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

Jerry Bowles
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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
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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

Saturday, September 24, 2005
Evan Johnson On the Record: At the Exactest Point

At the Exactest Point
Stephen Jones
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, cond. Sir Andrew Davis
Tantara TCD-0404STJ

Stephen Jones is a professor of music at Brigham Young University and Dean of their College of Fine Arts and Communications. He is also, the packaging to this single-length release on BYU�s Tantara Records label insists, an artist of great talent and profundity. The disc�s cover is littered with acclamations from luminaries of a certain type of midrange, big-time American music: Melinda Wagner, Claude Baker, Augusta Read Thomas. The liner notes begin with a relatively informative program note from the composer, but then blossom into a lengthy and obsequious series of paeans to the composer and the work, including a detailed description of the (unremarkable) rehearsal process, a meditation on the composer�s life and background entitled �Transformed by Music,� and a series of breathless narrations of the work�s premiere by the CSO, broken into sections with titles like �From Score to Performance� and �The Reviews Come In.� Substantial background information on the conductor and orchestra, including a complete lineup of performers, rounds off the hefty booklet.

Perhaps Tantara Records � which is to say, I assume, Jones himself � doth protest too much, I thought as I read the overblown praise. But, to be fair, I hadn�t listened to the thing yet.

But, to be fair again, what I heard didn't surprise me. Jones knows how to make an orchestra sound good in the manner to which it is accustomed, and he knows that to make a climax you make things louder, faster, and denser, especially where piccolos and percussion are concerned. He knows that dissonance and vertical density create tension if that�s what you want them to do. He knows that snaking low strings sound sinister. He knows that when you crescendo a dissonant chord in the brass it sounds cool, and that repeated dotted rhythms can impose momentum where none might otherwise exist, and that loud should be followed by soft and vice versa, and that all good stories have a satisfying culmination. In that sense, the piece is well constructed, and I grant Wagner, Baker, and Thomas that point. But I forgot it as soon as it was over. I listened to it again, and forgot it again. There is a wide variety of incident in this work � and aside from one nice rocking figure in the high strings at about the sixteen-minute mark, after the CLIMAX and before the breathless ENDING, I forgot it all.

Among the enthusiastic discussions of Jones and his work in the liner notes, one finds this quote from the composer: �I�m probably less concerned with originality and more concerned with what I call authenticity.� This distressingly widespread false dichotomy � from which it follows that late Beethoven and early Stravinsky were constitutively inauthentic � is the key to this piece. Jones has concluded that, to be authentic to his artistic convictions, he must consult his colleagues and a selected list of long-dead and therefore suitably illustrious predecessors to find out what those convictions should be. The result is At the exactest point.
Adolphe and Katrina

The New World Symphony is doing a Hurricane Katrina benefit concert tonight which will be broadcast over NPR. In addition to its worthy cause, the concert is notable to S21 readers for Kenji Bunch's Lichtenstein Triptych and a couple of bravura saxophone moments for Brian Sacawa. Brian has the details here.

Imagination is funny. It can make a cloudy day sunny. But, do composers really need it? And, if so, which kind? Lawrence Dillon, as always, raises some provocative questions that require your immediate attention.

In the news: Judith Lang Zaimont has won the 2005 Jabez Press Composition Invitational. Her winning composition, �A Calendar Set: Twelve Preludes for Piano Solo�, will be published by Jabez Press and will premiere at the 2005 World Piano Pedagogy Conference in Anaheim at the end of October.
Philadelphia Sounds: Orchestra 2001 Does Dun and Crumb

When you write a piece in memory of John Cage, how can you resist basing it on the notes C-A-G-E? Tan Dun did not resist, and Orchestra 2001 performed the Philadelphia premiere of the 1995 Concerto for Pizzicato Piano and Ten Instruments.

The piano is plucked throughout in fingering technique borrowed from the pipa, as well as with a plate and bottle. Four variations develop each note separately, before mixing them. Strings are percussively plucked and strummed, winds are sonorously spare � for a distinctly Oriental atmosphere. The result is exercise in the range of sounds that can be coaxed from traditional instruments. The texture goes from spare to dense and back again.

There always has to be a gimmick. The last time I heard a Tan Dun piece, the gimmick was bowls of water and instrument mouthpieces making like bird calls. Circle with Four Trios, Conductor and Audience (1992), yes, has a vocalise for audience participation, on top of being based on the Taoist concept of silence. We hear the sounds of nature stirring out of silence: water dripping, a bird call, a gust of wind, a branch cracking, spoken poetry ("The wind never stops"), not to forget the silence. And, then the voice of the people begins with twittering, grows to gossip, and finally to shouting. The audience participated enthusiastically, on cue. But my favorite part was the delicate coda for harp, guitars and humming.

There's nothing better than a good old American folk song, and George Crumb has created the fourth in his American Songbook Series, with The Winds of Destiny (2004); the soloist in this American premiere was Barbara Ann Martin, soprano.

The songs are presented straight, but the setting is that of nighttime, the river, mountains and valleys of America, evoked by a stage full of percussion in various exotic forms. The setting is most effective for When Johnny Comes Marching Home, with the additional quote from Mahler's funeral march. In other songs, the percussion seems at odds with the simple melodies, excessive, and in places overwhelming. Shenandoah is one of my favorite songs, and I have heard both simple and extravagant choral settings for it, but this version sadly truncated the text and obliterated the melody. The instrumental interlude is a mostly quiet set of percussive effects. (Reposted from Penn Sounds 9-22-05.)
Metaphysical Musings in San Francisco

Here's something to put in your calendar book. On Saturday, December 3, the innovative folks at Other Minds are presenting what they are calling--and who are we to doubt it--America's first-ever New Music S�ance in the appropriately intimate candlelit surroundings of Swedenborgian Church in San Franciso.

The three distinct concerts--at 2pm, 5:30pm, and 8pm--will feature five hours of solo piano music performed by Sarah Cahill, with additional performances by Kate Stenberg, violin, and Swiss pianist Eva-Maria Zimmermann. The program will include Alexander Scriabin�s Vers la flamme (1914), the world premiere of Three Fantasy Pieces, dating from the early 1960s, by the Russian-born American composer Leo Ornstein (1892-2003), and the American premiere of Danish artist-composer Henning Christiansen�s Den Arkadiske for violin and piano. Other notable names on the program are John Adams, Johanna Beyer, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford, Alvin Curran, Lou Harrison, Bunita Marcus, Terry Riley, astrologer Dane Rudhyar and others.

What especially caught our eye was the promise that "humanly unplayable" music by our pen pal Kyle Gann, as well as Daniel David Feinsmith, and Gary Noland will be self-performed on a Yamaha Disklavier grand piano, including the world premiere of Feinsmith�s Amalek.

Write it down: December 3, 2005, Swedenborgian Church, 2107 Lyon Street, San Francisco. Tickets for individual concerts are $20, $35, or $50; a series pass for all three concerts is available for $50, $100, or $150. Advance tickets are available online, or can be charged by phone at (415) 934-8134.
Is the Symphony Dead?

may seem like a pretentious headline. But this is a true story about the vicissitudes of contemporary composing, and the 'heartbreaking' struggle to achieve recognition for Sir Malcolm Arnold's 9th Symphony. (Portrait of Arnold by June Mendoza to right).

Arnold's musical output is prodigous, and has reached a remarkably wide audience. The published works include eight previous symphonies, several concertos (including works for written Benny Goodman, Julian Bream, Larry Adler and James Galway), two string quartets, much other chamber music, and five sets of dances. And this extraordinary published opus does not include his film and TV music. 1957 for instance produced the 3rd Symphony, four other published works, and no fewer than six film scores, including the Oscar winning The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Yet his 9th Symphony, composed in 1986, was initially rejected by his publisher, and remains neglected in the concert hall. On An Overgrown Path asks have musical opinion formers written the symphony off? Or is the problem the perennial one that the musical establishment cannot reconcile popularity with artistic merit?

Sir Malcom himself describes the struggle to achieve recognition for the symphony as 'heartbreaking'. The full story of this remarkable work is in Arnold's 9th - neglected 20th century masterpiece?
Flying the Coop With Steve and Phil

Steve Reich and Philip Glass on the same stage? You heard right. Next Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. at Angel Orensanz, 172 Norfolk St, an amazing lineup of downtown filmmakers and musicians (including the aforementioned) will participate in the Second Annual Filmmakers Coop Benefit Concert.

This is a rare opportunity to see the Steve Reich Ensemble performing Drumming 1 with a projector performance by Ken Jacobs and Philip Glass playing solo piano with Harry Smith's Early well as performances by Sue Garner, Todd Reynolds, Mark Stewart, Patrick Watson, Elliott Sharp, and a trio of Tim Barnes, Alan Licht and Lee Ranaldo, performing with films by Emily Hubley, Bill Morrison, Donna Cameron, Hans Richter, Kerry Laitala, Jenn Reeves, and Ron Rice.

The Filmmakers� Cooperative was founded in 1961 by a group of artists that included Shirley Clarke, Robert Frank, Alfred Leslie, and Jonas Mekas. It is, we are reliably informed by Bill Morrison, the world�s oldest and largest artist-run collection of avant-garde cinema. Proceeds from the benefit will support the Coop�s preservation efforts and the distribution of over 5000 films in its collection.

Tax deductible tickets are $40 available at the door, by calling the
Filmmakers Coop at 212.267.5665, or through TicketWeb.

Noted in Passing: Good interview with composer Richard Brooks, founder and president of Capstone Records, about his new opera, Robert and Hal. With filmmaker Ang Lee just about to break the last great Hollywood taboo with Brokeback Mountain, the story of a couple of cowboys in love, an opera about a Victorian couple confronted by the same barriers suggests, once more, that plus ca change, plus c�est la meme chose.

Our regular contributor David Toub posted an entry on his blog yesterday about iPod-worthy music that mentions Jeff Harrington�s Trio and music by Galen Brown, both of whom are regulars around these parts. Scroll down until you find it and you'll also learn a lot about how hard it is to volunteer to help FEMA out and about minimally invasive hip replacement. And, thanks to Apple having increased its server space, David has now made complete files of everything he has digitized available on his music site. Swing by and have a listen.
The Half Millionaire

I regret to report that I did not get a surprise phone call yesterday from the MacArthur Foundation informing me that an unexpected check for $500,000 was in the mail. However, the news is considerably brighter this morning at Marin Alsop's house. The future music director of the Baltimore Symphony was one of the 25 people (and the first conductor ever) chosen to receive 2005 MacArthur Fellows awards--sometimes called "genuis" awards.

There were two other music related winners: Aaron Dworkin, whose Detroit-based Sphinx Organization seeks to boost the number of young minorities in classical music careers by providing them with affordable instruments, quality training and performance opportunities and Ann Arbor violin-maker Joseph Curtin, whose business, Joseph Curtin Studios, produces world-class violins.

Unlike most fellowships, you can't apply for a MacArthur. The winners are chosen by a panel in secret and bestowed upon unsuspecting composers, painters and sculptors, writers and other sundry artistes for "their creativity, originality, and potential." Sort of a J. Beresford Tipton thing, for those of you who go back that far.
Center of the Universe

If you happen to be near the center of the universe--roughly 66th Street and Broadway--this evening at 7 p.m., you'll want to drop into Barnes and Noble for a CD signing and discussion by composer William Bolcom, singer Carole Farley and her husband, the conductor Jose Serebrier. The occasion is two recent releases from the nice folks at Naxos--one a collection of Bolcom songs sung by Farley; the other Serebrier's recording of Stokowski's transcriptions of great Russian warhorses like Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bald Mountain which is, by the way, the CD of the month in the Gramophone 2005 awards issue.

Lawrence Dillon has some good thoughts on the artistic philosophy of Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. We could use a couple of more Dillonesque bloggers around here. Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink.


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