Archive pour October, 2009

Scary Music

30 October 2009

It’s Halloween tomorrow! What does music have to do with this, you may ask? More than you may think. Actually, music really deserves top billing in scary movies. You don’t think so? OK, try this: just for a moment, picture a close-up of a doll with big blue eyes, nestled against a soft pillow in a room. Now add some cheerful music—perhaps a little waltz. This cozy scene sets the stage, and creates an atmosphere in which it is easy to imagine that a child will come into the room and settle down to a happy game of make-believe with her doll. Now, change the mood by dreaming up a more sinister-sounding music. Imagine, say, a choir of muffled children’s voices (as though they were being held prisoner in the basement), against a background of rasping, dissonant violins. In an instant, you can picture that wide-eyed doll as an evil toy, waiting only for night to descend to come to life and terrorize the occupants of the house! And yet, the only thing that changed was the music.

How do composers go about writing music that evoke mystery and fear? Why do some melodies make us feel nervous before we’ve noticed any danger whatsoever on the screen? Arguably one of the most successful musical scores ever written for a thriller was the soundtrack to the movie Jaws. The instant we hear this music, we realize that the main character is in grave danger.

One method of creating a feeling of mystery is through the use of repeated rhythms or notes. Then, unexpectedly, the orchestra plays a chord, builds to a spectacular crescendo, executes a dramatic diminuendo, and, suddenly, fear takes hold. Listen to the beginning of Night on Bald Mountain for example.

The scariest music isn’t necessarily the loudest. Complete silence or music so soft that we can barely hear it can create an eerie feeling of suspense. It makes our ears prick up, listening for the slightest noise, the softest whisper, the breath of a monster… In these moments, the composer might use staccatos to suggest faint sounds, and pianissimos by the violins in the high register to add to the mysterious atmosphere.

Can’t stand hearing Thriller once more this Halloween? Try Infernal Violins instead, with Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà. Shivers garanteed…

Composers blogging

28 October 2009

It’s not everyday that you can get inside the head of a living composer. John Adams, the composer of Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic, has recently started up a blog on his home site and Hell Mouth (yes, that is the name of his blog) certainly doesn’t intend to be politically correct. How refreshing! Definitely worth the read is a post on how the composer can learn to survive a first rehearsal of a new work of his or the one in which he talks about the Hammerklavier. To read, it’s here… wins a Félix!

27 October 2009

We were keeping our fingers crossed really hard but hadn’t planned any celebration beforehand but, “classics on the go”, won a Félix yesterday at the Industry Gala, held yesterday afternoon at the Club Soda! Entirely redesigned and programmed by the dynamic team at Motion in Design, the Website aims to become the meeting ground for music lovers and this blog is only a small antenna of it. New developments will be announced very soon, sure to maintain at the avant-garde of the Canadian musical industry.

Three recordings also won Félix at the Other Gala, held last night at the Métropolis: Philip Glass : Portrait, an Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà album (in the category “Classical album of the year – orchestra and big ensemble”), the first collaboration on disc of brothers Alain and David Lefèvre (“Album of the Year – Solist and small ensemble”) and Lorraine Desmarais – Big Band (“Album of the Year – jazz creation”).

Analekta was nominated 11 times, in 7 different categories.

No first prize at the Long-Thibaud

26 October 2009

It is Saturday night at the Salle Olivier-Messiaen in Paris that was held the gala concert of the prizewinners of the latest edition of the prestigious Long-Thibaud Piano Competition. No first prize was awarded this year. The 26-year-old Russian pianist Maria Masycheva went home with the second prize (15,200 euros) and the SAS Prince Albert II of Monaco Prize, for best recital. Twenty finalists from eight countries were heard. The mythical piano competition was founded in 1943 by pianist Marguerite Long and violinist Jacques Thibaud.

An interview with Alain Lefèvre (2/2)

24 October 2009

If one tries to prod him, he immediately gets excited when talking about tomorrow’s music fans: “We have an uphill battle to fight, which will get tougher and tougher. We haven’t done our duty toward the young public and have not given them good lessons.  People know a little bit about my campaigns. I’ve been going to schools for over 20 years now, and I keep meeting with people all over the world. This battle must be fought with enormous perspicacity. Just look at the TV programs, the Quebecois tradition of a certain era, what the broadcast Les beaux dimanches used to provide Quebec. At the time, we had an hour of classical music every week. Now, we have less than seven minutes a month. We must ask ourselves why and admit that it’s part of our culture. Very dispassionately, I continue the struggle and tell my classical music colleagues: “If you don’t go out into the streets, if you don’t go to TV and radio broadcasts, if you don’t do the work, music will be for a small group of people and it is destined for extinction.”

As a pianist I realize that often we place ourselves ahead of music, we serve it less well than we ought to. The role of an artist is not merely to go on the stage and say, “ I’m beautiful, I’m great. Rather, it is to go into the streets and roll up one’s sleeves. Pollini started his career by playing in the Fiat factories. This isn’t demagoguery but a real job. A society that creates good citizens, people who know how to vote, is a society where a large place is granted to the arts because art gives one the hindsight necessary for thought. To have hindsight requires the maximum amount of cultural information so as to be able to judge a situation.”

Without batting an eyelid, he quotes a number of serious studies on the impact of classical music on children’s brains: “The life of a child who regularly listens to classical music will necessarily be different. The richness music brings into one’s life is extraordinary. How can the young choose classical music if we don’t offer them even one minute of classical music? Once they’ve heard it, they’ll come back to it. What makes me proudest of all is when I receive letters from small children who say, ‘Now I love classical music.’ ”

To listen to Alain Lefèvre’s latest recording, featuring works by Mathieu, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn, it’s here…

An interview with Alain Lefèvre (1/2)

23 October 2009

Looking like a rock star, with leather jackets and cool glasses, the pianist Alain Lefèvre seems miles away from the sophisticated image one associates with the world of classical music. He is first and foremost a faithful artist who defends André Mathieu with unwavering conviction, as well as a confirmed activist when it comes to reaching tomorrow’s music lovers. He spoke with us about some of his favourite topics and his not-so-favourite ones.

Lefèvre often likes to approach the pages of the repertoire while thinking of orchestral colours. We will therefore not be surprised to learn that he says he is above all attracted to the symphonic repertoire, even if he confesses to having a particular affection for Dinu Lipati, the pianist of Romanian origin. “I love Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Wagner. They are part of my life. There is nothing more beautiful than the Four Last Songs and I consider Metamorphoses and the Alpine Symphony masterpieces. I’m a pianist but I prefer to listen to opera. I like instrumental works, particularly violin concertos. Sibelius’s Violin Concerto is, for me, the greatest. I also love Strauss’s Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon, which is never played. I’m crazy about Brahms, I love Bach, I love all the composers, but it’s hard for me to talk about them, especially when it comes to the piano repertoire. Don’t ask me what I think about such and such a pianist. What could be more dishonest that the opinion of one pianist about another pianist? It’s all so incestuous!”

Tomorrow, he speaks about the next generation of music lovers.

OSM and Tafelmusik at the Festival international Cervantino de Guanajuato

21 October 2009

Two of Canada’s better-travelled orchestras, both Analekta artists, have headed to Mexico this month for the 37th annual Festival international Cervantino de Guanajuato.  Both the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal (last week) and Tafelmusik (tonight) will perform at the festival, which brings together over 2000 artists from 30 different countries and is generally considered to be Latin America’s premiere multidisciplinary festival.  The theme of this year’s festival is Galileo Y El Telescopo: 400 AÑOS, named in honour of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009).

Under the direction of Jean-François Rivest, the OSM performed Claude Vivier’s Orion, Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Marc-Andre Hamelin) and Holst’s The Planets.  Tafelmusik will perform its Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres program, a multi-disciplinary event that features the orchestra, astronomers, a stage director, a set and lighting designer, and astronomical photographers. Assuming the narrator’s role is Mario Iván Martínez, one of Mexico’s most accomplished classically-trained actors (who was seen in Like Water for Chocolate) who has a parallel career as a singer specializing in early music.

The Festival ends November 1. Details here…

Telemann and the Baroque Gypsies

19 October 2009

Telemann and the Baroque Gypsies is meant as the natural extension of Vivaldi and the Baroque Gypsies, the penultimate recording by Ensemble Caprice. This album was nominated for 2009 Echo Klassik awards in Germany in two categories: Ensemble/ Orchestra of the Year and Classics Without Borders.

“One can hardly believe what wonderful imaginative ideas these pipers and fiddlers have as they improvise. In only a week, a composer could be inspired for an entire lifetime. I have written several major concertos in this style.” As mentioned in his autobiographies, Telemann’s encounters with Eastern European gypsy music influenced his own compositions. The prolific composer must have been enthralled by the wonderful inventiveness of this music.

As it was the case with Vivaldi and the Baroque Gypsies, melodies and dances from the spectacular Uhrovska Collection (1730) have been integrated, with arrangements by Mathias Maute. The musicians are musically re-enacting the encounters of Telemann with the gypsies of Eastern Europe. The direct dialogue between the various works depicts a conversation in which commonalities as well as differences are made unabashedly explicit.

You can view a video taken at a rehearsal minutes before a performance at McGill University.

To listen to the album…

The conductor as interpreter

16 October 2009

After 1850, the appearance on the scene of the conductor as interpreter (that is, someone other than the composer), brought a new face to the world of orchestral conducting. Since the composer was no longer always around to explain things, ambiguous or uncertain situations arose, especially since up until World War II there were no courses of study for conductors. Nowadays, anyone who wants to be a conductor has to learn to play an instrument first and acquire a solid background in theory. He plays in an orchestra, (or, if he is a pianist, becomes a rehearsal assistant) and observes the conductor at work. If the conductor needs an assistant during a rehearsal, so he can go out into the hall to hear what the orchestra sounds like from a distance for example, that’s the assistant’s chance to mount the podium.

The conductor today

In these early years of the 21st century, conductors are known primarily for their technical perfection, just as pianists are known for the evenness of their scales or string players for their intonation or for their bow control. This attribute has become essential for conductors today due to the limited rehearsal time at their disposal and the need for precision when working in radio, television, and the recording studio. To achieve the status of “super-maestro,” the hero audiences eagerly identify with, one must put in countless hours of practice. Conducting is far more complex than it might first seem.


14 October 2009

After bewitching us with her extraordinary Philip Glass: Portrait last fall and revealing to us the joyful universe of Jean Françaix in Gargantua and Other Delights, Angèle Dubeau launched yesterday a box set featuring excerpts from some her most acclaimed recordings. A representative panorama of her long and fruitful career, these CDs demonstrate the multiple talents of Ms. Dubeau, whether as a soloist with the great orchestras, a chamber musician, a member and artistic director of her ensemble La Pietà or alone with her violin. She is heard in excerpts of concertos by Mendelssohn, Sibelius and Glazunov, solo in Locatelli’s Caprice No. 9 (from his Arte del violino), in three tracks with La Pietà, in Martinú’s Madrigal-Sonata for flute, violin and piano and in a transcription of “L’ho perduta” from Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro, performed in duo with her friend, the late Alain Marion, as well as in Schubert’s Sonata in D major, with renowned pianist Anton Kuerti.

Discover it first…