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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.
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
On Being Arvo
Rzewski Plays Rzewski
Praising Lee Hyla
David Lang's Passing Measures
The Piano Concertos,
Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Stephen Hough (piano),
Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton
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
Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello),
Evelyn Glennie (timpani),
Jonathan Haas (timpani),
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra,
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
Mass - A Theatre Piece for
Singers, Players & Dancers
Composer: Leonard Bernstein
Jerry Hadley (tenor),
Paci. c Mozart Ensemble,
Staats-und Domchor Berlin,
Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano
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
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
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.
Philadelphia Stories / UFO
Composer: Michael Daugherty
Performers: Evelyn Glennie, percussion / Colorado Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop, conductor
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.
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.
Composer: Dan Locklair
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.
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
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
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'
Mouvement Symphonique No. 3
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.
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
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
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.
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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