Category Archives: music

Fond memories awakened

I started playing the piano recently and to that end, there’s a pile of sheet music – disproportionately by Yann Tiersen – on my piano for me to learn. Most days I play some of the music I need to read and learn, and other days, I also play music I remember from my mispent youth. It might surprise you to know I spent a lot of time in pubs, with a diet 7-up in front of me, playing music.

I also listened to a lot of traditional music from Scotland and Ireland, and I added Brittany and Galicia to that later, Right now I am listening to Alistair Fraser and Paul Machlis. I make no apologies and anyway it featured on the Sex and the City soundtrack which I found out by accident because I didn’t actually watch Sex and the City being that I tended to be in bars and places of musical interest like Whelans, the old HQ, the Olympia the first time you could stick to the floor, and Vicar Street. Anyway, tonight, for some bizarre reason, a song by an outfit called Silly Wizard came into my head, a song called the Broom of the Cowdenowes, sung by Andy M. Stewart. I fully expect not many people to be familiar; the band broke up years and years ago and at least one of them is dead now that I know of. Not sure whether Andy Stewart is alive – let me just check – and it looks like he died at the end of 2015, Somehow I missed that, Arguably, given what 2016 turned out to be it seems he left before the rush.

Anyway, I played a bit of the song, realised there was a bit of the 3rd line of the verse structure I couldn’t remember, so went and looked it up online, like we do for everything. Shortly after that I fell down a rabbit hole that involved old records by Aly Bain – if you watch the Transatlantic Sessions you’ll know him – and wound up with a piece of music called the Pearl. (that’s a youtube link by the way).

I used to play the Pearl and what kind of gets me now is that I had forgotten it existed. Completely. It’s a piece of music by Phil Cunningham (he was a member of Silly Wizard by the way so you can see the link here). I don’t even know what key I played it in. It’s all the more upsetting that I still play a couple of other pieces by Phil Cunningham regularly, but mainly from his days in Relativity (and sadly, two of them are dead for definite and I never got to see them in concert) and as a result of all that, amongst the pieces of music I need to learn is now the Pearl, for which I am on my own without a pile of sheet music, and also, now I am listening to Rip the Calico by the Bothy Band because two of the members of Relativity were also members of the Bothy Band and you know what, I don’t care if their records are like 40 years old, they were fantastic.

den Atelier: Divine Comedy in concert

Monday evening last, I was perusing Facebook for family news as you do when, underneath a picture of my sister was an ad telling me The Divine Comedy were playing in den Atelier Luxembourg on Friday night.

Ooops Somehow I failed to know this.

I had, at some point, last year, done a search of concert venues in Luxembourg and come up with a) the Philharmonie and b) Rockhal. And that was it. But there’s this den Atelier place and it had the Divine Comedy lined up. The Divine Comedy. Seriously, how the hell did I miss this?

So a ticket was procured. The internet is a wonderful place.

 

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He hasn’t changed. Still the utter showman.

They are touring a new album so we got quite a bit of new stuff. But also, we got quite a bit of Fin de Siecle which is one of the best albums of the 1990s and should have sold many, many more copies than it did.

About 7 gig photogs showed up when the band arrived, all brandishing shiny DSLRs. My DSLR is somewhere else, plus, frankly, I’m not in the mood for carrying it around much. What I have here, I took with my mobile. I also took out my sketchbook but you’re not going to see those.

Favourite song of the night, definitely Certainty of a Chance which I think is my favourite Divine Comedy song anyway. But we also got National Express, Generation Sex, and from the rest of the canon, yes, Songs of Love and Something for the Weekend and pretty much every hit he ever had. And an Abba cover.

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The thing about Neil Hannon is from the audience point of view, he looks like he is having a ball on stage. Like he loves playing, loves singing. And while every piece I have ever read about him interviewing him, reviewing his stuff has always focused on his writing which is sharp and extremely witty, the fact remains that he has a stunning voice as well and is well capable of pyrotechnics with it.

I loved every minute of this concert.

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Great band with him as well.

Piano Geekery

My main lot of furniture arrived yesterday, which means I have a desk, a few chairs, a sofa, and a table and a wardrobe. The shelves for the books I don’t have are due to arrive sometime in the next two or three weeks which left only one item on the shopping list and that was a piano.

To be honest, a piano has always been on my shopping list; namely a grand piano and if I am honest, for a long time, the piano in question was an 1882 which you can still, as of today, January 2017, see on the Pianos Plus website. Believe me, it’s a beautiful piano to play but I’ve never had a space worthy of that piano. It’s a big piano. It has a price tag to match. Another dealer also had a really nice 1970s Kawai which I liked as well.

However, I’ve realised that I am now 44 years old and while it could be another 10 years before I get a lovely grand piano, in the meantime, I’m going to need something else to play. I have the space for a piano now and I live in Luxembourg (sorry Pianos Plus). In researching piano dealers here, I discovered that they rented pianos. Not only did they rent pianos, they rented digital pianos, a service which is hard to find in Ireland. So I tracked down two piano dealers which were close to bus stops, and I went to visit the first of them today. Well it was joyful.

I’ve chosen a piano to hire – it is a Roland digital, and it will fit in my living room. I also played a lot of grand pianos. I played a Bechstein which, like the 1882 beauty, tugged many heart strings. Strictly speaking, I have the space for this one. On the other hand, I have neighbours upstairs. Hence digital piano. Sadface. I also played a Steinway and while I tend to find them a bit sparkly bright, this was a really nice one, a bargain at more than a year’s salary; and then I played a piano which I had never seen before. I played a Schultz. I’ve since learned that the pianos are designed in Germany and built elsewhere. I’m told this one was built in China. It was a gorgeous piano to play. I loved it.

Some day, I will own my own grand piano. It may be a Bechstein, or it may be a Schultz. Or it may be a Pleyel or a Kawai. I don’t know. But I realised today, playing that Bechstein, and that Schultz, and also, having a conversation with the sales staff in Kleber, that there’s an element of destiny around these things and that when the moment presents itself, so too will the piano. In the meantime, Kleber are happy for me to explore what they have got and that makes me happy.

Bonus point: cutest thing all day was a daddy explaining to his two small children how it was that a piano made noise.

review: Beautiful Goodbye/Richard Marx

So, somewhere amongst my possessions there are a few Richard Marx cassettes. I was a fan when I was 14 years old and of all the music I was listening to nearly 30 years ago, he’s one of the few I’m still listening to now.

Sometime last year, he put out another album – there haven’t been all that many of them in the grand scheme of things, for all he’s been plying his trade for more than 30 years now – which is probably more rnb than soft rock. I was never sure soft rock worked as a label for him. Not sure any label did to be honest.

Anyway, I like this a lot. I don’t know if I would have liked it when I was 14. It’s extremely glossy. You could work your way through any artist’s output if their career is long enough to get a feel for how production values in general have changed over time. But the voice hasn’t changed much since I was watching the video to Right Here Waiting on MTV. It’s a touch bass heavy and tending very much to what I always called adult contemporary until I discovered I had arrived in that demographic myself. I like the soundscapes of this (okay (I’ve been a bit distracted from the point of view of lyrics). They are like very expensive chocolate, probably because the string sections here and there, matched up with the very contemporary bass lines.

Highlights are obviously going to include the title track, and then also on regular play here are To My Senses and Have a Little Faith. It is the sort of music I like to sound track my life to. When I’m not listening to big orchestral stuff anyway.

 

2015 – Dublin International Piano Competition

This is just a brief note. I was at the finals of the Dublin International Piano Competition the other evening.

There were four finalists, including one who had been in the finals three years ago. I missed most of the early rounds so my judgment really is based on what I heard in the finals.

My personal view is that the most promising of the four was a 20 year old American called Alex Beyer who played Beethoven. After that, I would have given a toss between Catherina Grewe and Nathalia Millstein. In the end, the jury went with Ms Millstein. I hope I am spelling the names correctly.

In terms of the music we heard, there was a preponderance (as usual) of Russian concertos, with only Beyer venturing too far west to Beethoven. In general, four very good performances, and to be fair, Nathalia Millstein did a technically very precise rendition of Prokofiev 2. I am not a fan of Prokofiev’s piano music, it must be said.

What annoyed me most, however, was nothing to do with the stage, but the behaviour of the audience. One pair got up and left – from the middle of a near front row – in the middle of the first performance. Someone else had a mobile phone text message in the middle of the third performance. A significant number of people arrived sufficiently late that they were not allowed in until the second performance. Over the course of the evening, a lot of people saw fit to leave mid performance.

Dublin has one of the finest piano competitions in the world. It would be nice if it wasn’t taken for granted. John O’Connor has ended the last two pleading for money.

 

RIP John Renbourn

I was saddened to hear of John Renbourn’s death today.

Guitar magazines will have endless debates about who might be the best guitarist in the world. In my view, it was John Renbourn and no one comes even close.

Such a loss. He was 70.

Simon Rattle is coming to London

I have to say that given a choice between the Berlin Phil and the LSO, I’d probably choose Berlin, particularly when Simon Rattle’s talent was immediately obvious when he was at the City of Birmingham Symphony.

However, London is easier to get to than Berlin and there are many more flights per day from Dublin there so this is good news.

Particularly if they build a stunning new concert hall like the French just did in Paris.

NCH: Igudesman and Joo

Force of circumstance, it was a tight run thing to see whether I would make it to Igudesman and Joo last night; and in the end, fortune prevailed. This is a good thing. The concert was great, great fun.

The National Concert Hall was about half full which in some ways was disappointing; the gig was such that I think the next time the pair come to visit, they will sell a lot more tickets.

If you’re not familiar with them, their big, big viral hit is I Will Survive of which there are a number of versions on Youtube (but here’s one) but that is just a mere hook into the monumental crazy experience that is one of their gigs. Before they close out with that, you will experience the frustration of a time share piano, the wonder of seeing a concert pianist playing Eric Satie while lying on the floor and seeing a kungfu violinist. And I must confess it is completely news to me how much in common All By Myself has with Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. It’s hard to pick out the most effective moments – this version of Rondo Alla Turca by Mozart is evidence of musical talent on a scale which few can offer. If you don’t play music, what they do here is incredibly difficult to do and get right. They did that last night too.

What is on show is some very interesting and rather crazy comic talent, very, very sharply scripted (and they stick robustly to that script), but it would not work at all if the musical talent was not there, underpinning it all. A tango dancing violinist would not be all that entertaining if he didn’t happen to also be playing Libertango near perfectly. And for all the physical comedy involved with contending with Rachmaninov’s handspan chords in one of his Preludes, the truth is, before the props come out, Joo has already demonstrated that he is technically a very strong musician as well. Both Igudesman and Joo are consummate musicians and that is why they are so effective at what they do on the comedy side. In one respect, Victor Borge was the same; his comedy would not have worked without his also being a very strong musician technically speaking.

The boys got ┬ástanding ovation and a super reception last night. Ultimately I hope they will be back and that word of mouth will do for them what I’ve seen it do for people like Tommy Emmanuel in the past…grow their audience. What was refreshing (and not often the case on a Friday night) was the noticeable presence of children in the NCH.

The duo’s YouTube channel is here.

CD reviews: Alexandre Tharaud

It is nice, on occasion, to write about nice things, so I’m going to write about stuff I consider to be nice. such as, for example, some piano music, and specifically, one musician who, I don’t think, has a lot of traction here in Ireland and this really is a pity.

I say that mainly because I haven’t happened across him until recently. He’s been around a while, maybe a little under the radar.

If you are looking for an interesting album of bits and pieces, Alexandre Tharaud has a lovely album of pieces which he occasionally uses for encores, called Autographe. Standout pieces on it include Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp minor (posthumous) and an extraordinary transcription of Sibelius’s Valse Triste. Also worth a listen is an album called Journal Intime which is devoted to the music of Chopin (he has a couple of Chopin albums but this one is the stand out one for me).

I don’t know a whole lot about him other than what’s on his own site, and the occasional interview (from the point of view of online reputation management, someone’s done a really good job) but quick summary: he’s French, he’s done some very interesting stuff with a couple of French composers (really decent albums of Rameau and Couperin, for example, plus some Chabrier) and he’s age bracketed with people like Evgeny Kissin: not amongst the young showmen.

I like his style of playing a lot. The work done on the Autographe album is exceptional – very atmospheric.

This from the Journal Intime album is a good example.

It’s a major contrast to the brightness of some of the more high profile concert pianists who happen along the route to Ireland, I think. Recommended.