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  June 28-July 5, 2004

The Oracle of Orkney
Peter Maxwell Davis

         © John Batten
Peter Maxwell Davies' 70th birthday celebration is in full swing with concerts last week at the St Magnus Festival in his adopted Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland where he writes most of his music and the Carinthian Summer Festival and the premiere of  The Martyrdom of St Magnus at the Carinthian Summer Festival in Austria in mid-July and various events at the BBC Proms in August.

With over 200 published works in every medium which are performed worldwide, Maxwell Davies ("Max" to his friends) is acknowledged as one of the foremost composers of our time. 

His major theatrical works include the operas Taverner, The Martyrdom of St Magnus and The Doctor of Myddfai; the full-length ballet Salome; and the music theatre works Eight Songs for a Mad King, Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot and Vesalii Icones. His large output of orchestral works includes eight symphonies and thirteen concertos, as well as the highly popular An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise which was written as a commission for the Boston Pops Orchestra, and seen by millions of TV viewers all over the world at the Last Night of the Proms. He has also written a large repertoire of works for performance by children. 

Maxwell Davies is the Associate Conductor/ Composer of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and Composer Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, for whom he has written a series of ten Strathclyde Concertos. He also served as the BBC Philharmonic’s first Composer/ Conductor between 1992 and 2000. He has conducted many major orchestras in Europe and North America, including the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Oslo Philharmonic. 

Recent Maxwell Davies works include The Doctor of Myddfai staged by Welsh National Opera, A Reel of Seven Fishermen commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, the music-theatre work Mr Emmet Takes a Walk which has been toured extensively by Psappha and Muziektheater Transparant, and Symphony No.7 written for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. His Antarctic Symphony (Symphony No.8), jointly commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the British Antarctic Survey, received its premiere as part of the Royal Festival Hall’s 50th birthday celebrations in May and is the subject of a major music education project throughout the UK. 

In March, Maxwell Davies was named the new Master of The Queen's Music for a 10-year period. The Master of the Queen's Music is an honorary position traditionally conferred on a musician of distinction.



Mass, Missa parvula 
Composer: Peter Maxwell Davies 
Performer: Westminister Cathedral Choir Hyperion 
Send announcements to the Editors
Rosenberg To Quit SF Opera Pamela Rosenberg is stepping down as director of San Francisco Opera. "Rosenberg has spent more time and energy than she had expected in efforts to rectify the company's financial problems. In the face of steep budget deficits, she has had to scale back the scope of the company's activities by almost 25 percent, cancel some new productions and make across-the-board staff cuts." San Francisco Chronicle 06/25/04 

A Prescient Guantánamo Opera Keith Bernstein set out to write an opera about torture at Guantánamo, but he had no idea the images he imagined for his plot would hit so close to home. "The whole scenario of the opera has flooded the world since it was written to a degree that we could not have predicted. Or perhaps we all knew subconsciously that Abu Ghraib was inevitable, and it just took a librettist of sufficient prescience to imagine it." The Guardian (UK) 06/25/04 

Because What Opera Really Needs Is A Few Revolutionary Nuns English National Opera has commissioned a new work from the Asian Dub Foundation, an experimental group "best known for their blend of breakbeats, rap and politics." No one seems quite sure what the opera, which will premiere in 2006, will consist of, but just in case anyone was worried that the ADF would take its usual act down a notch for the sake of high art, they have announced that the protagonists will be Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar Gadafi and his "revolutionary nuns." The Guardian (UK) 06/24/04 

Is British Opera Strangling Itself? With the quick demise of Savoy Opera, the attempted murder of Scottish Opera, and the seemingly endless melodrama at English National Opera, Norman Lebrecht is wondering whether the UK's opera world realizes the trouble it is in. "A view is forming, not unreasonably, that opera has reached saturation point in Britain, and most congestively in London where Covent Garden and English National Opera compete year round with visiting troupes at Sadlers Wells, the South Bank, the Barbican and the Proms, not to mention an incursion of festivals." La Scena Musicale 06/23/04 

Bad Time To Be A Politician Scottish composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has blasted the Scottish Executive for its treatment of Scottish Opera, calling the politicians responsible "a disgrace," and accusing them of deliberately "wrecking the country's artistic heritage... Scotland is not philistine, but it is being rendered philistine through the lack of vision of those in charge." The Herald (Glasgow) 06/23/04 

Would Playing Faster Increase Productivity? Australia's Adelaide Symphony Orchestra isn't exactly a luxurious place to work. Its highest-paid musician is paid less than the lowest-paid member of the Sydney Symphony, and an organizational restructuring this year has cut costs and staff to the bone. And yet despite significant gains in ticket sales and private contributions, the ASO is still struggling with the deficits that have plagued Australia's orchestras since they were privatized in 1997. Part of the problem may be that government assumptions concerning orchestras consistently expect that productivity can increase. But as one union leader points out, "it takes the same number of musicians the same amount of time to rehearse and perform as it did 200 years ago." Adelaide Advertiser 06/21/04 

St. Louis Symphony Matches $40 Million Challenge The St. Louis Symphony has raised the $40 million it needed to meet a challenge grant six months ahead of schedule. "The 125-year-old orchestra received funds toward the challenge grant from symphony patrons, board members, corporations, foundations and individuals. More than 10,000 pledges were made in 54 months, the orchestra said." St. Louis Business Journal 06/21/04 

Of Conductors Who Compose There are plenty of composers who take up conducting (and do quite well). There are few conductors who can turn the other way. So why are Lorin Maazel and Andre Previn both writing operas well on in their careers? La Scena Musicale 06/18/04 

Last Week's News
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, New York, NY 10019

Symphonies 5 & 6
Composer:  Jean Sibelius
Performers, London Symphony, Sir Colin Davis
LSO Live

Revelatory account of Sibelius' short but event filled 5th symphony and the 6th is almost as good.  Ranks with Mariss Jansson's version of Mahler's 6th as "must have" disks in this extraordinary LSO Live series.


Prism Saxophone Quartet: 
Adventuresome Men with Horns

by Deborah Kravetz

Saxophone Quartet is not a combination heard often outside of jazz performances; with orchestra, they provide a unique sound, but as a solo ensemble, the sound becomes concentrated and the parts and registers more important.  This is Prism's 19th season in Philadelphia, and they present works by composers affiliated with the University of Michigan, as students,
graduates and faculty, as well as commission award recipients.

Keen, by Roshanne Etezady, takes inspiration from wordless Middle Eastern
laments.  A single note starts, is ornamented, yet returns, taking place
four times over, thus creating an echo effect. But the note is not always
the same in each part, and can be a quiet haunting tone or a loud shriek. 

The composer explains that she intends to impart a "flavor" of something
exotic, and there is greater variation in the theme as the piece progresses.

Breath Beneath, by Kristin Kuster, evokes the hum of a dense city, by playing softly in the instruments' lowest register; the composer envisions this as a subterranean sound inaudible at street level, as well as a
virtuosic-level skill for the performers. Not unlike the previous piece, this, too, begins with single notes, but each part takes off melodically while remaining together rhythmically. When held, the notes, indeed, feel like a hum that would blend invisibly with a city's normal noises.

For The Ghosts of Praha, Eliza Brown has written a folk tune she manipulates to create a structure resembling the layout of the city itself. Each section begins far away and approaches the melody gradually, moving from new to old. The composer explains that ghosts move through the night, reaching the castle on the hill as the sun rises. Again, we have the image of the city, modern, raucous and jazzy, in an Ives-ian way of overlapping
tunes and rhythms that eventually achieve a four-part harmony.

Joshua Penman is interested in the blend and contrasts of electronic trance music with the Balinese gamelon. The Pilgrimage of Metal and Water has grown out of the interlocking melodies he has played on that instrument. Penman says he has tried to create a ritual for an imaginary culture. The sound is hollow, crescendo, decrescendo, evoking the ringing of a metal gong under a sax melody that then becomes rapid and buzzy, with accents in
different registers. Perhaps the tran ce effect comes from the hints of Philip Glass, but this has much more texture.

Vincent Haikhel, in B-List, goes the way of improvisation, He has specified registral placements, but no specific pitches, and each part is played independently. The result is more a set of sound and rhythmic effects than music, resembling the earlier heard big city atmosphere.

In Saxophone Quartet No. 1, Andrew Mead's first movement is structured as
four miniature concertos, the second as duos, the third as trios and the fourth treats the quartet as a single instrument. In fact, in the first movement, the four concertos are played concurrently, so it is difficult to discern if this would be interesting individually. When divided as solo over trio, the sound becomes more coherent, and phrases recur. The movement of duos has lots of fast runs; the third movement is trios accompanying a
solo, and the final section was mostly unison, with complex rhythms.

World Premieres
Trinity Center 
Philadelphia, PA
June 13, 2004 


(Reposted from Penn Sounds 6/25/04)

Old Stuff
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

             THIS MONTH'S PICKS

Infernal Violins
Performer(s): Angele Dubeau, Le Pieta

Call it Angèle meets the devil.  Call it crossover.  But resistance is futile. 
Angèle Dubeau is a remarkable violinist, and here, she and her all-woman, 12-strong group, La Pieta, tackle some of the showiest virtuoso pieces composed or transposed for solo violin and strings, in various combinations, and with an occasional piano thrown in. From Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre  to the Jagger/Richards masterpiece Paint It Black, these ladies play these violin bon bons with a warmth and flair that would warm the devil’s heart.  A bonus DVD reveals the players to be as comely as they are talented. 

Knoxville: Summer of 1915 / Essays for Orchestra
Karina Gauvin, soprano / Thomas Trotter, organ / Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Marin Alsop, conductor 

Gramophone made this its top pick of the month and it's easy to understand why.  The young Canadian soprano  Karina Gauvin delivers a drop-dead gorgeous reading of Barber's magical setting of a James Agee poem.  Marin Alsop is also excellent in the two Essays for orchestra, works written for  Bruno Walter and Eugene Ormandy, respectively.

Piano Trios 1 & 2 
Vitebsk Trio
Composers:  Shostakovich, Copland
Trio Wanderer
harmonia mundi

Two well-known  masterpieces by Dmitri Shostakovich are paired to fine effect with a less well-known ‘Russian’ work by Aaron Copland.  Copland’s infrequently heard Vitebsk Trio of 1929 is an early work, based on a Jewish theme the composer heard at a performance of Dybbuk, a play by Shalom Ansky (who was born in the town of Vitebsk). The work combines elements of the neoclassicism and folk style of Stravinsky with experiments in polytonality and microtones.  Brilliantly performed by Trio Wanderer.

Symphony No.1, Phantasmata
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, David Zinman
First Edition

First released on Nonesuch in 1989,  this all-world-premiere title, which did much to bring Rouse’s immense talent to a wider public, boasts 24-bit newly remastered sound and the complete and lively interview with the composer conducted by Glenn Watkins. Conductor David Zinman’s close collaboration with Rouse ensured that the introspective Symphony No. 1 (with its references to Bruckner and Shostakovich) and the highly surreal Phantasmata triptych received maximum voice.

Tirol Concerto, Passages
Dennis Russell Davies (piano) 
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
Orange Mountain 

Philip Glass’ Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was commissioned by the Tyrol, Austria Tourist Board and had its world premiere at the Tyrol Festival “Klangspuren” in Jenbach, in  2000. While staying in Tyrol, Glass studied sound documents and sheet music of Tyrolese folk-music.  In his Tirol Concerto, played here by conductor/pianist Dennis Russell Davies and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra,  This disc also features selections from Passages, Glass's collaboration with Indian Sitar master Ravi Shankar,  as arranged by  Davies.

Rachmaninov Transcriptions, Corelli Variations

Olga Kern was awarded the Gold Medal at the Eleventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2001 - the first woman to garner that honor in over thirty years.  On her new release Olga Kern performs a dazzling program of Rachmaninov’s piano transcriptions of of music by Bach, Bizet, Kreisler, Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Schubert and Tchaikovsky, his Corelli Variations, and the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 — with Rachmaninov’s own cadenza, transcribed from his recordings. 

Belshazzar's Feast
 Composer:  William Walton
Performers:  Purves, Lindley, Daniel

Sir William Walton's  Belshazzar's Feast, composed in 1930-31, is the finest British choral work since Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, although it is far more "modern."  Scored for baritone, choir and orchestra Belshazzar is a compact work lasting just under 45 minutes. It recounts the Biblical story of the downfall of the proud Belshazzar, King of Babylon whose doom is foretold by a ghostly hand writing the chilling prophecy on the wall during a banquet. Walton's dazzling and often times startling music is gripping from the first bar to the last. 

Letter to Warsaw 
Jane Eaglen, soprano / Mina Miller, piano / Music of Remembrance / Gerard Schwarz, conductor 

 American composer Thomas Pasatieri created this powerful song cycle, setting six texts by poet/cabaret artist Pola Braun, who wrote these texts while in the Warsaw Ghetto and in the Majdanek concentration camp, where she perished in 1943.  The  poems bear poignant, painful witness to the disruption, forced disintegration and, finally, destruction of daily life of every Jew in Poland in World War II.  Pasatieri is best known for his many film orchestrations including Road to Perdition, Finding Nemo, and Angels in America.  Here,  he takes full advantage  of Jane Eaglen's glorious voice and his orchestrations reveal a composer of considerable depth.

Violin Concertos
Composers:  Sibelius, Khachaturian
Performers:  Sinfonia Varsovia,
Emmanuel Krivine
Naive (Naxos)

18-year-old Armenian wunderkind tosses off the Sibelius with a dazzling display of sheer virtuosity and delivers a much deeper, more sober reading of his fellow countryman's bouncy  masterpiece than we are accustomed to hearing.  Eye-opening performance and a performer to watch.


Symphony No. 10
Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich 
Kurt Sanderling (conductor)
Orchestre National de France
Naive (Naxos)

Re-issue of an inspired 1978 
performance of the symphony many consider Shostakovich's best by conductor Kurt Sanderling with the Orchestre national de France. Composed immediately following Stalin's death and premiered on 17 December 1953, this massive work seems to sum up the experience of the Soviet people under the dictator's tyranny,  especially in the terrifying Allegro which evokes a machine that grinds men down, before a more optimistic finale that the composer conceived in the spirit of Haydn.

Seven: A Suite for Orchestra
Composer:  Tony Banks
Performer:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Mike Dixon 

Tony Banks, founder of the rock band Genesis, goes "classical"  with this seven-movement suite, each of them an orchestral sound picture using its title to set the mood.  The result is an extremely well-recorded bag of ambiant musical noodles that are less frivelous than they might have been and, in any event, less painful to the ears  than listening to Phil Collins sing.

Symphony No. 3 Op. 39. 
Symphony No. 4 Op. 42
Composer: Herman D. Koppel
Conductor: Moshe Atzmon,
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra 
Da Capo [Naxos] 

During the German occupation of Denmark in World War II,  Herman D. Koppel, who was Jewish, and his family had to flee to Sweden, where they met a childhood friend of Koppel who had become a baroness. In her house Koppel could compose in peace and quiet. The Third Symphony is dedicated to her.  Despite his own safe surroundings, Koppel’s experience of the war, and of the execution of his Polish-Jewish family in German concentration camps, had a profound impact on his works from this period.  These are works of anguish that explore the depths of the composer's emotions--a final liberation from the bloodless influence of his teacher Carl Neilsen--and the birth of major, overlooked 20th century music figure.

Die Jakobsleiter
Composer: Arnold Schoenberg, Henschel, Meier, Nagano
Harmonia Mundi 

One of many important large-scale fragments left uncompleted by Schoenberg at his death, the oratorio Jacob's Ladder was finished by Winfried Zillig, once a student, at the behest of Schoenberg's widow after his death.  Schoenberg wrote the libretto between 1915 and 1917 based on the book of Genesis, overlaid with elements from Strindberg's drama Jacob Wrestles, and Balzac's novel Seraphita. He wrote a large of chunk of the music shortly after but was called to the army and never got around to finishing it.  This is a brilliant, committed performance that captures a little-known masterpiece by one of the 20th century's greatest composers at the height of his creative powers.

Composer:  Poul Rovsing Olsen
Performer(s): Inderhaug, Byriel, Rorholm, Veto
Da Capo [Naxos]

When composing his music for Belisa, Poul Rovsing Olsen was deeply inspired by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca's drama and by the passionate and demanding character of Belisa herself. The opening scene of the opera is the wedding night of Belisa and Don Perlimplin, where the young bride takes 5 lovers in front of her decrepit groom that is sound asleep. The drama develops from stylized opera buffa into the ambiguous and surreal with an unexpected ending, and Poul Rovsing Olsen's music reflects Lorca’s drama like a sensuous kaleidoscope with French and Oriental overtones. 

Swales and Angels
Composer: Beth Anderson
Conductor: Gary M. Schneider
Performer: Rubio String Quartet, Jessica Marsten (soprano), et al.
New World Records 

Beth Anderson's unabashedly romantic "swales" are as pure as a Kentucky mountain spring,  frisky as a new-born colt rolling in bluegrass, and infectious as a third-grade measles outbreak.  They are light, without being lightweight, and conquer the ear by their deceptively easygoing charm.  If you like Paul Schoenfeld's brand of Americana, you'll like these pieces a lot.

New Music With Guitar, Volume Six
Composers:  Various
Performer:  David Starobin
Bridge Records

No one has done more to champion guitar music by contemporary composers than the brilliant guitarist and co-founder of Bridge Records, David Starobin.  This CD includes solo and chamber works written between 1992 and 2000  by Gunther Schuller, Michael Starobin, Richard Wernick, Melinda Wagner, David Liptak, and Paul Lansky--all in premiere recordings. Volume Six also contains George Crumb's "Mundus Canis"--with the composer performing (and whispering and yelling) on percussion. To conclude the disc, Elliott Carter's fantastically inventive sextet, "Luimen" is performed by Speculum Musicae, New York City's virtuoso new music band.

 11 Studies for 11 Players: Piano Concerto
Composer:  Ned Rorem
Performer(s): , Lowenthal, Mester, Louisville Orchestra
First Edition

Rorem ages well and a recent spate of re-releases of his early chamber and orchestral works demonstrate that he is a good deal more than simply a master of art songs.  Like most of Rorem's work, 11 Studies is distinctly more European than American and recall Berio's marvelous Sequenzas. 

Piano Concerto. Concerto for two pianos. Piano Sonata
Composer:  Arthur Bliss
Performers: . Peter Donohoe, Martin Roscoe (pianos), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones (conductor). Naxos

The piano concerto is rip-snorting, full-blooded, heavy breathing romantism of the Rachmaninov variety played with over-the-top virtuosity by the nimble Peter Donohoe.  Listening to it makes you want to invade Russia.

Symphony No.1, 'Jeremiah'. Jubilee Games
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Performers: Helen Medlyn (mezzo), Nathan Gunn (baritone), New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, James Judd (conductor). Naxos 

Young Bernstein, filled with piss and vinegar and more musical ideas per page than any eight of his contemporaries.  A joy to listen to a genius in the process of finding his compositional voice.

Organ and Silence
Composer: Tom Johnson
Performer:  Wesley Roberts, organ

A collection of 28 organ pieces to be played separately or as a long recital A music concerned for, as the author writes in the disc notes, "… the importance of silence in music…". This work is conceived not "for organ" but, really, for "organ and silence", as the silence is a fundamental part of it, and it’s not possible to give it up. It’s an attempt, as the author explain " to permit as much silence as possible, without allowing the music to actually stop".  Tom Johnson is one of the masters of minimalism, but he combines this with rigorous logic. His work, free from false glitters, defines, better that any other one, the sense of a research the goes beyond the strict genre definitions, and become poetic application of original ideas.

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