Friday, November 28, 2014

Spam Roundup, November 2014

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.

Commenta Obscura

- You acrually make it appear so easy with your preseentation however I find this topic to be resally something tnat I believe I would by no means understand. It kind of feels too complex and extremely huge for me. I'm looking ahead on your subsequent put up, I will try to get the dangle of it!
[OK, I'll put up and you get the dangle, deal?]

- Undeniably believe that which you said. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the web the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people consider worries that they just do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal.
[Yo - take a signal, people!]

- hank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we communicate?
[Given your fractured syntax, how could we?]

- Wonderful goods from you, man. I have remember your stuff previous to and you are just extremely great. I actually like what you've obtained here, certainly like what you are stating and the way in which you say it.
[Just delivering the goods.]

"Lumbering along " still lumbering along

 This is the toy that generates all the comments. 
The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along is a short post about a vintage Japanese tinplate toy. Mysteriously, it still draws the most comments. Mysterious comments.

- Heya! I'm at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone 4! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
[2010 called - they want their iPhone back]

- Hi there! This blog post coul not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this article to him.
[Your roommate has an odd religion, friend.]

- Touche. Sound arguments. Keep up the great spirit.

Fastidious falls

The use of "fastidious" seems to have peaked among spammers. There weren't as many selections to choose from this time around.

- Your way of explaining all in this piece of writing is genuinely fastidious, all can effortlessly know it, Thanks a lot.
[You (effortlessly) know it!]

- My familу members all thhe time say that I am killing my time here at wеb, but I know I am getting familiarity all the time Ƅy reading such fastidious articles.
[Listen to your family.]

And so we come to the end. Keep the great spirit, and remember -- if it all seems too complex and feels too huge, just hit the nail on the top and get the dangle. You'll be fine.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sing Thee Nowell -- Yearround Pleasure

New York Polyphony's release "Sing Thee Nowell" is a little unusual. Despite its name, this is a release I'll be enjoying throughout the year.

The ensemble's carefully chosen program includes many songs of the season, but few that have been done to death. Even the more familiar carols are heard in new and innovative arrangements.

The disc opens with Andrew Smith's arrangement of "Veni Emmanuel," which highlights the medieval origins of the tune.

From there, the group moves easily through renaissance works from composers such as Verdelot, Victoria, and Clemens "non Papa." They also perform with equal ease contemporary works by composers such Andrew Smith, John Scott, and Michael McGlynn.

A high point of the recording is "Five Carols" by Richard Rodney Bennett. The beautiful and complex harmonies of these carols seem tailor-made for the clear tone and seamless blend of New York Polyphony's ensemble sound.

Most of the works are in Latin, which is why I'll be enjoying this disc all year. Since the seasonal messages of the text are lost on me, I can just listen to the beauty of the performances -- even in the middle of summer.

This album is available in SACD format. If you appreciate vocal artistry, I recommend you purchasing it in this format. The added detail draws you into the ensemble, and you can hear just how good each of these singers are.

Sing The Nowell
New York Polyphony

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dick Tracy and the End of Annie - 2

Mike Curtis and Joe Staton finished up an extended sequence in Dick Tracy that was (in my opinion) something of a tour de force.

In addition to providing an unusual case for Dick Tracy, it also wrapped up loose ends from another legacy strip, while honoring the tradition of that strip in an innovative way.

For the full background, be sure to read part 1.

The masters of foreshadowing

Curtis and Staton extensively foreshadowed the appearance of Annie. In mid-June of 2013, Punjab, the Asp and Daddy Warbucks made cameos in Dick Tracy.

March, 2014. Staton and Curtis set the stage.

In the Vera Alldid story line, (see The Comical Dick Tracy) various newspapers show the comic strip logo for Annie, as well.

That Little Orphan Annie logo from March, 2014, is there for a reason.

The Plot Thickens

The story arc starts with Dick Tracy being enlisted by Warbucks to find Annie. The Butcher of the Balkans has been followed to Tracy's city -- but Annie isn't with him.

Ever the model capitalist, Warbucks "hires" Tracy.
Tracy, Ketchem and the rest of the cast dig into the case.

When worlds collide - June 8, 2014

While the major characters have a serious discussion, Hank Ketchem
and the Asp riff on the old novelty tune "You Can't Go Back to
Constantinople ('cause it now is Istanbul).

Sparkle Plenty receives a fan letter from Annie -- seemingly mailed in 1942! Eventually Tracy figures out that Annie's letter contains a clue as to her location and, as it turns out, her predicament as well.

Inside the "time bubble"

She's being held on Thunder Island, where residents have been brainwashed. They believe they are living in Simmons Corners, and that the year is 1944. It's actually a plot by arms dealer Axel. The purpose is to convince a scientist that he can win the war with his explosive -- which Axel will sell on the black market.

Annie happened to stumble into the plot, and is now another prisoner. Tracy follows the lead and he, too, comes under the spell of the mind control.

Note that the nurse is drawn "Annie style" without pupils. Welcome to
Simmons Corners.
Mind control that is administered through an evening radio program. Just as everyone rushed home to tune into the adventures of Annie in the 1940's (and were "brainwashed" into buying Ovaltine), Axel ensures everyone tunes into the Betty Belinda program to be subliminally hypnotized.

The story has number of deft touches. Axel was a major villain in the Harold Gray's original strip. He appeared in two sequences spanning 1939 and 1940. So using him in a plot that's seemingly set in the 1940's is just another homage to the rich heritage of Annie's mythos.

When Ketchem and company figure out where Tracy is (and what the situation is), they fly a B-17 over as a signal. The B-17 is Harvard red -- a signature color for Hotshot Charlie, a supporting character from Terry and Pirates' war years. Hotshot Charlie's made a cameo in Dick Tracy before, making his off-screen appearance doubly effective.

Hotshot Charlie flies over Simmons Corner. Note how Staton adopts
the style of original "Terry and the Pirates" artist Milton Caniff
for this sequence.
And of course, in the end, Annie is reunited with Daddy Warbucks, Punjab, and the Asp. Four years after cancellation, Slampyak's story finally reaches an end, albeit not in quite the way he envisioned it.

The official explanation, October 9, 2014
Thanks to Mike Curtis and Joe Staton for doing what the Tribune Syndicate failed to do -- bring an 86-year-old strip to a dignified conclusion.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dick Tracy and the End of Annie - 1

Mike Curtis and Joe Staton finished up an extended sequence in Dick Tracy that was (in my opinion) something of a tour de force.

In addition to providing an unusual case for Dick Tracy, it also wrapped up loose ends from another legacy strip, while honoring the tradition of that strip in an innovative way.

This post (part 1) I'll lay down the foundation for the sequence. In part 2, I'll show how Curtis and Staton used those elements to tell an unusual story.

A brief history of Little Orphan Annie

Harold Gray began Little Orphan Annie in 1924, and continued it through his death in 1968. Although the strip was continued, it was in something of a creative free fall. Artists and writers came and went, and circulation continued to decline. (click on images to enlarge)

Harold Gray's Annie, from 1936

After the success of the musical Annie (both on Broadway and in Hollywood), the strip, which had been reduced to reprinting sequences from the 1930's was resurrected. Leonard Star (Mary Perkins, On Stage) took over the strip and continued until 2000. (click on images to enlarge)

Leonard Starr's take on Annie

Noted artist Allan Kupperberg took over, and in 2004 handed off to talented artist and writer Ted Slampyak. Kupperberg and Slampyak updated Annie, letting her wear jeans and t-shirts rather than the anachronistic (but iconic) red dress.

The final Annie strip by Ted Slampyak, 2010

Unfortunately, readers wanted the musical Annie, and in 2010, Tribune Media Services abruptly cancelled the strip. Annie was in the hands of the "Butcher of the Balkans" and although Oliver Warbucks was searching frantically for her, she and the Butcher disappeared into the wilds of Guatamala. The End -- for now.

Annie's radio program featured a secret message
at the end of each episode. Buy Ovaltine, send in
the vouchers, and you could get a secret decoder
ring (and be a member of the secret society).

Little Orphan Annie on radio

Little Orphan Annie debuted on radio in 1930 as a 15-minute serial, and continued through 1942. The program settled into a format that differed from the comic strip, where Annie and Sandy were often wandering alone, in a picaresque narrative.

The radio program had Annie living in Simmon's Corner, a small, rural community in Tucker county, the ward of Ma  and Pa Silo. The Silos took care of Annie while Daddy Warbucks was off doing big projects. Of course, it didn't mean that life on the farm was dull for Annie! She crossed paths with gansters, Nazi spies, and other villians that all seemed to converge on Simmons Corners.

The modern world of Slampyak's "Annie" and the radio world of Simmons Corner would be brought together in "Dick Tracy" in a brilliant fashion. As you'll see in part two.

A worthy opponent

The villain of the Dick Tracy sequence comes from the golden age of Annie. Axel first ran across Annie in 1939, and at the time just seemed like another crook. But when he returned in 1940, he was a cold-blooded arms merchant with more than a passing resemblance to Hitler. He was eventually captured and deported.

Axel harangues his followers in 1940. 64 years later, his attitude hadn't
changed a bit.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Diabelli Project 067 - Piece for solo bassoon

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 finish up my set of solo wind pieces with one for bassoon. Sometime the bassoon is characterized as the clown of the orchestra, but that's really unfair. To my ears, the bassoon has a dark, rich sound that has an edge to it thanks to the buzzing of its double reeds. These flash compositions have a time limit, and I'm glad I was able to arrive at a logical stopping point when time ran out. (click to enlarge)

As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, this piece can be used freely by anyone. So if you know a bassoonist who needs a showpiece....

Friday, November 21, 2014

CCC 119 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

This week the Consonant Classical Challenge profiles American composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. For the first part of her career, Zwilich wrote in an agressively atonal style, perhaps reflecting her studies with Elliot Carter. Her first symphony, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, is a good example of her earlier style.

By the late 1980s, Zwilich had moved to a more tonal style of writing, which some characterise as post-modernist (or just neo-romantic). According to her website, "Ms. Zwilich combines craft and inspiration, reflecting an optimistic and humanistic spirit that gives her a unique musical voice."

Perhaps because of that, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is one of the most successful living American composers. Her works are frequently performed and recorded, and as recently as 2012 was still filling commissions.

Zwilich's late style may be tonally based, but it's a far-ranging tonality. Her melodies often have wide leaps that recall those of atonal composers. Those leaps, and the way they're harmonized give the melodies strong emotional impact.

The Lament for cello and piano, written in 2000, lays bare the essence of Zwilich's style. In it, one can hear the wide melodic leaps that give the music its piquancy.

In addition to studying with some of the major composers of the 20th century, Zwilich was also a member (early in her career) of the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. Zwilich's first-hand experience as an orchestral player shows in her music. It's both imaginative in creation and practical in execution. Her third symphony, completed in 1992, demonstrates both these qualities.

Zwilich sometimes incorporates older forms into her music. Her Concerto Grosso (1985) was written for the Handel Tricentennial. Although the instrumentation (which includes harpsichord) and the work's structure may be Handelean, there's no mistaking Zwilich's unique compositional voice.

According to her website, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has been called "one of America’s most frequently played and genuinely popular living composers." And with good reason. Her music is well-constructed, genuinely has something to say, and is both player- and listener-friendly without making any artistic compromise.

Recommended Recordings
(this is but a sampling of the works available on recordings)

Music of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Zwilich: Millennium Fantasy; Images; Peanuts Gallery

Zwilich: Concertos

Zwilich: Passionate Diversions

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Julian Wachner: Works for Orchestra and Voices

Julian Wachner: Symphony No. 1 and Other Works
NOVUS NY; Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Majestic Brass Quintet; Trinity Youth Choir; Jessica Muirhead, soprano; Christopher Burchett, bass-baritone; Steven Burns, trumpet
Naxos 3 CD Set

In the liner notes for this three-CD set, Julian Wachner writes,

"My music lives in a sound world that seeks to balance harmony and melody, movement with stasis, simplicity with chaos, and contemporary techniques with unabashed borrowing from the past."

And for the most part, he succeeds in achieving that balance, as this new three-CD collection shows. For the most part, this release presents Wachner's works for orchestra and voices. Wachner's extensive background as a church musician has given him an intimate familiarity with the possibilities of the human voice, which makes his writing for it particularly effective.

Wachner's musical style isn't easy to pin down. Sometimes his music is aggressively atonal, sometimes tonal, but always in his own voice. The First Symphony is a good example. The way Wachner voices his chords sometimes give the orchestra a hollow and ethereal sound. And his layering of voices and cross-rhythms make the orchestra sound massive, while blurring the edges.

The other large work in the collection, "come, My Dark-Eyed One" was commissioned for a concert with the Brahms Requiem. For contrast, Wachner chose a secular subject, the loss of a loved one and the emotions it triggers. I found the work quite compelling as the protagonist works his way through to acceptance. To my ears, it sounded like a companion piece to Corigliano's "Ghosts of Versailles" -- and one that seems to be more successful in its evocation of atmosphere and drama.

There's much more to this collection. There are several short sacred songs that are absolute gems. The duet for trumpet and organ "Blue, Green, and Red," that takes this instrumental combination far beyond the world of Jeremiah Clarke.

Overall, this collection provides a good overview of Wachner's style. There are large, complex works, and short ones of more modest aims. Whether you're interested in choral music or contemporary music, this one's highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kenneth Fuchs - Falling Man Stands Up to Comparison

Kenneth Fuchs: Falling Man; Movie House; Songs of Innocence and of Experience
London Symphony Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Roderick Williams, baritone

This release is the fourth such collaboration between Kenneth Fuchs and JoAnn Falletta -- and it's of the same high quality as the other three (see my review of Atlantic Riband). This time around, Falletta and the London Symphony Orchestra present three Fuchs works for baritone and chamber orchestra. 

Roderick Williams is the baritone soloist, and  he has a warm, rich voice that is supple and expressive. And that's a good thing, because each of these works has it's own character and mood.

Falling Man is inspired by Don DeLillo's novel about 9/11. At times, the work is unsettled and chaotic, echoing the emotions of the original event. Fuchs sets some of the text in an  atonal declamatory style that detaches the narrator from the action. But that detachment doesn't last. There are hints of jazz in this work, as well as a quiet, contemplative section towards the end that draws in the listener.

Kenneth Fuchs is a great admirer of John Updike, and his work Movie House sets seven of Updike's poems to music. To me, this  set had a very American sound, almost as if Fuchs had used Copland as a starting point. That's not to say Movie House is derivative -- far from it. Fuchs is inspired by his material and his music responds to Updike's imagery, providing emotional context for the words.

William Blake's poems, which are set in Songs of Innocence and of Experience are perhaps the most familiar to most listeners. And yet Fuchs gives them a fresh interpretation. The settings are quite beautiful, each song a charming miniature to be enjoyed.

If you've enjoyed this series to date, you'll not be disappointed with Falling Man.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Meta Forth 2

Writer Francesco Marciuliano has taken some interesting turns with the comic Sally Forth. For the most part, it remains the domestic strip about the foibles of a working mom and her family.

But Marciuliano occasionally slips in dialogue that suggests the characters know they're living in a comic strip (see Meta Forth). As in the sequence published September 9, 2014. (click on image to enlarge)

It tackles one of the perennial problems of comic strips in a quite novel fashion. The problem is aging. Most strips keep their characters perpetually frozen in time, preserving the situations that create the humor. Dennis the Menace is forever five years old;  Garfield will always be an adult, but never elderly, cat. Some strips let their characters age; Doonsebury, For Better or Worse (before the reboot) and Gasoline Alley are good examples. But for those strips, the growth and development of the characters and their relations is part of the story.

Sally Forth is a situational humor strip, so it's not surprising that Becla remains 12 year after year. But Bettina, who was indeed born in 2013, is having her first birthday. So are the characters now aging or -- ?

Actually, I think Marciuliano want to have it both ways. Some characters will age, others won't. It's a novel idea, and I'm interested to see how it plays out. As Ted advises, though, it's best not think about it, or the whole system (that is, the premise of the strip) will fall apart.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Diabelli Project 066: Piece for solo B-flat clarinet

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 I continue my casual tour through the orchestra with a piece for solo B-flat clarinet. Since these flash compositions have a ten-minute time limit, the fewer voices there are, the farther I can get into the piece -- like this one.

The clarinet's a pretty versatile instrument, and it was fun to write for. I took advantage of the differences in tone between the registers. While the low notes can sound dark and rich, the upper register tends to be a little shrill (in a musical way). (click on image to enlarge).

So where does this piece go next? That's up to you, if you're so inclined. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, this one can be used freely by anyone. Just let me know the results. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Straco Layout, Part 38 - Linemar Brings Good Things to Light

Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

My most recent acquisition for the Straco Express display layout serves two purposes. It's a small Linemar GE courier car, a friction toy made in Japan in the late 1950's.

The first purpose it serves is to add to my understanding of Linemar. It's another vehicle from a set that Linemar issued in the late 1950's (see Collecting -- and Collecting Information Part 15). So now I have five of the ten vehicles offered in that set, and a slightly better understanding of how it was put together.

The second purpose was the same as my last purchase (see Part 34, Fade to Orange) -- to increase the variety of color on the display layout. Most of the vehicles on the display have bright primary colors. Red and yellow are the most common, with green running a close second, and blue coming in third.

The GE courier car is a strange gunmetal blue, and the other colors are also somewhat muted. I think it makes for an attractive piece, and one that does add some variety and interest to the display layout.

Will I seek out more from the Linemar set? Sure, I'll keep looking -- but I have a pretty tight price cap. Some of the pieces, such as the Coca-Cola delivery truck run $80 or more. And that's about eight times what I'm willing to pay. And there's a police car that came with the set that I've never seen on the market. Who knows what that might be valued at!

No matter. The GE courier car fits in well with the layout, and if I never add another piece of the set, it will still look pretty good on the congested roads of the Straco Express display layout.

Total cost for the project:
Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00 
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95 
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99 
  • LineMar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
Total Cost: $140.95

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Latvian Radio Choir Sing of Sacred Love

Sacred Love
Latvian Radio Choir
Sigvards Klava, conductor

Sacred Love features the music of three Russian composers - Yuri Falik, Arturs Maskats, and Georgy Sviridov. And not just those composers, but choral works based on Russian poetry or literature by those three composers.

It's apt repertoire for the Latvian Radio Choir. The performers speak the language, and are steeped in the Russian choral tradition. The basses, of course, extend lower than they do in Western choirs, providing an anchor for the sound. The ensemble is immaculately recorded, well-positioned in a church to reap the benefit of the spacious acoustics while retaining clear articulation.

While the program has a homogeneous sound, there are distinct differences between the three composers. Falik seems the most cosmopolitan of the three. His "Habanera," for example is Spanish in flavor, while retaining the Eastern European choral sound.

Maskats was heavily influenced by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, and particularly by their choral works. Some of his music reminded me of the Rachmaninov Vespers in spirituality as well as sound.

Sviridov studied under Shostakovich, and one can hear a little of his teacher's style in his work. The selections include both sacred and secular compositions by Sviridov. The sacred follow Eastern Orthodox choral traditions, while the secular (to my ears) sound more Soviet Realist -- folk-based material presented in a conservative 20th Century style.

Sacred Love has an overarching beauty and serenity to it. I'd recommend this recording not just to those who enjoy Eastern European choral music, but for anyone who is moved by the sound of the human voice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ralph van Raat performs Frederic Rzewski

Frederic Rzewski: Four Pieces; Hard Cuts; The Housewife's Lament
Ralph van Raat, piano
Lunapark; Arnold Marinissen, percussion

Pianist/composer Frederic Rzewski is best known for The People United Will Never Be Defeated!. Echoes of that massive set of piano variations can be heard in this program of shorter works by Rzweski.

The Housewife's Lament, like The People..., is a set of variations on a pre-existing tune. Although the scope of the variations is much smaller than The People... they're no less though. Rzewski breaks the simple tune into its component parts and uses them in new and surprising ways, showing the full potential of the source material.

The Four Pieces of 1977, to my ears, are almost a catalog of Rzewski's style. There syncopated rhythms, hints of jazz, folk-derived melodies, and Rzewski's unique voicing of chords, all coming together in these four studies. If one needed an introduction to Rzewski, the Four Pieces would be a good place to start.

Pianist Ralph van Raat has an exceptional rapport with this music, and his performances of them hold up well in comparison to Rzewski's own. Hard Cuts was composed for Ralph van Raat and Lunapark, who perform the work on this album. In this case, "hard" doesn't necessarily mean "difficult" -- but it does mean sudden. The work is a heady melange of melodic and harmonic elements that rapidly jump from one to the other. It's an exciting work, made even more so by the performances of van Raat and Lunapark.

If you only know Rzewski through The People... this recording will add to your understanding and appreciation of his unique compositional voice. If you haven't yet heard The People... this recording can help prepare you to better appreciate Rzewski's masterwork. Either way, I highly recommend this release.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lio and the Origin of Peanuts

Just by reading Lio on a daily basis, I can tell creator Mark Tatulli has some strong opinions about "legacy strips," and most especially zombie strips. The former are comic strips that continue after the original creator's died. Dick Tracy is a good example, having passed through several creative teams after Chester Gould's retirement. Some legacy strips take the characters and develop them further, keeping pace with current trends (like Blondie). Others simply recycle the same tropes over and over, becoming less relevant and less entertaining with each iteration (like Beetle Bailey).

Worse still are the zombie strips, which are simply reprints. "Peanuts" is such a strip. Charles Schultz has departed, but his daily sequences show up again and again, like reruns of "I Love Lucy."

In the September 9, 2014 sequence, Tatulli makes a pointed comment about Peanuts, and it's creative stasis. (click on image to enlarge)

When Charles Schultz started "Peanuts" in 1952, it didn't look like any other comic strip -- nor did it read like one. Before the "Peanuts" gang became licensing commodities, the strip had a markedly different character.

Tatulli reminds the characters -- and us -- just how far Peanuts has strayed from its origins. Perhaps it's time to retire it for good and give the space to the next ground-breaking and original comic strip that can revitalize the form.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Diabelli Project 065 - Piece for Solo Oboe

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 continue my cycle of solo instrumental works. Writing for the solo oboe can be challenging. It takes a lot of effort to keep the lips clamped tightly on the double reeds, so it's important to build in rests. The lower register of the oboe is warmer and richer than the upper. I used that to create two parallel musical ideas. There's a slow-moving one in the lower register, and a fast-moving one in the upper. The difference in timbres, speed, and even pitch choices should heighten the contrast between the two.

What happens next? That's up to you. As always, you're welcome to use all or part of this sketch. Just let me know what you come up with!

Friday, November 07, 2014

CCC 118 - Alexey Rybnikov

This week the Consonant Classical Challenge features Russian composer Alexey Lvovich Rybnikov. Rybnikov, like Dmitri Tiomkin and Erich Korngold, is classically trained and built a successful career as a film composer. And like Korngold, Rybnikov continues to compose music for the concert hall and the stage.

Rybnikov's style is immediately accessible. He's a master of lyrical melodies that sound evocative and distinctly Russian. While his harmonic structures are fairly straight-forward, his music is tonal without being locked into a particular tonality.

Rybnikov is also know for works he calls "rock-operas," although to Western audiences that term may be a little misleading. Rather than The Who's "Tommy," Rybnikov's works are closer to sung-through Broadway shows, such as "Les Miserables."

This preview video for his work "War and Peace" gives the viewer a taste of what these "rock-operas" are like.

There is a significant difference between Rybnikov's rock-opera style and his work for the concert hall. Though both display well-crafted melodies, Rybnikov's concert pieces rely more on the traditional language of classical tradition. His Capriccio for violin and orchestra illustrates this point.


As with virtually all classically-trained film composers, Rybnikov is a master orchestrator. The toccata from his sixth symphony shows his mastery of the orchestra, as well as his command of counterpoint.

Rybnikov has scored the soundtracks to over 80 Russian films. This excerpt from "Flowers and Thunder" shows his skill in this field.

From the 1930's on, Russian (and/or Soviet) composers have created works that seemingly follow the conservative forms of classical music that still sound innovative and exotic. Alexey Rybnikov is certainly one of the those composers.

It seems to me that any orchestra could program his works with confidence. This is contemporary music that would have the blue-hairs applauding appreciatively rather than running for the exits. And for the rest of us, it's music of quality that is worthy of our attention. At least I think so.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Peter Lieberson: Piano Concerto No. 3, Viola Concerto

Peter Lieberson: Piano Concerto No. 3; Viola Concerto
Steven Beck, piano; Roberto Diaz, viola
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Scott Yoo, conductor

Peter Lieberson admitted that, as a student, he could spend the day studying the twelve-tone music of Stravinsky, then go home and enjoy a Barber concerto. He thought it important to balance asceticism with sensuality. And that balance is present in these two concertos -- albeit not in quite the same places.

The Piano Concerto No. 3 (2003), is the final one in the series. The opening movement bristles with energy, unrestrained by the limits of tonality. After an introspective but softly dissonant middle movement, the work finishes with a flourish in a jazz-like style. To my ears, the work seems to lean slightly towards the ascetic rather than the sensual, although there's plenty of emotion contained in the music.

Steven Beck delivers a remarkable performance. The piano part is densely written, and sounds fiendishly difficult, yet Beck's performance is sure and authoritative. Even in the busiest of passages, Beck communicates the underlying organization of the music, demonstrating that every note is there for a reason, and he knows exactly what that reason is.

The Viola Concerto (1992/2003) leans a little more towards the sensual. Lieberson takes advantage of the dark tone of the instrument, giving it long, lyrical melodies that are unashamedly beautiful. The dissonances are muted compared to those of the piano concerto, although there are plenty of prickly passages throughout the work.

Violist Robert Diaz plays with a  full-blooded tone that keeps the music from sounding too sentimental -- it's expressive, but there's a manliness about it, too.

Fascinating works by a unique compositional voice.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Leon Fleisher: All the Things You Are

All the Things You Are
Leon Fleisher, piano

Listen to this album very carefully. Otherwise, it's easy to forget that Leon Fleisher is performing with just his left hand. The chords are so artfully arpeggiated, and the movement up and down the keyboard so swift, that Fleisher maintains the illusion that he's playing with both hands. And that's sort of the point. These works -- and Leon Fleisher's performances -- can be judged on their own merits, not a special sub-set of music.

This recital disc, with two exceptions, features works that were either composed or arranged for Fleisher.

And what a program! The original works include Leon Kirchener's 1995 L.H, George Perle's Musical Offerings (for Fleisher's 70th birthday), and Dina Koston's Thoughts of Evelyn. Fleisher's friend and colleague Earl Wild re-arranged his study Gerswhin's The Man I Love for him. Also included is Brahms' left hand study of a Bach Chaconne, and Federico Mompou's 1930 Prelude No. 6 for left hand. And the disc concludes with Stephen Prutsman's arrangement of Jerome Kern's All the Things You Are.

 Leon Fleisher's musicality brings out the best in each of these compositions, and unites them into a cohesive program. An amazing audio document.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Why Vote? Well if you have to ask...

Today I voted. With the exception of the very first election I was eligible to vote in, I haven't missed a one. I've cast my votes not just for presidents, but for senators, representatives, state legislators, county administrators, local law enforcement officials, mayors, town councilpersons, and more. I'm very proud of my long years of voter participation,

My sister is equally proud of the fact.that she's never voted. After all, she says, they're all crooks.

Well, perhaps it may seem like Hobson's Choice -- pick the crook or don't -- but there's a little more to it than that. At worst, it's more a matter of degree. Would you rather be attacked by 50 duck-sized horses, or 50 horse-sized ducks? Most people seem to have an opinion on that one!

So even if the choice isn't between two (or more) of the most qualified candidates for the position,  there's still real choice. When it comes to crooks, do you prefer the bank robber or the shoplifter? "None of the above," isn't an option, so which do you prefer?

When you choose not to vote at all, you're really saying "I'll let someone else decide." Unlike organizations that use Robert's Rules of Order, there are no quorums in our elections. If only three out of 3,000 registered voters show up to vote, then majority rules, and a candidate is elected. (If only two people show up to vote, then there might need to be a run-off, ) If only one shows up, then it's a landslide.

You're non-participation doesn't keep the crooks out. If you think that there are only crooks on the ballot, then know that at least one will get it. "No" isn't an option -- only the choice between the lesser of two evils. So if you feel you really at all the candidates are crooks, then I encourage you to chose that lesser evil by voting. 

Because if you don't, then I get to decide. And I may have a different opinion than you.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Diabelli Project 064 - Piece for Solo Flute

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, I'm no Paul Hindemith. But his idea of writing a concerto for every instrument sounded appealing. In this case, I decided to devote these flash compositions to a survey of the major instruments of the orchestra. The series kicks off with this sketch for solo flute.

Every instrument not only has a distinctive sound, but its own set of technical challenges and special abilities. For this sketch, I used the flutter tongue technique to add intensity to the held notes, and the flute's agility to create a fluid melody.

What happens next? That's up to you. As always, you're welcome to use all or part of this sketch. Just let me know what you come up with!