Friday, June 30, 2017

Unusual concertos 31-40: From tar to didgeridoo

The concerto for solo instrument(s) and orchestra is one of the most popular genres in classical music. However, I think 95+ % of all concertos have been composed for piano or violin. Previously I have run a series on concertos for less common instruments in this blog, reaching an amazing number of 100 in the end (all these posts were reset to draft end March). I will be summarizing these in ten posts in the course of the year, each covering ten unusual concertos, keeping the sequences the same as in the past.

[31] Tar. This is a Persian lute-like instrument that has spread all over the Caucasus region. Predictably, there is little classical music concertante repertoire for this uncommon instrument, but I have found one: the concerto by composer Khanmamedov from Azerbaijan. It is played by Ramiz Gulyev and the Azerbaijan State Symphony Orchestra under Adigozalov on a Boonloom CD.

[32] Electric guitar. Actually two guitars or the price of one. The electric guitar has not penetrated the classical market to a large extent, and the only concerto in my collection is the one by Terje Rypdal, which is actually for two of these instruments. It is played by Terje Rypdal and Ronni Le Tekro as soloists and the Riga Festival Orchestra under Sne on an ECM CD.

[33] Tap dancer. Seriously, this is not an April Fool's post, like the tuned clogs concerto I pulled off some years ago. There has actually been a composer of reasonable standing who has composed a concerto for tap dancer and orchestra: Morton Gould. A curiosity rather than brilliant music, but fun to listen to (and even more to watch as well). I have a recording by Lane Alexander and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra under Paul Freeman on an Albany CD.

[34] Birds. The use of pre-recorded bird song in classical music goes back to Respighi, who used a turntable with recorded nightingale sounds in his symphonic poem Pini di Roma. Contemporary Finnish grandmaster Einojuhani Rautavaara composed his Cantus Articus, subtitled Concerto for Birds and Orchestra, in 1972. The three movements feature tape recordings of birdsong collected near the Arctic Circle and on the bogs of Liminka in Finland. It is played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Lintu, on a Naxos CD.

[35] Alphorn. The famous instrument of farmers in Switzerland and other alpine countries. Due to its limited aural palette, this beast has not featured in many concertante works since the first attempts by Leopold Mozart. I have selected the concertino rustico for alphorn and string orchestra by Hungarian composer Ferenc Farkas, dating from 1977. It is played by Jozsef Molnar and the the Capella Istropolitana under Schneider, on a Naxos CD.

[36] Harp. This brings us back to regular orchestral instruments. It surprises me that the harp has not become more popular as a concertante instrument, since the days of Handel. Still, a few composers of name have had a go at it, such as Gliere, Ginastera, Mathias, Rautavaara, and the best of all, Alwyn. His Lyra Angelica is in my opinion one of the most beautiful concertos of all time, regardless of instrument. I have selected the substantial harp concerto by Ireland's Philip Martin from 1993. It is played by Andreja Malir and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland under de Roo, on a Marco Polo CD.

[37] Sitar. This exotic instrument is foremost used in Indian classical music, and has gained acceptance world-wide since its introduction in pop and rock music by the Beatles and others in the sixties. I only know of one concerto for the sitar, by Indian composer Ravi Shankar, dating back to 1976. It is a substantial work, lasting 30-40 minutes, depending on interpretation. I have selected a version played by Ravi Shankar himself and the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Previn, on an EMI CD.

[38] Double bass. This is of course a regular classical orchestra instrument, but not the most logical one to write a concerto for. Still, it was surprisingly popular in the classicist period, with concertos by Haydn (lost), Wagenseil, Vanhal, Kozeluch and others. The 20th century saw a slight revival, with concertos by for instance Tubin, Aho and Skalkottas. Possibly the most famous composer of a double bass concerto in the past century is Hans Werner Henze. His 1966 composition is a substantial 30 minutes work in three movements, a perfect example of an unusual concerto sounding like the most logical choice in the world. My version is by Gary Karr and the English Chamber Orchestra under the composer, on an DG CD.

[39] Koto. This is the national instrument of Japan, akin to the Chinese zheng. A koto usually has 13 strings that are strung over 13 movable bridges, but versions with 20 strings are used as well. I recently came across one of the rare concertos for this instrument, by Daron Hagen. His 2011 composition Genji is a 28 minutes concerto for 20-string koto and orchestra in five parts. My version is by Yumi Kurosawa and the Orchestra of the Swan under David Curtis, on an MSR CD.

[40] Didgeridoo. This is the national instrument of the indigenous Australians, and unlike any other instrument I know. Most of us will know this 1-3 m long beast from New Age records, if at all, and its use in classical music is predictably scarce. The most famous composer who wrote parts for it is undoubtedly Peter Sculthorpe, for instance in his composition Earth Cry. For a real concerto, we have to look for the likes of Sean O'Boyle, who composed a fairly popular concerto for didgeridoo a few years ago. This concerto is in four movements, titled EarthWindWater, and Fire. My version is by William Barton and the Queensland Symphony under the composer, on an ABC Classics CD.

Copyright statement: image sourced from here, explicitly stated to be in the public domain.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

oO Oo

One of my most faved shots of recent weeks, even at the lower rate Flickr has been going. These centuries old chains are in the local church. Viewpoint and diagonal composition make it stand out. And I like the title.

Camera: Canon IXUS 170, 20 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.05 sec (1/20)
Aperture: f/3.6
Focal Length: 4.5 mm
ISO Speed: 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Copyright statement: image created by myself. Copyright Hennie Schaper.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

An invasion of privacy: Peter Gabriel interviewed

Although Peter Gabriel is a strong contender for my all-time favourite pop/rock artist, both for his work with Genesis and his amazing solo career, I did not buy his 2011 CD New blood until last week. The format - rerecording favourite songs from his extensive catalog backed by a studio orchestra - did not appeal to me. Well. I was wrong. Except for one or two duds, this 76 minutes CD is a delight. Looking for more information, I came across the linked interview on The Quietus, which gives a lot of background information. Recommended.

Copyright statement: image created via the Photofunia site, who explicitly state that their images have no copyright issues. The included images of Peter Gabriel are thumbnail size and considered fair use. .

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Talking peace

Digging back into unused Flickr Favourites, I came across this 2014 gem by my dear Flickr friend Susanne Meyer (sannesu), who unfortunately has not posted new work since early 2015. This is one of her trademarks abstract shots.

Copyright statement: posted with explicit permission of the creator who retains all rights.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Ai de dai jia

I have posted this gem of mandarin pop music in 2008 (link) but the video linked to in that post has gone the way of the dodo. It is one of my favourite Chinese songs, sung by the gorgeous Gigi Leung. This Hong Kong actress/singer will not be widely known outside the Far East, and that is a pity. Best known for her movies, her music is well worth exploring as well, especially the track Ai de dai jia (Price of love). It is a cover of a well-known Chinese standard, perhaps best known in the original version of Zhang Ai Jia. The song deals with women growing up, but written from a man's perspective. Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 1000 best songs of all time).

Copyright statement: image by Michael Tsal, used under Creative Commons license.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Sometimes a still from the movie is the best choice for the movie poster. A case of point is this poster for the 2016 Ozon war drama. Simply beautiful - the DVD is on order.

Copyright statement: lower resolution images of movie posters considered fair use.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Suffering, nothing but suffering

Just when you thought Emo had run its course, the Belgian band Escape Clause releases their debut album Suffering, nothing but suffering. A very appropriate title for having to review this disc. It start and ends with two pretty bad covers, Joy Division's Love will tear us apart, and Bowie's Rock'n'roll suicide. And the ten self-penned songs in between are far worse. Granted that the whole genre does not hold much appeal for me, but even so I'd recommend you give this a miss.

The idea of this little game is to create an album cover for an imaginary artist/group, as well as an imaginary review, following these instructions: [1] The artist/group: go to the wiki random page generator. The first random Wikipedia article obtained this way is the name of the band or performer. In this case, I ended up with Escape Clause. [2] The title: go to the random quotations site. The last four words of the very last quote of the page is the title of the album (from 2014 onward: any part of a random quotation will do). The random quote that came up was by Jane Austen: One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering. [3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Seven layers, can be found here on Flickr. The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Colonna MT 45 black and DirtyBakersDozen 50 black, respectively.

Note: this is a variation on the "Debut album game" that has been making its rounds around bulletin boards and blogs for some time now - the original version called for a random Flickr Explore photograph to be used as the cover. I have been trying to find out who had the original idea, but so far no success.

Copyright statement: image created by myself based on one of my photographs. Copyright Hennie Schaper.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Potpourri [6]

An overview of recent images that would have ended up in my parallel blog Art's Potpourri (now stopped). Clicking the icons in the left side of the table takes you to the picture on the site where I found it in a new window. The text includes a link to the site.

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Behind the mask. Alex Solis is the illustrator behind the series Icons Unmasked: cartoon-style portraits that reveal unknown “identities” of famous pop culture characters (Just for Fun). First seen here.
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Can-tata. This image put a smile on my face. Somebody created this scene as a display somewhere in the Netherlands - the link is not more specific (Just for Fun). First seen here.
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Middle East censorship. Some hilarious examples of images of album covers and advertisements that were photoshopped to meet the censorship standards of the Middle East (Mixed Nuts). First seen here.
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Polluted water popsicles. Created by design students in Taiwan, who collected samples from 100 different polluted water sources in Taiwan, and froze them into popsicles (Remarkable Art). First seen here.
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Octopus teapot. Operating on the fence between design and art, ceramic artist Keiko Masumoto creates tea pots shaped like an octopus. Special and beautiful (Special Designs). First seen here.
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Hairy chest swimsuit. Ladies, if you want no man paying attention to you on the beach, this is the ideal swim suit. It comes with the pattern of a hairy male chest and belly (Mixed Nuts). First seen here.
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Off the wall. Amazing pictures taken by Paul de Graaf show how a graffiti-infested wall now contains many layers of paint after 30 years (Amazing Stuff). First seen here.
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D and G Siciliano heels. Marketed by Dolce and Gabbana, these 5000 $ heels are possibly the ugliest shoes you'll ever see - against stiff competition as well (Mixed Nuts). First seen here.

Copyright statement: image based on a photograph created by myself. Copyright Hennie Schaper.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

How a Somber Symphony sold more than a million records

This year is the 25th anniversary of the unprecedented success of the CD of Gorecki's third symphony (composed in 1976), recorded by the London Sinfonietta under David Zinman with soprano Dawn Upshaw for Nonesuch. The aptly subtitled Symphony of sorrowful songs piece stormed the charts, selling over one million records. To this day it has remained one of the best selling and most controversial pieces in the classical repertoire, with opinions ranging from "dull and boring" to "brilliant masterpiece" (I'm in the latter group). The linked article gives a fascinating insight into the decision making before its recording and release, as well as the effect on the composer. Very highly recommended. The complete symphony is available on YouTube.

Copyright statement: image from Wikipedia stated to be in public domain.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Left or right

Things have been slow on Flickr the last few weeks, and this abstract shot also did not get as much response as I had hoped. I'm still sharing it here because it is a personal favourite. A close-up of an installation in a church in the Frisian city of Harlingen (possibly a large air/conditioning unit).

Camera: Nikon D7000 (Nikkor 18-300 mm), 16 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.0125 sec (1/80)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 69.2 mm
ISO Speed: 1000
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Copyright statement: image created by myself. Copyright Hennie Schaper.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Elite Styles July 1920

A very elegant cover of the Elite Styles magazine. Although overdressed by more recent standards, this beach girl is fun to look at. Unfortunately, no information on the designer.

Copyright statement: image in pubic domain.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mañana Dominicana

A fantastic image shot by my Flickr friend Rodolfo Anzaldua on his holiday in the Dominican Republic. It looks easy enough to take a picture of such an impressive sky, but the expert composition, with strong use of diagonal and triangles, lifts it far above a regular holiday photograph.

Copyright statement: posted with explicit permission of the creator who retains all rights.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Saal Digital Photo book

This is a review of Saal Digital from Germany, one of many on-line Photo book production companies active on the Dutch market. I am not affiliated with the company, but I was selected to try their product out for free in exchange for an honest review. The web site for the Netherlands (link below) is clear, but only available in Dutch (suggestion 1: include English version - not everyone living in the Netherlands speaks Dutch). Downloading and running the software was easy. I selected a 28x19 cm landscape format book with 32 pages for just under 40 euro, including tax, excluding shipping - this price being somewhat higher than the products offered on-line in the Netherlands by big chains. I have opted for one landscape-shaped photograph per page, which turned out to be very easy to do. Uploading the images from the computer went quickly, and the 'what you see is what you get' lay-out of the program is very easy to work with, with clear lines and warnings if you make the image a bit too big. I also like the option that you can easily move completed pages around to get a better sequence. Choosing a background other than white (I went for black) is a useful option that was quick to locate and imply. My main issue with the program itself is that it is not possible to add text. If it is possible, I could not find it, so in that case it is not user friendly (suggestion 2: include or clarify add text option). I like that you can save your work between sessions, with a clearly marked button to continue with existing work when you re-start the software. When I was satisfied with the overall design, I got ready to order. Within the software program itself there is a shopping cart symbol that I clicked. To actually get to the shopping cart and check out turned out to be difficult though. I spent at least 10 minutes trying things, before I got there - and frankly, I can't even remember what I clicked that did the trick (suggestion 3: improve clarity of check-out procedure). Ordering was easy after that, and production/delivery time quite speedy (ordered 8 June, sent 9 June, arrived 13 June). The quality of the final product met my high expectations. Good cover, very high quality paper for the pages - clearly better than what I've seen from cheaper competitors. The only surprise was that two of my selected pictures ended up on the inside of the front and back hard covers (suggestion 4: clarify this choice in the software). All in all a very satisfactory experience. Recommended (I would definitely use them again).

Copyright statement: image created by myself. Copyright Hennie Schaper.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

If it quacks like a duck....

For the past ten years, Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman has made headlines with his popular Rubber Ducks - giant floating sculptures inspired by the bath toy. In recent years, Craig Samborski created even larger versions, which he called "Mama Duck". Not surprisingly, this has led to "counterfeit" accusations from Hofman. But is it, given that both are based on an old toy that no longer falls under copyright? Read the full story in the link.

Copyright statement: Image by Jules8201 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Abstract 939-7

Please click the image above to open the photograph of the painting in a separate window. This is a fairly recent abstract (2015) by my favourite living artist, Gerhard Richter. I recommend to go to his linked web site and take in more of his unique art. The above image was made via the site.

Copyright statement: the museum scene on is licensed for use in noncommercial applications (link). The painting image displayed in the scene is thumbnail size and as such considered fair use.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Great Gatsby

I have not see the 2013 Luhrmann movie The Great Gatsby, but the poster series issued for it is spectacular. Awesome Art Deco masterpieces, showing off the time of beautiful flappers. The actress on the one I selected is Elizabeth Debicki, who also starred in the excellent recent TV series The night manager.

Copyright statement: lower resolution images of movie posters considered fair use.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The spider and the octopus

This shot of mine stood out in terms of number of faves the past few weeks. I suspect that the title has something to do with that as well. The photograph itself shows part of the ceiling of a church in the German town of Lingen. The resulting image is a rather abstract play with curves, enhanced by the conversion to black and white.

Camera: Nikon D7000 (Nikkor 18-300 mm), 16 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.033 sec (1/30)
Aperture: f/5.0
Focal Length: 41.2 mm
ISO Speed: 1800
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Copyright statement: image created by myself. Copyright Hennie Schaper.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The night siren

Granted, it is a great photograph to start with. Nevertheless, it qualifies even higher as an album cover for Steve Hackett's latest effort, due to the match with the title, and the elegant font choice. The art work is credited to Angela and Maurizio Vicedomini.

Copyright statement: lower resolution images of album covers considered fair use.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Tarn silk

Another abstract masterpiece by my Flickr friend Lorraine Kerr. This is a shot of algae growing under water, taken at Talkin Tarn (a glacial lake and country park near Brampton, Cumbria, England).

Copyright statement: posted with explicit permission of the creator who retains all rights.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Eight real life influences on Sgt. Pepper

This month it is fifty years ago that the Beatles released their landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The linked art-icle gives interesting background to eight of the songs, each based on events and people from real life - some well known, others definitely not. An interesting read.

Copyright statement: image created via the Photofunia site, who explicitly state that their images have no copyright issues. The included image taken from the article is thumbnail size and considered fair use.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Madame Minsky

When my wife showed me this painting a few days ago, she asked: who is the artist? I did not hesitate one moment, it was obviously Alexej von Jawlensky. And I was wrong. It turns out it is an early work from 1907 by Ukrainian-born French artist Sonia Delaunay (1885-1971), better known for her Orphism art, which is characterised by the use of strong colours and geometric shapes.

Copyright statement: image in public domain.