Sunday, January 29, 2012

I can play vinyl records again; more on Bruckner, Bartok, Holst, Vaughn Williams, Schoenberg; a right-on lesson at church

Well, after about 14 years (since moving to Minnesota in 1997) of having my vinyl records packed up, I’m playing them again, at least a little. I bought a Numark USN turntable, and indeed rather easily can copy tracks (combined in any way) into iTunes, but only after launching EZ under Applications (loaded from the CD; the Windows version appears a little more complicated than the Mac).  It has to be launched for the sound to come through the computer.  I bought an iPod Classic, and the synch process is very fast. It does not appear that I have to Eject the iPod separately.

I had also bought at Denon Receiver. Right now, CD’s and DVD’s (including BluRay) pay through the speakers and TV both, under the “DVD” option on the control module. (For some reason, BD sometimes doesn’t work.)  The iPod plays under “Dock” and requires a simple adapter to power through the USB.  I haven’t tried playing records through “Portable” or “V.Aux” or “Dock” directly (Analog mode), but I’m told that should work.  The Receiver does not have specific Phono Jacks.

I had bought another Denon, and found it did not have a Digital Audio Cable input.  This one does, but I haven’t tried to play the TV through it yet. The best way to set it up, according to the PDF document (not printed), is to connect everything with HDMI, and then use the Receiver to control everything (including accepting the Cable TV signal from Comcast XFinity and passing it along back to the TV;  I guess Verizon FIOS would work the same way, but I haven’t checked).   Denon’s documentation leaves something to be desired.

The first piece I recorded as a 1965 Command recording (Pittsburgh Symphony) of Bruckner’s Overture in G Minor. It sounds like it was composed by Franz Schubert to my ear. I noticed slightly uneven pitch from slight off-centeredness of the record – and I think I will notice it more now because I have gotten used to CD’s.  I then recorded just one fugue from “Bach’s Swinging Hits”, a Philips record from the 60s.

Today, I captured a Hungaraton recording of Bela Bartok: Rhapsody Op. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (about 20 min), and the “courtly” Suite #1 in E Major, Op. 3, about 30 minutes, which sounds a bit like a symphony.  The pianist is Erzsebet Tusa, and the orchestras (Budapest and Hungarian State) are conducted by Gyula Nemeth and Janos Ferencsik, respectively, a recording from about 1968.  As for my perception of the Suite, I’ve always perceived the mature “Concerto for Orchestra” (f minor) as rather like a symphony, and my high school “best friend” said that it was his favorite classical work.

The Rhapsody is a bit like a Liszt piano concerto, and seems to be in D minor (from the score).  It is post-romantic in tone, and has some octave-like passages that anticipate Bernard Hermann’s music in the film “Vertigo”.  Curiously, it ends quietly, rather than offering the listener any sense of triumph.  It reminds one of early piano concertos (following Liszt) by d’Albert and Dohnanyi,  but seems less intense emotionally and a little more neoclassical.

Now, onto my wild Sunday morning (at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC).  First, in the service, the choirmaster made the congregation sing “a capella” a verse of  the Vaughn Williams “carol”, “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem”, from “English Country Songs”.   I don’t require the congregation’s having to sing without organ accompaniment there before.  I noticed a musical oddity in the hymnal a few pages back, a hymn “Down to Earth as a Dove” by Gustav Holst, based the Latin Piae Cantienes, in a key signature with two sharps, but ending on an E Major Picardy Third.  The entire hymn appeared to be centered on E, so why the extra sharp?  It would not produce a recognized mode (the melodic minor sharps the G also, and the natural minor has just one sharp).  Or maybe this really is Dorian mode (starting on D with no black keys)  -- like the Sibelius Sixth.   But this would be unusual in a hymnal (at least this one).  I once wrote some simple exercises on the modes, with manuscripts lost.  One time when I was substitute teaching, in a music class, the students had a quiz on identifying modes, and the highest score was 75%.  Funny memories.

I, for reasons I won’t go into now, had determined to get to Sunday School on time, for a full “lesson”, and today the content fit my writing perfectly.  (So I was out clubbing at the Cobalt Friday night, but not Saturday.)

The teacher showed a notorious lion-zebra painting (link) that is an optical illusion, and went on to present the issue of the actions of children in the Bible, particularly with respect to the birth and raising of Moses, and the actions of his sister (Miriam) and of the pharaoh’s daughter.  (If you read the account in Exodus 2, the names aren’t mentioned yet, and the pronoun references are confusing.)   This story was preceded with a discussion of the fear by the Egyptians of the Hebrews’ “demographic summer” and order to eliminate male children. That not only sets up the story of Moses but raises the point that a society that goes too far in making young men fungible and expendable  (as with a military draft into war) will tend to move toward polygamy and authoritarianism (Warren Jeffs was the extreme end point), and will not be able to maintain the stable family structures (whether “red” or “blue” families) we think “democratic society” needs.  The young men who survive will tend to believe they are entitled to as many women as they want without regard to personalized consequences.  (Hence, the classic “double standards.)  Society will become preoccupied with its own population strength – a major contributor to homophobia (or to crafting scriptures that express it).  But here, both Miriam and the king’s daughter had to show interest and compassion for children that had not been their own – an important moral point, too.

To my recollection, the best known work in classical music dealing with Moses is Arnold Schoenberg's opera "Moses and Aaron", which was not quite finished, and is based on a very cleverly constructed twelve-tone row.  Yet, the music in the "Dance of the Golden Calf" sounds as lush and romantic as Wagner (Lars Van Trier could use it).  But as I recall, the opera story starts later than the part about Miriam.  It deals with the subtle relationship issues between the brothers and Aaron's role as a "spokesperson".  That itself makes an interesting lesson.  There was a DVD of a 2006 performance which Netflix no longer has available.  I have the CBS CD. 

Later, in the sermon (“Exercising Spiritual Authority”), Dr. Haggray gave a three-step process (“Presence”, “Humility”, “Change”) which seems to limit the effectiveness of those who are “different” in a community.  At some point, some must be able to put one’s own self-chosen purposes into synch with the needs of the group (“humility”) and be able to accept a “change” in life-direction when the calling is strong enough.  This is a very difficult message in today’s political climate that struggles with the need to articulate and offer “equality” and at the same time having people working together, sometimes with a lot of sacrifice.

After the service, the was even a brief organ lesson, in the style of a music lesson in Werner Herzog's film "Ode to the Dawn of Man" (movies blog, Jan. 25). 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New short Andres work available on YouTube, to be performed in San Francisco; "short film" interview of composer

NYC composer Timo Andres recently tweeted the location of a YouTube video performance of his new 7-minute piece “You Broke It, You Bought It”, apparently composed in conjunction with the Living Earth Show (link), and performed at the Mission Science Workshop (link) in San Francisco.  The group says the work will be performed Jan. 27 at the Old First Church in San Francisco, along with works by Max Stoffregen and Damon Waitkus.  Is "YBIYBI" the policy of an Apple or Best Buy store? That sounds like what we were taught in the 50s as kids.  

The work is composed for guitar and xylophone (or instruments that look like these) and some other incidental percussion. The workshop looks quite “cluttered”, as if it were a film studio for horror movies (note the skeleton) -- or is that just for "science", as in a similar museum in Richmond, VA)?  I must confess to not knowing the variety of recreational musical instruments.   The composition begins very quietly, and remains at a slow pace.  The composer has an event in NYC Jan 28 (92Y Tribeca link), missed this one myself. 

One of my own sci-fi scenarios envisions that the “protagonist” (me) has passed into another world, and finds himself in a "model railroad" world, placed in an arbitrarily selected history period, in a barracks-like room, with a musical instrument appropriate for the period. The protagonist is challenged to teach a child to play the instrument, partly to show that he is capable of acting as a role model and imposing some discipline.  When the music is appropriate for the period, it plays (on the period instrument supplied).  When it is too advanced (eg, polytonal or atonal), no sound comes out.  The protagonist must sell the other people in the “ashram” of the value of more advanced music. Then he can advance ("get promoted") and live in a later period with more technology again.  I actually dreamed this once.  Would this make a good movie?

I need to get on with getting my own music entered, but in conjunction with movie scripts (above).  One more appointment with Apple Genius next week, and then I think I order Sibelius. I hope I can get my music entered quickly -- and correctly.  Looks like I'll need an iPad before long. (See New York Times story today on iPad manufacture in China.) 

On the Movies Blog, I have a review (Jan. 23) of Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”,  with mention of very primitive woodwind instruments, and of the long-short about music-making (rehearsing and teaching), “Ode to the Dawn of Man”.

Pictures: (1) Summit of the Washington and Old Dominion bike trail in northern VA, at Clark’s Gap (yesterday's day trip). (2) Wikipedia attribution, Chinatown in SF.

Update: Feb. 23

Timo has a new short work for Baritone, violin and piano, "Two River Songs" based on Thoreau's "A Week on the Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers", the second of which, "I Am Bound", can be played at his site here. Daniel Schwait is baritone, Tema Watstein plays the violin, with Timo the Pianist.  This one has a light touch, almost Benjamin-Britten-like.

Feb. 24

Timo does a 20-minute interview from his Brooklyn NY apartment for the blog "I Care If You Listen", by Thomas Deneuville, in a posting called "Hang #3", link here. (For some reason, the browser doesn't unconvert the tinyurl, but Facebook did translate it for me!). It's interesting that he characterizes his "Shy and Mighty" (2010, reviewed here in May 2010) as an "album", in the sense of a collection of Schumann's piano pieces.  Timo also plays a 12-minute version of the "I Am Bound" song above for solo piano (in a second video).  The music starts with light, almost Parisian fingerings and cross hands (using the highest notes of the 88-note-piano), and gradually migrates toward expressionism. Toward the end, there is a descending theme that reminds me of a similar effect near the end of Arnold Schoenberg's "Pelleas et Mellisande".  Curiously, a little atonality makes music sound more lush.   YouTube URL's are (one) and (two).  Taken together, the two clips amount to a "short film".  Is there a film festival for films and videos about classical music?

In the interview above, he says, "All music is about other music."  On Jan. 3, 2012 on my Books blog, I reviewed Google counsel William Patry's latest book on copyright, in which Patry says that almost all creative work involves some "copying".  Then today, Andres on his blog (URL above) discussed the "Golijov Issue", discussed in the New Yorker here.  I'll return to all this later in my main blog.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Local stations present a new piano prodigy; did Beethoven evolve from Haydn, Mozart, or neither?

Today, NBC Washington ran a story on a seven year-old prodigy pianist, Adrian Romoff.  USA Today has a similar story (by Douglas Stanglin) with excerpts from a recital in Atlanta, link here.  The white “Schumann”  piano made for an interesting sight.

NBC showed him playing some of the first movement from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #20 in G, Op. 49, #2.  Not to steal any tropic thunder, this is the second of the “two easy Sonatas”.  But I learned and played #1 (in G Minor) during my high school years.   The #2 Sonata has a second movement that is a minuet.  Romoff said that the work sounded like Mozart, but to me it sounds more like Haydn.
I could go on about this. There is nothing like late Mozart. The end of “Don Giovanni” is chilling, if pre-romantic, but it creates terror in a way never since replicated. The world of Mozart's last string quartets is bizarre, but it doesn’t predict Beethoven.  To my ear, however, the early Beethoven quartets do resembled late Haydn.  Is this an accepted view?

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #22, Op. 54, in the pastoral key of F Major is weird in that it starts with a Minuet, with a self-halting theme that seems to play “Mother May I” and look for permission to explore its slowly expanding world.

But another two-movement work, #24, Op. 78, is in the rich-dessert key of F# Major, and has always struck me as a more fortunate companion to #22.

Picture: that's me, probably in early 1944 (estate picture)

Update: Jan. 30

"Ellen" had Adrian on her show, with a nice conversation about enthusiasm for music. Adrian played the Exposition of the first movement of Sonata 20.  It would have been nice if the show had given him the time to play the entire movement (without the repeat).  (This is p. 380 of Schirmer's Vol. 2 Beethoven Sonatas.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Holocaust Museum offers chamber CD series: Here is #4 (Korngold Starer, Lees)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers a CD series on Albany Records chamber music called “Darkness & Light”.  I picked up #4 Saturday night at Dumbarton, with Steven Honigberg, cello on all items (except the Korngold).

The first work is Romance, Op. 4, with piano (Carol Honigberg) by Leo Warner.

There follows “Song of Solitude” (1955) by Robert Starer, for unaccompanied cello.

Then Robert Stern offers the 10-piece suite “To the Memory of the Children of Terezin”, with piano (the composer) and Paulina Spark, soprano, in some items. These are based on a book of poems by the children in Theresienstadt, the “paradise ghetto”, called “I Never Saw a Butterfly”.  Much of Herman Wouk’s novel (and TV series) “War and Remembrance” takes place there, where the Germans constructed a closed world where their prisoners pretended they had some of their old life, before transport to the camps.  The music is rather like early Schoenberg, rather post-Mahler. The last song of this cycle ends a lush fortissimo, which is unusual in post-romantic or expressionistic song cycles. 

There follows “6 Piano Pieces on Don Quixote”  by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1909, the same year as the Mahler Ninth, with a similar harmonic and polyphonic palette, but on the solo piano).

The last item is the lush Piano Trio #2, “Silent Voices”, by Benjamin Lees (15 min), which settles down into silence only at the end.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Greenberg's model railroad show in VA is smaller than WGH

I visited the Geenberg’s Train and Toy show in Fredericksburg, VA today (link)
I see that I reported on my main blog about WGH, or World’s Greatest Hobby, Jan. 23, 2010, and Roadside America in PA here on May 11, 2011. 

The Greensberg show is smaller than WGH, and they layouts were not as adventurous.  The most interesting concept probably belonged to the Northern Virginia NTrak, which invites model clubs that follow their standards to build their own little villages onto the bigger layout. The result is that the model trains travel through a variety of “dominions”.  Today, for example, one section was a model of the countryside around a temple in Japan. Many of the other sections, though, were the typical small town America. 

One idea would be to set up the sections as slices of the same community in various time periods of history, with the train running through a model of space-time (in a trigonometric form around a circular layout).  An alien civilization could set up a planet this way (with an annular civilization on a planet caught in tidal lock), and place people in a time-slice appropriate for the person.  Only the devices appropriate for the period could work in a particular section.  Music more advanced than possible at a particular time could not make sounds.  Abducted people living in the model railroad could graduate from one time pie-slice to the next by mastering the skills (including people skills) of earlier times.  Anyone want to try this as a concept for an indie sci-fi film?  Maybe even an arena stage play.

Another group represented historical interests in the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, a freight-only short line that ran from Alexandria to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1950s, now replaced largely by a bicycle trail. 

Here's some "drag racing" with model locomotives:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dumbarton Concerts: the Brahms Trio #1 in B Major, and a lot of cello-piano work (Schumann's "folk" miniatures)

On Saturday, January 21, the Dumbarton Concerts at the Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Georgetown in Washington DC performed the a chamber concert (“Ode to the Cello”) with the Andrist-Stern-Honigberg Trio.  The artists are Audrey Andrist (piano), James Stern (violin), and Steven Honigberg (cello).

I’ll discuss the second half of the program first. It was the Piano Trio #1 in B Major, Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms, composed in white-hot youth at 21 and then revised three decades later.
All the themes in the work are familiar, and I think the figure in the scherzo (second movement) found its way as a similar motive in the last movement (minor) of my own A Major sonatina (age 14).  B Major (five sharps) is an odd key for a major work, and I wonder how well it fingers on the cello or violin (compared to C Major, or D Major, the most popular key tonality for the violin).  (I think Haydn wrote one symphony in B Major, and it may be the one called "The Razor".)  The first movement opens with a heroic theme (reminding one of the First Piano Concerto).  Toward the end, the movement, as performed, comes almost to a stop before a triumphant conclusion. The B minor scherzo is, as I said, familiar. The slow movement, Adagio, is again in B Major, when I think a different key (maybe E-flat) would have been appropriate. (Brahms’s first Piano Concerto goes D Minor, D Major, D Minor-Major without varying.)  Triple times are common. The finale is “another” Hungarian rondo ending not in triumphant major, but in B minor, reversing the romantic practice of the Picardy Third. (I did the same thing in my 4-movement A Major Sonatina, ending in A Minor. Mendelssohn did the same with the Italian Symphony, after the great peroration at the end of the Third.)

Here’s a YouTube video of the first movement performed at Yale University in December 2010 by the Temple Street Trio (not this concert), link.    The coda is really triumphant.  This work seems like it wants to be a piano quintet.  I think the writing anticipates the youthful and triumphant C Minor (with Picardy ending) quintet, Op. 1, by Ernst von Dohnanyi. 

I was fortunate enough to sit by a piano student who said that to him, music needs to always have "motion". There were a few places in this performance of the Brahms (especially the slow movement) where all sense of movement seemed to stop. 

Before the intermission, there was no violin, "just" cello and piano.  Again, “LIFO”, the first “Act” concluded with Robert Schumann’s “5 Pieces in Folk Style” (“Funf Stucke im Volkston”).  These are rather like songs without words than inventions, which Schumann is noted for in his miniatures, which many people think represent his best work.

The first part of the program comprised “transcriptions”.  This is not my favorite art form. The concert started by a transcription from Maurice Gendrom of “La Folia” by French Baroque compose Marin Marais.  This is contemporary to Bach but sounded a bit perfunctory, yet rather crudely effective.  (It is not Bach!)  Wikipedia appears to have the staff notation of the theme here

I’m not sure of Marais composed all the “variations” of this 12-minute piece for viol, using complicated fingering to generate the effects when unaccompanied, or if Gendrom composed the variations.  The Folia is supposed to be a “fertility dance”, which adds to the irony of the piece.  You may be able to play it from this page.
There followed a transcription of “Rosicrucian” Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”, then two songs by Antonin Dvorak (from “Songs my mother taught me” and then “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka). Finally the duo performed Catalan-Spanish composer Gaspar Cassado’s  lively and mildly polytonal “Dance of the Green Devil” (“Danse do diable vert”).

I wonder why pianists who accompany other instruments use sheet music with page turners (they are starting to use iPads) whereas soloists must memorize the music.

Let me add one more personal note. When I was forced to leave William and Mary in 1961 (details on my main blog), a friend wanted me to compose a cello sonata for him. He even wanted two movements and for it to be in B-flat, which was not a key he usually liked.  I have never written it, but recently I started some sketches on paper, with polytonal tension between D Major (cello) and B-flat (piano) to start. I could see how the process of composition could generate a time-lapse sci-fi story, mapping to a "progressive dinner party" encounter with other people on another planet. 

The Church lobby has a sale of paintings by “Art Enables” (link for details and prices) .   There was one interesting painting of the Washington Mall with a menacing cloud approaching the Capitol from the East, threatening to engulf everything in its path.  (Photo just above is mine, taken from Monument in 2007; August smog is engulfing the city in real time.)

(First picture: No, I didn't bike into the City, but I ought to get up to it.)

One other matter: Let's hope that Dumbarton will have some more music from its Composer in Residence, Tudor Dominik Maican, who attends (graduated?) Indiana University and grew up in Potomac MD.   

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"FAME" advances music education in Maryland, DC area schools

Harris’s Heroes on WJLA, ABC Affiliate in Washington, aired a story about a music education program in the Prince Georges County MD school system called “FAME”, or Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education, website here. The buzzword for the group is “Music is central”.  The group appears to focus in Maryland and the Washington DC area.  The WJLA excerpt emphasized jazz and percussion. 

The WJLA link is here

Thursday, January 05, 2012

"Jersey Boys" at the National Theater in Washington DC

Tonight, Jan. 5, I attended a performance of the jutebox musical “Jersey Boys” at the National Theater in Washington DC.  The run ends soon. 

The formal title is “Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons”. The musical is set up in four scenes, one for each season (starting with Spring), each narrated by a different principal of the Four Seasons band of the 60s, with all the music coming from songs by Bob Gaudio.

The four “movements” are narrated in turn by Tommy DeVito (John Gardiner), Bob Gaudio (Preston Truman Boyd), Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda), and Frankie Valli himself (a virile Joseph Leo Brawie). There is a triumphant epilogue as the group reunites (as young men out of a time machine) at the Rock

The docudrama style turns to tragedy in the second half. The group gets in financial trouble, gets put in jail (didn’t think that should happen for debt), and bailed out by a loan shark. But then at the end Frankie’s daughter, the “fallen angel”, dies of a drug overdose.  But ironically Frankie himself is almost “the angel” of the group, despite or perhaps because of his deft dealings with the mob. (This is my second straight Broadway musical, following “Sister Act”, to deal with the mob in comic ways.)

The music gathers momentum in the Summer segment, with some of the most familiar numbers like “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, and “Walk Like a Man”

In a winter where the movies have offered “The Artist” and where the effect of copyright on creativity is being hotly debated, the musical is a welcome adventure into the world of group “creativity”, in an earlier generation – where organized crime could target young groups all too easily to “help them out”.  The musical numbers, in a kind of punk rock style (in a deliberately shrill and high-pitched voices, ironic given the virility of the young men),  which sometimes becomes romantic and expressive, are all very familiar.  I remember hearing many of them in the barracks when I was in the Army in the late 60s.

There is some social commentary, as when Massi  says he pretended to be an uncle to his kids so he could cheat (a thought which goes both ways).  There are some wisecracks about conflicts between being in the performing and creative arts and raising families.   

The National Theater has three balconies and is not very deep; I was in the top balcony and found some of the top of the stage (where art work is shown) hidden. The prosceniums cut off the width of the stage, when compared to others, and reduce the aspect ratio.

I have previously seen “Canterbury Tales: Part 2” and “Les Miserables” at the Nationla.

British film producer Graham King has acquired the rights to make the film version of “Jersey Boys” for GK Films. IMDB has little information for the 2014 planned release.  GK has worked with a number of Hollywood studios and distributors, in both big budget and art-house mode.  It would sound likely the Columbia Pictures and the renewed MGM would be interested.  (I like lions.)  A film version would cost plenty, well over $100 million to make well.   Would the director of "The Artist" (Michel Hazanavicius) make a good choice?  Also, would someone make a film about ‘Nsync and its “Popoddysey?” (which I saw in Minneapolis in 2001)?  Justin Timberlake just “took the dive”; maybe now is the time.

The official site for the Jersey show is here

YouTube from

First picture: The National Theater in a backdrop from Occupy DC at Freedom Plaza.

Below: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, wikipedia attribution. My last visit to the area was in 2010, but I have not yet been able to visit the museum.  I visited Cleveland a lot in the summer during boyhood. 
Why do Broadway shows charge $10 for a soft drink in concessions?  Even movie theaters still charge less than 5.