Thursday, September 19, 2013

The MMmusing Recital

I've made passing reference to this already, but this Sunday I'll be presenting my first "MMmusing Recital." That's right, some of the unusual ideas presented here on the blog will finally be submitted to a live audience in live performances - not that I consider my readers to be less than alive, but you know what I mean. The idea, as with so many of my blog posts, sprang up kind of accidentally as I'd had another more conventional recital collaboration postponed, but still wanted to do some performing to start off the year. I already had the recital reservation, so all I needed was a program.

I knew I didn't have time to memorize and perform solo repertoire with the pressures of a new semester bearing down, but with Daughter of MMmusing having returned enthusiastically from five weeks of summer music camp, this seemed to offer an excellent opportunity to work again as a trio with her and my cellist wife. (We debuted as "Montrieau" at my faculty recital last September.) We'd all really enjoyed hearing a performance of the opening movement from Mendelssohn's Trio in D Minor at the camp, so my first thought was that we might play that entire trio as the recital's second half. Meanwhile, I started thinking about ways to explore blog-inspired possibilities for a more informal first half.

I'll spare you all the details, but I ended up deciding upon a series of loosely connected "experiments" in musical mashing as a kind of theme. I'm purposefully using the term "mashup" pretty broadly because there is a sense in which most kinds of music (and life!) involve some degree of mashing or another, especially contrapuntal genres. So it is that we'll open with a variation on Bach's most famous chorale-prelude. As genre, chorale-preludes already have mashup-like qualities since such pieces are built around hymn-tunes - except that I'm substituting our own college hymn, A.J. Gordon's "My Jesus, I Love Thee" for the tune most often known as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." This is what might be termed a negotiated mashup, since I made some significant changes to Bach's famous flowing triplets so that they're now in 4/4 instead of 3/4. You can read and hear more about that here.

As a further illustration of counterpoint as mashup, we'll do a fun little performance of Bach's "Crab Canon" from The Musical Offering. In this case, this is a tune mashing up with its backwards self, though the fact that Bach designed the tune with that in mind is kind of a cheat. That will transition into Steve Reich's Clapping Music, which is basically a canon based on metrical phasing - like the Bach, it's a mashup against itself. This then leads to an inspired mashup suggested by recent graduate Wesley Newcomb in which the two "chords" of Stravinsky's famous Rite of Spring polychord are subbed in for Reich's two clapping parts. It sounds like a 70's TV car chase. 

We'll then turn to a couple of time-bending French concoctions. Wesley has set up a nifty real-time phrase-shifter for Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1 which will allow me to play my Randomnopédie from the same on-the-spot score the audience will be watching. Satie's iconic work is famous for its directionless way of meandering around, so we'll be exploring what happens when the directionless phrases are sent back and forth through time. Next, I'll play my all-time favorite of Bruce Adolphe's radio piano puzzlers, a magical amalgam of Hey, Jude and Messiaen's radiant harmonies in praise of the eternity of Jesus. I know it sounds gimmicky, but somehow it works. The chords move so slowly that Adolphe only manages to get through part of McCartney's timeless tune - probably just as well that it doesn't get to the 19 repetitions of "Na... na-na na-na-na-na / na-na-na-na / Hey Jude," which has its own time-stopping qualities.  

The first half ends with two very different two-piano showdowns with a new colleague, Stephanie Emberley. First up is Mozart's ubiquitous music-box of a sonata (K. 545) heard alongside Grieg's mischievously charming second piano addition. I honestly don't know why there aren't more pieces like this as it reveals such an unstuffy and creative affection for an older style. Some of the happiest music you'll ever hear. Which is just as well, because what will follow (the most truly mashup-y event of the afternoon) will be more disorienting: simultaneous performances of the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata and Debussy's Clair de lune. You can get a sense of what this might sound like here.

Though inspired first by the punny "moonlight" connection, the works complement each other in several ways. They share the same tonic (C# = Db), they're about the same length, each is mostly quiet and reflective, etc. Still, one is in minor, one is in major, one is Germanically directed and purposeful while the other breathes a French kind of nonchalance, so contrasts abound as well. The fact that Beethoven's work has a regular and insistent rhythm actually makes an excellent foil for Debussy's free-floating harmonies. We've run this "piece" a couple of times, and new things emerge each time - can't wait to see/hear what happens on Sunday.

So, that's the first half - everything that will be played has been featured on this blog at some point or another. These experiments exhibit another general characteristic of my musical interests: though some subversive, outside-the-box things will happen, everything is rooted in (or at least alludes to) the past. The Moonlight Sonata, Clair de lune, Gymnopédie No.1, Mozart's K.545, and Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring are all iconically overexposed. Not only can they all stand a little jabbing, but the audience will have a better chance of perceiving what's going on since the source material will likely be familiar.

Since I'm pretty unapologetically rooted in the past myself, the recital's second half will be more like a normal chamber music affair, though with a couple of thematic mashups thrown in. First of all, we decided not to program the entire Mendelssohn trio because there just wasn't time to learn it all with school starting, my daughter preparing for some auditions, etc. The second half will thus begin with a striking sacred/profane, cello/violin matchup. The wife and I will play Messiaen's Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus as originally intended (for cello and piano, no Jude), though removed from the Quatuor pour la fin du temps context. Then, Daughter of MMmusing will put her fiddle through its paces in the wild gypsy smackdown that is Ravel's Tzigane. A heartstopping prayer followed by a pulse-pounding hoedown.

Just as the first half ends with a Franco-German conversation, we follow the colorful French soundworlds of Messiaen and Ravel with the passionate German Romanticism of Mendelssohn's first piano trio. (Did I think long and hard about fitting in the finale of Mendelssohn's other trio, which mashes in a famous hymn tune along the way? Yes, yes I did. But I can only throw my family so many curves. As it is, the wife is learning the Messiaen in about a week's time since I only thought to include that last week.) I'm a nineteenth century Romantic at heart, and I've never gotten to play this trio. Since we're only performing the first two movements, they'll be inverted, with the song-like second movement providing a bit of repose before the manic storminess of the first movement closes the program. Ending with an opening movement seems like the right way to go.

View the MMmusing Recital poster here!

UPDATE: Recital-related blog links here.

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