Saturday, March 24, 2012

Christoph Von Dohnanyi donducts Schubert (almost like Beethoven), and Henze (almost like Schoenberg and Berg).

Tonight, the New York Philharmonic, under Christoph von Dohnanyi, performed a concert of music of Hans Werner Henze and Franz Schubert, a fitting combination. 
The program was preceded by a talk about Henze by Fred Plotkin. Henze, born in Germany in 1926m came of age right after WWII, and lived a discrete gay life, touring to appropriate spots in the Mediterranean and circulating with other gay figures in 20th Century Music.  But he always saw his personal life as private, separate from his somewhat left-wing politics.  The lecture didn’t mention a particularly morally controversial opera, “The Raft of the Medusa”, about who has the best right to survive at sea. 
The concert opened with the Concert Suite: "Adagio, Fugue and Maenad’s Dance from The Bassarids", with came across as episodic, and a compositional style that resembled Alan Berg to my ear.  There are moments of a kind of morbid, post-Wagnerian beauty. The last section is very slow and quiet, with occasional dissonant outbursts, and conveys a mood of the end of the world, rather appropriate for a film by Lars von Trier.  "The Bassarids" uses a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, and is a one-act opera composed in the format of a four movement symphony; seems tells the ironic story of King Pentheus of Thebes, whose ascetism as punished by temptation revealing his hyprocisy, leading to his own catastrophic termination.  No wonder the music ends in such descent into nothingness.  Melancholia indeed.

The main work was the Schubert Symphony in C, D 944, “The Great”.  Now I personally call this work the Ninth, because I think the E Major reasonably counts as the 7th.  This work, for me, is where Bruckner begins.  Dohnanyi takes the first movement introduction too fast, and takes the exposition repeat in the first movement, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard done. (He does not in the finale,  below.)  The concept is Toscanini-like, which doesn’t give the unresolved dissonances in the development settle in as much as they should.  He keeps a brisk tempo right through the triumph of the coda, which is like another development.  He so far conducts this as if it were Beethoven. 

The A minor Andante con moto here sounded like an Allegretto (the Beethoven 7th). But for the Scherzo he slowed down a bit, and he takes the magnificent “perpetual motion” finale at a stately pace.  The program notes point out that the development starts out by rephrasing the second subject (of sort) as to show the relation to the chorale theme in the finale of the Beethoven 9th.  But here Dohnanyi finally builds up a lot of tension, so that when we get to the repeating octaves and crashing dissonances in the coda, we have an effect that even Bruckner and Mahler never reproduced (although Shostakovich and Prokofiev did).  Dohnany does not let the volume decrease on the final octave, instead reinforcing the fortissimo with a drum snap. 
How do we evaluate the influence that this remarkable symphony would have on developing post-romantic Viennese school music decades later?  The symphony was relative little played until toward the end of the Nineteenth Century, and it is considered (particularly the Finale) technically the most difficult of all symphonies up to its time (more difficult than any of Beethoven’s), for a long time regarded as unplayable.  It demands physical fitness and endurance from its performers like few of today’s concert staples.  

Here's a related talk about Henze's opera "Phaedra" (not in this concert), remarks by John Mark Ainsley:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Arlington VA church holds benefit concert for Haiti

On Saturday, March 17, 2012, there was a benefit concert at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA. by Snuhgie and "Soulfire: A Sound Influence", for the St. Croix Hospital in Haiti.  The concert was called “Remembering Haiti, a Night of Inspiration”.

The basic link for Snuhgie is here

There is a Myspace website for Soulfire (the closest that I could find, which I don’t know if is the same as here the group that performed,  link.  

The music was “basic gospel music” with the sing-a-long text projected by PowerPoint.  (Sorry, Apple fans, the group used Windows and an HP server.  Windows can still do media, as if no one remembers that!)
The words tended to come across as “evangelical.”  There were lines that, for example, said that persecution is not the same thing as abandonment, an interest observation.

The music was followed by SoulFire, which played popular songs ranging from “Jersey Boys” to New York Underground in the 1970s. 

Here’s a video by Snuhgie Stocks, which I think is the same.  There’s a YouTube channel by the name Snuhgie about Naval warfare that seems totally unrelated

It had been reported before that it is very difficult for most church groups to organize volunteer missions to Haiti, partly for legal reasons. 

It does appear that there are large efforts underway, such as the Restavec Freedom Alliance, here, which heads with "volunteer for a mission trip". If you look at it, you see that it is expensive and risky and not practical for a lot of people. So that's a challenge. 

Compare to discussion of Nacascolo (Nicaragua), May 22, 2008. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

DC Church has "Celebration of Black Composers in Art Songs and Spirituals"

The First Baptist of the Church of the City of Washington DC held a “Celebration of Black Composers in Art Songs and Spirituals” today at 4 PM.

The soloists were Samantha McElany, Alia Waheed, Bridgett Cooper, Issachah Savage, Kevin Thompson, and pianist Victor Simonson.

The first past of the concert comprised ten art songs, most very short. Three of the songs were (music) by H. Leslie Adams. One of them is “Amazing Grace”, and it is not the familiar tune. There was one song with music by  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

The Spirituals portion had thirteen songs, the first two being “Traditional”, a cappella.  For the second of these, Mr. Savage slowly walked down to the front of the sanctuary.  The next-to-last spiritual was “Scandalize My Name”, sung by the three female performers.  The title makes me think of “online reputation” on Google and Facebook.  The last song, with the entire ensemble, was “Witness”.

This was “church” on “Daylight Savings” Sunday.

Afterwards, I tried dinner at a Vegan restaurant (the Cafe Green) on 17th Street.  I’d never done this before.  The veggie “burger” and “cole slaw” were delicious.  To make up for the low fat, the recipes are heavily spiced to make the food taste good.  Maybe Bill Clinton will try the place.   

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Golijov's overture "Sidereus": it may not be any more "borrowed" than a lot of other music

The New York Times “The Arts” section today (March 8) has an article by Daniel J. Wakin, “Musical Borrowing Under Scrutiny”, link (website url) here . The flap concerns the concert overture “Sidereus”, by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov.

There’s a recording with the Sao Paolo, Brazil Symphony on YouTube (url address) here, a ".wmv file".  The piece is said to be dedicated to Henry Fogel (conductor?) I played the work, which sounds a little post-romantic but tends to repetition, and calls to mind (Cuban composer) Ernesto Lecuona’s “Malaguena”, a piano favorite when I grew up in the 50s (before Fidel Castro).  A particular babysitter used to play that work for me all the time!

Golijpv says the material for the overture comes from discarded material from the film Tetro, by Francis Ford Coppola in 2009. (With Coppola, “you never know.”). Composer Michael Ward-Bergeman collaborated with him on this movie.  Golijov, according to accusations, took material instead from Ward-Bergeman’s “Barbeich”.

I could not find the Barbeich work on YouTube, so I can’t say from my own ear what the similarity is.
I remember when composing, in my high school years, that I was concerned that someone could say “I’ve heard that before.”  Of course, composers say that all music involves some copying (as does all literary work, which is said to be a flaw in the copyright concept, as in books by Google counsel William Patry).  I am not a natural “melodist”, but in the Sonatas, if they come to life in my remaining years, there are some themes that will “sound familiar” even though I can’t place them, anywhere.  I think they’re original.

(Previous comments about this issue appear Jan.26, 2012, near the end of the post.)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

First Baptist Church in Washington celebrates 210th Anniversary with special hymn, info on new organ; more on Dallas composers

Today, Sunday March 4, 2012, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC observed its 210th anniversary.

The communion service featured a special hymn with music composed in 2002 by Lawrence P. Schreiber, with words by the then pastor James Sommerville (now a pastor in Richmond), “In a City Just Beginning”.

The words refer to Washington DC as it was in 1802 when FBC was founded, but curiously the verses sound parallel to the history of Jerusalem after the time of David (because Israel would also know civil war). The hymn has four verses, with all but the third in G Major, harmonized with lots of tense dissonances and passing tones and an excursion into the mediant B Major. The third verse is in the parallel G Minor and seems to have simpler harmony. Inexperienced singers would not be able to handle the dissonances when singing parts. It would make good training music for a high school mixed chorus because it would demand more concentration and help students develop their ears for more sophisticated harmony.

Also, Deborah Miller, soprano, sang the spiritual “Great Day!” with a great deal of vibrato.

There was a dinner, with a presentation of the status of the new pipe organ, due in late 2012. There was a video/power point demo (above) that showed how an organ is disassembled and a new one is built in place in a church.  It's a good question to wonder how the music will be delivered during the mean time.  Maybe by recordings.

I thought I would mention a couple other composers. When I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, I knew Danny Ray, who lived in the same condo complex for a time, and some of his hymns appear in denominational hymnals.

I also remember Dallas composer Jane Marshall, and her famous hymn “My Eternal King”, sung by the Pacific Union College Chorale shown here.  There's a touch of Mahler 8th in this music.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Loaded Sibelius 7 (pun) on my MacBook; let the recomposition begin

I finally got Sibelius 7 loaded, on my MacBook.  The main application installs quickly, but the sound library, on 3 CD’s, takes about two hours.  Also included were Photo Score Ultimate and Audio Score Ultimate, to create scores from PDF or mp3 files.

On Quick Start and New Score I entered just one twelve tone row, to get started.  Very quickly I’ll get into how to use the product and get my inventory of music from high school and college days entered.

When you start the application, for the first time, you hear some of the Sibelius Symphony #7 in C, a thickly scored part near the end.  The piece is famous for its one-movement form with constantly alternating tempi and character. A harmonic device in the work is said to allude to Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”.  My own recording of that work is with Jarvi on Chandos. But in my high school days, I believe I had Beecham’s performance.