Posts Tagged ‘Mozart’

top 10 classical composers?

February 2, 2011

Who are the top ten classical composers – ever?

We all have our own lists, cultivated and groomed and backed up by reasons that are equally solid. It can be a quite a bit more challenging to describe why a big name composer didn’t make it onto your list.

Today’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook featured a conversation with Anthony Tommasini, the chief classical music critic for the New York Times, talking about his top ten list. Why no Tchaikovsky, or Vivaldi or Chopin? Tommasini has sound reasons for his decision on those names, and he talks a lot about that in the show. Not every caller on the show seemed convinced.

This is actually a question that was passed around among my fellow classical hosts and aficionados at Vermont Public Radio couple of weeks ago, when Tommasini’s article first appeared in the Times. There was general concensus on Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Most of also chose Wagner. After that – the lists included everyone from Chopin and Liszt to Projofiev, Haydn, Bartok and Mahler.

Who’s on your top ten list?

Here’s Tommasini’s:

1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

2. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 91)

4. Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)

5. Claude Achille Debussy (1862 – 1918)

6. Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)

7. Johannes Brahms (1833 – 97)

8. Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)

9. Richard Wagner (1813 – 83)

10. Bela Bartok (1881 – 1945)

And here’s my list, in no special order:

– Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, Haydn, Wagner, Beethoven, Schubert (those SONGS!), Bartok, Mahler & Monteverdi.

If I could choose a top fifteen, I would add Shostakovich, Handel, Debussy, Brahms and Mendelssohn. It’s impossible to create such a small list on someting as subjective as music and not leave someone important out. If I had twenty or thirty to choose, I’d have no trouble doing that either! (Dvorak, Schumann, Verdi, Puccini … stop me now…)

Leave a comment here with yours, love to see your picks.

riding the gravy train

March 11, 2010

Some time ago here I mentioned the viability difficulties of some kinds of music in today’s plug-n-play, single download kind of world.

Like, Pink Floyd’s landmark album Dark Side of the Moon.

Yes, you can listen to Money or Us and Them and still enjoy them apart from the larger work. On most radio stations you’d never hear Floyd at all if they didn’t break it up into the separate songs. But you listen differently, knowing the experience is something akin to listening to an isolated movement of a symphony, or concerto, outside of their greater musical context. That’s fine, sometimes the only thing that really hits the spot is the middle movement of a Mozart Piano Concerto, a good Mahler Adagio (and they’re ALL good), or the sublime Largo from Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony. With classical music especially there’s a long history of concerts where single movements were played over and over, repeated spontaneously as a sort of in-concert encore in immediate response to audience enthusiasm.

It’s one thing when you, as a music consumer, make the choice to excerpt your recording of – whatever. It’s another when a recording company willfully convolutes contractual reality (the same contract to which they fiercely adhere, when the financial advantage is to their benefit) in the name of profit.

Today Pink Floyd scored a victory against EMI in an effort to preserve the artistic integrity of their recordings. The dispute centers around whether or not the original contract, prohibiting EMI from selling records other than as complete albums without written consent, still holds in a world where individual mp3 downloads are the standard. Pink Floyd says it does. EMI contends that the existing contract only applies to the physical product, not to online distribution.

So why did it take this litigation to bring that to light? iTunes has been around for TEN YEARS now, if EMI felt their standing contract didn’t cover new distribution methods comprehensively enough, they’ve had a decade to renegotiate the contractual terms.

EMI didn’t do that, because – “valid” or not – the existing contract was financially beneficial to them until now. With today’s ruling, both EMI and Pink Floyd will likely have less revenue rolling in from downloads. The musicians (millionaires, yes, but artists nonethelss) don’t seem bothered by that. 

Artistic integrity: 1

Corporate greed: 0

Oh, by the way, which one’s “Pink”?

facing the (free) music

October 29, 2009

Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios, in the context of our new world of music copyright awareness and enforcement:

#1 – Vienna, 1774: Ever listen to the middle – “Andante ma Adagio” –  movement of Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto? I mean really listen. It’s there, and it’s not even very subtle: this melody, written when the composer was just 18, was RE-used as the melody for his gorgeous aria, Porgi Amor from The Marriage of Figaro 12 years later.

Legal? Of course, this is Mozart borrowing from himself. Handel did it, Vivaldi did it, and they’re in in good company with countless others through the centuries all the way to today.

#2 – Vienna, 1782: Early springtime, and Mozart was preparing for a series of upcoming concerts for Lent. One of the new pieces to be premiered was his A Major Piano Concerto (#12), K414. While writing the work, he learned of the Jan. 1st death of his good friend, Johann Christian Bach. As a special tribute to his former mentor, Mozart borrowed one of J.C. Bach’s own melodies (from the opera La Calamita de Cuori) and used the theme as the basis for the new concerto’s poignant second movement.

Legal? Probably not. These days a reckless stunt like that could land Mozart in court, paying for representation to respond to “cease and decist” notifications, and having to create a defense for his unauthorized use of J.C.’s tune.

The world’s view of these things has changed much since Mozart’s time, in hugely significant ways that can’t be underestimated for their potential to change the course of today’s music. Borrowing isn’t “borrowing” anymore, it’s sampling, sometimes of original melodies and other times entire pieces of another artist’s recorded material. Intent, financial gain, and artistic control all figure into the larger conversation. Musical creativity is governed by strict copyright laws and it’s a hot point of contention on many fronts in today’s music scene.

On The Media dedicated their most recent program to a fascinating, in-depth exploration of the issues around these music laws.

Must hear this program, my friends.

vso – made in vermont

October 5, 2009
VSO, warming up

VSO, tuning up

Friday night was my first time visiting the Vergennes Opera House, a grand space built in 1897 and reopened in 1997 after more than two decades of dormancy. The ensemble that heralded the rebirth of the renovated theatre that year was the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.

Fitting, then, that the Opera House is also one of nine venues around the state to host the annual Vermont Symphony Orchestra “Made in Vermont” fall foliage tour.

Maestro Anthony Princiotti led the concert’s opening with Mozart’s Quartet #4 in C, K157 – a childhood creation whose prescience and lyricality was only enhanced by Princiotti’s tastefully delicate arrangement for string orchestra. The piece’s energy made for a perfect show opener.

From there we moved on to the program’s newly commissioned work, Derrik Jordan’s Odzihozo and the Lake. It’s a programmatic piece, musically realizing Odzihozo’s part of the Abenaki creation story.

Odzihozo – “The man who made himself” – is the mythical being who conjures himself from the dusty remains left over from the Great Creator’s work in making the world. There’s enough material initially to create a full man’s body except for the legs. So Odzihozo drags himself through the land, piling up dirt into  mountains and leaving behind deep trails and trenches that become river beds.

Odzihozo’s real masterpiece is Lake Champlain, and when he’s done making it he loves this work so much that he becomes an island (Rock Dunder), so that he can live in it forever.

Jordan’s work, I believe, will likely be less enduring.

From the plaintive opening bassoon figure (Rite of Spring, anyone?) to the heavy-handed “native” percussion motif that ran the course of the piece, this is one version of the creation story that could withstand some evolution. I appreciated the interwoven subtelty of the two traditional Abenaki themes, and the oboe solo near beginning was utterly lovely. I also have to offer a special kudos to principal percussionist Jeremy Levine, who stole the show with his entertainingly wonderous one-man versatility. Overall Odzihozo offered a mixed experience, while I didn’t deeply dislike it I was left considering the many missed opportunities it had to be a grander effort.

George Bizet’s whimsical Jeux d’enfants (Children’s Games) brought the first half of the program to a marching, leap-frogging conclusion. Alyssa Weinberg’s respectful reduction recalled the joy and imaginative excitement of the original version, for two pianos.

Next stop for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra is the opening Masterworks concert, on October 24th.

Rumor has it we’ll actually get to hear Soovin Kim perform the Sibelius Concerto that eluded the audience the last time it was on the program – remember that? It was springtime a year and a half ago when a mean ice storm blew through on the night of the concert and knocked out power everywhere downtown, including the Flynn.

Always gracious, Soovin took the stage in the dark and offered instead a gorgeous selection of impromptu solo violin music for the disconsolate audience.

Music in Vermont. It’s always memorable.

community radio

August 1, 2009
@ the Radiator: impromptu mic repair

@ the Radiator: impromptu mic repair

A  couple of weeks ago when I arrived at the Radiator for my show I found the main mic dangling from a neatly tied piece of twine. Must have been some failure in the mic stand over the weekend. It happens occasionally with some of the well-loved, mostly donated equipment in the studio. Also typical is the obvious care someone took with the limited resources at hand, to install a temporary fix. Sure, it made it difficult to adjust into any fixed position, making for something of a moving target for talking. But it worked. Likewise with the clear packing tape holding the headset together – peeling away on one side, assuring the extraction of a few hairs with each use, but carefully mended and completely functional if not too pretty.

I’ve worked in a lot of different situations over the last couple of decades in radio. From low-power and college-affiliated radio stations to independent, community licensees; from stations built on little more than a mission to those with stable funding and strong budgets. It’s made for a wide range of differences in facilities, equipment, and engineering capacity. I’ve found though, regardless of the externals, the people I meet in radio do it for the simple reason they love the art. That goes for those on both sides of the mic, the hosts and the support staff, as well as the unseen/unheard volunteer forces that have been an important part of the experience at EVERY station where I’ve worked.

This Monday you’re invited to come on over for a visit and meet some of the folks behind the eclectic mix on Burlington’s all-volunteer,  low-power community station. The Radiator will be hosting the last of the three “Mondays with Mozart” events planned this summer, in partnership with the Vermont Mozart Festival. Bassoonist Andrew Schwartz will be in the Burlington Yoga Studio for an open house live performance starting at 4:15pm. (We might even get a preview of the rare work Andrew’s playing with the Festival later in the week: Mozart’s only bassoon concerto.) If you’re in the area – stop by for the live music!

(The Burlington Yoga Studio is on the 2nd floor at 215 College St. downtown. The Radiator’s on the floor above it.)

trading fours: this week’s listening

July 25, 2009

“Trading fours” is an occasional series you’ll see here featuring four recommended recordings on a theme from any music genre. Leave a comment – send me your four picks, explain what the theme is and why you chose them. I’ll do the rest. (See previous post for the details on this project.)

I’ll get the series started with a set that can best be described as “Things I listened to this week”. In both of my jobs (as music director at VPR, and interning at Cumbancha/Putumayo World Music) and in my weekly show at the Radiator, I’m really fortunate to have exposure to a lot of different kinds and styles of music. As a result, the week’s listening often encompasses everything from jazz and classical to more eclectic sounds (electronic music, prepared instruments)  to new tunes from all different parts of the world. Here’s a pretty typical week of listening:

DJ Frane: Journey to the Planet of Birds

DJ Frane's "Journey to the Planet of Birds"

#1 – DJ Frane’s “Journey to the Planet of Birds” – I was turned on to this amazing, complete musical vision by a friend at Cumbancha. It’s an artfully crafted (more than 300 samples!) electronic tapestry, all on themes of birds and space and spaceflight. It even includes John Glenn’s magical “thousands of luminous fireflies” audio from that moment in February, 1962 as Friendship 7 ventured into the dark side of the planet, and Glenn saw the light particles (ice crystals) swarming his capsule. This is a beautiful recording, and a snapshot “of an era”, in a sense, even though it’s only a year or so old. Things are changing fast in the area of music rights and just as quickly it’s becoming about impossible to create a new work from sampling as liberally as DJ Frane does here.


Rautavaara's "Cantus Arcticus"

#2 – Rautavaara: Cantus Arcticus, Op. 61 – Early this week as I listened to DJ Frane weaving his spell with the “Birds” I was reminded of another piece, by Finnish sound master Einojuhani Rautavaara. His Cantus Arcticus, Concerto for Birds and Orchestra (written 1972) is an equally complex and enchanting work whose “samples” include shore larks, and migrating whooper swans. Sometimes I like to listen to this CD when I’m driving. Between its birdsongs and wide open sound landscapes, it has a soundtrack kind of feel. Perfect for watching nature roll by outside. (I’m not saying that it doesn’t deserve more concentrated listening as well; it does.) Bonus listening on this particular recording (with the Lahti Symphony and conductor Osmo Vanska) – the monunemtal “Angel of Light” Symphony #7, one of Rautavaara’s finest works. Outstanding.

Coltrane's "Meditations"

Coltrane's "Meditations"

#3 – John Coltrane’s “Meditations” – Following the tracks through from the opening (“The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”), through the middle section (“Compassion”, “Love”, “Consequences”) to the end (“Serenity”) is nothing less than a full-circle spiritual reckoning. The fuller, louder and more demanding companion piece to Coltrane’s “First Meditations” (recorded two months earlier that same year, 1965), this one adds Pharoah Sanders and second drummer Rashied Ali to the classic quartet for a largely free-form exploration on themes of redemption and personal reconciliation. [PS – It’s been said before, but it can’t be said often enough: engineer Rudy Van Gelder is a genius of mythic Mozart proportions and talent.]

Kimi Djabaté's "Karam"

Kimi Djabaté's "Karam"

#4 – Kimi Djabaté’s “Karam” – From Guinea-Bissau and carrying on the centuries-old tradition of West African griots, Kimi Djabaté’s music leans heavy on the vocals in soulfully rhythmic tunes. The voice is definitely the thing with this one. It’s been riding around with me for a few weeks, but now that I’ve had a chance to really get into it, I can tell you the more I listen the more I appreciate some of the other (non-vocal) aspects of it: like the gentle, woody, melodic percussion that drives many of the songs. Like the sweetly singing kora. And the transparency of instrumental textures – you can really pick out the individual voices and follow them through each piece. Full disclosure: “Karam” will officially be released on Tuesday (7/28) this coming week. I’ve had a copy of it and I’ve been able to listen to it for a while now because I’m an intern at Cumbancha, and this CD is the first release in the new Cumbancha “Discovery” series. The further truth, though, is that I would be listening to this release and loving it even if I had no association with the label. (I would have just had to wait longer to come across it on my own.) “Karam” is special.

So there you have it, getting the conversation started with the first recommendations in the new “Trading Fours” series. Pick a theme and leave me a comment here with your top four music picks.

vermont mozart festival @ the radiator, event #1

July 20, 2009

oboist Marc Schachman

I mentioned that I’ve (cheerfully!) given over my weekly World of Music timeslot on the Radiator to allow the station to feature a series of interviews and performances with visiting musicians.

For the next two Monday afternoons (3-5pm EDT), the Radiator’s airwaves will resonate with the lyrical sounds of guests from this year’s Vermont Mozart Festival.

Apparently the opening concert yesterday evening at Shelburne Farms was just about picture perfect, with a gorgeous sunsent  over Lake Champlain and a program including the dark Don Giovanni Overture, and – one of my all-time fave classics – the Brahms Variations on a Theme of Haydn. Wish I had heard it! Ah, for the want of being in two places at one time.

The first event in the Radiator series took place this afternoon with guest artist Marc Schachman. He’s played oboe with the Festival since its inception 36 years ago(!) and has recently assumed the position of principal oboe in place of Festival founder Mel Kaplan, who’s taking a more background role this season. Look for Marc as one of the four featured soloists in the Haydn Sinfonia Concertante (for violin, cello, oboe and bassoon) in the Stowe concert this Sunday.

“Music is communication”, Marc explained in the q & a session in the downstairs Burlington Yoga Studio, “it’s why were here.”

And communicate he did, graciously agreeing to play a bit of the Mozart C major Oboe Quartet acapella (and stopping to laugh at himself when he accidentally slipped into playing the violin part at one point!)

Next week’s Mozart Festival event features flutist Jennifer Grim, listen in to 105.9FM (3-5pm EDT) in Burlington, VT or online at The Radiator.

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