Arts & Culture

Arts and culture

Walter Pater was an influential 19th-century English author and critic, and in 1870 he wrote a fascinating essay about the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. In one passage that particularly caught my eye, Pater wrote, “If [Botticelli] painted religious incidents, [he] painted them with an undercurrent of original sentiment, which touches you as the real matter of the picture through the veil of its ostensible subject.” 


Regina Carter
Courtesy of the Artist

Jazz violinist Regina Carter is one of today’s most original and daring musicians. Classically trained, Carter grew up in Detroit, where she absorbed all the music that Motown had to offer. While in high school Carter became inspired when she discovered jazz violinists such as Noel Pointer, Ray Nance, and Eddie South. On this 2003 Piano Jazz, Carter brings her stellar technique and infectious energy to bear when she joins McPartland for "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "The Music Goes Round and Round."

News Stations: Sat, Apr 29, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Apr 30, 7 pm

J. Drew Lanham
Clemson University

“In me, there is the red of miry clay, the brown of spring floods, the gold of ripening tobacco. I am, in the deepest sense, colored.” From these fertile soils—of love, land, identity, family, and race—emerges The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature (2016, Milkweed Editions) a big-hearted, unforgettable memoir by ornithologist J. Drew Lanham.

Joelle Lurie
Joelle Lurie via Twitter

Jazz vocalist, songwriter, and actress Joelle Lurie is a regular at New York City venues such as the Rockwood Music Hall and the Zinc Bar, where she performs with her ensemble, The Pinehurst Trio. On this week’s episode of Song Travels, Lurie delights with a set of standards and modern songs from her album Take Me There. Host Michael Feinstein accompanies her in "Our Love Is Here to Stay."

News Stations: Sat, Apr 30, 2 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Apr 30, 6 pm

Interpretation

Apr 21, 2017

Composers write pieces, and performers perform them. But for the performers, just about everything the composer writes, with the exception of the notes themselves, is a matter of interpretation. The composer indicates that a passage should be played softly? Fine. But how softly? It should get louder? Okay, but how much louder? Faster, slower? – same thing, it’s a matter of interpretation and personal taste. 


The body length of a full-size violin is about 14 inches, give or take a very small fraction. This is a standard length, and an optimum length, arrived at by trial and error over many years by the great violin makers of history. Violas, on the other hand, have no standard length. For the pitch range and acoustics of the viola there probably is an optimum length, but whatever it is, it’s way too great for the instrument still to be held up and played under the chin. 


Looking at Conductors

Apr 19, 2017

The other day, a friend asked me if orchestral musicians really look at the conductor when they’re playing. It’s an interesting question, because after all, how can you look at your music and play all the right notes if you’re also looking up at the person waving the baton? The answer is that you do both, but not always in the same proportion and not always at the same time. There are times—the beginnings of pieces, for example, or at other times when the music starts or stops, or when the tempo changes, when you have to look directly at the conductor. 


David Amram
david-amram.blogspot.com

Well-known for his compositions, film scores, and appearances as a guest conductor, David Amram started his professional life in music as a French hornist in the National Symphony Orchestra in the early 1950s. He went on to play horn in the legendary jazz bands of Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lionel Hampton. He is a prolific composer whose music is based on Latin American, Middle Eastern Ancient Jewish, and Modern idioms. In this 1991 session, Amram performs on piano, horn, and a variety of flutes and whistles.

Allen Toussaint
Courtesy of the artist

Pianist, singer, composer and producer Allen Toussaint is one of the leading figures of New Orleans R&B. His hits include "Working in a Coal Mine" and "Lady Marmalade." He’s worked with artists including The Meters, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello. On this Song Travels, Toussaint joins host Michael Feinstein to talk about the iconic recordings of his original songs “Mother in Law” and "Whipped Cream." Toussaint also performs his compositions live, including "Get Out of My Life Woman" and "Southern Nights."

Actress and singer Marilyn Maye is a lifelong performer with a career spanning nearly eight decades. Her big break came in the 1950s, and she went on to become a staple of the New York and West Coast cabaret scenes. On this edition of Song Travels, Maye discusses her ongoing performing and teaching career, her 76 appearances on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, and her many runs in Hello, Dolly! She and host Michael Feinstein duet in a medley of "Big Time" and "Open a New Window."

News Stations: Sat, Apr 16, 2 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Apr 19, 6 pm

I’m guessing you haven’t thought much about this, but one of the things we musicians have to put up with is calluses. Not feeling sympathetic? But what if the calluses are peeling, or bleeding, or have bruises under or around them, or make you look like you’ve been attacked by a vampire? You can probably guess that string players have calluses on the tips of the fingers of their left hands, and you’ve seen the indelible marks on the necks of violinists and violists. 


In music, the terms “high” and “low,” as in “high notes” and “low notes,” “high pitched” and “low pitched,” are metaphors. High and low may be used to describe frequencies, or the relative position of printed notes on a musical staff, but printed notes are themselves merely symbols, not sounds, and frequencies and their measurements don’t actually have height. In reality, high notes are not physically higher, not farther from the surface of the earth, than low notes. 


Requiem for Mother Emanuel: No. 9
Courtesy of the artist

Renowned South Carolina artist, Leo Twiggs, now 82, has long been fascinated by the contradictions of the South, and he has defined a unique iconography in his work by seizing on certain symbols, especially the Confederate battle flag, its stars and bars, the shape of an “X” and the image of a target, with its sequential rings and bull’s-eye.

Tenors

Apr 14, 2017

The word “tenor” is from the Latin tenere, “to hold”…and in medieval and Renaissance vocal music, from about 1250 to 1500, the tenor voice was the “holding voice.” It was the voice that held the principal melody, often with long held-out notes, and the voice around which the other voices were composed. The tenor voice, always a male voice, was not necessarily a high voice—or at least not originally.


Under the heading “Real Musical Understanding,” here’s something that Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote in 1910:

“…Some teachers lay a great deal of stress upon the necessity for the pupil learning the source of the composer’s inspiration. This is interesting, of course, and may help to stimulate a dull imagination..."


Don Drysdale was a great pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but you don’t usually hear his name mentioned without hearing the name of another Dodger, Sandy Koufax. Well, Joseph Lanner was a hugely popular and important composer and orchestra leader in Vienna in the 1820's and 30's, one of the first composers to create a refined version of the Viennese waltz and bring it into the dance hall. But you won’t often see Lanner’s name without also seeing the name Johann Strauss. 


I was looking at a list, the other day, of composers who were born on today’s date, April 11, or who died on April 11. One birthday name I recognized immediately: Alberto Ginastera. And yes, that’s how he himself pronounced his name. His father was Catalan, and Gee-nastera is the Catalan pronunciation. Ginastera was undoubtedly the most important Argentinean composer of the twentieth century. 


The French playwright Molière once said, “Anyone can be an honorable man, and yet write verse badly.” Well, no one would dispute that there are many honorable men and women who write music. But if there are such things as “good pieces” or “great pieces,” then there must also be such things as bad pieces. There must be pieces that don’t work very well or don’t work at all, pieces that don’t offer much even to the most open-minded and honorable of music lovers.


West Fraser
westfraserstudio.com

Painting the Southern Coast: The Art of West Fraser (2016, USC Press) is a collection of the works of  one of the nation's most respected painters of representational art. A mastery of his medium and the scope of work ensure his place in Southern art history. A true son of the Lowcountry, Fraser has dedicated much of his career to capturing the lush, primordial beauty of the Southeast's coastal regions that have been altered by man and time.

Nnenna Freelon
Concord Records

Internationally hailed as the greatest vocalist to come along in decades, Nnenna Freelon exudes both class and sophistication. Her soulful style consists of fresh interpretations of classic standards. A six-time Grammy Award nominee, in 2014 she starred in the critically acclaimed show Georgia on My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles in Las Vegas. On this 2002 Piano Jazz, Freelon surprises McPartland with a lyric to her original tune "Threnody."

News Stations: Sat, Apr 15, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Apr 16, 7 pm

Pieces not Parts

Apr 7, 2017

It’s hard to write a good piece of music, a piece whose elements fit together in ways that make sense, a piece that has a beginning, a middle, and an end and that leaves the listener feeling that the time spent listening has been worthwhile. And I don’t know about you, but when I read a review saying that a piece is constructed entirely of “shimmering hazes of sound,” or “a parade of fascinating effects,” or “random rhythmic bursts and captivating colors,” I’m usually pretty sure that it’s a piece I’m not terribly interested in hearing.

Time and Meaning

Apr 6, 2017

In music, time passes. But it mustn’t be without purpose or reasons: without . . . meaning. And that’s the point: Music can give meaning to time. If all the interwoven elements in a piece of music mean something—if they remind, reflect, comfort, inspire, or excite—then by definition the time it takes for them to do all that will mean something too.

Jay Leonhart
JonasMusicServices.com

Bassist Jay Leonhart is a highly sought-after session musician, a trio leader, and a one-man act. He got his start as a kid playing banjo and guitar with his brother in the '40s and '50s, and was inspired to take up the bass after hearing Ray Brown and the Oscar Peterson Trio. Leonhart has played with musicians from all genres and has been on the New York jazz scene for almost five decades. On this Song Travels, Leonhart brings songs and stories from his act and joins host Michael Feinstein for a duet of the Gershwin-inspired original tune "Problem."

Marian McPartland and Dorothy Donegan during the Piano Jazz recording session in 1983.
South Carolina Public Radio

This week Piano Jazz remembers NEA Jazz Master Dorothy Donegan (1922 – 1998) with an early session from 1983. Donegan's technical command of the piano was nothing short of breathtaking, and she was known for her onstage antics and flamboyance. In the house with McPartland, she attacks the piano—hammering away with her elbows and knuckles on "Darn That Dream" and "Stormy Weather." McPartland and Donegan play two pianos on "Lullaby of Birdland" and "Rosetta."

News Stations: Sat, Apr 08, 8 pm | Classical Station: Sun, Apr 09, 7 pm

Dvorak on Spirituals

Apr 5, 2017

The composer Ernest Bloch once wrote that it’s only by plunging one’s roots to the depths of one’s own people that one finds the common ground of all people. Antonin Dvorák expressed a similar sentiment, and here’s the advice that he gave to American composers at the beginning of the 20th century, after he had been introduced to African American Sprirtuals:

“I am now satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded upon what are called the negro melodies...

Soothing Music

Apr 4, 2017

When “classical” public radio stations surveyed their audiences some years back, the most common answer to the question, “Why do you listen to classical music,” was, “Because it’s soothing.” Now think of Beethoven for a moment, the man whose very name defines “classical music” for many people.  He wrote music that sends the soul soaring, that plumbs the depths of human despair, that shatters silence with violent assaults.  


Copland on Composing

Apr 3, 2017

It’s often—not always, but often—interesting to read what composers have written about composing—especially if they’re good writers. Aaron Copland was an excellent writer, although by all accounts a very reserved man, one who kept his personal feelings hidden.


It may go without saying that Ken Lam, music director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, is well-versed in matters relating to the study and performance of some of the world's greatest works of music--several conducting awards and time spent learning from maestros like Leonard Slatkin are proof enough of that. What might be more surprising is that his resume also includes an economics degree from Cambridge and a decade of experience in law.

Knowing Enough

Mar 31, 2017

Are you one of those classical music lovers who apologize for not knowing enough? Do you worry that your love of classical music somehow doesn’t count as much as the love of experts? Here’s what I think. I think human beings like to know things, and it’s fine – in fact it’s wonderful – for audiences to be musically knowledgeable and experienced, if only because in music as in all the arts – and as in football and cooking, for that matter – with added knowledge and experience come added levels of appreciation. 


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