Friday, January 29, 2010

What is the future of classical compact discs?

MSN’s “10 things not to buy in 2010” (link) from Money Central caught my eye because of one item: CD’s.

Compact discs started to take hold for classical music around 1985 and became popular very quickly with classical music collectors. Why? Because of vinyl records, no matter how careful you were with your tone arm and elliptical styli, could wear, especially in inner grooves.

For singles and for “pop” or rock, of course iTunes and a variety of now copyright-legal music subscription services post-Napster (Dell has even offered an inexpensive one), CD’s seem a bit redundant. (Okay, in 2001, maybe it made sense to buy a CD of ‘Nsync.)

True, the mega-store Tower Records with all its great deals on CD's went by-by. bThere will always be a need for an effective vehicle to sell recordings of classical music, whether new performances of the Beethoven Fifth, resurrected and neglected works (like the d’Albert concerto I write about), or the works of new composers (like Tudor Dominik Maican (check April 10, 2010 at Dumbarton here) and Timothy Andres), especially when young. Will people really download performances for purchase and then build collections on their harddrives? What about the program notes. Maybe this is a good use for the new Tablet, and Steve Jobs has it right.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Composer Johann Wilms; reviewing D'Albert

I don’t order classical CD’s with any frequency like I used to, and the imports, at least, seem to be a lot more expensive on Amazon than they were at Tower Records in its heyday of the early 90s.

But recently I’ve heard a lot of Dutch-German composer Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772-1847) whose symphonies always strike me as like “very” late Haydn. Wilm’s dates are a lot later than Haydn’s (1732-1809) and Mozart (1756-1791) and actually is contemporary with Beethoven (1770-1827). Wilms is credited with the Dutch national anthem (from 1832-1915).

I tried CPO’s recording (2009, so recent) of the Symphony #1, Op. 9, in C, and Symphony #7, Op. 23, in C minor, and the Overture in D. Howard Griffiths conducts the North German Radio Orchestra. The works tend to have lively slow movements (like Haydn) but outer movements that are slightly more expansive, often with elaborate codas (that’s especially true of #7 with WETA plays a lot). There are some delicious modulations and strettos, but not as right or inevitable as those of Beethoven.

Somehow I misplaced my Naxos recording of the Eugen D’Albert piano concertos, and indulged at Christmas in the Hyperiod CD with Piers Lane at the piano with the BBC Scottish Symphony conducted by Alun Francis.

I’ve written about #1 (B minor) as a composition written by a late teen. This is a work that grows on you quickly. After three or four hearings, I sounds like an old friend – and yet brooding nature of the first three sections (more or less like a one-movement Sonata structure with an embedded mid section – perhaps inspired not just by the Liszt B minor sonata but also by the Schubert fantasies) recapitulates a lot of the romantic movement – not just Lizst, but also the Brahms first piano concerto, the Chopin funeral march, and even MacDowell and Tchaikowsky. It sounds like a treasure trove for 1940s film noir scores. But it’s the last six minutes – the stunning, almost atonal cadenza leading to the “scherzo” quickly turning into the “big tune” – that really sums everything up and must have been known to Sergei Rachmaninoff, who also liked to combine tertiary structures, big cadenzas, and scherzandos turning into big tunes. In fact, the emotional impact of the D’Albert #1 on me is very similar to that of Rachmaninoff’s masterpiece, his Piano Concerto #3 in D Minor.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Met's "The Audition" airs on PBS, then in theaters

Many PBS stations showed a special two hour “Great Performances” documentary Jan. 20 or 21, “The Audition”, directed by Susan Froemke. A typical reference is on Wyoming PBS here.

Twenty two singers rehearse and sing various aria excerpts, and are coached behind the scenes: they are leaving their teaching environments and selling themselves as their own artists.

One issue is how they choose their audition items. It’s common to have a “required” item from a list, and a second item that is more wide open. When I played in piano festivals in the 1950s, that’s how it worked, but the “choice” had to be an “American” composer, but Rachmaninoff counted because he had lived in the US!

Many of the arias sounded like they came from standard Mozart and Verdi, also Donizsetti, Tchaikowssky, Bellini.

Voice is perhaps the most physically demanding of all the “parts” – being performed without an “instrument”.

The tenor described the top of his range, and another contestant talked about being rested and needing to take three sleeping pills, and about his “New Jersey temper”. Another describes trying to hit the highest C.

The contestants get full make-up before their trials.

The "judges' meeting" is interesting. The chief says that each winner gets $15000. She also says that although age doesn't matter much, she might "forgive" small lapses at age 22 but not at age 30.

The Met says that the movie will play in movie theaters in the US April 19 as a special event. The link is here. (Note comment: it says that the theatrical showing was last year).

At the end of the film, the outcome for many contestants was shown a year later. And after the film, Renee Flemming gave an interview.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Met auditorium inside

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Educational Theater Company in Arlington VA offers theater, film workshops for public school students

The Westover Market in Arlington VA has some flyers put out by the Educational Theater Company in Arlington VA, link here. There are a number of programs including Shakespeare in the Schools. Look particularly at the Programs link.

The Facebook page is here.

The group has a YouTube channel for its film studies, here. It does not seem to have any embed code.

The flyer at the market mentions an ETC on Film workshop this late winter and spring, in Arlington VA. Contact the director through the website for details.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The iPhone Piano: What can you do with it?

I’m seeing some videos on youtube of “The iPhone Piano”. For example, this one from Moo Cow Music plays a brief excerpt from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, opening slow movement. The company (link) says it sells aps to “make music with your iPhone”.

AppVee (site)reviews the “Pocket Piano” ap for your iPhone here, which has a standard and deluxe version.

I think the photo of me above dates back to 1952.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Passing Strange": Spike Lee captures the musical

Last night (Jan 13) PBS WETA aired a “Spike Lee Joint” from his “40 Acres and a Mule” company (along with Apple Core Holdings), a taping of the Broadway musical “Passing Strange”, book and lyrics by Mark Stewart, music by “Stew” and Heidi Rodewald. The work opened officially at the Belasco Theater on Broadway in Feb. 2008. Lee’s “film” was actually shown at Sundance in 2009.

Daniel Breaker plays a young African American man who leaves his family in South Carolina, for adventures in Europe, especially Amsterdam (“a party”) and Berlin.

The mother (Elisa Davis) resents his turning his back on emotional loyalty to his own family. He says he wants to choose his own path in life and “be himself”. She says “family doesn’t work that way.” But the Youth wants a life defined on his own terms, not those of his biological family. He wants to be a citizen of the world and gain some recognition from it. But his mother says she wants “to be loved”, not just to accomplish things. This particular interchange occurs near the end and seems to lay out the heart of our culture wars.

The musical would seem to make emotional makeup and sexual orientation as immutable properties that help make someone who he is. Race is another matter.

Here is the website from Sundance Selects for “the movie”

Friday, January 01, 2010

PBS airs Vienna Philharmonic New Years concert of Strauss, Offenbach: what generates the Viennese style?

PBS airs the New Years Celebration from Vienna several times, with this schedule for WETA 26 in Washington DC (link)

Georges Pretre conducts the program of Strauss waltzes and polkas, and Offenbach. The program opens with the Die Fledermaus overture, which itself consists mostly of waltz sequences. It concluded with the Blue Danube Waltz, made famous in “2001 A Space Odyssey”. There was a Champaign Polka and a “One Heart One Mind” waltz.

The concert film showed chefs making Austrian candies (perhaps suitable for “The Sound of Music”), working deftly with all kinds of kitchen implements to make the candies and cake frostings into art forms, inviting probably for Martha Stewart. The Danube waltz was accompanied by scenery along the river, including lowland scenes from Romania.

I can remember having some 10-inch LP’s of the Strauss waltzes in themed 1950s. One paired the Blue Danube with the Emperor Waltz, and another featured Die Fledermaus. So this music was impressed well on my ear by about age 10 or so.

Yet, in time, the Viennese compositional style would become synonymous with a branch of “German romanticism” – starting with Mozart, to Schubert, to Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss, to Schoenberg and Berg, composers whose music, despite the atonality, would still come across as postromantic music much of the time. (Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra is essentially a short (and sometimes violent) postromantic symphony; Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto has plenty of schmaltz). Composers from other countries, like Alexander Zemlinksky, would be associated with the school. This all somehow links back to the Strauss waltzes.

Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann (following Haydn and perhaps Wilms, recently popular) and even Dvorak (Bohemia) seem (to me) like another and expressively distinct branch of “German romanticism”, as do Liszt (actually Hungarian) and Wagner. For example, Mahler, for all his references to the Beethoven Ninth, has always sounded more related to Schubert to me than to Beethoven. And the Schubert Great C Major, with its almost hypnotic effectiveness in its repeated notes and unresolved dissonances, is almost like a “Bruckner symphony.”

Wikipedia attribution link for Danube map.