Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chopin's posthumous nocturnes

I remember having a monaural Columbia Masterworks recording of Eugene Istomin playing “the Chopin Nocturnes”, but I see that the 1955 recording had only the first ten of them (link).  I remember playing chess in the basement to this record.  That record got worn out by sapphire styli and heavy tracking in the days before record care (and piano on a worn record really breaks up and sounds horrible).   But recent attention to the posthumous nocturnes got my attention.
The last three of the nocturnes (list) seem to have been published posthumously.  Number 19 is in E Minor, and is the first item in Op 72.  Wikipedia says that 19 and 20 were written early, before Chopin left Poland for France. Number 20, in C# minor, was originally not a nocturne at all, but was in a three part form and is similar. 

Number 21, in C Minor, seems to be the most “popular” of the three, but seems rather florid and immature to my ear.  I think it is a very early composition.   It is a single melody, a song without words, with no separate middle section.   

Most of Chopin's smaller pieced have always seemed a bit frivolous and ornate to me.  The worst offender is the "Berceuse in D-flat" which is a bit of a predecessor for the Ravel Bolero.   I love the big Sonatas, Ballades, and the Scherzo #3.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A musical offering or surprise in a central Virginia "mall"

During my field trip into central Virginia Saturday to see the Monroe Institute, I found a news story in the Nelson County Times about a special program of string or violin lessons for fourth and fifth graders, which I’ll pass along here.

I found some old sheet music in the Blue Moon Antique Mall and Book Store in Lovimgston, and picked up a used copy of the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Robert Schumann.

This work is often paired with the Grieg Concerto.  When I was a teen, the Schumann at first did not impress me as much, as the finale did not offer the gradually journey into light (with grandiose "chills and fever"), with major keys only at the end.  Instead, the finale here is entirely in the Picardy A Major, very fast, ¾ time, the score looking simpler than it is. The Finale comes across as an extended Schumann "miniature".  The fugato development is nic.  
The first movement, though, is more subtle than Grieg’s, even if the first theme sounds “gentle”.  I recall a rainy night in my junior year of high school when my mother was driving me over to the music teacher’s house for an evening class where I would play a movement from my own sonata (kids didn’t drive as early in those days as they do now) when the first movement was playing on the car radio, a Ford Galaxie, that sweet passage, where the key signature drops to A-flat major, came though.  Yhe cadenza starts on p. 41 of the score, and it’s interesting that for the coda, Schumann drops from 4/4 time to 2/4, to make a point. 

You report what you see, and hear.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The music of Christopher Cerrone

I Will Learn to Love a Person”, by Christopher Cerrone, performed in a studio in Brooklyn, NY on March 6, 2014, for voice, clarinet, percussion, and piano, is an 18-minute song cycle (four sections) with words by Tao Lin, text in English. 

Timo Andres is at the piano. Mellissa Hughes, Christa Van Alstine and Ian Rosenbaum also perform.

I guess the libretto challenges us to what we can live up to.  Sometimes, it necessarily gets personal (this blog, Feb. 26, 2012). Notice the text particularly toward the end, with a reference to smartphone texting.  I guess the text is contemporary. The title, of course, has existential importance.  What do I expect of someone before I continue to love him?  That doesn't sound spontaneous.  

How could one characterize the style – a little bit of Britten, maybe? There are many simple repetitive figures in the piano part.
The Living Earth Show at Cell 21 performs “Double Happiness” (14 minutes) by Chris Cerrone, with Travis Andrews and Andrew Meyerson, as part of the Tribeca New Music Festival in 2013.  The eclectic music is for guitar, harmonica and percussion.  The YouTube link is here.
The String Orchestra of Brooklyn plays Cerrone’s “High Windows” (14 min, one of his best known works), 14 minutes, here. It is performed at the St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn   conducted by Eli Spindel. This music, especially the opening sliding passages, sounded familiar at once.  Have I heard it used in a movie?
Then there is “Recovering”, performed by the Deviant Septet, which surrounds the audience (8 Min), performed at the Project Room in Brooklyn, link 
There is a one act opera, “Invisible Cities”, based on the life of explorer Marco Polo, of which only excerpts seem to be available.  I don’t see it on Amazon.   I recall that it was performed in NYC in 2011.

The "podcaster" Chris Cerrone seems to be a different person.   

Friday, August 01, 2014

"Gidion's Knot" by Johnna Adams at Forum Theater in Silver Spring, MD: troubling story about kids' writings and cyberbullying

Gidion’s Knot” is a two-actress play, currently (through this weekend) at the Forum Theater next to the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD (link).  It was authored by Johnna Adams, and the performance is directed by Cristina Alicea, and is presented by the NextStop Theater Company (Facebook site ).
The setting is an expansive Fifth Grade school classroom in a Chicago suburb.  The contents on the blackboard suggest a geography class (although don’t grade school students have the same teacher all day?)  Some cursive student essays hang on a wall.
As the 75-minute play opens, teacher Heather Clark (Kary Carkuff) is doing her lesson planning after school, and breaks into tears.  She has an appointment with a parent Corryn Fell (Caroline Stefanie Clay), and African-American woman and single mother whom we later learn teaches English and Welsh old literature at a local university.  She expected the appointment to be broken, or at least the school principal to show up with her.  A few days before, Fell’s son, Gidion, had posted a violent and threatening story online and apparently passed it around to students, and then, after being harassed and cyberbullied on Facebook, committed suicide. And Ms. Clark had already suspended Gideon after learning of the story.
During the interchange, we learn that the “bully” had been another kid, Jake, just 12.  So there is a maze is to what had really happened, and how the grownups should have intervened. Why would a kid this young commit this kind of abuse and then call someone else an abuser?  

About fifty minutes into the play, Heather reads the entire transcript of the story.  It is extremely graphic as to bodily injury, but Corryn finds her late son’s writing brilliant, because some of the imagery actually comes from ancient literature (like “Beowulf”).  The tone reminded me of Elliot Rodger’s “manifesto” before he went on a rampage in California, but the author here is just 11. 

After the play, we had a round robin discussion.  The leader divided us into pairs, and we were supposed to report what the pair partner thought, not just what “I” thought.   The idea of working in pairs was that it is supposed to build a new kind of community consensus.  The group did not follow that sort of discipline for the whole period.  There was a general impression that social media has made kids much more aware of inequality in many areas of life, to the point of getting dangerous.   In the discussion, I did mention my own incident when I was subbing, at West Potomac High School in Fairfax County in late 2005.