Thursday, February 26, 2009

'This song sticks in my head'

Just now with most of the world asleep I have been sitting here sipping my coffee and listening to performances of Prokofiev's Toccata.

I like this piece. It reminds me of a big tank, moving forward, inexorable and robotic. A big machine. All you have to do is hit the notes, which is obviously not easy, but once you do that and work out your staccato feel, the reward is that Prokofiev does most of the work.

Here is Lisa de la Salle playing it. I like Lisa de la Salle because her clothes remind me of my clothes. Also I love the idea of someone playing the Prokofiev Toccata in those shoes. I am sure Prokofiev would like that too.

That is Lisa de la Salle pictured above. She is only about 22 and has a great look.

Here is Prokofiev playing the piece, on a piano roll. It is kind of slow. I love how someone comments, "Someone needs to speed up the piano roll." That is an idea! But the problem could be that Prokofiev's chops were not up to the piece. That is what I have heard.

Here is a cool picture of Proky at the piano. That looks like my old piano from my old apartment!

I know speed and great chops are not the answer to everything. But I have to say that the Prokofiev Toccata is one piece I would love to hear over-the-top fast, I mean as fast as it can be and still be correct, which is of course the big challenge.

Martha Argerich's is pretty fast. Ha, ha! Look at the first comment: "This song is stuck in my head."

Now I am going to be really immature but I am sorry:

This really cracked me up.

I think it is Horowitz playing. But that visual treatment, you cannot beat it. Just the first three seconds, and I am laughing.

Let me tell you, this is something that sticks in your head.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Great Scot

This morning what with Ash Wednesday I got onto this priest's blog that I often check out, because I have Mass tonight and I like to study up on the prayers beforehand. And that is where I read this business about the Scottish composer James MacMillan. That is a picture of MacMillan up above, getting a blessing from a priest. I lifted it off a blog creatively called godzdogz.

Apparently MacMillan loves the Latin Mass the way I do and he is trying to advocate for it and some Catholic publication refused to print his letter.

You go, Mr. MacMillan!

We know James MacMillan here in Buffalo. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has performed his music several times. I remember in particular his percussion concerto "Veni, veni Emmanuel."

I am not much for modern dissonant music and I more or less filed MacMillan's piece under the category of: Do I admire the craftsmanship and art that go into this music? Yes. Will I come home and pour a glass of wine and listen to it? No.

But I do remember being struck by the emotion when he references the ancient chant, which you can hear in the link above. And I remember the music gave me an idea of his sincerity, and his faith.

This morning I found myself revisiting the piece. I found this interview with MacMillan about it.

I found a performance of the concerto here and sure enough, there was the chant, as I remembered it. The whole piece is up on YouTube if you would like to explore it.

You can read MacMillan's letter, the one that the Catholic magazine won't publish, here.

This business about liturgy is a hot topic in the Catholic Church right now because the Pope is making moves to bring back the traditional Latin chants. As I understand it, he is even encouraging that in English language Masses, you do parts of it in Latin -- the Credo, say, or the Gloria.

Very interesting changes afoot, especially for Catholics who love music! But naturally we do not feel the effects much in Buffalo.

We are always the last to get with it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wasn't that a party?

This morning what with it being Mardi Gras I was thinking of Schumann's "Carnaval" as I knocked around the kitchen drinking coffee and kneading up bread dough.

I played "Carnaval" myself a couple of years ago, coached by my teacher Stephen Manes who has now, alas, moved to California. There are a couple of things about "Carnaval" I got to love and I was thinking about that this morning.

One is "Aveu." It sounds just like ragtime. Like a slow Joplin rag. Listen to it here played by Claudio Arrau, a pianist I love, and tell me if you do not agree.

Here, for comparison's sake, listen to this hippie playing "Bethena," that wistful Scott Joplin waltz.

"Aveu," the little ragtime piece, is the first piece in that clip. (See, I keep throwing it at you hoping you'll listen.) The clip ends with the end of "Carnaval," the "March of the Davidsbund Against the Philistines." I love the big ringing fanfare that begins that piece. So Schumann! It is a riot to play, I can tell you that. It feels great. You feel as if you are in a bell tower ringing a big bell. Like in one of those cartoons, where the character is swinging holding on to the rope. That is how exhilarating it is.

The "Davidsbund" was a slacker invention of Schumann and his friends. You know how you sometimes sit around bars dreaming up lists and things. They dreamed up this club that was supposed to be for wonderful musicians who were not stuffy and took a stand against people who were. They inducted Mozart into the "Davidsbund" posthumously. I liked that, how they recognized Mozart's boldness and greatness in an era when a lot of people saw him as a childlike puffball.

Back to "Carnaval": One of the best things about it is that it ends with the music collapsing in a heap. Allow me to toss that link at you one more time so you can hear how it ends. As if you just had the most wonderful time of your life but now you're drunk and you've had it and you will pick up the pieces of your life tomorrow.

Isn't that what Carnaval, Mardi Gras, whatever you call it, is supposed to be like? You have the greatest time and the next day is, uh, Ash Wednesday...

Except as my mom griped the other day, most people who celebrate Fat Tuesday follow it up with Fat Wednesday.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Brother blogger

Remember the pianist Stephen Hough? We write about him now and then. We like the British pianist Stephen Hough at this blog and at the Leonard Pennario blog. And he likes us, too! Anyway he was kind enough to peek in in the past.

Well, now Stephen Hough has begun blogging! Check out his blog here.

I like his blog because it is all about piano and also has big doses of Catholicism which, you know me, I eat up the way I eat up a big bucket o' wings at the Anchor Bar. Stephen Hough is more hard-core than we are in that direction. He is always quoting Chesterton and St. Augustine. And he takes potshots against atheists. This is amazing!

Not as much Latin as I or my good St. Paul's Cathedral friend Ward personally would like but then Stephen Hough has just gotten started. His first blog entry appears to have been on Christmas Eve. Give him time.

One nice thing about Stephen Hough's blog as that he is very good about answering people. If you comment on Stephen Hough's blog, the odds are good he will write you back.

That is a most wonderful thing in a famous pianist.

We celebrate by listening to Stephen Hough playing the slow movement of the Chopin F Minor Concerto, a piece that Pennario played incredibly and that Stephen Hough plays beautifully too.

We welcome him to Blog-O-Land.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Save me the waltz

The always vigilant Prof. G wants to alert us here in Blog-O-Land to a recording of a waltz supposedly by Franz Schubert. Here it is on YouTube.

Quoth Prof. G, "Please let me know if this is spurious."

I like that, being set up as judge and jury. Ahem.

The waltz in the link above is called the "Kupelwieser Waltz," because the story goes that Schubert wrote it for the wedding of his friend Paul Kupelwieser, and it was just passed down through the family, generation to generation, no one writing it down.

Paul Kupelwieser was the brother of the painter Leopold Kupelwieser, who did the sweet drawing of a young-and-handsome, not bespectacled-and-tubby Schubert pictured above. Maybe you have stumbled on those heartbreaking letters Schubert wrote about how his health would never be the same again. He wrote those letters to Leopold Kupelwieser. Leopold Kupelwieser also did the drawing you see if you watch the video, of Schubert and his friends heading off into the countryside.

And he did this painting you see all the time of Schubert and his friends -- rehearsing, the caption says, but it looks more like horsing around. They did have some fun in that circle! That is the idea I always get.

So what to think of this story? Is this waltz genuine? That is what we are wondering.

I had heard the story that there was a waltz that Schubert had played at someone's wedding, and it had been passed down. But I had it in my head that it was the "Trauerwaltz" that is to be found among his piano waltzes. It is amazing, the stories you can carry around in your head and never question or think about.

Here is the waltz I had thought that story was about. Hilarious performance! But, you know, things like this remind you that this music lives. Here is this girl playing this waltz for her friends and she cracks up and Schubert, I think, would have liked that.

About the "Kupelwieser Waltz," my first thought I have to confess is: Why didn't someone along the line write it down?

I am just saying. What, did the Kupelwiesers just sit around and gloat over it, that they had this waltz by Schubert, and no one else did?

Because no one wrote it down, I would bet we are dealing with a kind of game-of-Telephone situation -- one person tells it to another who tells it to another and gradually over the years little things are lost and changed. That ending, for instance, that does not sound like Schubert to me.

You get a lot of that Telephone situation when it comes to Schubert, because his biographer Otto Erich Deutsch -- as well as others, I am guessing -- went around and interviewed Schubert's friends when they were near the end of their lives. Thank God they did, but you get some misinformation mixed in there.

With all this in mind, though, there is something so touching about this waltz. Actually it reminds me of the "Trauerwaltz" I mentioned up above. So I tend to believe the story.

Here is the "Kupelwieser Waltz" played by Aldo Ciccolini, which does give it some legitimacy. They identify it as "Kugelwieser Waltz," by the way, if you look. More misinformation!

It is interesting how Ciccolini plays the theme, treating the upper notes in the right hand as accompaniment. What a beautiful little piece.

But a bit out of place, I am thinking, in that big, formal setting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beethoven's hot nephew

The other day, carrying on about Beethoven, I got wondering about that movie that came out a couple of years ago called "Copying Beethoven."

That is a terrible title by the way. All these people getting paid all these bucks, and that is the best they could come up with? Well, "Beethoven" was already taken.

I do not believe "Copying Beethoven" ever came to Buffalo. I did not ever see it. But from what I read about it, it sounded interesting. Well, I am a Beethoven nut.

Anyway, just now I went on YouTube looking for the movie. Maybe, I thought, I could watch a few minutes of it, or the trailer, or something. Sure enough, some geek has posted a whole bunch of scenes from the movie. Maybe the whole movie, who knows. I walked in on this scene in which the woman assisting Beethoven with his copying -- we would all like that job, wouldn't we, girls? -- has met Beethoven's nephew, Karl van Beethoven.

So I watch the scene. And, you know, the acting isn't great, but the movie looks like fun, and I find myself thinking about Beethoven and his nephew and their complicated relationship, what an adventure it would have been to be Beethoven's copyist, comparing it with my experience with Leonard Pennario, etc. Above is a picture of the copyist in "Copying Beethoven." It reminds me of me, in California!

Well, one thing I love about YouTube are the comments. So eventually I look at the comments to see what other viewers of "Copying Beethoven" are thinking.

Here is what they are thinking:

Oh... MY... GAWD!

(Joe Anderson plays Karl van Beethoven.)

And the next comment ...

What A CUTIEEE *-*

And this is my favorite:

I'm sorry, but if he touched me like that, the last thing I would've done is slapped him. ;)

Followed by:

Ugh!! How dare she slaps him!!

(The deal was, Beethoven's nephew had tried to feel the copyist up.)

It goes on and on. You have to see it. Check out the link. Here it is again if you're too lazy to scroll up.

"His hat had me in tears." ... "Thank you dear God for making something so beautiful." ... "This one is a real masterpiece."

Such emotions! Such passions!!

Who says classical music is dead?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The nut, at his nuttiest

It took me till this morning for that goofy migraine finally to wear off. Two days of feeling out of it! Last night because I was so wiped out all I wanted to do was go to sleep. But alas! Howard chose last night to get into bed early when I did and he brought his I-Phone with him.

You can watch things on this I-Phone and Howard was watching YouTube. "Oscar Levant!" I remember him gloating, into my ear. "The Concerto in F!" Now, I love Gershwin's Concerto in F. Leonard Pennario used to play the heck out of it. This one recording he did of it was fantastic. Ask lounge sensation Guy Boleri. Guy told me, "It changed my life."

Howard is at work now so I cannot ask him but my guess is that the clip I was listening to is this. They interrupt so you can hear Walter Damrosch announcing that Gershwin has died.

It is great but imagine it blasting in your ear when you want to go to sleep! That was the situation last night. Well, Howard didn't know about my discomfort so I do not blame him. Also it is nice to be married to someone who listens to Oscar Levant instead of Britney Spears' "Womanizer." That is for sure.

That is a picture of a young Oscar Levant up above. I used to say his name "Le-VAHNT" until Jeff Simon at The Buffalo News finally snapped me out of it. He said: "For heaven's sake, Mary, he was a New York City Jew. You say it 'Le-VANT,'" he said with a big flat Buffalo A. So that is how I say it now.

I loved what Ward wrote the other day on the Leonard Pennario blog when we were discussing hypochondriac pianists, a subject we like to return to now and then. "Two words. Oscar Levant," Ward wrote. Ha, ha!

Probably Levant is more lovable in retrospect, seen in hindsight, than he was at the time, when you were actually around him. But in retrospect, he sure is funny.

I got to review this book on Oscar Levant by Sam Kashner called "A Talent for Genius." One thing that cracked me up was that Levant was from Pittsburgh and, Kashner wrote: "He maintained a lifelong dread of Pittsburgh."

Jerry Sullivan, the great sports columnist at The Buffalo News, lent me a book by Oscar Levant which, alas, I have not yet returned. But I know where it is! It is next to the bed. Jerry Sullivan says that Levant was a blogger before blogging existed. He is right!

Another Levant fan is Jackie Jocko, the lounge pianist down at the Hyatt we are always going to see. "Who is going to replace Oscar Levant? Who is going to replace Fred Astaire?" Jocko wondered aloud, pessimistically, late one night.

Nobody will. What a great character.

Just not someone you want to listen to when you are trying to fall asleep.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mass appeal

Every Sunday at Mass one of the things I think about is how many people, through the centuries, have heard what I am hearing. I often think of how many great musicians of the past must have absorbed this music, and the effect it must have had on them.

Just as an example of what I think about, one part of the Mass I love is the "Asperges Me," which, well actually, it is before the Mass even starts. It is a kind of preparation. There is this ancient psalm asking God to purify us and the priest sprinkles everyone with holy water.

Here is the Asperges Me so you can hear what I'm talking about. I found this video from a church in Scotland. It reminds me of what I experience every Sunday here at church. I love the people walking in during this video, by the way. It is funny and kind of touching to hear the ancient chant juxtaposed with people in down jackets and one woman with her dog. Very Buffalo!

Here is a crazed looking guy out in the snow singing the Asperges Me. I like that kind of Russian twist he gives it at the end of lines. And how at the end he stands there and smiles.

OK, let me get to the point. Listen to the beginning of the Asperges Me, the part where the choir takes it up, and then tell me:

Is it not exactly like the beginning of Beethoven's Ode to Joy?

I am just saying.

That is how I learned the chant, by thinking of that. I do not think it is out of the question that Beethoven was thinking of the "Asperges Me" when he wrote his Ninth Symphony. He grew up in the Catholic church and they had a big hand in his musical education.

What about the scene from "Immortal Beloved" that had the Ode to Joy? That is the one scene I liked from that movie.

What about the "Ode to Joy" played on wine glasses? You would not believe the stuff on YouTube.

Imagine if Beethoven had grown up with "On Eagle's Wings" and "Be Not Afraid."

That Ninth Symphony might have turned out very differently.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

If music be the food of love...

In honor of Valentine's Day may I present a bouquet of music by Richard Strauss. Look at that beautiful poster up above that I found on the Internet. It is celebrating Richard Strauss Week in Munich in 1910.

Here is a song I love and only got to know about five years ago. This is "Cacilie" and here it is sung by Jessye Norman. Dear Jessye, she looks so beautiful. Look at that hair. And what I love is her expression, her body language. Talk about throwing yourself into this blissful song!

What a sentiment there in that poem at the end. "If you only knew it, you would LIVE WITH ME!" Who could argue with that?

Here is Miss Norman from the same recital singing "Zuignung," or "Dedication." This song and I have been friends since my teen-hood. It has the same kind of euphoric finish as "Cacilie."

Naturally these songs would be even better with piano but we take what we can get. One thing I like about these videos is there are English subtitles.

Here is the last scene of "Der Rosenkavalier" which I know I have mentioned before but what the heck, it is Valentine's Day, give me a pass. Click on "info" and you can find out what is going on. It is evil how they cut off the ending! You want to see the little servant boy run in and grab the dropped handkerchief. Fie on them. Fie!

Still, what a performance. Briggite Faessbinder, what an actress. If it weren't for her voice you could swear she was a young man. She is quite the gender-bender! She did a wild "Winterreise" once, too. That is a song cycle written to be sung for a man and only recently women have begun to sing it a little bit more.

In the last scene of "Rosenkavalier" it has to be a challenge for the singers, I always think, to act romantic without giggling. Once in my college days I lived with two gals who were gay. They came in once while I was watching, you guessed it, "Rosenkavalier," and they got hooked and soon they're watching it too. And at the end, they couldn't believe it. "Lesbian opera!" one of them exclaimed.

I have not thought of that in years!

What else do we have in our little bag of Valentine's treats today?

Oh, I remember. There is this little video sent in by Prof. G that shows Strauss himself, in person. Thank you, Prof. G, and may pink and white candy hearts rain down upon you!

In the video Strauss is being greeted at Bayreuth in 1936 by Winifred Wagner(the widow of Wagner's son Siegfried) and a crabby-acting Heinz Tietjen who was in charge of opera in the Third Reich. The circumstances are regrettable but it is so dear to see Strauss, so touching how he waves to the camera as he is getting out of the car. It is as if he is waving to us years later.

Now that is a romantic thought.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lang Lang's loose lips

Today I am going for the low-hanging fruit. There are lofty things I was going to explore but they will have to wait. We are going to take it easy today and play Shut Up and Play. In case you missed it last time, this is our ongoing feature in which we affectionately quote goofy things said by artists who can otherwise be very cool people.

Last week's Shut Up and Play, which focused on William Kapell, was rightfully contested by the always-erudite Prof. G. He had a point. Prof. G did I mean (Kapell's point, to tell you the truth, is still pretty foggy to me). I do not think anyone will contest today's quote. Although you are welcome to!

Today's talker is Lang Lang, pictured above.

And below.

"We saw Britney Spears at the Spectrum. The special effects were brilliant, the dancers gorgeous and Britney super-sexy."

That is from "Journey of a Thousand Miles," by Lang Lang, with David Ritz.

Mr. Lang, Mr. Lang! We love you but ...

Shut up and play!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Glory at the Grammys

Lastnight on the Grammy Awards it was great to see Leonard Pennario's picture flashed across the screen in the "In Memoriam" montage. Thanks, everyone who shared my joy! Above is the picture they ran. It was not the one they had decided they were going to use, but I sent them both pictures, and both of them were excellent. Pennario never took a bad picture!

What, never? No, never!

What, never?

Ahem... Well, hardly ever.

There were a few. There was one where he had this look, he called it a smirk, that he wished he hadn't had. We used to take that picture out and laugh about it. But all the pictures I floated by the Grammys were good, so it didn't matter to me which one they used.

I did not watch the whole ceremony, but what I saw was interesting.

It was bittersweet seeing the Four Tops and Smokey Robinson. I felt bad about losing Levi Stubbs.

The sight of them in their suits also made me nostalgic for the days when bands dressed up and looked dapper when they took the stage. Pop musicians now almost always have that look of studied grunge.

Rap, when will it ever go out of style? Hasn't it had its 15 minutes?

I had to smile, though, seeing Radiohead. That is because I was thinking about how the pianist Christopher O'Riley covers this band's stuff. You can watch him playing one of their songs here. It sounds sometimes like Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive," now that I am listening to it. Which sounds, in turn, like a Chopin prelude. I know, because just now I went downstairs humming the Jobim and came upstairs humming the Chopin. But the song O'Riley is playing is a Radiohead song called "Exit Music From a Film."

Watching Radiohead lastnight, I did not come away with anything spiritually. (Though I did like the marching-band touches: the snare drums, the trombones.) But I like what O'Riley does, playing their songs. It helps rock fans get the idea that music is music. That just because they like Radiohead does not mean they will not like Mozart too. There is no conflict! You are allowed to like both.

Here is a picture of Christopher O'Riley. I interviewed him once on the phone but I have no memory of it. It is funny how now matter how prepared you are, some people you click with and some you don't. Well, there are a lot of other factors at work too: what kind of day you are having, what kind of day the other person is having, how much sleep both of you got, etc. Any one of those variables could explain why my conversation with O'Riley was unmemorable.

It could not have been me! That is for sure.

Here is a picture of Christopher O'Riley.

Wow, you know who he looks a lot like? Our old friend Stephen Hough!

Who, in turn, looks like our friend Ivan Ilic.

What is with all these pianists these days looking alike? Well, they are all nice-looking gentlemen. Can't complain.

Back to Christopher O'Riley: The good news is, he is in Pennario's address book so I might try giving him a call again, what the heck. That is what I do sometimes when I find people in Pennario's address book.

I am bold and brazen.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Critiquing the critics

There is this neat story on the site Slate by Jan Swafford, about a book about music critics and music criticism. I read it because I like Jan Swafford's book on Johannes Brahms. It has this dreamy picture of Brahms on the cover. It is a lot like the painting pictured above.

We do love pictures of Johannes Brahms on this blog! We do not often resist the opportunity to run one.

Swafford's book was written beautifully, I thought, not like a lot of composer biographies that you find. Isn't it terrible when you are very interested in the person someone is writing about, but then it turns into work just to slog through every page? I have had that experience frequently.

You can read Swafford's Slate story here. He talks about a 1953 book by Nicholas Slonimsky, "Lexicon of Musical Invective," that chronicles acerbic critics through the ages. In the book, Slonimsky chronicled the scathing reviews that greeted many pieces that subsequently turned out to be masterpieces.

What about the flip side of that: pieces of music that get great reviews but turn out to be crud? Someone should write a book about that.

Back to this essay. Swafford found in Slonimsky's book a review someone wrote about Wagner calling his music "this din of brasses, tin pans and kettles, this Chinese or Caribbean clatter..."

And he puts that the legendary critic Eduard Hanslick, who loved Brahms and hated Wagner, wrote about Tchaikovsky: "We see plainly the savage vulgar faces, we hear curses, we smell vodka..." He was writing about Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto of all things.

Does vodka have a smell? I did not know that.

Here is a picture of Eduard Hanslick in case anyone is wondering what he looked like. I always like knowing what people looked like.

Swafford raises a number of interesting points but I am not sure I agree with his conclusion. Which is: "The great lousy reviews arose because critics and audiences truly cared about music and its future. Critics were sometimes reactionary, boneheaded and cockamamie, but music mattered to them. If we no longer enjoy the uproars and the withering screeds of yesteryear, it's mainly because people no longer care passionately enough about what they hear in the concert hall to want to murder somebody over it."

That is a nice argument but he misses something. He forgot to take into account our P.C. era. We are all forced to be far more worried about hurting someone else's feelings than they were back in the day. A lot of what these people wrote in the paper 100 years ago -- even 50 years ago -- you cannot write in the paper any more.

Imagine if you wrote that business about vodka and vulgarity, playing on the fact that Tchaikovsky is Russian! Or that you referred to Chinese or Caribbean clatter!

You would lose your job, I will tell you that right now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stand facing the CD player

When I was a kid getting into classical music, I had no interest at all in how the orchestra was set up, or who was better, the Berlin Philharmonic or the Vienna Philharmonic, or how a piano worked, or even what an oboe sounded like as opposed to a clarinet. I didn't care about the nuts and bolts of music.

I just wanted to hear it.

I am still kind of like that.

There is this magic moment when a piece of music just hits you. It's great when that is how people discover that classical music is not something to be afraid of, that it is something to be loved. Different pieces do it for different people. I read once how a guy fell in love with music because of the theme from the last movement of Brahms' First Symphony. (My brother George told me the Kingston Trio made a Christmas carol out of that theme. I think they should be jailed for that. Once you get words to something like that in your head you never get them out.)

The point I am getting at is, you can take all the music appreciation classes and the world and read every book musicologists ever wrote, but it all comes down to something clicking with you. That is when you fall in love with music. And it can be a magical moment.

I got thinking of that this morning because I was on You Tube sifting through the recordings posted there of Leonard Pennario. I do that all the time because I like to post to one each day on my Pennario blog. There aren't many Pennario performances on YouTube, so out of desperation, I started listening to his performance of the slow movement of the "Pathetique," accompanied by orchestra. It was on his hit record "Concertos Under the Stars."

I know, the nerve, the nerve, putting orchestra with the "Pathetique"! Pennario and I used to laugh about that. But really, the arrangement is nice, and Pennario plays that melody beautifully with that unselfconscious style he had. And the thing that got me today is, people who are listening to it on YouTube love it! They don't know beans about Beethoven, or that the "Pathetique" is not supposed to have an orchestra with it. They are not hung up on that. They stumble on this video someone has made with a picture of a sunset, and they don't worry about that this is, ahem, Classical Music. They hit "play."

And something happens to them. Here, I'm going to cut and paste a comment someone posted to that video two weeks ago:

"i dont know but i feel sadness in listening to this music and at the same time some uplifting weird feeling indeed a combination of a positive and negative"

I actually get tears in my eyes reading that!

Four days ago someone named "RKHSMan" answered that earlier listener. He wrote:

"I know what you mean it really is a beautiful piece of music. I've only really just started to listen to classical music (I usually listen to death metal of all things) and this and moonlight sonata are some of my favourites. The emmotion of happy and sad as you said in this piece are amazing I couldnt agree with you more."

Isn't that beautiful? You could sit these people down and explain to them about Beethoven's genius and the honesty of Pennario's playing, but you don't have to. They have it all figured out. And now here they are struggling with trying to put into words a feeling that music has never given them before.

That is a wonderful moment.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Scenes from a marriage

Today I was not planning on talking any more about Lukas Foss because after yesterday, I have Foss coming out of my ears. The good news is, The Buffalo News ran my story on the front page! You can read it here and I would be honored if you would.

The paper also let me pontificate about my interview with Foss so I did that here, on our Artsbeat blog.

Anyway, I was not going to talk about Foss any more than I already have. But then I went to a party lastnight and all anyone could do was talk about, you guessed it, Lukas Foss.

The stuff flying around about that guy!

Plus, I get the idea not everyone liked him. I interviewed him that one time, but it was for about an hour, and I liked him, I have to say that. It seemed to me then you could not like him. Which did not surprise me. Classical musicians are usually like that.

But lastnight, I got a taste of the anti-Foss folks. They are out there!

On the bright side it is interesting how current Foss is. I mean, look, he was 86 when he died the other day, and he had not lived in Buffalo for well over 30 years, and still -- still -- here he is being talked about at cocktail parties, as if he were still among us. That is something to be proud of.

Then again maybe it is just Buffalo. We are like that. We never let go of anything or anyone and face it, this town knew Foss better than most towns did.

My favorite Foss story was in this entertaining book by Katie Hafner about Glenn Gould and his piano, "A Romance on Three Legs." I got to review that book for The Buffalo News and I remember writing about this one anecdote. I still cannot get over it.

What happened was, Foss was living in Buffalo because at that time he was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. And his wife, Cornelia, took off to Toronto to get with Glenn Gould. Listen to my hip-hop language! I never like to pass up a chance to say "get with." That is what I am going to say from now on when people ask me what I was doing in California last year. I am going to say, "I went there to get with Leonard Pennario."

Who would want to get with Glenn Gould? Not my idea of appealing, thank you very much.

But Cornelia Foss did, according to this book, and of course Buffalo gossip bears this out. That is Cornelia Foss pictured above. And here is a painting she did a few years ago that I really like.

Cornelia Foss took the station wagon and the kids, the story goes, and went up to Toronto. And before she left, she and Lukas Foss had it out in their driveway in Buffalo. She told him she was leaving him for Glenn Gould and he started laughing.

"I'm leaving you for Glenn Gould. Why are you smiling?" she asked him.

And he said: "Because I know it won't last. Have a good time. I'll see you next weekend."

Ha, ha! I am not sure I have all the words right but that is the gist of it. It is like something out of a sitcom. When I left Buffalo to go get with Pennario, let me tell you this, the scene in our Buffalo driveway was not nearly as dramatic.

Here is a video of Foss playing Bach's great D minor concerto, a piece I have always been crazy about since I was a kid and got a record of it with Sviatoslav Richter. That is the piece Foss played in Buffalo in 2003, the last time he was here.

So long, Lukas.

You sure made waves!

Monday, February 2, 2009

A farewell to Foss

Lukas Foss died so I have to run into the office and write about that. I will post a link later to my story in The Buffalo News. Lukas Foss is important to Buffalo because he was our music director here and had a big effect on our town.

That is a picture of Foss up above when he was a young man, which he was when he was in Buffalo.

It is the most stressful thing that I do but also one of the most fulfilling things that I do, writing about musicians who have passed on. I do not often write obituaries but when I do it is a very big deal. This year I wrote about Harry Taub, the Philharmonic's longtime associate concertmaster, who was a close friend so that was emotional for me. And of course in June I had to write about Leonard Pennario. I was out there in California with him the day that he died and I will never forget the morning I had to dry my tears and write his obituary. You would think I would have had it ready, because he had been sick. But I did not!

I did a long interview with Foss a few years ago so it is not as if I am starting from scratch with this one. He was a lot of fun, I will say that.

But still, long day ahead.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

'The stage is aflame!'

We usually talk about church music on Sundays. And believe me, today I listened to my share of my Sunday composer of the moment, Palestrina. I had that Palestrina cranked so loud in my car that my brother George, meeting me in front of my house, told me I was turning into one of those boom cars!

But yesterday I was listening to "Rigoletto" from the Metropolitan Opera and thinking about square old announcers. And I was thinking:

Am I the only one who misses that hoary old announcer who used to do the Met broadcasts?

Peter Allen, his name was. I grew up listening to that guy. He sounded like someone from another century. I was so sad when he retired. They have a good announcer now, nothing against her. Her name is Margaret Juntwait. That is Margaret Juntwait up above, interviewing Thomas Hampson, a singer I love.

But I loved that dignified, old-man sound that Peter Allen had. It harked me back to my childhood when the news was read not be TV babes but by ugly old men in suits. Remember that?

I scoured the Internet for pictures of Peter Allen and could find none. But I found one of his predecessor, Milton Cross. He is the author of all those books on opera plots that we all have. Here, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Milton Cross.

Here is another picture of Milton Cross. This one is a classic!

There is something about the pageantry of vicarious Metropolitan Opera viewing that calls for a voice full of age and dignity. I used to hear Peter Allen reciting the proceedings in his stentorian tones: "And now Dwayne Crofts is coming out on stage, taking his bows. He wears long blue robes..."

With all due respect to Miss Juntwait, she is just too young and her voice is not hoary enough. There, she cannot argue with that. That will not make her mad.

They do nail it now and then, though. That drama!

Last winter when I was in California with Leonard Pennario I remember driving around one Saturday, running some errands, whatever. And the Metropolitan Opera was on. They were doing "Die Walkure."

"Die Walkure" is a special opera for me. My sister Katie and I went and saw it in Toronto once and I will never forget it, how we were weeping. Both of us. We had this single soaked Kleenex we kept passing back and forth. That is another subject for another day, music and crying. We will get to that!

For now, I am remembering last winter when I listened to the opera on the radio. When it was ending, I had to pull over into a parking lot so I could sit and listen. That was a trip! It is not as easy in San Diego to pull into a parking lot as it is in Buffalo, that is for sure.

The last scene was beautiful and heartbreaking, the way the last scene of "Die Walkure" always is. Brunnhilde has disobeyed her father, Wotan, so he puts her to sleep and surrounds her with fire and he bids her that loving farewell, and then you hear that Magic Fire Music and you cry and that is how the opera ends.

That above link is haunting and atmospheric. But here is a concert performance with Bryn Terfel as Wotan that has translations so you can read what is going on. It is incredible!

Back to last winter. As I'm sitting in this parking lot, the announcers get on. "Smoke is billowing out over the audience," they start saying. "The entire stage is aflame .. People are crying ... James Morris, as Wotan, he is coming out now, and people are rising to applaud..."

And here is what I could not get over: A man was doing the announcing with Miss Juntwait and he began to weep.

A stage aflame, smoke billowing over the audience, and the announcer weeping!

That is how an opera should end.