Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…A Symphonic Revolution


What if there were only nine symphonies? That’s the question CK Dexter Haven over at All is Yar asked himself over the holiday season, while on his way to Santa Barbara wine country. (Ah, the things we ponder while pursuing wine…)

“Nine has been a magical number of sorts for symphonies ever since Beethoven wrote that many and stopped,” CKDH wrote. (There’s also that whole curse of the ninth thing.) So, CKDH proposed making a list of nine he couldn’t live without. His ground rules included:

  • Only one symphony per composer
  • Only symphonies numbered 1-9.  No names either: e.g. Symphonie fantastique, Symphony of Psalms, Symphonic Dances, etc. (Or even Harmonielehre, even though that’s totally a symphony no matter what John Adams says.)
  • No duplicate numbers. In other words, one Sym #1, one Sym #2, one Sym #3, etc.

CKDH called this a “puzzlechallengegame of sorts.” And then he challenged me to come up with my own list.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 5.46.54 PM

My response?

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 5.47.11 PM

And “fun/impossible” is exactly what it turned out to be. Nevertheless, I have done it…for now…and I absolutely reserve the right to change any or all of these at any time in the future, because I’m *not* stuck on a desert island, damn it! At least, not yet.

Okay…deep breath. Continue reading

7 Operas that Make the VMAs Seem Chaste

shockingOn Sunday evening, millions of Americans tuned in to the MTV Video Music Awards. They were treated to a show that included, among other things, Lady Gaga’s butt and Miley Cyrus twerking on Beetlejuice. Freakout ensued. Then came this pseudo-defense of Miley.

I was fortunate enough to miss the broadcast–I was at the Hollywood Bowl watching fully-clothed musicians perform–but I’ve seen the GIFs. (<—-click at your own risk)

But shocking and sexually suggestive performances on stage have been around for centuries. Below are 7 Operas That Make The VMAs Seem Chaste. There are more, but these are the magnificent seven that I have chosen.

1. Mozart: Don Giovanni

DonGiovanniHigh-level psychoanalysis aside, Don likes to get it on. He humps everything that moves and has bedded 2,065 different women from Germany to Spain to Turkey and beyond. Side note: he doesn’t care how skinny you are, how old you are, or what color your hair is. He just wants to sleep with you.

2. Thomas Adès: Powder Her Face

PowderHerFaceThe first opera to include a certain sex act on stage (about to ensue, above). Continue reading

Arrested Development & Recapitulation

Created by @JamiePaisley

Created by @JamiePaisley

First of all, credit where credit is due: my puntastic colleague at KUSC, @JamiePaisley, created this, and many other, TV ad posters during our recent pledge drive. As a rabid fan of Arrested Development, this one was my favorite. And it got me thinking: what if the cast of AD were made up of classical composers?

Below, you’ll find my choices for which composer is best represented in the main characters of Arrested Development. Now…I could take this exercise deep into obscurity on either the AD or classical music side (see below), but for brevity’s sake, I’ve left it at just the main characters. So…where do I hit? Where do I miss? Let me know in the comments.

MichaelBluthMichael Bluth – Right away, we’ll start with some controversy. Allow me to summarize how I feel about the music of Johannes Brahms in one syllable: meh. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s why I think Michael Bluth is Brahms. I can also say it in one syllable: safe. Both are risk-averse, rarely challenge convention, and deride others who do. Plus, Brahms was a crusader against shoddy construction. “Without craftsmanship,” Brahms said referring to his rivals, “inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.” Continue reading

You Must Hear This: A Human-Ape Hybrid & Drowning Witches

Two very different recordings came out this week that I highly recommend. I previously wrote about both of them for The Music Issue of the very cool lit-quarterly The Aviary. More of my summer music picks are posted there, as well as those of such writerly folks as Amy Gerstler, Katy Henriksen, Mathias Svalina, and Angela Veronica Wong…plus reading recommendations from musicians Laurie Carney, Johnny Gandelsman, Rob Moose, John Rutter, and Dave Taylor.

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.