This Week in Classical Music with Randy Kinkel 8/24/19

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The Hands of Bach;
Fleming runs opera at Aspen

It’s “This Week in Classical Music”; An update on what’s happening in the classical music world; I’m Randy Kinkel.

 Sometimes it’s not just the talent of a composer that helps make him or her famous—sometimes it’s anatomy.

 In the case of JS Bach, the size of his hands may have enhanced his talent.

In a study published in a German scientific journal, anatomist and musician Andreas Otte deduced that Bach—a gifted organist and harpsichordist—had an exceptional reach at the keyboard.

Using a photo of what historians believe to be Bach’s skeleton, Otte calculated the hand’s size—nearly 8½ inches from wrist to fingertips—and its reach, as much as 10¼ inches from thumb to last finger with the hand open wide. Using those measurements, Otte figured that Bach could play what’s called a 12th: a position bridging 12 white keys.

 That reach is uncommon even today, when humans are generally larger than in Bach’s time.

 “We cannot judge exactly how relevant the span of the hand is for the art of a musician,” Otte says. And he insists that his research not be interpreted as equating Bach’s musical prowess with his physical reach: “That would be a sacrilege.” He said.


It was as a young opera student at the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado that Renée Fleming honed her art over several summers.

Now she’s back to help run it.

The festival announced that Ms. Fleming, and conductor Patrick Summers, would take over and redesign its opera program as the program’s new artistic directors.

 I always thought I would come back to Aspen,’’ Ms. Fleming “It was my escape fantasy over the years.”

 Fleming, who will continue to perform, said she was drawn to the opportunity to reimagine the program to better prepare young singers for today’s intensely competitive, rapidly changing opera environment.

“Singers in the future — not only do they have to be able to sing a wide variety of repertoire — they have to market themselves, they have to really almost manage themselves,” she said. Summers added that  “the future of opera is going to look very, very different from what we matured into” — and that training programs needed to reflect that.

The Aspen program, which is being rebranded Aspen Opera Theater and VocalArts, draws about 50 graduate, postgraduate and pre-professional singers each summer. Next year, 14 singers will be named Renée Fleming Artists; their costs will be fully covered, and they will work closely with the soprano.

Fleming said that she had fond memories of her student days at Aspen, and of biking each day to nearby mountains, the Maroon Bells. It was in Aspen that she first performed the role of the Countess in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” which she later made her debut with at the Metropolitan Opera. she praised the program for helping her develop as a singer.

For more on these and other items and events, go to the website, kbach dot org; you’ll find us under “podcasts”--follow us on FB, twitter and Instagram, don’t forget to add our Kbach mobile app to your phone or device; check out the Most Wanted Hour with Linda Cassidy, playing your top 100 every weekday at noon.  I’m Randy Kinkel, for KBACH’s “This Week in Classical Music”.