As we turn over a new year, the Ether Game Brain Trust is rolling back the clock onto the year that was and exploring some of the big musical events that happened in 2018! Reminisce with us, for our “Year In Review: 2018”…
- Leonard Bernstein at 100 – One of the biggest news stories in the classical music world was the centennial celebration of composer/conductor/educator and all around star Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein would have turned 100 years old on August 25, 2018, but it seems like his centennial celebration lasted for almost the entire year. It makes sense though: the legacy of very few musicians looms as large in the 20th century as Bernstein’s. He conquered the musical theater stage with works like Candide and West Side Story. He wrote memorable songs like “New York, New York” and “Lonely Town.” He wrote fantastic orchestral and choral music like Chichester Psalms and his Three Symphonies. He educated millions with his television broadcasts of his Young People’s Concerts. Oh, and on top of all of that, he also conducted one of the premiere American orchestras: the New York Philharmonic. One wonders where he found the time to do all of that! Exploring Bernstein’s legacy this year, 100 years after his birth, it became clear that we may never see a musician like him again.
- Sylvia McNair on WFIU – The soprano in this performance is the one and only Sylvia McNair. And if you’re a frequent listener to WFIU, her voice is one that you’ll be hearing a lot more of very soon! McNair has had one of the most celebrated singing careers, appearing at the Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, singing for the Pope and the U.S. Supreme Court, winning two Grammy awards, and performing both opera AND standards from the Great American Songbook. She earned her master’s degree in voice here at Indiana University, and taught at IU from 2006 to 2017. When she was studying at IU back in the early 1980s, she had a brief stint as an announcer right here on WFIU. And this year, she made her grand return to radio, working as a guest classical music announcer. Starting this month, Sylvia will be a permanent fixture on our airwaves, serving as a classical music host on Saturday mornings. We are honored to have Sylvia McNair joining our ranks—because hearing her voice in any context is certainly a delight.
- Soprano Montserrat Caballé (1933–2018) – We lost several luminaries in the world of classical music this year, and few stars shined brighter than Montserrat Caballe. The Spanish soprano was one of the biggest names in opera from the 1960s through the 1980s. She made her breakthrough on the international stage in 1965 when she replaced Marilyn Horne at the last minute in a performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall. Her performance was spectacular, and she was given a 25-minute standing ovation and became the biggest name in bel canto. She became a fixture in every major opera house for the next 15 years. In 1987, Caballe took the leap to pop music, performing songs “Barcelona” and others with Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. “Barcelona” became an international best seller. Caballe passed away in her hometown of Barcelona on October 6 of 2018 at age 85.
- Esa-Pekka Salonen moves to the San Francisco Symphony – Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen made headlines in 2018 when it was announced that he would become the new director of the San Francisco Symphony. This came as a shock to most in the classical music world because everyone thought that Salonen had mostly given up conducting. For most of the 1990s, Salonen was the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he transformed that organization to one of the most innovative orchestras in the world and pioneers in the world of new music. But when he left LA, Salonen focused his attention mostly on composing. He has written a piano concerto for Yefim Bronfman and a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma. But something about the Bay Area called out to Salonen, so he decided just this past month that he’ll be moving back to the West Coast. Salonen, after all, does have some Silicon Valley cred. He’s the only major contemporary classical music figure cool enough to be featured in an Apple Commercial.
- Film Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969–2018) – Another person we lost this year was Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who was tragically struck down in his prime, just as he was beginning to make a name for himself as one of the most innovative new composers. Jóhannsson became known for his innovative work combining ambient sounds with orchestral elements and electronic processing, to create something beautiful and ethereal. His work was most prominently featured in films. In the last decade, his music was used in such films as Arrival, Sicario, and the 2014 biopic about Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, which earned Johannsson a Golden Globe Award (Stephen Hawking also passed away this year at age 76 after suffering from ALS for many years). Jóhannsson also passed away in 2018, dying tragically of an accidental overdose at only 48 years old.
- Yannick Nézet-Séguin takes over at the Met Opera – In 2018, Canadian pianist Yannick Nézet-Séguin became the new artist director of the Metropolitan opera. Though he he was initially educated as a pianist, Nézet-Séguin knew he wanted to be an orchestral conductor by the time he was ten years old. He became conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2008, and started guest conducting at the Met only a year later. The Met initially announced Nézet-Séguin as its new artistic director in 2016, with his tenure starting with the 2020 season. He instead began this year, after the Met cut ties with its former music director James Levine. His first opera as official music director was Verdi’s La Traviata, which premiered on December 4th. As he takes the baton full time, Nézet-Séguin is widely expected to blaze new trails at the Met. This year he spoke about adding more world premieres to the Met’s yearly season.
- Composer George Theophilus Walker (1922–2018) – I’d venture to guess that notable composer and pianist George Walker shows up on WFIU’s playlists more than any other radio station in the country—because he shares a name with our very own George Walker, announcer extraordinaire! But the composer George Walker was quite the musical icon in his own right. George Theophilus Walker was born in Washington, D.C. and became one of the first African Americans to graduate from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. From there, Walker achieved many firsts: the first African-American instrumentalist to perform a solo recital at Town Hall, the first to perform as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the first to be signed by a major arts management company, the first African American to graduate with a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. His most notable first came in 1996, when he became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music for his composition Lilacs. George Walker had an extraordinary life and an extraordinary career, and sadly, he passed away at age 96 on August 23 of this past year.
- Kendrick Lamar wins the Pulitzer Prize – Kendrick Lamar shook things up in 2018 by busting through one of the major barriers in the music world. Lamar has widely been seen as the current best hip hop artist in world, taking his considerable skills of flow and wordplay and using them to address serious political issues affecting the African American community, like racism and police brutality. When the 30-year old Compton-born rapper released his magnum opus titled DAMN. in 2017, he received universal acclaim from every mainstream pop and culture critic. DAMN. was a raw, honest examination of life as a young black man in America, combined with experimental musical elements. The only people he hadn’t convinced of his genius was the old guard—that is, until he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2018. The Pulitzer had always been the domain of contemporary classical, academic art music, one of the few holdouts in a certain way of thinking about musical achievement. The committee this year opened the gates to Lamar, giving him the award for his musical achievement and the album’s widespread effect on culture. Now that the Pulitzer has been awarded to a popular artist—and a hip hop artist, no less—I’m very curious to hear what that means for the award in 2019.