I love how we can now finally *see* how incredible performers play. Video can get right up close and record jaw-dropping things like James Rhodes playing Moszkowski’s luminescent ‘Etincelles’. (I like Mr Rhodes because he sent me a signed copy of his debut CD a few years ago when I correctly identified a piece of music he tweeted a picture of!)
Emma O’Reilly asked me to play at a songwriter evening she curated the other night in The Mercantile bar. It’s a long while since I played my own stuff, so I jumped at the chance. I took out the guitar earlier that day at home to practice and ended up writing a new song — something I haven’t done in a long, long while!
I’ve been meeting up with a friend of mine, Peter Ryan, to hang out and talk about writing and give each other encouragement with stuff we’re working on. My lack of any new material prompted me to go back over the voice memo recordings of song ideas that I’ve made on my phone. It was two of these that I worked up into the song, which I’ve called ‘Panic’. I *do* have a demo recording of just me and the guitar, but I won’t post it up yet. I didn’t do a brilliant job of playing it the other night at the gig, so I feel like it needs to stay on the drawing board for a bit longer. I’m hoping to maybe work it up into a bigger arrangement, so you can hear it then…!
Buoyed by the experience of playing Emma’s gig, I got in touch with Lisa McLaughlin and got a slot on a forthcoming ‘Saucy Sundays’ gig (the regular showcase that she hosts in The Grand Social). Sunday 13 May — I’ll be on first 🙂
Another date of note (for my diary, anyway) is Friday the 18th of May. I just got word yesterday that that’s when my Grade 8 piano exam is scheduled for. Eek! The pieces are coming along nicely and I’m chipping away at the scales day by day — there are so many! I just read Charles Rosen’s book ‘Piano Notes’, which had some really interesting thoughts about playing Bach. One of the pieces I’m playing for the exam is Bach’s Fugue in B flat from the first book of ‘The Well-Tempered Keyboard’. He wrote a Prelude and a Fugue in each of the twelve major keys…and also each of the twelve minor keys…and then he did that all again. The interesting thing that Rosen points out is that these were never meant to be performed in public (and certainly not on a modern piano, more likely on a harpsichord or a clavichord). Bach would’ve used them as teaching material and so the modern practice of accentuating each appearance of the main theme of the fugue (the ‘subject’) is not how he would’ve expected the pieces to be played. For a start, the keyboard instruments of his day couldn’t do gradations of dynamics in the subtle way a piano can (a piano-forte, to give it its full name, is so called because of its ability to do both soft and loud). Secondly, since it wasn’t for an audience, the people hearing the fugue would’ve been the player or a pupil following the score — both of whom would have no need to have the appearances of the subject spelled out to them, since it was in front of them. Thirdly, the subject is the least interesting bit of the piece if you’re Bach. It’s just the bones to which the artistic flesh of the composer’s counterpoint is attached. All that having been said, if the pieces *are* to be performed for an audience who neither know the score nor have the aesthetic sensibilities of an eighteenth century harpsichord pupil, the pianist would do well to bring alive the music (to ‘publish’ it, as Rosen puts it), and some underlining of the structure of these remarkable pieces is the way to go.
All great food for thought. I’d recommend the book to anyone who plays piano or has an interest in classical piano music — it’s an easy read, with loads of anecdotes and insight into the repertoire and life of a pianist.
Practice continues for the Grade 8 exam. The three pieces I have to perform are coming along: Bach’s Fugue in Bb from the first book of ‘The 48’, Schubert’s Scherzo in Bb, and Shostakovich’s Prelude in D (from the Op. 34 set). Today I got a good bit of work done on all three.
This morning I listened to Murray Perahia’s 2000 recording of Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’, a piece I fell in love with when I was at university. The beautiful Aria that bookends the variations was featured in the film ‘The English Patient’ and my flatmate George had the soundtrack on CD. It also has a lovely version of ‘Cheek to Cheek’, as I recall… I encountered the piece again while staying on the Scottish island of Arran in my second year at university. A few of us went and stayed in a cottage there — I remember it raining a lot. We were armed with a box set of Bruckner symphonies, but it was a brief snippet in a TV documentary of Glenn Gould playing the fifth Goldberg variation that made the greater impression. It’s really a stunning performance (he recorded them twice, in 1955 and in 1981 — take your pick!) and a real piece of virtuosity. I memorised the first few bars of the right hand part when we got back to Edinburgh as a small act of worship…someday I’ll learn the whole movement!
I have a notion that Shostakovich gives that variation a nod in the Prelude I’m learning. It starts very similarly (although it quickly spirals off into Shostakovich’s sound world): the right hand has a stream of semiquavers which the left hand punctuates sparsely. Both pieces are number five in the set to which they belong…I don’t know…just a thought!
(Jeepers! I just searched for videos of the Shostakovich piece on YouTube and it’s mostly kids playing it at light speed…gulp…
Today is St Cecilia’s Day, the patron saint of music. It’s also the day Benjamin Britten was born. One of his compositions, the ‘Ode To Saint Cecilia’ (from whence comes the title of this blog post), is a setting for unaccompanied choir of a poem that his friend WH Auden dedicated to him. We sang it in New Dublin Voices a couple of years ago and it is included on our CD, ‘Something Beginning With B’.
Tonight I’m going to attend the rehearsal of the Goethe-Institut Choir. Hopefully they’ll let me sing with them in their forthcoming concert on 5 December in The National Concert Hall. They’ll be singing Bach’s setting of the Magnificat, which I fell in love with as a student in university. In the first term we (the fifty or so students in the first and second years of the BMus course) did the piece in a scratch performance just for ourselves. Our tutors told us about the various little compositional signals that Bach uses in his setting of the words of Mary’s song, and I’ll blog more about it another time. Right now I have to go and get ready. Have to make a good impression if I’m to convince them I’m up to the task!
Oh yes, and I found this charming video by the Anderson & Roe piano duo (whom I’ve written about before on this blog). Vivaldi was a near contemporary of Bach and would have probably *loved* to play a grand piano, had it been invented. Anderson & Roe achieve a delicate sound, more akin to the Baroque keyboard instrument sound, by dampening the strings of Ms Roe’s piano. Mr Anderson’s uneffected (but wonderfully affected) playing allows the piano to sing the melody as only a grand piano can. A beautiful effect from a continually interesting musical partnership.
This weekend, New Dublin Voices took part in a production of ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ at the National Concert Hall. It was a full week of rehearsals starting with the conductor, John Wilson, putting us through our paces on Monday evening before we went along to the full orchestral rehearsals during the week. It was a wonderful experience—I really enjoyed sitting beside the bass clarinet player, having done a lot of orchestral clarinet playing in university. Being inside the orchestra was great. John Wilson reconstructed the score, the original having been tragically consigned to landfill many years ago. (In an article I read in Classic FM magazine with John, he also sadly notes that a lot of the music libraries of the big studios were destroyed. There was nothing for it but to literally write it all out again. It must’ve been a mammoth task!) The RTÉ Concert Orchestra were augmented with a rhythm section (piano, guitar, bass, drums) and, behind us on stage, a full saxophone section. They had some really lovely moments in the score, providing that close-harmony sound that only saxes can do. Seriously, it was a real treat sitting in the middle of it all and watching the realisation of this sublime music.
Here’s the sequence from the film for ‘Moses Supposes’, which the amazing dancers did pretty much step-for-step at the NCH:
A couple of my friends posted links to this video, too. Jaw-droppingly good. Danny Macaskill is to a trail bike what Gene Kelly is to tap shoes.
Nothing for weeks, and now two posts in as many minutes! Just saw that Michael McGlynn had posted this. Knowing some of the strange and awful things I’ve gotten wind of from Michael before (I’m thinking of a particularly hideous rendition of ‘O Holy Night’ from years ago… *shudder*), I confess expecting this to be in some way funny. Well, it’s not. It’s disarmingly beautiful. I’m not going to give any biography or information about the singers (because I don’t know any!). Just enjoy…
Great/brilliant song by Belgian/Australian singer/songwriter Gotye (his spelling of the French name ‘Gaultier’). I was watching the video (posted on Facebook by my musical maven friend, Jill Deering) and thinking he looked a bit like Sting, just without the high voice. Then he rips into the chorus…! Superb stuff. I’m a big fan of Kimbra, too, who guests beguilingly on this track (the whole thing—even the stop-motion video—prompting comparisons for me with Peter Gabriel). I. Love. It.
I also found this great cover of Rush’s ‘Subdivisions’ by Jacob Moon, recorded on the rooftop of a theatre in Hamilton, Ontario (a town I *think* I visited when I was in that part of the world in August 2000—it certainly has a beautiful twilight that I remember).
I supported the barbershop quartet, 4 in a Bar, at their CD launch at The Workman’s Club on Wednesday. I did my three best Sting covers: ‘Roxanne’, ‘Seven Days’ (with obligatory story…), and ‘Message In A Bottle’. I also did ‘The Wild Rover’, and would’ve dearly liked to have played my own ‘Trust You’ but for the small problem of having a total mental blank. I still can’t think how it starts. Brilliant.
Anyway, 4 in a Bar are actually brilliant. They showcased the songs from the CD and threw in a few others (including the haunting ‘All The Fine Young Men’, originally by White Raven). I thoroughly recommend buying their CD and getting along to see them perform. Barbershop music is vocally virtuosic, camply complex, and entrancingly entertaining. These guys are the best in Ireland and recently got a silver medal in international competition. Get them while they’re hot. I hear they do weddings…
It’s my friend Jonny Boyle’s birthday today. He is a brilliant guitar player—melodic, jazzy, and musical beyond belief. He is doing a couple of workshops in his home town of Carrickfergus on 25 June, one called ‘Jazz Up The Blues’ and the other on ‘The Modes’. If I know Jonny, it’ll be a great, inspiring session (astonishing value—3 hours for £20, only 5 in the class) and you’ll come away with lots of tasty licks to use in your playing.
Here’s Jonny playing a selection of solo guitar tunes suitable for weddings:
John Adams gave the commencement speech at Juilliard this week, where he was being presented with an honorary doctorate (along with the amazing Herbie Hancock—if you love music, get his album ‘The Imagine Project’). It’s a great speech about being an artist.