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Wine and Gender - Foradori ©John Axelrod 2016

So much talk has been made this past year about gender in politics which inevitably leads to gender in music, particularly conducting, in that conductors are often reflections of leaders. When there are dictators in the world, there are dictators on the podium. When there are African-American and other minority and female leaders, so too we see both color and women on the podium. Today, Mirga is the name on most people’s minds, and Barbara Hannigan stretches the scope of conducting by both singing and directing.

Is there a difference between male and female conductors?
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"Musica Dei donum optimi” - Music as a gift of god. by John Axelrod©2016

As the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Protestant Reformation is celebrated around the world in 2017, there will be no doubt countless toasts of beer and wine made to the philosopher preacher who changed the world. And perhaps some prayers to the millions who also died during the wars related to that religious revolution.

There were many a composer, from Luther’s Saxony-Anhalt and surrounding regions, who made musical revolutions during the Baroque period which followed the Thirty Years War. Telemann came from Magdeburg, Praetorius from Kreuzberg, Handel from Halle. Bach also lived and worked in the region, most notably in Leipzig. There seemed to be an inclination among these composers, especially Bach, to pursue the very dictum of Luther’s attitude on music, that music be a gift from God, "Musica Dei donum optimi,” not a human invention, as stated in his Forward to Georg Rhau's Symphoniae, a collection of chorale motets published in 1538:
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Conductors and Cabernet: Maestro Raro by John Axelrod©2016

Some people believe a conductor cannot be taught. Perfecting a technique is possible, as is memorizing a score, and even a general awareness of the historical and cultural styles of the composer can be learned. But the actual magic and mystery of conducting is something that cannot be assimilated simply in a classroom. It must come from direct experience in front of an orchestra, but even then, it does not guarantee the result. As the saying goes: One is born a conductor or not. Even the great Richard Strauss, during a conducting lesson, once said that conducting is two (out and up), three (a triangle) and four (a horizontal figure eight) and all the rest is up to you.
And yet, if every conductor could find his or her voice through gesture, we would have better conductors, right? So what is missing?
Perhaps a rather mythical story about Carlos Kleiber might clarify. Allow me to quote from my first book, published in 2013 by Henschel Verlag: Wie Großartige Musik Ensteht…order auch nicht:
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The Taste of Scandal by John Axelrod ©2016

Scandals in music history seem a dime a dozen. The degree of those scandals are probably minor, but the act itself is still enough to make purists grumble. As noted recently, even If Angela Gheorghiu doesn't come on stage on time, scandal ensues, but the show still goes on.
In the world of wine, there are scandals of substitution and ill intent.
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The Tempest: Delirious and Delicious by John Axelrod ©2016

When it comes to Shakespeare, all the world is a stage. Composers knew this well. The wit, the humor, the comedy, the tragedy, the fallibility and nobility of our romantic love and its betrayal is all there in the immortal words from the Great Bard. That which makes us human is mirrored in his writings. And those human stories easily inspired composers from Berlioz to Mendelssohn to Dvorak to Tchaikovsky to Strauss. It is hard to even count the number of works based on Shakespeare’s plays. Probably, the most famous today remains Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet...
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Sibelius and the Serraboella Barbaresco: A Sweet Burn by John Axelrod ©2015

”Sibelius is so concentrated and exact. With Sibelius you feel that if one drop touches your skin it would burn right through the bone."
Simon Rattle 1998

With Sibelius it's a cold burn, a reminder of that frozen, melancholic tundra of the Finnish landscape. However, that intensity can also reveal a deep beauty. The Barbaresco, the feminine side of the Nebbiolo grape, is like Sibelius, in that it is often overshadowed by the more popular King of the Reds, the burly Barolo, just as Sibelius was often unfairly criticized by those who preferred Schoenberg, Stravinsky or Strauss...
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Fiesta and From the New World by John Axelrod ©2015

2015 has been a very special year for music and for wine. While there are many classical works worthy of being mentioned, and many wines to celebrate, I feel obliged to make a personal choice based not only on the wine quality, and its locale, but also because it has a special connection to why 2015 has been particularly important to me.
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The Song of Gold: Canto Doro and Stravinsky's Apollon by John Axelrod ©2015

T.S Eliot once described April as the cruelest month in his epic poem "the Wasteland." Yet I am not alone in suggesting that September is actually the crueler month, not only for investors who historically lose value in their portfolios, or hotels and restaurants who lose profits after summer excess, but also for the hundreds of thousands of workers and students who, tragically, must return to jobs and school. Yet, for winemakers...
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Bocca di Lupo and Mahler 7, A lucky season of summer festivals by John Axelrod ©2015

With the summer festival season approaching, from Salzburg to Schleswig Holstein, and, inevitably, a succession of soirées, serenades and superstars, it is tempting to simply enjoy, picnic style, a lunch or dinner and drink or two and forget about the music actually being made. And, most of all, to hope for good luck and a night without rain.
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The Velvet Glove and the Greatest Story of Love by John Axelrod ©2014

Velvet. The word alone conjures many an image. Mysterious, seductive, shadow and soft. Wearing velvet is like being surrounded by a magic powder. Drinking the Velvet Glove Shiraz from Australia’s Mollydooker winery (who also recently was voted #2 in the world by Wine Spectator for its Carnival of Love Shiraz), is not even a wine drinking experience. It is a life experience. It is one of the wines that will engrave a memory on your tongue for the rest of your life.
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Marquette and Peer Gynt: wine and music for a white christmas. by John Axelrod ©2014

What wine would the Weihnachtsmann drink for Christmas?
Not such an easy question to answer. With the advent of Christmas and holiday seasons, we tend to adorn our tables with champagne and fine wines that go well with goose, duck, ham and other foods that leave us immobile for a few hours after eating. Most of these wines come from Mediterranean or cool climates.
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Rioja and Figaro: Prize Winners of the Past and Future by John Axelrod ©2014

This October brings the annual Echo Prize in Germany, recognising outstanding achievements in the field of classical music recordings.

Of the many awards, I take note, as a conductor, of a particular opera recording,: Musica Aeterna’s CD of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.
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Verdun and Ravel: Wine on the Western Front, by John Axelrod ©2014

All was not always quiet on the Western Front since wine was easy to find. Alcohol was a key part of the French war experience; it was part of daily life in the trenches. The image of the poilu, with his gun and wine, is ubiquitous in French depictions of the Great War. Today, the poilu is a part of the French national myth. Members of the current French wine industry claim that the war experience turned poilus from regions of France with high beer consumption into wine drinkers
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Gluck and a Good Glass of Inferno by John Axelrod ©2014

Opera and voices. Ballet and bodies. Wine and tastebuds. Heaven and Hell. They actually all go well together.
And since the creation of opera and ballet and their evolution, it is only the consumption of wine which has remained consistent from the beginning to the present day. And I don't mean the wine at the reception afterwards, but the imbibing of alcohol on the stage.
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Barbera d'Asti della Gianola and Mahler Symphony 2, "Resurrection" Pleasure, Not Business by John Axelrod ©2014

Barbera? No, this is not Manischewitz kosher wine. And Mahler, though Jewish, did convert, albeit to ensure he had a job at the Vienna State Opera. For Mahler, business often came before pleasure. We need not speak about his sessions with Freud, but knowing his difficult career as a composer, and his loss of daughter and love of Alma, we can only imagine his need to find salvation.
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12 Grapes, 12 notes by John Axelrod ©2014

The roaring 20's conjures up images of decadence, hedonism, Gatsby and his parties, post and pre-war depression, Weimar and Wall Street, silent films, and the irresistible Josephine Baker!
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Masseto from Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, WINE, WOMEN AND…. STRAUSS. by John Axelrod©2013

Not that Strauss. But Richard, who is of course celebrating his 150th anniversary. in 2014 But there is a link between the two:
"Who does not love wine, women and song / Remains a fool his whole life long.". There are conflicting sources about this popular quote, some attributed to Martin Luther and others to Johann Voss, but it's a good phrase, which I think can be applied to that wonderful prankster hero of Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel.
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The Art of improvisation: Lutoslawski and Raisins de la colère

Considered by many to be a masterpiece of the 20th century, Lutoslawski's Symphony 3 is a work of genius, however, it remains rarely performed; and, with the 100th anniversary of the composer in 2013, his works, and particularly this symphony, will hopefully become better known.
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Brahms & Barolo

The Bordeaux may be royal, but in Piedmont, in Northwest Italy, the Barolo, known as the "wine of kings, the king of wines," is the emperor. The Barolo, the favorite of the Royal House of Savoy (never mind the Savoie were French), is made from the Nebbiolo grape
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Bolero and Rioja, a seduction of sound and senses

The founder of
Marqués de Cáceres, Enrique Forner, brought French Bordeaux style winemaking to the Rioja Alta. Forner, with the collaboration of Emile Peynaud, had already been proprietors of Chateau Camensac and Chateau Larose Trintaudon, once owned by the Duke of the Infantado, establishing a clear Franc-Espagnol link.
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A Winter's Daydream: Coteaux du Layon and Tchaikovsky's 1st symphony

Tchaikovsky's 1st symphony has a delightful title, but it was hardly tranquil in its genesis. His routine of composing day and night caused him great mental and physical exhaustion to the point doctors had declared him "One step away from insanity." Not so far from Anna Karenina. Fortunately, Tchaikovsky did not come to the same fate.
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The perfect wine for the Ring… Vieux Télégraphe.

With the advent of 2013 for opera houses and orchestras, one name will figure prominently on all programs. His name is synonymous with both the agony and the ecstasy of Classical Music.
Mention the name Richard Wagner, and depending on where you are, and to whom you speak, you will get a different answer. What is sure, the name Richard Wagner, the person and his music, elicits many a varied response, from praise and adoration to disgust and resentment. He is both god and devil.
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The Joy of Wine and Music: Voices of Spring and Sauternes. Beethoven 6

The New Year has past, Strauss has been played, the voice of Spring is on its way, and what better way to warm the heart then to hear the songs of nature calling, (even if in winter) and to listen to Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony with a very good sweet Sauternes or Gerwutzraminer.
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Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde by Wagner with the RECORDING- Carlos Kleiber, Stuttgart Oper > Alteo Amarone by Gino Fasoli… My favorite!
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Dom Perignon and Mozart Requiem

My first concert as Principal Conductor of the great Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano "Giuseppe Verdi," or simply laVerdi, is a program that will forever resonate in my heart and soul,not only because I begin my tenure with Mozart's Requiem...
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A Summer Breeze and Some Malbec, please.

When summer finally comes, and not all that too soon, while the winds of a cool spring seem to still linger, enjoy the relief of sunshine gaucho style. Go on a trip, dance some tango and drink a fresh bottle of Malbec. Why Malbec?
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Rite of Spring with Pomerol: Château Petrus

The music of revolution and rhythm that changed the world and in which I find something new each time I hear it and also a wine different from the rest, that changed the way we think of wines, in which I taste something new each time I drink it (not often).
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A Sensual Syrah: Tristan whole Opera...

It has been said that a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.
Winemakers are anxious for the start of fall, and the harvest season so that more wine can be enjoyed with a good meal.  The hot summer weather has actually been good for grapes, making them retain much of their sugar to allow for a healthy balance between size and fruit content.   One wine that benefits from this is the Syrah.
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Verdi and Verdi!

While Verdi's 200th anniversary is not till 2013, my focus on Italy has already begun, not only due to my work as Principal Conductor of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano "Giuseppe Verdi", aka LaVerdi, but also because I enjoy being in this golden paradise of wine and music.  So do many other conductors, from  Barenboim to Muti to Abbado to Mehta, who maintain posts in Italia while they grace the podiums of other major capitals.  The Italian orchestras have nurtured and inspired the great conductors of the past and continue to do so today.
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Listel and Tzigane

This month, the Joy of Wine and Music will focus on Tzigane by Maurice Ravel, and the wine that best accompanies it: The Listel Rosé. There is a reason for this particular choice: I have recorded this Tzigane with Rachel Kolly d'Alba and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, for her new CD, French Impressions, which was released on Warner Classics.
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Mas Amiel Maury & Beethoven 9

Music that speaks to the soul, saying all mankind should be brothers. A wine that speaks to the soul and should be shared among friends and family.