Mercoledi Musicale

I’ve mentioned before that I compile the programme notes for concerts by our PEI Symphony Orchestra. In the printed programme I’m limited to 500 to 600 words about composers and works for the entire concert. Online I’m limited to what the attention span of the average internet surfer is – so I’m figuring 100 to 200 words max!

Programme cover designed by Maggie Lillo at Ruby Square Graphics.

Okay I’m being snarky there – imagine your surprise! The online notes are much longer than that and I wonder, as I do of these posts, as to how much people do read of them. However to be honest, as with these posts, my programme notes are written more for my own pleasure than anything else. And I’ve discovered much about composers that I thought I knew, become reacquainted with works that were known and pieces discovered for the first time. Research is a great adventure but it can be a challenge not to get distracted and get entangled in that infamous web.

For this month’s concert I’ve been working on Jean Sibelius and his 4th Symphony, Maurice Ravel and his Ma mère Oye Suite and a new Trumpet Concert by Canadian composer John Estacio that our orchestra co-commissioned. I’ve come to quite dislike Sibelius while still admiring his music; Mr Estacio being a living composer I go with the official biography but he seems an admirable man as well as an exceptional composer.

Now Maurice Ravel – that’s another story! I’ve come to adore the man as much as I do his music. Now I’m sure he had flaws but I’ll be darned if I can find any at the moment – nor am I looking for any. And I’ve listened to the Mother Goose Suite in myriad incarnations including guitar and harp! It’s a work I’ve heard so often that perhaps I only listen to it with half-an-ear in the past while. I have a new appreciation of it now.

Normally I would be posting a video of the piece however I came across a version by the Scott Brothers Piano Duo on their website that includes animations by Tom Scott. As well as the music and animations there are brief notes on each movement. A left click on the screen shot below will take you to the page. It may take 15 minutes to view the five videos but the music is magic and the animations capture a good bit of that magic.

October 9th is International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction ???? Hey I don’t make these things up okay!

Mercoledi Musicale

It seems that far too often that my Wednesday music postings are tributes to musicians that I grew up with who have died. Once again I say goodbye to a singer who I judged amongst the greats: Jessye Norman

I only had the privilege of seeing her live once but knew her through recordings and broadcasts. In June of 1979 Laurent and I took our first of many trips together. We were celebrating him receiving his Bachelor’s degree from University of Ottawa and where better to celebrate it than London? One of the many highlights of that trip was a performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony at Royal Albert Hall: Lorin Maazel conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus with Margret Marshall and Jessye Norman. We were sitting high up in the hall and I remember Norman in a grey caftan making her way to her place at the front of the platform like a battleship in full sail through the sea of musicians. And then:

Unfortunately this was the only version I could find on YouTube that was complete. I find the visuals off-putting and no orchestra or conductor is listed. But the glory of that voice makes it bearable.

One lasting image I will always have of Jessye Norman is the 200th anniversary celebration of the French Revolution in July 1989. Draped in a French tricolour she began to sing La Marseillaise circling the monument at La Concorde and then was borne down the Champs Elysee her arms raised as she rallied each and every citizen to take up arms. I defy anyone to resist that call to this day.

A left click will take you to a video of those glorious moments. It takes a moment or two to load but is worth the short wait.

May she rest in peace.

October 2nd is National Kale Day – as well as Name Your Car Day. I don’t much like the former except in colcannon and I’ve never done the later with any of my cars. Have you?

Mercoledi Musical

Last week I mentioned Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist and composer, who though a celebrity in his own day, today is largely unknown outside his home country. As often happens I began to check out both details about his life and his work.

A good deal of his creative output as a composer is available on Youtube – most performed by Norwegian soloists and orchestras. Needless to say as one of the premier violin soloists of his day – it it said that he rivalled Paganini for virtuosity – the bulk of his compositions include solo violin.

La Verbena de San Juan, dating from Bull’s tour of Spain in 1846, obviously a piece to show off the performers virtuosity, lay largely unperformed since the composer’s time until unearthed by Violinist Annar Follesø. There are suggests that Bull may well have been one of Queen Isabella “favourites’ as he dedicated the work to her. Follesø recorded it in 2010 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Ole Kristia Ruud.

Strangely Viking Ocean Cruises did a very nice little video on Ole Bull and his career. A few of the facts may be aggrandized for publicity’s sake but they do offer a bit of insight into a fascinating, if largely unknown, giant of 19th century music.

September 25th is comic book day. I don’t know about any of my faithful readers but those monthly issues of comic books were much anticipated in our little neck of the woods.

Mercoledi Musicale

Most Thursday nights finds us climbing the stairs to Baba’s Lounge down on Great George Street. We are greeted much in the manner of Norm on Cheers and take our regular seats at the bar. Dinner is ordered along with something liquid, white and Italian and around 2015 Dan greets us all with “Welcome to Island Jazz.”

Last week singer Aurora Scott, her bass-playing husband Ross Macdonald, and, one of the Island greats, guitarist Ian Toms did a great set that included a song that I absolutely love – John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery. I can’t remember the last time I heard it and I had forgotten what a beautiful, heart-breaking song it is. Later I found myself pulling up YouTube to check out the various covers knowing full-well that Bonnie Raitt would top the list. But of all her versions this one works the best on so many levels – Raitt, Ruthie Foster, the guitar and keyboard solos and string arrangement.

I apologize for the adverts at the beginning and end but the six minutes between the two is absolute musical gold.

August 28th brings us Bow Tie Day – an event that I am sure is dear-to-the-heart of our dear Dr Spo. The good Doctor is known for the sartorial splendour of the narrow strips of cloth that he wraps around his neck and ties into a bow at the throat.

Mercoledi Musciale

Yesterday Dame Vera Margaret Lynn celebrated her 102nd birthday. Born in the middle of the First Great War she became the “Forces Sweetheart” in Second World War and continued her performing career until 1995. She has had ships, trains, and streets named after her; she spearheaded a memorial to The Animals of War in Hyde Park; and she has worked for charities dedicated to veterans, disable children and breast cancer. And at 100 she became the oldest artist to release an album that topped the UK charts.

Dame Vera Lynn in 1977 at the Canadian National Exhibition Grandstand. She drew a crowd of 17,00 on the first of her three performances. She was still the “Forces’ Sweetheart”.
Photo: The Toronto Star Archives

To celebrate both her birthday and her remarkable career I’ve picked a song that like her began life during the First World War and became a favourite during the Second conflict of that name. Lili Marlene was a poem written by Hans Leip when he was conscripted into Imperial German Army and sent to the Eastern Front. In 1938 Norbert Schultze set it to music and it was recorded by Lale Anderson the following year. In one of those queer strokes of history it became one of the most popular songs of the period with both Allied and Axis forces.

In Stanley Krammer’s powerful Judgment at Nuremberg Marlene Dietrich and Spencer Tracy are walking through the rubble of the war-torn streets of Nuremberg. As they approach a bar they hear men inside singing Lili Marleen in German. Dietrich begins to sing along with the song, translating a few lyrics for Tracy, referring to the German lyrics as “much darker” than the English.

In one of those queer strokes of irony Lili Marlene/Lili Marleen became one of the most popular songs of the War with both Allied and Axis forces.

Very appropriately for our Island August 7th is Lighthouse Day. We have 63 of them on the Island – 35 are still active and 7 are designated as National Historic Sites.