Archive for the Music Category

The Dvořák Requiem at the National Concert Hall in Dublin

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by telescoper

Following my decision to see more live music in 2020, last night found me taking my seat at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance of the Requiem in  Bminor by Antonín Dvořák (Op. 89) featuring the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Philharmonia Choir conducted by Patrik Ringborg with solo vocalists Adrienn Miksch (soprano), Patricia Bardon (alto-, Julian Hubbard (tenor) and William Thomas (bass). The members of the choir were just taking their places as I sat down (as were other members of the audience).

I hadn’t heard Dvořák’s Requiem before last night’s concert. Indeed before I saw the advert for the concert I didn’t even know it existed. It just doesn’t seem to be performed vary often. Heaven knows why, because it’s actually rather wonderful. It does involve large orchestral forces, a full choir and a concert organ, but then so do many other works that are performed very frequently in concert halls around the world.

The Dvořák Requiem consists of thirteen sections divided into two Parts (with an interval between them) and is based on settings of the traditional Latin mass for the dead. The music lasts about 95 minutes altogether. The prevailing mood for Part 1 is at times mysterious, restless, questioning and reflective while Part 2 is much more affirmative, even at times joyous, with some uplifting (and wonderfully loud) tutti passages. Although ostensibly in a minor key, there’s much more of the feeling of a major key tonality during the later stages. Overall the piece ends up seeming more of a celebration of life rather than a lament for the dead.   Throughout the piece there’s interesting interplay between choir, orchestra and soloists and it’s also very melodic, as you would probably expect from Dvořák.

After a slightly hesitant start, both choir and orchestra soon got into the swing of things and produced a superb concert that ended up drawing a standing ovation from the audience in the National Concert Hall. Last night’s concert was, I’m glad to say, sold out.

Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it: the whole concert is on Youtube (it starts about 3 minutes in).

P.S. You will soon see that the presenter last night was not the usual Paul Herriott, but Aedín Gormley.




Not my New Year’s Resolutions

Posted in Biographical, Music on January 2, 2020 by telescoper

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

from Four Quartets, ‘Little Gidding’ by T. S. Eliot.

I said yesterday that I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions (largely because I know I’m no good at keeping them) but in an idle moment this morning (or should I say “a period of reflection”?) I posted on Twitter a few things I hope to achieve in 2020 and thought I’d share them here.

In no particular order:

  1. Go to more live concerts. Although I enjoy the radio and recordings, I far prefer to listen to live music at concerts. Attending such events helps also support the venues and musicians as without an audience both would die. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t heard any live jazz in Ireland!
  2. See more of Ireland. I moved to Maynooth two years ago but apart from one visit to Galway and one to Armagh I still haven’t travelled much beyond the Dublin area. I must get around more, especially to the South.
  3. No more working weekends. I’ve been in the office for at least one day every weekend since I started at Maynooth. I did the same when I was at Sussex too, and seem to have relapsed. I have always had problems managing my own work/life balance but I realise it’s not setting a good example to younger folk to be getting it so obviously wrong. I’ll add not reading work emails at weekends to this.
  4. Be a better colleague. This is something I think one should always strive to be, but I have particular need to improve. I know that over the last four years or so things weighed very heavily on me behind the scenes and I ended up letting people down on too many occasions. I apologise for that and will try to do better in future.
  5. Read more books. I used to be a voracious reader of all kinds of books, both fiction and non-fiction, but I somehow got out of the habit. I now have a stack of unread works that I must try to read before the year is out!
  6. Finish more things! Not unrelated to No. 4 above, I have been very poor over the last few years at completing projects and writing papers. I need to clear the backlog and get on with some new things.
  7. Do more to promote Open Access publishing. I’m not surprised that the status quo in academic publishing is proving hard to dislodge, but I believe that change can be achieved if researchers take the initiative. I’m proud of what we have achieved so far at the Open Journal of Astrophysics but there’s much more to be done.

There are some others, but they’re too personal to put on here!

There are bad times just around the corner – Noel Coward

Posted in Music, Politics with tags , on December 16, 2019 by telescoper

And the Band played Waltzing Matilda

Posted in Music with tags , on December 5, 2019 by telescoper

I heard this moving anti-war song performed by Liam Clancy on the radio yesterday on the 10th anniversary of his death and thought I’d share it here.

R.I.P. Jonathan Miller (1934-2019) – The Piano in Question

Posted in Music, Television with tags , , on November 27, 2019 by telescoper

I was very sad to read just now of the death of writer, humorist, director and polymath Dr Jonathan Miller who has passed away at the age of 85. The papers are already filled with tributes to Jonathan Miller to which I’ll add a personal recollection that made a big impression on me when I was young and which makes me remember Dr Miller with great fondness.

While I was at school I was captivated by the BBC TV series, directed and introduced by Jonathan Miller, called the Body in Question.

This episode, first broadcast in 1978, shows Dr Miller at the piano with Dudley Moore, his old friend from Beyond the Fringe. They’re exploring the mysterious process by which pianists manage to put their fingers on the right keys without apparently consciously thinking about the mechanical operations involved or even looking at the keyboard. Practice seems to program the hands so that the translation from sheet music to sound becomes second nature, but to those without the ability to effect the transformation (like myself), the process still seems almost miraculous.

R.I.P. Jonathan Miller (1934-2019)

The Bechet-Lyttelton Session

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , on November 17, 2019 by telescoper

Every now and again on this blog I like to mark significant anniversaries, so I’m quite annoyed that I’ve missed one by a few days. It’s perhaps not very well known that the great Sidney Bechet came to England in 1949 and did a concert and a recording session with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band while he was here. That recording session took place just over 70 years ago, on 13th November 1949.

What’s also not very well known is how controversial this session was at the time, because in the immediate post-war years the Musician’s Union had persuaded the UK government to ban American artists from performing over here. Humph was having none of it, thank goodness, and here we have the legacy. Here is the unmistakable Sidney Bechet on soprano sax, playing a traditional blues called I told you once, I told you twice with Humph on trumpet, Wally Fawkes on clarinet and, stealing the show, the superb (and, to my ears, rather modern-sounding) Keith Christie on trombone.

According to Humph’s memoirs, after the concert they played together, Bechet summoned Humph to his dressing room in order to deliver a kind of end-of-term report on the band in which he pointed out little criticisms of their playing. Bechet was a forceful character and often a harsh critic but when he got to Keith Christie he expressed nothing but unqualified admiration. There’s not much higher praise than that in the world of jazz…

A Musical Memory: Mabel’s Dream

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2019 by telescoper

So that’s that. The funeral is over. We all said our goodbyes, and there many tears.

My Mam chose the music for her funeral a long time ago, and the piece that was playing as we arrived in the West Chapel of the West Road Crematorium was one that I wrote about about a decade ago, so I thought I’d indulge myself by posting here the version we heard today.

Years ago my Mam told me that she heard the tune Mabel’s Dream played on the piano by a friend of the family by the name of Johnny Handle. Best known as a folk musician (and founder member of a well-known band called The High Level Ranters) he is also a music teacher and musicologist with a wide range of interests in music. I read somewhere that this lovely tune was originally written by Jelly Roll Morton and performed by him on solo piano, but by far the most famous recording of Mabel’s Dream was made by King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1923. This was the band that the young Louis Armstrong belonged to before going on to make the classic Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, one of which I posted a bit ago. It’s interesting how different the earlier band sounds: with two cornets (King Oliver and Louis Armstrong), clarinet (Johnny Dodds), and trombone (Honore Dutrey) playing together virtually all the time except for short improvised solo breaks. King Oliver usually played lead cornet, at least in their earlier recordings, with Louis Armstrong playing a decorative counterpoint around him rather like a clarinettist might. Later on, they swapped leads freely and completely intuitively producing a sound that was entirely unique.

The ensemble playing is intricate, but the band had no written music, preferring to work exclusively from “head” arrangements. Their music is consistently delightful to listen to, with a succession of marchy themes that makes it impossible not to want to tap your feet when you listen to them.

Over time, this classic type of polyphonic Jazz- derived from its New Orleans roots – gradually morphed into musical form dominated by much simpler arrangements and a succession of virtuoso solos. This change was also reflected in the differing fortunes of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. The former went on to become an international celebrity, while the latter lost all his savings when his bank went bust during the Wall Street Crash.

Considering the relatively brief time that they played together, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong made an astonishingly large number of astonishingly beautiful records, including this one which I’m posting here to show that as well as many other things my Mam had great taste in Jazz.