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Classical Music Uncategorized

Confronting Assumptions in Classical Music Recording – The Videos of David Hurwitz

When you practice a piece of music, something I have not done in some time, there’s a necessity to find the section in the music that is giving you the most trouble and working on it, so it gives you less trouble. The problem was always for me – I was never persistent enough to entirely iron out the mistakes. The troublesome section would continue to bite me – especially if I stopped playing it for a while.

Normally, this blog has been about politics, and ordinarily I would make some point about most of our politicians being similar – not persistent enough to iron out mistakes. Or, in their case, lacking the reflective ability to know about their deficiencies.

And yet, I won’t be extending that metaphor, largely because I am disgusted by most of politics and by most politicians. Thinking about politics makes me exhausted, quite frankly. So, I am writing about something that has been consuming me this past couple of months – assumptions and beliefs I had made about “classical” music performance. And having them confronted, forcing me to be persistent and iron out the mistakes I had been making. Most of our male politicians in Canberra are incapable of any of that kind of thing.

2021 and David Hurwitz

I wrote about my classical CD collection last year in this post – which spells out how the recordings of Roger Norrington came to dominate my single version of most repertoire collection. It also shows how my 2020 rediscovery was based mostly on my opinions from my 20s. I even started to buy the recordings of the 2010s answer to Roger Norrington, Francois-Xavier Roth and his Les Siecles group. But as I have continued to look for multiple versions, I discovered the videos of David Hurwitz.

David Hurwitz is a finance and real estate bloke in New York which is just a way to fund his true love – classical music. He plays percussion for community orchestras and is the executive editor of ClassicsToday.com, an American classical music review website that comes up a lot when you search for reviews of specific CDs. Lockdown for him has meant that he has taken to Youtube and spilling out all of his knowledge, wisdom, anecdotes and feelings about classical music. A LOT of all of those things.

Hurwitz has pumped out more than 500 videos in this last year, and I have watched a fair few of them. They have jolted me. Led me down an entirely different listening path, and forced me to confront my own prejudices and judgements about classical music performance. Thing is, after watched these videos, I have developed a large respect for his opinions, because they clearly come from a place of great, detailed knowledge of the works, conversations with other experts, musicians and conductors. Above all, his love for music is what drives him, but it’s a love based on research and detailed reflection. It is also admirable that Hurwitz’s anecdotes and opinions reveal that he has no time for marketing hype and grand statements. He is also very, very funny. Using a Karajan CD box in a workout video is one of the funniest things I have seen on Youtube.

Confrontations and “Howevers”

Over the time of watching the videos, I have been confronted by his contention that Roger Norrington may well be the worst conductor of modern times ; that Francois-Xavier Roth and Les Siecles were just more HIP hype ; that the (cheap, but widely praised) Riccardo Chailly cycles of Brahms and Beethoven that I had bought in 2020 were “boring”; that Gramophone and its reviews may just be mostly bullshit. He also places a lot more emphasis on respecting US orchestras and the conductors who worked there – especially in the 50s and 60s – than most of what I read before. In addition, a very large proportion of recordings in my shelves didn’t even made it to his “good” section of his videos (with a few exceptions). As I said, very confronting, especially to my mid 20s self.

There’s two ways to respond to confrontations. Be like a lot of men on the internet and shut down and stay with the views you formulate in your 20s, or really try to understand how you reached those views. Also, do the research. This last point made me dive back into the Maestro Myth of Lebrecht and realise great chunks of it is complete half arsed bullshit, even if Karajan still was a bit of a tyrant with bizarre ideas about cars.

I think this is still my favourite bonkers conductor moment

One of the features of many of Hurwitz’s videos is that he will suggest a range of good, very good and excellent recordings of any particular work, with the climax being his “However” recommendations for what he believes is the best recording of pieces. I started by listening to some of them on Apple Music – if I could find them – and then, if I loved them, I would scraping through Amazon and Ebay for them. That has not been all that easy from Australia, due to sky high postage costs from the US and Japan. However… I have managed to get a fair few. What I have discovered is that indeed, pretty much all of them have been absolute bangers of recordings (I know that term is probably not age appropriate, but I think it’s apt) and better than the ones I had.

That’s not to say that I have become a Hurwitz disciple in the way I was a slave to the trends that abounded in my 20s. I don’t agree with him on everything. For example, I still prefer Stephen Hough’s Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto recordings to the Lortie ones he recommends – partially because I have long adored the music of Saint-Saens and have my own ideas about how it should sound, which is not based on the opinions of others in the way many of my opinions were formed about other composers’ works. An example of this would be that I have almost no opinion of Bruckner or Sibelius, because I have not really heard much of their music. Also in terms of differing from Hurwitz, I also still like a lot of what Roth is doing, because I don’t think he’s a slave to his research in the way Norrington, Gardiner and some others in the HIP movement tended to be in the past. I think a lot of HIP people who are recording now are very good. I also still like Norrington in a couple of recordings. I will admit, however, in regards Norrington, that I had stopped listening to most of his recordings some years ago, which I thought was due to me losing interest in music. Listening to them now up against other recordings, I realise that most of them really aren’t that good.

Where Hurwitz’s videos have been of most help to me is to understand the distinctive features of the music, conductors, orchestra, sonics of the recording and the sound that arrives as a combination of all of those features. He provides a system upon which I can base any future judgements. Having the reference editions can help triangulate where your tastes are. The problem for me previously was working out which “reference” ones to get. And Hurwitz’s recommendations have reached into all sorts of unexpected areas, such as Naxos and the super cheap Brilliant Classics recordings from East German state orchestras. Plus, I know which super cheap Warner or Universal boxes to look for. I also will go down the Czech Supraphon rabbit hole at some stage, because I have long admired the music of Martinu (I think of him as one of the best composers of the 20th Century) , but have found it hard to find recordings.

The other thing Hurwitz’s videos do is show the features of repertoire that is largely unfamiliar – such as Martinu’s – in a detailed and entertaining way. There’s corners of the repertoire I have not experienced in a lot of detail, but look forward to doing so, having bought the However version of them, or finding them on Apple Music to listen to in the car first. (I need to stop buying CDs, even if they are mostly cheap!) He has, for example, has shown me how to approach Dvorak in a way I had not before. I have been blown away by the recordings I have been buying of his music.

A New Way of Listening

The result of all of this reflection and self confrontation is that I feel much better about my choices and listening to music these days. I have a sense of connection to a wider world of music listening that I had before, that my listening can have a focus and purpose. That my classical connection isn’t just a very extensive musak soundtrack. This feeds to a wider sense of who I am as a person. That in my late 40s, I have needed to do a close zoom into my belief systems and realise what is received wisdom and what is genuinely my own, or what can be genuinely my own into the future.

Watching the videos en masse have also shown me in a profound fashion the worth of respecting tradition. In other words, music performance should not be based purely on the printed notes and written research – in this analogy, some in the HIP crew were like fundamentalists using the Bible for their purposes. Music should really be a thing where traditions passed over time should be more respected, which is a good philosophy in life. We can’t just throw out everything that has happened between the time the music was written and now and start anew. That philosophy of life should not be applied just to music.

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Classical Music Cultural Comment

The Rediscovery of CDs – Reflecting on a bygone sound

In today’s streaming world, most of us don’t buy CDs anymore, it’s true. Especially if you are a tech minded person and use twitter to get your news. CDs? They are so old. Yet during this imposed isolation in Melbourne, I have turned to my CD collection a lot more, and placed the little plastic discs into my dedicated CD player. I am no audiophile – the CD player is an “entry level” Yamaha one I bought years ago, my amplifier is also “entry level” and my speakers are from a Philips stereo setup my dad bought in the early 1990s. Part of the reason why I have been using CDs is not because I am a Luddite – it arose because the bluetooth connection from my devices to the amplifier is glitchy. The cables that connect the CD to the amp, and the cords that connect it to the speakers has proven to be more reliable. Another significant reason is that I focus more on music played from a CD than through streaming. Psychologically, streaming is for background music, pop music and for the car. Not for really immersing in the music.

So it has come to pass that I have paid a more attention to my CD collection than I have for more than 20 years. And it has revealed a lot about what forms a person in their 20s, but also what it tells me about life as it stands at the moment.

Me as a Young Classical Fan

I was 16 when my dad bought me a CD player, mini stereo system and three CDs to go with it. Classical, of course – we were a distinctly classical only household (though that didn’t stop me from buying Kate Ceberano’s Brave soon afterwards). It was a revelation – great sounding music in my own room. Being the 80s, that was a big deal. Not long after, I drowned my awkward teenage sorrows in the Big Tunes of Rachmaninov and then explored the hard core stuff – Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony at full volume (Dad was starting to regret his purchase that that stage).

That was the start of an odyssey through music that was no longer bound to just listening to the radio. Through my early 20s and to when I got my first full time job as a teacher, my focus was on building a classical music library. To find out what to listen to, what to discover, I didn’t have access to a lot of sources locally. I also didn’t have a lot of classical music loving friends at school or even at uni. So, I listened to Martin Hibble’s Just Out on ABC FM religiously – I especially liked his inability to fall into line with what record companies wanted reviewers to say. I also used my lunchtimes at Fisher Library at Sydney Uni to pore through old back issues of the UK Gramophone magazine – generally the most respected storehouse of reviews and articles. It was the early 90s, so no internet databases, subreddits or google to help me. I investigated.

I look at the collection now and it tells me a lot about mid 20s me. I was a socially awkward 20 something manchild, I developed a lot of bad opinions, influenced by all sorts of things. I decided that I liked Georg Solti because he wasn’t a severe Nazi-looking bloke like Karajan. (I had also read excerpts of Norman Lebrecht’s Maestro Myth, so was influenced by his comments about Karajan). He was also on the Channel 4 Orchestra program with Dudley Moore. So there’s a lot of Solti there. There was lots of Ashkenazy, because Dad gave me a recording of him doing the Rach 2nd and 4th Piano Concertos, so that started me off with him.

I was also on Team Norrington when it came to the battle in the early 90s between period instrument ensembles – largely fuelled by record companies – between Roger Norrington at EMI, John Eliot Gardiner at Deutsche Gramophon / Archiv and Christopher Hogwood at Decca / L’oiseau Lyre. I plumped for Norrington because he seemed to be having more fun. Plus, he was genial and friendly on the BBC programs of him conducting the Beethoven 9 (which are, these days, completely unavailable anywhere). I grew up with Karajan’s Beethoven in my head – Dad had Deutsche Gramophon box sets at home – “the best of Beethoven”, and so on. That’s why I didn’t much like Beethoven until I heard Norrington. To me, it was also a bit of a rebellion against Dad and the older generation to be enjoying the earthier interpretations of the historically informed performances. It also helped that I was studying history at university and could see the worth of doing such research. It got so that I only listened to their interpretations of classical, baroque and early romantic music. I became a rusted on ideologue, believing the modern orchestra was not right for the music from that period. (I cringe now at those views).

There were also a lot of CDs that I could get on sale at Lawson’s and Ashwood’s second hand shops on Castlereagh St, plus at the Pitt St Virgin Megastore classical sales. I had read about the recordings in Gramophone first, of course. In those days, I was dedicated to getting one recording each of a whole lot of music – so I could have a wide ranging collection, not a whole lot of recordings of the one thing. The idea of owning 6 different performances of Beethoven’s symphonies or sonatas struck me as being indulgent.

As I said, I had a lot of Opinions. A lot of them not my own, but I stuck to them like glue.

In the late 90s, I got married (as it turned out, too soon for the both of us, and in my case, it was largely because of my terrible self esteem that I married the first woman who had shown an interest in me). As teaching, children and marriage took over – as did a massive array of bills and barely keeping our heads above water financially – the CD collection sat in boxes, barely listened to. Occasionally, if I was allowed to indulge every so often, I would buy the odd CD here or there if I was in Sydney. I was barely ever in Sydney in any case – my life was firmly entrenched in the outer suburbs, where classical CDs were usually Best Ofs or featured the likes of Richard Clayderman.

That marriage ended in a heap in the late 00s, I went into a new and much better relationship, plus I was a bit more financially stable over the next 10 years. The CD collection, however, stayed largely as it was, save for the occasional purchase influenced by Hugh Robertson at Fish Fine Music – he ran the only classical CD shop left in Sydney. I would also occasionally go onto the – appropriately named for me – Presto Classical site in the UK. At least though, this time, my other half gave me the present of a custom made home for them.

The Weighty Cabinet of Ancient Artefacts

Enjoying and Enhancing the Collection

So we entered 2020 and at the end of last year we have moved to a different house, with a nice place to sit and listen to music. I need music a lot of the time – I have a streaming setup in my home office, even though Apple Music and Spotify aren’t all that great for classical music. At the end of the day, however, if I want to be freed from the restriction of that space, I go into the back room, get out a CD and sit in the middle of the sound and connect with the experience those musicians were aiming to produce. Not a playlist, not a shuffle – the CD. It has been different, as well as lovely. Though, as I discovered, a bit limited. Thing was, through all the years, it never ceases to amaze me that the full price of classical CDs is exactly the same now as it was in the 1990s. It always struck me that someone has to be suffering because of that.

Rethinking the CD collection has become my isolation hobby. There are gaps, I realised, which seems counter – intuitive for a collection of 800 CDs. That number, however, is small in comparison with people considered to be “serious” collectors. I don’t intend to be one of those, but I did want new things, different things.

One of the priorities was getting more CDs by some of the musicians I have heard in concert halls – if you want to listen to any artist with the English Hyperion company, such as Stephen Hough, Steven Osborne or iconoclastic harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, you have to buy the CDs – they don’t stream a lot of their recordings. That’s good news for their artists, if they can shift CDs to the swiftly dwindling CD purchaser – artists with companies like Hyperion (as opposed to Naxos, who pay a one off fee) receive much better royalties from CD sales than they do from streams.

Another priority has also been to find CDs of works I already have, but by different conductors and performers. Make me listen in a different way. As such, I have been able to do something I could only dream of doing in the 90s – buy whole boxed sets. That’s because, while the full price of new CDs has not changed a large amount, the cost of box sets more than 2 years old and second hand CDs has plummeted. Ebay and Amazon is a storehouse of historical gold. Plus, on physical CDs, there are some recordings that are hard to find on streams. For Apple and Spotify, it can hard to find specific recordings from specific artists – and tracks downloaded in the past can disappear. As a result, I have been able to pick up box sets of performances declared legendary by various sources. $25 for 6 – 8 new CDs sometimes. I have used Gramophone articles and reviews to lead me to get boxed sets of Beethoven and Brahms, as well as looking back over back catalogues of what I would have loved to be able to afford 25 years ago. What has also really made this process richer for me is that the research behind these purchases has been a lot of fun.

Rabbit Holes!

In these months, watching Mad Men led me to speculate which recording of Beethoven Pete Campbell would have bought. I decided Leonard Bernstein’s would be his go – the American with fashionable ideas, not the Karajan of Bert Cooper. That launched me on a journey to know more about Bernstein. I ordered cheap box sets of his Mahler and Beethoven, as well as other things he has done. I then went through the existing collection and found bits and pieces of his recordings I had forgotten I had. With the purchase of the DVD of his recording of Candide, I remember a time when I watched that performance with Mum. She loved it so much that she was driven to learn Glitter and Be Gay, one of the last songs she learnt afresh, and one that suited her style down to the ground. So that was nice. I have also now purchased books about Bernstein, and I’m sure that I will find out more about him in time. I’m looking forward to the Bradley Cooper film about his life.

My rabbit hole chasing lead me to the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics (I had no idea the Vienna orchestra uses different instruments to others), and then to Wilhelm Furtwängler, discovering his complex place in German history. It struck me as curious that Furtwängler’s place, with him protecting Jewish players, refusing to do the Nazi salute and other micro pieces of resistance saw his legacy questioned, while former party member and unapologetic rising star of the Nazi period, Karajan, is still lauded. I am happy to find out more about that – I am not the Norman Lebrecht fan that I was in the 90s – but it was a question that continually arose. It is important to me who is behind the CD. That’s why, for example, I have binned my Charles Dutoit and James Levine CDs. Aside from that, however, it also struck me how different Furtwängler’s approach to Beethoven was to Karajan’s. There was something plastic, shiny, empty and a bit dead to my ears in Karajan’s. And that was before I knew about his past. Or this garish car he asked Porsche to build for him.

With Furtwangler, while his sound was nowhere near as good as Karajan’s, there’s something spontaneous and human about his performances – flawed note wise, but a fascinating glimpse to another time when being right, disciplined and consistent wasn’t the be all and end all. His recording of Beethoven 9 done at Bayreuth, and the stories behind it, provides a glimpse of music that historically and psychologically is so different from today’s. Plus, it’s at variance with the historically informed performances that I was welded to in my 20s. Beethoven and Brahms are great enough to be played in all sorts of different ways and be enjoyed.

My current rabbit hole is a more joyful one – a rediscovery of French music. Inspired by watching Tour de France, I have discovered Les Siécles, a contemporary French orchestra who are playing uniquely French instruments from various eras and playing them to breathe new life into French music, as well as music from other nations. It is in their recordings of French music that I am finding new delights into the sound world and panache that their composers bring us. And then comparing them to other recordings that bring different insights. I am no longer a period instrument ideologue. As spring has started, the light, transparent and breezy glories of the French are wafting through the house.

As I sit in my lounge chair, with the music playing – sometimes with the CD booklet in my hands, learning more about the music – or being reminded about it – it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon after work or have blasting when doing chores around the kitchen. Music becomes an immersing experience, helping me focus, helping me relax. No longer a background. So putting on a CD is quite a nice thing.

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Classical Music Cultural Comment

Let the Marimbas Run Free. Ringtone Stops Concert! Silliness in New York.

Last week, the Twitter feeds of those who follow Classical Music links was alight with the one story. Mahler’s 9th Symphony was being played. A man, earlier that day, received a brand new iPhone and had no idea that it had an alarm function. He put the phone on silent, but the alarm started. And he no idea how to stop it. For minutes, the New York Philharmonic audience heard the marimba sound. And then the conductor, Alan Gilbert, STOPPED THE PERFORMANCE. STOPPED. Gasp. Never before has the mighty New York Philharmonic been stopped by anything.  Not even the Great Depression.  Poor people can starve outside, but you can be assured the NY Phil will continue to play on. Except now it was brought down by that wicked NEW TECHNOLOGY. And the conductor turned around and berated the poor bloke trying to switch his phone off. The bloke in question didn’t sleep for two days afterwards.

Because it was New York, now the rest of the world have heard about it. Ad nauseam. Want to read about it? Being New York, so many have written about it. How about from the NY Times Blog, the blog from instant blogger superstar Max Kinchen,  another blogger,  more blogging fury, the Economist, actually, according to Google, 504 articles. However, for a comprehensive coverage, just go to the blog of Norman Lebrecht, a classical music writer I liked once upon a time. On this, though, he has been just as precious as the rest of the people. Just read about it, like I did. Like a sap.

Though I do like this “recreation” of what the concert would have sounded like.

The best part of the Kinchen blog sums up the panic:

Whatever the reason, the phone kept on ringing. 

This is when things started to get interesting…

“Get out!” came an angry call from one of the balconies. Call is a nice way of putting it, this shout was almost more of a growl than coherent words. 

“Shut it off!” Came another voice.

The aggression and anger in the voices of these people was palpable. Soon, a whole chorus of “Turn off the phone!” and “Throw them out!” was rising from around me in the auditorium. 

I can’t describe the tension in that room and possibly do it justice, The way the people were shouting made it seem like they were calling for the phone’s owner’s head on a platter. They wanted blood! This crowd of largely elderly, well dressed, seemingly cultured and sophisticated people were shouting and screaming like a group of island natives demanding a sacrifice. 

And still the phone kept ringing. 

The calls got louder, there was a sense of movement in the sector the phone was coming from. What were those people preparing to do?

And still it kept ringing. 

Finally, finally finally, mercifully, it stopped. 

“Is it gonna go off again?” Alan Gilbert asked. I guess the answer was no because Gilbert then turned to the rest of us and said “Normally, when such a disturbance comes up during a performance, the thing to do is to ignore it but this was so egregious that I had no choice but to stop. I apologize.”

At this point the place erupted in thunderous, intense, aggressive applause. This ovation was louder than the one when he eventually finished the piece later on. Some people gave a standing ovation.

This got me thinking. Did the crime of the phone going off really match the response it got? Granted, it was annoying and embarrassing for us in the audience and I think Alan Gilbert did the right thing by stopping the show, but I was perplexed at the response of the crowd as a whole. 

Whoever had owned the phone had made an honest mistake, one that just about anyone else in the audience could possibly have made, yet here, at Lincoln Center, listening to The Symphony, this violation was enough to draw the ire and ill will of hundreds of people. Sophisticated people who had come for a night of culture and music and proceeded to be reduced, for a few moments, to the early stages of an angry mob.

I really wonder how these people would have coped in the old days, when people talked right through operas and concerts. When concerts were a form of friendly entertainment, instead of the frigid quasi-religious ceremonies we see today.

Me? It probably would have been annoying, but that happens sometimes. Conductors, however, should never stop a concert, no matter what. Nor should he ever berate anyone who has shelled out his hard earned cash for years as a subscriber. Of course, because audiences love a good bitching, he got applause. How dare people like NEW TECHNOLOGY and bring it with them to a concert hall.

The whole thing sounded like a Seinfeld episode. Whenever I watched Seinfeld, I used to think “oh, surely people in a city can’t be that precious, selfish and vicious”. It’s pretty clear that Seinfeld was spot on.  If I ever went to New York, I would be really inclined to take a forest of mobiles and plant them throughout the concert hall. Set the alarms and let the marimbas run free. Only during Alan Gilbert concerts, mind you.

Categories
Classical Music Cultural Comment

“There’s Nothing Like Being There…” Really?

The Classic 100 Countdown on ABC Classic FM demonstrated a great many things about our listening culture. One of them was, I think, a demonstration of the widening gap between liking of classical music and being an active participant in the live concert culture of our cities. A significant proportion of the Top 100 weren’t there because of their presence in concert halls of the major orchestras or Musica Viva concerts. They were there due to their presence on ABC Classic, or on commercials and television programs. One doesn’t hear the Elgar Cello Concerto overly much in concert halls, nor even the Carmina Burana or Rhapsody in Blue.  Mahler Symphonies, yes, La Valse, yes, Shostakovich symphonies, yes. The works on the second hundred seemed to me to have more works people hear in contemporary concert halls.

This comes as no major surprise to me, as a vast bulk of “classical” music is a popular form of accompaniment to people’s lives – as a pleasant soundtrack to people’s cleaning, backyard reading, car or train trips.  This is no bad thing, as it adds to the listening palate for our society. A vast proportion of the music on the Top 200 is in turn beautiful, beguiling, passionate, heart wrenching, heart breaking and everything in between. I would happily have the list as a playlist on my iPod. Indeed, I find myself wanting to fill the gaps of things I don’t have in my collection.

It does pose a question, however, of what classical music organisations can do with the music of the 20th Century, in order to continue to give it life via live performances. Performances of Elgar don’t sell that well in concert halls, whilst Mahler does, for example. It’s a tricky game of trying to sell tickets but also maintain a variety of sounds to attract a range of audiences.  It is a vital question, as music needs the concert hall performances to be financially viable. This is amongst a culture that, once again, finds itself being attracted to the home cultural enjoyment rather than the inconveniences of live performance.

It’s an issue that is not restricted to classical music. Sporting organisations face increasing difficulty in attracting paying supporters – some rugby league clubs in Sydney, such as Penrith, feel lucky if they attract 10,000 to some home games.  There are other problems, such as the one faced by South Sydney Rabbitohs members, who can only purchase sideline tickets in their home ground of the ANZ Stadium, rather than undercover stadium seats.  There has also been the recent test match played in Hobart between Australia and New Zealand, where crowd numbers declined during the weekend’s play, rather than rose, as used to be the case. Ticket prices are one such reason, with $75 being the rate for a grandstand seat.  This, however, is not as absurd as a grandstand seat in the Trumper Stand at the SCG, which is $115 – explaining why that stand is almost always half empty at every test match and even during one day games. That’s about the cost of a premium seat at a Sydney Symphony concert – though it can be argued pretty successfully that the concert hall seat is better value, in terms of what can be seen and experienced.  Orchestras, however, don’t have television rights deals and registered clubs to support them if they don’t get the numbers through the door.

The chasm between live performance and home recordings, as well as live sport and sport on TV widens as the inconvenience of getting to concerts and games becomes more fraught.  Parking rates have increased well beyond inflation, especially in Sydney. Melbourne is lucky to have multiple public transport options to their sporting venues, even if there are large queues after games. Not as bad, though, as the annoyingly slow bus trips between Moore Park and Central.  In addition, food options are limited – food contracts are usually signed by a multinational company. You can see why people would want to sit at home in front of the big screen or radio, loaded with whatever food, beer or wine they’d choose to have.

Personally, I like the live performance. It focuses my mind on what it happening. When I am at home, there are far too many distractions – Twitter, blogs, television programs. Mahler Symphonies, for example, just can’t hold me at home, or even in the car. In a concert hall, however, live music takes me places, bends my mind, my perceptions, makes me reflect on my life to that point.  This is why I cannot do without my subscription. If I didn’t have it, I’d probably say “meh, can’t be bothered driving there”. When I get into the concert hall, however, I don’t regret making the effort. Indeed, I love to be pleasantly surprised, taken places I didn’t predict. I have, for the first time, purchased a membership to a football club for 2012 – I look forward to focusing on the travails and development of the Giants through the next few years. I won’t be able to follow their travails outside Sydney, due to the presence of most of their games on Foxtel. I refuse to pay News Limited for anything, especially television.

So, live games and live performances it is.

Categories
Classical Music

The Second ABC Classic Hundred – Not Quite as Conservative

Yesterday, Classic FM produced a list of the works that received enough votes for a second Hottest 100 Classical of the 20th Century.  On it features some of the works I put in my Salon Des Refuses post but it is still dominated by composers who made appearances in the big list. I am placing the composers in the same categories I used in the analysis of the big list – The Screamers, The Challengers, Throwbacks, Impressionists and Nationalists; Late Romantics; The Americans; The Minimalists; Modern Australians (I made this distinction because of Grainger and James, whose sound is very different to that struck by the Australian compositions from the 1960s to today); Soundtracks – with new categories – Genteel Modernity (new sounds that don’t offend very much at all) and Pastoral.

SCREAMERS

121, CAGE, J – 4’33” (Screaming silence)

172, STOCKHAUSEN, K – Helicopter String Quartet

191, CRUMB, G – Black Angels

That’s it.

 

CHALLENGERS

101, BERG, A – Violin Concerto (could be said to be Brahms meets serial)

102, BARTOK, B – Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste

109, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – Piano Trio No.2 in e minor Op.67

120, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – Cello Concerto No.1 In E-flat Op.107

125, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

126, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – Symphony No.11 in g minor Op.103, ‘The Year 1905’ (even if it’s second tier, propaganda Shostakovich)

142, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – Violin Concerto No.1 In a minor Op.77

165, RAVEL, M – La Valse

170, PENDERECKI, K – Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima

173, BRITTEN, B – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (though some might argue this is very “pastoral”)

180, PROKOFIEV, S – Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 19

181, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – Piano Quintet in g minor Op.57

189, PROKOFIEV, S. – Piano Concerto No. 2

194, RAVEL, M – Gaspard de la Nuit: Trois poemes pour piano d’apres Aloysius Bertrand

A few more than the first list.

 

THROWBACKS (with the occasional nod to modernity)

103, GRAINGER, P – Handel in the Strand (Clog Dance), after Handel’s ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’

104, WALTON, W – Belshazzar’s Feast (though it does have modern aspects)

105, BRUCH, M – Konzertstk for violin and orchestra in F sharp minor, Op. 84

108, RUTTER, J – A Gaelic Blessing, ‘Deep Peace’

110, RODRIGO, J – Fantasia para un Gentilhombre

111, DVORAK, A – Rusalka

123, FALLA, M de – Nights in the Gardens of Spain

124, RUTTER, J – Requiem

130, RUTTER, J – For the Beauty of the Earth

133, RACHMANINOFF, S – vocalise

134, RAVEL, M – Le Tombeau de Couperin (to an extent)

137, GRAINGER, P – Country Gardens

145, PARRY, H – I Was Glad

156, JAMES, W – Australian Christmas Carols

162, RACHMANINOFF, S – Symphonic Dances, Op. 45

164, ELGAR, E – Introduction and Allegro for strings

168, DURUFLE, M – Requiem Op 9

171, TAVENER, J – The Protecting Veil

184, RUTTER, J – The Lord Bless You and Keep You

185, BRITTEN, B – Simple Symphony

197, BRUCH, M – Serenade Op.75 for Violin and Orchestra

Quite a lot there.

 

IMPRESSIONISTS and NATIONALISTS

110, RODRIGO, J – Fantasia para un Gentilhombre

118, DEBUSSY, C – Nocturnes

123, FALLA, M de – Nights in the Gardens of Spain

131, ALBENIZ, I – Iberia

143, DEBUSSY, C – Children’s Corner (incl. Golliwogg’s Cakewalk)

154, RAVEL, M – Piano Trio in a minor

157, DEBUSSY, C – Images

161, RAVEL, M – Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

176, RODRIGO, J – Concierto Andaluz

182, SIBELIUS, J – Valse Triste

195, RAVEL, M – Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet

 

LATE ROMANTICS

148, MAHLER, G – Symphony No.7 in e minor

159, STRAUSS, R – Salome [Includes ‘Ich habe deinen Mund gekusst, Jokanaan’]

186, KORNGOLD, E – Die Tote Stadt

187, STRAUSS, R – Metamorphosen

Not as many as we saw in the main list – mind you, there was more Strauss and Mahler that made it there.

 

THE AMERICANS

119, JARRETT, K – The Koln Concert

144, COPLAND, A – Rodeo

147, JOPLIN, S – The Entertainer

158, GROFE – Grand Canyon Suite

Each of the Americans like to combine features of what is around them and represented a distinctive voice which I don’t think composers from other nations can quite capture.

 

THE MINIMALISTS

113, GLASS, P – Glassworks

169, GLASS, P – Einstein on the Beach (I prefer PDQ Bach’s version – Einstein on the Fritz)

175, REICH, S – Different Trains

178, GLASS, P – Mad Rush

179, GLASS, P – Metamorphosis

192, GLASS, P – Symphony No.4, ‘Heroes’

STILL no Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Very surprising.

 

THE MODERN AUSTRALIANS

112, EDWARDS, R – Symphony No.1 Da pacem Domine

114, SCULTHORPE, P – Earth Cry

129, SCULTHORPE, P – Left Bank Waltz

132, KOEHNE, G – To His Servant Bach

155, SCULTHORPE, P – Sun Music III

163, EDWARDS, R – Oboe Concerto

177, VINE, C – Piano Concerto

183, KOEHNE, G – Inflight Entertainment

199, WESTLAKE, N – Missa Solis

200, KATS-CHERNIN, E – Russian Rag

The Australian composers in the list are generally quite gentle and unchallenging in the context of the range of music of the century. Note no Richard Mills, Larry Sitsky, Nigel Butterley, Alan John and any number of composers you could name.

 

SOUNDTRACKS

116, WILLIAMS, J – Star Wars

135, COATES, E – The Dambusters March

136, NYMAN, M – The Heart Asks Pleasure First from ‘The Piano’

166, MORRICONE, E – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

GENTEEL MODERNITY

106, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – Piano Concerto No.2 in F Op.102

107, PART, A – Tabula Rasa

117, PROKOFIEV, S – Piano Concerto No.3 In C Op.26 (this very romantic moments)

127, PART, A. – Fratres

128, JANACEK, L – Sinfonietta

138, ENESCU, G – Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A major, Op. 11

139, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – Suite for Jazz Orchestra No.2

140, PIAZZOLLA, A. – Le Grand Tango

141, PIAZZOLLA, A. – Libertango

146, BARTOK, B. – Romanian Folk Dances

149, POULENC, F – Organ Concerto in G minor

150, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – 24 Preludes and Fugues Op.87

151, SHOSTAKOVICH, D – Piano Concerto No.1 In c minor Op.35 (for Piano, Trumpet, and Strings)

152, STRAVINSKY, I – Symphony of Psalms (also Neo Classical)

160, KHACHATURIAN, A – Masquerade

167, FANSHAWE, D – African Sanctus

174, KHACHATURIAN, A – Gayane

183, KOEHNE, G – Inflight Entertainment

190, SPARKE, P. – Dance Movements

193, KHACHATURIAN, A – Violin Concerto in D minor

196, WALTON, W – Facade

199, WESTLAKE, N – Missa Solis

200, KATS-CHERNIN, E – Russian Rag

Quite easy works to listen to – but aren’t substantive throwbacks, more they sit happily in contemporary concert halls and on the radio as a gentle transition to a new era that is mostly tonally and structurally consistent with the music that has gone before. I like the works on this list as a soundtrack for the car or while writing blogs.

 

PASTORAL

115, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, R – Symphony No.5 in D

122, DELIUS, F – On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

153, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, R – Symphony No.1, ‘A Sea Symphony’

188, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, R – Symphony No.3, ‘A Pastoral Symphony’

198, SIBELIUS, J – Symphony No. 3 in C major, Op. 52

This category could have been used before – but more for Sibelius than Vaughan Williams or Elgar. This category tells us that the focus being matching the landscape with music, rather than following a structure that happens to depict nature in some way.  I also think there was a distinctiveness about the sound of Vaughan Williams, Delius and Sibelius that is not necessarily 19th Century – though some might argue that they are all throwbacks as well.

That’s it. The list still finds itself dominated by fairly conservative music choices. That’s not a bad thing, on the whole, in terms of my own tastes. I like tonal music and the Vine Piano Concerto is a fantastic work, to name a work that I really enjoy from this list. Time was that I played the Shostakovich 2nd Concerto and had a blast. In terms of musical history and tastes, it does reveal a liking for music that tugs the heart and moves us – and that’s no bad thing.

I in many ways prefer this list to the Top 100 – it features a lot more Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams and Glass than the top 100 – indicating their general level of popularity amongst the listening audience. However, there are quite stark gaps in the list. No Scriabin or Medtner, for example. No Martinu or Nielsen. No Bartok Third Piano Concerto.   No Busoni Piano Concerto.  There is, however, some absolute crackers in the list.  The Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, for example. And plenty of others I’m sure people could mention.

Categories
Classical Music Cultural Comment

The Classic 100 Salon des Refuses – 25 Rejected Works

Having recovered from the saturation that was the Hottest 100 20th Century countdown on Classic FM, there are many works that have not made the list that probably could have, considering their quality and representation of what the music of the 20th Century has come to mean to many. Today, I’ll name 25 whose absence surprised me, or ones that I think should have been there. This list, however, is only meant to be a starting point. I’m sure it will seem pretty conservative to many.  But here we go.

1. Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3. I was staggered this work didn’t make the list, simply because it is one of the greatest concertos produced for any instrument in the century – as well as being one of the most performed.  Here is one of the best performers of the concerto – Martha Argerich

2. Berg Violin Concerto. I am no great fan of 12 tone / serial music – a great deal of it sounds like an overly academic lecture to me. This, however, is the most beautiful example of how the serial chains – with some bending of the rules – can be placed to produce music that charms the senses.  It should have been there – if only because it is performed quite often in Australian concert halls. I like this sensitive performance.

3. Shostakovich String Quartet No.8. Only two string quartets made the list – Ravel’s and Messiaen’s, and no piano trios made it. That shows to me that perhaps that the listening audience don’t listen to much in the way of chamber music.  There is plenty of chamber music that should be championed – but I think this particular quartet is important because of its position as the proud and public statement of asserting one’s individuality in response to oppression and demands to suppress that individuality.

4. George Crumb – Black Angels. A little while ago, the Kronos Quartet was the hottest ticket in challenging but popular contemporary music circles. Their album “Black Angels” was pretty popular. This is the piece from which the title of the album is derived.  Not surprising it didn’t make it – but it’s definitely something that should be on such a list.

5. Bartok – Piano Concerto No. 3. There are plenty of Bartok works left off the list that are excellent examples of his Hungarian folk inspired music. I think it is somewhat insulting to think that something by Khachaturian features higher than Bartok in the list. The Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, The Miraculous Mandarin and Violin Concerti come to mind as works that could have made it – but I wasn’t overly surprised they didn’t. However, I was quite amazed his beautiful and relatively uncontroversial Piano Concerto No.3 didn’t make it and something by Lloyd Webber did.  It is one of the true jewels of the century. When I refer to this concerto in my blogs, I usually have the glorious 2nd movement.  And here it is, this time with Hungarian piano legend Andras Schiff.

6. Reich – Six Pianos. Again with the pianos, people will say. Yes, that’s because I am a pianist.  I obtained a sampler CD with a 3 minute excerpt of the work many years ago, when in my late teens. It intensely annoyed me and made me laugh all at once, because of the seeming absurdity of six pianos playing what seemed to be in an eternal loop. I remember playing it on a loop whilst having a phone conversation with my usually calm best friend and it slowly drove him to shout to turn it off. Since those days, I have come to really like it and the effect it has on the world around me. It should have been on the list – but I can sort of see why it didn’t.

7. Adams – Short Ride in a Fast Machine. On the same minimalist vein, I was surprised this work wasn’t in the list, simply because it is a showy, exciting work that is played quite a lot in Australia’s concert halls as an overture. Perhaps the voters of the list don’t frequent Australia’s concert halls as much as we would like to think.

8. Carl Vine – Percussion Symphony. I really like the music of Carl Vine – probably because I do favour tonal music over atonal generally. I also love percussion. I could have nominated a number of his symphonies – or his Piano Concerto, which again is beguiling and easy to listen to. However, his popularity seems to have waned – so much so that he didn’t make an appearance.  I will throw in a video of his Piano Sonata – a musical form that didn’t make any appearance in the list.

9. Koehne – Powerhouse, Inflight Entertainment. Another composer that really impresses me in Australian contemporary music is Graeme Koehne – it really lifts a concert hall and really beguiles the ear. Powerhouse and the Oboe Concerto, Inflight Entertainment, are wonderful works and really should be more popular than they are. I don’t have videos of them, but I do have another great Koehne work, True Story of the Kelly Gang.

10. Schoenberg – A Survivor from Warsaw. Another work that is from the Second Viennese school and hence shunned by a wide listening audience. This work, however, is one of the best of the century – representing a moving memorial to victims of the Nazis in WW2. I was a bit surprised not to see it in the list, though it is a difficult work – but so was the subject matter.

11. Ligeti – Lux Aeterna. This is one piece featured in a soundtrack I would have loved to have seen in the Hottest 100.  It set the scene for the weirdness that was Kubrick’s 2001 : A Space Oddity and remains an unsettling and wonderfully evocative work. I am mildly surprised it didn’t make it, considering that 2001 is still a popular film in some circles and the work is not as challenging as some others from the century. There’s plenty of other great Ligeti – his piano and violin concertos are stunners – but I’m not as surprised that they didn’t make the list.

12. Cage – 4’33”. This work has created a lot of conversation about what is music, what is performance, what do we listen to. It should have been in the list, simply because its place as an icon of the century.  Here is a somewhat surreal moment, where it is televised on the BBC, cheery presenter and all.

13. Gubaidulina – Offertorium. This is one of my favourite violin concerti from the century, from the deeply religious Russian female composer. There was only one female composer represented in the list – Elena Kats Chernin (another of my favourite Australians). It’s disappointing more don’t know more about Gubaidulina.

14. Busoni – Piano Concerto. Sometimes, late romantic works are just damn good. And one of the best of the 20th Century was also its longest piano concerto – the Busoni monster, lasting 70 minutes and featuring a choir in its last movement. A neglected masterpiece (I have never heard of a performance being staged in Australia, for shame) and a kaleidoscope of piano colour. This is Marc Andre Hamelin performing it – one of the best advocates for untraditional piano music around.

15. Martinu Symphonies. I like all of Martinu’s symphonies – they are colourful, spiky and characterful – as feel as containing a mix of optimism and pessimism. But they seem to suffer when it comes to airplay and access to concert halls. However, I think he is one of the greatest orchestrators of the century and it’s a pity he is so neglected.

16. Nielsen Symphony No. 4.  Unlike his Finnish contemporary, Sibelius, Nielsen seems to be in decline in terms of popularity – which is a great pity, because there is a frenetic, passionate response to the events of life in Scandinavia present in Nielsen which you don’t see in Sibelius. The century needed the both of them to balance each other out. I was a little surprised that the 4th, the Inextinguishable, was not on the list, but not overly.

17. Shostakovich Symphony No. 4. I am not surprised this didn’t make the list – it is not often played in Australia (or anywhere) and isn’t the pop sensation that its successor turned out to be. However, I would argue that this is a work more in tune than the 5th with what the 20th Century produced, in terms of responses to the pain and torment of the century.  The work is a “screamer” – and showed what could have happened if Shostakovich was allowed to produce the music he wanted to compose. It is also so much better than the 7th, which I barely listen to.

18. Bartok String Quartets. Shostakovich and Bartok stood out as the great quartet writers of the century, challenging and awakening ears of concert hall listeners throughout the century. Another person to miss out in the maelstrom of throwbacks.

19. Ives – The Unanswered Question. No Ives on the list was a mild surprise, considering his presence on various recordings over the years. The insurance salesman was before his time – composing works like The Unanswered Question in 1906, while Rachmaninov was still working his way through his 3rd concerto. This video helpfully explains the work.

20. Poulenc – Concerto for Two Pianos. Having no Poulenc was a mild surprise – I remember this work in particular being the basis for a ballet – and what a ballet it was. This is actually one of my favourite works of the century – a lovely dessert piece.

21. Antheil – Ballet Mecanique. The only time when I have seen people actively disgusted at a Sydney Symphony concert was during a performance of Ballet Mecanique. It was awesome. Again, I can see why it isn’t popular, but what a piece of music it is. Not lovely, not romantic – completely without emotion. As some of the actions of the 20th Century were.

22. Rachmaninov – Symphonic Dances. The more dreamy, elegiac Rachmaninov made it to the Hottest 100 list, but my favourite work is less of a throwback than the others – the Symphonic Dances.  They are a bit edgier, less assured to my ears – I sense a man cut off from his heritage, trying to recall his time in his homeland and not quite succeeding.

23. Ravel – La Valse. Plenty of Ravel made the list – including his excellent Piano Concerto – but to my mind, the best work of the lot didn’t make it. His La Valse shows exactly what was happening to the century – World War One marked the death of the excesses of the Europe that thought waltzes and fluffy dances was the way to go.  This is a great work and it’s a huge shame it didn’t make it.

24. Janacek – Sinfonietta. One of the musical jokes the Classic FM people played on the audience was featuring one of the Salon Des Refuses as a fanfare throughout the list. One of the most puzzling aspects of the list was the complete absence of Leos Janacek – though Eastern Europeans of the earlier parts of the century didn’t really have a large presence on it. He should have appeared at least once.

25. Shostakovich – Moscow, Cheryomushki. No, I am not surprised at all this wasn’t on the list. I only discovered it whilst in the DVD section of Fish records. This ode to apartment living is one of the funniest pieces of propaganda made in the 20th Century. Instead of writing about corn as high as an elephant’s eye, Shostakovich was writing about the wonders of having your own garbage chute. I’m putting it on the list because I think people should host Cheryomushki Parties.

And let the discussion begin.

Categories
Classical Music

Classic 100 – Showing Us Our Conservative Ears

The Hottest 100 Classical has finished and has left us with a list as conservative, bizarre, infuriating and glorious as JJJ’s Hottest 100 Of All Time. There were some parallel trends. In terms of Australian music, the Hilltop Hoods came in No. 17 as the highest placed Australian band in the JJJ – in the Classic 100, it was Nigel Westlake coming 29th. Sentimental favourite Jeff Buckley popped in several times down the list – his musical equivalent – even if not in his type of death – Rachmaninov, featured heavily.

There were differences, however. Musical experimentation of the type Radiohead use in popular music was rewarded in the JJJ list, whilst experimentation in the Classic FM list was shunned to an extent, instead more structured, tonal music was favoured by voters. There was also a deliberate effort by JJJ voters to not support more “commercial” music, such as that performed by U2 – with the result of their songs missing out on the list. In Classic FM land, the most apt equivalent would be Elgar (conservative, some innovations, a bit melancholic) whose music features throughout.

The Classic FM list also favoured the more conservative, tonal music written before 1950 – 80 works feature from that period.  The works composed after that time seemed to attract most of the negative feedback on the phone lines – with one exception – the Messiaen Turangalila Symphonie was composed in the first half of the century.

I have, for the purposes of debate and discussion, divided the list into a range of categories, which will reveal to an extent what I think this list from the 20th Century has produced and told us about the listeners. Those categories are: The Screamers – works that scream and confront the ears of listeners; The Challengers – works that force listeners to concentrate and bend their perceptions of music (though without the confrontation of the screamers); Throwbacks – works that sound like they belong to the 19th Century or earlier; The Impressionists and Nationalists; Late Romantics – Works that contain the excesses of the Europe hurtling towards the First World War or fan the flames of the romantics with a bit of a twist; The Australians; The Americans; The Melancholic – Works that are often unrelentingly sad and filled with pain; The Minimalists – Composers who repeat phrases, showing us the repetitiveness of life in the 20th Century (yes, they are American, but quite different from the others in the list). Soundtracks – Music that is deliberately for films, ballets or plays, or music that gained their position because they featured in one.

You will notice that the “screamers” and “challengers” are pretty low in number, compared to the throwbacks and late romantic. I can’t say that I was very surprised with the lineup – except to say that I thought symphonies by Mahler and Shostakovich would have made a stronger showing. Plus, I’d forgotten completely about “Orange Juice”. It certainly made for a great week, really – the difference in programming from the usual fare was welcome, if disappointing for many.  The dominance of English music wasn’t a surprise, considering our historical status as a musical colony of England until relatively recently. One of the other interesting features was the popularity of American music over that of Australia. I would imagine the top 10 of a Classic 100 20th Century in the US would probably feature most, if not all, American works (including the overly pompous Lincoln Portrait). It would also feature a lot less of the music of England.  Here’s my list. And later this week – my Salon Des Refuses – music that should have appeared in the Classic 100. Instead of the Lloyd Webber, Shore, Ramirez and Jenkins.

SCREAMERS

96, SHOSTAKOVICH – Symphony No.10 in E minor Op.93

81, MESSIAEN – Turangalila-Symphonie

41, MESSIAEN – Quatuor Pour Le Fin Du Temps

9, STRAVINSKY – Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)

Not many. And not a note of 12 Tone Music, which would have been in this list.

 

CHALLENGERS

92, BRITTEN – Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings

85, WEILL – The Threepenny Opera: Prologue and Act 1

63, SCHOENBERG – Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) for string sextet Op.4

60, SHOSTAKOVICH – Symphony No.7 in C Op.60, ‘Leningrad’

59, BRITTEN – War Requiem

50, BRITTEN – Peter Grimes

47, STRAVINSKY – Petrushka

42, BARTOK – Concerto for Orchestra

35, STRAVINSKY – L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird)

31, SHOSTAKOVICH – Symphony No.5 in d minor Op.47

 

THROWBACKS

99, RAMIREZ – Misa Criolla

97, ADDINSELL – Warsaw Concerto

95, TAVENER – Song for Athene

93, ELGAR – Violin Concerto in B minor, Op.61

91, LLOYD WEBBER – A Requiem: Pie Jesu

90, SHORE – Lord of the Rings

89, LEHAR – The Merry Widow

86, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – Fantasia on Greensleeves

80, GRAINGER – Irish Tune from County Derry

78, ELGAR – Symphony No.1 in A-flat Op.55

70, BRITTEN – A Ceremony of Carols

69, RACHMANINOFF – Vespers Op. 37 (All Night Vigil)

68, JENKINS – The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace

65, PARRY – Jerusalem

57, PROKOFIEV – Symphony No.1 in D Op.25, ‘Classical’ (really throwing back)

53, RESPIGHI – Ancient Airs and Dances (ditto)

52, PUCCINI – Turandot

44, RACHMANINOFF – Symphony No.2 in e minor Op.27

38, PROKOFIEV – Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67

28, PUCCINI – Tosca

22, RACHMANINOFF – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43

19, RACHMANINOFF – Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor Op.30

17, PUCCINI – Madama Butterfly

12, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

6, RODRIGO – Concierto de Aranjuez

5, RACHMANINOV – Piano Concerto No. 2

4, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – The Lark Ascending

 

IMPRESSIONISTS AND NATIONALISTS

94, SIBELIUS – Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105

84, VILLA LOBOS – Bachianas Brazileiras No.5

83, RAVEL – Daphnis and Chloe

67, DEBUSSY – Preludes

55, CANTELOUBE – Chants d’Auvergne (Songs of the Auvergne)

54, RAVEL – Pavane pour une infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess)

37, RAVEL – String Quartet in F

34, DEBUSSY – La Mer

32, COPLAND – Fanfare for the Common Man

30, SIBELIUS – Symphony No. 5

27, SIBELIUS – Symphony No. 2 in D Major Op. 43

23, SIBELIUS – Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47

21, ELGAR – Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 in D Op.39

20, RAVEL – Bolero

15, SIBELIUS – Finlandia

 

LATE ROMANTICS

88, ELGAR – Dream of Gerontius

75, STRAUSS – An Alpine Symphony Op 64

74, KORNGOLD – Violin Concerto in D, Op35

73, MAHLER – Symphony No 6 in A Minor

66, MAHLER – Symphony No.9 in D

64, RESPIGHI – Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)

61, MAHLER – Symphony No.4 in G

58, MAHLER – Symphony No.8 in E-flat, ‘Symphony of a Thousand’

40, STRAUSS – Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59

33, MAHLER – Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)

25, MAHLER – Symphony No.5 in c-sharp minor

11, STRAUSS – Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs)

8, ORFF – Carmina Burana

2, HOLST – The Planets

 

THE AUSTRALIANS

87, O’BOYLE – Concerto for Didgeridoo

51, SCULTHORPE – Kakadu

49, EDWARDS – Dawn Mantras

46, SCULTHORPE – Small Town

45, EDWARDS – Violin Concerto ‘Maninyas’

39, KATS-CHERNIN – Wild Swans

29, WESTLAKE – Antarctica Suite

 

THE AMERICANS

79, BARBER – Violin Concerto Op.14

76, BERNSTEIN – Candide

72, GERSHWIN – An American in Paris

32, COPLAND – Fanfare for the Common Man

24, GERSHWIN – Porgy and Bess

18, COPLAND – Appalachian Spring

13, BERNSTEIN – West Side Story

7, BARBER – Adagio For Strings

3, GERSHWIN – Rhapsody in Blue

 

THE MELANCHOLICS

56, PART – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten

16, PART – Spiegel Im Spiegel

14, GORECKI – Symphony No.3 Op.36, ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’

7, BARBER – Adagio For Strings

1, ELGAR – Cello Concerto in E minor Op.85

 

MINIMALISTS

100, ADAMS – Nixon in China

82, GLASS – Akhnaten

43, GLASS – Violin Concerto No.1

 

SOUNDTRACKS

98, PROKOFIEV – Lieutenant Kije Suite

97, ADDINSELL – Warsaw Concerto

90, SHORE – Lord of the Rings

48, SHOSTAKOVICH – Gadfly Suite

29, WESTLAKE – Antarctica Suite

26, KHACHATURIAN – Spartacus

20, RAVEL – Bolero

10, PROKOFIEV – Romeo and Juliet Op.64

8, ORFF – Carmina Burana

7, BARBER – Adagio For Strings

6, RODRIGO – Concierto de Aranjuez

Categories
Classical Music

The Top Ten in the Hottest 100 Classical of the 20th Century

I should have known this week would be dedicated to blogging about the ABC Classic Hottest 100 Classical of the 20th Century. My mind has been filled with the glories that are currently playing – even the Shostakovich “Leningrad” Symphony’s presence in the 50s is cool to me. But, here are my predictions for the Top Ten – which has a lot in common with Jonathan Powles’ list.  This is in no particular order.

Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue. This is fusion music that is actually cool. And performed by one of the greatest figures in 20th Century music. Bernstein’s legacy will last far longer than conductors like Herbert von Karajan.

Orff – Carmina Burana.  This is a Big Song.  Performed by all the most wonderful performers… and this bloke.

Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 3. I am hedging my bets here and wondering if No. 2 will be up there as well or instead of this. However, I suspect its dominance of the film Shine will help the “concerto for elephants” to the Top 10.

Copland – Fanfare for the Common Man. This song gets regular airings on radio – especially in past years, as well as TV sport coverage.  First version – the original. The second version – Woody Herman

Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending. One of most beautiful masterpieces of the century, and ceaselessly popular. Don’t worry – no Rieu this time. Choose between the attractive female violinists or the male violinist inside the cathedral.

Holst – The Planets. I think John Williams need to pay the Holst estate for taking ideas from this suite for his soundtracks. Here is my favourite movement – Uranus, conducted by Australia’s first great exported conductor, Sir Charles Mackerras.

Mahler – Symphony No. 5. Having had the other 20th Century Mahlers in the 50s and 60s, I’m not as sure about this one as I was when the countdown started. But here it remains – largely for the Adagietto

Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf. This work is probably where a lot of children receive their musical education – that’s because it’s fun. And this is the best video of same – with Sting and the Rubbery Figures.

Barber – Adagio for Strings. One of the most performed works through films, TV and on the radio, there is probably little chance this won’t be near the top.

Elgar – Cello Concerto  I’m stuck for the last one, because I’d like to think Shostakovich, with the 5th Symphony and Stravinsky, with the Rite of Spring (not Firebird) would be in the list. But I think, considering the presence already of many British composers, that the Elgar Cello Concerto will make it and it will be the Jacqueline du Pre version with John Barbirolli that will be played. That’s why someone else is playing it here. The Lloyd Webber who plays music.

Postscript. My partner, @clairebbbear has asked me, as soon as I wrote the first version of this, why I put Fanfare for the Common Man in the Top Ten instead of Ravel – Bolero. So, I’m going to put in a reference to it. I loathe and detest Blaro, but it probably will be in the Top Ten.

Categories
Classical Music

What IS Classical Music? It’s not Andrew Lloyd Webber

As readers of the blog could tell, I was excited about the arrival of the Hottest 100 Classical countdown for the music of the 20th Century – because in many ways, it’s been my favourite century in terms of art music. It’s been the century that has seen composers really play with tone colour, rhythms and structure as well as use percussion much better than any other century. The countdown was going to reflect that diversity.

The countdown, however, has reflected another trait of the 20th Century I don’t like – watering down the definition of “classical” music. Allowing fusion, crossover stuff into the definition. Therefore, they have allowed soundtracks like Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings to be part of the list. There are plenty of people who apply the post-structuralist definition to the categorisation of classical music – that anything that tells a story with orchestral instruments is classical music ; that rap or pop music that uses strings is ok ; that Shostakovich wrote film music ; Beethoven wrote incidental music for theatre and so on. That seems to be what has happened here. It’s not on.

To many, including me, “classical” music is art music composed by people wanting to produce abstract music that communicates something about the world around us.  That means that it not something that is simply designed to go with action on a screen or just merely something that uses instruments that orchestras use.  Sometimes incidental music goes beyond its original purpose and achieves that end – Peer Gynt and the Lieutenant Kije music comes to mind. The problem comes that now with the list produced via the fuzzy definition from ABC Classic that it will feature all sorts of popular music that happens to use instruments associated with classical music. I now expect things like Michael Nyman’s The Piano (which I will instantly switch off – listening to more than 30 seconds of that is the equivalent of waterboarding to me) and the music from Amelie to be on the list.  I also expect musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber to appear – even though they are just recycled pap from whichever rock musician he was listening to at the time (listen to Evita and tell me that isn’t just Meatloaf reused).

It’s disappointing because we know what movie soundtracks and modern musicals are popular and we can hear them everywhere. I was hoping the list would feature music that people haven’t heard as much and is composed by people whose lives were dedicated to communicating emotional outpourings from their soul, rather than to primarily make money and add to the profits of Hollywood. It will also confirm the suspicion I have that most of the listeners of ABC Classic like hearing music that merely recycles the styles and sounds of the 19th Century (eg. Lord of the Rings) rather than provide a fresh perspective from the 20th.

It shouldn’t be surprising, really. ABC Classic has turned into an easy listening station, especially during breakfast and drive. Lots of guitar music and fusion – as well as modern recycling of old forms, such as John Tavener. Middle of the Road stuff. To me, that’s not easy listening – it’s sugar coated, endlessly upbeat choons that avoid the pain and torment that classical composers have revealed about our society, especially in the 20th Century.

In reality, I stopped listening regularly to ABC FM soon after the end of the Just Out program hosted by the irascible Englishman Martin Hibble. He was the music world’s equivalent to David Stratton. The program featured new recordings, played in full, often, on a Saturday afternoon. He had no problem in ripping them to shreds if he felt it warranted or provide effusive praise – providing detailed reasons. It was fantastic. I was shocked when the ABC removed the program and new recordings were given positive, facile reviews late on a Tuesday night.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The audience don’t seem to like opinions or anything that’s not mawkishly positive. Hence the disappearance of Clive Robertson from Breakfast.

In criticising the changing profile of ABC Classic – I’m not criticising the professionalism and style of the presenters.  For example, Emma Ayres seems lovely – but the music to me lacks the edge and bite of previous years.  And when presenters of the countdown say things like “Andrew Lloyd Webber has been hugely influential” and “Phantom of the Opera is great music”, that confirms to me why exactly what ABC Classic FM has become and what this countdown list will yield. Perhaps we need someone to start an online classical radio station that features the good stuff.

Categories
Classical Music

Symphonies in the The Hottest 100 20th Century

Yesterday, I made some suggestions for the Hottest 100 countdown of the “classical” music of the 20th Century. I received the highest ever reader numbers for one of my classical music blogs, so I’m pretty happy about that – as well as nice compliments. However, I also received questions – such as, which symphonies do I think will make it? I realised that the first post was a bit rushed – so here are some predictions as to the symphonies. This is the century that too the “symphony” and bent it completely out of shape – to wonderful effect.

1. Mahler. I think his 5th, 8th and 9th Symphonies are pretty certain for inclusion – they are pretty popular works that made the Hottest 100 Symphonies. Mahler 5 will go near the top, I suspect, because of the Adagietto, which is breathtaking –

I don’t think his 6th or 7th will appear, probably because the 6th is a grumpy old thing (I once characterised it as the work Keating put on after a particularly bad day, ready to write one of ranty speeches) and the 7th, which is just plain weird. Which is why it’s my favourite Mahler.

2. Rachmaninov. I think his second symphony might appear, again because of the slow movement, which is one of the most sensual pieces of music going around. Never fails to move me in various ways…

3. Elgar and Vaughan Williams. For reasons best known to my childhood, I can’t separate these two, even though they wrote at different times. Elgar’s Second Symphony may make the list, by dint of earlier times when Australians listened to British classical music a lot.  Listening to it is a bit like walking through treacle for me.

I do hope, though, that some Vaughan Williams makes it – like his Sinfonia Antartica or A London Symphony, which was the first work I saw the Sydney Symphony perform inside the Opera House. I still think it’s wonderfully evocative of a London I have never visited but seen in films and on TV.

4. Shostakovich. Being my favourite composer of all time, I hope a lot of Shostakovich makes it. But I think the symphonies that will make it are Numbers 5, 10 and possibly 8 and 7 – even though 7 – the “Leningrad” is a bit rubbish, partially because I think it was intended to be.  Here are some interesting performances – the conductor of the premiere performance, Mravinsky conducting the deliberately slow, methodical pace that Shostakovich wanted vs  Leonard Bernstein, the eternal showman (listen from the 8 minute mark of the Bernstein for the comparison)

And his 10th is a cracker – this movement is said to be a musical representation of Stalin’s activities. But it’s also good for those days when the world really has picked you up and dumped you somewhere else and you have no idea how it happened.

And there’s the 8th, which is a pretty good representation of both war and the relentless passage of Stalin. But also, I find, good music to get me to wake up in the morning, ready for getting in the machine that moves me along into Sydney’s absurd traffic. In this version, look at the conductor’s cheeks. They are great.

Enough of Shostakovich. But I will conclude by saying that you really don’t need to know much of the Shostakovich “story” or “secret agendas” to enjoy his work. For me, they show a brittle, sardonic response to what was a frenetic, anxiety filled century – and not just in the Soviet Union.

5. Prokofiev. I suspect his 5th Symphony might make it (in addition to Romeo and Juliet and the 3rd Piano Concerto), but I don’t see it pop up as much on programs or the radio as those of Shostakovich. That’s probably because there isn’t as clear a “secret agenda” being played out. But it’s a still one of the best symphonies of the century – the rhythms are fantastic and I like his orchestration.

6. Messiaen. I don’t really know what music of Messiaen will make it – probably the Quartet for the End of Time, composed in a Nazi prison camp. But I also think his fantasmagoria, the Turangalila Symphonie, complete with that electronic marvel, the ondes martinot (an instrument used by Radiohead at one stage), should be there.

7. Gorecki. His Symphony No. 3, the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” made the popular music charts in the 1990s, even copping a mention in my barely read history thesis.  Its popularity of the time was put down to the way it encompassed a lot of sadness around and I think it still holds that position with people – this is why I think it will feature highly on the list.

8. Sibelius and Nielsen. I completely forgot the Scandinavian duo yesterday, despite my admiration for a number of their works. I definitely think Sibelius will appear – with his Violin Concerto a near certainty. I also suspect his Symphony No. 5 will appear.

I also think Carl Nielsen might appear – with the 4th Symphony, The “Inextinguishable” being the favourite – perhaps if for no other reason than it has a name.

9. Martinu. I mentioned Martinu yesterday – but I do wonder if anything of his will appear. You don’t hear his music that much on the radio or in concert halls – I have only ever heard his Oboe Concerto live.  But I rate him as one of the century’s best, with his mix of insanely busy music with optimism and despair. A true original.  Here is his Sixth – music to match a crazy old Saturday night in Sydney.

10. Carl Vine. Australian composers haven’t gone that much into symphonies – they seem to like the 15 minute work. This could be put down partly to the fact that John Hopkins, the  Head of Music at the ABC, commissioned a lot of orchestral works from Australian composers in the 1960s and 1970s – and Hopkins told the composers that audience attention spans weren’t much longer than 15 minutes.  Even Carl Vine’s symphonies aren’t long – running at or a bit longer than 15 minutes. And I haven’t a single youtube link of one of his works being played.  But he might make it.

There’s 10. I have missed other symphonies, no doubt – and I’ll probably be wrong. But the century did create a lot of them.

In a footnote, I mentioned to my partner that I’d composed a blog about the Hottest 100 and she mentioned Rhapsody in Blue. And I’d completely forgotten about it. It will probably hit the Top 10 and I had blanked it. Some out there would probably like to blank it permanently, but I like it.