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September’s New Encounters

Terry Jennings: I was happy to hear two short piano pieces by Jennings at the M50 concert S21 co-produced. Played with great sensitivity by Joseph Kubera, both works were spare, dissonant, and full of luxurious silences. Pianists would do well to combine these with Webern Op.27 and Schoenberg Op.19: you’d have a satisfying, chill 25 minutes of music. Now, what Jennings’s music has to do with minimalism as we know it beats me. But, whatever.

 Martin Matalon: In the mid 90s, Matalon was commissioned to write a new soundtrack for Fritz Lang’s Malthusian masterpiece, Metropolis. The Manhattan Symfonietta performance on 19 September was my first encounter with the film or the composer. Both were positive. Matalon, an Argentinian now living in Paris, has the burbly IRCAM thing down pat, and, as with Murail, I’m very impressed by the ability of contemporary French-inspired composers to cook up new tone colors. That said, Matalon’s score, which otherwise reinforces the film nicely, goes to sleep shortly after the start of the film’s “Furioso” section and remains horribly somnolent through the drowning of the workers’ city. Thankfully, things perk up again in time for the hunt for the robot Maria.

NYPhil Conductors who also Compose: The Phil played a program of Mahler 10, Maazel’s Music for Flute and Orchestra with Tenor Tuba Obligato Op. 11, Boulez’s Pli selon pli: Improvisation sur Mallarmé II (“Une dentelle s’abolit”), and Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety.” The Maazel has a fun cadenza for flute, castanets, and Indian rain tube; otherwise, it’s forgettable. Bernstein’s symphony (with pianist Joyce Yang) is good; but the whole thing sounds a bit dusty—the music screams “1940s New York!” in a way that somehow highlights how different today feels. Boulez took the prize. Pli selon pli was just beautiful—like Debussy on twelve-tones. The clear, light voice of soprano Kiera Duffy sealed the deal.

Oliver KnussenKnussen’s third symphony got a playing from the San Francisco Symphony under MTT at Carnegie Hall. First played in 1979, the work takes inspiration from the death of Ophelia. It’s about 15 minutes long, has some luscious woodwind writing, and the climactic chorale is prepared well by long, homogenous stretches of counterpoint. This is the kind of thing that should be played all the time—an approachable symphony that sounds modern. But I like my pieces a little more badly behaved: technical competence only takes you so far.

On the horizonBernard Rands at the Phil, and two geniuses, Dawn Upshaw and Alex Ross, in elevated discourse.


Comment from Galen H. Brown
Time: September 30, 2008, 12:46 pm

“. Now, what Jennings’s music has to do with minimalism as we know it beats me.”

Sounds like _somebody_ didn’t read the program notes. . .


Comment from David Salvage
Time: September 30, 2008, 6:30 pm

Actually, I did… I couldn’t find my program while writing this. But, dude, WHAT? I know he and LaMonte Young were associated with one another and so on. But… what was the “perceptual process” being enacted by Jennings? Now that I think of it, Jennings seems more in line with Feldman from what I heard: the sense of great spaciousness outweighs the sense of gradual thematic development.

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: September 30, 2008, 8:18 pm

This is why someone can someday write a very colorful and rich history of minimalism. The folk who think it’s all just arpeggios, riffs and “pattern music” have as sorry a grasp of the area as someone who thinks the whole classical era is all “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”.

Comment from david toub
Time: September 30, 2008, 10:05 pm

Most folks think of minimalism as either repetitive phase pieces/canons or the arpeggii that has come to typify Glass’s early music. But early Young and Jennings (and I believe, even Terry Riley in an early string work I’ve heard about) concentrated on long tones and silences. You might think of this as Webern taken really really slowly, and in some ways that’s true. But like Cage’s string qt in four parts, there is a paucity of material (even though Young and Jennings did 12-tone rows very strictly) alternating with silence, but all of this taken to great extremes compared with predecessors like the Cage work I mentioned.

Comment from Alan Theisen
Time: September 30, 2008, 10:11 pm

I’ve always thought that the Bernstein Second Symphony (“Age of Anxiety”) is totally uneven. The first half (the variations part) is wonderful, but the second half is really creaky and second-rate film music.

(Nothing against film music, of course. Check out Lenny’s “On the Waterfront”!)

Comment from David Salvage
Time: October 1, 2008, 1:57 pm

The fundamental contribution to music made by minimalism is the radical slowing of thematic development. All the arpeggios, eighth-note pulses, and diatonicism are very much secondary matters.

Am I wrong?

Comment from David Salvage
Time: October 1, 2008, 2:02 pm

In the mood to be provocative….

Would I be wrong to say that the era of La Monte Young and Terry Riley’s influence (beyond the latter’s “In C”) is over—and has been over for a while? The legacy of minimalism is absolutely dominated by Reich and Glass. Add to them influences from jazz, pop, and world music and—presto!

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: October 1, 2008, 2:41 pm

Slowing of development is right, up to a point, but wrong as well. Development might be happening within each and every repetition, or even within very “static” events. By the standard thematic view, things may seem to stay the same for long stretches, but the moment is never the same. The perceptual scale can be quite different, too.

As to Young and Riley being over and Reich and Glass dominating, I’d actually say that the Young and Riley influence has been ascendent for some years. You don’t find it as much in the traditional score/ensemble/concert hall composers though; it’s in the musicians who create without worrying much about the standard path (and who happen to outnumber the more traditional-path composers by quite a bit).

Comment from David Toub
Time: October 1, 2008, 3:30 pm

Yes David, you would be wrong.

Young and Riley continue to have an influence over composers, myself included.

And development is in the ear of the beholder.