Sprouts, Complexity, and Transcendence
Pianist-Composer Michael Brown Guest-Hosts Hammered
Beethoven’s influence cannot be measured. This week on Hammered! we’re featuring his impact on different musical forms, the revolutionary spirit in music, and transcendent late works.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Bagatelles—Monday, November 26 explores the evolution of thebagatelle, a short light-hearted piece typically written for the piano. We begin with the delightful and underappreciated 7 Bagatelles, Op. 33 by Beethoven, followed by Bartok’s unique 14 Bagatelles, Op. 6, and then the great American composer-theorist George Perle’s witty 9 Bagatelles (composed in 1999).
Inspirations—Tuesday, November 27 takes a look at works inspired by Beethoven symphonies including Ives’s “The Alcotts” from the Concord Sonata (quotes Beethoven’s 5th symphony) and Corigliano’s Fantasia on an Ostinato (quotes Beethoven’s 7th).
Variations—Wednesday, November 28 presents Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor alongside more recent takes on the form—with variations by Copland, Webern, Berio, and selections from Frederic Rzewski’s monumental The People United Will Never Be Defeated!.
Groundbreaking Audacity—Thursday, November 29 explores pioneering and daring works by the late Milton Babbitt (hisReflections for Piano Synthesized Tape), Mario Davidovsky (Synchronisms No. 6 for Piano and Tape), John Cage (Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano), Samuel Adler (Canto VIII), Crumb (Music for a Summer Evening), and Beethoven (the 4th movement of the “Hammerklavier” Sonata, Op. 106).
Late Works—Friday, November 30
On this last day of Beethoven Awareness Month we explore composer’s “late works.” We’ll hear Liszt’sspiritual Les jeux d’eaux a la Villa d’Este, Elliot Carter’s strikingly virtuosic Two Thoughts About The Piano (2006), Beethoven’s transcendent Sonata in A-flat, Op. 110, and Leonard Bernstein’s hauntingly beautiful Thirteen Anniversaries.
Michael Brown is a stellar stand-in at Phillips Collection recital
By Stephen Brookes, Published: October 29
With Hurricane Sandy hard on his heels, the up-and-coming young pianist Michael Brown blew into town on Sunday afternoon for a recital at the Phillips Collection, standing in at the last minute for pianist Leon McCawley, who had canceled because of illness.
Brown made the most of the opportunity, presenting an eclectic and often revealing program that ranged from Schubert to the sophisticated modernism of George Perle — with a work by Brown himself at center stage.
Due to illness, pianist and composer Michael Brown will replace pianist Leon McCawley for this performance. The New York Times declared Brown “a young piano visionary,” praising him for his “powerful technique and a vivid imagination.” Noted for his “great confidence and rhythmic flair” by Gramophone, Brown performs works by Albéniz, Debussy, Ravel, Schubert, as well as a pairing of George Perle’s Toccata with Brown’s own composition Constellations and Toccata.
Issac Albéniz (1860-1909): El Puertofrom Iberia, Book I
George Perle (1915-2009): Toccata (1969)
Michael Brown (b. 1987): Constellations and Toccata (2012)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918): La Soirée dans Grenade (from Estampes)
Ravel (1875-1937): Alborada del gracioso (from Miroirs)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Sonata in D Major, D. 850
Pianist and composer Michael Brown is at the beginning of his career, and although just graduated from the Juilliard School, he is already gaining a lot of attention. Brown is the guest soloist with Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra for the opening of the orchestra’s 81st season Saturday.
Brown will perform the Piano Concerto by Grieg.
Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra
When: 8 p.m.; concert lecture, 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rabobank Theater, 1001 Truxtun Ave.
Admission: $34 and up; students, half price. Available at Rabobank Theater box office, Ticketmaster.
The performer is emerging from a whirlwind summer of concerts, including a stay at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, the Olympic Music Festival in Seattle, and even a performance with the Santa Maria Symphony, under the direction of BSO conductor John Farrer.
It was there that he performed the Grieg concerto for the first time in his young career, despite the fact that the piece is one of the most easily recognizable compositions in the piano repertoire.
"Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t see (the Grieg concerto) performed that much," Brown said. "There’s a sense of freedom and spirit about it, a freshness that’s still there."
Brown said he had heard the concerto many times while growing up, but only began learning it recently.
"It’s a lot more complex than you think as a child," Brown said. "It has these great tunes in it and all, but other things come out when you get older and you start studying the score."
Edvard Grieg composed the Piano Concerto in A minor — his only piano concerto — in 1868, at the forefront of the nationalist movement in art music.
Grieg asserted his Norwegian heritage, refusing to be lumped in as “Scandinavian” and took his inspiration from Norwegian folk music.
"I’m struck by the operatic writing in parts of the concerto," Brown said. "The rustic dance, the flute solo, the dialogue between the orchestra and the piano, the pairing of the piano with different instruments."
Brown has been gaining considerable notice not only as a pianist, but also as a composer.
He has been able to play his own work, “Constellations and Toccata,” at several recent recitals, to favorable reviews, while earning praise for his discovering and championing previously unknown work by composer George Perle.
"Leading a double life is not easy," Brown said. "But it’s nice how the two feed off each other."
"I learn more about my playing from my composing, and my playing informs my work as a composer," he said.
Being a classical artist in 2012 is not easy, as many performing ensembles are cutting back from both shrinking revenues and shrinking — and aging — audiences. But Brown, like many of his peers, is capitalizing on a trend to take the music where the listeners are, instead of hoping they come to him.
And that means playing in some unconventional places — bars, barges, galleries, restaurants and other venues not originally intended for art music performances.
"(These venues) attract a younger audience," Brown said. "It’s great; I can play my own compositions in a bar and they love it."
Brown said such performance venues and projects aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s enjoying the freedom they provide for him as a composer — and it’s changing some people’s mind about classical music.
"You don’t pigeonhole classical music as this unchanging, dying thing," Brown said. "Because it’s not."
Saturday’s concert also marks the 80th birthday of the BSO, and in celebration, the orchestra is performing some of the works from the orchestra’s first concert in 1932: the March from Hector Berlioz’s “The Damnation of Faust,” and the Symphony No. 8 in B minor (The “Unfinished”) by Franz Schubert.
Seattle Times Review of Olympic Music Festival's Closing Concert
29th Olympic Music Festival closes brilliantly
A review of the final weekend of the 2012 Olympic Music Festival in Quilcene. The program included works by Brahms, Bernstein and Ravel, and performances by Julio Elizalde and Michael Brown.
By Bernard Jacobson Special to The Seattle Times
Michael Brown made an impressive debut in Quilcene as a composer last week. This weekend he returned in a different capacity, joining Julio Elizalde in a twopiano recital that brought a brilliant conclusion to this summer’s Olympic Music Festival’s 29th season.
Brilliance was not the only quality in evidence. Brahms’ Variations on the “St. Antoni Chorale” — a theme traditionally but wrongly attributed to Haydn — opened the program in a performance that was as notable for its dynamic subtlety and delicate phrasing as for its more assertive strengths. It was followed by the twopiano version of the suite Stravinsky arranged for Artur Rubinstein from his ballet “Petrushka.” Here Elizalde at piano no. 1 and Brown at no. 2 — they changed places for the second half of the program — wowed the audience with crisp articulation, seemingly instinctive unanimity and accuracy of marksmanship.
The juxtaposition of Bernstein and Ravel after intermission put me in mind of “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” — William Blake’s title for a collection of his poems. On the other side of the Atlantic, as I once had occasion to witness at a party in Paris, Leonard Bernstein was inclined to comport himself under a veneer of fauxEuropean sophistication that was more disturbing than impressive. In New York, all his masterly musicmaking and political involvement aside, he could behave more like your typical streetwise American kid; and “West Side Story” is surely the quintessential New York piece. Brown and Elizalde played seven movements from the musical (arranged by John Musto) with an appropriate blend of headlong swing and seductive charm.
To Bernstein’s evocation of New World pizazz and violence, Ravel’s “La Valse” provided a supremely cultivated and unmistakably European contrast. As the title makes clear, this is not just a waltz but a piece about “The Waltz.” It depicts a world of sumptuous romantic glamour, in the throes of disintegration. Every aspect of this great piece — the apprehensive rumbles of its opening, the grace and elegance of the dance itself and the whiplash frenzy of the forces that finally overwhelm it — was vividly captured in a performance of compelling artistry and power.
This was a recital fully worthy of what has been an outstanding 29th season for Alan Iglitzin’s wonderful bucolic concert series. Please note that contributions are still needed to ensure that there will be a 30th — and the Olympic Music Festival is altogether too good a local amenity to lose.
My “Dialogues” for violin/cello received a world premiere last weekend, check out the review!
“Three B’s” Include an Astonishing Bloch
August 28, 2012
Stravinsky, Bloch, Michael Brown, and Brahms: Julio Elizalde (piano); Arnaud Sussmann and Jessica Lee (violins); Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu and Alan Iglitzin (violas); Patrick Jee and Nicholas Canellakis (cellos); Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 26.8.2012 (BJ)
Stravinsky: Suite italienne Bloch: Piano Quintet No. 1 Michael Brown: Dialogues for Violin and Cello (world premiere) Brahms: String Sextet No. 2 in G major
Even in a summer that has seen some superb artistic achievements at Alan Iglitzin’s festival in rural Washington state, the penultimate weekend must be accounted something very special. Both the quality of the music programmed and the way it was played rose far above the ordinary.
Sunday afternoon’s concert began and ended with wonderful performances of, respectively, the Suite italienne derived from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella ballet and the second of Brahms’s two string sextets. Heard in the version for cello and piano, the Stravinsky showcased the talent of cellist Patrick Jee. Impressive as he had been a week earlier in music by Mozart and Schoenfield, this performance was even more impressive in revealing a truly outstanding artist. He managed to make the saltando(bounced bow) effects in the Serenata at once trippingly light and expressively substantial. His marshaling of crisp offbeat accents in collaboration with the equally accomplished Julio Elizalde was masterly, and the two drew winningly succulent grace from the smooth lines of the Minuetto in the final movement.
The Sextet No. 2 in G major that Brahms wrote at the age of 31 is a work of total maturity and richly varied expressive moods. Almost all of these were realized to compelling effect in this performance. My only slight disappointment came with the final variation in the slow movement, where the musicians’ enthusiasm and expressive zest led them to play rather more loudly than the composer’s markings warrant, so that this magically floating E-major meditation emerged rather less ethereal than it can be. But the finale that followed was a complete success, from Jessica Lee’s warmly burnished G-string tone in the main theme to the headlong jubilation and infectious team-spirit of the conclusion.
In between these two well-known works, Elizalde, who serves alongside Iglitzin as the festival’s associate artistic director, came up with one that was much less familiar – indeed, I was hearing it for the first time – and another that was not previously known at all. Bloch’s Piano Quintet No. 1 is a perfectly astonishing piece, the product of a too-often underrated composer at the height of his powers. The outer two of its three movements maintain a hell-for-leather pace that presents one extraordinary rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic inspiration after another: by the side of this music’s irrepressible impetus, even some of the most uninhibitedly motoric movements Shostakovich was writing a few years later might seem in memory quite polite. Violinists Arnaud Sussmann and Jessica Lee, violist Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu, cellist Nicholas Canellakis, and pianist Elizalde played with uncompromising thrust and thrilling emotional intensity, while clearly having a great deal of fun. The sharply contrasted middle movement, marked Andante mistico, benefitted especially from the lustrous tone Wu drew from her viola. And the end of the finale demonstrated excellent judgement on the part of the composer, who, doubtless realizing that it would be impossible to top the sheer excitement the earlier stages of the movement had built up, elected instead to go in a completely different direction with a die-away coda that revisits and intensifies the mood of the Andante.
In such company, a new work from a composer surely unknown to the festival’s audience could easily be overshadowed. But the Dialogues for Violin and Cello that Michael Brown had written for the occasion proved to be a highly attractive and artfully written piece, which packs a deal of musical substance into its seven-minute duration. Brown, in a spoken introduction to the second performance on Sunday, explained the title’s significance in alluding to “conversations” both between the two players and the two disparate elements in the music’s tempo and phrasing. What he modestly did not mention was his skillful integration of the work’s mysterious slow sections with its brusquely contrasted quick passages. Differences in pace, figuration, and articulation provided ample variety, yet the thematic materials, and particularly the near-hypnotic emphasis on the interval of the minor third, were handled in such a way as to assure easily perceptible unity across all the contrasts.
The performance by Sussmann and Canellakis was rivetingly vivid. Michael Brown is certainly a young composer to watch – and on the coming weekend of 1 and 2 September he will face the Quilcene audience in his other capacity, in a piano-four-hands recital with Julio Elizalde that promises to bring the 29th Olympic Musical Festival to a splendidly entertaining conclusion. If you live anywhere in the Greater Seattle area, don’t miss it.
Cellist Nicholas Canellakis is slated to perform in the Olympic Music Festival.
Olympic Music Festival
2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 2, 7360 Center Road, Quilcene, Jefferson County $18-$33 (360-732-4800 orwww.olympicmusicfestival.org).
Among the highlights of the Olympic Music Festival’s Aug. 25-26 program will be the world premiere of pianist and composer Michael Brown’s “Dialogue for Violin and Cello,” the third piece he’s written for his regular collaborator, cellist Nicholas Canellakis.
The following weekend (Sept. 1-2), Brown himself will appear at OMF on a piano- driven bill featuring works by Brahms, Stravinsky, Bernstein and Ravel.
Brown, with a master’s degree from the Juilliard School, and Canellakis, a similarly accomplished alumnus of the Curtis Institute of Music, are both young, in-demand artists lavishly praised by The New York Times. Besides partnering occasionally on Brown’s new music, they regularly play as a duo focused on innovative programming and original arrangements.
But forget all that. If you really want to see what these guys are about, you can watch them online, lamely competing to hit on superstar pianist Yuja Wang.
Canellakis, 28, noted by critics for the depth of emotion he brings to performances, is also the producer of the comedy web series “Conversations with Nick Canellakis.” (Go toyoutube.com and search for that title.)
A kind of highbrow version of Mike Myers’ old “Wayne’s World” sketches on “Saturday Night Live,” “Conversations” presents Canellakis and Brown in tony settings, ostensibly chatting about music with the likes of Wang or the Emerson String Quartet. Invariably, these sessions degenerate into something more craven and base, such as jealousy over other musicians’ success, career opportunism and siblinglike testiness between the two hosts and longtime friends.
It’s funny stuff. Highlights include Canellakis pressing his résumé on the Emerson ensemble, and the incredulity with which every guest violist is asked about his choice of instrument. (“Was there childhood trauma involved?”)
Smoothly directed by Canellakis, “Conversations” is part of his overall passion for comedy and film/video production. Among his other farcical achievements are the Poelike short “The Cello Case” and a three-part parody of “The Shining,” starring Canellakis in the Jack Nicholson role and set in the spooky halls of Curtis.
" ‘Conversations’ came out of doing a YouTube talk with Michael about music," says Canellakis. "I went off on a tangent and started riffing, and the whole thing turned into a big joke. All our friends thought it was hilarious, and we were encouraged to do more. In some ways, I look to certain comedians and directors as much as I do musicians."
Canellakis cites Louis C.K., Zach Galifianakis and Larry David as comic inspirations.
"The level of dedication and technical prowess required in classical music is serious," Canellakis says. "So there’s a perception that musicians don’t have another side to them. I wanted to quench my thirst for doing comedy and show that musicians don’t always take themselves seriously."
There is seriousness enough in Canellakis’ career. The youngest child from a family of musicians (his sister is violinist Karina Canellakis), he has enjoyed multiyear residencies with the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society and Carnegie Hall’s Academy, was principal cellist of the New York String Orchestra and teaches at the Manhattan School of Music’s Pre-College Division.
The Olympic Music Festival program in which Canellakis will participate includes Brahms’ String Sextet No. 2 in G major, which he calls “a pastoral piece with unusual textures; gorgeous.” There’s also Bloch’s Piano Quintet No. 1: “It’s exotic, epic. The chamber-music equivalent of the ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ score.”
As for his sense about Brown’s world premiere?
"My sense is I don’t think it’s finished. But I’m very optimistic."