Archive for August, 2009
This week’s World of Music is dedicated to the people of the Gulf Coast, as we remember the 4th anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita making landfall in the last week of August, 2005.
Some things have improved since then. Many – too many – have not.
The incredible positivity and spirit of the people who live along the Gulf Coast have remarkably remained strong through it all, from the storms through the horrific aftermath. We’ll honor them with the wealth of music native to the region. Hip-hop artist Black Kold Madina will be there, you may have seen her incredible story as told in the award-winning documentary, Trouble the Water – along with classic sounds from Louis Armstrong, the Nevilles, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. We’re knee deep in the Big Easy this week.
Wear your beads, bring an appetite and some gator repellent, and get ready to get down.
World of Music is blues, jazz, poetry and roots tunes. Every Monday on the Radiator from 3-5pm ET: online, or at 105.9FM in Burlington, VT.
With a monumental work like Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time filling up the whole second half of the program, the question then becomes what to offer on the first half.
Something light and lovely, as a programmatic apéritif?
Or, maybe something with more of a kindred gravitas, to set the tone for the concert and foreshadow the emotional weight of the Quartet. Like starting out a fine meal with the fromage et charcuterie plate, a half carafe of cab, and a solid loaf of thick, crusty bread. Gets you warmed up nicely for that entrée of steak, lobster, bacon-infused rainbow chard and silky butter beans. Know what I mean?
Last night’s second concert with the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival split the difference and offered both approaches.
David Ludwig’s delicately elegiac Flowers in the Desert opened the program in its world premiere performance, with violist Hsin-Hun Huang, clarinetist David Shifrin, and pianist Jeewon Park. The spare spaces of its sonic landscape prompted an audible audience exhale when the last, redemptive, prayer-like note decayed and floated plaintively to meet the the raised ceiling of the Elley-Long Music Center.
Flowers’ feel and gently repeated note patterns reminded me of the understated beauty in Arvo Part’s Spiegel im Spiegel, though Flowers‘ inspiration is rooted in much weightier source material. In May this year, two boys (Antwun Parker, 16 and a younger unidentified teen-aged accomplice) attempted a gunpoint robbery at an Oklahoma City pharmacy. The younger boy got away, while Parker was shot in the head by the pharmacist Jerome Ersland. And then when Parker was down, Erslund shot him another five times in the stomach. Because the autopsy revealed that Parker died from the five stomach wounds, not the original head shot, the pharmacist was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. (More on the story here)
Whatever your opinion on the facts of the incident, the senselessness, sheer brutality and fundamental human failure evident in every aspect of the situation are inarguable, and provide the potent departure point for Flowers’ fragile emotional center.
From there we moved on to the György Kurtág’s ruminative Hommage to Robert Schumann (which prompted my friend to comment wonderingly, “how do you practice a piece like that?”), and the first half concluded in a brilliant stroke of programming with Schumann’s joyously effusive Liederkreis, Op. 39 song cycle, warmly performed by soprano Hyunnah Yo and pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn.
Twenty minutes intermission was hardly enough time to prepare for the next 45.
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time has long been one of my chamber music favorites. As a profound expression of acceptance and deliverance through personal spirituality, I find its reverance of the natural world to be a centering experience that never fails to ‘reset’ my ears and attitude and encourage me to get over (or through) things happening at the time.
Hearing the Quartet performed in a live setting precludes the opportunity for that kind of self-selected (self-inflicted?) ‘occasional’ listening. Regardless of your state of mind, the music happens when it happens because it’s part of the concert you’ve decided to attend. So it was with last night’s encounter with the Quartet, a bit tired at the end of the week, coming down from a long day at work and the previous night’s emotionally draning late-night visit to the local emergency veterinary clinic. And the music was just right. Serene, contemplative, wailing and world weary in David Shifrin’s clarinet solo in the “Abyss of the Birds” 3rd movement, and stringently punctuated with the announcement of the Apocalypse in the 6th movement’s “Dance of the fury”.
I wish I had liked Alisa Weilerstein’s “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus” (5th mvmt cello & piano duet) a bit more, but the phrasing felt choppy and the tempo a bit rushed rather than the expansive legato the music requires to ilustrate the infinite, magnanimous nature of divine love. The continuity of the long, suspended, whispering note that ends the movement was broken repeatedly when the cello’s strings refused to respond to the bowing, concluding the meditation haltingly and oddly countering the movement’s thematic message of the neverending, eternal nature of God’s Word. Weilerstein is a seasoned player for her young age, and her expressive range is already very broad. I’m very much looking forward to hearing how she continues to evolve artistically.
All in all an engaging, exciting evening of visionary programming and music-making in this inaugural season for what we hope will be a long-lived venture, this new Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival. Finally, a special note on the classy Festival program: a nice piece of work. Especially in providing clear translations of the Schumann songs and in the thorough information on each piece. A real pleasure to read.
The Festival’s final performance takes place tomorrow at 3, with a program of Dvořák (Bagatelles, Op. 47), Schubert (C major String Quintet) and a Trio from Canada’s R. Murray Schafer.
A couple of years ago in late December, I was reading through one of those “best of” year-end lists, this one highlighting some of the best world music recordings that had come out in 2007.
One recording in particular caught my eye, with its retro-feel bright blue and yellow angular cover art — “COLOMBIA!”, it exclaimed.
Within a week or so it was in my hands, and I featured Colombia! that year on World of Music ‘s annual New Year’s eve show. (Could have had it sooner, downloads, yeah yeah yeah. I do know this. But I like actually touching and holding my tunes, and lingering over the liners. So there it is once and for all.) Great stuff, anyway, with enough groovy surf guitar cumbias and chicha to keep us dancing well into the new year.
That recording was also my introduction to Soundway, a recently formed recording label devoted to “unveiling forgotten chapters from some of the world’s richest musical cultures”. They live up to every bit of that mission statement. Nigerian funk, disco, and soul from the dance floors of ’60s and ’70s Lagos? Got it. Ghana, Panama, and Benin…they’ve all been the focus of Soundway recordings, which generally pick a stated timeframe (of the past) from which to draw the collection.
I’m mentioning all of this today because yesterday I got a preview of the next Soundway release, and it just might be my favorite one so far. Tumbélé! moves away from Africa (but only geographically – musically, this is still very much African music) to showcase “Biguine, afro & latin sounds from the French Caribbean, 1963-74”.
It’s exciting, it’s unusual, and the selections are solid, track for track. The production is also clean. (ie: this is no hack job ‘best of’ survey with song fragments and poorly edited fadeouts.)
And how else would you ever have a chance to relive the ’60s, via music from the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique? So many different influences are at play in this music: West Africa, Haiti, Latin rhythms and percussion from neighboring Cuba and Puerto Rico…the recording’s title – tumbélé – we learn, is the name of a dialect from Cameroon. It comes about as close as anything could in describing the unifying rhythmic undercurrent that connects every moment on this diverse and vibrant recording.
I’ll be featuring this one soon on World of Music – ’til then, don’t stop dancing.
…Evening summer breeze
Sweet warblings of the meadowlark,
Moonlight in Vermont
That’s how the song goes. A beautiful one, though for an American songbook standard it’s curiously unconventional in its asymmetrical phrasing and lack of rhyming lyrics. We don’t mind. We love it for its wistful nostalgia, and the way it suits every season equally, winter or summer. (Just how many songs about Vermont are there, anyhow?)
I thought about the song tonight (Ella’s version – the ultimate) when the crescent moon appeared around 7:30, as it was getting too dark to pick any more blueberries and the night’s band – Richmond’s own Heckhounds – wound down with their last couple or three country blues numbers. Picked four quarts tonight, and that’s going to be it for another year. That’s two big pies or around 10 turnovers. Maybe a couple dozen muffins, if I use the large tin.
Summer’s ending. As much as I enjoyed it, the thought doesn’t leave me melancholy.
I know the best is still around the corner. Autumn colors, apple-picking, harvests and Halloween and the new beginning of all the fall concert seasons.
There’s always something to look forward to.
…Gentle finger waves
Ski trails down a mountain side
Snowlight in Vermont.
Summers here are all the sweeter for the outdoor music. Right? It starts with the big bang of the Discover Jazz Festival just after Memorial Day. From there on out every restaurant, park and tent-able space erupts in sound, happily for weeks on end.
Did I mention the berry patches? Those too. One of my favorite places to kick off the shoes and enjoy some live tunes is the Owl’s Head Blueberry Farm in Richmond. Tuesdays and Thursdays through July and August offer live musical accompaniment to pick a few quarts. It’s great. And hey – it’s almost over. This is the last week, check out the schedule and by all means get there if you can. July’s rain has made for some of the biggest, fattest, sweetest berries in years. The 8 brimming quarts in the freezer can back that one up. I’m hoping to go for 16 before the week’s over. It’s a long time before next summer.
This year we even had the extra bonus of the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial events to keep things exciting through the end of June and start of July, before the “real” festival season fired up later in the month with the annual Vermont Mozart Festival, Marlboro, the Killington, Manchester, and Central Vermont’s Chamber Music Festivals, and … on.
So we come to late August and it feels a little empty. Like the day after Christmas, or that odd quietness in the house the morning after hosting a really great party.
Enter the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival. I first heard about the plans around a year ago when Soovin Kim visited us at Vermont Public Radio. He came that day to play violin, and he mentioned his role as Artistic Director in getting the first plans for this summer’s LCCMF off the ground. It all seemed so far away then. Now it’s here: a new music festival starting in late August just as so many others are wrapping up.
The events began today as artist-in-residence David Ludwig led the first of the week-long “Listening Club” sessions (today’s subject: Shostakovich’s Op. 127 songs on poems by Alexander Blok). Schubert’s lovely song cycle Liederkreis is tomorrow’s discussion subject, and then you can hear soprano Hyunah Yu singing the Blok song cycle in the first of the Festival concerts on Weds. night, at 7:30. Two more concerts follow on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.
Summer’s not over yet. It’s just rounding third now, fueled by the afterburn of an already very fine live music season.
Festival details (all concerts at the Elley-Long Music Center on the St. Michael’s campus):
World of Music features Ivory Coast guitarist Manou Gallo this week, from her self-titled 2006 release. With songs like Chanter de l’amour, Stars, and Hommage, she’s a powerful artist with messages carried out in driving guitar riffs, searing vocals, and unrelenting grooves.
And we’ll check out new sounds from drummer/singer Brian Blade (his new one’s called Mama Rosa); Baloji, a Congolese artist now living in Belgium; and singer Maryem Tollar, an Egyptian singer who’s relocated to Toronto.
World of Music is blues, jazz, poetry and great roots tunes. On the Radiator Mondays from 3-5pm ET: online or at 105.9FM in Burlington, VT.
Shelburne’s Liberate Music and Arts Festival, the Music Festival of the Americas in Stowe, and many other festivals are wrapping up the season this weekend. We’re getting to that point in the summer, white shoes are still OK but the places to get out and wear them are dwindling. Pretty soon we’ll have to find the wool socks again to keep our toes warm in sandals.
Some options for your Sunday tomorrow, if your weekend could still hold a little more live music:
Saint-Gaudens Summer Concert Series (New Hampshire) – last performance starts at 2 at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and features “The Jennings”, Andrew (violin) and Gail (piano) Jennings
Opera North – last performance at 7:30 – Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
Summer’s coming to a glorious end, enjoy what’s left in every way you possible can. The fall festival season isn’t too far off now!
A late-breaking note here about Vermont’s own Rhino Fest, continuing tonight in Plainfield, with everything from on-site DJs to folk acts, and banjo master Gordon Stone and his band.
Started at Noon today and runs well past midnight tonight.
Here’s the Rhino Fest website…looks a little dark out there, don’t forget the umbrella.