Posts Tagged “chamber music”

Side-note on Style

Our local Maricopa Music Circle is now planning its Winter Recital. One of the pieces violinist Zhenenyeva Ehrbright and I plan to perform is a Nocturne by Medtner. Meeting his Three Nocturnes was a total treat for me – he is the real deal.
Pianists are the ones who may know Nicolay Medtner the best. His many solo Sonatas and the Concerti are legendary for pianists who care to go just one step past the tried and true. (This was his own instrument, after all, and he writes for it so the music will always sound and also feel right under the hand.) But he’s in the shadows to the public at large, bearing the ‘stigma’ of forever being thought unfashionable. (A bit like Dukas – also an educator as well as composer, and tireless editor of his own music.)
He’s a transitional figure in Russian music (dying in England in the 1950s – !), who sounds at times hints at the harmonic formulations of Scriabin or Rachmaninoff, with touches of Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky. But the music has soul, and an abundance of elegance and thought in the crafting, so that its shapes beautifully fulfill the length of their statement – they never natter, prolong, or bore. That’s an accomplishment.
I’m positive we pay too much attention to the “fashionable-ness” of any artwork. – If a piece or a picture is quite au courant, that seems to go a long way in how we evaluate it. Being on a current wavelength can in the moment make up for a work’s actually being thin, or rather uninspired, or just plain poor.
But the test of time is significant. Magnificent art is, in part, art that is durable. It speaks meaningfully to different audiences over various eras. The further away from the composer’s lifetime we are, the truer the test of the music: It then becomes possible to consider the work primarily on its own terms, on its individual premise, divorced from any fashion of the moment.

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A bit of nice news —

My recent 2011 Navona CD “Eternal Evolution” is on FANFARE magazine’s Want List for 2011 ( Nov./Dec. issue). The expanded CD includes 4 of my chamber pieces in wonderful performances by the Harlem Quartet and Awadagin Pratt.

(The magazine’s current Sept./Oct. issue carries an interview with me, plus two reviews of this disc and of my Naxos orchestra disc of 2010.)

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Composers In Mysteries

Step past those tormented, fictional Wagner aspirants in bible-length novels — and for today let’s also set aside Thomas Mann. I’m a mystery nut, and I relish the present-day novels of Sara Paretsky, a mystery master who threads music into almost everything she writes. And in more than one of her books, the composers themselves show up.

Paretsky’s protagonist is V. I. Warshawski (Victoria Iphigenia – Vic for short), a Chicago PI who’s obstinate, cunning, intuitive, a quick thinker, and a general pain in the neck to many of her associates but who sticks with it, thinking through every case even as she hares around the state until the mystery in solved, no matter the bruises or bullet wounds that come her way. The daughter of a singer (mom) and a police detective, Vic keeps a piano in her apartment and often breaks into snatches of aria. (She’s also an expert basketball player and very accurate with a handgun.) Two of Vic’s close friends, both doctors, are Holocaust survivors who support Chicago’s symphony and chamber music scene, so Vic gets to a concert from time to time.

In one Paretsky short story, a composer of the distant past turns out to be an ancestor of Vic’s. And in the layered novel I’m now reading, Body Work, one character is a bassist in both jazz and early music groups, so lyrics by the trobairitz Maria de Ventadorn turn up.

But the most memorable composer appearance is in an earlier Paretsky book where one of the doctor’s sons (a cellist) comes to town with his girlfriend, Israeli composer and piano prodigy Or Nevitzky, whose new chamber piece is premiered and described in detail. — I have to believe Nevitzky stands in for Shulamit Ran, whose bio is virtually the same as the fictional character’s, and who has long been associated with music in Chicago.

It means a lot to come across a composer – someone who does what I do: who worries away at the problem at hand, never letting go until the solution is clear – in a genre book where the genre connotes “action”. Composers often don’t move when we do our thing; we can sit quiet and in place for hour after hour. And we might never be as tormented, as picturesque, as Holmes with his cocaine and dolorous violin, when we’re thinking things out. But we do hang in there until the solution is clear — just like Vic.

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