Archive for the Music Category

O Grande Amor – Getz & Gilberto

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on July 8, 2019 by telescoper

There was a time in the 1960s when the Bossa Nova seemed to be everywhere and no one person did more to stimulate the growth of this uniquely Brazilian musical form than singer, guitarist and composer João Gilberto, who passed away on Saturday 6th July at the age of 88. It was Gilberto’s collaboration with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz (and, on some tracks, his wife Astrud Gilberto) on the award-winning album Getz/Gilberto that made the Bossa Nova go global, penetrating not only the world of jazz but the much wider cultural sphere including pop and film music. The most famous track from Getz/Gilberto is undoubtedly The Girl From Ipanema which was a smash hit around the globe in 1964, but my own favourite number from that album is this, with lovely playing by Stan Getz and characteristically understated, almost whispered vocal by João Gilberto himself.

Rest in Peace João Gilberto (1931-2019)

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Summertime – Henry “Red” Allen & Coleman Hawkins

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on June 27, 2019 by telescoper

Summer seems to have made it to Ireland at last so here’s an appropriate piece of music. It’s George Gershwin’s Summertime, played in 1958 by a band led by trumpeter Henry “Red”Allen that included the great Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax. This record came from a session that Henry Allen said near the end of his life that he regarded as his best work, and indeed his playing on this is absolutely beautiful (as is that of Coleman Hawkins). Other musicians on this track are Earl Warren (clarinet), Marty Napoleon (piano), Chubby Jackson (bass) and George Wettling (drums). Enjoy!

Synthesis – Con Moto

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , on June 25, 2019 by telescoper

You will have to be of a certain age to remember this piece of music, the second movement (Con Moto) of a four-part work called Synthesis by Laurie Johnson who was a renowned composer of TV themes. This piece, however, written for Jazz Big Band and Symphony Orchestra, was used for many years as the intro theme Sounds of Jazz, a BBC2 Radio 2 programme presented on Sunday evenings by Peter Clayton. I always used to switch over from John Peel when Sounds of Jazz started, but we never got to hear more than the first minute or so so here’s the whole piece.

There are some exceptional British musicians on this track, including Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Tubby Hayes and Tony Coe on reeds, and the great Stan Tracey on piano. It’s the London Jazz Orchestra, in fact, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Now, for bonus marks, can anyone remember what was the music used to close this show?

The Magic Flute at the Gaiety Theatre

Posted in Opera with tags , , , , on May 25, 2019 by telescoper

Last night went for the first time to the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin for a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute by Irish National Opera in conjunction with the Irish Chamber Orchestra. It was my first INO performance and my first visit to the Gaiety Theatre (although I’m sure it won’t be the last of either of those). I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the Magic Flute but I hope this won’t be the last either!

The Gaiety Theatre is quite compact, which engenders a more intimate atmosphere than is often experienced at the Opera. The music being provided by a small-ish chamber orchestra also suited the venue, but more importantly gave a fresh and sprightly feeling to Mozart’s wonderful score. You would think it would be hard to make Mozart sound stodgy, but some orchestras seem to manage it. Not last night though.

The scenery is rather simple, as is needed for touring Opera playing in relatively small venues. The stage directions of the Magic Flute are in any case so outlandish that it’s virtually impossible to enact them precisely according to instructions.

For example, what is the set designer supposed to do with this?

The scene is transformed into two large mountains; one with a thundering waterfall, the other belching out fire; each mountain has an open grid, through which fire and water may be seen; where the fire burns the horizon is coloured brightly red, and where the water is there lies a black fog.

This production takes the sensible approach of leaving a lot to the imagination of the audience though that does mean, for example, that there is no dragon…

The costumes are a different matter. The hero Tamino begins in the drab clothes of a working man of the 19th century, as do the three ladies that he encounters early on in Act I. The enigmatic Sarastro and his followers are however dressed as the gentry of a similar period, and are accompanied by a chorus of domestic servants. As Tamino works his way into the Brotherhood he becomes progressively gentrified in manner and in clothing. A central idea of the Opera is that of enlightenment values prevailing over superstition, but under the surface oppression remains, both in the form imposed by property-owners on the working poor, but also in the misogynistic behaviour of Sarastro and others, and the racist stereotyping of the villainous and lustful `Moor’, Monastatos. This production is sung in the original German, and there were gasps from the audience when they saw some of the surtitles in English. Although Magic Flute is on one level a hugely enjoyable comic fantasy, it also holds up a mirror to attitudes of Mozart’s time – and what you see in it is not pleasant, especially when you realize that many of these are still with us.

Importantly, however, this undercurrent does not detract from the basic silliness which I believe is the real key to this Opera. It’s fundamentally daft, but it succeeds because it’s daft in exactly the same way that real life is.

In last night’s performance the two fine leads were Anna Devin was Pamina (soprano) and Nick Pritchard Tamino (tenor). The excellent Gavan Ring provided suitable comic relief and a fine baritone voice to boot. Kim Sheehan (soprano) as the Queen of the Night doesn’t have the biggest voice I’ve ever heard, but she sang her extraordinarily difficult coloratura arias (one of them including a top `F’) with great accuracy and agility and brought a considerable pathos to her role instead of making it the pantomime villain you sometimes find. Sarastro was Lukas Jakobski (bass), memorable not only for his superb singing way down in the register, but for his commanding physical presence. Well over 2 metres tall, he towered over the rest of the cast. I think he’s the scariest Sarastro I’ve ever seen!

And finally I should congratulate the three boys: Nicholas O’Neill, Seán Hughes and Oran Murphy. These roles are extremely demanding for young voices and the three who performed last night deserved their ovation at the end.

The last performances in this run are today (Saturday 25th May, matinée and evening) so this review is too late to make anyone decide to go and see it but last night’s was recorded for RTÉ Lyric Fm and will be broadcast at a future date.

The Week Ahead

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, Opera, The Universe and Stuff on May 20, 2019 by telescoper

Well, my little jaunt back to Wales is almost over and I’ll soon be heading back to Maynooth for a very busy rest of the week.

The two examinations I’ve set this term are tomorrow (Engineering Maths) and Wednesday (Computational Physics). I’ll try to make a start on the marking as soon as I get my hands on the scripts, but on Thursday and Friday there is the annual Irish Quantum Foundations meeting, which this year is being hosted by Trinity College Dublin. I gave a talk at the same event last year, but this time I’m just in the audience.

Some time on Friday I have to cast my vote in the elections to the Local Council and European Parliament being held in Ireland. There is also a referendum to do with changing the law on divorce.

And after all that, on Friday evening, I’ll be paying my first ever visit to the famous Gaiety Theatre in Dublin for my first ever experience of Irish National Opera.

Schreechenrauf!

Posted in Opera with tags on May 16, 2019 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist sharing this hilarious introduction to the art of the Wagnerian dramatic soprano from the sublime Anna Russell.

 

Bealtaine and a Vicennial

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , on May 1, 2019 by telescoper

This morning I found that today is called Beltane (Lá Bealtaine in Irish) an old Celtic festival that marks the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. According to my calculations that should be May 6th, but that’s close enough I suppose. Anyway, let me offer a hearty `Lá Bealtaine sona daoibh‘!

Today is also the twentieth anniversary of the first broadcast by RTE Lyric FM which first went on air on May 1st 1999. Since I moved to Ireland in 2017 I’ve been a regular listener to Lyric FM in the mornings and evenings. I particularly enjoy the eclectic mix of music played by John Kelly on Mystery Train followed by Bernard Clarke on The Blue of the Night during the week. Both are very knowledgeable presenters who are happy to play rare and unusual music and to respond to inquiries about the music played. Bernard Clarke has even played a couple of requests of mine, both of them jazz records. During the late evenings at the weekend I listen to Ellen Cranitch whose show Vespertine is `a night-time voyage, crossing time and space to share a selection of classical, jazz, roots and contemporary music’. You never quite know what’s coming up next on any of these programmes.

Anyway, there’s a big gala concert happening tonight at the National Concert Hall in Dublin by way of a vicennial celebration. I didn’t get my act together to buy a ticket, but I’ll be listening on my wireless at home. Possibly with a glass or several of wine.

When Lyric FM was launched on 1st May 1999 I had recently moved out of London to Nottingham where I had my first Professorship. Since then I moved to Cardiff, then to Sussex, back to Cardiff, and then to Maynooth. I bet quite a lot has happened to the radio station too!