March 1, 2014
August 30, 2013
I am not a big fan of modern classical music. It is often “interesting” and “attention grabbing” but it often fails the want-to-hear-it-again test. An exception for me is the minimalist music of John Adams that I have enjoyed for more than 2 decades following the release of Harmonielehre in 1985. Adams is visiting Australia and last night appeared as conductor/composer at the Melbourne Arts Centre. He conducted his 5-minute, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, his award-winning Violin Concerto and his energetic and enervating City Noir Symphony – a strange jazz-inspired takeoff from those dramatic opening passages in black and white noir cinema – a sample.
Adams is a very animated conductor – he “grooved” along with the music. Watching him I enjoyed his music more because he obviously did! His style is very American and that is a positive in this context.
July 10, 2013
I generally abandoned listening to Gustav Mahler at about the time Paul Keating took it up. Mahler was a neurotic (and an unpleasant person) whose neuroticism spills over into his music just as it does with profound, obscurantist French novelists that I read as an existentially-lost teen. What’s it all about Gustav…? But I do make exceptions to my general Mahler aversion*. His 4th Symphony is a gorgeous piece of music and I have listened to Roberta Alexander singing in the 4th movement of it for close to 25 years. When you listen to a particular piece of music, for such a long-time, it becomes the norm and to some extent excludes other performances as being necessarily second-best. (This, BTW, is my single objection to Maria Callas – she is, in a sense, a destructive performer. When you listen to her brand of perfection everything else sounds second-rate!)
But back to Mahler. I recently got to listen to Lucia Popp singing in Mahler’s 4th and I’ve changed my view on first-preference performances. Partly this is because Popp’s voice is so superb (no second-rated-ness here) and partly because Tennstedt’s wild conducting provides such incredible drama. It borders on the psychotic in terms of its frenetic energy. Of course it is anything but that. I couldn’t find a live performance online but here at least is a recording. Extraordinary and my listening to it as I prepared this post is my 6th repetition since I discovered the music yesterday.
Nothing new about this performance – it was recorded in 1982.
* Exaggerating a bit here. I also like his 5th Symphony and will hear Simone Young conduct the Melbourne Symphony performance of this on 27th July at the Arts Centre Melbourne. Nothing like a decent funeral march to warm the blood in the midst of a frigidly cold Melbourne winter.
Update: The lyrics of this movement are very Mahlerian. As IM points out to me they contrast the joys of an innocent young child with the realisation that pleasures depend on slaughtering animals, such as an innocent lamb. The lyrics are consistent with Mahler at his neurotic best though they are consistent with the violent changes in tempo.
February 20, 2013
Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabry in an inspired dramatic rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Brilliant.
January 2, 2013
January 22, 2012
I heard this on the radio while driving through heavy traffic the other day. My younger daughter identified it for me -its “Somebody that you used to know” by an Aussi-Belgium singer called Gotye and accompanied by the georgeous New Zealand singer-songwriter Kimbra. I think they are pretty good – its certainly a catchy tune. I bounced onto my destination ignoring the congestion externalities.Which, by the way, is the reason travel time is only ever valued at a fraction of the real wage – you can gain utility from sitting in traffic.
July 15, 2011
If you are travelling and spending a lot of time in hotels a useful option is to have a reasonable sound system that you can play in your hotel room. I have a vast musical library on my 13″ MacPro but the speakers are fairly limiting. I found these X-mini speakers in the Canberra Apple store. They are very small indeed and fold up into a durable egg-shaped object. They produce an amazing volume level – certainly enough to fill a large room. Sound quality is good if not great. They were inexpensive – I ditched the receipt but they were about $65. They are a snack to set up which was useful since the postage stamp-sized “User Guide”had impossibly small fonts that were impossible to read.
July 8, 2011
Lazy Friday night listening mainly to Iris Dement but also caught this humorous piece by DeMent and John Prine. Here’s another DeMent effort “My Town” with Emmylou Harris.
I like DeMent’s voice, her simply folksy lyrics and her occasional sardonic realism: ”Some say there’re comin’ back in a garden/Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas/I think I’ll just let the mystery be”.
May 19, 2011
I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately – I am bit sick of work and of talking politics, don’t worry I will recover. By chance I caught this filmed version of the second movement of the Gorecki 3rd Symphony. This is a surreal piece of music – a Collection of “Sorrowful Songs”. The soprano is Isabel Bayrakdaraian and the orchestra is conducted by John Axelrod. The segment is from ”Holocaust – A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz”. For the first time since its liberation, permission was granted for the Gorecki music to be heard in Auschwitz and a number of leading musicians were brought there to perform music for the film. These are indeed intensely “Sorrowful Songs” as Gorecki intended but until I saw this clip – I was not fully unaware of the connections – I just regarded the Gorecki pieces as astonishingly beautiful. Haunting, gorgeous…and yes sad but with hope and conviction built in. Poignant and beautiful but, yes, very sad..
May 18, 2011
One of my all time favourite pieces of music is Anton Bruckner’s unfinished 9th Symphony – I have been listening to it over the last few days but on-and-off enjoying it for about 40 years. I have several versions – all of them very good – but my favourite is by Bruno Walter from the early 1960s. The studios had much simpler recording techniques in those days but the music to me sounds better than modern recording techiques – it had a warmth that is missing these days. Here is a compelling YouTube of a segment of an alternative performance by Claudio Abbado of the same piece in 1997. (more…)
March 31, 2010
I have been listening to Leo Kottke for decades – the first time in Chicago around 1983 – he has been performing for 40 years. He is an astonishing guitarist and has a warped personality that really appeals - “When Shrimps Learn to Whistle” (no I can’t steal a copy) is a favourite as is Pamela Brown - “I guess the guy she married was the best part of my luck, she dug him ’cause he drove a pick-up truck”. Friend JS pointed out this interesting Youtube with Lyle Lovett. This wistful masterpiece with Chet Atkins. Good preparation for tomorrow and then Easter.
December 17, 2009
I saw the James Cameron movie Avatar last night with my son William. I thought it was the most entertaining movie I have seen in 2009. I agree with Paul Burnes in the SMH that the plot was not challenging and that the final war footage grated but the movie technology saved the day. In addition, I generally endorsed the instructional intent on environmental conservation that irritated others. The science fictional imagery on the verdant planet Pandora was absolutely spectacular. There are 2D and 3D versions – try to see it in 3D. This movie shows where modern movies can go using modern cinematic technology.
I’d be interested in the views of others. Son William loved it although he too noticed the lack of subtlety in the story line. As he remarked – it is not the US military who are destroying the global environment – we all are.
March 23, 2009
Fairport Convention is one of my all-time favourite bands. They still perform although their early album with Sandy Denny Liege and Lief remains my favourite. Denny died tragically in 1978 after skipping through a number of groups. Liege and Lief is monumental folk-rock music:
The rhythms of Tam Lin move me 40 years back through time – acrid, smoke-filled rooms, cheap, red wine and earnest discussions about the Vietnam War and conscription. But enjoying FC now in real time with a 1988 Balgownie Estate – Cabernet Savignon – made by the legendary vigneron Stuart Anderson. Great old wine with great music!
March 20, 2009
February 5, 2009
October 30, 2008
July 25, 2008
In terms of contemporary music I have to agree I am out-of-touch. This is of course a disadvantage but pleasant surprises often present themselves as a consequence. The other night on ABC TV I saw a talented, female singer performing at The Basement in Sydney – Eddi Reader. She is Scottish and that’s about all I know about her. The next day, selecting at random, I bought an early recording of hers – its just called Eddi Reader – and I have been listening to it this evening. It is distinctive contempory, uncompromising folk-rock (occasionally bluesy) music.
I can’t find any poached versions of music from this album of Eddi on the net but there is plenty of other stuff. Try this YouTube for a sample – or this or this or this. She obviously shines in concert!
July 3, 2008
And look at Sting’s taste in women. Look at Rita Sting’s charming, unpretentious natural smile and the elegant décolletage. Note the way the cleavage neatly bunches over her high waist band-cum-broach. Was it air-touched?
They deserve each other but, surely, the world does not deserve them.
June 11, 2008
I’ve been busy working over recent days but I after finally receiving a few early Joni Mitchell CDs from Amazon.com I got to listen to them last night. After a few minutes I abandoned all thoughts of anything other than this music.
January 28, 2008
Courtesy of Saturday’s AFR (the gist is here) I learned of Alex Ross’s classical music blog ‘The Rest is Noise’ – the title is also that of his first book, which provides a guide to classical music of the twentieth century. He claims there has been a revival of interest in classical music has been driven by internet browsing. The classical music business he claims is also experiencing a bit of a boom.
I am not sure of either of these claims – the costs of operating a symphony orchestra are huge – but Ross has accumulated a lot of information on the role of the web and that is of interest. His blog is certainly something I’ll watch. He provides a great list of links in this area also. Here is a sample:
· ArkivMusic – a site selling classical music. To test I searched for conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and got 216 recordings. It really is very useful and comprehensive even if you don’t buy from this site.
· Arts & Letters Daily – a great general site provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It has links to all sorts of secondary newspaper sites. As an example, this is an interesting article on Arnold Schoenberg.
· ArtsJournal – an interesting miscellany of excerpts from the press on music and the arts. As an example, on Brahms: ‘I greet his appearance as you would the entrance of a person at a party whom you’re not all that eager to talk to, even though you may have had intense and intermittently rewarding conversations over the years’.
· Classical Domain New York City’s classical music website. Great voyeurism – it is a rich scene.
· Critics and Music Sites – a page from Ross’s site given an amazing range of critical views on a wide range of music. Includes serious academic sites such as the Library of Congress music archives. The latter an amazing resource.
· Music Blogs – a page from Ross’s site given an amazing range of classical music blogs.
· New Music Links – a page from Ross’s website listing sites devoted to modern classical composers and performers.
· Opus 1 Classical – a directory of concerts in most major world classical music centres. Includes Sydney but not the cultural and sporting capital of Australia, Melbourne!
· PlaybillArts – information plus sales of an amazing ranger of merchandise. For example 120 operas on DVD.
· The Gramophone – stingy taste of material from the world’s leading source of information on classical music. You can get the lot by subscribing but, yes. It is expensive.
By the way ignoring issues of sound quality you can subscribe to the NAXOS library of 5000 classical CDs online with 50 new recordings per month from less than $20US annually. It is an good real. Or listen for free to any one of 144 classical radio stations around the world here.