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  March 29-April 12, 2004 (NEXT UPDATE - APRIL 12)

Lauren Flanigan is Christine and Emily Pulley is Lavinia in "Mourning Becomes Electra."
Third Time's the Charm
For Levy's 'Mourning'

When the Lyric Opera of Chicago revived his much-praised but mostly forgotten Mourning Becomes Electra in 1998 (the first staging in this country since its 1967 premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York), composer Marvin David Levy was heard to say:  “If you live long enough, you get your second 15 minutes of fame.”  Levy was not quite right—he is now getting a third 15 minutes with the current production of “Mourning” at New York City Opera starring the incomparable Lauren Flanigan in the lead. 

Based on Eugene O’Neil’s great play, the story is one of the oldest in Western culture, the tragic homecoming of Agamemnon as told by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. In his American gothic revision, O’Neill shifted the setting from Argos after the Trojan War to New England after the Civil War.  Many composers had sought the rights to turn the play into an opera but Levy confesses that he simply got lucky—he was befriended by a socialite who was a friend of O’Neil’s widow who simply rang Mrs. O’Neil up on the phone and told her that Levy was a “genius.” 

The socialite was the only one who thought so.  In 1960 Leonard Bernstein wrote Levy, then in his mid-twenties, how "deeply impressed" he was with the composer's setting of W.H. Auden's Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being. "I find a new young Britten lurking in you, and I think that before you are through you'll make opera history."

Keeping “Mourning” in the public eye has been a struggle, Levy admits.  For each of the three American productions of the work, he has made extensive revisions, polishing and refining what many critics believe to be a masterpiece and some think is the “great American opera.” 

Born August 2, 1932 in Passaic, NJ, Levy began piano lessons at an early age with his aunt, going on to study with Carl Friedberg of The Julliard School. He completed a liberal arts education at New York University, majoring in music under Philip James. His principal music composition teacher was Otto Luening of the Columbia University Graduate School. During these student years he began work as an apprentice stage director at summer music-theater workshops where he was soon directing full productions ranging from My Fair Lady to Carmen. The Tower, written for the opening season of the Santa Fe Opera, was the first of his own works to be directed and performed. 

Levy's principal activity as a composer has been in the area of vocal music, including three one-act operas, The Tower (1957), Sotoba Komachi (1957), and Escorial, (1958) as well as choral, solo, and orchestral pieces, including For the Time Being (1959), Sacred Service, (1964), Masada (1973, rewritten in 1987), One Person (1962), Canto de Los Maranos (1978) and Since Nine O’Clock (1977).


Canto de los Marranos / Shir Shel Moshe (excerpts) / Masada
Naxos 8.559427
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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, New York, NY 10019
Send announcements to the Editors
Balancing The Composer/Conductor Many conductors start out as other brands of musicians. It used to be that composer/conductors were common. There aren't so many today. "Musicians who genuinely straddle that divide -- whose talents and personal commitment are equally devoted to composing and conducting -- have been the rare exceptions. Mahler was one, Leonard Bernstein another. Salonen is the pre-eminent case in our time. What it means, for him and for his audiences, is a constant, painful assessment of competing priorities. For a listener located outside Los Angeles, it's hard to look at Salonen's small catalog of compositions and not begrudge the time and artistic energy it takes to run the Philharmonic." San Francisco Chronicle 03/28/04 

MTT: Brilliant And Brash Michael Tilson Thomas has made a career of doing the music he believes in. "I very much like the idea of the past, present and future being connected. Because I knew so many composers, hearing them sing their own music in their own voices had a huge influence on me. You learn so much about a person from hearing them sing. So I had to work backward with composers I never met, ones who died 200 years before I was born, to create a voice, a clear expressive point of view." Philadelphia Inquirer 03/21/04 

New Music For Amateurs (As A Lifestyle) So much high-end contemporary music of the past century is so difficult, you need to be highly skilled to perform it. But shouldn't there be more new music for amateurs? "We need to look at new ways of keeping musical culture going, and composers need to think more broadly about how their music is performed, and who is performing it." The Guardian (UK) 03/26/04 

The Final Word (Yeah, Right) On Shostakovich "Deep in the silos of the American midwest, a Cold War missile is being readied for launch. From the University of Indiana Press at Bloomington, advance copies are being mailed out this week of what is academically warranted to be ‘the definitive statement on the Shostakovich controversy’." Norman Lebrecht is sick to death of this whole debate, and in particular, has had just about enough of the "counter-revisionist academics" who persist in their delusion that Shostakovich was nothing more than a cowed stooge for Stalin and the Communist Party. "Evidence of his moral courage and political disgust is so overwhelming that it is hard to imagine how even an ivory-towered musicologist could pretend otherwise." La Scena Musicale 03/24/04 

Meeting The Enigmatic Mr. Pletnev Pianist and conductor Michel Pletnev is "a prime example of one who protects under layers of mystery the emotions and the brilliant, albeit sometimes provocative and idiosyncratic sparks of imagination that fire his piano playing." London Telegraph 03/23/04 

The Next Great Voice? (Here Now) Last year extravagant claims were made for tenor Salvatore Licitra - that he was the Next Great Voice. After hearing him then, Joshua Kosman wasn't entirely convinced. Now he is. "In a glorious return visit Sunday night to Zellerbach Hall, Licitra delivered on all the most extravagant claims being made on his behalf. His singing was expansive, powerful and superbly shaped, and he wooed the audience with all the dewy charm of a fresh-faced young suitor." San Francisco Chronicle 03/23/04 

Opera - What About The Language? "Opera sung in the local language is becoming increasingly incomprehensible. Is it because in the age of the surtitle we've stopped listening for the words? Or are international casts to blame, for mumbling in every language?" Financial Times (UK) 03/24/04 

Penny A Note - The Fair Way To Pay For Play Violinists in a German orchestra want to get extra compensation for playing extra notes. Howard Reich likes the idea and proposes a compensation system that would be fair to every player in a symphony orchestra. It starts with one cent for every 64th note and two pennies for every quarter note. Rests, of course, count towards vacation time. "Musicians are responsible for counting the notes they play. This is an honor system, so remember, mistakes do not count. Follow the score as directed and we won't have to levy fines for playing sharp or flat." Chicago Tribune 03/26/04 

Last Week's News
Teresa McCollough with composer Alvin Singleton.  McCollough will perform Music for Hammers and Sticks: New Music for Piano and Percussion at Weill Recital Hall Wednesday, April 7, 2004 at 8 p.m. 
Hammers and Sticks:  New American
Music for Percussion and Piano

Few performers have been more devoted to the works of living, still breathing composers than the extraordinary pianist Teresa McCollough.  To gather material for her first CD-- Teresa McCollough: New American Piano Music (innova 552), released in 2001—she sent out a call for new piano pieces by American composers and out of 300 scores submitted, chose seven for the CD, as well as her recitals and national tours. The contributing composers were David Rakowski, Henry Martin, Charles Griffin, Tomas Svoboda, Alex Shapiro, Steve Heitzeg and Elizabeth Pizer.

Her new project, called Music for Hammers and Sticks began in the spring of 2002 when she commissioned composers Alvin Singleton, Alex Shapiro, Belinda Reynolds and Charlie Griffin to write pieces that explored world of piano and percussion. 

“Since the piano is essentially a percussion instrument, I have always been interested in exploring those sounds and expanding the repertoire to include more pieces for this combination of instruments,” McCollough says.  “The sound palette of percussion is so vast that the possibilities were endless."

The resulting pieces were premiered this past spring in San Francisco and will tour the United States throughout the 2003-04 season, resulting in a CD recording to take place in June.

McCollough will perform Music for Hammers and Sticks: New Music for Piano and Percussion at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, April 7, 2004 at 8 p.m.  Click here to purchase tickets now. 

McCollough is a frequent solo and chamber recitalist in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere in the United States and Europe, and has performed with orchestras in New York, Ohio, Missouri, Arizona, and California. Her recent appearance playing Lou Harrison's Piano Concerto with the New West Symphony in Los Angeles, received rave reviews in the Los Angeles Times and Ventura County Star who called her performance "a marvel...supremely musical and compelling".

A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory and the Eastman School of Music, Dr. McCollough is the recipient of many honors, including the Frank Shaw Award for Most Outstanding Pianist and the Chautauqua Prize, among others. McCollough is Associate Professor of Music at Santa Clara University where she has taught for the past twelve years.

New American Piano Music
Performer:  Teresa McCollough
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, Tobias Picker

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

What's Recent
An Interview with Tobias Picker
Handmaid Tale's Debuts in English
Rautavaara Joins B&G 
Who's Afraid of Julia Wolfe
Derek Bermel's Soul Garden
 The Pianist: The Extraordinary 
True Story of Wladyslaw Szpilman
John Adams' Atomic Opera
A Bridge Not Far Enough
Turnage Signs With B&H
Sophie's Wrong Choice
Copland's Mexico
On Being Arvo
Rzewski Plays Rzewski
Praising Lee Hyla
David Lang's Passing Measures
             THIS WEEK'S PICKS 

 11 Studies for 11 Players: Piano Concerto
Composer:  Ned Rorem
Performer(s): , Lowenthal, Mester, Louisville Orchestra
First Edition

Rorem ages well and a recent spate of re-releases of his early chamber and orchestral works demonstrate that he is a good deal more than simply a master of art songs.  Like most of Rorem's work, 11 Studies is distinctly more European than American and recall Berio's marvelous Sequenzas. 

Piano Concerto. Concerto for two pianos. Piano Sonata
Composer:  Arthur Bliss
Performers: . Peter Donohoe, Martin Roscoe (pianos), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones (conductor). Naxos

The piano concerto is rip-snorting, full-blooded, heavy breathing romantism of the Rachmaninov variety played with over-the-top virtuosity by the nimble Peter Donohoe.  Listening to it makes you want to invade Russia.

Symphony No.1, 'Jeremiah'. Jubilee Games
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Performers: Helen Medlyn (mezzo), Nathan Gunn (baritone), New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, James Judd (conductor). Naxos 

Young Bernstein, filled with piss and vinegar and more musical ideas per page than any eight of his contemporaries.  A joy to listen to a genius in the process of finding his compositional voice.

Organ and Silence
Composer: Tom Johnson
Performer:  Wesley Roberts, organ

A collection of 28 organ pieces to be played separately or as a long recital A music concerned for, as the author writes in the disc notes, "… the importance of silence in music…". This work is conceived not "for organ" but, really, for "organ and silence", as the silence is a fundamental part of it, and it’s not possible to give it up. It’s an attempt, as the author explain " to permit as much silence as possible, without allowing the music to actually stop".

Tom Johnson is one of the masters of minimalism, but he combines this with rigorous logic. His work, free from false glitters, defines, better that any other one, the sense of a research the goes beyond the strict genre definitions, and become poetic application of original ideas.

Composer: Lee Hyla
Conductor: Gil Rose
Performer: Laura Frautschi, Tim Smith
 New World Records

A rare opportunity to hear several of the major symphonic works of a true American original.  Hyla happily mingles expressionistic, complex contemporary atonal idioms with elements of avant-garde jazz, and rock and garage band with results that cannot be anticipated.

His  honking, strongly articulated rhythms mask  an inner beauty that almost always seems ready to burst into radiant sunshine. 

The three works on this disc—Concerto for Bass Clarinet and Orchestra (1988), Trans (1996), and the Violin Concerto (2001)—show Hyla at peak form, with stunning performances by Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.


Mein Herz Brennt
Composer: Torsten Rasch
Performer(s): Rene Pape, Katharina Thalbach, Dresdner Sinfoniker
Deutsche Grammophon

The best part of this odd little exercise is the sensational baritone Rene Pape, who sings these re-set songs by the German punk rock group, Rammstein, as if they were written by Mahler, on a good day.

Four Psalms, Emerson
Composer:  John Harbison
Performers:  The Cantata Singers & Ensemble
New World Records

This is the first recording of one of John Harbison’s most important works, Four Psalms, which was commissioned to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.  The composer describes Four Psalms as follows: "[It] opens with a prelude for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, a prayer composed by Amemar in 454 A.D., which states the major themes of the piece, both musical and philosophical … There follow four psalms, in Hebrew, alternating with the voices, in English, of people now living. The psalm settings employ fully developed forms—march, antiphon, passacaglia, and aria—suggested by the majesty and mystery of the Hebrew language. In contrast, the contemporary voices are set within brief inventions, their form echoing the momentary illuminations granted to those reflecting upon their own time." The other work, Emerson, is an a cappella setting of an extract from Emerson’s philosophical prose.  Stunning performances and a must-have disk.

Homage to Haydn / Triumph of St Joan
Composer:  Norman Dello Joio
Performer(s):   Slatkin, Louisville Orch
First Edition 

American composer Norman Dello Joio turned 91 in January and this re-issue of two of his significant works shows that his music  is wearing well.  Perhaps, a little too neo-classic or "accessible" for some modern sensibilities, Dello Joio's unique  compositional fusion of American popular music, jazz, Italian opera and the liturgical music of the Catholic church has an elegance that transcends the label of easy listening. Two wonderful works by Dello Joio are featured on this First Edition release: the stirring, widely acclaimed Louisville Orchestra commission, Triumph of St. Joan Symphony, which debuted with Martha Graham as dance soloist, and his Homage to Haydn, an jubilant tribute that reflects Dello Joio’s studies with Paul Hindemith.

Black Earth
Composer: Fazýl Say
Conductor: Muhai Tang, Eliahu Inbal
Performer: Fazil Say, Laurent Korcia

The Turkish pianist Fazýl Say has built a formidable reputation for himself through a string of first-rate recordings  of Mozart, Bach, Gershwin and Stravinsky.  This time around,  Say demonstrates that he is also a composer of considerable talent.  The title piece, Black Earth for solo piano, is  based on a Turkish folksong, in which Say, evoking the saz, a Turkish traditional instrument, simultaneously plays the keys and the strings inside the piano, producing an otherworldly sound. Say's compositions are hardly classical--more like Keith Jarrett with a dynamite hook-- but these are daring and exciting performances.

American Angels
Performer(s): Anonymous 4
Harmonia Mundi Franc 

Anonymous 4 turns from the medieval repertoire to explore the roots of American sacred music. Developed in Toni Morrison’s Atelier program at Princeton in spring 2003, American Angels includes songs of redemption and glory from the time of the American Revolution to the present day: 18th-century psalm settings from rural New England, 19th-century shape-note and camp revival songs from the rural South, and some of the nation’s best-loved gospel songs. Drawing from collections including “The Southern Harmony,” and “The Sacred Harp,” - the album explores the beauty and power of early American sacred music and the relatively obscure form of a cappella choral singing known as Sacred Harp.

Violin Concerto
Composer: Khachaturian,
Performer(s): Mihaela Martin, Kuchar, Nat'l So Ukraine

It takes a lot of virtuosity to keep Khachaturian's demanding Violin Concerto afloat and the Romanian violinist, Mihaela Martin, does a masterful job.  Her version is less daring, say, than that of, David Oistrakh, to whom the piece is dedicated, but she skillfully navigates the bristling outer movements and pours her soul into the elegaic central movement.  Among recent versions this holds it own with the very best. 


Piano Concerti Nos. 1 & 2
Piano Concerto No. 2
Marc-André Hamelin (piano), 
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton

Marc-Andre Hamelin makes child's play of these two very different piano masterpieces of Shostakovich.  Fabulously accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony, led by Andrew Litton,  Hamelin provides not simply his usual technical brillance but also a feeling for the material that sounds--to this listener--definitive.  The Shchedrin concerto, though less well-known, is no less enjoyable. 

Composer: Luigi Dallapiccola
Conductor: Ernest Bour
Radio France

 Dallapiccola's final masterpiece, the opera Ulisse, which premiered in Berlin in 1968, recounts the voyage both of Homer’s hero and of mankind's search  for eternal truths.  Recorded in 1975, a few months after the composer's death, this performance is the culmination of a lifetime of meditation and musical discipline by one of the great humanists of the 20th century arts.

Early and Unknown Piano Works
Composer:  Morton Feldman
Performer(s): Debora Petrina
OgreOgress Productions

Previously unrecorded pieces from the early 40s reveal Feldman during the period he studied with Wallingford Riegger.  No real surprises here but no klunkers either.  His  composition style borrows 12-tone techniques and atonality but deploys them within more traditional neo-classic structures. 


Guitar Concertos & Solos
Composer:  Poul Ruders
Performer:  David Starobin, guitar

The long and intimate collaboration between Poul Ruders, the brilliant composer, and David Starobin, the splendid guitarist, (who also happens to be David Starobin, the successful record executive--co-founder of Bridge Records)--has led to some of the most challenging and original compositions in the modern guitar repertory.  Consider this a kind of "greatest hits" for the modern classical guitar.

Symphonies 1 & 7
Composer:  Aulis Sallinen
Performer:  Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Ari Rasilainen

Another great Finnish composer, ho hum, but Aulis Sallinen (b. 1935) is, with Rautavaara, the latest proof that small countries can produce big composers.  There are hints of Sibelius, of course,  but Sallinen is a unique voice that speaks directly.  His work is tonal and completely devoid  of the modern  medievalism that characters much north of the Arctic Circle music. 

String Quartets 1 & 3
Composer:  Frank Bridge
Performers:. Maggini String Quartet

Frank Bridge is a bit of a lost horse in the English stable of composers that includes such giants as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and, his student, Benjamin Britten.  But he shouldn't be. No. 1, written in 1901, is a mature, fully realized work; No. 3, composed in 1927 is one of the pilars of 20th century chamber music.  As always, the Maggini play magnificiently and the recording is first rate.

Le Villi
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Marco Guidarini
Performer: Melanie Diener, Ludovic Tezier, et al. Radio France Chorus, French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

Just listening to young Puccini's first opera (as opposed to seeing it staged and sung), you notice immediately that the big sweeping melodies, the ingenious "hooks" are already there. Naive has also issued a Radio France recording of Puccini’s second opera, Edgar, written five years after Le Villi.   In this more ambitious and complicated work, Puccini develops his technique using a score that merges stirring arias and ensembles. 

Emerson Concerto / Symphony 1
Composer:  Charles Ives
Performers:  Alan Feinberg (piano), National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, James Sinclair (conductor)

Ives sketched the Emerson Concerto in 1907 but never fully finished it, although he used portions in other works.  David G. Porter, a noted Ives scholar, was  able to create a performing version which was premiered in 1998 by Alan Feinberg, the pianist on this premiere recording.  The piece is extremely demanding, often abrasive, and demands exceptional  virtuosity.  Symphony No. 1 is fetching, but not as charateristic, of the great American maverick that followed.

Piano Concertos 2 & 3
Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara
Performers: Laura Mikkola (piano), Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eri Klas (conductor)

The Finnish composer Rautavaara has enjoyed enormous success in recent years with his unique blend of northern lights impressionism and romanticism  served up in an aura of modernity. His Cantus Articus is immensely popular, conjuring up associations of Messiean, although the latter is a much more important composer.   The Third Piano Concerto from 1998 is forceful, drawings on  the Russian school of pianism, although it not technically flashy until the finale.  The Second, composed nine years earlier, is more traditional and  Laura Mikkola, already on disc with a highly regarded account of the First Concerto, again provides an outstanding performance.

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