Radio: ‘On stage with the Los Angeles Philharmonic’

A radio piece, in which I am interviewed, about what it sounds like on stage playing in a symphony orchestra. Gideon Brower produced.

On stage with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Public Radio International, Studio 360, Sept. 21, 2017.

5 Tips on How to Listen to Classical Music

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

It has come to my attention that some people – friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, folks met at parties – don’t know how to listen to classical music. They are interested in getting into it (some of them), and they would like to try, but they don’t seem to have the slightest idea about where to begin. Maybe their intention to listen to classical music is along the lines of eating more broccoli (i.e. they’ll never do it), but the intention is there. They are usually a little intimidated by the prospect.

I’d like to help. And so, with no small trepidation, I offer the following hints. Call them common sense. Those who already know how to listen to classical music are dismissed.

1. Quiet

The first thing you have to know about listening to classical music, and probably the single most important, is that it demands your full attention, like reading a book or watching a movie. People aren’t used to listening to music this way anymore; our lives are busy, fractured and portable. We listen in the car, at the gym, on a walk, at work (while doing something else), as we wash the dishes or talk to someone. That is, we don’t really listen; we use music as soundtrack, or as background to multitasking, or as motivational beat to exercise.

But classical music, to be understood and appreciated, must be foreground. (Some people even find it irritating as background.) It is a narrative in notes. You must follow it, to hear what happens; you must participate in the experience. The best way to listen to it, therefore, is live (when you are more or less forced to), or in a quiet room, alone or with someone who knows not to talk. Turning out the lights doesn’t hurt. Your brain will do most of the rest, whether you know a lot about classical music or nothing at all.

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Great moments in film music: ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (The Duel)

Music by Ennio Morricone. Notice the play of major and minor harmonies, worthy of Schubert. Also notice that Morricone knows when to be silent. The harmonica music is a leitmotif, brimming with meaning, as the sequence makes clear. The clip ends, appropriately, in pure dissonance.

Listen to this: Rondo

As we discussed in a previous post on the Minuet, classical music doesn’t always have to be as hard as it seems to be. With some simple listening tips, the arcane (seeming) can often become clear.

Let’s take a look at the “rondo.” It is defined as a “musical form in which the first section comes back to frame episodes” (in “The Penguin Companion to Classical Music”). It’s sort of like a pop song, in which the chorus keeps coming back. The word “episodes” in this case just refers to the material in between the returns of the rondo main theme; the episodes are sections where the composers go on little musical adventures.

Rondos end up having forms like this: ABACABA, the “A” being the returning main theme and the other letters being episodes.

Let’s say no more, and listen to a rondo, the last movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Here’s a map, with timings to the video above.

Section A: The main theme of this rondo is heard right at the beginning.

Section B: The first episode starts at 34″.

Section A returns at 2’06”. Notice the pre-echo of the theme before the return.

Section C (second episode) starts at 2’39”.

Section A returns at 4’18”.

Section B (the first episode varied) returns at 4’51”. It leads to solo piano cadenza at 6’23”.

Section A returns in the orchestra at 7:07. The rest is coda, or epilogue.

Audio: Prokofiev ‘Scythian Suite’

Video

When I was in college, a brass player majoring in music, the Chicago Symphony set the gold standard for brass playing, and my fellow music students and I always listened to their records with mouths agape. I was reminded of this again the other day, when I slapped this recording (yes, vinyl) on my record player at home and turned up the volume. It’s the second movement, “The Enemy God and the Dance of the Spirits of Darkness,”  from Prokofiev’s “Scythian Suite.” The brass playing is superb and, what’s more, exciting. The percussion section keeps pace, the timpani getting the whole thing off to a nice rumbling start.

Video: The lighter side of classical music: Jacques Casterede’s ‘Menage a trois’

I love humor in music. This in on the broader side of the spectrum, but nonetheless it’s very well done and the music is snappy. Listen to Jacques Castérède’s “Ménage à trots” performed by Par Ibban Malonga, Loann Fourmental et Théa de Fouchécour.

Miscellany

Amy Beach, American composer

(Curated classical music news and views from around the internet.)

A classical music festival in Rhode Island goes horribly wrong….

Kiri Ti Kanawa confirms her retirement from singing….

Another Proms season — the 123rd — is in the books….

Meet the elder statesman of American composers, George Walker….

Study: Listening to Vivaldi boosts creativity….

Bill Murray, classical musician?

Amy Beach, a pioneering American composer, turns 150….

Previn cancels

Rune Bergmann

André Previn, who was scheduled to conduct the Pacific Symphony in three concerts in October, marking his return to Southern California as a performing musician after more than two decades, has cancelled. The 88-year-old musician has withdrawn from the concerts due to injury and doctor’s orders not to travel. No other details were given in the press release.

Luckily, his replacement, Norwegian conductor Rune Bergmann, has agreed to take over Previn’s program in its entirety. It includes the West Coast premiere of one of Previn’s newest works, “Almost an Overture,” which had its premiere this summer at the Newport Contemporary Music Series in Newport, RI; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, K. 271, with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist; and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. The concerts are slated for Oct. 19-21 in Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Bergmann, music director of the Calgary Philharmonic and artistic director and chief conductor of Poland’s Szczecin Philharmonic, made his debut with Pacific Symphony last November.

photo:Kristin Hoebermann