Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A look at the music of Thomas Ades; will Amazon Cloud replace conventional record and CD collecting?

I tried the Amazon Cloud purchase again today, to get familiar with the music of British composer Thomas Ades, born in 1971. 
One of the more substantial offerings had two major and two smaller works. In general, the music is rather sunny, and temperate in its modernism, and generally quite accessible. 
It started with the 22-minute “Tevot” with Simon Rattle and the Seattle Symphony, which the composer describes as a one movement symphony.  It seems inspired by the model of the Liszt or Strauss tone poem. The title of the piece could refer to Noah’s ark, or to the cradle that held Moses.  It is somewhat lush at times and rather tonal, centered around A, ending in a loud chord that dies away.

There follows the Violin Concerto with Anthony Marwood and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The work is in three lean movements:  Rings, Paths and Rounds.  (Debussy had used similar titles for his "Images" and I think Berg used these sorts of names for his Three Pieces for Orchestra.)   The work is also called “Concentric Paths”.  The work is about 20 minutes, with the second movement the most substantial, as a kind of animated slow movement.  The music is rather lean.  It starts in G and seems to end in F, in lively fashion.

It’s nice to hear a new violin concerto.  I do know  another violinist in the LGBT community, but as an avocation, but any new violin concerto does remind me of the tragedy of Tyler Clementi in 2010. 
There follows the Three Studies after Courperin, which sound Renaissance just and lightweight (again, Chamber Orchestra of Europe).

The last offering is Three Dances from “Powder Her Face”, a chamber opera published in 1995.  Ades, himself a pianist, also wrote a piano paraphrase of the opera, inspired by similar adaptations by Liszt. The opera, described in Wikipedia, seems to summarize the composition styles of many prominent 20th Century composers. 
The New York Philharmonic recently (in 2012) performed the work “Polaris” (piano and orchestra), NYTimes writeup here. His “Totentanz” will be performed by the New York Philharmonic in March 2015.
There is a 2010 UK performance of “Polaris” on YouTube.  While the title refers to the North Star, I somehow think of the movie “Solaris”.  The sound is a bit impressionistic. Note the triplets over the ground bass.  There is a lot of repetition, but a big ending in the key of A.  
There is another chamber opera “Lilies”, being developed in Belgium, based on a French-Canadian based on the Bouchard play and 1996 film;  I think it will probably eventually appear in the US, details here

As for Amazon cloud purchase, I’ve wondered if indeed it can replace conventional record and CD collecting.  You don’t have to keep and drag around a physical inventory every time you relocate.  Amazon is rather awkward in the various ways it lists the “songs”, “artists” and “genres” you have purchased.  What I need to see is something sortable by composer and then also by performer.  Back in the 1960s, I (and a friend) would keep track of what we had by composer on 3x5 or 4x6 cards, the way you were taught to make notes for term papers in English class.  Amazon includes your real world CD or DVD purchases in its display of your collection.  

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Small Greenberg train show in Fredericksburg VA shows well-landscaped layouts

Today, I visited a Greenberg Train Show in Fredericksburg, VA.  This year, the layouts were more interesting than in a similar show there two years ago.

The most interesting was from “N-Trackers”.  The smaller trains allow for more scenery to be added, and this layout had a great variety.  The highlight might have been two Japanese villages, separated by a mountain range with a road over it, and an elevated monorail with a derailment shown.  Nearby there was an Army transportation base, and a “western” village “in the moonlight”.  There was also a replica of a street in Wabash, ILL,  of Blackwater Falls, W Va, and another area of quarries and coal mines, as well as a natural area with ponds and animal habitat.  There was plenty of scenery that would make “realistic” pictures even without the tracks.

There was a small Lego layout, not as big as one in Ellicott City (Jan. 2014).

A larger layout had a very elaborate carnival.
Most of the layouts also showed a lot of culture from the 1950s, like drive-ins and soda fountain restaurants. 

Most of the vendors here took credit cards. 

Below (or, rather, above) a drone flies, as if to spy on the visitors.

The admission was $9 and the hours were smaller than many others, just 10-4 Sat and Sunday.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Charleston SC piano store is the only one left (in town) as traditional business declines

Here’s another story about the decline in the conventional piano business.  In Charkeston, DC Fox Music (link http://foxmusichouse.com/ ) is the only piano store in town. There used to be eight competitors. 
Fewer kids take piano than in the past, and the conventional piano business has to compete with the electronic pianos, where compositions are already stored and can be played.
On the other hand, kids who want to go into music and actually use technology effectively need to be good at playing their original instruments.  You could almost say that’s a lesson of the recent hit film “Whiplash”.  It’s true for people successful in boy bands or other pop culture.  They started with real instruments, including piano.  Justin Timberlake actually plays a conventional Steinway quite well (he did it on “Ellen” one time). 

The NBC broadcast included a teen playing some Haydn. 
There was an earlier story on this problem January 3.
Wikipedia attribution link for Charleston scene, by Meltzabeth123, Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Getting caught up: Andres "Old Keys" piano concerto; more on my own setup

Getting back to music after the wild end of the Super Bowl tonight, I checked Timo Andres and found his “Old Keys”, about 15 minutes, now available to be played online, at this link, including his program notes. The performance is from March 2012 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra with the composer as pianist (looks it it was recorded shortly before my own trip to LA, complete with “Traffic Jam”, etc.) 
I had missed his performing this work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in January (during the extreme cold wave) along with Rhapsody in Blue (I presume Gershwin’s, an old war-horse, covered here before). I mentioned UNC in conjunction with Tchaikovsky in a post last Sunday.  I do expect to get down there this spring, as well as to FL.  In the meantime, I’ve visited other things on the road, like train shows and extrasolar planet exhibits in science museums. 
This work would logically be Timo’s “Piano Concerto #2” (with “Home Stretch” as #1).  He says it focuses less on piano virtuosity and somewhat more on other instruments in the chamber orchestra, and that the work is loosely in three connected sections.  My ear picked up more like two sections.  
The opening, centered around the tonality of G, reminded me of the opening theme of the Piano Concerto #5 in F by Camille Saint-Saens (the Egyptian) a nit, and later the music took on more of a Copland-like flavor.  Andres likes compositions made from autonomous miniature building blocks – a technique in many of the piano works particularly of Robert Schumann. To my ear, there was some recursion of the themes.  The quiet ending appeared to be B-flat (on my Casio) rather than C.

In the meantime, I will be assessing my own setup.  I expect to replace my 2011 MacBook with 10.6.8 with a more powerful MacBook Pro with a recent operating system and Sibelius 7.5.  I’ll have to do some final checking on details, on what arrangements are the most compatible. I hope my Casio PX-130 drivers are there, and that it isn’t already obsolete (there are newer models). 

I have a sketchy “symphony” from the 1970s with a “slow movement” as well as “scherzo” each of which string together a lot of autonomous self-compressing themes.  I think the idea does work.