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 July 28-August 4, 2003

Leonard Bernstein,
The Composer
Bernstein in Budapest, 1983. © Bela Mezey
According to his biographers, Leonard Bernstein always felt frustrated that his achievements as a composer were often eclipsed by his fame as a conductor and media personality.  Certainly, Bernstein was the first musical figure to exploit what was then the new medium of television to bring classical music to a mass audience.  His famous Young People’s Concerts introduced the post-World War generation to the inner workings of a symphony orchestra and created many of the fans who still buy classical recordings today.  As a champion of Mahler, he rescued a marginal 19th century composer (and conductor) from relative obscurity to one of the most frequently performed symphonists of the 20th century. 

When Bernstein was only 25, he held his first conducting post as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. It was in this capacity that, on November 14, 1943, he made his historic conducting debut. With only a few hours notice, he substituted for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Hall concert. Overnight he became famous. The performance was broadcast nationwide on CBS radio and the next day made the front-page of the New York Times. This acclaim quickly led to invitations to conduct orchestras all over the world. 

Although he wrote three major symphonies, Bernstein never attained the "serious composer" accolades he longed for in his lifetime at least partly because he was so eclectic and his work embraced so many genres and styles. His works successfully bridge the divide between
classical and popular idioms, combining jazz-inspired energy, theatrical panache and active stylistic eclecticism. More than nearly any other composer, Bernstein mixed influences from jazz, Tin Pan Alley, 19th-century Romanticism and 20th-century modernism.

He composed sonatas, symphonies, film, religious choral works, ballets, song cycles and, most memorable in the public's mind, Broadway musicals, including On the Town, Candide and one of the greatest ever created--West Side Story. That work alone would ensure Bernstein's reputation as a composer, but while that one work has become familiar to virtually everyone, his symphonic music is nowhere near as well known.

His Symphony No. 1 ("Jeremiah"); No. 2 ("The Age of Anxiety") and No. 3 ("Kaddish") are rarely heard in concert these days.   Christopher Eschenbach and the Chicago Symphony are playing all three as part of the Ravinia Festival this summer. 

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The Little Label That Could When Robert von Bahr started recording classical music 30 years ago for his own label, BIS, he hauled his own equipment, begged record stores to carry his products, and generally did all the things that plucky little doomed labels do to try to stave off their inevitable demise. But the doom part never happened, and today, BIS is one of the most respected labels in the world of classical music. It has an astonishing array of high-quality artists and repertoire in its catalog, a commitment to new music and little-known composers, and a reputation as the leading purveyor of the music of Jean Sibelius, thanks in large part to an ongoing partnership with Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, considered to be the leading living interpreter of that composer's work. The Herald (Glasgow) 07/23/03 

It's No 'Orange Blossom Special,' But It'll Do This week, Spiro Patanikolatos made his solo debut at the Hamptons Music Festival in upstate New York. His instrument of choice was a 10-car locomotive. "The westbound 8:05 p.m. train out of Bridgehampton and its 20-second-long roar have become something of a festival tradition, one that soloists... have tried to somehow 'play around' by adjusting their phrasing." But this year, the festival held a competition in which composers wrote works specifically designed to feature the rumbling train. "The audience of several hundred watched the train go past and cheered. Mr. Patanikolatos sounded its long, loud whistle, and the featured instrument of the evening disappeared down the track." The New York Times 07/22/03 

New Chairwoman, Familiar Problems When Dame Judy Mayhew takes over the reins of London's Royal Opera House, she will have her work cut out for her. The head job at Covent Garden has always been a notoriously tricky one politically, and the ROH is not exactly flush with cash at the moment, either. Mayhew is upbeat about the future, but realistic about the short and long-term challenges that lie ahead of her: "The reality is that we have to find a way of squeezing another £1.4m out of next year's Covent Garden budget, and we have to find ways of doing it without damaging the core product." The Herald (Glasgow) 07/22/03 

Why Most Companies Just Do Aida Every Year "Presenting a new opera always comes with higher costs and higher risks than showcasing the tried-and-true. Even though the opera combines the familiar history of China's Cultural Revolution with fictionalized events, Madame Mao remains an unknown quantity. The production, which employs eight dancers and elaborate costumes, has a budget of $1.5 million, half again as much as the Santa Fe Opera average." Los Angeles Times 07/20/03 

They're Old, But They're Smart, Too A new study by the National Endowment for the Arts finds that audiences for live classical music events grew slightly in the last ten years, but that a slightly smaller percentage of the public attended concerts than in 1992. "At 49, classical music audiences have the highest median age of any of the categories in the survey... Classical and opera audiences have also become more educated. About 85 percent of concertgoers had at least a partial college education in 2002, up from 77 percent in 1992." Andante 07/21/03 

Are Orchestras Really Committed To Their Cities? Last month, the Philadelphia Orchestra nearly had to call off a series of free "neighborhood concerts" for lack of sponsors. A last-minute sponsor stepped in, and all was well, but Peter Dobrin has a question. Shouldn't we be able to expect that an orchestra, which spends a good amount of time asking for financial and moral support from the community, be committed enough to its home city to put on a few free concerts every year, regardless of sponsorship? "Maybe it's too easy to interpret this situation as one of those rich-sticking-it-to-the-poor episodes, but what the orchestra has done with this year's cancellation interlude, intentionally or not, is to reinforce the old cliche that classical music is something only for the wealthy." Philadelphia Inquirer 07/24/03 

In Time Of Trouble, Do We Still Sing? Some people respond to horror and tragedy by turning to music. To others, pain is best dealt with in silence. This spring, as the US and the UK marched off to a war opposed by a large percentage of the public, John Woolrich asked several prominent composers to do what composers so rarely do these days: write a piece in direct response to current events. "What should we sing in the dark times? There are as many musical reactions to public events as there are composers... ranging through music of anger, defiance, loss, remembrance, near silence, transcendence, nostalgia and mourning." The Guardian (UK) 07/25/03 

City Opera Cut Out of Ground Zero Plans "The municipal corporation overseeing the redevelopment of ground zero has determined that there is no place at the site for an opera house, a decision that all but dashes the New York City Opera's hopes of moving there from Lincoln Center." However, there appears to be some confusion as to whether City Opera has been officially informed of this development. City officials swear they contacted the company last week, but NYCO's director insists that, as far as he's concerned, a move to the site is still very much on the table. The New York Times 07/26/03 

Downloading's Legal And Profitable Future Not everyone in the record industry views downloading as the apocolyptic end of an era. Peter Jamieson, executive chairman of the British Phonographic Industry, looks at the success of pay-per-song download services and sees, among other things, the potential for the revival of the "singles" chart. Jamieson also believes that, if current trends continue, downloading (the legal kind) could become more popular than CD-buying within five years. BBC 07/24/03 

Trying Anything To Get The Kids Involved A new educational initiative sponsored by the Chicago Symphony's Ravinia Festival combines the classics with modern pop music overtones, in the hope of making the genre less intimidating. It's a strange effect, but John van Rhein says that if it works, it's worth it. "If such tactics are what's needed to turn on kids to a 173-year-old symphonic masterpiece, so be it... The project is one of many comparable initiatives undertaken by classical music organizations across the nation... In so doing, they are taking up some of the slack from an educational system that has failed miserably to keep classical music in the public school curriculum." Chicago Tribune 07/23/03 

Is The Mercury Prize Passé? "The Mercury Music Prize is on the way to becoming the wounded beast of music awards ceremonies. Its raison d'etre is to reflect the best in British music, not just that which sells, but perhaps it has not yet recovered from Alan McGee's lambasting of the 2000 shortlist as a bunch of 'bedwetters'... But a bigger problem for the Mercury is the public's dwindling trust in it as a recommendation of what to buy. It seems ages since a Mercury victory could propel a relatively unknown artist to national success, but the panel has only itself to blame for rewarding a series of worthy but unlistenable albums." The Guardian (UK) 07/22/03 

 Last Week's News

 Miller Theatre Announces
15th Anniversary Season
The musicians of Alarm Will Sound, directed by brilliant young conductor Alan Pierson, will play several concerts at Miller Theatre this year, includng the season opener on September 19.

Under the direction of George Steel, Columbia University's Miller Theatre has become the place to hear new music in New York.  The just- announced 15th Anniversary season promises more of the same. The fall 2003 | spring 2004 schedule includes an expanded 15-concert Composer Portraits series, putting the spotlight on composers Henry Threadgill, Toru Takemitsu, Olga Neuwirth, Peer Llieberson, Krzysztop Penderecki, Michael Gordon, Iannis Xenakis, and many others. 

Among the many highlights is the 80th birthday celebration of Ned Rorem on October 24, with the New York Festival of Song taking on Rorem's monumental Evidence of Things Not Seen, a setting of 36 poems by 24 poets including Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Charles Beaudelaire and Langston Hughes.

On October 26, George Steel will borrow the Carillon of Saint Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street) to play the complete carillon music of John Cage in a free outdoor concert.  To compose these rarely heard works, Cage used, among others sources, star maps mad photographs of wood grain to dictate his musical parameters.

On December 5, Alarm Will Sound will present the U.S. premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's Theseus Games, as well as a couple  of Sir Harry's older works.

Weather, Michael Gordon spellbinding 1997 work for 16 strings--will get a rare concert hearing by the Ensemble Resonaz from Germany on February 2. 

Miller welcomes back The Tallis Scholars and the Vox Vocal Ensemble in a four-concert Early Music series that explores some of the Renaissance's most treasured masterpieces in some of New York's most beautiful spaces. The season also includes a six-part Piano Revolution series, featuring six virtuosic pianists who have captivated Miller audiences in recent years, plus the Theatre of Ideas, multi-disciplinary events exploring the lives and work of luminaries Kenneth Koch and Theodor Adorno.

  The season opens on September 19 with Alarm Will Sound in a concert that mixes music from past Miller seasons with composers to be discovered this year. Conlon Nancarrow's player-piano rhythms beat at the heart of the program, which extends to Ligeti's fascination with ticking clocks and broken machines, the crazy-cat energy of John Adams and Benedict Mason, and the rock-and-roll heart of Michael Gordon. 

The complete Miller Theatre 2003-2004 Season Schedule is here.



NWEAMO 2003: The Exploding Interactive Inevitable 
October 3-5, 2003: Portland, Oregon (B-Complex) October 10-12, 2003: 
(San Diego State University) 

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

Music of Elliott Carter
Volume Five - Nine Compositions (1994-2002)
Composer: Elliott Carter
Performer: Rosen, Sherry, et al.
Label: Bridge 

Volume Five of Bridge’s indispensible ongoing Elliott Carter series contains five premiere recordings, including Carter’s  Oboe Quartet of 2001. Now well into his tenth decade, Carter's imagination is undiminished by the passing of time.   Also featured on this CD is a new recording of Carter’s song cycle Of Challenge and of Love, performed by the brilliant young American soprano Tony Arnold, the recent first prize winner of the Gaudeamus International competition for interpreters of contemporary music. Rounding out this CD are a series of instrumental miniatures played by dedicatees Virgil Blackwell, Charles Neidich, Ayako Oshima and Fred Sherry. In addition, the pianist Charles Rosen adds on to his earlier (almost) "Complete Piano Music of Carter" CD (BRIDGE 9090) with the Two Diversions, and Retrouvailles. 

Composer: Pascal Dusapin
Performers:  Watt - concerto  pour trombone et orchestre - 1994
Galim - concerto pour flûte solo et orchestre à cordes - 1998 
Celo - concerto pour violoncelle et orchestre - 1996
Disques Montaigne 

Dusapin's early influences were Xenakis and Franco Donatoni but his receptivity to other artistic media, like jazz, graphic arts, or poetry, provide his work with texture and ambiquity and give Dusapin a unique modern voice all his own.  These first recordings of his  concertos  for trombone, flute and cello all benefit from committed performances and vivid recordings.


Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna
Notations 1, 7, 4, 3, 2
Composer: Pierre Boulez
Orchestre National de Lyon 
David Robertson
Disques Montaigne

Boulez's tribute to the late conductor/composer Bruno Maderna is an extremely moving  dance of small ensembles arranged around a fixed point.  All  five completed of the 12 projected Notations, the most protracted of all Boulez's works in progress, heard here. What began as a collection of piano miniatures in 1945 has been expanded into a series of orchestral studies over the past 20 years; the most recent, Notation VII, appeared in 1998. 

Most rewarding of all  is Figures - Doubles - Prismes, Boulez's landmark  1960s  piece which marked the first time he had composed for a full orchestra alone.  For mainly practical reasons, it is one of the least often performed of Boulez's masterpieces. David  Robertson demonstrates persuasively why he is the conductor of the moment.

Symphony No. 2 "Age of Anxiety"
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Performer(s): Jean Louis  Steuerman, piano, Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, James Judd 

 Age of Anxiety is one of Bernstein's most personal works, first performed in 1949 with Bernstein playing the piano part himself, this CD also includes the Symphonic Dances from 'West Side Story' and the overture to 'Candide.'
Based on a long poem called 'The Age of Anxiety: a Baroque Eclogue' a long poem by W. H. Auden (1907-1973), who had settled in New York in 1939, Bernstein identified passionately with the poem, seeing himself as pianist and 'autobiographical protagonist' in his symphonic realization. Outstanding performances by the Florida Philharmonic, another fine regional orchestra struggling to survive in these Philistine times.

Sonic Vision
Composer:  Carolyn Yarnell

 Inspired by the beauty and power of nature, the music of Carolyn Yarnell straddles the borders of minimalism, romanticism and Baroque.  Sonic Vision, the first CD devoted entirely to her music, contains the powerful electronic composition Love God, a beautiful solo piece for Baroque flute, a minimalist suite for chamber ensemble and a powerful extended work for computer piano. Lyrical and mystical music that evokes volcanoes, birds and the Rocky Mountains. 

Chamber Music
Composer;  Harold Shapero
Performers:  Lydian String Quartet
 New World Records - 

 Shapero’s (b. 1920) vastly underrated portfolio is one of the great undiscovered treasure troves of American neoclassicism. The String Trio, the String Quartet, the Serenade in D offer a  broad-based introduction to Shapero’s compositional thought processes.  Beautiful, committed playing by the Lydian String Quartet.

 Composer: Steve Reich
 Performer: Ictus, Synergy Vocals

 Reich's 1971 masterpiece gets a spirited workout by the Belgian new music group Ictus.  Drumming is constructed around one single basic rhythmic-melodic pattern, for an imposing ensemble of percussion (bongos, marimbas, glockenspiel) joined by some female voices, a piccolo flute or a whistling part. The breathtaking feeling of simplicity/complexity in this work is transmitted with an amazing skill by the Belgians.

American Works for Piano Duo
Composer(s): Barber, Persichetti, Diamond, Fennimore 
 Performer (s): Georgia & Louis Mangos 
Cedille Records

  Barber's homage to the Plaza Hotel's Palm Court, Souvenirs, Op. 28, has never sounded better or more nostalgic  and Joseph Fennimore's Crystal Stairs also invokes the quintessential American city.  The real surprise here are the two pieces by Vincent Persichetti, which invoke a more dynamic and rough and tumble form of Americanism.  The Mango sisters display formidable technique and taste.



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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