Grace Notes: Music of the Week – October 24th

Hello and welcome back to Music of the Week! The return of ‘The Apprentice’ (a guilty pleasure) has influenced my first choice and a BBC prom I went to in the summer has influenced my second.

Prokofiev’s ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a wonderful piece. In the section ‘Montagues and Capulets’ the famous low brass oom-pahs and the unison string melody stepping over the top in a dotted rhythm is the section from the ballet that most people know. (Or signifies that Lord Sugar is coming back to BBC1.) However, I’d really like to talk about the whole piece. I’ve seen the ballet and last summer I played the second suite in a concert with YMSO and discovered some other beautiful passages.

The ballet was composed in 1935 and the ending was originally written so that it was happy, but he was persuaded that this would have been a step too far. It was written for the Kirov Ballet but because it was so tricky for the dancers it wasn’t performed for a few years (the premier was in Brno in 1938). Once the music had become popular he then wrote three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece based on the ballet themes. Aside from the ‘Montagues and Capulets’ theme (which is epic and so much fun to play), my other favourite movement from the suites is the ‘Death of Juliet’. It’s beautiful and has many moments of bittersweet passion and pain which could bring the audience to tears.

My other piece that I’d like to share is a collaboration between the string trio (two violins and a double bass) Time for Three and Joshua Radin (an American singer, songwriter and actor). It’s an acoustic song called ‘Everything’ll Be Alright’.

I first came across Time for Three at a BBC Prom. My brother is a huge fan of Aaron Copland and there was an ‘Americana’ prom last summer so I went with him to watch the BBC Symphony Orchestra play. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the second half as all it said on the website was ‘Brubeck’. I was in for a treat. The orchestra opened with ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’ by Dave Brubeck, which had been arranged by his son (Chris Brubeck) for orchestra. This was very exciting but short, so my brother and I were left wondering what was coming next in ‘Travels in Time for Three’ (by Chris Brubeck). I loved this piece. An American string trio walked out and they proceeded to amaze us with a virtuosic performance of what was essentially a jazzy concerto grosso. After this, I went home and found as many different videos as I could by Time for Three.

I was introduced to Joshua Radin by recommendation from one of my friends who emigrated to Canada when we were 16. We keep in contact through Skype, Facebook and email often share YouTube videos and songs. About a year ago, I was sent ‘Winter’ by Joshua Radin and that became one of my favourite songs.

On Monday I was browsing YouTube, came across a collaboration between these two, and I loved it. Even though there is only a string bass, two violins and a voice with guitar, it’s magical and haunting. I hope you like it as much as I do!

I’m looking forward to seeing you all on Monday, when I’ll be talking about a halloween concert I’m taking part in on Sunday with BBC NOW and NYOW.

*I do not own any of the above videos

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Grace Notes: Tackling a Nielsen Symphony

Last Wednesday I took part in a concert at St John’s Smith Square with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra (YMSO – http://www.ymso.org.uk/). We were playing a varied program including Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Nielsen. This was a very challenging program and I hadn’t played any of the pieces before.

We began the concert with Le Corsaire by Berlioz which is a concert overture  (which means there isn’t an opera attached) written between 1844 and 1851 (there were lots of revisions). It’s a very fast and exciting overture with lots of bright and blazing string passages, enhanced by brass chords. The main challenge of this was the speed and when I was practicing I had to gradually increase  the tempo in order to be able to play this at the same speed as everyone else!

The other piece in the first half was the 1st Tchaikovsky piano concerto with Vitaly Pisarenko (a Masters  student at the Royal College of Music). This is a gorgeous piece and has lots of beautiful tunes that both the orchestra and the soloist play. The main challenge with playing any concerto is adjusting to how the soloist wants to play it. After we had played it once though, I found that I got used to all of the hold backs and pushes forward so it became a joy to play rather than a stressful experience.

The second half of the concert was Nielsen’s 5th symphony. This symphony has  only two movements, but there are very clear sections throughout these which make it interesting to listen to.  The symphony isn’t typically ‘romantic’ and there aren’t many tunes that would pass the ‘old grey whistle test’ , but Nielsen manages to create an amazing atmosphere and uses the various sections of the orchestra, such as the undulating violas at the start creating mystery and tension.

Overall , the concert went well and the audience really enjoyed all three works. The piano concerto was the best received I think, but that was possibly because of its popularity. Personally I think the Berlioz was my favourite to play.

*I don’t own any of the videos above, neither are they recordings from the performance. I just wanted to share the music that we played as I enjoyed it so much.

I’m really looking forward to the next YMSO concert in November where we will  be playing Bruckner’s 8th symphony. I’ll see you next week for a blog on a concert I’m taking part in on Thursday with Orchestra Vitae. It’s at 7.30 pm on 17th October at St John’s Smith Square if you fancy coming. The program includes Shostakovich, Brahms and Montague (with an 80 piece choir and huge percussion section) so should be an incredible concert! Hope to see you there.