About Us
Essential Library
Read Past Issues Resources Composer Links
  November 1-8, 2004

A Student of the World
Tania León
Photo: Michael Provost
by David Salvage

Let’s face it.  Composers are somewhat dismal people: self-absorbed, irrational, shy, and inclined to pessimism and misanthropy.  They grumble about the marginal status of new music in today’s world, shake their heads at performers, and envy other composers more successful than they are. 

 Then, however, there’s Tania León.  She laughs easily, is gregarious and upbeat, delights in learning something new, and loves people.  She is friends with composers as disparate as Philip Glass and Charles Wuorinen.  “For me composers are creators,” she told me last Tuesday when we sat down to chat at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she teaches.  “They need to be different . . . because every single person needs to be different.”

 Tania León was born in Havana in 1943.  Her family was poor and knew nothing about “classical” music.  But when León was age four, she began to play with the radio dial and started stopping at the classical stations.  Her grandmother caught her dancing and singing along with the music and took her straight to the Havana Conservatory.  When the administration objected that León was too young and couldn’t read well enough, her grandmother resolved to read the theory books aloud to León so that she could take classes.  At age seventeen, she graduated from the Conservatory with a degree in piano performance, and, a few years later, in 1967, she left for the United States with the intention of moving on to Paris.  Upon arriving in the US, however, she found she “had to redo everything.  Everything.”  It was like “learning to walk again, learning to talk again . . . I had to start applying twelve-tones.  I had to write pieces the way everybody was writing pieces.”

 To think of all the possible disadvantages to someone in her position is dizzying.  She was a foreigner who didn’t speak the language well; she was a woman; she was a pianist who composed and conducted (a.k.a. dilettante).  Was Tania León someone to take seriously?

 This question was plaguing her, when, in 1979, she went back to Cuba and discovered that her family was baffled by the music she was writing.  Her father asked, “Why don’t you in your music put in something that has to do with us?”  Soon after returning to the States, her father passed away. León was unable to attend the funeral.  She began to have nightmares – Cuban musicians banging away in the middle of her room in New York.  Then, in a series of pieces for solo cello, she began to capture the rhythms and sounds that had surrounded her as a child. 

 Now, two-and-a-half decades later, after two honorary doctorates, conducting engagements around the world, commissions from the American Composers Orchestra, New World Symphony, Gilbert Kalish, and Meet the Composer, awards from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and Koussevitsky Foundation, having been the New Music Advisor to Kurt Masur and New York Philharmonic, and profiled on CBS, PBS, and elsewhere, Tania León’s status as one of America’s leading composers is secure.  This Saturday, the Miller Theater honors her with a concert in their terrific “Portrait” series, featuring MOSAIC.   The program includes A La Par for percussion and piano and Indígena, both available on CRI (#662).  Also featured is the New York premiere of Azulejos – a piece commissioned for MOSAIC.   León will be conducting on the program and giving a pre-concert discussion. 

 Tania León belongs to the small group of composers who have managed to assimilate musical elements from around the world into a coherent, personal language.   “A creative person is always looking for tools for creation,” she says.  While atonal textures dominate, she is unafraid of incorporating tonal elements – as Indígena exemplifies.  A love of polyrhythm and complexity informs her output, but the music never feels academic; there is dancing, drama, and charisma to spare.  Needless to say, the music is much like the woman herself – relentlessly (and convincingly) inclusive.  “I have been learning for many, many years how to put the ego away to see the benefit of something totally different from oneself.”

  These days, eclecticism is “in,” and world-music influences have become nearly omnipresent in contemporary music.  Tania León has a special admiration for today’s Asian composers, particularly Qigang Chen, because they have from the start assimilated their cultural roots into Western music – something she suppressed in her own music for years.  But, as she quickly points out, classical music is not some superior musical world which nonetheless can afford to legitimize lesser “ethnic” musics; all music can become “classical,” given time.  For her, Beethoven and Mozart are to the West as the Buena Vista Social Club musicians are to Cuba and Latin America. 

 Equipped with this pragmatic, open-minded  point of view, León exhibits no strains of bitterness or regret in talking about the future of “classical” music.  (This in itself distinguishes her from nearly all other composers I’ve spoken with.)  “Music,” she says, “is a part of our rituals – a ritual of creation, creativity at work.  It is a part of what we are on this planet.  We create, we create, we create.  Sometimes we don’t create good things, but we continue creating.” 

Thursday, November 4, 2004, 8PM

Five Masters — Music of the American 20th Century
New York Virtuosi Chamber Symphony
Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center, Goodman House, 129 West 67th Street
$30, $25, and $15 for students and seniors. Discounts are available for members of the Kaufman Center Community. For tickets and information, call Merkin Concert Hall at 
(212) 501 3303 or visit online.

Saturday, November 6, 8:00PM


Richard Stoltzman and Jeremy Denk
92nd Street Y Tisch Center for the Arts

November 17, 8:00PM


The legendary Italian contrabass virtuoso and composer Stefano Scodanibbio will perform the New York premiere of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIV for double-bass along with music by Jacob Druckman and Mr. Scodanibbio on Wednesday, November 17, 2004 at 8:00 PM in the Teatro of Columbia University’s Italian Academy for Advanced Studies.  Admission is $12 for the general public, $5 for students and seniors. Call 212 854 1623 or email rw2115@columbia.edu for reservations or information. The Italian Academy’s Teatro in Casa Italiana is located at 1161 Amsterdam Avenue between 116th and 118th Streets.

Send announcements to the Editors 

My Interview with 
Allen Shawn

by Duane Harper Grant

Allen Shawn was born 1948 and grew up in New York City. He started composing music at the age of ten.  He began playing the piano

 also at a young age and studied with Francis Dillon and Emilie Harris. He went on to receive his B.A. from Harvard University, where he studied with Leon Kirchner and Earl Kim.Mr. Shawn then  spent two years in Paris studying composition with Nadia Boulanger and  received his  M.A. in music from Columbia University where he studied with Dennis Riley and Jack Beeson.

Since 1985 he has lived in Vermont and has been on the faculty of Bennington College, where he teaches composition. Shawn has also kept his focus on being a composer as well as an educator. He has composed chamber and piano music, ten orchestral works, song cycles and choral works, two chamber operas to libretti by his brother, playwright Wallace Shawn, a one act children's chamber opera to a libretto by Penny Orloff, music for ballet, incidental music for theater (including six scores for the New York Shakespeare Festival, and music for the La Jolla Playhouse, Lincoln Center Theater and music for the film "My Dinner With Andre".

Allen Shawn¹s discography continues to grow. It includes a recording of his Piano Concerto by pianist Ursula Oppens with the Albany Symphony conducted by David Alan Miller, and three CDs  devoted entirely to his music. (See a complete discography below)

Shawn is also the author of the book 'Arnold Schoenberg's Journey' which was published in the February, 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His honors and awards include the 1995 Goddard Lieberson Fellowship for composers from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2001 the Academy Award in Music from the same institution.

Here is an e-dialogue that S/21 did with Shawn

S/21: What made you really get interested in composing, in wanting to be a composer and what keeps you interested?

Allen Shawn: Well , I was very lucky as a child. I grew up in New York and I got to hear music of all kinds live at an early age. I went to operas, ballets and chamber music with my parents, and I also heard people like Charlie Mingus, Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk in person even as early as age eight or nine.  (I also went to see plays, musicals and Ingmar Bergman and François Truffaut movies at a wonderfully young age. ) But even as a five year old at  school, I had enlightened teachers who thought that kids would be interested in whatever was good, and never played inane "children's music" for us. So even as five year olds we sang good folk songs and danced around to real music.

Both of my parents and my brother were very musical and we played music at home with my father at the piano--he played jazz by ear, and had at one time hoped to be a composer and had written some dance pieces and a musical, without ever learning notation very well. (Two of my father's brothers were song writers.) At those sessions I used to play along on the drums.  But I don't believe I showed any musical talent whatsoever until the age of about ten. I have a retarded twin sister who definitely did show a musical ear and strong feeling for music when she lived at home. After she was institutionalized at the age of eight, perhaps in part to fill a sense of loneliness I had, I started going to the piano myself and making up little pieces. When I saw the ballet Swan Lake I became really hooked on music. Then I started asking for piano lessons so that I could start to compose better music. My piano teacher started me right out with Bartok and Beethoven and Bach and little twelve-tone pieces by Ross Lee Finney and Leon Kirchner, and introduced me to "Le Sacre du Printemps". That was the beginning.

What keeps me going is hard to articulate. All I can say is that composing feels like plugging into life. I can be reasonably happy for a while without composing, but I feel like I am running on less current; life means less. One way to put it is that I am normally rather a stick in the mud, but when I am writing music, I am on the move, dancing with life rather than resisting it. If life is a cake, music seems like my one way to really take a bite out of it.


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
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
             THIS WEEK'S PICKS

The Piano Concertos,
Paganini Rhapsody
Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov
Stephen Hough (piano),
Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton

You may find better individual performances of each of Rachmaninov's four  piano concertos (Leif Ove Ondnes's No, 3, for example) but this 2-disk set is hard to beat as a one-stop listening experience.  Cobbled together from 11 live performances over an 18-day period, the power chord, big sound,  sweeping Rachmaninov romanticism has never sounded, well, bigger or more romantic.   Littton is a Rocky Romantic Show specialist and it shows in the orchestra's splendid melding with Hough's oversized playing.  Highly recommended, even if you already have them all.

The Concerto Project 1
Composer: Philip Glass
Cello Concerto, 
Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists
and Orchestra
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello),
Evelyn Glennie (timpani),
Jonathan Haas (timpani),
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra,
Gerard Schwarz
Orange Mountain 

Every shard of Glass seems to finding its way onto a CD nowadays and it's getting harder to tell the major Glass from the--forgive me--half Glass.  This is major Glass.  The Cello Concerto is a real beauty, played with real passion by Lloyd Webber and the RLP.  The timpani concerto is great, too, once you get past the thought that maybe Phil borrowed the opening from Lalo Schifrin.  This is the first of a series of four CDs that Philip Glass and Orange
Mountain Music have planned entitled The Concerto Project, No. I-IV Each
disc contains two concerti.

Mass - A Theatre Piece for
Singers, Players & Dancers
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Jerry Hadley (tenor),
Rundfunkchor Berlin,
Paci. c Mozart Ensemble,
Staats-und Domchor Berlin,
Deutsches Symphonie-
Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano
harmonia mundi

What's a nice Jewish boy like Leonard Bernstein doing writing a Mass?  In this case, he was invited to do so by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of Kennedy Center in 1971.  This is Lennie at his most flamboyant, employing a big theatrical cast, mixed chorus, children’s choir, dancers and a rock band.  The libretto for Mass intersperses texts written by Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz (lyricist for Godspell) into the Roman Mass. The work explores the mass from the point of view of the Celebrant (sung by Jerry Hadley), who is experiencing a crisis of faith. The Celebrant’s faith is simple and pure at first, yet that faith gradually becomes unsustainable under the weight of human misery, corruption, and the trappings of human power. In the end, the Celebrant, on the verge of renouncing
his faith,  finds that the loneliness of his doubt is no match for the joy of gathering together with other believers
in praise. 

Composer:  Guiseppe Verdi
Michele Pertusi (bass),
Carlos Alvarez (tenor), Ana Ibarra (soprano), Marina Domashenko (mezzo-soprano), Jane Henschel (mezzo-soprano), Maria Josè Moreno (mezzo-soprano), Bülent Bezdüz (tenor),
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus,
Sir Colin Davis
LSO Live

Hot on the heels of their highly  acclaimed recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes, Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra are joined by a magnificent cast led by Michele Pertusi for a spectacular performance of Verdi’s comic masterpiece, Falstaff.
Recorded during the LSO’s centenary celebrations in 2004, this new recording of Falstaff is one of the LSO Live’s finest performance to date.  Who needs major  record labels


Philadelphia Stories / UFO
Composer: Michael Daugherty
Performers: Evelyn Glennie, percussion / Colorado Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop, conductor 

Something of a coup for Naxos’ American Classics series matching world famous percussionist Evelyn Glennie with Gramophone Artist of the Year Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra with one of America's most intriquing composers.  Daugherty has the uncanny ability to be all things to all listeners without seeming to comprise either seriousness or an enjoyable listening experience. 
Commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2001, Philadelphia Stories is an orchestral travelogue of the sounds and rhythms of Philadelphia past and present.  UFO, written in 1999 for Evelyn Glennie, is inspired by unidentified flying objects and sounds, beginning with Traveling Music where the percussion soloist, in the guise of an alien from outer space, mysteriously enters the concert hall playing a waterphone and mechanical siren.

Orchestral Works
Composer: Harry Partch
Performer: Johnston, Pippin, et al.
 New World Records 

These works span the first six years of what American maverick composer Harry Partch (1901–1974) called the "third period" of his creative life. They show him moving away from the obsession with "the intrinsic music of spoken words" that had characterized his earlier output (the vocal works of 1930–33 and 1941–45) and towards an instrumental idiom, predominantly percussive in nature.  The Eleven Intrusions are among the most compelling and beautiful of Partch’s works. The individual pieces were composed at various times between August 1949 and December 1950, and only later gathered together as a cycle. Nonetheless they form a unified whole, with a nucleus of eight songs framed by two instrumental preludes and an essentially instrumental postlude.

Busoni the Visionary, Volume II
Jeni Slotchiver, piano

No one plays Busoni's piano music with greater clarity or depth of understanding than Jeni Slotchiver.  As she demonstrated in Volume I of this series, this is music she clearly loves and understands both intellectually and intuitively.  There is no finer, or more committed,  advocate for this greatly underrated composer  working today.  See Slotchiver's notes on Busoni the Visionary here.

Chamber Works
Composer: Dan Locklair 
Albany Records

Dan Locklair is an organist by trade and although he has written a wide body of works--his prolific output includes symphonic works, a ballet, an opera and numerous solo, chamber, vocal and choral compositions--one may be forgiven for identifying him first with that glorious instrument.  These chamber works show that Locklair's command of musical language is  far broader and deeper than a single instrument.   These fresh and engaging works are musically challenging and yet a real treat for the ear. 



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.

Search WWWSearch www.sequenza21.com

Sequenza21/The Contemporary Classical Music Weekly is part of
Classical Music Web Ring
The free linking service provided by Classical Music UK
[ Previous 5 Sites | Previous| Next | Next 5 Sites | Random Site | List Sites ]
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
(C) Sequenza/21 LLC 2000