Monthly Archives: March 2009

‘Emperor’, Ein Heldenleben, Tchaikovsky 5.

A relatively short post, because it’s very late and I’m tired.

This past weekend I heard the most wonderful concert. The SLSO did Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto and Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss.

Seeing anything by Strauss live is always a great experience, and Ein Heldenleben was no different. The power, the excitement, the HEROISM! I imagine it would be a lot of fun to get to play something like this in an orchestra.

Then, ‘Emperor’. The Fifth Piano Concerto is arguably my all-time favorite piece of music, and I had been waiting for this performance for many months (especially after I found out that Richard Goode was going to be playing). After attending the pre-show lecture by David Robertson, I was nervous. He was talking about how Goode had been having interesting ideas about the dynamics and tempo of the piece, and how it’s always important to think about music in new ways. 

I was really very impressed with the first movement. It seemed like they took the volume down a lot from all the recordings I had heard of the piece. They were playing it very delicately, with almost a regal sound. Then, they got to the second movement, which is my very favorite. I was disappointed with the tempo- I felt like they played it much too fast. I understand why Goode interpreted the piece the way he did, however I don’t agree. The entire emotional impact of the second movement lies in the tension, the delay between phrases, the unresolved trills. The section with the trills is the most incredible thing to listen to when it’s played at the right tempo. Of course, Beethoven is known for (among other things) being very progressive with cadence delay, and this is evident in the piece. But when it’s played too fast, it loses almost all of the effect that I feel Beethoven was intending.

That being said, it was somewhat redeemed by the third movement. They played very well. Not my favorite interpretation, but still a joy to listen to.

Finally, I’ve been listening to a lot of Tchaikovsky. I bought a copy of Swan Lake, and I’ve been really enjoying that. Also, I was trying to become better-acquainted with his symphonies when I stumbled across the most incredible thing: Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. I know that I’m biased because I’ve been listening to it non-stop for almost five days now, but I think it might be my favorite symphony.  From the quiet start and then grandeur of the first movement to the amazing strings and horn intro of the second movement and the recurrence of the theme throughout… it’s just a sublime piece of music. I hope to have more time to study it in the future.



Bolero, Pitchfork Music Festival, The Barber of Seville, Bob Dylan, and Thoughts on the Purpose of This Blog.

I’m on Spring Break this week, so I figure I should update this. There’s certainly enough going on right now, musically, that I can make a post of it.

Last weekend, I caught a dance program at SLSO. They played Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations piece, and Ravel’s Bolero. During the first two pieces, there were contemporary ballet dancers on the stage, doing some sort of plot that went with what the orchestra was doing. I personally don’t understand much about modern dance, but I suppose I enjoyed having something to watch. The orchestra was all the way in the back of the stage, up on a makeshift level above the ballet dancers. I feel like the music suffered horribly. From the first notes of the Mozart, I could tell that not only was I going to have a difficult time hearing all the piano and mezzo-forte sections, but also that it was going to be really airy and meshed. I think it was just a problem with acoustics, as well as the fact that I ended up sitting on the floor instead of the balcony, where I normally sit. 

That being said, I felt like the Mozart and the Britten pieces were great (the Britten was especially good). The Bolero, though, I didn’t think was so good. I felt like there was a lot of problems with phasing and dynamics, which was partly because of the ambiguous conducting at the beginning from Robertson, but also because of the sheer number of people on the stage (as well as the fact that Bolero is probably a fairly comfortable piece for all the musicians, so perhaps they weren’t as sharp as they usually are). I remember specifically that the piccolo solo was very out of tune, and also out of time with the other woodwinds that were playing. 

Overall, it was a good experience because of the dancers and the diverse program, however if I had been going only to appreciate the sonorities I would have been disappointed.

To change it up, I’ll say now that I’ve decided to go to Pitchfork Music Festival this summer, which is going to be held in Chicago from July 17th-19th. I’m really excited about it because a few of my favorite bands are playing, and also because I’ve never been to the festival. I bought tickets the last two years, and ended up selling them because I didn’t want to go badly enough. This year I’m definitely going to be going. The initial lineup was announced this past week, and included Yo La Tengo, The National, Grizzly Bear, and The Walkmen, which are all bands I would really like to see. I’ve seen Yo La Tengo and The National and want very much to see them again, and I’ve heard that the other two are amazing in a live setting. I’m hoping that some of my friends will be going as well.

Hmmmmm. What else?

I’ve been listening to ‘Il barbiere di Siviglia’ a lot in the past week. I’ve been weighing it against ‘Le nozze di Figaro’ and I think I might enjoy it even more than ‘Figaro’. I think the two act story is very good, and really engrossing to me. I don’t feel like there’s much filler when I listen to it, and I can tell that Rossini worked really hard to balance the voices and the instruments. From what I read, he composed this opera in three weeks, which is really incredible to me, as it usually takes me three weeks to do a single assignment for my composition class (ha). I have the 1975 James Levine version, which I think is really super. Kelly tells me that she doesn’t like all the singers in it, but I don’t know enough about voice to be able to make a huge distinction between multiple recordings of the same thing (although I can make those distinctions between instrumental recordings very easily while most vocal students I know cannot).

I don’t want to over-saturate this post with too many musics, but I have one more thing to talk about. I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’ a lot recently and I think it’s my favorite of his albums. For a long time, my favorite was ‘John Wesley Harding’, but the more I listen to ‘Blond on Blonde’, the more I love it. I hear he has another album coming out soon, which I’m really looking forward to. His last one, ‘Modern Times’, was really fantastic. I really need to pick up ‘Love and Theft’- I hear it’s one of his better albums in the past decade or so, and I’ve never had a chance to listen to it. Either way, Bob Dylan has still got it.

I guess talking about Bob Dylan on a music blog is about as cliché as you can get, but I don’t really care. I made this blog so that I could chronicle what I listen to and the thoughts I have about those things. Maybe when I apply for grad school, the panel at Northwestern (or somewhere) will find this blog and enjoy what I’m saying, thinking that I would be a good candidate for a Musicology degree. I could only be so lucky…