Monday at the DiMenna Center, New York New Music Ensemble presents a program of works by Lukas Foss (1922-2009). Lukas (with whom I studied in the 90s when I was at BU) was a man of many musical talents with a near-omnivorous interest in a host of musical styles. Rather than try to present a comprehensive portrait of them all (a tall order in a single evening!), NYNME will focus on pieces from the mid-sixties through the mid-eighties, the period during which he was in his most experimental phase. In Echoi (1963), Foss made use of vast swaths of serial-inspired charts – there are pictures of them taking up whole walls of his studio. However, his performance directions add a measure of postmodern theatricality and there’s more than a bit of aleatory at work too. These seemingly disparate elements come together in a piece that is a masterful melange. Paradigm (1968), is more ebulliently chaotic still. Incorporating clangorous percussion and vociferous shouts alongside quasi-rock riffs from electric guitar, it channels more than a bit of the cultural and political revolutions afoot in the year of its composition.
Solo Observed (1982), began its life as a virtuosic solo piano piece, Solo, which found Foss experimenting with minimalism and maximalism at the same time. Solo Observed (1982, in versions for both orchestra and chamber ensemble), adds additional instruments, who observe, comment on, and sometimes even obstruct the pianist’s solo. The last work on the program, Tashi (1986), written for the star-studded chamber ensemble of the same name, is one of my favorite of Foss’s chamber works. Abundantly virtuosic and sumptuously harmonically varied, it is one of the best syntheses of the various styles and varied materials that fascinated Foss. Hunt down Rendezvous, the group’s 1989 recording on which it appears. Better yet, catch it live tonight.
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Full disclosure: Caroline Shaw has played my music, so I make no claim to objectivity here.
The day after Paul Moravec won the Pulitzer prize, John Adams started shooting from the hip about the Pulitzer going to “academic composers.” I was annoyed. But I figured, “Okay, he’s being a jerk, but Paul is an established composer writing quality material: He doesn’t need Adams’s permission to be successful.”
Recently, however, Adams has been sniping at younger composers. Yesterday in the NY Times, he took a thinly veiled swipe at Caroline. I know that she doesn’t really need JCA’s permission to be successful either. However, it really ticks me off that Adams is willing to burn the bridge behind him.
So let’s break the cycle of composers eating their young. Emerging and just-emerged composers: remember to pay it forward and to not get crotchety before your time.
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Photo: Hilary Scott.
Tanglewood capped this year’s Festival of Contemporary Music with the U.S. premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin. After an initial brief hiccough (Mr Benjamin forgot his baton when he first came on stage), the orchestra negotiated the technically complex score with no apparent difficulty and, though very large, never overwhelmed the vocalists. This was aided by the light and inventive orchestration; with the exception of a few well-placed monstrous tuttis, most of the time there were only a handful of instruments sounding. The Medieval setting also allowed for occasional light Early Music references: senza vibrato, perfect intervals, and the inclusion of a pair of Mandolins, a Verrophone, and a solo Gamba.
Evan Hughes gave a superlative performance as the Protector, convincingly portraying both domineering patriarch and devastated betrayed husband. Lauren Snouffer was excellent as the Protector’s wife Agnès, particularly during her character’s more dramatic moments, although I found myself occasionally glancing at the title screens to catch the text. Tammy Coil and Augustin Mercante were both superb in their double roles as Angels and as Agnès’ sister and brother-in-law. Isaiah Bell was fine in his double role as the Boy and the third Angel, but again I found myself reading more than I would have liked. All received a well-deserved extended standing ovation.
Staging was minimal – this was a concert performance – but effective; the music alone was quite descriptive, particularly the purely instrumental murder scene (no death aria here!). The front of the stage was divided into three areas: to the left, under yellow lighting, were the Angels; in the center, under red lighting, was the main home; to the right, under blue lighting, were all other locations. The orchestra was so large that the vocalists were forced to pass between the conductor and the orchestra in order to move from the center area to the right. Here’s hoping an American opera company will present a staged version soon – it is certainly deserving.
– Composer Robert E. Thomas teaches at College of St. Rose in Albany, New York.
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The 60th birthday of John Zorn! Who would believe it? I guess 60 is the new 30. On Saturday, the Lincoln Center Festival celebrated with a concert devoted exclusively to all of Zorn’s string quartet music, a total of six works from 1988 to 2011. Zorn is such an enigmatic eclectic musical persona and many-hat-wearer—Avant-garde enfant terrible, jazz-punk provocateur, saxophonist, improviser, unorthodox arranger, japanophile, experimental music impresario, klezmervangelist, record producer, and book series editor. He is also at least as enigmatic as a composer. So it occurred to me that an evening of his string quartets might be just the ticket to put his creative oeuvre—his compositions at least—into perspective, to be perceived in the context of today’s contemporary composition scene. I was right. Over the course of this one evening, I gained a much fuller and presumably more accurate picture of Zorn’s musical thought: exactly what I hoped for.
In this case much credit goes to the skillful and committed performers. The miraculous JACK Quartet was on hand for the first half, while the polished Alchemy Quartet took up the second half, joined by the JACK and Brooklyn Rider Quartets for the concluding Kol Nidre quartet which was performed in triplicate (three to a part). Read the rest of this entry »
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Thank you to Miranda Cuckson for this remembrance of composer Henri Dutilleux.
My visit to Henri Dutilleux was part of one of the most beautiful summers I’ve had. I stayed for several weeks in Paris just before beginning my doctoral degree. I was determined to pass out of the language-course requirement, so I rented a little apartment on the Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine and immersed myself in French, reading twenty pages a day, chatting with storepeople and watching French talk shows on TV. Besides exploring the city and making day trips to Chartres and Auvers-sur-Oise, I visited many museums, including the small ones (Bourdelle, Zadkine), and heard music at the Salle Pleyel (Krystian Zimerman), Cité de la Musique (Ensemble Intercontemporain in Carter, Kurtag and Dalbavie), Théâtre du Chatelet (Bluebeard’s Castle) and Bastille Opera (Renée Fleming in Manon). Meanwhile I practiced every day, and sometime in the middle of my stay, I called up Henri Dutilleux.
I had been working on his violin concerto L’arbre des songes (The Tree of Dreams, which I fondly thought of as L’arbre des singes, The Tree of Monkeys) in my lessons at Juilliard with Robert Mann. I was becoming increasingly interested in contemporary music and working with composers, and Mr. Mann’s involvement in that kind of thing was very inspiring to me. Mr. Mann and the Juilliard Quartet had commissioned Dutilleux in 1976 to write the string quartet Ainsi la nuit. Having listened to me play the concerto, he contacted Dutilleux and asked him to hear me. I was of course thrilled that the composer agreed. When I called Monsieur Dutilleux, he asked if I had a pianist to play with. I said no, so he arranged for a young Japanese woman from the Paris Conservatoire to come and play the orchestra part.
One morning, I walked along a traffic-less, narrow street on the Île Saint-Louis, where pinkish-grey buildings glowed softly in the sun. The air was warm and stirred only by the sound of children’s playful shrieks, emanating from somewhere. Dutilleux greeted me at his studio – a rather small-framed man wearing a jacket with his trousers pulled high on his waist. He was entirely elegant and welcoming. His cozy studio was neat, with piles of scores and manuscript paper, and sunny. The children’s voices were louder now through his open window- closing them, he said that there was a school in the back and he enjoyed hearing their shouts. We talked a while, then I played his piece through. He made only a few comments – details of articulation, phrasing – then he signed my music and we talked a while more. We had tea and he gave me a copy of his CD, The Shadows of Time with the Boston Symphony, and talked about his use of children’s voices in the music. Then I went on my way.
I recently saw Dutilleux’s short posthumous homage to Elliott Carter, in which he said that they did not meet much and that he had few specific memories besides of “a nice and strong character, a very charming man, and though we were far from each other – the Atlantic Ocean between us – I remain close to him and his music.” That June day was my only meeting with Dutilleux, but it was very meaningful for me to meet the creator of this music, and to play his substantial work under his curious and attentive gaze. He reminded me of certain great artists I’ve known, who share a simplicity and contentedness in their way of living that comes, I feel, from their satisfaction in their work and their love for what they do. Listening to recordings, I again relish his music’s generous ardor and stimulating clarity, luscious warmth, sweeping ebb and flow, big-band homophonic blocks of harmonies, and sense of spaciousness between the deep low register and the radiant highs. I respect his fastidiousness in composing but I dearly wish he had been more prolific in writing chamber and solo works that we could play and program. Having few pieces of his to play, I feel about his music much as I do about my meeting with him – truly delighted and wanting more chances to engage directly. He definitely left us wishing for more.
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Some news about a hot ticket tonight from one of our regular contributors, composer Lawrence Dillon.
After performing his Violin Futura program a gazillion times all over the map in the last six years, Piotr Szewczyk is bringing it to NYC (Carnegie Hall. May 6th. 8 pm).
What is Violin Futura? In the words of Santa Fe New Music, it is an “enthralling program [that] shows off the diversity and range of the contemporary violin.” As Piotr says, “I created the Violin Futura project because I wanted to expand the contemporary violin repertoire with pieces that are exciting to play and listen to while bringing something new and unique to the repertoire. Violin Futura is currently in its 3rd edition and I have over 40 pieces written for me by composers from United States, Germany, England, Japan, Canada, Mexico, and Australia.”
The version he will be playing at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall includes works by Kari Henrik Juusela, John Kennedy, Marc Mellits, Gary Smart, Adam Schoenberg, Richard Belcastro, Sydney Hodkinson, Clifton Callender (World Premiere), Moritz Eggert, Piotr Szewczyk, Ethan Wickman, and Lawrence Dillon (World Premiere).
The admission price is $10. Anyone interested in an introduction to what the 21st-century violin is about can have it all at an excellent price.
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Wednesday: Low and ACME at Society for Ethical Culture
This week, slow core rockers Low celebrate two decades as a band with their tenth studio release, The Invisible Way (Sub Pop). The Sparhawks (Mimi and Alan) continue to weave dulcet duets and the band’s metronome seems to only go up to about 100 beats per minute (with most of its songs still residing below a tranquilized polar bear’s heart rate), but there’s nothing that seems tired or retreaded on The Invisible Way. On the contrary, songs like the campfire ballad “Plastic Cup” and the exhortatory “Holy Ghost” are worthy additions to their already distinguished catalog. And “Just Make it Stop” may rank as my favorite of their forays into mid tempo indie pop (double tracked vocals from Mimi always make me a little weak in the knees).
In addition to tour dates, there’s live video footage of the band below (courtesy of AV Club).
Opening for Low tonight at their show at NYC’s Society for Ethical Culture, a string quartet of our friends from ACME: Ben Russell and Laura Lutzke, violins; Caroline Shaw, viola; Clarice Jensen, cello. While we don’t have a set list from Low (we imagine a mix of songs from the new record and old favorites), ACME has confirmed that it will be performing the following pieces:
Fog Tropes II by Ingram Marshall
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars
Stringsongs by Meredith Monk
During the show, ACME will also play with Low.
You can hear ACME on their latest CD for New World, Joseph Byrd: 1960-1963, an important revival of the early experimental works of an artist better know for his contributions to psych rock.
Low – Touring schedule
Wed Mar 20 – Society for Ethical Culture – New York, NY – Buy Tickets
Fri Mar 22 – Metro – Chicago, IL – Buy Tickets
Sat Mar 23 – Fitzgerald Theatre – St. Paul, MN – SOLD OUT
Fri Mar 29 – Larimer Lounge – Denver, CO – Buy Tickets
Sat Mar 30 – Velour – Provo, UT – Buy Tickets
Tue Apr 2 – Troubadour – Los Angeles, CA – Buy Tickets
Wed Apr 3 – Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA – Buy Tickets
Fri Apr 5 – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR – Buy Tickets
Sat Apr 6 – The Crocodile – Seattle, WA – Buy Tickets
Sat June 22 – Solid Sound Festival – North Adams, MA – Buy Tickets
Low plays “Holy Ghost” live at Saki
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It is no secret that violinist, violist, and sometime vocalist Miranda Cuckson is one of File Under ?’s favorite contemporary music performers on the New York scene. An excerpt of her recent Nono recording can be heard on our December Mix (see embed below).
Miranda has started a new non-profit music presenting organization called nunc. On Friday at Mannes College of Music, nunc has its maiden voyage. Miranda is joined on an 8 pm concert by mandolinist Joseph Brent, percussionist Alex Lipowski, bassoonist Adrian Morejon, mezzo Mary Nessinger, and pianists Matei Varga and Ning Yu. The program includes music by Michael Hersch, Charles Wuorinen, Iannis Xenakis, Georges Aperghis, Sofia Gubaidulina, and more.
You can read read Miranda’s program notes here. Admission is free.
File Under ? December 2012 Mix by Christian Carey on Mixcloud
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Q2, The online “Living Music, Living Composers” arm of New York’s classical radio station WQXR (105.9 FM) is requesting some feedback from its listeners. Their Listener Survey (available online here), subtitled “Help Us Serve You!”, provides Q2 listeners with an opportunity to let the station know what’s working and what you would like to see changed. Please take a few minutes and let the good folks at Q2 know that you’re out there listening with discerning ears and an appetite for more contemporary classical listening fare.
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Have you seen the leaden snark about new music that recently passed for a column on Huffington Post? Penned by composer Daniel Asia, it was ostensibly about John Cage’s centenary year celebrations, but was really just a rehash of reactionary vitriol against experimental art.
Aren’t we yet tired of attacking those whose aesthetic viewpoints differ from our own? Can’t we composers all just get along? Apparently not. My reply to Huff Post follows below.
With all due respect to Daniel Asia, it is very easy to write an essay excoriating a dead man and griping about centenary festivals: both are easy targets. It is not so easy to create a body of work that outlives you and continues to provoke thought. John Cage’s music may not suit Professor Asia, but it certainly engaged audiences throughout the world in 2012.
I wrote about several of the events and came away with a very different impression (from that portrayed in the article above) of Cage’s music and the music of those who admired him. Much of it I found invigorating, stimulating, and yes, often entertaining.
Assistant Professor of Music
Westminster Choir College,
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