Showdown: Blahzay Blahzay vs. Mystikal

The Contestants:

blahzayBlahzay Blahzay was a 2-man rap group consisting of DJ PF Cuttin’ and Outloud. There’s a distinct likelihood you’ve never heard of them as they only released one album, though they are featured on a track from the very good posthumous Ol’ Dirty Bastard mixtape Osirus from 2005 (remind me to write something about “Dirty Dirty” sometime, one of the best beats I’ve ever heard).

MystikalMystikal was a rapper from New Orleans who peaked with 2000’s Let’s Get Ready. You’ve almost assuredly heard of him because he’s the guy that did “Shake Ya Ass,” which is EVERYWHERE. You’re probably thinking it’s been quite a while though, and it has, because he served six years in prison for making his hairstylist perform sex acts on him (and here I thought that was part of the famous Aveda Institute method).

The Rep:

Danger

There’s something about the word “danger” that has inspired a tremendous amount of quality music, from the Kenny Loggins masterpiece “Danger Zone” to the legendary in my world “Danger High Voltage” of Electric Six. Danger is defined as the possibility of suffering harm or injury, so you know there’s a great chance shit’s about to get real real. Continue reading

Death and the Maiden’s New Clothes

It’s interesting to consider just how important a role the instrumentation and orchestration of a piece of music play in its overall aesthetic. I never gave it all that much thought. I knew there were some tremendously gifted orchestrators scattered throughout musical history like Rimsky-Korsakov and Berlioz and Haydn. I knew that many composers had authorized arrangements of their music in new orchestrations if they didn’t do it themselves. I knew that the character of a piece could change based on the instrumental colors it was dressed in. But rarely has the fundamental nature of a musical moment shifted so radically to my ears than when I ran across a version of the Schubert “Death and the Maiden” Quartet for full orchestra. Continue reading

Undisputed Champs: Otmar Suitner conducts Suppe Overtures

MI0000966862Commenter Tristan reminded me of a proposal I had made many moons ago about a series dedicated to those recordings that stand so far above the competition as to render the very notion of a competition moot (the inspiration for his comment being, if memory serves, the Bernstein/Chicago Shostakovich 7. We’ll definitely be covering that one at some point). I like the idea a lot in that I brought it up two years ago, and I thank Tristan for whipping me into enough of a frenzy to do something about it. With that in mind, let’s begin with a name that anyone who’s spent any length of time reading this blog will know is near and dear to me: Otmar Suitner. Continue reading

Something cool you might have missed: Henry Purcell, Queen Mary, and Droogs

Stanley Kubrick had pretty good taste in music. His use of the opening sequence of Also Sprach Zarathustra is about as legendary as music in film gets, but it wasn’t just the ultra-famous Strauss bit that he employed to great effect. In fact, an equally effective use of the other Strauss’ By the Beautiful Blue Danube waltz can be found in the same movie. Composers as diverse as Ligeti, Bach, Khachaturian, and Liszt can be heard in Kubrick’s films, and his sense of the moment and the mechanism of classical music to help achieve that moment is one of my favorite things about his films. Continue reading

The Shostakovich Chamber Symphony op. 110a: the greatest cover song ever (even including the Clapton Unplugged “Layla!”)

I had the great pleasure of conducting the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony on my Master’s Conducting Recital (followed by Plink, Plank, Plunk by Leroy Anderson, just to give you an indication of my inability to take anything seriously). I knew enough about the whole DSCH motive and his relationship with Stalin and the Volkov-ish idea that the string quartets said everything that the symphonies couldn’t and all that shit, but I never really appreciated just how God damn cool a piece it is. Continue reading

Lorin Maazel’s musical legacy summed up in one performance

Lorin Maazel died today at the age of 84. He had been conducting since the age of 9 and conducted pretty much every single one of the best orchestras on the planet at one point or another. I will always have a soft spot for him because it was under his musical leadership that the groundwork for what would become my favorite orchestra of all, the last decade plus of the Pittsburgh Symphony, was laid.

My personal opinion of Maazel’s conducting isn’t entirely favorable, but like Leonard Bernstein before him he took risks that could at worst be called insane and at best be called insane but in a good way. The above performance highlights much of his strengths and weaknesses: the sense of drama, the beautifully rounded and rich sound, the bizarre and sudden shifts in tempo. I find his output uneven; sketchy Mahler and Bruckner, top-shelf Strauss, extremely underrated Sibelius. His recordings from the 1960’s were probably his best contribution to the medium, though those ’90’s Strauss discs with the Bavarian Radio Symphony are awesome, and in one of them he has neon blue hands on the cover (neon blue hands!).

Ultimately Maazel stands out as one of the few American conductors to reach the absolute apex in Europe, and maybe the only one besides Lenny depending on how stringent your criteria are. His legacy will most certainly live on in an extensive discography and a collection of photographs and videos in which he makes faces that I associate with the 1%. May he rest in peace.