If you had told me six months ago that one of the most mentally and physically exhausting concerts I’d play during the 2011-12 season would be a pops concert, I would most definitely have laughed at you. Pops shows can be fun, they can be musically interesting, they can be exciting – but what they almost never are is difficult, especially if you’re a string player. In an average pops concert, with the orchestra playing back-up band to a guest star, I’ll spend most of my time holding long notes or playing rudimentary scales or progressions designed to bring a murmuring sweetness to the proceedings. Every once in a great while, I might play a brief melody, but it will rarely be anything I couldn’t have executed when I was twelve.
But this weekend, well… what we’re doing is not your average pops concert. Bugs Bunny at the Symphony has been touring the world for 20 years, and from conductor George Daugherty to the technical team responsible for coordinating all the audio and video, this is a well-oiled machine of a show. And it has to be, because wow, is it challenging to play.
To begin with, it’s not actually pops music, of course. The whole reason for having a concert where a live orchestra plays along with the Looney Tunes gang is that Warner Bros. not only employed a house orchestra to record the original soundtracks, but the composers responsible for scoring those old cartoon shorts used a ton of classical warhorses over the years. Who could forget Bugs and Elmer Fudd reenacting Wagner’s Ring cycle in seven minutes? Or Bugs battling with a rogue mouse while trying to perform Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody? So the vast majority of what we’re playing in this show is actually core orchestral repertoire, heavy on the late Romantic era.
On top of that, there are two complicating factors. The first is that most of the show runs on a click track, which means that every member of the orchestra is wearing headphones that play a continuous stream of metronomic clicks to keep us in perfect sync with the action on screen. This means that we have to completely discard our normal intuition for keeping the ensemble together, and instead focus solely on keeping our individual parts perfectly in sync with the clicks. In a normal performance, we’re used to using visual and sonic cues to sync with each other, but under these conditions, if we all react sympathetically to, say, a clarinet line that’s taking slightly more time than usual, it’s a train wreck that we’ll never be able to fix. The clicks do not adjust to your schedule, they change tempos and subdivisions without warning, they are always (always!) either slightly faster or slightly slower than you were expecting, and I’m still hearing them echo through my brain two hours after our last rehearsal ended.
The other complication is that, while much of the music we’re playing with Bugs and the gang is taken from familiar scores by Wagner, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and the like, they’re not actually the original pieces that we all know how to play. The music has been necessarily twisted, molded, and reshaped to match the cartoons. So what feels like a perfectly familiar Strauss waltz will suddenly jump over twelve bars you’re used to playing, or charge ahead in a tempo you’ve never associated with that music before. A quote from a Rossini overture will abruptly shift into the Merrie Melodies tag music. Or, in the case of that Ring cycle classic, music from more Wagner operas than I can count all gets jumbled up and fired out in back-to-back segments with no time to catch your breath or relax your brain. It’s actually kind of terrifying.
Still, our principal violist, Tom Turner, who isn’t playing this concert, dropped by rehearsal today and said that from the house, it all sounds great. The lights will be down on the orchestra most of the time, so presumably, no one will see how overwhelmed we may look at times. Like I said, this whole show is professional with a capital P, and they’ve been doing this forever (apparently, we’re just about the last major orchestra to play it,) so I’m sure it’ll be a huge hit with the near-sellout crowds we’re expecting.
But wow. I’m tired. And we haven’t even started yet.
Just a quick note that I’ll be on MPR’s Midday program today from 11am-noon (Central Time, of course,) acting as co-host du jour with the always fun and engaging Marianne Combs. We’ll be talking all things music with Bach barfly Matt Haimovitz and the Artaria Quartet’s Ray Shows Laura Sewell. Do tune in, and call in if you like: you’ll find us at 91.1 KNOW in the Cities, all these other stations around the region, or streaming online at MPRNews.org
Late Update: Ray called in sick, so Artaria cellist Laura Sewell was kind enough to fill in as our guest. Show’s over, but if you want to listen back to it, the archived audio is at the MPR News site.
A week or so ago, the orchestra played a concert featuring five Hungarian Dances, two choral works, and a serenade, all by Brahms. With the exception of one of the dances (the famous #5,) this was basically The Brahms You’ve Probably Never Heard Before. It was also The Brahms Sam Has Barely Or Never Played Before, and the serenade didn’t have any violins, leaving the violas in an unusually exposed position, so the performance was on the stressful side. I managed to get through the evening without overtly shaming myself (which was good, since we were live on MPR,) but when I got home, the thought occurred to me: I’d been working so hard not to screw up that I actually had no earthly idea whether the concert had gone well or not.
This being 2012, I dumped this thought into the Facebook vortex and went to bed. The next morning, alongside a few other comments, I found this from our MPR broadcast host (and American Public Media’s classical music czar) Brian Newhouse:
“From the booth, the Dances were a little rocky in spots. (They must be harder to play than they sound, right?) The choral pieces were gwah-jous. The Serenade was cool for the visuals and the dark sound until LET THERE BE PICCOLO!”
That right there? That is without a doubt the most concise and complete review of a concert I’ve ever read. Just four sentences, and he tells you everything you might want to know about the performance. (I do suspect that the piccolo thing was probably not an issue for anyone who wasn’t listening with radio-quality headphones clamped on his ears, but I love the image of mild-mannered Brian getting knocked off his perch in the tiny broadcast booth above the stage by a Roma Moment.)
So, anyway, here’s what I’m thinking would be a fun game. You have four sentences (no run-ons) to completely sum up a performance you’ve attended recently. Doesn’t have to be a MN Orch concert, though it certainly could be (and yes, I appreciate the risk I’m taking by introducing this game right after an Inside the Classics weekend.) Doesn’t even have to be a concert, I suppose. But Brian’s set the standard: be specific, be evocative, and if possible, be funny. In the comments. Go.
This is the second post in this month’s edition of The Listening Room, our discussion of music that composer Judd Greenstein finds meaningful, inspiring, or just plain good. For earlier Listening Room posts, click here, and add your own insights to the discussion in the comments section below…
Today, Judd talks about two of Witold Lutoslawski’s seminal works, and why they’re so uniquely able to engage us as listeners even without adhering to standard rules of Western tonality. Here’s Judd…
In his most avant-garde period, Lutoslawski’s works are often very challenging and can feel a bit “cold”. They often explore structural and formal concerns, working out the different possibilities of this new technique of “controlled aleatory“. There are some fantastic pieces from this period, but it was only in the 1970s and 1980s that his harmonic brilliance, evident in his early works, was brought into dialogue with the formal and textural language that he had by then perfected.
This marriage led to the absolutely brilliant pieces from his late-middle period. The music is not at all “tonal” in a traditional sense, but his control of voice-leading, counterpoint, and harmonic motion come through in a personal and extremely emotionally resonant language that’s all his own. From this point on, Lutoslawski uses only extremely simple, clear, and memorable musical motifs as his building blocks; if you’re listening carefully, you can follow the “story” of these motifs as they move forward through each piece, gathering meaning as they go.
The Symphony No. 3 is the high-water mark of this style. It is patient, clear, and beautiful on its own terms. I consider it perhaps the greatest Symphony since Beethoven (and yes, I’m aware that there were quite a few great symphonists writing music between the 1820s and the 1980s.) You have to check your expectations at the door in listening to this music. It’s not going to be as immediately approachable as was Steve Reich’s music, nor as lush as Messiaen will be when we get to that in a later installment of The Listening Room. Its often sparse and the harmonic language will be challenging — but the ideas are so clear, and the sounds so beautiful, that you really can follow the story and will enjoy the “characters” you meet along the way.
This exceptional recording, produced magnificently and conducted by a great orchestra with a conductor (Esa-Pekka Salonen) who is not only a Lutoslawski champion but a very good composer in his own right, captures the drama of the work and has some of the best “sounds” that I’ve heard in a Lutoslawski recording. As with Reich’s Tehillim, the end of the Symphony No. 3 is one of the best in the literature; suddenly, a new harmonic world emerges around a suddenly-lush texture, unlike anything we’ve heard before in the piece, recontextualizing everything that’s come before. It almost demands that you listen to the entire work again, right away, to hear how the work unfolds when you know what’s coming.
The Symphony No. 4 is one of the last works that Lutoslawski wrote, and represents the final period of his creative life, where he largely moved away from aleatory and wrote with an incredible efficiency — not quite late Brahms, but in that direction. This Symphony is a humbler piece of music, though more directly passionate; there’s less space between the notes, and more big melodies and dramatic flourishes, all in a shorter timespan. This is one of the late Lutoslawski works that I always suggest to conductors that they program, and if there’s a Lutoslawski resurgence in this country, it might well start with this fantastic piece of music.
It’s time for this month’s edition of The Listening Room, in which our MicroCommission composer Judd Greenstein selects a recording he loves and invites you to have a conversation about it. We’re going to change things up a little this time around, spreading out the discussion over more posts and more days, rather than hitting you with everything Judd has to say right up front, so check back each day this week for a new post.
You can join the discussion at any point in the comments, and feel free to bring up points that Judd and I haven’t touched on – if some good side discussions develop, we’ll include them in future posts. You can get this month’s recording from Amazon by clicking the image at the top of this post, or on iTunes by clicking here. (Yes, we’re asking you to pay for the recordings we feature, but seriously? This one is $2.99 – you can probably afford that.)
Since Lutoslawski isn’t as familiar a name to many American listeners as he probably should be, I asked Judd to kick things off with a little background on who this composer was, why his music is important (or at least worth listening to,) and how he came to the particular compositional style that defines both him and his era. Here’s Judd:
Witold Lutoslawski is the greatest symphonic composer you’ve never heard of. He is a towering giant of the late 20th century, a “composers’ composer” whose music exists on an island unto itself, truly original and deserving of more imitators than it has received. His more-famous Polish countrymen, Penderecki and Górecki, each have established their place in the symphonic repertoire, Penderecki as a lingering legacy of his confrontational early works, with their radical approach to texture and color (as well as, it must be said, their controversial titles), and Górecki for his spiritual, almost mystical scores that manage to be directly beautiful without dipping back in the well of Romanticism. Of those two, Górecki is the better composer, and has a number of excellent works, but even he doesn’t hold a candle to Lutoslawski.
From the CD I’ve chosen for The Listening Room, I want to focus on the two Symphonies, Number 3 and Number 4. The four Symphonies of Lutoslawski mirror his life’s progression as a composer, which roughly mirrors the arc of European modernism as it progressed through the Cold War, from the 1940s through the beginning of the 1990s (Lutoslawski died in 1994). In the early part of his career, he wrote folk-influenced works for standard instrumentation, highly suggestive of late Bartok. Some of Lutoslawski’s great works of this period, particularly the Concerto for Orchestra and the Paganini Variations, are his most-performed pieces today, by far — even though he had three more periods ahead of him. This is typical for composers who had an early, “populist” period that preceded their move toward modernism, and usually is a tool for classical institutions to claim that they’re programming more “modern music”. (Yes, I’m calling you out, orchestras — we see what you’re doing!) [Guilty. I'm pretty sure the Concerto for Orchestra is the only Lutoslawski we've played since I've been in the orchestra, and Sarah conducted it. - Sam]
As the political climate shifted following Stalin’s death, Lutoslawski was exposed to more radical styles; hearing John Cage’s Concerto for Piano was a big influence, as it suggested a way forward using “aleatoric” techniques — what we might call “chance” operations. For Lutoslawski, unlike Cage (who embraced chance as a philosophical guidepost), aleatoric procedures were useful in very controlled circumstances, embedded in a highly structured, formal context. In his scores from the early ’60s onward, instruments would only sometimes be directly synced up with each other. Instead, they’d be cued at specific moments, but left to their own devices, playing exactly what was on the page, but not lining up directly (note-to-note) with the other players. This did two things:
1) It created textures which would otherwise be extremely difficult to notate, and which varied more from performance to performance than those in a completely-notated piece.
2) It gave each player a lot more freedom in their performance, since they didn’t have to line up directly with anyone else. Think about dancing by yourself versus dancing with a partner — neither is necessarily better or worse, but you have a lot more freedom in the former, right?
Tomorrow, Judd talks specifically about Lutoslawski’s 3rd and 4th symphonies, and the distinct periods of the composer’s working life. For now, if you’ve listened to the disc and have thoughts or questions, fire away in the comments…
When I was in graduate school at Yale, much of my time studying composition was spent with Ezra Laderman, the elder statesman of the composition faculty and one of the most open-minded composers that they’ve ever had at that institution. The man fought in World War II and wrote a symphony while stationed in Frankfurt. He came back to the States and, in comparison with, you know, being at war, the silly aesthetic “battles” (pun fully intended) of the late 20th century were simply not interesting. Oh, how I wish other composers had seen things through that lens. Laderman wrote whatever he felt like writing — concert music, jazz, film soundtracks, and whatever else, in whatever style — and did so with a meticulous craft and attentive ear. He brought that breadth of experience to his role as a teacher and never once tried to stop me from pursuing any of the crazy (for Yale) directions that I wanted to try.
One great piece of advice he gave me was to never tell the audience what a piece was “about”. He relayed a story in which a woman had come up to him after a performance, thanking him for writing a piece that so perfectly captured the sprit of mourning that she was in, having recently lost a loved one. He thanked her for the kind words, even though (as he told me), the piece had nothing to do with mourning, or death, or anything of the sort, at least not in his mind or in the narrative that he considered central to the piece. Sometimes, it makes sense to explain the origin of a work, especially if the work is written for a special occasion, and you want the audience to understand the connection between the abstract musical ideas in the composition and the concrete ideas concerning the occasion. But normally, music — even music with words, but especially music without — is highly abstract, open to many interpretations, conscious or otherwise.
The abstraction of music is both its strength and its weakness. We live in a culture where linear thought and concrete ideas are privileged over abstraction; art is defended as a means, not an end, useful in its ability to strengthen “real” skills, be they math scores or pattern recognition or the ability to communicate as a team. Nowhere in the defense of art is a defense of abstraction, of the need for non-linear thinking, and the beauty that comes when objects are neither “true” nor “false”. It’s not just art that suffers when we try to fit everything into a binary; many great texts, from the philosophy of Rousseau to the American constitution to the Bible, all contain inconsistencies to be resolved, not through choosing one way or another, but by learning to thrive in that underlying tension, to discover a truth that would never be known if one demanded a more facile “truth” that excluded the other position entirely. Abstract art is the purest form of non-binary thinking and creation, as there aren’t merely tensions between a binary, but different “truths” or even “ways of knowing” that work in many, many directions. When we bring ourselves and our histories into a work of art, the truth of the work is dependent on our own perspective as much as on the work itself. Therein lies the strength of abstract art, and the key to how it communicates so directly: by demanding that the viewer/listener build his or her own pathways of meaning, there’s an avenue already in place between the content of the work and the areas of emotional need that the viewer/listener brings to the table.
With all that in mind, there’s a lot (relatively speaking) at stake as I try to explain the title of my new work for the Orchestra, Acadia. There’s no linear narrative, except perhaps a very, very simple one that you’ll hopefully be able to follow without my explaining it. I don’t want to tell you too much, because I think it’s a work that can have many different meanings for different people. I don’t even know what it’s going to mean to me when I hear it — the process of writing and the process of listening are totally different creatures. I’ve been in dialogue with my imagined future-self, listening to the performance, and giving feedback from the perspective of the listener. But that’s hardly the same as the actual experience of hearing a piece live for the first time. If I’m not sure how I’m going to feel, or what I can take from the piece, why should I bring you down any specific road? Wouldn’t that be the most irresponsible thing I could do?
So I’ll just tell you a few things, and leave it at that. The word “Acadia” refers to the French colonies of the 17th and 18th centuries in northeastern North America, today comprised of mostly the Maritime Provinces of Canada, with small pieces of Québec and Maine. The “Acadians” migrated down to French territories in Florida and then the Louisiana Territories, where they mingled with other inhabitants and gradually came to be known as “Cajuns”. I first heard the term “Acadia” in the context of Acadia National Park, where I spent a few incredible days camping with a good friend, a long weekend that turned out to be a pivotal time — literally, in the sense of a pivot — in my life. If I were to break my life into two sections, the first part would end in that Acadian weekend, hiking in hills on the edge of open ocean, exploring the southern tip of that land that stretches along the coast, upward to the Arctic. Acadia no longer exists, as a territory, but lives on as a place, marked by a distinct topography and climate (for a little while longer, at least), a gateway between the Atlantic ocean and the Northern Forest of Canada and New England, sparsely populated with people who are distantly French or Wabanaki, identities receding into history like the name itself. Few words are as magical to me or feel more central to my life. And so, for a commission that means as much to me as any I’ve ever received, I wrote this piece with that word in mind, a pivotal word for a composition that may mark the end of something, or the beginning. It is written for the Minnesota Orchestra, of course, and for the Inside the Classics community, with special thanks to Sam and Sarah for making it possible, but also bears a dedication to my friends Matt Wessler and Sharon Wong, and their daughter Harriet, who are tied up in the weekend that this piece remembers, and commemorates, and buries, perhaps in the woods of New England or perhaps at sea, allowing the future to come as it comes, beholden to no ghost or memory.
As you may have heard, our latest CD came out last week – it’s the first disc in what will eventually be a complete set of the Sibelius symphonies – and the team from BIS Records also spent some time shooting some video of the recording sessions last June. They’ve woven some of the footage together into a nice little montage to promote the disc, which should be particularly interesting to those of you who only picture orchestra musicians in full white-tie-and-tails regalia.
Yes, Osmo is wearing a soccer jersey. For some reason, he was wearing a lot of those to rehearsal last spring/summer. (They do breathe very well, I suppose.) By the way, you can buy the disc here, or download it on iTunes if you prefer. I’m biased, of course, but having listened to it a couple of times now, I think it’s awfully good.
Musicians are forever making up lyrics to go along with famous bits of music. This is partly because we’re incorrigible class clowns who never grew up properly, but mostly because, on your 138th trip through Handel’s Messiah, it helps you stay focused if you can remember the alternate lyrics to There Were Shepherds.
(Now you’re curious, right? Fine: “There were shepherds imbibing in the fields, drinking scotch over the rocks by night.”)
There are a few pieces, like Messiah, where a single set of lyrics is known far and wide, but it’s far more common for individual interpretations to become legend within a single city or ensemble. One former MN Orch violinist had some truly epic words to go with the first half-page or so of the last movement of the Sibelius concerto, and I once worked at a summer camp with a guy who had scripted more or less the entire Mendelssohn octet with lyrics so filthy that I can’t think of a single sentence I can reprint here.
But I have to say, British comedian Rainer Hersch has pretty much cornered the market on this little game. Who knew the Queen of the Night was on Ecstasy?
Brilliant. And presenting the lyrics in play-by-play fashion definitely ups the comedic value exponentially. Actually, hearing Hersch calling the Queen’s big number as a live event reminded me of one of my very favorite old PDQ Bach bits…
I’ve been laughing at that Peter Schickele voiceover since I was 8 years old. My favorite part is the flustered, incredulous overreaction to the six-second oboe cadenza in the development. And I’ve been waiting my entire career for a horn player to kack that particular note in the exposition – it hasn’t happened yet, but I carry a bright yellow penalty flag with me at all times just in case it ever does. (Any self-respecting horn player would, of course, have me killed for throwing the flag, but it would be worth it.)
And hey, as long as this post has become a generalized music/comedy mishmash, let’s wrap it up with Victor Borge and some Muppets, shall we? Happy Monday, all…
Last weekend, the Minnesota Orchestra stood on our stage alongside six talented young composers and applauded the incredibly diverse, exciting, and new sounds they had brought to the culminating concert of our 11th annual Composer Institute. Members of the audience (which looked to be around 1200 strong) who I spoke to afterwards were almost blissfully excited by what they’d heard, and eager to tell me how much they appreciated the orchestra’s willingness to undertake such an event. There were huge smiles throughout the evening all around the hall, and the audience, which crossed all age levels, was genuinely engaged by both the music and the composers’ personalities as they were each interviewed for Minnesota Public Radio’s live broadcast of the event.
I expect much the same experience for the premiere of Judd’s MicroCommission piece in March, and for that matter, I’m hoping that we manage to extract a similar level of engagement and enthusiasm for our Inside the Classics concerts later this month, which will use the music of John Adams as a jumping off point for a broader discussion of where American concert music has been going over the last half-century or so. Plenty of past experience has suggested to me that, presented in an engaging and entertaining way, new music is anything but audience repellant.
I know. There shouldn’t need to be a “but” in this discussion. That should be the end of it – I’ve just presented a solid case that orchestras should quit shying away from new music, that we need to be engaging with contemporary composers and bringing them the exposure they need to be embraced by the wider world. Hell, I wrote a massive 3-part series of posts last spring outlining exactly how I think we as an industry should start doing this. Why does there need to be a “but” at the end of this?
Well, because of Zachary Woolfe. Woolfe is a talented music writer who has emerged as quite the advocate for new music in the last couple of years. He writes regularly for the New York Times, the New York Observer, and probably a hundred other publications I don’t know about. I like his writing, I follow his Twitter feed, and I agree with a lot of what he has to say about new music.
Having said all that, Woolfe leveled a blistering attack at the New York Philharmonic (and its music director, Alan Gilbert) in the pages of the Times this past week that went seriously off the rails and became a hatchet job when it could have been something far more constructive. Early on in the piece, which was written as a reaction to Gilbert having recently received an award for commitment to new music, Woolfe sounded the usual alarms that have become de rigeur among new music partisans who can’t believe that symphony orchestras in the 21st century still build our seasons around Beethoven and Brahms:
“No one advocates precise allotments of contemporary music. (Maybe people should.) All we want is an orchestra that is genuinely engaged in its city and culture. A sustained, all-out dedication to new music is a necessity to keep the Philharmonic from becoming an exercise in nostalgia.”
Fair enough, I guess, though every one of those sentences is highly debatable if you want to start defining terms like “city and culture,” or discussing just how much of the culture that Americans choose to consume could be defined as “an exercise in nostalgia.” Still, I’m more or less on Woolfe’s side at this point. He goes on to make specific criticisms of a couple of the Phil’s less-daring programming choices that get trumpeted as showcases for “contemporary” music even when they’re plainly not. I’m still with him.
But then, just when I’m waiting to hear Woolfe’s grand solution to the eternal conundrum of how you a) program new music alongside the classics on a regular basis, while b) also maintaining a solid track record of helping younger and perhaps less broad-based composers get their music heard, and c) convince huge numbers of people in your city to support all this with their ticket-buying dollars and donations…
…he cops out. No, that’s too vague a description. He completely, utterly, without the slightest hint of sheepishness, abdicates all responsibility for establishing a real world case for his rant. Here’s one of the final paragraphs:
“I understand what Mr. Gilbert means when he speaks of wanting to avoid a sense of responsibility in an endeavor that should be approached with enthusiasm rather than obligation. And I recognize the myriad difficulties of creating a season and the many constituencies he must try to please.”
He understands nothing of the sort, or he wouldn’t be content to devote all those column inches to a screed on the Phil’s artistic obligations, only to duck out of the argument the moment that his ideas actually have to acquire a grounding in the fundamental fiscal realities of running a symphony orchestra that employs hundreds of actual people. The only attempt he makes to establish that his vision for a new music-heavy orchestral future is even remotely possible is the now-clichéd weak feint in the direction of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Look, I’d love to believe that Woolfe’s demands regarding new music could be met by today’s symphony orchestras, and the moment I see a concrete plan for implementing them, I’ll be right behind him, shouting to the rooftops about it. But there is no such plan, and it’s not the New York Phil’s fault that there isn’t. From what I can tell from 1200 miles away, the Phil is making quite an effort to make new music a part of what they do, but I will tell you from personal experience: it is not nearly as easy as those outside the orchestra world love to make it sound.
That Composer Institute concert I wrote about at the top? The one that drew something like 1200 people? We’ve been promoting the hell out of that for five years now, and it still draws around 1200 every year. For a one-off performance on a Friday night, with most tickets selling for way less than we charge for Beethoven, in a hall that seats 2450. Those ItC concerts I mentioned? With 2/3 of our series for the year built around 21st-century music? I couldn’t be more excited about them, but they won’t come close to selling the way our Dvorak/Ravel/Stravinsky season sold last year.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that Zachary Woolfe should stop nagging the NY Phil (or any other orchestra) about deepening their commitment to composers living and working today. I’m not saying that it’s his responsibility to write a business plan for every idea he wants to throw out on the table.
But sometimes, Horatio, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. When you close a generally well-argued treatise by implying that all this would be possible if everyone else in the music world would just work at it a little, you undermine your entire argument. We’re working really hard. I promise you we are. But there are a million little “myriad difficulties” working against us every single day, and no, Mr. Woolfe, you haven’t begun to recognize them.
Later this month, (specifically, the week of January 23,) we’ll be kicking off another installment of The Listening Room, a project we launched with Judd here on the blog in November. Basically, TLR is like a book club, only with music. Each month Judd picks a specific recording, we all buy it (yes, we’re asking you to pay for the music if you want to participate, but recordings cost pennies these days, and given how much work goes into producing them, we don’t think it’s too much to ask) and listen to it, and then we get together with Judd to talk about the music.
So without further ado, here’s this month’s featured disc:
This is a Los Angeles Philharmonic recording of works by the legendary Polish composer, Witold Lutoslawski. I say “legendary,” but what I really mean is “legendary within the world of professional musicians,” because sadly, Lutoslawski is one of those composers who just doesn’t seem to show up on the radar screens of the average concertgoer, despite the fact that his music is a) at least as accessible as your average Stravinsky ballet score, b) incredibly evocative and distinctive in style, and c) just a blast to perform live. I don’t know why his music isn’t performed more by big American orchestras, ours included, but since it isn’t, this may be your first time hearing Lutoslawski, and if that’s the case, you’re in for a treat.
There are two symphonies and a work for baritone and orchestra on this 1994 disc, and the MP3 version is going for $2.99 on Amazon and iTunes, so joining the Listening Room conversation this month probably costs less than your daily Caribou Coffee fix. Jump on board, send your initial thoughts to me by e-mail (sbergman[at]mnorch.org) if you want, and Judd and I will kick off the conversation on Monday the 23rd…
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