I’m pleased to announced that I have begun producing episodes of a new music show/podcast called “We Are Not Beethoven”. This is my contribution to NPR music critic Tom Manoff’s new venture, a start-up public radio network called Washington Public Radio.
The goal of “We Are Not Beethoven” is to talk about music like no other music show: evening the playing field of listening to and talking about music by humanizing composers and musicians, disregarding genres and categories, focusing heavily on listening, and confronting the barriers of entry that discourage people from exploring new kinds of music.
You can find a link to the first episode here, and below is a video preview of what I talk about in the first episode:
On July 22nd via his PostClassic blog, Kyle Gann published a post titled “One Less Critic,” more or less announcing his retirement from music criticism. Writing for nearly thirty years in a number of publications, notably the Village Voice and Chamber Music Magazine, Gann has been a thoughtful, often provoking, and even, occasionally, a polarizing figure in discourse about contemporary classical music. He’s also been active in a number of other activities, first and foremost as an imaginative composer, a professor at Bard College, and a musicologist who’s published articles and books on a wide range of composers, including minimalists, microtonalists, Conlon Nancarrow, and John Cage. His book on Robert Ashley will be published this fall.
In his blog post, Gann writes, “Criticism is a noble profession, or could be if we took it seriously enough and applied rigorous standards to it, but you get pigeonholed as a bystander, someone valued for your perspective on others rather than for your own potential contributions.”
He’s not the first composer/critic to voice these concerns. It’s fair to say that those who write about others’ music potentially imperil their own. One’s advancement in a career as a creative and/or performing artist often involves blunting their candor and, upon occasion, judiciously withholding their opinions, delicacies which a writer (at least, an honest writer) can ill afford.
Certainly, I haven’t always agreed with Gann’s assessment of the musical landscape. In 1997, I first read his essay on 12-tone composers in academia, in which he likened those in grad programs studying with Wuorinen and Carter to be a wasted generation of composers, like lemmings leaping to their (artistic) deaths. At that time, I was a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers: studying withWuorinen and writing a dissertation on Carter! I didn’t transfer or change my topic.
That said, I respect Gann’s formidable intellect and, even when it stings a little, his candor. I hope that during his “retirement” from criticism, he will find many new opportunities provided to him as a composer. In the spirit of bygones being bygones, maybe some of them will be in collaboration with ensembles that, back in the day, got a rough review from him!
Our 24 hour news cycle can tend to bombard us information about tragic events. While this can be helpful, it can also become dispiriting and disconcerting.
After news of the shooting in Colorado was announced, I asked Sequenza 21 contributors and community members to share musical excerpts that they find consolatory when a tragedy such as this occurs. Some provided me with video clips via YouTube. Others supplied SoundCloud links to their own pieces, written to respond to the chaos that is all too prevalent in our society.
Contributors: Steve Layton, Judah Adashi, James Stephenson, Rob Deemer, Ken Ueno, Jonathan Palmer Lakeland, James Ilgenfritz, Jerry Bowles, and yours truly. Tracks follow after the page break: Read the rest of this entry »
The group that helped to start the indie rock plus classical crossover genre, Clogs, doesn’t often make it out to Brooklyn. But, if Monday’s show at Galapagos is any indication, when they visit the borough, the group goes all out.
In addition to selections from Clogs’ previous studio recordings, the concert features “Shady Gully,” a new group of songs written by Padma Newsome. Those in attendance will also get a sneak preview of “2 Moon Shine,” his forthcoming opera project.
Also on the bill is Clogs member Thomas Kozumplik’s project Loop 2.4.3. I’ve been greatly enjoying their latest full length recording American Dreamland (out now via Music Starts from Silence). Kozumplik, joined by Lorne Watson, have created a percussion heavy and somewhat jaundice eyed view of the American dream, referencing everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Easy Rider to urban blight along the way. While the album’s subject matter could easily become a colossal bummer, Loop 2.4.3 creates supple beats and several fetching tunes (the radio ready single “So Strong” noteworthy among them) that make even a dystopian post industrial landscape sound like far better a destination than its likely to be!
A small caveat for fans of the National: guitarist Bryce Dessner is not playing the Galapagos show. Ben Cassoria will take over his duties for the evening (no mean substitute!).
In Fall 2012, composer/conductor Victoria Bond’s opera Mrs. Presidentpremieres at Anchorage Opera in Alaska. Its “out of town” tryout is on Monday July 9th … in New York at Symphony Space.
The opera’s subject is Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president. Woodhull’s campaign in 1872 predates women’s suffrage. It was mired in controversy and scandal which, as we all know, makes it ideal material for an opera!
I was particularly pleased to learn that dramatic soprano Valerie Bernhardt is playing Woodhull. Val and I both sang at the Chatauqua Institute back in 1992. Her voice was already a mighty and beautiful instrument then and has only grown more impressive in the ensuing years.
Soprano Valerie Bernhardt
Need more inducement? Okay. Those in town seeking relief from the heat wave, remember: Symphony Space has lovely central AC and quite a nice bar to boot!
On Tuesday, the New York Philharmonic celebrates French composer Henri Dutilleux, the recipient of the orchestra’s first Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music.
Dutilleux has decided to use the prize money to commission three composers to write works for the Philharmonic in his honor. He’s already selected one – Peter Eotvos. Who would you recommend to Mr. Dutilleux as the other two commission recipients?
Alan Gilbert will conduct and Yo-Yo Ma is the featured guest soloist.
Ainsi La Nuit for String Quartet (1976)
Cello Concerto — Tout un monde lointain (A whole distant world) (1970)
This week, one of the topics being avidly discussed on the blogosphere is a post written on the All Songs Considered blog by NPR intern Emily White (read here). There have been a number of passionate replies to her suggestion that those in her age group simply are not buying music: they’re too accustomed to “appropriating” it. David Lowery (of the band Camper Van Beethoven) provided an in depth and thoughtful response (a must read at the Trichordisthere). One can also read Ben Sisario’s article for the NY Timeshere and Jonathan Coulton’s blog post here.
All caught up? Good.
I won’t go through all of the merits and moral quandaries associated with file-sharing and streaming services. Full disclosure: I use NML regularly in my work (we subscribe at Westminster Choir College) and also have a paid Spotify subscription. While I’m a big proponent of physical media, and also feel that streaming services must work to do a better job to compensate artists, I am pleased that these technological options are available, as they are invaluable references for scholars and music lovers.
Thus, I’m certainly not interested in piling on or, goodness forbid, admonishing Emily White. In some ways, I feel sorry for her: a DJ and station manager who doesn’t have a record collection strikes me as someone who’s missed out on a very fun part of that gig. Instead, let’s zero in on those records. In the various posts on the subject of apathetic interns there is an almost unmentioned other segment of the populace that should be introduced into this conversation about purchasing music: young people who, you know, purchase music.
I support lots of artists by buying their music, often in physical, sometimes esoteric, formats. I feel about LPs the way that former Senator Phil Gramm feels about firearms, about which he famously said, “I have more of ’em than I need and less of ’em than I want.”
But I’m not the only one with this penchant for owning a physical artifact instead of ripping a friend’s CD. Why is it whenever I go to a record store I’m surrounded by people, many approximately Emily White’s age, who are digging through the bins and buying vinyl? New vinyl – nice 180 gram pressings of current albums. That’s a lot of latte money!
Maybe, in the midst of all of the doom and gloom about the decline of CDs as a distribution model, we are overgeneralizing by taking the casual listener as the barometer for future music sales. The casual listener has long “stolen” or, at the very least, freely acquired, music: well before the advent of file sharing and mp3s. Mix tapes, listening to the radio in a restaurant that doesn’t pay royalties, borrowing music from libraries, friends, etc.
Yes, the arguments regarding “fair use” settled some of these issues, but it took lengthy court battles to do so. At the time, most teens remained blithely oblivious of the issues at hand, continuing to dupe their friends’ copies of whatever they couldn’t afford that week at Sam Goody. What’s sad is that Emily seems to fall into this group of casual consumers: one might hope that NPR would attract folks who get the point of supporting those who entertain, educate, and even move them.
Physical product continues to be viable in the digital age, even if it proves to be a more modest stream of revenue than it was for artists during the boom years of the CD era. The physical product that seems to be on the rise at the moment is the LP, with good reason: it’s a very fine artifact. The bigger format helps – you can actually read the liner notes and the artwork can better be appreciated. Many audiophiles (myself included) love ’em.
That said, the industry should continue to explore other modes of distribution, new platforms that will help to keep them in business and recoup at least some of artists’ lost royalties. In no way am I suggesting that streaming media isn’t going to be the prevailing method of experiencing recorded music in the future. From an archival standpoint and one of accessibility, this is an exciting thing indeed. However, I can’t help but think that the lack of engagement with a record collection, except in the digital domain, divests the listening experience of some of its vitality.
Readers: what do you think? The comments section is open for civil discourse.
We’re pleased to introduce cellist Maya Beiser’s performing the Michael Harrison composition “Just Ancient Loops,” with film by Bill Morrison, which will receive its premiere at the Bang on a Can 25th Anniversary Marathon this coming Sunday in NYC.
This is just one of many performances that will occur over the marathon’s 12 hours of free live music-making: check out the complete schedule online here.
Congrats to the can bangers – may you have many more seasons of marathoning!
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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’sContact! series. The concert, conducted by David Robertson, also includes a newly commissioned work by Michael Jarrell and Pierre Boulez’s …explosante-fixe…
Carter discusses the piece in the video below.
The Contact! program will be repeated on Saturday at Symphony Space.
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