Category Archives: Music

Tod und Verklärung: The Aeolus Quartet Plays New York

Alice Tully Hall; Monday, May 4, 2015

BOYCE Alcyone (World Premiere)

SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for String Sextet

SCHUBERT String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden”

We purchase and consume our music in the smallest of units, the “song.” What does it mean, then, to develop four of these “songs” together, or even to develop an entire concert built around the same theme?

The Aeolus Quartet presented three programmatic works this month under the theme of “Death and Transfiguration.” While the title itself (an homage to Richard Strauss) was perhaps a bit of a cliché, the three works together formed a well-balanced program; each of the three works had a strict (or loose) association with transformation.

The first piece retold the Greek myth of Alcyone, a commission by Douglas BoyceAlcyone‘s timbral effects captured the scratching and the swooping of the birds and the waves, a piece that was in constant motion from beginning to end.

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Chiaroscuro

“Bach and Before, Ives and After”–Life Magazine (1949) defines highbrow taste

The Amor Artis Chorus and Orchestra

Chiaroscuro: Songs of Savonarola

April 17, 2015 at 8:00 PM

Ryan James Brandau, conductor

Holly Druckman, assistant conductor

St. Michael’s Church, New York City

There’s always been a deep and abiding connection between the motets of the sixteenth century and the newer serial music of the twentieth. Perhaps both periods rested at the cusp of great change, when composers faced new problems amid the respective rise and fall of tonality. But on a more emotional level, both musics are unafraid to channel the infernal–an apocalyptic musical language that had once existed in the sixteenth century, then rested inert for centuries until it was rediscovered at the twilight of the romantic era.

Amor Artis, led by conductor Ryan James Brandau, linked the past and the present through a series of carefully chosen motets. The songs either recited from or echoed the ecclesiastical texts of Giromalo Savonarola, a fearsome heretic whose apocalyptic sermons called for a restoration of Christian morality in a city driven mad by hedonistic fascination with pagan Rome. Savonarola briefly wrested Florence from the Medicis before the art-burning friar himself was hanged and burned in the Piazza della Signoria. (The program simplifies Savonarola as just another wronged martyr of the corrupt Papacy, though Savonarola’s supposed ‘martyrdom’ is hardly the most meaningful event through which one can understand the friar’s contentious history.) Continue reading

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Masterwork: Aeolus Quartet Plays Bartók 6

Hungarian militiamen parade alongside a German tank in Budapest, 1944. Source: Wikimedia

Hungarian militiamen parade alongside a German tank in Budapest, 1944. Source: Wikimedia

MASTERWORK: The Aeolus Quartet Performs Bartók’s 6th String Quartet Thursday, April 16, 2015 Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center

Quartets by Haydn or Mozart are straightforward affairs.These works can be difficult to play and interpret, but at least we know both the composers and the musical tradition that they represent. Move even a bit east of Vienna, though, and the familiar rhythms of the West become choppy and asymmetrical, strange Magyar harmonies matched with even stranger accents and beats. The Aeolus Quartet (currently in residence at Juilliard) discussed their own struggles with the Hungarian tradition in Bartók’s melancholy Quartet No. 6 this past Thursday at Lincoln Center’s Public Library for the Performing Arts. Inspired by a performance in Cleveland that matched Bartók chamber works with songs by a Hungarian folk ensemble, the Aeolus Quartet emphasized the dissonant elements–quarter-tones, Bartók pizzicatti, and quasi chitarra plucking–that distinguish Bartók from his blue-blooded Viennese contemporaries.  Continue reading

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Our Invisible Cities

To the extent that a blog can have a theme song, this work by Rimsky-Korsakov is fairly à propos:

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by | March 15, 2015 · 3:19 pm

Digital Humanities at the New York Philharmonic

Abraham Lincoln's memorial concert program. Source:  NY Times via the New York Philharmonic Archives

Abraham Lincoln’s memorial concert program. Source: NY Times via the New York Philharmonic Archives

The NYPhil’s big concert release is here! Every concert program from 1842 to the present is now available and searchable online. There’s even a  writeup in the New York Times with the following comment from Harvard scholar Carol Oja:

Conducting research about musical, institutional, and cultural history is vastly enhanced by the Philharmonic’s ambitious and important digitization of its archives. Not only does it create open access to users around the globe, but digital searches can yield unexpected surprises, jostling longstanding historical narratives.

The Archives’ new Subscribers Project digitized the Gilded Age subscriber notebooks and address books from the Philharmonic. You can now check out who subscribed to the Phil a century ago and where they lived in the city. Lots of cool tools for anybody interested in the history of music or material culture in New York from the last 150 years.

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Review: Juilliard415 Plays Beethoven

Peter Jay Sharp Theater; Sunday, January 18, 2015 at 5 p.m.

Monica Huggett, violin and director; Chloe Fedor, violin

All-Beethoven Program:

BEETHOVEN Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op. 43
BEETHOVEN Romance No. 2 in F Major
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4

Juilliard415 hurtled out of its Baroque sanctuary to present an all-Beethoven program from the early 19th century, which featured a whole new menagerie of instruments for the period ensemble. The violins may have looked more modern than medieval, but the performance as a whole sounded quite different from the anodyne Beethoven that rides the airwaves today.

The group performs differently with each piece of music, and can be followed best through its bows. Juilliard415’s October production of Zelenka’s “Missa Dei Patris” with the Yale Schola Cantorum featured bows only a bit more evolved than the top example in the picture below. (They really did look like archery bows, too–at least back then).

BOW

Photo: Oliver Webber, monteverdiviolins.org/BOW.jpg

The Beethoven bows were like the one in the middle of the photo above, some time after François-Xavier Tourte’s revolutionary new design hit the market. These new bows projected more to fill the bigger concert halls of Tourte’s day, and actually bent backwards rather than forwards to increase the surface tension of the horsehair. The final bow, with an even more pronounced bend, is what a violinist uses today.

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Culture Crash: Scott Timberg on the Creative Class

Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg. Yale University Press, 320 pages.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” such is Scott Timberg’s diagnosis of the creative professions in the twenty-first century. A variety of social and cultural forces–from industry consolidation to the Internet–have decimated both the diversity and depth of the art produced by the American system of cultural production. For Timberg, cultural progress has led cultural middlemen to disappear almost completely, from booksellers (63-69) to art critics (159). These jobs were more than inefficient purveyors of post-Fordist service goods; for Timberg, these middlemen also serve as a cultural repository, or “infrastructure,” (12) that informs American cultural life and encourages collaboration and the creation of new works. Their disappearance will accordingly retard the growth and quality of American art as a whole for years to come.

Timberg’s definition of the “creative class” improves upon the work of Atlantic editor Richard Florida, whose “creative class” includes 40 million American “knowledge workers” involved in everything from “engineering to theater, biotech to education, [and] architecture to small business.” This overly diffuse definition is certainly stellar for the self-conception of the one in three American workers that can now be labeled “creative.” However, such an inchoate group of workers cannot be said to share many qualities beyond the fact that they avoid manual and clerical labor.

Timberg’s definition, in contrast, focuses on the product rather than the process. “A more useful understanding of the creative class would include anyone who helps create or disseminate culture. So along with sculptors and architects, I mean deejays, bookstore clerks, theater set designers, people who edit books in publishing houses and so on.” (10) This creative class is an ecosystem where artists create and market their works. But recent trends have placed this fragile ecosystem in jeopardy. Timberg argues that the highest echelons of artistic production are somewhat insulated from cultural restructuring (with higher wealth inequality, paradoxically, comes a greater ability to patronize high art; see 224). Truly ‘autonomous’ art made without expectation of commercial gain, too, is insulated from the market through a greater unwillingness to submit to its demands. This leaves the vast middle ground of art that has become ever more commercialized, even as ubiquitous unpaid accessibility to this art means that the benefits of the market accrue to these artists less and less.*

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