Sibelius’s Kullervo

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Sibelius’s Kullervo is an undoubted masterpiece… but boy, is it a quirky one.  By all conventional rules of classical musicdom, it simply should not be.  Consider:

  • It was the first significant orchestral work Sibelius ever wrote.
  • It came from Finland, which at the time was distant corner of the Russian Empire that did not have a particularly strong or well-developed classical musical infrastructure.
  • It featured singers singing in Finnish—a language that was looked down upon as being low-brow at the time.
  • It chronicled the adventures of a decidedly unconventional hero from Finnish mythology.
  • It was only performed five times before Sibelius withdrew it and banned all future performances of the work; it was only after his death that his heirs authorized the work to be performed again.

In short, Kullervo is an oddity, an enigma… much like the legendary figure upon which it is based.

But make no mistake, it is a masterpiece that is as startling today as it was at its premiere in 1892. It is the work that created Sibelius’s reputation. And it is a work I love to distraction. Continue reading

Winter: A Classical Listening Guide

Ah, winter.  As a season, it often gets a bum rap—while spring is a season of new beginnings, winter too often gets written off as a season of death and bleak desolation. And indeed, many people start feeling a bit stir crazy this time of year.  So, let me break the seasonal doldrums with a playlist of winter-themed classical music.  Some of the following selections are delicate, some melancholy, some dramatic… but all take winter, ice, or snow as their point of departure.  Note that I have deliberately avoided Christmas or holiday music here… Christmas music deserves its own post.

Cheers! Continue reading

2015: A Year in Review

Well, here it is… New Year’s Eve. This is a time of year when my regular level of introspection kicks into high gear, as I reflect on all the things the past year brought to us—or in some cases, threw at us. By any standard, 2015 feels like a watershed year that was filled with stories I couldn’t have imagined back during those prehistoric days of 2014.

Before the clock strikes midnight, let me look back over my posts and share a few thoughts about some of the year’s most important stories. Continue reading

Merry Christmas 2015!

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day…two of my favorite days of the year! For me, both days are steeped in memories—memories of festive gatherings with friends, zany adventures with out-of-town family, beautiful church services that stayed with me throughout the year…

…and most of all, music.

Music has always been a part of the holiday. At parties, either I or my brother would plunk ourselves down at the piano and accompany the guests in rousing renditions of Christmas songs. A group of us from church would carol door to door, particularly reaching out to elders who didn’t get out as much. We had school concerts, and would try to sneak in a showing of Nutcracker or Messiah as schedules allowed.

It didn’t matter if we were performers or audience members; music was a shared activity that brought us together; it was a way to tell the Christmas story, share lessons, or simply to connect.

I can’t imagine Christmas without music.

With that thought in mind, let me share a pair of Christmas songs that get into the spirit. Although they were written centuries apart, they pair together exceptionally well; they are both for a cappella voices, and they are both serenely gorgeous. Plus, they use the same text:

O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio.
O beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt
portare Dominum Jesum Christum.
Alleluia!

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O great mystery
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the Lord newborn
lying in a manger.
O blessed Virgin, whose womb was worthy
to bear the Lord Christ Jesus.
Alleluia!

The first is a Renaissance work by Tomás Luis de Victoria, that captures the mystical spirit of the age.

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The second is by American Morten Lauridsen, which reverently looks on the traditions of the past, but brings them forward with a modern approach to harmony and chord clusters.

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Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and may your days be filled with joy!

Scott

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Xochipilli

Visions of Armageddon in Hartford

Here we go again.  Another orchestra-related labor dispute.  Over the same old issues, being fought via the same techniques.

A huge, above-the-fold article in the Hartford Courant balefully warns that “Hartford Symphony Could Shut Down Without Union Concessions.”

[…]

I’m losing the last vestiges of patience I have for this kind of thing. Continue reading

Christmas Carol Disasters

It’s that time of year again—a season filled with joy, wonder, hope… and for musicians, raw terror.

Christmastime.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Like most people I absolutely love all the joy, wonder and hope.  I love the closeness of family, the laughs of sharing memories, and finding that perfect present for my sweetie.  And I love sense of religious joy that pervades the season, as we seem more willing to let Light into our lives.

But I’m also a musician and I know the challenges December can bring.  The accumulated run of concerts, worship services, pageants, and other performances can leave you feeling more burned out than a year-old yule log.  Come Christmas Day I’m usually hiding under my bed… with a bottle of tequila.

The good/bad dichotomy is amplified when you are a professional caroler… as I was in my younger days.

In terms of the good, you personally bring the holiday spirit to people.  For example, when we were caroling through the airport, travelers would always brighten when we passed by, forgetting their delays, lost luggage, or general fatigue.  In various malls, shoppers would immediately surround us with huge smiles, sometimes joining in if the song was familiar.

Plus, we were privileged to sing some wonderful music—tunes that have survived the centuries because they are good. Years later, it’s still a point of pride for me that I can rattle off the words to most of the verses to nearly every Christmas carol the little baby Jesus has ever heard.

But over time, and uncounted hours of caroling… well, let’s just say that I’ve seen my share of Christmas-related disasters. Continue reading