Sunday, January 15, 2017

Project 366 - The Concert Experience

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

We are now past the half-way point in recommending the first 122 listener guides of our long-term Project 366. The guides so far allowed us to explore musical genres – going from intimate music all the way to full orchestral fare, with and without singing, culminating with stage works and the (dreaded) opera.

I like to think our first few chapters were part of a long arc that traversed the repertoire “with a definite purpose”. For the next chapters, I decided to propose more “disjointed” sets of listener guides, more along the lines of the way I’ve done things traditionally on ITYWLTMT and partner platforms, by exploring musical illustrations of themes.

Some of the themes I have planned for the next few months may be familiar; as I chose to touch-up some I already explored with you in past blog posts. Others – like the one that starts us off – will be new ones.

What is the Concert Experience?

Music is a performance art form, and as such it is meant as a performer communicating his (or her) interpretation of a piece of music to a listener. The listener, more often than not, is not a single person, but rather a group of people (an audience).

We call these performances recitals or concerts. They are often organized by musical societies, or music schools, or even promoted by individual performers or groups.

“Live” performances are one-of-a-kind, “you had to be there” events, sometimes recorded for posterity. Not so long ago, some performers would take a piece of music on the road and work and perfect  it in concert before going in studio to put it on record. Some performers – Glenn Gould comes to mind – believed that the recording studio was the one venue where they could truly achieve an ideal performance (either because it did not have a live audience, or because they could do-over parts as re-takes).

Conductor Leonard Bernstein, especially in the last decade or so of his career – took the opposite view, and nearly all his projects were “concert experiences”, caught on microphone and issued “as-is” on record. I suspect the reason for that was both practical (no need to make a special time-consuming trip to the studio when subscription concerts could be recorded and captured with great sound quality) and to share the spontaneity and electricity of the connection between performer and audience.
A number of the montages and playlists I am sharing in this chapter are “live” performances of orchestras and chamber groups. Some you will find are fine-tuned, others can be blemished, but all have in common the “spark” element of connection between performer and audience.

I also made a point of programming some “special events”, like the traditional New Year’s gala concert held yearly by the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Last Night of the Proms, a great tradition that – like Vienna’s tribute to the Waltz King – has its share of “expected favourtites”, in this case oozing with British patriotism.

You Had to Be There

A few of the listener guides I programmed are “recreations” of concerts that were held in the 20th century. A few months ago, we shared one such “recreation” – a ballet program from Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes that has grown infamous for the creation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. A few months earlier, in Vienna, another “Modern experiment” was held, featuring music from the so-called Second Viennese School (composers like Schoenberg, Webern and Berg) and caused its own brand of scandal. The program of that concert is one of the montages you will find in the below menu.

A couple of years earlier, Sergei Rachmaninov and Gustav Mahler shared the stage in New-York at a concert that premiered works by both composers, in what was to be Mahler’s final season in New-York.

To close the chapter, the recreation of an 1962 New-York Philharmonic concert that featured two artists we discussed earlier – MM. Gould and Bernstein - and a notable performance of Johannes Brahmsfirst Piano Concerto that caused quite a stir.

Enjoy the Concert Experience through these Listener Guides

Listener Guide #68 – “New Year in Vienna 1987”. In one of his earliest broadcasts as host of this yearly event, Walter Cronkite initiates American viewers in the backstories and traditions of 19th century Vienna and the yearly New Year concert. The legendary Herbert von Karajan conducts. (Twelve Days of Blogging #9 - 1 Jan 2012)

Listener Guide #69 – “The Montreal Symphony on Radio Canada International”. Henri Bergeron hosts this 1986 subscription concert broadcast of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, guest conducted by Gunther Herbig and featuring violin soloist Salvatore Accardo (Once Upon the Internet #46 - 12 Apr 2016)

Listener Guides #70 & 71 – “Last Night of the Proms 2004”. Alan Titchmarsh hosts this BBC broadcast of the gala concert that concluded the 2004 BBC Proms season. As is the tradition, the concert has a “light classics” concert section, followed by a “more predictable” line-up of British favouites. Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra. (Tuesday Blog - 6 Sep 2016)

Listener Guide #72 – “TDMH 16 Jan 1910”. This montage re-creates the program conducted by Gustav Mahler at Carnegie Hall, which featured Sergei Rachmaninov performing his “new” Piano Concerto no. 3. (ITYWLTMT #237 – 13 Jan 2017)

Listener Guide #73 – “Skandalkonzert”. This montage re-creates the program heard at Vienna’s Musikverein on March 31, 1913, featuring works from the Second Viennese School. Works by Berg, Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, Webern and Gustav Mahler. (ITYWLTMT #235 - 25 Nov, 2016)

Listener Guide #74 – “Amateur Night at Harvard”. Organized by students of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, a quartet of amateur musicians perform works by Dvorak and Ravel. (Once Upon the Internet #47 - 7 June 2016)

Listener Guide #75 – “The Luna Nova Ensemble”. A musical group specializing in contemporary music, the Luna Nova ensemble is heard in tracks from their public performances, most notably a performance of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. (Tuesday Blog - 13 Sep 2011 )

Listener Guide #76 – “TDMH 6 April 1962”. “Don’t be Afraid, Mr. Gould is Here”, in a recreation of the Carnegie Hall concert of April 6th, 1962, including the performance as caught in a live broadcast, preceded by the infamous “disclaimer” by Leonard Bernstein. (ITYWLTMT Montage #50 - 6 April 2012)

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