Sunday, May 31, 2009

Garrick Ohlsson plays Brahms

The penultimate concert of the season was one of the best for the Colorado Symphony, with Jeffrey Kahane returning to conduct. The concert opened with a contemporary piece by Pierre Jalbert, In Aeternam. Without a doubt, the best of the "new" works they played this year. The piece is dedicated to the niece of the composer, who was stillborn. Although in three movements, the piece does a nice job of moving through the seven stages of grief. If I have any criticism, it would be that Jalbert is clearly influenced by film composers, which from me is no criticism at all. The first movement seemed to hinge on the interval of a major 7th, and frequently reminded me of Bernard Herrmann. The second movement was very exciting and clearly played the anger of dealing with death. I had to remind myself of this fact, as it sounded a lot like some of Williams' more dissonant action music from the Indiana Jones movies.

Kahane then introduced the Sibelius Symphony #3, explaining that it had never been performed by the orchestra before. Now we know why. It's a very slight piece, and those expecting a rousing chorus of Finlandia will be sadly let down. The piece did have some nice moments though.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the evening was the Second Piano Concerto of Johannes Brahms as performed by Garrick Ohlsson. Ohlsson seemed a very jolly sort walking out to the stage, and took control quickly with a powerful performance of the first movement. I'd never seen this piece live before and it's clearly a very challenging piece for the pianist, full of rapidly moving block chords. Ohlsson seemed a little uneven in the first movement. Also the sound of the piano was off; I did not feel the low end like I had in previous concerts.

The second movement (scherzo) was much better, wonderfully performed by all involved. Each movement seemed to get better, with the beautiful third movement showing the other end of Ohlsson's spectrum. A delicate performance by both him and the cello soloist.

The fourth movement (one of the few concerti in four movements) was exciting and played flawlessly. Perhaps the only thing better was the encore, a great performance of the C# Waltz by Chopin. I don't know how he did it, but he made every statement of the theme unique with a different tempo, getting faster each time, yet ending with a beautifully introspective ending.

I look forward to next week's performance of the Mahler 2nd Symphony. A dark piece to end the season with, but it should be interesting!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nuggets Lose Badly (and Rockies Update)


Both teams looked tired in the first quarter, but by the middle of the 2nd, the Nuggets were running on fumes, as though they had not rested in days. The second half belonged completely to Los Angeles. To be honest, that's what I had expected from the whole series. Although the Nuggets are good, they are not an amazing team filled with incredible talent. But after winning in Los Angeles, and with their losses all close ones, they lulled their fans into the belief that if they win their home game, they would then go to Los Angeles for a game seven.

It wasn't meant to be. If you look at only the numbers, Denver did not play that much worse than LA, but if you watched the game, virtually every shot for LA was a quick and easy one (even their foul shots, where they went 100%), and the number of missed shots for Denver was embarrassing. It was fun while it lasted, and I think everyone has high hopes for next year.

The Rockies, on the other hand, are doing so badly (only two years after going to the World Series) that they fired their longtime manager Clint Hurdle and promoted bench coach Jim Tracy. Tracy managed the Dodgers and knows the division well. He is a good choice to succeed Hurdle in that he is, like Hurdle, an excellent clubhouse manager who is well-liked by the players. Tracy is very much a by-the-book manager, almost to a fault. He rarely takes chances. Some might say this is a little too much like Hurdle.

After leaving the Dodgers, Tracy went to Pittsburgh, where he floundered along with the team. Only time will tell if this will be a repeat of that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CAS "Meet the Winners" Event

UPDATE:

The Cinema Audio Society Quarterly magazine has posted their most recent issue here, which includes a nice article on the event, as well as some photos.


Although the turnout was small, the Cinema Audio Society's "Meet the Winners" event was of exceptionally high caliber. Indian winner Resul Pookutty, CAS attended via Skype and answered questions about his work on SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. He told a great story about after winning the Oscar, arriving at Mumbai airport at 3AM and being carried around the airport by the people there, much like the end of the movie!

Ian Tapp, CAS then attended via iChat and discussed the re-recording mix for the same film. He showed a great clip from the beginning of the movie that combined subjective and realistic sound design.

Board member Bob Brownow, CAS talked about his excellent work on the documentary series DEADLIEST CATCH, and how difficult it is to be a one-man sound crew with no production sound mixers!

Kerry Brown, CAS and Kevin Dippold discussed their work on SMASHING PUMPKINS IF ALL GOES WRONG, a combination documentary and concert DVD. I was quite surprised to find out that it was mixed on a Neve Portico with no automation. It must have been quite a challenge!

There were a lot of important people present in the audience, including Stacy Sher (producer of PULP FICTION), Billy Corgan (of the band SMASHING PUMPKINS), several former presidents of the CAS (including Gary Bourgeois, who asked many questions, and Richard Lightstone), and many board members of the organization. We also attracted a few students even though it was spring break, and a number of members of other organizations including the Audio Engineering.

The final guests were Mike Minkler, CAS (also a former president of the organiztion) and Bob Beemer, CAS, (a newly-elected board memeber) who discussed their excellent work on JOHN ADAMS. It was a surpise to find out the show had nearly 900 tracks for the first episode.

It was very gratifying to see that after the event was over, almost everyone in the audience stayed to talk to the the winners and USC engineer Chris Cain led a tour of some of USC's new facilities. I think this shows that all the hard work was worthwhile.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nuggets Win!


Being raised in Boston, it's quite natural for me to hate the Lakers. Tonight was my first trip to the Pepsi Center and I was very lucky to have gotten a ticket on center court for a playoff game. It's a nice stadium. It was a good game, with Denver in control almost throughout. Amazingly, they played great defense against Kobe and the rest of the Lakers, much better than two nights ago. They were also excellent on rebounds, which to me seems to be a lost art in the NBA.

Perhaps the best part of this is that it means there will be a game 6 on Friday, here in Denver, after Wedndesday's game in LA. The Nuggets will have to win a game in LA if they want to go to the finals, so let's hope the win Wendesday!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A.I. Final Results SPOILER

Needless to say, big-ass SPOILER here:


Texting tweens voted 100 million times, meaning the man who deserved to win did not. The show itself was pretty good, with the return of Norman Gentle, Bikini Girl (who ruined herself with bad implants), and Tatiana, not to mention appearances by Queen Latifa, Santana, Kiss and Queen (and a few others not worth watching, like Rod Stewart, who can no longer sing). But it was disappointing and surprising that the long-shot pulled it off. He's a nice guy, but not that talented. Nonethless, I'm sure Adam will have a big career ahead of him.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A.I Finals

Adam Lambert, slam dunk. All 3 songs far better. Kris Allen is a nice guy, but way out of his league.

The only possible way Adam could lose is if America is too homophobic to vote for him.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thibaudet and Ravel

It was interesting hearing Jean-Yves Thibaudet play the Concerto in G by Maurice Ravel this evening, only a week after hearing Gershwin's Concerto in F played in the same hall by Jeffrey Kahane (for that review, click here). When I first started listening to orchestral music in my late teens, I was a jazz fan becoming a classical fan, and these were obvious pieces to smooth the transition. Somehow I had assumed that the Ravel piece had been written first and that it had influenced Gershwin, who was younger and starting his own orchestral career after writing showtunes. However, in the years since I had learned that my assumption was wrong and that it was the other way around. Ravel had been visiting the US and heard Gershwin's piece, and decided to write his own concerto with many similarities, not the least of which is the bluesy treatment of melody.

Hearing them both live and in such close proximity in the same hall, I am becoming increasingly convinced the Gershwin's work is much better than I had previously thought. It is, for the most part, the more interesting of the two, with the exception of the second movement, which is a bit too simple. On the contrary, the second movement of the Ravel is the best movement, and in many ways the least jazzy.

It was also interesting tonight seeing one of the few large crowds at the hall, clearly having turned out for the soloist, who was quite good, but seeing a small turnout for Kahane, who was exceptional.

Originally Ravel had written the piece as a divertissement, retitling it as a concerto later. The program tonight opened with another light piece, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which, for a light piece, is one of the all-time greats. As Steve Ledbetter's concert notes point out, there is hardly any development in the piece, yet it still stands a almost perfectly constructed. The orchestra performed it almost perfectly, with a correctly small Mozart-sized orchestra.

The program finished with one of Beethoven's weakest symphonies, #2, although quite nicely performed under guest conductor James Gaffigan.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A.I Finals

Well, I'm glad I didn't guess last night, I would never have predicted Kris in the finals. I'm kinda glad, his guitar ballad last night was one of the best performances in the season, and he's been getting better each week. I also like the kid.

I think he's no match for Adam, though.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A.I. Final 3

American Idol is down to the final 3. Adam Lambert is great as always. After that, it's a toss-up. I don't like either Kris Allen or Danny Gokey. I think Kris sang better than Danny the last two weeks, but Kris's performace style is pretty forgettable.

I'm not going to make a guess between the two of them.

Rockies Beat Astros

Winning two games in a row, the Rockies have leaped up to 3rd place in the division, even though they are still 5 games under .500 early in the season.

Ubaldo Jiminez finally got the win he deserves, pitching 7 innings and giving up only 1 run and winning 12-1. The team needed a big win, and Brad Hawpe was on fire with 4 hits and 5 RBIs. Ian Stewart had 2 homers, one a grand slam, giving him 5 RBI.

It was a gorgeous night to be at a game at Coors.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rockies Lose Pitchers' Battle to Marlins

You can't blame Jorge de la Rosa for the Rockies recent problems. He went 8 full innings yesterday, allowing only 2 earned runs and 4 hits, and striking out 12. His ERA is now under 4 and he's had quality starts three times, yet is record is 0-3.

The Rockies scored one paltry run. And allowed another Marlins run on an error. Offensive problems are plaguing them. Tulowitski is batting only .223, Atkins .218, Stewart .197, and Iannetta .209. It's depressing to see the kids doing so poorly, as they are the future of the team.

One has to wonder why they are doing so poorly at home. They have lost 3 out of their last 4 home games, and 5 out of 8 overall. If there were ever a home field advantage, one would think Coors would be it.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

AMERICAN COMPOSERS

The Colorado Symphony permorms a concert of American music this weekend, opening with Samuel Barber's Overture to The School for Scandal, a rather simple piece for the modern era. The orchestra played it fine last night, although guest conductor Larry Rachleff seemed to have problems indicating clear tempo changes all night long. He also seemed to force the tempos into the slightly-uncomfortable range.

This problem was much more obvious in the Gershwin Concerto in F, which is a very difficult piece for the pianist in a number of ways. In addition to requiring virtuoso playing chops, it also requires the player to understand the swing rhythm, which is usually anathema to Classical musicians. Exacerbating the issue last night was the fact that the scheduled soloist was replaced at the last moment by usual conductor Jeffery Kahane, who clearly could have used some more practice time at the lightning tempi that Rachlef chose. Nonetheless, Kahane is an excellent choice for the piece, he is an extremely well-rounded musician who understands the complex needs of the piece. It was a highlight of the evening. I had never seen this piece live before, and I had no idea how difficult the piano part was. It was also a reminder of what a brilliant musician Gershwin was, and what a terrible tragedy that he died so young, unable to continue development. One can only imagine what Gershwin might have given us if he had lived a full life.

Kahane followed the performance with a solo encore, a beautiful and moving version of "America," reminding the audience what an ugly national anthem we have.

The weakest part of the night was a new piece by minimalist composer Jennifer Higdon, Loco. Dedicated to trains, the title was a more accurate description of her orchestration, which was constantly over the top. It's always a flaw of student composers that if they have an orchestra of 100, they feel they need to write for all 100 all the time or they are blowing their opportunity. In addition, it bore an astounding resemblance to one of the most popular contemporary orchestral pieces, John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine, which the orchestra just announced it will be playing next year.

Unquestionably the highlight of the evening was the performance of the suite from West Side Story. It's hard to believe this piece is over 50 years old now. The orchestra played brilliantly. I've never heard 100 people swing as well as they did on "Cool." Like the Gershwin piece, hearing this reminded me how brilliant Bernstein was. The music may be disguised as popular American theater songs, but in addition to his incredible gift for melody ("Maria" may be the most beautiful song ever written, and in the same musical is "Somewhere."), Bernstein managed to sneak just about every imaginable modern technique into this work. Modality, polytonality, changing time signatures, jazz, Latin-American music ("Mambo!"); and yet it remains a coherent whole even in suite form. Perhaps the only thing the suite lacks is a full statement of "Maria," which is performed only vocally in the musical. The only weakness of the night was the conductor's unclear tempi, which ruined an otherwise outstanding performance.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED

ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED is an excellent and fascinating documentary about one of cinema's most notorious directors.

Polanski's life is so tragic and complex, if it were fictional, you wouldn't believe it. At the age of three, he was on a train to Auschwitz with his mother, and she tossed him out the floor of the moving train to save his life. While his mother continued on to her death, he followed the tracks for miles back to town.

Years later he was leading a fairy-tale life in Los Angeles as a successful film director, married to a gorgeous Hollywood actress, when she was slaughtered by the Manson family.

Only a few years after that, he was arrested for having sex with a 13-year old girl.

The case is stunning in its abuse of the legal system. There are a bizarre umber of similarities with the Simspon criminal murder case, with an equally inept, star-struck judge who manipulated the system for his glory and ignored any ethical commitment to enforcing the law.

The film is very well made, and interviews all of the major subjects, including the vicitm of the "rape," who forgave him years ago.

Polanski is still a fugitive from America, even after winning Best Director for The Pianist.

I highly recommend this film, which aired in the US in HBO.

A.I. Down to 3

American Idol voted off one of the final four tonight. I had hoped it would be Danny Okey Dokey Karaoke Gokey, after his worst performance of the season, or maybe Kris Allen, who is probably the overall weakest of the remainders, but it was Allison Iraheta tonight. She would not have won, and at 17, she has a huge career ahead of her anyway.

Next week it will be interesting to see what happens.

Expanded Biography & Musical Background

I have significantly expanded my bio, including my musical background, for anyone who is interested. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A.I. Top 4

Rock week on American Idol was not kind to the idols, particularly favorite Danny Okey Dokey Karaoke Gokey. He sounded like a high school shop teacher who get his hand stuck in a buzz saw.

Adam Lambert killed, as usual. Allison Iraheta was not great, but as Simon pointed out, her duet with Adam may have saved her.

Kris Allen was forgettable and has long overstayed his welcome. He should probably be the one to go home, although Danny was so bad that if you judge only tonight he may go. However, Allison has been in the bottom 3 so many times it seems like she may be next.

Other than Adam staying, the only other certainty is that new judge Kara DioGuardi was dressed like Pinky Tuscadero for no apparent reason. (Did she think it was '50s week?) She's really starting to grate on me. She says nothing original and frequently confuses the contestants. I hope she does not return next year.