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Archive for the ‘Johann Sebastian Bach’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GIL SHAHAM-“Partitat No. 2 “Gavotte en Rondeau” by J.S. Bach” (Field Recordings, January 12, 2012).

This was the very first Field Recording posted on the NPR site back in 2012 [Gil Shaham: A Violinist’s Day At The Museum].

Shaham plays Bach in the Hirshiorn Museum.

As Gil Shaham wandered through the back offices of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., he said he felt “like Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum.” For this impromptu Bach mini-recital, the violin superstar momentarily became part of the art, bathed in the modish lighting and projections of a multimedia installation during the performance.

He is introduced with the rather amusing:  “A world famous, world renowned violinist who, by the way, starts every morning with a bowlful of Cap’n Crunch.  He told me that.”

I love that this first Field Recording was, like many of NPR’s best things, a spontaneous idea:

A crowd packed the exhibit room to watch as Shaham launched into Bach’s third partita. After the performance, the violinist greeted fans in the museum, many of whom were headed to his concert at the Kennedy Center that night. He seemed surprised and delighted that the guerrilla concert, announced only on local classical station WETA and Twitter that day, drew so many people willing to hear Bach in the afternoon.

[READ: January 22, 2017] “Are We Not Men”

Boyle’s stories aren’t usually as fanciful as this.  But I loved it just as much as many of his other more down to earth stories.  I particularly enjoyed that it was set in the future, although there was no real statement of that until late in the story.  There were hints, which seem obvious in retrospect, but which at first just seemed like hyperbolic or metaphorical.

Like “the dog was the color of a maraschino cherry” or that the lawn incorporated “a gene from a species of algae that allowed it to glow under the porch light at night.”

The story opens with the cherry-colored dog killing an animal in the narrator  Roy’s front yard (on that grass).  He wanted to chase the dog away because it might ruin his grass.  Then he noticed that what the dog had killed was his neighbor Alison’s pig.  She loved that pig and anthropomorphized it.  To try to salvage the pig, he ran up to the dog waving his arms.  It immediately latched onto his forearm instead.

As Roy fights with the dog, the dog’s owner, well, the daughter of the owner, came running across the street.  She looked like a teenager but was actually 11 or 12.  When the girl says, “You hit my dog,” he replies that she bit him.  The girl says Ruby would never do that–she’s just playing.

Amid this horrorshow of blood and violence and death, and a sprinkling of genetic splicing, Boyle throws in a very funny experiment gone wrong.  Crowparrots were a modified bird which blended crows with the invasive parrot population.  It believed that the experiment would turn the parrots into carrion eaters.  But instead it made their calls loud and more frequent.  And they mimicked, so they “were everywhere, cursing fluidly, (“Bad bird! Fuck, fuck, fuck!“).” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL HOPE-three pieces (Field Recordings, August 21, 2013).

The only thing I like more than a Field Recording set outside, is one set in an unlikely building, like the way this Field Recording [Daniel Hope’s Earth And Sky Expedition] is set in the American Museum of Natural History.

When Daniel Hope was a boy, the only thing he loved as much as his violin was his telescope. Gazing into the night sky, he pondered the vastness of space. Now a grown man, Hope still has a penchant for wonder and discovery — especially when it comes to music.

In his latest album, Spheres, Hope returns to the spirit of those early astronomical adventures. His idea, he says, is “to bring together music and time, including works by composers from different centuries who might perhaps not always be found in the same galaxy.” The unifying factor is the big question: Is there anything out there?

What better place to play with that ancient query than the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. We invited Hope and jazz bassist-composer Ben Allison into the “performance crater” in the Hall of Planet Earth.

As if the Hall isn’t interactive enough — with its glowing orbs and 4.3 billion-year-old zircon crystal — we wrangled afternoon museum-goers to participate in our own Earth and sky expedition. Equipped with small flashlights, they became the twinkling stars surrounding Hope and Allison in the darkened room.

The music seems to live and breathe in the space, as each of the three pieces (spanning four centuries) reverberates a unique voice. “Imitation of the Bells,” with its rippling arpeggios and tolling bass line, comes from the long forgotten Johann Paul von Westhoff, a German violin master who crisscrossed Europe a generation before J.S. Bach. In “Berlin by Overnight,” from contemporary Max Richter, Hope’s violin asteroids whiz past while Allison’s bass propels through outer space. And finally, the otherworldly beauty that is Bach’s “Air on a G String” floats in a safe, gentle stasis.

It’s neat watching the little kids swing their flashlights around while the older kids watch on, bored, from the balcony during “Imitation of the Bells.”  Hope’s violin is flying in a flurry of activity while the bass keeps things grounded.

I’m not sure that I have heard many violin pieces performed with a bass accompaniment.  The bass doesn’t add a lit of melody to the violin work, but it adds a very cool feeling of grounding and rhythm especially in “Berlin by Overnight.”  The piece feels very contemporary with a cool, fast, Glassian kind of repetitiveness.  And the bass adds occasional notes (that feel like rock bass notes, he plucks so hard) to keep the pace going.

The bass is much more pronounced on the familiar J.S. Bach: Air on a G String.  I feel an imperceptible sitting up straight once the first notes ring out of the violin.  But I keep coming back to the bass.  The violin melody is so pretty and so familiar that it’s interesting to listen to the way the bass plays off those notes.

[READ: February 9, 2018] “The Botch”

I have not enjoyed Means’ stories in the past.  They’re usually pretty violent and just not my thing.

This one was a bit more enjoyable until the end.  The only problem with it per se was that it was about a bank robbery and I feel like there’s not much you can say about a bank robbery that hasn’t been said in films and stories already.

But there’s some interesting tweaks.  It is set around the Great Depression–tommy guns and wise guys.  And the mastermind behind the scheme has thought out everything ahead of time.  There is a repeated refrain of “the idea is” which I kind of liked.  Although for some reason it bugged me when it was switched to just “idea being,” which I know is how it would be said, but it bristled. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  YO-YO-MA-Tiny Desk Concert #777 (August 17, 2018).

One needs to say very little to introduce Yo-Yo Ma, probably the most famous cellist in the world.  He is here because he has recorded Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach.  Again.  For the third time.

Obsessed or awestruck, artists revisit great inspirations because they believe there is yet another story to tell – about life, about themselves.  Cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought his great inspiration, and in turn part of his own life story, to an enthusiastic audience packed around the Tiny Desk on a hot summer day. Ma is returning, yet again, to the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, a Mount Everest for any cellist. He has just released Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites, his third studio recording of the complete set and is taking the music on a two-year, six-continent tour. Ma’s first recording of the Suites, released in 1983, earned him his first Grammy.

Certainly one of the most brilliant cellists of modern times, he’s also a thoughtful, curious humanitarian, with an endless thirst to understand, celebrate, and connect disparate cultures of the world.

He plays three pieces from the Suites

J.S. Bach: “Prelude (from Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello)”  It is so beautiful and familiar, it sounds amazing on his cello.  he says “This was the very first piece of music I started on the cello… when I was 4 years old.  One measure a day.  It’s not painful to learn something incrementally.”  He describes how he recognized that the second measure was similar to the first and the third was just a variation.  He says, “I lived with this music for 58 years (plus 4, that’s my age).”

Ma has played the music for 58 years and along the way it’s become something of a practical guide to living, pulling him through hardships and celebrating times of joy. “It’s like forensic musicology,” Ma told the Tiny Desk audience. “Embedded in the way I play is actually, in many ways, everything I’ve experienced.”

J.S. Bach: “Sarabande (from Suite No. 6 for Solo Cello)”  The sarabande comes from many places.   All of these places have claimed it:  Guatemala, Mexico, Moorish Spain, via Portugal or Morocco.  He says the sarabande is the heart of the suites.

It has served dual purposes, Ma explained. “I’ve played this piece both at friends’ weddings, and unfortunately also at their memorial services.”

J.S. Bach: “Gigue (from Suite No. 3 for Solo Cello)”  He says for the last piece at the Tiny Desk, I’m going to play a tiny jig.  He says Bach goes from old dances to folk or popular dance.  Here is this German composer working a jog into the third suite.

The exuberant “Gigue,” from the Third Suite, with its toe-tapping beat, reminds us that Bach was far from a stuffed wig. Such is this sturdy, versatile and benevolent music, offering a full range of the human condition.

Ma is happy to teach the listeners what he is doing, to share the joy and love of music.  Sometimes literally

As soon as he arrived at our office to play, Ma unpacked his cello – a famed 1712 Stradivarius – and immediately handed it over, with his bow, and said, “Here play something.” It didn’t matter that I’d never held a cello. It was just another one of Yo-Yo Ma’s warm and welcoming gestures, another way to open up music to anyone and everyone.

It’s all beautiful!

[READ: August 27, 2018] “Ways and Means”

This story tackles sexual harassment at the workplace from an interesting angle (and is written in a great, fluid style that makes the story utterly compelling).

Hal (short for Haley-Ann, a name she always hated) is an engineer at a public radio station.  She was one of the first women to work in such a position and has been there for over a decade.  The story opens with her reading a public apology from an on-air personality, Oliver.  Oliver had worked at he station for over three decades and was a huge draw for both audience and pledges.

The apology went to everyone’s inbox and then went public.  She felt it was trite with words that he, Oliver, would never have said in real life like invalidated).

The accuser was unnamed but everyone in the building knew it was Molly, a 26-year-old podcast producer. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: MIRAMAR-Tiny Desk Concert #594 (January 27, 2017).

Miramar is from Richmond Virginia, but they play beautiful bolero music.

When the members of Richmond, Virginia’s Miramar first heard the music of Puerto Rican composer Sylvia Rexach, they were intrigued that she wasn’t as well-known as other popular bolero writers. So they came up with an album’s worth of her songs to cover, and have been wowing audiences across the country with their exquisite renditions of her songs.

When they pulled into NPR to play behind Bob Boilen’s desk, Miramar’s members made time stop with a performance that swept us off our feet, ably backed by friends of theirs from Richmond who played gorgeous string arrangements behind the band. So turn the lights down low, clear out the living-room carpet and find your dance partner for this one.

What is it about bolero music?

Some say you have to have loved and lost to appreciate the beauty of the bolero. Since its inception in Cuba in the early 20th century, the music has been designed for thoughtful and emotional consideration of the joys and pains that come with loving someone so intensely, it becomes like a religion to adore that special someone (an actual bolero lyric).

They play four songs: “Sin Ti” (without You) opens with some great Spanish guitar and shakers (which sound like water).  The song slowly builds and then the two singers come in.  Rei Alvaresz and Laura Ann Singh sing beautifully together.

The rest of the band includes: Marlysse Simmons Argandoña (piano, organ); Hector Barez (percussion); James Farmer (bass) and Sebastian Cruz (guitar).

“Estatua” (Statue) is faster and more upbeat.  The large string section is put to full use here. (With strings provided by Ellen Riccio (violin); Treesa Gild (violin); Kimberly Ryan (viola) and Schuyler Slack (cello)).  I love when she is singing “te creo” and he is singing low vocals underneath her.  The strings add wonderful drama to this mournful yet beautiful song.

“Urgancia” (Urgency) has some very cool organ sounds—very retro 60s swinging (almost soap opera)–sound.  But in addition there’s beautiful guitar and their great vocals as well.   The first three songs were all originals

“Tus Pasos”  (Your Footsteps) is by Sylvia Rexach–the inspiration for everything they’ve done.  It is a sweet, romantic, old-fashioned sounding love song.

[READ: July 6, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Field Trip Fiasco

I’ve been really enjoying the way the events of the previous books lead to the follow-up.  So you actually should read these in order, which is more fun anyway.

Our opener shows masked men robbing a grocery store–Lunch Lady is able to stop them with fizzy soda.

But the plot of this book is the field trip that was foreshadowed in the previous one.  The Breakfast Bunch is excited to go, except that Hector forgot to get his permission slip signed.  So Dee (who is increasingly more sarcastic as the books go on) forges the signature–who will know?

Lunch Lady and Betty are bored because everyone is going to the field trip–there’s no lunch today.  But when Mrs Palonski learns that her chaperone can’t come she reluctantly agrees to let Lunch Lady come along.  (Betty tells her to go and have fun even though she sighs when she’s left all alone).  Of course Mrs Paloski is worried that Lunch Lady never stops talking (which proves to be an ironic worry). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BADBADNOTGOOD-Tiny Desk Concert #593 (January 23, 2017).

I’m amused at how kinda dorky all of these guys look–except for the drummer who looks “cool.”  Why is that amusing?  Because of this blurb:

BADBADNOTGOOD made a name for itself by reworking songs from the likes of Nas and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, eventually catching the attention of Odd Future leader Tyler, the Creator. The masses took notice in 2015 when the group produced an entire LP for Ghostface Killah, Sour Soul. BADBADNOTGOOD has been called a hip-hop ensemble, but its foundation is clearly jazz, which provides a gateway to countless genres. On IV, the group allows that gateway to widen, adding soul and funk to the repertoire.

And they are all only in their 20s!

They play three songs from IV.  This first “And That, Too.” is a very jazzy song.  I love the complex piano melody that’s getting thrown around–syncopation and almost chaos, but always staying true to the great rhythm laid down by the bass and gentle drums.  I also happen to love the flute solo that rides over the top of everything–it provides a great 19070s jazz vibe.  The flute switch es to alt sax, and instrument that I think is kinda cheesy–I’d have rather it stayed with flute.  But his solo is pretty great–meandering and intense.

Introducing “In Your Eyes” the drummer says that he was fortunate enough to go to high school with a sax player who he didn’t know would have a voice that would blow him away … “later in my life” (ha).  Charlotte Day Wilson’s voice is deep and sultry although I don’t particularly like it–it feels too forced or something?  But she does sound much older than she looks.  Which is shame because I think the music of the song is pretty great.  The flutist has switched to guitar for this song (that’s a talented dude).

Before introducing the final song the drummer says “My 2017 is feeling pretty good so let’s keep it going.”  The fact that this was recorded sometime around the inauguration trump feels incredibly tone deaf.  But whatever.  “Cashmere” (“which only slightly veered from the studio version”) is a ten-minute song that opens with a very cool high bass note section and lots of piano.  The guitarist switches to yet another sax (four instruments in three songs).   The middle of the song is just the bass notes and a  lengthy piano solo.  i also like how the song seems to be over but that bass line picks up one more time.

I was surprisingly delighted with this Tony Desk Concert.

[READ: July 4, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit

As Book 5 opens, Lunch Lady foils some safe robbers (in a very funny way).  I really enjoy how every book starts out with an intro comic showing off Lunch Lady’s mad skills.

Then it switches over to a school bus.  The Breakfast Bunch is trying to get on board–they don’t usually ride the bus–but the driver, Brenda, is pretty awful. To them and to everyone.  She drives like a maniac and yells at everyone.  She’s nice to the principal bit once he tells her his news, she can’t even pretend to be nice to him.

The news is that there is going to be a bake sale.  And if it goes well, the students will get a field trip and… Brenda will be the bus driver!

Gah! “How she despises children.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEREK GRIPPER-Tiny Desk Concert #587 (December 16, 2016).

There are so many amazing musicians in the world that it’s impossible to have heard of all of them.  So it’s no surprise I haven’t heard of Derek Gripper, but at the same time, he is so mesmerizing I’m surprised that I haven’t heard of him before.

The 38-year-old started on violin at age 6, then wound up with one of the few classical-guitar professors in his native South Africa. But touring the world playing the music of the great dead white men was not all that appealing (though Gripper still loves to play Bach). Then he heard a record by the Malian kora player Toumani Diabate. He decided that that’s what he wanted to do: not play the kora itself, but play kora music on the guitar.

Of course, the kora has 21 strings, each tuned to a fixed note. The nylon-stringed guitar Gripper plays has six. But by using unusual tunings and fretting the strings up and down the neck with his left hand, he can pretty much hit all of the kora’s notes.

The remarkable thing is, he figured all of this out — and recorded two acclaimed albums — just by listening to CDs and checking out music online. Gripper painstakingly transcribed what he heard onto a kind of notation called tablature — similar to the music written for the Renaissance vihuela, which was also an inspiration. Earlier this year, Gripper finally made it to Mali, where his efforts received the blessing of Toumani Diabate himself; the two even jammed together.

That’s an amazing story but it’s nothing compared to the quality of his music.  It really does sound like he’s playing, if not the kora exactly, then certainly an instrument with more than 6 strings.

He plays four songs, three are traditional pieces which he has arranged for guitar and the fourth is an original piece.

Hearing the opening notes of “Tuth Jara” (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper) and you know that you’re not listening to a typical guitar–the trills and runs sound so West African.   And once you get past the mesmerizing nature of his fingers. The melody is really pretty too.

“Joni” is an original piece about a love affair with a singer–the way he tells the story is delightful.  I love that part of the song is him actually down tuning one of the strings for a bit and then tuning it back up (all while playing everything else).  I also really like that he makes relatively quiet humming/singing noises while he’s playing.

He says he was inspired by Diabate who turned the kora into a solo instrument–which is much easier than traveling with a  band.  And then he illustrates how he plays kora music on his guitar–a bassline, the accompaniment and the melody–all on the guitar all by himself.  That’s his introduction to “Jarabi” (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper).  And during the incredible playing out comes a beautiful, catchy and fun melody line.  All too soon, it’s over.

But since he has some time, they encourage him to play one more–“they’d be happier!” if he did.  So he ends with “Duga” (Trad. Arr. Derek Gripper) which he describes as a conversation between ngoni and kora.  The kora wins because he knows more about kora.   And like so many of his pieces, it is over way too soon.

[READ: June 13, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown

As Book 4 opens, Lunch Lady is seen in a two-page spread wielding her fish-stick-nunchucks.

Then we see that everyone is heading off to summer camp.   The kids have been looking forward to summer camp since they were little and they are finally old enough. Sadly Milmoe the bully will be there too.

And, unbeknownst to Lunch Lady and Betty, they are working at the same camps as the kids.  Lunch Lady has worked there before and she knows everyone, she gives us the lowdown on the counselors like Scotty who has always been the most popular and Ben, the new guy, who is pretty foxy himself.

The counselors are super excited when the kids show up, although Dee is a little blasé about it.  And then they run into Lunch Lady. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RACHEL BARTON PINE-Tiny Desk Concert #555 (August 5, 2016).

I’ll let the blurb do the introduction:

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine began playing Bach in church at age 4. Ever since, she’s been mastering and re-mastering Bach’s set of six Sonatas and Partitas—more than two hours of solo violin music that looms like a proverbial Mount Everest for any serious fiddler. The trick is getting the details down. Bach left us with the notes but not much else. Pine recently analyzed every measure of these works, and prepared a new edition of the music with her own dynamic markings, phrasing indications, bowings and fingerings.

For this performance, Pine chose three contrasting movements from the set and plays them on her Guarneri del Gesu violin, which was built in 1742 — eight years before Bach died. She highlights the spirit of the dance in the “Tempo di Borea” (a Bourée from the First Partita). She unfolds a serene melody, just lightly accompanied, in the “Largo” (from the Third Sonata), and she closes with the intertwining “Fuga” (from the First Sonata), which sounds like three violinists in deep discussion.

And the music is gorgeous (Bach is truly sublime) and Pine’s violin playing is stunning.

She plays three pieces:

  • J.S. Bach: “Tempo di Borea” (from Partita No. 1)
  • J.S. Bach: “Largo” (from Sonata No. 3)
  • J.S. Bach: “Fuga” (from Sonata No. 1)

The first she describes as dance music.  She says that even though this was not created for the dance, you can sense the implicit choreography.

She describes the second piece as the sorbet course in between the exciting stuff.  It is in the key of F major, which historically is an intimate key.  This piece is calm and peaceful with the sparest of accompaniments.

For the final piece she says she will finish by playing the most complex of violin pieces.  Bach wrote it as a fugue for solo instrument.  She describes a fugue as a musical pattern that the voices toss around in conversation with each other.  So this little four string violin sounds like a full string ensemble.  And it absolutely does.  The opening melody is followed by the same melody on a lower string (while the first string is playing something else at the same time).  And then that riff is continued on the next string while the other two continue.  It is amazing.  And then near the end, she plays some incredibly fast dervishes of flying fingers and that crescendo is not even the end.

You might say that Bach was cruel, except it sounds so amazing, it’s worth it.

[READ: June 13, 2016] Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians

Librarians don’t really like when librarians are portrayed as villainous–unless they are done well.  And these librarians are pretty evil.

I enjoyed how this book also started out with a short clip of Lunch Lady stopping some bad guys before we even get to the story proper.

This book sees the Breakfast Bunch split between wanting to play video games (Hector is excited about the new X-Station 5000) while Dee is excited for the Read-a-thon contest.  Of course when they go to check out the Book Fair, the librarians insist that it starts tomorrow, not today.

Things seems calm and quiet for Lunch Lady.  In the meantime, Betty has come up with a new gadget: taco-vision night goggles. (more…)

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