Monthly Archives: February 2014

String Circle on Now Is the Time

Ethel600All kinds of strings are circling on Now Is the Time, Saturday, March 1st at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet starts off with Daniel Bernard Roumain’s homage to places he’s lived and loved. Ghetto Strings visits Harlem, Liberty City in South Florida, the Motor City, and the land of his parents, Haiti.

Ethel is the string quartet playing String Circle 1 by Kenji Bunch, who, since he’s also an accomplished violist, knows his way around strings. But we go to Phillip Rhodes for a solo viola dance suite, and inspired by Bach. It’s the Partita, from 1977. Full circle is how we’ll finish the show, with guitars, but this time two of them, the wonderful Anderson-Fader Duo. From their CD Le Cirque is Fantasy on 12 Strings by Martin Rokeach.

from Daniel Bernard Roumain: Ghetto Strings 

PROGRAM:
Daniel Bernard Roumain: Ghetto Strings
Kenji Bunch: String Circle 1
Phillip Rhodes: Partita
Martin Rokeach: Fantasy on 12 Strings

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream (just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page). Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, depending on where you are, from the Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Dover. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Any Friend of Brahms… in the Fleisher Collection

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday March 1st at 5 pm

Ignaz Brüll (1846–1907). Serenade No. 2, Op. 36 (1878). Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Marius Stravinsky. Cameo Classics 9031, Tr 1-3. 18:39

Brüll. Violin Concerto, Op. 45 (1882). Ilya Hoffman, violin, Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Laus. Cameo Classics 9048, Tr 2-4. 30:32

Standing: Ignaz Brüll, Anton Door, Josef Gänsbacher, Julius Epstein (Brüll’s piano teacher), Robert Hausmann. Sitting: Gustav Walter, Eduard Hanslick, Johannes Brahms.

It would be disconcerting enough to be at a party with Johannes Brahms. The famous composer was famously grumpy; some of classical music’s great one-liners come from him. When told after the premiere of his first symphony that it sounded like Beethoven, he snapped, “Any ass can see that.” He told a young composer, showing him a new work inspired, he said, by Beethoven, “It’s a good thing Beethoven was not inspired by you.” And then there’s Brahms leaving a gathering: “If there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, I beg his pardon.”

But imagine not only being at a party with Brahms, but being the host, being a composer yourself, and sitting next to him, playing a new Brahms work at the piano. If you can picture that, then you can picture being Ignaz Brüll.

Brüll lived in Vienna, the musical capital of Europe, almost his entire life. Although his father was a successful businessman, both he and Brüll’s mother were musicians, and encouraged their son’s musical gifts. He became a wonderful pianist, concertized, composed, married, and threw parties at his house, which became a meeting-place for his good friend Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Carl Goldmark, the critic Eduard Hanslick, and many other powerful musicians and music-lovers. Whenever Brahms (a good but not great pianist) wanted to air out—piano four-hands—a new piece, he called on Ignaz Brüll to sit next to him.

His biggest success was an opera, The Golden Cross, and he wrote a number of well-received works (Anton Rubinstein was a fan), including much piano music, three Serenades, and a Violin Concerto written for Johann Lauterbach (who has a “Lauterbach” Stradivarius named after him). The second Serenade was recorded using the score and parts in the Fleisher Collection. Fleisher also provided materials for the Violin Concerto project, but the story’s a bit more complicated.

Michael Laus, the conductor on this recording, found the full score in the Fleisher Collection. No parts existed. He also had access to the composer’s manuscript, and the violin/piano version (a piano-with-solo edition of a concerto is often published so that the soloist may study or even perform the work without an orchestra).

The challenge for Laus, though, was that the three sources sometimes disagreed. So he compared them, corrected obvious mistakes, and used the full and piano scores to illuminate confusing smudges in the manuscript. To make it even more interesting, Brüll had rewritten some of the solo for the piano version publication, so that was different. When all this was wrangled, Laus made a set of parts, and went to the recording studio.

Why has the music languished up to now? Partly it’s because that, even though Brahms himself called Brüll “an exceptional melodist,” and though The Golden Cross enjoyed multiple performances into the 1920s, his other works never struck fire. And partly it’s because he suffered the fate of other Jewish composers under the Nazis. He died in 1907 but his music was banned in the 1930s.

His fortunes, however, are changing now. These works and others are being recorded, thanks to Fleisher and the resourcefulness of dedicated musicians. Let’s imagine being at a party in Brüll’s house, with Brahms and all his other friends, enjoying each others’ company and music.

The Overture to The Golden Cross by Ignaz Brüll:

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 12 years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Extended Family on Now Is the Time

NaqoyqatsiWe’re all family on Now Is the Time, Saturday, February 22nd at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Excerpts from the third film in the Philip Glass “Qatsi” trilogy begin the show. Naqoyqatsi from 2002 included much digital imagery, so Glass decided to balance that with a completely acoustic musical underlay. Prominently featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Naqoyqatsi explores our relationships to each other and the world.

The Gene Pool, Siblings, Cousins and Uncles and Aunts, Loss, and The Gathering are the five movements comprising Extended Family by Neil Rolnick. Moving away from family, family moving back, grandchildren, neighbors, neighbors’ children, more family, life and death are all springboards for this string quartet put together with the humor, panache, and skill Rolnick brings to all his music. The string quartet Ethel plays.

from Neil Rolnick: Extended Family 

PROGRAM:
Philip Glass: Naqoyqatsi (excerpts)
Neil Rolnick: Extended Family

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream (just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page). Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, depending on where you are, from the Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Dover. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Provocation

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 19 Feb 2014, as “Provocation or Creation?” Reprinted by permission. To read Bob Levin’s essay in BSR on Tony Matelli’s “provocative” work at Wellesley, click here.]

UntouchablesWhat’s the artist’s job? I have never bought the line that it’s to provoke. Artists need to get attention, sure, otherwise we’re making art just for ourselves. We need to waylay others, grab them by the lapels, and say, Look at this!

It’s also true that there’s a part of our creation that’s just for us. I’ve often felt fortunate to be able to spend time in a text—a psalm, perhaps, or a great poem—getting to know it better, delighting in ever-new revelations I never would have enjoyed, had I not been setting it to music. A composer friend, who shares this wonder of mystics and saints, calls time in the text an act of contemplation.

To make art, though, we must offer the fruits of that contemplation to others. We need to get their attention to do that, of course, but getting their attention is not the job. Provocation is not the job, any more than contemplation is. Neither are religion, politics, or anger. Neither, for that matter, are harmony or counterpoint.

In The Untouchables, David Mamet has Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness saying, after the Canadian Mountie informs him that surprise is half the battle, “Many things are half the battle. Losing is half the battle. Let’s think about what’s the whole battle.”

Provocation is just provocation. Art is, well, bigger.

That doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t provoke, or that everything has to be pretty. That’s a false choice. These days, after all, a pretty thing may well be the most provocative. The long, simple notes that Arvo Pärt picked out, one by one, have revolutionized music in the last few decades. If his music lasts, it will be called great. That means it will continue to live. It will continue to speak to people beyond this time, people with other lapels to grab.

We recognize artists by the elements they choose and the way they combine them. But an artist who relies on just one element, or only a few, courts danger. And yes, courting danger may also be good for art. But if we live by the sword, we’re warned, that’s the very thing that will kill us. Every element has a double edge. Every element provokes the audience and cuts the artist at the same time. (Voices, singing always in the same rhythm, can bore. Intricate counterpoint, however, can confuse.)

The problem with provocation is that it fades. It always fades. It cannot help but fade. What is left when that happens? If the art is any good, one thing will remain: the art.

What’s the artist’s job? To make art.

Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts

JesusThouJoyThe Church of the Holy Trinity, on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, has added an anthem of mine, about once a month, to its services since appointing me Composer-in-Residence back in the fall. John French is the organist/choirmaster, and yesterday he programmed “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts.”

It’s coming up on 30 years ago that I composed the original music for this well-known hymn text, first as a solo, for the wedding of my brother-in-law Sam and his wife Mary Lou. We just had dinner at their house last week, come to think of it, a belated Christmas get-together.

It’s a moderately easy anthem, the melody, chant-like; one of those tunes where the quarter notes kept refusing to step in any regular quarter-note meter. So I threw the whole thing into 3/2 and let the beats fall where they may.

Click on the image above for the first page of music and that’ll give you some idea.

Yesterday, Normand Gouin, the music director at Old St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia (and a fine composer) also had his choir sing “Jesus, Thou Joy,” I missed both services as I was busy at mine, but I am grateful for John and Normand both. Delighted, too, with the beautiful voices at the Church of the Holy Trinity, which you hear in the clip below.

Jesus, thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts
We turn unfilled to thee again.

Our restless spirits yearn for thee,
Where’er our changeful lot is cast;
Glad, when thy gracious smile we see,
Blest, when our faith can hold thee fast.

O Jesus, ever with us stay;
Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
Shed o’er the world thy holy light.

Valentines on Now Is the Time

valentinecatWe hope it’s not too late for Valentines on Now Is the Time, Saturday, February 15th at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. We start with soprano and guitar, and with an orphan’s dream of an angel in Romance by William Ortiz. Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” is the inspiration behind Love Twitters by Augusta Read Thomas, for piano, but Morten Lauridsen asks, “Against whom have you formed these thorns?” in Contre qui, rose. A lover asks for a handkerchief (she’ll return it when no one’s looking), in a four-hand piano setting of the Italian folk song Amor dammi quel fazzolettino by Andrew Violette.

David Bennett Thomas works with some of the greatest love poetry in his Juliet: Five Songs from Shakespeare, and we hear Eric Whitacre’s first published choral work, Go, lovely Rose. Finally, Allen Shawn sends us into the evening with a last-minute Valentine’s Day present for his wife, titled simply, Valentine.

from Augusta Read Thomas: Love Twitters 

PROGRAM:
William Ortiz: Romance
Augusta Read Thomas: Love Twitters
Morten Lauridsen: Contre qui, rose
Andrew Violette: Amor dammi quel fazzolettino
David Bennett Thomas: Juliet: Five Songs from Shakespeare
Eric Whitacre: Go, lovely Rose
Allen Shawn: Valentine

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream (just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page). Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, depending on where you are, from the Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Dover. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Alan Morrison Premiere Snow-Postponed until March 16th

organpipesblueJust got done telling someone how much I love snow; that’ll teach me. It is the indirect cause—the snow, not my telling, I hope—of the postponement of Alan Morrison‘s premiere of my solo organ piece Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr, commissioned by Abington Presbyterian Church for the rededication of its organ.

Due to the extended power interruption at the church this past week, the premiere and all the events surrounding that concert could not go on this Sunday, February 16, as was originally planned.

Everything’s been moved to Sunday, March 16, 2014:

10:00 Rededication Worship Service with Ethel Geist, organist
4:00 Rededication Recital with Alan Morrison, organist, which includes Two Meditations

So it isn’t because of the snow that’s supposed to hit here in (as I write) ten hours, but because of the past storms that knocked out electricity for multiple days. I can imagine all the effort it takes to produce events on this scale—including, I’m guessing, last-minute prep for the instrument—so with a big thank-you to Alan (with an incredibly busy schedule) and to John Sall, Ethel Geist, the organ rededication committee at APC, and to the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, we’ll give it a go on Sunday, March 16th!