Friday, January 18, 2013

For me, the Brahms Second Symphony was the drawing card to the Kennedy Center; Tzimon Barto dazzles with a Bartok concerto

I’ll get why I went to the National Symphony Concert  at the Kennedy Center tonight in a moment.

The resident music director  Christoph Eschenbach opened the program with the Overture to Egmont, Op. 84, by Beethoven.  My experience with the piece comes from Otto Klemperer on Angel in the early 60s. The play by Goethe (upon which Beethoven set his incidental music) is said to have a correspondence to the modern history struggle of eastern Europe to free itself from the Soviet Union.  The overture (it sounds like F Minor) changes to major at the end for a prestissimo finish.  The performance was straightforward.

The concert continued with the Piano Concerto #2 in G, Sz 95, by Bela Bartok, considered one of the most difficult piano concerti in the literature.  (I thought the Rachmaninoff #3 had earned that honor.)  The piece is “famous” for its symmetrical “arch within an arch” form, where the second movement is ternary, and where the finale recapitulates, even faster, the motives of the first movement.  (The "arch within an arch" is like Clive Barker's "fish within a fish (squared)".)  The music is absorbing, and mixed impressionism with neoclassicism, with Bartok’s own trademarked modal harmonies and motives.  The effect is difficult to describe.  During the second movement (after those random dour dissonant grunts from the strings m-- anticipating Lutoslawski), I got hypnotized looking at the chandeliers above me in the auditorium, and started imagining them as pods housing aliens.  (I waill accept nothing less.)

The pianist was Tzimon Barto (apparently about 40, link), who is also an author and playwright (“A Lady of Greek Origin"), and a bit of a linguist (like Tolkien, perhaps) according to the program notes.   And like Timo Andres (Dec. 11, 2010 review) he plays the Schumann Kreisleriana  After the performance, Barto added an encore, a transcription of a Bach aria.  As for Barto's book and play, I couldn’t find a current version on Amazon. The similarity of the pianist's surname to that of the composer (except for one letter) is perhaps just a coincidence.

It appeared that Barto was reading sheet music at the piano.  I thought pianists always played from memory. Why not use the iPad? I think that page-turning software exists.  
Now, for the meat course (my reason for coming), after the Intermission.  That was the Brahms Symphony #2 in D Major, Op. 73.  The program notes make a lot of the mixture of melancholia (like Lars Von Trier) and  pastoral moods (as Brahms envisioned it), but seems sunny today.  The first movement seems like an animated slow movement, with a lot of syncopation based on triple time, and tricks you into thinking it is starting with a slow introduction.  Eschenbach took the repeat.  The audience clapped after the noble slow movement in B Major, which is followed by a light scherzo (for Brahms) in G.  Each of the first three movements ends quietly, with a chord dying away, and the orchestra really never achieved a real pianissimo for any of these.  

The joy of the piece is the robust finale, which at one point (before the Recapitulation) makes a reference to the opening of the Beethoven Ninth (aka opening of the Mahler First).  The closing measures, with their unbelievable syncopation and acceleration, come crashing down in a kind of ultimate triumph, even matching the joy at the end of the somber First Symphony.

The piece is important to me because of its connection to my lost first semester at the College of William and Mary in the fall of 1961 (the “BillBoushka” blog, Nov. 28, 2006 posting).  One day, it started to play on my roommate’s clock-radio in the dorm room in Brown Hall, and he went on a tirade against classical music. He felt positively nauseated by the effect of the very beginning. I suppose for some people the effect of breaking a rolling triple meter into duple syncopation and cross rhythms as Brahms lies to do can create an urge. A lot of personal history (mine) resulted. 

I had another friend there (posting here Jan. 8, 2013) with whom I saw the film “Aimez-vous Brahms” (or  "Goodbye Again", by Anatole Litvak) that semester, in which the sad minuetto from the Third Symphony appears.

Let me come back to the finale.  The program notes mention the Brahms Violin Concerto, also in D, which would soon follow.  In the 2007 film “There Will Be Blood” director Paul Thomas Anderson used the finale, almost complete, of the concerto for the closing credits.  I remember, by chance, sitting next to a high school or college student (about 17 or so)  who attended with his family, and was quite transfixed by the use of the concerto in the credits.
I think that the Finale of the Second would make great closing credits for a movie – maybe my movie.  But you have to play it all (about eight minutes) and the credit roll to finish as the last chords come down.  

When I arrived at the Kennedy Center, a performance of a country-western group called "Poor Old Shine" was concluding on the Millennium Stage. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New technology (in a new licensing package for film music) helps composers check for originality

There is a new product, called Score Revolution, an "online platform for licensing film music", as explained today in detail in Marketwire, (website url) here.  The story was tweeted by Digital Media and Potomac Tech Wire today.

The product is interesting because it apparently archives themes and motives, and allows film composers to check against an existing library for similar material.  There are features called Explore Search and Upload Search that look for acoustic patterns in other music.  Some of the technology was developed in Denmark by a company named Syntonetic.

That would seem to be useful for music composers in general. For example, in one of my pieces, there is a superficial similarity between a "big tune" and a similar figure in a famous Chopin Polonaise.  I want to make sure that the effect is totally original.

An example of something that this product could probably locate is similarity to the "ground bass" concept of Hans Zimmer's riveting score to the movie "Inception" (March 22, 2011).  Or take the Golijov controversy (March 8, 2012).

You would think that such a product capability could be integrated (online) into a music composition platform like Sibelius.

Composers don't want to hear listeners say, "I've heard that before."  Yet, all composition involves some copying.

Also: a piano staircase in Sweden:

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Recalling a friend's concerto from 1961; reconstructing lost music from memory; organ news

Yesterday, I tried recreating, from memory, a Piano Concerto in E-flat that a freshman classmate at William and Mary in the fall of 1961 said he had composed.

He also said he had composed “57 symphonies”, a claim that sounded fanciful.  104 symphonies from Haydn I can believe, but just barely.

I played from memory on the Casio, and the stiff piano action is a bit of a problem compared to a regular piano.

The first movement had a uprising scale theme that I remember, and then it wound itself back down with a fugato like cartwheel.  The movement was monothematic (like Haydn) and didn’t have a lot development.  The second movement was a kind of larghetto in G minor, with some repeated notes (on D) followed by a descending tetrachord.  The composer (his name was John G. De Long and he had come east from Pasadena, CA) said that the theme had come to him in a hospital setting one time.  All I recall of the schezando finale was that it combined themes from the first two movements, but in triple time.  A quiet, playful ending seemed appropriate, allowing response. This piece was supposed to be “real music”, neoclassical, 18th Century-like, without any hint of superfluous emotion.

I played it from ear and recorded it into Sibelius 7, and then let Sibelius clean it up with the “renotate” facility under “Note  Input” and “Flexi-Time”.

He had played the piece (lasting about 15 minutes total) in a practice room in what was then Ewell Hall. A lot of buildings have been renamed since.  As to what would happen to me there subsequently, I’ve explained in detail in other blogs (such as “BillBoushka”, Nov. 28, 2006).

I remember visiting his family in California over Thanksgiving in 1967.  I remember the home, and riding through the Pasadena Tunnel. I would finish my Master’s in Mathematics at the University of Kansas the following January, and go right into the Army.  The rifle range would not be good for my right ear.  Those were the times I grew up in.

John would say he had played my A Major “Sonatina” for a gathering that winter.  I lost the manuscript, but recently recreated it in Logic in 2011 practically the same day I bought a MacBook. (I need to get it converted to Sibelius somehow).  The first movement had  a perfunctory scalar theme that was said to give away my sexuality.  The last movement is a rather simple tarantella (back to A Minor, with no Picardy Third at the end – like Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony or Brahms’s first Piano Trio) and I swear that the theme music at Tribeca Film Festival played before the movie starts sounds just like it.  Maybe somebody who grew up in Padadena and heard it has a long memory.

I did attend the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC on Sunday (Jan. 6), and it looks like it will be at least March before the sanctuary is re-opened and the new organ is ready. 

One other note. The first movement of the Brahms Piano Trio #1 may be the only Sonata movement in a Major key whose second theme is in a relative minor (except for my own third sonata).  A nice bit of trivia for Millionaire. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

More "Trains of Christmas", in Hagerstown, MD

I’ll open the New Year with just a brief picture show of my visit Dec. 30 to the RoundHouse railroad museum Dec. 30 in Hagerstown, MD, link here, for the “Trains of Christmas” exhibit.

The trains are on four levels, and as with the museum in Vienna VA Dec. 16, only the front portion is visible to visitors.  The third and fourth levels connect with an inclined plane that the trains have to climb.

The exhibit has both O and HO trains, and features many older passenger trains and self-propelled streetcars, and one steam engine that swivels on curves. 

The scenery seems less “real” than that of some other exhibits, with somewhat toylike buildings.  The modeling could be viewed as based on the geography of Garrett county (the westernmost in Maryland, behind the “Eastern Continental Divide” as along the modern I-68).