Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Selection of the week

December 12, 2014

Adagio in G minor, attributed to the Italian Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni, arranged and maybe written by twentieth century musicologist Remo Giazotto, and made famous by the film Gallipoli.

Selection of the week

December 5, 2014

Joseph Haydn was one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the classical period.  Here is one of his string quartets played by the Casal Quartett.

Selection of the week

November 28, 2014

Since I’ve been kind of biased towards the violin recently, here is an interpretation of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 from the Jazz Suite No. 2 by the Sydney Youth Orchestra without strings.

Selection of the week

November 21, 2014

Here is violinist Itzhak Perlman playing Belgian composer Joseph-Hector Fiocco’s Allegro from the late Baroque period.  If you like speed, this is as fast as any rock guitar solo.

Selection of the week

November 7, 2014

Kurt Masur conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in a rendition of the first movement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship).

Selection of the week

October 31, 2014

The legendary twentieth century violinist David Oistrakh playing Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune, from over 50 years ago.  Unfortunately, I can’t listen to this piece without being reminded of the 2001 film Ocean’s Eleven. It wasn’t a bad film per se but I certainly don’t want to have it be associated with one of the iconic pieces from the classical repertoire.



Selection of the week

October 24, 2014

How about some Tango?  Here is Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla performing his composition Adios Nonino on the accordion.


Selection of the week

October 17, 2014

The utterly unique Canadian Brass performing Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”.

Selection of the week

October 10, 2014

Here is the iconic soprano Maria Callas singing Puccini’s aria “O mio babbino caro” from the opera Gianni Schicchi. It was also used in the 1985 film “A Room with a View.”

Selection of the week

October 3, 2014

Here is a short snippet from an old BBC show featuring the great English guitarist Julian Bream playing two preludes from Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos from fifty years ago.

Selection of the week

September 5, 2014

I think we should start September off with Beethoven.  Here is the first movement of the Sextet in E-flat op.81 b for two horns and strings performed by the Amici Ensemble Frankfurt. Note that they added a double bass, just to make it more special.

Selection of the Week

August 29, 2014

Chopin Nocturne No 8 Op 27 No 2 performed by Maurizio Pollini, whom I’ve had the fortune of seeing in Boston many years ago.

Selection of the week

August 22, 2014

George Gerschwin, although generally classified as jazz, was strongly influenced by classical music.  Here is Summertime from his opera Porgy and Bess performed by soprano Renee Fleming.

Selection of the week

August 15, 2014

Eiene Kleine Nachtmusik by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart performed by the Concertgebouw Kamerorkest in 2013 in Amsterdam.

Selection of the Week

August 8, 2014

The 4th movement of Franz Schubert’s Trout Quintet (Piano Quintet in A Major) performed by the Schubert Ensemble.

Selection of the Week

August 1, 2014

Summer from Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons of course!  Here is a performance by the 2nd place winner at the 2012 Menuhin Junior violin competition.


Tim’s Vermeer

July 28, 2014

Jan Vermeer has been one of my favourite painters ever since I saw his famous “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” painting that was on display in Toronto in the 1980’s. I’ve been on a quest to see all of his paintings although its been on hiatus for the past ten years. Here is the list of what I’ve seen so far (I have five left). You only need to stand in front of a Vermeer for a few seconds to be mesmerized. I stood in front of “The Music Lesson” in Buckingham Palace for at least an hour. The guard started joking with me because I was so transfixed. This is why I’ve been intrigued by recent suggestions by artist David Hockney and others that some great old masters like Vermeer and van Eyck may have used optical aids like camera obscura. Well, inventor Tim Jenison has taken this theory to another level by attempting to completely recreate Vermeer’s Music Lesson using a set up of mirrors and lenses that he (re)invented. The endeavor is documented in the film Tim’s Vermeer directed by Teller of Penn and Teller fame. Whether you believe the theory or not (I actually do and it doesn’t detract at all for my love of Vermeer), what this film does do so well is to show what dedication, thought, patience, and careful execution can accomplish. I got tired just watching him paint the threads in a Persian rug using his optical tool.

Selection of the week

July 23, 2014

What is called classical music mostly refers to the Western symphony orchestra tradition that starts in the seventeenth century with Vivaldi and peaks in the early twentieth with Mahler. While classical music remains popular, my unscientific sampling of concert hall audiences indicates that the demographic skews to retirement age and above. I don’t know if this means that a generation of music lovers is about to depart or that people only have the patience to sit through a long concert when they are older. In an attempt to introduce a new generation to classical music, I thought I would present a selection each week. And what’s a better way to kick it off then with the pseudo-Baroque precursor to heavy metal, the Praeludium and Allegro by Fritz Kreisler. Kreisler performed in the first half of the twentieth century. He was one of the greatest violin virtuosos of all time and also wrote some great violin ditties. Here is a performance by the then 13 year old Canadian/American violinist Leila Josefowicz in 1991.

Are Strads overrated?

January 17, 2012

In classical music, there is a mystique surrounding Seventeenth Century violins made in Cremona, Italy and especially the Stradivarius.  These violins can cost millions of dollars and are supposed to be unmatched in sound quality by any violin made since.  People have speculated that it is the wood, the glue, the varnish or some mysterious unknown quantity that makes them so much better although nothing has ever been pinpointed.  Now, a study recently published in PNAS (see here) finds  that the superiority of the Stradivarius may be more myth than substance.  The study found that top-level violinists preferred modern violins to the classic Cremonese ones.  It was the first every study that was double blinded so that neither the violinist nor tester knew which violin was being played.  It is well-known in psychology that people’s preferences are strongly influenced by context.  An example, is that wines perform better in taste tests when they are believed to be more expensive.  The study has been criticized in that it was done in a hotel room and not on a concert stage.  I’m sure a followup is in the works.

In the Times

December 6, 2011

The New York Times has some interesting articles online right now.   There is a series of interesting essays on the Future of Computing in the Science section and the philosophy blog The Stone has a very nice post by Alva Noe on Art and Neuroscience.  I think Noe’s piece eloquently phrases several ideas that I have tried to get across recently, which is that while mind may arise exclusively from brain this doesn’t mean that looking at the brain alone will explain everything that the mind does.  Neuroscience will not make psychology or art history obsolete.  The reason is simply a matter of computational complexity or even more simply combinatorics.  It goes back to Phillip Anderson’s famous article More is Different (e.g. see here), where he argued that each field has its own set of fundamental laws and rules and thinking at a lower level isn’t always useful.

For example, suppose that what makes me enjoy or like a piece of art is set by a hundred or so on-off neural switches.  Then there are 2^{100} different ways I could appreciate art.  Now, I have no idea if a hundred is correct but suffice it to say that anything above 50 or so makes the number of combinations so large that it will take Moore’s law a long time to catch up and anything above 300 makes it virtually impossible to handle computationally in our universe with a classical computer.  Thus, if art appreciation is sufficiently complex, meaning that it involves a few hundred or more neural parameters, then Big Data on the brain alone will not be sufficient to obtain insight into what makes a piece of art special. Some sort of reduced description would be necessary and that already exists in the form of art history.  That is not to say that data mining how people respond to art may not provide some statistical information on what would constitute a masterpiece.  After all, Netflix is pretty successful in predicting what movies you will like based on what you have liked before and what other people like.  However, there will always be room for the art critic.


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