Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Spam Roundup December, 2013

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

I'm sorry, what?!

- It's very straightforward to find out any matter on net as compared to books, as I found this piece of writing at this web page.
- "Straightforward" -- unlike this comment.

So that's what the kids are calling it!

- Simply want to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity for your publish is just cool and i could suppose you are a professional on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grasp your feed to stay updated with approaching post. -
- Keep your grasping hands off my feed, please.

I will immediately snatch your rss as I can't in finding your email subscription link or newsletter service. Do you've any? Kindly let me realize in order that I could subscribe.
- No thanks, I don't want to play grab-RSS.

The No Comment Comment

- Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article. I like to write a little comment to support you -
- Please do! Oh -- that was it?

- This blog was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something that helped me.
- Thanks! Your comment, on the other hand was... how do you say it? Irrelevant!

Here's a first Ηello there! Would you mіnd if I sharе yoour log with my zynga group? There's a lot of people that I think woulԁ rеally appreciate your content.
 - This comment was for a post profiling classical composer Willem Wander van Nieuwkerk. His music's very good, but not my first choice for a Zynga session.

Randomly generated words of wisdom
It is аppropriate time tto mаzke some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I hve read this pοst and if I cold I want to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions. Maybe you could write neхt aгticles referring to this aгticle. I wish to reaad more things about it!
- I'd love to hear your suggested suggestions. 

This is just a fraction of what I received this month. I guess my clarity for publish is just too cool. Until the next roundup, make some plans for the future. Be happy, but don't let anyone snatch your RSS.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Diabelli Project 022 - 3-voice Fugue in G

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This time I decided to be a little more ambitious and add more voices. The result is the beginning of a 3-voice fugue.

So what happens next? Will this stay in G major, and move to D major? Or will it go to the relative minor? Or will it move to a mode? That's up to you! Just let me know you're inspired to finish this.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Getting with the Christmas Program -- The Results

Yesterday I hosted a Christmas Morning program on WTJU. In my previous post (Getting with the Christmas Program), I outlined the challenges of lining up music for the show.

So how did I end up balancing sacred/secular, familiar/obscure, choral/instrumental, original version/arrangement in this three-hour classical music program? Here's the playlist, and where it fell in each of the four criteria.

"Lauda perla Nativita del Signore" - Otterino Respighi
 - This work for chorus and orchestra is decidedly unfamiliar to most listeners. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful setting of the Christmas story.

Romanian Christmas Carols - Bela Bartok
 - These would be unfamiliar to most, also. These are arrangements of Romanian carols by Bartok. The solo piano provides contrast to the sound of the previous large-scale work.

Commonwealth Christmas Overture - Malcolm Arnold
 - Arnold's work was commissioned in 1957 by the BBC to commemorate the first Christmas broadcast by a British monarch. It has been performed very few times since the premier. Another unfamiliar work, this was almost all original material by Arnold. The orchestral score contrasts nicely to the Bartok solo piano piece.

"Walking on Air"  - Howard Blake
 - This song from the animated film "The Snowman" is known world-wide. I aired the version from the original soundtrack, so count this under the familar and original music columns. And secular as well, of course.

"Three Moravian Carols" John Antes
 - John Antes was an early 19th century American composer, and a member of the Moravian community. These are his arrangements of Moravian carols for trombone ensemble. A vivid contrast to the sound of "Walking on Air." 

"Frohlocke, were Christenheit" Christoph Graupner
 -  Playing a Christmas cantata is an easy choice for a classical music program. Rather than air selections from Bach's Christmas Oratorio, or any of his cantatas for Advent, I went with a Christmas Day cantata written by a contemporary, Christoph Graupner. This work featured a baroque ensemble and soloists.

"Die Natali, Op. 37" Samuel Barber
 - Barber's 1960 orchestral work quotes some traditional carols, but mixes it with original material as well.

"Bethlehem" - William Billings
"Exultation" - Anon. 18th C.
 - I chose two early American shape-note hymns to provide real contrast. These performances for chorus and period instruments made a sharp contrast to the Barber composition. 

"Weinachthistorie SWV 435 Choruses" Heinrich Schutz
 -  Heinrich Schutz' Christmas Oratorio predates Bach's by a generation, and is one of the greatest of the mid-Baroque period. I didn't have time to air the whole thing, so I chose the opening and closing choruses, which were Schutz's harmonisations of congregational hymns (with new text).

Trois chants de Noel for soprano, piano and flute - Frank Martin
 - These small, intimate carols by Swiss composer Frank Martin changed the mood from the grand choruses of Schutz.

"Fantasia on Christmas Carols"  - Ralph Vaughan Williams
 - Vaughan William's settings of Christmas carols presented the familiar in an original fashion. This work for chorus, orchestra and baritone solo sounded very big following the small chamber carols of Martin. 

"Noel No. 3 Une bergere jolie" Michel Daquin
 - Late Baroque period composer Michel Daquin originally wrote his Noels for organ. The version I aired was an arrangement for period instruments, which gave this work some much-needed tonal variety. 

Nativity Carol - John Rutter
 - If you've sung in any church choir worth its salt, you've probably sung at least one Rutter composition. So call this one familiar. But the setting I chose (conducted by Rutter) was for chorus and orchestra, making it sound different than the way most folks would hear it in church.

"Silent Night from Three Carols, Op. 20" Kevin Oldham
 - It's a holiday tradition. Every program closest to Christmas I end the show with this recording. Oldham retained the words to this carol, and set it to entirely original music. Performed by soprano, flute, and harp, it captures the simplicity of the original carol. Yet at the same time, Oldham's composition helps us hear the overly familiar words anew. 

You can hear the program by going to the WTJU archives. It will be available for streaming through 1/7/14.  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Getting with the Christmas Program

My radio program, "Gamut" only airs on Wednesday mornings (on WTJU, 91.1fm), so it isn't often that it lands on Christmas morning -- but it did so today. So with three hours to fill, I had some musical choices to make. And actually, it was a lot of fun to do so.

Choice 1: Sacred or secular?
Because "Gamut" is a classical music program, my choices are already focused (but by no means limited). Should I just pretend it's just another Wednesday, or air music appropriate for Christmas morning?

The latter, I think.

Choice 2: Familiar or not?
Personally, I'm burnt out on a lot of the holiday music that regularly gets programmed. "Silent Night," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," etc. -- pass. And even among just classical programming, I think Praetorius' "Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming" is somewhat overplayed.

So what's left? Plenty. How about some Early American shape-note hymns? Sure, Bach wrote sacred Christmas music for church services, but so did other German Baroque composers. How about a cantata by Telemann, Schutz, or someone else for a change?

Choice 3: Choral or Instrumental?
One can be pretty wide-ranging with classical Christmas music. There's plenty of material from the Middle Ages through to the modern era -- and most of it choral. So while on paper, playing a medieval chant followed by a Benjamin Britten carol followed by a renaissance motet may seem to offer variety, to the listener it's just a whole lot of singing.

So I'll be choosing orchestral works, piano works, and some early music instrumental selections to have some real variety.

Choice 4: Original music or arrangements?
There are plenty of arrangements of popular Christmas carols. And some are quite imaginative. But how many arrangements of "Joy to the World" can one hear before it all sounds the same?

I'll be searching out original compositions written for Christmas. Must be classical, must be appealing, and must be of the highest compositional quality. I have plenty of choices.

I always make a few adjustments on-air, so the program is never 100% set until it's over. Stay tuned. I'll post the playlist tomorrow (Getting with the Christmas Program -- The Results), and you can see how these four choices guided my selections.

And Merry Christmas!

You can hear the program by going to the WTJU archives. It will be available for streaming through 1/7/14. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pearls Before Jumble

You may recall when Dick Tracy and Jumble referenced each other in their respective strips (Dick Tracy and the Jumble Crossover). This Sunday's sequence of Pearls Before Swine references Jumble, although this time it's one-sided. (Click on image to enlarge)

Steven Pastis' treatment is genius, because it work on so many levels. First, all you have to do is skim the second panel, the Jumble, and you get the joke. Rat's using his new job to heap insults on Pastis. But there's more: Pastis went to the trouble of actually creating a Jumble, and in some ways actually did one better than the regular creative team.

If you unscramble all the words, the circled letters do indeed form an anagram. And it's an anagram of a word that provides a punchline to the Jumble cartoon.

But here's the thing; when you unscramble the words, the words themselves reveal a hidden message That's why the two-letter word doesn't contribute any letters to the Jumble -- it's just part of the message.

And that's what makes this a great sequence. There are three levels of insults built into the Jumble puzzle. So the deeper you dig, the more you're rewarded. Brilliant!

Solutions below for the curious (and lazy)

„snɹǝɯnɥ„ :ǝuoq sıɥʇ ƃuıssıɯ sı sıʇsɐd sʎɐs ɹoʇɔop ǝɥʇ :ɹǝʍsuɐ
 ˙ʎuunɟun puɐ qɯnp ɥʇoq sı sןɹɐǝd :spɹoʍ

Thursday, December 19, 2013

McTee: Symphony No. 1 Ballet for Orchestra

Cindy McTee: Symphony No. 1
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin, conductor

If you're not familiar with this talented American composer (who I wrote about earlier. See CCC 059 Cindy McTee), this album provides a great introduction.

The release opens with "Circuit," a five-minute work that generates high-energy action from start to finish. By contrast, "Einstein's Dream" is a slow-moving atmospheric work for orchestra and electronics. Conservatively atonal, its evolving soundscapes are quite appealing, and draw the listener into its world.

"Double Play" was written for the Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit symphony Orchestra, and they perform it with confidence. The second movement is especially effective, bristling with jazzy, good-natured spirits.

McTee's Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra is just that -- a work of symphonic proportions that practically begs to be choreographed. Each movement has a dramatic narrative to it and a pulse that keeps the music moving constantly forward. McTee's carefully crafted melodies make her music easily accessible without resorting to triteness or cliche. This is a substantial work that merits revisiting.

Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra know this music well, and it shows. Ensemble playing is clean and precise, the narrative flow of the music is clear, and the blend between instruments and sections seamless.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Machaut: Songs from "Le Voir Dit" - Intimate music in an intimate performance

Machaut: Songs from Le Voir Dit 
The Orlando Consort

Machaut’s poem Le Voir Dit, written when he was in his sixties, recounts a love affair between himself and a young girl. Machaut included several pieces of music to help illustrate the text – a true multimedia medieval work of art.

This is spare, yet intimate music. Machaut was acknowledged to be one of the greatest poets and composers of his age – and that dual mastery is apparent. The 20-minute Le Lay De Bon Esperance, for example, is set for solo voice. Yet the text and music so perfectly match that the emotion of the poem is communicated even when the listener (such as myself) understands not a word.

The polyphonic songs, such as Se Pour Ce Muir, are textbook examples of ars nova. Macheaut uses isorhythms to develop each line independently. And yet all the voices work together, making the sound an organic whole that is as stark and beautiful as the Gothic architecture that inspired it.

The Orlando Consort is recorded with microphones closely placed. It’s a very clean record with virtually no ambiance. And in this case, that’s a good thing. Unlike Machaut’s religious works, meant to be sung in the resonant spaces of cathedrals, these songs are private messages to the reader of Le Voir Dit. Which is how the Orlando Consort performs them.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meta Blondie

For years, Blondie has been the subject of ridicule by younger comic strip artists. Take a look at Meta Barney & Clyde 3, for example. There's a perception that some things never change in Blondie. Dagwood's always being clobbered by his boss, Dagwood always crashes into the mailman, Dagwood always creates gigantic sandwiches, etc.

But that's not really true. While the comic strip has settled into routines from time to time, it hasn't become frozen in its tropes like some other strips have. When Chic Young began the strip in 1930, Blondie was a dizzy blonde flapper who dated Dagwood, the scion of an upper class family. Over time, the focus changed.

Blondie and Dagwood were married, and his family disowned him (a convenient way to reboot the strip). By 1934 the strip had become a middle-class domestic comedy. Baby Dumpling was born in in the late 1930's -- he's now a teenager and is called by his given name, Alexander. Cookie, his younger sister came along in 1941. She's also now a teenager.

After Chic Young died in 1973, the writing chores were taken over by his son, Dean. And then things really began to change. Dagwood's office now uses computers instead of typewriters. He carpools instead of taking the bus. And more importantly, Blondie is no longer a housewife -- she runs a successful catering business.

Other supporting characters have been added, and now the strip has ventured into new territory. What exactly is the J.C. Dithers company where Dagwood works? His mishandling of contracts has been a source of comedy throughout the years, but contracts for what? Chic Young originally represented it as a construction company.

In the long-running movies (28 films between 1938-1950) starring  Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake, the Dithers company is an architectural firm.

Chances are any reader who began reading it after 1950 has only seen it referred to as J.C. Dithers Company. Which is what this recent sequence is all about.(click on image to enlarge)

Kudos for Dean Young and John Marshall for taking a meta look at Blondie.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Diabelli Project 021 - Canon in G Lydian

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This week's sketch, like the one I posted last week, is a simple canon. And like last week's, it's also in a mode rather than a major or minor key. With such a long opening subject, it takes a while for this sketch to get going. But while I didn't fill up the paper with notes, I did write for the prescribed time before stopping.

So what happens next? Does this little canon stay in G Lydian, or does it change mode? That's up to you, of course, should you wish to finish this sketch. If you do, please let me know. I'm curious to hear how this one ends, too.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Garrick Ohlsson: Liszt with Fluency and Finesse

Franz Liszt, Vol. 2
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Bridge Records

The challenge with playing Franz Liszt's piano music is finding that balance between technical brilliance and insightful musicianship. The technical challenges in the music are huge -- which is why so many pianists take them on. If you can play Liszt without breaking a sweat, you can play just about anything. But what sometimes gets lost is the reason for all those notes.

Liszt had tremendous piano chops, and he used them to express his musical ideas. Garrick Ohlsson understands that, which makes his new recording of Liszt piano works so exciting.

Mastery of the music is a given with Ohlsson. He moves beyond that to get to the essence of the compositions, and expresses those insights clearly and effectively. In "Adelaide," for example, one hears Beethoven's voice coming through Liszt's arrangement. Ditto with the "Fantasy and Fugue." Bach-inspired, Liszt-arranged, both composers are given equal weight in Ohlsson's performance.

Purely Liszt compositions, such as "Mephisto Waltz No. 1" have plenty of showy drama -- but it's not over wrought. Ohlsson keeps the fireworks in check, delivering one cohesive musical work after another. This may well be the Liszt album for people who don't like Liszt.

The recording itself adds greatly to the enjoyment. Ohlsson performs on a Bosendorfer Imperial, which has an extended bass register. That gives the overall piano sound added weight. Yet the instrument's recorded clearly with just enough resonance to give it a natural sound.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Telemann Double Concerti a welcome reminder

Georg Philipp Telemann 
Double Concerti for Winds & Strings 
Rebel ; Jörg-Michael Schwarz conductor
Bridge Records

I always forget about Telemann. Unlike his contemporaries Bach and Handel, he didn't write anything that became a breakout hit, like the "Air on a G String," or "Water Music." But his music was all of a very high quality, full of inventiveness and skill -- as Rebel reminded me with this new recording of Telemann double concerti.

Played with authentic instruments, Rebel presents these works as fresh, robust compositions, brimming with energy. And that makes this a very appealing recording.

The soloists balance nicely between authentic performance practices and individual expression. As a result, these concertos sound like living, breathing works rather than museum pieces.

Recording Rebel in a church was an excellent call. The ambiance is well-suited to the ensemble, vibrant enough to give the music depth, yet intimate enough to hear every detail.

This release is a welcome reminder, indeed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sharon Bezaly - Great Works for Flute and Orchestra

Great Works for Flute and Orchestra 
Sharon Bezaly, flute
Residentie Orkest Den Haag
Neeme Jarvi, conductor

Sharon Bezaly has been steadily gaining attention in the classical world, and this recording simply adds to her reputation.

Bezaly plays with a very clear, pure tone that's well-suited to the material in this collection. Her command of the flute is exemplary. She maintains control in the extremes of the upper register, keeping the sound warm and rounded, never edgy or shrill. Her agility and precision make difficult passages seem easy -- and makes them easy to follow.

The "Great Works for Flute and Orchestra" are a mixture of pieces originally written for that configuration, and some interesting arrangements.Original works include concertos by Carl Nielsen and Carl Reinecke, a concertino by Cecile Chaminade, and the Poem for flute and orchestra by Charles Tomlinson Griffes. Arrangements include Tchaikovsky's largo and allegro, and the perennial encore piece, "Flight of the Bumblebee." Lennox Berkeley's orchestration of Francis Poulenc's Flute Sonata retains character of the work, fleshing out the structure in an interesting fashion.

The Nielsen concerto is the most aggressive of the works in the program, and one Bezaly plunges into with great relish. By contrast, she performs the Chaminade concertino with a charming tenderness entirely appropriate to the work.
Neeme Jarvi draws a warm, sympathetic sound from the  Resident Orchestra of the Haag, and BIS (as always) delivers a natural-sounding recording. Although available for download, I recommend the SACD version if you have the playback equipment. The subtleties of Bezaly's phrasing (and remarkable breath control) can only be fully appreciated in this higher fidelity format.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Diabelli Project 020 - Canon in E Dorian

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This time I went with something simpler -- just a canon in two parts. Of course, it's not that simple. It's in E Dorian mode. But still, I think this opening suggests a piece that would be fairly short with no complex rhythms.

Or does it? What happens next is up to you, if you're interested.   If you see an possibilities here, it's all yours. Just be sure to send me the results!

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Meta Barney & Clyde 3

Barney & Clyde (Gene and Dan Weingarten, writers; David Clark, art) is one of those comic strips that sometimes comments on comic strips (see: Meta Barney & Clyde, and Meta Barney & Clyde 2).

In this case, there's some harsh criticism all around -- but I can't deny it's justified. Every gag comic has its tropes -- situations the creator returns to again and again. But when they're overused, well, they just might end up in Barney & Clyde. (click on image to enlarge).

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

John Musto: Piano Concertos

John Musto: Piano Concertos
John Musto, piano
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Scott Yoo, conductor
Greely Philharmonic Orchestra; Glen Cortese, conductor
Bridge Records

John Musto performs his piano concertos with telling effect. While these works are technically challenging, I don't hear keyboard prowess being the purpose of these works. Rather, the focus seems to be on the beauty and integrity of the musical expression. Which is what makes this recording work so well. Musto has the ability to play with precision and authority -- which he does -- but it's his phrasing and articulation that gets to the heart of these works.

Musto's first piano concerto (composed in 1988) opens with a solo clarinet that sets the tone for the work. It begins with a lyrical atonality that gradually builds in intensity. While this is a big composition, there are places that are surprisingly intimate. As the work progresses, the aggressive dissonances begin to soften. The second movement introduces a touch of ragtime, leading into a bustling and satisfying final movement.

The Piano Concerto No. 2, written 18 years after the first, shows how much the composer's skill has developed. The orchestration is more varied, and more adventurous. While the first concerto flirted the vocabulary of popular music, this one fully incorporated it, in the way that Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" encapsulated jazz. Unlike Gershwin's Rhapsody, Musto's concerto is more fully realized, and highly structured.

That's not to say the second concerto's a stuffy academic exercise. The music flows seamlessly from start to finish in an inviting fashion. It's only later that you realize that the engaging first movement cadenza involved some deftly written counterpoint.

Separating the two concertos in the program are two of Musto's concert rags. They're appealing light classical compositions, perfect encore material.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 30-31

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Days 30-31 finish up this sequence, and answer a very important question. For several years now, Walt Wallet has been having dreams about vintage comic strip characters. There was some speculation that this visit to the Old Comics Retirement Home would be a loving send-off for Walt (now over 100 years old) and he would retire from the strip. As you can see in the final installment, that didn't happen, and both Walt and his grandson-in-law Slim Skinner drive off, back in to the real world (or as real as the world of Gasoline Alley gets). (click on images to enlarge)

Jim Scancarelli clearly had fun with this story arc, and I think a lot of vintage newspaper comic strip fans had fun as well. I certainly enjoyed the challenge of identifying all the characters. And even though I wasn't 100% successful, I'm hoping in time some reader of these posts will help me fill in the blanks.

Since the penultimate strip only had a single vintage character in it, I decided to pair it with the finale, rather than draw out the series yet another week! Note in the final panel there are not only characters, but a few other visual references to vintage strips.

1. Jiggs - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus

1. Mutt - Mutt and Jeff (1907 - 1982) by Bud Fischer
2. Pops - Polly and her Pals (1912-1958) by Cliff Sterrit
3. Happy Hooligan - Happy Hooligan ( (1900-1932) by Frederick Burt Opper
4. Jeff - Mutt and Jeff (1907 - 1982) by Bud Fischer
5. Winnie Winkle- Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner (1920-1996) by Martin Branner
6. Mac MacDougall - Tillie the Toiler (1921-1959) by Russ Westover
7. Harold Teen - Harold Teen (1919-1959) Carl Ed
8 Ostrich - Krazy Kat, (1913-1944) by George Herriman
9. Sparkplug - Barney Google (1919 - ?) by Billy DeBeck
10.Yellow Kid  - Yellow Kid (1895-1897) by Richard F. Outcault
11 Albert Alligator - Pogo (1948-1975) by Walt Kelly
12 Kilroy
13 Toonerville Trolley tracks - Toonerville Folks (1908-1955) by Fontaine Fox
14 Signpost reference to Smokey Stover (1935-1973) by Bill Holman

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Diabelli Project 019 - Fugue in B-flat major

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

Cranking these sketches out week after week, I've noticed I tend to fall into patterns. Last week's sketch was a fugue in lydian mode. This week's is a fugue in.... B-flat major. Eventually. Actually, it starts off on E-flat, which would make this E-flat lydian if I had continued outlining the triad. But I didn't, and so it eventually returns to B-flat as its tonal center.

Is that; a permanent return, or will the counterpoint wander in to another mode? C dorian, perhaps? Or F mixolydian? The choice is yours! If you use part of this sketch, let me know! I'm curious to hear how this one ends myself.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nanowrimo - is there an improvement?

For me, the National November Writing Month challenge wasn't quite as challenging. Could that possibly mean I'm getting better at this? Possibly. Although I should define what "this" is. The challenge is to turn off your inner editor/critic and write a 50,000 word novel over the course of 30 days.

It's not art -- just flat-out writing (sort of typing for a purpose). This year I actually started late (Nanowrimo - Late out of the gate), but by the middle of the month, I was about 25,000 words in -- exactly where I should have been (Nanowrimo -- Rounding the outside turn). In years past it's been a challenge to get those last few thousand words out, but not this time. I easily passed the 50,000 word mark, and I still have another chapter to go!

Finishing up the story feels like taking a victory lap after the race. Once I'm done, I'll give it a quick cleanup and add it to the other Nanowrimo tomes (An Anthology of Literature (Sort of)).

Yes, it's another Raven adventure, which made things easy -- the cast was set, and the story builds on the previous novels in the series. Still, this one just flowed.

So now just writing fiction isn't that difficult. But what about the actual content? This year's entry was another pulp adventure tale, set in the 1930's. The message? If you build a Diabolical Weapon, and think the authorities can't touch you, a costumed vigilante will bring about your demise.

As I like to say, great fun, but not great art. Perhaps next year I'll write a real novel about the human condition. Or maybe Raven will face another challenge from another supercrook that threatens the world...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Plymouth Adventure

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many American families have Thanksgiving stories and traditions, mine included. And ours is perhaps a little unusual, as my ancestors include three men who sailed on the Mayflower: William Brewster, spiritual head of the Pilgrims; Stephen Hopkins, a sailor and adventurer; and Thomas Rogers, a Pilgrim and a cloth merchant.

The story of the Pilgrims coming to the New World and celebrating the first Thanksgiving, has grown large in the retelling as years have passed. The historical truth of the founding of P.ymouth Colony is far removed from the national myth. And understandably so -- the myth is much more appealing.

One of my favorite versions is the 1953 all-star epic "The Plymouth Adventure." The men are noble, the women glamorous, the passion overheated -- in other words, a typical Hollywood movie of the period.

But it's still a lot of fun. Two of my ancestors are represented -- although it's unlikely William Brewster looked much like Barry Jones, or Stephen Hopkins Don Dillaway (I know -- who?).

Taken as myth, it's rollicking entertainment. And the film has two other things going for it -- the ship and the music. The model of the Mayflower was one of the most detailed ever constructed, and is part of the reason the film won an Oscar for best special effects.

And who wouldn't enjoy an epic film with a Miklos Rozsa score? Rozsa did his research. The hymn you hear at the beginning isn't "Simple Gifts," it's actually "Confess Jehovah Thankfully," by Henry Ainsworth. Ainsworth's Psalter (collection of hymns), was published in 1612 and was taken to Plymouth by the Pilgrims.

Family stories don't have to be true, as long as they entertain. Ours got the MGM treatment. Very little of it is true, but it is entertaining!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Starobin: New Music with Guitar, Vol. 8 - A personal program

New Music with Guitar, Vol. 8
David Starobin; Paul Lansky; Poul Ruders; George Crumb
David Starobin, guitar
Bridge Records

David Starobin's New Music with Guitar series has done much to expand the repertoire for the instrument. Volume 8 continues the same high standards set for composition and performance set by the previous volumes. Only this time it's personal.

It's sort of a Bridge family release. David Starobin, in addition to being the featured artist (and one of the composers), is also  the co-founder of Bridge Records. Bridge has long championed the compositions of Poul Ruders, and is releasing an on-going series of George Crumb's music. And all four composers share the same manager.

That collegial relationship gives the record, despite the disparity in styles, a unified and somewhat intimate-feeling program. (at least to my ears). 

The album starts with David Starobin's "Nielsen Variations" for solo guitar. It's the most tonal of the selections, probably because of the source material. Starobin is an imaginative composer -- especially when he's writing for his own instrument. A delightful work from start to finish.

Paul Lansky's "Partita" for guitar and percussion, is quite accessible. Lanksy's music has a New York City feel to it -- not quite Broadway, but quite cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and full of bustling energy.

"Six Pages" by Poul Ruders is just that -- six short epigrams. The whole piece only takes about seven minutes to play. Still, these are no slight pieces. Ruders carefully constructs each "page" using minimal music resources to maximum effect.

"The Ghosts of Alhambra" is classic George Crumb. This work for baritone, guitar, and percussion reminds me somewhat of his "Madrigals" and "Ancient Voices of Children." It has that same atmospheric sound and use of extended techniques that gives Crumb's music its unique character.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 29

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Days 29 begins to wind down the sequence, yet it has something unusual. (click on images to enlarge)

In the second panel we see both Li'l Abner and his "ideel," Fearless Fosdick. Fearless Fosdick was a comic strip that Li'l Abner read -- a strip within a strip. Since Fosdick was a fiction character in Li'l Abner's world, the two were never seen together. But since Al Capp's strip is discontinued, both apparently moved to the Old Comics Retirement Home -- where the rules are different, apparently.

1. Jiggs - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
2. Maggie - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
3. Li'l Abner - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp
4. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Diabelli Project 018 - Fugue in Lydian mode

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

I've said it before -- I like odd meters. And that's just one of the odd things about this week's entry. It's also in A lydian mode, which means it has two sharps instead of three. And that means that cadences will resolve VII-I, rather than V7-I (in other words, G major chord to A major, rather than E major seventh to A major). (click on image to enlarge)

So what happens next? If I were to continue it, I'd keep changing the opening motif. Note how the statement of the subject in the bass isn't exactly the same as the original. The rhythm's slightly different. As the piece progressed, these minor changes would further transform the motif, and perhaps the ending would be the arrival of a new motif, rather than the restatement of the original. But perhaps you'd envision a different direction. I invite you to have a go. And please share the results!

Friday, November 22, 2013

CCC 091 - Michael Conway Baker

Vancouver-based Michael Conway Baker is this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. Baker has composed for film as well as the concert hall. He's best known for his score to The Grey Fox. Baker's also a respected music educator, and spent 17 years as an elementary school teacher.

Perhaps its his work as an educator that informs his compositional process. Baker's style is unabashedly tonal, although the chords are often richly textured. Baker's melodies are made up of memorable motifs, which makes them easy for the average listener to follow.

The Elegy for Flute and Organ, Op. 21 demonstrates Baker's gift of melody. It's a short and simple work, but one that just seems to naturally unfold from the opening statement by the flute.

Aurora String Quartet shows Baker's skill at composing chamber music. The instruments are well-balanced, with each getting their own turn in the spotlight. The fugal section towards the end is a definite highpoint.

Baker's Concerto for Harp provides an example of his orchestral writing. The work is straight-forward. The harp part, although requiring the best out of the performer, isn't needlessly complex.

Chanson Joyeuse is an uptempo short work for orchestra. The harmonic movement is similar to that of John Rutter, and delivers the same kind of contemporary almost-pop music feel.

Michael Conway Baker is a well-known and well-respected composer in Canada, where he became a naturalized citizen. In America (where he was born), the same can't be said. And that's too bad. Because his bigger works -- such as his two symphonies and his piano concerto -- as just as well-constructed and appealing to a general audience as the works showcased above.

Recommended Recordings

Hope's Journey

Washington Square

Fantasia for flute and guitar

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Meta Foxtrot

I always enjoy comic strips that occasionally step back and take a look at comic strips. I've shared examples of comics breaking the fourth wall, cross-referencing each other, setting up a joke in one comic strip for a punchline delivered in another, and more.

Bill Amend, creator of Foxtrot carries the concept of metacognition to perhaps its logical conclusion. (click on image to enlarge)

So what's going on? Basically, you've just been given the standard outline for a typical comic strip sequence. Keep this outline in mind the next time you read a humor strip  and you'll see it at work. Changing the way we read comics by heightening our awareness? Now that's really meta.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Penderecki: Piano Concerto "Resurrection"

Krysztof Penderecki: Piano Concerto "Resurrection"
Florian Uhlig, piano
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Lukasz Borowicz, conductor
Hänssler Classic

The events of 9/11 triggered the creation of many musical works. Some are only of passing interest, while others, such as Penderecki's piano concerto have taken on a life of their own. This new recording presents the revised version of this concerto. In 2007 Penderecki rewrote the final movement, and in the process made it a more hopeful and inspiring work.

Although some of the tone clusters and and atonal gestures reminded me of his 1964 "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," Penderecki's piano concerto is a vastly different work. I'd almost classify it as post-romantic. It has the same sprawling bigness of a Rachmaninoff concerto. Although there's not a discernible cadenza, the piano plays almost non-stop throughout the work with virtuoso runs and chords. And although there are sections of great intimacy and delicacy, there are even more where the full orchestra's playing with maximum volume.

Florian Uhlig plays with the right emotional tone. He's a brilliant technician, of course, but he also understands that this is a work of deep emotion. Uhlig effectively communicates that emotion with virtually every note. And conductor Likasz Borowicz is right there with him. The work has some sudden shifts and juxtapositions, but under Borowicz' direction, there's never a misstep.

The revised "Resurrection" concerto is a powerful work that should find a place in the standard repertoire. Yes, it's that good -- and so is this recording.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 28

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired.

Days 28 wasn't much of a challenge, in terms of identifying the characters. But there was one little oddity... (click on images to enlarge)

"We viewed the security tapes." Wait -- the Old Comics Home has CCTV?! For what purpose? Are there a lot of crimes going on there? It also seems strange that comic strip characters that were active in the early to middle part of the last century seem to be conversant with modern surveillance techniques!

Just to remind you  of the parameters of this sequence, Jim Scancarelli's set the action in the Old Comic Strip Retirement Home. So the characters (with the exception of Gasoline Alley's Walt Wallet and Slim Skinner), are all from discontinued comic strips. 

1. Jeff - Mutt and Jeff (1907-1982) by Bud Fisher
2. Mutt - Mutt and Jeff (1907-1982) by Bud Fisher
3. Smokey Stover - Smokey Stover (1935-1973) by Bill Holman
4. Maggie - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Diabelli Project 019 - Fugue in E-flat lydian mode

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

OK, this one represents a mashup of styles. The modes represented the various ways one could organize a scale. If you think of just using the white keys on a piano, Dorian mode would be the white keys from D to D; Phrygian from E to E; Lydian from F to F, and so on. There were eight possible modes one could use, each with a slightly different (and to our ears) and exotic sound.

One of the biggest changes around 1600, the transition from the renaissance to the baroque, was the dropping of all but two of those old modes; which became major and minor. It was during the baroque period that fugal writing really took off. And so, writing a fugue (a Baroque form), in E-flat lydian (a renaissance form), is a little odd. But that's how the thing turned out.

 What would you do with this sketch? Keep it in the mode it starts in? Since modal keys don't have the same strong relationships that major and minor have, modulation would be perhaps more difficult. Or would it? As always, if you decide to take on the challenge, let me know how your version of this sketch turns out!

Friday, November 15, 2013

NaNoWriMo -- Rounding the outside turn

November 15th marks the halfway point of the National November Writing Month challenge. According to my status bar on the NaNoWriMo site, I should have written 25,000 words by day's end in order to finish my 50,000 word novel on time.

I'm actually at 24,502, but I'm not worried a bit. As I wrote in my first report (Late out of the gate), I started way behind this year. My outline wasn't nearly as detailed as in years past, and I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to finish.

But something strange happened. The words just flowed. And not only did they flow, but the story evolved in the process. My original plot revolved around some scientists that were being kidnapped to work on an Infernal Machine. By the time I got to the second chapter, I realized that if they all belonged to the same professional organization, there could be a reason why the victims were chosen, and a pattern for the heroes to discover.(Remember, this story takes place in 1938).

But something strange happened. The words just flowed. And not only did they flow, but the story evolved in the process. My original plot revolved around some scientists that were being kidnapped to work on an Infernal Machine. By the time I got to the second chapter, I realized that if they all belonged to the same professional organization, there could be a reason why the victims were chosen, and a pattern for the heroes to discover.(Remember, this story takes place in 1938).
The Empire State Electrical Society was founded in 1900 by Phineas Warton, an early manufacturer of electrical fixtures. Warton was convinced that electricity was the wave of the future and established the society to bring together the best minds in the field to encourage technological innovation

An inventor himself, Warton was independently wealthy from the many patents he held. He used that wealth to not only start the organization, but to provide a grand structure for its home. The Electrical Building, as it was known, had a grand white marble facade with elaborately carved lintels, door frames, and ledges. Two allegorical statues framed the entrance, representing electricity and light. b

Inside, the reception area was richly appointed with wood-paneled walls and inset mirrors. A large chandelier provided the illumination, its light bouncing off the mirrors and dazzling all who entered. There were several small but luxurious offices for the Society's staff emptying into the reception area, as well as a member's lounge and a well-stocked research library.

The upper floors contained laboratories of various sizes, where members could collaborate on experiments and test new forms of electrical distribution. The basement contained a small but powerful generator, ensuring the Society's work didn't overtax the city's electrical system.

On the top floor there was a large board room for the steering committee which ran the organization. A long mahogany table ran the length of the room. Six carved wooden chairs lined each side, with a large, high-backed leather chair at one end. Next to the leather chair, looking as if it had been placed there as an afterthought, was a plain folding camp chair. 

And a fair amount of activity takes place in this facility I had no idea even existed until I wrote those words! Although I know who the ultimate villain will turn out to be, I had know idea he would have a confederate, and a ruthless one at that:

Smith opened the laboratory notebook to a marked page, and turned the book to face Connors. “Can you explain these figures?” Smith asked in a flat voice.

Connors looked at the numbers Smith had indicated with a long index finger. He studied them for a moment, uneasy, without exactly knowing why.

“It looks like I reversed the numbers after the decimals,” he said finally. “3.92 is too far out of spec. 3.29 is the correct reading, I’m sure.”

Smith pursed his lips and nodded. “Did you not read my note cautioning you against making false readings, Dr. Connors?”

“I – I did,” Connors stammered. “This notation was an honest mistake, I promise.”

Smith slammed a fist down on the desk, The notebook jumped from the force of the impact, Connors jumped from the force of the sound.

“Let me make things even clearer, Doctor,” Smith said. “Anything that delays the outcome of this project -- deliberate sabotage, sloppy work, anything -- will not be tolerated.”

Smith signaled to the two guards standing on either side of Connors. One seized his shoulders.

“You’re right-handed, I believe, Dr. Connors?” asked Smith.

Stunned, Connors nodded dumbly. Smith arched an eyebrow and the second guard grasped Connors left arm at the elbow and the wrist. With a swift motion he pushed Connors hand flat onto the desk, the fingers splayed out on the oak surface.

Smith opened a desk drawer. In it were a variety of implements. Smith dug through them and pulled out a rubber mallet, similar to the ones auto mechanics used.

Smith’s hand whipped over his head and brought the mallet down hard on Connor’s left little finger. Pain overpowered the scientist. His knees buckled and he gasped for air. As he sagged, the two guards released their hold and he sank slowly to the floor.

Smith walked around his desk and stood over him. He gently tapped the mallet in the cupped palm of his left hand.

“You have received a warning, and a punishment. I have other tools in my drawer that can deliver much more pain. Your finger will bruise and swell, but will heal over time. Let it serve as reminder. I expect full cooperation, and I expect your best work at all times. You will return to your lab now and do so.”

The two guards each grabbed an arm and helped Connors to his feet. They half-walked, half-drug him to the door. One opened it, and before they pulled Connors into the hall, they turned him around to face Smith once more.

Smith pointed the mallet at Connors. “I expect not to see you in my office again. The consequences next time will be worse, I promise you.” 
Since I've started writing, everything has just flowed, and I'm able to bang out about 2,000 words a day. Have I finally hit my stride as a writer? I'm not 100% sure, but whatever this feeling is, I like it!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Danielpour: Darkness in the Ancient Valley

Richard Danielpour: Darkness in the Ancient Valley 
Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor 
Angela Brown, soprano 
Hila Plitmann, soprano 

Darkness in the Ancient Valley is Richard Danielpour's attempt to return to his Persian heritage. The basis for this five-movement symphony is a 16th century Iranian poem.

To my ears, the opening movement sounds like film music trying to evoke a Middle Eastern setting. But as the work progresses, pastiche gives way to passion, and the music develops its own blended and original voice. The final movement for orchestra and soprano (Hila Plitmann, for whom the part was written) brings the work home with an emotional and transcendent finale.

Rounding out the release are two other orchestral works. Lacrimae Beati sounds a little like Copland with its open intervals. Although based on the first eight bars of Mozart's Requiem (reportedly the last music he ever wrote), Danielpour so completely integrates the source material that there's almost no trace of the original composer. And that's a good thing -- this is a deeply personal work, a musing on mortality. It would be jarring to Mozart's music stick out from the rest of the composition.

A Woman's Life, a setting of eight poems by Maya Angelou, has a distinctively American feel to it. But it's not Copland Americana. While the harmonies may sound similar, the rhythm of the words and the melodic seem to recall African-American gospel traditions. The work was composed for soprano Angela Brown, and her performance here infuses the words with understated drama and urgency. A beautiful orchestral song cycle that deserves a place in the repertoire.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jean Maillard: A renaissance composer rediscovered

Jean Maillard:
Missa Je Suis Deheritee & Motets
The Marian Consort; Rory McCleery, director
Delphian Records

Jean Maillard was a student of Josquin des Prez, and his music inspired Palestrina. Although little-known today, this French composer's music was highly regarded by his contemporaries. And listening to these performances by the Marian Consort, it's easy to understand why.

Maillard carefully and tastefully builds his contrapuntal compositions in a manner similar to Palestrina, although with a lighter touch. The primary work on this album, the Missa Je suis Desheritee is one of Maillard's largest works, and the most popular during his lifetime. It, like the motets interspersed throughout, show a composer in full command of his talent, able to create ethereal cathedrals from pure sound.

The Marian Consort has a uniform clarity of tone that's well-suited to these works. The ensemble blend is quite smooth throughout, although at times the sopranos seemed to have a slight edge to their voices (especially after a wide upwards leap).

All in all, though, this is a disc that should be in the collection of anyone who loves renaissance sacred music. Maillard may be the link between Des Pres and Palestrina, but he has a style all his own.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 27

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired.

Days 27 has me completely stumped. This strip ran in June, 2013, and ever since I've been trying to identify the pig featured so prominently.

Just to remind you  of the parameters of this sequence, Jim Scancarelli's set the action in the Old Comic Strip Retirement Home. So the characters (with the exception of Gasoline Alley's Walt Wallet and Slim Skinner), are all from discontinued comic strips. 

So the character is definitely not Porky Pig. It's possible that it's an advertising figure, such as the Pepsi Cola cops, but I'm doubtful. Could it be one of the Three Little Pigs from Walt Kelly's comic? Perhaps, but I'm not entirely sure. So for now, I simply have to mark this character

1. Unknown

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Diabelli Project 018 - Odd-metered fugue for 2 voices

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

I admit it -- I love odd meters. This week's installment features one in 5/8. One thing about the way I write -- I'm very careful about the notation. Beams connect groups of notes for two reasons; readability and to show organization. As you can see, the overall pulse of this fugue is a group of three followed by a group of two. Were I to continue this, I might change that around, perhaps even playing 3+2 against 2+3 at some point. (click on image to enlarge)

But I'm not going to finish this (at least not for a while). And so you're invited to give this sketch your own spin. What do you think happens next? If you complete this fugue, please share your results!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Dick Tracy and the Unseen Cameo

Cameos by other comic strip characters in Dick Tracy is nothing new. Under the creative team of Mike Curtis and Joe Staton, Dick Tracy has taken on new life -- and not always taken itself too seriously. I've already noted the appearance of Boston Charlie from Terry and the Pirates, and Walt Wallet from Gasoline Alley (even a crossover with the Jumble team).

The sequence run the last week of October, 2013 was a little unusual for two reasons. The first being that the crossover character never appeared in panel (well, not completely). As you can see from the examples below, there's no doubt who the occupants of the neighboring cabin are. (click on images to enlarge).

We get a little foreshadowing with the name of the boat -- Swee'pea. And Olive's profile is unmistakable. I imagine copyright constraints prevented Popeye and the cast of Thimble Theater from appearing onstage. I applaud the creative way X and Staton worked around that obstacle to tell the story they wanted to tell. Well done!

I said there were two things unusual about the sequence. Here's the second. To my knowledge, this is the first time Dick Tracy has gone on vacation without running into a master criminal -- and that includes his honeymoon!

Thanks to Curtis and Staton for giving the world's most famous detective some time off.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Marcel Tyberg: Symphony No. 3 - A Voice Not Silenced

Marcel Tyberg
Symphony No. 3
Piano Trio in F major
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Michael Ludwig, violin; Roman Mckinulov, cello; Ya-Fe Chuang, piano

Marcel Tyberg finished his third symphony in 1943, shortly before his arrest by the Nazis and death at Auswitz. Fortunately, he entrusted all of his scores to a friend and so they survived the war.

The symphony is a marvelous post-romantic work, and reminds me very much of Bruckner’s 4th Symphony without in any way sounding derivative. Tyberg’s melodies are full-bodied and bursting with energy. The Scherzo is a particular delight, and the adagio is absolutely gorgeous.

It’s a bittersweet listening experience. The symphony stands on its own merits, but it makes one wonder what Tyberg might have accomplished had he lived.

Coupled with the Symphony is the piano trio from 1936. Like the symphony, it’s a lush, romantic work with plenty of opportunities for all the players to shine. In a video promoting this release, JoAnn Falletta stated she’s fallen in love with Tyberg’s music. And her performance shows it.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

John McDonald: Airy - music for violin and piano

John McDonald: Airy, Music for Violin and Piano
Joanna Kurkowicz, violin
John McDonald, piano

Airy brings together  John McDonald's music for violin and piano, bringing together light-hearted miniatures with more serious long-form compositions. It's an appealing program that's full of variety. Mad Dance, Op. 66 and the Suite of Six Curt Pieces, Op. 326 are just plain fun, while the major work, the Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 219 is more complex composition with greater emotional depth.

In the program notes, McDonald says he considers many of these works to be songs without words -- and it's an apt description. Poem, Op. 12, for example, is based on the poetry of Samuel Beckett. The shape of the music is determined by the poem, although not a word is sung. That's also the case with Lily Events, Op. 97 (inspired by poetry collection),  and the Lines After Keats, Op. 336.

There's an audible chemistry between violinist Joanna Kurkowicz and the composer (who accompanies her). Airy is the title of the release, and airy it is.