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  May 19-26, 2003

The Elusive Charm
Gideon Lewensohn
In first listening to and attempting to form a point of view of the four works by the Israeli composer Gideon Lewensohn that are collected on the ECM CD “Odradek,” it was evident to me that it was going to be an difficult endeavor.  Lewensohn is not easily categorized.  The mystery of the pieces--like the mystery of the character “Odradek,” who is from a Kafka tale and is a creature that is “extremely illusive and hard to catch” and even harder to say exactly what it is—remains somewhere just out of reach of the usual musical analysis.   The title piece, the "Odradek Quartet," is made up of 17 distinct fragments inspired by the Kafka story. As with all art, a large part of the process of understanding and relating to it comes from one’s own point of view, with one’s own ideas about it. How you form a relationship to it is a primary element and function of art and music; same difference.

So my first feeling was to throw out all the rhetoric and just say that this is some of the most fascinating music that I have heard. It is accessible and yet it takes some time to even get a grip on (especially the quartet). You can listen to it a few times before you actually get into it.

Lewensohn is an original, no doubt. But he is also a believer in melody, harmony, gesture and even subtle drama. His references and gestures are quick; glances and sideways winks, interludes within the narrative. But because of his understanding of harmonies and overtones the whole effect is just as a part of strata; as an allegory with many layers of sub text and effect. So yes, Lewensohn is agile and illusive. He hides in plain sight. Tonal centers shift into atonality. Melodies shift and turn into tonal clusters becoming vaguer and then emerge as sweeping un-diatonic gestures; then the pulse of the bow striking string; a current here and there.

In a way, this is meta-music—music about music, with its frequently returns to open strings, the sense of going down a certain musical path, stopping, re-tuning and starting down a different route.  There are startling fragments that allude directly to the styles of idioms of other composers—Mahler, Bartók, Lygeti.

The quartet “Odradek” is at once disturbing and unpredictable, yet it moves as a story line through its chapters. A nod here, a tip of the hat there.  Yet a thread is revisited enough and a theme is present and evolving enough, through its seventeen segments, to set forth a narrative. Then he sets it off, which is sometimes disquieting, sometimes humorous, sometimes tongue in cheek.

The quartet is played by the Auryn Quartet with collective dynamic feeling and overall clarity. Every instrument has a distinct and recognizable voice. The piano quintet is stunningly realized with the piano of Alexander Lonquich added who also plays the first of two postludes for piano. The second one is also played brilliantly by Israeli pianist Ora Rotem Nelken. The postludes are a real treat. 

All of the compositions on this recording are of a family and also diverse; as different as they lend themselves to the overall sensibility of the CD. But, after all the subject of this review is a bit illusive and "unreviewable" so don¹t take any of my words too seriously. You¹ve got to hear it for yourself.

This is Lewensohn¹s debut recording on ECM and their New Series catalogue.

Gideon Lewensohn
The Auryn Quartet
Alexander Lonquich - Piano
Ora Rotem Nelken  Piano
ECM New Series 1781 
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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

Why New Music Doesn't Play Why don't orchestras play more new music? Especially now when some contemporary composers seem to be picking up buzz. There are plenty of reasons, writes Greg Sandow. There's the audience, for one thing... NewMusicBox 05/03 

New Opera - This Is A Test How do you test out a new opera? (they're too big and expensive to take many chances on lesser-known composers). New York City Opera staged a showcase of operas in progress, presenting scenes from operas in progress with the hope of generating interest in them. "These were only workshop tryouts, of course, and not ready for full critical assessments. Still, several of the works (I heard 6 out of 10) left strong initial impressions, good and not so good." The New York Times 05/15/03 

The FBI's Extraordinary Harassment Of Aaron Copland The FBI investigated composer Aaron Copland for 20 years. Yes he was political, but he has also, for decades, been considered one of America's most recognizeable musical voices. "The extent of Copland's political engagement is neither a secret nor a surprise. Copland never hid his essential political sympathies. But what these documents tell about the US treatment of Copland is as much the story of the harassment of 20th-century composers as anything that happened to Dmitri Shostakovich in the Soviet Union or to Kurt Weill or Ernst Krenek in Nazi Germany. " The Guardian (UK) 05/14/03 

Decline Of A Chicago Classic Chicago classical music fans recall the time not so long ago when radio station WFMT was "the most cultured radio station in North America." But "much of what made WFMT truly distinctive seems to be eroding in slow but perceptible degrees, a decline driven by the difficulties of making classical radio commercially viable but also by economic reverses suffered by the fine-arts station's corporate parent, Window to the World Communications, which also owns and operates public broadcasting station WTTW-Channel 11. The Arbitron ratings evidence a decline of another sort... Chicago Tribune 05/12/03 

Dissing Jerry Springer... Like He Doesn't Deserve It... Jerry Springer - The Opera has been getting glowing reviews. But Arnold Wesker writes that the praise isn't deserved. "I have no religious sensibilities to offend but I do have an intelligence that can be offended. It's not the poor black actor looking absurd in shit-filled diapers that offends, or the fat lady having no greater ambition than to pole-dance which so obviously is beyond her size and weight; it's that in both the live Springer show and this celebration of it we are invited not to understand but either to laugh at them - which insults them - or, because they are all rather intimidatingly jolly about their offbeat desires, to laugh with them - which is patronising!" The Telegraph (UK) 05/13/03 

A Crisis In American Orchestras America's orchestras are slipping away. "Nearly a dozen orchestras across the country have either closed or are in danger of doing so. This season's first orchestral casualty was the San Jose Symphony, which shut down in November. The Tulsa Philharmonic, the Colorado Springs Symphony and the San Antonio Symphony followed. In February the 49-year-old Savannah Symphony Orchestra canceled the rest of its season. It was $1.3 million in debt, had gone through five executive directors in seven years and was unable to meet its payroll." The New York Times 03/14/03 

Munich's Big-Bucks Play For Culture Capital Munich is spending big to sign up stars to direct its music institutions. The city is vying to be a cultural capital. "But music is not one of those spectator sports whose results can be rigged by wealth. It is a mind-game, often a minefield, in which sprightly left-wingers run rings around the sorry hulks of expensive defensive walls, and dinky British orchestras have a gratifying habit of outmanoeuvring the mighty spenders. Munich's mistake was to play by a set of rules that has been rendered obsolescent by the collapse of classical recording. Today, when hardly any maestros get past studio security, orchestras are trapped between picking a fossilised relic of distant recorded memory or risking an unknown prospect." London Evening Standard 05/14/03 

Cautiously Pessimistic in Charleston The Spoleto USA chamber music festival is one of the nation's best-loved summer institutions. But even a festival which continues to set records for attendance and ticket revenue is not immune from the ravages of the current American economic climate. Corporate sponsorships for Spoleto are down sharply this year, and while no one is talking about any major cuts just yet, the prospect of a return to massive debt and layoffs for the festival is certainly the proverbial elephant in the boardroom at the moment. Charleston (SC) Post & Courier 05/18/03 

The Orchestra Cycle: Program Continuity or Overdoing A Good Thing? Why do orchestras constantly make a point of programming season-long strings of works by the same composer? What is it about, say, a Beethoven cycle, that is so irresistable to programmers, and is the idea really backed up by sound artistic and financial reasoning? "The investments go beyond time. Orchestras hold preconcert lectures and discussions with audiences to help put a series into context, and many work with theater companies and museums to create stage productions and visual-arts exhibitions connected to the series theme." Saint Paul Pioneer Press 05/18/03 

 Last Week's News

Caught in the Act
Gerald Levinson Premiere
At Network for New Music

by Deborah Kravetz

This Anni Baker Memorial Concert presented area premieres for the Ensemble and one world premiere by Philadelphia-area composer Gerald Levinson.

Soliloquy (1997) was written by Shulamit Ran adapted from music for the play The Dybbuk "expressive of the search, the yearning" for the elusive qualities of love, beauty and humanity. A low rumble in the piano sets up a tension that continues as violin and cello overlap in long strands of melody in a minor mode. The violin, cello and piano parts evolve into a twining cluster that increases in energy as it develops into a knot of despair. A contrasting quietness ends the piece. 

David Crumb's 1999 Piano Quartet premiered as part of the University of Oregon's Festival of the Millennium. The composer designed the piece for the strings to serve as a choir "set against a vast textural landscape painted by the piano." This "exploration of the sound world" takes advantage of the echoes created within the piano contrasting with muted strings and the strings serve more as accompaniment to the piano than vice versa, in often unison passages against a dramatic piano that varies from lush to astringent complexity.

The title of the 2000 piece by Eric Chaslow, In a Manner of Speaking , refers to classic improvised jazz solos, as well as to the vocal quality of the bass clarinet as it changes register and timbre. Writing for solo instrument and pre-recorded tape, the composer explained that he wanted to create something "fun to play" as a payoff for making a piece "so complex and difficult." The electronic portion "extends what the instrument can do, as well as providing something for the soloist to interact with" as in chamber music. To the listener, the difference between live solo and tape is not always obvious, as they are often playing in unison; think of the tape as a companion instrument with electronically added capability of providing harmony and other electronic embellishment.

In this world premiere of At the Still Point of the Turning World (2002) commissioned by Network for New Music and Chamber Music America, composer Gerald Levinson has created a piece "to reflect the contrast of outer dance-like aspects with an inward still center" as a setting for short interlocking sections in a variety of musical styles in which nine people play thirty-one instruments weighted to low tones. The guitar replaces piano and continuo, and recalls the sitar with its invocation of Indian ragas in solo passages; the dance passages have a jazzy rhythm, but the soprano saxophone adds a jazzy sense to some of the slow sections, as well.

Settlement Music School
May 4, 2003


(Reposted from Penn Sounds May 4, 2003)

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, 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

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 

Advertising and Sponsorship Information

             EDITORS PICKS - May 2003 

The Shock of the Old
Composer:  Common Sense 
Composers' Collective
 Santa Fe New Music - #513 

Consider the possibility  that ancient instruments like the harpsichord, Baroque flute and so on can  be used to play  contemporary music as well and you have the idea behind this very fresh and appealing collaboration between the Common Sense Composers' Collective--an eight-member cooperative based in New York and San Francisco--and American Baroque, an early-music consort that makes its home in the Bay Area.   Remarkable stuff that should make converts on both ends of the musical spectrum.

Darkness into Light
Composer: Composer:  John Tavener
Performer:  Anonymous 4
Harmonia Mundi Franc

Four pieces by contemporary mystic composer John Tavener framed by medieval hymns illustrate the passage from darkness to light in this hypnotic collaboration between Anonymous 4 and the Chilingirian Quartet. The most substantial piece is the world premiere of Tavener's "The Bridgegroom," which is nearly 18 minutes long and spellbinding from start to finish.



Overture to the Creole 'Faust'
Ollantay, Pampeana No. 3
Dances from the Ballet, 'Estancia'
Composer: Alberto Ginastera
Performers:  Odense Symphony Orchestra, Jan Wagner, conductor

 The nice folks at Bridge Records are obviously thinking Latin America these days with their recent fabulous Villa-Lobos release and now this superb collection of music from the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginaestera--played, as was the Villa-Lobos, by the Odense Symphony Orchestra under Jan Wagner.  This is bold and flavorful music served fresh and hot--the way you like it. 

Thirteen Ways
Composers:  Tower, Perle, etc
Performer(s): Eighth Blackbird

You got to love a group that takes its name from one of Wallace Stevens' best poems but you'd love them if their name was Band X.  This  six-member ensemble mixes flutes, clarinets, violin and viola, cello, percussion and piano to create a big sound for chamber pieces.  The composers here--Joan Tower, George Perle, David Schobar, and Thomas Albert--are all given polished and enthusiastic readings.  Absolutely first-rate and highly recommended. 

Untaming the Fury
New American Music for Guitar and Violin
Summit Records  SMT-346
As  Duo46, guitarist Matt Gould and violinist  Beth Ilana Schneider  make exciting music together. On this CD, they work their magic on ten pieces specially commissioned from composers who are not household names yet--but all of whom display great potential. Gould and Schneider are polished players who imbue these short works with a full-range of emotional context.


Baltic Voices 1
Composers: Arvo Pärt, Einojuhani Rautavaara, et al.
Conductor: Paul Hillier
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #907311
Paul Hillier leads the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in Volume 1 of Baltic Voices — a three-year project to explore the choral riches of the Baltic Sea countries. With a special attention to the choir’s native Estonia, these recordings will highlight the mainstream tradition of the past hundred years, complemented with music of earlier periods and commissions from younger composers. Volume 1 features haunting secular and sacred works by 20th-century composers Cyrillus Kreek, Arvo Pärt, Einojuhani Rautavaara,  Sven-David Sandstrøm, Peteris Vasks, and Veljo Tormis.  Cool, ethereal, other worldly music from a hot bed of great contemporary composers.

Awakening at the Inn of the Birds, etc.
 Composer: Michael Byron
 Performers: FLUX Quartet, Sarah Cahill, Joseph Kubera, and Kathy Supove
Cold Blue Music CB0012
Michael Byron blends  minimalist and maximalist techniques and rigorous processes with freely composed music to create works that range from the hynotic to the boisterous.  Continents of City and Love and Tidal, written 20 years apart, are both arch-form pieces scored for two pianos, synthesizer, string quartet, and doublebass. This new CD collects four of Byron’s very recent works and a new recording of a piece from 1981, all performed by some of today’s most-respected new-music champions, including Sarah Cahill and Joseph Kubera on pianos, Kathleen Supové on synthesizer, and the FLUX Quartet.

Level 7 
Composer: Evan Ziporyn, et al. 
Performer: The Robin Cox Ensemble
The Robin Cox Ensemble is a unique new music group that combines violin, cello, percussion, and live electronics to create vivid performances of new music. In its first three years, this quartet with a one-of-a-kind instrumentation has already staged more forty performances and collaborated with many prominent choreographers and composers, including on this--the group's second CD--the marvelous Evan Ziporyn. 

Orchestral Works 4
Composer: Krzysztof Penderecki
Peformers: Chee-Yun, violin; Wit, 
Polish Nat'l Rso,  Naxos 
The two violin concertos presented here are from the 1970s when Penderecki returned from strict modernism to more traditional modes of composition. The first concerto dates from 1977, and was written for Isaac Stern, its solo writing containing prodigious technical difficulties. The second is not much easier but both violinists on this CD produce lively, impressive accounts.

Albert Herring
Composer: Benjamin Britten
 Performer: Bedford, Northern Sinfonia
 Naxos - 
In which young Albert Herring, the May King (apparently no female virgin could be found to serve as Queen) is taken into hand by the lovers  Sid and Nancy, fortified with rum, and treated to a night on the town where he does--or does not--lose his virtue.  Wonderful, gay comedy and beautifully sung.

Complete Orchestral Works 3
Composer: John Carbon
Conductor: Vladimir Valek, Marin Alsop, et al.
Mmc Records - #2120 
Recent recordings of Carbon's dazzling Violin Concerto, performed by Violinist Peter Zazofsky with Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra; also a marvelous reading by Richard Stoltzman of Carbon's Clarinet Concerto, and Notturno for Trumpet, Harp, and Strings, performed by Gerard Schwarz (with Jeff Silberschlag on trumpet) and the Seattle Symphony.  Valuable recording of an unjustly neglected composer.

Works for Wind Band 3 
Composer: John Philip Sousa
Performer(s): Brion, Royal Artillery Band
Born in Washington DC on 6 November, 1854, the father of American march music was the son of a trombonist with the United States Marine Band and a true prodigy.  He began music lessons at age six and by the age of eleven he organized and led his own ‘quadrille orchestra’. The rest of his orchestra consisted of seven grown men and quickly became a popular dance orchestra in the Washington area. At the age of 25, he was chosen to become Director of the United States Marine Band in Washington. He began leading the Marine Band in January 1880, beginning a fabled 52 year career as a bandmaster. 
Composer: Arvo Part 
Performers: Tonus Peregrinus/Antony Pitts, director

Arvo Part’s Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John is widely regarded as one of the most significant choral works of the 20th century. Born in Estonia in 1935, Part studied at the Tallinn Conservatoire, his early compositions strongly influenced by Russian music from the Shostakovich era. Thirty years ago, he began to embrace polyphonic forms linked with Gregorian chant.  Passio echos the earliest American minimalism, with short melodic and rhythmic patterns repeated to form a more extensive narrative.   The British-based vocal ensemble, Tonus Peregrinus performs solidly.  Another great bargain from Naxos

Requiem and other Sacred Music
Composer: John Rutter:
Performers: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge / Timothy Brown, director

John Rutter's gentle Requiem, written in 1985, was composed with a special affection for choral sound. If you prefer the quiet requiem of Fauré to the bombastic requiem of  Verdi, you will love Rutter's work, created from a personal selection of texts, some from the Requiem Mass and others from the l662 Book of Common Prayer.


Uirapurú, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, The Emperor Jones (Premiere Recording)
Composer:  Heitor Villa-Lobos
Performers: Odense Symphony Orchestra, Jan Wagner, conductor

 For years, Villa-Lobos was regarded by many as a minor composer who wrote terrific little pieces for the guitar.  Not anymore.  A veritable explosion of recordings of orchestral works shows Villa-Lobos to have been one of the 20th century’s giants.  These vibrant performances of some of the less recorded Villa-Lobos works are a jaw-dropping revelation of music at its most romantic and sublime. 

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 17
Symphony No. 22, Op. 236, "City of Light"
Composer: Alan Hovhaness
Performers:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Starker, Davis
A premiere of Hovhaness’s 1936 Concerto for Orchestra and a return to print from a previous Delos release of the City of Light Symphony, conducted by the composer himself.  Hovhaness was a pioneer of that East/West fusion that has become part of the common currency of contemporary music and his music is neither as easy to love as detractors claim nor as profound as adherents would have it.  Like Martinu, Hovhaness wrote a lot of music and virtually all of it is of a high quality.  Nothing wrong with that. 

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