Author Archive

Well, slightly.  Steve Smith’s terrific review of the ACME/MNMP/Sequenza21 concert at Joe’s Pub Tuesday night is now up online.  And, if you’re arriving via the Times link, welcome.  Come back regularly.  We’ll find something to amuse you.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the concert last night.  If you were there, leave a note and tell me how it went.

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Sure, you’ve seen the mesmerizing Godfrey Reggio film KOYAANISQATSI: Life Out of Balance with its breathtaking music by Philip Glass. Maybe, several times. But, you’ve never seen it projected on a huge screen above the Avery Fisher Hall stage while the New York Philharmonic plays the haunting Glass score live.

Now you can. On November 2-3, the NYPhil, Philip Glass, and the Philip Glass Ensemble and the Collegiate Chorale will be doing just that in an extraordinary once–okay, twice–in a lifetime event. The show starts both nights at 7:30.

Equal parts documentary, tone poem and visual concert, this revolutionary 1982 film portrays the relationship between humans, nature and technology. Here’s a preview of coming attractions:

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Not really, but it got your attention, didn’t it? You can, however,  worship at the feet of one of the world’s best fiddle players and nicest people from fairly close afar Monday night (that’s probably tonight when you read this) for a mere $20 donation to one of NY’s favorite performance spaces, The Stone, located somewhat inconveniently at the corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street. Ms. Hahn will be playing the Charles Ives Violin Sonatas 1 and 4 (with Cory Smythe on piano…sorry Valentina stalkers) as a special benefit for The Stone, whose artistic director is the estimable John Zorn. Performances at 8 and 10pm, followed by a discussion with Hilary and Jan Swafford (Charles Ives biographer, composer) and Zorn. Not sure if the $20 is for both shows or not but if they try to throw you out tell them you were misinformed by Amanda Ameer. It’s a small joint and seating is limited so get there early. BTW, Hilary’s new Ives sonatas CD (all 4 sonatas) comes out on Tuesday and is available for pre-order on ye olde Amazon now.

While I have your attention, let me to direct it to the World Premiere of Judith Shatin’s Respecting the First, performed by the Cassatt Quartet on Thursday night, October 13, at Symphony Space’s Thalia Theatre. The piece was commissioned for the Cassatt with the support of the Fromm Foundation. It is scored for amplified string quartet and electronics fashioned from readings of and about the First Amendment and is dedicated to Congresswoman Gabrielle Griffiths.  Pretty relevant topic these days.  The Cassatt will also be playing pieces by Sebastian Currier and Mari Kimura.

Anybody besides me seen Melancholia?  What did you think?

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Among the many interesting composers, groups and musicians who “syndicate” (a fancy way of saying “republish”) their blogs through Chamber Musician Today is the estimable eighth blackbird who are currently on tour in Australia.  Through the miracle of RSS, their latest post poured in earlier this evening and it contained some thoughts that seemed worth sharing with the keen minds who frequent this URL.   Written by cellist Nicholas Photinos, the post is titled Should Hard Music Sound Hard?  It was occasioned by Nicholas on a night off having heard Alban Gerhardt playing the tricky Shostakovich first cello concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony in Melbourne.  He writes:

Old Shosti has plenty of ground to cover and places to show off, culminating in a ginormous cadenza spanning the second to third movement, which he nailed. To the wall.

And yet…standing ovation? No. A healthy applause, certainly, but no O, and barely even a hoot. Why? After it was done, I turned to Tim, who said tellingly: “I dunno, maybe the piece was too easy for him?”

It sure sounded that way—he seemed impatient, always a hair ahead of the orchestra, executing difficult passagework with barely a modicum of effort, always looking towards the next hurdle to jump. Some of the fast bits in the cadenza were faster than I’d ever heard them, and he barely seemed to be breaking a sweat. I noticed myself tuning out a little, and then asking myself why. Did it all sound too easy? Or is it that hard music sound hard?

Ok, so now here’s the money graph that requires some response:

Musically, we’re already living in a world of wonders, in that I can’t imagine any other time in history where so many people have had such a mastery of any instrument you can think of. Or, if you allow me to have a cello geek-out moment, we’re living in a time where Pablo Casals, still considered the best cellist who ever lived ever by many, would have struggled to get into an undergraduate conservatory (sorry Master P–you’re musical but too out of tune) and Prokofiev Symphony Concertante is the new Dvorak (ie 10ths are the new octaves). Even the Shostakovich concerto used to seem hard, but is now routinely learned by high school kids, and younger.

I think Nicholas has nailed it. What do you folks think?

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Speaking of the very busy, very approachable John Corigliano,  Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic are finishing up  a month of 9/11 tributes and memorials on September 30 with a performance of  John Corigliano’s One Sweet Morning, a  four movement song cycle each set to a poem from a different age and country, sung by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. The first is Czeslaw Milosz’s “A Song on the End of the World,” written in Warsaw in 1944; though tranquil in feel, there is a hint of “chaos to come,” says the composer. A section of Homer’s Iliad provides the words for the brutal second movement: a description of a massacre led by the Greek prince, Patroclus. The 8th century Chinese poet, Li Po’s “War South of the Great Wall” seems coolly removed from the battle, until we realize that the narrator’s husband and sons are fighting on the field. “Her anguish, and the battle that is its cause, surge in an orchestral interlude,” explains Corigliano. “‘One Sweet Morning’ ends the composition with the dream of a world without war—an impossible dream, perhaps, but certainly one worth dreaming.” Best known as the lyricist ofT he Wizard of Oz and Finian’s Rainbow, E. Y. (“Yip”) Harburg’s poem evokes a beautiful time when “the rose will rise…spring will bloom…peace will come….one sweet morning.”    Also, on the September 30-October 4 program is Barber’s Essay No. 1 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7.  (I am much indebted to Jeremy Beck for sorting out my confusion about another, earlier piece of Corigliano’s with the same name and inspiration.)

I have a couple of pairs of tickets to the September 30 performance which could be yours.  All you need do is leave a comment below about your favorite Corigliano piece and why.  Next Tuesday, I’ll put the names in a hat, shake it a couple of times, and pick a couple of winners.  I have a favorite but I’m not saying until the rest of you do.

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The venerable Kronos Quartet brings its much-anticipated production of  Awakening: A Musical Meditation on the Anniversary of 9/11 to Brooklyn September 21-24 as part the Next Wave festival.  The program features works by Michael Gordon, Terry Riley, Osvaldo Golijov and Gustavo Santaolalla, and John Oswald—as well as arrangements of traditional songs from around the globe.  It is a collection of pieces designed–as Kronos violinist David Harrington puts it–to restore “equilibrium in the midst of imbalance” in those instances where traditional language fails us.

Thanks to the nice folks at Nonesuch Records, who just released Kronos’ recording of  Steve Reich’s WTC’s 9/11, I have a pair of tickets to the September 21 opening night performance (7:30 pm) to give away to some lucky S21 reader.  All you have to do for a chance to get them is leave a comment below about your favorite Kronos recording (and your email address so I can contact you.)  Next Tuesday, I will put the name of everyone who comments on a little slip of paper, drop them into a hat, ring my neighbor’s doorbell and have him pull out a winner.

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A couple of years ago, I touched off a full-blown shitstorm in these pages by asking what I thought was a fairly innocent question, which was:  Is Nico overrated?   I had not listened to much of his music at the time and the little I had heard was pleasant enough but not, to my taste, particularly interesting or distinctive.  It was competent, but not something I would bother to listen to again.  I was aware, however, that  young Nico was much beloved in some quarters of our small and incestuous little new music demimonde and not so much in others.  It seemed to that this would be a fun topic to get people who (unlike me) actually know what they’re talking about to explain the Nico phenomenon.  I mean, most young composers can’t get arrested and  we’re talking Vegas level fame here–Frank.  Sammy.  Wayne.  Nico.   How did he do it?

I was prepared for some people to say he gets a lot of attention because he a fantastic composer who is really good and here’s why. I was prepared for others to say it’s just one of those who-knows-who things that you get in a nasty competitive little world.   Man, was I naive.  Almost immediately, I was  set upon by a screeching horde of Nico acolytes accusing me–moi!–of being a heretic, a non-believer, the Charlie Manson of new music.  The mere fact that I had dared to raise the question at all meant that I was a doubter and troublemaker and probably a serial abuser of kittens.   It was like the time Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of the Pope on national television.

I was so shaken by the experience that ever since I have not been able to spell Nico’s last name right which is why I keeping calling him Nico. I’ve never personally laid eyes on the lad.  I have waded through his first three big-label CD releases and still have no better explanation for his success than I started with, but, hey,  different strokes and all that.   Arvo Part, Eric Whitacre, Morton Lauridsen, he is not, IMHO.   That’s only my opinion.  It is not the opinion of Sequenza21.  I’m sure some of the writers who contribute here love his stuff.

Ok, so now Nico has written a post accusing Sequenza21 of spamming him by promoting his latest CD which, of course, falls into the no good deed goes unpunished category. If I had a new CD,  I would be happy if somebody regularly told 30,000 people about it.   But, I have to admit that  it wasn’t really a good deed.  As some of you who pay attention know,  I am a marketer by trade and I have a number of Twitter accounts that I use for what is delicately called “demand generation.”  I don’t use them to sell products and they don’t go to anybody who doesn’t “follow” the particular account; they are usually pointers to articles on web sites I manage.  When a record company, buys a display ad on Sequenza21 to promote a “hot” young composer, one of the little pieces of lagniappe that I sometimes throw in is a few weeks of scheduled  Tweets.  (Let me also add that I do the same for free for any composer who has a concert coming up and asks me nicely.)  As a direct result of the Tweets from my business accounts–not Sequenza21– that Nico identifies as spam, nearly 30,000 people went to his profile and the link to his music on NPR.

But, since Nico’s sensibilities were offended, I’ll promise to never do that again.

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I have been a hack for nearly 50 years now. Because most of those years were during the age of newsprint, large swathes of Brazilian rain forest now lay barren as a consequence of my commercial  renderings.  Most of the stuff was crap that I didn’t bother to  read the first time, much less a second time.  I occasionally stumble across something on the Internet that I wrote years ago and don’t recognize it as my own.  I was reminded of this last week after I got an e-mail from a German broadcaster named Rainer Schlenz:

I’m journalist working with the nationwide airing radio station
Deutschlandfunk. I’m gathering music pieces in the context of 9/11 at the
moment and read your article in sequenza 21 about Michael Gordon’s
composition “The Sad Park”.

I just would like to say that compared with other articles from all over
the world your text appears to me the most profound comment on this great
music.

By the way the other pieces I will use for my feature are:

Steve Reich: WTC 9/11
Julia Wolfe: my beautiful scream
David Lang: Men
Terry Riley: One Earth, One Love, One People

It will be broadcast  on 10th September, 10:05 pm CET, that means 04:05 pm
New York time.  (Available live on the web at www.dradio.de.)

I searched S21 for “The Sad Park” and started reading the review he mentioned and was well into it before I realized that I had written it.  I’m pretty sure it’s not “profound” but it’s not terrible.   I could send you to the link but since it’s on one of our ugly old pages I thought I would reprint the whole thing here…right after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Unless you’ve been hiding out in Nadia Sirota’s basement for the past couple of weeks you know that those nice “don’t be evil”  folks at Google have launched a new social networking platform called Google+ that blows both Facebook and Twitter out of the water with one swell foop, IMHO. (Hey, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister just bailed out of F-book today so you know the panic has set in.)

Being the world’s oldest early adopter, I have been nose down in Google+ since day one and have used it more in two weeks than I’ve used Facebook in three years. Here’s why. You can organize your contacts in G+ in Circles so that you can slice and dice the incoming flow anyway you like. You can, for example, create a Circle called “Family” and put all the relatives you don’t really want to hear from but don’t want to offend into it, and never look at it again…ever. You can have an “Inner Circle” with just your real friends. You can have one for “People I Hope to Get Money From.” The point is that people know you are following them but they don’t know the Circle they are in and, thus, where they rank in your social hierarchy. There are many other great features, but the opportunity to avoid learning that a third cousin, twice removed, has bought a tractor in Farmville is what I love most.

But, as usual, I digress. I have a Circle called “Musicians” and from it I put together a list of 100 Mostly Nonpop Composers/Musicians on Google+ and posted it as an editable Google Doc so other composer/musicians/music types could add their names. Dennis Tobenski was kind enough to turn my doc into a sortable spreadsheet.   You can find that amazing spreadsheet here.

If you need an invitation to Google+, send me an e-mail:  sequenza21@gmail.com

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