Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Independent Short Film Review: Les Misérables (2012); Note by Payman Akhlaghi, on The Cinematic Adaptaion of the 1980 Musical by Schönberg and Boublil

Les Misérables (2012, English, 157')
Directed by Tom Hooper
Adapted from the 1980 Musical by Schönberg (book, music) & Boublil (book) 

Original Note by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)
First published on, December 26th, 2012

To begin with, the absolutely courageous, stunning, captivating, and transporting, minutes-long close-up of Anne Hathaway as Fantine, singing the entire "I Dreamed a Dream" in a single shot, would more than justify one seeing this fine film on the large screen. The scene deservedly belongs on the list of the longest successful close-ups of the cinematic repertoire -- on par with that mesmerizing shot which opened "Tous les Matins du Monde", where Gerard Depardieu saturated the screen for many minutes with absolute authority. Ms. Hathaway not only sings but acts and performs the song with such flow and lack of affection that expecting her to be nominated for major awards feels quite natural. She's earned the director's trust in the maturity of her craft, whilst it's her performance and not just the music that has ultimately proven right the audacious choice made for the setting of this well-known number.

Altogether, this is one of the finest cinematic adaptation of any musical over the past two decades, a fact quite obvious from the very opening moments of the film. A sane balance has been struck between representative theatrical elements often imposed by, and lingering from, the original stage versions of any such adaptation, vs the realism of props, locations, and actions. This deliberate goal of achieving a convincing verismo within the fabulous aura of a musical has been heightened by the screenplay, and the masterly re-orchestration of the score, with the additional music, provided by Anne Dudley et al; and it's been consistently reflected in the emotional nuances observed by most members of the cast, which includes a sensitive and imposing Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. The attention to character details is equally evident in the fine performance by Russell Crowe as Javert, although one may not ignore that his excellent performance falls short on the musical side.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Intimately Beethoven: A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2012) on the Largo of Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op.10, No.3, Mvt II

Intimately Beethoven
On the Largo e Mesto, Movement II from Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op.10, No.3

A Note by Payman Akhlaghi

To get a glimpse of Beethoven's genius at his intimate moments, simply close your eyes and listen to this slow movement, the Largo e Mesto (Broad and Sad) from Piano Sonata No. 7 in D, Op.10, No.3. Note his crystalline opening strategy; his mastery of pace, tension, suspense, form; harmonic and dynamic surprises; the variety of texture; and the control of register. Now imagine that he was merely 28 when he wrote it, and that it's only one of the 10 utterly contrasting movements of this 3-Sonata set, all composed about the same time.

(*) A performance by Irena Koblar, which lasts ca. 11mins.
(*)The Score of the Lago of Op.10/3, in PDF format.

© 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All pertinent rights reserved.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Komitas Vardapet "Komitas" and Shogher Jan, A Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2012)

Komits Vardapet, "Komitas"
Armenian Composer
Founder of Modern
Armenian Classical Music
On Komitas Vardapet, "Komitas", and His
Shogher Jan for String Quartet
A Note By Payman Akhlaghi (2012)

Komitas (1869-1935): Armenian Composer, Founder of Modern Armenian Classical Music, Permanently Traumatized by the Events of the Genocide of the Armenian Population

First published on 12/08/2012 on
© 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Yesterday evening, I was walking toward my car, when I caught myself almost humming an Armenian dance tune in a fast 3/8 (or combined 6/8), composed (or arranged) for string quartet by Komitas. [1] I had heard the work for the first time more than 2 decades ago, in 1991, when it was performed by the string orchestra of Tehran Music Conservatory; although in the years since, I might have once more heard a recording of it, as well. The tune is in the major mode, with a buoyant rhythm, and enough repetition, all of which would make it hard to forget. Still, why this theme, then, and there, virtually out of blue? Music is strange.

In fall 1993, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, a major concert at Hollywood Bowl wisely paired Komitas' choral arrangements of Armenian melodies with Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, a.k.a. Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, in commemoration of the Holocaust. As I recall, the large choir was an ad hoc group consisting of Armenian Americans who'd gathered to prepare for this particular occasion. The impression that I got from Komitas' choral pieces was that of a pioneering figure, one who had tried to converge the Western classical tradition with the music of his native land. The music was straightforward and clear, an evident attempt to build up his musical culture from the foundation. (On that note, the packed auditorium did not virtually breathe for the entire duration of Gorecki's symphony. It was an event to remember.)

As I was preparing for this note, I learned [2] that Komitas lost both parents before he was 10, and was later permanently traumatized by the events of the Armenian genocide, including himself being sent to exile by Turkish rulers, only to be saved by foreign intervention. The torments that such a sweet innocent soul must have endured demand a moment of contemplation...

[1] A performance of "Shogher Jan" for string quartet. The theme I spoke of above can be heard immediately after a short introduction:
[2] Komitas on Wikipedia
[3] Score of Dances for piano (arranged?) by Komitas. A cursory look suggests their accessibly melodic and "fun" nature for intermediate pianists:

(*) Sources:
© 2012, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lutoslawski, Stucky, Salonen: Partita, Chantefleurs et Chantefables, Ad Parnassum, Homunculus; A Review by Payman Akhlaghi of Concert at Disney Hall, December 4th, 2012, Green Umbrella Series

Witold Lutoslawski
Polish Composer,
Conductor & Pianist
Witold Lutoslawski:
Partita, for Violin & Piano
Chantefleurs et Chantefables
Steven Stucky:
Ad Parnassum (1998)

Esa-Pekka Salonen:
Homunculus, for String Quartet (2007)

A Green Umbrella Concert at Disney Hall
December 4th, 2012

A Review by Payman Akhlaghi

LA Philharmonic's Green Umbrella Series are dedicated to the more serious if under-performed virtuosic contemporary music with typically smaller performance forces, and more dedicated audiences.

Last evening's program, Tuesday December the 4th, 2012, my first to attend in years, belonged to two chamber works by Lutoslawski, and two pieces by two of his champions, Steven Stucky and Esa-Pekka Salonen. I missed part of the first piece, Lutoslawski's Partita for Violin and Piano, a captivating sonic event, even as it permeated the lobby of Disney Hall via monitors. [1] The piece was later adapted fro violin and orchestra by the composer. [2]

Mr. Stucky's Ad Parnassum (1998) reminded me consistently of his earlier music, until it was confirmed from the program notes that this was in fact the same piece that I had heard him conduct back in 1999, at Japan American Theater, after a lecture presentation at UCLA: so much for this author's memory! [3] Given its pointillistic texture, based on a "polyphonic painting" of the same name by Paul Klee [4], the work demands of its small ensemble a maximum of focus and dynamic control to maintain tension and structural cohesion, a seemingly effortless task for master conductor Lionel Bringuier and his excellent performers.