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  November 8-15, 2004

Haroun and the Sea of Stories:
An Opera Inspired by a Fatwa
Salman Rushdie and Charles Wuorinen

Charles Wuorinen's "Haroun and the Sea Stories," an opera based on the children's book by Salman Rushdie, written while the author was the target of a death "Fatwa" from Muslim clerics irate over his book "The Satanic Verses," continues this week at the New York City Opera. 

After its premiere last week, most critics agreed that the complex two-act work was filled with charm and whimsy,  driven by a brilliant libretto by poet James Fenton. Wourinen's 12-tone, counterpoint-filled music fared less well in critical opinion with the consensus being that it was a tad too knotty for a work that is essentially a child's fantasy.

For those who know Wourinen's work, however, Haroun is simply true to the composer's commitment to music that is difficult and not always easy to love.

Wuorinen (b. 1938, New York City) has been composing since he was five and he has been a forceful presence for modernity for more than four decades. 

In 1970, Wuorinen became the youngest composer to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, the specific work being Time's Encomium, an electronic composition written on commission from Nonesuch Records. The Pulitzer and the MacArthur Fellowship are just two among many awards, fellowships and other honors to have come his way.

Wuorinen has written more than 200 compositions to date, not one of them hummable.  An indication of Wuorinen's importance is the fact that in 1975 Stravinsky's widow gave Wuorinen the composer's last sketches for use in A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky. Wuorinen was the first composer commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnanyi (Movers and Shakers); and likewise the first to compose for Michael Tilson Thomas' New World Symphony (Bamboula Beach). Fractal geometry and the pioneering work of Benoit Mandelbrot have played a crucial role in several of his works including Bamboula Squared and the Natural Fantasy, a work for organ.

In 1962 he co-founded The Group for Contemporary Music, one of America's most prestigious ensembles dedicated to performance of new chamber music. In addition to cultivating a new generation of performers, commissioning and premiering hundreds of new works, the Group has been a model for many similar organizations which have appeared in the United States since its founding. 

In short, the critics had plenty of reason to be forewarned.  Expecting Wuorinen to write music that is "accessible" to kids is like expecting George Bush to turn into a compassionate conservative in his second term.  Ain't gonna happen.  --JB

Wednesday, November 10,  8:00 PM

Chamber Music of Dan Locklair

Mallarmé Chamber Players 
Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, 2250 Reynolda 
Road in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

November 14, 7:30 PM 

Art of the Americas: The Transforming Power of Imagination 

Chiron Performing Arts
The Flea Theater, 41 White Street in Manhattan’s Tribeca district.  For more information and ticket reservations, call 718-793-2026.

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 

Peter Gelb to Head Metropolitan Opera

Peter Gelb has been announced as the new boss of the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Gelb, president of Sony Classical will succeed Joseph Volpe as general manager on his retirement in 2006 but will join the company next autumn to allow for a year-long hand-over; Volpe has led the Met for the past 16 years. 

Gelb, 51, worked as an usher at the Met as a student, and while at Columbia Artists Management Inc he was executive producer of the TV broadcasts from the Met between 1987 and 1993. He joined Sony Classical in 1995 where he was instrumental in its move from a core classical organisation to a more general 'adult' label with a major focus on crossover. He was responsible for securing the soundtrack of Titanic for Sony Classical, a disc that sold tens of millions of copies.

Gelb was manager of the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz and was responsible for reviving his career in the 1980s, culminating in his historic return to Moscow in 1986, which Mr. Gelb produced for a global television audience. 

'There is no cultural institution that I respect or love more than the Metropolitan Opera. I have known or worked with all the general managers of The Met since Rudolf Bing, including Joseph Volpe, whom I greatly admire. These are big shoes to fill and I am thrilled by this challenge,' said Gelb in a statement issued by the Met. 

Gelb was born in 1953 and is the son of Arthur Gelb, former managing editor of The New York Times, and writer Barbara Gelb. He is married to Keri-Lynn Wilson, a conductor. He has two children.

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.

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