Author Archive

Today would have been Lukas Foss’s ninetieth birthday, and I’m remembering him fondly. Linked here is a piece I wrote for NewMusicBox, commemorating him after his passing in 2009.
Thanks to Frank J. Oteri for digging it out of their online archives.

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I’ve been greatly enjoying Third Coast Percussion’s new CD/DVD release on Mode. John Cage: The Works for Percussion 2 captures some of Cage’s early music in which he assisted both in the development of the percussion ensemble but also formulated a musical aesthetic in which rhythm took primacy over pitch; “noise” became a welcome part of music’s sonic spectrum. Third Coast’s rendition of the Constructions (particularly the First Construction “in Metal”) and their beautifully filmed, lighthearted yet earnestly delivered version of Living Room Music are can’t miss contributions to the spate of Cage releases in his centennial year.

As luck would have it, we still haven’t worked out that “cloned reviewer” thing. On Thursday, August 9th, I’m heading up to the Berkshires to Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music. Down here in New York at MoMA, Third Coast are the featured performers for the museum’s “John Cage Day.” At 6:30, they will perform a set in the Sculpture Garden that features the New York premiere of Renga: Cage: 100, a group of short (5-7 seconds) pieces commissioned by Third Coast to celebrate the Cage centennial. Works by Augusta Read Thomas, David Smooke, Paul Lansky, and many others are fleetingly featured!

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Way back in September, Charles Ives scholar Jan Swafford reported in Slate that the Ives home in Redding, Connecticut, built by the composer and for many years maintained by his family, was up for sale.

As Norman Lebrecht wrote on Monday for his Slipped Disc column on Arts Journal, the house is being eyed by developers and will likely be demolished.

That is, unless someone intervenes and declares it a national landmark; a part of our cultural heritage worth preserving. Getting the attention of a person with clout would help; someone like Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes (119 Cannon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515), who represents Redding as part of his congressional district. Or President Obama.

Below we’ve included an embed of Bernard Lin’s petition on It needs more than 900 additional signatures. We’re asking Sequenza 21 readers to consider signing and helping get out the word about the petition via social media, email, etc. in hopes that we can in some small way help in the effort to preserve the Ives house in Redding. If you live in Mr. Himes’s district, please consider sending him a letter too!

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On July 22nd via his PostClassic blog, Kyle Gann published a post titled “One Less Critic,” more or less announcing his retirement from music criticism. Writing for nearly thirty years in a number of publications, notably the Village Voice and Chamber Music Magazine, Gann has been a thoughtful, often provoking, and even, occasionally, a polarizing figure in discourse about contemporary classical music. He’s also been active in a number of other activities, first and foremost as an imaginative composer, a professor at Bard College, and a musicologist who’s published articles and books on a wide range of composers, including minimalists, microtonalists, Conlon Nancarrow, and John Cage. His book on Robert Ashley will be published this fall.

In his blog post, Gann writes, “Criticism is a noble profession, or could be if we took it seriously enough and applied rigorous standards to it, but you get pigeonholed as a bystander, someone valued for your perspective on others rather than for your own potential contributions.”

He’s not the first composer/critic to voice these concerns. It’s fair to say that those who write about others’ music potentially imperil their own. One’s advancement in a career as a creative and/or performing artist often involves blunting their candor and, upon occasion, judiciously withholding their opinions, delicacies which a writer (at least, an honest writer) can ill afford.

Certainly, I haven’t always agreed with Gann’s assessment of the musical landscape. In 1997, I first read his essay on 12-tone composers in academia, in which he likened those in grad programs studying with Wuorinen and Carter to be a wasted generation of composers, like lemmings leaping to their (artistic) deaths. At that time, I was a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers: studying with Wuorinen and writing a dissertation on Carter! I didn’t transfer or change my topic.

That said, I respect Gann’s formidable intellect and, even when it stings a little, his candor.  I hope that during his “retirement” from criticism, he will find many new opportunities provided to him as a  composer. In the spirit of bygones being bygones, maybe some of them will be in collaboration with ensembles that, back in the day, got a rough review from him!

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Our 24 hour news cycle can tend to bombard us information about tragic events. While this can be helpful, it can also become dispiriting and disconcerting.

After news of the shooting in Colorado was announced, I asked Sequenza 21 contributors and community members to share musical excerpts that they find consolatory when a tragedy such as this occurs. Some provided me with video clips via YouTube. Others supplied SoundCloud links to their own pieces, written to respond to the chaos that is all too prevalent in our society.

Contributors: Steve Layton, Judah Adashi, James Stephenson, Rob Deemer, Ken Ueno, Jonathan Palmer Lakeland, James Ilgenfritz, Jerry Bowles, and yours truly.  Tracks follow after the page break: Read the rest of this entry »

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We’re saddened to learn of the passing of composer Nathan Brock. Nathan was on faculty at University of San Diego and did post-doctoral research at California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.

Jay Batzner has known Nathan since they did their undergraduate studies together. He shares a remembrance on his blog.

Here’s a link to one of Nathan’s recent pieces, “Cenotaph,” a flute and cello duo.

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The group that helped to start the indie rock plus classical crossover genre, Clogs, doesn’t often make it out to Brooklyn. But, if Monday’s show at Galapagos is any indication, when they visit the borough, the group goes all out.

In addition to selections from Clogs’ previous studio recordings, the concert features “Shady Gully,” a new group of songs written by Padma Newsome. Those in attendance will also get a sneak preview of “2 Moon Shine,” his forthcoming opera project.

Also on the bill is Clogs member Thomas Kozumplik’s project Loop 2.4.3. I’ve been greatly enjoying their latest full length recording American Dreamland (out now via Music Starts from Silence). Kozumplik, joined by Lorne Watson, have created a percussion heavy and somewhat jaundice eyed view of the American dream, referencing everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Easy Rider to urban blight along the way. While the album’s subject matter could easily become a colossal bummer, Loop 2.4.3 creates supple beats  and several fetching tunes (the radio ready single “So Strong” noteworthy among them) that make even a dystopian post industrial landscape sound like far better a destination than its likely to be!

A small caveat for fans of the National: guitarist Bryce Dessner is not playing the Galapagos show. Ben Cassoria will take over his duties for the evening (no mean substitute!).

Clogs with Loop 2.4.3

Monday, July 16th

at Galapagos (16 Main St, Dumbo, Brooklyn · 718 222 8500)

Doors 7PM, Show 8PM

Tickets: $15 Advance, $20 At Door

Event link:

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Victoria Woodhull

In Fall 2012, composer/conductor Victoria Bond’s opera Mrs. President premieres at Anchorage Opera in Alaska. Its “out of town” tryout is on Monday July 9th … in New York at Symphony Space.

The opera’s subject is Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president. Woodhull’s campaign in 1872 predates women’s suffrage. It was mired in controversy and scandal which, as we all know, makes it ideal material for an opera!

I was particularly pleased to learn that dramatic soprano Valerie Bernhardt is playing Woodhull. Val and I both sang at the Chatauqua Institute back in 1992. Her voice was already a mighty and beautiful instrument then and has only grown more impressive in the ensuing years.

Soprano Valerie Bernhardt

Need more inducement? Okay. Those in town seeking relief from the heat wave, remember: Symphony Space has lovely central AC and quite a nice bar to boot!

Mrs. President at Symphony Space

Monday, July 9th at 7:30 PM

Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Symphony Space

Broadway and 95th Street

Tickets: $20 (

Opera website:

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On Tuesday, the New York Philharmonic celebrates French composer Henri Dutilleux, the recipient of the orchestra’s first Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music.

Dutilleux has decided to use the prize money to commission three composers to write works for the Philharmonic in his honor. He’s already selected one – Peter Eotvos. Who would you recommend to Mr. Dutilleux as the other two commission recipients?

Alan Gilbert will conduct and Yo-Yo Ma is the featured guest soloist.


Métaboles (1964)

Ainsi La Nuit for String Quartet (1976)

Cello Concerto — Tout un monde lointain (A whole distant world) (1970)


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This week, one of the topics being avidly discussed on the blogosphere is a  post written on the All Songs Considered blog by NPR intern Emily White (read here).  There have been a number of passionate replies to her suggestion that those in her age group simply are not buying music: they’re too accustomed to “appropriating” it. David Lowery (of the band Camper Van Beethoven) provided an in depth and thoughtful response (a must read at the Trichordist here).  One can also read Ben Sisario’s article for the NY Times here and Jonathan Coulton’s blog post here.

All caught up? Good.

I won’t go through all of the merits and moral quandaries associated with file-sharing and streaming services. Full disclosure: I use NML regularly in my work (we subscribe at Westminster Choir College) and also have a paid Spotify subscription. While I’m a big proponent of physical media, and also feel that streaming services must work to do a better job to compensate artists, I am pleased that these technological options are available, as they are invaluable references for scholars and music lovers.

Thus, I’m certainly not interested in piling on or, goodness forbid, admonishing Emily White. In some ways, I feel sorry for her: a DJ and station manager who doesn’t have a record collection strikes me as someone who’s missed out on a very fun part of that gig. Instead, let’s zero in on those records. In the various posts on the subject of apathetic interns there is an almost unmentioned other segment of the populace that should be introduced into this conversation about purchasing music: young people who, you know, purchase music.

I support lots of artists by buying their music, often in physical, sometimes esoteric, formats. I feel about LPs the way that former Senator Phil Gramm feels about firearms, about which he famously said, “I have more of ’em than I need and less of ’em than I want.”

But I’m not the only one with this penchant for owning a physical artifact instead of ripping a friend’s CD. Why is it whenever I go to a record store I’m surrounded by people, many approximately Emily White’s age, who are digging through the bins and buying vinyl? New vinyl – nice 180 gram pressings of current albums. That’s a lot of latte money!

Maybe, in the midst of all of the doom and gloom about the decline of CDs as a distribution model, we are overgeneralizing by taking the casual listener as the barometer for future music sales. The casual listener has long “stolen” or, at the very least, freely acquired, music: well before the advent of file sharing and mp3s. Mix tapes, listening to the radio in a restaurant that doesn’t pay royalties, borrowing music from libraries, friends, etc.

Yes, the arguments regarding “fair use” settled some of these issues, but it took lengthy court battles to do so. At the time, most teens remained blithely oblivious of the issues at hand, continuing to dupe their friends’ copies of whatever they couldn’t afford that week at Sam Goody. What’s sad is that Emily seems to fall into this group of casual consumers: one might hope that NPR would attract folks who get the point of supporting those who entertain, educate, and even move them.

Physical product continues to be viable in the digital age, even if it proves to be a more modest stream of revenue than it was for artists during the boom years of the CD era. The physical product that seems to be on the rise at the moment is the LP, with good reason: it’s a very fine artifact. The bigger format helps – you can actually read the liner notes and the artwork can better be appreciated. Many audiophiles (myself included) love ’em.

That said, the industry should continue to explore other modes of distribution, new platforms that will help to keep them in business and recoup at least some of artists’ lost royalties. In no way am I suggesting that streaming media isn’t going to be the prevailing method of experiencing recorded music in the future. From an archival standpoint and one of accessibility, this is an exciting thing indeed. However, I can’t help but think that the lack of engagement with a record collection, except in the digital domain, divests the listening experience of some of its vitality.

Readers: what do you think? The comments section is open for civil discourse.

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