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Jerry Bowles
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Love and Cow Bells
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Well, That Was Fun
Naxos Dreaming
Reich@70: Let the Celebrations Begin
The Bi-Coastal Jefferson Friedman
Violins Invade Indianapolis
John Cage (born Los Angeles, 5 September 1912; died New York, 12 August 1992).
The People United Will Never Be Divided
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Saturday, February 26, 2005
Last Night in LA--"Insomnia"

The LA Philharmonic, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, played his own composition �Insomnia�, a 20-minute set of variations for large orchestra (with five percussionists and four Wagner tubas). This is not a work that has anguished unperformed after its premiere. Since its 2002 opening performance in Tokyo, the piece has been played in St. Petersburg, Chicago, San Francisco, Stockholm, and Tanglewood; next week it will be heard in Cologne, then in Philadelphia. Not bad for the first two and a half years. Yes, it helps to have Esa-Pekka Salonen in demand as a conductor to recommend one of his own works for a program, but Robert Spano and Christoph Eschenbach have also included the work on their programs, so clearly it stands on its own merits. Hearing it, it�s easy to know why the work has been well-received by audiences and critics. Audiences like its accessibility and color; they understand the mind, awake at night, going over and over the same recurring elements, hearing the insistence of the thoughts. They also like the "Firebird"-like orchestral color. The critics can hear the development of an interesting composer, becoming more and more successful in marshaling orchestral resources for complex musical ideas.

The work has just been recorded and released by Deutsche Gramophone along with Salonen�s two other best-yet works for orchestra, �Foreign Bodies� (2001) and �Wing on Wing� (2004) --- written in honor of Frank Gehry and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The music is also available (already) on iTunes which offers an additional track, �Dichotomie� (2000) for piano solo, recorded by Yefim Bronfman. Unfortunately, the recordings don�t involve the LA musicians nor the sound in Disney Hall; a reflection of the current state of the classical recording business.

Googling �Insomnia�, I see that the work has consistently been programmed with 20th century classics or with contemporary music. For the Los Angeles concert, and for Cologne, Salonen placed the work first on a program coupled with the Bruckner 7th Symphony as the second and final work. This combination was surprisingly effective. In a trivial sense, both works used Wagner tubas as part of a deep bass foundation within large orchestras. The two works, however, were complementary despite the differences in the styles and the personalities of the two composers. The combination emphasized the homage to Wagner within Salonen�s work as well as in Bruckner, the follower. Both works use small cells of musical ideas that grow and replicate and evolve. In performance sequence, the opening chords of the Bruckner seemed to bring the sleepness night of the Salonen to a peaceful rest.
Pulling Out the Stops

Here's a web site you won't want to miss: the Encyclopedia of Organ Stops, a "work in progress" that claims it is the world's most complete, well...ur..encyclopedia of organ stops.
New Music Today

If you happen be anywhere in the vicinity of Crawford Hall on the campus of the North Carolina School of the Arts, 1533 S. Main Street in Winston-Salem, North Carolina tonight, do not miss the world premiere of our own Lawrence Dillon�s Revenant: Concerto for Horn and Orchestra. Lawrence will conduct the Carolina Chamber Symphony, with David Jolley as soloist. The performance is part of the 2005 International Horn Society�s Southeast Workshop...The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra agreed to a tentative contract with its musicians union. No details were released, but the agreement must still be ratified by the 92-member orchestra at a March 1 meeting.
New Music Today

Other Minds 11 opens in San Francisco. Be there or be square, daddio...The St. Louis office of the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra musicians are engaged in an illegal strike...Are you a FANner or a CANner? See Brian Sacawa for details...And, our distinguished panel of composers are about to come to blows over in the Composers Forum.
Got Lyric?

Have you heard of the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York?

It�s not really a new-music series, but it�s not a stuffy Mozart-and-Brahms series either. In fact, I don�t know quite how you�d categorize it. This season�s eight concerts feature classical, jazz, and world music, and the repertoire ranges from Haydn, to Russian folk music, to Daniel Levitan. Last night, the Lyric featured the New York Percussion Quartet. While the NYPQ played a pretty forgettable program, the concert itself brought home to me how unique the Lyric really is.

Not many people go to Lyric concerts, but that�s because not a lot of people are supposed to: intimacy is an essential factor to the Lyric experience. Most of the concerts are held in a small, beautiful room at the Kosciuszko Foundation in which the audience practically sits on top of the performers. During the concerts, the musicians always talk to the audience about the music, and the Lyric�s director, the musicologist and pianist Joan Kretschmer, chimes in with short, informed commentaries before intermission and directly after the concert. During any of these talks, audience members can (and do) ring in with their own questions or comments. Afterwards, everyone is invited to a fancy reception where they are encouraged yet again to interact with the musicians.

All this demands a little bit of patience if you�re too used to the slick, professional feel of a typical New York concert. Not everyone who ends up speaking at a Lyric concert is a good speaker, and sometimes what they have to say can make you pull your hair out in exasperation. But what you get in return is a communal, unpretentious atmosphere too rare in classical music these days, an atmosphere that transcends the individual concert and makes seeing a concert by the Lyric a little experience in itself.

Excluding their family concert series at the West Side YMCA, the Lyric has only two concerts left this year. While neither of them features any work by living composers, savvy concert-goers should keep this valuable series on their radar screens in years to come.
11th Other Minds Music Festival Opens Thursday

If you�re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear�sorry, channeling the sixties again. What I meant to say is that the City by the Bay is home this week to the 11th Other Minds Music Festival, an annual gathering of avant garde composers and infamous guest performers that has become one of the nation�s top contemporary music events. Other Minds executive and artistic director Charles Amirkhanian has the usual provacative crew of composer and performers, including John Luther Adams, Maria de Alvear, Billy Bang, Fred Frith, Phill Niblock, Michael Nyman, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Evan Ziporyn, and Amirkhanian himself in a special 60th-birthday celebration. The 2005 festival also offers a centennial tribute to gifted but famously forgotten American composer Marc Blitzstein, known for his legendary 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock.

 height=The birthday tribute to founding artistic director Amirkhanian (b. 19 January 1945), will feature the San Francisco concert premiere of his radiophonic tape piece, Son of Metropolis San Francisco. The work is a part-abstract, part-representational audio snapshot of idiosyncratic Bay Area sounds, ranging from barking elephant seals at A�o Nuevo Beach to a runaway overflow valve next to a hot tub at Harbin Hot Springs. In between, listeners hear Tongan gardeners, a Chinese sitcom, and conga drummers at Ocean Beach, manipulated on a Synclavier digital synthesizer and ultimately offset by a hypnotic and meditative organ chorale. Originally commissioned by Studio 3 H�rspiel of the West German Radio in Cologne and New American Radio for the NPR satellite system, the work has been broadcast internationally. Composed in 1986 in the Oakland studio of Henry Kaiser and with his assistance, the music will be performed over a surround-sound array of state-of-the-art loudspeakers from the noted Berkeley firm Meyer Sound. This condensed 26-minute version of the original 55-minute work (Metropolis San Francisco) was made in 1997.

Performances and artist talks will unfold on Thursday, February 24; Friday, and Saturday, February 26, 2005, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater (700 Howard St. at Third St.) and Forum (701 Mission St. at Third St.) in San Francisco. For OM11 program information, visit
What's New Today?

The Chicago Symphony's 2005-2006 season--Daniel Barenboim's last as music director--will also include four world premieres: Elliott Carter's Soundings, principal guest conductor Pierre Boulez's Notations for Orchestra V and VI, composer in residence Augusta Read Thomas's Astral Canticle, and a new work by Isabel Mundry...Speaking of Danny boy's departure, the Symphony held a town hall meeting the other night to let the fans sound off on who they thought should replace him. (Unlike George Bush's "town hall meetings" audience members were neither vetted in advance or scripted). Among the names mentioned were Pinchas Zukerman, Erich Kunzel and Leonard Slatkin.

Here at home, Brian Sacawa is home with a report on his adventures on the road.
New Music Today

Thomas Ades pick up a 2005 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera for the world premiere of The Tempest at Covent Garden...Don�t miss Alex Ross� review of performances by pianists Radu Lupu and Piotr Anderszewski in this week�s New Yorker...Curious article in the International Herald Tribune by Richard Taruskin about the Russian composer Nikolai Andreyevich Roslavets. Titled �A Soviet Composer Re-Emerges,� the piece offers absolutely no evidence of said re-emergence. Taruskin compares Roslavets� career to that of Milton Babbit who he quotes as having said: "There are those of us who prefer the relative quiet and solace of the dead-end street to the distractions and annoyances of the crowded thoroughfare."

Meanwhile, things are hotting up over in the discussion on Music and Politics in the Composers Forum.
What's New in New Music Today?

Richard Scheinen had a neat article about the music blogosphere in yesterday's San Jose Mercury News. Forgot to mention us, but, hey, I'm sure it was an oversight (Note to self: cancel Mercury News)...Music lovers in Denver are hoping that the Ellie Caulkins Opera House will rank among the top 10 opera houses in the world when it opens on September 10. Dreams are nice. It's nice to have dreams...Terrific article in the Los Angeles Times by Kyle Gann about Ethel. Nice complement to Larry Bell's piece on Ethel in our Composers Forum...Richard Dyer has an excellent piece in the Boston Globe about Karl Amadeus Hartmann, the only major composer who remained in Germany during World War II to escape the taint of association with the Nazis.

Meanwhile, back here at Ranchero S21, Rodney Lister has a fascinating piece in the Composers Forum about music, politics, Seeger, Cowell, the Composers Collective and the Pierre Degeyter Club...Judith Lang Zaimont weighs in with some observations on Music & Meaning...Check out Galen Brown's report on the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's "Minimalism" concert...Lawrence Dillon has some tips on how to be a good music jurist...and, just below, Jerry Zinser is, again, pretty fed up with the Los Angeles Opera's conservative schedule.
Last Century in LA--Not Everything's Up to Date in the City of Angels

The 19th century is alive and well with Los Angeles Opera.

It was time to decide whether or not to re-subscribe or to just cut loose and try for individual performances. This year it was a difficult decision: another price increase, a retrenchment in plans, and more conservatism in music. The program this coming 2005-2006 season will have only eight productions, plus some recitals; last year there were ten, including a longer run in the summer for A Little Night Music. There will be only one new opera: Grendel (2006), by Elliot Goldenthal with libretto by Julie Taymor and J.D. McClatchy, the poet, directed by Taymor. (Grendel will then go to the Lincoln Center Festival.) The next newest opera was written 100 years earlier: yet another revival of Butterfly (1905), which alternates seasons with Boheme.

Counting Grendel, the average year of the premieres of the eight operas is 1886. So much for current music.

The Philharmonic has a great relationship with John Adams, but the Opera has done no Adams opera since Nixon in China. The Phil has great relationships with Peter Sellars, but no Sellars production has been performed since the Opera brought on the Phil, with Salonen, for Pelleas et Melisande.

Not everything is dismal. At least the Butterfly will be Robert Wilson�s production once more, as will next season�s production of Parsifal. Several cast and conducting announcements look appealing as well. But I certainly wish that the Opera�s Board were more adventurous and that their marketing staff were more effective in positioning non-standard works. (We decided to resubscribe and to sell the tickets for evenings that didn�t appeal.)
BMOP's "Minimalism" Concert -- Boston

On Friday, February 18, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) took the stage at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall for one of the most enjoyable concerts I have seen in that venue. Under the direction of founder Gil Rose, they played Common Tones in Simple Time (1979), by John Adams, Philip Glass's Symphony No. 3 (1995), Shimmer (1994), by BMOP's current resident composer Elena Ruehr, and, as the entire second half of the program, Steve Reich's Tehillim (1981).

Common Tones was probably the piece best suited to Jordan Hall, which is huge, beautiful, and very reverberant, or "wet" to use the industry jargon. The other pieces, where the crispness of the rhythms are so important, suffered some from the wetness of the hall, but not so for the Adams. The piece is very still; the harmonies are fairly static, and the sixteenth-note rhythms that move the piece along make it seem to float rather than driving it forward in the way that they do in Reich or Glass. Technically the performance was very solid, and I was impressed with the way Gil Rose got the ensemble to bring out the almost sinister character of the final section when the low strings come in and the high winds play trade off more syncopated attacks.

The performance of the Glass was both technically and expressively very good. The jagged melody of the second and fourth movements, with it's occasional jagged contrapuntal accompaniment, was I though especially effective -- the ensemble stayed locked together, the tone was strong and rhythmic and almost angry, and of course Philip Glass is a master of making constant meter changes sound perfectly natural.

Elena Ruehr's Shimmer was also successful. The performance was, as far as I could tell, nearly flawless, although again some of the detail work was swallowed up by the hall. Ruehr's writing was diatonic, but not quite tonal, and generally strong and self-assured. I confess that my attention wandered for a bit in the middle, but the end of the piece was fabulous with fierce, rhythmic pizzicato and it brought my attention all the way back. And again, the success of the ending can be credited both to Ruehr and to Gil Rose and the orchestra, who brought the needed energy to the music.

After intermission, a new configuration of the orchestra presented Steve Reich's wonderful Tehillim. Reich is my favorite living composer, so this piece was the highlight of the concert for me, and with only a few exceptions the performance was both masterful and powerful. The group had some synchronization problems when the maracas were the only percussion instrument playing, but when the tuned and jingle-less tamborines came in the ensemble locked together perfectly and naturally. The singers were magnificent (although they could have been louder), obviously enjoying themselves as they sang confidently through what must be some of the more challenging vocal music around. From my vantage point in the balcony I could see several of the other players grooving along with the music as they played their classically Reichian rhythmic lines.

When the music finally stopped, the audience brought Gil Rose out for three curtain calls -- deservedly so. BMOP is a force to be reckoned with, and they gave a great concert. And for those of you who were not in attendance, the program notes say that the concert was recorded for broadcast on WGBH, Boston's classical NPR station, so keep an ear out for that.


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