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  September 27-October 4, 2004

Augusta Read Thomas 
On Dickenson's 'Heroic Act'

Augusta Read Thomas is the composer of the New York Philharmonic's season's first commission, Gathering Paradise, Emily Dickinson Settings for Soprano and Orchestra, which premieres Wednesday night at Avery Fisher Hall.

"Emily Dickinson’s poems are intensely
personal, intellectual, introspective, and offer a meditation on life, death, and poetic creation; her poems share a close observation of nature as well as consideration of religious and philosophical issues, Thomas writes. "The poems used in Gathering Paradise are marked by the intimate recollection of inspirational moments which are suggestive of hope and the possibility of happiness found in art and in the observation of the natural world." 

In the five connected sections of Gathering Paradise (which together run just short of 30 minutes), Thomas sets five of Dickinson’s short poems in their entirety, sometimes repeating words or phrases and interpolating expostulations. 

"These poems are all about light," Thomas writes. "We start with “gleam,” “illumination,” “fuse is lit,” and work through “the Everlasting Clocks — Chime — Noon” (when, in the middle of the composition, there is an actual kind of carillon sounding orchestration to represent a clock striking 12 times). Then, at the end of the work, “Soft as the massacre of Suns,” and, finally, “Image of Light, Adieu —”. So there is a kind of cycle of light, from sunrise to sundown...or perhaps a birth to a death, the final words of the composition being “Impart — Depart —”.

Thomas (born in 1964 in New York) is  Professor on the composition faculty at Northwestern University, and is on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center. She previously taught at the Eastman School of Music, and she is currently Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (through May 2006). At the age of 33, she received tenure from the Eastman School. Her work is currently published by G. Schirmer Inc., with whom she has recently signed. 

"Composing for voice is my first passion in life, and as a result the largest part of my catalogue is music for voice: solo voice, small groups of voices, small or large choirs, with and without orchestral or other kinds of accompaniments," Thomas says. "For me, the human voice — possibly the most subtle, complex, and fragile yet forceful, flexible, seductive, and persuasive carrier of musical ideas and meanings — has always been an inspiration for and influence upon my entire musical thinking." 

Thomas studied at Northwestern University, Yale University and at the Royal Academy of Music. Seven years after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, she was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music (ARAM, honorary degree). In 1998 she received the Distinguished Alumni Association Award from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1999, she received the Award of Merit from the President of Northwestern University. 

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, New York, NY 10019

Sun Rings
Terry Riley
Kronos Quartet
Oct 6, 8 & 9 at 7:30pm
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Oct 6, 8 & 9 at 7:30pm
Tickets: $20, 40
80min, no intermission, 718.636.4100
Mon—Fri, 10am—6pm Sat, 12pm—6pm

Friday, October 15, 2004 at 8:30pm
Floating Worlds: George Crumb / Fernando Velazquez

The International Contemporary Ensemble 
featuring Tony Arnold, Soprano

Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater, Symphony Space
Broadway at 95th Street, NYC Box Office: 212-864-5400

Send announcements to the Editors

The Handmaid's Tale 
Comes Home to Canada
When Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s chilling novel  The Handmaid's Tale was first published in 1985 it was hailed as an imaginative, if somewhat paranoid, vision of  the future.  The notion that the religious right would decide that moral corruption is responsible for the fall of society and take over the United States, overthrowing the government and implementing a fundamentalist regime, was provocative but simply too far fetched to be taken seriously in the mid-80s. 

Even four years ago, when Danish composer Poul Ruders’ acclaimed operatic adaptation of the novel debuted at the Royal Danish Opera, Atwood’s vision still seemed safely in the distant future.

Now, the Canadian premiere run of  Ruders’ opera is underway in Toronto at the Canandian Opera Company and--in  the age of Bush-Cheney, where industrial polluters and right wing fundamentalists are in charge of  environmental and “faith-based” policies--the future seems a lot closer than it used to be. 

The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a future dystopia, where pollution and radiation has rendered countless women sterile, and the birthrates of North America are dangerously declining. A puritan theocracy controls the former United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, and Handmaids of proven fertility have been enlisted to bear offspring to the childless elite. Offred, one such Handmaid, tells her story of abuse, compassion and sustained hope. 

In fashioning a libretto, Paul Bentley has simplified Atwood's narrative while remaining true to its essence. And in setting the words to music, Ruders has preserved verbal clarity to a high degree, making the story easy to follow as it is acted out. 

Of the original production, David Hurwitz wrote in Classics Today:  “Ruders’ opera is the ‘real deal’: exciting, dramatic, lyrical, and ter
rifying. The music grips you from its first notes, and never lets up. Paul Bentley’s libretto strikes me as one of the finest adaptations ever made for the operatic stage. It preserves Atwood’s language as much as possible, while structuring the situations in the most effective way. With new opera, however successful on stage, there’s always the question of whether or not the music works outside the theatrical setting. This music does.”

Further performances are September 29, Oct. 1, 5 and 9, 2004 at the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto. This starring role is played by Stephanie Marshall, 31, a Canadian mezzo-soprano based in London who played Offred in the English National Opera's 2003 production. 

Old Stuff
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

             THIS WEEK'S PICKS

Music in Fifths/Two Pages
Composer: Phillip Glass
Performer: Bang on a Can

These are transcriptions of two early Glass works ("Fifths," originally performed and recorded by Philip Glass with Jon Gibson and Dickie Landry in the original version for saxophones and electric organ)  and ("Two Pages", originally  done by Philip Glass on electric organ and Michael Riesman on piano). 

As always the Bang on a Can All Stars do a... well... bang up job and bring a fresh perspective to  two of the seminal works of Glass' early career. 


Orchestral Works
Composer:  Herman D. Koppel 
Nina Kavtaradze (piano) 
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Moshe Atzmon 

This is the third volume of the symphonies of the Danish composer Herman D Koppel who lived from 1908 to 1998 and wrote seven symphonies between 1930 and 1961.  Born in Copenhagen the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Koppel fled to Sweden during World War II and his Symphony No. 3, written there, is an intensely personal work that mirrors the fears and anxieties of that period.  No. 5 is more hopeful and steady but lacks the raw energy of the 3rd. 

Guernica, Symphony no 4, Zapata 
Composer: Leonardo Balada 
Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra/Salvador Mas Conde 

Balada’s Guernica, completed in 1966, during the height of the Viet Nam War, was  inspired by Picasso’s large-scale mural of 1937, which has come to represent a  protest piece against all wars.  Balada writes in a personal modern idiom, although there are traces of his apprenticeships with Dello Joio and Aaron Copland.  Neither a serialist nor neo-classisist Balada is modern in ways that are highly individual and sometimes hard to follow.  But, he's an original and a little patience from the listener is well worth the effort. 

Symphonies Nos: 4, 5, 6
Composer: Josef  Tal 
NDR RadioPhilharmonie/Israel Yinon 

German-born Israeli composer Josef Tal, whose work I had never heard from this CD, is said to have  derived his musical style from the second Viennese school and has remained an unrepentant modernist. He has also been an innovator and pioneer, one of the first to combine a live instrument with a studio-generated tape recording; he founded the Israel Center for Electronic Music and imported the first Moog Synthesizer into his adopted country. These three symphonies reveal a composer with a strong personal voice working at the height of his powers.  Very powerful. 


 Baltic Voices 2
 Performer(s): Estonian Phil Chamber Choir, Paul Hillier
Harmonia Mundi 

The second volume of Paul Hillier's exploration of the choral treasures of the Baltic Sea countries features sacred music from composers representing all three branches of Christianity that are practiced in the Baltic region: Orthodox (Schnittke, Grigorjeva), Catholic (Sisask, Tulev), and Protestant (Nørgård).  The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is in superb form and Hillier's choice of material is impeccable.


Music from The Hours
Composer:  Philip Glass 
Michael Riesman (piano)
Orange Mountain Music

Piano Transcriptions of music composed by Glass for the Virginia Wolfe-inspired film played by longtime collaborator Michael Riesman.  Glass writes great music for the piano as demonstrated by his wonderful Etudes for Piano but stripped of orchestration these pieces seem slight and unfinished.  Still, for us fanatics, no scrap of  Glass is unwelcome. 


Symphony No. 3 'Liturgique' 
Pacific 231 
Mouvement Symphonique No. 3 
Pastorale d’été 
Composer:  Arthur Honegger
 New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa 

Five of the best pieces by one of the 20th Century's most underrated composers, played handsomely by the New Zealand Symphony.  There may be better versions of all these pieces around but at this price you can't go wrong.  Essential listening for anyone who is serious about modern music.

The Sea
Composer: Frank Bridge 
Enter Spring, Summer, Two Poems , The Sea 
 New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd 

Another underrated composer represented by some of his very best work.  Young Benjamin Britten once said that upon hearing The Sea he was “knocked sideways”.  And, indeed, it is a brilliant piece, filled with the mood of crashing waves and great expanses of open water.  Indispensible.


 Peter Grimes, Op.33
Composer: Benjamin Britten
 London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Colin Davis 
LSO Live

This is Sir Colin's third recording of Peter Grimes and his experience is clearly reflected in the extraordinary performance by the London Symphony, especially in the famous Interludes that frame Britten's tragic story.  This is not the best cast Davis has ever recorded the opera with but the singing is very good, even excellent, in places.  (Hard to top Peter Pears and Jon Vickers).  But, the orchestra shines in this recording and makes it a must-have for Britten fans. 

Canticle of the Sun, Preludes for Cello Solo, In Croce
Composer:  Sofia Gubaidulina 
Pieter Wispelwey (cello),
Collegium Vocale Gent, Daniel Reuss
Channel Classics

Gubaidulina’s Christian mysticism, born of her Russian Orthodox heritage, pervades most of her work but expecially in  The Canticle of the Sun, which is based on a text by St. Francis of Assisi.  The vocal part is restrained and reverent, with the text often presented in a coloristic and fragmentary manner. Wispelway plumbs the emotional depth of the music as he navigates  music that requires not requires a staggering technique but a keen  spiritual intensity. Also featured on the disc are Gubaidulina’s solo cello Preludes and In Croce for cello and bajan (Russian chromatic button accordion).

Two American Classics
Ives:  Concord Sonata
Barber:  Piano Sonata
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)

The two best piano sonatas ever written by Americans played by the best piano player alive.  Period.  This is Hamelin's  second recording of the Ives Concord Sonata, a piece he has played for over 20 years in performances that have often been regarded as definitive. Now, we have a new definitive recording. 

Mystery System
Composer: Lukas Ligeti

With a name like Ligeti  you'd better be good and Lukas, son of  György, demonstrates that he is more than just a chip off the old block  in this clever blending of  traditional music from places as diverse as Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Florida, Egypt, and the Ivory Coast with the latest techniques in computer and electronic work from  Stanford University's computer music lab.  Haunting, original and compelling musical ideas that point toward a bright future for contemporary music.

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SEQUENZA21/is published weekly by Sequenza21/, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019
Publisher:  Duane Harper Grant  (212) 582-4153
Editors:    Jerry & Suzanne Bowles   (212) 582-3791
Contributing Editors: Deborah Kravetz, David Salvage
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