Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rameau: Le jardin de monsieur Rameau | Les Arts Florissants

Rameau: Le jardin de monsieur Rameau | Les Arts Florissants

A few years ago, well at least a decade now, this group performed at Alice Tully in NYC and I never forgot them.  These are like some of the true joys in my life, to hear such things in person is even more gratifying.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Publicly Funded Artists as Government "Attack Pets" - Stefan Molyneux

Now Stefan is a jabber box and can talk and talk and talk before delivering his punchline, but in the meantime he is saying some of those things that really and honestly need to be said.  Whose responsibility was it for any of the Impressionist painters to challenge the "system" that existed at that time?  It was they themselves.  They went out there and certainly found their paying audience.  Ever wonder why there are so many paintings of little girls by Renoir?  Because he got paid to do them.  He got a reputation for it and he earned his living thereby.  The others had their struggles, but that is what makes true artists and true art apparently.  

My oldest and dearest friends are among musicians and artists of various kinds.  But they all manage pretty much to make a living on their own without too much public money required.  Frankly, a lot of them may be alienated from society and that's why they're artists.  There were according to a psychologist friend of mine from another lifetime ago, certain unhappy people in this world for which normal human life would often be a great burden; artists, psychics, homosexuals and mystics.  These people may or may not have other disabilities.  A huge percentage of the public suffers innumeracy as well as illiteracy and more than you think can't possibly write by now because of the technical devices we all use.  Imagine losing the ability to write or never having learned, but knowing enough about how to use texting to get away with it.  There are such people, I assure you. 

Of course, if artists really want to be artists, they have to figure out how best to get attention and to sell their work.  That goes for composers too.  How do arts and artists survive?  I think the first question any artist needs to honestly ask is whether their art is actually any good at all.  Can anything they think they're accomplishing actually stack up favorably against known masterpieces in whatever their field of art happens to be.  If you are copying or extracting from someone else of known fame and caliber, or some school that you might happen to like, will it seem to the people who know the market for such artifacts that your efforts are mere affronts to that original school?  Where there is anything less than some kind of objectification, even of arts and artistic mastery, then matters of artistic value are pretty impossible to value.

If there is any objective reality, and I assure everyone that life itself would be impossible without it, then any artistic venture has its necessary risks and where there are none or where patronage is wanton or proscribed for some political objective of the state paying for the art ... then frankly, a lot of trash is the usual result.  How can one tell the difference?  VERY easy.  If one hears someone play the piano or a guitar or sings or dances or has painted pictures or made sculpture or made anything of any known artistic product, the question is one of enjoyment: I liked that, I want to hear more of that, I enjoyed seeing that, I would be willing to travel many hundreds of miles from home to experience that.  You know what's artistic and makes money?  Summer arts festivals at all possible levels.  The most monetarily successful tell one the true state of most people's willing artistic tastes.  

Of course, if one really wants to plan ahead, one will need economic lifeboats.  We need a concerted effort to get this project off the ground as it is to ultimately make public funding for most things obsolete: HERE.

Be seeing you.           

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The State of Beethoven's Piano Concertos

In the world of classical music, some concerts can be recent and have happened 20 years ago. We'll hope to be more recent, but some things are pillars of the musical universe simply because they are indispensable. Beethoven is universal because we have periods in our own lives when we are young, when we are middle aged, when we are no longer young, etc. and he speaks to all those aspects of our lives so well. All that is truly and intimately humanly possible in Western musical terms Beethoven accomplished with surprising eloquence which is still appreciated today. Here we'll bring to attention some recent extraordinary performances.
First Martha Argerich plays Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Opus 15 which he wrote when he was a young man of 26 or 27 and just beginning to have the first premonitions of his coming deafness. Arguably Argerich plays this as well as it can possibly be done, especially the second movement, which she sings along with the orchestra. The piano chosen is a Steinway D with a remarkably sweet tone. The cadenzas she uses are extended. The one to the third movement sounds familiar, the one for the first movement did not. This appeared in July of 2014 but probably dates from 2009 with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
Second Martha Argerich plays Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Opus 19 which Beethoven wrote when he was between 17 and 19 years old and probably in Bonn, published after the first, so it became the second. In any event he gave it its first performance in Vienna when he was 24. It was a dazzling piece for a young man to play, many dashing episodic passages, most of it very young and lighthearted with a serious middle movement Argerich arguable again plays as well as it could ever be done. This performance from the 2009 season at Verbier Festival & Academy. Notice again the way Argerich sings the phrases in ways uncommon to most Beethoven playing, very effective all the way through. She has a nice Steinway D here as well: thinking it is in fact the same piano. Do I like the tone of this piano? Yes, indeed I do. She uses extended cadenzas here as well.
Third the Piano Concerto No. 3 in c minor, Opus 37 which dates from when Beethoven was rounding 30 years old and he himself introduced it to the world in his 33rd year. Here we hear from Fazil Say, building a reputation as one of the strong pianists of the day. He plays this with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and this was placed on line in 2015, so the performance could have been very recent. The cadenza is very extended and unknown and might even be Say's own. He almost wants to make the link between Beethoven and Chopin or others of the romantics. It's effective and demonstrates Say's technique well. We have noticed the care and spirit given to playing the slow movements in these works and that's the case here as well. We have our modern pianos to thank for much of this; greater dynamics and sustain. They are capable of really singing the lines that Beethoven could have only imagined with the pianos available at his time; much of the power and depth of this music would have to wait until after Chopin had lived and died before we'd see modern pianos, imagine.
The fourth is, as many know my personal favorite among these pieces. For those who know it well, how about a chamber effort? Here is the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Opus 58 which Beethoven wrote in 1805-6 when he was 35 or 36 but was first heard in public in one of the most important first concerts in all musical history. It took place on 22 December, 1808, as Beethoven turned 38. It marked his last appearance as soloist and certainly he was going deaf by then. It was at this concert that this concerto as well as his fifth and sixth symphonies and the Choral Fantasy were all played in one marathon performance for the ages at Vienna's Theater an der Wien, which dates from 1801 and still stands. We hear it here in a performance for piano and chamber strings, an arrangement by Vinzenz Lachner, performed at St. James's Paddington, London, probably soon before it appeared here in 2015. (We'd usually like to give performers credit where possible. Names were not posted as to who played what)
Beethoven's fifth piano concerto was later given the name “Emperor” which is superfluous. Anyway here is Seong-Jin Cho playing it with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. Yes, Beethoven's music is very popular in the far east. Here then is Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major“Emperor”, Opus 73 which Beethoven wrote in Vienna between 1809 and 1811. Beethoven turned 40 in 1810 the year both Chopin and Schumann were born. This concerto was first performed by Beethoven's patron and pupil, Archduke Rudolf (yes, nobles could and did play pianos and violins back then) on 13 January 1811 at the Palace of Prince Joseph Lobkowitz in Vienna, followed by a public concert later that year on 28 November at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig under Johann Philipp Christian Schulz, the soloist being Friedrich Schneider. This concerto remains one of those pieces that honestly if you manage to hear nothing else at a live classical music performance, it will really make an impression. Of course most of Beethoven's greatest works certainly give one an unforgettable impression when heard live; something like, “I can't believe it's real,” or something fathoms deeper is the usual result. Beethoven frequently surprises one with, “Gee, I had no idea he was so great,” or “after all, he was Beethoven.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Thirteenth Interview - Aware and Bugging In

Well, Hello!
How are you?
Not sure, to tell the truth.
What's New?
Not sure anything is.
What's been bugging you?
Maybe it's a kind of slow burn out. But on another level, it's been like a slow burn, like I'm smoldering just on the point of fire, but it's all just under the surface.
What have you been doing?
Following the real time reality show America Pick A President 2016 and its aftermath.
You know, I'd have preferred not to pay any attention at all.
So what got your attention?
What most got my attention were the allegations regarding ritual satanic child abuse and satanic rituals among people in high places. Everything else really pales in comparison. I had personal awareness of this issue from the 1980's when I was living in New York City. It is very real.
OK. So, you decided to step out of the …
I decided to vote for Trump. He's not perfect, but we can and will put his feet to the fire and already he seems fully aware of the real divide and everyone expects him to act quickly accordingly.
You are basing this on what?
Let's put it this way, I never knew my father in law who was a famous builder in New York; he was responsible for building some big projects there. His mother owned and ran their company. I'm certain she knew Trump's father. All the personal allegations against him I knew to be lies, totally false, libelous and trash talking. I knew so because of direct personal contacts I had with his employees long before we ever heard of him running; they all highly respected him. In fact the level of loyalty I encountered everywhere regarding Trump was and is surprising anywhere but especially in New York.
You have more to say about this? (Didn't think it important)
Well, I just have never seen the like in my life. Trump's performances before the public have been nothing short of astounding. He seems to run almost without script, he hasn't much of one anyway, and is the only politician I can ever remember asking his audience to love him, to love this country, etc.
Well, so what? (mild disgust showing)
I guess we're all so jaded that love for much of anything seems …
To have grown cold? Yes we know. So what are you hot about?
Well, you know I was cursed with a mission; to get people to start using other money. I seem to have been spending as much time writing on this subject here and watching the present system trying to survive or scheduling its next inevitable crash on the next president's watch, while meanwhile for the last 25 years the whole economy has sucked, unless you were lucky enough to catch a trend and even then it was very short lived. Where's the economic traction? There isn't any. I have some pity for those of my grandchild's generation, if we don't have something better.
Don't you trust Trump? (derisive tone)
Trust him to do what? To fix what cannot be fixed? No. I voted for him only because the other candidate was criminally objectionable. But nobody deserves any trust that isn't earned. He's certainly no different in that regard than anyone else.
And music? (brighter tone)
Still Chopin and only Chopin. Looking forward to more practicing and might even have some piano students in the new year.
Well, that's encouraging.
I also renewed contact with Andrew Violette.
Oh? (More hopeful)
He's written a new symphony. It was difficult music but I honestly understood it. He's stuck to traditional forms and put them to a kind of kaleidoscopic or prismatic harmony with rapidly changing tonal centers so you don't ever quite know where you are and yet the entire thing is actually tonal. There are real melodies, real episodic development and some barely concealed slapstick and satirical gestures. Andrew seems as ever a composer who intends to get his audience to laugh. This may in fact be a quintessentially American contribution to formal composition. Other romantic composers can and do get their audiences to cry, sometimes from spellbound joy and other times for the suggestion of intense grief or profound sorrow. But few have set out to intentionally make their audiences laugh. I think it a very important detail worth mentioning.
Can we hear it too?
Why yes. It's here   Andrew calls it a Sonata but he's being modest. It even has four movements, is of appreciable length and I think/hope that it becomes known as his First Symphony and may he write many more. I bet each one following this one will be even more tonal than this one. It's a kind of trajectory he might be taking.

You think there is anyone who could play this?
Oh yes, there probably are people who could and the live performances of these kinds of things are even more revealing than mere recordings of the raw synthesized source sampled sounds at click rate tempi. I already advised Andrew to slow down the second movement enough so that the more vigorous figures that later show up in it stand out more. It's really a remarkably wonderful piece. I appreciated and applaud the wittiness and fun scattered throughout, and why not? Music should make us laugh some too.
So, any chance of Andrew and you teaming up on anything?
Nothing except for me promoting him as much as possible. There aren't many daring to do what he does these days, or for that matter as well as he does it.
OK, so what else is going on in your life?
Well, I have had a budding partnership that may have just died on the vine, we'll see.
What can you tell us?  Come on, how do you really feel about her?
I will always love her. I cannot not love her in fact. When I love, I love for keeps. But that doesn't mean one can keep what one cannot have for whatever reasons. Love is real. Elections, no matter how intensely fought -and this one was probably the most intense I have ever seen- cannot ultimately separate us from those we truly love.
Are you sure?
I certainly hope so. There ARE good people everywhere. Everyday life usually confirms this. Life does and will go on.
Do you feel better?
A little.
Good. I'm sure that time will heal all.
I sure hope so. Thank-you.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The First Mozart / JC Bach Concertos K107

Johann Christian (JC) “John” Bach 1735-1782 47 years
This article refers to Mozart's three keyboard /piano concertos K107 which are NOT NUMBERED among the usual order of his 27 concertos. These were sometimes called Divertimenti: diversions. This music was actually intended to be background music for events held by the well to do or nobility. As the eighteenth century rolled along toward the French revolution, this was “society” for everyone from the nobility down through the higher castes of the growing middle class towns-people. The peasants and poor might watch from a distance or be employed as porters or servants. Mozart and Bach would have been accorded a slightly better than servant status.

So Mozart wrote for one keyboard or more and accompaniment, exactly 30 concertos. One has to start somewhere, even if one is talented and more importantly, diligent. The reason we have things is because others who went before us managed to work hard enough at it to set it all down on paper for someone else to come upon and adopt for their own use. We are fortunate at all to have these as windows through which to view the best of times past.

These pieces began as elaborate keyboard sonatas. Well, they may have been quite different in their originals. Why don't we find out? The three we are interested in are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. J.C. Bach (son of J.S. Bach) who was known as the London Bach or John Bach wrote six sonatas for his Opus 5 which was published in 1765. Amazingly, if you wanted you could get a photocopy online of the original publication and study these works directly from that score. There are probably better available as well. Such as this one.

Johann Christian Bach 6 Sonatas Op 5 [1765], Sophie Yates Harpsichord

Sophie Yates does yeoman work here: these are great performances. She's playing one of the large two keyboard five octave French/Flemish harpsichords. They didn't have pianos in wide use in the early 1760's when these pieces were written or in the 1770's when Mozart turned three of them into his concertos. They had harpsichords. Listen to these at a comfortable volume, not too loud and realize that this was probably as loud as anyone can hear this music. Even so, in Mozart's creations after some of these works, you can almost hear in places the desire of a keyboard instrument with more sustain.. It makes some difference. You'll be able to tell right away the difference between nearly ancient and modern, because the pianos we use now would have seemed stupendous to Mozart. But we're not there yet. First we hear them all with harpsichord, and they're still way ahead of what we've just heard, especially the last sonata in a minor key which harkens back to the styles of John Bach's father's era..

First we have all three of them played by a complement of strings and harpsichord.

WA Mozart - Three Piano Concertos after J.C. Bach, K. 107 [complete]
Tom Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Now what happens when we substitute a piano for a harpsichord? You see, this was about the time when the transition was under way between the two instruments, and we would still have to wait until the 1850's before we'd finally have the modern grand piano with cast iron plate, etc. and by that time both Beethoven and Chopin had passed. All of Mozart, almost longingly looks forward to the greater possibilities for sustain of the modern piano. We are indeed blessed to have all of this music and to be able to hear it right now.

Finding performances of these with piano rather than harpsichord proved difficult. Here's one that demonstrates very well the sonic differences between the latest greatest harpsichords that we've just heard with the first real piano-fortes which were all wood framed and had far less volume as they were very much lighter strung and the actions were much smaller direct blow actions with smaller hammers, etc. Nevertheless, especially in the cadenza, you can see the future of pianism anticipating Beethoven demonstrated.

Mozart, Piano Concerto after J.C. Bach K107 #1 Allegro
David Owen Morris and Sonnerie from 2007

We're suggesting of course that what's required is a revisit of these concertos using modern instruments and modern performance techniques. We'd expect the effect to be stunningly sleek and in places ultra-modern. Surprising.  Oh, and it seems if you look for them, all three are available on line for nothing.  Someone should get busy. LOL.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

George Winston - December

It's always been one of my favorite albums and I play it around this time of year as it fits everything so well.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Camille Saint-Saëns Second Symphony

This peculiarly delightful work was written in 1959, the same year as his opera Sampson and Dalila. The composer was just 24 years old.

There were perhaps calls for orchestras to champion new material occasionally, usually but not always from someone none had heard before. Well, we have heard of this fellow, the Frenchman with the difficult name.

Cah-MEEL San Soen. The two tiny n's are barely pronounced.  He was really quite clever and gifted. Listen to the fleet or perhaps sleek orchestration he comes up with. The emotions are intended to be picturesque rather than very intense or deep, but we have an excellent group here and they catch every little playful trick. Their orchestral tone is exquisite throughout. They have captured the playfulness of what Saint-Saëns – as academic as it is in most instances – was still quite capable. We have the St. Paul Minnesota Chamber Orchestra under Thomas Zehetmair to thank. This work would make a splendid opening work on any modern orchestral program. The work is as follows:

Symphony No. 2 in A minor, Op. 55

1. Allegro marcato
2. Adagio
3. Scherzo. Presto
4. Prestissimo