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An overly self-conscious trip to a store with a flyswatter in hand inspires Christopher Penrose to create this gentle and humorous parody of Alvin Lucier’s I am Sitting In a Room.

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I was checking out video performances of Christopher Rouse compositions, when I came across the lively exchange excerpted below from the comments section of the above performance of Ogoun Badagris.

I love reading this kind of discussion about new music. Strip away all the jargon and citations, add some internet acronyms and sarcasm, and a lot of the back-and-forth on musical aesthetic issues in scholarly journals boils down to pretty much what these gentlemen are discussing below:

• TheKingBolden
5 months ago
What a useless piece. I’m sure the composer thinks he’s conveying something deep and spiritual, lol.

• bdowns2
5 months ago
Why do you think the composer would think that? Can’t a piece be fun or ephemeral and still be of value? Is “deep and spiritual” the quality that each piece must express (or arouse, or emulate….).

• TheKingBolden
5 months ago
When you know something about the title of the piece, you will begin to get my point. Regarding your question as to whether or not “deep and spiritual” are necessary qualities, it seems like an individual choice.

• jfloyd1879
5 months ago
TheKingBolden, your name should be the King Douchebag. This piece is badass, and you probably think its lame because you dont have the chops to play it. There doesn’t have to be a reason or meaning behind every piece of music, just enjoy it and quit being a buzzkill

• perryma44
4 months ago
@TheKingBolden actualy if you would do research before acting like you know what your talking about, you would know that this piece is about sacrificing a virgin. It is broken into 5 parts of a story and every instrument plays a role. So stfu before you try to talk shit about Rouse

• macoup1
4 months ago
Actually KingBolden do you really know what this piece is about? If you really did you would know that the music is a representation of a ritual in which a virgin is sacrificed. Nice try

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Why do some extraordinarily talented people never show up on the radar? Eric Lyon is one such unsung genius. I understand he’s been impressing folks in Brooklyn the past few years, and he wowed them at the Bonk Festival of Music in Tampa for over a decade (not to say that knocking them dead at the Bonk Festival is going to boost anyone’s career). But unless you go to ICMC or SEAMUS or have had the good fortune to live somewhere that Eric regularly presented his music, you probably don’t know about him.

Whatever the reason, it is a cosmic injustice of the highest magnitude that Eric Lyon is on the far side of his 40s and hasn’t had a major commission yet or a big label recording or received tenure somewhere.

I just posted a review of an all-Lyon concert at UC San Diego back in 1993. I wrote many favorable reviews of Eric’s work back in the 90s, and I’ll be posting them on my blog to try to convey to readers how exciting it was to see the words “Eric Lyon” and “world premiere” on a concert program back then.

Read the review here.

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I found one of my favorite reviews from the 1990’s (Roger Reynolds’s Dreaming and Harvey Sollberger’s Passages), and posted it here.

There was a minor controversy surrounding Roger Reynolds’s commission from the San Diego Symphony (his first from the Symphony after living in San Diego for over 2 decades). Dreaming had been on the schedule for performance the season before, but the premiere was cancelled. Theories about the cancellation, many involving Symphony Board intrigue, bounced around the UC San Diego Music Dept.

Several months later I interviewed Igor Gruppman, the concertmaster for the SDS. He related that the musicians have a clause in their contract allowing them the right to cancel if they don’t get parts a certain number of weeks ahead of a world premiere; apparently Reynolds’s parts got to the players too close to the performance date, and they voted to reschedule. The performance I reviewed months later sounded great, so hopefully everything worked out for all parties.

I can’t recall the San Diego Symphony playing any contemporary music as challenging as Reynolds’s work on a main subscription series concert since this performance. More’s the pity, as the Symphony is playing even better now than when they tackled Dreaming.

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I’ve been uploading my old reviews on my blog. Today’s upload is a review I did for a new music festival at the University of California, San Diego in 1995: concerts by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Paul Dresher Ensemble. This may seem totally run of the mill to New Yorkers and younger composers, but it was heresy at the hallowed halls of modernism at the UCSD Music Dept. At the time, Paul Dresher was probably the most successful, acclaimed alumnus of the dept.–and this was the first time he had been asked to perform there since his graduation. (he had been invited to do a performance of Slow Fire a few years before this–for the UCSD Theater Dept.!) Following the Bang On A Can All-Stars concert, Roger Reynolds was rumored to have apologized to his composition students for their concert, and swore they would never come back to the Music Dept. (Looks like he kept his promise!) So what caused all the fuss? You can read about it here.

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There’s yet another new music series here in San Diego: Connections Chamber Music. I reported earlier this year on their concert featuring Reich, John Adams, Daugherty, and Matthew Tommasini (the series director). For their last concert, they programmed the Quartet for the End of Time. Before I went to the concert, I marvelled at how I’ve heard the Quartet more frequently than plenty of 19th century chamber works just as great such as Beethoven’s op. 132. And–well, read my thoughts and review of the concert here.

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There are many compositions dealing with the horrors of World War II. Some of them, like Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, have little to do with the war–Penderecki changed the original title of the work from 8:37 after hearing its first performance. Others, like Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, achieved notoriety during the war, but their status in the repertory is still debated. (I can’t stand the Seventh, but find his Eighth Symphony one of the most moving works to arise from the war).

Then there is that genre unto itself, the Holocaust piece. An Israeli colleague of mine once solemnly claimed that if an Israeli wrote a piece about the Jewish Holocaust, they would get a performance by an Israeli orchestra. No joke–he had composed such a work and had a tape of said performance.

There is a curious paucity of works from the actual time of World War II which deal with the subject. Artists always claim to be mirrors of their own time, yet where are all the great reflections of the most turbulent era of the last century? One of the few contemporary composers who called out the Nazis and created a lasting work of art at the same time was Michael Tippett in his A Child of Our Time.  Dallapiccola’s Canti di Prigionia is another powerful piece written during the war, although performances are fewer than Tippett’s oratorio. Britten, the self-proclaimed pacifist, during the war years produced–Paul Bunyan? A violin concerto? Peter Grimes?

There has been plenty of music resurrected by composers who perished in Nazi death camps–most of it, to my taste, not worth the effort of programming. The greatest work composed in a Nazi concentration camp was written by a French prisoner of war at Stalag VIII-A, the Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps by Messiaen, which is less about the war then an expression of the composer’s faith.

For works about the camps, of course there is Schoenberg’s A Survivor From Warsaw, a good piece, yes, but I find the 1920’s/30’s neo-Expressionist language of Schoenberg a little over the top. It’s as if F.W. Murnau did a silent horror film about Auschwitz–effective but at the same time curiously dated and overstated.

For years I found Nono’s Il Canto Sospeso to be the most intense, emotionally powerful work inspired by WWII, with its texts drawn from letters of imprisoned Resistance fighters terrifyingly matched to the searing drama of Nono’s music. But for the past 2 decades, I have been fascinated, captivated, and horrified by Steve Reich’s Different Trains. I heard a good performance of this recently, and you can read my thoughts at the link below.

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I’ve been happily exploring all the free stuff available on Google Books, including complete runs of out of print magazines like Life.   Check out what Igor Stravinsky used to do when he visited his buddy Charles Chaplin in 1937. Of interest, Stravinsky is described primarily as “the famous conductor,” although in all fairness to Life, they mention an upcoming concert in Manhattan where three of his ballet scores will be performed.

Charlie and Igor having some laughs

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The orchestrion is a fairly old instrument, going back to the mid-19th-century.  Pat Metheny and the mad scientists at the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots have teamed up to create a 21st century version of an orchestrion.


I’ve spent the past few days listening to Metheny’s new CD, Orchestrion.  If you’ve been following his work for the past few years, it’s no big surprise musically or harmonically: lush diatonic harmonies and sweetly melodic improvisations. What makes this disc so special, though, is his interaction with a robot ensemble, one which is completely controlled or programmed by Metheny.  There is a surprising richness and warmth in these robot-played instruments that one does not find in MIDI accompaniments, and if you like Metheny’s music or you’re interested in seeing/hearing a mechanical instrument out of Jules Verne’s wildest dreams, do pick up the CD or catch Metheny and company on the road with this.

Lots of demos and explanations on Metheny’s web site.

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December Nights Balboa Park 2006

If you’re in the San Diego/Tijuana region today, or if you happen to be at your computer at 6 pm PST, tune in to KSDS FM (88.3), our beloved jazz station, to hear yours truly and Ellen Weller interviewed about our forthcoming Unsilent Night performances.

I don’t know if this is a first for Unsilent Night worldwide, but we are entered as a participant in a holiday parade:  The North Park Toyland Parade, Sat. Dec. 8 at 11 am, marching down University Ave from Utah to 32nd St.  I set up a Facebook page called Unsilent Night San Diego with more details, plus photos from one of our performances last year. 

Our traditional (well, five years old anyway) stroll through the Gaslamp Quarter will take place on Sat. Dec. 15 at 7 pm, starting at the Gaslamp Quarter trolley stop.  If you want more information and don’t want to register with Facebook, send me an email at christianDOThertzogATgmailDOTcom.

Your town doesn’t have an Unsilent Night performance?  Go to Phil Kline’s site and learn how you can join the electronic caroling fun.

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