Tag Archives: Music

Harmonic Juxaposition

This evening on my way home I was listening to a new CD I had recently purchased: Yo-Yo Ma – Solo. This CD is, as the name implies, Yo-Yo playing contemporary solo cello pieces; works by Mark O’Connor, Bright Sheng, David Wilde, Alexander Tcherepnin, and Zoltán Kodály.

Yo-Yo certainly has his own style. I can always tell when it is him playing cello just by the tone, by the way he inflects a note, or the way he rips out a passage. I have to admit, I have not always personally appreciated his personal style, but at the same time I have always greatly respected his passion for the music and the cello.

This recording is right on the money. I think Yo-Yo excels at this listing of contemporary pieces. It’s the way he gets into a tone, and I mean really in to one single tone. It’s like this: He’ll start out with a simple, pure, quiet tone. Then maybe he will add a little crecendo with an upbow. Now maybe a little gradual vibrato. And then maybe a touch of sul ponticello as the dynamic gets more and more intense. And finally he’s burning the cello’s ovaries incandescent as the thing begins to moan and scream with the rapid and near-violent undulations of the bow.

I don’t have time to get in to the details of each piece here, but items on this disc stand out for me. The “Seven Tunes Heard in China” by Bright Sheng is a beautiful set of pieces, obviously written based on thematic material from Chinese themes. The words that sprang to mind when I first heard it was “harmonic juxaposition”. Bright Sheng sets up a wonderful play between the pentatonic modalities that are inherent of Chinese melody, that create soft dissonance and a simple yet rich texture of harmony as the melodies intertwine. Yo-Yo executes these pieces with a strong sense of musicality and attention that is rarely given to the works of living composers.

My other favorite of the moment on this disc is the Sonata for Cello op 8 by Zoltán Kodály. This piece (and perhaps also The Brahms Trio op. 8) makes me wish that I could play the cello. There is nothing else I can say about this piece – it is just simply badass.

Other recordings to check out along these lines:
O’Connor, Ma, Meyer – Appalachia Waltz
Astor Piazolla – Tango, Zero Hour

I will add links later. I’m tired and I have to get some sleep now…

Learn to Play Piano!

This is actually an older design but resurrected and updated with new copy and it’s own permanent domain: www.yingwenlewis.com. This is Yingwen’s site for her piano teaching activities. It includes a short bio, contact info, and a bookstore that orders direct through Barnes and Noble. Future plans include a student/teacher application that will allow her to input data about student progress and allow students and parents to log in and see information. It will be very cool.

For now, this is pretty much a static site with a cool design. It’s much more freeform than my corporate sites and I like the opportunity to do something that is more creative and artistic.


I am listening to this pice by Paul Hindemith called Trauermusik right now. Actually, I have the one track set to loop over and over, this is about the 5th time this session, and I listened to it this morning a few times too. I’m not sure what it is about this particular pice with me, but sometimes I get in a mood and this is the soundtrack for it. (It’s raining right now, maybe that’s it…)

In January of 1936, Paul Hindemith was in London preparing to perform his new viola concerto in the Queen’s Hall. But the day before the performance, Kinge George V died. The entire nation was in mourning. As a tribute to the late king, Hindemith composed this piece “Trauermusik” for Viola and String Orchestra in the space of six hours and performed it in a studio concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra the following day.

This piece is sublime, haunting, beautiful, and heart-wrenching. It is a piece that for me conjures up feelings of nostalgia, of sorrow, of pristine beauty. It is said that during the BBC performance, many of the musicians were openly weeping. The performance I am listening to by soloist Geraldine Walther and the San Francisco Symphony is one of the finer recordings I’ve heard of this piece. She really makes the viola cry and mourn with sorrow and anger.

To me there are three things that are amazing about this piece of music. One is that Hindemith accomplished this feat of composing the music quickly for a tragic occasion and performing it a day later. The next thing is that this piece has far outlived the occasion for which it is written – being one of the finest continuing pieces of standard repertoire for both the symphony orchestra and for the solo viola alike. Lastly, the sheer haunting, organic beauty of this piece itself is what amazes me the most.

That 1 Guy

Mike, and old friend of mine gave, me a CD of his after one of his performances, billed under the name “That One Guy”. The title of the disc is “Songs in the Key of Beotch”. I recently rediscovered this item in an old suitcase of mine and decided to rip it and add it to my playlist.

Now, Mike and I go way back. We used to play in jazz bands and orchestras together, at Los Medanos College and did a substantial amount of mountain biking up Mt. Diablo. There was a day where we would both easily make it to the summit.

I can remember at least one instance where we were playing together in my last performance with the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra, and in a moment of pure mischief, I advised Mike that we were going to give the conductor John Maltester a razz and spin our basses during a few bars of rest before the end of the finale. My god I thought John was really going to kill me right then and there, backstage after the performance. He was so pissed – I do beleive he was purple.

Anyway, go check him out.