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

Jerry Bowles
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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, April 29, 2006
Cries and Whispers

Watching the brilliant Alexander Quartet perform Shostakovich Quartets 7, 8 and 9 in a jewel box recital room at the Baruch Performing Arts Center reminded me of what is often missing in chamber music--the chamber. Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center is the default mainstream residence of chamber music in New York but it holds more than 1,100 people and has the most generous ailses in town. The Engleman Recital Hall seats 172 and doubles as a classroom.

We sat in the fourth row, level with the stage, about 20 feet from the players. From that distance, in the hands of musicians playing with skill and conviction, the immediacy of Shostakovich's pain is almost unbearable, especially in the heartwrenching Eighth, which sounds exactly like what it may have been--a unfulfilled suicide note of a great composer and miserable human being.

The official version of the quartet's provenance is that Shostakovich was reacting to a visit to Dresden(where he was supposed to be writing music for a film) which still showed the scars from the World War II bombing. The alternative version is that he had just been forced to join the Communist Party and was so distraught he was contemplating suicide.

In Shostakovich: A Life, Laurel Fay quotes a letter that Shostakovich wrote to a friend five days after completing the quartet: "However much I tried to draft my obligations to the film, I just couldn't do it. Instead, I wrote an ideologically deficient quartet nobody needs. I reflected that if I die some day then it's hardly likely anyone will write a work dedicated to my memory. So I decided to write one myself. You could even write on the cover: 'Dedicated to the memory of the composer of this quartet.'"

Whether Shostakovich had really reached the ultimate point of despair is unknowable but the Eighth speaks for itself. Opening quietly with the signature D-Eb-C-B (DSCH), the quartet quotes from at least a half dozen other Shostakovich pieces as it works its way from resignaton to fury to despair and back to resignation. The inexplicably obscure Alexander players, whose skill and understanding of these works is easily the equal of the much more famous Shostakovich interpreters--the Emerson Quartet--peel back the layers of despair note by note and reveal a soul in naked torment.

It is an unspeakly bleak and deeply personal work that is so intimate it makes you feel as though you're watching something you shouldn't--like someone who has just been told that the person they loved most in the world has died. You want to turn away but the pain freezes you in place. I have heard this piece hundreds of times live, and in recordings, but I never felt it as intensely as I did last night. Intimate music touches the heart in intimate places.
Lady Jane

Here's something neat. Sequenza21 has been listed--along with the usual suspects--as one of the Top 10 Sources in classical music. Thanks to whomever. Do we get a tee shirt?

The night before I read that she had died, I was standing in the Lincoln Center Plaza thinking about Jane Jacobs. It's been years since I read The Death and Life of Great American Cities so my memory is hazy but I seem to recall that she used Carnegie Hall as an example of culture being integrated successfully into the fabric of a neighborhood and Lincoln Center as an example of culture being marginalized by isolating it in a concrete ghetto. For many years, I thought she was right but over the past five to ten years a real neighborhood has sprung up around Lincoln Center, with restaurants and movie theaters, a Barnes & Noble, Tower's classical music department, and lots of new residential buildings. It took awhile but Lincoln Center has finally become what its promoters and developers hoped it would be when it was built--the centerpiece of a major revitalization of a Manhattan neighborhood. Even the great ones sometimes get it wrong.

Update: David Toub browses his old LPs and discovers some neglected masterpieces.
The Man

Snow Business Like Show Business

Who can identify the second-from-right guitar/sax/flute player in this photo? Check out Beats Workin' (as long as it's there).
The Rush is On

John Luther Adams is on a hot streak. All through May his new installations, Veils and Vesper, will be heard at Diapason Sound Gallery in New York. JLA will be present for the opening on Saturday, May 6 and welcomes one and all.

As we've reported before, The Place Where You Go to Listen is now open at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. The Place has been enthusiastically received by visitors, featured in NewMusicBox, The Boston Globe and Orion, and heard on NPR�s Living on Earth.

And, if that's not enough, Cantaloupe Music has just released The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies, composed for and recorded by the Steven Schick.

Now Playing: Bart�k: Violin Concerto No 2, Sonatas, Etc., Laurent Korcia
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Best. Violin concerto. Ever. Played with improbable skill and understanding by the brilliant young Hungarian Laurent Korcia. One of the great mysteries to me is why so many of S21's bright young gnarly modernist readers dismiss great composers like Bartok and Janacek as mere regionalists or nationalist folk song collectors or something. These guys wrote bitchin' music, dudes.
That new music authority--Midori

Midori's not the first performer that leaps to mind when thinking about champions of new music. But this story in the NY Times may change your perception of her:

One of our favorite games here is trying to answer the question of how to bring more people to contemporary classical music. One thing that is invariably overlooked in these discussions is how performer-driven the classical music industry is. When a name performer programs contemporary music, that does so much to help our cause, first by bringing composers such as Yun, Kurtag, Lutoslawski, and Weir (all performed by Midori on her recent programs) to the public, and second, by inspiring younger performers to take up new and/or neglected important repertory. I never thought I'd see Erwartung on the Billboard classical charts--but it was a bestseller over a decade ago because Jessye Norman recorded it. And how many young cellists has Yo-Yo Ma inspired to commission new works?
Back to Bach

So, did Bach's second wife, Anna Magdalena, write--among other things--the Six Cello Suites, some of the Goldberg Variations, and the first prelude of the Well-tempered Clavier Book I? Guy here thinks so.

We're pretty sure Tom Myron wrote his own Symphony Number 2, which was premiered by the Portland Symphony on Sunday. There's a review here.

There's a concert to benefit the American Music Center featuring performances by Matthew Shipp, the Meridian Arts Ensemble, and Pamela Z Monday, May 1, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at The Cutting Room, 19 West 24th Street. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door.

Didn't Johann and Anna Magdalena have a son named Jesus or am I getting my stories mixed up?
Last Night in L.A. - Kurt�g's Ghosts

The recitals by pianist Marino Formenti have been the best-attended concerts in the declining years of the Monday Evening Concerts at LACMA. Last night�s concert was no exception. With the same amount of publicity (i.e., none), attendance trebled as a result of word of mouth from fan to fan. (You imagine: "Have you heard? Formenti will be back. Let�s go!")

Last night�s concert was an homage to Gyorgy Kurtag . Since Kurtag wrote so many works for piano in which he recognized styles and emotions of earlier great composers, Formenti built a concert around Kurtag�s recognitions, interspersing the Kurtag homages with short works (extracts) of the source composer, all performed with only the briefest pause as the pianist moved between centuries and styles and philosophies and attitudes.

I�d like to copy the program, but that would take too much space; how to summarize? The first half included 17 short works by Kurtag, interspersed with extracts and works by 13 different composers from Machaut to Messiaen, from Bach to Stockhausen, from Mussorgsky to Bartok. The second half was a fraction more concentrated, relying much more on Schumann as a source for Kurtag, but there were still 35 different works listed in the program. This sounds as if it would be unsatisfying, but Formenti�s insight into the music led him to build sequences of works with relationships of feeling and sound. For example, the first half concluded with a sequence of works influenced by Hungarian styles: a short Kurtag, a Schubert Hungarian Melody, a Ligeti, a Bartok Hungarian Peasant Song, a Kurtag, another Bartok, a Beethoven Bagatelle, another Bartok, a concluding Kurtag. The second half exploded with fireworks of Schumann and Kurtag, but concluded more somberly with a sequence in "In Memoriam" works, with the concert finally ending in silence as the audience held its breath.

The Monday Evening Concerts at LACMA gave Formenti his American debut in 2001, with a series of four concerts. He repays the favor by giving the concluding concert at the museum next Monday night, a concert beginning at 7:00. Formenti�s web site says this will be "a celebration with wine and conversation between Formenti's performances of works by Salvatore Sciarrino, John Cage, Lachenmann, and Morton Feldman." And if you visit his web site, note that the photo is by Betty Freeman, our great lady and sponsor of contemporary music.

My blogger connection has been cranky all day and I haven't been able to log on until now but it looks like our regulars have been beavering away. Putting the updates on the front page was obviously a good idea although the left column is beginning to look a tad...busy?

Several random notes:

There's a great new classical music blog and online community you should check out. Chicago Classical Music was created by a consortium of Chicago-area music groups, including Ravinia, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Chicago Sinfonietta, Chicago Opera Theater, Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Music of the Baroque and Grant Park Music Festival. Very slick and well-funded site. Anybody got ideas how we could tap into the New York music community and rip off the idea?

Scott Unrein has just posted an interview with Jim Altieri, technical advisor on John Luther Adams' sound installation The Place Where You Go to Listen.

Darcy James Argue writes: "Given Lisa's recent query RE: the Stone, and the subsequent discussion of the lack of discussion of current improv/jazz/etc on S21... would Lisa be willing to cover this scene for S21? Would "jivestomper" Andrea? Seems like a niche just waiting to be filled..." How about it Andrea and Lisa? Want to do a club scene blog for S21?
�A Tribute to Great Cities� with the Brooklyn Philharmonic

Before I tell you about the contemporary works by Heiner Goebbels and H. K. Gruber on last night�s Brooklyn Phil program, I have a confession to make. I wasn�t there for the contemporary music: I was there for Ute Lemper, of whom I�ve been a fan for years. Lemper was on hand to render songs by Kurt Weill, Kander and Ebb, Jacques Brel, Hans Eisler, and others. And she did so with the sort of power, color, and panache that make Goebbels and Gruber sound pretty quaint.

Goebbels was represented by his �Sampler Suite� from �Surrogate Cities,� an evening-length work for amplified orchestra and electronics. The suite is in ten short movements, each of which carries the name of a Baroque dance-form (�Allemande,� �Gavotte,� and so forth). Also reminiscent of the Baroque are the affective nature of the movements: each presents a single state of mind while focusing on a single rhythmic idea. The musical materials are eclectic to a fault: saccharine tonal passages rub shoulders with bristling atonal ones; over the speakers, a sampled Jewish cantor gives way to indistinct watery noises meant to recall a city sewer.

All of this should make for a chaotic, cacophonous hoot. But the result is curiously tame. However bracing its rhythms, however novel its timbres and dramatic its contrasts, Goebbels�s is a city behind glass � a city looked at, not lived in. You keep expecting the music to punch you in the face, or sweep you off your feet, or just give you some crazy urban thrill. But it never comes. The half-hour work fails to accumulate momentum or tension, and the whispery major triad that concludes the piece sounds apologetic. And the cities I like don�t apologize.

I have no strong feelings about H. K. Gruber�s �Manhattan Broadcasts.� What�s interesting about this breezy, two-movement work, is that it doesn�t sound anything like you�d expect an Austrian work from 1964 to sound. Here, Gruber is much closer to Bernstein and Ellington than to Boulez and Stockhausen, and those who think serialism�s tyranny back then was absolute should take another look.

The program overall was imaginative and innovative, and, for a concert lasting over two-and-a-half hours, felt pretty fleet. The Brooklyn Phil opened with some Bernstein, moved on to a set with Ute Lemper, and closed the first half with the Goebbels. The second half opened with Copland�s suite for the 1939 film �The City� (with excerpts from the film projected on a screen), went on to the Gruber, and finished with another set from Lemper. This sort of eclectic programming is without a doubt to be recommended, but the Goebbels, meant to balance with the Gruber, did get lost in the mix. Nonetheless, if this is the sort of programming up new music director Michael Christie�s sleeve, I say bring it on.


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