Thursday, October 2, 2014

One Year Anniversary and a Special Piece I Love

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2

performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Jascha Horenstein, Earl Wild, piano

This may not be the most popular version of the work, but it's the one I 'learned' this piece from; it's the one I came to love this piece as a result of, and no other performance compares. It may be a bit brisker than a few other interpretations, but it's perfect. These people knew what they were doing. 

and this is a must-watch

So.... 
This is an important piece. I'd been thinking what to post to mark the one year anniversary of our little site here (we weren't always at this location, but we are now), the end of September (9/29) marking a year since the first post. I mentioned all that above, but this was one of the first pieces I really started listening to after taking piano lessons. Prior to that, I'd been listening almost exclusively to the Chopin ballades and sonatas, as well as Schumann's piano sonatas. I asked my teacher for suggestions on what I should know and listen to, and she suggested Rachmaninoff's second and third concertos. I watched bits of Argerich's performance of the third on YouTube, but the recording I got hold of were Earl Wild's. I remember sitting on my couch listening to the third, kind of letting it wash over me with no real comprehension of it, except that the piano sounded very busy. I listened to it over and over and over again, and the second got into the mix, too. They quickly became favorites. I'd have lyrical bits of it stuck in my head or start humming a tune from somewhere in one of the two, and got familiar enough that I could keep playing the piece out in my head for long enough to identify which of the two it was. 
They never really got old. I remember thinking that listening all the way through a 30-40 minute piece was kind of an arduous task, but I'd listen to it from beginning to end while walking my dog, and the more I listened, the shorter it seemed to get. 
To commemorate an entire year of listening and writing (now so much more organized than back then), it came down to one of these two pieces. I decided on the second for two reasons: first, because they come in that order, and second, of the two, it's the one I had my heart set on learning to play in 15-20 years. I've tinkered those famously huge opening chords on the piano so many times.... So here it is, a piece I love and have been considering talking about for a year now, but figured.... It needed to wait. Here we are. 
Having listened to it so many times, especially from a standpoint (back then) ignorant of form

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's been a year!

I started this a year ago, first on Tumblr (old site), and migrated to our current location, and had the deluded belief that I could listen through about a piece a day and "get" it. I'd listen multiple times and think I could write something intelligent on it. Looking back, that was definitely not the case, and there are at least 15 or more posts that I will be revisiting. I'll keep the original write-ups for nostalgia, but want to do those pieces justice like I couldn't before. Myaskovsky 2 and Bruckner 6 and Nielsen 2 come to mind (won't even link to them; go hunting if you're that curious; also lazy), among many others. Shostakovich 1 and I think also Prokofiev 4 (2?) are in there. In any case, it's fascinating to see how my perceptions on music and my tastes and even general sphere of knowledge has changed since then.
While I still sometimes take significant time to "read up" on a piece, (Mahler 6 and Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht come to mind as pieces I listened to for ages and still felt were difficult to write about, although Mahler 6 has really opened up to me more lately), I feel it's much easier to get the general idea of a piece from a first listen or two (Mahler's ninth, for example) than it was a year ago. There's a lot more I have in mind, and I'm even working up to including more Messiaen and choosing a Boulez piece to feature, although they will be in the more distant future. 

All that looking back aside, tomorrow's post is one I have decided was suitable as a good one-year anniversary. It's interesting to be so familiar with a piece like this one, but also be so unfamiliar with looking at it from a big picture standpoint that I feel it is slightly difficult to talk about. Kind of a "can't see the forest for the trees" situation, perhaps. So after having spent a number of years with this on repeat, it's finally time to write about it, and I find the idea frightening, in part because it's such a familiar piece to almost everyone. I'm doing a bit of scrambling here with it, but we should be okay. See you tomorrow! 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Ninth to Remember: Taiwan Philharmonic Season opener 9/20

National Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan
A while back on this post, I discussed somewhat of an issue with being so excited to hear Mahler’s ninth live. I’ve mentioned it in way too many places to link to the posts, but I’ve become rather enamored with Mahler’s music in the past year or so, and it is now bordering on an obsession. It started with the fifth, the first of his works to appear here, and then the second, then the first, then the sixth. And I am realizing either because of context (understanding of a greater portion of the man’s oeuvre) or familiarity (likely both), that when I wrote about the fifth and the first, there were still large swaths of those works I didn’t quite understand. We’ll get to that again later, probably, but I’d decided after finishing with the sixth a month or so ago that I would take the remaining five in order, and at a slower pace, perhaps a few months apart. I still have yet to digest Das Lied and the other vocal works, but I’ll get there. 
I’d decided to leave Mahler’s ninth last, and had kind of a fancified image of how I would first enjoy it, hoping that in that one moment, at one pass, I would instantly understand everything the composer was trying to say.
Well, when I saw the program for the show on September 20th, I had to decide whether to give up that dream listen, a perfect first experience, for a live recording, or pass up a live recording because of a somewhat ridiculous fairytale type vision of what I wanted my experience with the piece to be. And I decided I would go to hear it live. 
I am beyond glad I did, and I don’t remember what I paid for the (absolutely fantastic) seat, but

Monday, September 29, 2014

About Me

What is one supposed to write here? 
(The time of this posting marks an entire year since the first [terribly amateur post] went up. Happy one-year anniversary, readers! In honor of the milestone, I'll be writing a special post about a special piece for Thursday, the second in a big whomping series of like five or six piano concertos, since it happens to be time to switch over to piano music for a while.)

I tend to latch on when I find something I really enjoy. That was the case with music. I started in one of those classes where the teacher brings in a lot of different music instruments (mostly percussion) and lets the kids play with them a while, creating a terrible raucous of a noise. This was the  second grade, and somewhere around that point or slightly after, we were all given the choice of instruments. For me, for some reason, it was the clarinet or the saxophone. At the time, it had the closest relation to popular music through its association with jazz. My parents (my whole family, really) love music from the standpoint of listening to really good contemporary stuff, so I grew up listening to what they listened to in high school, everything from southern rock (ZZ Topp, Doobey brothers, ARS, CCR, Bob Segar, and on and on) to Elton John and Billy Joel to stuff that was even before their time like Sinatra and Nat King Cole. I grew up around quite a wide range of what would be considered contemporary or adult rock or pop, and it's in my blood to be unable not to sing along, even with only a tenuous grasp of the lyrics. That was as far as my musical exposure had gotten. From the standpoint of someone else my age, by middle school, I'd learned to enjoy and appreciate music my peers had never heard. By the same token, though, I didn't have any older siblings, so I came around much later to enjoying stuff my peers did. One of the first albums I bought that I was blown away by was, of all things, Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, and I came around late to the grunge rock scene (Nirvana, Silverchair, etc.) and never got into some of the music of my generation at all (Metallica, Sublime, Blink 182, and the like). 
All that being said, the sax was the closest thing in my mind to something that had application or association to music I was familiar with. 
Since my parents' exposure to and interest in music did not go beyond that, neither did mine. Had I had some kind of classical background or foundation, I most assuredly would have chosen

Sunday, September 28, 2014

On this day: week of September 29, 2014

Kind of a quiet week.... But this is going up a bit early because there'll be a special post out later today (tomorrow? [depending on your time zone]) 

September 29
1674 – Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, French flute player and composer (d. 1763)
1920 – Václav Neumann, Czech violinist and conductor (Smetana Quartet) (d. 1995)
1945 – Kyriakos Sfetsas, Greek composer
Deaths:

September 30
1791 – The first performance of The Magic Flute, the last opera by Mozart to make its debut, took place at Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, Austria.
Births:
1689 – Jacques Aubert, French violinist and composer (d. 1753)
1743 – Christian Ehregott Weinlig, German cantor and composer (d. 1813)
1852 – Charles Villiers Stanford, Irish composer, conductor, and educator (d. 1924)
1897 – Gaspar Cassadó, Spanish cellist and composer (d. 1966)
1908 – David Oistrakh, Ukrainian violinist (d. 1974)
1938 – Alan Hacker, English clarinet player (d. 2012)
Deaths:
1989 – Virgil Thomson, American composer and critic (b. 1896)

Welcome to the month of October
October 1