Today at the DBR: Histories, a new companion piece to Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat, written by four composers as a consortium called Sleeping Giant. Nothing sleeping about these guys! A great half hour at Weill Recital Hall.
Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Today at the DBR: Venturing forth to hear Messiah at Carnegie Hall, with Kent Tritle leading the Oratorio Society, and soloists Emalie Savoy, Mary Phillips, Aaron Blake, and Kevin Deas.
Today at the DBR: A passerby’s remark in the East Village that perhaps ought not to have been so surprising; Hugo, which I liked immensely but with semi-immense reservations, one of which induced me to omit the names of cast members when it came to writing up the film. (Points must be made.) Also, a Happy Birthday party for WQXR at Carnegie Hall — perhaps you heard it on the radio.
The missing package is either a Borsalino cap that I bought at a clearance sale from Hartford & York, or the complete works of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart, for I forget how much money. Under $200, though! Jillions of discs at practically pennies per! Will the performances (or the recordings) be terrible? Who knows? I don’t much care. I bought the set pretty much for its index. I know almost everything in Mozart’s catalogue that’s at all famous, and I know it pretty well. But there’s lots of stuff that isn’t well known. Not that we’re talking about hidden diamonds. Mozart wrote a lot of okay-rate music that is fairly forgettable. He wrote less and less of it as he grew older, and after 1783 he wrote nothing that isn’t worth listening to. But he was no child genius as a composer. (That said, I’ve always found the six minuets that are now catalogued as K 61 — I think; it used to be 65 — to be especially delightful. Mozart wrote them on the eve of his thirteenth birthday. They’re no more routine than the great Clarinet Quintet, from the other end of Mozart’s life.)
Buying this complete set of Mozart required cutting through a web of taboos. Way back in — when was it, 1991? the bicentennial of Mozart’s death? Maybe it was long before that, when LPs were still the default — the prestigious Philips label (part of the Polygram complex that also owns prestigious labels Deutsche Gramophon and “English Decca”) issued a series of boxed sets, numbered as volumes, in a “Mozart Edition.” I do not believe that it was intended to be exactly comprehensive, but I may be wrong about that. If someone had given it to me, I don’t know what I’d have done with it. The main thing wasn’t the quality of the performances, which was excellent but not really to my taste, but the packaging. Jewel boxes take up so much room! If the Edition were to come out today, it would arrive in the same sort of box as my cheapo set (I’m guessing), with each CD in a sleeve of some kind. I can certainly live with that. A treat that I still haven’t tired of is a Complete Brahms (Deutsche Gramophon). It sits atop my vestigial stereo system, a cube with Brahms on every face.
As I write this, I’m listening to Van Cliburn’s Cold War recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto, the one that was So Famous that nobody else recorded it for ages. Again, I’ll beg your pardon regarding the details. The Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto has endowed me with one of the many entries in my Modern Jackass portfolio. Long ago, when I had just enough knowledge to be dangerous, I castigated Tchaikovsky for not developing the magnificent opening theme of the concerto. Magnificent yes; opening theme, no: it’s a classic introduction, or what snazzy music writers about Haydn and Mozart’s opening gambits might now and then call a “propyleia.” Meaning a porch. But it was fashionable to dump on Tchaikovsky in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Which turned out to be not all bad: I had to discover for myself a composer who had become so cliché-popular that nobody really heard him anymore. I still hear André Previn’s recording of Sleeping Beauty as a revelation of how incredibly gorgeous music can be, without a hair out of place.
As I’ve gotten older, all my time-machine speculations have come to involve Mozart. If I could go back in time, I’d check out one of Mozart’s extravagant costume balls — he had a flat with a ballroom for a while — and ask the guests what they thought of their host. People like to think of Mozart as a droll wraith, shyly seeking a quiet corner in which to dash off the odd Requiem. Nothing could be further &c. The man went in for loud clothes and big jewels. He made so much money, for a few years at least, that he could carry on like an aristocrat, and quite alongside the brilliance of his music there is the cunning of his parody of patrons. I’d like to know more about that. I don’t think that I’d have anything to say to Mozart himself, unless I thought that a request for three more string quintets might bear fruit.
If the time machine worked the other way, of course, I’d drag Mozart up to my place in Yorkville, where I’d worry about which was more likely to give him a heart attack, the taxis down in the street or the Brahms on the Nano. What am I saying? Haydn’s London Symphonies would be shocking enough. You know, of course, that the people in London asked Mozart first, right?
Dianne Reeves has one of the biggest and best voices going, but it’s her authority over this powerful instrument that gives an evening spent in her company the musical equivalent of a Biblical directive. Thou shalt not flat! Open up thine upper registers and thine lower registers. Honor thy scat. (Even if you’ve brought it all home from Rio.)
We heard Ms Reeves at Grace Rainey Rogers this evening, a venue that Ms Reeves pointed out as being surrounded by the “Egyptian Situation.” We had just received some stupendous news — of vaguely Egyptian proportions — and the match between the good news and Dianne Reeeves’s recital could not have been bettered.
For the rest, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow. (We were burping.) All we can say right now is that Dianne Reeves reinvents every cubic centermeter of her show in the process of performing it. Somebody who knew her work only from recordings would never have understood this evening.
Fürchte dich nicht — I haven’t been buried in a snowdrift. But I have decided to take a vacation. I’ll be posting regularly, yadda yadda.
We attended a superb and, what’s more, interesting performance of Handel’s Messiah this evening. I have never in my life heard a better chorus than Musica Sacra; what a dunce I was not to show up sooner. Still, I missed Mr Mozart; Kent Tritle, as a chorus and organ man, may be forgiven for taking a dim view of Mozart’s occasionally scene-stealing emendations, but straight Handel is rather a like a sandwich without condiments. Don’t mistake me for a sophisticated listener, though; “Glory to God” induced both a minor seizure and major teardrops, and the standing-up at “Hallelujah!”, along with all the other New Yorkers in Carnegie Hall, threw me into such a fit of historical synesthesia that my ears stopped working. We went because Kathleen has wanted to hear a live Messiah for years, and because I finally got over my having “outgrown” such events.
Did I say that the place was packed? Packèd straight. Which reminds me: while we were listening to the Messiah playlist yesterday (four recordings, punctuated by Bach and Vivaldi — very seasonal), it occurred to me to change “the dry land” in the first bass recitative (“…and I will shake the sea and the dry land…”) to “Long Island.” Now, of course, I can’t stop.
Back in the days of three- and four-hundred disc caroussel CD players, our collection of Christmas albums lived in one, all the time. Come Beethoven’s birthday (that’s today), all I had to do was select a group of CDs to play (there were two, as I recall, on that machine; the other was a Standard Song Book collection) and hit “play.” The caroussel was programmed to shuffle among the discs, which meant for silences of fifteen or twenty seconds between carols. The moral of the story is that it didn’t take me very long to transfer this idea to a Nano.
Aside from much shorter spots of dead air, the Nano offered the signal enhancement of allowing me to tranche the carols. The ones that we really love — Sir David Willcocks’s collection (“Once in Royal David’s City” is given an amazing performance), Andrew Parrott’s two albums (an unforgettable “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” sung to a different tune and in a very strong North-of-England accent.), and the old Waverly Consort Christmas offering (my favorite version of “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen.”) — go in the first tranche. The second group includes novelty albums — Rita Ford’s music boxes, carols re-charted in the styles of Old Master Composers. The third group, which may not be chosen at all during the season, includes the divas (Christmas with You-Name-Her, from Battle to Te Kanawa, but not including Schwarzkopf, who appears in the second group) and a colossal multi-disc set of dulcimer recordings that sounded swell at the Japanese pub across the street one snowy night, when I was deep into a martini.
There is another playlist — or was; I can’t find it anywhere. It consists of several recordings of Messiah, connected by things like Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. (Where can it have gone? How did it disappear from the computer? Was I so dumb as to compose it on the Nano itself?) I forget how many Messiahs we have, but it’s more than five, and we play ‘em all. (What a bore, though, to have to reconstitute the list! It was terrific, but I don’t recall everything that was on it. The moral of the story is: backup, people!)
¶ Matins: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals is eaten alive by John Williams, at The Second Pass, in a piece that begins with the surprised observation that Mr Foer does not mention Peter Singer in his book.
¶ Nones: Joshua Kurlantzick discusses President Obama’s trip to Asia, regretting that Indonesia was left off the itinerary and noting the dispiriting realism of Asian diplomacy today. (London Review Blog)
¶ Vespers: Grant Risk Hallberg’s long piece on myth and backlash in Bolaño studies serves as a toolkit to bring you completely up-to-date on a writer who, from beyond the grave, has excited a pungent array of macho responses. (The Millions)
¶ Matins: In an over-and-above beautiful essay, Jonathan Raban recollects that he was taught to read, first, by his mother, and then, by William Empson. But Seven Types of Ambiguity opened his eyes to more than texts. (London Review of Books)
¶ Lauds: With trademark lucidity, Anne Midgette finds similarities between the troubles that newspapers are suffering these days and the woes of symphony orchestras. Not only that; she puts her finger on what’s wrong wrong with plans to “save” them. (Washington Post; via Arts Journal)
¶ Sext: Scouting New York, which has just turned one year old, continues its exploration of the city’s out-of-the-way cemeteries. Moore-Jackson, in Woodside, looks like a destination park, but Scout tells us that it’s all locked up. (How did he get in, we don’t wonder?)
¶ Nones: Although Peter Galbraith doesn’t appear, at first glance, to have done anything wrong, he doesn’t seem to have been much concerned about the appearance of impropriety. While in some sort of complicated, conditional contractual relationship with a Norwegian drilling company, he participated in Iraqi constitutional negotiations (as an adviser, obviously) that resulted in Kurdish control over oil revenues. As a result of both factors, he stands to gain about $100 million.
¶ Vespers: In today’s Times, two good-sounding books received generous coverage in the form of news stories. That ought to do it so far as the Grey Lady is concerned. Neither book warrants coverage in the Book Review. (Janet Maslin gave Mr Agassi’s book a guarded rave in the daily paper.)
The first is Andre Agassi’s memoir, for which T J Moehringer, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Tender Bar served as “midwife.” Mr Moehringer insists that he did not ghostwriting, but only coaxed Mr Agassi into writing a good book.
The other book is high-end furniture restorer Maryalice Huggins’s Aesop’s Mirror: A Love Story. Although we’re looking forward to reading this book, we don’t want to read any more about it.
¶ Compline: Compline: Gene doping is already prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but fat lot of good that is going to do the inspectors, given the difficulties of detection. (Short Sharp Science)
¶ Matins: Paul Krugman addresses our most dangerous problem: the growing power of a right-wing rump without any interest in governing and with every intention of preventing others from governing: “the GOP has been taken over by the people it used to exploit. (NYT)
¶ Lauds: Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, who “became a teenager in 1972,” fears that the Internet has not been a positive force for popular culture. He seems troubled by the fact that it makes too much old stuff too easy to get, thus reducing the need for new stuff. (BBC News; via Arts Journal)
For a long time, I’ve been wanting to put together a playlist of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, in order of publication (which is to say, in opus-number order). Now that I’ve done it, I want to make a few variants, and one of them, at least, is going to have to be structured in compositional order, or it won’t work any better than the publication order.
That’s because there are no piano sonatas with opus numbers that fall between 60 and 68 — the opus numbers of the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. Nor can any fall between the numbers attached to the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, which are sequential (92 and 93). A playlist that lines up the symphonies and the sonatas in opus-number order is unlistenably imbalanced. Nearly a third of the sonatas precede the First Symphony. The Second Symphony follows the 18th Sonata (the “Hunt”). Three sonatas later, we reach the Third. Only the 23rd Sonata, the “Appassionata,” falls between “Eroica” and the string of three symphonies that I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. Four sonatas, including “Les Adieux” but also two shorter sonatas, fall between the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. After that, there’s the massive chunk of the final five sonatas. On top of which: the Choral Symphony. End of playlist. From a programming standpoint, it’s a disaster.
So I’m going to do a little research — rather, I’m going to hope that a little research will break up these alternating masses of symphonic and solo music. Perhaps it won’t. In that case, I doubt I’ll listen to the sonata-symphony playlist more than once.
Meanwhile, I’m going to line up the sonatas with the string quartets and the piano trios, with perhaps the Piano Quartet (Opus 16) and the String Quintet (Opus 29) thrown in for good measure. Beyond that, my familiarity with Beethoven’s chamber music peters out. (I’m not including the popular Septet, Op 20, because, like Mozart’s Horn Quintet, K 407, it is entertaining concert music on a reduced scale, not true chamber music.
OMG! The violin sonatas! Of course I’ll throw them in, too.
He’s sleeping on chairs, and he claims his throat is sore from toxic gases and “Israeli mercenaries” are torturing him with high-frequency radiation.
We’re not making this up! (via The Awl)
¶ Sext: It’s a bit early for us, but our cousin Kurt Holm will be on the Early Show tomorrow morning, and CBS Studios at 59th and Fifth will be the place to hang out. (Between 7:15 and 9, I’m told.) This week at notakeout: Mark Bittman guests!
¶ Nones: Yesterday, we were reminded of Il Trovatore. Today, it’s Rodelinda. How did Manuel Zelaya get back into Honduras? The sort of question that never comes up in genuine opera seria. Maybe this is opera buffa.
Chieli Minucci’s “Endless Summer” comes from an album of the same name that I bought at HMV one day, when there was still an HMV store where Best Buy is now. I had been spending a lot of time in the jazz section, building up a basic collection of classics. On this particular day, “Endless Summer” was playing on the shop’s sound system, and, despite long experience with the disappointments of buying music that’s playing in record stores, I had to have it. I had to have it even after the clerk told me that the rest of the album was “not as good.” And even though that turned out to be true, I have loved “Endless Summer” ever since. Why?
The answer must lie in the mystery of the harmonies. “Endless Summer,” part riff, part tune, never actually comes to an end, but keeps modulating into repetitions: it ought to be quite tedious. But it triggers a composite sense memory that lies very close to my sense of well-being: having spent a summer afternoon at the pool, I’ve showered and dressed and am about to go out for the evening, probably to a party at somebody else’s house. I am anywhere between sixteen and thirty years old, and I am probably in Houston. It could be 1977, when the easiest summer of my life. The sorrow of my mother’s illness and death was behind me, and the travails of law school lay unimaginably ahead. I had moved back to my parents’ house in Tanglewood, to help to take care of the place while my mother failed, and then to keep my father company in my desultory fashion. I was through with Houston in the way that you are through with high school after graduation. I had a lot to learn about enjoying life, but, at 29, I thought that I knew what I needed to know about having a good time. I would be in my fifties when I woke up from this delusion.
I have no desire to go back. It’s like the summer during which Kathleen and I spent alternate weekends at Fossil’s house in the Pines — great fun, but once was enough. Everything that was scintillating about 1977 is there in “Endless Summer,” even though the song hadn’t been written yet. Perhaps that’s the secret of its appeal: it carries no associations with the period, in the way that favorite pop songs do. (At the time, I was discovering Manhattan Transfer and August Darnell, and my favorite song was Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” — music that stirs up more realistic and complicated memories of that summer.) It just reminds me of what it felt like to feel good.
If the parties never lived up to expectations — never nearly — “Endless Summer” does not remind me of that disappointment. It simply distills the pleasure of looking forward to something, such that now, when I hear the song, I feel the pleasure without actually looking forward to anything at all, except, perhaps, the possibility that, just this once, the song itself will be endless.
If classical music is dying, as we’ve been hearing for years, why are so many rock clubs suddenly presenting it? And why are so many people, with the young outnumbering the old, coming to hear it?
¶ Prime: How about some advice? We may not follow it, but we’re always interested in hearing what someone else considers to be good advice. Especially when it’s phrased as a reminder: “My needs don’t motivate anyone.”
¶ Matins: (Note: this item is not about classical music.) In her WaPo piece about classical-music CDs, Anne Midgette labors under the impression that serious music recordings require the brokerage of a healthy “industry.” We agree with Henry Fogel: leaving industry behind is what’s healthy. (via Arts Journal)
¶ Tierce: Is it possible? The Marshall Trial’s case for the prosecution was slated to end yesterday— two days into the trial’s 17th week. On Friday, the jury and the court will take a two-week vacation.
¶ Sext: At The Onion: “Film Adaptation Of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ Ends Where Most People Stop Reading Book.” And where is that?
The 83-minute film, which is based on the first 142 or so pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s acclaimed work, has already garnered attention for its stunning climax, in which the end credits suddenly appear midway through Katerina’s tearful speech about an unpaid debt.
(via The Morning News)
¶ Nones: China is upset with Australia, about Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer’s visit. When will China learn that foreign public opinion can be controlled no better by overt interference than by armed occupation?
¶ Vespers: Now that everybody seems to be reading The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes’s book about a handful of scientists working between the heydays of Enlightenment and Romanticism, we are ever more mindful that science, however bound to numbers (rightly so!), is practiced by messy human minds.
¶ Tierce: Kate McLaughlin, 19, heads off to Northwestern — for law school. somewhat more remarkably, she graduated from the University of California at San Diego two years ago. What do you think about this kind of precocity?
Right before the end of the opera that bears his name, Handel’s Xerxes — Serse, in Italian — sings an aria that I like a whole heck of a lot more than the very famous one with which he opens the so-called comedy. That would be “Ombra mai fu,” almost certainly the one number from Handel’s catalogue that’s up there with such Verdi hits as “La donna è mobile.” Everybody knows the tune, even if nobody has ever heard it sung. But, as I say, I like Xerxes’s last aria, “Crude furie degl’orridi abissi,” much better. The famous aria is wonderfully stately and all that, but “Crude furie” scores a perfect ten as a ridiculous temper tantrum. What could be more operatic than a comically-presented temper tantrum?
Mozart’s entry in this field, “Smanie implacabili,” from Così fan tutte, is the reigning masterpiece, and, as with Handel’s aria, the joke lies in the the orchestral commentary. Mozart scores Dorabella’s grandiotically despairing plea to the furies with a wallpaper of sweet Bronx cheers. Handel is a bit simpler: his violins mock Xerxes’s clueless tirade with cheekily swooping scales. Up and down they run, and they’d make you seasick if they didn’t have your eyes rolling. The eye-rolling is what I love about the aria; it gives me a clear and distinct idea of what Kathleen must be thinking while I storm about the apartment in search of a misplaced Book Review.
Although I know Così fan tutte as well as I know my own name, however, you mustn’t think that I’m a scholar of Handel operas. So not! But I came to listen to Serse and Rodelina a thousand years ago thanks to the Brian Priestman recordings on Westminster. As I recall, Canadian mezzo Maureen Forrester sang the title role in Serse, and I hope that I’ll be able to recapture her performance on CD (or MP3) one of these days. For the record, this marks the first time that I’ve ever thought that somebody did a better job than Anne-Sofie von Otter. But it’s early days; I only listened to the new recording for the first time yesterday.
I played “Crude furie” seven times in a row, steadily increasing the volume each time. There was nothing else in the world that I wanted to listen to while this state of play lasted.