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Jerry Bowles
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Love and Cow Bells
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Well, That Was Fun
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John Cage (born Los Angeles, 5 September 1912; died New York, 12 August 1992).
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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, July 28, 2006
Headline Says It All

Dika Newlin, 82, Punk-Rock Schoenberg Expert, Dies

Well, maybe not the part about the guitar-playing cats.

Or the sample of Dika singing. (RealAudio)
Fiddling While Beirut Burns?

The well-known pianist Condoleezza Rice plans to play a somber piece of music to her Asian colleagues in the ASEAN meeting in Malaysia this week. The group has a tradition of ministers performing usually silly skits at a gala dinner, but Rice, who is not particularly noted for a sense of humor, said she was more at ease playing a serious, reflective piece, possibly by the composer Brahms. Reuters quotes her as saying: "It is not a time that is frivolous. It is a serious time. I will play something that is in accordance with my serious mood."

Today's silly music game is (a) guess which piece Condi will play (I don't think it's been published yet) and/or (b) suggest what piece she should play.

More information about the James MacMillan premiere at Indiana University here.
Bored of the Rings

Nasty hobbitses! Why do you make poor Gollum listen to your awful symphony?

I heard the Lord of the Rings Symphony at the San Diego Summerpops last week. Since things are slow here, thought I'd share my thoughts on it. Please forgive the Music Appreciation 101 aspects of my commentary, but I hoped that concert attendees might read my review and actually be inspired to seek out some of that weird classical music which doesn't have images or words accompanying it:

It's unclear how much of this "symphony" is Howard Shore's, and how much of it is the effort of "Artistic Advisor & Music Editor" John Mauceri. True, Shore is credited with writing and orchestrating all the music to the film, but I wonder if he just turned Mauceri loose on the cues, saying, "Here, throw something together for me."

I like Howard Shore's film music. He's written some outstanding horror film scores that tower above the third-rate Penderecki imitators. Did he deserve Oscars for his Lord of the Rings music? Sure, it's noble, stirring stuff when accompanying images and dialogue. But you can't simply lift the music from the movie and expect it to play well on a concert stage. It's not just Howard Shore's music; this applies to most film music. Very little of it works divorced from its original function, providing emotional illumination to images and words on a theater screen.

That's why composers extract a suite from dramatic music--not just film composers, but ballet and theater composers as well. And let's get this straight--the Lord of the Rings Symphony is not a symphony, it's a suite. It's nothing more than excerpts--far too many of them--from the film score, spliced next to each other, regardless of abstract musical considerations. A symphony is a large-scale piece, usually in four or more movements, which tells a type of story in musical terms. A good symphony doesn't need images or program notes to accompany the music. The sounds themselves are arranged in such a way that nothing else is needed to experience the work. Believe it or not, the music alone can be as entertaining as a movie or a book, and in the case of the great symphonic masterpieces, much more profound.

What distinguishes a symphony from a suite, besides their respective abstract vs. dramatic conceptions, is that transitions are provided in a symphony to move the listener from one idea to the next, and these ideas are later developed, played with, elaborated upon. That's not what happens in the LOTR Symphony--we simply hop around from one musical section to the next, with no musical reason for doing so. There's plenty of worthwhile musical material in the LOTR soundtrack to provide a resourceful composer with main and secondary themes for a symphony. But I suspect that the reason the LOTR Symphony is just a patchwork quilt of film cues is that there just wasn't enough money to make it worth a Hollywood composer's time to take a year off to construct a solid piece of music that could exist outside of a motion picture. I can think of only one concert-length piece of music derived from a film score, and that is Prokofiev's magnificent cantata from Alexander Nevsky. There are a handful of 20-minute-long suites that work well in the concert hall: Thomson's Louisiana Story, The Plow That Broke the Plains, and The River; Corigliano's The Red Violin, and Three Hallucinations (derived from Altered States); Bernstein's On the Waterfront; Hermann's Psycho Suite. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions, not the rule, and the LOTR Symphony is a textbook example of this rule. Cut down to a half hour or less, [music from] The Lord of the Rings would no doubt be a much more enjoyable work.

Before the concert began, a gentleman walked onstage and informed us how lucky we all were that we would get to the hear the LOTR Symphony in its entirety. The only fortunate people present that I could imagine were those suffering from insomnia, whose restlessness would be cured about 20 minutes into the program.

Yes, someone pointed out to me Vaughan Williams's Sinfonia Antarctica as a concert-length work derived from a film score, and I'm sure there are others I have forgotten. None of them have the stand-alone power of Alexander Nevsky in my book.

The entire review (with lots of silly and near-dirty jokes, and reader's comments accusing me of child molestation) is available here.
New York Summer

Sun-Dogs in Indiana

Sun-Dogs, a new work by Scottish composer James MacMillan will premiere at Indiana University in early August. Our amiga and regular contributor Carmen Helena Téllez, who also is Music Director of Aguavá New Music Studio, helped engineer the commission with Boosey & Hawkes. She will conduct the Choral Department and the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in the world premiere of Macmillan's Sun-Dogs, for large chorus a cappella, part of the Jacobs School of Music Summer Festival, Sunday, August 6, 2006, 4pm in Auer Hall.

Carmen tells us that Sun-dogs is a setting of a poem by Michael Symmons Roberts and that the text "is richly allegorical, iconographic with a deep well of Christian symbolism. The metaphors are complex, evoking a range of emotions and images, dark and terrifying one minute, radiant and ecstatic the next."

The composer will be present at the premiere, and will participate in a Colloquium in Honor of Thomas Dunn, Professor Emeritus of Choral Conducting.

Carmen is also working with choral director Christopher Bell and conductor Carlos Kalmer on Antonio Estévez's La Cantata Criolla or Florentino, The One Who Sang With The Devil, which is part of a concert of Latin American masterpieces on August 9 and 12, 2006 at the prestigious Grant Park Music Festival of Chicago. Aguavá's associated artists Ulises Solano and Nelson Martínez will perform the central roles of Florentino and the Devil. The program will also include Villa-Lobos's extraordinary Choros No.10, and Ariel Ramírez's beloved Misa Criolla. The concert will take place in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry.

Our regular reviewer Carol Minor has started a terrific new blog of her own called, oddly enough Minor Musings. Hie thee thither.

I must apologize for my lack of attention lately. It's summer time, things are pretty quiet on the music front (except for David Salvage who was robbed at gunpoint in Brooklyn the other night), and I've been trying to get my Enterprise Web 2.0 going. (It's getting some traffic, thank you.) I have a pretty good rant over there today about viral marketing and what's the matter with kids today.

Who else has been mugged?


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