Crossover Week on CGnS! Concert Review: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Time For Three – American Panorama

It’s Crossover Week this week on the blog folks, which is a bit like Discovery Channel’s Shark Week only featuring marginally less dangerous (but no less exciting) creatures – crossover artists! Whoop!

First up for you this week I have a review for you of a fantastic concert I attended last night featuring the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with special guest stars Time For Three. Double whoop! I’ll come onto Time For Three in a mo as you may not have heard of them, but first let me give you a bit of an overview of the concert.

Saturday night’s concert at the Hamer Hall, Melbourne was entitled American Panorama and featured music from some of the greatest American composers:

  • The Overture from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (always a great concert opener, and the orchestra under the dynamic direction of Boston Pops Orchestra conductor Keith Lockheart)
  • An orchestral arrangement of George Gershwin’s Three Preludes (originally for piano, arranged by Don Sebesky – these sounded really at home in an orchestral setting, and loved the gorgeous, velvety clarinet lines – so Gershwin)
  • Four Dance Episodes from Aaron Copland’s ballet Rodeo (not music I’m familiar with, but really enjoyable, played energetically and enthusiastically by the orchestra)
  • The Suite from John Williams (composer Williams, not guitarist Williams) from the movie Far and Away (a beautiful rendition, soaring strings and rousing finish in Williams inimitable style. I was quite transfixed by the gorgeous harp playing in this piece)
  • And a wonderful orchestral arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s jazz standard Blue Rondo à la Turk.

Now onto Time For Three! The trio – comprised of two violins (Zach De Pue and Nick Kendall) and double bass (Ranaan Meyer) – along with the orchestra, played Chris Brubeck’s 2010 concerto for string trio and orchestra (of which this was the Australian premier). A really exciting eclectic mix of musical styles – jazz, baroque, classical, jazz, folk fiddle – wrapped up into a four movement concerto, and played with absolute virtuosity and infectious enthusiasm by Time For Three.

These three young string players are positively pulsating with the most exciting, vibrant and visceral musical energy. My favourite kind of musicians – equally at home rocking out with the classical styles, swinging their sixteenths with flair into the jazz styles, and then kicking on with some pop tunes. All without the slightest modicum of affectation. All just in their stride, with impish grins, shoulder popping wiggles and evident love for the music they’re making, be it pop, jazz or classical. It’s all music and it’s all good as far as they’re concerned. And that makes for a seriously compelling visual and aural feast.

They’re not just a bunch of “check out me fast fiddlin’ Flash Harrys”. Ooh no. During the lyrical, slow movement of the Chris Brubeck concerto (Suspended Bliss),  we were treated to some sumputous, fluid melody line playing from the two violins. I was really impressed with DePue’s expressive legato playing in particular. Beautiful.

Following on from the programmed music (because that was never going to be enough!), we were treated to Time For Three’s arrangement of Mumford & Son’s Little Lion Man (which has now turned into a real ear-worm for me!). At one point they’d built up so much energy within the Hamer Hall (no mean feat as it’s rather a large space), that they had pretty much the entire audience clapping along, everyone together sharing the moment, musicians on the stage, audience members, old and young alike. To close out proceedings they settled us all down again with a lullabyesque rendition of Lennon and McCartney’s Norwegian Wood to send us home all dreamy-eyed and inspired.

Check out Time For Three playing Mumford & Son’s Little Lion Man (which we enjoyed at the concert on Saturday night):

One more? How about the trio’s arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s beautiful Hallelujah:

And you can find out a bit more about the Chris Brubeck piece the guys played from the trio and Brubeck himself:

This is all well and good, Nicole, I hear you say, but these people are not guitarists. What does this have to do with classical guitar? Well, nothing an everything I say!

Nothing in that directly none of the musicians were playing classical guitar. But also everything in that whilst we strive to improve our technique as guitarists we are also musicians. Well, first and foremost we should be musicians, I believe. The classical guitar is just the musical medium through which we choose to express our musicality (albeit a pretty fantastic medium eh?!). We shouldn’t forget this. Classical guitarists, possibly a lot more so than other instruments, can run the risk of becoming very insular and super guitar-focussed, rather than outward looking and music-focussed.

Attending live concerts such as the MSO and Time For Three concert, and even listening to recordings of lots of different kinds of music, can really make sure you’re on top of your musical game – inspiring you, exposing you to different sounds, colours and textures and broadening your musical world view.

Head back this way on Thursday morning (8:30am AEST) to check out my review of another exciting young crossover artist.

 

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A Sea of Music – Widening Your Musical Influences

In my recent interview with guitarist Xuefei Yang, she noted that “lots of guitarists, guitar students, or maybe amateurs, tend to focus on the guitar world. Maybe they play the guitar because simply they love the instrument, which is no problem at all, nothing wrong with that. But I just feel that they’re more fanatic about the instrument. I hope that they can put themselves in the sea of music. Myself I love guitar as an instrument, but I think of guitar just as a method, just as a medium, of music. It’s a media to express music and I like to think about music more than about the instrument. I think that  for more advanced students, if they want to be a musician, to make a career, I think it’s quite important to put yourself in the sea of music and think more generally about music, rather than just guitar.

I couldn’t agree with her more, and exploring different instruments, different musical eras and styles is something that I actively encouraged my students to do when I was teaching. And it’s very much something I do myself too – I’m a big music fan generally and I’d say around 90% of the music I listen to is music other than classical guitar music. I do a lot of listening of all sorts of things – from various eras of classical/ Western art music, Indian classical music, jazz, pop, rock, blues and everything in between.

Why? Aside from keeping things fresh and interesting, I find listening all sorts of different kinds of music and different kinds of instruments (solo and in groupings) helps bring differing perspectives on my playing – how I think about a piece of music for example, how I want something to sound, how I know a line is or can be played be a particular instrument and wanting to try and capture or reflect that on the guitar. The “sea of music” is a great source of inspiration.

So today I thought I’d share with you some of those pieces of music that have been inspiring me of late. Here we go, in no particular order…..

(1) Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium

A glorious 40 part motet (choral composition), originally composed for eight choirs of five voices. This is a great example of English Baroque choral writing with lots of soaring, interweaving lines

(2) Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2

The whole suite was originally music written for a ballet, and is Ravel’s longest orchestral work. The second suite is my particular favourite – it has these gorgeously lyrical melodies, big fat textures and fantastically lush Impressionistic harmonies. Wonderful dynamic shapes and melodic lines to feel and learn from.

 

(3) Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater

Quite simply beautiful melodic lines, with equally beautiful counterpoint.

 

(4) JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major

I’d say this is a fairly well known example of Bach’s work, but also an easily accessible one for those less familiar and looking to start to immerse themselves in the Baroque master’s work.

 

(5) Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major

Well, any of Chopin’s Nocturne’s and Etudes are great listening. In some ways the piano is rather like our own classical guitar in that it’s a”self-accompanied” instrument, so there’s much we can learn through listening to that two (or more) part playing.