John Marks

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John Marks Posted: Aug 27, 2013 7 comments
In collaboration with Coursera, the online learning company, and starting September 3, The Curtis Institute will be offering at no charge the course Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, taught by Curtis Institute's Neubauer Family Foundation Chair in Piano Studies Jonathan Biss. The course will last five weeks, with an anticipated workload of 1–2 hours a week.
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John Marks Posted: Aug 08, 2013 0 comments
First, two noteworthy CDs. San Francisco's Cypress String Quartet, whose set of Beethoven's late quartets and high-resolution downloads I praised in the April issue, is back with a new CD (Avie AV2275) that explores their musical roots.
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John Marks Posted: Jul 13, 2013 11 comments
Photo: Bose Corporation

Dr. Amar Bose, founder and CEO of the most successful privately-held consumer-electronics company in history, died Friday, July 12, at his home in Wayland, Massachusetts. He was 83.

Bose became interested in research in audio engineering and psychoacoustics after buying a stereo system and being disappointed by its sound . . .

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John Marks Posted: Jun 19, 2013 2 comments
Talk about a fascinating personal history. Rising-star jazz pianist Aaron Diehl's father ran a funeral home in Columbus, Ohio, with a largely African-American clientele. Diehl started at the piano with Bach, and not long after was playing in both the funeral home and a nearby Catholic church. I think the significance of those early experiences is not so much that a young teenager was already playing for audiences, but rather that he was playing in the context of rituals and, in the case of the funeral home, emotionally fraught major life transitions. I suspect that Diehl's unusual backstory is a large contributing factor in his musical maturity and poised artistic approach.
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John Marks Posted: Apr 09, 2013 0 comments
Reading the November 2012 Stereophile, my eye was caught by John Atkinson's very enthusiastic review (he bought the review sample) of Ayre Acoustics' new QA-9 analog-to-digital converter. Over and above the intrinsic interest of the QA-9's claimed flat response down to about 1Hz, and that it is a cutting-edge ADC from a maker of consumer rather than professional audio gear, I had just been engaged by early-music scholar and organist Beverly Jerold to produce and engineer a recording of historically informed performances of Baroque organ music by Buxtehude (b. 1637), Clérambault (b. 1676), J.S. Bach (b. 1685), and Domenico Scarlatti (b. 1685). The recording venue was the Auditorium of the Third Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America, in Providence, Rhode Island.
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John Marks Posted: Apr 03, 2013 2 comments
This business biography of hi-fi pioneer Gilbert Briggs and his company, Wharfedale, is an exhaustively researched labor of love on the part of his grand-nephew David Briggs. In a sense, the book is a prequel to Ken Kessler's KEF: 50 Years of Innovation in Sound (2011). That's because KEF's founder, Raymond Cooke, worked for Gilbert Briggs at Wharfedale from the early 1950s through mid-1961. But that is getting ahead of ourselves.
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John Marks Posted: Feb 24, 2013 0 comments
Image courtesy the Berklee College of Music

Since its founding, Boston's famed Berklee College of Music has marched to the beat of its own drum section, preferring experienced working musicians over credentialed academics as instructors, and emphasizing practical knowledge over disembodied theory. In collaboration with Coursera, the online learning company, and starting March 1, Berklee will be offering at no charge the course Introduction to Music Production, taught by Berklee instructor Loudon Stearns.

John Marks Posted: Feb 19, 2013 4 comments
The Anima is a two-way loudspeaker from Canalis Audio, a new enterprise of longtime importer Immedia, of Berkeley, California. Canalis is thereby related to Spiral Groove, and Canalis speakers bear the Spiral Groove logo on their terminal plates. Spiral Groove, founded in 2005, makes turntables; their SG2 ($15,000) was favorably reviewed by Brian Damkroger in the June 2010 issue. Canalis makes at present four models of loudspeakers, all designed in collaboration with noted engineer Joachim Gerhard, formerly of Germany's Audio Physic. All Spiral Groove and Canalis products are made in the US.
John Marks Posted: Feb 14, 2013 0 comments
A particular audio interest of mine has long been cost-effective systems that work really well together. I think most of the audio sob stories I've heard can be traced to one or both of two things: mismatched equipment, and inadequate attention paid to room acoustics. I've previously written about systems that range in price from $7500 to under $1500. Here's as minimal and classy a high-performance system as you can ask for: one box for the electronics (including USB connectivity), and two stand-mounted, two-way loudspeakers. The total cost is just under $10,000, but I think the price is justified not only by swank looks, but by the sound.
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John Marks Posted: Jan 28, 2013 2 comments
Photo courtesy the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

I certainly am no stranger to the idea that a "student" orchestra can turn in a performance undeniably superior to those offered by many "professional" orchestras. After all, my favorite commercial recording of Mahler's Symphony 6 is by the orchestra of The Manhattan School of Music, conducted by Glenn Cortese.

But what a special treat it was to hear Daniel Barenboim conduct the orchestra he founded with Edward Said in Weimar in 1999, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, in a program of Beethoven's Second and Third ("Eroica") Symphonies at Providence's Veterans Memorial Auditorium on January 26. The concert was presented by the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown University. The communication between the conductor and the orchestra members, who obviously revere him, was a wonder to behold. Further, when the carefully-nurtured dynamics finally opened all the way up, the near-stunning sound was a rapturous feast of tactile tonal richness.

My advice: If you live in Big Apple-Land, do whatever it takes to hear Maestro Barenboim leading his young charges in all the Beethoven Symphonies at Carnegie Hall, January 30 to February 3.

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