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…Will just have to wait… Since, in just a little over a week, this nearly-lifelong Northwesterner will have left Seattle and be stumbling around our new home:

Yep, Houston, Texas! My wife has an incredibly sweet job waiting at the Houston Chronicle, and I’m happy to play Mister tag-along. As to music, I’ve done the “virtual” scope-out of the big and small institutions, ensembles, and universities. You all know me, though; I’ll be poking around in the cracks, looking for the really interesting folk.

As to its out-of-the-way “podunkiness”, I might have to remind a few of you that while you were distracted elsewhere, Houston somehow sneaked up to become the country’s fourth-largest city. And it’s not finished growing by a long shot… Whether that means more nights at the opera, I seriously doubt — after all, already over 40% of those millions are Latino, over 20% African-American, and it’s home to one of the largest Vietnamese concentrations in the country. Whatever your stereotype of the city, the Bush-buddies and their poof-haired wives are the real minority now, and shrinking every day. Whatever form the musical scene takes, there’s a feeling that some very dynamic, 21st-century stuff can grow along with the city.

The wonder-that-is-the-web means I’ll still be hanging around through the whole move, and when I’m settled the click-picks will undoubtably pick up where they clicked off. Bien viaje to me! I’ve got to go run all my old coats to the Goodwill and buy a bunch of new light shirts…

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ASCAP tagSpotted this morning across the street from my place here in Seattle. I hear the BMI bangers are tagging all the dumpsters south of Pike Street. Looks like a war is coming…

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While we’re all sitting around waiting for the big event (Can you guess what day tomorrow is, boys and girls?), let’s talk about movies.  I’ve only seen two of the Academy Award nominees–Letters From Iwo Jima, which is almost great and has some haunting, low-key music by Clint Eastwood’s son, Kyle and the alleged comedy Little Miss Sunshine, which is the single most depressing movie I have ever seen and that includes To Live, The Ballad of Narayama and the one about the Guatamalan kids crawling through the sewer across the Mexican border and being bitten by rats and one of them dies. 

For some reason, Barbaro’s death touched me deeply.  I wrote something about it here.

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Last night’s Los Angeles Master Chorale concert in the Walt Disney appeared to be sold out.  The only thing that might surprise outsiders was that the advertising had emphasized that the program would be two works that were actually written in the twenty-first century.  Oh, it was a good concert!

The two works were by Steve Reich:  “You Are (Variations)” which the Chorale premiered in 2004 and performed in New York as part of the Reich birthday party, and the recent “Daniel Variations” for which this was the West Coast premiere.  Reich was at the sound controls handling the amplification.  “You Are” is a great work, and Grant Gershon makes this a signature piece.  I’m pretty certain that most of the singers, all four pianists, and all four marimba/vibes were the same as in the recording.  “Daniel Variations” uses similar resources, with a slightly smaller chorus (from 18 to 12) and a much smaller chamber orchestra (from 20 to 7 if I counted correctly), with the same four pianos and marimbas.  As has been commented on, the music makes the violin quite prominent, honoring the violinist who was Daniel Pearl.  Steve Reich (in his black baseball cap, of course) came down to the stage to join Gershon and the performers and receive the waves of applause and pleasure from the audience.

To complete the concert Grant Gershon gave us an interesting bit of programming.  Each of the two Reich works was preceded by two short motets, one by Josquin des Prez and one by William Byrd.  Instead of being linearly arranged on stage, the chorus for each set formed itself in a circle to the side of the stage, with Gershon in the center.  As a result, instead of a sound stage of individual voices, the combined voices rose as a column of sound, a column expanding to fill the hall.  The 400-year-old music was a pleasing introduction to the new.

Sunday afternoon’s Phil concert had the Stravinsky Violin Concert performed by Gil Shahan to give spark and verve to an otherwise uninteresting concert.  (Tchaikovsky’s “Hamlet” was boring, and it’s hard to get excited about the Schumann 2nd.)  The Stravinsky was elegant, and dry, and witty.  The two works surrounding it achieved so much less with so many more resources.

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John Ogdon was born, seventy years ago, on January 27th 1937. The following words were written by him in 1981. “Here then…are some of the harsh facts behind the words ‘severe mental illness’ and ‘serious nervous breakdown’ which the press has been using about me so often lately. Not that I am complaining about the press! – I was thrilled by the sympathetic and wide spread media interest that came my way both before and after my return to the … concert stage”. 

Ogdon (photo above) was an extraordinary pianist, composer, and new music visionary whose close friends and musical influences included Peter Maxwell Davies, (who wrote his Opus 1 Sonata for Trumpet and Opus 2 Five Pieces for Piano for him), Harrison Birtwistle and Alexander Goehr.

For the full story visit John Ogdon – a blazing meteor.

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Sam Pottle’s theme song for “The Muppet Show;” the feeling of breaking the thousand measure mark in a piece (without repeats); Rodney Lister’s thoughts, voiced to me almost ten years ago, about humor, proportion, and Messiaen; music groups on Facebook (example: “If being a Music Major were easy, we’d call it Your Mom!”); how simultaneously essential and swept-under-the-rug ear training is and has become; the Met’s slightly obnoxious new policy for buying standing-room tickets (must buy day-of); goofy fictitious opera/composer pairings (example: “Pippy Longstocking” by Brian Ferneyhough); the injustice Oscar (in the pic) dealt “The Good Shepherd;” good and bad movie-sex music, constitution of; the end of the world (example: “Legally Blonde: The Musical”); where are good, challenging, undergraduate-level analytical articles about Steve Reich?; how much I’m looking forward to seeing my students once again next week: things I’ve been thinking about posting about, but haven’t. So far.

Steve Layton wonders about things unusual in the Composers Forum; Lawrence Dillon and ICE just got done heating things up down in North Carolina. Don’t forget Ian Moss Tonite.


See you all around,

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. . .

He looks around, full of secrets;

His strange deep thoughts have brought, so far, no harm.

Carefully, with fists and elbows, he prepares

One dark, tremendous chord

Never heard before–his own thunder!

And strikes.

          And the strings will quiver with it

A long time before the held pedal

Gives up the sound completely–this throbbing

Of the piano’s great exposed heart.

Then, soberly, he begins his scales.

. . .

– from “After-School Practice: A Short Story” by Donald Justice

The Collected Poems of Donald Justice (1925-2004) were released in paperback last year. When the young Justice went off to the University of Miami (FL), he had it in mind to become a composer. He soon decided, however, that he had more promise as a writer, and he changed majors and graduated with a degree in English. But this was not before he had taken some lessons with none other than Carl Ruggles.

One of the very few things I don’t like about living in New York is that my apartment is too small for my piano. Roland ep.9 ‘s, whatever their virtues, don’t come with dark tremendous chords.

A little slow out there. Jacob Sudol has some Scelsi, and, just below, Jerry Zinser files a dispatch from L.A.

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John Adams is almost 60 (February 15), and the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella concert last night had Adams as conductor of three of his works.  It appeared to me to be the largest audience in the series, with even some people up in the organ-loft seats facing the conductor.  The concert was a pleasure, a treat.  Only a curmudgeon could have been dissatisfied at the exuberance and joy of the evening, feeling that serious music shouldn’t have that much fun associated with it.

The program opened with “China Gates” (1977), a work for piano solo in which Adams was using minimalist techniques with occasional appearances of a distinctive voice.  (I’ll use links to Adams’ own web site which gives a clip from each work.)  Then there was a vibrant, toe-tapping, romp of a performance of his concerto for clarinet and chamber orchestra, “Gnarly Buttons” (1996).  Derek Bermel, who was composer and soloist in his own concerto a few years ago, conducted by Adams, did a great job with this challenging solo role.  Surrounding the clarinet were four violins, two each violas, cellos and basses, trombone, English horn, bassoon, guitar/mandolin/banjo, piano and sampler keyboard (with a range of sound samples including a cow, who in this sample, in this hall, sounded severely injured).  This was fun. 

Grand Pianola Music” (1982) was performed after intermission; you might be interested in reading Adams’ comments about this work by following the link and scrolling down.  This is an odd work, somewhat of a chamber concerto for two pianos and three sopranos.  I don’t particularly like the work on the recording I have; I found that a half hour of piano arpeggios got very tiring, and it was like being forced to listen to a recording of Liberace doing his Czerny exercises.  Last night, however, something clicked for me.  I felt the enjoyment and pleasure in the piece.  After letting the memory of last night fade a bit more I’ll go back to the recording and see how I react now.

As an additional recognition of Adams, the Phil’s concert last weekend, including a performance Sunday at Orange County’s new Segerstrom Concert Hall, had Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Adams symphony, “Naive and Sentimental Music” (1999).  The first work on the program was Beethoven’s Second.  As Mark Swed pointed out, we’ve come a long way since a new piece of music had to be both fairly short and first on the program so that the real music lovers wouldn’t have themselves contaminated by this modern stuff.  I’d bet that since the Phil gave the premiere in 1999, the Adams symphony has been on more Philharmonic programs than any other work, possibly excepting “Rite of Spring”.

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The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has announced their 2007-2008 season. Do you realize that in one year Elliott Carter will be 100 years old? Wowza. To mark the occasion, CMS will present his five string quartets in January of 2008.. The season will also include works by Jennifer Higdon, Mario Davidovsky, Joan Tower (who is in residence with CMS), and the Benjamin Franklin. Well some people think that old five-movement string quartet is by him . . . Read here.

The following composers are up for Oscar next month: Gustavo Santaolalla (in the pic), Babel; Thomas Newman, The Good German; Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal; Javier Navarrete, Pan’s Labyrinth; Alexandre Desplat, The Queen.  (In comments, I’m going to go a little off topic about the Oscars.)

Our pal Brian Sacawa saw ‘Concrete’ last week. Check out his review.

Michael Gordon’s Decasia is getting another run this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Angel Orensanz Center for the Arts. Details here.

Things are quiet back here at the sweat shop. I feel a Composers Forum topic coming on though, so don’t get too comfy.

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The theoretically minded of you out there should be aware of the work of Dmitri Tymoczko. Tymoczko is a composer and teaches at Princeton. An active music theorist, his recent work develops geometric models for the mapping of musical space. His paper “The Geometry of Musical Chords” was published last fall in Science magazine; it was the first music theory paper the publication has accepted in its over one hundred years of existence.


In collaboration with colleagues in math and science, Tymoczko demonstrates in the paper the efficacy of orbifolds for mapping musical space. Orbifolds are multi-dimensional non-Euclidean shapes whose properties more or less resemble a metastasizing mobius strip. As a very simple example of geometric musical modeling – and the only one I’m really comfortable imparting – take an octave: the endpoints of an octave are both the same pitch class, but they really aren’t the same pitch; one “C,” say, is twice (or one-half) the frequency of the other. Talking a walk up or down an octave, you end up in the same – yet different – place. Geometrically, this is just like tracing a line around/inside/outside a mobius strip: you end up in the same place, but on the other side.

The headline of Tymoczko’s orbifold work is this: consonant sonorities tend to cluster around the center of an orbifold, whereas dissonant sonorities tend to occupy disparate points around the periphery. Such being this case, Tymoczko’s mappings offer a precise way of articulating musical impressions that often only find realization in nebulous emoting. His mappings also give renewed interest to the centuries-old discussion about music’s relationship to mathematics, and refresh conceptualization of the interplay between harmony and counterpoint.

But here’s the really fun part: Tymoczko has created a free computer program called ChordGeometries 1.1 that lets you futz around with different modes of geometrical modeling – including orbifolds. You can enter chords via a MIDI keyboard, or simply poke them out on the keyboard in the program!

Could this be the next internet craze? It’s certainly more interesting than “fling the cow.”

Back here at the ranch, you can read about Marc Mellits’s Paranoid Cheese and Jacob Sudol’s “success.”

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