Thursday, May 3rd: CUNY Composers Alliance. It’s more than collegial loyalty that compels me to mention last week’s student composers’ concert at the CUNY Graduate Center. We presented a great program of ambitious works ranging from a pocket violin concerto in the Romantic tradition, to a multi-media electronic sound-scape, to an insouciantly postmodern large-ensemble work, to gritty European modernism, and beyond. (There was also some tinkly, diatonic piano improvisation.) Programs do not get more pluralistic than this, and the performances were solid.

Friday, May 4th: Serge Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, NYC Ballet. Ballet, take two. Certainly the more accessible of the two recent ballet visits, Peter Martins’s new choreography to Prokofiev’s standby struck me as beautiful and enjoyable, though not so imaginative as Ballanchine’s work from the week before. But I still wish I understood the semiotics of ballet better. I was on firmer ground evaluating the risotto at Café Fiorello’s afterwards: not bad, but overpriced and salty.

Saturday May 5th: TALEA Ensemble at Juilliard. A potent new music ensemble/collective of composers and performers, TALEA’s debut program of works by Jonathan Harvey, Salvatore Sciarrino, Gérard Grisey, Anthony Cheung and Alexandre Lunsqui was serious business. Cheung’s “Ebbing Flow” (clarinet, violin, cello, and piano) avoided the sustained soupiness that seems to be the typical pitfall of spectralist (and spectralist-inspired) composers. Flautist Daria Binkowski was awe-inspiring in Harvey’s “Nataraja” and Sciarrino’s “L’orizonte luminoso Di Aton,” the latter requiring the flautist to inhale through the instrument. Grisey’s “Talea” closed the concert, and, while the piece is fierce and incredible, it struck me, surprisingly, as too short and unbalanced formally. Conductor Vince Lee kept the larger pieces under admirable control.

Sunday May 6th: Tom Cipullo, Glory Denied. Brooklyn College Opera Theater. BC hosted the world premiere of Cipullo’s opera based on the wartime and post-wartime ordeals of Vietnam veteran Col. Jim Thompson, the longest-held US prisoner of the war. Cipullo’s music can veer into syrupy Lydian-land, but the first act holds up relatively well. The second act unfortunately sacrifices musical and dramatic continuity for applause-nabbing solo arias, and the show ends up lacking impact despite its loaded subject matter. As Thompson’s unfaithful wife Alyce, soprano Gretchen Mundinger, a Masters student, clearly showed she’s ready already for a bigger stage.

34 Responses to “Dispatches from Around Town (Part 2 of 2)”
  1. […] The only music forum I can think of that can sustain long substantive discussions is Sequenza21. A few weeks ago, a review was posted that drew in some angry newcomers, and it had a striking effect on the quality of the discussion, shifting it in the direction of the Harnoncourt flap I was just talking about (an additional factor that fanned the flames was the misguided suggestion that the newcomers were spamming). A quick point-counterpoint sums it up. […]

  2. lembit says:

    This conversation has been strangely fascinating. I hope David continues writing his dispatches, especially for the sake of us living outside nyc. The format perhaps leads to some trade off of quality for quantity but I think it’s worth it – there are several names that are new to me, including Cipullo’s, that I’m now inspired to look into. Other people’s comments help put David’s into perspective but I don’t think the give and take would work as well if the initial reviews were sanitized.

  3. David Salvage says:

    Gretchen Mundinger has never been nor ever will be a student of mine at Brooklyn College. The same applies to all the other singers in the production. The extent of my interaction with Gretchen amounts to about two minutes of fairy conventional, genial conversation.

  4. david toub says:

    Justin, you’re overreacting like many others. The potential for deletion, let me say again, has NOTHING to do with the fact that one might disagree with something here. It only happens, as best I can tell, when we’re being spammed, which happens too frequently. The occurrence of several similar posts, all from unknown commenters, struck me as very similar to some comments we got from a very obvious spammer recently. Nothing was deleted, nor will it be, at least by me. I should add that I’m on the board of the Philadelphia ACLU, so rest assured that dissent is safe in my hands.

    However, the tenor of the comments was offensively personal towards David Savage. I have not heard from David about this, nor does my reaction have anything to do with it being addressed towards David S; I’d be just as offended were it any composer. Our works are, in many ways, like our children, and when someone drags our compositions into an argument unnecessarily, and in a very hurtful way, I think it’s over the line and, as a free speech advocate, when I see something like this happening I may exercise my First Amendment rights to comment.

    I guess my question would be: what constitutes “empty criticism?” Who determines if someone is informed or not? We’re talking about something that is inherently subjective, so all bets are off in my opinion. Either way, while one can certainly disagree with someone’s review of a work of music or art, there’s no need to bring the critic’s music into it, nor is there a need to get personal about where David S teaches, how much he knows, etc.

    I could just as easily say to you: what gives you the credibility to critique David Salvage’s review?

  5. Justin says:

    Hey, I didn’t want to offend anyone here. Unfortunately, this thing about deleting some posts is very much expected in the dreadful Bush-era where whatever is against us should be eliminated. The damage is clear, but I am outta here anyways.
    I am just fed up with empty criticism. It’s arrogant, superfluous, pointless, vulgar. Most of the critics don’t do any research. It’s just a ridiculous writing exercise coming out of empty academicism. You know, the kind of core curriculum Arts/Music appreciation bla bla bla. And guess what: most of the NYT critics are laughable when it comes down to contemporary music. It’s pretty frustrating to tell you the truth.
    Dear Claudio Monteverdi: you had to put up with so much crap…my gosh…But I am afraid the ‘critics’ here have no idea of what I am talking about!
    Have a good one.

  6. andrea says:

    i don’t agree with mr. salvage most of the time, but what i did like about these dispatches is that they are plentiful and brief. i’d like to see more. i’d do it myself, but i’m not a good critic. =)

  7. david toub says:

    David L—as a fellow inhabitant of the gates of hell (where I’m sitting right now is just five minutes from north broad street), take it from me—don’t respond to anonymous posters.

  8. Jerry Bowles says:

    I’m against any censorship except when it can be shown to save lives. But, I don’t like “anonymous” comments or gratuitous personal attacks and I have sometimes exercised some “editorial” discretion when they have come up. David is a big boy who can take the heat but it is unfair to change the subject to his music. When he has a concert, send me a note and you can go review it.

    And I fail to see how where he teaches has any bearing on the matter. Shouldn’t it make him more sympathetic to the production?

    Somebody is taking this entirely too personally.

  9. Jacob Sudol says:

    *eep* all these arguments about spamming, what is right to comment aside let me just say that I think “talea,” along with most of Grisey’s works, are formal masterpieces. one of the trick he pulls (particularly in some pieces like “talea,” “jour contre jour,” and “quatre chants…”) is that after a first few listens one often thinks that the pieces are much shorter than they actually.

    as for the “yhe sustained soupiness that seems to be the typical pitfall of spectralist (and spectralist-inspired) composers” i’d say that applies to at least 1/2 of the composers that refers to — Tristan Murail, Philippe Hurel, Kaija Saariaho, Dufourt, Radulescu, and (for my money) Jonathan Harvey all come to mind immediately but not some of the more interesting composers like Grisey or Philippe Leroux have a certain level of individuality wit that raises them above being classified as just another “one of those clichéd (insert whatever genre/style you like: spectral, serial, minimalist, post-modern, post-minimalist, popist, etc.) composers with whatever-clichéd-characteristic-is-prevolent-in-bad/generic-music-from-the aforementioned-genre.”

    …sorry it’s just that generalizations like this really irk me, especially having after actively experimenting with spectral techniques and trying to avoid their obvious pitfalls. but then again one could also say i’m so uptown that i live in montréal!

  10. I am afraid our poster with the personality disorder has shown his/hers true colours with the last barrage of anonymous messages. David T., remind me not comment on posters who are afraid to identify who they are….. goodnight NYC from “The Gates of Hell”

    aka: Philly as defined by The Daily Show.

  11. David Toub says:

    Marley, if you’re going to take issue with something I’ve said or done, at least spell my name correctly. I’ll cut you a break for the “Mr.” tag, however 😎

    Nothing wrong with disagreement-this is what makes a blog worthwhile. But getting personal is another thing.

  12. Marley says:

    I do not know Justin, or Marcus, or Sebastian. I’m not familiar with Grisley’s Talea. I don’t give my email because of privacy concerns with recieving a deluge of spam in my inbox and the lack of a privacy policy (at least not one I readily see on the page). I simply disagree with Mr. Salvage’s commentary.

    Spam? Not a legitimate comment? I don’t think my criticism of Salvage’s statements are far off the mark. Delete away.

    I’m not saying there aren’t structural criticisms that can be made… The transistion between Alyce’s confession and their attempt at reconciliation could flow better, the ‘welcome home’ seems to put a stop an important moment. The musical structure could have been better supported by the drama on stage, this isn’t a problem with Mr. Cipullo’s music, it’s a problem with the direction of this production. Mr. Cipullo has written beautiful and more still meaningfull music that could have better obviated the work’s dimensions through keener directorial decisions. The opera wasn’t served well by the unimaginitive stand and sing direction the production. I for one hope this opera gets a rehearing but more importantly a restaging.

    When dealing with opera we have to remember that this is theater, and the transmission of meaning trumps aesthetic fetishism. Frankly, I find Mr. Salvage’s revulsion to the Aria’s baffling. With the exception of the second act Welcome Home aria, the arias are not invented but the actual statements of Colonel Jim Thompson and his Wife. These are the things these people said, this is how they constructed the narrative of their lives while being interviewed by Mr Philpott. Then again, maybe Mr. Cipullo should be ashamed of himself for letting these people speak for themselves if it led to such an artistically unfashionable result as pleasing an audience.

    Mr. Taub. Criticism is criticism. My statements speak to the issue whether I’m Joe Schmoe on the street or a pretentious neophyte. Let them be evaluated for what they are.

    You can easily see that i’m not justin or sebastian or marcus or whatever if you check your server logs… I’m not going to give out my personal information to strangers on the internet. I’ve been reading sequenza for years back before this lovely facelift of a redesign made this sight palatable to the eyes and not just the mind. I’ve always appreciated the vistas it offers onto the new music scene.

    I just happen to disagree with Mr. Savage here. I should have known better than to question the ideas of the general editor of this site. I was just confused by “write a comment.” Maybe it should be “write praise”

    Why is it so hard to believe that more than one person disagrees with Mr. Salvage. Your insistant collapsing of identity is a very interesting form of silencing. Take a group of dissenting opinions, pretend that they are the product of one person’s dissent, then put them under erasure.

  13. David Hanlon says:

    You know, the interesting thing about reading this blog is often the thoughtful exchange of ideas, whether it’s heated or not. DS has had some specific reactions to the opera: the success of the first act, a tendency towards “syrupy” moments, a lack of continuity in the second act, and overall lack of impact. Interesting enough. I haven’t gotten much from the Cippolo dissenters other than “DS is wrong and the opera is brililant.”

    For instance Sebastian: DS’s understanding of a character as unfaithful shows he doesn’t understand either the musical or dramatic structure of the piece? Fascinating. I’d like to know what that structure is, and why the understanding of that character as faithful is so crucial. The dissenters throw stones at DS’s faulty understanding of the piece. Not having seen or heard it, I understand it even less. If y’all are so passionately for the piece, by all means, I’d like to hear what about it inspires you so. But I don’t see how it does readers of this website any good to read ad hominem insults on behalf of something you appear to love instead of explaining why you love it.

    p.s. how does saying a student is ready to turn pro constitute unseemly drooling? Unless “a bigger stage” is slang I’m not familiar with.

  14. Daniel says:

    Quick, name a critic/composer:
    Virgil Thomson


  15. David Toub says:

    To clarify, Marcus: this is not my site. I’m not on staff but help out with site administration on a volunteer basis. Regardless, I still don’t understand the logic behind your comment about composers and critics. Guess that means only composers you like can be critics. Ever hear of Kyle Gann? Tom Johnson? Both of them composers, and both of them have been/are music critics. If tom johnson were to criticize a composer you happen to like, does that mean that tom johnson’s music is now fair game for ridicule? Kyle’s music?

    Whether or not you think favorably of David Salvage’s comments has nothing (let me emphasize this by shouting: NOTHING) to do with his music. If someone’s music is great, they can be a bad critic. And vice-versa. Or both may be true, or both false.

    The real point is that you’re being rude and insulting. Bitch to David S if you don’t like his comments. Whatever. But putting down his music is stepping over the line. And why get so angry about what he said, anyway? If I got that worked up about people who make comments I don’t like about composers I do like, or even about my own music, I’d be eternally angry. Instead of getting all worked up about David Salvage, might I suggest a nice glass of wine? Or therapy?

  16. more recently….Kyle Gann?

  17. Marcus Collin says:


    Feel free to delete any message you see fit. I assume this is your website, after all.

    When a composer decides to become a critic he or she should be aware that they leave themselves and their own compositions at a higher risk of scrutiny.

    Mr. Salvage should decide which he wants to be more, a critic or a composer. In my estimation one cannot be both successfully.

  18. David Toub says:

    Marcus, I was happier with the idea that you were a spammer 8-).

    You are entitled to express your opinion about david salvage’s review. What’s inappropriate is dragging his music into this. That has nothing to do with it, period. And no, your e-mail address does not appear to have been included.

    David S, any thoughts?

  19. Marcus Collin says:

    I have provided my email address in the requested dialog both times that I have posted.

    and I have seen both performances of Glory Denied at Brooklyn College as well as the invited dress rehearsal. How many performances did Mr. Salvage attend?

    I have read Mr. Philpott’s book from the which the opera was based. Has Mr. Salvage?

    I too look forward to seeing Mr. Salvage hone his reviewing skills, and perhaps in the future he should delegate the responsibility of reviewing works at the institution where is a faculty member to someone else, to avoid a conflict of interest.

  20. David Toub says:

    Zeno, I’m the last person who would delete a comment to stifle dissent. But there’s a difference between dissent and spam. The tenor of the multiple comments in a row, along with the relative anonymity of the poster(s) make me highly suspicious that this is the same idiot who was posting a ton of fawning comments as “anonymous.” I won’t go into the details, since they’re irrelevant, but unless this guy/these guys convince me otherwise, they’ll be visiting the great “delete” bucket in the sky pretty soon.

    So sebastian/marcus/justin and whatever other pseudonym you’re adopting: prove you’re a legitimate poster. Or else go ahead and make my day.

    Feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?

  21. zeno says:

    I’d go easy with the censoring deletions and also a registration requirement. I think Jerry would have required registration long ago had he wanted to narrow his assembled, vital community (aka social network). And Jerry would, I believe, be the last to want to censor input — however informally expressed as it may appear to be — especially on the topic of a new opera based on Vietnam era events and personal experiences.

    The commentor(s) did in fact address the dramaturgy of the new opera, and did note the role and importance of librettist Tom Philpott in the opera’s creation. David S., in fact, mentions neither librettist Tom Philpott nor director Richard Barrett. (And who was the conductor?)

    I look forward to David S. honing his operatic reviewing skills further in upcoming reviews of opera and music theater works in the New York region.

    Gotta run to a damn NEH Humanities lecture …

  22. david toub says:

    David/Steve—I suspect these folks are spammers, not legitimate commenters. Happy to delete them entirely unless they provide identifying information. Perhaps we will need to require registration in the future, as onerous as it is…

  23. Sebastian says:

    Mr. Salvage’s comments about the character of Alyce being unfaithful show clearly that he neither understands the musical nor dramatic structure of the piece.

  24. Steve Layton says:

    Then again, some marbles are quite a bit more beautiful than many marble statues.

  25. david toub says:

    Yo, Justin/Marley/Marcus—as an outsider who is admitting he has never heard a note of any of the composers you are getting all wigged out about, I think it’s inappropriate for you all (assuming you are all different people—strange that none of you have the balls to post your e-mail addresses or Web sites…) to attack someone for having the courage to actually express an opinion. One you might not agree with, perhaps. But an opinion nonetheless. And while I’ve come clean and admitted I personally know from nothing about Cipullo, etc, to make that assumption about David Salvage is rude, based on no relevant data, and belies your collective lack of civility.

    We all have opinions, and I’m among those who are quite willing to express them and also take the heat (which sometimes is pretty hot indeed) for having expressed opinions about music that others might not agree with. But it’s one thing to disagree, another thing entirely to ridicule someone’s music just for having an opinion you all don’t like. And again, if you had the courage of your convictions, why not post your e-mail addresses or even your last names (Marley/Justin)? Get a life.

  26. Marcus Collin says:

    Although Mr. Mundinger’s performance was outstanding, all the performances were excellent.

  27. Marcus Collin says:

    I agree with Marley. Mr. Salvage’s comments belie the fact the he hardly understands the work in question. And having heard Mr. Salvage’s music. I would have to say that comparing it to Mr. Cipullo’s is like comparing Magnificent Marble Statues (Cipullo) to actual Marbles (Salvage).

    And Mr. Salvage’s drooling over Ms. Mundinger is unseemly at best.

  28. Marley says:

    The dramatic morphology of Glory Denied is a brilliant and succesful grappling with the problematics of translating Phillpotts double narrative of Thompson’s life into an opera. I think Mr. Salvage should attempt to understand a work before he derides it.

    Also, I think a little reflexivity is in order when you review a production at a college you teach at, Mr. Salvage.

  29. Justin says:

    what? Grisey’s Talea is unbalanced formally??what about listening to the piece again before making these ultra SUPERFICIAL comments. What about the “sustained soupiness that seems to be the typical pitfall of spectralist (and spectralist-inspired) composers”. My gosh, is this a Contemporary Classical Music website??? uptown, downtown…bla bla bla…

  30. David Salvage says:

    Trevor — but the violin solo at the end of the piece sounds like a new idea! Anyhow, opinions can differ. At least we agree about Cheung.

    Andrea — ASM rocks, but this Saturday I’ve already committed to Donatoni and Schumann… Good luck.

  31. andrea says:

    i recently fluted under the baton of mr. vince lee. nice guy and a good, clear conductor. i love conductors who can keep their egos in check.

    david, i really like your dispatches. please keep doing it! (here’s an incentive: you wanna show yer face at the ASM hit on saturday? let me know… there are three GC folks in our little band, you know.)

  32. Trevor Hunter says:

    By the way, while I didnt get the chance to see Anthony Cheung’s latest piece (I was supposed to, the L line broke down and I was stuck), I’ve heard a couple of his other pieces. He’s a good young composer and definitely worth checking out.

  33. Trevor Hunter says:

    I think Grisey’s Talea is an awesome, visceral thrill of a piece. Complaining about its formal structure is like complaining about the lack of vitamin K in apples. Who cares, apples are delicious.

    I know the spectralists garner the “Uptown” label and thus get judged on a intellect-first basis, but that sells it extremely short. While yes, they generally are intellectually interesting, the best ones can be gripping and/or stunningly beautiful as well.