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 September 22-29, 2003

Rautavaara's Rasputin
Debuts in Finland

If you should find yourself in Helsinki this week (and who hasn’t on occasion), don’t miss the premiere of  Einojuhani Rautavaara's new opera, Rasputin, at the Finnish National Opera. 

Rautavaara, the leading Finnish composer of his generation. Says he has long been fascinated by the charismatic mysticism of the illiterate peasant turned court confidant, whose colorful life ended in poison, bullets and the ultimate destruction of the Imperial family. The composer was finally spurred on to create the opera by the recent publication of Edvard Radzinsky's book that includes the transcripts of police interrogations with Rasputin which "almost begged to be set as a libretto". 

"The key word to the libretto is ambivalence; Rasputin was a mysterious peasant, a muzhik, who was deeply religious, a fervent Christian and ascetic, almost a prophet – but on the other hand the very incarnation of corruption and debauchery, a drunk, and if rumors are to be believed also the Tsarina's lover and counsellor whose advice ruined the entire country, Rautavaara writes. “However, it does not seem appropriate to create merely a realistic stage play, a re-enactment of history or a recreation of an episode. There must also be a presence of profound Russian mysticism, the 'wind from Siberia' which can be sensed in the existentialism of Dostoevsky or the dolorous pessimism of Tchaikovsky." 

Rautavaara was born in Helsinki in 1928 and studied with Merikanto at the Helsinki Academy (1948-52), with Persichetti at the Juilliard School in New York (1955-56), and with Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland at Tanglewood (1955). He first came to international attention in 1955 when the neo-classical A Requiem in Our Time for brass and percussion won the Thor Johnson Composer’s Competition in Cincinnati. He studied serialism and soon integrated twelve note techniques, without displacing his essential Romanticism. For instance, Symphony No.3 (1961) may be the first totally serial Finnish work, yet it is also a tribute to the symphonies of Bruckner, complete with Wagner tubas. 

In the late 1960s Rautavaara distanced himself from serialism and his mystical character came more to the fore in music of rich color and sweeping melodic profile, at once accessible and evocative. His operas have often explored issues of creativity and madness, such as Vincent (1986-87), Aleksis Kivi (1995-96) and Rasputin (2001-03), and his symphonies and concerti have increasingly been commissioned by orchestras outside his native Finland, including most recently Symphony No.8 ‘The Journey’ (1999) for the Philadelphia Orchestra, a Harp Concerto (1999-2000) for the Minnesota Orchestra and a Clarinet Concerto (2001-02) for Richard Stoltzman and the National Symphony in Washington.  Among his immensely popular works are Cantus arcticus (1972) Concerto for birds and orchestra; Angels and Visitations (1978) for orchestra; andSymphony No.7 (Angel of Light) (1995) for orchestra.

Advertising and Sponsorship Information
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 
Sound Of The Universe What do the heavens sound like? Music, report scientists - specifically a B flat — "a B flat 57 octaves lower than middle C. The 'notes' appear as pressure waves roiling and spreading as a result of outbursts from a supermassive black hole through a hot thin gas that fills the Perseus cluster of galaxies, 250 million light-years distant. They are 30,000 light-years across and have a period of oscillation of 10 million years. By comparison, the deepest, lowest notes that humans can hear have a period of about one-twentieth of a second." The New York Times 09/16/03 

Where Is All The New Choral Music? "Why is there so little new choral music? The choral tradition is more traditional, even more popularly oriented than orchestral, chamber music, solo and operatic traditions. Plenty of vernacular, indigenous, folk, and gospel music has become standard fare. In a piano or chamber music recital, the performance of homely vernacular music would not be accepted or even tolerated, yet it has become a common practice in choral performances." NewMusicBox 09/03 

Music & Politics - Not An Obvious Connection Music and politics don't mix, do they? So why have music and politics found themselves so frequently intertwined? Jay Nordlinger enumerates political influences, then decrees that there's nothing inherently political about music: "Music dwells in its own realm, unless it is freighted with words that constitute political baggage." National Review 09/15/03 

Music That Describes Our World "Tone-painting differs from musical expression in that it seeks tangibly to conjure physical things in tone. This idea has been around as long as music has. An ancient Greek story tells of a master of the aulos, the classical double-pipe instrument, who improvised a description of a battle so hair-raising that people were talking about it for the next 200 years." Bach was the ultimate master of it, but Beethoven, Liszt, Wagner and Brahms were expert at painting scenes with music. The Guardian (UK) 09/13/03 

Plans For A Music Museum Organizers are trying to raise money for a $220 million museum of music. The National Music Center and Museum Foundation would be built in Washington DC. "At the convention center site, the planners are envisioning a facility on two acres with three theaters and a museum. The 3,200-seat performance hall could accommodate Broadway roadshows and musical acts. A second theater would have 750 seats, more than any of the Smithsonian's current theaters and lecture halls. The third would be a 250-seat black-box venue for dance and experimental theater. The museum would have 50,000 square feet of space for both temporary and permanent exhibitions." Washington Post 09/16/03 

La Scala Fight Ensnares Muti A fight is brewing between La Scala director Riccardo Muti and the company's general manager. "Mr Muti did not attend the official launch of the 2003-4 season, and on tour in Japan this week he was quoted as saying that La Scala was 'at risk of decline'. The danger is that, unless Mr Muti gets what he wants, the great conductor will go elsewhere. Though still unspoken, it has been enough to sow alarm among the loggionisti, La Scala's devotees, who sometimes queue all night for the cheap seats in the loggione, the equivalent of 'the gods'." Some see the flap as a power play with Italy's volatile prime minister. The Guardian (UK) 09/16/03 

Opera That Can't Work So impressario Raymond Gubbay is planning to stage operas in London in competition the the Royal Opera and English National companies. But the plan is to present in a small theatre, and the numbers don't work out. Gubbay can't make it work out financially. So what's the point? The Telegraph (UK) 09/17/03 

My Lunch With Tony Hall Tony Hall has been running London's Royal Opera House for a couple years now. "There might have been a time when running an opera house presented unique opportunities for leisurely lunching, schmoozing with business grandees desperate for a favourite seat in the orchestra stalls, perhaps the odd feisty exchange with the prima assoluta of the day. But that was then and this is now, and Hall is the epitome of the modern manager: brisk, fast-talking, affable and relentlessly upbeat." Financial Times 09/18/03 

Canadian Blank CD Tax Generates $19 Million For Music Industry A Canadian tax on blank CD and audio cassette sales is expected to pay out $19 million to composers, performers, publishers and record labels in the next three months. "The payments are calculated from two measurable factors - the airplay songs get on radio, TV networks and individual music programs, and the record sales logged and reported by labels." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 09/19/03 

When Soloists Cancel Last week, soprano Dawn Upshaw, who is famous for never cancelling engagements, cancelled an engagement with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, due to a vocal cord injury. It may be unusual for Upshaw to bail on an orchestra, but other soloists do it all the time, for any number of reasons. Some soloists are even as famous for their cancellations as they are for their performances. As for the jilted ensembles which are left to scramble for a replacement, many arts administrators pride themselves on their ability to come through in just such a situation. The Age (Melbourne) 09/21/03 

Lloyd Webber & Elton John Team Up Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber is teaming up with Elton John to record a "classical" version of John's "Your Song." "I got the number of Elton's manager and asked whether he would come on this disc with me. I thought that would be it, but to my surprise he said he would love to do it - as long as it was in E flat major." BBC 09/21/03 

 Last Week's News


21 Pianists, 21 Pianos at World Financial Center

Jenny Lin is among the 21 world-class pianists who will play Daniele Lombardi's new works at the World Financial Center this week.
Twenty-one pianos played by 21 pianists in the World Financial Center Winter Garden, 220 Vesey Street, will be the centerpiece of the free, week-long 88 Keys: A Celebration of the Piano (September 22-25) that opens the 15th year of the World Financial Center Arts & Events Program, New York’s biggest free, year-round arts series. 

“This is the largest collection of pianos played in one place at one time in New York since the 1939 World’s Fair,” said Debra Simon, the Executive Director of the World Financial Center Arts & Events Program. “And those pianos 64 years ago were uprights, not the handmade, grand pianos gracing the Winter Garden. This will be the most electrifying concert we’ve ever presented and a grand way to mark the 15th year of cultural events produced by New York’s biggest free, year-round arts program.” 

The 21 pianos adorn the stage of the Winter Garden Thursday, September 25, at 7:30pm for the U.S. premiere of Italian composer Daniele Lombardi’s Sinfonia Nos. 1 & 2 for 21 Pianos and the world premiere of his Threnodia for 21 Pianos dedicated to the victims of September 11. Both premieres, conducted by Antonio Ballista, feature 21 pianists playing together on 21 grand pianos. 

Well-known internationally for his uncommon repertoire, Lombardi has worked extensively on the music of the twentieth-century historical avant-gardes, including first modern performances of a large number of compositions of Italian and Russian Futuristic music, as well as composers such as George Antheil, Leo Ornstein, Alberto Savinio, Alexander Mossolov, and Arthur Vincent Lourié. 

The 21 pianists are Mirian Conti, Kerstin Costa, Anthony de Mare, Jed Distler, Stephen Gosling, Alpin Hong, Eri Kang, Sachiko Kato, Claudia Knafo, Jenny Lin, Gregory McCallum, Blair McMillen, Beata Moon, Lisa Moore, Marc Peloquin, Frederic Rzewski, Ronen Segev, Dmitri Shteinberg, Cristina Valdes, Olga Vinokur, and Miri Yampolsky


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

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

Symphony No. 6
Composer: Gustav Mahler
Performer: London Symphony Orchestra; Mariss Jansons
Label: LSO Live 

It is rare that you find a recording that you need listen to for only a minute to know a masterpiece is unfolding before your very ears.  This stunning live performance of Mahler's "Tragic" symphony is one of the rare ones,  From the first rhythmic thumps of the long and  stately funeral march to the final faded chords, Mariss Jansons draws a passionate and committed performance from the LSO.  Certain to be among the best of the year noninees. 

Wheel of Emptiness
Composer: Jonathan Harvey
Performers:  Actus
Cyprès CYP5604

English composer Jonathan Harvey is one of those modernists whose work is more frequently talked about then played.  This rare recording contains five representative works ranging from the lyrical to the raw, built on  instrumentations ranging from electroacoustical to the  traditional.  An excellent introduction to an unjustly neglected maverick. 

Piano Etudes 1
Composer: Philip Glass
Performer: Philip Glass 
Orange Mountain 

Glass says he wrote these "studies" as fodder for his own concert performances and as a way of challenging himself as a pianist.  But, they are much more important than that.  They provide a real insight into how Glass composes and, although billed as sketches,  sometimes are more rewarding to the ear and intellect than many of Glass's larger-scale works.  Essential recording for the Glassologist.



Music from the Thin Blue Line
Composer:  Philip Glass
Orange Mountain

 Glass's hypnotic score for  Errol Morris’ extraordinary 1988 documentary film entitled "The Thin Blue Line". 
 Nonesuch Records released a CD of the film’s soundtrack that included the narration and interviews from the film but this  Orange Mountain release contains  the original score without the voice-over.  The music is dark and brooding, full of tension appropriately for such a chilling film, and it stands well on its own. 

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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