The four members of the oboe section made clever merry at the National Youth Orchestra's annual talent show, just before the start of their concert tour on Thursday. (You can read more about it in today's Star.)
The oboists are Véronique Guay (from Montreal's South Shore), Aidan Dugan (Ottawa), Ron Mann (North Vancouver) and Hugo Lee (Toronto):
Organizers have worked hard over the past couple of years to change rules and balance juries for the quadrennial event so that no one can argue with the results (something competition watchers tend to do compulsively anyway).
They are also promising live web streaming of all competition rounds, which are being held on seven different halls in St. Petersburg and Moscow (including a first look inside the Moscow Conservatory's newly renovated concert spaces). The producer for the webcasts is Molly McBride, who did a brilliant job in getting the 2009 Cliburn competition online.
It promises to be a great window on one of the world's biggest and most prestigious competitions in piano, violin, cello and voice. Instrumental competitors are aged 16 to 30, vocal competitors are 18 to 32.
Piano and cello rounds began today at 1 p.m. local time in Moscow. Vocal and violin begin tomorrow in St. Petersburg.
There are two Canadians competing this time: Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio alumna, soprano Yannick Muriel Noah, and remarkable 18-year-old Montrealer, cellist Stéphane Tetrault, a student of Yuli Turovsky's and the youngest member selected for the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra.
As is so often the case on the first day of a webcast from a new setup, there are teething problems. My first check of today's piano webcast wasn't promising: the stream repeatedly stalled, and I couldn't figure out how to switch away from the piano competitors to check in to the cello rounds.
I received my first list of 100 pieces yesterday, from Toronto violinist, teacher and Toronto Masque Theatre founder, Larry Beckwith.
It's not too hard to pick composers, but it's a major challenge to pick individual pieces. Thee are only a couple of composers from Beckwith's list I would not have included. I've bolded those specific pieces that would have been on my list (and I'm adding commentary, text translations and video clips, for the first three).
Heeeere's Larry, being perfectly chronological (the commentary is mine):
From the lists you've already received, it seems important to make the distinction between personal taste and some sort of objective idea of pieces that are valuable or "necessary". There are those pieces that have special meaning in one's life because of a particular performance one heard, or the circumstances - a love affair, the death of someone close, etc - that surround it. These are 100 pieces off the top of my head that I would deem "necessary" to anyone who really wanted to know something deep and essential about the Western classical music tradition (I think the 19th century is over-rated....I don't see Rossini, Donizetti or Bellini as having been innovative in any way, neither were Tchaikovsky or Puccini...lots to argue about!) The last 2 entries may be subjective, but I grew up with a composer in the house who I admire greatly!...and Stardust, well, that's an incredible song with alot of meaning for me:
*HIldegard: Ordo virtutum *Machaut: Messe de Notre Dame *Dufay: Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys *Ockeghem: Requiem *Josquin: Ave Maria
*Gesualdo: Madrigals, book VI -No ordinary rules of musical theory apply in thiese mesperizing polyphonies. Even Igor Stravinsky felt compelled to make a pilgrimage to this tragic madman's haunted, abandoned castle. Here is No. 17, "Moro lasso al mio duolo" led by Alan Curtis:
I die, alas, in my suffering, And she who could give me life, Alas, kills me and will not help me.
O sorrowful fate, She who could give me life, Alas, gives me death.
*Palestrina: Missa aeterna christi munera *Byrd: Cantinones sacrae (1591)
*Tallis: Spem in alium -The legendary motet written around 1570 for 40 individual voices (eight groups of five voices) is the ne plus ultra of polyphony, and one of the most awe-inspiring pieces of music every written, anywhere. The video comes with bonus visuals of Ely Cathedral, which is just north of Cambridge (Tallis was organist at Canterbury Cathedral):
I have never put my hope in any other but in You,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness
*Monteverdi: Orfeo -Claudio Monteverdi didn't invent opera, but is the only member of the Italian "New School" of composers whose operas have survived. These men looked back to Antiquity to find a way of maximizing drama by blending music and text in a stage play. I would rate the Marian Vespers of 1610 as highly as Orfeo, but it's time for something secular.
Here is Cecilia Gasdia as La Musica, singing the Prologue in a 1998 production of the opera at the Teatro Goldoni in Florence, led by René Jacobs:
From my beloved Permessus I come to you, illustrious heroes, noble scions of kings, whose glorious deeds Fame relates, though falling short of the truth, since the target is too high.
I am Music, who in sweet accents can calm each troubled heart, and now with noble anger, now with love, can kindle the most frigid minds.
I, with my lyre of gold and with my singing, am used to sometimes charming my mortal ears, and in this way inspire souls with a longing for the sonorous harmony of heaven's lyre.
From here desire spurs me to tell you of Orpheus, Orpheus who drew wild beasts to him by his songs and who subjugated Hades by his entreaties, the immortal glory of Pindus and Helicon.
Now while I alternate my songs, now happy, now sad, let no small bird stir among these trees, no noisy wave be heard on these river-banks, and let each little breeze halt in its course.
*Monteverdi: Vespers (1610) *Monteverdi: Madrigals, book VIII *Carissimi: Jephte *Schutz: Musikalische exequien *Purcell: Dido and Aeneas *Purcell: Te Deum and Jubilate *Corelli: Violin sonatas, op. 5 *Couperin: Lecons de tenebres *Charpentier: Medee *D. Scarlatti: Piano Sonata, L. 224 *Vivaldi: "Winter" from The Four Seasons *Handel: Solomon **Handel: Giulio Cesare *Bach: Klavierubung III *Bach: Trauer-ode *Bach: Cello Suites *Bach: St. Matthew Passion *Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier, books I and II *Rameau: Les indes galantes *Haydn: String quartet, op. 76, #2 *Haydn: Trumpet Concerto *Haydn: Symphony #104 *Mozart: Piano concerto in D minor *Mozart: Don Giovanni *Mozart: Clarinet quintet *Mozart: Jupiter Symphony *Beethoven: Violin Concerto *Beethoven: Symphony #9 *Beethoven: String Quartet, op. 131 *Beethoven: Piano sonata, op. 109 *Schubert: Die Winterreise *Schubert: String Quintet in C major (I agree with Scott!) *Schubert: Symphony #9 *Weber: Der Freischutz *Schumann: Piano Quintet *Mendelssohn: Elijah *Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique *Chopin: Preludes for piano *Brahms: Haydn Variations *Brahms: Piano pieces, op. 118 and 119 *Bizet: Carmen *Dvorak: Serenade for Strings *Verdi: La Traviata *Verdi: Otello *Wagner: Tristan und Isolde *Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition *Mahler: Symphony #5 *Widor: Toccata for organ *Ives: Three Places in New England *Stravinsky: Rite of Spring *Ives: Concord Sonata *Stravinsky: Agon *Debussy: La Mer *Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande *Debussy: Preludes for piano, books 1 and 2 *Ravel: Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé *Strauss: Elektra *Schoenberg: Moses und Aron *Joplin: Treemonisha *Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet *Berg: Violin concerto *Berg: Wozzeck *Janacek: Jenufa *Weill: Mahagony *Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue *Gershwin: Porgy and Bess *Shostakovich: Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk *Bartok: Miraculous Mandarin *Bartok: String Quartet #5 *Messiaen: Quartet for the end of time *Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony *Duruflé: Requiem •Duruflé: Ubi caritas •Barber: Adagio for strings •Bernstein: West Side Story •Howells: Collegium Regal Service •Elgar: Dream of Gerontius •Copland: The Tender Land •Britten: War Requiem •Miles Davis: So What •Lutoslawski: Symphony #4 •Boulez: Le marteau sans maitre •Billy Strayhorn: Take the "A" train •Berio: Sinfonia •Berio: Sequenza for Soprano •Stockhausen: Stimmung •Maxwell Davies: Diary of a Mad King •Schafer: Patria Cycle •John Beckwith: Sharon Fragments •Hoagy Carmichael: Stardust
It's fun to start something on the spur of the moment. It's another to make it work. The submissions and suggestions for my list of The Necessary 100 pieces of music (thanks to Daniel Shapiro for the title) are coming in -- see the comments at the bottom of yesterdays post, plus more below.
I'm going to keep posting your submissions, and provide one suggestion a day. Then, when it feels like we're reaching some sort of critical mass, I'll start getting this little beast of a list organized.
I was thinking it would be fun to try to convince a music downloading service to offer a Necessary 100 package at an attractive price. But let's see how things go, first...
SUBMISSIONS VIA EMAIL:
From Daniel Shapiro: The challenge to choose the Necessary 100 may indeed be too challenging, at least for those of us with jobs and lives to live, but I offer the following:
1. Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, which I think is simply the most beautiful full-length classical piece. Period.
2. J.S. Bach's A Musical Offering. This isn't Bach's finest work (I've no idea how to choose that, and I'd take Bach's work alone if I could have only one composer), but it displays a command of counterpoint that never fails to astonish me. As a sometime composer, I know that trying to make a worthwhile extended contrapuntal section is tremendously difficult; in this piece, Bach does five-part counterpoint, and in one short section six-part. Having worked for a long, tortuous period to achieve three- and four-part counterpoint, I listen to this simply awestruck.
(Here are flutist Marc and harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï to give us a taste of the main theme and ricercar (a 3):)
3. Leonard Cohen's New Skin for the Old Ceremony. (If we are choosing full-length works including operas, albums of song belong here (what about The Who's Tommy?), and not just individual songs. I am not a big Schubert fan, but if someone chose the Winterreise as a group, I think we'd have to let them.) The individual songs are extraordinary pieces, but together form a kind of look into the soul, dark and light, brutal and sensitive, that seems to me unparallelled.
4. Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. The collection of songs here are the epitome of what makes this songwriter's canon so great. The extended metaphors of the title song and "Desolation Row," the harsh but empathetic attitude embodied in "Like a Rolling Stone," "Ballad of a Thin Man," and "Queen Jane Approximately," and the sheer exuberance in melody and rhyme of practically every song on the album makes this necessary.
5. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. I once heard an overnight FM host object to playing some of the great "warhorses" (his word) of classical music, because we've heard them so often; I recall thinking that we listen to them over and over because they repay the time and effort. He was referring to Grieg's Piano Concerto (lower down on my own list, but surely in there somewhere), but the notion applies to this, in my opinion as in many others', simply the greatest symphony in the repertoire. Yes, the Ninth is magnificent, the Eroica is extraordinary, and I have a warm spot for the rich and surprising Seventh (and the Fourth is my pocket fave, the one I like when the others are just too much), but the Fifth rings down the centuries with a greatness unlike the others; it's on a separate plane. What is more thrilling than its opening four notes, more surprising and striking than the oboe obbligato, more satisfying as a complete orchestral meal?
6. Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Again, we listened to it too many times, but it got played so much because it's so terrific. From the traditional versions to the Nigel Kennedy and Il Giardino Armonico re-imaginings, the range and the delight of this sequence of pieces continues to enthrall new listeners. And, if you come to it without the jaded ear most of us older listeners have acquired, you'll hear anew its wonder and mastery.
7. Joni Mitchell's Blue. A series of songs so personal they'll have the hair on the back of your neck standing on end. Strong melody, instrumentation that shows the beginnings of her interest in jazz without losing the lightness of pop songs, yet songs that have real weight.
8. Hector Berlioz's Harold in Italy. Berlioz's masterpiece, I think, and so much better than the rest of his work that it belongs here. If I ever chose to learn to play the viola, it would be to play this. What melodic invention! What sheer pleasure in the sound of life!
9. Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." When I first heard this, I was simply floored. The recreation of mediaeval ballad style, complete with daring rhymes ("too rough to feed ya" and "been good to know ya" reminded me of no one so much as Geoffrey Chaucer) and the even more daring tactic of letting the simple melody take care of itself, as a ballad will. I separate it from the album it was on not because there were no other good songs (Lightfoot's catalogue of wonderful songs is second to no one's), but because it's just such an unbelievable achievement of mature songcraft, that every time I hear it I am astounded and captured by it.
I don't really have time to fill in ninety-one more items, but I would like to include more Bach, along with Brahms, Prokofiev, Schumann's string quintet, albums by the Beatles (Rubber Soul or Sergeant Pepper), Phil Ochs (Rehearsals for Retirement), Gershwin (Concerto in F and Fred Astaire's album of song stylings, perhaps), Handel, Haydn, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck's Time Out, Randy Newman's Little Criminals, Shostakovich, something by Poulenc, and — well, you see why I have to stop now.
From Canadian Opera Company Orchestra tuba Scott Irvine:
I'm not even going to try to limit myself to 100. Sometimes I need the bombast and swagger of stuff like Walton's Crown Imperial, or the intimacy of Feldman's chamber works. Bach plays a big role, as does the music of Vaughan Williams, (that's where you and I first got into contact). I'm also a string 4tet junkie, so Beethoven looms large as well. And of course, I've been in the COC Orchestra for over 25 years, so Mozart, Puccini, Strauss and Wagner have to figure in there somewhere.
So I will name just one piece -- number 1 on my list, above everything else. It's the first CD I would grab in case of fire:
Schubert - String Quintet in C major, D956
Here's the music, as performed by our very own Penderecki String Quartet, with cellist Roman Borys, earlier this year:
MY DAILY SUBMISSION Because of the jumble in my head over this little game, I'm going to do this chronologically, so that my eensy little brain can keep my own list straight.
Early Music: Libro Vermell de Montserrat If nothing else, this collection of 10 devotional songs and dances compiled in the 14th century in the Catalan monastery in Montserrat (home to a shrine to the Black Virgin) serves to remind us of how dancing does not have to be confined to deafening clubs in the Entertainment District. This simple music, written in one or two parts, was not meant to be listened to but meant to be sung and enjoyed by anyone who had made the pilgrimage to Montserrat. This is music that's all about life.
Here is "Stella Splendens" and "Los Set goxs recomptarem" (The Seven Joys):
Back in the 20th century, a friend of mine returned from a prolonged stay in South Asia with a suitcase. He rented a room painted white and slept on a tatami mat. He made me think of a modern-day monk.
"That's all I need," he declared proudly. Then I watched him reintegrate into Western life. Within three years he had bought a house and had filled it to the brim with found and reclaimed furnishings.
My friend's swift transformation made me acutely aware of how overstuffed our lives are and how, despite our best efforts, it's hard to keep cherishing a lone prized object, when there are 50 more vying for our attention.
Our entire way of life is built upon desire for more. If we stopped shopping recreationally, our economy would collapse -- just witness life in the U.S.A, circa 2011. It's the same with art: books, paintings, music.
If we reduce our consumption of culture, artists starve and potential goes unrealised. It becomes our duty of read, to listen, to devour the fruits of others' creativity.
But I'm interested in how much we really need. There's a growing movement of people who are trying to live with 100 things, led by a guy named Dave Bruno -- an unsound plan for our economy, but a brilliant tonic for our cluttered lives.
I'd like to play a similar game with Western art music. It's like the old music on a desert island game, and this one is particularly challenging, probably impossible.
What are the 100 pieces of music -- including full operas -- that we simply can't live without in 2011?
Email your suggestions, and short justification to firstname.lastname@example.org
I would be very unhappy if I had to surrender this little piece of music from my life. As improbable as it may sound, it is Gabriel Fauré's Nocturne No. 2 for solo piano. There is a full story, a subtantial journey, in its 6-plus minutes. It is pretty, but is also beautifully structured. Even so, I know it doesn't stand a chance of making it onto a Top 100 list.
Here is the great French pianist Samson François (1924-1970) to play it:
Just received an email from Show One Productions announcing that the musical comedy duo of Igudesman and Joo are finally coming to Toronto for two shows at the St. Lawrence Centre on Apr. 2. You'll find ticket info here.
They're very, very silly -- and very, very funny.
Here they are being especially rambunctuous with guest Emanuel Ax, followed y one of their original hit sketches, "I Will Survive":
New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini is engaging in one of those aesthetic parlor games writ large, as he invites interested readers to help him pick the Top 10 Western Ccomposers of all time -- or at least since the beginning of the 18th century.
Not a frivolous or gimmick-loving writer, Tommasini introduces the exerecise thus:
So if you were to try to compile a list of the 10 greatest composers in history, how would you go about it? For me the resulting list would not be the point. But the process of coming up with such a list might be clarifying and instructive, as well as exasperating and fun.
Bach stood right in the middle of this historical crossroads. His music is an astonishing synthesis of what had been and what was coming. Elements of the high polyphonic tradition run through his work. Yet the era of simpler Baroque textures and clear, strong tonal harmony had arrived.
In just the collected Bach chorales — the four-part, hymnlike settings of church tunes that crop up in his oratorios and cantatas — he codified everything that was known about harmony and anticipated the future, including wayward chromatic harmony à la Wagner. In the opening measures of the chorale “Es Ist Genug,” the one Berg incorporated into his final work, the Violin Concerto, Bach even anticipates atonality.
The 48 preludes and fugues of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” are the ultimate exploration of counterpoint in all its complexities, yet also a dazzling collection of quirky, sublime and sometimes showy character pieces.
What composer before or after Bach could have written the opening Kyrie of the Mass in B minor? It begins with choral cries of “Lord have mercy” (“Kyrie eleison”) as harmonically wrenching as anything in Brahms or Mahler. Then, with transfixing calm, the winding Kyrie theme is heard in the orchestra over a steady tread of a bass, as the inner voices build up. One by one the sections of the chorus enter, until Bach has constructed an intricate web of counterpoint at once intimidating in its complexity and consolingly beautiful.
My contribution to the Bach nomination is his St. Matthew Passion. I get goosebumps just thinking about the opening chorus. Her is Kurt Masur talking about the work, followed by the opening, as performed by the Rheinische Cantorei under condutor Hermann Max. It's slow, but powerful.
While looking for something else, I ran across this fun Channel 4 segment from Faking It two years ago. Here, a 25-year-old punk rocker, Loiner (that's the demonym for people from Leeds, England) Chris Sweeney, discovers what conducting an orchestra means. Even working in simple, 4/4 time doesn't appear to come easily. There are nice cameos by maestro Nicholas Kraemer and his kids.
John Terauds started at the Toronto Star as a freelance writer in 1988, and has been on staff since 1997. He began writing on classical music in 2001, and has been the full-time classical music critic since 2005.
He is also the organist and choir director at St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish founded in 1863 in downtown Toronto.
If he's not listening to, writing about or playing music, it means he's either asleep, unconscious, walking his dog -- or all of the above.
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