Archive for the “Uncategorized” Category

Doubtless legions of Sequenza21 fans are crestfallen this morning. Being people of superior intellect, you were all hoping for a New England / New Orleans Super Bowl. Now we get the Bears and the Colts. In any case, Prince is the halftime show this year. Can you guess what young composer went on the record a few years ago saying “Nothing is better than Prince?”

Well, Bach is better than Prince–but that’s just me . . . 

Oh – something else that’s better than Prince: Ian Moss and his burly crew of choral composers are commandeering the Norwegian Seaman’s Church this coming Friday night. In addition to a New York premiere by Ian, C4 will be performing some new Scandinavian choral music by Egil Hovland and Victor Strandberg. Lutefisk at intermission.

Also you may want to tune in to David Letterman tonight. Members of new-music-friendly Brooklyn Philharmonic and their music director Michael Christie will be accompanying Nellie McKay. Way to go, gang!

(I hadn’t heard of Nellie McKay before receiving the Brooklyn Phil’s announcement yesterday.)

Back here at the Situation Room (where news is breaking all the time), Lawrence Dillon has a nice dispatch from the very honorable-sounding North Carolina Symphony; it seems they’re doing their bit for new music. And in the Composers Forum, A.C. Douglas is taking a beating. Care to join?

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Philippe Kocher (b. 1973 — Switzerland)

Philippe Kocher

Philippe Kocher studied piano, electroacoustic music and musicology in Zurich and more recently music theory and composition with Detlev Müller-Siemens at the Musikakademie Basel, where he graduated in June 2004. He spent the academic year 2004-05 in London at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was at the same time a student and a teaching assistant for electroacoustic composition and real-time digital audio programming (Max/MSP). His work encompasses pieces for instruments and voice with or without electronics, and his interest lies both in electronic and instrumental music. As means for sound and score synthesis, the computer has become his most important instrument in both fields. Philippe’s music has been performed both in Switzerland and world-wide (Berlin, Munich, Rome, London, Brussels, Bourges, New York, Boston) as well as being broadcast by Swiss and German radio stations.

I suppose a lot of Kocher’s music qualifies for the new-high-modernist moniker, but it’s much more appealing than that sounds, with lots of brilliant color and quirky asides. Head for the “Audio” link on the navigation, and you’ll find plenty to hear; Figuren Bewegungen (6 microtonally-tuned keyboards) or Il Niege au Soleil (solo violin, ensemble and electronics) are slightly more intimate starting-points, while the larger and longer die moderne Unruhe setzt ein (mixed choir, violin, violoncello, baritone saxophone, percussion, sampler and live electronics) is a much more ambitious place to dive in.

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Hey – don’t worry if you don’t have a great date to go to the movies with tonight: just stay home and tune in to modernism’s official goofball, Mauricio Kagel. UbuWeb is featuring a bunch of his films made between 1965 and 1983 all packed onto one zany page. These films are apparently rarely screened in the US, and one doubts they’re screened much anywhere else. So get cracking: Dreamgirls can wait, gosh darnit.

Have a good neo-Dada weekend.

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Buchwald.jpgThe picture was taken about 11 am on November 22, 1963 in the newsroom of The Parthenon, the student newspaper of Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.  The young man, barely recognizable to me today as a former version of myself, is interviewing Art Buchwald, his hero, for the paper.  A half hour later Buchwald was on his way to the airport for a flight back to Washington and an hour or so later John F. Kennedy was dead.  A couple of weeks after the tragic day, Buchwald wrote me a letter about the importance of not losing faith and going on despite the loss.   He knew the Kennedys well.  His loss was personal.  He had met me once.  He was one of the few people for whom the word great was not overly generous. 

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Right now — just maybe — on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio, there might be the broadcast premiere of a string piece by Arnold Schoenberg. Is this the big moment? Find out here. (Thank Glenn Freeman.)

Speaking of Arnie: yesterday I lugged a bigass score of Erwartung on the 2 train from Brooklyn College all the way to Borough Hall, then paraded it down Court Street. Crowds gathered to cheer my progress, women threw themselves at my feet, and a wine merchant presented me with a bottle of his best. Now I know how Schoenberg himself must have felt all those years!

Meantime, Jay Batzner is laying “devastation throughout the verdant countryside,” and Jacob Sudal has pictures. In the Composers Forum, so far the “nays” have it in the Great To Beam Across the Barline debate.

Oh — and for some reason I can’t post a comment to my previous post. Chris Becker, your answer is here.

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The description in the title is how Messiaen described a section of the piano part in the second movement of his great “Quartet for the End of Time” (1941).  Last night’s Philharmonic chamber concert in Disney Hall came as close as I can imagine to enabling me to see sounds.  It was a gorgeous performance by members of the Phil (with CalArts’ Vicki Ray as pianist).  I’ve only been to one other live performance, and of course it’s one of the Messiaen tracks on my iPod, but the sound of the performance made it seem as if I was hearing sections for the first time. 

Sunday’s concert by the Phil was the second program of the season to be recorded for release on iTunes, and it’s another “must have”.  Salonen began with Webern’s “Five Pieces for Orchestra” (1913), a delight for the ears as well as for the brain.  The first time I heard the work was in the sound-limited Dorothy Chandler in the program in which Mehta introduced the work to the Philharmonic audience and quieted the audience filing in for the second work on the program by saying that since the work was so short he could understand how some were sorry they had missed it, so he played the work again.  On Sunday’s concert Salonen then led a great performance of Mahler’s Seventh (1905).  I’m glad I’ll have the recording of that performance.

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Robert Ashley’s latest opera, Concrete, deals with the secrets of ordinary people who are accompanied by Ableton Live. It opens tonight. Steve Smith had a substantive piece in the Times a few days ago.

Lawrence Dillon likes the cold; go over and read some CD reviews; and I’m feeling beamy these days. Or should I?

Let’s hear it for winter!

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Jerry sent me a box load of CDs for review under the agreement that I will choose lesser-known composers. So a new column called “Lost and Found” is born, and will (hopefully) be an every-other week installment.

American Women: Modern Voices in Piano Music (self-published)

Nancy Boston, piano

In American Women: Modern Voices in Piano Music, Nancy Boston explores piano literature from American women composers, or less specifically American composers. The recording title could do without the introductory gender reference, despite Ms. Boston’s good intentions. The music featured here represents American composers, in the same way an all male recording (often the case) represents American composers. The fact that we call attention to the femininity of this collection doesn’t change our impressions, good or bad, of the notes.

The music on Modern Voices in Piano Music represents a style of writing on par with some of the great piano composers (Schumann, Chopin, Debussy, etc). From the character pieces of Nancy Bloomer Deussen (Two Pieces for Piano), Judith Lang Zaimont (Suite Impressions), Beth Anderson (September Swale), and Beata Moon (Piano Fantasy), to the larger sonatas of Nancy Galbraith and Emma Lou Diemer.

In each case, these fine composers have shown their ability to write for an instrument that can so often be treated poorly. On occasion the music was too “easy” for my taste, but I’m just another listener. Nancy Boston’s performances are convincing and inspired, partly due to her affinity for the “cause” of women composers. Let’s hope that music by women continues to be considered equal to their brethren through performers like Nancy Boston.

The Louisville Project (Arizona University Recordings 3127)

Richard Nunemaker, clarinet

Featuring: Andrea Levine, Dallas Tidwell, Timothy Zavadil, clarinets; The Louisville Quartet (Peter McHugh and Marcus Ratzenboeck, violins; Christian Frederickson, viola; Paul York, cello); Krista Wallace-Boaz, piano

Richard Nunemaker’s CD published by Arizona University Recordings presents works composed since 2000, and recorded (mostly) in Louisville during 2003. This recording is dedicated to the memory of M. William Karlins (1932-2005), one of the composers featured on the disc, and one who was present at the recording of one of his works.

Rothko Landscapes (2000) by Jody Rockmaker is meant to be a musical realization of Rothko paintings and utilizes quite a bit of extended techniques. Rockmaker’s use of visual allusions doesn’t impede or help the listener, as the music stands on its own.

Marc Satterwhite’s two offerings Clarinet Quintet(2002) and Las viudas de Calama (The widows of Calama) (2000) use the clarinet in a more melodic way than other works on this disc. The Clarinet Quintet, scored for string quartet and clarinet (B-flat and bass), is a compelling work with long phrases and a scoring that is always careful and delicate. Las viudas de Calama is based on a poem of Marjorie Agosin, a Chilean writer, describing the atrocities of the Pinochet regime in a city called Calama, situated in the Atacama Desert. Agosin’s chilling prose, which seems particularly relevant in light of the recent death of Pinochet, is translated into a work for bass clarinet and piano.

Karlins’ work is characterized by long phrases and soft dynamics, requiring skillful breathing and careful articulation. Just a Line from Chameleon makes proud of the fact that it is composed “in registers of the instrument that are difficult to control at a soft dynamic level.” Improvisation on “Lines Where Beauty Lingers” is based on a jazz tune by Ron Thomas.

Meira M. Warshauser pairs two bass clarinets against each other, describing tensions and commonalities (past and present) between the descendants of Ishmael (Palestinians) and Isaac (Israelis). The title Shevet Achim (Brothers Dwell) is taken from Psalm 133, v. 1 “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together as one.”

Michael Hersch Symphones Nos. 1 and 2  (Naxos 8.559281)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Marin Alsop

It is always an accomplishment to have an orchestral work performed. Greater still is to have that work performed and recorded by a leading orchestra and a conductor who is an avowed promoter of new music. Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have done so by recording four orchestral works by Michael Hersch (b. 1971) on the Naxos label, a company that never seizes to amaze in the risks they take.

Hersch’s Symphony No. 2 (2001) is a prime example of today’s typical orchestral composition: Sweeping crescendos, large chords filled with brass and percussion and punctuating gestures. Melodies are largely absent, and when they do appear, are short-lived, though not unskillful. The third movement offers a peek into a melody, one we could use more of. His first symphony from 1998 is an early, Second-Viennese-School-influenced work, with perhaps a few more tunes and weaker orchestrations.

Both Fracta (2002) and Arraché (2004) display a more “modern” style and, again, the kind of writing that appeals to the large orchestral sound. Arraché includes some fugal writing, and by implication melodies, though the modern clichés are never far off. Fracta is a reworking of an earlier chamber work, accompanied by a poem by Friedrich Hölderin.

Disasters of the Sun (Canadian Music Centre 11806)

Barbara Pentland, composer

Judith Frost, mezzo-soprano

Turning Point Ensemble

Owen Underhill

Barbara Pentland deserves a bit of introduction. Born in Winnipeg in 1912, Pentland began composing around age nine, but was plagued with bad health and strict parents, both which impeded her compositional growth and studies. While living in Paris, she was “allowed” to study composition, and did so under Vincent d’Indy. After returning to the North American continent, Pentland received a fellowship to study at Juilliard and studied with Copland in Berkshire. It was a trip to Darmstadt and exposure to Webern, through Dika Newlin, that turned her compositional voice from a style influenced by d’Indy to the post-serial style en vogue during the late 40’s and 50’s.

The works on this Canadian Music Centre release, represent works from the late 70’s to mid 80’s, and one work from her “early” period. The largest work (both in time and performing forces) is Disasters of the Sun (1977) for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble, based on a text of Dorothy Livesay (1909-1996), whom Pentland met in the 30’s. This is a dramatic work requiring thirty minutes of athleticism from the singer, and complex rhythmic counterpoint for the chamber orchestra. Commenta and Quintet for Piano and Strings, date from 1980-1981 and 1983, respectively. All three of the aforementioned compositions make generous use of extended and improvisatory techniques, but never stray from a lyrical writing, even if it’s rigid. The Octet for Winds is a neo-Classical work from 1948 composed while Pentland was at the MacDowell Colony (it was here where she met Dika Newlin), but begins to incorporate serial techniques (with a nod to Stravinsky). The Canadian Music Centre website (http://www.musiccentre.ca/) has a good biography, along with audio and score samples.

 

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Anyone who’s dabbled even casually with the music world knows it’s full of heartbreak, exhilaration, passion, and drama. A profession overstuffed with possibilities for storytellers in all media, it’s a wonder to me why more film directors, novelists, and playwrights don’t take the plunge.

But appearing today in bookstores across the fruited plain is Overture (Doubleday, $24.95), the debut novel by Yael Goldstein. Overture is about a famous violinist who also has a passion for composition. But her marriage to an acclaimed and revolutionary composer compels her to sacrifice her own composerly ambitions. (Alma Mahler, anyone?) Then to make matters even more complicated, she gives birth to a daughter who quickly shows talent for . . . composition.

Too many composers at the bench? You’ll just have to find out for yourself.

There are a few readings coming up around the country. Some even boast some (gasp) new music inspired by the book. Check them out in the comments.

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Five minutes before Elisabeth Lutyens appeared live on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Start the Week’ in 1979 she threatened to denounce Russell Harty as a ‘homosexual interviewer’ if he mentioned the phrase ‘lady composer'; thankfully Harty avoided using the words when the programme was on air. Lutyens was a larger than life personality who pioneered serial techniques in her unfairly neglected music. She was also well connected as my photo shows. For the full story, and a recommendation of a new CD of her music, click on Walking with Stravinsky.

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