We’ve got the New York Woodwind Quintet in residence this weekend. They’re playing a new piece called Metallaxis by Evis Sammoutis, a twenty-seven-year-old Greek composer and guitarist now living in England. Sammoutis has won a bunch of prizes at an early age, so I’m very curious. Apparently Metallaxis is a fiesta of extended techniques.
Another piece I’ll be interested in hearing is a quintet by Pavel Haas, the promising young Czech composer whose life was cut short in Auschwitz.

I’m looking forward to meeting the quintet musicians, each of whom I’ve admired for a long while: Carol Wincenc, flute; Stephen Taylor, oboe; Charles Neidich, clarinet; Marc Goldberg, bassoon; William Purvis, horn. As soon as I finish typing, I’m off to the airport to pick up three of them.

Meanwhile, on the homefront, our orchestra spent two-and-a-half hours this week rehearsing and recording a new piece by Felix Ventouras, a student of mine. The piece is called Murder, Hope of Woman, after an early 20th-century play by the Austrian expressionist Oskar Kokoschka. The play is histrionic and nightmarish; the music is appropriately vivid.

And on Thursday night, another student of mine, James Stewart, gave a recital of his music. James has extraordinarily diverse skills: besides composing, he conducted one piece and sang another. Each piece had its fine points, but there were two in particular that deserve mention. The Cry, for guitar and mezzo, set the words “I am hungry, mama,” in several dozen languages from around the world. The piece begins with settings in the languages most distant from English, gradually working its way into European languages, concluding with a plaintive, whispered setting of the words in English. The music is lovely, and the concept is a haunting reminder that hunger knows no political boundaries.

The other piece was Perfectly American, which weaves together the actual words of George Bush, both Clintons, and other prominent political figures to point out their subtle inconsistencies and blatant hypocrisies. The piece is both funny and disturbing, and James sang it with gusto.

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