Sunday, November 29, 2015

Eugen D'Albert: Symphony in F, and Cello Concerto in C

Today, I found a couple more major concert works by Eugen D’Albert on YouTube. D'Albert was born in Scotland, has a French name, but wrote music in the style of German romanticism, often inspired by Franz Liszt and to some extent Brahms (and oddly, on the same palette, Bruckner).  He was born four years later than Mahler, but became very accomplished technically, particularly with counterpoint and very chromatic harmonies, by his late teens.  Some say he was a "ladies' man".
The first one I looked at is the Cello Concerto in C Major, Op. 20, performed by Antonio Meneses, cello, and Ronald Zollman conducting the Basel Symphony Orchestra, link. The work, running 22 minutes, is in three connected movements, opening with an allegro moderato with a lyrical theme.   The slow movement has even more lyricism, and the finale is more dance-like. But the opening theme for the work comes back before the triumphant end in the rondo dance rhythm.  The work perhaps resembles the longer first piano concerto in that a lot of relaxed, deliberate tempi tend to predominate most of the work.

The other work is the Symphony in F Major, Op. 4 (1886), conducted by Jun Markl.  Like the first piano concerto, this is a youthful (age 22) and very big and ambitious work.   There are four movements.  The tonal pattern is a bit like the Brahms third:  the slow movement is in C Minor, and scherzo in C, before returning to F.  The style resembles a combination of Brahms and early Dvorak, but the slow movement has passionate climaxes that remind one of Bruckner.  The opening theme may sound familiar.  The finale has a slow introduction, and then becomes vigorous and triumphant at the end (whereas Brahms quiets down, in a key that has a reputation for  a “pastoral” personality, ever since Beethoven).  The music is not quite as original harmonically as some of the first piano concerto (like the cadenza) which still remains an underperformed teen masterwork.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ohio middle school principal learns to play viola in his own music class, performs with students in school concerts

NBC News presented a story about Intermediate School Principal Jeremy Day who joined in learning to play the viola in an orchestra class as a pupil in his school, and played in the school’s fall concert, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The principal says he shows that it is never too late to learn a new skill, especially music.

The program was not specified.   Maybe a Bach Brandenberg Concerto, perhaps, or one of the Seasons from Vivaldi.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pianist drives 400 miles to play Lennon music in Paris at tragedy sites; he hauls his piano with a bicycle!

A pianist Davide Martello (trade name “Klavierkunst”) drove 400 miles to Paris from Germany to play at every site of the Paris attacks, including the Bataclan Theater.  He would play John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

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“EW” has an article by David Coggan here.   The Guardian article shows Davide hauling his piano around the streets of Paris with a bicycle.  It’s amazing that this could work physically.  own twitter feed on this event is here.
The piano in the picture is in a motel in Midland, TX (my pic, 2011).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Appomattox", opera by Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton, plays at Kennedy Center

On Monday, November 16, 2015, the Kennedy Center offered a second performance following the Nov. 14  premiere of a new production of an expanded version of the opera “Appomattox”, music by Philip Glass, with a two-act libretto by Christopher Hampton. The Washington National Opera Orchestra was conducted by Dante Santiago Anzolini, and the stage work was directed by Tazewell Thompson.  The opera was first completed in 2005 and then revised, with an expansion of Act 2.

The Kennedy Center's site for the production is here.  Performances occur Nov. 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, and 22 in 2015.
The two Acts of the opera are set 100 years apart.  Act I covers the closing days of the War Between the States, starting with the fall of Richmond and leading to the signing of “surrender” at Appomattox in 1865.  The revised opera is long, and ended at 10:10 PM having started at 7 PM, with a half hour intermission.  

Act II covers the battle over the voting rights act of 1965.  The earliest version had stressed the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, which I remember well. 

The cast includes Tom Fox as Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Baines Johnson, Soloman Howard, Jr. as Frederck Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. David Pittinger as Robert E. Lee and Rdgar Ray Killen. Richard Paul Fink as Ulysses S. Grant and Ncholas Katzenbach, Melody Moore as Julia Grant and Viola Liuzzo, and Robert Brubaker as Wilmer McLean and J. Edgar Hoover. 
The stage was set up as a plantation house front, and adapted to all kinds of other scenes.  

The music was rather gentle (and always tonal), even more so than usual for Glass, and it followed Glass’s pattern of repeating phrases often in groups of four. 

Act I, after the surrender, has an epilogue concerning the near murder of a black journalist in 1873, and ends loudly but doesn’t give a final chord, but merely a high note in the strings.  Act II’s music builds up to a climax over “Hallelujah” (a controversy known now in the Bruckner Ninth) but then the music recedes into a long epilogue, especially a debriefing of  KKK prisoner (in for life without parole) in 2011.  The music ends quietly with a female chorus in C major.
There is quite a bit of humor about LBJ in the second half, with the boil on his ass, and about J Edgar and hints of his homosexuality.
After the performance, there was an extensive QA in the orchestra level, with the entire production crew, led by Opera Artistic Director Francesca Zambello.  There was a question on the transformation of Robert E. Lee’s personality through one actor into the monstrous Killen, who plotted the murders of Chaney, Goodwin and Schwerner (wiki) and is presented as a terrorist. There was also a question of Hampton about having to rewrite the words of Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, because of a rigorous copyright enforced by the King family (wiki on the legal case with CBS, here. )  The National Archives has a copy online in PDF format here.

There is a lot of  quality free video material (all of it "legal") about the opera on the Washington National Opera's own YouTube channel here.

It would sound logical that a Universal Studios or a Columbia Pictures would want to make an Oscar-season film based on the opera in a couple years, the sort of film that can open on a Christmas Day.
First three pictures: Appomattox, VA, my visit in 2005;  also visited Farmville that day.  Also, Pettus bridge in Selma AL, my visit, May 2014. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Millennium Stage at Kennedy Center presents hip-hop show about the game of chess as a metaphor for political exploitation in real life

Tonight, the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage in Washington DC (free shows at 6 PM) put on a bizarre hip-hop concert, hosted by Haysoos, presented by Words, Beans and Life, Inc., called “Crowns: A Chess Inspired Album”, curated by Zoma Wallace.

The Kennedy Center’s own link is here.

The presentation was a bit like a metaphor based on the game of chess, where people’s actions and behaviors can be mapped to the moves of various chess pieces.  The stage had large models of all the pieces.  The lyrics sometimes said that people felt like pawns in other people's games.
The words kept reciting “I want to do hip-hop” and the music, for all its spoken noise, had a true passacaglia-like ground bass, it seemed on the notes C, B. and then G.  (See Timo Andres’s remarks from yesterday’s post.)

There is a Hip-Hop chess federation, as shown in this supplementary video.

The performance was rather lightly attended, as an Anti-Defamation League dinner was taking place on the Terrace Level.

(I will review the opera “Appomattox” very soon in a successive post.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Takacs Quartet performs Haydn, Dvorak, and Andres (premier) at Shriver Hall at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD

Sunday, November 15, 2015, the Takacs Quartet gave a chamber recital in the Shriver Hall Concert Series on the Johns Hopkins University Campus in Baltimore, MD in early evening, at 5:30 PM. The violinists are Edward Dusinberre and Karoly Schranz; the violist is Geraldine Walter, and the cellist is Andras Fejer.

The opening work was the String Quartet #57 in C Major, Op. 74, #1.   The first movement starts with the theme “C-D-F-E” that also opens the finale of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony (#41).  Here the initial effect is more cerebral, almost as if this were an early Beethoven quartet.  But the movement remains monothematic and tends to become mechanical.  The second movement (marked Andantino Grazioso) in G sounds like a minuet, rather than a slow movement, but has more themes.  Perhaps there is foreshadowing of the writing of the famous “Allegretto” of Beethoven’s Seventh.  The third movement is a formal Minuet and Trio, and the Finale has the typical Haydn humor.

The second work was a world premiere of the String Quartet #2 in C, called “Strong Language”, by Timo Andres, who just celebrated his 30th birthday.  The 23-minute work has three movements, titled “Middens”, “Origin Story”, and “Gentle Cycling”.  I wonder if the first movement title refers in part to his cat (or maybe Gabriel Kahane’s feline), at least seen in some of either artist’s social media.  The last movement title seems to refer to Timo’s love of cycling around New York City, at least in outer boroughs, not competitively.   (No, I don’t think he biked to Baltimore; maybe Amtrak.) The music is built in cycles that mimic physical design patterns, on rather simple thematic elements, lending to ground-bass effects like a passacaglia, well known in the music of Glass, but also Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer, and in a recent work by his friend Chris Cerrone (reviewed Nov. 9).  The music is more lush than a lot of Andres’s other music.  Sometimes it reminds one of Bartok’s quartets (the "arch" structure), and there is even a hint of late Sibelius in spots, or maybe even the palindrome that quietly concludes the Hindemith Horn Concerto. The ending is quiet, as is common in Andres’s works, as if getting off a ride in Orlando.  The work was commissioned by Shriver Hall Concert Series  and by Carnegie Hall.

Timo's own link describing the piece is here.  His official music publisher's site (Project Schott New York) is here.  I don't see this piece here yet but I suspect it will be there soon.  The site does allow the visitor to look at sample sheet music pages (much as Amazon does).  I was surprised to see that he uses key signatures more often than I had thought. (See posting about Schott Nov. 2, 2011.)
After a rather crowded intermission (there were a lot of college music students, some carrying cases, maybe some from Peabody) the concert concluded with Antonin Dvorak’s String Quartet #14 in A-flat Major, Op. 105.  This is an odd key for a string work (and not common in cyclic works, though look at Elgar’s first symphony).  The first movement is supposed to reflect a longing for home, and the second movement, in F minor, is a famous scherzo and most familiar portion of the work.  The slow movement in F is a gentle hymn, and the Finale is idiomatic Dvorak, running away from itself with the jovial end.

Before the concert, Timo did a QA lecture with a music professor from Johns Hopkins.  Timo made many interesting points.  Kids today are not as likely to grow up learning classical music as they did even 20 years ago, but still come to using professional techniques in composition.  He talked about the use of ground-bass (the chaconne or passacaglia) as the basis of most popular music and even disco (other than perhaps hip-hop), and some composers bridge these popular idioms with more formal compositions.  I can add that the songs of artists that I have reviewed elsewhere on these blogs (especially the movies blog) like Reid Ewing and Timo Descamps provide some examples.  The use of repeated figures to build effect is counter to the original thrust toward atonality and non-repetition in early 20th Century music, especially expressionism.  He did describe the process of working with Sibelius (AVID software)  and composing under commissions.  It appears that performing as a pianist serves the purposes of composition, even though he performs many other composer’s works (especially Schumann, and more recently Glass).  There were questions, and I asked about the Schumann Fantasy.  He said that some of the March in that work is viewed as almost unplayable. He also mentioned the pressure that was put on women composers – not to – until modern times.  Not many people know that Alma Mahler composed.  Now Clara Schumann’s piano concerto is not a lot, but try Amy Beach’s in C# Minor.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Violinist Tim Fain gives stunning concert at Le Poisson Rouge, Cerrone's Violin Sonata included

The Composers’ Concordance held a concert at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleeker Street in NYC.

Tim Fain, violinist, was the featured performer.

The program opened with a solo piece called “Arches”, by Kevin Puts, rather Paganini-like. If I recall correctly, Fain mentioned the Dalai Lama's ideas as being connected to the piece.

There followed Dan Cooper’s “El Planeta Rojo” with electronic synthesizer, rather modern for the sake of sound effects.

The most important work was the Sonata in D for Violin and Piano by Chris Cerrone(18 min).  The work unfolded as like a Passacaglia (although in quadruple time usually, with a three-note ascending motive), to build toward a triumphant ending on the highest registers of the piano (with Timo Andres as pianist on an electric Yamaha).  The effect becomes a bit like Don Zimmer’s “Inception” score (see review March 22, 2011).  Fain has actually worked on music scores, like “12 Years a Slave” (with Zimmer) and with Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” for Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”.

(See Movies blog Nov. 9 for three more pieces accompanying short films, including a 20-minute video on modern Beirut.)

Monday, November 02, 2015

Alfred Fedak: "Requiem: For Us the Living", a rather gentle setting (with Valedictory performed on All Saints Day)

On Sunday, November 1, All Saints Day, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC presented as “The Gradual” an anthem called “Valediction” (or Valedictory), from the “Requiem: For Us the Living” (2007) by Alfred V. Fedak (b. 1953) , which the composer describes here on his own website. The work is to be performed by chorus, organ and small string ensemble.  The composer is a choirmaster and composer in residence at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York.

The Valedictory appears to be the closing section of a 30 minute work, rising to a climax and subsiding to a peaceful close in C.  The entire work is available now on YouTube on in two Parts, with Part 1 here, and the Part 2 embeded below.  (Another version divides it into four smaller parts.)

The style of the work reminds me of Vaughn Williams, and also of the Requiem by John Rutter, and perhaps Gabriel Faure (which I recall hearing in Chambersburg, PA in March 1991, but that leads to another long curious story for another time).  The music is often gentle, and a bit modal (Lydian) in places.  The opening (a descending tetrachrodal theme that bears a curious resemblance to the hymn tune in the controversial completion of the finale of the Bruckner Ninth)  in G Minor (the key for a Vaughn Williams Mass). But the 17-minute Part 1 ends affirmative in F# Major, and odd descent. Then it seems the entire work will end a tritone away, in C.  (I’ve experimented with a similar scheme for the finale of my own Sonata, so discovering this work was interesting for me.)

The church service on Sunday opened with the setting in G Major of “For All the Saints” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. But the original tune was composed by Joseph Barnby and called “Sarum” with original words by Anglican Bishop William Wakefield How.  Vaughn Williams sometimes called it “Sine Nomine” of “Without Name”.  As a Postlude, Lon Schreiber performed another setting of the hymn by Leo Sowerby, with a little more dissonance.

All Saints Day turns around the mood for those who survive Halloween in the clubs very quickly.