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 December 22, 2003 (Next full update:  January 5, 2004) HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

What's that you say? 
You want to play my piece ?
An introduction to the music of San Francisco composer Michael Kaulkin
By Frank Barcone

When a composer finishes a new commissioned work, the question that looms is, "will it ever be performed again?"  For the San Francisco-based composer Michael Kaulkin the answer has been, with a lot of pushing and smiling, a resounding "yes."

Most recently Kaulkin has been seeing his small cache of orchestral works find second and third performances in interesting places. Kaulkin's recent orchestral work Misterium Tremendum was performed by the Oakland East Bay Symphony in February 2003. The piece had previously won the San Francisco
Conservatory's Highsmith Award for  composition, and is now among the
repertoire in the Vakhtang Jordania International Conducting Competition.

This work was chosen by the Jordania competition because of Kaulkin's unique
way of blending soundscapes that are shaped by the conductor and the interpretive skills of the orchestra.

Misterium Tremendum holds great challenges for the conductor in terms of blending color, dynamics and shaping. Most orchestras would find a comfortable home for Misterum Tremendum should they be searching for an opening work that would "wow" their usual subscription audience.

Pleasing the audience is something that the 36-year-old Kaulkin has not forgotten. His Cycle of Friends is receiving more performances in 2004.  This glowing work for orchestra and chorus has been scheduled for performance by the San Jose Symphonic Choir with the Mission Chamber Orchestra on their March 6, 2004 Peace and Friendship Concert .

Having sung in symphonic choruses with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the National Symphony, Kaulkin is a particularly skilled choral composer. In 1996 he was commissioned to write Cycle of Friends for the Music Group of Philadelphia, who premiered the piece that year in conjunction with Orchestra 2001. 

Another work by Kaulkin that is getting attention is Most This Amazing, a work for two pianos, percussion and childrens chorus.
This uplifting setting of e.e. cummings' "i thank You God for most this amazing" was commissioned by the Wilmington Friends School to celebrate their 250th Anniversary. The piece makes use of all age groups, with the possibility for the inclusion of an adult chorus, as well as kids.

Several groups across the country that are considering this work for performance include the Piedmont Children's chorus and the children's choruses of The Santa Fe Desert Chorale and the Long Island Philharmonic children's chorus. 

Word of mouth about Michael Kaulkin's music seems to be the best catalyst for new performances. His harmonic language and compositional formats seem to give conductors and audiences an appealing alternative to modern music that is self-serving and standoffish to new ears.

In addition to large-scale orchestral works, Kaulkin shows a more intimate side in
the one-movement clarinet and piano work American Standard.  This challenging
crowd -pleaser has received numerous performances around the world. 

A sophisticated chamber work that reminds us of Leonard Bernstein,  American Standard combines the rhythmic complexities of compound meter with soaring clarinet melodies.

American Standard has been recorded by the London-based clarinettist Peter Furniss and pianist David Jones, and will be released in 2004 on a CD of collected works for clarinet and piano by American composers.

Advertising and Sponsorship Information
Orchestras - Back To The Past (And Stuck There) Why must orchestras present such a formal presence? "No wonder young people find this museum approach such a turn-off. Linked to the earthen rigidity of most mainstream concert programming, and the general predictability of the repertoire, the majority of weekly orchestral offerings in the Usher Hall or the Royal Concert Hall can have as much pull as a traditional Church of Scotland service. Come to think of it, the audience profile in both cases is about the same - elderly and growing thin on the ground. Surely it’s time to freshen things up, bring our orchestras into the modern age and apply the creative touch to more than just the sound of the music." The Scotsman 12/15/03 

Union Saves Music Program Oakland Technical High School was going to lose its music program until America's largest union came up with the money to save it. "The 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union, which represents school employees and has strong ties in Oakland, donated more than $91,300 to the school at a ceremony last Wednesday in honor of International Human Rights Day. The money pays for the music director position and keeps several music programs afloat for one year, such as the pep squad band, piano classes and a choral program. The donation also sets up a student chorus called Voices of Justice." Contra Costa Times 12/16/03 

The New Divas "This fall has seen a remarkable outpouring of albums by female opera singers," writes Charles Michener. "The majority of them, as it happens, are not sopranos but mezzo-sopranos; we’re living in an age when, curiously, many of the most interesting female voices belong not to the leading ladies who impersonate the tragic heroines around which most operatic plots creak, but to a powerful group of slightly lower-voiced women who rival, and frequently outstrip, the prima donnas for vocal charisma." New York Observer 12/17/03 

Of Rings, Wagner and Tolkien Lord of the Rings certainly has a Wagnerian feel, writes Alex Ross. And not just because rings are at the center of the two epics. "Tolkien refused to admit that his ring had anything to do with Wagner’s. 'Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceased,' he said. But he certainly knew his Wagner, and made an informal study of 'Die Walküre' not long before writing the novels. The idea of the omnipotent ring must have come directly from Wagner; nothing quite like it appears in the old sagas." The New Yorker 12/16/03 

Baltimore Cutting Music Lessons For Kids Fifteen children, dressed to the nines, gathered in the rotunda of Baltimore City Hall yesterday to play their violins and cellos for the politicians who are closing their music school. The Baltimore Talent Education Center provides after-school music training for 180 children from across the city. "The school system, facing a financial crisis, has reassigned the three full-time teachers who run the weekly lessons, saying their talents will be better used in music classrooms in schools. The teachers' redeployment is the result of an immense school system staff reduction; layoff notices were sent to more than 700 employees last month." Baltimore Sun 12/18/03 

The Composer Who Didn't Kill Mozart Ask your average classical music buff how Mozart died, and most will probably answer that he was murdered (or at least driven to the grave) by his jealous rival, Antonio Salieri. This theory has been around for centuries, and was firmly embedded in the modern consciousness by Milos Forman's 1984 film, Amadeus. But the truth is that Salieri had very little motive to kill off Mozart, and there is nothing but the thinnest anecdotal evidence to link him to the master's death. Furthermore, Salieri was hardly the hack composer that Amadeus made him out to be, and a newly revived interest in his operatic work is sweeping across Europe. The Guardian (UK) 12/19/03 

On Writing Words For Opera Poet Lavinia Greenlaw recently found herself writing an opera libretto. "Singing is not a casual act. Opera (again, like poetry) works best when it refuses to be embarrassed about its artifice. Libretti work best when the lines are fluent and convincing, but also emphatically styled. As I have begun to learn in my own libretto-writing, it's a question of texture rather than vocabulary. Rossini once said: "Give me a laundry list, and I will set it." WH Auden points out that this is not so great a claim, since lists lend themselves to music particularly well. Any words can be used if they contain a space for the music and action and are strong enough to change shape without losing meaning. It's like making the skin for some fantastical beast based on what it is going to do rather than what it might look like." The Guardian (UK) 12/20/03 

Game Boy Symphony Some avid players of Game Boys, are using the little electronic game consoles to compose and play music. The music is "surprisingly complex." "The gizmos serve as musical notepads, the modern-day equivalents of Beethoven's pen on paper. The group then sets up in smoky bars and other modest local concert venues to treat — or subject — their audiences to beeps, buzzes, clicks, recorded-speech snippets and other computer-age sounds, all strung together into assaults on the senses." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 12/18/03 

London Music, 2003: The Bland Leading The Blander? "If most years are dispiriting for full-time opera companies because of the parlous state of their finances, against which they generally manage on stage to achieve minor miracles, this one was different; there was less talk of monetary problems (with certain exceptions) and far more of artistic disappointment, especially where the two London-based companies were concerned. It's hard to think of more than a couple of productions at either the Royal Opera House or at the Coliseum (before ENO temporarily decamped to the Barbican to allow its home to be renovated) that lodge in the memory or could remotely merit a revival." The Guardian (UK) 12/18/03 

Pop Opera Comes Full Circle When Bugs Bunny first appeared in a cartoon as the protagonist of a spoof of The Barber of Seville, the public roared with laughter, but classical purists rolled their eyes at what they saw as the bastardization of Great Art. Decades later, with classical music becoming an endangered art form, and pop culture occupying an ever more important role in society, the Vancouver Opera is using the cartoon to promote their more traditional performances. "You might call this missionary work. From a company with a million-dollar debt, teetering a few years ago on the brink of bankruptcy, Vancouver Opera has transformed itself into a debt-free, community-conscious, grassroots purveyor of an art form once associated with social elitism and a disdain for everything Bugs Bunny stood for." Toronto Star 12/20/03 

 Last Week's News

Composer David Laganella (b. 1974) is both an electric guitar player and cellist.

Serafin String Quartet Previews
Laganella New York Premiere

By Deborah Kravetz

This Chamber Music Now! Presentation of String Quartet by Wilmington, Delaware’s Serafin String Quartet is a preview performance for a world premiere to take place next March 27, 2004 at Carnegie Hall, New York.

Composer David Laganella has impressive credentials, with a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and several significant commissions for piano quartet and a composition for soprano, guitar and string orchestra. His instrument is the electric guitar, and he has published a guide for its performance.  Laganella’s biography states he has studied with Steven Mackey, James Primosch and Jay Reise—whose works I have been exposed to, so I tried to keep an open mind as the music began.

The Allegretto grazioso opens with a tentative three-note phrase in counterpoint that quickly extends its range and intensity. After a pause, a variant phrase begins, with its emphasis shifting among the ensemble; this, too, develops with increasing intensity, but poignancy, as well. The trick is to keep it sounding as if they are all playing in the same piece at the same time, and for the most part, the composer was able to maintain the coherence of the melodic line, but there were moments where I held my breath before it all came together again.

Beginning one note away from the final note of the first movement, in the Adagio lamentoso, too, the melodic emphasis revolves, but the coherence is tighter, the flow more definite.
A dance rhythm defines the Allegro gioioso movement, while the minor key dampens the affect. But what kind of dance is it? The rhythm changes, the melody suddenly swerves into major—but only for a moment, and a clod-hopper-ish cello stumbles, before the violins start afresh. The humor is in the changes and the joy is in the major phrases.

Warmly nestled within a program of Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven, this was not an odd duck at all.

Chamber Music Now! Presentation
Serafin String Quartet
Ethical Society of Philadelphia 
December 4, 2003 

(Reposted from, Penn Sounds 12/07/03)

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, Tobias Picker

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

What's Recent
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
Three Tales at BAM
Naxos at 15
On the Transmigration of Souls
Dead Man Walking
David Krakauer's The Year After
Steve Reich/Alan Pierson
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
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
             THIS WEEK'S PICKS 

 Quattrains, My Ends are My Beginnings
Composer: Milton Babbitt
Conductor: Tony Arnold
Performer: Jeffrey Milarsky, Charles Neidich, et al.,  Cygnus Ensemble

Another remarkable gift from Bridge Records, containing  the premiere recordings of five Babbitt works that span a quarter of a century. The CD opens with a performance of Babbitt’s exquisite "Quatrains", sung by the young American soprano, Tony Arnold. Set to a text by a Babbitt favorite–John Hollander–"Quatrains" is a work of great delicacy and subtlety. "My Ends Are My Beginnings" is regarded by many as one of most difficult-to-play works for a solo woodwind instrument. The work’s dedicatee, Allen Blustine (long-time clarinetist for Speculum Musicae), gives a heroic reading of this 17 minute solo. 

World to Come
Composers:  David Lang, Osvaldo Golijov, etc.
Performer(s): Maya Beiser
Koch Int'l Classics 

As a performer and promoter of new music, Maya Beiser is  peerless--a terrific  example of how to package the work of "difficult" composers in a kind of  modern hipness without compromising the music or the performance.  Here, Beiser's taste and musicality are flawless, a short but brilliant piece by Osvaldo Golijov, familiar works by the always popular Arvo Part and John Tavener, and the centerpiece, a long and  moving meditation on 9/11 by David Lang, whose work continues to marvel as it matures and grows in stature. 


13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic
The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet
pfMENTUM 2003

Jeff Kaiser's CDs always create a moral dilemma for me because they come packaged in such beautiful, Japanese-style, wrappings that I am reluctant to untie the string to get to the CD itself.  Once you get past that point, however, you discover that the music is fresh and inventive and not easily categorized.  Is it jazz, with a classical touch?  Or classical, with a touch of jazz?  Doesn't really matter, it's highly original and the packaging is second to nobody.


Various Composers

The CD reissue of a noted series of seven 10-inch vinyl eps that Cold Blue released in the early 1980s. Extraordinary music from composers Peter Garland, Rick Cox, Barney Childs, Read Miller, Michael Jon Fink, Daniel Lentz, and Chas Smith. Music for violins and percussion, electric guitar, eletronic keyboards with voices, solo and duo pianos, cello, pedal steel guitar, wind instruments of pre-Columbian design, readers, and more--all precursors of a certain genre  of "California ambiance."  Highly recommended.

String Quartets 1 & 3
Composer:  Frank Bridge
Performers:. Maggini String Quartet

Frank Bridge is a bit of a lost horse in the English stable of composers that includes such giants as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and, his student, Benjamin Britten.  But he shouldn't be. No. 1, written in 1901, is a mature, fully realized work; No. 3, composed in 1927 is one of the pilars of 20th century chamber music.  As always, the Maggini play magnificiently and the recording is first rate.

Le Villi
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Marco Guidarini
Performer: Melanie Diener, Ludovic Tezier, et al. Radio France Chorus, French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

Just listening to young Puccini's first opera (as opposed to seeing it staged and sung), you notice immediately that the big sweeping melodies, the ingenious "hooks" are already there. Naive has also issued a Radio France recording of Puccini’s second opera, Edgar, written five years after Le Villi.   In this more ambitious and complicated work, Puccini develops his technique using a score that merges stirring arias and ensembles. 

Emerson Concerto / Symphony 1
Composer:  Charles Ives
Performers:  Alan Feinberg (piano), National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, James Sinclair (conductor)

Ives sketched the Emerson Concerto in 1907 but never fully finished it, although he used portions in other works.  David G. Porter, a noted Ives scholar, was  able to create a performing version which was premiered in 1998 by Alan Feinberg, the pianist on this premiere recording.  The piece is extremely demanding, often abrasive, and demands exceptional  virtuosity.  Symphony No. 1 is fetching, but not as charateristic, of the great American maverick that followed.

Piano Concertos 2 & 3
Composer: Einojuhani Rautavaara
Performers: Laura Mikkola (piano), Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eri Klas (conductor)

The Finnish composer Rautavaara has enjoyed enormous success in recent years with his unique blend of northern lights impressionism and romanticism  served up in an aura of modernity. His Cantus Articus is immensely popular, conjuring up associations of Messiean, although the latter is a much more important composer.   The Third Piano Concerto from 1998 is forceful, drawings on  the Russian school of pianism, although it not technically flashy until the finale.  The Second, composed nine years earlier, is more traditional and  Laura Mikkola, already on disc with a highly regarded account of the First Concerto, again provides an outstanding performance.

Composers: King, Kline, Reynolds, Ziporen
Performers:  Ethel

New York's most daring string-quartet sensation, Ethel, makes its debut here with a menu of the kind of hard-edged downtown music that has won the group a big following in the NY new music scene.   Todd Reynolds and Mary Rowell, violins; Ralph Farris, viola; and Dorothy Lawson, cello—all began their careers in New York as freelance musicians, playing difficult music that relies heavily on non-classical sources but requires a virtuoso classical ensemble to play. Its repertoire ranges from John King's energetic blues transcriptions to  the gnarly quartets  of Julia Wolfe and on Todd Reynolds' quirky 
musical postcards.  Adventuresome and fun for the advanced music listener.

Return from a Journey
Composers:  Gurdjieff, De Hartmann,
Performer:  Kremski

Gurdjieff was a Russian Aremenian spiritual master who, in addition to the main body of his teaching created sacred dances, or Movements, as well as  200 or so musical compositions--all of which were were done  in collaboration with German composer Thomas de Hartmann at Gurdjieff's  Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, near Paris,  in the years 1925–27.  For many years, the pieces heard here were played only by De Hartmann or another of Gurdjieff's disciples but in recent years they have attracted the interest of a number of adventuresome pianists.  Kremski plays these exotic, vaguely oriental and oddly thematic pieces with great respect and warmth.

Chichester Psalms
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Performers:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Marin Alsop (conductor)

Commissioned in 1965 by the Dean of Chichester, Bernstein’s colorful Chichester Psalms is one of the composer’s most successful and accessible works on religious texts, contrasting spiritual austerity with impulsive rhythms in a contemplation of peace. The composer fashioned his Oscar nominated score to the 1954 movie On the Waterfront into a symphonic suite, skillfully capturing the oppression of the New York dockyards in the ’50s. The Three Dance Episodes were extracted from the popular On The Town, Bernstein's first successful foray into musical theatre.  Bernstein protege Marin Alsop gets a robust performance from Bournemouth orchestra and chorus.

Double Concerto
Composer:  Witold Lutoslawski
Performers:  Polish National Radio Symphony, Antoni Wit

Volume 8 in Naxos' indispensible survey of Lutoslawski's orchestra work brings us into lesser known territory but there are still treasures to be found.   The  Dance Preludes from 1955 is basically a five-movement clarinet concerto, with lots of  interesting harmonies and rhythmic twists and turns. The Double Concerto for oboe and harp from 1990 rattles the ear a bit and has a  demanding oboe part, beautifully  played by Arkadiusz Krupa. The Children's Songs, gorgeously sung by the soprano, Urszula Kryger, are beguiling. 

Doña Francisquita
Composer: Amadeo Vives 
Performers: Maria Bayo,
Alfredo Kraus, Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife, Antoni Ros Marba

A superb performance of Amadeo Vives' zarzuela masterpiece, sung with enormous vivacity and brio by the ravishing-voiced Maria Bayo and the sturdy Alfredo Kraus.  With its nineteenth century Madrid setting, its roots in classical Spanish drama  and its festive nocturnal amours, Doña Francisquita provides  a retrospective on the romantic zarzuela tradition and its crowning glory. The work was immediately recognized not only as Vives’ masterpiece, but as the greatest full length zarzuela of its era. If you're not into zarzuela already, this is the perfect place to start your  collection.

Symphony 9 Visionaria
Composer:  Kurt Atterberg
Satu Vihavainen (mezzo-soprano); Gabriel Suovanen (baritone)
NDR Choir, Prague Chamber Choir
NDR Radio Philharmonic, 
Ari Rasilainen

The 9th and final symphony of Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg bears a superficial relationshp to Beethoven's 9th with its big, expresssive choral sound but Atterburg's world is a good deal less joyous.  Atterberg's choice of texts reflects the lasting impact on his psyche made by World War II and the Korean War. The Poetic Edda, an Icelandic epic dating from around 1270, relates the visions of a wise prophetess (hence the Symphony's title "Sinfonia Visionaria") who foretells the creation of the world, the warring among gods, giants, and humans, the world's destruction, and finally its recreation. 

Atterberg uses mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists with chorus and large orchestra, as  well as a quasi-oratorio form, to tell his epic tale. This is extraordinary symphony by a composer who is far too little-known in the musical world.

The Complete Mazurkas
Composer: Karol Szymanowski
Performer: Marc-Andre Hamelin

Marc-Andre Hamelin continues his extraordinary journey through the forgotten rivers and bayous of the modern piano repetoire with masterful performances  of Szymanowski's Twenty Mazurkas, Op. 50, composed between 1926 and 1931.  After assimilating the influence of Stravinsky, Szymanowski began looking for folk themes in Polish music to rival the Russian folk touches of the master. The Mazurka,  a traditional Polish dance in three-quarter-time with an often erratic-seeming emphasis on the second beat, (and a favorite form for Chopin) offered great possibilities . 

These highly diverse pieces are more complex  than Chopin, more modern and dissonant, yet also more muted and elusive.  Still,  Szymanowski remained too much a romantic to settle for anything less then flamboyant virtuosity--a quality that Hamelin possses by the truckload. 

Composers:  Transciptions:
Bach, Barber, Berg, Chopin, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel, Wolf
Peformers: : Choeur De Chambre Accentus, Equilbey

Worth having for the ravishing performances of Samuel Barber's "Adagio" and Mahler's "Adagietto from Symphony No. 5." 

Symphony No. 6
Composer: Gustav Mahler
Performer: London Symphony Orchestra; Mariss Jansons
Label: LSO Live 

It is rare that you find a recording that you need listen to for only a minute to know a masterpiece is unfolding before your very ears.  This stunning live performance of Mahler's "Tragic" symphony is one of the rare ones,  From the first rhythmic thumps of the long and  stately funeral march to the final faded chords, Mariss Jansons draws a passionate and committed performance from the LSO.  Certain to be among the best of the year noninees. 

Wheel of Emptiness
Composer: Jonathan Harvey
Performers:  Actus
Cyprès CYP5604

English composer Jonathan Harvey is one of those modernists whose work is more frequently talked about then played.  This rare recording contains five representative works ranging from the lyrical to the raw, built on  instrumentations ranging from electroacoustical to the  traditional.  An excellent introduction to an unjustly neglected maverick. 

Piano Etudes 1
Composer: Philip Glass
Performer: Philip Glass 
Orange Mountain 

Glass says he wrote these "studies" as fodder for his own concert performances and as a way of challenging himself as a pianist.  But, they are much more important than that.  They provide a real insight into how Glass composes and, although billed as sketches,  sometimes are more rewarding to the ear and intellect than many of Glass's larger-scale works.  Essential recording for the Glassologist.

Music from the Thin Blue Line
Composer:  Philip Glass
Orange Mountain

 Glass's hypnotic score for  Errol Morris’ extraordinary 1988 documentary film entitled "The Thin Blue Line". Nonesuch Records released a CD of the film’s soundtrack that included the narration and interviews from the film but this  Orange Mountain release contains  the original score without the voice-over.  The music is dark and brooding, full of tension appropriately for such a chilling film, and it stands well on its own. 

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