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  May 27-June 03, 2002
Bad Buzz From Philly
Myths and Hymns
by Deborah Kravetz

I really liked Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins. It had a book, definite characterizations, complex musical composition in a variety of musical styles that included 1920’s pop, a sense of humor, suspense and interesting staging—all integrated into a coherent, vaguely opera-like whole.

Myths and Hymns (performed previously at New York's Public Theater under the working title Saturn Returns), is no Floyd Collins . I’m not sure what it is. With no book, minimal characterization and narrative, don’t try to call this a musical. Rather, take a set of songs springing from Greek myths and bible texts, inspired by a yearning for transformation.
Hints of lovely orchestration can’t overcome the strangely tuneless flowing melodies earnestly presented by a cast of eight enthusiastically, but occasionally stridently. Scrims, ladders, projections and lots of walking around keep this from appearing too static, but it still seems strangely bare and scrimped. Only the floating picture frames evoke the suggested narrative of seeing oneself in one’s dreams.

The individual songs usually start off well, but just when I am hoping for a melodic line I can follow, it veers startlingly off, as if the composer were trying too hard to avoid a replicable melody. The unexpected jumps and turns distracted me from the lyrics, and that and the movement distracted me from the music. The composer seemed to work most comfortably in the gospel style, but there was disconcertingly too much of the 1970s Broadway pop-rock style cropping up for this piece to seem either classical or modern.

When a real song came along—the blues waltz, I’m Always Losing You—it seemed almost too trite for the suggested 1940s radio setting, but that’s what walked out with me. This one could become a respectable cabaret standard. Among the uninterrupted stream of gospel-type songs are interspersed sung tales from Greek mythology, of Saturn, Icarus, Pegasus, Hero and Leander, and Sisyphys.

Yet the audience barely filling half the house on a regular subscription night seemed unmoved, and provided little reaction or feedback for the performers. As Sisyphus wonders, “What’s the point?” The performers worked hard at what they did, down to a post-curtain call rap song that had them dancing energetically around the theater encouraging the audience to clap with them. Orgena Rose and Kimberly JaJuan were the most accomplished singers, and Kimberly and Jose Llana most comfortable with the dance movements.

Perhaps this might better have remained a concert piece, or even a non-vocal tone poem. I don’t know, and I’m not sure the composer made me care enough.

(Reposted from Penn Sounds 5-21-02)

Read Kravetz on FLOYD COLLINS

Myths And Hymns
(1998 Off-Broadway Cast, Originally Saturn Returns)
Adam Guettel, Mandy Patinkin, Audra McDonald, Vivian Cherry, Annie Golden, Theresa McCarthy, Jose Llana 

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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

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
THE GREAT PATRON: Paul Sacher was the great patron of 20th Century music. He comissioned "more than 120 works, including masterpieces by Bartók, Britten, Honegger, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Milhaud and Tippett." But he was more personally involved as well. "Throughout his life Sacher’s palatial mansion outside Basle was a kind of upmarket soup kitchen for hard-pressed geniuses. The dying Martinu spent his last weeks there. Honegger and his family lived there, free of charge, for a year. The young Boulez and exiled Rostropovich were accommodated so often that the respective rooms became known as 'Slava’s apartment'and 'Pierre’s room'. It is hardly an exaggeration to claim that without Sacher’s money-bags some of the most scintillating musical minds of the last century might have ended up washing dishes." The Times (UK) 05/21/02

DIGITAL DEBATE: Is digital music downloading a good or bad thing for musicians? There are arguments both ways. "The notion that artists can now circumvent record companies and reach their fans through the net is correct in theory but unlikely in practice. In order to attract fans in really large numbers, bands need a large dollop of hype, which costs enormous sums of money, but record companies are willing to risk this kind of investment in the hope that this or that band will become a cash cow." The Scotsman 05/18/02 

THE SHAM THAT IS THE CLASSICAL BRITS: The Classical Brit Awards are a shallow exercise, writes Norman Lebrecht. There's really only one "real" classical artist up for an award. "The rest are a motley band of dabblers and distorters, rock mimics and studio-made combos who call themselves 'classical' for any number of reasons, none of them credible." London Evening Standard 05/22/02

HOW I COLLECTED 23,000 RECORDINGS: Music critic John von Rhein is wrestling with his collection of recordings. The music is "an invaluable source of reference and pleasure, and an albatross. The need to collect recorded music cannot be explained rationally. Once the process has reached a certain point, it takes on an insidious life of its own. Why on earth would I want to own 26 CD recordings and nine LPs of the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto?" Chicago Tribune 05/26/02

WISH YOU WERE HERE: A new international piano competition in Minnesota will be conducted partly over the internet. Competitors playing in the Twin Cities will have their performances instantly recreated via the internet on a similarly equipped piano at Yamaha headquarters in Japan. Devices on the pianos record and playback every keystroke, transmitting the performances to judges Emmanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman, sitting in Japan. "Digital video of the performance, also transmitted via cyberspace, will play on a large digital monitor so the overseas judges can watch as well." St. Paul Pioneer Press 05/23/02

GIVING THEIR ALL (AND THEN SOME): "The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra donates its time for 12 school concerts each season. The concerts are free for the students, and orchestra volunteers even help the teachers prepare for the experience. In fact, the symphony does everything but drive the students to Heinz Hall. Until now, that is." Orchestra musicians, frustrated by the lack of inner-city students participating in the program, coughed up $5000 out of their own pockets to bus some 2,000 students to the latest round of shows. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 05/23/02

BUT ARE THEY ARTISTS? Over the past two decades, "a subculture of 'turntablists' has grown up – 'scratchers' invest hundreds of dollars and hours of time hovering over two turntables and a mixer, their fast-moving hands furiously scratching up records and wearing down needles. They're found onstage at nightclubs, in the corner at house parties, and even alongside the conductor at symphony concerts. But are they simply disc jockeys? Or are they true musical artists?" Christian Science Monitor 05/24/02 

SING FLING: Choirs aren't just for church anymore. In the US, "over the past two decades, community choruses have sprung up everywhere, supplementing the wealth of church choirs that traditionally have formed the musical backbone of many communities. A National Endowment for the Arts study found that 1 in 10 American adults now sings weekly in some kind of chorus." Christian Science Monitor 05/24/02

ABRUPT EXIT: Giving only a week's notice, Dallas Opera General Director Mark Whitworth-Jones quits the company after two years on the job. He "acknowledged frustration with the local fund raising situation during the economic downturn and in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said subscription revenue was down 17 percent during the 2001-02 season. The company has also found its fund raising for annual operations competing with efforts to raise money for the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, as part of the proposed Dallas Center for the Performing Arts." Dallas Morning News 05/23/02

PROBABLY STOLEN BY A NON-MILLIONAIRE VIOLINIST: "A $100,000 cash reward is being offered for information leading to the return of a $1.6 million Stradivarius violin that disappeared from the workshop of a New York violinmaker. The reward is being offered by Kroll Inc., a global risk consulting company that has been retained to help find the instrument. Kroll, in a news release, said it is working with New York police and is publicizing the disappearance among musicians and collectors in an effort to generate leads." Andante 05/21/02


 Last Week's News
Caught in the Act
John Eaton's "...inasmuch" Marks Pocket Opera NY Debut

by Jerry Bowles

In a time and place where people with more money than sense are willing to shell out $2500 a ticket to scalpers on the off chance that a sickly, overweight and over-the-hill Italian tenor might actually show up for his farewell performance, the debut of composer John Eaton’s formerly Chicago-based “pocket opera” company is a welcome dose of reality.  Too much of New York’s music scene is about big, expensive “events” and celebrity ego-stroking which has more news value than artistic merit.  The Metropolitan Opera, which is rolling in cash but still feels obligated to have its professional almspeople phone me three nights a week begging for more, is the worst offender but it is hardly alone. 

Fortunately, there are a handful of genuine music lovers who want to make opera and classical music more accessible and egalitarian.  A University of Chicago Professor of Music and composer, Eaton calls his company a “pocket opera,” which is just about right.  There are other pocket opera companies, of course.  San Francisco has had one for 25 years.  England has one. Scandinavia has many. What they have in common is that they tend to stage their shows with a handful of instrumentalists, a few vocalists and creative lighting, rather than with the elaborate sets, full orchestra and dozens of cast members.   Rather than being hidden away in the orchestra pit, the instrumentalists are on often stage during the entire production–and they wear modest or partial costumes, sing, move and speak, in addition to playing their instruments.  Many of these operas can be performed by amateur groups and Eaton, as a composer, often encourages performers to make do with whatever resources they have on hand.

Eaton has written at least 14 such operas, the first of which was the critically acclaimed Peer Gynt, based on the play by Ibsen and originally performed in 1993 by the New York New Music Ensemble.  In the program notes for Tuesday night’s performance at the newly refurbished “Peter Norton” Symphony Space, Eaton writes that they (the instrumentalists) are “not expected to be experienced, professional actors, singers or dancers…In all cases, the stage directions are to be interpreted freely, enhanced if they can be or simplified in situations where they can not be realized as given.”

Obviously, having amateur actors clomping around the stage in silly hats works best if it is supposed to be funny and Eaton has taken some of Ibsen’s heavier Freudian swords and bent them into genuinely amusing Classic Comicbook plowshares.  Clarinetist Jean Kopperud, as the intrepid Peer Gynt captures just the right mix of swaggering spoiled male bravado and thickheadedness to keep the character honest.  Played by a man, Peer might have been more real but he certainly wouldn’t have been as funny.  Ted Mook, the cellist, was lovely as the raped bride.  Listened to casually, Eaton’s score sounds deceptively simple but when you pay more attention you realize that much of the dialogue, and most of the mood, is being carried by the music—not the words.  Conductor James Baker did a great job of keeping his musicians from running over each other.

 The second half of Tuesday’s program was devoted to the premiere of  Eaton’s latest pocket opera called  “…inasmuch,”  a whimsical fantasy  based on an idea of Eugene Walter and brought to life by the composer’s daughter, librettist Estela Eaton. Written for three coloratura sopranos, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, jazz singer and seven instrumentalists, the plot is about as dense as a Moliere farce or, perhaps a year’s worth of  “One Life to Live.”  Esperanto  (Jeffrey McCollum) is in love with Mediana (Sharon Quattrin) who is in love with Tense-Marker (Atoninette Arnold) who finds shipwrecked Adam (Mark J. Meier) washed up on  their Caribbean Island.  Soon, Adam discovers and falls in love with the beautiful Zamala (Hyoun-soo Sohn) who can only communicate through three parrots (Quattrin, Arnold and Bridget Wintermann-Parker) who speak a lost Aztec language. She falls for Adam and they plan to marry.  But, alas, with the help of Schwa (Stacia Spencer), Esperanto kidnaps the birds and plans to commercialize them by having them perform in an infomercial for a cruise line.

 Adam and Mediana rescue them and Adam returns the parrots to Zamala.  Happy ending?  No way.  This is opera, after all, and it ends with Zamala singing a lament to her lost love. 

 Eaton’s music is bright and engaging  throughout and, unlike Peer Gynt,  which makes few tough vocal demands, ‘…inasmuch” required some real stretching on the part of the singers, especially Mark J. Meier in Adam’s opening prologue number and the exquisite Hyoun-soo Sohn in a couple of Zamala’s arias.   Indeed, everyone in the cast was superb which, of course, is something one can rarely say about a production at some better-known local venues.   The piece was conducted by the sure-handed Carmen Helena Tellez, one of the quiet forces behind the promotion of  contemporary music in America today.

 All in all, an auspicious beginning for what we hope will become a New York institution.  So, it wasn’t Pavarotti but the singers not only showed up but sang their hearts out and it was only twenty bucks

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



Violin and String Quartet
Composer: Morton Feldman
Performer: Christina Fong, Karen Krummel, et al.
Ensemble: Rangzen Quartet
Listening to this epic 2-CD chamber work is like watching a large block of ice melt for nearly two hours--excruciating sameness, tantilizing variation, in equal measures. A labor of love by all involved and the kind of thing that only small, independent labels will do.  Bravo 
OgreOgress Productions

Anake & Other Works
Composer: Lyell Cresswell
Performer: Daniel Bell, William Conway, et al.
Nmc Records - #77 
Compositions for solo instruments (other than the piano) rarely get recorded which is a shame because sometimes--as in this case--the results are spectacular.  New Zealand-born British composer Cresswell's warm and passionate solo turns for the violin, cello, flute, and piano are given convincing readings by members of The Hebrides Ensemble.

Symphony 4 / Overture / Nympholept
Composer: Arnold Bax
Peformers Lloyd-Jones, Royal Scottish Nat'l Orch
Naxos - #8555343 
Not in Vaughn Williams or Arnold's class as a symphonist, Bax nonetheless has a highly invidual voice and offers tremendous pleasures for those who look for less traveled paths.

 Silk Road Journeys
Composer: Michio Mamiya, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, et al.
Performer: Yo-Yo Ma
Ensemble: Silk Road Ensemble
Sony - #89782 
Okay, so the guy is a one-man marketing machine, classical music's equivalent of Sting, but the music is nearly always honest and heartfelt and God knows modern classical music doesn't sell itself. 

Turandot Suite
Composer: Ferruccio Busoni
Performers:  Wong, Hong Kong Phil Orch
Naxos - #8555373 
Little-known suite that Busoni extracted from his incidental music to Gozzi's play, Turandot. Completed in 1905, and in eight descriptive sections, it is engaging late Romantic with hints of Straussian darkness. The Saraband and Cortege are from Busoni's better-known Doktor Faust.

Compositions for Piano (1920-1952)
Composer: Stefan Wolpe:  Performer: David Holzman, piano BRIDGE 9116
From the nice people at Bridge Records comes an invaluable look at an early and largely forgotten modernist just in time for the Wolpe Centenary (1902-2002)

Pianist Holzman wins the uphill battle with such Wolpe knuckle-busters as the Sonata No. 1 "Stehende Musik" (1925), the aptly named 
Battle Piece (1943-47), 
The Good Spirit of a Right Cause (1942), Adagio. Gesang, weil ich etwas Teures verlassen muss (1920), Tango (1927), 
Waltz for Merle (1952), and 
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The Rheingold Curse: A Germanic Saga of Greed and Revenge from the Medieval Icelandic Edda
Ensemble: Sequentia
Marc Aurel Edition - #20016
Wagner's mother lode. Apocalyptic texts, atmospheric performances, bring to shattering life the age of the Vikings and the Valkyries when Gods and mortals jousted for the medieval soul.  Thoughtful music for an age in which evil men once more live in caves and wreak havoc upon their fellow men.

Stephen Hough's English Piano Album
Composer: Alan Rawsthorne, Stephen Reynolds, et al.
Performer: Stephen Hough
Hyperion - #67267
Stephen Hough is among the most talented pianists today and also one of the most adventuresome.  Rather than concentrating on the surefire crowd pleasers, he has followed his own tastes which have taken him  down a less traditional path. His focus on neglected works by less-known composers is never less than rewarding and particularly so in this CD which showcases virtuoso piano pieces from English composers like Alan Rawsthorne and Stephen Reynolds as well as Elgar and Bridge.  A delight from start to finish. 

Speaking Extravagantly
Composer:  David Stock
Performer(s): Cuarteto Latinoamericano 
innova 563 
Stock blends influences from Ives to minimalism, from Bartok to jazz, and from synagogue music to Schoenberg into a fresh and imaginative style of dramatic sweep and lyrical flight.  His close collaboration with Cuarteto Latinoamericano,  one of the world’s outstanding chamber ensembles,  has produced a recording of great emotional power and driving rhythm, with blazing colors and a wide dynamic and expressive range.

The Epic of Gilgamesh
Composer: Bohuslav Martinu
Conductor: Zdenek Kosler
Performer: Ludek Vele, Stefan Margita, et al.
Naxos - #8555138
Gilgamesh was an historical king of Uruk in Babylonia, on the River Euphrates in what is now modern Iraq; he lived about 2700 B.C.  Many stories and myths were written about Gilgamesh, some of which were written down about 2000 B.C. in the Sumerian language on clay tablets in the script known as cuneiform and which still survive,  providing continuing inspiration for writers and poet and musicians.  One of the most inspired of these was Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, who wrote this magnificent choral masterpiece based on the legend in 1955--only a couple of years before his death.  Like virtually everything Martinu wrote, this one is indispensible.

Concertos for Two Pianos
Composer: Bohuslav Martinu, Alfred Schnittke
Conductor: Eiji Oue
Performer: Kathrin Rabus
Cpo Records - #999804 
An inspired pairing of works for two pianos by two of modern music's real giants.  Martinu's concerto is big, sprawling and filled with musical color; Schnittke's is restrained with tensions that build into moments of momentous relief.  Taken together, a testimony to the power of the imaginative to produce different, yet equally compelling, solutions to the same problems.


Symphony No. 9
Composer: Hans Henze
Performer: NYPhilharmonic
Berlin Radio Choir 
No  record can quite capture the excitement of a live performance, but having been there the night the Henze 9th  was recorded, I can testify that this CD comes very close to capturing the epic, shattering, passionate, heartbreaking pain of this incredible work. The Philharmonic plays magnificently, and the Berlin Radio Choir sings with total commitment this setting of seven harrowing poems by Hans-Ulrich Treichel, based on Anna Seghers's wartime novel "The Seventh Cross," about the re-capture and martyrdom by crucifixion of seven concentration camp escapees. No one who listens to this work will ever forget it.

SEQUENZA21/ is published weekly by Sequenza21/, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019
Publisher:  Duane Harper Grant  (212) 582-4153
Editor:    Jerry Bowles   (212) 582-3791
Contributing Editor: Deborah Kravetz 
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