Toward The Sea Into the New Year

The season of the Huntsville Symphony is always busier between January and May than it is in the fall. The reason? College football. In the fall we are doing our classical concerts on Fridays so we do not have to compete with the games on Saturdays. Also it seems it takes a while for everybody (definitely our core audience) to settle into the usual rhythm after the summer months. After presenting a no-orchestra New Years Eve show with the amazing Bela and Abigail Fleck the Huntsville Symphony is back on the stage of the Von Braun Center and we sure have a lot of notes to play for the second half of the season. Between February 1-4 we are doing 4 Youth Concerts, a Free Family Concert and a Pops concert with all John Williams movie hits. We are presenting our ever popular “dinner-concert” Casual Classics on February 12, then another classical concert with the music of Wagner and Offenbach on February 18.
https://www.hso.org

Yesterday, with a smaller than usual orchestra on stage, I conducted the HSO in a show called “Flute and Harp Impressions”. Principal flutist Evelyn Loehrlein and harpist Katherine Newman joined guest flutist Gergely Ittzes in a selection of pieces by Vivaldi, Debussy, Takemitsu and Respighi.
Gergely Ittzes https://www.ittzesgergely.hu has also performed two of his own solo flute compositions presenting unusual virtuosity on his instrument along with many special effects never heard before by our audience. Ittzes is capable of playing clear double stops (intervals) on the flute and special effects that sound like walking bass or an Indian, or Japanese traditional instrument. Our audience was very enthusiastic and thrilled about all the music that was presented. I believe we did justice to Vivaldi as well, since his music —due to the big size of our concert venue— has been definitely underrepresented in the classical series.
My favorite part of the concert was when Gergely Ittzes played Debussy’s famous solo flute composition, Syrinx then we went right into playing Takemitsu’s mesmerizing “Toward the Sea II” for alto flute, harp and strings. Great job HSO string section!
I admire Takemitsu for his beautiful sound colors and soothing rhythmical complexities (yes it does sound like a contradiction, but Takemitsu is just doing, in his own language, what Debussy has invented more than a 100ys ago now). I was very pleased with the audience’s positive response.
Our New Year has just started, and we are sailing on toward new adventures. Come and join us in 2017, too!

Healing with Bruckner and Conversations with Beethoven

Today at the Huntsville airport a young TSA agent, seeing my big musical scores, asked me about my profession. Upon finding out I was the conductor of the Friday Beethoven-Bruckner concert he said he was really sorry for missing the concert because he was so looking forward to it. I asked him why he did not come. “Because of what happened in Paris. I didn’t want to be in a public place with lots of people around.”, he said. Luckily most of HSO’s loyal audience was there to experience Kirill Gerstein’s amazing piano playing, and the true bonding of musicians and audience with the help of Bruckner’s powerful Symphony #4. Both the Bruckner and Bach’s Sinfonia in E-minor, the encore played by Kirill were dedicated to the dead and the wounded in the Paris attacks.
This afternoon Kirill Gerstein, three principal players of the HSO and myself (with my clarinet in hand) kicked off the Causal Classics series with a show called “Beethoven Conversations”. Kirill and I had a lively conversation about musicians’ every day challenge of interpretation and authenticity. We all got to listen to two Liszt Transcendent Etudes then, after a short demo of Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds we performed Beethoven’s composition of the same title. Everybody who came to Roberts Hall at University of Alabama, Huntsville had a grand time, and I had fun playing some great chamber music as well. Once a great player like Kirill Gerstein comes to town we better take advantage of it and hear him play more than just, an otherwise glorious, piano concerto.
I am on my way to Budapest, Hungary to start rehearsals for the fully staged production of Verdi’s Don Carlo and also to perform new music with Ensemble UMZE at the Budapest Music Center.
Onward to make more beautiful and exciting music.

“ceux qui aiment. ceux qui aiment la vie. à la fin, c’est toujours eux qui gagnent.”
“Those who love. This who love life. In the end, they’re the ones who are rewarded.”
[Quote from a drawing of a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist after Friday’s Paris terror attacks.]

The Bad, The Good and The Great

The GOOD news: tomorrow (Friday) Amadinda Percussion Ensemble and the Hungarian Radio Symphony is going to play an awesome concert under my direction.
http://mupa.hu
The concert will be broadcast live on the radio and can be listened to here
http://mediaklikk.hu
The broadcast starts at 1:35PM EST.
The BAD news: we won’t be premiering my piece, ‘Drums Drums Drums’.
The GOOD news: I will have a chance to do the World Premiere of ‘Drums Drums Drums’ in Huntsville one year to the date of tomorrow’s concert. I will keep you posted on Saturday, February 13, 2016!
The GREAT news: USA Today picked up on Georgia Bottoms and made it the News of the Day from Alabama (2 days ago)
Here is a FaceBook post about the USA Today preview
http://facebook.com
And here is the complete story on AL.COM
http://AL.com
Stay tuned for more Georgia Bottoms news!

Percussion, Piano, Clarinet, Food And Drinks

This is going to be a long but fun weekend! HSO’s special guest for Classical 2 is the Amadinda Percussion Group.
http://www.en.wikipedia.org
This world famous ensemble has agreed to stop by on their way to the Percussive Arts Society Annual meeting in Indianapolis
http://www.pas.org/
and play a concert at the VBC. This is a one in a lifetime opportunity to hear the group that is now, after 30 years in the business, is part of music history. They play with amazing musicianship and their repertoire stretches from Haiti folk music through jazz to contemporary classical pieces. They are great entertainers and masters of their countless instruments. Huntsville Symphony and myself will be joining Amadinda for the second half of the program for J.S. Bach’s Concerto for two keyboards (played on 2 vibraphones and 2 marimbas) and for a piece written for four percussionists and orchestra. The latter composition is by Levente Gyongyosi
http://www.kontrapunktmusic.com/
Levente is pretty well known in choral circles in the US. His vocal pieces are popular all around the world. I am happy to be part of the US Premiere of this 35 minute long Sinfonia Concertante written just last year, hopefully contributing to the future success of the composition.
Since we do not have the full orchestra on stage for the beginning of the concert Zoltan Racz and I will be playing the National Anthem on the piano, four hands, for our usual opening sing along. I can’t remember when was the last time I played the piano in front of a life audience. Zoltan and I are practicing every day.

I will be spending my Saturday rehearsing for our first Casual Classics concert this season. It is time for Dinner DIvertimento again (we only have 5[!] tickets left). This year we are matching different courses with different pieces. On the program: Richard Strauss: Serenade op.7, Dvorak: Serenade for Winds in D-minor, Jean Francaix: Ten Character Pieces. I’ll be playing the clarinet for the first two numbers and will be conducting the third one.
Again; practice time for Gregory!
The musical dinner will be served on Sunday at the Early Works Museum.
For more information visit our website
http://www.hso.org/

mysterious; cat-like

The title of the post is from the score of Michael Torke’s Tahiti. This instruction can be found in the first clarinet part of the 7th movement. Needless to say that my cat-lover musicians immediately started loving the piece, not that it is any difficult to love it without the cat reference.
Here are the program notes for the piece from the composers website and a link to the site itself.

“Each of the movements reminisces a feeling of the individual islands that make up the Society Islands in the South Pacific, which we generally refer to as Tahiti.
A certain humidity, along with the lush landscape, water-life, white sand, and palm trees brings relief, a kind of peace to a hurried soul.
Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, sees it this way: “For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”
The movements grow from a melodic idea (rather than a rhythmic or harmonic idea, like much of my other music) and undergoes a development; the first and third movements have the most extended treatment.
A bias of orchestration is to limit the string writing to four parts, with a pair of woodwinds doubling the top part, much in the way Bach does in his Orchestral Suites.”

http://www.michaeltorke.com

The last sentence of the program notes above gave me the idea of the program for our third and final Casual Classics this season. I picked movements 1, 4, 6 and 7 from Torke’s composition and inserted them into Bach’s Orchestral Suite #1 in C. My goal with this year’s Casual Classics was to rediscover alternative concert formats and discover unusual concert venues around town. After a dinner-concert setting at the Early Works Museum and an acoustical action piece at the Depot Roundhouse (see earlier post “Pre-Super-bowl Brass Attack”) we are doing an “uninterrupted stream of music” at the Flying Monkey Theater at Lowe Mill.
http://www.lowemill.net

Billions of people now around the world listen to music on their iPods, smart phones, tablets and MP3 or MP4 devices. We all know the SHUFFLE button. Well, this concert is going to be exactly like when you push SHUFFLE and let your device stream you your favorite music. All right, I am cheating, since I did create a carefully thought out order for how the Bach and the Torke movements alternate… But still, I got the idea from my own iPod and also from search engines on net-radios where the “free-association” of human programmed algorithms provide endless entertainment.

The Season That Opens Twice

This is the season that opens twice. The first half of the first concert of 2013-14 starts with Brahms: Academic Festival Overture. The second half of the first concert of 2013-14 starts with Brahms: Tragic Overture. Having the longest continuously operating symphony orchestra in the state of Alabama alone calls for celebration. I also think that number 59 is just as nice a number as 60 (yes, we are already getting ready for a great season of celebration!). The concert will end with the mind-blowing piece of Leos Janacek entitled Sinfonietta. 9 extra trumpets (12 all together) and some other additional brass instruments are joining the HSO to finish the concert with a big bang. In the first half the great Robert McDuffie is joining the forces of the string section along with harp and percussion to play Bernstein’s Serenade. It is a real treat an tons of fun to make chamber music with Robert.
Check out his website here:
http://www.robertmcduffie.com

Brahms, Bernstein, Brahms, Janacek
Check out Huntsville Symphony website here:
http://www.hso.org
Listen to WLRH Radio tomorrow (Friday) morning for a pre-recorded interview with Ginney Kennedy about this concert and the upcoming season.
Let “The Season of Personalities” begin!