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 June 8-June 15, 2003

Paul Muldoon (L.) and Daron Hagen Photographs Mel Rosenthal
An exchange about "Vera of Las Vegas" between Russell Platt, from The New Yorker and Daron Hagen, composer of Vera of Las Vegas
Russell Platt: This is your third opera written in collaboration with Paul Muldoon. How did it all start-and what makes it work?

Daron Hagen:  Paul and I had just finished the long process of following
Shining Brow from composition through production when the University of
Nevada Las Vegas Opera Theater asked us for a new opera on a subject of our
choosing. Having just created a very large, traditionally-crafted theater piece, we wanted to let our imaginations run wild, try to make words and music work together in new ways. Textually, the libretto rings changes on a sprawling sestina. Paul calls it the verse-vehicle for the serendipitous.
Musically, the score is a series of variations on a rhythmic and motivic cell. Wedded to these two very powerful forms, the words and music could move forward like a mad juggernaut, seemingly "all over the place" but always tightly controlled.

RP: You've also written a fair number of songs to his poetry. How is setting
a Muldoon libretto different from setting a poem?

DH: Paul and I co-write filmic treatments for our projects, then Paul writes the words for a scene, and I set it to music, making changes to the words when necessary. On the telephone, by email, or by fax, I then show him the changes and he lets me know when he thinks I've harmed the literary
viability of the words. Since I approach his words with admiration and delight, this is extremely rare. When I set Paul's poetry, I don't even consider altering the words, since they were conceived from the outset by Paul as poetry, not as libretto.

RP: Your opera was commissioned by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas,
for performance by the forces of its Opera Theatre program. I assume that
they knew that they were getting an opera that would be Vegas-centered-but
were they shocked by what the opera turned out to be? Vegas is not exactly a
prudish town, but still.....

DH: They didn't know what the opera was going to be about and, living in
Vegas as most of the cast and production team did, weren't at all shocked by
the subject matter. A theater piece is like a sailing ship, an ungainly mass
of lines and sail when docked, but gorgeous and graceful (or not) when doing
what it was built for. This piece is so complex that we elected to forgo
staging in Las Vegas and cut a cast album instead, use that recording to
gather support for the piece, and then have it staged professionally - hopefully in New York. Audiences were invited to attend what were described as "open recording sessions" which probably mystified them. 
The fact that the character of Vera is a transvestite prompted several rather nasty
messages about where I was likely to spend eternity on my hotel voice mail
from people (men) who didn't identify themselves.

RP: We can read from the synopsis that this is a work about a couple of
not-so-bright IRA journeymen who wander into a trap-a many-sided vortex, really-in Las Vegas. But what else is it about?

DH: The opera is still teaching Paul and me what it is about: transformation, the relationship between appearance and reality, the horror of terrorism, and the state of extremis - all of these things, but so much more. Naturally,  Vera makes more "sense" when it is staged, but it is also
a lot more fun, scarier, and sexier. For example, it is one thing to read in
the liner notes that Taco is being interrogated at the beginning of the
opera, but quite another to witness it - the blows, the blood, the cries of
pain. It's one thing to hear a chorus of strippers sing to their customers
and quite another to see them do it while they're dancing. Charles Maryan,
our stage director, tells us that what we've really written is a shooting script - we were thrilled to hear that - and that he's been staging it as such.

RP: I think, despite the commonness of the subject matter, that there is
something compellingly noble, even heroic about this piece that you and Paul
have written-it's not just verismo, slice-of-life type stuff. Am I on to something?

DH: I think that you cut to the core of the piece. Words and music create a
bridge between the audience and the characters in the opera: Taco and Dumdum
are murderers, Vera's a transvestite, Doll's a spy. Not necessarily people one would want to spend an evening with. Or not?  Paul mentions that, in Northern Ireland, "appearance and reality are extremely difficult to establish, and an expert on the tragedies of Euripides may turn out to be a
trigger puller."  Life is Art, Art is Life. But Rotten people can make great
Art, and Great people can make rotten Art. Good people can do terrible things; terrible people can do good things. The important thing in this opera is that all the characters, despite their baggage, are attempting to
transform themselves into something better than they are, and we, as audience members, can't help hoping that they'll succeed. That transaction ennobles us all, gives us hope amid the wreckage.

RP: Eclecticism seems more fashionable than ever before, but it strikes me
that the two of you have very different notions of what variety in art can
mean. Paul has this wizardly way of finding different spins for a well-worn group of words-like bar, horn, strip, or lemon, just to name a few in this libretto-that seem to drive the libretto along as much as the "plot" or the characters' urges or intentions.


Exploring American Music In Its Many Flavors Minnesota Public Radio's American Mavericks series is a collection of first-rate radio shows about American music. But it's also a valuable website, the "latest attempt to find a home on the Internet for progressive classical music, which is played sparingly in concert and on the radio. "For Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony's music director and co-host of the "American Mavericks" radio series, the Internet is a logical place for young people to discover new music. Just as cutting-edge composers push beyond common assumptions, he said, a certain adventurous nature is needed to explore cyberspace." The New York Times 06/05/03 

Sorting Out Winners And Losers In NY Phil Move To Carnegie John Rockwell writes that Carnegie Hall gives up something important by becoming home to the New York Philharmonic. "At Lincoln Center, meanwhile, the immediate impression might be that the rats are scurrying down the hawser, fleeing a sinking ship. The New York City Opera is making noises about abandoning the center for a Ground Zero cultural center not yet designed, let alone built. The Philharmonic is on its way out. Who's next? What is to become of the grand late-50's and early-60's dream of a cultural center that would bring everyone together, a dream that spawned imitators all over the world? Not much bad, say I, and maybe something good. The urban-renewal aspect of the Lincoln Center project has long been fulfilled." The New York Times 06/08/03 

Lincoln Center's New Opportunity So what will become of Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall after the New York Philharmonic leaves? Lincoln Center says there's a big opportunity and management envisions "new uses sweeping and small, including hosting the world's top orchestras, staging festivals, introducing interactive technology to audiences and emphasizing youth education programs. The hall 'is now a blank canvas, and we have a palette of musical colors that we're going to paint on that canvas'." New Jersey Online (AP) 06/08/03 

All About The Piano It's the 150th anniversary of the founding of the American Steinway company. Time was when pianos were a big status symbol. "By the end of the 19th century, about one in six New Yorkers worked in some piano-related job..." The New York Times 06/06/03 

If You Play Contemporary Music And No One Comes, Is It Still Good Music? Birmingham's Floof! Festival of contemporary music was first rate. But there was no one there to listen. "The trouble with Britain is that it has a showbiz culture, and things are not regarded as worthwhile unless they fill halls. It is important for those involved in contemporary art music to push home the notion that small audiences are acceptable, that new music deserves a protected status, that it should not be judged by how many bums are affixed to seats. This is reasonable. But while it is fine to accept the position that new music can be a minority interest, which ought not be judged according to popularity, it by no means follows that we should be satisfied with that." The Guardian (UK) 06/05/03 

Met Removes Vilar's Name From Building The Metropolitan Opera has taken down patron Alberto Vilar's name from the opera house after Vilar failed to make good on a number of promised donations. "The Vilar name had been affixed to the Grand Tier since 1998, when Mr. Vilar pledged $20 million over five years toward a $400 million endowment goal, as well as $5 million to match grants by others. The opera did not say how much he was in arrears or in what form, cash or stocks, but the statement suggested that the amount was substantial. The un-naming at the Met — a stinging rebuke in the genteel world of big-time philanthropy — was the latest sign that arts groups were losing patience with Mr. Vilar's missed commitments and were willing to speak out, even at the risk of losing any future largesse." The New York Times 06/07/03 

Mobile Phones - Your Music Here "With sales of CDs on a three-year slide, the music industry sees mobile phones as powerful outlets for promoting artists and distributing music for profit - something it failed to do in the early days of Internet music-swapping. In recent months, recording labels have entered deals with wireless carriers and other companies. The music companies are selling rights to their musicians' recordings and images for use in screen savers, digital images and song snippets that are then sold to mobile phone users." National Post (Canada) 06/04/03 

The End Of Music As Object? "I believe the era in which music is treated as an almost fetishistic object of desire is coming to an end. Not for me, perhaps, even though I have been busy recently uploading my entire music collection to my computer, clearing acres of valuable shelf-space by transforming stacks of CDs (never the most beloved format, with their easily cracked plastic boxes, tiny covers and tatty booklets full of microscopic print) into digital sound files on a kind of virtual juke box. And quite possibly it is not yet over for you, either, certainly if you grew up in the vinyl era and have developed a soft spot for albums with distinct identities, the running order of songs identified on the sleeve, just as the artist intended. But it is a very different situation for the teenage students..." The Telegraph (UK) 06/05/03 

 Last Week's News




Caught in the Act
Squonk Opera's
by Deborah Kravetz

Squonk Opera’s BigSmorgasbordWunderWerk is a lot of sound and fury, signifying very little. The music is a pleasant jumble of new age repetition with pop melodies and rock-like percussion—with a great beat, you could dance to it. There are a lot of lights, but video is only used creatively at the very end.
What grabbed me first was the European circus style mime show with audience interaction. Who can resist the accordionist strolling the auditorium playing the Pennsylvania Polka and shaking her tail for a top? Then there was the outrageously dressed man who strode in with an usher at his heels and insisted on making his way across a full row of seated people before being re-directed to the stage.

I was caught by the opening piece—a restaurant with a buffet of truly odd dishes: a roaring inferno, a shushing ocean and the hulking chef bringing in a bloody knife for the live head. Throughout, there were floats and other objects that rolled onstage: a wheeled chair, a huge cornucopia, a rusty steam engine with organ pipes, a horse bicycle—they made noises, changed shape and provided instruments from their parts.

But what kept me hanging on was the rhythmically insistent music 
inventively produced by the acoustic and electronic instruments— Jackie Dempsey on piano, keyboards and accordion; Steve O’Hearn on flutes, electronic winds and many-belled trumpet; Kevin Kornicki on electronic and acoustic percussion; and Jeffery Beck on electric and double bass. Each new sound was a test to determine what had created it, and the musicians were excellent. Singer Christina Honeycutt has a lovely voice, although I couldn’t distinguish more than a word here and there, and I’m not entirely sure she was even singing in English most of the time.

The subject was food, I think, possibly where it comes from and how we eat it, but I could be wrong. The best piece was done in the dark with headlamps, percussion throughout the auditorium and, um, a blender. Only a few people walked out. What we were left with was an enthusiastic, infectious, unsophisticated, down-home Cirque du Soleil sort of show, and that ain’t so bad.

SQUONK OPERA’S BigSmorgasbordWunderWerk 
Prince Music Theater 
June, 2003

(Posted from Penn Sounds 6-13-03)



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

What's Recent
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
Three Tales at BAM
Naxos at 15
On the Transmigration of Souls
Dead Man Walking
David Krakauer's The Year After
Steve Reich/Alan Pierson

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 
Advertising and Sponsorship Information
             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 ttese 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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