Wednesday, May 30, 2007

PRACTICE • REHEARSAL

Among my civilian friends there is some confusion over how a musician uses the words, practice and rehearsal. For musicians, practice is always a verb (we don't say "I'm off to opera practice."), is always done alone, and makes up the raw materials on which we draw as professional performers. Rehearsals, on the other hand, are what we do to prepare concerts as an ensemble. Since it's the most consistent example, I'll site a symphony orchestra schedule. For a weekend's set of three performances, the orchestra will have four rehearsals each lasting 2, 2.5, or 3 hours. Individual musicians are expected to show up at the first rehearsal able to play and interpret the entire program. Depending on the music, this could take one hour or many. If one is preparing to play a concerto, a chamber concert, or an audition, weeks or months of dedicated practice is necessary.

For a musician, individual practice is much more than preparing for performances. It is the essential stuff that makes up our musical identity. As we mature, we learn to be better practicers, to focus our work and be efficient. However, efficiency alone cannot replace what we learn from spending hours alone with our instruments and in repetitive contact with musical phrases. Interpretations, individual style, poise, and artistry are all the result of hours in the practice room.

What does a musician practice? Everyone has fundamentals which require daily attention. Basic issues of technique, intonation, articulation, dynamics, and tone quality are addressed in daily repetitions of scales (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do) and exercises based on common scale patterns (do, mi, sol, mi, do or do, mi, re, fa, mi, sol, etc.). These repetitions are most profitable when done with a metronome, or as we call it, a "lie detector." Musicians who do not have to make their own reeds often have etudes that address other technical issues and receive regular visits. Oboists and bassoonists have etudes, too, however professional schedules require such a volume of reeds, that time at the reed desk gets significant priority. After the fundamental work, a musician's practice time will be led by the demands of future programs. Learning and interpreting a piece of music requires both the development of muscle memory and learning the music "by heart." You must know what's coming and what you're going to do with it, as well as how to execute a particularly gnarly technical passage. The most arresting performances happen when the music seems to flow directly from within the musicians. For it to come out that way, it first has go in. Practicing is how this is done.

A new piece of music, may reveal certain deficiencies in your fundamentals regime. A number of years ago Zéphyros was playing a piece by Lalo Schifrin that had a nasty passage of fast, short, articulated notes. The woodwind technique for executing such a passages has the rather indiscreet name, "tonguing." I had a pretty fast tongue (we talk like this all the time, believe me . . .) but I needed to spruce it up for this passage. So I added certain exercises to my daily practice that addressed my tonguing deficit. As bodies age, certain technical issues crop up. As I've gotten older, I find that the evenness between my middle finger and ring finger on my left hand isn't as dependable as it once was. So that has become another thing addressed with practice. In many ways, as a musician matures, the ears get more sophisticated and so the standard one holds as a goal can become quite rarefied. This sense of the unattainable in the art we love inspires musicians through the many solitary hours spent with their instrument and metronome.

Those of us with Sunday School backgrounds will remember Jesus' "Parable of the Talents." Gifts come with responsibilities. Shirking them shows ingratitude.

With that in mind, perhaps my next posting should be titled, "PRACTICE vs. BLOGGING."

Image: Rembrandt, 1652, "Parable of the Talents." Biblical Art on the WWW.



From “Elegy for an Artist” Part 4.
“Still (A year)” by C. K. Williams

A year, summer again,
warm, my window open
on the courtyard where
for a good half hour
an oboe has been
practicing scales. Above

the tangle of voices,
clanging pans, a plumber’s
compressor heretically
intensifying,
it goes on and on,
single-minded, patient

and implacable,
its tempo never
faltering, always
resolutely focussed
on the turn above,
the turn below,

Goes on as the world
goes on, and beauty,
and the passion for it.
Much of knowing you
was knowing that, knowing
that our consolations,

if there are such things,
dwell in our conviction
that always somewhere
painters will concoct
their colors, poets sing,
and a single oboe

dutifully repeat
its lesson, then repeat
it again, serenely
mounting and descending
the stairway it itself
unfurls before itself.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

". . . this might take me a little time."

In my twenties, I began to read poetry, I was going to say, "seriously." It wasn't that I was always so serious, but I wanted to find in poetry as much as I could, I hoped as much as I found in music.

I was reading criticism (for fun . . .), and came upon John Hollander's delightful "Rhymes' Reason." There's no more charming introduction to poetic techniques. I then read Alfred Corn's "The Poem's Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody" and Timothy Steele's "All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing."

To test whether I was actually grasping the material, I decided to write a little "undergraduate" essay looking into the metrical properties of a particular poem. I was reading Auden at the time and picked, "The More Loving One." It seemed straight forward enough, though the amusing sixteen lines turned out to offer some interesting surprises.



The More Loving One, by W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth, indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we feel were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.



Meter and Meaning in Auden’s “The More Loving One”

With poignant charm, W. H. Auden’s, short poem, "The More Loving One," deals with the ambivalence of affection. Auden uses metric manipulations to illuminate this theme while creating a pleasurable and varied aural experience.

The poem’s meter is iambic tetrameter (each line containing four feet of two syllables, the first unstressed, the second stressed) with four stanzas of quatrains, each of paired rhyming couplets. From the very beginning of the poem, Auden’s theme of the ambivalence of affection is foreshadowed by ambiguity of meter. The first three lines of the poem scan with equal numbers of iambs and anapests (a three syllable foot with the stress falling on the last syllable). Not until the fourth line does it become apparent that the poem’s meter will be primarily duple. Anapestic substitutions, which are peppered throughout the poem, lend lilt and folksiness, but as with the metrical ambiguity of the first three lines, Auden uses these metric substitutions as an expressive device.

Though he largely conforms to the convention of substituting no more than two feet per line, Auden makes one exception to this rule with effective expressive results. Line 6 consists of three anapests followed by an iamb.



The anapestic triplets tumble quickly across the page with the mounting passion of the stars. Our disappointing response stops the rolling anapests with an abrupt final iamb, “return.” In this case “return” is what we cannot do with the burning passion from the stars, but we do “return” to the prevailing iambic meter.

The third stanza contains further metric and rhythmic manipulations that express the narrator’s growing realization of his indifferent relationship with the stars. In three of the four lines, the caesura falls within metric feet, off-setting their rhythmic flow. The first and third lines of the stanza are enjambed, obscuring the feeling of line breaks. This also deemphasizes the rhymes, an essential element to hearing a poem’s meter. Auden’s most interesting metric substitution of the poem occurs in the last line of this stanza where he uses a double iamb, or a pyrrhic-spondee combination (two duple feet, the first with two unstressed syllables, the second with two stressed syllable) to wonderful expressive effect.


This line may scan a number of ways, especially if one opts to hear four levels of stress rather than my choice of two, but I prefer the scansion above because of metric considerations in the rest of the stanza and the expressiveness of the pyrrhic-spondee combination in this context. Here, the substitution’s effect is heightened in contrast to the three perfect lines of iambs preceding it. Though Auden uses anapestic substitutions throughout the poem, he notably doesn’t use them in this stanza even when he could. The choice to offset the metrical substitution in the last line of the stanza with constant reiterations of iambs before it even causes grammatical ambiguity which could have been avoided if the expressiveness of the final substitution didn’t outweigh other considerations. The third line of the stanza, “I cannot, now I see them say,” scans as four perfect iambic feet. The phrase “now I see them,” though not without its conversational informality, would be clearer if the word “that” were inserted. The line would then read “I cannot, now that I see them say,” and would scan as iambic tetrameter with an anapestic substitution for the third foot. However, Auden saves all the metric surprise for the last line, where it will have it most expressive power as the narrator realizes that he has not, in fact, missed the unseen stars “terribly all day.” Auden’s withholding of the expected iambs at the end of the line punctuates this realization.

To this point, Auden has not made extensive expressive use of alliteration, but in the final stanza, he enriches the sonic palette with a pair of repeated consonants in each of the first three lines. These three alliterative pairs, two d’s in “disappear or die,” two l’s in “learn to look,” and two t’s in “total,” correspond to each other through the physical action required to pronounce them: the repeated drawing of the tongue to the front teeth. Further examination of these consonant groupings reveals a layer of meaning expressed through rhythm. As the lines progress, each pair of consonants is separated by fewer syllables, mirroring the disappearance of stars described in the stanza. The d’s of “disappear or die” are separated by three syllables, the l’s of “learn to look” by one, and the t’s of “total” are consecutive. The total lack of stars is emphasized by the disappearance of syllables between the repeated consonants in the word “total.” To cap off this disappearing act, Auden redraws the reader’s tongue to the front teeth one more time on the word “dark.” The consonant “d” echoes back to the beginning of this process three lines above and gives finality to the “total dark sublime.”

A final anapestic substitution in the poem’s last line,


stretches the rhythm just at the point when the narrator takes pause to reflect. Auden gives the narrator "a little time" with an extra unstressed syllable. Auden’s readers may take a little more time to reflect on his poem’s themes.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


UNFURLING WORDS

I continue posting my Shunshô prints with this one of Dō-in Hoshi, number 82 in the 100 Poets, 100 Poems series (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu). It was the second one I purchased while in Tokyo on the 2006 New York City Opera tour, and is a page from a book thought to have been published around 1775.

I thought he vaguely looked like me . . .

Dō-in became a monk at the age of eighty, having written poetry his whole life. I am sympathetic to this fellow. As I move around the city, I wonder whether my thoughts and feelings unfurl in the air above my pate, wherever I am, for all to read.

I only hope the penmanship is as beautiful.

Dō-in Hoshi

Omoi wabi
Satemo inochi wa
Aru mono o
Uki ni taenu wa
Namida nari keri


The Monk Dō-in

Thoughts of love
devour my days, for such
is the fate from which
I shall never escape,
despite these tears I shed.

The Monk
Dō-in

Though in deep distress
Through your cruel blow, my life
Still is left to me.
But I cannot keep my tears;
They break forth from my grief.


After my week of very involved travel and performances (which I shall continue to write about in the next few days) I relax with non-musical pursuits.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Summer Music, Op. 31 (1956)

The music of Samuel Barber has touched audiences around the world, achieving superstardom through the ravishingly beautiful “Adagio for Strings.” He has given wind players the centerpiece of their repertoire with his indispensable “Summer Music,” Op. 31. The work was commissioned by public subscription under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit and the popular radio personality, Karl Haas. Contributors to the project were known to stop Mr. Haas on the street and inquire, “How is ‘MY’ piece coming along?” Perhaps its origin in such midwestern populism gives this work its undeniable American familiarity.

Though not exactly program music, the work expresses its title with subtly honed musical images. This piece is evocative, poetic and nostalgic, passionate and mercurial. It leaves its mark on the listener long after it’s final quiet flourishes.

One of Zéphryos' signature pieces—we've played it many times all over the country—tonight we play it after intermission at Tannery Pond.

Written almost ten years after his masterpiece, Knoxville: Summer 1915, Barber revisits that emotional and musical lanscape in his work for wind quintet. I've always thought of passages in James Agee's text while preparing Summer Music.

"We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in that time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.

. . . It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by . . .

Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces.

The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.

On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there . . . They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, . . . with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am." --- James Agee

"Summer Music, Opus. 31, by Samuel Barber is marked 'slow and indolent.' The only time that indolence is considered acceptable behavior is probably in the summer. Or when performing a piece of music about summer. The oppressive weight of the very air in summer was painted around the Pollard Auditorium. With an exquisite oboe solo, and sensitive ensemble work, the atmosphere was deftly transformed and one could even feel a light breeze; nice, but not enough to lift the film and haze that permeates even the coolest days in a Southern summer.

I cannot imagine a more perfect rendering of this piece. It was summer on the front porch, with the sticky-sleepy feel of late afternoon. The members of the Zéphyros Quintet are fabulous artists at setting a mood, whether humorous and tongue in cheek, or a landscape setting." ---Deidre Hoffman, The Oak Ridger

"The high point of the concert came just before intermission, in a performance of Samuel Barber's Summer Music for wind quintet. Barber marked the opening of his music 'slow and indolent,' and that's exactly how Zéphyros played it. It was a remarkably expressive and languid account that clearly called to mind a cool breeze on a hot summer day." -- John Pitcher, The Washington Post

"The eleven continuous sections of Samuel Barber's Summer Music, Op. 31, gave plenty of scope for the Zéphyros. Although the composer wanted to evoke the languid days of summer, there are faster and louder sections within the piece. The ensemble heeded the composer's warning – 'Don't play it too slowly' – so they maintained a steady, forward impulse even during the slower sections." --- William Thomas Walker The Classical Voice of North Carolina

Friday, May 25, 2007

SERENDIPITY is one of the wonders of New York life. E. B. White suggested no one should come here unwilling to be lucky. Today was one of those uniquely New York days, where serendipity metes out her delightful spoils: social, professional, and cultural.

It actually began last night. I was having dinner with my dear friend, Bart Feller (principal flute of the New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and flute teacher at Rutgers and Juilliard Pre-College) at a new restaurant in the Time Warner Center near his home. Landmarc, it's called. As we were sharing the ridiculously affordable dessert sampler (Modesty prevents me from describing each treat or the price, let alone who had more of the lemon tart.) and enjoying the view of Central Park, Bart said, "I should do this every few days just to reinforce how wonderful it is to live in New York."

Leaving the restaurant content and full, I checked my messages (the perpetual act of New York freelancers) and found a call to sub in a New York Philharmonic rehearsal the next morning. As it happens, I had been released from a ballet rehearsal scheduled for that morning, so I was available. It was my first time playing with this most deluxe of orchestras. Lorin Maazel would conduct Brahms 4.


When I walked on stage this morning around half past nine, I was warmly welcomed by Philip Myers, the principal horn. ("Welcome, I'm Phil," he said with his hand out. "Yes, I know," is what I thought, though, "How do you do, I'm Jim Roe," is what I said.) Sherry Silar was playing principal oboe and sounded just wonderful. The tonal richness produced by that orchestra was utterly seductive. In terms of sheer power and beauty, I've rarely had such an experience. Maybe only rehearsing Die Walküre in 2000 with The Met, sitting right in front of the cast of luminary opera singers.

After the Philharmonic rehearsal, I ran into oboist Livio Caroli (New York City Opera and American Ballet Theater), and flutist, Gerardo Levi (New York City Opera, retired) who invited me to lunch. After a delightful hour, I headed down to Pedja Muzijevic's apartment in Chelsea for a Zéphyros rehearsal for our Tannery Pond concert tomorrow night. We rehearsed Thuille, Barber, Beethoven, and finally the Poulenc Oboe Sonata. My lips and brain were shot. Happy, but quite shot.

Walking to the 18th Street subway stop, I ran into a friend and Helicon subscriber, Jane Taylor. She and her husband Guy Renvoize, who I met through Alvin Friedman-Kien and Ryo Toyonaga, live in a beautiful loft on Seventh Avenue. Before long I was invited to dinner and we were sipping wine, eating a wood-oven pizza and discussing "life, liberty, and the pursuit." It was the perfect tonic (even without the gin) to the effort of the day and the rest of the weekend.

A final treat of the day was delivered by email. Alex Ross, classical music critic of The New Yorker and impressive blogger ("The Rest is Noise"), agreed to add a link to my blog from his.

Tomorrow, I play another rehearsal with the NY Phil, then drive to Tannery with our horn player Patrick Pridemore. He's graciously picking me up at the stage door. We rehearse and perform, briefly relax and sleep, only to return the next morning. I play principal oboe on a matinee of the New York City Ballet at 3:00.

"Fortune" is blind, so if her cornucopia begins spilling in your direction, it's good to have your arms out.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Zéphyros Winds and Pedja Muzijevic, piano
open the Tannery Pond Concerts season.


Saturday • 26 May 2007 • 8:00

Zéphyros joins our friend, Pedja—the second time this month—to open Christian Steiner's series, Tannery Pond Concerts. Performances are held in the Tannery on the grounds of Mount Lebanon Shaker Village and Darrow School, in New Lebanon, New York. It's a beautiful setting about 2.5 hours outside New York City. I hope you can attend. Click here for tickets.

Program

Francis Poulenc
Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1962)

Ludwig van Beethoven
Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Winds, Op. 16 (1796)

Samuel Barber
Summer Music for Wind Quintet, Op. 31 (1956)

Ludwig Thuille
Sextet for Piano and Winds in B-flat Major, Op. 6 (1889)

The surprise guest on this program is Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907). A composer, pianist, theorist, conductor (of a male chorus), and most importantly a teacher, Thuille was appointed professor at the Munich Conservatory at the age of twenty-two. He went on to exert considerable musical influence in that city, drawing together a circle of composition students that included Ernst Bloch and was known as the "Munich School."

As a young man, Thuille was steeped in Viennese classicism, making the pairing of his sextet with Beethoven's quintet particularly apt. Under the influence of Richard Strauss, his musical language later incorporated bolder chromaticism and instrumental colors. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Thuille produced an impressive body of chamber music, and that is the genre for which he is most remembered today. His string chamber music recently has begun to be performed and recorded, however the Sextet for Winds and Piano—a great success from the time it was composed—is the work on which his reputation largely rests. Strauss admired the piece, and recommended it for the Beethoven Prize in Vienna.

As it turns out, Alice Tully also admired this piece. Some years ago, Zéphyros was on tour with pianist Charles Wadsworth. The Gavotte from Thuille's sextet was our encore. Charles recounted that when programming the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's seasons, Miss Tully would say, "Don't forget that charming sextet by Ludwig Thuille. I simply love the third movement Gavotte." Indeed, the movement is utterly memorable. Its main melody is so natural and has such suggestive swagger, it could be a Gallic folk song.

Below are two photographs of Mr. Thuille. He was of Savoyard ancestry, and I must say, he is a handsome devil. Thinking of his Gavotte while looking at these pictures suggests quite a powerful personality.

Friday, May 18, 2007

UNFURLING WORDS

In 2006, I went on a tour of Japan with the New York City Opera. While in Tokyo, members of the orchestra introduced me to a print dealer they knew from previous trips.

He showed me a group of 18th-C. images by Katsukawa Shunshô (c. 1726-93), from his version of 100 Poems, 100 Poets series (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu). They are pages from a book published around 1775. Utterly new to this sort of work, I was taken by the combination of the poet's portrait with his words unfurling in the air above his head. Shunshô is particularly known for his personal rendering of faces. (Click on the image for a larger version.) I found these pictures so expressive and the old paper on which they were printed so delicate and full of character that I couldn't resist them.

I took all he had and gave many to friends. I kept five and will post them individually, starting with number 10 in the series, the blind biwa player, Semi Maru. Son of a ninth century emperor, his affliction made him ineligible for the throne, so he retired to a small hill and wrote poems and played music.

These poems are examples of tanka, a 31-syllable form comprising the pattern 5-7-5-7-7. I found three translations.

Semimaru

kore ya kono
yuku mo kaeru mo
wakarete wa
shiru mo shiranu mo
ōsaka no seki

Semimaru (translation - William Porter 1909)

The stranger who has travelled far,
The friend with welcome smile,
All sorts of men who come and go
Meet at this mountain stile, --
They meet and rest awhile.


Semimaru


Truly, this is where
Travelers who go or come
Over parting ways--
Friends or strangers--all must meet:
The gate of "Meeting Hill."


Semimaru (translation Mark Jewel, 2006)

This is a place where
Many come and many go,
Part to meet again,
Some as friends, some as strangers:
The Ōsaka Barrier.


The antithetical pairings in this poem: "come and go," "part and meet," "friends and strangers," give the feeling of footfalls leading to the Osaka gate. The site described, Ōsaka no Seki, is a small hill on the edge of Lake Biwa, not far from Kyōto, where Semi Maru lived. It was a common poetic subject.

Photograph of Japan's largest lake, Biwa.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


''I am in a prison. One wall is the avant-garde,
the other is the past. I want to escape.''
György Sandor Ligeti
(1923-2006)

On tonight's Movado Hour concert, Zéphyros will perform Ligeti's Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet.

György Ligeti Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet (1953)
1 - Allegro con spirito
2 - Rubato. Lamentoso
3 - Allegro grazioso
4 - Presto ruvido
5 - Adagio. Mesto (Béla Bartók in memoriam)
6 - Molto vivace. Capriccioso „wie verrückt”


Program notes by James Roe

On June 12, 2006, the music world lost one of its most compelling and innovative voices when Eastern European composer, György Ligeti died in Vienna at the age of 83. With a career that began under Soviet oppression in post World War II Hungary, Ligeti earned a worldwide audience when his music was used for Stanley Kubrick's movie ''2001: A Space Odyssey'' in 1968. As Paul Griffiths wrote in his New York Times obituary, “The moon music was indicative of only one of [Ligeti’s] expressive modes. After fleeing Hungary in 1956, he also showed himself to be a master of a fast, mechanical and comic sort of music. Between these two poles -- the ''Clocks and Clouds'' -- he created works of exuberant variety and range.”

His Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet were written while still a young man in Budapest and combine, in his words, “Bartok with a little Stravinsky.” Originally composed in 1951 as part of an eleven movement work for solo piano, Musica Ricercata, Ligeti extracted six of the movements to orchestrate for winds in 1953. Though to today’s ears this music is hardly shocking, the Hungarian government banned a complete premier in 1956 citing chromaticism dangerous to the public. The work finally received its first complete performance in Stockholm 13 years after its composition.

Though the title suggests trifles—mere bagatelles—these six movements are diminutive in length only, the longest being three and a half minutes and most clocking in at just over 60 seconds. As in a Baroque suite, each movement expresses a single musical ‘affect’ or mood, and like any good distillation process the results are intense and memorable. The moods are varied and encompass playfulness, grief, contentment, and utter craziness. Before you’ve gotten used to one, the next appears.


Photo of Ligeti as a child.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Helicon's 82nd Symposium "Music from Proust's Salon" took place last Sunday evening and was an immense success. The intellectual, cultural, and musical tincture created by the program and performances had everyone in a wonderfully heightened state.

Here are some pictures from the event.

I am never laconic . . .


The Franck Piano Quintet


The season ends in applause and smiles.


Photographs by Joe Hsu.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Zéphyros has a CD available through Cafe Press. It is live recording of Mozart's E-flat Major Serenade and Gounod's Petite Symphonie from a tour we did in 2006 with expanded ranks. The Mozart is scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons, Gounod adds a single flute to the two-by-two line up.

We received this review from Ronald Klimko in latest issue of "The Double Reed."

"The Mozart opens the recording with verve and lots of spirit throughout. I particularly like the brisk, sparkling tempo of the Allegro finale. Both oboe soloist James Roe and bassoonist Doug Quint have nice spurts of dazzling technique at this tempo, and neither disappoint. Following this is Gounod’s lovely Petite Symphonie. I was particularly impressed with the Andante second movement, where both solo flutist Jennifer Grim and the ensemble accompaniment seem to be in perfect sync throughout — both phrasing wise and most especially dynamically. Bravo!

What is most impressive about this recording besides the excellent musical performances, is the high quality of the recording technique. The balance between all instruments is incomparably good — perhaps the best I’ve ever heard! It is as if one is sitting in the ensemble oneself, surrounded by these wonderful performers — quite a sensation!"

For your own copy, click the picture below:


Program Notes by James Roe

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Serenade in E-flat Major, K. 375, for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns, and 2 bassoons (1781-2)

“At eleven o’clock at night I was treated to a serenade — and that too of my own composition. These musicians asked that the street door might be opened and, placing themselves in the center of the courtyard, surprised me, just as I was about to undress, in the most pleasant fashion imaginable with the first chord in E-flat.” [W. A. Mozart, Letter to his father, 3 Nov. 1781, describing a spontaneous performance of his Serenade in E-flat Major, K. 375.]

Mozart’s works for large wind ensemble exist in two worlds at once, the useful and the sublime. This dichotomy describes the relationship of the composer’s own genius with the time in which he lived. A working musician who needed to make a living, Mozart wrote useful works and fulfilled commissions, yet the immense power of his imagination placed his creations on a level far beyond the reach of his coevals.

Mozart wrote three large works for harmonie, or wind ensemble, the Serenades in E-flat Major, K. 375, and C Minor, K. 388, and the “Gran Partita” K. 361. Each is a true masterpiece of chamber music and there are no greater works for winds written before or since. The being said, their genre is that of occasional music to be played outdoors or accompanying a dinner. A leading Beethoven scholar noted of classical-era wind music that, “out of doors it sounded better than strings; indoors it could hold its own against the clatter of dishes.” Today, in the same way that we find “useful” items from previous centuries honored as works of art in museums, Mozart’s sublime wind serenades rarely now have to compete with plates and glasses to be heard.

Nevertheless, in the concert hall, these works bring their origins with them, especially K. 375. The euphonious sound of the paired winds and the open, informal nature of the writing give the music a convivial, social, and happily “ad hoc” quality. In Zéphyros’ approach to this work, we capitalize on these qualities by inviting our friends to expand our ranks. (It doesn’t hurt that we know such fine wind players.) And though invisible on CD, we stand for the performance of the Mozart serenade, much like those performers mentioned in Mozart’s letter who caught him at home, about to get undressed for bed. Could there be a more charming tribute from performers to composer or a more apt expression of the dual worlds this music inhabits? The informal and sublime proceed from a single E-flat major chord.



Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Petite Symphonie for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns, and 2 bassoons (1885)

Charles Gounod’s position in the musical cannon is assured by his operas, “Faust” and “Romeo and Juliet,” but it was a creation of a meaner sort that gave the composer worldwide fame. Gounod’s little piece of musical “vandalism” (not unlike Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. in which he drew a mustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa) was the superimposition of a sweetly sentimental “Ave Maria” over J. S. Bach’s Prelude in C from Book One of the Well Tempered Clavier. Somehow, one can hardly hear the latter without the former insinuating itself, softly, into memory’s ear.

The cultural penetration of Gounod’s little addition is demonstrated in a story told by harpsichordist, Juilliard professor, and friend of Zéphyros, Albert Fuller. In the 1980s a contingent of music teachers from the Beijing Conservatory visited the United States as a part of a cultural exchange. While in New York they were hosted by Mr. Fuller in his apartment a few blocks from Lincoln Center. When asked to demonstrate one of his new harpsichords, Mr. Fuller began to play Bach’s famous C Major prelude. Without further encouragement, his Chinese visitors intoned Gounod’s “Ave Maria.” There being nothing else to do, Albert continued playing Bach while his guests sang Gounod to the end. East and West, China and America, German Baroque and French Romanticism all co-mingled that night in a way the music’s creators (most especially Bach) could never have imagined.

Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie” for winds was written for the Parisian flute virtuoso, Paul Taffanel and his Societé à des Instruments à Vent. As with much of Gounod’s output, the slow music is the most memorable. The expansive opening chorale exploits the blended wind timbres to their richest capacity. The moving ”Andante cantabile” is the emotional centerpiece of the work and acts as an opera aria for flute soloist. The rest of the work exists in a lighthearted world of French insouciance.

This work is not heard so often on the concert stage today, so it has been a particular pleasure for Zéphyros to present it to audiences. Backstage at the storied Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, we needed to unify our phrasing concept in the opening of the first movement. Rather than play our instruments and risk giving the audience a sneak preview, we decided to sing our parts instead. Before long all nine of us were at full voice—as if sitting around a piano bar—singing the familiar and beautiful melody we’d all played since we were students. Though we never found out if the audience heard our vocal version, we try to bring that same natural singing quality to the work every time we perform it.




Thursday, May 10, 2007

My friend, painter JOHN BRADFORD, has a show of new work at 55 Mercer Gallery (55 Mercer, 3rd floor). Stop by when you're in SoHo, it's a beautiful show of oil paintings on biblical (Old Testament) themes.

I love John's paintings and this show is very strong. With it, he returns a lushness to his images after several years of disciplined austerity and formal rigor. The work is sure-footed, as John is right at home in his favored subject matter. I was struck by the fecund, "Springness" of the colors. Everything feels alive, youthful, blooming, and bursting forth.
The picture on the left is titled The Finding of Moses.

Here is R.C. Baker's review from his "Best In Show" column in the current Village Voice:

JOHN BRADFORD

Here is the baby Moses, all quick pink daubs for arm and face, a blue cone for the servant bending over the tarred basket, lithe orange flourishes for bulrushes, and a gray column for Pharaoh's imperious daughter. Elsewhere, a dark interior frames a sunlit opening, these rectangles locked together by a blocky brazier with orange flames that echo nearby palm fronds. Two bodies lie in the gloom—a few deft strokes contrast a father's stumbling shock with Moses' stern, upright carriage as God's messenger. These 14 biblical scenes, painted with a drippy, Abstract Expressionist brio, are devoid of both fundamentalist didacticism and secular snarkiness, while beautifully evoking the imperfect humanity underlying the divine. 55 Mercer Gallery, 55 Mercer, 212-226-8513. Through May 19.


This is my painting by John. (Sorry about the glare from the flash.) It depicts Bathsheeba being bathed by a servant, but the unseen subject of the picture (to me) is King David gazing from a distance with his building desire and terrible plans to possess her. John has treated this subject a number of times, this version is from 1995. His practice is to delve into particular stories again and again, revealing new layers of meaning in each execution. It reminds of me Jacob wrestling with the angel, demanding his blessing. John doesn't let go of a biblical subject until he has received its mysteries, even if it takes years.

I purchased this picture on New Years Day 2006. I was having dinner with John and his wife, Melanie (a dear friend and fine flute player) in their SoHo loft. As the evening spread out, we looked at many of John's paintings, drank red wine, and talked and talked. What a way to inaugurate the year! And now this picture hangs above my reed desk.

Here are images of several other paintings in his current show:

Deaths of Nadab and Abihu


Jacob and Esau

Jacob Blessing his Sons

The Stolen Blessing

Monday, May 07, 2007

With spring streaming through every window, indoor pursuits seem so out of season.

Today was a rare day with no services—musician argot for professional engagements, each concert or rehearsal is called a "service"—yet I spent it entirely inside. I've been trying to get my gouge right for spring/summer reed making.

(Gouge? An oboist makes his own reeds. The gouge is the foundational process whereby what will be the inside of the reed is given its dimensions. It requires a tedious trial and error adjustment of manual machines which slice out the interior of French bamboo creating the oboe reed's basic raw material. It's not necessary for civilians to know more than that.)













I finally got something that gave me consistently promising reeds, so at 10 this morning I began cranking out the little buggers. By late afternoon, I had about twelve reeds drying in a rack. This is no mean achievement. I grabbed a quick bite for dinner and headed to the State Theater to practice in the basement the rest of the evening. (I try to be a good citizen, and not practice in my apartment after 6:00 p.m. when people might be coming home from a long day at work, fixing dinner, and wishing the guy in 4C would turn off his metronome and read a book.)



When I walked out, it was 10:30 p.m. I realized I had been playing the oboe, either practicing or making reeds, for the better part of 12 hours. Well, today was really my only chance to get some of this work done. My schedule (chock-a-block with "services") for the next few weeks is grueling, but exciting.

Here's what's coming up:

4/8
10-1 American Composers Orchestra "Readings of New Works" 1st oboe
2-6 Recording session with Issa (aka Jane Siberry) on ten new songs: very exciting!
7:30 NYCB Romeo & Juliet

4/9
10-1 American Composers Orchestra "Readings of New Works" 1st oboe
Afternoon, prepare for Helicon concert and Board meeting
7:30 NYCB Romeo & Juliet

4/10
Morning: practice
2-6 Helicon rehearsal for Sunday's Symposium
8 NYCB R & J

4/11
10-1 Zephyros Winds rehearsal with Pedaj Muzijevic Mozart and Beethoven Quintets for Movado Hour
Afternoon, prepare for Helicon concert and Board meeting, practice a little
8 NYCB R & J

4/12
2 NYCB R & J
8 NYCB R & J 1st oboe

4/13
3 NYCB R & J 1st oboe (last performance)
6 Helicon Symposium 82

4/14
10-1 Zephyros Winds rehearsal with Pedaj Muzijevic Mozart and Beethoven Quintets for Movado Hour
Afternoon, finish Board Meeting preparations
6 Helicon Annual Board Meeting

4/15
11-2 NYCB Reh
7:30 NYCB Performance

4/16
10:30-1:30 NYCB Reh
Practice time!!!
7:30 NYCB

4/17
Dress rehearsal Zephyros Winds and Pedja Movado Hour
7:00 Movado Hour Performance

4/18
11-2 NYCB Reh
8 NYCB Performance

4/19
2 NYCB Performance 1st oboe on Bizet Symphony in C
8 NYCB Performance

4/20
3 NYCB Performance

4/21
9 Orchestra of St. Luke's Gala 1st oboe

Then things lighten up a touch. Zephyros gets ready for the Tannery Pond concert with Pedja on May 26. That week, I rehearse the Poulenc Oboe Sonata with Pedja (which should be very fun), and the quintet works on the late-Romantic sextet by Ludwig Thuille. The program also includes the Beethoven Quintet for Piano and Winds which we will have just played at the Movado Hour, and Barber's evocoative Summer Music, which we have performed many many times.

We'll also take up Janacek's Mladi with Rick Faria, bass clarinet, and our old friend the Harbison Quintet, for a couple performances in June.

Oh, and if you wondered, those 12 reeds from this morning will be depleted and replaced by then . . .




Friday, May 04, 2007


HELICON SYMPOSIUM LXXXII
MUSIC OF PROUST’S SALON

Program Notes by James Roe


“I believe that the essence of music is to arouse
the mysterious depths of our souls.”
Marcel Proust

It is no surprise that Marcel Proust—a writer consumed with exploring the experience of memory—was a dedicated lover of music, the invisible art that only exists in the passage of time. Helicon’s 82nd Symposium presents music important in Proust’s life and work with readings from his poems and “In Search of Lost Time.”

Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947)

I. PROUST IN LOVE — Marcel & Reynaldo
Poems of Marcel Proust
Premières valses pour piano by Reynaldo Hahn

When I contacted Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Richard Howard about participating in Helicon’s Proust concert, he was not only delighted at the prospect, but said he had some new material to offer. He was making new translations of little known Proust poems for an upcoming book, and had recently finished several he thought might be of interest. So, I paid a visit to his book-lined apartment near NYU. The poems he showed me were lyrical portraits of individual painters and composers and fit Helicon’s program perfectly. They were written in the mid-1890s, shortly after Proust met the composer, Reynaldo Hahn.

One of twelve children, Hahn was born in Venezuela to a Catholic mother and a Jewish businessman. To escape growing political unrest, the family left South America for Paris in 1877. By 1893, the year the two young men met, Hahn had already distinguished himself as a composer and performer. With sympathetic tastes and dispositions, the two quickly fell in love. Considering the time in which they lived, Proust and Hahn conducted their relationship with uncommon conspicuousness. (Oscar Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” began in 1895.) Their romance lasted several years, but the two artists remained life-long friends.

Though Hahn wrote music in every genre including, opera and ballet, his gifts shine brightest in smaller forms. His songs are exquisite, and he often sang them at parties accompanying himself at the piano. He also produced a large body of salon music for solo piano, which displays his characteristic wit and sophisticated charm. To open our program, we will intersperse readings of Proust’s poems between his friend’s Premières valses pour piano.


Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)II. THE LITTLE PHRASE — Swann & Odette
A Passage from Swann’s Way translated and read by Richard Howard
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor by Camille Saint-Saëns

In Swann’s Way, Book One of “In Search of Lost Time,” Proust introduces a fictive composer named Vinteuil, whose presence and music recur throughout the multi-volume work. The cyclic structure of Proust’s novel is mirrored in a composition by Vinteuil, a Sonata for Violin and Piano. Swann is particularly taken by this music, especially a “little phrase” that reappears throughout the piece and subsequently comes to symbolize the love he shared with Odette. “The national anthem of our love,” they called it. Through Swann’s evolving experience of this piece, Proust traces the development of his characters’ relations while illuminating complex connections between music, emotion, and memory. Swann’s reflections on the Vinteuil Sonata are among the most eloquent descriptions of musical experience in literature. Richard Howard will read his own translation of Swann’s first encounter with the sonata and the effect of its “little phrase.”


That this imaginary sonata must be based on an actual piece has spawned nearly a century of hot speculation, at least in certain circles . . . Swann describes a work so sublime, that César Franck’s great Sonata in A Major is often suggested as the model. Another candidate is the First Violin Sonata of Gabriel Fauré, a composer Proust knew and admired. (Helicon has presented both pieces, the Franck on our 38th Symposium, 21 April 1996, with Pedja Muzijevic and Mark Steinberg, and the Fauré on our 73rd, 13 March 2005, with Pedja and Jennifer Frautschi.) Reynaldo Hahn’s diaries reveal that the “little phrase” was based on the recurring melody in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata in D Minor, which closes the first half of this program.


César Franck (1822-90)III. SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT — Proust & Music
Piano Quintet in F Minor by César Franck

“For some years Beethoven’s last quartets and the music of Franck has been my principal spiritual nourishment,” wrote Proust in 1916. It was listening to the music of Franck and Beethoven, as well as Schumann, Wagner, and Mozart, that stimulated Proust’s thinking about the creative process and informed the narrator’s musical meditations late in his novel.

Proust attended concerts by the celebrated Parisian string quartet, Quatuor Poulet, and became acquainted with their violist, Amable Massis. During a post-concert conversation, Proust proposed a private performance in his home. The musicians agreed in principle, though no specific plans were made. Some days later, Proust made a surprise visit to the first violinist’s apartment around 11:00 P.M., consumed by the desire to hear a string quartet of César Franck that very night! The violinist followed Proust to a waiting car where he was offered a bowl of mashed potatoes. They then drove around Paris collecting the other quartet members. By the time the performance began, it was nearly one in the morning. Upon finishing the demanding work, Proust sat in silence a long time. He then asked to hear the whole work again from the beginning.

Massis later remarked on the novelist’s attention during their performance, “Proust was a marvelous listener, straightforward, direct, a man who drank in music without raising any questions.” One can only imagine the heightened experience of such intimate music making and the spiritual nourishment it provided the musicians and their solitary, marvelous listener.

“Music may be the unique example of what might have been
the means of communicating between souls.”
From “In Search of Lost Time”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

THE MOVADO HOUR




I am pleased to announce that the
Zéphyros Winds will join our dear friend,
the pianist Pedja Muzijevic for a concert on his series,


THE MOVADO HOUR

The Movado Hour, the first of the public programs presented by the Baryshnikov Arts Center's (BAC), is a series of hour-long chamber music concerts performed in a salon setting. Curated by BAC's Director of Music Programs, Pedja Muzijevic and sponsored by Movado, the series takes chamber music back to its roots by providing music lovers with the unusual opportunity of experiencing music in a small intimate setting with the informal atmosphere of a salon.

Admission is Free.
Seating is extremely limited and reservations are required.
The reservation line opens one week prior
to the scheduled concert date.

Please call 917.934.4966 to make a reservation
on the morning of 10 May 2007.

The Movado Hour • Thursday • 17 May 2007 • 7 PM
Baryshnikov Arts Center • 450 West 37th Street • NYC

THE ZEPHYROS WINDS

Jennifer Grim, flute - James Roe, oboe
Marianne Gythfeldt, clarinet -
Douglas Quint, bassoon
Patrick Pridemore, horn


joining Pedja Muzijevic, piano

to perform

Mozart and Beethoven Quintets for Piano and Winds and
Ligeti's Six Bagatelles

Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 West 37th Street Between 9th and 10th Avenues

I love the title of this series, The Movado Hour.
It's elegant, chic, and nostalgic.
Bravo, Pedja!