About Us
Essential Library
Read Past Issues Resources Composer Links
  February 03-10, 2003

Who's Afraid of 
Julia Wolfe

One of New York’s finest and most visible composers, Bang on a Can co-founder Julia Wolfe is front-and-center this week and next.  On Thursday, February 6, ETHEL kicks off its three-part survey of her string quartets (and John Zorn’s) at Columbia’s Miller Theater  and on February 11 Cantaloupe will release a recording of the three quartets featuring ETHEL, Lark Quartet and the Cassatt String Quartet.

Through their relentless high energy and ferocious passion, Wolfe’s quartets have become popular repertoire for many of the younger quartets who specialize in contemporary music. Her music conveys an intensity and intimacy, a virtuosity and 
joy of sound that turns the string quartet into a high voltage vehicle of expression.  “Dig Deep” is a hard-charging force of nature; “Four Marys” was inspired by Wolfe's love for playing the Appalachian dulcimer, and “Early That Summer” is perhaps the best known of all of Wolfe’s work.  As composer Evan Ziporyn writes, "There are no power chords in the breathtakingly virtuosic string quartet Early That Summer, but the vibrancy of rock and roll sears through every moment."

Wolfe body of work defies classification, drawing on range of  influences as disparate as late Beethoven and Led Zeppelin.  Her musical explorations are unified by a focus on sound as a beautiful and powerful abstraction imbued with meaning.  Born in Philadelphia in 1958, Wolfe studied with Martin Bresnick at Yale, receiving her MM, and later did doctoral work at Princeton. 

She is a Fulbright recipient who has also won awards and commissions from The Kronos Quartet, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Library of Congress, Meet The Composer, and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, among others.

Her music has been performed by a prestigious list of players, including the San Francisco Symphony, Bang on a Can All-Stars, American Composers Orchestra, Piano Circus, the Cassatt 
Quartet, and Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne.  Crossing over into the worlds of theater and dance, her works have been choreographed by Eliot Feld, Doug Varone, and the Dusseldorf Ballet; she also composed music for Anna Deveare-Smith’s most recent play House Arrest. 

ETHEL performs the complete Julia Wolfe String Quartets in a 3-concert series 
at New York’s Miller Theatre, as part of the series "The Complete String 
Quartets of Julia Wolfe and John Zorn."  "Dig Deep" will be performed on 
February 6, "Four Marys" on March 13, and "Early That Summer" on April 24. 
These works will be paired with world premieres from six other maverick New 
York City composers.

The String Quartets
Composer: Julia Wolfe
Ensemble: Ethel, Cassatt String Quartet, et al.
Cantaloupe - #21011 

What's Recent

Derek Bermel's Soul Garden
 Kaija Saariaho Wins Grawemeyer Award
The Pianist: The Extraordinary 
True Story of Wladyslaw Szpilman
A Bridge Not Far Enough
Turnage Signs With B&H
Rzewski Plays Rzewski
Praising Lee Hyla
David Lang's Passing Measures
Three Tales at BAM
Naxos at 15
On the Transmigration of Souls
Dead Man Walking
David Krakauer's The Year After
Steve Reich/Alan Pierson
The Good Solider Schweik
Neely Bruce Loves a Parade
John Cage's 90th Anniversary
Michael Gordon's Decasia
Bright Sheng's Silver River
 Earle Brown Dies
Oliver Knussen at 50
John Eaton's "...inasmuch" Debuts
Interview with Gloria Coates
Entering the 21st Century with
Kitty Brazelton
Julia Wolfe after minimalism
Philip Glass at 65
Interview with Poul Ruders
Our writers welcome your comments on their pieces.  Send your witty bon mots to jbowles@sequenza21.com and we might even publish some of them here.  And, don't forget--if you'd like to write for Sequenza21 (understanding that we have no money to pay you), send me a note. JB

New Music - Reluctance To Take Risks In the next six months in London there are only eight premieres by British composers. "That's eight out of roughly 500 works being performed by the country's symphony orchestras until the end of the season (not including repeat performances on tour). A minuscule proportion - about 1.6% of performed works, if you want to be pedantic about it. Why is new work so thinly represented? Largely, it is because orchestras are reluctant to take risks. Programming new work is expensive. You have to pay the composer..." The Guardian (UK) 01/30/03

Piling On At The ENO "Music impresario Raymond Gubbay has attacked plans to axe jobs in the chorus and orchestra at the English National Opera. Mr Gubbay - one of the leading names in his field - described as 'absurd' and 'ridiculous' the ENO's proposals to reduce the number of 60 choristers and 83 orchestra members. His outburst followed chairman Martin Smith's admission the ENO had been saved from going into receivership by a £4.2m grant from the Arts Council of England." BBC 01/29/03

Today Vs. Yesterday - Are Symphony Orchestras Better? Are today's symphony orchestras better or worse than the orchestras of yesterday? The technical level of the players is better, but is the way they play together superior? The Boston Globe asked five prominent conductors to make comparisons. Boston Globe 02/02/03

Oundjian - A Star Is Born? None of this waiting for years between appointing a new music director and the time he starts conducting your orchestra. The Toronto Symphony announced Peter Oundjian as its music director only last month. This week he gave his first concert. Were people excited? You bet. "Torontonians who, for the most part, have acted with severe ennui to the recent decline in fortunes of the Toronto Symphony" showed up in droves. "Roy Thomson Hall, which has often been half-empty for some of the greatest performers in classical music, was filled to overflowing for the free concert. The place was stuffed to the rafters, with lineups outside the hall and hundreds of people turned away. Hundreds turned away. When's the last time that happened for a TSO concert? Answer: never." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 02/01/03

Reinventing The Viola (And Isn't It About Time?) An instrument that resembles a Dalí-inspired melted viola is causing such excitement that there is a two-year waiting-list. Although the body is spruce and maple, the traditional ebony fingerboard is replaced by Formica to give it a lighter weight. Its eccentric shape also reduces the strain of arm and wrist stretching. The instrument, whose $12,000 (£7,300) cost is comparable to that of a normal viola, was made in America, at the Oregon workshop of David Rivinus. 'The only thing sacrificed is visual symmetry. Does the shape change do anything to the sound? No'.” The Times (UK) 01/31/03

The New Castrati? There are, of course, no more castrati, male singers castrated in their youth so as to preserve their high, immature voices. And while no one would ever suggest a return to the barbaric practice, music historians have long lamented the loss of the unique sound such performers produced. In the last century, the parts originally written for castrati have been largely sung by countertenors, men singing in highly developed falsetto. But many of the most difficult Baroque castrato operas have been all but abandoned for lack of skilled enough performers in the countertenor range. Until now. Chicago Tribune 01/30/03

San Francisco Opera Slashes Operations Beginning in 2005, the company will cut its season from 88 performances of 11 or 12 productions to about 65 performances a year spread over nine productions. "The goal is to shrink the annual operating budget from around $60 million to $45 million. The Opera had a deficit of $7.6 million for the 2001-02 season and is predicting a $9.2 million shortfall this year. "This city is just not able financially to support a jumbo jet." San Francisco Chronicle 01/28/03

 Last Week's News
Advertising and Sponsorship Info

Caught in the Act
eighth blackbird Plays
Minimum Security Collective
By Deborah Kravetz

Someone had the good sense to move this performance into the small Prince Theater instead of the cavernous Zellerbach it was scheduled for,and by golly, it was almost completely filled for this program of sixteen short movements from four commissioned pieces by the Minimum Security Composers Collective: Dennis DeSantis, Roshanne Etezady, Adam Silverman and Ken Ueno, to put them in their alphabetic order. The commission elicited movements that could be performed in any order, and eighth blackbird pulled them together into two seamless movements based on what the music suggested to them as relevant transitions.

Does this make it more difficult to get to know a composer,  or is it a challenge to merely tell one from another? I don’t know what this format does to the music itself, and it takes the ear a while, but eventually, one can discern the similarities among the excerpts.
Most evidently, I found myself relaxing into the lyric romanticism of In Another Man’s Skin by Adam Silverman, especially the waltz-y (schmaltzy) Cover Tune . Silverman takes advantage of the ensemble’s instrumentation for violin, cello, flute, clarinet and marimba, using dance-like tempi, rippling runs and shimmering effects from the marimba to create flowing melodic lines.

I also enjoyed the Wait and See portion of Damaged Goods by Roshanne Etezady, the slow, hollow solos for cello and clarinet, and a flute/clarinet duet motif. Other portions of this piece were less distinctive, although tending to short melancholic repetitions. About Time was a quiet wind and string quartet, with rising piccolo phrases, and the Eleventh Hour closing featured a fast, percussive unison.
Dennis deSantis’ Powerless was nothing like, marked by intense single-note repetitions, percussive unison and short phrases. Rapid staccato passages kept it from being too deadly dull.

Main Movement from Pharmakon by Ken Ueno introduced itself with crashing piano chords that segued into busyness and twitter, as the musicians were finally allowed to be seated, only to stand in turn as they attacked sections of repeated notes followed by soft, floating, almost indistinct chaos that retreated into slow, boring repetition. Another movement was played on tape as the musicians looked on quizzically, and the final section performed consisted of a hushed no-particular-pitch note with marimba.

Overall, this program could indeed have been all one piece, except for the welcome distraction of the radically different Silverman compositions. Without the Silverman, the Collective presents one dense, tough set of stuff heard all together. Perhaps, arranged into single pieces, their movements may provide the variation in texture necessary to break the monotony of intense sound. It would be difficult to listen to that way without the visual component, and in this case, eighth blackbird itself provided it, in its movement back and forward, around in circles, pairing and re-pairing with each other as the music evolved to duet phrases.

eighth blackbird
Annenberg Center
January 24, 2003
(Reposted from Penn Sounds 1/28/03)


Miller Theatre: 
2002-03 Season at a Glance
Classical Grammy Winners

Previous Interviews/Profiles
Simon Rattle, Michael Gordon,Benjamin Lees, Scott Lindroth, David Felder, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Erkki-Sven Tüür,John Luther Adams, Brett Dean, Judith Lang Zaimont, Meyer Kupferman, Evan Chambers, Poul Ruders, Steven R. Gerber, Gloria Coates

Previous Articles/
Busoni The Visionary
The Composer of the Moment:  Mark-Anthony Turnage
Electronic Music
Voices: Henze at 75
Henze Meets Emenim
On Finding Kurtag
Charles Ruggles:  When Men Were Men
Ballet Mécanique
The Adams Chronicles

Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for our Editor's Pick's of the month.  Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, NY, NY 10019  Also, feel free to nominate your favorite composer-- even if it's you--for Spotlight of the Week.
             EDITORS PICKS - JANUARY 2003

Music of Our Time
Composer(s): Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, György Ligeti, Wolfgang Rihm
Performer(s): Gottfried Michael Konig, Karlheinz Stockhausen, et al.
Wergo - #6921 
The Big Box of 20th century modernism.  Four disks--one each devoted to the music of Stockhausen, Cage, Ligeti, and Rihm--to celebrate Wergo's 40 years at the cutting edge.  An outstanding collection and a must have for the serious collector of contemporary music--even if you have some of the pieces on other recordings. 

Rapture / An American Abroad / Jasper
Composer: Michael Torke
Performer(s): Currie, Alsop, Royal Scottish Nat'l Orch
Naxos - #8559167 
Michael Torke is among the most talented of the younger generation of American composers. In the past few years he has risen to international prominence with an exciting series of orchestral and ensemble works that explores a unique fusion of jazz, rock, and more traditional classical influences Captured beautifully here are three pieces Torke wrote while serving as composer in residence at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jasper, An American Abroad and the energetic percussion concerto, Rapture, with Colin Currie, soloist. 

Footprints in New Snow
Composer:  Christos Hatzis
 Cbc Enterprises - #1156-2
Footprints in New snow is an electroacoustic composition for tape  based on prerecorded katajjaq, the vocal games of the Inuit by the Greek-born, Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. The material was recorded on location at Iqaluit and Cape Dorset at Baffin Island from June 15-26 along with interviews with throat singers, respected elders of the community and various environmental sounds of the north. This extensive material was subsequently edited and incorporated in the composition using digital sampling and digital audio technologies.  The results are fascinating, often mesmerizing.

Bram Stoker's Dracula
Composer: Wojciech Kilar
Performers: Cracow Philharmonic Chorus, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice), Antoni Wit (conductor). Marco Polo
Wojciech Kilar is best-known for his film music although he is also an outstanding composer of orchestral works.  Few people alive are better are capturing musical moods and creating a sound world that perfectly matches the images they illustrate.   Born in Poland in 1932, and having studied at the Katowice State Music School, he eventually arrived in Paris as a student of Boulenger. He had composed for over one hundred Polish films before moving into the Hollywood industry.

New American Piano Music
Composer(s): David Rakowski, Henry Martin, et al.
  Performer: Teresa McCollough
innova 552
 Pianist Teresa McCollough reviewed more than 300 original piano compositions by American composers.  and  picked the best seven to include on her recital programs and national tours.  The result is a exciting and adventuresome program of contemporary music in a variety of approachable styles and of uniform high quality. 

String Quartet No. 3
Composer: Arnold Bax
 Performer(s): Maggini Quartet
Label: Naxos - #8555953 
 The last and longest of Bax's published quartets sounds like a combination of  his earlier two, although that's not bad. Outdoorsy, English cow patty music that sounds best after a spirited day afield, in the company of a big slobbering dog, blowing the heads off small game with a James Purdey, London, shotgun, followed by a good cigar and  an Irish whiskey by the fireplace.  Ah, sweet motherland. 


Lo the Full Final Sacrifice & Other Choral Works
 Composer: Gerald Fenzi
 Performers:  Choir of St John's College, Cambridge / Christopher Robinson, conductor
Of Italian Jewish ancestry, Gerald Finzi was among the most English of composers, spending much of his life in the countryside of Hampshire and later near Newbury. His interest in earlier English music and in English literature is  reflected in these settings of choral works performed splendidly by the Choir of St. John's College. 


Fall of Berlin / Unforgettable Year 1919 
Composer: Dmitry Shostakovich
Performer: Ellena Alekseyeva, piano / Moscow Capella & Youth Chorus / Moscow Symphony Orchestra / Adriano, conductor 
Marco Polo - #8223897 
Shostokovitch was so often in trouble with the authorities that often the only music he could get recorded was zippy patriotic anthems to accompany propaganda films.  Fortunately, he had a great knack for creating a hook and his film work was well-known to a populace that had never heard his more important modernist pieces because they had been supressed.  The pieces heard here are fine examples of Shostokovitch ability to walk the fine line between blarney and satire.

Chamber Works
Composer: Richard Dubugnon
Dubugnon was born  in Lausanne in 1968 and began serious studies of the double bass and composition when he was twenty, entering the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris in 1990, later moving to London's Royal Academy of Music as a student of Paul Petterson. He combines composition with a career as a double bass player, appearing as soloist with a number of contemporary music groups.  These small pieces suggest a young composer with a unique voice and lots left to say. 

Sinfonia Sevillana
Composer: Joaquín Turina:
 Conductor: Martyn Brabbins
Performer: Hamish Milne
Hyperion - #67326 
Turina was one of Spain's greatest composers but his work is unjustly neglected.  Lots of fire and passion 

Complete Orchestral Works 3
Composer: Joaquin Rodrigo
Performers: Symphony Orchestra of Castille and Leon
Naxos - #8555840 
Impossibly sunny music, guaranteed to warm your soul in a cold February.  If you only know Rodrigo for Concierto de Aranjuez, this superb Naxos series is a revelation.


All Rivers at Once
Composer: Phillip Schroeder
Performer: Duo Savage
Capstone - # 8709)
Hints of Mahler and the late Romantics run through these lovely pieces performed by Duo Savage, consisting of Susan Savage (oboe and English horn) and Dylan Savage (piano and synthesiser). This is haunting, beautiful, music that transports the listener to a world that is considerably more genteel than one in which we live. 


Stabat Mater
Composer: Francis Poulenc
 Opus Arte/Distributed by 
Poulenc's Stabat Mater, Litanies a la Vierge Noire, and Quatre Motets pour un Temps de Penitence are performed by  English choirs (plus the BBC Philharmonic in the Stabat Mater). The performances are first-rate; picture and sound quality are excellent. The disc includes an intriquing documentary on Black Madonnas and a virtual visit to Rocamadour (where Poulenc underwent a religious experience relevant to the music on this program). 

Die Tote Stadt
Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
ArtHuas Musik/Distributed by 
 Long before Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957) became  one of Hollywood’s most famous film composers, his opera ‘Die tote Stadt’ became a resounding success. The libretto, a many-layered and disturbingly morbid love drama between Paul, mourning for his dead wife Marie, and Marie’s spitting image Marietta, is based on the 1892 symbolist cult novel ‘Burges-la-Morte’ by Georges Rodenbach.  This highly acclaimed Strasbourg staging by Inga Levant creates a suggestive spectacle somewhere between Hollywood and Fellini.

Piano Music Vol. 4
Composer: Olivier Messiaen
Performer: Hakon Austbo
Naxos - #8554655
Messiaen is this year's flavor of the month as record companies continue to  turn out dozens of  versions of his works both large and small.  This Naxos series is the best bargain of the lot, with wonderful, well-recorded performances that reflect the growth of Messiaen's reputation as one of the giants of 20th century music.

Orchestra Music
Composer: Silvestre Revueltas
Conductor: Enrique Barrios
Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra
Naxos - #8555917
All the greatest hits of Mexico's  best dead composer, performed marvelously by a sympathetic orchestra, at a bargain basement price.  If you don't know Revueltas' work, shut down the computer immediately, run to the nearest CD store, plop down your money and prepare to be amazed.

Search WWW Search www.sequenza21.com 

Sequenza21/The Contemporary Classical Music Weekly is part of
Classical Music Web Ring
The free linking service provided by Classical Music UK
[ Previous 5 Sites | Previous| Next | Next 5 Sites | Random Site | List Sites ]
SEQUENZA21/is published weekly by Sequenza21/, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019
Publisher:  Duane Harper Grant  (212) 582-4153
Editors:    Jerry & Suzanne Bowles   (212) 582-3791
Contributing Editor: Deborah Kravetz 
(C) Sequenza/21 LLC 2000