Countdown Lists

The other day I drove up to Cleveland.  I tuned in to Sirius XM’s Symphony Hall for the drive, and learned that they were counting down the Top 76 classical recordings, as voted by their participating listeners.  I caught the countdown at number 11, which was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  I was immediately intrigued by the countdown notion, and then was immediately astonished when the countdown continued and I learned that Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue came in at number 10.  Rhapsody in Blue, over Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony?  Seriously?  In what universe?

1200x600bfBy the time I reached Cleveland the countdown was at number six — Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons — and I was sorry that my drive had ended.  When I got home that night, I checked out the final few songs that rounded out the Top 10.  Beethoven dominated, with three pieces in the Top 10 and the Ninth Symphony coming in at number one, but the more modern composers did pretty well too, with Rachmaninoff, Barber, and Copland — as well as Gershwin — all getting Top 10 slots.  But wait a minute . . . no Bach?  No Handel?  No Haydn?  No Boccherini?  The baroque era and Haydn got horribly short-changed by Symphony Hall listeners, in my view.  You can check out the Symphony Hall list here.

Why are people like me interested in countdown lists?  Those of us who grew up listening to Casey Kasem doing American Top 40 every week, to see which songs were moving up, which were moving down, and who was up there at number one, are pretty much conditioned to pay attention to countdown lists.  But ultimately, the lists are just a way of keeping your finger on the pulse of the world at large and what other people are thinking, and liking.  They don’t really mean much in terms of actual quality or lasting significance — after all, the Pipkins’ Gimme Dat Ding reached the American Top 10 in 1970.  Retrospective lists, like the Symphony Hall list, provide great fodder for argument, though and you might just learn something or try something new as a result.  I’m going to give a listen to some of the unfamiliar pieces on the Symphony Hall countdown list.

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Ready For Rhapsody

Last night Richard, Julianne, Kish and I went to the Columbus Symphony for the latest installment of the American Roots Festival series.  This performance was at the Southern Theater, a beautiful, more intimate venue than the mighty Ohio Theater, and featured engaging guest conductor Donato Cabrera and wonderful pianist Thomas Lauderdale.

IMG_4826It was a great program and will be performed again at 8 p.m. tonight.  It began with Dvorak’s delightful Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7, written when he was visiting the United States, which set the evening’s theme — American-inspired music, with jazz and ragtime influences.  Highlights for me were Scott Joplin’s Overture to Treemonisha and Kurt Weill’s Little Threepenny Music, both of which I had not heard before.  I also liked the recomposition of the orchestra from piece to piece as the composers added a banjos and large saxophone section, and gave the bassoonists a moment in the sun as they sought to capture an American sound.

According to the program the night was to end with Stravinsky’s Scherzo a la russe, but Maestro Cabrera announced during the performance that the order had been changed to close with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  This was a very wise decision, because it’s hard to imagine any piece following last night’s performance of Gershwin’s opus.

Last night was the first time I’ve seen the Rhapsody performed live, and I’ll never think of that music in the same way again.  From the meandering wail of the clarinet that opens the piece, to the beautiful melodies that pop up unexpectedly and are tied together at the end, to the piano trills and fills that give Rhapsody in Blue its spine, the visual aspect of the performance will be forever fixed in my mind.  Thomas Lauderdale is a consummate showman, and he gave his grand piano a workout that brought every bit of sound and texture from the instrument.  It was, in a word, epic.  See it if you have the chance!