Saturday, August 29, 2009

What a site I see

It is funny that yesterday my friend who goes by the name "Paladino" wrote in those comments about How did he know that the site had eaten half my morning?

Once I get on that site I cannot get off it!

The deal is, with Instant Encore, you can find Web logs and podcasts and video performances and interviews, etc., etc., etc. Yesterday, as it happened, I did go looking for Thomas Hampson on Instant Encore. And I was just so overwhelmed by all the things I found that I could not even see getting into that.

Now I see you can listen to "Hard Times, Come Again No More" here on the site.

It is also included in an interview Hampson gave to WFMT. I am listening to it now. The interviewer calls Thomas Hampson "Tom." "Tell me, Tom..." Hahahaha!

Remember when my friend Steve talked about "Gerry" Schwartz?

There I go again! Maybe it is because it is Saturday but I am laughing at things. I am even laughing at the grim "Hard Times, Come Again No More." That is because I have heard this song a number of times now and there is this one line that goes: "'Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore."

I do not know why but I kept thinking, "whale."

"'Tis a whale that is heard upon the shore."

Someone should have thought of that back when Stephen Foster was writing the song!

Back to the benefits of Instant Encore. On the Thomas Hampson page you can sign up to be a Thomas Hampson fan and then whenever I mention Thomas Hampson you will get a handy notice in your email. Whenever any other one of the Instant Encore Web loggers mentions him you will also get a notice. But I thought I would mention myself first.

You will also be notified of Thomas Hampson videos and podcasts added. A most welcome intrusion into a busy work day!

They have Leonard Pennario on the site too. I love the site for that. You can sign up to be a fan of his, too, which, who would not want to do that?

I will continue to explore the wonders of Instant Encore!

At the cost of much productivity.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The sad young man

Earlier this week I was listening to Thomas Hampson singing Stephen Foster and I keep thinking I should buy this CD that came out several years ago. It is of Thomas Hampson singing Stephen Foster songs, all Stephen Foster.

The CD I got recently has several Stephen Foster songs but they just torture you because aside from "Beautiful Dreamer" they are just not Stephen Foster's best. "Nellie Was a Lady" is kind of like a dirge and "Hard Times," it is a famous song and wonderful in its own way, but you are just not always in the mood for it.

Wow, that "Hard Times" video I just linked to! It is excruciating!

So grim!!

Anyway, these songs give a craving for the all-Stephen Foster Hampson CD. But the trouble is, I do not like to buy CDs. The medium does not work for me. I am always losing CDs, or the disk gets separated from the jewel case, or the disk breaks. CDs are always breaking. That is something no one talks about. And unlike a record you cannot play the rest of the music even though one track is defective.

So I have not bought the Thomas Hampson CD.

Instead I have been sitting around listening to the record of Stephen Foster songs I bought at the Hinzes' garage sale. The record by the Roger Wagner Chorale. That is a great group, the Roger Wagner Chorale. They recorded for Capitol, a label I have become affectionate toward because of my book on Leonard Pennario.

Stephen Foster always looks mournful in pictures. He has hound eyes.

His only child, Marian Foster Welsh, inherited them.

He could write truly sad melodies which is a rare gift to have. He could also turn out melodies with a good bounce in them and that is also a rare skill to have.

"The Glendy Burk" and the line "Ho for Louisiana, I'm bound to leave this town..."

"O Lemuel" is great too although the lyrics are hopelessly un-P.C. so you could probably never sing it.

Wow, I just found a great detailed Stephen Foster picture biography.

I am going to look it over while I listen to the Roger Wagner Chorale.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In honor of Muzio and Boris

I'm not much of a joiner, but if I were...

I'd join the Muzio Clementi Society!

Who would have guessed one existed? I found it a little while ago when I was looking something up about Clementi. It is fun, musing on Muzio. Sorry but I could not help that. Above is a picture of Muzio Clementi when he was older. It is not a picture you often see.

There is also the Boris Tchaikovsky Society.

"Outstanding composer of XX century." That is how the Boris Tchaikovsky Society describes their man. Here is a picture of Boris Tchaikovsky.

Boris Tchaikovsky is no relation to Pyotr Ilyich. You have to believe he got sick of answering questions about that.

The Muzio Clementi Society and the Boris Tchaikovsky Society. How they fascinate me!

Unfortunately I am not a joiner.

Perhaps I will become one!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The bug that got Mozart

Today thanks to the London Telegraph and my alert Twitter friends I see there is a new story about how Mozart died. He died from a "super bug," scholars now think, that was spread by soldiers.

That is Mozart above in a painting I love by Anton Romako. Hmmm, I am sitting here reading that Romako link. What a curiously sad life he led. He died in poverty like Mozart. Well, I love that picture.

Back to Mozart. This is weird but I have never been that curious as to what Mozart died from. To me it is a miracle that anyone in the 18th century lived past the age of 3.

And, I mean, can't someone die just of a conglomeration of things? I am sure that back then people could and did.

What I cannot stop thinking about this morning is this one viola quintet the radio happened to play lastnight. The slow movement. That melody that begins right before the one-minute mark.

That is a sweet old recording with William Primrose. There is a part of my book about him because Leonard Pennario worked with him and Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky. That shows Primrose's stature. Heifetz and Piatigorsky went out and got the greatest musicians they could. On piano they got Pennario and on viola they got Primrose.

The recording I heard lastnight was less holy and more overtly passionate. I think it was that Takacs Quartet. I think that is what the radio said.

Such rapturous music. It can be whatever you want it to be.

To think of all Mozart achieved before the super bug got him.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Radio daze

Yesterday it happened again. The radio! I just do not understand it!

Part 1: In the middle of the afternoon, on the expressway, they're playing Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony. Come on, in the middle of the day, when we're all running around?

Do you have to??

Part 2: A little later on, I'm in the car again, and this is a long story but I had for a moment melancholy thoughts on my mind. I was tuned into Catholic radio for a minute and a woman was talking about the death of someone she had loved. And I began thinking of people I lost whom I had loved, the way you do when you hear something like that.

And after a few minutes I tuned back to the classical station. They were playing that devastating Schubert impromptu in A flat.

That is a simple piece and not too difficult and anyone who plays the piano plays it. Still. I remember playing that in high school when one of the nuns, her mother had died. The funeral was at our school, Sacred Heart, and someone got me to play this impromptu which, I was no great shakes as a pianist back then. (I like to think I am better now.) But this Schubert! All you have to do is get the notes right and he does the rest for you. And by the time I was through with it everyone in the auditorium was crying. Four hundred girls, crying. I will never forget that.

Because you hear that Schubert and you cannot help it!

These girls, most of whom didn't know beans about classical music, they heard this Schubert and they got it. They understood.

I was listening to this Schubert and remembering that. And I was thinking of all the sorrow in the world, how Schubert kind of absorbed it all, and then how he went before us into death, lighting the way for us, with this otherworldly music. Here I am on Sheridan Drive amongst boom cars and traffic, on this hot afternoon, with my head full of these thoughts and my heart full of the blues.

Then the piece ends. And the announcer gets on.

He chirps: "That was a delightful little Schubert impromptu!"

I wanted to kill him.

I wanted to say, did you, ahem, listen to the piece?

Do you know what it is at all?


Monday, August 10, 2009

Competitions and cattiness

This damning story on piano competitions appeared in the New York Times a couple of days ago. The story brings out the evils of the competition tradition -- a tradition which, as you might have guessed, is getting bigger all the time.

The numbers are fascinating. Before 1945, the story says, only five international piano competitions existed. By 1990 the number was 114 and now there are 750! (Those figures come from the Alink-Argerich Foundation in the Hague. I love that such a foundation exists.)

As I admittedly admitted before, I am torn on the topic of piano competitions. I do think that in competitions, music takes a back seat to trying to figure out what the judges will vote for.

And it is common sense that things will get dicey when a juror has his or her students in the competition. I saw that at the first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs (ponderous title, big mouthful) when we had that situation, a prominent juror with one front-runner student in the contest. Everyone whispered about it and we did not think it was fair.

I do not think there is an excuse for that situation. Can't they excuse that juror and find another juror? A juror for a competition should not have a horse in the race. And say this juror's student won. It would not be fair to him to have his victory sullied by rumors that he was favored.

Anyway, I agree with the Times story on these points.

But I have to admit I take a satisfaction in that piano competitions are so high-profile these days. Such a big interest, not to mention big money, in classical piano! Who woulda thunk it, as we say here in Buffalo, with all the other stuff going on and claiming the public's attention. That cannot be altogether a bad thing.

Here is another reservation I have with the story. I think we have to be careful when it comes to flinging around gossip or things we have no way of verifying. That comment Charles Rosen is quoted as making, where he says that Rosalyn Tureck voted a contestant down "because he played Bach better than she did" -- I would worry about writing that.

They had better be sure, you know? Rosalyn Tureck is dead but she remains a real pianist with a real reputation and to speculate about her like that is catty, risky and unfair. That is Miss Tureck at the top of this post. We do like our moody black and white pictures on this Web log from time to time.

Alas, these pianists, sniping at each other.

Sometimes it seems the competition never ends!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The big ring beckons

Van Cliburn (above, with Tchaikovsky) must be up around the clock these days.

Oh wait, he is always up around the clock. Once when I had to interview him we were going to fix the time at 4 a.m. Darn, the Philharmonic's publicists talked him out of it before I could say yes. It would have been fun, to talk to Van Cliburn at 4 a.m., in my pajamas. But alas.

The reason I was saying he must be up around the clock is that hardly has the Van Cliburn Competition ended in a shower of sparks but they are announcing the Cliburn YouTube Contest for Amateur Pianists!

This is the second time they have held this YouTube competition. It is a part of the process of finding pianists to compete in the big Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs.

I cannot believe I just used that word "big." I used to use "big" to the distinguish the Amateur Competition from the "big" Van Cliburn Competition -- that is, the one for the pros.

How complicated the world is becoming!

I wonder if I should join this YouTube competition. I wonder what I should work up. I did have a great time in the first Cliburn Amateur Competition, I will say that.

I wonder how many people compete in the YouTube contest. Probably everyone!

Who would ever have guessed at any of this, when we were kids practicing Clementi? I remember wishing along the way that there were competitions like this, where amateurs could get up and compete.

That is a wish that came true!

I should have watched out what I wished for.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wonder boy

Remember those Mozart pieces that were discovered at the Mozarteum? You can read about them here in the British Guardian. Above is a picture of the performance.

Has everyone checked that music out? I only just now got around to it.

Here, hear!

I get a kick out of that earnest Mozart scholar, with his glasses and his German accent.

About the music itself: No big surprises, I guess. But I would take issue with one commentator I happened on who described the pieces as nothing special. I think you can detect Mozart's hand in the music, and as long as you can say that, the pieces are something special.

Which is to say that, even though he may have been 7 when he wrote them, they are better than most of the music being written at that time -- by which I mean that 18th century Muzak written by competent composers following the formula. It is exciting to hear that first spark and think where it was going to go.

Ha, ha! I have to laugh at this airbrained TV coverage of the event. The reporter sounds like a Valley Girl and mispronounces "Mozart," "Mozarteum," "Wolfgang," everything. Love the one comment someone wrote: "Shut up so we can hear, you swine."

Still it is great to have Mozart in the mainstream media. You cannot have too much of him! And now we have just a little bit more.

That is always cause for rejoicing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Danger: Wagner ahead

Sometimes I do not understand our classical music station. Yesterday on the way home they played a clever choral arrangement of the Stephen Foster "Camptown Races." That was cute. That is nice driving music.

But then they followed it up with the "Prelude and Liebestod" from Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde"!

I ask you.

What in the world were they thinking?

How can anyone drive listening to "Tristan"? If you can drive well while listening to "Tristan," I question your relationship with music.

Plus 5 p.m. for most of the world is just the wrong time for Wagner.

That is the time for, I don't know, the "Tritsch-Tratsch Polka"! Or "Camptown Races," that was fine. There is a lot of good music you can play that will not make people run off the roads.

With all our personal injury laywers, I wonder if the station will ever get any repercussions about this sort of thing.

I wonder if they will get any lawsuits.