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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Are You Ready For Some Classical?

A Soundtrack For Super Bowl XLVI.
The New York Giants (left) and New England Patriots (right) will battle for
 the Lombardi Trophy (center) in Super Bowl XLVI.
All images © 2012 The National Football League,
the New York Giants and New England Patriots.
Today, at Lukas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN, the New York Giants battle the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

No, you haven't walked into the wrong blog. Bear with me a second. I'm a music lover, as well as a football fan. And I thought I'd write this up as a guide to make the Super Bowl more enjoyable for music lovers.

With gametime fast approaching, here's a recommended football playlist in case you get sick of play-by-play, long commercials, and Madonna. (Although frankly, I'm looking forward to Madge's half-time cavort where she dresses up like Bill Belicheck.)

So here's the playlist. Mute your TV, crank your stereo, and watch as the Giants and Patriots occasionally collide in sync with really loud orchestral music. Hit it, boys.

Lineups and Coin Toss:
Richard Wagner: Overture to Die Meistersinger (9:37)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Rafael Kubelik (Arts & Media)
Celebrate the pomp and circumstance of the big game with the lead-in to Wagner's comic opera, which is actually longer than the four-hour Super Bowl broadcast. If the show runs long (and it does) you might have time to play the whole of Act I.

First Half:
Mahler: Symphony No. 6 ("Tragic") (87:00)
Vienna Philharmonic cond. Leonard Bernstein. (DG)
The fierce, chugging rhythms that open Mahler's darkest symphony remind me of the march of a football team towards their opponent's end zone. The three hammer-blows in the last movement are like penalty flags, or three unsuccessful attempts at ground gain before you have to punt.

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (33:25)
Cleveland Orchestra cond. Pierre Boulez (DG)
Lisa Simpson, (an expert on NFL football if there ever was one) coined the term "savage ballet" to describe NFL football. Nothing is more savage than Igor Stravinsky's primal sacrificial Rite with powerhouse rhythms that are as chaotic as a pile-on with defenders fighting to strip the ball from their sacrificial victim: the running back.

Half-time Show: 
Ponchielli: The Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda (8:52)
Orchestra e Coro de St. Cecillia di Roma cond. Lamberto Gardelli. (Decca)
This fanciful ballet from a wonderfully over-the-top opera provides a welcome alternative to lip-synching and wardrobe malfunctions. Then again, Madonna might actually be worth watching this year. Doesn't mean you have to listen to her.

Second Half:
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 (45:09)
Lahti Symphony Orch. cond Osmo Vänskä. (BIS)
Much like the underdog team facing heavy opposition, Sibelius' Second Symphony is about beating the odds. And it has a really good brass part in the last movement.

Holst: Excerpts from The Planets 
(I: Mars, The Bringer of War,
IV: Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.) (Total time 14:38)
Boston Symphony Orchestra cond. William Steinberg (DG)
The opener of The Planets is an obvious choice for the head-banging crunch of pro football. If your team is winning, put on the Jupiter movement (it's the fourth one) and have a triumphant sack dance.

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (Ravel Orchestration. 32:21)
Berlin Philharmonic cond. Claudio Abbado (DG)
Ever think that the portly tread of the composer in the "Promenade" reminds one of watching a game clock tick down? The clatter and bang of "Gnomus" sounds like pads smashing together. And the "Hut of Baba Yaga" is a wide receiver catching the ball and sprinting down the field, taunting his opponents.

Richard Strauss: Symphonic Fantasia from Die Frau Ohne Schatten. (20:29)
Berlin Philharmonic cond. Zubin Mehta. (Sony Classical)
We end with the cosmic harmonies drawn Richard Strauss' most complicated opera, boiled down by the composer into a handy-dandy "fantasia" that uses some of the best bits from the score. Hopefully the game will be as exciting as this music.

Enjoy the game, all. Go Giants!
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.