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Beethoven

This tag is associated with 90 posts

Concert Roundup (Snow)flakes Out

Hey, you know how it was supposed to snow today? Well, it IS! Right now! As I type! You could knock me over with one of those long tickly things that birds use for insulation and flight. Nevertheless, music marches on undaunted! At least so far. Check individual symphony websites for inclement weather schedule changes and what have you. Okay, onward!

  • The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra knows how to get on my good side; they’re playing the best. Symphony. Of all time. OF ALL TIME! Yes, it’s Beethoven‘s Seventh, with a side of Debussy‘s Petite Suite and the Strauss (Reek-ard) oboe concerto. But mostly Beethoven. Always mostly Beethoven. March 7 & 8 at the Meyerhoff; March 9 at Strathmore. [ See it! ]
  • The National Symphony Orchestra isn’t going to give this week to the BSO without a fight, though. They promise Mahler (ooh!), Schubert (OOOOH!!!!!!!), and … Mozart (oh). But it’s Mozart’s Requiem, so it’s actually kind of awesome, and among the Schubert lieder they’re busting out? “ERLKONIG!” I LOVE “Erlkonig”! Good times. March 7 – 9. [ See it! ]
  • This week at StrathmoreChinese acrobats, a piano/sax jazz combo, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

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Interview with the Composer: “It allowed the emotional states of the characters to come through on a non-verbal level”

A few weeks ago, composer Matt Siffert made the grave tactical error of emailing me and offering me a streaming link to his album, Cold Songs. Naturally I took his email hostage and refused to return it until he granted me an interview. Read on to learn more about inspiration, orchestration, and the emotional impact of the creative process. Oh, and to hear a little of the album yourself. Allons-y!

TheSiff

Jenn German: The first question is VERY IMPORTANT, so I want you to consider it carefully. The fate of this entire interview and all the people on it rests in your hands. Beethoven or Mozart?

Matt Siffert: Beethoven, no question.

JG: Correct!

MS: Hah!

JG: We shall do well here.

MS: Whew… that was a close one…

JG: Okay, Matt Siffert’s Musical Pedigree. What’s your background? Go!

MS: I went to college at Carnegie Mellon, where I studied music and psychology. The music portion of my studies were mostly jazz, with a bit of classical theory/performance practice.

I also did a fair share of music history. I studied abroad in Havana, Cuba, which was where I developed an interest in songwriting. Upon returning to CMU in my senior year, I recorded an album of songs I wrote and arranged for a singer and jazz musicians.

JG: Nice! I took an Latin American ethnomusicology course in undergrad, but we didn’t spend a ton of time on Cuban music. Highly influential?

MS: Yeah, Havana was very, very influential. They had a perfect balance of melodically-driven songs with sensitive musicianship accompaniment.

So it was there that I realized I can put the worlds of songwriting and sophisticated musical technique together. As I got more interested in arranging, I became drawn to the sound of classical instruments. And that’s when I started studying composition; first on my own, then in the evening division at Julliard, which is where I’ve been for the last two years.

JG: Would you say you’re working on a sort of Cuban fusion music, or are you more influenced by the idea of melody and sensitivity as opposed to literal Cuban rhythms and motifs?

MS: Definitely the latter. I’m not as interested in the actual Cuban rhythmic sensibilities as I am the idea of melody paired with musical sensitivity.

JG: How would you describe your niche?

MS: I strive to combine folk-influenced songwriting with musical sensibilities from the jazz and classical worlds.

JG: What instruments do you play?

MS: My primary instrument is bass, but I play a bit of guitar and piano. And I sing.

JG: Do you compose around these instruments?

MS: Yeah. Usually the seed of a song comes when I’m in random places, like the train, shower, or in bed, but when I build them out and really sculpt them I usually work on guitar or piano.

JG: Do you later re-orchestrate them, or stick to the original arrangement?

MS: Yeah, I then re-orchestrate them. Sometimes I write the whole song and then orchestrate; sometimes I want the orchestration to be more integrated into the lyric and form, and will start orchestrating while I develop the song itself. It just depends on what that initial seed calls for.

On [my album] Cold Songs, for example, I wrote every song except “Show-Off” first. With that one, I really wanted it to be about combining the virtuosity of the quartet with the melodic line I wrote. So there was more of a back and forth when I composed that one.

JG: What’s your concept behind Cold Songs?

MS: I started writing songs for the project right after a convergence of three crummy events; health problems, job problems, and relationship problems. But funnily enough I was still working through those problems in my head, and wasn’t ready to write songs about them. So I took themes that I have previously written about – new-found love, nature, ego, growing up – and fed them through this dark wavelength I was living on.

After writing the songs on guitar, I felt like the accompaniment wasn’t bringing the stories and characters to life in the way I wanted. I had been listening to lots of string quartet music, as well as pop music that utilized strings, and thought that this austere sound world was a perfect match for my songs. So I devoured the music of Ligeti, Schoenberg, Britten, Dvorak, and others, and arranged the songs for a string quartet.

JG: How did you find the chamber orchestration transformed the work?

MS: It allowed the emotional states of the characters to come through on a non-verbal level. On songs where the narrator is angry, the strings get gritty and brutal. In songs where the narrator is flashy, the strings are virtuosic, etc., etc. These musical backdrops support the narrator in a way that adds depth and life that you just can’t get with a voice and guitar.

JG: It seems like the music on this album came from an emotionally dark place, but as in so many cases it brought about some catharsis. Would you say the listener should find it ultimately uplifting, or is it a soundtrack to help through rough times?

MS: Great question, and funny, I was just talking about this with a friend last night…

I don’t really feel like this should be either uplifting or depressing. I felt my work as almost journalistic, in some respects. I more just want people to see this darker world and feel okay living in it for a little while. People tend to smell sadness and run away from it, often at great expense. They often ignore the confrontation of problems stuff away their problems, which always come back at some point. So my hope was that I invite the listener into this dark world and show them the insides of it; that it’s really not a horrible place. You just need adjust to it, work your way through it, and move on.

JG: As the original thinker of dark thoughts and writer of dark notes, how you feel when you hear your work?

Matt: Another great question… When I listen back to Cold Songs, I am drawn mostly to the steps I made in terms of songwriting and compositional craft. With these songs I really started to find my own voice as a lyricist, and made genuine strides in pairing my songs with the appropriate musical accompaniment.

JG: Now that you’ve found your voice, where do you expect to take it next?

MS: I’m actually about halfway through my next project, which is a group of songs I’m writing for myself (voice) and harp! I’m continuing the idea of pushing myself as a songwriter, and striving for the most appropriate musical accompaniment for the songs I’m writing.

JG: Any performances coming up? I assume you continue to post your appearances on your website, which you sent me. Would you by chance want to offer a streaming track?

MS: I do indeed post the appearances. And sure! I’d be happy to offer a streaming track!

JG: Beautiful. And the full album can be purchased on your website? iTunes?

MS: Yeah, it’s up on iTunes here.

JG: Sounds good. Anything you wanted to add?

MS: I think that’s it! Thank you so much for doing this, it was a blast!

JG: Pleasure’s all mine!

Thank you, Matt! Be sure to check out his website, mattsiffert.com.

Concert Roundup at an Exhibition

  • Ooh! Ooh ooh ooh! Guess what the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is performing this week? Why, it’s Mussourgsky‘s Pictures at an Exhibiition, of course! Then they try to ruin my beautiful “At the Great Gates of Kiev” with a Mozart piano concerto (Orion Weiss on the piano if you’re wondering) and some Hindemith (stupid Hindemith), but my man Modest is just too strong for them. January 31 & February 1 at the Meyerhoff; February 2 at Strathmore. [ See it! ]
  • No National Symphony Orchestra concert this week.
  • This week at StrathmoreThe China National Symphony Orchestra is coming, and I have it on good authority they’ll be performing the world’s most perfect piece of music. What’s that? You’re not sure what I mean? Um, Beethoven‘s Symphony No. 7, obviously. What is wrong with you? [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

The cracks in the universe where the arts live

A long time ago, while generating ideas for blog posts, it occurred to me that it might be good to write about what makes each art different. And then I thought, no, that’s stupid – what makes each art different is that it’s a completely different art. Obviously. But there was something I was trying to get at there beyond the superficial differences, and last week I figured out what it was.

I was at a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert, the one with the Rachmaninoff. I’m not even a huge Rachmaninoff fan, being raised to look upon him with a suspicious eye, but all the same. Garrick Ohlsson was playing these beautiful chords, and the orchestra was unspooling its notes gently behind him, and I thought to myself – there are places classical music can go that nothing else can. There are things classical music can express that nothing else can. Classical music can do things that nothing else can do.

And then I thought, okay, classical music snob, if that’s the case, why do you listen to so much indie rock? Hmmm? Missy? If classical music is so darn transcendental, what do you need with a bunch of clever lyrics and a bass line?

Good question, good question. And that’s when it hit me about the cracks in the universe.

Let’s say the universe is riddled with crevices, filled with emotions and truths. There are crevices only classical music can ever hope to enter, and facts about life that only classical music could ever hope to dig out. And inside those little holes there are bits that only Rachmaninoff himself can get to, next to the divots solely Beethoven could ever hope to go. The better the composer, the better the music, the more and deeper the cracks, of course, but there it is. That’s why we need classical music, to go the places only it can.

But! There are other cracks, that indie rock can access. The same – dare I say it – for pop music, with its bounce and feel-good fun. And then cracks that a painting can pick at where music could never hope to fit. Cracks just for dance, cracks just for actors. We need them all if we can ever hope to explore as much of the universe as we can. If we let any one of them die we lose our avenue to its portion of life.

So that’s what I think about during a concert, in case you were ever wondering. Cracks in the universe. Maybe I read too much Heinlein.*

Thoughts?

* This is impossible.

You Can’t Stop the Concert Roundup

  • GOOD MORNING, BALTIMORE! This week the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra‘s BSO Pops bring in none other than Baltimore’s favorite son John Waters to narrate a semi-staged version of his musical Hairspray. Miss Baltimore Crabs, anyone? January 24 at Strathmore, January 25 – 27 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • The National Symphony Orchestra counters with Mozart (fifth violin concerto performed by Dan Zhu), which is just silly until you notice that the program also features Beethoven (Gross Fuge) and Bartok (Concerto for Orchestra). January 24 – 26.[ See it! ]
  • This week at Strathmore: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, progressive soul. [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

A Concert Roundup My Mom Won’t Like

  • This week, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra wants to ravish you with Rachmaninoff, so get ready for that. Yes, folks, it’s an all-Rachmaninoff program – sorry, Mom! Isle of the Dead, etudes, and his third piano concerto performed by Garrick Ohlsson. January 17 & 20 at the Meyerhoff.  [ See it! ]
  • Or, if you’d rather get just the piano concerto, the BSO is performing another one of their Off the Cuff concerts, wherein in addition to playing the piece you get history, context, and commentary on its creation, form, and place in the musical pantheon from none other than Marin Alsop. January 18 at Strathmore; January 19 the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • The National Symphony Orchestra returns and counters with its own pianist – Tzimon Barto, and I think it it is fair to say he has one of the coolest names ever – playing the Bartok Piano No. 2 – and I think we can say he’s one of the coolest composers ever. So there’s that. Also Beethoven‘s Egmont Overture and Brahm‘s second symphony. January 17 – 19. [ See it! ]
  • This week at Strathmore: a rock-n-classical string quartet; jazz singers. [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

Music gifts: For more musical dinner parties

We interrupt your regularly scheduled LOL Friday/Monday Video/Tuesday Whatever The Hell I Want to bring you three more music gifts while there’s still time to get them delivered by Christmas. After that I will resume posting my usual ridiculousness, as opposed to this unusual ridiculousness.

Okay, I admit it; the theremin I suggested last week was a little expensive. I can make it up to you now, I promise:

wineglasses

Musical wine glasses! And at $65 for what appears to be two wine glasses, it’s a LOT cheaper than the theremin, although admittedly kinda expensive for wine glasses. But look, these wine glasses are special – they’re musical!

Along the side they’ve helpfully printed note markers, so if you want to tink your fork against you glass and hear a D natural, you simply fill the glass to the D natural marker and go to TOWN on that boy. Line up a couple and recreate that scene from Miss Congeniality! Find them at Firebox.

Still not cost-effective enough for you? Not a problem – check out the Ain’t Baroque store, fine purveyor of Beethoven stickers (you did notice that it was his birthday yesterday, right?), terrible music puns, and Russian composer cows.

An audacious twin

I’m not sure who this “Dominic Cooper” fellow is, and I’m not sure I like him all up in my Ludwig.

Concert Roundup in Many Flavors

DA DA DA DUUUUUUUUUH.

  • This week the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra goes old school classic with Beethoven‘s fifth symphony. Once they’ve got you in their net with that, they’ll treat you to his Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus, then hit you with the east coast premier of Christopher Rouse‘s symphony no. 3. November 8 & 11 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • Or if you prefer, you can take in the BSO‘s version of Beethoven‘s fifth in an Off the Cuff format, wherein Maestra Marin Alsop will augment the music with information about its creation, legacy, and its place in pop culture. November 9 at Strathmore; November 10 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • This week at the National Symphony Orchestra, it’s all Lang-Lang, all the time! How would you like your Lang-Lang served? With Mozart and Schubert on November 7? With Beethoven and Strauss on November 8 – 10? How about in a family concert with an assortment of young pianists on November 10? Why, the possibilities are endless! [ Mozart/Schubert ] [ Beethoven/Strauss ] [ Family ]
  • This week at Strathmore: Prokofiev, tenor Nathan Pacheco, and exploration of Bach and his legacy by violinist Jennifer Koh. [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

Concert Roundup: Scarypants Edition

Happy Halloween! You know what’s really scary? Not having your concert attendance for the week all planned out. Here ya go:

  • Oh boy. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra proves that it is positively MAGICAL with a program entitled “Wizards and Wands: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a title which I will look upon dubiously forevermore. Still, aside from the admittedly catchy Williams Potter music, and you can never really go wrong with the Dukas. November 3 at the Meyerhoff. [ See it! ]
  • The National Symphony Orchestra makes up for their lack of a concert a couple weeks ago by offering no less than three different programs this week. The first features Beethoven‘s Missa Solemnis, November 1 – 3. The second, on November 2, is a chamber music performance of all-Beethoven, proving that this Eschenbach fellow has great taste. And finally, on November 4, Lang-Lang plays nothing but Mozart and Chopin. Of course. [ See the Missa! ] [ See the chamber Beethoven! ] [ See Lang-Lang! ]
  • This week at Strathmore: Joshua Bell, delta bluesman Keb’ Mo’, latin dance. [ See the calendar! ]

If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.

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