Friday, May 31, 2013

Spam Roundup: May 2013

Spam's a fact of Internet life. But they sometimes can provide some unintentional humor. Here's a selection of some of the best(?) spam I've received this past month.

Increased traffic has meant increased spam to this blog. And a few comments have provided some unintentional humor. Here's a sampling of some of the best of the worst -- with my own thought thrown in as well. My comments are bracketed.

Everybody's Favorite Word
 - Wow, this paragraph is fastidious, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things, thus I am going to tell her.

What is it with spammers and hemorrhoids?
 - When someone writes an paragraph he/she maintains the thought of a user in his/her brain that how a user can know it. So that's why this paragraph is outstdanding. Thanks! [You/you're welcome/thanks.] Here is my web page :: HemorrhoidMiracleDiscount

How's that again?
 - Genuinely when someone doesn't understand after that its up to other users that they will assist, so here it happens.

Yeah? Look who's talking
 - obviously like your web-site but you have to test the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the truth nevertheless I will surely come back again. [Tell you what. I'll work on spelling if you'll work on grammar.]

Point, Counterpoint 
The heart of the controversy. Spammers either loved or hated my post
about this homemade childhood toy.
[Both of these were posted to the same article, Clackety-Clack Train.]
- I think that everything published was actually very logical. However, think on this, suppose you added a little information? I mean, I don't wish to tell you how to run your website, however what if you added a post title that grabbed people's attention? I mean "Clackety-Clack Train" is kinda vanilla. [Really!?] You might look at Yahoo's front page and note how they create post headlines to get people interested. You might add a video or a picture or two to grab people excited about what you've got to say. In my opinion, it might bring your website a little livelier. [And we all want to bring on the livelier.]

 - Hurrah! Finally I got a webpage from where I know how to in fact take useful data regarding my study and knowledge. [Now here's a reader who gets the livlier I brought!]

 - Because the admin of this site is working, no hesitation very shortly it will be famous, due to its feature contents. [I do all the writing, admin gets all the credit. -- as usual.]

Night and Day 
[Two comments about CCC 018 - Max Richter, a composer profile.]
  - The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn't disappoint me as much as this particular one. After all, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I genuinely believed you'd have something interesting to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something you could fix if you were not too busy seeking attention. [Oh yes, I would fix Max Richter's music in a heartbeat if I wasn't so needful.]

Howdy! This blog post couldn’t be written any better! Going through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I will send this information to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a very good read. Thanks for sharing! [I guess he liked it better on second read.]

"Alley" is not a euphemism
[In response to my comic strip commentary "Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge"]
- Yes! Finally something about anal. [It's not. I promise.]

I'm all about helping the Internet people
 - Thіs paragraph wіll help the intеrnet people for building up neω ωeb sіte or even a blog fгom stаrt to enԁ.

Smartly-liked from various angles
 - What i don't understood is in fact how you are now not actually a lot more smartly-liked than you might be right now. You are so intelligent. You know therefore considerably when it comes to this topic, made me personally imagine it from so many various angles. Its like women and men are not interested unless it is one thing to accomplish with Woman gaga! Your own stuffs outstanding. All the time handle it up!

Till next month, keep enjoying my outstanding stuffs -- if you can handle it up, that is.

The monthly spam roundup

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Michael Daugherty: Mount Rushmore - monumental music

Michael Daugherty: Mount Rushmore
Pacific Symphony 
Pacific Chorale 
Carl St. Clair, conductor 

This new Naxos release features three of Michael Daugherty's most recent compositions for orchestra -- as well the orchestra that commissioned them. And it's a winning combination. All three works crackle with energy and excitement. The   Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony know these compositions well. These are committed and self-assured performances.

Mount Rushmore is an ambitious undertaking, presenting musical portraits of the four presidents carved into the mountain. Daugherty's modern, populist style makes the composition mass appeal/ Any of these movements would be perfect for a patriotic orchestral program (I'm looking at you, "A Capitol Fourth").

George Washington uses Revolutionary War songs to create a rough hewn folk-art portrait of the General. The second movement, Thomas Jefferson, by contrast is a more sophisticated, restrained movement, befitting the cerebral nature of subject. Theodore Roosevelt, like the man himself, brims with energy, embracing the outdoors with a big sound and some Ives-like musical quotes. The longest movement is Abraham Lincoln, a lyrical setting of the Gettysburg Address that serves the text well.

Radio City: Symphonic Fantasy on Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra is a three-movement suite that captures the vintage lushness of a Toscanini recording. Without resorting to pastiche, Daugherty conjures up sound and emotion of the golden age of symphony radio broadcasts.

The Gospel According to Sister Aimee for Organ, Brass and Percussion uses source material of the period -- traditional American hymns and gospel songs -- to  paint a portrait of one of the first radio evangelists. Daugherty transforms his material effectively. As the work progresses, the simplicity of the music loses its way, and becomes wildly distorted.

Three distinctively American works, by an American composer with a distinctive voice, performed by an American ensemble. Not to purchase this would be, well, almost unpatriotic.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Running the Gamut 5 - A Thousand and One Thanks

Since July 11, 1991, I've been hosting a classical music morning program on WTJU, 91.1fm in Charlottesville Virginia.. The three-hour program had a simple programming tenant -- never repeat a work. (read more at Running the Gamut - A Thousand and One Wednesdays)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 from 6-9am we marked the 1000th program with a mini-fundrive (donate here), special guests, and a few surprises.

This morning I hosted program number 1001, starting off the countdown to number 2000. It's unlikely I'll hit that mark -- at the rate of one program a week, I'll get there in another 20 years. That far in the future, it's difficult to say if radio as a medium will even exist (much less if I will).

That's fine. I'll just keep showing up week after week, doing what I love until someone tells me to stop.

But I had to take a moment and thank all the folks who made last Wednesday such a special event.

I love this job! (even if I don't get paid for it)
First, thanks to my colleagues at WTJU. General Manager Nathan Moore put forward the idea of making it a major event for the station, and I'm glad he did. The station staff got behind the effort, which resulted in (among other things) a great writeup in the local paper, donated breakfast goodies for the assembled masses, and all the publicity leading up to the event.

Second, I thank my fellow volunteers at WTJU. Deborah Murray and John Delehanty, the co-directors of the Classical Department were on hand not only to lend support, but also to answer the phones (more on that later). Other classical announcers showed up, as well as some announcers from the other music departments. That's WTJU -- one station with many facets, not many stations with one set of call letters.

And a special thanks to John Mitchell, who was kind enough to return for an  all-too-brief stint on the airwaves with me. What fun we had!

John Mitchell (l) and Ralph Graves (r).

Third, many thanks to all the folks who called in to make a pledge to WTJU. The response was truly overwhelming (just ask Deborah and Jon, who were far busier than they thought they'd be!). We were looking to raise $1,000 for the station -- a grand for a grand. Instead, listeners called or went online to pledge $2,590 in celebration. And for that, we're all grateful.

Finally, I'd like to thank you, the listener. Whether you just discovered WTJU last week, or have been with "Gamut" since program 1, it doesn't matter. All of us here at WTJU are passionate about the music we share, and it's gratifying to know there are kindred spirits out their to appreciate it.

Last week's celebration wasn't so much about reaching a personal milestone as it was a reason to take a step back and look at this extraordinary service the University of Virginia offers through WTJU. Every day volunteers from your community show up to educate, entertain, and enlighten. Thanks for your continued support. Many, many, many thanks.

Part 1: A Thousand and One Wednesdays
Part 2: A Thousand and One Milestones
Part 3: A Thousand and One Lessons
Part 4: A Thousand and One Questions

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Collecting -- and collecting information 10

The Mystery Train (complete)
 When collecting information, whether on- or off-line, it's important to know the source.

I've been trying to compile information about Japanese tin toy trains of the 1950's and 1960's through some online detective work. There are no published reference books about this subject, and very few online sources, either. And since accumulating the actual toys to examine is cost-prohibitive, I'm using online photos (mostly from ebay) to determine the origins and makeup of these sets.

In Collecting -- and collecting information 9 I wrote about my attempt to identify a mystery train that had no markings whatsoever. And it was one of the few times I have been able to do so with the actual item in front of me. I had carefully looked at every photo of the train components and the set box from various online sources, and I couldn't find a brand. Handling the items allowed me to look at the set from every angle -- and I found no markings. The origin of the set remains a mystery.

So I was very interested to see the ebay listing below. (click on image to enlarge)
Nomura certainly made these types of trains, although of substantially different design. So how did the seller know this was Nomura set? Had I not examined the set myself, I might have accepted the Nomura attribution, perhaps with a question mark.

 The instruction sheet has no information about
who made this or when.
But I know better. Without any marks on the set, and no supporting documentation, I'm thinking this is just a mislabeled item.  It happens with some frequency on ebay. That's why the only information I'm interested in is the printing on the box.

It's important to know the source -- and which parts of the source are reliable.

Monday, May 27, 2013

When Facial Recognition Fails

In researching some vintage comic strip characters (see: Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge), I discovered that Internet searches aren't quite the be-all-end-all that many assume. While facial recognition has improved quite a bit the same can't be said for the graphic arts.

In the sequence below, Walt Wallet (right in first panel) is talking to a character (marked "1") from a vintage discontinued comic strip. But which one? And who's the character? (click on image to enlarge)

The frustrating thing is that the character looks somewhat familiar. But since I can't come up with a name, I can't do an image search to verify. I've looked through several comic strip resource sites, such as Barnacle Press, Don Markstein's Toonopedia, The Stripper's Guide, Wikopedia (of course) and more.

No one has a complete listing of syndicated comic strips from the 1920s-1930s. And worse yet, not all the entries have accompanying images. In the sequence I'm researching, Jim Scanarelli has drawn not the main characters of the comic strips he's referencing, but sometimes the supporting characters instead.

And since many of the image references I found only show the main character, that makes my task even more difficult. Fortunately, there are some excellent printing histories still floating around. The successful end to this search may be off- rather than online.

Friday, May 24, 2013

CCC 073 - Dirk Brossé

Belgian composer and conductor Dirk Brossé is the focus of this installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge. Brossé is a prolific composer of both classical and film music. Brossé is very much a tonal composer, and one who's not afraid of emotion. His works crackle with youthful energy, and there's nothing circumspect about the emotive nature of his work.

The Milestone Overture is a short, cheery work full of contemporary rhythms and harmonies. And yet it's also a welcoming and accessible piece of music, too. Brossé knows how to communicate with an audience.


Brossé is currently the music director of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. This video of his work SIRE shows Brossé conducting his own music. SIRE is a more adventuresome, with highly chromatic passages blending one into the other. And yet, it's still fairly easy to hear the solid tonal foundation on which everything rests.

Daens is an heroic-sounding work that perhaps owes something to Brossé's movie scores. Nevertheless, it's evocative music that's solidly constructed, and entirely appropriate for the concert hall.

Brossés Elegy for cello and orchestra showcases the solo instrument with a luscious, expressive melody, supported by rich harmonic textures. It's not clear to me why this work isn't better known.

Dirk Brossé would seem to be the perfect candidate to revitalize concert hall attendance. His music is both distinctive and traditionally based, without being either outr&eactue; or clich&eactue;. I'd like to hear more by this composer. Would that it were available! Perhaps the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia will tour the US...

Recommended Recordings

A Portrait In Music

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Arabella Steinbacher: Bruch/Korngold Violin Concertos

Bruch/Korngold Violin Concertos
Arabella Steinbacher, violin
Gulbenkian Orchestra, Lisbon
Lawrence Foster, conductor

Arabella Steinbacher brings together three well-known works that all look to the Romantic Period; the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, Chausson's Poeme, and Eric Korngold's Violin Concerto.

Max Bruch was a staunch defender of the traditional romanticism of Mendelssohn and Brahms, an aesthetic reflected in his most popular work, the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor. Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) wrote his Poeme for Violin and Orchestra during the end of the Romantic period, and while somewhat forward-looking, still has its roots in the 19th Century. Eric Korngold finished his Violin Concerto in 1945, writing in the unabashedly late-Romantic style of his youth.

Because all three of these works were written for with a Romantic aesthetic, one might expect a release full of over-wrought drama and passion. Steinbacher takes a different approach.

Rather than focus on the emotive qualities of the music. Steinbacher plays with a clean, clear tone and temperament well-suited to these works. Her performances are thoughtful, eschewing overblown emotional and technical fireworks. Rather, Steinbacher colors the music more subtly. A light tripping over the strings sounds like a smile. A long, drawn out melody can seem wistful, a technically difficult passage played with ease and a little bit of self-effacement. Steinbacher's art is quietly attractive, and one that can make even these overly-familiar works sound fresh.

Of course one can play this release on a standard CD player, but to really appreciate everything that's going on here, I recommend using an SACD player. The more detailed SACD recording reveals all the nuances of Steinbacher's playing. And it also presents the Gulbenkain Orchestra more accurately. Conductor Lawrence Foster matches Steinbacher's approach to these works, and additional presence the SACD provides makes for a more satisfying listening experience overall.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Running the Gamut 4 - A Thousand and One Questions

Since July 11, 1991, I've been hosting a classical music morning program on WTJU, 91.1fm in Charlottesville Virginia.. The three-hour program had a simple programming tenant -- never repeat a work. (read more at Running the Gamut - A Thousand and One Wednesdays)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 from 6-9am we'll mark the 1000th program with a mini-fundrive (donate here), special guests, and a few surprises.

As May 22 drew close, interest started to grow about the program. The Daily Progress (the local paper) ran a feature on the show. And then the questions started to roll in. Some of the information I've already shared in the three previous posts about this (see the links at the bottom of the page), but there are a few that I might not get to on the air.

How do you select your music?
I strive for variety. So I try to represent at least three of the major style periods of classical music.
  • Middle Ages - 1100 - 1300 (that's not the full range of the historic time period, but 1100 AD is about the time of the earliest music manuscripts that have survived and can be deciphered)
  • Renaissance - 1300 - 1600
  • Baroque - 1600 - 1750
  • Classical - 1750 - 1827
  • Romantic - 1827 - 1890
  • Post-Romantic - 1890 - 1920
  • Modern/Contemporary 1920 - Present (I know, that covers a lot of ground, but it works for my purposes) 
 I also select work with a variety of musical forces.
  • Orchestra- can also include concertos (solo instrument plus orchestra
  • String orchestra - without the brass, woodwinds and percussion, this ensemble has a similar but different sound than a full orchestra
  • Chamber group - can be anything from a string quartet, to a clarinet sonata (clarinet plus piano), a brass trio or even a mixed group of instruments (usually one player per instrument type)
  • Solo instrument - solo piano, solo guitar, etc.
  • Early instruments - a lute sounds quite different than a guitar, just as a harpsichord differs from a piano. I also include larger ensembles -- such as a group of 30 musicians playing Bach on instruments of this period -- into this designation
  • Solo vocal music - the human voice, like the human form, is a beautiful thing, and we should not be scared of it
  • Choral music - choruses either a capella or with instrumental accompaniment
Between those two parameters, it's easy for me to establish a flow. So I might start with a renaissance choral work, then a post-romantic piano work, then a baroque concerto grosso, then a contemporary chamber piece, and so on.

What about that no-repeat thing? How do you keep it all straight?
I have a master playlist that I update during every program. It's nothing fancy -- just a Word document. But using keyword search I can quickly find if I've aired a work before or not. And if I look at the list of works by a composer (especially the ones with catalog numbers), I can usually see where the gaps are.

"Gamut" Master Playlist doc

Why do you sometimes play music by the same composer several weeks running?
Two reasons. First, it helps build up familiarity with a composer. You, like me, may not have heard of Ferdinand Ries before I started airing his piano concertos. But by playing one Ries concerto every week until we had completed the cycle, it was possible to gain some familiarity with his style. By the third week, one could make an informed evaluation about Ries' music.

The second reason goes to the previous question. In addition to keeping a master list, I also have two other systems. For CDs from my personal collection, I put a sticky note on it with all track numbers. As I air them, I cross them off, and when all the tracks are crossed off, I'm done with that recording.

The CDs in WTJU's classical library are assigned a number when they arrive. I keep sheets of papers with those numbers on them. Next to each CD number are the track numbers. As they're aired, I cross them off. If the release only has duplicates of works I've already aired, I cross it off the list. I do some skipping back and forth to satisfy my programming requirements (see the question above). The library is approaching 5,000 CDs. I've aired pretty much everything in the first 1,600.

What's up with that theme music?
The opening theme music is Alfred Schnittke's "March from an Imaginary Play." It's a rollicking little march with a wordless tune belted out by the conductor. What better way to wake people up at 6AM?

The closing theme music is a faux-classical selection by Ken Thorne. It's the end credit music from the 1968 movie "Head" starring the Monkees. Its exaggerated ending seems a perfect way to bring the show to a close.

So now that you've reached Program 1000, are you going to do a regular show?
Hardly. The same day I wrote this post, a colleague suggested I air Arnold Sartorio's Op. 1000 for the big show. I had never heard of this Italian-German composer before -- let alone any of his music!
 And while Sartorio might not be the greatest post-romantic composer around (I auditioned what little of his music has been recorded), it just shows that there is still a lot of music left to explore.

So we'll keep pressing forward.

Part 1: A Thousand and One Wednesdays
Part 2: A Thousand and One Milestones
Part 3: A Thousand and One Lessons

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Phantom Reunion

The Phantom comic strip runs parallel stories -- one for the daily (Monday-Saturday), and the second on Sundays only. Both sequences recently had an homage to the original creator -- Lee Falk

Lee Falk was a larger-than-life figure, as famous for his work in the theater as he was for the comics he created. And both those comics are still being published. Falk started Mandrake the Magician in 1934, and two years later created the Phantom.

Fred Fredericks is the current author/artist of Mandrake. I think his thick-lined style suffers quite a bit from the cramped space modern comics are forced into. (click on images to enlarge)

Terry Beatty, the artist for the Sunday continuities, seems to do a better job. (Although note how he tries to imitate Fredericks' chunky style when drawing Mandrake and Narda)

Tony DePaul, who writes the stories for both the dailies and the Sunday strips, does homage two ways. In the Sunday story, he's reuniting Falk's creations. And in the daily strip, he's referenced Lee Falk in passing -- by having a character be dropped off at Falk's old address in New York City. It's the kind of thing that doesn't necessarily add (or detract) from the story.

But for knowledgeable comic fans, it's a nice little extra.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lithuanian composer Vladas Jakubenas Rediscovered

Vladas Jakubenas: Chamber & Instrumental Music
Vilnius String Quartet
Kasparas Uinskas, piano
Kaskados Piano Trio
St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra; Donatas Katkus, conductor
Toccata Classics

Vladas Jakubenas has been called "The Lithuanian Hindemith," and this new collection from Toccata Classics helps explain why. Jakubenas moved from his native Lithuania to Berlin in the late 1920's to study with Franz Schrecker. He remained until 1932, then returned home. The Second World War forced Jakubenas to eventually make his way to the United States, where he died in 1976. The war had a disruptive effect on his compositional output. during the postwar years Jakubenas devoted more time to writing and teaching, becoming a respected contributor to journals, encyclopedias, as well as drama and music critic.

The album opens with Jakubenas' 1929 String Quartet No. 4. The work receives a spirited performance by the Vilnius String Quartet in this recording. The modernist (and mostly tonal) harmonic underpinnings of the work make it sound very much like a Hindemith composition with a hint of Janacek. Jakubenas wasn't as interested in counterpoint as Hindemith, though, so the quartet spends a great deal of time developing and presenting long, flowing melodies supported by dense harmony.

The Two Pictures, Op. 2 are charming miniatures for piano that seem more influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov than the Berlin school of the 1920's. They would be right at home in a recital of Medtner and Debussy.

Jakubenas based his 1930 Melody-Legend for violin and piano on a Lithuanian folk tale. And that folk influence becomes more pronounced as the piece progresses. Jakubenas moves from a mild form of atonality to a romantic and emotive conclusion.

The Serenade for cello and piano is the latest to be written, and suggests the direction Jakubenas was moving towards. The modernist tendencies found in his earlier works are largely absent from this 1936 composition. Instead, Jakubenas seems to using Ravel as a starting point. The cello line is smooth and elegant, without being overly expressive. The piano's harmonies have a shimmery quality to them, strengthening the connection (at least to my ears) with Ravel.

The most ambitious work on the album is the 1928 Prelude and Triple Fugue in D for string orchestra. The prelude flows along at a brisk pace, the voicing of the ensemble reminded me quite a bit of Benjamin Britten's early works. The fugue, though, represents a return to the Hindemith ideal. The counterpoint is rigorously worked out in a tonal framework that Hindemith would have approved of.

Before auditioning this release, I was completely unfamiliar with Vladas Jakubenas. After hearing the works on this album, I'm interested in hearing more, especially his larger more ambitious works, such as his symphonies. Kudos to Toccata Classics for this fine disc of world premier recordings.

Friday, May 17, 2013

CCC 072 - Maxime Aulio

This installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge series  presents French composer Maxime Aulio. Aulio is something of a specialist, as most of his compositions are for wind ensemble.

That's actually a good thing. Strip the winds and brass out of an orchestra, and you have have string ensemble -- a grouping for which many composers write. Do the reverse and strip out the strings, however, and you have a different story. The bulk of wind ensemble music is made up of transcriptions and arrangements. Relatively few composers write original works for the ensemble.

Aulio's talent lies in his deep understanding of the dynamics of the ensemble and how to get the most out of it. His works are mostly tonal in structure, although the rhythms and instrumental groupings make it clear this isn't music for marching band. Aulio writes substantial works that reward both the ensembles who invest time rehearsing them, and the audiences who hear them.

Les voyages de Gulliver, Op. 3 is a multi-movement work that provides a good introduction to Aulio's style. Listen especially to how he combines and recombines the various instruments to vary the timbre.

Aulio provides an additional service to musicians with his concerto for euphonium, "Libertalia" Op. 19. Not only is it a well-crafted work for wind ensemble, but it showcases an instrument that has few serious works written for it.

Aulio's music is very accessible, and not impossibly difficult to play. Aulio, I think, realizes that most of the ensembles that will perform his music are either student groups or amateur musicians. While composing in a straight-forward fashion, Aulio still manages to create engaging, complex works, such as his "Triton" for trumpet and wind orchestra, Op. 31.

Since Maxime Aulio writes mostly for a specific type of ensemble, it somewhat limits his potential audience. Ideally, wind ensembles would put on programs of original works and attract a larger following. But that's not likely. Aulio's made some important contributions to wind ensemble literature, and to the overall body of 20th and 21st Century compositions. Perhaps his time his work will be more widely appreciated.

Recommended Recordings

Libertalia (French Contemporary Works for Euphonium)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge - 3

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired.(Read the whole series here)

Day 3 of the sequence shows Jim Scancarelli knows quite a lot about vintage comic strip characters. Using supporting characters rather than the stars of the strips makes it even more challenging. (click on images to enlarge)

It took some digging, but I was able to puzzle out all but one of the characters.

1. Hotshot Charlie - Terry and the Pirates by Milton Caniff
2. Mutt - Mutt and Jeff (1907 - 1982) by Bud Fischer
3. Smitty - Smitty  (1922 - 1973) by Walter Berndt
4. Moon Mullins - Moon Mullins (1923-1991) by Frank Willard
5. Annie & Sandy  - Little Orphan Annie (1924-2010) by Harold Grey
6. Sweeney - Sweeney and Son (1933-1959) by Al Posen
8. Fat Stuff - The Adventures of Smilin' Jack (1933-1973) by Zack Mosely
9. Shadow Smart - Harold Teen (1919-1959) Carl Ed

< Series Start >
<<Previous | Next >>

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Running the Gamut 3 - A Thousand and One Lessons

Since July 11, 1991, I've been hosting a classical music morning program on WTJU, 91.1fm in Charlottesville Virginia.. The three-hour program had a simple programming tenant -- never repeat a work. (read more at Running the Gamut - A Thousand and One Wednesdays)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 from 6-9am we'll mark the 1000th program with a live webcast, mini-fundrive (donate here), and air messages from our listeners (call 434.207.2120 to leave your message).

To some, broadcasting 3,000 hours of unique works may seem like a silly stunt -- or at the very least bad programming. One of my colleagues who's a program director at a major public radio station told me it was the worst idea ever.

I disagee.

If it was a policy for all of WTJU's classical department to obsessively march through the repertoire and never look back, then I would agree -- that's bad programming. Great classical music (like great rock, great folk, or great jazz recordings) just seem to get better with repeated listening. And there's always someone who's hearing that piece for the first time.

But my three-hour show represents a small part of the broadcast day, so I don't think there's any harm done. I've learned quite a lot about classical music over the past 1,000 programs, and I hope my listeners have, too.

I've come to appreciate the depth and breadth of classical music

Medieval chant sounds nothing Steve Reich. So which is better? Depends on what you're listening for. Over the years, I've learned to listen to each style period on its own terms. Mozart used the orchestra in a different way than Richard Strauss. Both wrote great music -- and best of all, I don't have to choose between them, either.

I've come to appreciate the cultural heritage of many nations

Everybody knows that classical music is European. Well, it was for a while -- but not as long as you might think. By the late 1600's there were composers writing sacred music in the New World (mostly in the Spanish colonies). American composers were writing works of substance in the mid-1700's, and Canadian composers soon after. Composers in Australia, South Africa, China, Japan, and other non-European countries have all contributed to the genre. And everyone brings something different to classical music.

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos blended Bach with native folk music. Carlos Chavez injected a subtle Mexican flavor into his works. Tan Dun uses oriental aesthetics to shape his classical compositions. And so on. Every culture adds something to the mix -- and it's a mixture I savor.

I've come to appreciate the music of our time

In school, I was never a big fan of what I considered academic atonality. It all sounded like noise. And if that was what contemporary music, then I was going to stick with the great works of the past, thank you. Doesn't anyone know how to write a melody anymore?

Well, it turns out they do -- and they've been quietly doing so continually throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st Century. In fact, seeking out those tonal composers has become something of a project with me. My Consonant Classical Challenge has profiled over seventy living composers who still use tonality in some fashion.

But I've also come to better appreciate those works I didn't like before. A good definition of noise is unorganized sound. Music is organizes sound. But if you can't hear the organization, music can sound like noise. As my familiarity with classical music has grown over the past 1,000 programs, I can better hear the organization that was always there in those atonal works.

Some I quite like now. Others, I hear as music rather than noise, but its uninspired music. So I still don't care for those works. Only I now have a more valid reason not to (I think).

I've learned that sometimes the best composers aren't the most famous

Let me qualify that. What I really mean is that some of the composers whose works speak most directly to me aren't the most famous. Franz Joseph Haydn; Alan Hovhaness; Ralph Vaughan Williams; Charles Villiers Stanford; Michael Praetorius, and many more. I'm not going to say they're the greatest composers of all time, just that their music consistently moves me deeply.

So there you are. If you've been a long-time listener (or listened to classical music for any significant length of time), what have you learned?

Part 1: A Thousand and One Wednesdays
Part 2: A Thousand and One Milestones
Part 4: A Thousand and One Questions

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Steffani Cantatas -- Handel's inspiration?

Steffani: Cantate Da Camera 
Quadro Asolano

Agostino Steffani (1650-1723) was a master of Baroque vocal chamber music. This Italian composer spent most of his professional career in Germany, first in Munich then at the court of Hanover. He composed exclusively for the voice; sacred works, secular cantatas and operas. This recording features two of the solo cantatas and four of the vocal dues he wrote.

Steffani's lyrical counterpoint was closely studied by a young Georg Frederick Handel. And that influence is easy to hear in these examples. Steffani's melodies have the same, straight-forward simplicity of Handel's. And the polyphonic passages are also a model of clarity. There's nothing fussy about Steffani's counterpoint, rather, it's all elegantly constructed.

Based on the quality of Steffani's music, it's surprising he isn't more frequently performed or recorded. So Newton's release does a real service with these world premier recordings. The performances by the Quadro Asolano are generally good, although sometimes the soprano voices are a little weak.

My only complaint is that Newton's program notes don't provide the libretti for the works. Steffani's music often illustrates or takes its character from the text its supporting. Without the libretti (or a fluency in Italian), Steffani's subtle gestures are lost on the listener.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 2

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Day 2 of the sequence provides almost as much challenge as the first. Jim Scancarelli knows his vintage comic strip characters! (click on images to enlarge)

Research continues on this panel. I've listed all the characters I could readily identify. If you can provide additional information, please leave a comment!

1. Si Slocum - And Her Name Was Maud (1916 - 1932) by Frederick Burr Opper
2. Mac MacDougall - Tillie the Toiler (1921-1959) by Russ Westover
3. Annie - Little Orphan Annie (1924-2010) by Harold Grey
4.Tillie Jones - Tillie the Toiler (1921-1959)  by Russ Westover
5. Mutt and Jeff - Mutt and Jeff (1907 - 1982) by Bud Fischer
6. Yellow Kid  - Yellow Kid (1895-1897) by Richard F. Outcault
7. Barney Google - Barney Google (1919 - ?)by Billy DeBeck
8. Moon Mullins - Moon Mullins (1923-1991) by Frank Willard
9. Happy Hooligan - Happy Hooligan (1900-1932) by Frederick Burt Opper
10. Abie the Agent - Abie the Agent (1914-1940) by Harry Hershfield
12. Ostrich - Krazy Kat, (1913-1944) by George Herriman

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Friday, May 10, 2013

CCC 071 - Joey Roukens

Dutch composer Joey Roukens is today's feature in the Consonant Classical Challenge series. The manifesto on his website says it all:
Roukens strives to move away from modernist ways of thinking in search for a more eclectic and more direct idiom, without reverting to some naive neo-style. In doing so, the composer doesn’t shy away from the use of triads, tonal or diatonic harmonies, a regular rhythmic pulse, directness of expression, simplicity, references to popular music and vernacular culture, ‘stealing’ from the musical heritage of the past and the odd trivial turn. Consequently, in most of his works, Roukens seeks to organically integrate elements from highly diverse influences and aesthetics - including the rhythmic energy of early Stravinsky, the late-Romanticism of Mahler and Sibelius, the ethereal qualities of Debussy, Ravel and Takemitsu, American mavericks like Ives and Nancarrow, post-minimalism (John Adams), but also certain kinds of pop music and jazz. Not because Roukens cannot choose, but because he feels they are all part of the musical air he breathes. For a long time, Roukens has also been active in pop music.
Basically, Roukens combines influences from both classical and pop to create worthwhile compositions in his own voice. And his works testify to the success of that profess. His Concerto Hypnagogique is strongly rhythmic and uses harmonies the way pop does. Roukens' high-energy and appealing melodies are both catchy (in a pop/jazz sense) and well-constructed (in a classical sense).

Out of Control for orchestra shows Roukens' inventive gift for melody. This video excerpt provides a quick overview of the entire work. Listen especially to the evocative slow section. The finale has Roukens' characteristic propulsive rhythms that drive the work forward to a breathless and satisfying conclusion.

From Funeral to Funfair is a more modest work, yet still one with all the hallmarks of Roukens' style. The title suggests the emotional direction of the piece, and it concludes with a transformed version of the opening material.

Un Quadro de Yucatan is a work for solo violin. This is Roukens' music stripped down to its very essence.

Joey Roukens is part of a younger generation of composers who are equally at home in both classical and pop music. That's a good thing -- because increasingly newer audiences coming to classical music will also have a pop background. And when (we hope) they do come, they'll find composers like Roukens who speak their language, creating works that are meaningful to them.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Jim Scancarelli seems to have a good deal of fun drawing all these old characters, and his knowledge of vintage comic strips appears quite deep. Here's a panel where Walt and his gandson-in-law Slim arrive at the home. (click on images to enlarge)

I could readily identify eight of the characters shown. With some addition research, I could name only two more. And notice the list isn't complete. I'll have to do some more digging to come up with the names for everyone in this panel -- and this is just the first in a series of panels depicting Walt's adventures inside the home. A home full to the brim with classic characters. 

1. Toonerville Trolley - Toonerville Folks (1908-1955) by Fontaine Fox
5. Ignatz - Krazy Kat, (1913-1944) by George Herriman
7. Jerry - Jerry on the Job, (1913-1933) by Walter Hoban, 1913 - 1933
8. Smilin' Jack - The Adventures of Smilin' Jack (1933-1973) by Zack Mosely
11. Pops - Polly and her Pals (1912-1958) by Cliff Sterrit
12. Polly - Polly and her Pals (1912-1958) by Cliff Sterrit
13.Sparkplug and Barney Google - Barney Google (1919 - ?) by  Billy DeBeck
14. Beans - Little Jimmy, Jimmy Swinnerton, 1904-1958
15. Little Jimmy - Little Jimmy (1904-1958) by  Jimmy Swinnerton
16. Happy Hooligan - Happy Hooligan (1900-1932) by Frederick Burt Opper

It may be a while before I can provide a complete listing for the entire sequence. Stay tuned!

Next >>

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Running the Gamut 2 - A Thousand and One Milestones

Since July 11, 1991, I've been hosting a classical music morning program on WTJU, 91.1fm in Charlottesville Virginia.. The three-hour program had a simple programming tenant -- never repeat a work. (read more at Running the Gamut - A Thousand and One Wednesdays)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 from 6-9am we'll mark the 1000th program with a live webcast, mini-fundrive (donate here), and air messages from our listeners (call 434.207.2120 to leave your message).

Looking over the master playlist for "Gamut," I'm amazed at both how much music by how many composers I've been able to air, and how much there is still left to do. Nevertheless, if you (like me), have listened to every single episode of "Gamut," you would have been exposed to a lot of great music. I freely program from all style periods of classical music, from the middle ages (beginning ca. 900) all the way up through the present.

And I mean present. In 2010 composer Robert Ian Winstin undertook the task to composer, perform, record and produce a new classical work every single day during the month of February. (28 in twenty-eight) I obtained permission to air the works, and so during that month "Gamut" featured works that were less than six hours old. Now that's about as contemporary as you can get!

Complete Series

Along the way, I've been able to do some interesting cycles that, taken in total, help the listener more fully understand the composer. Some cycles are easy -- like Brahms symphonies (he only wrote four), and Grieg piano concertos (he wrote just one). But then there were cycles that could only be programmed and aired with a longer view -- like these:

Franz Joseph Haydn - 104 symphonies
Ludwig van Beethoven - 9 symphonies. 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, 10 violin sonatas
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - 18 piano sonatas, 23 string quartets, 41 symphonies
Felix Mendelssohn - Complete Songs without Words (8 volumes, 48 pieces), 5 symphonies, 12 string symphonies

 - to name a few

Underrepresented Composers

I also featured a lot of works by composers that haven't made the Top 10, but either perhaps should have, or at least deserve to be in the Top 40. Since they're not as widely recorded, I usually can't do a complete cycle of works, also often I can do a complete cycle of recordings! Here are a few examples:

Alan Hovhaness: 51 compositions out of  434 published works
Gerald Finzi: 37 out of 40 published works
Heitor Villa-Lobos:  60 (including all 17 string quartets)  out of 592 known compositions

Non-European Composers

The stereotype is that classical music is irrelevant because it's all written by dead, white, European men. Well, not quite. Here's a very short list of the non-European (and some non-white) composers I've featured:

Carlos Chavez (Mexico)
Healy Willan (Canada)
Bechara El-Khoury (Lebanon)
Zhou Long (China)
Peter Schulthorpe (Australia)
William Grant Still (America)

Women  Composers

Addressing the second part of the stereotype, I've aired more than a few women composers -- and not just contemporary ones, either. Here's a small sampling:

Hildegard von Bingen (medieval)
Fanny Mendelsohn-Hensel (romantic)
Clara Schumann (romantic)
Amy Beach (20th century)
Barbara Strozzi (baroque)
Joan Tower (contemporary)
Jennifer Higdon (contemporary)

Living Composers

And finally, I also air a lot of music by living composers. Because to me, classical music isn't a musty old artifact in a museum, but a vital part of contemporary life -- as evidenced by the composers who create it today. A very small list of living composers would include:

John Taverner
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Lawrence Ball
Judith Shatin
Kenneth Fuchs
Philip Glass

.... and a work or two by yours truly.

And more!

Then there's all the other oddities I've aired, like Richard Wagner's symphonies(!), overtures from Haydn operas, PDQ Bach, Benjamin Franklin's string quartet, piano concertos by Beethoven's personal assistant, Ferdinand Reis, violin concertos by Saint-Georges, the greatest swordsman in 18th century France, and many, many more.

It's been quite a musical journey -- and I'm not done yet.

Part 1: A Thousand and One Wednesdays
Part 3: A Thousand and One Lessons

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Collecting -- and collecting information 9

A beautiful box. But how can you be sure it contains
everything its supposed to?

There are two curious -- and archaic -- rules for the Train Collectors Association Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA: no photography in the buildings, and no cell phone use in the buildings. So as you wander through the eight buildings of vendors and products, you have to rely on your memory of what you've seen, and whatever knowledge you've already learned to make your buying decision.

On one of the tables I saw a beautiful Japanese tin toy train set. It was made in the 1950's and the box was almost completely intact. The contents contained a full oval of tinplate track, and a brightly lithographed tinplate train. The engine, which took a "D" cell battery, worked, and had a light that also worked. There was a Santa Fe box car, and a caboose. And it was only $75.

Was it a bargain? I couldn't go online and look it up -- even if the rule hadn't been in effect, I had tried to research this particular type of train before. It had taken several carefully constructed searches to find out what little I did know. It would not have been possible to do the research necessary in the limited amount of time I had.

The set was a curious one. There was no indication as to manufacturer. I had run across similar sets online -- and no two alike. So far, I had found the following configurations of this toy train.

Here's a set with the full
complement of rolling stock.
1) A B&O diesel with two B&O passenger cars
2) A B&O diesel with a Santa Fe box car, NYC gondola car, and B&O caboose
3) A B&O diesel with a Santa Fe box car, a Texaco tank car, and a B&O caboose (and an up-and-over figure 8 track)
4) A B&O diesel with a Santa Fe box car, a Texaco tank car, a NYC gondola car, a flat car, and a B&O caboose
5) Two B&O diesels with a Santa Fe box car, a Texaco tank car, a  flat car, and a B&O caboose

This set fit between Nos. 1 and 2 in terms of content: B&O diesel with a Santa Fe box car and a B&O caboose. Did it come that way, or was it a No. 2 with a missing car?

I wasn't sure. And since the box was missing its dividers, I couldn't tell if everything was there or not. But I did know this: Set No. 3 is currently on ebay with a starting price of $20. Set No. 5 sold for $134. So one way to look at it was that $75 was in the ballpark.

What I like: a box with its dividers.
Easy to tell if something's missing.
If I knew nothing about this line of mystery trains, I might have purchased it. That nagging thought that perhaps it wasn't complete bothered me, though. Enough to make me decide to pass on the set.

What I don't like: a box without dividers. Hard
to tell if everything's there.
Having knowledge at your fingertips is convenient, but internalizing it is even better. Especially when there's no time to go online.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Sokhiev marks Stravinsky Anniversary

Stravinsky: Rite of Spring / Firebird Suite 
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse
Tugan Sokhiev, conductor

It's a remarkable release for a remarkable occasion. May, 2013 is the centennial of the premier of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" in Paris. While the work no longer incites riots, it has become a repertoire standard, and one that can sound fresh and exotic even today.

Naive marks the event with this deluxe release. The hardbound 90-page book contains a DVD of Tugan Sokhiev conducting the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulous in a live performance of the Rite. Also included is a CD with the same forces performing the "Rite of Spring" and Stravinsky's "The Firebird."

The multi-language booklet features essays about both works, and wonderful two-color illustrations by Sophie Chaussade. Yes, these recordings are also available for download, but get the book. The illustrations and the feel of this quality print edition are worth the investment.

Musically, Sokhiev and the orchestra perform admirably. The ensemble plays with energy and precision. The fast sections in the ballets are amazingly clean, and the articulation makes the music sparkle. The soloists are also first-rate, especially in the Rite of Spring.

The DVD is a 48kbps/16-bit recording, which sounds great, especially through a two-channel system. Intelligent editing keeps the visuals coordinated with the music. We see the soloists when they perform, and -- more importantly -- focus on relevant parts of the orchestra when the entire ensemble's playing.. Just as the conductor's gestures can draw the listener's attention to something that otherwise might be lost in the mix in a live performance, the cameras here do the same.

All in all, a nice commemorative package for an important milestone.

Friday, May 03, 2013

CCC 070 - Federico Ibarra

This time the Consonant Classical Challenge features a composer from Mexico. Federico Ibarra. Ibarra is a well-respected composer in Central and South America, most noted for his operas. His lyrical gift, coupled with the rich heritage of Latino music help Ibarra create works that are exciting, engaging, and accessible.

Ibarra uses tonality as a basic framework for his compositions, but harmonic motion doesn't necessarily follow along traditional paths of resolution. And Ibarra isn't exclusively a tonal composer -- some of his works are quite adventuresome and challenging. And yet even at his most experimental, there's a thread of music logic that runs through his compositions that keeps the listener oriented, and all the notes in context.

"Las Antesalas del Sueno," Sinfonia No. 2 shows Ibarra's skill at orchestration. The musical influences of his native Mexico can be heard, but they're not as apparent as they are in the music of Cesar Chavez (in my opinion).

Some of Ibarra's most challenging music is written for solo piano. His Piano Sonata No. 2 is one of his more traditional works for the instrument. Although the harmonies are constructed differently, the overall effect of the chords can remind one of Liszt. This is work full of big, dramatic gestures ready to sweep the listener into its heady mix.

Ibarra's Cello Concerto No. 1 is a more modernist work, with angular melodies and spiky orchestral parts. Nevertheless, it's still a work with a loose tonal framework, and one that the listener can discern even on first hearing.

Federico Ibarra has a much more full and varied catalog of works than I can showcase in this post. While his music has a hint of his national origin, its not the central focus of it. Ibarra writes works that can win over audiences, even while challenging them. I'm glad that a complete traversal of his piano sonatas are available -- these are important works. But I'm dismayed that more of his orchestral works haven't been recorded (or programmed by orchestras here). Hopefully that will change in the future.

Recommended Recordings

Federico Ibarra Music for Piano

Conciertos y Chôro

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Fellow Traveler: Attacca Quartet's fresh take on Adams

Fellow Traveler - The Complete String Quartet Works of John Adams 
Attacca Quartet

The Attacca Quartet is a relatively new quartet, which is significant. Because they bring a youthful attitude and energy to Adam's music -- and the works benefit greatly from it.

"John's Book of Alleged Dances" is a wonderful collection of made-up dances. And its a set that should be played with a sense of fun. How can you take movements named "Dogjam" or "Alligator Escalator" otherwise? Yet this is demanding music that only works when played with precision and energy. The Attica pulls it all together, and delivers a winning performance. I won't say this is the definitive performance, but it's pretty darned close.

Also included is Adams' 2008 String Quartet, and the title select, "Fellow Traveler." The latter is a birthday present to Adams' opera collaborator Peter Sellers, and receives its world premier with this release. Although a short work, its unaffected nature and spontaneity makes it an ideal encore piece -- a function it sort of serves in this release.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Running the Gamut --- A Thousand and One Wednesdays

Since July 11, 1991, I've been hosting a classical music morning program on WTJU, 91.1fm in Charlottesville Virginia.. That statement in itself isn't that remarkable. Despite the turmoil in commercial and NPR-affiliate non-commercial stations, it's still possible to have some longevity as a volunteer announcer.

But I chose to do something different with "Gamut," my three-hour program. Within some structured guidelines each host can select their own music. For a classical music program, the works have to be in the classical genre, they can't be works aired within the past six weeks on other classical shows, one must air the complete work, unless an artsong, or opera air/overture (in other words, if you're going to air a symphony, air the whole thing -- not a single movement).

To all of those, I added an additional requirement for my program -- only air a work once. So once I aired Beethoven's 5th Symphony, that was it -- you wouldn't hear it again on Wednesday morning. Yes, I know that Karajan's performances of the work are different than Furtwangler's, or Klempler's, or Bernstein's, or many other orchestras and conductors, and that each interpretation offers some variety in the listening experience.


I wanted to do a true survey of classical music, and the only way to do so was to keep myself moving forward. With all the classical music from the early Middle Ages through today to choose from, I didn't think I'd run out of works to air. And twelve years later, there's still plenty to share.

Because each program was unique, I assigned it a number. And coming up on May 22, 2013, I'll be airing program #1,000. It's something of a milestone, and we'll be marking the occasion with some special features and a few surprises.

If you already listen to the show, stay tuned! If not, you can listen to the last two programs from the WTJU online tape vault.

And if you'd like to phone in a message to be aired during the 1000th show, just call WTJU at 434.207.2120

Part 2: A Thousand and One Milestones
Part 3: A Thousand and One Lessons