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 October 20-27, 2003

Ned Rorem 
At 80

The festivities for Ned Rorem’s 80th birthday year reach their peak this week. On Thursday night, Rorem's actual birthday, The Curtis Institute of Music kicks off a two week festival, Roremania, conceived and directed by Mikael Eliasen,  with a performance of Rorem's acclaimed song cycle Evidence of Things Not Seen, performed by members of the Curtis Opera Theatre. 

The Curtis festivities culminate on Friday, November 7 when The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and The Curtis Institute of Music present the Philadelphia premiere of Rorem's only full-length opera, Miss Julie. Performed by the Curtis Opera Theatre with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, this is the first presentation of fully staged opera in the intimate and ideally suited Perelman Theatre.

Evidence of Things Not Seen will be performed at Columbia University's Miller Theater in New York on Friday night. , Soloist David Geringas plays the German premiere of Rorem’s Cello Concerto in Munich on Thursday.

The birthday week brings five additional concerts in New York alone, including “America Honors Ned Rorem,” a gala concert presented by the Magic Circle Opera Repertory Ensemble at Merkin Hall, on October 27. 

Naxos has joined the celebration by issuing a disc of Rorem’s three symphonies, with José Serebrier conducting the Bournemouth
Symphony Orchestra. 

Yet the birthday season offers more than retrospective delights:  an abundance of strong new scores testifies to Rorem’s continuing creative vitality. His Cello Concerto found critical and popular favor in its March debut. On October 14 and 15 the Bridgehampton Chamber Players gave the New York City premiere of his new chamber work The Unquestioned Answer at the 92nd Street ‘Y’. The Philadelphia Orchestra introduces his Flute Concerto with principal flutist Jeffrey Khaner under Roberto Abbado, December 4-6 at  Verizon Hall. And in the spring, star percussionist Evelyn Glennie gives the premiere of Rorem’s Mallet Concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (March 27 and 28) and the Eos Orchestra (April 8-9).

All told, dozens of birthday performances have been planned; the festivities continue well into 2004.  An up-to-date calendar can be found at Boosey

Rorem has been called by Time magazine "the world's best composer of art songs" but his work encompasses virtualy all genre. Rorem has composed three symphonies, four piano concertos and an array of other orchestral works, music for numerous combinations of chamber forces, nine operas, choral works of every description, ballets and other music for the theater, and literally hundreds of songs and cycles. He is the author of sixteen books, including five volumes of diaries and collections of lectures and criticism. 

He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his orchestral suite Air Music  He has championed tonality throughout his career in his lyrical yet forthright music His recent chamber works have been toured or recorded by the Guarneri String Quartet, the Emerson String Quartet and the Beaux Arts Trio, among others.  Vocal works have been performed and recorded by leading artists including Susan Graham and Brian Azawa 

Three Symphonies
Composer: Ned Rorem
Conductor: Jose Serebrier

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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 

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
Ned Rorem, American Classic "Rorem's works have been criticized, even dismissed, for not being more memorable. More to the point, as much as he seems to occupy the creative moment 100 percent, Rorem doesn't haunt. The music is there and gone, leaving few if any footprints on your brain. As listeners, we're not used to that." Philadelphia Inquirer 10/19/03 

Ligeti At 80 Gyorgy "Ligeti has a unique place in the history of 20th-century music: an avant-gardist who is familiar to a wide public (even if he has Stanley Kubrick's use of his music in 2001 to thank for that popularity), and an uncompromising modernist whose music revels in its connections with other cultures, other art forms, and the music of earlier centuries." The Guardian (UK) 10/17/03 

La Scala Appoints a Referee...Er, "Artistic Director" La Scala has appointed a new artistic director to mediate between music director Riccardo Muti and general manager Carlo Fontana. Muti has fought against what he characterizes as Fontana's attempts to "dumb down" the famous company. "Mr Fontana had been criticised for introducing popular fare such as West Side Story to fill the 2,600 seats of the Arcimboldi theatre, built on the industrial outskirts of Milan to host La Scala's performances while its city-centre premises undergo a £40m refit. Tension between the two men burst into the open in July when Mr Muti snubbed the official presentation of the opera's new season." The Guardian (UK) 10/13/03 

Disney-High Ambitions LA's Disney Hall opens next week. "For all the energy and playfulness of this $274 million piece of civic sculpture, Disney Hall also bears a heavy burden as an instrument of this city's heady ambition. Sixteen years in the making, it represents Los Angeles' determination to shake off its perpetual No. 2 status, to be recognized, along with New York, as an international cultural heavyweight, yet on its own highly theatrical terms." San Francisco Chronicle 10/16/03 

Why Must Music Be Transcendant? Classical music, and opera in particular, is often held up as a beacon of transcendant, other-worldly beauty, in a culture obsessed with speed and reduced to communicating through sound bites. But that perception doesn't often square with reality, says Anne Midgette, and the fact that listeners aren't being transported to a higher realm on an average night at the Met doesn't mean that the music has failed, simply that our expectations are misplaced. "Opera deals in human emotions, not divine and ethereal ones. When singing is sublime, it's partly because it amplifies those emotions with a kind of inner purity." The New York Times 10/19/03

Is Classical Music Racist? The audience for traditional classical music is overwhelmingly caucasian, whether in Europe or North America, and despite paying frequent lip service to the vague concept of "diversity," few practitioners of the art have made any serious attempts to widen the appeal of the genre. So why does classical music receive such a huge percentage of available public arts funding? "This has always been the case, but now that cultural diversity has moved to the top of the funding agenda, it's become a serious political embarrassment. There's something disquieting, in 2003, about the sight of an all-white orchestra playing to an all-white audience." The Telegraph (UK) 10/18/03 

Recordings - The Politics Of Price "As musical recordings have increasingly shed their physical form, the record industry and its customers have been at odds over what it all should cost. Music fans complain of high CD prices and copy more music illicitly than they purchase legally, while the record companies rail against the devaluation of their product and take file-sharers to court. Since legal ways to experience online music are only now becoming widely available, there is no established record of what the market will bear or how these innovations will be received. Will each song purchased online represent the loss of a whole CD sale in the store? Or will customers respond to the ease and selection of e-commerce by buying more, overall?" The New York Times 10/12/03

Detroit's New Digs: Spending Money To Make Money The Detroit Symphony Orchestra could very well have chosen to spend the last few years hiding under a pile of the Motor City's ever-present downtown rubble, and hoping that the financial roof wouldn't fall in. After all, orchestras are in terible shape just about everywhere, and Detroit is hardly a model for the type of forward-looking urban development that orchestras must embrace to make strides in an increasingly diverse entertainment universe. Instead, the DSO took a big, beautiful chance, and invested millions in a newly revitalized concert hall in one of the city's most blighted neighborhoods. No one yet knows if the plan will succeed, but thank God someone is still trying, says William Littler. Toronto Star 10/18/03 

 Last Week's News
Adams' The Dharma at Big Sur
Debuts at Disney Concert Hall

John Adams’s newest orchestral work, The Dharma at Big Sur, makes its debut on Friday as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Dharma at Big Sur is the first piece to receive its premiere at the new hall.

Fittingly, Adams has composed a groundbreaking score. The orchestra performs in just intonation, a system of tuning in which the intervals can be expressed as whole-number ratios. The sound of a justly-tuned ensemble – previously explored by composers
such as Lou Harrison and Harry Partch, among many others – has an unmistakably pure and resonant quality. The Dharma at Big Sur uses few woodwinds, since they are heavily weighted toward equal temperament; the harp and keyboards are retuned. 

After graduating from Harvard in 1971, Adams drove to San Francisco. He was well aware of others who had preceded him, including fellow Massachusetts native Jack Kerouac, whose books include On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and Big Sur. 

Says Adams, “I wanted to write omething that had as its theme the sensation that one experiences on arriving in California. I looked around for literary sources, and eventually hit on Jack Kerouac.  His arrival here was sort of a defining moment – not only for himself but for the representation of a totemic experience for all Americans, which is the journey westward.”

Ultimately, Adams hopes to convey the exhilaration of a life-changing encounter. “I’ll never forget the first time I came down the Marin headlands on a beautiful August morning, and saw the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco off in the distance – those were very powerful moments....I hope to create a musical expression of that experience.”

Let's Hear it for uh--Ethel, 
the Hip NYC String Quartet

by Deborah Kravetz

It’s, uh—Ethel, a New York string quartet performing a decidedly downtown  sort of music, with distinctly uptown polish and skill, in this new series called Fresh Ink at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
Not quite as sonically varied in depth and texture as Kronos, Ethel has managed to collect an interesting repertoire of new compositions.

Composer Todd Reynolds plays violin for Uh,..it all happened so fast, but doesn’t hog the solos, which shift around swiftly and briefly with a bluegrass, toe-tapping sort of energy. There is a percussive and slidey emphasis on the cello, the ensemble is vigorously rhythmic and acoustically amplified. Reynolds’ first composition is a good introduction for this concert and this group. Alap, another piece by Todd Reynolds, captures an Indian raga in blues form, emphasizing long rhythmic line in the cello that is then harmonized in the ensemble, with violin as percussion.

Phil Kline’s The Blue Room premiered last year for string quartet and looping boxes, and has since been adapted for CD, effectively doubling the size of the ensemble and providing a continuous stream of sound in the first movement, The River. March is a twitchy, itchy dance rhythm that becomes jagged over a steady bass line. Cello again takes the lead in the third movement, introducing a meditative melodic line picked up in viola and violins and developing some lush sonorities and emotional intensity, and closing with a Tarantella movement.

Tiny high notes alternating with fierce scrubbing introduce Julia Wolfe’s Early That Summer; loud, quiet, faster and even more fierce, if that’s possible, then re-developing. The players got quite a workout, but the atonality wasn’t rescued by the rhythmics.

Pelimanni’s Revenge , by Timo Alakotila and arranged for the ensemble by member Ralph Ferris, is another bluegrass- sounding piece with a swinging rhythm and a perpetuum mobile loop. Marcelo Zarvos’ Nepomuk #3 is a rapid dance piece with arpeggio plucks in cello and shifting rhythmic patterns that remains cheerful even when the tonality is wistful.

The program closed with SweetHardWood by John King, an adaptation of a piece written for the Pennsylvania Ballet. Once past the tu-ning introduction, the first movement did not sound all that different from other compositions on this program–high speed, high energy, ensemble swoops. The composer’s claim for a blues basis and improvisational writing only became evident in the final movement.

It’s easy to enjoy a concert when pieces are short and just varied enough to keep you guessing; the high energy level throughout was a bonus. Hearing a collection of new music is intriguing, but people did walk out and the performance was lightly attended.

Perelman Theater, 
Kimmel Center, 
October 9, 2003
(Reposted from Penn Sounds 10/14/03)

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
             THIS WEEK'S PICKS 

String Quartets 1 & 3
Composer:  Frank Bridge
Performers:. Maggini String Quartet

Frank Bridge is a bit of a lost horse in the English stable of composers that includes such giants as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and, his student, Benjamin Britten.  But he shouldn't be. No. 1, written in 1901, is a mature, fully realized work; No. 3, composed in 1927 is one of the pilars of 20th century chamber music.  As always, the Maggini play magnificiently and the recording is first rate.

Le Villi
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Marco Guidarini
Performer: Melanie Diener, Ludovic Tezier, et al. Radio France Chorus, French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

Just listening to young Puccini's first opera (as opposed to seeing it staged and sung), you notice immediately that the big sweeping melodies, the ingenious "hooks" are already there. Naive has also issued a Radio France recording of Puccini’s second opera, Edgar, written five years after Le Villi.   In this more ambitious and complicated work, Puccini develops his technique using a score that merges stirring arias and ensembles. 

Emerson Concerto / Symphony 1
Composer:  Charles Ives
Performers:  Alan Feinberg (piano), National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, James Sinclair (conductor)

Ives sketched the Emerson Concerto in 1907 but never fully finished it, although he used portions in other works.  David G. Porter, a noted Ives scholar, was  able to create a performing version which was premiered in 1998 by Alan Feinberg, the pianist on this premiere recording.  The piece is extremely demanding, often abrasive, and demands exceptional  virtuosity.  Symphony No. 1 is fetching, but not as charateristic, of the great American maverick that followed.

Piano Concertos 2 & 3
Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara
Performers: Laura Mikkola (piano), Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eri Klas (conductor)

The Finnish composer Rautavaara has enjoyed enormous success in recent years with his unique blend of northern lights impressionism and romanticism  served up in an aura of modernity. His Cantus Articus is immensely popular, conjuring up associations of Messiean, although the latter is a much more important composer.   The Third Piano Concerto from 1998 is forceful, drawings on  the Russian school of pianism, although it not technically flashy until the finale.  The Second, composed nine years earlier, is more traditional and  Laura Mikkola, already on disc with a highly regarded account of the First Concerto, again provides an outstanding performance.

Composers: King, Kline, Reynolds, Ziporen
Performers:  Ethel

New York's most daring string-quartet sensation, Ethel, makes its debut here with a menu of the kind of hard-edged downtown music that has won the group a big following in the NY new music scene.   Todd Reynolds and Mary Rowell, violins; Ralph Farris, viola; and Dorothy Lawson, cello—all began their careers in New York as freelance musicians, playing difficult music that relies heavily on non-classical sources but requires a virtuoso classical ensemble to play. Its repertoire ranges from John King's energetic blues transcriptions to  the gnarly quartets  of Julia Wolfe and on Todd Reynolds' quirky 
musical postcards.  Adventuresome and fun for the advanced music listener.

Return from a Journey
Composers:  Gurdjieff, De Hartmann,
Performer:  Kremski

Gurdjieff was a Russian Aremenian spiritual master who, in addition to the main body of his teaching created sacred dances, or Movements, as well as  200 or so musical compositions--all of which were were done  in collaboration with German composer Thomas de Hartmann at Gurdjieff's  Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, near Paris,  in the years 1925–27.  For many years, the pieces heard here were played only by De Hartmann or another of Gurdjieff's disciples but in recent years they have attracted the interest of a number of adventuresome pianists.  Kremski plays these exotic, vaguely oriental and oddly thematic pieces with great respect and warmth.

Chichester Psalms
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Performers:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Marin Alsop (conductor)

Commissioned in 1965 by the Dean of Chichester, Bernstein’s colorful Chichester Psalms is one of the composer’s most successful and accessible works on religious texts, contrasting spiritual austerity with impulsive rhythms in a contemplation of peace. The composer fashioned his Oscar nominated score to the 1954 movie On the Waterfront into a symphonic suite, skillfully capturing the oppression of the New York dockyards in the ’50s. The Three Dance Episodes were extracted from the popular On The Town, Bernstein's first successful foray into musical theatre.  Bernstein protege Marin Alsop gets a robust performance from Bournemouth orchestra and chorus.

Double Concerto
Composer:  Witold Lutoslawski
Performers:  Polish National Radio Symphony, Antoni Wit

Volume 8 in Naxos' indispensible survey of Lutoslawski's orchestra work brings us into lesser known territory but there are still treasures to be found.   The  Dance Preludes from 1955 is basically a five-movement clarinet concerto, with lots of  interesting harmonies and rhythmic twists and turns. The Double Concerto for oboe and harp from 1990 rattles the ear a bit and has a  demanding oboe part, beautifully  played by Arkadiusz Krupa. The Children's Songs, gorgeously sung by the soprano, Urszula Kryger, are beguiling. 

Doña Francisquita
Composer: Amadeo Vives 
Performers: Maria Bayo,
Alfredo Kraus, Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife, Antoni Ros Marba

A superb performance of Amadeo Vives' zarzuela masterpiece, sung with enormous vivacity and brio by the ravishing-voiced Maria Bayo and the sturdy Alfredo Kraus.  With its nineteenth century Madrid setting, its roots in classical Spanish drama  and its festive nocturnal amours, Doña Francisquita provides  a retrospective on the romantic zarzuela tradition and its crowning glory. The work was immediately recognized not only as Vives’ masterpiece, but as the greatest full length zarzuela of its era. If you're not into zarzuela already, this is the perfect place to start your  collection.

Symphony 9 Visionaria
Composer:  Kurt Atterberg
Satu Vihavainen (mezzo-soprano); Gabriel Suovanen (baritone)
NDR Choir, Prague Chamber Choir
NDR Radio Philharmonic, 
Ari Rasilainen

The 9th and final symphony of Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg bears a superficial relationshp to Beethoven's 9th with its big, expresssive choral sound but Atterburg's world is a good deal less joyous.  Atterberg's choice of texts reflects the lasting impact on his psyche made by World War II and the Korean War. The Poetic Edda, an Icelandic epic dating from around 1270, relates the visions of a wise prophetess (hence the Symphony's title "Sinfonia Visionaria") who foretells the creation of the world, the warring among gods, giants, and humans, the world's destruction, and finally its recreation. 

Atterberg uses mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists with chorus and large orchestra, as  well as a quasi-oratorio form, to tell his epic tale. This is extraordinary symphony by a composer who is far too little-known in the musical world.

The Complete Mazurkas
Composer: Karol Szymanowski
Performer: Marc-Andre Hamelin

Marc-Andre Hamelin continues his extraordinary journey through the forgotten rivers and bayous of the modern piano repetoire with masterful performances  of Szymanowski's Twenty Mazurkas, Op. 50, composed between 1926 and 1931.  After assimilating the influence of Stravinsky, Szymanowski began looking for folk themes in Polish music to rival the Russian folk touches of the master. The Mazurka,  a traditional Polish dance in three-quarter-time with an often erratic-seeming emphasis on the second beat, (and a favorite form for Chopin) offered great possibilities . 

These highly diverse pieces are more complex  than Chopin, more modern and dissonant, yet also more muted and elusive.  Still,  Szymanowski remained too much a romantic to settle for anything less then flamboyant virtuosity--a quality that Hamelin possses by the truckload. 

Composers:  Transciptions:
Bach, Barber, Berg, Chopin, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel, Wolf
Peformers: : Choeur De Chambre Accentus, Equilbey

Worth having for the ravishing performances of Samuel Barber's "Adagio" and Mahler's "Adagietto from Symphony No. 5." 

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.

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