Wednesday, June 29, 2011

By around 11th grade, I had collected many of the standard classics on LP

I still have hundreds of LP records, including mono, in boxes in storage, dating back to the 1950s, and even a few old 78’s.  It’s true, home “entertainment” is becoming more centralized, but some day I’ll have to pick up a new amp, new speakers, and most of all find a turntable and tone arm again. I’d like to get to play them again.

CD’s take less space, but the new trend is just to sell MP3 downloads along with accompanying PDF’s, and let the user save them in the cloud. The MP3 file "object instance" is still legally like a phonograph record object.

I remember having some 10-inch LP’s back in the early 50s, like Strauss waltzes. But mostly I started getting LP classical records, sometimes as presents, around ninth grade.   By 11th grade I had some of the big classic:  On RCA Victor, Rubenstein playing Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto and Liszt’s First, and another RCA with Rubenstein and the Grieg and Rachmaninoff Paganini.  That’s where I learned the thrill  (“chills and fever” or adrenaline rush) of a “big tune” ending, that surprisingly a lot of composers today view as self-indulgent.

I also had a Krips Brahms First, a Mercury Dorati Beethoven Seventh, a cheap Beethoven 5th and Schubert Unfinished on one record, a Dvorak New World,  and then a Chopin Piano Concerto #1.  In my senior year of high school, I discovered Sibelius, and picked up Symphony 1 (Beecham), 2 (Munch), and 5 (Ormandy).  A friend in the Science Honor Society who also collected records (this was 1961) admired Dvorak, had a lot Artia recordings.  He also loved to indulge the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, which to me sounds self-indulgent.

Then I would hear about the evils of sapphire needles and heavy tracking. In 1962, I would get a VM stereo, and find that all the records with piano had been ruined toward the inner grooves.  The smaller stereo stylus would even pick up the vinyl shavings from worn records; on mono, a 1-mil stylus actually worked a little better.

Collecting records during high school and early college was actually important to developing a musical "ear". I have always been able to recognize most classical compositions that give any sense of normal bearing after after a few hearings.  What's playing in my head right now?  The surprise ending of the Prokofiev Sixth (another Op 111).  (I'll get to thinking about the Liszt B-minor later.)

Owing a "copy" (or "instance" in software engineering jargon) of someone else's work and learning it mentally is still not the same as being able to perform it, and it's still not the same as creating a work yourself. But that logically follows. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Major Washington DC church shows plans for new organ

Today, in the Sunday morning service at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, pastor Haggray interviewed organist-choirmaster Dr. Lawrence P. Schreiber about the plans for a new organ, to be manufactured in Hartford CT and installed in the early fall of 2012.

The organ pipes will cover more of the upper areas of the chancel and sanctuary and support choral and congregational singing much more.

A slide presentation showed what the organ will look like.

Schreiber said “Mozart once called the organ the king of instruments.” 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kagel's composition for 111 cyclists

There is a composition by Mauricio Kagel, “Eine Brise” (“A Little Breeze”) to be performed by 111 bicycles with bells. It gets put on in a number of cities. Composer Timo Andres has an account of its being put on in Greenwich Village in NYC on June 21, Summer Solstice Day, (website url) here. -- he gives a three minute embedded Twitter video short film. I guess there’s no connection to Beethoven or Prokofiev’s Op. 111, or at least I don’t hear it. Maybe there’s a connection to Prokofiev’s ironic finale.

It doesn’t look like a race, just slow motion, sort of Andante Commodo.

I've tweeted about bad amateur biker behavior, like going against traffic when not in a bike lane and going through red lights at the same time, when a driver who cannot see the biker needs to make a right turn with a green light.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New Jersey teacher keeps middle school ensemble together at his own expense after teacher layoffs (MSNBC)

NBC Nightly New “Making a Difference” covered the story of middle school music and violin teacher Nathan Thomas, who was laid off from his Paterson, NJ teaching job due to severe budget cuts. While unpaid and commuting at his own expense (and even after buying the school musical instruments personally), he continued teaching some of the students free at a nearby church on Saturday mornings, and the string ensemble, about ten players, prepared for its Spring Concert

In many public school systems, arts and music programs are among the first go get cut in the wake of severe debt-driven reductions following the 2008 collapse. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Try Richard Strauss's early F Minor Symphony

If you want to look for a suitably obscure Romantic crowd pleaser (maybe to use in a movie score), look at the Symphony in F Minor, Op. 12, composed at age 19 by Richard Strauss.

The familiar iconoclastic harmonies of the “mature” (that is, mid 20’s) Strauss is not there. But there is a pre-post-Romantic symphony, with real moments, and yet a rather striking Mendelssohn-like sound in its climactic passages.

In the mid 1980s, the progressive company Records International made a CD with Michael Halasz conducting the Slovak Philharmonic, in one continuous track, as if a tone poem.

In fact, the lugubrious descending theme opening the work anticipates the “Alpine Symphony”. The Andante Cantabile (the third “movement”, in C) is truly moving. The finale transforms the descending theme into a new hymn tune with lots of repeated notes (like Schubert), but when the climax of the work blossoms into a familiar sounding Lutheran-like hymn, the Mendelssohn feeling prevails, recalling the triumphant close of the Scotch.  F Major, with its pastoral feel, seems almost like the wrong key. Maybe the whole symphony could have been written in F# minor, so that the concluding triumph would play in the richer F# Major. Just raising pitch doesn’t change that, each key has its own personality. Mozart knew that. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Timo Andres performs at Bargemusic, accompanied by thunder, lightning and fireworks behind. The show goes on!

Very few concert pianists regularly give entire recitals of contemporary, little or completely unheard music, but Timothy Andres (or we should use his trademark name “Timo Andres”, b. 1985) does so regularly.

Add to that, you needed sea legs for last night’s concert at Bargemusic (website url  link) near the Brooklyn Bridge at the Fulton Ferry Landing. I found myself dizzy for a moment, and then remembered I was on a boat (which fairly rocks when a freighter passes by up the East River). After looking outside at the water (and the Manhattan skyline) a couple minutes, I was fine. I had done this sort of thing in 2001 at a disco dance on Lake Superior in Duluth.

The thunderstorms started immediately, punctuating Tmo’s playing with lightning bolts hitting the skyscrapers behind him, and thunder. Then, after the “Intermission”, there occurred a fireworks show, perhaps by coincidence.

Timo started the concert with his own “At the River” (2011). Again, Timo often likes to compose in short miniatures, almost etude-style. There are plenty of effects with the whole tone scale and various fourths and ninths; the piece had the sound of Ravel perhaps, definitely Parisian, as does a lot of his music to my ear.
Next there was a five-movement suite “Parlor Diplomacy” (2011), world premiere, by Ted Hearne (b. 1982), with some Brahmsian effects in the slower movements. The last movement is called “ambiguation”, as if to recognize that body language signals from people can be ambiguous, as was the case for me in Minnesota the previous weekend.

He then played a piece called “Hoyt Schermerhorn” (2010) by Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984). The piece is named after a Brooklyn subway station. It ends with odd effects in the upper registers achieved by microphones placed near the Steinway.

After the Intermission, Timo played “Clifton Gates”, for piano and electronics, world premiere, 2011, by Jacob Cooper. The Gates refer to the physical objects, or perhaps gates to other universes as in Arthur C. Clarke novels.  (Clifton is a street in Brooklyn, I think.) Cerrone set up the microphones and nearby MacBook and other electronic effects.  Somewhere along here, I noticed tht Timo used an iPad for the sheet music. 

There followed “Infinity Plunge” (2007), by Derek Johnson.  This piece sounded like a one-movement Sonata, more or less in the style of Prokofiev, with a touch of Tubin (the “Northern Lights” sonata came to mind). It was the first piece on the program with some genuine postromanticism and more conventional piano virtuosity (lots of complicated arpeggios) supported by the thematic material. After building to a violent climax, Johnson, instead of ending, provides an Epilogue in the manner of Sir Arnold Bax, quiet, but and almost pastoral, before rising to a final fortissimo on one high note. 

The last piece was “Authentic Presence” (2001), by Ingram Marshall, b. 1942 (the only composer represented over 30), who had been, in fact one of Timo’s piano teachers.  The piece had a familiar melody (as if I had heard it before in a movie score), and a somewhat Brahmsian cast and coda. (Neither of my piano teachers, both female, had composed; but a chorus teacher in middle school had.)

As a concert pianist, Timo exhibits the idea that the performing professional musician should act and treat himself as as if a pro athlete. Like ballet and singing opera, concert piano work makes extreme physical demands. One should become a triatholon contestant and maintain such level of physical fitness: be able to run a marathon, win a Tour de France (hopefully without shaving and most of all without PED's), pitch a no-hitter and bat over .300.   One must appear to be like one of Clark Kent's friends in "Smallville".  I sometimes wonder if Timo Andres and "Timo" Lincecum (the "Freak" who pitches for the San Francisco Giants) could trade places.  (As for no-hitters -- I expect that soon out of Nats' pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, but that's another blog posting.  At least pianists don't regularly face Tommy John surgery -- yet). Timo seems to accomplish an unbelievable amount of work (composing, performing, producing albums, graphical and web design, etc), hardly conceivable without "powers" or being "one of them" while waiting for "The Event" -- like "Clark", or Jake 2.0, or Sean (from that series), or Chuck (from "Buy More").  Take heed -- tomorrow's superstar -- and your boss-- will be a nerd.  

There were CD’s of Timo’s “Shy and Mighty” on sale, which I already have. By now, most of us have noticed that the piece “Flirtation Avenue” doesn’t belong in a wedding. It seems as though a lot of people in power these days don’t need more encouragement not to be faithful to spouses.  Need I mention names of  NY politicians, or speculate about the how at least one pol prepares for his photo pix?  Others in the media will.

I got to chat with Johnson afterward, and learned that Sibelius and Finale are considered much easier software to use for entering my own music than Apple's Logic, which I have been learning to use.

I heard that the storms canceled an even tin Central Park last night, and that the NY Philharmonic is not giving its Concerts in the Park this summer.
(As to Timo's recent missive on biker bad behavior -- the City says, "don't ride on the sidewalk if you're over the age of 12".  Yup, challenge those cars, go the wrong way.  Cause drivers near misses!  Make them feel guilty!)

Update: Nov. 21

Here's a story about "Sleeping Giants" and Beethoven Awareness Month on WQXR New York, by Nadia Sirota, "Timothy Andres: Bringing the virtuoso composer-performance tradition into the 21st Century", link here.  Who else besides Timo can make entire recitals of new music and draw a big crowd and make it work, even in the middle of enormous storms and fireworks aoutside. Welcome to timocracy.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

BBC/Time Warner offer DVD of Royal Wedding (but no pre-concert)

If you didn’t go to London for the Royal Wedding “Event”, the next best thing is the BBC (and Time Warner) DVD of the occasion, 2 hours and six minutes, officially titled “The Royal Wedding: William & Catherine”, presented by Huw Edwards.

A good part of the DVD is photographed outside, before and after the Westminster Abbey ceremony, with a fly over by the RAF to end the DVD as William & Catherine wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

The narration mentions that the music of Sir Hubert Parry predominates, and his stirring coronation anthem “I Was Glad” starts 38 minutes into the DVD.  The couple is officially married at about minute 49. Later Parry’s “O Jerusalem” is sung (quite majestic, it is commonly heard in most protestant denominations as a routine – if more complicated than usual – hymn).  The narrators mention a motet (a capella) that the couple likes, specifically Motet ‘Ubi caritas’ by Paul Mealor, a Welsh composer, who is currently Reader in Composition at The University of Aberdeen. There is also a new anthem by John Rutter, “This Is the Day Which the Lord Has Made”, in tuneful, neoromantic style.

The sermons and homilies have the usual content, but fitting into today’s social and political debates about marriage, with the paradox it presents for western individualism. Every wedding is in a sense a royal wedding.

Toward the end there is a march by William Walton, and a Pomp and Circumstance March by Elgar.

The DVD, unfortunately, does not include the pre-service concert.

The service was discussed on the TV blog April 29, with an embed there of the Parry anthem, and a link to the official music program, including the concert.

Curiously, I saw only one piece by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford in the program.  At the reception of my mother’s memorial service, I had the Fourth Irish Rhapsody played (Chandos). It is a slow, majestic piece that builds to a cataclysmic climax.  Though long, it could have made a great postlude for the Wedding, with the incredible sendoff at the end.

My understanding is that both William and Prince Charles know classical music well. Perhaps they’ll find this post and discussions of their selections.
Visually, the Abbey looks striking in high definition, with garish colors: the greens of the plants, the reds, and a surprising use of blue, and a dense array of decoration everywhere.

The proceeds for the DVD are supposed to go to the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry (link)
Here is the PBS YouTube embed of the heart of the wedding ceremony.

Pictures: My own parents had their own "royal wedding" in Washington DC on May 15, 1940.