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Lockdown Listening with Robert Hodge

Lockdown Listening Episode 6

I have chosen a most extraordinary symphony for you – Walton, Symphony no. 1. I’ve conducted it once, and like all hard, big works, I’ll need a few more goes before I can be confident that I’m anywhere close to ‘knowing’ it. Frustratingly, I’m writing very slowly at the moment because it’s on the background and it keeps grabbing my attention – a sure sign of great music.

For some people, their knowledge of Walton goes little further than the coronation marches, or Spitfire Prelude and Fugue – great music of course, but a somewhat narrow view of his music. There are great concertos for violin, viola and cello, fabulous overtures (Portsmouth Point, and Johannesburg Festival), as well as two brilliant symphonies. The second is less well known, and doesn’t grab you as immediately as the first, but I saw Elise play it with BBCNOW at the Proms a few years ago, which was thrilling.

I need to find out more about Walton, so I’m enjoying reading some of the articles below. Such a fascinating character, and so interesting to read about how much of his personal life and innermost thoughts influenced this symphony. The recording I’m listening to has got to the last movement – I’m never quite sure what I think about this sudden explosion of ‘pomp’, it depends on what mood I’m in – but right now it’s just making me smile!

This website is a treasure trove of interesting information on all aspects of Walton:
http://www.waltontrust.org

And here are some things specific to the symphony:
https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/apr/01/symphony-guide-william-walton-first
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._1_(Walton)
https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/works/2a7d0140-38af-4e5d-9b2e-dd16244542af

Here are links to two brilliant recordings.
The LSO with Sir Colin Davis:
https://open.spotify.com/album/1yJiKk7NxYrbbC07GCK7Th?si=U8zRIppNQ4OX4z3LJaUzlA
The Philharmonia, conducted by Walton himself (I’ve not listened to this yet – but composers conducting their own music is always worth a listen!)
https://open.spotify.com/album/6bPWPoiDUBsRXT6nL2HQFo?si=OWLlYDedTTyCQd9Ts9d7Qg
 
Enjoy!

Lockdown Listening Episode 5

For your listening this week I have chosen the composer Amy Beach. I wonder how many of you have heard of her? I certainly hadn’t until very recently, but in one of those ‘exploration’ sessions that, thanks to the internet, can go on for hours, I came across her and her fabulous music. There is lots of it to enjoy, especially some brilliant chamber music, but I’ve chosen the ‘Gaelic Symphony’ composed in 1896. If you’re surprised by that date, I’m not surprised! I assumed she was a contemporary composer until I learnt more. Here are some interesting links to her life (and to the symphony), that also inevitably deal with the issues of historical gender imbalance in music (and many, if not all, other disciplines).

For further reading her official website is great:
https://www.amybeach.org/

Sometimes I wish I could ask you to listen to a work without any prior knowledge of the composer. I wonder what your response would be. Who would you guess as a composer? Dvorak perhaps, or some other late romantic. She was obviously hugely influenced by these sorts of composers, but her music is very much her own and I can’t for the life of me work our why it isn’t more often performed. I shall aim to put that right as soon as I can! 

Here are links to two performances. The first is the RPO, conducted by Karl Krueger, the second is JoAnn Falletta conducting the Ulster Orchestra.
 
Enjoy!

Lockdown Listening Episode 4

This week I have chosen a work by the American composer Ferde Grofé. I’m not sure how many of you will have heard of him – but I can guarantee that you all know his work! Grofé (1892-1972) had a rich and varied career as a player, composer, arranger, teacher and conductor. You will know him because he was responsible for the 1942 orchestration of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue - the one that is most played today. Here is some more information about him:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferde_Grof%C3%A9
https://www.britannica.com/art/jazz

I’ve chosen his most famous composition, the Grand Canyon Suite, for you to listen to this week. Composed in the early 30’s it conjures the magnificence of this American geographical wonder in five musical portraits.
 
I. Sunrise
II. Painted Desert
III. On the Trail
IV. Sunset
V. Cloudburst

I love the inventive orchestration, the instantly loveable melodies and the cinematic character. It’s a work that is so redolent of 20th century America and of a lost era of style, sophistication and endless optimism. I’m listening to ‘sunset’ right now and feeling oddly nostalgic!

Here are some links to information on the piece: 
 
Here are links to performances:
 

Lockdown Listening Episode 3

This week I’ve chosen a fabulous piece by the British composer Sir Arnold Bax – Tintagel. It’s by far his most famous work, but I make no apology for that, and it’s the only one I’ve conducted so far. He is one of the composers I have been meaning to explore further, but never seem to get around to. I have programmed the Overture to a Picaresque Comedy for next year with my orchestra in Cambridge, so I’m getting there slowly. This is a short – 15 mins or so – symphonic poem which is richly scored, and glorious. You are in for a treat if you don’t know it. In places it reminds me of Delius, in others Rachmaninov, and in others of classic film scores. It’s exciting, stirring stuff! For information about Bax you can do no worse than check out this website:

http://arnoldbax.com/

The Wikipedia article is also very detailed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Bax
 
The work is inspired by the view of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, and is a fine representation of the sea in music, which led me to think about other works inspired by the sea that I would recommend: 

  • Britten – Four Sea Interludes
  • Debussy – La Mer
  • Grace Williams – Sea Sketches

There are surely others too, but I wanted to give a shortish list, to not overwhelm. If you’re anything like me, there barely seems time to do anything at the moment, despite the diary being quite empty. Thinking about it, perhaps it’s missing my home in Pembrokeshire (I’ve not been there since Christmas) that is bringing out the nostalgia for the coast?

Here are some links to interested articles and notes if you want to learn more about Tintagel:
https://classicalexburns.com/2018/06/27/arnold-bax-tintagel-the-scenic-route/
http://www.musicweb-international.com/Programme_Notes/bax_tintagel.htm

And this one goes into more depth, but it's worth it if you’re interested:

http://arnoldbax.com/tintagel-on-record-a-survey-by-christopher-webber/

Here is a recording of the Ulster Orchestra, conducted by Bryden Thompson

https://open.spotify.com/album/2UiDu4kJhCaTQJvHY5ROqO?si=MAFKCwnARBC_9NTHsY1lZg

And one of the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Vernon Handley.
https://open.spotify.com/album/3GwHFmwxA32bMpBQG65VCy?si=JRjmnTFCSQev-2HDGOjUkw

See which one you prefer!


Lockdown Listening Episode 2

I’ve been listening to a lot of music while I’ve been painting the utility room while on lockdown:

  • Beethoven symphonies

  • Sibelius symphonies

  • Arnold symphonies

  • Elgar Symphonies

  • Mahler Symphonies

  • Korngold/Barber violin concertos

  • Ravel/Rachmaninov/Brahms piano concertos

  • Bernstein On the Waterfront/West Side Story etc…

Lots to choose from for this week’s Lockdown Listening, but I’ve gone with Mahler. The symphonies are so long that I find that it’s difficult to know them unless I’ve conducted/played them, and even then, I can turn the page of a score and be completely surprised (even in a performance!). I’ve conducted 1, 3, 4 and 5 (all twice apart from 3) and each time it feels like a massive journey, with such a range of emotion and musical material. I’ve chosen Mahler Symphony 4 and if you don’t know it, then it’s the sort of piece that would benefit from multiple listening’s, but try to ensure you choose multiple recordings too so that you don’t get fixed on a single interpretation. The one I’ve chosen for you is Claudio Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on the following link:

https://open.spotify.com/album/35QVkJzvDOxwQWRISo0Ndc?si=YAD5Ew7mTPyBSmwJavLv8w

Here are a couple of links to biographical/programme notes that you’ll find useful, much more than if I wrote it myself!

https://houstonsymphony.org/guide-mahler-symphony-no-4/
https://www.laphil.com/musicdb/pieces/3989/symphony-no-4

These should give you more than enough information to enjoy the symphony – although, perhaps try listening before you read, especially if the work is new, so you can appreciate it on a purely musical level. I love everything about this symphony, and perhaps ASO would consider playing it in the future? It’s the 3 rd movement that gets me every time, I don’t think that anyone writes an adagio quite like Mahler - don’t believe me? Here’s a CD full of them!  https://open.spotif.com/album/459FkOUcCJrNm2DPNJjFxY?si=dooX2YG4T-SWMQIjLTaNbw

There is, when you get there, a massive surprise toward the end of the 3 rd movement. This video explains it incredibly well and is worth a watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUXdKM93QgQ&app=desktop

Enjoy!


Lockdown Listening Episode 1

Welcome to the first – in let’s hope not too many – issues of ‘Lockdown Listening’; a weekly message from me exploring a different piece of music. Some of these will whet your appetite for pieces we will be performing next year, and others will explore new works with the aim of expanding and challenging our listening by introducing new styles and composers.

I thought I’d start with a piece that many of you will know well and will have probably performed; Dvorak’s Symphony 8. We are programming this for our first concert back. The concert will also feature the Scriabin Piano Concerto from the recent cancelled concert, and Brahms Tragic Overture. You can find the music for the Dvorak here, just scroll down and look for ‘PARTS’:

https://imslp.org/wiki/Symphony_No.8%2C_Op.88_(Dvo%C5%99%C3%A1k%2C_Anton%C3%ADn)

It’s a work I know well, having played it at least twice and conducted around five performances, so I’m looking forward to returning to it. Each time you perform/conduct something it becomes a little more refined, and your interpretation of it deepens, so the chance to repeat works is a luxury.

Here are some links to various biographical notes and information about the piece. You’ll find them more than sufficient to get to know the work.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/jan/07/symphony-guide-dvorak-eighth-tom-service

https://cso.org/uploadedFiles/1_Tickets_and_Events/Program_Notes/ProgramNotes_Dvorak_Symphony_8.pdf

https://www.sfsymphony.org/Data/Event-Data/Program-Notes/D/Dvorak-Symphony-No-8-in-G-major-Opus-88

http://www.antonin-dvorak.cz/en/symphony8

A note about recordings. It’s vital that when you listen to music that you try to listen to as many different recordings as possible, so as to avoid becoming ‘stuck’ on one interpretation (and therefore unable to play/hear things differently). As you listen, try to think about what it is that you like (or don’t like) about the way it is played, so that this can inform your own playing. Luckily, the internet makes it very easy to do this! I’ve given two performances here that I think are both great, but quite different from each other:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOWQQCWTVQ8

https://open.spotify.com/album/6IJ8RUE8M41y5NigsXblU5?si=DHOt7qq9Q5KWJVEnpGwd9g

If you don’t have Spotify, I would certainly recommend it. The free version is fine, if you don’t mind the odd advert.

Happy listening!

Rob

Lockdown Listening Episode 6

I have chosen a most extraordinary symphony for you – Walton, Symphony no. 1. I’ve conducted it once, and like all hard, big works, I’ll need a few more goes before I can be confident that I’m anywhere close to ‘knowing’ it. Frustratingly, I’m writing very slowly at the moment because it’s on the background and it keeps grabbing my attention – a sure sign of great music.

For some people, their knowledge of Walton goes little further than the coronation marches, or Spitfire Prelude and Fugue – great music of course, but a somewhat narrow view of his music. There are great concertos for violin, viola and cello, fabulous overtures (Portsmouth Point, and Johannesburg Festival), as well as two brilliant symphonies. The second is less well known, and doesn’t grab you as immediately as the first, but I saw Elise play it with BBCNOW at the Proms a few years ago, which was thrilling.

I need to find out more about Walton, so I’m enjoying reading some of the articles below. Such a fascinating character, and so interesting to read about how much of his personal life and innermost thoughts influenced this symphony. The recording I’m listening to has got to the last movement – I’m never quite sure what I think about this sudden explosion of ‘pomp’, it depends on what mood I’m in – but right now it’s just making me smile!

This website is a treasure trove of interesting information on all aspects of Walton:
http://www.waltontrust.org

And here are some things specific to the symphony:
https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/apr/01/symphony-guide-william-walton-first
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._1_(Walton)
https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/works/2a7d0140-38af-4e5d-9b2e-dd16244542af

Here are links to two brilliant recordings.
The LSO with Sir Colin Davis:
https://open.spotify.com/album/1yJiKk7NxYrbbC07GCK7Th?si=U8zRIppNQ4OX4z3LJaUzlA
The Philharmonia, conducted by Walton himself (I’ve not listened to this yet – but composers conducting their own music is always worth a listen!)
https://open.spotify.com/album/6bPWPoiDUBsRXT6nL2HQFo?si=OWLlYDedTTyCQd9Ts9d7Qg
 
Enjoy!