Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cultura SIN Límites, May 3, 2016 - POSTPONED

The event that had been scheduled for May 3, 2016, Culture with NO Limits, has been postponed.  It will take place on June 7 at 7:00 PM at the same location (The Spanish Benevolent Society, La Nacional, 239 West 14th St., Manhattan, New York City).  My apologies to everyone for the inconvenience.

I didn't know, two years ago, when I posted about the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach, what kind of adventure would follow.  I've discovered a rich collection of beautiful music, in which every page begs not only to be read, but repeated, savored, treasured.  This coming Tuesday evening, March 3, 2016, I'll be continuing that exploration, by playing C.P.E. Bach's Sonata in D Minor, W. 6/15.  Not all of his music works on a five-octave keyboard, but this piece certainly does.

For those unfamiliar, Culture with NO Limits has been a place to cross boundaries.  Previous events have included readings in Spanish, French, Portugese, English, and Esperanto, and songs in Spanish, Basque, Esperanto, Azerbaijani and Bengali.  This event will extend the tradition.

Friday, October 30, 2015

In Memoriam Gerald Ranck (1941-2015)

Gerald Ranck was the Music Director of the New York Society for Ethical Culture for almost 30 years.  He passed away in April, and was a kind mentor and dear friend.

This post celebrates a few of the many wonderful things about his life.

Foremost, of course, he was a harpsichordist and pianist.  He studied piano with Joseph Echaniz at the Eastman School of Music, and harpsichord with Sylvia Marlowe at the Mannes College of Music.

Gerry was a Scarlatti expert, and performed many concerts of his music.  He was also well-known for his Bach; here's the New York Times announcement of his performance of the Goldberg Variations at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Here are some YouTube videos of his playing:
Henry Purcell: Four Harpsichord Pieces: Z 655, ZT 682, Z 656, ZT 688

Farewell performance at the Society for Ethical Culture

J.S. Bach: Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord (with Laurel Zucker, flute, and Samuel Magill, cello)
Sonata in B Minor, BWV 1030

Sonata in E-Flat Major BWV 1031,
Sonata in C Major BWV 1033
Sonata in E Minor BWV 1034

J.S. Bach: Sonata in B Minor for Flute and Harpsichord, BWV 1030 (with Daniel Waitzman, flute)

G. F. Handel: Adagio, Op. 2, No. 3 in F (with Evan Johnson, violin, and Steven Machamer, vibraphone)

Georg Philipp Telemann: Die Kleine Kammermusik, Partita No. 2 in G Major (with Humbert Lucarelli, oboe, and Alan Brown, bassoon)

Daniel Waitzman: Sonata for Viola and Pianoforte or Harpsichord from 2008 (with Louise Schulman, viola)

At the Society for Ethical Culture, Gerry was known as much for his talks as for his playing; here are three examples:
"Tribute to our Progressive Conservationist President"
(about Theodore Roosevelt)
"Gun Violence in the Wake of Newtown"
"Clarence Darrow: Ethics, the Law, and Monkeys"

Farewell, dear friend. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Looking back, looking ahead

Happy New Year!

2014 was a busy year.  A set of short pieces for euphonium and piano, a piece for five saxophones ("Que un inmortal amor todo lo puede"), and some short pieces for high school string and wind ensembles constituted the main fruits of the compositional activity; a piece for saxophone quartet and saxophone choir is still in progress.

2014 was the year I met Juan Navidad.  We've already collaborated on two events; another is planned for January 21, 2015 at Centro Español.  For these events, I've written four piano pieces, re-purposed two of them for violin and recording, and written a third for violin and recording.  El Reloj de la Impaciencia ("The Clock of Impatience") is one of the pieces that exists both for piano and violin; here is a recording of the keyboard version.

2014 was the year of the 300th anniversary of CPE Bach's birth.  I provided links to online resources about him, in the hopes of stimulating interest.  I learned and performed a number of his works this year.  Here's a recording of one of them on SoundCloud.

2014 was the year of Alones Together, a concert devoted entirely to solo works for saxophone, cello, and piano.  Here's a YouTube link to Javier Oviedo's performance of a sonata for unaccompanied tenor saxophone.

2014 was a year of a considerable amount of home recording.  Here's where you can hear some of it.

2014 was the year of WikiConference USA.  I'm still digesting things I learned there.  One question I'm currently struggling with is how the various wiki-projects can benefit music education.  There is a lot of potential, but right now only a small fraction is being utilized.  Another struggle is the exponential distribution of languages along the content curve.  A few languages have lots of content, but many more have relatively little.  There's not much hope of evening things out, though there is work being done on the problem.

So what's ahead for 2015?

I already mentioned the event on January 21, which will include readings, music, and artwork.  There should be at least one new piece for that; stay tuned.  I'm enthusiastic about the combination of music and poetry, and looking forward to many more events that combine the two.

A concert is planned for Goshen, Indiana, probably sometime in June.  This will take place at Evergreen Place, on the Greencroft campus, and will include chamber music as well as some of the new piano pieces.

Again, Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mistakes and Disputed Points in Music

Mistakes and Disputed Points in Music, by Louis C. Elson, was published in 1910.  I've written before about my liking for old music books, and this is another fascinating find.  It's not a long book, but Elson manages to cover a large amount of territory, from acoustics, through orchestration, conducting, teaching, notation, tempo and rhythm, language and pronunciation, history, form, and several other matters, including a discussion of musical mistakes in literary works of various kinds.

The main thrill with a book like this is realizing that it came out in the same year Samuel Barber was born.  Charles Ives was living in New York, selling life insurance, playing the organ, and writing his Fourth Symphony (among other things).  Mahler was conducting in New York; 1910 was the year his Eighth Symphony premiered in Munich, and he died after returning to Europe the following year.  Amy Beach was at the height of her powers, soon to embark on a three-year European tour.  Arnold Schoenberg wrote Harmonielehre that year.  I doubt this book was on the bookshelves of any of them, but it certainly might have been bought by people who heard them.

Another source of interest is comparing the recommendations to more modern practice.  Some of the advice is still good.  Elson recommends using an up-to-date orchestration text, which is wise, though of course "up-to-date" for him meant Strauss's expansion of Berlioz.  He also suggests that composers mark accidentals if there's any possibility of a question, regardless of whether it would technically be required; still a good idea.  But piano pedal markings have changed considerably since those days, and understanding of 18th-century signs for ornaments has undergone revision.

Elson talks about the supposed emotional characteristics of various keys, pointing out that, since the standard pitch has risen, the keys whose characteristics Berlioz listed wouldn't be the same in Elson's day, when the standard pitch was 435 Hz.  The argument has become even stronger since that time, as the standard pitch has risen still further.  But Elson doesn't seem aware of the Doctrine of the Affections that preceded Berlioz, though he does quote a 1724 music dictionary (which he doesn't name) regarding tempo markings.
But there's much more here than musical technicalities.  There's an anecdote about a test made with three cornets, one of silver, one of brass, and one of papier mache, which showed that it wasn't possible for a blindfolded listener to tell, from the sound, what material the cornet being played was made from.  Elson puts an end to the myth that composers are generally short-lived, though he only mentions one composer who lived into his 80's (Verdi).  He deals at some length with a novel, "La Vieillesse de Guillaume Du Fay", which appeared in a Paris magazine as early as 1837, and purports to tell the story of the discovery of counterpoint.  The author plays fast and loose with history, but the story sounds interesting anyhow.

I'd never heard of Ouida before I read Elson's book; now I've read about the musical mistakes in some of her novels.  You didn't know that Palestrina wrote "airs", or that Mendelssohn wrote masses?  In her books, apparently, they did.  Another author has a character play a Sonata in A-sharp major by Mozart.

This is a section that would be fascinating to update, though it might have to become an encyclopedia.  Thinking only of fantasy and SF novels I'm familiar with that deal with music brings up a long list; if other novels that were written since 1910 were included, to say nothing of poems and short stories, I'm guessing it would be a nearly impossible job even to read them all, let alone discuss them.  Elson, of course, doesn't pretend to be exhaustive; he only mentions a few of the more notable instances of literary license that had come to his attention.

Louis C. Elson was professor of Music Theory at the New England Conservatory, and wrote several other books, including a music dictionary.  Right now that's all I know about him, but as this book shows, he had quite an amazing mind.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Reading/Performance at Centro Español/La Nacional

Before the memory fades too much, I'd like to write a few words about the reading/performance with Juan Navidad last Tuesday, December 2, at Centro Español in New York City.  This came about on very short notice; the space had become available a bit less than a week before.

There is currently no piano in the space.  While I do have a traveling keyboard I sometimes use for situations like these, I had other obligations earlier in the day that would have made it difficult to lug a keyboard, stand, and other assorted equipment all over the city.  So I decided, instead, to arrange two of the pieces for violin and backing track, and write a third piece to go along with them.  The results turned out well.  The performance was not recorded, unfortunately, but subsequent ones surely will be.  Playing violin in front of people again felt really good!

El Timón de la Suerte ("The Rudder of Fate") works very well on the violin; better, in fact, than on the piano.  While the middle section still needs a bit of tinkering, the outer sections definitely came across very well during this performance.  I was worried about El Reloj de la Impaciencia ("The Clock of Impatience"), but after some serious wood-shedding it turned out much better than expected.  It's still basically a piano piece, but the violin version is worthwhile.

The third piece of the evening was Diamante Crudo ("Rough diamond").  The sentence points out that every diamond starts as an ugly piece of rock, and the music begins with a rather ungainly set of pitches and rhythms, which are gradually refined into something beautiful.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was hearing Juan talk about his experiences.  He became a writer because he was upset at the misinformation he found in the popular children's books he grew up with.  Real life stood (and stands) at a respectable distance from the way things were portrayed in those fictional universes!  Juan spoke about his passion for encouraging people to pursue their dreams, and, where possible, putting tools into their hands to allow them to do so.

We'll be in the same space again on January 21, so mark your calendar!  My current plan is to play violin, have a few more pieces to perform, and get at least some of it recorded.  We'll see how things develop.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Juan Navidad and the latest news

When I walked into the Hispanic Latino Book Fair a month or so ago, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I heard some worthwhile talks, and walked out with more books than I originally planned, but more importantly, I made the acquaintance of Juan Navidad.

Juan is, in a word, amazing.  He's a poet, writer, and publisher (more informative page in Spanish here), and he's constantly promoting both his own work and that of the writers he publishes.  He's constantly exploring new possibilities, and when we started discussing ways to work together, it didn't take long to come up with ideas.  Collaboration is his mission in life,

He just brought out a book of his own, Frases para crecer en positivo, and for a reading on Saturday, Nov. 21 at the Church of the Mediator in the Bronx, I created a set of four short pieces inspired by his work.  El delantero del fin de semana (The Weekend Forward) takes off from a sentence about how, when we practice a sport, we are grateful for healthy bodies and the time to enjoy them; El timón de la suerte (The rudder of fate) was inspired by a statement that that rudder is held, not only by the Goddess Fortune, but by each one of us.  An observation about clocks and impatience motivated El reloj de la impaciencia (The Clock of Impatience), which is about a ticking clock as processed through a brain that keeps wishing it would go faster, and Intencion y fuerza (Intention and Force) derives from a statement that those two things are what we need to be happy: clear intentions, and the strength to bring them to reality.

I'm hoping to get recordings up soon, and there will be another similar event next week, on Tuesday, December 2, at Centro Español, on 14th St. in Manhattan, at 7 PM.  The music this time will be violin with (likely) backing tracks, and I will be the violinist.  El timón de la suerte and maybe El reloj de la impaciencia will be arranged for the occasion, but there will be some newer material as well.

For those who prefer a bit more advance notice, there will be another event at Centro Español on January 21, 2015, which will include a showing of artworks.  More news as it happens!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Updates, and lessons from home recording

It's been a long time since I've posted, so here's an update on some of what's happened and what's going on right now.

It's been a fairly busy year so far, including the premiere of some of a set of ten new pieces I wrote for euphonium and piano, as well as two concerts (one in White Plains, New York and the other in Goshen, Indiana) celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.  I performed at a benefit for the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization, and at the first-ever Azerbaijani Novruz celebration in Philadelphia.

Another thing I've been working on is recording.  This is a fairly unambitious undertaking; the music will include at least two sonatas by C.P.E. Bach, as well as some J.S. Bach, and maybe a few other things according to taste and whim.  It springs naturally out of the home recording I've been doing for many years.  Recording and listening to myself have been two of my most powerful tools to keep growing musically, and from there it's a simple matter of asking two questions: what would make this worth sharing, and how do I get there?

One of the first things musicians learn after starting to make recordings is just how bad they sound.  The microphone (or its digital equivalent) is pretty unforgiving.  Mistakes and problems that you could sort of ignore while you were playing suddenly stand out and become unbearable.  One of the first questions you'll have is how to improve the situation, and the first and best answer is, improve your playing.

Another early lesson is that it's necessary to be really detail-oriented.  How, exactly, will that ornament be played?  Where are the dynamic changes?  How loud, and how soft?  The more you know, and the better you know it, the higher the odds that, when you are performing, it will come out as intended.

Which leads to another question, with its attendant lesson: when is it time to stop?  It's possible to work on a recording forever, honing smaller and smaller details, and never quite attaining that magical state of perfection where it's time to stop and release the results.  In normal studio recording, of course, the budget, and a good producer, will put strict limits on the amount of reworking that can be done.  It's always possible to find something wrong with a performance or a recording, and even more so when using a digital keyboard for Baroque and pre-Classical music.  A digital keyboard is not a piano (organ, clavichord, harpsichord, etc.), and while it can have worthwhile qualities of its own, it can never satisfy someone who expects to hear an acoustic instrument.

So the question is, when is it good enough?  When does it fairly represent what I can do right now?  And perhaps most importantly, when is it time to release this, and apply the lessons learned to the next project?

Because there will be next projects, and other recordings, and my most important reason for undertaking this one is to improve those.