Positive Music Place

Posts Tagged ‘live performances’

Escape artists

Posted by dlockeretz on May 19, 2015

Note: this is a simulblog, appearing both on “D-Theory” and “Positive Music Place.”

When one of my friends posted her concerns that the internet would spoil the finale of “Mad Men” before she had a chance to watch it, I reassured her in my typically smart-ass manner: “Already saw it. Vader is Luke’s father.”

My knowledge of “Mad Men” consists of having watched about 10 minutes of it and listening to people praise it. The show has helped me see that just because something is popular, that doesn’t make it bad. I get the show’s appeal: timeless themes of pride undone by a tragic flaw set against a glamorous ’60s backdrop is a winning combination. I’ve realized that the problem is not Don Draper; it’s another “D”. My tastes in TV are escapist (see D-Theory posts #44 and #84 for more info). Thus, if I don’t want to be judged for favoring lighter entertainment when it comes to the tube, I shouldn’t judge those who prefer Adele to Mahler.

A few days ago I was listening to a popular country song that was the requested first dance at a wedding where I was performing with the 40-Oz. Band. Overhearing it, my wife gave me a look that needed no explanation. All I could do was tell her, “Not everyone wants to be challenged on their wedding day.” Similarly, not everyone wants to be challenged after a long day at the office.

Like all creative professionals, us musicians put so much work and heart into what we do that when someone doesn’t notice, it’s a hard pill to swallow. We shake our heads when people download Nicki Minaj tracks by the millions while our heart-felt oeuvre, honed by the light of a midnight lamp, is met with indifference at Open Mic night.

Yet we ignore, too: whether it’s by eating fast food instead of going to the farmer’s market; by reading “Twilight” instead of Shakespeare or by watching “The League” and “Shipping Wars” instead of “Mad Man.” That doesn’t make us bad people; everyone needs convenience and escapes now and then. Most dieticians agree that you can’t expect yourself to eat perfectly 24/7. Play for the people who want the challenge, don’t let the ones who don’t bring you down and step outside your own comfort zone now and then. You may pleasantly surprise a writer, chef, candle maker or photographer who assumed you were just looking for an escape.

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Revisiting an old favorite: Rondo a la Zingarese by Brahms

Posted by dlockeretz on June 21, 2011

If I were to make a list of classical music to help convert non-fans to the literature, Johannes Brahms’s G-minor piano quartet, opus 25, would certainly rank high.   But while many “music appreciation” class staples often get tired after repeated listening (this is a positive music blog, so I’ll refrain from mentioning Pachelbel’s canon or Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”), Brahms’s quartet sounds as good to me watching a performance on Youtube now as it did listening to it on vinyl twenty years ago.

The whole work is great, but the last movement, the “Rondo a la Zingarese”, is the high point.  Whenever possible, I always like to listen to classical music in its entirety (the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth are great, but there’s another half hour, too.)  However, when time is short and I don’t have 94 minutes for Mahler’s third symphony but still want to get my classical music fix, the greatest former whore-house pianist in musical history does the trick.

Brahms originally planned to write the piece as a string quintet, and reworked into the piano quartet format, with piano, cello, viola and violin.  He later arranged it for four-hand piano.  Arnold Schoenberg made a famous transcription for full orchestra, particularly effective in the final movement, where the percussion instruments bring out the music’s ethnic flavor.

The term “rondo” refers to a musical form in which a main musical theme alternates with other melodies.  Here, the main theme is a forceful one (especially in the orchestral version), broken up by contrasting sections.  A stately melody provides nice balance.  A mournful viola and cello theme seems to recall the image of a strolling minstrel, or perhaps a musician at an upscale French restaurant.  The recurrence of the main motif ties things together, building to a climatic moment when the piano executes a cascade of descending arpeggios.

Following this, the instruments regroup, quietly, but quickly building to a decisive final statement of the main theme.  The last fifteen seconds are as furious and energetic as anything in classical music – or perhaps almost any genre.  Whether you’re a veteran of symphonic halls or a complete rookie, the ending of this work is jaw-dropping.

I’ve always had the belief that while certain trends and styles may come and go, great music always does stand the test of time.  Long after most of the people responsible the songs dominating today’s charts, the masterpieces of classical music–just like their counterparts in jazz, rock, blues and other genres–will endure.  For me–and many others–the G minor piano quartet of Brahms will always be there.

To see a performance of the original quartet, click here.  For the orchestral version, click here.

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