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A Letter to a friend.

Dear  M,

The last time we spoke I mentioned a certain piece of music I had recently heard on a recording and you immediately responded in what I took to be a rather flat voice, ” Daniel Barenboim’s 50th anniversary concert”. [1.]  From the tone of your voice I gathered, perhaps incorrectly, that you  were not enamored with this recording. I can understand your reservations. But as we were speaking long-long distance, we had tno time to explore musical subtitles and as well, we had children and grandchildren to Moo about.

Recently I’ve had time to ruminate on Barenboim’s recording and other great artists recorded in front of live audiences. These ruminations and a long silence between us, are the reasons for this letter.

From the beginning, Barenboim’s interpretations ranged from interesting and sublime to  overwrought, sometimes beyond the pale of performances typically heard today. My first reaction to this recording was that Barenboim, appearing in triumph before a home town crowd as a prodigal son, had decided to unleash his impromtu passion and willingness to take chances, to create joy, as only an interpretive genius can.  His heart on his sleeve, he just took flight. Perhaps it was this flight that unsettled you.

The  Mozart Sonata K 330,  was played with the traditional rubatos, but others were added. Overall, they were larger, surprising and delightful. I prefer over all the 1957 Clara Haskil live recording.[2.]  Barenboim plays the second movement slower, giving it more gravitas.  The Beethoven, Op. 57, ‘Appassionata’ really sets out the difference between romantic  Barenboim and the classic Clara Haskil. Barenboim’s use of the sustain pedal blurred many of the lines I so love to hear in this sonata. If you wish to hear the clarity of Horowitz, hear every note virtuosity at any speed, check out the live  Vienna piano recital of Lang Lang.[3.]

Remember, this is only an assumption on my part, I could agree with your lack of enthusiasm for Barenboim’s recording. Some of the following shorter pieces lack luster, with one exception being the second Scarlatti Sonata. But I beg you to seriously consider his performances beginning with the Chopin  Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2., Db Major. When I first heard this I was stunned. Here was something definitive. A clarity of emotion, a direct path to the heart, that one rarely experiences either in person or on recordings. There is no room here for a contrived thought. This is fingers improvising without touching. Barenboim must have been outside himself, I certainly was.

For lovers of the sublime, Chopin’s Nocturne begins the final  and most thrilling part of Barenboim’s recital. His performances of José Resta’s Bailesito, Ginastera’s  Danza de la moza donosa and Villa-Lobos’ Polichiinelle are visceral. Ginastera’s  Danza reminds me very much of the Chopin nocturne with its gentle left-hand opening, nostalgia in the melody, the grandiose middle and the return with its unexpected yet perfect strokes.

Well dear  M. I’ll bring this message to an end by saying how much I am enjoying music history. As a student I started working forward somewhere around J. S. Bach and ended up playing Takemitsu. Now I’m going backwards.  Some of my findings have been discussed in earlier postings.  My latest discovery, some scholars refer to him as the West’s first composer, is Guillaume Machaut. As a friend  recently pointed out, the quality of performances of early music has increased considerably since David Munrow began his crusades in the early to late 60s.  The CD [4.] is titled Mon Chant Vous Envoy and there are seven performers, singers and instrumentalists. His music requires a revaluation of what is old and what is new.  Midway through this elegantly package and wonderfully performed CD, there appeared a work that stopped me in my tracks.

One more piece of music I feel compelled to mention, I’m sure you know it, is another sublime work in the Chopin, Ginastera, Machaut realm.  Schubert’s Die Nacht for male chorus. My version was conducted by Robert Shaw and recorded in France by Telarc. It is the first of six songs under the heading Evensong. If I should die before I wake  .  .  .

Please give my love to R and R, T, A and all the young ones, Gute Nacht.

 

r[1.]  Daniel Barenboim, live from the Teatro Carlo, July 19, 2000. E M I Classics.

[2.]  Clara Haskil live recording, August 8,1957, Salzburger Festspiele Mozarteum.

[3.] Lang Lang, Live in Vienna, February 27-March 1, 2010.

[4.] Mon Chant Vous Envoy, 2012-13, Elequentia.

 

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Baltimore Meets the Press.

Sunday, 2 May

Every Sunday morning I have a coffee or two in bed and watch so called major network news shows usually beginning with Meet the Press. This Sunday the entire programme was devoted to racial strife in Baltimore, Maryland. The panel was unusually well informed and articulate. They often spoke in complete sentences, knew some history and expressed thoughtful ideas, uninterrupted by other guests or by host Chuck Todd.  So rather than switch channels, I stayed tuned to the end, hoping to see or hear something from my home town.

I was born and raised in Baltimore. Natives say “Ballmer” and it took years of living in Canada and constantly being recognized as a Yankee, before I mastered Bal-ti-more. “Merlun”, or Maryland was another challenge and I tried hard to avoid ever mentioning the state where “Ballmer” could be found.

I lived on Howard Park Avenue in west Baltimore, just a block and a half north of Liberty Heights Avenue and a few blocks from Gwynn Oak Junction, my perennial hang out. I attended P.S. 218, Garrison Junior High  and was in my first year at Forest Park High, when we moved 30 miles further northwest to the farming community of Westminster. During my years in Baltmore, unless I trekked downtown to Baltimore’s dock area, I rarely saw a black person or a person of any colour other than white. This was during the 1950s when Baltimore’s population was 3/4 white. Today it’s 2/3 black. I thought it kinda neat that one of my best friends and his Father were the only Jews I knew. My love affair with golf began on Forest Park Golf Course, an easy walk from my house, where I caddied, played golf with a 7 iron and searched the rough for lost golf balls.

When news of the revolution in Baltimore hit the tube, placing its beginnings in west Baltimore, I was very interested in learning details. Druid Hill Park was frequently mentioned, a lovely space of greenery and play I’d visited, but I’d never heard of Sandtown, reported to be the epicenter of the disturbances. Interested to see if some of my old haunts might make the tele, I watched every channel that might devote extensive coverage to the affair, BBC, PBS, and the major US networks. Unfortunately, I recognized nothing.

The Meet the Press panel discussed poverty, poor education, father-less households, prejudice, police violence, incarceration rates, poor housing and poorer job opportunities – the usual shibboleths mentioned after every black uprising in the US.  I wasn’t learning anything new. Baltimore and any city with a history of racial unrest, had faced the very same issues and no one, especially local, state and Federal politicians had acted upon any of them.

So, in the end, my attention was caught by the Meet the Press sponsors. Given the subject matter of this programme, I found their presence to be disturbingly ironic, spiteful and dismissive of the public’s intelligence. Each one declared itself champions of the working man, builders of secure futures and guardians of the environment: Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Koch Industries, Boeing, Locheed Grumman and Sea World.

Consider, these sponsors are all companies known to have destroyed the middle class, rocked the world’s economy, paid its employees unlivable wages, polluted our environment and raped the public trust and treasury by charging unconscionable prices for military hardware. All these companies, and many more, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to convince the public they are necessary and have kind hearts and good intentions. And yes, even Sea World spent millions to convince us that keeping whales penned up is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Art of Time Ensemble

In early 2015, a spate of high quality concerts rarely seen in Toronto, began with the Art of Time Ensemble. On the stage of Harbourfront Centre Theatre, they presented music by Lou Reed, interpreted by some of Canada’s finest arrangers, instrumentalists and singers. Art of Time Ensemble is the creation of its artistic director, pianist Andrew Burashko, a passionate and informed communicator with a love for music that stretches far beyond the borders commonly thought to demarcate music categories.

Andrew’s programs are based on themes. For a 2013 programme titled Franz Schubert, Source and Inspiration, composers of Jazz and Art music were commissioned to arrange for voice and ensemble, a theme from Franz Shubert’s
Piano Trio No. 2 in Eb Major. The trio was played first and then the arrangements were performed by five singers, Carol Pope (Rough Trade), Andy Maize (Skydigers), Gregory Hoskins, John Southworth and Danny Michel.

Andrew often commissions Toronto arrangers, a diverse group of superlative musicians who, though relatively unknown to the general public, never fail to astonish audiences with their ability to bring fresh perspectives to popular war horses. Fortunately, Art of Time is recording many of their pearls.

An Art of Time programme titled What is Sacred, began with Arvo Part’s Stabat Mater, followed by three superb arrangements of songs with religious themes: Wayfaring Stranger, arranged by Gavin Bryars; Pilgrim; and You Are Not Alone. After intermission, Olivier Messiaen’s Louange A L’Eternite De Jesus from his Quartet for the End of Time, and a medley of African American spirituals and Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom were sung, revival style, by Jackie Richardson.

The evening closed with a beautifully subtle and complex interweaving of six female dancers, choreographed by David Earle to the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652).  The Miserere was hauntingly sung by Choir 21 as they stood like angels in the first balcony, sending heavenward Allegri’s plea. All this was much too sublime to be followed by anything else.

Attempts to merge art forms have been vulnerable to dismissal by purists or outright failure in the public marketplace. But Andrew does not merge art forms. He respects their individuallity and his classical discipline protects them from being mistreated. An idea must pass through a stringent artistic filter before it blossoms on an Art of Time stage.

In the twenty years from 1970 to 1990, a few elite ensembles, devoted to mostly white western art music, received the majority of government money. Toronto ensembles have favoured repertoire from one of roughly five established genres of westrn art music: opera, ballet, symphony, choral and chamber. They must submit mission statements in order to be eligible for government funding. These statements put them into a bureaucratic niche that can obligate them to a particular repertoire.

In the the 1990s government arts agencies began to realign their financial priorities in response to social and political pressures, gradually achieving more balanced funding by region and favouring emerging composers, pop music, First Nations musicians, and other minority groups. Each re-allocation made the financial pie  smaller, dramatically reducing art music budgets. The recent economic down turn exacerbated a feeling of uncertainty within the arts community. Some ensembles reduced the number and frequency of their concerts, limited or re-directed their programme choices, greatly reduced the fees paid to musicians and began exploring ways to work with other ensembles.

In conjunction with his many artistic friends, Andrew is creating fresh concert experiences for traditional Toronto audiences while attracting new concert goers, young and old, hip and staid. The effect this generational blend has on audiences is immediately apparent. As one takes a seat for an Art of Time concert, there is a frisson in the air rarely felt in other venues. So far Andrew has avoided the malady of uncertainty afflicting other Toronto arts organizations. His large and ever growing audience, aided by a group of faithful collaborators and sponsors, portends a long and healthy future. Andrew’s unique artistic love affair has captured the imaginations of artists and concert goers. Concerts by Art of Time Ensemble have become one of Toronto’s most popular sources of art entertainment.

I encourage readers of this article to visit Art of Time Ensemble web site for a complete list of its programmes, artists and videos.

http://artoftimeensemble.com

 

 

 

 

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Linda Catlin Smith, Sandy Baron, Rick Sacks and Array Space.

 

MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT.  [1.] Photo by Sandy Baron. Used with permission of the photographer.

MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY
SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT. [1.]
Photo by Sandy Baron. Used with permission of the photographer.

26 April, 2015

Last night I attended a memorable concert of new music. One work, a duet for violin and percussion by composer Linda Catlin Smith, titled Dirt Road, was performed by violinist Sandy Baron and percussionist Rick Sacks. Calgary born, Ms. Baron has played in the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra for 19 years. During the summer months she plays with the Santa Fe, New Mexico Opera Company and when not in the pit, she drives around New Mexico’s outback photographing desert landscapes intersected by the dirt roads she travels in her 1971 vintage Ford blue and white pick up. When Ms. Baron returns to Toronto, the pick up is left to winter in the south-west.

With Sandy to one side and Rick to the other, Dirt Road (2006-15) was performed in front of Array Music’s new, very large and very clear rear projection screen upon which Baron’s lonesome dirt road photographs appeared in and out in an approprately slow accompaniment to the music. Dirt Road was written in 15 movements, any number to be played in any order. It is one hour long and occasionally I began to fidgit. My lack of control aside, the work was mesmerizing. Linda’s Dirt Road is generally quiet and slow. It demands patience, nuanced control and a lyrical, expressive sound. [2.] All these were provided by Ms. Baron.

Rick Sacks played vibrphone, large gong, four cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel and bass drum. On the whole, these were played sparingly as accompaniments to the violin. The vibraphone part was difficult, frequently four mallets, closely voiced and not easily memorized. The solo percussion movement, placed about mid-way, was a highlight. Many non pitch percussion instruments produce short or unanalyzable sounds, or both. In order to bridge the inherent silences or distractions created by these anomalies, a listener must retain sounds in order to attach them to the next. Rick’s phrasing provided the necessary continuity and the movement hung in space. Ms. Baron’s solo violin movement was a melodic gift, elegant yet casually proffered. A judiciously rendered foil to the percussion sounds. For me, these two movements formed the works apex.

The concert was pretty well sold out and even with my poor peepers, I saw John Beckwith, Kathleen McMorrow, Henry Kucharzyk, Adele Armin, Beverley and Austin Clarkson.

 

Notes:

[1.] “MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY, SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT.  (southeast Utah)

The Mokee Dugway is located on Utah Route 261 just north of Mexican Hat, UT. It was constructed in 1958 by Texas Zinc, a mining company. The three miles of unpaved, switchbacks descend 1100 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa from where the photograph above was taken.

The term “mokee” is derived from the Spanish word moqui, which was a general term used by the 18th century Spanish explorers and settlers in this region to describe the Pueblo Indians they encountered and the vanished culture which had left behind the numerous ruins they discovered during their travels.

Today the standard term used to describe these prehistoric Native Americans, who lived in this region more than 1000 years ago, is “ancestral Puebloans”. It is based on present day Puebloan tribes and archaeologists believe these people were the ancestors of the today’s Hopi, Zuni, Acoma and Rio Grande region cultures. You may also see them commonly referred to as the “Anasazi”, a Navajo word meaning “enemy ancestors”. note by Sandy Baron, edited by R.E.


[2.] I hope one day a recording is made of Blue Sky (2006) a percussion quintet Linda wrote for Nexus.  In my opinion, percussion repertoire would be enhanced by its inclusion. It is an aesthetic experience percussionists have for too long been deprived.

 

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Armstrong and Bechet, a Precise Freedom.

My brother was an avid collector of early Dixieland Jazz recordings and I grew up with the sounds of great singers, the likes of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Lizzy Miles and King Oliver’s band, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, and the Original Dixeland Jazz Band. [1.] With incomparable panache these artists wrote and recorded some of America’s most expressive  music. Today, much of this legacy is available in digital format, though pureists may insist on listening to the original 78s and LPs.

In the 1950s Armstrong (1901-71) assembled his All Stars. Recently, I revisited two of my favourite Armstrong recordings from those years, Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy  and Ambassador Satch. The players were the same on both albums and long time Armstrong collaborators.  The band was Barney Bigard, clarinet; Arvell Shaw, bass;  Billy Kyle, piano; Trummy Young, trombone; Armstrong, trumpet; Barrett Deems, drums; and Velma Middleton, vocals.  Edmond Hall, clarinet, replaced Bigard on Ambassador Satch. [2.]

Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy was recorded in a studio under the supervision of the composer William Christopher Handy(1873-1958). The tunes on Ambassador Satch were recorded live during a European tour, with Edmond Hall’s lush clarinet tones and incomparably mellifluous lines, Arvel Shaw’s rock solid bass, Kyle’s tasty piano rhythms and sweet solos, Trummy Young’s rip saw Gut Bucket trombone, and Deems, “the Fastest Drummer in the World” tasty back ups and roisterous solos.

These guys played with a joy European fans had been waiting for years to experience. They were not disappointed. Within Europe’s music community, Armstrong and his All Stars were post World War II’s most appreciated ambassadors.

Note: To access audio files, go to my web site http://www.robinengelman.com

“Royal Garden Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.

“Dardanella”, Edmond Hall, Clarinet on Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955.

“West End Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.

In 1957, a high school teacher played me a recording of le Sacre du Printemps. Its fagotto castrato launched me into an adventure with Western Art Music that held my interest for Dixieland in abeyance for many years. I’ve since played le Sacre more than a few times and have about half a dozen LP and CD recordings by as many orchestras and conductors. During a conversation with Toru Takemitsu, I mentioned my love for early Dixieland. Toru replied, “Sidney Bechet”. Bechet (1897-1959) was familiar to me. Some years earlier I had purchased two recordings he’d made in France. [3.]  Unfortunately, their quality was very poor and I vowed to revisit his music.

Recently I purchased 115 Bechet recordings. As I made my way through this lode, I struck gold on almost every track. I was delighted by Bechet’s mastery of the soprano saxophone and his endlessly brilliant improvisations. There was one tune I had to include here. According to one aficionado, Shag is not only a prime example of Bechet’s art, it contains perhaps the greatest Jazz vocal, ever. That aside, this masterful example of Scat singing by Ernest Meyers offers an enlightening contrast to Louis Armstrong’s style. Shag was written by Bechet and this recording was made in New York City in 1932 with his band, New Orleans Feetwarmers. The Bechet Quintet performance of Summertime is ineffably beautiful.[4.]

“Shag”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano;  Wilson Myers, Bass;  Wilbert Kirk , drums. New York, 1943.

“Summertime”, Sidney Bechet Quintet: Meade Lux Lewis, piano; Teddy Bunn, guitar; Johnny Williams, bass; Sid (Big Sid) Catlett, drums. New York, 1939.

“After You’ve Gone”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano; Wilson Myers, bass; Wilbert Kirk, drums. New York, 1943.

I  wrote an article titled Music Appreciation 101. It’s a tribute to Janis Joplan and her album Pearl, one of the alltime great rock albums. Now, Armstrong and Bechet et al are providing me with further hours of pleasure. Their amazingly precise freedom gives me endless “What have I been missing” moments. After listening to a couple of cuts in this article, fellow drummer Rick Sacks said, “In this music you can hear all the voices.”  So true.  Next, I might check out Eddie Condon. Edmond Hall played with Condon as did drummers Cliff Leeman and George Wettling; trombonist Cutty Cutshall; and trumpet fireball Wild Bill Davidson, father of Toronto harpist Sarah Davidson.

NOTES:

[1.]  Ironically, an all white band and the first to make a commercial Dixieland recording.

The band recorded two sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company, “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixie Jass Band One Step”, on February 26, 1917, for the Victor label. These titles were released as the sides of a 78 record on March 7, the first issued jazz record. The band records, first marketed simply as a novelty, were a surprise hit, and gave many Americans their first taste of jazz. (from Wikipedia)

[2.] I recommend exploring the biographies of these great players. The band members dates: Barney Bigard, clarinet (1906-80); Emond Hall, clarinet (1901-67);  Arvell Shaw, bass (1923-2002); Billy Kyle, piano (1914-66); Trummy Young, trombone (1912-84); Louis Armstrong, trumpet (1901-71); Barrett (the world’s fastest drummer) Deems (1914-98); and Velma Middleton, vocalist (1917-61). Velma died in Sierra Leone of a stroke or heart attack while touring with Armstrong. She can be heard on Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy. Though some critics considered her voice average and suggested Armstrong replace her with someone better, Louis refused, stating “she was family”.  On this tour, the All Stars were official representatives of the U.S. government, hence the album title Ambassador Satch.

[3.] Bechet was a Creole. He was born in New Orleans and died in Garches, France, the country where he made more than half his recordings. Both his birth and death occured on May 14, reminding me of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who died on the same day, July 4, in the same year, 1826.

[4.] This reminds me of the late Eva Cassidy singing Autumn Leaves on her CD Live at Blues Alley.

 

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New Creations Festival, Toronto, 2015

During the eight days from 28 February to 7 March, 2015, more contemporary music in the good to great category was heard in Roy Thompson Hall than in any previous season. The benefactor behind this musical munificence was the Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival (NCF), a yearly celebration of new music written for symphony orchestra.

The guest conductor and curator of this year’s festival was English composer and Cambridge University teacher, George Benjamin (b.1960). Benjamin selected the most substantive compositions and shared conducting duties with the Toronto Symphony’s resident conductor Peter Oundjian. Three of the festival’s five major compositions were chosen to accommodate the presence of soprano Barbara Hannigan. Ms. Hannigan has become an influential voice in new music. She has premiered more than 80 works, all written for her exceptional musicality, technique, her extremely high tessatura and her ability to memorize challenging scores. She has appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker on more occasions than any other soloist and had her first experience conducting when Sir Simon Rattle suggested she share the baton with him during performances of William Walton’s Facade in which Ms. Hannigan also sang.

Ms. Hannigan began her NCF labours of love with A Mind of Winter by George Benjamin. A Mind of Winter is no great test of Ms. Hannigan’s skills, but she sang from memory, as she did with all the works she performed. The work is a generally quiet, beautiful landscape allowing the soprano’s first note to appear through the orchestra’s haze like magic, beginning innaudibly and gradually swelling into an expressive blossom. She was in fine voice. It was also abundantly clear that Benjamin is a splendid composer and conductor.

The concert on 4 March opened with a premier of a Toronto Symphony Commission, Lieder und Arien by Chris Paul Harman (1970). I was not looking forward to this. Years ago, I can’t remember how many, I played a work by Chris during one of the early years of the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshop, conducted by its founder Gary Kulesha. Chris’ antique cymbal part was a mess of notes. It looked to be a cadenza for an avant garde violin concerto. I explained to Chris the problems his writing posed for a percussionist, but wasn’t sure he was listening. The memory of that experience and subsequent hearings of Harman’s music, was greatly ameliorated by Lieder und Arien which contained some very fine moments of orchestration. Though Lieder und Arien is an arrangement of music by Bach, it sounded original at times and I was relieved to have my first experience with Harman’s music put behind me.

George Benjamin’s Duet for Piano and orchestra (2008) was next. It sounded to me very much as Benjamin described it, a challenging exercise for combining a piano with orchestra in some real duet form other than the typical concerto. This one left no impression on me.

However, the second half of the concert was given over to one work, Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you for Soprano and Orchestra (2012-13). Fortunately, Mr. Abrahamsen was not available for an interview. Considering the size of his  orchestra, Abrahamsen (b.1952) has created an intimate work, stunningly beautiful and complex. Written as a “dramatic monologue” with Barbara Hannigan “very much in mind”, let me tell you was commissioned and premiered by the Berliner Philharmoniker. The text for let me tell you is from Sir Paul Griffiths’ book of the same name and contains all the words spoken by Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But Abrahamsen’s Ophelia “uses those words in different ways and, certainly, to express herself differently”.

I heard Sir Simon Rattle conduct the premiere performance of this work via the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall which is beamed into my television set in real time from Germany. Then as now, Barbara sang from memory and unobtrusively floated above the accompanying cushion of sound. Mr. Griffiths’ wife and Ms Hannigan deserve our thanks for planting the seed that became let me tell you.  It is a moving work of art

The festival’s last concert was devoted entirely to George Benjamin’s opera, Written on Skin. I had heard its premier performance on YouTube, fully staged  and conducted by the composer with Ms. Hannigan singing the primary role of Agnes. But You Tube reproductions are excretions. The NCF concert brought the truth of this work home. The mistreatments of characters, physical and mental, and the brutal rape scene were left to one’s imagination. The singing was terrific, but baritone Christopher Purves must be singled out. He was first to sing the role of  Protector when Written on Skin was premiered at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. The libretto for Written on Skin was taken from a 13- century razo, literally reason or cause, prefacing a Troubadour’s poem.

Written on Skin never reverts to clichés, nor does it wander. Every twist and turn is new, maintaining one’s attention through the last note. It is, if you will, a perfectly compact work of genius. It reminded me of Dutilleux. Clusters of brilliant ever changing sounds, miniature compositions in their own right, weaving their way through the orchestra, each clear and precisely crafted. The orchestra players must have enjoyed themselves. The section players had material perfectly written for their instruments and they played them, especially the brass, winds and percussion, with sensitivity and assurance. The audience reception matched any I’ve heard in Roy Thompson Hall. I attended all the Concertgebouw Orchestra concerts and none of them received standing ovations as lengthy or filled with such palpable appreciation, as this one.

This year Toronto NCF audiences were blessed with music of rare quality and soloists of the first water.  I could not, nor would I, attempt to choose between them. Let’s hope T.S.O. management can entice curators and soloists of similar expertise and quality to grace Toronto for future New Creations Festivals.

The question arises, why are such dramatic experiences relegated to three concerts in mid-winter? And why, given Oundjian’s violin heritage, are the T.S.O strings in such dismal shape? One wag seated near me opined, “Most of the violinists appear to be women and they play like exhausted housewives”. I hope they are not, but somebody needs to get them excited about something and that’s the conductor’s job.

As I blissfully made my way towards the exit, someone nearby said, “They’re having an after concert talk”. Sure enough the cast and conductor had returned and were seated in a semi-circle mid stage. I sped up my retreat and had almost reached the exit when I heard Oundjian say to Benjamin, “That was fabulous. George, how did you do that?”. OMG.

Notes:

Mr. Oundjian was born in Toronto of Armenian and English parents. He studied in England and before he began conducting full time, was for fourteen years principal violinist of the Tokyo string Quartet. He’s a good talker with a pleasing and uncondescending haut British accent still beloved of many Toronto art patrons.  Now, if he’d just learn to stop talking. A request rumoured to be heard among Toronto Symphony players.

Barbara Hannigan studied vocal singing with Mary Morrison as an undergraduate at the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto. During that period she performed with Nexus, singing ballads and sentimental songs from the early 20th-century. She studied in London, England and then moved to Amsterdam where she lives today. Though her “signature” piece is György Ligeti’s Mysterie of the Macabre, arranged by Elgar Howarth in 1979 from Ligeti’s Opera le Grand Macabre, written from 1974-97, she has always been devoted to contemporary music and has established herself in the forefront of 21st-century music performers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Igor Stravinsky, a correspondence.

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In the early days of May, 1958, as my first year in college was ending, I wrote Igor Stravinsky’s publishers  J. & W. Chester Ltd. to ask if I could arrange for percussion quartet, the three dances from Stravinsky’s L’ Histoire du Soldat. The letter I received in reply is copied below as well as further communications between myself, Stravinsky and his publishers.

 

 

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May 19, 1958.

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And so, emboldened by the fearlessness of youth, I wrote Igor Stravinsky asking for his permission to transcribe the three dances from L’ Histoire du Soldat  for  a quartet of percussionists.  I had to deal with problems of my own making and a few copyright hurdles proffered by Stravinsky’s publishers. To my ears, their letters, written in quaint, but authoritative English, were at once humorous, revelatory and a bit intimidating. However, I continued writing my arrangements sure in the knowledge that one day I would receive the permission I sought. Voila, it came to be. I now have two dated Igor Stravinsky signatures. [1.]

Though I blush to inform you, Dear reader,  please note the absence of my signature on my letter to Mr. Stravinsky. Ooops!

Note:

[1.] I have received a few letters asking about this arrangement,which turned out to be only one, the Devil’s Dance. I did finish it, it was recorded by the Ithaca College percussion ensemble conducted by Warren Benson on Golden Pressed Records. I have three recordings dating from the late 1950s, but the surface noise makes it almost impossible to listen to them. I still have the score and I’m not sure about the parts. At any rate I’m not really interested in hearing a performance today.  The arrangement has some merit, but not enough I think to justify a modern audience or me.  I don’t even know if Golden crest records exists and if it does, if it would have a master of the album called Warren Benson Conducts.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2015 in Articles, Composers, History

 

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