Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some First Feast Optimum Awesomeness


Not all the Armadillos present made it into this pic of 2012 First Feast participants. Old concert t-shirts was this year's theme.

This year’s First Feast gala featured ancient rock and roll t-shirts, comfort food munchies (as opposed to hors d'oeuvres), followed by a course of two hearty salads, before a course of dueling meat loafs, with the usual decadent assortment of sides. Great rock music was enjoyed throughout as the conversations ran the gambit from musical trivia to secret cooking recipes to vacation travel fantasies to the Republican Party presidential race to where we all “earned” our various concert t-shirts. Every t-shirt has its story to tell. But it is up to the human to tell it. So there were several good stories of great memories. Plenty of beers and wines and, of course, port helped sustain the evening.

Jennifer and I arrived at Mark and Eileen’s a little before 4. We got to enjoy about an hour of couple-to-couple time before Clint arrived next. Both Clint and Mark showed off their new digital cameras. Mark got a nice Nikon for Christmas from E, as she is known, his wife. Clint also had a great looking light-weight tripod for his camera. Jennifer wants one for our heavy-duty Nikon D300, so there was a detailed examination of this device, in fine 'Dillo fashion naturally.

In fact, Jennifer and I planned to buy camping supplies at REI and check out the tripods at Wolf Camera on our way into Atlanta. The locations were in the midst of a gigantic metro-shopping complex that included a large mall and numerous mini-malls, shopping centers, restaurants and movie theaters all densely populated near a major intersection of two interstates. It was 3 pm on Saturday afternoon. I don’t know what we were thinking. The economy might remain slow in most of America but in this small few miles of land traffic was packed. You crawled along from stoplight to stoplight. It was difficult to change lanes in the congestion.

Now, we had just commented about how nice the drive was a few minutes before exiting the interstate and inserting ourselves of our own free will into this seething cauldron of consumerism. Yesterday was a beautiful, mild sunny day. It was comfortable enough for me to go there in just my two t-shirts with my CSNY military style Concert Jacket from 2006 as backup. My t-shirts were a Tonight’s the Night shirt that I got at Neil Young’s 2010 Fox concert which fitted kinda loose over a tight fitting, very faded Pink Floyd The Wall t-shirt I bought around 1982 after seeing the movie version.

Some ‘Dillos had no concert-related t-shirt that survived their current bodily state. Some, like me, technically had no genuine “old” strictly concert t-shirts. So, also like me on one shirt but not the other, they wore newer ones. Billy had a “Revelator” t-shirt from the Tedeschi Trucks Band concert he went to last year.

The older t-shirts included Jennifer’s Atlanta Rhythm Section shirt from the early 1980’s. It fits her body fine. Mark saw the Rolling Stones in 1981 and he can still wear the t-shirt with ease. Clint wore a King Crimson Discipline t-shirt but it was a more recent vintage than the original, great album. But, he brought a fine looking t-shirt he can no longer wear featuring Pink Floyd circa 1977 on the Animals Tour. I offered him $50 bucks for it. We laughed.


Justin wore a Grateful Dead t-shirt that required an undershirt since it was extremely tattered with some fairly large holes in places. That shirt could tell waaaay more than just one story. It practically wreaked of almost boundless hedonism. Eileen’s hot muscle style rock t-shirt was from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA Tour.

Ron wore his college fraternity t-shirt. Technically, the shirt was not t-shirt bought at a concert but, rather, in utterly supreme ‘Dillo style, it came to us from several different band parties and small concerts to which it had been worn. So, it was a t-shirt taken to concerts. In 'Dillo-mind, that variation counts. Justin’s Jennifer wore a baseball style t-shirt that said Say You Will. I never got around to asking her about her shirt but my guess is that it was from a Fleetwood Mac Tour in 2003.

Brian and Diane wore Coldplay shirts from when that band played at Music Midtown last September. I really have to start paying more attention to the Atlanta music scene. We’ve missed Coldplay at least three times through Atlanta now. Kinda inexcusable being a self-claimed fan. Diane said she thoroughly enjoyed the concert. I love the new Coldplay album, as I’ve posted. They are coming back in July. Hopefully, Jennifer and I can make it.

Will wore a Magnolia Fest t-shirt from last year. I had a nice conversation with him about how fun this festival is every year. Back when he first started going only about 3,000 showed up for the multi-day, multi-band outdoor event. Now, it is more like 8,000. He told me that the Allman Brothers performed there a couple of years ago. I didn’t even know they still played together, though, like Will, I enjoy listening to good Allman Brothers music. I had never heard of the festival so it was cool to learn about it. Like I said, every t-shirt has its story.

It was the usual immensely fun evening. Only on this special First Feast night it was Mark who bestowed his generosity upon us not only by opening up his wonderful home to us for a marvelous dinner party but also with the gift of customized bandannas. He designed a cool Cumberland Island Armadillos collection of sayings in a variety of colors. A lot of old ‘Dillo philosophy was on there combined with stuff of newer vintage from the past three years of the Great ‘Dillo Return to the Island. "Optimum Awesomeness" is a new term. Great concept. I totally get it. Thank you Mark…and E.



Brian, myself, and Jennifer sport our new 'Dillo bandannas at the dinner party. Justin is in the background.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Awesome Art Books



The Art Museum is a huge book, filled with art from all time periods and all over the world. The artwork is featured in very large images on pages about the size of a standard (in today's terms) newspaper.

Jennifer and I both enjoy a nicely published book. For Christmas I gave her the most exquisite book we’ve ever owned, aptly entitled The Art Museum. Instead of chapters, the newspaper-sized thick book is organized by “rooms”. It covers art as would any world-class museum, beginning with sections on ancient pottery, engravings, carvings, and sculpture from all over the world.

The over-large format of the book and the splendidly published photographs taken from works of art from all time periods and places affords the reader a high degree of visual clarity so that you can appreciate many subtleties of the works as if you in an actual museum viewing these objects from different angles. Most of the images are of such clarity it is as if you can actually touch whatever art work you are appreciating on a given page.

In all there are over 450 “rooms” arranged in 25 “galleries” (Ancient Egypt, Central Asia, Medieval Europe, Islamic Art, Africa, etc.). The book contains over 3,000 works of art to enjoy. To be honest, I haven’t had time to look through even most of the book. I have skimmed it and skipped around here and there. Like an actual museum, it is far too much to take in all at once. It is a reference work to enjoy and discover new things over time.

The Art Museum is a feast for the art lover's eye and mind. It begins with ancient art and moves comprehensively throughout the history of art worldwide. These pages deal with findings from The Caves of a Thousand Buddhas in China.


My personal interest in art, particularly painting, begins around the time of Johannes Vermeer, who is featured in this two-page spread. The painting on the left page is his famour View of Delft that I have blogged about before.

The first exhibition of impressionistic painting took place in Paris in 1874. A wonderful sampling of the exhibition has been gathered and collected in The Art Museum. A special treat for me.


Of course some of Pablo Picasso's works are featured.


As is the work of Jackson Pollock.


The Art Museum also features a great deal of contemporary art. These pages feature "installation art" from around the years 2002-2003. The dark space in the upper left is by a Japanese artist filling a small dark room with 150 LED lights and carefully arranging them with mirrors to create a gallactic effect.

The book is fully indexed by art type and by artist and includes a section of maps of the world for each of the time periods and galleries presented as well as a comprehensive glossary of terms used throughout its text. The descriptions of individual art pieces are brief but informative, usually containing five or six sentences of facts about a given work.

As I mentioned before, Jennifer’s parents gave me
a splendid book on Pierre-Auguste Renoir, my favorite painter, for Christmas. I did take time to look at it thoroughly and read large portions of the biographical text in the book. Once again, unlike some art books in our collection, this one has very detailed, well published photographs of the paintings. You can often see the individual brush strokes and the colors are as bright and vibrant as the original works.

After Christmas, I usually take a portion of my annual bonus and devote it to my own frivolous attentions. I ordered two other art books, one on
Claude Monet and a special publication on the collected research of Stanley Kubrick for his Napoleon movie, “The Greatest Movie Never Made.” Both of these are sheer aesthetic joys of publication.

It was only after they arrived, however, that I realized that the publisher for the Renoir, Monet, and Kubrick books is the same –
Taschen in Kolin, Germany. A quick look at their website will reveal that they take publishing very seriously, producing high-quality books on a wide range of (mostly artistic) subjects and (except for a few limited editions) at accessible prices.

The Monet book is part of their 25th anniversary series, as is the book on Renoir I got for Christmas. It contains a great biographical narrative and many photographs of Monet, often while he is painting. The Kubrick book is an affordable replica of
a limited edition that came out three years ago and now sells for thousands of dollars. A small work of art in and of itself.


The Renoir book on top, featuring one of his most famous works, which I saw in Boston back in 2009. On bottom is the Monet book filled with his numerous, wonderful paintings.

Like The Art Museum, the Kubrick book is solidly produced. The gold embossed green leather cover and binding is genuine and richly detailed. Inside are 1100 pages that represent the several individual books of the collected limited edition that were nested inside the same binding only hollowed out to serve as a casing for the other books.

In my edition, all the books are published on oversized lightly gray printed pages. The different sizes of the different books originally published can then be appreciated and you can read their contents exactly as they were originally printed and bound individually. Most pages present two of the other books simultaneously.

Here the publisher chose the size of the gray pages to be enough to run the pages of one book along the lower two-thirds of the page. In the upper third of the page runs a smaller book, published separately from the larger book in the original limited editions. It is very cleverly presented and still retains much of its grandeur even if it isn’t the glorious limited edition itself.

A section of the Kubrick book showing how two books are represented on the same page. On top is a smaller book of various photographs he took of models in all sorts of poses and all sorts of authentic Napoleonic uniforms and costumes. The lower two-thirds is a seperate book of personal correspondences regarding the never-made film.

The book contains the original complete-draft script, hundreds of photographs, original correspondences, details on costumes, locations scouting, and hundreds of individual notes. Yet, the book still contains only a fraction of the total mass of Kubrick’s research.

It comes with a key card that gives you “exclusive access to a searchable/downloadable online research database of Kubrick’s picture file of nearly 17,000 Napoleonic images.” Obviously, this opens up opportunities to discover new things in the future, as I will probably never see all there is left behind from Kubrick’s research, when I periodically take a dip through the years in to this incredible collection of photographs mostly shot by Kubrick himself.

I am thankful and look forward to enjoying all these books off and on for the rest of my life. They are satisfying references in all their diverse ways. The fact that three of them are by
Taschen led me to discover this quality book publisher whose online catalog I will view regularly. So many interesting choices can be found there.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Mending Barbwire Fences

Since the tornado hit my parent’s property just before Christmas, I have spent much of my weekend time helping my dad with the slow, arduous task of cleaning things up. As of today he still has no storage building to speak of. The two tractors and all the mowers and four-wheelers and various other equipment are just sitting out in the open rain and wind and cold weather we have gotten lately. Last week we had continuous 15-20 MPH winds with frequent 30 MPH gusts for a period of about 36-hours. No wonder he is having trouble getting some equipment to run.

By now, the barn has fallen in completely. Initially, the main support structure of hand-hewn 8 x 8’s nailed together with large wooden pins was leaning severely but still standing. Three of the giant hand-made beams were, in fact, largely unmoved and still upright. We were able to walk hunched over into the barn and pull most everything of value (damaged or not) out where it now sits in the weather with everything else there is no space for but the great outdoors.

A young, local fireman, when off-duty, has been coming and taking loads of the barn wood away. Now only about half the wood remains. But the nine 8 x 8’s are still there, a couple buried in the rubble as the whole collection of nine that once supported the barn finally twisted and fell to Earth.

My grandparent’s entire lot, old trees and house, has been completely bulldozed into a flat dirt acre opening to my dad’s many acres of pasture that are still littered with the tops of twisted trees and whole oaks of great age lying with their roots exposed, unmoved on the ground. The fall of the barn along with the original complete destruction of a house between my parent’s and the road maybe a quarter mile away that heads back into town means my dad can now sit in his living room recliner and look across through a door, out the windows of a adjoining sun room and see the lights of traffic at night. He has never had such an open view in his life and he has commented about it several times to me.

For the most part, other than the barn being slowly hauled away and the general cleaning up of debris, the farm itself looks exactly as it did the day after the tornado. The shed behind my parent’s house (see pic in original post) is now completely removed and the concrete pads underneath are now fully exposed and ready for a badly needed 20 x 12 storage building to be delivered and set up soon.

Most of the many fences with which my dad manages his small herd of cattle are still down in numerous places from fallen trees that no one has had time to address. Once recently with a team of volunteers and again last week with hired workers, large sections where the fence was completely missing were rebuilt. So, now my dad can keep the herd pinned-up in one 20-acre section of the pasture with a pond until he has time to repair all the damage throughout the other 100-plus fenced-in acres.

So, when I showed up Saturday for another weekend of helping out, my dad for the first time didn’t want me to help him haul stuff over to a giant dumpster that sits behind his house now. Instead, we went to a section of the farm where the fence was unaddressed as of yet and spent much of the sunny, winter afternoon repairing it using existing posts and supports.

It has been probably 20 years since I last worked on a fence, something that was common in my youth growing up on the farm. Back then it was just my dad and I, working weekends as now, building new fences for cattle my dad had not even bought yet. All his life my dad simply wanted to be a farmer but, of course, it has been ages since small-time farming could support a family.

So, my dad was a wage slave all his life and only dabbled in farming as subsidiary income and a desired way-of-life. When he retired 12 years ago he finally got to do what he had always wanted with his life. He became a farmer on a scale only possible with regular social security checks. Through these recent years, his ability to farm has been emotionally and psychologically meaningful to him. He has been (and remains today) living the agrarian way of life and expressing those values.

We worked on a section of fence crossing the middle of this vast and fairly open 70-plus acre pasture. This is the heart of my dad’s farm. One fence runs essentially north-south dividing the space into two equal halves. To the east side there are three sections of pasture fenced-in. The outer fencing is down with many fallen trees. Most of the inner fencing remains untouched, however. My dad and I worked Saturday afternoon on the single mid-fence that splits the west side of the farm into two large pastures.

Altogether it is a space of about 120 acres, though we could not see the entirety from where we worked due to the gently rolling lay of the land. But I felt the basic grounded gentle ease of Being in the middle of this damaged openness. About half the trees that dot the pastures are still standing. A few birds were chirping in them even though it is winter. The sun shone bright and slightly warm. There was only a wisp of cool wind.

Working out in the open like that, surrounded not just by our farm but hundreds of acres from adjoining farms, gives you a holsom sense of seculsion. I took a moment to breath in the space and I was remembering my childhood in the open pasture world. I ran these fields with several different dogs at different points of my youth. I played “army” with friends and sat against some of these fallen trees to read Thoreau and Emerson and even some Zen Buddhist teachers. I read many books in the solitude of this space. I was a frequent hiker on this farm and the others nearby.

Farm work is such that you get to enjoy nature in this subtle way while you work. This is something almost completely lost in today's manufacturing and service-driven consumerist reality. I even found myself humming some of Shostakovich’s Great Tenth, it was such a perfect day for it. Though it is often physically demanding, working on a farm does afford a luxury of pace, time for conversation and even contemplation, as you address whatever job needs to be done. Dad and I pretty much worked silently as we always did, except when some planning was needed or there was a certain obstacle that we had to work together to overcome.

Barbwire fence mending is not brain surgery. You untangle the layered strains of existing fence wire, you figure out where to reconnect them, usually at an existing post, then you use special tools to pull them together, splicing them by weaving short strands of new barbwire around each side until they are secure. Sometimes you have to walk down to a section of fence that is fine and loosen the stapled nails from that post so the fence can stretch in at the broken section. Then you nail each of the four lines of wire back to the various posts.

Dad had everything needed, of course, in the back of his big diesel truck (where else was he going to put it?), which survived the storm with only minor paint damage though being parked at the time down at the barn. One of the “posts” for the fence was a very old pine tree too broad for me to reach around. It was scarred from years of wear but its roots must be sound as they held it in the ground amidst all this other tree destruction. Its top didn’t even break out of it. So here it stood in the middle of this open space, mighty against the nature's fury, helping us hold up this section of cross-fence.

Of course, I have done a great deal of work on my own land through the years - cutting limbs, piling and burning brush, planting, mowing, but dealing with barbed wire was something with which I had lost contact. So, it was nice working out of doors like this with my dad again; touching childhood memories, still somewhat shocked at the magnitude of the destruction and the amount of fence work still to do eventually.


Eventually. When the storm first struck my dad worked himself into complete exhaustion over the course of about a week. Then the weather turned too wet and cold to work in much. Now, with so much debris either hauled away or piled up and with the barn slowly disappearing and with the new storage shed arriving soon, there is not such a frenzy of activity in his mind. He knows it will take time. He has accepted that. He knows he is too old to do it all. He has accepted that too. So, now it is just a matter of moving from one thing to the next and knowing it will all improve, eventually.

My mom is a different story. She is a depressed crying wreck much of the time. She cannot escape the destruction of everything around her. She has no sense of appreciation of the present and has become largely disconnected from it. This is partly because it is natural for many people to become “shell-shocked” when faced with such utter ruin. But, though she often puts up a good front, on a deeper level she doesn’t seem to be pulling out of it. Her grief continues too long and unrelenting, in my opinion. She might have a touch of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. I’ll have to keep a close watch on her.

On Sunday Jennifer, my daughter, and I spent a good chuck of the afternoon over there, around the barn again. Like scavengers, bringing things of value over to our place. Two truckloads of nicely weathered old siding from the barn for some possible future art project. Another truck load of odds and ends like an old bench swing and four gates that once opened and closed the four stalls that were in the barn. I have no clue what we are going to do with a lot of it.

The stuff was added to our collection of random tools and assorted paraphernalia from my dad’s former sheds. Stuff we wanted to keep out of the rain so it wouldn’t rust, now sitting in my carport and pole barn. We’ll be loading those pieces back up sometime soon and returning them to the farm. To the new storage building, more specifically. Then, at last, like the section of fence we worked on this weekend, things will start finding a place and an order again. The fence work will last for several weeks to come. But, all this disorder that saddens everyone’s heart and threatens my mom’s sanity to some degree will slowly start to give way to the many details of a reconstructed life. Eventually.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Beyond Nine: Shostakovich and Hovhaness

Note: This is Part 11 of my series on the greatest classical symphonies ever composed, begun two years ago. Click the keyword “Classical Music” at the end of this post to see the entire series and other writings on music. I’ll conclude with Part 12 sometime in the future.

The competition among Great Tenth Symphonies is rather sparse. Gustav Mahler did not live long enough to complete his Tenth, though a substantially finished opening movement along with four fragmentary movements remain for admirers to ponder. The 23-minute opening Adagio movement is wonderful to enjoy by itself and is occasionally performed today. Both Haydn and Mozart wrote Tenths, of course, but these were early efforts in far more extensive catalogs of work and are simply not very notable in and of themselves.

But, comparative lack of competition does not diminish the power and splendor of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Great Tenth (1953). It is, in fact, one of Shostakovich’s greatest symphonic achievements and certainly one of the masterworks of 20th century classical music.

For some reason I can’t grasp, I enjoy listening to this symphony best on a cold, clear sunny day and I generally experience it on such days in mid-winter. It begins with a slow, solemn, approaching melody of strings. It feels like a thunderstorm far away but moving closer. For now things are peaceful and open. This opening string section of the first movement is an inspiring piece despite (because of?) the brooding undertones that make it so utterly modern.

In the first crescendo the entire orchestra slowly erupts, repeating the melody the strings introduced but now harshly, as if the thunderstorm arrives, then passes. This enormous, rich and bold 25-minute opening continues to develop with the most delicate pieces for winds supported by minimalist string pucks transforming into a rather complex period where various winds and horns are featured supported by subtle percussion. Very interesting music in which to listen. A gradual build up again leads to a more violent orchestra, less melodic but more textured and occasionally outright loud. This loud period extends for several minutes and transforms into a complex, almost triumphant procession. The build-up is gradually repeated, but on the last repetition there is no eruption and the movement ends quietly with a flute, calling.

The second movement is more stately, formal, and somewhat dance-like. The entire orchestra is used to drive the symphony forward with a short, stirring 4-minute movement. Horns roar near the conclusion. The third movement returns to calm and contemplative interplay of strings. An oboe then softly introduces a stronger string section sharply punctuated by a five-note french horn which proclaims a melancholy yet promising theme.


Further into this movement the orchestra becomes a dance band reminiscent of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov. This is a delightfully light and romantic moment that ultimate works itself into a frenzy before coming back to the five-note french horn (this time accompanied by several horns) towering over everything. Heroic. It is truly one of my personal favorite moments among many favorite moments of symphonic music.

The fourth movement is a very complex piece, beginning, again, with confident, brooding strings before an oboe introduces a wonderful extended period where Shostakovich presents and examines a variety of consecutive pensive orchestrated moments. This is sustained for five minutes until the pace quickens and a spritely episode is presented for several minutes. At about 8 and half minutes the final theme begins to establish itself. A crescendo of powerful orchestration which leads to two climaxes over five and half minutes, the second ending the symphony on a high note.

Admittedly, this is not a very technical examination. But, long-time readers will know that I am a musical amateur, completely untrained. My description of Shostakovich’s Great Tenth is a na├»ve appreciation of it and is chiefly emotional. It is one of my most treasured symphonies and, as I mentioned in the beginning, I usually listen to it at least once every year.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 (1971) is also worthy of note. The first movement is child-like with chimes and flute. It is very light, if at times authoritative. Shostakovich freely mixes the basic theme from the William Tell Overture in with the lighthearted composition. The second movement is heavier, opening with brass before moving slowly onward, almost adrift at times, through various sections of the orchestra. A solo trombone is nicely featured at one point. Following a brief crescendo by the entire orchestra there is a wonderful interplay of vibraphone and bass. That movement ends quietly and is taken up by an absurdist, playful and brief third movement. A distinct heaviness returns in the fourth movement. This final part of Shostakovich’s final symphony strikes me as a wonderful summation of his life’s work. Halfway through the almost 16-minute movement, there is a magnificent struggle expressed in full orchestration. Yet the symphony ends in subdued fashion with an extended, very melodic tone, fading with accompanied chimes and percussion similar to how it began.

Alan Hovhaness is perhaps one of the lesser known composers in this series. But, he enjoyed a long and very successful career up until his death in 2000. He is noted in this “Beyond Nine” post primarily due to his prodigious output. He created an astonishing 67 numbered symphonies. Highly unusual in this modern time when most composers explore symphonic music outside the strict “symphony” definition.

An interesting side-note. The quantitative record for the most symphonies ever composed, surpassing even Haydn, belongs to the still-living composer Lief Segerstam. To date he has written some 253(!) symphonies. That is almost mind-blowing in itself. Most of these symphonies are of extremely short duration, of course, coming in at less that 20-minutes total, like much of Mozart’s early works. What I have heard I haven’t particularly cared for, but perhaps more research is needed on my part. If nothing else, Segestam’s work is another indication that classical music is anything but stagnant or dead.

I find much of Hovhaness to be highly satisfying, however. Of the symphonies I own by him many I cannot compare in this series. From the beginning, I have only considered symphonies that are composed with “full orchestration.” This disqualifies many works. Another living composer I enjoy, John Corigliano, created a wonderful Symphony No. 1 (1991). But, it did not make the short list of the Great Firsts with which I began this series. Corigliano’s Second (2000) and Third (2004) symphonies are even better and are highly recommended as fine examples of modern composition. They do not fit this series, however, because the former is written for “string orchestra” and the latter for “large wind ensemble.” In other words, they are symphonies that do not use the entire orchestra.

For this same reason, many of Hovhaness’ works cannot be mentioned. He composed a number of highly accessible and entertaining symphonies that do not fit the mold of full orchestration. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of interesting “full” compositions worthy of the listener’s attention. I will mention some of them in chronological order.

Hovhaness is probably considered a mediocre composer by the classical elite. I am guessing this is the case, in part, because he tends to use the orchestra as a “big band” when introducing primary themes and melodies. That is, instead of creating rich textures with the differing orchestral sections or of pitting the orchestra against itself as is so common with, say, Shostakovich, the entire orchestra often plays the same notes in unison. I don’t mean to imply this is boring, however. The orchestration is just not very sophisticated even if the music itself is. Where Hovhaness shines is with his variations and explorations of his themes by many solo instruments usually supported by strings. In this regard, there are numerous memorable moments through his works.

One of his most famous symphonies is No. 2 (1955) subtitled “Mysterious Mountain.” Hovhaness expressed a life-long love of nature in general and in mountains in particular, composing many symphonic pieces basking in the inspiration of the green Earth and its heights. The Second is a splendid example of this and it remains one of his most performed symphonies.

His most “experimental” piece is the Symphony No. 19 “Vishnu” (1960). This 30-minute single-movement score explores the familiar contemporary territory of dissonance. It reminds me somewhat of Lutoslawski’s Great Third with all sorts of interesting and bizarre sounds ranging from blaring absurdity to buzzing stings to echoing chimes, harp, and Asian-sounding winds. The symphony is presented in various episodes. At one point it is a slow eastern dance. I say eastern because Hovhaness freely mixes original themes with traditional ones from India. At another point the symphony becomes a fantastic collection of winds playing alone in seemingly spontaneous, orchestrated improvisation, almost without structure. But, we are grounded when Hovhaness returns to his “movie score” style and the orchestra again plays as a band, repeating the earlier dance theme. Another episode features more buzzing string-play supported, again, by the winds and percussion playing notes all together. This gives way to the final episode (the last 6 minutes of the piece) where the strings are greatly muted and a bassoon with chimes, slow, deep percussion and other winds and horns allow the whole thing to just ease away in dream-like fashion. A really interesting and rewarding symphony.

Hovhaness continued to show progress in Symphony No. 22 “City of Light” commissioned by the City of Birmingham, Alabama in 1970. The liner notes of my CD summarize it as: “Music evocative of light and space, nature and spirituality, penetrates the heart with a directness and clarity unique to Hovhaness, although it is possible to detect his influences in the music of younger composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and John Adams.” Not a bad legacy to bestow upon us.

Hovhaness seems to have accelerated his devotion to the symphony as a form of musical expression in the later portion of his life. Before then he composed a variety of other musical forms including an excellent Cello Concerto (1936). But only ten years separates No. 22 and his Great No. 50 inspired by the Mount St. Helens volcanic event in 1980. I’d say completing twenty-eight symphonies in the span of a decade is indicative of a prolific concentration on the symphonic form.

The Great No. 50 (1982) begins in traditional Hovahness style. A simple orchestration, at times stating textured solo melodies, but always as a band with the entire orchestra, particularly the strings will all play the same notes most of the time. Still, there are many interesting solo juxtapositions against the movement’s band-like nature. The second movement begins magically with rapid chimes, xylophone, and slow percussion. A bassoon solo is passed along to several other flowing solo instruments that carry the theme through a steady bed of rarely leading strings. Its energy completely dissipates in the end into a comfortable silence.

The third movement of No. 50 is worthy of comparison with many other great symphonic moments I have written about in this series. It is Hovhanees’ crowning achievement. It begins with comfortable band-like strings supported by a restful, occasional solo chimes and a pleasing flute solo until, abruptly about 1 and a half minutes in, the percussion literally explodes with a loud pounding rage. Then the Horns erupt, the percussion continues to burst forth, the strings are frenzied. Horns and percussion offer crashing, absurd sounds. At about 3:15 the percussion takes over completely with a regimented pounding in an African style, filling the musical space completely.


This proceeds back to the full horns and percussion playing in a more organized fashion though still grand and crashing. The string section is a series of ripped repeated ribbons of sound creating a spherical effect. The percussion triumphs again and transitions to some splendid strings playing in a swinging, rhythmic fashion along with the beat. The Horns play their own vociferous tone as the strings continue to provide the nesting and the percussion pounds the original eruption. This carries on deep into the almost 14-minute movement. At about 8:30, more band-like string music segues to several horns and trumpets echoing a heroic theme. The trumpet, so symbolic of American classical composition, announces the final 4-minutes of the symphony which are surprisingly complex and rich, not band-like at all, in full orchestration leading to a satisfying conclusion.

Of his late work, Symphony Nos. 60 and 63 are also wonderfully entertaining pieces of music. No. 60 “To the Appalachian Mountains” (1985) is a 33-minute examination of themes previously developed by another American composer, Aaron Copland, though it certainly contains much that is distinctly Hovhaness. No. 63 “Loon Lake” (1988) is a two-movement work lasting slightly over 26-minutes. A short preamble, band-like of course, gives way to a beautiful bassoon theme, a calm in the mist. The extended second movement is carried dreamily along by lightly plucked strings and melodic flute. The movement then proceeds through numerous richly varied expressions ending with a triumphant trumpet.

I do not mean to imply that Hovhaness was a modern Haydn or Beethoven. He certainly cannot stand up in direct comparison with Mahler or even Shostakovich for that matter. But, Hovhaness created a remarkably large number of symphonies in a time when the traditional symphony was out of favor with most composers, who preferred numerous other forms for orchestral expression. A significant number of his symphonies are a great listen.