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Archive for the ‘George Frideric Handel’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO-Tiny Desk Concert #789 (September 21, 2018).

The first thing you see when you look at this Tiny Desk Concert is the amazing harpsichord–large and decorated like an old-fashioned leather-bound book.  It is stunning.

But you’re only likely to notice it if you haven’t first heard Costanzo’s voice and then had a look at him.

A word about Costanzo’s voice. He is a countertenor, a man who sings in the range of a female alto. The roots of the tradition date way back to the 1500s, when young male singers, called “castrati,” were castrated in order to preserve their high, flexible voices.

“I’ve managed to do it without castration,” Costanzo joked to the audience of NPR staffers. These days, countertenors sing in falsetto, and while as recently as 30 years ago it was considered something of an androgynous novelty, now countertenors are part and parcel of the opera world.

The music is exceptional and is wonderfully modern with that classical feel that opera naturally seems to add.

Costanzo performs songs from his new album, which pairs music by George Frideric Handel with Philip Glass. Strange bedfellows perhaps, and born more than 250 years apart, but somehow Glass’ repetitive, staccato beats and Handel’s long, flowing melodies manage to shake hands across the centuries.

The first piece is by Philip Glass.  And the music sounds like perfect chamber pop.  The flute plays the Glassian up and down melody while the bassoon plays the wonderful, peculiar bass notes.

One obvious common thread is the arrangements, by Nicholas DeMaison, that Costanzo commissioned expressly for this performance, featuring harpsichordist Bryan Wagorn (playing a beautiful double-manual French-styled instrument built by Thomas and Barbara Wolf), along with flutist Alice Teyssier and bassoonist Rebekah Heller.

Glass’ “Liquid Days,” begins with a recitative introduction, similar to a Handel aria. But the lyrics, by David Byrne, depict love, in all its quotidian splendor.

It is somewhat strange to hear a countertenor (or even if he were a female singing alto) singing lyrics in English.  His voice is truly amazing.

It is even more peculiar to hear the word “television.”  But Byrne’s lyrics are pretty awesome:

We are old friends
I offer love a beer
Love watches television

Love needs a bath
Love could use a shave
Love rolls out of the chair and wiggles on the floor
Jumps up
I’m laughing at love
I’m laughing at love

And all the while Costanzo’s voice sounds operatic, serious, significant.

Costanzo’s agile voice, with its polished tone and patrician phrasing, is a singular reminder that we live in a golden age of countertenors – guys who sing high in music both ancient and modern.

Up next is Handel’s “Pena tiranna” (From ‘Amadigi di Gaula’) which means, I have a tyrannous pain in my heart and I can never hope to find peace.  It opens with harpsichord and bassoon, a wonderful combination.  The flute then enters to play a harmony with his voice.

“Pena tiranna,” from Handel’s undervalued Amadigi di Gaula, is a compelling example of how well the composer can spin a gorgeous melody to evoke the deepest anguish.

The final piece is from Glass: “In the Arc of Your Mallet” (from ‘Monsters of Grace’)” which has a text by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.  It speaks of longing in sexy undertones.  He says that in this translation brings out the strange, layered longing–sometimes dirty–meaning under the surface.

Anthony Roth Costanzo is a feisty performer who knows a thing or two about busting down barriers in classical music. After all, opera singers don’t normally belt out arias behind office desks, and they don’t insist on lugging harpsichords with them. They also don’t routinely sing in Bronx middle school classrooms and get students talking about emotions. But Costanzo is fearless. (And after seeing this amazing Tiny Desk performance, watch him melt the hearts of distracted sixth-graders.)

[READ: January 9, 2017] “The Driver”

I never anticipated where this story was going.  And the direction it took to get there was really interesting.

It begins with the story of Mrs Quantrill, a respectable woman who managed to get their house listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places.  She and her husband were philanthropists and they threw legendary parties.

There’s an aside that says when their son Spencer inherited the house, he demolished it and replaced it with storage units.

But at the time of this story Spencer is 9 years old.  And Mrs Quantrill has been called into the principal’s office because Spencer is struggling.  Spencer is nervous and doesn’t know what to do with his, feet, his eyes or his hands. (more…)

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galchen SOUNDTRACK: HILARY HAHN-Tiny Desk Concert #169 (October 21, 2011).

hilaryHilary Hahn is a violinist.  She looks to be about 12 (although she isn’t, but she did start playing when she was very young).

She plays two beautiful pieces by Bach (she made an album of Bach Partitas when she was only 16):

Gigue (from Partita No. 3) is fun and lively and Siciliana (from Sonata No. 1) is somber and sweet.  Her fingering is perfect.  She is playing an 1864 Vuillaume fiddle and her sound is beautiful.

Earlier in 2011, she had released an album of Charles Ives’ four violin sonatas.   The blurb says that Ives weaved bits of Americana into his sonatas–quotes from old hymns and folks songs.

For her final piece, she combines four of these pieces: “Shall We Gather at the River,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” into her own melody.  She comments:

“I’ve actually never played this before, and it doesn’t really exist,” she admitted before launching into the tunes. “You may recognize them. Maybe after hearing these, if you hear the sonatas, you’ll be like, ‘I know that part!'”

She also says she will try to accompany herself.  I wasn’t sure what she meant–she doesn’t use a looping pedal or anything, but the blurb says she plays “just the right double stops (two strings at once)” and it sounds beautiful.

She also asks if anyone minds if she wears a hat.  Ives was often photographed with a hat  and there was Bob’s fedora.  It looks quite nice on her.

[READ: April 26, 2016] new movies, new drama

I was surprised to see that Rivka Galchen had been doing reviews in Harper’s (that image above is actually from The New York Times, apologies).  It seems like a step down from writing long pieces or short stories.  But who knows, maybe it’s a good gig (heck, wouldn’t I love to write about movies and television …hey wait).

Over the past year she has written five reviews of entertainments.

In March 2015, she reviewed Paddington and I really liked her insights into the movie (I posted about that already, here).

Then in June 2015, she wrote about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  I had enjoyed the show by the time I read this piece (when it first came out), but I have just re-read it and it really makes me want to watch the new season (I watched the first episode but didn’t really love it as much as the previous season).  She raves about the opening credit sequence (which is fantastic) but spends a lot of the essay talking about how groundbreaking the show is because we are used to seeing adult men act like boys, but rarely do we see adult women act like girls (with glitter sneakers and a backpack).   The interesting thing is that “She invites admiration, yet it will be a rare viewer who would want to trade places with her…That’s what makes her a more radical invention than most earlier female comic leads.”

Galchen likes the “surprisingly glittering quality to dark moments… which appear unexpectedly and then dont quite vanish.”

She ties all this back to Lucy and Desi (Desilu produces the show). In real life, Desi Arnaz was discriminated against and relied on Lucille Ball to get him onto her show, thus the joke of Lucy trying to get into Ricky Ricardos’s show (I had no idea).

In September 2015, she writes about Louie (a show that she mentioned in the previous essay “Hallelujah”).  This time she is reviewing Season 5 of the show.  She talks of Louie as having a superpower: love.  “he transforms his sister’s aggressive gun-wielding ex-boyfriend into a gentle, giggling man who learns to knit.  Galchen focuses on the fourth episode, with his brother Bobby.  “Part of Louie’s superhero of love is his ability to occupy a position of humiliation and dejection, as if this might protect those around him from the same fate.”

She points out that no one on the show actually thinks Louie has any superpowers, but she enjoys reading it as such.  I have never been able to get into Louie, but she certainly make it sound very compelling–maybe I should start with Season 5..

In December of 2015, she wrote under the heading “new drama.” She writes about Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. She says the movie is about two groups who are above the law fighting each other.  “We never learn what all these missions are intended to bring about. Its’ simply presented as a given that the goals of the I.M.F. are good and that those of the Syndicate are bad.”

I’m intrigued at this note from Galchen: the original theme song was 5/4; “at various points in Rogue Nation, it’s been altered to 4/4.  This is some say, because the 4/4 beat is easier to dance to.

I was delighted at the way she segued the review of this movie into a review of a performance of Antigone, in which  a woman breaks the law to give her dead brother a proper burial.

These are characters for whom what is past–Antigone’s necessitous origins, Creon’s tainted ascent to the throne–is prophetic; the future is there waiting for them all along, and the future is death.  That the dead are still alive and trying to destroy us is, of course, also the premise of Rogue Nation.

She ties in that 4/4 dance beat at the end by mentioning a friend who said after watching the play that he couldn’t stop thinking of John Boehner (who had just resigned).  Galchen say that although it’s tempting to believe that the Pope’s words of kindness were what compelled him to resign, him to retire, it was mostly likely inspired by pressure from the right, but we prefer the Pope version–it’s an easier beat to follow.

Finally in March 2016, Galchen wrote about the Wooster Group, an experimental theater company.  She talks about their lucid, fevered work.  She saw their Hamlet in 2007 and was delighted by their unexpected delivery.  And now (well, then) they are doing Harold Pinter’s The Room.

She speaks of Pinter–his use of violence and long dramatic pauses.  The Room is a one-act black comedy. One of the things the Wooster Group does is show, behind the actors, television screens, partially turned to the audience with what appears to be Chinese political debates.  The actors wear earpieces that pipes the audio from these screens into their ears which no doubt impacts their delivery.

Wooster Group revels in the absurdity of their shows.  I’d be curious to see one of their productions, although i won’t be rushing out to do so.

 

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HarpersWeb-Cover-2016-01-410SOUNDTRACK: WILCO-Tiny Desk Concert #168 (October 17, 2011).

wilco2011Wilco is virtually the only band to have been asked back for a second Tiny Desk Concert.  I’ve listened to this concert a bunch of times but didn’t realize I hadn’t posted about it here.

There is a huge crowd for this show and as it starts, everyone shouts WILCO!

The band sounds great with all the members crowding in behind the Tiny Desk.  Tweedy plays his big acoustic guitar, Nels Cline plays all kinds of interesting sounds in the corner.  The drummer is on a small computer thing that seems to be made up of all manner of small percussive items.  There’s a bassist and keyboardist and a second guitarist all making a great sound.

“Dawned on Me” starts the set and sounds great in this setting—I love the walking bass throughout the song and of course Nels Cline plays a wonderfully insane noisy solo amid this simple and catchy folk song

Before the second song, “Whole Love” Glen’s got to get some things out of his toiletry bag.  This is another great song with Nels playing high notes to complement the rumbling bass.  No idea what the drummer is playing this time—a book?  Tweedy sings in falsetto for much of the song.

Tweedy says “this next song requires a certain amount of tuning—quiet please.”

He asks if anyone has any questions and when Bob says “I’m speechless,” someone on staff says “That’s a first,” which gets everyone laughing.  Bob asks if Jeff likes his bag of toys and Jeff says anyone who would make fun of his bag of toys is an idiot.  Sadly we never see the bag or the toys.

“Born Alone” has another great bass line that opens the song and the drummer is hitting lord only knows what.  This was the song by Wilco that made me really fall in love with the band.  Cline’s slide guitar is very cool.  But there’s something about the end of the song when the whole band plays a series of chords–the steps keep going lower and lower, and each time you think they’re going to stop, they just keep going. It’s very fun.

After that song Tweedy admits to breaking a sweat–Tiny Sweat!

The final song is “War on War.”  He says they played it about ten years ago in the city possibly for the first time.  They messed up the ending the other day, but they hope it doesn’t mess them up this time.  Cline goes berserk on his guitar.  The whole band rocks this song.  There’s some really cool harmonies on this track, too.  The keyboardist even has a little cow sound maker (that you can just barely hear, until the very end).  They get the ending right and Tweedy shouts “Nailed It!”

There is much applause as Bob asks, “Pretty good for a Saturday, huh?”  And as the applause dies down, someone yells, “Now lets trash this dump!”

It’s a great set.

[READ: March 25, 2016] “Hallelujah!”

I wanted to finish up all of the Harper’s pieces by Rivkla Galchen.  I had no idea what to expect from this piece.

It is one of those pieces in Harper’s that has images in the background–in this case musical notes and a portrait of Handel–to go with the  story.  And it is broken up into many little sections labelled 1. Sinfonia (Overture) 2. Accompagnato. 3. Air, etc up through 53 (!).

So this is obviously about Handel’s Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus. (more…)

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serafinaSOUNDTRACK: JACKIE EVANCHO-Tiny Desk Concert #130 (May 23, 2011).

jackieI’d never heard of Jackie Evancho, even though she apparently was viral for a while.  Jackie was (at the time of this taping) 11 years old.  And she has an amazing operatic voice.  Not like, oooh, the 11 year old can sing, but like holy cow, that voice comes out of an 11 year old?

Her voice is beautiful in the audio format, but you really have to watch that voice come out of this adorable little girl (while she sings Handel’s “Ombra Mai Fu”) for it to really blow your mind.  Especially when she giggles at the end.

For what I am sure are licensing reasons, there is only one video available, but there are three songs available to download.  “Lovers” comes from The House of Flying Daggers (one of her favorite movies).  If you have watched her sing, it is staggering to imagine her singing this song (which is intensely grown up).

The third song is Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and she sounds so much more “mature” than McLachlan’s more passionate version.  It is uncanny to watch this girl sing.

[READ: December 6, 2015] Serafina and the Black Cloak

I saw this book reviewed and it was talked about as being the next big franchise for Disney.  Since our library had it in I thought I’d read it before it took off.

To my knowledge it hasn’t taken off yet, but I’m glad I’m ahead of the curve.

This book has many dark elements including a very violent, scary opening that I feel makes this an unlikely children’s book series.  Maybe tweens, but certainly not for young readers.

I brought the book for Sarah because it is set in Biltmore Estate (Sarah’s mom had just visited there and Sarah would like to go).  I think she was intrigued until I read the next paragraph which talked about a lot of supernatural elements (she was intrigued for different reasons then).

So Serafina is the daughter of the man who works on the “Edison machine” in the basement of Biltmore.  He doesn’t want the Vabnderbilts’ to know he lives there and doesn’t want them to know about Serafina at all.  All Serafina knows is that her mother is dead and her pa is all she has left.  So he hides her and tells her she is the CRC, the house’s chief rat catcher.  Despite her living conditions, she doesn’t feel any ill will towards the Vanderbilts.  She has never really interacted with them so she has no opinion of them.  She just thinks they are fascinating.

Serafina has very keen senses, especially in the dark–she can catch mice an rats like no ones business and she thinks that everyone else is loud and clumsy.  She also has amber eyes and only four toes and she is able to move her body into uncannily small spaces.

Her father, protective of her and of his livelihood, tells her to never go out except at night.  And she must also never go into the forest which is magical and dangerous. But Serafina is constantly drawn to the forest,

Then one night she hears someone walking around and a little girl scream.  The man is in a black cloak and she watches as he grabs the girl, says she won’t be hurt and then proceeds try to…do something to her.  Serafina tries to help, but she is thwarted and soon the little girl  screams and is gone.

She tries to tell her pa but he doesn’t believe her–he doesn’t want to hear anything about supernatural nonsense.  He even gets mad that she was out and about.  Finally when word gets out that the girl is missing, the house organizes a search party and Serafina runs into a boy, Braeden (a terribly unlikely name for the time, I must say).  Braeden is the nephew of the Vanderbilts.  Braden is an orphan , and his aunt and uncle have taken him in.  But he is a loner and spends more time with his horses and dog.  He is intrigued by Serafina because she is obviously a loner too.

They wind up going on a coach ride together only to get trapped in the woods.  That’s when Braeden believes what Serafina has seen (because he has seen it too).  And they know they have to capture this man in the black cloak.

But how can the two people who aren’t even supposed to talk to each other work together on such a thing.  And who can the evil person be?  An outsider or one of his uncle’s friends?

The mystery wasn’t set up as a mystery–we learn who we think is the bad guy about half way through the book.  But there’s still the matter of catching him.  And then learning the secret of the cloak.  And the secret of the forest.

I also enjoyed the part about the catamount.  I have a personal funny story about catamounts and have never seen them in a story before.  I’ve also never heard of them as having mystical powers (or that the name was derives from Cat-a-mountains) either.  Which was cool.

Although there were elements of this story that were kind of samey to other stories like this, there was much originality.  And by the end of the story I was totally hooked.

And best of all, the ending feels like an ending, not a set up for a part 2.  I can’t quite imagine how they will make a series out of it, but I’ll certainly read book two if it comes out.

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