July 25, 2012 : Steve Reich fans may like
Lisa Moore's Stainless Staining,
"was written for piano
and soundtrack. The soundtrack is made up of samples
of a piano (played both normally, and "inside") retuned to
provide a massive harmonic spectrum of 100 overtones
based on a fundamental low G#" - here it is online:
July 24, 2012: Sir Simon Rattle
and the Berlin Philharmonic on SymphonyCast tonight
in Mahler's Second. About as
great as I could imagine. This week only you can listen to it
webpage - click on the second "listen" button. Again,
here's a guy who critics want to underrate - he's popular,
handsome, charming, and too nice to be a real master. But he's
really really good.
May 11, 2012 - A follow-up on the top
pianists poll: The name
Grigor Sokoloff was suggested by Ken Woods,
and unknown to a knowledgeable friend in the US. I noted taht
the NYT has written about this: "He’s a star on this side
of the Atlantic. In America his name will draw blank stares.
In this day and age, how can that be?" Now, Ken emails
that he had sat down to watch a DVD of Sokoloff in Paris and
concluded that he really is the greatest. As it happens, the
DVD is available free on youtube. And wow; by the development
section of op 14 no 1 you'll be convinced.
May 2, 2012 - I loved Brandon McFarland's
All Things Considered story about Marvin Gaye. As a Marvin
devotee I loved the insight into his craft from a young
singer. But one line rang dubious: "a lot of today's music
doesn't feed the soul of those facing hardships the way it did
in Marvin's day." True he's talking specifically about soul
and R&B, and I'm shamefully ignorant of what's happening
there. But I immediately thought of counterexamples such as
Bruce Springsteen and... an American CLASSICAL
composer, David Lang, whose
Little Matchgirl Passion is a moving exploration of empathy
(or its lack) for the poorest. And it won the Pulitzer Prize!
April 24, 2012 - Another FB poll: Who are the dozen
greatest living pianists? I don't mean "never does
anything wrong" but "when they're on, it's on a different
level, beyond anything you can imagine being able to do
yourself." I mainly came up with elders, and so
did my friends. Here's our list (piano flourish, please) in
alphabetical order. Agree? Disagree? Who'd we leave off?
Martha Argerich (Force of nature. A "wild
card," my friend Brian said - sometimes way off in an
interpretation - but when she's on, it's on another level. And
not just in powerhouse pieces, like a Chopin Polonaise; check
her out in
d'eau or Bartok Third with the Concertgebouw live.)
* Leon Fleisher
(on the assumption that he is still concertizing)
* Richard Goode
Marc-Andre Hamelin (not just a super-virtuoso)
* Radu Lupu
("The most talented person alive," said Dame Mitsuko. His Schubert,
e.g. - well, the definition of another level)
Ivan Moravec ("The greatest keyboard artist I've personally played with,"
said Ken Woods)'
Perahia (no comment needed)
* Mitsuko Uchida (no comment
* Arcadi Volodos (like Hamelin, Jonathan
Bellman notes, he has super-chops, but more than that. I'd
point to his recording of the
Schubert G Major sonata)
* Andras Schiff
(thank you Mr. Schiff for making my life richer)
Grigor Sokoloff (Suggested by Ken Woods, in the UK; unknown to a knowledgeable friend in the US. Turns
the NYT has written about this: "He’s a star on this side
of the Atlantic. In America his name will draw blank stares.
In this day and age, how can that be?"l
* Krystian Zimerman
great YOUNGER pianists are bustin' out all over, as Anthony
Tomassini wrote - he listed Piotr
Anderszewski, Leif Ove
Andsnes, Jonathan Biss,
Kirill Gerstein, David Greilsammer, Stephen Hough [NOMINATED FOR THE ABOVE LIST
BY DANIEL NEHOIANU], Nikolai Lugansky, Alexander
Romanovsky, Daniil Trifonov, and Yuja Wang.
that a new combination of technique PLUS interpretive depth is
And then there are nominees who didn't
win consensus in my poll: Paul Lewis, Vladimir Ashkenazy,
etc.- maybe we're wrong about one or more.
And the retirees, like
Naida Cole (who chucked her career to become a
doctor. All I can say is that if she can fix patients the way
she can play music, average human life expectancy will
total of 26. The bottom
line: don't cry to me about the passing
of a long-lost golden age. THIS is the golden age.
April 22, 2012 - Schumannic Possession:
When I'm talking about politicians
or financial advisers, it's a bad sign when I say they sound
insane. But when I'm talking about musical performers,
it's the highest compliment. The divine
Naida Cole playing Chabrier's
Bourree Fantasque, I said,
sounded like one possessed, and exuded "sheer visceral delight
in playing repeated notes insanely fast." Ferenc Fricsay and
the Berlin Philharmonic played
Beethoven's First insanely fast
and sounded, I said, "as if they were possessed by the great god Pan."
Wish I hadn't used up my "possession" shtick, because I've been
listening to the
Orchestra of the Swan under Kenneth Woods in their new
recording of the Schumann Second Symphony
- and it is insane in just this way, the possessed, musically
Schumann 2 is one of the hardest symphonies for
interpreters. It's hard not to mangle the syntax by getting
the phrasing wrong; it's hard not to bury the winds at certain
points or to lose sight of other important lines - there's so much going on.
Yet I've heard performances where you can hear it all but
don't really want to, as the phrases have no life or shape and
it all just sounds "notey." Quite the contrary here. Part of why is the insight,
nicely explained in the booklet, into how Schumann
conveyed meaning through allusion to other great music: Woods points to the allusions to
104th, the Trio Sonata from Bach's
Mozart's Long live Sarastro! from the
Magic Flute, Beethoven's
To the Distant Beloved, and one of Schumann's own songs,
Dedication. Sounds academic but it's not; it lets
Woods and his players give the right weighting to what is more
or less important. (And if you're a classical music buff, you
will hear all the allusions and they will be meaningful to
you.) All those many things going on form a coherent
discourse in this performance. Another ingredient is how they build fearlessly not only to
one climax but to an overall climax for the whole work. There
is also the excellence of the players: listen to the oboe solo
in the third movement, which - as a whole - receives a truly
But let me harp again on the divine madness - the insane glee, the
visceral delight. When we're talking about Schumann, the words "insane" and "manic"
are fraught, since he was one of the first great composers to
be retrospectively diagnosed as bipolar
(I haven't kept up on the literature so I don't know if that's
still the diagnosis). But I mean something else - that
Fricsay/ Naida Cole demonic possession by Pan. Other examples:
Glenn Gould's first Goldbergs;
any number of recordings of Bernstein
or Furtwangler. Part of it,
in Swan/ Woods' first two movements, comes from speed
(Schumannn's MMs are famously fast); yet some speedy
performances have sounded merely rushed, as if the players
uncomfortable and pushed. What I want, when
we're talking speed, is that sense of possession. In this
performance the speed is not hectic but ecstatic. YES!
Divine madness, like this, must be experienced. On top of
this, you get what is effectively (I've never heard it before)
a new work: the Hans Gal
Fourth, written in 1975, when it would have seemed "backward"
in idiom -ha! The web page notes that it is pastoral and
lyrical in style, which it is, but I had to read the booklet
and understand the pain behind this music to find my way past
its challenges, and I had to give it a few listens. Give it a
chance: it will come to move you deeply. And it's hard to
imagine a better performance. If my blog had a star system,
this disc would certainly get 5 of them.
April 21, 2012 -
E-books vs Paper Books: Been reading lots of books - and mostly on my iPhone4s. I plan
to get a Kindle when I have a little spare cash. The advantages
of physical books are familiar: if you grew up with them, as I
did, you love their look and feel. Also, I tend to read
non-fiction, and I rarely read it in a linear way, but often
look at the index first, or skim through to get
the drift, or go back to a crucial or favorite part to check
something - or just plain jump around. It's easier to read in that jumpy way with an
old-fashioned book than with an iPhone.
BUT, the iPhone has the equal and opposite value: it forces me
to read in a linear way, one page to the next, which is mostly
good for me. Also, it's always with me, so if I find myself
stuck in a waiting room or something -or when I'm doing my
daily run on the treadmill - I can pick up where I
left off in the book. AND... this is big... by necessity I move
houses/apartments a lot, with seven different dwellings in the
And my library is the single heaviest of my possessions - next
to my car, which is, however, easy to move. (I don't own any
appliances or a big TV. No need.) It would be easy
to move my library if it were just a bunch of digits in the cloud. So...
yeah.... ebooks are MY future. UPDATE: April 22.
Janet points out another advantage to ebooks: permanence, both
of the book AND of your annotations and notes. Most of the
books I've owned, and the notes I've scribbled in the margins,
are long gone - left behind in a move, or too moldy to keep,
or just lost. But the "me" of 20 years from now will be able
to have kept every book ever owned in the cloud (and, with a
Kindle or iPad anything I scribble in it) and backed up. OK,
digital rights could become a problem, but basically it will
be way more feasible to keep a lifetime library.
April 20, 2012 -
The Bassists did WHAT? I'm all a-twitter about the Twitter feed
- a day-by-day posting of the diary entries of the London
Symphony Orchestra's timpanist, Charles Turner, written during
their US tour of 1912 - the first US tour ever undertaken by a
European orchestra. Gareth Davies of today's LSO is
posting them 100 year to the day after they were written. It
interests me partly because I'm fascinated by the US in 1912,
an extraordinary year in our history, but also because the
diary gives a musician's-eye-view of the
legendary maestro Artur Nikisch. I especially
love the part where they get to the state I live in, Iowa - they did two gigs in
Des Moines, playing in the Coliseum. Turner writes, "It is
like a barn. Can’t play half loud enough" (today, by the way,
Des Moines has a beautiful Civic Center with excellent
acoustics). Right now (so to speak) they are in Milwaukee,
where my dad was to be born six years later.
BUT HERE'S A
QUESTION: Turner writes,
"More trouble with Nick[isch]. He gets on the Basses and gets
the bird back." What did "give the bird" and
"get the bird" mean to an English musician in 1912?
Today it would mean the basses made an obscene gesture with
the middle finger, of
course, and although the LSO was a self-governing organization
from Day One in 1904, I find THAT hard to imagine.
APRIL 21: I asked the LSO, and
LSO Administrator Jo Johnson answered brilliantly -
"It seems that the etymology of the phrase 'giving the
bird' is booing and hissing, like a goose, as opposed to the
more obscene gesture we know these days. It was apparently in
use in the music hall/vaudeville era - 1920s - to get someone
unpopular off the stage. We can probably assume that giving
the bird to the Maestro was more like tutting or grumbling
loudly enough to be heard! "
here's a page with the LSO tour itinerary (it ended April 28)
and the programs.
April 19, 2012 -
While prepping for interview of
Marlboro, I read Alex Ross's superb
"The Music Mountain" in
to This. Vivid portrayal of the life force that is Mitsuko Uchida, one of my favorite great pianists,
quoting the wonderful Mitsuko-isms that emerge from her brain
to the world with welcome frequency. An example, "For the
Germans, the greatest thing since Karajan.
Karajan, of course, was the greatest thing since Hitler." Alex
doesn't say to whom she refers - only, "an overhyped
instrumentalist"; otherwise I'd have guessed it was Christian
Thielemann... anybody have any specifics?
Also love her
comment on prodigies: "Do you want yourself to be operated on
by a genius twenty-year-old heart surgeon? Do you want to go
to the theater and see a teenager play King Lear?"
April 17, 2012 - Been a while, some odds and ends:
(1) Now doing
@IPRClassical twitter feed; follow me (that's where I've
(2) Natalie Dessay. I had to
babysit the board for last week's Met broadcast - La
Traviata, a favorite opera for me too, of course. What I
wasn't expecting was to be entranced by the soprano's singing.
Here's an admission: most of the Met sopranos (I've baby-sat
the board a lot) are not for me. To my ears, the voices sound
forced or hard, the vibratos too intense, the production too heavy,
etc. But Natalie was magic: unforced, free, effortless
production; lovely sound, almost "light" in an early-music
sense (yes, she's done work with William Christie),
but - ah, those prejudices! - that doesn't mean her Violetta
did anything less than profound justice to the tormented
heroine. So I'm a blissed out new Dessay devotee.
Beautiful, honest, insightful interview with the great
(4) You have simply gotta
hear the new
Orchestra of the Swan/ Kenneth Woods Schumann 2 - one of the
great Schumann recordings. I'll write more about it shortly.
(5) If you've ever read Goodnight Moon
to a child - ah, you have! - you MUST hear
Whitacre's setting on his new CD, Water
Nights. As I tweeted in under 140 characters,
Hila Plitmann's singing is perfect for the music, and
Whitacre's music is perfect for the words. Wouldn't have
thought an even okay setting was possible. (Raise your hand if
you find Goodnight, Moon oddly comforting even at
your advanced age. Ah, I see a lot of hands!)
was exciting to have
Plum and the Drake University String
Ensemble broadcast the Four Seasons live out
of our Studio One today. They made the long drive from Des
Moines to Cedar Falls and then played their hearts out. Sarah
is an awesome violinist to whom the considerable demands
Vivaldi places are as nothing, and an artist with genuine
interpretive insight and courage. Will try to get some sound
on the Web sometime....
April 12, 2012 - Gramophone's
first 50 inductees to its "Hall of Fame" list.
Not too terrible, actually; much of
it is defensible. But - naturally - there are some Huhs?
makes the list but not Artur Schnabel
or Alfred Cortot. HUH? To be
sure, Schnabel and Cortot had lost their technical chops by
the time they made recordings, and Lang Lang is super-talented
and does have a
bright artistic future - that is increasingly clear - and is
the first major international Chinese classical star. But
really, he's not yet ready for the hall of fame. Still,
on the whole, not bad for a crowd-sourced exercise.
UPDATE APRIL 17: It's obvious how it
happened: it was based on voting and Lang comes from the most
populous country on the planet. I'd bet Lang is a touch
embarrassed; would be interested if anyone's heard anything
April 3, 2012 - More on
Ken Woods' post on the slow movement of the Brahms Piano
Concerto no. 2, discussed below:
can't recall where I read it discussed, but it clearly is an
hommage to the slow movement of Clara Schumann's Piano
Concerto in A minor, op. 7, which also has a cello solo.
This fact strongly supports Ken's belief that this is a
"Clara" movement. (Jon Bellman has shown that the first
movement of the Symphony no. 1 is too, by finding unmistakable
allusions in its development section to Schumann lieder.)
Also, Ken is clearly right that the MM doesn't apply so much
to the beginning of the movement. I feel that it means more
with respect to the piano's entry - clearly meant to be played
March 30, 2012 - The greatest violinist
I've ever heard in concert in my
life? No question about it: Itzhak
Perlman. Who has shared some
lovely wisdom online, such as this on his
Franco-Belgian bowing technique.
(Presumably, he's no relation to Martin, in previous post, in
recent generations, but who knows?)
2012 - Martin Pearlman has (a)
written an extraordinary article in Early Music America
(not online) about Armand-Louis Couperin,
long neglected by (among many others) me in favor of his
cousin Francois; (b)
produced, after decades of work, an
edition of his music, which he
is - get this - giving away free online
(what a guy!); (c) made some VERY wonderful recordings
of his music, also free at the link; (d) pointed out to you
pianists that his music would
sound great on your instrument.
March 23, 2012 - My job has
broadened my taste, forcing me to
spend a lot of time with composers I once denigrated as
Kleinmeisters. Now, I realize that some are great, though
others are, well, not. My favorite of the great ones:
Emanuel Chabrier - inspired
magician; I especially love his piano works (for example the
downright manic glee of his
Fantasque, well conveyed here by Aldo Ciccolini. Camille
Saint-Saens: I seriously underrated
Merry Wives of Windsor overture
is a delight. ON the
other hand, Franz von Suppe gives me little to cheer about. And there's a
reason why you haven't heard of ... oh never mind....
March 17, 2012 -
Great post by Greg on the storm movement in Beethoven's
Pastoral symphony. We may think of Disney cartoon storms, but
to Beethoven and his listeners it was more like our experience
of a tornado; a thunderstorm was life-threatening and truly
terrifying. Thus the "song of thanksgiving" that follows feels
so profound, even religious (Beethoven inscribed, in German,
"we thank Thee, God" over the hushed moment near the end).
March 16, 2012 - OK, not
Marketplace has busted a story on This
American Life about Apple in China, and in so doing shows
how (and how well) our public radio system works.
Instead of having a single monopoly
provider, your station gets stories from competing sources:
NPR (Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Fresh Air,
etc.); American Public Media (Marketplace, Prairie Home
Companion); PRI (This American Life); BBC;
independent producers; and local productions. In this case,
APM busted PRI.
Also: the fabrication could only have been
busted by someone with a reporter on the ground.
Marketplace has a China reporter (who busted it), as does
NPR and BBC. Fewer and fewer for-profit organizations have
overseas reporters, because they are so expensive to deploy.
DISCLAIMER: THIS POST (like everything on this site)
represents my private views as a listener, not those of Iowa
Public Radio, its board, the Iowa Board of Regents, the
University of Iowa, or in fact anyone other than yours truly.
March 15, 2012 - Truly
great article by Jed Distler, classifying musicians into "line
guys" vs. "chord guys." Incredibly enlightening.
March 13, 2012 - The new Bridge CD
of music of Paul Lansky, "Imaginary Islands," is awesome.
He is a computer-music man who started writing for physical
instruments and instrumentalist and MY, what glorious results!
March 9, 2012 - The Dark Dozen
. My friend and colleague
Jonathan Ahl asked his FB friends to "name the saddest
song you've ever heard
." I found it easy (way easier
than finding the happiest song). In fact, I thought of 12,
listed below in alphabetical order. What are yours? (PARENTAL
WARNING: Do NOT listen to all 12 in one sitting - mental health
1) Johann Sebastian Bach
" from the St. Matthew Passion
2) Johannes Brahms
, "Denn es gehet" from
Four Serious Songs
3) Eric Clapton, "Tears in Heaven"
(Jonathan Bellman's #1; he can't listen to more than a few
seconds of it)
4) Leonard Cohen, "Dance Me to the
End of Love"
5) Bob Dylan, "If You See Her, Say Hello"
6) Janis Ian,
"At Seventeen" (THIS is the
saddest song I've ever heard; it ranked #1 in Jonathan Ahl's
Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II,
" when sung by Thomas Quasthoff
8) Gustav Mahler
Song of the Earth
" - cheating since it's six songs, so
I'll go with the last, "The Farewell"
9) Otis Redding, "Dock of the Bay"
10) Franz Schubert
- the all-time king of pain
- "The Winter Journey" (cheating again, so I'll go with
the last, the
Hurdy Gurdy Man)
11) Giuseppe Verdi
, "Willow Song
" from his opera Otello
12) Hank Williams, "I'm So Lonesome, I
March 5, 2012 - If
you haven't read Jennifer Homans' extraordinary history of
Apollo's Angels, do so immediately. (You'll thank
me for this imperative. You're welcome.) And if you haven't
read her beautiful
tribute to her late husband, Tony Judt, do that even more
immediately. And read the book she reviews,
Thinking the 20th Century. And Judt's magnum
Postwar. You're welcome, again.
Feb 29, 2012 -
NICE interview with Richard Egarr on WGBH by Cheryl
Willoughby. On his teacher Gustav Leonhardt : "He was an odd
man in some ways, very contradictory. He loved fast cars... he
would have his latest Alfa Romeo ... he was above the speed
limit all the time, and he would just pay the fines, he was
very happy to pay the fines... He was very obsessed with speed
yet he didn't have a fax machine, and it only under duress did
he ever possess a CD player. ...I remember on this trip, it
was late at night and we'd sort of got lost in the suburbs
down there, and of course there was no GPS back in those days,
so rather than get out a map and start looking he just looked
up into the sky and found the north star, which was again this
fantastic thing between being very concernd with the latest
car and using the north star to navigate with.... He was a
fantastic teacher. He really taught me to listen to what
you're doing....He used to sit a very long way away during
lessons, and would just know if you were making a bad
physical gesture or doing seomthing which was not comfortable.
He had fantastic ears. And it was a great lesson to really
listen to what is going on in this strange instrument, the
harpsichord, which is the unmusial instrument on the planet."
Feb 24, 2012:
by conductor Kenneth Woods on the slow movement of the Brahms
Piano Concerto no. 2 and its
relationship to a Brahms song about the death of a young
person (I'd add only the connection to Clara Schumann and her
children). It sheds light on one of my long standing
This movement is the only one in Brahms with a really puzzling
metronome mark: quarter note=84, about 50% faster than most
pianists play it. It’s the only MM mark in Brahms that’s far
removed from what musicians actually do; a few of his other
MMs are on the fastish side, and many more are on the slowish
side, but most are pretty close to intuitive practice. So why
is this one so far off? It’s not a mistake: Brahms was very
careful about MMs, providing them only for a handful of works,
and only after much care and thought. Further, the MMs in this
concerto were meant to guide conductors of his upcoming
performances when he toured the concerto – testing it out in
Meiningen, premiering it in Budapest and then around Europe.
I’ve heard some very intelligent theories for the movement’s
speed. The pianist/composer Gianluca Cascioli points out that
this movement has a 2-against-3 meter; the “3” is in the bass
line, and, Gianluca says, it is only audible at the fast
tempo. The great musicologist Walter Frisch makes a very
different case: that it’s a matter of genre: Brahms heard this
movement as a “serenade,” a type of orchestral work which was
lighter and faster than a symphony. The arguments are both
most performers (e.g.,
none of this matters: the movement
right at a slower tempo. I think this has to do with its
profound emotional content, and I think Ken's comments about
the song points us to what that content is. (Although the song
is in cut time...) Perhaps Brahms was afraid the movement
would sound sentimental-schmaltzy if played for deep feeling -
which only supports Ken's view - but if so Brahms has been
proved wrong time and again. I’d like to hear a pianist try it
at the MM (actually, Horowitz and Toscanini come fairly close,
so I have my wish), but I don’t think it will ever catch on.
There’s just too much there there.
Feb 19, 2012: Our
Conversation about Beethoven's Ninth and Gustav Leonhardt.
Here is a transcript of a fascinating conversation I had with
some friends on Facebook. The opener: "The
late Dutch harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt detested
Beethoven's 9th, esp. the finale, which he called "the
quintessence of platitude" and "the most vulgar music ever
written." [All i've since been able to track down was, "“That
‘Ode to Joy’, talk about vulgarity! And the text! Completely
What would you say to Leonhardt - the
master of the subtle, esoteric art of the French clavecinistes
- about this topic?"
Jonathan Ahl: "Platitude?
Perhaps. But, even if true, I would think LVB elevated
platitude to a higher art form in that movement."
LvB was embracing the vulgar in its highest sense. He knew
exactly what he was doing. He considered dropping it and
replacing it with a purely instrumental finale in a minor key,
but decided against it, fortunately."
"Vulgar literally means 'common'. Since the 9th appeals to so
many people, his comment is
true. If he wants something exclusive he should listen to
Right on, Andrew!:
"Seid umschlungen, Millionen! Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!"
The theme is like a drinking song; Beethoven knew exactly what
he was doing.
Jonathan Bellman: I
heard something like this from the revered musicologist
Nicholas Temperley, at the University of Illinois when I was
doing my masters. Always one to exercise self-control, I—a
first-year masters student, remember—jocularly riposted,
"Don't worry; I won't tell your Chair!" L-o-n-g pause. "I
gather you disagree," he said, frowning slightly. When I
extricated myself, it was another day of mental "goddammit,
Jon, again? AGAIN?"
Fred Smith: It sounds like the musical equivalent
to the most tiresome variety of academic political
Michael Goodleman: I can't image
anyone perceiving the Ode to Joy as vulgar. In my humble
opinion it's one of the most spiritual orchestral pieces ever.
But at the same time Mr. Leonhardt may not have had the
consciousness to appreciate it.
think you guys are right that this is about Leonhardt, not B9.
But it's not PC so much as the opposite. Leonhardt lived on a
17th-century canal in Amsterdam in a 17thc house, beautifully
restored and filled with 17th c antiques and instruments (and
18th c ones as well). He felt that music went way downhill
after the French Revolution (I hope he didn't feel that way
about political arrangements!). He played baroque composers as
if Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky had never been born, and
thus was exceptionally convincing. And to any claveciniste at
Versailles, Beethoven's 9th would sound supremely vulgar, and
its sentiments Jacobin. So this approach contributed to
Leonhardt's greatness, but is a poor barometer for the rest of
us. Freude, schone Gotterfunken!
Thanks Barney - I'm sure you're right. Very enlightening
Rabbi Alan Green: Wonderful discussion!
Thanks to all for participating.
February 11, 2012. Two
from the Next Generation of Great Performers: 1)
Alondra de la Parra,
here in Iowa this weekend to conduct the (excellent!) Quad
City Symphony has the musicians very excited, and this clip of
her conducting Dvorak's
why; 2) Ray Chen's
new cd of the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn concertos arrived
this week, and it's clear
this kid is going to be one
of the greats,
not just another PR project. PS I interviewed Alondra, and
find it interesting that she says that for her and the
orchestras she conducts worldwide, gender simply isn't an
Feb 5, 2012: So where does that leave
"Historically Informed" Brahms orchestral performance?
In my last post, I noted that
Norrington is wrong about vibrato. Brahms clearly expected
vibrato from orchestral strings, and probably well varied
and modulated vibrato at that. My own writings suggest that
his "fast tempos" are largely a myth - what we know of Brahms's
tempi suggests he often took slowish ones. And how about
small ensemble size? Styra Avins demolished that one;
Brahms preferred a large ensemble if it could play well. Proportional tempo schemes tying
together large works? Fuggedaboudit; that one was easy to
What's left? Well... gut strings
instead of steel, but sounding sweeter than anything you
hear in England today; wooden pre-Bohm flutes instead of metal;
Vienna horns; leather-covered timpani with hard sticks. Portamento,
more than we hear today, but less "thick" and coordinated than in
Mengelberg - some players would slide while others did not,
creating a much lighter portamento sound. Indeed, free bowing and fingering in
string sections for the most part.
So yet again: Norrington, Gardiner,
and Mackerras are giving us a modern style of Brahms playing.
Turn to pre-war recordings by the likes of Clemens Krauss and
(here's an example) for a sense, at least, of period sound and style.
February 4, 2012: Norrington Is Wrong
about Vibrato - I had the good
fortune of reading through a pre-pub copy of a major study of
19th-century orchestral string vibrato by David
Hurwitz, to be published in Music and
Letters. It is thorough, definitive, and
devastating. (You can read his informal writings on the topic
here.). The conclusion: the clean,
non-vibrato string sound that Sir Roger Norrington proclaims
as historical is nothing of the sort; orchestral
string vibrato was normal, rather than "just an
ornament" to be applied occasionally. Richard Taruskin is
again proved right when he says that it has nothing to do with
history and everything to do with modern tastes.
I can't help but think of
obsessive-compulsiveness, and to find the super-sterile sound
as injurious to music as the super-sterile environments that
give rise to autoimmune diseases like asthma. But I may be
wrong; it may have more to do with Norrington's generation
rejecting Romanticism and Norrington seeking a unique career
niche. In any case, Hurwitz has settled the matter once and
for all. Bravo, Mr. Hurwitz!
February 2, 2012: Stephen Fry on
Wagner!!! Genius on genius - a BBC
January 26: George Szell: Was His
Strength His Weakness? Donald Peck,
principal flutist of the Chicago Symphony, in his
excellent book on his years in the
Chicago Symphony: "He made mistakes on the podium, which
resulted in the orchestra's looking bad. There was a terrible
episode during one performance of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony.
Szell was most emphatic, stating, 'Watch me! Watch me! After
the storm scene, I will make a cut-off before we go on.' The
concert came. He did not make the cut-off. Half of the
orchestra did make a cut-off as he had admonished, and the
other half didn't. It was a scramble..... he might
conduct or not conduct, give entrance cues or not give them.
All in all, that three-week period was rife with conductorial
errors." WAIT! I thought Szell was the ultimate technician.
Not so. The diagnosis? Szell
was a giant,
writes Kenneth Woods in his excellent blog, but was
diminished when he was not in Cleveland: "[He] still inspires
awe and fear in his colleagues who knew him in Cleveland, but
less admired where he worked as a guest. ...He would have been
an even greater conductor outside Cleveland had he just let
players relax and play and not tried to control everything....
[he] had to rehearse and drill every detail in rehearsal until
it was encased in concrete. The concerts always fell apart
because he had hammered any and all flexibility out of us
[says a player to Woods], then he would get inspired and try
to do something different and couldn’t show it, and we were
never sure whether to rely on what we saw in the concert or
what he said in the rehearsal.” Chimes exactly with what
Donald Peck said. The takeaway for leaders not only of
orchestras but of anything is kinda obvious...
Jan 24, 2012 - A Gustav Leonhardt list.
The maestro passed away on January 16, and I payed tribute
last week by featuring a couple of his recordings on each of
my show. How characteristic that he considered Beethoven's
Ninth "The most vulgar piece in the history of music," and
especially detested the finale for being "the quintessence of
platitude"; he was the master of music of exquisite
refinement, subtlety, and gravity.
What to listen to? Leonhart recorded at least three dozen composers
(I've added as many as I could come across at Wikipedia) so
any short list is based on very partial knowledge. Still, here
is what I played, just a tiny sampling of a small subset of
the master's work:
1) JS Bach,
Liebster Jesu, wir sind
hier, BWV 731 - such poetic
registration and phrasing
2) JS Bach:
French Suite 4, Allemande
- when it comes to a harmonic
cloudscape unfolding, Leonhardt was unmatched (here's
3) JS Bach: Matthew Passion opening chorus.
No one has equalled him in this
powerful tableaux. (alas, only available if you buy the CD,
complete. Your call on how much it's worth to you. It's a
mixed bag, but its best moments are supreme.)
4) JS Bach: Fantasy
and Fugue in A Minor- a
demonstration of Leonhardt's genius as a clavichordist. But
you have to buy the Philips clavichord recital to hear it.
Worth every penny.
Cantata 106 Sinfonia
6) John Dowland:
7) Claudio Monteverdi,
8) Jean-Phillippe Rameau, Sarabande -
he was the ideal interpreter of this piece
9) Girolamo Frescobaldi
10) Georg Bohm, Praeludium in g minor (from a Sony
survey of the composer - again, worth every penny)
Jan 22, 2012. Thank you for the kind
Kenneth Woods! It's an awesome CD, folks - hear it!
Jan 18, 2012. What Inspired the opening
A Love Supreme?: Alex Ross
notices that the sequence of
fourths that open John Coltrane's A Love Supreme
is identical to that which begins the Fifth Symphony of Jean
Sibelius. He does not posit a direct influence; these
two great musicians could have arrived at the same motif
independently. I'm going to step out on a limb and speculate
that what led Trane to think about
this sequence was working on his absolutely matchless
interpretations of My Favorite Things, heard
to special advantage in
this take with Eric Dolphy. If there's
anything to this (and who can know what really goes on in the
mind of a genius?), props are in order to Richard Rogers for
great song and then to Trane for recognizing
the musical potential of this Broadway hit and realizing it so fully.
Jan 15, 2012: Naida Cole Plays Like One
Bourree-Fantasque. After you hear her untrammeled manic
joy - the sheer visceral delight in playing repeated notes
insanely fast, for example - every other performance seems
anemic. And after you hear her mystical, sad Satie, everyone else seems
shallow. Take my word for it:
Jan 14, 2012: A Test: How Influential
Am I? Jeremy Denk's Bach Partita
last year was one of the greatest Bach keyboard discs I've ever
heard. His new CD with Joshua Bell is one of the best French
violin CDs I've heard. Ergo: The two of them should
record all the Bach violin/keyboard sonatas. Some of Bach's
finest works, in what would be awesome performances. SO: will
my posting this make it happen? Stay tuned.
Dec. 19, 2011: My reply in The
Atlantic to Stephen Bloom about Iowa,
"Look to Iowa's Future, Not Its Past" (and
updated version, dated January 16, 2012)
Dec. 16, 2011:
November 29, 2011 As of that date, here were 15
pieces of music guaranteed to put a big smile on my face:
November 18, 2011
March 17, 2011: Update on NPR funding, after House
votes to defund NPR, here's a good roundup/ analysis:
Jan. 2011: do
THIS. "This," detailed at the link, is to write a letter or fax your
to encourage FY 2011 funding of the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting. (NPR will be fine, but at the state level,
CPB funding is crucial). Yes, letters and faxes are better.
Details at the link. [PS: Since I am not a news person, my imploring
you is not a conflict of interest.]
January 28, 2011: Backgrounder (by me, not an expert on
Hungarian politics) on Andras Schiff
and Hungary's Media Laws. UPDATE JANUARY 19,
2012: Damn - I was right. And
things have gone downhill.
January 24, 2011: Bill Kling warns that the
effort to defund public radio is SERIOUS, not just bluff, and
could well happen.
Jan. 20 2011: The
Bach Violin Glut of the 2000s and Its Strange Gender Gaps
- Jan 20 version; no fewer than 26 violinists recorded
the Bach cycle in the last decade. Way long post. The gist:
1) that's a lotta supply; a stab at why; 2) whether or not you
used a period instrument could be predicted partly by your nationality
and partly by your gender - if you used a modern one, bookmakers
could give almost 4:1 odds that you were burdened with a Y chromosome.
Next edition of Inside Early Music will never happen,
but it would seek gender balance, and would look more into gender
and the early-music movement.
Jan. 2011: My Decade of Bach (or
what I remember of it).
Dec 23: really look forward to hearing the Alfred Brendel
lecture dissing historical performance, "The Light and
Shade of Interpretation." Presumably will be
online one of these weeks. Here's
a blog entry from the Telegraph: I'm happy that this topic
is still controversial 14 years on.
Dec 23: Three notable music books of 2010 that
I actually read? I was gripped by (1) John Butt, Bach's
Dialogue with Modernity: perspectives on the Passions
- if you're into Bach, especially the Passions, you must read
it; it's game-changing; (2) Jonathan Bellman's Chopin's
Polish Ballade: op. 38 as a narrative of national martyrdom,
which joins the short list of books about a single work that
open up huge vistas of social, cultural, and political history
(another example: Late Idyll by Reinhold Brinkmann);
and (3) Alex Ross's Listen
to This, which you can sample by reading this linked
chapter on how
the process of recording changed music radically. .
For me, it is the classical-music book of the decade,
except possibly for Alex's other book, The
Rest Is Noise. I don't mean this as hyperbolic
praise: the book revisits many of the essays that shaped my
musical thought during the 2000s, and adds an end-of-decade
perspective. PS: the chapter on Brahms - the last - is the best
single essay on the composer I've read.
Heffernan says that Wikipedia is the best source on "stuff
that was born on the Internet"; her explanation gets at
why it's among the worse sources on classical music. The gist:
at Wikipedia 'ownership'of an article what in legacy
media is called 'authorship' is strictly forbidden."
But academics have strong motives to be proprietary about their
specialized expertise - they need attributed publications. The
takeway (from Virginia): if you're a musicologist (or domain
expert in anything) go thou and edit or create at least one
wikipedia entry, for the public good. I'd add: it's the first
source most novices will turn to for information on your beloved
If you dislike Cosima Wagner as much as I do, your preferred
version of Richard's Christmas/birthday/baby-gift surprise,
the Siegfried Idyll, could be Roger
Norrington's un-romantically dancing deconstruction.
If you're simply wanting a radical perspective on the piece,
Gould, playing it very very slowly on the piano. Unlike
Roger, he appropriates the piece openly and with genius. On
the other hand, if you want to hear it as Wagner's "Song
of Songs to Brunnhilde" (good one, Joachim
Kohler) a top choice is Furtwangler
and the RIA Turino.
2010) Iván Fischer is conducting an awesome
Mozart concert with the Concertgebouw on my radio right now.
Here he is (from his one-time online diary) on why
great orchestras are HARDER to conduct than mediocre ones:
"The Berlin Philharmonic is in excellent form, strong musical
personalities in the orchestra.... Strong personalities can
create a side effect, though. If the feeling of rhythm and tempo
is too strong, it is hard to make music together. This is the
reason why top orchestras are more difficult to conduct..."
Day, 2010. Relocated to new rental in Cedar Falls; just
was mowing the lawn. A perfect moment to praise the labors of
some excellent writers:
by Geoffrey Burgess and Bruce Haynes. Not just for oboe
players. If you love an oboe work (say, the Strauss concerto)
you must read it. And if you're interested in the historical-performance
movement, the discussion of its history and challenges is sophisticated
and contributes new material. It also reads nicely. One nice
point: the revival of historical instruments began with instruments
that had no modern equivalent, like the viola da gamba and lute,
and came last to instruments whose modern descendants could
play all the older parts well, like the oboe.
of the Baroque
by David Schulenberg - a textbook, and reads like one;
but if you are interested in this era you MUST read it. It situates
the music in its historical circumstances very precisely, discusses
performance with unique expertise, and addresses broader aesthetic
questions with thoughtful skepticism - arguing, for example,
that Lydia Goehr is wrong to situate the triumph of the "work
concept" circa 1800 (clearly, Schulenberg shows, it was
alive and well in the 17th c). Above all, he takes you inside
the creative process - the working procedures - of composers
from Palestrina to CPE Bach, and does so quite readably.
July 30, 2010: How to play "The Moonlight" first
movement - like Gianluca Cascioli. Here he is playing it for
a masterclass: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jnvb4_02ZmE
Gianluca explains in his Decca recording interview (ok,
conducted by me) why it has nothing to do with moonlight, and
why he plays it as fast as he does. "C-sharp
minor is a strange, almost sinister key; it does not relate
to something as Romantic as moonlight. Instead, the reference
that strikes me is the passage in Don Giovanni when
the Commendatore dies after being stabbed by the Don. Beethoven's
triplets are close to Mozart's triplets, and the rhythms in
Beethoven's melody are similar to the Commendatore's rhythm....Beethoven
wrote down the Commendatore scene among his sketches, which
means that he was particularly struck by it.....he
wanted to take Mozart as a starting point (a good one!) just
to get somewhere else, far away...... It is difficult to describe
in words the feeling you have while playing, but Czerny's description
comes close to my own: a dark night with a choir of ghosts
heard from far away...
One element behind my choice of tempo is that the listener
must concentrate almost completely on the melody - the choral
in the soprano. At slow tempos, very often one hears nothing
but the slow triplets, as if they were the melody. But the true
melody in the soprano gets lost in the piano's decay of sound,
as the notes become disconnected. [My next question was:Does
the alla breve meter, two per bar, also imply a fastish tempo?]
GC: This was less important to me. For one thing, if you
count two beats in a bar you might easily get it much too fast.
It must flow, but it must be extremely calm, almost still. Also,
what this time signature implied for tempo in Beethoven is not
July 26, 2010
Very fine obit of
Wendy Allanbrook in today's NYT, by Jim Oestreich.
She embodied the word "humane."
July 15 2010: Very sad to hear of the death at age 67 of
Wendy Allanbrook (Wye
J. Allanbrook), a great musicologist and great human
2010: RIP Sir Charles Mackerras, at age 84. Alex
Ross, as usual, says
it perfectly: "He had a gift for leading a kind of
performance in which nothing out of the ordinary seems to happen
and yet everything goes radiantly right." Nice ideal in
So that February From the Top in Iowa City - you remember,
the one for which I provided a laugh-line? The full
broadcast is now online. Alternatively, you can
hear just my 46 seconds of fame
- my voice comes in after 55 seconds of set-up, in which
Christopher O'Riley interviews the incredible 16-year-old cellist
2010: That article from last November - on the state of period-instrument
Brahms, for Diapason France - I finally have an English-language
version up, at
this link. ["Mûrissements
d'époque" and "Brahms et le cor" -
were published in the October issue of Diapason France
Octobre 2009, pp. 34 - 37. This is the first of the two. The
second appears in triply-expanded form in Early Music America,
Spring 2010, as "Brahms, the Horn, and History")]
did a show in Iowa City on Feb. 24, 2010;
for some reason they interviewed me the day before to get a
laugh line. Apparently it worked: listen in to the full
broadcast (or, if you prefer, here
are my 46 seconds of fame).
legendary Bruno Walter
did NOT like modern flutes, and
he did not like the power of postwar clarinet playing. Martin
Mayer, in 1960, quotes him: "Think what the flute has
gained up top of the range," he says, "but it has
lost its beauty. Jean Paul wrote of 'the moonshine of the
flute.' Who would now say, 'the moonshine of the flute"?
[ILet me note that German and Austrian flutes were still made
of wood during Walter's early career; German-speaking flutists
resisted metal flutes and the Boehm key system precisely because
the French had adopted them].... As for modern playing:
"That is just a gentle clarinet," he said [of
a clarinet solo in the Schumann Piano Concerto]. "But
today they all play trumpet." Quoted in the excellent
biography, Bruno Walter: A World
Elsewhere, by Erik
Ryding and Rebecca Pechefsky, p. 404.
2010: My article "Brahms, the Horn, and History" is
coming out in this month's Early Music America. I was
[at this link] about the topic by Jonathan Ahl on Iowa Public
Radio's "Talk at 10"
2009): My articles on Brahms and period instruments - "Mûrissements
d'époque" and "Brahms et le cor" -
were published in the October issue of Diapason France
Octobre 2009, pp. 34 - 37). A note said that the original English
text would be posted at this Web site, with footnotes. It was,
but no longer is. Let me just say that I am stunned by the beauty
of the graphic design of the magazine; would it be Chantal Vilaire
who is responsible? Many thanks also to Gaetan Nalleau, the
editor who asked me to write the piece. I am honored to be there!
And to Nicolas Southon for his excellent translation.
April 2009: Good Times for Big Think What
happened in music in the 20th Century? To have any idea, it
helps to be in the 21st. And to be very smart. Consider: Alex
Ross's masterful The Rest Is Noise, which has changed
how we think about classical music's 20th C. Here are two other
carefully researched, intellectually daring reconsiderations,
both released in 2009.
1) Elijah Wald's history of what actually happened
in American pop music in the 20th Century (misleadingly titled
"How the Beatles Destroyed Rock and Roll") - I endorse
the review in the New York Times book review and recommend
the book highly.
2) Daniel Leech-Wilkinson's book on what actually
happened in 20th-century classical music performance:
Changing Sound of Music: He's brought research
methodology to new levels of accuracy, and is intellectually
fearless and original. And his book is available free
online at http://www.charm.kcl.ac.uk/studies/chapters/intro.html
January 24th, 2009 - This Is How People Listen to
Classical Radio - in terms not of the "importance"
of the piece, but of the emotional effect. Kudos to Greg
Sandow for being able to put himself in the ear-space of a listener.
This is how it's heard. I also appreciate that my failure to
program high-dissonance modernism could be seen not as a lack
of responsibility, but a quest for "a fuller view of life
than screams alone can give." I also appreciated the comments
by radio professional William Lang. Like him, I'm constantly
looking for new music that will not drive listeners away. Observation:
such music is far more likely to come from West of the Atlantic
than East, probably for reasons involving funding and peer pressure.
January 14th, 2009 - You have been reading Greg's five-part
posts on where Classical Music is in 2009, right? Read it:
RE: post 1: I wrote the following comment
to Greg: "Just a loose thought about yet another possible
reason why the [classical-music] audience has aged [over the
last half of the 20th c, relative to the population as a whole
- Greg demonstrates it carefully and has some excellent ideas
on why. I suggested adding one:} "(1) music became more
and more a marker of group membership - it had been that for
centuries, but became more so; (2) people had increasing numbers
of options about which group to become a member of: more mobility;
(3) crucially- "the young" increasingly became a group
you could identify yourself as a member of. Having one's own
music (to mark off "us," the young, from "them,"
the old) became increasingly important (4) having lots of different
"musics" to choose among became increasingly possible
(recording being a big part of this? And prosperity/leisure?)......
None of this is to replace anything you [Greg] said - it'd be
just one more element."
for Puck: - oxytocin for Helena and Hermia; vasopressin
for Lysander and Demetrius. [re "Anti-love
drug may be ticket to bliss" - John Tierney's angle,
in the New York Times]
- So... year-end roundup time. Entry #1: the winner of the
Pulitzer Prize in music, David Lang's The Little Matchgirl
Passion. Deeply haunting music about a problem very
much of the moment: starving children. The committee is no longer
in an uptown
ivory tower. It's also telling that no CD is out - the piece
was distributed free online
here. No waiting. The age of Youtube.
December - Entry
# 2 Newspapers are dying and music-critic gigs disappearing,
but I'm struck by how good the critics in the USA are in 2008.
Midgette on the staff of the WaPo is a prime example.
- I gotta get back into this - haven't touched this
site since April. Wanna think about 2 things: (1) why we
like the music we like; (2) the question of music affecting
life/personality/behavior. The latter strikes me as politically
fraught, complex, nuanced, easy to get wrong. But it's what
jumped out about me in this story
from NPR. (3) Felix Mendelssohn. Strongly recommended
background reading: Deborah Hertz's brilliant How
Jews Became Germans.
designed to be the most unpopular song ever written.
Naturally, I love it. Especially the rapping opera singer -
Your Hands Say Bravo!
above reminds me of a previous question about whether It's
OK to Applaud between movements at a classical concert.
The proscription against that sure chimed with the proscription
against "histrionics." Anyway, I hold with those
who say Express yourself! See: Alex's short essay
and Greg's post
the 2nd edition of Lydia Goehr's The
Imaginary Museum of Musical Works
(published in 2007). Our core sense
of what music IS (at least for classical fans) turns out to
be about 200 years old.
not just give Alex
Ross his Pulitzer right now and be done with
Rest Is Noise.)
So I wrote in October. I'm delighted that the NY Times
has since put it on its "10
Best Books of 2007" list and that the Washingon
Post, LA Times, Economist, Time,
Newsweek, and Slate put it
on their best-of-year lists. His writing has by itself improved
the future of music.- Jan 1, 2008
tone of moral outrage sounds Wieseltierian, and he bullies the
defenseless, but Richard Taruskin
state of classical music
is not to be missed. (Much more essential, though, is his
History of Western Music. There he had to seek the
tone of the balanced observer - although his difficulties with
that role are part of what make the book so compelling.)-
I liked at the time (been forever since i updated this, so I might
not like them now)-
Why do people still record Bach's solo cello suites?
Because they are Jean-Guihen
Queyras, that's why. (I also love Yo-Yo
Ma, especially the second time around, and above all, I love Steven
Isserlis, now at mid-price on Hyperion - an easy "first
I admire Taruskin's famous review of the pioneering Casals
recording: Casals was striving to make them heroic and marmoreal
- Bach from the age of Wagner. Anner Bylsma was going for
a radically different ideal - rooting them in Baroque dance and
the style of Baroque lute improvisers.Queyras? He's one of those
young artists who has all of history behind him (he studied with
Bylsma); but he has gone beyond the oppositions (and the examples)
and has made the music his own. He uses a modern cello, but you
might not be able to tell. Natural in spite of being so informed.
Glorious to hear such intonation, tone, bowing. UPDATES:
Isserlis is down to $25. Everything I just said about Queyras
goes double for him. Btw, if you're going to read just one book on
the suites, I strongly recommend Allen Winold's Bach's
Cello Suites: Analyses and Explorations. I greatly enjoyed
Eric Siblin's very different book The Cello Suites.
Georges and the Sirba Octet, Du
Shtetl a New York, a joy. Check out this Youtube excerpt:
bist du scheyn.
on Beethoven - a
6-DVD set from EMI, On Discs 5 and 6 Barenboim gives masterclasses
to young pianists, including Alessio Bax, Jonathan Biss, and Lang
Youtube excerpt. E.g., the part about a piano crescendoing
on a single note.
Suzanne Vega. Genius.
I love The
I like the way James Mercer's lyrics play with cliches
- evoking them then subverting them. (E.g., in Saint Simon,
"Mercy's eyes are blue [evoking cliche, but then.... ]/
when she places them in front of you [were you expecting that
image?]/ Nothing holds a Roman candle to ["Roman"
transforms the "holds a candle to" cliche, making it
resonate with the song] etc... ) I like how the music works
with the words - sometimes by opposition. (Try A Comet Appears
- the line "let's carve my aging face off/ fetch
us a knife/ start with the eyes/ till all that's left is a grimacing
smile "- such
a violent image, such
tender music. And the two adjectives earn their keep; the verbs,
like "carve" and "fetch," do more of the work.
As they should.)
I like how he undermines the potential repetiveness of the strophic
song by meaningfully varying the returns [Australia: "damned
to be one of us, girl/ faced with the dodo's conundrum/ i felt
like I could just fly/ but nothing happened every time I tried"
--- later in the song becomes "dare to be one us, girl/ facing
the android's conundrum/ i felt like I should just cry/ but nothing
happens every time I take one on the chin..." - with a beautiful,
surprising new harmony at "take one on the chin..".]
I like his control of metaphor (in the same song - Australia
- early on, the line "keep your wick in the air and your
feet in the fetters" is a striking set of verbal sounds,
but seems obscure; but much later in the song it connects to "you
don't know how long I've been/ watching the lantern dim/ starved
of oxygen..." And the last line: "so give me your hand
and we'll jump out the window.." -- that chimes with the
dodo's conundrum, maybe?) Above all the music... the man has always
been known for his ability to write a hook, and his music is inventive
way after the hook. Australia uses a polka rhythm, begins with
a hook full of syncopation, and then has the melody start in the
same non-tonic harmony that the hook reached up to. Similar invention
right through to the end. Here's an interview with Mercer on the
craft of songwriting: http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/40237-interview-the-shins
My top-10 Shins list, in alphabetical order: Australia;
A Comet Appears; Kissing
the Lipless; New
The Past and Pending; Phantom
Bullets; Saint Simon; Sleeping
j'aime beaucoup Ravel.
I'm into his piano trio and piano concertos. On
Youtube you can watch the Beaux
Arts Trio playing this Trio and Leon
Fleisher play the Left-hand Concerto and Martha
Argerich play the G Major! And Rattle/Berlin
Valse ! - a You Tube not to be missed.
won't roll over: In fact, he's never had it better. Yes, I
love golden-age masters like pianists Claudio Arrau, Béla
Bartók, Ernst von Dohnanyi, Annie Fischer, Leon Fleisher
(ok, a modern), Wilhelm Kempff (sometimes) and, of course, Artur
Schnabel, and conductors like Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Otto Klemperer,
George Szell, and Bruno Walter, the Quartetto Italiano
and Busch Quartet, etc. But not the concept that we live in
a lead age in which nobody can play it like the greats once did,
and that younger artists all sound as if they were shaped by cookie
cutters. My view: so many of my fellow oxygen-consumers devote
so much of their lives to this music that we shouldn't be surprised
that some of their playing is from the top. Examples: Andras Schiff's
Op. 109; Ronald Brautigam in the Waldstein; Mitsuko
Uchida and Helene Grimaud (both) in the oh-so-manly
"Emperor"; Garrick Ohlsson's op. 2 no 3; Perahia
and Paul Lewis's Op. 10 no 2; Jonathan Biss in op.
13; Peter Serkin in op. 27 no 1; the Takacs
quartet cycle; the Vanska symphony cycle; the Barenboim
symphony cycle; Angela Hewitt's Op. 7 and her cellos sonatas
with Daniel Muller-Schott;; .... more to come as I think
of them. [BTW, I oppose Vanska's extreme literalism in principle,
but the results shut me up.]
of April 2008 I was excited about Trevor Pinnock's
return to the Brandenburgs on Avie; Peter Watchorn's
Well-Tempered Clavier book 1 on his own Musica Omnia label;
Rene Jacobs's Don Giovanni on Harmonia mundi; Marc-Andre
Hamelin's Haydn sonatas on Hyperion: the the the
Shahams playing Prokofiev on their own label; Yevgeni
Sudbin playing Scarlatti; Hausmusik playing Mendelssohn;
Pierre Hantai playing Scarlatti. [I'll update this one
of these days.]
bliss, part 1: Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient
Music's recording of Handel's
Op. 6 concertos - and btw, this opus is not just another set
of Baroque concertos, but a cornucopia of invention (some of which
is plagiarized, but who cares?) And this is not just another recording.
Try the effortlessly overdotted rhythms at the beginning of op.
6 no 10; you can hear how to these players this style has become
a natural language. And try the unhurried Allegro Moderato in
the same concerto - the vitality comes from within, not from mindless
briskness, and the performance makes you feel the music's almost
childlike delight. The group plays with (and in) character throughout.
And you can download it.
Handelian bliss, part 2: Don't hold Gramophone's
enthusiasm against it: the
Messiah by the Dunedin Consort and John Butt really is inspired.
Ideal for those who've heard the thing way too often and don't
care if they ever hear it again (because it's the first attempt
to record the Dublin premiere version, and it makes the "small-chorus"
ideal so intimate); just as ideal for someone coming to it for
the first time.
you like the idea of Ira Gershwin and
Kurt Weill performing "The
Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria" et al., you
gotta hear them. Available at emusic.com and on a CD, "Tryout."
don't miss their musical/ operetta Lady in the Dark.)
I love Ben
Folds. If Sasha Frere-Jones hates it, it's
probably for me. Contrary to John McWhorter, of whom I'm a fan,
there is a kind of verbal intelligence available in the pop world
even now. More on this later.
by Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg,
and Uri Caine - moving, beautifu, (Thank
you, LK.). Even though I don't
romanticize the Chassidim as they seem to. Also: Srul
Irving Glick's A
Night at Heaven's Gate And, in a different vein,
the Klezmatic's Woody Guthrie CDs.
Jacobs in Haydn's symphonies 91 & 92
on Harmonia mundi - check out 92's
opening . What
is more beautiful than a string section playing superbly and perfectly
in tune? - Which brings us to....
exclusive! - sample
Simon Rattle and
the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the Brahms
Tragic Overture. Rattle, who's often
dissed as superficial, proves otherwise. I've heard other conductors
project these inner voices but make them sound like too-precious
detail. Here they are meaningful - and moving. Beautiful phrasing.
(also: the strings in Rattle's new Berlin Mahler 9th on
a River of Time is heartfelt. I like so much
of what I hear from this unabashedly neo-romantic composer.
When old means new: the Debussy
from Andante.com (early recordings, e.g., Coppola's La
mer) . And at emusic, Sibelius bud Robert
Kajanus conducting the Sibelius Fifth.
Kajanus and Coppola bring a lightness, volatility and spontaneity
to the music that would be hard to regain once the works became
- Benjamin Britten and Sviatoslav
Richter playing the first movement of
the duo sonata in C, K. 521 (iTunes) strikes me as a mind-blowing
synthesis of imagination, finesse, and wild energy. The musical
equivalent of the right stage of hypomania. And Rene
Jacob's recordings of Mozart's Don Giovanni (at
youtube, here's a documentary), and Figaro and
Cosi - no "hypo" to this mania!
on my iTunes? Aside from the above?: Ray Charles,
I Don't Need No Doctor; Martha and the Vandellas,
Jimmy Mack (the stereo version), Miriam Makeba's
The Click Song, Mahler Adagietto by Bruno
Walter with the New York Phil,. (and his Mahler Fourth from
Vienna in 1955, from the Andante set); Paul Robeson (anything
I can get my hands on, but above all Balm in Gilead); Louis
out, sister, look out!);
Neal Young's Harvest Moon; Death Cab for Cutie's
Plans; Joni Mitchell's Hejira, Paul
Simon's Only Living Boy in New York City; and lots
of Handel and Bach (two opposites, really). And a lot of
Bob Dylan (notably Blood on the Tracks, and John
Wesley Harding, and Modern Times, and odd songs like
Isis, and Tears of Rage, and Visions of Johanna,
and It's All Over Now Baby Blue and and...) and of the
articles on Brahms and period instruments - "Mûrissements d'époque"
and "Brahms et le cor" - were published in the October
issue of Diapason France (Diapason,
Octobre 2009, pp. 34 - 37).
I've put up an English-language translation of the first at
this link. The second appears
in triply-expanded form in Early Music America, Spring 2010, as
"Brahms, the Horn, and History"
review of John Butt's Playing
with History is in the autumn 2006 issue of The Journal of the
American Musicological Society .
guest-edited the fall 2006 issue of The Journal of Musicological
Research (on 20th-c performance)..
BBC Music Magazine liked this website: "[A]
refined voice... intriguing articles
on early music and performance from a wide variety of publications. A
cleansing experience after all this mud-slinging." - April 2002
I also mention my modesty and avoidance of self-promotion...?) This
means that at least one person has visited this site!
chapter on "Conducting Early Music" appears
in The Cambridge Companion to Conducting (ed. Jose
A. Bowen, 2004). Kind review here
My archived shows
Wisdom of Crowds with
James Surowiecki and Joyce Berg. Better: just read The
Wisdom of Crowds. My followup read will be Cass Sunstein's Infotopia.
of The Wisdom of Crowds is well worth reading: http://www.powells.com/review/2004_06_24.html
. BUT - see this new study http://palmdesert.ucr.edu/conferences/economica2007/erikson-gdi.pdf
- showing why prediction markets are LESS successful than polls at
predicting election outcomes.
my interview with Daniel Altman
about his first book, Neoconomy
(now available for $0.01 at Amazon...)
an mp3 of Studs Terkel (on
his book And They All Sang) - WFMT called with the opportunity
to do a short interview with Studs, and everyone was on vacation, so...
I did it. What an honor.
I just interviewed the brilliant Rebecca Sheir of Alaska Public
Radio about her Third Coast-award-winning documentary, The End as Beginning:
An Audio Exploration of the Jewish View of Death. I'll play parts of it
interspersed with the documentary on KSUI tomorrow. Here's the interview
itself (17 minutes) rebecca mp3
to Invest- revealed! - a short transcript
from when I used to host radio shows on this. Still pretty timely. (TIPS
are yielding a little less, but not enough to make a difference to what
Beta: a wiki for classical-radio producers in English-speaking countries,
who need to think about ratings as well as musician: what pieces from
the last 30 years would work in our format? (Not: what are the most important
pieces, or the greatest pieces? Just... what will fit into the sound of
classical radio?) Here's a beta
me: sherman.bd at gmail