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Posts Tagged ‘classical music’

Story Time

September 11, 2014 | by

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From the cover of a “Fun with Music” disc.

Ann Rachlin, storyteller, MBE, and pioneer of music appreciation, has been working for years—she’s now eighty—but she really came to prominence in the mideighties, when she started teaching little Prince William. I wonder if that’s when my mom bought her records. Whatever the reason, her “Fun with Music” series was in heavy rotation at our house, and the distinctive, lilting rhythms of her idiosyncratic narratives was the sound track of our childhoods. I think if you’d asked me between the ages of four and six which celebrity I would have most liked to meet, the answer would have been Ann Rachlin. (Well, Ann Rachlin and Jeff the mannequin from Today’s Special.)

The records (and later tapes, for playing in the car) featured narration over classical music pieces. Sometimes, as in the case of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé, or the deeply distressing Swan Lake, Rachlin based her tale on a preexisting story. Others were wholly original, and often unabashedly bizarre. (I am thinking especially of Lost Coin in a Fountain, set to Respighi.) To call Rachlin’s style “expressive” is a vast understatement: her voice rises and falls dramatically, she takes on all characters with gusto, she evokes laughter and tears and bafflement. She is so wholly uninhibited that it’s shocking even to a child. Maybe especially to a child. And while her tales are all designed to capture a child’s imagination, she does not shy away from sadness and even, occasionally, tragedy. (See: Swan Lake.) Read More »

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Futurism on Wheels, and Other News

July 1, 2014 | by

soviet concept car

The Torpedo-GAZ, from 1951—a Soviet concept car with a tubular duraluminum skeleton. Via io9.

  • The nineteenth century “had its own explosion of media … Much as with today’s web, people complained there was too much to read … The solution to overload? For tens of thousands of Americans, it was the scrapbook.”
  • Authors turn to pseudonyms for a number of reasons—some strange, some prosaic, some almost metaphysical. In Sarah Hall’s case, the problem was another Sarah Hall: “I could never be published as me. Someone had got there first … my agent reminded me, gently: ‘I really don’t think you can be Sarah Hall.’”
  • An interview with Jeff Sharlet, whose new book looks at religion in America: “In nine out of ten cases ‘spirituality’ is a con—not a con by the person invoking it, but a con on that person. It offers the illusion of individual choice, as if our beliefs, or our rejection of belief, could be formed in some pure Ayn Randian void … We’re caught up in a great, complicated web of belief and ritual and custom. That’s what I’m interested in, not the delusion that I’m some kind of island.”
  • “It felt like the water was rising and lapping just under my nose … I really began to wonder whether my career was over.” Classical musicians contend with stage fright.
  • Soviet concept cars from the fifties and sixties show what might have been, had futurism held its grip on the national imagination—these sleek, modular vehicles are a striking counterpoint to the American cars of the era.

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Nadia Sirota and Her Viola

March 9, 2011 | by

Photograph by Samantha West.

“You are such a good drink, for a four o’clock drink,” Nadia Sirota tells her Campari and soda. Then, with a sort of resigned discipline, she also orders pizza so as not to turn up sloshed at her next gig in two hours. Sirota, a violist and radio host, has dark hair styled into sideways bangs, dark eyes, a tough-talking, trenchant sense of humor, and inked forearms. She explains that her tattoos—a stylized letter N and letter H, followed by brackets—are musical markings. Arnold Schoenberg used them in scores to denote what he called the Hauptstimme and Nebenstimme, or the primary voice and secondary voice in a composition.

Though she’s lately become an omnipresent figure in New York’s downtown music concerts, she’s probably less known than others in her circle (like her friend and frequent collaborator Nico Muhly). Perhaps it’s because creators tend to get more attention than interpreters. Or maybe it’s just because violists, to everyone’s detriment, tend to get no attention at all. Yet Sirota has collaborated with everyone from Meredith Monk to Grizzly Bear; she contributed to Arcade Fire’s recent Grammy-winning album, The Suburbs. This week alone, she goes from Webcasting a sold-out show at Le Poisson Rouge to moderating a discussion with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen at WNYC to playing a recital with friends at the Ecstatic Music Festival that is tonight at Merkin Concert Hall.

As with many violists, Sirota started by playing the violin as a child but soon grew frustrated with the repertoire. “The advanced-intermediate violin pieces are all these flashy stand-on-your-head études, which suck, musically. I mean, I just didn’t give a shit. And I didn’t want to put my time into learning how to do those kinds of tricks, when I didn’t feel like I was getting anything musical from it.” She adds, “I switched to viola around the same time I became an alto. Viola sounds like a man singing very high, or a woman singing very low. It has a sort of intermediate gender-weirdness thing which also I find very appealing.” She was a natural at the viola; as a Juilliard student in 2005, she won first place in the conservatory’s concerto competition.

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A Week in Culture: Richard Brody, New Yorker Film Critic

June 30, 2010 | by

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DAY ONE

10:02 A.M. The week’s first cultural object is a new, yet-unreleased film by Claude Chabrol, The Son of Summer, starring Isabelle Huppert as a childless, married bourgeois intellectual who has a special, foster-like relationship to a young, disabled boy whom, one day, she kills. The film is so new that, in fact, it doesn’t exist—I dreamed it at the end of a morning of troubled sleep.

10:15 A.M. A chamber transcription of Haydn’s Symphony no. 94, the “Surprise” symphony, is playing on WQXR, New York’s classical-music station. It’s music I know and love—I play a spare transcription of the middle movements on recorder—but have never heard in this arrangement.

11:00 A.M. Twitter (and every hour or two for a few minutes, throughout the day). Love the sense of listening in on discussions at the next table when they know you’re listening. Good to chat back and forth with people I don’t know but would want to, with others I do know but don’t talk with often enough, with a surprisingly large yet tight group of fellow cinephiles. The 140 characters? A snapshot of an idea.

11:10 A.M. Heading for the subway, unusually late.

Genis-Goddess11:20 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, by Jeffrey Meyers on the No. 6 and the R. Anticipating something like a twist on the line from Saturday Night Fever: “Maybe he’s not so smart and maybe she’s not so dumb.”

11:47 A.M. The New York Times’s Web site, checked intermittently throughout the day’s editorial duties.

3:20 P.M. Glenn Kenny’s blog Some Came Running led me to his piece at Mubi about politicized viewings of “Sex and the City 2.” It concludes with a citation from Slavoj Zizek, which prompted me to revisit Adam Kirsch’s critical debunking, in The New Republic, of Zizek’s politics (The Deadly Jester), and Josh Strawn’s debunking of Kirsch’s, at Jewcy.

7:52 P.M. “The Young Schubert,” a recording by the pianist Leonard Hokanson, a student of Artur Schnabel. Hokanson delights in Schubert’s adolescent inspirations.

8:20 P.M. NY Post: the bridge column. I played a lot in high school, not at all since then—but I read the bridge column every day. And Page Six: the item about Ron Jeremy lunching at Condé Nast. I saw him in the lobby beforehand, where lots of employees came up to greet him. Afterwards, plenty of people in the office were talking about him.

8:30 PM. The Times: Read the front-page story with the headline, “Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price.” Put any noun in the place of “gadgets” and there would be a price to pay; that’s true of any addiction or abuse, not just of electronic stimuli. Read the op-ed piece about legislative battles in Wisconsin over raw milk.

9:27 P.M. Bud Powell, A Portrait of Thelonious. Powell, the definitive bebop pianist and my favorite jazz pianist, whose scintillating yet melodious right-hand runs are anchored by the dark lightning of his left hand’s chords. His later recordings (such as this one, from a Paris studio in 1961) are much and wrongly maligned. What he lost in exuberance he gained in profundity; and where they’re exuberant (Live in Geneva 1962, for instance), they’re still more profound.

9:40 P.M. On-line Driver’s Manual and Study Guide—having let my license lapse, inadvertently, decades ago, I need to start again, with a learner’s permit: “You may not cross any railroad tracks unless there is room for your vehicle on the other side. If other traffic prevents you from crossing all the way, wait, and cross only when there is room.”

12:05 A.M. A few minutes of John Ford’s The Rising of the Moon, his low-budget Irish film, from 1956.

1:11 A.M. While preparing to DVR No Sad Songs for Me (which Jean-Luc Godard wrote about in Cahiers du Cinéma at the age of twenty-one), I burn to DVD—and start to watch—High Time, a 1960 comedy directed by Blake Edwards, starring Bing Crosby as a prosperous fifty-ish businessman who decides to get a college education.

2:48 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess. Reading about Arthur Miller’s troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee and its heinous methods, in 1956-57, even after the fall of McCarthy: “Miller said his battle with the committee was ‘a fraud and a farce, except it cost me a fortune [$40,000] for lawyers and a year’s time lost in the bargain, worrying about it and figuring out how to react to it.’”
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