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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Too Twisted or Twisted Too

(The spell check is busted!)

They put a mic in your hand and a film crew behind you. You are told to go into the crowd and ask people, random passersby, quesitons that will lead to pithy remarks promoting Twisted 2. What would you ask people? I have to do this on Frday, so any pointers would be helpful.

Central Ohio mavens may remember Twisted, a wonderful production from the Columbus Symphony, Opera Columbus and Ballet Met, given at the Ohio Theatre two years ago.

Now, it's time for Twisted 2:

Ohio Theatre

September 22 7.30 pm
September 23 8 pm
September 24 8 pm
September 25 8 pm

The original production sounded wonderul of course, but my God it looked fantastic, too.
I was the host/emcee/circus barker, clad in a tux expertly fitted on portly me by the wonderful Ballet Met wardrobe staff. Only one snarky remark about my avoirdupuis (awesome word, yes?) and that NOT from wardrobe, those tactful and gifted people.

Twisted 2 opens with the Ride of the Valkyries with me on a white horse and chain mail...not. There'll be selections from Schonberg's Verklarte Nacht, music by Smetana and Haydn, selections form Turandot, Barber of Seville, Carmen and Porgy and Bess.

Even better, the fabulous Columbus Symphony conducted by Rossen Milanov-I'm agog to hear them in wagner, finally-and nothing-but beautfiul Ballet Met, thank you Edwaard Liang. Opera Columbus's Peggy Kriha Dye formulates the perfect program to have the ommunity humming-literally-and returning to the box office.

Me? I get to open and close the show. Hello, thank you slam bam thank you all. What's different is the video produciton. This Friday I repair to the Gateway plaza near OSU, WOSU's expert TV staff in charge, to ask you kiss a tenor?...could you do a jetee?....what the hell (I have to say hell, not ...well...) is a jetee?....Can you name three operas, not counting Phantom.....If I told you the orchesrta includig a crumhorn, maracas and a virginal, would you be inclined to go?

I'm told CD 10-something (are there other radio stations in Columbus? I wasn't aware) will be at a beer garden at the Gateway Friay night. That'll make for intersting ambient sound, but a liquored up random passerby is not a bad thing.

C'mon down to Gateway plaza near campus Friday night around 6 and be part of the show. We'll
talk aobut the Columbus Symphony as a perfect date night, how in most operas everyone shtups the wrong person and everyone usually dies-great music, too-and how the ballet looks more beautiful than anything you've seen this side of a newborn's tush.

See you Friday. More important, see you in the Ohio Theatre in September.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A New Blog to Check Out

This blog emphaiszes equal opportuniy for all.
It's a passionate rerad, updated often.
Of interest to anyone who has ever been told 'No' despite best efforts.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Columbus Symphony May 20, 21 2016: Latin America! Piazzolla, Golijov, Ginastera

Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony in two concerts of music by composers born in Argentina, Golijov, Ginastera and Piazzolla in the Southern Theater, Friday May 20 and Saturday May 21 at 8 PM. Violinist Bella Hristova joins the Orchestra in Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

Pre-concert talks one hour before each concert. This is the 2015-2016 season finale.

Osvaldo Golijov
Tango! The duple meter dance craze that European and african traditions sent to Argentina in the mid 19th century! I've had more than one friend born in Latin American tell me that all music made south of he border is intended to be danced. Latins don't sit and gaze into space in concert hall.Their music came from Africa, from Spain and from Italy. Rhythm and color are more important that tunes or contemplation.This weekend's Columbus Symphony concerts feature music by the master of the nuevo tango, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), by his teacher Alberto Ginastera (1916-1982) and by Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)

Of the three,  Piazzolla became a Latin American wide sensation, a popular star. He was the true successor of Carlo Gardel, whose sexy tango singing made him a heart throb on three continents before his untimely death in a place crash in 1935. Indeed, the young Piazzolla was encouraged by Carlo Gardel, who went so far as to invite the boy to tour, and its a very good thing Astor didn't get on that plane.

Piazzolla was born in Argentina but spent his formative years in New York.  He was known as a brawler, a ladies man and as an exemplary musician. Not wishing to by typed as a popular entertainer, Piazzolla studied with Ginastera and later went to Paris to work with Nadia Boulanger. That auguste lady, mentor to Stravinsky and Copland, was unimpressed until he played her some original tangos. The lady sent him packing. There is your future. Go and pursue it. He did.

Piazzola wasn't afraid to incorporate the rhythms and the sounds of the waterfront dives of New York and Buenos Aires into his music. Estancios Portenas The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,  was written between 1966 and 1970. The composer did not intend the works to be played together. He enjoyed performing and riffing on these pieces with his own ensemble, with guitar, piano, rhythm, sometimes flute and always Pazzolla on the bandoneon.

The four seasons were knitted together into one piece after Piazzolla's death by Leonid Desnyatikov.   You'll hear delightful references to Vivaldi's Four Seasons buried in Piazzolla's fire and smolder. I'll bet Astor Piazzolla, who wanted to study counterpoint with Boulanger, would have been delighted.

Osvaldo Golijov, of Argentine, Jewish and Arab background, wrote Last Rounds  for string ensemble in 1991. He had just heard of Astor Piazzolla's debilitating stroke, leading to his death the following year. Piazzolla was a known pugilist, hence the title 'Last Rounds' in his honor. For Golijov, Piazzolla had been a national hero, and his death marked an ending point,  a "we'll never see the likes of him again" in Argentina's music. The second section of Last Rounds, lentissimo,  subtly quotes Carlos Gardel's Mi Buenos Aires Querido.

Alberto Ginastera
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) became an international figure. His opera Don Rodrigo opened the New York State Theatre at Lincoln Center in 1966, starring a chubby Spanish tenor called Placido Domingo. Ginastera came to the U.S. in 1945 to study with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. He was always very good at 'netwroking' and wasn't shy about self promotion. Ginastera often used the dance rhythms of Latin America in the most modern musical forms. His music is often astringent but grabs the listener with its vitality. He is never dull. Of our three composers, Ginastera was probably the most sophisticated and sometimes the least audience friendly.

Variaciones Concertanes comes from 1953. This is similar to the orchestral suites of Bach and Haydn. We are presented with  a theme that is later explored by small orchestral ensembles featuring a solo instrument. We begin with Harp and cello, and later feature the flute, clarinet, trumpet and horn. Finally, there's a wild 'perpetual motion' for violin' and a concluding rondo for orchestra. This is the popular Ginastera, leading into a period where he favored the twelve tone method and looked toward ultra-modern music. But that's another story.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Columbus Symphony April 22 and 23: A Scandal Concert and Mozart!

Rossen Milanov conducts Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony no. 1; Liszt/Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy and Mozart's Symphony 41, Jupiter Southern Theater, 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday in the Southern Theatre. Pre-concert talks at 7. Stewart Goodyear is piano soloist.
Stewart Goodyear

The Columbus Symphony 's Vienna Festival continues this weekend with a more than century trajectory of music this weekend. We'll be moving from Mozart's last symphony, not performed in his lifetime, to a synthesis of a Schubert lied which grew into a fantasy for solo piano and was refigured by Franz Liszt, on to what Rossen Milanov refers to the "Mt. Everest of romantic music", Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony 1.

WHEW! Fasten your seatblets.

Let's start at the end. Arnold Schoenberg  (1874-1951) produced a concert in Vienna on March 31, 1913, to introduce some of his own music and that of his pupils, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. This was the Vienna where Mahler had recently died, and the Vienna of Sigmund Freud. Thoughts turned inward were finding their way into deeply personal, often highly chromatic music. The older order passeth, the old Emperor, the waltzes, the pretty tunes and pretty sensations became earthy, dangerous and Schoenberg.

Schoenberg had been working in a rich, heavily romantic style, writing music of well cushioned
Rossen Milanov
beauty mixed with eroticism. His expansive lines nevertheless embraced conventional tonality, providing the listener points of rest and direction throughout. This was about to change.

The Kammersymhonie presented by Schoenberg that night in Vienna is scored for fifteen instruments and runs about twenty minutes. There are tunes, there are points of reference. But such points are presented in short bursts, and seldom repeated. Later on Schoenberg was to say that musical motifs/melodic gems/tunes needed to fulfill their function quickly and move on. This deprived the listener of a road map. Listeners willing to explore get carried away by rapidly shifting sounds and themes. They may sound chaotic at first, but begin to make sense as you listen further and expect more:

About that Scandal Concert. The audience rioted on hearing two of the five Altenberg Songs by Alban Berg. Composer Oscar Strauss was sued for slugging a music critic. Said critic went on to write that the punch was "the only good sound in the entire evening".

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) lived half as long as Beethoven and was twice as prolific, maintaining an astonishingly high quality. The Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano, was suggested by Der Wanderer, Schubert's song to a text by Georg Phillip Schmidt. A lot of romantic poetry, reflected in music, has to do with sehnsucht, or yearning. This can be sexual, or it can mean moving toward a goal, an ideal-- and failing to arrive. That which we love and need the most in unattainable. Such seems to be the thought behind Der Wanderer. 

The piano fantasy flows from one movement to the next, each "riffing" on a different section of the lied.

The adaptation for piano combines sonata form and sets of variations. The adagio part of the song becomes the adagio movement of the piano fantasy. The finale is such a killer that Schubert himself couldn't play it. "It's the devil's own music" he said.

Franz Liszt (1811-1876), classical music's first mega-star who wasn't a castrato singer, adapted the Wanderer Fantasy for piano and orchestra in 1851. Liszt was an old hand at putting his own spin on other composer's music, while not neglecting his own. Rossini, Schubert and later Verdi were favorite subjects. I doubt any of these composers would have minded. They would have appreciated Liszt's ear and his skill at the keyboard, along with his notoriety. Getting those tunes out there was good box office.

Will Mozart's music be a relief as it ends this weekend's programming? It fascinating to work backwards, from Freud's Vienna with his seeming chaos nearing war, to Mozart's expert soothing classicism. Never forget that Mozart had no problem considering himself an entertainer. He didn't set out to make grand personal statements in his music. He set out to write the best music, and he did. The Jupiter was Mozart's last Symphony. It was not played in his lifetime. It is the product of the astonishing summer of 1788, where he wrote his final three symphonies in quick succession. Astonishing too is that fact that Mozart, was passe by 1788. His music was no longer in favor. The nobility who supported to him were off fighting wars. Mozart's final three years, which saw two more operas among several magnificent works, were lonely, difficult and poor. Yet hear what he accomplished in that summer. Even Woody Allen said in Annie Hall "the slow movement of the Jupiter symphony makes life worth living!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

And Here's to Mahler!

Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony this weekend, in Mahler's Symphony 4, Johann Strauss's Fruhlingstimmen and Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by Osvaldo Golijov. Dawn Upshaw is the soloist. April 15, and 16 8 p.m. in the Ohio Theater.

Mention a Mahler symphony to anyone who has never heard a Mahler symphony and the reactions run the gamut from interest to running from the room with horror. Listen once and you'll find them addictive. A good addiciton. A life giving addiciton. I promise.

Gustav Mahler (180-1911) was a big personality who worked in large forms. During his lifetime he was one of the most celebrated conductors in the world. Before his early death, he had served directorships in Hamburg, and been music director of the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Hofoper, the New York Philharmonic, and with Toscanini was the dominant musical personality at the Metropolitan Opera. Mahler's musical word was law, wherever he worked. Add to this a difficult marriage to Alma Schindler and the death of two young children and its a miracle he lived as long as he did.
As a composer, Mahler is remembered today for his enormous symphonies and his volumes of songs. There is no chamber music, there are no opera and no sacred music. There are nine numbered symphonies, part of a tenth, and his final work Das Lied von der Erde often classified as another symphony.

What about the Symphony number 4?

It's a curious work. This symphony is the spring time Mahler. He seems less mired in the struggle between life and death, light and dark, breath and no breath . Work began in the summer of 1900. When else was he going to write music? On the train between conducting gigs all over Europe (yes) ? But Mahler counted on idyllic summers in the Austrian Alps for his work. When a local band began practising within earshot, the composer thought he'd have to bid farewell to the Symphony until he could move. One day the band left. Three days later work began and three weeks later the symphony was complete.

Almost. We have a first moment that opens with sleigh bells and offers a soaring early theme for the violins. A second movement he-I imagine gleefully called a dance of death, with he violins a scordatura, tuned higher than the other instruments, giving a rough, almost nasty sound. Then the most sublime adagio. Richard Strauss told Mahler, I could never ave written music like that. Mahler himself imagined "St. Ursula, the most serious of the saints, presiding with a smile."
Mahler's obsession with larger forms brought him literally to the heavens. It was as if he had no other way to out write himself, in the time he he had left.

Mahler intended to end his third symphony with a child's vision of heaven, a poem from the German folk collection, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. 

The Third went a different way. But there's a lovely interlude with three angels

Three angles sang a sweet song...they shouted joyfully the whole...that Peter was free from sin...

But there's a theme here Mahler used again in the Fourth: Du sollst ja nicht weisen/Ach komm und erbarme dich uber mich:  Thou shall not weep/O come and have mercy on me...becomes the refrain in Das himmlische leben:  Saint Peter looks on...The Angels bake bread!....Saint Martha must be the cook!  The angelic voices cheer the senses, so that all awake to joy!

Mahler needed a finale for his fourth symphony. The work began larger, ran into a raucous dance, and settled into that gorgeous adagio. The finish was provided by another setting of the Wunderhorn songs, which he had completed ten years earlier. It is not an anti climax, but a pendant. A child's vision of heaven, Das himmlische Leben, The Heavenly Life

The Fourth became the most accessible of the Mahler symphonies. At just under an hour it is the shortest. It does not predict the end of the world. Instead, after a storm it suggests peace, with a child's smile.

Osvaldo Golijov was born in La Plata, Argentina in 1960. He studied there, and later in Israel an the States. Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra are part of the composer's output written for soprano Dawn Upshaw. Golijov has a sophisticated background, but his tone it seems to me is more at home with the Wunderhorn songs of the Mahler Fourth than the high drama of the later Mahler Symphonies. Golijov brings to his music the influences of the Far East, French sophistication and downtown grunge. What he also has is a gift for the sublime.  He can create music which is not slow, but timeless, as if time  is  unnecessary, the music filling every need:

Golijov spent a week at OSU a few years ago. He was a charming and modest gentleman and very generous with his time. I found him happier discussing the other people's music than his own. Still, I was about to discover for myself his terrific klezmer themed The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, and his oratorio La pasion segun San Marco. The St. Mark Passion was recently heard on Classical 101s Musica Sacra. I was lucky enough to catch a performance of his opera Ainadamar in Boston, another work written for Dawn Upshaw. (Note to composers:If Dawn Upshaw want sing to sing your music, DO NOT SAY NO)

Lua descolorida are verses by the Galician poet Rosalia de Castro (1837-1885)

 Moon, colorless, like the color of pale gold; though you see me, I'd like you not to see me from the heights; Take me in your rays, silently, to the space where you travel

The other songs in this set are How Slow the Wind to poetry by Emily Dickinson, and the lullaby Night of the Flying Horses, Close Your Eyes by Sally Potter, sung in Yiddish and used in Potter's film The Man who Cried. There's a sense of space, time and culture in all of Golijov's music, along with a healthy entertainment-quotient. He transcends the tango, the downtown grunge, and yiddischkeit.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Elijah, Get Thee Hence, Elijah

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus present Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah in the Ohio Theater April 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. Your humble author gives pre performance talks in the theater at 7 p.m. Ronald J. Jenkins is conductor of the Columbus Symphony Chorus. Rossen Milanov,  Music Director of the Columbus Symphony, conducts both performances.

If you were a composer in mid 19th century Germany it would be easy to get lost between the death of Beethoven in 1827 and the death of Brahms 70 years later. Schubert does well. Robert Schumann holds his own. I sometimes worry about Carl Maria von Weber ( 1786-1826) and Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Weber's operas Eurytanthe and Der Fresichutz should be performed more often. Mendelssohn might have the same problem as Haydn:  a prolific composer who excelled in every genre. It's less a question of what to perform then where to begin.

Elijah is one of Mendelssohn's last works, and is probably his best loved today. It was commissioned by England's Birmingham Choral Festival, which had been the musical home of Handel's oratorios in the hundred years since that composer's death. Birmingham was a choral society in the best sense, open to member of the community from every class and station, as long as you could hold a tune and probably sing loud. We're told the Society made a lot of sound, and went for splendor in its performances. No bad thing this, since Mendelssohn was a true romantic. He loved program music. His overture to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was premiered when the composer was just 17. It was an instant hit and made the young mans' name.

Mendelssohn at the piano with Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort
The oratorio had been in decline since Haydn's The Seasons and The Creation were introduced in the beginning of the 19th century. Schubert's Lazarus was left incomplete. Liszt was toying off and on with Christus, but Mendelssohn had had a success with St. Paul. But gone were the days when Handel would produce a new biblical-themed choral extravaganza every year. The last, The Triumph of Time and Truth was written in 1757.

Mendelssohn, one day reading the bible,  came across tales of the prophet Elijah in the first book of Kings. In 1838 Mendelssohn wrote to his friend Julius Schubring

    I picture Elijah as a grand and mighty prophet of a kind we would do well to have in our own day.
Powerful, zealous but also harsh and angry and saturnine; a striking contrast to the court sycophants  and the rabble; in antithesis, in fact virtually to the whole world, yet borne on wings of angels.

Schubring assisted Mendelssohn in putting together a German language libretto based on the Old Testament. The years over which the composer worked on Elijah saw him as the music director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and serving as de facto music director for the new German Emperor. There was a lot of administrative work and a lot of "court sycophants". Mendelssohn's regular trips to England, where his music was loved,  must have been a refreshing change. Likewise the admiration of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, who attended Mendelssohn's concerts and entertained him at Windsor.

Mendelssohn was no stranger to oratorio. He grew up on Palestrina as a child in the Berlin Singakademie. He singlehandedly brought J.S. Bach out from academia with his performances of the St. Matthew Passion, a work long neglected. Suddenly Bach was recognized as the father of Western music. St. Paul had been sung brilliantly in Birmingham, and a triumphant return to a fine chorus with a new work was too good to resist. Elijah, conducted by Mendelssohn had its premiere on August 26, 1846,  two weeks after he complete ed the score. It was hoped that Mendelssohn' s colleague Jenny Lind would sing. She did not, then. Nevertheless Elijah was a crowd pleaser then and now. Mendelssohn set Schubring's German texts from the Old Testament, I and II Kings and some of the Psalms. At the same time, an English text was prepared by William Bartholomew. The premiere was sung in English, the German text used at home.

The best one word description I can come up with for Mendelssohn's music is melodic. The man knew how to write a tune.  He also had an uncanny dramatic sense. Elijah opens with a granitic recitative for the prophet, establishing immediately who is boss. Then there's a symphonic overture The chorus begins with the cry Help Lord! Why have you forsaken us?

Go to the concerts this weekend if you want to hear more. Elijah himself is musically isolated with slow, dark music. The soprano,  tenor and mezzo each have splendid, lyrical (tuneful ) arias to relieve the dramatic tension.

My favorite moments in the score come toward the end of part 1. Elijah and the followers of Judah get into a shouting contest with King Ahab and the followers of Baal. Which god can relieve the drought? Elijah jeers on the Baalites, whose god does not respond. Call him louder!

The only down side to the Elijah premiere was the appearance of the composer himself: thin, bald and stooped. He died a year later. He had endured the death of his beloved sister, the composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. Not even a happy marriage and five children got him over this shock. Mendelssohn died on November 4, 1847, sixteen months after Elijah's first performance.

"We were horrified, astounded and distressed to read in the paper of the death of Mendelssohn, the greatest musical genius since Mozart, and the most amiable man."

So wrote Queen Victoria, who was known to love a good funeral. More to the point, in thirty- eight years,  Felix Mendelssohn accomplished more than many a monarch.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Mary, Mary

Tomorrow would have been my mother's 95th birthday.
She would tell you she was really 81 "and don't I look wondahful?"
She did, and she would today, even at 95!
It's hard to beleive she's been gone for thirty years.
She'd insist she was in heaven, "Hiding from your poor father and his sisters, who were all lovely women. Could never live with them."

She was a piece of work was Mary Duddy Purdy.
She was a small woman, strong, tough, vulnerable, troubled, smart and funny.
She was a lioness to me, her only child, even though her mantra to me,  her only child,  was always: "Take up thy mat and walk".

No whinig allowed.

She dispproved of my love life, though I imagine her to have been secretly relieved I had one. "If you
want to marry that lovely fat girl, suit yourself. She has quite the mouth on her."
Said woman, with whom I was involved all through college, sang I know that my redeemer liveth as the processional at my father's funeral in 1981. We all had to stand. And stand. The singing was beautiful and the music sublime. But, in a stage whisper from the new widow I -and the entire church-heard "This is very long! You know I got people comin' back to the house afthah!"

My mother had three brothers. Army/Navy veterans, tough guys. I expect they were all afraid of her.
Her parents lived to be very old. Into her fifties she would march into her childhood home to clean curtains, arrange furniture, leave meals and lists for my Uncles...who had lives of their own-too bad, they shoulda asked first.

Mother loved her beer, and God help you if you took the last one.
God help you even more if you took the last one on a Sunday, when back in the day beer sales were prohibited. More than once I was send down to Uncle Jack's basement, where it was well known he hid a stash "down cellah."

That this was technically breaking and entering was of no cocnern to her. She made me do it.

She adored her brothers, her parents, her nieces and nephews, and me.

At her death one of my cousins cried out, "Who will run our lives?"

That she knew neither her daughter in law or her only grandchild is a lasting sorrow to me.
Her granddaughter is the image of her.

She endured the years of my father's long, long decline, and a lonely widowhood. She was beginning to  lose her memory when she died suddenly. God was good to her.