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340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Jerry Bowles
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Saturday, December 25, 2004
Robert Kyr to Write Symphony Honoring Nagasaki Victims

Robert Kyr (b. 1952), a composer on the faculty of the University of Oregon, has been commissioned by the Nagasaki Peace Museum to write a symphony to memorialize the atomic bomb victims of Nagasaki, Japan.

The city will mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing that immediately killed 74,000 people. Kyr is working with Kazuaki Tanahashi, a 71-year-old Japanese writer, who initiated the idea of composing a symphony for the victims of the 1945 bombing.

Kyr graduated from Yale summa cum laude in 1974 and continued his education in England at the Royal College of Music in London, and at Dartington Summer School for the Arts, where he studied with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Kyr completed his Master of Arts at the University of Pennsylvania in 1978, studying with George Rochberg and George Crumb. He was elected to the Society of Fellows at Harvard University in 1978 and was in residence as a Junior Fellow from 1978-81. Read more�
Cool Memories: The Season So Far

By David Salvage

As we roll into the downhill side of winter, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the 2004-2005 New York season so far. I�ve been to exactly twelve concerts since last September, and, all in all, it was a pretty decent dozen. If there was a low point, it was the dismal chthonic den that is Victor Borge Hall; the concert was fine, but the place has all the charm of an airplane cabin. Much preferable is the sexy little hall at the Austrian Cultural Forum, where I heard two terrific (and free) new-music concerts.

First up at the ACF was pianist Anika Vavic, who easily played the least technically demanding program I�ve ever heard in New York. Consistently un-virtuosic, she made up for the lack of razzle-dazzle with a brilliantly conceived program, opening with a Menuet Mozart composed when he was thirteen and closing with John Cage�s �Suite for Toy Piano,� actually played on a toy piano. Her rendition of �China Gates� contrasted wonderfully with two pieces by the Taiwanese-Austrian composer Shih; all three pieces were cloudy masses of sound, the Shih compositions being chromatic and thick, the Adams tonal and incandescent. A few weeks later the young Ensemble Wiener Collage performed contemporary works from Austria among which was Isabel Mundry�s �Spiegelbild� for clarinet and accordion. The piece was a small revelation: who knew the accordion was such a magnificent chamber instrument?

I went to three more free concerts at the CUNY Graduate Center. Baritone Paul Houghtaling raised the roof with his wild performance of Peter Maxwell Davies�s �Eight Songs for a Mad King.� This was paired with a staged rendition of Schumann�s �Dichterliebe� � another example of a performer off the beaten path drawing imaginative connections between standard repertory and contemporary music. The CUNY Contemporary Music Ensemble tried to do the same thing with Bartok�s Fifth String Quartet. It followed a program of new works by student composers, and showed them (well, us) how it�s really done. In the other CUNY concert, the Shanghai String Quartet somehow managed to make Haydn, Ravel, and Shostacovich sound the same. Yawn.

The biggest new-music events I saw were undoubtedly Michael Gordon�s video-symphony �Decasia� and Charles Wuorinen�s opera �Haroun and the Sea of Stories.� Over the years, I�ve been growing away from minimalism, but I still have a soft spot for �Music for Eighteen Musicians,� early John Adams, and Philip Glass�s film scores.

�Decasia,� however, was uneven. Michael Gordon has a fantastic sense of ensemble, saving registers and tambers for special moments. He negotiates dense and simple textures to great effect. Yet, the whole visual aspect I found somewhat uncoordinated: dramatic musical shifts would occur without visual corollaries and vice versa. Reading in the program notes how the different artists worked largely on their own, I wondered if that was really a good idea. What should have been overwhelming ended up packing surprisingly little punch.

Charles Wuorinen�s �Haroun,� at the City Opera, had similar problems. Wuorinen�s musical gifts are breathtaking; the experience was worth it just to hear two-and-a-half hours of scintillating music, imagined with a thoroughness rarely heard these days. But dramatically, there were problems. �Haroun� is a short, sweet book that reads like a breeze, and any musical adaptation should sound accordingly.

Wuorinen�s relentless complexity, however, seemed remote from the fairy tale on-stage and out of proportion to the inner lives of the characters. The opera was unexpectedly fatiguing, and, as the evening wore on, I began to sympathize with Heather Buck, the soprano who played Haroun: Wuorinen pitched the role very high, and, what with all the leaps and long stretches of singing, you could tell she was getting tired. James Fenton�s libretto, elsewhere praised as efficient, seemed repetitive to me and over-eager to launch into every silly rhyme Fenton could concoct.

Yet, for all its faults, I wouldn�t have missed �Haroun� for the world. City Opera was very courageous to invest in a work like this, and the talent on display � by Wuorinen, Fenton, and especially the projection designer Peter Nigrini � was extraordinary. Certainly nothing as exciting is happening at the Met this year.

The Miller Theater once again proved itself one of the classiest venues in town by giving Tania Le�n a concert all to herself. Like the Anika Vavic concert, Le�n�s retrospective ended with a brilliant surprise: after an evening of vibrant, polyrhythmic ensemble works, we were treated to a sweet, tuneful song from her opera �Scourge of Hyacinths.� Even if the singer�s performance was a bit bizarre, the effect could not have been more poignant. Maybe City will continue its courageous streak and give �Hyacinths,� which premiered in Munich in 1994, a chance.

There was more: the blood-and-guts trumpet stylings of Lew Soloff at the Kouszusko Foundation, an Ockeghem marathon at Cooper Union, and a lovely evening of Mozart with Miriam Fried and Jonathan Biss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now, I�m looking forward to hearing Birtwistle�s �Pulse Shadows� at Alice Tully, catching some of the Nancarrow festival at Miller, and mulling over Robert Levin�s completion of Mozart�s C Minor Mass in January. (Question: would that count as new music?)

Sigh. My one regret is missing Matthias Pintscher�s �Herodiade Fragment� with the Philadelphia Orchestra last month. I�ve never heard his music, and I want to know it. But sometimes, as was the case, one goes to the movies instead. That said, Alberto Iglesias�s score for �Bad Education� is a cool memory too.


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