Welcome to For the Love of Music

“For so long as the music is performed
the composer lives.” Amsel

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Marc-André Hamlein: Canadian Treasure

When For the Love of Music was first created I had the great pleasure of reviewing a performance of Hamelin as he performed Rzewski's "The People United shall Never be Defeated." The concert took place during the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival and, in a word, it was miraculous. Hamelin demonstrated that he could duplicate, if not exceed, the technical perfection offered to us through his recordings in a concert situation.

Having obtained the disc of Rzewski’s daunting work several weeks before that concert, and being acquainted with the work already, when I attended the concert I was prepared to listen for all of the important things: would he whistle in the prescribed variation (many pianists don’t), would he truncate his cadenza? The answer to both these questions was no, and if I had any misgivings of the man playing a piece that is about an hour long they quickly disappeared.

Hamelin is one of those artists that gets you to wonder what Glenn Gould was really worried about: Gould retired from performing in favour of recording and broadcasting because he was concerned that the live performance wouldn’t be able to deliver the same, quality product, to each listener. The experience would not be the same for each individual.

Ah, but there’s the rub: We are all different, and we will all each experience things differently. While I may not attend as many concerts as I would like to be able to, the fact of the matter is, live performances rarely match the quality of a recording, yet a live performance is almost always preferable. Why? For the simple reason that it is live: there is an energy flowing from the stage to the audience, and those in attendance are receiving something from the performer. Performers enjoy their art because in so doing they to receive something from the audience.

That was the thing I enjoyed so much when I was in college: being able to get up in front of people and perform. Playing classical guitar gave me that opportunity, and it permitted me to taste a small amount of what the great performers experience when they feel the waves of adulation pouring onto the stage from the fans. It is a feeling that cannot be easily replicated, and is one of the reasons you hear the phrase “chasing the high”. Performing is a natural high. It is an exhilarating experience (as is having a composition of your performed, though nausea also enters into play … but that’s another story).

Hearing Marc-André Hamelin reminds me of why we (composers) write music: to see people like this bring it to life.

In the following recital clip, Hamelin performs the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, by Liszt, with an amazing cadenza that he composed. The second selection is the Allegretto Alla Barbaresca from Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

In Memoriam: György Ligeti (1923-2006)

On Monday the 12th of June the world of new music lost one of its truly great masters. György Ligeti, the Austrian-Hungarian composer whose works flew in the face of the dogmatic ideas held by the establishment, died at the age of 83 after suffering from a serious illness.

Ligeti’s music explored the world of texture more than melody, and he lived by a philosophy developed from having survived the fate of his father and brother who both died in a concentration camp during the Second World War. He escaped having to serve in the Hungarian Army in 1941, and fled to Austria during the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

This crystallized Ligeti’s disdain for anything having to do with dictatorships and intellectual oppression. In his own words, “I am an enemy of ideologies in the arts. Totalitarian regimes do not like dissonances.” For Ligeti composing was about finding inspiration in the things that seemed furthest from music; fractal geometry, biochemistry, and research into chaos theory were all things that opened up new creative vistas for him.

A page with Ligeti’s biography and works can be found here. More here (from the "Essentials of Music").

My friend, Robert Frederick Jones, who also happens to be a fine Canadian composer, sent me the following video clip; the clip is a tribute to Ligeti. It presents a performance of his Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes. When you press play be patient. The video starts right away, but before the music starts it loads quite a bit, and that takes some time, but it is well worth listening (and watching).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Impromptu Recital by Krystian Zimerman

Franz Schubert, Impromptu, Op. 90, No. 1

Franz Schubert, Impromptu, Op. 90, No. 2

Franz Schubert, Impromptu, Op. 90, No. 3

Franz Schubert, Impromptu, Op. 90, No. 4

Chopin, Barcarolle, Op. 60

Chopin, Ballad, No. 3

The final work: Chopin, Scherzo Op. 31 in B flat

There is something captivating about the way this man performs music. The power that he imbues the notes with gives the musical line a power that propels it forward, making the act of listening something other than a passive act. We are drawn into the performance rather than being mere spectators.

This is the hallmark of a truly great performer: regardless of whether it is a live recording or something direct to disc, if they are able to create that sense of intimacy through their playing that makes us believe we are being played to as we are listening to the recording, that makes an incredible difference to our experience as listeners.

As a composer, one of the things that we want to see when the music is performed is that our audience is engaged by the performance. There isn’t much point in putting on a performance if the people that come out to hear the music are just going to sit there and feel completely bored and alienated by the works being performed. Performers like Zimerman take what they are playing to that “next level”, which pulls the audience along as well, making them hungry for more.

Another example of a performer like this is Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin, who regularly performs some of the most unfamiliar repertoire for the piano. His success comes from the fact that his ability to perform is the stuff of legends. His technique and musical ability is so complete, it’s simply scary. To hear him perform a live performance of Frederic Rzewski’s “The People United Will Never be Defeated” is something that should not be passed up if you ever get the chance. When I heard him perform this I was amazed that he was actually able to match the superlative quality of the recording he made of the piece.

With performers like these, live classical music is in good hands.

Glenn Gould and Leonard Rose are performing the 3rd movement (Adagio cantabile — Allegro vivace) of Ludwig van Beethoven's Violoncello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69. A black and white video, but the sound is pure Gould/Rose. It is amazing that after all the years since this was recorded the spirit of these two incredible musicians is still so vital.

A note about the Mutter in the clip below: I had the opportunity to hear her in an all Brahms recital at the NAC about ten years ago, and it was easily one of the most moving evening of my life. Her ability to turn a phrase into something incomprehensibly beautiful is second to none.
For the Love of Music ...
back after a long silence

For the first post to the newest incarnation of "For the Love of Music" (back after six years) I thought that the only thing that could possibly make sense would be to post music. Real music. Anne-Sophie Mutter plays the 3rd movement (Rondo. Allegro) of Ludwig van Beethoven's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op. 61. Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (in honour of the 2006 World Cup being held in Germany) seemed like a good place to start.

Beethoven Violin Concerto; IIIrd mvt:
Mutter/Karajan/Berlin Phil.