Friday, April 18, 2014

CCC 100 - Andrew Schultz

Australian composer Andrew Schultz is this week's featured Consonant Classical Challenge entry. Schultz has written an impressive body of work, including three symphonies, a violin concerto, and several other orchestral works. His chamber music is frequently performed, as are some of his choral compositions.

Schultz is well aware of the cultural power the language of tonal music has, and uses it to great effect. Although his music doesn't use simple chords moving in standard progressions, it has both a tonal foundation and forward motion. And that, I think, is due to his understanding of how music is heard (especially outside of academia).

After Nina is an excellent example of Schultz's composition principles. The work is based on Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit." Although he deconstructs the song, the pieces aren't just scattered about. They're reorganized in a way that creates a new work with a structure and internal logic that can be easily followed by the listener.

Circle Ground Septet No. 2 rocks back and forth on a simple harmonic foundation (the ground). But over top of that foundation, all kinds of wonderful things occur, including some pretty innovative melodic writing.

One Sound, a quintet for flute and strings, shows how imaginatively Schultz uses the basic building blocks of tonal music. The harmonies are constructed of intervals that -- depending on whether they're thirds or seconds -- can have a simple, modal sound or a denser, more atonal character, without being exactly either.

In Ring Out, Wild Bells, Schultz takes a quite simple melodic idea and uses it to create a more elaborate sound structure for chorus.

In this excerpt from his Violin Concerto, the solo violin floats over elegiac and expansive orchestral music. Schultz's careful attention to detail with the orchestration creates a wonderfully unique atmosphere.

Andrew Shultz writes music that embraces rather than turn its back on musical traditions. But I suspect the blue-hairs won't hear the connection. For late middle-aged (and younger) audiences, though, Shultz's music should make perfect sense, and fit in quite well with a program of standard classical works. I wish more of his music was performed here in the States.

Recommended Recordings

Andrew Schultz - Orchestral Works

Andrew Schultz - Suspended Preludes

Andrew Schultz - Chamber Music

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Re-paving Paradise in the O-Gauge Zen Garden (Part 1)

I was quite happy with the results of my last project for the layout (Shedding an Image). Happy that is, until I looked closely at one of the photos of the finished project. (click on images to enlarge)

Pavement shouldn't be warped and wrinkled.
The construction paper I used to represent roads and parking lots had been there for some time -- long enough to absorb some moisture and wrinkle. Before I had completely finished with the shed project, I knew what would be next -- replacing that old paper!

It turned out I had a ready-made solution. When I built the layout, I happened to have a roll of cork board in the garage, left over from an old project. There was enough to carpet the surface of the layout, which helped cut down on the noise somewhat when the trains ran.

I had already used some of the cork board for sidewalks. Painted with primer and then flat gray, it looked very much like poured concrete. I decided to do something similar to simulate paving.

The cork board was trimmed at an angle to create the shoulder of the road.
I experimented with a scrap of cork board and some paint, and got the results I wanted by simply dabbing the paint onto the cork (without primer).

I prepped the area by taking up the old paper, and cut out the edge of where the paving would be with a box cutter. I made sure to cut at a slant, to represent the shoulder of the road.

Then it was just a matter of taking a bottle of flat black model paint and dabbing it onto the surface.

I finished the main road with the black paint, and it looked like pretty convincing asphalt. There was a parking lot just off the road for one of the train stations. In real life, parking lots use a different (and less expensive) type of paving material than roads that have to bear constant traffic.

To model that, I mixed a little grey paint in with the black, until I found a shade I was satisfied with. You can see the results below.

Parking lot on left, thoroughfare on the right. Still to do: paint the crossing
ramp to match the pavement.

I was happy with the results, but there was a problem. This parking lot/access road part of the layout was the smaller of the two areas that needed "paving." And I had already run through five bottles of paint. Fortunately, there was another solution for the town's main street, as I'll explain in part 2.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Danielpour: Toward a Season of Peace

Richard Danielpour
Toward a Season of Peace
Hila Plitmann, soprano
Pacific Chorale
Pacific Symphony, Carl St. Clair, director

Richard Danielpour's "Towards a Season of Peace" is an ambitious work -- and one that succeeds in that ambition. Danielpour combines texts from Jewish, Christian and Persian (Arabic) sources in his oratorio for peace. By doing so, he shows the parallels and common ground between the three major religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim -- currently at war with each other in the Middle East.

Unlike Bernstein's "Requiem Mass," Danielpour never gets preachy. He lets the inherent beauty of the poetic texts, supported by his music, speak for itself. The work is tonal and quite easy to follow -- which I suspect was Danielpour's intention. This isn't an esoteric work for the cognoscente, but rather a work that can be heard and enjoyed by a much wider audience. If you enjoy "modern" composers such as Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, or Michael Tippett, then you should find much to like in Daneilpour's composition. Not that he sounds like any of those composers, but Danielpour seems to be coming from the same place.

In the liner notes Danielpour talks about reconnecting with his Persian musical heritage, and several parts of the score reflect that, adding a verve and excitement not found in works sticking to just Western traditions.

Hila Plitmann's in fine form, letting her clear soprano voice float lightly above the orchestra in her solos. The overall performance by the Pacific Chorale, Pacific Symphony and conductor Carl St. Clair benefit from their close working relationship with the composer. This may be a world-premier recording, but the ensemble performs it as if it were a work they had been playing for years.