Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What Happened and What's Going On

Hey-o! I have been gone a very long time, ahaha. School is happening people, it's happening for reals. I have had a TON of stuff going on, and I still really love writing on my blog, and wish I could keep at it, but the time simply doesn't allow it. During my breaks though, that's a different story! So around Christmas, I'll probably show up again, and maybe I'll be able to make time before then even.
Here's all the stuff that's happened since I dropped off...

-Took up the Alto Saxophone, and had to play lead alto sax for our Jazz Band's first concert because the normal first alto was going to have a doctor's appointment. That was scary, playing lead alto after having played for a grand total of six weeks. But I did it, and no disasters happened. I hit all the notes and managed to keep the section together. Huzzah!

-Won a cool scholarship at my school, and am currently taking flute lessons from the lead flutist of the local symphony orchestra. Great Scott!!

-Read The Little Prince for English 1B. Totally amazing and devastating book. Go read it now, it's just such beautiful a story.

-Found an amazing Piccolo concerto!! Augh, I love it! I think there will be a post on it very soon that is super rambly!

-I'm playing the 2nd movement of Mozart's concerto in D major for flute with a pianist friend of mine! It's so much fun to play music with another person one on one!

So that's about it. See you sometime in the future, stay frosty.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Review: Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

I said most of what I wanted in the last post, but I need a break from writing my thesis (yeah... summer classes :P), so I'm doing this.
Long story short, I liked it. I know, against all odds. Usually I can't stand books in verse, but this time around I found I liked the story enough to get around the whole 'book in verse' thing. The problem I have with books in verse is that usually I have a super hard time figuring out what the deuce is going on, but in Eugene Onegin, the plot is easy to follow without being extremely simple. I'd love to read this in Russian someday, but I don't know if I could learn it well enough. We'll see.
The characters were interesting. The cast was small and easy to keep track of, unlike a lot of Russian novels. Not like having a huge cast is a bad thing, because I love Russian novels.
I feel like I can't judge the writing because I read a translation. With regular prose, you can directly translate what the author was saying. When translating poetry and having rhymes to preserve... let's just say that maybe what the author wanted to say hasn't completely gotten across.
The thematic elements were beautiful, and I learned a lot about Russian culture (at least in the 1800s) from the useful footnotes, so this was a lovely experience.
Pushkin inspired a lot of my favorite composers to write music about his stories, so I'm very excited to try and read some more! I'd like to read The Blizzard next, because one of my favorite concert suites is based on that story.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Mid-Book Impressions: The Three Musketeers and Eugene Onegin

If you look at the sidebar on my blog, you'll notice that I'm reading The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. If you read Cyrillic, you'll also have figured out that I'm reading Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. Sorry I didn't get an actual book cover for it, but I liked the drawing. Pushkin was good at drawing too, who knew?
Ahem. I've noticed several similarities between these books, and I'm less than halfway through Musketeers and nearly done with Eugene Onegin.

First off, they both feature dueling. Musketeers treats dueling as casually as you treat brushing your teeth, and Onegin treats dueling as something tragic that ruins lives. Huh. I wonder if those people you just skewered had families and lovers, d'Artagnan.
Pushkin goes out of his way to show how horrible the early death of the man killed in the duel was, whereas in Musketeers, the bodies pile up with hardly a batted eye. But again, I'm less then halfway through it. I'm either in for three hundred more pages of this, or an epic Dantes-esque redemption arc. Why do I doubt the latter.

Second, the leading men are both deeply flawed. Eugene is jaded and ends up making many mistakes that ruin his happiness. d'Artagnan is impulsive and a little too quick on the draw, also he is actively trying to get a married woman to be his mistress. Eugene's flaws are what drives the story to tragedy, d'Artagnan's are portrayed in kind of a 'boys will be boys' way. Needless to say, I don't like it.

Third, the author's names are both Alexander. Nothing deep to say here, I just thought it was really funny how I just so happened to pick these two at the same time. Coincidence, won't you?

The thing that surprised me about Onegin is that it's written in verse, and I usually hate books in verse. I couldn't even finish The Ballad of White Horse by Chesterton, because I was so lost and irritated with the style. However, I'm plowing through Onegin, and enjoying it very much. I'm also considering learning Russian so I can read this and my other favorite Russian novels in their original language. I already speak French, so I should probably brush up on that so I can reach fluency. But still, reading this in the original language would be a treat, because due to the format- poetry, it's really hard to convey the author's feelings. So Someday. Someday I'd like to read Pushkin's actual words.

As for Musketeers.... eurgh. I'll finish it, and give a final consensus, but it's not looking good.
Tell me, am I going way too hard on what is essentially supposed to be a fun adventure story? Maybe I shouldn't take it so seriously. I dunno. I think my expectations were unfairly high due to the sheer epicness that was The Count of Monte Cristo. Maybe I should reread that in the original French, that'd be fun.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Righteous Classical Music: Daphnis et Chloe Suite no.2 by Maurice Ravel

A ballet that premiered in 1912, Daphnis et Chloe is more remembered for its exquisite score than for its plot, characters, or choreography. The ballet is set in ancient Greece, and follows the shenanigans of the lovers Daphnis and Chloe, as various obstacles get in the way of their happy ending.
Many regard this as Ravel's greatest work. I am a huge fan of this music, and it's pretty much tied with a bunch of other stuff as my favorite Ravel. It's perhaps not the most approachable music, but once you're used to the impressionistic music style, you can start to really appreciate it!

The first movement of this suite, Lever du Jour, is a glorious musical portrait of the rising of the sun. Rippling woodwinds and harp sound like the sunlight painting the Grecian landscape, while three solo violins and a piccolo sing the morning songs of birds. It crescendos into a transcendent chord, and in your mind's eye you can see the sun break over the hills!
I love the theme that is carried by the strings. It just kind of floats above the texture of the accompaniment, like hazy morning fog. There are two solos for piccolo and Eb clarinet respectively. These solos are meant to be the songs played on the pipes of a shepherd!

Pantomime, the second movement, is where Daphnis and Chloe re-enact the story of Pan and Syrinx, and features one of the most beautiful flute solos in the orchestral repertoire. It's basically supposed to be the invention of the flute, as Pan takes a reed and blows a sorrowful melody through it. As the 'first thing' played on a flute, it must sound like it's being improvised, which is just too cool!

Danse Generale is probably the most popular section of the suite. When performed with a choir, the work takes on a primal, almost hypnotic vibe. It's a triumphant ending with the two lovers reunited, and this dance is a wild celebration. It's pretty crazy!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky (orch. Ravel)

This is currently one of my sister's very favorite pieces. She wants to be a conductor, so I got her the score for her birthday, haha!
Mussorgsky was inspired to write this oddball 'suite' when his artist friend passed away. There was a memorial exhibition of his best works, and Modest wrote pieces after them to honor his friend. Very sweet!

Lovely brass work! Also, the opening theme is also a fragment of the last movement, The Great Gate of Kiev!

This one is kind of creepy! It is based off a picture of a spooky little gnome with legs so short he uses his arms to walk. There's some cool celesta riffs. Celesta usually sounds sweet and heavenly, but here it's creepy! Though this movement is macabre, it seems so in a light hearted way.

Here's the Kiev theme again, but this time it's not as bright and joyful as the first time. Rather, it sounds thoughtful, like a person browsing the art gallery, or Modest remembering his deceased friend as he looks at the exhibition.

The Old Castle
This picture was of a man standing below a window (of a castle, duh) and serenading his lover. The mood is brooding and almost morose, with a romantic solo for alto saxophone. Makes me think of a moonlit night. Maybe their love is forbidden and they can only see each other at night. That's part of what I love about Pictures at an Exhibition, the titles give you enough to place a scene or character, but other then that they're vague. Imagination fuel!

My sister would like to point out the constantly changing time signatures in this promenade (once again pompus and happy). Crazy!

This painting depicts happy children playing in a garden in Paris. The mood is playful, but a little cheeky, as the children quarrel a little amongst themselves!

A peasant rides is oxen-drawn wagon, whilst singing a typically Russian folk tune. In this movement, you can totally feel the movement of the wagon wheels! Very good musical painting! Tuba seems to get the melody towards the end too, haha.

Aw, a sweet variation on the Kiev theme, with tranquil flutes and the other woodwinds. And what the deuce, 7/4 time.

Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks
Okay, so there was a ballet featuring little chicks, and it's very fun, haha! The music sounds a little disoriented, like they can't see where they're going because they haven't all the way hatched! Very playful!

Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle
Here we have two guys, one is rich, one is poor, and the music contrasts their personalities. There is kind of a weird Trumpet part, that sounds like a high, nasaly voice. A good example of character writing!

Limoges, The Market Place
Haha, this picture was of a bunch of women gossiping and having a good time at a marketplace. You can almost see the busting around.

Catacombs (Roman Sepulchre/Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua)
We segue RIGHT into Catacombs from the last one. These two movements are joined together and are basically the same one. There are a lot of massive, harsh chords, contrasted with a mysterious trumpet solo. It sounds like you just discovered, well, catacombs. It's like you're on an adventure, and maybe you meet a ghost or something. The second part of the Catacombs is a little more tender, like what scared you a lot before turns out to not be so threatening.

Baba Yaga: The Hut on Chicken Legs
Yesss! This is a great movement, with stabby strings, crazy woodwind riffs, and terrific, threatening brass. This is based off of a Russian fairy tale character called Baba Yaga. She's a witch that lives in a house on, well, Chicken Legs, it jumps over the forest looking for human bones to devour! Yikes. I love the opening. It sounds like, Oh crud we've gotta run!

The Great Gate of Kiev
A maddening scale segues directly into the triumphant finale- celebrating the Gate of Kiev! The brass section is amazing here, hat tip to them! The jubilant parts contrast with more thoughtful woodwind interludes. I really like how the piece develops and it is really exciting by the end! A stirring end!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Righteous Sorta-Classical Music: Nirvana by Do Bao and Van Anh Vo & Vietnamese Folk Medley

So last November, me and my orchestra did a bit of collaboration with a Vietnamese artist named Van Anh Vo, who plays a LOT of cool Vietnamese instruments!
I really enjoyed working with her, she was very nice, and the music was just amazing! I'm going to feature two of the songs we did, one is called Nirvana and is an arrangement of a work by Do Bao, the other is a Folk Medley!
Nirvana has a special place in my heart because it features a solo piccolo part, which is lyrical and beautiful, showcasing the tender side of the instrument that most people don't know exists! There are two main themes, the second serving as a gorgeous counterpoint to the first. I almost didn't come in when we first played this, I was so surprised by how lovely it was! Really like heaven ;) I like how it also combines traditional Asian music sounds (it's in the pentatonic scale) with contemporary music sounds (like that righteous drum set, LOL!).

Nirvana was for a chamber orchestra. It only has the string section, french horns, harp, piccolo (!), percussion, and of course, Dan Tranh. The Folk Medley on the other hand, is for full orchestra!
It's split into three sections.
The first is Rice Drums, a colorful and lively song that sounds like a parade! It hearkens the beautiful landscapes of Vietnam, and opens with a thrilling percussive rhythm!
The second is the Royal King Parade, a slower and dignified folk tune. Have I mentioned that all this time the 2nd violins have been striking their strings with chop sticks instead of their bows? Sometimes 21st Century music is pretty dang cool!
The third section is amazing, and titled The Black Horse. The title is extremely fitting, for this breathless and rhythmically interesting finale! I can almost feel the wind in my hair!

Listen and enjoy! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Flute Solo Spotlights!: Concertino in D Major op.107 by Cecile Chaminade

Cecile Chaminade was a late 1800's-early 1900's composer, that's right, she was a lady! You don't hear much about female composers, but I'm happy to hear her music, and VERY happy that she wrote this beautiful piece for the flute.
This is definitely one of my favorite pieces for the flute. The style is largely romantic, with a tender and serenely joyful main theme.The writing is virtuosic, with a difficult cadenza in the middle, crazy runs everywhere, lightning fast triplets, basically everything that's hard to do on a flute, haha! The ending is a break-neck presto, that ends the piece on a magnificent note!
As a flutist and fan of French composers, I hope you enjoy this amazing piece.