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Concert Roundup: The Revenge

Let’s see what the musicians are up to this week, shall we?

  • If you happen to be hopping about in D.C., the National Symphony Orchestra will be performing Mussourgsky‘s Night on Bald Mountain. So already you want to come. In addition, Gidon Kremer will perform the Sibelius violin concerto, plus Liadov‘s The Enchanted Lake and Nielsen‘s fifth symphony. That’s October 6 through 9. See it!
  • Alternatively, if you happen to be hopping about Trafalgar Square, London (and why not?), @LMAorchestra tells me that The Gershwin Family (yes, some relation) will be performing a program of classical music from the movies, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bach, Debussy, and a bunch more. It all goes down on October 6. See it!

Remember, if you have a concert coming up next week, you should let me know.

An organ fit for a king — or at least Philadelphia

I had never heard of the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ until PBS educated me with a mini-doc (they sucked me in with a ballet to “Pictures at an Exhibition” first, those clever little monkeys). I can’t seem to locate the documentary on YouTube — possibly because it’s buried under tons of tons of videos of people playing the thing — but I did discover that sometimes the organ gets a day all for itself. Enjoy a REALLY ENORMOUS INSTRUMENT.

Oh, and: if you want to have any say in the frequency which I vote about upcoming concerts, vote by tonight — I’m going to have to make my first reactionary post on Wednesday and I may need time to prepare.

Composer Cagematch!: Grieg vs. Sibelius

Ouch. I mean… ouch.

Team Nikolai pretty much creamed Team Modest, practically from the beginning. No back and forth, no nothing. I don’t even know what to say about it, except perhaps that you guys don’t seem to be very tolerant of those who dissipate their talents with alcohol. I’ll thank you to remember that when Mozart shows up.

So, Rimsky-Korsakov into the winners pile, Mussourgsky into the losers. Now let’s head even further north to ferret out some of the few Scandinavians anyone’s heard of. (I kid, I kid. Mostly.) You know the boys I mean.

In this corner, he once studied with a man whose name really was Ole Bull! It’s


And in this corner, he vants to be alone! It’s


On the one hand, Peer Gynt. The piano concerto. On the other hand, Finlandia. The violin concerto. But then, let us not discount the fact the Edvard is rockin’ the Einstein moptop. Of course, that’s a pretty sweet bouffant, Jean.

Composer Cagematch!: Rimsky-Korsakov vs. Mussourgsky

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.

Me against the music (assuming I’m a piano)

Good morning, campers! No BSO concert this week, as you might imagine, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to listen one of my opinions instead.

I was listening to the radio the other day, and the deejay put on the original piano version of Mussourgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It was awesome, of course, because it’s frickin’ Pictures at an Exhibition, but somehow it wasn’t quite the same without the orchestration. I found this especially true during the last movement, the “Gates of Kiev” bit, which has such a sweeping grandiosity in the Ravel orchestration that I found lacking on only a piano.

Which is not to say the piano is inherently inexpressive! Please don’t hurt me! If you want to talk about heartbreak, we can talk about Beethoven’s piano sonatas! All I’m saying here is that I find Ravel’s orchestrated version superior. And it’s not because Ravel (and Rimsky-Korsakov, etc.) is (are) so much better than Mussourgsky that their orchestrations elevate his music (I might even tentatively say the opposite, but let’s not throw another argument out just now). I feel the same way about Gershwin’s orchestrated Rhapsody in Blue over the piano version, for example. The piano version of Petrouchka comes close, but it still can’t edge out the full orchestration if you ask me.

So… what do you think? Am I a horrifically biased strings musician? Is it because the pieces in question have an expansive quality that the piano doesn’t quite capture alone? Am I not listening to the right recordings? Am I just plain insane? Educate me!

When the night wind howls and the chimney growls

Standard theremin-heavy creepy music is boring. This Halloween, add atmosphere with a classical playlist instead! Well, I mean, you can use horror movie soundtracks if you want, but keep in mind this will make you exactly like ALL your neighbors. Consider these instead.

  1. Toccata and Fugue in d minor, by J. S. Bach (which goes without saying, but dude, did you know that Bach’s authorship has been challenged?)
  2. Carnival of the Animals, VII “Aquarium,” by Camille Saint-Saens (weird Tim Burtonesque quality is fitting as he used it to open The Nightmare Before Christmas)
  3. Funeral March of a Marionette, by Charles Gounod (if Hitchcock used it…)
  4. “The Ghost’s High Noon” from Ruddigore, by Sir Arthur Sullivan (I’m partial to the King’s Singers version)
  5. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Paul Dukas (can’t tell me the opening measures aren’t foreboding)
  6. I. “Gnomus,” from Pictures at an Exhibition, by Modest Mussourgsky
  7. “Grim Grinning Ghosts” as performed by the Swingtips BECAUSE I CAN THE HAUNTED MANSION IS LIKE A RIDE-ON MUSICAL SHUT UP

There. That should terrify the local five year olds well enough. Any other suggestions?

Updated to add:

  • Ed Blonski suggests Mussourgky’s Night on Bald Mountain. To which I say: shoulda thought of that one myself.
  • I DID think of this one myself: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Your favorite movements or all of them — seriously haunting stuff.
  • I thought of another DUH one: Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. Duh.