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After a quick warm-up sweep through Vermont, Florida and Texas, Boston-based string ensemble A Far Cry is getting ready to kick off their fourth home season this Saturday, with a concert that runs the gamut from Purcell (Suite from “The Old Bachelor”) to Mozart (Serenata Notturna in D), from Bartok (Divertimento for String Orchestra) to a world premiere from composer Richard Cornell (New Fantasias), crowned — in my ear at least — by performances of Iannis XenakisAnalogique A et B. The concert will be given three times: September 18 2010 4pm, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain; September 19 2010 1:30pm at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; and September 24 2010 8pm at the New England Conservatory, also in Boston.

Other contemporary highlights sprinkled through concerts during the season include works by Brett Dean (“Carlo” for Strings, Sampler, and Tape), Arvo Pärt (Cantus), Aaron Jay Kernis (Musica Celestis), Gabriela Lena Frank (Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout) and Osvaldo Golijov (Tenebrae). And don’t despair if you’re not in the Boston area; they’ll also be popping in to NYC, Rhode Island, Florida, Texas, Colorado and more all through the season. Details for all this and more are right there on their website.

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photo by Keith TalleyFriend, trumpeter, Co-Artistic Director of ANALOG arts and S21 pal Joseph Drew, today on his own ANABlog space shared a few more thoughts on the economic realities of today’s orchestra. Joe had already written some about this earlier this year, but was prompted to bring it up again after spotting a post by the Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Bill Eddins, over at his own blog.

An excerpt from Joe:

Sounds like other folks are starting to wake up to the reality of the orchestral labor market. Last April, in response to the argument that salary cuts at major orchestras will prompt their members to flee to better-paying jobs, I argued: …where exactly are all these top-flight musicians going to go? To one of the other 17 full-time orchestras with a yawning budget deficit? The market for orchestral talent is hardly dynamic. There is far more supply than there is demand, and the dirty little secret is that the players aren’t what makes the orchestra great (see NY Phil: great players, underachieving ensemble). Buried in that BSO announcement last month is the fact that they are actually replacing two professional seats with amateurs from Peabody. What matters in an orchestra is who’s on the podium and who’s leading the sections. There’s plenty of room for fair to middling talent in even the great orchestras. [...] For now, I’d just point out that what you are generally seeing in Baltimore, Detroit, Philly and other orchestras in similar straits is a dim recognition on the management’s part that the party might just be over, and a determination on the players’ parts to rebuild the bubble. Given their druthers, I get the impression that both sides would be happy to return to their Quixotic days inside the bubble, and that fundamental delusion is the biggest problem facing these institutions.

And an excerpt from Bill:

Two interesting situations are developing that on the surface may not seem connected but are actually deeply related. For better or for worse. Detroit. Charleston. One’s a biggie.  The other’s a … not so biggie … though I’m sure that the musicians in Charleston who rely on those jobs to make a living would argue otherwise, and I can’t really blame them. What they have in common is that for years no one has taken adequate responsibility for the long term health of these organizations. Now they’re paying for it. [...] While the big boys were jacking up their salaries over the past 40 years, and everyone else was trying to Keep Up With The Joneses, some serious systemic imbalances got contracted into the picture. No one seemed to mind deficit after deficit after deficit. But, unfortunately for us, only the Government has license to print money. The general economy is retrenching and the orchestra business isn’t going to be far behind. The admittedly excellent orchestras like Detroit are now in the position where decades of deficit spending and endowment raiding are going to come home to roost. Whether we like to admit it or not, we musicians have been complicit in this debacle. At some point the long-term health of an organization must be more important than how much the salary will increase during the next year of the contract.

So, how long until we’re a country with maybe 1000 living-wage musicians in 10-15 orchestras in only the biggest cities, and everybody else scraping what they can from wherever; and does that mean that most folk would be fools to invest years learning instruments that so few will pay them to play?

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Hilary Hahn, the only combination stellar violinist/S21 roving reporter on the block, checks in with an up-close sit-down with composer Mark Adamo, on what being a composer means to him, latest projects, etc:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLnHTz-henc[/youtube]

Follow the rest here, just scroll down the list on the right.

Hilary will be back in September chatting up Nico Muhly, so stay tuned!

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In this space just a year ago we told you about Asphalt Orchestra‘s Lincoln Center Out of Doors hit-the-streets, in-you-face debut last summer. Well, what a year they’ve had! In August they performed during lunchtime at Philadelphiaʼs 30th Street Amtrak Station; it’s a testament to the band’s transcendence of genre that The Philadelphia Inquirer named that show one of the 10 Best Classical Performances of 2009, even though it took place in a train station and featured almost no classical music! In late 2009 the band was selected to play the official opening of Lincoln Centerʼs newest space, the David Rubenstein Atrium, and garnered even more critical hoo-hahs. Their ever-changing set list now includes commissions from Tyondai Braxton of Battles, Stew and Heidi Rodewald of The Negro Problem and Passing Strange, celebrated Balkan musician-composer Goran Bregovic, as well as new arrangements of Björk, jazz legend Charles Mingus, Swedish metal pioneers Meshuggah, the eminent American experimental composers Conlon Nancarrow and Frank Zappa, the playful Brazilian songwriter Tom Ze and the iconic Zimbabwean artist Thomas Mapfumo.

AO brings together some of the best rock, jazz and classical musicians in New York City and beyond: Jessica Schmitz (piccolo), Ken Thomson (saxophone), Peter Hess (saxophone), Alex Hamlin (saxophone), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Alan Ferber (trombone), Jen Baker (trombone), Kenneth Bentley (sousaphone), Yuri Yamashita (percussion), Sunny Jain (percussion) and Nick Jenkins (percussion). Is it classical? Yes. Is it rock, prog, jazz, world-party street band? Yes. Is it useless to try and pigeonhole this vital bridge between the arty and the party? Yes.

All this is to tell you that Lincoln Center Out of Doors is back starting tomorrow, Aug 4th, and AO can be found there again doing their gloriously noisy thing Wednesday through Sunday this week. Head to AO’s website for daily event details.

Among their here-there-and-everywhere, they’ll be premiering new commissions by David Byrne and Annie Clark, and Yoko Ono (they’ve been rehearsing with both Ono and Byrne the past weeks). If that weren’t enough, following their own set on August 5th they’ll be featured in the Taylor 2 performance of Paul Taylor’s piece “3 Epitaphs,” in celebration of Taylor’s 80th birthday. Appearing with the company’s dancers, the band will premiere new arrangements of pieces originally played by the Laneville-Johnson Union Brass Band.

But wait, there’s still more! AO’s eponymous first CD on Cantaloupe Music just dropped today, allowing happy listeners around the world to hear much of this music. The recording was made live-in-studio at Water Music Studios, Hoboken, NJ, in August 2009; here’s the tracklist:

1. Frank Zappa: Zomby Woof
2. Goran Bregovic: Champagne
3. Charles Mingus: The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers (arr. Jose Davila)
4. Meshuggah: Electric Red (arr. Derek Johnson)
5. Bjork: Hyperballad (arr. Alan Ferber)
6. Stew and Heidi Rodewald: Carlton
7. Tyondai Braxton: Pulse March

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North Adams MA’s summer claim to fame, the Bang on a Can summer music fest, has been going great guns the past week, and wraps up Saturday, July 31, with the rural version of BOAC’s Marathon concert spectacle. Kicking off at 4pm, it will include Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet, Arvo Part’s classic Fratres in a version for percussion and string orchestra; Julia Wolfe‘s blazing Fuel for string orchestra, with a film by legendary experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison (Decasia). Plus a new work by Swiss post-jazz master and ECM records mainstay Nik Baertsch, Evan Ziporyn dressing up Balinese music in ripped jeans in his Music from Shadowbang, an ensemble of Uzbekis come half way around the globe just to shake up North Adams, Christine Southworth‘s electrifying concerto Zap originally written for Van de Graaf generator and ensemble, pattern master Tom Johnson‘s translation of an ancient Indian math problem into a minimalist masterpiece, and much more. Tickets are $22, and directions are here. If you’re adventurous, free and mobile it sounds like a great way to escape the city swelter.

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[Ed. note -- Our long-time contributor Steve Hicken is usually to be found helping out in the CD review section of S21. But a recent shipment of a number of band music CDs prompted Steve to group them together as a larger essay, and we thought it should end up here on the main page.  Recordings discussed in this essay: BARNES: Symphonic Overture; Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Nicolo Paganini; GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue (Hunsberger, arr.); Overture on Themes from Porgy and Bess (Barnes, arr.); REED: Ballade. Raimonds Petrauskis, p; Oskars Petrauskis, a sax; RIGA Professional Symphonic Band/Andris Poga. PPOR-CD002  -- GRAINGER: Band Music. Dallas Wind Symphony/Jerry Junkin. Reference 117 -- GRAINGER: Transcriptions for Wind Orchestra. Ivan Hovorun, p; Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra/Clark Rundell. Chandos 10455 -- CORIGLIANO: Circus Maximus; Gazebo Dances. University of Texas Wind Ensemble/Jerry Junkin. Naxos 8.559601]

Tragic but true: when the smoke had cleared, the new music wars had been won not by towners up or down or coasters east or left, but by a rear guard of trained symphonic band composers from big state universities in the middle of the country. — Daniel Wolf

According to the American Bandmasters Association (ABA), there are some 40,000 bands in the United States.1 Almost every high school, most junior high or middle schools, and many elementary schools have at least one band. On the college level, the situation is one of even more abundance—just about every college has more than one band, and the big public institutions have a handful or more. In addition, many municipalities have amateur bands, and some larger cities have professional wind orchestras.

Given these numbers and the exceptional quality of USA wind and percussion playing, you would expect that bands would be at the center of concert music in America. In reality, band music runs on a parallel track to the rest of concert music, and it has for a long time.2 There are stars in the world of band music, just as there are in the rest of concert music. These stars tend to be the conductors of the top bands at the big public universities of the Big 10, Texas, the west coast, and a few places in the Southeast, and composers at most of the same institutions, as well as a handful of composers making a living as freelancers. More about these composers later.

The music played by these bands falls into three very broad categories:

Marches! — To a very great extent, the wind band began as a military unit, designed to play music for armies to march to. There is evidence of ensembles consisting of what we call brass instruments and drums playing martial music in ancient civilizations in both the east and the west. Much of the music played by these groups was in reality signals, such as “charge”, “reveille”, etc. By the seventeenth century the instrumentation of what we now consider the standard military band had begun to settle, with the development of the position of the “drum major” whose function was to keep the soldiers marching in time.

As the instrumentation became fairly standard, more and more music was written for these bands to play. And most of this music was for marching. Tempos are within a certain range (mostly quick), phrases are clear, melodies stirring and carried, for the most part, by the flutes and clarinets. The march tradition is so deeply ingrained in the band world that many band directors wouldn’t dream of beginning a concert program with anything but a march.

Transcriptions or arrangements — A transcription is a note-for-note translation of a piece from one kind of instrumentation to another. In the case of band transcriptions, the vast majority of these are orchestra-to-band transcriptions. In these pieces, flutes, clarinets, and sometimes oboes, substitute for violins, and lower woodwinds for the lower strings. Solo instruments from these same choirs take the same roles as their orchestral counterparts, and the brass and percussion tend to have the same roles as they do in the original compositions.

A sizable number of orchestral works that have been transcribed for bands comes from the late Romantic period through the early part of the 20th century. From Dvorak to Shostakovich, symphonies and other orchestral works have provided grist for the transcriber’s mill. An important reason for this is that the winds in the original works (like Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony) had important roles and recasting this music for winds is not as radical a change as it would be in most, for example, Beethoven. Arrangements consist in taking pre-existing pieces of music (usually popular or Broadway tunes) and orchestrating them for the available forces (in this case, a band), usually as a medley, with newly-composed connecting material. There isn’t a rigorous line between transcriptions and arrangements, but it seems to me that the adding of this connecting material is a crucial distinction.

The third large category is that of original compositions.3 Igor Stravinsky, Gustav Holst, Arnold Schoenberg, and Paul Hindemith were among the many major early 20th-century composers who wrote music for band. As the century progressed, however, band composition came to be a specialty — people that wrote band music tended to write little else, and people who were not band composers never touched the medium.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Heads-up, listeners! WPRB‘s Classical Discoveries host Marvin Rosen has a couple nice treats through the day this Wednesday:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 11:00am (EDT) Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde will present the world premiere broadcast of Morton Feldman‘s 21-minute ‘lost work’ Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963), recorded by Glenn Freeman, percussion and Debora Petrina, piano-celeste. This is ahead of its September limited-edition release on OgreOgress Records. Originally composed for the dancer and choreographer Merle Marsicano, it was the longest work Feldman had composed to date and provides insight into his upcoming 1964 solo percussion work The King of Denmark. This very unique and haunting sound world, created with various keyboards, mallet instruments and exotic percussion instruments, can later be heard in several of Feldman’s epic length works of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Then from 12:00pm till 2:00pm (EDT), world-renowned Israeli cellist and new-music champion Maya Beiser — whose latest and most excellent CD release Provenance is riding high in the charts – will join Marvin live in the WPRB Studio to chat and perform.

As always, NYC’ers can tune in directly to WPRB at 103.3 FM on the dial; everyone else can head to the WPRB website and click the “Listen Now” link on the left side of the page.

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Mention of our composer pal Jeremy Podgursky a couple days ago brought this late word (but better late than never, right?):

Gary Kass wrote to tell us about the inaugural Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, which starts tomorrow (Monday), July 12th, at the University of Missouri and runs the whole darn week. Quite a lot happening: five big concerts and lots of open rehearsals;  two great guest composers (Martin Bresnick and Derek Bermel); eight resident composers getting world premieres (Francisco Cortés-Álvarez, Christopher Dietz, Paul Dooley, Moon Young Ha, Edie Hill, Amy Beth Kirsten, Jeremy Podgursky, Zhou Juan); stellar ensemble Alarm Will Sound, pianist Lisa Moore, the Missouri Symphony Society Music Ensemble led by Kirk Trevor; resident, guest and faculty (including MU composer and festival organizer Stefan Freund) presentations and meet-ups… the website will give you a full rundown on times, pieces, performers and composers, and their blog provides lots of extra goodies.  Here’s hoping for a good run, all success, and that we’ll be talking about a second round come next year!

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Jeremy Podgursky — one of the composers we liked so much that he ended being selected for our last S21 concert presentation — is throwing a joint shindig with fellow composer Daniel Wohl, this Thursday July 8th, 7:00pm at the littlefield performance/art space (622 Degraw Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenue, Brooklyn), $8.00.

Performers include Sara Budde, clarinet; Emily Popham Gillins, violin; John Popham, cello; Kevin Sims, percussion; Bethany Pietroniro and Timo Andres, piano; and more TBA. Podgursky and Wohl will be splitting the bill alternating their way through nine works in all,  featuring recent small ensemble, electronic/electro-acoustic and solo pieces. Two excellent composers, nine excellent pieces, a whole posse of excellent performers, quite the value for the small tix price.

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Staying in NYC this 4th of July holiday weekend? Then come partake of some musical fireworks and pan-patriotic pride as vocalist extraordinaire Phillip Cheah (his vocal range could well classify him as “soprano/baritone”) and pianist Trudy Chan serve up American Dim Sum – A celebration of the American song.

The carts will be full of dishes of American fare: beloved songs by Ned Rorem, Samuel Barber, Dominick Argento, Aaron Copland, Amy Beach, and Jack Beeson, as well as exotic delicasies by John Cage (The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs), Henry Cowell (Three Anti-Modernist Songs, written during his incarceration at San Quentin), Milton Babbitt (songs from a never-produced Broadway musical, Fabulous Voyage), and Nicolas Slonimsky (early pieces rediscovered at the Library of Congress with the help of his daughter, Electra Yourke). Topping off the festivities will be a belated, 28-years-in-the-making world premiere of songs from the nurturing river by the the friendliest iconoclastic enfant terrible around, Frank J. Oteri.

It’s all going down Saturday, July 3rd, 7:00 PM, at the Church of St Luke in the Fields (487 Hudson Street @ Grove). Only $10 to stuff yourself silly, so bring a hungry ear or two.

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