I just spent 31 of your hard-earned dollars and you will thank me for it later

I’ve been working on my click-bait headlines. How am I doing, UpWorthIt?

Okay, emotional manipulation aside, there are many ways you could spend $31. You could buy this crow bar…this Himalayan Salt Lamp which is also an air-purifier (huh?)…two of these Runny Nose Shower Gel Dispensers, one for your shower and another for the kids’ shower, I suppose.

ORYou could choose to spend your $31 by hooking yourself up with two of the best recordings to come humanity’s way in a long, long time. (I know, I know…you crazy kids these days with your Napsterfy and your Rhapsodora accounts. You scoff when I suggest you “buy” a “recording.”)

Coincidence that they both involve the music of Igor Stravinsky? (To the millennials, that’s iGor.) Probably not.

The first is this unassuming-looking release from Steinway & Sons. Yes, the piano makers now have a record label.

JennyLinStravinskyJenny Lin, who seems to specialize in performing music by “Composers I Like,” (Shostakovich, Silvestrov, Stravinsky, Seeger, and others whose names don’t start with S) has turned her attention to a lesser-known side of the man who brought us The Rite of Spring. Probably the most famous selection on this recording are the three movements from The Firebird, which give the Taiwanese-born American pianist a chance to display her awesome power at the keyboard. These movements don’t always work as solo piano pieces, but in Lin’s fingers (wrists, arms, shoulders), it’s spine-tingling.

Everything on this album is excellent, so I’ll draw your attention to three more of my favorite moments:

  • the Sonata from 1924, which sounds like it could be from 1724 and written by a fellow whose middle name is Sebastian.
  • the Etudes, which predate The Firebird. You know, from before he got famous.
  • the all-too-brief Sketches of a Sonata, from just a couple years before Stravinsky died. About 30 seconds of what-if, from Stravinsky’s LA years.

Jenny Lin: Stravinsky Solo Piano Works is out 2.25.14. You should buy it. You’re welcome.

Here’s the other recording you should buy:

BadPlusRiteYes, this is a piano-bass-drums don’t-call-it-jazz trio doing “the most important piece of music of the 20th century” (Lenny). There are many excellent versions of The Rite, but if you ask me (did you?), this is the greatest of them all. Second only to iGor’s original, of course. All three players employ dazzling special effects: pizzicato trills on the double bass, eerie high-pitched squeals and all manner of grunts/groans from percussion instruments being played in unorthodox ways, and general bad-assery from the piano.

In fact, everything about this Rite by The Bad Plus is badass. At first, you think to yourself, Oh, they can’t possibly pull that off, but then you keep listening and realize that you are totally hearing a recording of them pulling it off–like for real–and here they are, reconvincing you of everything you’ve always known about the explosive innovations of the original Rite and when it all comes crashing to a chaotic halt half an hour later, you think to yourself: Holy shit. So that’s what it felt like to hear The Rite for the first time back when it was new.

And here you are, hearing it like new, 101 years later. You lucky bastard.

The Rite of Spring, by The Bad Plus, is out 3.25.14. You should buy it. You’re welcome.

12 Pieces of Classical Christmas Music in Case You’re Sick of Mariah Carey

santa-hat-on-bassFor what it’s worth, I actually like that Mariah Carey Christmas song. I know I’ll take some heat for that, but whatever, I don’t really care. It’s a well-crafted pop song (if that’s possible), which doesn’t sound dated (it’s nearly 20 years old) like most pop music does after like two weeks.

Side note: Mariah Carey could live off the “All I Want For Christmas is You” royalties alone. It’s impossible to chart worldwide royalty numbers, but it is the best-selling Christmas single of all time (12 million copies) on the best-selling Christmas album of all time (more than 15 million copies), and in Great Britain alone, Carey is projected to rake in close to $750,000 this year for that one song.mariah-carey-money

But if all you want for Christmas is a little more substance in your Christmas music, then this blog’s for you. Below are 12 pieces of classical Christmas music in case you’re sick of Mariah Carey. >

Got $86? Want Wagner?

Richard WagnerWith 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:

You know what to do.

Christmas Music That’s Actually Good

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 an updated version of that post. 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.

The Haiku Reviews: An Anti-Beatle, Fifty Shades of Grieg, and Ubiquity


I liked it better
back when Sir Paul was writing
ballads, not ballets.




Ildy has sung this
role almost as many times
as Don has had sex.




Very important!
Don’t listen to this at work.
(Sexual harassment.)




What we really need
are more “classical” covers
of Radiohead.




Beautiful. Haunting.
Breathtaking. Mesmerizing.
Thoughtful. Urgent. Wow.



Previous Haiku Reviews here.

CD Review: David Greilsammer’s “Baroque Conversations”

At first, “conversations” seems like too hopeful of a moniker for this album. A bold juxtaposition of such disparate artists as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Morton Feldman, Roy Lichtenstein, Arthur Rimbaud, and Gabriel García Márquez, “collision” might be a more apt description. Continue reading

The Haiku Reviews: A 400-Year-Old Premiere, Some Beethoven, and Plucked-Up Bach

As I make my way through the piles of new CDs on my desk at work, from time to time I’ll also share some rapid-fire reviews of said albums…in haiku form. Because:

Sometimes the best way
to quickly review CDs
is to use haiku.

Continue reading