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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

Friday, May 12, 2006
The Demon Barber

Our nephew, the skinny-assed jet jockey, has been visiting for the past couple of days so I haven't had much time for blogging. My thanks to David S. and Rodney for picking up the slack although--as with most things in my life--it wasn't planned. To celebrate my 63rd, we all went to see Sweeney Todd last night. It was our fourth Sweeney, his first. My favorite is still the semi-staged version at Avery Fisher Hall a couple of years ago but this is definitely a Sweeney of merit. The stripped-down staging and mimimal orchestration puts the emphasis on the drama and Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone deliver riveting performances. I have to admit that staring at Patti's legs in the Fleet Street precursor to a mini-skirt from the second row is not the thrill it might have been 20 years ago. But, she's still the most endearingly over-the-top Broadway diva going.
A Happy Birthday to Milton Babbitt

To be honest, I'd like to like the music of Milton Babbitt more than I do. I respect him completely and even sympathize with much of what he allegedly "stands for." But, in the end, my conception of music is too dramatisitic -- to borrow Edward Cone's term -- to find much of Babbitt appealing. His relentless, disciplined, and tight style suppresses cathartic moments, buries melodic lines (which are few), and comes across frequently as stiflingly self-conscious and -- for all its contrast and well-formedness -- a little monotonous. I know there are fans of "The Head of the Bed" reading this, but I just kept yearning for the singer to slow down, for Babbitt to give the poor woman some more melismas and some slower note values, or to allow her to cut loose from the instrumentalists -- or vice versa -- or to give us some time to digest John Hollander's dense poetry. No such relief comes. And I need music to breathe; I need to sense a human persona behind the notes; and, too often on last night's concert, I was hearing nothing but sound -- often scintillating sound to be sure, but sound empty of perceptible humanity nonetheless. Oddly, the piece I found most congenial was the abstractly-named "Canonical Form" from 1983. Here are melodies to hold on to, moments in which to reflect, clever surprises, angry bursts from the bass, and flippant parallel octaves. I really enjoyed it from start to finish.

It also occurs to me, however, that what I'm responding to could result less from Babbitt's compositional language than from the inability of (many) performers to really get his music across. This has surely been a perennial problem for Babbitt, and, my friend next to me -- a Babbitt fan who happily jabbers away about the man's weighted aggregates and partitioning methods -- confessed he found many of the performances unconvincing and lacking energy. I have to make exceptions, though, for pianist Robert Taub, whose comfort with Babbitt's music is obvious; baritone Thomas Meglioranza, whose rich voice gratefully found the lyrical impetuousness within "Two Sonnets;" and violinist Rolf Schulte whose playing for a blessed moment (the fifth movement) electrified "The Head of the Bed."

There can be no question, however, that Babbitt the man is wonderful. During the concert we were treated to a brief and priceless discussion between him and James Levine, and Babbitt's manner -- down-to-earth, pragmatic, humorous, and humble -- contrasted refreshingly with his intense music. At one point, Levine remarked how he considered Babbitt's development into a composer to have been "organic," to which Babbitt replied that that would be a "comforting thought," but that, in the end, he couldn't himself be so sure. I told Babbitt at the reception afterwards how moved I was by this comment, and how I felt -- even though I was just a kid -- I knew exactly what he meant. "How can we ever really know we were meant to be composers?" he asked rhetorically. "If you enjoy writing music, you just do it." He asked me my name, where I studied, and, when I told him of my years with David Lewin, we reminisced a moment about our old friend. He was then swarmed by other well-wishers, and I grabbed another piece of cake. Soon, after deciding I was too chicken to approach Charles Wuorinen or James Levine, I left for home.
New York Miniaturist Ensemble Auctions a 100 Notes by Mauricio Kagel

Sure, we've heard of the guy that auctioned off his forehead and the auction of a town in Australia, but 100 notes? The ever inventive New York Miniaturist Ensemble is running an auction for the privilege of commissioning a piece for them by Mauricio Kagel. As this ensemble is well known for its 100 note limitation on pieces they perform, and for allowing the composer to define what a 'note' is within that limit one can rest assured that the cost per note will be well-defined. Check out the auction and please... bid early and often. And bid to win!

Also, check out the New York Miniaturist Ensemble's new MP3 recordings. I've been featuring them at a little at a time. They really feature just how professional this new group is and how composers individually respond to their compressive paradigm. Check out their web site for upcoming calls for scores. They're always on the lookout for 100 notes or less.

The Firebird Ensemble, which has become an ever more important fact of new music life in Boston, presented their most visible concert yet in Jordan Hall last night. The concert was part of New England Conservatory's Composers' Series, and contained six first performances of works by NEC faculty, students, and alums. John Malia's Peripheral Gain for string trio and electronics would have been a perfectly satisfying piece if one had heard only the instrumental parts, which were in a very handsome sounding more or less classic east cost academic language. The electronics enhanced those notes, providing a sort of halo around it all from time to time. The piece came to an end, however before it stopped, which was a little disappointing Malia's program note spoke of opening up the form; to this listener it came off more as the form falling apart, although none of the music, in and of itself, had any problems and the very ending was very striking. Marcin Bela's Szela was concerned with Jacub Szela, "a shady character in the troubled history of Polish-Ukrainian relations." The three parts, which were continuous, were comprised of a section concerned with the marriage of Szela to a much younger woman, a slow section setting texts by inmates of the Butyrka Prison, and a final song about Szela catching his wife with another man, one Wicus, and the mayhem that followed. Szela, which was in Polish, featured Bela playing the piano and singing along with Lisa Harkness and Suzanne Klock, in a musical language that lived at some intersection of Weil, the Carpenters, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I liked it, although I could have stood something considerably more violent in the last section. Montserrat Torras's Impromtus for Chamber Ensemble, which opened the concert, was lively and less memorable than the other pieces on the program. It featured at the beginning a lot of hand clapping and stomping; it was not clear whether it was intended that for large stretches the singer, Jennifer Ashe, was supposed to be less clearly heard than the players.

Ashe was the focus of Curtis Hughes's The Beck Journals, Vol. 2, a sort of interior monologue grand opera which sets selections from the journals of Rosemarie Beck, a painter who was the grandmother of his wife. The voice part is the generating element of the work; for much of the piece the singer, doubled consistently by the instruments, is the center of a brisk swirl of activitiy, usually associated with Beck's thoughts about art. A different, slower, kind of seasick, music is alligned with Beck's assessment of her works. Yet another, more varied, strand has to do with the publication and reception of a novel by her husband, Robert Phelps; it includes a furiously bitter excoriation of Dorothy Parker, set to equally furious and bitter music, which is maybe the most memorable part of the strangely dramatic and compelling piece. Since Ashe was amplified, there was not problem hearing her vivid and impassioned singing.

The concert ended with Field Guide by Lee Hyla. Hyla has a certain kind of fascination for birds of all kinds. They often end up figuring in the titles and substance of a number of his pieces in various ways. This one, which is a concise, jaunty, and tender pastorale, wrought in a masterly manner, is based on five specific bird calls, each associated with particularly instruments, which are presented and combined in various ways along with a fragment of a song by Donovan.

Even though there were copious program notes for all the pieces, each of the composers spoke before the performance of his or her piece. Since there wasn't much else to say about the music, each one ended up being an on the spot endorsement of the Ensemble and the performance we were about to hear. It might have been annoying, but since all the performances were brilliant and beautiful and compelling and about a good as one could imagine,it seemed justified.
Yellow Back Black Radio Broke Down

Many thanks to Drew McManus for his neat article in Adaptistration today about my latest web brainstorm, blognoggle|New Music...Happy second anniversary to the indispensible Alex Ross. (Great photo of Alex as Brad Pitt playing Claude Debussy)...Lisa Davis launches her new S21 blog with a name we haven't heard around here before...Busta Rhymes.
Not Nearly As Bad as It Sounds

The MET Chamber Orchestra is performing a 90th birthday celebration for Milton Babbitt at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall on Wednesday night. James Levine is listed as conductor although he may still be ailing. I'm not a big fan of Uncle Miltie's music or musicial ideas but it's hard to thrash a 90-year-old who's still out there kicking.
Welcome to Steve's Real-Time MySpace Music Cluster

As I'm sure you all know, is the leading Web 2.0 social networking hub, connecting influential early-opinion-leaders via a transparent, ajax-founded, tagging/detagging framework that is entirely based on documented hyper-neural, multi-threaded, semantic progression algorithms, collective global intelligence, and existing, conversation-led, social-media folksonomies.

What that means, basically, is that the people who create pages at (and many other Web 2.0 sites--the marketing name for the next round of stock market irrational exhuberance) also categorize the information to make it easier for other users to find. Alas, as you know if you've ever tried to find something there, "tagging" is still an imperfect science because there are no standards or specific criteria for categorization. "Classical" and "Experimental" seem to be the most common tags for new music composers and performers but neither is truly descriptive.

Steve Layton has come up with a neat solution--he's created a "friends" page at his myspace site with links to other relatively unknown musicians who've also staked a claim on the site. Browse and click on any of the links on this page and you can skip the searching and go straight to the good stuff.

"Each artist's own page contains from 1 to 4 tracks that you can listen to, and often download," Steve says. "And each of them also have their own list of "friends", which can lead to even more dicoveries. The artists here literally circle the globe. Most of you know I have broad tastes but a very good 'ear', and I can say that every one of these musicians is making interesting, quality work, no matter the genre."

The current list is just the first 60 or so that Steve has uncovered in the last few days. If Steve has missed you or you haven't created a page yet, be sure to let him know when you do so he can check it out.


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