’s Milli Vanilli”?

You cheeky young ‘uns, I tell ya. ;-)

Anyway, this all got me to thinking about other famous singing sensations that came from the land of Bach and Beethoven.

I’ll start with Milli Vanilli since I already mentioned them. These two guys (Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus) were found dancing around a Munich nightclub — and seemed liked the perfect frontmen for songs like Girl You Know Its True.

Problem was, this duo weren’t the actual singers — losing their Grammy because of the deceit.

Another famous singer from Germany was Marlene Dietrich. Yeah, Black & White movie lovers might know her as a glamorous Hollywood movie star. But, she started out singing Cabaret in Berlin. Her sultry, raspy voice singing Das Lied Ist Aus is legendary.

Another German singer that’s managed to cross the Atlantic to America is Xavier Naidoo. Born in Mannheim, Naidoo has been globetrotting, singing, and song-writing for both the American and German music market. And while he’s a two-time MTV Europe music award winner, he’s yet to win a Grammy.

Too bad, his voice is smoother than a well-aged Scotch. Listen to his song Sag es laut with a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Chances are you might never have heard of Tangerine Dream, but watch the 1980’s flick Risky Business; and you’ll hear them. They started performing in the 1960’s — yet gained fame for doing soundtracks. Whatever, a paycheck is a paycheck.

FYI, a Cannabis Cup winner from Amsterdam was also named Tangerine Dream in their honor. I don’t know this for certain, I only read about it in High Times. ;-)

Because I got to be a teenager in the 1980’s, I got to give it up for the Scorpions. Yes, I’ve sang Wind of Change and Rock You Like A Hurricane into my hairbrush way too many times.

It must have been all the hairspray that made me a bit loopy. ;-)

Anyway, the Scorpions (from Hanover) had been performing their heavy metal and hard rock genre since 1964 — and believe it or not, they’re still performing.

A bit harsher is the music from Rammstein. This is a metal band from Berlin (they started performing in the 1990’s) — and chances are if you ask anyone under 35 to name a German band, these guys would be it.

Going back to the 1980’s for a minute, Nena is another singer and band from Germany; and you might have heard of them without knowing their name. They sang 99 Luftballoons (the German version) or 99 Red Balloons, that’s the English version. It went around the globe.

Now, don’t go expecting an exact translation of this Cold War protest diddy — the English version was changed a bit — but either way, this is quintessential 80’s music if I ever heard it.

The song’s still popular, having shown up in movies like Austin Powers Goldmember and in Euro Trip to name a couple.

If I’ve missed any that I should have mentioned — let me know. I’ll be smokin’ some Tangerine Dream — I mean, listening to Tangerine Dream. ;-)

German Opera And Its Sung Languages

Monday, September 12th, 2011

In today’s day and age where Hip-Hop and “Indie” music is part of the mainstream, I think old-timer music like Opera doesn’t get the respect it rightfully deserves.

Yes, I’m using this blog to tout the virtues of the German Opera.

I know you must be thinking, how “romantic” can German Opera be when the language itself sounds a bit harsh? Romantic or not, it took years for German opera writers to come out from behind the shadows of their Italian or French contemporaries.

While Heinrich Schütz is technically the father of the German opera (back in the early 17th century), it took the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and eventually Richard Wagner (Mad King Ludwig II’s favorite guy) to bring into the light.

Many German language operas follow the tales of the Brothers Grimm (even making the story of Hansel & Gretel into a singing sensation). Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is also a time-honored favorite.

These two operas aren’t the only ones sung in German. It wouldn’t be fair to leave out Beethoven’s Fidelio or Franz Lehar’s Die lustige Witwe (that would be the Merry Widow in English).

It wasn’t just German (or Austrian) composers that wrote German operas, Italians like Busoni wrote them as well.

Operas are grandiose productions, so it’s only fitting that they’re performed in magnificent music halls like the Munich National Theater (where the Bavarian State Opera performs), the Alter Oper in Frankfurt, and the Stuttgart National Theater (home of the Stuttgart State Opera).

I can’t think of a more appropriate venue for an over the top opera than an over the top theater. Can you?

Yeah, I know that opera is one of those musical stylings that either you love it or hate it, there’s no in-between. But c’mon, give it a chance. Just remember, it ain’t over ’til the “pleasantly plump” lady sings. ;-)

Exploring Richard Wagner’s Fantastical Image Of Germany

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Even 128 years after his death, the presence of the legendary Richard Wagner can still be felt throughout his native land.

The Flying Dutchman was one of his first operas, although these days it is better known as one of the pirate ships in the Johnny Depp movies! Wagner claimed that the idea was inspired by a rather turbulent journey he took from modern-day Estonia’s capital city of Riga to that well-known British metropolis, London.

Other aspects of the story were derived from an earlier work of Heinrich Heine. This beautiful tale of love and redemption set among the stormy seas helped establish Wagner as a promising composer.

You can feel the essence of this opera by visiting the Semper Opera in Dresden, where the opera had its debut.

Tannhäuser is another of Wagner’s best-known works. This magical tale was based on the singing contests of the Castle Wartburg and the romantic hero, Tannhäuser, who falls under a spell by none other than the famous goddess of love, Venus. For a glimpse of this Wagner epic, there’s no better place to visit than the site of the famous song competition, the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was a one-time refuge for religious exile Martin Luther.

Lohengrin is perhaps the most famous of all of Wagner’s operatic works. First of all, the opening song, the Bridal Chorus, is better known as the Wedding March, or Here Comes the Bride, played at millions of weddings around the western world.

And if that weren’t enough, let’s not forget about the heroic saga paintings of Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau at the German Alps. But, we need to step back in time just a little to explain the connection.

King Ludwig of Bavaria — who is famously, if somewhat unfairly, known as the “Mad King” — became enchanted with the works of Wagner. Since his childhood, the king had been a great fan but with his new-found powers as monarch, he was finally able to do something about it. Wagner had gotten himself into considerable trouble with debts and other issues. Once the king settled his accounts, Wagner was able to devote his time to his work again rather than dealing with political problems.

There is no better place to see this patronage with your own eyes than at the castle of Neuschwanstein. This palace already looks as if it were plucked out of a fairy tale from its exquisite exterior, but the interior paintings match this fantastical theme to a tee. On the walls, you will see many of Wagner’s famous characters portrayed in vivid color and paint. The tales of Lohengrin and Tristan and Isolde come to life in a series of wonderful frescoes.

Wagner’s operas can, of course, still be seen in Germany and around the world. But if you really want to experience the mythical creations of this great composer in his own country, you now have a list of where to begin.

Happy travels! :-)


Follow In The Footsteps Of Germany’s Classical Music Superstars

Monday, November 8th, 2010

If you are in search of classical music in Germany, you won’t have to look very far. My country has bred some of the most famous composers in the history of the world.

Everyone knows the names, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and Wagner. Let their music be your soundtrack as you visit the old haunts of these legendary musicians.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus may have been born in Salzburg — once part of Germany, but today found inside Austria’s borders — but he is still embraced by us Germans. Cue up Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, one of his most signature pieces as you tour around Germany.

For an authentic German-Mozart experience, visit Munich, where he wrote his opera La finta giardiniera.

The Mozart family also spent a lot of time in the Swabian city of Augsburg. Explore the Mozart House, home of the great composer’s father, which showcases many exhibits about the life of the world-famous Wolfgang.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is another native son of Germany, and undoubtedly one of the most loved and respected composers the world has ever seen. Listen to his instantly-recognizable Für Elise as you board a train to his old stomping grounds, the city of Bonn.

Bonn was Beethoven’s birthplace and hometown. Guests here can have a chance to see how the great composer lived with a visit to his house — the Beethoven Haus on Bonngasse — an essential stop for those seeking Beethoven’s legacy here. You can also view one of the theaters where he used to perform — like La Redoute.

The current Beethovenhalle is the third incarnation of a concert hall dedicated to him. It is well-known for its excellent acoustics and is regarded as an important piece of Bonn’s cultural history. Currently, it is the home to the Bonn Beethoven Orchestra and a venue for the annual event, Beethovenfest.

Johannes Sebastian Bach

While not as revered as his two heavyweight compatriots, Mozart and Beethoven, Johannes Sebastian Bach made his own impression on world classical music. His most famous piece, Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, conjures visions of haunted houses, vampires and an assortment of nightmarish imagery.

With a trip to Leipzig, you can learn all about this famed composer. You should start with a visit to St. Thomas’s Church. These days, it is doubly famous as the home of the eponymous boys’ choir and because of their former cantor, none other than Bach himself. In fact it is thanks to Bach that the choir enjoys the international reputation it does today.

Each summer, the city hosts a tribute to their favorite son, the Bachfest. You can also learn more about his life and music at the Bach Museum. It is home to one of the world’s largest collections of research on Bach.

Richard Wagner

For a true appreciation of Richard Wagner, you must head to Bavaria. Wagner enjoyed the patronage and respect of the Mad King Ludwig II, and helped to inspire many of the king’s castles.

Scenes from Wagner’s operas, like Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, may be seen in many of these Bavarian palaces, most famously at Neuschwanstein Castle.

While Tannhäuser was the inspiration for many paintings, many people will be most familiar with Wagner’s epic piece, Ride of the Valkyries.


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