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Joshua Iyer

Maurice Ravel: L’Enfant et les sortilèges (1925)

June 29, 2015 20:07

Wow. I had a little bit of an Opera Night this summer evening, crickets and fireflies and everything, listening to for the first time Ravel's second opera. And during the entire thing, I was extremely excited, almost jumping for joy as I waded through the score and listened with a whole heart. It's scored for quite a large orchestra, with lots of percussion, and even celesta, harp, and piano, which is really neat to see all together. There's also a choir along with the individual singers.

The opera's story is very interesting, and I only found out about it till after listening through it once, so you can look it up on your own time. (The video I watched bits of had a large screen with some fancy computer programming for its own video screen for the background of the stage, which was pretty neat.) The opera began quite soft and stately, with an introduction of things, the oboe all in perfect fifths. It continued with a series of short and bouncy melodies in various sections, which was all well and good. But when Ravel wants to be large and grand and set in stone that he is my favorite composer ever (which he is), then he just has to go big, and he does that several times throughout the score to add emphasis. Ravel writes very tricky stuff for the singers, like at 44 [around 12:20] with a crazy fast run of sixteenth notes. I can't even begin to imagine how that would be to perform! I really love the harp arpeggio at 62 [16:50], coupled with the cellos and violins later on, and it really brings back a feeling of "Introduction et Allegro". (There's a section that is marked "in the manner of a waltz", and some parts sound very similar to his 1920 piece "La Valse".) A lot of music just flies by, and it's amazing how much he was able to write. There is still the quality of repetition in that, but it's still neat how he is able to just keep the piece moving and never letting it stop or become disjunct with the flow. By far, 100 [27:23] is my absolute favorite part of the piece. Similarly to his dawn in "Daphnis et Chloe", this section is Ravel's night, with the strings creating a hauntingly beautiful texture, like the grass or the crickets chirping, and the melancholy lark twitters in the flute and piccolo. This really made me start to feel very excited, that music has the potential for something like this to be heard in it. It's with this moment one really tells how much Ravel may have benefited moving away from Paris to the French countryside and surrounding himself with his garden and nature as he composed this piece (along with the others he was writing around this time, of course). The choir comes in later to represent various other animals in the garden as well. It's a really magical moment in the score, exactly as the dawn was in "Daphnis et Chloe", and for that moment everything stops, as if time is standing still, and every listener is spellbound. Then, the piece continues, bringing back hits of motifs from previous. The piano is used in a very unique way, in a way like a second harp. The winds have melodies most of the time in this piece, but the strings and brass do come in occasionally with it. It ends not with a bang, but with a whimper; the oboes and first violins have the same parallel fourths and fifths as the very beginning of the piece, and the strings quietly trail away as it concludes.

So all in all, I love how this piece is like a small house filled with allusions to other things he has done, and listening to it is like relaxing in different rooms of the house. I have spent all day today excited over Paris (also the cool thing with the Eiffel Tower in Tomorrowland helped with that) and exploring some of Ravel's piano pieces to try out on the piano, but this one took the cake as one of my absolute favorites of his. It's a truly magical experience, and those forty minutes went by very fast. I'm not too taken to opera in general, but I think listening to this one maybe convinced me to try listening to some others, like Puccini for example. So yeah! Give this a listen on your own opera night. I might print out some of the violin part to try out for me personally, as I remember two years ago playing an aria from something (the violin II part in the orchestra) for the Senior Concerto concert (I didn't post anything about it in April 2013, but I just remember being excited to be playing right next to two pianos), so I guess it'll be kind of like that with this. I dunno... :) I'm still hard at work learning Ravel's first violin sonata! :)

Here's a link to the video I watched. The time stamps in this post reflect the times in this video.

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Tomorrowland: Thoughts on the score

June 28, 2015 06:39

I was a bit slow at finally watching Tomorrowland, but I really enjoyed seeing it. I wrote a small review on imdB just now, so here are my thoughts (somewhat sparse, but I wasn't really paying lots of attention to the score) on the music. Thanks for reading!

Michael Giacchino (who did things like Up, Ratatouille, and the more recent Star Trek films) did the score for Disney's Tomorrowland film. I wasn't completely paying attention to the score the whole time, but there were plenty of cues I recognized and enjoyed. The main theme for Tomorrowland had some cool high piano stuff, coupled by majestic brass. Once I noticed a unique string- writing with high glissandos when Casey was sneaking into Frank's house at one point (I think). Giacchino said that he usually starts from the beginning and composes to the end of the film, so he can develop the score better that way. And it really does a great job of following the movie, with the action scenes having quite intense orchestration with large brass hits at the necessary points, and a very majestic return of the main theme ending the film, showing it's now up to us to build our future as it blacks to the credits. It's a score with unique harmonic progression which I like, and is one I think I could enjoy listening to as background music and really picking apart during a second or third watch of the film.

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The violin as a composing tool

June 26, 2015 08:54

Last night was probably the first time I truly used my violin... as a composing tool! Normally when I write my music I head out into the forest preserve in the morning (or whenever of course), sketching out my ideas and hearing the birds chirping, and then head home and test out how the harmonies sound with the melodies on the piano. When I'm writing a string quartet, however, a piano just won't cut it to help me make sure certain techniques are playable. Basically, at the end of the fourth movement of the quartet (which I just finished, so now I only have the middle two movements to work on!), I have a technique where there are triplets that are to be played quite rapidly but across all four strings, like a quadruple stop that's rolled. Originally, I had something like a 1 on the G string, a 3 on the D and A strings, and a 4 on the E string. I'm sure it's playable, and I could get it to sound okay, but getting to it was quite awkward, especially when there's literally just one beat of preparation. So, I rewrote it by adding more open strings and making something that was much more playable, but still had the general harmony I wanted. (And I had to edit this for the second violin, viola, and cello parts!) This is an example of how something in my head doesn't go as planned. I usually can picture where my fingers will go on each string but when I write music I don't always think about how playable it is. This is why, as a composer, I am very glad to be a violinist!

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Urbana Pops - 'Once Upon a Tune' Concert Review

June 14, 2015 08:12

Listen to the piece!

Last night, I went with myou family and a few close friends to listen to the Urbana Pops Orchestra play several fantastic pieces. It was a long drive there and back, but it was well worth it due to how impressive the orchestra was! They're unique in that they have student musicians playing alongside the professionals, which is really nice because they can mentor and really, how else could one get a fantastic professional experience as a student? Overall, they all looked very impressive on-stage, and it was great being able to listen to them perform.

The first piece they played was the famous William Tell Overture, which was fantastic and showed the virtuosity of these players, the violins especially with all of the runs they had to keep together as a complete section, which they did fantastically. The brass and timpani boomed loud above the crowd.

Next, there was a Mozart Clarinet concerto that I'd heard before, and I've realized it's very hard not to smile at Mozart. It was such a light-hearted little piece that was a lot of fun to listen to, especially with the smaller orchestra.

Then, they played the Urbana Pops Composition Contest winner - my piece! I had sent in the finale of my "Birds of Prey" piece I wrote last summer. And that piece was utterly fantastic! Every single build I threw in was done with a sort of cinematic brilliance; the brass were excellent, and the conductor told me they really enjoyed playing the piece because each section was able to have some sort of importance, and that my orchestration was fantastic. This performance really showed me the next time I write for a full orchestra, I at least have something to base off due to this concert, and what I heard. There will be a recording available, and I will post a link if available to that in a future entry sometime this week.

Next, they played "Peter and the Wolf", as this was technically a concert where there was a story-time beforehand and children were to bring stuffed animals, which was cute (and I saw a few). Prokofiev did a great job of telling the story with the most obvious use of leitmotifs, which was fine for the children as it helped them to really understand the story, and the narrator did a great job at telling it. I liked how at first, the sections retained their specific melodic idea, but as the piece went on and trouble stirred, the flutes had Peter's melody, for example.

Finally, they ended off the concert with music from "Frozen", which blended several pieces (a couple from the score as well!) from the film together. I did like how Olaf's theme had sleigh bells, and the harp glissandos in this one were very pretty. (She did a good job in my piece as well, but yeah I do need to figure out how to notate the pedals, as that would help the harpist tremendously.)

Overall, I loved the community feel I felt while here. After my piece finished and I went up to bow and shake the conductor's hand, the lady next to me said that it was terrific. I was supposed to meet the musicians for some more comments on the piece, but that never happened. (We even got reserved seats, which was a nice surprise!) So yeah! It was a great concert, and the Urbana Pops is such a fantastic orchestra! I am very glad they got to play my very first world-premiere of a full orchestra composition! :)

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Composer's Block...

June 5, 2015 11:55

During these past couple of weeks I've been out of school, I've been trying to spend as much time as possible composing, taking walks back behind the forest preserve and writing down bits of material for a string quartet I need to complete by the end of the summer. From following the works of some of my favorite composers, I've come up with little ideas to incorporate into the piece, and have now seven or eight distinct scraps entered into the file on the computer, with absolutely no clue what to do with them, and barely any of them I actually like and would consider developing further.

When that happens, usually I would take a break from the piece and come back to it, which is what I'm doing now. I spent time practicing orchestration on a beautiful Ravel piano piece, as well as trying to write out a score by hand, and of course I've been working at practicing violin even harder - I wrote a little medley I'm playing with a pianist and a harpist sometime over the summer. Usually, through listening to other works or even just noodling on my instrument, something will come up and I'll get very inspired to continue working. I'm still waiting for that moment, but I just know eventually I'll reach a point where I can't wait to wake up at 7 a.m. and just sit down at the computer and write out my sketch, or head out into the morning air and compose, as it happened several times last summer with "Birds of Prey".

I suppose one could take composer's block similarly to writer's block, in that if you don't have any ideas for a story, free your mind from the constraints of that world and write in a different world, and similar themes will connect the two. Perhaps if I try writing in a completely different style than what I'm going for, say, writing some epic battle music for a game, perhaps that will trigger an idea in my quartet. It's a possibility....

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