Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday link

From my friend, singer Eileen Christiansen, comes this gem:

The Contemporary Classical Composer's BS Generator

As she said, "I kid because I love!"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

CD review - "Glory! Music of Rejoicing"

In January, the Mormons contacted me.

I got a very nice e-mail from a publicist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, wondering if I would be willing to review their latest CD called “Glory! Music of Rejoicing.” She offered to send me a couple of copies free. Naturally, visions of a new side career as a CD reviewer, with TONS of free music, danced in my head, and I said yes. Sure, I was busy, but I could find time to review one CD in a timely manner, right?

Apparently not. The publicist kindly told me to take my time, and I’m embarrassed that I did – three months after getting the CD in the mail, I am just now reviewing it. Which makes it even more painful to admit that I cannot really recommend purchasing this CD.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the most famous choirs in the nation, and for technical quality they really could not possibly be better. So there is little point in spending a lot of time addressing their tuning, their tone, their blend, their rhythm, the tightness of their tempos – all are flawless. The diction occasionally leaves a little something to be desired, but in a choir of 360 voices, this might be an unavoidable challenge. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has an excellent reputation for a reason – they are absolutely musically dependable.

Too bad, then, that they have not turned their prodigious talents towards more worthy repertoire. The album is designed to be a collection of music that all rejoices, and it intersperses a few classic pieces with a lot of hymn arrangements. Most of those arrangements, I’m sorry to say, are cheesy and not very fulfilling. From the very first piece, a hymn arrangement by music director Mack Wilberg, we are treated to a smorgasbord of stereotypes. Predictable harmonies, pretty and utterly forgettable melodies, shimmering strings with harp scales and flute solos in thirds and pop-sounding piano accompaniments, the chorus going “oo” in the background, and too many major seconds everywhere. (Major seconds are the corn syrup of today’s choral music. They are in EVERYTHING, and they add excess sugar to the diet. Composers take note; they are not dissonant or edgy anymore. Find some other way to tug the heartstrings.) Even the composers, such as Bernstein, that one would expect would deliver something less saccharine are drowned in the context of all the excessive prettiness.

There is a respite in the middle. I perked up my ears at the Rimsky-Korsakov anthem “Glory!” which is quite thrilling (and I cannot imagine why it is not at the end or beginning of the CD.) It was followed by an arrangement of Psalm 148 by Holst, also excellent and moving with a blessedly simple a cappella introduction and some really lovely harmonic shifts that kept the music fresh and exciting. And after that came the Cum Sancto Spiritu from Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle, which was light and great and frankly made me wish the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would do nothing but sing fugues. They were well-balanced and nimble and everything one wishes for in a fugue. Why don’t they tackle Mendelssohn’s Elijah or Mozart’s Mass in C?

Alas, then we were back to more sweet and easily-digested fare with a pretty Gounod Benedictus, and from there to the end of the CD, nothing caught my attention. (That is, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is always a good time, although this rendition was overly shouty, but it would have been more satisfying at the end of a heartier meal. One doesn’t eat ten courses of Tootsie Rolls and then finish up with a final dessert course of steak and potatoes.)

Flipping through the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s website reveals a vast array of CDs, most of them compilations. There is no Bach B Minor Mass. As far as I can tell, there is nothing by Mendelssohn. No Mozart, Fauré, Duruflé, or Verdi requiems. There are some Brahms Requiems from various years, and some other interesting looking albums (a tribute to Randall Thompson for one) but on the whole, they seem to have devoted their significant power and talents to easy-listening choral music.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a religious ensemble, and they seem to concentrate a lot on hymn-settings; I assume they wish to inspire their constituents to greater faith and inspiration. I am sorry that they themselves lack the faith in their listeners to give them something other than repertoire designed to please the lowest common denominator. I challenge them to give us something that might risk disturbing us, so that we might then gain the possible reward of being profoundly moved. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Support me in the Walk for Music!

This year, for the second year in a row, I'm going to be doing the Walk for Music this coming Sunday, April 29 on behalf of Cantilena. This is a great fundraising walk, because all of the money raised goes directly to the musical groups - the Walk for Music doesn't even collect any money, checks are made out directly to the groups. Naturally, your donation is also tax-deductible!

Cantilena is currently in the process of releasing a CD of last December's concert, and most of the money we raise will go towards this project. We also purchased a set of books of arrangements of women's spirituals this spring. I am very excited about these books, because the arrangements are really excellent and varied, but it did send us substantially over our sheet music budget. All the money I raise will go towards Cantilena's CD and our purchase of those books.

If you'd like to donate, there are two options. The easiest is to go to Cantilena's website and donate directly online by clicking the Donate button at the bottom of the front page. Be sure to include a note saying you are donating to the Walk for Music and I'm the walker! Or you can send a check made out to Cantilena to:
PO Box 380702
Cambridge, MA 02238

The Walk for Music goes through the Fenway, around a very pretty 2-mile loop. I'm looking forward to this coming Sunday, and hope you can support me. (And don't forget, our spring concert, called "Making a Mess!" is on Sunday, 5/6 at 7 pm - hope to see you there!)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Weekend Concert Calendar, 4/26/12

I usually try to avoid being partisan in these matters (unless it is to toot my own horn, of course) but I just want to say that the programming for the Cantemus concert looks awesome! And if you like new music, then of course you must check out the Seraphim Singers concert.

Also, check out the Boston College Arts Festival - looks like there are a bunch of choral performances going on there, especially on Saturday.

  • Zefiro, Lauridsen's Fire Madrigals along with works by Byrd, Gibbons, Weelkes, White, and more, 7:30 pm, Old South Church, Boston
  • Seraphim Singers (with BNMI), "Modern Masters and Emerging Composers", 8 pm, Cambridge
Did I forget anything? Leave it in the comments!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday cat post!

From French, a new Youtube film star! Meet...Henri, cat of ennui.

Le premier film...

Le second film (Paw de Deux)...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Weekend Concert Calendar, 4/19/12

Hm, this new Blogger format is going to take a little bit of getting used to! (Probably looks the same to you, but everything behind the scenes has changed.)

Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tuesday link

Neurologist Oliver Sacks, who likes concentrating on the effects of music, interviews Henry, an elderly gentleman who really lights up when he listens to an Ipod in the nursing home.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Weekend Concert Calendar, 4/12/12

This weekend I am extremely delighted and honored to be singing with Schola Cantorum, a top-notch Renaissance vocal ensemble. Our program, a combination of Monteverdi, Palestrina, and other Italians, is one of the best we have ever done, and you really don't want to miss this concert. Friday at 8 pm at St. John's on Bowdoin St. in Boston, and Saturday at 8 pm at the RISD Museum.



Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Weekend Concert Calendar, 4/5/12

Happy Holy Week to everyone, especially all you overworked musicians. Most of the music this weekend will be taking place in churches - it's not my policy to list religious events on this blog (too overwhelming a task, for one thing) but do feel free to leave a comment and discuss what special music you are doing this Easter morning if you are so inclined.

If you come out to First Parish Cohasset, you will hear a little Mendelssohn, some Bach, and some Beethoven on bells!

And tonight, do check out the BMOP concert, as David Lang's piece is not to be missed!

  • BMOP, "Dual Passions" - David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion and Arvo Pärt's Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Joannem, 8 pm, Boston

Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Sing Copland with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra this summer!

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra is hosting a really exciting Copland choral project this summer. With only two rehearsals, you can join singers from choruses across the city in this performance. Repertoire and details here!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Monday link

We think of it as a Christmas piece now, but the Messiah was originally performed around Easter time. In honor of it, have a really fascinating article (although a few years old) about Handel's Messiah, including all the historical juicy bits!