Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bull Run Festival of Lights (and simulated sense of snow)

On this blog I count “artistic displays” – even with Christmas lights – as “shows”.  Earlier this evening, I drove through the Bull Run Festival of Lights, at Bull Run Regional Park, in Centreville, VA, which was said to include “Santa’s Enchanted Lights” at the Holiday Village.

You have to drive a dark, winding two-lane road for about three miles to get to it, and it’s $15 per car on a weeknight. It pays to have passengers.  You drive at about 10 mph through the exhibit.  There was a music section with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with some notes right off Sibelius. There was a simulated snow storm with lights. Or perhaps the descending lights could be interpreted as the alien probes at the beginning of “Skyline”. 

Near the end, there is a small carnival, for foot exploration, on a  cold, windy night. The Christmas trees here change colors constantly. 
The website is here

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

For Christmas Day, a lesson in a cappella

I’ve never been much of a fan of a cappella singing, even when you go back to Palestrina.  The adult human voice doesn’t have the overtones of instruments – even given the excitement that opera divas can generate. 

Nevertheless, I went back to Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington late Christmas morning to have a most informal service, after the moving formal Christmas Eve service late Monday night.  The twenty or so of us were rehearsed to go over to the Virginia Hospital Center, floor to floor, with poinsettias, and sing carols for patients and particularly staff.  This was territory I had seen a lot of during the last years of my own Mother’s life.  There are some medical information signs on the walls (about strokes and arrhythmias.)  We had the help of a “pro” from a college (VA Tech) glee club. Though when I substitute taught, some high schools had madrigals groups, that sung all a cappella.  I think Yorktown High School in Arlington had this.  And the high school students who sung it were very dedicated and good. For me, the musical area is a bit too narrow. 

The Christmas Eve service performed some of the now familiar music of Chilcott (Dec. 9) but added “Night of Silence” by Daniel Kantor. Carol Feather Martin played as organ preludes the “Fantasy on ‘Divinum Mysterium’” by Gerte Hancock and the more familiar “Variations on ‘Puer Nobis’” by Michael Burkhardt.  The Hancock piece is quite jubilant and triumphant (reminding me of Dupre), and would be a good thing to hear soon on the new organ at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, whose new organ is supposed to be ready in February, to the best of my knowledge.   

On Christmas days in the past, I've often played a 1969 recording with David Wilcox on EMI-Angel of Ralph Vaughn Williams's "Hodie" -- "This Day".  It is loud and virile.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Local brass quintet celebrates DC Metro Red Line at Dupont Circle

Thursday night, after I ascended the “new” escalator on the south end of the Dupont Circle Metro station in Washington DC, I encountered a brass quintet playing what sounded like Gershwin, maybe from Porgy and Bess, a slow passage.  Looks like my camera didn't quite focus, sorry. 

It is called “DC Brass” but I couldn’t find its site.

Yes, people play for tips.  

Remember the film "Five Lines"? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pianist Jonathan Biss performs "moderately early" Beethoven

As I noted on a December 1, 2012 Kennedy Center concert review, I met pianist Jonathan Biss after his performance of a Mozart concerto.  I bought his Onyx CD where he performs four relatively early Beethoven piano sonatas.

The Amazon link is here. I'm old school, with vinvyl records and CD's; but today it's enough  (totally legal, and cheaper) to buy the MP3 files and PDF notes, and let the Cloud back them up for you. This may not help musicians make a living on the royalties that they need and earn.  Composers make their own MP3 files with iTunes.  
Early Beethoven is distinguishable from Mozart and Haydn in the way if build themes out of technical motives. The first work on the CD is the Piano Sonata #5 in C Minor, which sounds a bit understated compared to the much more famous Pathetique (#8).  It has three movements, and the final  Prestissimo ends quietly.  (Beethoven had done that in #4 in E-flat, where the final winds us down in grace.)

I was not very familiar with #11, in B-flat.  In my William and Mary days in 1961, a college chum had said that “B-flat major” was his least favorite key.  He had also said that nobody should pay Beethoven until he is 30 (Biss is 32).  The four movement work seems a bit impish and playful.  But if the finale is meant to be a bit relaxed (Allegretto), it at least ends on a fortissimo chord.

Piano Sonata #12 in A-flat, the “Funeral March”, is well known, most of all for its march in the ultimate key of A-flat minor (seven flats – why not G# Minor?) The theme certainly exemplifies simplicity, and probably inspired a similar movement by Chopin a some years later. The first movement is a Theme and Variations rather than a Sonata, but Mozart had done this with his A Major sonata.  The finale is another relaxation, despite the “Allegro” marking, closing simply and quietly, as if to invite a response. 

The last Sonata on the CD is #26 in E-flat, the famous “Les Adieux”, where Beethoven made an odd experiment with program music in an abstract form.  The harmonies in this work have always seemed a little grating to me.  But the sequence, “Farewell, Absence, “Return” pretty much depicts a psychological experience that I “lived through” in New York City in 1978.  (By the time of Bucky Dent’s home run, the “return” had happened, and Beethoven makes it joyful and conclusive.)  Yet, the experience would lead to a windshift in my own life, and a move to Dallas in 1979.

National Public Radio takes you into Jonathan’s Upper West Side apartment (not the picture, but close enough). 

Something about the name "Biss" strikes me.  There is a Swedish music company with that name but only one "S".  In German, the "s"  would be doubled.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

White House Nation's Christmas Tree offers large, partitioned model railroad

I stumbled upon another model railroad Sunday night when I walked over to the Ellipse to see the National Christmas Tree.

There was a model railroad in three parts: an external circle, then a complicated structure closer to the tree with trestles and bridges, and then three Midwestern villages, all similar, one with some factories and a “Bates House”, and all with their own local railroads.

There was a male glee club that sang “barber shop quartet” music, a cappella, from the 1940s (Bugler Boy, etc.) 

There was an ample crowd of families early Sunday evening, Dec. 16, maybe 300 people, in mild, drizzly and foggy weather.  It’s too warm for mid-December.

To the south of the tree the White House has displayed a large Hanukkah Menorah.    

Here's another ambiguous sculpture nearby on 15th St. across from Treasury and PNC. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A "Christmas" visit to a local model railroad, and a virtual trip to the Smokies

Today, I visited a free exhibit of the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders, showing a model  (HO) of portions of the Western North Carolina Railroad as it might have looked in the 1950s.  The exhibit is located in “downtown” Vienna, VA on the Washington and Old Dominion Bike Trail.

The exhibit is unusual in that the model railroad runs on at least three elevation levels, with a helix out-of-sight to elevate the trains.  Visitors can stand next only the lowest level.  On the lower left, there is a model of a portion of the Piedmont town of Salisbury NC.  The actual railroad ran to Asheville and then south, along the Blue Ridge, to Murphy.

The layout also has a streetcar track running parallel to some of the railroad.  At a few points, one can spot trains and tunnels at different levels within short proximity (including a little bit of the “underground” helix), as if different layers of reality could be experienced with very little movement in physical space.

The link for the club is here.

The exhibit is of interest to me because I didn’t “get in” a trip to the Smokies this October, but expect to go next summer (including a visit to Oak Ridge).

I think an exhibit that shows the same area in different time eras in repeating panels (or perhaps radially with distance from the center representing time, and  radian measure representing distance) could be interesting.  Or, in fact, time could be correspond to elevation.  
Could a model railroad be set up as a Mobius strip?

Update: Dec. 12, 2015

I revisited the annual exhibit today.  There appears to be a model of Brown Mountain with at least one light near the back ("Asheville" is hidden.).

Salisbury is shown in detail.

Friday, December 14, 2012

High school near Alexandria, VA puts on edgy Christmas comedy program -- visiting it is a pilgrimage for me

Tonight, I attended the Holiday Extravaganza at the West Potomac High School, in Fairfax County, VA, near Route 1 and relatively close (2 miles) to the Huntington and Franconia Metro stations in Alexandria. The drama event was held in the wide Kogelman Theater, the smaller of the two auditoriums in the Arts and Media Building, which is actually separated from the main campus building.

The program, 135 minutes (long for high school) comprised two one-act  comic plays (a practice sometimes seen with opera), and an intermediate skit. 

The first play (“Act One”) was “The Trial of Santa”, by Don Zolidi (about 25 min). In our litigious society, someone sues Santa Claus for invasion of privacy and discrimination.  Remember all the old commands to “be good” or someone would tell Santa?  (I even remember when my parents told me the “truth” about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny – we were in the family car, having just left the house).   This was a comedy where Santa isn’t allowed any lap dances.  The program, parents were warned, was PG-13. 

The “intermezzo” was a skit based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, based on the idea of putting a love potion on someone’s eyes to control who she will fall in love with.  It’s an idea for people who can’t face later jealousy.

There was a quick intermission, in situ (no refreshments), and then came the main event, an hour-long “Act Two”, “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some!)”, by Michael Carleton, Jim FitzGerald, and John K. Alvarez. The play consists of a long series of dialogues following the model of Saturday Night Live (on Friday night), to make fun of almost everything.  There was a lot of audience participation of sorts, from actors planted in the audience who would join on the stage.  The lights would dim and come back on.  It was hard to discern any specific structure to the play, but just about all of pop culture took a beating.   A couple of the parts donned a wig, in impersonation of Norman Bates.  Did you know that Justin Timberlake cross dresses?  Or much about the personal life of Marley?  (Movie reviews May 1, 2012)/  Or was that the dog of Marley and Me (with Owen Wilson hovering)?  Rudolf may make a good boyfriend before running the Alaskan Iditarod?  Or that Rudolf got involve in a trademark and copyright fight?   I thought it was interesting that each of two high school plays would mention, with comic effect, our society’s obsession with lawsuits – over a number of issues.  It seems as though the writers are fans of Electronic Frontier Foundation and are familiar with the problems caused by copyright and patent trolls.  There were some early jokes about "fruitcake" (Christmas "comfort food") and "nuts" (or nutmeg).   I was expected to hear “don’t ask don’t tell” to get mentioned.  Not quite, but close.  Yes, all PG-13. 
I couldn’t quite match the characters to the program. Some of the actors had trouble with the acoustics in the auditorium, but Eddie Perez  (one of the directors) was always exceptionally clear and forceful. 

The theater is ringed with posters of controversial plays that students have produced there.  These include “Titanic”, “Les Miserables”, “Inherit the Wind” (with that old time religion), “Class Acts”, “The Boy Friend”, and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”.  I could almost imagine “Do Ask Do Tell” if it existed yet.
Outdoors, in the lobby, there are some exhibits of student art work.

I do have a history with the school, as a substitute teacher from 2004-2005.  I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I do want to mention that the school has an elaborate film editing lab (the only other comparable lab I saw as a sub was at the Arlington Career Center).  An AP chemistry class in June 2005 made a short comic sci-fi film about a new element called “Reltonium” (named after a chemistry teacher).  Imagine the possibilities.  It’s embedded in a virus (maybe like crystalline astatine), so unstable that it can let the virus house a microscopic mini black hole, so that when people are infected, they can trade identities or bodies (actually happens in an episode of “Smallville”, but there are interesting theoretical possibilities – but we don’t need a fourth “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” film.

The school, in a very mixed area and not the most prosperous, has always offered an atmosphere that is an interesting mixture of conservatism (there is an ROTC Academy – which sent a team to another Alexandria concert that I reviewed here Nov. 11. 2007) and progressivism, leveraging technology and sometimes willing to challenge social norms and proprieties.  No other school at which I subbed was quite as “enigmatic”.  A few of the AP  and honors students were truly outstanding.  (Bryant Alternative, and Mount Vernon are each a few miles down Route 1, not far away, but very different in culture).  Another oddity, maybe a coincidence, is that that the varsity sports teams are called “Wolverines”, the name of the team in the movie “Red Dawn”.

There was an unsettling incident there when I was substitute teaching in 2005.  I have explained the matter in detail on my “BillBoushka” blog with the entry on July 27, 2007 (merely navigate there through Blogger Profile).  It took a lot of coincidence, including unusual items getting published a particular week in October 2005 in competing newspapers, to trigger the incident.  It is apparent, however, that some staff and perhaps others must have been distracted by some material I had published on the web (in fact, a particular fictitious screenplay for a short film) and that could have been found by search engines.  This whole matter occurred just before the major media was noticing that the Internet was creating “online reputation” issues and creating conundrums for employers and schools.  Facebook, at that time, had been invented but wasn’t fully public, and Myspace had been well known for less than a year. 

So going back was a bit of a pilgrimage.  It is a 10-mile drive from north Arlington, through difficult traffic, and changing patterns.  The Route 1 area is extremely congested during rush.  Curiously, though, as I spotted Quanderer Road and turned on the isolated, winding road, I felt that I was almost back in Tolkien country.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My own high school (W-L) gives winter orchestra concert

Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA held its winter concert for its orchestra class tonight, December 11.

The music department limits “orchestra” to strings (and percussion), and puts all wind instruments in “band”. 
The high school has a string orchestra, and a smaller chamber orchestra that requires audition. To my ear, the pitch in the chamber ensemble sounded more completely in tune.  The String orchestra had three double basses.  What makes someone want to play it (an lug the instrument around)?  I know of only one concerto for double bass, by Estonian composer Eduard Tubin.
David Lunt conducted both orchestras.

The String Orchestra started with the first movement of the Brandenberg Concerto #3 in G, First Movement, by J.S. Bach.  How do the concerti  movements of Bach, generally monothematic, relate tp the sonata form of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven? 

There followed a hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Gustav Holst, and then a suite “A Pirate’s Legend” by Soon He Newbold.

The Chamber Orchestra started with the “Capriccio Espanol” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff.  It is in four quick sections, with a violin solo played precisely by concertmaster Nathan Ullberg.  I had an Angel recording of this piece around 1961 with Galliera and the Borodin Symphony #1 on the back.  The Capriccio worked quite well in a string adaptions (by Sandra Dackow). 

There followed a settling fo Ralph Vaughn Williams’s familiar “Greensleeves” (with brief violin solo), a Toccata by Girolamo Frescobaldi, and a pop song “Molly on the Shore” by Percy Grainger. 

I graduated from W-L myself in 1961.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Timo Andres offers "Comfort Food"; can young composers write about less comforting programs?

Timothy Andres has recently (Nov. 2012) preformed his new short chamber work “Comfort Food”, for nonet (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, two violins, viola, cello, bass), and women’s choir.  In the performance, the Milwaukee Choral Artists sing the vocal part.

The piece has a lot of blocks of sound and repetition, and to my ear built themes in a manner than resembles Britten.

The best place for the link is his Nov. 27, 2012 blog posting here

Timo has also posted a complete performance of his “It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer” (see my Dec. 11, 2010 posting).  He says it is somewhat revised.  My ear is starting to learn some of the suite now, and some of the melodic effects near the end are quite striking and beautiful (the way early Schoenberg is beautiful).  So are the repetitions, sometimes in blocks of unusual time signatures like 5/4.  I peaked at  the sample score pages on EAM PSNY Project Schott (link ), and noticed that there are key signatures, which surprised me.  The effect on my ear is properly atonal.  By the way,  Schott does sell scores (digital and printed)  online.

As the music played on my computer (sorry, not a Mac, but Windows 7), I worked on some loose ends in my “Do Ask Do Tell” screenplay.  The twinkling piano figures seem to fit the mood of a scene I was editing, which was an initiation scene on a space station run by extraterrestrial angels (the angels, as well as the abductees, have to avoid immolation themselves, but that’s another matter).  I felt like I could switch over to the ground bass music from Hans Zimmer’s score to “Inception”.  I don’t know if Joseph Gordon-Levitt  (aka “Arthur”) could survive my ritual tests as one of my “angels” as well as he bikes in “Premium Rush”.  Film score composition, they say, is a “real job”. 

I’ll be curious to see “Trade Secrets” get posted; “Trade Winds” is already available (reviewed here July 10, 2012).

He talked about Ravel (“Mother Goose”) and Richard Strauss (“Death and Transfiguration”, Op. 24) recently on his blog.  I did the Ravel myself here on Dec. 1, but I was curious enough to drag out a Vox CD of the Strauss , a 1986 original digital recording by the Cincinnati Symphony with Michael Gielen.  The program notes try to explain Strauss’s abstract intentions in writing a romantic  tone poem about  body-to-spirit “transition” when he was only twenty-five.  He must have been healthy enough, because he wouldn’t get to compose his “Metamorphosen” for 23 solo strings (also on the CD) until he was in his seventies.  Anyway, composers do write ruminations about the fragility of life and civilization. We’ve seen that before.  It’s noteworthy a descending three-note motive in “Tod und Verkalrung” seems to appear also in the first movement of the Mahler Ninth, toward the end.  Modern music as we know it begins with that latter work.

The LA Philharmonic explains the Struass piece here. Remember, Boito was young when he composed his "Mefistofele". But Boito was more a writer than composer.  
The picture is a kind of “comfort food”.  It’s an “autumn salad” (with beets and squash tips)  served by the Angelika Mosaic Film Center cafĂ© in Merrifield, VA (while in one of their bags, before opening).  By the way, Timo once said that the gentle Symphoy #7 by Prokofiev is "comfort food" (you can skip the loud ending if you want).  I much prefer the Sixth, with its crash and burn experience at the end (review May 5, 2011).  Who can pass up “another  Op. 111”? 

Update: Dec. 19

Check an article by Ted Gordon at PSNY, "Timo Andres's Earthly Feast", link here. "Comfort" may have taken on a new meaning recently.  I understand that there is a String Quartet, and a Piano Quintet coming, if I have things right.  I still have to go back and remember Ted Hearne's "Parlor Diplomacy" (Aug. 24, 2011), which is discomfort food for politicians who can't work together, especially in Congress now.   If you want to make a political or social statement about something, compose an abstract piano or orchestra piece or suite about it, and get it performed.

Richard Dyer had written a prospective assessment of Timo's composing in the Boston Globe back in August, 2004, when Timo was 19 (link).  He mentions other large works, like a one-movement Piano Concerto and a full Piano Sonata.  Andres has preferred smaller forms , or suites of smaller pieces (like ("Shy and Mighty" or "..Good Composer") during recent years, but there are reports of a string Quartet and a new Piano Quintet (to be performed by pianist Jonathan Biss [Dec 1, Dec 20 2012 on this blog] and the Elias Quartet in California in the Spring of 2013).  It will be interesting to me to see how he would handle a full large form (Symphony, opera, etc.)    Andres particularly admires Robert Schumann's smaller pieces.  But remember, Schumann also composed the monumental ("post Op. 111") Fantasy in C (really a huge 3-movement sonata).

Also, it looks like corporate media likes the name "comfort foods" now, maybe out of awareness pf Timo's piece.  That may hold for "Southern Living".  Just be careful to keep the foods low fat and low sugar.
  Update: Jan. 7, 2013

Timo has posted his "Trade Secrets" on his website.  The piece for cello, violin, flute and percussion explores a rising four-note melody in different key signatures, a little bit like a moving ground bass (as in a chaconne).  The title of the piece has a definite meaning "in the law", especially in the employment world. Salman Khan (of the Khan Academy) would like the tutorial value of this little piece.

Update: Feb. 4, 2013

Timo's Jan. 29, 2013 blog posting gives a link to his performance of the Mazurka #2 by  Thomas Ades.a "leggerio" piece (the Lizst "Dance of the Gnomes" comes to mind).  I have yet to see a toy bicycle, cyclist (or piano and pianist) in a "parlor" model railroad layout.  But there's always a first time.

Update: Feb. 16. 2013

Check Timo's event schedule for upcoming concerts, particularly at Walter Reade Theater (NYC) and Library of Congress (Washington DC).  Timo will enjoy the Bike and Roll emporium at Union Station.

Update: March 9, 2014

WQXR (4/2012) talks about the "reverent but witty world" of Timo's work here

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Arlington church features British music (Chilcott) for Christmas concert

The Trinity Presbyterian Church of Arlington VA presented its Christmas choral concert at the 11:15 AM traditional worship service.

The program was dedicated to British Christmas music.

The organ prelude was a setting of "Six Interludes on Christmas Carols" by William.S. Lloyd Webber (site ).

The other solo organ music (all played by Carol Feather Martin) was a “Carillon on ‘Quittez, Pasterus’” by Rosalie Bonighton, and a rowdy setting of “Unto Us a Son Is Born” by Christopher Tambling, with lots of four-note scale themes up and down.   At this church, the audience sits for the postlude and applauds.
But the highlight of the service was the 25-minute, 8-movement cantata “On Christmas Night” by Bob Chilcott.  That’s not Christmas Eve!  (In fact, the “Nutcracker”, played for Christmas, is supposed to happen on New Years Eve.)  The Chancel Choir (mixed ages), Children’s Choir, and organ (Matthew Stensrud), flute, oboe, harp and percussion were conducted by Carol Feather Martin.  The music rather resembles that of John Rutter, sounding a bit less modal or idiosyncratic than the popular Britten piece “A Ceremony of Carols” which the church has presented in other years. 

The percussion included a triangle and glockenspiel, as well as tongs.  The student who played them mentioned to me the summer camp at Tanglewood and that a student orchestra had played the Mahler Symphony #6 last summer (the “hammer stroke” symphony with the “Alma” theme, and the odd “tritone” relationship of the slow movement, a concept that I discussed in the last posting).  Mahler (in his middle and late symphones) used the glockenspiel a lot.  See my posting here about Tanglewood Aug. 15, 2012.

I don’t usually get into politics on this blog except as it is dealt with in music or drama. But there was an announcement before the service on an information forum on the Palestinian refugee problem, on Dec. 23 at 10 AM.

For today’s sermon “A Refiner’s Fire”, the Congregation was told to look online. It seems to be located on Googe+, but I presume it will be made fully public soon.   

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Tchaikovsky Symphony 3 dazzles at Kennedy Center "Polish" Program; also, Lutoslawski, Chopin

I remember a 1995 film “Heat” and a famous confrontation between the mob characters played by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Somewhere around that scene, the music score played some of the violin concerto of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski.

This week’s concert at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC at the Kennedy Cemter features  a “Polish” Program as its theme. I’ll get back to that.  The opening of the concert, conduced by Austrian Hans Graf, as a short suite for strings, in four movements, called “Musique funebre” ("Funeral Music") by Lutoslawski.  It’s pretty far from the Strauss Metamorphosen, and closer to Bartok (the “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta”).  The style could be characterized as a hybrid (bad word since Sandy) of Bartok and Schoenberg.  The music has the arch structures common in Bartok.  The sense of atonality comes not so much must from tone rows but also from the use of tritones (augmented fourth intervals, like C to F#), which maintain a sense of ambiguity of tonality while allowing more repetition of the same note.  The particular interval is mathematically one-half an octave (that is, a frequency ratio of “square root of 2” over 1), which makes it effect symmetrical.  The notes mention the political problems that Lutoslawski faced in Communist Poland with some of his music being seen as too "cosmopolitan" and disrespectful to the proletariat.  

That opening piece was followed by the somewhat stodgy Piano Concerto #1 in E Minor, Op. 11, by Frederic Chopin.  I actually had an expensive record of this when I was a junior in High School, after I had gotten to know the more “thrilling” romantic concerti of Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, and Liszt.  The soloist was Beijing born Yuja Wang.  Both Chopin concerti are criticized for being too piano-centric, but I could challenge that idea.  The first movement is curious in the way it offers some long rather colorless orchestral tutti, at the beginning of the development and as the coda as well as the opening  ritornello.  The program explains that Chopin stayed focused on the tonal center of E, not reaching the relative major of G for the second theme until the recapitulation.  What’s more notable to my ear is that the piano part in the first movement doesn’t seem to end on the tonic, but leaves the orchestra to return to E minor by itself.  The second movement is a nocturne and more tonally adventurous (even if it starts in the same E), but not up to the writing of  Chopin’s most original  nocturnes (like the G Minor).  In fact, I’ve read nice things about the little known posthumous nocturnes, and would like to hear them.  The finale has always sounded lively but rather fluffy.  The use of scales and grand arpeggios near the end gets interesting, though, and sometimes has been a source of inspiration for contemporary piano music. 

I think that the second concerto (F Minor) is more interesting to my ear.  Chopin can seem trivial and superficial, or he can be grand and profound, as in all the Sonatas (which are masterpieces), the Ballades (who can beat the perverse violence that closes the G Minor Ballade?), and at least the C# Minor Scherzo.  The military polonaises don’t work so well for me, but we’ll come back to that.  I tend to disagree that Chopin was only a miniaturist composer.  His large piano solo works provide real adventure; he just doesn’t need orchestra.

The piano performance by Yuja Wang seemed a bit light on the loafers.  Her dress was gorgeous, but, as some male patrons noticed, “showy”.  I could ask, why not perform a Hummel concerto instead of Chopin – but then the program isn’t all “Polish”.

Like Jonathan Biss last week, the pianist was offering CD’s for sales, and this time the line was longer after the show to go to the Green Room for autographs.  She also got two encores, but maybe female pianists have that advantage.

After the intermission, we heard the work I came for, the Symphony #3 in D Major, Op. 29, by Tchaikovsky. This work is big, episodic (in five movements, almost like a suite) and loud, and seems to demand ballet.  (“The Nutcracker” was playing next door.)  Some of the passages make me remember the young Clark Kent (Tom Welling on the CWTV series) showing off his “speed” as if a dancer, and I think this music was used a few times in the background score (I’ve seen at least one young man do this – maybe extraterrestrials walk among us).  The program notes compare the work to Robert Schumann’s “Rhenish”,  but the style of the work (even if a bit Germanic at times) is quite different.  The first movement pays its dues with a slow introduction in D Minor before bursting forth with its blazing D Major scale theme in the Exposition.  The development offers fugal writing.  The second movement is an intermezzo in German style (anticipating Mahler , maybe). The third movement is a wonderful, passionate slow movement with plenty of ballet motion.  The fourth movement is an elfish scherzo (almost like Mendelssohn), and the finale makes a grandiose experience with a true Polonaise. This works better for me than Chopin’s own exercises in the form.  The development section, leveraging the rhythmic complexity of the triple-time dance, becomes a complex fugue (we don’t have to wait for the Mahler Fifth), and the recapitulation turns the Polonaise into a “Big Tune” before whirling us away into a presto coda, with themes progressively compacting into simpler balletic repetitions, crashing down on final D’s with drum rolls. Imagine dirty dancing in a gay disco to this music, or, try "Dancing with the Stars", too.  (I just wonder if the men really look like men on DWTS anymore.)
The “Applause” theme in my last sonata uses the “tritone” modulation concept to produce tonal ambiguity and link tonal centers in an unusual way.  When I first envisioned it, it seemed to have too much affinity to the Chopin A Major Polonaise, as the first downward interval is the same.  Mut my theme starts changing time signatures (from 4/4 to 6/4) and key signatures quickly, and has not relation to the polonaise rhythm, except maybe for one measure!

Here’s a YouTube version of the Finale of the Symphony #3 played by Edvard Tchivzhel and the USSR State Symphony, link.

Wikipedia attribution link for Krakow, Poland picture. I was there one night in May 1999 (I arrived that morning on the train East from Berlin, visited Auschwitz that day/) 

Friday, December 07, 2012

Artisphere hosts "W3FI" digital experiment (in Arlington VA)

Here’s a real-time experience where an audience’s tweets are part of the show. It’s “W3FI: A Digital Experience Revealing the Connections Between our Online and Offline Worlds”, best explained at this link. The experience was developed by Chris Coleman and Laleh Mehran.  The artists have a separate Wordpress blog here

I visited this exhibit last night at the Artisphere in the Rosslyn business district of Arlington VA.  I don’t have Twitter or my Google account set up on my Mobile smartphone, because I travel with a netbook laptop and iPad and don’t really need to.  (And, really, who wants to get texts and tweets when on a disco dance floor anyway?  They’re disruptive.)

You can see your face in the exhibit by tweeting “I” or “we” with your location turned on. Don’t do this if you’re hyper about privacy.

This exhibit is focused on the DC area.  It’s easy to imagine this in NYC or LA. 

The event runs from Dec. 6, 2012 to Jan. 20, 2013.  Refreshments were served last night with the event. 

There is also an exhibit by Jonathan Monaghan, "Rainbow Narcosis", on the video wall above the staircase.  Jonathan's link is here.  

If you go to the Artisphere, pay close attention to the parking directions at night in the garage.  You must get the ticket validated after all.  

Thursday, December 06, 2012

"Six Characters in Search of an Author": can someone live forever as a playwright's (or screenwriter's) character?

Imagine that you and maybe other members of your family or social cohort have experienced some kind of irreversible tragedy. You have become nameless, even forgotten.  You wander in an underworld, maybe as troubadours. You find a theater company.  You expect that you can be reborn as characters in a play. Then you realize someone, an author, has to play god, and give you karma, lifeforce, purpose.  You will live in a small world set up in the mind of another. 

That’s the precept of “Six Characters in Search of an Author”, an experimental play (90 min) by Luigi Pirandetto, translated into English by Carl B. Muetter, directed by Tom Prewitt.  It plays in the Black Box Theater at the Artisphere in Arlington VA, through December 9, 2012. 

My own idea is that the characters could wind up living inside a model railroad, or perhaps in a website or Second Life. 

The stage was arena-style, with seats on two sides of a square.  The actors could be extremely close to some of the audience, like one or two seats away. You could hear them talking in low undertones.  The stagecraft was simple, with a lot of plywood works, some old furniture, some garden stuff, and a violin.

There are fourteen players in the whole production, about half in the supposed theater  company, and about half are homeless, looking to become their own characters in someone’s play.

Could one attain immortality this way?  Or is one the same person in someone else’s model world than he was before?  Can identities merge and be experienced as one?  These are some of the questions the script poses.  Stephen Hawking could take a shot at them.

The link for the play, presented by WSC Avant Bard, is here.

The cast includes Bruce Alan Raucscher, Jon Jon Johnson, Liz Dutton, Liz Dutton.   

This play would lend itself to indie film. IMDB says it was a TV movie in 1976. But it fits into an ambitious genre in the movies if it ever happens (like "Cloud Atlas", "Tree of Life", "Inception", Judas Kiss", etc.)  Maybe Tom Tykwer or Christopher Nolan would like this.  

The music at the end sounded a bit like Poulenc  - a bit eclectic.  

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Valcuha and Biss perform Szymanowski, Mozart, Ravel, Debussy for NSO; the Mozart concerto is indeed a "complete" curiosity

The National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC offered “youth” tonight – a young guest conduct and pianist. Yup, bring on the kids.  Well, not exactly.  It takes a lot to play with the major orchestras these days. But it may not “take a long time” to become a successful artist, for the talented and hard-working.

The conductor was Juraj Valcuha, 36, and it was his opening selection that attracted me to the concert. That was the Concert Overture in E Major, Op. 12 (1905) by Karol Szymanowski.  I reviewed that composer’s violent opera “King Roger” and his two symphonies in September here.  The Overture, published at age 23, is a thick and exuberant Sonata-allegroi very easy  to follow in form, but with themes that seem a bit contrived.  The style does resemble Richard Strauss, and the program notes compares it to that composer’s “Don Juan”, but this piece is much more conventional in form. The opening figure  resembles a similar ditty in the last movement of the late Sinfonietta in D Minor by Alexander Zemlinsky.   Unlike the Strauss piece, the ending is “formally” loud and crashes to its logically triumphant conclusion, not allowing the listener to react.  Sometimes I had the feeling that I was watching a treasure hunt sequence in an Alfred Hitchcock film.  Maybe the music would work for Christopher Nolan (“Inception”) – although Nolan does well with Hans Zimmer.  Yet, for all the piece’s conventionality and rhetoric, I liked it. Valchua did his level best to keep the sound transparent (that means, like middle Mahler).

The next entry was the Piano Concerto #13 in C Major by Mozart, played by pianist Jonathan Biss, 32. K387b (or K415). (I don’t have high German characters for a double “s” on my keyboard, nor do I have accents, carets or cedillas.)  There is a private joke that the “initiated” will get: the artists did not choose to perform the “incomplete” (depending on how you see things) Coronation Concerto for this particular concert.  Actually, the #13 may sound a bit like a preview of #21, but the opening movement has a lot of the martial element and sleek tonal transitions that Beethoven would use himself in his own C Major Piano Concerto (#1).  The second movement is a simple Andante in F.  The Rondo is a bit of a curious musical offering.  It opens with a rollicking 6/8 subject in C (easy to score in Sibelius, probably), but the first episode (as Mozart anticipated TV sitcoms) is a curious Largo in 2/4 and C Minor – unusual in Mozart’s finales.  The piece slows down at the end for a simple quiet ending, again unusual and a bit foppish, perhaps courtly.  (The notes say that only three of Mozart’s concerti do this -- it's rare with major piano concerti, although Furtwangler's massive piano concerto on Marco Polo ends quietly, too.)  I guess if you’re not going to pick a “recomposed” concerto (#26), pick an eccentric, understated one like this.  I do remember reading #27 in high school, and it always seemed subdued for late Mozart.

The second half of the program gave us a tour of impressionism.  (No more German post-romanticism.) The five movement “Mother Goose Suite”  (“Ma Mere l’Oye”) by Maurice Ravel emphasizes slow tempi, and open sound, and a nice climax at the end of the last piece.  This is a piece for families and children, and pets.  I don’t think that Richard Parker (the tiger from “Life of Pi”) gets noted in the piece, but if Ravel were alive today, he would he impressed by the big cat’s desire to become a good person.  (Hey. There’s a cute cat on SNL tonight as I type this.)

The last composition is the warhorse, “La Mer”, by Claude Debussy, the Rosicrucian.  This three-part tone poem always sounds lush and pseudo-romantic, much more so that some of Debussy’s more disciplined works (like “Iberia”, which I had a Munch recording of as a boy, or “Jeux”).  It can be loud when it needs to be.  I’ve always felt that Britten gives me a more  cogent idea of what the ocean is like (as in “Billy Budd”) than Debussy does.  The one major work of Debussy that I would love to hear performed live is the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian – I was a way when it was performed last year.  I have an old Bernstein record of it.

After the concert, Jonathan Biss signed CD’s in the Green Room, near the entrance to the Kennedy Center.  His website is here. He focuses on Beethoven and Schumann, and I see that he has performed the big Fantasy in C, which was Schumann’s idea of an extra post-Op. 111 Beethoven Sonata (see Jan. 20, 2011 posting here – I just love that March). I didn’t see the “Kreisleriana” mentioned there – part of any pianist’s initiation.  (It may have taken Schumann a “long time” to compose it.)

Note the Beethoven Sonata #5 finale here, ends quietly, like the aforementioned Mozart.