Archive for the “Orchestras” Category

Alex Ross gives a rundown of upcoming seasons at both the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras. There’s a fair amount of contemporary work on the bills from both coasts, though I can’t help feeling the “biggest” events have a somewhat buddy-buddy feel.

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Big news in the orchestra world. Starting next season (2010-’11), George Manahan will become the American Composers Orchestra’s Music Director. He will continue as Music Director at the New York City Opera.

George Manahan

George Manahan

In my view, this is good news indeed. Manahan is a superlative musician; he’s conducted some excellent performances of contemporary fare at NYCO. One hopes that his name will entice new audience members to check out the ACO.

Kudos as well to outgoing director Steven Sloane, who’s done an admirable job with the ensemble since 2002.

Thoughts on the shakeup? The comments section is open below!

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Received a blurb from the LA Phil the other day, which in all caps proudly declares “LA PHIL LAUNCHES MICROSITE CELEBRATING INCOMING MUSIC DIRECTOR GUSTAVO DUDAMEL“  … Kaboom!… Here’s the relevant bit (my bolds):

On September 24, 2009, the LA Phil launched a microsite celebrating the arrival of incoming Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. Introducing audiences worldwide to Gustavo in new and engaging ways, the comprehensive microsite, located at http://www.laphil.com/gustavo, features videos such as Gustavo’s first rehearsal with the YOLA Expo Center Youth Orchestra, the LA Phil’s video tribute “Welcome Gustavo,” and the press conferences unveiling Gustavo’s inaugural season and appointment as 11th Music Director of the LA Phil.  Visitors can also take a multimedia journey through Gustavo’s life with tiling photographs, video and biographical text.  The latest Gustavo-related news and newly recorded audio and video content will be added to the microsite as Gustavo’s exciting inaugural season progresses.

The Gustavo microsite prominently features a brand-new interactive online game and iPhone application, Bravo Gustavo, designed by Hello Design to simulate the experience of conducting an orchestra.  The Bravo Gustavo online game invites users to interact with Gustavo and the LA Phil performing Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique (music courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon).  The Bravo Gustavo iPhone application adapts the mobile device into a conducting baton, utilizing the accelerometer to directly affect the overall tempo and note duration of the music – just like a real conductor.

Wow, conductor as new “my best friend forever”, and it seems like the only thing missing from the package is the action figure. I suppose if the classical world had been cool enough to do a “Bravo Herbert” or “Welcome Antal” back in the day, the crowds would never have left.

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(Thanks to Kevin Austin, who runs the Canadian Electroacoustic Community e-mail list, for pointing this one out):

Every serious classical listener/collector has spent time probing through the hiss, pop and crackle of early monophonic 78 and 33 rpm recordings; though the sound is tinny and boxed in, they love the magical feeling of somehow being brought closer to some vital moment, performer or composer.  Until 1958 people could only buy monophonic records; some might have heard stereo sound previously in a few push-the-envelope films like Fantasia, but for at least a couple generations mono was all they had. Yet there had been a number of experimental tries at stereo sound, going back as early as the 1920s (the BBC’s first attempt at a stereo radio broadcast was in December 1925). One of these pioneering experiments has been wonderfully documented on the Stokowski.org website.

Leopold Stokowski might have had a bit of the showman in him, often shrewdly picking music, concerts and events with a little more than average glitz and spectacle. But especially early on, we can’t forget that he was very friendly with a lot of the avant-garde of the day, and had a keen interest in new ideas.  His Philadelphia Orchestra began broadcasting concerts in 1929, but he was disappointed with the poor fidelity. Stokowski approached Bell Labs looking for some way to improve the sound; there he hooked up with Bell’s legendary research director Dr. Harvey Fletcher. Fletcher was doing groundbreaking work on electrical recording, new microphones and recording equipment, constantly searching for ways to expand the frequency, dynamic range and spatial presence of recordings.

They worked out a deal where in 1931 Fletcher would install the latest equipment in the basement of the hall (the Academy of Music) that the Philly orchestra used for broadcasts, making the orchestra a test subject for their recording experiments. By the end of the year they were able to push the recorded spectrum all the way to an unheard-of 13,000 Hz (though still in mono) in a recording of Berlioz‘s Roman Carnival Overture.

But most amazing of all was the work of another of Fletcher’s researchers, Arthur C. Keller. He’d devised a system that could use two microphones at once, each cutting their own sound to a separate groove on the master disk. With this new stereophonic setup, in 1932 Keller recorded Stokowski and the orchestra performing Scriabin‘s Prometheus: Poem of Fire (part 1; part 2). As far as we know, this is the oldest stereophonic music recording in existence, and for all those lovers of the 78 rpm records from this period the quality is just stunning. It would still be more than a quarter-century before the technology could advance enough to where everyone could finally listen at home in stereo.

Arthur Keller came out of retirement in 1979, and assisted by Ward Marston made the modern transcriptions you hear here, from the original master disks stored at Bell Labs. All thanks to them, and to the folks at Stokowski.org for sharing the story (there’s plenty more to learn there too, so don’t forget to go check out the site).

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[Ed. note: Polly Moller is not just busy telling you about concerts like the one below -- while she's out there pushing for the other guy, I want to mention the she herself has what looks like a great gig, with Pamela Z and Jane Rigler, May 17th at the Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa Street (between Harrison & Alabama), SF. tickets are $10, and you can see more here. Go, Polly! ...OK, on with the show...]

Mason BatesSequenza21 readers are a quirky and unpredictable bunch.  But I’m willing to bet that any of them who show up on Wednesday, May 20, Friday, May 22, or Saturday, May 23 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco will not spend the first half fidgeting around, waiting for the marvelous Yuja Wang to take the stage, so they can text their friends about what kind of gown she’s wearing.  No, our readers will be on the edges of their seats ready for the world premiere of The B-Sides by Mason Bates!

The internet got a taste of Bates’ new work on April 15th, when the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, led by San Francisco’s own Michael Tilson Thomas, played the final movement, “Warehouse Medicine”, in Carnegie Hall.  Bates explains in the program notes that his five-movement piece is “informed by the grooves of electronica as well as the modern masters of orchestral sonority, and might also be said to inhabit the ‘flipside’ of the symphonic world – a place where drum-n-bass rhythms meet fluorescent orchestral textures.”

The B-Sides is dedicated to MTT, who commissioned it.  The maestro invited the composer backstage during a concert intermission in November 2007, “between Tchaikovsky and Brahms,” Bates recalls.  “He suggested a collection of five pieces focusing on texture and sonority—perhaps like Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra. Since my music had largely gone in the other direction—large works that bathed the listener in immersive experiences—the idea intrigued me. I had often imagined a suite of concise, off-kilter symphonic pieces that would incorporate the grooves and theatrics of electronica in a highly focused manner.”

Something else Sequenza21 readers are likely to do, if they attend the Friday, May 22 show, is stick around for Davies After Hours. It’ll be hard to resist, with Bates morphing into his alter-ego, DJ Masonic, and joining SF Symphony Resident Conductor Benjamin Schwartz to host a hybrid concert/reception they call Mercury Lounge: Mercury Soul Comes to Davies. DJs and chamber ensembles will offer their reflections on the night’s concert…which oh, by the way, includes Sibelius’ Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Opus 63.

Tickets are available online, and also by phone from the San Francisco Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000.

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Music by Wolff, Sciarrino, Kotik, Carter, and Ligeti / Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, Ostravská Banda, FLUX Quartet; Petr Kotik, Conductor /Alice Tully Hall, May 6, 2009

Conductor/composer Petr Kotik has been an impressive advocate for contemporary music in New York for forty years. Residing in the US since 1969, he has been running the S.E.M. ensemble since 1970: performing a wide range of repertoire, commissioning works and cultivating successive generations of young players into seasoned new music performers. S.E.M.’s orchestral unit has been active since ’92; Kotik’s also been running Ostravská Banda, an international chamber orchestra comprised of S.E.M. players and young European counterparts, since ’05. Both of these groups, as well as the FLUX string quartet, another youngish ensemble devoted to new music, were featured on Wednesday night’s Tully Hall performance: a program of brand new chamber music and three contemporary works that seem destined for the core repertory.

Christian Wolff’s Trio for Robert Ashley (commissioned for the concert) employed three of the FLUX members – violinist Tom Chiu, violist Max Mandel, and cellist Felix Fan – in a fragmentary multi-movement piece. Indeed, its juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated musical materials set the tone for an evening devoted to unorthodox formal presentation. Sustained notes were set against skittering, Webernian motifs. Single lines evaporated into pensive rests while vigorous tutti were all too ephemeral; evaporating into the silence from when they came.

In its US premiere, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Vento D’Ombra made quite an impression. Another work which employed silences as well as fragmentary gestures as signatures, it focused on tiny musical cells – mostly dyads and trichords – as well as a cornucopia of special effects. Wind and brass players breathed through mouthpieces without fingering notes, strings played scordatura and microtones. The whole was a meticulously shaded pointillist canvas of brief gestures, undulating slides, and pianissimo staccato dabs.

Kotik’s own String Quartet was cast in a lengthy single movement. Impeccably performed by FLUX, it was centered on an ambling, long-breathed melody played by the quartet in unison (later in octaves). Only gradually did this evolve into two-voice counterpoint, with a violin countermelody that took on greater urgency. Tutti passages ratcheted up the tension quotient still further, evocative of some of the brilliant polyphonic passages from Ligeti’s second quartet. The idée fixe unison passage returned at pivotal junctures, requiring precise coordination and tuning on the part of FLUX: both were readily supplied.

Elliott Carter’s recent ‘second piano concerto,’ Dialogues, is a fascinating companion piece to the monolithic concerto from the 1960s. Written for a much smaller orchestra, it allows the soloist to take on an enlarged role. In a clever inverse of its larger precursor, the pianist often overwhelms the ensemble, cowing it with brilliant virtuosity. Daan Wandewalle was an excellent protagonist, supplying brilliant cadenzas, thunderous verticals, and an overarching sense of shaping and musicality. Read the rest of this entry »

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David Schiff

While well-known for his writings about music, including books about Elliott Carter and George Gershwin, David Schiff is also a prolific and active composer. A professor at Reed College, he’s visiting New York this week to hear the American Composer’s Orchestra premiere a revamped version of Stomp, a piece that celebrates the music of James Brown. The concert, part of the Orchestra Underground series, also includes premieres by Margaret Brouwer and Kasumi, Rand Steiger, Fang Man, and Kati Agócs.

 Carey: Stomp was written in 1990 for Marin Alsop. How did you decide to write in homage to James Brown?

Schiff: I was asked for a concert opener and somewhere in the process I realized that one of my rhythmic motives was from James Brown’s “I Feel Good” (as recorded Live at the Apollo). I then re-conceived the piece as a tribute.

Carey: Have other rock or jazz legends figured in your music?

Schiff: There’s a big Motown section in my Scenes from Adolescence (1987) and my Slow Dance for orchestra (1989), written for the Oregon Symphony, has a lot of Charles Mingus in it, but I have also had the great honor of working with two living legends in jazz, Regina Carter and Marty Ehrlich.

Carey: What’s “re-lit” about this new version for the ACO?

Schiff: ACO asked me to reduce the size of the orchestra slightly to fit in Zankel Hall. This gave me the opportunity to re-score the entire piece. The wind section now is much better suited to the style of the piece: flute, E flat clarinet, two saxes, trumpet horn, trombone and tuba. But there are also a lot of musical changes everywhere. I think that in the years since I first wrote Stomp I have become more experienced with the style. The new version is much hotter than the original–even though the orchestra is smaller.

Carey: You’re currently at work on a book about Duke Ellington. Is that research infiltrating your composing at all?

Schiff: Ellington’s music influences everything I do. I go to school with his music every day and I find his melodies, rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation endlessly inspiring.

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Saturday night at 8 pm, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, under the direction of Michael Christie, gives the US premiere of Enrico Chapela’s Noctámbulos, a piece for rock trio and orchestra. Chapela will also participate in a panel discussion on Latin American Identity in Music at 4:30 (details below).

Chapela is a composer on the rise; Boosey and Hawkes added him to their roster in 2008 and he’s recently received several high profile commissions. I spoke with him on Thursday about the BAM event and his other activities. Born in Mexico, he started out his musical career as a rock guitarist, playing SXSW with a band in the nineties. He currently resides in Paris, where he’s finished a Master’s degree at the University of Paris and is pursuing a Ph.D. His dissertation topic is the two-hundred year history of symphonic music in Mexico.

An earlier version of Noctámbulos, titled Lo Nato es Neta, can be heard on Chapela’s debut CD, Antagonica. Lo Nato es Neta is scored for rock trio and acoustic quintet. Chapela readily acknowledges the cross-pollination present in the work, “It explores a wide range of rock styles – everything from metal to Pink Floyd to King Crimson.” I hear a fair bit of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in its juxtaposition of rock solos with angular melodic fragments, spiky post-tonal verticals, and Stravinskyian ostinati.

The piece was entered in a composition competition, but didn’t place. Happily, one of the judges dissented from the majority and separately arranged a commission for the Dresden Sinfoniker. The result: Noctámbulos, a revisioning of Lo Nato es Neta that features the rock trio as concerto soloists. It also incorporates more improvisation.

This is an exciting time for Chapela. He’s playing the guitar part in the premiere. Simultaneously, he’s working hard to finish a commission for the LA Philharmonic. “At first, I thought it would be too much to be the solo guitarist at the Brooklyn Philharmonic performances while trying to finish the piece for LA. But then I realized, who could ask for a better gig than this? Between practicing and writing, I told my wife to not expect to see me much for a couple of months!”

CROSSING BORDERS: A discussion on Latin American identity in music

Saturday, January 31, 2009 / BAM Hillman Attic Studio, at 4:00PM

Moderated by Carmen Helena Téllez / Invited panelists: Gabriela Lena Frank, Enrico Chapela, and Paul Desenne

NUEVO LATINO MAINSTAGE – Saturday January 31, 2009 at 8:00 PM

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House

Michael Christie, conductor; Virginie Robilliard, violin; Chapela Trio; Enrico Chapela, guitar; Jesús Lara, bass; Luis Miguel Costero, drums

Gabriela Lena Frank: Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout (NY Premiere of string orchestra version)

Paul Desenne: The Two Seasons (NY Premiere)

Enrico Chapela: Noctámbulos (US Premiere)

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Wendy plays Ken’s viola concerto with BMOP! Hear harmonies analyzed from Wendy’s ankle bone!

Friday, November 14, 2008 / 8:00pm – 10:00pm

Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory

290 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA

The amazing violist Wendy Richman plays Ken Ueno’s concerto Talus, with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the incomparable Gil Rose.

Here’s the program:

Martin Boykan Concerto for Violin and Orchestra / Curtis Macomber, violin

Robert Erickson Fantasy for cello and orchestra / Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello

Arnold Schoenberg Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra / BMOP Principals

Elliott Schwartz Chamber Concerto VI: Mr. Jefferson / Charles Dimmick, violin 

Ken Ueno Talus, concerto for viola and orchestra / Wendy Richman, viola 

Tickets for this concert are available at the Jordan Hall Box Office. Call (617) 585-1260 or visit the box office at New England Conservatory (30 Gainsborough Street), Monday – Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 12pm-6pm. The box office opens at 6:30pm on the day of the concert. 

For an explanation of x-ray picture and how it relates to the piece: http://www.kenueno.com/performancenotes.html#Talus

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…The Seattle Times‘ forever-esconced-but-barely-there music crtic, Melinda Bargreen (reviewing Thursday’s Seattle Symphony concert):

When a conductor picks up a microphone to address the audience about the music they’re going to hear, the audience can be pretty sure of one thing: They aren’t expected to like the piece. By the time guest conductor Michael Stern had finished telling Thursday’s Seattle Symphony audience about Varèse’s “Intégrales,” it’s a wonder they weren’t fleeing the hall en masse. With Stern’s every phrase (“A certain weird clarity,” “An assault on the senses”), the impending work loomed more ominously. When the downbeat finally came, and the small wind ensemble plus a whole armory of percussion began to play Varèse’s chaotic motifs and random-sounding outbursts, no one could say we weren’t warned.

Come on now, a piece from freakin’ 1925 gets this kind of write-up in 2008?

Not that she’s the only thing wrong with this picture that is this story. I’ve got to fault Michael Stern for trying too hard to talk the piece up, in effect almost apologising to the audience beforehand. Intégrales, after more than 80 years now, is a piece that doesn’t need any such justification or apology; just shut up, Michael, and play the thing already!

And notice that Sunday afternoon’s “Musically Speaking” version of this concert — i.e., the concert for supposedly explicating and enlightening the classically curious – does away with the Varèse altogether, leaving everyone to safely ruminate (perhaps literally) over just the Victor Herbert and Rachmaninoff.

Sheesh.

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