Shit that makes me cry, Volume 1: Nielsen: Symphony no. 1

As a grown man with a job who occasionally pays bills, society tells me that generally speaking I ought not cry. Normally, I take society up on that, encasing my emotions in enough metaphorical lucite to protect that Honus Wagner baseball card. Every so often, though, something comes along and moves me to tears, bringing me untold joy and disappointing 65% of fathers in America. This is one of those somethings…

Years ago, my dear friend Dave McIntire and I listened to all the Nielsen symphonies in one night and wrote retro diaries about them. At that time I was fairly unfamiliar with Nielsen’s symphonies. I knew the famous 4th OK, and I was familiar with the nutso 5th, but the rest were varying degrees of murky. Fast forward four years and I’m a little less murky on some, a little more murky on the 4th and 5th, and desperately in love with the 1st.

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I was at a concert: FINALLY!

A week ago Saturday brought to a close the New York Philharmonic season as far as my attendance is concerned. It’s been a pretty disappointing first year for symphony concerts here in the Northeast in my opinion. Good-and-occasionally-very-good-but-not-great performances of Strauss, Mahler, Bruckner, and Beethoven (James Ehnes excepted!)  from the NYPO, the bullet-riddled corpse of Schumann 4 in Philly, and a respectable but ultimately unspectacular Rachmaninov 2 from the band on the Jersey side left me wondering just when the Phil was going to bring the pain and fucking represent as their reputation suggested they should have been doing all along. I got my wish thanks to John Storgards and the genius that is Sibelius.

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I was at a concert: Mahler 9

For  many years I had threatened to see Bernard Haitink in live action, and Saturday night that threat made the transition to promise thanks to the Philharmonic. Haitink is 87 years old now, and I think I had projected some ill health on to him that he does not at all appear to be suffering from. Mahler 9 is obviously right in his wheelhouse, and even at his advancing age his conducting was as clear and impactful as I always figured it was. He received warm ovations both before and after the music, the applause feeling to me like it carried the subtext of a final goodbye for certain audience members, myself included. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to see and hear the man in his element again, but I can tell you unequivocally that dude’s still got it.

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I was at a concert: Beethoven and Bruckner

A couple weekends ago we headed to Lincoln Center for a concert featuring music by one of the three B’s and another B that I assume would crack the top ten of B’s if we were ranking them (I’ll file that one away). Guest conductor Juanjo Mena, who I remember from a show back in Kansas City, was there, as was James Ehnes, whose violining I’ve enjoyed from the distance of various broadcast recordings for some time now. It was a surprisingly well-attended and perhaps not-surprisingly good concert. Continue reading

Lorin Maazel’s musical legacy summed up in one performance

Lorin Maazel died today at the age of 84. He had been conducting since the age of 9 and conducted pretty much every single one of the best orchestras on the planet at one point or another. I will always have a soft spot for him because it was under his musical leadership that the groundwork for what would become my favorite orchestra of all, the last decade plus of the Pittsburgh Symphony, was laid.

My personal opinion of Maazel’s conducting isn’t entirely favorable, but like Leonard Bernstein before him he took risks that could at worst be called insane and at best be called insane but in a good way. The above performance highlights much of his strengths and weaknesses: the sense of drama, the beautifully rounded and rich sound, the bizarre and sudden shifts in tempo. I find his output uneven; sketchy Mahler and Bruckner, top-shelf Strauss, extremely underrated Sibelius. His recordings from the 1960’s were probably his best contribution to the medium, though those ’90’s Strauss discs with the Bavarian Radio Symphony are awesome, and in one of them he has neon blue hands on the cover (neon blue hands!).

Ultimately Maazel stands out as one of the few American conductors to reach the absolute apex in Europe, and maybe the only one besides Lenny depending on how stringent your criteria are. His legacy will most certainly live on in an extensive discography and a collection of photographs and videos in which he makes faces that I associate with the 1%. May he rest in peace.

10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 1

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony no. 3 ‘Eroica’, mvt. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven

The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk might have the greatest claim to the double whammy of being ahead of their time and shining a light on a future that in hindsight seemed inevitable. Fast forward 110 years from their famous jaunt through the not-exactly-skies-but certainly-off-the-ground and we now live in a world where passenger planes filled with beds, alcohol, and unceasing danger fly around the world at all times of every day and unmanned aircraft called, with menacing casualness, “drones,” may or may not blow people up on the ground below (spoiler alert: REDACTED). The notion of giant mechanical beasts roaming the blue yonder probably seemed like a novelty in the 1860’s, pretty far-fetched considering the circumstances at the turn of the century, and the perfect tool for man to rain holy fucking hell on his fellow man by the 1940’s. The Wright Brothers greatest invention was not so much technological as it was ideological.  Continue reading

10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 2

Bruckner_Anton_Postcard-1910

Symphony no. 9, mvt. 1 by Anton Bruckner

I probably don’t need to rehash this too much, considering I’ve written at relative length about Bruckner and this symphony a few times, including after my recent trip to Chicago. Suffice it to say, this is about the most earth-shattering music that exists anywhere and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be playing this through headphones on a pregnant woman’s stomach to every unborn child about to enter this world, just to give them something to look forward to…and to spiritually prepare them for the revolt against global capitalism or Satan’s armies, whichever comes first (unless they’re one and the same…OH SHIT!). Continue reading