Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Happening

The woman in the picture is Vera Meyer. She plays the Glass Harmonica in Harvard Square regularly. Doubtless it's a tough life, made all the tougher by mean little bastards like myself, well, when I'm feeling mean, as I was this morning.

Vera was performing as I returned from Peet's with my coffee, calling to passersby with her usual refrain: "Ben Franklin's Glass Harmonica." Having recently stumbled on a recording of Mozart's Adagio for Glass Harmonica, K. 357 (617a) via Soho the Dog, I meanly decided that, when she asked me what "tune" I'd like to hear, instead of making a normal request like "Ode to Joy" or "America the Beautiful" or some popular item, I'd casually say "Mozart's Adagio for Glass Harmonica."

It all played out as I'd imagined, until I mentioned the piece. Vera simply smiled warmly —whether out of appreciation of the request, or from the fact that she knew I was just being a pissant, I'll never know — and simply started playing from memory. When she was finished, she wisely deduced that I was a musician, and suggested that if I ever played in a bass quintet, I should contact her, as she knew a wonderful piece for glass harmonica and strings. By then, my coffee was getting cold, and I wanted to get back to the quad before all heat was gone, so I dropped a fiver into her bowl and left — in a far better mood than that in which I had arrived.

In other news, the walls of my new dorm room are bare. I need some posters, I'd love to find some of orchestras (preferably BSO), singers (preferably some strikingly beautiful soprano/mezzo), composers, conductors, or performers. I just don't know where to find such items, and online stores have a very small and useless collection (fyi, allposters dot com, I don't want to wake up and look over to see Beethoven's "oh how cruel the world is" countenance.) Advice would be much appreciated.

One last thought: It'd be really great if someone would compose a piece for Glass Harmonica and Theremin. That'd be wild...perhaps I should commission one. Wonder how much it would cost.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Another amazing discovery

I collect cello concerti. That's really what I would consider my "area", if I had one, of classical music, since I've played the cello basically all my life. Not so much recently, but I'm making an effort to change that. Anyway, one of the CDs I ordered a while ago from Archiv Music was a recording pretty low in the BIS catalogue, BIS CD-78: Vagn Holmboe Cello Concerto. It's a fair piece at best; I've listened through it three times, perhaps, since buying the CD. My protocol states that the CD is immediately ripped to iTunes, the cello concerto listened to, and the other tracks dumped into the master Classical playlist for rotation (e.g. randomization).

It was a mere ten minutes ago that iTunes' faithful randomizer landed me on a choral work by Vagn Holmboe: Benedic Domino, Op. 59. It's a delightful piece, although it doesn't sound particularly modern, but I've never been one to bash a composer for failure to use a modern idiom, so any lack in modernism didn't, for me, diminish the value of the piece. Also on the CD is a fine little 12-minute brass quintet, Op. 79, certainly worth a spot in performence (perhaps next to one of Gunther Schuller's); as well as Triade Op. 123 for Trumpet and Organ, an odd piece that has its moments. But certainly, the hidden gem is Vagn Holmboe's Benedic Domino; for fans of vocal/choral music it is absolutely worth listening to.

And, to continue what appears to be an emerging theme of insomnia treatments, Doxylamine seems not to affect me in the least. As for the picture, a google search for "Holmboe" came up with that on something like the third page. Somehow (ha ha) I liked it better than all the other pictures, so posted it was.

A Little Cowboy Music

Hidden on Rodney Lister's CD Somewhere To Get To, tucked between a wonderful five-part song cycle Of Mere Being based on the poems of Wallace Stevens, and Everness, a song on a poem by Borges, is a polytonal gem of a piece: A Little Cowboy Music, scored for bass, clarinet, violin, and piano.

If one had to summarise Rodney Lister's output in just one word, it would almost certainly be weird, as Rodney is equally at home writing in sonorous, profound harmony and hopeless, meandering dissonance. And when I say weird I don't mean Cagey (e.g. John Cage) weird: there is nothing at all experimental-sounding in the music of Rodney Lister; on the contrary I find it sure-footed and exact. I suppose Rodney Lister's music is weird in the way that Captain Beefheart's and Keith Fullerton Whitman's music is weird: a strangeness somewhat synonymous with genius.

Which brings me back to the Ivesian A Little Cowboy Music which was written some 30 years ago. From what I make of it, it's a quodlibet wherein the themes take different tempi and tonal centers, the end result being a jarring, witty, and, yes, weird polytonal and polyrhythmic experience; made all the greater by the tunes selected. I can't place all of them, but certainly there's Home on the Range, Goodbye Old Paint, Red River Valley, and The Ballad of Jesse James.

Also appearing on the CD is a setting of John Hollander's Blue Wine, by far my favorite track of the CD, though all are excellent. Anyway, I suppose the thesis of this entry is that Somewhere To Get To: The Music of Rodney Lister is one of those CDs that every music fan, not just 20th-century classical fans, but every music fan, ought to listen through at least once.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

I'm obsessed

...with Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 3 in A, Op. 69; performed by the guy above (Miklós Perényi) with András Schiff, a recording happily provided by ECM. Having listened to this piece, and only this piece, for thirteen hours with breaks only to eat, go running, and indulge myself in tea and friendly converation, I have drugged myself up with sleep-regulating melatonin.

Good Night.

Oh, and don't misconstrue this as evidence that I've changed my mind about the greatest living cellist. It's still Anner Bylsma.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Today I want to talk about the Second Viennese School and about how serialism ruined modern music. Just kidding, I'm going to talk about something completely different ... but if iTunes decides to play any more Wuorinen this evening, I might just change my mind.

In the vein of twelve-tone music, before I fully get off the subject, stands Alberto Ginastera and his diabolical piano concertos, which upon hearing, I immediately ordered. My university has a really nice subscription to the Naxos Music Library: essentially, any student can log in through the e-resources page, search the Naxos library (which includes Marco Polo, BIS, and a few other really nice labels), and, quite literally, stream whatever music you want. This was the first CD I've ever ordered for a piano concerto; all those in my library (and there are few) were companions to pieces I wanted. I'm not sure exactly what it is I hear in Ginastera's music that sets him apart from Schönberg, late Stravinski, and especially Dallapiccola—perhaps he uses just enough non-dodecaphonic material (for me) to give the serialism an emotional grounding—but I like him more.

In other news, I just located a CD which had escaped its case some years ago, and had eluded me despite periodic exertions of effort. Immediately I ripped it (lossless format) to my hard drive and am now backing up my iTunes library. I forget the circumstances behind how I originally obtained this CD, but I'm glad to have it, since I can't seem to find it easily online. It appears to be an obscure CD under the label Urania: a set of digitally-remastered re-releases of early Rostropovich recordings: including Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, Faure's Après un reve, and a completely nuts recording of Popper's Elfentanz. This should be pretty helpful for this January's Rostropovich Orgy.