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  August 05-12, 2002

Michael Gordon's  Decasia
A Symphony in Decay
Michael Gordon's Decasia is a huge single movement work that simply, but relentlessly, explores the idea of decay. As usual, Gordon's spare musical vocabulary combines elements of rock, ambient, minimalism and sheer noise to create a mosaic of sound that is in your face and gone before you realize what has happened. Sort of like life. Similar in atmospheric ambiance to his string orchestra piece WEATHER (Nonesuch)-- Gordon uses an amplified and retuned orchestra to create what seems to be the impression of a piano that has crashed to the ground from a great height, with gripping strings, four detuned pianos, and massive winds and brass. 

Gordon's Decasia lies at the heart of Bill Morrison's film of the same name--an 80-minute work created from restored nitrate footage re-photographed onto 35mm, which uses decaying found footage from the early days of film to investigate the human desire to transcend the limitations of earthbound existence. The abstract scenario follows the course of a life-cycle, beginning with 1927 footage by Sergei Eisenstein of a cesarean section and live birth, and includes shots from a mission school where Native Americans were taught discipline by nuns in foreboding black shawls. 

At the 2001 premiere performance, the Basel Sinfonietta stood on a triangular pyramid 3 tiers high, completely surrounding the audience within.  Produced jointly by Ridge Theater and Basel Sinfonietta, Morrison's film of black and white archival footage in various states of deterioration was projected onto material draping the structure.

The sound is Mahlerish without the melodrama, minimal without being boring, and huge - stratospheric harmonies clanging into one into another, large blocks of sounds shifting and falling - like a cross-fire hurricane, perhaps, but definitely something that is not going quietly into that good night. Decay may be an quiet internal process to some but here it is a loud, grunge-meets-garage public event. Gordon's music may lack the easy elegance of his Bang on a Can partner David Lang or the studied sophistication of his wife and fellow Banger Julia Wolfe, but it more than compensates for these absences through sheer, visceral power. This is uncompromising music for those who like it loud and with a back beat you can't lose. JB


Composer: Michael Gordon
Performers:  De Roo, Basel Sinfonietta
Cantaloupe - #21008

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Interview with Gloria Coates

Entering the 21st Century with
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Julia Wolfe after minimalism

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Jerry Bowles

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New Hall for Philadelphia
Deborah Kravetz

Interview with Poul Ruders

Our writers welcome your comments on their pieces.  Send your witty bon mots tojbowles@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


STILL AFLOAT, BUT LISTING DANGEROUSLY: With the English National Opera furiously denying rumors of cutbacks and shutdowns at every turn, there is no small amount of panic surrounding the future of opera in the UK. The ENO is one of only a handful of companies in the world presenting classic operas in the local dialect (English, in this case,) and whether or not the rumors of crisis are completely true, there can be no doubt that the company is facing a very uncertain future in an age when opera is supposed to be making a comeback. The Guardian (UK) 08/03/

CALL OFF THE FUNERAL: Everyone agrees that there is a glut of classical recordings out there, and that the classical corner of the recording industry is a shadow of its former self. But a closer examination of the business reveals signs of health: in the wake of slumping sales and plummeting public interest, classical artists are making a real effort to reinvent the way they make and market recordings. From orchestras with their own labels to cut-price companies like Naxos to soloists willing to take a chance on trying to draw the public in to new music, small victories abound, and may signal the reemergence of classical music as an important niche market. Boston Globe 08/04/02

THE SIMPLE BEAUTY OF CHAMBER MUSIC: "They're not anti-orchestra, this seemingly growing group of ardent music followers. There's just something about chamber music that fills a place in the soul. Maybe even more so now that people seem to be looking for a personal connection - a dialogue, a one-on-one relationship - with the music. It's just easier to imagine yourself as protagonist as a lone violin outlines the musical narrative. You and a Haydn string quartet against the world. A whole orchestra? A little too much clamoring for your spirituality." Philadelphia Inquirer 08/04/02

WORST OF TIMES FOR ENO: "The past weeks have indeed been the stuff of nightmare for the English National Opera company. It has lost its general director, Nicholas Payne, amid rows over falling box-office revenues, widespread criticism of its artistic standards and questions over the future. Audiences have been averaging just 60 per cent this season, at a time when ENO needs to fill seats to cope with an alarming £500,000 deficit. So far it has failed to find its form, despite efforts to produce innovative interpretations of classic operas, as well as new work." The Independent (UK) 07/28/02

SEA CHANGE FOR UK OPERA? Why is the English opera world having such a fit over the forced resignation of Nicholas Payne at the English National Opera? Is it because his departure signals a backing away from a certain kind of adventurous opera? The Guardian (UK) 08/02/02

THE WORLD'S LARGEST CHAMBER MUSIC FEST: The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival is the largest chamber music fest in the world. "Last year, with 106 concerts, attendance reached 57,000." How did the nine-year-old festival get so popular? Director Julian Armour says "he has succeeded by refusing to pander to his public, with relatively unknown composers such as Lutoslawski, Dutilleux and Romberg cohabiting alongside Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. This is an event for purists: unlike some 'classical' music festivals in this country, in Ottawa there are no Celtic fiddlers or Dixieland bands." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/31/02

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: "The Washington Chamber Symphony, which presented a series of venturesome and enormously popular concerts at the Kennedy Center for more than a quarter-century, has voted itself out of existence, effective tomorrow." The decision is a somber reflection of the state of many smaller orchestras - the WCS was wildly popular in the district, and had no problem selling tickets to its performances, and yet still could not manage to stay afloat after multiple budget cuts and retoolings. Washington Post 07/30/02

ODE TO SILENCE: Silence is much underrated - in our music, and in our everyday world. It's increasingly difficult to find quiet. “Once the air was filled with music. Now it is filled with noise. The young have never heard silence. In our polluted world they will never be able to hear it.” The Times (UK) 07/30/02

MUSIC IN THE MOUNTAINS: The Aspen Music Festival is one of the largest teaching camps in the US. Few if any of the 750 young people here will be the new Yo-Yo Ma, yet they swarm through this chic town, eager and hoping for the best. The most beautiful of arts offers career success to several and frustration to many. There is a kinship here with history's ambitious laborers and their largely unprofitable mines. Beauty beguiles the soul, but finding a way to make it feed the stomach is less easy. Quite rightly, such paradox is ignored at places like this." The New York Times 07/29/02


 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, NY, NY 10019  Also, feel free to nominate your favorite composer-- even if it's you--for Spotlight of the Week.



BSO Commissions
Chamber Opera by Golijov
The hits keep coming for the brilliant young Argentina-born composer Osvaldo Golijov. In the wake of his enormously successful oratorio, ''La pasion segun San Marcos,'' he has just been commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra to write a new hour-long chamber operas that the Tanglewood Music Center will premiere next summer

Golijov describes his new opera as a ''Middle Eastern Pieta'' that will deal with parents and the sacrifice of children, which he will depict in both biblical and contemporary terms. (Could this be another John Adams' flap in the making?) The piece is co-commissioned by the BSO, Lincoln Center, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dawn Upshaw will play the leading role in the and Robert Spano will conduct. The opera will be written for a chamber orchestra and a cast of 12-16 singers.

These are the first operas commissioned by the BSO for the Tanglewood Music Center, though one of the most notable events in Tanglewood's history was the American premiere of Benjamin Britten's ''Peter Grimes,'' commissioned by BSO music director Serge Koussevitzky. 

Golijov's music has been performed at important concert halls and festivals around the world. He was born in Argentina and lived both there and in Jerusalem before moving to the U.S. in 1986, studying with George Crumb (earning a Ph.D. at University of Pennsylvania) and with Lukas Foss and Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood, where he received the Koussevitzky Composition Prize. 

His diverse collaborations include work with the Kronos Quartet, the Cleveland and St. Lawrence string quartets, conductors Oliver Knussen and Helmut Rilling, clarinetists Giora Feidman and David Krakauer, the Romanian gypsy band Taraf de 
Haiduks, the Mexican rock band Café Tacuba, and singers Mikhail Alexandrovich and Diamanda Galas. He has received numerous international prizes and awards as well as frequent commissions from prestigious institutions such as Lincoln Center, Tanglewood, Spoleto, and the Lisbon Expo 98. Golijov currently resides in Massachusetts, where he is on the teaching faculties of the Tanglewood Music Center, the College of the Holy Cross, and the Boston Conservatory.


La Pasion Segun San Marcos
Composer: Osvaldo Golijov
Conductor: Maria Guinand
Performer: Lucianba Souza, Reynaldo Gonzales Fernandes
Ensemble: Orquesta La Pasion
Hanssler Classics - #98404

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


Canticum Novum: Sacred Vocal Music From the Late 20th Century
Composer: Cary Boyce, John Eaton, Mario Lavista
Conductor: Carmen Helena Téllez
Performer: Susan Swaney , Lynne Morrow , Paul Flight , Cary Boyce , Andrew Hendricks , Curtis Cook , Alain Barker , Nicolas Del Grazia , Adriana Linares Bridget Wintermann Parker 
Ensemble: Aguavá New Music Ensemble

Extraordinary new choral music by John Eaton, winner of the MacArthur "Genius" Foundation Prize for creativity; by Mario Lavista, one of the most sophisticated musical voices in Latin America today, and by Cary Boyce, conducted by Carmen Helena Téllez


Symphonies 4 & 5
Composer: Rued Langgaard
      Performers: Dausgaard, Danish Radio Symphony
   Da Capo [Naxos] - #8224215

Langgard is a lonely figure in Danish music primarily because he was the only Dane to go all the way with Late Romanticism and the only one to say that Carl Neilsen was pretty much an overrated windbag whose music was unnecessarily obtuse. In 1940 he was engaged for the first time in an official capacity, as the cathedral organist in Ribe, far from the music life of the capital. And there he lived, a bitter man, until his death. Nonetheless, he wrote over 400 works: sixteen symphonies and other pieces, many of them like the symphonies recorded here, plain old masterpieces. 

Symphonies 7 & 9
Composer: Roy Harris
Performer(s): Kuchar, Nat'l So of Ukraine
Naxos - #8559050 

Roy Harris's Third Symphony
was such a compact, fully-realized masterpiece that it often seems as if he  spent the rest of his career like Roman Polanski wandering around trying to remember how he made Chinatown.  This point-of-view tends to obscure the fact that he wrote many other splendid works that reflect a deep sense of "American" motifs.

Piano Sonatas 4 & 7
Composer:  Leo Ornstein
Performer(s):  Janice Weber
Naxos - #8559104 

When Russian born composer and pianist Leo Ornstein died in February at109 years old, he left behind one of the strangest legacies in music history. At the height of his career, he abruptly ceased performing and quietly faded into semi-obscurity, only to be "re-discovered" every 15 years or so. This disc reflects opposite ends of Ornstein's career--the 1924 Sonata No. 4 is from his radical "futurist" period; No. 7, from 1988, is more traditional but no less engaging. Janice Weber's reading makes it clear that when Ornstein composed, a genius was at work.

Music for 4 Stringed Instruments
Composer:  Charlies Martin Loeffler 
Performer(s): Da Vinci Quartet
Naxos - #8559077

Loeffler's brand of lush late Romanticism was still in bloom when he died in 1935 and he was regarded as one of America's best composers. Today, he is forgotten which is really a oversight because--based on the evidence of this fine recording, at least--he was an American Vaughan Williams and music this beautiful deserves to be heard even if it's a bit too easy to like. 

Orchestral Works
Composer: Elisaetta Brusa
Performer(s): Mastrangelo, Nat'l So of Ukraine
Naxos - #8555266 

Call it Neo-Tonal or Neo-Romantic, Brusa's pieces for orchestra break no new ground but they have a kind of formal academic elegance that seems more German than Italian in temperament but demonstrates a lively, intelligent mind at work. 

Orchestral Works
Composer: George Whitefield Chadwick
  Performer:  Schermerhorn, Nashville Sym Orch
Naxos - #8559117

Chadwick is considered the first composer of concert music whose works often show the snap, the wit, the independence of the American spirit. During his career, he modernized the New England Conservatory, taught several generations of American composers, and was a pioneer in making professional instruction available to women and racial minorities. Terrific performances from the first-rate Nashville Symphony.

Cello Concerto
Composer:  Ernst Toch
Mutare Ensemble, Muller-Hornbach
Cpo Records - #999688 

cpo continues to make the case for Toch as a neglected modernist master whose serious work was obscured by his success as a Hollywood film composer. Most of releases is this series have been convincing but this one is somewhat disappointing. The Cello Concerto goes off in too many directions and could have used a good editing. Plus, the sound quality on this recording is strange. Can't put my finger on it, but it's strange.


Complete Works for Violin & Piano
Composer:  Aaron Copland, Posnak, Zazofsky
Naxos - #8559102 

Copland is most known for his ballets and grand orchestral pieces but he often used small chamber works as building blocks to larger concepts. Most interesting here are the arrangements for violin and piano for well-known pieces of Rodeo and Billy the Kid.

It Takes Two
Performer(s): Bart Schneemann
Channel Classics - #18598 

 Have oboe, will travel should be Bart Schneemann motto in this delicious set of duos with some of the world's finest musicians on instruments ranging from the clarinet and the viola to the marimba and the bandoneon. The composers are brand names all--from Andriessen and Bartok to Piazzolla to Vanghan Williams. Most inventive. Our personal favorite of the month.

Cello Sonata / Cello Works
Composers: Schumann, Grieg
Performers: Marie Hallynck, Tiberghien
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #911779 
Harmonia mundi's Les Nouveaux Musiciens features the young Belgian/French cellist Marie Hallynck in stunning accounts of Schumann' s "Adagio and Allegro," "Phantasienstke," and "Funf Stucke im Volkston" for cello and piano, as well as Grieg's "Sonate Pour Violoncelle et Piano." Our kind of easy listening. 

Darkness & Light 4
ComposerPerformer(s): Weiner, Starer, Stern, Korngold, Lees, Holt
Albany Music Dist. - #518 

  The latest release from the Chamber Music Series at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is highlighted by the stunningly original "Piano Trio No. 2 "Silent Voices" (1998) by Benjamin Lees. Anguished and almost unbearably intense, Lees crams more drama, passion and empathy into this 14-minute piece than many composers muster in a lifetime.

Chamber Music
Composer: Lawrence Dillon
Cassatt String Quartet, Borromeo String Quartet, Mendelssohn String Quartet

In 1985, Lawrence Dillon became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at the Juilliard School. He studied privately with Vincent Persichetti, and in classes with Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, David Diamond and Roger Sessions. Upon graduation, he was appointed to the Juilliard faculty. He is currently Assistant Dean at the North Carolina School of the Arts where he is also Composer-in-Residence and conductor of the contemporary music ensemble. The three pieces recorded here might be considered genre-bending in that they attempt to blend elements of post-modernism and older forms like romanticism. 


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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