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Friday, June 30, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Finish Lines

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Bill Carragan made his name as a Bruckner scholar – he completed that composer’s unfinished ninth symphony, as well as producing performing editions of others of those symphonies – while working as a physics professor. And he has turned his formidable powers to other musical challenges as well. I noted in this article his work arranging Sousa for strings, but he also took on the Big One: the Unfinished Symphony by Schubert, for a concert that took place in 1988. It’s since been recorded by the Philharmonie Festiva, and you easily can find excerpts from it on YouTube.


NEVER MIND THE MYTHS about that most famous of uncompleted works, the Symphony No. 8 by Schubert. As far as composer/professor William Carragan is concerned, it's an unfinished work and thus unsatisfying. And, after a lot of sleuthing and imaginative work, Carragan has finished the “Unfinished.”

William Carragan
“Imagine if Beethoven had written only the first half of his fifth symphony,” he says.  “You’d have a performable work with two movements that are symphonically related to one another, but it wouldn’t be at all as fulfilling as the work we know.”

Carragan’s completion of the Schubert will have its premiere at concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at the Troy Music Hall and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1 at the Albany State University Performing Arts Center when the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra presents a program of musical “firsts.”

“Now, Schubert left many, many torsos of other works,” Carragan explains. “It was an annoying but common habit of his. And I think the reason he didn’t complete this symphony was because he needed to generate the incidental music to ‘Rosamunde’ in three weeks. He’d already written an almost-complete sketch of the symphony’s third movement, and, as my theory goes, he had ideas for the finale that weren’t put down on paper. So he cannibalized that finale for the Rosamunde music, working it into two of the four movements in that piece.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Red Book’s Back

ONE OF THE TREASURES of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, situated outside of Barcelona, is a volume of writings bound in red, a collection of devotional music and texts. It was put together at the end of the 14th century – about four centuries after the monastery itself was founded – and has survived, although not necessarily intact, the intrusive waves of history, including a looting of the abbey in 1811 by Napoleon’s troops (the book was out on loan at the time).

Ten songs are notated in medieval style, songs intended for the pilgrims making regular visits to the serrated mountain to worship La Morenata, the Black Madonna, one of the most celebrated icons in the country. Singing and dance were important to meditation and worship, and the songs in the Red Book note, for example, when a Round Dance would be appropriate.

Mystical and musical clues also inform the manuscript. It’s speculated that there were twelve songs originally, twelve being significant in medieval symbolism, and there are numerological intricacies aplenty in the performance practices these songs invite. These are detailed by Josep Maria Gregori, a Barcelona-based arts professor, in the notes to Jordi Savall’s newest recording of the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

All-American Whirl

From the Classical Vault Dept.: The Albany Symphony just finished this year’s American Music Festival (I’ll post reviews later), and is about to embark (literally) on a tour of the Erie Canal, which, these days, is the Mohawk River, fitted with locks to accommodate such passage. Each of the canalside concerts they’ll perform features Handel’s “Water Music” alongside music by living composers written in celebration of the event. Here’s a schedule and info. The ASO has been doing this kind of thing for quite some time, and here’s a piece I wrote in 1999 that looks at what was happening then.


WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE classical piece? Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”? Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata? Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot”?

David Alan Miller
If you haven’t got the last-named on your list, a pair of weekend concerts might revise your thinking. And, for the dozens of students who play in the bands at Guilderland and Tamarac High Schools, the concerts will affirm what they’ve been learning from the Common Sense Composers’ Collective: Good music resists categorization.

The Albany Symphony Orchestra kicks off a two-week American Music Festival at 7:30 PM tomorrow (Friday) with a Bandjam Concert at the Guilderland High School. In the spirit of the classic battles of the bands, ensembles from the Guilderland and Tamarac schools will premiere variations on “Zoot Suit Riot,” a theme chosen by the students for their work with the eight composers who comprise the Common Sense Collective.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Family Spirit

IT MAKES SENSE that Mouzon House would have a resident ghost. The apparition is described as mischievous but kind, a spirit who is heard to rearrange the furniture upstairs. And that fits in with the spirit of rebellion that informs the history of the building, a handsome structure bought by the eponymous family in 1919, when Ardel Mouzon-McCoy, a Cherokee Indian, took possession of the place. She married a dark-skinned man of Creole descent, and her daughter, Mia, was said to be the first “woman of color” to graduate from nearby Skidmore. The house became the target of Saratoga’s relentless pursuit of raze and rebuild during the 1970s and 80s, but Mia refused to sell even as the rest of the Spring Valley neighborhood disappeared.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
When she sold, she sold to Dianne and David Pedinotti, who had opened One Caroline Street Bistro a decade earlier. “We don’t actually own the Caroline Street building,” David told me, “so we thought it would be a good idea to have one that we do.”

He describes the menu of the earlier eatery as “that of an Italian family living in New Orleans. Mouzon House is a house in France, or a French family in New Orleans.”

There’s a French Quarter quaintness about the house, which was built in 1883. The brick structure has a pair of covered porches, one of which sports the bar and a playing area for musicians; there also is a row of tables in the open air. The rooms within the house have been converted to discrete dining areas; an easy-to-look-into kitchen sits behind the bar area.