With the Fiscal Cliff™ negotiations behind us and the payroll tax holiday officially over, households making $75,000 a year will see their taxes increase by about $70-$80 per month.
As our dollars seem to get us less and less each year, we have to look for better and better bargains. Thankfully, for fans of the operas of Richard Wagner, Deutsche Grammophon has just the thing: the complete Wagner operas in one box set. Released today. From Die Feen to Parsifal and everything in between. 43 CDs, more than 50 hours of music, and some damn fine performances too. All for the budget-friendly price of $86. That’s about $0.03 per minute of music. (Incidentally, the list price on this set was going to be $125.) You also get 170 pages of liner notes and a link to download every word of each libretto.
To recap, here are some things you can get for $86:
A while back I did a thing for the KUSC blog where I picked my Top 10 Classical Christmas Picks. (Actually, it ended up being a Top 12 list, but whatever.) Here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2. But you won’t hear any of that music blaring over the loudspeakers at your favorite shopping mall. And you certainly won’t encounter it on the very limited playlists of those all-Christmas-music-all-the-time radio stations either.
Which is fine. The mall and that soft-rock station aren’t really the right venues for great art anyway. But it got me thinking. There’s plenty of non-classical Christmas music out there that’s actually good music. Why don’t we ever hear any of it?
In that spirit, here are my picks of Christmas Music That’s Actually Good. From Tuvan throat singers doing Jingle Bells with overtones…to a wistful, bittersweet version of Frosty the Snowman that finally captures the essence of the song (after all, Frosty does DIE in the end)…to a bluegrass rendition of O Come, O Come Immanuel…and the only arrangement of The 12 Days of Christmas worth listening to (how many others have each day in a different key and time signature?)…it’s all here. Or is it? What’s missing from this list? Tell me, and I’ll add it.
Hat tip to Nico Muhly of all people for this one. The other day he tweeted:
As a huge fan of the Osmo Vänskä cycle of Sibelius symphonies with the Lahti Symphony recorded in 1996-97, I checked the link. “Like free,” turns out to be $9.99, but I see Muhly’s point. Less than 10 bucks for the best Sibelius cycle since Sir Colin Davis’ mid-1970s standard-bearer with the Boston Symphony Orchestra is a very small price to pay. Plus, you get all the important (Karelia, Lemminkäinen, Finlandia, En Saga) incidental music and tone poems as well as the not-so-important ones. (The Tempest, Overture in E major, Snöfrid, etc.) All of that for less than $10, you might say it’s, like, free.
The first is the latest CD release by the LA Philharmonic. (Recently, the LA Phil has been stuck in iTunes download-only land. This is the first actual CD they’ve put out since the release of Arvo Pärt’s Symphony No. 4 on ECM, recorded in 2008, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting.) Coincidentally, Salonen is the conductor on this latest CD as well. A concert recording of music by Dmitri Shostakovich. I went to this performance last fall at Walt Disney Concert Hall and, even though it was early in the LA Philharmonic season, I knew this would be one of the concerts of the year. A world premiere of a recently-discovered Shostakovich opera about a human-ape hybrid which, as Esa-Pekka Salonen told me in an interview for our broadcast of the concert, “is really wacky stuff.” As exciting as new Shostakovich is, the performance of the 4th Symphony steals the show. To say it is intense is a gross understatement. Searing, haunting, and at times downright terrifying, this music is not for the faint of heart. Buy this recording.
The second album release this week that has me head-over-heels is Carry the Fire, by Delta Rae. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in Tennessee, but I have a soft spot for what a composer friend of mine calls “dirty South” music. Delta Rae is a new band from North Carolina that showcases an powerful vocal technique and a musical swagger that makes you think they’ve been knocked down, beaten up, spit on, and are coming back swinging. I guess that’s to be expected when you write one song about drowning witches and another about a gossiping ex-boyfriend. That one, says singer Brittany Holljes, is “an anthem for ass-kicking.” Buy this recording.
Growing up, when my sister and I would fight, my mother would trot out the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So when this bizarre and inexplicable recording of the Beethoven 9th Symphony + narration landed on my desk a couple of weeks ago, my first instinct was to quietly push it into the corner where it could begin collecting dust. Unplayed and still in its shrink-wrapped jewel case, it wouldn’t bother anyone and I wouldn’t be tempted to say anything bad about it. Continue reading →
I remember the first time I heard about “9 Beet Stretch“. Sound artist Leif Inge took a recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and stretched to last 24 hours, with no change in pitch. That’s a 70 minute symphony stretched out to 1,680 minutes. 9 Beet Stretch was featured on an episode of RadioLab all about our concept of time. (Highly, highly recommended listening, this.)
Slowing a recording down and stretching it beyond recognition is nothing new. The technology is as simple today as it was in the days of reel-to-reel tapes. Still, I find myself endlessly drawn to these works. There’s something comforting about them.
The LA Philharmonic announced today its world premiere recording of the recently-discovered Prologue to the unfinished opera Orango, by Dmitri Shostakovich, will be released June 19th. The live recording also features conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen leading a searing performance of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 4 from the same concert earlier this season. Continue reading →