Music 2 Titan

Gaga and Madonna

cited: Los Angeles Times

Perched (rather, trying to perch) on a piano, orbited by an assorted of metal rings around her body, Lady Gaga cracked up onstage in the beginning of Saturday Night Live’s new season. While the Swedish singer popped in her own right, the performance fizzled thanks to Gaga’s stage partner, Madonna.

The artist formerly known as the Material Girl appeared in an early skit for a brief exchange of put-downs with the current pop fave. Perhaps a symbol of passing of the pop diva torch, or perhaps some sort of mocking her 2003 MTV Video Music Awards pairing with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, which was then meant to serve as some sort of passing of the pop diva torch, Madonna looked uncomfortable, and not quite sure of why she was tussling with Lady Gaga. It all felt a bit hastily thrown together, and little more than an excuse to show two pop stars in a cat fight.

Not to mention — Madonna doesn’t need to stump to these kind of promotional appearances. Even with a greatest hits collection released to stores last week, let’s let Lady Gaga have her moment, or at least give Madonna something better to say than, “Guess what, I’m totally taller than you.”

Or perhaps we should just give credit where credit is due.

Lady Gaga was joined by Madonna on “Saturday Night Live,” and the high-profile guest shot failed to overshadow Gaga’s second music performance, a piano-based medley of her hits, as well as a touch of new song “Bad Romance.”

Pulling off a medley is no small feat itself, as they reek of award-show self-aggrandizing. But Gaga looked free and unrehearsed, and tossed off a rare medley worth watching. While it would have been nice to hear a bit more of forthcoming single “Bad Romance,” what audiences received was even better. Free from the tired retro ’80s synth pop of “LoveGame,” Gaga flashed her nightclub-ready pipes when she went solo at the piano, and also showed off a bit of improvisation.

While diving in and out of “Poker Face,” Gaga played to the New York crowd, bragging about the hot dogs on 72nd Street (”they’re tasty and they’re cheap”) and even exposed some baseball loyalties. Gaga copped to being nostalgic for the days when she “cheered for the Yankees with my dad in Section 6,” and Major League Baseball responded by giving  her a shout-out (perhaps a National Anthem at a playoff game is in her near future).

Yet whereas most artists come to late night television to show off their latest singles and generate a few headlines, Gaga, who can say the words “disco stick” with a straight face, displayed a side of herself that isn’t always in evidence on her 2008 smash album, “The Fame”: She’s not afraid to take risks.

Style-wise. Lady Gaga is respected as fearless and original, but her electro-pop has been less rule-breaking. Leaving her red lace, glass-bra’d self bare and dismantling her highly produced songs into simply piano and voice, Gaga shows herself to venture forth bravely. She did so with a courage that is- sadly- rare on national television. It’s a pleasure to see a popstar doing more than a pole dance. Too bad it was after midnight.


My Take: When pop stars first started exploring their sexuality- like Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis, and yes, even Joni Mitchell- it was a revolutionary, communal celebration of the formerly taboo.

Now, when a singer gyrates half-naked on stage or in front of the camera, it is just another addition to the long litany of performances that have less to do with music, and more about showing off the star’s hard-won hard bod.


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iPhone now allows for iVirtuosos

Cited: New York Times

For both musicians and the melodically challenged, the iPhone music app. If you know how to play a real instrument, it functions as a pocket-sized version for impromptu jamming. If you can’t pick a string to save your life, you can still pluck out a song on the app- it’s even programmed to stay on key, if that’s what you’re into.

Guitar 1A main goal for many of these apps’ developers is to introduce nonmusical people to music, and musical people to different kinds of music. And when taken less as a serious instrument and more as a sampler for the wide world of music, these devices are wildly successful.

For those dying to shred, however, they leave something to be desired.

The majority of apps in this category try to cram a fully functioning instrument into an interface that, while touch-sensitive, is still only three inches wide. It’s about the same width as a guitar neck, so six strings fit reasonably well. Still, only a few frets can be covered at once, and even the simple acts of plucking a string and forming chords take a significant degree of finger wrangling.

Similarly, while many apps offer recording features, synching up separate apps without external recording software is difficult, unless you spend a lot of time behind a mixing console.

So the essential question becomes, are music apps real tools for artistic expression, or are they in the same league as, say, Bejeweled or other time-killing games?

“When it all comes down to it, these are all games, pretty much,” said Turner Kirk, community marketing manager for Smule, whose Ocarina is one of the simplest yet most inventive musical apps on the market. “We’d like to think of them as expressive musical instruments, even though we might be limited by hardware. But really, it’s like a toy.”

Ocarina proves that simplicity works in this environment. An actual ocarina — a simple wind instrument, frequently found with only four holes — is among the simplest music makers, and its virtual version is perfect for the iPhone interface. One has only to blow into the device’s microphone to control the instrument — almost identically to the way one would an actual ocarina.

Because it’s an iPhone, of course, users can take the experience to different levels, with the ability to change pitch, upload their recordings and span the globe to listen to others’ tunes. An online songbook lets even a beginner ocarinist play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

Other simple apps that have been successful include Normalware’s Bebot, where one can make a tuxedoed cartoon robot sing electronic notes by dragging a finger across the screen. Tones and settings are customizable; one option places strings across the interface. It’s always perfectly in tune and is incredibly diverting. “Because apps like this handle the difficult part of making music — producing a good sound and playing the right notes — they free the user for the fun part of the process: getting expressive,” said David Battino, co-author of “The Art of Digital Music.”

Even real musicians use Bebot; a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on musical applications led with Dream Theater’s keyboardist, Jordan Rudess, playing it on the iPhone during a performance in San Jose, Calif.

Sheer simplicity, however, isn’t the only route to success. Moocow Music, which offers apps for bass, guitar, piano and organ, suggests on its Web site that its creations can be used “as a ‘musical notepad’ for working out riffs to play back in the studio on a real (instrument).” This is true. It’s also a tacit admission that the apps are not meant to replace real instruments.

Still, the care that goes into these apps’ creation is obvious. Rather than simply offering one sound per note, Moocow has loaded multiple guitar and bass samples for each fret and string, which are played randomly when that note is struck. Because real guitar strings are plucked or strummed slightly differently each time, this lends a subtle air of authenticity to the sound.

Several guitar apps feature preloaded scales, chord forms and tablature features for those looking to work out ideas. They make for terrific notation tools for pros and theory tools for novices. But as for actual instrumentality, well, there aren’t many people who say an iPhone feels better in the hand than a guitar. Or a drumstick. Or a cowbell.

And this is where it gets back to being like a video game. Many musical apps offer the ability to record a track, then add layers on top of it. Doing this between disparate apps is impossible without external recording software, but a multi-instrumental app like Moocow’s Band gives novices the opportunity to record and edit tracks with drums, bass and guitar, and make sure it all sounds pretty good (even if one doesn’t know how to play a lick of music). It’s as much a game as Guitar Hero, only instead of trying to keep up with prerecorded music, the goal is to make music of one’s own.

If there’s gray area, it’s with the synth mixing and sound creation programs. The BeatMaker from Intua, for example, combines drum machines, samplers and sequencers. It allows users to layer tracks, then loop them as one would in a full-fledged studio. It’s a powerful application (and, at $19.99, one of the most expensive musical apps on the market), but it’s all too easy for a novice to become lost in its features within moments of loading it up.

For companies like Sound Trends, whose Looptastic series allows for the creation of multilayered beats via mixing and matching of audio samples, there’s little pretense of being a studio replacement.

“We wanted to capture something that’s in the moment and fun,” said Sound Trends’ president, Aaron Higgins. “There are a few apps out there that are intimidating and lack the fun. You can play around with them, but once you open up the control panel it’s like opening the hood of a car. We made a conscious decision that that wasn’t the direction we wanted to go.”

Reasons for that decision are plentiful, but one stands above the others: the casual novice market is a whole lot bigger than the hard-core musician one. The user who would just as soon loop a few beats together as blow up a virtual Russian army while taking the train to work is key to Mr. Higgins’s reasoning.

Even when it comes to the professional music makers, this iPhone app is a godsend. How many hours of idle strumming goes into each gut-wrenching song? Instead of cheapening the guitar experience, this app has the potential to make inspiration all the more accessible- by  making it mobile and consistently available. And, I hear it can make phone calls, too.


My Take: I once go-fered a music producer, who told me that pretty soon, all an artist would have to do is to sing a scale and he would mix it into a stellar performance. I’m fairly sure that in the future, they won’t even have to sing a scale.

So, this iPhone app that stays in key- to me it’s like a drum machine that doesn’t lose rhythm. If you’re that dedicated, why not take the time to legitimately learn how to play your chosen instrument?

Not that I’m an absolute hater, either. When my brilliant friend showed up at my door with her iTouch version of a guitar, I was over the moon. Now, I could insist that she play for me without making her carry her guitar and amp all over creation.

In the end, this app has the same potential as a video camera. Yes, the means of production are far more accessible, so anyone can produce something of passable quality. Still, there will never be a replacement for inspiration, skill, and dedication.

Until there’s an app for that, too.


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Ukelele Notes Tickle the Eardrums and Heartstrings

cited: New York Times

The Ukulele Orchestra PreparesLONDON — If you go to a Ukelele Orchestra show, the only expectation you should bring is for an exceptional performance. They recognize that not everyone is so caution-less, as orchestra member Dave Suich stated, “Relief is one of the major emotions of our audience.

But the happy surprise of encountering something completely different from the Tiny Tim-style hamming or banjo-plucking embarrassment of your imagination doesn’t wholly explain the deep love the orchestra inspires, not just in Britain, but also in Europe and as far away as New Zealand and Japan. Previously the private passion of a large but sub rosa group of devotees, the orchestra hit mainstream popularity last month when it performed to a sold-out crowd at the BBC Proms music festival at the Royal Albert Hall here.

“They have grown into a much-loved institution,” The Observer of London wrote. In The Financial Times Laura Battle praised the orchestra members’ “consummate skill” and said that the “sophisticated sound they make — both percussive and melodic — is at once hilarious and heartfelt.” The Evening Standard said, “The country would plainly be a happier place if more of us played the ukulele.”

Part of the appeal is that the group — eight of them, all singing and playing the ukulele — extracts more than seems humanly possible from so small and so modest an instrument, with its four little strings. Part of it is the members’ deadpan sense of humor, in which they laugh at themselves as much as at the music.

There is also the unexpected delight of their repertory, a genre-bending array stretching from “The Ride of the Valkyries” to the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K,” which they perform as a friendly folk song, infusing even lines like “I am an Antichrist” with a cozy bonhomie. They do a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which affords Mr. Suich an opportunity to release his long ponytail and fling his hair around, à la Cobain.

Ukuleles are mildly humorous and kind of cute, particularly when deployed by adults dressed in black tie. “The minute that eight people walk onstage with ukes, you’re winning already,” said Will Grove-White, an orchestra member.

Six of the group — Peter Brooke Turner, Kitty Lux, George Hinchliffe and Hester Goodman, in addition to Mssrs. Grove-White and Suich — met recently to discuss its philosophy and raison d’être. (Missing were Richie Williams, who was not feeling well, and Jonty Bankes, who was out of the country.)

They have been together, more or less, since 1985, and they spoke in a jumble, finishing one another’s sentences and undercutting one another’s remarks like the old friends they are.

“Don’t listen to him, he’s wearing brown shoes,” warned Mr. Brooke Turner, as Mr. Hinchliffe tried to make a serious, nonukulele-related point about the National Health Service. “In England that is a sign of untrustworthiness.”

They all generate ideas for new pieces and play around with novel ways of making them work. The idea is often to do things “that are not exactly normal,” Mr. Hinchliffe said, to get the ukuleles to produce noises that are nothing like ukulele noises at all.

“It’s good having this somewhat poxy instrument that can’t do much because there aren’t limitless options, and it forces you to think imaginatively about how to create sounds and rhythms,” Mr. Grove-White said.

They use their voices: whistling in a certain way, for instance, can approximate the sound of a wind instrument in a piece like the theme song from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Striking a ukulele to dampen the strings, and then moving the nonplucking hand up and down lightly can mimic the “wah-wah” sound of an electric guitar pedal in the theme song from “Shaft.” To poke fun of songs full of flamboyantly long notes, the orchestra plays rapid successions of short plucks with their strings.

“With heavy-metal riffs, when you pluck them out on the ukulele, they sound really weedy,” Mr. Grove-White said. “It’s a good way to mock pomposity.”

They do that often, and cheerfully. “One of the things that we feel about pop music is that while we’re very fond of it, very affectionate toward it, at the same time we recognize the ludicrousness and pretentiousness of it,” Mr. Hinchliffe said. “A lot of songs really are extremely ludicrous. In a way, it’s kind of interesting to observe that you can love something and find it risible at the same time.”

The band had its roots in Mr. Hinchliffe’s childhood in “the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire,” as he calls it, when his father brought home a ukulele-banjo, a cousin of the ukulele. “After a while I said to my father, ‘Could we get some strings for it?’ ” he recalled.

In 1985 he bought a ukulele for his friend and fellow musician Kitty Lux. “We were in a doo-wop band together,” Ms. Lux said. “It was called, I don’t remember, Something Something and the Acid Drops.”

Mr. Suich joined too, and the other members gravitated toward the group over the years, relieved to find like-minded ukulele adherents.

“People love them like puppies,” Mr. Suich said.

“They lift depression,” Mr. Grove-White said.

“It’s quite an empowering instrument,” Ms. Goodman said.

“You can do an entire world tour while carrying only hand luggage,” Mr. Hinchliffe said.

They have deliberately not sought record deals and earn most of their money from 150 or so live performances a year and from the albums they sell directly from, their Web site. Recently they produced “Dreamspiel,” a ukulele opera with lyrics by the American playwright Michelle Carter, and collaborated with the British Film Institute to set snippets of old films to music in a show called “Ukulelescope.”

At the Proms the orchestra performed a cover of Wheatus’s “Teenage Dirtbag,” sung sweetly by Ms. Goodman and including an original line: “Come with me Tuesday/Bring your ukulele.” Ms. Lux sang a Prom favorite, “Jerusalem,” introducing it as a song “about a nuclear power station in the green, rolling English countryside.”

There was also a cover of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” performed by a suitably insane-sounding Mr. Grove-White, ranting nonsensically in something that was not quite French. “I started approximating his lyrics, but you get the feeling he made them up as well,” Mr. Grove-White said of David Byrne.

The high point might very well have been when the audience- at the band’s request- joined in with over 1,000 ukeleles to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The band’s goal to spread their uke-love may very well be considered a success, as members of the crowd who could not keep up technically simply waved their instruments in the air in a pure expression of the joy of strings.

From the stage, Mr. Hinchliffe happily called the piece “a fragment of Beethoven for 1,008 ukuleles.”


My Take: Who hasn’t seen “While My Uke Gently Weeps” on YouTube? Only the most joyless among us- as we’ve all been enchanted by the tiny instrument’s ability to strum out some of the most compelling music known to man (yes, the Beatles).

The ukelele has proven itself to be an expressive and versatile member of the stringed arsenal in recent years, emerging from almost every corner to take its place with punk bands and bluegrass groups. I can’t wait to see one rock out to Lady Gaga.


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WQXR Unveils Programming Facelift

cited: New York Times

The plan: some DJ’s will stay on. Saturdays will still host the Metropolitan Opera. Vocal music and religious programming will fade out while Vivaldi will continue to blast- “Just about anything.”

WQXR, the only classical music station in New York, will have a new sound after Oct. 8, according to plans unveiled on Wednesday by WNYC, its new owner.

Chiefly, “there’s going to be a lot more music,” said Laura R. Walker, the president and chief executive officer of WNYC Radio. “That in and of itself is a huge thing.” She said the new WQXR, which is becoming a public radio station, would have about 4 minutes of underwriting announcements an hour. WQXR’s commercials now can reach 12 minutes an hour.

“We can program the music around the music, not just commercials,” Ms. Walker said.

Although WQXR will travel up the dial to 105.9 from 96.3 FM, WNYC officials were clear that much of its music would remain safe and on the traditional side in an effort not to alienate its longtime listeners. But the station hopes to attract new listeners more accustomed to the public radio sensibility and online listening.

Ms. Walker said she wanted to combine the best of both worlds. “It’s the longstanding tradition of being a 24/7 classical music station with WNYC’s curatorial point of view and passion and commitment to discovery,” she said.

Tradition, though, appears to top boat-rocking. A mission statement prepared by WQXR’s new programmers said, “There may indeed be times when the more radical and unfamiliar pieces work, but we will not favor them over the work that speaks directly to the needs of uplift, beauty and contemplation.”

“Greatness matters,” it added. “Bach trumps Telemann.”

Less familiar works, more modern music and pieces geared toward a younger audience will be presented on the station’s new Internet stream, called Q2. WNYC radio’s listenership is more than double that of its stream, the station said. “Radio definitely trumps Internet still,” Ms. Walker said.

Several WQXR hosts have been rehired, including Jeff Spurgeon, Midge Woolsey and Elliott Forrest, who will have daytime shows, along with a newcomer, Naomi Lewin from WGUC, Cincinnati’s classical public radio station. WNYC’s Terrance McKnight and his colleague David Garland will assume evening duties. Overnight music will continue to be canned, but now with recorded introductions by a host.

The station will continue to broadcast the Met, the New York Philharmonic and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, along with programs — some of them syndicated — including “The McGraw-Hill Young Artists Showcase,” “Performance Today,” “From the Top” and “Pipedreams.” The fates of “Reflections From the Keyboard” and the Metropolitan Museum of Art concert series are uncertain.

The station will phase out the broadcast of religious services by the end of the year because National Public Radio, of which WNYC is a member, forbids such programming.

Much of the music on WNYC, which has steadily become more of a talk station in recent years, will migrate to WQXR. Weekday evenings on WNYC’s FM station, 93.9, will now be almost all talk. Several music shows will remain, including “Soundcheck” and “New Sounds.” Music will still have a strong presence on WNYC on weekends.

WNYC took charge of WQXR after it was sold by The New York Times Company, a move that probably saved its classical format. The public radio station announced a $15 million fund-raising campaign to pay for the acquisition and operations. Ms. Walker said the station was about halfway there.

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The goal for WQXR is to present “the greatest Western music performed by the greatest performers we can find,” said Christopher Bannon, program director for the sister stations.

The mission statement proclaims a philosophy of “the right music at the right time.”

“Monday morning, when you’re trying to get your kids to school, you won’t hear the large choral works,” said Limor Tomer, the executive producer for music.

The programmers also provided a sample list of “core composers” and the works that would most likely play on the radio versus the Internet. They stressed that the list was but a guideline.

Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Wagner were there. So were Copland, Janacek, Gershwin, Satie, Sibelius and the ever-popular Vivaldi. Mahler was missing.

Schubert symphonies were deemed radio-worthy but not the piano trios or songs, which were reserved for Q2. Radio received Ravel orchestra music but not solo piano works; Sibelius’s symphonies but not his tone poems; Janacek chamber works but not operas; Brahms symphonies but not choral works; Beethoven symphonies and piano concertos but not the late piano sonatas, songs or chamber works.

And, except for his “shorter sacred works,” Vivaldi still has a home.


My take: It’s a sorry state of affairs that American public radio stations need to have private funding. I suppose once there’s adequate budget given to education and food programs, we can start to complain about the state of the government’s support for the arts.

That being said, it’s inspiring to find investors in this economic climate, especially ones that enhance the acquired company’s mission statement, as opposed to hijacking it.


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Jackson’s Funeral: Family and Friends Say Goodbye

cited: Time Magazine

Elizabeth Taylor, the rarely-seen star, tearfully eulogized her longtime friend at Jackson’s funeral on Thursday the 3rd. “We shouldn’t have to be here,” Taylor told fellow mourners, “He shouldn’t have passed away.”

Michael Jackson's funeral service at Glendale Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Nonetheless, nearly 200 of Jackson’s closest friends and family members tried their best to say goodbye to the entertainer at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif. Even his shyest show-business friends attended, after shunning the massive public memorial in July. Longtime pal Macaulay Culkin sat with girlfriend Mila Kunis, while Jackson’s ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley gave his mother Katherine a tearful embrace. Taylor was perhaps the most impressive of the guests. After publicly proclaiming that she would not be part of the July memorial’s “hoopla,” she gave in to a more private display of sorrow at the funeral. “She shed some tears,” says one guest.

Held in the shadow of Forest Lawn’s Great Mausoleum on a warm summer night, the service proved a fitting setting for such star-studded grief. A “Thriller”-esque moon tinted orange by smoke from the nearby forest fires added to the dramatic backdrop. The specially built stage was adorned with six large bouquets of white lilies, white roses and green topiaries. Portraits of Jackson served as bookends for his casket.

Jackson’s family was not upstaged by the evening’s more famous mourners, dominating the affair that began with his brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy serving as pallbearers. Randy then escorted Jackson’s three children, Prince Michael, Paris Katherine and Prince Michael II, to the coffin, where the children laid a crown at its head as a tribute to the King of Pop. They then returned to their front-row seats, near their grandparents. There was no repeat of Paris’s touching moment at the memorial when she tearfully addressed the crowd, calling Jackson “the best father I could imagine”; during Thursday’s ceremony, the children stayed silent. “But they were very composed and strong and would have made their father proud,” says the guest.

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Family patriarch Joe Jackson was also front and center. He was one of the first family members to arrive at the event, exiting one of their five rented Phantom Rolls Royces with his grandchildren in tow. A controversial figure, Joe spoke at the funeral in defense of his son. “He felt people had been trying to cheat Michael,” says the guest. “He said that they will find out what led to Michael’s death. And said they will not rest until they found out.”

Jackson’s lesser-known friends were also given a moment to share their memories of the fallen star. The spontaneous speeches were some of the most poignant. One in particular was delivered by David Rothenberg, a burn victim whom Jackson took care of for years after 90% of his body was scorched in a childhood fire. “He was very scarred over all of his body,” says a guest. “He spoke about Michael and how he cared for [Rothenberg] for so long without asking for anything in return. It was very moving.” 

Carrying his casket, Jackson’s brother led the procession into the Great Mausoleum’s Holly Terrace. Each guest was permitted a private farewell. One attendee spoke of Clifton Davis’ rendition of “Never Can Say Goodbye” (a song he wrote for the Jackson 5) as an appropriate embodiment of the group’s emotions. “[Davis] stopped the song at the end and said, ‘Michael, we can’t say goodbye,’ ” the guest remembers. “‘But what we can say is that we love you.’ “

“That sent shivers down my spine.”


My Take: After having his name dragged through the mud for years, it’s finally good to see Michael Jackson get some kind of public grace. A lifelong performer, who’s suffered the weight of child stardom, the King of Pop has finally gotten his crown back.


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Contemporary and Classic Compositions for the Fall

cited: New York Times

Leif Ove Andsnes, pianist; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. EMI Classics 2 64182 2; CD.

“Shadows of Silence” is the latest release from Leif Ove Andsnes, the Norwegian pianist famed for grand, elegant perfomances of classic works. It follows in his established pattern of contemporary interpretations. This newest album is devoted to new pieces, which include two compositions created especially for him: Marc-André Dalbavie’s Piano Concerto and an impressionistic, moody 16-minute solo piece- the work of Danish composer Bent Sorensen. The album’s title piece, the work was commissioned by Carnegie Hall, where Mr. Andsnes premiered it in 2005.

The album opens with a pensive, delicate performance of Mr. Sorensen’s short, hushed and enigmatic “Lullabies.” Next comes a stunning account of the Piano Concerto by the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, with Franz Welser-Möst conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Bartok was clearly a template for Lutoslawski in this 1987 work, which crackles with earthy rhythms and elemental, folkloric tunes. Mr. Andsnes dispatches the technically formidable piano part with lucid clarity and effortless brilliance, from the whirlwind runs of the maniacal Presto movement to the pummeling chords of the finale, which comes across like a fractured peasant dance.

Mr. Dalbavie, born in 1961 in France, is associated with spectralism, an ambiguous term applied to composers who explore the physical, spatial and perceptual qualities of sound. Yet for all the atmospherics, there is nothing amorphous about this fitful piece, which erupts with obsessive scale patterns and repetitive riffs. Mr. Andsnes combines transparent colorings and incisive articulations in his riveting performance. Mr. Welser-Möst and the orchestra are vibrant partners in both concertos.

Gyorgy Kurtag’s “Jatekok” (“Games”) are descendants of Schumann’s character pieces for piano. Mr. Andsnes plays four of them here, brilliantly.

Erik Heide, violinist; Mathias Reumert, percussionist; Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Sondergard. DaCapo 8.226034; CD.

THE Danish composer Poul Ruders wrote his vivacious, expertly wrought “Concerto in Pieces” (1995) as a sequel to Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” Commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he followed Britten’s example and composed variations on a theme by Purcell: in this case the Witches’ ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’ chorus from Act II of “Dido and Aeneas.”

Thomas Sondergard conducts the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in a high-energy performance of the engaging score, in which Mr. Ruders spotlights different instruments with witty juxtapositions and quirky timbral effects. The theme is tossed among different groups of instruments in the third variation, then woven through a bluesy prism. The saxophone plays a languidly beautiful, rhapsodic solo, which is then taken up by the tuba in the fifth variation, and the sixth features explosive percussion. An eerie trumpet solo in the eighth variation and a frenzy of string pizzicatos in the ninth lead to the re-emergence of the theme in the triumphant, throbbing Finale fugato.

The disc also includes Mr. Ruders’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (1981), a homage to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” that reveals Mr. Ruders’s Minimalist affinities. The soloist’s frenetic line in the first movement, which Erik Heide plays with flair, unfolds over repetitive figurations and rhythms and the moody harmonies from the first movement of Vivaldi’s “Winter” concerto. After the elegiac second movement, which Mr. Heide performs sensitively, comes the finale, “Winter Chaconne,” which veers between exuberance and introspection.

Mathias Reumert is the able soloist in the brooding “Monodrama” (1988), a percussion concerto that Mr. Ruders describes as “pretty grim.” Apocalyptic might be a better description of the manner in which the percussionist, accompanied by dark orchestral rumblings, pounds his way through to a stark conclusion. VIVIEN SCHWEITZER

Andras Schiff, pianist. ECM New Series 2001; two CDs.

ANDRAS SCHIFF has been busy in recent seasons performing the Beethoven sonatas, but if you attended installments of the cycle at Carnegie Hall, you got glimpses of his next project. As encores he played Bach partitas: not just the odd movement, but whole works. And in September 2007 he recorded all six partitas at a single recital in Neumarkt, Germany.

This is Mr. Schiff’s second traversal of these works on disc; the first was a 1983 studio recording for Decca that was highly regarded in its day, and still is, but that sounds positively dumpy beside this vigorously played, beautifully recorded ECM version.

Mr. Schiff’s tempos are brisker and harder driven now, and the clarity of texture that has long been his hallmark is greatly magnified: his articulation could hardly be sharper, and his ability to sustain it through a performance of all six works in one sitting is extraordinary.

At times his seemingly endless well of energy can seem overbearing. Mr. Schiff’s careful balancing of Bach’s lines within fast-moving movements seems to have an intellectual severity that overrides the music’s visceral joys. And though the dance movements here were not meant to be danced, they should be taken at danceable tempos. A dancer trying to keep up with Mr. Schiff in, for example, the Gigue in the A minor Partita, would probably collapse, gasping, before the double bar.

Mr. Schiff also has a light side- his minuets are consistently spirited and bright. His subtly shaded accounts of the relaxed Praeludium of the B flat Partita, several of the sarabandes and the Tempo di Gavotta of the E minor Partita are pictures of elegance and transparency. Those qualities stay with you, along with Mr. Schiff’s fastidious focus.


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Susan Boyle Hits the States

cited: Daily News
Susan Boyle 1

On April 17, 2009, Susan Boyle was skyrocketed to international fame with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” on ‘Britain’s Got Talent,’ the show that shot her to fame, on April 17, 2009. Next week, she’ll be making her stateside debut.

Boyle will fly across the pond to perform on the season finale of “America’s Got Talent” on Sept. 16, reports.

Her appearance isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been following her sometimes tumultuous career. Ryan Seacrest talked as early as last season about her appearing on “American Idol” (which she did not) and “Talent” judge Piers Morgan made no secret of his desire to get her on the stateside program when its season began this summer.

“If she’s up for it and she is well enough … our feeling is she probably will. Absolutely!” Morgan told a group of reporters back in June, as quoted by

Morgan was referring to Boyle’s brief hospitalization for exhaustion following her second place finish on “Britain’s Got Talent,” which she threatened to quit after being so quickly thrust into the spotlight.

After the church volunteer’s debut on the show last April, her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” was an instant hit on YouTube, making her a bona fide star virtually overnight. The video has now been viewed over 200 million times.

And interest in formerly frumpy, 48-year-old singer has hardly dimmed in the months since the British talent competition wrapped up.

Be whoever you want this Halloween. Susan Boyle was instantly transformed, although it had little to do with fantasy. This All Hallow’s Eve, become who you’ve always wanted to be with your very real, sexy side coming through. With the right sexy adult costume, you’ll have jaws dropping. Get your Halloween costume before the rush.

In order to make her American debut, she’s taking a break from recording her first album, which will include “I Dreamed a Dream” and, according to, the Madonna song “You’ll See.”

Although the album isn’t completed, it is already at the top of’s pre-order charts. This puts her ahead of a much longer-standing British export- The Beatles.


My Take: Is it a little sad that the Scottish songbird has beaten out the Fab Four? Fans of the Invasion leaders may feel betrayed by the public’s change of heart, but you have to admit: Susan Boyle’s success is a sign of better times.

If a woman wants to be successful, there is a phenomenal pressure for her to be the sexxiest thing around. That goes triple for performers. The fact that Boyle is being seen as a talented artist gives a glimmer of hope for women’s future in the mainstream. Finally, there’s a chance for females to be recognized for more than their legs (or other body parts).

Now if we could just stop mentioning Boyle’s homeliness at every opportunity, we may be a little closer to the whole “equality” thing.


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Beatlemania: On a Console Near You

Beatlescited: New York Times

When the news broke that the Liverpool four were taking on one of the last remaining media- video games- baby boomers around the country found themselves lining up for the pixelated fun like they haven’t done since Pac Man.

The Beatles get their pastoral groove on in The Beatles: Rock Band, with cordless guitars and, presumably, remote amplifiers.

Luckily, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with the widows of George Harrison and John Lennon, seem to understand that the Beatles are not a museum piece, that the band and its message ought never be encased in amber. The Beatles: Rock Band is nothing less than a cultural watershed, one that may prove only slightly less influential than the band’s famous appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. By reinterpreting an essential symbol of one generation in the medium and technology of another, The Beatles: Rock Band provides a transformative entertainment experience.

In that sense it may be the most important video game yet made.

Never before has a video game had such intergenerational cultural resonance. The weakness of most games is that they are usually devoid of any connection to our actual life and times. There is usually no broader meaning, no greater message, in defeating aliens or zombies, or even in the cognitive gameplay of determining strategy or solving puzzles.

Previous titles in the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series have already done more in recent years to introduce young people to classic rock than all the radio stations in the country. But this new game is special because it so lovingly, meticulously, gloriously showcases the relatively brief career of the most important rock band of all time. The music and lyrics of the Beatles are no less relevant today than they were all those decades ago, and by reimagining the Beatles’ message in the unabashedly modern, interactive, digital form of now, the new game ties together almost 50 years of modern entertainment.

With all due respect to Wii Sports, no video game has ever brought more parents together with their teenage and adult children than The Beatles: Rock Band likely will in the months and years to come.

One Friday evening last month I invited a gaggle of 20-something hipsters (I’m 36) to my apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to try the game. After 15 minutes one 25-year-old said, “I’m going to have to buy this for my parents this Christmas, aren’t I?” After nine hours we had completed all of the game’s 45 songs in one marathon session. On Saturday afternoon, I woke up to watch a 20-year-old spend three hours mastering the rolling, syncopated drum sequences in “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Thirty-six hours later, near dawn Monday morning, there were still a few happy stragglers in my living room belting out “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Good thing my neighbors were away for the weekend.

I grew up in Woodstock, N.Y., steeped in classic rock, so I had a head start on my younger band mates. (I suspect many parents will enjoy having a similar leg up on their progeny.) Yet I watched the same transformation all weekend long. We would start a song like “Something” or “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and as it began, they would say, “Oh yeah, that one.” Then at the end there would literally be a stunned silence before someone would say something unprintable, or simply “Wow” as they fully absorbed the emotional intensity and almost divine melodies of the Beatles.

Not only was the game serving to reintroduce this music, but by leading the players through a schematic version of actually creating the songs, it was also doing so in a much more engaging way than merely listening to a recording. It is an imperfect analogy, but listening to a finished song is perhaps like being served a finished recipe: you know it tastes great even if you have no sense of how it was created.

By contrast, playing a music game like Rock Band is a bit closer to following a recipe yourself or watching a cooking show on television. Sure, the result won’t be of professional caliber (after all, you didn’t go to cooking school, the equivalent of music lessons), but you may have a greater appreciation for the genius who created the dish than the restaurantgoer, because you have attempted it yourself.

Somethings on TV can make you sweat as much as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. With a proven pilates DVD, you can shed the pounds, gain flexibility, and feel great while in front of the tube. Pilates exercise equipment is not extensive- it is one of the cheapest regimes to begin.

Previous music games have been about collections of songs. The Beatles: Rock Band is about representing and reoffering an entire worldview encapsulated in music. The developers at Harmonix Music Systems have translated the Beatles’ scores and tablature into a form that is accessible while also conveying the visceral rhythm of the music. In its melding of source material and presentation, The Beatles: Rock Band is sheer pleasure. The game is scheduled to be released by MTV Games for the PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 consoles on Wednesday, the same day the remastered Beatles catalog is slated to be released on CD.

Mechanically it is almost identical to previous Rock Band games. One player sings into a microphone, replacing the original lead vocals, while another plays an electronic drum kit and two more play ersatz guitar and bass. (The new game supports up to two additional singers for a potential maximum of six players.)

In the game’s story line mode, players inhabit the various Beatles as they progress from the Cavern Club to Ed Sullivan’s stage; Shea Stadium; the Budokan in Japan; Abbey Road; and their final appearance on the Apple Corps roof in 1969. Unlike in previous Rock Band games, players are not booed off the virtual stage for a poor performance; rather the screen cuts to a declarative “Song failed” message. Previously unreleased studio chatter provides a soundtrack for some of the menu and credits screens, but there is no direct interaction with avatars of John, Paul, George or Ringo.

The colorful psychedelic dreamscapes used to represent the band’s in-studio explorations are particularly evocative, though they serve mostly to entertain onlookers rather than the players themselves (who will be concentrating on getting the music right rather than looking at the pretty pictures).

Of course almost nothing could be more prosaic than pointing out that playing a music game is not the same as playing a real instrument. Yet there is something about video games that seems to inspire true anger in some older people.

Why is that? Is there still really a fear that a stylized representation of reality detracts from reality itself? In recent centuries every new technology for creating and enjoying music — the phonograph, the electric guitar, the Walkman, MTV, karaoke, the iPod — has been condemned as the potential death of “real” music.

The music, however, will endure. No matter the medium, the music of the Beatles is beyond reproach. The great thing about this game is its inter-generational bridge potential: the younger learns of the older’s passion, and vice-versa. Old timers are finally figuring out what is up with those video game things, and the newest generation is being introduced to the Fab Four. Thanks to the game-makers. Go ahead, gents: take your bows.


My Take: Music is becoming like basketball- instead of playing it in reality, we are all learning these once-treasured skills on a television screen. NBA Allstars, anyone? Guitar Hero? Pretty soon, we’ll be cooking our meals and knitting through a Nintendo. Where will that leave us?

On the couch, nuking TV dinners, most likely. Let’s hope someone still remembers how to drive in real life, so we can get to the grocery store.


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