Friday, July 14, 2017

Mini Operas

No. 253 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.


A few years ago, I shared an OTF post on OperaLively I had called “Opera Domestica”, and it featured a series of MTV-like opera video clips created by Canadian composer Alexina Louie. These “short operas” – typically 3 to 5 minutes long, essentially encapsulated a single aria.

The works I chose to assemble in today’s montage are not too dissimilar – they are essentially single arias, meant to stand alone in concert, and in some cases sound like they’re taken out of a larger (contemporaneous) operatic work, inspired by a character from literature.

The text for Scena di Berenice is taken from Act 3, scene 9 of Pietro Metastasio’s Antigono, a libretto which had originally been set by Hasse in 1743 and subsequently by over thirty composers, including Jommelli (1746), Gluck (1756), Traetta (1764), Paisiello (1785) and Joseph Haydn (1795-97). Although betrothed to Antigono, Berenice is actually in love with his son, Demetrio. Torn between his feelings for Berenice and his filial duty, Demetrio can see no way out of his predicament, and has resolved to kill himself. In “Berenice, che fai?” the disconsolate heroine deliriously laments her fate and longs to die alongside her beloved.

The settings by Haydn and Avondano open this week’s montage.

Mozart wrote several concert arias and I retained a few for today’s montage. The librettists for these arias include Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi and Michele Sarcone.

At age 11 Juan Crisostomo Arriaga started composing major  chamber,  orchestral  and choral works,  the  most  remarkable  of   which  was  a two-act  opera 'Los Esclavos Felices',   written  at  the  age  of  13  and  successfully  performed  in  Bilbao.

When Arriaga was 16 he was sent  to study at  the Paris Conservatoire where the  Principal, Cherubini,  judged  Arriaga's  choral   work  'Et  Vitam  Venturi' (now lost)  to be a  masterpiece.   He absorbed all  the  principles of harmony and  counterpoint  in  only three  months  and  two  years later, aged  18,  he became the youngest professor ever appointed at the Conservatoire.

Among Arriaga’s Paris works is Erminia, based on lyrics by the French poet Vinnay but sung in an Italian translation by Giovanni Gandolfi. Erminia is sometimes referred to as an opera, because it suggests two scenes.

It's one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them... "Bohemian Rhapsody" didn't just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not?
Freddie Mercury
To close the montage, I selected Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody”. The song is highly unusual for a popular single in featuring no chorus, combining disparate musical styles and containing lyrics which eschew conventional love-based narratives for allusions to murder and nihilism. It consists of sections, beginnin g with an introduction, then a piano ballad, before a guitar solo leads to an operatic interlude. A hard rock part follows this and it concludes with a coda.

I Think you will Love this Music Too.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Programming - Summer 2017


Summer means I take time off the Tuesday Blog, Project 366  and OTF for July and August, but continue with my bi-weekly Friday podcasts. 

Friday Blog and Podcast:

  • July - Conccert Arias (NEW PODCAST) and guitar music featuring Narciso Yepes (NEW PODCAST)
  • August - Rene Leibowitz composer and conductor (NEW PODCAST) and oboe concertos (NEW PODCAST)
  • September- Hummel (NEW PODCAST), music of Jewish inspiration (NEW PODCAST) and a 5th Friday "bonus" featuring Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist and conductor, playig Shostakovich  (NEW PODCAST)

Tuesday Blog (TalkClassical):

  • Our Bonus 5th Tuesday montage (in August) for the quarter: Andre Previn, Triple Threat (NEW PODCAST)
  • Vinyl's Revenge: Vladimir Ashkenazy, pianist and conductor (PTB)
  • Cover 2 Cover: Evgeni Svetlanov in concert (PTB)

Fra Diavolo (Auber, OTF).

I will update this page if programming changes in the coming weeks, and also look for unannounced “repatriated” posts from our PTB and OTF series.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)

No. 252 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.


Tomorrow, we will be celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, and though I expect a great deal of overt security measures in and around Parliament Hill and Ottawa’s downtown core, our city will no doubt throw an epic Birthday party!

I thought it was fitting for me to share a podcast to celebrate Canada’s birthday and I decided to focus on one of Canada’s most famous exports.

Every mooring around 6:30, my bus drives along Albert st. in Ottawa and I get to see the statue of the Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) on the South-West corner of Canada's National Arts Centre. The statue shows Peterson as if he had just finished playing and had turned toward his audience.

The life size statue includes a space for visitors to sit next to him. More often than not, at the time I go past the statue, some construction workers share their morning coffee sitting next to Oscar – I don’t think he’d mind!

Peterson grew up in Montreal’s Little Burgundy, a predominantly black neighbourhood where he found himself surrounded by the jazz culture that flourished in the early 20th century. His father, Daniel Peterson, an amateur trumpeter and pianist, was one of his first music teachers. As a child, Peterson studied with Hungarian-born pianist Paul de Marky, a student of István Thomán, who was himself a pupil of Franz Liszt. At the age of nine Peterson played piano with control that impressed professional musicians.

Peterson also credited his sister—a piano teacher in Montreal who also taught several other Canadian jazz musicians, most notably Oliver Jones—with being an important teacher and influence on his career. We’ll get back to Daisy a little later in my commentary.

In 1940, at fourteen years of age, Peterson won the national music competition organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After that victory, he dropped out of school and became a professional pianist working for a weekly radio show, and playing at hotels and music halls. Called the "Maharaja of the keyboard" by Duke Ellington, Peterson released over 200 recordings through a career that spanned 6 decades, won eight Grammy Awards, and received numerous other awards and honours. He is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists, and played thousands of concerts worldwide.

One such concert took place at the Orpheum theatre in Vancouver, August 8, 1958, and featured Peterson with the most familiar formulation of his Trio, with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis.
From that concert, I retained a number of tracks for today’s montage, some Jazz standards, others featuring original compositions by the members of the trio including The Music Box Suite, a piece inspired by Peterson’s sister, Daisy. The selections include Peterson’s audience banter between tracks, including his narrative for the Music Box Suite, a fitting display of his obvious admiration for his sister.

My profession has taken me to every part of the world, none of them more beautiful than where I live. As a musician, I respond to the harmony and rhythm of life, and when I’m deeply moved it leaves something singing inside me. With a country as large and as full of contrast as Canada, I had a lot of themes to choose from when I wrote the Canadiana Suite. This is my musical portrait of the Canada I love.

The second part of the montage is a complete performance of the Canadiana Suite, probably his best known composition. Commissioned by the CBC in 1963, it is a collection of eight short tableaux that moves its listeners across the Canadian landscape on a conceptual railway journey, starting in the Maritimes (Ballad to the East), sweeping through the Laurentian Mountains (Laurentide Waltz) to Montreal (Place St. Henri), Toronto, (Hogtown Blues) Manitoba (Wheatland), Saskatchewan (Blues of the Prairies) Calgary (March Past) and ending in British Columbia (Land of the Misty Giants).
The performance, recorded for Limelight Records on September 9, 1964 (nominated for a Grammy Award in 1965 for best jazz composition) features yet another incarnation of the Oscar Peterson Trio, this time replacing Ellis with drummer Ed Thigpen.

I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Schubert Symphony No. 9 ("The Great") - Tate

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

The untimely passing of Sir Jeffrey Tate threw a wrench on my programming plan for this month. This week’s edition of Vinyl’s Revenge planned to begin a series of posts dedicated to an old 5-LP set of Mozart Piano Concertos – I intend to take that project on when I return from summer hiatus. Stay tuned!

It’s unfortunate that we too often pigeon-hole artists (and especially conductors) as “specialists” of a particular portion of the repertoire. Though it is sometimes unfair to do so, we cannot deny that Tate was indeed well-known for his recordings of the great Classical-era composers, especially his English Chamber Orchestra collaborations of Mozart and Haydn. Later this year, I plan to dedicate a Friday Blog and Podcast to Tate’s excellent renditions of Haydn’s London Symphonies.

In a podcast I published this past Friday, I shared music from Classical-era composers, and in my commentary discussed how we view the Classical period as covering essentially the 18th Century, noting that there is some “spillage” into the early 19th. As well, I noted that some composers we associate with the Classical period, most notably Beethoven and Schubert, can be thought of as bona fide precursors of the Romantic era.

Both Beethoven’s and Schubert’s Ninth symphonies are indicative of how forward-looking these two geniuses were; these are mammoth works, double the length (and breadth) of what their teachers and contemporaries dared to put to paper. In fact, for many years, Schubert’s Ninth was deemed “too difficult” and “unplayable”. Ten years after Schubert's death, and under the able direction of Felix Mendelssohn and his Leipzig orchestra, the “Great C Major” symphony was finally premiered. To this day, it is considered a major piece of the symphonic repertoire – whether we view it as late Classical or early Romantic.

I cherish Tate’s performance (which is part of my analog collection along with an old VOX cassette of the same symphony by Thomas Schippers and the Cincinnati Symphony ) and find that still today it stacks up well against some of the versions I have in my digital collection (Muti/Vienna Philharmonic and Abbado/Chamber Orchestra of Europe). His vision for the work is clear, and its main quality is its sense of forward propulsion that resonates so much with me.

Conductors generally live long lives and Tate’s passing in his early 70s in some ways means he “died young” - in spite of the ailments that plagued him throughout his life. I hope you will enjoy this fine performance!

Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
Symphony no. 9 in C major, D. 944 (‘the Great’)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden
Sir Jeffrey Tate, conducting
EMI / Angel 38336 (Vinyl DDA)
Recorded at Studio Lukaskirche, Dresden, Released 1986.


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(Thanks to On The Top of Damavand for ever)