Judson Jay Scott

Performance comparison

Performance comparison: "Mysteries of the Macabre" by Gyorg Ligeti

Great performances only come about when musicians are willing to explore all of the available parameters to create deeper meaning. Arias from Mysteries of the Macabre by Gyorg Ligeti is a somewhat obscure and exceptionally difficult work that happens to have two amazing performances available online.

The arias are selected from an opera so it is not surprising that a vocalist would choose to present the music with an element of theater, however, Barbara Hannigan does not simply add a few hand gestures. With costume, wig, and dynamic staging this is not simply a concert performance, but a fully theatrical performance presented in a more resticted venue.

Her entrance immediately makes clear that she has drammatic as well as musical intentions, that she conducts as well adds to the impact. An alternate performance is available to those who subscribe to the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. In Berlin, Sir Simon leads the orchestra and he seems happy to engage in a bit of theater himself.

Hannigan performance

Brian McWhorter is a trumpeter who brings a different, though still theatrical approach to this work: his performance is a product of contemporary video techniques. Not reproducible on the stage--not because of the ability of the players, but only because of the liberal use of camera cuts--McWorter has over seen the production of a unique music video: the images don't simply create a genial atmosphere for the music, but instead engage as counterpoint, enhancing meaning and underscoring effect.

McWorter performance*

This piece could easily be considered off-putting, and yet, the combination of virtuoso technique and theater create engaging performances; and, both Hannigan and McWorter have the technique and imagination to fully realize this difficult music.

*Although this performance is the greatest comercial they could want, it appears that Schott, the publisher of this music, has forced the removal of the previous links. This link will take you to a potentially dodgy web site in China.

Performance comparison: "Intrada" by Arthur Honegger

Recently I was working with a student as he prepares for graduate school auditions; he is a junior, so the auditions are a little over a year away. He plans to audition for Charlie Geyer and Barbara Butler at Rice University, which means preparing Intrada by Arthur Honegger. The opening section of this work can be somewhat free in tempo and is, therefore, open to quite a variety of interpretations. I encouraged my student to listen to many recordings to open his mind to possibilities, so I opened up iTunes and we listened to a few 30 second previews.

The three trumpeters we chose were Thomas Hooten, Hakan Hardenberger and Wynton Marsalis all of whom are great musicians for whom I have the utmost respect. My comments are based on the thirty second snippet that is available as a free preview on iTunes. The differences were astounding, though not quite in the way I had planned. I encourage you to open iTunes, search "Honegger Intrada" and listen to these three performances--go ahead, I'll wait.

Intrada for Trumpet and Piano (feat. Rebecca Wilt): Thomas Hooten, trumpet from the album "Trumpet Call"
The opening repeatedly covers two and a half octaves quickly; Mr Hooten plays with an incredibly relaxed tone that belies the difficuty. I want to be Thomas Hooten.

Intrada: Hakan Hardenberger & Roland Pontinen from the album "Virtuoso Trumpet"
Mr Hardenberger is one of the most lyrical trumpeters on recording, yet here he shows more effort. Perhaps this is a choice, meaning, he wished to project greater brilliance, and yet I find the ease of Mr Hooten's performance more satisfying.

Intrada: Judith Lynn Stillman & Wynton Marsalis from the album "On the Twentieth Century"
The preview of Mr Marsalis' performance begins at the end of introduction. The lyric line begins on a low G and climbs two octaves in the space of a few measures. The top of the line is so abominably out of tune I had to listen a second time as I couldn't believe my ears; I couldn't believe that this was released! One must assume that a wrong take was chosen as Mr Marsalis is clearly capable of better.

Under this trumpet melody is a repeated G in the piano which sounds curiously muffled, as if Ms Stillman were intentionally muting the note to make it more percussive. I can't be sure whether this was an intentional detail or bad recording technique. If intentional, bravo to Ms Stillman for employing such imagination, however, it is hard to know for certain whether this is a bug or a feature.

Performance comparison: Winter

I was recently driving home, listening to the local classical station--yes, amazingly enough, Seattle still has classical music broadcast on the radio--when I was immediately taken by the music that was playing. The piece seemed familiar and yet I couldn't decide if it was from the Baroque era or if it was perhaps a modern, minimalist piece. Soon enough I realized that I was listening to one of the oldest of warhorses, "Winter" by Vivaldi. The musicians had so reinvented the work that it almost seemed like a new piece.

The performance linked below by Itzak Perlman, one of the greatest violinists of our time, is top drawer in every way. He sets a high bar for technical accomplishment and expressive performance:

Itzak Perlman performs "Winter" by Vivaldi

But it was Fabio Biondi, a violinist with whom I was entirely unfamiliar, that I found so startling during my commute. He led his musicians to create a performance that is entirely alive and truly makes it seem that the music was written just recently.

Fabio Biondi performs "Winter" by Vivaldi.

Fabio Biondi and his ensemble Europa Galante are part of the early music movement, that is, playing music on the instruments or copies of the instruments, for which the composers wrote and with the performance practice of the time. I can't say that I truly believe this is the way that Vivladi heard these works and yet this reimagination is just what my modern ears need to hear these pieces for the gems that they are. This level of creativity is the challenge to every artist no matter their medium.

Ode for Trumpet comparison

Recently I have been pulling up some Youtube videos in lessons and thought I would share these with all of my trumpet friends.

The Ode for Trumpet by Alfred Reed is presented in the two videos below. Both are strong performances, and it is interesting to note the differences. Listen to the first 30 seconds of each. In the first performance the trumpeter shapes the line very nicely, though he breaks up the line into small pieces rather than stringing them together to create a larger arc. The second performance shapes but also connects the ideas into a larger whole. 

Let me know what you think.