Gianmaria Griglio https://www.gianmariagriglio.it Website of conductor and composer Gianmaria Griglio Mon, 24 Sep 2018 08:42:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/cropped-g-32x32.jpg Gianmaria Griglio https://www.gianmariagriglio.it 32 32 The wind among the reeds https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/the-wind-among-the-reeds/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/the-wind-among-the-reeds/#respond Fri, 06 Jul 2018 09:48:51 +0000 https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=31149 The wind among the reeds
Gianmaria Griglio

This piece came out of a memory: a crisp late afternoon in Central Park. For piano and string quartet.

The wind among the reeds
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The wind among the reeds
Gianmaria Griglio

The wind among the reeds

by Gianmaria Griglio | for string quartet and piano

Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.

 

W.B. Yeats

I know that’s probably the first thing that comes to mind when reading the title: Yeats’ later poems; which, indeed, appeal to my ever-present melancholic side.

This piece, however, came out of a memory: a crisp late afternoon in Central Park. I was there quite a few years ago but I still have a vivid impression of this gorgeous sunset in September: there was a couple in their late twenties, he was pushing her on a swing, both trying to push away life problems for a few moments and go back to when you still expect everything to turn out fine.

The wind was gently twirling some fallen leaves around and it took me a little further down the lake where it was whistling through the high grass. I just sat there and enjoyed a brief moment of peace.

I remember the feeling as if it was yesterday: the power of memories! I thought of naming the piece “Sunday in the park with George”, except there was no George and someone else had already used it… so Yeats came to mind and there it is. Poetry, it seems, never leaves me alone.

The wind among the reeds

by Gianmaria Griglio | for string quartet and piano

Photo by Liugeng and SP2Zsolt

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Podium Time Podcast https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/podium-time-podcast/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/podium-time-podcast/#respond Tue, 17 Apr 2018 08:02:31 +0000 https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=30853 Podium Time Podcast
Gianmaria Griglio

"If You Miss a Cue": it was a pleasure to be a guest on Podium Time, a podcast for conductors from conductors, discussing the importance of imagination, the most important aspect of score study, and how we expect people to listen to concerts.

Podium Time Podcast
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Podium Time Podcast
Gianmaria Griglio

A couple of years ago or so, while guesting as a teacher at the Bard Summer Institute for Conductors, I met Jeremy D. Cuebas and Luke Lyons-Hunt, two wonderful musicians who were, back then, moving their first steps into the conducting world.

Well, it turned out that they also have a very entrepreneurial spirit and while pursuing their conducting endeavors they founded and currently maintain a podcast dedicated to conducting and conductors. It was a pleasure for me to be a guest on their program and talk about conducting, teaching, composing and, simply, music.

You can listen to it here along with many other interesting interviews.

Front photo by NeONBRAND

Podium Time Podcast
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Music and artists in the new witch hunt era https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/music-artists-in-the-new-witch-hunt-era/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/music-artists-in-the-new-witch-hunt-era/#comments Fri, 23 Feb 2018 09:43:48 +0000 https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=30731 Music and artists in the new witch hunt era
Gianmaria Griglio

The Weinstein case generated a snowball effect: no, I'm not talking about the lawsuits or the #metoo stories. I'm talking about the side effect on the art world: from a petition to remove a painting by Balthus from a museum to the altered finale of Carmen.

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Music and artists in the new witch hunt era
Gianmaria Griglio

The Weinstein case generated a snowball effect: no, I’m not talking about the lawsuits or the #metoo stories. I’m talking about the side effect on the art world: the American version of “House of cards” got shut down, with people cheering to take the awards away from Kevin Spacey; Woody Allen went under the microscope in a Washington Post article by Richard Morgan, who, in an impervious and fairly superficial analysis puts everything in the same box, limiting himself to see Allen as an old man obsessed by teenage girls; thousands of people signed a petition to remove a painting by Balthus (Thérèse rêvant) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art because it was promoting paedophilia (thankfully, the Museum utterly refused to abide, though the number of petitioners keeps growing); Carmen’s finale was turned upside down to be closer to the contemporary feeling towards feminicide; and let’s forget about Facebook, which on regular basis takes down pictures of sculptures representing nude men and women because they deem them pornographic. This last one came way before the Weinstein case but still fits in the picture.

We are somehow used to the trivialization of art by modern (and not so modern) knights of the moral. We are, perhaps, a little less used to the increasing easiness with which these bans are accepted or masterpieces are twisted or an artist’s works are burnt in a medieval attempt of purification. In Spacey’s case, the whole thing is even more ironic: Americans demand an incredibly high standard of ethics from their fictional president while they are much looser towards the real one.

Cast photo for Broadway stage play, Play it Again Sam, starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. 1969.

In Carmen’s case, things are a tad more complicated, given the fact that we’re not dealing with one individual but with a well-established piece of art. Certainly, there is nothing wrong in trying to make “actual” an opera that was written more than 100 years ago, in order to make it better resonate with the time we live in. It is, after all, what theater is about: re-interpretation, new perspectives, challenges.

The balance between the original author intentions and the imposed modern solutions is, however, a different matter. I have the very strong feeling that more often than not, some “solutions” are adopted almost exclusively to make people talk about a production. And there it is: Carmen is not Carmen anymore, but the Carmen of Cristiano Chiarot (intendant at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino) who decided along with the director and the conductor that the original story wasn’t good enough anymore and therefore needed to be rewritten.

In Mr. Chiarot’s words: “At a time when our society is having to confront the murder of women, how can we dare to applaud the killing of a woman?“.

I see. By the same token, I suppose he’ll change the finale of Pagliacci as well. I do believe that with this statement Mr. Chiarot is confusing the reality of a theater with the reality of a stadium: we are not applauding a murder, same way as we are not taking Don Giovanni as a role model. We are applauding a masterpiece that tells us a story: whether we like how it ends has nothing to do with it. Carmen is a work of art that doesn’t need to be changed, it already proved it can survive time quite easily without any extra help.

The altered finale is everything but brilliant or useful and it most certainly does not give a new perspective of the opera or underlines some of its subtleties; it’s simply the old trick of drawing a mustache on the Gioconda: it doesn’t better the original, but it gets people to talk.

The revisitation of Carmen falls perfectly in our time when the politically correct must reign over everything and everyone. Art, according to the new inquisitors, must be ethical and must portray its stories in line with the general sense of morality that permeates society. It’s a concept that is, in fact, hundreds of years old and that draws away from the real essence of art itself.

Art is supposed to challenge the world we live in, giving a new and different perspective on it.

Masterpieces are such because, no matter what, they never get old, not because we adapt them to suit our needs.

The querelle is as old as it gets: should we not play Wagner anymore? Or maybe we should stop playing La Traviata because it tells the story of a prostitute (and Verdi was a renown tombeur de femmes); what about Cosí fan tutte? or the Rake’s progress? Should we go back to draw leaves on the intimate parts of great frescoes? Should we stop having exhibitions of Caravaggio’s paintings because he killed people? Or stop reading Nietzsche because he was in love with his sister? Or seriously consider signing the petition against Balthus’ work?

Going down this road is as sick as it is insane: in the end, this is not even a matter of pushing for some sort of ethical art (whatever that means) but for a moral control of the role of art and culture in a society. We’ve been down that road before. It led to people burning books.

Quite a disturbing thought.

Photo by Ian Espinosa

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I hate Boulez. Long live Boulez. https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/i-hate-boulez-long-live-boulez/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/i-hate-boulez-long-live-boulez/#respond Tue, 20 Feb 2018 12:37:59 +0000 https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=30696 I hate Boulez. Long live Boulez.
Gianmaria Griglio

I don't really hate Boulez. But I don't like his music. But I do like what he tried to do. And I want more of it.

I hate Boulez. Long live Boulez.
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I hate Boulez. Long live Boulez.
Gianmaria Griglio

Letter to an audience member

 

Ye, I don’t really hate anybody. What I really dislike is what the avantgarde created. I do blame Boulez and his blind followers for wanting to have a clean slate with the past, not considering that without it they would not have been there. Luckily that did not happen: you still do listen to Mozart and Puccini.

However, the other effect of that attitude was to open, voluntarily or not, a gap between new composers and audiences: if you go to a concert and do not understand the sense of having someone banging on a refrigerator door on stage, chances you won’t come back are fairly high. If on top of that, they tell you that the reason you don’t understand is because you’re ignorant, then the chances you’ll turn to something else are close to 100%. Who could blame you for it?

Behind these excuses, composers of all sort, good and bad, have hidden a lot of “music” that the world could have lived without. If you need to read a volume of the British encyclopedia before a concert, something is wrong with the music, not with you.

You, as an audience member, should be feeling as comfortable at a classical concert as you are at the movie theater. You wouldn’t feel intimidated by going to watch, let’s say, Starwars, right? You go, and in the end, you either like it or not. Same goes with music: you’re not supposed to understand or have deep knowledge of it, you’re supposed to feel it and enjoy it. Of course, the more you know, the better: but if not knowing prevents you from enjoying, then please do blame the composer, not yourself.

Boulez died a couple of years ago: I never liked his music, but I recognize he was a brilliant man and tried for his entire life, staying true to himself, to promote contemporary music. That’s something that most Artistic Directors of today chicken out from, usually because they don’t have enough gumption. I wish there was still a Boulez in this respect. Then you would be able to enjoy (or not) more contemporary music, get used to it and not fear it anymore. Who knows, you might even fall in love with some of it!

You, on your end, can be proactive as well: you pay for a ticket to a show, if you didn’t like it, say it; if you did like it, say it too. Why should you always endure other people’s decision without making suggestions? Don’t be shy or, worse, lazy.

Be bold, and let us, the artists on the other side, know what you think. There should be no other side after all!

 

Best regards,

Gianmaria Griglio

Credits:

Photo by Davide Ragusa

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Prisma – Contemporary works for orchestra (review) https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/prisma-contemporary-works-for-orchestra-review/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/prisma-contemporary-works-for-orchestra-review/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 10:57:29 +0000 https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=30434 Prisma – Contemporary works for orchestra (review)
Gianmaria Griglio

Four composers from the UK and the US make it for a very interesting album: I find this listening challenging and enjoyable, well conceived in its entirety.

Prisma – Contemporary works for orchestra (review)
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Prisma – Contemporary works for orchestra (review)
Gianmaria Griglio

Contemporary Works For Orchestra

A compilation of orchestral works from 4 different contemporary composers from the United States and England.

The inspiration for these pieces is incredibly diverse, spanning from the 1997 Hale-Bopp comet to the American folk-song “Goodbye Old Paint”, making for a challenging and interesting album.

Time of the comet

by Lionel Sainsbury

performed by the Moravian Philharmonic – Petr Vronský, conductor

 

A sparkly introduction, introduced by the trumpets, lays the ground for a brisk full orchestra section, followed by calmer and warm second theme. I can imagine myself looking at the Hale-Bopp comet lying down in a wide grassland somewhere in Sussex.

The whole piece, tonal, certainly sounds British: in his own personal language, Mr. Sainsbury doesn’t forget his own roots and the fabric of British symphonic music that had one of his champions in Vaughan Williams, while throwing in the mix American influences and a polished orchestration that reminds of Dutilleux.

Reflective thought patterns

by Clive Muncaster

performed by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra – Robert Ian Winstin, conductor

The brass choral gives a very warm feeling to the opening of this piece: it’s like a comforting blanket that I can wrap around myself while sipping a hot cocoa in the middle of the winter. The brass leave room to the woodwinds, to the percussions and eventually to the French horn.

This work is, as the title suggests, built on patterns: it’s not a surprise then that a fugue-like section made its way into it.

Pattern upon pattern I discovered inner and outer ones, like the use of a reverse order of the material presented in the first half to circularly (and almost mathematically) close the piece in the second half.

 

Among the hidden

by Patricia Julien

performed by the Moravian Philharmonic – Petr Vronský, conductor

 

3 notes from the piano, repeated obsessively, introduce a charmingly melancholic theme. The strings dominate most of this work, with warm melodies and delicate nuances, while the piano comes back regularly with its three repeating notes.

I love the contrast that this piece creates with the other works in the album. At the same time, the piece in itself is full of contrasting sections, from cheerful to sad, brisk and luscious (especially in the string section) which make for a very pleasant listening.

 

Fastidious notes

by J.A. Kawarsky

performed by the Chicago Arts Orchestra – Javier Mendoza conductor, Jonathan Helton alto saxophone

 

The last piece of the album draws from the American folklore, and from one song in particular: “Goodbye Old Paint”. The fastidious notes of the title refer to an “extra beat” in the bar: the piece is mainly written in 5/4, drawing the ear to an unusual metric for folk songs.

The folk song is really used as an excuse to build a sax concerto movement on it, packed with a cadenza. By the way, Jonathan Helton does a great job with the challenging alto sax part.

Cohesive and well orchestrated, this piece works perfectly as a closing of the album which, in its entirety, offers a very appealing variety of styles and moods.

Prisma released on February 9th, 2018 for Navona Records and it’s available on all major music channels as well as Amazon.

What’s your take on this album?

Prisma – Contemporary works for orchestra (review)
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No enemy but winter and rough weather (full review) https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/no-enemy-but-winter-and-rough-weather/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/no-enemy-but-winter-and-rough-weather/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 13:33:46 +0000 https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=30363 No enemy but winter and rough weather (full review)
Gianmaria Griglio

No enemy but winter and rough weather: discovering new music is always exciting. The 6th album of the Shakespeare Concert Series is a great mix of old (16th century) and contemporary music.

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No enemy but winter and rough weather (full review)
Gianmaria Griglio

The Shakespeare concert series

 

Beginning in 2003, composer Joseph Summer started a series of concerts in Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands, inspired by William Shakespeare. The series took off, gradually expanding to other countries and piling up recordings. This particular one, published by Navona Records, is the sixth recording of the Shakespeare Concerts Series.

The title, No enemy but winter and rough weather,  quite poetic in itself, captures the spirit of the album: music that is inspired by winter, an ever-returning season, both in a year and in life. I was quite taken by the mix and match of the composers present on this album, spanning from Shakespeare’s time to ours.

Joseph Summer’s music opens and closes the album, unveiling a circular and well-thought cyclic concept behind the project. After listening to the entire album a few times, top to bottom, I had the sensation of a certain peaceful resignation: there’s a sense of acceptance towards life and its storms in this music, much like we accept that winter will come again at the end of the year and we won’t be able to stop it. On the other end, we also know it will eventually go away and birds will chirp in the spring. And round and round we go.

Joseph Summer, Concert Overture for Piano

SangYoung Kim piano

There’s a sense of detached anxiety in this piece: the opening chords make room for an almost obsessive musical idea which keeps returning throughout the whole piece. The counterpoint and weight of the music remind of the opening of Wagner’s Meistersinger (though this is minor). In its A-B-A form, the music moves from the Teutonic beginning to a lyrical middle section where the shifting harmonies give the sensation of walking on ice. Pianist SangYoung Kim does a fine job in showing the polyphonic character of the piece in all its nuances and juxtaposed layers. I must say, it’s perfect as an opening piece: interesting and not too tiring on the ears, it left me wanting to see what was going to come next.

William Walton, Under the greenwood tree

Kathryn Guthrie, soprano – John McGinn, piano

The last verse of the text of this song is what gives the title to the entire album: this particular piece comes from his incidental music for a Shakespeare adaptation of As You Like It (1936); the echoes of his early years, when he was singing works by Handel and Haydn in a boy choir, are evident in the piano. What I like best about this piece is the soothing melody: a musical idea which sounds almost detached and subdued to fate, in an unmistakably melancholic British way.  

Under the greenwood tree

by William Shakespeare (from As you like it)

Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Who doth ambition shun
And loves to live i‘ the sun,
Seeking the food he eats,
And pleased with what he gets,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Under the greenwood tree

Thea Lobo, mezzo-soprano – SangYoung Kim, piano

Korngold takes on the same text in this song (with an extra strofa): it’s a nice setting, but to me less enticing than Walton’s version. Still, it’s quite interesting to see how different composers can set the same text to opposite music.

When do birds do sing

Kathryn Guthrie, soprano – SangYoung Kim, piano

This is a much light-hearted piece: lovely in its conception, it delivers the idea of birds chirping and flying around. The piano never goes to the lower register, keeping the accompaniment very airy. The color of Kathryn Guthrie’s voice accentuates the chirping quality of the piece.

Thomas Morley, It was a lover and his lass

Luke Grooms, tenor – Ian Watson, harpsichord

We jump back in time to Shakespeare’s time with this lovely song by Thomas Morley (1557 or 1558 –  1602), one of the most famous composers in the golden age of England. Taking on another text from As you like it, Morley paints a delightful picture of spring and chirping birds, well rendered by tenor Luke Grooms who has no trouble with the agilities. The harpsichord adds that charm of 16th century’s courts.

Peter Warlock, Sleep

Kellie Van Horn, mezzo-soprano – Arcadia Players

We’re taken back to the wintery mood with this arrangement for voice and strings of Sleep, a semi-dark song by enigmatic British composer Peter Warlock. Warlock was, in fact, born Philip Arnold Heseltine in 1894, but published all his works under the pseudonym of Peter Warlock, a reflection of his interest in occult practices. He died aged 36 in 1930 due to an intoxication by coal gas (whether it was voluntary is still a matter of debate). A fine composer, his music reminds me of Skrjabin’s works, with much darker tones. The moving harmonies in this song create a constant tension which gets dissolved only with the final chord. Kellie Van Horn’s warm voice balances the no-vibrato cold sound of the strings, creating an interesting duality that accentuates the almost oniric character of the piece.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind

Another comparison of the same text set by two different composers

Thomas Arne

Paul Soper, baritone – Ian Watson, harpsichord

Thomas Arne’s version is certainly lovely to listen to: it’s quite light-hearted, considered the text, and follows the standards of early 18th century music.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Thea Lobo mezzo-soprano, – SangYoung Kim, piano

One of my personal favorite’s of this album: gloomy and sad with a touch of anger, this setting by Korngold is enchanting. Both Thea Lobo ad SangYoung Kim’s phrasing is on point.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind

by William Shakespeare

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly…

Dominick Argento, Winter – Dirge

Luke Grooms, tenor

Andrea Chenoweth, soprano

Arcadia Players

We stay in the 20th century with American composer Dominick Argento (b. 1927), mostly known for his song cycles From the diary of Virginia Wolf (which won him a Pulitzer Prize for music in 1975) and the Six Elizabethan SongsNeedless to say, both Winter and Dirge are from the latter. This cycle is nowadays fairly established in regular concert programming: while Winter is a brisk song – not at all easy to sing, but tenor Luke Grooms does a great job with it – Dirge is a more reflective one: soprano Andrea Chenoweth has the right voice type and elegance to do justice to this piece, wonderfully accompanied by the Arcadia Players.

Donald Busarow, Death be not proud

Kathryn Guthrie, soprano – Kevin Owen, French horn – SangYoung Kim, piano

Donald Busarow sets this sonnet by English poet John Donne (1572–1631) to an intriguing combination of soprano, piano and French horn. The horn warmly underlines the delicate soprano lines, while it makes for a powerful counterpart where the music gets more excited. Kevin Owen’s tone is beautiful, warm, perfectly on pitch and well balanced. While this piece partially sits in the 20th-century’s harmonic language, it preserves the melancholic qualities of English music, stirring up a wonderful mix of old and new.

Joseph Summer, Sonnet LX

David Salsbery Fry, bass – Victor Cayres, piano

The last 5 pieces of the album are all Joseph Summer’s; the first of the series is, again, a sonnet by Shakespeare: Summer explores the extremes of the bass vocalities, but the whole piece sits mostly in a comfortable area for the singer. The obsessive idea in the piano part keeps coming back, as a reminder of the inevitability of time passing, the subject of this sonnet.

Joseph Summer, O! that this too too solid flesh

Neal Ferreira, tenor – SangYoung Kim, piano

The journey continues with the entire soliloquy of Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 1), where the voice and piano interlace in a powerful 7 minutes cauldron of ideas, depicting the doubtful mind of Hamlet in this particular scene.

Joseph Summer, Beseech you sir, be merry

The Shakespeare Concerts Ensemble

Jeremiah Johnson (Antonio), baritone

James Maddalena (Alonso), baritone

Ethan Bremner (Sebastian), tenor

Katherine Pracht (Ariel), mezzo-soprano

This is not a standalone piece, but part of Summer’s chamber opera The Tempest, a Shakespearian work that has inspired so many composers. The feeble beginning of the strings took me right into the scary excitement that surrounds an incoming storm, while the piano speaks of loneliness. The flutes resolve the tension for a few seconds, making way for the singers’ entrance. The dialogue gradually intensifies till the violins go back to the same feeling of loneliness of the piano in the beginning. Gradually and relentlessly the music grows to reach the zenith, only to deflate once more into the inevitability of the beginning.

Joseph Summer, The quality of mercy

Thea Lobo, mezzo-soprano – SangYoung Kim, piano

A quote from The Merchant of Venice (Portia, Act 4, Scene 1). The liquid piano accompaniment reminds of the laguna’s waves, relentlessly coming back throughout the piece, with descending arpeggios in the right hand painting the falling rain. Mercy and forgiveness, some of the most common themes in Shakespeare’s opus, are given the voice of begging and passion while keeping the sense of dignity of Portia. Unsure of the outcome, the music ends with a question mark, suspending the harmony and waiting to see what will be next.

Joseph Summer, When that I was and a little tiny boy

Luke Grooms, tenor – Arcadia Players

The last piece is based on a text from Twelfth night: given the character of the play and the abundance of jokes in it, I suspect this piece was chosen to close the album as a way to cast winter away with humor. Summer’s take on it is almost sarcastic, with an ostinato pizzicato in the lower strings and Shostakovich-like tensions in the upper strings that resolve only with the very last chord.

I love discovering new music, and this has certainly been a pleasant discovery to which I’ll go back now and again.

You can buy a single track or the full album on Amazon.

The album is also available on Spotify and, of course, through Navona Records.

Did you like this album? What was your impression? Let me know in the comments below!

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What is the purpose of a conductor? https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/purpose-of-orchestra-conductor/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/purpose-of-orchestra-conductor/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 13:13:24 +0000 http://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=1632 What is the purpose of a conductor?
Gianmaria Griglio

Any breath a conductor takes, any movement has an impact on the orchestra players and on their sound. This simple concept makes a real different when someone steps on the podium.

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What is the purpose of a conductor?
Gianmaria Griglio

What is a conductor supposed to do (and not to do)

 

Well, last month I spent a week teaching at the Bard Conductors Institute. It was absolutely fantastic, as it always is when I go back to that special place. And, as usual, when you teach you learn – a big plus.

What daunted on me during this week – and later on reading some questions on the web – is that a lot of people, some students included, do not have really clear what the purpose of a conductor in an orchestra is. The most common misunderstanding is that a conductor is there to beat time in nice clear patterns, so that the orchestra can understand where they are. Add some dynamics to it and some show-biz gestures and you’re ready to go.

That is simply wrong.

Conducting patterns

Typical conductor’s patterns for 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4

Patterns are not conducting

Patterns have nothing to do with conducting. Patterns are dry, meaningless exercises which the orchestra – any orchestra – does not need. So, why is it that patterns are the first and sometimes only thing you see when you watch a conductor? It’s the basic, rawest piece of technique you could think of, and yet, it seems to be in very high demand.

Conducting patterns are very easy to replicate and understand, but they defy the purpose of a conductor, transforming him/her in a live metronome: you can even see patterns being endlessly mirrored with two hands. Honestly, do you think that in a Mozart’s symphony, for example, players will not be able to count to 4?

Do you think that players need a 4/4 pattern for 1/2 hour not to get lost? #conducting #classicalmusic Click To Tweet

 

The answer is quite obviously no: orchestras today can play almost anything without a conductor. Players do not need a beat, they need a pulse. A pulse is what makes the orchestra start, speed up, slow down. It’s not constricted in a pattern, but it comes out directly from the music. It’s the music that makes the technique. And since every piece of music is different, the shape of a conductor’s movements need to change accordingly.

Which brings us back to our first question. Having established what isn’t the purpose of a conductor (a time beating machine), what’s the other option? What’s the real point of an orchestra conductor?

To shape the music.

This is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt from by teachers: Gilberto Serembe and Harold Farberman.

By the way, if you are a conductor I suggest reading Farberman’s book on conducting technique: it’s simply brilliant. Or even better, follow his course at Bard College and Serembe’s course at the Italian Conducting Academy.

The Art of Conducting Technique
Now, shaping the music can be accomplished in a variety of different ways, but it all starts with two very simple things: sound and breathing: if I, as a conductor, do not have a specific idea in mind of what the sound I want is AND I cannot breathe with the music and the players, nothing will come out, but empty motions. Empty motions generate nothing but empty sounds, with no direction and no shape. Uninspired players will make the performance and the conductor will become a dispensable appendix.

Sound, breathing, gestures, technique: they all come from the same place, the score. Any breath a conductor takes, any movement he/she makes, has an impact on the orchestra players and on their sound. This simple concept makes a real difference when someone steps on the podium.

No shape means no music, no music means no emotions.

No emotions…: then what’s the point of being on the podium?

I’ll leave you with two of the greatest conductors of all times. No patterns. No bs. Just music.

What is the purpose of a conductor?
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A mass of life – Frederick Delius and Nietzsche’s masterpiece https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/mass-of-life/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/mass-of-life/#comments Fri, 18 Mar 2016 10:44:36 +0000 http://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=1599 A mass of life – Frederick Delius and Nietzsche’s masterpiece
Gianmaria Griglio

A Mass of Life is based upon Also sprach Zarathustra, discovered by Delius on a trip to Norway: is a purely humanistic liturgy.

A mass of life – Frederick Delius and Nietzsche’s masterpiece
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A mass of life – Frederick Delius and Nietzsche’s masterpiece
Gianmaria Griglio

A mass of life – Delius meets Nietzsche

 

Frederick Delius composed A Mass of Life in 1904-05, the same period in which he saw the birth of splendid works like Appalachia or his Piano Concerto. A mass of life is based upon the writings and poetry of his namesake Friedrich Nietzsche, the father of 20th Century philosophy, in which he extols human willpower and wisdom above all things. The texts come from Also sprach Zarathustra, discovered by Delius on a trip to Norway, and for such reason A Mass of Life is a purely humanistic liturgy; one in which mankind’s joyful thoughts and actions have replaced a heavenly Paradise.

It would even be possible to consider all ‘Zarathustra’ as a musical composition

wrote Friedrich Nietzsche himself. No composer was more receptive to Nietzsche’s analogies than Frederick Delius.

The suggestive force of the first reaction to some gorgeous parts of Zarathustra – The Midnight-Song given at the Delius concert in London in 1899 and later to become the pivot of A Mass of Life – is compelling to the point that the shaping of the work in its present dimensions can now be seen to have been unavoidable. As mentioned, Zarathustra was discovered by Delius in Norway. In the words of Eric Fenby, a close friend of Delius: “When, one wet day . . . he was looking for something to read in the library of a Norwegian friend with whom he was staying during a walking tour, and had taken down a book, Thus Spake Zarathustra . . . he was ripe for it. It was the very book he had been seeking all along.”
Jelka Rosen and Frederick Delius in 1929
Son of a German merchant who became British, Delius spent most of his life outside the United Kingdom, travelling to America, Germany and France. Health problems caused him to lose his sight and put him in a wheelchair. He was forced to get help from his friends to transcribe his works: Eric Fenby, first and foremost, but also composer Peter Warlock.

Delius is commonly defined as an impressionist composer, in light of the innovations introduced by composers such as Claude Debussy after passing the romantic and late romantic model; his work, substantially meditative and introverted, melancholic and evocative, naturally inclined to a non-trivial form of musical descriptive style, is influenced by Edvard Grieg, who was a friend of Delius.

The discovery of the work of Delius is mainly due to the great conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who in 1907, during a London visit by Delius, was impressed by his music, and soon after recorded and played great part of his production, bringing it to public attention.

Beecham himself conducted the full premiere of A Mass of Life in London, in 1909. Listen to Beecham talking about this work in a radio interview.
Written for a massive ensemble – Soprano, Contralto, Tenor and Baritone Soloists, Double Chorus and Orchestra: 3 flutes with piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, bass oboe; 3 clarinets, bass clarinet; 3 bassoons, double bassoon; 6 horns; 4 trumpets; 3 tenor trombones; bass tuba; 2 harps; percussion and strings – A Mass of Life is constituted by two blocks of respectively 5 and 6 sections.

A mass of life – Part 1

  1. INVOCATION

    A passionate choral address to the Will, Zarathustra’s ruling compulsion in life, opens the work. He pleads that he may transcend in his soul all the pettiness of life, so that in his prime he may face whatever his inmost Will may demand. The music is driven by tremendous purposefulness: a gathering and holding of massive strength and determination – with brief relaxing moments – hints, at times, to Wagner’s heritage, both in rhythm and weight

  2. THE SONG OF LAUGHTER

    Zarathustra encourages, with a short baritone recitative, all higher men to honor and venerate laughter and dance. The orchestra take on an almost grotesque color as Zarathustra’s sacred laughter is depicted by triple brass coupled with woodwinds

  3. THE SONG OF LIFE

    Man is lover, Life his loved one. It’s tough to get more humanistic than this. Tenor, soprano and contralto soloists comment on Man and Life while Life dances enticingly before Zarathustra. An almost ethereal descant of women voices counterpoints the scene, but soon the pace is changed and the chorus joins in in a fugue-like moment. Zarathustra is ecstatic, but the joyful mood is soon interrupted by a moving contralto solo, as Life doubts Zarathustra’s faithfulness. An old bell rings and the basses intone The Midnight-Song: “O Man, mark well, what tolls the solemn midnight bell”- Life and Zarathustra look on each other, overwhelmed by emotion: Life was never so dear to Zarathustra. The music seals the scene with a fading chord.

  4. THE RIDDLE

    Peace does not last long in Man’s heart: Zarathustra appears to be moving to a darker place, filled with doubts. The music describes a mood on the verge of desperation, with questioning figuration, the choir reinforcing Zarathustra’s heart-searching. The anxious Man is finally calmed down with a single transition from B minor to F major.

  5. THE NIGHT SONG

    The point of origin and the pivotal momentum of the Mass of Life, this hymn-like piece flows in a slow pace of wide phrases sustained by chords. The orchestration is magical and evocative of a mysterious night, holding at its core the mystery of life. Delius outperforms himself, playing with diatonic and chromatic elements, crafting carefully the disposition of the instruments and using choral choral interjections to heighten tension, building a magnificent arc that logically moves through peak and falls, to end where it began.

A mass of life – Part 2

  1. ON THE MOUNTAINS

    Zarathustra is alone with his thoughts in the stillness of high Mountains; horn calls echo over the distant valleys. The quietude is interrupted by a great surge of sound, unleashed in praise of Man’s ‘Noon-tide’. Quieter passages in which soprano, contralto and tenor soloists add a brief trio on the sorrows of their ‘Spring-tide’, now left behind, lead to a return of the ‘Noon-tide’ music, which culminates in a call to all artists: “Wax hard!”

  2. THE SONG OF THE LYRE

    One of the most enigmatic passages of the entire Mass of Life. The emotional involvement and the peculiar flair that pervade this song will become a dominant component of Delius’s later compositions. The feeling of the coda recurs in Brigg Fair, In a Summer Garden, An Arabesk, the violin, cello and double concertos. Zarathustra sees joyful meaning in life – for Joy longs to Recur!

  3. THE DANCE SONG

    It is evening. Zarathustra is wandering in the forest. The dance is represented by a joyful bunch of young girls, dancing together in a meadow, in a ring of trees and bushes. Swaying rhythms pervade the song, overlapping layers adding charming intricacies in a swirl of laughter and delightfulness. The girls at first scatter when they see Zarathustra, but then, reassured, they return dancing only to tire soon and leave Zarathustra in a dream-like state in the cool dusk. Women’s voices fade in and out from the woods, increasing the melancholic mood, while night falls and all that’s left is a memory of the dance in the muted strings.

  4. AT NOON IN THE MEADOWS

    Pastoral scene: Zarathustra, now come of age at the noon-tide of life, relishes solitude and is rapt in his happiness. Shepherds’ pipes – an elegant combination of oboe, English horn and bass oboe – gently lull Zarathustra, who’s dozing off under a gnarled tree. Chorus and tenor soloist quietly comment on the scene. Zarathustra stirs, and soloists, chorus and orchestra stretch their limbs joyously. Bemused, Zarathustra refuses to be roused. The myriad voices of Eternity seem to live again in the suspended pianissimo chords of the choir’s “Oh bliss! Oh bliss! Oh bliss!” Zarathustra knows complete content.

  5. THE SONG OF RAPTURE

    Zarathustra, now in the eventide of life, reflects on the past and the indifference of men. The mood is more reflective, almost giving in into regret-fullness. The piece is filled with references to previous sections: one from No. 4 in cellos and basses, followed by horns and bassoons at the mention of Midnight (“Oh, how she sighs!”); another, the horn motive from the climax in No. 5 recurs in full brass fortissimo, serving as preparation to the crowning choral unison: “Joy is deeper still than heart-felt grief!”. A drum roll leads right into the final movement.

  6. THE PAEAN TO JOY

    The drum roll ushers in Zarathustra’s motive (quoted from the introduction to the Dance-Song, Part Two No. 3), heard, again, in the string basses. The inevitable approach of the hour is rendered with dark orchestration and bell-like octaves of the harps. Zarathustra calls his men friends, revealing what discovery Midnight has brought to him. They join in by snatches, then take up the song filling the night with this descant to Joy. Soloists, double chorus and orchestra all join in to epically end this most singular of all Masses, in an overwhelming feeling of grandiosity and universal joy.

A mass of life – Frederick Delius and Nietzsche’s masterpiece
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The Tempest – Shakespeare and Johnson https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/tempest-shakespeare-johnson/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/tempest-shakespeare-johnson/#comments Thu, 25 Feb 2016 09:55:22 +0000 http://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=1584 The Tempest – Shakespeare and Johnson
Gianmaria Griglio

The Tempest saw a strict collaboration between Shakespeare and musician Robert Johnson which gave birth to something unique, getting very close to Opera

The Tempest – Shakespeare and Johnson
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The Tempest – Shakespeare and Johnson
Gianmaria Griglio

The Tempest – William Shakespeare and Robert Johnson

As we all know, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. After four centuries Shakespeare still remains at the top of the list as the most loved, copied, performed, stolen from writer in history. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera lists some 400 stage-works (operas for the most part) based on plays by Shakespeare. The Shakespeare-idolatry began in 1769, with a Stratford-upon-Avon becoming a place of pilgrimage: everyone who was someone, traveled to that small market town that had given birth to a genius, happy to dance around in the muddy streets with their courtly shoes. Music was part of the service, with composer Thomas Arne. Arne was not however the first one to toy with Shakespeare’s works: there seems to be evidence of a quite strict collaboration between the Bard and court composer Robert Johnson, on at least one of Shakespeare’s most famous works: The Tempest.

Music was a family tradition for Robert Johnson, his father having been a lutenist to Elizabeth I. After his father’s death, Robert became, in 1596, an apprentice to George Carey, 2nd Baron Hunsdon, and his wife Elizabeth Spencer, patrons of the famous lutenist and composer John Dowland.

The Tempest - George Romney

Carey was a great art supporter and, among other things, a patron of the theater company to which William Shakespeare belonged, known as the “Baron Hunsdon’s Men” first, then as the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” and finally as the “King’s men”. His compositions connected to the King’s men theater have been dated to the years 1610-1617, which means he worked with Shakespeare on his latest works, including the Tempest. What’s fascinating here, is the fact that we are assisting to the birth of opera barely a decade after the “official” birth of opera in Italy: a combination of theater and music to reach the zenith of drama. Now, there is no direct evidence of it, and the idea that the entire play was conceived only to be sung is far fetched. It was by no means a libretto. However, there are at least two songs that Johnson wrote for the play – “Where the bee sucks” and “Full fathom five” – as well as stage directions (either written by Shakespeare or by someone who had seen the show in its early performances) indicating that the music had a special role within the work. Musicians where hidden by a silk curtain: silk was effectively hiding the musicians, while offering very little obstruction to those strains of magic melodies. In The Tempest They played all the incidental “solemn and strange music”, “marvelous sweet music”, “heavenly music”. But they also accompanied the lyrics of Ariel’s songs.

That Shakespeare loved music is quite a known fact. That he held it into high consideration can be assumed by his writings. For example:

The man that bath no music in himself

Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds

Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils,

The motions of his spirit are dull as night

And his affections dark as Erebus.[1]

William Shakespeare - portrait by John Taylor

Maybe The tempest was written with music in mind as intermezzo or maybe it was more like a film soundtrack, with music playing a fundamental character in the plot. An absolutely modern way of conceiving the theater. But, after all, what’s not modern even to this day when it comes to Shakespeare?

The tempest has frequently been described as Shakespeare’s most lyrical play. It comes as no surprise that it inspired famous composers like Tchaikowsky (with his symphonic fantasia) or Sibelius (with his incidental music for the Copenaghen Theater). More recently, it was also turned into an opera by English composer Thomas Ades as well as into a chamber opera by Joseph Summer for his Shakespeare Concert Series. No matter the era in which one lives, it seems like Shakespeare is an endless source of inspiration for composers and artists in general, from Purcell to Verdi, Bernstein, and Elvis Costello.

 

An immortal mirror on our loves, our flaws, our hopes.

 

If you’re interested in the film version of The Tempest and in a summary of the play and its characters, take a look at this:

Notes:

 

[1] – The Merchant of Venice (V, I, 83-85)

Resources: Cambridge Digital Library: http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/music

Internet Shakespeare Edition: http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/

The Tempest: Critical Essays by Patrick M. Murphy: excerpts from the book

Cover photo by Matt Hardy

The Tempest – Shakespeare and Johnson
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432Hz https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/432hz/ https://www.gianmariagriglio.it/432hz/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 15:56:51 +0000 http://www.gianmariagriglio.it/?p=1548 432Hz
Gianmaria Griglio

432Hz tuning has been abandoned some 60 years ago. But why has 440Hz been favored?

432Hz
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432Hz
Gianmaria Griglio

432Hz – The eternal debate

For a few years now we’ve assisted to a debate on the “correct” frequency to be used in tuning. Historical facts seem to be pretty shady on the subject but here’s what I have found doing some research. The 432Hz frequency comes from a natural resonance with the base frequencies of both the universe and our organism. Music played at 432Hz has a warmer tone and propagates in the body giving a sense of peace and energy.

432Hz resonates with the frequency of 8Hz: in a scale where the A is at 440Hz, the C is at 261Hz; but if we take the 8Hz and move five octaves up we reach a C at 256Hz, which consequently makes the A at 432Hz. Following the principles of harmonics by which any produced sound automatically resonates all the other multiples of that frequency, higher and lower, a C at 256 Hz propagates vibrations to all the C in other octaves, making the 8hz frequency naturally resonate.

 

Why is 8hz important?

 

8 HZ is common to quite a few things around us:

  • 8Hz is the pulse of planet earth, aka “Schumann resonance” [1];
  • 8 Hz is the working frequency of the DMT molecule, a substance produced by our pineal gland;
  • 8 Hz is the replication frequency of human DNA;
  • 8 Hz is the working rhythm of the alpha waves of our brain to which the two hemispheres of our brain work together.

 

Plenty of researchers, scientists and musicians experimented with different frequencies, A=432Hz being of course one of them. This tuning has allegedly been used for ages, since the ancient Greek and Egyptians: to my knowledge though, there is no historical evidence of it. Before the 20th century a whole lot of ranges where used between 360Hz and 460Hz. It is assumed that 432Hz was the most commonly used. The concert pitch was changed to the 440Hz only in 1953, in London, though other attempts to change to a higher tuning were made way before that.

Fact of the matter is that the first pitch fork was invented in 1711, which means that before that people were tuning by ear to whatever A was there. I can imagine, for instance, that a portative organ wouldn’t exactly be able to hold the same exact frequency all the time. Thus, a violin tuning to it would tune higher or lower.

Let’s go back a bit and look at some dates. Click on the infographic on the right to enlarge it. One in particular, the 1939 London conference, has caught everyone’s attention because the biggest fan of the 440 tuning was no other than Joseph Goebbels. Now, the question is:

 

why one of the highest ranking Nazi officers would be bothered with such matters on the verge of WWII?

440Hz infographic
Between the two world wars quite a few researches were financed to study the positive or negative influence of different frequencies on humans. The pioneers of such researches in the USA were the Muzak Corporation (with researchers Burris and Meyer) and the Princeton Radio (which by the way involved also Albert Einstein in it) at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). It turned out that the 440 frequency had more than a negative impact, but, generally, people subjected to these frequencies were more aggressive and belligerent. So here’s the answer:

 

why not turn this into an advantage to train more aggressive soldiers?

It could be quite convenient when one’s about to go to war. All in all, it can be explained quite easily: as Dr. Masaru Emoto demonstrated, words and sounds have the power to change the structure of water: when exposed to positive words, water answers with beautiful and organized crystals, while it appears deformed when exposed to negative words.
How water changes form with different sounds
Given the fact that the human body is 70% water, it’s safe to assume that we can be conditioned by what we hear at a certain frequency. Maria Renold in her research conducted quite a few experiments with live concerts: people were listening to the same concert played at 440Hz and then at 432Hz; with the former, individuals revealed polemical and antisocial behaviors, where with the latter they were positive and even enthusiastic.

So, where does this leave us?

It’s not quite clear why 440Hz has been favored. Conspiracy theories aside, I think one question can be asked: if 432Hz is, in fact, a better option, what’s preventing us from going back to it or at least try it out on a larger scale?

I’m quite sure that, if anything else, more than one singer would rejoice for it…

If you’re curious to hear the difference here’s an app that will play your music at 432Hz.

If you understand Italian, the video on the left shows a conference on the subject by Edoardo Casini. The short documentary on the right, by the same author, is in English.

Resources and links:

“The Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music” by Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz
The ‘Back to 432 Hz’ committee
ISO 16:1975
Timeline used in the infographic – Special thanks to Roel Hollander for his comments and data
“Intervals, scales, tones and the concert pitch C=128hz” by Maria Renold

Notes:

[1] the Schuman resonance is not exactly set at 8Hz: the fundamental can sometimes be at 8Hz, but also higher and lower, like 7.3Hz or 8.4Hz for example. It is generally said to be on an average of 7.8Hz; 8Hz is a common roundup

432Hz
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