Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Attacca Quartet issues some CD's: Haydn, Janacek, Mendelssohn, Adams

At the concert last week (review May 23) of the Attacca Quartet, there were some CD’s on sale, a regular one of some John Adams quartets, and then two “demos” from the Quartet at 2 for $30 cash only.  (Well, I can remember back in 1962 at “Record Sales” on G Street in downtown Washington, there were blocks of records at 2 for $3, not thirty).  I took the cash option.
One of the CD’s is called “The Best of ‘The 68’”, referring to the 68 string quartets of Franz Joseph Haydn.  There are seventeen selections, but only one quartet (#54, Op. 70 #1 in B-flat) has more than one movement played.  I would have preferred to pick out maybe three quartets.  A couple of the most interesting offerings were the “Minuet alla Zingarese” from Quartet #27 in D, and two minor keyed movements, a finale from #16 in A Minor, and then #23 in F minor, actually a fugue.
Does Haydn anticipate early Beethoven more than Mozart?  Sometimes it seems that way, in the most daring music.  Haydn could have a penchant for fun sometimes (like the “Farewell” Symphony; I had a Festival Casaks Columbia recording of that work).  On the other hand, Mozart could go into harmonic weirdness in his last string works (like the D Major Quintet slow movement, and a late F Major quartet finale). 
Haydn was more willing than Mozart to try extreme key signatures.  There is a symphony in B Major (#46), called “The Razor” (no man’s body was put in jeopardy). It’s odd in that every movement is in that key, but the first movement has daring modulations suggestive of Schubert.

One of the first long playing records I ever had was an RCA Victor :Leopold Stokowski recording (about 1951) of the Haydun Symphony #53, the “Imperial”, which has an alternate finale.  It was paired with Liszt’s “Les Preludes”, an odd combination.  I grew with that record from about seventh grade. 

One of Papa Haydn's earlier symphonies, #47 in G, is called the "Palindrome", because of its "Minuetto al Reverso".  Paul Hindemith did the same with his Horn Concerto finale (I have the old Dennis Brain Angel recording somewhere).   
The other CD contained recordings of the Janacek String Quartet #2, “Intimate Letters” (1928), apparently in D-flat Major or C# Minor.  I had discussed the performance by the Elias Quartet at Carnegie Hall in an April 7 review.  The Attacca performance seems more energetic, and seem to relate the work to a similarly episodic Beethoven Quartet in the same key (the C# Minor  -- see Brooklyn Rider, Feb. 25, 2012),  particularly with the energetic close.  Is it hard for a string quartet to play in this tonality (instead of D, one half step higher?)
The CD concludes with the String Quartet #4 in E Minor, Op. 44 #2. By Felix Mendelssohn.  This work seems less idiosyncratic with regards to string quartet idiom, and is rather workmanlike.  The finale stays in minor at the vigorous close. 
I got into record collecting as a teenager, and that was followed by CD’s in the 80s.  In my current circumstances, a lot of stuff is still packed up.  I have fetched and organized most of what I would want to listen to, but still have trouble finding some items, like the Symphony #2 in B-fat by Zemlinsky (has a wonderful Passacaglia, like the Brahms Fourth), on Records International or Marco Polo. 
Today, it seems like MP3 files, saved in the Cloud (along with PDF’s for program notes – very important) are the way to go.  Too bad for Tower Records, good for Amazon.  People should pay for the mp3’s – but maybe less than $15 a CD.  On Am,azon, they’re cheaper.  Artists do have to get paid somehow, you know.  Apple did us a good thing by promoting the $1 single on iTunes. 

No (Reid), it’s not free, not always! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"John Adams Residency" at the Library of Congress now; Stunning concert by Attacca Quartet

The “free” concert given by the Attacca Quartet at the Library of Congress on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 was nothing less than monumental. 
First, as to the “free” part (as in the “” videos on YouTube), there is a caveat.  Tickets can be reserved for $8.75 service charge by Ticketmaster, but this concert was “sold out” a month in advance, largely because composer John Adams was present,  The Library is honoring the work of John Adams throughout the weekend (with a “John Adams Residency”).  So you have to get there at 6 PM  (you can eat dinner three blocks down 1st St SE at a Tortilla restaurant and sports bar, across from the South Capitol Metro). You go through security and get a “ticket stub number”, and then wait in a rehearsal room with Closed Circuit TV.  Normally, there are enough real tickets (handed out as they become available) at 7:30 PM.  I had no trouble getting in.

Mr. Adams has a website called "Earbox", link here.  The Attacca Quartet has a site here
And I did get a chance to meet and talk to the four members of the Attacca String Quartet:  Amy Schroeder amd Keiko Tokunaga, violins: Luke Fleming, viola; Andrew Yee, cello.  The Quartet is associated with the Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music, at Julliard in New York City.
The quartet has a large repertoire, of both classics (especially Haydn and early Beethoven), and contemporary (particularly John Adams, Bartok, Janacek, Schoenberg and Berg, and new composers).  What kind of commitment does it take 20-somethings to maintain a group like this.  (Remember the film. “The Last Quartet”?) 
Luke Fleming (“Harold in Italy”) seemed to be the “ringleader” and spoke for the group on stage.  The arrangement of the (Coolidge Auditorium) stage is interesting, as the proscenium doors (as from Shakespeare’s days) allow composers to transit between the stage and the audience.
The most sensational work on the program was the last – The String Quartet #4  (2008) by John Adams.  It is simply monumental, fully post-Mahler (perhaps a shade of Hevergal Brian, and a little bit of the flavor of the Profokiev Sixth), and will surely become a repertoire staple.  It is formally in two movements (“Op. 111 format”), but the “first movement” (21 minutes) is in four distinct sections. The second (or fifth, as you count) movement, 9 minutes, starts out as an exercise in “Morse code” but starts imposing self-control and works up to a triumphant close that had the audience spellbound. 

The other Adams work, before intermission, was a set of seven dances (out of ten) from “John’s Book of Alleged Dances”, some of which are played with pre-recorded audio and have a West Indies or African flavor.  The titles are a bit snarky (like Rag the Bone” and Toot Nipple” and “Pavane: She’s So Fine”).  The last dance, “Judah to Ocean”,  invokes the mood of biking and cruising the walks, canals and beaches of Venice, CA.  Would these dances work on a disco floor? I noticed that the cellist really was given to facial expressions in performing the Adams works.  
Adams spoke before the "disco dances".  I got to speak to him at Intermission, and mentioned his “Doctor Atomic” (Nov. 8, 2008 here), and mentioned the EMP (electromagnetic pulse) issue today as one that politicians were overlooking,
The second half of the program opened with a newly commissioned work from Timo Andres, String Quartet #2, “Early to Rise”, a ten-minute work in four sections, which starts out with some motion and settles in for the day’s work, and ends quietly.  Timo spoke, and said that he is more productive when he gets up early.  I had to do just that last Saturday (5:30 AM) to go to the mountains (Issues blog).  I do find that my best “rem sleep” tends to happen after about 6 AM, though then it is harder to get up (in “retirement”).
The program had opened with the String Quartet #2 in G Major, from Op. 18, by Beethoven.  G Major always sounds like the "green" key to me.  The work opens with some rather impish motives and quickly proves Beethoven’s new path for motivic development. The first movement teases the listener in the way it starts the recapitulation, oddly in the dominant key of D.  (Mozart had started a recapitulation in the subdominant key of F in his famous C Major sonata, to make it a mirror copy of the exposition, but that’s not so interesting.)   The quartet has a Largo movement (in complex triple time) that anticipates the mature Beethoven with slow movements, with a curious fast middle section.  
There was a little bit of a problem with pitch in one of the violins in the slow movement. 

As an encore, the Quartet performed the finale from the Haydn Quartet in F Op 77 #2, a presto in triple time. 

The printed  program notes from the Quartet were as detailed as ever. 

The Quartet used sheet music (and had one brief mixup before the last work).  When will everybody start using iPads for scores? 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

"A Technicolor Promise", presented by children at Arlington VA church; compare to the "Dreamcoat"

Sunday, May 19, 2013 the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA produced the 40-minute children’s musical, music  “A Technicolor Promise”, by Allen Pote, lyrics by Carole McCann. Laura Edelbrock conducted from the piano.
The musical tells the Biblical story of Noah and the ark, and is quite explicit that everything in the world would be wiped out from the Flood, and that the world would have to repopulated itself from a male and female of every living thing. There is a certain silliness to it.

The music is sometimes avant garde, going in to jazz, and simulating thunder with dissonant, whole-tone chords on the piano.
The stage props are remarkable.  With the storm, there are props showing negative and positive lightning strikes.  The animals are represented by caps.  The ark itself is showing a by wall that rises onto the stage. 

YouTube has a performance at a Presbyterian Church in Wilmington DE. 

Here is a site that sells the music score, link
I was somewhat reminded of the big musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, which I saw that the National Theater in Washington DC in the middle 1990s (at least one cast member had been a regular at Tracks).   That’s about what happens t the end of Genesis.  The “coat of many colors” fed in to the resentment of all the tribal brothers to Joseph’s outspokenness, particularly about the significance of his dreams, of which he was proud.  Yet, in anticipation of the curious double meaning of “The Parable of the Talents” in the New Testament, Joseph’s gifts indeed save his people. 
A DVD of the musical directed by David Mamet became available in 1999. 

Saturday, May 04, 2013

"In the Moonlight", waiting in the sunshine for an Amusement Park train-- and learning how a Beethoven Sonata really used to sound

While waiting for a train shuttle at Busch Gardens today near Williamsburg, VA, I heard a prepared recording of classical music that I thought at first “glance” was irritating, but then actually proved interesting.
The train station was broadcasting  a recording of the “Presto” finale of the Piano Sonata #14 in C# Minor by Ludwig Van Beethoven, the “Moonlight” Sonata, whose first movement is so hackneyed.  But this is the primitive finale, which seems to make so much of empty, declaratory passage work, but also generates legato, continuous themes of nearby notes in the inner voices.  What was striking about this recording was the plucked sound.  Was this a harpsichord?  Not exactly.  Apparently, this was a “fortepiano” of the early 19th Century, that had a range of only five octaves.  Yet, there was some real dynamics at the end, some real fortissimo. See the Wikipedia history here.  

Later, the station played a trite medley of classical music that is not effective.  The Mozart “Big G Minor” does not need to morph into Gerswhin.

As to the Moonlight Sonata, as it clattered, I did wonder, did any theme from the work inspire Reid Ewing’s “In the Moonlight” song from “Modern Family” (2010)?  Maybe there is a vague resemblance between the “Do Me” song and a motive in the inner voices of the Beethoven.  I hadn’t noticed this before. 

Remember the song "Walkin' in the Sunshine" from the middle 1960s?  (For that matter, remember "Monday, Monday"?)  I used to hear these in McCollum Hall at the University of Kansas, and still dream about them, when sleeping in the moonlight.  

Update: June 29, 2013

I dreamed last night that someone had made a vinyl record of the "Moonlight Sonata" paired with "In the Monnlight, Do Me'.  Why vinyl? 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Major DC church loses pastor just before new organ opens

The Washington Post reports on Thursday, May 2, 2013, on the front page, in a story by Hamil R. Harris and Michelle Boorstein, on the resignation of Rev, Jeffrey Haggray from the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC.

I grew up in this church with my parents as an only child, raised in nearby Arlington VA.
The link for the story is here. The online title is telling, “Dismal parting for storied D.C. Church and its first black pastor”.

Haggray was the church’s first African-American pastor.
Many downtown churches that flourished in the 1950s have had difficulty maintaining membership in large cities.  In general, they have tended to become more liberal politically, and have often found it necessary to appeal to nearby LGBT communities (particularly the case given the location of FBC, a few blocks from all the 17th Street clubs). Some people with a more demonstrably contemporary worship style have come, reportedly creating tension for a church used to formal services.   Older members have sometimes been unnerved. 
FBC had a pastor emeritus, Edward Pruden (from Richmond), in the 1940s and 1950s, who was very progressive on race, and even preached about how a Christian Europe could have allowed Nazi Germany to develop. Pruden authored a book in 1951, "Interpreters Needed". 

I was baptized in the church on January 29, 1956, at the age of 12, by immersion, with my mother.  I mentioned that in my memorial address there January 16, 2011. 
The previous pastor, James Sommerville, now is pastor of a large Baptist Church on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA.  I visited it in November, 2010. 
I got to know Everett Goodwin, who as pastor in the early 1990s, when I worked on my first book.  For a while, there was a separation in the 90s, and Dr. Goodwin formed a Baptist Fellowship that met nearby.
President Jimmy Carter taught Sunday school there in the late 1970s sometimes, usually in the balcony. I recall a lesson on “The Divorce Chapter”.

First Baptist is on an aggressive building program.  The former parking lot is seeing “Monopoly-style” development of an apartment building which will give it considerable lease income.  The building will be totally secular in management. 
The church raised large funds to purchase a 125-rank organ, built in the Czech Republic, and now installed.  The sanctuary has re-opened (allowing immersion baptism again), but the date for the organ to be available has not been announced yet as far as I know.  I suspect it may happen in June.  There will probably be a major concert shortly after opening, but no date is set yet.

The Church will have a new state-of-the art audio system.  The original building opened Christmas Day, 1955, and the audio system was set up and largely run for over 50 years by my own friend, Charles Hailey, Jr, of Falls Church, VA; he passed away suddenly late in 2011.  
FBC has sponsored numerous piano recitals (often emphasizing Chopin and Gershwin) by Thomas Pandolfi. 
I expect that the opening of the organ, one of the largest in the US, will attract musicians from all over the country, including many whom I know in NYC. 

Update: May 7

The Washington Post this morning published some Letters to the Editor, a couple from people whom I know, here.  But the Post stuck to its line with the aggregate heading "First Baptist's Divided Pews".  Really?

I think the window above is the one my father contributed toward in the 1950s.