Monday, November 30, 2009

The Making of a Restaurant Playlist

I am so lucky to have the charge of choosing the music for my workplace. The music sets the mood for the diners in a restaurant and plays a huge part in the making of ambiance. The process of finding just the right tracks has been an exciting chance for me to use the knowledge that I gained in my formal education, but the most fun part about it has been discovering all sorts of new pieces and composers that I didn't know much if anything about before. I, of course, have included some expected things like Chopin's Nocturnes, Schubert's Impromptus, and Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words," but the following is a list of some of the more unusual and interesting albums that I think deserve a listen outside of the "behind the potted palm" setting.

After a Dream and Other Arts Songs Performed on the Oboe
Bill Banovetz, oboe and Barbara Lester-Sink, piano

Bill Banovetz was principal oboist of San Francisco Ballet Orchestra until he died a few years ago. He studied with Mark Lifschey and Rhadames Angelucci. He plays these art songs effortlessly through some of the oboe's most akward registers with a flawless long beautiful line and vocal sound. The highlight of the album for me are his "Love Songs," Op. 83 by Antonin Dvorak. They have inspired me to think more vocally in my approach to playing the oboe.

Opera Without Words
Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Thibaudet without a doubt is one of the world's greatest concert pianists performing and recording today. I stumbled across this album on iTunes and have been in love with it ever since. It is a compilation of the performer's own transcriptions of popular opera tunes in the tradition of Franz Liszt.

The Art of Harana: Serenades for Guitar
Florante Aguilar, guitar

This album was in Dan's collection already and showcases some beautiful Filipino folk melodies played by Aguilar. Hearing them at work reminds me of Dan.

Bach and Beyond
Gabriella Montero, piano

Montero has a remarkable ability to improvise on the spot, and this album is a compilation of "s
pontaneous compositions" based on Bach's greatest hits. Hearing this always reminds me of my piano teacher and working through a lot of these pieces at the piano with her. Montero's improvisation on "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" is especially beautiful and the tango-style improvisation on BWV 1067 is a hoot.

York Bowen: 24 Preludes

Joop Celis, piano

I knew York Bowen only because of a sonata the he wrote for the oboe that I performed several years ago. I had never been really curious to explore his music more regarding it as overly sentimental, but
BOY! are these preludes fantastic. The longest is under five minutes and they range in character from placid to stormy. They are composed in every key and sound quite virtuosic and fun to play bridging the gap between jazz and classical music harmonically.

Catoire: Piano Music
Marc-André Hamlin, piano

Another serendipitous find on iTunes. Catoire was somewhat of an outcast in his home, Russia. He was revered as a teacher, but his compositions were never really taken seriously because of his admiration for Wagner and Liszt in a time when Russia was dominated by nationalism represented by Rimsky-Korsakov and his students. The best comparison I can come up with would be seeing a Chekov play in German by actors with French accents. Great stuff - I wish he had written some music for the oboe too!

George Gershwin: Complete Piano Works
Dag Achatz, piano

I didn't know that Gershwin had made transcriptions for solo piano of many of his favorite songs from "I Got Rhythm" to "Nobody But You." This album is jazzy and fun with plenty of virtuosic playing to go around.

Journey to a New World

Sharon Isbin, guitar and Mark O'Connor, fiddle

Sharon Isbin is synonymous with classical guitar for a lot of people, so this
crossover album is unexpected and fun. She performs her own transcriptions of some Joan Baez songs and plays a suite of American fiddle tunes with Mark O'Connor. It's a fabulous tribute to the American folk music idiom.

Max Reger: Suites for Cello
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, cello

Fantastic pieces! I didn't know these previously. I imagine cellists must really enjoy performing them. They are played sensitively with solid intonation and a soaring sound by Bengtsson.

Sibelius: Piano Miniatures
Håvard Gimse, piano

Another iTunes discovery while searching for new oboe repertoire to perform. This is a collection of short pieces that Sibelius composed for solo piano. Many sound like sketches for his orchestral works. You can clearly hear snippets here and there that foreshadow some of the greatest orchestral writing of the twentieth century. I've had some fun learning these pieces on the piano myself. Most are available for free download at the International Music Score Library Project.

I hope this list provides you with some new and interesting things to listen to on long walks or road trips. I know that my commute has been much more pleasant exploring these new (to me) sonic landscapes!

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