Saturday, September 27, 2014

An accidental Virginia state fair visit

I don’t know that a state fair is a moral equivalent of symphony concert, opera, or stage play, but for me today it at least earned some notability.  On the way back from Virginia gay pride in Richmond, near Kings Dominion, 20 miles north of Richmond, I came upon the Virginia State Fair, at the Doswell exit..  The official name is State Fair of Virginia at the Meadow, link

I was steered in a tremendous acreage for parking on a green meadow.  A shuttle tram took people to   the entrance, where seniors paid $10 and entered the fair grounds after pass through a tunnel.
This event did not look as large as the Texas State fairs at Fair Park when I lived in Dallas in the 80s, or the “great Minnesota get-together” from late August to Labor Day, across a railroad bridge from Hamline University in St. Paul. 

There was a large indoor vendor’s exhibit area, where I encountered the Libertarian Party of Virginia.  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lou Andriessen's "La Commedia", viewed just as a musical composition

On September 18, I reviewed the movie DVD of the video opera “La Commedia”, composed by Louis Andriessen, the film by Hal Harltey, on the movies blog.  But the Nonesuch CD set, packaged in cardboard now, came also with two music CD’s.  Probably not many consumers would have a CD player that doesn’t play DVD’s now, so the packaging is a bit of a mystery.  But a music CD set is the way a lot of us have experienced new operas since the mid 1980s.  It’s meaningful to talk about the music on its own merits.
The opera (based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, as explained in the movie review), is divided into five acts, which are more or less like cyclical“movements” in musical terms.  The opera actually starts with street noise (from Amsterdam) until it settles into a lively chamber experience, with lots of passage work in the strings and rather a Britten-like sound.  The choral voices sound mostly female or young, and the solo singing sounds episodic if you don’t have the movie to watch.  Occasionally there are lively passages for percussion and piano that do sound more or less dodecaphonic, but most of the music is tonal in a modal sense.  In the fourth section (corresponding to Purgatory) there is a build-up of a massive dissonance that recalls a similar moment in Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”.  In the last movement, the opera seems to end quietly, as the audience is invited to respond, when there is a sudden final (apparently optional) rush to a fortissimo conclusion in the high voices and strings.  The effect resembles that of the optional ending to Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony.  The set has detailed notes by composer-pianist Timo Andres, from Brooklyn, well known for some of his largest compositions.   Andriessen is now 75 (compared to Andres at 28), so there is a gap of two full generations here.  It indeed can take a long time to become a good composer. I’m 71.

Amazon’s purchase link is here

I have a couple other little items to share.  Last Sunday, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, Kelly Curtin, soprano, performed “Sing God a Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” (1971).  I do have a Columbia record set of the Mass somewhere, and I think a Sony CD set from the early 90s (the glory days of Tower Recrods), which would take me a while to find.  In the fall of 1971, during my one period of heterosexual dating, I took a young woman to the Kennedy Center to see the Mass, I think in the Opera House (not the Eisenhower Theater).  It’s an interesting recollection, that period of my life, to ponder.  Music can do that as you grow older. 
I also found a bizarre “Kefka Final Fantasy VI” for piano, a little over a minute, in C minor, that sounds like another “recomposition”, maybe of Mozart.  Does someone know what this is? (Youtube link ).  Actually, I think it sounds a bit like "The Hall of the Mountain King" from Grieg's "Peer Gynt", from my earliest days of music lessons.  If so, it it recomposing backwards, from romantic back to classic style.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Washington DC organist gives recital at National City Christian Church

Dr. Lawrence P. Schreiber, Organist-Choirmaster at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, gave a recital at noon today (September 12) at the National City Christian Church on Thomas Circle in Washington DC.  Dr. Schreiber had held that position with the National City Church from 1960-2000.  So it was possible for young men to start careers in music in the old days, despite the social pressures (as from the military draft) that I have often written about. Here is the link from the Church for its recitals.

The program started with the majestic, post-romantic Chorale, Op. 37, by Joseph Jongen (known for an organ concerto).  The organist followed with fantasies on two spirituals: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” by Calvin Taylor (b. 1948), a theme that appears in the first movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart” by John Carter (b. 1930).  He followed with the Fantasy in G Minor, MWV 542 by Bach (I would have liked to hear the Fugue, without which it sounds incomplete to me).  The main work of the concert was the 20-minute tone poem “Requiescat in Pace” (Latin for “Rest in Peace”), a lush, slow montage in triple time, with a loud middle section with the pedals.  As a “poem”, the music is less episodic than a tone poem by Liszt or Strauss.  The piece was selected as part of the September 11 remembrance.  Sowerby has composed symphonies and piano concerti which ought to be heard.
Schreiber followed with :Shylock” by Gabriel Faure, as transcribed by Virgil Fox, and concluded with “Now Thank We All Our God” by Bach, again transcribed by Fox.
Schreiber has sponsored a series of distinguished organist concerts at First Baptist Church.  The public should realize that most professional soloists get paid for church performances and “free recitals”.  Even younger professionals need to make $3000-$5000 per concert that they give.  Composers who do get commissions need enough to live on – sometimes pay a mortgage and raise a family.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Otto Blucker's "All Summer Long" featuring Timo Descamps is available

A song “All Summer Long” by Swedish artist Otto Blucker, with Timo Descamps singing, is available as a 2-item album on both iTunes and Amazon (the price is slightly lower on Amazon), for cloud album ownership. One of the songs is a slightly shorter "radio version".  Here's the Facebook link
Timo’s voice sounds very clear and sharp and familiar (“Rewind”…), familiar to anyone who has watched “Tomorrow” or “Like It Rough” on YouTube.  The song seems to be in the key of A-flat Major (according to my Casio).   The style of music suggests disco dancing, but closer in mood to what was popular in the 80s and 90s (definitely not “hip hop”). 
The album was available Aug. 29.  About the time of the summer solstice, Timo tweeted a picture of Stockholm at about 11 PM, which I retweeted especially to weather reporters in DC.  I was in Norway and Sweden in late July and early August in 1972, getting as far north as Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle.  
There was daylight at 2 AM. 

Wikipedia  picture of Stockholm (author Max Anderson CC/SA 3.0 unported). 

Update: Nov. 8

Preview of "Find You" and Numb" here (from Sound Cloud).  Notice how crisp Timo's voice sounds, excellent pitch accuracy.  Note the lyrics that start with "Hiding isn't what we do."  This music needs another "Like It Rough" video.  

Monday, September 01, 2014

Maryland television treats us to Met performance of Doizetti's "Anna Bolena"

On Labor Day evening, Maryland Public Television in Annapolis presented Gaetano Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” (“Anne Boleyn”), composed in 1830, the performance by the Metropolitan Opera in New York on Sept. 27, 2011, with Anna sung by Anna Nebtreko.  While the Annapolis PBS station presented it, the main station in Washington WETA, did not, preferring its silly antique shows. 
The music sounds light and fluffy, and ornate, given the tragic nature of the subject matter, concerning the life and death (and delusions) of the second wife of Henry VIII. 
The opera opens with an expansive but somewhat superficial and lively overture in D Major.   The music tends to have a lot of the repetitious bel canto passages of the period.   Donizetti quoted the American hymn “Home Sweet Home” in the final scene showing Anna’s wishful deception.  The entire opera actually ends “happily” on a loud E-flat major chord. 

I don’t recall having a copy of the overture in my old vinyl record collection as a teen.  I think it would have stuck in my mind in the college years pretty well.