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Posted on Sunday, April 23, 2006

Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, 060424
Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf
Monday, 24 April 2006


Today’s Selections:

1. Edward Burlingame Hill Stevensoniana Suite No., Op. 24 21’09
2. Phillip Kent Bimstein Half-Moon at Checkerboard Square 08’21
3. Olivier Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps 50’03
4. Lewis Spratlan Night Music 10’19
5. Tod Dockstader Luna Park (excerpt) 03’39
Total time of music: 93’31
Good Afternoon, Lovers of Fine Music, and welcome to Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, where we will hear the best of 20th and 21st century classical music as well as interviews with occasional guests. Before we begin our program, let’s hear what Liberty Green has to tell us on her weekly Arts and Culture Calendar.

As always, Liberty, we all thank you for the time and effort you have put into producing the WJFF Arts and Culture calendar.

First, my thanks to Edie Downs for pinch hitting for me while I selfishly took a short vacation in Bangkok, where I reveled in the fact that I cannot read or understand Thai, and thus had no idea of anything that was going on in the rest of the world during my sojourn. Thanks also to Christine, John, and Kurt for covering me in other areas. Working with these and many others at WJFF are what makes this such a pleasant retirement for me.

CD 1: Bands 2,3,4,5: Edward Burlingame Hill (1872, Cambridge, MA – 1960, Francestown, NH): Stevensoniana Suite No. 1, Op. 24 (1916-17): The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Karl Krueger, conductor: American Tone Poems, Bridge Records CD 9190
The folks at Bridge Records in New Rochelle, NY, are one of the few recording groups who actually pay attention to contemporary "classical" music and who actually manage to record masterpieces of the past 106 years without, I imagine, realizing much of a profit from their enterprise. They have also been uncommonly generous in supplying us with their releases, and they made possible the interview two students and I conducted with Elliott Carter a month or so again, an interview that we are still editing rather feverishly, I must admit.
Their newest release, American Tone Poems, reaches back to the earlier part of the 20th century and provides us with compositions by four infrequently heard composers, Louis Coerne, Edward Burlingame Hill, Horatio Parker, and John Alden Carpenter, who, writes Malcolm MacDonald in his excellent liner notes, "all belonged to the generation of American composers who took their inspiration from the German and French music of their continental teachers[, and whose] reputations were made in the early years of the 20th century [inevitably to be] more or less discounted with the rise of a more aggressively ‘American’ school of composition promulgated by such various figures as Aaron Copland, Roy Harris[,] and Virgil Thomson. Moreover," continues MacDonald, "the truly revolutionary music of their near-contemporary, Charles Ives, tended to make such composers as [these] appear timid. Even though Hill and Carpenter made use of jazz in some of their works, Copland once described their adaptation of that resource as ‘more or less good-mannered,’ suggesting they remained hidebound by obsolete canons of taste."
What I find interesting about this short collection of tone poems is its reminder to all of us that the changes that occurred in early 20th century "classical" music were evolutionary as well as revolutionary. The entire music establishment didn’t suddenly simply abandon its grounding in the previous century no matter how startling such developments as serialism 12 tone music, aleatory music, and the Dada movement may have been.
Furthermore, as these pieces demonstrate, it is possible to enjoy the music "for its own sake, its skill[,] and fine culture.
Edward Burlingame Hill composed two orchestral suites based on works by Robert Louis Stevenson between 1916 and 1917. "The first movement is a March inspired by the poem ‘Bring the comb and play upon it,’ evoking a troop of children playing at soldiers and marching round the village." The second movement is a lullaby "whose basis is the poem ‘The Land of Nod,’ in which the child recounts his experiences in dream-land and reflects that he can never find the way back there during the day." The third movement, based on the poem "‘Where go the boats?’ is a poem about launching model boats on a river that will carry [the children] off to somewhere far away." And the last movement "is entitled ‘The Unseen Playmate,’ and is inspired by a touching poem from the section ‘The Child Alone,’ in which the child . . . invents an imaginary playmate and competitor to have company and competition."

Time: 2. March 04’27
3. Lullaby 04’41
4. Scherzo 05’58
5. The Unseen Playmate 06’03

Total time: 21’09

CD 2: Band 1: Phillip Kent Bimstein (*1947, Chicago) Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa (1997): Stephen Caplan, oboe; synthesizer. A Tree in Your Ear: Musicians Showcase CD MS 1014

In stark contrast to the Edward Burlingame Hill suite we just heard is our next selection, an unmistakably Phillip Kent Bimstein creation called Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa, which Bimstein created in 1997. Some of our listeners may recall that Phillip Kent Bimstein, who was born in Chicago, but who relocated to Utah, was a guest on our program several years ago. Some listeners may even remember that the theme music of this program is taken from Bimstein’s unique composition, The Door.

A delightful iconoclast, Bimstein was certainly born into the right century for articulating his own musical idiosyncrasies. Here’s what he has to say about Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa: "On a summer night several years ago, not far from my home in southern Utah, an unsuspecting group of frogs sang by a slickrock waterhole up a narrow side canyon in Zion National Park. Little did they know their voices would soon be heard on concert stages all across the world and on the Internet. And they certainly never expected to share the bill with chirping crickets, howling coyotes, and tuxedoed classical musicians.

"But I was hiding nearby and had stealthily placed a microphone and a digital recorder at the edge of the waterhole. I also recorded the sounds of coyotes, crickets, rocks, thunder, and rushing waters of the Virgin River. After transferring these natural sounds into my computer, I shaped and arranged them on my synthesizer keyboard. Finally I orchestrated the sounds into a piece of music for tape, and wrote an accompanying score for solo oboe to interact with the natural sounds." (Liner Notes)

The results are as follows. Stephen Caplan is the oboist.

Time: 1. Half Moon 08’21
Running time: 29’30
CD 3: Entire: Olivier Messiaen (1908, Avignon – 1992, Clichy): Quartet for the End of Time (1941): Hugutte Fernandez, violin; Guy Deplus, clarinet; Jacques Neilz, ‘cello; Marie-Madeleine Petit, piano. Erato CD 4509-91708-2

If ever there was a composer whom I would have given almost anything to interview, his name was Olivier Messiaen. Widely heralded as one of the finest composers of any century, Messiaen has had a remarkable influence on many composers of the second half of the 20th century, and in recent years, he has become the subject of some very fine publications. Rebecca Rischin’s book, For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet hit the book stores in December, 2003. Alex Ross’s superb review of the March, 2004, performance of the piece at Carnegie’ Weill Hall, appeared in his Musical Events column under the title "Revelation" in the March 22, 2004 issue of the New Yorker. If you have an opportunity to read this beautifully written succinct piece about one of the best known compositions of World War 2, I highly recommend it to you. Ross notes that at the première of the piece in "an unheated space in Barrack 27" of Stalag VIII A, in Görlitz, Germany, where Messiaen had been incarcerated since 1939, " [s]itting in the front row – and shivering along with the prisoners – were the German officers of the camp." (96). Ross asks how Messiaen "understood [the] eerie phrase, . . . ‘There shall be time no longer,’" and answers it in two ways: "First, it had for him a precise musical meaning. By 1941, [Messiaen] no longer wanted to hear time being beaten out by a drum – one, two, three, four; he had had enough of that in the war. Instead, he devised rhythms that expanded, contracted, stopped in their tracks, and rolled back in symmetrical patterns." Alex Ross adds, " . . . the end of time also meant an escape from history, a leap into an invisible paradise." (97). Amen to that!

The quartet is divided into 8 sections: Crystal Liturgy; Vocalise, for the Angel Announcing the End of Time; The Abyss of the Birds; Interlude; Praise to the Eternity of Jesus; Dance of Wrath, for the Seven trumpets; Tangle of Rainbows Announcing the End of Time; and In Praise of the Immortality of Jesus. It is a stunning piece whose structure at any given moment seems to be remarkably simple, yet, as Ross notes, "is heavenly to analyze but devilishly difficult to play." (97) As I listen to it, I am overwhelmed by the totality of the experience that adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts. We’ll hear Hugutte Fernandez, violin; Guy Deplus, clarinet; Jacques Neilz, ‘cello; Marie-Madeleine Petit, piano perform Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time on an Erato CD 4509-91708. As a final observation: I have this piece performed by several different groups. I always think I will alternate them, but this is the performance I like the best. The piece takes 50 minutes.

Time: 1. Liturgy 02’31
2. Vocalise 05’25
3. Abyss of the Birds 09’04
4. Interlude 01’40
5. Praise to the Eternity of Jesus 08’52
6. Dance of Wrath 06’18
7. Tangle of Rainbows 07’29
8. Praise to the Immortality of Jesus 07’53

Total time: 50’03

What a glorious piece! Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

Running time: 79’33

CD 4: Band 9: Lewis Spratlan (*1940, Miami): Night Music (1990): Veronica Kadlubkiewicz, violin; Michael Sussman, clarinet; John P. Kelley, percussion. Gaspar0 Records, GSCD- 226.
One of the first composers I ever interviewed on Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf was Lewis Spratlan, a professor at Amherst College since 1970, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2000, and a very likeable fellow indeed. I had the privilege of meeting Lew last month at Lucius Weathersby’s memorial service in Springfield, MA. He was one of a contingent of Amherst College faculty, staff, and students who came to pay homage to Luc, and the fact that both he and I were there afforded us the opportunity to meet, finally, and to chat briefly. Professor Spratlan will retire this June after 36 years on the music faculty. I plan to see him for a longer visit later in the spring when I return to Amherst for my 45 (yipes!) reunion. Here are his comments on the piece we are about to hear, Night Music:

"Night Music, whose shadow falls in among the long ones of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the Chopin Nocturnes, Martino’s Notturno, and, perhaps most evidently, Debussy’s Clair de lune, attempts to expand the metaphorical reach of the genre. . . On the largest scale, there is a shift from a cool, abstract world into one of intense, almost personal relationships among the players – a gradual discovery and passionate playing-out of mutual influence and dependence. The deepening night reveals, not obscures." Composed in 1990, it is dedicated to violinist Veronica Kadlubkiewicz.

Time: 9. Night Music 10’19

Running time: 89’52

CD 5: Band 1: Tod Dockstader (*1932, ?): Luna Park (excerpt) (1961) – trio for an oscillator and two people laughing. From A to Z, Starkland ST 203.

It is no doubt fitting that we end today’s program with an excerpt from Tod Dockstader’s Luna Park. Tod Dokstader, one learns, comes to these compositions by way of sound engineering, which he taught himself after a career in "cutting picture and sound for animated cartoons (including ‘Mr. Magoo,’ and ‘Gerald McBoing-Boing’)." The composer writes, "[This excerpt is from a work] made in the ‘classical period of electronic music. Before Keyboards [sic]. The excerpt from Luna Park, which we will hear in a moment, is a trio for an oscillator and two people laughing. Is it music? Is Bimstein’s piece music? What is music?

Time: 1. Luna Park 03’39

Total running time: 93’31

We have come to the end of another Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf. Today we have heard Edward Burlingame Hill’s Stevensoniana Suite No. 1; Phillip Kent Bimstein’s Half-Moon at Checkerboard Mesa; Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time; Lewis Spratlan’s Night Music; and an excerpt from Tod Dockstader’s Luna Park. I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed today’s selections and that you will tune in next week when we will broadcast more great 20th and 21st century music and again imply, if not ask, the question, "What is music?" Until then, this is Gandalf, thanking you for listening and wishing you all the joy of New Music!
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Posted on Sunday, April 02, 2006

Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf 060403
Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf
Monday, 03 April 2006


Today’s Selections:

1. Frank Zappa: Greggery Peccary 21’17
2. Peter Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach) Oratorio 22’16
3. Frank Zappa The Black Page Suite 08’25
4. Edgard Varèse Ionisation 02’26
5. John Zorn Memento Mori 28’57
6. Enrique Granados Goyescas – Quejas
ò la maya y el ruiseñor 06’53

Total time: 91’14

Good Afternoon, Lovers of Fine Music, and welcome to Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, where we will hear the best of 20th and 21st century classical music as well as interviews with occasional guests. Before we begin our program, let’s hear what Liberty Green has to tell us on her weekly Arts and Culture Calendar.

As always, Liberty, we all thank you for the time and effort you have put into producing the WJFF Arts and Culture calendar.

CD 1: Band 10: Frank Zappa (1940, Baltimore – 1993, LA?); The Adventures of Greggery Peccary (ca. 1977): Ensemble Modern; Jonathan Stockhammer, conductor; Omar Ebrahim, voice; David Moss, voice. Ensemble Modern Plays Frank Zappa – Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions: RCA Red Seal BMG 82876-59842-2

If there was ever a 20th century composer who embraced and contained the spirit of freedom to compose that 20th century music came to define it was surely Frank Zappa. According to hotshot digital’s biography of Zappa, this unique figure claimed that "his life and musical tastes changed in 1954, when he read a Look magazine story that included information about Edgard Varèse." Once Zappa found a copy of The Complete Works of Edgar Varèse, Vol. One, "he embraced its avant-garde dissonance, though his parents would let him play it only in his room." Of course, Zappa’s interests were extraordinarily wide and deep – he is supposed to have remarked that he felt "’stuck between the slide rule and the gutbucket,’ and much of his career could be seen as an attempt to reconcile these two extremes." When I was much younger, my even younger cousins, who first brought Zappa to my attention, revered him for his crazy rock-and-roll songs. But Frank Zappa was sui generis, and I doubt we’ll see his likes again soon. Today’s offering, The Adventures of Greggery Peccary, is referred to, by Terry Bozzio,, as "a mini-oratorio with complex classical music, amazing percussion . . . , and an incredibly funny plot and story line with several voice characters. It was arranged in a musical ‘collage’ style, inundated with sound effects, movie score/Broadway show type incidental music, and narration, edited together in a machine gun rapidity that only Frank could achieve.’" I suppose that Peter Schickele comes to mind here, but the two are really not comparable except insofar as they both create irresistible satire. I could easily have decided to feature The Adventures of Greggery Peckery on our Music of the Stage show, an indication of how complex crossover music has become - and how pliable.

Barry Miles, in his biography, Zappa, refers to Warner Brother’s release of Studio Tan, which contained The Aventures of Greggery Peccary "a 20-minute ballet in the tradition of Billy the Mountain . . . which became a firm favorite among Zappa’s new generation of admirers, though older Mothers (of Invention) fans dismissed it as yet more trivial nonsense." ( Miles, Barry. Zappa – A Biography. Grove Press, New York, 1st ed.: 266-7).

Enough. Let’s just enjoy this wacked out piece of post-modern? music by one of the truly innovative composers of the last century, Frank Zappa!

Time: 10. Greggery Peccery 21’17

CD 2, 2nd CD: Band 2: Peter Schickele (aka P.D.Q Bach): (*1935, Ames, Iowa): Oratorio, "The Seasonings", S. ½ TSP. Lorna Haywood, soprano; Marlene Kleinman, alto; John Ferrante, tenor; William Woolf, bass; The Okay Chorale, John Nelson, director. Royal P.D.Q Bach Festival Orchestra; Jorge Mester, conductor. Vanguard CD 2-719/720

Well, one humorist suggests another, and as I have already mentioned Peter Schickele in our first offering, it seem fair to inflict one of P.D.Q Bach’s pieces on you before you get too comfortable. I had the great privilege of interviewing Peter Schickele a couple of years ago. I’ll refrain from making further remarks, as Schickele provides his own introduction to our next piece. Anything more I might say would be inappropriate and irrelevant, not to mention irreverent!!

Time: 4. Oratorio 22’16

Running time: 44’33

CD 3: Band 2: Frank Zappa (1940, Baltimore – 1793, LA): The Black Page Suite (?), Arr. by Benedict Weisser, 2005): Calfax Reed Quintet, Oliver Boekhorn, oboe; Ivar Berix, clarinet; Raaf Hekkema, saxophone; Jelte althuis, bass clarinet; Algan Wesly, bassoon discovering dutch ensembles [sic] Radio Nederland Wereldomroep.

Back to Frank Zappa. Here are five of Zappa’s pieces arranged for reed quintet by the American-Dutch composer Benedict Weisser, pieces "whose freakish yet tuneful style would most likely have appealed to its creator. . . . "The liner notes continue, "Zappa’s unruly, satirical music was boycotted by most American radio stations, but in the late 1880s, he was hailed as the messiah of crossover music by contemporary music celebrities such as Pierre Boulez. Zappa’s mixture of jazz, blues, rock, and modernist styles attracted an entirely new public to modern classical music, interested more in its energy and drive than in sophisticated compositional techniques. Zappa himself called traditional classical music ‘warmed up death,’ and with his bent for originality, he’d never play a composition twice [in the same way . . . , an attitude perfectly suited to the Calefax Reed Quintet."

The five pieces Benedict Weisser arranged for this group are: "The Black Page," "No. 7," "No. 6 (Jumbo Go Away); No. 9; Interlude from Fembot in a Wet T-shirt Contest.

Time: 2. Zappa 08’25

Running time: 52’58

CD 4: Band 10: Edgard Varèse (1883, Paris – 1965, NY) Ionisation ((1929-31): ASKO Ensemble, Riccardo Chailly, conductor. London Boxed Set 289 460 208-2.
I mentioned earlier that Edgard Varèse exerted a great influence on Frank Zappa. The liner notes from the piece we just played, The Black Page Suite, include this interesting anecdote: "From the start, [Zappa’s] musical outlook transcended traditional boundaries. To test potential friends, he’d play them Edgard Varèse’s groundbreaking Ionisation; if they considered it ‘nonsense,’ he’d kick them out."

"Ionisation is almost certainly the first work, and probably the most successful, to explore the structural value of all the non-pitch qualities of sound without electronic means. But it is also full of evocative qualities which stimulate the listener’s imagination. This union of structural metamorphosis and the suggestion of mystery and drama is a characteristic of Varèse’s music." (Liner Notes) The piece is very short, running only about 2 1/3rd minutes.

Time: 2nd CD, 10: Ionisation 02’26

Running time: 55’24

CD 5: Band 15: John Zorn (*1953, NY): Memento Mori (1992): The Zorn Quartet: Joyce Hammann and Mark Feldman, violins; Lois Martin, viola; Erik Friedlander, ‘cello. Tzadik CD TZ.

John Zorn’s Memnto Mori, according to his own notes, is an intensely emotional and complexly hermetic work that continues to defy comprehension by most listeners. I feel that I have come upon something really new here, and, if you let it, it will take you by the hand on a unique and emotional journey to the inner depths of a place you’ve never been to before. My predilection for non-fiction, biography, and interviews over fiction – poetry to prose is reflected in the autobiographical nature of the piece, largely about lost love and the loneliness of a scholar’s existence. . . . I feel that all of my pieces are in some way at least twenty-five percent autobiographical. At the highest level, life and art are the same, just as there is no true dividing line between form and content. The ultimate goal: truth and beauty."

There is no doubt that Zorn is experimenting here; he moves between the kind of music one expect to hear on a Bang on a Can recording and slightly more tonal sections that appear more modern than post-modern. There is no doubt that listening to Memento Mori is something of a roller coaster ride that will exhilarate, frighten, annoy, and relieve you, although not, perhaps, in any fixed order. If you’ve got the guts, hang on!

Time: 15. Memento Mori 28’57

Running time: 84’21

CD 6: Band 9: Enrique Granados y Campiña (1867, Lérida – 1916, English Channel): Goyescas: Quejas ó la maya y el ruiseñor (1911): Gabriela Montero, piano. EMI Classics 724355 8039 2 4.
Pianist Gabriela Montero writes of the piece we’ll end today’s program with: "Enrique Granados was an accomplished pianist, and the six pieces in his masterpieces, Goyesdas, embody, alongside Albéniz’s Iberia, the quintessential Spanish music for piano." Montero plays one of those six pieces on this CD, Quejas ó la maya y l ruiseñor.

Time: 9. Goyescas 06’53

Total running time: 91’14

We have come to the end of another Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf. Today we have heard Frank Zappa’s Greggery Peccary; Peter Schickele’s Oratorio; Frank Zappa’s The Black Page Suite; Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation; Frank Zappa’s Memento Mori; and Enrique Granados’ Goyescas, Quejas ó la maya y el ruiseñor. I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed today’s selections and that you will tune in next week, when we will archive our interview with the late Lucius Weathersby and his friend and mentor, Alberto Patron. Until then, this is Gandalf thanking you for listening and wishing you all the joy of New Music!
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