Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some Thoughts About a Recent Concert...

After listening to the recording of the Feb. 11th concert, performed by Ricardo Odriozola, violinist, and Einar Rottingen, pianist, which I have already written about, some thoughts emerged:
The three local composers represented(I was one of them) all projected an aspect of the art of writing that formed a common bond; that being, the importance of a strong and undeniable attachment to the melodic line, and I was struck by this.
After all, the three of us were writing independently, with no idea as to what any one of the three were doing. None of us had had any contact whatsoever with one another; and, for me, it was gratifying to be witness to a kind of common bond concerning the Line, even though the stylistic views differed, as would normally be the case - after all, each of us is truly a fingerprint.
It rather gratified me, as it certified the reality of Melody, during the Age of Transition the composer has been going through for many years. One has to wonder if another Bach, one day, will appear as the great Synthesizer - one can only speculate...

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Legend in the Making - - Just a Few Feet Away...

An event during what I believe was my first year as a teacher came back to me last evening, and I share it with you now:
One of my students and his girl friend, my wife and I went into the city to hear a singer we had heard quite a bit about, and had curiosity about her, and so -
We went into town by public transport, then took a taxi to the nightclub the singer was appearing in.
To call it a nightclub - well, it was in a very seedy and downtrodden part of town, with people loitering in various doorways nearby. Upon entering, we found that it was a small place, with just a few tables and a large bar. I remember our being directed to a small table just a few feet in from the entrance , and on the left side. On the opposite side, directly across from our table, was an upright piano.
After ordering drinks ( my wife and I must have had cokes or something, as neither one of us drink), we were sitting and chatting. Shortly thereafter, a man and a young woman appeared out of the smoke-filled atmosphere from the rear of the nightclub, went to the piano, and began their music. The woman was about thirty, attired in a form-fitting red dress; the man, in a dark suit, as I recall. They, as I had mentioned, were directly across from us, about six or seven feet away, and the sounds came directly to us - after a short period I realized that the sounds coming from the songstress had a style, quality and beauty that absolutely stunned me. She sang a number of pop/jazz standards, while the nightclub continued with its low hum of collective conversations among the few tables scattered about. Those closer to her were absolutely silent, eyes riveted upon this striking young woman and a sultry voice which carried sheer magic to our ears.
I remember, upon our leaving, that the general consensus among the four of us was that we had happened upon a musician of illimitable talents and power. We all agreed that she would be heard from.
That sultry young woman in a sultry red dress was Sarah Vaughan.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Giant Has Left Us...

It is with deep sadness that I acknowledge the passing of George Shearing, in New York, in his 91st year.
I have discussed Shearing in past blogs, one including an interview I had with him during my twenties.
It is somewhat ironic to me that he passed away on Valentine's day, as the most highly developed and powerful arrangement he ever made was on the Richard Rodgers tune, "My Funny Valentine."
As I do not refer to any source material I write about, I cannot be sure that the video I have of this legendary arrangement is available on the Internet; however, give it a try.
He plays "My Funny Valentine" live in one of New York City's more sophisticated nightclubs about thirty years ago, and fortunately it was videoed, and I do possess a copy.
What Shearing intrinsically represented; that is, a fusion of the Classical with the Popular in a manner no one will be able to replicate, is in this arrangement as a sort of lexicon of Shearing's immense vocabulary.
He swirls the spirits of great names of the past, such as Chopin, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Delius, and, most of all, Bach, around the Rodgers tune in a potpourri cemented so exquisitely by this great British musician, that it must be seen or heard in order to be believed.
After the last notes are played, the camera shifts to the face of Shearing whose wan smile tells us what he truly was, and it is best described by the statement he made as I was leaving the room he and I had shared for the better part of an hour; and it was "please don't think of me as primarily a pop pianist, but as a classical pianist who happens to play pop."
I also simply love his definition of a True Gentleman; that is, "one who knows how to play the accordion - but doesn't."


Sunday, February 13, 2011

An Evening to Remember...

Two wonderful and powerful performers, one of whom had been a student of mine in my younger years, paid a visit from Norway, giving a recital for piano and violin to a large and receptive audience.
I was fortunate in being one of three American composers represented in the recital. Other pieces were also played, including one of the most evocative and luminous readings I know of; that being of a piano and violin Sonata by the legendary Norwegian composer Grieg.
There was world - class playing in this small hall, and these musicians created an evening that will be long remembered by the fortunate in attendance.
The interpretative, technical integrity and attainment level of Ricardo Odriozola, the violinist, and Einar Rottingen, the pianist should be known to music lovers wherever they may be, and I would suggest that you go to their web-sites and listen to valuable addenda to the history of performance captured in recording.
You will be fulfilled and delighted.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

"First They Came" - Powerful Words Against Evil....

The power of the language of music is, of course, an intrinsic part of human consciousness; however, some words entered my memory bank this morning which contain, in my view, the same essence of that indescribable power of human communication. In the event you do not know who Martin Niemoeller was, he became a Lutheran Pastor, and for a short time supported the early Nazi aims; that is, until Hitler made the state more powerful than the church. Even though this brilliant young theologian, at first, did not voice opposition to the violent suppression against those whom Hitler viewed as either minorities or the political opposition, the realities of Hitlerism led Niemoeller to speak out - and in an eloquent and courageous statement, he said (and I paraphrase, as I cannot recall the exact words) "First they came for the Communists, and as I was not a Communist, I did not speak out for them. Then they came for the Socialists and Trade Unionists, and as I was neither, I did not speak out for them. Then they came for the Jews, and as I am not a Jew, I did not speak out for them. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."
He was arrested, and sent to various concentration camps until liberation by the Allies in 1945.
I cannot find a more powerful example of personal courage to come out of that period.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Great "Tunesmiths" - Minus Schubert...

The art of the song came into full bloom by way of a seventeen year-old wonder named Franz Schubert, and he wrote some 600 of them in a brief life. The golden age of the Lied(song) was born in Europe.
These songs were, mainly, narratives cast into a musical format, and some were truly lengthy, as they were stories, requiring many pages of music.
Another form of song, most being about two pages, came into being, primarily in America, reaching its golden age in mid-20th century. Composers such as Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and a host of others lovingly called "tunesmiths" produced a plethora of singular tunes.
I would consider the melodies of Schubert as "beautiful" - the tunes that the tunesmiths produced were, in my view, "pretty." Obviously, these were two different worlds of song.
I cite the age of the American composers, primarily because their music, like Schubert's, remains long after the passing of these writers - the period during the Second World War was redolent with singularly attractive and enduring melodies, many of which are still with us today.
Look into such songs as "Moonlight in Vermont;" "Skylark;" "I'll Never Smile Again;" "My Funny Valentine;" "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square;" "I Had the Craziest Dream;" "Yesterdays;" then listen to the songs of George Gershwin. Do take note of the beauty of these melodies, so many of them created by composers of no or little formal training - it was one of America's notable contributions to the world of music by way of great melody writing, let alone the accompanying lyrics that catapulted the music into immortality, such as the wonderful treatment that Ira, George Gershwin's brother, imparted to the music.
There is no comparing the genius of Schubert with these tunesmiths' incarnations; that's an example of "apples and oranges" - however, in terms of pure melody writing, the tunes that were written the better part of a century ago stand on their own, with the countless recordings available to us as verification.