30 January 2010

String Me Up

Playing Beethoven sonatas is nice;
making money is nicer.
Neil Sedaka (on the NPR news quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me)

One harpist writes:

I truly love the connection water-harp!

Mvts 2 and 3 are very beautiful, 1 and 4 less strong (1 too monotonous,
4 not idiomatic for harp).

The composer probably should just be pleased to have any work of his praised as very beautiful. On the last point, another harpist responds:

Much of our repertoire is “unidiomatic,” which makes playing some of it less of a joy (to put it diplomatically), but of course doesn’t mean it's unworthy. Perhaps there was a message there—that the harpist can’t afford what seems like an unreasonable amount of time and effort to bring the piece forward even if there is a desire to be fair to the cause of playing new music. It’s all subjective, of course, but considering how much longer it takes to prepare harp repertoire than other instruments, it’s a valid concern for many harpists, particularly considering how poor business is these days, so severely taxing all resources of time and energy.

All this perfectly reasonable. Nor is it a concern new to me, as I have found by trying to ‘shop around’ my unaccompanied clarinet music. The fact that I actually play it myself (nor am I the world’s best clarinetist) seems to demonstrate that the music is idiomatic; but it wants practicing. And I do (thus far) seem the only clarinetist in the world willing to practice the music.

The apparent alternative—write music which is so readily idiomatic as to make no demands in terms of practicing time—is not far from some of my experience, either. Some few of my pieces written for specific occasions for church services, were designedly easy, for use by musically modest forces. One trouble there is: show the pieces to technically accomplished musicians, and they take no interest in it. Too easy.

Welcome to the cleft stick of damned if it’s too easy, damned if it requires musical application.

22 January 2010

Pop Revolution Shuffle

Second time in recent shuffles that a track from Trout Mask Replica started off. But then, the minority pop music crowded consistently into the shuffle (seven of the first ten tracks — do we still call them tracks, I wonder?)

A bit strange that in a shuffle of twenty-five, there were three each from Genesis and Jethro Tull — from the same playlist, respectively.

The first movement from each of two different recordings of the Symphony of Psalms cropped up; made for an interesting comparison (Craft’s was the more relaxed).

And strewn through the shuffle, two consecutive Preludes-&-Fugues from Shostakovich’s Opus 87 (nos. 17 & 18).

1. Captain Beefheart, “Veteran’s Day Poppy” from Trout Mask Replica [1084/1172]
2. Jethro Tull, “Pastime with Good Company” from The Best of Acoustic Jethro Tull [607/1172]
3. Genesis, “The Lamia” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [997/1172]
4. Mannheim Steamroller, “Greensleaves” from some Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album or other [323/1172]
5. Shostakovich, Prelude & Fugue № 17 in A-flat, from Opus 87 (Tatiana Nikolayeva) [1162/1172]
6. Jethro Tull, “Jack in the Green” from Songs from the Wood [452/1172]
7. Prokofiev, Cinderella, Opus 87, Act II, № 32 Cinderella’s Dance (Cleveland Orchestra, Ashkenazy) [114/1172]
8. Stravinsky, Agnus Dei from the Mass (Westminster Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia, James O’Donnell) [524/1172]
9. The Bonzo Dog Doo/Dah Band, “Cool Britannia” from Gorilla [219/1029]
10. Genesis, “Counting Out Time” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [220/1029]
11. Ravel, Rapsodie espagnole, Malagueña (Detroit, Paray) [654/1172]
12. Beethoven, Symphony № 9 in d minor, Opus 125, i. Allegro man non troppo, un poco maestoso (Gewandhausorchester, Masur) [4/1029]
13. Genesis, “It” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [437/1172]
14. de Victoria, Agnus Dei from Missa « O quam gloriosum » (Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly) [540/1172]
15. Shostakovich, Prelude & Fugue № 18 in f minor, from Opus 87 (Tatiana Nikolayeva) [1163/1172]
16. Vaughan Williams, Symphony № 7 (Sinfonia antartica), iv. Andante sostenuto (London Philharmonic, Haitink) [888/1172]
17. Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64, Act III, Scene viii: № 48 Morning Serenade (BSO, Ozawa) [83/1172]
18. Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, i. Psalm 39 (Philharmonia Orchestra, Simon Joly Chorus, Robt Craft) [949/1172]
19. Shostakovich, Six Romances on Verses by English Poets, Opus 62, № 5: Sonnet LXVI, “Tired with all these” (Shakespeare) — Lento (Fyodor Kuznetsov & Yuri Serov) [793/1172]
20. Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64, Act III, Scene vi: № 43 Intermezzo, Andante (L’istesso tempo) (BSO, Ozawa) [71/1172]
21. Elgar, Cello Concerto in e minor, Opus 85 iii. Adagio (André Navarra, Hallé Orchestra, Barbirolli) [199/1172]
22. Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, i. Psalm 39 (Westminster Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia, James O’Donnell) [950/1172]
23. Jethro Tull, “Broadford Bazaar” from The Best of Acoustic Jethro Tull [178/1172]
24. Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64, Act II, Scene v: № 32 Tybalt Meets Mercutio, Moderato (BSO, Ozawa) [69/1172]
25. Nielsen, Symphony № 6, Sinfonia semplice (FS 116), iv. Thema med Variationer (LSO, Schmidt) [775/1172]

Revisiting Järvi’s Prokofiev II (i.e., out of order)

After more than a decade since I first owned the Järvi/RSNO set of the Prokofiev symphonies (an interval in which I have been better pleased with the Ozawa/Berliner Philharmoniker set), I’ve decided to revisit the crime scene, starting with disc 1 . . . .

On the whole, Järvi’s Classical here is very good; there are four or five brief moments where, underneath the rapid textures, the nervous energy is paramount, but the assurance of a solid beat feels rather up for grabs. Nothing approaching ‘fatal’, though as a result I am still apt to prefer both Ozawa (a match in elegance, and the band are always tight) and Ančerl (even speedier and more nervous, and always tight, nothwithstanding).

The Fourth and I are continuing rather a curious dance. I am warming to it more and more with each hearing (the two several versions, and different recordings), but the deal is somehow not quite sealing. [And in the meanwhile, I have gotten to know the source ballet, L’enfant prodigue, which is inarguably one of Prokofiev’s masterworks.] In last night’s listen, I felt that I liked the Opus 112 first movement the best I ever have, and so applause to Järvi. The last movement here, though, doesn’t have the focus which I find so signally refreshing in the Ozawa set. To repeat a thought, the middle movements are musically lovely; and yet the whole enchilada falls only just short of winning me over, for whatever reason.

Overall, I am continuing of the opinion that the Second is a stunning achievement; and that, while the Third and Fourth are fine successes in their way, it is the Fifth with which Prokofiev incontestably finds his symphonic footing again — in some way(s), the Fifth sounds in all its parts as a symphony, in some way that I am not perceiving in either the Third or Fourth.

19 January 2010

Elgar’s Guarneri in Boston

Znaider’s smashing debut in Boston with the Elgar Opus 61:

[ link → review ]

18 January 2010

More Glare

Slow progress on Lunar Glare. Not to complain, since I certainly feel that ability to devote any time at all to composition is a gain at present. Probably, I’ll throw half of it out; but I feel the need to fling some notes onto a page. Some of them will stick.

The piece is for someone who is plenty busy at present (and some of the busy-ness is musical), so I don’t feel I want to send sketches from a work-in-progress. Nor do I know just when I dare project an end date.

So, I just keep working, as I may. Not crazy about the experience that a physical condition can interfere with creative work, although that, too, must be a gift.

Another spate of flinging pieces out there, and hardly daring to hope that anything will actually come of it. Not passing scores around at all, though, would be absolute failure, I suppose.

At the very least, happily, there is the sure knowledge that the Passion is in rehearsal. And that a fine performance is the realistic end.

16 January 2010

In the bleak mid-winter

A week or more ago I read with pleasure the score for Luke Ottevanger’s Sonata in absentia II (piano solo). Delight was greater still upon listening to a “composer’s-own preview” recording. It is a tenderly beautiful piece, with a sweet melancholy (not sweet to any unbecoming excess, and the melancholy is well tempered), and possessing an admirable balance between an entirely engaging rubato narrative, and a firm sense of the ground it is covering. The pace of the piece, and how capably it commands the timespan, are thoroughly captivating. I love this piece, and I applaud Luke!

Restoration of contact with an old Wooster mate has now been confirmed, which was just nudge enough that I have at last burned two discs of Henningmusick to send him, not only so that he may know what I’ve up to musically all these years, but towards a mutual project combining live music and dance. It’s time we took this show on the road.

14 January 2010

Shoo-fly Shuffle


1. Captain Beefheart, “Dachau Blues” from Trout Mask Replica [229/1172]
2. Prokofiev, Cinderella, Opus 87, Act I, № 6 The Sisters’ New Clothes (Cleveland Orchestra, Ashkenazy) [99/1172]
3. Beethoven, Symphony № 3 (Sinfonia eroica), Opus 55, i. Allegro con brio (Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Masur) [906/1172]
4. Elgar, Violin Concerto in b minor, Opus 61, i. Allegro (Nigel Kennedy, City of Birmingham Symphony, Rattle) [356/1172]
5. Stravinsky, De elegia prima from Threni (Robt Craft conducting) [241/1172]
6. Shostakovich, Symphony № 4 in c minor, Opus 43, movement iii. (Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich) [732/1172]
7. Ginastera, Concierto para arpa y orquesta, Opus 25, ii. Molto moderato (Magdalena Barrera, Orquesta Ciudad de Granada, Josep Pons) [212/1172]
8. Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64, Act III Scene vi, № 40 The Nurse, Andante assai (BSO, Ozawa) [76/1172]
9. Jethro Tull, “Mother Goose” from Aqualung [556/1172]
10. Vaughan Williams, Symphony № 9 in e minor, iv. Andante tranquillo (London Phil, Haitink) [29/1172]

A couple of “timing surprises” . . . The Beethoven, when later that day Paul & I went to see In Search of Beethoven at the MFA (and you knew the film would include some chunk of that Allegro con brio); and the Elgar, as we shall go hear Nikolaj Znaider play it at Symphony Hall this Saturday.

And in general, with the first movements of the Beethoven Sinfonia eroica and the Elgar Violin Concerto, plus the third movement of the Shostakovich Fourth . . . this was the long-breathed shuffle. I like it.

12 January 2010

Slouching towards work

Hardly was the ink dry on Heedless Watermelon, and I knew I wanted to write a set of three fl/cl duets, for performance as a suite. All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage nearly wrote itself (and on the bus, at that), and I brought it to Atlanta to play with Nicole Randall-Chamberlain (we played the two pieces in reverse order, so that the concert closed with the Watermelon). And I knew the last movement would be called Swivels & Bops. So far, so good.

Recovery from a minor (oh, so minor) procedure at the beginning of December, has turned out slow and nuisancesome. The week away from work, which I took as vacation, and for which I had plans of actual musical work, was dominated by the need to address medical issues. In the back of my mind, I have been keen to find the pivot to get back to writing music.

Nicole and her husband, Brian (a composer and guitarist) will be coming to Boston, so there will be performances. That seems as fair an occasion as any to get Swivels & Bops on paper. Ideally, there should be something for the three of us to play.

In the dead of last night, my inner ear was starting to play Swivels & Bops; not only as a fl/cl duet, but – well, I’ve gotten this strange idea of writing the piece so that it works as a duet for the two winds; and writing a guitar obbligato, too. My friend Gene tells me of two string quartets by Milhaud which the composer designed to make an octet, when played together; if in that case the result is maybe (in Bertram Wilberforce Wooster’s words) a jolly sight too elaborate, perhaps I could make this more modest scheme work satisfactorily.

[ click for larger image ]

The stage was probably set, for that late-night composing in the dark, by my finally drawing some music again, the start of a sketch for clarinet and harpsichord, Lunar Glare.

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11 January 2010

Non-Headlines Dept

How To Deal With Simon Cowell's Departure from American Idol

You mean, apart from not caring in even the slightest?

A music-lover in Massachusetts

From time to time — sometimes when I listen to Nielsen or Berlioz, sometimes when I am surfing reviews on Amazon — I see in my mind’s eye Bob Zeidler (a/k/a “BobZ” or even “bobbsey”), a well-loved participant in the now-defunct New York Times classical music fora. It was in that on-line medium that I first “met” Bob, who listened voraciously, was a prolific reviewer on Amazon, and easily made many “virtual friends,” thanks to his good humor, and passionate advocacy of the music he loved.

Though we started as “virtual friends,” Bob lived nearby, in central Massachusetts, and we met in person for a Boston Philharmonic concert or two (Bob was a great fan of Ben Zander’s), and he even drove to Boston to attend the Festive Evensong (all Henningmusick, all the time) directed by Mark Engelhardt at St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in November of 2003.

The most vivid musical memory with Bob in the scene, was when we met to attend a concert of the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall, where we heard an utterly life-changing performance of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony. None of us was new to the story behind the symphony (least of all my wife and mom-in-law, who had lived in St Petersburg); the impact of that concert was 100% the music-making, which all of its own would have shattered any doubt as to the musical greatness of the Shostakovich Seventh.

Here’s raising a glass to “bobbsey,” who must be reviewing the Concerts Celestial from on high.

09 January 2010

Carter, Partch, Feldman, Henning

With Dave MacNeil’s snarky comment (referred to here) in mind, one of the first compact discs I’ve bought this year is Bridge 9184, Vol. VII of the Music of Elliott Carter:

[ click for larger image ]

Dialogues I heard first in the Naxos recording (one with a companion DVD); and the Boston Concerto I heard, well, here in Boston. Still, more than half an hour of the music on this disc is new to me; and I am well content to have (1) a recording of the Boston Concerto, and (2) another recording of the Dialogues.

Back in the day, when I was earning (well, I shall hope that I was earning) my Master’s at UVa, one of my teaching assistantship assignments was to Professor Milos Velimirovich, as he taught a music history survey for non-music majors. I don’t remember actually hearing any of it (and I should guess that he played just a brief excerpt), but I remember that one of the pieces he demo'd in class when he got to Modern Times, was Barstow by Harry Partch.

Not to make a dog-&-pony show of it, but another new music intro for my new year is a disc of four pieces, beginning with Barstow:

[ click for larger image ]

What I was expecting, given Partch’s hands-on construction of exotic instruments and his energetic pursuit of microtonal scales, was one matter. And I probably wish that I had tried a disc of purely instrumental music. My initial listen (subject to revisitation, of course) was dominated by impressions of the vocal delivery, a distressingly flat (and therefore contrary to my expectations) hectoring-hippie sort of declamation; didn’t help that each piece is introduced by a click-slate delivery of the title. I find myself wishing he’d shut up and play his guitar.

For me the greatest success so far (of the listen to new things the first week of the year game) has been Morton Feldman’s Crippled Symmetry:

[ click for larger image ]

I love this piece in much the same way, and for much the same reasons, as I do Why Patterns?, only even more so.

A friend in a brass quintet is having his quintet start to read Moonrise (though, for want of flugelhorns, they are using cornets), and it sounds as if they may be coming to like the piece.

07 January 2010

Furor Over the Sonic Future

The Boston Music Intelligencer sponsored a panel two nights ago, What Can We Do for Classical Music Radio in Boston? Judging by the discussion that night, the answer seems to be, Not all that much:

WGBH general manager John Voci stayed close to script, and his answer to 85% of the questions directed to him came from the three-item menu, 1. Buy an HD radio; 2. Although we axed the Friday BSO broadcasts, we’ve increased our BSO broadcasts 140%, though mysteriously, there are prohibitive production costs for the Friday BSO broadcasts; or 3. No, boosting 99.5 wattage just cannot be done.

One aspect in which the evening was an unqualified success, was in the public turnout. It did my heart good to hear so many of my Bostonian neighbors expressing rage at the (now-former) safe-as-milk programming (a radio travesty which Dave MacNeil illuminated by explaining that those years were helmed by a former soft-rock DJ).

Who knew that Elliott Carter is Dave MacNeil’s bête noir?! A pity that our well-loved Dave subscribes to the faulty corroboration of the dentist-office programming with attracting young listeners — because young listeners are just as apt to be lured to classical music via Xenakis, Ligeti and Carter, as by de Falla, Brahms or Tchaikovsky.

06 January 2010

Seen on facebook II

Reminds me of the time I muttered something about not knowing how to conjugate and my boss responded, “I’ve met your daughter. Clearly, you’ve conjugated!”

03 January 2010

The fir today

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Seen on facebook

when the lights are out, you have no idea what color m&ms you are eating.

02 January 2010

Wintry Courtyard

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