Rudolph

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A few weeks ago a really fun project dropped out of the sky: orchestrating a live-action version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that will tour the nation and play for several weeks at the Chicago Theatre and the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Orchestrating this show is so much fun. It’s like orchestrating Guys & Dolls (complete with four violin parts) or a mid-career Sinatra album. I’m trying as best I can to recreate the original score, but also to enhance it – to make it sound like you remember it sounding rather than what it actually sounded like (Ina talks about this a lot with her recipes.)

Then there’s all the shiny toys I get to use, the glocks and harps and celeste. It’s like I’m a dress-maker and an honest-to-god child princess has walked into the room and commanded me to use every sparkle and glitter in my cabinet.

And boy, did this guy Johnny Marks know how to write a song or what? We’re talking ONE-FIVE-ONE baby. Secondary dominants. Consequent-antecedent phrases. Quarters and halves. Primary colors and basic shapes. Good, strong tunes. The musical language is similar from song to song, two-steps and waltzes all the way through but the construction is so solid you don’t get tired of it.

This baby has to be written and recorded before November though, so it’s long days and lots of notes. I allow myself one episode of The Andy Griffith Show during my lunch break. Has there ever been a better show? There certainly hasn’t been a show with a better score. That studio orchestra – I wonder if it’s the same one that Lucy used, like if all the Desilu shows shared the same musicians. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: whoever scored the Andy Griffith show is a genius.

Anyway, I’ve got to score 2 more cues today, but if you’re looking to bathe yourself in pure nostalgia, check out those tour dates and find a performance of RTRNR near you!!

I’m really into weird composers right now

Actually always, but I feel like YouTube has exploded with rare gems of late, so I wanted to share some of my discoveries:

Levo Kolodub, Symphony No. 9 ‘Sensilis moderno’ (2004)

There is very little info available in English on Mr. Kolodub, but there is a Ukrainian Wikipedia page, so knock yourself out! My Ukrainian is pretty rusty, but it looks like his mother was also a composer. He completed his studies at the Kharkiv National Conservatory in 1954 and I guess he’s just been writing music ever since? Several operas, 12 symphonies, and a whole mess of concerti and chamber pieces.

Judging from this piece, I’d say his music has reminiscences of Shostakovich, Schnittke, Shchedrin, and maybe even a little Lenny/John Williams thing going on. I rate it Dope AF!!

Anton Lubchenko, Symphony No. 5 ‘Nine Variations’

Here’s an unexpected turn of events: this composer shares his name with a Simpsons character. (Well, Season 11, so really a Zombie Simpsons character.) There’s much more info on him than on Kolodub, largely because he’s also a conductor and he’s been championed by Gergiev to a certain degree.

I’d also put this composer in the post-Schnittke/Shchedrin category. I’m telling you, the former Soviet Union is the only place that classical music is still being written, and has been for say the past 40 years. I hate how Trumpian that sounds, but it’s true. With very few exceptions, the West has given up on classical music entirely and now all we have is Zombie Classical Music.

Einojuhani Rautavaara, Piano Concerto No. 1

Crazily enough, this is the most mainstream piece (or at least composer) on this list, but my wish is that this concerto will become full-on standard rep in the near futuer. It is SUUUPER Ravelian, but like in a reverent and expansive way.

OK, that’s barely scratching the surface of my recent explorations (also fueled by the r/classicalmusic subreddit), but I’ll leave it there for now. Earlier this summer I got all worked up by a clip of Daniil Trifonov’s piano concerto but when I listened to the whole thing I found the orchestration too naïve to get into. (Burn!!)

Millennium Club

It’s my birthday! Here’s your present:

My goal was to get this piece up to 1,000 views by my birthday this year, and it’s happened! And you know what pushed it over the top? Reddit. I probably don’t want to know what it says about me or my content, but whenever I post something there, it always gets a lot of traction.

While we’re on the subject, here’s a few of my other videos that have gotten over a thousand views:

1. This bit of sweetness

2. This bit of holiness

3. This piece of filth (honestly, why are so many people watching this??)

4. and OF COURSE the video that has gotten the most views in the shortest time possible:

Is it pathetic that I’m celebrating what, by YouTube standards, are pretty low numbers? Probably. But I’m really proud of the symphony getting so many views/listens. I mean, it’s 37-minutes long, purely instrumental, and written just last year. I’m not sure how many other new symphonies are out there on YouTube, but I’m really happy that so many people have given it a shot. Do I really think everyone out there has listened through the whole thing? Sure, but I’m delusional.

If you’re one of the 1000 people who have listened to it already, why not listen again? I bet you’ll find more in it this time. And if you haven’t listened to it, why not give it a try? I promise there’s something in it that you’ll enjoy. And even if there isn’t, I still rack up the views! Maybe I’ll even get to 10,000 this time next year…

What is Acadia Fanfare?

If you’re me, here’s the best remedy for a travel-heavy, smog-ridden trip to the Orient: spend a week on the coast of Maine.

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The Pierre Monteux School is very much my spiritual home and I couldn’t have asked for a better week as Composer-in-Residence. I narrated “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to a packed house of little kids and later in the week I conducted the premiere of my newest work, “Acadia Fanfare” (give it a listen above!), and the orchestra sounded marvelous and the weather was beautiful and I got to see all my old friends and make new ones and just live life the way it ought to be lived.

Then there’s the fact that I got to stay at my friend Roberta’s house on Flander’s Bay, but I beg you not to go telling anyone that it’s the greatest place on earth. The outdoor hot tub, the Steinway B, the view from the breakfast nook – are those things great? Sure. But the best part is Roberta, who is old school all the way, raised on a hard-scrabble potato farm in central Maine during the Depression, and who grinds her own whole wheat flour and bakes her own bread and raises her own berries and makes her own jam and feeds them to me for breakfast every. single. day.

She needlepoints like a champ and raises award-winning gardens. At 4:00, she watches Dr. Phil. At 5:00, she plays bridge (online). At 6:00, it’s the news, and at 7:00, we convene for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!

And this is where things get really special between Robert and me, because if you’re a trivia person, Jeopardy! is not an entertainment, it’s a performance, a weird kind of suggestive karaoke, and watching Jeopardy! actually requires an additional audience for the viewing experience to be complete.

And oh my god is Roberta the best audience in the world! She’s legitimately impressed by every answer I get correct and she tells me that I need to Go On This Program! and every time she says it she makes it sound like she legitimately just had this notion for the first time and she really means it.

Good food and gorgeous views are one thing, but a 30-minute flow of emotional validation is another thing altogether. Hope you guys like the new piece.

Pacific Overtures

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11 days, 50 students, 3 cities, one country: the 2016 Metropolitan Youth Symphony Tour to China has come to an end.

China is a place of startling juxtapositions. Even in Beijing, you can walk down the main street and think yourself in the toniest district of a major European capital, but turn a corner and find yourself in a 3rd world slum.

The 2nd world continues to exist in China as well. ‘2nd World’ is a Cold War term referring to the territories under Soviet dominion, and it doesn’t get used much anymore since it’s thought no longer to exist, but this trip proved to me that it definitely does. We stayed for two nights in Beidaihe, a Communist Party resort town that used to be the summer meeting place of the Soviet and Maoist governments. The street signs and shop windows still display Cyrillic print and Russian families dot the beach.

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Surprisingly enough, it was in this tiny “village” of 3 million people where we had our biggest success in terms audience reception as well as cultural exchange. We played at Northeastern University at Qinhuangdao to a packed audience of probably 500 college students. They were very eager to hear Western Classical music and to interact with us after the show was over, and their students hastily arranged an impromptu performance by the school’s Chinese traditional orchestra.

What was so totally fascinating about this ensemble was that it was set up like a Western orchestra that just happened to use Chinese instruments (as well as some Western ones like cello, bass, and timpani.) In place of the violin section was a group of 6 erhu players. Bamboo flutes sat exactly where you’d expect to see metal flutes in a classical ensemble. Organ-like brass instruments sat where we would have horns and trumpets. The score was laid out like a symphonic work.

The conductor, Qin Hehai chose to perform for us a piece called “Dreams of Taiwan” or “Imaginings of Taiwan” which, as it was explained to me, is a piece that expresses the hope for reconciliation between the Taiwanese ‘territory’ and the Chinese mainland. I never would have expected such a selection, but I was very glad to hear it.

Final thought: if you go to Beijing and you’re looking for a laid back, non-touristy area to hang out in, head straight to Wudaoying hutong near the Lama Temple subway stop. There’s a bunch of excellent vegetarian restaurants (which cater to the Buddhist monks) and sweet little hipster shops.