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Johann Sebastian Bach

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


My Classical Notes

January 5

Music for Harpsichord Lovers

My Classical NotesIf you love the music of the Harpsichord, perhaps this might be of interest? Title of the CD is “The Ord-Tempered Harpsichord” The selections on this CD are as follows: Bach, J C: Minuet in B flat major, played by Kenneth Mobbs Cimarosa: Keyboard Sonata in G Minor, C.61 Keyboard Sonata in B Flat Major, C.27 Keyboard Sonata in A major, R.29 Farnaby, G: Giles Farnaby’s Dreame His Rest His Humour Handel: Voluntary No. 1 in C major Voluntary No. 4 in G minor Voluntary No. 8 in C major Scarlatti, D: Keyboard Sonata K274 in F major Keyboard Sonata K254 in C minor Stanley, J: Voluntary Op. 5 No. 1 in C major Voluntary Op. 5 No. 4 in E minor Voluntary Op. 5 No. 9 in G minor Tisdale: Pavana Chromatica (Mrs. Katherin Tregians Paven) Performed by Mark Swinton, on a Longman & Broderip Harpsichord, 1978) Here is music from this CD:

The Well-Tempered Ear

January 14

Classical music: Newspapers and media continue to cut back on arts writers and critics. What is the effect on the arts?

By Jacob Stockinger The Ear got a message from an old friend who gave him a link to a story about the decline of arts criticism in the mainstream media. “This is not big news to you, but an interesting update that puts the value of you blog in context,” the friend said. The Ear thinks that the cutback in arts critics hurts local performing artists and also hurts readers who consume the arts as audiences. That is especially important in a city as rich in the arts for its size as Madison. (Below is the Madison Symphony Orchestra playing for a full house.) Here is a link to the article from the Columbia Journalism Review : http://www.cjr.org/the_feature/arts_music_critics.php The story earned an interesting response, sort of a constructive dissent from most judgments, from Anne Midgette (below), an arts writer and arts critic who used to work for The New York Times and now works for The Washington Post . Here is a response she posted on Facebook : “There’s one thing missing from this thoughtful valedictory on newspaper arts writing – the outrage about cutting critics is all very well, but one reason they get cut is that they don’t always have the readership papers want/need (which can be quantified now better than it used to be). “I think newspapers could help remedy that by putting in more resources and figuring out a strategy for raising the profile of arts writing (and I think arts writers need to focus on thinking about fresh innovative ways to write about their fields, but that’s another story). “In any case, I think those of us who love the arts need to recognize this as a big factor in the cuts, rather than simply wringing our hands about living in a world of Philistine editors.” What do you think of Anne Midgette’s response? How would you like arts coverage changed and improved? How good a job do you think the local media do in covering the arts? What do you think about the overall reduction in arts coverage? Have you found alternative sources for news and for information, and what are they? The Ear wants to hear. Tagged: Anne Midgette , Arts , Chamber music , choral music , Classical music , Columbia Journalism Review , critic , criticism , Early music , editor , Facebook , Jacob Stockinger , Johann Sebastian Bach , Ludwig van Beethoven , Madison , Madison Opera , Madison Symphony Orchestra , media , Mozart , Music , newspapers , Orchestra , Piano , symphony , The New York Times , The Washington Post , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , Viola , Violin , vocal music , Wisconsin , Writer




The Boston Musical Intelligencer

January 13

Carpenter Constructs Glittering Edifice

Cameron Carpenter, an organist of prodigious technique and an immensely creative bent played throughout a compelling BSO program under the direction of guest conductor Bramwell Tovey on Thursday evening. Carpenter presents proudly as a maverick of the “classical music” stage. Sporting a Mohawk, he cuts a lively and glittery figure in the embrace of the curvaceous Symphony Hall Skinner organ, with its console at center stage. His hands and feet flew across the key and pedal boards and stop jambs. Those feet, incidentally, were shod in black leather with a plethora of sparkling rhinestones bedecking each heel. And, why not? The man stands every inch a showman, and he possesses the facility to play virtually anything with panache and virtuosity. While clearly his own man, there is no denying that the has inherited the platform style of another great organ showman, Virgil Fox. Indeed, Cameron may well be Fox incarnate. The opener, Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva, op. 36, commissioned for the Philadelphia Orchestra to inaugurate its 1960 Academy of Music Aeolian-Skinner instrument, bears it age quite well. Much of what is remembered fondly of Barber is present in this showpiece for organ and orchestra: bold, thrusting themes contrasted with romantically elegiac, longline melodies, all handsomely scored. I remember being mightily impressed with an LP of this music recorded by Eugene Ormandy and E. Power Biggs for Columbia, a disk I nearly wore out from so many listens. I still have it, and hearing Tovey and Carpenter play it stirred many fond memories. While perhaps not quite so incisive, this BSO performance felt well integrated and extremely effective. In the extended pedal solo, not only did we hear the beat of those dancing feet, but we heard musical expression from the most rapid and elaborate flicking of individual stop knobs that we have ever witnessed. Overall, we enjoyed the mighty sound of a modern symphony orchestra and organ joining forces. Whoops and hollers permeated the applause. Was a Carpenter claque in the house? Before moving on, Tovey made engaging conversation with the audience to prepare them for what they were about to hear: the 30-minute, three movement At The Royal Majestic, Concerto for Organ and Orchestra (2014) by American composer Terry Riley. At Tovey’s first mention of the composer’s name, more cheers and applause emanated from the audience. It would appear that a sizable Terry Riley fan club was also present. Tovey then gamely and charmingly expanded upon Robert Kirtzinger’s excellent and comprehensive printed essay. Tovey also pointed out the interesting instrumentation of the music: no fewer than five bassoons plus a contra bassoon and two bass clarinets at the low end, three piccolos and an alto saxophone at the high end, a huge battery of percussion: five players playing fifteen groups of instruments—four trumpets plus flugelhorn, no oboes or English horn. The organ, he explained, would fill in much of the middle. Then, we dashed off to the Riley races. The composer’s valuable notes about his composition appeared alongside of Kirtzinger’s observations mentioned above. In essence, Riley is a compiler of sonorities and an orderer of fragments. Some describe this music as “minimalist,” and while other of his output is indeed so styled, I found something different afoot in this new concerto. The “motoric” element of traditional minimalism was largely absent, and Riley’s aim seems to be of the offering of a myriad of short, cannily scored bits and pieces of melody and sonority, the result of which could be compared in a visual sense as parallel to a very complex and colorful patchwork quilt. I was intrigued for most of the time by the music’s craft and unique play of sound, also of the organ’s almost constant contributions to its overall presentation. And I watched and listened with fascination as percussionists Kyle Brightwell, Daniel Bauch, and Matthew McKay were kept very busy as they rapidly moved balletically from one instrument to another. Yet I must admit that my interest slackened after 15 or so minutes of this, with no dramatic arc or audible emotional objective part of the mix. I was surely impressed with what I heard—this music has a unique sound and spirit—but ultimately I was not moved. I’m going to give it another chance by attending Saturday’s performance, to hear what I perhaps missed on Thursday. If ever a piece demands a second hearing, this is one. The audience’s very positive response led to Tovey’s insisting that Carpenter play an encore, and that he did: his transcription of the joyful Gigue from J. S. Bach’s French Suite No. 5, much of which he played on the pedals. This so delighted the crowd that it demanded another encore, and Carpenter enthusiastically complied with his amazing arrangement of Bart Howard’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” and to the moon it went. Perhaps no other organist has revealed more creative sonorities of the Symphony Hall organ in so short a space. Carpenter’s ingenious registrations transformed this venerable concert instrument into a colorful theater organ, a “Mighty Wurlitzer” if you will. Again, his remarkable technique astonished in its clarity, facility and rapidity and variety of touch. And not only was the audience entertained, broad smiles beamed among the orchestra members. They recognized a true virtuoso at work. After intermission, Tovey directed a beautiful take on Edward Elgar’s sublime Enigma Variations, op. 36 (1899) that recalled the stunning revelations that Colin Davis brought to his performances with the BSO many years ago. The orchestra brought nobility and genous emotion with particularly beautiful solo contributions from Martha Babcock, Acting Principal Cello; Steven Ansell, Principal Viola; and William Hudgins, Principal Clarinet. The entire brass section sounded glorious, and there, at the organ console, now moved to stage right, presided Cameron Carpenter. Bramwell Tovey and Cameron Carpenter (Winslow Townson photo) If you decide to attend Saturday’s concert, I’m sure you‘ll be glad to have heard this unique program. John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 37 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 45 years. The post Carpenter Constructs Glittering Edifice appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .



The Boston Musical Intelligencer

January 12

Eighteen Far Flyers Flocking

In the expectant room a quiet composer, 18 musicians with 18 individual parts. The musicians count to 4 together, a silent “measure for nothing.” That’s the last gesture we’ll make together for most of the first movement of the new work we’re rehearsing for our concert at Jordan Hall on Friday One by one, we Criers enter, playing quiet strings of harmonics and brief patterns of notes. We are eighteen birds, a group that is not yet a flock. Since we never play at exactly the same time, we follow a lovingly notated string of cues through the chaos of our tweets and flutters. We wonder together about how best to keep the invisible beat steady moving forward. At first, we assign the job of pulse-keeper to one individual, mirrored by others. But this is clumsy and creates a strange central point in the nearly aleatoric texture. Eventually we agree on a system where whoever is playing the cued line has the group’s attention – and in case of that person making a mistake, the next one can reset, and the next, and the next. This whole scene, the whole conversation, the different techniques we try—it’s all somehow extremely relevant. We’re a democratic, self-conducted orchestra, and we’re getting ready to premiere a piece which is all about a group of birds learning how to govern themselves in the search for enlightenment. Lembit Beecher, the quiet composer, has known A Far Cry for a long time (and married one of our cellists, Karen Ouzounian, this past summer.) This piece he has written for us, titled The Conference Of The Birds, had its genesis nearly two years ago, and is coming to life now as a portrait, a meditation, and perhaps, a challenge. In Lembit’s words: The Conference of the Birds” is a 12th-century Sufi epic poem by the Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar. It tells a story about the birds of the world who gather together in a time of strife. Led by the hoopoe bird, they decide to set out on a long journey to find their king. Many birds desert or die along the journey, but after passing through valley after valley, the remaining 30 arrive at a lake at the top of a mountain. Looking in the lake at their own reflection, they finally see their king. I first came across it through an adaptation by the brilliant Czech-American illustrator and author Peter Sís. … What drew me to Sís’s version, aside from the expressive, textural drawings which so suggested music, was the deep sense of loss in the pages. So many birds are left by the wayside during this journey towards truth and enlightenment. Does progress or attempted progress always come at a cost? When I began talking to A Far Cry about writing a piece, I realized this would be a perfect project for the group. Having gotten to know the group, I wanted to write music for individual personalities: each member of the ensemble has his/her own part. These parts join each other in different combinations, but just as quickly split up again. The leadership of the music, and the relationship of individuals to the group is always changing. As I wrote I thought about the power of crowds, and the value of individuality versus unity, but I also thought about the players of A Far Cry, and how much I admire the way they function as an ensemble, share leadership, and make music together. As we reach the end of the first movement, the musical lines begin to “infect” and inform each other. The birds begin to converse with each other, and as they do, a collective pulse emerges out of the texture. As this grows in intensity and shared purpose, the birds’ intention unifies into a single powerful flapping of wings. Slowly accelerating, they reach a lift-off point and start flowing up together into the sky. The violins of A Far Cry soar higher and higher on their instruments until we can barely hear them – and barely see the flock, now impossibly far away, which has now embarked on its perilous journey. This is only the beginning for the birds, but it gives us plenty of food for thought. How do you move from a state of stasis to a state of movement? How do you move from a collection of like-minded individuals to a group unified enough to actually be capable of powering its own flight? We’ve spent years wrestling with – and living out – these questions. Now here we are, playing a program, anchored by Lembit’s new piece, that addresses some of these issues head on. In the rest of the concert, we present two unconventional double concertos—Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins and Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa – and some haunting “pilgrim” music; selections from the 12th-century Codex Calixtinus. The concertos, played by Stefan Jackiw and Alexi Kenney, are as much vehicles for collaboration as they are for virtuosity, and circumvent the traditional ideal of central leadership. As Karen Ouzounian, one of the program’s co-curators, puts it: We wanted to explore the idea of leaders, false prophets, the search for enlightenment. We have these incredible soloists coming to join us, but the pieces they’re playing aren’t exactly flashy solo concerti. Instead they have a beautiful relationship to the group where the continuo is just as important as the solo voices. Alex Fortes, the other co-curator, goes even further: There’s an expression which people often use who have no idea what the original context is; playing second fiddle. It has a pejorative feel to it. And one thing about this concert is that everyone onstage, including each of our soloists, is playing second fiddle at some point in the program. In a way, that’s what it’s about. Sometimes we strive for this ideal, for a strong hierarchy, some leader that will make everything better, or some smooth process. And it never works out that way. Even when things work out beautifully – there’s tension that’s always underlying our best work. How do you move forward in a situation where all the traditional norms are called into question? Where the traditional values of unchanging, centralized leadership are not necessarily in play? (It’s perhaps worth mentioning here that A Far Cry is absolutely not anti-leader; if anything, the group is full of leaders.) One interesting first step is to “unlearn” some of what you thought you knew, and as such, it was a great pleasure to hear our soloist Stefan Jackiw say this about the Bach Double: Fortunately, I didn’t play it when I was young! Even though I didn’t study it as a kid, though, I still felt like I had to unlearn all these years of interpretations and varnish lacquered on to the piece, and really strip it away and go back to what Bach wrote. That ability to “unlearn” has been on beautiful display from both Stefan and Alexi all week long, as they’ve worked within the framework offered by A Far Cry, making suggestions directly to the group at large, and participating in group discussions on phrasing, tone color, pulse, character – moderated in part by the principal groups for the individual pieces. Of course, everyone has also learned plenty in this process. After all, it only works if it works, and it works if you can share information accurately and well with each other. No matter what system you use—democratic or dictatorial —the frame needs quality content within it; interesting ideas, virtuosic execution, a commitment to moving the music forward into the best version of itself that we can render. Lembit Beecher at Kneisel Hall To return to Lembit’s piece; the end of the work demands a totally different set of musical tools than the beginning. In the opening, we had to represent a distracted, scattered, group; at the end, what remains of the flock is stunningly unified and radiant. For the musicians, that means developing a technique of playing this last section that really sounds entirely like one ecstatic voice. It couldn’t be a more different style than the one we were embodying when the work began. A complicated work that keeps evolving and presenting us with new issues to address (and allowing us the chance to grow in the process?) Yes please! We wouldn’t have it any other way. If there’s one thing A Far Cry has learned in its first ten years, it is that challenges, even complicated ones, are usually opportunities. A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra at Jordan Hall Selections from Codex Calixtinus Bach: Concerto for Two Violins Stefan Jackiw (Violin), Alexi Kenney (Violin) Beecher: The Conference of the Birds (premiere) Pärt: Tabula Rasa $65 – $20 The post Eighteen Far Flyers Flocking appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

Arioso7's Blog

January 12

Exploring modulations, secondary dominants and sequences in a J.S. Bach keyboard learning journey

Without doubt, the French Suites and other keyboard works of J.S. Bach require a multi-dimensional learning approach. It’s not enough to enter the universe of the great Baroque master with a singular intent to absorb counterpoint, or parcel voices, sing them, juggle them, properly finger each hand, and in some cases divide one voice between two hands. Even with a two-voice Allemande that resembles a two-part Invention, it’s of necessity to map harmonic movement, study modulations brought about through the use of secondary dominants, and assimilate sequences, in both melodic and harmonic appearances. Yet the true value of detailed theoretical analysis is its direct application to musical expression and beautiful phrasing. In my recent journey through the J.S. Bach Allemande of French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817, I was immersed in several tiers of learning: 1) I learned each line separately with attention to fingering, though I knew from past experience, that when parts are combined, or interact, that what might be a practical fingering when hands are played alone, would not necessarily work when they played together. So this preliminary fingering gradually firmed up as layered learning unfolded. Part and parcel of studying each line, is to actively SING either with the same deeply embedded familiarity. I always test this absorption, by prodding myself to sing either line out loud while playing the other. Such an ability bodes well for fleshing out the contrapuntal dimension of the Allemande. (In this learning phase my tempo is regressed, but it’s still framed with a singing pulse and imbued with expressive phrasing.) I don’t hesitate to deeply connect into the keys with ample arm weight, and I ply phrases with a supple wrist and relaxed arms. Once I put the hands together, I refine fingering, make certain adjustments, and insert options in parentheses where they apply. At this juncture, how I GROUP NOTES in a Baroque framing is a big part of my exploratory process. Such decisions evolve from experimentation with various articulations, as there are numerous possibilities that can preserve the style, mood and affect of Bach’s music. 2) When both hands actively interact with a modicum of ease, I carefully map out HARMONIC transit. With two parts running horizontal and vertical at same time, the dimension of underlying Harmony again furthers musical expression. As melodic segments in the treble appear in sequences, I make note to intensify threads that ascend, and relax those that descend. The same will apply to sequences in the bass. How simultaneous sequences in both hand interact, is still another dimension of exploration and experimentation. Naturally, an understanding of modulations that are driven by “Secondary Dominants” offers the player an opportunity to respond to the leaning effect on the DOMINANT to the resolving, dissolving Tonic. And then any chain of modulations in close proximity prompts a decision to make a crescendo, or in some instances to do the reverse, especially where a deceptive cadence might intrude. Then again, the undulating nature of phrases in the Allemande doesn’t encourage a flat dynamic by any means. *** Learning the Allemande comes with a Multi-dimensional understanding of its essence. In fact the journey of discovery is only at its beginning, and a ripening process often brings changes in articulation, voicing, dynamics, and fingering that individually and collectively further the realization of beauty.

Johann Sebastian Bach
(1685 – 1750)

Johann Sebastian Bach (21 March 1685, - 28 July 1750) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. Although J.S. Bach did not introduce new forms, he enriched the prevailing German style with a robust contrapuntal technique, an unrivalled control of harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now generally regarded as one of the main composers of the Baroque style, and as one of the greatest composers of all time. Revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty, Bach's works include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Partitas, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B minor, the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion, the Magnificat, A Musical Offering, The Art of Fugue, the English and French Suites, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Cello Suites, more than 200 surviving cantatas, and a similar number of organ works, including the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, as well as the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes and Organ Mass.



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