Man, I was so happy, cruising through the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s 13-14 season. My beloved Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg is doing the Shostakovich violin concerto: AWESOME. Itzhak mothereffin’ Perlman is back with his ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT rendition of Beethoven’s Romance No. 1; as far as I’m concerned his is the only version that matters. Hell, they’re playing the score to Casablanca while screening the film! I love Casablanca! Here are your winnings, sir!
There’s more! Mahler’s “Titan” symphony! Holst’s The Planets! Gershwin! Bernstein! My favorite Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto! And look, Mendelssohn’s violin conc – STOP RIGHT THERE.
I’ve said it before but apparently no one was listening, so this time I’m going to try it with more shouty capitals: STOP PLAYING THE MENDELSSOHN VIOLIN CONCERTO. EVERY SINGLE SEASON, SOMEBODY PLAYS THE MENDELSSOHN VIOLIN CONCERTO. THERE IS NOTHING SO VERY GREAT ABOUT THE MENDELSSOHN VIOLIN CONCERTO THAT WE NEED TO HEAR IT INTERPRETED BY EVERY CONCERT VIOLINIST ON EARTH. IT IS NOT THAT DEEP, PEOPLE. IT’S NOT EVEN PARTICULARLY IMPRESSIVE. IT’S, LIKE, EVERY SINGLE STUDENT VIOLINIST’S FIRST REAL CONCERTO. I PLAYED IT. NO ONE CARES. KNOCK IT OFF. LEARN ANOTHER FREAKING PIECE OF MUSIC.
And let us not say another word about it. (Please don’t make me say another word about it.)
If you’d like your concert included in next week’s roundup, leave a comment or drop me a line.
Oh, guys. It’s been such a fun journey. Thirty-two composers (edited to add: +2 play-ins) stepped into the ring, and over the year we have slowly whittled it down to two. Before we crown our winner, let’s take a look back over composers past, shall we?
* denotes the winner of the match
ROUND FIVE (PLAY-IN ROUND)
And so we arrive here, at the end. I think we all know whose t-shirt I was wearing, but it wasn’t a question of my sartorial decisions; it all came down to the best man taking the Composer Cagematch! crown. Are you ready? And the winner is…
Two weeks ago I made a list of composers I considered to be the greatest, in terms of talent, innovation, and output. I tried to make this as objective as possible while still noting that my own preferences and the limits of my knowledge base must unavoidably come into play.
This week? IT’S SUBJECTIVE TIME. Which, indeed, is kind of like Miller Time — alcohol free, yes, but with just as much opportunity to shout your opinions while gesticulating wildly and possibly falling out of your chair.
All of this is just to say that here I would like to present my list not of the greatest composers of all time but the ones I like BEST. Basically the idea here is a collection of the composers that, when the radio deejay says, “next is a piece by ________”, make me say “YAY!!!” Here goes:
There is of course a fair amount of overlap, but I bet some of them surprise you. Before you pull out your extra-sharp pitchfork, rest assured — I’m not suggesting Khachaturian ranks above Stravinsky in… well, in ANY category, really. Stravinsky is definitely the better composer. But Khachaturian makes me super happy! So high up the list he stays. Ya get me?
The nice thing about this list is, it’s even more changeable than a best-of list, undulating and evolving with your changing moods and interests; I expect Handel could sneak on to mine any moment now.
Now about you — who are you feeling right now?
The Eric made you do it, I think.
Yes, while at the beginning of the Holst-Britten match up we were looking at a tie, by the end of the match Britten had gained a solid lead and Team Benjamin took the victory, sending Team Gustav off to a lonely corner that is forever England. I’m not saying reader Eric’s campaigning swung the vote, but he’ll probably tell you it did. Don’t worry, Gustav, I like you.
Next — infighting in The Mighty Handful! In this corner, he’s so good at orchestration his texts on the subject are still read today! It’s
And in this corner, he’s so good at composition he gets others to orchestrate his work for him while he drinks vodka! It’s
(Okay, in terms of sheer syllabic size Rimsky-Korsakov wins. So don’t let that sway you.)
This is an hard one, no? I mean, Russian Easter Overture. Freakin’ Scheherazade. But then again, Night on Bare Mountain. Freakin’ Pictures at an Exhibition. And between the two of them, Khovanschina. A mighty handful, indeed, so you’ve gotta drop somebody — who’ll it be?
As always, Twitter and Facebook will give fair warning as to the voting deadline, and use the comments to try to sway voters into your composer camp.
Was it patriotism?
I’m not gonna lie — I’m surprised. Dvorak was in the lead for… almost all of it, really. And then in those last two days Copland came up from behind to battle back and forth before ultimately taking it by one point. I, for one, did not expect to announce Team Aaron the winner, but maybe you did.
Having chalked up a win for the colonies, let’s check in with the motherland, shall we?
In this corner, a modern (natively) English reboot of Handel — it’s
And in this corner, a modern English reboot of Vivaldi — it’s
I always say that if you want proof that God loves gay people, listen to the “Sentimental Sarabande” from Britten’s Simple Symphony. And if you want to get really angry at John Williams, listen to “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Holst’s The Planets, and then listen to the rest of The Planets because OMGTHEPLANETS. I once brought someone over to classical music by the power of “Jupiter” alone. But then one can’t exactly discount Peter Grimes, can one? Toughie…
I got into my car this morning on my way to work, and what was on the radio the moment it started? Why, Gustav Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite! I LOVE St. Paul’s Suite! I played it my freshman year of high school, the really awesome year where we had like five people in the orchestra and I WAS the first violin section. I stayed in my car three extra minutes after pulling into a parking space at work to hear the end of the fourth movement (no worries; I was early).
This evening I had dinner with my grandmother, and as I started my car for that trip I was regaled with the final few bars of the “Jupiter” movement from Holst’s The Planets. And I said to myself, what, is it Holst’s birthday or something? The deejay confirmed. So as a means of commemorating this very special day, being as it is the day of possibly my very favorite British composer, I present to you: a quote by the man himself, on amateur musicianship.
“If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing badly.”
“I think,” he said, “I’m going to download some classical music to my phone to listen to while I study.”
“Ooh!” I said. “I’ll burn you a CD! Would you like soft, relaxed stuff?”
“Yeah.” He hesitated. “But could you put that one piece I like on there?”
“‘Jupiter’? Sure, I can do that.”
Oh, what a mistake he made when he asked for Holst’s Jupiter. I first introduced him to the piece in full after hearing a snippet in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial (true story!). He loved it! It was like the classical music equivalent of a gateway drug. And by asking for it again, he completely changed the context in which I created the mix.
See, originally it was to be a quiet-music-for-studying playlist. With the inclusion of “Jupiter,” I turned it into a here’s-some-classical-music-I-think-could-pull-you-further-to-the-dark-side list, with a few soft study pieces thrown in here and there. I tailored it to a guy with a percussionist background who’s mostly into techno, and had a ton of fun pulling movements of this and that I thought might interest him.
And it occurred to me – I could do it again, or you could do it! So I offer you the following options:
Do it! It’ll be fun! In the meantime, the Studying Techno Percussionist’s Gateway Playlist after the jump: