I was at a concert: contemporary sandwich edition


This picture came from a site called foreclosurelistings.com. Kansas City everybody!

This picture came from a site called foreclosurelistings.com. Kansas City you guys!

It’s a tried and true formula to stuff the music of our time down the throats of reluctant concertgoers by sticking it in the middle of musical Wonder bread. A tag line like “come for the security of dudes like Liszt and Tschaikovsky, please for the love of God stay for this thing that you’ve never heard before!” might be snarkier than what’s warranted, but it would at least be straightforward and honest. It’s a pity, frankly, because it’s a tremendous joy to hear music written by human beings who remain among the breathing. We’re all set in our ways and we all have favorites and comfort zones and all that, but hearing something genuinely “new” to your ears is loads of fun, even if the work fails to move you. We bear the same responsibility as those patrons in Vienna whose job it was to distinguish between Beethoven and, say, Louis Spohr, and that SHOULD be one of the best parts about hearing live music.

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Stephanie Pittman: Pride. Power. Bad-ass mother who won’t take no crap off of nobody.

1000 bonus points to anyone who gets that reference, by the way.

I owe my interest in music to a number of people. I sat next to Chris Castellanos, one of the best horn players in the world, for two years in high school which went miles towards my involvement with classical music. Mentors like Ken Woods and Rob Baldwin got me exploring all kinds of interesting orchestral repertoire in new and exciting ways. Close friends like Dan and James were there to experience live concerts, marathon listening sessions, and the general exchange of ideas. More recently, my friend Dave McIntire has gotten me investigating musical worlds I didn’t know existed. But before I ever knew any of these folks, my first musical experiences came from listening to and being around my dear mother. Continue reading

I was at a concert: I was at two concerts – Part 1: Kansas City

Allow this picture of Rams RB Steven Jackson stiff-arming Chiefs LB Andy Studebaker in his face to symbolically represent my weekend

“Everything in moderation” is a maxim that I generally try to apply to my own life as often as possible. There are exceptions that I allow for, such as chocolate-covered pretzels, sports, and Oxycontin, but for the most part I find that moderation is indeed a functionally useful life tool. Sometimes, though, life presents a grand opportunity to tell moderation to go fuck itself and bask in the warming glow of too much of a good thing. Last weekend Sandy and I embarked on a two-city musical odyssey between Missouri’s two major cities that was a study in contrasts in a lot of ways except one: there was a shitload of good music to be heard. Continue reading

The endlessly changing musical reputation


God damn I look like Charlton Heston.

According to the official WordPress statistics, this is the 100th post on this blog.  What an achievement.  What a devoid-of-financial-compensation achievement.  Those are, after all, my specialty.  Anyway.

I’ve started writing for a local arts journal, and I reviewed my first concert for them this past weekend (it will theoretically be posted on something called “the internet” at some point).  Among the works performed was a Trio by Muzio Clementi, he of the piano exercise books and the “Sopranos” character name.  I mentioned in my review that Clementi is now remembered almost entirely for those piano exercises (and for his influence on Beethoven’s piano music to a lesser degree), which is pretty unfair, really.  Of course, that’s my personal connection to Clementi: he wrote something easy enough for me to pass a piano proficiency exam. Continue reading

I was at a concert: Grieg, Beethoven, Schumann

Juanjo Mena

Mena. Juanjo Mena.

Juanjo Mena will be succeeding one of my favorite conductors, Gianandrea Noseda, as the Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic beginning with the 2011-2012 season.  His was a name I had seen on the internets, but his was not a conductor whose work I had seen or heard.  Judging by the exciting performance he led with the Kansas City Symphony this past weekend (and by the fact that he will be conducting the orchestra affiliated with a broadcasting organization based out of a town called Media City UK), it is likely I will hear from him again. Continue reading

I was at a concert: Back to school

UPSWhile visiting my family in Tacoma, WA this past week, we went with my mother and some of her friends to a concert with the University of Puget Sound Orchestra (one of my mother’s friends is on the faculty there).  The program featured the winner of the school’s concerto competition, Daniel Bahr, in a performance of Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 2 and the Symphony no. 40 by Mozart.  Christophe Chagnard, he of the Northwest Sinfonietta, was the conductor. Continue reading

Something To Listen To: Louis Langree & The Pittsburgh Symphony

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich

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.