I don’t generally like “Christmas” music. I don’t generally like Christmas. Not because I hate Jesus or Santa or presents or family or various nogs, but because I don’t like the winter and crowds and Josh Groban. I don’t like how Christmas, in spite of the massive war we are apparently waging on it, stampedes into every store sometime around Halloween and has completely destroyed the appeal of Thanksgiving by turning that holiday into a fuel-intake session for confrontations over discounted TVs and electric shavers. And seriously, Christmas music is fucking terrible…let’s just be real here. It’s a God damn travesty. But there are some exceptions, and these are they: Continue reading
Succinct title is succinct.
Over the course of the last week, there has been a discussion about live music versus recordings spurred on by some very engaging posts over at On an Overgrown Path, with the general consensus being summed up by the title of the initial post: “If classical music is not live it is dead.” Here is a brief excerpt from the post:
To date classical music has actively courted new technology as a desirable and superior partner. But is it not time to rethink this position and start driving home the message that anything other than live music is actually a poor substitute? Marketing and social media could play a big part in the call to action in the concert hall. How about aggressive collegiate marketing campaigns for live music built around straplines such as ‘Test drive a concert hall’, ‘Live classical music is louder than your iPod’, ‘Play an instrument not Facebook’ and ‘If classical music is not live it is dead’. And why not attention getting offers such as discounted concert tickets for anyone trading in iPod earbuds?
Several of the comments have taken it a step further, essentially claiming that recordings have little or no value and that any and all marketing energies ought to go towards the promotion of live performances. There is talk of the communal and social aspect of a performance, the unreasonable expectation created by recordings for “perfect” performances, etc. With all the concern over fidelity of sound, purity of intent, and true realization of musical concept, it seems that one fundamental element has been missing. If Shostakovich is performed in Moscow and I live in Kansas City, did it really make a sound? Continue reading
Maura Lafferty has a post about social media and criticism that focuses extensively on the quality of the content on Examiner.com and how it relates to more mainstream media outlets. At issue is the credibility of the writers themselves, and by extension the credibility of the outlet for which they write.
I wrote for a time at Examiner.com as the Kansas City Performing Arts dude, but I got tired of self-editing whatever passes for my own writing style. Whatever qualifications any particular writer may or may not have, there is at least some semblance of credibility associated with it, because I had much the same experience one of the commenters on the above article had (John Marcher). One of the pieces I wrote there was a review of the touring production of “Spring Awakening” a couple years back, and the publicity people of the production treated me as if I were an actual member of the media, which I admittedly found hilarious and somewhat disarming, if only because I’m just a dude who likes to write about music and make inappropriate references to truck stops, venereal diseases, and the Kardashians. Continue reading
Life in the Digital Age has provided us with many wonderful things. We are now capable of learning and sharing cultures with people across the planet. IBM just created a computer that beat the two greatest Jeopardy champions of all-time and will now go to work assisting in the diagnosis of medical conditions. It has never been easier to view pornography or videos of creepy pseudo-midgets lip synching Katy Perry songs. Perhaps best of all, the growth of technology has made music accessible through a series of keystrokes, mouse-clicks, and frustrated whimpering about download speeds and servers. Continue reading
Alex Ross had an interesting piece in The Guardian this week called simply, “Why do we hate modern classical music?” In it, he explores the myriad explanations for why contemporary classical music continues to be unpopular. Contemporary is a bit of a misnomer, as there are references to the Second Viennese School, Britten, Ligeti, etc., but it’s better than saying “the music that no one wants to hear” and I respect that. Continue reading
Music has lots of gaudy spectacles, and they started long before Lady Gaga or Jay-Z. There are dozens of works of classical music that are bombastic, overwrought, kitschy, melodramatic, or all of the above. The 1812 Overture might be the most famous example (although when compared to Wellington’s Victory six cannon shots isn’t THAT many), but it is by no means the pinnacle of music’s good bad taste.
With apologies to Stockhausen’s Licht, the honor goes to Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music, in its original instrumentation. For the uninitiated, the original scoring is: 26 oboes, 14 bassoons, 4 contrabassoons, 2 serpents, 9 trumpets, 9 horns, 3 sets of kettledrums, and 6 side drums. Just read that again and contemplate its sheer awesomeness.
For years, I only knew of the relatively famous Mackerras recording. It was supposedly recorded in the wee hours of the night, as that was the only time they could get 26 (26!) oboes and the rest of the gang in one place. Turns out there’s more. Several more.
I’ve managed to track down five different recordings, all on wondrous LP. The list:
Charles Mackerras/A shitload of people from London
Jean-Claude Malgoire/La Grande Ecurie & La Chambre du Roy
Jean-Francois Paillard/Paillard Chamber Orchestra
Richard Schulze/Telemann Society Orchestra and Band
Johannes Somary/Augmented (I’ll say) Wind Ensemble of the English Chamber Orchestra
I really only posted this because I want some feedback. Does anyone know of any more? If so, leave a comment, because I’ve come this far……..
Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of one of these recordings. And fucking crank it. It’s a hell of a show. Burning down your house with fireworks is of course optional, but recommended.
When I was in grad school I did a theoretical analysis of the Symphony no. 11 by Dmitri Shostakovich, after being introduced to the piece by my conducting teacher. I became fascinated with and consumed by the piece because it is as intense as music gets and it has a theatricality (did I just make up that word?) that is unlike anything I have ever heard. As the cliche goes, a movie simply wouldn’t be as good if there were no music to underline the emotions at work, which is true. But now imagine music that is so vivid and so dynamic that were you to attempt to actually express the music in the form of a film, you would probably erase the power of the imagery at work in the score. That is the 11th.
Subtitled ‘The Year 1905′, it tells the story of the “Bloody Sunday” of 9 January 1905, when Russian troops massacred somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 unarmed, peaceful demonstrators outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The first movement, Winter Palace, sets the scene…cold, wintry, still, uneasy, charged. For 15 minutes, you are held completely gripped in this scene, waiting. It’s absolutely amazing. The second movement, 9 January, is a musical depiction of the massacre, complete with some trademark Shostakovich snare drumming, frantic strings and woodwinds, overpowering brass. It is completely relentless music, never losing intensity for 20 minutes, including a fugato that builds to one of the great climaxes in the repertoire. The third movement, In Memoriam, is exactly what it sounds like…a memorial to the victims. It is tremendously tragic, moving, and powerful. It all builds to the fourth movement, The Alarm, a ”look-the-fuck-out” message from the people to the Tsar that is a driving, forceful barrage, only interrupted by an extended, beautiful English Horn solo that precedes one of the coolest endings in all of music, with loud-ass chimes, 5/4 bars, D major chords, and repeated snare drum figures. If anyone has ever seen the movie “The Limey” you’ll recognize the following line that I always seem to conjure when hearing this movement:
You tell them I’m coming. Tell them I’m FUCKING COMING!
The menace, the threat, and the promise of this music was indeed fulfilled twelve years and one symphony later, in the 1917 revolution. The 11th is one of the great masterpieces of the symphonic repertoire…an absolute must-hear. The performance linked here is one of the best performances of this work I’ve heard…truly inspiring in its energy, scope, and power. Langree is not someone I was familiar with prior to this concert, but I will be seeking out more of his work based on this performance. I dare say that it is on a par with the great Russian masters’ readings that I discovered this music through…high praise. The Pittsburgh Symphony, as per usual, kicks serious ass.
The rest of the concert consisted of Mozart. The Masonic Funeral Music opened the concert, in another fine performance. A brief note from Dr. Bernhard Paumgartner, founding member of the Salzburg Festival and eminent Mozart biographer:
The Masonic Funeral Music holds a place all its own among Mozart’s works, not only for its form and homogeneity, for the ingenious choice of the instruments and their exquisite technical treatment, but also through the unique grouping of a solemn march around the fundamental element of a gregorian chorale. Mozart very accurately penned the Cantus Firmus on a separate leaf in order to avoid errors in the elaboration. According to Heimsoeth the first five bars of this melody (bar 25-29) are identical with the first Psalm tone with the first Difference after the Cologne Antiphonary. What follows is a local compilation of several Psalm tones for the ‘Miserere mei Deus’ — a Penitential psalm such as is frequently used for funerals in several places.
This music reminds me in all the good ways about the dark parts of Don Giovanni and the amazing musical atmospheres Mozart can create. While I don’t think it’s fair to say this music is neglected, it is fair to say that it should be performed more, because it is a fantastic work. A great way to set the tone for this concert.
Garrick Ohlsson joined the fray for a nicely crafted performance of the Piano Concerto no. 27. The music isn’t flashy, it isn’t always bright, but it shows a composer who has completely mastered every single aspect of writing a piano concerto. Unlike a lot of Mozart’s music, which was popular enough to be premiered on concerts featuring nothing but Mozart’s music, by this time his popularity had waned sufficiently to the point that it was premiered, at least according to legend, by Mozart on a concert featuring clarinettist Joseph Bahr (although it appears that it may actually have been premiered by one of Mozart’s students 3 months earlier). Regardless, the music stands up to anything else Mozart wrote. The performance here is worth hearing for Ohlsson’s sensitive playing, particularly the third movement, which sounds nicely (and, dare I say, “correctly”) understated, IMO.
Now, the technical info. It was recorded from WQED’s stream and converted to three 256K mp3 files and put into one RAR file. Download available from RapidShare here:
These concerts took place 6 & 8 June 2008 in Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh. Do enjoy this wonderful concert…it is absolutely worth every second.