Wednesday, June 24, 2009

According to composer Michael Daugherty, "Ladder to the Moon is inspired by the urban landscapes of the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1968), who lived and painted in Manhattan before moving to New Mexico in 1934. From 1925 to 1930, O’Keeffe created over twenty New York paintings of newly constructed skyscrapers, such as the Radiator Building and the Shelton Hotel. Like experimental photographers of the era, such as Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe discovered a different reality in the form of skyscrapers, simultaneously realistic and abstract. Although Stieglitz (her husband at the time) claimed it was 'an impossible idea' for a woman to paint New York, O’Keeffe went on to create some of her finest work during this time, motivated by her own conviction that 'one can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.' Ladder to the Moon is a musical tribute to O’Keeffe's art, recreating the feeling of skyscrapers and cityscapes in the Manhattan of the 1930’s."

Our FEATURED RECORDING this week presents chamber music by Peter Schickele. Some may know Schickele in his alter ego, P.D.Q. Bach" (1807-1742)? - long forgotten member of the Bach family, whose music combines parodies of musicological scholarship, the conventions of Baroque and classical music, and elements of slapstick comedy. The music of the "real" Peter Schickele is "the fruit of a totally and uniquely American composer who celebrates the great American music that has preceded him" (Anastasia Tsioulcas, Classics Today). "Any ensemble that takes on Schickele needs to be fluent in classical, jazz, and folk writing to pull it off - and the players on this recording certainly are. The performances are beautifully relaxed and colorful and the sound is rich and full-bodied. This is lovely, lovely stuff." Check out sound clips from the CD at Pytheas ...

A new addition to Pytheas is our Fun/Cool/Great New Music Videos! We've searched our archives (and then some) to present thoroughly engaging, sometimes mesmerizing, but always Fun and Cool videos of new music performances, as well as new music with dance and in film. Check them out and let us know about any others that we could add to the collection!

Lastly, FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES brings us a beautiful performance of Aaron Copland's Duo for Flute and Piano (1971) - a late work in his career, but with all the hallmarks of that distinctive "Copland Sound".

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tōru Takemitsu's Rain Tree Sketch II (1992) is our featured New Music Video this week. Caleb Deupree at his blog Classical-Drone has some thoughts on the piece: "Takemitsu's last major piano work was Rain Tree Sketch II, a memorial for one of his great influences, the French composer Olivier Messiaen. The work was the last in a series of memorial pieces, a set which included orchestral works for composer Morton Feldman and film director Andrei Tarkovsky and solo pieces for composer Witold Lutoslawski and sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Takemitsu had returned to a 'sea of tonality' (his phrase) in the 1980s, and Rain Tree Sketch II centers on a D minor chord (but without any of the directional aspects of nineteenth-century tonality, as far as I can tell anyway). Interestingly, at important moments the D minor chord is arpeggiated and accompanied with high overtones, which sound to me like a gamelan. I am grateful for the jewels that he wrote for piano, and these are well represented on recordings."

NOISE is our FEATURED NEW MUSIC ENSEMBLE. "NOISE is an ensemble of accomplished soloists with a deep commitment to chamber music. NOISE presents concerts that are energetic and engaging as well as intellectually stimulating and technically sophisticated. They believe that music which is sometimes called complex, difficult, or avant-garde is accessible to any audience when performed with passion and conviction." Check them out online, and, if you're in California this week, see them at the soundON Festival of Modern Music taking place in La Jolla, California, June 18-20, 2009.

A facinating read is this week's Featured Thought & Idea ... 2001: A Space Odyssey - Alex North's Unused Soundtrack. And check out the special feature of the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the classic soundtrack replaced with Alex North's original, but discarded, score [sorry, no longer available]...

This week FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES brings us classically trained ballet dancer Sylvie Guillem. Her most notable performances have included Giselle and Rudolf Nureyev's stagings of Swan Lake and Don Quixote. As of late she has moved from ballet to contemporary dance, working with performers such as Akram Khan as an Associate Artist of the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. Here she is featured in Wet Woman with choreography by Mats Ek and music by the Swedish group Fläskkvartetten (Fleshquartet) ...

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Sofia Gubaidulina's Viola Concerto (1996) is the Featured New Music Video this week at Pytheas. Raymond Tuttle writes, "Gubaidulina is the greatest Russian composer at work today – the greatest since Shostakovich. Any new work from her is a major event, and the Viola Concerto is not a disappointment. The concerto's opening, with the soloist's insistence on the notes D and Eb, almost literally invokes the name of Dmitri Shostakovich, a formative influence on Gubaidulina. The violist and the orchestra share the concerto's sound-world with a string quartet, tuned a quarter-tone lower; a darker "second dimension" in the words of the composer. Here again, the violist travels between and mediates for the two ensembles. The concerto's tone is dark and oppressive, but Gubaidulina's need to communicate with her listeners is unmistakable. She demands their uttermost concentration, but those who make the effort are rewarded by being taken on an emotional journey whose aftereffects are long-lasting and deep".

Pulitzer Prize winning composer Paul Moravec has written more than a hundred orchestral, chamber, choral, lyric, film, and operatic works. His music has earned numerous other distinctions, including the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome, as well as many prestigious commissions. In many ways, Moravec's work builds upon "The Great Tradition" of Western Europe, reconfiguring some of its bedrock gestures into an aesthetic that is thoroughly of our day. Dubbed a New Tonalist by critic Terry Teachout, Moravec writes with depth but does so with a light touch. He draws on craftsmanship so virtuosic it seems easy. All this adds up to a composer who is simultaneously learned and accessible, tradition-based and imaginative, profound and a heck of a lot of fun. In an era when pundits worry over the fate of the concert world as a whole, Moravec's music-and its deep-down integrity-speak of confidence and hope. Listen to Moravec talk about his life and music in this week's Composer Portrait.

This week's Pytheas Earful brings us music from Massachusetts based composer Dean Rosenthal. Featured are his Songs from the Japanese (2000) for soprano and violin.

FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES brings Julian Bream's soulful and compelling performance of Manuel de Falla's Homage: The Tomb of Debussy (1920).

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dmitri Shostakovich lived through a dark and tumultuous period in the history of the former Soviet Union. Because of this, or perhaps, in spite of this, he left us an amazingly diverse and rich body of works that resonate deeply to this day. This week at Pytheas we feature a performance of the thrilling fourth movement from his Symphony No. 5 in D minor, op. 47, written in 1937. According to Geoff Kuenning, "The late 1930's were not a good time for Dmitri Shostakovich. His successful opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, was banned after Stalin saw it in 1936 and was offended by its veiled criticism of the Communist regime. This was no small matter; most who drew the dictator's wrath soon died in a labor camp. Shostakovich was luckier, perhaps because the young composer had already achieved some international recognition, but the attacks in Pravda turned him into a pariah who began keeping a packed suitcase beside his bed in case he were arrested in the night. Meanwhile, Russia was undergoing what would later be called the "Great Terror", a period of repression rarely seen in human history. In such an atmosphere, and with a wife and two young children to worry about, it was only natural that Shostakovich would pull his head back into his shell and try to please the authorities. And so he did, at least on the surface: the Fifth Symphony's subtitle is "A Soviet Artist's Practical Creative Reply to Just Criticism." But throughout history, artists have thumbed their noses at authorities who were too dense to see through their parody and satire, and Shostakovich was no different." Of the fourth movement, Shostakovich wrote in his memoirs: "What exultation could there be? I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat... It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying 'Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,' and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, 'Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.' What kind of apotheosis is that? You have to be a complete oaf not to hear that."

Shostakovich is also the subject of this week's Featured Thought and Idea: The Fight for Shostakovich by Norman Lebrecht (La Scene Musicale).

This week's Featured Recording - Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music, Volume 1 (Naxos) - brings us music from American composer Leroy Anderson, who has been called "the most famous unknown composer". His most famous works (in particular, the perennial Christmas favorite "Sleighride) have become part of the American musical landscape, bringing joy and pleasure to a wide, wide audience.

FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES brings us music from one of the most famous living composers - John Williams. Not "Star Wars", Indiana Jones", "Gilligan's Island", "Lost in Space", "Jaws", "E.T.", "Schindler's List", "Harry Potter", but ... Soundings written in 2003 for the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst