Sunday, May 31, 2015

CNN: Chinese pianist Lang-Lang introduces South African teen group Buskaid, and prodigy pianst Alasdair Howell, on "Ones to Watch"

CNN has a series called “Ones to Watch” (link) in which Chinese pianist Lang Lang introduces new artists in classical music.  There are three videos, and the longest one discusses the issues of maintaining an audience in classical music among younger listeners, especially overseas.  It seems that in some places lower income kids can be inspired.
The string ensemble Buskaid (link) from Soweto, the black township of Johnnesburg, composed of teenage musicians in South Africa plays, besides a chamber orchestra from France, a traditional dance.  
In Britain,  Lang presents  Alasdair Howell, prodigy ten-year old pianist who has to protect his hands when also playing cricket.
Wikipedia attribution link, "Soweto Housing, Johannesburg" by Kevin Gabbert - (WT-shared) Kevin James at wts wikivoyage - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - 


Monday, May 25, 2015

Short film provides ritualistic visual "ballet" for the Finale to Bruckner's Ninth (as "completed" by Belgian composer Sebastien Letocart)

There is a fascinating short film, 18 minutes, by Narcis Alispahic, “Anton Bruckner’s Ultimate Finale”, a video interpretation accompanying a commentary by Belgian composer Sebastien Letocart, who did his own “recomposition” of the Finale for the ("unfinished") Symphony #9 from 2007-2009.  Not all of the Finale is played in the video, but the coda, ending in a triumphant D Major, does finish the video. 
My own preference is for the completion by Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca, in 2008, which I discussed on March 8, 2011 here.  I have a slightly older version on Naxos which is similar (slightly longer). The last two minutes build on materials from Bruckner’s own Third and Seventh Symphonies, superimposed on the opening of Beethoven’s Ninth, in D Major triumph.
Letocart explains what he considers four pillars of the Bruckner manuscript, which have a lot to do with Catholic symbolism, and the transition from our lives to eternal life, or perhaps the next one.  He explains the dotted rhythms, the chorale theme that moves down and then back up a simple scale (e.g. the opening of the Bruckner 7th) and fugal elements of the Finale, and the extreme dissonance of a few passages that remain unresolved in polytonality (but Beethoven does that at one shocking moment in the first movement of the Eroica).  Letocart plays some of this material on the piano, and it sounds fascinating harmonized on piano just as with a full orchestra.  Maybe one passage in particular, just before the coda in the other version, could be seen as dodecaphonic, putting all 12 notes to the scale in one chord, like in some of Alban Berg’s music, before resolving to D Major. Letocart’s coda is thematically a little simpler than Mazzuca’s (which I personally think is the closest to what Bruckner himself intended).
But the visual story conveyed by the film is rather shocking. There is an attractive young couple (that is, with a good looking man about 25 and a hippy-like woman), that seems to wander through the Pentecost (often including sites around Vienna with plaques for other great composers) until a cadre of shirtless young men appear, to engage in a homoerotic wrestling ritual that, well, has consequences (at Ascension) if you watch closely. There are effects like this in some operas (like Lou Andriessen’s “La Commedia”, discussed here Sept. 25, 2014, or even Schoenberg’s “Moses und Aron”).  A concept like this happens in my own novel “Angel’s Brother”, about two-thirds into the book, and I need to get off my butt and get the editing all done, really!
Also, the complete movement is played here. (Nicolas Couton conducts the Budapest Philharmonic). Upon playing the conclusion of this video, it strikes me that Letocart is even more interested in tracing the music back to Beethoven’s Ninth than Mazzuca. He doesn't do as much with the First Movement Octave Theme reprise as the other versions (and I find the reappearance of the Octaves effective).  The Eighth Symphony is called the Apocalyptic, but the Ninth is even more so.  Will the New York Philharmonic put it on next season?

Nov. 26, 2016

Letocart has a detailed analysis of his own version on the ABruckner site here.  He also calls himself Seba Tracotel on Facebook; not sure of the meaning of the second name. Letocart will share his score privately by "file" pdf when messaged on Facebook, but the score itself doesn't have a public link.  I have it and can see the connections to "Hallelujah" to the Letocart's conclusion and to the Bruckner Ninth trio schezo.  The opening theme in my third "Sonata" (1962) vaguely relates to the same theme, and apparently that is so because I got a Bruckner Ninth recording for Walter's Ninth (3 movements) on Columbia for Christmas in 1961 after my return from William and Mary (from my "expulsion", some rather ironic and disturbing personal history. Let's hope the NY Philharmonic notices.  I think it may perform a completed ninth in the 2017-2018 season.

Picture: No, not Twin Peaks (David Lynch) but Mammoth Lakes, CA, my trip, 2012. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman" shown in theaters in US directly from National Theater in London

The National Theater in London has offered satellite screenings of the satrical play “Man and Superman” by George Bernard Shaw on screens on US theaters.  I saw this today at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax Va., a weekday afternoon, 3-1/2 hours including intermission and interview with the director, in a large auditorium before a 2/3 full audience  I wonder how many attendees were English teachers.  I didn’t see any large high school classes. 

The best direct link is at the National Theater, where the director explains the controversial (and sometimes extraneous) Act III, subtitled “Don Juan in Hell”, before the play come back to conclude in our world, is here.  Also note the cast link. Sim Godwin directs. Ralph Fiennes plays John Tanner (aka Don Juan), Indira Varma is Ann Whitefield (Ana), Nicholas le Provost is Roebuck Ramsden, and Tim McMulan is Mendoza (the Devil).
The music is interesting, using excerpts from Mozart operas (often “modernized” with dissonance and polytonality, in the spirit of an Andres “recomposition” – the National’s notes give Michael Bruce as the composer), sometimes modernized, a lot of it (but not all) from Don Gioavanni.
I remember, after my senior year of high school in 1961, my best friend said he had read the play on his own, as well as “Lord of the Flies” (which would eventually become standard literature in high school freshman English).
The play opens with a long scene in a library in a private home around 1900.  A lawyer is discussing the will of Mr. Whitehood, and indeed the “dead hand” in the will, as to who will take care of daughter Ann.  Two men, Roebuck and Tanner, are supposed to look after her. Ann accepts Tanner as her guardian, but much of the play deals with her desire to get him (as an older and wealthy bachelor) to marry her, as opposed to the young and struggling Octavius (Ferdinand Kingsley). 
Tanner is also a somewhat “schizoid” intellectual, having authored “The Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion”, indeed a “manifesto” (free on the Gutenberg server here ).  Some of his ideas are anarchistic, but he longs to be free and self-defined.  Much of the dialogue contains the moral paradoxes surrounding (heterosexual) marriage, as an institution that defines people as well as social structure.  The play may well direct indirectly today from the gay marriage debate.   There is the idea “write a manifesto, then see the world.”  Tanner also mentions the idea of "upward affiliation" in relationships, and important idea to me (and to conservative author George Gilder, who talked about it in 1986 in "Men and Marriage").  
The structure of the play draws parallel between Tanner’s life on Earth, and the possibility of what his afterlife would be like, with the long Third Act in “Hell”, which looks more agreeable to Tanner than Heaven, with its gratuitous familial relationships. 
But an earlier act, set in the mountains in Spain, where Tanner consorts with other anarchists and soldiers (some of them very attractive) is curious.  In the final act, the character Hector Malone (Nick Hendrix) enters the debate on marital values, appearing for part of the time in shorts with curious effect.

The broadcast shows the stagecraft and audience.  The interview during the intermission seems to be done on the banks of the Thames.  The experience is like a day trip to London for $20, without airfare or the TSA.
Wikipedia attribution link for photo by Bloodhounds of London’s South Bank, including Royal National Theatre, under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 license.  I did visit the West End in 1982, but not the South Bank.

(Originally published 5/20;  URL title typo fixed and republished 5/25. ) 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Unusual use of banjo in a church anthem; Louis Vierne Symphony 1

The youth choir at the Mount Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington VA Sunday carted out an unusual work, the anthem “I’ll Fly Way”, by Albert E. Brumley.  Although it is related to the Ascension, it offered solo work by a banjo and mandolin, with a “dueling banjos” effect known from the 1972 film “Deliverance”. 

The services Sunday morning followed the monthly Community Assistance.  There was a guest sermon about Job.  I thought I heard a translation from the opening of the Book of Job, that Job had been "the greatest of all time."  Like anyone can fail. (I hope not.) 
There was also a traditional hymn, “Down to the River to Pray”, the title of which certain recalls Timo Andres (“At the River”).  The choral benediction echoed that work, along with Michael McCarthy’s “Vidi Aquam”.

The postlude was the toccata-like D Major finale of Louis Vierne’s Symphony #1, Op. 14, performed by Steven K. Shaner, with its aurally spectacular ending. Marc Dubugnon plays the complete Symphony (D Minor) on YouUbe, having six short movements.  The complete work is rarely played, it seems;  the Prelude is rather dour, the second movement has a nice little fugure; there are two slow movements. 

Note, below, the entrance to Peabody Institute in Baltimore (May 11).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

John Corigliano: Symphony #1: an orchestral "Normal Heart"

There is a tendency for many modern cyclic works to be sparing with gratuitous emotion, even when dealing with a sensitive matter like AIDS.
That is the case of the Symphony #1 (nominally in A Minor) by John Corigliano (40 minutes), as recorded on a CD for Erato in 1991 by Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony. The work has a solo piano part played by Stephen Hough, and a cello solo played by John Sharp.

The first movement is called an “Apologue”, subtitled “Of Rage and Remembrance”, recalling the anger at the heart of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, as in “The Normal Heart”.  Rather than the Sonata, the composer says it is in ABA form. “Ferocity” and dissonance, even in the strings, dominate the outer sections, a kind of lyricism in the middle.  The second movement is a wild tarantella. The third movement, titled “Chaconne: Giulio’s Song”, has the cello solo and emphasizes the double basses, and works up to the biggest climax in the work. The last movement is a brief quiet and acquiescent epilogue.   

Update: Dec. 1, 2017

Here is a YouTube video showing the AIDS Quilt in 1989.  I remember visiting it and finding the piece for Rodney Ayers, whom I had known in Dallas.

Richard Sincere republished a review from Metro Herald of a 1995 NSO performance here

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Reviewing Beethoven's "disco" music

One of the first classical records that I ever owned was a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony #7 in A Major, Op 92, I believe by Dorati and the Detroit Symphony (in the days the city was healthy), on the Mercury label, taking up a whole LP. 

I also have a modern DG CD with Leonard Bernstein, with the Vienna Philharmonic.

The work has been subtitled “the Dance”, and the lively dotted rhythms are particularly conspicuous when compared to other symphonies up to that point. 
The lively Finale has always struck me as potential disco music.  The liner notes on the Mercuryc recording said that at the end, the music is swept up "in its own vortex", as if entering a singularity inside a black hole. Wikipedia says it has one of Beethoven's few uses of "FFF".  The G-natural in the high trumpet always seems to be reaching higher, near the very end. What would happen if a DJ piped it out on the dance floor of the Town DC?  Would the dirty dancing continue?  The second movement, the Allegretto with the monotonic ostinato, is the most famous, and gets quoted by Hollywood a lot.

I do remember playing this music one time when editing the optimistic last page of my DADT-1 book, back in 1997 in "that" Annandale VA apartment.

The closing pages of Stravinsky's "Firebird" really do get played in discos sometimes. 

The scherzo is interesting in repeating the trio (making it a rondo).  Even the choppy, octave-skipping rhythms in 6/8 of the first movement (with the sudden stops), becomes the stuff of rem sleep.
A Major doesn’t seem to be as popular a key (even though Picardy with A minor) as D Major, B-flat, or C. 
One could compare the work to the A Major piano Sonata, Op. 101, with a gentle beginning, a similar scherzo (to the symphony), a referential slow movement and lively virtuoso finale with a fugal development, anticipating the Hammerklavier.  Think also about the Kreutzer Violin Sonata, where the main body of the first movement is really in A Minor.  Also, remember that the Piano Sonata #30 (E Major) figures into a critical scene in the 1999 gay film “Trick”.

Beethoven in a sense was a 19th century technological innovator, in personal expression.   How did he get all of this music written down manually! 
I just replayed Reid Ewing’s song “In the Moonlght (Do Me)” from Modern Family (2010), and yes, the outline of the starting melody seems related to the famous opening movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.  Try playing ITMDM on a church organ by ear – however irreverent the words, the music actually works.  Someone like Gabriel Kahane could adapt this to sing while playing on the piano, it would actually work that way.