Podcast #20 - Ravel's La Valse

"Apotheosis of the Viennese waltz" or musical allegory for the fall of European society?

Ravel Waltz


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Podcast #19 - Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto

A sadly brief discussion of percussion instruments and this powerful percussion concerto. For audio files of the various instruments, go to the Sound Exchange, where you can hear the instruments demonstrated by the Philharmonia Orchestra (use the menu on the left to navigate).

percussion Higdon-Formal6549


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Podcast #18 - William Walton's Partita for Orchestra

A discussion of this wonderful, cinematic, relatively unknown work by the great British composer of the 20th Century.

Walton

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Thoughts on this past weekend's concerts

Another succesful masterworks weekend is past - David Diamond Rounds for String Orchestra, Mozart Violin Concerto #5 and Mendelssohn Symphony #3. A few thoughts:

1) I tried using classical seating for the strings this time. I figured that with the slightly smaller string section and the classical/early romantic repertoire (Mozart and Mendelssohn), it would make a good experiment. I for one was very pleased. Particularly in the Mendelssohn Scottish, thre are so many instances where it's absolutely clear that he was writing for this configuration, with frequent stereophonic effects. I also found that the second violins played with more confidence. Interestingly, so did the violas, who are normally on my right. Maybe they needed the comfort of being between the firsts and the cellos. Whatever the reasons, I thought it worked, and I will not hesitate to use this seating when the occasion warrants in the future (probably the next time will be in April for Beethoven's 9th Symphony).

2) Augustin Hadelich, who played the 5th Mozart Violin Concerto, was nothing short of spectacular. One needed only watch the players in the orchestra, and the utter respect they were telegraphing, to know that we were listening to a master. And at the ripe old age of 23! He plays with such unassuming grace, while at the same time with such energy and abandon. It was simply perfect Mozart. I hope Augustin has the kind of brilliant career he deserves. Nice person too.....

3) What a lovely change of pace for the orchestra. We usually perform the big repertoire of the later 19th and 20th centuries - pieces that take you on emotional roller coaster rides. As stormy as the Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony is, it is serene, tuneful, delightful, and relatively light. Not that it is easy - in some ways, the music is even more difficult than the big romantic works because it is so transparent and there is no place to hide. But it is certainly comfort food for our audience's ears. I'm so glad I programmed it, and that we used a smaller ensemble.

4) David Diamond's Rounds for String Orchestra should be played more. It is an exuberant, interesting, and decidedly American piece of music.

5) The orchestra played wonderfully. I know I've said this many times, but what a lucky conductor I am to have such a talented, and nice, group of musicians to work with.

I have a lot on my plate now. Several new pieces for me on the next concert, and then a very quick turn around to Beethoven's 9th, and Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem (also a first for me). Add to that another ambitious Stuart & Friends concert (Stravinsky Suite Italienne, Mozart K. 526 Violin Sonata, and Brahms A Major Piano Quartet) in between and you have yourself a busy conductor/pianist.

Back to work!

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Nostradamus

Well, I didn't get the score quite right, but I was certainly a lot closer than the zillions of experts who picked the Patriots.

What a great football game. A cliff-hanger to the very finish. They should all be this good.

Congratulations to the Giants. An amazing finish to the season, and denying the Patriots their perfect season at the same time. Great day in sports.

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Some things that don't have much to do with music

It's Super Bowl Sunday, and I'm sick with some kind of bug. Low fever and cold symptoms. Add to that, last Tuesday I slipped on the ice going to get the newspaper and landed with the side of my back hitting the edge of the concrete steps, badly bruising my ribs. So when I cough, it feels like someone is pounding into my side. In short, I feel like crap. My wife is working and the kids are out with my neighbor and her daughter. So, it's a perfect time to catch up on my blogging, as I don't feel like doing much else.

First, my pick for the Super Bowl. Giants over the Patriots, 23-21. Now, understand, I know very little about handicapping football. I like watching the games, but I'm not a fan, like I am of baseball and the New York Mets (more on them later). But the Giants are from New York (okay, New Jersey, but close enough), and I have an irrational dislike of the Patriots. I generally root for the underdog, thus my prediction.

It's been a very big week for the Mets. They finally landed Johan Santana, one of baseballs best pitchers. After the ignoble and depressing finish to last season, the Mets' faithful needed good news in the off-season. Interestingly, the Mets have gone from the expert's pick for third place in the Eastern Division to the pick to seriously challenge the American League powerhouses in the World Series. I think this is hogwash. But, it's nice heading into the new season with a great deal of optimism.

While we're on sports, how about Tiger Woods? The man is over the top great. He seems to always find a way to win. I said before that I generally root for the underdog. One exception is golf. I always root for Tiger.

On Tuesday, Our friend Marilynn took me and the kids to an open rehearsal of American Ballet Theater's production of Sleeping Beauty at the Kennedy Center. It was beautiful. Gorgeous costumes and sets and wonderful dancing. Unfortunately, in act three, the dancers were almost entirely marking. Not much happens in the third act - the prince has already kissed Princess Aurora - it's mostly just set dances. My son, who was on my lap, leaned over about halfway through, and said, "Dad, this is kinda boring." He was right. Not much excitement in watching the bluebird walk back in forth on the stage and throw up his hands. Next time, we should probably go to a performance.

Two nights later, more dancing. I went to see Movin' Out in York, PA. This is the latest incarnation of the show - the non-Equity production, produced by Troika Entertainment. Twyla Tharp directed it herself, and I, with the invaluable and expert help of David Rosenthal, put the band together. I went a few weeks back to see it in Reading, at a beautiful but accoustically challenged theater. It was a bit discouraging, as the sound was very muffled. In York, I thought it sounded great. It also gave me a chance to see both of the tour's piano men - Matthew Friedman (who I saw in Reading), who's performance was very familiar, as he did the first national tour as well; and Kyle Martin, who I hadn't seen do it since we opened in Atlantic City last summer. At the time he was a bit green, and just getting used to the in-ear monitering system. Lots of potential, but not quite there yet. On Thurday, I thought he was terrific. Totally comfortable, energetic, charismatic - everything we hoped for when we hired him. And the band sounded great. As for the dancing, I was very impressed. They cast is doing a wonderful job of keeping the energy up. The story telling is clear, and the dancing impressive. I'm really proud of this show.

That's it for now. I'm ready for more Advil.

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