Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ted Hearne's new piano suite "Parlor Diplomacy" (and its political corollary, "Timocracy")

This morning, I listened online to a new 20-minute contemporary piano suite called “Parlor Diplomacy” by Ted Hearne, performed (and written for) Timo Andres.  You can listen to the entire piano work on Ted’s site, here .  As I noted on a post-script on my Dec. 11, 2010 posting here, the work seems to have a satirical political meaning.  “Parlor diplomacy” is one thing, maybe how things get done (remember Jimmy Carter’s 1978 Camp David talks with Menachem Begin).  But Timo’s recent posting (link) enriched the meaning.  “Parlour Timocracy” might mean “local autocracy” over one’s life (following one’s own goals in an Ayn Rand-like manner rather than paying too much attention to the opinions of others), or it might mean a tight, if benevolent political system where things “really” get done. Facebook is something like that (a timocracy, or perhaps a zuckocracy) already, leading to results like Arab Spring.  The coined word is funny, given all the criticism of gridlock and partisan bickering in our own government in the US, and calls that the US needs a parliamentary system like Britain’s.

"Technically", the music emphasizes leggiero, with a lot of passage work in higher registers and bizarre, shifting meters. The second movement (the slow movement) actually recalls Brahms toward the very end, however.   

Is this music for libertarians?  Music for conservatives?  Let the Washington Times review it.  And let Fareed Zakaria analyze the “word”. And maybe "Barack" will play it on his laptop while on his Martha's Vineyard "vacances". 

Here's a YouTube clip from Ted Hearne's "Katrina Ballads", winner of the 2009 Gaudeamus Prize.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who is the "English Mahler"? Havergal Brian, or (just) Benjamin Britten

Is Havergal Brian (1876-1972) the “English Mahler”?  

Well, maybe sometimes, but actually Benjamin Britten, much more familiar to most music lovers, sometimes fits the idea more closely, especially with the ascetic sounds (like the “open chamber” style of Mahler’s late symphonies) in some operas – “Billy Budd” (Feb 27, 2008 here) and “Death in Venice”, and in the Cello Symphony (with that scherzo). Other times, though, as with the Spring, he’s much farther away. But the “War Requiem” is probably a lot like the Requiem Mahler had planned to compose had he lived longer.

Brian’s reputation may come from the massive Gothic Symphony (on Marco Polo), with three instrumental movements followed by a choral service. The first movement is short and violent, driving its point home. The ending dies in hushed peace after a cataclysm about three minutes before.

But I pulled out the Symphony #3, in C-sharp minor (1932) (always a self-indulgent key), a 1990 recording on Hyperion by Lionel Friend conducting the BBC Symphony, the other day.  About 62 minutes, it’s the longest Brian symphony after the First (many of his thirty or so remaining symphonies are relatively short).  But it also predicts the course of a similar work by Leonard Bernstein, the Age of Anxiety “Symphony” (April 3 here).   

Like the Bernstein, the first movement has a piano obbligato and a somewhat episodic form, with block-like variations put together as to approximate a sonata form. It comes to a violent climax.
The second movement,  a long slow movement (Lento) however, here varies a bit from expressionism and wanders into the pastoral world of Vaughn Williams, with a curious effect (OK, maybe the world of the VW 4th).

The last two movements will sound familiar—the listener asks himself “in what movie did I hear this music in the background?”  The scherzo is a Mahler-fest, with a Landler-like trio and crunching rhythms and plenty of Viennese schmaltz.  The piece really is suspiciously familiar.   (Bernstein, by comparison, provided a scherzo based on rapid jazz rhythms). The Finale returns to the somber march rhythm of the first movement  (just as Bernstein would provide a majestic finale for “Anxiety”), particularly focusing on a figure like the famous  Beethoven 5th motto.  The music undergoes chromatic adventures, and builds up to a conclusion  (in parallel D-flat Major) of crushing power, a little bit like Prokofiev (as in the 6th) without the humor.  It is, in the final measures, purely British, with all the upper lip.  (Actually, there is another rhythmic figure that appears in the next-to-last movement of the "completed" Mahler 10th.) 

Since Prince Charles and William are both said to be affaciandos of concert music, and William probably knows about this work. I wonder how it would have come across at the wedding. That finale would have provided quite a postlude, perhaps burying the listener in submission. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Arlington County VA Fair has major Civil War reenactment in mobile van

The County Fair in Arlington VA this weekend (the 35th Annual) featured the “Civil War 150 Historymobile” (link), with an exhibit inside that resembled a miniature “Revolutionary City”. There was a simulation of an 1862 battle scene, with a letter written by a Confederate soldier from Mississippi as he bled to death from a mangled shoulder. There were exhibits with audio stories of slaves who had to decide whether to escape and join the Union Army and believe stories that they would be shackled. (Revolutionary City in Williamsburg dramatizes similar quandaries for slaves during Colonial times.)  The last showed the home front, where Virginians had to do without, and learn to “make apple pie without apples.”

Inside, in the fair space set up at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (where I have subbed in the past), there were various contest exhibits, and various organizations, including Washington-Lee High School Alumni (I am a 1961 graduate), and the Potomac Harmony Chorus, an all female a cappella group (link).
Contest pictures: Baking:
Eat your vegetables!:
Chevy Volt car
And engine battery:
"Adopt Me" opportunity for pooches:
Washington-Lee Alumni:

And a painting of the school as it looked when I attended from 1958-1961. Homeroom was in room 307.

The website for the fair is this.  In Chrome, the PC froze for a second as the website loaded the embedded pictures, then was OK.  (In web programming, that's called "unsafe code" where a script doesn't release memory properly while it runs; it doesn't hurt anything but make the site slow.)  That's not the best way for a sophisticated website to behave.

From Indianapolis: 

There is Breaking News on CNN: a stage collapsed at a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis this evening (link).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A national birthplace and a mini harpsichord demo

Today I visited the George Washington Birthplace National Monument on the Potomac River a few miles east of Colonial Beach, VA, and was “treated” to a view of a harpsichord. A teenage girl tried to play some ragtime music on the harpsichord, which indeed led to an odd effect.

The harpsichord appears to have 58 keys, if I count right. I don’t understand how there could be only two black keys left of C note (in the picture). I guess I should have asked the park ranger permission to play it myself.  It seems that in the 18th Century the keyboard size could vary. The harpsichord was actually a flexible and advanced instrument, whose expressive potential seems almost alien to those of us raised on romantic piano music (back to Beethoven).

One of the first harpsichord recordings that I owned during my college years was a DGG (in the days when it was premium record label) of Bach’s first two harpsichord concerti, in D Minor and E Major respectively.  The Wikipedia analysis of the first movement of the first concerto is quite interesting (in the “rotating key signatures”) when compare to the modern sonata form, even if one looks at the first movement as a monothematic sonata form.  Here’s the link

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Netflix offers Farm Aid 20th Anniversary; 2011 concert in Kansas City soon

Netflix offers a DVD of the 2005 “Farm Aid” 20th Anniversary Concert held in the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park, IL (link).  It features Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, as well as Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Kenny Chesny, Wilco, Emmylou Harris, Los Lonely Boys, Widespread Panic, Budy Guy, and John Meyer. It runs 164 minutes.

The music is a mixture or rock, soul, and country-western and tends to seem repetitive.

But there is an interesting comment at the beginning. Farmers can’t be replaced by machines or corporations (although they get taken over by agribusinesses); they grow real food for “healthy young people.”

Farm Aid’s concert in 2011 takes place Aug. 13 in Kansas City, KS,  at the Livestrong Sporting Park, with information here