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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

The Listening Library: November 15, 2011

Andrew Hitz

Here's a sampling of what I've been listening to of late with some links at the bottom. Enjoy! Scheherezade – Chicago Symphony/Reiner

What an amazing recording of a simply stunning piece of music. This brings me back to the summer of 1998 during which I had the privilege of playing in the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, CO. We played this piece a couple of times that summer. It had always been one of my favorites and to finally get to perform it was a real treat. It also didn't hurt that the trombone section included both Jamie Box (Montreal Symphony) and Steve Lange (Boston Symphony). Those guys will make any tuba player sound like they know what they are doing!

The recordings that the CSO left us from the '60s and '70s are simply remarkable for both their technical facility and their artistry. The juxtapostion of power and beauty that they pull off in this recording is truly special.

Rite of Spring – London Symphony/Bernstein

It had been far too long since I had heard this piece. The raw power and drive that Stravinsky gets out of an orchestra is just awesome. I'm not sure there is any composer who gets more colors out of an orchestra than he did. He seemingly features instrument combinations that you've never heard before.

I've been on a real Bernstein kick lately. Some of his interpretations can seem a little out of left field at times but he always gets the best out of an orchestra. This is a fantastic recording. I can understand why people were so upset at the premiere of this piece. It is jarring (and in the best ways possible).

Remain In Light – Talking Heads

I had never heard this album before I saw Phish perform it in its entirety as their “musical costume” for their 1996 Halloween show in Atlanta. That performance 15 years ago changed me forever as a musician and introduced me to the amazing world of the Talking Heads. I have never compiled a list but if I were to choose 5 desert island albums this one would make the list for sure.

There are incredible textures and layer upon layer of intricate playing throughout this album. If ever there was a record that should be listened to on a nice pair of headphones this is it. This band had the ability to have no one in particular at the forefront of the music at any given time while at the same time having every member featured simultaneously. This is a very special collection of songs that I highly recommend checking out.

Phish 11/25/94 Set II UIC Pavillion – Chicago, IL

Anyone that knows me knows that I have a very serious Phish problem. They are quite simply my favorite chamber ensemble of any genre of music ever. This show is a very special one to me. It was the day after Thanksgiving my sophomore year at Northwestern and as a result I had the entire day free. Good friend and fellow musician Ben Denne and I decided that we were going to be front row for this general admission show. We got on the El at 11:00am and made our way down to the UIC Pavillion west of the loop in Chicago. We got there so early that the crowd control barriers weren't even set up yet. We had to ask a guy where to line up. He looked at us in disbelief and laughed since the show didn't start for another 7 hours! Sure enough, of the thousands in attendance we were the first two people in the building not on the payroll.

Luckily for us, we were front row on the railing for an absolutey spectacular show. The second set of this show in particular really captures the essence of who Phish are as performers. They opened the set with a cover of Deodato's version of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra'. Any time you hear a funk version of a Richard Strauss tune everyone in attendance is winning. That is followed by a very powerful version of one of my favorite tunes, Mike's Song. The incessant drive of this tune reminds me a little bit of Mahler's music.

Phish also has a very silly side and enjoy flaunting their collective sense of humor. Harpua, along with its narration, is a great example of this. And their drummer Jon Fishman's version of Purple Rain will have you laughing out loud. The first time I took my mentor, Sam Pilafian, to see Phish he commented that Fishman was one of the best showman he had ever seen in his life. Fishman knows how to work a crowd like no other. It takes some stones to cover a Prince ballad in an arena filled with people. It also helps that he has a few screws loose.

Finally, Phish is very well known for segueing from one song to the next at the drop of a dime. Many of their segues have never been practiced or even talked about beforehand. They all have an incredible “court vision” if you will and are ready to react to a musical cue, even a minute one, from any of the other members instantly. This is one of the many reasons why I refer to them as my favorite chamber ensembles of all time.

Their level of communication is one that I have rarely ever witnessed within either the classical or jazz genres. Don't get me wrong, I've seen it in other groups. The Wynton Marsalis Septet and The Kronos Quartet are two that come to mind right now. But it is sadly rare in music to find communication on this level.

Towards the end of this set we witnessed some of this magical communication when they segued between two of their songs, Weekapaug Groove and The Mango Song. This segue reminds me of Larry Bird's best no-look passes from my childhood. You can watch them over and over again and the only possible explanation is that they had been planned and practiced for months. And yet they weren't.

I feel lucky to be alive at the same time these four musicians are making music.

The Vandermark 5 – A Discontinous Line

I got to see Ken Vandermark performer a number of times during my years in Chicago. Talk about a musician who commands the room. Little did my friends and I realize when we would head into Chicago from NU to see him that one us would end up in his band some day! Dave Rempis, a sax player who I grew up with in the Boston area has now been playing with Ken for years. This quintet is the epitomy of communication.

Each song on this album is written for a fellow artist. My favorite track is titled 'La Dernier Cri (For Elliot Carter)'. I miss seeing music like this performed on a regular basis. The weather in Chicago may suck but it sure has some incredible live music.

Bill Frisell - Bill Frisell Quartet

The word genius gets thrown around far too often in music and elsewhere.  But that is exactly what Bill Frisell is - a genius.  This album is hauntingly beautiful.  The lack of any drums leaves a lot of room for spacial exploration.  The chill nature of this album would make it perfect for background music and yet the musicianship is so brilliant that it grabs your attention over and over.  There's even a little bit of tuba thrown in for good measure!

Here is most of this music on Spotify: http://spoti.fi/t1RbKs

Here is the 11/25/94 Phish show: http://bit.ly/tscPzB

Here is the CSO/Reiner recording of Scheherezade: http://amzn.to/sCzq4V

If you check any of this music out I hope you dig it! What are you listening to these days?