Monday, November 11, 2019

The Chopin etude in the snow

Looking out the front window tonight with all the snow, I thought of this video I made some years (!) ago, of Leonard Pennario playing Chopin's famous Etude in E.

I had just bought this antique stereo. It had come to me under unusual circumstances.. I had answered an ad from these people selling it, and I got lost on the way to their house. And when I was lost I thought: Wouldn't it be odd if they had a Pennario record on the stereo?

And sure enough, they did!

They had the Chopin waltzes and I recognized them when I walked in. I could not believe my ears. Well, I wrote about it on this blog so I should just link to it. But it is a memory I kind of like, you know? Walking in there hearing this waltz, thinking... I think it is.. I think it is ... it can't be... I think it is...

That was the way I was thinking then. He had just died and I was sad. And I had sort of been through the emotional wringer. You cannot just go through something like what I did and be yourself again immediately afterwards. It takes a while to come back

Anyway, so that is the stereo in the video. And I played Pennario's own copy of the record with this beautiful Chopin etude. It was the one and only video I ever put on YouTube. I will have to teach myself to do it all over again.

I loved the winter background in the video. The snow, the cars, the bus.

Looking in on it now I realize I have not been good at tracking the comments. One gentleman wrote, "One of the greatest performances ever." I agree!

Pennario is underrated. If you just listen, and forget about anything negative you might have heard, you hear it. Just the first notes of this Etude, the sound is different from anyone else I have ever heard. It has such sorrow and soul.

Got to get back to this project, you know? Gotta wind it up.

Maybe now I can.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wolfgang Wagner's "Meistersinger"

The other day on my other Web log I mentioned that while I was getting my nerve up for my first art show, I listened to "Die Meistersinger."

This was the performance I tuned into!

Actually I watched it, too. I was putting things into frames and mats and stuff and I could kind of keep track of what was going on. Even though this performance had no subtitles.

This performance is in two parts and above is part 1. It is from Bayreuth. I will keep this quick because I do not want to go on for two hours the way I did the time I discussed that "Meistersinger" from Glyndebourne. I will just say there were certain things I loved about this production and one of these days I will let it eat my day again.

There is one thing about this production that was the Most Cool.

That is that at the end, in the final moments of the opera, a white-haired man reaches out humorously to both Beckmesser and Sachs and makes them shake hands.

That man, that peacemaker, was Richard Wagner's grandson, Wolfgang Wagner.

Here is Act 3 in case you need it.

It is the sweetest thing. One gentleman wrote in the comments: "There are so many things that make this the best Meistersinger I've ever heard and see, but the final handshake reconciliation is the final touch of human greatness. I'll always want to see that ending, and will see it whether it is present or not."


Not only that but Beckmesser is the great Hermann Prey. Let me tell you one thing, when he flubs the Prize Song, it does not sound that bad. Because Hermann Prey could sing the leaflet you get with your gas bill and you would sit there entranced because, I mean, he is Hermann Prey. Also Prey has great acting skills. He makes the part human. When the Master Singers parade in, you see him just looking kind of befuddled, following along. So funny.

Anyway, that is enchanting, just enchanting, that touch at the end. Wolfgang Wagner, it turns out, was in charge of this production.

And now I have new respect for him, because I loved this production.

That fat fanciful tree, perfect. The treehouse balcony beneath the leaves. In Act 2 when they get together for the song contest, I got tears in my eyes. Someone in the comments said, "It's like a painting come to life." I second that.

I love medieval productions of "Meistersinger." You can set it in the 19th century, maybe -- it seems that the Glyndebourne production did that, though I will have to check. But the thing is, "Meistersinger" is supposed to be about the 1500s. It is arranged around that. It has guilds and banners and references to Walther von der Vogelweide.

I saw one production -- well, I mean, the DVD was sent to me, I did not watch it -- but it was set in a boardroom with guys in suits. For the love of God as my friend Michelle would say.

Back to this Bayreuth performance. I liked Bernd Weikl as Sachs. He is on the young side for the part as was Gerald Finley in the British production I liked so well. Maybe I like my Hans Sachses on the young side.

This production is odd in that Walther von Stolzing is actually older than Sachs, I mean if you go by the singers. Walther von Stolzing is Siegfried Jerusalem who is a year or two older than Weikl.

That proves a bit problematic, I have to say. There is that sweet interlude when Eva comes in complaining to Sachs that her shoe pinches, and you kind of sense that she is a little sweet on him. Ordinarily you would figure, well, Walther is more her age. Not so in this case! So why does she not go for Sachs? That is the question!

Weikl's Sachs seems conflicted when he is handed the crown at the end. Indeed in real life he is conflicted. He wrote something recently saying "Meistersinger" should be banned in Germany. Again.. For the love of God as my friend Michelle would say.

One last thought and then I sit down and shut up as my dad always told me to.

Everyone who suggests that "Meistersinger" is anti-Semitic... what about that the big symbol of the Master Singers is the medal of King David? King David was Jewish. He wrote the psalms.


OK, enough for now.

Perhaps later I'll revisit this.

Monday, July 29, 2019

About the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

All the talk about Baltimore these days made me wonder:

What is the latest with the Baltimore Symphony?

That is the picture up above from the BSO's Facebook page. Early July brought the news that the musicians were on strike. They had been locked out by the orchestra as of June 17. The orchestra has been digging into its endowment recently to meet payroll -- not good news.

As the classical music critic for The Buffalo News it would fall frequently to me to research situations like this. It is an aspect of my job that I do not miss. You get exhausted sifting through orchestras and their problems.

Which, let me say this, are nothing new. Chronicling Leonard Pennario's life, I have come to see how long before I was born, the conversation has been going on about are symphony orchestras relevant, do only older people like this music, can a city sustain an orchestra, etc. Pennario participated in the 1950s in a fund-raiser for the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Symphony's summer home, when it was, well, circling the bowl. Jascha Heifetz performed for the same fund-raiser. The best musicians pitched in. It worked, and the summer season, which had been canceled, went on after all. Pennario was the featured soloist for the jubilant opening concert. He was their hometown hero and they loved him.

Baltimore's summer season was canceled this year and as far as I can see it is still canceled.

As far as I can see there is no light yet at the end of the tunnel.

Marin Alsop, the BSO's music director, appeared just two days ago on this NPR game show "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." Incredibly, there seems to be no mention that the Baltimore musicians are locked out -- or of any problems at all. I just skimmed the text but I skimmed it twice.

Maybe they taped that show far in advance.

Either that or, maybe the problems have been solved and I just cannot find any mention of it!

In case they have not, let us return to the New York Times story. Caution: If you check it out, be prepared to sink an hour or so into reading the comments. That is what happened to me!

My heart goes out to the Baltimore musicians and what they are dealing with. The problems are not unique and they are not necessarily permanent and unsolvable. But they pose big challenges.

One gentleman wrote on July 3:

We used to enjoy 1-2 trips a year there but stopped going when the panhandlers and window washers became more than annoying but seemed threatening. Police hands are tied, sad to see what has happened there. I wish it well as I may never return.

Other comments:

The quest for funding often reaches absurd levels, as shown by one of the article’s statements: “ And [the Symphony] has creatively reached out to its community, starting OrchKids, which offers music instruction, homework tutors, after-school snacks and dinner to more than 1,300 children in neighborhoods that struggle with poverty and violence.

This is a ridiculous and insupportable example of mission creep; why should symphony orchestras be involved in providing homework tutors, after-school snacks and dinner to poor kids? These social services are the province of schools and welfare agencies, not symphonies or museums or theaters.

Interesting. I can see how an initiative like that, while well-meaning, could be very costly. Unless the orchestra were getting government money for it, who knows. This is also interesting: Wikipedia says that the Baltimore Symphony is the only major U.S. orchestra founded as an arm of the municipal government. So maybe things like this are a tradition with it.

I like inside-baseball talk like this:

Just imagine the cost of sending an entire orchestra and staff to Europe for a tour, as the Board approved for 2018.  Everyone loves to go on tour, especially Music Director (Marin) Alsop, who insisted on it.  Tours are how conductors audition for their next job, and she is likely to jump off the sinking BSO ship when her contract ends.  A fiscally responsible Board would have said no.

This Board has failed and must be removed.  

There is a good series of stories Anne Midgette wrote in the Washington Post which I cannot read because of the paywall.

It also appears that an orchestra called the National Philharmonic is closing in Bethesda, Md.

Perhaps that will free up more money for the Baltimore Symphony. I think ultimately it will come down to that, more funding from somewhere -- a foundation, a philanthropist.

We like to talk about the audience in situations like this because we are the audience. And concerns like crime, traffic, and time are all real and figure in. Programming, too. Many times over the last 10 years I have read about some onerous Baltimore Symphony concert with some heavy new work and thought, you could not pay me enough to sit through that.

But over years of covering the Buffalo Philharmonic I learned that ticket sales are a relatively small piece of the puzzle.

Buffalo is so lucky. Our orchestra has been in the black for some time now which is a big reason I was charged so often with reporting on other orchestras and things going wrong with them. People in Buffalo do not rejoice in anyone's misfortune. God knows we have had our share. But Buffalo rejoices in the BPO the way it rejoices in the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres and the chicken wing festival. It is a lightning rod of city pride.

But just to keep things in perspective, the Buffalo Philharmonic is not as lucky as our Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which has been getting dizzying sums from some philanthropist whose name I forget but whose pockets are bottomless. We are talking gazillions of dollars. I wish that guy had a soft spot for Beethoven and Mozart, I do not mind telling you that. If the Albright-Knox collapses under the weight of all that money maybe we can send him in Baltimore's direction.

I do think the Baltimore Symphony's problems will be solved, somehow.

The musicians have set up a donation site here, with updates.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Giacomo Rossini -- the software still works

To be honest I never quite realized Rossini's greatness until my tablet popped this commercial up at me the other day.

It's that aria from "The Barber of Seville" that you hear all the time. Well, being into classical music I have heard it all the time. But I heard it differently, watching this ad.

That software still works!

That is my husband's expression. It means that what worked in 1820 still works now. Watching that commercial, I was absolutely charmed. That music is pure fun. It's masterful. It pulls you in and keeps you there. It makes you laugh out loud.

Just when you think it's over, it goes into overdrive.

I know other people would be charmed and sure enough. Looking on YouTube at the comments, I read, "I came here for this song." And: "Who sings this song?"

Someone wrote: "Very nice song. Which is this language how can I get songs like this."

I still do not know exactly what the ad is selling.

But whatever it is, I'm buying!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Otto Klemperer and Beethoven's Ninth

The other day, I wrote about losing Howard's cousin -- the one, the only,the great Ron Moss. I went searching into the archives to see what I had written about him. One of the posts I found was called "A Present from Ron Moss," and talked about the time Moss had shoved a gift between the slats of the fence surrounding Howard's garage.

That present, eventually located in a clump of weeds, wound up being Beethoven's Ninth -- a box set of a performance conducted by Otto Klemperer, pictured above, and featuring mezzo soprano Christa Ludwig and the wonderful bass baritone Hans Hotter.

I was thinking, I have to find out where that box set is at, as we say here in Buffalo. Because it is great.

Ron Moss had taste!

Gramophone Magazine, in Britain, proclaimed it .... drum roll please ... the best performance of Beethoven's Ninth EVER! Read for yourself.

Gramophone talks about how the universal nature of Beethoven's Ninth emerges in the power that Klemperer, a German Jew, brings to it. Actually by the time he made that recording Klemperer was Roman Catholic. But still ...

Imagine that!!

Moss ...

... knew his Beethoven!

I have an affection for Otto Klemperer because of Leonard Pennario. Pennario was only 14 when he gave the first of what would become countless performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And Otto Klemperer was the conductor. Klemperer liked him and was good to him and took him to heart. He knew great gifts when he saw them.

I love how Otto Klemperer was the father of Werner Klemperer who played Colonel Klink on "Hogan's Heroes." I did not watch that show much but the kids I babysat for did.

I also love the story Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau tells in his memoirs about Otto Klemperer. It is a long story but the simplified version is, Klemperer winds up imagining a conversation between himself and God. He has God asking, "Tell me, Doktor Klemperer ...."

I loved that!

I loved the idea of God addressing Klemperer with his formal titles!

You know that would be the case.

Anyway, Beethoven's Ninth and Otto Klemperer ... I must locate Moss' gift.

I must listen to it!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Mozart and the Mass

The Gregorian Chant I wrote about last time has made me see classical music differently. Specifically it has made me see Mozart differently.

Every Thursday I have been going to chant practice. And I am starting to understand how Gregorian Chant is the purest form of worship. Just like Latin never changes, Gregorian chant never changes. And as the priest has pointed out to us, it is not passionate.

Now when I listen to Mozart church music I have to say, it is, well, rather passionate.

All these years I have been listening to him and I have not seen that. In the classical music world Mozart is seen, although I have not been on board with this, as one of the "cooler" composers, as in temperature. Beethoven is seen as hotter.

The other day I was listening to Mozart's Mass in C Minor, "The Great." Because of all the Gregorian chant, it struck me: Mozart burned hot.

Hotter than Beethoven. I am going to go ahead and say that.

Beethoven was more calculated in comparison. Mozart took it to the wall. The Mass in C Minor, it is like listening to "Don Giovanni." It is beautiful and I am not saying it is not devout. It is a hymn to his faith. But it is hot, is all I am saying.

I am going to do more research into the situation but I do remember understanding that in Mozart's time there was already this discussion going, about Gregorian chant, and what was appropriate. There was pressure coming from somewhere to stick with the chant and not to go with contemporary music, which was Mozart.

Mozart was not against the chant. There is a story I keep reading about how he said that he would have given up all his music to have written the beautiful Preface you hear in the Tridentine Mass. To be honest I would like to see documentation for that. I do not remember reading it in all my years of reading about Mozart. But everyone writes it and so it is likely true.

At the same time ... contemporary music written by Mozart is not the same as contemporary music we are stuck with these days like, oh, "The Servant Song."

Mozart can fill you with awe.

Listening to this I found myself remembering a famous line from the biography of Mozart written by Marcia Davenport. Other people have quoted this line to me too, which makes me think it is famous. Davenport was writing about Mozart's death, on Dec. 5, 1791. She wrote:

"Thus died this glory of Catholicism."

It is fascinating to imagine this music being heard in churches in the 18th century, with some of the faithful shaking their heads, thinking, the wheels have come off.

They might have been right. It is passionate music. Hot.

Still, so beautiful ...

Saturday, May 25, 2019

My Gregorian Chant adventure

ne thing is different at church and that is that we have a new priest and his name is Father Kluge. His last name means "clever" in German. And he is clever.

He has us singing Gregorian Chant!

It is even more thrilling than it sounds. It is as if we have turned the calendar back to the year 450 or thereabouts. Mozart is way too modern!

We have to get together and practice so that nobody's voice stands out. We are all supposed to be together and it is like swimming because you have to take deep breaths and try to make it all the way through a long and meandering phrase without a break.

Father Kluge had a great way of describing chant, how it can be like a butterfly, going this way and that.

Early last Sunday morning I was cramming because I had forgotten a lot of what we had practiced. So I was practicing beautiful Mass I, which is what we are singing, off of a YouTube video. I worked in this practice while I was brewing our coffee. We do pour-overs with a Melitta cone and the water drips through pretty slowly and so while I was pouring, I was watching the score on the video ...

.... and singing along.

Son of a sea cook, I overpoured Howard's cup of coffee! Coffee was everywhere!

But we did OK. Father Kluge was up in the choir loft directing us because one of our other priests, Father Justus, was the celebrant. That is us in the illuminated "O" at the top of this post! I was able to step back and take a quick picture.

We look good! And we sounded good, too. It was like we were in school all over again because we were all trying really hard and after the Agnus Dei Father Kluge gave us a discreet thumbs up.

A great moment!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The psychedelic art of classical music

I am coming to a new appreciation of the psychedelic classical music album art of the 1970s.

Part of that is from my Etsy store. These records go in and out of my life. But it is also true that they bring back memories.

Mozart's Greatest Hits.

I sold this one out of my shop not long ago. It was factory sealed. That was not my copy! My own personal copy has been played a million times.

There is this gem. I have this album and will be listing it tomorrow, I think.

Is that amazing or what? I part with it reluctantly. But I price my albums high enough so that they take a long time to sell. So with luck I will have years to enjoy this.

Then there is the great Mozart album at the top of the post. I have this album myself but I recently came into possession of a second copy and that one is for sale.

I have learned that the Mozart Serenade art was the work of the great Sandy Hoffman who is one of the artists rightfully lionized on the site "Groove Is In the Art."

That site also includes this gem.

And this masterpiece by Sandy Hoffman for a Shostakovich record. He was the greatest! Hoffman we are talking. Shostakovich was great but let us admit it, in this case you could argue that he could not hold a candle to his album art.

All this takes me back to when I was very young. My parents took us to some kind of toy sale and there was a coloring set featuring drawings from "The Yellow Submarine." I went home with it but I had no idea what "The Yellow Submarine" was and though I colored the drawings they kind of creeped me out.

Now I look at these things differently.

What a wonderful world of color and music!

You have to keep your eyes open when you go to Goodwill.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Met Opera's "Die Walkure" - Gods and seesaws

Saturday, I went to the Metropolitan Opera simulcast of "Die Walkure." I have gone out of my way not to read any reviews of it because I wanted to think my own thoughts.

Somehow "Walkure" has become one of my sacred cow operas, one of a handful that I am very particular about. I think it began when my sister and I went to Toronto and saw it at the Canadian Opera Company. We had lost our dad not that long before that and we were totally not ready for what Wotan's Farewell was going to do to us. All through that final scene we cried and cried, passing a single soggy Kleenex back and forth. We were still crying as we left the opera house.

Because we were so undone we went for a glass of wine, and we spied Wotan and Brunnhilde a few tables away, quarrel forgotten, eating Buffalo wings. How could you not cheer up, seeing that? Now I think I would go up and say hello, say something. But I was shy then.

I have another "Walkure" story that I know I have told here before. That one involved the Met and James Morris as Wotan, not that I was there, but I feel as if I was.

Anyway, I come to this opera with a lot of baggage. The good news is, I was drawn into what I saw yesterday. I got a kick out of Greer Grimsley's Wotan. He has a mighty fine voice, and with his looks and his manner, he puts his own spin on the part. An American spin, I want to say, though I know he is from New Orleans, a city I love, and the power of suggestion is strong. He looks like a handsome biker. There is this quick clip from "Rheingold" --


 -- that I found today and adore. You can really see his personality there. That rakish smile, irresistible. And a creative take on the part. Jamie Barton, as his wife, is a kick too but maybe too much, a little too funny. You have to watch it. Seeing this gives a new dimension to "Walkure," where these two singers are together again.

In "Walkure" things are less sunny with these two and he is more world weary, as Wotan should be. I loved him, how can you not? But he does not yet have the overwhelming .... can I use that cliche word gravitas? It makes me laugh but maybe I have to ... that Wotan should have, that the big Wotans of history had. The big Wotans of history. They cast a long shadow, terrible to any singer these days. I do not envy present-day Wotans, I will tell you that right now.

You have big powerful supermen like Hans Hotter. He picks Brunnhilde up in his arms as if she is nothing. Just doing what needs to be done.

As does Donald McIntyre, here with the beautiful Gwyneth Jones.

(You do not want to know how long I wasted on YouTube today.)

That last clip, from a Bayreuth production, really got to me. They just took it to the wall. The sweat and tears on Wotan's face, the intensity and drama. The flames and the smoke.

That brings me to a problem I had with the Met production. The staging was too complicated. They had this set of sort of seesaws -- I think they used that word -- that was supposed to stand in for the Valkyries' horses, or something. It did not work, at least from where I sat. Maybe if you were at Lincoln Center the seesaws worked better. To us in the movie theater they just looked like seesaws.

Not only that but at intermission we had to try understanding how they worked. They had stagehands explaining them. If there is one thing I hate it is someone trying to tell me how they stage something, how a movie was made, anything like that. Now when I watch the actual production I am thinking about how they did it. What a pain.

And for what? There was one cool scene that had you looking down on Brunnhilde as if from above. I think that is it at the top of this post, though it is hard to make out. But otherwise the last scene could have been staged a lot better. And as Brunnhilde settled into her resting place, it looked for a moment as if she were pitching backwards. You do not want that.

You want flames and smoke. It is not rocket science. Wagner will do the rest.

Well, at least this production was not horrible like this other one I wrote about this other time. Let us hash over the other singers. Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke) was too cartoon-ish for me at the start but I warmed up to her. There is this haunting scene when she appears to Siegmund as a portent of his death. The music grows trance-like as she tells him who she is and what her appearance means. There is a moment when he meets her eyes, sealing his fate. Goerke was lovely in that scene, just devastating.

Tomorrow I will research other singers singing that scene. There go another five hours, you know?

Siegmund and Sieglinde, I liked them both. Sieglinde was just beautiful, I mean she looked the part. Eva-Maria Westbroek, her name is. She was glorious.

And in the all-important role of Hunding, Sieglinde's Neanderthal husband -- a part I love, and that my father loved before me -- was   ...let me check ... Gunther Groissboek. I am a complete Gunther Groissboek fan from this moment on. He has this marvelous voice and he knows how to use it, which is often out of a corner of his mouth. A spectacular Hunding, spectacular.

"Badass," I whispered to my friend Nisha, sitting next to me, between me and our friend Meghan. I am privileged to have not one but two friends willing to spend five hours at "Die Walkure."

One touch I loved -- it might be in the script, who knows? -- is how Hunding hangs his Neanderthal furs on Nothung, the magical sword stuck in the tree.

At intermission Grossboek confided that he had been tapped to play Wotan at Bayreuth. Do it. Do it! But at the same time I would also like to see Greer Grimsley tackle the part at Bayreuth. In another year or so he should be ready. He is 62 now but as Wotans go that is young.

I have multiple careers I will be following thanks to this production.

And multiple hours in store for me on YouTube.

God help me!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Los Angeles Philharmonic spotlights Pennario

It is about time the world joined me in waking up to the greatness of Leonard Pennario. It is happening.

The other day I rejoiced in France Musique's five-day exploration of the recently released Pennario RCA box set.

Today I got word that the Los Angeles Philharmonic is featuring Pennario in an upcoming exhibition!

This is great news. As I told the L.A. Phil staffer who reached out to me, Pennario was always proud of his association with that orchestra, ever since he made his debut there at 14, under the baton of the great Otto Klemperer.

The featured performance comes from the Los Angeles Philharmonic's archives and is of Beethoven's Triple Concerto. This makes me very happy because Pennario never made a record of this particular piece. He performed it only a handful of times -- three or maybe four, not more than that. Pennario was funny that way. It was totally normal for him to do a concerto only once or twice in his life, on demand. He had that capability.

I will present the rest of the details as they reach me. Either that or I will present them tomorrow when I have occasion to look them up in my overstuffed files. I was ready just now to start guessing who the two other soloists are in the concerto, but just so as not to confuse things, I will get the facts. This concert is on file somewhere in the other room and I will be able to tell you the who, the when, and the where, if not the how and the why.

This exhibition must be part of the orchestra's celebration of its 100-year-anniversary. They must be looking back on highlights.

What a lucky group of musicians to have Leonard Pennario living right in their back yard, and soloing with them on a regular basis. And to record with them, too, on multiple occasions. That fine record at the top of this post featured Pennario playing Rachmaninoff with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor Erich Leinsdorf.

And there is this.

And many more.

How gracious of L.A. to remember L.P.

The name Leonard Pennario is being spoken!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A French homage to Leonard Pennario

RCA's newly issued box set of Leonard Pennario's RCA years has made me really happy. Yesterday I saw that France Musique celebrated the release with a five-day tribute.

It starts out with Pennario's sweetly haunting performance of Fritz Kreisler's "Liebesleid" and goes from there.

In between the selections there are beautiful voices speaking in French which, je ne comprends pas, but I hear the name Leonard Pennario spoken and that is enough for me.

The French have a beautiful way of saying Pennario's name. "Lee-o-NARD Pennario" kind of comes close. That actually makes me laugh because this Italian historian here in Buffalo, Joey Giambra, he has been known to refer to Pennario as "the Nard" or "Nardu."

I have listened to the first installment and moved on to the second, which begins with Beethoven's "Fur Elise" and moves on to the Schumann Piano Concerto. No one in the United States would ever play Pennario playing Schumann.

Zut alors! I wish I could understand French better.

Pennario would have been able to understand it, no problem.

Oh well ... It is the thought that counts. I will be returning to this podcast, or whatever it is, with great pleasure. I will report on it.

To France Musique ...


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Arthur Rackham's "Ring"

I have been studying up on art and illustration and several artists and illustrators are emerging as my favorites. One is the British illustrator Arthur Rackham.

The name was new to me, I have to admit. But he is a recognized great and has been for a long time.

Talking about "Die Walkure" yesterday I seemed to recall reading that he had illustrated Wagner's "Ring" cycle. And sure enough.

You could fill whole Pinterest boards with this stuff and believe me, I will. But meanwhile ...

This appears to be Brunnhilde pleading with Wotan/

And the Ride of the Valkyries. Zowie!

I would guess this is Brunnhilde doing some soul searching.

Dover Publications has put out a book of Rackham's Wagner illustrations which I just pinned on Pinterest on a brand-new board I have titled Art Books I am Craving.

No wonder artists love Wagner. What images. Anything you want to paint, you can paint! It is all in there somewhere.

I do not know for sure that all visual artists love Wagner. But I have an ongoing list and so far the list has two biggies, both favorites of mine -- Pierre Auguste Renoir and John Singer Sargent.

Renoir painted Wagner's portrait.

If it looks a little funny it was a year before Wagner died and I do not think he was feeling too well. But I love the colors in the background and it does give you a sense of vivid imagination, both on the part of the musician and the artist.

One may while away hours contemplating such matters.

And one should!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Countdown to "Die Walkure"

Having gone to see the "Carmen" simulcast a few weeks ago I am psyched for "Die Walkure," coming up on March 30.

That is a picture I found from it up above. Where are the horned helmets??? I do not see any.

I want horned helmets!!!

Well, I am sure they will be in there somewhere. Meanwhile I will have to work out the logistics. I have not made up my mind between the Saturday performance and the Wednesday encore simulcast. Saturdays can be dicey because of prepping for church coffee hour. But perhaps I can swing it. There is  ...

.. about seeing the simulcast when it is a simulcast, when the opera is going on in real time at the Met in New York City as you are seeing it.

Plus, I will tell you one thing, I want to enjoy these simulcasts while we have them.

When we went to "Carmen," which I never did report on, the theater was empty. And I do not mean for the opera. For the entire theater!

There was nobody anywhere!

Approaching the Elmwood Regal Cinema, I thought the place was closed. It did not look open. I have not gone to the movies recently, because although I try to keep up with what is showing, there is nothing really I want to see. But it was not that long ago that I was going to movies. I reviewed a lot of them for The Buffalo News. That was only a couple of years ago. The place would be packed.

Kids must not go to movies anymore. And it was not that I was early, either. "Carmen" let out about 10 p.m. and there was nobody there then, either.

How do they keep the theater open?

My friend Meghan and I were just about the only people in the place!

Anyway. To go to "Walkure" you have to be something of a major opera fan because it is quite the commitment. I am lucky to have a few friends who want to go. Not that it would be a problem going on my own. I have gone to many movies on my own in the line of work and I could easily do it again.

But I feel blessed to know people as whacked as I am -- that is, whacked enough to commit to four hours or whatever. Here is the sked from the Met website.

House opens.
Act I, 65 Minutes.
Intermission, 39 minutes.
Act II, 90 minutes.
Intermission, 35 minutes.
Act III, 66 minutes.
Opera ends.

How about that? It adds up to four hours 55 minutes.

Five minutes short of five hours!! I guess when I invite extra people along I should warn them.

As my husband, Howard, likes to say...

Don't make any plans!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Abbey Road before the Beatles

As I may have mentioned, I have an Etsy shop called The Old House Downtown that features vinyl records that catch my eye in one way or another.

It is highly subjective! I get a kick out stocking it. And I have learned a lot from working on it over the last several years. The history of records is the history of music. It has helped me in my research of Leonard Pennario, the great pianist I am writing my book about. I know all the years that Pennario's records came out, first on Capitol, then on Capitol / EMI, then on RCA Victor, and then back at EMI, on Angel Records. I love seeing what was going on at the same time his records emerged. I am fascinated by the record business and I love seeing the big picture.

And every once in a while you run across something really cool.

For instance today I listed this beautiful record of the Rossini-Respighi ballet "La Boutique Fantasque." I love the music of Respighi. As I wrote in the description of the record, he has the most beautiful way of re-imagining the melodies of an earlier era. That is only one of his skills but it is something I have always enjoyed. Another skill is, his orchestration is so colorful. He really knew how to use all the different instruments. A master orchestrator.

This album offers something extra special -- that great mid-century cover.

That yellow cover! That gentleman in the top hat bowing! The ballerina with the pigtails!

Can you beat it?

Now I am going to really nerd out. There is the matter of the dust sleeve. 

Even as a Capitol Records enthusiast, I had never seen this particular dust sleeve before. The dust sleeve clearly dates to not long after EMI acquired Capitol Records, which it did in 1955, because the notes spotlight the acquisition. The very British performance from 1957 features the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Eugene Goossens and the notes on the dust sleeve make a big deal about the Abbey Road studios, explaining that Abbey Road is a nondescript street in the London neighborhood of King's Cross. It would still be a few years before the Beatles made the name famous. 

EMI was obviously very proud of the Abbey Road studios.

The label too was something I had never seen before. It was Capitol's famous rainbow design but also snazzy lettering reading "Capitol EMI." The "EMI" looks like a lightning bolt. Clever! Maybe this design was used a lot but all I am saying is, I had never run across it.

This record captures a particular moment in time. That is what I love about vinyl. That and, it is such a delight to behold -- the cover art, the record itself, the packaging, everything.

I could tell that Howard was tuning me out as I trailed after him from room to room this morning trying to call his attention to the greatness of these matters. Howard, look at this dust sleeve!

Now the damage is done. I do not want to part with it.

I might have to go and buy it myself!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Jan Martinik's "Winterreise"

I am going to start writing about new CDs on this site, just for fun. I was honored for years to review CDs for The Buffalo News but now that I am on my own, why stop?

German Lieder is something I have loved since I was a teenager and my brother Tony gave me the Seraphim Guide to German Lieder, which was one of the best presents I have ever received in my life and one I would recommend to anyone.

Because I follow the Lieder -- sorry, I could not help that -- I was interested in a new record on the Supraphon label of Schubert's "Die Winterreise" by the Czech bass Jan Martinik.

Martinik is a millennial who won the competition a few years ago for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. Cardiff is in Wales and if you can win a singing competition in Wales you can win one anywhere. Those folks in Wales can wail! Look at Bryn Terfel, Gwyneth Jones or, heck, Tom Jones.

Here is Mr. Martinik singing for the discriminating and musical people of Cardiff.

And here he is in his winning performance, which was Schubert.

Having listened to Martinik's "Winterreise" I can say he has a rich and appealing voice. It is not a deep barrel bass. I would call it smooth and lyrical.

And his approach to "Winterreise" is lyrical. I think it is too much so. Certain lines should just be spat out: "Ihr Kind ist eine reiche Braut!" Your daughter is a rich bride! You have to take that to the wall. Fling it out.

Other lines should be hardly breathed: "sacht, sacht, die Ture zu." Close the door softly. Very sad, that line in the first song, "Gute Nacht."

If Martinik had a contrast control I would tell him to turn it up. The lights have to be lighter and the darks darker. You learn that in art too. You do not want everything to be too delicate. In music like this you need to be restrained but also, at least on occasion, fearless. There are times when "Die Winterreise" careens into real anguish.

Watching that Schubert video up above makes me wonder. Martinik is intense there. He connects with an audience. He brings out the haunting nature of that song.

I wonder if he has to learn to do the same thing on studio recordings. It can be a challenge. You do not have the audience there.

All that having been said, the recording has a lot going for it. The pianist, David Maracek, clearly appreciates Schubert and brings out the subtleties of the accompaniments, which are often spare, almost avant-garde. And Martinik's quiet emotion does carry him a long way. A reflective song like "Der Lindenbaum" has a natural grace and sense of rhythm and tone. Martinik is a pleasure to listen to. The heartiness and the power of his voice break through occasionally like the sun. (OK, like the winter sun.) He gets across a subtle sense of foreboding that gives the music atmosphere.

All he needs is to take things to the next level, and there is no reason he cannot do that.

Thinking back on all the Schubert recordings I reviewed for The Buffalo News I realize I have leveled this kind of criticism many times, that singers are too cautious. I guess it is just how I feel. Plus, maybe I wish I were a singer, I admit it. Also I have listened to a lot of the greats singing these songs, because I am so crazy about this music, and when you do that you get an idea of what can be done with them.

But on the bright side I think that, as I said, this is something that can be learned. And grown into. Martinik was born in 1983 which makes him what, in his mid-30s? He has time. He has the pipes. He has what it takes.

I hope he sings more Schubert!

He could start with "Die Schoene Mullerin."

Just an idea.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

8 reasons I want to see the Met's "Carmen"

I am thinking of going to the upcoming encore simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera's current "Carmen." My friend Meghan suggested it this morning and I said yes and later I was extra glad I did.

That was because driving around running errands, I caught the last act on the radio. It sounded great!

And now I am psyched. Here are a few reasons why.

1. As long as you get out of its way and do not screw anything up, "Carmen" will sound great. Georges Bizet wired it just right. You can pretty much go with confidence.

2. The last act is short but I love how right at the beginning of it, the music slams you into the heat of action. Listening to that bullfight music Bizet came up with, the music that you hear at the start of the overture, you can just visualize the excitement. I think in that respect it is just as good on the radio as it is if you are watching the opera. You just get this splendid spectacle in your head!

3. You also get this splendid spectacle in your head of Johannes Brahms watching "Carmen," which I understand he did over and over. I love watching an opera that Brahms loved to watch.

4. Roberto Alagna is singing Don Jose. It's a part he has sung forever and I would like to see him sing it.

5. Mantilla alert: On the radio hey were describing the singers as they took their bows. Carmen appeared wearing a black lace mantilla. At church I wear a black lace mantilla! That is my style.

6. Those great tunes. I personally love the Seguidilla, when Carmen starts singing about Lillas Pastia's inn and how they are going to go there.

That song is where the wheels come off!

The wheels sure come off in this Met production starring Alagna and Elina Garanca. Garanca is a live wire! I saw her singing Octavian in "Der Rosenkavalier" and she was marvelous in that but this is like seeing a completely different person. She really becomes Carmen. She takes it to the wall!

This production has a different Carmen, Clementine Margain. She has a tough act to follow! She will have to take it to the wall too. She has no choice.

Which brings us to ....

8. The character of Carmen herself ... as the country song goes, I smell T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Poor Michaela, singing to Don Jose about his mother, never stands a chance.

That is the moral of "Carmen" in case you were wondering. That is the takeaway. If you want to get the guy, do not sing to him about his mother.

Everything you need to learn in life, opera teaches you!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Operas on YouTube

YouTube is a blessing and a curse.

A blessing, because you can find almost everything you want to find.

A curse, because you do not get done all the things you are supposed to be getting done, on account of you are watching all these master classes, opera videos, documentaries, who knows what all.

The other day I happened on this performance of Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier," which, anyone who has ever peeked at this website knows how much I love it. I believe that is the CD that goes with it pictured up above. But whatever.

Son of a sea cook, I was glued to this performance!

It just touched me so much. The music that I remembered. Renee Fleming, who was just so lovely and can make you cry. I was supposed to be cooking for church and doing all this baking and I did get it done, but what could have been done in a couple of hours took a million hours. Because I was standing in the middle of the kitchen transfixed.

Then I could not watch it all in one day and so it dogged me over several days.

I thought I knew this opera. I had seen it in Toronto when I was a teenager. In my defense I have not seen it live since then. I saw it on the Metropolitan Opera simulcast several years ago. But I was working. I was doing a story on the simulcasts. And the broadcast cut off at a critical moment, right when Octavian is giving Sophie the rose. And a schuft interrupted the final trio because his cell phone rang and he answered it. And ...

Well, who cares. The point is, I realized I did not know "Der Rosenkavalier" at all. There were all these facets of it I had never considered. Not all serious stuff. Funny stuff. I mean, really funny stuff.

It's all too much. I'll have to share my observations at some point soon. I don't have the time right now. I lost too much time with this new fixation. I am trying to think what opera I should watch next.

Approach YouTube at your peril!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Mark Murphy's master class in my living room

Do not hate me but Mark Murphy, the great jazz singer, once gave a master class in my living room. I may have mentioned that before. I tend to mention it a lot even to strangers. Especially to strangers. But anyway, today we have a video.

I am terrible at embedding videos because they changed the system but even an overlarge video of this is better than nothing.

That is my brother George in the orange sweatshirt! I love how bored and impatient he gets when Mark Murphy is offering him priceless criticism and advice. That is a Kunz thing, to take criticism badly.

That is Howard at the piano.

That is my living room looking good with the overexposure.

Anyway, here it is, today's gift to musicology.