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 November 25-December 1, 2002
 
The 
Importance 
of Being Arvo

by Jerry Bowles
Just when you begin to think that Arvo 
Pärt has painted himself into a musical corner, that his monastic mysticism-
meets-serialism style of "tintinnabuli" has lost its ability to surprise or awe, a new recording arrives that forces you to rethink the Estonian-born composerís musical identity all over again.  The 1999 ECM release Alina was such a recording.  Using only a piano--sometimes in combination with a cello or a violin--Pärtís already pared-down, transparent music was distilled to its very essence to reveal a structure that seems neither real nor ephemeral but occupies some odd, haunting and mesmerizing musical space in between. 

The latest revelation from Pärt is the new ECM release--Orient & Occidentóin which we find the Madonna of Holy Minimalism flirting with musical coloration.  Not a lot of color, mind you, something akin to a painter who normally uses only black and white deciding to add a touch of grey here and there.  But, in the context of sparse spirtuality that weíve come to expect, the results are astounding. 

The opening piece--Wallfahrtslied (Pilgrimís Song) dates from 1984 and was written for a single voice--but the version as recorded here, for menís choir and strings, was first heard in 2001 and is dedicated to the memory of a deceased friend.  Sung splendidly by the men of the Swedish Radio Choir, the piece is a brooding and sad setting of Psalm 121--"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills..."--consisting alternately of strings accompanying the choir (singing the same note for most of the piece), and sections for strings alone. 

Orient & Occident is a seven-minute string-orchestra piece from 2000 in which Pärt uses oriental motifs as decoration for simple rapsodic Western harmony.  This is Pärtís first purely instrumental composition in several years and its recalls the Pärt of Tabula Rasa, which was the title piece of his first ECM release, and remains (along with the two Fratres from the same album) his most frequently publicly performed composition. 

The most distinctive piece on the new recording is Como cierva sedienta, a half-hour setting of Psalms 42 and 43 in Spanish, the first-time Pärt has worked in that language.  This is the most intense and passionate work the composer has written to date, filled with drama and incident, blending clashing trumpets and horns and the soaring voices of the women of the Swedish Radio Choir to capture something of the spirit and dissonance of the Spanish mystics. 

The album reveals a 67-year-old composer who is still growing in his art which is remarkable because Pärt is hardly a new kid on the block.  Tabula Rasa was released in 1984 and since then some 34 recordings of  his work have appeared and there are dozens of his pieces recorded on countless compilations.   I suspect that he has sold more records and  CDs in total than any other contemporary classical composer.  (Henryk Gorecki holds the record for most sales of a single classical album with his 1992 Symphony No. 3)

Pärtís background is now familiar to most followers of contemporary music.  Born in Estonia when it was part of the Soviet Socialist Republic, he began musical study in 1958.  His early compositions were serialist in character, and the head of the All-Union Society of Composers censured him for being influenced by Western modernism. He entered the Russian Orthodox Church in 1972, emigrated to the West with his family in 1979, became an Austrian citizen in 1980, and settled in Berlin around 1981. The  characteristic tintinnabuli style was developed by 1976. 

The outsized (by classical music standards) success of Pärtís recordings is so dramatic and so rare, that it begs the question of why his larger scale works are seldom performed live in concert.  Clearly, he is the peopleís choice and while some critics are more ecstatic than others, there are few who doubt the craftmanship of his work.  Could it be that there is, among the programmers of concert music, a sense that Pärt is too commercially popular to be taken seriously?  Itís an interesting question and one to which I donít have an answer.

What is clear from the three pieces on Orient & Occident is that after nearly two decades in the limelight, Pärt remains one of the three or four most original, intriguing and distinctive voices among living composers. And thereís no need to feel guilty because you are thrilled and
touched by every note of this disk. 
You are not alone.  .


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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

MUSIC - GOOD FOR YOUR NEURONS: A new medical study reports that "the same neural clusters that process the seductive pleasures of sex, chocolate and even hard drugs also fire up for music. There is also persuasive evidence that the brain tends to prune these neural circuits for maximum pleasure the way a gardener cuts unproductive branches to make a rose bush bloom. Music, it seems, may make the brain bloom best because it literally electrifies, at lightning speed, a web of nerve paths in both hemispheres of our cerebral cortex that connect the neural clusters processing musical pitch, rhythm, harmony, melody, short term memory, long term memory, and emotions." Ottawa Citizen 11/18/02

MESSING WITH WAGNER: A new production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger has sparked angry boos. The staging, by one of Germany's most progressive directors, includes an "on-stage disruption that breaks the score at a crucial moment and leads to an additional scene of dialogue." At one point, "the music grinds to a halt, and the cast start a debate on what constitutes 'German and genuine'. If you are a Wagnerite, this is blasphemy." The Guardian (UK) 11/23/02

MAHLER'S FIRST SHOT: A newly immigrated music professor only a few weeks on the job in Israel, finds an important manuscript of Mahler's First Symphony. It's not the final version that made it into print, but it reveals much about the composer's thinking process in composing the work. Ha'aretz (Israel) 11/21/02

HISTORIC MUSIC ARCHIVE SOLD: London's Royal Philharmonic Society music archive has been sold - and it'll stay in the UK after an emergency public appeal for funds. The library includes the score for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (commissioned by the Society) "as well as original scores by Elgar and Vaughan Williams, it holds correspondence from Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Berlioz, and Liszt, and, perhaps most poignantly, a letter from Beethoven announcing his intention to write a 10th Symphony to honour the society - eight days before his death in 1827." The Guardian (UK) 11/19/02

OPERA'S NEWLY BROAD APPEAL: "Opera as a subject for film peaked during the silent era, when movies were accustomed to non-stop music and a kind of melodramatic posturing that's still taken as normal on many opera stages. But there's no current shortage of film directors willing to do opera in its usual habitat, or even to write and stage new works." And we're not talking about filmed versions of La Boheme, either, but new operas written by real composers in collaboration with the directors. Maybe there's hope for the mass appeal of the high arts yet. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 11/20/02

LOOKING FOR A SAVIOR: The English National Opera, leaderless, £3 million in debt and about to be ousted from its home because of a costly renovation, is looking for someone to save it. Could that savior be Graham Vick, one of "Britain's few real world-class opera stars and a man not afraid of working with a large heap of manure?" The Guardian (UK) 11/19/02

DOHNANYI SOUNDS OFF: Christoph von Dohnanyi, the recently departed music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, was in Boston this week to conduct that city's orchestra for the first time since he walked out on them in 1989. As it turns out, Dohnanyi has a lot to say about the music business: he insists the walkout was no big deal; says he enjoys "some" rap music greatly; and believes that classical music will revive in the U.S. when orchestras start hiring American music directors. Boston Herald 11/21/02

SUING OVER A LOST STRAD: The Dallas-based Cremona Society is suing a New York violin dealer after he lost a rare 288-year-old Stradivarius violin made in what is known as Stradivari's "Golden Period." The Society had consigned the instrument to dealer Christophe Landon in February, and in April Landon reported it missing. "I do not remember putting it back into the vault," Landon said last week. He said he has tried hypnosis to jog his memory for possible clues. Nando Times (AP) 11/17/02

SALONEN STUCK ON FREEWAY, CONCERT STARTS ANYWAY: With L.A Philharmonic music director Essa-Pekka Salonen stuck in freeway traffic as Friday night's concert was scheduled to begin, assistant conductor Yasuo Shinozaki donned a pair of tails and stepped in to lead the concert until Salonen could get there... Los Angeles Times 11/17/02
 

 Last Week's News

 
 
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Attention all composers.  You have less than a month to register  for the third Masterprize, the international competition for composition of symphonic works. 

Composers of any age and nationality are invited to submit works for symphony orchestra of between 6 and 15 minutes. Entries must be postmarked 20 December 2002 at the latest.

The third Masterprize will culminate on 30 October 2003 at London's Barbican Centre, where the London Symphony Orchestra will perform the five finalist pieces under Daniel Harding and the winner will be announced. The winner will receive a cash prize of £30,000.

Shortlisted works will benefit from vast exposure through a powerful combination of multiple radio broadcasts, a widely distributed covermount CD, and media coverage. At the final stage of the competition the music-loving public will have a 50% say in the selection of the winner. Voting will take place on this site from September 2003.

For this third competition, renowned conductor Mariss Jansons has accepted the post of Artistic Adviser of Masterprize. Jansons will take prime responsibility for overseeing the jury selection and determining the criteria for judging entries.

Masterprize is a partnership between EMI, the London Symphony Orchestra, NPR (US National Public Radio), Gramophone magazine, and Classic FM.  Masterprize aims to encourage classical music enthusiasts to listen to more new music and to help composers find a large international audience. 

Masterprize has been successfully presented twice, first in 1998 and then again in 2001 and is now firmly established as the worldís leading competition for composition. 

Rules and entry forms are available at the Masterprize web site or you can contact Madeleine Milne on +44 208 727 2371 or email: madeleine@masterprize.com



Part 2 A celebration of 20 years of music commissioned by Meet The Composer

Join NewMusicBox for Part 2 of the monstrous webcast of The Works, a 12-hour long marathon concert celebrating 20 years of American music commissioned by Meet the Composer.

The second installment features over 5 hours of entertainment including works by: John Luther Adams Milton Babbitt David Baker Eve Beglarian Martin Bresnick Mary Ellen Childs John Corigliano Randall Davidson Anthony Davis Fred Frith Jin Hi Kim Oliver Lake Libby Larsen Stephen Paulus Terry Riley Wadada Leo Smith Julia Wolfe 


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
 
 






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.

 
 
 
 
 

 

             EDITORS PICKS - NOVEMBER


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. Andóunlike either strict serialism or aleatoric compositionóit 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
pfMentum 
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 
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