Archive for the ‘Johannes Brahms’ Category


I love this klezmer version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

The first 7 songs of the disc are the popular, quickly recognizable melodies from the ballet.  But each song has been klezemerfied–which means minor keys and clarinets and spirited dances that are really peppy.

So even though the musicianship is top-notch, there’s plenty of humor here.  As this review puts it

It combines the zany wit of a Spike Jones with the class and craft of a Duke Ellington and recasts the Nutcracker as a Hannukah classic with images of a dancing Latkes Queen and marching Macabees.

The humor even extends to the titles:

A Klezmer Nutracker

  • Kozatsky ’till You Dropsky
  • Dance of the Latkes Queens
  • March of the Macabees
  • Araber Tants
  • Dance of the Dreydls
  • Waltz of the Rugalah

The rest of the disc is made up of Other Klezmer Classics.  Despite the abundance of Satie, these songs don’t quite do it for me.  They are fine, but Gustav’s Wedding and Romanian Rhapsody are a bit too long.  Although Hungarian Goulash is wonderful

Perhaps I just prefer the songs with which I’m familiar.  Having said that, the second half is full of very good klezmer, so don’t dismiss it outright.

  • Gustav’s Wedding 4:25
  • Romanian Rhapsody by G. Enesco 4:40 (see, these two are too long)
  • Gnossienne 1 by E. Satie
  • Gnossienne 2 by E. Satie
  • Gnossienne 3 by E. Satie
  • Hungarian Goulash (based on Brahms)
  • Nekhome–Solace (after “Prelude 4,” Chopin)
  • Turk in American
  • Russian Bulgar
  • Gymnopedie 3 by E. Satie

[READ: July 9, 2017] 100 Girls

I really enjoyed this book (first in a series apparently), and was about to say it’s really good for an Orphan Black-type premise, and then I saw that it came out in 2005–many many years before Orphan Black. So, three cheers for the originality then.

The book begins with Sylvia waking up from a nightmare.  Right off the bat the drawing style is notable–Todd Demong’s style is really interesting–angular and exaggerated but not “cartoony,” the proportions and angles make the story more hyper-real than cartoony, which is pretty great.

When she wakes up, she hears her parents talking about her…how she has changed and become more difficult.  Her dad blames it on her being a teenager, but her mom thinks its something more.  As she walks to school with her friends, we see that a car is doing surveillance on her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOSHUA BELL & JEREMY DENK-Tiny Desk Concert #568 (September 30, 2016).

After hearing a pianist and then a violinist, it was fun to hear a duet of the two.

Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk are masters of their crafts.  Although I did not know that:

Bell and Denk have been chamber-music partners for 10 years, and they’re a bit wound up on Brahms these days. They’ve released a new album, For the Love of Brahms, and they’re performing the music, along with that of Brahms’ friend Robert Schumann, in concerts.

They play three pieces, two Brahms, and one Schumann.  And they all sound spectacular.

Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3, IV. Presto agitato
“You gotta love Brahms,” Joshua Bell says, a little short of breath. He’s wiping sweat from his brow after the big rock ‘n’ roll conclusion to the composer’s D minor Violin Sonata. Bell and the astute pianist Jeremy Denk play it with all the turbulence and tenderness Brahms demands, and it’s an invigorating way to open this Tiny Desk concert. [I love that the focus jumps back and forth from violin to piano, with interesting riffs and trills from one then the other.  I also love the way the melodies seem to creep around and sneak up on us].

Schumann: Romance, Op. 94, No. 2
Contrasting with the fiery Brahms, Schumann’s Romance, Op. 94, No. 2 unfolds like a song without words. Bell makes his 1713 Stradivarius sing, capturing the bittersweet tone of the music. When the theme comes around for the second time, he lightens bow pressure for a more intimate, almost whispered disclosure.

Brahms (arr. Joachim): Hungarian Dance No. 1
Another of Brahms’ close friends figures prominently in Bell and Denk’s final offering. Violinist Joseph Joachim was something like the Joshua Bell of Brahms’ day, as well as the man for whom the composer wrote his Violin Concerto. Joachim’s gift to Brahms was creating piano and violin arrangements of the composer’s Hungarian Dances.  Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 1, powered by a sweeping theme and chugging piano topped with pearly descending runs, whisks you to a smoky café where gypsy fiddlers battle for supremacy. Starting off on the low G string, Bell’s tone is as rich as dark chocolate, the feeling a touch wistful.  [I really love Hungarian dances.  It seems like every composer’s take on Hungarian music is excellent.  I love how the violin plays a very simple yet dark melody and the piano sprinkles in all of these descending notes in a fairly dramatic scale.  And then of course as all the dances do, it speeds up, careening around in wild abandon and fun.  Wonder what made Hungary such a lively place].

[READ: June 13, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta

I rather like that the Lunch Lady books are sequential and mildly dependent on each other. Of course you can read them in any order you like, but reading them in the proper order allows you to see some continuity between books.

In the previous book, Dee mentioned that the author of the Flippy Bunny series was coming to the school. And in this book he does.

The kids are super excited that Mr Scribson is going to be there to read and sign books.  He is something of a primadonna though as he is upset that the reading will be taking place in the gym.  After his presentation, he signs books, but when Hector brings him a very old copy of the book Scribson says “I don’t sign opened books.”  Hector who has always love the Flippy Bunny books is devastated). (more…)

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sleepanna  SOUNDTRACK: ALESSIO BAX-Tiny Desk Concert #541 (June 17, 2016).

alessio2Alessio Bax is a pianist and a new father.  His daughter Mila is 22 months old and, a first for Tiny Desk, she is visible through the whole show.  And, no matter  Alessio is playing, all eyes are on Mila because she is completely adorable (and very well behaved).

In honor of his new daughter, Bax plays three pieces which are essentially lullabies.

Perhaps in honor of NPR/PBS, Mila is playing with a cookie monster doll for most of the set and she is being quite cuddly with it–even putting it on her head and resting it on the piano.

Introducing the first piece, J.S. Bach’s (arr. Petri): “Sheep May Safely Graze,” Bax says that Bach asks the pianist to do three things at the same time which is similar to a new parents life.

It is a lovely (somewhat familiar) piece with some beautiful melodies.

alessioWhen the song is one Mila smiles very big and claps along with everyone else and says “papa”

He acknowledges her and says, “She’s my fan #1.”

Lucille Chung, Bax’s wife and Mila’s mom duets with him on the second piece, Brahms: Waltz No. 15 in A-flat major, Op. 39.  They share the piano, which is pretty cool.  As she sits down, Mila says, “Mama too,” which wins over everyone.  Chung takes the high notes while Bax plays the lower notes. It’s a brief song, and very sweet.  Once again when the applause starts, she happily claps along.

Bax says, “We should have her play something–it will be her debut.”

He introduces the final song, Rachmaninoff: Prelude No. 4 in D, Op. 23, but before he starts, Mila says “no practicing” which he says they deal with all the time.

The song begins as a kind of lullaby and then gets much more “hot-blooded” with a stormy middle section that eventually returns to a dreamy ending.  Mila has a small keyboard of her own.  She starts “playing” it, although it proves to be a little too loud and her mom takes it away.  The song does indeed get a little intense in the middle, but is overall quite lovely.  And as it finishes she says papa piano and then beams with a big smile as she applauds with everyone else.

[READ: March 1, 2016] Sleep Tight, Anna Banana

I didn’t realize that this book was a translation at first.  I also didn’t read the biographies of the two people involved. It says that the author Dominique decided to write picture book when her adult son Alexis became a picture-book artist.  So his success inspired her to write these books.  They were translated by Mark Siegel.

We seem to read a lot of translated picture books in our house. Sometimes the very premise behind them is so unfamiliar it’s obvious they were not created by Americans.  Other times the books feel just a little …off somehow.  Like in their rhythm or something.

This book never really came to life for me. (more…)

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harperioctSOUNDTRACK: BROOKLYN RIDER-Tiny Desk Concert #44 (January 26, 2010).

brooklynThis is one of the darkest Tiny Desk Concerts I’ve seen.  Meaning it is rather poorly lit.  I’m not sure why it is so dark in the office–oh, I see that it’s 4;30 PM.  But this string quarter isn’t hindered by it (although they do remark on it before the final song).

The notes state that the quartet (two violin, a viola and cello) loves Debussy and Brahms but they also write their own music and have teamed up with a Kurdish kamancheh player (or as the one player states, a Japanese shakuhachi player and an electronics musician).

The first song, “Vagharshabadi Dance” is an Armenian dance written by an Orthodox priest named Komitas. And they are quite animated as they play it.

In the introduction to the second piece called “Second Bounce” (which is a companion to a Debussy piece, which they play next). Colin Jacobsen (violin) says that he based it on the way a super ball’s first bounce is expected but the second can go anywhere.  And the notes they play are often unexpected (and bouncy).  They’re also quite hard (the viola player (Nicholas Cords) says the piece hurts his hand).  That piece is only a trio–they wanted to mix it up a bit.

The Debussy piece “String Quartet in G Minor: 2nd Movement” is very nice.  It’s got a lot of pizzicato (from all the instruments) while the others play a cool riff.  Johnny Gandelsman (violin) sat out of “Second Bounce” but he gets some great “solos” in this one.  I don’t know all that much by Debussy, but I like this.

“Ascending Bird” is sort of their theme song–an arrangement of a Persian folk song.  It has some incredibly fast riffs (even from the cello (Eric Jacobsen)) and some interesting scratching on the strings.

Check them out here.

[READ: March 6, 2015] “The Monkey Did It”

I had just read a short story by Murakami, so I was interested to read this piece by Galchen, whose insights are, I think, spot on.

toricelliShe talks about Murakami’s latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and she uses the simile  that Murakami’s works are like Torricelli’s Trumpet or Gabriel’s Horn–finite space with infinite surface area.  And while I wouldn’t say that I thought of that myself, I would say that I have often thought that his stories seem so simple (at least in plot) but there is so much more in them.

I like the way that she talks about his books as having a plot that sums up pretty easily, but within the plot several other new threads are opened.  And they are more metaphysical at the same time.

In the novel friends vanish, but that is not the main plot.  Rather, Tazaki is haunted by the fact that his friends abandoned him some time ago.  His girlfriend Sara tells him he needs to figure this out.  So he sets off on a kind of quest.  Galchen notes that the girlfriends in his stories are always encouraging the main characters to do these quests. (more…)

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witmis3SOUNDTRACK: TOULOUSE LAUTREC-“Yesman” (2013).

heroesToulouse Lautrec are an alternative rock band from Romania.  Once again, I would not have ever heard of them had I not looked fora song about Lautrec (since he is mentioned in this section of the reading).

Toulouse Lautrec have two albums out, Heroes and their new one Extraordinar. They sing in both Romanian and English and this song (which is the first thing that came up on my search) is entirely in English.

It starts out with some very cool guitar riffs (very math rock–I actually considered it might be an instrumental).  Even the bass is doing something interesting behind the guitars.  Then about 50 seconds in the vocals begin.  And the singer has an almost American twang to him.

The chorus is a simple one, with ooh hoo hoo hoos.  But the real fun is at the end of each verse–the I say no I Say no and I say yes I say yes.

I listened to this song a few times and really liked it a lot.  It’s simple but solid alt-rock.  Then I found their website and watched a few more of their videos.  I really like the sound that they get–kind of buzzy guitars but otherwise very clean.

Check out the video for Yesman

and their site (which is in Romanian, but Google Translate will help you navigate)

[READ: October 20, 2013] Wittgenstein’s Mistress p. 61-120

This book is proving to be far less daunting and far more loose and fun than I anticipated.  As you can see by my “read” date, I finished this almost two weeks ahead of time.  In part it’s easy because unless I am gravely mistaken, there’s nothing really to “remember” about the story.  There are details and I think they are ponderable, but there’s nothing that seems to really impact the story. It’s more a series of ideas.

It’s really quite an audacious piece of writing.

Wittgenstein gets his first mention on page 61

“Once Bertrand Russell took his pupil Ludwig Wittgenstein to watch Alfred North Whitehead row, at Cambridge.  Wittgenstein became very angry with Bertrand Russell for having wasted his day” [61].

There are some meaty existential issues brought up like

“Surely one cannot type a sentence saying that one is not thinking about something without thinking about he very thing that one says one in not thinking about” [63]. (more…)

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