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Jerry Bowles
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Contributing Editors:

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Ian Moss
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Deborah Kravetz
Eric C. Reda
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(Los Angeles)

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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
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

Saturday, December 10, 2005
Donald Martino, 1931-2005

Donald Martino has died at the age of 74. What few of his works I know, particularly his most famous piece, Notturno, should be enough to give the lie to the idea that composers in the academy, even those involved with dodecaphony, are incapable of writing expressive, urgent, vibrant, and beautiful music.

Update: The New York Times obituary, by Anthony Tommasini, is here.
In the Bleak, Mid-Winter

Elodie Lauten has a neat interview with Czech composer, conductor and flutist Petr Kotik who has a concert coming up on December 20. Kotik is also the founder of the S.E.M. Ensemble. Anybody know what the "S.E.M." denotes? I don't but then I don't know what R.E.M. is for either...Alan Theisen has a serious new photo of himself (as befits a newly married man) and a new discovery--Stefan Wolpe. Alan and his wife Misty were in town a few weeks ago and David Salvage and I joined them for a chilly Starbucks. Real nice folks, as we say down in Summers County, West Virginia...Blackdogred wonders what Pavlovian instinct it is that causes grown, sensible men (almost always men) to drop whatever they are doing at the sound of the words "desert island disks?"...Where is Kyle Gann? Doesn't he love us anymore? And after we gave him a "Jerry."
"An American Tragedy" at the Met

Whatever one makes of Tobias Picker�s An American Tragedy,� it�s a relief to see the Met once again bringing to life new work by a real live American composer. That said, Picker�s latest neither affords this critic the opportunity to write a rant or a rave. �An American Tragedy� is a-okay � never particularly bad, never especially wonderful.

Based on Theodore Dreiser�s novel of the same name, �Tragedy� tells the story of weak-willed Clyde Griffiths, who, after going to work for his affluent uncle, becomes romantically entangled with two women � one rich, one poor. Unable to extricate himself from his indiscretions, Clyde eventually caves under his own burdened conscience and falls victim to the materialistic world around him.

Certainly �An American Tragedy� boasts all the ingredients for a great night at the opera: illicit romance, opulent settings, and crime. But Clyde Griffiths, being such an ambivalent character, is too soft a center for a two-and-a-half-hour opera to revolve around. He�s no match for the passionate women who surround him, and he gets lost in the libretto�s grand thematic sojourns into wealth and religion. As a result, the opera loses steam after one of the women "drowns," and Clyde's eventual fate lacks impact.

Picker�s score, once it finds its legs, has many beautiful moments. The seething cauldron of ninth chords that opens the opera � and recurs throughout � is scrumptious stuff, and the high horn C that closes the work is searing and unforgettable. But, in general, the orchestration is pretty bland, and Picker hasn�t quite figured out how to integrate percussion into his sound: a xylophone keeps interjecting oddly, and the heavy use of piano lends needless timbrel gloss.

But the man can sure set text. Picker�s lines are wonderfully elastic; he finds the right words to emphasize, his melismas feel unaffected, he straightens out rhythms to emphasize points and renders conversation fluidly. Singers must love him. Curiously, he saves the best aria for a minor character, Clyde�s mother, and mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick, who plays the role, received a wonderful reception during the curtain calls.

The cast is uniformly excellent, though Susan Graham, with her vocal radiance and natural charisma, is (predictably) the standout. The deft production, entrusted to the ubiquitous Francesca Zambello, has perspective problems: sometimes characters and props seem absurdly big against the set (the gargantuan motor car in Act One being exhibit A). �An American Tragedy� may not set everyone�s pulse racing or fire up the imagination, but Picker and everyone involved have produced a fine show that�s worth seeing.
Philadelphia Sounds: Network for New Music and Leon Fleisher

Philadelphia�s Network for New Music program Music from the Hands and Heart featured the hands of guest pianist Leon Fleisher, and (mostly) new music. Let�s begin by conceding that Fleisher certainly can play. After 40 years of playing only pieces for the left hand (and teaching and conducting), Fleisher is now playing with both hands, and doing that very well.

Dina Koston�s 2002 Messages I for solo piano has two hands of cascading notes in short phrases, pleasant in themselves, but disconnected musings. On the other hand, Musical Offerings for Left Hand Alone (1998) by George Perle is in three movements of cool short phrases.

The Network for New Music Ensemble performed the Octet (A Grand Fantasia) (1980) by George Rochberg. The composer called the twelve short movements �a series of�gestures� that demonstrate a variety of musical emotions and contrasts. There is dark intensity for strings and horn, and flowing light lines for flute and clarinet.

In contrast to all this spare modernism, Erich Korngold is known for his lushly dramatic movie scores of the 1930s and 40s. His 1930 Suite, Op. 23 scored for violins, cello and piano, allowed Fleisher to once again share his skills in left hand playing, with a series of dramatic rising phrases that open the piece; responding string passages are intensely dramatic and often unison. In subsequent movements, the lines flow more smoothly, in particular the lyrical phrases of Walzer, Groteske and Lied movements, and the closing Rondo variations. Before this piece, Fleisher thanked the audience for its willingness to �refresh your ears�, but Korngold was itself refreshing and the highlight of the program. Fleisher was assisted by Hirono Oka and Gloria Justen, violins, and Ohad Bar-David, cello.
(Reposted from Penn Sounds 12/8/05.)
So's Your Grammy

The Grammy nominations came out yesterday and, no surprise, our friends at Naxos got more of them in the classical category than any other label--15 in all. Mark Berry has a report on The Naxos Blog.

The nominees for classical contemporary composition are:

Osvaldo Golijov (Dawn Upshaw)
Track from: Golijov: Ayre; Berio: Folk Songs
[Deutsche Grammophon]

Bolcom: Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience
William Bolcom (Leonard Slatkin)

Boyer: Ellis Island: The Dream Of America
Peter Boyer (Peter Boyer)

Franzetti: Corpus Evita
Carlos Franzetti (Jos� Luis Moscovich)
[Amapola Records]

Nine Episodes For Four Players
Ned Rorem (Contrasts Quartet)
Track from: Rorem: Nine Episodes For Four Players
[Phoenix USA]

I put up a quick and dirty page with all the classical nominees here. And, okay, I never heard of Carlos Franzetti.
Kunning Kapitalist Kristians On the March

Here's something that got my blood boiling. The powers that be at Glimmerglass Opera asked Stephen Hartke, and librettist, Philip Littell, to take the word "whore" out of the title of their new opera for fear of offending patrons. And, they did.

Thus, "Boule de Suif, or The Good Whore," is now being called "The Greater Good, or the Passion of Boule de Suif." I can think of a few words that might be offputting but whore rates pretty low on the scale. What's next? The pretty nasty lady Medusa? The best little sex rental shop in Texas? 'Tis pity she's a streetwalker? Memories of my melancoly paid girlfriends?

We now have a new Sequenza21 annual award--the Paul Kellogg Trophy for Artistic Pandering. The first winners are Stephen Hartke and Philip Littell.
Blah, Blah, Blah

Dave Thomas has a funny post on his love-hate relationship with reeds. Lawrence Dillon has a funny story about little old ladies. I have nothing amusing to say today. Pre-Christmas blahs.

Hey, I know. Let's do desert island disks. Here's my first three:

1. Will the Circle be Unbroken, Vol. 1 - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and all the great old country musicians except Bill Monroe.

2. Kind of Blue - Miles Davis. Cooler than you or me.

3. Elgar's Cello Concerto - Jacqueline du Pr�. Even trained freaks can break your heart.

Your turn.
Last Night in L.A. - Night Music for Piano

The Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes is in his last week of a "residency" with the Phil in which he performs two programs with the full orchestra, a chamber music concert and a new music concert with members of the orchestra. Last night�s concert in Disney was the program of contemporary music selected by Andsnes, and it was an engaging, attractive concert. Andsnes chose two composers, Gyorgy Kurt�g and Marc-Andr� Dalbavie, and perhaps with a little assistance from the orchestra�s consultant for new music (Steven Stucky) came up with a program which alternated and interlaced works of the two composers into a compatible evening. The two halves of the concert were balanced in weight and in musical approach, and the music of the two composers were compatible with each other and with the audience.

Andsnes began the concert with nine of the short selections from Kurtag�s "J�t�kok" [Games] (1973), a set originally written for a collection of piano music for children, but there�s nothing child-like in the pieces we heard, even less for children than Bartok�s "Mikrokosmos." You can listen to clips of the set here.

The set began with the third homage to Ferenc Farkas (sound clip 30), with its remembering of Stravinsky�s Petroushka, and ended with the second homage (clip 34); this Philharmonic site provides clips of six of the pieces Andsnes selected for his set.

The second work was Dalbavie�s, and Andsnes let Gloria Cheng have the showpiece of the night. This was Dalbavie�s "Axiom" (2004) for piano with clarinet, bassoon and trumpet. The work was written for last year�s Debussy project of Emanuel Ax, premiered by him at Carnegie Hall; for the culmination of his project, Ax had selected three composers for a work each to "complete" the set of six culminating chamber works envisioned by Debussy, works for which Debussy had only identified the instruments to be involved. The work is dedicated to Ligeti, and one can think of elements of both Ligeti and Debussy as influences for the work. While the piano does much of the work, with flurries of descending octaves turning into chromatic scales, the piece uses colors available in the other instruments; the trumpet, for example, uses five different mutes.

The first half ended with Kurtag�s Grabstein fur Stephan (1979/1989) for guitar and large chamber orchestra. Sound clips are available here and here, but they give absolutely no feeling about the work. It begins with quiet, slow arpeggios on the guitar, gradually accompanied by strings and a variety of keyboards (harmonium, harpsichord, celesta, pianino) with harp and cimbalon. Tympani and five percussions participate. Brass instruments seated around the hall (in our case in the organ loft and the back balcony) join as the work grows in force, erupting into near-anarchy with whistles and plastic horns (in our case in the right and left balconies, respectively). Then the work gradually calms, reversing its cycle until it ends with quiet arpeggio. The Phil�s assistant conductor, Alexander Mickelthwate, led the ensemble.

The second half began with Kurtag�s "Hommage � R. Sch." (1990) for piano, clarinet, and viola, with Andsnes at the piano. Clips of the five movements are here. The work refers to Schumann and evokes several of his compositions and his writings. The closing work was Dalbavie�s "Tactus" (1996) for piano (Andsnes) and eight other instruments. Salonen conducted. This is a work in five movements, each growing and subdividing from a single, repetitive pulse. Some of the movements grow and evolve into swirling scales, as in "Axiom". This is probably Dalbavie�s most-performed work so far, but I could not find a clip of the music.

The audience liked both composers, enthusiastically so. Dalbavie was present and was given a solo appearance for applause in response to audience reaction. Andsnes is a fascinating pianist, good to hear and interesting to watch. I didn�t realize that there were so many different ways of touching a keyboard to evoke a particular sound.
Tell Tchaikovsky the News

It was lead poisoning that wrecked Beethoven's health and led to his death at the age 56. So says the Beethoven Research Center based on new and extra-powerful x-ray tests of his skull which apparently was just lying around somewhere.

Excellent discussion of Berio going on in the comments section over at Blackdogred.

Who's got a new topic for Composers Forum?
Talk Dirty to Me

Talk Dirty to Me may sound like the latest Almod�var film but it is actually the title of tonight's counter)induction program at 08:00 pm at Rose Studio, Lincoln Center.

The seven-member musical collective (whose programming may or may not be sexist; on second thought, let's not do that again) will "explore the interface of speech and sound in music," by which I think they mean there will be talking while they play. Program highlights include the US premiere of Czech composer Miroslav Pudlak�s Sextet, a husband-wife performance of Vinko Globokar�s Dos a Dos, and an installation of Kurt Schwitter�s Ursonate, a seminal poem of the Dadaist movement, which articulates the traditional form of a sonata through non-sense syllables and vocalizations. c)i will be producing an installation/ performance work using a pre-recorded performance of the work by Canadian poet Christian B�k.

Also featured will be works by Jonathan Harvey, Douglas Boyce, and Kyle Bartlett and John Cage�s Story, which calls for a quartet of speakers performing a contrapuntal web of text and sound, from a poem by Gertrude Stein.

No Enya or Sigur R�s, apparently.
Not Available in Stores

Julie, David and Michael, the nice folks at Bang on a Can and Cantaloupe Music, have put together a 74-minute sampler CD of Cantaloupe's Greatest Hits which they are offering to music lovers like you and me absolutely free. The CD contains 13 full length tracks by Alarm Will Sound, Bang on a Can, Arnold Dreyblatt, Ethel, Gutbucket, Icebreaker, Phil Kline, Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Sentieri Selvaggi, So Percussion, Toby Twining, Evan Ziporyn, as well as the kids themselves. It's a nice way of building their e-mail list and introducing Cantaloupe Music to adventurous listeners. Go here and sign up and they�ll send you a free CD in the mail right away. But, hurry, the offer is good for only two more weeks. No salesman will call.

Blackdogred has some new pick hits of the week and Tom Myron has an intriguing photo.
Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Is 4�33 misunderstood? Elodie Lauten thinks so. Jacob Sudol checks in on art and politics. Lawrence Dillon thinks the big enchilada is writing music that pleases you...and is appreciated by others. Mark Berry at the Naxos Blog points to a new William Bolcom podcast.

Speaking of Naxos, the Globe and Mail has a good article about everybody's favorite budget label. And, speaking of podcasts, American Voices Founder and Executive Director John Ferguson was recently interviewed by D.D. Jackson for a special extended podcast. The interview focuses on bridging worldwide cultural differences through jazz and the important cultural diplomacy work that American Voices is involved in around the world.

And speaking again of Naxos and interviews, The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music website has published an interview with Judith Lang Zaimont in connection with her new Naxos American Classics CD featuring Sacred Service for the Sabbath Evening for baritone soloist, chorus and orchestra and three other major works by Ms. Zaimont for solo voices, choirs and small chamber ensembles.
Dead On

The Grateful Dead played hard to get - and it worked. They had little interest in money and mainstream acceptance. The band�s repertoire was a marketer�s nightmare and even now the group confounds the uninitiated because of decisions made decades ago -- decisions to play obscure folk and country music, improvise for hours at a time, and play to its own gallery.

The Dead�s instrumentation wasn�t far removed from other rock groups of the time � guitars, bass, drums (more often than not, there were two drummers pounding away), keyboards, and vocals. The difference, easily distinguished at the bottom, was the classical education of bassist Phil Lesh, who studied with Luciano Berio, worshipped John Cage, and soaked up Ravi Shankar and early �60s John Coltrane. He rarely sounds like he�s playing the same song as the rest of the group, yet each lope and loop fits neatly and surprisingly in.

Guitarist Jerry Garcia (above) started as a folkie, veered into bluegrass, strolled easily into country music, and the leap to Chuck Berry was forgone. Playing was what he did best and, at his best, his spider-web sound has the ring of freedom. He is the keystone to the group and should be celebrated every bit as much as Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young or Coltrane.

For the full celebration of the Grateful Dead take An Overgrown Path to Dead '72 contributed by guest blogger Lee Landenberger. And there's also some breaking news there on the hot topic of free downloads as the Dead (the business) crack down on an independently run web site that offers free downloads of their music.

Image credit - Wikipaedia
Report errors, broken links and missing images to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be replaced

Life is Just a Bowl of Jerrys

It's December again. Time for those dreaded "Best of" of lists. Alex Ross already has his up so we need to get cracking. Here, then, in no particular order or ranking are the official Sequenza21 Best CDs of 2005, the much coveted "Jerrys." They are official because I picked them. Other S21 bloggers and contributors should feel free to make their own lists and declare them official if they wish. Discerning readers will note that I have avoided the big name record labels who can fend perfectly well for themselves and, since I don't get out much, I have not selected any live performances. That's where you folks come in. Tell me the worthy CDs I overlooked and the live performances you enjoyed most this year.

One7 [from One13], One8
John Cage
OgreOgress Productions

Preludes to a Revolution
Jenny Lin
Hanssler Classics

Nude Rolling Down an Escalator: Studies for Disklavier
Kyle Gann
New World

Quilt Music
Beth Anderson, Keith Borden (baritone), Joseph Kubera (piano), et al.
Albany Records

Music for String Quartet
George Antheil
Del Sol String Quartet
Other Minds

Michael Gordon

L'heure Exquise
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto
Daniel Blumenthal, piano
Na�ve Classique

From Shelter
Steve Peters
Marghreta Cordero,voices; Alicia Ultan,vas; Steve Peters, pn
cold blue music CB0018

Music for Hammers & Sticks
Teresa McCollough
Innova Records

Rudolf Komorous
Pianist, Eve Egoyan
CR 9092

Shall I Compare Thee? Choral Songs on Shakespeare Texts
Chicago a cappella,
Conductor: Jonathan Miller

Unjust Malaise
Julius Eastman
New World Records

Tragedy or Not?

The first reviews of Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy are in--from the New York Times and the Associated Press--and they are respectful but... The verdict (from an admittedly small sample so far) seems to be that Tragedy is a qualified success; the reservation being a perception that the music is a bit too easy to like; perhaps not quite gnarly enough, to use my favorite perjorative for the polite form of mannered serialism that passes for modernism these days.

It seems to me that this discussion is less about a single composer or the merits of a single opera than a mirror into a nasty little power struggle between the aging icons of modernism (and the critics who came of age with them) who influence programs and commissions and a new breed of composers who believe it is their mission to bring audiences back to the concert hall and opera by writing music that people might actually enjoy hearing and, dare I say it, find hummable. The irony is that the modernists are now the reactionaries and the new tonalists are the revolutionaries. I suspect the best new music in next few years is going to come from somewhere toward the center of these two impulses.
So Nice, They Named It Twice


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