Friday, 9 January 2015

9 Symphony Challenge

Choosing 9 Symphonies Challenge

Los Angeles based blogger CK Dexter Haven ( or recently posted a fun, if not a little (or rather a lot) geeky challenge. The rules are simple, but strict 
If you had to pick nine symphonies — no more, no less — by different composers to include as part of a proverbial desert island survival kit, what would they be?  I asked myself this question just for grins over the recent Christmas & New Year’s break…
  • You can only pick one symphony per composer
  • You must choose numbered symphonies 1 through 9 only.  NoSymphonie fantastique, Symphony of Psalms, Symphonic Dances, etc.
  • Once you choose a numbered symphony, you cannot choose another similarly numbered symphony by a different composer (i.e. no choosing both Beethoven’s 7th and Sibelius 7th).
I like a geeky contest as much as the next person, perhaps even more than the next person, so I immediately started putting my list together. In true classical music blogger style, I have offered two lists. One containing more popular or mainstream favourites and the other containing some more obscure favourites. 
I'd love to hear from others what their list looks like. Leave a comment below or tweet me

List of top 9 symphonies to know

Rachmaninov 1
Sibelius 2
Schumann 3
Nielsen 4
Shostakovich 5
Mahler 6
Dvorak 7
Schubert 8
Beethoven 9

List of more obscure symphonies to discover

An obscure list should break the rules a bit and throw in some wildcards in typical nerdy blogger style, so I've added a 10th symphony.

Charles Ives 1
Alan Hovhannes 2 "Mysterious Mountain"
Henryk Gorecki 3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs"
Hugo Alfven 4 "From the Outermost Skerries"
Philip Glass 5
Martinu 6 "Fantaisies Symphoniques"
Rautavaara 7 "Angel of Light"
Eduard Tubin 8
Vagn Holmboe 9
Henk Badings 10

I hope that my list of obscure symphonies has inspired a few people to come up with their own list of symphonic obscurities.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Buma Classical Convention

Buma Classical Convention

This year marks the launch of the Buma Classical Convention which took place in Utrecht at the impressive TivoliVredenburg. The venue was perfect for the event, with many floors of exhibition space, a number of different sized concert halls and cafes throughout the large building. I was fortunate enough to attend the final concert the Edison Philharmonic Jukebox, which follows a formula that has proven popular with mainstream audiences. The concept is that the audience decides what gets played. Essentially, two options are presented to the audience who then clap and scream to determine which piece is played....I kid you not.

The appeal of this concept is obvious with the boisterous atmosphere, popular classics, casual dress and mixed ages. The venue included standing places in the front, for younger audience members, where beers were being consumed. The pieces played included the most popular, well known works, therefore guaranteeing maximum appeal. The Rossini William Tell Overture, Bizet Toreador and Ducas Sorcerer's Apprentice were all on offer. 

The event was televised, so there were frequent interruptions while the presenter did a number of takes. This added to an already bizarre event. 15 minutes in, no music had yet been played, but we were all laughing, clapping and having a good time, so who cares. Clearly this was not intended to be the traditional classical music concert. I fear that some of the purists were scoffing by this stage.   

The Radio Philharmonic Orchestra participated enthusiastically. The orchestra dress code was more casual than usual, I counted only one bow tie and multiple members wearing hats of various descriptions. 

Round 1: Bizet Carmen Toreador aria vs Rossini William Tell Overture. The Rossini won marginally, no doubt helped by my enthusiastic contribution. The orchestra played the only the fast, famous section in a brisk, cleanly articulated manner which had the front row kids and beer drinkers bobbing up and down enthusiastically. 

Round 2: Khachaturian Sabre Dance vs Shostakovich Jazz Suite, which was the only piece which would be played by the orchestra's saxophonist. The choice was clear as we all wanted the lovely blond lady saxophonist to play. The orchestra did a wonderful job with a lush string tone. The trombone played with wit and charm. The saxophonist performed admirably, deserving her standing acknowledgement. 

I was surprised to see Daniel Hope called on stage to receive an award. He has certainly done a lot to promote classical music. His presence lead smoothly to round 3. 

Daniel Hope

Round 3: Vivaldi Four Seasons Summer vs Vivaldi Four Seasons Summer recomposed by Max Richter. I have featured the Vivaldi Four Seasons recomposed by Max Richter before on this blog and I saw it two weeks ago at the Sydney Opera House (yay for me). Given the lower than usual average age of the audience and the general tone of the evening, it was no surprise that the modern version won out. Daniel Hope brought all his charisma to a vigorous, captivating rendition of Summer, no doubt winning many new fans, I Hope (a little reference to the violinist, Daniel Hope).

Round 4: John Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine vs Shostakovich Symphony no.10 Allegro.The John Adams won this round. Even though I love the work of John Adams, I personally would have preferred the rousing Shostakovich 10th. Clearly minimalism has found a home here. 

Round 5: Elgar Enigma variations Nimrod versus Debussy Claire de Lune. Elgar was the clear favourite, easily beating out Debussy. I was grateful that the conductor waited for the rowdy audience to silence before proceeding with a searingly beautiful interpretation of Nimrod. Testament to the professionalism and respect for the composers and the music from the conductor and ensemble. 

Round 6: Beethoven piano sonata no.28 vs no.30 Igor Levit was on hand to play a choice of Beethoven Piano sonatas. No. 30 marginally beat out no.28. As expected, the piano playing from Igor Levit was impressive and grand. I can't imagine it was easy to concentrate with two tv cameras swirling menacingly past him throughout. The playing was sufficiently mesmerising to halt the incessant bobbing from the beer drinkers in the front rows. 

Round 7: Sibelius (an arrangement of a piano melody which I didn't recognise) vs Arvo Part Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten. The audience were more or less cajoled into selecting the Part piece for this round, but it is a magnificent work, so who's complaining. With music this rousing, I'm not sure the endlessly moving spotlights were really required. I found them an unnecessary feature during this piece especially. 

Round 8: Williams Theme from Schindler's List vs Morricone Theme from Cinema Paradiso. I noticed at this stage that some of the older members of the audience had given up on clapping to have their favourite piece played, no doubt because they realised that they were outnumbered by the younger audeince members. Daniel Hope, back on stage for this round, had the final say in which piece to play. Happily he selected to beautiful Theme from Schindler's List which he played with passion and dedication despite its brevity. 

Round 9: Stravinsky Firebird vs Tchaikovsky 1812. With canon sounds to offer, it was no surprise that the Tchaikovsky was selected. The orchestra did an admirable job with the small section of the piece that they played.

Overall this was an enjoyable evening with some big name soloists and a quality, if accessible, selection of pieces. If colourful lights, beers, laughing and clapping is what it takes to appeal to and win new classical music audiences, then I'm all for it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Come Dance With Me - Katarzyna Musial

I recently discovered a marvellous piano recital CD by an excellent pianist previously unknown to me. Come Dance With Me, played by Katarzyna Musial, includes early 20th century works by a diverse range of composers, some known to me, some I had heard of and some which are new to me. So in a way, this is a CD of unknowns.

Katarzyna Musial Come Dance With Me

Katarzyna Musial is a Polish born pianist who resides in Canada. Ms. Musial is a 2014 Steinway artist with a string of qualifications, awards and prizes behind her name. To describe her as an emerging talent would be a massive understatement. As she was previously unknown to me, I was delighted to find that she has her own youTube channel where she generously publishes well produced content. She is also well represented on other social media channels, including FaceBook and Twitter, which shows an understanding of modern audience demands for social interaction from artists. To discover more about Katarzyna Musial, I suggest a visit to her website

Katarzyna Musial

Readers of this blog will know that I am always delighted to discover something new. I would bet, given the diversity of the repertoire on this CD, that very few people will have encountered all of these pieces; therefore, there is likely something new to discover, for most, on this CD. Come Dance With Me showcases a selection of early 20th-century piano dance pieces from Europe, North and South America. The diversity of composers represented include:

Admittedly, the only piece that I was previously familiar with was Gershwin's Prelude. When I encounter new repertoire, I always listen a few times before making up my mind. In this case, the playing is so compelling that after two hearings I was completely hooked. What particularly strikes me is Ms. Musial's ability to execute the thunderous roars of the piano, contrasted with moments of exquisite lyrical beauty. She evokes a range of colours and emotions from the piano which one rarely hears. The repertoire on this CD is not always easy, but Ms. Musial (I've often typed Ms. Musical) manages to make these works extremely approachable and likeable through her carefully judged tempos and precision in executing the pulsating dance rhythms, which appear throughout this CD.

This CD proves once again that many undiscovered classical music gems exist. Thankfully a number of them are expertly unearthed here.

Katarzyna Musial

If you need any more convincing, take a look at a youTube video of Katarzyna Musial playing the 3rd of Ginastera's Argentine Dances, Dance of the Arrogant Cowboy, which is also the 3rd track on this CD.

Links to CD:
Amazon ($8.99):


Saturday, 23 August 2014

DG Classical Music App

DG Discovery Classical Music App

German classical music label Deutsche Grammophon has just launched an iOS (Apple) app called DG Discovery and it's amazing.

Culled from the DG website:
"The app presents a curated selection of 450 albums in high quality audio streams by 80 star artists from the label’s peerless roster and represents all the famous composers..."

The video below provides a good overview of the app:

There is no substitute for trying the app for yourself. While there is a charge of 3.99 USD per month / 35.99 USD per annum, it is possible to sample the app for free, with tracks limited to 30 seconds.

The main features of the app, according to the DG website, include:
  • Access to more than 450 albums 
  • New music added monthly 
  • Browsing by artist and composer 
  • Original album liner notes 
  • Meticulous attention to detail of information 
  • Photo galleries and slideshows
I tried the iPad app. I found the design of the app to be slick and intuitive. The graphics and album covers are generously spaced and clear. It is possible to enlarge the CD covers to full screen. I would personally also welcome the back covers, however these are missing currently and I guess would largely appeal to more advanced listeners who have an interest in recording dates and these sort of details.

All the expected DG artists are features, including amongst others: Martha Argerich, Claudio Abbado, Roberto Alagna, Daniel Barenboim, Kathleen Battle, Leonard Bernstein (as performer but not composer), Pierre Boulez, Placido Domingo, Gustavo Dudamel, Emerson String Quartet, John Eliot Gardiner, Helene Grimaud, Hagen Quartet, Hilary Hahn, Daniel Hope, Herbert von Karajan, Lang Lang, Lorin Maazel, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Anna Netrebko, Itzhak Perlman, Mikhail Pletnev, Mstislav Rostropovich, Rolando Villazon, Yuja Wang and Krystian Zimerman.

The selection of CDs, while extensive at 450 is rather on the conservative / safe side with way too little "20th century" music for my taste. I find the omission of 20th century greats like Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Bartok surprising, while Saint-Saens (born 1835) and Smetana (born 1824) are classified as 20th century.

The DG catalogue is extensive with many amazing recordings. The app makes a good attempt at "curating" this selection, however I would personally like to see a more extensive and broad collection presented. I assume this will be addressed in time with the "monthly addition of new music". As can be expected, the sound quality is excellent.

Overall I find this an impressive app at a reasonable price. While I personally prefer Spotify at 10 Euro per month for unlimited music, Spotify assumes that you know what you are looking for and can be frustrating to navigate. The DG Discovery app will appeal to intermediate level listeners who wish to discover new artists or pieces in an easy to digest format at a reasonable price.

Have you tried the app yet? What do you like / dislike about it? What enhancements would you like to see in future?