Clearly, I'm not listening (and playing) enough.
My instrument is the piano. Nothing else works so well alone. But, four-handed piano is huge fun, and there are many lovely piano-string duets.
I don't have a favorite composer. If pressed hard enough, I'd say
"Mozart, Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov".
Santa Barbara Symphony, Nir Kabaretti conducting, performed four pieces—three Spanish and one French—with Pablo Sáinz Villegas as soloist on the guitar in two of the Spanish pieces, as well as in three encores, 19 Nov., 2017.
De Falla's El Amor Brujo is fun and exciting, and was well performed. A powerful, slightly over-the-top performance by Cziffra György of the piano version of the Ritual Dance of Fire can be found here.
Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra: I fell in love with this piece as a teenager. It is impossible not to be moved by the incredible melancholy of the middle movement. For those who are unfamiliar with the piece, a fine performance by Pepe Romero can be found here.
The Concierto de Aranjuez did not provide much scope for Villegas to demonstrate his virtuosic ability. This was remedied in the first encore, the Gran Jota de Concierto by Tárrega. A recording of Villegas playing this piece can be found here.
Bizet's Suite No. 2 from the Incidental Music to Alphonse Daudet's Play L'Arlesienne features a lovely harp-flute duet in the Minuet and a rousing finale. I'm not mad about this piece, perhaps because it doesn't seem to hang together as a coherent whole.
Russ, Selections from Souvenirs of Spain from Themes of Isaac Albéniz for Guitar and Orchestra, was a premier of an arrangement by Patrick Russ. This arrangement, although at times clever, submerged and altered Albéniz' wonderful melodies beyond recognition. Villegas gets as much sound out of the guitar as humanly possible without destroying the instrument, but was nevertheless at times overwhelmed by the orchestra.
The second encore was Astor Piazzolla's Libertango, arranged for guitar and orchestra, a piece pulsating with the sexuality that one would expect from an Argentinian tango. A masterful guitar performance with some video legerdemain can be found here.
The third and final encore was the unforgettable Asturias (Leyenda) by Albéniz. A recording by John Williams—the absolute master of the guitar—can be found here.
Chicago Symphony, Riccardo Muti conducting, performed the Schubert Symphony No. 8 in B-minor ("Unfinished"), Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A Major, and Robert Schumann Symphony N. 2 in C Major, 21 Oct., 2017.
The program notes for the Schubert symphony begin as follows:
We don't know why Schubert never finished his B-Minor symphony. This has been one of music's great unanswered questions for more than a hundred years, and, despite some intelligent speculation, we still come up empty-handed today. At least we know that he didn't finish it. For many years, music lovers persisted in believing that the missing movements sat, forgotten, in some Viennese attic. On the other hand, scholars no longer suggest that Schubert intended to write a two-movement sympony, giving the composer credit for a bold stroke that, for all his daring, is [sic] not his.
Perhaps because I have no training in composition, this piece sounds perfectly finished, regardless of the number of movements. It is always a delight to listen to it, especially when played so well.
It is impossible not to enjoy and be touched by a fine performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. Muti reigned in the orchestra just enough to prevent it from overpowering the delicate sound of the soloist, Stephen Williamson.
My wife and I should have left during the intermission, because Schumann's Symphony No. 2 is Teutonic, Wagnerian, and frankly, boring.
Overall, this was a strong performance. (When the Santa Barbara Symphony performs, I often have the feeling that they needed a few more rehearsals, but I had no such feeling tonight). But, my rating reflects not only the quality of the playing, but also the selection of pieces, hence the four stars.
Santa Barbara Symphony, Nir Kabaretti conducting, performed 14 Oct., 2017. This all-Mozart program, entitled Mozart in Dance, consisted of the "Jupiter" Symphony and the Requiem, with the Requiem including a novel dance accompaniment choreographed by William Soleau. The musical part of the program was quite solid, and I particularly enjoyed the Jupiter, despite having heard it so many times. At least for me, the dancing (by the State Street Ballet), although expertly done, detracted from the music. The dance movements were overly repetitious and lacked any obvious connection to the music and lyrics, even including a romantic interlude that contrasted sharply with the theme. I don't know whether the Requiem could be interpreted in dance in a way that would enhance the music, but this interpretation certainly did not work for me.
Note: My rating of this performance (see below) does not reflect the (as always) outstanding pre-performance “Behind the Music” talk by Saïd Ramon Araïza. Ramon knows more about the history of music than anyone whom I can think of (with the sole exception of Prof. Robert Greenberg), and at the same time manages to be wonderfully engaging and entertaining. I've been agitating for the last two years for the Santa Barbara Symphony to record these lectures, and was informed by Kevin Marvin (Executive Director of the Symphony) prior to this performance that recording of these lectures has begun, initially with audio only (which, as far as I'm concerned, is completely adequate).
(1) It seems as though there are no post-1950 composers of orchestral music on the same level as the great composers of 1650-1950. Is this a misperception? If so, whom would you rank on a par with Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, and so on? If not, what is the explanation? Is it that composers are simply following the money, which is no longer in orchestral composition, or is there something more fundamental going on?
(2) Why did Homo sapiens develop the ability to produce, recognize, and enjoy music? This is probably not a well-posed question, so let me rephrase it: What survival advantage does musical ability confer? A few tentative explanations—some more compelling than others—can be found here.
(3) Why does major music tend to sound happier than minor music, and to what extent is this phenomenon independent of culture?
Last update: 25 Nov., 2017