I heard Kronos Quartet perform Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 (2010) earlier this year at Carnegie Hall. For three string quartets (two were overdubbed in this live performance) and recorded voices taken from phone calls by first responders on September 11, 2001, as well as interviews with New Yorkers some years later, it doesn’t serve as a nostalgic remembrance. Rather, it’s a dramatic whirlwind of a piece, at times bracing and overwhelming.
For those who’ve tired of the languid sentimentality and unfortunate jingoism that has too often been attached to 9/11 by those who’ve been witnesses from a distance, Reich’s response is an affecting tribute, both to those lost and to the New Yorkers left behind. I’m glad that its recording will see release near the 10 year anniversary of September 11, 2001.
The release also include So Percussion performing Reich 2009 Mallet Quartet and Reich and Musicians performing Dance Patterns (2002).
Thanks to Nonesuch for letting us debut the CD’s artwork.
Last Saturday night I caught a trio of Philip Glass‘s slightly more obscure music, performed by a well-rehearsed Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale (based in Orange County, California) as part of their annual American Composers Festival. Although lesser-known than its Los Angeles counterpart, the symphony is staffed with many fine Southern California-based musicians and performs in the recently built and acoustically impressive Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
The opening piece, “Meetings Along the Edge” from Passages (1990), featured Glass’s collaboration with Ravi Shankar, in which both agreed to each compose a melody for each other and write a new composition around it. Usually I cringe at the results at these attempts at cultural exchange and creative collaboration, but in this rare instance I was very taken with the way Shankar’s Indian melody combined with Glass’s signature contrapuntal and harmonic elements. It created a fascinating juxtaposition, that gave me new insights on how Shankar’s Indian musical elements integrated into his very recognizable compositional language.
The Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra (1995) was written to serve dual purposes: first to be performed primarily as a saxophone quartet (here handled by the Prism Quartet), and secondly to be performed with an added orchestral accompaniment. Judging by the many recordings available of the quartet (sans orchestra), it has become a popular addition to the saxophone repertoire, but at Saturday evening’s performance it was hard to forget that much of this music was very similar or even repurposed from Wichita Vortex Sutra (1990), Glass’s song cycle collaboration based on Alan Ginsberg’s spoken-word poetry with solo piano. Reusing music has been widely accepted (besides borrowing heavily from Mozart and Purcell, Michael Nyman is a common recycler of his own music) and I think there is nothing inherently wrong with reusing one’s material, but in this case the unintended results were the equivalent of watching James Gandolfini from The Sopranos appear in another TV show. No matter how hard you try, it’s hard to see him as anybody but Tony Soprano. Comparing this secondhand saxophone showcase against the powerful combination of Glass’s music with Ginsberg’s poetry doesn’t really equate apples to apples, but more like apples to apple butter.
After intermission, just from viewing the assembled 140-member Pacific Chorale and orchestra, it might be easy to assume that Glass’s The Passion of Ramakrishna would feature a grand spectacle similar to his non-narrative operas like Akhnaten and Satyagraha. But for reasons I can’t fathom the assembled full chorus and orchestra wasn’t used to its full potential, at least in comparison to his similar vocal and operatic works.
The libretto, which recounted the final months and last words of the 19th-century Indian philosopher Ramakrishna, were surprisingly taciturn and the music was pleasant, but as the Passion of Ramakrishna was coming to a close I was struck that I had never been left so cold by a Glass vocal piece: It was basically 50 minutes of recitative with no aria (i.e. mostly all story and very little emotion). After the performance my concerns were confirmed when some of the performers said that Glass had mentioned he’d been hoping to eventually to flesh out the piece further, which was especially curious because the weekend’s performances were being recorded for a possible release on Naxos or Glass’s own Orange Mountain Music label.
Whether or not the piece performed Saturday night was the final version, it does leave me to think that in its current version, the Passion of Ramakrishna could use a few changes — namely, more “Passion” to balance out the exposition. As a composer who has learned much from studying and performing Glass’s music over the years the music presented Saturday night shows that even though many already are calling him a “living legend”, sometimes deadlines and professional obligations lead to music that was created by a mere mortal.
In the current economy – particularly in the recording industry – expediency can sometimes trump artistry. All too often, classical artists with a recent CD release can’t afford to worry too much about the curatorial vision of a concert series on which they appear: they’ve got to make their album’s program fit somehow in order to promote the product. Happily, there are times when an artist’s work and a venue’s vision come together seamlessly.
The Rubin Museum’sResonating Light music series continues tonight with a concert by cellist Maya Beiser. Her recording Provenance, released last year on Innova, explored music from disparate faith traditions, reflecting cultures that coexisted during the Middle Ages on the Iberian Peninsula.
Her program tonight takes a similar approach, bringing together music inspired by different religious traditions. But rather than just featuring music from Provenance in a “close enough” curatorial approach, Beiser studied the artworks in a recent exhibit at the Rubin entitled Embodying the Holy.
In response to the pieces on display, Bhe has programmed together works reflective of Orthodox Christianity (Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and John Tavener’s Lament To Phaedra) as well as Tibetan Buddism and other Easter philosophies (Even Ziporyn’s Kabya Maya and Douglas Cuomo’s Only Breath). Beiser’s arrangement of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidre represents Judaism. Rounding things out, Beiser is joined by accordionist Guy Klucevsek for Sofia Gubaidulina’s In Croce, arranged for cello and bajan.
Remixers start your … laptops. Some hot-off-the-presses news about a contest beginning at noon TODAY!
Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Steve Reich,Nonesuch Records, and Indaba Musichave launched a search for collaborators to remix the third movement from Reich’s 2×5. Paired with his Pulitzer prizewinning Double Sextet, the work appears on Reich’s new Nonesuch CD.
For four weeks beginning October 12, 2010 at noon, remixers can visit Indaba’s websiteto create their own version of the movement.
From November 9 to 23, fans and a panel of judges including Reich will review the submissions. Winners will be announced on December 7th. In addition to a grand prize and 2 runners-up selected by the jury, 10 honorable mentions will be selected by the public.
All jury selections will receive prizes, as follows:
Grand Prize (1)
Signed copy of Double Sextet/2×5 CD
Signed copy of Double Sextet score
One-year free Platinum membership to Indabamusic.com
Written for the Bang on a Can All Stars, 2×5 is Reich’s most overt foray into rock instrumentation to date. In my preview of the album, I noted that Reich’s collaboration with BoaC was “An intergenerational summit – minimalist elder statesman meets post-minimal/totalist ace performers – that, in terms of importance, is more or less the Downtown version of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.”
Now, another layer of creators will season the mix – I’m excited to hear the results!
The consistently thought-provoking Kyle Gann has a complaint: “I think young composers might want to think about diversifying the composers they base their styles on beyond John Coolidge Adams.” He gets a lot more promotional CDs than I do from record labels and young composers hoping to lure him out of music-critic retirement to provide that coveted Kyle Gann pull-quote for their bios. (Can I do the heist-movie thing and say they want to get him out of retirement for “one last score”? Too late, I already did.) As I said, I don’t get the same recordings that Kyle gets, but let’s take him at his word and stipulate that an awful lot of the postminimalist composers out there–especially the more successful ones–are writing warmed-over John Adams. I like John Adams as much as the next guy, and I’ve written my share of ersatz Adams, but too many composers hewing too closely to a single model could be cause for concern. When I followed up with Kyle over e-mail, he did say that “a lot of young composers I know don’t sound like Adams at all, but they’re by far the less successful ones,” so what we’re seeing may be more of a skew in economic outcomes than a skew in total underlying populations, but that skew would also be troubling.
I wonder if part of what we’re seeing here is the wages of the stylistic tunnel-vision of the music higher-education system. Read the rest of this entry »
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt turned 75 yesterday. His record label ECM Records is celebrating his three-quarters of a century with two new recordings.
Pärt’s 4th Symphony is a long-anticipated follow-up to his 3rd – which was written back in 1971! In the interim, the composer has moved from a modernist style to an idiosyncratic version of minimalism; one the composer calls the “tintinnabuli” style of composition. From bell-like resonances and slowly moving chant melodies, Pärt has crafted a personal compositional language of considerable appeal. And while this has included a number of stirring instrumental works, such as Tabula Rasa and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, more recently Pärt has been known for his choral music. His return to symphonic form is thus an opportunity to explore his mature language in a different milieu.
Perhaps in part as an acknowledgement of the home of the orchestra commissioning the Fourth Symphony – the “City of Angels” – Pärt decided to use a text as a formative – if subliminal – device in his preparations of the piece: the Canon of the Guardian Angel. Thus, while this is certainly not merely a transcription of a vocal piece – it sounds idiomatic and well orchestrated – there is a certain chant-like quality which demonstrates the symphony’s affinity with the vocal music and chant texts that are Pärt’s constant companions.
The live recording is of the work’s premiere in Disney Hall in LA. Salonen and the LA Phil give a muscular rendition of the piece, emphasizing its emphatic gestures while still allowing for the symphony’s many reflective, meditative oases to have considerably lustrous resonance. And while one can certainly hear a palpable connection to Pärt’s chant-inspired tintinnabuli pieces, the symphony also allows for dissonant verticals and melodic sweep that recalls both Pärt’s own Third Symphony and the works of other 20th century symphonists, from Gorecki to Shostakovich.
Perhaps in order to clearly attest to the connection between text and symphony, the disc is balanced out with a fifteen-minute serving of fragments from one of his important choral works from the 1990s: Kanon Pokajanen. The composer has pointed out the relationship between the canon that was his reference point for the symphony and the texts upon which the latter choral work was based.
He says, “To my mind, the two works form a stylistic unity and belong together. I wanted to give the words an opportunity to choose their own sound. The result, which even caught me by surprise, was a piece wholly pervaded by this special Slavonic diction found only in church texts. It was the canon that clearly showed me how strongly choice of language preordains a work’s character.”
Kaljuste and the Estonian Chamber Choir are seasoned handlers of Pärt’s works, having made a number of recordings of his music. They do not disappoint here, providing a performance that juxtaposes the ethereal eternity found in the texts with an earthy and corporeally passionate rendering of the music.
In order to further fete Pärt, ECM also plans a lush reissue of their landmark 1984 recording, Tabula Rasa, complete with a generous accompanying book with newly commissioned essays about the composer.
Steve Reich’s latest Nonesuch CD recently arrived, sans artwork in a little cardboard case. The disc features Double Sextet and 2×5, his collaborations with Eighth Blackbird and Bang on a Can. The former piece won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The latter is his most explicit use of rock instrumentation to date.
According to the Nonesuch site, it’s still in the “pre-order” phase of activities, so we’ll be good and hold off on a proper review ’til it’s closer to the actual release date (9/14).
Suffice it to say, if you’re a regular visitor to Sequenza 21, you’re likely going to want one, possibly three, copies of this recording. An intergenerational summit – minimalist elder statesman meets post-minimal/totalist ace performers – that, in terms of importance, is more or less the Downtown version of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.
My graduate history seminar on minimalism starts next week at Westminster Choir College. I’ll be teaching the course in a three-week intensive session – three hours a day/four days a week. In that time – just 12 meetings in all – we need to cover a lot of ground. There are three assigned texts: Minimalism: Origins by Edward Strickland, Repeating Ourselves by Robert Fink, and Music Downtown by Kyle Gann, as well as a number of supplemental readings (lots of Tom Johnson) and listening assignments.
Each student will be required to make a class presentation and write a substantial research paper. Those in the group who like to compose will write a minimal piece for the class to perform. In an exciting development, one of my students, who is a high school choir director, has already been in touch with Terry Riley’s “people” about Another Secret eQuation, his recent choral piece for young people, and will be researching it for her paper.
While I’ve been thinking about and prepping the course for a long while, I’m, of course, curious about what the Sequenza 21 community thinks. What do you consider to be an “all killer/no filler” listening list for graduate students studying minimalism – many of them for the first time. The comments section is open!
By the way, those who are interested may feel free to contact me after the class is over for a set of the handouts/slides.