Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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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.


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The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Celesta

‘Tis the season for Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and one of the most well-known pieces from that work is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

So how do you get that magical tinkling sound?  The celesta.

The celesta is a keyboard instrument that produces its sound through the striking of metal plates with little hammers connected to the keys, in the same way that pianos strike strings.

Here is a video from the Colorado Springs Philharmonic introducing the celesta.

If you are interested in a more in-depth treatment of the mechanics and the manufacturing of celestas, see this video from Schiedmayer Celesta GmbH.

Would you like to see The Nutcracker in its entirety?  You can!  EuroArts presents it on YouTube (with minimal commercial interruption).  You can find the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at time stamp 1:29:00.  If you would like to see a purely orchestral version, you can see The Nutcracker performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at 1:22:00).

But the celesta doesn’t go back in the storage room after the Christmas season!  It is used in a number of other works, namely Mahler’s Symphony No. 6Symphony No. 8, and Das Lied von der Erde, as well as several symphonies by Shostakovich.  A wonderful use of the celesta can be found in Gustav Holst’s The Planets in the mystical final movement Neptune.

It can also be found in Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite, and many operas.

Listen, and I think you’ll be surprised how often you’ll find the celesta adding that extra bit of magic to the music around you!


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Free Live Concert Webcast: Beethoven’s 4th and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde

Ludwig van Beethoven

On Saturday, November 12 at 8PM EST (GMT -5) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free concert.  The orchestra will be led by French conductor Louis Langrée, and soloists Kelley O’Connor (mezzo soprano) and Russell Thomas (tenor) will be featured.

Gustav MahlerThe program includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 and Mahler’s Das Lied von der ErdeA text and translation for Das Lied von der Erde can be downloaded from the DSO websiteThe original Chinese poems that are the source of the text (and some beautiful paintings for the poems) can be found at this English-language website. Those interested in translation technicalities (like me) will find an interesting article here. An article that provides reviews of a number of recordings of the work can be found here.

You can see the concert at http://www.dso.org/live.  Go to the website an hour before the performance to see an informal presentation on the works in the program.

References

  1. http://www.mahlerarchives.net/archives.html A website to find out more about Mahler and his works.

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Image attributions:  Ludwig van Beethoven, painting by Carl Jäger (1833-1887), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beethoven_.jpg.  Gustav Mahler, photograph by E. Bieber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGustav-Mahler-Kohut.jpg


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Mahler Online: The DSO Concert, Manuscripts, and More

Gustav-Mahler-Kohut

Did you get to see the DSO perform Mahler’s Symphony No 2 yesterday?  I hope so—it was fantastic!  Conductor Leonard Slatkin, the DSO, the soloists, and choir gave an expressive, emotion-filled performance, thoughtful and thought-provoking.  It was dramatic without being over-the-top apocalyptic, and there was a sweetness in the moments of nostalgic reflection that was just right.  Well done, one and all!

The symphony was preceded by the debut of Slatkin’s own Kinah, a touching tribute to his parents.  Kinah means elegy in Hebrew.  His father was a violinist and his mother was a cellist.  They were preparing to perform the Brahms “Double” Concerto together, but Slatkin’s father died the day before the concert.  In Kinah, Slatkin quotes passages of the concerto, but they are never completed, as the concert was never completed.  Slatkin’s brother, a cellist, plays his mother’s cello in the performance.

Mahler’s Second Symphony was performed as a tribute after the death of President John F. Kennedy.  The New York Philharmonic has a webpage on the performance where you can see a portion of the broadcast, Bernstein’s handwritten note on his decision to perform that symphony, and Bernstein’s score of the symphony.  Bernstein presented a Young People’s Concert on Mahler.  The script is available here.

The Morgan Library and Museum has a number of Mahler’s manuscripts, and you can view them online.  The University of Western Ontario also has some pages from Symphony No 1 and some other pieces either written by Mahler or containing his notations.  Here is a manuscript of Mahler’s song FrühlingsmorgenThe Library of Congress has digitized images of holdings of the Moldenhauer Archives of works by a number of composers (scroll down to see list).  Type Mahler’s name in the search box on the top left to see the manuscript list.

So much here, so serious, we need to end on a lighter note.  How about this:  did you know that when Mahler lived in New York (he was the conductor of the Metropolitan Opera) he liked riding the subway?  [1] He told artist Alfred Roller, “I am quite entranced with this country.” [2]

References

  1. The NPR Guide To Building a Classical CD Collection by Ted Libbey, New York: Workman Publishing, 1994 p 106.
  2. http://www.keepingscore.org/interactive/gustav-mahler/farewell/time-place (link on “Met Premiere”). Do click around in this website, it is very interesting!

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Image attribution: Gustav Mahler, photograph by E. Bieber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGustav-Mahler-Kohut.jpg


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Mahler’s Symphony No 2, “Resurrection” – Free DSO Webcast!

Gustav-Mahler-Kohut

Don’t miss the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s free live webcast of Mahler’s Symphony No 2, “Resurrection” on Sunday, December 6 at 3:00 PM ET (GMT -5) at http://www.dso.org/live.aspx.

Leonard Slatkin will be conducting the DSO.  Sunday’s program will begin with the world premiere of Slatkin’s Kinah.  This will be followed by Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with soloists Melissa Citro and Kelley O’Connor.

Slatkin’s 1982 recording with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra was praised for his “clear, intelligent presentation of the score,” and the recording is deemed “an outstanding achievement.” [1] So Sunday’s concert promises to be memorable!

If you’re not familiar with this symphony, and would like to know what to listen for to extract Mahler’s message from the music, help is on the way.  You can find an article on the symphony that includes audio files and musical notation of key moments in the symphony here.  The audio files will help to point out musical phrases to listen for in each movement.

Another useful resource, one in which you can hear and see an actual orchestra play, is a video on the first movement of the symphony provided by the Khan Academy, which can be followed up with an uninterrupted performance of the movement.  I found the video very helpful; I wish they had prepared one for each of the movements.

You can find reviews of the most well-known recordings of Symphony No 2 here, along with a description of the symphony itself.

I encourage you to check out one of the detailed listening guides.  In the meantime, let me give you some background information that I have found, and call upon Mahler himself to explain his purpose.

Mahler wrote the Resurrection Symphony in the period from 1888 to 1894.  The symphony explores the concepts of death, life’s purpose, and resurrection.  Wow.  So, is there anything else you’d like to throw in there, Mahler?  In all fairness though, Mahler said, “The term ‘symphony’ means creating a world with all the technical means available.” [1, p 97]  Ok, so let’s go.

The first movement was originally composed as a symphonic poem, Totenfeier (Funeral Rites).  Mahler explains, “We are standing beside the coffin of a man beloved.  For the last time, his battles, his suffering, and his purpose pass before the mind’s eye.” [2]

The second movement, lyrical and nostalgic, looks back, “A memory of a blissful moment in the dear departed’s life and a sad recollection of his youth and lost innocence—a shaft of sunlight from out of the life of this hero.” [2]

The third movement is like a folk tune contorted in some nightmarish way.  When you wake from a nightmare “and have to return to the confusion of life, it can easily happen that this ever-moving, never-resting, never-comprehensible bustle of existence becomes horrible to you.” [2].

The fourth movement is a song, Urlicht (Primal or Primeval Light), drawn from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn (as is the case with the previous movement).  Mahler explains, “The questions and struggles of the human soul for God, as well as its own divine nature and existence, come to the forefront.  After these terrifying questions comes the answer: redemption.” [2]

The fifth and final movement begins with a perhaps terrifying vision of Judgment Day. As the tumult subsides, the choir enters, imperceptibly softly at first, and sings a song of redemption, which builds to a stunning fortissimo climax. [2]

Afterward, give yourself some time to absorb all that you have just heard, it is incredible.

I hope you’ll have an opportunity to listen to this intense, remarkable symphony, and I’d love to hear your comments.

References

  1. The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection, Ted Libbey. New York:  Workman Press, 1994 p 99.
  2. The Anchor Guide to Orchestral Masterpieces, Melvin Berger, New York: Anchor Books, 1995 pp 164-166.

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Image attribution: Gustav Mahler, photograph by E. Bieber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGustav-Mahler-Kohut.jpg