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  April 26-May 3, 2004

Anthony Davis at 
Improvise! Festival
Anthony Davis (b. 1951) will perform the New York premiere of his piano concerto Wayang V (For Piano and Orchestra) at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night with the American Composers Orchestra conducted by Steven Sloane as part of the ACO’s week-long “Improvise!” Festival, which explores improvisation in orchestral music, through all its forms, including jazz, graphic notation, and technology.

Wayang V (For Piano and Orchestra) premiered in 1984 with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and was performed and recorded by the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra in 1988. It is one of a number of Davis’ compositions inspired by the Balinese Gamelan. 

“Wayang V was a very important piece in my development as a composer,” says Davis, who is serving as composer- in-residence and artistic advisor for the festival.  “As the pianist-improviser in the original performance, it was a great revelation for me to return to Wayang V after almost 20 years. I’ve found that I have been able to bring new resources as an improviser to my playing.  This piece was the culmination of explorations in the ‘Wayang’ series — a group of improvisatory works conceived for my ensemble Episteme. And, in Wayang V, I was able to translate my aesthetic direction in the ensemble pieces into a large-form orchestral work.”

As a composer, Anthony Davis is best known for his operas. X, The Life and Times of Malcom X, which played to sold-out houses at its premiere at the New York City Opera in 1986. The recording of X was released on the Gramavision label in August 1992 and received a Grammy Nomination for "Best Contemporary Classical Composition" in February 1993.

Davis's work eludes easy categorization. Active in a variety of media, including operatic, symphonic, choral, chamber, dance, theater, and improvised musics, Davis has focused upon the integration of improvised and notated expressive resources. His work embodies an intercultural approach, drawing not only upon traditional and current African- American sources, but upon the Javanese gamelan, American Minimalism, and the European and Euro-American avant-garde. 

A graduate of Yale University in 1975 with a BA in Music, Davis taught in music and Afro-American Studies at Yale from 1981-1982 and was a visiting composer at the Yale School of Music in 1990, 1993 and 1996. In 1987 he was a senior fellow at Cornell University's Society for the Humanities, and from 1992 to 1996 he was a visiting lecturer in Afro-American Studies at Harvard University. In 1995, Davis was a composer-in-residence with both the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra.  He joined the faculty of the University of California at San Diego in 1998.

"Improvisation has always been central to my aesthetic conception not so much as an appropriation of a musical tradition but as a revolutionary idea which allows for the creativity of the performer within a dynamic musical structure,” Davis says. “As composers, we are still learning the lessons of Ellington, Strayhorn, Mingus and Monk as we traverse the dialectic of the notated and the improvised.”

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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
The Ultimate Narrowcast "It was the quietest concert of the year and perhaps the noisiest. For long stretches of the Tune(In))) the Kitchen, a four-hour electronic music gathering on Thursday night that was as conceptual as its title, the only sounds in the Kitchen came from people strolling around and sporadic conversations. But the airwaves in the room were alive with abstract sounds. Four simultaneous performances and a channel of video soundtracks were broadcast to the FM radios and headphones of the audience. The musicians worked at tabletop setups, never knowing who was listening." The New York Times 04/24/04 

D-Day For Scottish Opera Scottish Opera's day of reckoning has come, as its funding fate is being decided. "It has been told it must repay a £4 million advance against its £7.5 million funding from the Scottish Arts Council. One plan on the table is said to involve as many as 80 job losses, including the opera’s staff chorus." The Scotsman 04/22/04 

The First Nation of Classical Music? In Finland, music is practically the national language. Children are frequently taught to read notes before they can read words, and the government pours money into national music and arts education at a rate which would cause U.S. lawmakers to choke on their tax cuts. The result of all this national emphasis on music is clear: Finland, with a population comparable to the state of Minnesota, is dominating the international music scene, and "classical music has little of the elitist aura that tends to be the case in the United States." Minneapolis Star-Tribune 04/25/04 

Schwarz: Was I too Adventurous In Liverpool? American conductor Gerard Schwarz says his choice of music when he first arrived as music director of the Royal Liverpool Orchestra may have scared off some audiences. Players of the orchestra recently voted not to renew Schwarz's contract with the orchestra. "In my first season's programme, I didn't think I was stretching the audiences. Obviously, everyone doesn't agree with me." Liverpool Echo 04/23/04 

Will Pittsburgh Tour Without A Music Director? According to a German company which specializes in booking American orchestras into European venues, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is planning two major tours of the continent in 2005 and 2006, despite not having a music director. The plans call for Hans Graf to conduct the PSO on the first tour, with Andrew Davis leading the way in late summer 2006. It is highly unusual for an American orchestra to tour without its music director, but the PSO may be attempting to take advantage of the worldwide reputation it earned under departing MD Mariss Jansons as one of the U.S.'s best, if not best-known, ensembles. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 04/22/04 

But Dahhhh-ling, Say It Isn't So Workers at a UK opera company have been banned from using the theatrical greeting 'darling'. The English National Opera confirmed they had issued staff new guidelines on using the term of endearment. They fear use of the word 'darling' could constitute sexual harassment in the workplace." BBC 04/22/04 

Modern Music In Modern Art "For whatever reason – and speculation could fill many a book – modern visual art is far more widely accepted than modern classical music. Exhibitions of Picasso and Matisse draw huge crowds, and even hotels mount abstract art on their walls. But mainstream modern music by the likes of Stravinsky, Poulenc and Janácek, some of it nearly a century old, remains a hard sell. Genuinely atonal music, from Arnold Schoenberg to Elliott Carter – the equivalent, you might say, of abstract expressionism in painting – isn't popular even among highly trained professional musicians. Surrounded by modern painting and sculpture, though, modern music can make more sense." Dallas Morning News 04/18/04

Music Should Be Free "If the current anarchy leads to cheaper music for all of us and a fairer distribution of profits to artists, it can only be a good thing. It is to everyone's benefit — artist, fans and industry — that there is now greater access to music of all ages, provenance and genre than ever. Piracy may be rife, but the appetite to consume and produce music is also booming. What the current developments also point to is the decrease in the cost of making music, which has accelerated dramatically with the cheapening of technology." The Telegraph (UK) 04/20/04 

San Antonio: Back From The Brink? The San Antonio Symphony's bankruptcy reorganization plan was approved by a federal judge this week, allowing the orchestra to move ahead with plans for a new season. Bankruptcy may be in the past, but so are many of the SAS's old musicians, who have moved on to new jobs in new cities. Still, hopes are high for a rejuvenated ensemble. "The new operating plan includes a slimmed-down budget with a shorter season and lower pay and benefits for musicians. It also features a new management team and increased emphasis on marketing, sales, corporate sponsorships and decreased telemarketing expenses. The proposed budget for 2004-05, based on a 26-week season and 72 musicians, lists operating expenses of about $5.5 million." San Antonio Express-News 04/19/04 

Not Much Grand About Florida Grand Opera? Florida Grand Opera seems to be appealing to ticket-buyers, but artistically, there's plenty to complain about, writes Lawrence Johnson. "It's the logical culmination of several unsettling trends that have been apparent over the past few years, with the depths plumbed this season pointing to a company that seems to be artistically adrift." Florida Sun-Sentinel 04/18/04 

Last Week's News
Only in Philadelphia:  Duo 
For Cheesesteak and Guitar
by Deborah Kravetz

The American Choral Festival sponsored by The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia directed by David Tang brought together high school choirs from Central Bucks, Council Rock and Upper Darby, the Keystone State Boychoir and members of the University of Delaware Percussion Ensemble to perform a program of American composers as a culmination of a three-month choral workshop process.  The concert featured the world premiere of Benedictus by Edward Bilous.

In addition to his classical training and Juilliard faculty position, Bilous has extensive experience writing music for film and television documentaries, so he has selected a colorful and lively text for this commission.  Based on the traditional Xhosa hymn Nikosi Sikele Afrika, Bilous has created a Benedictus that will be part of a larger work incorporating texts of conflicting cultural histories.  Using rhythmic percussion and organ to accompany three choirs placed in the center and both sides of the balcony, Bilous creates a stereophonic as well as polyphonic sound that envelops the hall.

Also on the program was the Sublime Alleluia and selections form Frostiana by Randall Thompson, and Aaron Copland's The Promise of Living.  Less familiar were Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine by Eric Whitacre. Whitacre's Leonardo is heavily text oriented exposition, but the composer creates waves of sound with polyphony and antiphony in the 17th and 18th century style and makes his line follow the points of the text with varying speeds, colors and tonality in illustration, in particular the vocal hum of machinery and whoosh of air.

There is an unorthodoxy in the middle of In Paradisum by Edwin Fissinger.  There, the composer instructs singers to sign at their own pace, creating unique sonic waves, a mesmerizing weightless float of tones, amidst the plainsong setting.

The texts of Soren Kierkegaard present a complex spirituality, set by Samuel Barber in styles that illustrate the internal contradictions of the words.  This is a strongly dramatic piece, with an exciting organ accompaniment transcribed by Matthew Glandorf.

An American Choral Festival
Tinley Temple, 
Philadelphia, PA
April 17, 2004

(Reposted from Penn Sounds 4/25/04)

Chamber Music Now! presents the Scandinavian guitar Duo con Forza in their US debut.  More than half the pieces on their program are world premieres, including two by Philadelphia composers Richard Belcastro and Allen Krantz.

Oriental by Enrique Granados and Danza del Molinero by Manuel de Falla pay tribute to the classics of the Spanish guitar tradition, and Williiam Lawes' Suite represents the Renaissance lute tradition, in an otherwise contemporary program.

Once past the quiet disjointed introduction, there is a muted minor melody in Richard Belcastro's Train of Thought, and like a train, it picks up speed and complexity as it traverses cultures from the classical toward blues harmonies and jazz rhythms.

Philadelphia guitarist Allen Krantz has transcribed his Short Symphony for Two Guitars and Orchestra fro two solo guitars in this concert, and two of the movements are performed here.  the composer's experience makes this the most melodic and flowing of the works in this program, and draws clearly on the classical Spanish tradition in many phrases.

In his first piece composed for guitar, New York composer Drew Hemenger's Petite Duo exhibits both the softest and loudest possibilities of the acoustic guitar.  Beginning with a single note that augments with each repetition, a phrase is built; inversions and rhythmic variations expand the theme,

The other five Swedish composers presented are difficult for me to distinguish; their notes are isolated, often discordant dis-chords, theirphrases short and disjointed, and in many cases the results could have been improvised for all I could determine, whereas the American composers had more individual styles.  I also think the Swedes have a weird sense of humor, since the last piece on the program involved applying various electrical appliances to the guitar strings, and culminated with mashing a cheesesteak sandwich against them. So much for Philadelphia's cross-cultural influence.

Duo con Forza
Ethical Society of Philadelphia
Philadelphia, PA
April 17, 2004 


(Reposted from Penn Sounds 4/25/04)

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

Old Stuff
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

Violin Concertos
Composers:  Sibelius, Khachaturian
Performers:  Sinfonia Varsovia,
Emmanuel Krivine
Naive (Naxos)

18-year-old Armenian wunderkind tosses off the Sibelius with a dazzling display of sheer virtuosity and delivers a much deeper, more sober reading of his fellow countryman's bouncy  masterpiece than we are accustomed to hearing.  Eye-opening performance and a performer to watch.


Symphony No. 10
Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich 
Kurt Sanderling (conductor)
Orchestre National de France
Naive (Naxos)

Re-issue of an inspired 1978 
performance of the symphony many consider Shostakovich's best by conductor Kurt Sanderling with the Orchestre national de France. Composed immediately following Stalin's death and premiered on 17 December 1953, this massive work seems to sum up the experience of the Soviet people under the dictator's tyranny,  especially in the terrifying Allegro which evokes a machine that grinds men down, before a more optimistic finale that the composer conceived in the spirit of Haydn.

Seven: A Suite for Orchestra
Composer:  Tony Banks
Performer:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Mike Dixon 

Tony Banks, founder of the rock band Genesis, goes "classical"  with this seven-movement suite, each of them an orchestral sound picture using its title to set the mood.  The result is an extremely well-recorded bag of ambiant musical noodles that are less frivelous than they might have been and, in any event, less painful to the ears  than listening to Phil Collins sing.

Symphony No. 3 Op. 39. 
Symphony No. 4 Op. 42
Composer: Herman D. Koppel
Conductor: Moshe Atzmon,
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra 
Da Capo [Naxos] 

During the German occupation of Denmark in World War II,  Herman D. Koppel, who was Jewish, and his family had to flee to Sweden, where they met a childhood friend of Koppel who had become a baroness. In her house Koppel could compose in peace and quiet. The Third Symphony is dedicated to her.  Despite his own safe surroundings, Koppel’s experience of the war, and of the execution of his Polish-Jewish family in German concentration camps, had a profound impact on his works from this period.  These are works of anguish that explore the depths of the composer's emotions--a final liberation from the bloodless influence of his teacher Carl Neilsen--and the birth of major, overlooked 20th century music figure.

Die Jakobsleiter
Composer: Arnold Schoenberg, Henschel, Meier, Nagano
Harmonia Mundi 

One of many important large-scale fragments left uncompleted by Schoenberg at his death, the oratorio Jacob's Ladder was finished by Winfried Zillig, once a student, at the behest of Schoenberg's widow after his death.  Schoenberg wrote the libretto between 1915 and 1917 based on the book of Genesis, overlaid with elements from Strindberg's drama Jacob Wrestles, and Balzac's novel Seraphita. He wrote a large of chunk of the music shortly after but was called to the army and never got around to finishing it.  This is a brilliant, committed performance that captures a little-known masterpiece by one of the 20th century's greatest composers at the height of his creative powers.

Composer:  Poul Rovsing Olsen
Performer(s):  Inderhaug, Byriel, Rorholm, Veto
Da Capo [Naxos]

When composing his music for Belisa, Poul Rovsing Olsen was deeply inspired by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca's drama and by the passionate and demanding character of Belisa herself. The opening scene of the opera is the wedding night of Belisa and Don Perlimplin, where the young bride takes 5 lovers in front of her decrepit groom that is sound asleep. The drama develops from stylized opera buffa into the ambiguous and surreal with an unexpected ending, and Poul Rovsing Olsen's music reflects Lorca’s drama like a sensuous kaleidoscope with French and Oriental overtones. 

Swales and Angels
Composer: Beth Anderson
Conductor: Gary M. Schneider
Performer: Rubio String Quartet, Jessica Marsten (soprano), et al.
New World Records 

Beth Anderson's unabashedly romantic "swales" are as pure as a Kentucky mountain spring,  frisky as a new-born colt rolling in bluegrass, and infectious as a third-grade measles outbreak.  They are light, without being lightweight, and conquer the ear by their deceptively easygoing charm.  If you like Paul Schoenfeld's brand of Americana, you'll like these pieces a lot.

New Music With Guitar, Volume Six
Composers:  Various
Performer:  David Starobin
Bridge Records

No one has done more to champion guitar music by contemporary composers than the brilliant guitarist and co-founder of Bridge Records, David Starobin.  This CD includes solo and chamber works written between 1992 and 2000  by Gunther Schuller, Michael Starobin, Richard Wernick, Melinda Wagner, David Liptak, and Paul Lansky--all in premiere recordings. Volume Six also contains George Crumb's "Mundus Canis"--with the composer performing (and whispering and yelling) on percussion. To conclude the disc, Elliott Carter's fantastically inventive sextet, "Luimen" is performed by Speculum Musicae, New York City's virtuoso new music band.

 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. 

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