"Nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine." ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
The human hand: its fingers, bones, muscles, and more give us the ability to add a pinch of salt, play any number of musical instruments, change a tire, flip a pancake, and so much else. That our hands have the capacity to perform these movements repeatedly and without thinking about them is due to muscle or motor memory.
But suppose a hand were transplanted from another body. Could it-would it-retain unthinking memories created with that original body? If you were to ask Hollywood, the answer is a very blood-curdling scream of "YES!" As Halloween approaches, let's look at a few horror films in which pianists, or at least the hands they are attached to, are the stars.
The relationship between science fact and science fiction has always been something of a bridge, with inspiration flowing in both directions. Whether it's Leonardo da Vinci's revolutionary plans for flying machines and concentrated solar power, Jules Verne's Extraordinary Voyages series, or Star Trek's hands-free, voice-activated communicators and phasers, it's our imagination that keeps us in fear or helps us conquer it. Just as the unimaginable becomes the near-at-hand, so too do we brush aside the veils of superstition and fear. "Through the hand, human culture waves away animal nature," reflects Raymond Tallis in The hand: a philosophical inquiry into human being. Well, mostly. The ancient and universal nightmares still persist today, even, and perhaps especially, when we should know better.
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The joyful duo Shunia (Lisa Love and Suzanne Jackson) is back to infuse a bit of sanity and peace to our turbulent times with their new single "Sa Re Sa Sa"– a song based on the popular mantra
"Sa Re Sa Sa, Sa Re Sa Sa, Sa Re Sa Sa, Sa Rung
Har Re Har Har, Har Re Har Har, Har Re Har Har, Har Rung"
and if you watched the video, it will simply rub off on you–the chemistry, the colors, the vibrancy that they all have brought together make you forget the dark and uncertain period of the past few months.
I remember their last single "Akal," and whenever I hear it, I get goosebumps. It feels like the duo is on a crusade to drive out the negativity, the gloom, and the directionlessness that the world is engulfed with, and what could be more powerful than to do it with the power of sound–a sound replete with the power of mantras, variety of instrumentation, vocals, and vistas of hope and joy! It is a complete package!
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DECADES AGO at a Carmel Bach Festival solo violin recital the young man sitting next to me struck up a conversation. When he told me he had come from Fresno I asked him if it was to escape the summer heat there. "No," he said, "I wanted to hear how a fugue can be played on a solo violin." Good answer, I thought.
The fugue in question is the second movement from JS Bach's Sonata in A minor, the very work that opens this new Delos recital by the extraordinary Greek guitarist Smaro Gregoriadou. She uses Bach's own transcription for harpsichord of the sonata, to D minor, and plays it on a "high-tuned pedal guitar in scalloped frets of the Kertsopoulos Aesthetics.*"
For the rest of her program, titled "A Healing Fire," she uses a classical pedal guitar of the same aesthetics, a technical platform that expands the timbral colorations available to the performer. In her opening remarks, Gregoriadou writes, "The compositions in this collection offer encouragement and hope against today's dystopia and chaos; they explore spirituality, self-knowledge and transcendence, illuminating dark and ambiguous regions of the human psyche with a different kind of light, a different sort of fire. They are conduits for catharsis, an escape from conflicts, antinomy and traumas this world torments us with.
From Bach's ecstatic Credo to Gubaidulina's submersion into the most transparent awareness prayer can bring; and from Hétu's suspended scream to Britten's self-absorbing surrender to Sleep and Nothingness, these towering masterpieces are, above all, essays on the mystical, reflections of the sacred!" Britten wrote his circumspect Nocturnal after John Dowland for the late Julian Bream; its eight variations, ending in a large passacaglia are based on "Come, heavy Sleep, the image of true Death, and close up these my weary weeping eyes" from Dowland's First Book of Songs (1597), cast as a journey through the night, often meditative and tranquil, sometimes restless or agitated. Sofia Gubaidulina, a Shostakovich protégée who turned 89 on Saturday, is a woefully underrepresented yet hugely prolific Tatarstani composer of deep spiritual affect and a cheeky sense of humor, witness her The Unasked Answer for three orchestras, an obvious play on Ives' The Unanswered Question. Her Serenade for guitar, at just three minutes, doesn't really rectify her status in the West. Jacques Hétu's five-movement Suite for guitar of 1986 makes plain his French aesthetic. Why Gregoriadou calls it a ‘suspended scream' I cannot explain; Hétu (1938-2010) is a self-described melodist with a keen grasp of musical form, harmonic relationships and the guitar itself. Sure there are rigorous challenges for both the guitarist and the listener but ultimately a satisfying adventure. SM
Based on the events from the past two weeks, the word "midterm" likely provokes flashbacks of absent guidance from professors and feelings of dread while opening LockDown Browser. Hopefully, most of us have survived by now. The end of October is arguably one of the best times of the year; a time when orange, black, purple, and green seem to be the only appropriate colors and ghosts and jack o'lanterns thrive on front porches. Although there's nothing scarier than taking exams during an online semester, spookiness has only just arrived. For this week's column, I thought it'd be best to share some Hollywood-inspired sinister tunes, leaving midterms as a repressed memory and embracing the spirit of Halloween, which happens to be right around the corner.
In contrast to my love for "Psycho," I think one of my biggest regrets in life is seeing "Hereditary." The fact that sleep, an activity I was quite fond of prior to watching the film, had become impossible during the full week it took me to recover only serves as a testament to Ari Aster's talent at scaring audiences out of their wits. There are many aspects of the movie that contribute to its spine-chilling abilities, but it'd be fair to give its score some credit. "Reborn" is probably the most well-known piece from the score, partly due to its loud use at the end and its popularity as a sound on TikTok. The best (or worst) part about it is its unnatural celebratory undertone, which makes sense in the context of the scene. On the other hand, objectively hearing it makes me want to rip off my toes. Despite my love-hate relationship with the film, I can't help but admit the music is a premier feature. While watching "Hereditary" on Halloween night is quite the opposite of what I endorse, I can condone listening to "Reborn."
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This Friday - October 30 at 9 pm ET, SiriusXM's Symphony Hall Channel will feature; 'Scary Soundtracks with Michael Shapiro, a 1hr special highlighting the Overture to the the 1931 film 'Frankenstein.' With an incredible legacy, and selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, the movie was first released, unfortunately, with no original soundtrack. That all changed in 2001, when composer Michael Shapiro was commissioned to write one. Join SiriusXM: Symphony Hall for a special Halloween "Classics On Film" when Michael joins host Vincent Caruso to speak about his own creation! You'll hear some of Michael's "Frankenstein" soundtrack as well as to hear some of Michael's picks for scariest film music!
Famed classical pianist Jeni Slotchiver recently released her ZOHO label debut album "American Heritage." It is a homage to the legendary composers of American traditional folk music. Jeni's new eighteen track release begins with the beautifully elegant delivery of Samuel Coleridge Taylor's (1875-1912) "Deep River." She performs a spiritual version of Harry Thacker Burleigh's (1866-1949) six-piece suite of "Southland," before arriving at the epic, nine-minute musical number "Union, Paraphrase de Concert Op. 48" by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). The melody livens-up with Florence B. Price's (1887-1953) "Nimble Feet" and "Tropical Noon." Jeni Slotchiver finishes up her new album with the more well-known sing-along "Down By The Riverside" by Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938) and the two-minute gentle masterpiece of "Swanee River" from William Grant Still (1895-1979). To find out more about Jeni Slotchiver and her latest release "American Heritage," please visit jenislotchiver.com.
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These Sisters Have Transformed the Piano Duo
"Oh, look!" said the pianist Katia Labèque, pushing aside some neatly ironed clothes hanging on a rack.
Behind the clothes, which were behind the boiler in the utility room of her home and studio here in French Basque Country, was a poster advertising concerts last year at the Philharmonie in Paris. It showed Katia and her sister, Marielle - both with dark hair flowing, glamorously dressed - and listed three programs: five centuries of Basque music; a Stravinsky and Debussy double bill; an evening with three art-rock auteurs, Thom Yorke, Bryce Dessner and David Chalmin.
"We're ridiculous," said Katia. "This is the only poster we have, and it's hidden."
The poster suggests the wildly varied musical interests of the Labèque sisters, who for over 50 years have been playing - and enlarging - the two-piano repertory. They have interpreted traditional classical and Romantic works, to brilliant effect, but have also ventured into jazz, Baroque, modernist and experimental genres - commissioning scores, inventing projects and testing their limits. Their latest recording, out this week, is a newly arranged two-piano adaptation of Philip Glass's opera "Les Enfants Terribles."
"What always struck me with both of them is that, although they are very different human beings, they both have this endless curiosity about everything, not just music," said Simon Rattle, the music director of the London Symphony Orchestra and a frequent Labèques collaborator.
Katia, 70, and Marielle, 68, have been inventing themselves since they were teenagers. First taught by their mother, an Italian piano teacher and pupil of the renowned pianist Marguerite Long, the sisters moved at 11 and 13 from their hometown, Hendaye (not far from here), to attend the prestigious Paris Conservatory.
"They taught you the tricks, but not the love of music that we learned from our parents," Marielle said. "Maybe that helped us develop our sense of independence, the desire to move in the world on our own terms." (The sisters, interviewed mostly in French, also speak fluent English, Italian and Spanish.)
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They decided against the solo careers that their fiercely competitive training had shaped them for. "From the moment we left - and it was 1968, the year of revolution of the students - we said, ‘Let's do something maybe not so conventional,'" Katia said.
They decided to play together.
After studying at the Paris Conservatory, the Labèques made the unconventional choice to play as a duo.Credit...Keystone/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images
"They took a time-honored form, the double piano, which had become slightly less fashionable, and breathed entirely new life into it," said Deborah Borda, the president and chief executive of the New York Philharmonic.
Despite their almost uncanny unity onstage - "it's a mystery beyond sisterhood," Mr. Rattle said - the Labèques have very different personalities. In the interview, Katia exuded energy and enthusiasm, while Marielle remained calm and reflective. But they agreed that they never really had a career plan. After deciding to perform together, they joined the Conservatory's chamber music graduate class to develop their dual repertory, and worked as ensemble musicians with Félix Blaska's dance company.
One day, while they were working on Olivier Messiaen's "Visions de l'Amen," Messiaen, who taught composition at the Conservatory, knocked on the door. After listening for a bit, he asked if one of the sisters would record the work with his wife. Even then, they showed surprising strength of purpose.
"We said, ‘No, we are just starting out and we can't begin by dividing,'" Katia recalled. But eventually Messiaen asked them to record the work together, which led to encounters with the composers Gyorgy Ligeti, Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio, whom they boldly approached, asking him to compose a work for them. Berio suggested they give the French premiere of his double piano concerto, which they subsequently played all over the world.
Their international breakthrough came with a 1980 recording of "Rhapsody in Blue," which was a best seller but led to some harsh criticism from parts of the classical music establishment.
"The concert halls were closed to Gershwin," Katia said. "People would say, ‘He is not a serious composer.' The same thing was true 30 years later, when we started to play Philip Glass."
The sisters, brilliant in traditional repertory, played Mendelssohn with Bernard Labadie and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2013.
The sisters, brilliant in traditional repertory, played Mendelssohn with Bernard Labadie and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2013.Credit...Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images
They were also sometimes ribbed for their designer outfits and glossy image. But Chad Smith, the chief executive of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said he loved that the Labèques "have a complete vision. Lighting creates a beautiful environment; clothes, too. They come with a theatrical approach and have shown the false narrative that it's less serious if you engage in the visual."
Over the years, they have pursued Baroque music, on Silbermann-model period-style pianofortes made for them and with the ensemble Il Giardino Armonico; ragtime; traditional Basque music; and jazz. Katia once lived with the jazz musician John McLaughlin and played in his band, and counts Miles Davis - who wrote two songs for her - and Billie Holiday as influences. The sisters have plunged deep into experimental terrain in "Minimalist Dream House," an ongoing series of concerts and recordings with Mr. Chalmin, who is Katia's partner, and Mr. Dessner.
"They have an extremely broad vision of what they can do in a concert hall, and they treat everyone with the same respect," said Mr. Dessner, best known as a member of the indie-rock band the National.
The coronavirus pandemic paused a number of their projects. A concerto by Nico Muhly, which should have premiered at the New York Philharmonic in early June, is now scheduled for the Paris Philharmonie on Nov. 12; a program with Mr. Dessner and the soprano Barbara Hannigan will probably be pushed to 2022.
But one thing they could work on in quarantine was "Les Enfants Terribles," arranged by Mr. Glass's longtime collaborator, Michael Riesman. During the initial lockdown the Labèques worked separately to prepare the score - Marielle lives with her husband, the conductor Semyon Bychkov, about nine miles from the house Katia and Mr. Chalmin share - but sent recordings back and forth and spoke frequently with Mr. Riesman about changes.
"We wanted more of the story and the dramatic parts," Katia said. "It was so odd that it's a story of confinement." After the lockdown restrictions were relaxed in May, they were able to practice together, and recorded the work in the state-of-the-art studio at Katia's house.
"I love the way they play Philip Glass," said Mr. Riesman. "They have the right style, the right approach. They don't overly dramatize or emote."
Mr. Muhly said, "They are actually much more involved in everything than most people of their stature. They email you about material; they are totally involved. The rhythms of the day are organized around an unspeakably rigorous work ethic, but there is something really elegant about the way they live their lives which flows into music and food and their extended family of artists."
The sisters' trick, according to Katia, is their constant desire to change and learn. "We never want to rely on what we've done," she said. "We have always tried to be relentlessly in the present." PHOTO: Lawrence K. Ho
WaterTower Music is pleased to announce today's release of the 62-track Lovecraft Country (Soundtrack from the HBO® Original Series), featuring music from the first season of Lovecraft Country, which airs on HBO/ HBO Max, and is Based on Matt Ruff 's novel of the same name.
Inspired by the ground-breaking mission of NASA's Juno space probe and its ongoing exploration of Jupiter, Juno to Jupiter is a multi-dimensional musical journey through electronic, progressive, ambient, techno, orchestral, and vocal music.
Milan Records today announces the release of Luca Guadagnino's WE ARE WHO WE ARE (ORIGINAL SERIES SCORE) featuring music by producer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, songwriter and vocalist DEVONTÉ HYNES.
Guitarist Sharon Isbin recently released her newest collection of diverse music entitled Affinty. On this historic ZOHO release, the legendary guitarist performs multi-faceted and virtuosic new works for guitar, written for her by four leading composers. From the Africa-influenced El Decameron Negro by iconic Cuban guitarist/composer Leo Brouwer, through the Chinese and Spanish-inspired Seven Desires for Guitar by Tan Dun, to Richard Danielpour's sensual song cycle Of Love and Longing (with multiple Grammy winner Isabel Leonard) and the jazz and world music-influenced Affinity: Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra by Chris Brubeck with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra/Elizabeth Schulze, Sharon Isbin gives her inimitable imprint to, and vastly enriches major new repertoire for guitar. The four world premieres also include a two-guitar arrangement for her by Colin Davin of Antonio Lauro's Waltz #3 Natalia.
Isbin speaks with 95.5:KHFM: Albuquerque - Brent Stevens about the meaning behind the recording's title. Listen to the attached interview
On this historic ZOHO release, legendary guitarist Sharon Isbin performs multi-faceted and virtuosic new works for guitar, written for her by four leading composers. From the Africa-influenced El Decameron Negro by iconic Cuban guitarist/composer Leo Brouwer, through the Chinese and Spanish-inspired Seven Desires for Guitar by Tan Dun, to Richard Danielpour's sensual song cycle Of Love and Longing (with multiple Grammy winner Isabel Leonard) and the jazz and world music-influenced Affinity: Concerto for Guitar & Orchestra by Chris Brubeck with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra/Elizabeth Schulze, Sharon Isbin gives her inimitable imprint to, and vastly enriches major new repertoire for guitar. The four world premieres also include a two-guitar arrangement for her by Colin Davin of Antonio Lauro's Waltz #3 Natalia. The recording will be available May 22, 2020 on the ZOHO label (ZM 202005).
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Grammy Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin's new recording, Strings for Peace, with sarod master, Amjad Ali Khan, and his virtuoso sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash, is a groundbreaking release steeped in the tradition of ragas and talas of North Indian classical music. Available May 22, 2020 on the ZOHO label (ZM 202004), it was recorded in New York following a successful joint 2019 tour in India. Strings for Peace features four Khan compositions based on popular ragas specifically written and arranged for Sharon Isbin: By the Moon - Raga Behag, Love Avalanche - Raga Mishra Bhairav, Romancing Earth - Raga Pilu and Sacred Evening - Raga Yaman. The four artists are joined on the tabla by Amit Kavthekar, a disciple of Indian drumming giants, Alla Rakha and his son Zakir Hussain. They will tour across the US in 20/21 beginning in Tanglewood and Caramoor festivals this July.
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Bach for Guitar is now available at retailers nationwide – including Amazon, Arkiv Music, Barnes & Noble – on the Erato/Warner Classics label (cat. #2564617518). Ms. Isbin calls the Suites "among the most challenging and musically rewarding works in the classical guitar repertoire." The first classical guitarist to perform and record Bach on guitar with baroque performance practice techniques, Isbin collaborated with noted Bach scholar and keyboard artist Rosalyn Tureck on the editions performed on the disc. The CD includes all four lute suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, including Suite in E Major, BWV 1006a, Suite in G Minor, BWV 995, Suite in E Minor, BWV 996, and Suite in C Minor, BWV 997.
14 NEW 135 TOTAL
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Sharon Isbin - Troubadour is a one-hour documentary portrait of the world's premier classical guitarist, shows us a trailblazing performer and teacher who over the course of her career has broken through numerous barriers to rise to the top of a traditionally male-dominated field. The film, produced by Susan Dangel, explores what it takes to nurture a dream against all odds to become a world class musician. It will be presented by American Public Television for broadcast on nearly 200 public television stations throughout the US this November-December 2014, and released on DVD/Blu-ray by Video Artists International.
In coordination with the documentary broadcasts, Warner Classics will release five of Isbin's most popular albums in a single box. The set brings together cornerstones of the guitar concerto repertoire by Rodrigo and Villa-Lobos, arrangements of perennial Baroque favorites, concertos by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun that were written for Isbin herself (and featured in the documentary) and two imaginatively-programmed recital discs including the GrammyTM Award-winning Dreams of a World.
20 NEW - 93 Total
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Recognized as "the pre-eminent guitarist of our time" The Boston Globe and "the Monet of the classical guitar" Atlanta Journal Constitution, Grammy Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin makes her Sony Masterworks debut with Journey to the New World. The extraordinary recording follows a musical progression from 16th century England, Ireland, and Scotland to the shores of America, with the music of the New World represented by Joan Baez, Isbin's first music hero, and violin virtuoso and composer Mark O'Connor.
13 New ON this week: 124 Total
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Renowned classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, whom critics have acclaimed as "the pre-eminent guitarist of our time" (Boston Magazine) and "the Monet of the classical guitar,"(Atlanta Journal) is following her Grammy-winning 2009 Sony Masterworks debut album Journey To The New World with another extraordinary musical exploration, Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions. Available August 30, the new album has a definite Latin American flavor, but the journey this time is focused more on her musical mentors. "I'm paying tribute to my guitar heroes," Isbin says. "These are artists whom I admire greatly, who are also heroes in their own realms." The artists include fellow guitar greats who are also great friends with whom she has collaborated. "Steve Vai has been a dear friend and duo partner for years," Isbin says, singling out the rock guitarist/composer, who improvises with her on La Catedral by famed Paraguayan composer Agustin Barrios Mangore. "Stanley Jordan is another hero and great friend," she adds, and the innovative jazz guitarist joins her in his stunning arrangement of Sonidos de aquel dia, by the Argentinean guitarist/composer Quique Sinesi.
4 New 'ON' this week 118
Synd: PRI/Classical 24 & Jazz After Hours Direct: SiriusXM Markets include: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Minneapolis, Seattle, St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, Denver, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Memphis, Tampa, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Canada Online: KING FM Evergreen, Taintradio