critic, scholar, performer
(not necessarily in that order)
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Above is a recording of my appearance yesterday on WNUR, plugging Music Marathon as well as speaking about musical marathons of the past. I discuss a few different historically long musical events--Beethoven's massive concert in 1808 with premieres of the Fifth and Sixth symphonies; John Cage's first "complete" performance of Satie's Vexations; Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2; and the Bang on a Can marathon. The Beethoven one is most fascinating to me, since there are so many elements to it not present in modern symphonic culture: piano improvisations by the composer himself, the composer as conductor and pianist (still happens occasionally), excerpted movements from a larger work, the premiere of two major symphonies in which the newer one is played before the older one. How crazy is that that an audience heard Beethoven's Sixth before Beethoven's Fifth? And can you imagine how terrible the orchestra must have sounded, given the minimum amount of rehearsal time and huge amount of music? It wouldn't be a problem for any decent orchestra to sightread Beethoven today, but at the time it was probably the most difficult music being written. Imagine a modern orchestra sightreading, say, Boulez or Ferneyhough, with the conductor at the podium.
I strongly recommend Yefim Bronfman's recording of the Choral Fantasy with the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich under David Zinman, which I played on the show. That piece has a special little place in my heart, with its anticipation of the Ninth Symphony and awesome piano intro (the closest example we have to Beethoven's own improvisations). I also played Jean-Yves Thibaudet'srecording of Vexations, which is good but not particularly recommended--it just happened to be the one I had in iTunes. The FLUX Quartet's Feldman SQ2 is great, as is Bang on a Can's In C, which closed out the show.
I will be performing In C with my Hep Cats at Music Marathon this Friday evening at midnight. Hope you can make it!