Musicologist Sally Bick recommends the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra’s response to social distancing.Musicologist Sally Bick recommends the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra’s response to social distancing.

Music professors suggest some long weekend listening

What music are you listening to? Music faculty in the School of Creative Arts share what they have been taking in while working from home.

Nicholas Papador is a percussionist and composer who specializes in contemporary music. He offers us two listening suggestions, one performed by the New York Philharmonic and the other by a jazz drummer.

Jacob Druckman – Prism (1980)
“Druckman is one of my favourite American composers of the late 20th Century. His neo-impressionist language bears the influence of Debussy and Stravinsky and features large dramatic orchestral flourishes. In Prism, Druckman used quotations from early music by Charpentier, Cavalli, and Cherubini. Druckman’s kinetic gestures act as sonic ‘time portals’ that connect his musical world and that of the past. The music Druckman quotes are all from operas telling different narratives of the Greek Medea tragedy.

Jim Black AlasNoAxis – Tars and Vanish
“Experimental jazz drummer Jim Black’s AlasNoAxis combines both an indie rock and avant-garde jazz sensibility. Tars and Vanish simmers in an unusual time signature of 17/16 (3/4 + 5/16) while saxophonist Chris Speed delivers long and haunting melodic fragments. The piece eventually arrives at a rising, more harmonically active passage in a regular common time. When the original 17/16 meter reappears, the music begins escalating in turbulence with a menacing guitar riff, Speed’s increasingly agitated sax squeals, and Black’s dazzling drum soloing. Visceral and sophisticated.”

Bruce Kotowich, director of the University’s choirs, curated a “Choral Listening Guide.”

Carl Orff: Carmina Burana: Prologue
“O Forunta is one of the most popular choral works. By German composer Carl Orff, it is based on the book of poems of the same name. The prologue tells of the ever changing mood of Lady Fortune.”

Gergorio Allegri: Miserere mei
“A singer in the Sistine Chapel Choir, Gergorio Allegri wrote this psalm setting in 1638. Its effusive mood was only heard when sung by the Sistine Chapel Choir during Holy Week and no transcriptions of the work was allowed to be shared, as ordered by papal decree. In 1770, 14-year old W.A. Mozart heard the work and transcribed it. Later in 1830, F. Mendelssohn also produced a transcription. Finally, in 1880, the papal decree was cancelled and the work was shared worldwide, ending its mystery.”

Lightfoot/Salkeld: Song for A Winter’s Night
“One of Gordon Lightfoot’s most popular ballads is set for mixed chorus. We hear the finger picking style of Lightfoot’s guitar playing set in three voices while the melody is sung in the fourth.”

Guiseppe Verdi: Requiem, Dies Irae
“Guiseppe Verdi wrote his Requiem setting in memory of Alessandro Manzoni; it was premiered in 1874. The second movement, Dies Irae, ‘Day of Wrath,’ depicts hellfire and the horrors of eternal hopelessness. The storm scene in his opera Rigoletto was the inspiration for the Dies Irae.”

Jaakko Mantynarvi: 4 Shakespearean Songs: Double, Double Toil and Trouble
“Jaakko Mäntyjärvi is a Finnish composer born in 1963. He set four Shakespeare texts in 1984. This third movement from the Witches scene in Macbeth captures them conjuring the potion to predict Macbeth’s future.”

Wade Hemsworth: The Blackfly Song
“The unofficial provincial anthem of Ontario tells of the rugged life of the great northern expanse of our province. Fun to hear but more fun to sing.”

Musicologist Sally Bick drew her selections from recent postings on YouTube and FaceBook.

“Some people may enjoy the array of performances by National Arts Centre Orchestra members, which they've designed out of the COVID situation (several of the performers are personal friends).

“One of the most moving performances for me came from members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. They performed a segment from Beethoven’s ninth, the well-known Ode to Joy. What made this performance so moving was not only the response to social distancing, but also the high quality of the performance itself.

“Each member, beginning with the bassist, displayed tremendous control, ability, and musical restraint — a signature of the highest level of orchestral playing or group interaction. It showed on multiple levels how separate elements (individual performers, individual lines of music) can build together collectively and participate in the complexity of such a piece, all of this becoming a metaphor of the day; individuals can come together in strength no matter the hurdles and struggles of our separation.

“Finally, the selection of this piece helped to make this so fitting: an iconic work that most people knew, even if they had no experience in the classical musical environment. The Ode has been performed in a multitude of contexts — appropriated as the anthem for the European Union — a piece that speaks to the humanity and strength of man. This, combined with the performance strategy made for a unique, and for me, emotional experience. I ended up integrating it into my final exam for the Music History and Literature class, as we too had to shift our efforts online as well as our critical dispositions towards online musical culture.

“The Rotterdam performance became the model for other groups that followed a similar path — but not at the same musical or technical level, nor thought-provoking way, see for example the TSO performance of Copland's Appalachian Spring.

“TSO bass player Jeffery Beecher, who organized their performance, said that the Rotterdam performance was released while the TSO was organizing theirs. But I would also mention that the choice to use Copland's iconic work speaks strongly to Americanism, religiosity, not collective humanism — Beecher, by the way, is American.”

—Susan McKee