Archive for the ‘orchestra’ Category

Beethoven

October 8, 2018

Before he raised the baton to conduct Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Christopher Warren-Green told us Beethoven was a revolutionary.

ConductorCWG

He matter-of-factually referred to the most disruptive orchestral composer ever as a revolutionary. And just before cranking up the Charlotte Symphony, Chris speculated that those infamous first-four-notes, da-da-da-Dahhhh, were probably lifted from a French Revolutionary song of that era.

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times, as Charles Dickens later wrote.

Forsooth, ’twas a very revolutionary time—1776-1820.

And Ludwig van Beethoven was right in the middle of it.

Right in the middle of a time when the 18th-century European order of things was being torn apart by radical new  ideas about the People running the show instead of the old fuddy-duddy royals who had been doing it for hundreds of years.

The young composer from northwestern Germany was indeed a musical revolutionary; he revolutionized music.

He turned the purpose of music upside down. Whereas the old order of things, financed by the royals, was all about making beautiful, harmonic, perfectly constructed sonatas and concertos to celebrate order and perfection—-

Ludwig, unable to ignore the terrible angst of that tumultuous age in which he found himself living, reflected—yeah, he even embraced—that disruptive spirit of the times.

And when they heard it sounded forth in the 5th Symphony, the royals hardly know what to make of it.

Beethoven was like the Elvis of his times, except he had an entire orchestra behind him. Multiply Elvis’ chutzpah by the number of musicians in an orchestra. That was the effect of Beethoven on the world of music.

And on the world itself, as thousands of performances since then have revealed.

Or, If not Elvis– think of  Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rich Mullins or whoever expresses your disruptive angst and propels it into an awareness that the world is forever changing.

Like it or not, the world changes; sometimes that transforming is not pretty. Sometimes it is even disruptive, destructive, revolutionary. Music–and art generally–needs, in order to be valuable, to reflect the times we live in, and the changes that need to happen–not portraying a rose-colored-glasses dream that masks the profundity and excitement of living on this dangerous planet.

It would have been very hard, you see, for the young German prodigy to adopt the comfortable precision and beauty of his courtly predecessors—Mozart and Haydn. Au contraire, Ludwig caught hold of the gritty thrust of those revolutionary times. He deeply felt that terrible, violent wind blowing out of France; and he did, as any self-respecting genius would do, transform that terrible zeitgeist into revolutionary Music.

A truly new music, never heard before.

Unlike like any orchestra ever heard before.

Better to make disruptive music, than impose bloody revolution.

CharlotteSymph

Be like Beethoven, not like Robespierre.

Work together like a revolutionary Symphony.

Teach the world to ring out Liberty!

King of Soul

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The New World

July 4, 2018

The New World

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HClX2s8A9IE

The coming of the New World dawns slowly; soon and soon very soon its urgency is, was, and will be proclaimed with bold horns and wind.

Listen!

Strings vibrate with anticipation, mounting intensity, declaring themes of freedom.

Flute gently flows; bassoon resonates with agreement

Woodwinds

while horns flourish, air tubes tremble.

Quiet strings set a tone for oboe’s innocence, double reeds  inhaling human breath, portending meditations of possibility, proclamations of potentiality, yet quelling quietly the revolutionary air we breathe in smooth  strides of tender melody;

Oboe

Bows sweep up the fervency of this New World and now the golden door swings open, accompanied by bold trombones, to awaken huddled masses yearning to be free!

Strings, undulating in support, inspire a melting pot of symphonic unity, the Union resounding. Harmony ripening establishes a beachhead of audible beauty with well-tempered passion. Strains of melody  wave like amber waves of grain. Themes of freedom abound in the harvesting of human liberty, melding with the promise of a New World; it arrives so fragile, and yet so  bold.

Oboes dance with joy; bass viols celebrate the depth of profundity;

Bassos

Oboe re-enters with contented notes while swaying strings agree. Conductor Alan Gilbert affirms,

AlanGilbert

then urges them on with baton uplift, so horns part the ready sea of sound with their bold fanfare. Strings conclude with soft sleepy assent.

Dream on, America!

A pause.

Sudden ascension disrupts slumber with vigorous alarm, restive rhythm overtaking repose. Go West, young man! Flutes flutter in resonating encouragement; bold horns proclaim valor and future victories yet to be seen over perils yet unknown.

Rounded melodies bring forth renewals of resolve, heaps of purposeful harmony, mountains of good will, joy abounding, with triumph of compassion and reigning in of passion, to squeeze compelling music out of skeletal staffed spheres written upon pages of Dvorak’s painstaking work.

Anticipation is building. Culmination coming. Tremolos of trials intervene.

Haste and urgency suddenly are the order of the day. Trombones resound with trouble in their snouts— not trouble they have made,

Brass

–but prescient tremors of trials yet to be born, paths yet to be traveled, mountains to be climbed, trails to be trod, skies to be bright-lit with sun, then clouded with rain bringing nourishment to rivers swift, streams flowing with exploration, as cello bows stride with expansion, across the wide prairie, through the dark forest, vivacious sonorities ascending into skies of blue, purple mountains majesty and amber waves of sound.

Crescendo coming, but abruptly arrested with woodwind moments of repose. Questions arise of when and where conclusions can occur with so much going on. And how can this orchestra it end? when we have only just begun—we have not yet spun upward in fulfillment of all we had hoped for.

When where and how could this would this, should this New World arrive at such suspension of tension in frantic strains strung out upon  the peaks of human achievement and then laden into craters of creation at tranquility base? and now suddenly resolving to conclude in bold trombone harmonies with brassy bravado faithfully at their side and bountiful background violins striding o’er the airwaves in intense kinesis. Oh say do those star-sparkling trumpets yet arise! to conclude our tumultuous philharmonia with triumphant trumpet harmonia. . . but now fading into silence.

There you have it, y’all. The New World as Antonin Dvorak conceived it in 1893, and New York Philharmonic performed it in 2016.

King of Soul

from Ridiculous to Sublime

September 28, 2016

A couple of nights ago, I briefly tuned into that  greatly over-hyped debate. Donald was blathering about Hillary’s emails and she was going on and on about his failure to release tax returns.

Nothing new here, just more of the same old same old blah blah.

So I ditched it, and went back to what I had been doing before, because, I thought, this is ridiculous.

Well then a day or two rolls by.

This afternoon, while listening to WDAV on the radio, my soul was stirred profoundly by the hearing of an amazing selection of music. And I found myself wondering, what is it about this music that moves me so much?

I don’t know, but I can tell you one thing. This music it is sublime.

What is sublime? you may wonder. I cannot adequately explain to you what the word sublime means, but I can show you where the meaning is clearly demonstrated if you will listen to this:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOofwWT3Edc

As the changing drama within the music builds up, pay particular attention to these     minute-time points in the video: 2:58, 4:00, 5:55 and 8:32.

I recently read something about how or why  this artistic dynamism moves us so much. In his book, A Secular Age,

  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002KFZLK2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Charles Taylor says . .

“. . . such art can serve to disclose very deep truths which in the nature of things can never be obvious . . .”

This music is, after all physical analysis is said and done, merely a pounding of wood and metal beneath the orchestrated hands of trained men. How can it be, then, that it moves me so?

To try to understand why or how, you might as well try to comprehend how or why, over two centuries ago, some men and women like you and me had a luxurious building constructed and then  walked around on its mosaic floor like they owned the place and then later a bunch of other stuff happened and things changed and it got covered up for a long time and then one day some other people came along and dug it up and said . . .

“. . .well, gollee, what do you know about that?”

“Gosh, Jeb, it’s a mystery to me.”

RomanAthens

Glass Chimera

No Time for Melody

March 20, 2016

Symphony

These moments in a grand concert hall before the orchestra performs are like no other. Onstage, a half-hundred or more musicians dutifully make last minute preparations while the assembling listeners anticipate the unveiling of their symphonic presentation.

There are, it seems to this viewer, as many ways of making musical preparation for such orchestral events as there are musicians. Violinists are fine-tuning their instruments; many of them dance their fingers rapidly across wooden neck boards, rehearsing that difficult passage in the allegro or that five-measure solo transition in the andante. Beneath bright stage lights, brass-blowers sit together in the back row busily manipulating key-stops on gleaming metal; in the middle of this instrumental world oboes, clarinetists and bassoonists blow into their various tubed configurations with steadily progressing precision. Over in the back corner, percussionists tap, turn and tinker on this, that or the other big drum or little sound-making something-or-other. Polished wooden basso fiddle bodies shine under the lights; soldierly stand-up stringists stand beside them thumping and thinking very hard about that bottom line in the booming rondo or overture that is yet to come. The flutists’ silvery cylinders glint with theatrical brilliance as their masters breathe virtuosity into them. A lovely harpist plucks perfectly strung-up sounds.

Observed all at thece same time, the assembling orchestra appears to be a cacophony of disparate confusion. But as the moment of musical inception draws near, a subtle decreasing of the noise begins to take hold; the senseless soundings wane. A violinist stands, setting his bow to the instrument; then from somewhere inside the collection of sound-contraptions, a solitary musical oboe tone rises above it all, commanding the vacant air with a single, sustained A note. Immediately, as if they were waiting for some specific sound leadership, all the other members respond with their uniquely-voiced A-notes. As the volume of their first unison builds, harmonic thirds, fifths and octaves high and low emerge through the thick air of audience anticipation.

For only a brief moment this preparatory approach to harmony is heard. Then silence.

From behind the side-curtain, the bringer of Symphony walks into the midst of what had been quasi-musical confusion.

He is smiling. So are most of the audience. The thousand-or-so seated congregants express, with applause,  their approval of what is about to happen, implying also with their enthused ovation polite appreciation of what has happened in this large hall many times before.

A symphony. Tonight. March, 2016.

A moment later, in the midst of breathless silence, the Conductor raises his arms, lifting the baton high. Then abruptly he lowers them. And the chaos of sounds that had dominated the stage only a few minutes before has been instantaneously transformed into music, coordinated and arranged in order to express thoughts or feelings about the world.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, the music composed for such an event as this was not the same as it is today. Mozart’s skill, for instance, plucked melodies out of thin genius-air and worked them into intricately woven musical masterpieces that beat through the air with perfect precision, like a clock on a Vienna tower.

In the 1700’s Mozart wrote music for an emperor. Emperors and empires imposed a certain kind of order on the world. Mozart’s music expressed that order in an exquisite way. His music was precision and perfection manifested in orchestral form.

A few decades later, Beethoven came along and rearranged all that preposterous musical order, catapulting thunderous innovations into it. Orchestral music, having found intricate construction in the hands of Bach, Vivaldi, Handel and others, had found its fullest precision under Mozart’s imaginative mastery.

But when the European world was shaken to its roots by the American revolution, French revolution, Napoleonic bluster and God-only-knows what other political and military juggernauts that were rolling like thunder across the civilized world at that time, a new kind of music was called for. A music that expressed not order, but disruption and passion.

And so there was Beethoven. The first eight explosive notes of his 5th symphony blew a hole in the old order and proclaimed a jousting field of new ideas, new forms of government, and new music. It was a revolutionary age. Even Mozart could get lost in the cataclysm.

Great Music captures the spirit of the times in which it is composed; it captures that spirit and interprets it as  audible, lyrical art.

Last night, we were in Charlotte listening to the Charlotte Symphony perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor. This interesting piece of music was, to my ear, a musical experiment. While a few of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos are widely acknowledged as masterful expressions of his musical romanticism, this third symphony communicates a timely, profound disturbance, more-so, I think, than compositional perfection. Sergei Rachmaninoff the early-20th century Russian composed in it 1936.

I call it an experiment because it seems to be a series of dynamic, instrumentally dissonant thrusts; they mount up in rhythmically disparate crescendos, but never  fully resolve in a way that I can thematically identify. In my ear,  it is a tensioned symphony in search of a theme. In search of, perhaps, a melody.

So I was trying to explain to my wife as we left why there’s no way Rachmaninoff could have absolved his musical angst in 1936 by resolving it inappropriately with a catchy melody.

He was living, for crying out loud, in Stalinist Russia; and not only that, half a continent away Hitler’s Third Reich was assembling, under the radar of the Versailles treaty, a massive wehrmacht war machine. In a few years the whole damn world, or half of it anyway, would erupt up in full-blown war. The only order that was emerging in 1936 was the construction of destructive war machines.

It was no time to celebrate an inharmonious world with pleasantries such as harmony and melody.

Here’s a YouTube of the Russian Novosibirsk Philharmonic performing the piece:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h44ZGVe4zCQ

Perhaps my cynical assessment of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 is shaded by my own artful projections. A few years ago, I wrote and published a novel, Smoke, which is all about the year 1937. That writing project was also an experiment, albeit a literary one, in telling the story about a young American who might have sojourned through Europe during that same time of imminent disaster foreshadowing World War II.

Smoke