The rehearsals have been incredible. Mahler’s “Tragic” Sixth Symphony in the hands of the Symphony bleeds melancholy. And Jane Eaglen’s Isolde brings forth tears. Are you going to be there?

To prep: first, go Wagnerite. Next, catch Mahler Madness. Then, read up on the connection between Wagner’s Tristan and Mahler’s Sixth Symphony in John Sutherland’s recent Seattle Times piece.

Now, buy tix.

You’ve read all about Wynton Marsalis — now, rev up for his performance with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on July 1 — and learn a little bit about the process of making jazz come alive — with this video from thirteen.org’s SundayArts profile:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

As Marsalis himself says: “We are really about the spirit of jazz music — bringing people into the feeling of it,…bringing things together. We’re going in that direction. And there’s a lot of fruit up in those trees.”

Don’t miss it.

Mark O'ConnorI first met Chris Thile when he was 12 years old. I remember him being a really nice kid who seemed very talented on the mandolin. He and his dad were hanging out at the Gibson booth at the NAMM convention in L.A.

I saw him next in Nashville, around the time that I was leaving there to live in California. This was 1997, and I believe he was about 16 years old. He was playing at the Station Inn with a singer and some other high-profile acoustic players. I thought that, while Nashville loses one acoustic player in myself, at the same time it gains Chris Thile; a pretty fair trade. The trade actually was a little more ironic, in that I ended up moving to a section of North San Diego County just a few miles from where Chris was born and raised — and he’d just left the area the year before I got there.

We met up again when he came over to my place in San Diego while visiting his band mates. We spent the better part of the day hanging out, doing relaxing things and talking a lot. At that time, I began thinking about a way to accomplish my Thirty-Year Retrospective recording project, and I invited Chris to join me in the recording.

The very next year, though, Chris’ group Nickel Creek turned in their debut, self-titled record with Alison Krauss as producer that was a winner. Just a super album, and the sales and fame began to climb rapidly. Within a year, they were at a gold album status with more to come.

For me, though, it became a little frustrating because my album project was nearly impossible to schedule with Chris and his career on rapid-fire acceleration. If it hadn’t been for Chris’ desire to record my retrospective with me (which consisted of a lot of music that in fact influenced Chris in his formative years), the project may not have happened.

The recording took place in Nashville after three days of rehearsals, with additional pre-rehearsal, solo study time. The recording took place in front of a live audience in three concerts over three days. The result was 2 1/2 hours of music that was some of the finest acoustic and bluegrass-styled music I have ever been able to do. Chris Thile was integral in the project. Without him, the double CD would never have transpired.

Few people are irreplaceable, and certainly not for great lengths of time if so. At that time, there was not another player that could have made my Thirty-Year Retrospective possible. Thanks, Chris.

Mark O’Connor

Mark O’Connor teams up with Chris Thile and his new group, Punch Brothers, on July 2. Add O’Connor’s own “Hot Swing,” with vocals by international jazz sensation Sophie Milman, and you’ve got a show you won’t want to miss. Want tickets? Get ’em here.

Seattle is kicking off summer in style this year, with the weatherman calling for sun and summery temperatures (well, for Saturday, at least). Planning to get out and catch some rays? Stroll through the West Edge Chalk Walk or Fremont Fair and Solstice Parade? Maybe take in a baseball game or two?

Pump up for that great American pastime with Punch Brothers’ version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” that old saw of the seventh-inning stretch which celebrates its 100th birthday this summer.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Like what you see? Don’t miss Punch Brothers at Benaroya Hall on July 2, when they perform alongside SummerFest Director Mark O’Connor and his own “Hot Swing,” featuring vocal jazz sensation Sophie Milman.

And check back next week for Mark O’Connor’s take on meeting Punch Brothers’ own mandolin master, Chris Thile!

Video courtesy ESPN.

You’ll be swimmin’ with the fishes (in a good way) at Seattle Symphony’s presentation of The Blue Planet Live!, a big-screen, underwater adventure with live orchestra accompaniment. Featuring a score by renowned film and television composer George Fenton — who will lead the Orchestra in two performances, July 8 & 9The Blue Planet Live! presents a natural history of the world’s oceans edited for the big screen.

Should be an experience you won’t soon forget. Says Fenton:

The boundaries between cinema and television are becoming progressively blurred. Most films are made with the television in mind, while at the same time, more and more people are able to enjoy television on high-quality screens and with stereo sound to rival the cinema. The true difference now lies in where and with whom you watch. This show is also about being part of a theatrical experience, which involves sharing these incredible images of incredible creatures in a way that we can’t in front of the television. The makers of The Blue Planet are only too aware that the oceans and their inhabitants are increasingly under threat. Attempting to understand and protect them is perhaps the ultimate aim behind these remarkable films.

Want to bone up on your undersea knowledge pre-screening? Read on for some seaworthy suggestions.

Take a trip to a Puget Sound–area beach (from Des Moines’ Redondo Beach to North Seattle’s Carkeek Park) and participate in Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program [PDF]. Learn what seastars eat, why seaweed is slimy, and what you can do to help protect Puget Sound’s species-rich shores.

Looking for some saltwater fun this weekend? Check out Point Defiance Zoo & Acquarium’s Beluga Whale Play Day [PDF], from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. Can’t make it this weekend? Visit the Zoo & Aquarium any time for all kinds of underwater enterprises.

Or, simply stay at home with a few deep-sea flicks. Our picks:

  • Finding Nemo. Little fish, big ocean, incredible journey.
  • Whale Rider. A father-daughter tale from New Zealand.
  • The Hunt for Red October. Tom Clancy’s political thriller of a Soviet sub captain’s defection tricked out for the silver screen.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Kirk Douglas vs. a giant squid. Need we say more?
  • The Abyss. Freaky underwater phenomena. Plus a funky submarine!
  • Free Willy. The story of a boy and his orca.
  • Jaws. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”
  • The Yellow Submarine. The Beatles (à la animation) take on the Blue Meanies with pop songs and psychedelia.

Photo courtesy BBC Worldwide.

Mark O'ConnorWynton Marsalis and I are the same age (46 at the time of this writing) and we both came to national attention on recordings in the early ’80s, so I had known of Wynton and his music all of my adult life.

I did not meet Wynton until 1996, on a very interesting and auspicious occasion. The setting was the 100th Olympiad, at the rehearsal for the Closing Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, in which both Wynton and I had starring roles. I came to the first rehearsal for the finale, featuring everyone involved on stage at once. I took my position at stage right. Wynton was clear on the other side of the big stage when we made eye contact and smiled. While I stayed in my place, Wynton came all the way over to my side of the stage to greet me, and he hugged me. I was blown away by his affection and sense of camaraderie.

During the two full days of Closing Ceremony rehearsals, much of it taking place on Olympic stadium field, Wynton and I would play our instruments towards one another in a kind of conversation and interaction, getting to know each other with our phrases and sound. Calls and responses again and again, just passing each other in the hallways out on the field while we were in each of our parade floats, standing atop of them and playing our acoustic instruments while the P.A. was off. All of the electric keyboards and electric guitars were silent and suspended many times during the day while folks on the gigantic stadium field listened to Wynton and me play our phrases back and forth as our floats passed each other by.

The next time I met up with Wynton was in 1997. I was working on an album called Liberty!, which also served as much of the soundtrack to the documentary series on PBS about the Revolutionary War. I had incorporated beautiful duets I’d arranged for James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma for the project. I had a third duet idea, one with trumpet and violin. Of course, I had Wynton in mind for the trumpet part. My executive producer was not so hot on the idea, and said that I did not need it for the project. I said phooey and flew to NYC to meet Wynton for lunch at a sushi restaurant.

While eating, I pulled out a five-page part at the table, consisting of a duet I had just written based on an old theme from the 1700’s, called “Brave Wolfe.” He looked at it and suggested that we try it out.

“Where?” I said. But Wynton simply got out his trumpet in the middle of the restaurant to play some of the passages.

“Do you have a rehearsal studio?” I asked.

“It’s fine here,” Wynton said. So we played through the music — and got some free sushi out of the deal — right there in midtown Manhattan!

Wynton liked the music. He commented that the only problem was when to record it, timing being a little tricky, as he was booked to the hilt. Similarly, I was not able to pre-plan any session for this either. He suggested that I come over to the studio where he was working and, after his own album session had concluded, we could tack on another hour for this duet.

I said, “Great. When?” His response: TONIGHT!

So, under the cover of night, we recorded our first performance together. The next morning I dropped off the master at Sony Records, and said that this is a new track for the Liberty! album. The rest is history.

Mark O’Connor

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra take the stage on July 1 at 7:30pm as part of SummerFest 2008. Get set for jazz at its finest!

Cirque de la Symphonie is coming! Aerial artists, contortionists, strongmen — what’s not to like? Check out the video below for a sneak preview:

July 11 and 12 ONLY. Tickets from $17.

Video courtesy Cirque de la Symphonie. Featuring the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performing Khachaturian’s Waltz from Masquerade Suite.

Jane as Isolde

Welcome guest blogger Jane Eaglen! Read on for Jane’s take on playing the the tragically romantic role of Isolde in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. And don’t miss her recreating that role in concert with Seattle Symphony, when she performs the heartwrenching Liebestod as part of Wagner and Mahler, June 26–29 at Benaroya Hall.

Isolde is a role very dear to my heart in many ways. It was while singing my first Isolde here in Seattle that I met my husband and subsequently moved here permanently. It is also a role, and an opera, which never fails to move me musically and personally. It’s the age-old love story of star-crossed lovers, destined never to be together, but heightened with some of the most emotionally moving music ever written.

Isolde’s Liebestod (literally, “love-death”) was actually called by Wagner her “transfiguration.” It is the climax of the opera, but is a wonderful self-contained work too. Combined with the Prelude, it still manages to convey the love story and the passion of the entire opera. Wagner sanctioned the two pieces together, which probably counts as the longest cut in opera — almost four hours of music cut!

I’m thrilled to be performing this work with Maestro Gerard Schwarz here in Seattle, a few months after we presented the piece in Helsinki, Finland. It’s always a thrill for me to have the honor of singing Wagner’s music, and to constantly find new things to marvel at and hopefully share.

Image above: Jane Eaglen as Isolde with Seattle Opera, 1998. Courtesy Seattle Opera / Gary Smith.

mahler

Last week, we covered Wagner. Now, it’s time for a trip down Mahler Lane. Born in 1860 in Kalischt, Bohemia, Gustav Mahler was revered as one of the leading composer–conductors of his day. He wrote big: bold symphonies and expansive song cycles with lush, Romantic overtones were his specialty. It is his Sixth Symphony, nicknamed “Tragic,” that follows Seattle Symphony’s performance of the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, June 26–29.

Meet Mr. Mahler, below.

  • Mahler the Wagnerian: Mahler was a fan of Wagner, and he attended a performance of Herr Richard’s last music drama, Parsifal, at Bayreuth in July 1883. Mahler believed that Wagner, through his music dramas, added greatly to the “expressive riches of music.” (And Seattle Symphony is performing works by both composers on a single program. Coincidence? We think not.)
  • Mahler the Conductor: In his own lifetime, Mahler was known as much as a conductor as he was as a composer. He held a number of significant posts, including those of music director of the Hamburg State Opera (1891–1897) and the Vienna Staatsoper (1897–1907). His conducting style was so flamboyant and expressive that it prompted numerous caricatures.
  • Mahler in America: Between 1908 and 1911, Mahler held two of the most prestigious musical posts in America: Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, and of the New York Philharmonic. Check out the New York Phil’s online, interactive Mahler tribute for more.
  • Mahler and Beethoven: Like Brahms, Wagner and, seemingly, every symphonist in the 19th century, Mahler was enamored of Beethoven. He was particularly obsessed with the composer’s Ninth Symphony. Not wanting to risk a comparison with his idol’s magnum opus (and, some believe, not wanting to tempt fate with the “curse of the ninth” — the superstition that death follows the composition of ninth symphonies, as was the case with Beethoven), Mahler chose not to number the symphonic work that followed his Eighth Symphony, instead calling it Das Lied von der Erde (“Song of the Earth”). Nonetheless, he died before completing his Symphony No. 10. Spooky.

Don’t miss Wagner and Mahler, June 26–29, at Seattle Symphony.

Mark O'ConnorWelcome to Seattle Symphony’s SummerFest! It is a great pleasure to be the Festival Director and to return to my hometown of Seattle, a place where I was born and spent my formative years. I have had the great fortune of performing my compositions with Seattle Symphony in years past, and of adding my performances to each season at the fabulous Benaroya Hall since its opening.

Over the years, I’ve mulled over how great it would be to help create a music series that combined the best of classical, jazz and folk music in a summer festival setting hosted by the great Seattle Symphony. We have accomplished just that at SummerFest. I have invited some of the greatest musicians in the world, known for their boundary-crossing musical imagination and innovation, to join us. I invite all of you to take one incredible musical journey for a few weeks, exploring new music projects, celebrating the great music traditions, and enjoying some performances by some of the best musicians in the world.

Our festival features an extraordinary lineup. Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Earl Scruggs with family and friends, and Maestro Schwarz conducting Wagner and Mahler are just a few of our festival’s highlights. Regarding my own festival performances, I am looking forward to the Northwest premiere of my Double Concerto for violin and cello, For the Heroes, with the dynamic cellist Maya Beiser and Seattle Symphony. I am also bringing my “Hot Swing,” too, along with mandolin wizard Chris Thile for an evening of some hot picking!

We want to make some music history with this festival, a music model that is brand new and cutting edge. I, for one, am glad that it is happening right here in my hometown of Seattle. Enjoy!

Mark O’Connor