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Keeping Score - Ives: Holidays Symphony

5.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Ranging from tender sentiment to savage chaos, the music of early 20th-century composer Charles Ives explores an essentially American riddle: how can we survive the relentless assault of our own success? It was an enigma Ives embodied himself. He believed that we should all be brave enough to go it alone -- yet he earned his living in insurance. In this volume of Keeping Score, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony unwrap the layers of Ives' Holiday Symphony to reveal a surprising portrait of New England. The symphony's four movements journey across the terrain of the seasons. From the intimacy of the winter hearth to the explosive concussion of the 4th of July, discover the insights Ives liberates in the music's confrontational crunch. Join Michael Tilson Thomas as he, the San Francisco Symphony and Charles Ives belt it out over truth, beauty, and the American Way. As a bonus, the disc includes a full length concert performance of the symphony.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas
  • Directors: David Kennard, Joan Saffa, Gary Halvorson
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Classical, Color, Import, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    G
    General Audience
  • Studio: SFS MEDIA
  • DVD Release Date: November 10, 2009
  • Run Time: 111 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002S913Q6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,095 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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Top Customer Reviews

After my constant whining about Michael Tilson-Thomas' mannered and - at times - self indulgent Mahler, it's nice to have the opportunity to praise him for this outstanding contribution to our better understanding of America's greatest iconoclastic composer, Charles Ives. In fact, MTT removes that pigeon-holing label altogether, simply by presenting Ives in the most logical and straight-forward manner possible. Ives was a modernist before modernism ever became an "ism". Yet, he was highly sentimental; hoping that modern day successes wouldn't spoil the New England that he grew up in, and so dearly loved. Tilson Thomas covers these points superbly.

It seems to me that both Tilson Thomas and the S.F. Symphony are at their very best for these incredibly well produced "Keeping Score" docu-concerts. All of them are winners, with the Ives and Stravinsky (Rite Of Spring) leading the pack. Bernstein himself couldn't have done better on Ives. More, please! (how about Rimsky's "Mlada", a Tilson Thomas specialty).
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I bought my first Charles Ives album back in 1970 when I was a student at the University of South Carolina. It was a collection of the 4 Symphonies on the Vanguard label featuring Harold Farberman conducting what was then billed as the New Philharmonia Orchestra due to a contract dispute. I was just discovering classical music and bought the album because of its Americana cover. The first three symphonies were very accessible, each one becoming progressively more modern but the Fourth Symphony was simply outrageous. However I did recognize some of the hymn and march tunes quoted and as the raucous second movement was subtitled "Comedy", I stuck with it. The more I listened to it the clearer it became and eventually I became quite fond of it and quite used to Ives' style of writing. Unfortunately his style of writing in the late works will keep Ives from ever becoming a public composer because without previous and repeated exposure he just sounds like a lot of noise (as first time listeners have told me repeatedly for over 40 years). In 1974, the year of the Ives Centennial, I was able to purchase many more recordings which only added to my appreciation of the composer.

The MTT/San Francisco Symphony KEEPING SCORE DVD of Ives' HOLIDAYS SYMPHONY is the ideal approach to Ives for first time listeners or people with a casual acquaintance with his music. Like the old Leonard Bernstein YOUNG PEOPLE'S CONCERTS (which weren't just for young people) on which it is clearly modeled, KEEPING SCORE allows us through pictures and orchestral demonstartions to see what Ives was attempting to do in his music. With this as a guide, it all comes together in a way that once you've seen it, you'll always remember it and will be able to hear the music in a different light.
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KEEPING SCORE by Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony contains an elementary, picture-postcard narrative of Charles Ives' HOLIDAYS SYMPHONY, followed by a straight, non-narrated version of the same symphony.

In starting the disc, we find a 90 second montage showing musicians and MTT, where the announcer says, "What is the secret of classical music?" Then, we see a menu of 5 choices: (1) Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique; (2) Shostakovich's Symph. No. 5; (3) Beethoven's Eroica; (4) Stravinsky's rite of Spring; and (5) Copland's Appalachian Spring. Each of these choices provides a 10 minute excerpt from the other discs of this series. There is also the choice of going to the main menu.

The main menu includes these choices: (1) HOLIDAYS SYMPHONY with narration, film clips of marching bands, misty lakes, and snippets of Ives' biography; (2) The actual HOLIDAYS SYMPHONY without narration or photo-montages; (3) A short movie about the robotic cameras and video technicians; and (4) Setup (subtitles in English, Spanish, French, German, Cantonese, Mandarin).

This is about WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY (with narration): MTT tells us that "this is music that veers between tender sentiment and savage chaos." We are shown Ives' house in Redding, Connecticut and its interior. MTT sits inside and plays on Ives' old, beat-up piano. MTT exclaims, "Does he [Ives] want me to stand up and slug it out with him?!?" Then, we see a boy tossing a stone in a lake, and a girl walking on a railroad track in the countryside. We see Ives' childhood house in Danbury, Connecticut. Then, there is a reenactment of 2 actual marching bands, playing 2 different tunes, and then marching through each other (something that Charles Ives' father had experimented with).
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Charles Ives was/is a greater composer than most of us have yet acknowledged. That's MTT's thesis, and he makes an eloquent case for it both in his lecture about Ives's career and his concert interpretation of Ives's melodic/chaotic, harmonious/cacophonous, gentle/frenzied Holiday Symphony. The natural and historical visuals that accompany the lecture are apt and evocative. The concert performance was staged in an empty Davies Symphony Hall, with the echoes and "distant" musical expressions being played from the balconies. It's all quite effective, as immediate as a recording could be, next-best to hearing the piece live.

The successful insurance magnate Ives had in fact much in common with the bearded bohemian Whitman, though they might have been awkward companions at a dinner table. Both were Transcendentalists -- vaporous but compelling idealists, in short -- and swelling patriots. Like Mahler, Ives blended folksy and bumptious musical matter into his ambitious, original symphonies. Both composer were forthrightly "metaphysical" in their intentions. Both were obsessed with memory and memories. Both would have been huge WG Sebald readers if they'd lived close to our times.

The concert performance of the four symphonic movements includes the reading of Ives's own programmatic introductions to the holidays depicted. To my ears, each of the four movements deserves to be heard singly, in detachment, and the program-reading serves that purpose. I might only wish that MTT had a twangy New England accent. The music itself, of course, is the meat inside Michael Thomashefsky's DVD piroshki.
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