Posts Tagged: Lenny

Orchestra

Americans used to have the most marvelous way of saying the word “orchestra”, somewhere in between “awchestra” and “ohchestra”.  It had a vaguely patrician ring to it and yet it was entirely of the people.  I don’t think it was a regional pronunciation, although New Yorkers and Bostonites certainly pronounced that way, as did everyone in the movies.

Now it’s time for a reader vote.  I’ve amassed a small collection of 20th and 21st century personalities, all Americans, saying “orchestra”.  Included are some notable hangers-on to the old tradition.  Whose version of the word “orchestra” do you like the best?  Leave your vote in the comments section!

Aaron Copland http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/aaron%20copland.mp3

Perhaps the finest representative version of the old-style way of saying “orchestra”.  Quite pleasant and mellifluous.

Frank Sinatra http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/aaron%20copland.mp3

Surprisingly, this is a pretty modern rendition, although I’m quite sure that if I did a little more digging, I would find Frank saying “orchestra” with more of the original flavor to it.

Nelson Riddle http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/aaron%20copland.mp3

Again, somewhere in the middle, but closer to the modern way.

Loren Maazel http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/aaron%20copland.mp3

A very classic, very patrician reading, for a very classic, very patrician sort of man. [His “Nawth Korean” ain’t bad either.]

Elmer Bernstein http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/aaron%20copland.mp3

Elmer “No Relation” Bernstein falls slightly on the classic side of the dividing line.

Charlie Rose http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/aaron%20copland.mp3

For me, Charlie has about the best rendition of “orchestra” of anyone under 70.  An interview between him and Loren Maazel is a match made in heaven and a symphony of syllables when it comes to this word.

Lenny http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/aaron%20copland.mp3

Lenny’s version is definitely in the classic category, though there are plenty of examples of him saying “orchestra” that have a more modern twist.  This particular version leans heavily on the “ohchestra” side of things and has a vaguely British quality to it.

Larry David http://www.willcwhite.com/audio/aaron%20copland.mp3

Larry David’s version is a fascinating one — his “awk” is very purely classic, and he really breaks up the rest of the syllables.

I really think that a revolution is afoot and that we can get the word “orchestra” back to being pronounced the way it ought to be. It is our American birthright.

So, please do leave a comment about who says “orchestra” your favorite way, and which way might work best for you!

At the Movies

rebelscreen

About four months ago, I saw Giant (both the movie and the musical) and it dawned upon me that I hadn’t seen James Dean’s other two movies, East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause.  Over the past couple days, I have filled in this cinematic lacuna.

I can dispatch with Eden pretty quickly by referring to Dan Callahan’s review at Slant Magazine (except I’m sure that Mr. Callahan meant to refer to Leonard Rosenman’s painfully overt score as “pseudo-Schoenberg” rather than “pseudo-Stravinsky“).  He’s got it all right – Dean acts like an overwrought Brando impersonator, Kazan’s direction is flaccid, and the story is reduced to a rather trite fable.

Then we come to Rebel Without a Cause.  Here, I’m perfectly willing to go along with Roger Ebert’s analysis, but we’ve got to take a step back on this one, because watching this movie brought me to a horrible, gut-wrenching realization: West Side Story is, in many respects, a Knock Off of this movie.

That’s sacrilege of the highest order, and something that pains me — PAINS me — to write, but there’s really no denying it.  OK, maybe “knock off” isn’t quite right, but WSS definitely owes a lot to Rebel.  Even, to a minor extent, the score. Sort of.

There, I said it… breathe deeply… BUT, the good thing is that whatever debts WSS owes to Rebel, it in every way improves upon its predecessor.  And obviously, Romeo and Juliet was the true model for West Side, but there are so many elements of Rebel that it’s impossible to ignore them.  I mean, Hello – Knife Fight? [See above.]

wss knife fight

As to what I said about the score, first off, Sondheim, thankfully, denies it.  And it may be wholly a coincidence given the subject matter and settings, but there’s no denying that this:

does sound in some ways like this:

Although upon further review, the latter possesses such a greater sophistication that the point is rendered almost moot.  Lenny’s score is a masterpiece and there are traces of everyone (“Hey, we’re having a party – why not invite the Black Panthers?”) so I guess it shouldn’t bother me too much that Rosenman has a small say in the dialogue.

Frankly I think very little prevents Rebel overall from being MST3K movie fodder… in fact, it largely resembles my absolute favorite episode thereof: “I Accuse My Parents“.

Speaking of movies, tonight is of course Inglourious Basterds night, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.  Quentin’s media saturation has reached monumental proportions even by his standards.  But it’s like, Quent, dawg, if you would just make movies a little more often, there wouldn’t be quite so much pressure on the success of the few that you do make.  I think, and I think most creative types would agree with me here, that it’s maybe the most important thing that an artist produce.  All the time.  Although there’s got to be some kind of limit to that, because even Stravinsky jumped the shark, and Lord Knows he was poppin’ ’em out all the time.

Speaking of which, I really ought to compose before taking in the cinema.

Oh, P.S. The trauma from my Rebel-WSS related psychoses was totally outweighed by the awesomeness of getting to see Mr. Howell in an apron!!

rebel-backus

Just when I thought it was too late to get Bernstein between my legs…

A really excellent 36 hours in NYC with my good friend El Bensón.  Time was spent with his friends Diego and Sanra, proprietors of the tiny, ultra-hip Casa Felix in Buenos Aires.  When I asked Diego about his style of cuisine, he gave the ideal response: “I cook fish and vegetables”.  Brilliant.  From now on, when people ask me what kind of music I write, I’m going to say, “I write music for voices and instruments.”

Lovely breakfast with Dick Scanlan of Broadway fame who tended to agree with me that the state of Broadway orchestrations these days is in a shambles (though he’s been unbelievably lucky in that regard when it comes to his projects!)

Took in the Francis Bacon Retrospective at the MET.  Some great stuff; I especially love his large scale sense of balance in his big triptychs, but many of the individual works leave me cold.  I’d say I’m about 60% a fan.  Did anybody who saw the exhibit think of Alien Resurrection looking at some of his early stuff though?

My second pilgrimage to Lenny’s grave followed (the first was in ’03):

me and lenny

lenny between my legs

punkplay at the OHIO Theatre, a work which my friends in the Hipster Élite of the NYC Theatre Intelligentsia (that’s how I roll) had been heavily anticipating.  I didn’t expect to enjoy a play about Punk Rock so much; the very reason I did enjoy it was that it wasn’t about Punk Rock.  It’s a show about coming-of-age, and the Punk Rock setting serves the theme quite well… but the it’s such a universal idea that it worked just as well (OK, maybe better) when it set in Mexico in Y tu mamá también.

A mere 8 hour drive after all these shannanigans, I wound up amidst the unbelievable stillness and serenity of Coastal Maine.  More on that later.

A Book of Orchestrators

(and orchestrations)

pit-picture

I just finished reading Steve Suskin’s The Sound of Broadway Music, not five days after Terry Teachout did the same.  What a book!  What a HUGE gap this fills in for anybody interested in how Broadway Melodies get transformed from a tune with words to a what you hear in the theater.

I’ve been conducting musicals since I was 16 years old, and this book for the first time demystified Broadway scores in a major way.  I can remember conducting Kiss Me, Kate when I was a senior in high school and wondering where in Creation the dance music came from – reading the music (specifically, the “Tarantella”), it just seemed impossible that it was written by Cole Porter.  It turns out that a lady named Genevieve Pitot basically improvised it over a period of several days working with choreographer Hanya Holm.  This is what’s known as “dance arranging”, and the dance arranger might improvise something that has nothing to do with the score and then go home and arrange themes from the show to correspond to the dance patterns.

From there, Ms. Pitot’s scores went to Russell Bennett (who was the credited orchestrator on the show) and Don Walker (who did about a third of the total orchestrations – uncredited, as was so often the case).  These two gentlemen, along with very minor contributions from Walter Paul and Hans Spialek, orchestrated the entire score a mere 10 days before the opening.

This book is so tremendously informative, I would recommend it to anybody interested in Broadway musicals.  Suskin did a HUGE amount of research to put this whole thing together, and he is kind enough to share the great stories that he dug up in the process.  For example, a story from Stephen Sondheim that I had never encountered anywhere else, about how a strong-willed director/choreographer can actually trump a composer on his own orchestrations:

Jerry [Robbins] took over the orchestra during the dress rehearsal for “Somewhere,” and proceeded to circle the instruments.  “Now I want those out of there…”  He thought that Lenny had made it too lush.  I remember, I was sitting next to Lenny in the back o f the house.  Jerry hadn’t objected at the two orchestra readings.  But hearing it in the theatre with his dancers onstage, Jerry went running down the aisle, changing the orchestration.  I went, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to write home about this.”  Then I looked over, and Lenny is gone.  Where is he?  Not in the house.  I went out in the lobby of the teatre.  He wasn’t there.  Then I had a hunch.  I went down the street, to the nearest bar.  There he was, in a double booth, with five shots of scotch lined up in front of him.  Nobody could face Jerry Robbins down, so he went to the bar.

And that’s the version that is played to this very day.

lenny-and-jerry-2


On an unrelated note, I found a new young composer that I’m just wild about: Timothy Andres.  He has a big premiere coming up by the LA Phil “Green Umbrella” series; clearly this kid is a major contender of the Muhlian variety.  Dude’s music and the presentation thereof is hot.  I do so hate it when anybody else has talent.

And now, statues of the Vienna Philharmonic

This creeps me out:

 

Do you notice the bizarre motionlessness of the players?  I’ve never seen anything so surreal.  How did Herbie get all of those musicians to remain so perfectly still for this performance??  Frankly, in certain shots it appears to me that these gentlemen are not even playing.  Take a look particularly at the brass fanfare at 0:31 — is the fourth trumpeter playing?  Woodwinds at 3:15 – is the principal flute playing?

Now check out the shot of the violins at 3:37.  When have you ever seen a row of violins in straight formation like this?  Yesterday while I was watching Karajan’s similar video of Dvorak 8, I hypothesized that they must have re-shot several of these segments after the performance so they could get the right camera angles (and ensure that the lighting was perfect for the glowing halo surrounding the orchestra).

The sound is, of course, über-Karajan — very precise, very aggressive and yet with a pristine wash over the whole texture.  This particular clip doesn’t reveal as much the very dishonest engineering job that was done to the balances — that is to say, the sound here is not really reflective of the actual performance of the orchestra, it was largely engineered in the control room.

The overall effect is a little bit terrifying.  The military-like rigid formations, the doctored, in-your-face sound, the halos surrounding Karajan and the orchestra — what was Karajan’s goal here?  Dare I say the whole thing is just a bit Nazi-ish?  Why would such a superb musician want to present his music this way?  I think we can safely assume that Karajan supervised every detail of these videos…

Now let’s compare.  Same orchestra, same hall, same time (give or take 1 year), but different conductor:

 

UNbelievable!!  Look at how much the musicians move when given the chance!  You’ll have to wait a bit, but look at around 1:40.  The orchestra looks like a living, breathing organism, completely invested and physically experiencing the music.  The sound is so much more open and real.  We get the impression that Kleiber loves the music and lets the musicians express themselves.  Look at how cheeky the oboist can be with his coquettish little solo at 1:52.  It’s inspiring.

I feel with Karajan that he cared less about the quality of the musicians (who cares, we’ll change it in the editing room) than the fact that they are a bunch of Aryan men who can serve as a set piece to maximize his God-like persona.  With Kleiber, I get the sense that all he cares about is that this orchestra is a body of musicians who are part of a vitally living tradition of playing the greatest works of all time.

Also, notice how Karajan does not allow the beautiful Musikverein itself to be filmed, lest the magnificence of Valhalla outshine Odin himself.

And then of course, there’s Lenny:

 

Need we say any more?