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  March 3-10, 2003
Stephan Micus:
Into the Mystic
By Duane Harper Grant

One of the highlights of the Other Minds 9 festival in San Francisco this week is  a rare North American appearance by Stephan Micus.

Among the many and varied instruments that the German-born, Menorca abiding musician/composer and musical shaman of sorts  has studied--usually with a master in the context of its culture--are the dudek, ney, shakuhachi flute, steel drums, guitar, kalimba and marimba. He has also learned to play and incorporate these instruments into his own compositions and recordings. 

Recently Micus spent several weeks in Cuba where he went to seek out master musicians and learn about some of the traditional musical instruments and their cultural contexts.  For Micus, these traditional acoustic instruments possess a fascination of history, culture, sound and musical language. He has a deep interest in exploring and preserving all of these facets but he does so with a style and a sensibility that is uniquely his own.

In his fifteen-going-on sixteen recordings, all or which are on ECM records, he has combined, melded, and mixed together different instruments, sometimes from distinctly different cultures.  Indeed, one has to be in awe of the way the world, people, culture and music come together in his music and compositions. Over the years he has assimilated a vast range of cultures and instruments into his own musical context and created  his own, unique musical  voice. 

All in all what has evolved and developed is a music unlike any other but one that has a basic fundamental and elemental essence of sound and rhythm as a common thread.

I talked with Stephan via phone from his home on the island of Menorca

S/21: How did you, why did you become interested in music.

SM: It started in that time when all children in school had to learn the recorder, a kind of flute and so it was not even any choice of mine at all but I was the only boy, at least in my class when I was 6; I was the only boy who liked his lessons. At that time I really liked to play the flute. And, well, later I started to become more and more interested in music and for my 12th birthday I wanted to have a guitar and I started teaching myself guitar. Later I traveled to Spain when I was 15 and studied flamenco guitar or even earlier maybe 13 or 14. And then it continued. I became interested, usually through recordings, in all kinds of instruments, all kinds of different cultures. I traveled to these places and studied the music and this is going on until this very day.

S/21: Yes, it's quite an interesting odyssey that you have been taken on or have taken up. Throughout the years you have traversed many worlds and many cultures. So really, you came to the realization that music was going to be your path in your mid teens then? Did you really know at that point?

SM: Yes, when I was 14 I had already started to [write] small compositions and I used to play in some bands. We used to play kind of rock music for [dances]. But then already when I was about 16 I stopped all that I used to play with just one other person. We had just acoustic guitars and concert flute. I started at that time to [write] songs with English text and then later I started to travel to India and all these places. So, I had my first album made when I was still in High School. So this was very dear [to] me that I wanted to play music.

S/21: And do it a certain way too.

SM: Yea, I was always, I mean this started to evolve. When I was about 17 the first records from India came out. Ravi Shankar, for me was a real amazing influence and it touched me so strongly that when I finished high school I went to India and I wanted to study [their] classical music. So from very early on I started to be interested in strange instruments, strange from a European point of view. But I was always attracted to [the] more archaic instruments.

S/12: More exotic.

SM: Well, exotic is more of a subjective point of view. To someone from India a violin is exotic. You could say more correctly that these instruments are more original and archaic and primitive in a positive way. In the way that maybe western instruments have become highly sophisticated and maybe too much so. I was always attracted to more simple and direct instruments to the extreme like the African harps which I have later on discovered which have only 4 or 5 gut strings and only a gourd and a stick.  I mean in you compare it to the classical European harp [well] some people might even laugh at these instruments, not take them seriously you know. 


Towards the Wind
Stephan Micus 
Ecm Records 
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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

The Closing Of A New-Music Friend The closing of the new-music label CRI in January changed the classical music landscape. "CRI, for many listeners, was not just an entree into new music but appealed to an anarchic way of listening: adventurously, without expectations, and individually, as an explorer of sound unfettered by what authorities (critics, professors, pompous friends) dictate. Young listeners, tired of whatever music they were weaned on, could find music on CRI that was, by virtue of being the forgotten avant-garde of 20 years before, far more foreign and fascinating than the newest of the new." Washington Post 03/02/03 

Lost Beethoven Concerto Is Performed A lost Beethoven oboe concerto got a performance this weekend. "Two Dutch Beethoven enthusiasts have pieced together the musical clues, put them into 18th-century orchestral context and reconstructed the second movement of the only oboe concerto Beethoven ever wrote. The slow, melodic Largo movement of the Oboe Concerto in F Major was performed Saturday night in Rotterdam and billed as a 'world premiere' - even though the full concerto was performed at least once before, 210 years ago." Nando Times (AP) 03/02/03 

Prokofiev - Great Music, Lousy Timing Prokofiev's legacy has been marred by contradictions. "He produced some of the sprightliest, most ingenious and most enduringly popular music of the 20th century. Yet Prokofiev's career was also, in the brisk summation of music historian Francis Maes, 'a succession of misjudgments,' marked by flawed calculations on the artistic, personal and political fronts." San Francisco Chronicle 03/02/03 

Vanity Books Set To Music So you have a song you've written. So you hire pros to finish it up and record it. "The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brush'' collects 28 mind-bendingly strange and very funny songs paid for by amateur lyricists and recorded by hard-up professional singers and musicians. 'It's the only scam I know of where each transaction is a unique work of art. Of course the work of art isn't always great. These are vanity books set to music. But that's what makes it so interesting. You have these very talented musicians working very rapidly to fulfill a quota of so many songs per hour, and sometimes the results transcend the limitations of the form'." Boston Herald 03/02/03 

A New Way To Hear/Present Concerts The way that we go to the opera, the theatre and the concert has hardly changed for centuries. The great majority of such attendance takes place in venues conceived on the model of churches. The performers do their thing at one end. We, the audience, sit silently in rows in the rest of the building and look at them doing it. This can be a difficult and even intimidating experience for those who are not used to it, especially in badly designed or unsuitable spaces. But you have only to attend a performance in a different kind of venue to see at once the possibilities for addressing the access problem in a different way." The London Symphony has a new venue. "It is not just a huge step forward for this most dynamic of Britain's orchestras, consolidating the LSO's role in the vanguard of orchestral music in London. It is also a step down a path that other performing arts organisations of all kinds will surely have to follow eventually - if they have the funding - of changing the terms on which orchestras meet their audiences." The Guardian (UK) 02/28/03 

Stravinsky's Mouthpiece? Robert Craft's relationship with Stravinsky draws fresh attention with the publication of a new Craft volume. Though the composer has been dead 30 years, the Craft continues to write of his friend, reviving old debates about where the composer ends and Craft begins..."The final Jamesian irony is that Robert Craft is able to write supremely well only as a ventriloquist, requiring no less than an authentic genius for his dummy." Weekly Standard 03/03/03 

Music: Electronic Inroads Almost all popular music uses some form of electronic instrumentation. Not in classical music though. "The future of innovation in music seems almost surely to be in digitally created music whose origin is either purely electronic or in imitation of acoustical sounds, "rather than string instruments growing extra strings or things like that." Christian Science Monitor 02/28/03 

Everybody Sing! Singing in choirs is the most popular performing arts activity in the U.S., according to a new study, with better than 28 million Americans (about 10% of the total population) singing in some sort of organized chorus. "The study found a link between early exposure to choral singing and adult participation in choruses. More than half of adult singers had grown up in a household that included a chorus member, and nearly 70 percent had first sung in elementary or middle school." Andante 02/26/03 

Music From Out Of This World The Kronos String Quartet has lately been preoccupied with sounds from out of this world - outer space. Sounds collected from the cosmos have been incorporated into the music. "What's amazing about the noises is how organic they are - sometimes you feel they could be the sounds of insects or whales. The visuals, too, make the universe seem conscious - the Sun close up seems like a living body, with a pulsing heart." The Telegraph (UK) 02/24/03 

Music From A Political Time - Does It Work? Do symphonic music and politics mix? "To a great degree, the medium defeats itself. The sheer time, effort and expense required to compose, rehearse and perform a full-scale symphonic work militates against writing one as an immediate response to a specific political situation. Works assembled quickly to make a point tend to show it, and in the concert world ephemera — even well-meaning ephemera — slips into the mist moments after its premiere, taking its message with it." The New York Times 02/25/03 

 Last Week's News
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Our current  government  may be mad at the French but New York isn’t.  Music will have a distinctly French accent this month as New York City’s musical institutions join together for the "Sounds French" Festival, which will bring together an unprecedented gathering of French musicians and composers, and will hear the largest number of French contemporary works performed at an American music festival. More than 30 events during the month will feature contemporary music of France, performed by both French and American musicians.

The opening concert was held last night at the Miller Theatre and featured a musical portrait of the late Gérard Grisey, performed by Ensemble Sospeso. The Festival will close with the U.S. premiere of Pascal Dusapin’s opera To Be Sung, which will be performed at Florence Gould Hall on March 27. Throughout the month, the music presented will range from traditional orchestral and chamber compositions to more adventurous spectral and electronic music, with many New York premieres and a number of world premieres. While some younger composers will be traveling to New York for the first time for the festival, others have not been to New York in many years.

“Sounds French aims to open this door to New York audiences by sharing the innovations in French music from the last half-century,” says Artistic Advisor Eric de Visscher, a leading figure in the new music field for the last decade. “The festival draws a line from Messiaen, Dutilleux and Boulez to the generation that follows, mainly the so-called spectral movement—composers such as Grisey, Murail and Dufourt—and to those, much younger, who aim for a synthesis between them. This younger generation, represented by Bruno Mantovani and others, integrates the traditions of 20th-century French music with new techniques and global influences.”

Highlights of the Festival include Pierre Boulez performing his legendary Répons with the Ensemble Intercontemporain at Carnegie Hall; Mstislav Rostropovich conducting Dutilleux’s Timbres, Espace, Mouvement with the New York Philharmonic; Grisey’s music at the Miller Theatre; Dusapin’s opera To Be Sung, presented by l’Opéra Français de New York; and the Guggenheim Museum’s "Works and Process" presenting premieres by Marc-André Dalbavie and Philippe Manoury. The complete piano works of Tristan Murail will be performed at the Miller Theatre; organist Olivier Latry will perform at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, and composer and organist Thierry Escaich will perform some of his own music in the same church. Also, leading Messiaen interpreter Roger Muraro will perform the composer’s complete Catalogue d' Oiseaux.

View the complete calendar for March

Chamber Music by Curtis Composers
by Deborah Kravetz

Three Songs in Chinese touch on the ephemeral -- of wind, wisp of
cloud and the color of a bird. Sung by soprano Rachael Garcia with the
composer on piano, Wind is a wordless vocalise rising and falling in a
narrow range accompanied relentlessly by heavy piano chords. Yellow Bird is
a lively and raucous flash of color, while Ou Ran (Transcience ) is sung a
capella in the first part of sorrow, with lightly flowing runs for the
second part of recollection of past happiness.

Eli Marshall's Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano is a flowing conversation, each reflecting the same theme, but not repeating each other. It was light and wistful in tone in the Andante cantabile , and with a bouncy rhythm in the Allegro molto that demanded, and got, a lot of energy from Jose Franch-Ballester, clarinet, and Amy Jiaqi Yang, piano.

Four Love Songs by James Ra for baritone and cello and piano to poems of W.B. Yeats take heed of the key words of the text for the shaping of the melodic line. Texture of piano, Amy Jiaqi Yang, and cello, Earl Lee, becomes more complex between phrases, as very well-constructed mini-songs, and never obscures the clarity of the language. Baritone Alexander Tall never lost the emotional character of the pieces, but I wish he could have found his own center of gravity away from the piano.

In Clarinet Quintet by Justin La Vallee, a small repetitive theme becomes broader and more divergent among the parts as it gains intensity, then draws together to a single chord. A strong cello theme predominates, as a clarinet theme comes and goes amid a blustering whirl of notes. A quiet section is followed by a light string passage, and a measured tutti rises to a climax and a quiet finish.

Pro and Contra for string quartet by Sheridan Seyfried, born in 1984, the youngest of the composers represented on this program, was the odd apple in this bushel, standing out as raw and edgy, surging in and out of short phrases, starting and stopping with intense energy whether loud or soft -- a study in contrasts, and that was just the Moderato. Con fuoco was even more intense and markedly more rhythmic, and the piece elicited wild applause from the very appreciative audience.

The program closed with Six Short Pieces for Brass Quintet by Solbong Kim. Set almost as theme and variations, this piece gave pairs of instruments duet phrases alternating with tutti in six short movements. One staccato section gave the trumpet a flowing melodic theme mimicked and accompanied by the ensemble. A variety of mutes varied the tonal texture of the sections.

Chamber Music by Curtis Composers
January 29, 2003
Reposted from Penn Sounds 2/24/03

NWEAMO 2003: The Exploding Interactive Inevitable 
October 3-5, 2003: Portland, Oregon (B-Complex) October 10-12, 2003: 
(San Diego State University) 

Miller Theatre: 
2002-03 Season at a Glance

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 - FEBRUARY 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.

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