Author Archive

No really. How?

And while we’re on the topic, what other composers have odd names that merit a refresher course from the more learned folks out there? There may be two valid ways of pronouncing a name, like Lutoslawski, so what’s your favorite?

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Last week I was having a horrible time with my “listening sessions.” Everything I heard was utter garbage. It’s enough that I spend about five minutes a day opening cellophane, just to be disappointed with what I hear.

There also seems to be a close relationship between bad cover art and the music such cover art contains. In addition to the artwork that is displayed on the front of the jacket, the inside rantings of the composer, really bad photographs of the composer in “artsy” poses, or attempting to be candid, along with just out-right ridiculous performer shots, makes me want to laugh and scream at the same time.

Some composers, I guess, feel that the more light-hearted and witty they can be in the program notes, the better the music will sound (?). Some are absurd and bizarre, boring narratives.

Here’s my advice to all of you producing your own recordings: Simple is always more effective. Be artsy, but tasteful. Don’t buy a disposable camera at Walmart and setup some still life in your bedroom with a clarinet and a flower vase. Don’t sit at your dinner table with your works spread out, have your wife take a “candid” pose and expect us to believe that you were caught in the act. If you’re going to pose: pose! Be real and, for God’s sake, hire a professional. When embarking on art work, keep it simple and professional. You are making a first impression, so at least give it the old college try.

Perhaps every composer should be required to take some visual art classes in college.

Am I being too superficial (no pun intended) or realistic?

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“Russian-born American composer Igor Stravinsky, in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), near St Petersburg, (Gregorian date: June 17); In the 19th century, the Julian calendar lagged behind the Gregorian by 12 days, and in the 20th century by 13 days; For most of the 20th century, Stravinsky chose to celebrate his birthday on June 18th, but “officially” it was celebrated on June 17th” – courtesy of Composer’s Datebook

My son is also celebrating a birthday today. The big ONE.


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Monday at 8pm (EST), Brave New World will feature three women composers who have, largely, been forgotten: Barbara Pentland (1912-2000), Johanna Beyer (1888-1944) and Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994).

My show usually focuses on living composers, but there are times when a retrospective is needed. In this case, I was persuaded by two CDs from Jerry Bowles for my “Lost and Found” column on this site.

You can hear Brave New World, every Monday at 8pm in Louisville, KY on 90.5 FM, or live on the web.

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According to, Joshua Bell has won the Avery Fisher Prize. The $75,000 is awarded at the whim of a committee when it feels an artist deserves it. Past winners include Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax, I assume also in the prime of their career at the time of the award.

In the CNN article Joshua Bell says, “I’m a violinist, first and foremost, but I do believe the people who are the most immortal are the composers. The man on the street, he knows who Beethoven is, he knows who Mozart is. And I’d like to compose.” When talking with the Associated Press, he fantacizes about conducting.

He has won two Grammys.

All of this raises several questions:

1. When will large endowements stop awarding loads of money to firmly established, and presumably wealthy artists, in favor of supporting rising stars who work three jobs and have student loans to pay off. (Realizing that, yes, there are organizations that already go that)

2. After all the fame and fortune, why would a super-star violinist want to dive into an isolating career as a composer?

3. To my knowledge only two news outlets have offered this story: CNN and the Washington Post, via the AP. Isn’t that a little strange, that CNN would cover a Classical award?

I hope Joshua Bell turns the dollars around and funds the education and instrument of some needy student.

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A recent commission from an organization in my hometown has turned into an unpleasant experience.  Hopefully this post can serve as a warning to rising composers.  The old pros will nod in agreement with what I’m about to say.

I received my first commission over a year ago from a local youth choir.  I belonged to the organization during high school, and knew the conductor who commissioned me from my days as a singer.  It was a friendly and trusting relationship from the beginning.

When time came to put together an agreement, I consulted several friends and professors, and most said to draft a contract that both parties would sign.  Because I thought the commissioner and I were friends, I didn’t bother with the “contract,” opting instead for a formal letter that I mailed to him, and to which he agreed to by email.

The premiere took place several weeks ago, and I still had not been paid.  My payment was due in December.  I was lied to on two occasions that “the check’s in the mail.”  Now I hear that the organization is nearly bankrupt.  The orchestral players and hall rental fees have been paid, but not the composer.

I should have created a very legal contract where both of us signed, because the chance that I head to small claims court to collect my fee is now very real.  Without the contract, I’ll have to gather up all our email correspondence that indicates his agreement to pay per the terms set out in my letter.

Moral of the story:  No matter how cozy you are with the performer/organization commissioning your work, have a very careful contract in place for both of you to sign.  Either request payment up front, or half at signing and half at completion.

I’ll let you know when I get my check.

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Apologies to Galen for diverting from his intended topic. I’ll start my own post based on the following paragraph from Galen’s post:

“Some pieces of “music” were even more conceptual, from La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 No. 10 “Draw a straight line and follow it,” which he would actually perform, drawing the aforementioned line in chalk on the floor, to Takehisa Kosugi’s Music for a Revolution which simply instructs “Scoop out one of your eyes 5 years from now and do the same with the other eye 5 years later.” I think we can safely assume that Music for a Revolution is still waiting for its premiere.”

Here are the comments:

Comment from Daniel | Edit comment
Time: January 30, 2007, 6:32 pm

I’m all for adventurous explorations in music, but the conceptual “music” in your paragraph regarding the chalk and pulling out your eyeball, strikes me less as music (I acknowledge your quotation marks around the word), and more as conceptual art. I think it’s important to make this distinction. Is it helpful to group a Mozart piano sonata and Takehisa Kosugi’s piece for eyeballs in the same artisitic category? Why not call it “conceptual art” (not music) and be done with it. Art is a much more forgiving umbrella than music. Sorry for diverting the subject matter.

Comment from Evan Johnson | Edit comment
Time: January 30, 2007, 7:34 pm

Is it helpful to group a Mozart piano sonata and Takehisa Kosugi’s piece for eyeballs in the same artisitic category?

Well, for one thing, doesn’t it make one think about Mozart a little bit differently?

Comment from Galen H. Brown | Edit comment
Time: January 30, 2007, 8:51 pm

Well, I don’t entirely disagree with you Daniel, but the relevant thing for the argument I’m preparing is that Young and Kosugi themselves called the pieces music. The fact that Compositon 1960 #7, widely considered one of the first Minimalist pieces, is part of the same series as Composition 1960 #10 is particularly relevant to Part II, which I why I brought it up here.

My position: Is it helpful to group a Mozart piano sonata and Takehisa Kosugi’s piece for eyeballs in the same artisitic category? Why not call it “conceptual art” (not music) and be done with it.

Response to Evan: No, I don’t think differently about Mozart. Nor do I listen to Mozart differently know being aware of this eyeball thing. Should I?

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At Jerry’s suggestion from the front page I’ll stir up the nest with several thoughts about composing and the composition world:

1. Length. On the front page an author refers to a relatively short work, at a little under twenty minutes. To me twenty minutes isn’t short, but not long either. It’s somewhere in between. Has our perspective changed over the past 100 years? Were Mozarts early symphonies, some lasting about ten minutes, considered long or short? Is a twenty minute orchestral work short and a twenty minute trio for violin, viola and cello long?

2. Similarly, have composers been writing pieces that are too long? Do we become so caught up in the “development” of a work, proving how clever and composer-like we can be, that we lose sight of what our “line” is saying (le grande ligne)?

3. Unsimilarly, how many of you include in your bios “internationally renowned,” “critically acclaimed,” “growing international (or national) reputation,” etc? If you do, why? Have we talked about the purpose of the bio yet on the CF?

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