Staff Picks: Music
The work of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt can operate on multiple levels and register differently from piece to piece. His pared down approach to composition has led critics to place his music within the minimalist tradition though such a category diminishes the range of his work and the influences of Gregorian chants and sacred music. The music can both ecstatically soar with a bang as well as level off into lyrical serenity. Both modern and timeless, the chorales are marked with spiritually affirmative overtones and yet there are also works that are haunting, solemn laments. He may well be today’s most well-known composer, having produced a treasure trove of symphonies, chorales, and operas.
Fans of the violin will want to get their ears on Daniel Hope's newest album Spheres. This is a wonderfully ecclectic array of compositions that highlight his rich and "big" violin sound. Hope has selected pieces that represent a wide range of styles (Baroque, minimalism, chill-out and cinema) and time periods (17th Century through to the present). Overall, it's a beautiful collection that really brings forth a sense of both musical and emotional continuity. Some of the composers featured are Johann Sebastian Bach, Arvo Part, Philip Glass, Karl Jenkins, Michael Nyman, Alex Baranowski, and Gabriel Faure.
For many years, the library’s musical collection consisted mostly of jazz, world and classical music. Over the past 6 or 7 years we’ve really added to that mix, many popular, alternative, hip hop, and rhythm and blues titles. We still continue to order symphonic, choral, opera, baroque and postmodern music but not nearly with the emphasis we once had given the popularity of Top 40 artists. Having said that, classical music lovers, including myself, will likely be able to find what they’re looking for. Here are some of my favorites, all of which we currently own. Stop in and browse the collection.
Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings
Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (Adagietto)
Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies
J.S. Bach’s Sleepers Awake
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata
Karl Jenkins’ Agnus Dei
Philip Glass’ Company
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus
Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3
Just when it seems that we need some good news the most, this will warm your heart. Yesterday, NPR blogger Anastasia Tsioulcas caught my attention with a post about the Landfill Harmonic: An Orchestra Built from Trash. Through the efforts of a music instructor and a local craftsman, a group of hardworking kids in Paraguay have formed an orchestra using instruments made with materials gathered from beneath their very feet – literally.
The village of Cateura is a slum built on top of a landfill, where many of the locals make their living by collecting and reselling garbage. In a town where “a violin costs more than a house,” a group of students have formed an orchestra and are learning to play music. Orchestra director Favio Chavez works with a local craftsman who fashions violins, violas, flutes, trumpets and guitars out of discarded trash; oil drums, tin cans, spoons, bottle caps, you name it. Now this might sound like the makings of a bad circus band (no offense against circus music) but the result is nothing short of breathtaking.
The group is currently documenting their work in a yet-to-be released film; a short trailer for it was posted a month ago on YouTube and has already collected nearly half-a-million views. The film opens with a quote from Chavez, saying “The world sends us garbage. We send back music.” In addition to the video, the group has set up a Facebook page to help spread the word about the orchestra.
In a world where we generate a ton of solid waste per capita every fifteen months (and that’s just in America) while school budgets get slashed beyond recognition, it’s refreshing to see what can be accomplished if the will is there.
Here’s an extended version of their story. It’s fascinating, watch it…
Landfill Harmonic Orchestra
I just love the sedate, retro vibe of the soundtrack to the oddball film Beginners; the Mike Mills directed roman a clef about his relationship with his widowed father. Old blues and jazz from the 1920’s (Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Hoagy Carmichael, and Josephine Baker) are prominently featured as well as a French horn driven suite by J.S. Bach. Interfiled between the throwback gems are several touching, original scores by Dave Palmer and Roger Niell. The back and forth tone of the film, from light hearted to melancholic, are sensibly reflected in this quirky collection. Oh, and by the way, check out the movie. It appears on our Best of 2011 list.
Beginners [sound recording] : the original motion picture soundtrack
For her latest album, Night of Hunters, Tori Amos delved into the world of classical music to find inspiration. There are no guitars or drums here and no radio-friendly singles; the piano is paired with strings and woodwinds to create a whole-album experience where one song flows into the next. It is to me, in a word, beautiful. Night of Hunters is highly conceptualized; it uses the story of a dissolving relationship to discuss themes of creation and destruction, the hunter and the hunted, within everyone. The lyrics are full of natural imagery and references to Celtic mythology, both of which fit very well with the classically-inspired music. It may not be for the casual listener, but for anyone interested in spending some time with Night of Hunters, I believe there is a lot to find here.
I’m completely biased when it comes to Tori Amos. I’ve been a fan of hers since I was twelve, and I’ve continued to be a fan even though her last few albums have felt bloated and a bit self-indulgent to me. But Night of Hunters showcases some of her best piano compositions and vocal work in years, and I recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try.
Night of Hunters
Known widely for his collaborative work with director David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti’s movie and television scores are both haunting and beautiful, resulting in a stirring mix of ominous undertones splashed with gorgeous melodies. His most well known work is the Theme to the television show Twin Peaks but he’s also scored the films Blue Velvet, A Very Long Engagement, The City of Lost Children, The Straight Story, and Mulholland Drive; all of which are fantastic movies filled with unique stories and oddball characters.
Music for film and television
As of late, the attention of the world's media has been drawn to the United Kingdom and the Royal Family. I don't have a British heritage in my ancestry, yet I have for a long time enjoyed studying British history, geography, arts, and culture. Part of that is some really thrilling music. KPL has a 3-CD set that serves as a good sampler of a wide variety of the best. As a collection of works by top composers that is conducted, played, and sung by some of the UK's finest musicians, these recordings are well worth the listening. One of my favorites on here is 'Crown Imperial' by Sir William Walton, which was the recessional at today's royal wedding.
Best of British [sound recording] : the nation's favourite classical music
One of the overlooked treasures in our music collection is our movie and television soundtracks. We have an excellent collection that represents some of the legendary composers (Philip Glass, John Barry, John Williams, Itzhak Perlman, Quincey Jones, Thomas Newman, Ennio Morricone) from the past, those who have been working for some time and the inventive scores being produced from contemporary musicians that straddle both the world of film scoring and their own personal works (Jonny Greenwood, Jon Brion, Danny Elfman, Yann Tiersen, Randy Newman). Here are some of my favorite albums from the collection.
Good Bye Lenin by Yann Tiersen
Midnight Cowboy by John Barry
Schindler’s List by Itzhak Perlman and John Williams
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Jon Brion
The Hours by Philip Glass
Out of Africa by John Barry
Twin Peaks by Angelo Badalamenti
Good bye lenin
Kalamazoo’s local music scene these days is diverse and richly vibrant. One look at the Gazette’s Ticket supplement and you’ll find everything from talented local amateurs to nationally known superstars performing in dozens of different venues across the area, even Kalamazoo Public Library!
But has Kalamazoo always had this kind of passion for music? You might be surprised!
If you’re like me, you wonder what popular entertainment sounded like in Kalamazoo a century or even a century-and-a-half ago. What instruments were being played? What music was being played? Who was playing it, and where?
Admittedly, there isn’t a CD called “Early Kalamazoo Music” (yet!), but All About Kalamazoo History, KPL’s aptly titled collection of Local History essays, has a wealth of information on that very topic. Check the newly created Music category, and you’ll find articles about everything from Kalamazoo’s very first band (formed in 1837 shortly after Kalamazoo—then Bronson Village—was established) right through the Ragtime Era at the end of the nineteenth century and into the Jazz Age of the early 1920s. There’s information about Kalamazoo’s leading music organizations, the early dance bands, the musical leaders, and some of the local performers who “made it big.” Learn about the early efforts to establish the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and discover the various local businesses that grew up around the music industry. There’s even an article about “That Gal from Kalamazoo.”
So dig in, you’ll never know what you might find.
Kalamazoo Ragtime Music
If ever I was hard pressed to name a favorite song or piece of music, Samuel Barber’s masterpiece Adagio for Strings would likely top the list. Like many, my first exposure to Barber’s famed work, with its evocative and emotionally charged beauty, came from its inclusion within Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War film Platoon (winner of Best Picture of 1986). One of the twentieth century’s most recognized songs, Adagio for Strings elevated Barber’s reputation, placing him alongside other notable American 20th Century composers like Aaron Copland and Charles Ives. Barber’s lesser known work Knoxville: Summer of 1915, developed for soprano (with lyrics) and orchestra, is a romantic and nostalgic work often played during the summer months for its suggestive and wistful feeling.
NPR recently took a look at Barber’s Adagio for Strings, analyzing its musical structure in order to better appreciate and understand its power to move and stir human emotions.