Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pianist Richard Glazier: "From Gershwin to Garland"

Pianist Richard Glazier has a concert broadcast on PBS recently throughout 2010, “From Gershwin to Garland”. He talks about how he watched “Girl Crazy” on a rabbit-ears TV as a youth and became fascinated with Judy Garland. He later, at 12, would meet Ira Gerswhin and play on George’s Steinway.

His style was rather laid back, until he played some of the Gershwin Concerto in F and played Rhapsody in Blue near the end of the concert. He also played “Body and Soul” and the “Trolley Song”.

Glazier explained how George Gerswhin got jazz idioms into "classical" music.

His website is here

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Verdi's "A Masked Ball": Opera in the Outfield at Nationals' Park

The Washington Opera is presenting “A Masked Ball” (“Un Ballo in Maschera”) by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Antonio Somma, Production from Opera Colorado (first performed in 1859). Today it was offered free on a jumbo screen at Nationals Park during the “Opera in the Outfield” series. (In the meantime, the Nationals lost and blew a game in the ninth inning in Philadelphia, 7-6; but the Park did not carry scores during intermission.)  The opera's link is here.

The production has some shared roles. Swedish king Gustavus is played by two tenors. Salvatore Licitra and Frank Porretta. Amelia, the temptress, is played by Tamara Wilson and Susan Neves . The trusted but ultimate enemy (from “Friend”) Count Anckarström is played Luca Salsi and Timothy Mix.

The story concerns a love triangle (or polygon) involving the King in late 18th Century Sweden, who holds a masked ball. When a fortune teller complicates things (after being accused as a witch), a conspiracy develops against the King at the ball, and at the end his best friend stabs him. The plot also concerns gossip and deception, and curiously anticipates some of the social “reputational” issues surrounding the Internet and social media – in an old “real world”.

The opera was censored because it showed a monarch being assassinated. For a time, Verdi had the opera’s setting changed to Boston and the king be a former count.

My reaction to all this is that may I should make my screenplay “The Sub” into an opera. I was pretty much “censored” for it when I was substitute teaching. Authorities are sometimes very afraid of literature that might seem to give people bad ideas.

The music is typical Verdi, with scalar passages anticipating the “Offertorium” of the Requiem; in the final scene, there is some curious grazioso music in slow triple time, leading right up to the stabbing, when there is a quick chorus and some confessions, leading to a crashing close in a minor key when the King dies.

Second picture: note the very small section where the right field wall at National's Park is high. Today we could walk the warning track, and kids played catch on it. Sorry, no Stephen Strasburg.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Classical composers supply the music for many hymns; a note on composing vocal music

One time back around 10th grade or so (that means 1958), the choral director at my home church (the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC) said I impressed her with my appreciation of “hymnology.” She was teaching teen chorus singers on Sunday nights what diphthongs are (that’s not a bad thing to know these days for SAT’s).

Today, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010, the Trinity Presbyterian Church (website url link) in Arlington VA held its “Celebrating the Life of the Church Rally Day” in its gymnasium (Calvin Hall), but the two main hymns chosen echo the world of classical vocal music, and a web link I’ll give in a moment.

Early, the congregation sang “Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak”, with music by Robert Schumann, composed in 1859. Yes, the German Romantic composer of those four self-absorbed symphonies and lots of curious collections of piano pieces (Carnaval, with its ¾ time march) and songs. This one is in G, with lots of accidentals leading several key signatures up the wheel, so a kind of rich harmony. It strikes me that the second subject of the last movement of the C Major Symphony would make for a good hymn.

The benediction hymn I thought came from Ralph Vaughn Williams. It sounded English and modal. It was “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”, with words projected from a laptop with mountain scenery on a movie screen. But when I looked I saw that the music came from Walker’s Southern Harmony, dated back to 1835, and was harmonized by Dale Grotenhuis, in 1986.

When I attended Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas in the 1980s, in the days of Don Eastman (it has morphed into the Cathedral of Hope, split off, and another church has formed, but that’s another matter) Danny Ray was music director, and I see his name on hymns in “mainstream” churches occasionally. I think that this is the right site.

As for Vaughn Williams, I used to play a Willcox CD of “Hodie” every Christmas Day, but my favorite piece was the early choral hymn “Toward the Unknown Region”.

There’s a new perspective on the web today on composing vocal music from composer Tim Andres, with the Sept. 12, 2010 posting. Tim is the com poser of “Shy and Mighty” (discussed here May 20, with link to his site) and usually has focused on piano and instrumental, as the posting explains.

One of my manuscripts from the early 1970s, sketched as like a five movement "symphony" with one movement a loose stiching of song passages on subject matter ranging from the Doubting Thomas to a Drinking Song to Psalm 133, beckons me to get an electric piano back and sheet music software up and working again. The vocal material comprises snippets of themes with iconclastic text, looking for personal judgments on a manage of observation.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

National Symphony dress rehearses for Labor Day Sunday concert in public

The National Symphony Orchestra held its “dress rehearsal” for the Labor Day Weekend concert Sunday afternoon at 3:30 on the West Lawn of the Capitol, link here.

No program was announced, and conductor Emil de Cou often rehearsed some portions, talking about “dal segno” and the right volumes for the trombones and trumpets.

What I could identify was an orchestral setting of “Blue Moon”, then the “Carousel Waltz” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (remember the “Soliloquy” “My boy Bill” from that musical? rather expressive of fatherhood values), some of Aaron Copland’s “Tender Land”, John Williams “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, the soundtrack of “Exodus”, choruses from “Guys and Dolls”, and a movie medley starting with Newman’s 20th Century Fox trademark, then moving on to Lawrence of Arabia and The E.T. How about the musical trademarks for Warner Brothers (“As Time Goes By” from Casablanca), Universal, Columbia, and most of all LionsGate? (or try “Wiseau Films” from “The Room”).   One other thing: the "polytonality" at the beginning of the Carousel Waltz has always sounded a little contrived. But it brings back memories of childhood.

Outside the entry gate, I saw a demonstrator smudged with fossil fuels. Security would not let people take pictures of their operation. People talked in a number of languages, including Russian.

Last picture: below: That’s the best I can do for bike enthusiasts,

Friday, September 03, 2010

Renee Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky perform in St. Petersburg on PBS

Soprano Renée Fleming (site ) from the U.S. and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky from Russia (site  ) gave a roving recital on PBS Great Performances, broadcast Sept. 1, some with orchestra and some songs (individually and in duets) with piano. They visited various locations in St. Petersburg, Russia, most notably the Hermitage, also called “The Russian Ark” (with its three orchestras and various pianos). (There is a called this, dated 2002, from Wellspring, is directed by Alexsandr Sokurov, shown at the Uptown in Minneapolis when I was living there.)

They performed Verdi, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Medtner, and Tchaikovsky. The concert ended with the violent closing pages of Eugene Onegin (whichI believe has been quoted in the soundtrack of the popular TV series “Smallville” before). Somehow this closing reminds me a bit of the way the first movement of the Fourth Symphony closes, or the ending of the early Dante tone poem Francesca da Rimini.

Having worked securing contributions or selling subscriptions to two symphony orchestras before, I can say that Fleming is always viewed as an enormous draw.

WETA’s link for the performance is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Hermitage picture

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

"Chess" at Signature Theater in Arlington Va

The Signature Theater in Arlington VA is putting on the Broadway version of the musical “Chess” with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. Here is the Theater’s website for the rock musical, link

The Broadway version has a somewhat telescoped story compared to the earlier London West End version (check Wikipedia for comparisons), but the overriding concept is one of complex political intrigue that results at a chess match, starting in Bangkok (in the Broadway version) and ending in Budapest in 1986. Russian champion Anatoly has fallen in love with the American trainer Florence, and wants to defect. But the Soviets use leverage against the families of both (Florence’s family had ties to the 1956 Hungarian uprising). In one scene, Anatoly tells officials he shouldn’t be responsible for what happens to family members he did not sire, but the Russian officials say that isn’t how our system works. Toward the end of the musical the script has various lines about the importance of the individual’s recognizing the “common good.” I wondered how this musical would have played at Glenn Beck’s rally in Washington Saturday. You could say it is a “right wing” show (quite Reaganesque), and a very entertaining one. Entertainment for conservatives!

But the chess games themselves are noteworthy. In Act I, a game starts with a Grunfeld Defense, exchange variation. (Back in the 60s and 70s, there was a conception that the Soviets built their chess hegemony on 1 P-Q4, and the Americans on 1 P-K4, because of Bobby Fisher, but Fisher started using QP opening against Spassky in 1972. ) In Act II, the Russian opens with 1 P-K4 and there ensues a Two Knights Defense (essentially an almost forced but effective pawn sacrifice by Black), Wilkes Barre variation, with all the wild compensations where Black sacrifices everything for mate. The American wins.

The script also suggests that the Cold War was fought on a chess board as much as in missile silos. The ideological and strategic battles, especially after the Berlin and Cuban Missile crises of the early 1960s, tended to map the chess championships. Chess became a patriotic game. (Former Naval Academy midshipman Joseph Steffan talked about chess games played on his submarine summer in his “Honor Bound” book.)

The Two Knights Defense was popular in the early 1960s, both at the GW U chess club, but even earlier. On the night of my “Science Honor Society” initiation in December 1960, one guest arrived early and we played a chess game. I lost with White to this variation, as I remember.

The Signature Theater Max lobby looked a bit like the “Front Page” restaurant, with full newspaper clips of Cold War events, especially the Berlin Wall and Cuban Missile Crisis, and earlier Hungarian uprising.

Josh Groban appears in this YouTube opening of a different performance by “Live Chess the Musical”.