The tao of fish


Playlist #8

Monday! Every year, every month, every week, every morning brings opportunity to start a new resolution! And I have many. This week, I am going to start to run. Today’s playlist is what I would put in my ears if I wanted to run to classical music. I think the actual music will end up to be my husband’s trance collection though. Hey. Whatever gets one leg in front of the other is good enough for me. But for the purists:

Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture
I always thought this would make a great start to “classics aerobics”. The slow start for stretching and then you start hopping up and down when the music speeds up. And there is ample chance to catch your breath when the slow motif appear again in the middle of nowhere. Quick sip of water! And off we are again. You can just see all those post-rehearsal orchestra musicians carefully stacking their instruments against the gym floor mirror walls, taking off their sweatpants and shirts to reveal some sleeveless vests and nerd shorts with hairy legs, getting onto the floor and shaking their bellies around to this music with the skinny flautist in the front as the instructor. I joke, of course: I know at least four very fit bassoonists.

Interval training is apparently the new magic to get fit fast and for that you need variable speed. I believe Holst’s “The Planets” is just right.

Gustav Holst, The Planets

Now where are my tekkies…

Playlist #7

I have to do paperwork today so I’m grumpy… I need slow movements. And cello music. When I was a music student I accompanied a friend of mine when he played the Saint-Saëns cello concerto. At some point he saw a documentary on TV about how cellos are made. The cello makers would start off by choosing the right wood. They did this by walking through the forest and knocking on trees. The background music that they played to this slow, thoughtful and humbling exercise was the Saint-Saëns slow movement. It was played really slow… exactly the pace you would imagine a great cello maker walking through a quiet old forest to knock on trees to hear what they will sound like if they were to turn them into cellos.

In the meantime, I will be walking through the forest knocking on trees trying to figure out what piece of paperwork it will be turned into to satisfy today’s task.

I have a lot of work to do today (for once) so I’m just going to let Yo-Yo Ma se Tjello take me through some Bach suites until time runs out.

Playlist #6

There are a lot of great oratorios planned for this year in Cape Town which I am using as today’s playlist theme. I posted mostly partial recordings as each work is a morning by itself. The full works are all on Youtube though.

Dvorak Mass in D
Cape Town performance: Symphony Choir, 18h00 Sunday 23 June, St John’s Church, Wynberg

First movement, Kyrie:

I did not know this work at all when we started rehearsing it. It is one of those pieces that doesn’t immediately grab you but just quietly grows on you. I am now completely in love with it. This specific recording is just the first movement, the Kyrie eleison (God have mercy). What makes this recording just so beautiful is that they do it considerably slower than Dvorak indicated. HOWEVER. They do it so well. The conductor, choir and orchestra are all superb and as one of the comments state, at that speed it becomes like a prayer. The way they hold those immensely long musical threads are truly masterful and gripping. I can listen to this a hundred times over. Its beauty is understated and awesome. This CD is definitely on my Christmas list!

Then, the two most beautiful Requiems are also coming to a stage near you this year: the Mozart and the Brahms.

Mozart Requiem:

Cape Town performance: Philharmonia choir 30 May 2013, 19:30 @ Cape Town City Hall

First movement: Introitus

Oh, how I want to watch the movie Amadeus again listening to this. Mozart lying in fever dictating the music to the envy consumed Salieri! Drama! Much more riveting than what really happened! Wikipedia to the rescue for this sad history: .

And now, the Brahms. This one is for you, Annake de Villiers, on this one-year anniversary of your passing. We miss you.

Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem
Cape Town performances: Symphony & Tygerberg choirs, Tue 15 Oct, City Hall & Sun 27 Oct 16h30 Endler Stellenbosch
First movement: Selig sind die Toten:

This work, how can I put this, is not coffee shop music. The most gentle introduction to it would be the final movement, I think. Angels singing from heaven, loosely translated: blessed is the dead when they pass in the Lord; yes, says the Spirit, so that they may rest from their hard toil on earth and the good that they have done will follow them.

This next one is very famous yet also not:

Beethoven’s ninth symphonyCape Town performance: UCT opera school & Symphony Choir with UCT orchestra, Bernhard Gueller conducting, Sat 18 May, City Hall

It is famous because of the popular tune in the last movement but the full symphony is actually not well known. A huge shame, as it is some of the most beautiful music ever written. This is the first piece I ever knew – I was too young to really remember when my dad showed me how to pop the tape into the machine to listen to it but I listened to it over and over again. My only memory of those days are that I recognised it by the way it almost sounds like an orchestra tuning when it starts (it does! Listen!).

Now, I have to add: you would think that the tune in the last movement is so easy to sing, I mean, we all know it. Let me tell you, this thing is a BEE-AATCH to sing. The well-known “Alle Menschen werden Brüder” tune is a drop in the bucket of singing that you have to fork out in the last movement. It is uncomfortably high (lots of snorted laughter from us altos in rehearsals at the expense of the poor sopranos freaking out at those high B’s! WTH? But we get our turn, our parts are also just too high for comfort. I’m not going to even start with what the poor tenors have to pull out of their backsides). Complex rhythms and difficult intervals and just good old plain tough music to get right. Apparently Gueller also take it at a snotspoed so we’re going to become well acquainted with our asses. Thank goodness our choir is but the buffer for the competent UCT opera school students. Can’t wait. I hope to see you there.

Playlist #5

Chopin’s Nocturnes, hmmmm, beautiful. I used to have a double CD set of this but it got pinched. Thank goodness Youtube has the exact same recording. So much for copyright… (I feel less guilty because I did buy the CDs at some point!!!! On a poor music student’s budget, mind you, I had to eat sand for the rest of that month.) Awesome to listen to in the background (albeit a bit sacrilege).

Playlist #4

More a piece than a list (it’s long enough to fill the morning).

Inspired by a friend that has taken up ballet late in life and is actually dancing and looking so beautiful, I asked myself what was the most awesome ballet music I know: Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet. I had the chance to play this in the pit once and it was so amazing. I have never seen the ballet though (the curse of the pit). You can spot a few things if they dance close to the edge but that’s it. I remember one of those moments was at the end, when Romeo throws Juliet up in the air, trying to revive her. Such a heartbreaking and desperate moment.

Playlist #3

Today’s playlist is all about the oboe. I feel the need to explain why I am such an oboe snob. It is because the German oboists (or, correction, the oboists playing in the German style) make such an amazing sound. It is like drops of rain falling from the highest tree tops into the deepest pond in the middle of the forest. It is like angels singing over a newborn baby. It can be clear and full, like the sound can carry across an ocean; it can be dark and haunting, pulling at your heart and soul. Just… listen.

Brahms concerto for violin:

I stumbled across this Brahms recording by accident while searching for more (and more! and more!) piano recordings by my now favourite pianist Radu Lupu. Youtube decided: enough piano music, time for some violin. The violinist looks like she is twelve (I think her real age is twenty-something!) and in between movements this shows in the most endearing way BUT when she picks up her bow she transformed into an insightful and wise musician. Wow. I don’t know when is the best time to play this concerto (if you can, technically): when you are young and full of passion and in love and there is world peace to fight for or when you are old and you have seen it all and now just want to make sure the dog is fed and that you have milk and toilet paper in the house. For today, I go with world peace. And as we say in Afrikaans, “sy mag maar”. But here is the most important part. When I realised that I like the recording so much, it is playlist-worthy, I checked out the orchestra as this piece is famous for its massive oboe solo in the second movement. And it was an orchestra from Hamburg! And you know what that means! Paulus van der Merwe, famous (legendary!) South African born oboist plays there. And he is playing in this recording!!! The second movement starts around 25 minutes, that would be him.

But the best for last. Although there are a number of contemporary composers around, classical music now really lives in the soundtracks of movies. It is where the money is and after all, everyone has to eat. Just think Lord of the Rings and How To Train Your Dragon. So, following the theme of world peace and angels, here is Gabriel’s oboe from The Mission conducted by the composer himself and the oboe solo played by the phenomenal Yeon-Hee Kwak. I just choke up every time I listen to her play that pure and pious tune, hanging onto the meaning of each note with a musical insight that heals the heart and brings a knowing that peace and good will conquer whatever this old world throws at us.

Playlist #2

Just a quick bit of background on these playlists and why I do them:

  1. Sometimes people that are not classical musicians ask me what they can listen to that is really beautiful, and everything I listen to is really beautiful and I try to do it every day, so it is a win/win
  2. It takes so long to find the perfect recording on YouTube, I really feel the need to share it once I found it!
  3. I wish I had a classic radio morning show… this is the next best thing

It took me ages to find a great recording of Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto. I did, in the end, by Maria João Pires, a “purist” version, but my heart was still hooked on yesterday’s Brahms and the amazing pianist, Radu Lupu, so I prefer his interpretation for today. But my teacher would have smacked my knuckles if I pedalled my way through it and schmalz’ed those gorgeous tunes like that… so nice…like chocolate when you should be in the gym… Furthermore, what makes this recording extra special is that the orchestra is AMAZING. I don’t listen to the Vienna Philharmonic because I am not very fond of their oboes (they use a modern version of the authentic Wiener oboe, it’s a personal thing, most people love the sound) but this concerto doesn’t have oboes, and for once I actually took time to listen to them, and they took my breath away. How to play Mozart: go listen where he lived, right?

First movement:

Second movement:

Third movement:

And carrying on the theme of an artist that is perfectly coupled with a certain composer: an old favourite, singing along loudly, hunchbacked (more knuckle smacking) and perfect. It looks like he made this recording in one sitting, without a single note out of place. The video is sadly out of synch but I just can’t stop watching him play. Glenn Gould and the 32 Variations. I have (had? no idea where it is) this recording on CD and it used to be in my car for months at a time.

Playlist #1

I discovered Radu Lupu. Now I can’t stop listening to his Brahms recordings! So beautiful! I feel that Radu Lupu is to Brahms what Glenn Gould is to Bach.

Brahms Romanze

I love Dvorak. He definitely sits under my top five composers.

Dvorak Symphony no. 7

Dvorak Symphony no. 8

But I’ll play the Brahms a lot.

PS: Top five composers, hmmm. Maybe I spoke to soon, but I think Dvorak still has a spot. This may change without any notice. I think the other four spots are occupied by the most obvious three, Brahms, Bach and Mozart; and add Mahler to that. That makes five.


Keep swimming

Why the tao of fish?

My star-crossed love affair with fish started with an impulse buy about a decade ago: a starter kit aquarium. The pet shop owner recommended that I put in zebra danios and mollies, the two toughest fish breeds in the universe. Yes, the first fish that the new aquarium owner acquire will not become those legendary pets that will grow old with them. But really, those fish were tough. Everything else I added I killed off but those danios… they would have probably grown legs if I forgot to top up the water for long enough. The mollies just kept on breeding, probably in fear of almost certain evolutionary extinction.

A blink and a sigh (from my credit card) and the amusement went from an experiment to a full blown hobby with three massive tanks, complete with sunken ship, breeder cages, underwater forests and industrial strength waterfalls. The interest lasted a year or so before all were given away rather enthusiastically.

I will always recall the lessons those damn fish taught me. Eat little and not too often (a fat fish is a dead fish). New water needs time to find its balance (also known as “time heals”). Nitrites are bad (’cause “shit happens”) and bacteria are good (they are the “friends that will eat up your shit”). A bit of salt at the right time can negate world peace. The way of fish is the way of us.

Above all, you must remember to breathe. And to do that, you must keep swimming.