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  May 26-June 1, 2003

Thea Musgrave
at 75

Scottish-born composer Thea Musgrave will her 75th birthday on Tuesday.  Harold Rosenbaum and the New York Virtuoso Singers will pay tribute in a concert of her choral works next Saturday night at 8 p.m. at St. Peter’s Church,  619 Lexington Avenue, entrance on 54th Street.  Among the scheduled pieces are Notes on the Underground; For the Time Being; Advent; Black Tambourine; and John Cook.

“I decided to honor Thea Musgrave on her 75th birthday because all of her many choral works I have come across are strikingly beautiful, extremely well crafted and meaningful,” says Rosenbaum.  “Her choral music, more than any other late 20th-century British composer’s, reminds me of that of Benjamin Britten’s. Both composers’ music consistently demonstrates an originality and purpose, with expressivity combined with total mastery of compositional technique.”  This program will be recorded for a future release on Bridge Records.

It is a measure of her talent and determination that Musgrave achieved great respect for her work both as a composer and conductor at a time when it was still a rather uncommon profession for a woman. The joint commission of Harriet, the Woman called Moses (1985) by the Royal Opera House and Virginia Opera Association and, most recently, Simón Bolívar by the Los Angeles Music Center Opera and Scottish Opera can be seen as confirmation of a widespread recognition. 
Musgrave was born in Edinburgh and studied at the university there between 1947 and 1950. She was also a pupil of Hans Gál, the Austrian-born composer who lived in Scotland, and subsequently studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris until 1954. During her student years she was awarded the Donald Francis Tovey Prize and the Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize. After teaching at London University (1958-65), she held a variety of lecturing posts at British and American universities, including a period as visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1970. In 1987 she became a lecturer at Queen's University, New York City. She has also served on the music panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain and the executive committee of the Composers' Guild.
Musgrave's early works include the specially commissioned Cantata for a Summer's Day (1954), the ballet A Tale of Thieves (1953), and the chamber opera The Abbot of Drimrock (1955). She has also written full-scale operas, including The Decision (1964); The Voice of Ariadne (1973), commissioned for the 1974 Aldeburgh Festival; Mary, Queen of Scots (1976); A Christmas Carol (1979), for which she herself adapted Dickens's novel as the libretto; and Harriet, the Woman Called Moses (1985), based on the life of Harriet Tubman. She also wrote concertos for clarinet (1967), for horn (1971), and for viola (1973), as well as chamber music and such instrumental pieces as Space Play (1974), for wind quintet and string quartet. Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1981) is a half-hour radio opera. In 1984 she collaborated with Richard Rodney Bennett on Moving into Aquarius, a piece written as a tribute to Michael Tippett on his 80th birthday. Her later orchestral works include The Seasons (1988) and Rainbow (1990).

Since the completion of Simon Bolivar, , Musgrave has returned to her favorite concertante forms for the first time in over a decade: three concertos in little more than a year, and two of them for unusual instruments — the Autumn Sonata for bass clarinet and Journey through a Japanese Landscape for marimba with wind orchestra. As drama recedes again from the specifities of words, it summons up resonances that are all the more profound. Titles give hints of an enhanced concern with landscape, times of day, above all the passing of the seasons and history: Autumn Sonata follows Wild Winter, a kind of caprice on the Renaissance fantasy for voices and viols, and is followed in turn by A Medieval Summer, third part of the extended and extending madrigal-book for voices collectively entitled On the Underground. The oboe concerto Helios meanwhile stares at the Northern sun, the daily miracle of its rise. In her full maturity, Thea Musgrave seems in her music to be reflecting increasingly on the cycle of seasons which is the ultimate symbol of perpetual renewal in art as in life. 

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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

Inside Pierre Boulez Just how do you learn to play a Pierre Boulez score? "The leaps are awkward. The spacings of the chords are often large and dense, and there are many, many notes on every single page. As with lots of contemporary music, the patterns, the pitches are nothing like what we grew up practicing. The scores are the kind of music that someone who doesn't really read music would say [are just] full of black dots and circles. The page is covered with specks." Los Angeles Times 05/25/03 

Choral Union - Where New Music Thrives Where's the action in American contemporary music? Choral music. "In terms of concert music, choral and 'educational' music represent the lion's share of most titles that are commercially published each year. There is a significant and constant demand for new works for chorus that significantly surpasses demand for new string quartets or symphonies or operas. Choral unions, community choruses, professional choruses, and choirs in faith communities regularly commission new works-- oftentimes, there are numerous commissions each year. The premiere of a new work is a matter of course for hundreds of thousands of American choir members every year." NewMusicBox 05/03 

Making Music As Kid's Play MIT's Tod Machover has developed a set of toys to help teach children how to make music. "Toy Symphony's toys, developed by the Media Lab's musician-computer whizzes, enable children to "make music" without having to learn notation or engage in the arduous physical and mental process required to play a musical instrument. Through computers, their users can explore musical concepts that are more sophisticated than their actual knowledge would otherwise permit. Music Shapers, soft cloth balls whose sounds are controlled by squeezing, and Beatbugs, which repeat and subtly alter rhythms that are tapped on them, are improvisatory performance instruments. With Hyperscore, a composition software program, the user creates color-coded musical motifs, draws them onto a grid, and plays the score back. If desired, the program will provide a variety of harmonies and modulations. With a little help from its MIT creators, this graphic "score" can be transcribed into conventional notation for acoustic instruments." OpinionJournal.com 05/21/03 

Jerry Springer Is America? " 'Jerry Springer - The Opera' couldn't be a bigger London success if you dipped it in chocolate and threw it to the lesbians, as one of its few reprintable lyrics suggests. What happened, exactly? This: The world now believes America is Jerry Springer, and Americans are Jerry's guests. The world believed it long before there was a 'Jerry Springer Show,' in fact; the show merely solidified that belief, giving justifiable anti-Americanism a name and a face - that of Springer's mild, jaded, half-smile of effrontery." Chicago Tribune 05/25/03 

Death March - Getting To Know You Why the fascination with the final moments of great composers? Do these accounts illuminate the music in some way? Not really. "The root, I suspect, is social rather than art-critical. It has something to do with the function that classical music fulfils for many listeners in a secular age, its surrogacy for a forsaken Christian faith. The mortal agonies of a great composer have come to represent the sufferings of a saviour figure, a ritual of veneration. We observe in awe, anticipating redemption." London Evening Standard 05/21/03 

Swing Back To The Future Take a big band sound, add banks of electronics, blend in sampled sound and a little rave culture, and you get an experiment in the old time. "By taking a dated musical style - big-band jazz - and marrying it with the kind of electronic processes usually reserved for cutting-edge dance music, Matthew Herbert has made the world's first experimental yet traditional album. If the Institute of Contemporary Arts held a pensioners' tea-and-modems morning, this would be its soundtrack." The Telegraph (UK) 05/22/03 

Classical Music - Chronicle Of The End "Welcome to the death of music, or that genre of it we define as classical. For more than a century it has captured the hearts and minds of millions, inspired the building of great concert halls in hundreds of cities, sustained thousands of musicians and created a discography that seemed timeless and enduring in its appeal. Well, timeless and enduring until now. For, despite private patronage and lashings of public funds, concert performance and ticket sales are in free fall. Little wonder the latest attempts by Sir Brian McMaster, director of the Edinburgh Festival, to halt and reverse the decline in concert going are being anxiously watched round the world. For there is a growing fear that the decline in classical concert attendance now looks unstoppable." The Scotsman 05/17/03 

The Gay Side Of Opera "Gay and lesbian subtexts frequently hover beneath the surface of opera. The singer's sex may not be the same as the sex of the character he or she is playing, while cross-dressing within plots can lead to erotic mayhem. That there should be a disparity in the way gay and straight composers have had to approach erotic subjects is ultimately a sad reflection on the normative proscriptions that have dogged social history and continue to do so. Yet opera also asserts a communality of experience that both contains and bypasses gender and sexual orientation." The Guardian (UK) 05/22/03 

Exploring The Meaning Of Beethoven's 9th The manuscript of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony sold for £2.133 million this week. So why is this music so valuable? "The work preoccupied the 19th century, and that is because it seems endlessly suggestive, to raise musical possibilities which even it could not entirely fulfil." The Spectator 05/24/03 

Open Minds Through Opera Manuela Hoelterhoff writes that the value of broadcasting opera every week throughout America is hard to calculate. "All I know is that I am not unique, and countless children must have listened to those opera broadcasts and gone on to become mathematicians, Supreme Court justices, stock brokers, teachers and captains of industry (if not, I guess, at ChevronTexaco)." The New York Times 05/25/03 

 Last Week's News

Milkin Archive, Naxos Launch
Revolutionay Recording Series

The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, an extensive, multi-year recording series involving more than 600 original compositions — most never before commercially available — will be released over the next several years in association with Naxos American Classics.

The ongoing project will present on disc a broad spectrum of sacred and secular compositions -- from art music for the concert hall to liturgical music for the synagogue to more popular idioms -- that not only expresses the rich variety of Jewish life in America through more than three centuries, but the universality of the Jewish experience and its relevance to people of all faiths. The series will be launched in September 2003 with the release of five compact discs.

The first five discs: September 2003
Kurt Weill: The Eternal Road, highlights 
"Klezmer" concertos and encores 
Music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco 
Great Songs of the American Yiddish Stage, Vol. 1 
Highlights from the Milken Archive: Sampler CD 
The most comprehensive compendium of musical works pertaining to Jewish life in America ever assembled, the Milken Archive is the result of more than a decade of intense international collaboration involving hundreds of distinguished scholars, conductors, performing artists, ensembles and recording producers. Thus far, more than 600 individual works representing a wide range of genres, styles, periods and purposes have been newly recorded for this series, yielding over 80 hours of music. Fewer than 100 of these compositions appear to have been previously recorded for commercial release. The music heard on the Milken Archive is the work of more than 200 native-born or immigrant American composers -- almost half of them living.

The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music was established in 1990 by Lowell Milken, who translated his appreciation for Jewish music and his family’s commitment to education into this vast recording project under the artistic direction of Neil W. Levin. Its purpose is to increase the public’s awareness of and appreciation for the richly varied forms of musical expression, both sacred and secular, that have contributed significantly to American music as a whole, as well as to American Jewish culture. The Archive seeks to inspire, educate, and entertain as wide an audience as possible by emphasizing the intrinsic artistic value and broad appeal of this eclectic and vibrant musical literature.

The year 2004 will mark the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews in America in 1654. The Milken Archive celebrates on disc the freedom of Jews in this country to fully exercise their creative spirit, absorbing and enriching American culture and, at the same time, renewing their ancient heritage.

The association between Naxos of America and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music is particularly fitting because both share a commitment to enlarging the musical repertoire and to making previously unrecorded works available to the public at a reasonable price. Since its inception five years ago, the groundbreaking Naxos American Classics series has released more than 100 discs in its survey of nearly two centuries of American music.

The entire Milken Archive project has been conceived and executed according to exacting standards of research and scholarship. Selected by a distinguished panel of musicologists, conductors, performers, cantors, and Judaic scholars under the direction of Artistic Director Neil W. Levin, an internationally recognized scholar and authority on Jewish music, the works recorded for the Milken Archive were chosen for their intrinsic musical value and potential to reach a wide audience, as well as for their Jewish character and inspiration. Comprehensive liner notes will accompany each compact disc, and all the vocal works will include texts and translations.

Upon conclusion of the individual CD release cycle, at a future date to be announced, the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music will release a comprehensive multi-volume set. Comprising twenty thematic volumes of several discs each, arranged according to historical, liturgical and sociological themes as well as musical genres, this compilation will feature at least 35 percent more recorded material than is being released on the individual CDs. In addition, supplementary material offered exclusively as part of this set will include rare historical reference recordings, DVDs of oral history excerpts, more extensive liner notes, and a separate volume of essays by leading scholars in related fields. The twenty-volume set will be geared primarily to libraries, educational and religious institutions, and aficionados. (The originally released, individual CDs will continue to be available after this set is issued.)

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 

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             EDITORS PICKS 

Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Composer:  Alan Rawsthorne
Performers: Peter Donohoe, Ulster Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa

The complete package--two complex, important  and demanding piano concertos by England's most underrated modernist, played to dazzling perfection by the world-class pianist Peter Donohoe.  The chance of running into a treasure like this  is why classical music collectors get up in the morning. 

Extempore II
A modern Mass for the 
Feast of St Michael
based on the medieval melody L'homme armé 
Performers:  Orlando Consort / Perfect Houseplants
Harmonia Mundi Franc 

Jazz meets medieval and, for once, avoids a train record. This album is the second volume in a collaborative project between the Orlando Consort, a classical vocal ensemble, and British jazz quartet Perfect Houseplants . In both medieval classical music and jazz, improvisation is an essential skill and both groups exhibit lots of imagination.



Composer: David Lang
Conductor: Carlo Boccadoro
Ensemble: Sentieri Selvaggi

A major new work for seven musicians,  "Child" is a powerful meditation on childhood and memory. Sweet and simple on the surface, gentle musical fragments float by, leaving faint traces of darkness in their wake. The result is at once dramatic and personal, intensely introspective and piercingly beautiful.  This is Lang's most controlled and complete work to date, pointing the way to a new maturity filled with enormous possibilities.

Written in five separate parts for some of Europe's finest groups, "Child" is recorded here by the Italian ensemble Sentieri Selvaggi. 

In the White Silence
Composer:  John Luther Adams
Performer(s): Adams, Weiss, Oberlin Contemp Music Ens
 New World Records 

 In the White Silence (1998) is an example of Adams' concept of "sonic geography," through which he attempts to realize the notion of music as place and place as music and reveals his obsession with the "treeless, windswept expanses of the Arctic"  and specifically refers to Adams’s fascination with the color of white, a dominant feature of Arctic landscapes. As Adams explains in his preface to the score: "White is not the absence of color. It is the fullness of light. As the Inuit have known for centuries, and as painters from Malevich to Ryman have shown us more recently, whiteness embraces many hues, textures, and nuances." 

Four Songs of Solitude; Variations; Twilight Music
Composer: John Harbison
Performer: Janine Jansen, Lars Wouters van den Oudenwijer, et al.

John Harbison was born in New Jersey in 1938 and is now established among the most prominent American composers, his output including symphonies, string quartets, and three operas.  I find his music generally too gnarly by half but admire his technical abilities which are on sharp display in these well-performed chamber pieces.



Symphony Number 5
Composer;  Roy Harris
Performers:  The Louisville Orchestra. 
Robert S. Whitney, Lawrence Leighton Smith, conductors, Gregory Fulkerson, violin
First Edition - #5 

Roy Harris wrote 11 or 14 symphonies in his long career, depending on who's counting but only one of them remains treasured--the extraordinary one- movement, 18-minute Third Symphony, which is the statement the composer was born to make.  Most of his odd-numbered symphonies are worth a listen and No. 5 just may be the best, after No. 3.

Symphony No. 3; Psalm, Kaddish
 Composer: David Diamond
 Conductor: Gerard Schwarz
Performer: Janos Starker

David Diamond is thought of as an American composer although he was trained largely in Europe and has spent much of his life in Italy. The glorious Psalm, completed in 1936, was Diamond's first successful orchestral score.  The  Fourth symphony, completed in 1945, is in four movements and is characterised by its strong rhythmic character, with a breezy scherzo and brilliant finale.  Kaddish, completed in 1958, is   dedicated to Janos Starker. It is an enormously powerful cry to heaven.

Symphony No. 4
Composer: Walter Piston 
Conductor: Gerard Schwarz
 Performer: Seattle Symphony, Therese Elder Wunrow

 Walter Piston achieved considerable success during his lifetime but his work is rarely played these days which is too bad since it is  immediate and appealing and very "American."  The Fourth Symphony dates from 1950, and incorporates  an atmosphere of American folk music, especially in the bright  finale.  The three  New England pieces are dark and brooding.  This recording was first released on Delos in 1992.  If  you don't already have it, pounce. 

Orchestral Works 6
Composer: Joaquin Rodrigo
 Conductor: Max Bragado-Darman Performer: Lucero Tena

For a guy who is basically famous for a single work, Rodrigo sure wrote a lot of sparkling, sunny, highly-listenable music.  Not sure how many more of these Naxos has in the works but I'm not tired yet. 

Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Alexander Rahbari
 Performer: Masako Deguci, Jose A. Garcia-Quijada, et al.

Like a local wine consumed with good friends and good food not far from the vineyard, regional opera productions of famous operas often have a charm, passion, and character that befies their modest ambitions.  This thoroughly charming rendering of Puccini's most hummable score is one of those unexpected delights.

Pipa From a Distance
Performer:  Wu Man, Stewart Dempster, Abel Domingues

In addition to being a rightous goodlooking babe, Wu Man is probably the best pipa player alive and here she takes on some thoroughly modern pieces with results that range from the soothing to the downright eerie.  There are echos of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project (for which Wu Man served as main pipa person) as well as hints of new traditions yet to come. 

Ritter Blaubart
Composer:  Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek
Conductor: Michail Jurowski
Performer: Arutiun Kotchinian, Robert Worle, et al.
Cpo Records 

Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek (1860-1945) is remembered for a single work, the overture to the opera Donna Diana but CPO hopes to change that with  the release of his Ritter Blaubart (Knight Bluebeard), a fairy-tale opera. 

Gretry, Offenbach and Bartok were also drawn to the story of Bluebeard, the mythical figure who kills his faithless wife and then murders the other women he marries. Reznicek's version boasts music filled with atmosphere and keen drama.  Conductor Michail Jurowski leads the Berlin Radio Orchestra and a cast of fine singers in a powerful performance.

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. 

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