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.
From Friday 2 PM to Saturday 2 PM (EST), broadcaster Marvin Rosen will be hosting “Viva 21st Century,” a marathon of recent classical music on Princeton’s WPRB 103.3 FM (also on the web at www.wprb.com). The broadcast will include over eighty composers.
Marvin has informed me that my “Gilgamesh Suite EP” (out now on BandCamp) will be featured sometime between 7 and 9 PM on Friday.
More details below.
Viva 21st Century
Classical Discoveries will present the 10th Annual program and the 6th 24-Hour Marathon totally devoted to music composed in the 21st century.
VIVA 21ST CENTURY – INTERNATIONAL EDITION
24-HOUR LIVE WPRB RADIO BROADCAST with Marvin Rosen
starts: Friday, December 28, 2012 – 2:00pm
ends: Saturday, December 29, 2012 – 2:00pm.
Approximately 80 composers will have their works aired during this marathon.
Milosz Bembinow, Thomas Blomenkamp, Sylvie Bodorova,Christian Carey, Jennifer Castellano, Daniel Dorff, Hugues Dufourt, Rosemary Duxbury, Ivan Erod, Vladimir Godar, Ola Gjeilo, Jennifer Higdon, Matthew Hindson, Mary Ann Joyce-Walter, Lei Liang, Michel Lysight, Peter Machajdik, Franco Antonio Mirenzi, Andrew Rudin, Carl Ruttl, Somei Satoh, Ravi Shankar, Ylva Skog, Allan Stephenson, John Tavener, Giel Vleggaar, Joelle Wallach and many, many others.
For those of us here in New York and New Jersey, the past few weeks have been challenging. In the wake of Storm Sandy, we trust that better days are yet to come, but the present’s outlook is a bit dodgy. Some forward thinking optimism, particularly of the musical variety, is keenly welcome.
This weekend, C4 Ensemble, a collective of composers, conductors, and singers committed to new music (most wearing multiple hats in terms of their respective roles in the group), presents Music for People Who Like the Future.
Spotlighting the North American premiere of Andrew Hamilton’s Music for People Who Love the Future (hmm… I wonder if this title gave them the idea for the name of the show …), the program also features music by Chen Yi, Michael McGlynn, Sven-David Sandström, Phillipe Hersant, and Ted Hearne along with C4’s own Jonathan David, Mario Gullo, David Harris, and Karen Siegel.
Friday, November 16, 2012
The Church of St. Luke in the Fields
487 Hudson Street, NYC 10014
$15 advance / $25 day of event/ 10 $4 “Rush” admissions 30 minutes advance at the door
Closest Subway: 1 to Christopher Street/Sheridan Square
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Mary Flagler Cary Hall at The DiMenna Center
450 W. 37th Street, NYC 10018
$15 advance / $25 day of event / 10 $4 “Rush” admissions 30 minutes advance at the door
Closest Subways: A/C/E to 34th Street/Penn Station
Reception to follow
The scuttlebutt around Columbia University’s new senior composer hire seems to be true. As Alex Ross reported on The Rest is Noiseyesterday, Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haaswill be joining Columbia’s faculty sometime during the 2012-’13 academic year, replacing Tristan Murail, One revels in the possibilities, not only for graduate students in composition, but for the rest of us too; we’ll likely get to hear some terrific programs during his time stateside!
Our friend Thomas Bjørnseth has some terrific musical selections by Haas on his Atonality.Netwebsite, and The Wellesz Theatre is streaming Haas’s 2011 opera Bluthaus in its entirety via YouTube (embed below).
After a long gestation, which included multiple workshops that presented excerpts of the work in progress, this weekend David T. Little’sDog Days will be given its premiere as a full length opera. It is being presented at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey on September 29th through October 7th. Despite all the myriad details to which he’s had to attend in the rehearsals leading up to the performances, David was kind enough to consent to an interview about the bringing this long term project to fruition and some of his other current activities.
Sequenza21: When did you first become aware of the short story on which Dog Days is based? Why did you think it would be a good subject for your first full length opera?
I first encountered the story Dog Days in the film adaptation by Ellie Lee. (The original story is by Judy Budnitz.) I was living in Ann Arbor at the time, and had gotten into the habit if composing each morning with the TV on in the distant background. It would usually start with the previous night’s Daily Show; then, I’d switch to IFC. On one particular day, IFC was showing a shorts program. I happened to look up at a certain moment, and catch a glimpse of Spencer Beglarian (late brother of Eve) playing Prince, the man in a dog suit. I immediately thought: “what the hell” and couldn’t look away, almost obsessively watching the entire film. I filed this piece away, thinking of it as a work I really liked, by an artist I respected, and then sort of moved on with my day. I wrote a song some time later, called “After a Film by Ellie Lee,” about the landscape of Dog Days–and even got to meet Ellie in 2003–but never really thought of making it an opera.
Then in 2008, Dawn Upshaw contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in writing something dramatic–a scena, or opera excerpt–for the Dawn Upshaw/Osvaldo Golijov Workshop at Carnegie Hall. I of course said yes–because that’s what you say to Dawn Upshaw!–and began looking for a libretto. I had written the libretto for Soldier Songs myself, but those were all monologues. This piece was to have characters who needed to have actual dialogue, which I didn’t feel I could handle that as a writer. So I approached Royce Vavrek, who I’d met maybe six months earlier after an American Lyric Theater performance, and we started talking about ideas.
After looking through a number of options, we kept coming back to Dog Days as a piece that just made sense. It was dark, but with these wonderful moments of light. It got into very serious issues–the animal/human divide, issues of choice and consequence, questions of how we treat the least fortunate among us–but without being heavy handed about it. It felt like the perfect story to use for our first adaptation, and it’s proven to be an incredibly rewarding text to write with. (Plus, it had the right number of characters to match the singers we’d been assigned!) We approached Judy Budnitz for permission, she granted it, and we got started. (Judy, by the way, is a really terrific author and unique storyteller. If people don’t know her work, I hope they will check it out.)
What’s been changed or added since presenting scenes of Dog Days at Carnegie Hall?
We added a whole lot! The Zankel presentation was only about 20 minutes, and when we did it at Vox (2010) we had about 30 minutes, having written the aria “Mirror Mirror” for one of American Opera Projects’ Opera Grows in Brooklyn programs in the summer of 2009. But the piece now lasts about 2 hours and 15 minutes with the intermission, so it has more than doubled since those early presentations. Also, a number of the voice types changed. I mentioned that we were assigned the singers for the Carnegie Workshop. We loved all of them, but, as we worked on the libretto, came to feel that some of the voice types weren’t right for whom the characters were becoming. For example, Howard–the father–started off as a tenor, but is now a baritone. So in addition to the new music, we also had a lot of rewrites to the old music. Even after the workshop in April, we continued to rewrite, and have continued to tweak throughout the rehearsal process. We added a character who was not present in the original version (though is present in the story): the Captain, a military officer played by Cherry Duke who brings the two sons back from mischief, and tries to make a devil’s deal with Howard. This aria was written maybe eight months ago.
The last big thing was that we finally have a dog man, played by the amazing John Kelly. In the Carnegie Hall performance, Prince was just not there–since it is not a sung role–so all the singers were singing to an invisible man. That’s changed in the stage version. Works much better now! Read the rest of this entry »
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Holly Twyford in Sounding Beckett. Photo: Jeremy Tressler.
Three of Samuel Beckett’s late one-act plays (from his “ghost period”) are the source material for Sounding Beckett, an interdisciplinary collaboration that is entering its second (and final) weekend of New York performances at Classic Stage Company on September 21-23.Theatre director Joy Zinoman has enlisted a fine cast of actors and resourceful design team, Cygnus Ensemble directed by guitarist William Anderson, and composers Laura Kaminsky, John Halle, Laura Schwendinger, Scott Johnson, David Glaser, and Chester Biscardi to create a production that is both respectful of the playwright’s work and imaginative in its incorporation of music.
Beckett was quite specific about what sounds and music are to be added to his plays: one can’t just insert incidental music willy-nilly without running afoul of his estate.Sounding Beckett avoids this pitfall, instead allowing composers to have the last word: after the actors have left the stage. Each of the plays – Footfalls, Ohio Impromptu, and Catastrophe – has been supplied with a musical “response” by two different composers. A composition is played directly after the performance of each play (the “cast” of composers rotates. This past Sunday afternoon, the show I attended featured music by Schwendinger, Halle, and Kaminsky).
In a talkback after Sunday’s performance, Schwendinger underscored that the pieces we heard were meant as musical responses to the plays: not necessarily programmatic outlines or storytelling. Thus, her piece responded to the strong emotions churning under the surface of Footfalls with sustained passages of controlled, but angst-imbued dissonance. After seeing actor Holly Twyford’s simmering performance in the play, one could readily understand Schwendinger’s poignant, elegantly crafted response.
Halle’s piece after “Ohio Impromptu” featured a more effusive language, with arcing lines surging towards, but never quite reaching, a place of closure and repose. Again, while not mimicking the action on the stage, his music seemed like a kindred spirit to Ted van Griethuysen’s mellifluous reading of a tragic story of love lost; it also resonated with the silent, but facially expressive, performance of actor Philip Goodwin. I was also quite taken with Kaminsky’s composition, which nimbly captured the emotional content portrayed by Catastrophe’s three disparate characters.
Cygnus Ensemble (Anderson, guitarist Oren Fader, flutist Tara-Helen O’Connor, oboist James Austin Smith, violinist Pauline Kim, and cellist Chris Gross) were impressively well-prepared; they performed all of the compositions with top notch musicality. Anderson, a composer himself, has supplied a multifaceted overture and economical music for scene changes. His work draws upon the sound world of modern classical music in a way that is simpatico to the compositions of the featured composers, while also referencing the type of incidental music one hears in current productions of plays in New York. If Anderson needs another hat to wear, he might consider creating incidental music for more plays!
SOUNDING BECKETT will perform Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. from September 21 to 23. Tickets are $50 and $75 and go on sale starting July 20. Tickets can be purchased by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111 or on online at www.soundingbeckett.com
Earlier today, Kyle Gann reported on his blog that composer, educator, and writer William Duckworth has succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He was 69. Tom Huizenga has more over at NPR Classical.
I’ve long been an admirer of Bill’s music and writings. After a colleague mentioned his illness to me, I corresponded with him a few months ago, letting him know how helpful his book Talking Music was to my students and mentioning a former student we both had in common (Ashi Day). Bill was very gracious. I’m pleased to have told him before his passing about the great value of his work to young musicians, composers in particular.
One of the ways I’ll commemorate Duckworth’s life is by spending time with two of his best works; the first, the aforementioned book, Talking Music, a collection of interviews with composers that sets the bar high for such volumes. The other, Andy Lee’s recording of Time Curve Preludes (available via Irritable Hedgehog).
Norman Lebrecht broke this story earlier today. I wrote the letter below to the New York Times this afternoon. I hope others will follow suit and ask for Allan Kozinn to be reinstated as music critic. Letters may be directed to the attention of Jon Landman.
Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
I am writing to express my disappointment at learning that Allan Kozinn has been removed from the position of music critic and reassigned to the culture desk at the New York Times. Since his arrival at the Times in 1977, Kozinn has been one of the hardest working writers on music that the paper has ever had. Moreover, he is one of very few writers on contemporary classical music who has the knowledge and expertise to explain the inspiration for and intricacies of a wide variety of newer repertoire. Never hectoring or obligating listeners to expand their comfort zones, he effectively communicates why they should engage with the music of our time. It would be a great loss for the paper and many of its current and future readers if Mr. Kozinn were not allowed to do what he does best: write about music.
Assistant Professor of Music, Rider University
Managing Editor, Sequenza 21 (www.sequenza21.com)
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.