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2/11/09
Gimme me good [music for] lovin’
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A make-out mix, on NPR, for Valentine’s Day.

This week a pink candy heart image with the words “The Make Out Mix” on it arrived in my e-mail in-box. Yes, NPR has packaged 104 “love songs” compiled by public radio station hosts around the country, and is streaming them at its site. Hmmm … Certainly this is not the sort of thing you ever would have heard on the NPR of my childhood.

Among the 104 selections—everything from Dinah Washington’s “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” and Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s “Cheek to Cheek”—are eleven classical choices. Three of those choices feature Kiri Te Kanawa, including Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from West Side Story and “Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro.” Pianists Rudolf Serkin (Mozart’s piano concerto no. 21), Garrick Ohlsson (Liszt’s “Liebestraum”), Cecile Ousset (Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variation No. 18), and Hélène Grimaud (Brahms Intermezzo in A., Op. 118, No. 2) are also represented.

NPR make out mixGreat stuff, to be sure, and I am looking forward to listening to some of NPR’s carefully selected lovey stream. But do I need more packaged music options of this type? Clearly, for the Fourth of July you need a good “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and Aaron Copland (“Simple Gifts”) were great themes for inauguration day in January. But so much music is inspired by love, or is itself replayed so many times on recordings; isn’t “love music” pretty much the same as “music I love”? I mean, some of my personal vocal faves—which I listen to on any day of the week, including whatever day Valentine’s Day happens to fall upon—present a pretty bizarre spectrum, from the album Basso Profondo featuring super-low Russian basses to Maude Maggart’s collection of 1920s songs, Silver Lining, or Mickey Katz’s “Duvid Crockett” and “That Pickle in the Window.” My point is, I do listen to a lot of music, but that doesn’t mean my choices are necessarily better to recommend to you than anyone else’s.

Meanwhile, doing only the most superficial of research, I discovered that Valentine’s Day is now the second-largest card-sending holiday of the year (behind Christmas), according to the U.S. Greeting Card Association. And press releases continue to pour in from the music industry, pushing “Valentine’s Day” treats (Brahms Third), “Steppin’ Out for Valentine’s” (Rodgers & Hammerstein, Gershwin, Porter, Berlin), and “Concert for Lovers on Valentine’s Day” (including Vivaldi’s Four Seasons … because any day other than February 14 is not part of a season?). Honestly, these are concerts that, to me, have only the thinnest of connections to Valentine’s Day.

Yes, classical music is a business, with marketing and everything that entails, but good music and good concerts are the real stuff that support the business. Speaking of which, there is a nifty-sounding one this weekend at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University: “Songs of Love, Lust, and Lamentation” at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Here, George Steel (newly hired general director of New York City Opera) leads his Vox Vocal Ensemble in an early-music program of Palestrina, Gibbons, Clemens non Papa, Crequillon, Cornelius, Certon, Payen, Lassus, Howells, Sermisy, Daniel-Lesur, and the ever-popular Anonymous. And guess what? The songs are actually about love, lust, and lamentation.

Now that sounds like a proper date.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.