Beethoven’s Ninth: The Peril of a Bad Recording

I had a most wonderful experience last night. I heard a brief sound clip from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and decided it was a good time to listen to it. I pulled out my usual recording, which will not be labeled here. This is a recording I’ve since before even going to college. It was, erm, a bargain bin purchase, because I wanted to listen to Beethoven and didn’t know any better. Nearly every time I have ever listened to Beethoven’s Ninth, it’s been from this recording. I did see a live performance back in my freshman year, and it was pretty amazing.

Tonight, though, I started listening to my usual recording, and I made a fortuitous decision. I thought to look for other recordings, and I stumbled upon this one. It’s the recording from a performance following the fall of the Berlin wall, using both east and west performers, and being conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Almost immediately I noticed changes. There were whole parts of the music I had never heard before. To be honest, I’m not sure if this was just because it was a different recording, or if my usual recording is really that bad, but my mind was blown. Especially when you consider the context of this event, it is an incredibly moving performance, and I spent the majority of the evening doing nothing but listening to this.

I think there is pretty broad agreement that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the greatest pieces of music of all time. Written after Beethoven had gone completely deaf, I cannot even imagine what it took to get it down on paper. In my ear, it is pure bliss. Every movement is perfect, every chord, every melody sublime.

If you have never taken the time to really listen to Beethoven’s Ninth, I really encourage you to do it. It’s a little more than an hour long, but you won’t notice the time. Get some good headphones, lay back in bed, and just listen. You won’t regret it.

Started Playing Again

Euphonium

It’s Thursday, and that means tonight is a rehearsal for the Oregon Tuba Associations’ Ensemble, which I recently joined.  For the first time in several years, I’m playing the euphonium again on a consistent basis.  And I’m having a blast.

I started out by playing with a community wind band, which was fun, but the skill level was quite low.  The Tuba/Euph group is very different; their skill level is much higher. I’ve really been challenged and have put in some time practicing.  I’ve also pulled out many of my old euphonium solos and have been playing through those.  One of these days I’ll finally master Arban’s Carnival of Venice.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I feel like I’m a much better musician now than I was when I was actually studying euphonium as a student in college.  I feel like I have a much deeper understanding of the music.  I feel like I have a better understanding of the euphonium as an instrument.  I just feel much more comfortable playing.  Maybe it’s just a matter of being a more mature person now.  Many things that my instructor taught make a lot more sense than they did back then.

Playing with the group has been a very positive experience so far, and I can’t wait for Tuba Christmas.  I’ve actually never participated in it, and this year I’ll be able to, though they call it something different out here.  I’m really looking forward to it!

Shostakovich in my Brain

Dimitri Shostakovich

My favorite composer is Dmitri Shostakovich. I actually named my pet parakeet after him, I love him so much. His music has a way of worming itself in my brain and staying there. It’s really hard to put into words my feelings about this music. Shostakovich was a tremendously complicated person, living in complicated times, and complicated circumstances. No one is sure how to really interpret many of his works. Was his fifth symphony making fun of Stalin and Communism, or a gift to them? I find that while these questions are very interesting, they’re separate from the music. His fifth symphony is brilliant, regardless of the context.

Morning Edition on NPR ran a story yesterday about his fifth symphony that covers some of that context. This was actually their second Shostakovich story in a week. Last week they ran a piece on his seventh symphony. All this attention really pleases me.

Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony is my favorite piece of music ever. At nearly an hour and a half long in length, it’s not a light piece of music, but from the very first notes, my brain is engaged. The best recording I’ve found is Leonard Bernstein conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The full experience requires really good speakers turned up to eleven, especially for the finale.

Brass Band Concert

Last night, I went back to my old stomping ground and attended a concert by the Fountain City Brass Band. It was a very good decision to make. This band is crazy good, and listening to them live is auditory bliss. They played the program they performed in their tour of the other side of the pond, which they completed last June. They are the highest placing American Brass Band ever in the British Brass Band Championships. After hearing them, I can only imagine what the best over there might be like.

The highlight of the evening for me was a performance of Sparke’s “Music of the Spheres.” It’s a great piece, but must be a real chop buster. The last minute and a half, I just had to laugh. The technical virtuosity required borders on the absurd. Sparke said about this piece that he feels like it presses brass bands about as far as possible, and it’s easy to see why. This piece is a must hear at some point.