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Friday, June 27, 2008

BPI Journal - Second Friday

This is the time in the cycle of all things BPI when things get a little confusing. In some ways, I am hanging on to the remaining hours for dear life, dreading to let go of those people, whether they are old friends or new that have become such a part of my life here. Yet, there is a bright future and as the march of time moves forward there is much to anticipate.

There can't help, however, but be a sense of melancholy mingled with all the joy. Once again, I've added another branch to my ever growing tree of stimulating, fascinating, and engaging friends.

To the new members of the family: Benji, Adam, Mikel and Niccolo, welcome aboard and thanks for becoming a part of the collective.

What's better still is the joy I feel in the renewed strength of ties that were bound in the past. James and Mark, Brent and Trevor, Bob and Patsy, Reynaldo, Katrina, Derrick and David, Ari and Cordelia, Max, Nancy and Penny, I thank you from my heart.

What awaits is the eternal. The making of music together over the next two days. May it be infused with all of the spirit of so great an art as ours~!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The BPI Journal - Week One

It's really unbelievable that week one is over already. The marathon concert was a great experience and the musical growth was quite noticeable in most of the groups. This has been quite a week of adventure.

My new nickname is Mama. Don't ask. It's time to start thinking about the end of festival letter. Gotta come up with that last line!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The BPI Journal - Friday.

It's Friday already, and it's amazing how quickly the time flies. We perform tomorrow, and of course, the newbies are a little nervous. It's going to be great. Sadly we lose some very special people after the first week. Cordy, Jamie and Niccolo will be missed in a big way.

We do look forward to seeing some old buddies that will be here for the second week tho. The power of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me. I have seen so much growth among the people that I have met, both musically and otherwise. What's even more beautiful is that in five short days, this merry band of strangers has become a family; cheering each other on, lifting each other up, helping, holding, healing.

It's beautiful. It really is.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

News from BPI

Well here we are again for another total immersion in baroque music at Oberlin. I must confess that I went into this year with a bit of trepidation given that last year's festival was a real mountain top experience for me. There is always the desire to recreate something that we considered to be more or less perfect. And yet, each new year is a unique experience with a wonderful combination of the familiar and the new.

As always, 116 East Lorraine Unit C has become the social hub for everyone who's anyone! It is particularly gratifying to me that we have a splendidly talented group of youngsters here this year, and it has been a pleasure for me and some of the more experienced amongst us to be able to encourage and be mentor to such a fine pool of talent.

Before you ask: No, I haven't slept much, and yes there's been a party every night.

The week thus far has been wonderfully rewarding both musically and socially. Very little drama and much merry making. There will be many new friends to treasure for years to come, and this is cause for rejoicing.

Without being too specific, I would like to say that I have been able to see in bold relief that all that the men and women of my generation struggled to achieve in the past decades is coming to fruition in the beautiful freedom of expression of our younger friends. It's about time! And were three decades of stuggle worth the pain and the setbacks? You bet your ass they were.

Carry on my friends and make beautiful music!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Words from a Teacher

The school year is over now for just about everyone, and since I spend a lot of time teaching high school kids, I thought I would write a bit about what I have observed over the past nine months, and offer a little unsolicited advice to parents.

These thoughts all started when a friend of mine, who is a youth minister in a large church, asked me what I thought about the state of kids and their education. He had noticed some disturbing tendencies in his youth group, and wanted the input of a teacher to either confirm his thoughts or prove him wrong.

Here is what I observed:

1. Kids are ridiculously over scheduled, micro-managed and over parented. They are involved in too many extra curricular activities. They are bustled around to the point that they fall asleep in the back seat on the way to soccer practice, having just left ballet. Parents throw money at every conceivable group activity, driving kids to the brink of exhaustion and feeding a multi-billion dollar industry of uniform, equipment and league fees that is making adults rich, and causing children to be burned out before they hit puberty.

2. It's ok not to get an A. So often I see students who are driven to excel to the point that they lose their own identity. It's not the end of the world if Junior doesn't get into Hahvahd, Stanford, Princeton AND Yale. I went to a state school in Indiana and will put my career and life up against any Ivy Leaguer. I didn't turn out so bad, and neither will Junior.

3. Let the kid's interests be the kid's. Just because Junior shows an interest in rockets, doesn't mean that parents need to throw tons of money at sending him to NASA camp. Maybe the kid just wants to watch birds! You don't need to buy him an aviary. I heard one poignant quote from a ten year old just yesterday: "Why do grown ups have to mess up everything!?" 'Nuff said.

4. It's summer. Give the kids a break. They busted their little butts for nine months making Mama proud. Let 'em be kids. No enforced bedtimes for a few weeks. No prescribed reading lists. No league sports. How about an old fashioned pickup baseball game in the back yard, with Dad as pitcher?

5. Here's one for Dads. Your son's sports career is his, not yours. If you want to be a star athlete, join a bowling league or the company softball team, but for God's sake, let your kid play his own game. This means keeping your hole shut at the game when you're pissed at the referee or umpire. It also means that you cheer when the kid does well, and you act SUPPORTIVE not CRITICAL when he doesn't. You help him with his golf swing or his curve ball, you don't bitch at him from the bleachers. Get it?

I hope everyone has a great, relaxing, safe and happy summer.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Two Magnificent Violin Concertos

Ernö von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in d minor, Op. 27 (1915) [40:41]

Violin Concerto No. 2 in c minor, Op. 43 (1949) [30:43]

Michael Ludwig, (violin)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra

JoAnn Falletta

Recorded 20-21 August, 2007 in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow.

NAXOS 8.570833 [71:24]

Ernö von Dohnányi, unlike his contemporaneous countrymen Kodaly and Bartok, held firmly to the romantic lyricism that pervaded German music in the nineteenth century, and although he lived well into the twentieth, he never forsook his penchant for the lush orchestrations and sweeping melodies that he learned while studying in Germany. A bit of a wandering minstrel, Dohnányi lived all over the place, finally settling in the United States where his reputation was seeing a bit of a cleansing at the time of his death. Admired by Brahms as a young man, he never really gave up the nineteenth century, in spite of his being surrounded by the tumultuous upheaval in music that came after the Second World War.

These two splendid violin concertos are undeservedly neglected on contemporary concert programs, and the saints are to be praised that Michael Ludwig has stepped up to give us such fine and compelling performances. The first concerto, dating from 1915 opens with a lengthy first movement, cast in three sections, first breathlessly dramatic, then calmly lyrical and ending with a large flourish. The achingly beautiful second movement is worth the ticket price with its serene pace and its gorgeous melodies. One is reminded a bit here of the music of Korngold. A flashy vivace folds into a finale that is similar in style to the opening movement.

Mr. Ludwig has a rich yet very clear tone. He is quite facile in the virtuosic demands of the Vivace, and is able to produce a warm and tender cantabile in the stunning second movement. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is ably and nobly led by JoAnn Falletta who coaxes a vibrant and sonorous tone from the strings, and who keeps the winds and brass in fine balance. The result is a thrilling wall of sound where called for with no expense spared for the careful nuance of detail.

The second concerto begins a bit more aggressively than the first, but it is not long before its opening stridency melts into a film-score lushness that would have made Jack Warner proud. Although similar in structure to the first concerto, Dohnányi shuffles the cards a bit, moving the poignant slow movement to third position and tossing off the flashy fast movement in less than four minutes. It all ends with a triumphant finale.

Again, Ludwig and Falletta are in their elements, and it is very clear that all concerned are reveling in this stirring music. One can hope that more soloists will add either of these pieces to their touring repertoire. It would be fun to hear what James Ehnes or Gil Shaham might have to say about such music. Michael Ludwig is indeed a force to be reckoned with however, and we can hope to hear more from him, especially if he continues to plumb such fine and underrepresented music as this in the future.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A lovely little discovery!

Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21 (1874) [34:07]
Fantasie Norvégienne, (1878) [14:26]

Arranged for violin and guitar by Lars Hannibal

Kim Sjogren, (violin)
Lars Hannibal, (guitar)

Recorded May 1992 in the monastery La Cartuja de la Sierra de Cazalla, Spain (Symphonie) and in August 1992 in the chapel of HM Queen Margrethe II’s summer residence, Fredensborg Castle.

OUR RECORDINGS 8.226903 [48:33]

These two well known works composed originally for Pablo de Sarasate are given wonderfully refreshing new clothes in these tasteful and thoroughly idiomatic arrangements by guitarist Lars Hannibal. This is one of the more delightful surprises to cross the desk in some weeks, and it has received the unusual honor of repeated plays in a household that is near capacity with unheard compact discs.

The wonderful delight here is just how well these arrangements work, and how well the orchestral accompaniments suit the guitar. Couple this with the splendidly reverberant acoustics of the recording venues, and the careful balance that is achieved by the recording engineers and you get a completely winsome combination both musically and sonically.

Mr. Sjogren keeps sheer virtuosity at bay with his abundant good taste, never letting us know that this music actually takes some work to pull off. His tone is warm and with the exception of a rare miss in intonation in the very highest registers, this is playing of immaculate accomplishment and panache. Mr. Hannibal’s guitar tone is full and rich and the two work very well together as an ensemble.

The music itself is pure poetry, and I was thrilled to discover the Fantasie Norvégienne, a work heretofore unknown to me. It is full of sweeping melodies and lush harmonies, replete with crystalline beauty and thankfully devoid of romantic gush. This work alone is worth the price of admission.

Packaging and presentation are long on pretty pictures and short on content. One might have wanted a bit more meat in the program notes, but no matter. The music and these fine performances speak well for themselves, and more information about the music is but a few keystrokes away in this day and age. This recital would be a fine addition to any collection, a wonderful sojourn off the beaten path.