The Milkman of Musical Kindness

This entry was written by our guest-blogger, composer Sean Hickey. Sean, who is Naxos’ Eastern Territory Manager, has a unique perspective on music and how to balance working a “day job” with the rigours of being a musician as well. A number of us at Naxos, myself included (although I compose popular music these days, having given up concert music years ago), play this balancing act. That said one of the great perks of working at Naxos is all the music you are exposed to.

I’ve been listening to a lot of new things lately, or music new to me. Huge reams of eye opening orchestral and chamber music. Lots of stuff I’ve never heard including great sets of symphonies of Tansman and Weinberg, two immensely talented composers that get scarcely a mention in the history books, if they’re mentioned at all. One of the greatest pleasures of working for Naxos is to sample an immense variety of music that’s largely been ignored, and to revisit some classics in some new recordings. To the former category I must include a new disc of works of Ernst Toch; a Greek composer new to me, Dmitris Dragatakis, and a mountain of a piece, Fred Rzewski’s The People United Will Never be Defeated!, performed by the amazing Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat. This is one of those seminal works that I was proud to know of, but embarrassed to admit I’ve never actually heard. All of the composition and pianistic virtuosity aside, I find the work immensely moving and it certainly seems to have a special resonance now.

To the latter category I would add a fine new recording of the Second and Third Symphonies of Karol Szymanowski, Antoni Wit leading the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. This is perhaps the most vivid recording of his orchestral works since Simon Rattle’s landmark Third Symphony/Stabat Mater on EMI years ago.

Chamber and small ensemble music from the Baroque era is generally not something that interests me tremendously, but I’ve been bowled over the beauty of a new recording of the C.P.E Bach Viola de Gamba sonatas, recorded on the cello by cellist Dmitry Kouzov, accompanied on the piano and harpsichord by Peter Laul. Full disclosure: Dima is a great friend and has commissioned a concerto from me and I’ve had the immense benefit of working on the concerto with him directly. But perhaps what has most informed the recent pages of my work is the lyricism and subtle grace of his C.P.E. Bach recording. It has altered the very foundations of my new piece. Do check it out if you can.

Lastly, clarinetist David Gould will record a disc of American works for clarinet and string quartet for Naxos. The disc will include my Clarinet Concerto, commissioned by the soloist in 2007. I hope to be able to report more on this soon.