The question—What Is American Classical Music?—comes to mind on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 18th at 10 pm. The Symphony No. 1 of John Biggs is in the grand tradition we think of as “American,” with wide-open sounds and deep breaths from the prairies—first brought to us by Virgil Thomson of Kansas and Aaron Copland of Brooklyn. It’s as American as it gets.
The music of John Biggs grows honestly out of this tradition, but the very day in 1963 that the middle movement was completed, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This Passacaglia of this American symphony, often performed separately as a memorial, lends added resonance to the entire work.
Carol Barnett takes two worlds that ought not go together—and makes them go together. The World Beloved, A Bluegrass Mass is remarkable because of its integrity. This is no simple Mass-with-a-banjo. Text is interpolated between the sections of the Mass, and the total result is solid, colorful—and uplifting. The bluegrass band Monroe Crossing joins Philip Brunelle’s VocalEssence in a work that could only have come to light in America.
Here in Philly, whenever someone needs a tenor sax player, the first call is to jazz great Larry McKenna. It's been that way for so long that most know his number by heart. And it's not just jazz bands that make that call.
It was that way when he backed Sinatra at the Latin Casino; when he was part of the "MFSB Orchestra" for Gamble and Huff backing Patti LaBelle, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and other Philly greats; when director Alan Parker needed music and a player for the Nicholas Cage film, Birdy, and many other instances.
Join us this Sunday at 2 pm for a very special treat. It's the Philadelphia Orchestra's May 24th LIVE broadcast of a concert tribute to the Orchestra’s former Music Director Wolfgang Sawallisch. This was the first live Philadelphia Orchestra broadcast in 13 years, and a memorable event it was, featuring a performance by violinist Gil Shaham of the Brahms Violin Concerto. Yannick Nézet-Séguin is on the podium.
Stark contrasts play against each other on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 11th at 10 pm. Zeitgeist performs In Bone-Colored Light, Jerome Kitzke's illumination of a late afternoon in an American landscape. Gabriela Lena Frank opens up the Indian and Spanish cultures of Peru for "Holy Mary, let's go dance," or Ccollanan Maria, a sighing, gospel-inflected work sung by San Francisco's Volti.
Maggi Payne finds music in sounds from the environment, processes them electronically, and attractive surprises result in System Test (Fire and Ice). And from Curt Cacioppo's recent CD Italia, Network for New Music performs Colomba Scarlatta della Libia, or Red Dove of Libya, a bubbling work of shadow and light.
She's blind. She can't see. Unfortunately, for many people, it's a stigma they can't overcome. They are the naysayers, the ones who ironically just can not see beyond a person's imperfections. She's not normal, they say. She'll never live a normal life, find romance, hold a job or live independently.
Unusual ensembles blend their voices on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 4th at 10 pm. W.A. Mathieu vaulted into stardom among jazz cognoscenti when, at 22, he wrote all the arrangements for the 1959 Stan Kenton album Standards in Silhouette. He went on to help found Chicago's Second City improv troupe, and writes music and books melding Western and Eastern traditions.
For All sets Gary Snyder's original Buddhist- and Native American-tinged poetry, as well as a translation of Chinese poet Han Shan. The early-music Galax Quartet, combining gut-stringed violins, cello, and viola da gamba, accompanies contralto Karen Clark.
Ezra Laderman writes for an orchestra of cellos in Parisot, named for the director of the Yale Cellos, Aldo Parisot. Laderman further subtitles the five movements for cellists Gregor Piatigorsky, Pablo Casals, Emanuel Feuermann, János Starker (who died in April 2013), and Parisot. A cello ensemble produces one of the most beautiful out-of-the-box sounds in music, and Laderman varies the texture and motion exquisitely.
Out of machinery, music on Now Is the Time, Sunday, July 28th at 10 pm. Dan Trueman combines hi- and lo-tech into gear that audibly shines in neither Anvil nor Pulley. He founded and directs the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, but fell in love with the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle (pictured). That sound, and its rustic, dust-raising energy infuses this work. nAnP features that fiddle, Trueman's computing expertise, a turntable, and his brilliant collaborators So Percussion.
A computer is a tool "that hides its purpose," Trueman says, but a piano is a machine we think we know well. One of the more difficult tasks in composing is to write a work for two pianos that make both pianos sound necessary. Riffing in Tandem succeeds by joining the lyricism of Rodney Rogers with virtuosity that is always musical. How can music come from machines, even machines we know well?
The big news this week was the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis, the new Duke of Cambridge. Plenty of sleepless nights certainly await the Royal parents; so this new collection of lullabies may be just what the royal doctor ordered.
David Cohen speaks with Jill Pasternak on Crossover, July 20, 2013
This week we feature a musician who has gone well beyond his role as an entertainer to become an active member of humanitarian causes he believes in. In an effort to fight hunger, David Cohen co-founded the Ocean Grove Music Arts Festival from which all proceeds go directly to the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties in New Jersey.
He also initiated the website PhiladelphiaClassicalMusic.com to promote classical music in the area, and established PhiladelphiaGuitarNews.com with the same goal in targeting guitar players in Philadelphia.
His newest album David Cohen: Guitar pays homage to his late wife, Tatyana, who recently lost her battle against ovarian cancer. The CD is an intimate celebration of love and life and the brave battle she and so many other women have fought. A portion of the proceeds of the album will support the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, where David assists in the development and implementation of patient and family- centered care philosophy and practices. Saturday, July 20, 11:30 am to 12 noon.
Heat isn't all there is to summer on Now Is the Time, Sunday, July 21st at 10 pm. Gao Hong not only composed Guangxi Impressions, but also plays the pipa, or Chinese lute, on her work, along with the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet. It includes Summer Cicada and Celebrating the Harvest. Ronald Perera follows with Five Summer Songs of Emily Dickinson, looking at changing gardens, jostling winds, and reveries.
Two composer/guitarists round out the program. Van Stiefel always wondered why there weren't more violin/guitar duos in the literature, so he wrote one, Smoke and Mirrors, using violin with electric guitar. John King's Lightning Slide imagines blues for the string quartet Ethel. Its movements are Swing, Sweet, and Sweat: if heat isn't all there is to summer, sometimes it just seems that way.