Sunday, April 25, 2021

Two Fragments of Fragments from Jubilate Agno

It was such a treat to hear this London-based ensemble of singers perform, via Zoom, from their own houses several time zones away from me, these two pieces set to poems by the English poet Christopher Smart (1722-1771) that I wrote to be performed as vocal duets over the internet. I'm so pleased with the way these performances worked out, and so appreciate being able to hear them with diction of the poet's English.

[The videos below are set to start at 15:29 and 31:51.]


For A is Awe:

You can find the music here (from this page of the IMSLP) if you would like to follow along.

Astriosmusic: Music and Silent Film

This is such a creative and excellent program/concert about silent film and music. It is really well written and the music, arranged for the occasion, is really well performed. Plus, they use music that I wrote (in their own arrangement, played live with the film) for El hotel eléctrico (a silent film made in 1908).

That film starts about twenty-five minutes in, but give yourself the treat of watching the whole thing. And be sure stay for the credits. But watch it soon because it will only be available until May 3!

Classical music is dead: long live classical music

Discussions on the internet about the death of classical music began in early 2007 with Norman Lebrecht's The Life and Death of Classical Music. I wrote a post addressing his argument here. And later in February of 2007 I wrote another post about embracing the ways classical music is changing.

In 2012 one thing death related concerning classical music seemed clear: the musical blogosphere was dwindling due to the ever-changing nature (and the commercial nature) of the internet, and the dominance of Facebook. Facebook does make it possible for musicians, who, as a species do not have much in the way of financial resources, to share information, written music, streaming and recorded performances, friendship, humor, news, gossip, musical services, and advice. The blogosphere does not. But I'm still here.

Lisa Hirsch, Ken Woods, and Bob Shingleton are still here too. I try to keep my blogroll (to the right) up to date, and really appreciate the chance to read about their thoughts about music and culture. Both Ken and Lisa are active on Twitter, a forum that I do not like to participate in (and, because it isn't vital to anything that I do, don't).

But looking at classical music from the window of my internets, I see a "classical music" that is quite different from the one that people were mourning and eulogizing a dozen years ago.

This classical music, which is being forged by people working from home, has more sub-species than it has boundaries. Suddenly "new music" does not have to be intellectual, complicated, and difficult in order to be meaningful. It doesn't have to be difficult to play in order to grab the attention of people who play it or people who listen. It doesn't have to be written by unapproachable old people who look down on the musicians who play it.

[A quick aside: I'm reminded of the story of Villa Lobos coming to hear an in-home performance of his string quartet played by the Hollywood String Quartet, where the cellist, who unable to physically sustain a pizzicato passage for its full duration without leaving out a couple of notes (to avoid cramping), made him so angry that he spent an hour of the evening sitting at the piano and playing an ostinato passage over and over. He didn't happen to consider that pizzicato on the cello might involve different muscles from the ones you use while playing the piano, but I'm sure he considered the fact that the cellist was a woman. He might have even noticed that she was a GREAT cellist, and he might have unconsciously hated the fact that she was. Just a thought.]

When I was growing up classical music had a handful of standard configurations. I could always count on them. I will list them here:
Full Orchestra
String Orchestra
Orchestra with Instrumental Soloist
Wind Ensemble
String Quartet
String Quintet
Woodwind Quintet
Piano Trio
Piano Quartet
Piano Trio
String Sextet (for Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Schoenberg)
Triosonata group (four people)
Violin and Piano Duo
Cello and Piano Duo
Brass Quintet
Wind Instrument and Piano
Brass Instrument and Piano
Voice and Piano
Voice and Piano with an instrumental obbligato
Solo Voice with Orchestra
Full Chorus
Women's Chorus
Men's Chorus
Chorus and Piano
With very occasional exceptions the music was written by men. Mostly dead. And most of them were either European or of European descent (Villa Lobos was one an exception--he was from Brazil).

There were mixed ensembles that used "unconventional" instruments (Villa Lobos, once again--he may have been a bully, but he was an excellent composer). The other big ones were Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat, and Milhaud's La creation du monde, which used saxophone.

I rembember the days when people used to talk about which records they would want to have with them on a desert island. Because it was such a far-fetched idea, people would think seriously about their choices. Well folks, we have all been experiencing the cultural isolation one might find on a desert island, but this island happens to have broadband. And this island happens to have working laptops that are powered by solar energy (a future image that used to seem crazy, but, aside from the desert island part, is now actually plausible). We can, in essence, "curate" the culture that we want to have. In some ways that is creepy and scary, but for musicians it is welcoming, and we can enjoy watching boundaries breaking down from the safety of our homes, with the hope to returning to a concert environment that has been expanded and changed for the better.

The only professional paths we had in music when I was starting in music were to be a member of an orchestra, be a teacher, or be a soloist. Being part of a chamber music group was like being a soloist. In order to get concerts that paid any kind of fee, you had to have a manager, and "getting" management often involved winning a major competition. The field was narrow, and the market for "acts" was geared towards the conventional (see above list). Managers ruled the musical world. If you had good management, you had a chance at a career. 

I'm happy to report that the illusion that the only great musicians (and composers) were the ones you have heard about has been burst. And I like to think that the "death" that some have claimed to have observed in classical music is the death of that illusion.

Great musicians from the past and from the present are EVERYWHERE. And they ones who are living play every instrument and sing far better than most people did half a century ago. Thanks to excellent teaching, better instruments, ergonomic devices that help alleviate injuries, and supportive communities, online and otherwise, great musicianship is everywhere. It's even in tiny towns in Illinois. And twenty-first-century musicians play in combinations that would never have been considered possible during the nineteenth century, or even during much of the twentieth century.

We have had great role models during this pandemic year (and a half), when music making has been done almost exclusively at home. Augustin Hadelich has shown us just how well it can be done, but he has also inspired countless other musicians (not just violinists) to become better musicians by taking their work seriously, and practicing and thinking about music in creative and expressive ways. He has made it "cool" for musicians to be passionate about what they do for its own sake, rather than for the sake of impressing others or seeking recognition for their work.

I first heard him play in 2006. I wrote reviews of his recordings back in my reviewing days. I told everyone I knew about him, but so many who had never heard of him didn't listen (or appear to care). Now they have, and they do care, and their lives are all the richer for it. Also, Augustin took the time made available to him during the pandemically-driven hiatus from playing his usual repertoire (that does habitually include new music) to explore, record, and perform previously marginalized (for no good reason) violin music written by Black composers. This music will remain in his repertoire because it is excellent music.

Now everyone seems to be onboard, and the music that people are publishing for the first time (like Florence Price's previously unpublished work) will surely stay in the repertoire.

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the Perils of Pierrot program put on by the Erato Ensemble. They performed my Pierrot songs beautifully, but I was most impressed with some music for flute, clarinet, and piano by Valerie Coleman called "Portraits of Langston." The concert is available to watch today and tomorrow here on the Erato Ensemble Facebook Page.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Airing of the grievances: pandemic edition

Actually I have nothing to complain about. Our lawn is mowed, and we even pulled vinca off our three big trees in the back yard (long-time readers know that I have a history with vinca). I'm pleased to report that in the nine years since my above-referenced vinca-related post, the vinca has been basically under control. It is no longer seeking total domination of our yard, and there is little of it to be found in the vast expanse of grass and other creeping vegitation that the moles might consider their roof.

Michael and I got our second Covid shots today, and I started feeling woozy enough to cancel my teaching for the day after about an hour. Now I'm feeling super tired, a little chilled, and I ache all over. All hail Moderna! I will never complain about "big pharma" again. I got my practicing in early, so, as much as I would like to, I'm not planning to try anything remotely musical until tomorrow.

We watched a good movie this afternoon ("Our Very Own" from 1949--it is on TCM through April 30th), and Michael put together dinner from leftovers AND did the dishes (alright, it was his turn). Then I scrolled around online for far too much time, finding nothing much to engage in, partially because I am in too much of a fog to engage.

But it is an acceptable fog because it is not the result of sickness: it is the result of gaining immunity from getting really sick. We are both doing our part to help defeat the pandemic. I wish that more of our neighbors in this virus-and-Republican-rich district of Illinois would open their eyes and minds and get vaccinated. Having a little discomfort is well worth it as far as I'm concerned.

After finding little to engage with on Facebook (a place where I sometimes find lively social activity), I decided to contribute a friendly voice here, my own little place on the internet.

It is very quiet around here. I like to think it is a good kind of quiet, and now that I have finished sharing my thoughts, that quiet actually feels like a moment of peace.

With a generous helping of aches on the side (and everywhere).

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Perils of Pierrot Saturday online April 24 at 6:00 CDT

It will be an even more exciting Saturday evening for me (see previous post) because at 6:00 Central time there will be a performance by the Vancouver-based Erato Ensemble of "The Perils of Pierrot," which will include the first performance of my recent set of songs for voice and viola set to poems by Sara Teasdale.

This is a one-time event for which you can buy tickets.

Here's a description of the cooncert:
Erato Ensemble’s concert “The Perils of Pierrot” takes chamber music in a new direction. Previously unassociated songs are woven together to illustrate a story about an intrepid cat who bravely escapes captivity and fearlessly embarks on a hero’s journey. Along the way, Pierrot encounters taunting birds, hot jazz, a mournful nightingale, a dying swan and more.

The original book is written by Gina Leola Woolsey, and features the poetry of Ronald Wallace, e.e. cummings, Dennis Nurkse, Langston Hughes, Pierre de Ronsard, Olive Fraser, and Sara Teasdale, set to music by Sondra Clark, Morton Feldman, Whitney George, Valerie Coleman, Albert Roussel, Julian Philips, Elaine Fine, Arthur Honegger, and William George. The book is narrated in spectacular fashion by our resident Scottish lass, Julie Begg.

This is an event that can be enjoyed by all ages and promises something for everyone. The concert will be available to view for 48 hours after the initial stream.

This concert was conceived of, recorded on, and is broadcast from the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam Nations.

El Hotel Electrico at Astraios Music (April 24 through May 3)

I'm excited to hear this program, which will include a performance of my El Hotel Electrico (performed by flute, viola, and bassoon) via YouTube at 7:00 Central time this Saturday evening.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Vocal Music Instrumentation Index: what a resource!

Anne Charrier and Ben Kazez, creators and designers of the Vocal Music Instrumentation Index have organized the vocal/choral music of J.S. and C.P.E Bach as an elegant virtual library experience
They began this index as a pandemic project, and intend to continue with other composers:

Monday, April 19, 2021

"Parlando," a new classical music podcast hosted by Vivien Schweitzer

I'm so happy to have learned about Parlando, which is a new podcast presented by Classical Voice North America. I listened to the second episode today, which is an interview with Augustin Hadelich. The above link is to the podcast on Spotify, and I listened to it by way of Apple Podcasts, which is what I use on my phone.

Schweitzer and Hadelich talk about the recording projects he has been doing in isolation at home during the past pandemic year, and they even mention the Florence Price "Adoration" project which I am so honored to have played a (silent and midwife-ish) part in.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Oh my ears and whiskers!

I have spent the last several weeks writing music inspired by Lewis Carroll. This one is a duo for viola and euphonium intended for the underserved communities of euphonium players who have friends who play viola, and violists who have friends who play euphonium (silly "mirror" refrence intended).

It can also be played as a duo for viola and cello, as a companion piece, perhaps to the Beethoven Duet mit zwei obligaten Augengläsern, WoO 32 on a program. Trying to imagine dynamic balances in real acoustic spaces between viola and euphonium is difficult, so I treated the euphonium line as a cello part in order to come up with usable dynamics that can be taken down a notch by euphonium players. It was only AFTER doing this that I realized the "mirror" reference to Augengläseren (eyeglasses) in the title.
[April 15, 2021]

You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP, and you can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

And coming to a YouTube channel in the near future is a performance of three songs I wrote for trumpet (cornet) and mezzo-soprano that I call "Adventures with Alice."

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Michael Cooper's work on Florence Price

Michael Cooper's article, "The Problem with Programs Part 2," (the second of a three-part series) is so very interesting. Why is the overture for a concert given as part of a celebration of "A Century of Progress" at the Chicago World's Fair by John Powell?
[from Wikipedia] Powell became a world-renowned composer.He had a racialist approach to music, which he expressed in his writings. He was interested in Appalachian folk music and championed its performance and preservation. He was one of the founders of the White Top Folk Festival, held in Grayson County, Virginia annually from 1931 to 1939.

Powell's ideology—and musicology—were strongly racialist and anti-black, a topic which served as the subject for many of his essays.[In the fall of 1922 together with Earnest Sevier Cox (a self-proclaimed ethnologist and explorer) and Dr. Walter Plecker, Powell founded the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America in Richmond, Virginia. They worked closely with Walter Ashby Plecker to promote state legislation to classify people simply as "white" or "negro", and to end "amalgamation" of the races by intermarriage. The activities of the club split the elite in Virginia, which had tried to take pride in its "genteel paternalism" in controlling racial relations. The clubs attracted more racists.

Within a year, more than 400 white men had joined as members and the club had 31 "posts" in Virginia, including two in Charlottesville, one for the town and one at the University of Virginia. Powell worked with Dr. Plecker, the state's registrar of statistics, to draft the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The club members were successful in lobbying the legislature to gain passage of the act, which classified as black any person with any African ancestry, although the previous law recognized persons with one-sixteenth or less black ancestry as white.

Michael Cooper (this link goes to his blog) has done the extraordinary work of preparing a motherlode of newly-discovered work by Florence Price for publication by G. Schirmer, and leading the way (clearing the way) for a better, and indeed more diverse, musical future for concerts that include early 20th-century music. The tagline on his home page is, "Helping to make unheard music part of our world."

I did, by the way, have a glance at some of Powell's music in the IMSLP. He wrote a nostalgic violin and piano sonata that reflects on the "charms" of old Virginia. It actually looks like a nice piece. But I'm not going to play it. I'm not even going to download the PDF to my computer. Feh.

You can read the first part of Michael Cooper's series here.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

There's moles in them there holes

About a month before the last time that Magicicada Brood X appeared in Illinois (2004) our lawn was filled with mole hills. At the time we had no idea why there was such a eruption of mole activity, but we have since learned that the mole activity increases because of all the juicy and ripe cicadas burrowed in the ground that will emerge next month after their seventeen-year lives as larvae. The ones that escape the moles will come above ground, latch onto trees (and whatever else they can find), spread their wings, and fill the air with their chirpy and buzzy noises. Then, unless they are eaten, they will mate, lay their eggs, and die. 

Seventeen years ago Brood X was joined by Brood XIX (the thirteen year cicadas). This synchronicity only happens every 221 years.

In 2011 I made a post about the thirteen-year brood, which was not accompanied by that much in the way of mole activity. Seeing mole hills like these all over town this past week, leads me to imagine that the Brood X is an exceptionally tasty treat for moles. 

Now I know that while the moles are happily feeding themselves they are also doing the good work of irrigating the lower layers of our soil, which helps improve drainage so that we won't have so much flooding of our basements when the big rains come.

These photos are not from our yard, but they are from my walk today.

I wrote a violin duet in 2011 in honor of Brood XIX which you can find here. Both broods make an appearance in the third movement of Evening Music for two violins and viola.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Molly Gebrian plays my Sephardic Suite

I started writing the middle movement of the "Separdic Suite" as a viola piece about twenty years ago, and because my son's cello was in the house at the time, and because I could, I wrote the outer movements for cello, and reworked the middle movement. I did make a transcription of the piece for viola, but I never considered publishing it because I couldn't get it to sound as good on the viola as it sounded (when played by a real cellist) on the cello.

Molly Gebrian inquired about the viola version (which I guess I must have mentioned somewhere), and encouraged me to make it available. Molly plays this piece so beautifully, and it sounds right at home on the viola, where it was "born." This video is from a concert that premiered last night on Youtube.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Solidaridad plays "Chee Buenos Aires"

What a tango band! What an exceptional video!