Monday, February 23, 2009

Audio Files (Part I of III)

I remember one of my favorite concerts I attended about three years ago, a trumpet chamber recital during my fifth and final spring in Appleton. (Although my memories are respectful, I won't share the performers' name in case they would like to not be associated with the content of this post. It's not a big secret, but I just always feel uncomfortable creating something that will be forever cached to someone else's name via the googles.)

The program was ambitious and wide-ranging, the kind of concert that lasts for awhile, but you don’t mind. For starters, there was the stratospheric Albrechtsberger concerto. I remember at the time, as I was thinking about coming to the University of Iowa, the performer relayed a story about the Albrechtsberger from his time in Iowa City. The piece, a favorite of one of his formative mentors, seemed to be anomalous in the trumpet repertoire for its odd range and the pitches used, which didn’t seem to gibe with the available notes of the trumpet at the time. (Caveat emptor: this is a remembered anecdote three years’ removed about a remembered anecdote about 25 years removed…)

As a grad student at Iowa, hetook the piece to a musicologist on the faculty, who just happens to be an international expert on the Jew’s Harp, also known as the trouba—an easy visible doppelganger for the tromba. A couple years ago, here in Iowa City, I was aimlessly perusing the trumpet concerti in the stacks of the Rita Benton Memorial Music Library, which is soon to be renamed, I hope, post-flood, the Rita Benton Memorial Music Library Memorial Music Library.

(For that matter, any followers of Iowa’s rich musical history will take heart that, per FEMA’s apprehensions re: funding multi-million arts campus renovations with taxpayer dollars in a floodplain, the legendary Himie Voxman has all but officially outlived his namesake music building.Doctor –Voxman graced the apparently-defunct Hancher stage to play clarinet in a band rendition of Festive Overture last spring and, just this past December, he “commenced” with the class ’08, walking across the stage to receive an absurdly well-deserved honorary doctorate (link via "Tubahead"). Six generations of private-lesson teachers would have had to send their students home early if it weren’t for his voluminous duet transcriptions, and the full story of his many, dogged discoveries has yet to be written. Then again, I’m a budding musicologist in search of a specialty living right down the street from his archives. Why don’t I write that full story?!) Mr—excuse me,

Back to the stacks of the Rita Benton Memorial Music Library Memorial Music Library, trumpet concerti: written in what I believably recognize as an earlier version of the hand that admonished reams of my sheet music some couple decades later, in the margin of the first Albrechstberger trumpet score, was a small parenthetical: “originally for Jew’s harp.” It’s funny how important mentors in your life crop up in unexpected places at unexpected times, like the M261s in the middle of a bleary weekend afternoon.

Back to Appleton. Onto the sensuous and graceful Saint-Saens Septet for Strings, Piano, and Trumpet (which avid Peter’s Blog-ophiles will remember from this post last fall that I prepared as I studied for my masters comps). Then there were a handful of casual Bach two-part inventions with the trombone professor, while the program ended with a bizarre but good-natured aleatoric theater-piece called Bravo! Encore! for trumpet and six hand-clappers.

Besides getting to hear a generous rendition of the the Saint-Saens Septet, my favorite memory from the concert comes from a piece that was performed between the Bach and Bravo! Encore!, if memory serves me right: a set of brief but compulsively organized duets composed by the legendary Columbia classical sound engineer Andrew Kazdin. I’ve “encountered” Kazdin quite often during the past few years, historically speaking, as I’ve fallen lockstep into the Glenn Gould cult. Kazdin was Gould’s producer, and in many ways his analytical alter-ego. Kazdin’s Gould book is worth picking up even for the casual Gould fan, and it is hardly as—excuse the pun—“dry” as books by soundmen tend to be.

(TANGENT: This is without a doubt the worst book EVER by a sound man, full of racially troubling sexual fantasy, star-worship, incessant self-promotion, with dozens of pages of “this-was-how-I- set-up-the-amps-for-the-Japan-tour” tedium. It’s so horrifically bad, and such a blatantly obvious cash-in, that I perversely beg you to read it. You can have my copy, even.)

Kazdin may have been encouraged by Gould’s affably dopey act of contrapuntal evangelism, So You Want to Write a Fugue , which I encountered on an otherwise revelatory disc of Gould’s compositions
I received as a thoughtful 2008 Christmas present.

Kazdin’s set is virtuosic in its thoroughness: canon, in inversion (“is a dangerous diversion”), retrograde, retrograde inversion, at the [insert interval here]. The performers selected a few to perform, but then, in what perhaps was my favorite onstage remark by a live performer ever, the trumpeter stopped before the exact retrograde palindrome (that’s a melody forwards and backwards, for you non-musicians—but if there are any non-musicians still reading at this point, email me, and I’ll send you a dollar) and told the audience that this movement was so academic he preferred to describe it rather than play it.

I think no less than Gould himself would be proud of the performers' insubordination. Compared to other pieces on the program, teeming as they are with “style,” the Kazdin’s composition were bracingly stripped down, unapologetically logical, and were capable of being described as well as performed, an idea unto itself, kept in a cool, dry place.

So, 900+ words of prelude to this simple, life-changing fact (that also, in a sense, relates to Kazdin): two weeks ago, I decided to go all in and buy a pair of Bose headphones.... (Stay tuned for Part II of III, already written but to be published tomorrow!)

1 comment:

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