Saturday, October 24, 2009

Felt, not merely Heard

I'm fascinated by the art of classical composition, even though I don't know much about the true aspects beyond mere development. I'm often in awe of composers for their ability to hear in their mind's ear what the composition would be without actually hearing, this is such a unique ability.

American music composed by American composers, that is the theme this weekend at the PSO. The quintessential of those composers is Copland. The PSO performed the two selections by Copland beautifully! Additionally, John William's horn concerto with soloist William Caballero was a great new piece for me to hear. The English Horn is such a mellow and pleasing instrument, and this was an inspiring composition to highlight the horn as well as the percussion (see photo). These elements all brought a smile to my face.

I'd say the penultimate of the very best compositions by an American composer must be the Adagio by Barber, in that you would present this last in the credits, as if making a special guest appearance of an important piece, but not to imply that this piece comes last or even next to last, but that it is indeed special. I place it high above most compositions because of its romantic and stirring emotional flavor. It is classical in nature, and for me has the classical European feel to it; and it is quite simple in form, yet stirring and powerful. This all-strings piece completely filled Heinz Hall with such verve and strident harmonious ardor, it's eagerness and enthusiasm completely overwhelmed my sense of dulcet euphoria, and this only begins to describe the elation of a sound that transcends hearing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Words about music, Music about words

Last Saturday's PSO concert at Heinz Hall began with Leonard Slatkin, conducting Peter Mennin's Concertato for Orchestra, titled "Moby Dick". The forces of the sea were fabulously brought out in this movement. Yet for me, it was like the beginning of a great symphony, only to end too soon, without the rest of the movements, and that left me hanging for more.

But I was not disappointed, because the next piece was the world premier of Richard Danielpour's A Woman's Life. Soprano Angela Brown had such a beautiful voice singing the words of the poetry of Maya Angelou, the 7 texts which make up the cycles of a woman's life. It fittingly ended with the mention that what she really needed was a friend, no more, no less.

Now back to my thoughts of a metaphor. The first work, Moby Dick, seemed to be the stereotypical 'Man's Life'. So what would be more fitting than to combine that work with this premier of a Woman's Life. And indeed they did seem to fit together quite well, musically.

During the performance I must admit that I couldn't understand the words, but the voice was beautiful, and I rarely can understand the words in operatic music. Consider that Beethoven's ninth symphony, the choral parts are in German, and although I know a bit of German language, I don't understand the words, when it is performed, and that too is beautiful music.

After intermission came the beautiful and masterful Jean Sibelius Symphony No. 2. This was a perfect finale for the evening, a broadly sweeping symphony that indeed had moments that could have been set at sea, and others perhaps on land. The proverbial stormy sea being a setting fit for a man, and perhaps the gentle heartwarming homecoming of a land setting being the woman's home and life. Now if those two were combined, the man and the woman would unite and be as one, and somehow the fourth movement suggested this to me, in no uncertain terms -- several dramatic themes came together and formed a singular motif that provided a thoroughly enjoyable ending.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Marvin Hamlisch & The Informant!

Last Saturday, October 10 at 2 pm at the Waterworks Cinema, Marvin Hamlisch and the PSO hosted a special screening of "The Informant!", for which Marvin wrote the original score. Prior to the screening Marvin discussed many aspects of his composition and lead a Q&A with the audience who where there to see this special screening.

I took this photo while he autographed a poster of the movie "The Informant."

For me, he opened up a world of introspection into the aspects of the film score that accompanies movies; ideas I had never really thought of before. First, he discussed the notion of the two different kinds of film score, underscore, and open air. Underscore is written to be played at a slightly lower volume played while the actors are talking; the other being music played out in the open.

Apparently this movie had 53 separate 'cues' or separate pieces of music which are played throughout the movie. He indicated that at first, it took him a few weeks of thinking about how he would start, especially considering the movie is a comedy, and the music would be a key aspect in that role.

Mr. Hamlisch indicated that he hadn't written a score for 10 year before this, but now he might consider doing more.

One person asked if he uses modern computers to compose: He indicated that he doesn't even read email. He said there is nothing wrong with that technique for composing, but that he does it the old fashioned way: pen and paper, pen so that he can scratch out sections that don't work out.

Someone asked if he had seen the movie (perhaps meaning the movie WITH the music), but he immediately exclaimed, humorously, that he'd seen it 1000 times. He basically plays the movie before him, just like a DVD, so that he can think of ideas to compose the music, and ways to make sure that the scene, and the music are the correct length. For him, composing film score was sort of like that saying, purportedly of Michelangelo that goes: well, to make an elephant, I take away from the stone, and what remains, that's the elephant.

After his talk, we all saw the movie. What an enhanced experience to know the kinds of things to listen to after hearing his talk. Indeed the music really did make the movie!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Inspired by Music

I, of course, was inspired by music. Classical music never fails to entice my soul, to gratify my heart, to enthrall, and to bring sheer waves of delight. Whenever I hear it, I become lost -- in a good way. Suddenly transfixed as if phase shifted into another universe, the time space continuum of the symphonic music makes it easy to forget the dull mundane aspects of whatever was, and thrusts this new aspect upon me, and I smile, and I listen, and I hear.

peach pollen explosionThis season the Pittsburgh Symphony has a theme for many of its concerts entitled "Inspired by Nature." What a fitting description, to me, of all of the classical forms of music. This evenings performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons was the first of these compositions that adheres to this theme. The seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter are deliciously represented by this music, it's easy to hear the specific parts and how they may represent each season in turn. The experience of this concert live at Heinz Hall was especially pleasing. The sound is so much better, and many of the bases and lower tones were brought out in crisp and clear fashion, with dimensional effects unrealized in audio recordings. This showcased the best of the PSO string section, and one Harpsichord.

Before that was a fantastic performance of the Variations on a Rococo Theme. Anne Martindale Williams was phenomenal on the cello. Her technical mastery of this piece composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was breathtaking.

The concert opened with the Star Spangled Banner, since this was the new opening night, the previously scheduled Beethoven 9th was postponed because of the recent G20 conference held in Pittsburgh. It was great to see the musicians perform this great piece standing.

Then we were treated to a splendid Sinfonietta by Francis Poulenc. What a treat for me, I have not heard this before tonight. This was my favorite part of the evening. This is such a fascinating piece of music with four movements. Each movement, to me, seemed to also be 'inspired by nature.' I envisioned this music as a chase, with perhaps a cat chasing a butterfly, in the first movement. Each time the cat would bat at the butterfly, it would flutter by and escape the sweeping arc of the paw, again and again. The second movement I envisioned another form of chase, this time a fox was after a rabbit. It would dart and weave, and the sly fox was quick but could not reach his target. The music seemed to have instruments juxtaposed in 1/16 time offset against each other, as if that were the fox darting, leaping and just missing the bunny. Then the third movement slowed, to find in my imagination perhaps a lazy river, with swans and all sorts of flora floating by, now the scene reveals an island with maidens idling in lush green fields. By the fourth movement the chase is back on, only this time it is a dance which eventually becomes a ballet scene. The men and the women are ballet dancers and the two main characters eventually spin together in the finale. Thy float up into the sky as we hear the performance end with a sprightly spin of many pixies and merry maidens in a concluding pirouette.

Truly inspired by nature, the nature of music, in my minds eye and my listening imagination.
The Red Carpet Treatment