Wednesday, June 30, 2010

classical musicians, actually famous

So several of my classmates from Northwestern formed The Gentlemen of NUCO a few years back as a strings/percussion ensemble performing Radiohead orchestrations (I hate to use the word covers, because their music really does re-compose the songs in a completely original way). Since then, they have expanded their repertory to Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga. And tonight, on America's Got Talent (NBC, 9/8 c), they will tear up Since You've Been Gone.
Edit: I'm an idiot. They actually broadcast the audition last night, but only played the selection of the song you'll see below. But hopefully we'll have more out of the Gentlemen when the show airs the Vegas performances in a couple weeks.
Here's a preview

These are kids who play Brahms and Berio, know what Darmstadt is, and headlined Music Marathon 2009. It's going to be awesome.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

seeking shelter

I chose to unplug myself for the final hour-plus of the Bang on a Can Marathon on Sunday and immerse myself in the multimedia epic that is Shelter (music by Lang/Gordon/Wolfe, libretto by Deborah Artman). SIGNAL, conducted by new music maven Brad Lubman, delivered one of the most polished and and stupefyingly brilliant performances of the entire twelve hours (really more like thirteen hours; it finished right after 1AM, and I almost missed the last train out of Grand Central).

Before it started, the musicologist in me was eager to attempt to identify which composer wrote which movement. At first it seemed easy, and then I realized that I know hardly any of Julia Wolfe's music, and basically could not figure out which movements were hers. I ended up attributing some of her music to Lang and Gordon in my head, so I'll try not to speculate here as to who wrote what unless I'm pretty positive (comment away if I'm wrong). But the opening Before I Enter was absolutely David Lang, with that celestial descant he perfected in The Little Match-Girl Passion. Delicate strings and chiming percussion provided a tender accompaniment, and Bill Morrison's stark imagery added stunning effects. It was a spiritual experience; the narrator painstakingly describes an inane but impassioned series of actions before he enters his house, the repetitive lull of the text matching the softly declamatory, quasi-medieval trio of female voices. It combines a liturgical, Jewish perspective with modern anxieties about home security: the series of actions includes "I kiss my fingers and pat the scroll," (a reference to mezuzot) and "I punch in a code on a key pad."

Is the Wind had that Michael Gordon electronic ooze to it, with wild and shrieking winds, and a heavy, driving electric pulse. The trio wailed "Is the wind at my back?" like a cracked-out train whistle, as Morrison's video shot us through a canyon. Chugging, grinding musical motors lay the groundwork for high woodwinds bending pitches and thunderous low brass, the emblematic sound of Decasia.

Maybe The Boy Sleeps was Julia Wolfe's but I can't say for sure. With greater reverb, the voices took on a hollow and disembodied sound, the single line of text (the title) dissolving into timbre. Sweet dissonances piled up within the trio, and instruments picked up the vocal pitches; gradually everything meshed together, an interwoven tapestry from which a kind of lament emerged. A sense of heart-wrenching loss pervaded, as single instrumental tones pierced through the orchestra. Morrison's image was a fluttering cloth, perhaps a veil. It built to a sweeping climax, preparing for the John Adams-esque sweeping drama of American Home. The fourth movement was full-bodied, ecstatic, and captivating, with a mess of seemingly droll text (describing almost intimately the structural components of a house) which took on great import: "stairs - 1 set, oak/smoke detectors - 4 or 5." Lubman embodied the breadth of the music in extravagant but effective gestures, reveling in the music's incredible kinetics.

Porch began as an ode to simpler times, with scratchy old home videos playing behind SIGNAL. Pure, overlapping voices, pulsing marimba, and twitching strings created a sound fitting for the text ("Summer evenings and lemonade/A time when the whole town knew each other and said 'hello'"). But tension gradually builds as the conveniences of modern living ("screens against the bugs, "walls against the winter") erode the utopian innocence, , and an electric guitar attempts to take over. Finally, a fully-charged furor emerges of the words ("The street became so loud with cars and trucks/Passerby diminished"), which obliterate the quaint notions of home, and music, with figures spiraling downward, tolling bells, and tweaked-out guitar.

I Want to Live, the calm before the storm, was (if I remember correctly) entirely acapella, with intertwining counterpoint. The flickering line on the screen, maybe representing an EKG, brought out the twists and turns of the vocal trio, who quietly but deliberately chanted "I want to live where you live."

And finally, What We Build, the apocalyptic finale to our thirteen hours of music. The music sounded like a freight train colliding with a thundercloud, almost definitely the work of Gordon. Bleak images of post-Katrina flooded plains and cities made palpable the portentous text: "No dwelling built by human hands is eternal." It destroys any notions established in previous movements of the home as respite. Darkly grand, the instruments slide around a smear of voices, sounding a musical equivalent to opening the gates of Hell.

I noticed the Bang on a Can founders sitting together on the back steps of the Winter Garden during Shelter. They looked tired but content, and I'm sure they were marveling at the massive, heaving organism which they have built. Many great composers create music which will outlive them, but only a choice few establish institutions which reign on after their deaths. This will be one of them.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

bang on a live blog

12:20pm - Arrived late at the BOAC Marathon. John Hollenbeck (composer, drummer) and his Large Ensemble just finished Perserverance, for jazz orchestra, alternating between rhapsodic grooves and extended sax solos (which apparently illustrated the candidates of the last presidential election?). Up next Dorothee Hahne.

12:25 - Apparently I can be a Marathon warrior? Will look good on my resume. Someone just brought a giant bassoon on stage. This should be good. Okay, it's a giant recorder---Hahne's group is the Quartet New Generation, playing Dance macabre. Moritz Eggert is talking about Chopsticks, which he apparently turned into a "wall of sound" of recorders (coming up in Flohwalze).

Dance macabre was pretty solid, moving from hooty recorder long tones backed by electronics and gradually layers on different little rhythmic patterns. It builds to a climax and then suddenly returns to those stagnant notes.

Now Paul Moravec's Mortal Flesh, based on a chorale with the same name. Their recorders are really really big.

12:52 - Just finished up the Recorder set. Moravec's piece was in a markedly different idiom from the others, beginning with a dissonant, heavily inflected chorale. The music got faster, recorders got smaller, and the music became almost Hindemith-like, with bustling counterpoint.

Eggert's Flohwalze didn't really sound like Chopsticks but did feature something like a sub ultra contra bass recorder. The four women yelped, slapped, stomped, and threw stuff everywhere, even playing two recorders at once. Impressive stuff. Next up, traditional Kyrgzstani music.

1:06 - Two guys with awesome hats just played brilliant music from Kyrgzstan on instruments resembling a Jew's Harp (is that still PC?), recorder, flute, and mandolin. The Jew's Harp duets had some really cool overtones, sounding almost electronic. The long-breathed recorder solo was entrancing, followed by a deft and virtuosic mandolin duet. Nice to hear something a little off the beaten path.

1:21 - Florent Ghys' Simplement for double-bass and laptop was my favorite piece so far, with simple and crystalline minimalist grooves echoing Tom Johnson. The middle section, with Ghys imitating the contours of a recorded voice (in French) evoked Different Trains in a very good way.

1:30 - Moritz Eggert's Hammerklavier III: One Man Band takes Stockhausen's Klavierstuck IX to the next level. His rhythmic barrage is banged out on the piano rather than with the piano. Finally he began playing the keys with every appendage, ending standing up with a final smash of the keyboard.

2:11 - Face the Music, a contingent of very talented high-schoolers, performed Graham Fitkin's Mesh. It has that semi-generic BOAC sound which crops up in one or two pieces on most of their albums. Assorted instruments played twinkling, post-In C patterns. The highlight was the ballsy flute soloist, quite impressive for a high school age musician. Despite the solid performance, probably the least interesting piece so far.

I missed the beginning of Tristan Perich's piece (apparently a program change), but it sounds great so far, with soothing high-pitched electronics and rumbling bells, like an space-age John Luther Adams outtake.

2:30 - Steve Coleman's trio (alto sax, trumpet, piano) is slowly tracing vaguely modal patterns, taking Sun Ra's "Space is the Place" mentality as a point of departure--the work's title is Formation -- Lunar Eclipse (Saros 120). It's great that BOAC has incorporated the gamut of avant-garde genres, if you can place this quasi-free jazz into a genre to begin with.

2:42 - Okay that went on a little long.

2:52 - Intermission just ended. There's a raffle going on, gotta get my postcard. Up next is a set with Slagwerk Den Haag, with music by Seung-Ah Oh and Marco Momi. Apparently Oh's piece DaDeRimGil is about ironing...

3:05 - Extended set change still going. Seated Ovation Official Photographer Molly Yeh has arrived; we will have photos if I can find a USB cable.

3:15 WHAT UP this is guest live blogga molly yeh pronounced yay and i am comin atcha bout some percussion things at this bang on a can marathon while your favorite will robin finds a cable for my camera. watching some slagwerk den haag play wood sticks and some metal right now. it is super cool. <-- that is the extent of my music criticism vocabulary (things are either super cool or super un cool and this is SUPER COOL. something i'd want to play. nice nipple gongs. digging the dude with the hat. is this trio per uno for six? "is this still the same piece?" says billy. no. will. ok this piece is dunzo. time for xenakis. wait. where's the lake?

- Will is back while Molly takes some pics. Oh's piece was the longest and most exhilarating so far, fifteen-plus minutes of controlled, deliberate percussion gestures. Now we've got Marco Momi's Ludica, again with Slagwerk. Xenakis + JACK impending.
molly's friend sam just stopped by!
he's about to play with the gamelan ensemble

3:47 - Ludica, a dialogue between mallet percussion and electronics, was a bit crazier than Oh's concentrated work. Tons of hits and static-y booms filled the hall, with at one point an omnipresent beeping sounding like a phone off the hook. Unfortunately Momi also had the HUM FROM HELL, this 30-second loud buzz. The toddler near me expressed his concern quite vocally.
Slagwerk Den Haag rocks some Marco Momi

4:05 - JACK Quartet just TORE UP Xenakis. They brought a cool sheen and fierce intensity to Tetras, a buzzsaw of a piece. The gruesomeness of the slides was simply awesome, and the brutal force of the music was heightened by their virtuosic performance. Wildcat props to Northwestern alum Ari Streisfeld, their second violinist.
JACK Quartet + Xenakis = gold

4:24 - We are in the midst of Evan Ziporyn's Tire Fire--who would've thought that gamelan and electric guitar would go together so naturally? Purple pajama suited performers should be a requirement at all concerts. This is one of those great examples of cross-influences shooting around the world. The original minimalists heavily drew upon the static rhythms and harmonies of Indian and Indonesian music, including gamelan. By actually writing for a gamelan ensemble, Ziporyn fuses the ecstatic repetition of those original minimalist impulses (and pulses!) with a postminimalist , heavy rock drive. It meanders beautifully between traditional percussion, gamelan, and droning electric guitar.

4:31 - This sounds like Glenn Branca dropping acid in a Balinese temple.

4:51 - We are a post-gamelan set change break before more recorder quartet stuff, and soon Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Okay Childs is getting started.

5:02 - Mary Ellen Childs' movement from her still-in-progress Black Box began with a backbeat straight out of Yo Shakespeare (sidenote: liveblogging makes me do this Sasha FrereJones thing of calling each piece THIS ARTIST + THIS ARTIST), but softened by the use of recorders (yet another weird one, bent in half at a 90-degree angle). Lithe melodies float on top of the groove, and soon we get more jungle music sounding suspiciously similar to some of the other recorder quartet pieces. Now we're up to Michael Mensingh's Oh, I am sorry, did I break your concentration? one of my favorite piece titles (more favorite titles coming up).

5:11 - This is probably the least engaging piece so far. Mensignh combines a kind of Tom Johnson mischief with a stop-start build-up straight out of Lang's Cheating, Lying Stealing (see, I'm doing Frere-Jones again!). It's dragging on too long, and the premise was fairly derivative to begin with. Looking forward to Fred Frith's Snakes and Ladders with the BOAC All-Starzz.

5:46 - The last few pieces have fit decidedly within Bang on a Can's "house style," and Fred Frith's Snakes and Ladders is no exception. But it's also really, really good. Evan Ziporyn, now the elder stateman of the All-Stars, stole the show. The piece began with alternating vibes and piano, and more instruments slowly entered into the mix--cello, bass, electric guitar, and eventually Ziporyn's piquant clarinet. Ziporyn tooted, wailed, and groaned away over the somewhat-steady beat, and gradually the music became more irritated, almost wild. It ended with a piano line (played elegantly by Vicky Chow) snaking upward in a repeated pattern, chacona-esque. Brilliant writing. Molly will chime in now.

5:52- molly here! hey i thought that last one was super cool. it made me want to get up and dance (sign of a good piece, but more importantly a good ensemble). i couldn't dance though because i had honey mustard all over my lap from my food court sammich.

talea ensemble is setting up right now. heyyyy alex lipowski (gordon gottlieb studio juilliard school represent!!!) lookin forward to seeing all of those nipple gongs in action.

oh and did i tell you will just looked up "groove" in the thesaurus? that failed. (this piece is canal-y. no. this piece is incision-y. nope.)

will just said, "let's go get ice cream after this." and i just got really really happy.

Ziporyn and the all-stars Frithing.

6:11 - Still waiting for Talea Ensemble to deliver us some Fausto Romitelli Professor Bad Trip. We are running behind schedule? OK Mr. Gordon here to introduce them.

6:31 - The Talea Ensemble just began lesson two out of three of the appropriately-titled, seemingly-interminable Professor Bad Trip. To make a grand generalization, of the kind which just about everybody despises, there are two types of pieces in the BOAC "house style": rock-inflected grooves (I cannot for the life of me find a good synonym for groove, so it will continue to be used frequently) and electro-acoustic soundscapes. This is the first piece of the Marathon to fall definitively into the latter category. Romitelli inflects the static sound-world with the breathy sound of flute and other acoustic instruments (it's also the first piece to use a practically classical ensemble, plus amplification and electronix). We're in the midst of the second movement/lesson, significantly more interesting than the first, with a see-sawing amped-up cello solo at its core.

7:12 - Listening to Buke and Gass, hanging and re-charging at the Social Media Lounge™, eating mediocre and overpriced gelato from Ciaobella. Romitelli's piece got better over time; lesson zwei bristled with life, and the soundscape in lesson drei became denser but more carefully orchestrated, borderline Feldman-y. A crazed, jittery rush brought us towards what I thought would be the end, but electronics took over completely, with an overwhelming roar sounding like a bomb was about to go off. Despite its strong moments, though, not sure if it justified its thirty-plus minute length. Buke and Gass not particularly interesting (guitar duet with girl singer--not sure if she's Buke or Gass?). Looking forward to more craziness from resident pianist/composer/nutjob Moritz Eggert and his Hammerklavier studien.

7:21- hazelnut biscotti.

7:25pm - Thanks Molly. Setting the stage for Kappellmeister Eggert.

7:41 - Wow. Why don't more performances end with the pianists' feet on the keyboard? Eggert, in his two Hammerklavier etudes, combines post-modern Germanic tendencie towards deconstruction with a Cagean spark of irreverent invention. Study in fall began with jazzy, Ligeti-like filigree rippling across the piano, but that was just the start. Eggert reveled in Piano + _____, banging his feet and head, yelping at the top of his lungs. In One Man Band 2, he played a cutesy lick on harmonica, smashed into a toy piano, and hit a yellow squeaky toy. Nothing is sacred---I mean, he sat on the keyboard. It's delightfully canny and fiendishly difficult music: the composer as comic virtuoso.
Moritz Eggert plants his rear on the piano. The real question is, who's playing it next?

8:09 - Getting power in The Social Media Lounge™ is not the best place to experience Mayke Nas' and Wouter Snoei's I Delayed People's Flights By Walking Slowly in Narrow Hallways (remember when I said there were more awesome titles coming? this is the awesomest). The four boys of Slagwerk Den Haag sat in chairs facing blackboards, beginning by stomping their feet and bowing their bodies. They leapt up in turn and turned the chalkboards into drums, writing percussively. Elementary shapes coalesced into letters, then words, with cryptic messages like "I came into the world." Sometimes the four boards formed a message, other times they took on varying personas: "I approved of myself," "I disapproved of myself." It was difficult to see so I after sometime I just decided to listen to the rumble of recorded percussion and chalkboard mania. We've now hit the 8pm set, with upcoming music by Vernon Reid, Kate Moore, Mira Calix, and Tim Brady.

Slagwerk prepares for chalking

The Marathoneers

8:21pm - SOME of us have to work tomorrow. i bid you all adieu. goodnight kittens! read my blog. love, molly

8:34pm - With the departure of photographer Molly, Seated Ovation live blog has officially returned to Web 1.0 edition. Text from here on out. Right now Julia Wolfe is introducing Vernon Reid and his ensemble, to perform Ghost Narratives.

8:58 - Caught the beginning of Ghost Narratives, which incorporates recordings of the last generation of African-American slaves, before taking a pizza break. Started off intriguing, with a dark, improvisatory jam set under those voices (unfortunately unintelligible). Now it's moving stuff around before Kate Moore's Ridgeway and the Return of the All-Stars.

9:22pm - That was my "Wooooo!" at the end of Ridgeway. Moore's score hangs out with the best of the Bang on a Can classics, making the best use of the All-Stars. A sawing figure transforms into a downspin of glissandos; a bubbly, soaring cello theme emerges; the rigorous balls-to-the-wall drive returns. Like my favorite old-skool Lang/Gordon/Wolfe pieces, it masterfully juxtaposes tender lyricism with splendorous aggression--sometimes both at once. Gradually over the course of the work, the pulsating musical mechanism, that sensationally-constructed rawness, emerges as a massive drone. It's like that John Adams Harmonielehre image of the oil tanker flying up into the sky, and the music achieves a heightened, visceral state.

Now listening to Mira Calix Live, a somewhat-abrasive, somewhat-New Age laptop explosion featuring none other than--wait for it--Mira Calix.

9:38pm - Turned off my brain for most of Mira Calix's piece, but really loved her ethereal voice at the end. Next up more Calix with the All-Stars joining in, then two Tim Brady works, then the final stretch! Have had my program stamped 10 times--two more and I'm a Marathon Warrior. I hope I get to show David Lang my war face.

9:49 - I really liked the transition from controlled twitchness to a laid-back, in the pocket (that's @marcgeelhoed for you) funk in Calix's spring falls back. A pocket of lyricism just erupted back into the twitch, and I feel a loud coda impending.

10:00 - It's ten pm! Do you know where your children are? Tim Brady, guitar and video, on deck.

10:26 - Wow, I am actually out of breath. Remember what I said about a new music punch to the face? Well, my nose is broken, and Tim Brady's knuckles are bloody. I could not get into his first piece at all (video projections by Martin Messier), which sounded too unfocused for me. But Strumming (Homage a John Lennon) simply floored me. A pulsing organism, Strumming's constant barrage of sound inhabited my entire body. Brady shredded away on his guitar backed by electronic, reverberating layers, gradually turning to thrasing noise and back again. Sudden shifts between sections echoed Steve Reich's pulse-based works, and musical shapes emerged and receded. At first I was turned off by the video, but then an image of a hand strumming a guitar gained focus. It expanded and multiplied, with hundreds, and then thousands of tiny images of guitars. Those little boxes formed into a landscape and clicked with the soaring music in a way that just screamed Gesamtkunstwerk. Needless to say, it was a breathtaking overload of information.

Calming down now to a bit more Kyrgyzstani music, a much-needed acoustic respite before the final Twilight of the New Music Gods, feat. Florent Ghys, Burkina Electric (Lukas Ligeti!) and SIGNAL doing the O.G. BOAC's Shelter.

10:52 - Florent Ghys may be my big discovery of today. His exuberant postminimalist licks are exactly what I wanted to hear in my Marathon, and his second piece, 4, with video projections, topped the first. Refreshing, colorful images of Ghys playing bass and practically rapping in French at a shipyard set up a wonderfully hip swing. Ghys' presence was in just about every part of the work--playing along with not only a recording, but a video of himself---which could seem almost egotistic if it weren't so enjoyable. He bopped around like he was having a ton of fun, watching the video as if he couldn't get enough of his own image. A solemn, even stately slow coda gave it a glowing end, and the video-Ghys walked off camera.

11:22pm - I have received my final Marathon stamp, and am an official Marathon Warrior. Burkina Electric just finished up a sensational, jubilant set of Afrobeat/funk/avant-garde electronica, with a triumverate of joyful dancers/singers. Now it's all the "hardcore Bang on a Can listeners," according to Julia Wolfe, ready to hear Shelter.

At this point, I may just take notes on Shelter and blog about it in the morning. Not sure yet---but this may be goodnight. It has been a truly amazing experience, twelve hours of mostly fantastic music, and many thanks to all who participated.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

finally reviewing gilbert's philharmonic

Thursday, June 24 2010

New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Christine Brewer, Jane Henschel, Anthony Dean Griffey, Eric Owens, soloists
New York Choral Artists

Magnus Lindberg, Al largo
Beethoven, Missa solemnis

I have waxed poetic on this blog about the arrival of Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic and all it portends. So I hope it isn't too weird that Thursday night I actually attended my first concert of Gilbert conducting the Phil. Much has been made (by myself especially) about his penchant for intriguing programming, though reviews of his actual podium skills, and the sound of the orchestra, have been mixed. It's a divide between many of the big critics, who mostly love him , and a few stalwarts (including many of my younger musician friends) who think he's mostly terrible.

Going into the concert, I had fairly high expectations: I have been rooting for Gilbert since Day 1, and hoped that his intellectual curiosity would be matched by a sensational performance. Ending the season with a 25-minute world premiere and a Beethoven choral masterpiece that isn't the Ninth Symphony is a brave move, indicative of Gilbert's transformative year. Which is why it was so disappointing that, despite some exhilarating moments, the performance on Thursday was mostly lackluster.

I'm a big fan of all of Magnus Lindberg's output, from the punkrock prickliness of Kraft to the heightened lyricism of the Clarinet Concerto. That latter work, though rigorously complex and retaining much of Lindberg's avant-garde spirit, pointed towards a new, tonal, and even neo-Romantic direction for the composer. I enjoyed EXPO, the other Lindberg bookend to the Philharmonic season, which was not particularly interesting but made for a dashing fanfare and exciting start to Gilbert's tenure.

Unfortunately, the newest Lindberg work for the Philharmonic was just as uninteresting but dragged for nearly half an hour. Reading Lindberg's notes for Al largo, I was excited to hear him compare it to Verklärte Nacht, and imagined a dripping, chromatic orchestral gem. But what the Philharmonic delivered was a rambling, sappy, and shapeless work. It opened with booming brass fanfares (kudos especially to the badass trombones) and tense strings, set to a driving rhythm that seemed to promise an engaging score. For all its filmic effects, though, it lacked a sense of cinematic scope: some essential ingredient was missing to create that bigger picture which a piece this long desperately needs. There were a handful of pretty moments, especially a lithe flute chorale accompanied by cascading piano, and one Kraft-like awesome oboe solo, each gesture placed between a piercing high note and a guttural low growl. The work just traipsed along; despite recurring motives, Lindberg's writing still felt unfocused.

A gleaming chord towards the end followed by an orchestral eruption promised a stirring conclusion, but was interrupted by a strange (but well-played) horn solo, and suddenly the piece just sputtered out. Some ambiguous endings raise intriguing and difficult questions, but this one left me cold, my mind blank. Gilbert conducted a broad beat, but its strongest quality, the sensitive and swirling orchestration, often seemed lost in muddiness (possibly due to the Avery Fisher's lethal acoustics).

After two weeks of mostly-brilliant Beethoven courtesy of Haitink and Chicago, I was curious to see how the Philharmonic would sound in the gargantuan Missa Solemnis. I know the piece only from recordings, but even in those it bristles with tremendous power. Alas, on Thursday evening this force was often overwhelming, lacking the nuance and shape required for its seventy-plus minutes. It began well, a steady and majestic Kyrie and a well-matched quartet of soloists alternating with chorus. Eric Owens' bass was rich and deep, perhaps the best voice of the four. Not far into the Kyrie, though, the blend between orchestra and chorus shifted, and soon the orchestra became nearly inaudible and Beethoven's careful balancing of each ensemble skewed.

This continued through the Gloria, with a fuzziness and lack of clarity tempering Gilbert's passionate conducting. It sometimes felt like the orchestra was just along for the ride with the chorus blaring at full roar. As the movement went on, the unrestrained chorus became more problematic, and the work gradually lost that sparkle with which Beethoven imbued it. Luckily, the beginning of the Credo had a degree of refinement, as Gilbert delicately traced the terraced dynamics, holding back until the sudden jolts of loudness. But the constant barrage of sound quickly returned, leading to an unwieldy fugue amended only by a glowing Resurrection and tenderly sung Amen.

The Sanctus, with its eerie orchestral harmonies and hushed chorus, contained the first emotional music of the evening. And the Benedictus was truly miraculous: concertmaster Glenn Dictererow made his violin sing with his delightfully old-world vibrato over a haze of weeping strings. Gilbert seemed to finally take command of the orchestra and chorus, leading rather than following, and producing a focused, rounded sound. All four soloists were at their best in the pensive Agnus Dei; Owens powerfully intoned "Miserere," and Christine Brewer evoked Wagner in her crushing solos. The end, despite crisp trumpet playing and those ubiquitous Beethoven timpani smashes, seemed to drag on forever before the rousing final bars.

Maybe the Philharmonic should have concluded the season even more boldly, with the triumph of Le Grand Macabre. It would have made a more noticeable splash than this under-rehearsed performance. Hopefully Thursday was not indicative of the quality of this past season under Gilbert. It does remind me, though, that inventive programming (this concert sounded fantastic on paper) does not always add up to a great evening.

Quick note: Much ink has been spilled about the role of electronics in the concert hall--projecting visuals during Brahms symphonies? A live Twitter stream floating above the performers' heads? Robot conductors leading cyborg musicians? While people debate whether you should be able to live-tweet your symphony concert, more significant egregious electronic errors crop up in our major concert halls. Listen up, New York Phil: you do not need to project English supertitles for a Mass. It's super-distracting and almost a joke considering that "Lord, have mercy" stayed up on that screen for about ten minutes. I'm not even sure that anyone needs to know the translation of the Mass text (Martin Luther might disagree), but if they do they can read along in the program book (the lighting in Avery Fisher is such that it's pretty easy to spend your whole time reading the program notes, a favorite activity of its wizened audience). Gestures like this dumb down performances and give the audience yet another way to amuse themselves instead of engaging with the music.

Friday, June 25, 2010

samamidon at the mercury

Somebody yell Judas, because Sam Amidon has gone electric.

Or at least that was my first reaction to How Come That Blood, the opening track to Amidon's second album I See the Sign. Shahzad Ismaily lays down a funky bass over spiderwebs of plucked strings and light percussion. Amidon's voice drones out in its typically droll manner, uninflected and bold. Though All is Well, Amidon's brilliant debut, was not acoustic by any means, this is a much greater leap away from a characteristically folk sound. It's dense in a way that his first album was not--what Muhly's orchestrations and Valgeir SigurĂ°sson's production achieved on that album was the illusion of a natural, even primeval, acoustic space. The comparison to Bob Dylan is apt; I See the Sign, on first glance, seems to be a departure from Amidon's previous work, but upon closer examination is simply a continuation of his musical direction.

But that electric sound was worlds away from Amidon's show Wednesday night at the Mercury Lounge, which was simpler, and significantly more elemental, than All is Well. We were presented with the bare bones of Amidon's musical abilities: him playing acoustic guitar or banjo, Ismaily accompanying on electric guitar and drums. The sound was light and free, unadorned compared to the deliberate layering of the albums. How Come That Blood became a completely different song, emphasizing Amidon's deft banjo and his upbeat pluck. Amidon and Ismaily played eleven songs off of both albums in a variety of folk styles, running the gamut from bluegrass to Sacred Harp-inflected old Christian tunes.

What's remarkable about Amidon's talent, especially given his age, is not just his ability to draw upon the rich American tradition of folk music. It's that he seamlessly blends that gift of recalling a distant, imaginary past with a sense of playful experimentation---avant-garde antics not just thrown into the mix, but integrated with the folk sound. His set demonstrated his full musical journey: learning murder ballads and Sacred Harp songs as a child, rebelling and learning free jazz as a teen, and as an adult re-discovering the hidden power of that well of tradition that is the American folk. Amidon's bizarre vocal screech, which appeared suddenly in the middle of low-key songs like I Saw the Sign, is an emblem of that experimental sound; his voice echoes a kind of electric distortion, foreign from the sound of folk music but befitting its style. His strange little anecdotes told between songs, which once turned into brief instrumental free jazz interlude as he shredded on his banjo, were more Beckett than Woody Guthrie. And the hypnotic gesture he made at the end of Prodigal Son, a strange and distant pose, suggested both liturgical dance and Merce Cunningham's fierce choreography. It was perfectly in line with the lyrics: "I believe I'll go back home/acknowledge I've done wrong." Ismaily's methodically beating drum made it appear that Amidon was cowering, the prodigal son fearing his father's wrath.

Each song was a highlight unto its own, with no low moments. In a cute touch, Ismaily scatted Muhly's string arrangements in Saro, accompanying Amidon's clean, plain, and delightful singing. Rain and Snow showed off Amidon's vocal talents the best, combining their natural and artificial elements into a ballad of restrained anger. One tune I didn't recognize, which began with "As I rode down on a cold winter's night,"was imbued it with an ancient twang, with Amidon wailing "I" as a holler from the past (think Soggy Bottom Boys and I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow). Satchel, one of my favorites off of All is Well, lost a bit without Muhly's arrangements but Amidon reveled in its crafted purity, playing it fast and loose.

Amidon most blatantly draws upon his roots in Kedron, one of the Sacred Harp hymns sung by his parents on the Word of Mouth Chorus album (which I highly recommend). His plaintive cry of "Come and mourn with me," was accompanied by a light dusting of electric guitar courtesy of Ismaily, a radically different style from that of his parents, but one which fits the spirit of the music. Ryan Sawyer, who goes by Lone Wolf, joined the duo on percussion for the final two songs. Pretty Fair Damsel formed another one of Amidon's bridges between folk and free jazz, matching that wonderfully anonymous dialogue present in so many ballads (in this case describing a woman retaining her faith to a man off at war) with an instrumental chaos worth of John Zorn (Ismaily has played with Zorn in the past). The final number combined Climbing High Mountains and What a Relief, both songs lighthearted and optimistic, the latter a joyful singalong. "What a relief," became an ennobling mantra, the oddity of an old-time tune repeated by a swath of hipsters on the Lower East Side.


The opening act, Partyface (featuring Ismaily and a female singer whose name I can't seem to find), was a little bit entrancing and a little bit frustrating. The difficult acoustics of the venue were most apparent in their short set; the singer's voice seemed to lose its sweetness in the amplification, and Ismaily's vocal backups disappeared as well. Her cool vibrato and low key guitar played off nicely with lyrics which tended towards the bitter and acerbic. Their best song, Violence (dedicated to "the intoxicating beauty of the oil spill"), curved from bleak to hopeful, and I lost myself in their sound. But often the music sounded scrappy and unplanned, and Amidon's well-rehearsed set was a breath of fresh air.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

farewell chicago

I made my final ORD-LGA trip on Tuesday, and will be in New York until September, except for brief stint in Israel. As I have alluded to before, I will be moving to Berlin in the fall to study Bernd Alois Zimmermann and company (btw, I forgot about that Berlin Diaries series---TBD if that will continue). I will remember fondly my four years in Evanston, filled to the brim with a wealth of incredible music, from Northwestern student performances to the Chicago Symphony.

Last Wednesday I took in my final CSO concert as a Chicago resident, choosing not to take notes but rather to let my mind wander through the dense orchestral wilderness. I heard an articulate Beethoven's First, a bold and astonishing Leonore Overture No. 3, and a buoyant and characteristically rhythmic Seventh Symphony (marred only by an Allegretto sapped of passion). It was a find send-off for me, but my true final Chicago musical experience took place on Saturday, at Northwestern University's grand convocation.

In front of an audience of thousands (I think?), I played tenor sax as a member of the renowned Graduation SWE, a wind ensemble compiled of graduates and ringers, many of whom will be going on to play in top-tier symphonies, conducted by Mallory Thompson. Though the repertoire was laden with a few dry staples (Pomp and Cirumstance, etc), we did hit many of the band classics: Holst's First Suite, Grainger's Shepherd's Hey, Gordon Jacobs' William Byrd Suite. With bravado and dramatic flair, SWE polished off these numbers easily. I am proud to have attended a university whose Alma Mater, whether or not anyone outside the music school knows it, is that St. Anthony chorale which Brahms mistakenly attributed to Haydn. And I am continuously astonished at the level of talent among my peers at Northwestern; I wish you, and all of the wonderful friends I have made in the past four years, the best of luck.

bang on a controller

According to always-entertaining Amanda Ameer, Bang on a Can has finally launched postminimalism into the final frontier of media: you can play Yo Shakespeare and Cheating, Lying, Stealing in Rock Band.

Listen to that crowd scream! It's hardcore.

I'll be at the BOAC Marathon this Sunday and will attempt to live-blog at least a large swath of it. Besides the O.G. Canners, I actually recognize very few names among the roster of composers. It should prove to be a new music punch to the gut.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

jimmy cracks corn and now i care

I was going to do a summary of several news items but they got to be too big for an aggregation, so I'll be posting several small commentaries in the coming week or so.

James Levine has officially pulled out of Tanglewood after a few months of wishy-washy speculation. I can't say I didn't see it coming, but it still sucks. The danger of losing Levine's presence at both the Met and Boston Symphony is not that we won't continue to have great performances led by guest conductors, but that we lose a key artistic gravity, a musical center around which these organizations can function. It endangers the rich cultural heritage that Levine has established already, especially at the Met--we need a specifically musical directorship guiding both the orchestra and singers. More than just leading performances, this is about building institutions: with the critical roar against Gelb's first fully-programmed Met year, Levine's wavering function there could leave the company musically, as well as dramatically, groundless. To lose him for the upcoming Ring would be a disaster--if we can't have him, the Met needs to announce that now and begin building the Lepage Ring towards a new musical presence, whether Fabio Luisi or someone else. Last minute cancellations of singers endanger a production, but last minute cancellations of a Ring conductor could jeopardize a very ambitious artistic endeavor.

Also, on a more personal note, Levine brought a certain seriousness to Tanglewood that apparently (I've only been attending since he came in 2005) was missing from the BSO's summer home in past years. His dedication to staged opera performances, attention to the high quality of the Tanglewood fellows, and unwillingness to compromise on a thorough and occasionally audience-alienating contemporary music weeekend, guaranteed that Tanglewood would never become a pops or lite-klassical spa vacation. It has always been a place for musical growth among students, professionals, and audiences, and needs a top-down manager like Levine to be its caretaker. Opening a summer festival season with Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony is an unlikely but brave move; hell, opening a summer festival with Mahler's Eighth is too. Immersed in Levine's Brahms symphony cycle six years ago, I found a love for classical music which has stuck through to this day. It's a remarkable place for everyone there, a magical summer idyll for discovery and rediscovery of the classics and the new. We need Levine's vision, and if he cannot bring it, then the BSO needs to find someone else quickly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

beethovenfest part 2

Friday, June 11 2010
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink, conductor

Beethoven, Leonore Overture No. 2
Symphony No. 4
Symphony No. 6

Whatever qualms I shared about last week's Beethoven kick-off were made irrelevant by Friday evening's performance. We again had two symphonies and a Leonore overture, but this time each work was a winner in its own way. One of my issues with Haitink's Eighth (and perhaps with his Fifth as well) was a lack of interpretive insight--his direction did not seem to bring anything new in particular to the music. Some critics tend to rail against conductors who have "interpretive agendas," who seemingly draw on elements not "inherent" in the music: these are usually the people who criticize HIPsters (as in historically informed performance). But I demand interpretive agendas from my conductors, and I want to hear something unique in every evening I spend at Symphony Center. For an orchestra to play a Beethoven symphony no different from any number of recordings leaves me cold. But Haitink and the CSO achieved something much greater than that on Friday.

Whereas much of last week's Leonore overture felt uncommitted, even flabby, Haitink imbued the second overture with a deep sense of thought and character. The opening chords had a sensual taper to them, with Beethoven's flecks of light and dark fluttering through the winds and strings. A halcyon chorale of winds created a spiritual but earthy atmosphere, and each of Haitink's pauses between the loud, rumbling pulses felt deliberate. After a brilliantly paced transiton, Haitink brought sheer ebuillence of the fast section, with deft and precise string playing and magisterial horns. The rest of the overture was operatic at its core, alternating between the shadow play of its quieter moments and the controlled chaos of its fortes. And the entrance of the trumpet sounded like something out of a dream; Chris Martin's resonant, full-bodied, and absolutely lyric tone captured Fidelio's sense of affirmation more succinctly than any performance of the full opera. Haitink's glorious blaze of a finish was Beethoven at its core, the joyful and boisterous intertwined into his ever-present message of human achievement and enlightenment.

Beethoven's Fourth Symphony is an odd little gem, a stop-gap between the mighty Third and Fifth, but one which resonates with its own special powers. It opens with a weird, humming chord: winds buzz with otherworldliness. The music moves away from this strange color but keeps returning, steady in its ambiguity. But finally, it explodes into a full-blooded sound, the playful, ripping Beethoven we're used to. It practically brims over with effervescence, and Haitink did an admirable job of balancing the jubilation with crisp virtuosity. Even a few rough patches of flute and oboe playing (the principal players hung back until the second half) didn't ruin the mood.

The Fourth's Adagio is one of those quintessentially Beethoven movements which make him impossible to place between the Classical and Romantic chapters in everybody's textbooks. A theme unfurls with jaunting, rhythmic grace, echoing the instrumental Mozart; but before long, it launches into something purely of the 19th century, with a rising and falling figure pulsing through an arc of forceful sound, teeming with unbridled power. Beethoven seamlessly transitions between these two musical worlds, juxtaposing anguish with refinement: Haitink took it all in stride, bringing vivid clarity to the classical sections and heightened tension to the romantic ones.

In the bustling scherzo, one moment most clearly stood out. I heard a delightful ping of horns but was surprised to find no brass actually playing: the two bassoonists somehow perfectly mimicked the sound of horns, a timbral coup for both Beethoven and the orchestra. The finale was a rollicking wonder. Sudden bouts of musical excess almost spilled over, but Haitink maintained absolute control, reveling in its puckish nature. And most importantly, Haitink brought a command to the score which demonstrated interpretive sagacity and careful intellect, much moreso than last week's Eighth.

I think the Sixth is Beethoven's one symphony which defies all I've already said about conductors, interpretation, and musical vision in regards to the composer's music. In this work I treasure above all that the conductor make himself completely invisible; I don't want to see a top-down, insightful approach, but instead I want the illusion that the music is self-creating, that all of the gorgeous pastoral nuance somehow plays itself. Of course this is illusion: a great performance of the Sixth requires just as much podium care and craft as the Fifth or Ninth. But because of the inherent naivete of the music, which transcends its pastoral imagery, the authority of the conductor seems somehow inappropriate.

And Haitink handled this completely correctly, attuning himself to the music and guiding it so its flow seemed almost supernaturally organic. The first movement, our introduction to the tranquility of the countryside, achieved a shimmering serenity. In that glowing moment towards the end, in which the strings reach an ecstatic height before pulling away slowly like the tides, Beethoven and Haitink came together as one. With principal players back on board (Dufour, in particular, was sorely missed in the Fourth), the dialogue between flute and clarinet in the coda was a feat, each note flawlessly placed. This incredible soundworld continued through the scene by the brook, which appeared effortless in Haitink's hands, bubbling with life. Again the woodwinds stole the show, with the trio of bird calls at the end, elegantly balanced and almost plaintive in its mystery.

A broad scherzo with a folksy oboe solo, in which tiny gestures coalesced into a leveled bawdiness, preceded the building tension of the storm. The basses roared, and the orchestra became a vehicle for destruction, a force of nature in Beethoven's neo-Baroque writing. After unleashing the orchestra, Haitink reined it back in: the clarinet and horn brought us back into the light in the purity of the finale. Woodwinds became a choir of pilgrims, and the silvery sheen of the strings evoked the sound of an organ. This is the pinnacle of nature as religion, the sublime Beethoven re-creating and romanticizing a series of benign images: the music is simply much, much better than any country, brook, or storm you will ever see. It was a magical Sixth.

A couple other notes:
Patrick Messina, the guest principal clarinetist visiting from the Orchestra National de France, practically stole the show. Each of his solos was understated, with an amazing blend and vocal timbre. Some orchestral musicians put a remarkable amount of care into their excerpts, inflecting each note with a different musical idea. But the best musicians eclipse this notion, making their instrument a completely natural cog within the orchestral machine, becoming the most beautiful part of the music without standing out from the pack, and raising the quality of the ensemble as a whole. Messina achieved this in every single note he played, and it was truly remarkable.

I'm usually okay with Phillip Huscher's program notes for the CSO, but one little sentence really bothered me. In describing the first movement of the Sixth, Huscher writes that "Surely no composer---including the so-called minimalists--has so clearly understood the impact of repeating a simple idea unaltered, or slowing the rate of harmonic change to a standstill." I don't think I need to say much, except that a side comment like that profoundly misunderstands both Beethoven and the so-called minimalists.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

recommended listening

Othmar Schoeck, Notturno with the Rosamunde Quartet and Christian Gerhaher.
Finally got around to listening to this after Alex mentioned it a few months back. It's a haunting, powerful work--one of those oddities I love where you have an unusual combination (string quartet and baritone) and then the composer goes ahead and only exploits it some of the time. Schoeck writes extended passages of lush string writing without voice, making each of Gerhaher's entrances all the more musically potent. And who doesn't love an entrancing major-key chaconne coda, marked by the same light, careful touch as the end chorus of Britten's A Midsummer's Night Dream.

Corey Dargel, Someone to Take Care of Me.
Everyone already knows about this (and hopefully bought it!) so I don't have to say much. Dargel's writing in Thirteen Near-Death Experiences for ICE is clever and sensitive, and the players give it the same level of technical proficiency and delicacy as Xenakis. The concept is solid, the execution flawless. I need to spend more time with the second disc/piece, Removable Parts--so far it seems remarkably different from Dargel's other music, and in a good way.

Alfred Schnittke, Symphony No. 2 with the Royal Scottish Philharmonic conducted by Leif Segerstam.
What a crazy, crazy piece. I just got a bunch of Schnittke CDs, in this BIS set, and listened to the Second Symphony today with the score. It's a mass setting within an instrumental symphony, with choral outbursts amid orchestral wildness. Schnittke's zany neo-Expressionism is at its best here, an eclecticism combining Medieval chant, greasy brass chorales, and hyper-intense string glissandi. When a wobbly, vibrato-laden electric guitar makes a two-bar appearance in the middle of a mass, you know you're in the right place.

Orkest de Volharding, The Minimalists.
Louis Andriessen's house band kicks ass on classic works by Reich, Riley, Adams, Gann (not sure if Sunken City is a classic; I'm also not sure if I like it, but need to give it another listening), Lang, and Andriessen himself. Still need to spend more time with this one as well, but their In C is fascinating. I don't know how deliberately they timed or rehearsed certain entrances of the cells, but somehow within the chugging texture emerge bizarre little brass fanfares, sudden hushed wind moments, and other effects I've never heard in the piece before. Sometimes it sounds a bit too polished, even pre-screened, but In C is such an open-ended piece (Robert Carl, in his book, compares it to a computer program) that it can work in this way too. And they've almost sold me on Reich's City Life, a piece I've always thought was a bit stupid.

Also, I was featured on this list of 50 blogs for music scholars. It's worth checking out--there are a few I didn't know about.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

beethovenfest part 1

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink, conductor

Beethoven, Overture to Fidelio
Symphony No. 8
Symphony No. 5

This year's last hurrah for the CSO consists of a Beethoven festival: all the symphonies, a smattering of overtures, and some chamber performances and lectures in the mix as well. Beethoven cycles, like Mahler cycles, are pretty standard right now--off the top of my head, I can think of two this year (BSO's failed Levine cycle and the Fischer/Lincoln Center cycle, part of which I attended) on the east coast alone. There is no want for Beethoven anywhere in the country, and certainly not in Chicago, where the CSO does a couple symphonies each year.

So what, exactly, is the big deal? One can argue that great performances of great music is a big deal unto itself. This is Haitink's final grand artistic statement with the orchestra before Muti takes over fully; although Chicago will continue to have a strong relationship with the eminent Dutchman, the orchestra will be in other hands. My problem is this, and one that I've raised a number of times on this blog, so I'll try not to harp on it: there are so many ways to make this festival more interesting. We really did not need a performance of the Fidelio overture last night: wouldn't it have been great if the orchestra had kicked off their Beethovenfest with a more recent piece which reflected upon, or took departure from, the grand legacy which Beethoven left behind? This festival could have been a great mix of Beethoven + ___, mixing Beethoven with either his lesser-performed contemporaries (Weber, Spohr) or recent composers who have dealt with Beethoven's ghost. Next time, swap out Fidelio for Kurtag's haunting Stele. It would have made a major difference.

Before delving into the concert itself, I should also note that this was the oldest audience I have seen at Symphony Center in my four years of attending concerts there. Whether this was because it was a Thursday subscription performance, or because the Beethoven fest was marketed towards older folks (fewer student tickets available?), I don't know. Hopefully the audience will get younger in the coming weeks, but it was a bit disappointing--I overheard a woman in the lobby near me saying "It's always nice to see young people at these kinds of things," which is never a good sign. That said, plenty of members of the older crowd do come to concerts to be engaged, and not always to take a musical bubble bath, as Alex Ross likes to call it; the woman next to me, for example, took issue with Haitink's tempos in the Eighth. This concrete knowledge of and deep love for the standard rep is not necessarily something you get with the younger audiences everyone's trying to attract (trust me, I know them).

I wish that Haitink had treated the thundering opening chords of the Fidelio overture, a classic example of Beethoven condensing operatic drama into instrumental form, with the full weight and might with which they resonate. Haitink led a not particularly forceful performance: the highlights of the overture came from the orchestra rather than a strong podium presence. Those opening chords were immediately followed by a silken strand of winds (with the merciful absence of Dale Clevenger), shimmering in the air like gold. Most notable was the excellent horn and clarinet playing of Daniel Gingrich and John Bruce Yeh. Unfortunately there were a number of rough patches in the strings, which through the entire first half lacked delicacy, with soft sections sounding overly muddy by CSO standards. I think Haitink's greatest skill is his incredible way of crafting and building dynamic changes; the crescendo about halfway through the overture rippled slowly to the fore, like a mountain coming into view through the fog. But overall the Fidelio was a perfunctory performance, without a strong sense of musical personality or vision.

That disappointment continued in a rather bland rendition of the Eighth Symphony. There's a cliche which often comes up in Beethoven discourse, that the even-numbered symphonies are his conservative "steps back" after the forward thinking of the Third, Fifth, and Seventh. That argument doesn't hold up to real scrutiny, especially given the revolutionary qualities of the Sixth, but I think it does have some bearing on the Eighth. For me, it's probably Beethoven's least interesting symphony, especially following the knockout Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh. In the Eighth, I value clarity of thought and musical rhetoric, fleet and brisk tempos, and a humorous, Haydnesque bounce and lilt to the style. Haitink's broad interpretation lacked all of those signifiers, and just seemed to fall flat. His tempos, although faster than traditional, did not sound as light-footed as those from his London Symphony cycle.

The first movement had a few notable moments--the rich opening and characteristic choppiness in the coda--but was marred by uneven string playing and Haitink's inattention to some of its best parts. He didn't do much with the weirdness of the development, with its bizarre viola/cello ostinato and murmuring winds, which points ahead to Schubert and Mahler. In the curt middle movements, the cutesy tick-tock Allegretto and blooming Minuet, Haitink's conducting missed the key rhythmic propulsion, the drive which sustains the best performances and recordings of the Eighth. Once again the winds saved the day, with fantastic bassoon, clarinet, and especially horn playing in the third movement's trio; and Vadim Karpinos's resonant timpani in the minuet almost made up for sloppy cello passagework.

By the finale, though, the orchestra seemed to find its footing. They reclaimed a beautiful softness in the opening, with the strings creating the sensitive whirlwind of precision necessary in the Eighth. Haitink, though, was still not entirely convincing in his interpretation. Where was the zest, the joy of life so omnipresent in all of Beethoven's music, and exuberantly expressed in this symphony? It eventually exploded with Karpinos' wild timpani at the end, where Haitink finally matched Beethoven in having some fun with the music.

Luckily, the Fifth fared much better. This is a work which benefits from Haitink's elder statesman presence. The orchestra plays it frequently enough to be able to lead a technically solid rendition, and Haitink used his architectural sense of interpretation to mold the four-movement progression into a slow burn. Each climax sounded carefully planned, like bricks laid towards an ornate cathedral. The infamous beginning was taut and quick, almost dance-like, worlds away the stop-start melodrama of Solti's (and his contemporaries') recordings. It had the sweep and pacing which the Eighth lacked, with piquant horn calls, a breathtaking oboe soliloquy, and a massive, powerful fugue.

It is easy to forget how bizarrely raucous Beethoven's symphonies must have sounded at the time of their premieres. The Fifth in particular, with its first performance in that massive four-plus-hour concert with hardly any rehearsal time, probably cleaned out the ears of an 1808 audience like how Shostakovich's Seventh or Corigliano's Circus Maximus might today. Haitink's second movement perfectly combined the stately and noisy in one sound world, with Beethoven's violence and nobility existing side-by-side. There were the stentorian tones of the brass, crystalline winds, instants of eerie calm, and a lively, brief double-time section in the coda.

Haitink led a delightfully mysterious scherzo, a series of entrancing questions and answers. All the horns went balls to the wall, announcing their presence like a cavalry, and the devilishly difficult low strings tutti was intense and precise while still retaining its inherent rustic quality. The forty-second build from the spookiness of the scherzo to the brazen heroism of the finale, easily the best transition ever (and stolen by Mussorgsky for the end of Pictures at an Exhibition), seems to be written for Haitink. His mastery of the gradual crescendo, keeping the music minutely soft until the last possible moment before revving the engine---going from absolutely nothing to everything---is why we pay him the big bucks. His rousing, stirring finale, with glowing brass (who ocasionally, especially on the low end, went overboard), capped off a fantastic Fifth.

I'll be making it to all of the rest of the cycle except for the Ninth, and will probably reflect upon the whole thing after my individual reviews. Next up is the Second and Third. I heard the same program with Ivan Fischer and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in March; let's see if the CSO is up to the challenge of topping that amazing performance.