Friday, September 28, 2007

Franck Explored by Nigerian Sodi Braide

William Zick (AfriClassical) informed me of Nigerian pianist Sodi Braide’s recent recording of Franck solo piano works (released on the Lyrinx label). Mr. Braide won a jury discretionary award at the Twelfth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2005. He placed sixth in the Leeds International Competition in 2003. I look forward to listening to this artist’s rendering of these often overlooked Romantic works sometime soon. I am sure that it will be a source of pride for the Nigerian musical community. Mr. Braide’s accomplishments at the two highly significant international piano competitions reveal that he will be an important pianist in years to come. You can read more about Sodi Braide in Mr. Zick’s informative post about the Franck release.

Nigeria is increasingly producing some young pianists of note. Glen Inanga, one half of the Micallef-Inanga piano duo, is of Nigerian descent. The duo has released quite a few records, one of the most interesting being a massive set of variations by Robin Holloway based on Bach’s Goldberg Variations (the work only fits on two CD’s and is titled “Gilded Goldbergs”). Another significant Nigerian pianist is Funsho Ogundipe, who works in jazz and Afrobeat styles through his band Ayetoro.

Read More......

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Long Tail of New Classical Radio

Bob Shingleton (whose contemporary classical radio program was the subject of a recent post here) wrote to me the other day:

The kind words in your post are very much appreciated - as you realise I'm
simply trying to leverage new media to create a radio 'long tail' that reaches
music currently being neglected by the ratings driven high profile stations.

The very positive response from you, and many others, is prompting me to
go further down the 'tail'.

On this week's programme (Sunday Sept 30) I will be playing two full length pieces from young European composers, Rebecca Saunders (England) and Bernard Schweitzer (German) commissioned by the period instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra with funding from the Siemens Arts Program. This will probably be the first broadcast of these two works, and they will bookend Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 6.

I think it is always helpful to place newer music into some kind of stylistic context alongside older works with similar instrumentation, common approaches to sound, etc. This can often serve to help listeners identify how composers interact with the past in the present. Bob is taking some very good cues from the programming talents of forward-looking music directors who program adventurously but with an ear for thematic continuity. Pitting two new pieces involving period instruments against a Bach work that would have used much of the same kinds of instrumental colors in Bach's time is a fascinating idea. (For anyone who might not understand this, period instruments are those that would have been used during a certain historical time period. Many ensembles (here's an example) are attempting more historically informed performances of older works through the use of such instruments as sackbuts, basset horns, recorders, baroque violins, etc.)

It is this kind of creative and audience-obliging approach that will help revitalize the newly restructured classical music industry. Yes, that's right: this business is beginning to form multiple "long tails" (like Bob's radio program and others like it) that will eventually replace some of the outmoded and ineffective models of classical music presentation. What other long tails are there, you ask? Read this post by Jason Heath to learn about the surging long tail in classical music downloads.

(Once again if you missed it before: Listen to Bob Shingleton's show on Sundays at Future Radio; it is available for online listening)

Read More......

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

American Voices and George Crumb

I’m trying to find some scraps of time to get back into new blog entries this week. My schedule has been extremely busy lately because of multiple performances in Dayton, but it’s been really fun to get back into the professional music-making life after a restful summer.

Last week at DPO I played some really cool American orchestral works: Bernstein’s Symphony no. 2 (The Age of Anxiety) and Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral. (Norman Krieger was the piano soloist on the Bernstein; it was quite an excellent performance.) The fall line-up at DPO is dedicated to American composers exclusively, as part of the NCR Made in America Festival (supported by NCR and the National Endowment for the Arts).

This week I am involved in a special festival performance of George Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children, his beautiful song cycle from 1970 (based on texts by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca). Crumb is one of America’s most treasured art-music heroes, having contributed many massive and thoroughly unique chamber ensemble masterpieces to the American repertory over the last few decades. Ancient Voices is scored for a pretty strange cast of instrumental and vocal forces: mezzo-soprano, boy soprano, oboe, mandolin, musical saw, harp, amplified piano (and toy piano), and percussion (three players).

The texts are evocative, earthy, and emotionally direct. Crumb responds to Lorca compositionally through music that is just as direct and earthy: Highly decorated melodies, a wide palette of musical colors, and special sound effects are incorporated into a sound world that seems ancient yet energetically alive and virile.

Crumb has always written well for his primary instrument, the piano, and he is one of the chief innovators of music that is played “inside” the (grand) piano. I am required to play directly on the piano strings in this piece, and I thought it would be interesting for readers if I shared a couple of these techniques through some pictures.

The photo below shows me plucking the strings (like a harp) using an upward finger gesture from the string. I should mention that this technique (and all of the others shown here) are made sonically possible only by depressing the damper pedal and allowing the strings to vibrate freely.

This next picture shows the preparation of a very cool (and extremely loud!) technique using both hands on the lowest strings of the piano. You can see that my left hand thumb is poised at the edge of the lowest bass strings (just in front of the hammers), which will perform a rapid glissando across the notes of the bass region. At the same time, my right hand will swipe some bass strings (using my fingernails) which will create a “whistling” sound. These two gestures combine to create a powerful "whoosh" that will knock you out of your seat!

Here’s what my hands look like AFTER I’ve played the gesture (notice where the hands have moved):

Finally, here is a picture of an even more strange and wonderful example of Crumb’s endless creativity in generating instrumental sound through extended techniques. This technique is called “chisel-piano”: I hold a metal chisel (precisely 5/8 inch wide) in my right hand with the point resting firmly on a specific string and produce sliding pitches by moving the chisel up and down the string. You can see that I have specific places marked with bits of masking tape. These bits of tape, which are place on the strings directly next to the ones I have to “chisel”, show me where to move the chisel to produce specific pitches. My left hand plucks the string to get it vibrating. Then I move the chisel rapidly from pitch-point to pitch-point, creating a ghostly and eerie sound completely removed from any other sound normally associated with the piano.

Yes, I know what the request will be for this post: can I please hear these effects? Well, if you can, come see the concert! This piece (as well as any of Crumb’s other compositions) needs to be experienced live to get any idea of what his music is all about. If you can’t make it, I’ve posted a video here of a portion from one of Crumb’s solo piano works. (Someday when I'm less busy I'll get the equipment/software to do my own sound files on the blog...)

Below is a video performance of a movement ("Primeval Sounds - Genesis I")from George Crumb’s solo piano masterpiece Makrokosmos I, Margaret Leng Tan performing. You can witness one of the wonderful special effects I mentioned above, the glissando effect on the strings. (Notice that there is a small chain placed on the bass strings during most of this movement; it adds a “rattling” sound to the music.)

Guest pianist Andrew Russo will be playing this work in the first half of our Wednesday night concert devoted to the music of George Crumb.

Read More......

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Antioch Piano Series

The Antioch College Music Department presents a professional piano series every year in the town of Yellow Springs, Ohio. This season features two solo piano recitals and one trio concert.

Sunday, October 7, 2007 at 7:00 PM: James Tocco, piano (Mr. Tocco is a former teacher of mine; he teaches at UC-CCM in Cincinnati.)

Monday, November 12, 2007 (time TBA): The Merling Trio of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 7:00 PM: Jon Nakamatsu (gold medal winner of the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.)

The series is made possible through support from the Adams Foundation, which sponsors many professional piano series throughout the country. It is also co-sponsored by Chamber Music Yellow Springs. All performances are located in Kelly Hall on the campus of Antioch College.

No brochure is available online yet for this year’s series, but there is a PDF brochure from last year that contains directions, contact info, and other information. I will update this post with a link if a current online brochure is produced.

(Thanks to Dr. Christopher Chaffee for bringing the series to my attention.)

Read More......

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Contemporary Classical on Future Radio

Bob Shingleton (author of the blog On An Overgrown Path) is hosting a truly unique radio program dedicated to contemporary classical music on Future Radio in the UK. It airs weekly on Sunday afternoons from 17:00-18:00 in Norwich, eastern England. This converts to an airtime of 12:00 PM if you are in Eastern Standard Time in the US.

Anyone can listen to the show via streaming audio over the internet. Click here for direct connection to the audio stream. It can only be heard in real time so listeners must tune in at the appropriate time. (Bob suggests using Winamp or iTunes.)

I am personally excited about this program because of its focus on contemporary classical music, which is something too many public classical radio stations avoid (unfortunately) like the plague. Why? Well, as far as I can tell, many classical stations are afraid of alienating the narrow-minded but deep-pocketed patrons who only like easy-listening (translate: OLD and BORING) classical music programming. But how much Baroque guitar music and endless replays of Haydn symphonies can one person take before falling asleep or switching to the much more exciting rock/pop stations? (Of course, those are getting more dreary and overly commercialized as well…but that’s another topic for another day.) It’s time to put some excitement back into sleepy concert music broadcasting, and this radio show is a great place to start challenging ears and expanding musical minds. The programs in September (of 2007) will feature music from many interesting composers including Terry Riley, John Adams, Judith Weir, Elisabeth Lutyens, Lou Harrison, and Vanessa Lann.

Future Radio is a community radio station that features a great deal of music programming that ranges all over the map from rock and gospel to blues and world music. They are doing the right thing broadcasting online (in addition to their local radio broadcast) for world-wide exposure. Online radio is providing wonderful forums like this for marginalized music in every genre, but it’s especially needed for the promotion of good contemporary classical music. Please support the good fight for accessible contact to great concert music that is being written now and later: tune in on Sundays at 12:00 EST.

After all, hearing music that is new and unfamiliar can be fun and exhilarating!
(Suggestions for links to other good contemporary classical broadcasts are welcome.)

Read More......

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Giant is Gone

The great operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti has passed away at the age of 71. He was, perhaps, the most widely celebrated classical music icon of his time.

Read the NY Times notice here.

Anthony Tommasini takes an honest and critical look back at Pavarotti's wide-ranging career.

Most classical music bloggers will certainly link to many of Pavarotti's juicy operatic scenes from the 1970s through the 1990s as a memorial tribute. Since this is (sometimes) a piano blog, I'll offer a different but appropriate selection: Luciano sings a lovely Italian song in a smaller space with just piano accompaniment (Leone Maggiera, pianist). He's seen here in the more intimate art song format, allowing the focus to be on his exquisite artistic and interpretive abilities unobstructed by concert hall super-stardom.

It is difficult to be unmoved by Pavarotti's presence in this performance of Tosti's Non T’amo Piú. RIP, LP...

Read More......