RIP Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)

English composer Jonathan Harvey, who had been ill for some time, also passed away yesterday at the age of 73. A composer with extraordinarily wide ranging interests – Babbitt, IRCAM, electronic music, myriad spiritual traditions, and meditation - which in turn manifested in his pieces in a panoply of interactions, creating a wonderfully rich and varied body of work.

In October, I wrote “Dissonance and the Divine” about Miller Theatre’s Composer Portrait concert spotlighting Harvey’s work. Read the article at Musical America’s website (subscription required).

RIP Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Fond memories of seeing Dave Brubeck at Berklee, Scullers, Newport, receiving his honorary degree at Manhattan School of Music, and, best of all, going with my brother Tyler Carey to the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts to hear him. Tyler encouraged me to go backstage and get an autograph. When Dave heard that I was a composer, he had me sit down and talk to with him about classical music for a good while. A very kind soul and talented pianist, composer, and group leader.

Guest post: Aylward on Carter

We continue to receive reminiscences marking Elliott Carter’s recent passing at the age of 103. Below, we hear from John Aylward, a composer and Carter scholar. He spent many of his formative years in Arizona. Stories of Elliott’s 1950-’51 sojourn to the area to write the First String Quartet have remained influential on Aylward’s own creative process. 

In remembering Carter, I think of how, in 1950, Carter ventured to Tucson, Arizona to compose his 1st String Quartet. Tucson is where I was born, and so I’m familiar with the intense isolation that Carter must have been seeking. In those vast, expansive desert landscapes, a certain kind of depth can be had once one is separated from the noise of our culture. The Sonoran Desert that surrounds Tucson is a place so completely removed from the concerns of our world. Coming from New York City, Carter was brave to face this isolation. But his exploratory character must have drawn him to it: a silent environment where he could imagine a music all his own.

My own experiences with Carter were transforming. I first met him in New York at a concert celebrating his 95th birthday. A performance of this 5th String Quartet made a great impression on me, and I wanted to know how it was put together. Carter was notoriously shy about discussing the technical aspects of his work and with me he was no different. Soon after, I took the time to study the work’s sketches at the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Switzerland. After satisfying my technical curiosities, I realized that Carter was right to not want to ‘talk shop’ too much with me. He was concerned with being understood as an artist and not a technician: that all the rigors of his work were in service of his art.

Like the desert Carter explored while composing one of his most ground-breaking works, contemporary music itself can sometimes feel inaccessible, even to those who care about it so deeply. For those looking in, perhaps they see a window into the alienation artists can feel as they attempt relevant cultural commentary in such an abstract medium. And Carter’s music is no different, having sometimes been characterized  as difficult to access. But what Carter gave us, in the example of his life and work ethic, was the opportunity to move beyond that discourse, and into a space where the rigorous pursuit, and the excitement and adventures of creation, are valued most highly. It is certainly through Carter’s persistent search, over a lifetime, that he found an original voice. Such an artistic path might set an example for any young artist worried about staking a claim too soon.

Monday: Jenny Q Chai gives Stroppa lecture recital

Dissecting Stroppa

On Monday December 3rd, pianist Jenny Q Chai is giving her DMA lecture recital at my old stomping grounds: Manhattan School of Music. Chai has become a persuasive advocate for a wide range of repertoire, but, after meeting him in Darmstadt some five years ago, the piano music of Marco Stroppa has become one of her keenest passions. Her lecture recital, which she plans to give in a lab coat (!), will focus on Stroppa’s Innige Cavatina. Below, check out a recording of the work from Jenny’s SoundCloud.

Monday: NJPE Premieres works by Morris and Jarvis

The New Music Series at William Paterson University has long been one of the most interesting musical destinations in the Garden State. On Monday, November 26th, its director, Peter Jarvis, along with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and guest pianist Taka Kigawa, present an ambitious evening of music that includes works by leading lights Boulez, Ligeti, Babbitt, Carter, and Stravinsky. In addition, 21st century composers Daniel Levitan, Evan Hause, and Gene Pritsker are also represented on the program.

If that weren’t enough, the concert features two premieres. Jarvis conducts his Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Sextet; WPU faculty member John Ferrari will play the solo part. Guest composer Robert Morris has contributed another pocket concerto for percussion ensemble to the proceedings. His Stream Runner (2007), written for marimba soloist Payton MacDonald (also a member of WPU’s faculty). will conclude the evening.

Event Details

Monday, Nov. 26, 2012
7:30 PM in Shea Center’s
Shea Auditorium
Suggested contribution $5
(Free for students)

William Paterson University
College of Arts & Communication
Department of Music
New Music Series
Peter Jarvis, Director
with guests
Robert Morris – Composer
Taka Kigawa – Pianist
and featuring
The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble
with soloists
John Ferrari, Payton MacDonald, and Peter Jarvis

Jonny Greenwood plays Steve Reich (Video)

Below is an embed of Jonny Greenwood playing Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint.


For more contemporary classical excursions by the talented Radiohead guitarist, check out his split release with Penderecki on Nonesuch, one of our favorite releases of 2012.

Jörg Widmann: Elegie (CD Review)

Jörg Widmann

Widmann, clarinet; Heinz Holliger, oboe;
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Christoph Poppen, conductor

ECM New Series 2110

39 year old Jörg Widmann is a virtuoso clarinetist and one of Germany’s rising stars in the realm of music composition. Both of these aspects of his talents are on display in a new portrait disc released by ECM Records. Christoph Poppen, one of the label’s mainstays (another multi-talented musician – a fine violinist and conductor) leads the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie in a program that displays Widmann as a musician with a diversity of interests and a multi-faceted compositional toolkit to match.

The disc’s title work features Widmann playing a plethora of extended techniques, haloed by orchestral writing that is primarily atmospheric with occasional fierce outbursts. Messe, despite its moniker and movement titles mirroring the Ordinary of the liturgy, is for large orchestra sans voices. Fastidious attention is given to contrapuntal details in several “contrapuncti” movements. Elsewhere a juxtaposition of weighty tutti and long-breathed angular melodies provide some surprising textural shifts.

Fünf Bruchstücke (1997) are early works that feature clarinet and oboe. The latter duties are fulfilled by oboist/composer Heinz Holliger (another formidable double threat!). The two are given many opportunities to display the extended technical capabilities of their respective instruments. But it is the sense of cat and mouse interaction and the energetic elan that typifies much of the compositions’ demeanor that make them far more captivating than many a virtuoso showcase.

Widmann weds musicality and technical facility seamlessly. While the episodic nature of this program gives tantalizing glimpses of his potential, one looks forward to the composer/clarinetist expanding his horizons to larger formal designs on a future recording.

Righteous Girls Rescheduled to 1/14

Thrilled that Gina Izzo and Erika Dohi haven’t had their Righteous Girls performance at Cornelia Street Cafe thwarted by Storm Sandy. Then venue was kind enough to reschedule the show to January 14 at 8:30 PM. They will be giving the first live performance of my duo “For Milton:” written in memory of Milton Babbitt.

Event Details
Classical at the Cornelia
Righteous Girls- Gina Izzo, flute, and Erika Dohi, piano,
plus artist Zlata Kolomoyskaya and pianist Tristan McKay
Music by John Cage, Paul Brantley, Judd Greenstein & Randy Woolf
as well as new pieces by Christian Carey, Tristan McKay & Michael Patterson

Monday January 14 at 8:30 PM
Cornelia Street Café
29 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014
Phone: 212.989.9319
$10.00 cover plus $10.00 minimum