Sunday, October 31, 2010

Roast of Arlington VA music minister brings out some new anthems, and some Vaughn Williams

On Sunday, Oct. 31, the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA gave a “roast” to the minister of music Carol Feather Martin.

The program included two new anthems composed (words and music) by pastor Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt, with chorus and piano, both sunny-sounding works in major keys. The church service also included a setting of one of the English Country Songs, of Ralph Vaughn Williams (1906), “Music’s Powerful Art”, with words by Fulp-Eickstaedt.

The pastoral folk song music may be what we think of when we contemplate Vaughn Williams, but often his music was powerful and virile. Consider the Symphony #4 in F Minor (with its outright anger), or the noble Symphony #8 in D Minor, or the exhuberant Symphony #2 in G (“London”). Of course, there is the early Symphony #1, the Sea Symphony (see April 13, 2008 here). But my favorite Vaughn Williams is the early Brahmsian choral song “Toward the Unknown Region”. And on many Christmas days, I’ve played Willcocks’s Hodie, on EMI-Angel.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Comedy Central and Jon Stewart: "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear": crowds!

Well, I tried the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” from Comedy Central and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (and the Daily Show) on Saturday Oct. 30. I’ve never found the Metro so crowded, or the Mall so filled, since the gay pride rally of 1993. (I don’t know how the Million Man March in 1995 went.)

The music was rather like that on Sirius Radio, but the real show was the placards in the crowd. Don’t be afraid of overeducated people. Don’t be afraid of rationality. Real problems require real solutions.

You can visit the "Sarah Palin Watchdog" blog mentioned on the demonstrator's poster here.

Technically, this was a “performance” or a “concert” rather than a rally, so it went on this blog.

CC’s website for the event is here.  The word on the street is that the crowd was about 400000. It was som much larger than expected, and the concert promoters did not have permits to put up speakers and jumbotrons everywhere.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ethan Bortnick plays his own "Arctic Jazz" on ABC

On Oct. 26 nine year old Ethan Bortnick played “Arctic Jazz” “by me” on ABC Good Morning America.

He discussed his piece “Time Machine” which he said deals with the journey of a Florida manatee.

He had appeared before in March.

The jazz did sound as though it was being improvised; it was a lot less formal than Gershwin (or even Alban Berg).

Update: March 26, 2013

Here's another new video from MSNBC, Bortnick at 12, link

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thomas Pandolfi gives all Chopin piano recital in Washington DC

Tonight, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, Thomas Pandolfi  (site) gave a free concert at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, in the Sanctuary, on a Steinway.

The program comprised all Chopin. I misplaced the program, but I name the main contents: The C#-minor Fantasy-Impromptu, both Polonaises, a Mazurka, the C#-minor Waltz, the E-flat and F major Nocturnes (both of which I studied in the 1950s at around 10th grade, right after a change in piano teachers after the first one died), and eight of the 24 Etudes, including the “Revolutionary” and “Ocean”, both in C minor, and the “Thirds” and “Sixths”. Mr. Pandolfi explained each piece.

He played three encores, including a jazz etude, a Liszt transcription of a Robert Schumann song, and a Gershwin medley.

The regular service at the Church today included a prelude “Hymns of Faith” by Lawrence Schreiber with James Sennett playing the Euphonium and the composer at the piano, and an offertory recitative and aria “The Publican”, by Beardsley van der Water, sung by Deborah Miller. The sermon, by Jeffrey Haggray, made an interesting comparison of “only” the Pharisees and the tax collector, in a society where the tax collector was an “entrepreneur” who had a government license to collect as much tax as he could and keep the excess.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Irish folksong inspires Josh Groban, and at least one composer

The Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA on Sunday (Oct. 17) opened the main service with Jubilate Ringers performing Sandra Eithun’s arrangement of ‘You Raise Me Up”. This is the same song that Josh Groban performs (Sirius Radio often plays it), and it is based on the Irish traditional folk song “Danny Boy”. The theme is the similar to the main subject of the passionate “Irish Rhapsody #4” in A Minor ("The Fisherman of Loch Maegh and What He Saw") by Irish composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, a 20 minute orchestral tone poem that is surprisingly little performed (it is available on Chandos, Vernon Handley and the Ulster Orchestra, 1988) but rises to great majesty as it crashes to a close, like a great memorial postlude.

Last week, I drove the turnpike route to the little town of Kipton, Ohio (five miles west of Oberlin), for the service of my own aunt June, when the song played several times over Sirius. During the service, it was mentioned that June played the piano and often entertained people with it back during the war years (she was born in 1924). Her older sister Frances (passed in 2000) actually taught piano and played in bingo halls.  (That piano was an upright in the den of the "historic" Kipton house; once I banged out the infamous cadenza from Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto on it), I took piano from a woman in Arlington (also on an upright) who would pass away of cancer when I was in ninth grade, in 1958.

I thought about this yesterday during the concert at Le Poisson Rouge (previous post) in New York. For every musician who makes it big time in the public eye, there were countless family members (usually women, including those who never married but who took care of everyone else) who passed down the love of music to future generations.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I finally made it to La Poisson Rouge in NYC, New Zealand 2010 show

Well, I missed the event at La Poisson Rouge (“The Red Fish”) on Bleeker St. in the Village in New York last week, but tonight I made it to a free event at 5:45, the “New Zealand CMJ 2010” Band, with a standing audience, mostly from down under. There was a long line to get in, even for happy hour. The music was your usual hip rock, mostly in A major and B minor, rather rhythmic.

The venue really is spectacular. It pays to go on the road sometimes.
Later, these images:

I also met Jon Ostrow of "MicControl", link.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

17 Year Old conductor Ravas performs with Baltimore Symphony at Strathmore, plays Mahler Blumine

I don’t usually blog about events I missed, but last night 17 year old conductor Ilyich Ravas conducted for the Baltimore Symphony at the Strathmore Center in Bethesda, MD. I was at a Reel Affirmations event in Washington at the time (see movies blog Oct 16). Ravas is officially the Assistant Conductor for the Baltimore-Peabody Symphony Orchestra.

The BSO has a video of an interview with Ravas discussing the program, here.

Ravas discusses the Shostakovich Symphony #1 in F, composed at the age of 18, before the composer felt corrupeted by Soviet political correctness (as in the somewhat hollow but popular 5th). Remember that the scherzo of the work has a piano part, and the work builds to an impassioned close, ending on a single octave. I have Jarvi conducting it on Chandos.

Ravas also explained his life as a student at Peabody. I knew an organ student at Peabody, William C. Evans, back in the late 1960s. I actually took organ from him for a while. He had been organist at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC in 1966-1967.

The concert apparently also featured Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat (not my favorite – the opening theme sounds perfunctory) with Markus Groh at the piano, the Brahms Academic Festival Overture in C (with its rousing climax reminiscent of the end of the First Symphony) and the Blumine movement left out of Mahler’s First Symphony. Ravas says that the movement had been intended as a symphonic poem. I have a recording by Istvan Fisher that includes the Blumine, and I think the Symphony works much better with the wistful movement included, before the Landler.

Last week I did have the opportunity to wander the campus of Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio, Some of the major music schools in the country: Julliard, Yale, Indiana University, Peabody, Oberlin.

I'll look for his next concert, perhaps in Baltimore.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Armless pianist wins contest in China playing with his toes

Reuters has a story about an armless pianist who plays the piano with his toes and who won the “China’s Got Talent” contest. The artist is Lui Wei, who won the contest in Shanghai. He was electrocuted at 7 in a game of hide-and-seek.

ABC Good Morning America showed him playing “You’re Beautiful” on Oct 12, but no video was yet available. The story link is here.

YouTube has some videos of him, such as here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

From vinyl, to CD's, to MP3: full-price and budget labels; generally, classical prices have risen

By the time I was a senior in high school and had started to “collect” classical records, my father would say “those cheap records, not cut right.”

Actually, around 1962 or so, the record industry had a rather simple price structure and product line setup, for classical. The big labels were RCA Victor (NBC), Columbia (CBS), London, Angel (EMI), and DG (Germany) and Philips (the Netherlands). And there were some others, like Westminster, Mercury, Vanguard, Artia (Czechosolvakia). Most of them listed at $4.98 a record ($5.98 for imports) and $1.00 more for stereo. But pretty soon (by about 1961 or so), the majors had their own “budget labels”, like RCA Victrola, Harmony (later Odyssey), Richmond, and Seraphim, which listed at $1.98 for mono. Artia, while obscure as a label, had a well known low budget Parliament brand. A bizarre major label was Decca in the US (apparently no relation to British Decca which was London in the US), which sometimes marketed DG recordings as its own, sometimes on inferior vinyl. It offered a Furtwangler Schubert 9th with very muffled sound. Also, Capitol was active in classics for a while before Angel took it over.

Discount stores typically charged a dollar less, except when there were special sales. But a store called Swillers in Arlington charged $3.69 for $4.98 records. Collectors noticed how much music could fit onto one side without inner groove distortion. Sometimes the Beethoven Fifth (without exposition repeats) could be fit on one side. But a few exclusive shops like the Disc Shop north of Dupont Circle charged list price, and allowed buyers to listen to records privately before buying.

Then there was Record Sales, on G Street in downtown Washington DC. They had more half price sales than anyone else, and soon started offering supposedly full price labels Everest (with its 35 mm magnetic film) and Vox at 2 for $3.00. Vox would eventually add its own low price label, Turnabout, but probably had a wider range of obscure late romantic music than any other label.

People would ask me, "Bill, why don't you pay $4.98 for a record like most people?"  In large cities where there was retail competition, you didn't have to. But when Record Sales went out business, people said, "They sold their records too cheap." I once tried to get a job there.

It was in the 1960s that post-romantic music boomed, as Leonard Bernstein discovered all the lesser played Mahler symphonies, and added Carl Nielsen.

That product and pricing structure more or less held together as CD’s came into being in the early and mid 1980s (although in the 1970s record prices had inched up to about $8.98 list typically). My first CD was the Strauss “Also Sprach Zarathustra” on London, not very much music for one CD. In the late 1980s, Records International in Goleta CA seemed to have the definitive catalogue on a lot of late romantic music, some on its own label and related Marco Polo, with much music recorded in Singapore. For example, RI offered the early Symphony in F Minor by Richard Strauss, a lush work with a passionate slow movement and a thrilling conclusion recalling the Mendelssohn Scotch, with a hymn tune sometimes appearing in church. In time, overseas CD labels like Chandos, Hyperion, Claves, and other domestic labels like Desto and of course Telarc, offered a great range of late romantic and early modern music for premium prices.

The CD world brought some new budget labels, expecially Naxos, which featured a lot of obscure romantic music, and Laserlight, which featured anthologies. In its heyday, Tower Records was a popular place, until the Internet started eating into storefront sales.

CD’s were touted as a medium that would last forever against wear, but more recently there has been concern that CD’s could deteriorate over time, especially if exposed to hot or moist conditions. Now record collectors look at MP3 downloads, offered legally, usually for lower prices than CD’s, along with liner notes on PDF files (very copyright protected), with the advantage that home computer users can back them up offsite with services like Carbonite or Mozy.

Some CD labels have changed focus over time. For example, Nonesuch used to be a low cost subsidiary of Elektra and featured a lot of baroque music. Now it belongs to Time Warner and sometimes offers new music from younger composers, such as the recent 2-piano work “Shy and Mighty” by Tim Andres (May 20 here).

Monday, October 04, 2010

Remembering Charles Ives; some events in NYC

Vivien Schweitzer has a major story on the music of Charles Ives in the Sunday Oct. 3 New York Times, p. 24 in Arts & Leisure, “Taming Ives with head, heart and humor”, link here.

I had trouble finding this story online until I tried “Taming Ives” in Google.

The most interesting part of the article is the facsimile of the opening of the Concord Sonata (#2), with the first movement titled “Emerson”. Online, the NY Times article “legally” reproduces the first page of the score (q.v.) Note the massive writing in octaves and polytonal chords and syncopation. It looks like Brahms, until you hear it. I believe Ives experimented with quarter tones, but I'm not sure I could name a work right now. "Ploytonality" seems to characterize most of his work.

I have a CD of this packed away somewhere, so I went to Amazon and located the recording in 2005 by Gilbert Kalish. I have never bought classical music by MP3 download before, so I tried the $0.99 download of the third movement, “The Alcotts”, about six minutes, triple time, and it does sound the most Brahmsian of the four movements. Vista (and popup control) made it complicated to do, and then find later; Amazon let me play it before making me pay.

Note that Amazon, like many sites, lets one play a minute or so of each movement of a work for free before deciding to buy.

In the long run, MP3 may be the way to go to collect classical music, if you have an automated backup service (Mozy, Carbonite, or Webroot) to save your digital collection from all possible wildfires and hurricanes (I think property insurance companies would like the concept).

During my senior year of high school (1960-1961), one of my best friends, while enamored to Dvorak and the last movement of Tchaikovky’s Pathetique (the latter always seemed too self-pitying for me), once announced (either on a Shenandoah hike or on that Mount Washington field trip) that Charles Ives was his favorite composer. (No one had heard of Amy Beach in those days.) But I got taken in by Ives’s First Symphony, a traditionally tonal postromantic work (1902) in D Minor, as I remember, on RCA with Gould and the Chicago Symphony at one time, as I recall (the work quotes other romantic works, including Dvorak), but Eugen D’Albert had already done something similar in his first piano concerto). And Ives’s “Unknown Region” sounds like Mars to me, just after the remnants of a billion year old dead civilization have been found.

I’ll pass on some news from an email: the music of Tim Andres “(“Timo”) will be performed Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 11 here (“Yale in New York” link) and at Carnegoe West Oct. 12, link here. with Ensemble ACJW  from a Carnegie program called “The Academy” (link ), no relation to a fictitious institution in one of my screenplay scripts!

Wikipedia attribution link for Carnegie Hall picture