Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December 2015 - Featured Playlist: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

With the imminent release of the latest film in the Star Wars franchise consuming much of the entertainment world, we thought it only suitable to offer a soundtrack to this excitement. The unfathomable universe around us has often been a source of inspiration to composers and storytellers alike, whether it be the impact of a meteorite on our own environment or the imagined dramas taking place in some far-flung corner of the heavens.

It’s human nature to want to understand our universe and to marvel at both the smallness of our world and the incredible significance of existence at all. We have selected here twenty pieces (plus one bonus track!) that demonstrate how different composers have found inspiration in the skies, whether from our own little corner of creation or from A Galaxy Far, Far Away.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Themed Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. John Williams – Star Wars, Episode IV “A New Hope”: Main Title. Rebel Blockade Runner – Whether this famous melody owes its inspiration to bits from Nielsen, Dvořák, Holst, or Korngold is a matter of debate, but what is undeniable is that one would be hard-pressed to identify any movie title tune more familiar and thrilling than what John Williams selected for the Star Wars franchise.

2. Nigel Hess – To the Stars! – British composer Nigel Hess is best known as a composer for television and film, but To the Stars! was composed as a collaboration with several primary schools in Bedfordshire County. It finds a balance between musical integrity and playful fun in describing a fantastic voyage into space to meet aliens and battle a black hole!

3. James Guymon – Le Voyage dans la Lune: Voyage to the Moon – Credited as the first science fiction movie, Georges Méliès’ 1902 silent film Le Voyage dans la Lune never had an official musical soundtrack, so many composers have created their own. The track selected here comes from a project in which four different composers a century later were asked to provide their own soundtracks to the film.

4. Ron Goodwin – The Venus Waltz – Ron Goodwin made his career scoring for film and television. He is perhaps best remembered for his soundtracks to war films, but in 1958—just as he was first breaking into film scoring—he and his orchestra released an album titled Out of This World, which included jaunty tunes with titles like “Sally the Satellite”, “Martians on Parade”, and “Playtime on Pluto”.

5. Shirl Jae Atwell – Pulsar – Shirl Jae Atwell is an American composer who has spent much of her career in Kentucky. She has composed several operas, including Lucy, based on a 3.2 million-year-old skeleton, as well as a large quantity of music for string orchestra.

6. Richard Strauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra: Das Tanzlied – Also Sprach Zarathustra is a tone poem that was inspired by a novel by Nietzsche, so it didn’t initially have a connection to outer space. However, its introduction’s inclusion in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey forever linked it in the popular consciousness to worlds outside our own. Included here is a passage found later in the work, a taste of what the dramatic opening originally heralded.

7. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov – Christmas Eve: II. Mazurka of the Stars - A witch, the devil, a bunch of people tied up in sacks, all under a moonless December sky… Such is the subject matter of the story upon which Rimsky-Korsakov based his opera Christmas Eve. Festive, right? Luckily, the score is full of Rimsky-Korsakov’s characteristically colorful orchestration, and this mazurka is a highlight of the suite derived from the opera.
8. Stellan Sagvik – Solar Plexus: VI. Asteroids – Swedish composer Stellan Sagvik created vivid pictures of the planets and other celestial bodies with Solar Plexus, a work for solo flute. Selected here is an especially descriptive passage, as short bursts from the flute dance about and vanish like asteroids in the night sky.

9. George Crumb – Celestial Mechanics, “Makrokosmos IV”: I. Alpha Centauri – Crumb’s Makrokosmos cycle for amplified piano is probably his best-known work, and it was composed as an allusion to Mikrokosmos by Bartók, one of his favorite composers. This selection takes its name from the closest star system to Earth.

10. Urmas Sisask – Starry Sky Cycle No. 1, “Northern Sky”: No. 19 Pleiades: Alcyone – Estonian composer Urmas Sisask has drawn much of his inspiration from astronomy, even devising his own “planetal scale” based on the movements of the planets. After creating this scale, which is comprised of C#, D, F#, G#, and A, he was shocked to learn that it was identical to the Japanese pentatonic scale.

11. Alexander Courage – Star Trek: Original Theme – It might be hard to imagine now, but Star Trek wasn’t much of a success when it first aired, instead gaining cult status on subsequent reruns. Stars George Takei, William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy became household names, in recent years maintaining that status as much for their social activism (Takei) and television commercials (Shatner) as for their Star Trek participation.

12. Michael Daugherty – Metropolis Symphony: II. Krypton – Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s recording of Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony took home three Grammy Awards in 2011 after being nominated in six categories. The second movement finds inspiration in Superman’s home planet Krypton, which exploded moments after the young boy was placed on an escape rocket to Earth.

13. Bruce Miller – Pluto: The Last Planet – Bruce Miller has primarily built his career as a composer for television, having written music for shows like Frasier, ‘Til Death, Designing Women, and Wings. However, this piece for brass band and organ is his ode to Pluto, which in our books is still very much worthy of being called a planet.

14. Augusta Read Thomas – Dancing Galaxy – This work began as a piece for orchestra titled Galaxy Dances, but Thomas later arranged it for wind ensemble and switched the name around. Dancing Galaxy begins and ends quietly in the lower instruments, making it a work that can be looped endlessly to ebb and flow forever just like the universe itself.

15. George Quincy – Choctaw Nights: V. Jupiter – Oklahoma-born composer George Quincy derives much of his musical inspiration from his Choctaw heritage, and this piece for flute, bassoon, violin, viola, and piano is no exception. The final movement begins and ends with a depiction of Jupiter’s otherworldliness, while the central portion settles into the comfort and sense of belonging that comes from gazing up at the night skies of his homeland.
16. Isaac Schankler – Alien Warp Etude – Isaac Schankler is an American composer who draws musical inspiration from indeterminacy and puzzles. This piece for microtonal piano is more listenable than you might imagine, sounding not unlike what one might expect to hear blasted from an ice cream truck on Mars.

17. Ro Hancock-Child – Quasar – Composer, pianist, author, and artist Ro Hancock-Child included this improvisation-based piece on her 2010 album The Speed of Light. It’s the composer’s representation of a quasar, which is a compact region in the center of a galaxy that surrounds a supermassive black hole.

18. György Ligeti – Lux Aeterna – Transylvanian composer Ligeti composed his Lux Aeterna for sixteen solo singers, and he drew his text from the Catholic requiem mass. Using micropolyphony, cluster chords, and timbre effects, he created an otherworldly mist of sound that gave vital atmosphere to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

19. Gustav Holst – The Planets: VII. Neptune, the Mystic – Holst closed out his magnum opus with this depiction of the most distant planet known in his day. The atmosphere of ephemeral mystique is created in part by the use of a wordless choir singing from backstage, the door to their chamber closing gradually to cause the sound to drift away to nothingness.

20. John Williams – Star Wars, Episode VI “Return of the Jedi”: End Title – Do you have your ticket yet for Episode VII? Are you planning to dress up as your favorite character? Have you mastered the art of the toy light sabre? Enjoy one last bit of Star Wars music to help boost your excitement to a higher level than ever. Here’s to no more Jar Jar Binks!

21. Ron Grainer – Doctor Who: Theme – We Whovians couldn’t put together a space-themed playlist without a nod to the Doctor. While this saucy version lacks a theremin playing the iconic melody, thus ensuring its exclusion from the playlist proper, we couldn’t leave it out entirely. Think of it as our way of getting to the end of the playlist, then declaring “I don’t want to go!”

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.7 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery! 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Opening Notes: November 2015 - New Release Playlist

We've sifted through all the new releases for November 2015, and we're highlighting our favorites. Some of these are debut recordings of brand new works, while others are fresh takes on standard repertoire. If you're like us and are constantly craving something to discover, take a spin through these tracks to get a taste of what is now available to you in NML. And if you hear something you love, click on the cover art in the player window to be taken directly to the full album!

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Opening Notes folder under the Themed Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

Igor Stravinsky
Petrushka: Tableau I: The Shrovetide Fair
Bavarian Radio Symphony; Mariss Jansons
BR Klassik - 900141 
Stacy Garrop
Mythology Symphony: V. Pandora Undone
Chicago College of Performing Arts
Cedille - CDR90000-160
Anatol Konstantinovich Liadov
The Enchanted Lake
Bergen Philharmonic; Andrew Litton
BIS - BIS-2071
Gustav Mahler
Symphony No. 1, "Titan": II. Kraftig bewegt
Finnish Radio Symphony; Hannu Lintu
Ondine - ODE1264-5
Richard Wagner
Das Rheingold: Rheingold! Rheingold! Reines Gold!
Hong Kong Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden
Naxos - 8.660374-75

Jean Sibelius
Scaramouche: Act II Scene 9: Allegro
Turku Philharmonic; Leif Segerstam
Naxos - 8.573511
Sergey Rachmaninov
Fantaisie tableaux, Suite No. 1: I. Barcarolle
Louis Lortie; Hélène Mercier
Chandos - CHAN10882

Dmitri Shostakovich
Suite on Words by Michelangelo: Bessmertie
Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Ivari Ilja
Ondine - ODE1277-2

Rued Langgaard
The Danish Piano Trio
Dacapo - 8.226119
W.A. Mozart
Piano Concerto No. 13: I. Allegro
Christoph Soldan; Silesian Chamber Soloists
K&K Verlagsanstalt - KuK121

Antonio Vivaldi
In exitu Israel
Aradia Chorus and Ensemble; Kevin Mallon
Naxos - 8.573324
  Franz Liszt
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses: Hymne...
Michael Korstick
CPO - 777951-2

Lars-Erik Larsson
Symphony No. 2: III. Ostinato
Helsingborg Symphony; Andrew Manze
CPO - 777672-2
Florent Schmitt
Antoine et Cléopâtre Suite No. 1: III. La Bataille
Buffalo Philharmonic; JoAnn Falletta
Naxos - 8.573521

Leonard Bernstein
Symphony No. 3, "Kaddish" - IIIc. Fugue
Baltimore Symphony; Marin Alsop
Naxos - 8.559742
Alexander Scriabin
 Sym. No. 3, "Le Divin Poème": III. Jeu divin
London Symphony; Valery Gergiev
LSO Live - LSO0771

Johanna Doderer
Violin Concerto No. 2: II. Moderato
Yury Revich; Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic
Capriccio - C5245
Frederick Delius
Suite for Violin and Orchestra: I. Pastorale
Tasmin Little; BBC Philharmonic; Andrew Davis
Chandos - CHAN10879

Marc Blitzstein
Open Your Heart
Laura Claycomb; Marc Teicholz
Delos - DE3483
Isidora Žebeljan
New Songs of Lada: Song 3: All the Yawl Men...
Aneta Ilić; Brodsky Quartet; Premil Petrović
CPO - 777994-2
William Bolcom
Canciones de Lorca: V. Danza da lua...
Rene Barbera; Pacific Symphony; Carl St Clair
Naxos - 8.559788 
Alfred Hill
String Quartet No. 15 - IV. Finale: Allegretto
Dominion String Quartet
Naxos - 8.573416
Samuel Barber
Cello Sonata: III. Allegro appassionato
Paul Watkins; Huw Watkins
Chandos - CHAN10881
John Tavener
Hymnus ad exequias defuncti: Take Him...
Cappella Nova; Canty; Alan Tavener
Linn - CKD539

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a new release playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.7 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that has become available to you just this month. Let it kickstart discovery!

Monday, November 2, 2015

November 2015 - Featured Playlist: How the East Was One

One of the most exciting repercussions of a rapidly shrinking world is that disparate cultures can more easily find common ground in creating new art. For centuries music in the East developed separately from the West, establishing its own system of harmony and melody, but as each side of the planet discovered the other, this became reflected in musical development.

A great number of talented composers from China, Japan, and Korea have come to prominence, either by blending their own cultural sounds with Western classical music, or by blazing entirely new trails informed by their multicultural paradigm. This playlist is a wonderful way to experience a truly global sound, an exploration into How the East Was One with the West for these gifted composers.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Themed Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Various composers – The Yellow River Piano Concerto: IV. Defend the Yellow River – Based off of Xian Xinghai’s Yellow River Cantata, this concerto was a prominent example of music under Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. The work has no fewer than six different composers attached to it, which itself is a representation of the Communist ideology of its time. Along with the Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto, it is one of the best-known Chinese classical works.  

2. Zhou Long / Chen Yi – Symphony, “Humen 1839”: IV. Allegro trascinante – Prominent composers Zhou Long and Chen Yi teamed up to create this symphony honoring the Chinese people who fought Britain’s illegal opium trade. The town of Humen was, in 1839, the setting of a Tea Party-esque incident where 1,000 tons of British opium was seized and burned, an event that sparked the First Opium War.

3. Nie Er – Dance of the Golden Snake – Nie Er is best known as the composer of China’s national anthem, though in his two-year career he composed quite a bit of music that was popular with the Communist Revolution. Despite his short life (he drowned at 25), he holds a respected place in Chinese cultural history for his songs protesting Japanese aggression in the years leading up to World War Two.

4. Tan Dun – Double Bass Concerto, “The Wolf”: III. Allegro vivace – Premiered in January 2015, Tan Dun’s Double Bass Concerto, “The Wolf”, receives its first recording this year as well. It depicts the wolves that roam the countryside of China and Tibet, and their important contributions to their ecosystem.

5. Bright Sheng – 7 Tunes Heard in China: No. 7 Tibetan Dance – Bright Sheng was born in China but has lived in the United States since 1982. As the title implies, this cello suite, premiered by none other than Yo-Yo Ma, makes use of traditional melodies from across China. Included here is the seventh tune, which employs a popular folk melody from Tibet.

6. Tōru Takemitsu – 3 Film Scores: III. Face of Another: Waltz – Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu took his inspiration from sources as diverse as traditional Japanese music and John Cage. His career began under more avant-garde ideals, but later it progressed to what he called a “sea of tonality” in which a predetermined series of notes would form the tonal base for a work. Over the years he also scored more than ninety films.
7. Kosaku Yamada – Symphony in F Major, “Triumph and Peace”: III. Poco vivace – Yamada was a German-trained Japanese composer during the 20th century. He composed over 1400 works, over half of which were lieder. As a conductor, he was instrumental in introducing many classics of Western music to Japan, including Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Sibelius’ Finlandia, and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9.

8. Yasushi Akutagawa – Trinita Sinfonica: III. Finale: Allegro assai – Akutagawa began his career shortly after World War II, and it included a time spent illegally in the Soviet Union, where he befriended Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and Kabalevsky. When he returned to Japan, not only did he become an established composer, but a television personality and educator as well.

9. Kui Dong – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter: I. Spring – Chinese composer Kui Dong initially only studied music under her mother’s insistence; her mother had been a musician, and as the two older siblings had not taken up music, young Kui was her mother’s last hope. As a composition student she got work collecting folk songs from remote villages, and this would have a profound effect on her.

10. Isang Yun – Duo for Cello and Harp: II. --- - Korean composer Isang Yun was held as a POW by the Japanese in World War II, after which he started a home for war orphans. Following the Korean War he moved to Germany to pursue music. After returning from a visit to North Korea, he was kidnapped by the South Korean secret service and accused of espionage, freed only after a petition signed by 200 artists, including Stravinsky and Ligeti.

11. Unsuk Chin – Violin Concerto: III. --- - Chin is a South Korean composer now based in Germany. Her music draws little influence from her Korean heritage, but rather from sources as diverse as Bartók, Debussy, Xenakis, Ligeti, electronic music, Balinese Gamelan, and Medieval composers. The concerto featured here is one of her more widely performed works, programmed in 14 different countries around the world.

12. Akira Ifukube – Godzilla, King of the Monsters: Main title theme – Born in Hokkaido, Ifukube was initially influenced by both his Japanese heritage and the Ainu people around him. Though he would end up studying forestry at university, he was first inspired to compose after hearing Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. He is most remembered for his film scores, especially those for Toho’s Godzilla movies.

13. Gordon Shi-Wen Chin – Symphony No. 3, “Taiwan”: III. Upsurge – Chin is one of the most prolific composers in Taiwan, responsible for a diverse array of concertos, four symphonies, a cantata, an opera, and much chamber and solo music. He is currently on faculty at the National Taiwan Normal University.

14. Sadao Bekku – Symphony No. 1: IV. Allegro con brio – Twentieth-century Japanese composer Sadao Bekku composed a wide array of music across several genres. He was influenced to a degree by jazz music, and his best-known work is his score for the cult film Matango, alternately known as Fungus of Terror or Curse of the Mushroom People.

15. Keiko Abe – Kazak Lullaby – Keiko Abe is a pivotal figure in the marimba world; not only did she contribute a great deal to technique and the repertoire, but she also assisted in the development of the modern five-octave concert marimba. She has been a tireless champion of the instrument, both in her native Japan and around the world.

16. Uzong Chae – Prelude No. 8 – Korean composer Uzong Chae has studied composition in Seoul, Salzburg, and Paris. The music he composes is influenced by everything from early music to Korean theatre to modern pop. His Preludes are based around a variety of techniques and styles, with No. 8 composed in a minimalist idiom.

17. Takashi Yoshimatsu – Symphony No. 4: IV. Finale: Allegro molto – Presto – Yoshimatsu did not start out studying music; in fact, he was a professor of technology initially, before quitting to join a Pink Floyd-inspired band. His classical compositions are heavily influenced by jazz, progressive rock, traditional Japanese music, and electronic music. He has composed at least six symphonies, eleven concertos, and more.

18. Various composers – The Red Detachment of Women: Act III. Dance of the Slave Girls, Dance of the Li Tribe, The Civil Corps’ Broadsword Dance – As with other Chinese works popular under Communist rule, this ballet is a collaboration by a number of composers. It has been called the first Revolutionary Ballet by the Chinese establishment, and it includes some of the best-known melodies in China.

19. Chi Liu – My Motherland – This patriotic tune was composed for the Chinese film Sangkamryung, which told the story of a three-year battle the Chinese People’s Volunteer Force fought in Korea. The first part, for soprano, tells of the beauty of the motherland and the soldiers’ love for their people. The second part, for choir, is a display of passion and grandeur.

20. Joe Hisaishi – Hana-bi (Fireworks): Hana-bi – Hisaishi is best-known for his film scores, especially those for animator Hayao Miyazaki, which include Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo. Featured here is the main theme for the film Hana-bi, the score for which won him the Japanese equivalent of an Oscar in 1999.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.7 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!