Monday, June 19, 2006

Naxos Classical Music Spotlight

I happened upon this podcast from the iTunes directory, and at first it was pretty low on the list to listen to. Now I like it more and more, perhaps the announcer Raymond Bisha is loosening up for the summertime, or the choices for CDs are getting more interesting. Here is the description of the podcast. The spoken part of podcast is like a good classical radio broadcast, similar to the ones you hear on WGBH, where the DJ is extremely knowledgeable about the composer, the music and often the particular performance. It is one of the things that I miss about not listening to the radio anymore. Don't get me started on bad classical radio (I won't name any names, but a certain commercial station in Boston comes to mind, ahem "Classical Radio Boston"), where they only play "Top 40" classical music and DJs are dumb as doorknobs, or simply not allowed to speak intelligently. But this Naxos podcast takes it one step further in terms of expounding upon nuances and emotions. Since it is a promotional podcast, you don't get to hear the whole piece, but it has certainly left me wanting to hear more. It is almost better this way, where you can hear a particular passage and its meaning, almost like a music lesson.

The latest podcast about John Cage sent me reminiscing about my time at Tanglewood in the summer of 1981. In our master class, we were each asked to choose a piece to learn and perform from The Waltz Project. Each student chose a piece that represented their tastes and personalities. I, along with one other student, was immediately drawn to the John Cage piece, 49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs. The rest of the students simply scratched their heads over the piece, not knowing what to make of it. The "score" of the piece simply consisted of 49 street addresses in New York City, where the performer had to extrapolate the "music" from. We made an adaptation for all the addresses of the students. There were 4 performers, one that "played" the addresses transcribed to chords on the piano (Yvar Mikhashoff, our master, and one of the original performers of the Cage piece), one that played the melody line of the addresses on another piano (me), one that "announced" the location as we traversed the country (the assistant teacher) and one that ran the model train setup inside of the piano (the other student). When I first started listening to this podcast of John Cage Piano Music, I thought that perhaps I had outgrown my childhood fascination of this often bizarre composer, but I found myself still loving the music. It was extremely beautiful at times, and breathtaking in its expanded view of what music is. I was glad to be reacquainted through Raymond Bisha's eloquent narrative.

An earlier podcast on Mahler Symphony No. 8, also known as Symphony of a Thousand, was also quite enlightening. The funniest part was at the end, where Raymond Bisha left off with this remark, "To go out, here are the final bars of the symphony. Play this at full volume and you might just blow the roof off your house. Go ahead, try it, just see what happens." Just not what you expect to hear from a classical music host.


Anonymous said...

I'm not a customer, but I've heard good things about emusic as a seller of non-DRM mp3s.

They do carry the entire Naxos catalog.

Gillian said...

I came across your blog recently and have been enjoying reading my way through the archives.

Thanks so much for the link to Naxos podcasts. I love learning more about composers and the pieces they have created.

You were always going to get my attention by mentioning Mahler -definitely one of my favourite composers!