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 November 11-18, 2002

the ACO 
In Good Hands
John Harbison's Four Psalms highlighted the debut of the American Composers Orchestra under Steven Sloane.

by Jerry Bowles
Harry the Horse had the odds about 5-1 against Steven Sloane being the right pick to replace Dennis Russell Davis as music director of the irreplaceable American Composers Orchestra (ACO). After all, the much-traveled journeyman conductor Sloane lives in Germany and already holds three music directorships in Europe. He doesn’t specialize in “new” or “American” music, which is all the ACO plays.  And his only trial run here last March was distinctly underwhelming. 

 Little wonder that many new-music-loving railbirds—myself included—were concerned about the future of this extremely precious musical resource.  Fortunately, the Horse et al had this one wrong.  In his November 3 debut at the helm of the ACO, Sloane set a brisk, smart and sure pace through a wide range of musical styles with a finesse that suggests that he may be more than just cheap speed  after all.

 The event was billed as a A Program of Psalms, with the opening half devoted to three ACO-commissioned world premieres--by David Lang, Shulamit Ran, and Milton Babbitt--along with selections from Jon Magnussen's Psalm and two a cappella psalm settings by Charles Ives. The second half of the concert featured the New York premiere of John Harbison's Four Psalms--a work originally commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel that combines psalm settings with contemporary texts.

 Sloane approached each work thoughtfully, drawing from the orchestra performances that accentuated and differentiated each composer’s style and intent.  Langs' how to pray was a simple, wordless and hypnotic meditation that demonstrated the popular Bang on a Can leader’s ability to employ plain, repeating bass notes over softly crooning strings to create musical statements that are simultaneously  small and monumental. 

Four excerpts from Psalm, a recent setting of Psalm 61 and Psalm 113, by Jon Magnussen, born in Sierra Leone and now living in Princeton, showed what innovative and compelling things can happen when Euro-American music form meets Third World rhythm.  Magnussen's Psalm was commissioned by the José Limón Dance Foundation, based on a video reconstruction of the late choreographer's dance dating from 1967. The work features a small orchestra without violins, chorus, and baritone soloist John Hancock. 

Milton Babbitt's From the Psalter, is a setting of Psalm 13, envisioned by the composer as an accompanied recitative, dedicated to soprano soloist Judith Bettina, who made child’s play out of its 12-tone trickery.  The piece was short but vibrant and oddly melodic or perhaps my ears are finally catching up with Babbitt.

  Most impressive was Shulamit Ran's Supplications (for Chorus and Orchestra), which  contains settings of fragments from the well-known Psalm 23 ("The Lord Is My Shepherd") in both Hebrew and English. Ran’s says her intention was  "to create a narrative, which may be likened to a one-way conversation with God which, ultimately, is also a journey of self-revelation."  If so, Ran must have been concerned about God’s hearing.  The piece was a loud, but orderly, seven-minute conversation which used crashing cymbals, big choral swells and complex well-etched harmonies to make sure the message was heard.

 The concert’s main course was John Harbison’s  Four Psalms (1999), a 40-minute work for chorus and orchestra, in which settings of Psalms in Hebrew are mixed with text in English that Harbison gathered from his own interviews with Israelis and Palestinians from all levels of society.  While these additions made the piece more contemporary and relevant, they also attracted a great deal of controversy not unlike the unhappiness that has plagued John Adams’ Death of Klinghofer.  Wisely, Harbison ignored the criticism and stuck with the piece as written.

 Musically, I often find Harbison’s work too studied and gnarly by half but, under Steven Sloane’s steady guidance, Four Psalms proved to be a deeply affecting,  direct and accessible masterwork with a musical (and perhaps moral) clarity that transcends its beginnings as an “occasional” piece.  (Don’t forget that Britten’s War Requiem was also written for a special occasion--the 1962 reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral which had been destroyed during the Battle of Britain in World War II.)  Four Psalms may not prove to have the legs of that venerable precursor, but this performance made a persuasive case that it belongs in the same race. And, the concert as a whole, suggests that if Steven Sloane devotes enough time to the ACO, he can emerge a winner for the orchestra, new music lovers, and himself.

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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

FANS OF THE NEW: We've all heard the rap - challenging contemporary music doesn't sell. So how to explain the crowds making their way up to Columbia University's Miller Theatre, where George Steel has put together programs of contemporary concert music? "Mr. Steel's belief in the drawing power of contemporary music contradicts what most consultants seem to be telling beleaguered American orchestras, where executives, long rattled by the graying of classical music audiences, are now grappling with the dismal economy as well." The New York Times 11/10/02

BY "AMERICAN" YOU MEAN... What defines an American composer? Is it someone born there? Some born elsewhere but who works there? Could it be, as composer Frederic Rzewski, believes, that "the first and foremost expression of any composer, himself included, is the aspiration of the national culture into which he or she was born?" NewMusicBox.com 11/02

HOW TO MARKET YOUR OPERA: It is an undeniable fact that the ticket base for performing arts organizations is shifting from subscription holders to single-ticket buyers. But what to do about it? The Minnesota Opera has an idea: a glossy, irreverent opera primer distributed absolutely everywhere in the Twin Cities and aimed at impulse buyers. The booklet provides an overview of the season, but also a history of opera in general, suggestions on what to wear and when to applaud, and personality descriptions of the various voice parts, including "Tenor: Often kill themselves; almost always gets the girl." Saint Paul Pioneer Press 11/07/02 

MUSIC ON FILM: "The Other Minds Film Festival, the first U.S. avant-garde music festival devoted mainly to film, which opens today at San Francisco's Castro Theater. The three-day festival intersperses screenings — half of them American premieres — with live performances, filmmaker and composer appearances, and the world premiere of a medley of organ works by Australian-born American composer Percy Grainger, arranged for the Castro's gargantuan Wurlitzer by David Hegarty." Andante 11/08/02

THE YOUTH MOVEMENT HITS THE AIR: It's only a radio program, but it may just be the best thing ever to happen to kids who spend their time in the practice room rather than on the football field. From the Top, hosted by acclaimed pianist Chris O'Riley, is a remarkable combination of live music, cornball skits, and lighthearted conversation about the joy of performing, with the under-18 set taking center stage. Now, with the show a runaway success on public radio, plans are in the works for a TV version. Star Tribune (Minneapolis) 11/08/02 

THE FUTURE OF STREAMING: It's called Internet2, and it is powerful. Forget about your wussy DSL hookups and T1 lines - this baby can transmit 70Mbps straight to your computer, and blast the sound (and image) of a live symphony orchestra through a 12-speaker system with digital quality and no breaks in service. Where can you sign up? Um, you can't. Sorry. Be patient. Wired 11/08/02

CALL ME BABY, ONE MORE TIME: Songs about phones are being recycled as ring tones on newer-style phones. "At first glance, there's a weird circularity in that idea but the truth is, pop music and the phone have a long-established symbiosis - developments in telephony have been paralleled in lyrical shifts. Hundreds, if not thousands, of songs have been built around the imagery of telephones, around calling and waiting to be called." The Age (Melbourne) 11/08/02

MUSIC'S DECLINING HOLD ON HIGH CULTURE: Why has interest (and funding) for new music faded away in Britain? "Given the genuinely diversifying society of this country, it seems improbable that the surviving directors and institutions of our post-war high culture will ever regain quite the centrality and influence they once exercised. The support that composers can expect from that quarter, therefore, will doubtless remain restricted." The Independent (UK) 11/01/02

ORCHESTRAS DYING? LET'S CHECK THE EVIDENCE: There are altogether too many columns decrying the death of classical music, writes Justin Davidson. But "the American Symphony Orchestra League's numbers show that U.S. orchestras gave more concerts and sold more tickets in the 2000-2001 season than ever before. Revenue from ticket sales - $775 million across the country - had climbed by 37 percent in five years. A few months later, the World Trade Center tumbled, and so did ticket sales, but only temporarily. At the New York Philharmonic, which might be expected to have suffered disproportionately from post-Sept. 11 doldrums, the box office remains steady." Newsday 11/10/02

CHANGE AT THE TOP: "The new millennium seems to be generating a new spirit of musical adventure; more than a dozen top orchestras are embarking on brave new eras, most under younger leadership. In a world traditionally resistant to regime change, nine major batons have just changed hands, six more are in the process and another half dozen up for grabs. This is a major moment of transition, with a younger generation taking charge of many of the world's great orchestras." The Observer (UK) 11/03/02


 Last Week's News

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  Also, feel free to nominate your favorite composer-- even if it's you--for Spotlight of the Week.


Violinist Brennan Sweet and pianist Jenny Lin will perform violin sonatas by Brahms (in A-Major Op. 100) and Grieg (in C-minor Op. 45), as well as the rarely performed violin sonata by Ruth Crawford Seeger and the New York premiere of Chorale by James Tenney, arranged for violin and piano by Marc Sabat, at the. Museum of the American Piano on Monday, November 18th, 2002 at 7 pm. The museum concert hall is located at 291 Broadway, New York, NY 10007-1814. For reservations, please call 212.406.6060. 

By Deborah Kravetz
After ten years of antiquae , the chamber choral ensemble Voces Novae et Antiquae is celebrating its tenth anniversary season with a lot of novae. Not too novae , however, but more than a tentative step into the pool of twentieth century choral literature.

This program focused on the early part of this century, the 1920s, with one piece composed in 1967. The theme of this program is that of death, from The Last Invocation, through the war against evil, the farewell of Evening Watch, and the plea for mercy of the Mass. It is the Psalms in the center that bring a celebration of life with joy. Director Robert A.M. Ross provides, as usual, a dissertation on history and style to accompany his musical analysis of this program.

The Last Invocation of 1922, by Randall Thompson, presents a tone poem of flowing lines in sometimes Gregorian harmonics, but also more modern dissonances using text by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass.  The group here suffered from thinness, lack of depth, sudden spottiness, indistinct consonants and several ragged entries. Swelling harmonies and continual flow smoothed over some of the evident roughness.

The diction in The Peaceable Kingdom (1936), also by Thompson, was 
amazingly clear, the energy and anger appropriately controlled, capped by 
some sublimely blended chords reflective of the exhortatory texts from Isaiah on war between the forces of good and evil. Ross’s ability to shape lines, emphasis and dynamics was also evident.

Tzvi Avni’s Mismorei T’hillim (Psalm Songs), was commissioned for a 1967 festival of professional choruses, and the texts he selected (Psalms 47, 48 and 150) reflect the beauty of the land of Israel and the joyful praise of a new immigrant. The jagged rhythms are matched by the astringency of the harmonics and contrast with sudden unison passages.

The Evening Watch, composed by Gustav Holst during the period of 1925 to 1928, sets text by Henry Vaughan on the peacefulness of sleep, and relies heavily on stacks of chords built on fourths. The resulting dissonance can make the ear wince if held too long, but Holst’s resolutions slide off into other chilling dimensions.

Mass in G Minor, while resembling Gregorian chant and Renaissance 
polyphony, was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ 1922 contribution to the revival of English choral tradition. The double chorus structure can be daunting for a small ensemble, but in this case imparted a sense of intimacy. By this part of the program, the group had relaxed into their voices, and were quickly responsive to the rapidly changing rhythms and dynamics.

The program closed with Ave Maria by Franz Biebel, which demonstrated 
sweet harmonics punctuated by dissonances in overlapping lines, as a 
delicate miniature with heart-stopping chords.

Programs this season will continue with compositions through the twenty-first century.

A Cappella Masterpieces
Trinity Center
October 25, 2002


(Reposted from Penn Sounds 11/8/02)


The Americas Society “Music of the Americas” concert series will present “Copland & Mexico” on Friday, November 15, 2002, 7:30 PM at the Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, corner of Park Avenue and 68th St. in Manhattan. 

This will be the launch of a five-year series of Americas Society/Copland House programs, in collaboration with the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York, that will explore the important role played by Aaron Copland as Cultural Envoy of the U.S. State Department and will present the impassioned, intensely colorful music of provocative Latin composers, and their influence on their northern neighbors. 

The program for “Copland & Mexico”, performed by Music from Copland House, the acclaimed ensemble-in-residence at Aaron Copland’s restored, longtime home near New York City, will include music by Aaron Copland (El Salón México and Sextet for string quartet, clarinet & piano), Carlos Chávez (Spirals for violin and piano), Silvestre Revueltas (Four Pieces for two violins and cello, and selected songs), Blas Galindo (Tres Canciones for soprano and piano), Samuel Zyman (Sonata for Flute and Piano) and the New York Premiere of Daniel Catán’s Encantamiento in its version for flute and violin. 

Artist members of Music from Copland House include pianist and Copland House Artistic Director Michael Boriskin, flutist Paul Lustig Dunkel, clarinetist Derek Bermel, and cellist Wilhelmina Smith. They will be joined by several outstanding guest artists: soprano Susan Narucki, violinists Curtis Macomber and Nurit Pacht, and violist Leslie Tomkins. 

General admission tickets are $15, Students & Seniors $10. Reservations can be made by calling 212-249-8950 ext 363 or by email at music@as-coa.org. 

Concert Info

Miller Theatre: 
2002-03 Season at a Glance
Classical Grammy Winners

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

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


String Trio & Duos
Composer: Heitor Villa-Lobos
 Cpo Records - #999827 

One of the great pleasures of CD collecting in recent years has been the reemergence of an enormous amount of recorded Villas-Lobos' chamber music.  Impossibly lush melodies, exotic rhythms, otherworld spirtiuality in extremely vivid performances.   Music to love and listen to over and over again.

Piano Music 
Composer: Leo Ornstein
Performer: Marc-Andre Hamelin
Label: Hyperion - #67320 

There was a time, in the 1920s, when Ornstein's name was mentioned in the same breath as Stravinsky and Schoenberg, and he lived long enough (he died earlier this year at 109)  to see his music come and go in fashion several times.   One thing is certain:  he has never had--and probably never will have again--as formidable and effective an advocate as Marc-Andre Hamelin, the brilliant Canadian pianist, who makes a convincing case that Ornstein's early admirers had it right--he belongs in the same company as Stravinsky and Schoenberg.

 Fuerzas [for viola] 
Composer: Maria de Alvear
Performer: Christina Fong
OgreOgress Productions

Christina Fong is among the most adventuresome of modern violin and viola players having lovingly committed to CD modern masterpieces by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Alan Hovhaness and now the Spanish composer Maria de Alvear's glorious extended 1994 meditation for viola.  Engaging and important music from one of the most inventive of the independent CD labels. OrgreOgress Productions



The Wayward
Composer: Harry Partch
Conductor: Dean Drummond
Ensemble: Newband
Wergo - #6638

Harry Partch was iconoclastic American composer, musical theorist, philosophic instrument builder, raconteur, artist and hobo and it is Partch's king of the road life from which Dean Drummond and Newband draw the inspiration for The Wayward. "Found" hobo poems serve as fodder for Patch style "just intonation"  or what might be called American plainsong. 

Viola Concerto
Composer: Bela Bartok
Performer(s): Csaba Erdélyi,
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Concordance CCD03

Here's something irrestible to collectors--the first release of the long awaited recording of Csaba Erdelyi's Restoration and Orchestration of the Bartok Viola Concerto, which was left in an uncompleted form when the composer died in 1945.  For many years the only way in which the work could be heard was in the completion by Hungarian Tibor Serly, which nobody much liked.

 Erdelyi has worked for many years on a better restoration and  has produced, after exhaustive study and consultation, a number of interim 'completions'. Now he has arrived at his definitive version.  The trick is that for copyright reasons, the CD is not available in this Hemisphere but can be ordered directly from New Zealand.  Click on the cover picture for details.

Black Sounds
Composer:  George Rochberg
Performers: Boston Modern Orchestra Project Gil Rose, conductor 
Naxos - #8559120

 George Rochberg was  born in 1918, and became one of North America's most influential composition teachers.  A rabid atonalist Rochberg abandoned that stance following the death of a son and began to construct his music out of both tonal and atonal languages. In so doing, he dramatically reinterpreted the notion of stylistic uniformity that had been a hallmark of the Western aesthetic since antiquity. By including these diverse musics, Rochberg believed that he had expanded the emotional range that modern music was able to express. He had found a contemporary language that could both bear the weight of despair and point to transcendence. And—unlike either strict serialism or aleatoric composition—it was a language that was pointedly individualistic. 

Symphony in G Minor
Composer:  E.J. Moeran
Naxos - #8555837 

Our usual monthly bow  to English country estates, chintz and big slobbering dogs.  Every culture has some composer or artist or writer who is famous for being unknown:  E.J Moeran is England's claim to unsung genius. 

The White Peacock
Composer: Brotons, Damase, Dorff Griffes, others
Performer: Debora Harris, Mike Coates
Ensemble: Harris-Coates Duo
Barking Dog Records

Delightful collection of contemporary works for flute and guitar including a new transcription of American composer Charles T. Griffes' "The White Peacock." This piece, originally written for piano in 1915 and later scored by Griffes for full orchestra, was transcribed and arranged by Mike Coates for flute, guitar and bassoon -- this recording features guest artist Russell Peterson on bassoon.  Also, contains lovely piece by Debussy and Rodrigo.

West Side Story
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Performers:   Kenneth Schermerhorn and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Naxos - 8559126

Oh, no, Maria.  No.  Ready or not the "composer's version" of the now overly familiar score has arrived, courtesy of Bernstein disciple Kenneth Schermerhorn and the first-rate Nashville orchestra. 



17 Themes for Ockodektet
Composers: Jeff Kaiser
Performers: The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet
Jeff Kaiser is a composer, trumpet player, conductor, and private music instructor residing in the cozy town of Ventura, CA, where he does the lion's share of his performances and turns out really nicely packaged CDs that are as funky to listen to as they are Zen-like to contemplate. Think big band on acid on one of Dizzy's most innovative nights.

Symphonies No 1 and 2
Composer:  Serge Bortkiewicz
Conductor: Martyn Brabbins
Label: Hyperion - #67338 
Audio CD (October 8, 2002) 
ASIN: B00006GO65518 
  Frankly, I never heard of the guy until this CD appears in my mailbox but if you like fiery late Romantic Russian music that stirs the soul this one  will get your mojo working . 

American Breath
Composer: Larry Thomas Bell, Russell Peterson David Maslanka
Performer: Russell Peterson
Barking Dog Records

Saxophonist Russell Peterson plays David Maslanka's Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, Larry Thomas Bell's Mahler in Blue Light and his own Concerto for alto Saxophone and Percussion Orchestra.  Distinctly American music, masterfully played and recorded.  Highly recommended.

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 Editor: Deborah Kravetz 
(C) Sequenza/21 LLC 2000

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