Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Free Live Concert Webcast:  Baroque to Classical

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

On Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 9 PM EDT (UTC-4), The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will present a free live concert webcast that traces the transition from the Baroque to the Classical.  You can see the concert here.

Here’s the program:

Charles Avison: Concerto Grosso No. 5 in D Minor (after D. Scarlatti)

Jan Dismas Zelenka:  Sinfonia in A Minor for Orchestra

C.P.E. Bach: Sinfonia in E Minor, Wq. 178

Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 6, Morning.

 

The SPCO also has a great library of concert videos that you can access here.  You should be able to see this concert there in a short while.

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Two Live Concert Webcasts Tonight!

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

Decisions, decisions!  There are two live concert webcasts tonight.  Which will you pick?

Tonight, April 7, 2018, at 8PM EDT (GMT-4) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), conducted by Leonard Slatkin, and violinist Yoonshin Song will present Béla Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2.  There will be a pre-concert interview with composer Steven Bryant at 7PM.  You can view the DSO concert here.  Here’s the full program:

Steven Bryant: Zeal (world premiere!)

Béla BartókViolin Concerto No. 2

Richard Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

Richard Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks

At 9PM EDT (GMT-4) The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and violinist Maureen Nelson will present Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark AscendingYou can view the SPCO concert here.  Here’s the full program:

Charles Gounod: Petite symphonie for Wind Instruments

Lembit BeecherThe Conference of the Birds

Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending

Antonín Dvořák: Serenade for Strings

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has a free app available for iPhone, iPad, and iTouch so you can enjoy their live concert webcasts and concert library wherever you go.  The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has a free DSO To Go app which is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

What if you can’t make either concert?  The SPCO has a free concert library that you can watch on demand.  The DSO has their Replay performance archive, which is available for a year with a $50 donation to the DSO.

I hope you will enjoy the concerts!


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Haiku Wednesday: Arcangelo Corelli

Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli by Hugh Howard

“Concerti Grossi,
Arcangelo Corelli”
Said the disc label.

I had not heard it,
So thought I’d give it a try
One hectic morning.

And in the chaos
That swirled around me that day
Came a soothing calm.

Like spring’s first flowers,
A sunny day in winter,
Crisp cider in fall,
I don’t know how, but
Arcangelo Corelli
Somehow made me smile.

Arcangelo Corelli is perhaps best known for his development of the concerto grosso form and for his advancement of violin technique.  His set of 12 concerti (Op. 6) was published in 1714.  They inspired Handel to write his own set of concerti (also Op. 6).  Corelli’s concerti remain popular to this day.  There’s something about Corelli’s music.  Somehow, it seems to catch you unawares* and relax you.  It’s happy, without being cloying.  Pleasant, but not boring or insipid.  Engaging, but not overwhelming (on the day in question, Beethoven or Schubert, even Mozart, would have been a bad choice.  Too much drama!).  Some days, Corelli is the perfect fit.

Here is Corelli’s Concerto in F Major, Op. 6, No. 2, played on original instruments by Voices of Music.

 

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* “unawares” is a strange, low-frequency English word that looks wrong, but isn’t.  It’s an adverb form that’s a leftover from Middle English, which also gave us “towards” and “afterwards.”  The more you know….

Image attribution: Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli by Hugh Howard, 1697, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


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Free Live Concert Webcast: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Grosse Fuge and More

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) will present a live concert webcast tonight, 13 January 2018, at 8 PM CST (2 AM GMT).  You can see it here.  Here’s the program:

Jessie Montgomery: Records from a Vanishing City
Beethoven: Grosse Fuge for String Quartet
Beethoven: Violin Concerto

The soloist will be Steven Copes, concertmaster of the SPCO.

If you can’t make it, it will soon be available as part of the SPCO’s library of classical music performances.  With performances of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, John Adams, Hugo Wolf, Shostakovich and more, you’re sure to find a favorite.


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Bach and Awe

J. S. Bach

Every now and then, I listen to Bach, and as the music starts, and I start to hear the melody lines interweave, I think, “You know, I think I’m starting to get this.” And then Bach throws in three more lines, ramps up the speed, and I realize something:

I’m not even close.

It’s very much the same feeling you might get when you’re learning a foreign language, and you decide to test your newfound skill with a native speaker.  And your methodical elementary-school-level bid is met joyfully with a flood of fluency, the torrent of a mountain stream, water flowing over and around rocks, streams combining in ways that leave one wondering where one begins and another ends.  Itisveryhardtounderstandwhenyoudon’tknowwherethewordsactuallyend.

The same goes for Bach.  When those melodic lines start to intertwine, you can try to follow them, and you catch a glimpse of one every now and then as it goes by, but it is really tough to grasp everything that is going on.

I was listening to Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 (BWV 1052), and immediately had to listen to it again to try to figure out what was going on, it was so good.  The first movement begins simply enough as Bach states his theme.  Ah, but then, the keyboard and orchestra begin stating the theme individually, and the keyboard adds a rippling line, and here the water image is particularly apt, as the strings and keyboard take turns surging forward then receding.  If you want to hear it and follow the score, you can do so here.

This video provides a balanced, and amazingly fast, performance of the first movement.

Another fascinating video puts the keyboard in a more prominent role, this time with Glenn Gould at piano and Leonard Bernstein conducting.  The performance begins at 5:08, but Bernstein’s introductory remarks about the performance of music that bears few interpretative markings may be of interest as well.

Ok, so now we reach the second movement.  And one would expect the same sort of interplay of instruments and lines.  You know, predicting, because you’re starting to get this.

Not even close.

Bach pulls the rug out from under your feet, beginning the second movement with an extended statement, everyone playing the same note (within the particular octave their instrument plays).  It then develops into a thought-filled, deeply expressive, one might even say somber, melody.

The liveliness of the first movement returns in the third movement, and it is classic Bach.

And yet.

There are moments, something in the strings, that seems to reach forward in time toward the Classical era.

And that’s the stunning thing with Bach.  Every now and then, you come across a phrase, and there is foreshadowing of music yet to come.  It’s there, little glimpses of the future, and yet, it’s undeniably Bach.

One more thing.  Here’s the kicker about the keyboard concerto.  Most experts say that he put it together from earlier works, probably a violin concerto, judging by the violin-like features, and there’s some direct copying from earlier cantatas.

As stunning as it is, it’s just a reworking of stuff he already wrote.

And that’s the Bach and awe of it all.

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References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyboard_concertos_by_Johann_Sebastian_Bach

https://www.laphil.com/philpedia/music/keyboard-concerto-d-minor-bwv-1052-johann-sebastian-bach


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Free Live Webcast:  Tchaikovsky’s 5th, Stravinsky, and a New Work by Wynton Marsalis; or, Cossacks, Elephants, and a Hootenanny

On Friday, June 2, 2017 at 10:45AM EDT (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will offer a free live online concert that will include a new work by Wynton Marsalis featuring violinist Nicola BenedettiHere is her official website.  Here’s the program:

Stravinsky: Circus Polka
Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5.

The circus polka was composed for a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.  It was performed by fifty elephants and fifty ballerinas.  Balanchine said he phoned Stravinsky:1

“I wonder if you’d like to do a little ballet with me,” Balanchine said.
“For whom?”
“For some elephants.”
“How old?” Stravinsky asked.
“Very young,” Balanchine assured him.
There was a pause.  Then Stravinsky said gravely, “All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it.”2

I have to hear this now.  By the way, the elephant ballet was only performed for a short time, after which it became popular among solely human dancers.

I’m also eager to hear Wynton Marsalis’s Violin Concerto.  From the reviews I’ve read, it is a thoroughly American concerto, with movements titled Rhapsody, Rondo, Blues, and Hootenanny.  Marsalis packs the work to overflowing with musical ideas and notions, and the work you hear on Friday may differ from previous performances—it seems to be a work in evolution.  A documentary has been created, The Making of a Concerto, which you can see at the link.  Here is the trailer.

Rounding out the program is Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, in which Tchaikovsky wrestles with the concept of fate.  And in the finale, the wrestling becomes fierce.  Check out this wild review from 1892, written by William Foster Apthorp, who was no great fan of “modern” music:8

In the Finale we have all the untamed fury of the Cossack, whetting itself for deeds of atrocity, against all the sterility of the Russian steppes.  The furious peroration sounds like nothing so much as a horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy, the music growing drunker and drunker.  Pandemonium, delirium tremens, raving, and above all, noise worse confounded!9

Wow.  Elephants, a hootenanny, and pandemonium.  Don’t miss it!

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_Polka
  2. Krista, Davida. George Balanchine: American Ballet Master. Minneapolis: Lerner Publication, p 72.
  3. http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/01/500059901/the-transatlantic-collaboration-behind-wynton-marsalis-new-violin-concerto
  4. http://wyntonmarsalis.org/news/entry/nicola-benedetti-performs-wynton-marsaliss-violin-concerto-los-angeles
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/nso-offers-exuberant-marsalis-concerto/2016/10/27/b5c1c3cc-9cb9-11e6-b4c9-391055ea9259_story.html?utm_term=.f1f925b105e4
  6. http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/reich/ct-cso-marsalis-review-ent-0714-20160713-column.html
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/08/london-symphony-orchestra-nicola-benedetti-james-gaffigan-wynton-marsalis
  8. http://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Program-Notes/Tchaikovsky-Symphony-No-5-in-E-minor.aspx
  9. Boston Evening Transcript, October 24, 1892 via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._5_(Tchaikovsky)


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Free Live Webcast: Vivaldi, Mahler, Brubeck

Guitarist Sharon Isbin, photo by J. Henry Fair

Guitarist Sharon Isbin, photo by J. Henry Fair

Tomorrow, Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 8:00 EDT (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a live concert webcast featuring guitarist Sharon Isbin.  The program will include Vivaldi’s Concerto for Lute and Orchestra in D major (R. 93), and new music from Chris Brubeck, Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra.  You can read the program notes for the Brubeck concerto here.  Chris Brubeck is the son of jazz great Dave Brubeck.  You can see the webcast at this link.

The program will conclude with a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 10 as completed by musicologist Deryck Cooke.  Leonard Slatkin will conduct.  Mahler had completed a draft of the symphony, but most of it was not orchestrated at the time of his death.  Mahler fans may be interested in this 1960 BBC broadcast recording featuring a lecture by Cooke and a performance of his first (incomplete) version of the symphony’s reconstruction.

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Image attribution: Photograph of Sharon Isbin by J. Henry Fair via http://www.sharonisbin.com/photos.html.