Sunday, April 26, 2015

David Kaplan plays the "New Dances in the League of David" (after Schumann) in DC; also some Andres and Brahms

Sunday evening, pianists David Kaplan and Timo Andres gave a concert from the National Gallery of Art West Garden in Washington DC (link ).  This concert is the 3049th such concert, in the 73rd Season of the William Nelson Cromwell and F. Lammot Belin Concerts. I attended one such concert in 1962 when I was a “patient” at NIH, and that would have been the 20th Season.
The first half of the program comprised soloist David Kaplan playing a commissioned resetting of the “New Dances of the League of David”, based on Robert Schumann’s Op. 6 “Davidsbundlertanze”, discussed here April 1.  Remember that this piece was based on the (Rosenfels) polarities, in the extroverted and introverted characters Florestan and Eusebius
The 18 pieces expand to 23, and other young (and mature) composers contributed to new settings, including Augusta Read Thomas (“Morse Code Fantasy”), Caroline Shaw, Martin Bresnick, Maros Balter, Gabriel Kahane, Timo Andres,  Andrew Norman, Mark Carlson, Mchael James Gandolfi (“Mirrors and Sidesteps”), Ted Hearne (“Dance with a sense of urgency”), Samuel Carl Adams, Caleb Burhans.
Yes, the “intrusions” are dissonant, but they rather work.  The entire work takes about 50 minutes and it seems episodic.  The most interesting effects occur in the Hearne piece, from a composer given possibly political satire (remember “Parlour Timocray”, in the middle of the 2011 debt crisis in Congress, see Aug. 24, 2011); here, Kaplan had to manipulate the piano strings directly to get the desired effects. 
The work finally concludes quietly with the final miniature of the original.  Along the way, Kaplan has displayed enormous and rather muscular virtuosity.
Timo Andres joined at the piano for the second half of the concert. The played first Timo’s “Retro Music” (sounds like it belongs in a disco, maybe the Town DC or 911 Club), and then the 8th piece from “Shy and Mighty,” (May 20, 2010) namely “How can I live in your world of ideas?” which is a kind of musical dialogue where the entropy continuously increases.  (I’m not sure I get fully the penguin analogy.)
The National Gallery of Art Vocal Ensemble joined the piano duet to perform four pieces from Johanes Brahms “Liebeslieder Waltzes” (Op. 52) and five pieces from “Neue Liebeslider”, Op. 65. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Two CD's by organist Adam Brakel supplement his concerts

Since the organ concert Sunday in Washington of Adam Brakel was an “it’s free”, I supported him by purchasing both CD’s, and they have some interesting stuff. They are on the Raven label. 
The first CD is just called “Romantic and Virtuosic”, at Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, FL.  
The cover and liner notes stress a rather muscular young man (like a catcher in baseball), one scene on a beach, as a classical, even church musician.
The CD starts with the 10-minute Variations on the Star-Spangled Banner, Op. 23.  Now our national anthem is not the most musically interesting hymn of all time.  But variations, and varying the harmonies especially in the last line, do help. 
There follows and Adagio by Herbert Boswell Nanney, and then a Concert Etude by Joseph Bonnett.

Then we come to the next big work, the Fantasie and Fugue in D Minor, Op. 135B. by Max Reger, which does come across as rather dour.
Brakel plays the Cantilena by Andrew Fletcher (although it is Percy Fletcher who is known for some other rather spirited organ works like the Festival Toccata).
Then Brakel comes to the highlight of the disc, the Concert Etude called “St. Francis Walking on the Waves”, a big triumphant tone poem in E Major (the companion is “St. Francis Talking to the Birds”).  These are originally piano works, transcribed by Lionel Rogg.  I studied the “Waves” piece as a senior in high school and it is not the hardest Liszt to play, given the payoff.  But this work does best on piano. An orchestral transcription also exists, conducted by James Conlon in Paris on Erato.
The CD concludes with the complete Six Etudes by Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968), somewhat impressionistic and Ravel-like.  She had poor health, but her contributions to organ literature are important and could have amounted to much more.
The second CD is called “In Times of Crisis” and is performed on the Rudolf von Beckerath Organ at the Sr. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh.
The liner notes, by Vincent Rone, explain how economic and political crises in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries encouraged instrumental music to advance toward the modern cyclic and expressive forms we know today, leading to romanticism.
The CD starts with Three Tone Pieces by Niels Gade, Op. 22, in F, C, and A Minor, all rather triumphant.
Brakel then offers the first movement of the Widor Organ Symphony #5, and then tree passacaglias.
The first is Dietrich Buxtehude, D Minor, BuxWV 161, followed by the hefty and famous Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor by J. S. Bach, BWV 582. Then there is Vincent Rone’s own Passacaglia in F Minor.
Brakel then offers the familiar Praeludium in G by Nicholas Brauns, and then a short piece by Nicholas de Greigny (covered in previous post). The CD concludes with two pieces from "Sunday Music"  by Czech composer Petr Eben, “Moto Ostinato” and “Finale”.  There is a kind of impressionistic dissonance beneath all the drama (and a quiet passage that evokes David Lynch). The end is appropriately triumphant.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Adam Brakel gives major concert in Washington DC on Austin organ; works by Bossi and Willan dominate.

Sunday, organist Adam Brakel gave an organ recital on the new Austin instrument at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC. 
Brakel introduced each half of the program with a commentary. 
The program started with the Etude Symphonique in G Minor, Op. 78, by Marco Enrcio Bossi (1961-1925), a 5 minute post romantic virtuoso piece with a majestic Picardy conclusion.
A lighter piece, “Le rappel des oiseux” (“The recall of birds”) by Jean-Philippe Rameau follows.
Then Brakel presented his own organ transcriptions of variations by Dick Hyman on Shenandoah. The original music was by Gary Geld.  I saw a stage performance of the musical at Northpark in Dallas in the spring of 1979, shortly after moving there.
Brakel followed with the familiar and somewhat lighthearted Trio Sonata in G, BMV 530, by J.S. Bach. This had been a favorite of Virgil Fox.
Then he concluded the first half with the main work of the program, the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E-flat Minor (1916, in the same key as the Prokofiev Op. 111) by Canadian composer Healey Willan (1880-1968), a massive (20 minutes) piece resembling Liszt but with a bit of Scriabin-like harmonies thrown in.  The dissonant harmonic effects are weird – maybe the Mystic Chord gets used.  The Passacaglia slows back down in a major key before introducing the Fugue.   Somehow the ambiguous but then suddenly triumphant ending puts me back into the world of “The Divine Poem”. It may be that, as with piano, virtuoso pieces in signatures that use all the black keys are easier to play.

The second half started with the Variations and Fugue on “God Save the Queen” (or “My Country Tis of Thee”) by Max Reger.

The rest of the program was much lighter. He played two pieces by Nicholas de Grigny (1672-1703), “Dialogue sur les grandes jeux” (“Dialogue on the major games” – probably boules) and “Recit de tierce en taille” (“Third tale in size”). 

He then played scherzo by Louis Vierne (“Impromptu”), Percy Whitlock (from “5 Short Pieces”) and “Etincelles” (“Sparks”) by Moritz Moszkowski, transcribed by Horowitz, Volos and Brakel himself. He played two of the Six Etudes by Jeanne Demessieux, “Notes Repetees” and “Octaves”.  His encore was “Amazing Grace”.

A reception followed, with CD’s on sale.  I’ll discuss those soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Malice in the Palace", children's musical tells the story of Esther, downplaying the political overtones

This Sunday morning the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Arlington presented the musical “Malice in the Palace”, by Tom Long and Allen Pote, directed by Carol Feather Martin and Gary Garletts.  The musical (45 minutes) was presented by the combined youth choirs of Trinity, and Ardmore Presbsterian Church near Philadelphia (and, yes, the Phillies are in town today).
When the Israelites were captives in Persia a few hundred years BC, there was not much brotherly love in the king’s court.  The play is a setting of the Book of Esther, and is purported to show how much difference one person (especially a woman, if you want to view it in a feminist perspective) can make. OK, Hillary Clinton might like this.  Esther, one of the Jews, and orphaned, is raised as a foster child and eventually becomes the Queen.
The lead character is not the King himself (Ahaseuras), but his prime minister Haman.  The malice would come from his plan for a “purge” and period of vigilantism, and the antidote is a period of fasting.  One can certainly look at the story is a parable about authoritarianism and how it feeds on itself, and on not just about one unlikely hero, but on how one should behave when faced by people who come knocking. The pattern is repeated throughout history.
There isn’t any “malice” in the performance today, which is rather lighthearted as a musical, even with the sham execution at the end. 
There is a YouTube performance with the Neffsville Mennonite Church (near Lancaster PA). 
The musical has an official site at the Hope Publishing Company here.

Given the attention by the news media to Netanyahu's visit and his claim that Iran (Persia) is an existential threat to Israel, one wonders about the potential political message embedded in a children's play based on the Book of Esther.  But Old Testament Persia predates modern Shiite Islam by about a millennium.
There is also a lesson in pondering the multiple Old Testament captivities of the Jews, part of the collectivist, tribal mindset of ancient times.  Exiles, where Jerusalem was forgotten, lasted so long that whole generations experienced life in captivity as normal, even if was second-class.  
A curious sidelight comes up.  If you Google the title of the musical, you see a curious note about a DMCA takedown notice, which leads to this Chilling Effects post about what seems to be an unrelated work, “Madam Cutie on Duty”, from China.  I wasn’t aware that copyright claims from China could create these issues.


There is also a 1949 film by this name (unrelated, apparently).  I don’t know if this has been adapted to the professional stage.  On Broadway, with adult actors, the “malice” would become more apparent. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Some Handel at a "volunteers" service; my own setting of a Psalm

The “dungarees” church service at Mt. Olivet Methodist in Arlington early Sunday morning (as described on the Issues blog) did feature some significant organ music played by Dr. Steven R. Skaner.
Two items from Handel’s Water Music included the “Allegro Maestoso” opening, and the Hornpipe.  This music was a favorite of Paul Hume of WGMS in Washington in the late 1950s –early 60s, and introduced one of the major programs.  There was also a March from the Occasional Oratorio, and a Handel hymn. “Thanks Be to Thee”.
We all get used to the Hallelujah Chorus in D Major that closes the Easter section of The Messiah, but the A-Men Chorus, also in D and much more fugal, closes the entire work and it impresses me a lot more. We would not have a closing to the Mahler Second without the A-Men Chorus first.  The closing of the Christmas Section, in B-flat, is rather uneventful by comparison.
Back in the 1955-1965 period I got a lot of music from an old Zenith radio downstairs.  In the summer, I sometimes heard the three major WGMS programs:  “Orchestra Hall” at 11 AM (an hour), the “Symphony Hall” at 7 PM (an hour), and something like “Afternoon Concert” at 2.  Saturday nights they held “The Festival of Music”.  That’s when I first heard Mahler.

The service also offered a reading of Psalm 133, which I think is the shortest. I actually set this to music at about age 15, and have tried to recreate it in Sibelius.  It is in D-flat.  It needs to be entered manually. 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Schumann's "League of David" dances inspire mixage treatments by contemporary NYC composers

The piano work “Davidsbundlertanze”, Op. 6 (“Dances of the League of David”) comprises eighteen shot dance-like miniatures, sometimes ending inconclusively to merge to the next piece, starting in G and finally concluding quietly in C.  Recently, I purchased a Naxos CD performed by Benjamin Firth. I don’t get the feeling about epic battles between David and Goliath or other heroic Biblical history that the title suggests.  Schumann wrote the pieces at the time he was courting Clara.  In his era, it was common (and more socially acceptable than today) for women to marry during the teenage years. Nevertheless, Robert’s courtship was controversial for a while.  Clara eventually became a composer in her own right.

The CD is accompanied by the “Fantasiestucke” (“Fantasy Pieces”). Op. 12. These pieces (especially the opening) seems to share common material from other Schumann miniatures.  The set ends quietly in F.  Curiously, “In the Night” is the most violent, as if for a horror movie.    Most of Schumann’s miniature-sets end quietly, except for the famous “Carnaval”.  Contemporary composer Timo Andres has commented that quiet endings, at least for piano and chamber pieces, may seem more considerate of the listener than the grandiose finishes of many later romantic symphonies. 
I was curious, because recently some composers in NYC experimented with adding material to the “David Dances” in more contemporary style.  
Recently David Kaplan played one such suite at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village – I’ve reported from there before (May 29, 2012 and Oct. 19, 2010).  I didn’t make this one, but here is a review by Anthony Tommasini, I the New York Times, link

Gabriel Kahane posted a similar mixage on Facebook, from the Metropolis Ensemble (#4), here and here is a note on Tumblr, link.  Note the comparison to “Blurred Lines” (my “BIllBoushka” blog),