"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.
READ THE TRANSCRIPT - Anna Shelest was born in Ukraine. She moved to the United States when she was just 15 to study at the Juilliard School of music. She and her husband, Dmitri, are U.S. citizens now, and they live in New York City with their two little boys. When she's not performing as a soloist, Anna and Dmitri are seated at the piano performing works for four hands. Later this year, they'll release a recording featuring Ukrainian music. In the meantime, Anna is celebrating the release of her newest solo CD featuring the first two piano concertos by one of her favorite composers, Sergei Prokofiev.
Anna has an affinity for Russian composers. And here's why: "I think it's the music of my childhood, and the older I get we understand that those relationships you forge when you're a child with people and culture and language and music is staying with you and is really deepening as I grow older," she says. "So Prokofiev especially is a composer I remember from my childhood as the first composer I loved listening to. So there's a little bit of that sentiment of feeling like a kid again when I play his music. And just being educated in what is often referred to as the Russian piano school, of course Russian music was a very big part of it, so I always had some kind of Russian composers in my fingers."
Which piece by Prokofiev first fascinated you as a child? "The first piece was 'Cinderella'," Anna says. "I had the LP record of the ballet with narration and I played this recording often before going to bed. I remember even now how I felt listening to that music. And since that time, Prokofiev's music, especially his orchestral music, I think it's so magical because of the imagination that is so colorful … the child's imagination."
So, what sparks your imagination about his first piano concerto? "It's the most fun concerto in the whole of the repertoire," Anna says. "It's like a party for orchestra and pianist. It's really not a serious piece. It's all jokes and fun times.
"If I think about my son who is 4 years old and the way he thinks and talks - he's always happy and making jokes," Anna continues. "And it's this youthful energy and very imaginative way you see the world. [Prokofiev] was 19 years old when he wrote this piece. It's really remarkable to think that he was a complete artist, a complete visionary when he made this piece."
Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 is very different; can you talk about how it contrasts from the first concerto? "The original score was lost during the Revolution and then he revised the work in Paris in 1923, I believe," Anna explains. "But I think in the music it can be viewed through an historic context as a commentary of the time - a very dark, tragic time for humanity. So I think with this concerto … when I first learned it 14 years ago, I viewed it as a very virtuosic piece and this is something that it's famous for - it's very acrobatic piano playing. But the longer I played it the more I'm aware of how deep this music goes and it really tackles very kind of tragic human emotions."
The first movement of the second concerto builds to an incredibly extensive cadenza that takes a lot of endurance. Anna says it accomplishes a very important dramatic goal, "As a pianist, you have to be constantly climbing up - higher and higher and by the time you get to the middle of the cadenza, you've exhausted all your resources and still you have to take 10 more flights. And I think if you're really able to plan this climb it has such an important and powerful dramatic effect, it makes the listener forget about how difficult the technical aspect of it is and really see it as very important point, dramatic point, of the piece. And the longer that I play the concerto and especially as you play it live and you're able to live through the music, I think the cadenza is a catalyst for the rest of the concerto."
The intermezzo, the third movement, of the Piano Concerto No. 2 was once described by Richter as the image of Goya's Saturn devouring his son. I asked Anna if she identifies with that image? "Yes, I absolutely love this description," she says. "I think it really describes the feeling. Also my way of describing it is maybe it's a movement of a very charismatic villain - somebody who is funny and sarcastic but at the same it's not a good person speaking, it's the darkness that is presented in that movement. It's very kind of twisted humor. It's really fun to become that character when playing the concerto. I think I have the most fun when I play this movement in the concerto."
Prokofiev once said, "To write only according to the rules laid down by classical composers of the past means to be only a pupil and not a master." Prokofiev was a master. According to Anna, he was well aware of his greatness. "He was by no means a modest man," she says. "As a child, a lot of his classmates didn't like him because he would point out their mistakes. But in a way the artist's role is to challenge us and to open new horizons. Prokofiev already in his time he was expected, even by people who weren't completely open to his style of music, they couldn't help but be enchanted by his charisma and the great vision he had for the sounds."
Anna Shelest offers her enchanting vision of Prokofiev's first two piano concertos with the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra and Niels Muus conducting.
This week on New Classical Tracks, you can enter for a chance to win a copy of Anna Shelest's recordings of Sergei Prokofiev's piano concertos No. 1 and 2. Winners will be drawn at random. Be sure to enter by midnight CDT on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.
Anna Shelest's first release featuring virtuosic repertoire by women composers from the last three centuries. The program sheds light on the under-explored territory of piano repertoire and makes the case that the music of female composers, many of whom were virtuoso pianists, is as relevant today as the music of their male counterparts. Works by Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, Cecile Chaminade, Amy Beach, Lili Boulanger, and Chiayu Hsu.
Sorel Classics has released a new recording of Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.1, in D flat, Op.10 and Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16 (SC CD006), performed by pianist Anna Shelest, with the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra, Niels Muus, conductor. Sergei Prokofiev began composing his Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, Op. 10, in 1911 and finished it in 1912. A one-movement concerto, it is the shortest of his five complete piano concertos, lasting only around a quarter of an hour. Sergei Prokofiev began work on his Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16, in 1912 and completed it in 1913. But this concerto was lost; the score was apparently destroyed in a fire following the Russian Revolution. Prokofiev reconstructed the work in 1923, and dedicated it to the memory of Maximilian Schmidthof, a friend of the composer's at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
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The Sorel Charitable Organization celebrates the launch of pianist Anna Shelest's latest CD, Spirit and Romance, a selection of works by Bach, Liszt, Schubert, Wagner, Busoni and Schumann, as the inaugural album of Sorel's latest initiative, Sorel Classics, a non profit record label devoted to highlighting the talent and achievements of female singers, instrumentalists, and composers of classical music. Ms. Shelest is the first artist chosen to record under the new label. Having already been dubbed "the female incarnation of Liszt" and described as an artist of "fiery sensibility and warm touch" by The New York Times, Ms. Shelest first came to the attention of Sorel after a Carnegie Hall performance as first prize winner of the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition.
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