Thursday, January 01, 2009

On the 8th Day of Christmas: New Years Music

Having spent much of my life in school, one way or another, or in the arts community (or both) where the “new year” began after Labor Day, the By-the-Calendar New Years Day was never as big a deal for me. In fact, it’s always been a difficult holiday. I don’t drink and I hate being out on the road on “amateurs’ night.” I'm not a party person, either, but even as a stay-at-home holiday, New Year's Day is for the birds. For one thing, I grew up in Central Pennsylvania with a Pennsylvania Dutch background which means eating pork-and-sauerkraut on New Years Day to bring you Good Luck during the New Year. The only other thing to do on New Year’s Day was to sit around watching football games. There are two things I can’t stand – eating pork-and-sauerkraut and watching football games: what kind of holiday is that?!

Last night, I stayed up to watch various Droppings on television - in addition to delayed coverage of local events around the midstate, the focus was on the Center of the Universe: New York City and the dropping of the vast crystal ball in Times Square.

When I was living in New York, I attended an organ recital of music by Olivier Messiaen at a church just a block from Times Square on New Year’s Eve, 1978. Having no interest in being part of this vast crowd soon to gather there, I decided I would head home to 101st & Broadway, thinking it would be a great night to walk. It was about 5:30 or so, fairly mild but exhilirating for what would be a 3 mile walk. But I felt like a salmon: I was the only person in the city walking north. The whole world was headed south toward Times Square.

I’d gotten home, ate the Chinese Take-Out and some bagels I’d picked up on the way back, but feeling very tired, fell asleep around 10:30. I awoke to a commotion outside my apartment and, like the father in The Night Before Christmas, I dashed to my window and threw open the... well, whatever passed for a sash and a shutter only to discover no one on the street below but the steady roar of a distant crowd as thousands of people cheared in the New Year three miles away!

Last night, the cats and I watched the 2008 festivities, glad to be indoors and warm, not the least bit interested in the musical entertainment they were offering but amazed to see Dick Clark as enthusiastic as ever, considering his stroke a few years ago. When the ball dropped and the fireworks began, I wished the cats a Happy New Year and they, startled by all the noise on TV, looked back at me in complete innocence: "We had nothing to do with that!" Then they started romping and bouncing from one wall of the living room to the other, until it was time to ring in the New Year in Chicago. I, however, had long ago gone to bed (or tried to).

I’ve never understood New Year’s DAY as a holiday in this country - the holiday is really New Year's Eve. Everybody wants to have New Year's Day off to recuperate from the night before. And who wants to go to work anyway if your coworkers are going to reak of sauerkraut?

In Europe, it’s a day to visit friends. I’m not sure how that works: if you’re running around visiting friends, how are you going to be at home to receive those friends who are out running around visiting friends?

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

New Year’s Day also means “The New Year’s Day Concert with the Vienna Philharmonic” with a bevy of light classics running the gamut of the Johann Strauss family – normally music I wouldn’t go hear in a concert if you dragged me (kicking, screaming) even with the promise of a free ticket and perhaps dinner afterward (for a month).

Years ago, these concerts were the domain of concertmaster Wili Boskovsky who certainly had the style down tight, having played in the orchestra from 1936 to 1979. These days, marketing and the primacy of Big Name Box Office being what they are, this is too big a deal, apparently, to leave to “local” talent so they have an array of high-priced guest conductors year after year. And it is then broadcast “live” on PBS Television.

Some American orchestras have taken up the tradition of playing light holiday concerts but on New Year’s Eve also playing programs that usually run.. well, the gamut of the Johann Strauss Family. Only in Vienna, they’re the Local Boys.

Americans are generally very good about imitating European models but very rarely putting an American stamp on it: when European orchestras come to the United States on tour, they play the great masterworks by their own “Native Son” composers, so when American orchestras go to Europe on tour, they usually play the great masterworks by the “Native Son” composers of the countries their touring – is it the arrogance of showing them how well we can do it? – rather than music of our own composers, beyond a handful like Copland, Bernstein or Gershwin.

But this is New Year’s Day, so let’s not grouse: after all, nothing says Happy New Year quite like listening to a Strauss waltz - sung by chickens.

So I have started off the New Year not with any resolution-oriented plan to get more organized but I think out of a certain amount of boredom – it was either that or watch TV last night – I set up my Google Reader to be alerted to postings on my favorite blogs. Of course, now the problem is, rather than going around to visit them on my own schedule and often finding no one home (or rather, no one’s posted anything new), I am now alerted to any new posts automatically. In other words, they come to my door. Unfortunately, now it means I feel compelled to read them immediately so as to avoid the pile-up of unread posts, like an overflow of e-mail waving for attention. Otherwise, I feel like I’m hiding in the hallway hoping they’ll think no one is home and go away. One step forward solves one problem, but one step backward creates another.

Anyway, at “On an Overgrown Path,” Pliable writes about the Vienna Phil New Year’s Day concert and includes two video posts I highly recommend: one of Boskovsky conducting in 1968 – a little polka by Johann Strauss, “Eingesendet” – but more importantly an interview with Boskovsky reminiscing about some of the great conductors he had worked with as concertmaster of the orchestra, ranging from Richard Strauss to Leonard Bernstein. Intriguing insights into the working relationships between Maestros and Orchestra Musicians!

*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Meanwhile, celebrating New Year’s Day with New Music is not something you’re likely to hear in this country, either.

As for the rest of the year, I saw that Jennifer Higdon, who celebrated her birthday yesterday, has a new Violin Concerto written for Hilary Hahn which will be premiered in Indianapolis in February and, after performances in Europe, will reach the East Coast in a performance with the Baltimore Symphony, conducted by Marin Alsop, in early June.

For those who’ve heard Ms. Higdon’s Percussion Concerto with the Harrisburg Symphony (a new arrangement of the concerto with wind ensemble will be premiered in May ‘09 with the United States Marine Band and Chris Rose, the principal percussionist of the Harrisburg Symphony who was the soloist for the performance here), or “river sings a song to trees,” a selection from “CityScape” with the Lancaster Symphony - both in March of ‘08 - or perhaps have heard “Blue Cathedral” or her Concerto for Orchestra on the radio – you may want to think about these two words: ROAD TRIP!

Composer Dan Welcher celebrates the New Year by announcing today on Facebook that he’s just completed his Fifth Symphony (while other people were finishing fifths of another kind). I was looking on-line to order Welcher’s Violin Concerto, a release from 2003, and found it at H&B – much to my added delight, it is conducted by a former student of mine from the UConn Days, Larry Rachleff!

Playlist – something unusual for me, since I normally don’t like to use music as background for anything except listening to music (unless, for some reason, when I’m driving) – here’s what I’ve been listening to so far today:

Domenick Argento: Casa Guidi (song cycle written in 1983; revised & orchestrated with mezzo Frederica von Stade, a Grammy Winner, 2004)
Jennifer Higdon: Concerto for Orchestra (2002; past Grammy nominee; I heard the world premiere of this with the Philadelphia Orchestra, my introduction to her incredible music)
Sofia Gubaidulina: In tempus praesens (2007) with Anne-Sophie Mutter (Grammy nominee this year)
Arnold Schoenberg: Violin Concerto (current Grammy nominee) with Hilary Hahn – granted, Schoenberg may not be “new,” written in 1936, though it still meets with the usual resistance audiences have habitually shown toward New Music in General.

Another link I found this morning and haven’t been able to get out of my head - making it a difficult day to compose - was this performance of Wojciech Kilar’s “Orawa.” Kilar came from the same generation of Polish composers that produced Lutoslawski and Penderecki, though he never became as well known. This piece, written in 1988 and inspired by folk-dance elements, sounds a bit like “Polish Glass” and it’s performed by Agnieszka Duczmal with the chamber orchestra Amadeus (found, thanks to Sequenza 21). Ignore the first 10 seconds of extraneous music: though it was filmed from the back of the 1st violin section and the sound in the cathedral may not be the greatest, the performance rocks!

So, wishing you lots of great music (new and otherwise) in the New Year!

- Dr. Dick

No comments:

Post a Comment