Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A good man singing Mahler

New singer I discovered: Christian Gerhaher.

You never hear of him here. I believe he is big in Europe. It is funny how much of a difference geography still makes. You would not think it would, but it does. There are giant singers in Europe I know very little about. Also giant competitions. They have these competitions like the Cardiff Singer of the World competition that just sound very alien to us over here.

Anyway there was this Mahler song I needed to hear today, and so when I was at the gym I got on Spotify, and Spotify capriciously tossed Christian Gerhaher at me.

Spotify must have known what I would like. He is really good!

Although, you know, that picture. All his pictures on the Internet are so scruffy. What happened to black tie? What happened to concert finery? Was his luggage stolen?

Ah! They found it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Los Angeles and "The Magic Flute"

I was listening to the Los Angeles Opera's "The Magic Flute" just now on WNED. The staging seemed kind of boneheaded, from what I could make out. Just for one thing, they had the Queen of the Night as a spider. The Queen of the Night isn't supposed to be a spider.

The magic touches are real fun as you can see in this video.

You can get creative with "The Magic Flute." I am not being a grinch and saying you can't. You can do a million things with it. Artists including Maurice Sendak, whose work appears up above, have had a great time with it. If this production could have let go of that silly '20s look they were trying to get, it would have been magic.

But you have to keep the basics. It is a fairy tale opera and when you start making Tamino not look like a prince and Papageno not look like a bird catcher, you are losing something. And about the Queen of the Night, she is supposed to be beautiful and cool and fun to look at and eventually you figure out who and what she is. Her appearances are supposed to be show stoppers, and they usually are.

Another thing about the Los Angeles Opera production, I give the thumbs down to the snips they gave you here and there of Mozart's piano fantasies. You cut and paste this music like that, it shows your superficial "shuffle" relationship with it.


That opera's ending always gets me!

Maybe it's the triumph of good over evil. In the Catholic Church we are taught that good wins out in the end, that God will triumph over the forces of darkness, that the battle is already won. "The Magic Flute" is set in ancient Egypt so they are singing about Isis and Osiris. Anyway, good over evil, the sun coming out, everyone happy, the battle is won.

So it was with the Los Angeles Opera. At the end you just hear that chorus and you forgive everything. Maybe that was the point, who knows.

In this Metropolitan Opera clip the chorus in question starts at 3:39. That is Kathleen Battle as Pamina and she does a kind of neat feisty skip when she joins Tamino for their walk up to where Sarastro is waiting. Sarastro is Kurt Moll -- kind of handsome, I never knew what he looked like. This is several years ago and they don't have the L.A. Opera's special effects but it is simple and good. And the Queen of the Night is the Queen of the Night.

One of these days we will compare closing choruses of "The Magic Flute" in how it looks in various productions. Meanwhile, because this is a tough Monday and we need the oomph, here is an audio clip that gives you some translations.  This just has the music but I like what the poster wrote: "Turn up the volume more and more while listening."

Do it!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The secrets of Spotify

At the gym on my new phone I have been listening to Spotify. What an adventure!

Spotify shuffles everything. You can choose an album but you cannot choose the order in which you will listen to the tracks. That is one thing that makes it exciting. Go ahead, listen to Schubert's "Winterreise" or whatever, just accept that you will hear the songs in whatever order the robot decides to give it to you in.

Not only that, but the thing reserves the right to swap in other things!

Normally what I find they do is, they give you a few of the tracks off the album you wanted, and then it starts branching out. I was listening to my new favorite singer, Peter Schreier, singing, I don't know, Schumann. I found a Schumann album of his. They gave me a couple of songs.

Then I got Barbara Hendricks singing Bach cantatas.

Then Schreier and Edith Mathis singing the Bach "Coffee" Cantata.

Then one of Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes.

Periodically it would return to Schumann and give me some song out of the blue. It was out of order and jarring. But that is the game! That is what you have to expect and not let it bug you.

Sometimes giving you the Bach it would give you only the recitative.

At one point it picked me up and put me down in the middle of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger."

Another time I found myself listening to the first scene of "The Magic Flute." Schreier was Tamino and he was being chased by the huge snake.

It was not always vocals. Once I was given the last movement of the Bassoon Concerto by Hummel. That was fun, like Haydn, which is high praise in my book. Plus it is nice to know it. If your bassoonist friend announces that he or she is playing Hummel's Bassoon Concerto you may nod and say  truthfully: "Ah! A charming piece. I know it well."

Everything I heard was nice. Continuing on the second day I got more Bach, and Vivaldi, which helped to erase the cares of the day. The secret to Spotify seems to be to choose something initially that is high class and kind of arcane. Peter Schreier singing Schumann is not going to lead you into anything too weird. Whereas the other day, when I started with Jessye Norman singing Brahms, the robot insisted on giving me this jazzy version she did of the "Habanera" from "Carmen" and a few other pop things I could not stand.

Choose carefully, is my advice.

And your 40 minutes on the elliptical will fly past!

Monday, July 21, 2014

A letter from the Schubertiade

Some time ago at work, I began getting emails from a group called the Schubertiade. The messages were all in German. Even the subject line. I never had much time to figure it out or look at them closely but I enjoyed it, that I was getting these emails from the Schubertiade. That is a Schubertiade pictured above! It is a party in honor of Franz Schubert.

Maybe it was because I wished I could say I were the director of the Schubert Club. Maybe it was because I have written so often how much I love Schubert song.

Whatever, it would make me smile that I was on the receiving end of the Schubertiade emails, whatever they were saying.

And then the other day something happened. To my astonishment, the Schubertiade contacted me via traditional snail mail!

It was not just some robot on the Internet that had hooked me up with them. There was a human being behind this. Because here was this letter, and it had a picture of Schubert ...

... and it had my name with an extra "n" so it was "Goldmann." That was funny!

That meant that in Schubert Land someone was apparently dictating and said, "Mary Kunz Goldman." They got the Kunz right but they added an "n" to the Goldmann.

Plus it said in German something about if it were not deliverable to return it. The Schubertiade did not want this letter to go to just anybody. If I were not there to receive it, it would be winging its way back to Schwarzenberg where it is from.

I learned that because I have learned what the Schubertiade is. It is this magical sounding festival. Somewhere I read that it is the only festival in Germany, or Austria, or wherever it is, to operate without any government subsidies.

Inside the envelope was a brochure. I kept seeing the name Peter Schreier. That is a tenor I love! And funny, just last week that had occurred to me. I found myself at the gym listening to him singing Schubert and thinking how great he was, how I had always underrated him. I mean look. Well, maybe don't look. He is just so square looking. But listen.

Now I get this mailing all about him.

What's it all about, Alfie?

Furthermore I had assumed Peter Schreier was dead because, I mean, everyone's dead.

So there I have it, this festival I had never heard of, featuring this singer I thought was dead. All focusing on Schubert. Unlike the Schubert Club these people actually perform Schubert.

I might just have to go!

Friday, July 11, 2014

5 classical pieces with unfortunate titles

"That's so beautiful, what you're listening to," your friend tells you. "What is it?"

Uh... uh ...

Don't you hate it when a piece of music has an embarrassing name? Here are 5.

1. Dvorak's "Dumky" Trio.

2. Tchaikovsky's "Doumka."

3. Completing this "dumb" trio, Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks."

4. Gustav Holst's "The Mystic Trumpeter" (and his now forgotten cousin, John Alden Carpenter's "The Anxious Bugler").

5. Let's be honest. Elgar's "Nimrod."

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mahler's birthday

It is the twilight hours of the birthday of Gustav Mahler. He was born July 7, 1860. Mahler was older than you think, you know? If I did not think about it would have thought it was later than 1960.

Here is what a lucky dog I am, I work in a place where somebody reminds you when it is Mahler's birthday. The Gusto editor sent me a message about it.

"Happy Gustav Mahler's birthday!" she wrote!

Since then I have been passing that greeting on to other people.

Here is a picture of Mahler out walking with his wife, Alma.

And Mahler at his desk.

Here is a Mahler song I love, "Scheiden und Meiden." Saying goodbye is so sad!

It is one of the "Knaben Wunderhorn" songs, the settings he did of strange old German folk songs. There are a lot of things I love about this song. The galloping rhythms. The song mentions riders on horseback. The creative piano accompaniment. Judging from the pictures that is Leonard Bernstein on piano.

But most of all I love the ending. So cathartic! Scheiden und Meiden tut weh! It hurts to say goodbye! It hurts! It hurts! What else are you going to say, you know?

Ade, Gustav Mahler!

It hurts to say goodbye!