N*ggas Try To Be The King, But The Ace Is Back

As someone who studies, performs, and enjoys classical music, you might be surprised to learn that my 2nd favorite genre of music is rap.  As someone who has said “fuck” more in the last 5 minutes than everyone reading this sentence combined has in the last month, you might not be as surprised to learn that my 2nd favorite genre of music is rap.

While I may be able to present my thoughts and opinions about some incredibly obscure piece of music or composer I may have encountered (who’s excited about my forthcoming post on George Templeton Strong’s ‘Sintram’ Symphony?!) the way only a true pseudo-intellectual can, I cannot do the same for rap music.  I’m not incredibly familiar with a lot of rap music outside the stream just east of the mainstream (although I know enough to know that Immortal Technique is clinically insane and that Del the Funkee Homosapien says “motherfucker” better than anyone except Paul Giamatti in the Howard Stern movie), but I feel at least competent enough to have an opinion, which is why I’m writing this.

The role of the rap producer is an interesting one, and one that has taken on great significance in the last 10 years or so.  The lyrics are obviously huge, and we all love the Eminems, Ludacrises, and Jay-Zs of the world for the great rappers (and lyricists) they are.  But the question of “who made that beat?” has created a mystique around the producer that seems to grow larger and larger.

I love Kanye West as much as the next guy, and all of his albums have been terrific, in my opinion.  The same goes for Pharrell Williams, who has produced some of my absolute favorite songs (I still think “When The Last Time” by Clipse is probably the best beat ever).  I’ve never been all that much into Timbaland, but he’s produced some incredibly successful shit as well.  I’ve always liked Rick Rubin, at least in part because I think I could look like him if I tried.

But, for me, the undisputed king of producers is Dr. Dre.  There is no discussion.  He is to rap producing what Jerry Rice is to the concept of being a wide receiver.  He produced Straight Outta Compton.  He produced Doggystyle.  He produced The Chronic.  He produced 2001.  He produced The Marshall Mathers LP and Encore.  The songs he’s produced would make anyone’s iPod fully decked out: Nothin’ But A G Thang, Let Me Ride, No Diggity, Forgot About Dre, Let Me Blow Ya Mind, and on and on and on………needless to say, he’s a legend, and the best at what he does.

All of this is simply to say that when I heard the upcoming single from Eminem’s new album, Relapse, entitled We Made You, and enjoyed the shit out of it, I assumed it was thanks to the good Dr.  I was correct.  Another Dre classic.  Do enjoy.

The Conductor Who Just Might Save Us All

Gianandrea Noseda

Gianandrea Noseda

In much the same way that I’ll occasionally get on a kick of listening to a particular composer at length (the latest was my journey through Varese), I will often get on a kick listening to a conductor.  This sort of exploration inevitably leads to creating favorites among the ranks of conductors throughout history, with my current (although it’s been this way for as long as I care to remember) favorites being Otmar Suitner, Kiril Kondrashin, and Takashi Asahina.  One thing you’ll notice about all three of these gentlemen, should you care to notice, is that their heydays were 30 years ago.  Which is sometime around when conducting died a slow and painful death.

Somewhere in the 80’s, which brought us Reaganomics, yuppies, New Wave, and me, in no particular order, conducting lost its way.  People tell me there’s a great generation of conductors in there…names like Abbado, Chailly, Muti, Dutoit…I’ll just say: at least we still had Bernstein and Karajan at the end of their lives, with Haitink and Boulez lurking in there somewhere (Amsterdam and a basement filled with computer shit, respectively).

Quite frankly, there has been virtually no reason to seek out the work of today’s generation of conductors.  It isn’t because they’re talentless hacks…far from it.  But for one reason or another, there doesn’t seem to be much substance to match their obvious style.  I have heard flashes of brilliance from many of the new popular maestros: a terrific, if angular, reading of Bruckner 9 conducted by Gustavo Dudamel; a tremendous Bruckner 3 led by Andris Nelsons; several great performances from Manfred Honeck, the new leader of the heroes in Pittsburgh.  But overwhelmingly, my enthusiasm is tempered with further investigation of their conducting.  That’s my super-scientific process in a nutshell…listen to a boat load, shit load, or boat shit (as my mother would say) of their work and see just how much of it I like.

Thanks to a tip from my friend Ken Woods, I have been in exploration mode again, this time with conductor Gianandrea Noseda.  Maestro Woods clued me in to a performance of the Rachmaninov Symphony no. 1 that blew my hair off, so I picked it up from there.  Since then, I’ve gone back and listened to a performance from Pittsburgh I recorded a while back with a stellar reading of Liszt’s Orpheus, the Tschaikovsky Violin Concerto (featuring the violinist most likely to save us Leonidas Kavakos in a bad ass performance), and a rip-your-face-off run through The Pines of Rome. You can listen to these performances if you’d like:

Part 1, Part 2

There’s also been an amazing Adagio from Mahler 10, kick-ass Les Preludes, terrific Schumann 4, and I am listening to a gripping Pictures at an Exhibition as I type this.

Noseda could save us, us being listeners and fans of great music.  He’s currently the Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic.  He should be the Chief of anywhere he wants.  Remember his name.  We need him.

BAM! Rejected!




Another round of applications out from me, the beginning of another round of rejection letters in to me.  I used to keep track of what I applied for, if there even was a response, and, if there was one, what it was.  I don’t do that anymore, but perhaps I should consider reinstating it for the hell of it.  My greatest regret is not saving all these letters so that I could create a papier-mache effigy of myself, call it “Rejected!” and possibly get it showcased in an art museum…although if I were to approach someone about displaying my work, I would more than likely get a rejection letter.  I’ll leave some space on the back to add on.

Unfortunately, conducting has turned into Heath Ledger to my Jake Gyllenhaal…I wish I could quit it.  It’s simply far too compelling to me on a personal level.  I don’t have the experience, I’m not good enough, I don’t have the money to be able to attend various workshops and conferences, I’ve only been in KC for about 9 months, so I don’t know enough people to try and start my own small group just yet…the list goes on.  Excuses, excuses, and I don’t especially buy into any of them myself, but sometimes when I just sit back and look at them, it makes so much more sense to try and get into retail management or janitorial work.

This particular one stung more than normal because I actually felt somewhat decent about my chances to get a shot.  I had worked with the ensemble in the past and knew some members of the search committee, and tried to convey my love for my time with the group as best I could in my materials.  Unfortunately for me (terrific for them, though), they had an enormous amount of applications for the position by people far more qualified than I, and I didn’t make it much further than the trash can (and rightly so when I heard about some of the candidates…I’m happy for the group that they have such a good pool to choose from). 

I have some other applications out there awaiting a response or lack thereof, but I already know how those are going to go, so I’m basically just looking forward to getting a piece of mail with my name on it, which can be fun. 

Just thought it would be fun to share this wonderful part of my world!