Music by the Book!
A pairing of music and words
In Music by the Book!, Tom Moon,
author of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, pairs words
and music just for book groups.
For your next gathering, why not pair a book selection from Reading Group Choices
with a music choice from Music by the Book!
This month, Tom suggests some music parings for your discussion of
by Steve Lopez.
Nathaniel Ayers, the gifted homeless musician who is the subject of Steve Lopez’
The Soloist, struggles with mental illness. Once a student
at Juilliard, Ayers fits the profile of one who fell through society’s safety net:
He’s mistrustful, and prone to outbursts, and he doesn’t always make sense. Except,
that is, when the subject is music. Then, he becomes not simply lucid but animated
with passion. And deeply knowledgable.
As he follows Ayers around, Lopez – a metro columnist for the LA Times
– gets an education in music, particularly in the classical music that is
Ayers’ specialty. One great way to get immersed in the world of The Soloist
is to explore a few of the pieces that Ayers discusses so eloquently. Below are
a few choice recordings.
Ernest Bloch: Howard Hanson Conducts Bloch. (Mercury).
These performances of Bloch’s key works were recorded live at Rochester New York’s
Eastman Theater in the late 1950s. In The Soloist, Ayers
expresses affinity for Bloch’s “Schelomo, Rhapsody for Cello & Orchestra,” which
on this recording is played with gusto by cellist Georges Miquelle.
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” New York Philharmonic,
Leonard Bernstein, conductor. (Columbia) This is the piece the LA Philharmonic is
rehearsing on the day Nathaniel Ayers first visits Disney Concert Hall. The Bernstein
version, recorded in 1966, captures the heaving intensity of the score, with its
melodies crashing into melodies in what Bernstein describes (in the accompanying
audio lecture) as “whiplashes of sound.”
Dvorak: The Dvorak Album, Yo-Yo Ma. (Sony). Released in
2004 to mark the 100th anniversary of Antonin Dvorak’s death, this compilation contains
the Czech composer’s legendary Cello Concerto in b minor, another of Ayers’ favorites.
It’s performed by the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Mazur; the solo passages
are handled with great bubbling passion by the megastar Yo-Yo Ma, who makes an appearance
late in The Soloist.
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For the last three and a half years, award-winning music journalist Tom Moon has
been searching out peak musical experiences from all genres and every corner of
the earth. 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, published
by Workman Publishing in August 2008, is the result of his journey. Covering both
acknowledged world-culture masterworks (J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations)
and recordings that have been unfairly overlooked (Nick Drake's Five Leaves
Left), the book is designed to encourage listeners to become explorers.
Moon lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs and an attic full of music outside
of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.