Posted tagged ‘Blythe Gamble’

A Fan’s Notes: Concerts 2019

January 28, 2020

This is the 14th year I’ve written an annual roundup of my favorite concerts for the online edition of the Madison weekly Isthmus. I’m guessing I’ve seen close to 900 shows over the years. Yeah, I do love live music.

My 2019 faves lean to jazz and Americana. They range from rising jazz stars Makaya McCraven and Isaiah Collier to icons John Prine, Kris Kristofferson and Alejandro Escovedo.

Here’s a sample of how I saw things:

Forgotten history no more

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, Stoughton Opera House, Nov. 3, 2019

I was never a fan of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and its take on old-time string-band music. I dislike revivalism. I don’t want to hear how the music was played in the old days. I flee from Dixieland bands. I shudder at musicians wearing period clothes while recreating Finnish logging songs from northern Wisconsin. I want to hear fresh takes on old music, or the real McCoys making it.

But now I’ve changed my tune, to a degree. Increasingly I think recovering historical memory is essential for identifying the good and bad of our shared cultural legacy. Rhiannon Giddens, the ex-Chocolate Drops singer and banjo player, is not just blessed with a gorgeously rich voice, but she’s engaged in a necessary campaign to reconnect the rich history of country music with its purposely obscured African American roots.

And, yeah, that means giving an honest nod to demeaning minstrelsy and how white musicians in blackface began to bring African American music into the broader Southern vernacular, while mostly forgotten black musicians were simultaneously remaking the Scots-Irish tunes for their own purposes,

All this sounds much more pedantic than Giddens’ performance. Good music is good music. Giddens is great because she can break your heart singing Patsy Cline as well as Nina Simone ballads, not to mention the sad old Scots-Irish laments that became foundational to the “high lonesome” sound of country music

Hey, it probably helps that Giddens, this quintessential American musician, lives in Ireland.

You must remember this

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Symphony Center (Chicago), Feb. 23, 2019

I heard lots of symphonic music in Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. None better in 2019 than the august Riccardo Muti at the helm of the world class Chicago Symphony performing Mozart’s Requiem. Certain pieces just blow me away. I might as well be strapped in my seat for safety reasons. We’re talking sensory overload. A huge chorus. Massive orchestra. Opera soloists (led by soprano Benedetta Torre) who shook the walls. This was the music of transcendence, a meditation on death and God.

But Muti, shaped by his Italian upbringing, had something else in mind for the concert opener: a requiem of another sort marked by raw anger and pain. This was not Mozart’s calming acceptance of fate. Muti wanted to honor the victims of the Le Fosse Ardeatine massacre outside of Rome on the 75th anniversary of the event..

He chose little-known American composer William Schuman’s 9th Symphony. This somber, dissonant and sometimes clamorous piece was inspired by the memory of 335 Italian civilians summarily shot, killed and buried unmarked in an Italian quarry by the retreating German SS in 1944.

At Muti’s direction, Symphony Center’s rotunda was filled with artifacts and photos documenting the Nazi outrage. When I wrote the first draft of this concert review, it dawned upon me how much Muti has in common with Rhiannon Giddens. They are two artists — though different in their talents — who deeply believe music is a vessel of cultural memory.

To read the full story please go here.

My older roundups are here, assuming the links remain true: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 201420132012201120102009200820072006.


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