Monday, February 18, 2013

tunes recently enjoyed no. 4

So Am I - George Gershwin

During the entire month of January, I was completely obsessed with Gershwin Plays Gershwin: The Piano Rolls. I listened to it on repeat, incessantly and without any real analytical thought. I wanted it to be the background to everything, for some reason, so I put it on, over and over, until they were pleasantly engraved into my brain and I caught myself enjoying the creepy sensation of listening to the memory of a tune as clearly as if it were actually playing.

This is my favorite song from the album. It makes me think of a late night, happily tipsy dance--stately gliding upset by bobbing changes of pace and unexpected leaps in altitude. Dreamy.

Andante from Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor - J. S. Bach

My sister and I recently discovered that the San Francisco Symphony offers some surprisingly cheap seats and we are now getting into the habit of taking advantage of this fact. We went to see a program organized around the talents of Alexander Barantschik, principal violinist. It was a program of old chestnuts, pieces that I (and probably everyone else in the audience) have been inescapably exposed to. They're in movies, on commercials, in cafes, in bookstores, in the vast and general cultural air... and I was completely shocked to find myself tearing up over this particular piece, eyes welling out of control over something so familiar, but so weirdly live.

It's a sad and stately beauty, this slow and almost plodding base with the violin singing across the top of it. It's very lovely, but not a piece that I usually go crazy for, so the efficiency with which it dragged me to the point of tears was a bit of a shock.

(the video features Yehudi Menuhin)

Serenade in D major, Serenata notturna- Mozart

This was the last piece on the aforementioned program of old chestnuts. It feels very earnest, a sunny and forthright bit of virtuosic glee. Hearing it and seeing it played live is fun. We sat in the odd bleacher-like seats perched at the back of the stage where you can peer down at the musicians and see, up close, these fascinating, alien habits and tics that slide along under the performance of the music itself. Watching excellent music played live is possibly my favorite thing in the world right now. I can't get enough of it. There's the aural pleasure of sounds with texture and distance and breath, of course, but the visual realization that those sounds are coming from human beings is somehow enormously satisfying. I like seeing how the violinists slide their bows onto shelves under their music when they're required to pluck strings with their fingers. I like seeing the principal bassist (whose name is Scott Pingle and who is extraordinary) exchange glances with the percussionist before their respective solos. I like seeing this collection of people turn into a strange and beautiful beast that makes music. It's as if all the information that comes in from my eyeballs sets my curiosity on fire so I can listen better.

Partita No. 3 in E major - J. S. Bach

I love this piece. The "Loure" in particular just wrenches my heart out because it's such a stringent stunner. It's so inarguably, intelligently ravishing, and it seems like every violinist pours themselves into it, souls pressed right out of their bodies and into the air via that flimsy box of wood. An illusion, obviously, but an irresistible one.

Gil Shaham reminded me of Dick Van Dyke. Long and off-kilter and warmly silly. I never expected to see a violinist move an entire symphony hall into a fit of giggles, but he managed it with panache.

These Arms of Mine - Otis Redding

This song is one that I imagine I will love forever, no matter where or for what it is appropriated. The way the beat goes on and on underneath a voice that's almost embarrassingly, sentimentally full of want... it gets me every time.

Ina Rae, the singer who we're working with on our current Sharp & Fine project, sang us a version of this that started out in classical, opera voice and tumbled down into something looser. It was amazing, even unfinished. I'm really hoping that it will fit into the finished piece because I think the entire audience will be left in tears.

Tow Away Zone - Sam Ospovat

Sam Ospovat, an incredible drummer, recently asked me to help him create some movement for a live performance of this improv-based composition. I listened to it a lot beforehand, at first because I felt like I should (even though I knew it would sound completely different in the show) and then because I felt like it was this weird and magical room that transformed itself every time I opened the door on it.

I used to have an enormous prejudice again contemporary improvised music. I was afraid of it, in the same way that I'm still afraid of things labeled "performance art."Afraid of boredom, confusion, and unpleasantness that you can't escape because you are at a show and good manners dictate that you shouldn't just walk out because you don't "like" something. But, having heard and seen more music like this performed live, I find myself starting to enjoy some of it. It's so interesting, so obviously full of ideas and strictures, both followed and defied, even if I can't understand most of the language it's speaking in.

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