News includes Supreme Court Decisions On DOMA And Voting Rights Act; Obama Release Climate Plan; Obama Climate Plan Endorses Fracking; Obama Will Only OK Keystone If It Won’t Significantly Increase CO2; Republicans Say Obama’s Plan Is A War On America; 1 In 4 Rush Hour Vehicles In London Is A Bicycle. Happenings include Friday Night Fair; Open Mic At Gaia House; Farmer’s Market.
We began the evening with Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi. This opera is based on a libretto by Felice Romani, who used the same source material that William Shakespeare used for Romeo and Juliet, and was written for the 1830 Carnival season in Venice. Bellini was only given a month and a half to compose the opera, which he accomplished in part because he recycled music from a previously unsuccessful opera of his, Zaira.
It is considered one of the finest examples of the bel canto singing style, of which Bellini (along with Gaetano Donizetti) was an early master. Tonight’s recording was made in 1975, and features Janet Baker in the trouser role of Romeo, Beverly Sills (who was instrumental in the revival of the art of bel canto singing, along with Dame Joan Sutherland) as Juliet, along with Robert Lloyd, Nicolai Gedda, and Raimund Herincx. Giuseppe Patane leads the New Philharmonia Orchestra and the John Aldis Choir.
Our second piece tonight is a piece by Sergei Prokofiev. Betrothal in a Monastery is a comedy (and quite an interesting musical comedy at that, with a distinct sense of musical whimsy that reminds one of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale) that Prokofiev began in 1940. Prokofiev used a Russian libretto written by himself in collaboration with Mira Mendelson, whom he later married. The work was interrupted by World War II, and was not premiered until November of 1946 at the Kirov Theater.
Tonight’s recording is from 1998, and features Anna Netrebko in one of her early starring roles, along with Evgeny Akimov, Larissa Diadkova, Alexander Gergalov, Nikolai Gassiev, Marianna Tarassova, and Sergey Aleksashkin. Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra & Chorus is directed by Valery Gergiev.
We started the evening with some Living Colour. They were a big inspiration to me back in the day, with their innate musicianship and difficult arrangements. Their music eventually helped me formulate the musical philosophy that would eventually come to guide The Galaxy. We heard:
- Time’s Up (from Time’s Up, 1990)
- Desperate People (from Vivid, 1988)
- Information Overload (from Time’s Up, 1990)
- Cult of Personality (from Vivid, 1988)
Given the lunar activity that we’ve been enjoying the last few days, I figured that it might be appropriate, in a dark sort of way, to celebrate the occasion with Pink Floyd’s classic The Dark Side of the Moon, from 1972. As I see this legendary album as being best heard as a contiguous whole, we heard the entire album, from start to finish:
- Speak to Me
- On The Run
- The Great Gig in the Sky
- Us and Them
- Any Colour You Like
- Brain Damage
The next set is comprised of another single album played in its entirety, this time by the great jazz composer and bassist, Charles Mingus. Mingus wrote and recorded The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady at a crucial time in his musical career. He had just switched recording labels, from Atlantic to Impulse!, and he was feeling a burst of artistic freedom like nothing he had ever felt previously. As he himself stated in the album’s liner notes:
I feel no need to explain any further the music herewith other than to say throw all other records of mine away except maybe one other. In intend to record it all over again on this label the way it was intended to sound. This is the first time the compaly I have recorded with set out to help me give you, my audience, a clear picture of my musical ideas without that studio rush feeling. Impulse went to great expense and patience to give me complete freedom…”
The result was, for 1963, relatively unprecedented in the jazz world. By this point we were seeing avant garde excursions coming from players like Ornette Coleman (whom we heard last week) and Eric Dolphy (an occasional Mingus collaborator), and John Coltrane was getting deeper into his compositions. We also had some rather lovely big band work from established bandleaders like Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. But Mingus saw a world where elements of the avant garde could intersect with composed and arranged music. Like Duke Ellington (with whom Mingus had worked, and of whom Mingus was a great admirer), Mingus wanted to write music with an expanded palette of sounds and colors, and with this album he was finally able to achieve just that. His band consisted of the following:
- Rolf Ericson, Richard Williams – trumpet
- Quentin Jackson, trombone
- Don Butterfield, tuba
- Jerome Richardson, soprano and baritone saxes, flute
- Dick Hafer, tenor sax and flute
- Charlie Mariano, alto sax
- Jaki Byard, piano
- Jay Berliner, guitar
- Mingus, bass, and piano in several places
- Dannie Richmond, drums
The album, conceived as a single piece and written partially as a ballet, was broken into 4 tracks that actually comprise six different movements:
- Track A – Solo Dancer, subtitled “Stop! Look! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney!”
- Track B – Duet Solo Dancers, subtitled “Hearts Beat and Shades in Physical Embraces”
- Track C – Group Dancers, subtitled “(Soul Fusion) Freewoman and Oh, This Freedom’s Slave Cries”
- Mode D – Trio and Group Dancer, subtitled “Stop! Look! and Sing Songs of Revolutions!”;
- Mode E – Single Solos and Group Dance, subtitled “Saint and Sinner Join in Merriment on Battle Front”;
- Mode F – Group and Solo Dance, subtitled “Of Love, Pain and Passioned Revolt, then Farewell, My Beloved, ’til It’s Freedom Day”
Of course, the elaborate titles and subtitles are in keeping with Mingus’ long-established tradition of elaborately detailed song-titles, which he would continue over the following years. Many critics consider this one of Mingus’ greatest albums, and some mark this as one of the great albums in jazz history. Yet this also serves as a milepost for the sort of work that Mingus would engage in over the course of the following decade, which in my mind culminates with Let My Children Hear Music, in which Mingus used a big band augmented with a number of interesting instruments (from french horns to full string bass sections). In those liner notes, Mingus spoke of his desire to “build tall buildings” in jazz. That construction work actually started here.
For our final recording of the show, we heard a set of three pieces by Frederic Chopin:
- Etude, Op. 10, No. 10 in A-flat
- Etude, Op. 10, No. 12 in C-Minor, subtitled “Revolutionary”
- Mazurka in C., Op. 24, No. 2
These come from a limited edition pressing of some rediscovered live recordings by the legendary Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, from his noted and memorable American tour, recorded on December 28, 1960. As a resident of the Soviet Union, the Soviets had restricted his travel (like they did with many of their artists during the Cold War), and the numbers of his recordings available in the West were limited for the longest time, and those that existed were not always of the greatest quality. But he was allowed to do a brief American tour in 1960, as part of a cultural exchange, and this culminated in this performance. At one point there were bits and pieces from this concert that were released by Columbia in Japan, but the circulation was limited in Japan, owing in part to Richter’s own dissatisfaction with the recordings, which were done in mono. Richter did approve of recordings done at concerts on 12/26 and 12/28, which were released by RCA. This batch represents a remastering of the RCA recording, with the addition of additional material from that concert that was not originally released. Unfortunately, it appears that the package is out of print, something I find to be sad, as it is good to remember this great talent.
Check out the live Spintron playlist!
Happy Solstice! News includes Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair Comes To Central Wisconsin; Thousands of Radio Stations Up For Grabs; China Warns It Will Execute Serious Polluters; Trees Save Lives In 10 Major U.S. Cities; Obama Climate Strategy Coming Soon; Coal Foes Suffer Setbacks In Fight Against Exports; Keystone XL Won’t Use State Of The Art Spill Tech; Indianapolis To Get Nation’s Largest EV Sharing Program; Cities Adapt To Climate Reality. Happenings include Open Mic Night At Gaia House; Friday Night Fair; Carbondale Farmer’s Market; Carbondale Community Farmers Market; Brown Bag Concert And Lunch Series.
Israel in Egypt (HWV 54) is a biblical oratorio by the composer George Frideric Handel. Many historians believe the libretto was compiled by Handel’s collaborator Charles Jennens, and it is composed entirely of selected passages from the Hebrew Bible, mainly from Exodus and the Psalms. Handel premiered it in April of 1739, one of a series of works that began with Alexander’s Feast in 1736, and which culminated in 1742’s Messiah. Israel in Egypt came at a transition point for Handel, as the oratorios were so generally successful that he was using more choral parts and less soloists, with Part 1 of Israel in Egypt consisting entirely of choral parts. Handel later moderated this practice, and he later made a revised version of Israel in Egypt in 1756, balancing the choral parts with solo parts, similar to what he had done with Messiah. Tonight’s recording gives the listener both options, but we shall hear the original version, as Handel premiered it in 1739. The recording is a truly excellent one, one of the 2013 Grammy nominees for Best Choral Recording (a well deserved nomination). The Trinity Wall Street Church Choir and Orchestra are conducted by Julian Wachner.
Aida, one of Giuseppe Verdi‘s truly great works, was commissioned by an Ottoman governor of Egypt, and as such is set in Egypt during the Old Kingdom, and was premiered in Cairo, Egypt, in 1871. Verdi did not write an overture for the opera, so it just dives right into the action. It ranks as the 13th most performed opera worldwide, with more than 1,100 performances at the Met. It was the first opera to be televised, has been made into several motion pictures, and the story was used as the basis for a musical by Elton John and Tim Rice.
Tonight’s recording is a 1962 recording, featuring Leontyne Price, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, Franco Riccardi. Sir Georg Solti conducts the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro del’Opera di Roma. The recording is not without some controversy, as some think that Solti was too bombastic with how he handled the orchestra, and that he took the opera into Wagnerian territory. This is fairly natural, as Aida is probably the closest that Verdi came to Wagnerian proportions. But many will argue that this may be one of the best Aida recordings available.
Our last piece this evening is a choral piece from the Danish composer Ugis Praulins. The Nightingale is a 2010 composition that is based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. It was nominated for two 2013 Grammy Awards, for Best Choral Recording and for Best Contemporary Composition. Michala Petri performs on recorder, with Stephen Layton leading the Danish National Vocal Ensemble.
Historically, it is nights like tonight that I probably enjoy the most. Nights when I find myself, for whatever reason (mood, inspiration, external events, pure happenstance), pushing the boundaries of my usual playlists and finding the more interesting, exotic material. Over the course of the two hours of tonight’s show, I found myself wearing a perpetual smile, whilst sitting back and luxuriating in the moments of pure sound that filled the air this evening.
We started off with a recent recording by the great sitar master, Ravi Shankar. This Raga Khamaj, from The Living Room Sessions Part 1 (there is also a Part 2 which was released last month), issued by Shankar’s private label East Meets West Music, is an absolutely serene, graceful piece of music. Of course, given the skill of Ravi Shankar, even as he was well into his 90s, this is no surprise. One doesn’t have to be Hindu to enjoy the meditative properties of his music – which is just as he had intended. I am looking forward to hearing Part 2.
We then heard some selections from a rather interesting disc that I stumbled upon last week. eighth blackbird (purposefully spelled in lowercase) is a Grammy-winning sextet from Chicago that specializes in new music by forward-looking composers. From their 2012 album Meanwhile, we heard:
- Still Live With Avalanche, composed by Missy Mazzoli.
- …à mesure, by Philippe Heurel
- Meanwhile: Incidental music to imaginary puppet plays, by Stephen Hartke – A piece in 6 movements, commissioned for eighth blackbird by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University.
As I am frequently given to enjoying wide musical contrasts, I followed this avant garde with some polka. Not just any polka, but a performer long referred to a “The Polka King”. Frankie Yankovic, from Cleveland, was a noted practitioner of the “Slovenian style” of polka. He recorded over 200 polka recordings, and won the first ever Polka Grammy in 1986. His stature was such that Weird Al Yankovic (no relation) played as a sideman on one of his last records (Weird Al is said to have stated that his parents had him learn accordion because “there should be at least one more accordion-playing Yankovic in the world”). Yankovic died in 1998, aged 83. From Frankie Yankovic and his Yanks, we heard Blue Skirt Waltz, Who Stole The Keeshka (a really fun song!), Hoop-Dee-Doo and Milwaukee Polka.
Of course, as I am given to wide degrees of contrast in my musical selections, we threw the gearshift into high gear with Free Jazz, A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet. The double quartet is just as it sounds – two quartets playing side-by-side, using the stereophonic effect (a new thing in 1960) to help clarify the music. From one side you hear the combo of Ornette Coleman (alto sax), Don Cherry (pocket trumpet), Scott La Faro (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums), while on the other side you hear Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Charlie Haden (bass), and Ed Blackwell (drums). While the concept of two quartets playing simultaneously sounds chaotic, the experience is something different. Upon a proper listen, one may find oneself redefining the term “musical chaos”, because this wasn’t chaos.
News includes How Fracking Companies Exploit Amish Farmers; Colorado Burning As Climate Change Extends Wildfire Season; Climate Change Could Increase Areas At Risk Of Flood By 45 Percent; How The World Can Get On Track With Climate Goals; Yes Men Get Away With Chamber Of Commerce Prank; Bike Parking System Sucks Your Ride Into Depths Of Earth. Happenings include Friday Night Fair; Open Mic At Gaia House; Carbondale Farmer’s Market; Carbondale Community Farmers Market; Brown Bag Concert And Lunch Series.