Placido Domingo braves some icy water

Summer is finally over, and with it, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge seems to be winding down. Curious about which classical musicians stepped up to the challenge? Below, you’ll find my picks for the best videos. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the challenge has raised over $100 million to date.

My favorite is the one by renowned tenor Placido Domingo, who emitted the most non-musical vocalizations you’ll ever hear coming out of his mouth.

Next is one by the classical comedy duo of Alexi Igudesman and Hyung- Ki Joo. These consummate showmen integrated fireworks and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra into their video. They encouraged donations not only to the ALS foundation but to UNICEF.

The award for the most moxie has to go to San Francisco Opera’s General Director David Gockley, who was challenged by the San Francisco Ballet. “I’m up for any challenge from these guys across the street,” he declares at the beginning of the video. “I mean, if we can’t do what they do, we’re wimps. And we are not wimps.

Lyric Opera of Chicago had the most epic video, in they which lined up on the Lyric Opera Bridge on Madison St. The video, appropriately enough, was accompanied by Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries. Lyric will be donating to Team BAM!, which will be participating in Chicago’s Walk for Life in September in memory of Lyric staff member Stephanie Karr’s mom, Carol Crone.

Others who participated included Dr. Allan Dennis, founder and director of the Midwest Young Artists (who double-dog dared viewers to donate to MYA in addition to the ALS foundation), the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra marketing team, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, violinist Gil ShahamMerit School of Music, Maestro Ludovic Morlot of the Seattle Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra violinist Maxine Kwok AdamsQueenlands Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Time for Three (who asked viewers to make the world a better place by by donating to a charity of their choice), the Utah Symphony Orchestra, and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra (who will also be making donations to the C9ID project, an ALS research project. http://www.c9id.org/).

Which video is your favorite? Or is there another one that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.

Photo: Roscle via YouTube.

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USPS Janis Joplin StampJanis Joplin, the  groundbreaking singer whose powerful, bluesy voice propelled her to the pinnacle of rock stardom, was honored by the U.S. Postal Service by adding her to the Music Icons Forever Stamp series during a first-day-of-issue ceremony at the Outside Lands Music Festival at Golden Gate Park.

Joplin is recognized as one of the greatest rock singers of all time, as well as a pioneer who paved the way for other women in rock music. Joplin broke onto the national music scene at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.  Her time at the top, however brief, still resonates and influences countless artists.

She recorded three hit albums and performed at Woodstock. The album she was recording at the time of her death, Pearl, went on to cement her reputation as one of the greatest rock singers of all time. “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kris Kristofferson, became the second posthumous no.1 hit in history after Otis Redding’s no. 1 hit, (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.

As the years passed, Joplin’s legacy was increasingly recognized. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Rolling Stone included Joplin on its list of 100 Greatest Artists. Some of her most popular songs include Piece of My HeartBall and Chain and Cry Baby.

“Today we salute an American original, Janis Joplin,” said Megan Brennan, chief operating officer and executive vice president. “I am honored to dedicate this stamp to pay tribute to one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.”

The Janis Joplin Forever Stamp is the fifth in the Postal Service’s Music Icons series. Through the power of stamps, Joplin joins a list of other American music icons: Lydia Mendoza, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix.

“I am happy for Janis that her image stands strong, representing the power, artistry and independence of women,” said Joplin’s sister, Laura Joplin, in reflecting on the issuance of this stamp. “As a rock and roll icon of the turbulent 1960′s era, Janis’s inclusion helps remind us of the positive strength of an era devoted to peace, love and — as Janis said — ‘Be True to Yourself.’”

The artwork for this stamp was designed by Art director Antonio Alcala of Alexandria, VA, and features a June 1970 portrait of Janis Joplin taken in New York City by renowned music photographer David Gahr.

The original black and white photograph is rendered in shades of blue, with Joplin’s trademark round sunglasses tinted a dark shade of pink. The words “Janis Joplin,” along with the “Forever” denomination and “USA” appear in psychedelic-style script reminiscent of the 1960s, in shades of gold, orange, and pink. Small blue stars pop out from the stamp’s dark blue background.

The stamp pane evokes the appearance of a vintage 45 rpm record sleeve. One side of the pane includes the stamps and the image of a sliver of a record visible at the top. A photograph taken by noted photographer, creative director and designer Bruce Steinberg of Queens, NY, in May 1968 at the First International San Jose Pop Festival, and the logo for the Music Icons series appear on the reverse side, along with the words “Janis Joplin Blues, Rock, Country, Soul, Folk.”

Customers may purchase the Janis Joplin stamps as a pane of 16 at usps.com/stamps, the Postal Store, at 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724) and at Post Offices nationwide. This stamp and a variety of other stamps and related collectibles are available at ebay.com/stamps.

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If there’s any character from a musical who needs to spend some quality time on a psychiatrist’s couch, it’s the Phantom of the Opera. That’s exactly where the Phantom finds himself in Lyric Opera of Chicago and The Second City’s latest episode of Dr. Opera.

Do they discuss Phantom’s obsession with Christine? Or maybe his shame about the injury to his face? Nope. They argue over whether or not The Phantom of the Opera is a musical or an opera. And the results…well, you’ll just have to check it out below.

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Lyric Opera of Chicago will be premiering Bel Canto, an opera based on Ann Patchett’s best-selling novel of the same name, as part of its 2015-16 season. The company recently held a workshop with the opera’s composer Jimmy López and librettist Nilo Cruz in attendance. Sir Andrew Davis conducted the workshop, while members of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center performed the music.

“It was thrilling to spend time with Jimmy López, Nilo Cruz, Kevin Newbury, and Sir Andrew Davis, going through Bel Canto and hearing the parts of the piece that have already been written,” says Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director. “The premiere is still 18 months away and there is still a great deal of work to be done, but it is already clear that Jimmy’s haunting, moving, and compelling music and Nilo’s beautiful, poetic and gripping libretto will result in a thrillingly operatic reinvention of Ann Patchett’s brilliant novel.”

The novel’s dramatic plot provides the perfect setting for an opera. The fictional renowned soprano Roxanne Cross is performing at a birthday party for a Japanese industrialist in the home of the vice president of an unnamed South American country when armed terrorists break in, intending to take the president hostage. The terrorists discover that the president is not at the party, so they decide to hold the international businesspeople and diplomats instead. They release all of the  entangled in friendships and romantic liaisons.

The Australian-born American soprano Danielle de Niese will portray Roxanne Cross. Lyric will announce additional cast members and the design team at a later date.

Bel Canto is the seventh world-premier opera that Lyric has commissioned for its main stage. It will open in December of 2015. A video about the workshop is available below.

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Bird_pianoToday, I watched an adorable video of  a guy playfully using his cat as a mute for his euphonium. As a musician and an animal lover, I’m a sucker for videos like these. It inspired me to search for even more videos of animals enjoying and making music. Here are the nine best videos I found. I hope you enjoy!

1. Cat Mute for Euphonium

This is the video which sparked my search. I love how the cat pokes his head into the bell of the instrument, trying to figure out where the sound is coming from.

2. Cute Cockatiel Sings My Neighbor Totoro

A cheerful cockatiel sings the theme song from an animated movie, My Neighbor Totoro, with an assist from a keyboardist. He sings with pretty decent intonation and rhythm, for a bird.

3 & 4. Shreddy Cat Fight and Nerdy Love Song with Added Kitten Bonus!

Some cats just have to get in on the action when their owners are playing guitar. In the first video, Tony Martinez shreds while his cat (around 1:19) fights with his guitar hand. In the second video, comedian DeAnne Smith plays a “Nerdy Love Song” while a kitten persistently bats at her guitar.

5. Jazz for Cows

The New Orleans-style jazz band The New Hot 5 attracted a surprisingly attentive herd of cows as the band performed in a field in Autrans, France. These cows are better behaved than some human audiences I’ve seen.

6 & 7. Mariachi Band and Bagpiper Serenade Beluga Whales

The beluga whales at the Mystic Aquarium in Stonington, Connecticut have had the opportunity to enjoy a few different musical performances over the past few years. In 2011, the Mariachi Connecticut band serenaded Juno the whale with the tune, “Yellow Bird”, as the whale danced along with the music. Later, in 2014, bagpiper Tom Leigh played for Juno and her friends Naluark and Kela. There wasn’t any dancing going on, but the whales hovered near Mr. Leigh and eyed him with great interest.

8. 12 Bar Blues – Piano Duet with Peter the Elephant – Thailand

Pianist Paul Barton visited an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, where he performed for a receptive audience of elephants. An elephant named Peter bobbed his head in time with the beat and hit a some cluster chords with his trunk on the keyboard, while another elephant wiggled his booty in the foreground. The video below is the first of a series of 23 “Music for Elephants” videos which feature elephants and pianos.

9. CATcerto. Mindaugas Piecaitis, Nora the Piano Cat

Nora The Piano Cat became a viral sensation in 2007 when her owners uploaded a video of the cat crafting a tune on an upright piano. Since then, the feline has been featured on a multitude of TV shows including the Today Show, MSNBC’s Caught on Camera, and Animal Planet’s Wild about Animals. The Lithuanian conductor/composer Mindaugas Piecatis took Nora’s stylings to the next level by writing a CATcerto to accompany the kitty’s music. The world premiere took place on June 5, 2009 with the Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra in Klaipeda’s Concert Hall. It’s actually quite beautiful. You can check it out below.

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2Cellos Plays Mumford and Sons By a Croatian Waterfall

July 9, 2014

2Cellos (Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser) has just released a cover of Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait”. The duo filmed the video on a bridge in front of some spectacular waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Check out the gorgeous music and breathtaking scenery below.

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Breakdancing and Bach Blend for Bombastic Performance

June 27, 2014

When you think of J.S. Bach, you probably wouldn’t imagine a troupe of breakdancers dancing to his music. But that unlikely combination is exactly what audiences got to witness at the Red Bull Flying Bach performances this past weekend at the Civic Opera House. Contrapuntist and I attended the Sunday, June 22 performance, and  the […]

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The 5 Worst Airline Fails against Musicians

June 19, 2014

Violinists Zachary De Pue and Nicolas Kendall of the ensemble Time for Three recently made headlines when US Airways denied them access to the plane because the musicians refused to stow their violins in the hold at the request of the staff.  De Pue and Kendall fought back with a video which to date has […]

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COT’s ‘Clever One’ and ‘Emperor of Atlantis’ Balance Fantasy and the Grotesque

June 3, 2014

All authentic fairytales balance the fantastic with the grotesque. Chicago Opera Theater‘s current double-bill of German one-act operas, Victor Ullman’s The Emperor of Atlantis and Carl Orff’s The Clever One, are no exception. Both works, written in 1943, satirize oppression and dictatorship from vastly different points of view. Ullman wrote Emperor during his imprisonment at […]

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Raining Blood: Awesome Slayer Cover On Banjo

June 1, 2014

A little Sunday dose of “unmetal” for thy pleasure. I can honestly say, I never imagined hearing Slayer’s “Raining Blood” played on a banjo, but this is pretty awesome. Via Metal Injection

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