Books on classical music: Some essentials (3)

Two novels …

“The Noise of Time” by Julian Barnes. Barnes, the author of such remarkable books as “Flaubert’s Parrot” and “Arthur and George,” has based this novel on ostensibly non-fictional material. In an author’s note at the end, he sites two main sources, Elizabeth Wilson’s “Shostakovich: A Life Remembered” and Solomon Volkov’s ever-controversial “Testimony: The Memoirs of Shostakovich,” the cause of the so-called “Shostakovich Wars,” which you can Google and read about for days. Barnes says he treated the latter as a biographer might treat a private diary — that is, as not entirely reliable and unbiased. Which I thought was a neat way of going about it, and which others, no doubt, will think is like having your cake and eating it too.

The story is narrated by Shostakovich, sort of. The reader is put inside the composer’s head; we are aware of what he’s thinking. At the same time, those thoughts are relayed in the third person, so there’s also the feeling of the all-knowing author/narrator. There is very little dialogue. Just the composer thinking about what is happening and what has happened to him in the course of his life in the darkest days of the Soviet state. It’s all here, the “Lady Macbeth” scandal, the Pravda damnation, the Fifth Symphony as response and much more. The thoughts are arranged more or less in chronological form, so that when you finish the book, you feel you’ve read a kind of secret biography.

***

“Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer” by Wesley Stace. Stace is also a rock musician who works under the name of John Wesley Harding. This novel is not the work of a dilettante, however, but an intricately woven, deeply researched and absorbing tale of British classical music in the early part of the 20th century. Read the acknowledgements first, if you like, and be stunned.

It’s a murder story, basically, told by a music critic who was also a sometime collaborator of the title composer. He has been found dead in his home, an apparent suicide, just two days before the English Opera Company was to give the premiere of his new opera. His wife and her lover lay dead on the bed nearby. That’s just the start. Leslie Shepherd, our narrator, picks it up from there.

Here’s a taste of Chapter 1:

“I met Charles Jessold, the murderer, on 21 May 1910, the day after King Edward’s funeral. We were guests at a Hatton Manor Saturday-to-Monday, and it was on that very first evening that I had occasion to tell of Carlo Guesaldo, the composer whose story made such a lasting impression.

“I had just entered the room, a quick inventory of which revealed: three composers (one of note, two of naught), a conductor, and a miscellany of vicars, musical scholars and enthusiasts; not to mention Cedric Mount (our most esteemed member) and of course Antic Jackson who, despite arriving on the same late train from town, had managed to beat me downstairs. I was, as ever, the token musical critic.”

Books on classical music: Some essentials (1)

Books on classical music: Some essentials (2)

Pacific Symphony’s 2018-2019 chamber music series announced

Pacific Symphony announced today programming and dates for the 2018-2019 Café Ludwig chamber music series. Pianist Orli Shaham will again serve as curator and host of the concerts and teams with members of the Symphony. Performances are held in Samueli Theater on Sunday afternoons. Coffee, tea and pastries are offered to listeners, seated at tables.

The season’s programming is off the beaten path. The Oct. 14 opener delves into French music and features the Bassoon Sonata, Op. 168, by Saint-Saëns, the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp by Debussy and the Violin Sonata by Franck.

The Feb. 24 (2019) concert focuses on transcriptions of Bach and includes Mozart’s arrangements for string quartet of fugues from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”; Liszt’s arrangement of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543; and David Robertson’s new arrangement of the “Goldberg Variations” for piano quintet. George Perle’s rarely performed “Classic Suite” for piano, which draws on Baroque dance forms, begins the program.

On May 19 (2019), the series’ finale explores storytelling in music with pieces by Ridout, Brahms and Janacek on the slate, and climaxing with Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale.”

The Symphony’s new concertmaster, yet to be named, is scheduled to perform on all three concerts.

Current subscribers may renew their subscriptions online here. New subscribers may sign up here. Renewing and new subscribers may also call the box office at (714) 755-5799 to purchase subscriptions.

Just a few tickets remain for the last Café Ludwig concert of this season, featuring music by Poulenc, Fauré and Rebecca Clarke, held at 3 p.m. on April 29.

A double bass playlist

By ERICA SHARP

1. “The Famous Solo” in E minor for Double Bass 2nd movement by Domenico Dragonetti:

2. Sinfonia Concertante, I. Allegro for Viola and Double Bass by Carl von Ditters Dittersdorf:

3. “The Carnival of the Animals,” V. “The Elephant” by Camille Saint-Saëns:

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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6, 3rd movement

Here’s another piece you can play for your friends who think classical music is boring. It’s the third movement, Allegro molto vivace, of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique.”  Even if you know the music, you might want to listen to this recording by conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic from the mid-70s. Hold on, it’s spectacular.

Remembering ‘The Passion of Ramakrishna’

During my career as a music critic, I had the pleasure of reviewing two performances of “The Passion of Ramakrishna” by Philip Glass, which Pacific Symphony revives this week and takes to Carnegie Hall on April 21.

The first time I heard and reviewed it was on the second night of concerts in the brand new Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in September of 2006. That was the world premiere. My review is here.

The second time I heard and reviewed it was in 2011, when Carl St.Clair and the orchestra revived it for their annual American Composers Festival, which that year was devoted to Glass. They also recorded the work then for Glass’ own label, Orange Mountain Music. My impressions of the piece were much the same the second time around, not because I copied what I had written before, but because it’s a direct and effective piece and that is just the way it hits me.

Of the Glass I know, it is one of the more underrated, I feel.