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Thursday, October 8, 2009

a little more levity, from The New Yorker

I love these fake program notes. Love them.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Messiaen on Birdsong

Messiaen’s fascination with birdsong went well beyond simple admiration and imitation. “It’s probable that in the artistic hierarchy,” he said, “birds are the greatest musicians existing on our planet.” He seemed to identify with them on a spiritual level, to see their songs as the highest sonic expression of God’s creation.

And his research went beyond simple transcription. He noted the differences between species that were seemingly born with an innate song and those that had to learn from their parents, and species that would recreate essentially the same song day to day as opposed to those that were constantly changing aspects of their songs.

Finally, Messiaen took the task of incorporating birdsong into his compositions deeply seriously:

Once the birdsong is written down, the real work begins; that is, it has to be worked into a piece, whether it be for piano, for orchestra, or whatever other instruments. To begin with, one has to have a great number of sketches in order to arrive at an ideal bird, for example, the song thrush – it’s one of the loveliest birds and songsters in all of Europe. It has a special style, which is distinguished in a somewhat magical way by tripartite repetitions: it sings its stanza three times in a row, and every time, the one differs from the others through a marked rhythm and a “timbre melody.” That means that the tone color of each note is different and the rhythms vary with each stanza. The stanza is repeated three times; on the next day there’ll be different stanzas, which will also be repeated three times, but then they’re gone once and for all, one’ll never hear them again. Therefore, one has to put together an ideal song thrush, after having heard several hundreds of them, and to know all the possibilities of stanza creation, in order to condense these to a normal solo occupying the correspondingly short space of time. Following the difficulty of rhythmic and melodic notation, which I try to execute as exactly as possible, comes a further difficulty: the reproduction of timbres. These tone colors are so extraordinary that no musical instrument can reproduce them. One needs combinations of instruments, and still more combinations or complexes of pitches. If I want to reproduce on the piano, let’s say, the song of a garden warbler or a song thrush or a nightingale, I need to find a complex of pitches for every melody note. Each note of the melody is furnished with a chord that is intended to reproduce the timbre of that note. If we have an orchestra, not only is each note provided with a chord, but every chord also has a particular function within the orchestral sound, and even the change from one instrument to another helps toward reproducing the required timbre – as you see, it’s very complicated work.

Through the magic of YouTube, here are two more videos of Monsieur Messiaen. The first shows him again in a classroom setting, explaining the derivations of aspects of some of his music. The second shows him out in the field, listening, transcribing and commenting on what he hears. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chameleon opens 2009-2010 season this weekend

We’re thrilled to be opening our 09-10 chamber music season at the Goethe-Institut this weekend.  The program entitled “music and all silence held” includes works by Mozart, Debussy, Takemitsu and Messiaen. Performances are on Saturday, October 3 at 8pm and Sunday, October 4 at 3pm at the Goethe-Institut, 170 Beacon Street in Boston. Tickets are still available.

Full program details are at

The concerts are also among the Classical Picks in today’s Boston Globe!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fierce Originality

A dear friend sent this to us today and the quote made us laugh out loud!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chameleons performs live on WGBH Radio

Catch a preview of our 09-10 opening program, music and all silence held, LIVE on WGBH Radio Wednesday, September 30 at 11am. Enjoy interviews with the artists and performances of works by Mozart, Debussy and Toru Takemitsu.

Stream the program at WGBH Radio or tune in to 89.7 FM

The show will also be rebroadcast at 6pm on All-Classical WGBH, on both 89.7-HD2 and the All-Classical internet stream.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Messiaen on Debussy

Olivier Messiaen was such a unique figure in music history, with so much of his inspiration clearly coming from extra-musical sources, that it is tempting to consider him outside of tradition. But this is far from the truth, really. He was profoundly influenced by two other composers on this program: Mozart, whom he saw as a kindred spirit on the subject of rhythm, and Debussy, his countryman, who freed rich, densely chromatic harmony from its functional purposes, showing that carefully chosen dissonances could be evocative of color and emotion just by their sheer sound.

This marvelous YouTube video captures Messiaen’s enthusiasm for Debussy in the setting of a classroom. What a marvelous teacher! I wish I had an analysis class like this when I was in school!

Also, take a look at his clothes – what a fantastic sense of style!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chameleon mourns the passing of composer Leon Kirchner

The musical community has suffered a great loss with the passing of composer Leon Kirchner yesterday morning.  There is a beautiful article on his life in today’s New York Times. He was, without a doubt, one of the greats.

Chameleon will be performing his Piano Trio II on March 27.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review in Boston Musical Intelligencer

Standing Stillness, Smashing Success
by David Patterson

The Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston wrapped up their 2008-09 season series with a program of spirits voices ecstatic at the Goethe-Institut Boston on Sunday, May 17. Adding still more personalities to the already changeable ensemble were invited guest artists Elizabeth Keusch, soprano, and Aditya Kalyanpur, tabla. Composer Shirish Korde, who teaches at the College of the Holy Cross, was on hand to provide insider information.

Read the full review here

Monday, May 18, 2009

“of spirits voices ecstatic” in Boston Globe

David Weininger reviewed this Saturday’s concert for the Boston Globe.

“To close out its 11th season, Chameleon Arts Ensemble assembled the kind of adventurous program with which it’s built its reputation: smart and eclectic, stretching from the 19th century to a world premiere. All five works were loosely linked by the theme of ecstasy, but this seemed less important than the permutation of styles, as well as tight and committed performances.”

Read the full article here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Takemitsu and his film music

The more I researched Toru Takemitsu the more fascinated I became. I think that the more time passes the more he will be considered one of the truly great and innovative composers of the twentieth century. He didn’t hear Western music at all until he was at least 14 years old, and then began studying in earnest by examining the works of Debussy and Messiaen. Imagine…coming from a culture where Western influence was outlawed for the the first 16 years of your life and then picking up our musical tradition midstream, with essentially no context in which to place it. Furthermore, he rejected his own native musical culture until he was about 30, by hearing it anew through the ears of an American – John Cage to boot. And only then incorporating it into his own compositions.

Some of Takemitsu’s earliest compositional activity was in the Jikken Kobo (“experimental workshop”), a group dedicated to multi-media arts he formed with several friends. He had none of the American prejudice against music for films and composed nearly 100 film scores, many for the revolutionary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The following videos from YouTube give a fascinating insight into his working methods and thoughts about his own music. My favorite quote:

“I’ve never much liked the trumpet and kettledrums. Timpani are such important instruments in Western music. They provide the foundation for all the other sounds above. But my music is bottomless, you see. I have only the top. That’s because I’m Japanese.”

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