Plunging to the depths of despair, like a junkie experiencing his first hit of self-realization, the piece at times makes it difficult to keep listening. Though harmonious, the music takes dark turn after dark turn. It holds you against the wall while you watch everything you love burn before your eyes, with no way to help or even turn away. It’s really heavy stuff.
But Tchaikovsky’s symphony somehow flutters out of this terror, and shows that there is beauty in the world. Life is still worth living, and you leave feeling empowered because you’ve been through the worst life can give and still came out on top. It’s one of my desert island pieces of music. It’s referred to as “pathétique” not because it’s deserving of pity, but because it is compassionate and moving.
To hear this live would be great, but to hear this with the Marin Symphony and guest violinist Nigel Armstrong is going to be awesome. I saw this local kid play with the American Philharmonic (or was it the Cotati Philharmonic at that time?) in his teens and was amazed. He was young but had an evident understanding of the music, to say nothing of his technical ability. To see him now that he’s 21 would certainly be something special.
The Marin Symphony plays Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3pm and Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10 to $70. Marin Center, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. www.marinsymphony.org.
What makes a Stabat Mater so special? Is it the holy text? The seriousness with which composers undertake the task? Whatever it may be, the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus and Santa Rosa Chamber Orchestra plucked every string in both chambers of the heart this weekend with their rousing performance of Gioachino Rossini’s Stabat Mater at the Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa.
Rossini’s version of the sacred text, which dates back to the 13th Century as a somber hymn about the Sorrows of Mary, is powerful in a very Rossini way. At first, it might be surprising to know Rossini even composed a Stabat Mater (it was to me, at least). But the Romantic composer known for wild operas like the Barber of Seville and William Tell (think The Lone Ranger theme) was known for memorable melodies and dramatic crescendos stayed true to the feeling of the piece.
Which is a shame, really, since they’re one of the best damn classical groups in the country and yet they insist on being called.. . ugh. . . can’t do it. . .. eighth blackbird. For reasons too long to get into here, I’ll allow the privilege of decapitalization to fIREHOSE, but not to Eighth Blackbird; I will, however, say that they were great at the Healdsburg Community Church last week.
It takes a lot to get me inside a church on any day of the week—let alone a Sunday. I suppose some free Tanqueray and J.M. Rosen’s cheesecake at a party hosted by MF Doom with a Susan Hayward look-alike contest and the complete works of Joan Miró on display might do the trick. Either that, or a performance hosted by the fantastic Russian River Chamber Music Society, which for over 16 years has been presenting free chamber music performances in Sonoma County, taking a close second.
So after a visit to the Great Eastern Quicksilver Mine and a dip in the river at Camp Rose, I did the unthinkable and went to church. Eighth Blackbird was just starting, and I immediately realized I’d made the right choice. Their first piece was a wacky thing for violin, clarinet, and piano, and it was both painstakingly precise and yet totally off-the-cuff; the fourth movement, fittingly, was titled after an R. Crumb comic: “Cancel my rumba lesson!”
The next piece utilized a de-tuned viola growling like a UPS truck, and after that, a composition, “Musique de Tables,” was played completely by the rapping of hands, fingers, knuckles and arms upon a tabletop. “Coming Together” was a hilarious duo for cello and clarinet consisting entirely of glissandi, sounding, as introduced, like a conversation between two adults from the Peanuts television specials—the two players wandered around the room, “talking” to each other in a very convincing primal dialogue. And the final piece was pure insanity, another highly complex thing that left me wondering: how do they rehearse this stuff?
Here’s the deal with Eighth Blackbird. What they do, they could be hella pretensh about it, but they’re not; they laughed along with the crowd at the ridiculous moments, they concentrated along with the crowd at the complicated passages, and they came off as very personable and real. The next day I read a tepid review in the Chronicle about ‘em, which was too bad, because I couldn’t see anyone disliking them based on the Healdsburg show. [alas, they played a completely different program.]
Avant-garde music is usually the province of middle-aged intellectuals, but I’d wager to say that any 5-year old—or anyone with an open heart of any age—would easily be ecstatic with Eighth Blackbird. And to think that every composition they performed was written no earlier than 1987! Consider yourself lucky if you were there, and thanks to Gary McLaughlin and the RRCMS for booking ‘em.