“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”

Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by mountains.  I remember reading books about all the ranges and peaks of the world, and I could probably still rattle off the list of the highest peaks by continent that I took great pride in knowing (much like Rosie Perez in “White Men Can’t Jump,” I am overwhelmed with more useless goddamn information than any human being on this fucking planet).  Having used to live in the Pacific Northwest, I miss having mountains around; it was nice to be able to just look through your windshield at Mt. Hood or Mt. Adams or Mt. Whatever (although I must confess that the trade of beautiful mountains for epic Midwest thunderstorms might be a push).  Most of my family still lives in Tacoma, WA, where on any reasonably clear day you can get a look at what is easily the coolest yet most uncomfortably terrifying mountain in the world, Mt. Rainier.  The Cascades have a remarkable number of gorgeous peaks.  Small wonder, then, that the Northwest would be the settling place for music’s all-time mountain lover, Alan Hovhaness.

Mt. Rainier with Tacoma, WA in the foreground

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Something to listen to: Mahler Symphony no. 3 with Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony

Gustav Mahler

What the radness tells me...

According to the statistics that the folks at WordPress maintain in regards to site traffic, the most popular single post on this blog outside of a Detroit Symphony rant is the uploaded performance of Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony no. 2.  I don’t know if the popularity (bear in mind when I use the word “popularity,” I mean it with a heavy dose of the word “relative” in front of it) of that performance is because of Mahler, or because of the performers (or both), but I’m glad people have heard it, because it’s a really fine performance.

The Pittsburgh Symphony and Maestro Honeck appear to in the midst of recording a Mahler cycle based off of their live concert performances.  Exton has already recorded and released the 1st and 4th, both receiving plenty of acclaim (I have yet to hear the 4th aside from the broadcast, but the 1st is arguably the best Mahler 1 out there).  I can only assume (hope?) the rest are forthcoming. Continue reading

It’s Friday, Friday, time to bury our head in our hands in a display of frustration and sadness; fun, fun, fun, fun…

I used to watch Tosh.0 back when we had cable.  I appreciate the concept of the show: someone else slogging their way through the bowels of the internet in search of the funniest and most insane videos out there so I don’t have to.  Since we’ve made the move to simply using Netflix or Hulu or whatever to watch television through our computer, I haven’t seen the show in some time.  If I had, I would have seen this:

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The forgotten man?

Sir Alexander Gibson

Beam me up, Sir Alexander Gibson

Anyone who knows my personal tastes in conductors knows that my favorites are a bit of an obscure lot.  I honestly don’t consider myself a contrarian by nature, nor do I think there’s any sort of cachet in appreciating some hidden gems.  I love the big dogs, too.  Early on in my classical music life, I was drawn in by Leonard Bernstein, then I hated him because I thought he deviated from the score too much, and now I love him again because he reaches musical and emotional peaks no one else has been able to.  I love Gustavo Dudamel’s enthusiasm and charisma if not his music-making (he has PLENTY of time to get there, though).  But there are some really wonderful musicians who spent their entire careers in the shadows of more famous contemporaries (as my boy Otmar Suitner did with Karajan), and their legacies have become obscured. Continue reading

Something to listen to: Bernd Alois Zimmermann

Bernd Alois Zimmermann

Cynical composer is cynical.

Let me begin this post with a deliberately provocative statement: You know, when I look back on the 20th century, I feel like there were some highs and some lows.  Whew.  I said it.  From the ups (civil rights for African-Americans, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Michael Bolton singing “When a Man Loves a Woman”) to the downs (Nazism, the Great Depression, the films of Dennis Quaid), the 1900’s were not for the faint of heart.  The role of the artist in this tumultuous context took on an entirely new dimension, and art and politics intersected in a way that we will almost assuredly never see again (sorry Sean Penn!).  Artists reflected their time and place in amazing ways, from the poetry of Anna Akhmatova to the art of Diego Rivera, from the novels of Kurt Vonnegut to the music of N.W.A.  In the realm of classical music, the most famous example of this is surely Dmitri Shostakovich, whose roller-coaster ride with Stalin is well known.  But perhaps no composer exemplified the turbulence of the century more than Bernhard Alois Zimmermann. Continue reading

Showdown: Mozart vs. Faure

The Contestants:

Mozart It’s possible you’ve heard of Mozart. He wrote some symphonies, some operas, some piano concerti and sonatas, some chamber music, and some choral music. He is the subject of a movie that won 8 Academy Awards (ironically, the Best Actor award included the actors playing Mozart and Salieri, and Salieri won. Proving that historical fact always gets the last laugh, F Murray Abraham would later star in a film called “Blood Monkey.”). Mozart rests firmly on the Mount Rushmore of music.

FaureGabriel Faure was the foremost French composer of his day, and served as the head of the Paris Conservatoire, where he taught Ravel, Enescu, and Boulanger among others. His music utilizes inventive harmonies and really sets the tone for Impressionism. Faure rests firmly on the Mount Rushmore of mustaches.

The Rep:

Requiem MassThe Requiem Mass, or Mass for the Dead, is a liturgical setting from the Roman Missal used to commemorate the repose of the souls of the deceased. It is comprised of 12 sections, beginning with the Introit and concluding with the In paradisum. Not all musical settings of the Requiem Mass incorporate all 12 sections, and many switch the order of the sections around, including the two represented in this Showdown. Continue reading

A lament for the record store

CD

Hey, remember these?

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