Archive for December, 2005

The end of 2005 marks the conclusion of the first year of this blog, which has certainly taught me a lot about new music and the world, in the process taking me on an infinite number of curves. That makes it an inescapably appropriate time for the ubiquitous nostalgic assessment of the twelve months gone by.

January – Blog launched on January 2nd.

February – premiere of Revenant for Horn and Orchestra, with David Jolley as the soloist and yours truly conducting and writing the review.

March – Trip to Russia to hear the St. Petersburg Chamber Symphony perform my music and teach a seminar to students at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Reports here, here, here, here, here and here.

AprilHosting the Da Capo Chamber Players.

May – In Paris for the premiere of What Happened: reports here, here, here, here, here and here.

JuneRevisions, Revisions.

July – A chance to reflect on the composer’s role in society

August – Stephen James Dillon arrives, a bit late, much like his father in many ways. He’ll probably have his own blog going before long — his first word was “google.”

September – The 2005-06 NCSA’s Composers Forum begins, with fascinating discussions about cultural significance.

OctoberOpen Dream Ensemble takes off from here, here, and here.

November – Students report on the creative process in dance, drama, filmmaking and visual arts.

December – A summary of the year gone by.

It’s been a fun year for me here at S21. Here’s wishing you all a peaceful and productive 2006.

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I’ve shared pictures of the Open Dream Ensemble working in the public schools; now I finally have shots of a performance. Again, these are 10 classically trained actors, dancers, designers and musicians who are combining and crossed-breeding their talents to create vivid, seamless works of performance art.

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My wife and I have made friends with an Austrian archeologist, taking her to some of the many concerts we attend.

She confessed recently that she was having to revise her opinion of new music, which she thought she didn’t like, because now she’s heard a number of new pieces that she liked a lot.

My wife asked her what new music she didn’t like.

“Well, you know, Arnold Schoenberg.”

“But Schoenberg’s not new – he is over 130 years old!”

“Well, I guess I never got past him.”

This speaks to some of the recent commentary on the S21 front page – the assumption that new has to mean “way out there,” when new should more logically mean “as close to who we are at this moment as possible.”

I love Schoenberg’s music, but I don’t ever experience it as sounding new – it sounds completely of its time and place, which is very different from the time and place I live in. Same is true of 1950s aleatoricism, 1970s minimalism, 1990s hip-hop.

It’s difficult to have perspective on what is old and what is new in music for some reason, so for kicks I like to compare it to film. Schoenberg is older than Charlie Chaplin. Does anyone consider Chaplin new?

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Ken Frazelle has a delightful tone of voice he uses from time to time, in asides – it’s a murmuring monotone, an understatement that signifies volumes.

That tone of voice came to me a few nights ago as we celebrated Ken’s 50th birthday with an evening of his music. It’s wonderful to hear a subtle tone of voice become a defining aspect of an artistic language. Ken has a knack for introducing ideas in the most unassuming ways – a note, repeated, blossoms into a brief, hesitant figure, which grows like a fruited vine spreading over an entire landscape.

This kind of genesis was in evidence throughout the evening – in the cello sonata he wrote for Yo Yo Ma, the enormous flute concerto he wrote for Paula Robison, excerpts from the Bill T. Jones dance piece Still/Here, and a new work Ken premiered at the piano: Inventions to Marden.

This was my first opportunity to hear the Still music of Still/Here, the multimedia work about terminal illness, much of it created by AIDS patients, which became notorious in the mid-90s when Arlene Croce, the dance critic for New Yorker magazine, wrote about her refusal to attend a performance, saying, “I can’t review someone I feel sorry for or hopeless about.”

The music, written for Odetta to sing with the Lark String Quartet and percussionist Bill Finizio, is certainly over the top. Which is to be expected – you can’t set lines like “Slash, poison or burn/Almost like burying a child/A part of me has died” with anything less than your most electrifying stuff.

By way of tribute to mark the occasion, Ken’s friends and admirers — who thronged Watson Hall beyond capacity, so that extra chairs had to be set up in the back — pitched in over $40,000 to create a Kenneth Frazelle Endowed Scholarship in Composition at the North Carolina School of the Arts. How magnificent that a little new music, like a murmured aside, can elicit a generosity of response that will benefit young composers for generations to come.

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This story comes courtesy of Joseph Kalichstein.

After a concert on which Leon Kirchner had a new work premiered, the proverbial little old lady came up to him with a question.

“Young man, did you have all of that music in your head?”

“Well, yes.”

“Oy vey, it must have felt so good to get it out!”

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Those of us who were lucky enough to be brought up in creative environments were always told “it doesn’t matter what other people think of you, it’s what you think of yourself.”

Beautiful message to give a child, especially as the child enters adolescence and is faced with all of the stresses an adolescent lives through on a daily basis.

Once we reach adulthood, though, it’s worth reassessing that maxim. As Kundera has pointed out, we can think anything we want about ourselves, good or bad. The moment a thought of ours sparks a connection in someone else’s mind, though, is a magical one, an occurrence that is nearly impossible to explain.

I once heard a great woodwind pedagogue say, “Music should be exciting, not excited.” What does this mean? Simply this: it’s easy for a musician – composer or performer – to get excited about what s/he is doing. It’s far more difficult — and far more profound, and far more necessary — to capture someone else’s imagination, to be exciting.

Hitting both targets — yourself, and the engaged listener – that’s the biggest challenge of them all.

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