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Jerry Bowles
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Deborah Kravetz
Eric C. Reda
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Jerry Zinser
(Los Angeles)

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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, April 08, 2006
Is Blogging Writing?

The sad little secret of the blogosphere is that most bloggers are not good writers. In some cases, that is okay because the writer has something interesting to say and that makes up for the lack of finesse in presentation. Alex Ross is a great writer on music, which is why he gets the big bucks. Kyle Gann and Frank Oteri are composers who are also outstanding writers. Aside from the pros, though, who's good? This morning I went over to Bloglines and read through all the music blogs on my list looking for wit and grace and came up with some splendid stylings:

Pianist Jeremy Denk's Think Denk:
Unless I am running for my train, I find it difficult or impossible to pass through Penn Station without getting a Red Sicilian slice at Rosa's Pizza. It appears to be an unruly sea of roiling tomato sauce barely adhering to a thick chunk of bread, but some cheesy, salty secret lies hidden, baked in the redness. How did the tomato find such luxuriant and wonderful friends, and why are they all in my mouth at the same time?

Heather Heise's In the Wings:
The other night I couldn't sleep. Restless, fidgety, nervous, I watched the glowing digits of the clock fade from one hour into the next: 12:11. 1:20. 2:33. 3:13. At four a.m. I threw the covers aside, wondered if insomnia could get any more ridiculous, and then, chilled, pulled the blankets up to my chin again. I couldn't sleep because I needed to know: did Anton Webern have a sense of humor? If I invited him over for dinner, if I cooked him lentils with tarragon, and if we opened that bottle of wine I've been saving, would he laugh? Would Anton joke around with me? Could the man who wrote the curse of my very existence counter his analytic seriousness with wit and wry humor? Or was he just, cerebrally, mean?

Randy Nordshow, NewMusicBox:
It's hard to find like-minded musicians to work with. But when you crossover into other disciplines, compatibility seems to get even scarcer. I recently attended an event designed to spark new collaborations between composers and choreographers. Beyond the initial language barrier encountered in describing these two disparate art forms, I discovered another little snag: I compose music that doesn't concern itself with rhythm. Turns out that for the most part, dancers and choreographers are heavy into that stuff.
Helen Radice, Twang Twang Twang:
One thing, though, overwhelmingly characterises British music-making: amateurs. Throughout our green & pleasant land choral societies gather every saturday to warble through everything from the Vesperae de Confessore to (oh God) Elijah. In the manner of the muddy field gig, most professional instrumentalists sooner or later also find themselves driving to a country church to bung the band together.
Hold It Down, Please

The chances are pretty good that Glenn Branca won't be firing up 100 electric guitars anytime soon in the town of Norwich, England. The city elders have degreed 85 decibels to be the sound limit for the city and that includes the main concert hall. Sounds like a great place for a Morton Feldman festival. Pliable has details...Blackdogred considers The Flaming Lips...Pianist and resident blogger Jeffrey Biegel will play the world premiere of Lowell Liebermann's Third Piano Concerto with the Milwaukee Symphony May 12-14.

Elsewhere...Kaija Saariaho's second opera, Adriana Mater, finally opened in Paris after being delayed for several days by a strike. Alan Riding's review is here. Alex Ross was there earlier but I don't know if he was able to hang around for the delayed premiere or not. Of course, hanging around Paris (with an expense account) is not that much of a sacrifice. I have a younger friend who has promised to hide my ashes somewhere in the walls or under the floorboards in the Rafael Hotel.
At the Composers Forum with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

This morning I had the pleasure of participating in the New York Philharmonic�s Composers Forum, featuring Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. The Phil is performing her �American Concerto� for trumpet and orchestra this weekend, and this morning�s Forum consisted of an open rehearsal followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session. I am happy to report that Ms. Zwilich has been to � and very much approves of � our little patch of cyberspace here.

The �American Concerto� is a boisterous single-movement work that was premiered by Doc Severinsen and the San Diego Symphony Orchestra in 1994. The piece is inspired by the varied musical backgrounds American brass players tend to come from. Jagged fanfares reminiscent of college football halftime shows erupt periodically from the brass section, while the orchestra in quieter moments finds time to sit on pungent, bluesy harmonies. The solo part ranges from the brooding and lyrical to the exuberant and virtuosic. In the open rehearsal, Philip Smith, the Phil�s principal trumpet, performed the work with all the brash swagger one would hope for in a work entitled �American� concerto.

About ten people, mostly student composers, attended the question-and-answer session afterwards in the Dana Lounge backstage at Avery Fisher. Here are some of the more unexpected observations Zwilich made during the meeting: she doesn�t like opera all that much � which is why she hasn�t written one; she thinks the orchestration of Berg�s Violin Concerto �doesn�t work;� a bassoon (apparently) doesn�t sound any louder or softer whether it�s placed at the back or the front of a stage; when writing for an instrument she�s unfamiliar with, she studies etude books designed for students of the instrument; people who tell you not to be a composer are giving you �good, friendly advice.� Sad, but true.

For more about the Phil�s Composers Forums and other educational programs, click here.
A Snowy Day in April

Drew McManus was apparently inspired by my little piece on why you shouldn't think you know what kids enjoy and has added a new component to his Take A Friend To Orchestra month initiative--an essay contest for those under 18 years of age. The winning entry will be featured in place of Drew's regular article at Neo Classical for the month of May and gret featured billing at Adaptistration toward the conclusion of TAFTO 2006...And a big shoutout to Ariadne for her snarky comment about "loving to hate" S21 under my piece.

All you got to do is act naturally, the late Buck Owens advised. Lawrence Dillon wonders how you can do anything else...Jay Batzner says you can stick a fork in him--he's done...Our friend Gloria Coates is Composer of the Month in the Naxos blog.

Forgot to post Jerry Zinser's postmortum on the postminimalism fest in L.A. (just below) so it really should be labeled a couple of nights ago in L.A.
Last Night in L.A. - Turning Off the Jukebox

The Minimalist Jukebox ended Sunday with the final performances of the last program, the last of three performances of minimalism (and post-minimalism) written for full symphonic orchestra rather than for ensembles or chamber groups. Full orchestra means Philip Glass, composer of eight symphonies and as many concertos. But instead of doing two or three of those, the Phil (and John Adams, curator of the festival) gave us a surprise by opening the concert with extracts from one of Glass's operas (he�s written ten of those, as many as Puccini, but Glass� additional chamber operas clearly make him one of history�s prolific opera composers). We heard the prelude and three scenes from Glass� opera Akhnaten (1984) for the orchestra (without violins), the full Master Chorale, four male soloists and narrator. I�ve never seen the opera but I thought I knew what to expect. I was surprised. Clips from every track of the full recording are available here, but the sound is pallid compared to what we heard.

Following the long prelude, with narrator proclaiming three verses translated from ancient Egyptian texts, moving to the funeral procession of the preceding pharaoh, the most powerful piece by Philip Glass I can recall hearing, with strong percussion, strong choral lines, and a powerful bass singing lines from the Book of the Dead (in Egyptian). This was followed by the Hymn sung by Akhnaten (countertenor), one of Glass� most beautiful songs. (The sound clip gives only the prelude to the scene.) For the conclusion, the full orchestra, chorus and three soloists did the music from the Attack and Fall (lyrics from the Tell El-Amarna tablets, sung in Akkadian), another powerful scene. John Adams was conducting and while he isn�t the most accomplished conductor, he brought out the emotions, the strength, the power of the music. If you thought minimalism was passive, placid, and pleasant -- rather boring, in fact � this was a performance to hear, and I hope some of the directors and sponsors of Los Angeles Opera were there to hear it.

The second half of the concert was given to John Adams� Harmonielehre (1984-1985). This isn�t �minimalism� at all, but it is an enjoyable work and it held its own against the Akhnaten. We complain today when critics seem reluctant to appreciate contemporary music, but there has been a little progress. For the fun of it, let�s look at the first review in the New York Times of Harmonielehre, given by a reviewer still demonstrating his musical appreciation and insight in the paper: [names aren�t necessary]:
"Harmonielehre" jars our expectations in that it ''looks'' like a Romantic work but does not behave like one. Sonata form and its offshoots make us passengers of sorts, riders seated to the rear who follow musical ideas as they move from place to place, growing, shrinking, transforming themselves in the process. Mr. Adams's piece, on the other hand, goes nowhere. Neither does it evolve from a center outward. Indeed, we come upon it as a stationary object - anchored, already complete but incompletely perceived, seen only in outline and from a single angle. We hear first the music's repetitive heartbeats and its rhythmic mutations, but it is only as we gradually circle this object that its finer details are revealed - the rippling triadic figures, the little slivers of wind color, the mallet percussion detail, the timpani which booms out loudly when it arrives in view. Even the long Mahlerian violin melodies seem directionless, spinning out but then circling back to their beginnings.

Given that review, you could expect future audiences to be quite free to doubt the musical worth of the piece. And here�s the review of the first performance by the New York Philharmonic:
Mr. Adams, whose "Harmonielehre" was performed last evening by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Slatkin's direction, is reputed to be one of the movers [of minimalism], even though at times one would have been hard pressed to notice movement of any sort in this 40-minute, three-movement work. Things start off unpromisingly, with an insistent clanging and steady pulsations that sound like a large modern orchestra imitating a Balinese gamelan. In the long opening movement, Mr. Adams works over a few ideas with great economy and no little craft, though the musical effect is ultimately to make little out of little. In the true Minimalist style, he provides an underlay of slowly shifting harmonic patterns and then superimposes lines that might become melodic if they were meant to go anywhere. At no time does the work present difficulties to the listener, even at first hearing. In this score, at any rate, Mr. Adams is not in the business of antagonizing or disturbing anyone. It was all the more puzzling, then, to see Philharmonic subscribers leaving throughout the performance. [snip] [In the second movement] the purposeful stress on what used to be known to composers as padding [ouch] is made considerably less apparent and something surprisingly like a conventional melodic profile emerges. For dozens of bars at a stretch one might be listening to a lugubrious tone poem by, say, Rachmaninoff.

You don�t have to believe that Adams is our greatest composer or that Harmonielehre is his best work to be surprised at how professional critics, men who have studied music and earned a livelihood writing about it, could find this music so unappealing. Reviews like this give an audience the way to hear the music: it�s not very good; it doesn�t do anything; it doesn�t have direction or purpose; why waste your time.

Our Philharmonic audience has grown to like the music of John Adams quite well, thank you. They really liked the concert, both halves of the concert. It was a very enjoyable ending to our Minimalist Jukebox.

Let me try to generate a few summary thoughts about the festival. First, what made this set of concerts so important was not that Los Angeles was the first to have a series of concerts devoted to minimalism in its various incarnations, nor that we were hearing some major works for the first time; similar festivals have been given, and at least New York has provided venues for many more hearings of the individual works. Instead, I think this festival was important because it was organized and sponsored by the city�s major music institution, willing to serve as a leader in saying that this contemporary music is good -- and that it is important. The Phil brought in guest conductors and guest artists selected to show the music in the best way possible; these were not cut-rate productions with available, though hard-working, musicians (aside from the 100 electric guitars). The festival brought new listeners into the seats of Disney Hall.

The festival sold tickets, so that we didn�t have half-empty halls for contemporary work. In addition to exposing some new people to concerts they seemed to like, the festival exposed new works and unfamiliar composers to its present ticket base and its present donor base. In the course of two weeks, a dozen different composers were given good performances in the best venue with some of the best musicians before large, paying audiences. It�s true that for some concerts the subscriber base stayed away in droves (leaving good seats for the new buyers), but all of the concerts were treated with respect and praise by the media. Finally, the new initiative of releasing recordings from live performances, and starting with contemporary music, could be very important. I hope the Phil�s new Vice President of Artistic Planning is beginning to think of ideas for 2008.

I thought it was a shame that the festival organizers could not have found a way to include at least one work by La Monte Young, the most notable absentee from the lists. I also wish that the works of Philip Glass had been given greater prominence, which I think they deserve. I don�t know whether or not it signifies anything, but I was struck by the white male dominance of the volunteer musicians in the Branca. I could see only five females, and I saw no more obviously female names in the list of participants. I could see no African-Americans, perhaps five Hispanic-Americans, and perhaps five Asian-Pacific Americans. Is that representative?

New subject, briefly. Grendel, the new opera by Elliot Goldenthal -- with staging by Julie Taymor and libretto by Taymor and J.D. McClatchy -- is the subject of an essay in the April issue of Smithsonian. The opera will have its premiere by Los Angeles Opera in May and will go to Lincoln Center in July.
Speaking of Titles: Strung Out?

Rusty Banks is looking for his own Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck. Aren't we all? Rob Deemer has joined the Composers Forum and leads off with some thoughts on Apple's hot new composing software, GarageBand...Rodney Lister comes to the defense of "twelve toners and intellectual provocateurs" and wonders why they need defending...Alex Ross's New Yorker column this week is on the Kronos Quartet.
Playing Tag

Drew McManus, whose Adaptistration is far and away the best music management site on the web, was kind enough to invite me to write something for his annual "Take a Friend to Orchestra" initiative. He posted my little contribution today. Hop over and check it out...Ever heard Moonlight Sonata in Kirnberger III tuning? Elodie Lauten did, and lived to tell the tale...Question for those of you with pages on what "tags" are you using?

Now Playing:
Sebastian Currier
Quartetset; Quiet Time
Cassatt Quartet
New World Records

New World Records is on a chamber music hot streak. First, Ben Johnston's brilliant String Quartets 2, 3, 4 and 9 in January; this gem from Sebastian Currier in February, some revelatory music for strings by Robert Carl in March. Currier's 1995 Quartetset, written for the Cassett Quartet, is a long (45 minute) seven movement piece that pits tonality versus atonality, dissonance versus consonance, with results that are not only wildy imaginative but surprising listenable. The composer describes it as "a post-modern interpretation of the string quartet." The same might be said of Quiet Time, another seven movement suite, in which the dialectic is natural versus artifical sound.
A Funny Thing Happened...

Just got back from an afternoon performance of Mark Adamo's Lysistrata at the New York City Opera. Think Sondheim meets Mel Brooks. It's no Little Women but it is fun and has some gorgeous moments--Lysistrata's second act aria (sung splendidly by the talented Emily Pulley) and Myrhhine's wonderful first act love song, sung soulfully by Jennifer Rivera in a darling little baby doll outfit. There are some penis sight gags and vaudevillian Jewish humor that would embarass the Farrelly brothers but nobody writing musical theater today is better at mixing high and low brow entertainment than Adamo, who really should go for the big bucks and try his hand at Broadway.

Speaking of being embarassed, a reader has informed me that link on the OgreOgress Productions banner in the left column actually led to a site that sells videos of a non-family values nature. Not sure if I simply got the the wrong link orginally or whether my friends Glenn Freeman and Christina Fong have changed urls recently. In any event, I have fixed it now and you'll find the real OgreOgress Productions here.

Steve Hicken has just posted a review of two recent Eliott Carter CDs from Bridge Records.
Philadelphia Sounds: In Seach of A Better World

Relache celebrated Benjamin Franklin's 300th year in its usual style--with the world premiere of Jay Fluellen's Of Chess, Freedom and Dr. Franklin (2006).

However, they saved that one for last, and opened with Voyeuristic
Absurdities: From Mingus to Diallo
(2001), also a Relache
commission, by Leslie Burrs. Burrs is a flutist and the piece has the flute introducing each line, whcih is then played in unison, accompanied by marimba. Flute melody skims over the ensemble's syncopated theme. Later melodic lines are in English horn and clarinet with some nice textural combinations.

Thomas Albert's 1975 A Maze (with Grace) is a free-form collaboration, almost improv, in which the musicians find their own way toward
actualization of the hymn, over piano chords echoing the hymn's harmonics -- a hazy impressionistic pastorale at mesmerizing pace.

Another performer as composer results in the very jazzy The Meddler (2001)by bassist Rufus Reid. This piece was originally composed for flute and bass, then for jazz quintet, re-arranged for string orchestra, and now arranged for Relache's unique instrumentation by trumpeter Darin Kelly. Reid states that "meddling" is what he has done with it. Infectious rhythm and melodic theme keep it bouncing along with generous space for individual improvisation on bass and sax.

Finally, the best comes last. Philadelphia composer Jay Fluellen draws on a chess game and Ben Franklin's writings, with inspiration from artifacts at the Search for a Better World exhibit at the National Constitution Center, for his source and then employs the A.E. Church of St. Thomas Gospel Choir, along with Relache ensemble, for his finished composition. A capella choir introduces the concept of freedom before being joined by jazzy accompaniment; a solo line for viola echoes the melody line; Fluellen handles the piano himself. Short choral and instrumental movements alternate. The vocal texture is complex; text by the composer condenses the spirit of Franklin into pithy phrases referencing freedom, struggles, dreams -- indeed, Franklin's search for a better world. Instrumental movements are brisk and rhythmic; vocals are enjoyably melodic and intelligible.

RELACHE: � In Search of a Better World
National Constitution Center
March 25, 2006
(Reposted from Penn Sounds 4/1/06)


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