Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

This is where all the short and/or silly items go that don't quality for full post treatment. Stuff like, you know, a Ping Pong Concerto. Thanks to frequent commentator Marc for this item:
The Ping Pong Concerto, which debuted at the closing ceremony of Shanghai Music Festival, combined the rhythms of a bouncing ball with violins and percussions.
Akiho said the ball was a unique musical instrument and its bouncing was in perfect harmony with string instruments.
The New York-based composer said he had always wished to combine the rhythms of sport into music
Akiho is an innovative composer of classical music. He gained his knowledge of rhythm and percussion through exploration of the steel pan.
He is also working on a Ph.D. in composition at Princeton University.
Do you think that there might be some translation errors there? Or did he really learn about rhythm from the steel pan?

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I confess I am an evil, evil person, but after reading a lot about birdsong and listening to a lot of it in the music of Messiaen, this just made me chuckle. Several times.


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The blinkered myopia of music critics is often amusing. Yo-Yo Ma just performed all the  Bach Cello Suites from memory in a single Proms concert. This not exactly the most amazing thing I have heard of as he has been known for his performances of these pieces for a few decades now. So I am greatly entertained to read this fulsome prose:
Among the many things we don’t know about Bach’s six cello suites is whether they were performed during the composer’s lifetime, or whether they were intended to ever be performed at all.
One might readily guess that the notion of a musician sitting down before a live audience of more than 5,000 people and playing from memory all six suites in succession would have left the composer astonished and incredulous.
I suspect that very little we do would make J. S. Bach terribly astonished and incredulous--apart, maybe, from the iPhone. But a performance of his Cello Suites would certainly not. He was in charge of the chamber music for a minor German nobleman at the time he wrote them, so it would be very surprising if his cello suites were not performed. Later on, in Leipzig, he was personally in charge of the music for all the churches in the city and also contributed to secular concert series as well. He wrote the scores, rehearsed the ensembles and conducted the performances of the three-hour-long passions and oratorios on a regular basis. He wrote and rehearsed cantatas for vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra every week. A few cello suites? Small potatoes...

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You know that I stay up late watching Danish television just so I can share things like this with you:


If you learn about the world from the mass media, you will have a profoundly distorted view. Plus, I am going to start using this quote with my more truculent commentators: “The facts are not up for discussion. I am right and you are wrong.” Heh!

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Thanks to commentator Marc for this link to a piece on Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir. It is a paean to her music that occasionally wanders into the unintentionally comic:
Though the metal percussion and deep, resonant drones remain, the feeling is less like attending a midnight ritual that might end in the sacrifice of one’s own life, and more like a gathering to welcome the morning sun on the summer solstice. Thorvaldsdottir’s music is likely not what the average person thinks of when they hear the phrase “classical music.” However, its atmosphere and tonalities are likely to appeal quite strongly to fans of forbidding music of any genre (dark ambient, industrial, noise, post-metal). With a quality sound system and proper lighting design, the music on Aerial could turn a concert hall into a deeply unsettling place, one filled with listeners under 60. On the other hand, In the Light of Air, while it retains the emotional intensity of the shorter pieces, adds enough brightness and positivity to demonstrate the vastness of Thorvaldsdottir’s compositional imagination and sonic universe.
 I guess that is how you are forced to write about music when your mental categories have all been shaped by listening to popular music.

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There has been some interest in the music of Heinrich Biber here lately so let me alert you to a new recording of his Missa Salisburgensis (yes, he was resident in Salzburg before Mozart). The review is in the Guardian. But Amazon doesn't seem to have that recording in stock at the moment, though there are other ones. The piece is famous for being in 54 parts! Don't believe me? Here:


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Norman Lebrecht reminds us that today is Arvo Pärt's 80th birthday. Though he has written a number of much-loved pieces, I think that the most interesting is probably Tabula Rasa. Here is a live performance by the Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Siergiej Burko and soloists Violin- Jan Pietkiewicz and Violin- Katarzyna Seremak:


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Here is an excellent and informative article by the Washington Post's Anne Midgette about the different makes of concert grand pianos that are available. It's not just Steinway! The last paragraph reminds me of a adult beginner student I used to have. He came to a lesson one day very enthusiastic about a demonstration of a new Yamaha "acoustic" digital piano he had just seen in a department store music section. He waxed on so fulsomely about how the salesman kept saying that "you couldn't tell this piano from a concert grand!" that I finally stopped him by saying: "I'll bet you fifty bucks I can." This was way back in the 80s so fifty dollars was a serious bet. He gave me a very quizzical look to which I replied, "look, I have pianist friends who can tell a New York Steinway from a Hamburg Steinway--you don't think I can tell an electric piano from a grand piano? Even if it is in a wooden case?" At this he looked rather chagrined and refused to take the bet.

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And speaking of birdsong, tomorrow I am going to get back to our series on Messiaen and as a little appetizer, here is his fairly late piece for piano "Petites esquisses d'oiseaux" from 1985. The pianist is Håkon Austbø:


You might wonder why a piece fifteen minutes long is considered "petite" (small). But bear in mind that Messiaen's idea of a full-scale piece for piano is his "Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus" which is in twenty movements and two hours long!

21 comments:

Ken Fasano said...

Akiho "gained his knowledge of rhythm and percussion through exploration of the steel pan." Didn't you know? He was in a famous band - Steely Pan.

Ken Fasano said...

"the music on Aerial could turn a concert hall into a deeply unsettling place, one filled with listeners under 60." You mean, like ME (56 years old)? Yes, that's really scary.

Ken Fasano said...

"Petites esquisses d'oiseaux" from 1985". Well, yes, très petites compared to his St. Francis, five hours long!

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh!

Marc Puckett said...

Thought the bird calls were amusing. And the bittern-- surely that echo-y, reverb sound is like the sound of... hmm, perhaps am thinking of the theremin. I hear the bald eagle voice around here not infrequently in the earlier part of the year (there's a nest on the Willamette River, near my house), and every once in a great while the barred owl.

Marc Puckett said...

Have been listening to that Savall Biber CD off and on all week (it's at both Spotify and ClassicsOnline) but this is a good example of some of what one misses by not having the CD and its notes-- the Sonata Sancti Polycarpi is for 9 parts while the reviewer at the G. seems to me to imply that the trumpets played antiphonally e.g. from one side of the chapel and from the other: so that means two trumpets or four? It looks to me like the score for the Kyrie of the Salzburg Mass that you posted specifies two secondary loci for small groups of instruments, so presumably the Sonata S. P. does, too-- alas, it's not at IMSLP.

Bryan Townsend said...

Down here in Mexico I don't even know the names of the birds I hear! I do recall the quite impressive yawp of the Great Blue Heron, though.

Bryan Townsend said...

Looks like a spectacular piece, but I haven't listened to it. Too many other things on the go. The Mass has five different choral/orchestral groups, plus two groups of brass instruments--and the basso continuo. These could all be distributed around the church. But there is no reason to believe that the Sonata has anything like this kind of unique arrangement.

Marc Puckett said...

Didn't even know a couple of those piano makers mentioned in AM's article or its comments existed.

More possible here: [http://eugene.craigslist.org/msg/5216986610.html], ha.

Marc Puckett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc Puckett said...

Had never seen/heard a recorded performance of Tabula Rasa; thank you! although Pan Pietkiewicz could've used an injection of Botox, and one shall forever wonder why, about two thirds of the way through the Ludus, if I'm remembering aright, the rather serious looking, strong-featured violist or violinist seated behind him suddenly burst into a brilliant, although very brief, smile that transformed her face into one of beauty.

Was thinking yesterday about why and how I knew that I very much liked Tabula Rasa on first listening to it, and also knew from the first listen that I wasn't ever going out of my way again to listen to Anna Thorvaldsdottir (although 'ever' is perhaps too strong a word).

Have moved on to the Finnish Tapiola Sinfonietta's recording, from 1997, of Tabula Rasa et al before I stop for the night. They're in Espoo, Finland's second city. [ http://tapiolasinfonietta.fi/ ]

Their site notes that if one has brought flowers to be presented to the soloists or conductor they must be left at the reception kiosk, and that the convention is to applaud when the work is finished, not after each movement; and there is a special ticket price for "students, unemployed, children and conscripts". God save Finland! I would retire to Finland or one of the Baltic countries if I didn't think that the Russians will be back before too many years-- not that I have anything against Russians! but the governments they saddle themselves with aren't to be borne.

Bryan Townsend said...

Tabula Rasa is a nicely compelling piece, isn't it? About moving to Finland: all the things you mention! Just two caveats: when a Finn invites you out for a drink, it might mean a drink in every bar in town (as I once discovered) and if you are caught speeding, the ticket will be according to your net worth or something. A Nokia executive once had to pay a $300,000 speeding ticket for going some outrageous velocity in his Lamborghini.

Christine Lacroix said...

Can't help but love Hans Rosling. Check out his TED talks if you haven't already seen them.
I'm liking Messiaen more and more and the birdsongs were hilarious. I particularly enjoyed the outraged comments of some of the bird lovers. What people will get upset about!

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh!

Yes, Messiaen is one of the most interesting and enjoyable composers of the century. Check out today's post.

Marc Puckett said...

Christine, Yes! the bird people's comments were some of them hilarious!

Bryan, yes, I saw that about the Finns fining people for breaking the law according to their income-- which is a practice more common than I had thought, looking about. I manage a glass or two of wine these days and can feel it-- must give retirement among the northerners a second thought....

Marc Puckett said...

And the parrots probably sound at least as similar to der Königin der Nacht as I do when I think nobody's around.... [http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/queen-of-the-night-animals/#O726HpzUSJhTiVzi.97]

Christine Lacroix said...

Marc the dog's singing was more heartfelt than the birds' parroting!

Marc Puckett said...

Ha,yes, am not really a very competent judge of any singing, human or animal.

Marc Puckett said...

The poor interviewer of Hans Rosling looks like he is about to cry at a couple of points.

An interesting article at the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled "How Art Reveals the Limits of Neuroscience". I don't know that I quite followed her argument but....

http://chronicle.com/article/How-Art-Reveals-the-Limits-of/232821/

Marc Puckett said...

You may be interested.... Damian Thompson in the Spectator, [http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/culturehousedaily/2015/09/theres-a-good-reason-why-there-are-no-great-female-composers/], on, well, 'there's a good reason why there are no etc'; I see that NL at Slipped Disc noticed. "Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Felix, has also been suggested for the new syllabus. She, too, wrote a G minor Piano Sonata and it’s bloody awful. Whether it’s worse than Clara’s sonata I can’t say, because that would mean listening to them again."

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Marc. That inspired a post!