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Category: concerts to ponder

threnodies: to the victims of Hiroshima, of the Holocaust, and to the Canadian North

The Scream, 1893 - Edvard Munch

       The Scream (1893) 

             Edvard Munch

                    ____________

before we leave too far behind the 
anniversary of the annihilation of
Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, let me 
introduce you to a piece that 
purports to pay it homage

if I didn’t bring it up before, it’s 
because the date was wrong, but
especially because the work 
offends me, the only thing I like
about it is the title, a thing of 
beauty, poetry – Threnody to the
Victims of Hiroshima – a threnody
is a song of lamentation for the 
dead, which worked for me, this 
one, no further than its title

there is nothing remotely 
reminiscent of the tragedy
throughout the piece, it is a 
collection of academic exercises,
pretensions, I think, without a 
heartbeat 

let me compare Steve Reich’s 
threnody to the victims of the 
Holocaust, the other signature 
Twentieth Century atrocity, his 
Different Trains“, a work in three 
movements, America – Before the 
War”, “Europe – During the War”, 
and After the War”, for string 
quartet and tape, upon which 
Reich has recorded interviews 
with people relating impressions 
from before the warduring, and 
after, according to the movements

the quartet, you’ll note, must keep 
time with the tape, and in this 
production visuals have been 
effectively added 

Glenn Gould had done something 
like this several years earlier,
incidentally, in his The Idea of 
North“, a threnody itself to that 
very idea, a masterpiece, a
groundbreaking transcendental
work of the imagination, with 
overlapping voices, which is to 
say human counterpointthough 
without string quartet

you’ll note that distressing tonalities
affect throughout this other, much 
more successful however, tribute
but the different rhythms of the 
recurrent, which is to say minimalist, 
rails keep you emotionally, as it were, 
on track

Different Trains is appropriately,
and profoundly, commemorative, 
not to mention unforgettable 

Richard

“My Romance” – Carly Simon

hot-jazz-1940.jpg!Large

       Hot Jazz (1940) 

               Franz Kline

                        _____

in this video of one of her concerts, 
Carly Simon tells the story of how
when she told her special guest on
the program, Harry Connick Jr., that
he was born the same year as 
Sgt. Pepper, he answered, Sgt. Who

   “Harry, you were born the same year that 
                     Sgt. Pepper came out”, she said
   “Sgt. Who”, he answered

the same had happened to me when  
I’d told someone, a sprite, ten years 
younger, don’t ask, about my 
admiration for Susan Hayward
Richard, he asked, who’s Susan 
Hayward, to my utter consternation

I mean, Susan Hayward

you might not know who Carly Simon
is, nor even Sgt. Pepper, but the story 
is that those who once had been our 
very idols fade and become question 
marks in the eyes of the following 
generations

you might not either know who Harry 
Connick Jr. is, but listen to both of 
them here, Carly and Harry, put 
together an entertainment enough 
to turn an otherwise lazy hour into 
an unmitigated enchantment

Richard

“First Piano Concerto” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

concerto-1975

      “Concerto (1975) 

               Jack Bush

                         _____

if there’s a piece that defines Classical music
for most people, encapsulates it, even for 
those who aren’t especially interested in 
Classical music, that piece would be, I think,
Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto

strictly speaking Tchaikovsky isn’t a Classical
composer, but a Romantic one, the Classical 
period in music having been transformed 
some years earlier into the Romantic period
by none other than Beethoven1770 – 1827, 
perhaps the most transformative composer 
of all time – Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto
was written in the winter of 1874 – 1875, pretty
well at the end of the Romantic Period, which 
then ceded to the Impressionists, just to get 
our periods right

what the Romantic Period added to the 
Classical Era was emotion, sentiment – note 
the use of tenuto, for instance, beats being 
drawn out, languidly, longingly, for pathos – 
what it maintained was the structure, the 
trinity of Classical conditions, rhythm, tonality, 
and repetition, which is why even the most 
uninformed listener will usually be able to 
sing along throughout the entire performance
the blueprint is in our collective blood, in the 
DNA of our culture

to remain present a piece must remain 
relevant to the promoter, an interpreter must
have reason to play it, substance surely plays 
a big part, but technical considerations play 
perhaps an even greater role towards a great
work’s longevityChopsticks“, for instance, 
is good but it won’t fill a concert hall  

unless, of course, it’s with Liberace

the “First Piano Concerto” of Tchaikovsky is 
the Everest of compositions, emotionally
complex and technically forbidding, nearly 
impossible, it would seem, were it not for 
those few who’ve mastered its treacherous 
challenges, conquered its nearly indomitable  
spirit

Van Cliburn put it on the map for my 
generation, with a ticker tape parade in 
New York to confirm it

Martha Argerich later on kept the ball rolling

and now Behzod Abduraimov, a mere youth, 
born in 1990 in UzbekistanTashkent, delivers 
by far the best performance I’ve seen since,
giving it new life for the new millenium
 
behold, be moved, be dazzled, be bewitched  

Behzod Abduraimov, watch

Richard

“Symphonie espagnole” – Édouard Lalo

the-treachery-of-images-this-is-not-a-pipe-19482-jpglarge

          La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe)
           / “The Treachery Of Images (This Is Not A Pipe) – (1948) 

                    René Magritte

                     ___________

                                                     paintings don’t lie,
                                                          music doesn’t either,
                                                              only words do 

                                                                                me

in this age of fake news, maybe the 
following piece of musicological 
misinformation shouldn’t be so 
surprising, yet there it is, flagrant,
disturbing and disorienting, and 
apparently irreversible

Édouard Lalo‘s Symphonie espagnole“, 
however acclaimed as such, is still to my
mind, and to several others concerned, a
misnomer, the Symphonie is actually a 
concerto, and can’t think for moment 
why Lalo would’ve called it otherwise

a symphony is an aggregation of sounds
to produce melodies and harmonies, a 
concerto spotlights a soloist, who 
generally determines the direction the 
music will follow

or soloists

once you have a concerto, you can no 
longer call it a symphony, it would be 
to disregard a defining element, like 
calling someone a girl once she’s 
become princessfor instance, 
complete with glass slippers and a 
tiara, it would be at the very least 
disrespectful, if not out and out 
dishonest

Lalo here is, however, magisterial, all 
five movements glitter with, for the 
violin, utterly magical moments, the 
violinist weaving wizardry minute by 
electrifying minute

after such a turn, one must allow 
Lalo to call his opus what he will,
I guess, forgive him his linguistic
trespasses

listen

Richard

psst: I have not accorded Bartók the same leniency
        for his Concerto for Orchestra, 
        however – the Lalo dilemma but in reverse,  
       an orchestra is by definition not a soloist 
         – for I’ve always found Bartók inscrutable, 
         sound and fury, here specifically, though 
         uncharacteristically scrutable in this 
         particular instance, signifying nevertheless,  
         I’m afraid, still nothing, no underlying animus, 
         philosophical, or existential, underpinning 
         but to kill time, a tragic and disqualifying, 
         flaw, unfortunately, in my, however humble  
         everopinion 

         but you be the judge

the wall

colors-for-a-large-wall-1951.jpg

   “Colors For A Large Wall (1951)

       Ellsworth Kelly

          __________

talking about walls, isn’t it only a few
years ago we were tearing one down

here is Roger Waters and several
other outstanding guest artists, in 
very Berlin, July 21, 1990, celebrating 
its demise

a little earlier, C***mas, 1989, only
moments after East Germans had 
been allowed to visit West Germany,
essentially giving way to the 
dissolution of the barrier, Leonard
Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony, changing the 
word “joy” from the title of Schiller’s 
poem, appropriated by Beethoven 
for his great fourth choral movement, 
to “freedom”, giving new meaning, 
and new life, and new inspiration,  
to Beethoven’s always resounding 
nevertheless masterpiece

how soon we’ve forgotten

Richard

psst: let’s paint the wall

“Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave”

hank-williams-1

                        Hank Williams

                              _______

halfway through The Last Picture Show
recently, a celebrated movie from the early 
Seventies I was watching, about the early
Fifties, I was sidetracked by the Hank  
Williams soundtrack till I was out and out 
stopped by its fervent Cold, Cold Heart 

I put the film on pause 

another love before my time, I warbled,
made your heart sad and blue, and so 
my heart is paying now, I wallowed, for 
things didn’t do, in anger unkind words
were said, I rued, that made the teardrops 
start, why can’t I free, your doubtful mind, 
I fretted, and melt your cold, cold heart 

but I wanted to hear Hank Williams do
it too, live if I could, and lo and behold 
got it

but listed as an option among other 
options nearby was also a longer  
feature purporting to be a 
representation of a concert he 
never  gave the night, December 31, 
1952, he died, the movie is called,
not inappropriately, Hank Williams:
The Show He Never Gave

the actor who plays Williams steps
right into his shoes, he’ll break your 
heart, you’ll need a lot of Kleenex

one of he best film biographies I’ve 
ever seen 

watch it

Hank Williams died of a heart attack
on the night of December 31, 1952

he was 29

may he rest in everlasting peace

Richard

in recognition of Prince

ladies-in-the-rain.jpg!Large

Ladies In The Rain (1893-1894) 
 
         Maurice Prendergast
 
                _____________
 
 
trying to find a musical representation

of me for a love recently lost, but with
whom the interaction is nevertheless
cordial, for a letter I was writing him,

cordially, and which I would sign me,

I hit upon Prince’s Purple Rain“, I never  
meant to cause you any trouble, never 
meant to cause you any pain, perfect, I 
thought, I only want to see you laughing 
in the purple rain
 
how else can one love
 
I remembered that Prince was a hero, 
an angel, a prophet, an epiphany of the 
late Twentieth Century, some voices are
indelible, incandescent, illuminating,
avatars of love
 
 
note the pace of Pink Floyd, the 
hypnotic, messianic even, tempo,  
note the elements of the prophet
 
 
 
Richard

 

“Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” – Rachmaninov‏

portrait-of-the-composer-sergei-rachmaninov-1925.jpg!Large

 
                                      Konstantin Somov
 
                                              _________
 
 
no one plays Rachmaninov better than
Rachmaninov, of which we’ve got aural
representations though no visual live
performances
 
but here’s a Rhapsody on a Theme of 
Paganini to knock your socks off, in 
all its kinetic, electrifying energy
 
you might remember Daniil Trifonov
from my coverage of the XVth 
who has gone on to achieve a 
stunning international reputation, 
entirely, I submit, deservedly
 
watch him set the piece on fire, at 
pace I find faster than most, with 
nevertheless all the requisite 
dexterity, indeed prestidigitation,  
necessary to weave the intricacies 
of Rachmaninovian sound into 
apposite magic, that magic 
Rachmaninov would surely ‘ve 
looked for
 
check them both out
 
 
Richard

“Easter Oratorio”, BWV 249 – Johann Sebastian Bach‏

ascension-of-jesus.jpg!Blog

 
                                    El Greco
 
                                      ______
 
 
                        for Martha and Chris, who still go to Easter 
                        Mass, and whom Martha calls therefore  
                        relics 
 
                        and for Staf and Annemie, who live in 
                        presently beleaguered Belgium, and 
                        who must, at this time of distress, 
                        need our prayers
 
 
having long ago lost track of the Christian
calendar, I only this week found out 
Sunday ‘d be Easter, therefore Friday
Good Friday, not that this would much 
change my daily routine, but it set me 
perusing pertinent art, I knew I could 
count on Bach for an oratorio, and sure 
enough I found it
 
an oratorio, as I earlier explained, is an
opera without sets or costumes, usually
associated with religious services, but 
Bach had one for every Sunday and 
every Christian feast day
 
after an instrumental introduction, 
reminiscent of Handel, I thought, 
Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” slips into a
lovely adagio, notable for its exquisite
oboe obligato, where the innocence 
and purity of that wind defines the 
movement
 
the ceremonial pomp of the earlier 
section then returns to include 
chorus expressing triumph, the 
realization that the Lamb of God 
has returned
 
but soon enough, Mary, the soprano 
of a quartet of singers, each of the 
four singing according to their own – 
alto, Mary Magdalene, tenor, Simon 
Peter, bass, John the Evangelist  
voices, and accompanied by an 
utterly transcendental transverse 
flute, sings 
 
      “My soul, the spice that embalms 
       you shall no longer be myrrh. Only
       a crown of laurels can soothe your 
       anxious longing.”  
 
and knocks your socks off 
 
 
this week at market, stuffing my 
organic red pepper and a bag of 
handcrafted chips, barbecued,
designer, into my bagat their 
express counter, collecting my 
coins, my receipt, my change 
purse, my wallet, and last but not 
least, of course, my self, I sensed 
something of mine drop, looked 
dutifully aroundcould find 
nothing, wondered, and made to 
go
 
excuse me, sir, I heard behind me, 
you dropped something
 
a little boy, an urchin, blond hair, 
blue eyes, right out of Charles 
Dickens, I thought, eight maybe,
nine, held out a quarter, apparently 
mine
 
why thank you, I replied, enchanted
 
and you know what, I asked, I’m 
going to give this back to you, and 
put the quarter back into his hand
 
the last time I did something like 
that, I saw an angel, I remembered
but that’s another story
 
thank you, he said back, gleaming
with the maturity of his interaction, 
though I’m not sure he wasn’t 
himself in fact also a very angel
 
 
later I thought I should’ve sent him 
for a crème brûlée, a piece of carrot 
cake, a pastry, or something, and 
berated myself for the paucity of 
my recompense
 
 
but there is a link to Easter in my 
tale, the idea of hope, revival, 
regeneration, in the possibility of
goodness reentering the world, a
task inherited by the children, and 
whom we must not lead astray
 
apart from its more traditional 
associations, for perhaps the less 
observant, people of other creeds 
and faiths, if Easter means anything 
still, or has ever, it is about just that, 
hope, revival, regeneration, nor must 
we ourselves betray those ideals   
 
happy Easter 
 
 
Richard

Piano Concerto no 1, opus 15‏ – Beethoven

 "A New Year's Nocturne, New York" - Childe Hassam

A New Year’s Nocturne, New York (1892)

Childe Hassam

_________

for the past several days, I’ve been
humming the first two movements
of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto,
the opus 15, being carried away by
the exhilarating energy of its
initial, adamant and authoritative,
dazzling and irresistible “allegro
con brio”,
followed by the melting
beauty of its contrasting counterpart,
the meditative and enchanting “largo”,
the final “rondo – allegro sostenuto”
is coming along, but by that time I’m
out of wind and lost in wonder at
Beethoven’s already accomplishment,
the final movement is like the
strawberry on top once I’ve had the
prerequisite cheesecake, verging on
anticlimactic, however thrilling

his First is actually his second piano
concerto, written in 1797, but
composed after his opus 19, written
in 1787, not published until 1801,
either way a new voice was evident

Beethoven’s music was written for
a larger stage, no longer the salons
of the aristocracy, nor, for that matter,
the pews of the fragmenting Christian
Church, the growing middle class
was becoming able and willing to
spend and splurge on frivolities and
entertainment, theatres, concert halls
were popping up, and prospered

Beethoven had to dazzle a
heterogeneous crowd, no longer
just a circle of familiars

listen

and watch, Leonard Bernstein is
spectacular

this is my New Year’s Eve Vienna
performance no matter who is
doing it there this year, nor, for
that matter, that it wasn’t even
performed for New Year’s Eve,
for me, it catches fire, inspires,
it is my New Year’s resolution

I hope it’ll do the same for yours

cheers

Richard