Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Kairos Quartet

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

A couple of years ago, I shared an all-Beethoven chamber music playlist in a Once Upon the Internetpost emanating from Central Washington University, whose faculty shared a lot of their tracks on the old MP3.COM. 

As I dug through more of my old downloads for more old Internet finds, I found a few more CWU tracks, and I plan to share some more of these in the coming months.

According to their website the Kairos Quartet, established in 1993, has been the quartet-in-residence at Central Washington University since 1998. “Kairos” is a Greek word for non-chronological time, those special moments when a child is at play or artists are absorbed in their work, when time seems suspended.

The members, all on faculty at the university, have extensive chamber music experience and have toured internationally. In addition to traditional concert performances, the Kairos Quartet is committed to educational outreach and to performing in unlikely venues in which they seek to break down the barriers between audience and performers.As is often the case with quartets, the composition f the group has undergone change through the years, but two members from the quartet in today's playlist are still part of the ensemble - violinist Carrie Rehkopf and cellist John Michel (who I believe are husband and wife).

As I said a few months ago in a post on "Amateur night", there can be blemishes in any live performance, especially when guests join an established group. However, the result is often satisfying, as it's about the concert experience.

Happy Listening!

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
String quartet in F Major, MR 35

Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
String quintet (2 violins, viola and 2 cellos) in C Major, D. 956 

Carrie Rehkopf & Marcia Kaufmann ,violins
Scott Hosfeld, viola
John Michel, cello
David Geber, cello (D. 956)

Downloaded from MP3.COM - 12 March 2002

Friday, September 16, 2016

Two 20th Century Choral Works

No. 230 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


Our next few podcasts will explore vocal repertoire, and in particular works for large vocal esnsembles. The two works I chose this week are both from the 20th centiry, and embrace a pair of unique traditions.

I a recent Tuesday Blog, I discussed the annual tradition that is the Last Night of the Proms. This year's edition featured a work that was premiered by the founder of the Proms, SIr Henry Wood. Vaughan Williams wrote Serenade to Music   as a tribute to  Sir Henry to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his first concert.The solo parts were composed specifically for the voices of sixteen eminent British singers chosen by Wood and the composer for the premiere. In some parts of the work, the soloists sing together as a "choir," sometimes in as many as twelve parts; in others, each soloist is allotted a solo (some soloists get multiple solos).

Wood conducted the first performance at his jubilee concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 5 October 1938. Following Wood's tradition, the 2016 edition featured 16 hand-picked young singers.

The text is an adaptation of the discussion about music and the music of the spheres in Act V, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. Vaughan Williams later arranged the piece into versions for chorus and orchestra and solo violin and orchestra.

Where RVW's Serenade is a contemplative ad serene work, the second selection is a rebel rousing choral juggernaut without compare: Carl Orff's scenic cantata Carmina Burana.

The full title of the piece is quite descriptive - Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanæ cantoribus et choris cantandæ comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis ("Songs of Beuern: Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images").

Carmina Burana - as is the case for any work that is sung is a cantata, though we typically reserve the term cantata to imply a specific meaning. In fact, it contrasts somewhat with an oratorio - an oratorio is like an opera, but it's a concert piece, without the acting and such, and its content is often sacred. A cantata is similar to an oratorio, but it is used directly as part of a church service. J.S. Bach wrote both sacred and secular cantatas, and in his use a cantata is merely a short oratorio.

Orff developed a dramatic concept he called "Theatrum Mundi" in which music, movement, and speech were inseparable. No disrespect untended to Papa Bach, Orff's cantata is "on steroids", and is viewed as much as a stage work as it is a piece of choral music.

The work sets 24 poems from the medieval collection (mostly in Latin verse, with a small amount of Middle High German and Old Provençal.) to music, structured into five major sections, containing 25 movements total. Orff indicates attacca markings between all the movements within each scene.

The selection covers a wide range of topics, as familiar in the 13th century as they are today: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.

I think you will love this music too!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Project 366 - The Concerto

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

In this second of two installments dedicated to orchestral repertoire, we turn to the concerto. In modern-day parlance, a concerto is a piece of music that – in a manner not too dissimilar to the “duo sonata”, features a soloist being accompanied by an orchestra.

Solo Vs Grosso

The solo instrument featured in concerti can be any instrument, though they are typically the piano, violin (or another string instrument) or a wind instrument (flute, oboe, or even a trumpet or saxophone). There are no limitations in that regard. The soloist and ensemble are related to each other by alternation, competition, and combination.

This form of concerto, which we will call here the solo concerto, sometimes involves a few players as “soloists” – that is, say, two pianos, or piano and violin, or (in the case of Beethoven’s triple concerto) a piano trio. Although less frequent in the classical or romantic periods, the use of a group of players accompanied by the orchestra is actually aligned with a form popular in the baroque and early classical periods, the concerto grosso in which the musical material is passed between a small group of soloists (the concertino) and full orchestra (the ripieno).

The first major composer to use the term concerto grosso was Arcangelo Corelli. After Corelli's death, a collection of twelve of his concerti grossi was published; not long after, composers such as Francesco Geminiani, Pietro Locatelli and Giuseppe Torelli wrote concertos in the style of Corelli. He also had a strong influence on Antonio Vivaldi, though Vivaldi is best known today for about 350 concerti for solo instrument and strings, of which 230 are for violin, the others being for bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, viola d'amore, recorder, lute, or mandolin.

Corelli's concertino group was invariably two violins and a cello, with a string section as ripieno group. Both were accompanied by a basso continuo with some combination of harpsichord, organ, lute or theorbo. Handel wrote several collections of concerti grossi, and several of the Brandenburg Concertos by J. S. Bach also loosely follow the concerto grosso form.

The concerto grosso form was superseded by the solo concerto and the sinfonia concertante in the late eighteenth century, and new examples of the form did not appear for more than a century. In the twentieth century, the concerto grosso has been used by composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Ernest Bloch, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Bela Bartok.

The concerto template

Like the sonata and symphony, the concerto is typically made up of several – typically three, but sometimes four - contrasting movements integrated tonally and often thematically. The individual movements are usually based on certain recognized designs, including sonata form, variations, and rondo form. In most cases, the three movements of a concerto fall into this scheme: FAST-SLOW-FAST. This setup, which has been around for centuries works especially well in a concerto, enabling the soloists to show off their amazing technique in the first and last movements and to bring the listener into a more intimate, soulful world in the middle.

Moreover, the solo concerto provides or at least invites an improvised cadenza near the end of a movement—an extended, free flourish that may go on for as long as several minutes.

The term “concertino” is sometimes used as the diminutive term for concerto - a short concerto freer in form. It normally takes the form of a one-movement musical composition for solo instrument and orchestra, though some concertinos are written in several movements played without a pause.

Who’s the Boss?

In an infamous “disclaimer” prior to a concerto performance, Leonard Bernstein offered an interesting observation:

[What of the age old question]: "In a concerto, who is the boss; the soloist or the conductor?" The answer is, of course, sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on the people involved. But almost always, the two manage to get together by persuasion or charm or even threats to achieve a unified performance.

The problem isn’t very different than the situation we have in a duo sonata. Inherent in the concerto’s interrelationship of soloist and orchestra is the dialogue, the partnership – and at times the confrontation – between the soloist and the orchestra.. This dialogue influences the very nature of the solo part by almost forcing the soloist into a virtuoso’s role so that he can compete on an equal footing with his adversary, the orchestra. The dialogue, furthermore, influences not only the construction of individual musical phrases but also the musical textures chosen. In addition, it affects the ways of developing musical material (e.g., themes, rhythms) according to the logic of musical form, and even the broader blocking off of sections within forms, as in the concerto’s repeated exposition, with its sections for full orchestra (tutti) and soloist.

In a typical subscription concert, the concerto is sometimes the most important piece on the program, if only because it brings on stage a special guest. More often than not, the invited soloist is a familiar "star virtuoso", or even sometimes a promising talent. Without fail, however, the concerto is the opportunity for the audience to experience the closest thing to a musical summit, as we have here - at least - two great musicians, the soloist and conductor.

Exploring the concerto repertoire - Some Listener Guides

Listener Guide #35 - "Concertos without Soloist". Here are a number of concerti for orchestra by Vivaldi, Corelli, Stravinsky and Bartok. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #190 - 20 March 2015)

Listener Guide #36 - "Concertinos" -  A montage of “concertinos”, short concertos in one continuous movement or several short sections that feature the clarinet, violin and piano among others. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 228 - 19 Aug 2016)

Listener Guide #37 - "Schumann & Grieg". Piano music from Schumann and Grieg, with Radu Lupu playing their A minor piano concertos. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 37 - January 6, 2012)

Listener Guide #38 - "Mendelssohn & Bruch". The two great German violin concerti, performed in this vintage recording by Josef Suk (Vinyl's Revenge #5 - 13 Jan 2015)

Listener Guide #39 - "Tchaikovsky Concertos". Some selections from my vinyl collection of Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto and the violin concerto. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 134 - 6 December 2013)

Listener Guide #40 - "Beethoven & Korngold". A pairing of the Korngold and Beethoven’s violin concertos in D. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #155 - 9 May 2014)

Listener Guide #41 - "Suoni la tromba" - A podcast featuring the trumpet in concerti and other orchestral favourites. It includes a cover-to-cover performance of Wynton Marsalis' Grammy winning album of cllasical trumpet concertos. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 229 - 02 Sep, 2016).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Last Night of the Proms (2004)

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

A yearly tradition, this coming Saturday will be the Last Night at the Proms. I thought it would be appropriate to recycle an old broadcast to illustrate and discuss this special concert and its unique format.

The BBC Proms, or The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC, is an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts and other events held annually, predominantly in the Royal Albert Hall in central London, England. 

Founded in 1895, each season currently consists of more than 70 concerts in the Albert Hall, a series of chamber concerts at Cadogan Hall, additional Proms in the Park events across the United Kingdom on the last night, and associated educational and children's events. It is without question the United Kingdom's biggest annual music festival.

Prom is short for promenade concert, a term which originally referred to outdoor concerts in London's pleasure gardens, where the audience was free to stroll around while the orchestra was playing. This "tradition" has been copied everywhere around the world, and every major orchestra today has "Pops" series though nothing compares quite with the symbolism and oozing nationalism of the seminal event of the festival, the "Last Night" concert.

Indeed, many people's perception of the Proms is taken from the Last Night, although this concert is very different from the others. Broadcast nationally on BBC Television, the concert typically has a more "accessible classics" first part followed by a series of British patriotic pieces in the second half of the concert. 

This sequence established in 1954 includes Edward Elgar's "Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1" (to part of which "Land of Hope and Glory" is sung) and Henry Wood's "Fantasia on British Sea Songs", followed by Thomas Arne's "Rule, Britannia!". The concert concludes with Hubert Parry's "Jerusalem" (a setting of a poem by William Blake), and the British national anthem. 

The video I chose today happens to be one of the few "complete" broadcasts I could find on YouTube, and happens to be Leonard Slatkin's farewell concert with the BBC Symphony.


PART 1 [Stats at 3:00]

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Karneval, koncertní ouvertura (Carnival Overture), op. 92 [B. 169]1911

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Horn Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, op. 11 [TrV 117]
David Pyatt, horn

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
5 Mystical Songs, for baritone, chorus ad lib and orchestra (1911)
Thomas Allen, baritone

Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Toccata Festiva, for organ and orchestra, op. 36
Simon Preston, organ

PART 2 [Starts at 1:12:00]

Sir Peter Maxwell DAVIES (1934-2016)
Ojai Festival Overture, for orchestra, J. 240 

Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Coro a bocca chiusa (Humming Chorus) from Madama Butterfly (1904)

Showtune Medley featuring Thomas Allen, baritone:

Richard RODGERS (1902-1979)
"Oh, what a beautiful morning" from Oklahoma! (1943, arr. Robert Russell Bennett)

Cole PORTER (1891-1964)
"Where is the life that late I led?" from Kiss Me Kate (1948)

Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
- "I've got a little list" , rom The Mikado (1884-85) - additional lyrics by Kit Hesketh-Harvey

John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932)
March 'The Liberty Bell' (1893)

Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D major ('Land of Hope and Glory'), op. 39, no. 1

Sir Henry J. WOOD (1869-1944)
Fantasia on British Sea Songs (1905, with additional Songs arranged by Stephen Jackson)

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Jerusalem ('And did those feet in ancient time', 1910)

National Anthem (arr. Henry Wood)

BBC Singers 
BBC Symphony Chorus 
BBC Symphony Orchestra 
Leonard Slatkin, conductor

Royal Albert Hall
Saturday 11 Sep 2004 
Alan Titchmarsh, presenter