Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Aaron Copland's "The Second Hurricane" (Bernstein, 1960) is a fitting work to hear now

Along the lines of recent postings about the challenges posed by hurricanes and various other natural disasters – and the call for “radical hospitality” –  I found a 1998 Sony CD of Leonard Bernstein’s recording with the New York Philharmonic of Aaron Copland’s “The Second Hurricane”, a 45-minute “play opera” popular with high schools, composed in 1936, and performed in April 1960, when I was a junior in high school.

The “values” behind the work, however, sound particularly applicable now.  The work is scored for soloists, chamber orchestra, and two small “choruses” of parents and students.   The work is narrated by Bersntein himself, with a rather gentle voice.  In the story, a hurricane has truck a southern island community in 1935.  Some high school students, prominent members of their class – talented and popular – “volunteer” to go help assist the victims. They actually fly to the destination – and in 1935, during the Great Depression, flying was a real novelty.  But the plane is forced to land in a remote area of the island as a second hurricane approaches.
The kids suddenly find themselves “selfish” in their concerns about their own survival and comfort, and have to pull and work together, almost like members of a new military unit – to make it.  Is this a story about “unit cohesion”?
The music is rather lightweight and consonant, with a cheery ending.
The performance on the CD is preceded by the 16 minute a cappella performance of Aaron Copland’s “In the Beginning” (based on Genesis), with Martha Lipton, mezzo-soprano, and the Chorus Pro Musica, a mono recording made in May 1953.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

More little pieces (from a big sonata-fantasy) for my "piano project" posted

Wednesday, April 17, 2013, I recorded and uploaded a few more excerpts from my library of piano music that I had composed as a much younger man.

The elements are in the same directory that I named in my posting April 1, 2013.  For each piece, there is a pdf and an mp3 file. 

The first piece is the “Polytonal Prelude” in D and E simultaneously.  It takes about 5 minutes. The tempo is slow, although some of the passages should be faster (eighth and sixteenth notes) than I played the,.  When I recorded this on Sibelius, I had left the max bars setting at 800, not realizing that Sibleius and later iTunes (for "mp3" conversion from "aiff") would reserve much more space than needed.  For the other pieces, I limited it to 100 measures, making the file smaller (just 4 meg).  This piece was composed around 1974.

The other three pieces are from the Piano Sonata #3, in “C”, which I wrote in longhand (the first three movements)  at age 18 after being forced to come home from William and Mary, and starting at GWU in February 1962.  I sketched the finale in 1974 and have entered the Finale, with difficulty, into Sibelius.

The three excerpts are as follows:  “ExcSon31Dev”, about 4 minutes, a fugato from the development section of the first movement.  The movement had started with a playful theme in C, and then presented a quick second subject in A minor.  The development is all over the place, but the heart of it was a fugato that was supposed to be twelve-tone.  The tempos are supposed to vary more than they do here, given my ability to play it after these years;  the leggeiro is supposed to be really fast, interrupting the deliberate pace of the fugato. 

“ExcSon32Trio” is a simulation of the Trio of the scherzo.  The main scherzo is an octave-driven prestissimo in A-flat which I cannot play and need a professional pianist (I can name some).  The Trio, a “fake it” triumphal “march” (in 9/4) with more chords and octaves, in F Major and minor, has an “inner child” trio in C# Minor, a little waltz, which I simulate.

“ExcS33Hymn” is a hymn theme in B Major, very chromatic (I had trouble with the accidentals as I sat down to play it), about 2 minutes.  Surrounding it is an E-f;at minor liturgy, a harmonized tone row, and then some dirges in B-flat minor and F# minor as march-like figures.  This was not a good time in my life.  My father had experienced a mild heart attack over my “expulsion” for admitting “latent homosexuality” which was out-of-bounds when I was growing up.  
By the way, the Finale is playful (I talked about it April 1), but then interacts with another hymn “Applause” tune in the tritonal key of F# Major, which modulates among relative majors and minors in every possible path back to C for a triumphant close, while almost mocking a particular style of guitar-based love song.  Yes, “Do me”, but “Imagine Me in Good Clothes”.   

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Snuhgie" does benefit concert for faith-based water projects; the music of a North Korean defector

On Saturday, April 13, 2013, the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA held a benefit concert from the Christian jazz and vocal group Snuhgie, as a benefit for    “Living Waters for the World” .
The site for the charity, which sponsors work on water projects in developing countries, is here. The work includes groups sponsored by major congregations (they are big and expensive and require preparation) and probably placement of engineering graduates (civil and mechanical engineering) in projects.  As a first job, working as an engineer in the developing world looks great on a resume. A distant relative of mine, from Ohio, did that in Guatemala. (See Books blog, June 2. 2007). 
The concert started with a jazz rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and was followed by a number of Christian medleys.  The diction (the words) sometimes was hard to understand.
The link for the Snuhgie group is here
Let's change the subject:

Saturday, CNN told briefly the story of North Korean defector Ma Young Ae, who plays concerts on a native instrument called the yanggeum, a stringed instrument struck by mallets.  The Washington City Paper has an account here about her playing at the US Senate. 

The video above appears to have been recorded in South Korea about a year ago.

There is one other dot-point item this morning. On NBC this morning, as the President's address, the parents of one of the Sandy Hook (CT) child victims mentioned that her six-year old son had been a piano prodigy.  

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Carnegie Hall concert of Elias String Quartet, Jonathan Biss, and Timo Andres's new Piano Quintet is online

I learned that one could listen to the entire concert at Carnegie Hall with the Elias Quartet on April 2, so I did so, with the NPR url here.  So Sunday afternoon I made an electronic retro trip to NYC;  I had known about the concert but just didn't have time for the trip this week. 
The program notes at Carnegie Hall are here.
The pianist was Jonathan Biss, with the members Sara Bitlloch, violin; Donald Grant, violin; Martin Saving, viola;  Marie Bitlloch, cello. 

The program is centered around the “manic-depressive” Robert Schumann, but we’ll come back to that.
‘The program opened with the Piano Quartet #2 in E-flat by Mozart. K. K493.  The work sounds lightweight compared to the G Minor Quartet and didn’t, to my ear, have the pathos of a lot of Mozart;s other chamber works.

The program continued with the String Quartet #2 by Leos Janacek, subtitled “Intimate Letters”, based on a “platonic” relationship between the composer and Kamila Stosslova.  The four movement work is quite passionate and ends in the unusual key of D-flat major (with dissonance) thrown in. Dohanyi also has a quartet in that unusual key.  But the work here ends with a bit of triumph.  The tone is idiosyncratic Janacek and a bit postromantic (1928).

During the intermission, the host interviews Biss, and then composers Gabriel Kahane and Timo Andres.
An excerpt from Biss’s recording of the Beethoven Fantasy for Piano in G Minor, Op. 77 (10 minutes), was played.  I wanted to hear it all, so I looked it up on YouTube afterward.  I do have it on a CD somewhere.  On my Casio, it sounds like the work ends in B Major.  Is that really the relative major B-flat?  Still, unusual for Beethoven.  The theme of this work inspired the opening of the first piano concerto by Shostakovich.  
That was to prepare for the third work in the program, the NYC premier of the Piano Quintet by Timo Andres.  (By the way, the hosts pronounce his name with short I’s;  I think other pronunciations sound more decisive.)   Biss (instead of Andres himself) plays the piano part.

The twenty-minute work has five movements, and is based on a four-note theme that occurs in Robert Schumann’s mammoth C Major Fantasy for piano.  Andres’s style is often predicated on building new themes or blocks of music out of repeated notes or motives.  This work, in places, is more lush and postromantic in feel than some of his other music.  The movements are titled “Canons and Fables”, “Boulder Pushing”, “Tenderly”, “Lenticular Postcard”, and “Pyramid Scheme”.  The second movement seemed to be a slow movement, almost monumental in character;  the title of the movement reminds one of the movie “127 Days” (about the hiker trapped by a boulder in Utah) but the music doesn’t.  The appearance of the score of the last movement is said to look like a set of pyramids, going up and down.   No, I don’t think this is a pun on Wall Street (or Social Security).  The work does end quietly, and a bit indeterminately.
The program closed with the warm Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 47, of Robert Schumann (not to be confused with the Quintet).  The third movement reminds me of the Romanza in the Second Symphony, and this work is also grandiose at the end.  

I recall hearing Mahler's Second Symphony performed at Carnegie Hall around 1975 when I was living in NYC, by a visiting orchestra.

Also -- today, I visited the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC; the sanctuary had re-opened March 31.  I could see the pipes of the new organ.  The service was still conducted with piano (including more Bach transcriptions).

Friday, April 05, 2013

Timo Andres and Gabriel Kahane give "mixage" recital at Library of Congress in Washington

The Nationals may have left town for the weekend (not for the best, I hear), but maybe the “Yankees” paid us a visit, at least in the Coolidge Auditorium in the Jefferson Building (the main one) of the Library of Congress in Washington DC, one block from the Supreme Court.

I went to a few Sunday night concerts at the Library when I was a patient at NIH in 1962. It’s different now.  You have to go through security to go in, and even have bags checked as you leave.  This is the ultra “public library” (main blog, Feb. 23).

The artists in this recital were Timo Andres (composer and pianist) and Gabriel Kahane (composer, vocalist and pianist).  The concert was called “Songs of America” but there as a bit of the UK and Germany thrown in.

The concert started with a four-hands duet of the Bach Chorale Prelude “O Lamm Gottes, BWV 618). The pianists used the piano on the left side, which had a brighter sound. Andres got an incredible ringing tone from the treble.  The transcription is by Gyorgy Kurtag.  One of these pianos had belonged to George Gershwin (not sure, I think the one on the right). 
Next Kahane sung for selections from Benjamin Britten’s “Fold Song Arrangements”.

What would follow was a long mixage, with Andres performing on the left and Kahane on the right.  Kahane sung with all his pieces. 

Much of Timo Andres’s music  (including his own) was familiar to me and has been reviewed before.  He offered all three Mazurkas by Tomas Ades, one Schumann Forest Scene, the G-flat Impromptu (rather Aeolian and Chopin-like) by Franz Schubert, and his own “At the River”, and two selections from “It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer” : the bouncy “Pierrot on 88th Street” (yup, Schoenberg, “in the Moonlight” with no “do me”); and the “Please Let Me Sleep”, a nice lullaby that is becoming familiar to my ear.  Kahanes pieces included n his own“Merritt Parkway” and “North Adams”, “Sides Streets”, a Schumann Dichterlieb, two songs from his own “Craigslistlieder”  (does Kahane know the film “Craigslist Joe”, on my Movies blog Jan. 20, 2013), his own  “Where are the Arms?”, and Andrew Norman’s “Don’t Even Listen”.  (They used to say at the Ninth Street Center in NYC, “Bill doesn’t listen.”)
The recital closed with three songs by Charles Ives, Kahane singing (and there was an Ives encore), and another Kurtag Bach transcription, a “Sonatina” based on the cantata “Gottes Zeit ist der allerbeste Zeit”, BWV 106, a bit more contemporary sounding.

Kahane is said to compose by hand, without a computer – the Washington Post featured a picture of him with his cat at the piano (link to story by Anne Midgette). The feline looks ready to play the piano like "Nora" on YouTube. I bet that when he returns to his Brooklyn apartment from a concert, that cat commands 100% of his attention at the door.  

Kahane’s style is popular, clubby, and informal, without taking itself too seriously. It's said to be a "mix" of genres.  It isn’t grandiose, like Josh Groban or even Reid Ewing (being "brave", or traveling into outer space, or writing songs that express "charisma").  Who among all of these musicians could act along Andy Samberg on SNL? (Justin Timberlake needs some competition from the classical world that even nurtured him at one time.)

A new string quartet by Andres will be performed by the Attacca Quartet at the same venue on May 22.  I haven't heard his Piano Quintet yet (performed by Jonathan Biss) and hope it will be available on CD, MP3, Amazon, etc.  soon.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Introductory Toccata to Finale of my Sonata 3, now an MP3 file online

Today I created a 2-minute mp3 file of the opening “toccata” theme from the Finale of my Third Sonata.  Most of it was composed in the early part of 1962, after my WM explsion (while I attended GWU from home), but I think this original theme was composed in 1974, shortly after I had “come out” a second time and was working for Univac while living in Pisacatawy, NJ. 

I composed it in Sibelius, and converted it to aiff and then to mp3 format, in iTunes. 

This music is played in exact metronome tempo by Sibelius, but has varyng meters, going from 2/4 to 6/8 even to 7/8 at one spot. 

There are various websites that purport to load mp3 files to YouTube (check Apple Knowledge Base here), but I’m not sure how accepted there are (although I do find such files on YouTiub.e Wordpress, and Blogger).  I instead fpt-ed it to my own site, and you can play it from this link

I expect to produce mp3 files for some other “miniatures”, including (1) The “Applause Theme” that ends the Sonata and demonstrates progressive “tritone” modulations (2) The introduction and fanfare theme from a choral “symphony” (3) The dances from that work and (4) The “communion” from that work. There is also a three-page “polytonal” prelude for piano in reasonable shape.
I find that composing in miniatures (as opposed to huge forms) makes producing effective music manageable.