Thursday, January 31, 2013

Through the window

My favourite shot from January (among very little competition unfortunately), and also one that drew a lot of positive reactions on Flickr. It is typical for many of my shots: I was walking with our dog to the local supermarket, when I spotted this little scene behind a partially fogged-up office window. Minimal post-processing, mainly to add a frame (for the white Flickr background).

Camera: Canon IXUS 115 HS, 12 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.05 sec (1/20)
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 5 mm
ISO Speed: 1000
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Monday, January 28, 2013

Fire and ice

The combination of an excellent photographer's eye for unusual opportunities and intelligent post-processing. Ice on a car gets transformed into a gorgeous abstract by my Flickr friend Lorraine Kerr (caeciliametella). As always, all rights retained by the creator.

Cellebroederspoort Kampen

Like the previous painting that I posted by Dutch artist Cornelis Springer (1817-1891) here, this art style is not really my taste, but the painting does represent a beautiful part of Kampen that is still there today, in walking distance of our home. And it has been in the local news recently, because it is the latest addition to the collection of the Kampen city museum. More on Springer in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Whirling dance

One of the better classical music album covers I have seen in recent months (the CD itself is great as well). Flute player Sharon Bezaly is depicted in a mysterious mood against a suitably oriental background, with good choice of font and use of Chinese characters (which are even correct). The cover photograph was taken by Mark Harrison, the overall design is by Andrew Barnett.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Goettingen: the song that made history

The linked BBC article reveals a remarkable piece of history: how the improved French-German relations of the past fifty years can be traced down in a way to a single song by the French chansonniere Barbara (image credit). Do click the link to read it all - I found it fascinating.

web site

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter works

A fitting post for the season: a page on my new web site dedicated completely to my nine best/most popular winter shots. The second one has featured on many other web sites in overviews of winter photography, and the ninth one has been used last year by several Dutch press agencies to cover stories about the possibility of an Elfstedentocht.

Flickr

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Losing my religion

It is hard to believe that it is 22 years ago that this song was all over the screen thanks to MTV. I still think this is one of their very best, and the cover for the 45rpm version is not too shabby either. Threatening, with a great visual echo of the album in the banner containing the group's name and the song title. More about R.E.M. on the linked wikipedia page.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Precipitate

This type of upside down reflection photographs can be stunning if done right - and I have not seen them done much better than here by my Flickr friend jenny downing. A Budapest shot unlike any other, pure art.

Artist resume in 500 letters

Triggered by a Hyperallergic article, I checked out the on-line service set up by 500letters.org: you simply type in a few personal details, your main art medium, and three characteristic themes, and the computer spews out a resume in 500 letters that could fool a curator. This is what it produced for me (medium photography, themes abstraction, everyday, and minimalism):

Hennie Schaper (Enschede, Netherlands) is an artist who mainly works with photography. By applying abstraction, Schaper often creates work using creative game tactics, but these are never permissive. Play is a serious matter: during the game, different rules apply than in everyday life and even everyday objects undergo transubstantiation. 

His photos are characterised by the use of everyday objects in an atmosphere of middleclass mentality in which recognition plays an important role. With a subtle minimalistic approach, he creates intense personal moments masterfully created by means of rules and omissions, acceptance and refusal, luring the viewer round and round in circles. 

His works doesn’t reference recognisable form. The results are deconstructed to the extent that meaning is shifted and possible interpretation becomes multifaceted. By taking daily life as subject matter while commenting on the everyday aesthetic of middle class values, he creates work in which a fascination with the clarity of content and an uncompromising attitude towards conceptual and minimal art can be found. The work is aloof and systematic and a cool and neutral imagery is used.

His practice provides a useful set of allegorical tools for manoeuvring with a pseudo-minimalist approach in the world of photography: these meticulously planned works resound and resonate with images culled from the fantastical realm of imagination. Hennie Schaper currently lives and works in Kampen.

Pretty impressive, right? Try it, just for fun! Image above was created by me via the on-line web site Wordle.

web site

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Strauss' symphonic poems

Between 1986 and 1999 I built up a considerable collection of classical music CD's (exceeding 2000 CD's in total). For various reasons I have played them a lot less in the past decade, but I am embarking on a rediscovery tour that I intend to share in this blog. In the eighteenth installment, I re-examine the ten symphonic poems by Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949), one of the leading figures of the late romantic period.

Aus Italien op.16 (1886)
My version: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Kosler (Naxos, 1990, 42 min)
Aus Italien (From Italy) is the first published tone poem in four parts by Strauss, inspired by a trip through Italy. The opening pastoral Auf der Campagna (In the Campagna) shows the sunny Roman countryside. In Roms Ruinen (At the ruins of Rome) is set in the ancient Roman Forum and recalls the grandeur of days gone by, but its musical material does not justify its length of 12 minutes. Am Strande von Sorrent (On the beach at Sorrento) is a nocturnal adagio with beautiful orchestral colours, easily the best part of the work. After this, the finale Neapolitanisches Volksleben (Scenes from Neapolitan life), quoting the local song Funiculi Funicula, is simply disappointing. In the end, a very uneven first foray into the realm of symphonic poems, but its strong points still lift it to the "Good to have" verdict.

Don Juan op.20 (1888)
My version: Cleveland Orchestra/Maazel (CBS, 1979, 16 min)
My version: Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Berglund (RCA, 1991, 17 min)
His first major success as a composer, and deservedly so. Right from the tumultuous start, this composition is filled with melodic highlights (first and foremost the recurring main Don Juan theme and that love theme led by the oboe) and fascinating orchestral colours, with a flamboyance never heard before. And after all the action, it ends not with a bang, but with a whisper, like Don Juan himself. Brilliant. An astonishing work for a composer who at the time was only 24. Definitely a candidate for the honour of best symphonic poem of all time.

Macbeth op.23 (1888)
My version: Wiener Philharmoniker/Maazel (DG, 1983, 19 min)
An early effort: the first version dates from 1886 and is often quoted as his first tone poem. There is very little of Strauss as we know it here, nor is there much of the story of Macbeth to be honest - it could have been an average product of any second rate bombastic romantic composer instead. It definitely outstays its welcome by more than 10 minutes for me - although the final minute is actually quite good. Still, only for completionists, really.

Tod und Verklaerung op.24 (1889)
My version: Cleveland Orchestra/Maazel (CBS, 1979, 23 min)
Death and transfiguration, specifically of an artist, is the theme of this solemn tone poem, which shows more influence by Wagner than usual. It has moments of fascinating beauty (perhaps most in the transfiguration theme, which Strauss would quote 60 years later in his Four last songs), but also moments that seem too spectacular and brilliant for the subject. Yet, Strauss himself said to his daughter-in-law on his deathbed: "It's a funny thing Alice, dying is just the way I composed it in Tod und Verklaerung."

Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche op.28 (1895)
My version: Cleveland Orchestra/Maazel (CBS, 1979, 15 min)
My version: Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Berglund (RCA, 1991, 15 min)
The merry pranks of Till Eulenspiegel was originally meant to be an opera, and some of that comes back in the tone poem, which has more contrast in mood than usual. The themes are highly melodic and recognizable, and often intrinsically playful as fitting for the subject of the eternal prankster. The music takes us through his various pranks, his trial and execution - after which he still has the last laugh. This is film music before film was invented - I keep wondering why Disney did not include it in Fantasia. Without a doubt, this is one of the most important pieces in the history of the symphonic poem.

Also sprach Zarathustra op.30 (1896)
My version: Wiener Philharmoniker/Maazel (DG, 1983, 34 min)
Everybody knows the first 2 minutes of Thus spake Zarathustra, nobody the last 32 minutes. A bit of an exaggeration of course, but also not that far from the truth. The fabulous opening Sunrise fanfare has become as iconic as the starting notes of Beethoven's fifth symphony, appearing in movies, TV series and commercials all around the world. The eight parts that follow are loosely based on chapters of Nietsche's treatise of the same name - of all of Strauss' tone poems, this is the one that is the least programmatic. And definitely one of the very best.

Don Quixote op.35 (1897)
My version: Scottish National Orchestra/N.Jarvi with Raphael Wallfisch (Chandos, 1988, 44 min)
A unique specimen among the Strauss tone poems: set in theme and variations form, and with the main subjects (Don Quixote and Sancho Panza) represented by one instrument each throughout (cello and viola). Excerpts from the Cervantes story are translated into music in the best Strauss tradition, sometimes witty (pizzicati suggesting the hero dripping wet after his boat sinks), sometimes hilarious (flutter-tongued woodwind representing the army of sheep he attacks), sometimes touching (DQ's death). Only the lack of really memorable melodic lines holds my appreciation back a little.

Ein Heldenleben op.40 (1898)
My version: Berliner Philharmoniker/von Karajan (EMI, 1975, 45 min)
The title translates as a hero's life - but with Strauss portraying himself as the hero, this work's premise does seem a bit too smug. The sections of the continuous composition are clearly marked, ranging from the hero and his wife, to his critics, his works for war and peace, and finally his retirement from the world. The most remarkable parts are the fitting musical description of his wife (represented by solo violin), in his own words "a very complex woman", and the hero's work for peace, which includes 30 themes from previous compositions in the space of 5 minutes - on the negative side we have the hero's works of war which is mainly noisy and far too long. Overall: competent but a tad uninspired.

Sinfonia Domestica op.53 (1903)
My version: Berliner Philharmoniker/von Karajan (EMI, 1974, 44 min)
Of all his symphonic poems, this is the one that was hardest to evaluate for me. I have been playing it non-stop five times in a row, and still the jury has trouble coming up with the final verdict. The four movements of this composition that is meant to describe the daily life of a young family have conventional names (Bewegt/Scherzo/Adagio/ Finale) which one could encounter on a regular late romantic symphony. The program itself is wafer thin, the descriptions are there in principle, from early notes (see the wiki link for details), but not really convincing - in the end I think I like this piece better as a symphony without program, rather than a symphonic poem.

Eine Alpensinfonie op.64 (1915)
My version: Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra/Mehta (Decca, 1976, 48 min)
Strauss' final symphonic poem, his longest, and perhaps his most ambitious, covering the climbing of a mountain, starting and ending at night. Strauss includes the typical parts of such a trip, the climbing  the waterfall, the alpine pasture, struggling through thicket and undergrowth, the glacier, the summit, the view, the change in weather, the descent, the storm and finally the sunset. It is an amazing tour de force, in which he utilizes all colours available in the enlarged symphony orchestra - and more. Majestic and essential - even if in the end, I prefer some of the more condensed symphonic poems of 20-30 years before.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:
Hors concours: Don Juan.
Essential: Till Eulenspiegel's lustige Streiche, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, Eine Alpensinfonie.
Important: Tod und Verklaerung, Sinfonia Domestica.
Good to have: Aus Italien, Ein Heldenleben.
Not required: Macbeth.
Avoid: None.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Source of light

My Flickr friend sannesu keeps on posting these gorgeous colourful abstracts, and I am blogging just a few of the ones I faved. This is my favourite of recent weeks, a stunning symphony of shapes and colours. As usual, all rights retained by the creator.


Links [29]

Once more an overview of interesting links on topics related to the blog, that I encountered recently, but that will probably not make the blog as separate entries. The picture above is by myself.

10 Biggest Art Disasters of 2012.
10 Pivotal Moments for Digital Art in 2012.
30 Culture Greats Who Died in 2012.
The Tallest 20 Buildings Completed in 2012.
The Best Nature Pictures of 2012.
The Real-Life Stories Behind 10 Famous Love Songs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

And so it goes

In recent months I have been exploring the cross-over genre between jazz and pop, where a large number of promising female vocalists are active - looking for new names beyond the likes of Norah Jones and Katie Melua, and preferably shifting a bit more to jazz than pop. One of the best I found is Sara Gazarek, and here she is with a brilliant rendition of the Billy Joel ballad And so it goes, far better than the original.

YouTube

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ugly noise

I spotted this beauty a few days ago on a music blog. Ugly Noise is the eleventh studio album by the thrash metal band Flotsam and Jetsam, released by the end of last year. The cover is very fitting for the album's title, and it is a pity that I could not find any further information on its design. The way the band's name is included, as a faux brand name of the worn down piano, is simply brilliant.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Holly in the North Sea

I spotted this shot by fellow Flickrite tomrayner last week in the new IMO group, and immediately fell in love with it. It helps of course that the subject is a spaniel (be it a springer rather than a cocker), but it is easily the best dog shot I have seen for a very long time. Focus is spot on, composition is excellent with strong triangles, colours are marvelous, and there is a positive sense of joy in this picture. As usual, all rights retained by the creator.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Countdown to Ecstasy

Today I started a new blog, Countdown to ecstasy, to replace the earlier site The best pop/rock/ballad songs, which I had not worked on for over three years. The coming 11 months I will be posting my 100 favourite songs from 1960-2010, one by one, starting at #100, with the proviso that every act can only have one song in the list. I will also give a regular update in this blog - and you can follow the progress in the right hand column.

web site

Monday, January 07, 2013

Visions of light

To start the 2013 series of Flickr favourites, here we have a recent masterpiece by my latest addition to my select group of Flickr friends: maclobster. A compositional masterpiece, full of leading lines, strong framing and triangles, and the overall effect, enhanced by that enchanting halo around the subject's head,  is simply staggering. As usual, all rights retained by the creator.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Let's flip again

This is a fairly popular shot of mine from a few months back, but which I had not posted yet in the blog. More often than not, my water reflections end up to be colourful expressionist abstracts. Here we have a more impressionist scene - houses along the Kampen canal reflected and flipped.

Camera: Canon IXUS 115 HS, 12 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.013 sec (1/80)
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 5 mm
ISO Speed: 100
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Anna Akhmatova, poet and cultural icon

An artist I have come across recently for the first time: Nathan Altman (1889-1970). This Ukranian-Russian cubist artist was educated in Paris, and returned to Russia in 1912. His best work is probably this portrait of poet Anna Akhmatova painted in 1914, foreshadowing in some ways the work of Lempicka. More on Altman in the linked wikipedia article.