Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday music: why do some people choose percussion or double bass for music careers?

I do have a few notes from Palm Sunday, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA.
The choir performed the anthem “Hosanna” by Dutch composer Kent Newbury (link) with piano and double bass.  The bass instrument was played by Ann Marlowe.  This is interesting because I have always wondered how young adults decide to take up the instrument (instead of cello or violin).  

There are very few solo concerti for bass (although Eduard Tubin, Estonian composer, has one in A Minor, as played here in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia by Igor Eliseev

I have that work on Bis with Hakan Ehren and Neeme Jarvi conducting the Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra.
Carol Feather Martin also played two major organ works by RobertPowell, “Hebrew Children Bring Olive Branches” and “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Powell is American (b. 1932), but the style is English pastoral, right out of Vaughn Williams (especially the David postlude), which still achieves its own style of triumph.  Someday, I need to hear the Vaughn Williams Fourth Symphony in a live concert.

As for less “popular” instruments for conventional soloists, I could mention the website of Harvard student percussionist Grant Hoechst, who played at Trinity Presbyterian in December 2012.  His long resume of works performed includes Mahler (at Berkshire).  Of course, now when we think about percussion, we think of the movie “Whiplash” with the performance of the student by Miles Teller, not to mention the brutal teacher played by J. K. Simmons (Movies blog Oct. 18, 2014). 

Update: June 3.  Hoechst seems to have added some more music, a percussion duo piece, call it necoclassical. 

Friday, March 06, 2015

Northern Virginia organist gives recital at National City Christian, focus on the "B's"

Today, Carol Feather Martin, Director of Music and Arts and Organist at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA, gave a “free” one hour organ recital at the National City Christian Church in Washington DC.

The concert was played through the rear organ in the back of the sanctuary, since the forward organ was undergoing emergency maintenance.  Fast tempi may not have been as effective as they would have been with both organs available.

The name of the program was “B is for…”  Well, my last name starts with “B”. 

The program started with Toccata for Organ by Canadian composer Gerald Bales (1919-2002).  It was rather modern and spirited.

The next work was the “Andante Moderato in C Minor” by British composer Frank Bridge (1879-1941), a British violinist and composer. Despite the soothing title and somewhat modal, pastoral harmonies at the start, the work ended with a brazen triumphant climax that you might expect from a Bax symphony (especially the Fifth).

The highlight of the recital was the Chorale Prelude and Fugue in A Minor by Johannes Brahms, WoO7, “O Traurigeit, O Hertzeleid” (“O Suffering Hart”. Even the Prelude sounded fugal, and the ending in A was relatively happy; a piece mostly in rapid tempo.
People used to say, “I will now play Brahms.  You may not like it, but it will be good for you.” Eat your vegetables?  No, Brahms is more meat and potatoes.  He wrote a similar work for organ in G Minor, and several “prelude and fugue” works for Piano, the largest being the Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel.  Mozart and Beethoven also wrote powerful fugues (as did Mendelssohn).  
The Trio #6 “Only God on High” by J. S. Bach followed.  

The program concluded with the lively Roulade, Op. 9 #2 by Seth Bingham (1992-1972), which ends with a will-of-the-wisp.  This piece was familiar to me from the 1950s.  

Monday, March 02, 2015

"Guntram", obscure opera by Richard Strauss, and a relevant morality play, is presented by Washington Concert Opera

On Sunday, March 1, 2015, I attended a performance by Washington Concert Opera at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium of “Guntram” by Richard Strauss.
Getting there was a challenge, given the ice storm that created a glaze almost unprecedented i Foggy Bottom.  I actually am a graduate of The George Washington University (1966).  There was a pre-concert lecture at 5 PM which I understand almost everyone missed, including me.
The performance was conducted by Anthony Walker.  Soloists included Robert Dean Smith as Guntram, Marjorie Owens as Freihild, Wei Wu as Friedhold, Zachary Nelson as Duke Robert, and Tomm Fox as The Old Duke,  There was a small chorus in Acts I and II.
The opera was originally composed around 1892 and revised in 1940.  Strauss wrote the libretto himself, at around age 28.   The music is quoted in the tone poem “Ein Heldenleben”. The concept is that of a ubiquitous morality play. 
Strauss had become interested in fraternal societies (did he belong to the Rosicrucian Order?  Debussy did).  The plot concerns a fictitious order called “Champions of Love”. One of the concepts is non-violence, like that of the American Civil Rights movement.  Hero Guntram is a member.
The land in 13th Century Austria is ruled by an evil Duke Robert, a feudal lord with a personality like that of Vladimir Putin today, and forced Freihild to marry him.  The poor people are in rebellion, and seek solidarity and leadership.  Out of all of this. Guntram kills Duke Robert in Act 2.  He is fighting not only for Freihild, out of love, but for the poor and disadvantaged.  But he has broken the vow of non-violence. 
In Act 3, he accepts a “life without parole” sentence, of solitary confinement, which is a strange kind of self-punishment.  Freihild gets the kingdom, and will run it with benevolence toward the poor, while forsaking her love for Guntram forever.
In the story, Strauss seems to be trying to construct a model of duty, how one is to balance privilege with responsibility to others, even to openness to sacrifice.
The music starts with an extensive prelude, like an overture, seeming to be in C Major.  After it concludes triumphant, the music of a first scene continues a bit before the characters appear.  Both of the first two acts end loudly, and there is a lot of dissonance with the violence in Act 2.  The last act is simpler, like a slow movement.  The music rises to impassioned climaxes twice before dying away, as Freihild accepts her own destiny.  The music ends in F#, a tri-tone away from the opening music, an unusual relationship (which Elgar used in his Symphony 1, mixing the keys of A-flat and D Minor). 

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Impromptu play at a church based on to the Baptism of Jesus, and some Whiplash-style music

March came in like a Lion (and that doesn’t mean Mac OS Lion), but there was a robust attendance of a special contemporary service and play at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA today, celebrating meteorological Spring.  No, we didn’t hear any Stravinsky (“Rite of Spring’).

The program notes didn't give a name.  But it could be titled "Lotsa Helping Hands" based on a volunteer program announced in the bulletin, that would tend to apply specifically to families with children. 
The highlight of the play seemed to be  the performing of “Demon” by “Imagine Dragon”.  All the words sounds like computer gamesmanship!  But the music has a lilt that uplifts about the double meaning of the lyrics.  
But it started with an enactment of the immersion of Jesus by John the Baptist (no actual water, and fake beards for the men).  It followed with a rock band (with some percussion, “Whiplash” style) rendition of the song named above, and two other rock hymns.  This was all brief (30 minutes), to be followed by communion, a mini-meeting, and potluck dinner.  Everyone say the dire “winter storm warnings” on the cell phones, but the ice seemed to be softening into slush outside.   
I still think that classical musicians and “traditional pop” artists – the kind that gets used in sitcoms and musicals – should communicate more.  And musicians should talk to filmmakers more, too. I’ve said that on Twitter and Facebook. 
Don't forge that CNN starts a Lenten special tonight on the archelogical record of Jesus.