Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Recalling "Sirius Lullaby": an extraterrestrial suite by a friend in SF back in the 1980s

After reviewing a friend’s new CD album last Thursday, I recalled an episode much earlier in my life, back in 1985, when I visited two lovers in San Francisco and saw the music studio of one of them, a young man named William Bent. He had an Apple computer and a lot of gear that in the 1980s was considered advanced (about the same time I was getting an AT&T 6300 and a HP laser printer at my condo in Dallas).

He composed a 90 minute suite for moog synthesizer instruments, called “Sirius Lullaby”, and sold it as a cassette; at the time, CD’s had just come in to being (I bought my first CD player in 1985, and it broke in three months). The composition seemed to comprise rather disconnected movements, each with a lot of repetition of some particular musical kernel. I think I still have the cassette somewhere, maybe packed up from the move back to VA in 2003. But I never play cassettes or LP’s now (although I hope to get set up to again soon; more about that later).

His partner Mike Merry was a meteorologist. I had met them in New York City in 1978 in my last year there; they moved in Mike’s “Vancredible” to California after the 1978 World Series. I visited them for one night in 1980 on the way back from a triangle vacation in Hawaii, Alaska, and a flyover of Mt. St. Helens (and Mt. McKinley, for that matter). Mike had always been interested in the theories of Van Daniken, and at the time there was a book by British ufologist Robert Temple who claimed that aliens could have come to Africa from a planetary system around Sirius; based on today’s science, that sounds unlikely (since Sirius is a double star and the system had a catastrophe 120 million years ago; check Wikipedia). We all had admired Nicholas Roeg’s film “The Man Who Fell to Earth” with David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, and the wistful song “Betty Jo’s Lament” from the musical. (I seem to remember some lyrics like "Chase the Clouds" but can't confirm it now.)

I visited them again in 1987; when Mike met me at the San Francisco airport, the stock market had just crashed (it was Black Monday in 1987). I would lose track of them, but my knowledge is that HIV would eventually affect them both. We all know that treatment has gotten much better than what was available in the 1980s.

Legendairelestat clip of Bowie song mentioned on YouTube.

Wikipedia attribution link for artist’s impression of the star Sirius

Picture below: from NASA exhibit af Folk Life Festival on Washington DC Mall, June 2008.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Timothy Andres: "Shy and Mighty", new CD from Nonesuch

I pre-ordered the new CD of a ten-movement piano suite called “Shy and Mighty” by Timothy Andres from Amazon, and it arrived today, shipped from Lexington, KY. I didn’t know that CD’s were being packaged in cardboard rather than plastic jewel boxes, but that is greener.

OK, the composition itself comprises ten pieces for two pianos played by “Timo” and pianist David Kaplan. They total about an hour (I didn’t get the exact length off of my Dell computer), and strike me as like a set of etudes, not necessarily intended to be played in one sitting (rather like the Chopin etudes or a set of Rachmaninoff preludes). Is the title of the work a “paradox”? I suppose one could explore the world of polarities and the books of Paul Rosenfels for an answer.

The music tends to have a lot of passage work, as in common in etude writing, with each piece organized around a couple of motifs (often ternary in form), perhaps sometimes corresponding to yin and yang. There is some brew of polytonality and a dash of impressionism. Tim’s notes talk about his early liking of the big early 20th century orchestral Viennese-to-Slavic composers (starting with Mahler), but what I heard in pieces was a French, almost like Ravel sometimes, with a little jazz, the last piece having a touch of Gershwin. Actually, as my mind wandered I found myself recalling strolling alongside the Nervion River in Bilbao, Spain (Euskadi, actually), on the opposite from the Guggenheim, in an annoying drizzle (April 2001), wearing a tweed coat, checking my pockets for my passport. The city seems interplanetary, rather like it belongs in one of Clive Barker’s other Dominions. Perhaps if “Hollywood” gets around to filming “Imajica”, Andres would be a good choice for the score composer. My favorite of the pieces (in one hearing), was the next to last, composed early, called “Flirtation Ave.” (Bilbao doesn’t look like a city for flirting, though.). The first piece, "Antennae" reminds me a bit of the Schumann Toccata, and the eighth piece, "How Can I Live in Your World of Ideas?", gives the two pianos the roles of characters in an existential dialogue.

His notes (printed in white on a black background) present an interview by Ronen Givony. He talks about his last “high school” year of home schooling and then pre-college at Julliard. There appears to be a curious parallel to my own life in the 50s, maybe. I could imagine making my “Do Ask Do Tell” movie around the concept of “why music didn’t become my life’s work” – I wish it had, and it might have – and I could wrap around all of this (like bacon) the plot of the WB show “Everwood” where the prodigy pianist Ephram (played by Gregory Smith, whom I have met) doesn’t get into Julliard after he skips the audition because he has been deceived by his father. This all gets to be too much for a blog posting, but not for the movies.

The art work in the album is interesting. There is a woodcut-like cartoon on one page, but the photo work is interesting. I don’t know why the booklet cover cuts off his face, but the album cover is becoming, as is the panoramic black-and-white “centerfold” showing the grimy city (New York, that is, from the perspective of the “common man”) with Tim standing tall, and mammalian.

As for some of his other music (“The Hymn of the Big Wheel”), I’m impressed that you can write dance music that sounds like it works for both concert performance (orchestra, chamber or pianos or various combos) and dirty dancing, complete with love trains on the disco floor. Actually, I suppose you could disco dance to the last movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

Visit the composer's website and Kaplan’s site.  The composer's picture in his latest posting looks like a disguise with the glasses.

The outdoor picture above on this posting is mine, from a 2004 visit to Coney Island, in November, of the boardwalk in an area that used to house the paddleball courts, called the “Seaside Courts”. Andres likes to put thematic pictures on his blog postings, so I looked for one of mine that was somehow similarly tempered.

(When I typed the title of this post, I almost typed "High and Mighty" -- a TV show, and earlier a famous movie from the 50s.)

The CD number for Nonesuch is 522413-2.

Amazon's link is here.  There is also an MP3 download link at Amazon, slightly lower in cost.  Please, stay legal; artists need royalty legitmate income from their work!

Update: Feb. 27, 2011

Note the comments in the New York Times by Nate Chinen here. He writes "Timothy does something as a composer that I’ve never been able to do myself. He can create characters in music that you see and feel," and discusses the piece "How Can I Live in Your World of Ideas" of "Shy and Mighty" as an example.  Creating characters in a novel or movie (like "The Social Network") is tough enough.

In fact, you can find a little "screenplay" for a possible short film (that's what I see in it) on Tim's blog Feb. 17, 2011, "Chard Stem Soup". The conversation chat here could make for a "48 Hour Film Project" or a Project Greenlight Director's Contest (if they had another one).

(See Dec. 9, 2010: "It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer")

Sunday, May 16, 2010

CBS 60 Minutes gives us an update on Dudamel; inspires youth programs around the country

CBS 60 Minutes, in a report (link) by Bob Simon, covered conductor Gustavo Dudamel this evening, starting by showing his rehearing the closing passages of Mahler’s First Symphony. The Mahler had been played in an opening concert in Los Angeles last fall.

He talked about the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, which had worked itself up to being able to offer a first class performance of Tchaikowsky’s Fourth.

The segment then covered a special music education program in Baltimore inspired by Dudamel, where some of the musicians work up close and personal with the kids, who find themselves wanting to stgay at school in order to perform.

The Minnesota Orchestra has had a Young People’s Concerts program since 1911, where musicians work with youth in a similar way. I called for contributions to this program in 2002 and 2003. The web link for the program is here.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. photo of Gustav Mahler.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Live from Lincoln Center": Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, Perlman: Mendelssohn and Schumann

On PBS’s “Live from Lincoln Center”, Emanuel Ax, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman perform at the Lincoln Center's Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. Alan Alda hosts; it was broadcast on WETA at 10 PM May 5.

The program contained a lot of music by Mendelssohn and Schumann. The artists started with the scherzo from the Mendelssohn D Minor trio and then played two Songs without Words. The main website for the broadcast is here.

The main work of the program is Mendelssohns C Minor Piano Trio, Op 66, which has that wonderful gentle violence that is more familiar to me in the Symphony #1 in C Minor (the rabid fugal conclusion of which I love). The artists discuss Mendelssohn’s attachment to Bach, and evolution of a romantic style that somehow jumps over the meat of Beethoven and Schubert. When I took piano (mainly in the 1950s), our teacher characterized Mendelssohn and his music as "happy". The C Minor trio does end in a triumphant Major (as does the Scotch Symphony) but sometimes Mendelssohn keeps us in minor at the end (the "Italian", and several other chamber works. 

The trio played the slow movement from the D Minor Trio as an encore.

Ax plays one of the Schumann Fantasiest├╝cke Op.12, and then the trio play other pieces adapted from this and from the Volkston, Op 102. Some are gentle, and some are with fury. Ax characterizes Schumann as “shy”, as if a curious reference to the new “Shy and Mighty” album due May 18 from Nonesuch for composer Tim Andres (this blog March 20, 2010 has the link).

Literature refers to Robert Schumann has having been manic-depressive or bipolar; the manic energy certainly comes out in the runaway finale of the D Minor Symphony (#4), but my favorite Schumann is the Second (a favorite of Leonard Bernstein, in its “original orchestration”) in C Major, a “symphony that talks to itself” but justifies the grandeur at the end from the natural simplicity of the secondary theme that generates the closing climax. What a magnificent idea for the orchestral postlude for the closing credits of the right movie (maybe mine).

Ax also did a brief demonstration with some music from Brahms's First Piano Concerto.

Monday, May 03, 2010

I thought I would become a composer at one time: time to get busy this summer on getting old music entered

Well, I hope to get something going again with my own music of ages past (postings on this blog Oct. 1, 2008 and Jan. 21, 2008).

I don’t think that I mentioned there that I actually performed one of the pieces from a sort of “song-symphony” that had been sketched around 1972. That was at Morris County NJ GAA in the fall of 1973, at a talent show, I actually played a four-minute composition called “The Waterfall”. But it was really a scherzo snippet from a planned “second movement” that was supposed to be a concatenation of a disco dance, minuet, and descriptive dance. The first movement was supposed to be a loose sonata form centered around the “parable” of the Rich Young Ruler (if you can call it that); the third movement was to comprise little song snippets of other Biblical dilemmas (like Doubting Thomas); the fourth movement was to be an Adagio and “offertory”; the finale was to be a kind of comfortable Rondo (starting in 3/8 time) that works up into a fury.

I couldn’t find the handwritten copy of “Waterfall”; that one sheet is missing; the theme was 6/8 and like this: E-C-B-A-B-C with counterpoints. Most of the rest of my sketches are pretty intact in paper form, with multiple bound Kinkos copies. I also performed a “polytonal prelude” one time in front of some friends in Dallas, as I recall.

Some day soon I have to figure out how to get this entered into Cakewalk (I do have one piece in it, when the hard drive crashed; I still have to find it in Mozy Backups; it was a 50-measure amalgamation of themes from the symphony above). But I also had trouble with getting Cakewalk to play back and make sounds (I had actually entered most of this on an older computer when I was living in Minnesota).

So, I have a lot of work to do, if I can ever unscramble it all and get it entered and working on the computer. I really expect to get to it this summer, after the census employment gig is over.