Tuesday, May 26, 2015

NSO: Symphonic Milestone- Reflections on War

Back to symphony hall less than a week since Eroica for another fantastic performance, again conducted by Maestro Gunther Herbig.

The title 'Reflections on War' (slightly different in Chinese: 烽火蕭八) was eye-catching. I read somewhere in a program or website for the concert that it was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War II. Before reading up on Liszt's Les Preludes, I wouldn't have seen or heard or thought of any association with war, but it was an interesting contrast, in many ways.
The program was also heavily weighted toward the second half, obviously. While Shostakovich's eighth is a massive work (although slightly less massive than one or two of his others), because of the relative brevity of the first half, it was over quite early.
Liszt's Les Preludes has a lot going for it. It marked the world's first piece to be given the title 'symphonic poem,' is by some accounts the most popular of the composer's thirteen works in the genre, refers to a Lamartine poem (perhaps only in name), and has some tenuous relationship with actual symphonic form in its contrasting sections, just not movements. There's lots of discussion about this piece and what it means/represents, etc. but this isn't the time to talk about that.
It was a charismatic performance of the piece, and while the title Les Preludes sounds nothing like a war piece, the music itself is nearly unmistakably warlike at times. It has its contrasts, and the NSO under Herbig (unsurprisingly) did a splendid job of realizing both the roaring, warlike passages as well as the beautiful pastoral scenes. The piece felt like a triumph. We got the multiple walk-outs and ovation and applause the conductor and his performers basking in the glory of a mildly surprisingly not-packed hall, and that was only the first half.
It was certainly the lighter half, in both mood and scale. The intermission was as long as the first half of the program, and there were some people who knew people and some shifting of seats, with the exception of the balding, combed-over man in front of me whose head perfectly obscured

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Webern: Fünf Sätze für Streichquartett, op. 5

performed by the Juilliard String Quartet 

find all the movements in this playlist on YouTube

We're skipping over 2-4 for now and moving on to something else. Ops 2-4 are vocal, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I have something else in mind: a string quartet, at least in medium if not in form. 
Webern's opus 5 was written in 1909, quickly after his passacaglia of a few weeks ago, and the same year as Schoenberg's op. 11 of last week. 
In listening to this piece, you'll want to keep in mind the quote I included in the article from two weeks ago in which Webern states to Berg that all of his (own) music is basically mourning the death of his mother. This can perhaps be felt more clearly (or rawly) in this work than the passacaglia. It could have possibly been easy to focus on the form of op. 1, its themes and ideas and formalities less than its impact or expression or what it is trying to say aside from form. 
As very different as these pieces are in many ways (performing forces, length of the work, structure), they have some striking similarities. 
Webern's op. 5 is already lightyears farther ahead in this piece in terms of what would become his compositional style, his 'voice,' than he was in the passacaglia. It's sparse, raw, brief, but very intense. It is cast in five quite small movements, almost in contrasting arcs. The pieces get more intense, but also shorter, towards the middle and fade away again. The climax of both the work's emotion and brevity lies in its shortest central movement. We will talk about these in more detail shortly. 
Something to notice here is how unique (for new listeners to more modern quartets) the timbres and effects are that Webern produces. They are tense, shrill, nervous, but incredibly strong. This is easily as intense a work as the passacaglia, but it's indicative of the kind of intensity Webern

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dodecaphony: Part 3

How I got here:
As stated on my About Me page, my interest in music was rooted in a fascination with the piano. It seems natural, then, that as I started to familiarize myself with classical music, the piano was a logical place to start. My jumping off point was Chopin and Rachmaninoff, but only their more popular works. I enjoy Satie, but that was as non traditional as I got for a while. 
So what was it, then, that converted me? I feel I should go back and review the “emperor’s new clothes” idea I opened this whole series of articles with. There are inevitably people who like something because they think it’s cool or posh to claim that you like it. New music from indie bands, a certain food, a political idea, whatever. Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique has been around for almost a century, and has still NOT gathered a wide audience. It has its dedicated devotees and people are more widely familiar with its existence, but even a large handful of my acquaintances who are music majors or professionals state that they still…. don’t care much for it. Some of that crowd (not the people I know but people who who hold the same opinion) may be inclined to suggest that someone claims to enjoy this ‘atonal music’ because it’s in fashion or considered to be intellectual or somehow enlightened. 
I’ve never felt that way. A year ago(-ish), I genuinely couldn’t bear to listen to most of it, and now, I genuinely do enjoy quite a bit of it. Mind you, 99% of the time that I’m listening to anything, I’m listening alone, either on headphones or at my home (well, my dog doesn’t have much of an opinion). There’s no consideration for “coolness” or anyone else's opinions involved. 
I can say it certainly wasn't study that helped me to understand it or appreciate it. I have, at best, a tenuous grasp of the inner-workings of many of the pieces I enjoy listening to, but have at least come to enjoy them. 
The first big step was Scriabin. What I’m talking about is growing accustomed to a new “harmonic language” or using melodies and harmonies in a different way than, say, Mozart or Beethoven (or even Chopin or Rachmaninoff) did. Scriabin had his own journey toward greater chromaticism and "atonality." Compare, for example, his third piano sonata with his eighth. They are both

Sunday, May 17, 2015

陳譽陞 作品發表音樂會

I just had one of the most inspiring, motivating afternoons in recent memory. I don't even know how to talk about it.

This time of year is one of graduations and recitals and concerts, academically and otherwise. The National Concert Hall will be getting some renovation done over the summer, so it will be closed for the next three or four months, and it seems that some of the ensembles or performers are getting in under the wire. In any case, May has been a busy month for concertgoing.
I've attended a number of concerts at the same university, in this very auditorium, but they've all been recitals, performances by pianists of the works of others, as would be expected. Famous works in the repertoire have made their appearances, from Bach and Beethoven (and Brahms), to Liszt, Debussy, Scriabin, and even Kapustin. One knows, to some degree or other, what to expect when they have a glance at the program. Not today.
Today's concert was different. It was for a composition student and friend/teacher of mine. We chat often about music: I'll throw a question his way about something I'm having trouble understanding, give him a look at something I'm trying to write, etc. We've attended a few concerts together (last week's incredible Bavouzet recital being one of them), and I was really excited to have the chance to sit and listen to some of his compositions in a rather intimate setting, made more intimate by the less-than-packed house.
There were five pieces on the program, and again, I have no idea what to expect. I'm also the

Saturday, May 16, 2015

NSO: Symphonic Milestone- Eroica

This was a last-minute and somewhat messy plan. 

I'd seen the program for this concert ages ago and at the time, wasn't able to attend. Some recent schedule changes meant I was free, but by that time I'd entirely forgotten about it. I ended up buying my ticket only a few weeks ago, kind of late relative to how early I try to get my hands on most tickets. 
I saw NSO and Eroica, and that was enough. I was at the ticket counter to buy a ticket for another show anyway, and there were still seats. On the ticket was the name Khachatryan. My initial assumption was that something was on the program from the same man who composed that sabre dance and that they'd just spelled his name differently. That would be cool, because he's kind of known for that one tune, but his other stuff is worth attention. 
Turns out I was wrong. When I realized this, it occurred to me that it would be mildly strange to program Eroica and Khachaturian together. Turns out Sergey Khachatryan was the soloist. The program was as follows. 

I mildly regret not buying multiple tickets and inviting other people to come along. It would