Gál Serenade D dur, op. 41; Trio in F sharp major, op. 104; Krása Tanec; Passacaglia og Fuge
Avie AV2259 (67 minutter)
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“This disc of string trios presents two highly contrasted victims of Hitler. The music of Hans Gál (1890–1987), born just outside Vienna, embodies the virtues of Viennese tradition: it is elegant, cultured and effortlessly resourceful – Gál was both a natural lyricist and a natural contrapuntist, which means that his music appeals to heart and brain in equal measure. The Serenade (1932) is full of understated energy, like happy Reger; by the time of the op. 104 Trio (1971), when Gál was 81, his music is suffused by a profound and gentle wisdom; the closing set of variations is masterly. I knew Hans Gál at the end of his long life. He told me once that his parents had taken him, when he was six, to hear one of Mahler’s first performances at the Wiener Hofoper. ‘But that was 1897’, I gasped in astonishment, but he still remembered it clearly, and you have the same sense of stylistic continuity in his music. The raw energy in the two pieces by Hans Krása (1899–1944), by contrast, indicate what was lost in October 1944 when, with his fellow composer-inmates from the ghetto of Terezín, he was bundled onto a transport to Auschwitz and gassed two days later. There’s a rough-edged vitality here that reveals that the Janácek tradition, in normal circumstances, would have had lots of life in it yet. Beautiful performances from the Ensemble Epomeo.”
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A new, five-star review for the Complete String Trios of Hans Gal and Hans Krasa from MusicWeb International, also available at Art Music Reviews here.
See also our earlier MusicWeb review from Steve Arloff, and Recording of the Month designation here.
“Sound quality is very good. In their debut recording, Ensemble Epomeo (named after an Ischian mountain) are thoroughly convincing from beginning to end. Their sense of ensemble is democratic, their attention to the score attentive and respectful, and their tone warm and welcoming. Expressively they are as much at home with the elegant, small-R romantic classicism of Gál as with the more semantically ambiguous colourings of Krása.”
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A new review from the popular website MusicWeb-International for our debut CD from critic Steve Arloff. The disc has been selected by MusicWeb as a RECORDING OF THE MONTH for October, 2012.
The complete review follows below, but shouldn’t you go ahead and order the CD first?
It seems that at last the star of Hans Gál is in the ascendant with symphonies (2;3;4), hisviolin concerto,cello concerto,cello works,violin and piano works,piano trios,piano duosand piano solo music (reviewreview), to name a few, being released in recent years. This is a vast improvement upon the situation that pertained only in 2001 when there were but three works by him that could be found on disc; today the total tops 40.
Born in Vienna of Hungarian Jewish extraction Gál not surprisingly left Germany where he had worked as Director of the Conservatory in Mainz after he was dismissed by the Nazis and his music was banned. First he returned to Vienna until Austria was annexed by Hitler in 1938 then he came to the UK though he had a hard time of it with a wife and two children and no immediate job. In May 1940 he was incarcerated due to the panicky atmosphere that pertained in Britain at the time, firstly in Huyton then in the internment camp in Douglas, Isle of Man. Though Gál was not classed as a category A alien all of whom were detained when war broke out, Churchill’s edict to “collar the lot” following the fall of France led to category B aliens and a large percentage of category C being arrested too, adding up to a total of over 27,000 internees. It is ironic that Jews who were the most obviously sympathetic to the Allies should have been included in this sweep. Eventually the folly of this policy was recognised and Gál and many others were released after a few months. For most of his long life he resided in Scotland where he added to the rich musical life there working at Edinburgh University until well beyond retirement age.
Gál’s Serenade in D Op.41 dates from 1932 and is a most delightful work full of free-flowing melodic lines with an upbeat Haydnesque beginning that belies what’s to come which is altogether more contrapuntal but still of a generally whimsical character and the first movement fairly skips along its ten minute length. Gál certainly knew how to write a good tune and wasn’t afraid to do so at a time when the avant-garde brigade were flexing their musical muscles and when to be experimental was deemed to be de rigueur. Though modern in character this music is totally beguiling and the main theme will easily become one of those little worms that play themselves over and over again in your mind and soon have you convinced that you’ve known it for years despite it being a world première recording. The second movement marked Cantabile. Adagio is a heartfelt, beautiful little tune that while darker is so gorgeously lush that it will still cause you to smile with delight. The main theme which is introduced by the violin is taken up at the close by the viola against a wonderfully rich background. The Menuetto is back to the Haydnesque style of the opening movement with the cello playing a significant role in conversation. The violin hovers above it in canon and one is tempted to speculate that Papa Haydn himself would have heartily approved of its inventive character. The final movement Alla marcia is another wonderfully melodious and brilliantly scintillating piece of writing. All kinds of clever musical devices propel things along and the work finishes with a flourish.
Gál’s Trio Op.104 was composed almost forty years later in 1971 to a commission from the London Viola d’Amore Society and the version here for a conventional trio was written at the same time. It is a work that is altogether darker in mood than theSerenadeas perhaps is to be expected from a composer of over 80 as opposed to one of 42. In any event it is another example of this highly individual and marvellous composer who appears never to have been at a loss to come up with fabulous tunes that win the listener over on first hearing. While the opening Tranquillo con moto in dark and deeply reflective the Presto is light and humorous. It dances along its short length and leads into the finale Tema con variazione with seven distinct sections. The players’ cellist Kenneth Woods wrote the notes. He has perfectly captured the essence of this last movement which, as he puts it, incorporates “recurring cycles of despair and hope, without Gál ever tipping his hand as to whether the work is likely to end in darkness or light”. He explains further that Gál’s solution is to “avoid a resolution entirely” by concluding with an Alla Marcia in humorous mode. This alludes to the fact that whatever happens, life marches on and “The cycle of tragedy and hope is eternal, the root of all human comedy…” What better way to look at life and to share that outlook with others in musical terms that are so unambiguous.
The two other works on this disc are by a composer from the same era, the same part of the world (central Europe), and the same Jewish heritage, who suffered the fate that Gál undoubtedly would have done had he not come to Britain when he did. Hans Krása was also sent to an internment camp and the insert in the CD shows a photo of each composer alongside their camps. However, Krása ended up in Terezin in the north of his native Czechoslovakia where he was active in the busy musical life that pertained there and like other composers confined there wrote several works in these inauspicious surroundings. Then in October 1944 he was moved to Auschwitz along with fellow composers Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas, where he was sent to the gas chambers just two days after his arrival. I find the thought of the deaths of these highly talented composers almost unbearable, particularly when I hear their music and imagine what other joys they would have brought to the world had they lived. Whilst rejoicing in the life of Hans Gál who lived to the age of 97 and whose music developed over a long and productive life it is heartrending to listen to the music of Krása who died at 45. Both works here were written in his final year. Krása, in common with his fellow composers in Terezin, refused to allow their Nazi captors to crush their spirit. These works are defiant responses to the madness that The Third Reich unleashed upon the world. In Tanec(dance) which title belies its content which is savage and biting, there are evocations of trains that contrast feelings of nostalgia with overt menace. I was reminded of Steve Reich’s Different Trains and am pretty sure that Reich may well have drawn inspiration from this work for his own. There is so much said in such a short piece it is quite overwhelming. In Passacaglia and Fuga, Krása’s last completed work, he expresses himself so profoundly it is enough to make you weep. Kenneth Woods’ excellent notes explain the musical structure perfectly which enables the listener to get so much more out of the music than they would without them. I’m not going to try to paraphrase or come up with my own interpretation which I couldn’t do in any case but will quote his summing up of the work as “…discussion degenerates into argument and argument descends into violence.” Who can wonder at such musical thoughts when you are knowingly heading for extermination for being born something your captors will not tolerate.
The disc leaves you feeling profoundly moved as well as drained and I can hardly imagine how it must feel to play such music. This is an extremely important musical document on all counts as it introduces us to two hitherto unrecorded works by a great 20th century composer who exposure has at last revealed a huge talent and two works by a wonderful composer whose creative genius was snuffed out in his prime.
The Ensemble Epomeo play all four compositions with huge commitment and brilliant flair revealing every nuance in four wonderful works for string trio. These can sit alongside anything written in this genre.
In every way this is a fantastic disc that listeners will want to hear again and again.
A review from Graham Rickson at The Arts Desk of Ensemble Epomeo’s recording of the Complete String Trios of Hans Gal and Hans Krasa. Read the whole thing here.
Hans Gál & Hans Krása: Complete String Trios Ensemble Epomeo (Avie)
Avie have already successfully exhumed the four symphonies by the Austrian émigré Hans Gál, who pitched up in Edinburgh in the 1940s and enjoyed a long academic career. His early Serenade in D for string trio epitomises his early style – breezy, neoclassical and full of busy counterpoint which never sounds too studied or pedantic. This is supremely approachable, engaging music, and sweetly played here – every chromatic kink handled with deft skill. Best is the closing Alla Marcia, dazzling in terms of its technical facility, and, evidently, very enjoyable to play. The Serenade is paired with Gál’s 1971 Trio in F sharp minor, a darker, brooding work originally featuring the viola d’amore – though a standard viola is heard here. Gál’s opening movement seems to hark back to fin-de-siecle Vienna, and the mood of bittersweet melancholy is neatly sidestepped in the trio’s closing minutes. Cellist Kenneth Woods describes Gál as the Viennese classical tradition’s “last, modest master” and it’s hard not to agree.
Also on the disc are several works by the Czech composer Hans Krása. He died inAuschwitz in 1944, having spent two years interned in the Theresienstadt ghetto – where the short Tanec and Passacaglia and Fuga for string trio were composed. This makes listening to both of these brilliantly communicative pieces an uneasy experience, each one a masterly exercise in musical doublespeak. I won’t attempt to describe them – buy this disc and experience them for yourself. Eloquent performances in glowing sound.
When I first encountered the music of Anton Bruckner (the first movement of the 9th Symphony), it was love at first sight. From the moment I dropped the needle a the edge of the LP, Bruckner picked me up with his mind powers and shook me like a dog. I’ve never been able to understand how anyone could not love this music, and yet there are always people in every orchestra and audience who don’t seem to get it. The other night in a rehearsal of the 7th, our auxiliary third sarrusophone player was overheard loudly exclaiming “this piece is shit.”
(Ken on Bruckner)
To me this is like saying the Grand Canyon is shit, the Alps are shit or the Pacific Ocean is shit. This is like saying sunshine and fresh air and IPA’s and babies and and books are shit.
I don’t get it.
What is it about Bruckner that makes those who love the music love it so much? Certainly the fact that the powerhouse passages are so gargantuan that one can’t help but want to pick up a spear and charge into battle against the marauding hordes doesn’t hurt. The sheer sound of Bruckner’s music in full flight is, or should be, impossible to resist.
But lost, perhaps, in questions of Catholicism, Nazis, necrophilia, tremolos and performance practice is what makes Bruckner’s music so affecting, and possibly what explains some people’s inability to get close to it- it is some of the most intensely emotional music ever written.
That one almost never comes across a description of Bruckner’s music as “emotional” is, I think, a telling commentary on a broad ranging loss of clarity in our collective thinking about what “emotion” really means. Popular culture, which has long since sunk its poisoned talons into the very heart of our thinking about art of all kindshas gradually made “emotion” a dirty word.
In popular culture, we too often equate “emotion” with extroversion, with narcissism, with a kinetically manifested sense of outward excitement, and with a kind of adrenalized hyperactivity. Pop culture tells us that the most “emotional” artists are the ones who sing the loudest or shake their asses the hardest. When someone cries on camera in a moment of personal tragedy captured by our voyeuristic news media, we’re told that they are responding with intense emotion. But does the person who stands on the steps of the courthouse after trial in tears really feel more deeply or suffer more profoundly than the person who bears their pain from a similar tragedy in still and silent contemplation? Obviously not.
But it is not just that we’ve come to equate emotion with “display of emotion” (in art, “display” and “emotion” used to be considered opposites, not synonyms)- the word “emotion” has come to be tied in our collective thinking with a kind of attention-seeking behaviour, whether in performance (all hail the star performer) or among the public. Emotion has become toxically intertwined with narcissism.
Bruckner was anything but a narcissist. In Mahler’s music, it is clearly the composer himself who narrates our journey, and a huge part of that journey is coming to understand who he was. Bruckner was unknown and remains unknowable. What little we know about his personality seems alien and baffling to most of us, but what is really striking is the absence of a sense of the “me” in his music. The emotions in Bruckner’s music are incredibly intense, but also completely universal. The narrative voice in Bruckner’s music tells us what the narrator experiences and what the narrator feels with a kind of hyper-realistic directness that is unlike any other voice in music, but at the same time, that narrator never tells you who he is, how he came to be on this journey or why we should be interested him. We’re not interested in him- the journey becomes ours. The narrative voice in Bruckner’s music is reveals a universal expression of every person’s battles with doubt, fear, everyone’s capacity for wonder and ecstasy, and our ability, in moments of true enlightenment, to be fully aware of both our incredible insignificance as individuals, and yet our intrinsic, infinite value.
Many thoughtful and wise people gravitate towards art music because they experience a genuine sense of revulsion at the corruptive influence of narcissism on emotion. Other classical musicians never really outgrow our adolescent connection to music on a purely visceral, thrill-seeking level. Whether one engages with Bruckner’s music with an attitude of over-intellectualized, arid detachment, or flings yourself into it with testosterone-laden aggression, you’re missing the heart of what the music is about. Making it about you is as wrong as making it about Bruckner. And yet it seems to me that these two rather unenlightened extremes of approach and attitude have become the central threads in a longstanding pointless argument about music- not just Bruckner’s music and how we perform it, but about the creation of new music, and the way we think about and perform older music. It’s at the heart of the century-old arguments about the language of music and the relative merits of tonality, serialism and aesthetics. It’s a driving force between the never-ending arguments between those at the loony ends of the arguments between HIP approaches to texture and performance and traditional ones.
I always think it is incredibly unhelpful when a radio announcer prefaces a broadcast of a Bruckner symphony with reference to his cultish worship of Wagner, his extreme religiosity or his penchant for falling in love with sixteen-year-old girls. Even his devotion to sausages and red cabbage is best left unmentioned. These and other biographical factoids may leave us perturbed or curious, but the whole point of Bruckner’s music is that when we start the Seventh Symphony tonight, the voice that speaks that most magical instrumental expression of “once upon a time” in the entire symphonic repertoire is not the voice of the country fiddler and organist from Linz. Bruckner managed to completely and totally free himself of any need to say “look at me” in his music. The narrator in Bruckner’s music is a witness who doesn’t seek to be witnessed, who understands that the less we focus on who he is, the more directly we can experience the emotional journey he’s taking us on. To perform, or even experience, his music with the sense of honesty, directness and sincerity it requires (and with which it was created) takes a monumental combination of humility and the courage to be vulnerable in our response to it. It’s a huge challenge for anyone, and it’s no wonder that many, if not most of us, fall well short.
A new review from Gavin Dixon at Classical CD Reviews of Bobby and Hans vol. 3. Read the whole thing here
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A short sample:
Technically, the orchestra is on top form; there’s nothing “regional” about their playing. They are also able to combine passion and energy with that technical precision, and the results are always dynamic and engaging.
A new review from critic John Puccio at Classical Candor. Read the whole thing here
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A short excerpt:
“If there was anything that Brahms profoundly detested, it was theorizing. For him, music was a matter of living perception, of living experience; he considered it pointless t to speculate about the conditions of its effect. That concepts such as expression, sincerity, profundity and greatness cannot be measured in music does not alter the fact that they exist.”
Hans Gál, Johannes Brahms, His Work and Personality
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And suddenly it was April…
2013 is shaping up to be the slowest year yet for the blog, but not for lack of good intentions or good ideas. It’s just been, yet again, even busier and wackier than past years- a trend which is getting increasingly daunting as it continues
Looking back, it felt as if from January 2nd, when I returned from a short New Year’s break to a massive stack of scores and cello parts, to March 23rd, it has been one, long, mad dash of intense activity. After all of that, April has shaped up as a busy-but-not-crazy month, a time of transition and preparation for another frighteningly busy run into the summer holidays starting in May.
I wanted to quickly catch up with loyal readers and a quick look at what I’ve been up to, and what’s been on my mind. I think there’s too much to squeeze everything into one post, so I’ll break it up by months.
My first big undertaking of 2013 was a very, very exciting recording project. David Yang, the very multi-talented violist in my string trio (please buy our CD!!!!!), is also a very gifted narrator, and has a long-running “music and storytelling group” called Auricolae, for which he’s commissioned a staggering array of pieces by all sorts of fascinating and diverse composers. Auricolae put out a lovely if not well-promoted album in 2009 or so which I love and which my children love (buy it!), and I was thrilled when David asked me to play on the follow-up, the aptly-title “Auricolae- The Double Album.”
A double album of twelve virtuosic new works for violin and cello, no matter the intended audience, is no small undertaking. On the program were four pieces by David himself- a sort of Klezmer folklore-comedy tetralogy with its own Gotterdammerung-esque payoff. David’s music is solidly folk based (he self-deprecatingly insists he only uses 3 chord progressions. I think he’s being too modest- I count at least 5 over the four works), but incredibly witty and damnably challenging to play.
A modest example of Yangian string writing- to be played at the speed of light on four espressos
On the other extreme are three haunting miniatures by Gerald Levinson- music of extreme sophistication, rarified beauty and profound imagination. Levinson’s music is famously challenging, but, in the end, it was the 2 pages of harmonic glissandi at the end that nearly did us all in. It’s so frustrating to play that you almost would give up on the piece (that passage is about as idiomatic as transporting elephants on unicycles), but the impact for the listener is quite magical. Preparing a piece that requires at least 10 minutes of vigorous hand-washing to get the rosin off your fingers every time you rehearse or practice it is a big ask, but if it’s great music, you wash your hands and get on with it.
The violinist on the project was Diane Pascal, former first violinist of the Lark Quartet, now based in Vienna. We’d never worked together before, but hit it off straight away- we both like to work hard, have a laugh, and prefer to cut to the chase in rehearsal. Having played several of the pieces before with other fantastic violinists, it was interesting doing it with someone completely new- it’s always interesting to realize what bits of the experience are “the piece” and which are “the performance” and one’s understanding of where that line is drawn changes every time you do a piece with someone new. We rehearsed very intensely for four days in Cardiff, then recorded at our producer, Simon Fox’s private studio in Somerset for four days.
In the end, the Levinson proved not to be as hard to record as feared- it’s hard enough to play at all that you have to be so prepared to even start to rehearse it that it no longer ends up being all that hard to play once you know it. Does that make sense? Still, Diane and I were both hugely relieved to say goodbye to those harmonics. I loved learning and recording Jay Reise’s wonderful “The Warrior Violinist,” a heartbreakingly powerful story, with some staggering violin writing that Diane dispatched with truly jaw-dropping virtuosity. That was the first thing we rehearsed together, and when she finished the cadenza that starts the piece, I was, for once, speechless. The ending is one of the saddest things I’ve ever played- never mind that it’s ostensibly for children- I still tear up if I play it back in my head.
David’s pieces were always going to be challenging to record because the idiom is so familiar that everything has to be not only technically solid, but stylistically true, and there is, literally, always at least one nearly impossible run in every piece that takes gazillions of hours practice. As with the harmonics in the Levinson, each time Simon declared one of those licks “covered,” I felt ten years younger.
The Everest of Yang. Actually not too bad at a sane tempo, but once you ramp it up to quarter equals 500, it gets rather tricky
One of the pieces also includes a substantial quotation from one of the Bach Suites. In that case, I sent David and Diane off so I could focus, but it came together in basically one take. It did get me thinking about what it would be like to record solo Bach for real…
Stravinsky said it best- “good composers borrow, great composers steal” How great does that make this? The final episode of the new Chelm Tetralogy by David Yang
Harmonics also proved a nemesis in Andrew Waggoner’s excellent Stravinskian setting of the Emperor’s New Clothes. As with the Levinson, I had to grudgingly admit that they worked musically, but I do confess to believing that the novelty of writing extended passages in harmonics begins with Ravel and ends with the Shostakovich Piano Trio. There’s really nothing new left to do there, folks. Well, until Levinson and Waggoner, I guess. Let’s hope nobody else comes it with more new ways of using harmonics.
On the last day, we recorded my piece (see how I just dropped that in!)- a setting of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. I hadn’t finished a decent-sized piece in at least fifteen years, but having played the Auricolae repertoire for a few years, I was fascinated to take up the challenge, and I also wanted to include a chance for David to display his real talent, which is playing the viola. I thought that the metamorphosis from duckling to swan in the story could be mirrored musically from a metamorphosis from violin to viola, with the viola emerging at the end of the piece as the voice of the swan. Between that original idea and the finished piece, a lot changed, and I’ll have more to say about the piece here when the CD is coming out.
What I do want to say about it all now is how useful the exercise of writing the piece was to me as a performer. Every book on conducting has at least one tip of the hat to the idea that “all conductors should study composition” or “every conductor should try his or her hand at composition,” and, of course, the study of orchestration and analysis, which all good composers pursue, is a core part of every composer’s training. That said, very, very few conductors I know ever compose anything, although many excel at arranging (especially once they realize how crap most pops arrangements really are). In fact, many of the great composers who take up conducting seem to end up paying a price for the time on the podium in reduced productivity as composers. Perhaps all conductors should compose, but most composers should avoid conducting? Many writers have speculated as to whether we’d have a great deal more from both Boulez and Bernstein if they’d not been so successful as conductors. What about Mahler- if he’d been able to give up the day job, would we have Mahler string quartets and maybe an opera to compliment the symphonies? It wasn’t always so- the great conductors of the past were the great composers of the past, and nobody ever accused Mendelssohn, Haydn or Bach of not being prolific enough. Wagner excelled at both according to his own writings. And if Bernstein and Boulez paid a price for conducting too much, was it because they were so extraordinarily good at it? Nobody ever worried that Stravinsky or Copland were conducting so many Brahms cycles that they didn’t have time to write because nobody was that interested to hear their Brahms.
Anyway, this little project gave me a chance to walk the walk- so they say every conductor should compose? Fine, I thought, bring it on- I can compose, I have composed, I shall compose.
I actually started improvising and composing very young, and maybe had a little bit of a spark for it. However, over the years I found that the composition student scene wasn’t for me, and that living the idea that every conductor should compose is harder than it sounds. First of all, even the really, really, really good composers often struggle to find people who really want to play and hear their music until it becomes established. In a busy life, it’s hard to rationalize spending time writing something that you know will attract even less interest than Otto Klemperer’s “97 Pedantic Variations on a Theme of Max Reger.”
I suppose one might think that a conductor is ideally placed to compose- theoretically, since I’m not financially dependent on composing, I can write anything I want, and could, if I wished, make one of my orchestras play it. I did try to write a piece for my orchestra in La Grande as part of my farewell season there, but I just couldn’t do it. I find total freedom to write whatever I like not-at-all empowering. It’s like being dropped down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean- all you can see is waves, but you know in exactly one direction, you could swim to shore in five minutes, but any other course would leave you lost forever in open waters. “Swim any way you like,” they say? No thanks! For me, the remit of an Auricolae piece- a story, an instrumentation, a known narrator and a duration- were incredibly freeing.
I think one often loses the playful freedom in creativity that I believe we’re all born with not because of an erosion of our capacity to create, but because our accumulation of knowledge leaves us too intimidated to allow ourselves the freedom to create to our own level. My recent experiments in writing always ended in frustration and humiliation, as I gave in to the voice that kept comparing my scribblings to “real” music- if, as a conductor, you set down your score of Mahler 6 and then try to write a five-minute piano piece, it’s all but impossible not to think you’re completely wasting your time and the paper you’re writing on. And the oxygen you are breathing. That voice can be useful if it pushes you to write better, but not if it stops you writing altogether- it always stopped me.
In that sense, the fact that I had a deadline and a recording planned was extremely liberating, and kept me on track through a number of brick walls. Creativity is a complicated process, but in the end, we’re social animals, and sometimes the rather shallow desire to avoid humiliation and disappointing one’s colleagues overrides concerns that seem stronger on the surface, like an a strong sense of being an imposter. I didn’t want to admit to everyone that I couldn’t finish Duckling, so I finished it.
So, to the axiom “all conductors should compose” I would amend: “should compse complete pieces.” It’s healthy and fun and interesting to play at composing, to improvise at the piano, to sketch and start things, but writing a complete piece, from beginning to end, is infinitely harder. After such a long break, I had several days where I just felt that I no longer had the energy or the skill to find a way through a problematic passage. Brahms said that ideas were a gift, but pieces are the result of hard, hard work, and it’s true. Composing anything decent is incredibly hard work- composers should get way more hugs and free beer than they do. If you don’t put yourself through that every once in a while, you forget what it’s like. You forget getting to that point where you want to light the piano on fire, and your brain feels pulverized, blank and dead, but you also forget how sometimes the solution just comes out of the blue the next day- as if all night in your sleep, the brain was quietly computing the equation of how to get from this idea to that one. Other solutions take longer- in some instances there were days and days of trying and failing before finally cracking it. And all of this struggle was just for a silly children’s piece. All conductors should compose. How dare we take charge of a symphony or an opera if we can’t even write a short work?
And of course, the end of the process, when I went back to what I do for a living, was rich with irony- here I was a professional cellist and conductor who had been playing at being a composer. At least I would know how to write for strings, I thought. And when I first read through it? I couldn’t play it! Shit. Too many fifths, some impossibly tricky runs, but at least I’d avoided writing whole pages of harmonics. It is irritating that one has to practice music one has written- you would think that having created it would get you some kind of pass, but no, apparently not.
In the end, Duckling was one of the two pieces we recorded on the last day of this amazing project- it had turned out to be the longest of the 12 works, and the inclusion of the viola meant it needed a different mic setup, so it made most sense to record either at the beginning or end of a day when it would cause minimum disruption to the continuity of the disc.
David had been amazing to watch throughout the week doing all the different accents and voices- I wish we’d filmed him. It was also incredibly interesting to see how Simon got him to use the mic as an instrument, making him speak up to the ceiling, straight on, to the left or down to the floor- all in the context of a live performance of often very complicated music. By the time he got out his viola and sat down to play, I’d almost forgotten that 95% of what I’ve done with him as a colleague is as a violist, and after days of the slender textures of only violin and cello (think Ravel and Kodaly Duos with a bit of jabbering on top), the sudden arrival of a string trio texture felt positively symphonic.
All in all, a big and hugely exciting project- and I haven’t even had time to mention several other remarkable works in that daunting stack of 12 scores. When was the last time you came across an album of contemporary music that could be enjoyed equally by hard core new music geeks, New Yorker-reading/latte-sipping culture snobs, and three-year-olds? I hope it sells 10 million copies.
The rest of January was focused on two other projects- first was the editing and mastering of the third volume of Bobby and Hans, a task that spilled over into February. I think the ins and outs of how a recording session becomes a record is something to talk about in a blog post all its own. Then, at the end of the month, came an SMP gig that culminated in Bruckner 2. During the intermission for that concert, I wrote a short poem about Bruckner and the trombone- I hadn’t finished a poem in many years, but this one has turned out to be the most popular post in the history of the blog (it took 8 minutes to write and got 1000 times more hits than this post will ever get). Who knew that poetry was so in? There’s even talk about reprinting it in The Bruckner Journal, pending discussion on the editorial board over whether they’re ready to publish the word “fuck” in a scholarly journal.
Perhaps the moral of the story is that conductors should compose, and write poetry.
Anything else? Fix cars? Juggle? Bungee jump? Smash atoms?
Suzanne and I spent our New Year’s getaway in Hay on Wye, land of lovely bookstores, where I found myself haunted by waterfowl
"Berkeley Rep scrutinized InstantEncore and the competition. We opted for IE and have no regrets. Designing our mobile site and app was affordable, collaborative, and on-time. We launched both, and we love them. We can’t wait to see what they do for the Theatre."