Archive pour October, 2010

Music for Halloween

31 October 2010

October 31, Halloween night. What will you listen to today to get into the spirit of this ghoulish day? Several composers have written works inspired by horror, including Mussorgsky and his Night on Bald Mountain (1867), Charles Ives and Hallowe’en (1906), Iannis Xenakis and Nuits (1967) or John Corigliano who wrote Hallucinations in 1981. Krzystov Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1959) remains a particularly dense work. “Let the Threnody express my firm belief that the sacrifice of Hiroshima will never be forgotten and lost,” said the composer. George Crumb’s Dark Angels, written in the midst of the Vietnam War aims to be a musical representation of the struggle between good and evil, while Musica Ricercata (II) by Gyôrgy Ligeti, used a few years back in the movie Eyes Wide Shut, successfully instill anguish through the use of a minor second.

In a register more atmospheric than terrifying, you can also listen to Sympathy for a Devil Painted in Black, in a version for string orchestra, as performed by Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà.

Danse Macabre

29 October 2010

Two short days before Halloween and it’s the ideal time to revisit a classic of the genre. Danse macabre was written in 1874 by Camille Saint-Saëns, based on a poem by Henri Cazalis. Though its premiere was less than enthusiastically received—the audience frankly detested it, finding it too innovative, too avant-garde—today, it enjoys an immense popularity.

The story is simple. Midnight tolls. Satan opens the ball. Death appears and tunes his fiddle. The violins set the rhythm of the dance on an open fifth interval, which almost sounds like the instruments are out of tune. Saint-Saëns also used the diminished fifth, long been referred to as “the devil in music,” to suggest that this is no ordinary ball. Skeletons are summoned from their graves, and the waltz begins, slowly at first. It gathers in intensity, lulls briefly, then continues at a feverish pace until the cock crows at the break of dawn. Spooks and ghouls disperse and slip away back to their graves… until the next day.

Here is a translation of the Cazalis’ poem that started it all.

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking a tomb with his heel,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zag, on his violin.

The winter wind blows, and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden trees;
White skeletons pass through the gloom,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.

Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking,
The bones of the dancers are heard to crack,
But hist! of a sudden they leave the dance,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.

To listen to it, as performed by Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà…

On the future of classical music

27 October 2010

Time and time again, specialists ponder. Is classical music going to die? What can we do to revitalize it? Should the concert as we know it be revisited entirely? Composer, critic and author of Rebirth: The Future of Classical Music, Greg Sandow has been thinking this matter over for quite a few years now. Very well aware that information of this kind must circulate, he shares his keynote speech given at the Australia Classical Music Summit.

“The more usual view is that classical music is wonderful, and the rest of the culture has somehow lost sight of that. So what we need is classical music education in our schools, and lots of outreach. Once people get to know classical music, as they did in past generations, they’ll come to love it. My view is that classical music is way out of touch, and has to get more like the rest of our culture — which (to allay a common fear) will make it smarter, not dumber.”

You can read this enlightening essay here…

Gardens of Spain

25 October 2010

Lyne Fortin has the perfect antidote to the November-like blah we have had to deal with in the past few days: Gardens of Spain. The Canadian soprano likes to conceive concert programs with themes that stand out and this is one of them. She wanted to present repertoire that was not too well-known but still was filled with the fire associated with Spain. “You go to bed late, you dance all night long, the weather is hot,” she explains. “All the pieces on the album talk to me intensely!”

She admits that her enthusiasm for the Spanish repertoire may well be in part a result of her encounter with Joselito, “the kid with the golden voice” who, just a few years back, had her dreaming. “His life would change when he was singing.” Who knows? He may very well have been an influence in her choice of carreer…

Featured on this album are traditional folk songs as arranged by Nin and Obradors as well as French “readings” of the Spanish idiom. Nice complement, two sets of lieder, one by Wolf (excerpts from his Spanishesliderbuch) and the other by Strauss (the delicate Mädchenblumen, which quite literaly transform the young women into blooming flowers).

Discover the album here…

Dame Joan Sutherland: an homage

23 October 2010

Ten days ago, the opera world lost one of its brightest stars: Dame Joan Sutherland. She was a soprano with a remarkable coloratura and one of those very large voices, an extremely rare mix. At the top of charts from the late 1950s to her retirement in 1990, she was one of the best-loved sopranos of the 20th century. We hear her here in the famous « Casta Diva », with the Australia Opera, as led by her husband Richard Bonynge.


21 October 2010

It is today at 3:15 and Saturday night, 7 p.m., at the Excentris, that happy Montreal cinema buffs will see and hear Notes from the Kuerti Keyboard, featuring Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti. The event is held as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma. I told you a little bit more about this film here…

You can also check out the director David Eng’s blog to learn more about the filming and production itself here or join the movie’s Facebook page there…

Reflections on Spain

19 October 2010

A couple of weeks ago, pianist Louise Bessette launched her latest album, Reflections on Spain. What prompted her to favour this repertoire, you may ask? Quite simply, Lecuona’s Andalucia suite, always a big hit when she played it in concert. “The score is very well written and is filled with numerous great Spanish themes,” she says. This being pondered, it led her to want to present an album that would serve as a rich portrait of the Spanish or Spanish-influenced repertoire.

A contemporary segment being essential here since the artist has premiered numerous works, she decided to turn to the music of José Evangelista, composer she performed previously, including his Monodías españolas. Written in unison, loaded with modal allusions, filled with Spanish folk themes, the Nuevas monodias españolas feature extensive ornaments, whether appogiaturas, trills or others. “Each one of the 21 monodies – that last a total of about 13 minutes – have a unique atmosphere. Some are love songs, others lullabies, dances,” she explains.

In total opposition to these rather ethereal numbers, she juxtaposed Turina’s robust Danzas gitanas, “very rhythmical, dance-like, filled with colours”, as well as Tomás Marco’s homage, rendered for the 100th anniversary of the composer. An enticing, almost hypnotic, work by Mompou – quite possibly my favourite on this album – and one of Albeniz’s Tangos complete the program.

To discover, it’s here…

OSM and Mutek: when electro meets Mahler

17 October 2010

I was last night at the event of the year for the OSM – if one is to trust the sky high prices scalpers were asking for those tickets on the Internet (somewhere around $125 for a ticket normally sold $28). A mixed and rather young crowd (20 to 30 years old mostly) were in for a treat: a double bill of classical music and electro, in the Molson Brewery, host of raves in the past.

The more than 1700 were remarkably silent throughout the concert (a dense program featuring Boulez and Mahler’s “Titan”) and did seem to enjoy itself and the discovery of new music. Will they be back for more? That is the question… I want to believe they will.

Arthur Kaptainis of The Gazette was also there… Here is what he had to say about the event.

OSM to play in Molson’s Brewery tomorrow

15 October 2010

I like unusual concert concept and this one certainly falls into that category! Tomorrow night, the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal presents, in collaboration with MUTEK, a concert linking orchestral music, electronica and video at the Molson Coors brewery. The concert starts at 10 p.m., the time a “usual” concert would end. The program, led by Music Director Kent Nagano, starts with Pierre Boulez’s Messagesquisse and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 “Titan”.

After this first “classical” half, chairs will be put away while guests drink a few sips of M beer, and then Berlin-based electronic music producer Thomas Fehlmann leads a variation on a theme from Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, “Titan,” after which Mr. Fehlmann will do a solo performance. After that, Berlin-based duo Substance & Vainqueur present Scion Versions Live and will spin electro music until 3 a.m., for the joy of dancers present.


Roll over Beethoven

13 October 2010

Is it impossible for a contemporary composer to be taken seriously when performed on the same program as one of the untouchable giants? The question is worth asking. Last week, for example, the OSM featured two works written just yesterday as sidekicks to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Could they shine on their own? Some people despised them because they just wanted to hear Mahler. Others were moved by the encounter.

Composer John Adams shares his perspective on the matter. Can he share top bill with Beethoven? To read…