My love for Richard Strauss is well-documented in these parts. I’m on record somewhere sometime in saying that he composed with the greatest ease of anyone who ever lived – more than even Mozart, the most common answer given when the “who’s the most naturally gifted?” question arises. Strauss has an innate ability to make music sound absolutely bad ass that towers over everyone around him, and while this is not necessarily to suggest that it means he is the greatest composer or the most meaningful or the composer we’ll turn to in our darkest hours for solace or whatever the fuck else we laud Beethoven and Bach for, we’ve gotta take Strauss for who he was, and that’s someone so unimaginably skilled that it literally and truly boggles the mind. Continue reading
Much of the history of the twentieth century is some variation on the idea of exile, occasionally self-imposed. Music’s portion of that history is filled with musicians and composers who fled the Nazis or the Communists for safer environs. But there was a small subset of prominent musicians who remained firmly entrenched in the cultural life of these regimes, and they are often the figures that are the subject of some controversy (the obvious archetype being Wilhelm Furtwangler). Sergei Prokofiev was one such figure. Continue reading
Transcriptions are a funny thing in the world of music. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, and whether or not they do can largely be determined by the simple matter of who or what they’re transcribed for. Bach organ works work pretty well dressed up for full orchestra, which is why important and fancy-time composers like Mahler, Elgar, and Schoenberg have all transcribed Bach (to say nothing of Stokowski’s famous versions as well). Pictures at an Exhibition, a pretty successful piano piece, is one of the all-time amazing orchestral transcriptions, thanks to Ravel being a genius orchestrator. The list goes on and on, from Wagner operas and Beethoven symphonies arranged for the piano to string quartet versions of Led Zeppelin and Metallica. Continue reading
There’s a broadcast of the Pittsburgh Symphony from a few years back in which the program was conducted by the orchestra’s concertmaster, Andres Cardenes. During the broadcast, there was an interview that I’ve probably referenced entirely too many times in which Cardenes described the pleasure of working with an ensemble of the PSO’s caliber because he did not “have to work out the kinks.” This, of course, is incredibly stupid and is perhaps the biggest reason why, for good or bad, many people find the work of contemporary conductors lacking relative to their musical forebearers. Working out the kinks is a great way for a conductor to develop a deeper understanding of a work: I don’t want to put words into old friend Ken Woods’ mouth, but I would hazard a guess that his well-received recordings of the Schumann symphonies with Orchestra of the Swan (along with the symphonies of Hans Gal…hey look, you can buy them on the internet!) likely owe a respectable debt to his time spent working on them with the Oregon East Symphony out in cowboy country. Continue reading
It must be nice to be considered a “legendary treasure.” I always dreamed that someday I would be a legendary treasure, but at my current rate the only way I’ll actually achieve such a status would be to:
- Work extended hours at my job
- Save enough money to have my body surgically encased in 24-karat gold
- Drown in the Atlantic Ocean
- Be discovered 200 years later as the only human dipshit to encase himself in 24-karat gold
Yehudi Menuhin and Pablo Casals needed to do no such thing. They were both supreme bad asses whose careers were as distinguished as can be. But there’s a third guy here, and while he may not have the lofty pedigree of the two giants with which he shares this fairly awkward and cheap-looking CD cover, he proves to be the standout on this disc, both musically and hair-stylistically. Continue reading
It’s been eons since I’ve had the time to post anything in this space, and I’ve been feeling the effects of writer’s withdrawal. This condition has been an absolute plague based on the simple fact that I’m a horrible writer and therefore should feel better when NOT writing, but what can I say? Since I last wrote anything of substance the NCAA Tournament started, the Republicans have had something like 71 primary elections, and my interest has been piqued by a movie called “The Hunger Games” that looks to have the appealing plot of teenagers killing one another for the pleasure of adults (something I occasionally fantasize about when thinking of flash mobs and the junior prom).
At any rate, the other major development recently has been the acquisition of my first real acceptable stereo system, complete with receiver, floor speakers, and turntable. I already tested it out with the original instrumentation Royal Fireworks Music, and I’m pleased to report that it sounds pretty nice. Last night I was even able to corral Sandy to sit down and listen to Janacek’s masterful Taras Bulba, which I believe she enjoyed (we both really like Gogol). After that, I had it in my mind to listen to something else, but it was getting late, so I stopped after the first movement of a piece that I hadn’t listened to in some time and decided I was going to write about it because it’s just that cool. That piece is the Oriental Rhapsody by Alexander Glazunov.
After reading a couple comments come in on this old post about Miloslav Kabelac’s Mystery of Time, it occurred to me that there was no way to actually listen to the damn thing. So I’ve made it more possible than it was before to do so.
Tomas Hanus conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in music that is one of my three favorite pieces ever. Enjoy.