Thursday, November 21, 2019

Interpretation Is In The Ear of the Conductor

One of the things that is great about going to classical music concerts is that even when you have heard the same piece of music many times, you almost always hear something new each time you hear it.  You may hear the staccato in a phrase of a certain section of the orchestra that you hadn't noticed before or you may hear the importance of a certain instrument in a phrase of the piece that for some reason you are just hearing for the first time.

Also, when you hear a piece you have heard many times by a certain conductor performed by a new conductor, the piece may sound different.   How is that you may ask?  It is the same piece with the same notes by the same composer and played by the same symphony orchestra and all that is different is the conductor, so why wouldn't the music be played the same way and sound exactly the same?

Maestro Andres Orosco-Estrada, conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, I love his interpretations
That is because each conductor, who conducts a piece by a famous composer, is interpreting the piece the way that they feel that the composer wants the music to be played.  All the great conductors study the composers and their music to try and get a feel of how that great composer wants their music to be interpreted.  There is no wrong or right way to interpret the piece of music as it is all in the "ear" of the conductor.  When you hear a piece played a little different than you have heard before, it is not because the conductor is doing it for changes sake or just to make himself unique, rather it is his understanding of how the composer wanted that music to be played.

How can a piece sound different when the orchestra is playing the exact same notes every time?  There may be a phrase that the conductor thinks should be shaped a certain way, or the dynamics might be interpreted different.  For example, a certain part of the music might be marked "f " for forte or loud...but how loud is loud...that is up to each conductor to determine.  Also, the tempo or speed of the piece can be interpreted differently by different composers.  Yes, the composer might mark a movement of a piece he has composed as "Allegro" which means to be played fast.  But how fast?  Different composers determine in their mind [from their understanding] of how fast the composer means the piece to be played.

There is one piece of music that I have heard many times, on recordings and at the concert hall, and I have almost never heard it played the exact same way.  This piece maybe the most recognized and it certainly one of the most beloved pieces of classical music, Beethoven's 5th Symphony [the opening movement].  The opening 8 note motif is probably the most well known opening of a classical music piece by even non classical music aficionados.

L.V. Beethoven - there have been many interpretations of his 5th symphony
The opening movement of this greatness may be the starkest example of how different conductors can interpret the same piece of music a different way.  And none of them are wrong.  

Here is an example of four legendary conductors, Herbert Van Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa, and their different interpretations of the opening of the first movement, Allegro con brio, of the Beethoven 5th Symphony:

Now here is the full symphony #5 by the great Ludwig Van Beethoven.  This masterpiece may be played as much as any other piece in concert halls around the world.  It was scored in C minor and has four movements:  1. Allegro con brio,  2. Andante con moto,  3. Scherzo - Allegro,  4. Allegro.  This stirring piece ends with one of the most exciting sustained climaxes in the symphonic genre.  

In this video, I love this interpretation of the Beethoven 5th by the great Maestro Gustavo Dudamel.  This is a great performance of Beethoven's 5th symphony.  Thanks for this video on You Tube from EmbavenezCanada

Please turn up the volume and enjoy this genius masterpiece by Beethoven.

L.V. Beethoven: Symphony #5 in C minor:

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Anniversary of One of The Great Presidential Speeches

Hat Tip [from when this was first published, one year ago]:  Salena Zito, who, in her great article in the Washington Examiner, "Lincoln's Address Was Forgotten Once-But Never Again", informed me that today, Monday November 19 is the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's brilliant Gettysburg Address.

Abraham Lincoln [Feb. 12, 1809 - April 15, 1865]
On November 19, 1863 [during the Civil War], at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA, President Abraham Lincoln gave what would be known as the Gettysburg Address.

This from Address:  "In November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to deliver remarks, which later became known as the Gettysburg Address, at the official dedication ceremony for the National Cemetery of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, on the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the Civil War. Though he was not the featured orator that day, Lincoln’s 273-word address would be remembered as one of the most important speeches in American history. In it, he invoked the principles of human equality contained in the Declaration of Independence and connected the sacrifices of the Civil War with the desire for “a new birth of freedom,” as well as the all-important preservation of the Union created in 1776 and its ideal of self-government."

This photo of Gettysburg [National Cemetery] is courtesy of TripAdvisor

It was exactly 156 years ago when President Lincoln gave, I believe, one of the greatest presidential speeches ever given.  This poetic rhetoric surely must have been God inspired.

President Lincoln's preparation of the Gettysburg Address
Here is that address:

Gettysburg Address, Soldiers National Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA 

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ax Plays Beethoven - Gabel Conducts Brahms In This HSO Concert

It's that time once again when the fetching Mrs. Sheralyn B. and I will trek to downtown Houston to Jones Hall this Saturday night, November 16, when our world class Houston Symphony Orchestra will have a blockbuster concert program that we are really looking forward to.

This program only has two pieces, but wow, what two great pieces they are.  In the first half of the program, our Grammy award winning orchestra will welcome the 7 time Grammy award winning pianist, Emanuel Ax as the soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto #1.  This legendary Ukranian born American pianist will be performing one of my favorite piano concertos that I love.

Legendary pianist Emanuel Ax will perform in Jones Hall Houston this weekend with the HSO
Beethoven's piano concerto #1 is scored in C Major with 3 movements:  1. Allegro con brio; 2. Largo; and 3. Rondo - Allegro Scherzando.

Then in the second half of the program will be one of my all time favorite symphonies, Johannes Brahms Symphony #2.  This wonderful melodic symphony will be led by guest conductor Parisian, Fabien Gabel.  Maestro Gabel will conduct this truly beautiful symphony that Brahms scored in D Major with the usual four movements in a classical symphony:  1. Allegro non troppo; 2.Adagio non troppo; 3. Allegretto grazioso; and 4. Allegro con spirito.
While some symphonies may have a meaning to them [program symphonies] or may be dramatic or may be pensive that make you think, this Brahms symphony just has beautiful music that you can sit back and enjoy.

From the Houston Symphony Orchestra website:  "Awed by Beethoven’s colossal shadow, Brahms took 21 years to complete his first symphony. Within mere months of its premiere, a second came into being.  Filled with sumptuous, free-flowing melodies and capped by a triumphant roar, this is music that reveals a symphonic master boldly taking on the mantle and making it his own.  Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 sparkles with the crystalline beauty of Mozart, but courses with an intensity that’s all Beethoven.  Legendary, seven-time Grammy Award-winning pianist Emanuel Ax is your soloist."

As usual, whenever the fetching Mrs. B and I go to a HSO concert, I like to share what we will be hearing this Saturday night.  And when you hear these two pieces, you will see why I think we will be blessed to be in Jones Hall with this blockbuster program.  So, please turn up the volume, play in full screen and enjoy these masterpieces from Beethoven and Brahms.

Note: the You Tube video below of the Brahms Symphony, Houston Symphony Orchestra's very own director, Maestro Andres Orosco-Estrada, is the conductor.  

L.V. Beethoven:  Piano Concerto #1 in C Major:

Johannes Brahms: Symphony #2 in D Major:


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Happy Birthday Aaron Copland!

Hat Tip:  Midwest GS [Gilbert and Sullivan on Twitter] from Illinois for informing me that today, Wednesday Nov. 14 is the great American composer, Aaron Copland's, 118th Birthday.  UPDATE:  Now on this November 14, 2019 Aaron Copland's 119th birthday!
Aaron Copland [Nov. 14, 1900 - Dec. 2, 1990] 
Known as the "Dean of American composers", Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, NY. in the first year of the 20th Century. 

From Aaron Copland, Wikipedia:  "He is best known for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as "populist" and which the composer labeled his "vernacular" style.[3] Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo, his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores."

To honor this great American's birthday, please enjoy these wonderful pieces by this giant of American composers.  Please turn up the volume.

Aaron Copland: "Rodeo", 4- Hoe-down:

Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring:

Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man:

Happy Birthday #119 Aaron Copland!