Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Agecroft Hall" in Richmond provides a museum of social changes

Today, I took an “accidental” tour of Agecroft Hall in the Windsor Farms area of Richmond, VA, near Carytown.

The Tudor estate had belonged to the Langley and Dautesey families in Lancashire England as far back as the 15th Century, as the Renaissance was progressing. In 1925, Richmond native Thomas C. Williams bought it at auction, tore it down and reassembled a smaller version in Richmond, which opened in 1942.

The tour starts with a 12-minute film of the same name “Agecroft Hall”.

All men of the manor were expected to learn music, which was played on a guitar-like case or lute (as in Resphigi's dance set). Music was written with staves facing upside down for dual players.  The printing press was recent, and book ownership was a sign of status; many books had been hand copies.

The tour emphasizes the social structures of 15th century life, which assigned people stations and roles in life which their clothing and behaviors in the castle depicted. Privacy and consent (and equality) as we understand the notions today were non-existent. People slept multiple families to a bed, and even inns sold spots on beds with multiple people.

It gives us cause to rethink our notions of personal autonomy today, where problems of sustainability are causing us to rethink our ideas of how the rights of the individual and of others in a family or group to count on interdependence must balance.

The link for the estate is here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Listen to Mozart's "unfinished" Coronation Concerto with polytonality, plus a new piano concerto (by Timo Andres)

Composer and Pianist Timothy Andres (“Timo”), having redeployed his website (in Beta) with Wordpress (something I am considering seriously), has added a piano directory where visitors can listen to some of his performances at home “free”.

Particularly interesting is his interpretation of the Mozart Piano Concerto #26 in D, the “Coronation”, which you can find at this (website url) link. The performance is with the Metropolis Ensemble at the Angel Orensanz Foundation. On Windows Vista the links work immediately; on XP I had to click an extra time to get the MP3 to play. (Yup, I’m planning on having Windows 7 soon.)

Wikipedia explains the issue of the unfinished piano part clearly here. “As can be seen in the Dover Publications facsimile, large stretches of the solo part simply have nothing at all for the left hand, including the opening solo (movement 1, measures 81–99) and the whole of the second movement.[6] There is in fact no other Mozart piano concerto of which so much of the solo part was left unfinished by the composer” Check this link.

Since the Concerto (as did most in that period) starts with an orchestral ritornelle (of the Exposition), the polytonality of his interpretation of the piano part comes as quite a “shock” when it starts. The 1st Movement cadenza is definitely interesting, more like Andres’s own music in “Shy and Mighty” (especially “Flirtations”). There’s another substantial cadenza in the playful Rondo finale. The whole experience comes across as more neo-classical or Stravinsky-like than Mozart’s own experiments into modernism: in the slow movement of his D Major Quintet, and later in his F Major Quartet finale (development section), he seems to get into outright atonality, and its still the 18th Century. But the sound is Viennese, Mahleresque, expressionistic, not neoclassical. (By way of comparison, Mahler experimented with polytonality in his enormous Rondo in the 7th Symphony, but the effect is still emotive.)

I guess that this "transcription" (or whatever) is what copyright law considers a "derivative work" (although Mozart is certainly long since in the public domain).

That webpage also links to a performance of Andres’s own Piano Concerto (in one movement with “about” four sections, like Liszt) titled “Home Stretch”. The work starts in slow tempo with orchestra effects that sound rather sci-fi-movie like (reminding me of Christopher Nolan and Inception). But even in slow tempo, the piano writing, with some stops and starts, sounds toccata-like. As the tempo picks up, the music takes on a Gershwin-like character, with some Copland thrown in. Then another slow section comes, with sound effects of “summer in the City” perhaps (a little quarter-toning in the orchestra, begging for an Imax movie to be playing). The music again gains speed, but ends abruptly in the solo piano. (Dominik Maican ended one of his quartets very suddenly, too.) I didn’t time it exactly but it seemed to run about 18 minutes.

By the way, note the Metropolis Ensemble website (link  ) and the upcoming event in NYC “It takes a long time to become a good composer.” Also check the Orensanz Foundation here.

Timothy Andres does have a brief article on Wikipedia.

This is a good time to have a first name of “Timothy”. If you met Andres and Lincecum simulataneously and didn’t know them, you might think Andres had been the World Series pitcher for the San Francisco Giants and guess that Lincecum was the musician.  I still don’t know how it’s physically possible for Tim L to throw 95 mph fastballs and totally dominate baseball.  And Tim A.'s piano style is certainly athletic in nature, with outbursts and constant momentum.

Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. photo of the Mozart score.

(Nov. 22: Indexed posting title has a spelling typo, just caught; that's OK.)

Update: Feb. 9, 2012

Here's a review (WCF Courrier) of Timo's performance of the recomposition in Iowa, link.  One comment: the age is one year too high.  ("Being young....")

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"The Laramie Project" is performed by Maryland high school; threatened Phelps protest is a no-show

Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville MD performed the play “The Laramie Project” on Saturday Nov. 13, by Moises Kaufman.

I saw the play in 2002 (I believe) at the Tectonic Theater Project at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis, directed by Michael H. Robbins. The play comprises a lot of recitations from townspeople exploring the social factors that led to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard outside Laramie in October 1998. There are disturbing moments, such as a fear of HIV infection by the medical attendants. The play incorporates an anti-gay protest appearance by the group from Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS.

In fact, (and ironically) the group had threatened to protest the play last night but did not show up. Counter protests against Phelps had been planned. Cody Calamaio has a story in the Maryland Gazette (website url) here.

Phelps did not pickett the Minneapolis performance, but he did picket the All Gods Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis once, I think  in 2003.

The Tectonic Theater has a YouTube video clip from a more recent performance, from 2008, here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Ames Monument.  I visited Laramie in August 1994.

There is a review of the film "Fall from Grace" about Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church on the movies blog Oct. 6, 2010.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Chicago Symphony and Pierre Boulez: Mahler, Symphony 7 (PBS)

Praises or kudos for many PBS stations that broadcast a Chicago Symphony concert with Pierre Boulez conducting the Symphony #7 by Gustav Mahler, “The Song of the Night”.

The work was obscure until the 1960s, when Leonard Bernstein unearthed it. But the first recording that I played on my VM stereo in the fall of 1962 was Herman Scherchen’s Westminster Recording. I remember being startled by surrounding sounds from the brass opening in B minor, even from a mono record.

The work is curious: two massive outer movements that explore open orchestral textures, sandwiching three inner “night pieces”, which are not like Chopin nocturnes. The first night piece, an Allegretto in C Major, is the most “famous”, having been quoted a few times in Hollywood before the public got to recognize late or middle Mahler.

The first movement opens with the somber introduction and switches to E Minor for a massive sonata allegro, with much of the development in slow tempo, echoing Wagner. But it builds up to a studied climax which is fascinating when played well. And the final Rondo, in C, is probably the longest and most “episodic” symphonic rondo ever written, often building on the descending fourths motive of the first movement. This music is Viennese style and German Romanticism carried to the point of caricature.

The conductor is well known for his own composition in serial or twelve-tone technique, and Boulez’s music (like Pli Selon Pli, or “Fold by Fold”), comes across to many listeners as less emotional and more abstract than the expressionism of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg which, even when atonal, often sounds like an extension of the post romanticism of late Mahler.

The WETA link for the concert is here.

Watch the full episode. See more Great Performances.