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  August 12-19, 2002

john Cage,
the mAn
john caGe,
the legEnd

"I have nothing to say / and I am saying it /
and that is poetry / as I needed it" --John Cage

Today is the 10th anniversary of the passing of John Cage, the well-known mushroom eater, Mesotician, Zen Buddist and--Schoenberg's rather hasty judgement that he was"not a composer, but an inventor of genius" aside--avant garde composer. 

Virtually everyone agrees that Cage was one of the most influential figures in 20th century music. By the time of his death in New York on August 12, 1992, he was widely recognized as the initiator and leading figure in the field of indeterminate composition by means of chance operations. His invention of the prepared piano, his work with percussion, and his creative use of "silence" have all been absorbed into the modernism 

There are lots of recordings of Cage pieces around in various anthologies but he is the Stephen Hawking of the music world--someone whose work is widely admired and purchased but rarely engaged. 

What might surprise Cage, were he alive today, is that a few enterprising performers have uncovered a secret that he took to his grave: some of his music is actually as fascinating to listen to as it is to talk about.

The 2000 ECM release of the ballet 

score of The Seasons, plus Suite for Toy Piano,  Seventy-Four, and the Concerto for Prepared
 Piano and Chamber Orchestra was a major step in establishing Cage's reputation as more than an experimenter and musical theorist but somebody whose work you might actually enjoy.  With inspired performances by the American Composers Orchestra and Margaret Leng Tan on toy and prepared piano, Dennis Russell Davis delivered an astonishing CD that remains the one Cage CD to own if you plan to own only one.

The most recent evidence that Cage's music is not nearly as bad as it sounds (to steal an old musical joke) is Harmonia Mundi's re-issue of Paul Hillier and the Theatre of Voices' "Litany for the Whale." First released in 1998, this ear-opening masterpiece is getting a second life to mark what would have been Cage's 90th birthday, on September 5. Listening to the eight choral pieces collected here is a revelation. Nothing you have read or heard by or about Cage prepares you for the sheer power and beauty of this CD--from the title piece--a duet in which two equal voices exchange a series calls and responses using a specific pitch for each letter in the word "whale" to "The Year Begins to Ripe," a solo for voice with electronics, using text from Thoreau's Journal, the experience is like discovering sex, sushi and Arvo Part on the same day. 
--Jerry Bowles

Cage Autobiographical Statement
New Albion

Litany for the Whale
Composer: John Cage
Performer(s): Terry Riley, Paul Hillier, Theatre of Voices
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #907279

What's Recent

Michael Gordon's Decasia

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Earle Brown Dies

Oliver Knussen at 50

John Eaton's "...inasmuch" Debuts

Interview with Gloria Coates

Entering the 21st Century with
Kitty Brazelton

Julia Wolfe after minimalism

Philip Glass at 65

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


GOING FOR A YOUNGER AUDIENCE: Edinburgh Festival director Brian McMaster has observed that concerts that sell out in advance attract mostly an older audience. Why? Because many younger ticket-buyers buy tickets at the last minute. And they buy cheaper tickets. So this summer's Edinburgh Festival offers a late night series with top performers - Alfred Brendel, Andras Schiff and the Hilliard Ensemble - and all tickets are priced at £5. "What I hope they will do is come to something that they wouldn't otherwise come to, because it's so cheap. I always tell them, come and hear John Adams, or whatever - something that they'd normally stay away from. If we can widen people's tastes, that's equally important." The Telegraph (UK) 08/09/02

THE SENSATIONAL PRINCESS DI: An opera for TV about Princess Di has "perhaps unsurprisingly, already proved controversial. Earlier in the year, a headline in the Daily Mail barked: 'Sick opera to mark five years since Diana's death.' (The paper was referring to an episode in the piece where Ryan, who is obsessed with the princess, employs a prostitute to dress up as her, then strips her and performs a bizarre ritual over her naked body.) 'It would be sad if people got the impression it was a sensational piece and therefore didn't watch it'." The Guardian (UK) 08/09/02

LISTEN, YOU CAN HEAR THE CRITICS SALIVATING: "Vittorio Sgarbi, who was fired one month ago from his position as deputy minister for cultural heritage in Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, announced on 1 August that he plans to extend his fledgling career as an operatic director and declared himself available for new engagements." No truth to the related rumor that an inspired John Ashcroft will resign from his attorney general's chair to join the cast of The Producers. Andante 08/08/02

LIVE ON TAPE: A "live" recording of Simon Rattle's performance last fall of Schoenberg's two-hour cantata, Gurrelieder with the Berlin Philharmonic turns out not to be so live after all. After the performance, one of the singers was removed from the recording and replaced with another in the studio. Why? It's a marketing thing, but is it honest? Is it artistically defensible? The New York Times 08/04/02

PUSHING TOO SOON: Conductor Richard Bonynge laments the way today's young opera singers are pushed. "He believes that singers today try to do too much, too early. 'Big beautiful voices are much harder to find today. Young singers might have great techniques, but their voices are much smaller than in the past. Everyone today has TV eyes. They want people who are good-looking and then they push them into things too quickly." The Age (Melbourne) 08/05/02

TOKYO TRIES FOR A COMEBACK: The Tokyo String Quartet has not been the same since the departure of first violinist Peter Oundjian in 1995. Internal squabbles, lukewarm reviews, and general fatigue have contributed to the quartet's difficulties in the fickle and fast-changing world of chamber music. But the Tokyo has a new first violinist who is generating buzz, in large part for his inexperience in the international arena, and rumor has it that the Tokyo may be on its way back into the upper echelons of string quartets. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 08/07/02

BUCKING TRADITION IN KC: It's not likely to make orchestra purists happy, but the Kansas City Symphony is looking for ways to add visual and technological aspects to its performances. The KCS's executive director came up with the idea, and has been scouring the country for technology providers and donors who can assist the orchestra in discovering new concert hall techniques without distracting too much from the music. Kansas City Business Journal 08/02/02

TRASH-TALKIN' OPERA: The must-see event at this summer's Edinburgh Fringe? Why, it's Jerry Springer: The Opera. The show's a hit, with a bright future in front of it. "I love its violent marriage of high and low culture. To hear the kind of vulgar chaos of Jerry Springer submitted to the disciplines of classical opera results in more than the sum of those two halves." The Telegraph (UK) 08/07/02

ORCHESTRAS - TOO INGROWN TO THRIVE? The Chicago Symphony only recently admitted its first African American member. But the rest of the orchestra world is no better at diversity. But the problem isn't simply racism (or sexism). "When all is said and done, there is a problem, and it lies in the very nature of the symphonic orchestra, an organism that was formed at the onset of industrial revolution and has resolutely resisted egalitarianism, electronics and multicultural values. The symphony orchestra simply bypassed the 20th century. If it wants to survive the 21st, it will need to reform from the heart - not by admitting a token outsider or staging a free concert for the poor, but by opening itself to the spirit of the times and engaging with the things that really matter." London Evening Standard 08/06/02


 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.



It's Miller Time:
Preview of the New Season

Over the past few years, the Miller Theatre at Columbia University has become the most dependable outlet for contemporary composers and new music in New York.  As has become usual, this year’s schedule looks sensational. Here's a preview.

Continuing its series of “Portraits of Living Composers,” this season
focus will be on Elliott Carter, Gerard Grisey, Lee Hyla, György Kurtág, David Lang, Jeffrey Mumford, 
Tristan Murail, Huang Ruo,  Ezequiel Viñao and Charles Wuorinen. 

Among the scheduled highlights will be the U.S. premiere of Lang’s large-scale ambient bass clarinet concerto "The Passing Measures," the premiere of a new concerto by Argentine-born Viñao, featuring Anne Akiko Meyers and Joseph Kalichstein, and the Pacifica String Quartet performing all five string quartets of Carter.  The programs will be performed by the city’s best modern music groups, including Absolute Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, counter)induction, Ensemble Sospeso, Ensemble 21, Pacifica String Quartet, Sequitur and So Percussion Ensemble.

In other programs, violinist Jennifer Koh will tackle works by Carter, Steve Reich, Wuorinen and John Zorn, Donald Berman will play Charles Ruggles’ entire piano catalogue and little known gems by Charles Ives,  and the downtown string quartet Ethel will perform the Zorn/Julia Wolfe String Quartet Cycle in three separate concerts over the course of the season.

The brilliant young Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli pays homage to Thelonius Monk with two programs—the first his signature arrangement of 18 variations on “Round Midnight’ by composers ranging from John Adams and Milton Babbit to Frederic Rzewski, Aaron Jay Kernis and Tobias Picker; the second, a new work by George Crumb also based on ‘Round Midnight.”

Miller Theatre: 
2002-03 Season at a Glance

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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