2005-01-31

Arms of Alton Thompson



Personal Arms of Alton Thompson


Escutcheon
Argent, a double tressure flory Sanguine, overall a Corvus corax trian volant Proper.

Crest
For coronet a baton d’un chef d’orchestre barwise Proper.

Tournament Crest
On a tilting helm affronty Proper a wreath Sanguine and Argent for crest, with a Corvus corax rising affronty Proper, wings displayed and elevated.

Mantling
Sanguine doubled with white silk.

Motto
Liberté, Beauté, Vérité, Amour

Badge premier
A Corvus corax trian en arrière voided Sable.

Badge seconde
Argent, a circular double tressure flory Sanguine, overall a plume de vol d’un Corvus corax bendwise sinister voided Sable.

Adopted

1999 January 31

Registered

U S Heraldic Registry, 2017.03.27-29
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2005-01-26

Riccardo Muti

The conductor Riccardo Muti is the subject of a feature article by Andrew Clark this week in the Financial Times. Muti has been one of my favorites for a long time: a intelligent, principled musician whose interpretations are thoroughly considered and executed. His technique is extraordinary.

Riccardo Muti

Riccardo Muti

Muti, now thriving in his native Italy, conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra for twelve years. In Philadelphia he made a number of recordings with the orchestra and played a leading role in securing a new concert hall. He was often distressed, though, with the consumeristic misunderstandings Americans tend to hold about art. As he describes it to Clark:

'I always felt the accent was more on entertainment than the cultural experience,' says Muti. 'When I made tours around the US, I was shocked to find reviews written on a page called 'entertainment': topless shows next to Bruckner Seven. That says it all. It says culture is something to consume, not to engage with. When I go to a concert or opera, my attitude is to go to a place where I make my mind work. But in some theatres these ladies sit and wait for an Italian singer to bring an atmosphere of pizza and tomato and sunshine. E un lavoro—music is a work of the mind. That's why I don't like programmes with a selection of arias and choruses. This has nothing to do with culture.'

(Quoted by Andrew Clark: 'Muti's Way,' Financial Times, 2005 January 21)
Muti will be conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra's 60th Anniversary Concert this week in London. In February he will conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in a benefit concert.

UPDATE: Read about Muti's return to Philadelphia in Andante Music News.

2005-01-25

Eastern Winds

Brian Wise offers a wide-ranging discussion of new music for American wind ensembles in a recent edition of NewMusicBox:
A number of prominent composers are either writing or awaiting premieres of new band works, including John Corigliano (from the University of Texas), Christopher Rouse (University of Florida), Richard Danielpour (College Band Director's National Association), and Bright Sheng and Michael Daugherty (both University of Michigan). Still others are enjoying successive performances of recent works, notably David Del Tredici, Michael Torke, Augusta Read Thomas, Joseph Schwantner, and Joan Tower, among others.

Many music professionals believe that bands and wind ensembles offer composers distinct advantages over orchestras, like vast amounts of rehearsal time, the potential for multiple performances (thanks to a well-connected network of university band directors), opportunities to reach new audiences, and sometimes significant financial incentives. But there are also questions about the character and quality of new band music. Can bands inspire composers to write their most innovative, complex, or demanding work? Is the influx of "name-brand" composers helping to put the band field on the path towards mainstream acceptance?

"This is one of the most composer-friendly communities that exists," says Todd Vunderink, director of the publishing firm Peermusic Classical. "That makes sense, since the conductors at the major universities, who have large budgets, are consciously trying to build the repertoire. It's a great contrast to the orchestra world, which is much more beholden to earlier centuries."

The band world has long been dogged by an identity crisis; for every Holst Suite or Hindemith Symphony in B-flat, there are associations with parades, football halftime shows, and military services. But according to Frank Korach, a band specialist at Boosey & Hawkes, over 1,000 concert band pieces are written annually, and band programs are bigger and stronger than orchestral programs at U.S. educational institutions. "Bands are more liberal than orchestras. They'll accept more than orchestras," he says. "The college band world's audience is more open to new things and non-standard repertoire."

Taiwan is home to several professional wind ensembles. All have been formed in the last decade. British and American band music represent the staples, but one also hears new works by Taiwanese composers and attractive settings of Taiwan folk songs.



Apo Hsu

I had the good fortune to attend a concert in December by the Taipei Symphony Winds conducted by Apo Hsu. The concert featured an intoxicating variety of works that drew a young crowd of high school and college-age students. Concerts here typically run at half an hour longer than they do in North America regardless of the kind of ensemble performing. This concert attracted a youthful crowd of high school and college-age students that stayed with the program the whole way and screamed for encores at the end as they would in a rock concert. Apo Hsu obliged with three encores and shared a number of bows with principal players. It made for a festive evening and an effervescent overture to the holiday season.


Brian Wise. 'Brass Tacks', New Music Box, American Music Center. 2004 December 1.

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2005-01-24

Asian opera

China Daily reports a new effort in the PRC to document the complete repertory of traditional Chinese opera. Also known as Beijing or Peking opera, this renowned form of musical theater employs a set number of traditional stories. An alarming amount of that repertory, though, has been lost in one generation. Anyone who has seen the Chen Kaige film Farewell, My Concubine knows why: Mao's Cultural Revolution attempted to eliminate this art form and many of the artists who made it. When times changed, traditional opera returned but many of the people who made it did not. Lost with them was their accumulated knowledge of the tradition.


Today specialists at the Chinese Academy of Arts and related organizations hope to prevent further loss through documenting every aspect of the art form. One result will be a comprehensive online library of traditional Chinese opera.

Here in Taiwan the art form has enjoyed an unbroken history, thanks in large part to programs like that at the National Fu Hsing Dramatic Arts Academy. The Academy schools students in all aspects of traditional Chinese opera. The Academy's museum of traditional masks and costumes regularly attract international visitors.

A more indigenous art form, Taiwanese opera, shares some conventions with its traditional Chinese cousin as well as with Japanese theater, but it uses the Taiwanese language and relies on Taiwanese folk elements in music and story. The shows are more likely than Chinese opera to be performed outdoors. Visitors are more likely to encounter this theatrical form during summer months, particularly around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival. The styles of Taiwanese opera exist, a 'northern' and 'southern' style. The repertory for both continues to grow and expand.

All forms of Asian opera inspire modern composers and playwrights.

2005-01-16

FSU Law needs better Hollywood PR

Hey, Florida State University College of Law. It's time you and the boys had a word with a few Hollywood film directors.

Have you seen the way they portray your graduates in movies? I've seen two, and neither provides a good role model for our impressionable, innocent young law students.

First there's McNair, the public defender played by Ned Beatty in Just Cause. He's a paunchy, wise-cracking, football-obsessed good old boy. Well, okay... we know the style enjoys some precedent in Tallahassee. But still. McNair is dodgy and acts intimidated when he meets a cerebral out-of-state law professor. But come on. As a Florida State student he surely met some professors. Some professors even came from out of state. Some professors even had cerebrums. So why the intimidation? Well, OK, I get that it's Sean Connery. Who knows what kind of laser device a former 007 might have hidden in his lapel pin? But still.

Anyway, here's McNair, defending an innocent person's life in a death-penalty case, and all he can do is stand in his office chattering about how Florida State beat Miami in the Cotton Bowl. It's a ridiculous, unwatchable scene. Everyone knows the Seminoles have never played Miami in the Cotton Bowl.

Then there's Ned Racine, the lawyer played by William Hurt in Body Heat. His whole approach is--how shall we say this?--ethically flawed. He get outmaneuvered, he gets bamboozled, and he probably shoplifts his wingtips. We don't need that.

Racine still wins hands down as a role model over McNair. He at least knows how to decorate an office (film noir rather than Bill's Bookstore). And doesn't talk in a bad Southern accent. And you have to like his idea of a contact sport. No pigskin, just Kathleen Turner.

Please tell Hollywood to put a stop to this. Our young law students deserve worthier role models, ethical exemplars, such as any one of the many real-life lawyers in the world who... who... hmm.

You know what? Never mind.

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2005-01-05

Frederik Prausnitz

Frederik Prausnitz, former professor of conducting at the Peabody Conservatory, passed away on November 12 last year. For an idea of his wide-ranging career see the obituary in The Times (UK). In addition to being a mentor of conductors he was a compelling writer. His book on conducting is one of the few I know that goes beyond teaching baton and rehearsal technique to explore ways one goes about developing a fully-formed image of a work in one's mind and memory. His book on Roger Sessions, a composer for whose music Prausnitz had a special affinity, is likely the first full-length biography of the composer ever produced.

A sampling of Prausnitz thoughts shared in seminars:

Think of all your life up to this point. You lived through many moments. Now you look back and see all of them complete in one picture. That's how musical memory works. You want an image of a work that sees the music whole.
The goal of musical training is to become an artist. Not a good student. There's a difference.  
Smile with your mouth but not your eyes.  
I keep a list of new compositions I want to conduct. I sort them into two categories: Audience Applauds and Audience Walks Out. The first kind can be put anywhere. The second kind must be played just before intermission. The audience can satisfy its urge to walk out, then it will return for the big symphony it paid for and the concert will still end with applause.
The worst conductors in the world are those trying to prove they're good conductors. No, forget that. The worst conductors in the world are those trying to prove they aren't bad conductors. 
The most challenging audience is made up of your students. 
I would much rather be a guest conductor than an orchestra builder. You go into a town and the timpanist needs to be fired? Enjoy the concert. You'll be rid of that timpanist next week. Someone else has the headache. 
My wife says I spoil the dog. Why shouldn't I spoil the dog? I'm not preparing him for grad school.   
More conductors have lost jobs because they made a mistake wearing formals than because they made a mistake in Mahler's tempos. Your board members don't know Mahler's tempos, but they know how to dress. Mind even details you know are trivial. People are watching. 
Some people mark up one score and always use that one. I can't. I get a new score every time I return to a piece. I consult the notes I made in earlier scores but often find myself arguing with them. 
You're talking to players, not instruments.   
There's no end to the repertory. Conductors have to take responsibility for everything. You can't conduct eighteenth-century concertos and twentieth-century serial pieces and sacred choral works in Hebrew, Latin and Greek and mixed-meter ballets and Renaissance dances and full-length operas in Italian, French, German, English, Russian, and Czech and electronic-acoustic theatre pieces and aleatoric works and then say 'I don't do Tchaikovsky.' 
Frederik Prausnitz has three generations of trained conductors to testify to his art. Farewell, Maestro, and thank you.
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2005-01-01

Beginnings

Welcome to my blog. I look forward to sharing ideas here about music and beauty and airplanes and who-knows-what. Here's wishing you many joys in the new year.

I must launch my boat...
Do you not feel a thrill in the air
as the tones of the distant song
float from the far away shore?


- Rabindranath Tagore