Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Peace Creeps, Cold

My colleague AJay McLaughlin is the co-songwriter, along with Richard Bush, for most of the tunes of the Philadelphia rock band The Peace Creeps. On their new album Time Machine is the song “Cold,” for which they wanted to have a string quartet accompaniment, à la “Eleanor Rigby” (Peace Creeps founder Richard, who also led The A’s way back when, makes no bones about his love for The Beatles).

AJay knows I write “classical music” and so wondered if I might like to take a crack at string arranging for them. He sent me a demo of the song, I was immediately hooked, and I wrote it up for quartet, doubling and quadrupling them at the high point. I sent them the score and mp3, and they hired the players and recorded them. Now the CD’s out.

Let me tell you, I’m thrilled. My name’s on a rock ‘n’ roll CD, and the song sounds great. The whole CD sounds great. Listen to samples and buy it at CDBaby or iTunes.

Here’s part of a review:

The most surprising song on the album is “Cold”–just one minute and a mere ten lines long, with only a string quartet for accompaniment (arranged by Philadelphia composer Kile Smith)–perhaps a nod to Beatles producer George Martin, who pushed for the use of orchestral instruments in “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby.” None of these are even close to being “copies” of Beatles songs, but their tone and attitude nevertheless pervade.

More reviews here and here.

Where flames a word, CD review

Quebec’s François Couture’s Listening Diary, in French and English, “IS NOT a collection of thought-out reviews. It’s a set of on-the-spot reactions.” He listens to tons, and likes The Crossing’s latest CD It is Time:

The Crossing is a strong choir devoted to classical and contemporary music. Navona Records just devoted a record to it. Conducted by Donald Nally, the choir performed works by David Shapiro, Kile Smith, Paul Fowler, Frank Havrøy, Erhard karkowschka, and Kirsten Broberg,. Shapiro’s two pieces explore deeply mastered dissonant harmonies. The other composers are less bold, but “Where flames a word” by Smith and Broberg’s ‘Breathturn” develop original ideas. And all in all, It Is Time is a pretty nice offering.

The Waking Sun in the Chestnut Hill Local

Seven members of Tempesta di Mare Baroque Orchestra accompanied The Crossing under Nally’s direction in a work that begins rhythmically energetically and harmonically astringently but that little by little over the course of its six movements leaves its dissonances behind to become more and more consonant, abandons its sharply etched rhythms in favor of more and more lyricism. By its conclusion, “The Waking Sun” is a soothing lullaby of the soul’s peaceful ascension into heavenly rest.

Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local, 23 June 2011

The Waking Sun in the Broad Street Review

Tom Purdom’s review is here. He likes The Waking Sun a lot, although he thinks that my handling of Seneca doesn’t reflect as integrated a worldview as my recent works on Christian themes (Exsultet, Vespers, and Two Laudate Psalms). But it is inventive and expressive as they are, he writes. The Tantalus section seemed to resonate particularly. I’m hearing that from many people. The Crossing receives well-deserved praise for all the performances.

A letter responds to his review here, with especially nice things to say about the finale. Thank you, both!

Hermann Baumann

My latest CD mini-review for WRTI, including podcast. You can read all my CD reviews here.

Grande Messe de Saint Hubert. Hermann Baumann

Hunting music for natural horns, valve horns, organ
Hermann Baumann, horn soloist and conductor
Folkwang Horn Ensemble, Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten, Wolfgang Klasener, organ

It would be difficult to choose one musical instrument to represent a country, but if the country is Germany, the instrument would have to be (of all things) the French horn. The horn really is French, but Germans adopted it early on for its nobility of tone and noblesse oblige in ensemble playing. Well, everyone prizes those qualities, but there’s something that particularly resonates with the German soul, and that is its naivete, its unaffected folk simplicity. This comes out of its origins as a hunting-horn… read more…

Claude Debussy

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Symphony in B minor (1880), orch. Tony Finno 1998. Orchestre National de Lyon, Jun Märkl. Naxos 8.572583. Tr 14-16. 11.15

Claude Debussy. Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra  (1889/90). Aldo Ciccolini, piano, Orchestre de l’ORTF, Jean Martinon. EMI 75526. CD 4, Tr 1-3. 24:54

Claude Debussy. Six Épigraphes antiques (1914), orch. Ernest Ansermet 1935. L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Ansermet. Decca 4758140. CD 4, Tr 13-18. 15:11

Claude Debussy, c.1884

When Claude Debussy was 18 and teaching piano to the children of Nadezhda von Meck (Tchaikovsky’s famed patroness), he wrote the first movement of a symphony–oh yes, a symphony by Debussy–which he sketched out for piano duet. But he made no more progress on it, and later told people that he didn’t like symphonies. The manuscript was quickly forgotten.

It resurfaced after his death, however, and this delightful orchestration of it reveals an energetic young composer working in the Romantic heritage of Massenet and Franck. It’s fun to think that the composer of this traditional piece would, in a few years, turn the musical world on its head with daring impressionistic harmonies.

While he was still finding the musical language that would be identifiably his, he wrote the Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra. Then, during rehearsals for the premiere, he snatched the parts from the orchestra stands, forbidding it ever to be played. While we don’t entirely know the reason for his vehemence, he was dissatisfied with the orchestration, and wanted to make the piano more clearly heard above the other instruments. This is something all composers of concerto-like pieces face, regardless of the solo instrument.

Others postulate that the Fantaisie came about because Debussy heard Javanese gamelan music at the 1889 Paris Exposition. Perhaps he thought that the new work didn’t fully exploit the exotic sounds? Well, this is what makes music history fun… what a different piece might it have been had he drawn inspiration from another exhibition at the fair: the Wild West Show with Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley? In any case, Debussy went on to other things, and his ban was finally overcome with the premiere of the Fantaisie in 1919. Of course, he had been dead for a year and a half.

These early works aside, Debussy is known as the leading composer of “impressionism.” Six Épigraphes antiques is a good example. Partly based on songs from 1900, they were written for piano four-hands (as was the Symphony) in 1914, Ernest Ansermet orchestrating them two decades later.

Impressionism in painting can refer to the small, meticulous brush strokes that evoke a mood, if not the photographic detail, of a scene. In music, the grand statement of the symphonic tradition is eschewed for nuanced colors, with chords moving in unexpected (the theorists say “non-functional”) ways. The music appears to float, rather than point the way to a destination and move toward it. All such descriptions are, at most, only partly useful, and Debussy himself didn’t care for the term “impressionism.”

Maybe it isn’t fair.

On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now nine years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.