Moody Blues News

From the latest post on my favorite classical music blog (which also regularly includes fascinating insights regarding world music and Sufism), On an Overgrown Path:

Long Distance Voyagers is a 796 page resource book about the Moody Blues rock band. Surprisingly given the high profile of the band – they have sold more than 80 million records and were one of the pioneers of the concept album and of classic rock – this is the first major volume devoted to their oeuvre. The book is the labour of love of Marc Cushman, who is best known for his monumental books analysing Star Trek and Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space series. This latest massive volume is equally monumental – it is only volume one taking the story of the band up to 1979.

Recently I have been impressed and rewarded by several major historical books about art music icons, including the Nick Drake anthology Remembered For A While. This comes from long-established publishing house John Murray, and has commensurate high design values and sharp sub-editing. Long Distance Voyagers comes from new media publisher Jacobs Brown and suffers from the lacklustre design and lightweight sub-editing that are the hallmarks of desktop publishing. But this should not detract from what is a very rewarding document for those who, like me, underwent their musical and other rites of passage in the 1960s to the soundtrack of In Search of a Lost Chord.

Needless to say, this beauty went on my Amazon wish list immediately, with plans to purchase it Very Soon Now.  Blog author “Pliable” is a former EMI classical recording engineer, eclectic in his musical tastes and erudite in his commentary.  His pungent, all-too-sharp observations on the negative effects of social media recently prompted him to sever his links to Facebook and Twitter (a gutsy step I’ll honor by keeping this post off them).  I can’t help but agree with his lament in a previous post on the magnificent Moodies:

Gone are the days when Visconti’s Death in Venice, Ken Russell’s Music Lovers, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Pictures At An Exhibition could add a new diacritic to young lives. Instead the mantra of our digital age is ‘more of the same please’ driven by the insidious dynamic of social media approval.

Do check out On an Overgrown Path — it’s always excellent reading about music that matters — as well as Long Distance Voyagers!

— Rick Krueger

 

soundstreamsunday #109: “O Fortuna” by Carl Orff

carminaburana_wheel-1When your local symphony wants to fill seats, a good bet after the annual Star Wars night is a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Its pop power lies in a percussion both brawny and nuanced, and the clean melodic lines of the 23 songs bracketed by the thunderous chant of the opening and closing piece, “O Fortuna.” Orff’s success with Carmina Burana (1936) made his career, but its legacy is — must be — shaded by Orff’s less than courageous behavior in the Nazi era. The piece is thus endowed with a taint, a stink, and some feel this extends to its overt distillation of Stravinsky’s thornier Les Noces (1923) into symphonic ear candy.  Historians have judged Orff’s cowardice and originality to an uncomfortable draw, but listeners remain enthusiastic, sensing in it I think the same elements enriching Orff’s and Gunild Keetman’s Schulwerk project:  a simplicity of melody empowered by a rhythmic focus accenting drama.  Smart but not brainy, easy on the digestion but also moody around the edges, maintaining enough emotional mystery to keep things interesting.

Orff’s adaptation of the Goliardic text was in itself a meditation on life’s uncertainties — his successes were few at this point — and a statement of non-conformity in a fairly heavy-handed academic music scene.  The resulting hour’s worth of songs, combining the words of punk drunk monks and a faux medieval vibe, carries an anti-authoritarian ethic embraced years later by rock.  If you first heard “O Fortuna” waiting for your band to come onstage you’re not alone.  Goths and metalheads love this stuff, and Ray Manzarek, god bless him, went so far as to actually attempt the entirety of Carmina Burana on record.  Oh, fortune, indeed….

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
and waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
poverty
and power
it melts them like ice.
Fate – monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is in vain
and always fades to nothing,
shadowed
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.
Fate is against me
in health
and virtue,
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everybody weep with me!

There is no lack of recordings of Orff’s masterwork, and this primer by Jeremy Lee is highly recommended.  Including here the last two songs in the cycle, “Ave formosissima” building to the return of “O Fortuna,” as recently rendered live by the Munich Percussion Ensemble under Adel Shalaby.  It has a lean, un-stuffy quality that I think complements the spirit of the work.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

If you’re part of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus, here’s how:

“We submitted a proposal, and Carnegie got interested in us,” [music director Marcelo] Lehninger said. “There was one specific program in the season that they really enjoyed, and they had a date available, and we could go there the week after we performed the programming in Grand Rapids. So, it was just all the stars aligning,” he laughed. “We said ‘you know what, let’s go now.’”

So a week from tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane for New York City, one of nearly 250 instrumentalists and singers making the pilgrimage.  We settle in Thursday, rehearse Friday morning, let it rip on April 20th at 8 pm, then head back home on Saturday — hopefully basking in the satisfaction of a job well done!

(And yes, everybody’s practicing, practicing, practicing these days.)

Continue reading “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?”

The Albums That Changed My Life: #9, Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning by Michael Praetorius

by Rick Krueger

By the mid-1990s, more classical music was being recorded and released worldwide than ever before.  Sony’s purchase of CBS Records had triggered a spending frenzy, both by the new Sony Classical and its competitors Polygram, EMI, RCA and Warner.  Occasional crossover chart smashes like The Three Tenors, Henryk Gorecki’s meditative Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, or the odd compilation of Gregorian chant had a glut of major and minor orchestras, choirs and ensembles chasing the next fluke hit — usually with A&R men breathing down their necks to justify the expense.

It was a mind-boggling time to be a classical collector.  Bookstores like Barnes & Noble and appliance shops like Best Buy opened in smaller and smaller towns, with deeper and deeper stocks of CDs.  Mall chains like Discount Records followed suit, and free-standing superstores like Tower Records went even deeper.  Detroit’s local chain Harmony House had a dedicated all-classical store; nearby Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, had at least two or three at any given time.  Whether hitting 28th Street on my day off in Grand Rapids, or driving east to visit family, I knew there would be something great to find no matter where I went — I just didn’t know what.

 

Continue reading “The Albums That Changed My Life: #9, Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning by Michael Praetorius”

The Albums that Changed My Life: #7, O Come All Ye Faithful by The Choir of King’s College Cambridge

by Rick Krueger

Hearing this album was what really confirmed me — a fourth-generation American of German ancestry and Lutheran upbringing — as a lifelong, diehard Anglophile.  As a unlooked-for bonus, it reopened a vocational path I had taken for granted, if not outright abandoned, as I trained to become a musician.

“Wait a minute,” I hear you say to the first point, “every single album you’ve written about so far is by a British artist or composer!”  Point taken.  Throw in my love for the work of Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien and Shakespeare (as well as the adventures of Sherlock Holmes), and you might consider my opening sentence an overstatement.  But hear me out.

Continue reading “The Albums that Changed My Life: #7, O Come All Ye Faithful by The Choir of King’s College Cambridge”

The Albums that Changed My Life: #6, Songs of Travel & On Wenlock Edge by Ralph Vaughan Williams

by Rick Krueger

In our casually audiophile age of 96 kHz/24 bit BluRays and 180-gram virgin vinyl, it may be hard to comprehend what a difference digital recording made when it came of age in the late 1970s.   I remember cueing up Keith Jarrett’s Concerts: Bregenz, München and being blown away as much by the background silence, the clarity and depth of the piano sound, and the extended dynamic range as by Jarrett’s freewheeling improvisations.  The compact disc was still in the future — but at that point, after suffering through muddy, distorted mass-produced pressings of way too many albums, it seemed like that future was all upside.

Classical record companies were the most fervent backers of digital recording from the beginning; the prospect of “perfect sound forever” made both corporate executives and their target demographic (single men with money or credit to burn — surprise!) salivate in anticipated ecstasy.  Certainly, as I built a classical collection during graduate school, the word “Digital” on the front cover of a record always counted in its favor.

That’s one reason I picked up the album pictured above.  Another reason: I’d already heard some fine Mahler recordings by the young conductor Simon Rattle, precociously helming the scrappy City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.  And there was one more burning question: was Benjamin Britten right about Ralph Vaughan Williams?

Continue reading “The Albums that Changed My Life: #6, Songs of Travel & On Wenlock Edge by Ralph Vaughan Williams”

The Albums that Changed My Life: #5, War Requiem by Benjamin Britten

by Rick Krueger

“My subject is War, and the pity of War.  The Poetry is in the pity … All a poet can do today is warn.” — Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

I took an orchestration class in early 1982.  The final project sounded simple: listen to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and write a report.  While I knew of Britten, and had heard his music — The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra was still standard music appreciation class material  — this piece was new to me.  I figured I’d borrow the record (conducted by the composer) from the college library, hear it once, and have what I needed to bang out an analysis.  Then I dropped the needle:

This piece demanded full attention — ears, head, heart and guts.  90 minutes later, I sat in my dorm room, drained and amazed.  35 years (and one long lost paper) later, I’m still completely engaged every time I hear the War Requiem, and singing it with the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus in 2008 was a highlight of my life in performance.  It’s always commanded my wholehearted admiration, and it set me off on a deeper exploration of classical music (and 20th century music in particular) that’s endured to this day.  Why?

Continue reading “The Albums that Changed My Life: #5, War Requiem by Benjamin Britten”