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

Jerry Bowles
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Managing Editor:
David Salvage

Contributing Editors:

Galen H. Brown
Evan Johnson
Ian Moss
Lanier Sammons
Deborah Kravetz
Eric C. Reda
Christian Hertzog
(San Diego)
Jerry Zinser
(Los Angeles)

Web & Wiki Master:
Jeff Harrington

Latest Posts

Love and Cow Bells
Sorceress of the New Piano
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
Attention Sequenza21 Shoppers


Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for review. Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Friday, August 19, 2005
A-be, A-be, A-be...That's Bach, Folks

The nice folks at Boosey & Hawkes have launched Booseytones, which they say is the largest selection of classical ringtones on the web; currently weighing in at 300 True Tones and 450 polyphonic tones, whatever that means. I like the name, which echos LooneyTunes, and is oddly evocative of long ago nights spent with drunken associates serenading unappreciative apartment dwellers who had the misfortune to live near Irish bars on Second Avenue. But, I digress.

As might be expected, the tone are drawn from the B&H catalog and include such new kids on the block as Adams, Bernstein, Britten, Copland, Rachmaninoff, Reich, and Stravinsky, as well as a wide range of standard repertoire classics from Bach to Tchaikowsky. Now you can annoy your fellow shoppers and theatergoes with the strains of The Rite of Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man or Tonight, not to mention Jesu Joy of Man�s Desiring, or, God help us, The Blue Danube.

We are informed that Booseytones are compatible with some 1900 cellphone models and competitively priced for U.S. customers at $1.99, payable by SMS, credit card, or PayPal.

Ever wake up in the morning and find that your bed is out on the sidewalk with you in it? Something like that happened yesterday when I checked in and found the Sequenza21 website had been seized by mysterious forces. While I was on hold with my internet service provider it occurred to me that I really should open that envelope from the nice people at Network Solutions that has been sitting on my desk for the last month or so. Sure enough, the domain registration had expired on August 12. Thank God my wife takes care of most of the bills. Anyway, I've renewed for five years so we should be okay for awhile. I'm very sorry, folks. Thanks for your patience.
Steve Reich Receives The Edward MacDowell Medal

Hidden away in the woods near Peterborough, NH, the MacDowell Colony spends most of the year providing artists of many stripes with a place to work completely uninterrupted for a few precious weeks. Meals are provided, with breakfast and dinner in a dining hall and lunch dropped off in a basket on the porch of your studio, and the rule is that nobody is allowed even to knock on the door of anybody else�s studio without a prior invitation. It is, by all accounts, a marvelous place. Once a year, since 1960 the colony awards the Edward MacDowell Medal to �an American artist for outstanding contribution to the arts,� and the town of Peterborough turns out, and most of the artists in residence open their studios to the public. Sunday, August 14, was �Medal Day� and this year the MacDowell medal was presented to Steve Reich.

The morning press conference got underway with Reich discussing how he thinks of electronic instruments as today�s folk instruments, and relating the story of the �Reich Remixed� album, on which electronic �folk musicians� such as Coldcut and DJ Spooky remixed his pieces. The conversation turned to copyright law, Reich�s use of canons and phasing, how audiences have evolved and the way music enters the repertoire. Toward the end of the press conference, someone asked what contemporary pop music Reich likes and thinks will last, and he listed, among others, the Beatles, Junior Walker, and U2 -- �I like listening to some of U2 because I think they�re ripping me off and I like the way they do it.� He concluded with the observation that �It ain�t what you do it�s how you do it, and if you really do it superbly well, then people really take note and it continues.�

The award ceremony itself began with some nice speeches by MacDowell Colony leadership, thanking sponsors, acknowledging the staff, describing the colony�s history and operations, and then introducing David Lang and Richard Serra, both of whom made beautiful speeches lauding Reich. Lang told of his first exposure to Reich�s music, and then artfully used the four short texts of Reich�s recent work �You Are (Variations)� to convey what he feels is the essence of Reich�s character. Richard Serra described the early days of the downtown scene, and then explained how to him the most important thing about Reich is that he always has something to say, whether social, political, or musical. After Serra�s speech, Steve Reich was presented the Medal. He said he was �cruising for the brevity award� and made only brief but clearly heartfelt remarks of gratitude for the honor of the award and praise for the MacDowell Colony. The ceremony concluded, and the attendees picked up picnic baskets (sold for $20) or broke out lunches that they had brought from home for the annual �Picnic Under the Pines�

The exiting young percussion group So Percussion, (which has recently released a recording of Reich�s �Drumming�) was in residence for the day as well. Between David Lang�s and Richard Serra�s speeches, two members of the group performed �Clapping Music,� and after lunch they gave a 45 minute concert of �Music for Pieces of Wood� and Part I of �Drumming.� All of the So performances were amplified, and �Music for Pieces of Wood� was, unfortunately, painfully loud, but otherwise both the performances were terrific. The members of the group each walked onstage only when their parts were about to begin, and then when their parts had a long pause they stepped away from the members who were still playing, and while they were playing they were clearly both working hard and enjoying themselves. Founded in 1999, So Percussion is based in Brooklyn, NY, and is currently the ensemble-in-residence at The Yellow Barn in Putney, VT.

It was clear from my conversations with other Medal Day attendees that most of the people who came were not there because they were Steve Reich fans, but because the colony is an important part of their lives. While the colony may keep its grounds, and especially its studios, carefully sequestered from the outside world, it also sends its residents out into the community through such programs as �MacDowell Downtown� and �MacDowell in the Schools.� The 29 open studios were doubtless another draw for the community. I had time to visit three of the four composers in residence: Sebastian Currier, Hayes Biggs, and Hubert Ho (apologies to Andrea Clearfield), all of whom had music playing and were happy to talk about their work and their time at MacDowell.

Overall, Medal Day was a great success, and the kind of success that more places should try to have. At a time when sources of support for artists are drying up, MacDowell offers more than 240 artists each year a studio and meals, free of charge, for an average of 5 weeks. At a time when arts organizations are struggling to create meaningful outreach programs, MacDowell is clearly succeeding at keeping its community engaged. And once a year, the Edward MacDowell Medal honors an artist, the lifetime-achievement style award avoids the problems Pulitzer faces in trying to award the single best piece of the year. Steve Reich joins a list of 12 other distinguished composers including Lou Harrison (2000 � the most recent composer), Leonard Bernstein (1987), Elliott Carter (1983), and Aaron Copland (1961 � the first composer).

Next year a writer will be awarded the medal. In the meantime, the MacDowell Colony goes back to solitude, support, and hundreds of the best artistic minds coming together to work and to learn from each other. You, too, can get away from it all: the rotating admissions panel accepts applications three times per year, and the only criterion for admission is �talent.� I hear the competition is a little less stiff for the winter residencies, and the application isn't due until September 15th.
Alas, Marin

Pliable's report of "Marin Alsop fatigue" is a tiny bit premature, having arrived just before I posted below a review of Alsop's new Naxos recording of Kurt Weill's Symphonies 1 and 2, which hit the streets yesterday. But, his point is well-taken. Alsop has been getting too much publicity lately, mostly for the wrong reasons. She's a terrific conductor who has built a reputation through hard work and a series of first-rate recordings with the Bournemouth Symphony, mostly on Naxos. Forget the gender business and move on...Here at home, Brian Sacawa picks up on a recent Allen Kozin piece in the New York Times which, again, addresses the reluctance of big symphonies to program new works--even those with an impressive resume.
Weill About Kurt's Second

Nineteeen thirty-three was a busy year for Kurt Weill (1900-50). That�s the year he realized that although he was a successful composer of popular opera in Germany his fame was not going to be enough to protect him from the coming Nazi zeitgeist. His theatre works, including Die Dreigroschenoper (1928), The Rise and Fall of City of Mahagonny (1929), and Der Silbersee (1932), had brought him wide acclaim as the inventor of a new kind of popular opera but the fact that he was Jewish (not to mention, gay) made him a marked man with the Nazis, who began organizing sometimes violent boycotts of his pieces.

In March, 1933, Weill accepted the inevitable, divorced Lotte Lenya (they remarried in 1937) and fled for Paris where he completed his Symphony No. 2. In 1935, he moved to America and quickly became a giant of American theater and song, although nothing he wrote here was as good as his Weimar works. Although the first performances of Symphony No. 2, under Bruno Walter, were well received by the public, the piece was savaged by many critics who suggested that Weill stick to theater. It was to be the last �serious� orchestral piece he ever wrote.

That�s a dirty, rotten shame. Judging from the new recording that Naxos released yesterday of Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 with Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Weill could have been a contender. Symphony No. 2 is a small masterpiece, in three movements, neo-classical in form, but filled with the jazzy rhythmns and the dramatic shape that characterized his best theater pieces. The music is tonal, but flirts with serialism, and is more complex than it sounds on the surface. It is unmistakenly Weill's voice, speaking in a more refined voice than we are accustomed to hearing.

Like the age in which they were created the first two movements are dark and filled with foreboding but the final movement�marked �Allegro Vivace - Alla Marcia � Presto��is defiantly optimistic, even cheerful, particularly considering that it was written just after Hitler came to power; Weill was on the lam from the Nazis, and he had just ended his marriage to Lenya for the first time.

Weill is so identified with a particular kind of jazzy (not to mention, sleazy) caberet style that it's sometimes forgotten that before he turned to theater, he studied with Busoni and had more classical aspirations. This flirtation manifested itself first in his Symphony No. 1, written at the age of 21, and never performed in his lifetime. Although it lacks the distinct voice and color of the Second, Alsop and the Bournemouthers provide a spirited performance of the one movement work that is thoroughly winning. Alsop is particularly adept at generating perfect performances from imperfect works and she works that peculiar magic again in this instance.

The disc concludes with Lady in the Dark: Symphonic Nocturne, a concert suite of familiar tunes from Weill�s American period, arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, that provide a diverting departure from the dark and unrelenting march of history that has come before. This is a must-have disk, probably one of the year�s best, and Gramophone, deservedly, has made it an Editor's Pick this month. Once again, Naxos has shown itself to be more adventuresome than all the big name brands and�in the process�demonstrated that there is a market for music that is not just the same old, same old.
Cure for Marin Alsop fatigue

On an overgrown path offers a cure for Marin Alsop fatigue with a portrait of Cuban-born Odaline de la Martinez. A real lady of many parts, Martinez is composer, conductor, recording label founder and champion of other women composers.invisible hit counter The portrait includes an audio sample from her 1983 Canciones for voice, piano and percussion.

And staying with audio samples XL- hear it on an overgrown path offers a five minute excerpt from contemporary English composer Antony Pitts' new choral companion piece to Tallis' 40 part motet Spem in Alium.
We're Cool Tuesday

Man, we are so happening around the old wading pool. Just yesterday, our buddy Frank J. Oteri checked in from Lithuania and today we find that Rodney Lister has posted, just below, the first of several reports from the Proms in London. Must be the big bucks we pay our writing talent. Speaking of unpaid rewards, yours truly was quoted in Slate yesterday; alas, for a different, meaner-spirited blog that I'm involved with. Us older folks need our hobbies.

In other super cool news, Brian Sacawa has been remixed by DJBbubble8, aka Erik Spangler.
Proms 2005

I've moved from the edge of the Berkshires to Berkshire--specifically Reading--for the rest of the month. It easy to get from here to London to hear Proms concerts. Americans who don't know otherwise often think that the Proms concerts are something like the Boston Pops. Nothing could be further from the case. The Proms are billed as the biggest music festival in Europe. There is a concert--sometimes two--every night starting in mid July and going until early September. All the major UK orchestras and a number of guest orchestras from the rest of the world are involved. The Prom(enade) part of the name is accounted for by the fact that the floor of the Albert Hall in Kensington, where they happen, is cleared of seats and tickets for standing are sold at a very nominal fee. The concerts have been going on for 111 years, and have established a long tradition. The programming includes just about everything. Although it seems as though there used to be more new music in the past and more emphasis on living British composers, there's plenty of music from the 20th and 21st century. There are always several pieces commissioned for the Proms. This year there are a lot of interesting things.

I've heard three concerts since I got here about a week ago. On Wednesday night Kent Nagano and The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra Berlin with Christiane Oelze gave the European premiere of Unsuk Chin's snagS and Snarls, settings of texts by Lewis Carroll with additions by the composer. There are, of course, no moral imperatives about these sorts of things, but it seems to me that anybody setting Carroll should tread carefully, especially if they're not a native speaker. The word setting in the last movement, Speak softly to your little boy, was supposed to be unnatural and distorted for (presumably comic) effect, but in fact it was no more so than that of the first, a setting of A boat beneath a sunny sky, the dedicatory poem which has Alice Liddell's name embedded in it as the first letter of every line. The Alice acrostic, as the movement was entitled, was lovely and evocative with gentle and 'old fashioned' music, but the voice part was likely to sprout melissmas at any inopportune moment in the text, to no particularly good end. The long and sad tale of the mouse after the caucus race was set to music which was supposed to mimic the graphic character of the text as Carroll printed it, with phrases that started loud and got softer and also got progressively higher and shorter, but I was unable to make the connection aurally. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat, the fourth movement, which had lots of additional text by Chin, was a frenetically crazy patter song with a refrain of nonsense words supplied by the composer. Although all of the music throughout the piece was attractive and all the orchestration skillful, it wasn't every really funny, which seemed to be the point. Any attempt to make it so was not at all aided by the Ms. Oelze, who was obviously working very hard to keep her head above water, singing directly to her music stand and conducting herself practically the whole time. A singer who made contact with the audience and really presented the piece, might have been able to make it charming and amusing. Still, nice as it was in many ways, I would have liked the piece a lot more had it been for saxophone or flute or clarinet and orchestra. The rest of the program contained the Freischutz Overture and the Bruckner Sixth Symphony. The Bruckner got a performance which was not at all heavy or lumbering and was carefully voiced and always had a beautifully transparent sound.

On Thursday Ingo Metzmacher and the BBC Symphony Orchestra played, along with the Brahms Tragic Overture, the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto and the Prelude to the first act of Lohengrin, a performance of the Sixth Symphony of Karl Amadeus Hartmann. I had never heard any of Hartmann's music before, and I was looking forward to it. The first of the two movements is marked Adagio, but really is a sustained accelerando to an intense climax over the course of its ten minutes. The texture is mostly three part, but each part consists of a number of lines, so the effect of the whole is fluid and rich and compelling. The second movement is called Toccata variata and is a fast movement consisting of a fugue for strings, a transition for winds and percussion (which I thought was the most interesting music in the piece--there was a lot of percussion--eleven players--all through the work)to a second fugue for winds and strings, with a third fugue for strings which was probably some sort of recapitulation of the first. There was lots of counterpoint for a long time, going chugging along in a sort of stodgy way, and with no particularly harmonic direction. The sound of it was a little like Henze or Hindemith. All in all it was a lot less satisfying than I had hoped it would be.

Friday's concert, by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, was one of the best I've ever heard. There was a performance of the Grieg piano concerto with Lars Vogt which was astounding, mainly because they took the piece seriously and played it beautifully and thoughtfully. There was nothing about it that was crude or rabble rousing (in the worst way)or big and bangy or in any way cheap. The experience was a little like turning on the TV and finding there an episode of Three's Company, but watching it and finding somehow that it's like The Tempest. There was also a grand (in every way)performance of the Nielsen Fifth Symphony. (The second movement of the Nielsen was in some ways similar to the second movement of the Hartmann, except Nielsen knew that with fugal music the important thing is knowing when to stop it--and that that point happens pretty soon.) The concert also included the first performance of The Little Mermaid by Bent Sorensen. I had never heard any of Sorensen's music before (in fact I'd never heard of him), but I intend to track more or it down. The piece is for three girl's choruses (the Danish National Dirls Choir), high soprano (Inger Dam-Jensen), and tenor (Gert Henning-Jensen), with orchestra. Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid soon after the wedding of a friend with whom he had an unreciprocated passionate attachment, and the story's unrequited love and renunciation is thought to reflect his own feelings at the time. In Sorensen's piece, one strand is the choruses (placed in different parts of the room)telling the story (or at least suggesting it), another is the soprano as the mermaid, and the third is the tenor singing excerpts from Andersen's diaries. At the climax of the work, the tenor and the soprano sing the same words, joining the mermaid's story with Andersen's. The music is extremely quiet practically all the time, the pitch language fairly simple. The music for the choruses is intricate, mellifluous, and delicate, accompanied with shimmering music in the orchestra. Around the climactic part the orchestral music gets lower and much more agitated but hardly louder. The vocal writing is always effective. Since it was in Danish, I have no way of knowing if the word setting was good or not, but I could always follow the text. The whole piece was beautiful and moving in a quiet understated kind of way, and the playing and singing was about as good as anybody could have imagined.

More later...
He's B-A-A-A-C-C-C-K!

How about a nice round of applause for David Salvage who did a terrific job of keeping the wagon train moving West while my cat and I were lying around the house in our jockeys letting the air conditioner pump cool air across our cobby bellies. New York is beastly hot, the air is unbreathable, and the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center drones on, and on. Nothing happening music-wise until Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs show up for free concerts in Damrosch Park in a couple of weeks.

Here's something moderately amusing; Timothy Noah of Slate has outed Tom DeLay as an opera buff (if you consider Pavarotti singing "Moon River" at a Three Tenors concert to be qualification for buffhood.) I seem to recall Alex Ross mentioning DeLay's nasty little secret several months ago, to little effect. Frankly, I think DeLay would make a great subject for an opera--bug killer sells soul to devil to become powerful Congressman, double crosses devil and sells drilling rights to hell. Okay, it needs work.

It's quiet out here on the prairie. Tom Myron is settling in in Northhampton and has some pictures to prove it and Lawrence Dillon is adjusting to the joys of fatherhood. David is stoking the campfire over in the Composers Forum. If you haven't Wiki-ed, get on over there immediately.


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