Archive for the Music Category

Tonight is Culture Night!

Posted in Art, Maynooth, Music with tags on September 21, 2018 by telescoper

Just time for a quick post to mention that tonight is Culture Night in Ireland, which means that over 1600 venues around the country are open this evening for free cultural events. Museums, art galleries and other public buildings and spaces will open later this evening to welcome the general public and there are scores of free concerts going on all over the place. There’s a useful guide here.There are some events in Maynooth tonight, including one at Maynooth Castle.

I would have gone to tonight’s free concert at the National Concert Hall. Although it’s free you have to book a ticket because the capacity is limited and unfortunately I was too late getting around to doing that so couldn’t get in. I’ll probably listen to it on the radio tonight instead.

I think Culture Night is a great idea, as it encourages people to sample cultural fare they might otherwise not get around to trying, and may boost the audiences for the rest of the year as a result. I wonder if anyone has ever thought of running a Culture Night in, say, Cardiff?

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When The Saints Go Marching In

Posted in Music with tags , , on September 19, 2018 by telescoper

As a bit of a change from Open Journal of Astrophysics stuff I thought I’d post this very hot Gospel number featuring the very wonderful Mahalia Jackson, whose many claims to fame include the fact that she gave singing lessons to Aretha Franklin. If you think her voice sounds powerful in this recording, then it’s even more impressive when you see that in this live performance at the Newport Jazz Festival she was standing way back from the microphone! She wasn’t called `The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer’ for nothing.

Anyway, if you look at the title of this piece and think `Oh no, not that old one again’ because it has been done to death by Trad Jazz bands then please give it a listen because I think this version really rocks. The tune When The Saints Go Marching In is an old spiritual and, as such, was composed by the person who wrote all the best music: `Trad’.

One of the things about Gospel music is that it’s usually played in a very distinctive 4/4 which makes it very difficult to resist clapping. But why do so many people -even at Jazz festivals – find it so hard to clap on the right beat? It only works if you clap on an off beat (i.e. beats 2 and 4). If you clap on all the beats or just on the on beats it just kills the rhythm. On this track you’ll hear that Ms Jackson has to deliver clapping instructions not once but twice to an audience that seems to insist to clap on every beat of the bar (and on some beats that don’t correlate with the actual rhythm in any way). I guess “All God’s Children Got Rhythm” might not actually be a true statement.

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (`Resurrection’) at the National Concert Hall, Dublin

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2018 by telescoper

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the opening performance of the new season of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. As well as being the first concert of the season, it was also my first ever visit to the National Concert Hall. To mark the occasion we were in the presence of the Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, and his wife Sabena. By `occasion’ I of course mean the first concert of the season, rather than my first visit to the NCH. After the concert the audience were all treated to a glass of Prosecco on the house too!

I’ve done quite a few reviews from St David’s Hall in Cardiff over the years, so before writing about the music I thought I’d compare the venues a little. The National Concert Hall was built in 1865 and soon after its construction it was converted into the main building of University College Dublin. It was converted to a concert venue when UCD moved out of the city centre, and fully re-opened in 1981. It is a bit smaller than St David’s – capacity 1200, compared with 2000 – and does not have such a fine acoustic, but it is a very nice venue with a distinctive and decidedly more intimate vibe all of its own. I had a seat in the centre stalls, which cost me €40, which is about the same as one would expect to pay in Cardiff.

The NCH is situated close to St Stephen’s Green, which is a 15 minute walk from Pearse Station or a 30 minute walk from Connolly (both of which are served by trains from Maynooth). The weather was pleasant yesterday evening so I walked rather than taking the bus or Luas from Connolly. I passed a number of inviting hostelries on the way but resisted the temptation to stop for a pint in favour of a glass of wine in the NCH bar before the performance.

Anyway, last night’s curtain-raiser involved just one piece – but what a piece! – Symphony No.2 (“Resurrection”) by Gustav Mahler. This is a colossal work, in five movements, that lasts about 90 minutes. The performance involved not only a huge orchestra, numbering about a hundred musicians, but also two solo vocalists and a sizeable choir (although the choir does not make its entrance until the start of the long final movement, about an hour into the piece). The choir in this case was the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir. At various points trumpets and/or French horns moved offstage into the wings and, for the finale, into the gallery beside the choir.

About two years ago I blogged about the first performance I had ever heard of the same work. Hearing it again in a different environment in no way diminished its impact.

Stunning though the finale undoubtedly was, I was gripped all the way through, from the relatively sombre but subtly expressive opening movement, through the joyously dancing second that recalls happier times, the third which is based on a Jewish folk tune and which ends in a shattering climax Mahler described as “a shriek of despair”, and the fourth which is built around a setting of one of the songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, sung beautifully by Jennifer Johnson (standing in wonderfully for Patricia Bardon, who was unfortunately indisposed). Jennifer Johnson has a lovely velvety voice very well suited to this piece, which seems more like a contralto part than a mezzo. The changing moods of the work are underlined by a tonality that shifts from minor to major and back again. All that was very well performed, but as I suspect is always the case in performances of this work, it was the climactic final movement – which lasts almost half an hour and is based on setting of a poem mostly written by Mahler himself, sung by Orla Boylan – that packs the strongest emotional punch.

The massed ranks of the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir (all 160 of them) weren’t called upon until this final movement, but as soon as they started to sing they made an immediate impact. As the symphony moved inexorably towards its climax the hairs on the back of my neck stood up in anticipation of a thrilling sound to come. I wasn’t disappointed. The final stages of this piece are sublime, jubilant, shattering, transcendent but, above all, magnificently, exquisitely loud! The Choir, responding in appropriate fashion to Mahler’s instruction to sing mit höchster Kraft, combined with the full force of the Orchestra and the fine concert organ of the NCH to create an overwhelming wall of radiant sound.

Mahler himself wrote of the final movement:

The increasing tension, working up to the final climax, is so tremendous that I don’t know myself, now that it is over, how I ever came to write it.

Well, who knows where genius comes from, but Mahler was undoubtedly a genius. People often stay that his compositions are miserable, angst-ridden and depressing. I don’t find that at all. It’s true that this, as well as Mahler’s other great works, takes you on an emotional journey that is at times a difficult one. There are passages that are filled with apprehension or even dread. But without darkness there is no light. The ending of the Resurrection Symphony is all the more triumphant because of what has come before.

The end of the performance was greeted with rapturous applause (and a well-deserved standing ovation). Congratulations to conductor Robert Trevino, the soloists, choir and all the musicians for a memorable concert. On my way out after the Prosecco I picked up the brochure for the forthcoming season by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, which runs until next May. I won’t be attend all the Friday-night concerts, but I will try to make as many as I can of the ones that don’t involve harpsichords.

Update: I hadn’t realised that the concert was actually broadcast on TV and then put on YouTube; here is a video of the whole thing:

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Posted in Music with tags , , on August 30, 2018 by telescoper

And now for something completely different.

I heard part of this on the Radio the other night, and thought I’d share it here. It’s definitely one of the strangest pieces of music I’ve ever heard, but I find it very moving and, in its own way, compelling. The full story can be found here, but is summarized the composer Gavin Bryars:

In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song – sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads – and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song – 13 bars in length – formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way.

I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man’s singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the homeless man’s nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.

Several versions of this piece exist. This one, recorded in 1993, is 74 minutes long. It begins with the unaccompanied voice of the old man to which instrumental accompaniment of increasing depth and texture is gradually added and, for the last twenty minutes or so, there is also the voice of Tom Waits…

Humphrey Lyttelton & Elkie Brooks – Trouble in Mind

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2018 by telescoper

Mention the name Elkie Brooks to people of my generation or older and most will think of her popular hits from the late 1970s, especially Pearl’s A Singer which made the UK Top Ten in 1977. Elkie Brooks has however had a long and very distinguished career as a Jazz and Blues singer, including regular performances over the years with trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton and his band. This particular track was recorded in 2002, when Humph was already in his eighties, but I think it’s a lovely performance so I thought I’d share it here.

Trouble in Mind is a very familiar tune that has been recorded countless times by jazz musicians. In fact an earlier manifestation of Humph’s Band made a very nice instrumental version way back in 1950 which I have on an old Parlophone 78. The tune is usually credited to Richard M. Jones, but it has its roots in much older spirituals and folk songs. There are a couple of things worth mentioning about it despite it being so well known.. Although Trouble in Mind is a blues, it is a slightly unusual one because it’s an eight-bar blues rather than the more usual twelve-bar variety. The other thing is that there’s something about this tune that suits a rhythm accompaniment in sixth notes, as exemplified by drummer Adrian Macintosh on this track when the vocal starts.

There’s also some fine trombone on this (by Pete Strange) and a nice bit of banter from Humph at the beginning. Enjoy!

Say A Little Prayer

Posted in Music with tags on August 15, 2018 by telescoper

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is gravely ill. You could do worse than say a little prayer for her…

Update: I’ve just heard the sad news that Aretha Franklin died today (Thursday 16th August 2018)  at her home.

R.I.P. the Queen of Soul.

Sidney Bechet’s Blue Horizon

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on July 25, 2018 by telescoper

Having moved some of my CD & record collection to Ireland, I was listening to some music last night including this track that I blogged about many moons ago. Looking at that old post this morning, I noticed that the Youtube link was defunct so decided to update it. More importantly, I realized that I’d made a few mistakes which I thought I should correct, as well as some other edits.

This slow blues features an extended clarinet solo by the great Sidney Bechet. I’ve loved Blue Horizon ever since I was a kid, and think it has a good claim to be the finest instrumental blues ever recorded.  I also heard it more recently at the funeral of one of my Dad’s old jazz friends. Listening to in that context, it struck me that it’s not just one of the greatest blues performances, but must also be one of the greatest laments that has ever been produced in music of any kind. It’s absolutely pure sadness – there’s no bitterness, anger or resentment about it – and it develops through the stately choruses into a sense of great pride and even, ultimately, of triumph.

Many years I blogged about the thrill of high-speed jazz. This performance is at the other end of the scale in terms of tempo, but you can still feel pull of the harmonic progression underlying the tune which in this case is basically the standard 12-bar blues, but with a few substitute chords thrown in.  The last set of four bars in the 12-bar blues ends with the familiar  V-IV-I cadential pattern (often known as the blues cadence) leading back to the root at the end of each chorus. Although Bechet plays quite a lot across the bar lines, the gravitational pull of that sequence of chords is very strong and it tells you very clearly that one chapter of the story has finished and another is about to start.

Bechet builds his solo over this relatively simple structure in  six choruses in a slow and stately fashion, but makes telling use of searing  blue notes of heart-rending emotional power as the intensity builds. If you don’t know what a blue note is then listen, from about 2.12 onwards, to a chorus that always makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

I should also mention that the fine piano accompaniment on this all-time classic piece (recorded in December 1944) is provided by Art Hodes and the mournful response from the trombone is supplied by Vic Dickenson. Bechet’s raw power and very broad vibrato probably won’t suit scholars of the classical clarinet, but I think this is absolutely wonderful. If I ever had to compile a list of my all-time favourite records, this would definitely be on it.