Tonight: NY Phil premieres Carter at Contact!

103 year old Elliott Carter has written a new work, Two Controversies and a Conversation, which will be premiered tonight at the Met Museum as part of the New York Philharmonic’s Contact! series. The concert, conducted by David Robertson, also includes a newly commissioned work by Michael Jarrell and Pierre Boulez’sexplosante-fixe…

Carter discusses the piece in the video below.

The Contact! program will be repeated on Saturday at Symphony Space.

Happy 103rd Birthday Elliott Carter

Elliott Carter (lower left corner) takes a bow after 92nd Street Y’s 103rd Birthday Tribute Concert to Mr. Carter on December 8, 2011, which ended with the world premiere of his A Sunbeam’s Architecture, conducted by Ryan McAdams and performed by tenor Nicholas Phan and chamber orchestra. (Photo: Cory Weaver)

Elliott Carter is 103. The only composer who lived longer: Leo Ornstein. But Ornstein stopped composing at 97: Carter is still going.

On Thursday evening, in a concert at the 92nd Street Y organized by cellist Fred Sherry, seven works written since Carter’s 100th birthday were given their world or US premieres. Astounding.

And the winners of the Carter Ticket Giveaway are…

Congratulations to Cheryl Pyle and Joe Barron, who’ve won our first contest in celebration of Elliott Carter’s fast approaching 103rd birthday.

You each win a pair of tickets to the concert this Thursday at 8 PM at the 92nd Street Y!

Check back on the blog this week for our second giveaway. The prizes: signed Carter photos and recordings!

Those of you on Twitter can wish Elliott a happy birthday using the hashtag #Carter103. The greetings will be collected and presented to him at Thursday’s birthday bash!

Ekmeles performs Randy Gibson on 11/18

Ekmeles at the Italian Academy

Last month at Columbia University’s Italian Academy, I was formidably impressed by an evening of madrigals old and new performed by the vocal ensemble Ekmeles. One of the revelations of the evening began with an idea ofensemble director Jeff Gavett. He thought that the madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo might benefit from Nichola Vicentino’s 31-tone equal tempered scale, most famously employed in the tuning of an instrument of his design, the archicembalo.

While, as Gavett admitted in the concert’s program notes, there is not direct evidence that they were ever performed this way in the presence of Gesualdo, there is some documentary evidence that Vicentino’s writings and an archicembalo were available to the composer. But here, the proof was in the singing. Gesualdo’s music sounds glorious in 31-TET. Indeed some of its idiosyncratic cross-relations and chordal voicings glisten: equally, wonderfully, strange, but somehow refocused.

Ekmeles contains several youngish singers with winsome voices: Gavett, soprano Mary Mackenzie, and countertenor Eric Brenner are notable standouts. Their interpretative maturity and skill in preparing the challenging works on the program bely the freshness of Ekmeles’ sound. The group also brought in a “ringer of ringers” for the second act. New music superstar soprano Lucy Shelton joined Ekmeles for a spirited rendition of Elliott Carter’s late Ashbery setting Mad Regales.

The program also featured several deconstructions of the madrigal aesthetic. Peter Ablinger’s Studien der Natur,in which sounds of nature and commerce alike are recreated using only voices, was a rather charming one-upping of Josquin’s El Grillo. Johannes Schöllhorn and Carl Bettendorf took the madrigal into postmodern, often craggy, territory. Martin Iddon’s hamadryads required the group to play water-filled glasses and employ headsets to grok its very expanded Pythagorean tuning,  notated down to 100ths of a cent! Incredibly challenging to perform. But then, Ekmeles revels to be challenged.

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This Thursday, composer Randy Gibson’s work will be in full force on the Music at First series. The concert features the world premiere of Gibson’s Circular Trance Surrounding the Second Pillar with The Highest Seventh Primal Cirrus, The Utmost Fundamental, and The Ekmeles Ending from Apparitions of The Four Pillars (fit that title on a postcard!), a concert length work in just intonation for sine wave drones and seven voices. Also on the bill is a set from Canadian harpsichordist Katelyn Clark.

    Performance details

Date: Friday, November 18th 2011
Time: 7:30pm
City: Brooklyn, NY
Venue: First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn
Address: 124 Henry Street
Admission: $10

One Sunday at Tanglewood

After all this music, maybe a hike?

Three Concerts in One Day! Twelve pieces, including two one-act operas: 6 1/2 hours of music.

Here’s what we heard:

10 AM

Fantasia for String Trio …Irving Fine

Ten Miniatures for Solo Piano … Helen Grime

Circles … Luciano Berio

Piece pour piano et quatuor de cordes … Oliver Messiaen

Since Brass, nor Stone … Alexander Goehr

Design School … Michael Gandolfi

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2:30 PM (BSO in the Shed)

An American in Paris … George Gershwin

Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee … Gunther Schuller

Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs … Leonard Bernstein

Piano Concerto in F … George Gershwin

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8 PM Two one-act operas

Full Moon in March … John Harbison

Where the Wild Things Are … Oliver Knussen

Christian’s Top Three

Knussen – a momentous experience to hear this piece live!

Fine – Beautiful performance. Makes me want to know his work better.

Schuller – His best piece: hands down.

Kay’s Top Three

Knussen – I loved how he evoked the different locations & moods — and the barbershop quartet near the end!

Gershwin – An American in Paris – It transports me to Paris every time I hear it. It was stunning to hear it played so beautifully by the BSO (in terrific seats!)

Messiaen – Unexpected sound qualities from the instruments – hearing a piano quintet played in such an exciting, colorful, and fresh way.

We both also enjoyed Helen Grime’s music a great deal. She’s a special talent – keep an eye out for her!

Tomorrow – Elliott Carter premiere!

League of Composers/ISCM: Concert Review

Orchestra of the League of Composers/ISCM. Photo credit: Ron Gordon
Orchestra of the League of Composers/ISCM. Photo credit: Ron Gordon

Wednesday night was the debut of the Orchestra of the League of Composers/ISCM “” an improbable eighty-five years after the organization’s founding. As Jerry pointed out earlier, the NY Times included strangely sweeping and sadly misinformed coverage leading up to the concert. However, this did little to dissuade an enthusiastic audience from attending the performance. They were treated to quite an evening. Below are a few highlights:

-Lou Karchin: An excellent choice as conductor. Lou did a fine job leading the orchestra in a varied and challenging program.

-Musicians: Anyone acquainted with new music in New York was apt to recognize a number of the area’s finest participating. It showed.

-John Schaeffer: Despite appearing a bit rumpled onstage, the radio host lent star power, a sense of flow, and good-natured humor to the proceedings. His interviews with composers before each of their pieces were played combined user-friendly setups of the music with questions designed to let the audience get to know a bit about each composer’s approach and personality.

-Elliott Carter: Having one of the venerable co-chairs of League of Composers/ISCM’s represented on the concert was a classy move. The evening included a stunning performance of In the Distances of Sleep, Carter’s first settings of Wallace Stevens for mezzo-soprano and small orchestra. Soloist Kate Lindsey shined in these songs at the Tanglewood Carterfest last summer. If anything, her performance here was even more lovely; assured, nuanced, and tremendously attentive to every detail of diction and dynamic.   Schaeffer interviewed Carter before the performance. In response to a query about his continued productivity, Carter replied, “I’ve become fanatic about it. I don’t have any jobs to do any more. I can sit in a room and write music all day, and there’s nothing that pleases me more!”

 

-Gharra: Christopher Dietz’s sheepish admission that he knew little about ISCM prior to winning their composition competition(!) demonstrated that the organization still needs to do more to get out the word during this time of revitalization and re-branding. Still, Dietz’s captivating music is likely to have made the audience forget the gaffe rather quickly. He came up with the title (meaning “desert storm”) after composing the piece – with the help of Google and in consultation with an Egyptian-American cab driver. But Gharra’s strikingly dramatic formal design and fluidly varied pitch language – which encompassed everything from extended minor-key passages to supple microtonal bends – was worthy of the appellation.

 

-Alvin Singleton’s After Choice was simpler in design, but eloquently so. A string orchestra piece, it consisted of intertwining arco melodies and pizzicati, often in two-part counterpoint or – even starker – played in unisons or octaves. Written in homage to jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins, it didn’t feature anything so overt as jazz inflections. Rather, Singleton based the piece on string parts from a previous orchestral work that Jenkins had admired.

 

-Julia Wolfe’s The Vermeer Room is filled with beautifully sculpted, imaginatively scored verticals. The harmonic language and orchestration proved quite persuasive. I’m not sure I ‘grok’ the piece’s pacing just yet; I want to give it a second hearing before weighing in.

 

-Charles Wuorinen’s Synaxis featured four soloists in a sinfonia concertante that draws on the Orpheus myths as loose touchstones, Schaeffer was eager for Wuorinen to more precisely describe the connections between musical and extramusical inspiration; but the composer made it clear that this was no piece of program music.   Instead, the audience was treated to a showcase for four superlative soloists: oboist Robert Ingliss, clarinetist Alan Kay, French horn-player Patrick Pridemore, and double bassist Timothy Cobb. Cast in four movements, Synaxis gave each a chance to play with abundant virtuosity. The bass part displayed particular flair, and required more than a bit of courage: jaunty leaps, high-lying passages, and fleet bowed flurries. With its combination of careful ensemble coordination and bravura showmanship, Synaxis seemed an apt – and appropriately ambitious – way to end the 85th season of League of Composers/ISCM. Let’s hope for more orchestra concerts during their 86th year!

Happy 201st half-birthday Elliott

Seems like just yesterday Kay and I were celebrating Carter’s 100th birthday at a conference in Paris.

 Carter_Poster52.JPG

 

But today is Elliott Carter’s half birthday. My feeling is that anyone who hits the century mark should celebrate the half birthdays with equal enthusiasm!

ISCM agrees with me. Last night, the debut of the Orchestra of the League of Composers/ISCM — an improbable eighty-five years after the organization’s founding — included a stunning performance of In the Distances of Sleep, Carter’s first settings of Wallace Stevens for mezzo and small orchestra. Soloist Kate Lindsey shined in these songs at the Tanglewood Carterfest last summer. If anything, her performance here was even more lovely; assured, nuanced, and tremendously attentive to every detail of diction and dynamic.

WNYC’s John Schaeffer interviewed Carter before the performance. In response to a query about his continued productivity, Carter replied, “I’ve become fanatic about it. I don’t have any jobs to do any more. I can sit in a room and write music all day, and there’s nothing that pleases me more!”

Should  Providence be so kind, I’d be glad to say the same when I turn 100 1/2!

Elliott Carter: the coffee-table book!

Elliott Carter: A Centennial Portrait in Letters and Documents, by Felix Meyer and Anne Shreffler. Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2008.
Elliott Carter turned 100 on 11 December 2008, bringing to a close a marathon year of festivals, performances, recordings, and publications celebrating his centenary. When asked about whether he enjoyed all the fuss, Carter’s stock reply was, “No one likes to be reminded of their age, but I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t happening.” And he worked for his birthday cake! Carter provided several new compositions for the festivities in 2008, including his first choral piece in over six decades, a work for percussion ensemble, and Interventions, his fourth piece for solo piano and orchestra.  
It’s probably safe to say that A Centennial Portrait is the first ‘coffee-table book’ about a modern American concert music composer. A hefty 352 pages, its presentation is exquisite; with large, readable score excerpts and composer sketches, re-typed portions of personal correspondence, handwritten missives, and telling rehearsal notes. There are also a number of engaging letters written to the composer from a veritable who’s who of 20/21 music. Sketches for compositions from throughout Carter’s career – from early works such as Minotaur and the First String Quartet to his recent Boston Concerto, Mosaic, and hot-off-the-presses Mad Regales – offer insights into the genesis and evolution of his working methods and styles. Equally tantalizing are the abandoned projects: a sonata for two pianos from the 50s; a projected second opera from 2001.
Sometimes an example does double-duty. For example, the autograph for Steep Steps, a solo bass clarinet piece written in 2002, includes a note from Carter to Virgil Blackwell, its dedicatee and a member of the composer’s inner circle: “Virgil – How about this? Elliott.”
In order to compile the volume, Felix Meyer and Anne Shreffler have done extensive research at the archives of the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, Switzerland, where most of Carter’s papers are kept. One might think that the sketches and biographical material of a composer whose work has received intense scrutiny might not yield too many surprises. But the authors have provided fresh material to whet the appetites of Carterians, while simultaneously creating an accessible volume that is an excellent overview of Carter’s first hundred years.