Pacific Overtures: September

Here’s the latest edition of my newsletter.

Contents:

  1. September Concerts Roundup
  2. Interview: Dennis Kim
  3. Interview: Meredith Crawford
  4. Listen to This: Boléro
  5. Single Tickets
  6. Connections Series Renamed
  7. Video: Festive Overture
  8. Essential Books (4)
  9. Miscellany

Pacific Overtures. September, 2018.

Shostakovich’s ‘Festive Overture,’ for ocarina septet

Shostakovich composed his Festive Overture for full symphony orchestra, of course, and that’s the version that conductor Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony will perform at the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular on Sept. 8. Meanwhile, here’s another version, amusing but impressive all the same, performed entirely on ocarinas by Jordan Moore, a student at the Eastman School of Music. –TM

The ocarinas used are:

Focalink Double Soprano G
Rotter 12-hole Soprano C
Rotter 10-hole Soprano G
Rotter 12-hole “Fairy” Alto C
Claudio Colombo Alto G
Claudio Colombo Bass C
Claudio Colombo Bass G
Claudio Colombo Contrabass C

Ticket deal for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’

Dmitri Shostakovich

Readers of this blog will receive 20 percent off of their ticket purchase for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’ by going here and entering the promo code “blog”.

The concert features the venerable André Watts as soloist in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Shostakovich’s epic Tenth Symphony, one of the greatest of the 20th century. Carl St.Clair conducts. The orchestra is just back from its triumph at Carnegie Hall.

The concerts takes place at 8 p.m. on May 3-5 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

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)

Great moments in commercial music: Lincoln

From time to time we spot a commercial on TV or elsewhere that uses classical music. In this occasional series, we aim to share said commercials and identify said music. We caught this advert for Lincoln in a movie theater the other day. The music is the second waltz from the Jazz Suite No. 2 by Shostakovich.

Review: Dover Quartet plays ‘Voices of Defiance,’ music of Ullmann, Laks and Shostakovich

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Reading the liner notes to the Dover Quartet’s “Voices of Defiance” before I listened to it was probably a mistake. They gave me the impression that the recording would be tough, unpleasant going.

The three pieces were written in three successive years during World War II. Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2, the centerpiece of the disc, in his dark and brooding wartime manner, was composed under the least desperate circumstances of the three, at a Soviet-led artist retreat in Ivanovo.

But Szymon Laks wrote his String Quartet No. 3 shortly after he was freed from Auschwitz, where he survived only because he supplied music for the Nazi guards and prisoners, many on the way to the gas chambers. And Viktor Ullmann composed his String Quartet No. 3 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. He left the manuscript there with a friend when he found out he was going to be transferred. He was transferred to Auschwitz, where he died in the gas chambers on Oct. 18, 1944.

In his extensive and well written liner notes, Camden Shaw, cellist of the Dover, interprets the music in the light of these and other facts, and rightly so. That is a note writer’s prerogative, even his duty. And I am not suggesting that we not know the stories behind these pieces, or that Shaw’s interpretation of aspects of the music in light of those stories is necessarily way off the mark.

But in the case of the quartets by Ullmann and Laks, I do not think that they can bear the burden of the stories behind them, and I feel it’s an open question what, exactly, the composers meant to express in them.

Less than 15 minutes in length (the second and final movement is less than three), Ullmann’s quartet isn’t expansive enough to express the desperation the composer must have felt when he was writing it. Ullmann’s piece is tightly knit and closely argued, serious and Bartókian, freely dissonant (there are some pseudo 12-tone sections) but basically tonal, ending, in fact, with major chords. “We know we have glimpsed into Ullmann’s great and powerful soul,” Shaw writes of the piece. Perhaps. At any rate, it’s a finely wrought string quartet.

Laks’s Third is, to my ears, a rather cheerful work, Bartók at his sunniest. The themes are Polish folk songs (forbidden at Auschwitz), and “their inclusion here,” writes Shaw, “sends a clear message: he is trying to find his way home.” This may or not be right, but it certainly leads Shaw to read a darkness into the slow movement that I do not hear. He calls it “one of the most impassioned and heartbreaking movements for string quartet.” I hear merely a kind of gorgeous melancholy.

The Shostakovich String Quartet No. 2 is his second longest, in four movements and lasting almost 36 minutes here. It is not encountered much, and its inclusion is most welcome. It is a fine piece, with typical Shostakovichian characteristics, including masterful counterpoint, folk tunes and simple melodies worked up to agitated and dissonant climaxes, and lonely, disenchanted solos. It ends unambiguously in minor.

In all, it’s a great, unhackneyed program, smartly unified and intellectually stimulating. What’s more, it is played beautifully by the Dover Quartet, a young ensemble that has quickly nabbed a spot in the vanguard of string quartets. Its virtuosity is of the type that doesn’t bring undue attention to itself, with warmly singing phrases and unhurried pace and polished tone that isn’t stretched to a breaking point. The pieces are laid out just so, detailed and expressive, and the ensemble breathes together. The recording — on the Cedille label, made in the Rolston Recital Hall at the Banff Centre — is first rate.

***

Here’s the finale of Szymon Laks’s String Quartet No. 3, played by the Dover Quartet.