Saturday, April 20, 2019

Amanda Maier on the Notes on Notes Podcast

How exciting to find a podcast discussion about Amanda Maier with Oxford University's Leah Broad on the Notes on Notes Podcast!

After listening to the podcast you might find it interesting to read through the more than a dozen posts I have made about Maier during the past decade. You can find them all here.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Bread of Affliction and Technology

I had a burst of insight the first time I made Matzo for Passover. It must have been around twenty years ago, a time when there was no Matzo to be had in my town during Passover (not to mention no internet for guidance). So I decided to make some myself. I knew the ingredients: flour, water, and salt. I knew that the Matzo had to be thin, and I knew the oven had to be hot, but I didn't know much else.

What surprised me that first time was how quickly the dough would try to rise even though it didn't have yeast added to it. I understood at that point that before the Exodus making Matzo probably wasn't a matter of not having enough time for bread to rise, as we have been led to understand. It was a matter of preparing the best road food. The people who wrote the first set of Passover instructions were probably not bakers. They probably didn't know the ways of dough.

In order to make Matzo work you have to be fast. You have to have the very hot oven ready. You have to handle the dough minimally: just enough to be able to roll it out so it is very thin. You have to have something (I used two forks) ready to make the perforations in the top that keep the Matzo flat. You have to pop it in the oven, watch it (listening to the hiss of the steam as it escapes through the holes), and take it out before it burns.

I read that the natural yeasts start doing their work at about eighteen minutes. In our house the natural yeasts in my Prairie Gold white whole wheat flour start doing their thing instantly. I would say that making one sheet of Matzo, including cooking, took about eight minutes.

If I were to go on a family trip through the desert I would certainly want to strap a lot of Matzo to the family camel's back. It is light and rigid because all the water has been cooked out of it. It also doesn't spoil or get moldy. You can have it with hummus (another good road food made of bulk dry ingredients that can be carried by camel) thus avoiding the need to carry plates and eating utensils. [I am fond of the Sephardic tradition of not excluding beans from Passover.]

I documented this morning's Matzo making:

Monday, April 15, 2019

Mystery Composers Photo!

Number four is Arthur Bliss
Number five is Paul Hindemith
Number seven is Ethel Smyth

Number eleven in the back (with the glasses) is Egon Wellesz
Number twelve (front) is Anton Webern.

Please help identify the rest! And while I have your attention, here's another post with another photo of Hindemith (from many years later) with a bunch of composers (his students at Yale). A few still need to be identified.

And HUGE thanks goes to Steven (in the comments) for finding the answer!

and finding a very useful bonus photo:

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Musical Community

I like to think that I am part of a large musical community, but, even though I play with several ensembles, teach (or have taught) a lot of students, and write music that is, more often than not, played by people I do not know, I am mostly a person who works alone. I imagine that there is an enormous community of composers, writers, visual artists, and inventors who work in isolation. We live in imaginary worlds where our subjects, characters, themes, and widgets relate to one another inside of our individual heads. In my opera-writing days I used to think of it as the theater inside my head.

But we isolated dreamers like to share our stuff with the insides of other people's heads. Coming together to make music is a real joy. But it takes work to arrange to come together, and it sometimes involves personal risk. Sometimes it involves personal friction.

I have, over the decades, been in organized musical situations that I have had to leave. I had to leave my teenage musical community because we all went our separate directions once school was over. I had to leave my Juilliard/New York musical community for personal and professional reasons. I had to leave my musical community in Schladming, Austria because I could not work under the psychological realities of that small town, and I had to leave my musical community in Vienna because, as a woman, a flutist, and a foreigner, I could not get adequate work there. I had to leave my musical community in Hong Kong because I could not extend my work visa, which ended up being a good thing both personally and logistically because the Hong Kong I lived in no longer exists.

I did not have much difficulty leaving my musical community in Boston because, upon returning after my years away, I didn't have time to establish a strong musical community there. Besides, I was excited to go off on a Midwestern adventure with my new husband.

The musical community in my new town was welcoming and vibrant, but, being a university town, people I grew close to would leave. And then, since we are all human, people I grew close to would die. Now I only know a few members of the music faculty at the university. I still make music with a healthy handful of friends, but I feel a distance from the organized musical communities that have developed in my town. I have spent decades building my own musical communities, but I know that if I do not do the work to promote and sustain them, they might cease to exist.

When Facebook came around I had a magical way of pretending that I was still a member of all those musical communities: the musicians I grew up with, the musicians I went to Juilliard with, the musicians I knew in Austria, the musicians I knew in Boston, and the musicians who used to live in my town. I thought that I might retain some of the connections to people I interacted with "there," but I haven't. I don't have email addresses or phone numbers for people I used to "know" "there." I wonder if any of the people who I was "friends" with on Facebook read this blog?

[If any of you are reading, please consider this an invitation to send me your email address so that we can keep in touch!]

I recently had to leave an organized musical community in another town that I loved being part of. I had to do it because of an embarrassing and insulting situation regarding a dear friend. I had no other choice than to put long-term friendship over organized musical community. I do not regret my decision, but I feel a great deal of sadness.

So I'm using this space to share my feelings, and hopefully I will be able to get to a place of closure.

Meanwhile, I guess I have scales to practice . . .

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sixty Measures for Sixty Years

I have a big birthday coming at the end of the month. I started a series of "Birthday Pieces" for viola d'amore and piano when I turned fifty. The first piece has fifty measures and lasts about a minute. Every year around this time I write a new birthday piece for viola d'amore and piano, and I add one measure for every year. This newest edition (which you can listen to here) has sixty measures, and it lasts about four minutes.

I have noticed, during my almost sixty years as a human being, that I'm a creature of unconscious regularity. This multi-year project provides me with some conscious regularity. It also provides viola d'amore players with some new repertoire. The series will continue as far into old age (or second youth) as I do.

Here's the first page (you have to click on it to bring it into focus):

Here's a link to the music in the IMSLP.

And, if you are interested, you can find all eleven pieces here.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Tablet Tales

I am very excited that I can use my tablet and pencil to clean up PDF files I find in the IMSLP (and then submit the clean copies). Today's clean-up was the viola part of the Bantock Viola Sonata Number 1. Here are my "before" and "after" shots:

My practicing is always better when I have a clean piece of music to work with.

You can find the whole part here

Monday, March 25, 2019

Dora Pejačević Cello Sonata transcribed for viola

I used this lovely painting by my mother for the cover of my viola transcription of Dora Pejačević's Cello Sonata, and have loaded it into the IMSLP. I think my rebellious mother would have liked the (possibly) equally-rebellious Pejačević, so their work is now joined together in the unusual ether of an on-line music library that is freely accessible by all.

For people unfamiliar with Pejačević, here's a short biography cribbed from the program for our upcoming performance of this piece:
Maria Theodora Paulina Pejačević’s father came from a noble Croatian family. Her mother was a Hungarian countess. Pejačević was born in Budapest, spoke many languages (though not Croatian), and identified culturally as German. She played violin and piano, and began writing music at the age of twelve. She had considerable success as a composer in Germany, and after the First World War she reacted strongly against her class, and was left socially alienated. In 1921 Pejačević married Ottomar von Lumbe, a German military officer; two years later she died from kidney failure, just a few weeks after the birth of her only child. Nearly all of Pejačević’s fifty-eight known compositions (vocal works, chamber music, piano music, and orchestral music) are housed in the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb, and some have been published by the Croatian Music Information Center.

Her music is catching on, and there is now more Pejačević on YouTube than is practical to link to in this post. Her Symphony in F sharp minor is a good place to start.

And you can find more of my mother's work here.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Bach and Chaos Ramble

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to the radio while driving to hear my seven-year-old student play a Bach piece at a local beauty pageant. She was the reigning 2018 Little Miss of our town. She won her title last March, and she started playing the violin in September. This was her first public performance. Ever.

There was a person on the radio talking about how the laws of physics showed that there is no past or future, and that in some parts of the universe time could even go backwards. Interesting. This was all spoken over a performance of the Prelude of Bach's Second Cello Suite. I wondered if it was supposed to prove a point about Bach and time or about time and music, but I was disappointed to realize that the Bach just served as background.

Then this person started talking about chaos and order. He said that there are many kinds of chaos, but only one order. He said something about the laws of physics backing up that claim. His example was that if you clean your house it inevitably gets messy again.

He then went on to explain that conditions had to be just right for the big bang to happen as it did, and he mentioned something about the original smoothness of the Earth that I didn't understand. Then he used the word "design," so I then suspected that his argument might have had something to do with trying to put the geological record of the big bang into a religious creationist's worldview.

I tuned him out, and started thinking about the Bach cello suite (another movement from a different cello suite was playing in the background this time) and that the greatest gifts Bach gave to musicians are the many "right" ways his phrases can be played. His music is a gateway to infinite musical possibilities. When we play solo Bach, every experience (musical and non-musical) can inform the way it sounds or feels to play any phrase at any given moment. The counterpoint inside each of our heads while we are playing Bach's pitches and rhythms is always different.

For the Ancient Greeks the word "chaos" meant emptiness, which eventually got translated into the King James Bible as void. It was first used to mean disorder by the 16th-century English satirist Stephen Gosson, and then much later became used to name a branch of mathematics.

When we write music (or anything for that matter) I don't believe that order comes out of chaos in either sense of the word (I don't know enough about mathematics to weigh in on that meaning). There is no "void" because we are living and breathing people with senses, experiences, and ideas. And writing is effectively lining up ideas so that they make sense. I don't think of putting ideas together as creating order out of disorder, though I sometimes create disorder when I put ideas together.

My student played very well. The person doing the announcing introduced her piece as being by Jonathan Sebastian Bach, but very few people in the audience noticed.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

WHAM Concert March 31, 2019

We are playing a viola transcription of a cello sonata by the Slavonian composer Dora Pejačević (1885-1923). It is one of fifty-eight pieces that she wrote in her short lifetime. Pejačevic died a few weeks after the birth of her only child.

The song of the wood thrush (the bird on the concert announcement) is represented in two solo piano pieces by Amy Beach. And the piece of mine that we are playing is a traditional sonata made from interspersing frog songs and songs about frogs.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Soundscape of Our Late-Boomer Lives

Sometimes I wonder if reruns provide an unconscious soundscape of late-boomer's compositional lives. Could the music for "Star Trek," "Lost in Space," "Bonanza," "Lassie," "Mission Impossible," "F-Troop," "Gilligan's Island," and "I Love Lucy" function the way the songs of birds did for Messiaen, Dvorak, and Sibelius, or pub songs functioned for Brahms?

Past posts from a (still-recovering) CD reviewer

I started thinking, once again, about how rarely I listen to CD recordings and how much I enjoy NOT listening to them in order to write reviews for publication. But then I realized that I have nothing new to say, so I bundled a bunch of posts together from the past ten years or so. Some come from a time when I was still reviewing recordings, and some are from after I stopped. If you ever wonder what might go through the mind of a record reviewer who is also a musician, here's your chance!

Here they are.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Who is the music for anyway?

I was working with a teenage student on a Handel sonata the other day. While trying to get her to make things musically exciting during periods that did not have fast-moving notes, I mentioned that Handel wrote the piece for her enjoyment and as a vehicle for her to express herself. Of course Handel didn't know my student, but he knew the "audience" for his published music would be musicians looking for music to play with their friends and families. He was writing this music for people just like her.

[I also told her that I think of the notes on the page as my slaves. I can choose the tempo and the spirit. I can line the pitches up they way I want. I can decide which notes are more important, and which notes have less importance. I can also change my mind.]

Lately I have heard teachers try to inspire students to play with expression by telling them that it is their job to project the composer's intentions to the audience. There is nothing really wrong about this way of thinking, but there is something odd about it. People do write music that is concrete and programmatic (Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, for example). Instructions can be given as text, or pieces can be written in genres with certain expectations (nocturnes, waltzes, marches, lullabies, etc.) Programmatic references are necessary when writing music for opera, ballet, and movies, because the music needs to support what is happening. It also serves as a practical way to maintain the pace of the narrative. I suppose music with a text (a song, a song cycle, or a choral piece) or a tone poem would fall into the programmatic category.

I believe music for the stage is written for the benefit of the audience (as well as the benefit of the composer). A person watching a drama ideally wants to "turn off" the drama in their own lives and "escape" into the drama of the production. Sometimes composers do too.

It is different when the music at hand is not programmatic. When I write non-programmatic music I don't think about the specific emotions I want an audience to feel, but I do think (constantly) about how I want the people playing the music to feel. I want them to feel comfortable expressing themselves, and I want them to feel comfortable interacting with one another. I find that when passages do not sit well on any instrument, a lot of expression is lost, so I strive for physical comfort. I also work to organize the music so that the people who play it remain interested and engaged.

In the case of non-programmatic music, the melodic and harmonic material, tempo indications, rests, slurs, articulations, and dynamics can be written into the music. All the stuff that remains (i.e. the music making itself) belongs to the people playing the music. People listening can decide what to pay attention to. If a performing musician wants to call special attention to something in the music and people in the audience notice, that can be a good thing. Or not.

[Music involves all the senses: the sense of sight in both the mind's eye or the physical eye, the sense of hearing in the anticipatory inner ear or the physical outer ear, and the sense of touch. I think the sense of smell mixes with memory. I remember the smell of the euphonium I played one afternoon in elementary school, the smell of the pitch pipe that my elementary school music teacher gave me as a present, the smell of my flute, and the smell of the closet where I practiced in junior high. I remember the smell of deteriorating music paper, and the cigar-smoke-infused mud floor of the music shed at Tanglewood. I remember the smell of the Tanglewood practice cabins too. I remember the smell of rosin, and the way the inside of my 3/4-size violin case smelled. Taste is musical taste, of course. But it is still a sense.]

We often listen to music to be entertained, and we often play music to entertain ourselves and share with others. If a professional musician has had a lousy day, his or her negative feelings and pesky "self talk" are imperceptible to the audience. Nobody can hear the words that are in your head while you are playing, and nobody who is playing can "hear" the thoughts of the audience. Imagine the distracting extra-musical cacophony that would happen if you could.

But if the chatter in our heads is redirected towards the music at hand, people who are playing together can connect with one another in very intimate and inexplicable ways through the music. In doing so, they also connect with the other people who are in the room, and those people can feel connected with one another in the music.

And, for some people, their inner chatter might slow down. Or even stop.

These are the moments musicians live for. I aspire to write music that makes these moments possible. I imagine a lot of composers share that aspiration.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019


There's a Yiddish folk story about a couple with six children cramped into a one-room hut. When the father asked the local Rabbi for advice about how to get along in their small space, the Rabbi advised him to bring the family's chickens in the house. When the father complained to the Rabbi the next week that the chickens were not making things better, the Rabbi advised him to bring in the family's cow. The next week the Rabbi told him to let the horse in. This went on for a while. The father was in despair. The Rabbi finally told the father to let the animals out.

The next week the father thanked the Rabbi, and said that his house was now peaceful.

This is how I feel about no longer participating in Facebook. It has been ten weeks since I deleted my account.

I was worried at first that I would miss out on what was going on with our children, but we talk on the phone all the time. I worried that people wouldn't know about the concerts that I was playing. But I always let people know about concerts I'm playing by way of email. I have learned that I don't reach any "new" audiences through Facebook. I have often observed that an "event" on Facebook is often something people may show public interest in, but then they forget about writing down the information, and therefore don't attend.

I was worried that my social world would get smaller. It has. But I'm not unhappy about it. I tend to enjoy the time I spend interacting with people more. I can always reach my friends through email.

The best thing for me is the amount of time I now have to spend doing the things I love to do. Since leaving Facebook I have written some good music (I've shared some of it here), and I have completed the huge project of performing and engraving the Kunc Sonata. I have posted about it here, but somehow it does not feel like careerist self-promotion to post things here. On Facebook it does. I suppose that is because musicians so often use Facebook to promote their careers.

I remember listening to a podcast about musical careerist stuff where the "career advisor" suggested "friending" people on Facebook, and then "unfollowing" them. That way, she advised, people will see you, but you don't need to see them. I have come to understand that this kind of thing happens all the time. I'm interested in relationships that are honest. I like situations where I see you and you see me. I fear Facebook-based interaction is becoming more the norm.

As for careerist aspirations, I have none. I love playing music with my friends and colleagues. I love playing concerts, and I love playing "gigs." I enjoy getting paid when I play with professional musicians, and I enjoy playing for fun with amateur musicians. I enjoy getting paid to write music for people, and I love writing music that I can share in the IMSLP.

My greatest aspiration is for quality, both in my playing and in my writing. Measuring quality in "likes" is terribly unhealthy for me.

It is a trade-off. I suppose that if I worked the social media (and regular media) angles more, I could have more of a "career" as a composer, but I don't want to compromise my time. I want to spend the time I have doing the things I love, not the things I don't like to do.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Women's History Month

During the month of March people in the press start paying special attention to music written by women. But this March there seems to be a bit more going on than in previous years.

There's an article by Susanna Eastburn in The Guardian that presents the idea of dealing with the problem of underrepresentation by women in the larger landscape of concert programs through gender equality. She runs Sound and Music, the UK's national organization for new music. Sound and Music has made excellent progress, and aims to have 50/50 gender equality in their musical programs by March of 2020.

Things are slowly getting better for living composers who are female. Visibility helps. Orchestras and other musical organizations that take the "risk" of playing music by composers who are contemporary, living, and female show their audiences (and their musicians) that "classical" music is NOT only written by men from Europe who are no longer alive.

These internets are finally buzzing with excitement about Florence Price. There's a review of a Naxos recording with two of her symphonies, and Spotify has thirty tracks on their "Composer Weekly" page for this week. Price is also featured in an excellent New Music USA blog post by Douglas Shadle, which discusses her as both a female composer and an African American composer. Most of all Shadle presents her as a great composer, which she certainly was. Thank goodness her music is now getting performed, recorded, and written about.

These are not "baby steps." They are broad strides that are being taken by men and women that help enrich our musical world.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Training a New Voice

Very early on in my musical life a singer friend told me that she had to build her vocal instrument in much the way a violin maker builds a violin. There are people who are naturally gifted with beautiful voices, but to make a voice project requires serious training. I have always wondered how trans people who sing (and their teachers) deal with the vocal-instrument-specific changes that happen when taking hormones.

I was so happy to find this article by Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The article includes a clip of the Bass-Baritone Lucia Lucas. She trained as a baritone before going through transition, and was able to keep her voice and her career, now dressing up to play male roles. But I imagine that she has her challenges. I'm planning to read her blog, which I'm linking to here and on the sidebar. I found the post she made about how to learn a role efficiently particularly fascinating.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Using a Tablet for Music: 2019 Edition

Nine years ago I wrote a blog post about what I would like to have in an electronic tablet for reading music. You can find the post here. I'm a week into working with my new iPad Pro, and it seems that all my requirements (and more) have been fulfilled. Here's the text of my 2010 post:
I was seriously disappointed when I found that the ipad is not capable of turning the orientation of PDF files (like the ones available on the Werner Icking Music Archive or the Petrucci Library) from landscape to portrait. I also found that it is not possible to conveniently turn pages or even conveniently scroll through music.

I'm not holding my breath, but I'm secretly hoping that some very smart music-loving technical person will eventually develop a mac- and windows-friendly music-reader (wouldn't it be appropriate to call it a "notebook?") that would really work for musicians. It wouldn't have as large a potential buying "audience" as the ipad, but it would help a lot of musicians. This is what my machine would require:

1. A screen that can be viewed clearly under all lighting conditions, including strong stage lights. It would need to have a viewing area that would be at least 8.5 x 11. 9 x 12 would be better. CHECK

2. A button on the lower and/or upper right hand side of the machine that would function as a page-turning button. It would need to go in both directions to account for repeats. CHECK

3. A method for annotation (fingerings and bowings) on the downloaded copy (a stylus, perhaps), and the option to save an annotated copy in an easily-accessible format. CHECK

4. It would have to have a very smart and flexible filing system that could organize sheet music into categories: period, genre, instrumentation, etc.CHECK

5. It would have to be silent, like the ipad. CHECK

6. It would have to have the capacity to do e-mail and send attachments, so there would need to be a functional keyboard--either internal or external (I can't stand to type on the ipad touchscreen). CHECK

7. It would need to have a long battery life and would need to be easily recharged. CHECK

8. It would have to be sturdy, but it would have to be light enough to sit on a music stand. CHECK

9. It would have to be affordable for musicians. CHECK

10. Here's my pie-in-the-sky dream for such a machine: it would work as a scanner as well as a reader (hence the ideal larger screen size). CHECK

Using the Forscore program on my iPad, which I can use in landscape or portrait orientation, I am able to make corrections (in red!) directly on a PDF file, and then I can transfer those corrections into my Finale file. The display is clear, and it is very easy to see the kinds of details that I often miss when working with paper and red pen. Proofing directly in Finale is inadequate because of the tool handles and the colors of the layers.

I have some practical considerations that I would like to share here. I'm only a week into the process, so expect updates!

1. Using a foot pedal to turn pages does have a learning curve. When making a PDF from a Finale (or other notation program) file, it is best to have the ends of the pages in places other than key changes, changes of register, clef changes, and changes of technique (like going from arco to pizzicato).

2. When you use Forscore for playing, the page-turning system doesn't work when the image is blown up to fill the screen completely. Since page margins are not an issue with music that doesn't need to bound, I have reduced my page margins to half an inch (and I guess I could even make them smaller) on either side. I have also increased my page size to as close to 100% as possible, because that makes the notes bigger. And who over the age of 50 doesn't prefer to read larger notes?

3. Use a bold font for fingerings. Maestro 14 point works for me. It does make a difference.

4. Get a soft external case that has a pocket to hold your page-turning foot pedal, so you can keep everything in one place. I even have a little plastic container of AA batteries stuffed in mine.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Speech and Music

I have always that a composer's speaking voice has a huge impact on how s/he writes music. I'm so happy to know that I am not alone!

Friday, February 08, 2019

Jack Benny's Bow Arm

I like to share videos of Jack Benny with my students so that they can observe his beautiful bow arm, and so that they can understand that being able to "play" at being a "lousy" violinist takes a great amount of technique.

I love this performance of the Bach Double that he does with Isaac Stern because he knows how to play with questionable taste (articulation, intonation, rhythm, sound quality) while still playing the violin extremely well. I enjoy the points where Benny lapses into good musicianship.

And just look at his bow arm:

I do with I could hear a recording of him playing in a non-comedic situations. If there were recordings it would probably have been worth his while (for professional reasons) to keep them private.

Jack Benny (née Benjamin Kubelsky) was born in Waukegan, Illinois. The Waukegan Historical Society has an excellent timeline that details events in his life. There is an excellent Wikipedia article about him that mentions Otto Graham Sr. as his teacher. I imagine that Benny must have learned that bow arm from Graham.

I recall either reading or watching an interview with the 70-something Jack Benny where he talked about his love of chamber music and about how he spent his time practicing the violin. I wish I could find it somewhere!

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Sanford Sylvan memorials around the blogosphere

I first met Sanford Sylvan when he was a very young man, and I was a teenager. I remember the sound of his gentle speaking voice when he introduced himself to me one afternoon at Tanglewood. I heard him sing later in the week, and became a devoted fan. I have enjoyed hearing him sing in concerts, masterclasses, in stage productions, and on recordings.

Michael we went to a production of "Mother Courage" that was directed by Peter Sellars (at a theater in Boston) for our third date. I was happily surprised to find that Sandy was singing in it. The music for that production was written by Van Dyke Parks, who Michael and I became friends with a couple of decades later.

The musical world is small.

A few people in the musical blogosphere who knew him have been writing posts, so I thought I'd list them here:

Matthew Guerrieri (Soho the Dog) played piano for his masterclasses at the Boston Conservatory, and describes Sandy's clearly professional approach to singing.

Lisa Hirsch (Iron Tongue of Midnight) heard him sing when she was in college. She gives a very touching personal tribute.

Alex Ross (The Rest is Noise) didn't know him personally, but heard him sing Die Winterreise (which comes pretty close).

Robert Hurwitz (Nonesuch Records) produced many of his records.

I'm not surprised that so many of the tributes to Sandy include a link to his recording of "The Monk and His Cat" from Samuel Barber's "Hermit Songs." I'll do the same.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Kunc Engraving Triumphs

These two measures from the third movement of the Kunc took me more than an hour to "Finaliaze." (I finished a draft of the second movement last night.) I just thought I'd commemorate this little triumph. I had to use all four layers (black, red, green, and blue), and I had to use all sorts of tools to get everything to fit and look right. And they still need a bit of tweaking . . .

. . . And here they are in context (with a few more corrections):

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Kunc Update!

I'm having a moment of celebration here. The first movement of the Viola Sonata (all 25 pages of it) is now engraved, and I have a PDF file (probably with a few errors) that I would be happy to send to any interested violists. And all violists should be interested . . .

Just send me an email, and I will keep you in the Kunc loop.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ravel's Kaddish performed today at the European Parliament

I'm so honored that Clémence Poussin and the Quatuor Girard used my transcription of the Ravel Kaddish for this performance:

The Me2/Orchestra

Last night I was reminded of Ronald Braunstein, a fellow Juilliard student (we were not friends, but we did work together occasionally). Ron was studying conducting there, though he had entered as a composition student. He was an interesting person to me, partially because he was clearly talented, but mostly because he allowed himself to be vulnerable. The operative strategy at Juilliard in the late 1970s was to give the appearance of being highly successful and invulnerable. The 21st-century term that would apply would be "bulletproof."

Ron was not bulletproof, but he was a serious high achiever. Immediately after graduating from Juilliard in 1979 he went off to Berlin and won the gold medal in the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Competition. He worked with Karajan as an apprentice, and conducted orchestra all over Europe and Asia. After returning to America, he conducted the pre-college orchestra at Juilliard and the preparatory orchestra at Mannes. In 1981 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and, like other people with the disorder, he has had challenges navigating his way through professional and personal life.

Braunstein now lives in Vermont. In 2011 he formed an orchestra in Burlington for musicians living with mental illnesses to play in, and in 2014 he started one in Boston. Here's a link to the Me2/Orchestra's website. There's a page there with links to articles about the orchestra as well as a link to their YouTube channel. The orchestra does not require an audition. Participants can choose to reveal the nature of their mental illness if they like, but it isn't necessary. It isn't even necessary to have a mental illness to participate! They welcome people of all ages: patients, family members, friends, physicians, counselors, people recovering from addiction, and caregivers.

It makes me very proud to know that Ronald Braunstein is doing something truly good with his life and his talents.

Here's a clip of the orchestra playing at the King Street Center in Burlington, VT.

I was surprised, when going through some of my brother Marshall's writings (which I keep mostly private), to find that Marshall knew Ronald Braunstein too. Here's an excerpt from Marshall's memoir (SSO would be the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, which was having a conductor search in October of 1984):
Braunstein actually got to meet us by a fluke before rehearsals ever started--he got on the same plane with us. We were returning from Boston, and Elaine’s wedding, and he got on at LaGuardia, a day early so that he could have a break before meeting the SSO management. That gave him a chance to look over the first movement of Alien Landscapes, which I’d just finished scoring. Unfortunately we never heard from him again.

I disagreed with some of the things he did in rehearsal--taping, for instance. (With IRIS, and Michael Stern, there is an excellent reason for it: we record commercially.) But his Barber Adagio for Strings (with his parts) and his Beethoven Fifth (with all the repeats) had stunning musical conviction. Also featured was the Ginastera Harp Concerto, with Heidi Lehwalder as soloist.

There you have it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Michel Legrand Plays Bach!

[The Bach begins 47 minutes in.]

This is a 1978 variety-style television show that someone posted on YouTube yesterday. It is an excerpt from one of the Concertos that Bach wrote for either keyboard or violin. The segment begins with Legrand playing the solo on piano and Ivry Gitlis conducting, and it ends with Gitlis playing the solo on the violin and Legrand conducting:

Stick around after the Bach because Legrand sings music from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Danielle Licari, the singer who dubbed Catherine Deneuve's voice in the film. Their singing is set against images from the film.

I Believe in Michel Legrand

I spent much of my day re-working a string quartet arrangement of one of my favorite Legrand songs. Legrand reminds us that we must believe in spring. I keep believing in spring because of Michel Legrand. I am so thankful for his music. His was a musical life well lived.

Here he is playing and singing "I Will Wait for You" (in English), the theme from the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, with Nana Muskouri:

Schubert and our Winterreise

Last night the viola section of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra had a wonderful moment (or rather, a wonderful half hour) playing Schubert's Fifth Symphony. And the viola section love spread itself throughout the orchestra (the heart is in the middle of the body--any body). Or maybe we were just responding to all the ebbs, flows, and unnamable subtle shadings that happen when everybody has an open heart and is really feeling the music.

The Schubert love spread to the rest of the program too, particularly in Pulcinella.

It was a very enjoyable concert to play, and to hear.

There was more snow than predicted for our 50-mile trek home on a two-lane highway (we opted for the two-lane highway rather than the interstate because we didn't feel like driving with trucks, as we did the night before).

There was snow falling from the sky and snow drifting all over the road. About five miles into our journey we noticed many flashing lights ahead of us, and it turned out to be a snow plow. It swept away the snow, salted our path, and provided light to guide our way. After about fifteen miles it went off to plow another rural road, and, like magic, another snow plow appeared directly in front of us. That plow led us about ten miles more, and then stopped to let us pass once its help was no longer necessary.

I felt the spirit of Schubert all night.

Wrist Rosin

As we were about to rehearse Pulcinella yesterday, I noticed my stand-partner's wrist watch sitting on the floor. This idea popped into my mind.

Remember, you saw it here first.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Kunc, Kunc, and More Kunc

Sunday's concert has passed and John David and I have moved on to new repertoire. But I now have the piano score on my desk, and have been entering it into Finale and learning a great deal about piano writing (and about the piece!) in the process.

I have also started questioning the sparse record of the lives of the Kunc family. It seems that Pierre Kunc's younger brother Aymé Kunc did not win the "second prize alongside Maurice Ravel" in the 1902 Prix de Rome. Aymé Kunc won the first prize that year. Ravel was, according to Arbie Orenstein, a finalist, but he did not win any prizes. The second prize went to Albert Bertelin, and the third prize went to Jean Roger-Ducasse.

Aymé Kunc completed in the Prix de Rome four times before winning the Grand Prize (a generous four-year stipend and lots of fame).

Ravel won the third prize in 1901. Ravel is a household name, and Aymé Kunc remains a footnote in Ravel's biography (and a thorn in his side). Aymé's work is not yet entirely in the public domain, but there is an entry for him in the IMSLP that has two pieces.

There is an entry for Pierre Kunc (whose work is in the public domain) as well. And there's also an entry for Aloys Kunc, the father of Pierre and Aymé.

I'll go back to my engraving work now.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Talia Trio performance at Lawrence University

I'm so proud to share this review of a concert given last week at Lawrence University, where violist Matthew Michelic, oboist Leslie Michelic, and pianist Anthony Padilla played my Talia Trio.

Excitement, Excitement, Excitement

It is always an exciting experience to play viola and piano concerts, but the concert of long-neglected music that John David and I are playing tomorrow (see the posts about it below) is especially exciting because until tomorrow the only people to hear our program (aside from John David's son and daughter-in-law, who got a special preview performance a couple of weeks ago, and a group of people who heard the first movement of the Ashton in November) have been John David and me.

The experience is kind of like planting seeds in a secret garden, tending the plants, watching them flower, and, suddenly, as if by magic, seeing them burst into fruit. Tomorrow we plan to harvest our fruit and share it with whoever happens to come to the concert. The one thing I know for sure is that we both love these pieces (to pieces), and we are both very eager not to keep their secrets and charms to ourselves any longer!

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina Plays Chopin

It is just amazing how a bow that is perpendicular to the string can make even an automated violin (or set of violins) sound human! The finger levers are powered by small bellows, and the wheel is made from 1,300 horse hairs.

There is a lot you can learn about 19th-century style from this interpretation, once you remove your lower jaw from the floor.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Paulo Bellinati Jongo and Lira Brasileira

Out-of-Body Experiences with Bach

Someone posed a question on Reddit wondering if anyone had "out-of-body" experiences playing Bach.
So this one time in a rehearsal space I was playing Bach's Cello Suite #1 in G Major on the marimba.

I had been rehearsing it for weeks, thinking constantly about how I felt about the piece and what it meant to me in order to put my very own emotional spin on it. I probably played it at least 20 times a day for three weeks. I started the piece for the umpteenth time that practice session... and then when I finished I came out of some weird trance or something: I had no memory of playing the piece, but I did have a... well, like a vast and empty, yet fulfilled, place inside of me. I remember knowing that I had played well, but that's it. It was a weird experience, and I'm still not sure what happened.

The best way to describe it would be from Matilda by Roald Dahl "It made me feel lovely,' Matilda said. 'For a moment or two I was flying past the stars on silver wings."

In my conversations with other Bach players this does not seem to be an uncommon experience. So I'm here because I've finally built up the courage to ask these weird questions here:

What are your out-of-body experiences with playing Bach?

What is it about Bach that facilitates these experiences in our brains? Is music math, and math music? Is there truly music in the spheres? Or is it just that repetition encourages deep meditation? Let's talk!

But mostly I want stories about 'going somewhere else' while you were playing Bach. DAE?

I thought I'd share my response here:
My question is how do you tell an out-of-body experience from an in-body experience? Bach is my "go to" when I have feelings I cannot otherwise process. My mind can follow the pathways and accept their logical (and often surprising) destinations. The process of following them helps me to feel clearer about taking whatever next step I need to in any given situation. His choices bring me satisfaction.

There are moments in Bach pieces I heard my father playing while I was growing up that bring me "right back" to a moment and a physical place in my childhood. There are pieces of Bach that generate almost a "taste" in my mouth (Cantata 78 is one). There are pieces of Bach that do the opposite of an "out of body" thing for me. They make me feel more physically grounded, more comfortable in my skin, more able to move, and more secure.

I would not say that Bach is "music of the spheres" because I believe that Bach draws upon things that are very physical. The way Bach feels under the hand, the way it feels to sing Bach, and the way his long phrases are like physical constructions make me venerate Bach for his deep humanity.

I play Bach every day. Since I play viola, I alternate between the Sonatas and Partitas and the Cello Suites. My daily routine involves the reward of playing Bach after I play my scales. And for a while (maybe a year or so) I was going through the WTC on a daily basis. These days when I have time at the keyboard I have been playing the Partitas.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Pierre Kunc

In addition to the Viola Sonata by Algernon Ashton, John David Moore and I will be playing Pierre Kunc's Viola Sonata on our January 20th concert. We got hold of the music purely by accident. John David requested something from interlibrary loan, and the Kunc Sonata came in its place. I like to think that a savvy librarian knew that we would like the piece and that we would perform it. That librarian was right!

There is close to nothing written about Pierre Kunc in English, but I did come across a French webpage dedicated to Kunc. I brushed aside the huge number of names dropped in this article, and learned that Pierre Kunc was the third of twelve children who were part of one of the most important musical families in France. He had several celebrated teachers, including his parents and the violinists Paul Viardot (the son of Pauline Viardot), and Charles de Beriot (the husband of Pauline Viardot's sister Maria Malibran).

[The Kunc family in 1905]

In spite of being overshadowed by his younger brother, Aymé, who won the Grand Prize in the 1902 Prix de Rome, Pierre Kunc had a great deal of success in France. From 1899 until 1925 he taught piano and organ at the Ecole Sainte-Genevieve in the rue Lhomond in Paris, and he held several important organ positions including one at Notre-Dame of Bercy in Paris and one at Saint-Suplice, which was also in Paris. He also served as the choirmaster at the Monte Carlo Opera, and in 1909 the Institute de France gave him the Prix Trémont. His work has fallen into obscurity because so little of his music was published. This Viola Sonata and his Rapsodie, also written for viola and piano, were Pierre Kunc’s only pieces of chamber music to see publication.

Kunc wrote his Viola Sonata for Paul-Louis Neuberth to play on his “Viola Alta,” a nearly 19-inch viola with proportions more like that of the violin. The instrument was developed in the 1870s and was abandoned (probably because of its unwieldly size) in the early 1920s. The work was completed in 1921, and Neuberth gave the first performance in 1922 with the pianist Rachel Blanquer.

I made a new edition of the viola part and uploaded a PDF into the IMSLP. After this concert I will start the piano part, which I hope to have completed by March or April. My hope is that our performance will be the first of many!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Exploring New Musical Worlds!

Since leaving Facebook I have been exploring new online musical worlds. As a result of my exploration I have found treasure troves of musical discussions through reddit. Some of those wise musicological voices that used to comment here in the blogosphere seem to have migrated to the classical music groups there. Reddit reminds me of the usergroups that I used to take part in before the blogosphere was invented.

I enjoy reading posts from young people, people new to "classical music," and people with questions that provoke interesting answers. It is, as far as I can tell, a "place" where discussion is both anonymous and civil. I'm still learning my way around this new way of using the internets.

I happened upon an intriguing subreddit today:

I love the repeat sign graphic in the upper lefthand corner, and if you look down at the bottom left you will see a sharp sign and a flat sign that replace the usual up arrow and down arrow (which allows users to anonymously up-vote or down-vote a post). Very clever. The name of the subreddit is also appropriate because it improves upon "100 days of practice" meme that young musicians use to keep themselves motivated.

Anyone learning to play an instrument knows that a mere hundred days of practicing is not going to get you very far on a journey towards proficiency. One thousand days of consistent practice is a healthy commitment.

(And a nice hello to anyone arriving at this blog through links I have put on reddit!)

Monday, January 07, 2019

Algernon Ashton

John David and I are playing a concert later this month that will include Algernon Ashton's Viola Sonata.

Algernon Bennett Langton Ashton was born in Durham, England in 1859, and moved to Leipzig with his family at the age of four. At the suggestion of Ignaz Moscheles, Ashton entered the Leipzig Conservatory, where he studied with Carl Reinecke, Ernst Richter, Salomon Jadassohn, Benjamin Papperitz, and Theodor Coccius. He graduated in 1879, and entered the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt where he studied with Joachim Raff. Ashton settled in London, and taught piano at the Royal College of Music from 1885 until 1910. He died in 1937.

In addition to being a prolific composer, Ashton kept a 58-volume daily diary. He was famous for finding graves of distinguished people and writing letters to the Musical Times to comment on the condition of the gravestones. These letters were published in two volumes by Chapman & Hall (Truth Wit and Wisdom, and More Truth Wit and Wisdom), but his diaries were lost.
Ashton's 160 published works include four cello sonatas, three violin sonatas, two piano quintets, eight piano sonatas, works for choir, songs, salon pieces, and fantasie pieces. Many of his unpublished works, including 24 piano sonatas, one in each key of the chromatic scale, 24 string quartets, and four symphonies are believed to have been destroyed when German bombs hit his family home during the Blitz.

Here's a link to his Fourth Piano Sonata, Opus 164 and a link to one of his Phantasiestucke, Opus 12.

Lost Boundaries: Movie Recommendation

Michael and I were extremely impressed by Alfred L. Werker's 1949 film Lost Boundaries. I offer no spoilers, just a sincere recommendation and a YouTube link. The music, written by the Canadian film composer Louis Applebaum (1918-2000), is exceptional.

Applebaum also wrote terrific music for Werker's 1952 Walk East on Beacon

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Dan Golding's Video about Film Music

I learned a great deal about film music from watching this, so I thought I'd share it here: