Wireless

I love my Bluetooth headset—a Bowers and Wilkins P5, comfortable over the ears and great sound without “noise canceling” trickery—but I sure wish I’d remember to charge it before climbing into an airplane.

Fortunately JetBlue has under the seat power. So I’m sitting at 38,000 feet, about ninety minutes to Las Vegas, listening to Delvon Lamarr and Daniel Bachman and wondering, why can’t I sleep after getting up at 3:30 this morning for a 6am flight? And answering, probably the two cups of coffee I’ve had before and after boarding.

Flights are productive for me. Not work necessarily; this flight is loaded with staff from every security company in the Boston area, so it’s not the time I want to work on a roadmap deck. But it’s a great time to write. Another eight pages competed before my brain switched off. JetBlue is also winning at inflight Wi-Fi today. All sorts of wireless in this future world of ours. Except, of course, the USB cable running from headphones to the power brick that’s plugged in under my left knee.

Friday random 5, swimming in soup edition

It’s a muggy muggy day in the Boston suburbs. Let’s stay cool with some Random 5!

  1. Oingo Boingo, “Nothing Bad Ever Happens” (Skeletons in the Closet – The Best of Oingo Boingo)
  2. Zola Jesus, “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake” (Conatus)
  3. Chamber Domaine, “Requiem für Eine Polka, for Piano and 13 Instruments” (Henryk Górecki) (Górecki: Life Journey)
  4. Katie Hanley & Godspell Ensemble, “By My Side” (Godspell – 40th Anniversary Celebration)
  5. Go-Gos, “Lust to Love” (Beauty and the Beat)

Morning listening: Daniel Bachman, “New Moon”

Aquarium Drunkard: Daniel Bachman, The Morning Star. I’ve been listening to a fair amount of “American primitive” guitar work recently—mostly guitarists who follow in the steps of John Fahey, but also the psychedelic work of Steve Gunn and, especially, the rural energy of Daniel Bachman. I’m pretty excited to get Bachman’s latest release, The Morning Star. There’s a good combination of hypnotic guitar-work and hypnotic drone in the excerpt posted here and on Bachman’s Bandcamp page. Now the only decision is, digital download only or digital + vinyl?

Bonus, via Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: a twenty-minute live Bachman set from Philadelphia last January.

Revisiting the 2016 election, precinct by precinct

New York Times: An Extremely Detailed Map of the 2016 election. What’s fascinating to me is how transitional some of the maps are—and how well they map to urban/rural, high income/low income, and white/black lines. My old neighborhood growing up went for Hillary at about a 60%-33% margin, less than neighboring streets that are (or were 20 years ago) home to lower income housing, but much more than some of the other areas of our suburbs.

My current house is in the middle of a big blue bubble, of course.

A Pizzetti Prelude

Tanglewood Festival Chorus at Seiji Ozawa Hall, James Burton conducting, July 20, 2018. Photo courtesy Jon Saxton

I’m still a little weak-legged this morning after last night’s TFC performance. It’s not common for me to feel so completely drained, but our Prelude concert last night, with works by Pizzetti, Palestrina, Rossini, Lotti, and Verdi, took everything I had.

I was unfamiliar with Ildebrando Pizzetti and his works before this concert. From my exposure to him through his Requiem, he embraced older sacred music traditions, filtering them through twentieth century ideas of tone and form. The Requiem has echoes, consciously or un-, of earlier Renaissance works, including what I still insist is a nod to Tallis in the setting of “Jerusalem” in the first movement.

Our director, James Burton, pulled those connections to the fore by programming the Requiem alongside works by Palestrina (“Sicut Cervus”) and Lotti (the “Crucifixus a 8”). But Pizzetti owed a debt to his immediate forebears, too, with the operatic sensibilities of Rossini and Verdi both present in his writing. From those artistic forebears we added the Rossini “O salutaris hostia” and Verdi’s great “Pater Noster.”

If you put all those works together, you have about an hour of a cappella music by Italian composers in Latin and Italian. To intensify the drama, James interleaved the other works between movements of the Pizzetti—the final order was:

  • Requiem aeternam (Pizzetti)
  • Sicut cervus
  • Dies irae (Pizzetti)
  • O salutaris hostia
  • Crucifixus a 8
  • Sanctus
  • Agnus dei
  • Pater noster
  • Libera me

We transitioned between movements attaca (without a break), and performed without a piano, taking the pitch from James and his tuning fork. And I think it was some combination of these things—the intense drama of the music, the quick transitions without a break, the unrelenting mental focus—that left me literally shaky. That or hypoxia. There are some seriously long lines in all the works.

But I have a new composer on my list of “must listens” now, and a new appreciation for others that I’ve sung for years. It was a great night.

Here’s a taste of the Pizzetti, from our Thursday rehearsals, that gives you a hint of the remarkable G Major beauty that raises its head above the clouds.

Transcribing Julian Bond

Julian Bond on the streets of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in 1968, courtesy AP

UVA Today: You can help put Julian Bond’s papers in an online archive. UVA, in this case meaning the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies, the Small Special Collections Library, the Center for Digital Editing, the Scholars’ Lab, and Virginia Humanities, are sponsoring a two-day event to harness volunteer efforts to transcribe Civil Rights icon and former UVA professor Julian Bond’s papers. (I’ve written a little before about the lessons I learned from Mr. Bond.)

If I lived near Charlottesville, I would attend the event in a heartbeat. But given that the event is happening almost a year to the day after the re-emergence of Nazis in America, and several days after the planned anniversary rally in Washington, DC, I hope that the organizers are taking steps to prevent interference with the process.

Quiet time

The blog is quiet this week thanks to another Tanglewood outing, my second and last for the summer. This week I’m here exercising my straight tone, singing with Herbert Blomstedt on the Haydn Missa in angustiis (aka “Lord Nelson Mass”) and singing a chorus-only Prelude program featuring the Pizzetti Requiem and a set of related Italian choral music.

My colleague Jeff has written about the Pizzetti, so I’ll just add that Pizzetti’s allusions in the piece are maddening. So far I’ve found the connection to Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah in Pizzetti’s setting of the word “Jerusalem” (first movement), and I’ll post others as I find them.

Tanglewood – Chichester, Barber

The first Tanglewood Festival Chorus residency of the season is concluded and it was bittersweet. I got to watch my colleagues perform an astonishing La bohème on Saturday, took in the final rehearsals of the newly formed Boston Symphony Children’s Chorus (though wasn’t able to see their concert), and performed Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” for the first time with the BSO (and about the fifth time in my life).

All of which was a pretty good warmup to the highlight of the weekend, the memorial concert for John Oliver. There were about 175 choristers from all eras of John’s tenure on stage in Ozawa Hall. We performed a set of songs by Samuel Barber, of which I had only performed “Heaven-Haven” (some twenty-eight years previously, with Mike Butterman and the Virginia Glee Club); was familiar with (but had never sung) “Sure on This Shining Night,” and had never heard (“The Coolin” and “To Be Sung on the Water”). The chorus came together in passionate song remarkably quickly, considering how long it had been since some of the members had sung with the TFC (thirty years or more in some cases).

And I was by turns amused and deeply moved by the remembrances by TFC members Brian Robinson and, especially, Paula Folkman. And doubly so by the brief remembrance held earlier in the day at John’s tree (not the one above; I’ll get a picture next week) where Mark Rulison and a crowd of alumni, friends, and family gathered to remember John.

Rebuilding

Twelve years ago, on one of my first trips to Tanglewood, I discovered the hedge maze that abutted the Lawn next to our usual practice spot, the Chamber Music Hall. Cloaked by twelve foot hedges, the center held a fountain overflowing with flowers. Beyond lay a memorial bench commemorating the donation of the Tanglewood property by the Tappan family. The bench was evocatively ruined. It still had a commanding presence but the cracks that ran through it seemingly threatened to send part of it toppling to the ground. Behind: a fifteen foot hedge. Beyond: the road, then the world.

This year we arrived at CMH to see a temporary fence and a blue sky gap in the hedge. The fence surrounded a batch of new hedges barely eighteen inches tall. Beyond: the bench, rebuilt. Without the overgrowth of hedge, the now-reknitted bench, still awaiting the reapplication of its bronze dedication letters, curved like a oyster, inviting and naked. The dark tangled beauty I remembered from twelve years ago was gone, but another beauty now sits revealed, waiting for its letters.

Driving past Arrowhead

I’ve sometimes posted (in the past thirteen years or so of this blog) about my experiences wandering around the Berkshires while out at Tanglewood—the Hancock Shaker Village, Lenox—though during my blog dark period there were several escapades (to Naumkeag and The Mount) that went unrecorded. But what I didn’t appreciate, even after coming out here for so many years, was the degree to which you can literally stumble over fascinating corners everywhere you go out here.

Last night, for instance: I took a shortcut to dinner that led through clusters of houses separated by trees and fields. Looking up, I saw a big sign on the left: “Herman Melville’s Arrowhead.” I’m going to have to find the time to go by and get a tour of the place where Moby-Dick was completed.

Friday Random 10: No Lights edition

Haven’t done one of these in a long time, but a partial power outage at work seems like a good reason to start. Here are the first ten tracks that have spun up from my music player today. I will confess to cheating a little by removing that one Johnny Mathis Christmas tune that came up in the middle.

  1. The Flaming Lips, “Goin’ On,” At War with the Mystics (Deluxe Edition)
  2. Jonny Greenwood, “Bode Radio/Glass Light/Broken Hearts,” Bodysong (Music from the Motion Picture)
  3. Nine Inch Nails, “The Downward Spiral,” The Downward Spiral
  4. Bruce Cockburn, “Yanqui Go Home,” Stealing Fire
  5. Donny McCaslin, “Warszawa,” Beyond Now
  6. Prince, “4 the Tears in Your Eyes,” The Hits/The B-Sides
  7. Pink, “Just Give Me a Reason,” The Truth About Love
  8. Zapp, “So Ruff, So Tuff,” Historia de la Musica Rock: Locas
  9. Red Steagall, “Bob Wills Music” (from my friend Catherine’s mix “Texas Radio and the Big Beat”)
  10. The Bad Plus, “Thriftstore Jewelry,” Prog

Opera crash course

I’ve been up to my eyeballs in opera recordings for the past four or five months. I didn’t have many (well, any) opera recordings prior to that, save a fantastic Colin Davis recording of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust that I ordered after we performed it with the BSO last fall (under Charles Dutoit, but that’s a different story). But then the records started arriving…

There’s something pretty fantastic about being a member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus: your fellow musicians are all well connected to people who have been making and living music for a long time. One of my fellow choristers, for instance, is good friends with the former head usher at Tanglewood. And it turns out that he was a rabid collector of opera recordings, and now needs to downsize his collection. So she asked the group at large, Does anyone want some records? Reader, I said yes.

And then the first batch of recordings arrived a few months ago: two cardboard boxes full of opera sets, most only played once. Huge amounts of Massenet and Verdi, some Douglas Moore (The Devil and Daniel WebsterThe Ballad of Baby Doe), and Meyerbeer and Richard Strauss and Tschaikovsky and…

Needless to say, I’ve been kept busy digitizing and listening. And in the process I’ve learned that I really like listening to opera. It wasn’t something that my family prepared me for—while classical radio was on all they time in my home when I grew up, it was almost always instrumental or (sometimes) sacred choral. Opera was something that we occasionally would tune into with Saturday afternoon Met broadcasts but wouldn’t seek out. My perspective began to change after I started singing in opera choruses with the TFC, but this immersion is really starting to make me want to listen to more.

Which is good, because two new boxes arrived last week. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me…

King’s Weigh House

During our vacation week in London, we walked by the church above probably half a dozen times. I was struck by the structure—the polychrome, the oval chapel—and by the odd coincidence of the church’s presence on Binney Street, which was the address of our first apartment when we moved to Cambridge, Mass.

I finally got around to looking up the church, intrigued by its odd name. The King’s Weigh House church was indeed built over the site of the King’s weigh house, but that was in Little Eastcheap rather than its current Mayfair site. (The original site first held St. Andrew Hubbard church, which was destroyed by the Great Fire of London, then replaced by a weigh house that became a chapel for dissenters in 1695 before moving up the street.)

The congregation was forced to move when the Metropolitan Railway purchased the land on Eastcheap, but the Duke of Westminster donated the current site. The new building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect responsible for the London Natural History Museum, a handful of buildings at Oxford, and, amusingly, Strangeways Prison.

Oh, and Binney Street? Turns out it’s named for English Congregationalist preacher Thomas Binney, explaining its reuse for a street in Congregationalist Cambridge. (Oh, and our apartment in the complex formerly called Worthington Place turns out to have been in a National Historic District!)