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  May 06-13, 2002

The Importance of 
Being Gunther Schuller

by Deborah Kravetz

For those who only know of Gunther Schuller from the heady days of the New England Conservatory Ragtime Band, his country fiddle band, his books on jazz and swing and all his music-related activities, this was an opportunity to hear the composing side of the well-rounded figure. This World Premiere of Concerto da Camera (2002) was co-commissioned with the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, and is twin to a 1970 piece of the same name commissioned by the same groups.

For this performance conducted by the composer, Orchestra 2001 added pairs of flute, oboes, trumpets and trombones to strings, harp and percussion. As the composer explained, he wanted a brighter timbre; this also led him to write in figures and combinations he said he had never used before.

This brighter timbre brings an edge to the opening dis-chord; muted strings shiver in bi-tones and there are high, plaintive slow phrases over low string notes and eerie winds, and the harp sounds like a guitar. Strings swell, but high notes predominate, and there are tinkles of percussion like glass breaking; trumpet and oboe add chaos. After every crescendo, long notes cool the tone; flutes twitter, but edgy strings bring a shiver with dropping notes.

In the second movement (played without a break) the speed picks up with more organized phrases and swoops from low bass to high violin and a film noir darkness. Harp trades phrases with trumpet and trombone, basses pluck, and the percussionist is busy as a bee. Strings return to a slow, shivering phrase and harp and flute sound like the sun rising. Indeed, the strings next swell into full day, but subside to expectant tympani and bongo riff. Interesting phrases work up from bass to violins with commentary by harp and brass, and all ends with an abrupt rough chord.

Coming after Mozartís ďgem of a pieceĒ that is almost never performed, the Symphony No. 30, and Dvorakís Nocturne in B Major may not be the best position to show off Schullerís skills, but Orchestra 2001 performed it again after an intermission, and closed the seasonís final program with Haydnís Farewell.

Trinity Center
April 20, 2002

(Reposted from Penn Sounds 5/3/02)
Web Resources
Schuller Bio at Schirmer
GM Records
MIT 75th Birthday Celebration

What's New

Interview with Gloria Coates

Entering the 21st Century with
Kitty Brazelton
Frank Oteri

Arne Nordheim Rules

Henry Brant's Ice Field
Wins 2002 Pulitizer Prize

RELÂCHE Meets William Duckworth
Deborah Kravetz

Duane Digs HK Gruber

Gorecki Symphony Headlines 

Modern Polish Music Concert
Deborah Kravetz

Julia Wolfe after minimalism

Philip Glass at 65
Jerry Bowles

An Interview with Steven R. Gerber

A New Hall for Philadelphia
Deborah Kravetz

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

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.

Modern Music News
NOT FADE AWAY: Older Canadian composers are feeling ignored and neglected by "a younger generation of composers, and by changes in the Canadian cultural ecology." They know it's nothing personal, that "each new generation has to fight for its own space." But "with oblivion staring them in the face, the old guard knew it had to fight or fade" so they staged an assault on the CBC. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/04/02

SAFETY NET: The English National Opera had a disastrous season, which translated into a deficit. "The company, battling to redress its deficits, had been accused of peddling an 'alarming series of flops' and losing its artistic way, following the scandalised reception of a production of Verdi's A Masked Ball, which featured anal rape, chorus singers on toilets, simulated sex and masturbation." So in putting together its next season the company has burrowed into the core repertoire and come up with some crowd-pleasers. The Guardian (UK) 05/01/02

CRITICAL AFTERLIFE: Will Crutchfield was a music critic - and a good one - when he quit the New York Times in the mid-90s to conduct opera. Now he's got a serious career on the podium. "Singers Crutchfield once reviewed seemed either not to remember he was a critic or were 'nice enough not to say anything if they had any animosity - or they arranged not to be working with me. If any singer had a right to be irritated with me, it was Placido Domingo. As a critic I would sometimes use him as an example of certain technical things in modern tenor singing that I would like to see different. Domingo nonetheless invited Crutchfield to conduct at the Washington Opera." Miami Herald 05/05/02

OPERA IN A BURNED OUT THEATRE: Lima, Peru's main Municipal Theatre burned down in 1998. "But that hasn't kept the charred opera house from becoming one of the smartest places in town for shows and celebrations. Plays, concerts and musical revues usually sell out, with patrons filling the folding chairs that line the once-carpeted concrete ground floor and balconies." Los Angeles Times (AP) 05/03/02

NOT JUST DUMB BABES: The OperaBabes are "classically trained opera singers who ended up busking in Covent Garden as they attempted to make some cash to pay for extra singing lessons. However, their burgeoning classical careers came to a juddering halt when they were spotted by a talent scout and asked to sing live to millions of people at the FA Cup Final, and then the Champions League final, last year. This was a huge success, and launched the duo into a new world of recording contracts, big name concerts, photo sessions, new clothes and into the clutches of Des Lynam - their number one celebrity fan. What is absolutely indisputable, is that the OperaBabes are the latest example of what opera stalwart Sir Thomas Allen would call the dumbing down of classical music. " The Telegraph (UK) 05/02/02

DON'T JUDGE A CELLIST BY HER COVER: A new album of little-known works by established "dead white guy" composers might not sound like the future of the classical recording industry. But Sony has taken an interesting approach to the release, which features Canadian cellist Denise Djokic: the presentation, from the cover art to the marketing of the star, is pure MTV, while the content is real, serious music by a rising young talent. Could it be that the industry has found a way to do "crossover" without driving away serious fans of classical music? The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 05/02/02

A CRY FOR REFORM: Sir Thomas Allen, one of England's leading opera singers, has lashed out at the malaise of the classical music business. "New composers are not being heard. Commissions are not being given out in the way they should be. How many performances of Beethoven's Fifth do you need? How many of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony? The Independent (UK) 04/29/02

WOLFGANG - NEVER COUNT HIM OUT: So you thought the epic battles for control of the Bayreuth Festival were done and the aged and notorious Wolfgang Wagner vanquished? Think again. "Those who have fought to follow the near-interminable struggle for control of the festival among the pugnacious descendants of the master (as some zealots still call Richard Wagner) may gape to learn that Wolfgang is still able to laugh at all." But a new Wolfgang-led power base may be forming... The Economist 04/26/02

ABBADO LEAVES BERLIN: Claudio Abbado conducts his final concert as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. His tenure after the storied Karajan years "led to fluctuations within the orchestra and the taciturn Milanese, who was never a big one for rehearsals, had a rather lax style that did not always meet with universal enthusiasm. By and large, however, the choice of Abbado can be viewed as fortuitous, especially as he proved himself to be by far the most open-minded of the world's top conductors." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 04/30/02

 Last Week's News

One of the highlights of the New York music year is the annual Lincoln Center Festival because it is the one program that New York's richest and most  conservative music organization does that is edgy and unpredictable. You can always count on the Met for the same tired Verdi and Wagner and Puccini you heard last year or the year before.  The Philharmonic?  Deadly dull programming and about to get worse with the coming of the egregious Lorin Maazel. 

That's why the three-week Lincoln Center Festival is such a breath of fresh air.  It brings together a wide array of performances of dance, theater, music, and opera from around the world.  Maybe management thinks what the hell it's summer and nobody is paying any attention anyway but there are always several provocative gems in the mix. 

This year's marquee name is the Kirov Ballet but there are the usual pleasant surprises. One is an opera called The Night Banquet by a young Chinese composer named Guo Wenjing (born 1956), inspired by a famous 10th-century scroll painting by Gu Hongzhong. The painting was commissioned by Emperor Li Yu as a means of spying on Han Xizai, a former official who does not want to serve the new dynasty because he considers it corrupt. Unable to criticize the emperor openly or to refuse a position if offered one, Han instead chooses to demonstrate that he is morally unfit to serve by holding wild, orgiastic revels night after night. The painting is a recording of these revels.

The Night Banquet, which  premiered in Paris a few months ago, is Guo's second opera and his first collaboration with Chen Shizheng, the director whose production of the Kunju opera "Peony Pavilion" was banned by the government in 1999 but subsequently staged to great acclaim at the 2000 Lincoln Center Festival.  (July 24, 25, 26, 27)
Muna Tseng (left) as the Goddess-Weaver with baritone Michael Chioldi (right) as the Cowherd, in Spoleto USA's May 2000 performance of "The Silver River." Photo: Bill Struhs
Perhaps by way of contrast and compare, the Festival is also doing The Silver River by the Chinese-born American composer Bright Sheng, with a libretto by David Henry Hwang, about which Will J. Conrad wrote in Opera News: "Shengís slender reworking of his chamber piece The Silver River into a mini-opera melding Chinese and European traditions [is] so tenderly expressive, so elegantly drawn. Sheng used the clipped, clever dialogue in a libretto by Hwang for his metaphorical tale of the mythical river where lovers meet once a year. Characters, à la Chinese theatrical tradition, had onstage counterparts: silent dancer, baritone, Beijing Opera singer [and] pipa player. What could have been a cultural jumble was translated with pristine beauty." (July 16, 18, 19, 20, 21) 

A third terrific surprise on the Lincoln Center Festival menu this year is Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures, directed by Amon Miyamoto and performed in Japanese with English supertitles by the New National Theatre of Tokyo. Pacific Overtures tells the story of Japan's emergence from a small country content in its isolation from the rest of the world to its current position at the the forefront of international politics. The style of the musical is based on the ancient form of Japanese theatre known as Kabuki, and unlike previous Broadway musicals which had only attempted to capture the flavor of the East, Sondheim's score is an accurate recreation of Oriental music. The play was first staged and produced by Harold Prince at the Winter Garden, New York, opening on January 11, 1976 and running for 193 performances. (July 10, 11, 12, 13)  --JB

Lincoln Center Festival schedule

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




Angelus; Exodus; Krzesany
Composer: Wojciech Kilar
Conductor: Antoni Wit
Performer: Hasmik Papian
Naxos - #8554788 
Not as well-known as his fellow Poles, Kilar is, nonetheless, extremely well-known in the world of film where he has written music for more than 100 movies. His music is strong, theatrical  and filled with adenture.  Nothing here is less than dramatic and much is downright unforgettable.

Cello Works
Composer: Kodaly, Veress, Kurtag Performer(s): Jean-Guihen Queyras,  Tharaud
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #901735
Marvelous playing from young Queyras whose technique is so formidable that he makes Kodaly's torturous and melancholy Sonata for Solo Cello, Op.8 sound like fun, which may be the wrong idea, but is no less awesome for the performance.  Highly recommended.

Chanson D'Amour
Composer: Amy Beach
Performer: Emma Kirkby
Ensemble: The Romantic Chamber Group of London
Bis - #1245 
Amy Beach's setting of Victor Hugo's L'aube naît, et ta porte est close! may have come after settings by  Donizetti, 
Gounod, Lalo and Widor
but hers is better than any of the boys.'

 Opera Arias and Overture
Composer: Gioachino Rossini
Conductor: Rinaldo Alessandrini
Performer: Maria Bayo
Ensemble: Concerto Italiano
Astree - #8853 
Mario Bayo's light soprano seems perfectly suited to these  Rossini arias, some of them rare.  A bonus is  the contribution of Rinaldo Alessandrini's Concerto Italiano, which plays this schmaltz with great gusto.

Thomas and Beulah
Composer: Rita Dove and Amnon Wolman
Performer(s): Ursula Oppens & Cynthia Haymon
Innova Records - #559
A theatrical song-cycle based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poems by Rita Dove,  Thomas and Beulah,  traces the lives of her grandparents. In live performance hanging scrims and theatrical lighting were used to separate and illuminate each audience section, providing a physical parallel to the music¹s changing points of view. This dramatic setting is recaptured on the multi-media portion of the disc. Wolman's perfectly-integrated music  incorporates computer-generated sounds, often combined with acoustic instruments.

Why is this night different?, Tuireadh, Visions of a November Spring
Composer: James MacMillan
Performer: Robert Plane
Ensemble: Emperor String Quartet Bis - #1269 
MacMillan's writing seems to inhabit two worlds:  modern choral works that are often dissonant and suggest elements of Messiaen; yet they also reflect  harmonies and  plainsong-influenced melodic lines that are as old as the ages.  You don't need to be a believer to appreciate the sounds of the spirits he brings to life.


Hardanger Suites Nos.2 & 5 
Composer: Geirr Tveitt
Peformer: Royal Scottish National Orchestra 
Bjarte Engeset, conductor 
The latest offering from Naxos from the greatly underrated Norwegian genius Geirr Tveitt. Tveitt studied in Leipzig, Vienna and Paris with teachers including Honegger, Villa-Lobos and Wellesz, but his cosmopolitan style stemmed mainly from deep roots in his familyís native Hardanger region, whose folk tradition Tveitt made his own in these richly imaginative orchestral suites. "If a leaf grows on a birch tree," he said, "It has to be a birch leaf."

Piano Concertos 1 and 2
Composer:  Stojowski
 BBC Scottish Sym OrchGeorge Hyperion - #67314 
Yet another in Hyperion's endless series of romantic piano concertoes, these two glorious, high-spirited works are the product of the imagination of a Polish composer named Sigismond Stojowski who is today  a completely forgotten name to all but the most dedicated piano aficionados.  Like so many "discoveries" in this invaluable series, one wishes the programmers would give the Grieg and the Schuman a rest and play some of these gems for a change. 

Performer(s): Theatre of Voices, Hillier
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #907276 
Not contemporary, of course, but strangely "modern" and  invaluable for those who aren't quite sure where Arvo Part, John Tavener or James MacMillan are coming from.

25 Preludes, Op. 64
Composer: César CUI
Performer:  Jeffrey Biegel
Naxos - #8555557
The lesser known of the five nationalist Russian composers of the second half of the 19th century known as the Mighty Handful or the Five, César Cui's music is notable for its melodiousness and fluency. His set of piano preludes, Opus 64, was clearly influenced by Chopinís set of preludes. Varied in mood and atmosphere this set of fastidiously crafted miniatures is one of his most attractive and successful compositions, beautifully played by Jeffrey Biegel.

Piano Sonatas Nos. 6 & 8
Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Performer: Francois-Frederic Guy
Naive - #4898- 
François-Frédéric Guy sounds amazingly like a young Sviatoslav Richter as he powers his way through the climaxes of Prokofiev's demanding scores. Yet, he can also play quietly (as in  the Sixth Sonata's Allegretto).  One suspects we'll be hearing more about young Mr. Guy.

Piano Trios / Cello Sonata
Composer: Leo Brouwer
Performer: Elena Papandreou
Naxos - 
Fans of late romantic chamber music will find much to enjoy here. Gretchaninov left Russia after the Revolution, settled in Paris, and eventually moved to New York, where he died in 1956 at the age of 91.  His works are Russian, yet also reflect his French and American influences.  The performances are excellent. 

The Ancient Thespians
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