Prague, Recent Operas.

I’ve been doing so much lately that I haven’t really thought about posting on here. I really should be writing more. Last weekend, I went to Prague, which was really great. The city was beautiful, and the sights were amazing. That being said, the people there were extremely rude to me. I feel like just because I’m an American, I was treated horribly. I guess thats how it works over there. Anyways, it was a wonderful trip, and I have lots of great pictures. I can’t put them on here right now, because I’m using Kamal’s computer (the internet isn’t working on my Apple right now).

In Prague, I had the pleasure of being able to visit the Prague State Opera to see a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I really thought it was great. The set production was super, the directing was great, most of the singers were spot-on. The Queen of the Night completely nailed her aria, as did Papageno and Tamino. The guy who played Sarastro wasn’t too great, I didn’t think. However, my opera pallate isn’t as refined as my orchestral pallate, so maybe he was really great and I just didn’t know it.

I’ve seen quite a few great operas in Vienna since I posted last. I saw Die Walkure, which really blew my mind. I would have to say that it’s my favorite opera to date. After seeing it, I watched Das Rheingold and Siegfried on DVD, and plan to complete the cycle in a day or two with Götterdämmerung. Also, while on my Wagner kick, I went to the Staatsoper to see Parsifal, which was pretty unbelievable. The production wasn’t my favorite, it was pretty post-modern at parts. I saw a performance on DVD once where the production was fairly traditional, which I usually prefer. The music in Parsifal, however, is some of the best music ever written. I’ve been listening to the Act I Prelude for the past few days, trying to memorize some of the leitmotifs. Great stuff.
I’ve also seen a few other great productions at the Staatsoper recently. Earlier this week, I saw La Boheme which starred Anna Netrebko and was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Clearly, it was wonderful. I saw The Elixir of Love, which wasn’t my favorite. I saw La Traviata at the Volksoper, which is a wonderful opera, but I didn’t care for the production. I had a lot of problems with it, but I can’t write too much more because I have to get back in the practice room.
I’ll be on here again soon. Cheers.

Schoenberg, Boulez, Jazzland.

I haven’t posted in a few days, so I’ll have to do a good one.

I’ve been to some fantastic concerts in the past week. First, I saw Schoenberg’s opera Moses and Aron, which was really outstanding. Most of the people I was with really hated it, but I have a pretty good ear for serialism. I had an interesting conversation with Prentiss about Schoenberg’s contribution to aesthetics in music, and whether his impact in music was only in theory and composition, or if he really made music that was beautiful and that people enjoy listening to. I suppose that debate has been around for quite a while, but it’s exciting for me to get to see a work like this, and to have someone to speak intelligently with about it.

Then, on Friday night, I had the pleasure of seeing Pierre Boulez conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. This is as good as it gets. The concert was unbelievable, and the program was wonderful. He chose to conduct Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 3, “Das Lied in der Nacht”, Debussy’s Jeux, and some of his own Notations. Boulez, considered probably the most important living musician, did not disappoint as a conductor. His subdued yet potent style really affected me, and clearly drove one of the best orchestras in the world to play difficult music beautifully. This was a great concert. I have tickets for next weekend to see him again, this time conducting Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Symphonies of Wind Instruments. To say the very least, my time here is being well spent.

After the Boulez concert, I went to an old jazz club called Jazzland. It was in the basement of an old building. There,  I had some good beer and watched old Austrians play Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. On the wall, there were pictures of famous musicians that had played there. It was a pretty cool experience.

Tonight, I’m planning to go see Die Walküre. I’ll have to go pretty early to get in line for the standing room, but I feel like it’ll be worth it. I’ll need to get some work done today, though, before I can spend the whole night at the opera house.

Despite what you may think, I HAVE been doing some things that don’t involve music. Yesterday, I went to the Nachmarkt again, where I bought some olives, eggplant, pita, almonds, dried fruit, grapes, and a falafel sandwich. This week, I’ll be eating like a champion. In fact, I’m about to go make some pasta.

I haven’t done too many sightseeing things yet. I really would like to go to some art museums soon, and visit the graveyard where Beethoven et al. are buried. I’ll probably get to Salzburg sometime soon as well. I’ve never been one of the tourist types, but I’m going to try to figure out some things to do that don’t involve music or food.

I miss everyone in the US, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in a few months. Skype has been a great asset to me here, which I didn’t expect. I’ve also been chatting on Facebook quite a bit.

This blog has a spell-checker built into it, and it doesn’t recognize the words ‘serialism’ and ‘Facebook’. Maybe I need to find another website to run this blog!

Nachmarkt, Harnoncourt, String Quartet Concert.

I woke up early Saturday, and went with some friends to the Nachmarkt, which is a huge outdoor market in the city. It’s like Soulard, but way way bigger. They had fresh fish, meat, cheese, olives, hummus, wine, coffee… pretty much any food you can imagine. That part was cool, but once you get past that, there’s a flea market that is like a quarter mile long. It was so cool, I found a lot of neat things. I didn’t spend a cent there, but it was a good time.

At one of the antique stands, I found an original (maybe) piano/voice reduction of Parsifal by Wagner. It was a pretty amazing artifact, I really wanted to get it, but it was like €25, so I had to skip it. In the front of the book, there were pictures of the set designs, probably by Wagner himself, as well as a list of leitmotifs, which is super cool. I’m already learning such an enormous amount here, just by walking around.

Over the course of the morning, though, I was starting to have pretty bad social anxiety. For those of you that know me, which is everyone that reads this probably, you probably are aware that I don’t really like being in public, or around a lot of people, for a long period of time. By the time we were leaving the market, I was feeling pretty horrible. My friends were wanting to continue on to an art museum, but I couldn’t do it. I went back to the dorms and hung out alone for a while. Then, I met up with another friend, and we ate a bite for dinner.

After dinner, I traveled back to the city to see the concert that I had planned to go to. It was Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting a Beethoven cantata and an oratorio. The concert was just amazing, the venue was really indescribable. It makes Powell Hall look like a 7-11. The music was incredible, and it was really exciting to see Harnoncourt- he’s one of the best and most famous conductors in the world. Clearly, this is not something that I could have done in St. Louis.

Yesterday, I slept in and then went to the Prater with Sarah. It was really cool to see the ferris wheel from The Third Man, and some of the other things there as well. I stopped and got a falafel, which was excellent. All the food here is wonderful. Even now, as I write this, I’m eating some applesauce, a baguette, and some amazing cheese.

After the Prater, I continued on alone, back to the Musikverein, where I saw a string quartet concert of Beethoven’s G Major quartet and Brahms’ A minor quartet. The program was pretty incredible, but the encore was what really blew my mind- they played the 2nd movement from the Ravel, which is pretty much my favorite movement of my favorite string quartet. I hadn’t heard of the ensemble, TinAlley Quartet, but they were really world class. All in all, the concert blew my mind and was one of the best that I’ve ever seen.

Tonight is Cecilia Bartoli, who I’d really love to see. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to go. I already have a ticket to see Boulez conduct this weekend, and also one for the string quartet on Thursday, where they’re doing Milhaud, Shostakovich, Zemlinsky, and Schoenberg. This must be what heaven is like.

Well, this post is pretty long. I gotta get ready to go to class- I have my first Opera class today from 1:30-3:30, which I’m really looking forward to. I hope I meet some cool people there. Maybe I’ll talk to someone who wants to see Boulez with me- I feel like it’s probably a crime to go alone.

Cheers,
Adam

Live from Vienna.

I made it to Vienna without a scratch. Some of my planes were delayed, and it was a long journey, but I arrived this morning and have been having a great time so far.

When the plane landed, there was a driver waiting to pick up the two of us that were on the flight from Frankfurt. We drove to the dorm, and were shown to our respective quarters. My roommate is a really cool guy from Azerbaijan, which is near Russia. He has been going to this Webster campus for a few years, and will be graduating soon. He plays a lot of video games and likes computers, so we will get along pretty well. There are far worse living arrangements than having a roommate who wants to share a beer with you while he shoots Nazis on a computer screen.

I met up with Sarah and our other two friends that we know, and we walked around town. We didn’t go downtown, but we did explore the neighborhood quite a bit. If there are any times in the next 8 weeks where I need to get a kebab, a falafel, or go marketing, I will not have a problem- there are places for all three of those on literally every corner.

For lunch, we went to a small market near the dorms, and picked up some fresh bread, cheese, and Austrian beer. It really was a tasty feast; the fresh bread was amazing. The cheese and beer were both fair. The company was good.

Then, we explored more of the city. We walked for a very long time, and found some more markets, and more stores. There is definitely a lot to see here, and we’re only in the suburbs. Between the three airports and all the walking today, my feet are definitely sore.

This evening, Sarah and I ate dinner at one of the falafel stands. I have to say, with my considerable experience in the field, that it was the best falafel that I’ve ever had. It was also only €2,50, which is about $3.40 US. You really can’t beat that.

I began writing this email yesterday before I went to bed, but now it’s 5 a.m. and theres an orientation at 9 a.m., which is really crazy considering that everyone probably has jet lag. I had wanted to sleep until 8, which should have been easy because I went to bed at 11, but I guess jet lag has gotten the best of me… plus the fact that my roommate snores unbelievably loud. If it prevents me from sleep later in the week, I may try to see if I can find a vacant room here.

After the orientation, Sarah and I are going to go to the city center, which I hear is a pretty cool place. I don’t know if it’s downtown or not.

If you’re even still reading this, I have a bit more information. I got my address today, which is:

Adam Rothbarth
Donaufelderstrasse 54/Room 3225
A-1210  Vienna

Anyways, I’m gonna try to go lay down for a while before this meeting. My email account hasn’t been working that well, so I tried to use my GMail account, but they froze it… I guess because I’m out of the country. I sent them an email, so if they are able to turn it back on, and my Webster account is still having problems, I may start emailing from GMail. We will see what happens.

Cheers.

Analyzing Debussy and Haydn, SLSO Playing Ravel and Berlioz.

While I’m taking a break from analyzing Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, thought I’d make a quick post. It’s nice to get out of the A/V room in the library for a few minutes to see the light of day (though I was hoping to experience it more literally- I’m sick of this weather). It’s also good (though minimally) to get away from the lush C#13 chords and the planing. Sometimes listening to other students bang around and make noise in the computer lab really hits the spot. I feel like there’s only so much beauty that my ears can take before I have to get away from the score and let it sink in for a while.

I’ve been spending most of my time sitting around in the library, analyzing Debussy and Haydn, which are, surprisingly, quite complementary when studied in close proximity to each other. Yesterday was  Prélude and Symphony No. 94, “Surprise”. Today, it’s Prélude again, and Symphony No. 104, “London”. Tonight, I begin looking at Nocturnes (no pun intended). I suppose it’s safe to say that this is probably the best semester of my life. In the past few weeks, I’ve generally been happier, more productive, more positive, and more focused than at any other point in my pursuit of music.

A quick concert update before I get back to work. Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing the SLSO play Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major and Symphonie fantastique. Both pieces were great, especially the Ravel. It’s such a fun, jazzy work- I always wholly enjoy myself when I’m listening to it. The second movement is just amazing, and it was played beautifully by the soloist, Ingrid Fliter. Symphonie fantastique was pretty good, though I was a bit disappointed with the first three movements, the third especially, which was downright boring. The final two movements, however, were marvelous. I feel like when the SLSO unleashes the brass and winds on a powerhouse such as Symphonie fantastique, they really do some damage. I’ve rarely been more excited, expecially in the final seconds of the piece. Overall, the concert was definitely worth it.

Tomorrow, I’ll be going to see the SLSO do Pines of Rome and Mozart Piano Concerto No. 18. There are two more works on the program, a Berlioz overture and something else. I need to get back to work, so unfortunately  I’m not going to be able to look at the program for the sole purpose of re-posting it on this blog.

Cheers.

2000-2009 Musical Retrospective.

The end of the year is rapidly approaching and winter break has given me some time to reflect on music I listened to in both 2009 and the past decade. I’m very fond of end-of-the-year lists, so I’ll discuss a few of the musical highlights of the past year. This section of the post will deal primarily with pop music, as I didn’t hear many classical premieres (though I’ve been dying to hear John Adams’ City Noir and Steve Reich’s Double Quartet).

2009

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix

This album is incredible. It’s one of the most fun, high-energy pop albums I’ve ever heard. Every song is dynamic, singable, and exciting. I picked this one up right at the beginning of the summer, and I’ve listened to it almost every day since. It sounds crisp and clear on nearly every medium I’ve tried, ranging from my car to Sennheiser headphones to an iMac- there’s pretty much no way that this album couldn’t sound amazing. If I had to choose one album as my favorite from 2009, it would be Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.

Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors

Unlike the Phoenix album, Bitte Orca was a grower for me. It’s one of those albums where you get what you put into it, and over the past year I’ve learned to give it my all, which has been quite rewarding. It’s pretty experimental, but entirely entertaining and, at some times, jaw-dropping. The idea that a human being could write an album like this is completely amazing to me. I’d put this in a very very close second for my favorite album of 2009.

Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear

I’ve written about this album in this blog before, so I’ll try not to dwell. Veckatimest is one of the most solid pop endeavors I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing (and seeing live). These guys are incredible musicians, and I imagine that whatever lies ahead for them will be equally excellent.

Popular Songs – Yo La Tengo

This is arguably the second strongest Yo La Tengo album of the past decade, which is saying a lot. I was a bit nervous after their last two albums, but Popular Songs is wonderful blend of all of their styles. Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a band that can do so many different things on a single album. This is not a perfect album, but it’s very very good.

There are many other great albums from the past year that are worth mentioning, and there are many other great websites that will mention them. If I didn’t limit this list, I’d end up sitting here and name-dropping for another hour. Instead, here are my favorite albums from the past decade.

2000-2009

Funeral – The Arcade Fire

This is one of the only rock n’ roll albums that I NEVER get sick of listening to. Five years after it came out, and after hundreds of listens, Funeral still remains a relevant and significant part of my life. For honest, moving, and intelligent rock, this is the go-to album of the decade for me.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – Wilco

The best album by the best American band of the past 15 years. This is the quintessential transition album- Wilco began leaving their alt-country roots behind in Summerteeth, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot really gave them their final push into the ‘experimental/indie/rock/whatever’ sound that they had been searching for. This deep, sprawling rock album is pretty much as good as it gets. R.I.P. Jay Bennett, whose influence on this, and earlier Wilco albums, was hugely significant.

Takk… – Sigur Ros

This album is unbelievable from start to finish. One of the most outstanding sonic experiences of my life.

Illinois – Sufjan Stevens

Illinois is the most complete, thoroughly composed, emotionally satisfying album in quite a while. It’s very clear how much time and heart Sufjan Stevens put into this album. There’s really nothing I can even say about this that would do justice to how great it is.

Kid A – Radiohead

I wasn’t ready to hear this when it came out in 2000 (I was 14 years old), but in 2004, when I realized how incredible it was, I listened to it on repeat for 9 months. There’s a good chance that this will be the Symphonie Fantastique of this century.

I suppose, because this is an art music blog, I’ll list some of the great older recordings that I’ve been enjoying this past year. During the semester, this is the stuff that I was listening to the most:

Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson – Ben Webster & Oscar Peterson
Somethin’ Else – Cannonball Adderley
The Shape of Jazz To Come – Ornette Coleman
Moanin’ – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

-Beethoven: Piano Concertos – Maurizio Pollini, Claudio Abbado & Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
-Brahms: The Piano Quartets – Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo & Isaac Stern
Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians – Steve Reich Ensemble
-Rachmaninov: 24 Preludes – Vladimir Ashkenazy
-Mahler: Symphony No. 1 – Pierre Boulez & Chicago Symphony Orchestra
-Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra & Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta – Fritz Reiner & Chicago Symphony Orchestra
-Ligeti: Works for Piano – Pierre-Laurent Aimard
-Luciano Berio: Formazioni/Folk Songs/Sinfonia – Riccardo Chailly & Royal Concertgeouw Orchestra
-Bach: French Suites – Glenn Gould
-Ives: Sonata No. 2 “Concord, Mass.” – Marc-Andre Hamelin

I’m excited to see what 2010 will bring. Between studying more classical music in grad school and the constant output of great rock albums, there will certainly be no shortage of good music to listen to. Cheers, and happy New Year.

Papers, Adams, Piazzolla Video.

I’m in a pretty exciting way lately- pretty much all I do is drink coffee and do research. Between my Brahms thesis paper, my Concord Sonata term paper, and my 20th century essays, I’ve been completely overwhelmed. I’m really happy that I’m in a field where I enjoy putting in the hours to get the work done.

Unfortunately, the more writing I do for school, the less writing I do on the internet. I have been slacking on both of my blogs lately. Surprisingly, though, I have had some time to watch movies. I saw Up In The Air with George Clooney, which I liked a lot. I also saw The Road, which was not as good as the book. Other than that, I’ve been staying in a lot and getting work done.

I’ve been listening to Short Ride in a Fast Machine. I really think John Adams is one of the most fascinating composers of the past 25 years, and definitely one of the best. Nixon in China is probably my favorite opera (don’t tell Kelly). I read his autobiography last year, Hallelujah Junction, and it’s a pretty interesting book. I recommend it to anyone interested in his life or work. In the future, I’d like to write a paper about one of his pieces. In my mind, I get his history mixed up somewhat with Charles Ives, because both of them have such strong ties to New England.

I gotta go work on my papers and study, but enjoy this video that I’ve been watching. It’s pretty incredible.