Thursday, December 31, 2015

For a 2016 that's nice, say it thrice!

Truly I want to wish each and everyone of you the happiest, healthiest, and most fulfilling (and let's sprinkle music on that wish, as liberally as snowfall..) 2016!! Thank you all for visiting, and thank you especially to (((everyone))) who takes the time to comment and share their thoughts with me. This is a true form of friendship to me - and I cherish that. Hopefully the new year will allow me more time to share the gems; how I know not,  lol but perhaps my so-called "resolution" will be of a time-management nature! 

All my very best,


Stephen Paulus - Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, "Three Places of Enlightenment" - Veil of Tears for String Orchestra - Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra - Nathan J. Laube, Organ - Nashville Symphony, Giancarlo Guerrero - Naxos 2013

This disc is quite the home-run from the Naxos American Classic series - then again these days it's near impossible to pluck anything out from this most invaluable series that is not worth adding to one's library! Although the total playing time of this disc is only 57:21 (and I don't mean to quibble however works such as his "Symphony for Strings" or his jaunty "Concertante" could have fit on this program, and oh how nicely!), the three works presented display Paulus at his finest. 

The Concerto "Three Places of Enlightenment" is highly energized and engaging, and only the middle movement allows time for extended reflection (the composer speaks of his hope that the listener shall actually experience these three realms or "places" of enlightenment).  "Veil of Tears" is a moving, elegiac interlude from his Holocaust oratorio "To Be Certain of the Dawn that follows" and is in the tradition of Samuel Barber's Adagio. The "Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra" is Grand indeed-and quite beautiful. It immediately went to the top of my Organ Concerti list (yes, along with Poulenc but also the masterful Sowerby, Hanson, Rutti, Hindemith (Organ Concerto & Kammermusik No. 7), Jongen's incredible Symphonie Concertante, Hendrik Andriessen's wonderful yet neglected Concerto, and so on..) 

Sadly Paulus passed away last year, which I didn't know until recently reading the up to date bio on his website. Here is the biography from the Stephen Paulus page: 

American Composer (1949-2014)

Stephen Paulus was a prolific American composer of classical music. He wrote over 600 works for chorus, opera, orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo voice, concert band, piano, and organ, receiving premieres and performances throughout the world as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2015. His musical style has been described by The New York Times as “lush and extravagant,” and critics from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer Opera News, and many others have praised his work. The New Yorker described him as a "bright, lyrical inventor whose music pulsates with a driving, kinetic energy." He was a recipient of both NEA and Guggenheim Fellowships.

Beginning in 1979, fresh out of graduate school with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, he was commissioned by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and later went on to write a total of 12 operas with performances coming from the Boston Lyric Opera, Washington Opera, Minnesota Opera, Sacramento Opera, The Berkshire Opera Company, and others.

With 55 orchestral works to his credit, Paulus served as a Composer in Residence with the orchestras of Atlanta, Minnesota, Tucson and Annapolis. Conductors who premiered his works include Osmo Vänskä, Christoph van Dohnanyi, Kurt Masur, Sir Neville Marriner, and Leonard Slatkin. Orchestral commissions include a violin concerto for the Cleveland Orchestra and William Preucil, a jazz concerto co-written with his son, Greg, for the Minnesota Orchestra as well as organ concertos for the Phoenix Symphony and the Portland (Maine) Symphony.

Paulus wrote over 400 works for chorus ranging from his Holocaust oratorio, To Be Certain of the Dawn, recorded by Minnesota Orchestra on the BIS label, to the poignant anthem, "Pilgrims' Hymn," sung at the funerals of Presidents Reagan and Ford. Both works were written with his frequent collaborator and friend, librettist Michael Dennis Browne. His works have received thousands of performances and recordings from such groups as The New York Choral Society, L.A. Master Chorale, Robert Shaw Festival Singers, VocalEssence, Dale Warland Singers and countless others. Notable works for vocalist and orchestra include commissions for Thomas Hampson, Deborah Voigt, Samuel Ramey and Elizabeth Futral. Instrumental soloists who have performed Paulus’ works range from Doc Severinsen and Leo Kottke to Robert McDuffie, William Preucil, Lynn Harrell and Cynthia Phelps.

Paulus was a passionate advocate for the works and careers of his colleagues. In 1973 he co-founded the Minnesota Composers Forum, now known as the American Composers Forum, the largest composer service organization in the U.S. He also served as the Symphony and Concert Representative on the board of ASCAP from 1990 until 2014. 

Stephen Paulus passed away in October, 2014 from complications of a stroke, but his music continues to be frequently performed and described by critics as rugged, angular, lyrical, lean, rhythmically aggressive, original, often gorgeous, moving, and uniquely American. The New Yorker characterizes his music as having "impeccable technique and well-honed audience appeal," while The New York Times says "Mr. Paulus often finds melodic patterns that are fresh and familiar at the same time...His scoring is invariably expert and exceptionally imaginative in textures and use of instruments." 

Enjoy this exceptional music everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy Birthday Dmitri Kabalevsky! - The Complete works for Piano & Orchestra - (2 CDs) - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 - 4 - Fantasy - Rhapsody - Michael Korstick, Piano - NDR RadioPhilharmonie, Alun Francis - CPO 2012

Dmitri Kabalevsky was born today, December 30th in 1904. His Piano Concertos are a delight, and often heaps of fun. I can say no more as I should have left for work already, however I just recalled it was his birthday and felt a post was clearly in order :)

-I will provide info when I can. *Also I would like to thank anyone who has left comments the last couple days-I shall get back to you soon!


Kabalevsky-Piano_Concertos[Disc 1]

Kabalevsky-Piano_Concertos[Disc 2]

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hovhaness: "Spirit Murmur" (String Quartets) - Four Bagatelles - String Quartet No. 1 "Jupiter" - Suite from String Quartet No. 2 - String Quartet No. 3 "Reflections on my Childhood" - String Quartet No. 4 "The Ancient Tree" - The Shanghai Quartet - Delos 1994

This is a special Alan Hovhaness disc indeed. Firstly, delving into his chamber music is always exciting, particularly as there is a relatively small amount available (he wrote so much, and thus so much remains unrecorded and unperformed-this is especially true concerning his chamber oeuvre) and secondly, most people tend to think of Hovhaness as a highly original, prolific symphonist above all else (and rightly so, considering the recordings and information available) yet within his chamber music, such as these remarkably beautiful and fine String Quartets as well as the Four Bagatelles, there are also journeys to take that blissfully sweep us away. The compass simply swings and gently directs us away from the symphonic and orchestral traveling on to a terrain that is also extremely magical and steeped in the spiritual world that only Hovhaness can create. These quartets are, for me, immediately recognizable as being pure Hovhaness (the obvious incorporation of certain themes from prior works aside..), I hear it in my mind, entering through my ears-yet also in my 'gut', within my veins.. Hovhaness is one of the very few composers whose art is so sublime that it affects me on every possible level-including the physiological.

The Bagatelles Op. 30 Nos. 1-4, are short, simple pieces, and the name recalls Beethoven's use of the same term for his piano pieces. Written during a time in which Hovhaness was composer in residence with the Seattle Symphony, these fragile pearls create a hypnotic mood, often melodic with waves of gossamer flutterings.

The other quartets, by and large, were written for a group of Hovhaness's friends who met regularly at his home for chamber music readings, readings which also included works by Haydn and Mozart. Composed in the 1930s, String Quartet No. 1, Op. 8 derives its subtitle "Jupiter" from Mozart's symphony of the same name, which also contains a four-voiced fugue on considerable seriousness. "I think of myself as an American Haydn" quips the composer, referring to is study of the classical composers. But it was the Baroque period that prompted his interest in counterpoint. "Fugue form I use strictly" he once remarked. "I apply it to the modes. I like to develop these principles because I feel they are universal. I have always been particularly fond of Bach and Handel". This particular fugue appears on this recording in its original version. It was reworked for orchestra in 1954-1955, at the request of Howard Hanson, into the "Prelude and Quadruple Fugue" which most fans AH will recognize instantly. (and the  fourth moment "Fugue", while not identical to "___ ___", should prove to be extremely familiar! 

Originally consisting of seven short movements, String Quartet No. 2 was complete in June of 1952. The portions included here as the "Suite from Quartet No. 2" bear the titles "Gamelan in Sosi Style" (originally the 5th movement), "Spirit Murmur" (originally the 1st movement), and "Hymn" (originally the 7th movement). The elements of style include pentatonic melodies (Gamelan in Sosi Style), pizzicato ostinato under a free and plaintive melody (Spirit Murmur), and homophony (Hymn).

Dedicated to Gregory and May Kadjrerooni, String Quartet No. 3, 'Reflections on my Childhood' is subtitled "Childhood Fantasia in New England" and is the composer's musical representation of his childhood. It is a lushly lyrical and contemplative work that alternates between episodes of homophony and those marked 'sensa misura' (meaning "without measure"). The beginning of the second movement might bring to mind the beginning/theme of a certain gorgeous and well-known work by Vaughan Williams ;) 

Similarly, String Quartet No. 4, 'The Ancient Tree' subtitled "Under the Ancient Maple Tree", is a musical representation of childhood visits to the country. There grew a "marvelous tree" remarked the composer, "on my uncle's farm in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, where I had many happy times. From under its branches were spectacular views in every direction. Later, lightening struck the tree and destroyed it. This piece is is my memorial to that beautiful tree". Indeed, a certain melancholy permeates the first and third movements, although the third movement is a wonderful, lively dance-like fugue. The work was published by C.F. Peters in 1970.

Composer Zhou Long's "Song of the Ch'in" for string quartet was composed in 1982, and won the first prize in the Chinese National Composition Competition (say it 10 times fast, everyone) in 1985.
-More on this piece later, have to run to work...

Enjoy everyone!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Valentin Silvestrov - Symphony No. 5 - Postludium, Symphonic Poem for Piano and Orchestra - Alexei Lubimov, Piano - Deutches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, David Robertson - 1996 Sony Classical

Hello everyone. I'd like to wish you all the happiest of holidays (it's been busy here-so forgive my late well-wishing!). I wanted to post "holiday music" (had some great British music lined up and also Renaissance works) but family outings made it impossible. As I am currently at my parent's place, I figured I'd post something from the stacks I have stored here. This great Valentin Silvestrov disc was on top of one such pile, plus I have not heard the Symphony No. 5 in years. This was a major release, especially to the composer's benefit. It's still imo the best recording of this important (arguably small-masterpiece I think) symphony. It is oft flowing, with dark, quiet passages that lead to even more menacing moments especially from the brass, and the piano too serves up uneasy utterances. One might think of Schnittke in places, yet this is music that seems to emerge from more of a spiritual realm, albeit one with a tension that tries often to puncture the calm by means of an "accessible atonlity", or at least that's my take on it!  "Postludium", represents a consciously futile attempt on it's composer's part to fill out the model of the Romantic concerto, with it's thematic development, multi-movement structure and virtuosity. Often ominous as well, "Postludium" is here played superbly too.

Valentin Silvestrov was born on September 30th, 1937 in Kiev. He came to music relatively late, at the age of fifteen, and was initially self-taught. From 1955 to 1958 he took courses at an evening music school while training to become a civil engineer: from 1958 to 1964 he studied composition and counterpoint, respectively, with Boris Lyatoshinsky and Lev Revutsky at the Kiev Conservatory. He then taught at a music studio for several years. He has been a freelance composer in Kiev since 1970.

Silvestrov is considered one of the leading representatives of the "Kiev avant-garde", which came to public attention around 1960 and was violently criticized by the proponents of the conservative Soviet musical aesthetic. In the 1960s and 1970s his music was hardly played in his native city; premieres, if given at all, were heard only in Russia, primarily in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), or in the West. His Spectrums for chamber orchestra, for example, was premiered to spectacular acclaim by the Leningrad Philharmonic under the baton of Igor Blashkov in 1965. In 1968 the same conductor gave the premiere of the Second Symphony.

The works of the young composer were awarded the Koussevitzky Prize in 1967, and the Hymn for Six Orchestral Groups earned Silvestrov the festival’s honorary title of 1970.

Despite these successful performances in the West (the composer himself was not allowed to attend them!), Silvestrov's music met with no response in his own country and tended to remain "sub rosa". The avant-gardist tag created obstacles at every turn. For a long time his works were at least heard on the periphery of the official music scene, thanks to the enthusiasm of some performers.

This situation gradually changed with Silvestrov's growing international acclaim. One of his earliest champions was the American pianist and conductor Virko Baley, an aficionado and longtime advocate of contemporary Ukrainian music in general and Silvestrov's works in particular. It was Baley who brought about the Las Vegas performances of Postludium for Piano and Orchestra (1985) and the Symphony "Exegi monumentum" (1988) as well as a Valentin Silvestrov 50th Birthday Concert in New York (1988). Silvestrov became a visiting composer at the Almeida Music Festival in London (1989), Gidon Kremer's Lockenhaus Festival in Austria (1990), and various festivals in Denmark, Finland, and Holland.

Since the end of the 1980s, the number of performances has increased, even in Russia and the Ukraine. Silvestrov's music was heard at the "Alternative" New Music Festival in Moscow (1989), "Five Evenings with the Music of Valentin Silvestrov" (Ekaterinburg, 1992), "Sofia Gubaidulina and Her Friends" (St. Petersburg, 1994), "Sofia Gubaidulina, Arvo Part, Valentin Silvestrov" (Moscow, 1995), and the Silvestrov 60th Birthday Festival (Kiev, 1998). At the latter event, a scholarly conference devoted to Silvestrov was held at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music of the Ukraine (formerly Kiev Conservatory).

During the 1990s, Silvestrov's music was heard throughout Europe as well as in Japan and the United States. In 1998/1999, he was a visiting fellow of the German Academic Exchange Service in Berlin, where three of his works have been premiered to date: "Metamusic" (March 1993), "Dedication" for Violin and Orchestra (November 1993), and the Sixth Symphony (August 2002).

Both in his earlier avant-garde period and after his stylistic volte-face of 1970, Silvestrov has preserved his independence of outlook. In recent decades he has dispensed with the conventional compositional devices of the avant-garde and discovered a style comparable to western "post-modernism". The name he has given to this style is "metamusic", a shortened form of "metaphorical music".

Of all the many translations of the Greek combinative particle meta (post-, supra-, ultra-, extra-, etc.) Silvestrov prefers "supra" or "ultra". He regards metamusic as "a semantic overtone on music". In a certain sense, metamusic is also a synonym for a universal style (a concept that Silvestrov has been using for some time) and a universal language. He understands it to mean "a general 'lexicon' that belongs to no one but can be used by anyone in his or her own way". His work has affinities with the age of the "classical" fin-de-siecle, especially Gustav Mahler, with whom Silvestrov is often compared. The difference is that the lexicon of today is unlimited. This limitlessness forces composers to search for the lost ontological meaning of music as art. In Silvestrov's view, a view that reveals the lyric basis of his art regardless of the period in his career - one of the crucial prerequisites for the continued existence of music resides in melody, which he also regards in an expanded sense of the term. This has found expression in the remarkable role that vocal music has played in his musical output. Silvestrov is the author of two large and many shorter song cycles in addition to isolated songs and cantatas, usually on poems by classical authors. In his relation to poetry, he avoids trying to disturb the music inherent in the poems themselves and attempts to subordinate himself to it. " the salvaging of all that is most essential, namely, melody as a holistic and inalienable organism. Either this organism is there, or it is not. For it seems to me that music is song in spite of everything, even when it is unable to sing in a literal sense. Not a philosophy, not a system of beliefs, but the song of the world about itself, and at the same time a musical testament to existence". This same approach also governs Silvestrov's instrumental music, which is always richly infused with both logical and melodic tension.

I hope everyone enjoys.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sergei Prokofiev, Visions Fugitives - Alexander Scriabin, Sonata Fantasy - Six Studies - Four Pieces - Sonata No. 9 "Black Mass" - Vers la flamme: Poeme - Nikolai Demidenko, Piano - Conifer Classics 1991

Ok so here's one more post before falling in bed (I hate when it gets quiet around here-on my end, that is). This recording also was I enjoying this morning, and it is still to this day my favorite interpretations of all six of the piano works here. Especially Prokofiev's "Visions Fugitives" (Fleeting Visions) which happens to be work that I am very fond of-then again I love almost everything that Prokofiev ever wrote! The Scriabin is played with every bit of fiery passion; Scriabin's music commands such playing, and otherwise his piano works are not worth "attempting". One must have the proper "feel" for the music. Nikolai Demidenko is more than up to the challenge, his playing is nothing short of brilliant!

Here is a review from Gramophone, dating back to the year of the cd release:

This is special—very special. Demidenko clearly has an extraordinary affinity and affection for the music of Scriabin and this is nowhere more apparent than in his extraordinarily beautiful performance of the Second Piano Sonata (Sonata-fantasy, Op. 19). The first movement (surely one of the most gorgeous movements Scriabin ever wrote) lives and breathes in the hands of this young virtuoso. His tone gradation and dynamic nuances are perfectly judged, and the ebb and flow and surging climaxes of what Scriabin called ''a vision of the sea remembered'' are superbly crafted. The Scriabin scholar Donald Garvelmann has described the tender lyrical second subject as expanding ''from bud to full bloom like time-lapse photography''—a poetic simile brought unerringly to life in Demidenko's exquisitely tender and spine-tingling performance. His breathtaking account of the second movement, an exhilarating Presto in 3/4 time, is a subtle blend of precision and poetry, and one constantly marvels at his delicate and expressive pedaling.

The six etudes and the Four Pieces, Op. 51 that follow confirm just how consummate a Scriabin interpreter Demidenko is; each miniature being beautifully crafted and jewelled to perfection. The Ninth Sonata is given a spacious though tightly controlled and cogent performance. Perhaps Demidenko doesn't quite achieve the satanic thrill as some performances—Ponti's Vox recording from the 1970s (nla) or Horowitz's 1965 CBS recording come to mind—but here there is greater subtlety and wider nuance coupled with an impressive overall conception of the work. The remaining Scriabin item Vers la flamme (musically perhaps Scriabin's most extraordinary work) is described marvellously in the excellent accompanying notes (by Ates Orga and Nikolai Demidenko) as ''a single emotional crescendo without pause from the first note to the last''. Indeed, it is an extraordinarily intense and elevating experience that places immense demands on the pianist's resources during its relatively short duration. Again, I could sight pianists who play this with more demonic frisson—Gordon FergusThompson for one in his splendid recording for Kingdom—but Demidenko plays with a burning inner intensity I find hard to resist.

With barely time to recover from the all consuming flames of the Scriabin we are confronted with a performance of Prokofiev's Visions fugitives that I can only describe as magical and compelling. In February I had the pleasure of reviewing Boris Berman's stunning performance on Chandos, but I have to admit that Demidenko's performance stands in a class of its own. Each flighting vision is irridescent with inspiration, and for sheer sonority, colour and tonal variation quite simply the finest on disc. The recording, made at The Maltings, Snape is immaculate and faultless. A remarkable debut recording.

*The files are listed incorrectly, by one track throughout (Scriabin's Sonata Fantasy is in two movements yet the files imported with the second track listed as the third track, i.e. the first mvt of the "Six Studies. Thus, track 4 is actually 3, track 5 is actually 4 and so on; I hope this makes sense-I am very tired! I started changing the names but only corrected tracks one and two as I haven't had time. Please go by the track listing on the back cover!

Enjoy all!


Julian Wachner - "Blue, Green, Red" for Trumpet and Organ - Musica Omnia 2014

The American composer and conductor Julian Watchner (born 1970) wrote "Blue, Green, Red" which is a three-movement piece for Trumpet and Organ on a commission in 2013.  It is infused with the influences of jazz and blues while simultaneously radiating a fine sense of majesty. Wachner paints each movement's respective color with aplomb using the tone colors of the two instruments to great effect. As I was listening to this before work today, I thought it would make a nice albeit small post. 

**If anyone has left comments over the last two days (and I hope you have!!) I thank you and apologize for not replying. I shall do so tomorrow when I have the time.

I hope everyone enjoys.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Le Fils du Requin (Son of the Shark) Soundtrack - Music composed by Bruno Coulais - (String Orchestra and String Quartet unknown - Until I check the credits again!) Vogue Recordings, 1993

It's ultra-rare soundtrack time. "Les Fils du Requin" which translates as "Son of a Shark" was director Agnes Merlet's first film. It is one of my favorite films of all time, and I found it utterly mesmerizing when I first rented it around 1994 (Yes, on good ol' VHS! In some ways I miss the "cassette era", although I suppose it's more nostalgia than anything else - who among us misses the tape tangling, the de-magnetizing/degradation of the tape, or the extra minute it took to rewind or fast forward?? 

After all in the 21st century we have (((no time))) to spare! (Yes, now we can do meaningful things in 5 seconds flat..such as sharing a meme of a hilarious cat, or showing 500 of our closest friends via pixels that we are in the midst of a fantastic steak dinner) I am getting off-topic, I think I'll stop ;) So the film itself has never had an official dvd release, making it extremely hard to find (there are a few bootlegged style dvds one can buy) however not as difficult as the soundtrack; this is about as obscure as it gets, the cd was released and available for a very short time, primarily in France and Belgium.

CD cover to the ultra-rare soundtrack 
This is also one of my absolute favorite soundtracks, and aurally it adorns the cinematic images richly and powerfully. The majority of the music is scored for strings, such as the gorgeous main theme for small string orchestra and plucked cellos. Otherwise the material is chamber music, although there are also chansons, some with string accompaniment-which is a rare thing for a soundtrack. Bruno Coulais composed imho truly exciting string quartet music for the film. With moods swinging from jaunty to despairing, quiet to adrenalized, the quartet adds electrifying, raw emotional power to the film. Unfortunately a good deal of the soundtrack is not offered on this recording (the duration of the disc is only 30 minutes or so), I have no idea why this should be however I find it very frustrating indeed. So to get my fix I watch the entire film :)  After the very first viewing of "Le Fils du Requin" I wanted to contact the composer to find out if the music was excerpts or movements from larger works (I was thinking a string quartet..) as well as to inquire about acquiring the "proper" full-length soundtrack. Needless to say in 1994 one couldn't easily contact a person electronically. I still do not know the answers, as I never tried to contact the composer since (dunno why).

The film follows two young sociopathic brothers Martin and Simon (12 and 10) who live in a gloomy, working-class seacoast town of Lignan. Their father is an abusive alcoholic and we learn that their mother fled leaving them essentially to fend for themselves. The brothers are incorrigible vandals; Martin runs away from reform school, Simon from foster homes, and they always find each other by returning to the seacoast neighborhood (the string quartet is used to depict these scenes of the brothers fleeing, running full speed throughout the late night hours) where their destructive behavior is infamous. They spend their days roaming around without reason, returning to their father's apartment only a few times during the film (they try to find refuge in cargo cars and within the skeletal remains of a crushed and fire-damaged bus that sits by the shore...did I mention that the bus is part of the nautical landscape because in the first scene they steal the vehicle from a lot, drive it towards a cliff and at the last minute jump out before it meets it's demise?). As night falls their marauding heightens as they destroy storefronts, break in to businesses and slingshot-smash the occasional streetlight. Like the film itself, Martin is philosophical, romantic, and highly poetic: he dreams of being the son of a shark; he holds tight to a book about goldfish his mother gave him. In faltering, wild and even violent ways, he tries to court Marie, a neighborhood girl. The younger brother Simon is the more wacked out of the two, and his violent tendencies are stronger (he holds up two young teenage girls at knifepoint threatening them for their clothing as it's winter and they need to layer up-he makes the girls strip and degraded, they run home with an icy rain falling. 

The theme music is often accompanied by beautiful, haunting images of schools of fish swimming. Early on the brothers break into a cinema and manage to get the projector working-it is here that the fish are initially projected onto the screen and the main theme is heard. 

First scene...make sure to read the lyrics to "Nathalie Elle Est Jolie". Children's music?!

Simon forces Marie to visit Martin

Simon is nuts


I wish I could find better captures from the film. There are many visually beautiful scenes.

Martin "rehearsing" for his meeting with Marie

Their detachment from others, self-inflicted isolation and the constant lack of any real existential meaning makes one come to the conclusion that they literally wish that they could join the glimmering school of fish and "disappear".. which is a constant word in their nihilistic vocabulary. I hate to sound like an extreme depressive but this film has always resonated with me (the pain and the poetry, the isolation - as pacified through finding beauty in things....not the behaviors!)

*Here is a section from an interview with Bruno Coulais (from ScoreKeeper) where the music for  "Son of a Shark" is discussed:

SK: I’ve been familiar with your work for more than fifteen years. You are one of those composers I’ve always admired and I was really excited when you were hired to score CORALINE. I was especially thrilled that US audiences might have the opportunity to become more familiar with your work. The first film where I discovered your music was LE FILS DU REQUIN (SON OF THE SHARK, 1993) which I mentioned in my initial review of your score for CORALINE earlier this year. 

BC: Yes, I know! It’s fantastic because for me it is a very vibrant movie and I loved to score it. I was very happy and proud that you noticed this work. 

SK: It’s a beautiful film. To this day, I think it has the two greatest child acting performances of any film I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. The two kids in that movie were fantastic! 

BC: Absolutely! I think the director, Agnès Merlet, is very gifted and this isn’t her best piece, but I think she is able to do new interesting films. I hope so. It’s true…the two kids were fantastic. They were so realistic. It’s a great movie, I think. 

SK: You don’t see children completely absorbing their character like you see in that film. 

BC: It’s true. We were looking at what type of music to compose on this film and it’s funny to bring violence with that kind of instrumentation, you know? Today I think there is a problem with music in most movies because if you don’t use a large orchestra, a lot of producers aren’t happy. It’s a pity that most composers aren’t allowed to be more inventive and to sometimes use fewer instruments to try something new. 

SK: I totally agree. I’m a huge fan of chamber music film scores. They are so rare these days. I think in the past, twenty years ago and even longer, you heard a lot of these interesting instrumental color combinations. Today, orchestration is just a template. I wish there was more variety in instrumentation choices and combinations. 

BC: It’s true and it’s a pity to use music like that. In France, almost all the edits use temp music. For me, it's the same thing because sometimes we do the same music or all the music has the same harmony, orchestrations, or feelings. It's stupid! 

SK: Regarding SON OF THE SHARK, it’s practically impossible to find. It was available on VHS many years ago but quickly went out-of-print. Have you heard any word on any possible DVD release in the future? How about a possible re-release of your score? 

BC: I don’t know. From memory, I think the DVD doesn’t exist, but maybe I can write to find out. 

SK: As somebody in a position to talk about and recommend films…This is one that would be at the top of my list but it’s a film that nobody can see nor hear. It’s very frustrating. It’s such a great film. 

BC: It’s a pity really. I hope that changes very soon. 

Bruno Coulais has written many exceptional scores, as well as composing concert music. There's a nice disc on Avie of his Requiem, I will try to locate my copy. 

Track listing:

1) Nathalie Elle Est Jolie (03:16) 
2) Le Fils Du Requin (02:46) 
3) Quatuor #1 (01:49) 
4) Poisson Va Dans l'Eau (Quatuor) (02:52) 
5) Harmoniques (01:12) 
6) L'Arrestation (01:47) 
7) Quatuor #2 (01:46) 
8) Poisson Va Dans l'Eau (Chanson) (02:51) 
9) Le Quatuor De Nathalie (02:10) 
10) Le Quatuor De La Mer (03:10) 
11) Le Fils Du Requin (Chanson) (02:45) 
12) Poisson Va Dans l'Eau (03:45) 
13) Le Fils Du Requin (Quatuor) (02:42) 

I hope everyone enjoys this music as much as I do.

Le_Fils_Du_Requin(Son of a Shark)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Klezmer Concertos & Encores - Robert Starer, K'li Zemer - Paul Schoenfield, Klezmer Rondos - Jacob Weinberg, The Maypole - Canzonetta - Abraham Ellstein, Hassidic Dance - Osvaldo Golijov, Rocketekya - David Krakauer, Clarinet - Scott Goff, Flute - Barcelona Sym., R-S Berlin, Seattle Sym., Dir. Gerard Schwarz

I was looking earlier today for an old disc on Argo dedicated to the music of the composer Paul Schoenfield. That recording remains missing in action for now, but happily this special program was waiting for me instead (the Argo disc also includes Schoenfield's exciting, musical melting-pot of a concerto, "Klezmer Rondos" which is found here). The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music (founded in 1990...the Milken Family Foundation was founded in 1982) is a treasure trove and it was in the early 2000s that Naxos began releasing these recordings as part of their growing "American Classics" series. The Robert Starer piece "K'li Zemer" and Paul Schoenfield's "Klezmer Rondos" are the most substantial works here, and both are terrific. We also get a work by Osvaldo Golijov, who was much lesser known at the time (the Kronos recording of Golijov's "The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind" wasn't yet released-that would come the following year). 

This collection has much to admire (including musicians such as David Krakauer and Scott Goff!) but as I will only be able to get three hours of rest even if I get in bed now, I will leave the music to do the talking, the dancing and so on ;)

Here are some of the booklet notes:

Robert Starer:  K'LI ZEMER

K'li zemer was commissioned by the celebrated clarinetist and neo-klezmer exponent Giora Feidman, but premiered in 1988 by Peter Alexander, with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, conducted by Leon Botstein.

The term k'li zemer is translated literally from the Hebrew as "instrument of song." But the contraction of the two words centuries ago became the Yiddish klezmer, meaning simply "instrumental musician," although it came to connote wedding band and street band players rather than classical concert performers. The clarinet was one of the chief virtuoso solo instruments in many klezmer bands in 19th- and 20th-century eastern Europe, although it was probably preceded in its dominant role by the violin and, in early bands, even by the flute. Its virtual hegemony as the soloistic instrument associated with so-called klezmer music is probably more a phenomenon of the American experience, beginning with the early eastern European immigrant era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And in the pantheon of famous klezmer band musicians, the roster of renowned clarinet virtuosos looms large, with such accomplished artists as Naftule Brandwein, Dave Tarras, and Shloimeke Beckerman.

Discussing this concerto, Starer explained, "While all the thematic ideas in K'li zemer are my own, they do lean toward the melodies of eastern European Jewish music, with which I have been familiar since my childhood in Vienna and my youth in Jerusalem; the music played at weddings and similar occasions [among eastern European Jews] by small groups of musicians, whose favorite instruments were [often] the violin and clarinet."

K'li zemer is in four movements, with no pause between the last two. Their descriptive titles indicate corresponding moods. T'fi llot (Prayers) begins with solo clarinet in passages of deep meditative character, almost trancelike, as if worldly thoughts and concerns have been set aside during communication with God. Starer described the entrance of the high strings as reflective of a congregation in a synagogue service joining the cantor following his solo recitative. The music gradually increases in intensity, approaching the idealized ecstatic state especially embraced by Hassidim. When the full orchestra enters, led by brass and percussion, it is as if the prayer experience has reached its climax. Gradually the mood winds down to its conclusion, once again in its opening moods.

A dance tune opens the second movement, Rikkudim (Dances), which recurs in the manner of classical rondo form. There is an interesting contrast between old and new, traditional and modern, in Starer's inclusion of a contemporary rhythm (10/8) for one of the dance sections, while in another a typical 19th-century eastern European Jewish wedding or "klezmer" sound is recalled when the clarinet is accompanied by bass and drum alone.

The third movement, Manginot (Melodies), features a long, spun-out melody in the clarinet's soulful low register. Its natural softness is reminiscent of a folk lullaby, which later in the movement is taken over by the English horn, with the clarinet now in contrapuntal figures against it to give the improvisational character of authentic klezmer bands. The finale, Hakdashot (Dedications) — marked allegro moderato — opens with a timpani solo and a dialogue between solo clarinet and full orchestra.

Starer wrote that when he was a student at Tanglewood many years before writing this concerto, Darius Milhaud had advised him always to "invent his own folk melodies." "I listened to him," Starer later wrote with reference to this piece, "and have followed his advice." Yet the overall feeling and character of traditional eastern European melos prevails throughout.

Just prior to the conclusion of the final movement, there is a brief echo of the opening passage of the first, recalling the "prayer" theme.

Paul Schoenfield:  KLEZMER RONDOS

Paul Schoenfield's Klezmer Rondos, written for flutist Carol Wincenc in 1989 on commission from the National Endowment Consortium Commission Grant, was originally conceived for a small accompanying ensemble in order to portray some of the typical eastern European klezmer band idioms in the context of a cultivated concert work in the Western classical mold. The piece was revised and expanded in 1995 for its New York Philharmonic premiere and became a concerto for flute, tenor, and symphony orchestra. The new orchestration calls for a contemporary incarnation of an eastern European klezmer band, with some historically emblematic instruments along with other, atypical ones: E-flat (doubling on B-flat) clarinet; alto (doubling on soprano) and tenor saxophones; trumpet; cornet; trombone; tuba; an elaborate battery of percussion; piano; and strings.

The explosion of interest in America during the past three decades in the musical styles of 19th-century eastern European klezmer bands has accorded special focus to the solo virtuoso clarinet as the carrier of the stereotypical sonorities, flourishes, timbres, and special effects associated with those traditional ensembles. Other instruments, however, such as the violin and the trumpet, were at various times and in various locales at least equal contenders for that role, especially in the earlier stages of the klezmer band format. That the flute often played a major solo role in Europe is less commonly realized — especially in America during the first half of the 20th century, when such ensembles were almost never called "klezmer groups," but simply "wedding bands."

Yet some of the most celebrated eastern European klezmorim were flutists, such as the Polish-Jewish klezmer Michal Jozaf Guznikow (1806–37), so Schoenfield's choice of flute for this concerto is as historically appropriate as clarinet or violin. The flute doubles on piccolo as well here, giving added emphasis to the ecstatic, piercing character of certain idiomatic klezmer band sounds.

Schoenfield has noted that he was especially conscious of the historical role not only of the klezmer, but also of the professional badkhn — the jester, vocal merrymaker, quasi–folk singer, and overall entertainer at Jewish weddings in eastern Europe, especially outside larger cosmopolitan cities, and in western Europe before the modern era. Those badkhonim complemented the function of the instrumental musicians — a tradition dating to pre-medieval eras, as does the role of secular wedding musicians for pre- and post-ceremonial festivities. For a long time after the destruction of the Second Temple, all instrumental music and even secular vocal music was prohibited, as a sign of collective mourning. But so important in Judaism is the mandate for rejoicing at weddings, and assisting the bride and bridegroom to rejoice, that the related festivities were (along with Purim) the first occasions to be excepted by rabbinical authority. Professional badkhonim are even mentioned in the Talmud for other roles. So, although "klezmer" denotes a strictly instrumental musician, Schoenfield's incorporation of a singing role as a paired presentation with klezmer idioms seems legitimately derived from the badkhn tradition.

Klezmer Rondos quotes directly the opening section of a song of the Lubavitcher Hassidim, 'Kol dodi' (Voice of My Beloved), from Song of Songs, attributed to the first Lubavitcher — or Habad — rebbe, Rabbi Shneier Zalman of Liady. A variation is often attributed to rebbes of different dynasties who were Rabbi Zalman's contemporaries. There is also the quotation of a well-known Lubavitcher niggun rikkud (dance tune), as well as other typical idiomatic Hassidic phrases and inflections throughout.

In discussing this work, Schoenfield identified the musical elements as those generally associated (in contemporary perception) with so-called klezmer music, i.e., eastern European modes, Gypsy scales and modes, quasi- and even pseudo-Hassidic songs and dances (often borrowed originally from local non-Jewish folk tunes), marches, Romanian dances, and Yiddish folksong motifs. An original Yiddish song in folk style, to the poem 'Mirele' by Michl Virt, concludes the first of the two movements. The following is a translation of this text:

The daughter of Dvoyrele the storekeeper is called: 
pretty Mirele, Mirele! 
And Dvoyrele says that her only consolation is Mirele. 
The sun shines by day, the moon by night, 
and Mirele stands by the window and laughs.

Mirele is charmingly, deliciously beautiful.  
She has milk-white hands, pearly white teeth. 
The boys become all pale from longing for her, 
but Mirele's heart is colder than ice, 
ay, Mirele, ay Mirele…

Under Mirele's window they all swarm; 
Mirele sees the most handsome young men silent and still. 
The sun shines by day, the moon by night, 
and Mirele stands by the window and laughs. 
Ay Mirele, ay Mirele…

Sighs are flying up to heaven. 
They can neither eat nor sleep. 
Their hearts are bursting from pain and suffering, 
but no one could move the frozen heart of 
Mirele, of Mirele…

The years flow by like water,
your beauty has come to an end, 
your face has already darkened, your head hunched, 
your eyes are bloodshot, and your braid is already gray.

The stars glow, the moon shines by night. 
She stands by the window, saddened and pensive. 
The clouds float hither and thither, 
from Mirele's sad eyes a tear drops, 
Mirele, cry, Mirele, cry Mirele…

(Translation: Eliyahu Mishulovin)

In the program annotations to the New York Philharmonic premiere, critic Bernard Jacobson referred to Klezmer Rondos as representing a sort of pluralism of voices and idioms from the various cultures now heard in America that serve as inspirational sources for American composers. He also astutely observed that some of the related folk inflections (in this case, the so-called klezmer sounds) are, or can be, as much a part of Slavic and Hungarian traditions as of Jewish heritage alone. To those "foreign" origins one can add Romanian and Gypsy precursors. But these elements are used by Schoenfield in an entirely original way, organically integrated and infused within the piece and rising above a mere pedestrian quotation of tunes. That procedure seems to be characteristic of Schoenfield's work in general. One publisher has commented, "He frequently mixes ideas that grew up in entirely different worlds, making them talk to each other… and delighting in the surprises their interaction evokes." That assessment is particularly applicable to this work.

Klezmer Rondos was one of the first serious and successful attempts to employ the eastern European klezmer melos within a classical art music as well as symphonic framework. In this adventure Schoenfield has recalled Bartók's penchant for using authentic Hungarian folk material in symphonic and chamber works, and Gershwin's integration of indigenous American jazz features into classical forms such as the piano concerto and opera.


These short "encore" pieces began their unorchestrated concert lives as folksong and folk dance arrangements, based on authentic Jewish folk material culled from throughout the Pale of Settlement of the czarist empire and later reworked in their present form during Weinberg's (and possibly Simeon Bellison's) American years. Though Weinberg became a sophisticated and prolific composer of sacred as well as Jewish-related secular art music, his initial introduction to Jewish music of any kind was via just such folk music.

However, like most of his bourgeois, urbanized, and classically oriented colleagues and fellow composers associated with the Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volksmusik (Society for Jewish Folk Music), Weinberg did not come to these folk idioms firsthand. Rather, he encountered these genres from an intellectual perspective and an academic vantage point during his Moscow years. This exposure and interest also predated his years in Palestine, where his focus shifted from European to Near Eastern melos, and where, even though much Hebrew Palestinian song was based on Russian melodic elements, these particular idioms "of the Pale" were far removed from the "new" musical direction and aura associated with the forward-looking Zionist cultural ideals. Indeed, Weinberg's inspiration to create such pieces is testament to the mission as well as the influence of the Gesellschaft and its orientations.

Canzonetta — from a set of pieces entitled Bobe mayses (Old Wives' Tales) — and The Maypole were both arranged originally for clarinet and piano by the renowned clarinetist Simeon Bellison, who was prominent in the Jewish national art music movement in Russia even after the Bolshevik Revolution and who later was first clarinetist in the New York Philharmonic for twenty-eight years. Weinberg subsequently created these orchestral versions in the United States, presumably for Bellison to perform.

Canzonetta has transparent echoes of both an old Yiddish folk tune and a Hassidic melody, cleverly yet simply developed and intertwined without masking their identities.

The Maypole title is strange for a piece of eastern European Jewish connection, since the Maypole connotes the original English and European May Day ceremony welcoming the spring, with its traditional dances around the Maypole drawn from earlier pagan rituals. It is possible that this piece was intended to refract the Maypole dances through a Jewish sonic prism, alternating a sprightly springlike tune with a meditative clarinet passage that could conceivably portray the stately dance connected with the crowning of the May Queen. Alternatively, one might be tempted to draw some parallel to May Day's late role as a rallying occasion for the international labor movement and then the communist world — except that the politically oriented May Day holiday originated in America and the Maypole was not part of its ceremonies. Nor is the musical idiom or character of this piece in any way connected to songs of the Bundists or to the Jewish Labor Movement in the czarist empire (nor were Weinberg or his middle-class circle).

Both pieces are permeated with some of the prominent clarinet idioms associated with 19th-century eastern European klezmer practice, which are heavily dependent on the specialized skill of the soloist. The melodic features, however, are more related to Hassidic song and dance than to the repertoire of klezmer bands. These are miniatures — not truly representative of Weinberg, who wrote so many large-scale sacred and secular works. In fact, they are not even listed in his published catalogue, and were found only in manuscript in the Bellison collection in Israel. They are nonetheless charming and well-crafted pieces, eminently suited for encore performances.

Abraham Ellstein: HASSIDIC DANCE

This is but one of many examples of American Jewry's general attraction to the cultural and aesthetic parameters of Hassidism and Hassidic folklore, not necessarily related to theological considerations or commitments. That there are numerous pieces of precisely the same title by various American composers is itself evidence of the cultural and aesthetic impact of Hassidism upon the American Jewish imagination, even among circles otherwise bordering on hostility to Hassidic orthodoxy. For neither Ellstein nor his intended audience were Hassidic. Nor does a piece such as this purport to represent faithfully an authentic Hassidic dance ritual as enacted within the various sects' cloistered environments — for those dances, whether joyous or meditative, are deeply religious ceremonies. Rather, the piece captures the general Hassidic dance flavor, within a stylized, even romanticized portrait.

The principal melody, inflected with perceived eastern European folk style, gives Jewish credibility to the piece, but its various modern orchestral gestures and moments of classical development (augmentation, permutation, etc.) raise it to a higher artistic level.

As with the three Weinberg encore pieces recorded here, this Hassidic Dance exhibits a fusion of Hassidic-type (but probably Ellstein's own) melody on traditional models with unrelated klezmer band clarinet effects and idiomatic nuances. In addition, even this small piece shows us a flash of Ellstein the brilliant orchestrator — as well as the potentially classical composer.

Osvaldo Golijov: ROCKETEKYA

Rocketekya was commissioned for the twentieth anniversary of New York City's Merkin Concert Hall. Golijov wrote it for clarinetist David Krakauer, violinist Alicia Svigals, electric violist Martha Mooke, and double bassist Pablo Aslan, who played the premiere in 1998 and are also heard in the present recording. The composer has written the following remarks about the piece:

I was asked to write a celebratory fanfare. But then I thought it would be interesting to write a different sort of celebratory piece, and I had an idea: a shofar blasting inside a rocket—an ancient sound propelled towards the future. So, that is Rocketekya: a shofar blasting its t'ki'a (one of its prescribed pattern calls) inside a rocket. In the middle of its journey, the rocket meets a Latin band in orbit…. I wrote the piece for four musicians I love and admire, and dedicated it to Vicki Margulies, who was the hall's artistic director at the time.

The use of various traditional klezmer band clarinet inflections and timbres gives the piece an overall feeling of a fusion of some of the typical sounds of 19th-century eastern European klezmorim, contemporary Latin rhythms and flavors, and postmodern auras and sensibilities. But despite its futuristic impulse, the klezmer band idioms and emblematic eastern European intervals predominate and permeate the piece.

Neil W. Levin

Enjoy everyone!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy 245th Birthday to the Immortal One

I am a huge fan of the fantastic realism created by artist Kris Kuksi. Often it's quite dark and redolent of rococo
                                 and gothic styles. Click on the image for a more magnificent view.