Sunday, December 22, 2013

(almost all) classical winter playlist

winter playlist 2014

There are some pieces that are so idyllic of a certain moment. Here are a few of my favorite pieces, both new and old, that are staples for me for a winter playlist. Hopefully, you'll think of snowball fights and reunions with these, too. Included are movements from the "Dumky" Trio by Antonin Dvorak. The textures of that sonata perfectly embody the images and textures of winter, and I strongly recommend hearing all of it. I also added Timo Andres' You Broke It, You Bought It, which I only recently discovered in the past month. I want to know the meaning behind the name, because what I imagine when I hear that phrase and how this piece sounds are so different. I love the interaction between the acoustic guitar and marimba (and I just plain love the acoustic guitar and marimba!). The interplay simply magical. The latter half seems almost an afterthought but rounds out nicely ending the same way it began--with the quiet shimmer of cymbals. 

I'll probably end up adding that track to my lazy summer playlist, too. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chillin' with Higdon

I Can Haz Muzik?

After listening to Steampunk admittedly a bunch of times, I wanted to find some similar sounding pieces. In that search I came across Concerto 4-3 written by Jennifer Higdon. It could equally work well in that alternate Victorian universe. 

Now, I recognized Hidon's name from a chat with a friend who told me to write about her. (This post is just for you!) But I don't want to post something so similar to the last piece, though you're welcome to click on the link for some epilogue worthy ear candy.

Instead, I'll feature two other pieces from the Brooklynite. Let me first say Jen is praised as one of the most performed living American composers, with her Blue Cathedral piece for orchestra being performed over 400 times since its premier in 2000. I didn't know she was that popular, but after listening to recordings of her music, I'm not surprised. A lot of her stuff sounds really good while being technically challenging. 

Ironically, I chose to feature two woodwind-centric pieces  when her 2014 concert schedule is percussion and string heavy. Of all her performances next year, I'm especially especially excited for Skyline. Also, you can hear Blue Cathdedral performed by the Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra 22 February. 

But on to the two pieces that I chose because isn't that what this post is about? First up is Calmly for its mix of jazz and classical (jazzical?). Also, saxophone is under-represented in classical music and this is one piece that I can see becoming a classical standard. Don't be fooled by the calm introduction. This piece goes places and is deceptively busy despite its title. If you're looking to switch up your playlist for any seasonal party with friends, add this one. The other piece is Autumn Reflection, which has a French impressionist feel with some serious Debussy-esque goings on in the piano. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Crush On: Steampunk

Heart of Veridon steampunk photo
Heart of Veridon by Luis Melon
I'm so excited I don't even know where to begin! I recently discovered popular British American composer David Bruce who two years ago wrote a wildly loved piece commissioned by Carnegie Hall called Steampunk. 

I might be late to the party that was excitedly blogged about from here to kingdom come, but I actually came across it after finding out about Art of Elan (who I'll feature on a later post). But I absolutely freaked out when I heard this piece. I loved it instantly!

Steam all the Punk!

Steampunk is highly imaginative. From the first seconds when the clarinet is calling out over the other winds, you're thrown into the midst of construction on this city built on steam and clockwork. You travel down the too narrow streets surveying people going about their daily lives with brass trinkets and gadgets. The horns make their triumphal entry heralding the hero of the story--the scrappy underdog who has impossible luck for just escaping big trouble. The music is hurried and the violin's pizzacatto ticks time away. 

The second movement explores the damp underbelly of the city, revealing the political mechanics of how the city runs. There's men selling and buying items on the black market and secret passages behind storefronts. Nothing here is as it seems and yet the unlikely hero is inextricably connected to this world. It's as much a part of him as the gilded one above. He might even have an old uncle who tinkers in his shop trying to make something of value while striving to keep from being thrown out on the streets. Life here is unforgiving and brutally honest. The gruffness of the bassoon mixed with the undulating harmonies in the strings attest to it.

The third movement is like the calling card of a young woman who's beautiful, uncharacteristically tough, and yet stuck in a world of formalities where she feels positively alien. The triplet waltz evokes tradition and aristocracy while the minor key and melody go against the usual lightness of the dance. The violin shines in this movement. And when the entire ensemble joins in concert to play the tune, you know she's scheming her escape for another world, one full of adventure and where such pretense doesn't exist. Perhaps she unwittingly captures a glimpse of our unlikely hero. The movement coda's into what could be the theme of the city's capital. It begins softly with pizzacatto. All the instruments move as one often doubling one another. The music isn't simply formal, but meticulously regulated; not a hair is out of place. 

The fourth movement is light and funny. Its wonky off-kilter rhythm evokes the life of the hero--typical and yet not really. He's at work in a factory, but something happens. The obscure tremolo (16th notes?) in the lower strings ominously interrupts the otherwise light fare. His routine is interrupted. He might have something that doesn't exactly belong to him and is being chased by persistent but incompetent officers. The young man escapes the factory and uses his charm on an unsuspecting shopkeeper to hide him until the coast clears. Of course, nothing goes as planned and he's discovered. You can tell by the bassoon that growls suddenly. He ends up barely escaping through the busy streets amid contraptions and people and ultimately runs into the young woman, whom he uses as part of his cover. Her agitated and confused voice is evoked by the flute clarinet. She's asking him a thousand questions and he answers as quickly and calmly as possible. She's his only hope of escaping capture and he has seconds to convince her to help him. The tune from the bassoon comes back (the officers). They work their way through the market and eventually come upon the young woman. They question her. She tells them saw nothing. Once they leave, she blackmails him into inviting her into his world of adventure. An officer turns around and spots the man with her and the chase ensues. They ultimately escape, of course, on an airship!

The fifth movement begins with a heavy melody in the horns as if a funeral. Perhaps the young woman's mother doesn't know where her daughter is and the young man's uncle's worst nightmare is soon to become a reality. The brooding melody lasts for a long time. The young man and woman have to find where the gem he "found" belongs. The promise of riches for its rightful return is his motivation. The music eventually becomes more hurried with constant eighths in the strings. The brass interjects its ominous calls. Our two heroes face off against formidable adversaries who are determined to place him in jail and her in a corset and fixed marriage. The accelerando give the clear sense that time is running out. There's a race between the winds and brass with the strings keeping time.

How does the story end? I'll let you listen and decide. 

Also, check out my inspired pinboard of it on PinterestOh, and don't forget to get the FREE download of this. You're crazy not to. Positively mad! Now to find my pilot's goggles...