Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Church service in DC offers music by Cecile Chaminade

Sunday, November 23, 2014, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC performed, during the offertory, the piece “Meditation”, for flute and organ, by French female composer Cecile Chaminade.  The flutist was Vanessa Miller, and organist was Lawrence Schreiber.
The composition appears to be one of six “songs without words”, Op. 76, and normally they are performed on solo piano.  It seems to be in G Major.
Chaminade is one of the romantic era’s better known female composers (after Clara Schumann).  I have her Piano Trio #1 in G Minor on an old Vox Box.  Her style is not particularly challenging or original, but Wikipedia reports that her works were financially successful in her time.  My favorite female composer is Amy Beach (discussed here Dec. 3, 2013).   

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures", by Tony Kushner, lays out ideological paradoxes in a long comic play

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism, with a Key to the Scriptures,” by Tony Kushner, directed by John Vreeke, is playing now at the Jewish Community Center in Washington , and, I believe, in the East Village in NYC (the Public Theater).  It is inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s non-fiction book “The Intelligent Woman’s Gide to Capitalism and Socialism” and Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures”. I remember a couple of odd tangential encounters with Christian Science in Sunday School a couple of times in the early 1970s and again 1980s, on trip back “home” as a working adult.  Theater J’s link is  here.  I saw it Saturday night at TJCC before a sold-out crowd.

The play is in three acts, and takes about 200 minutes including the brief intermissions, making it like a very long independent film.  The stage at JCC showed a back drywall, cracked into a geography like it was a map, upon which black and white newsreels from the 50s, about the threat of communism, during scene changes.  Behind the drywall there is a tilted bookshelf (as if from Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”).  The brownstone fa├žade hangs from the top of the stage.  All of the activity takes place in New York City, with one stage setup, most of it in fact in a Crown Heights apartment in Brooklyn, NY one weekend in June, 2007.  The longest act is the second, that ends with a cacophony of polyphonic conversation.  The last act is shorter and simpler, and confronts the idea that Gus really may want to do an assisted suicide. The ending is unsettling. 

The play uses one opera theme, which I believe is by Verdi  (is it Nabucco?),  Can someone identify the theme?  Please comment if so.    

The family patriarch Gus Marcantonio (Tom Wiggin) answers the invitation of his sister Clio Annunziata Marcantonio (Rena Cherry Brown) to come to the family brownstone Drohega for a reunion.  Gus indicate that he would like to end his own life because he fears he is getting Alzheimer’s.  As the play progresses, we learn that his sense of purpose as a labor union boss has declined.

The gay son is Pill, or Pier Luigi Marcantonio, a high school history teacher, played by Lou Liberatore, is married to Paul Cedric Davis (Michael Anthony Williams), an African-American theology professor at the University of Minnesota.  But Pill has been spending borrowed money for sessions with a 25-year-old hustler Eli Wolcott (Joshn Adams), who is very attractive (although I would lose the tattoos) and properly virile. That endangers the plans of Maeve (Lisa Hodsoll), the lesbian partner of Empty (Susan Rome), who had needed the money for artificial insemination and surrogacy. 

Gus says that the crowing idea of his life was that the workers own their own products.  But that contradicted equality, as unions gave in to “capitalist” corporate demands to sacrifice the well-being of younger workers for the old and retired, as they invented featherbedding and protectionist schemes, anathema to modern libertarians. 

Pill says he felt harassed by the demands that he “belong” to something (as in Martin Fowler’s book, reviewed on my Book Review blog Aug. 27, 2014).  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Busoni Piano Concerto dazzles a full house at Kennedy Center NSO concert

The National Symphony Orchestra at Kennedy Center in Washington DC presented one of this season’s most important concerts, starting Thursday November 20, 2014, before a completely sold-out audience, at the earlier 7 PM starting time, with a “Afterword” QA.  The conductor was Rossen Milanov.
Let’s to the meat course right away. That was the 65-minute Piano Concerto in C, Op. 39, by Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), known superficially for his transcriptions of Bach, but also a pivotal figure in the transition from post-romanticism to modernism and sometimes atonality.  Busoni was another influence on Schoenberg.  His music fused both Italian (operatic) and German romanticism, which he tried to bring to a head with this massive five-minute work in 1904, at the age of 38. The pianist was Garrick Ohlsson. This is the only piano concerto with a choral part (unless you count the Beethoven Choral Fantasy), and the only longer piano concerto is Wilhelm Furtwangler's.  
Busoni viewed the piece as a “skyscraper”, with a musical progression of architectural forms.  Yet, the piece also bears some relation to the Liszt B Minor sonata, and Busoni probably knew of Eugen d’Albert’s massive first concerto (a teen work, covered here elsewhere) so obviously inspired by the same Liszt work.

The first movement, according to the program notes, is free form, and is marked as “Prologue and Introduction”.  Actually, it has a classical orchestral ritornel, and when the piano joins, it migrates to G, as if a normal exposition of three interrelated chorale-like themes, in moderate tempo.  A development and recapitulation follow, to a quiet ending.
The second movement, a “playful piece”, is the first of two scherzos, and seems to be centered around B Minor.  Like Mahler (in the 7th Symphony), Busoni is offering more than one scherzo, and like both Bruckner and Mahler, he takes the form to its ultimate. 
The third movement, “serious piece”, seems to be in D-flat, and is a huge slow movement (25 minutes), with a rondo-Sonata like form.  After an opening that sounds ambiguous, it settles into a well known 4-note “cathedral” theme.  As with Bruckner, you don’t have a huge slow movement in this key without some violent climaxes (did Busoni know the Eighth?) By now the effect of the piano part, which sounds more like a collaborative instrument than a true soloist, has become apparent.  
That aspect of the writing (which Busoni shares with Brahms) is so even though Busoni uses a lot of mannerisms known from Liszt.  After one last outburst in the recapitulation, the movement subsides into peace.
The fourth movement, a second scherzo, is  wild tarantella in C. It may be the best known part of the work.  Toward the end, the movement has abrupt tempo changes and modulations that are most effective. 
The finale brings in the male chorus, singing text (in German) from Adam Oehlensclager’s drama “Alladin”, which mentions Allah, as a God of all monotheistic faith, not of radical Islam as it is today (sometimes).  The music and verse is Catholic, Jewish and Islamic at the same time.  The men’s chorus is handled in a manner that recall’s Liszt’s “A Faust Symphony”.  Finally, the chorus concludes on a C Major triad, and the piano and orchestra race to a whirlwind close fortissimo, recalling both the opening theme of the concerto and the tarantella dance.

Busoni also composed a 15-minute "Konzertstuck" in D Minor (with a major conclusion) which would normally be a concerto in its own right.  
The QA mentioned some piano concerto other works:  Medtner, d'Albert (me), Scriabin, Justin Dello Joio (commissioned work, the son of Norman) and Huw Warren.
The first half of the concert comprised the “Firebird Suite” of Igor Stravinsky (1919 revision).  There are seven sections to the suite, and the best known is the majestic B Major conclusion, which is sometimes even played in discos.  This first ballet shows the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, and it kept its modernism under control, for the benefit of 1909 audiences.  I personally prefer to see complete works performed than suites, although here that would make for a long concert.
The Millennium Stage, at 6 PM, offered a free concert of its own, with the Air Force Chamber String Ensemble.  The repertoire featured French impressionism.  One work was the 1904 “Dances for String Quartet and Harp” (Sacred and Profane) by Claude Debussy, which sound a bit laid back to me.  But the treat was Darius Milhaud’s “Creation of the World” (“La creation du monde”), a 20-minute ballet composed in 1922.  The music has a lot of jazz and reminds one of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”.  The work was a particular favorite of a late friend in Falls Church VA, Charles Hailey, who passed in 2011, whom I knew through the First Baptist Church of Washington DC, and in whose home I spent many evenings in my 20s listening to his records.   The work attracted a lot attention in the early days of stereo and hi-fi in the 1950s.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"The Concert for Valor" on the Mall in Washington DC on Veterans Day

HBO, Chase and Starbucks are presenting The Concert for Valor Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Veterans Day, link here

The enormous temporary stage is erected about two-thirds down the Mall toward the Capitol. 
One of the best coverages with many videos is on NBC Washington, here
There are many tributes to veterans, including one who became a teacher in a section of the Chicago school system where only 6% go to college.  One of his students recently got into West Point.
Another veteran had lost both legs to an IUD and was in a medically induced coma but had learned bicycle racing.

I watched some of the concert at the Westover Market in Arlington, over a catfish dinner.  I actually gave them the channel, as 301, but when I got home, I found the best channel was 300, which is HD.  Sorry about that.

One person there described the experience of being on an upper floor of the World Trade Center North Tower on the day of the February 26, 1993 garage attack. We also got into the discussion of artists like Taylor Swift not wanting their music to be streamed as singles anymore. 
AXS has a list of performers at its site here .  An early highlight was Carrie Underwood. Rihanna brought the crowd down with "Diamonds in the Sky" and then "Stay".  
The MC made an odd mention of Belize and “Heisenberg”, not sure what it meant. 

I can imagine how this concert would have filled up the new Trump hotel in the Old Post Office, at $700 a night, if it were done.  
The event (“THE” concert for valor) takes on a much more positive meaning now that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed.  There is something about equality, not just parity, when it comes to putting oneself in line for sacrifice.  

Update:  Nov. 12

WJLA is reporting "Eminem's expletive-filled performance ruins event for veterans", link here.  Steve Rudin, a weather reporter, tweeted the story.  Eminem has been associated with homophobic slurs, during the time of the debate over "don't ask don't tell". Yet, the concert did conclude with an energetic outburst on stage.  Was that Eminem in the hoodie?

Bruce Springsteen (one of George Gilder's favorites) drew criticism for his anti-war songs (Washington Post story).

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Schoenberg Quartet #2 does resemble Mahler; more on the Piano Concerto and Orchestra Variations; my own progress report

Concomitant to my own music composition renewal, I picked out four more compositions by Arnold Schoenberg to review today.
I have a Nuova Era CD of some music with Glenn Gould and conductor Dmitri Mitropoulos.  Besides Bach (the Klavier Concerto #1 in D Minor), if offers the Piano Concerto, Op. 42, in 1942, composed shortly before I was conceived.  The work, about 18 minutes, is in four connected sections, and actually ends on a fortissimo C major chord, despite all the atonality.  Despite the derivation from a twelve tone row, the work has an almost Brahmsian opulence in spots. 
The CD concludes with the Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31, which comprise a Theme, nine variations, and a Finale, with somewhat the format of a late Beethoven movement.  The program notes find Mahler in this dissonant work, but didn’t so much.  Yet Mitropoulos was a renowned conductor when I was coming of age, as he predated Bruno Walter and Eugene Ormandy. The variations are performed by the Berlin Philharmonic (recorded in 1960).  The piano concerto was recorded with the New York Philharmonic in early 1958, when I was in ninth grade.  But I had already read about Schoenberg’s theories at that time.
Chandos has a 1992 CD of string orchestra versions of some of Schoenberg’s chamber works, played by the I Musici de Montreal, conducted by Yuli Turovsky.  I’ve already discussed Verkarlte Nacht (Nov. 7. 2009). The String Quartet #2 in F# Minor, though, recall does recall late Mahler, most of all in the lively second movement.  The last two movements have soprano solo, with Nadia Pelle as soprano, with text by Stefan George.  The third movement is called “Litany”, and is somewhat conventionally dour f# minor music, ending loudly.  The finale bridges on atonality, disposing of a key signature with cartwheeling motives, before the soprano sings “Transport”, which starts with “I hear the air from other planets flowing”, as if it belonged now in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”.  Indeed, the only way the words of the poem could come true is by viewing the “reflection” of the planets through wormholes.  The idea that a tidally locked planet could have a carefully managed civilization planted by aliens has always interested me (as in Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus’).  The YouTube video above is a performance posted by Wellesz Theater. The work seems to end in D, rather than F#. 
The CD also includes the exuberant  “Ode to Napoleon” (Op. 41), with speaker Marc-Andrew Hamenlin, and joyous loud close in E-flat.

In my senior year of high school, I had to write an extra term paper in English as an "A-B credit" and the paper was about "Mahler's Influence on Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg".  

As to my own work, I’ve started re-entering my own  (4-page) “Polytonal Prelude” (in D and E simultaneously, although I didn’t actually use a key signature), with “voices” in Sibelius.  I expect to convert to Sibeliius 7.5 in December.  When the work is played on a computer without rubato, it is not as effective as when played by a human.  With piano works in slower tempo, this will usually be the case.