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 July 7-July 14, 2003

Gian Carlo Menotti

A Force of Nature Turns  92

Gian Carlo Menotti (right) with his son Francis, director of the Festival dei due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy
 Gian Carlo Menotti celebrates his 92nd
birthday today, July 7,  as he has every summer since 1958, at his Festival dei due Mondi  in Spoleto, Italy where he is directing a new production of Lohengrin

Meanwhile,  Trinity College of Music is mounting Menotti's own The Saint of Bleecker Street for four performances starting on 9 July at the Peacock Theatre in London (directed by Richard Williams and conducted by Gregory Rose). Set in New York City's Little Italy in the 1950s, this Pulitzer Prize-winning tragic opera pushes boundaries in exploring the extreme motivations of faith and the failure of faith.

The Saint of Bleeker Street touches on the two signature themes found in almost all Menotti's stage works: verismo (theatrical depiction of ordinary people) and Catholicism. Annina, a young woman from a lower-class family in New York's Little Italy, is believed to have the stigmata of Christ. Her brother, Michele, refuses to believe in her hallucinations, derides her, their believing neighbors and the local priest. Think "Suor Angelica" with a touch of "Mean Streets" thrown in.

"The Saint of Bleeker Street mirrors my
'fight with the angel' which started with The Medium which still haunts me," 
Menotti says. "It is a fight between faith and darkness. Faith, says St. Augustine, is a
gift and is represented here by Anina.
Michele [her brother] represents doubt. I
believe that these two things are constantly
at war, yet love each other. I am both of
these characters and I myself reflect what
they stand for."

Menotti was born in Cadegliano, Italy, in 1911 and is the most represented living composer in the world. He studied at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan and at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia under Rosario Scalero. His first work, Amelia Goes to the Ball, premiered at the Metropolitan in New York in 1937 followed by The Old Maid and the Thief, The Medium (1945), and The Telephone (1947). The Consul (1950) won him the cover of Time Magazine and a Pulitzer Prize for best musical opera of the year. In 1951 he wrote Amahl and the Night Visitors. 

This period of great creativity continued into 1954 with the premier at the Broadway Theater in New York of The Saint of Bleecker Street which won the composer his second Pulitzer Prize. In 1958, Menotti put composing momentarily aside in order to dedicate his efforts to the creation of the Spoleto Festival where he has been its undisputed host and director since its beginning. 

In 1977 Menotti brought the Spoleto Festival to the United States and directed it for 17 years. From 1986, he also directed three editions of the Festival in Melbourne, Australia. He later decided to dedicate his time to his music and composed Trio for piano, violin and clarinet as well as Jacobís Prayer, a cantata for choir and orchestra which was presented in San Diego, California, in 1997. From 1992 to 1994, he was the Artistic Director of the Opera in Rome. 

The Saint of Bleeker Street
Composer: Gian Carlo Menotti
Conductor: Richard Hickox
Performer: Yvonne Howard, Pamela Helen Stephen, et al.
Label: Chandos - #9971 
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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 
Classical Recording - Disfunctional Scarcely Describes It Even when recording a classical artist seems to make economic sense, it's not happening anymore at the big recording labels, writes Norman Lebrecht. And of course there's no tolerance for developing new talent or helping to make careers. So what's a talented young violinist to do? London Evening Standard 07/02/03 

Understanding Beethoven Nine Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is one of the most famous pieces of music in history. But "what can be said about the Ninth with reasonable certainty? One is that its position in the world is probably about what Beethoven wanted it to be. Figuratively speaking, everybody knows the Ninth. But has anybody really understood it? The harder you look, the odder it gets. In a singular way, the Ninth enfolds the apparently contradictory qualities of the epic and the slippery." Slate 06/30/03 

Why Classical Music Has Fallen Off The Cultural Literacy Menu What do you need to know to be considered culturally literate these days? Certainly a knowledge of current movies, an idea of what books are hot this season, maybe a passing interest in whatís wowing Broadway and an awareness of the latest blockbuster show to hit the local museum. But where once classical music was a core art, it is now no longer essential, one of those things educated people believe they ought to know something about in order to be considered educated. Newsweek 07/03/03 

Strad-Tagging Each year 1 million string instruments are stolen, and only 2 percent are ever recovered. Now there's a plan to track them. ISIS (Instrument Security Identification Systems) embeds atiny electronic tag into instruments. The company "will send out an alert if a musical instrument has been reported stolen. Part of this business will involve implanting RFID tags in stringed instruments - from violins to cellos and from cheap student instruments to million-dollar antiques that are still being played. The implanted RFID tags will make the tricky business of identifying instruments foolproof." Business 2.0 06/26/03 

But CDs Are Still $18, Hmm? Who would have thought that a 20-cent price cut could make such a difference? In the month since the (legal) digital music service Listen.com cut the price of its downloads from 99 cents to 79 cents, it has nearly doubled the number of songs it sold. The price cut was initially a response to the much-ballyhooed new download service offered by Apple, but Listen.com (which is owned by RealNetworks) wound up with 11 million songs downloaded from its servers in the month of June. Wired 07/02/03 

How Does A City Become An Orchestra Magnet? Why do some cities attract regular visits from touring orchestras, while others almost never see anyone but the hometown band? The answer is largely about money and resources, and it explains why many medium and large cities across America missed out on, say the Philadelphia Orchestra's recent tour, while small college towns like Lincoln, Nebraska, packed a hall to enjoy the Fabulous Philadelphians. The fact is that, if your city has a decent-sized concert hall that's going unused a lot of the time, and some spare funds to pay the orchestra's costs, you have a better chance of landing a touring orchestra than a big city with a thriving music scene where the performance spaces are already booked. Denver Post 07/01/03 

Your Concert Buddy Would it be nice to have someone with you at a symphony concert explaining what's happening with this music? "Still in the testing stages, the Concert Companion provides written cues to guide listeners through a concert hall performance, moment by moment, as it's happening - in real time, as they say. Conceived by a former Kansas City Symphony executive and designed in conjunction with two Silicon Valley software firms and a UCLA musicologist, the Concert Companion is creating a buzz in the symphonic world." San Jose Mercury-News 07/06/03 

The Link Between Language, Dementia And Creativity "Where in the brain does artistic creativity reside? Can the "damaged" mind give rise to true art?" There appears to be a link between some kinds of dementia and creativity. "One of the tragic aspects of it is the beginning of creativity heralds the onset of disease. And as the disease progresses, we go through a period where someone perfects the artistic skill, so it steadily improves as the disease is progressing, and then the disease eventually overwhelms the process and eventually the creativity is gone." National Post (Canada) 07/06/03 

And Could The Conductor Wear An "Everybody Loves Raymond" T-Shirt? Apparently, the "1812 Overture" is just too much music for CBS's tastes. The network, which is supposed to be televising the Boston Pops' annual 4th of July concert, has decided that it only wants the big, loud part of the Tchaikovsky overture - y'know, the part everyone can sing along to - and so it will 'cut in' to the performance near the end of the work, just in time for the cannons and the fireworks. The 1812 is approximately 20 minutes long when played without cuts, roughly 15 minutes longer than television executives believe that Americans are capable of paying attention to anything. Boston Globe (3rd item in the column) 07/02/03 

 Last Week's News

Heiner Goebbels:
The Art of Process / The Process of Art

by Duane Harper Grant

The art of Heiner Goebbels is most times difficult to categorize. Yes, he is a composer and musician, and music is the main vehicle of his works. But there is also a passion for the play; for movement, for theatre and for the process of play that adds integrally to the breath and depth of most every piece he does. Visual and interactive elements that complement the music have been characteristics of his opus from early on in his career. They are what the composer and director has a distinct and palpable passion for. Part of his process of writing and composing is based on a practice in which process and watching processes unfold to become central elements and key components of the works themselves.

This art of process is a constant theme in the story of the way Heiner Goebbels thinks, directs, conceptualizes and composes. In fact, in his thinking, he wants this element of interacting process to inform and work in the overall emergence the pieces. Goebbels believes that this way of working with the performers and what results because of their interaction as the piece is developing is as much a part of the work as were the original ideas and planning. Heiner Goebbels does what has come to be called "working from the gap". A cousin of this practice is improvisation. To allow for this kind of openness of thought and interaction, especially in these kind of high concept pieces, one must have a lot of faith in the process and in the people he is working with.

So it is, with this in mind, that we are presented with the US premier of  Goebbels' "Eislermaterial" at the 2003 Lincoln Center Festival this coming Sunday, July, 13th. "Eislermaterial" is a tribute to Goebbels' most formative influence, German-Jewish composer. Hans Eisler. Eislermaterial, the music, is represented in a haunting, plaintive and with a slight trace of nostalgia CD bearing that title on ECM's new series recordings. Eislermaterial, the staged performance piece will be something of a work which by design, is of and in process. This is keeping with the tradition and spirit of Goebbels and with his mentor of spirit and design Hans Eisler. The audience will be invited to see an amazing group of musicians, Ensemble Modern, who have worked with Goebbels for many years, work and perform from the gap. It is a performance written and directed by Goebbels with the intention of providing a look into the ongoing life of influence that Eisler has and a process that is still taking place in this music.

Here's what Goebbels had to say in a recent interview with Sequenza21. 

Goebbels Interview

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

             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 Adamsís 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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