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

Jerry Bowles
(212) 582-3791

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

Saturday, January 07, 2006
As Slowly As Possible

Not quite sure how we missed it but a new chord was sounded on Thursday in John Cage's Organ�/ASLSP, which is being performed for only another 635 years in the abandoned Buchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany. The world's slowest concert began September 5, 2001 and is scheduled to last until 2639.

The piece began with a year and a half of silence, followed by the first chord, a G-sharp, B and G-sharp, which sounded on February 2, 2003. The new chord�an A, a C, and an F-sharp�will last until 2012, with the help of sandbags placed on the keys.

Alan Theisen points to a neat interview with Leonard Slatkin...Elodie Lauten won't be blogging for awhile. She's gone to Paris to be with her mother who is very ill. Our thoughts are with her.
New York State of Mind

In our continuing effort to become even more New York-centric, we have added a new blogger from the Heartland. Jay C. Batzner is currently completing his dissertation at the University of Missouri in Kansas City which, I suppose, would qualify as "downtown" in our center-of-the-universe scheme of things. I jest, of course, since among our regular bloggers only Elodie Lauten is a New Yorker and she came here from the even more provincial town of Paris.

We do have a few guys from Brooklyn who pipe up once in awhile but Brooklyn is not the center-of-the-universe. The center-of-the-universe is located somewhere between Tower Record's Classical Department at 66th and Broadway and Fairway Market at 74th and Broadway.

In any event, say hello to Jay who writes that he is "...tired of percussionists running all over the world to hit stuff."
Not Bad for a Thursday

The Germans are coming, the Germans are coming. Mark Berry writes about the new music group Spectrum Concerts Berlin's plans to invade America...Clarinetist David Thomas talks tone...Jack Reilly's posts are back. Jack got a little too aggresive with the buttons on his Blogger "dashboard" and they disappeared for awhile...Lawrence Dillon is far too lavish in his praise...but, thanks for the bucking up...And Blackdogred loves Beth Orton. So do I.

Note to CD reviewers: Don't make me do that thing where I yell and scream about how everybody likes to get free CDs but nobody is conscientious about writing reviews again.
Favorite CDs of 2005

As a cataloger for a music library at a progressive university, I listen to a LOT of 20th and 21st century music. Unfortunately, a great deal of what comes across my desk is not current (my favorite discovery in 2005 were the series of BIS CDs devoted to J�n Leifs, but they�re several years old). For instance, we haven�t received the Julius Eastman CD others have raved about, but we did get every CD in the BIS catalog that we didn�t already own.

The newly published items that I do audition give me some perspective about the state of recorded contemporary music; I typically listen to 10 or so new music CDs a week (Kyle and Alex�what�s your consumption rate?) at least once, and all of the CDs below have been given at least two hearings to test for worthiness.

I�ve divided my list into two parts. The first consists of CDs published in 2005 whose entire contents I can unhesitatingly recommend. I won�t say anything more about them other than their inclusion here justifies a listen, if you share my tastes.

The second part consists of CDs with some great music on some tracks, but average to bad on others. I still buy CDs or LPs just to hear one piece; I suspect some of the readers here do as well. I give some descriptions to separate the wheat from the chaff on each CD.

FAVORITE CDs of 2005:

Albeniz: Iberia
Marc Andre-Hamelin, piano
Hyperion (67476)

Complete Crumb Edition, Volume Nine
Ancient Voices of Children; Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik; Madrigals
Bridge (9170)

Walter Zimmermann: The Echoing Green
HCD Ensemble and guests
Mode (mode 150)

Xenakis: Music for strings
Ensemble Resonanz, Johannes Kalitzke
Mode records (mode 152)

Bartok: Piano Concertos
Pierre Boulez, conductor, Krystian Zimerman (1st), Leif Ove Andsnes (2nd), H�l�ne Grimaud (3rd)
Deutsche Grammophon (000388502)

Music by Fraser Trainer, his group Between the Notes, and an arrangement of Love Action
Black Box (BBM1095)

Kyle Gann: Long Night
Sarah Cahill, pianos
Cold Blue Music

Kyle Gann: Nude Rolling down an Escalator
New World Records (80633-2)


Golijov/Ayre ; Berio/Folk Songs
Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Deutsche Grammophon (B0004782-0)

Ayre is an okay piece, but I�m not convinced of its appeal on repeated listenings. I think a lot of critics were distracted by the sociopolitical message and over-reacted to the musical merits of the piece, which to my ears sounded like your average Tzadik Radical Jewish Culture release. Folk Songs is terrific, a much more interesting blend of folk and modern music practices, I think. Maybe it comes down to that I don�t hear Golijov in Ayre, but I do hear Berio in Folk Songs. Regardless of the merits of Ayre, Dawn Upshaw is amazing, and the disc is worth owning just to hear her performance.

The Music of Mario Davidovsky: Volume 3
Bridge (9171)

I can do without the Duo Capriccioso and the Quartetto, but the Synchronisms no. 5, 6, and 9 (performed by the Manhattan School of Music Percussion Ensemble, Aleck Karis, and Curtis Macomber, respectively) are all great pieces and performances. I also enjoyed the electronic-musicky Chacona, performed by members of Speculum Musicae: Curtis Macomber, violin; Eric Bartlett, violoncello; Aleck Karis, piano. One of the quintessential Uptown composers. The usual excellent Bridge engineering.

Lewis Spratlan: When Crows Gather and Other Works
Albany Records (TROY725)

When Lewis Spratlan won the Pulitzer in 2000, most of us who live south and/or east of New York City scratched our heads and said �Who?� Finally, 5 years later, a CD of Spratlan�s music over the last 20 years gives us some idea of what he sounds like. The lengthy vocal cycle Of Time and the Seasons is competent academic atonalism, but nothing special. However, the other three works [When Crows Gather (1986), Concertino (1995), Zoom (2003)] display a wide-ranging eclecticism, with Ligeti-like passages, Ivesian overlapping of ragtime with a chorale, a blatantly tonal waltz with dissonant business on top of it, and a rock-inspired romp in the last movement of Zoom (2003) worthy of a composer twenty years his junior. Nice performances by Sequitur, with Mark Kaplan as the violin soloist in the Concertino.

American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein
New World Records (80631-2)

I don�t care much for Copland�s Inscape (Aaron trying too hard to write that twelve-tone music like all the hip young composers did in the �60�s) or Perle�s Transcendental Modulations (sounds like warmed-over second-rate Berg), but worth a listen for Roger Sessions� gritty Symphony no. 8 and Bernard Rands� beautiful and elegant �where the murmurs die�

Naked City: The complete studio recordings
Tzadik (7344-5)

All the releases by John Zorn�s most controversial project, wonderfully remastered. Lots to admire here (Spillane and Torture Garden both kick serious ass two decades later), but lots of self-indulgence too. Is Zorn a sadist? A misogynist? A racist? Or an inspired postmodern genius? Give this a listen and make the call. The inside art is not for the squeamish (don�t let the kiddies see it), and neither is this music.

Matthew Welch: Dream Tigers
Tzadik (TZ8015)

The inner piece, Enantiomorphs (2000), is an undistinguished Scelsi-like piece for multiple clarinets. But the outer works, both from 2004 (perhaps a new turn for the composer?) display a lively, solid hybridization of Eastern music, Celtic bagpipes, and classical music. Siubhal Turnlar is a string quartet with Balinese-like melodies. The Self and The Other is for bagpipes (played by Welch), piano, and percussion ensemble, again with a gamelan-like sound. Very attractive works.
Plus ca Change

And so history repeats itself as it always does. The folks who live on the ridges and in the hollars around Sago will bury their dead and other men will replace them in the pit because mining pays better and is more dignified than working at Wal-Mart. The coal company will pay a modest fine--like oil, coal is strategic, after all--and the survivors will endure because that's what they have always done. In the days before television--when rural Americans still sat around on the porch in early evening and watched the fireflies and entertained themselves with stories and songs--someone would have written a mournful tune called "The Sago Mine Disaster" meant to be sung a capella in a high lonesome tenor voice or maybe by a woman who sounds like Hazel Dickens. But people don't do that anymore and Sago will quickly fade into the next news cycle and the camera crews will all go home...until the next time.
Not Always Heaven

Having grown up in the coalfields of West Virginia and had many relatives and friends who earned their livings in places where the rain never falls and the sun never shines, I have an ominous feeling about this one. Ironically, this should be a day of celebration for my much maligned home but... I hope I'm wrong.

Lots of New Year's reflections: Anthony Cornicello, Lawrence Dillon, Alan Theisen...Elodie Lauten points to a Todd Machover "curated" program on Thursday evening...Christina Fong has a new recording of Morton Feldman's Complete Violin|Viola and Piano Works which is due out on January 12, which would have been Feldman's 80th birthday.

Blackdogred has the list di tutti lists and David Toub has a great discussion of "experimental" music going on in the Composers Forum.
George Rochberg Tribute

On Wednesday December 28 at 8 PM, Weill Hall was almost completely full of (mostly) New Yorkers and Philadelphians (including this one) for an all-Rochberg concert. The composer, who is frequently credited with launching musical post-modernism (at least of the "uptown" variety) by pulling tonality out of the jaws of serialism, died at age 86 in May of 2005. He had recently completed his memoirs (which Kyle Gann has reviewed, prompting some eloquent musings here, here and here) but had stopped composing a few years ago because he felt he was physically unable to handle the emotional turmoil that it produced in him. He had been working on a seventh symphony, which he claimed would have been the darkest, most violent thing he had ever written.

In fact, Rochberg took music very, very deeply to heart throughout his life. His musical studies were interrupted by service in World War II, where he endured some wrenching battlefield experiences. From then on, he seemed always (as an artist, at least) to view life through a glass darkly. He was one of the first American serialists, and by general consensus became the best of them, developing his musical language to an extraordinary level of sensitivity to gesture, pitch structure and expressivity, and bringing to it a high technical polish. But when his son Paul died of a brain tumor in 1964, Rochberg found his sharply honed musical language inadequate to write (or sing) his almost unfathomable grief. He began to refract his music through others with musical collage and quotation -- building musical works around existing works by Bach and Mozart, or wholesale quotations of Mahler -- and, in 1972 began producing works that were either entirely tonal or that contained extended sections of traditionally tonal music, employing musical language that (variously) Haydn, Beethoven or Mahler would have been entirely comfortable with ... almost. The music was never derivative, however, and Jay Reise in his 1981 article "Rochberg the Progressive" in Perspectives of New Music, showed how the tonal music was deeply connected with the atonal music elsewhere in the piece. It was this annealing, more than just the revival of tonality and claiming for it a role in contemporary composition, that was Rochberg's primary achievement. Rochberg continued to explore this idea for the rest of his creative life, producing a large body of chamber music including String Quartets 3-6, Symphonies 4-6 (Number 5 was recently released on Naxos and was nominated for a Grammy in 2003), a Violin Concerto for Isaac Stern (recently restored to its original version on another Naxos CD) and many other works for intermediate forces. (The Naxos CDs, by the way, feature a really unfortunate drawing of the composer; see his publisher's page or, for a small view of how nobly he aged, see this.)

From the 1960s on, Rochberg famously held that serial music was incapable of expressing emotions beyond a narrow range of neurotic angst and violence. But it was not a desire to write comedy or joy that inspired him to break out of that range; rather, a deep sadness, a nostalgia, something more tender, as in his first two entirely tonal pieces, the Ricordanza and the slow movement of the Third String Quartet (later transcribed for String Orchestra as the Transcendental Variations, appearing on the same CD as the Symphony No. 5). But in Rochberg, genuine angst (or at least irony) and frequently violence, is never far away. After you hear the Third String Quartet or parts of the Fifth Symphony, or his vigorous tonal fugues, you wonder what he would have unleashed had he completed the seventh symphony. And you wish he had been able to complete it. (I believe he said that it would have torn his guts out, or something equally drastically gastric. He didn't mince words.)

Wednesday evening's tribute assembled several loyal performers who, in Gene Rochberg's words, "gave so many years of friendship and devotion to the new works as they were written," and a smashing group of young students, to perform four of Rochberg's signal chamber works. The 1972 Ricordanza for cello and piano, his tonal breakout piece, was lovingly, almost cantorially offered up by Norman Fischer and Jerome Lowenthal. One of Rochberg's last serial works, La Bocca Della Verita, for violin and piano (from an original for oboe and piano), received a thrillingly hair-raising exorcism by Charles Castleman and (again) Jerry Lowenthal -- how could an oboe contain this music? This is jagged, explosive late-1950s serial music taken to a new level of refinement, beside which contemporaneous Stockhausen seems clumsy and Boulez esoteric.

The 1982 Cello Quintet (string quartet plus cello) was entirely new to me. It hasn't been recorded, but it should be, and quickly. It is dedicated to dear friends and finds Rochberg about as sunny as I've ever heard from him. But it's not light music - it's full of juicy ensemble writing. (The man wrote for strings better than almost anyone.) And it was performed with panache by a group of young musicians -- Rhiannon Banerdt and Genevieve Purcell, violins; Deborah Apple, viola; Jessie Mark and Mitchell Lyon, cellos -- who threw themselves into it and had the audience whooping with delight. I imagine it's hard to "get" Rochberg at such an early age, and though there was certainly room for them to grow into the piece, after awhile I forgot about their age. This piece is a real find.

Finally, Castleman, Fischer and Lowenthal reunited, along with Laura Bossert (violin) and John Kochanowski (viola) for the turbulent Quintet for Piano and String Quartet of 1975, a nearly 40-minute 7-movement arch that spans most of Rochberg's metastable emotional space: a spooky Introduction, central Sfumato and Epilogue, bracketing a Fantasia, a fugal scherzo, a set of "Little Variations" and a traditional but here penultimate Finale. Dedicated to his wife Gene (who was in attendance), this, along with the String Quartets, is core Rochberg, chamber music division. I always respected this piece, but I must admit that this performance was the first time I really liked it. It was worth the hundred mile drive each way for this performance alone.

I don't have all the details of how the evening was put together, but I know that Edith Reiber, another long-time friend of the Rochbergs, had a considerable hand in the proceedings, for which a few hundred people owe her considerable thanks. The result was both a supreme tribute to an urgently creative life and an evening of extraordinarily rich and satisfying music with an emotional range that few 20th century composers could command. Think what you like about Rochberg's turn to tonality; composers would do themselves a great favor by studying his supreme craft, the finely wrought musical ideas, the vigorous fast music, the knife-edge nervous system, and the resplendent instrumental writing. The later music is supremely human; La Bocca Della Verita is superhuman.

Thank you, George, for bringing music around. In your current capacity, see if you can do the same for God.
New Year's Fireworks

To get the New Year off with a bang, an irate citizen named maclaren has written a hefty polemic at the end of the comments on the original How Long Should a Piece Be? post in the Composers Forum. (Ignore the software glitch that says there are 0 comments; there are about a hundred.) Start reading with "A PINOCCHIO PROBLEM."

Maclaren raises lots of issues, including the possibility that Sequenza21 and the musicians who gather here may be a little too New York-centric and self-absorbed to view the larger world in which most real composers operate. (I'm paraphrasing gently.) The rules for posting comments here are they can't be anonymous; they can't be obscene; they can't be too personal and rude to others; and they can't be too weird. While maclaren approaches the bar on all fronts he has obviously spent a great deal of time and energy in framing a response and has a passionate point of view. He deserves some kind of response. Anybody got a well-rested dog?

I suggest responding with a new post at the top of the page since the original is about to slide off the bottom.


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