Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Should ballparks be works of art? I guess the Mets no longer think so

Baseball games count on this blog as "dramatic events", particularly tonight's slopfest where the New York Mets lost in late innings to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The game was preceded by a mini vocal concert from "Celebrate Israel", and an elementary school class sung the National Anthem a cappella.

Citi Field, near the site of the 1964 New York World's Fair (which I attended then), replaces Shea Stadium, and was supposed to be built to look like Ebbets Field.  Well, the old Brooklyn Dodger park had a short right field (an inverse of Boston's Fenway), where as Citi has a jutting out in right near one of the bullpens.  But in left, the "retro" aspect of Citi Field showed itself with a miniature "black monster", a 20 foot wall that took a big poke to reach.  So this year the Mets inserted an 8-foot Facebook-blue wall in front of it, with a few feet of "party stands", making the outfield wall a uniform 8 feet all around.  How boring.  The effect looks sloppy.  Before, it was one of the more interesting of all the ball parks.  There is some advantage to a big outfield -- more triples, more inside-the-park homers, more "wall ball" and more physics lessons. 

Most of the home runs tonight (except one) would have been homers before the "un-retro" retreatment of the ballpark. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Timo Andres gives a "summer movie" recital at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC

Tonight, Timothy Andres (“Timo Andres”) gave a recital at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village in New York City (Oct. 19, 2010).  (The Club 930 in Washington DC is a similar business.)

And, as with Timo's fun concert at "Bargemusic" in early June last year, there was a violent NYC thunderstorm outside during most of the concert.  (It stretched diagonally up the entire Eastern Fall Line.) We existed afterwards onto flooded Village streets.
Some of the pieces have been discussed here before.  He started with three pieces from Ted Hearne’s “Parlor Diplomacy” (a political nod to Hillary), and a single-piano setting of the eighth piece from “Shy and Mighty”, “How Can I Live In Your World of Ideas”. The soloist version seemed a bit more compressed – ending loudly – with the flirtatious piano part in the treble reminding me of Sami from “Days of our Lives” rationalizing her behavior with her son Will (the bass).  
He played the 15-minute rhapsody “Authentic Presence” from teacher Ingram Marshall (June 10, 2011), and this time I noticed the quintuple rhythms and episodic nature.  What followed would be a daring experiment. 
He played the 3-minute Intermezzo in B Minor by Johannes Brahms, Op. 119, #1. It seemed to host the theme that  Marshall had used.   (Hearne also uses it, according to Timo.) He then, without pause, played five of the movements of his own “It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer” (it indeed does), and then went seamlessly into the Robert Schumann miniature “Vogel als Prophet” from Waldzenen, Op. 82. The effect of the concatenation was that of an extended rhapsody-sonata as if a single composition, as the music weaves in and out of the conspicuous and lush romanticism or Brahms and Schumann into polytonal modernism that sounds perfectly matched.   But I never knew that Brahms and Schumann could use some polytonality, like Mozart.  Some audience members said they really had trouble detecting the transitions.

The whole amalgamation was managed by software on a New IPad, which presents the music and turns pages. (I'm not far enough in my own experience with Sibelius to know how to do that.)
Timo concluded with a four-hand, one piano (Yamaha) performance of a new piece “Retro Music”, played with David Kaplan.  The piece would have fit into the soundtrack of “Men in Black”.

Was his suit made of corduroy?  That's what it looked like. 
Before the concert, the business served food and drinks (min of 2 items per table), while playing the complete recording of “Shy and Mighty”. The effect (during the table service) was an immersion into "Timo's world", which sounds almost cinematic.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Organ settings of a hymn used by Mahler; more Taneyev

The Mahler Eighth Symphony (discussed here in February) starts with a setting of the plainsong hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus”.

Sunday, May 27, 2012, at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington, organist Carol Feather Martin played settings of the hymn by Wilbur Held (prelude) and Afred Fredak, an “improvisation”, as the postlude.  Much of the congregation remained and applauded.

The Fredak has a lot of scales and a rather atonal effect. I guess church services can use some atonality.

On Oct. 1, 2011, I reviewed the Taneyev Piano Quartet, and today I played an Ondine recording (2000) of the composer’s “Concert Suite for Violin and Orchestra”, Op. 28 (1909). It’s odd for a piece that runs over 42 minutes to come across as a “suite” rather than as a sonata-like experience.  But this work, in five movements (the fourth is a theme and variations and coda, a composition in itself), does indeed come across as a kind of Baroque amalgam, a far cry from the emotionalism of the Quartet.  The violinist is Pekka Kuusisto; the Helsinki Philharmonic is conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.  The piece does not maintain tonal integrity: the opening slow Prelude is in G Minor, but the closing tarantella crashes down in D minor at the end. 

The CD also includes the second entr’acte from the opera “Oresteya”, “The Temple of Apollo at Delphi”, and the independent overture, 16 minutes, which sounds a bit like Tchaikovsky with a bit of Wagner thrown in. There is a noble, serious and chordal second subject, but the overture settles down and ends quietly.

Friday, May 25, 2012

My own quick review of Vegas: a model of the world

Well, Sunday night I played Randall Flagg and walked fast through the streets of Cibola, and rode the new  monorail.

The Las Vegas strip has become even longer and more complicated since my previous visit in 2000, as well as a visit in December 1997 when I had stayed at the Luxor.

I recall a great ballet show at the Luxor, “Atlantis”, in three acts, with acrobats performing in the air above the audience.  In 1997, there was also a small Egyptian exhibit.  Now there is a Titanic Artifacts exhibit.

I parked in the Palazzo (free), and figured out how to navigate through various other casinos and the Monorail to Paris, France.

The sizes of the casinos are quite overpowering, with no horizons visible on the floors. They tend to become interconnected.  I found my way through  Harrah’s, then Bally’s (passing a bizarre body skin toning exhibit) to Paris, and passed a (female) comedy show at Napoleon’s, and an enormous amount of French space, more or less a model of Paris.  It’s like a mini trip to Europe.

In 1997, I had also watched the 20-minute Pirate Show at Treasure Island (across Las Vegas Blvd from the Palazzo and Venetian).  Now, the show seems divided into two spaces, and people get in line to eat dinner while watching it.

Here’s a clip from the Treasure Island show, New Years, 1997:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bike DC results in informal outdoor Sousa concert on Mother's Day

I stumbled on the “Washington and Arlington Community Bike Ride” (link for BikeDC)  while driving into church DC this morning, with the bikers gathered on a small park on E Street in Foggy Bottom.
This was an informal ride across the Potomac on the southbound side of I-66; it was not competitive. No concerns about wind resistance.

There was a band playing Sousa marches, providing an informal concert. 

I recall the 78-rpm (12-inch) RCA records of Sousa back around 1950, which then coast 79 cents per disc!  I recall “Stars and Stripes Forever”, “The Gladiator”, “Sempre Fidelis”, “El Capitan” (the shortest), and “Fairest of the Fair” (the longest).

Today, at the First Baptist Church of Washington DC, Dr. Jeffrey Hagray remembered his own mother with his Mother’s Day sermon, “An Instrument for Everyone”, which meant music lessons for everyone in the family, on instruments like trombone, saxophone, and clarinet as well as piano, with plenty of those red John Thompson’s books.

 Last night, there was a street player outside Landmark's E Street playing trumpet to Handel (recorded).  Yes, I provided a small tip. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On a major personal anniversary, another model train visit (Choo Choo Barn in PA)

Today, I visited the Choo-Choo Barn in Strasburg, PA.  It appears from my records that the visit was one year to the date of a similar visit to Roadside America (and on a long anniversary of an important personal incident years ago).

This model railroad, O-scale, is not quite as large as Roadside America, but may be more complex “topologically”.  The space is shaped like an L (that is, like Florida), rather than a rectangle.  There seem to be only two tracks that circle most of the property, and one of them is quite mysteriously tunneled.  The Amtrak train ran around one of them, and I swear I thought I saw it change directions.  I don’t know how they could do this (a figure-8?)

 The layout has a model of the Strasburg railroad tourist attraction in the middle of one side.

Strangely, there are lots of models of police cars and fire engines answering calls.

There's also a quarry, which is not quite as vulgar as mountaintop-removalk. 

One of the main attractions is a three-ring Circus.  Another is an Amish barn raising.

There are three main “towns”, one a mid 50’s place with a parade, one that is futuristic with a monorail, and another, on the other leg of the L, with the main passenger station and a gas station making fun of prices.
There’s a ski resort, and a model of a Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel (and the remaining tunnels may be in danger).

There are various shops nearby, and one of them had a small model railroad with a simulated Mobius effect, which raises some sci-fi ideas (like a representation of time travel). 

Anyone in the mood for Arthur Honneger's "Pacific 231"?

As for the personal anniversary mentioned above, on May 10, 1978, I did see Lanford Wilson's post-Vietnam play "The Fifth of July" off-off-Broadway. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Stenhammar wrote an Piano Concerto that's an echo of Tchaikovsky and Brahms both

Aficionados of Tchaikovsky’s “innovative” Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat minor will want to know that there’s another big romantic piano concerto in that key, by Swedish composer Wilhlelm Stenhammar, going back to 1894.

It really does sound “like Brahms”, so it will be “good for you”.  And like the Brahms concerto (in B-flat Major) it has four movements, with a second movement scherzo, which, however, if light and elfish.

The first movement is super-serious (“Molto moderato e maestoso”), and stays in minor for its heavy conclusion (Tchaikovsky went into the Picardy Major even in the first movement). The Andante is rather conventional.

But the curious part of this work is the Finale, marked “Allegro commodo”.  Again, rather playful, the music migrates to a chorale like second theme. But unlike following most romantic concertos and taking the opportunity for a big tune conclusion, the work, after a somewhat Brahmsian (quoting the Brahms First Piano Concerto directly once) building, dies away into peace.

Relatively few “romantic” piano concertos end quietly.  However Wilhelm Furtwangler’s B Minor concerto, over an hour in length, does so.  

My CD is the Chandos with Mats Widlund, piano, and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky (1992).

Stenhammar's second concerto, in D Minor, is livelier and does end briskly, and is on BIS. 

CD’s were all the rage from the late 80s to mid 90s.  Now, people say they don’t want the bother of storage and just buy MP3 files and accompanying PDF’s, and save their collections “in the Cloud”.  Remember the days of vinyl?  Elliptical styli?  Inner groove distortion?  Surface noise?

Monday, May 07, 2012

A visit to Doug Aitken's "Song 1" reverse cyclorama around the Hirshhorn at the Smithsonian in Washington DC

Tonight I visited the 360-degree convex Cinerama (or cyclorama) film on the outer circumference of the Smithsonian Hirshhorn museum (running sunset-midnight through May 13), “Song 1”, by Doug Aitken.

The song is the 1934 popular “I only have eyes for you.”  It tended to get repetitious. My late parents would have considered it "tuneful". 

The pictures of singers tended to rotate counterclockwise, and were interspersed with pictures of old film reels moving and assembly lines, which appeared to be manufacturing modern computer parts.

Small crowds gathered on opposite corners of the building and across the jogging track on the Mall.

Arch Record has a detailed account from mid April here

Tilda Swinton (“Julia”, etc.) appears as a singer.

Nearby, on the walkway, toward the East, the Air and Space Museum has landscapes of Venus, Mars, and Io.  Venus is below:

Here's a brief video (camera didn't pick up faint images that well):

Thursday, May 03, 2012

My first cut at recording a whole sonata movement into Sibelius; what makes music "original"?

I’ve continued my effort getting more of my old music entered into Sibelius.

Today, I “stumbled” through an effort to record the 10 minute finale to my “Third” Sonata, which I composed by hand in 1962 after my William and Mary expulsion.  The finale was always sketchier, and was intended to start out “playful” in nature, and gradually become more “serious”.

The basic tonality is C, but I’ve decided to add a second chorale theme, that will be presented first in the tritone opposite of F#.  It came to me in a dream.  It bears a superficial resemblance to the Polonaise Militaire (A Major) theme of Chopin, which would sound trite here if continued in rhetorical fashion (as in a typical church hymn).  Instead, the idea is to answer the opening figure with ascending passages based on the earlier “playful” music, taking then through some other keys (especially E-flat) back to the concluding C Major, particularly at the end of the Sonata, which there should be a sense of being lifted up.

The rubato feature of Sibelius doesn’t help so much in music that is constantly changing time signatures, of that wants to shift back and forth between compound and simple meters. When recording the coda, Sibelius froze after about 30 measures.  I had to do the “cntl-alt-esc” and stop it and let it send a report to Apple.  When I restarted Sibelius, it still let me save what I had played.

Casio offers a library of 59 “Music Library Piano Scores”, including the sheet music. There’s a certain emphasis on French music toward the end, a lot of Satie, Debussy, Faure; some duets; the last piece is a Czerny etude.  The Brahms G Minor Rhapsody (#2) is included, as is the Schubert E-flat Impromptu, #2  of Op 90.  (When I took piano, I learned the A-flat piece).  The E-flat plays with the remote tonalities of B Minor and G-flat major (through the parallel minor) and curiously ends on a loud E-flat minor chord, an inversion of the “Picardy Third” concept.

There is a first movement from the Op 36 #1 Sonatina in C by Muzio Clementi, which shows that an entire sonata form can be imitated in just forty measures.

I’ll close this posting with a link to an article by NYC composer Timo Andres in “Fortnight Journal” called “The Opening Bars”, link here. He says, near the beginning, “Writing music is more like refashioning something which existed, and had always existed.”   I know there has been some controversy in this area with a recent composition by Golijov (March 8, 2012 on this blog).   Remember, Google counsel William Patry, in his book “How to Fix Copyright” (my Book Review blog, Jan. 3, 2012) takes the position that all creative work (at least in music and literature) involves some amount of “copying”, even adaptation and mashup, to the point that the message for the consumer is transformed. Yet, every composer develops his own voice, his own musical "trademark".  Brahms and Beethoven still sound distinct.  And as I noted, after my dream of my hymn tune, I realized, "I've heard that before", well, not exactly.  The Chopin Polonaise was similar on the surface but has a totally different effect from what I want.  

Andres talks about being inspired by Chopin, and how motives transform and grow into something else, and provide, as in cinema, the chance for “surprise endings”.   Chopin has always, for me, tended to sound trite (even “effeminate”), until he gets into the big forms (well, he does well in the Etudes, too);  the first movement of the B-flat Minor Sonata always holds me spellbound.   So do the G Minor Ballade (with its perverse violence) and the C#-Minor Scherzo (whereas the B-flat Minor Scherzo always sounded like a copout).  I’ve always liked narrative, and large canvases, rather than miniatures. 

Isn't Timo about due for another concert in the Washington DC area?

I still remember an old chum at William and Mary (that one semester in 1961) who thought that real music ends with Mozart, or maybe Beethoven and Schubert.  He also said you shouldn’t play Beethoven in concerts until you’re 30.  We saw the French film “Aimez-vous Brahms?” that fall.  He did play a reduction of his Piano Concerto in E-flat for me in a practice room in Ewell Hall, and I still remember all the themes. The slow movement was a kind of lamentation in G Minor with a kind of plainsong theme, and the outer movements used lots of scales and octave passage work to build whole motives.