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  November 22-29, 2004
A Month in the Country
With Lee Hoiby
Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Lee Hoiby is a contemporary composer whose name may be unknown  to most concertgoers but the chances are good that you have heard his vocal or choral music performed.  For the past 40 years, he has been a favorite of such American singers as Leontyne Price, Arleen Auger, William Sharp, Jennifer Larmore and Renée Fleming.  He has written ten operas, two of which debuted at the New York City Opera-- A Month in the Country  in 1964, and Summer and Smoke (with a libretto by Lanford Wilson based on the Tennessee Williams play) in 1972. 

The Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater is reviving Hoiby's A Month in the Country on Wednesday, December 8 and Friday, December 10 at 8pm, and Sunday, December 12 at 2:30 pm in the School's John C. Borden Auditorium. Steven Osgood conducts the opera, which is directed by Ned Canty. 

Composed in 1964 on a commission from the NYC Opera, A Month in the Country has a libretto by William Ball based on Ivan Turgenev's play of the same name. Originally titled Natalia Petrovna, the opera was revised in 1981 for a performance at New England Conservatory, and was retitled at that time.

Hoiby was born in Wisconsin in 1926. He studied piano with Gunnar Johansen and Egon Petri but gave up his intentions to be a concert pianist when he received an invitation to study composition with Gian Carlo Menotti at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Menotti led Hoiby to opera, presenting Hoiby's one-act The Scarf at the first Spoleto (Italy) Festival in 1957.

The Tempest, based on Shakespeare's last play (libretto adapted by Mark Shulgasser) was premiered at the Des Moines Metro Opera in 1986, and produced by the Dallas Opera in November 1996. Among Hoiby's shorter operas are the one-act buffa Something New for the Zoo (1980), This Is the Rill Speaking (based on Lanford Wilson's early one-act play; 1992), and the two musical monologues, The Italian Lesson (text by Ruth Draper) and Bon Appetit! (text by Julia Child), which were performed off-Broadway and on tour by Broadway/TV actress Jean Stapleton in the late 80s.

Hoiby is best known for his songs, many set to texts by Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill, which are widely performed.  In 1995 his setting of the Martin Luther King, Jr. text Free at Last and five Whitman poems, I Was There, were premiered by baritone William Stone and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. In 1994 his What Is the Light, based on texts by Virginia Woolf, was performed at the 92nd Street Y by actress Claire Bloom. 

Hoiby has also made notable contributions to the choral repertory, including the oratorios A Hymn of the Nativity (text by Richard Crashaw, 1960), Galileo Galilei (Barrie Stavis, 1974), and For You O Democracy (Walt Whitman, 1992). Among his numerous anthems and shorter choral works should be mentioned the widely performed Hymn to the New Age which was heard on the internationally broadcast celebration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. A commissioned work, Measureless Love for baritone and chorus (text, again, by Walt Whitman) was heard at the centennial celebration of the American Guild of Organists in New York in July 1996.

Hoiby has been a recipient of Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award. Numerous concerts devoted exclusively to his music have taken place, most notably on the American Composer's Series at the Kennedy Center in 1990.

Advertising and Sponsorship Information
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

Tuesday, November 23  7:30 PM

Music of Steven R. Gerber

Gerber's “Elegy on the Name Dmitri Shostakovich” for solo cello will be performed 
by cellist Suren Bagratuni  at the Auditorium of The School of Music on the campus of the College of Arts and Letters of Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.  Tickets are $8, $6 for senior citizens, and free for students and those under age 18. For more information, please contact (517) 355-3345.

Wednesday, December 8-11  8PM 10PM


Ten years ago John Zorn composed the first 100 Masada tunes in a single year. From September to October of 2004 he composed an unprecedented 240 tunes in only two months, and the book continues to grow. This special mini festival brings together the best of the Masada Family in a kaleidoscopic premiere reading of 80 new tunes from the second book of Zorn's most popular musical project. $20 each set.  Tonic is located at 107 Norfolk Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Thursday, December 9  8PM

Brian Sacawa, saxophone
Timothy Feeney, percussion

Kerrytown Concert House
415 North Fourth Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI
$10 General Admission
For reservations: 734-769-2999 or kch@kerrytown.com

Send announcements to the Editors 

 One of the premier new music groups in the world, eighth blackbird has established a reputation for its provocative  performances.
The blackbird is not seen as the observor wills...
By Deborah Kravetz

They usually do it in the dark. They usually do it from memory and they
usually do it with choreography--all of which can add up to a pretty
impressive performance when eighth blackbird comes to town. They usually
outshine local contemporary classical ensembles with their polish and sense
of sheer fun--but not this time.

What made this concert in the Kimmel Center's Fresh Ink series of
particular interest to Philadelphia was the premiere of "Zaka" (2003) by
hometown composer Jennifer Higdon. In this commissioned piece, Higdon is
paying tribute to the physical aspects of the ensemble. Higdon's definition
of the made-up word "zaka" is doing "several things almost simultaneously
and with great speed." And that they can do.

Short rapid notes and sounds show up the percussiveness of even the flute,
while the jagged rhythm and phrases impel the energy. As a world premiere,
the ensemble did play from scores, but it is easy to imagine the complex
movements that may be inspired with familiarity. A contrasting quiet
section focuses on a lyric flute and cello line, but is obscured by fog and
high bird calls. Waves of piano chords build in intensity until the frenzy
returns; successive cycles of sound are shorter and faster.

Another premiere by a local composer, David Ludwig's "Haiku Catharsis"
(2004), is based on four seasonal poems with note sequences based on haiku
syllable counts. "Night" concentrates the dark tones of flute and clarinet;
"Covered with flowers" mutes the strings and highlights the chime-like
percussion. "Late Cicadas" are buzz-like cello tones with humming sounds
from winds interspersed with sudden silences. Gong and piano chords imitate
the "Temple bell" under a flute solo in the final short movement.

"Les Moutons des Panurge" (1969) by Frederic Rzewski was introduced by an
extended albeit humorous retelling of the inspirational tale by Rabelais.
As in the tale of the sixty-five mindlessly following sheep, the composer
adds one note at a time to a repeated sequence, and then subtracts them in
the reverse order. The resulting phrase has a jazzy quality of uneven
rhythm in the length of its arc, while the incessant repetition makes it
almost familiar to the ear while it continually permutates as the players
miscalculations become texture and a sort of improvisation. They made it
seem so easy, and the energy was palpable.

The program was completed with "Critical Moments 2" (2001) by George Perle,
a set of nine frustratingly truncated movements; "Cendres" (1998) by Kaija
Saariaho for alto flute, cello and piano; and "Dramamine" (2002) by David"
Gordon for prepared piano and an array of percussion evoking the
discordance of quarter-tone separation of simultaneous lines.

eighth blackbird
Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center 
Philadelphia, PA
November 4, 2004
Reposted from Penn Sounds 11-15-04

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
             THIS WEEK'S PICKS

Different Trains
Composer:  Steve Reich
David Robertson,
Orchestre National de Lyon

This is a  new version of Reich's haunting 1988 masterpiece  (the original used four string quartets--both pre-recorded and live) prepared for 48 strings  by the composer at the suggestion of the conductor David Robertson.  The result further enhances the lyricism and emotional impact of this powerful piece, which contrasts the trains that young Reich rode across the United States to visit his divorced parents in the 1940s with  the trains of Nazi Germany during the same period.   It is  coupled with two other  major scores by Reich: Triple Quartet (1999) for 36 strings, and The Four Sections (1986), a "concerto for orchestra" that highlights each of the sections of the large symphony orchestra in turn

Symphonies 2 & 3
Composer: Philip Glass
Marin Alsop,
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Marin Alsop conducts the Bournemouth symphony orchestra in extraordinary performances of Glass' Second and Third symphonies.  The  Second was comissioned by the Brooklyn Acadamy of Music and premiered there in 1994 by Dennis Russell Davies. The Third, which arrived only three years later,  is composed for chamber orchestra.   Lots of  polyharmonies, rousing finales, and fully-formed symphonic statements. Essential listening for anyone interested in contemporary music. 

Nuit des Hommes
Composer:  Per Nørgård
Markus Falkbring, viola
Helene Gjerris, mezzo-soprano
Andreas Hagman, violin
Kaare Hansen, conductor
Fredrik Lindström, cello
Helge Rønning, tenor
Bodil Rørbech, violin
Gert Sørensen, percussion
First performed  in 1996,  Nørgård called this  "… an opera of sorts …"  Whatever it is,  it is both radical and powerful.  Two singers, male and female, take on three roles each, as well as chorus, over the course of 65 minutes, augmented by two violins, viola, cello and percussion doubling electronic keyboards. The text comes from Guillaume Apollinaire's surreal and emotionally-charged poetry  inspired by the atrocities of World War, which also inspired  Shostakovich in his Fourteenth Symphony.  Raw and riveting.

The Chamber Music of Aaron Copland
Performers: Music From Copland House Michael Boriskin, Paul Lustig Dunkel, ensemble co-directors, Derek Bermel, clarinet, Michael Boriskin, piano, Paul Lustig Dunkel, flute, Nicholas Kitchen, violin, Wilhelmina Smith, cello 

Music From Copland House  is the resident ensemble at Aaron Copland's longtime New York home, now restored as a unique creative center for American music. Since its triumphant New York debut at the Opening Night of Merkin Concert Hall's 1999-2000 season, Music from Copland House has emerged as one of the most exhilarating and distinctive ensembles on the American music scene.  In this beautifully played two CD set,  they return to their roots--the extraordinarily rich chamber pieces of Aaron Copland, who would have been 104 on November 14.  This disk is a real sleeper.

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. 

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Contributing Editors: Deborah Kravetz, David Salvage
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