Mahler Might Not Be So Bad

November is Gustav Mahler month on many radio stations. I don’t recall listening to any of his works or thinking he was that interesting. I am intrigued that flowers, trees and other things in nature inspired his music. He tended to include cowbells a lot. A city dweller for most of the year, he spent summers in the country, where he found peace and quiet. So I will listen much more closely from now on, and see if I can discover some of his recordings.

I received a trial copy of Listen Magazine this week, and am very tempted to subscribe–it’s not expensive. But I still must be judicious.

A very gray fall day today, with rain. Was in tears and kind of moody for a small part, but tried to be patient…something I don’t feel I’m good at.

A funny thing happened when I put music on the stereo today…we had been puzzled why one of my favorite Vivaldi CDs was all of a sudden making a rattling noise. Turns out I had placed it on top of another one. Duh! Problem quickly solved.

 

 

Discovering a Violinist

Over the weekend I listened to “Artist Spotlight” on WDAV, a classical radio station in Davidson, North Carolina. I found this station originally on iTunes, and kept coming back when I discovered they broadcast the NPR programs SymphonyCast and Performance Today. This past Sunday, I ran into “Artist Spotlight,” and kept listening to the violin music. Gil Shaham was the featured guest. He’s been performing and recording for 20 years. He and his sister someties perform together.

 

Stravinsky Revisited

Today on Composers Datebook, host John Zech talked about Stravinsky’s “Symphony in C Major,” which many people think of as a happy key. Ironically, Stravinsky himself experienced great personal losses as he was writing it. His wife died, then one of his daughters, and his mother–all within a very short time. According to the program, the composer saw no need to inject his personal sadness into the work, but it still must have been awfully hard to create in the middle of grieving. One day I shall try out his “Firebird Suite.”

I searched the Internet for “Symphony in C” and by accident found a nonprofit organization of the same name in New Jersey, on the campus of Rutgers-Camden. A pity I can’t travel there, but their Web site has a cool feature where visitors can learn about composers and listen to a portion of their works.

Alas, the Edward R Hamilton book catalogue that contained Alfred Steinhardt’s “Violin Dreams” was thrown away, so I will have to search at another time. At least I can read the one about when he formed a string quartet.

Proofreading, writing and music don’t mix well, unfortunately, so it must be silent today.

More Things I Didn’t Know

As my alarm clock radio went off this morning, Haydn’s Cello Concerto #2 D Major was playing–one more reason to like the cello! The one I heard last night by Dvorak was sad in parts, because he was sad when he wrote it. He incorporated a song that his first love–his sister-in-law–had particularly liked, and she had recently died. The whole thing was very moving.

I subscribed to the Philharmonia Orchestra video podcast about a year ago when I was looking for information on Ralph Vaughan Williams. I love the way that the musicians themselves do the presenting, and it’s a neat way to catch glimpses of London and the rest of England, of Europe and other places in the world. I hope that I will actually see the real UK in not too many more years. When I view this podcast, I feel wistful–very happy, not sad. As I was catching up on podcasts, I learned about Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” which was very controversial for its time. I don’t know Stravinsky’s work all that well at the moment. I do remember reviewing a young person’s concert at the Kennedy Center once that featured Stravinsky, called “The Soldier’s Tale.” Stravinsky is considered a modern composer whose works sound very discordant, but he actually had specific pictures in mind.

And I learned more about Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto from one of the Philharmonia podcasts. And I learned a new term–cadenza: a virtuoso solo passage inserted into a movement in a concerto or other work, typically near the end.


Mendelssohn’s Songs

Last night, for some strange reason, cable TV went kaplooey. With Maryland Public Television the only working channel, at least I got to see most of Bill Cosby being awarded the Mark Twain prize. Afterward, I was happy to listen to the rest of the “NSO Showcase” program on the radio. Unfortunately, I missed the entire Haydn portion, but really enjoyed Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E Minor.” Although the Scottish and Italian symphonies were recent birthday presents and new favorites, along with Vivaldi’s concertos for mandolin, I don’t own a CD of the violin E minor concerto. I don’t know exactly how to describe in words how it sounds, but it is very pretty. At times as you’re listening you feel very happy, and then all at once pensive or sad. I’ve listened to it three times so far, and I bet the next time I hear it I’ll notice something different, or a particular phrase will catch my ear. The last piece featured was one of his earlier works. I forget what it’s called, but apparently a lot of orchestras don’t like to perform it. (If I ever earn a high salary, in addition to necessities, volunteering and contributions, and shopping once at Nordstrom, I want a season subscription to the National Symphony Orchestra.)

The year 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn’s birth, so there have been a lot of programs, CDs and concerts featuring Felix Mendelssohn this year. I know that he was a prodigy, that he traveled a lot, and that he died at age 38, but the rest I’ll have to fill in through a biography or two, and I can find out what inspired him. In college, I found a recording of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and I’ve always enjoyed that. In a favorite podcast called “Sign My Piano,” pianist Jeremiah Jones recorded some of Mendelssohn’s “Songs without Words” — leider for for the piano instead of vocal songs.

I was pleasantly surprised when Classical WETA played the “Swan Lake Suite” after the showcase. I immediately recognized the familiar melodies. And if you go to Jacquie Lawson’s e-card Web site, you will find a gorgeous “Swan Lake” screensaver for Windows and Mac. Tchaikovsky is another favorite I’ll get to later.

An update: I heard a cello concerto by Vivaldi the other day that sounded happy. I really liked it! Vivaldi wrote 800 concertos–pieces written for solo instruments with a symphony orchestra. As I assured family members and friends, I have no intention of collecting all of them, because I don’t have the means. But at least I have a few. He too deserves a separate entry at some point. He wasn’t a one-hit wonder with “The Four Seasons.”

Hearing an ad for the latest Saturday opera, I wondered aloud why the majority seem to end in tragic death. My aunt, not an opera fan, quipped: “They couldn’t stand opera anymore.” I learned about opera from co-workers and friends. I have a reference book a former boss gave me where I will relearn the stories, now that I have heard the music. At the Kennedy Center’s 2009 Open House, at the last minute we attended the Cafritz opera award performances. Even with the intros and summaries, we were lost. The men and women sang brilliantly, and I could finally see how an opera cast is doing much more than singing selections. It involves acting, facial expressions, and so on. “Carmen” was not on the program, but that was OK.

Thoughts on the Cello, and Yo Yo Ma

I’m learning to like the cello, which has a deeper and, at least to me, a more mournful mood. But not always. I guess some compositions can be happy. Last year I saw Yo Yo Ma playing Bach’s “Cello Suite #1” and liked it. Ma appeared on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams to talk about the Silk Road Project. I enjoyed hearing about the different musicians. Brian Williams asked him what music was listed on his iPod. I was glad to see that he liked a variety of genres.

And I also liked this comment, which I discovered after a local Starbucks visit on March 20, 2009, on the back of the cup. I had a mocha latte–an extremely rare treat.

The Way I See It, #7

“What I look for in musicians is generosity. There is so much to learn from each other and about each other’s culture. Great creativity begins with tolerance.”

Yo-Yo Ma, Cellist

Here is a YouTube video from three years ago, of Ma performing “Cello Suite #1” at the Sony Music Garden. Enjoy!