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Few operas I have seen have left as great an impact on me as Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten which I originally saw at City Opera in the early ’90s and just saw again in its current run at the Park Avenue Armory as part of the 2008 Lincoln Center Festival. (There are only two performances left and I’ve heard that the run is practically sold out. When I was there on Wednesday night there was a posse of desperate folks hoping they could wrangle tickets, but if indeed no official tickets are left and you haven’t seen it, join them and hope.)

For all the polemics about what works and what doesn’t work musically in opera, Zimmermann’s relentlessly rigorous and sometimes astringent 12-tone score–with nary a hummable melody for its entire duration–is extraordinarily effective. So much so, I think it should put to rest what to some has seemed like an anti-12-tone cabal in recent years.

Ironically, many folks who are otherwise sympathetic to dodecaphonic musings aid and abet this cabal by being so apologetic about such music, e.g. “it’s difficult, but” etc. Even David Pountney, stage director of the current production of Soldaten claims in an essay published in the program that 12-tone opera never really took off and that there are essentially only three important 12-tone operas: the present work, Berg’s Lulu and Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron. What about Montezuma or the operas of Luigi Dallapiccola?

I love minimalism (Einstein and  Satyagraha changed my life and I’ve seen three different productions of Nixon) and am also deeply moved by some neoromantic operas (Vanessa is heart-wrenching). In the world of dramma-per-musica, shouldn’t “by any means necessary” be the only guideline?

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I know I haven’t contributed much to the intellectual discourse on these pages since the new format of the site went live, but–believe me–it hasn’t been that I’ve lost interest. In one of life’s strange convergences, the reformat of Sequenza21 occurred almost simultaneous with my return from China at which point I have plunged myself into a torrent of freelance writing assignments in order to pay for the 82 CDs and suitcase of books I brought back. I’m only now starting to get unburied. Plus, of course, the NewMusicBox deadlines never go away but that’s the same no matter what so it’s no excuse.

Anyway, I wish I could have written that I haven’t had a chance to write in because I’ve been so crazed on a deadline to complete a musical composition.  We all know how much spending time on S21 takes away from composing! Ironically, as luck would have it, Sequenza21 is actually contributing to my work as a composer this month since a piece of my music will be featured on their debut concert next Monday night at the CUNY Graduate Center.

And while I can think of fewer honors greater than having a soloist of the caliber of David Starobin performing a work of mine, part of me wonders if a real “Sequenza 21″ concert ought instead be a group composition that one of us starts (pretending to write a solo work in the Berio tradition), perhaps followed by everyone in the audience sequentially creating variations on it in turn for the rest of the evening. But who knows what else everyone else is cooking up for next week. You’ll just have to show up to find out!

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