Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How I Got to Carnegie Hall

Dog-gone-it, they've taken the image of Daddy-O Daley we used on this blog off the Internet.

A Saturday Night in Carnegie Hall
I sadly must admit, I hadn't been in Carnegie Hall in many a symphonic moon. I must further admit that though I've been a staunch advocate of Charles Ives's music since I first heard the Concord Sonata (Ives's Piano Sonata #2) performed by John Kirkpatrick on an old Columbia LP (1947) as a teenager, the last time I saw an Ives piece performed live was in the early 1970s when Leopold Stokowski's American Symphony Orchestra put on a marvelous performance of Ives's Holidays Symphony. And, yes, that performance was in Carnegie Hall.

I used to subscribe to several orchestra series at Carnegie every year, especially when the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner or the Cleveland Orchestra under Georg Solti came to town, this back when I had a rich wife who in order to get me out of the house on certain Saturdays and Sundays would buy me seasonal tickets to these concerts. Such concertizing ceased when this woman divorced me in the mid-70s and sent me out into the pits of Gotham City on my own. From that time on I must admit I lost track of the symphony seasons in the city devoting the spending of my music money on jazz and blues LPs and cassettes. After I became a serious musician, a jazz pianist and blues vocalist, my interest in classical music fell by the all-night-gig wayside.

Recently, however, thanks to a good friend's wife whose work allows her access to classical music events and prior notices of what's coming to town in terms of symphonic programs, my attendance at symphony concerts has reblossomed and this is how I happened to be sitting in the Third Tier front row in Carnegie Hall this past Saturday (May 11, 2012) at a concert by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra! you're maybe saying with a sardonic grin on your face. Why in God's name would a old New York City resident have an interest in the Nashville Symphony Orchestra? Did Ernest Tubb or Hank Williams write symphonic music on the side? And I must confess, I was very curious about this except the Nashville Symphony Orchestra was in town to be a part of Carnegie's annual Spring for Music series where a vast array of American symphony orchestras are invited to show off their wares. I was especially interested in this particular performance because the Nashville Symphony Orchestra was performing Charles Ives's great eclectic Universe Symphony, as arranged by an old alumni of my alma mater, the University of North Texas, Larry Austin.

What Ives Said About The Universe
"--I started something that I'd had in mind for some time (and [of] which some sketches were made a few years before [the Fall of 1915]--see mss.)--trying out a parallel way of listening to music, suggested by looking at a view (1) with the eyes toward the sky or tops of the trees, taking in the earth or foreground subjectively--that is, not focussing the eye on it--(2) then looking at the earth and land, and seeing the sky and the top of the foreground subjectively. In other words, giving a musical piece in two parts, but played at the same time--the lower parts (the basses, cellos, tubas, trombones, bassoons, etc.) working out something representing the earth, and listening to that primarily--and then the upper [parts] (strings, upper woodwind, piano, bells, etc.) reflecting the skies and the Heavens--and that this piece be played twice, first when the listener focusses his ears on the lower or earth music, and the next time on the upper or Heaven music.

"This was suggested by a few pages of a sketch or general plan for a Universe Symphony or 'The Universe, Past, Present, and Future' in tones (see some marginal notes on back of old manuscript pages--see ms. page marked U s):

"I. [Section A] (Past) Formation of the waters and mountains.
II. [Section B] (Present) Earth, evolution in nature and humanity.
III.[Section C] (Future) Heaven, the rise of all to the spiritual."

I love this guy. He's pure American; he's pure New England; he's pure Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne; he's pure transcendental. He thinks above the horizon. And you have to know, he sketched this Universe out on pieces of paper on which he was also sketching out other pieces, all conceived on the piano, all coming out of his multitasking musical brain, his mind so full of music from the time before he entered Yale University to study with Horatio Parker until he stopped writing music in the early part of the 20th Century due to his having what most believe was a heart attack when he went to work on a neighbor's farm trying to build up his vitality so he could go drive an ambulance in World War I. A complicated man who became a millionaire not from his music but from insurance, the Myrick & Ives agency of New York City. He wrote his music at night--sometimes staying up all night to write it out as fast and furiously as it arrived in his musical brain.

This Universe Symphony is a very complicated piece of music. Ives loved pitting orchestras against each other within his scores. In the Universe, for instance, in the Earth section, Ives put it this way:
"The earth part is represented by lines starting at different points and at different intervals--a kind of uneven and overlapping counterpoint sometimes reaching nine or ten different lines representing the ledges, rocks, woods, and land formations--lines of trees and forest, meadows, roads, rivers, etc.--and undulating lines of mountains in the distance that you catch in a wide landscape. (On p. 6-7 there (are) 15 separate lines, 11 in lower [parts], 4 in upper.)

"And with this counterpoint, a few of the (same kind of) instruments [as those] playing the melodic lines are put into a group playing masses of chords built around (various sets of) intervals, in each line. This is to represent the body of the earth, from whence the rocks, trees and mountains rise. (From 5 to 14 groups of instruments or separate orchestras, each to know its own part before coming together in conclave, the various lines of counterpoint [having one] primary and two secondary [voices]. Each 'continent' has its own wide chord of intervals...."
[From: Memos, Charles E. Ives, WW Norton & Co., New York, first paperback edition, 1991, pp. 107, 108 (edited by John Kirkpatrick}. These Memos dictated by Ives to his secretary in the mid-1930s.]

A complicated man, a complicated piece of UNFINISHED music--Ives's Unfinished Symphony.

Larry Austin wrote in the notes to this Nashville Symphony program: "I began in 1974 to transcribe the musical material and to study Ives' plan for the Universe Symphony and by Ives' open invitation to other composers in his memos to expand on and even to carry out his aspirations for the work. [Ives was notorious about this kind of invitation--I think what he meant was, "If you can figure out what I'm intending here, then have at it; I challenge you to figure me out."]

"Since 1974 I have completed four extended compositions based on distinct orchestral strata in Ives' material. I have since worked to incorporate the material and performance techniques developed for these pieces into what now has eventuated in this composed realization of the entire Universe Symphony. It is certainly Ives' most ambitious and, I believe, his most compelling and visionary work."

The Nashville Symphony's music director (its conductor) is Giancarlo Guerrero, a Nicaraguan who grew up in Costa Rica, who claims to have a passionate interest in American composers, which includes both North and South American composers, though through the Nashville Symphony he leans toward USA composers.

For this performance of the Universe, the Nashville Symphony used 5 conductors conducting 5 different orchestras (A, B, C, D, E) within the whole orchestra and using a computer program also devised by Larry Austin to keep the times and intervals and form each orchestra was executing in the proper sequence--and Larry Austin was one of the 5 conductors--conducting the string orchestra.

A monumental task but one this orchestra pulled off with magnificent order. I was impressed. I had heard Larry's realization on CD by the Cincinnati Orchestra (Recorded in 1994 on Centaur CD CRC 2205; there is also a realization by Johnny Reinhard, first performed in New York's Alice Tully Hall in 1996 and recorded by Mr. Reinhard and the American Festival of Microtonal Music Orchestra in 2005 by the Stereo Society (SS007). Mr. Reinhard's realization, he claims, is totally rendered exclusively from Mr. Ives's sketches, accusing in his extended notes on the subject Larry Austin of using more of his own compositional input into his rendition. Reinhard breaks this symphony down into seven sections that last over an hour whereas Austin combines those seven sections into three overall sections that last 37 minutes) and though impressed by it, it lost something via the CD. Live it came better alive. It's a piece of music that you must take seriously and listen to seriously with both ears and eyes open wide to it. You can't hardly even breathe during its performance. One cough during this performance angered me I was so intensely involved in listening to it. For instance, I can't imagine enduring Mr. Reinhard's 60+ minute realization, though Reinhard claims his version is more pure Ives than Mr. Austin's.

The total work of Charles Ives is to me the ultimate in American symphonic composing. Ives was into polytonal and microtonal music long before Schoenberg came on the scene. Ives even experimented with quartertone music rigging up pianos with quartertone scales built into them. Ives mastered atonal music, like I said, long before Schoenberg got credit for its invention. Ives's 4th Symphony is considered the ultimate in American symphonic composition--no composer has come close to matching its many brilliances. By analyzing the 4th Symphony so masterfully, Leonard Bernstein on a recorded lecture on Ives that originally came with his LP recording of the 4th (on a 45 rpm record included in the set and extant on the Columbia CD) ended by coming to the solid conclusion that Ives was a true musical genius.

Kudos to the Nashville Symphony for a job well done in their Carnegie Hall, May 12, 2012, performance of this work.

I got another surprise at this concert. The second piece the Nashville gang performed was a piece by Terry Riley entitled The Palmian Chord Ryddle for Electric Violin and Orchestra, a work commissioned by the Nashville Symphony, Mr. Riley now a resident of Nashville, teaching at Vanderbilt University. I remembered Terry for his very boring C, his minimalist works, and other boring monotonous works. How surprised was I to find this piece rather traditional, in a Gershwin way, and in some parts rather Ivesian in concept. Mr. Riley was present to take a bow at the end of this piece, well done to by Tracy Silverman playing an electric violin of his own design--it was also noted that this piece incorporated a banjo in its orchestration--I personally saw no sense in the banjo since its parts were limited and hard to hear otherwise.

The last piece on the program was Percy Grainger's The Warriors, Music to an Imaginary Ballet. Though I was once quite fond of an LP I had of Percy playing his own English folk pieces for piano, I saw no place for this piece on the same venue as Ives and Terry Riley.

The orchestra did an encore that was amazing, though I caught only Mr. Guerrero saying it was the last movement of a piece the orchestra had introduced on their last visit to New York City. It was a Latinish movement, a very sprite piece that brought out the scintillational best of this very good orchestra.

Mr. Otho Higgs
(not his right name)
for The Daddy O'Daily

Thanks, Brian, for the info about the American Symphony doing the 4th this fall. The NY Phil. is doing the 4th next year, also.

The Daddy'O gang
(we aren't allowed to answer comments because blogspot insists we're The Daily Growler--of which we are not affiliated)

1 comment:

  1. Thought you would want to know ... The American Symphony Orchestra will be playing Ives' 4th at Carnegie Hall on Oct 26 as part of their 50th Birthday Celebration concert, and all tickets are at 1962 prices ($1.50-$7).