Author Archive

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?

Comments 5 Comments »

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?

Comments 3 Comments »

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.

Comments 7 Comments »

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.

Comments 12 Comments »

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.

Comments 14 Comments »

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 »

Comments 1 Comment »

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

Comments 9 Comments »

YouTube Preview Image

A nanosecond or two ago–at the dawning of the age of aquarius, when my generation’s future was still a bright crazy quilt of dreams and possibilities–my wife Suzanne and I were graduate students at West Virginia University in Morgantown.  I had just successfully avoided  Viet Nam by signing up for two years of active duty in the Navy Reserve  and accidentally getting myself assigned to duty on an icebreaker.   I spent most of my contribution to the war effort at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, staving off death by boredom by feeding beer to penguins who, as my shipmates and I soon learned, make nasty and argumentative, yet amusing, drunks.   I later spent several months on the same ship in the Barents Sea spying on the Russians and  hoping that the Badgers that came barreling at the ship four or five times a day about 100 feet off the water, sometimes opening their bomb doors, were not serious.  I’m sure the Russian pilots thought it was at least as amusing as giving beer to penguins.

In the summer of 1967, my service as a floating office worker and sometime typist for the CIA,  having been completed, we moved to Morgantown and settled into a cheap apartment above a downtown flower shop on Pine Street.  Suzanne was a graduate assistant in the art department, I was a “gradass” in journalism.  We each got paid a couple of hundred dollars a month, free tuition, and  I got a regular check under the GI Bill.   We had it made but, of course, we didn’t know it at the time.

One day Suzanne introduced me to a thin, bearded, bushy-haired guy named John Vaughan who was picking up a few extra bucks each week by sitting around in a jock strap in one of her drawing classes while art students drew his anatomy.   He looked a lot like the image of Jesus that we all know and love but then all the young dudes looked like Jesus in those days.  “You’ve got to come hear the band I play with,” he said.  “We’re pretty good.”  And so a couple of days later we made our way to a grungy joint called Mother Witherspoon’s to hear the Mind Garage, as the band was called.  It was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious experience.  As soon as the five-member band hit the stage and lit into a psychedelic arrangement of Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’” the place quickly turned into pure pandemonium.  Here were five musicians  who were symbiotically joined at the hip.  They played mainly covers, true, but they understood dynamics in a way that most acid bands of the period didn’t so even covers became original.  They knew when to play loud and when to play soft.   They were garage band and musically sophisticated at the same time.

A few days later, I wrote a somewhat pretentious, but very enthusiastic, review of the band for the student newspaper which, alas, Larry McClurg, their terrific lead singer and web archivist has seen fit to preserve for posterity here.  (The headshot alone is worth the trip.)  I don’t think  Suzanne and I missed a performance after that first night until we left Morgantown to come to New York (or, in truth,  to an apartment we could afford on Staten Island which though technically part of New York City really isn’t) in the fall of 1967.  By then I knew the Mind Garage had been encouraged by an Episcopal minister named Michael Paine and his wife to write a rock church service  and that it was almost finished.  I didn’t know about it at the time but that piece–the Electric Liturgy–was first performed at Trinity Episcopal Church in Morgantown on March 10, 1968.  It was the first live Christian Rock worship service ever–basically, what Catholics’ would call a “Mass.”   The band performed it live at several other churches in the following months, including at St Stephens of the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, DC and at Princeton University.  In April, 1969,  the band performed the first nationally televised rock and roll worship service from New York on ABC TV.

Some time in late June 1968 I ran across a piece in the Village Voice by the then arts editor Diane Fisher, a fellow West Virginian, lamenting the fact that she has just been in Morgantown and there was no music scene there.  I dashed off an “au contraire” note, with a copy of my review.  About a week later, she called me to tell me she had learned that the Mind Garage was performing the mass at St. Mark’s in the Bowery in a couple of weeks.   After the St. Mark’s performance (which was terrific, by the way), Annie did an enthusiastic review, generously quoting my silly college review and  giving me credit for turning her on to the Mind Garage.   It helped me get a freelance writing career going and I’m sure it helped the band land a contract with RCA, for whom they did a couple of albums, before breaking up and fading back into real life in 1970.

What none of us realized at the time was that they were accidentally making  history, inventing a musical genre that has become a multi-million dollar business, although the band never made much money at it.  (They performed all of the services at churches for free and never really had a big hit.)

A couple of band members managed to go on and build careers as musicians but Larry McClurg, almost singlehandedly, has kept the Mind Garage faith all these years and still believes that there could still be a future for the group.  Thanks to Facebook and the web page Larry maintains, the group  has more fans today than they did in 1970.  There was an outdoor reunion concert in West Virginia in 2007  and there is a new recording of the Electric Liturgy, complete with words and background,  available for free download here.  There is a petition you should sign and send to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Like so many of us  (and here I include myself) who were young in the sixties and  had what the horse players call “cheap speed,” too much opportunity before we were ready for it proved to be a curse.  I hope Larry is right and there will be a new beginning for the Mind Garage.   As for me I’ve already gone through the list of projects I never started or never finished and narrowed it down to the three or four I want to spend the rest of my life not starting or not finishing.

But, as I sit here writing this, my fellow traveler for the  past 46 years, now gravely ill, asleep nearby, I can almost conjure up the sense of joy that the two of us shared on that night nearly 50 years ago when we heard the Mind Garage for the first time at Mother Witherspoon’s.   Listening to the YouTube video above,  my heart did a little dance for the first time in a long time.  Thanks Larry and Jack and Norris and Teddy and John.   I owe you.

Comments 5 Comments »

Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the streets.  Or, making playlists.   Or something.   Some friends who just got themselves a screened-in porch for their  house up in Willow asked me to come up with an iPod playlist for sitting around at dusk smoking cigars and sipping brandy.  Mostly pop-stuff  but offbeat.   I decided to go  all-female..well, okay, there is one boy-girl duet…because I like girl singers.  But, I digress, I had so much fun putting the list together that I thought we ought to have a little playlist contest here.  Any genre is ok. You can add to my list or, even better, make your own.   Don’t know what the prize will be but I’ll think of something.   So, da da, here’s my Woodstock Summer 2011 Mostly Girl Front Porch Chill Mix:

  1. Én Csak Azt Csodálom (Lullabye For Katherine) Márta Sebestyén
  2. Ghost of a Dog   Edie Brickell
  3. Things We Said Today   Joy Askew
  4. If I Fell   Evan Rachel Wood
  5. Walk Away Renee        Ann Savoy, Linda Ronstadt
  6. Heart Like a Wheel Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  7. Old Fashioned Morphine   Jolie Holland
  8. Blues in D            Kate and Anna McGarrigle
  9. House of the Rising Sun   Sinead O’Connor
  10. Straight Out of Compton   Nina Gordon
  11. Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us     Alison Krauss
  12. All Night   Sam Phillips
  13. Waiting Around to Die   Be Good Tanyas
  14. In Every Dream Home A Heartache   Bryan Ferry/Jane Birkin
  15. Song for Ireland   Mary Black
  16. Reflecting Light  Sam Phillips
  17. Llorando   Rebekah Del Rio
  18. Je Reviens Autour De Lucie
  19. Quelqu’un m’a dit   Carla Bruni
  20. Mo Ghile Mar       Mary Black
  21. Tus Ojas Trieste   Rebekah Del Rio
  22. Wayfaring Stranger   Anonymous 4
  23. Adieu False Heart   Ann Savoy. Linda Ronstadt
  24. Talk to me of Mendocino  Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  25. Szerelem, Szerelem (Love, Love)  Muzsikás
  26. Blackbird  Evan Rachel Wood
  27. The Littlest Birds   Be Good Tanyas
  28. Complainte Pour Ste. Cathrine   Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  29. Falling (Twin Peaks Theme)  Julee Cruise
  30. Riders on the Storm  Ahn Trio
  31. Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby  Juice

I might add that you can listen to any or all of these songs free at Grooveshark.  I don’t know how they get away with it so don’t tell anyone.

Comments 5 Comments »

If you read S21 regularly (and why wouldn’t you) you probably know that my all-time favorite composer Leoš Janáček had one of the greatest third acts in the history of musical composition.  Most of  his extraordinary late-life production was inspired by a certain sly and aloof–but nonetheless foxy–married lady half his age named Kamila Stösslová.  One of the works that she inspired is the opera The Cunning Little Vixen which, as fate would have it, the New York Philharmonic is doing a fully-staged production of on June 22-25.   The Vixen is being sung by the stunning and incredibly talented Isabel Bayrakdarian on whom I have a late life crush.  You can win a pair of very good tickets to CLV by simply naming four other works inspired by the elusive Kamila. Googling is a hanging offense.   Special bonus question:  What Janáček piano piece do I want somebody good to play at my memorial service.  Oh, don’t forget to leave an e-mail address so I can contact you if you’re the winner.

Comments 1 Comment »