Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Choral anthems, scores, and a little research

It’s not very often that I see an original score of music that is about to be performed.

On Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA performed a choral anthem “Blessed Are Those”, based on Jeremiah 17:7-8 by John Shepherd. In the “synecdoche” atrium of the church (Philip Seymour Hoffman would love this place), the score of the hymn, in E Minor but with heavy use of accidentals and passing tones in the score, was in view, before the 11:15 traditional service.

The composer seems to be Minneapolis-born (I think I recall the name from my days with AGCMCC there), with a descriptive link (website url) here

There was an (English) Elizabethean composer John Sheppard (1515-1558), whose name is sometimes spelled as Shepherd, Wiki link here, or list of works here

You can look at scores here (PDF) or play them (mid, Quicktime). Try it!

Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt gave a sermon “Willing to Yield”, after a children’s sermon on the same topic.  Yes, there is more to life than “competition”.  “Yielding” is often necessary for self-interest.  For example, it’s important to yield and follow courtesy in traffic to avoid accidents.  In sports, “yielding” is often in effect out of a bigger interest in winning for the team.  A baseball player lays down a sacrifice bunt rather than swinging for the outfield fences—or a baseball team shelves its top pitcher on the advice of surgeons rather than risking rushing him into playoffs, because it is concerned about its long-term interest.

Sometimes, it seems, though, “yielding” demands a surrender of self-interest to that of others in the group beyond anyone’s possibility of choice or control.  Sometimes the applicable word is “sacrifice.”

I think that sometimes, when one faces disruption from the acts of others, one can ask, what does this other person (people) really need?

Picture: a “bamboo house” shell.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Son of Afghan composer helps teens in his country study music

Anna Cohen has an important story about the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANM) on CNN, which Don Lemon aired on Saturday.

It has 141 students, including 41 girls.  Most are teenagers and a few, including a sixteen year old boy(Wahidullah Amiri, at the piano, are quite accomplished already.

The school was founded in large part by Ahmad Samarst, son of an Afghan composer.

The Taliban often destroyed musical instruments and even used pianos as fodder for fires. 

The video shows Amiri playing what sounds like Haydn.  Another girl plays some Afghan folk songs. 

The younger Samarst studied music in Australia.  I could not find either father or son on Wikipedia yet.

Monday, September 17, 2012

H Street Festival in DC Saturday offers multiple hip-hop stages

Saturday afternoon, I stumbled into the H Street Fetival in NE Washington DC, on the way to the close-out of DC Shorts at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.  I hadn't known about the festival until I arrived. 

I encountered a number of pavilions where music was being performed – specifically, hip-hop – I guess – not in my element.  The repetitiousness of it  (and lack of variety of development) kind of leaves me behind.  I didn’t even hear anything like the lilt of Lady Gaga.

Visually, the festival was a spectacle, much of it taking place along streetcar tracks intended for the “pink line”.  The X2 bus line, although slowed down by people getting on, is almost like a “light rail” line on its own. 

Wikipedia has some interesting characterizations of hip-hop, referring, for example, to its apathy toward "intellectualism", link here
 I've never heard of a "diaper bank" before. Perhaps some "collectivism" is inherent in some of the exhibits.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The symphonies of Szymanowski

I got curious and checked out my CD of the two symphonies of Karol Szymanowski (see Saturday’s post on “King Roger”).

I have a Marco Polo CD with the Polish State Philharmonic at Katowice, conducted by Karol Stryja, conducting the Symphony #1 in F Minor, Op. 15, amd the Symphony #2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19.  The recording, as were many from Records International and Marco Polo (as had been many from Artia before) were made behind the Iron Curtain before it was pulled open or, as Alfred Hitchcock would have said, “torn”.  I think I found this at Tower Records in DC during the store’s boom time.

The First, completed in 1907, comprises just two movements, totaling twenty minutes and sounds very thick.  It sounds as though the composer had no particular inspiration for a slow movement.

The Second, in 1910, is much more original.  In three movements, it starts gently with a rising theme even marked “grazioso”, but gradually becomes thicker and more impassioned.  The second movement, marked Lento, it just typically postromantic, but the Finale, a fugue, will stay in one’s head. The theme, related to the upwardly mobile figure from the first movement, transforms into a dance-like element that reminds one of the A-minor third movement “scherzo” from Mahler’s Ninth, but the fugal treatment, leading to a tremendous climax at the end, has the exuberance of the double fugue that concludes the Mahler Fifth.  It’s as if Szymanowski wanted to compose another “middle Mahler” symphony, but shorter and more manageable in its details.  

Saturday, September 01, 2012

"King Roger" (by Szymanowski) is one "spectacular" opera

The opera “King Roger”, by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (with libretto written with his cousin Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz) has attracted media attention recently because of a reasonably tempered version staged at the Sante Fe Opera by Stephen Wadsworth.

I bought a recent BluRay DVD (Unitel Classica) of a 2010 performance at the Bregrenz Festival with Sir Mark Elder conducing the Vienna Symphony with the Polish Radio Choir and Children’s Chorus.
The story is loosely based on the history of a 12th Century King of Sicily, Roger II, who engaged the Pope in a monumental battle to recognize his reign.  But the opera, obviously metaphorical, has some of the elements of existential horror.  A mysterious “shepherd” or prophet (Will Harmtmann) appears and captivates the King (Scott Hendricks) and his wife Roxanna (Olga Pasichnyk). Others in the kingdom (especially the Church) want him killed or driven out, but he seduces the entire community, leading to a wild dance and then a sacrifice scene. 

The music is post-romantic (from the 1920s), a mixture of Strauss, Scriabin, and the pre-atonal Schoenberg, with a little Debussy (the language of the “Martyrdom of St. Senasitan) thrown in. The shepherd’s followers stage a dance that might invite comparison with the Golden Calf dance in Schoenberg;’s “Moses and Aaron”, and at the end, Roger sings homage to the rising  Sun (after the carnage, which is truly horrific for a stage presentation), which, also now as a soloist without the chorus, invites orchestration reminding one of the end of Schoenberg’s “Gurre-Lieder”, leading to one massive C-Major chord.   

The Shepherd’s body is covered in gold paint (like the “Ferrie” character in Oliver Stone’s “JFK”), but the other actors get smudged over pretty much in the sacrifice scenes (which include oxen heads made to look like monsters).  Merely acting in this opera (that is singing as a virtuoso) demands bodily abuse.  There is plenty of eroticism and dirty dancing, perhaps more of it heterosexual (involving Roxanna) but it’s clear that Roger is attracted to the Shepherd, and that he has been having a side relationship with the Arabian sage Edrisi (John Graham=Hall), actually based on a Muslim figure who really was a diplomat in Roger’s court. 

The Sante Fe opera has a discussion by Charles McKay on YouTube. 

An interesting aside on the composer.  He had written a homoerotic novel “Efebo” that was largely lost in the Nazi invasion of Poland.