Sunday, April 30, 2006
This morning I woke, caught a great brunch at The Front Page, and checked out. The drive back was easy.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I didn't get to meet Henri, maybe next time (I doubt that) - he was no where to be found - and I suspect at 90, he didn't stay around for the Dvorak. So I just met Wendy and her student at the short intermission. We chatted and discussed the first half and came back for a slow, but pretty reading of the Eighth Symphony by Dvorak. My only complaint other than amazingly slow tempos (does the slower tempo make it easier to play all the notes or does it become awkward?) - was that the trumpets seemed rather weak. (Especially compared to the bright and rich playing of both the horn and trombone sections.)
I've often said about Rostropovich's cello playing that I learn little about a piece or composer, but a lot about Rostropovich. By that I mean he has a commanding personality and style of playing - when you hear his Vivaldi Concerto, Dvorak Concerto, Shostakovich Concerto - you hear the interpretation of Rostropovich, which in the case of Vivaldi especially is much about Slava and not the Red Priest. (Another comparison is to take the Hamlet Soliloquy, "To be or not to be..." Some actors would bring out the text, some make it about themselves, or others what Shakespeare's dramatic intention to heart.)
Rostropovich is probably the 20th Century's great cellist and I'm glad to have heard him on several occasions - and now I can add having seen him conduct. At age 79, he's certainly allowed his digressions, interpretations and idiocyncracies.
So the Bernstein was fun and tempos moved along. The next work by another friend of Rostropovich, Benjamin Britten was the Four Sea Interludes. This was fine playing by the group, with what were slower passages that I've not heard, but really work to the music's sensual sonorities in the final movement, Storm. I was shocked how much I did enjoy it - and the second, Sunday Morning was great to linger in the horns and bells, always a favorite passage of mine. Also it should be noted, I've never heard the NSO cello section sound so sweet, in both this Britten and the Dvorak, they were playing their hearts out, and it could be heard.
Next was the US premiere of the revised version of Dutilleux's Correspondances with soprano Dawn Upshaw. This revised version includes a new movement that was added after the 2003 premiere. I seem to recall liking the work on the radio from NPR's SymphonyCast with the Berlin Philharmonic - and again, was taken to new worlds by the original sounds of this composer. It was also moved along by what I thought were tempos designed by/for teh soloist who would need breaths...but I heard a story from a NSO player that afternoon that during rehearsal, Henri was asked to comment. He rose, walked carefully (and rather slowly - taking several minutes to arrive at the podium) and simply said, "It needs to be faster." (The NSO player found great charm and irony that a lengthy trip to say a short time about quickening things!)
See the next post for the second half and about a surprise!
The talk started with how long it took him to learn the Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto and about the creation of it (including several tangents of personalities, other stories, and his life in general), his friendship and work with Benjamin Britten (including a famous curtsy and the Three Cello Suites), the Shostakovich Second Cello Concerto (with a long prelude about Prokofiev), a question I asked about recent Polish premieres (Penderecki, Panufnik - his response included passion of new music), and a political question.
As folks filed off stage, Wendy Warner took a student of hers and myself backstage to meet Rostropovich. Wendy's student presented him with an original painting she had made of Shostakovich. I asked about an interview - he was saddened (not understaning English very well) that it was his last day and impossible to do - it was almost 7pm. I suggested with prodding that this Fall would be acceptable - which seems like it will work out. Keep an eye out here.
We then went and grabbed our tickets, got some dinner at the KC Cafe and went the concert.
The drive down to Washington, DC was easy, and I checked into a B&B I had stayed at 10 years ago during the Clinton 2nd Inauguration. The place is still cool, but didn't have the luster I seem to remember, maybe it's missing the young lady I had been with then. In fact the Sunday Brunch I had was good also, but again, maybe it was just missing someone.
Anyway, I had plenty of time to park, unpack (it was a day trip after all!) and walked over to the Kennedy Center. Arriving early I sat down and had a double espresso, then a vanilla latte at Cupa' Cupa' in the Watergate across the way - while finishing a maduro Nicaraguan cigar. Wendy called and I went over to Kennedy Center.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Read about the All Star Line up of thank you gifts here.
See the live pitching with the Pledge Cam here. (coming up soon!)
And enjoy these few All Star Pledge Pitchers (collect them all!)
Thursday, April 27, 2006
This was an ideal program, with impeccable taste, performance and excitement. I truly enjoy combining new sounds with those tried and true - it speaks well for the composers - and the Tokyo Quartet certainly took it to a new level Thursday evening.
Beethoven's Opus 18 #4 is a young, thoughtful quartet written when he was 29 years old. It's the only minor key of the set of six, and it might be my favorite of the early quartets.
Jennifer Higdon's "An Exaltation of Larks" was written at the age of 43 for the Tokyo Quartet, premiered this last month at the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival. It is a work of great thought and beauty. In three broad sections, fast-slow-fast (or perhaps four, fast-slow-slow-fast, I should get a score) it uses combinations and collaborations that fit exceedly well to the poetic title. Trills and artificial harmonics are combined with stunning motifs. Written by the most mature composer (Schubert was also 29 years old for his quartet) Higdon simply crafts the sound that harkens back to traditional quartets yet has a unique modern and optimistic feeling. This is a work I hope is not only recorded soon but also taken up by other quartets - it should be shared and enjoyed by audiences and musicians!
After an intermission meeting Jennifer's colleagues and students - which the audience was greeted by other worldly sounds of a childern's chorus performing in the garden above the theater - I joked to Jennifer that we'd all died and gone to heaven, she replied that she thought she had been the only one to hear it and was perhaps going insane - the Tokyo came out for the juicy and gripping G major Quartet by Schubert. This is again one of my favorites, and was stunningly played. It's a quartet to cherish and enjoy - like a good friend. The last movement had an odd stumble, a page turn that didn't go right, but things got back on track and finished with flourish. (A measure of good musicians is how they recover, everyone makes a mistake now and then, but how you deal with it is a great measurement of an ensemble/soloist.)
John and Jennifer at intermission
The entire program with the Tokyo Quartet struck me as satisfaction...perfection...something just right. They allowed every note to be heard, and every melody to be sung - like a good pianist voices the piano, or a great conductor balances an orchestra. Only this was better, an intimate setting with four great musicians, playing Strads, and compositions of the highest quality.
I arrived a little later than I had planned but had an excellent morning and trip. I was suprised that another John Clare, either another person or an imposter?!, was there - and who I didn't get to meet (confront, hahaha!) I almost immediately ran into Paul's lovely wife Wendy who said hi, and was happy to see me there. Later on I also ran into Don Spieth, the maestro from Allentown; and met Kathryn King who is a PR maven extraordinaire. I was surprised to sit down for the afternoon lectures/program and met a listener from the WITF area who uses the A.P.S. Library and said some kinds words about my programming. But back to the afternoon...
The afternoon program began with a presentation about The Enlightment Online, a wonderful presentation about E.K. Dashkova, and an unveiling of a portrait of Whitfield Bell, Jr. A brief break (complete with coffee, tea, and candies) led to the performance of La Fenice.
The Adagio and Rondo, K617 opened the program...it was a little unsettled or uninspired reading, or perhaps I'm just not a big fan of the piece - the musicians are certainly capable and talented. I would have programmed a short Mozart opening (I really liked the idea of Mozart-Moravec-Mozart) piece, like the duo arrangements of Mozart's arias that could have been done in various combinations and are quite charming.
Next Paul said some introductory comments, in fact he was very witty - quoting Benjamin Franklin on time, that is later sung in his fantasy:"Lost time is never found again." He also mentioned that he imagined Benjamin Franklin more of a Baritone than Tenor, Bass or again jocularly, a countertenor; and he mentioned it was to capture the "spiritual side" of Franklin. And then we heard the beautiful Useful Knowledge: A Franklin Fantasy.
Hear a passage toward the opening of Useful Knowledge [mp3 file] (not a professional recording)
The Society and guests were duly impressed. It comprises of seven sections of Franklin's writings and flows gently, fitting the text with wise choices of harmony. It also is an imaginative work, never preaching, but enjoys the charming combination of piano quartet, oboe, baritone and glass harmonica. This performance was hampered slightly for me by glass harmonicist Cecilia Brauer - who seemed to futz about and often looked puzzled turning pages here and there - but who was quite popular after the program demonstrating the glass harmonica.
But I can easily see and hear Useful Knowledge joining Schubert, Wolf, Britten, Rorem and other great song composers into the standard repertory (and in various forms too: Voice and Orchestra, the original chamber version, and for Voice and piano.)
The program ended with a rousing reading of the Piano Quartet, K 493 by Mozart. There was a delay in between it and the Moravec, where I almost got up and told some viola jokes as we were waiting for her to return to the stage, like: The difference between a viola and a glass harmonica? There's much more drool with the viola than the glass harmonica! But thought that might not be so keen with the A.P.S.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
So I'm reading rather slowly (no fault of the book or author, it's my schedule!) James R Gaines' Evening in the Palace of Reason. You couldn't ask for more compelling writing and story telling in what could be potentially dry matter. It's fascinating really and I'll make it to the end in due time (I'm sure it'll be completed in my late night reading or on several upcoming train trips to NYC.)
I also started a book by one of my mentors, Andy Trudeau: his Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage. I figured since I've now been to the town, not yet to the battleground (it's even in WITF's coverage) that I should read it. Andy has a great way of writing, including dialogue (letters of the soldiers, politicians, families, etc) that is very friendly yet incredibly informative. It's like he is on Weekend Edition, discussing movie music.
I am also suffering these days - no, I enjoy it, playoff hockey - and unfortunately the Dallas Stars are down two games to Colorado. Now mind you I like the Avs - but given my druthers, I'd just as soon not see the Stars swept in the first round. I also am becoming a Flyers fan - at least for the playoffs, but they too, have fallen two games down against Buffalo. In the wierd hockey fan status - I'd be happy as long as the Red Wings or Buffalo doesn't take the cup...I'm glad hockey is back - and indeed there is something great about the playoffs.
So, when I'm not composing my new violin piece for a July premiere, travelling to a concert, working at WITF, or doing some online work/research, this is what I'm up to!
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
So, yes, I'm a bit FANatical about live classical music. Which is why I get annoyed by extraneous noise from other audience members. I'm crafting a plan, to keep "please be quiet" or "no talking during the music" signs to flash to these folks who can't keep quiet.
Let me draw a comparison and analogies to this "problem."
Imagine you are excited about a new film, and head out to your favorite cinema - you arrive early to get your popcorn, soda and grab the seats you want (in LA there are hi-tech swank places that you have an assigned seat - mondo posh and comfortable!) and make sure you get all the new trailers and these days, ads/previews of things to come. The lights dim, and your film begins...then A CELLPHONE RINGS. You are annoyed that someone has disrupted the film, maybe in a key point. Or what if, someone leaves for a restroom break - comes back - and then proceeds to ask and talk about what happened while they were gone, and you are still trying to enjoy the movie. Frustrated?
Another scenario...You are at your place of worship and arrive early, spending some time to reflect. The service starts, and someone comes in late, starts making gestures, and talking. Perhaps they have had a few too many, and yet, mouth off for a bit. What do you think about this? Does it bother you? Do you think they have a right to interrupt your thoughts and worship?
To me, and I'm only speaking for myself, music is the highest form of praise - and I mean that in a religious sense - the greatest worship of God, to me is through music. Now I do mean certain pieces and styles have a much more "religious" weight than others...and lots of music have no ties to the spiritual world. In fact I will go so far to say Beethoven's music is much more devout and religious than any pseudo christian pop tune that says "Jesus" in it. Again, this is just my view and feeling.
So when someone talks during a work, disrupts it, I believe they are being rude to the performer, the music and to other audience members. It's why I believe folks rent/buy dvds these days and download tunes for their I-Pod...there is no one to interrupt you, distract you or show their ignorance.
I will continue my trek of concert halls around the world, seeing and hearing new music, exciting performers and lush concert halls - I can't help myself - but I'm also going to promote the GOOD MANNERS and appropriate behavior that comes with that. I don't spend money for an experience to have it ruined by someone else - that doesn't come with the price of admission.
Monday, April 24, 2006
My morning started redesigning Hal Weller's home page (you can see it here) - still a work in progress, but it's live and very different from the original.
Hal and John in Las Vegas at a Soiree
Itzhak and Pinchas playing away!
They added Bartok Duos to their program - which pleased me to no end - and I've lost a bet to a friend on their encore, Shostakovich Duets (prelude, gavotte and waltz - oh so charming!) I thought they'd play Sarasate's Navarra.
Perlman is a violinist's violinist. He plays everything just right. The way a violinist should. I won't go into how musically things might be played (I always loved Stern's interpretations, or say Szeryng's Bach) but Itzhak is very special, and really the reason I play the violin.
Zukerman, despite all the talk about the Canadian orchestra and him, is still just amazing. I felt like I had a lesson just watching his bow arm - so relaxed! His tone and articulation was spot on - and much warmer than I remember (or have heard in the past.)
Needless to say, Rohan deSilva is just outstanding and a great pianist - and a perfect foil for the two of them (Perlman, who announced all the changes/movements on stage - for the Shosty encore, said "This is for TWO violins and A piano."
Afterwards a walk to Rittenhouse Square was lovely, and a quick beer and philly cheesesteak at the Fox and Hound set things right and gave me some more energy for my next concert.
End of the Orchestra 2001 concert in Lang Hall, Swarthmore College
I was able to meet Augusta Read Thomas (pictured on the right) in person (I should commision her for a work, "Long Ride in a Slow Machine", now that she has ridden in the Land Yacht! And we kept missing the turns, and found out that the borough of Swarthmore is a dry city, doh!) We've emailed and talked on the phone for interviews, but it was most excellent to put a person with a voice and her music. Orchestra 2001 played in Lang Concert Hall at Swarthmore College, a concert entitled ONE-DAY MUSIC FESTIVAL: MEET THE COMPOSERS. And what a concert - all new pieces, many from the area (Gusty was the furthest away - but her soloist had graduated from Swarthmore) I saw George Crumb come in, and we talked at intermission, and made sure he and Augusta saw each other. He was really sweet, catching many of his students works (including a previous 70th birthday tribute by Gerald Levinson) and Crumb was like a proud papa, greeting all of them at intermission and afterwards. Of note was a wonderful song, Satori by Jay Reise with the stunning soprano Laura Heimes (pictured on the left).
As for Carillon Sky, Augusta's work played by Baird Dodge, it's outstanding. I've asked her for a violin part, and will have to learn it. It is a brilliant violin concerto, a mere 8 minutes long, but with the craft and skill that for me, puts her at the very top of composers for our generation. This work, that is a mere three weeks old, speaks to the very heart and mind of the listener. Oh, and it's so original - an OPTIONAL cadenza for the soloist. When speaking beforehand, she said much more eloquently and clearly than I write here, the last minute of the work, Baird might or might not improvise a cadenza, it's up to him. It harkens back to baroque in that performance practice and yet is the most modern tools and harmony available. Gusty says she likes to think in minatures and condense a whole violin concerto into mere minutes and one movement - but I think that takes the maximal effort and vision.
Augusta Read Thomas and George Crumb (photo by me)
John, Gusty and George
(photo by concert-goer not familiar with my camera, so I tried to salvage...hence the effect.)
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The Miro's Haydn was exquisite - and I endulged myself by following the score (getting to watch them during repeats - which they honored) and I knew it would be a lovely concert. They followed it with a new work by Brent Michael Davids, his Tinnitus Quartet. It features a high A throughout the piece, and is quite effective - as the violist noted, it is an emotional journey. One huge paradigm shift was the silence that came afterwards - and the distinct feeling that everyone in the hall was listening very intensely. I mean that silence in the best sense, too, not that everyone was glad it was over, but that Davids had communicated well the malady.
The second half brought on stage the amazing Paul Katz, cellist extraordinaire and chamber music guru. They played Schubert's monumental String Quintet (see the previous entry about this work.) Unfortunately a drunk person came in at the very start of the first movement and was rather disruptive. During the second movement, security came and removed him. At least he went quietly. But for me the damage was done, hard to focus on one of the sublime works of art when someone is flailing their arms, clapping (yes, he did!) in the pause - almost sarcastically yet, blindingly stupid - between the first two movements (and I'm not a snob about clapping after movements) - but this was very different, you had to be there! He waited and then knowingly was brash about it.
Okay, so you say, but John this is a one time incident. You can't stop going to concerts, just because someone might distract you...well, I have to tell you, and I'm preparing a post about this sort of thing, that I am going to DRASTICALLY filter the concerts I attend. Everywhere. Remember this post about talking during the music? What about Dr. Dick's adventure in NYC?
I can see in some respects why we're all putting on headphones with our I-Pods.
Please don't read this as an effect from Miro, Paul, or M.S.C. - this is something I've been thinking about for some time. I'm not blaming any one presenter or performer. That is not the case at all.
I have been crafting a sign to carry in my suitcoat pocket, that says "Please be quiet." and "No talking during the music." On the flip side I should make a "Thank you!" sign as well.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Schubert's Quintet is one of the great things in the universe. Really. I normally don't get so defensive, possessive or adamant about works written before 1900 - or revere them always as I should- but this is a real exception.
Listen to this...mp3 file
And then this...mp3 file
It truly is supreme music. And you can hear it live tomorrow evening.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Whether or not Lang Lang puts on a show with extra movements oh his hands, head or body - what comes out is phenomenal music making. The recital began with Mozart, a charming interpretation of the middle B-flat major sonata, K. 333.
Continuing with the major feat of the evening in my opinion with Schumann's C major Fantasy, Opus 17. Lang Lang's performance was stunning, spot on and a wonderful statement of his growing pianistic powers.
The rest of the program, after the long (sorry no bad jokes here about names or time) intermission was mixed - a lukewarm Granados Goyesca, a stunning set of Traditional Chinese works - complete with words (in somewhat broken English) from Lang Lang explaining them, even though what he mentioned was IN the program notes he supplied (which were great notes!!!), and some Liszt. These Liszt works were astounding as well. There is something quite powerful, no...shocking? about hearing Tristan and Isolde with just one piano.Wagner condensed to ten fingers from the large orchestra - something Liszt did so well - and Lang Lang did alright - he is wonderful to share it with his audience!
The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 that he was playing again after learning it 12 years ago (yes, at age 11) according to his program notes, was spectacular. Most of the audience was on their feet - I was suprised to see others not garnering the overused standing ovation - but after three curtain calls, he obliged with an encore.
As for the question in the title of this entry, Focused, or staged, brilliance? I don't care if Lang Lang makes gestures on stage with his playing, or speaks perfect english when signing cds afterwards - while having a more "stereotypical" accent on stage - as long as he produces such great sounds and music. Which he did to a wonderful extent - a night to remember at Kimmel.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
I slipped away to Manhattan, taking the 7:10 Amtrak train and arrived just before 11am. I popped down to the village (seeing some inspiration for my planned Manhattan Suite for violin)
and went to brunch at Shopsins. Yum-o! I took Teller's recommendation of ebelskivers (a Norwegian sort of pancake) and was so delighted (I went with the chocolate and whipped cream variation - hey, it's all apart of my 36th birthday celebration!)
I was meeting a friend for coffee before the concert, which got moved to after the concert - so I enjoyed a cigar in front of Carnegie Hall.
My friend Kirsten Agresta (the young harpist - inside joke) soloed in Debussy's Sacred and Profane Dances. I have to say honestly it was the best thing on the program. A high school from Florida (I think) opened the concert with three selections for strings. (They were very, uhm, young.) Then an intermission for stage set/changing groups - next was the New England Symphonic Ensemble with a male chorus and baritone soloist in Debussy's Invocation and a Durufle Mass. Both okay. At least the Durufle was well written. Another intermission. Now the combined choirs (several high schools from all over) marched on stage. They also brought out the harp, woohoo! Kirsten's reading was a charming and able rendition, with great dynamics, incredibly flowing lines and enough originality of interpretation to keep it fresh and yet traditional.
Poulenc's Gloria that rounded out the program wasn't the case - a bti overdone and very amateur. It also clocked in at several hours, when a very nice program length would have been the Debussy Invocation, Dances Sacred and Profane and then the Durufle Mass. But then their wouldn't have been the en masse voices, et al. Oh well, I was very happy to go, and to hear Kirsten live.
Afterwards I did get to meet up with a radio business friend and touch base - a good conversation - we have lots of mutual contacts and friends, besides artists, so it was fun to talk shop in a very relaxed setting.
By this time I had enough time to slip down to Penn Station, grab a slice of NY Pizza and get on the train. Now I'm back in Harrisburg, ready for a new week - albeit busy: Lang Lang Tuesday in Philadelphia and back Sunday for TWO concerts, Perlman & Zukerman at the Kimmel Center and then that Sunday night, Orchestra 2001 - where I'll get to meet Augusta Read Thomas in person finally. (Oh, Saturday is Market Square concerts in Hbg with the Miro 4tet, will be cool as well!)
Friday, April 14, 2006
Ironically, the rabbits seemed to enjoy my violin playing in the backyard this evening, despite occassional diminished octaves, composing and cigar smoke!
Thursday, April 13, 2006
When Anne-Sophie was 19, she recorded the 2nd and 4th Violin Concerti by Mozart with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Ricardo Muti (Angel/EMI).
Then at the age of 42, Anne-Sophie re-recorded all of the Mozart Violin Concerti, this time with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and herself conducting (DG).
Hear Anne-Sophie's first and latest recordings of the 4th Violin concerto. They are different! I think the first recording is more together in ensemble, but that the latest recording has a much better sound. The tempos now are much faster than the 1982 set - which is very interesting.
And as always...the most fun part, mixed together!!!
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
"In 1904, Pleyel’s had commissioned Debussy to compose a work to demonstrate the musical potential of their own new design of harp. Instead of the conventional pedal instrument, Pleyel had devised in 1897 a ‘chromatic harp’ with a string for each semi-tone. Erard’s design eventually proved the most successful, but like the Ravel, Debussy’s Danses are now well-established in the conventional pedal harp repertoire. The ‘danse sacrée’ has an antique character, coloured by modal rather than tonal harmony, influenced perhaps by the style of Satie’s famous Gymnopédies for piano (two of which Debussy orchestrated), but far more sophisticated: in the composer’s word: ‘It’s not possible to write down the exact form of a rhythm, any more than it is to explain the different effects of a single phrase’. The contrasting ‘danse profane’ introduces gentle waltz theme in D major which is developed with exquisite grace and increasingly elaborate harp ornamentation, building to an impassioned climax and deliberately understated finish, almost tongue-in-cheek."
Interesting that Dan Brown's (who just won his court case in England) The Da Vinci Code (soon to be in theaters) mentions the unsupported rumor that Debussy was a grand master of the Priory of Sion, a secret society that is said to have existed since the middle ages.
Anyway, that's this Sunday afternoon at 2pm who those of you at home keeping score and who should get out for some great live music.