“Planetarium”: Other-wordly example of collaborative composition in today’s music world

Collaboration among composers is becoming more common in the modern music world, as is mixing of popular and classical music genres.  Such is the case with “Planetarium”, a 17-movement, 76-minute “rock band” suite by Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryan Dessner, and James McCallister, with a substantial chamber orchestra with voice.  Collaboration may tend to become a necessary part of getting commissions in today’s music business.

It’s pretty obvious to compare this to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”. But this work includes Halley’s Comet, Black Energy, Black Hole, the Kuiper Belt (or Oort Cloud), and offers 15 minutes for Earth.

The album has interesting still art work that looks like it would fit into Clive Barker’s “Imajica”.

The best movement to my ear was Mars, which did sound a little more like Hollywood.

Perhaps this music could comport with the YouTube series “Outward Bound” which presents the challenges for colonizing and terraforming each planet or its moons (and some other stuff, like deep space, hive minds, uploading consciousness for immortality, and the like).  There are interesting ideas there as to how artificial gravity on a colony would mix with low gravity on a moon (a teacup setup is recommended), and on the idea that super low temperatures (like on Titan) could facilitate the computing power it would take to store consciousness (or mine digital currencies; any alien civilization will invent block-chain).

Review by Metro Weekly.

4AD Official site, with other videos, and concert schedule.

Legacy review of “Outward Bound” videos.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 1:30 PM EST)

NSO Concert: Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” shines

I attended a concert at the Kennedy Center tonight.  The National Symphony offered guest conductor Yutaka Sado, with pianist Jean Yves-Thibaudet.

The first three works, at least, had “moral” substance.

The concert started with the Overture to The Thieving Magpie (“La Gazza Ladra”), by Rossini.  The overture, in E, seems episodic, like William Tell.  It starts with a modern snare drumroll, and goes into a familiar march, before it settles into a compressed sonata form.   The plot of the opera concerns a girl who tries to rescue her father charged with desertion from the Army (think about the history of our own draft) and then is sentenced to death for a theft actually done by a bird.  I’ve seen magpies in Colorado (1994 visit). I’m reminded me of the crow, Timo, who kept chasing me into my own garage the day of Hurricane Sandy.

The main course, and my reason for attending, was to hear the Symphony #2 in C# Minor for Piano and Orchestra (1949), inspired by W. H. Auden’s poem “The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue”. ‘

Is this a piano concerto? No, because the usual sense of dialogue between piano and orchestra as competing forces is not there. I like the idea of calling it a Sonata for Piano and Orchestra.

The work is usually described as being in six movements, three in each part. But Part 1, comprising a Prologue and then two sets of seven variations (“The Seven Ages” and “The Seven Stages”) each seems like a continuous movement.  The thematic material is somewhat inspired by Dies Irae and has some perfunctory tunes, and yet the variations, however serial, build up the way conventional sonata-like development does.  After the first set, the music is said to subside into the subconscious, before it start becoming agitated in successive developmental repetitions of the material, to end with a violent close (I’m reminded of the first movement of Amy Beach’s own Piano Concerto in the same key).  The musical style seems to remind one particularly of Prokofiev, and sometimes late Shostakovich, with a little of the harmonic palette of the late Scriabin sonatas in spots (like Black Mass), which Bernstein must have studied  in detail; the adjacency of the successive passages flirts with atonality in places.  I have to add that near the end of the first set of variations there is a fragment that resembles a transition in my own Third Sonata, first movement;  I must have heard it as a teen and it stuck in my mind.

Part Two, to my ear, sounds like three separate movements, played without pause. The Largo announces a twelve tone row before playing the Dirge: there is an obvious reference to Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite and Wozzeck. The scherzo is called “The Masque” and sounds like advanced jazz, closer to the Bernstein of “West Side Story” but also flirts with atonality (but so does WSS in spots – Schoenberg and Berg had shown how to make dodecaphonic music very accessible). The Epilogue is more than what we get at the end of a Bax symphony; it is almost a complete second slow movement, with a piano cadenza in the middle, but then building up to a tremendous D-flat Major conclusion, FFF, on a ninth chord.  The majestic close reminds me a bit of Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony.

The work is said to deal with three men and a women sitting in a bar during WWII and looking for meaning in all the chaos.  I think of O’Neill and “The Iceman Cometh”. I can remember a church seminar on “The Search for Meaning” back in 1972 that wound up with a sermon on the Rich Young Ruler Problem.  People find meaning in seeing sacrifice, if that of others matches their own.

After the intermission, the concert continued with Tchaikovsky’s early tone poem “Francesca da Ramini”, Op. 32, in E Minor. The 24 minute work has a three-part structure, with a passionate middle section where Francesca and her handsome, iconic brother-in-law experience passion, only to be murdered by her dwarf and deformed husband. This program, based on Canto V of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, seems to explore the moral perils of lookism. The conclusion is one of the most violent in all of symphonic literature, even for Tchaikovsky.

The concert concluded with Ravel’s Bolero, which the audience really liked.  It seems to be “orchestral tissue without music”, maybe a test of panpsychism. I wasn’t aware that Ravel’s mother was Basque.  I would have preferred “La Valse”.  And Ravel’s own Piano Concerto in G isn’t bad.

On the Millennium stage there was a jazz group Corey Henry and Treme Funktet.

(Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 11:30 PM EST)

“The Life and Times of Jumper Maybach: A Pilgrimage to End Hate, Bullying and Intolerance”, guest post

Guest post by Joey Amato and Relevant Communications, “The Life and Times of Jumper Maybach: A Pilgrimage to End Hate, Bullying and Intolerance”.

Ben Workman, aka Jumper Maybach, was born in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1963. He knew something special had taken place when his grandfather applied a white face on him the first time. It was then within an instant that Jumper was born.

Jumper’s grandfather served as a volunteer clown within various charity organizations for 25 years and at the time of his death in 1977, at the age of 84, he served as the official clown for the Corpus Christi State School. The young Jumper moved to Houston, Texas in 1977 with his family and embarked on various learning studies that have contributed to the diversity in his paintings.  However, it wasn’t until a religious experience during a painful time in his life enabled his vision to fully take shape. “This is the part that a lot of people wrote me off as crazy,” states Jumper. “I was being sexually harassed at work and was at a really low point in my life. One afternoon I went into a deep meditative prayer and that’s when what I call a ‘spark’ rushed into me that raised up Jumper. I truly believe God was talking to me and directing me in the mission through my art. I never painted before that spark.”

Jumper believes it is a person’s traumas that define an individual. He releases his joys and pain into the art and becomes the storyteller of the creations. Jumper’s techniques are self-taught through intense experimentation leading to an end result which is truly unique and representative of the artist. It’s about understanding love, peace and the transformation of an individual.

“Please forgive me if I talk about Jumper as a separate entity within me but that is the case. I have learned to accept the ridicule from almost everyone,” he jokes. “When Jumper began his painting, it began from a vision which he titled ‘Alien in the Box’.  It was a story of Jumper in the circus and helping children understand they are loved unconditionally.  Jumper’s painting evolved rapidly from childlike to the amazing abstracts he is known for today.”

Jumper’s art is a constant evolution of color and complete abandonment of the paint. It is an unplanned performance that creates the extraordinary works. The complexity within Jumper’s art comes from within. Jumper is unashamed to teach the world a lesson in compassion. His art is a beacon for ending hate, bullying, and intolerance in the world.

Not long after Jumper began his career as an artist, he started to receive national and international recognition for his work. In 2013, Jumper held his first gallery show, which ultimately led to an exhibition at Art Dubai. It was there that Jumper received a documentary film deal and was dubbed the Jackson Pollock of the 21st century.

“I was told by the Minister of Arts and Culture, ‘you’re the 21st Century Jackson Pollock with a lot of color.’  I was intrigued by the statement and a friend gave me a copy of Pollock’s documentary when I returned home. I viewed the film and was amazed at Pollock’s talents. I’m honored to be compared to Pollock,” recalls Jumper.

Shortly after Art Dubai, Jumper had the opportunity to present 39 pieces of art in Venice, Italy.  Another career highlight occurred when Jumper was invited to exhibit his art at the Galerie Du Louvre. “I made a series specifically for Paris. It was a great honor to have my art in the Louvre. It all seems so surreal.”

Jumper appreciates the opportunities he has been given and takes time to give back to multiple LGBTQ organizations around the country through both financial and artistic contributions. He and his partner David actively support GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, AIDS Foundation Houston, The Montrose Center, Houston Gay Pride and the Trevor Project in addition to other local and national charities.

Jumper believes one of the largest challenges facing the LGBTQ community is the community itself. “We can’t fight intolerance and bullying when we play along with the bigots. I know so many LGBTQ friends who are out in our “safe” community but at their workplace they play “straight”. This is a cause for alarm. When you can’t live a free healthy life at work, then you’re in an unsafe work environment.”

He goes on to explain that this form of environment creates an atmosphere for bullies. “If you discover your environment as unsafe after coming out, then sue or leave. I must say, see my documentary “The Jumper Maybach Story” to understand what being outed can lead to. I personally chose to stay and fight. If we all did this, change would occur. It takes tremendous strength and courage to fight bullies.”

Jumper also offers words of encouragement to other developing artists. “LGBTQ artists should be free to be themselves. Art is a very personal experience. A great artist knows why they create their art. Sometimes the art is created from severe personal pain and at other times, it could be happiness.  I would urge artists to reach deep within and discover that reason.  If they can’t discover that reason, then their art will never make it to greatness. Art is not easy. It’s a gift from your soul.”

In the next decade, Jumper would like to actively pursue his mission of ending hate, bullying and intolerance through art. “I want my art to cause the viewer to step back and realize why Jumper created it. If it causes the viewer to take a breath and let Love enter their heart, then Jumper has fulfilled his mission.”

To learn more about Jumper Maybach, visit www.jumpermaybach.com.

Imdb link for “The Jumper Maybach Story“.

(Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018 at 11:30 AM EST)

Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox presents four minamalist multi-media works by Cooper, Andres, Balter and Clyne

Friday night December 8, 2017 The Kennedy Center put on a program called “Ear/Eye” in what it calls Mason Bates’s KC Jukebox, the renovated Terrace Theater.   Well, it’s Mason, not Norman (so Freddie Highmore wasn’t there) and the KC stands for Kennedy Center, not Kansas City, although that would make sense.  Actually. Mason Bates is a composer from Richmond,  a little older than The Good Doctor.

Christopher Rountree conducted all four pieces.

The first work was “Ripple the Sky” by Jacob Cooper (USA), 16 min, for “processed string octet with voice and video projection”. The Mivos Quarter, along with Isabel Hagen (viola), Jeanann Dara (viola), Pala Garcia (violin) and John Popham (cello) and Thomas McCargar with a wordless voice, performed. The octet was set up in a row on the front of the stage (it could be rolled off), and it tended to hide the video.

But the video was interesting. It showed a man mostly alone in a desert (with some stripmines) on what looked like an alien planet.  Cooper, in introducing the work with a video, mentioned the importance of Robert Schumann with his miniature pieces and personal life issues.

The remaining works were for smaller ensembles with percussion.

The second work was “Checkered Shade” (14 min) by Timo Andres (USA). The performers were Laura Kaufman, violin; Kathy Mulcahy, clarinet; Elise Blake, violin; Sean Neidlinger, cello; Lisa Emenheiser, piano; Bill Richards, percussion. The screen showed evolving geometric designs, seeming to be built on fractals (I thought of mathematicians like Jack Andraka and AOPS’s Deven Ware).  Well, all living things are built on fractals. The piece seemed to comprise two movements:  a slightly Prokofiev-like first section, and a slower chorale, with a theme (starting with a rising fourth interval) that sounded familiar.  But yet like all the pieces on this program, the music seems to move in chunks rather than real development. The chorale seemed to form a ground bass for a passacagla-like presentation. The ending is on a fortissimo note that dies away (rather like Berg’s Chamber Concerto).

The third work was “Codex Seraphinianus” by Marcos Balter (Brazil), “11 Short Movements with projected images of Italian drawings”.  The musical aphorisms were chatty and dissonant, more radical than the first two works.  The pictures depicted bizarre concoctions of life forms, like a man covered with green grass rather than body hair. Laura Kaufman played flute, Charlie Young the saxophone (like Bill Clinton), Tiffery Richardson the viola, and Tia Wortham the bassoon.

The fourth was “Steelworks” by Anna Clyne (UK), were the screen showed images (four at a time) of a steelworks in Brooklyn from the 1920s. Kaufman played the flute and piccolo, Kathy Mulcahy the bass clarinet, and Bill Richards the marimba.   I was reminded a bit of Mosolov’s “Iron Foundry”, as this work seemed to bring back the reality of proletarian life in manufacturing.

All four works expressed a certain minimalism in content, along with deftness in creating multiple media experiences (similar to ones I have seen at the Poisson Rouge in NYC, and even the 930 Club in DC (right next to Town Danceboutique). Composers today seem attracted to this sort of content in securing commissions.  The old idea of large post-romantic exposition and development seems to have been forgotten, maybe out of economic necessity.

(Posted: Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 1 PM EST)

Piano recital by Christopher Schmitt features Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Ravel

Pianist Christopher Schmitt gave a piano recital at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC on Sunday, October 15, 2017.

The concert started with the Piano Sonata #26 in E-flat Major, Op 81a, “Les Adieux”.  The three movements are Levewohl (Farewell), Abwesenheit (Absence), Das Wiwrdersehen (Reunion).

Psychologically, the sonata purports to depict the departure of a particularly valued friend from one’s life, the absence, and a perhaps unexpected return, to see what has happened.  This was an issue at earlier periods in my own life.  The sadness goes away, the friend is more magnificent than ever. But the trap of upward affiliation continues.

Schmitt emphasized dynamic and tempo contrasts.  The slow passages (like the introduction) were really largo.

Next Schmitt played two etudes (Op. 33 #5 in E-flat minor and Op. 39 %8 in D Minor) by Rachmaninoff (both sounding late and a bit mod, like the Symphonic Dances, perhaps), and the melodic Prelude #4 in D from Op. 23.

The finale and featured work as “Gaspard de la Nuit” by Maurice Ravel, about twenty minutes, three movements: Ondine, Le Gibet, Seabo,  Very impressionistic indeed, without much pretense of drama or emotional body.

(Posted: Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 at 10 PM EDT)

Organist Raul Prieto Ramirez gives concert in Washington DC: Basque composer Guridi’s massive “Triptico” is the main event

Sunday, June 18, 2017 I attended the free organ concert at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC given by Raul Prieto Ramirez. The concert was performed on the new Austin organ.

The organist, at about age 28, apparently grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and teaches master classes around the world, including Indiana and Texas in the U.S. and in Russia.

The program started with the Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, by J. S. Bach.  The piece reminds me of my days if brief organ lessons about the time I was entering graduate school atKU in 1966 (I had the book of little preludes apparently by Krebs).

He then followed with what I think was the featured work of the concert, the “Triptico del Buen Pastor” (“Triptych of the Good Shepherd”), composed in 1953 by Spanish-Basque composer Jesus Guridi.

The work sounds like a three-movement organ symphony (running about 20 minutes) with a mixture of impressionistic (modal, especially the interval of the fourth) and post-romantic elements.  Were the work played on the piano, it might sound like a late Scriabin sonata (“Black Mass” comes to mind).  The palette, however dissonant and hyper-chromatic,  sounds “French” rather than Wagnerian, but it would be influenced by Basque folk dancing, especially in the area from Bilbao to San Sebastian. The work introduces a heroic big tune theme in the finale, which is a kind of majestic slow movement.  Despite passages that sound essentially atonal, the work is centered around the tonality of E-flat, and introduces a heroic theme near the end.  It ends crashing on one fortissimo final chord in E-flat. Rameriz’s performance adds other notes from the chromatic scale to the chord (is this the Scriabin mystic chord?) but some performances just play the tonic. .

Rameriz followed with the humble Bach Chorale “Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier”, BWV 731.

He followed with the first movement from Charles-Marie Widor’s organ Symphony #6 in G Minor.  I posted a video of the complete work. I love the G Major ending.

After the intermission. Ramirez played his own organ transcription of Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz #1, which plays its own games with tonality (with all the fifths) at the beginning.

He continued with two compositions by Baroque composer Joan Bautista Cabanilles:  the Pasacalles #2, and “Tiento in terzio al estilo Italiano”.

He concluded with his own transcription of the expansive sonata-like Prelude to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” by Richard Wagner.  I saw the complete opera (long!) at the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center back in 1977 when I was living in Manhattan. The music that concludes the prelude ends the entire opera triumphantly, in C Major.

As an encore, he played a pedal piece (unknown, published as Bach) and the first two sections of Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564.

I had an old Columbia with Biggs of this work given to me by a friend right after my lost semester at William and Mary in the late fall of 1961.  On the other side were the Schubler Chorales.

Wikipedia photo of San Sebastian, Spain, which I visited in 2001.

(Posted: Monday, June 19, 2017 at 8 PM EDT)

“New Horizons: Music Without Borders”: Congressional Chorus presents Tin’s “Calling All Dawns”

The Congressional Chorus of Washington DC presented an ambitious concert Saturday night, June 3, 2017, a week before Gay Pride, “New Horizons: Music Without Borders” at the First City Christian Church at Thomas Circle in Washington, DC.

I’ll cut to the chase. The featured work for the program occurred after the intermission, the choral symphony “Calling All Dawns: A Song Cycle About Life”, about 65 minutes (by my phone), composed by Chinese-American Christopher Tin, for mixed chorus, soloists and chamber orchestra.

The work is in 12 movements, each in a different language.  The first five movements make up “Day”, the next three “Night”, and last four are “Dawn”.

While some of the work has simplified and repetitive harmonies that we associate with some oriental music, by and large the work is inspired by the choral symphonies from the world of German and sometimes Russian post-Romanticism, by Mahler, Schoenberg (“Gurre-Lieder”) and even Shostakovich. The work comes across as a hybrid of oratorio and traditional symphony.

The underlying tonality seemed to be G Major.  Each of the three sections seems to have interrelated themes.  In the first section, the biggest climaxes occur in the last song, “Rassemblons-Nous” (“Let Us Gather”) in French, exploring resistance leading to revolution (as it happened in France).   The second section begins with quiet Latin settings from the Requiem, before moving to a Gaelic poem “To Cry”, followed by a Polish Catholic hymn “to the Holy Trinity”.  These two movements have the most interesting writing in the work, rather like a slow movement, with a lot of instrumental passages having some chromaticism and polytonality, perhaps resembling Shostakovich. The Catholic Hymn has a theme somewhat reminiscent of the “Applause Theme” in the finale of my own Sonata 3; in my setting, it starts in F# Major and tries to and does return to C Major; here the theme circulates in stanzas, broken apart into little counterpoints, hovering around C Major.  There is lavish beauty, and yet this sounds like a hymn you can’t sing in church in any straightforward matter.

The Finale, with the separate songs arranged to simulate a rondo-like structure, builds to its finale climax at the end of last song in Maori, with one huge G Major chord, and then four notes almost a cappella, in one solo voice, as an afterthought.

The twelve languages (which would please YouTube’s “Paul”), are Swahili, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, French, Latin, Irish Gaelic, Polish, Hebrew, Farsi, Sanskrit, and Maori.

The concert would conclude with the Combined Choruses in Greg Gilpin’s “Rise Above the Walls” (in defiance of Donald Trump?)

The first half comprised nine pieces: “The Whole World Is Singing” (Tom Anderson), “Inscription of Hope” (Randall Stroope), “La Musica” (Jay Althouse), “Song of Peace” adapted from Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia” by Gary Fry; “An Afro-Celtic Diddle” by Michael Coolen; “Give Love a Chance” by Grayson Warren Brown, “Sililiza” (“Hear Me”), by Jim Papoulis, “Jai Ho!” by A. R. Rahman from the 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire” (best song Oscar), and “Al Shlosha D’varim”by Allan R. Naplan.

Performers included the Congressional Chorus Chamber Ensemble, the NorthEast Senior Singers, and the American Youth Chorus (ages 8 through high school).

This Sunday morning, the Call to Worship on Pentecost Sunday at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC was in several languages: Spanish, Portguguese, Tagalog, Yoruba, German, and American Sign Language.

Composer website for “Calling All Dawns”.

(Posted: Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

“Strangers on the Earth”: a cellist walks the Camino de Santiago in Spain

Strangers on the Earth“, directed by Tristan Cook, presents the pilgrimage in northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago, a trail which runs from the Pyrenees to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (honoring the Apostle Saint James) World Heritage Site in Galicia, Spain.

The entire route runs almost 500 miles, and takes about six weeks to do.  Along the way there are many dormitory style hostels and private homes offering “radical hospitality” to pilgrims. Some people join only for the last 100 kilometers to get a certificate.

The film features cellist Dane Johansen, who, looking like an athlete, carries the cello on his back and plays many concerts along the way, mostly of J. S. Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello. Johansen says he plays these to satisfy his own ego.  In fact, the film can be alternatively titled “A Walk to Fisterra, A Cellists Journey“.

Johansen is listed as a producer of the film, which also received Kickstarter contributions from many musicians, including some in the Metropolis Ensemble in New York City.  After the showing, I talked to Cook himself, who knew what the metaphor Blind Banister means (from April 21 concert review here).

One of the other travelers offers some cosmology, saying that all creation starts with darkness, then offers space-time, then matter and energy, then life, then cosmic consciousness leading to God, and back to nothing.

At the end of the film there is an epilogue at the Fisterra on the Atlantic coast, with fireworks and ascending lanterns.

The film finds some inspiration in the 2010 docudrama “The Way” by Emilio Estevez.

I have to say that the film title reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” (1951).  The musician reminds me of actor Dane DeHaan, somehow.

In face, the cellist Dane Johansen had considered doing a similar trip and film along the 2000+ miles Appalachian Trail.  But there is already a film “A Walk in the Woods” (2015, Broad Green Pictures, by Kewn Kwapis.

Many of the audience members indicated that they had done the walk.

Wikipedia links and typical images:

Camino de Santiago

Compostela Cathedral

J. S. Bach Cello Suites

Dane Johansen, cellist, site.

Name:  “Strangers on the Earth”
Director, writer:  Tristan Cook, Dane Johansen
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Fimfest DC, Landmark E St, small auditorium, sold out, 2017/4/27
Length:  96
Rating:  NA (“G”)
Companies:  Walk to Fisterra
Link:  Facebook

I have visited Bilbao and San Sebastian-Donesta, and the Pyrenees from the French side (Lourdes), back in May, 2001.

The pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, and her husband, a pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McClean VA, did the walk in the summer of 2016.  They did collect offerings to support the walk.  The pastor says she had to be “rescued” by a can almost as a hitchhiker once.  This actually happened to me on a bike ride in Delaware in 1992 when I got separated from a group.

(Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 10:15 AM)

NY Philharmonic presents Johnathan Biss and Timo Andres in Part 2 of the Beethoven Concerto cycle

The New York Philharmonic and pianist Johnathan Biss presented one of the segments of Biss’s project of commissioning contemporary composers to invent new piano concerti inspired by the five Beethoven piano concerti. The concert was conducted by Courtney Lewis.

The concert presented Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat, Op. 19, which was apparently the first composed and started at a young age. The starting point of inspiration was the more contrapuntal and even sometimes dissonant cadenza that Beethoven composed twenty years later.  Otherwise, the work is “not one of Beethoven’s best”.

The Beethoven opened the second half of the concert.  Biss, to my ear, seemed in accelerate his tempi during certain phrases in the first movement, an odd effect.

The inspired (I won’t say derivative) contemporary piece (performed first, before the intermission) is the 23-minute Piano Concerto #3 in B-flat by Timo Andres (B. 1985). The subtitle is “The Blind Banister”, a curious metaphor, of a stairway railing looking into an abyss, across a gulf, without light – danger for elderly people alone. The gulf was, though, what the decades-spanning special dissonances in the cadenza inspire.

I ought to do more guest posting myself (or invite it), but Biss explains his own understanding of the piece here, and this leads naturally do a discussion of how composers get works commissioned today, what audiences will pay to hear (and sponsor), and it’s all potentially sensitive.

The work comprises three movements: “Sliding Scale” (slow), “Ringing Weights”, leading to a cadenza, and then a “Coda: Teneramente”. The opening emphasizes descending scales in drop-rolls in the piano, somewhat lushly harmonized, even sounding familiar to me. The middle section becomes more Parisian to my ears, in fact reminding me of the day I spent in Lourdes, France on May Day 2001, as young males danced a healing ritual. The work slows down and will finally end loudly (unusual for Andres, who considers quiet endings a usually necessary courtesy for listeners).

The NY Philharmonic program notes for the new work are here.

I had the mistaken impression that the work had been called “The Blind Barrister”, which would be a curious idea indeed, given Brexit. (Oops?  England?)

The concert had opened with excerpts from Hector Berlioz’s Dramatic Symphony, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17, after Shakespeare’s Tragedy. The excerpts (14 min) seem to contain the love theme that starts the slow movement, and the Queen Mab Scherzo. The very ending was a loud chord and one soft grace note (like the Dvorak New World, which I have always found very curious).  I’m not a fan of excepting from works purporting to be sonata-like “symphonies” In fact, I had heard the Montreal Symphony play the complete work (with chorus) in Minneapolis around 2002 when I got a comp ticket while working for the Minnesota Orchestra.  I remember the happy ending, as the feuding families reconcile.  Not so in the two movies (especially Ziffereli’s) that I have seen , one while working as a substitute teacher. In fact, when the play is taught in high school, teachers have to explain that it was legal (even expected) for women to fall in love and marry much younger than it is today.

The concert concluded with the 20-minute tone poem “In the South (Alassio)”, Op. 50, by Sir Edward Elgar.  That refers to the Italian Riviera. There is some nice octave work in the brass with some dissonance in the development. I have a Chandos recording of this with Thomson.

James Oestereich reviews the concert for the New York Times here.

(Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 11:45 PM)

Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by a community theater

Saturday, I attended a performance of William Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by the McClean Community Players (Virginia, Fairfax County).

The performance was held in the ballroom at the Vinson Hall Retirement Center.  I thought a facility in an retirement was an interesting community venue.

The performance by the McClean Players was directed by Rosemary Hoffman, produced by Bunny Bones and Jean Matich, and choreographed by Victoria Bloom.  It ran 150 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

The stage was wide, and set up with broken Greek pillars, over which trappings other settings, like outdoor forests, could be simulated.

The five acts are compressed into two, comprising eight scenes (with an intermission after five) .  But the 5-act structure of Shakespeare’s plays follow the Hauge screenplay structure reasonably well.

The plot centers around the wedding of Theseus, the Duke of Athens to the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta.  (I once got a musical composition mailed to me on a huge cardboard postcard from a high school friend, a heterosexual cis-male who would marry “normally” and have a family, who nevertheless signed the card as Hippolyta, and unfortunately I’ve lost it; it comprised some Irish folk songs, maybe like those in Stanford symphonies.)  Around this event there are various other love rectangles, all manipulated by wood fairies (or maybe the “wood spirits” of “Twin Peaks” from David Lynch), and a particular gremlin named Puck. The most important of these starts with the insistence by Egeus that his daughter Hermia accept an arranged marriage to Demetrius, when she loves Lysander.  The penalty for refusal would be either death of life in an convent as a nun, barren without children (Shakespeare’s language makes a lot of this).

Puck is the star of the show.  He has forfeited bipedalism, and gimps on all fours like most other primates. Unfortunately, he seems to have surrendered chest hair to tattoos.  He puts magic potions on people’s eyelids, which makes them fall in love with the next person they see.  This is a way to influence the outcomes of all these love triangles, arranged as in a 50s situation comedy.  It’s like the idea that you glance at someone whose trappings stimulate your fantasies, until someone else comes along.  (Remember the idea of the “catch of the month” of bab boy Shane Lyons in “Judas Kiss”?)

Critics have often noted that the play hints of feminism, gender ambiguity, and loss of individualism.  There are a few homoerotic moments involving Puck and one moment between rivals Demetrius and Lysander (who is much more “masculine” in a conventional sense). And a few times Lysander “gets it”. Lysander is forced to wear some awkward-looking leg garters; stage  actors go through a lot, every night.

The cast includes Catherine Gilbert as Hermia, Will MacLeod as Lysander, Mytheos Holt as Demetrius, Ilyan Rose-Davlia as Helena, Eleanor Tapscott as Oberon, and Gary Bernard DiNardo as Puck.

The background music included some of Grieg’s Peer Gynt as well as some typical Renaissance.  I didn’t hear the Mendelssohn.

The arranged marriage idea reminds me of the 1954 Sigmund Romberg musical and MGM film, “The Student Prince“. I also recall that the 1954 Fox spectacle “Demetrius and the Gladiators” was a sequel to “The Robe” and was maybe the second CinemaScope picture.  Finally, in noting movies based on earlier English literature, I wanted to note the curious and moving 1944 film “A Canterbury Tale” by Powell and Pressburger.

Wikipedia description of play.

(Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2017 at 4:30 PM EDT)