[Dixielandjazz] The Individual Voice in Music

david richoux tubaman at batnet.com
Sun Nov 9 09:53:57 PST 2003

Interesting thread - I enjoy all kinds of music (pre and post OKOM) and 
it is hard not to slip in a few recordings during my radio show that 
would not fit the pure OKOM mode. There is a very nice CD Big Band 
collection called "Beethoven Wrote it, But It Swings" that is still 

On a slightly different spin - are there any current OKOM bands doing 
much with the music of Weill and Brecth (other than "Mack the Knife?")  
It seems to me that Turk Murphy did quite a few of the lesser known 
songs but I have not heard too many other bands doing anything lately.

The review posted below was in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle 
(BTW, did you know that this paper started out as a theatrical and 
music review paper in the 1800s and gradually added "news" to the 
content - although many people in the Bay Area still don't look to that 
paper for hard news reporting...;-)

Dave Richoux
Erratic joy with early Weill
  Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
   Saturday, November 8, 2003
  ©2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback

Hindsight is never more enjoyable than in listening to a composer's 
early  work and glimpsing the seeds of a distinctive mature style. 
Thursday's San  Francisco Symphony premiere of Kurt Weill's Violin 
Concerto, featuring a  dynamite debut by soloist James Ehnes, offered 
that pleasure in spades.

With guest conductor David Robertson presiding in Davies Symphony Hall, 
the  Symphony served up a canny program that also included masterpieces 
by  Stravinsky and Steve Reich. But it was Weill's youthful 
non-masterpiece,  written at 24, that proved most fascinating.

You wouldn't have to glance at the program to know that this was a  
composer's early work, or even who the composer was. Weill's stylistic  
fingerprints are everywhere, from the tangy, astringent harmonic 
language to  the jaunty rhythms to the jazz-band sonorities (aside from 
a handful of basses, the orchestra is all winds, brass and percussion).

But the score proclaims its composer's youth just as clearly in its 
formal  uncertainty and the untrammeled extravagance of its invention. 
Over three  movements lasting just 24 minutes, Weill races from idea to 
idea like a puppy  finally let out for a walk -- he can't contain his 
exuberance, and throws out  one wonderful musical thought after another 
without really following up on any  of them.

The middle movement is actually three movements jammed into one -- a 
weird  nocturne dominated by the ultra-dry chattering of the xylophone, 
a violin  cadenza and then a tender serenade. And even there Weill is 
too hopped up to  concentrate for long on any particular strain.

All of this would probably be simply vexing if Weill's voice were not 
so  distinctive and so utterly engaging. The delicately placed woodwind 
figure  that opens the piece -- just a lilting series of perfectly 
judged harmonic  intervals -- instantly conjures up a foretaste of 
Weill's greatest works still  to come.

And the finale, which has the soloist sawing away at passagework like a 
  19th century virtuoso while the orchestra discourses behind him, is a  
deliriously improbable blend of old-fashioned concerto style and the 
new  vistas of interwar Berlin.

Ehnes, a young Canadian violinist now coming to prominence, made a 
terrific  case for the piece. His playing boasts a quiet elegance, 
seemingly without  effort or turmoil, that brought out the lyricism 
underscoring even Weill's  most tartly pointed writing. His string tone 
is warm and full-voiced, his  rhythmic control deceptively fluid. His 
return visit is something to look  forward to.

Robertson proved once again his ability to combine old and new works 
into a  heady orchestral program. As a complement to the 
brass-and-winds sonorities of  the Weill, there was the Symphony 
premiere of "Different Trains," Reich's  magnum opus for strings and 
tape recording.

This extraordinary meditation on the Holocaust, written in 1988 for the 
  Kronos Quartet, remains one of Reich's most profound creations. Its 
fusion of  spoken word and minimalist phase-shifting forms a medium for 
the subject  matter, the trains that crisscrossed America and Europe 
during the 1930s and  '40s to bring American children like himself to 
safe havens and European Jews  to the death camps.

But this arrangement for string orchestra, commissioned by the 
Philadelphia  Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Lyon, runs up 
against the limitations  of mainstream orchestral technique. The 
surging, steady rhythmic pulse that is  a cornerstone of Reich's 
writing is something that orchestral players have  always had 
difficulty mastering.

Just as in the 1996 West Coast premiere of Reich's "City Life," given 
as  part of Michael Tilson Thomas' first American Music festival, the 
Symphony  players on Thursday leaned so heavily on Robertson's beat 
that any sense of  spontaneity and rhythmic clarity was obscured (there 
was also a notable slip- up when one of the principal musicians lost 
his place). The result was an  honorable but plodding account.

The musicians came into their own at the end with an explosive, 
powerfully  etched account of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. 
There was more  rhythmic force in the first movement alone, crowned by 
Robin Sutherland's  clangorous piano commentary, than in the entire 
expanse of the Reich.

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