Rouse named NY Phil’s Composer in Residence

Congratulations to Christopher Rouse, who will be the New York Philharmonic’s Composer in Residence in 2012-’13. The orchestra will be reviving his Phantasmata as well as Seeing (with piano soloist Emmanuel Ax). Rouse has also been commissioned to write a new work for Spring 2013. Here is the composer discussing this collaboration with Alan Gilbert, the NY Phil’s Music Director.

Here’s a clip of Gilbert conducting Rouse’s Rapture  (2000).

NY Phil’s “Contact!” Leans Away from US (Musical America)

My article today in Musical America reviews the NY Philharmonic’s Contact! Concert on 12/16 at the Met Museum. While I enjoyed the music – hearing HK Gruber perform Frankenstein!! was a particular treat –  I took issue with the announcement at the event of Alan Gilbert being awarded Columbia University’s Ditson Prize, which recognizes a conductor for his advocacy for American composers. This season, the Contact! series includes only one American: Elliott Carter. It’s a far cry from their inaugural season just two years ago, when they featured Sean Shepherd, Nico Muhly, Arlene Sierra, and others. Perhaps Maestro Gilbert will take the opportunity of being acknowledged for past programming decisions to reinvest future seasons of Contact! with a commitment to emerging American composers.

Alexandre Lunsqui talks about NY (Video)

Alexandre Lunsqui’s Fibers, Yarn, and Wire is receives its premiere performances tonight at the Met Museum and tomorrow at Symphony Space as part of the New York Philharmonic’s Contact! program. The Brazilian-born composer has been blogging about the preparing the work for Q2: his entries are titled “Contact! High.”

League of Composers tonight at Miller

LoC Orchestra in 2010, conducted by Louis Karchin. Photo: Ron Gordon

League of Composers/ISCM has their season finale tonight at Miller Theatre. Louis Karchin conducts a program of five recently composed works.

True to form, the evening is chock-full of premieres, including the US debut of Elliott Carter’s Concertino for Bass Clarinet. How many concerts can boast a new orchestra piece written by a centenarian? The concertino features longtime Carter associate Virgil Blackwell as soloist.

David Rakowski is also represented by a new concerto. His Talking Points, written at the behest of the League of Composers, features the estimable soloist Fred Sherry as its protagonist.

Shulamit Ran’s Silent Voices, written for the Israel Contemporary Players, receives its US premiere. The work includes an optional part for reader, who declaims “Draft of a Reparation Agreement,” a poem by Holocaust survivor Dan Pagis.

New Yorker Missy Mazzoli contributes Violent Violent Sea, her first orchestra piece in five years. Connecticut’s Arthur Krieger rounds out the show with Sound Merger, a new piece for orchestra and electronic sound. Krieger, in my opinion, is one of the most persuasive exponents of melding live instruments and electronics. I’m intrigued to hear this new piece for a larger cohort than this medium is often afforded.

As usual, WNYC’s Jon Schaefer is kind enough to serve as master of ceremonies. Brief onstage interviews of the featured composers will accompany the musical proceedings.

Going to the show? Live tweet with the hashtag #fileunder?: we’ll run these microreviews next week on the File Under ? blog.

Tickets are $20/$10 for students (details here).

LoC Orchestra in 2010. Photo: Ron Gordon

20th Anniversary of ACO Readings

George Manahan

The American Composers Orchestra has been holding annual reading sessions for twenty years now: quite a milestone!

This weekend will see composers of concert music hearing their works read by the ACO, conducted by George Manahan, with one of the composers being awarded a $15,000 commission.

For the first time, there will also be sessions devoted to jazz composers.

The New Music Readings’ (June 3 & 4) participating composers are Janet Jieru Chen, Mukai Kôhei, Michael Djupstrom, Narong Prangcharoen, Jordan Kuspa, and Kate Soper.

The Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Readings’ (June 5 & 6) participating composers are Harris Eisenstadt, Mark Helias, Adam Jenkins, Erica Lindsay, Nicole Margaret Mitchell, Rufus Reid, Jacob Sacks, and Marianne Trudel.

Rufus Reid

20th Annual Underwood New Music Readings

Friday, June 3 at 10am (working rehearsal) & Saturday, June 4 at 7:30pm (run-through)
One Composer to Win $15,000 Commission, Another to Win Audience Choice Award

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Readings
Sunday, June 5 at 2pm (working rehearsal) & Monday, June 6 at 7:30pm (run-through)
Presented with The Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University
Featuring Eight Jazz Composers Selected from the 2010 JCOI Intensive

Conducted by ACO Music Director George Manahan

All events free & open to the public, reservations:
Miller Theatre | Columbia University | Broadway at 116th, NYC
More information: 212.977.8495 or

Listen to audio samples from Underwood New Music Readings participants here.

Listen to audio samples from the JCOI Readings participants here.

Albany Symphony makes Carnegie debut tonight

Sequenza 21 readers will doubtless already know that the Albany Symphony is, in orchestral terms, the “mouse that roared.” They’ve long had an extraordinary commitment to contemporary music and their standard of playing is the envy of many regional orchestras. And on the right night and with the right repertoire, they’re in the same “weight class” as some of the top big-budget orchestras.

Tonight, Albany SO gets a chance to show their mettle on one of the most prestigious stages on earth. They make their Carnegie Hall debut as part of the Spring for Music festival. The first half of the program is a set of contemporary pieces based on spirituals, by a wide-ranging list of composers, including George Tsontakis, John Harbison, and Bun-Ching Lam. The second half of the program is sure to be a crowd-pleaser: Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

There’s going to be a strong Albany contingent on hand to cheer on their local band, but native New Yorkers are more than welcome too. With ticket prices reduced to $25 in honor of Spring for Music, it’s an excellent opportunity to hear a compelling program of American music played by an under-heralded ensemble.

The Six Realms by Peter Lieberson

Peter Lieberson. Photo credit: Becky Starobin

Peter Lieberson’s record label, Bridge Records, has been kind enough to share some of his music with us: an excerpt from The Six Realms, one of his later and larger works and a piece that has an explicitly Buddhist programmatic element.

Here is movement 5, performed by cellist Michaela Fukacova, the Odense Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Justin Brown. The recording is from Bridge 9178, The Music of Peter Lieberson.

The Six Realms V. The Human Realm

The Six Realms for Cello and Orchestra (2000)

Program Note:

In addition to silk and other precious goods, the Silk Road helped disseminate Buddhism, one of its earliest, and most valuable, cultural exports. For almost thirty years, Peter Lieberson has been a devout Buddhist, having studied with the great Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist master he met in 1974. Says Lieberson, “Buddhism’s appeal to me in the early 1970s was that it was not a religion in the conventional Western sense. Buddhism did not posit the existence of any external deity or savior or, for that matter, an individual personal ego…The basic message of the great Buddhist masters was: Be brave enough to experience existence without dogma or beliefs of any kind.”

Lieberson left New York City in 1976 for Boulder, Colorado, to absorb the Tibetan master’s wisdom, especially the concepts, experiences, and views of the Shambhala tradition as presented by Trungpa in his book Shambhala: the Sacred Path of the Warrior. “I went to a Buddhist seminary where I studied intensively for three months,” Lieberson has said. “When I started writing music again, my style had changed…There was less sense of struggle…the horizon expanded. It’s as if you had tunnel vision, and then you have panoramic vision. Studying Buddhism also affected my approach to composing [in that] I understand there’s a kind of journey that’s made.” After completing his studies, Lieberson directed Shambhala Training, a meditation and cultural program, for a number of years, both in Boston and in Halifax, all the while building an international reputation as a composer. Observed writer Victoria Roth in 1989: “Since Lieberson’s commitment to Buddhism is intensely personal, it is not reflected in compositions that sound ‘Eastern’.” Lieberson has devoted his time exclusively to composition since 1994. Although his musical language has not changed greatly, most of his works now deal with Buddhist subjects or concepts. It is a philosophy as life-giving for Lieberson as air itself.

At the request of Yo-Yo Ma, who had played in the 1992 premiere of King Gesar, Lieberson conceived a concerto for amplified cello and orchestra, entitled The Six Realms, that outlines a key Buddhist teaching: that differing states of mind and emotions color our view of the world and shape human experience. This philosophy is reflected in the piece’s formal structure (see diagram below); each of the concerto’s six continuous sections represents a different state of being.

The Six Realms is structured as follows:

1. The Sorrow of the World (introduction)
2. The Hell Realm (aggression: acute, self-perpetuating anger at the world and ourselves)
3. The Hungry Ghost Realm (passion: the need to possess or continually consume; we are never satisfied because we can never get enough)
4. The Animal Realm (ignorance: an obsessive need to control or to find security)
5. The Human Realm (passion: the desire for something better, and a lessening of self-absorption, allows for the possibility of our becoming dignified humans who long for liberation from these six realms of existence. It is only from this realm that we are able to move on to achieve Enlightenment: the right way to view, and interact with, the world.)
6. The God Realm (ignorance: blissful self-absorption of our godlike powers, until doubt sets in and shatters our confidence) and The Jealous God Realm (aggression: extreme paranoia and competitive drive; we never trust anyone or their motives)

Put simply, Buddhists believe that humans cycle back and forth, endlessly, through these six states, experiencing the concomitant afflictions that attach themselves to each level. In Lieberson’s Six Realms, the cello soloist acts as emotional protagonist and the orchestra’s “guide” — a cousin to the Romantic concerto’s “hero” — leading all of us from realm to realm until we finally are able to liberate ourselves from this misery-inducing cycle. By simply letting go of the neurotic attachments in our lives, we become fully aware of our self-destructive behavioral and thought patterns, thereby achieving spiritual fulfillment as the realms collapse upon themselves. Counterbalancing this concerto’s Eastern philosophy is Lieberson’s Western, modernist musical language. Although not programmatic, the piece’s subtle use of musical imagery allows the listener without any previous knowledge of Buddhist tenets to grasp its depiction of universal human experiences.

Christian Tetzlaff talks Bartok

As we reported earlier this week, despite losing their music director James Levine, the Boston Symphony is still playing at Carnegie Hall on March 15 (info here). The program features the extraordinary violinist Christian Tetzlaff pulling double duty, performing Bela Bartok’s Second Concerto and premiering a concerto by Harrison Birtwistle. He discusses the Bartok work in the video below.

Levine resigns from BSO; Birtwistle premiere still a go

We’re saddened to learn of James Levine’s cancellation of the rest of his appearances this season at the Boston Symphony Orchestra and his resignation from the post of BSO Music Director. Levine has been in that position since 2004, but has had to cancel a number of appearances during his tenure due to a variety of health problems. In an interview published today in the New York Times, Levine indicated that he will retain his position as Music Director at the Metropolitan Opera. Apparently, conversations between Levine and the BSO about a possible future role with the orchestra are ongoing.

The BSO plans to keep its season underway with minimal changes apart from substitute conductors. They’re even going to premiere a new work this week under the baton of Assistant Conductor Marcelo Lehninger. In Boston’s Symphony Hall on March 3,4,5, and 8, and at Carnegie Hall in New York on March 15, the orchestra and soloist Christian Tetzlaff will be giving the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s Violin Concerto.

It’s bittersweet that Levine is stepping down during a week when an important commission, one of several during his tenure, is seeing its premiere. I made a number of pilgrimages from New York to Boston (thank goodness for Bolt Bus!) to hear him conduct contemporary music with the BSO,  including pieces by Harbison, Wuorinen, Babbitt, and Carter. He helped a great American orchestra (with a somewhat conservative curatorial direction) to make the leap into 21st century repertoire and was a terrific advocate for living composers.

Many in Boston and elsewhere have complained that by taking on the BSO, while still keeping his job at the Met, Levine overreached and overcommitted himself. Further, when his health deteriorated, some suggest that he should have stepped aside sooner.

I’ll not argue those points. But I will add that, when he was well, Levine helped to create some glorious nights of music-making in Boston that I’ll never forget. And for that, I’m extraordinarily grateful.


I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised to hear that Birtwistle was composing a violin concerto, as it seemed to me an uncharacteristic choice of solo instrument for him. After all, the composer of Panic and Cry of Anubis isn’t a likely candidate for the genre that’s brought us concerti by Brahms and Sibelius (and even Bartok and Schoenberg!).

But then I thought again. Having heard his Pulse Shadows and the recent Tree of Strings for quartet, both extraordinary pieces, I can see why he might want to explore another work that spotlights strings. Perhaps his approach to the violin concerto will bring the sense of theatricality, innovative scoring, and imaginative approach to form that he’s offered in so many other pieces.

I’m hoping to get a chance to hear it when it the orchestra comes to New York. No pilgrimage this time. My next Bolt Bus trip to Boston will likely have to wait ’til next season to hear the BSO in its post-Levine incarnation.