Friday, November 29, 2013

Country singer from Maryland and then Tennessee organizes non-profit to engage foster children in music

While on a day trip Black Friday, I picked up a Frederick MD newspaper and found this story by Susan Guynn of the News-Post about local native Jaime Fox, who moved to Nashville and became a country singer, but also founded a non-profit called “We Will Rise Nashville” (link ) , to provide opportunities in the arts and athletics for foster children. 
The story (link) rather speaks for itself.  She also wrote a song for the National Foster Parent Association (link).
By the way, it isn’t necessary for YouTube to “correct” her spelling to “Jamie Foxx”.  On entering a second time, you can find her there. 

The main song there (“The Heart of Me”) disables embedding, but it is allowed for “Love Me Wrong”. 

As for the day trip, I had been in Harpers Ferry, WV earlier today (have written about it before back in July), and stopped at a luncheonette down the steps from Washington St called “Coffee Stop”.  It seems not to be on the Web, but is very popular with the locals and always packed.  So the day had a taste of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Nashville picture (my own visit, 1988).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Washington National Cathedral on Thanksgiving Eucharist offers music by Stanford, Neswick

Today, Thanksgiving Day, I attended the Holy Eucharist at the Washington National Cathedral. 
I had heard the Beethoven Missa Solemnis there in the 1990s, and also heard former president Jimmy Carter speak there.
The music in the service was noteworthy of review.

In the Carillon prelude there was an organ transcription of the St. George’s Windsor hymn “Come, ye thankful people come” by Edward M. Nassor (1957) so softened by impressionism that it was unrecognizable.

The organ voluntary was the Virgil Fox setting of J. S. Bach’s “Now Thank We All Our God” from the Cantata #79.

The Song of Praise was “Glory to God” by Robert Powell.

The featured musical work for the service was performed by the choir and organ during the offertory.  It was the “Te Deum” by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (better known for his often energetic symphonies -- especially the Fifth -- and Irish Rhapsodies).  The work, in C, is somewhat episodic, and not quite as attention-grabbing as, say, Parry’s “I Was Glad”. Stanford's style is often pensive and majestic, even "Germanic" and follows that or Brahms, and perhaps Elgar. 
The Communion Anthem was “Let the peoples praise you, O God” by Bruce Neswick (1956-).  The work started with a long organ prelude, quiet and impressionistic, and became more dissonant and biting during the choral part.

The postlude was the familiar “Now thank we all our God” by Sigfrid Klag-Elert.
The great organ was installed by Skinners and Sons in 1938.  The organists are Christopher Betts and Benjamin Straley.

The service appeared to have assistance from students at the high school (St. Albans) which often appears (and usually wins) on "It's Academic". 
I decided to embed a performance of the Irish Rhapsody #4 by Stanford, with its well known folk song, and its towering climax in A at the end.  I have a Chandos of this with Handley, and got to know the work in the 90s, when the military gay ban first was being debated.

After the service, I took the elevator to the observation deck, open despite earthquake repairs.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Christopher Houlihan performs Liszt, Bach, and Greene at third major concert for FBC Austin organ

The concert series of distinguished organists in celebration of the new Austin Organ at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC continued Sunday November 24, 2013 with Christopher Houlihan, graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut and then Julliard in New York. 

The program opened with the opening Allegro from the Organ Symphony #6 in G Minor by Charles-Marie Widor.  I like to hear complete works, but the movement is filled with melodramatic rhetoric.
He followed with one of the featured works of the concert, the “Steel Symphony” of Massachusetts composer Patrick Greene (b. 1985).  The three brief movements are titled “Putto 4 over 4”, “Lincoln”, and “Armour Boys”.  The movements are inspired by steel sculptures in the deCordova Sculpture Park and Garden in Lincoln, MA, by Michael Rees, Dewitt Godfrey, and Laura Ford, the last piece comprising men wearing masks who appear to have fallen in battle.  The work is dissonant and rather declamatory.

Houlihan then performed the early Bach work, the “Toccata, Adagio and Fugue” in C, BWV 564.  The first section has a famous passage for pedals; the Adagio has a famous A minor melody, and the Fugue is rather playful, as if to invite jokes.  I had an old Columbia recording of this with Biggs (with the Schubler Chorales on the back) given to me in 1961 by a friend from William and Mary after my “expulsion” in November 1961, which I have written about extensively elsewhere on these blogs.  So this work has been in my musical ear for years.
After the intermission, Houlihan played the “Carillon de Westminster” from the “24 Pieces de Fantasie” by Louis Vierne.  This piece is a fantasy on the “Big Ben” theme that Brahms also used in his “Academic Festival Overture”. 
The program concluded with the massive 30-minute “Fantasy and Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam'”, S. 259 by Franz Liszt, based on an aria motive from Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophete”.  Wikipedia discusses the work here  It is quite a melodrama itself, with the fugue serving as a recapitulation of what is like a one-movement Sonata.  They key seems to be C Minor.  There are many quiet passages in the middle, which serves as a slow movement (somewhat in the suoer-legato style of the middle part of the Faust Symphony) but the conclusion, after the violent counterpoint of the fugue, is truly majestic. 
As an encore, Mr. Houlihan performed a scherzo from Vieren’s second organ symphony.
The organ console is rolled out into the chancel, and it is so large that it tends to make an organist of even moderate or average height look short and small by comparison.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"A Little Jazz Mass", by Bob Chilcott: the world's shortest?

The “Chancel Choir and Friends” of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA today performed the 13-minute work “A Little Jazz Mass” by Bob Chilcott, with choir, piano, and bass, and percussion.

As shown above, there are some other performances on YouTube. 
The work is marginally in E Minor, and seems more daring in the first two movements (of five: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei) than later, where it becomes a bit French and impressionistic and a bit like Gershwin, maybe some of the harmonic styles of the Piano Concerto (previously discussed here). The Gloria was quite lively indeed.  This is happy stuff, not the jazz of Alan Berg and Lulu, for example.
The choir also performed a choir setting of “Ride On King Jesus” by Moses Hogan (pretty much in the style of the 1982 film “Say Amen, Somebody”)
There was a prelude with a choral jazz rendition of “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” by Brad Nix.  It was much more daring, “modern”, and improvisatory in effect.

For the Postlude, Carol Feather Martin (who tells me she studied at Oberlin College, near where I spent my boyhood summers) played “Swing Five on ‘Erhalt uns, Herr’” by Johann Matthias Michel. The work sounded sharp on the small pipe organ here;  I wondered how it would sound on the Austin organ “downtown”.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Recalling the classical music played on WGMS in Washington 50 years ago right after JFK's assassination: lots of Mahler, Verdi

I recall well the weekend following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 2013.  I had been at work at the time (at the old National Bureau of Standards at the site of what is now UDC).  I took the two busses home in Arlington, wondering if a nuclear attack could happen.  On Sunday, I was riding in the back seat of the family car with my parents on 17th Street, a few blocks from the First Baptist Church, probably approaching K Street, when I heard Jack Ruby’s gunshot live over the car radio, with the words “He’s been shot.”
The major networks (there were not so many then) played news coverage for four days, until the funeral Monday, without commercial interruption. The classical music station in Washington at the time was WGMS, I think it was 570 on AM. 
I remember the music of the weekend well.  I heard a lot of it on the Zenith family radio downstairs, which no longer works.  I can also remember listening to a lot of Washington Senators baseball defeats on the radio (particularly Sunday double-dippings on the road).  We also had a black portable Zenith radio that I often kept in my room.
Sometime in the middle of Saturday afternoon, the station played the famous F Major Adagietto from the Symphony #5 by Gustav Mahler.  The movement is often played on its own (as is sometimes the “Blumie” movement left out of the First Symphony, which I think works better with the movement included).  The Fifth is the first of the “middle period” Mahler symphonies, and for me it has never been the most satisfying.  It is nominally listed in C# Minor, but only the first movement funeral march, rather like an introduction, is in that key.  It uses the three-note motive from the Beethoven Fifth (also to figure into the close of Havergal Brian’s Third Symphony, also in C# Minor, probably deliberately, music which found its way into the 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale”).  The Mahler Fifth is in three “Parts”, and most of Part I is taken up by a major sonata allegro in A Minor, following the C# minor introduction, a movement not as effective in my mind as the opening of the Sixth, really in A Minor (March 7, 2013 on this blog).  Part II is an overloaded scherzo in D Major (a full 20 minutes), and Part III comprises the famous Adagietto, followed by a D Major finale, most of which is a lively double fugue.  I have a London CD with Solti performing the work with the Chicago Symphony (late 1980s).
WGMS also played the Mahler Symphony #2 in C Minor, the Resurrection, over the weekend, and to many listeners it may be Mahler’s best known work, with its thrilling conclusion.   I’ve heard the Second in concert once, at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1977. Remember the tremendous unresolved dissonance at the end of the development section of the first movement (no doubt inspired by a similar dissonance from Beethoven's Eroica)?  Structurally, I’ve always had an issue with it.  To start a work in a minor key and end in the relative major (C Minor to E-flat Major) a few movements later gives a trite feel to my own ear.  I would have liked an ending in C Major.  (But Maher had begun to experiment with progressive tonality.  The finale of the first symphony starts its final allegro in F Minor before returning to the home D Major.)   The Eighth Symphony (Feb. 18, 2012 here) starts and ends in E-flat and has an ending with comparable chills and fever.
WGMS also played, as I recall, the Verdi Requiem, maybe the most famous of all the major romantic requiems, with the notorious G Minor Dies Irae, and the wonderful major Offertorium. I have the Telarc with the Atlanta Symphony with Robert Shaw.
Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, completed in January 1962, sometimes was performed with homage to President Kennedy.  The work makes a lot of use of the “triton” interval (C to F#) to give a sense of tonal ambiguity.  It is said that Mahler wanted to compose a requiem mass if he had lived long enough.  Britten’s work is probably the closest that repertoire music comes to what Mahler might have composed (had he lived past World War I).  I heard the Britten performed by the Dallas Symphony with chorus in 1980.  The other work that maybe approximates what Mahler could have done is Havergal Brian’s “Gothic Symphony”, the second part of which is rather like a requiem.
  I see that on July 2, 2008 I discussed Leonard Bernstein’s “Kaddish” Symphony ($3, more or less in the key of A), which again is rather Mahler-like and contains text that questions the intentions of God.  Bernstein condensed the work slightly for his DG recording with the Israel Philharmonic; I prefer the original uncut 1964 NY Philharmonic recording on Columbia Records and Sony, which was dedicated to JFK.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

British composer John Taverner passes away; here's a choral piece

I wanted to pass along a friend’s recommendation for a modal choral piece by British composer John Taverner, “God Is With Us”, in C major, with a lot of whole-tone harmonies.  It’s largely a cappella until some loud organ chords punctuate at the end. The piece seems to end on the dominant, and begs for resolution.
It’s performed by the Kings College Choir.

According to Wikipedia, Taverner passed away Nov. 12 at the age of 69.  

Update: Nov. 17

Today, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, Lawrence Schreiber performed the postlude "Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals" by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, with heavy use of the trumpets in the back of the sanctuary, the first time that I have heard them used.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Washington Church dedicates its new Austin organ; Parry hymn performed

I got to the church on time – just in time, as I did dwaddle this morning over some computer problems – to hear the huge Austin organ scream out the opening of Sir Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me”, as sing this morning by the Chancel Choir of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC with organ.  I reviewed that May 14, 2011 as part of a set of Parry anthems with organ, but we all know the magnificence of it at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011, with full orchestra.  But the final C Major chords screamed out from the organ with mighty trumpets from the back.
Parry wrote five symphonies, and the best known may be the Third, the English, whose last movement, a C Major Theme and Variations telescopes and ends with a mighty stretto, reminding one of Brahms. (Try it on YouTube here ).
The church performed a Dedication of the Organ at the 11 AM service.
The service included two organ pieces by Dennis Janzer (1954-), and a postlude apparently composed by organist Lauren P. Schreiber himself, a Fantasia on the St. Anne theme, richly chromatic with lots of weighty chords suggestive of the music of Arnold Bax.  The fantasy is loosely based on the hymn tune for “Oh Lord Our Help In Ages Past”, also sung right before communion this “All Saints” Sunday, and in the past always sung the first Sunday in January every year.
Schreiber also composed a hymn “In a City Just Beginning” in 2002, in G Major (third verse harmonized in G Minor), with words by Jim Sommerville.