World Premiere for IWS Assistant Conductor Nathan Voges

February 5, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment
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We’re all pretty proud of what Nathan Voges does on the podium, but now he’s taking it to a whole new level. Continue Reading World Premiere for IWS Assistant Conductor Nathan Voges…

A Look Back at 2013 . . . and 1913.

May 29, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Posted in Concerts, Concerts, Music Reviews | 1 Comment
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Jay Harvey review the IWS’s season finale, “Trumpetissimo!” at his blog. Check it out here.

While you’re there, take in his post marking the centennial of the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Urbanski Shows Control, Musicality, Connection

September 21, 2011 at 8:36 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

Krzysztof Urbanski made his debut as the new director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra last weekend with performances of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto (with Garrick Ohlsson), and Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla.

No one was really quite sure what to expect from this young and relatively unknown conductor. A few IWS members were on hand for the performances and came away with a sense that Urbanski was a good choice for the ISO.

IWS director Charles Conrad attended the Friday performance, and he wrote,

Fantastic concert tonight by the Indianapolis Symphony — Shostakovich #5 that was amazing. I am very impressed with new Music Director Krzysztof Urbanski. Dynamic range, especially in the strings, was more than I have ever heard before from the ISO.

Clarinetist Katherine Peters, who was on hand for the Saturday performance, wrote,

I wasn’t sure about Urbanski just because of all the hype and I’d never seen him before, so we bought tickets in the stage terrace so we had the orchestra’s view and could watch his conducting, which was great. It wasn’t necessarily the gestures and facials, although they were expressive, but it was the communicative nature of his conducting all the way through. Some conductors are flamboyant and flashy without actually being connected to the musicians in front of them, and it takes humility to communicate to everyone else on stage rather than drawing attention to oneself. There was a partnership taking place, they were presenting art together, and he, as the point man, was very clear on his intentions. I’ve not heard the ISO (which is not at all shabby, mind you!) play with that amount of vigor and inflection. The Glinka was fun and full of detail. And after intermission, Shostakovich… I literally said “wow” out loud after the last movement. It was brilliant. I appreciate that he was bold enough to make some of the very clear decisions that he did and competent enough to make them work so very well. And then, he was very gracious in his recognition of the musicians and his reluctant acceptance of applause, and it seemed sincere. I saw orchestra members welcome him onto the stage with fond smiles (not forced smiles) at the beginning and call him back for a bow at the end. Last reason for liking him: he walked past our usher in the connecting hallway at intermission, stopped, and shook his hand and introduced himself. No one else was around; the usher was so impressed that he told us about it. That’s class.

One problem with the concerts: Empty seats. A big, premiere concert like this ought to have been sold out each night, but there were still plenty of seats available when the baton dropped. This doesn’t bode well for the future of classical music in Indianapolis.

To learn more about Krzysztof Urbanski, check out krzysztofurbanski.com.

Eardrum Assault Month Begins

November 26, 2010 at 9:28 am | Posted in Music Reviews, Repertoire/Programming, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Warning: I realize that many people may disagree with what I write here. This post contains only my opinions — and boy am I opinionated. Although I’d love to see a slew of commenters agreeing with me, I don’t expect it. You have been warned.

I am still amazed when I find someone who looks forward to Christmastime “because of the music,” but to those of you who love Christmas music, your time has come. With Thanksgiving in the bag and Christmas shopping season in full swing, the shopping malls and department stores that had occasionally tossed a carol into the usual background mix of muzak and eighties pop over the last month will dive wholly in with a constant stream (or barrage, take your pick) of Christmas music.

It’s a time of year I call Eardrum Assault Month.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve disliked Christmas music.  Why? Because Christmas music is, on the whole, musically uninteresting. It’s built on basic major harmonies, simple melodies (after all, your five-year-old child can sing Christmas music), and an ungodly amount of repetition. There so little of musical interest in the most well-known Christmas carols — no chromaticism, no surprise harmonies, no dynamic changes, no modulations, no thematic development.

But I guess that comes with the territory, no? Most Christmas music is meant to be sung by hoi polloi, those with little musical education outside of what they can absorb from church hymnals. So the music is necessarily simple, sometimes rustic, and definitely short. Thank goodness they’re short. (So short, in fact, that you have to string a bunch of them together to create a whole piece. Come to our December concert to hear what I mean.)

My guess is that the people who truly enjoy Christmas music enjoy it for the feelings and memories that it evokes, and not for any musical reasons. Which is fine and good. I have the same types of reactions to the fifth symphonies of Shostakovich and Mahler. But I would not ever want every store I go into to play only these two pieces for an entire month. Those fond memories I hold now would surely be quickly replaced by feelings of weariness (like I get when I have to listen to Ravel’s Bolero).

The sheer repetition is a major factor in my dislike of Christmas music — and of Bolero, for that matter. Christmas music is the musical equivalent of political campaign commercials, only those commercials come every two years. And Christmas songs and carols, like political commercials, can become well-known specifically because of how bad they are. (Speaking of repetition and badness, let me just say that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is the second cruelest joke ever perpetrated on man, instrumental versions of the same song being the first.)

I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t point out that some yuletide music is acceptable, and even good, to my ears. Here are a few of the songs that I enjoy hearing this time of year — or any time of year. Note that most of them aren’t related specifically to Christmas. The blokes who select what music to fill a department store with might want to give this list some scrutiny and consider what they’re piping into their stores. (Are you listening, Target?)

  • “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” — A wonderful duet. I prefer more modern renditions over the somewhat dated versions from 50 years ago.
  • “Winter” by Tori Amos — I’m a huge Tori Amos fan, so this beautiful and haunting piece has to make the list.
  • “Long December” by Counting Crows — Easily the most depressing song on the list, this is a good addition to include those people who have no one to celebrate Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa with.
  • “The Nearness of You” the Norah Jones rendition — This is great to pair with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to capture the idea of curling up with a loved one by a warm fire as the snow falls outside. Which isn’t really what department stores et al. want to get you to do.
  • “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” — The sadder the better.
  • “Christmas Time Is Here” — Only the Vince Guaraldi/Charlie Brown version is worth a listen.
  • “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi — Not exactly a Christmas song, though I’ve heard it programmed on more than one Christmas concert.
  • “Ice, Ice, Baby” by Vanilla Ice — Just kidding.
  • The Duke Ellington “Nutcracker Suite” — Russian musical giant meets American jazz master.

I’m sure there are plenty more examples of “acceptable” yuletide music out there. Unfortunately, they are up against a horde of traditional, uninteresting Christmas songs.

What Christmas songs grate on you the most? What wonderful winter music have I forgotten? What do you think of the music that gets piped into stores this time of year?

The Musical World of Harry Potter

November 23, 2010 at 12:28 am | Posted in Composers, Music Reviews | Leave a comment
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Ok, so it’s no surprise to any who knows me knows what a movie buff I am, and what a fan of movie music I am. (See the previous article I wrote here!) While I am not a crazy Harry Potter fan, I have seen all the movies and generally do enjoy what they offer, especially on the musical side.

For me, the biggest let down was when John Williams stopped composing for the series. As with practically any movie franchise John has done, he sets up the musical vocabulary and tone for the films. However, once he no longer composed our musical vocabulary dried up.  From having all these wonderful melodies, we get instead quasi, wanna-be themes. They don’t stick with you cause they don’t have any substance.

So we went from the amazing soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, including such amazing music like this selection from “The Knight Bus”…

…which is arguable one of the most jazzy themes we’ve heard from JW in recent years, and a heck of a lot of fun to listen to!

Then we get our roulette of composers, staring with Patrick Doyle. All of them have done admirable, but writing music that is nothing but cool sounding at the time. Nothing offensive, but nothing that make you want to go buy the album. Of Doyle’s best is this cool brass band-inspired tune.

Next in line for the job is Nicholas Hooper, who writes even less memorable music than Patrick Doyle, save one track which has some potential, Professor Umbridge’s theme! It is the only thing I left humming.

What I really don’t understand about the HP folks is why they seem to hire someone less known for each  movie, and most disconcerting is that these composers just dont have the composing chops of a blockbuster franchise. A British movie with a room and a view of a pond, sure. Harry Potter, hmm, not so much!

The most recent addition to the composers of Harry Potter is the Alexandre Desplat, an odd if not random choice. His biggest claim to movie music is the soundtrack from The Golden Compass, as well as some of the Twilight films. When I heard the opening titles, I was excited. This has potential! Unfortunately, due to a creative decision I’m sure, there are long sections of the new movie sans music. It fits the mood, etc, but wish I would hear more of Desplat to get a good feeling for him. At this time, I imagine Desplat will return for the final movie. JW is only rumored, but I imagine with only 7 or so months until release, we’d know if it were him writing the music. I am looking forward to some cool battle music from Desplat, who at times was channeling a bit of Hans Zimmer, and at times, a little Williams. Of the tracks of the new movie, this one is one of my favs!

I hope he is given a nice canvas to do some good work on the final Potter film! So any movie music people out there? Which HP film soundtrack has been your favorite (or your favorite parts)?

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