Pentatonix: “ ‘Can’t Sleep’ Love”

I used to be a choral singer—I started as a Boy Soprano, no less (the Brits call them “trebles”).

There was something so satisfying about those (admittedly rare) moments when the pitches and the blend were really perfect. It even happened once, totally by accident, with my two older brothers and me. I think we were singing a Harry Belafonte song. (Yes, I knew about Harry Belafonte before he became something of an audiophile vinyl icon.)

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Eric Whitacre Singers: “Enjoy the Silence,” Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), arr. Whitacre

Eric Whitacre Singers: “Enjoy the Silence,” Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), arr. Whitacre

Well, here I go violating my self-imposed (and only general; not absolute) rule that the music videos I post here show real performances. But, this is not a mashup; it is a serendipitous iPhone recording made when an audience member thought she was sneaking a snapshot, but in reality was starting to make a video. The screen is black because she put her phone or tablet back in her handbag.

I heard the Boston stop of the Eric Whitacre Singers‘ 2013 USA tour (this video is from the days-earlier Washington, DC-area stop), in the luminous acoustic of Boston’s Symphony Hall. If five years previously someone had told me that a Depeche Mode song would have moved me to tears, I would have scoffed. But, it was not Depeche Mode (their official music video is–dopey). It was Depeche Mode being re-written by Palestrina, as channeled by Eric Whitacre.

Time stood still–the dissonances just hung in the air. That so much of the music comes through on an iPhone recording with the iPhone in a purse or bag is food for thought, is it not? There is a studio recording that I find a bit too close and hi-def. I prefer the tonal balance of this not bootleg, but handbag recording. But perhaps that’s just familiarity.

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Royal Northern College of Music: “Moscow, Cheryomushki” (Shostakovich)

One of my favorite Eastern European witticisms comes from Soviet-Era Poland:

Under Capitalism, Man exploits Man. Whereas under Socialism, the reverse is true.

Shostakovich’s 1959 operetta Moscow, Cheryomushki (yes, I know—I’ve been stuck on Shostakovich; one more after this, and I will move on) is about bureaucratic corruption and housing shortages in Moscow. “Cheryomushki” means a certain kind of cherry tree, and it refers to both a district of Moscow and to a specific 1950s housing project.

One might think that writing an operetta (one of Shostakovich’s longest works, in fact) ridiculing state officials as lecherous buffoons while decrying substandard housing might have meant that Shostakovich was taking his life in his hands.

However, people forget that between Stalin’s death and the shooting down of Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 CIA spy plane, there was a significant thaw in the Soviet Union. In the new climate of loosened restrictions, Shostakovich’s lyricists went to town with parody and sarcasm, while Shostakovich fashioned his own love letter to the Broadway musical comedy.

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Árstíðir: “Heyr himna smiður”

Árstíðir singing “Heyr himna smiður” in the train station of Wuppertal, Germany; September 15, 2013.

I find most “flashmob” music videos annoyingly contrived and manipulative, often bordering on the transparently insincere. The above impromptu handheld YouTube is a major exception to that rule—no fake perma-smiles, and no forced artificial interactions with passers-by.

Even better, the music is not “opera bits” being forced through a meat grinder; it’s a haunting 20th-century a-cappella tune and harmonization for a 13th-century Icelandic hymn text, “Hear, Smith of Heavens.”

While the audio quality is not the best (and the camera work would have benefited from a monopod); here, there is an organic authenticity that most flashmob music videos lack. The train station is a rather good stand-in for a cathedral. Proof again that state-of-the-art sound is sometimes the slave of jejune music, and that the slenderest knowledge of greater things means more.

The band Árstíðir’s name, in English, means “Seasons.” They deserve their five million YouTube views for this unforgettable moment. Well done, chaps!

Text, in translation, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Hila Plitmann: The Acrostic Song from “Final Alice” — Steampunk Classical

Plitmann II

Soprano Hila Plitmann singing the final movement of David Del Tredici’s Final Alice with the Detroit Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting. (Note, “Del” is a given name, and not part of an Italian surname.)

Steampunk Classical.

What a concept!

In 1975-76, David Del Tredici wrote the first-ever (and perhaps only) “Steampunk” piece of classical orchestral music. (It is based upon Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, after all.) The music is very accessible, and in general tonal and melodic, though there are episodes of dissonance and finally, chaos.

The final movement of Final Alice is the Acrostic Poem epilogue to one of the “Alice” books. The first letters of each line of the poem together spell out Alice Pleasance Liddell, the name of the girl Carroll based Alice on. Tredici instructs all the orchestral players who can, to hiss out like a steam engine the name of each of the first letters. That’s what the strange sounds you are hearing are. There’s also a rather obvious Elgar quote or homage, I think, too.

Video after the jump!

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Delmoni & Martorella: Chopin/Milstein

Arturo Delmoni, accompanied by Steve Martorella, in the Auditorium of the Third Meeting House (1774-1775) of the First Baptist Church in America, playing Nathan Milstein‘s (one of Delmoni’s teachers) transcription of Chopin‘s C-sharp minor Nocturne. (The violin is muted.)

Rehearsal for Arturo Delmoni’s recital May 23, 2010. Steinway piano; violin J.B. Guadagnini (1780). The intro and outro chat audio are from the Canon camcorder, but the music is synched up from the 24/96 audio recording made with Pearl Microfon (Sweden) CC 22 cardioid condenser microphones (ORTF array) and a Sound Devices 702 CF recorder. Audio, video, and editing by John Marks.

There is a weed whacker at some distance outside, and it can be faintly heard. So be it. A special moment in time, frozen to a CF card.

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Music for Holy Week (II)

Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev): The Passion According To St. Matthew (YT)

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) has an amazing life story. Formerly a violin and piano student, a soldier, and a monk; he is now one of the world’s leading Orthodox theologians. He studied at Pembroke College, Oxford (PhD), which I think is drolly amusing, in that the women’s college formerly associated with Brown University was called Pembroke.

According to Wiki, Metropolitan Hilarion has authored more than 600 publications.

Oh… he also writes music!

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Music for Holy Week (I)

Bach: Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244; Richter, Munich Bach Orchestra
DVD Deutsche Grammophon 000617709
Recorded 1971

Siegmund Nimsgern (Bass), Peter Schreier (Tenor), Helen Donath (Soprano), Ernst Gerold Schramm (Bass), Julia Hamari (Alto), Horst Laubenthal (Tenor), Walter Berry (Bass).

Julia Hamari‘s being so under the radar in the U.S. makes me think that there must be so many other truly exceptional singers who for one reason or another, we never hear about. So to rectify that, here is a video from 1971 when she was in her prime; and at least she has YouTube fame, more than 1 million views.

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Patricia O’Callaghan: “Sad Boy”

(Please note, the song featured in the music video is not on the above album.)

Music-Video Friday: Patricia O’Callaghan: “Sad Boy”

Back in A.D. 2000, I resigned from a different audio and music magazine, and signed on with Stereophile. I wanted to do a bang-up job for my first column, and I also wanted it to be mostly about music.

I was lucky to snag a phone interview with an up-and-coming young Canadian crossover singer, Patricia O’Callaghan, about her very impressive breakthrough album Real Emotional Girl, CD cover above.

You can read that review and interview here. From the review part:

O’Callaghan, a handsome young Ontario native, has a voice that is strong, clear, and agile, combining a silvery-sweet upper range with a lower register just made for sly innuendo. Although her primary genre is cabaret, she’s not stuck in the late 1920s. Randy Newman, as well as Pearl Jam’s Eddy Vedder, are two of the songwriters represented on her new disc, Real Emotional Girl, along with retro-cabaret standby Kurt Weill and cabaret-nouveau mainstay Leonard Cohen.

Patricia O’Callaghan’s website is here.

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