Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Impossible Alchemy, a Love Poem by Payman Akhlaghi (2013, English, Persian); کیمیای ناممکن، شعری از پیمان اخلاقی

Impossible Alchemy
A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi
(نسخۀ فارسی در پایین)
(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on December 7th, 2013, under Impossible Alchemy.

Impossible alchemy,
This eruption of laughter,
Rising from the fear,
The reviving gleam that buds
At the tip of despair's twig,
The tender sigh that blooms
Amidst dire anguish.

Impossible alchemy,
This metamorphosis of
A hardened slab into shimmering light,
Stridency into oneiric harmonies,
The tempest into a calm sea,
Futile timidity into noble might.

Forget the chemistry!

Impossible alchemy,
This flood of a molten heart,
This drift of a dormant mind,
The secrets to which, tonight,
You only hold,
In a wave,
In a word,
In a wink.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

"کیمیای ناممکن"
 -- شعری از پیمان اخلاقی --
(برگردان فارسی از نویسنده)

کیمیای ناممکن است
این فوران خنده که از دل ترس می خیزد،
برق نوری زندگی بخش
که بر تکشاخۀ نومیدی می دمد،
آه لطیفی که در بستر رنج شکوفه می کند.

کیمیایی ناممکن است
این دگرسانیِ
تخته سنگی به تابش نور،
آوایی گوشخراش به هماهنگی های رؤیاوار،
طوفانی به آرامش اقیانوس،
شرم بی حاصل به نیرویی شریف و پایدار.

شیمی را فراموش کن!

کیمیای ناممکن است
این سَیَلانِ ذهنِ خواب رفته،
این طغیان دلی ذوب شده،
کیمیایی که رازش را، امشب
تنها تو می دانی
در یک واژه،
یک موج دست،
یک چشمک،
یک نگاه...

© 2013، پیمان اخلاقی. همۀ حقوق برای مؤلف محفوظ است.
© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. English and Persian. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

John Ford, Stagecoach & Non-Ideological Montage; Original Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Ford's Stagecoach & Non-Ideological Montage
An Essay by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 4; Fully Revised)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on August 19th, 2014, Revision 4 on the 24th, under Memo on Cinema: Ford's Stagecoach & Non-Ideological Montage

I just revisited John Ford's "Stagecoach" of 1939, ca. 90'. It's not only a tightly made Western, but a sophisticated drama, with metaphorically expressed socio-political commentaries inherent to the fabric of its story. Seventy-five years later, it's remained surprisingly "modern", nearly perfect, intellectual, artful, and entertaining, at times didactic, but typically tactful, only on occasion too ostensible about its "message". Vivid characters with tangible and contrasting intentions reach far beyond generic stereotypes. This time, I found its sense of visual form and style impeccable. The framing of every shot, and the composition of lines, objects, and movements therein; the manipulation of background to highlight, reinforce, or agitate the foreground by agreeing harmonies or contrasting dissonances; interpretative applications of the depth of field; attractive camera angles and dramatic points of view; everything is closely controlled underneath a a rounded look an easy flow. Should the chance rise, I could analyze some sequences down to the frame.

One could spend a full hour or two talking on only the last 30 minutes of the film. Start out with careful build-up to the 7-minute ambush and battle sequence, mostly across the desert, ca. minute 70-ff. Examine its camera work and lighting, meticulously shaped dramatic curve, thespian and acrobatic skills, complex human and animal choreography, and especially for me, its skillful symphonic score in sync with the already perfect rhythm of the scene. Time some shots, anticipate some cues, and you might realize too how musically this sequence is constructed from the foundation, what an extravagant ballet it is. Furthermore, note how trauma, otherwise all too present, is often suggested, subdued, seldom literal, altogether, never allowed to traumatize the audience, or distract from the narrative.

Then speak of the climatic shoot-out between Ringo (John Wayne) and his three archenemies. In contrast to the previous sequence, the build up draws on tense silence or ironic use of ragtime piano coming from the bars, reserving synced underscoring with chromatic suspense for the last few steps before the final confrontation. See the sudden aversion of the camera, at the moment of carnage, away and to Dallas (Claire Trevor). Listen to the 5 shots fired, whereas you know Ringo had only three bullets left with him. Did he survive the unfair duel?

Else, focus on the director's rich vocabulary and broad range of montage techniques. Note his intuitive sense of visual-dramatic rhythm unique to each sequence. As the moment calls, he may generate momentum by numerous cuts, or by allowing the action to develop in longer takes. He may risk an extreme track-in to highlight his protagonist's static entrance, or elsewhere, let the carefully choreographed action do the edit within the frame. When it comes to montage, he remains erudite, versatile, natural, flexible, creative, non-ideological, yet polished, with a conservative veneer. Unlike a Chaplin or Renoir, with their decided preference for montage inside the frame; or an Eisenstein, or even Hitchcock in general, with a decided inclination toward shorter stable takes; Ford's mis-en-scène remains fluid, diverse, eclectic, in the service of the scene, without tying his innovative imagination down with presets. "Stagecoach" breathes naturally, at times slow, fast, deep, panting, gasping, sighing in relief. It breathes with the drama, in image and sound, from the perspective of an invisible narrator, and with regards to the point of view of a very human audience.

Examples abound. Spending the night at a roadside tavern, Ringo seriously eyes Dallas, from behind, as she graciously leaves a corridor through a carefully lit and placed door frame. He is briefly interrupted in the hallway by the owner of the tavern, who's worried about Ringo's fate. He walks on and joins Dallas outside, next to the fence, to talk her into marrying him. The sequence is developed patiently, feeling as a respite during the long and turbulent journey, broken into very few long takes, narrated by a lyrical music.

Later on, toward the conclusion of the battle scene, Hatcliffe (John Carradine), out of ammunition, decides without a word to use his last bullet to "save" the young and beautiful Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), a lady under his protection, from falling into savage hands. From a close up of the gun being prepared, the camera pans to the right to show the fragile woman broken into prayers under stress. The gun approaches her skull from the left, while she remains unaware of her imminent fate. But then it drops at the sound of a bullet, suggesting that Hatcliffe was hit. A positive change in the underscore, the emergence of "source music" bugles, the smile appearing on Lucy's face, these herald that the passengers are finally saved. They all take place in a single long take, a first-rate cinematic moment, in a somewhat less likely place -- a successful work of entertainment.

Shortly afterwards, when a mob takes away a resented banker in the close up, Dallas emerges from within the crowd and walks toward Ringo next to the stagecoach; once more, all in a single take. Next, as they walk away, the director shows a masterstroke of mis-en-scène and montage. To date, filmmakers are warned to avoid the confusion caused by jumping, especially rapidly, aimlessly, in successive shots, and without a logic, over the so-called "imaginary line", within a continuous sequence. Without being fanatical about this elementary but useful principle, you might still be utterly surprised, as I was, how the director effortlessly hops over "the line", when Ringo and Dallas walk away from the stagecoach and the three men next to it: the two leave the shot toward the left; we track them walking from left to the right; cut back to the three men, their eyes perfectly choreographed to zoom attention on the left; cut back to the loving couple walking from the left to the right. The successive changes of direction lead to no confusion. I think it works without a glitch, first, for the director draws upon two different points of view; and second, for his intuitive sense of a space and orientation that is guided and controlled by the elements of the scene, namely, the street and the pavement.  It's well thought out, innovative, a first-rate example of advanced montage without pretension.

Much has been contributed technically by the remarkable continuity observed between the Exterior shots and their Interior counterparts, with their ubiquity of back projections. The process-shots are admirably successful for their time; and Bert Glennon's cinematography, stylish, beautiful, and fluent, altogether suggests the possibility of the artist's deep foundation in photography. More astonishing, however, are the stunt works that perpetuate the battle scene, which to my recollection remain among the most accomplished feats for any cinematic period. To gain a sense of scale, keep in mind that "Ben-Hur", with its breathtaking chariot race, was not about to appear for another 20 years.

The music direction is credited to Boris Morros, with several others credited with adapting American folk tunes for the soundtrack. Many scenes, most prominently the battle sequence, bear underscoring too original to be considered mere "adaptations"; and altogether, the music accompanies and reinforces the narrative quite beautifully. That warrants due credit be allocated to each composer for their unique contribution to this excellent film score -- a task that would call for minute records and other accurate outside information, and which would lie outside the scope of this essay, in the purview of film and music historians. I am not sure that would be an easy task. After all, in the studio system, such divisions of labor and collaborations were common place in the music department, among hired musicians par excellence, who were not expected to receive (prominent) due recognition.

All things considered, however, this remains unmistakably a director's film. This time, particularly taking into account Ford's "My Darling, Clementine", as well as "The Grapes of Wrath", I admit to better realize why the younger generation of French directors -- I think including Truffaut -- were long ago reported for their great admiration for John Ford, whom they could properly cite as an "auteur" of the cinema, without hesitation.

(*) The author is a musician by inclination and education.
(*) The excellent restoration by Criterion Collection is available on DVD, and currently, on Hulu.com .
(*) wikipedia.org and imdb.com were briefly consulted for basic data, such as titles, dates, and names.
(*) The above was an original note.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Score Visualization for Instrumentalists; Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Score Visualization for Instrumentalists
From a Performance Perspective
An Original Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on November 28th, 2014, under Score Visualization for Instrumentalists, and also on author's public page, ComposerPA (Payman Akhlaghi).

Pianists in particular can benefit much from "visualizing scores" away from their instrument. It's a very efficient way to improve sight-reading, to learn new music accurately, and to improve your inner hearing skills.

Hold a score in hand. Study it at your own pace, as slowly as you may need. Try to hear as many notes and chords as you can by your inner ear, say, using one of several "solfeggio" methods.* Analyze passages and recognize the patterns -- rhythms, intervals, chords, scales, etc. --and the larger forms. Imagine your hands and fingers as they rest and the keys, and move about the keyboard. If advanced, imagine your foot work on the pedal. Now go through the passage again, in your mind, in "real time". When possible, move the fingers on a desktop before you. Once confident, try the passage at the piano from memory. Notice how easier it feels to practice and play this new music. Notice how much sooner than before you master the music.

Start out with very small bites, say, one measure or a short phrase at the most. As you make progress, increase the size of the portion. Keep at it. Soon enough, you'd be surprised by the results. Yo may share your success here with me. Good luck.

Notes:

* Solfeggio, Solfège, Solmization: Sight-singing using numbers or syllables (solmization) assigned to the degrees of the scale (e.g. the Movable Do); or preferably for more chromatic music, using syllables fixed to pitch classes (the Fixed Do).

** Karl Leimer and Walter Gieseking dedicated a large section to "visualization" in their highly recommended book, as it was a cornerstone of Leimer's teaching method. See "Piano Technique", 1932, Republished by Dover, 1972.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro"; Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)


The Song of Songs vs. The Marriage of Figaro
Continuing Series on Shir ha-Shirim
A Short Essay By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 6)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer  on November 16th, 2014, under "Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro" .

I have been convinced for long that the outline of "The Song of Songs", "Shir ha-Shirim", as poetically ambiguous as it might be in its current form, consists of the story of a maiden taken to the chambers of a king, perhaps as a slave, while she yearns for her beloved, a free-spirited young man, say, a shepherd, who roams the meadows and skips over the mountains, somewhat metaphorically -- while it also allows perhaps poetically for him to be identifiable at the same time with (aspects of) the King.

A line of thought might be pursued on the interplays of power and desire, wealth and love, possession and deprivation, in sharply stratified societies. Thus, a case could be made for this literary work as a cry of love coming to us from ancient times, and that of a woman, the cry of fragile loving souls of those who suffered the conditions of servitude, in monarchies, feudal societies, or other despotic systems. I further propose the idea in a preliminary form, that especially to Beaumarchais, and possibly to later Da Ponte, the 18th century playwright and the librettist of "Marriage of Figaro", respectively, the relevance of this plot in essence to modern times was not lost.

At this point, and pending in-depth research, I offer the following introduction to this theme, which so far I may regard as original. To begin, let's consider the names of the title characters in the play and the opera:

1) Figaro, formerly "the barber of Seville", currently the Count's valet and butler. (*)
 - I find the following explanation interesting and appealing: Figaro, from "fils Caron", a nickname of the playwright, meaning "son of Caron", where "caron" I choose to consider from the Welsh "caru", "to love". That is, "Son of Love", "Beloved Son". [1,2]
- I further consider the Latin root "figare", that is, "to fix"; and acknowledging my want of linguistic knowledge, I propose that the character's job as to "fix or do things", whether as a "barber" or the later "valet", i.e. "the handyman", or more generally, "the man of labor", is reflected in the name. I consider both of the above senses jointly. [3]

2) Suzanne (play), Susanna (opera, Italian). (*)
* Derived unequivocally from the Hebrew "Shoshan" (lily) and "ShoshanAh" (rose), both appearing repeatedly in the Song of Songs. Chapter 2 opens with:
"I am the lily (chavatzelet) of Sharon, the rose of the valleys."
"Like the rose (shoshanah) among the thorny flowers (thistles), so is my beloved among the maidens."

3) Countess Rosine / Rosina: (*)
Diminutive of "rose"; equivalent to "Shoshanah" in Hebrew. Note that in the first play before "Marriage...", that is, "The Barber of Seville", Rosine is the fair lady locked up by a doctor, who by Figaro's intervention, finally marries the Count. (**)

4) Count Almaviva. (*)
From "alma" ("soul", Italian, Spanish) and "viva", (alive, lively); that is, "lively soul".

5) Chérubine / Cherubino. (*)
Diminutive of Cherub, "little angel".

Considering the above names, and plots, I speculate that Beaumarchais developed the first of the plays, "Barber...", more linearly along the love triangle of the "Song of Songs", and offered a more literal transposition of the plot, based on then standard contemporary translation and accepted narrative of the book -- that is, with the Doctor acting as the King and his guards, and the Count being the Lover (our Free-Spirited Shepherd, yet also the King Solomon) who finally reaches his love, Rosina" (Shoshanah). Whilst in "Marriage...", with a seemingly more subtle treatment of the theme, it's Figaro (now our Shepherd) whose love of Susanna (Shoshanah) is threatened by the Count (King's) power to possess. Still, a more literal representation of the "hapless lover" is further nested in the storyline as Cherubino, who's ordered away by the Count to serve in his army as punishment for his romantic adventures which are interfering with the Count's. Notwithstanding the immense differences in period, tone, style, spirit, etc., the parallels between the plots of the plays and the "Song..." do not seem coincidental. (I postpone to detail my own contrasting reading of the plot of "Song..." to another occasion.)

The line of research may further continue to find parallels in the details of the lyrics; which would require a separate essay.

(*) See Wikipedia.org under Marriage of Figaro, opera and play, characters.
(**) See Wikipedia.org under "Barber of Seville".
[1] Behind the Name "Figaro": http://www.behindthename.com/name/figaro
[2] Behind the Name, "Caron": http://www.behindthename.com/name/caron
[3] See "figare" on Google Translator.

© 2014, Series by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Third Person; Short Independent Film Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

"Third Person" (2014), A Short Film Review
Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 5)

(*) First published on June 26th, 2014 on Faceboom.com/PAComposer under "A Short Review of "Third Person" (2014).

"Third Person", written and directed by Paul Haggis, begins -- and ends -- with a man writing at a desk, who hears the echo of a child from the behind, "Watch me". An unmistakable air of tragic love, loss, grief, remorse, and loneliness has filled the quiet of the hotel room. With little pause, the scene gives way to a tapestry of sophisticated variations on a singular theme: the love for, and the loss of, a child.

Whether the seed idea is thought of as an actual event in the life of the author, or it's meant to be a mere figment of his imagination,it's diffracted, reassembled and evolved into three salient character complexes each reflecting an aspect of it: the author, his wife, his young lover, and her lover-dad; an American businessman, his estranged wife, a Roma woman, her thuggish man; a young distracted woman, her boy taken away from her, her ex-husband, and her ex's new woman. Each relationship pair suffers in one way or another the very present absence of a child. Besides their essential thematic relation, the three complexes have enough overlap -- locations, incidents -- combined with convergent arcs to produce necessary cohesion and avoid an episodic feel.

The ensemble cast, including Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, Moran Atias, Mila Kunis, and James Franco, bring as much contrast and intensity that the story could afford to their respective roles. The music by Dario Marianelli, performed by the Symphony Orchestra of Belgium, with himself at the piano, mirrors and underscores the organic crescendo of the screenplay with a quasi-minimalistic circularity, an increasingly layered orchestration, and a lively texture. The cinematography and edit hide their evident skills masterfully in the service of the narrative.

The thrust of this creative delight of a film, however, may be seen as its utter trust in the humanity of its characters, even those with the worst of flaws. The empathic attachment builds successfully toward a witty ending, as each characters fades out of the life of the author, one by one, away from each other, emphasizing their fictional existence in the actual plain of the world of the author.

(*) This is an original note by Payman Akhlaghi, a musician by inclination and education.
(*) IMDB.com was briefly consulted for artists' credits.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On The Gun Issue: Some Preliminary Practical Thoughts; An Opinion by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Opinion: The Gun Issue; Some Preliminary Practical Thoughts
An Original Essay By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 4)
NB: The following is a layman's view.

(*) Originally published on June 12, 2014, at Facebook.com/PAComposer under Opinion: The Gun Issue; Some Preliminary Practical Thoughts. 

We've been right on dreaming of a country, and a world, free of gun violence. We've been right on asking for sensible laws on access to guns. We've been wrong so far on the categories of the criteria for any such limiting regulations.

Conspicuously, the current anti-gun position aims to limit access to guns based on psychological competence. But instead, to decide on the right of access -- or rather, the privilege of access-- it's more reasonable to first concentrate on the "necessity to own"; second, the "merit to own", i.e. the ethics of ownership; third, the predictable "intent of use"; fourth, "aptitude to operate"; fourth, evolving "competence for operation"; fifth, the permitted "boundaries of the types of protective devices" to be available at all; sixth, the "minimum prescription" needed for the type of permitted intent; seventh,"verifiable preparation for proper use"; eighth, chronic "monitoring".

A need-based approach to gun ownership will have to consider the following factors, among many:
1) Population density of the area of ownership;
2) The natural hazards of the environment;
3) Maximum potential degree and efficiency of protection delegated to the officials;
4) The demographics of the area;
5) The stated and predictable intent of use;
6) The potential applications of the devices;
5) Any peaceful intents to own, other than protection.

A need-based approach to access will assign priority to "protective needs", and confine any "recreational intents" to sports arenas, and any "professional intents" such as various forms of research to the physical boundaries of the respective institutions. In basic terms, it would mean to ban gun ownership perhaps for all people but the peace officers in most urban areas; allow extremely restricted access in very low density suburban areas; appreciate the increased need to access in rural areas; confine access for fun or research, or other such secondary and peaceful intents, to within proper facilities.

To ban and/or restrict gun access to such degree will reduce violence first, by the evident decrease in availability; second by the extreme widespread increase in communal and internalized responsibility; third, by rising the bar on the expectation of civility and non-violence in the overall culture; fourth, by bringing down substantively the expectation of violence, its degrees and forms, even within criminal communities; fifth, by reinforcing and enhancing a culture of life and dignity. If so, "gun" would become a taboo concept, and even at times of aggression, the last word or thing to pop up in the minds of people.

To seek limiting regulations based on "psychological profiling" is a misdirected attempt. Even if successful, it's bound almost certainly to generate arbitrary discrimination against large categories of innocent people; whereas an innocent harmless person, merely labeled with one of the many ever-changing psychological classifications in circulation, ought to have as much right to her life as the crowds of "sane" people who might plan and pilfer her farm in the daylight. Contrary to our best of intents, such laws might turn into de facto acts of lynching by consensus and with impunity before our own baffled eyes. To my knowledge, violent crimes have not been necessarily committed by people diagnosable with a variety of serious psychological labels; but I can easily imagine that many victims of such heinous crimes have indeed been carrying such stigmas.

Psychology today is an admirable field, precisely because of its many dedicated,  intelligent, and humble professionals, engaged in heated debates, trying to overcome its badly flawed history, to compensate for the biases afflicting its methodologies and methods, to deal with its imprecise nature relative to many other sciences, and to try to arrive at ever-elusive consensus on narrow topics. Psychology would thus serve best in general if applied with humility and modesty. As such, it would certainly become a consideration in the current discourse on gun ownership, but hardly the first, let alone the sole, criteria in our considerations.

Needless to say, for any of this to start, America has to interpret the "right to carry arms" as "the privilege to carry arms". That would require a separate essay by legal experts.

NOTES: 
(*) The author is a musician, by inclination and education.
(*) The author has had a strong and consistent position against in particular physical violence.
(*) The author has not owned, does not own, and does not plan to own, guns. However, after many years of contemplation, observation, and conversation with erudite friends, he has tried to see the other side of the story, as well.
(*) Naturally, the author reserves his rights and privileges as a human being, and as a citizen. Nothing in this essay was meant to limit any such rights and/or privileges.
(*) This essay and the footnotes are some works in progress; as such, the stated points and conclusions may be changed in the face of emerging facts and understandings.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Flight of the Bumblebee and Musical Imagination; A Short Introduction by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Flight of the Bumblebee and Musical Imagination

A Short Introduction by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on May 15, 2014, under "Flight of the Bumblebee and Musical Imagination".

As I listen to this this famous and successful musical painting, I can imagine the flight of a bee, fast approaching you, whizzing occasionally by your ears, you chasing it a bit with a fly swatter, but missing it, as it flies away and disappears. As Wikipedia explains, the original orchestral version [1,2] comes from an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov, "Tsar Sultan", and it closes an Act when a character is transformed by a spell into a bee.[3] Ever since its appearance, it's been arranged and performed as a solo piece by virtuoso instrumentalists. The best-known adaptation of it in the repertoire is the Rachmaninov piano version, which I share below in a classic recording by Horowitz. [4] However, thanks to the young pianist Yuja Wang, another exciting and seemingly impossible virtuoso adaptation of the work has resurfaced,[5] which was done by the mid-century Lisztian pianist, Cziffra. A kind user has provided a recording of the piece by Cziffra himself, alongside a slideshow of the score.[6] (The score maybe obtained elsewhere online to study, but I can't be sure if it's in the Public Domain.) Cziffra has never failed to amaze me, as I wrote about another of his performances in a recent Memo [7]; and this is no exception.

Besides its adaptation to many acoustic instruments, as a simple search in YouTube suggests, the piece has also stimulated some captivating electronic versions. Jean-Jacques Perry's version from the "Moog Indigo" album is full of creative moments that capture the 1970's epoch.[8] If memory serves me well, an (edited) version of this adaptation was used for the opening titles of the Persian-dubbed cartoon series, "Hutch the Honey Bee", which my generation grew up with as kids.

The composition's virtuoso potentials could also mislead many young and gifted performers to attempt it at faster and faster speeds, as a showcase of rapid dexterity, to the detriment of the music. As Horowitz and Cziffra demonstrate, virtuoso playing often includes speed, but it's about many other things besides speed. Whatever tempo you choose, it should first serve the music, the meaning of the composition, and the musical imagination. This is a principle that Wynton Marsalis well understands in his jaw dropping and clear adaptation of the Bumbleebee to trumpet.[9]


© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"The Familiar Stranger: A Page From My Life"; by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

A Page From My Life: The Familiar Stranger
By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 4)

(*) First published on Monday, April 28th, 2014, at Facebook.com/PAComposer, under The Familiar Stranger...

I took the bus today, the third time in years, the first time mostly for the sake of it. I felt strangely related, reconnected, if not necessarily reunited, with my environment, an experience that I had missed through the past many years of driving in Los Angeles. Yet, somehow, the ride also made me feel like a tourist. I saw things, on that very familiar crowded road, on those very familiar streets, that I had not noticed before. In a way, I was taking a vacation for an afternoon to a place where everyone in the world goes to spend their holidays: my very city.

Of course, I could not have been just a tourist. If anything, the sheer contrast of the ride underscored how much I had grown into an extension of the city, even as an outsider, if not a stranger. I could see this in the way I was driven to ask the drivers some basic questions, which I could have indeed answered by myself from the posted signs and brochures; and the shame of it afterwards. The dependence of a wandering tourist had momentarily silenced the confidence of the resident.

I notice that such existential juxtapositions have been a common element of my life so far, as a Jew growing up in Iran, as an Iranian Jew developing in America, as an Iranian American Jew living in LA. Whether I'll ever lose that multiplicity of identities, it seems to afford me readily a more unique perspective on society and the world. Perhaps, it was always the same for many a Jew before me, those eternal outsiders within, with a burning desire to belong, whose dual status was revealed in their comprehensive thoughts and cosmopolitan stands.

Sunday, April 27th, 2014, Los Angeles

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Pensive Cutout; Short Fiction by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

The Pensive Cutout
Short Fiction by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 5)

(*) First published on April 18, 2014 at Facebook.com/PAComposer under The Pensive Cutout (Fiction).

I clutched the cup of cappuccino, sat in the patio of the coffee shop, and opened a large volume to an entry about tropical butterflies. Those wings. Those colors. Those streaming dreams. One red butterfly with large black dots shook its antennae, flapped its wings, flew out of the photograph, sat on my shoulder, and whispered into my ears, "Oh, man, why an encyclopedia? Next time, try some magic." Then she flew back into the book, chose another photograph, and sat therein still. A shiver ran through my body. It felt as if I was about to shoot sticky spider threads out of my wrists. It felt as if I was about to spew some octopus ink, or howl and shriek in fear and agony. But instead, I grew some long whiskers, and a paired set of claws. I woke up to the sound of the morning alarm, panting, soaked in perspiration.

I took a blow dryer to myself, shaved some tiny shreds hanging from my armpit, taped and painted over a small cut in my right thigh, straightened my left leg, put on a white shirt and a black tie, forwent the coffee, and pondered the long day ahead, to stand still for hours, to smile at every customer. I opened the window, bored and confused, and I let the wind carry me to my job, near the top of the escalator, inside the department store.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Manipulating Time, Emotions and Impressions via Montage; A Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Manipulating Time, Emotions and Impressions via Montage
A Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 2)

(*) First published on March 10th, 2014 at Facebook.com/PAComposer, under Manipulating Time, Emotions...

I was thinking today of Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 classic silent "Battleship Potemkin", particularly, the Odessa Steps sequence from the film. Interestingly, I learned from Wikipedia [1] that historically, the events dramatized in this most famous scene did not actually take place on this staircase; even though the crowd were in fact reportedly shot at, perhaps elsewhere in the city at the time of the events. Notwithstanding this diversion from historical facts, and the mythologizing ideological halo surrounding the project, the scene leaves us with an impression of experienced humanity and the illusion of historical veracity, complete with the "perceived sound" of the guns firing and the people screaming in this very silent film.
[NB: The music on this version is an excerpt of work(s) by Shostakovich.]

The influence of the Odessa Stairs sequence on the theory and practice of cinema afterwards, and on montage in particular, has been far reaching; and deservedly so. Note the rich and contrasting vocabulary of the camera angles, frame sizes, and camera positions. Note the director's control over the precise timing of each shot. Note how he exploits the point-of-view shots, the reaction shots, the cross-cuts (parallel edit), the inserts of objects and faces, and the tracking shots, to maintain and maximize the tension and momentum in this long sequence. Note how the perception of time is compressed and/or extended, throughout, especially as the stroller carrying a child speeds down the stairs. Note how he manages to communicate the sound of the gun fires, or the screaming of a mother, by the timely placement of the extreme close-ups, in this very silent film.[3,4]

Among the diverse list of subsequent films influenced by the Potemkin [2], I would like to cite a most direct homage paid by Brian De Palma in 1987, i.e. the stairway shoot-out sequence from "The Untouchables", featuring Kevin Costner and Andy Garci. Note how De Palma finds it necessary to draw upon slow-motion to better magnify the perception of time: perhaps to avoid jamming his "screen time" and allow each shot to be absorbed; perhaps because the "real time" of the sequence is much shorter than the Odessa sequence; and perhaps because what has preoccupied him the most is a smooth prolongation of the real-time into an stretched-out screen-time, as opposed to its compression.

P.S. As I recall, I first learned about the significance of montage in this Eisenstein classic, as a young teenager, from a series on cinema offered on the Iranian TV, produced by E Makki, with a special guest appearance by editor Dr. A Zabeti-Jahromi. Such TV series may go a long way in educating the public on the arts, in this case, on cinema.

Footnotes:
(*) You may see Wikipedia under "Potemkin Stairs" and the "Potemkin Mutiny" for more historical and geographical information.
(*) The following two sites provide a quick reference for some common cinematic terms:

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

And Moses Was a Most Modest Man; An Essay on Life and Judaism by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

And Moses Was a Most Modest Man
An Essay on Life and Judaism by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 2)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 12th, 2014, under And Moses Was a Most Modest Man.

* This is Not a religious commentary.
* The following is not meant at all to approve of violence.

I'm contemplating the story of Moses in Exodus in regards to the nuances of his reactions toward oppression. From 2:12 to 2:17, within 5 concise verses,[1] we're told that the child grew up, came to meet his people, and saved one of them from harsh treatment by striking the oppressor and burying the body. Yet when two Hebrews were fighting one another, he spoke to them with no physical intervention, and he advised them to stop quarreling their kind. His appeal was rejected, and instead, he was threatened with revealing his secret. He runs away from the wrath of Pharaoh, ends up saving the daughters of the Priest of Midian from a gang of thugs, and helps them water their sheep.

His responses seem to be unique to each situation. In the first incident, no one else is around, so he stands up for the weak all by himself. In the second incident, two oppressed people are involved, so he can't easily take sides; instead, he resorts to mediation through conciliatory dialogue. But when women are forced aside, he steps forward to protect them even as an individual against a crowd. All three situations involve acts of altruism, devoid of self-interest; yet we should be happy that, as I've heard, Jewish commentators have rightfully objected to the extreme violence of the first incident.[2] However, the face-to-face and spontaneous nature of that act of defense, leads us to understand it in terms of what Hannah Arendt might have sympathized with in her contemplation On Violence.[3] [Cf. below for a quotation.]

We read elsewhere in the Pentateuch that "the man Moses was very modest (humble), more so than all other people on the face of the earth." (Numbers, 12:3) [4] Notwithstanding the evident discrepancies between the various sections of the Pentateuch, this description has no contradiction with Exodus 2:12ff. Here's a decent if flawed character, a man of few words, curious, honest, wary of hypocrisy, as shy as he is straightforward when it's time to claim the rights of the oppressed. He's motivated to act when lives are at risk and principles are at stake, and he resorts to violence only when all other options fail the circumstances at hand.

Moses is also an eternal outsider. In Egypt, though growing up in the court of Pharaoh, he remains conscious of his Hebrew identity. But later on, among the Midianites, he is seen as an Egyptian. The author of the story is very clear on this issue: Moses names his first son Gershom, in reference to the word "ger", i.e. an alien, a stranger, in the land of Midian. More generally, his solitude among the crowd remains one of the running themes of the entire book, to the very end of his leadership, when he disappears to die alone in the mountains.

[1] Exodus 2:12-15, Hebrew with a basic English translation:
http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0202.htm

[2] Lectures by Chacham Ouriel Davidi, Tehran, Iran, 1980's.

[3] Hannah Arendt, On Violence, 1969. Here I refer to her offering an understanding of a violent act by an individual esp. when self-defense is evoked, despite her overall objection to violence, especially by the authority and state.

[3] Hannah Arendt, "On Violence", 1969.

NB: Here I refer to her offering an understanding of a violent act by an individual esp. when (as I understand) self-defense warrants it, despite her overall objection to violence, especially by those in power, authority, and state.

The following is a passage relevant to this argument. Note that I think she seems biased by the long-standing association of "masculinity and violence". An assertive state, for instance, could be quite masculine yet non-violent, and self-control can be viewed by, say, a culture as even more masculine than acting out of rage. Nevertheless, note how she understands a complex situation in her eloquent words:

"To act with deliberate speed goes against the grain of rage and violence, but this does not make them irrational. On the contrary, in private as well as public life there are situations in which the very swiftness of a violent act may be the only appropriate remedy. The point is not that this permits us to let off steam—which indeed can be equally well done by pounding the table or slamming the door. The point is that under certain circumstances. violence—acting without argument or speech and without counting the consequences—is the only way to set the scales of justice right again. (Billy Budd, striking dead the man who bore false witness against him, is the classical example.) In this sense, rage and the violence that sometimes—not always—goes with it belong among the "natural" human emotions, and to cure man of them would mean nothing less than to dehumanize or emasculate him. That such acts, in which men take the law into their own hands for justice's sake, are in conflict with the constitutions of civilized communities is undeniable; but their antipolitical character, so manifest in Melville's great story, does not mean that they are inhuman or "merely" emotional."

[Arendt, Hannah (1970-03-11). On Violence (Harvest Book) (p. 64). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.]


[4] Numbers, 12:3, Hebrew with an English translation:
http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0412.htm

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fame and Privacy; A Meditation on Life by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Meditations on Life: Fame and Privacy
By: Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 1)

(*) First published on Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 6th, 2014, under Meditations on Life: Fame and Privacy.

I once wrote, "Just because I've appeared in the public doesn't mean that I'm in the Public Domain." Imagine the strange experience of cameras and mobile phones being trained on you, everywhere you go, especially on one of your sick and battered days, or when you are holding the hand of your beloved walking down on an otherwise quiet street. Imagine a photo or a video clip of yourself, nothing more than a snap out of the context of your life, going viral without your consent. Do you feel comfortable?

Many of us may confuse for a moment the human being whom we run into on the street with what we've heard of him, his persona from afar at the podium, or his image on the screen. But to think that just because you've known Of a person would give you automatically the right to trespass their sphere of privacy, and to tarnish their reasonable trust in the environment, that's a mistake with serious consequences. A fortiori, to organize multitudes to chase and catch a glimpse of the famous or a scoop, it's been a demonstrably dangerous practice.

Neither the self-alienated crowd who objectifies a human being, nor the individual in the spotlight, deprived of many common layers of privacy, may have come equipped by default to handle fame. Years ago, an erudite person noted to me how child actors tended to grow depressed as they got older and missed the attention they once received. On the other hand, adult actors are known to have come in grips with some aggressive trespassers. Given the tragically dwindling health and habits of many talented young and adult individuals before the public eye, even because of it, it's about time to reinforce a serious discourse toward a more reasonable culture of fame. From the outset, we should aim to to help the individuals and the public see the human in themselves and in another, and that reasonable expectations of privacy in the public arena are respected and protected.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How Large Is Six Million...; A Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

How Large Is Six Million...
A Memo By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 5th, 2014, under How Large Is Six Million....

Imagine yourself sitting behind a desk in an office where people come to you every day to be interviewed. You are paid a handsome amount to find out about each person, whether it's a man or a woman, young or adult, their name, age, city of birth, parents and grandparents, children when it applies, occupation, joys and sorrows, regrets and future dreams. You are required to spend one minute with each interviewee, and you'll do this five hours a day, five days a week, back to back, without a break. If you can keep pace for 52 weeks per year, five days a week, 5 hours per day, without taking a week or a minute off, then you will need 76 years, 11 months, and one day to meet six million individuals and spend only one minute with each of them.

A few years ago, the students in an American school were guided to get a sense of "six million" by collecting one single item, and their dramatic and moving effort was captured in the documentary, Paper Clips (2004).

Or you may imagine yourself walking by a file of people who are standing up, facing eastward, shoulder to shoulder, on a straight line, no gaps in the file. Allowing 3 feet width per person, it will take 1 mile to fit 1760 people. A file of six million people would become 3409.09 miles long. That is almost 1000 miles Longer than the direct distance between Los Angeles and New York, which is only about 2448 miles.

Imagine the people, in your office. Imagine the people in the line. Imagine them saying goodbye, lying down, closing their eyes...

- Sites Consulted:
(*) For distance between cities: http://www.distancefromto.net/
(*) For unit conversions: google.com
(*) Imdb.com.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Forms and Moods (Part I); Reflections on Life; by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Reflections on Life: Forms and Moods (Part I)
By Payman Akhlaghi (Short Essay, Draft 3)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 5th, 2014, under  Reflections on Life: Forms and Moods (Part I).

Music affects us. Colors, smells, and shapes impact our mood. Perceptible, or rather perceived, patterns of sensory data, i.e. the form of the objective world, communicate something to us. These are packages of information, which whether implicit and ambiguous, or explicit and unequivocal, sensually immediate or cognitively mediated, may and often do alter something about our mind, our understanding of the world, and our mood. I learned this long ago, and at least in my experience, not even a knowledge of this fact would make us completely immune to the effects.

I remember a few years ago, when I learned a good lesson in certainty, and humility. It was one sunny afternoon in LA, and we were driving with a close friend, speaking casually about a variety of topics, listening to music. It was the CD of a composer whom I very much liked to appreciate at the time. At some point, my mood and thoughts turned unusually negative. She, herself a musician, noticed the change in my attitude, smiled, and suggested that I should change the music. I followed her suggestion with secret reluctance. As a musician and music student, with a demonstrated flair for music analysis, I was resistant to accept that my formulated thoughts, even the logic of my thinking, could have been in any fundamental way influenced by that music. Naturally, I was in for a big surprise, and we would have a laugh about it.

The moment the new music played, the universe was all sunny and bright! A broad smile pulled up on my lips, and my world was all green palm leaves and the proverbial unicorns. I had to put back the first music to make sure that it was not a coincidence, and it wasn't. The darker mood, melancholic sentiments, and negative thoughts had to do something with the first music and my impression of it. Of course, my knowledge of music could give me a relative degree of cognitive detachment compared to the general audience, but fortunately, I would continue to be sensitive to the effects of music, as varied they might be from one person to another.

Most people understand the power of music when it's the subject of their focus. But I always ponder its influence on them when they are not aware of it, especially true for film music. Far stronger than a memorable tune, we are influenced by the atmosphere that the timbre, texture, rhythm and harmony create for a scene, on par with the overall hue of the images. Students of film music might have heard of the "substitution" experiments, when the music of a known cinematic excerpt is replaced by a few other styles of music. The effect is absolutely hilarious. (Imagine the Star Wars opening with a banjo music, or the Persian folk piece, Baba Karam! You get the idea.) The impact of the scene is fundamentally altered with each substitution.

(*) This was an original memo.

(*) On the effect of mood and the biases of judgment, see the excellent "Thinking, Fast and Slow", by Daniel Kahneman.
(*) On cognition and emotions see David Burns' "Feeling Good".
(*) As I recall, a film music scholar, Mr. Wellbey, as I recall, demonstrated the "music substitution experiment" many years ago before a class of musicians at UCLA. The contrast of impressions could be highly dramatic.
(*) The "music substitution experiment" was described in Claudia Gorbman's 1986 book, "Narrative Film Music", by now a standard source on the conceptual studies of film music.
(*) I was glad to read that scholar Daniel Levitin, in his excellent "This Is Your Brain on Music", offers that the impact of the musical timbre on our listening experience might have even heightened in our time. It had been very much true of my overall experience as a musician.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.


(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Shake the Book: Burn the Fat & Fatten the Muscles by Reading the Books; Humor by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Shake the Book: Burn the Fat & Fatten the Muscles by Reading the Books
By Payman Akhlaghi (Humor, Draft 3)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 4th, 2014, under Shake the Book: Burn the Fat...

It came to my attention that reading has largely remained a stationary activity. Aside from the occasional use of the thumb and the index to turn a page or jot down a note, few other limbs get any exercise while we read. Also, as most of us have discovered, reading and eating need not be mutually exclusive; why, we even lie down next to a bag of chips to read an article on sports. The net result is that for every page traveled we may as well gain a fraction of a pound. As for reading while running on the mill, you'll never know whether the words, the legs, or the panting is getting the upper hand. And if you thought walking to the library to lift heavy books was exercise enough, that's no more as well since the instant delivery of the feather-weight eBooks.

But could we somehow concentrate to read and yet get trimmed? How could we integrate large bodily movements into the very act of reading? The solution might be found in a new category of reading experience called Shake Books. After all, gamers found ways to chop the air and dance their day before their TV screens, so why not the book worms?

Consider this: Your reading device, a Shake Book, which comes complete with adjustable weight and other applicable tools, will stop working unless you shake it literally every 5 minutes for 10 times or more. To turn the pages, you would need to squeeze a firm rubber ball and pull on a tough rubber band, of course, switching hands for facing pages. For each new chapter, you'd need to place your Shake Book on the floor and squat on it 5 times or more. Kinesthetic sensors enable intelligent orientation, allowing for complex Book Shakes that would require you to do sit ups, neck rotations, stretches, runs, and push ups, all the while as you enjoy reading your book. Needless to say, for variety and function, authors might program their unique Shake routines into the content of their books.

Imagine to read your Hesse, daily news, Shakespeare, or Facebook threads on your Shake Book. Too much distraction, you may complain. But didn't we adapt so far to almost everything?

Afterthought: Reflecting on my earlier days in the synagogue, moving to and fro waist-up while whispering the words, weren't we indeed treating the Siddur, the Jewish book of prayers, like a Shake Book?!

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Cinema: Hungarian Director Miklos Jancso; A Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

On Cinema: Hungarian Director Miklos Jancso
A Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 4)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on February 2nd, 2014, under On Cinema: Miklos Jansco. Revised 02.08.2014.

I learned about the Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó only a few years ago, and I rushed to see several of his works voraciously. He was one of the most original artists of cinema that I know of, with an eye for substantial and pictorial perfection on par with Tarkovsky and Bergman, notwithstanding their differences in terms of cinematic vocabulary and dramatic techniques.

I'd like to focus here on one of the elements of his cinematic language, which I found to be most innovative and unique. In his mature style, there are perfectly choreographed scenes, sometimes made of only a single long take, with crowds of actors and extras, and complex camera moves, in which a vast amount of the "story time", "plot time", even "screen time", hours or even decades of narrative time, are compressed without haste or contradiction into the "real time" before our eyes. The result could be breathtaking. It's not just about the organization of the long take; others have done that quite successfully. Nor is it exactly about filmed theater. This is a compact and coherent dramatic and visual event, which could seamlessly and reflectively walk you through centuries within minutes, if he wished, without a hitch. To me, it's magic. I still enjoy thinking about exactly how he managed to pull it out so beautifully.

I attach below an 11-min sample from one of his famous works, "The Red Psalm", which I understood as an abridged critical narrative of the long history of his country, told with a symbolic brush. It deserves a full viewing with English subtitles. The dramatic compression of time into the real time can be seen here in its maturity. (See comments for a viewing link. Scenes from The Red Psalm by Miklos Jancso.


He could as flawlessly do this in more realistic settings, as it's evident from the following scenes from "The Red and The White", another of his critical historical films. Scenes from The Red and The White.

P.S. Jancso made an absorbing and melancholic documentary in two parts about the largely diminishing Jewish population of Hungary, which I highly recommend. (To my knowledge, he was not Jewish.)

NB: This note was prepared off of the author's memory. Please find here the NY Times's obituary, which was not consulted before writing this memo.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Books on Piano, Part 1: Josef Lhevinne's "Basic Principles of Pianoforte Playing"; Introductory Series by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Books on Piano: Part 1
Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing
(1924; Dover 1972)
Author: Josef Lhevinne
An Original Introductory Series by Payman Akhlaghi

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 31st, 2014, under Books on Piano: Part 1....

I'll start this series by introducing one of the most succinct and insightful books on the art of piano that I know of, Joseph Lhevinne's 1924 "The Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing". Republished in 1972 with a foreword by his wife and colleague, Rosina Lhevinne, it has remained as relevant as ever to understand some of the fundamentals of a healthy, musical, and beautiful technique. Written by a legendary virtuoso (see H C Schonberg's "Great Pianists"), it's a no nonsense summary of hands-on advice for making progress in this art, sound in theory, practical in approach. Don't let the little size of the book or its simple language fool you. This is a rare record of a first-rate pianist's mind and practices expressed in most clear terms.

My Favorite Highlights
- The fundamental elements of a beautiful tone:
* Flesh of the fingertip as a soft mallet;
* The relaxed wrist as a shock-absorber;
* Playing the key "on the fly".
- Approach to practicing scales.
- Advice on the choice of tempo.
- Emphasis on developing a sophisticated sense of rhythm.
- Emphasis on accuracy and Ear training.
- Biographic memories of Anton Rubinstein among others.

Quote:
"Music is painted upon a canvas of silence. Mozart used to say, "Silence is the greatest effect in music." The student, however, does not realize the great artistic value of silence. The virtuoso whose existence depends upon moving great audiences by musical values knows that rests are of vital importance. Very often the effect of the rest is even greater than that of the note. It serves to attract and to prepare the mind. Rests have powerful dramatic effect."

-- © 2014, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"; The Pleasures of Entertainment; Extended Film Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Pleasures of Entertainment
Extended Film Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 2)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PACompsoer on January 29th, 2014, under Will "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", directed by Kenneth Branagh, deliver?

I found "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", directed by Mr. Kenneth Branagh, to be an engaging thriller, one that appreciates the value of the human side to any story amid the purely visual and sonic elements, notwithstanding its essentially overused plot line. Unlike many recent releases in the spy genre, the film realizes that the action scenes succeed if the audience cares for the characters in the first place; if shots and scenes are clear in detail and are allowed to develop for adequate perception; if streets chases and fist fights stand in relieving contrast to moments of tranquility say in a forest; and if the plot makes any sense at all. Hence, to say that Mr. Branagh the thespian outdoes Mr. Branagh the director is more to highlight the very unique and irreplaceable niche that this fine artist occupies in performance arts, rather than to underappreciate his sophisticated cinematic skills.

The film credits the recently deceased author Tom Clancy only for the characters, and his presence is felt in their humane three-dimensional feel and motivations, and in the many turns of the story. Compared to an earlier Clancy adaptation, it lacks the stylish and outlandish look of "Clear and Present Danger," one of my favorites. One could also miss the sympathizing bashfulness of Mr. Harrison Ford's version of a mature Ryan, and the striking novelty of events and locations in that earlier film. However, Shadow's immediate touch of the camera style, framing and edit, besides its consistently fine cast, make up much for such comparative disadvantages. Chris Pine in the title role is as good in his intimate moments as when he's on the run. Kevin Costner brings his signature focused dignity to an underdeveloped role. Keira Knightley sprays her scenes with the delights of youth, while seasoned ballerino Mikhail Baryshnikov saturates his short cameo with demanding dignity. Mr. Branagh's stares and accent inflections would suffice to sum up the sophistication of his performance technique.

The music by Mr. Partick Doyle, with a long history of successful collaborations with the director, is atypical of the composer, as it steers away from his earlier lyrical tone and symphonic sound toward the looped accented rhythms and short fragmentary melodies, which have become the de facto vogue for the genre. Market requirements are understandable, yet given my background in music, I can't hide my secret wish to see more of his previous language to reemerge in later films.

In conclusion, it's hard not to notice the nod to some classic elements from Hitchcock's oeuvre, beyond their already widespread absorption into the cinematic language. In this regard, the extended wrestling scene in a hotel room ends with Ryan's solo victory by suffocating the assassin, a direct reminiscent of how Paul Newman's character eliminates his "minder" in "Torn Curtain". (To others however, it might bring John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" to mind.) It's doubtful if Hitchcock would have approved of the direct depiction of extreme acts of violence using knives, as we see in the Shadow. But the portrayal of a heavy of the story as a mono-dimensional hardliner, and the structural dynamics of his demise at the end, further recall the epilogue of "Saboteur". Despite such explicit moments, the visual language does control detachment by resorting more to implicit depictions of violence in many other crucial scenes, including the denouement filmed in extreme long shot.

(*) IMDB.com and Wikipedia.org were consulted for the accuracy of the names.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pianist Menahem Pressler and The Beaux Arts Trio: An Appreciation; By Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Pianist Menahem Pressler and
The Beaux Arts Trio: An Appreciation
By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 20th, 2014, under: Appreciation: Pianist Menahem Pressler and....

Last week, January 11, 2014, German-born Israeli-American Pianist Menahem Pressler played for the first time with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra [1], in a concert of Mozart and Shostakovich. He is 90 years young, and he continues to enjoy one of the longest and most prolific careers in classical music on record. Judging from the samples and an interview provided by the BPO, music aficionados may confidently expect a new period of sophisticated interpretations flowing from this living treasure.[2,3,4]

This took me back to ca. 1995, when I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Pressler live at Caltech, Passadena, on tour as the most senior member of his prized Beaux Arts Trio, in a concert that included, as I recall, works from Beethoven's Op.1 set and the Op. 97 known as the "Archduke Trio". The astonishing sense of intimacy, the immediate rapport between the players, and the sheer musicality of each performer and the ensemble, was a reminder of the unique place that chamber music holds in the classical repertoire and the concert culture, and what it had been meant to be in the first place. The music felt ageless, as Ms. Ida Kavafian, violin, Mr. Peter Wiley, cello, themselves highly accomplished musicians, absorbed and amplified the inspiration that was clearly coming from the smiling man at the piano. This was a music relevant to an audience two-centuries later on a sunny Sunday afternoon, thousands of miles away, across an ocean, and another continent.

The many achievements of Beaux Arts Trio have been noted elsewhere.[5] I for one have enjoyed for many years its recording of two wonderful Trios by Zemlinski, and a 14-year old Korngold, which you wouldn't have come across on a regular day even in history books. The ensemble retired officially in 2008, after 53 years of recordings and performances, a rare accomplishment for any institution of its type. That same year, a book was released about the pianist's life, career, and approach to music.[6]

Mr. Pressler (b. 1923) left Germany for Palestine, at the age of 16, alongside his family to escape Nazi persecution. He would later land in America as an award-winning concert pianist, ensemble player, and educator.[7] To me, that adds naturally another layer to his playing today with the BPO.

I conclude this Memo by a wish and an appeal for increased appreciation and support for chamber classical musicians across the United States, as they keep alive of one of most enriching and yet fragile forms of art ever produced by humankind.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Footnotes:

[1] BPO on Facebook.
[2] BPO on the 2014 Concert.
[3] Excerpt from Mozart Concerto No. 17, from the Concert.
[4] Interview with Mr. Pressler, German with Subtitles.
[5] Beaux Arts Trio on Wikipedia. Includes links to Ms. Kavafian and Mr. Wiley, once members of the Trio.
[6] Menahem Pressler: Artistry in Piano Teaching, Brown, W.; 2008, Indian University Press.
[7] Pressler on Wikipedia.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Photo: From 2012, Hamburger Abendblatt, via Google Search:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pianist Cziffra's Fingering for the Rapid Octaves in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6; Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Pianist Georges Cziffra's Special Fingering for The Rapid
Octaves in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6, in D-Flat Major

A Short Essay by: Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 3)

(*) First Published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 17th, 2014, under:
Pianist Cziffra's Fingering for Rapid Octaves in Liszt's Rhapsody No. 6.


Recently, I demonstrated the octave section of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 for a student, with an apologetic attitude for my limitations, as a sample of the bravura period of the composer. Thanks to an unmet friend Marija, I soon after revisited a video of a performance by Georges Cziffra, the foremost mid-Twentieth century Lisztian, whom I had known about since my teens when the late Kourosh Haddadi (کورش حدادی), my first piano teacher, introduced me to a tape of his Rhapsodies. Like other Cziffra performances, this studio recording  is a tour de force of passion, power and momentum, with a propensity to bring out the massive orchestral side of the instrument unreservedly -- read "fortissimo over a sustained pedal" -- when it's called for. Those qualities are also evident in another performance of this Rhapsody, about the same time, and apparently before a live audience.)


The latter part of the work is well-known for its rapid repetitive octaves in both hands, typically achieved by developing a "dropping wrist" approach, while keeping the hands close to the keyboard surface. There are pianists who can race through these passages flawlessly and at astonishing speeds, but I doubt if quite with Cziffra's ease of execution. This time, I noticed why.

Cziffra's relatively large hands suggest and allow him to employ an alternating 4th-5th finger technique for the outer notes when repeated, thus making it only necessary for the thumb to articulate twice as fast its successive attacks. That means a more quiet wrist, and a more relaxed hand, hence, more endurance and speed with much less fatigue. Also, as I had observed earlier, he plays the divergent chromatic run toward the end by using not only a 4-5 fingering, but also by employing the 3rd finger, to achieve a better legato.

Whether the technique fits most everyone's hands for these passages, or that it's worth the effort to re-finger the entire section if you already play the piece, I encourage every pianist to study and appreciate the ingenuity of this highly original pianist's technique. That's besides the fact that he also lets himself quite naturally to elaborate many of the passages, a tradition that Liszt himself subscribed to readily.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Legend of Hercules and Oblique Imagery; Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014); Short and Independent Film Review

The Legend of Hercules (2014, 2D) and Oblique Imagery
A Short and Independent Film Review
By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 2)

To my surprise, and despite their similar looks and techniques, Hercules was not directed by Zack Snyder, the creative mind behind the imaginative - if historically flawed -- "300" (2006). I had liked some of director Renny Harlin's earlier works including Cliffhanger (1993); and there are many things to enjoy in this film, as well, such as creative fight scenes, imagination set loose in visual graphics, beautiful color schemes, wonderful costumes, stylish camera angles, and effective underscoring by the Finnish composer, Toumas Kantelinen, which fits the genre very well.

However, the plot lacks in the dramatic power and depth of characters which would be necessary to engage the audience on a personal level; indeed, the film felt much longer than its 99-minute recorded time. The pace is too hasty yet without contrast, as if the idea has been to to jump from one battle scene to another; the voice of the cast seldom matches their excellent looks; and the sound design at some point creates an exhausting sensory overload that I found quite disengaging. These issues have become common to many heroic action and adventure films made today; in contrast, we may recall Kubrick's "Spartacus", a successful example for any such films, starting with its first rate screenplay.

The conception of Hercules by Zeus is an apt cinematic moment of the film, carried out with more of the basic cinematic and performance elements than the pervasive CGI. The treatment of violence is also noteworthy: thankfully, unlike the current norms of the genre, no blood gushes out of the necks and torsos, and acts of mutilation of the defeated warriors are demonstrated only by referential symbols, such as waving a hood in the air. This in itself creates a necessary sense of detachment, and it's a positive move toward a less literal, less violent, and less spasmodic cinema, and toward a more poetic, imaginative, and thoughtful language.

In fact, a less literal vocabulary of violent imagery has had a long history in sophisticated cinema. Robert Bresson (Lancelot de Luc, L'Argent) is a prime example among the master filmmakers who successfully employed only oblique references to violence. Fritz Lang could show a moment of death (Hangmen Also Die) by the close up of a hat stopping to roll. Hitchcock had a keen sense for controlling the audience detachment (distancing, in Brechtian language), even as the quite engaging shower scene of Psycho, despite its reputation as a literal moment of violence in cinema, aptly demonstrates: the edit and close ups, and the masking effect of the music, do not allow the audience to completely lose a sense of reality. Andrei Tarkovsky could dramatize the cruelty of pouring molten metal into the mouth of a victim by merely placing the sound of gurgling on the masked imagery of the violence.

More recently, Steven Spielberg, though known for the scary world of Jaw or the melting faces of the enemy in the Indiana Jones adventures, when dealing with a especially realistic, least cartoonish moment, shows a preference to draw upon more oblique imagery in his vast toolbox of cinematic vocabulary. To illustrate his mastery of audience detachment, or distancing, when it's called for, consider War of the Worlds, where the protagonist (Tom Cruise) is compelled to take the life of another human to protect his child: the brutal act is shown off screen, behind a closed door, implied only by sounds, and a visibly beaten father stepping out of the room.

(*) Disclaimer: When it comes to reviews, do not take any one person's word, even the best of them, just for it. I wouldn't. A variety of arbitrary factors might have affected any author without him knowing it, factors that had nothing to do with the film itself, from where he sat in the theater, to what happened before stepping into the theater, fatigue, problems with the language, distractions, personal taste, etc. Nevertheless, I hope you found the above memo useful.

Footnotes:
- The names and dates were checked against IMDB.com.
- Wikipedia was consulted for the exact term used in the case of Brecht.
- Robert Bresson was most appreciated in 1980's by philosopher Babak Ahmadi in a book in Persian on him. "The Wind Blows Wherever It Wishes".

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting: A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Humor)

Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting
A Note By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 9th, 2014, under:
Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting.


Reflecting on a conductor's task, I pondered not only the joys, but the risks and side-effects of the job, starting with the baton, well known for its boosting effects on the ego.

Long ago, it was the French Lully who stabbed himself in the foot while beating for his orchestra with a long staff; and he died shortly afterwards of infection. In one recent concert, pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy had to leave the podium [1] after piercing his hand with the tip of the baton; fortunately, by then rubbing alcohol and antibiotics were in common use. At the climax of a major concert, the audience gave a supporting ovation when the baton flew off of a most excited young conductor, and not to punish any member of his orchestra.

Giuseppe Sinopoli was hardly the first conductor to die of a heart-attack on the podium; indeed, Arthur Rubinstein [2] writes of an old friend of his with a similar fate decades earlier. Thus, not surprisingly is the case of an Iranian conductor, who reportedly complained of developing a gastric ulcer, not just proverbially, due to the inattentive members of his orchestras.

Some conductors always keep the baton in its casing when not in use. Some scratch their heads with it while thinking. A grandfatherly and otherwise graceful Robert Beecham,[3] didn't mind landing his baton hard, like a scepter, on a young fellow's skull to everyone's apparent amusement. When the music called, as in a Berlioz climax,[4] Charles Munch could seize the baton with both hands and bring it down like an ax on each emphatic beat. Furtwängler's hand and baton restlessly flapped and whipped the air.[5] Fritz Reiner barely moved the tip of his very white and long baton.[6] Then came George Prêtre,[7] who put away the baton, closed his eyes, and danced his way through the Offenbach before a smiling Berlin Philharmonic.

No wonder that Pierre Boulez did away with the baton, albeit for more sophisticated musical, pedagogical, symbolic, and almost ideological purposes.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Footnotes:

[1] A reference to the incident may be found here:
http://sarahhicksconductor.com/web/buzz_details.aspx?ItemId=628969

[2] See "My Young Years", Autobiography, Part I, by Arthur Rubinstein.

[3] Robert Beecham, Conversation and Rehearsal (1958), including the beating of the baton on the head of a young man in good humor:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKgG3nrzaqg

[4] Charles Munch in the Finale of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imPA6BfIeNQ

[5], [6], as well as [3], [4]: "Art of Conducting", DVD.

[7] George Prêtre, "dancing" to the Offenbach (1992):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbbfU0akfLE

(*) Consulted:
- www.Wikipedia.org
- Google General Search.
- Amcerican classical composer and UCLA Emeritus, Paul Reale, has a short humorous critique on conducting, which might still be available on his website:
http://www.minotaurz.com/minotaur/

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Page From My Life: December 5th, 1991, Vienna; A Memory by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

A Page From My life: December 5th, 1991, Vienna
By Payman Akhlaghi
(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on December 6th, 2013, under: A Page From My Life: December 5th, 1991, Vienna.

On December 5th, 1791, Mozart died at the young age of 36. Two hundred years later on that night, I happened to be in Vienna, when the end of "The Mozart Year" was to be celebrated by a ceremonial performance of his Requiem, conducted by Georg Solti at St. Stephen's Cathedral. I was among a sizable group of music lovers who stood outside of the cathedral, ignored the slippery snow and the cold, sipped on the free coffee they kindly gave away, and watched the ceremony on the large screen and speakers set up outdoors for the like of us. The first row inside was populated by the Austrian President, among others, so you may guess the rest.

I had known the piece from the excellent recording made by Sir Colin Davis and (I think) the BBC SO, so I could follow it pretty well. For a 20-something curious mind who had just left Iran, it was a night to be remembered.

Here's a recording of that night, without the recited sections of the liturgy, which were presented during the ceremony by the Bishop. Mr. Solti later recorded the piece as I recall with the same the soloists, a CD of which I own in my library.[1]

December 5th, 2013, Los Angeles

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.


Mozart's Requiem, K. 626, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Georg Solti, (1991, ca. 47')

[1] Note added as a reminder that even as many such as me pay for the music, it's prudent for both artist and publisher to leave links as this available on YouTube as a most basic way to spread the culture, and the music. -- P.A.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Two Poems on War: Tear Up the Drums & The Day After the War; Original Works By Payman Akhlaghi (2013, English & Persian)

Tear Up the Drums & The Day After the War
Two Poems by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

"کوس ها را تکه تکه کنید" و "از فردای جنگ بگو"
دو شعر از پیمان اخلاقی (2013، انگلیسی و فارسی) ـ

(*) Full Text. (*) متن کامل