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 Knussen: Knussen’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.