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AFTER STANDARD PRACTICE by David Salvage
from page one)
Without a standard practice, it’s more difficult for composers to shock and surprise – as Beethoven did on numerous occasions. Undoubtedly, this has drained some of the vitality from concert-going and performance.
The composer today must start from the ground up as the old masters never had to. A contemporary composer, in the classical tradition, must create his own standard practice. He must establish more clearly his own territory so as to suggest what is “permitted” and “forbidden” within his realm. This is incumbent on the contemporary composer because, without a standard practice, there is no preconceived pool of connotation and etiquette which with to establish a dialogue, and it is this tension between the boundlessness of imagination and the regard (or disregard) for convention that produces the greatest music and the greatest art.
To be sure, shocking and surprising pieces still turn up. In his unforgettable composition, “Infinito Nero,” Salvatore Sciarrino creates the tightest, most austere “standard practice” imaginable. Then, about when you’re ready to pull your hair out, the singer and the piano let out a sudden shudder of text before disappearing back into the darkness. You spend the next few minutes terrified – waiting for Sciarrino to spring them on you again.
But perhaps “shock” is too strong a word for what I mean. Goodness knows every piece of music doesn’t need to be shocking. But shock is only a more extreme form of the phenomenon of novelty – something very much in evidence in contemporary music today, but, somehow, harder to perceive than ever.
In order to hear the novelty of a piece of contemporary music, an individual needs to be familiar with all kinds of styles. One must have at his fingertips a knowledge of minimalism, neo-Romanticism, and modernism to contextualize the achievements of a Reich, Corigliano, or Carter. Such knowledge is hard to come by, particularly if you don’t make your living in music. On the other hand, to register Beethoven’s achievement back in the early nineteenth century, one only had to be a regular in Vienna concert life, immersed in the standard practice of the time.
So, in the end, while people have more “choices” among contemporary composers, the music as a whole is likely to remain more remote, the audience with less of a sense of the particular achievement they just witnessed. The tension between imagination and convention must either be illustrated by a composer within a particular piece (as in “Infinito Nero”) or an audience must be well versed in a particular composer’s idiom before listening to a new work; what is de rigeur in Reich would be shocking in the midst of a piece by Carter and vice versa. But, if you weren’t familiar with these folks, the significance of the moment would be lost in the struggle with vast amounts of unfamiliar material.
But here’s the paradox.
In a world where composers have no standard practice to negotiate, where they are at liberty to write the music they want, where contemporaries speak very different musical languages – has the result been a waning esteem for artistic individuality? When everyone’s so different, is it not to the familiar that we turn with longing?
Perhaps I am idealizing the way audiences heard music in Beethoven’s time. But the dissolution of standard practice, I believe, has had serious consequences for composers and audiences alike; we are islands.
And yet – would we have it any other way? Would anyone chose to return to the 50s and 60s when serialism dominated and crushed the ambitions of composers who were not like-minded? Would a young composer rather go to Europe, where conservatories are far more strict about enforcing a particular style of music, when so many European students are arriving here like aesthetic refugees? Isn’t the best world the one in which we are all completely free to find ourselves?
If I were an aesthetic pragmatist, I would not have minded the musical disagreement mentioned above. That my friend thought the piece was beautiful and I thought it was cheap would have only been further evidence that people are different, they think differently, the truth changes, and all was right with the world. But I was being a stubborn idealist: there was something more at stake here.
I think my idealism came from the fact that I’ve been studying music for most of my life. The more you study something, the deeper your relationship with it becomes, and the more sensitized you become to its truth. Eventually, it becomes a source of truth you cannot live without. An astronomer must know the celestial motions of a newly encountered galaxy; a historian must uncover the mind-set of a society that lived centuries in the past; a philosopher must unravel the existential mysteries most people gloss over every day. And musicians? What is this truth we yearn to interact with? Is it to be found in how people receive it, or how the composer wrote it? Or are we supposed to connect one to the other?
thing is, you cannot express musical truth in words. If you could,
music itself would no longer need to exist, because it wouldn’t be the
most direct route to forming a relationship with this truth. Therefore,
music, and all the arts, are like religion in that their value rests on
faith. We cannot prove that God exists, just as I cannot prove to
you that music has truth. But I believe it in every bone of my body.
What’s more, the presence of this truth has little to do with whether I
like the music or not. I didn’t like the Du Fu piece, and it had
no truth for me. I don’t like Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, but I feel
there is something truthful in it nonetheless, something hidden I may be
able to tap into someday.
So I know what I should have said to my friend in the car. Instead of feeling doomed to yet another “Well I like it anyway!” conversation, I should have turned to her and said, “I am happy you like this piece, and I think it’s pretty, too. But does it strike you there’s much truth in it? It seems like the sort of music that could provide a lovely soundtrack to a pleasant daydream. Do you listen to music to daydream, or to enter a relationship with a truth greater than ourselves?”
know where I stand.
Within the larger context of silence-and-sound there exist other, more localized musical zero-grounds. Let¹s take harmony. The most basic, fundamental, and undeveloped sonority in music is the major triad. This is the first triad to appear in the overtone series and the one at which countless classical compositions come to rest. Because of this quality of stability, the major triad is said to be the most consonant triad in music and is the zero-ground of harmony. Over the centuries, however, composers developed new chords by altering major triads. These chords were more restless and harsh. These new chords, like diminished-seventh and augmented-sixth chords moved in ways that produced more tension. Music where these and other chords are present is more dissonant than music consisting of only major triads (of which there is virtually none). After dynamics, it is important to sensitize listeners to consonance and dissonance.
There¹s a zero-ground for rhythm, too. Steady, unchanging rhythm is rhythm at its most undeveloped and basic. An unbroken chain of eighth or sixteenth-notes, say, or an ostinato (a repeating musical figure) of steady quarter notes is a blank field that composers can manipulate to a greater or lesser extent. There is music in which the rhythm changes quite a lot and music of perpetual, unbroken rhythms. In pop-music, there is rarely much rhythmic variety. In classical (and jazz), there¹s quite a lot.
And tone color. A single instrument playing alone is like a pure, primary color (another aural aspect of zero-ground). Two different instruments playing together create a shade of that color. A composer can¹t really change the sound of a clarinet playing by itself, but when you have a bassoon, clarinet, and flute playing the same melody at the same time, you get a very interesting color. And classical composers have been enormously successful at creating different colors through the blending of instruments.
All this training can be done without recourse to technical jargon. What
students need to be aware of are the ways in which classical composers
have and continue to produce musical contrasts. Whether or not they
know the chord they¹re hearing is a half-diminished seventh is less
important than feeling its dissonant quality. Leave the nomenclature
Understanding Contemporary Music - Duane Harper Grant (continued from page one)
Compound meter; odd meter i.e, meter in 5, 7.9,13 etc., mixed or different meters within phrases and measures of music, odd groupings of notes, different simultaneous meters in a piece i.e. different instruments playing in different meters and tempos at the same time, pieces with no meter or with no specified length of duration for tones or measures; these are all practices now as common today as they were uncommon 75 years ago. And the envelope continues to push ever further outward. Sometimes even for the experienced listener, rhythm presents a special challenge to decode and understand. In the baroque and classical periods, for example, rhythmic variance was very limited. There were various meters, aka time signatures, There were different tempos then (which in this present epoch are an element of rhythm and meter that comes directly into play as far as variance goes) but meter was easy to detect and phrases were, if not completely even, at least extremely discernable.
The overall point here is that with the basic elemental musical blocks being radically restructured and even missing at times, is it any wonder that we will have a tough time reading the blueprint of much of the body of work of the last 50 or so years? One way through this question is to find out and try to understand the elements of music, the ideas and structures that have been introduced. We have to ask ourselves; how do we accept and negotiate the concept of change, as radical as it has been, as a constant in music and art and understand and grow with new language as it emerges. How will we know how to make sense of the unfamiliar?
All of the above questions again start to lead me to thinking about what became the driving force behind writing this article. That idea was, that the changing conceptual language (and practice) of music in this day and age is vast. It¹s strikingly different from what has gone before in its breath and depth. Not that there has never been radical thought and departure from ³norms² at all times in music history. There definitely have been. Some have been astounding, becoming virtual tectonic shifts in the musical landscape. For instance, when Stravinsky¹s Rites of Spring was first performed it caused an out and out riot. At the time that piece alone sent a shock wave through music and art culture and stirred the imaginations of many composers and listeners of an entire era and it still does. But at this point in time the scope of music and musical language is daunting to comprehend.
One thing I have thought about recently after reading the article by composer and writer David Salvage here on S/21 is about his thought that people really do not listen to music anymore and I would have to agree. It is not a common practice for anyone to just sit down and put on some music and just listen without distraction and interruption. The other premise is that people find it hard to listen to music without preconception and that the most enjoyable experience comes with hearing something that transcends our conceptual thinking and experience. If we listen to music without knowing what it ³is² we can still have a full and direct experience of relating to it. It can be like trying a dish of food without first knowing what it is. If someone told you ³hey, you¹re about to have eel or snake or something we might form a preconception of the experience and just say yuk! Certainly these ideas are interesting points in the argument about the accessibility of music. It seems that we need to know how to really listen with and open state of active wonder and acceptability without thinking to much (at least at first). We need to know how to be taken with things that we know nothing about.
The above being true, still true is that the thought of practice and concept or the practice of concept and thought or the concept of thought and practice - however we wish to construct the process of ideas this will also at some point probably be a part of our experience. We will start to think about and communicate our ideas.
one of this article is hopefully a start in understanding how we can go
about cultivating and developing our experience with contemporary music.
Part two of this article will explore some of the changing and new elements
of modern music and the language used to conceptualize and describe them.
As far as listening goes, part two will also have suggestions for some
pieces to start with. For now just listen with open ears and an open mind
and try to bypass the intellect. Getting to the place where we know how
we really relate to a particular piece it is a wonderful and rich experience.
Not all operas, however, are equally accessible. The listening list for a music appreciation course should always begin with the “easier” operas – like Rigoletto, The Magic Flute, and La Bohéme – and move to more “difficult” operas – like Tristan und Isolde and Wozzeck. Also, one must emphasize that classical composition is a living tradition. To this end, one should try to encounter post-1950 operas like The Devils of Loudon, Powder her Face, or A Streetcar Named Desire.
Then move on to programmatic music – pieces that follow stories, but not in the moment-to-moment fashion of an opera.
Rigoletto to Symphonie Fantastique is a short, but important, step.
The key difference between the two categories is that, in programmatic
music, one encounters music which only manifests psychological content.
Certainly some musical moments will directly refer to concrete events;
but the majority of the music will concern internal states of being.
It’s up to our faculties of aural perception and our imagination to make
sense of the music. No sets or costumes exist to give us visual cues.
We have only the story (or
Programs vary greatly, and this should be taken into account when choosing a listening list. Begin with works that literally tell stories, like the Symphonie Fantastique, or Beethoven’s Sixth. Then move on to works that center around images, like The Pines of Rome, or Debussy’s Nocturnes. Other pieces have philosophical programs, like The Unanswered Question, or Also Sprach Zarathustra. These pieces attempt to “musicalize” an idea or abstract principle of existence. There exists a surfeit of contemporary programmatic music, and programs are great ways to make intelligible the sometimes hard-to-understand decisions of modern composers.
Next, move on to those works without programs (absolute works) which are built on principles of sonata form. Why these? Because sonata forms have contrasting themes, and contrasting themes can be appreciated like contrasting characters. A sonata can be experienced as a “battle of the themes,” and thus it bears the imprint, if not the details, of drama. Mozart symphonies form the ideal starting point, but make sure you reach more adventurous pieces like Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra. By now, dissonance will not be such a problem, if the listening program has been chosen with care.
move on to absolute works that do not obey the sonata principle – those
that are not built on contrasting themes. Bach fugues, Josquin motets,
Minimalism – music where extra-musical elements can exert little pull over
the imagination. No drama is inherent in the music that can relate
the tones to real life. Here it is only the ear that is engaged,
and there is nothing but music to experience.
The percussionist, had a long section for cuica, an instrument rarely heard in concert and improvised a section using a diversity of instruments including the magical sounding Mark-tree, bowed suspended cymbal, woodblock, shakers, a talking drum and small tuned drums. Gary M. Schneider conducted energetically, as he did each of the three larger works.
The first half ended with "The Angel" from 1988 for soprano, string quartet, celeste, and harp, based on Hans Christian Andersen's 1844 story of the same name. The lyrics, by Anthony Calabrese, were appropriately childlike. Jessica Marsten, a sweet voiced soprano, brought this two and a half octave extended song to life. The elegant harpist Andre Tarantiles, Joseph Kubera, celeste and the Rubio String Quartet, assisted her.
The modal music included a section akin to an old-time hymn (perhaps appropriate to the Salvation Army), a fugue, and a lot of vocalise and music appropriate to angelic flying. Different areas of the singer's range and production were used to represent the various characters (the narrator, the angel, the angel when he was a child, and the girl) in similarity to the way Schubert's "ErlKing" functions. The story was full of Victorian sensibility and had to do with an angel taking a child and some flowers to heaven. The composer said, "It is a story about the interconnectedness of all our lives (the stories within the stories), about the simplicity of miracles and the complications of daily life, about the possibility of multiple realities and the reality of life after death or rebirth, and the rewards for a life bravely lived." Her understanding of the story enlarged its meaning and gave it a breadth of vision that touched this writer and more than a few members of the audience.
Andrew Bolotowsky opened the second half with "Flute Swale", performed on alto flute with obvious enjoyment. It included a lively fiddle tune, a smoky, jazzy section, an Irish tune in which the flute implied its own harp, a section in which the flute implied its own drum accompaniment, and various cutups of the music that began earlier in the work than in most of the other swales.
This was followed by "January Swale" and "March Swale", the final two string quartets on the program. "January" began with a short modernistic theme that was repeated in retrograde at the end of the work and included a disjunct minor section, and a small children's theme that reappeared later on in the piece in cut up form. "March" had an interesting string effect that created the sense of the wind blowing through the piece. It included a variety of rhythmic dance musics as though March were a month of exuberance.
The 1997 "Piano Concerto" closed the evening in style. It was performed by soloist Joseph Kubera, a renowned interpreter of contemporary music, along with string quartet, string bass (Darren Campbell), and percussion. Rozenblatt's showy marimba and drum set performance competed with Kubera's piano performance almost to the point of it becoming a duo concertant. It was a very American sounding work that grew out of the composer's experiences as a pianist including rock, gospel, ballet accompaniment, classical piano recitals and concerto performances. These influences and the resulting four sections cut into each other creating a rich tapestry of exquisite craftsmanship and fun. The "Piano Concerto" demonstrated especially well that Beth Anderson has developed a unique and authentic voice.
A CD of the music on this concert will be released on New World CDs in 2004. Pogus Productions just released a CD of Beth's text-sound, graphic, electro-acoustic, and electronic music from the 1970's entitled PEACHY KEEN-O. Her orchestral compositions, "Minnesota Swale" and "Revel" are available from Opus One, "Trio:dream in d" (for violin, cello and piano) and "Net Work" (for piano solo) were released on North/South Consonance, "September Swale" (for mandolin and guitar) is on Antes/Bella Musica, and "Lullaby" (for voice and piano) was released in 2002 on Capstone. The Rubio's new live recording of the complete Shostakovich quartets was released on Brilliant Records in January 2003.
Anderson's publishers are Antes/Bella Music in Germany, Recital Music in England and E.M.I/Joshua Corporation. For more details, see her web site.
Sharf is a singer and is just finishing her Ph.D. this month at New York
University. This review was commissioned and published first in Musical
(Continued from page one--Interview with Stephan Micus)
But the fact is that they are able to express very deep and profound sounds more so than these highly sophisticated instruments that are the classical instruments of Europe and the western cultures. Of course you can not play in every key and chromatic scales are not possible but a single note on these primitive African harps is much more interesting and touching than the single note of a Western harp. It's quite an interesting phenomenon. And the same thing is true for all these instruments like one of my favorite instruments is the Japanese bamboo flute (shakuhachi) which is also extremely simple in a way. It has only 5 holes and it's just basically a piece of bamboo and they cut the edge where the mouth piece is and they put a little bit of color on the tube and that's it. But it's able to produce, for my feeling, much, much more interesting sounds than the classical western flute which is super sophisticated. So I have always had an attraction to these simple, original, meaning closer to the origin, instruments [more] than these so developed western instruments and of course it never interested me [to use] any electronic instruments.
S/21: The flute, the Japanese bamboo flute that you use a lot as part of your musical pallet, is used in Zen meditation [and] in some of [the] traditional aspects of that culture. In your music one of the aspects that I've noticed over the years is that there is an element of, I would say, [a] meditative, contemplative even sometimes hypnotic quality that lends itself to stillness and introspection a lot; not all of the time, but this is a [quality] of your compositions that I find present in some of your work.
SM: Well, there has never been any conscious decision on my part to make any contemplative or meditative music. The music that you hear on my albums is simply the kind of music which I like to play and which kind of came out of me and I have never made any effort to make it quiet orŠ It simply naturally happened in this way.
S/21: But you must get this comment from time to time.
SM: Yes, I get this comment from many you know and I'm not practicing any religion or meditations. You know this is music which naturally seems to be the music that I like to make and what I like to listen to myself. I mean all I can say is that all my life I've lived in the countryside never in the city. I have a very strong relationship with nature and maybe this has influenced me in this way. My music, I would say, if I had lived in the cities, would be quite different. And then of course you could ask why was there always this very strong desire to live in the countryside. There again, this has been definitely, always a very conscious decision for me. I mean I could never live in the city. So I think it's all these things; [that it] somehow seems like we come in the world with some pre-disposition [in] our [personality] somehow. This seems to somehow be something that maybe is already divined at the moment of our birth in so many ways; I don't know. Nobody knows about this. But certainly I have never followed any conscious decisions or fashions or trends. I have never been part of this so call new age movement.
S/21: No, that's not what I get from listening to your music. It is, to use a catchword, much deeper than that. It goes beyond any kind of packaging or any kind of formulaic approach to presenting a certain kind of musical idiom. And that is very interesting in that respect.
As an artist this is also about discovering your passions. Part of your passions along these roads has been mixing cultures by way of sounds and rhythms and you do it so seamlessly. You are kind of expanding the possibilities of the musical pallet and at the same time shrinking the world by bringing worlds together. Then you take them to your own place. I just can't believe how many instruments you have discovered and learned. Tell us a little about this and the idea of mixing culture and sounds.
SM: It has always been, for me, a very fascinating idea for example, to play instruments together for the first time. It's quite exciting too do. For example, I have made compositions for Japanese flute, Bavarian zither and Balinese xylophone or other compositions have Indian bowed instruments with Siberian wind instruments and, well, there are all kinds of new combinations and for me it is very interesting to create this kind of new orchestra(s). And I imagine people if they would be in a room and play this music together; it is very fascinating work. Of course it is, in a way, a very contemporary phenomena to work like this because [it is] only since not to long ago that we [are able to] observe our planet in this way; that we can travel as we can now a days. It was an interesting thought I had the other day that actually this work that I am doing is only possible in my lifetime. It's not possible before and also not possible after because before it was impossible to have traveled as I have and after some years all these traditions will have disappeared you know. In the years that I have been doing this work many, many instruments and many traditional forms of music have forever disappeared. And it's possible that in another 20 years it [will not be] possible to do the studies that I do. I was thinking about this the other day and it struck me very strongly that there [have been] only 50 years in all our history that this kind of thing was possible to [do]. So even though I use very ancient instruments some how I see my work as being contemporary. Some people might think; well, there this guy is with his strange museum of freak instruments and he is kind of a person that has no connection with what is going on today. But I would quite [disagree with] that. I think that this is really something of exactly today and as I said before that it was not possible before and in some years it will not be possible any more.
S/21: That's a very interesting [point]. I had not thought of that either.
SM: It came to me only recently but it's definitely true, you know. Because in my travels these days you can find traditional music in [some] places only in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.
S/21: That's amazing and it's tragic.
SM: I sometimes [see] a parallel. It was also a very impressive thing for me to read that I think every other day a species of animal or plant ceases to exist. It disappears from the earth. And I can't remember the exact figure but it was outrageous. And the same thing happens to musical instruments. I would say that every 3 to 5 months one musical instrument disappears from the earth and that has happened already. So many musical instruments are gone forever. It is very sad in a way.
S/21: I also heard, along these lines recently, that we are also loosing languages too. Languages are becoming extinct around the world.
SM: And of course all kinds of knowledge, traditional knowledge and peculiar ways of living. Everything is getting very uniform.
S/21: Homogenized, westernized.
SM: Yea, westernized.
S/21: It's not necessarily the best way to go. Towards technology etc.
SM: Definitely. One aspect of my work which I feel is important is that I try to show that these instruments are far from being like museum pieces. That it's possible to make modern and contemporary music with these ancient instruments and that there are many things to be discovered about them and that they have great value in our lives. I'm not so optimistic that [my work] has a lot of influence but I'm trying to demonstrate that these instruments are able to produce very modern and interesting sounds much more interesting than electronic instruments. In a very, very small way I hope that it slows down this process.
S/21: I was wondering if you have ever kept a travel log or maybe thought of writing a book.
No, I never take a camera or make any notes. I don't trust words too much.
This is maybe the privilege of the musicians because they try to communicate
in a language which is far deeper than words. So it seems not so interesting
[to me] to create things with words if you are able to create things with
As the Szpilmans are being crammed onto the train, one of the hated Jewish
police--the Ordnungsdienst—grabs Wladyslaw by the collar, yanks
him out of the throng and refuses to let him through to rejoin his family
on the journey to death. The man is a music lover who admires Szpilman’s
talent. Over the next couple of years, he continues to avoid death,
surviving against all odds, often half-starved and usually alone, hidden
in obscure corners of bombed, burned or empty buildings, intermittently
helped by Polish friends risking their own lives to bring him food or find
him shelter: helping a Jew automatically brought a death sentence.
In a strange twist, one of the Poles who helps him is the new husband of
a cello player he had once been in love with. The film handles their
reunion with honest understatement and resignation. What does romance
matter in a world gone this mad, it seems to say.
Adams Transmigration (continued from page one)
The piece begins quietly with taped sounds of the city—the sounds of wind, faint traffic, distant voices, but mostly wind—a rustling of restless souls, one might say if one believed in that sort of thing. The word “Missing” is repeated mantra-like several times.
Some victims names are read solemnly while the strings enter playing soft parallel chords that become increasingly agitated as they spread across the woodwinds and brass. The New York Choral Artists and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus exchange texts constructed from a collection of short phrases Adams found on missing-person posters and memorials near the site. Simple words like “Remember” and “My wife” take on a tragic grandeur as the orchestra grows louder and more agitated.
There is no harmony here, few minimalist gestures, just a steady advance of orchestra chords stacked on top of each other, increasingly dissonant and loud, unbearably tense, a gut-wrenching procession that seems to last forever, reaching a crescendo with both choruses singing at the tops of their lungs “Light,” “Light,” “Light” before the orchestra sputters off into exhaustion and the background tape abruptly ends. The piece is about 30 minutes long but I don’t recall taking a single breath and the knot in my stomach was still there the next morning.
This is not music to which widows and children will ever turn for comfort. No one will play it for pleasure the way they play the Faure Requiem. Adams is too much the artist to deal with the banalities of specific grief or narrative (his words, not mine www.newyorkphilharmonic.org/adams/interview.cfm), too uncompromising to offer easy solace, too tough-minded to offer answers to questions for which there are no answers. The result is a work that is easy to admire but difficult to love.
of course, one is the kind of restless contrary soul that just likes to
kick dust in the eyes of politicians who want to exploit someone else's
tragedy for their own ends.
Neither is de Rocher (John Packard reprising the role from SF) portrayed as an incarnation of evil. He is charming, intelligent, and well-spoken, but psychologically abused by life, and deadly. His mother’s character (Sheryl Woods) provides another strong role, that of a woman who knows her son is guilty but wants to remember him as an innocent and generous child. The pacing is cinematic but utterly convincing—two acts in two and half hours that sweep by quickly and keep you riveted to your seat.
In the end, there is a sort of redemption as De Rocher confesses to Sister Helen that he is guilty and apologizes to the parents of the slain kids. What makes his change of heart so powerful and so convincing is that he confesses not out of some fear of God’s mythical wrath but out of love for Sister Helen. There is a refreshing absence of Jesus mumbo jumbo with the resulting conclusion that what is important is the love that people show to each other on earth in the here and now and not some Disney version of eternity in the sky.
Heggie has a wonderful ability to draw from all styles of American music—gospel, country, even Elvis Presley-style rock n’ roll—but always in just the right amount—never heavy-handed or trite. He is also brilliant at invoking mood, attitudes, places. The rap against Heggie is that his music is too melodious, too easy to like, too informed by good taste. I’m not sure this is a valid criticism; it’s okay for composers to suffer for their art but I’m not convinced they are required to make audiences suffer too before they can be taken seriously.
Like all Death Row dramas, this one has a built-in denouement, as De Rocher is strapped into his chair and the functionaries go about the brutally banal business of preparing him to die. Wisely, both Heggie and McNally go nearly silent at this point. The emphasis shifts immediately to the sub-text that has been lurking all evening—is it morally right to take a life to avenge a life? Most Americans think so and, as a result, we have become the capital punishment capital of the world. Bullied by the prospect of being seen as “weak on crime,” callow politicians—like our current President—trample over themselves to violate the first commandment of the God they so vigorously believe in on their side.
personal response to that is this: You can be for the death penalty
but only if you’re willing to go to the state penitentiary, talk to the
inmate, meet his family, walk with him into the cold sterile room and with
your own hands trigger the death mechanism. If you can do that, you’ve
earned the right. If you can’t, then shut the fuck up.
In true schizoid fashion, this music can appear in many guises as it does in the five works by Kitty Brazelton featured on this disc which range from an experimental duo for the unlikely combination of cello and alto sax, to a multi-movement suite for a standard classical brass quintet, which is ultimately unlike anything else in the brass quintet literature.
Brazelton composed Come Spring! for the Manhattan Brass Quintet in 1996 after MBQ hornist Greg Evans, while subbing in Brazelton's Dadadah, asked her what her "serious" music was like. In response she created a work that somehow blends ingredients from Morton Feldman, James Brown, Howard Hanson, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin and even Elliott Carter into a sound world entirely her own.
In Brazelton's description of the "riff-centric" first movement, Dogwood Petals & Hormones, she ponders: "Why doesn't the rock world recognize a wall of brass is as hormonal as a Marshall stack?" "Dogwood Petals & Hormones" is an exuberant challenge to that question featuring the brass instruments in contours that run the gamut from psychedelic trip-out harmonic ambiguity to heavy metal unison blaring.
The "groove-centric" tri-partite second movement, Miles Through an Open Window, begins with an intense extended-technique French horn solo called "what you think you might be hearing," which Brazelton, in characteristic polyglot fashion, describes as a "funk haiku" in the score. It leads directly into "when you were sure it WAS what you heard" in which short polyrhythmic bursts from the other four brass players come across as a West African tuned drum ensemble against the wailing of the horn, which Brazelton in the score, requests to sound like a "snare drum." In the concluding section, "hearing it again later in your mind," the horn and tuba are actually literally transformed into percussion instruments: the players are instructed to quietly tap their nails on the resonant part of their instruments' bells.
The "voice-centric" third movement Harmonic Fable, which is also tri-partite, merges a bebop-like riff with a majestic contrapuntal setting of the Gregorian hymn "Pange Lingua." Lest we become misled by this sudden incursion of medieval spirituality, Brazelton, a self-described "21st-century infidel," labels the three inner sections "animism," "the rise of the church" and "we shoot the moon and return to our keen animal state."
Brazelton describes the "party-centric" final movement, First Second Seder at the Knitting Factory as "a rave-up in the truly punky attitude of NYC." The title is a reference to the Manhattan alternative music club originally located on Houston Street, between SoHo and the East Village. In 1994-96, club owner Michael Dorf threw annual "Second Seder" feasts for the musician community who helped tear down the walls that divided various genres of music throughout the 20th century. The movement combines jazz-like improvisation with strictly notated polyrhythms culminating in a euphoric group scream (MBQ's idea).
R, completed in its current incarnation in 1998, has gone through multiple compositional transformations. The original idea dates back to a 1987 MIDI computer improvisation sounding like "stream-of-consciousness run-on sentences." After Brazelton played it for the lead guitarist of her then band Hide The Babies, he was mystified since it was unlike any of the tightly-scripted three-minute ABABCBBB rock songs she had been writing. Seven years later, Brazelton morphed the piece into a Serenade for Viola, Guitar and Bongos premiered by Jay Kauffman at Roulette with Gregor Kitzis and Steven Swartz in 1994. After the premiere, still unsatisfied, Brazelton doubled some of the voicings in the score adding a double-bass to deepen the guitar and a textless vocal line, which she sings on the present recording, making the viola melody (played on a five-string violin by Lyris Hung for this recording) more haunting and mysterious. The result comes across as a bizarre half-dreamed lullaby, halfway between the magic realism of Claude Vivier and surreal exotica of Yma Sumac.
Sonar Como Una Tromba Larga (To Sound Like a Great Waterspout) for trombone and tape (1998) was created expressly for the multifaceted Chris Washburne, a founding member of Brazelton's Dadadah, whose musical passions include Latin jazz and complex microtonal contemporary scores. As a result, this musical answer to what would happen if a Vulcan mind-meld were performed on Mario Davidovsky and Willie Colón is filled with quarter-tones, angular phrases, glissandos, squeals and salsa-like rhythms. The tape part was created at the Columbia University Computer Music Center from the sounds of Chris playing the trombone as well as his in-between playing commentary and even the sound of his breathing (which is electronically transformed into an extraordinarily beautiful chordal sequence at the very beginning of the piece). The result is a four-dimensional sonic portrait of Washburne, one of today's most vital musicians.
The title Called Out Ol' Texas (1994) is an anagram for "alto sax cello duet." Created for another Dadadah-an, saxophonist Danny Weiss, to "prove that these two instruments and their performance practices could co-exist in the New World," Called Out Ol' Texas is the most conceptually-oriented piece included on this disc. Based on four core interactive visual models—a circle pierced by a ray, a figure in a square ground, interlocking angles, and homogeneous and heterogeneous lines—the score uses George Crumb-like experimental notation arranged visually rather than traditionally on the page to encourage an intuitive approach that aurally conveys those four visual images. The resulting "comprov," a term Brazelton borrowed from composer and friend Butch Morris, whose music blurs the line between composition and improvisation, is an exciting interplay of contrasting ideas enhanced by the unusual timbral combination of cello and saxophone.
Sonata for the Inner Ear, a three-movement octet composed in 1999 for the Los Angeles-based totalist music ensemble California EAR Unit and premiered by them at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, is a deconstructive homage to classical sonata form. Brazelton describes the work, scored for flute, bass clarinet, violin, cello, marimba, expanded drum set and two keyboardists performing on piano, electric organ and sampler, as a "triptych offering a trilateral view of a large oceanic instrumental group as it makes its way through the musical plankton or micro-nutrients of two musical motives." The three movements—Exposition, Development and Recapitulation "can be played in sequence with or without pauses or separately as stand-alone pieces."
Exposition begins with a Bartókian theme initially played by the flute that grows into ensemble polyrhythms. A frenetic chain of sextuplets dissolves into a concertino-like piano passage evocatively described in the score as "rabbit ragtime" which eventually ushers in a quadruple-forte metrically-shifting organum, the bridge and energy center of the entire movement. A quiet jazz-like bass clarinet emerges as a second theme only to be interrupted by cascading descending sequences from the entire ensemble at full blast, drawing the movement to a riveting conclusion.
Development incorporates semi-improvised solos by each of the players in various instrumental combinations. Opening with an unaccompanied drum set improvisation, the tension then shifts for a violin improvisation with a fully-notated accompaniment from the drum set and the keyboards followed by an accompanied bass clarinet improvisation introducing the cello and marimba. An electric organ improv, reminiscent of Procol Harem and other late '60s proto-prog rock bands dissolves into a "rabbit ragtime" piano cadenza homage to the late jazz pianist Don Pullen. Two short fugues surround an intense unison run between the marimba and drum set that ought to move fans of the Mahavishnu Orchestra to the edges of their seats. A mostly-notated cello solo filled with agitated multi-stops is ultimately succeeded by a peaceful flute solo embellished with improvised whistletones.
Recapitulation opens with an improvised solo for sampler featuring samples drawn from the California EAR Unit's out-takes, which creates a historical portrait of the group. The remainder of the movement, following true sonata form, reintroduces the themes established in the Exposition but slightly altered. Comments in the score—such as "Mislead your audience: cross the wrong bridge—or is it?"—reveal the fun Kitty Brazelton must have had composing this.
Philip Glass has said that while in the past you'd always know what to expect from a so-called "new music" concert, nowadays anything is possible. In the new "new music," the infectious pulses of minimalism are reconciled with the angularities of serialism, the rigors of old-fashioned counterpoint co-exist with the spontaneity of improvisation and indeterminacy, and the catchy tunes and grooves of rock are woven into a musical language that is too unsettling to be dismissed as crossover. This is the music of post-post-modernism where elements from different sources are no longer pitted against each other to create new contexts, but rather where elements from different sources are absorbed as equally valid parameters within a new, larger musical thesaurus. Kitty Brazelton's music is essential to defining our 21st-century lexicon.
Frank J. Oteri is a New York-based composer and the editor of NewMusicBox, the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award-winning Web magazine from the American Music Centerhttp://www.sequenza21.com/www.newmusicbox.org
The next piece, Duplex for violin and cello, is remarkable in that at times, many times, you think that you are actually listening to a string quartet. The sonorities and harmonies are impressive and seem to suggest the involvement of other instruments. The dynamic range is broad and used by Nordheim to great effect. Beautiful counterpoint and counter motion of the two instrumental lines appear many times throughout the piece's three parts. These divergent lines come in many forms, both rhythmic and melodic. Just the dynamic capabilities of Herresthal and cellist Oystein Sonstad together here are worth the price of admission.
The final piece, Partita for Paul, was written by Nordheim as a commission for the occasion of the exhibition 'Paul Klee and Music'. Five of Klee's works are the gist of the subject matter and form the five parts of this opus. Nordheim takes his inspiration from the visual aspects of Klee's art as well as the meaning and implication of the titles. The sonorities and lines of the solo violin are at times meditative and at times celestial and ethereal using the effect of a tape recorder and delay in the last two segments. With the last two parts of The Partita for Paul the cycle of the cd is complete in that going back to the first piece makes perfect sense.
I am in awe of the music and the musicianship on this cd. Here one hears brilliant compositions by Nordheim and incredible demonstrative and devastating virtuosity by Peter Herresthal.
A strong recommendation
and a good cd for the person who is somewhat afraid to try contemporary
music. Further proof that good music is just good music.
--Duane Harper Grant
by Duane Harper Grant
Austrian composer HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!! is a piece that defies and challenges categorization. Is it a song cycle, theater, a series of musical vignettes, farce. It's hard to say. I think this is as it should be. One just has to take it for what the composer says it is: Pan-Demonium. But yes, it is spoken word with music, (the text is taken from H.C. Artmann's collection of modern children's rhymes), performed on this occasion—as it frequently is—by the composer himself.
Still, some audience members seemed a little baffled. Maybe it was the whirling Styrofoam hoses being whipped about by the orchestra or the paper bags blown up and popped by the percussionist (it was, after all percussion wasn't it) or maybe it was HK Gruber's on-stage antics (which at times could seem a little over the top), or his gazoo riffings into rhapsodic Hungarian Gypsy music. One got the sense of innocent concert goers ready for an evening of serious Viennese music getting ambushed by, well, Frankenstein!!
Some of the comments that I heard during the interval and post concert had that sentiment. "Well, that was interesting." was heard a few times. "I really don't know what to say," a friend of mine said to me with a very quizzical look on her face. "That was the strangest piece I think I've ever heard." Perhaps, it is a strange piece to find programmed with the serious Mahler Fifth to follow. But maybe it was the perfect foil. And maybe a bit of fun is in order, at times, for such serious undertakings (no pun intended).
This was a reunion of sorts for Gruber and conductor Simon Rattle, who led the Philadelphia Orchestra in this performance at Carnegie Hall. Rattle premiered the work in 1978 with The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Since then, Frankenstein!! has been performed nearly 1,000 times around the world.
Musically, his quirkiness and musical defiance aside, Gruber shows a deft hand in the skills of creating program and theme music that are witty, engaging and complement the text and scenes. His ideas are musically very interesting and sophisticated yet very accessible. He seamlessly incorporates rhythmic sophistication with meter changes and many elements of different genres of rhythm. He has a brilliant knack for thematic creation and development. Which leads one to think; hey, move over John Williams and Hans Zimmer.
A solid and articulate orchestrator, Gruber also composes "serious" chamber and symphonic works. He is best known in this vein for his concertos. His cello concerto for cello and ensemble of 14 was performed in Weill Hall on Monday evening.
Ahh yes, Frankenstein!!? Don't be afraid. This monster may make you chuckle, but he won't hurt you.
For Glass, who had performed frequently in poetry/music collaborations with Ginsberg during the last decade of the poet’s life, the symphony is a way of the closing a chapter of his life. The best known of their collaborations is Hydrogen Jukebox, an evening length "opera" which the pair presented in over 30 cities as part of an international tour. They had planned to create a new, major collaboration based on Plutonium Ode and before he died in 1997, Ginsberg had made several recordings of the poem in preparation for the new work. At that time, Glass says, he had in mind simply an extended piano work to accompany Ginsberg in live performance.
“I put aside the project in 1997, feeling that I wouldn't want to go ahead without Allen,” Glass says. “A few years past and the commission of a new symphony from Carnegie Hall and the Brucknerhaus Linz reawakened my interest in the project. I felt, then, that Plutonium Ode was unfinished business between Allen and myself and this would be the opportunity to complete it. By then, the piano music I had originally imagined had grown to a full orchestra and Allen's resonant speaking voice to a lyric soprano.”
Like the poem, the symphony is in three parts. Part one, called “What new element…” is a passionate outcry against nuclear contamination and pollution, the second, “The Bard surveys Plutonian history” takes a turn towards healing, and the final movement, “This Ode to You O Poets,” is an epiphany arrived at through personal transformation.
To bring Ginsberg’s words to life, Glass chose the great soprano Lauren Flanigan, who is—in my view, anyway--the only good reason to keep the New York City Opera alive. She is an incredibly gifted singer and actress and in a just world Dawn Upshaw would be her maid. But, of course, the Met singers get the big contracts. Dennis Russell Davies and the American Composers Orchestra are practically the Glass house band and it showed in the rock solid support they gave to Flanigan’s passionate reading.
Although Glass’s compositional devices have become so familiar that they sometimes invite parody, the Sixth Symphony manages to sound fresh and inventive. It is passionate and restrained, angry and thoughtful, and has about it not a little sense of loss—the loss of a friend, perhaps, or the loss of innocence, or the sense of having reached the point in one’s life when one realizes that the major theme has shifted from hope to loss, and the eventual peace that one makes with that sense of finality. It is one of those rare works where substance wins out over Glass’s formidable style.
Alas, the same cannot be said about the opening half of the program which was the U.S. premiere of three Glass pieces called Passages written in collaboration with Ravi Shankar in 1989. All three were pleasant enough and given a distinctive edge by guest artists, the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, but, ultimately, they were cut and paste Glass.
The composer himself took a bow at the end of the program, looking extremely fit for a man his age and possessing a full-head of impossibly black hair. But, then, who among those of us of a certain age does not look to Clairol for a little help in these matters nowadays?
societies governed by individuals with musical taste more evolved than
Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, a major new work and a birthday
by the nation’s most influential composer might be a minor state occasion—a
reception at the Palais or a dinner at Downing Street, but, alas, this
is George Bush’s America and administration officials were apparently too
occupied with the business of draping naked statues and drawing up
plans to invade whatever Virgin Islands we don’t own already to even send
a note so poor Glass had to make do with a sold-out concert at that most
venerable of rental halls on West 57th Street. Let’s hope that by
the time he hits 70, there will be somebody in office who realizes what
a national treasure we have here and will give him the party he deserves.
Sex and Female Musicians Or Babes in Boyland
by Jerry Bowles
Can a woman be both
sexy and serious? It’s a question that seem to be vexing not only
CNN, which a couple of weeks ago quickly withdrew an “unauthorized” promo
ad portraying its morning news reader, Paula Zahn, as “sexy," but
also the world of classical music where it has now become commonplace for
album covers and publicity shots of women performers to focus on assets
that have nothing to do with musical talent. From the dreadful “Bond” and
“Vanessa Mae” to the quite competent “Eroica Trio” and the fashionably
kinky Ahn sisters, to incredibly talented and beautiful Anne-Sophie Mutter,
desperate classical marketers has learned that sex sells. Recent
Hillary Hahn and Leila Josefowicz album covers veer dangerously close to
running off the Lolita exit of the Humbert Humbert Expressway.
Which is not to suggest that marketing has anything to do with the founding of the Beata Moon Ensemble, a new all-gal band dedicated to the promotion of women composers, conductors, and performers, which makes its debut Columbia’s Miller Theatre on February 22. Led by the pretty-darn-cute Korean-American composer and performer Beata Moon, the group will perform works by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Tania Leon, Julia Wolfe, Anne LeBaron, Beata Moon and Elena Kats Chernin.
I think it’s a great
idea. The work of women composers is certainly underrepresented on
the programs of every music organization in the world. Whatever it
takes to get an audience to turn out to hear that music is good.
New York Journal
By Duane Harper Grant
One of the surprise "classical" bestsellers on Amazon.com these days--right up there with Charlotte Church and Sarah Brighman and Bach for Babies--is Terry Riley's famous, if seldom heard, 1964 opus, In C, widely acknowledged as the wellspring of the Minimalist movement. This new version from Bang on a Can makes the case for this notion of musical history quite persuasively. This work seems to have laid the groundwork for a then radical new concept in musical form based on interlocking and repetitive patterns changing along a continuum now known as Minimalism. Its impact has been nothing less than to change the course of 20th century music. It greatly influenced and inspired the prominent minimalist composers of the day like Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams and its influence did not stop there. The ripples spread into the waters of rock and experimental music in the 60's and 70's. The Who, Soft Machine, Tangerine Dream, Curved Air and computer sequenced compositions all were influenced by the ideas and gestures in Riley's In C.
So in my thinking, playing and recording “In C” is sort of a celebratory thing—kind of like playing Alice's Restaurant on Thanksgiving—a reminder of where and who we have been before. It celebrates and acknowledges that one can make a difference and that one seemingly small idea and gesture can have great and lasting effects. (Steve Reich alluded to that sentiment in one of his pieces “Proverb”. The meditation set forth is “How Small a Thought it Takes to Fill a Whole Life”. Just as the intrinsic idea and gesture of a musical element in a composition can generate and shape other ideas and on and on.
The Bang on a Can collective--with its own very unique and very cool record label, Cantaloupe Records--carries on this celebratory spirit and maybe even takes it to some places further out that surprise and inspire. This recording (which was live and remarkably well recorded and mixed) and this particular take and instrumental combination (it's an open score and can use as many and as many different instruments as desired) features the Bang on a Can All-stars and their unique chamber rock instrumentation augmented with other mallet instruments, mandolin, soprano sax, violin, and Chinese pipa. To me the strengths of this offering are more about subtleties and urbaneness. In this recording the trance like rhythms and repetitions are realized even more by the dynamic lyricism of an intuitive ensemble. It is altogether a very lyrical piece and this ensemble brings this to the fore. The moods ebb and flow and a dialogue is created in its inner workings. Indeed this narrative draws the listener more and more into the textures, timbers and subtleties of the piece and into its spirit of celebration.
Put it high on your list. There aren't many recordings available of this minimalist masterpiece, and this one is probably the best.
The Adams Chronicles
These are troubling times for Americans who care about civil liberties. Our government has detained at least 1,200 people without telling us who they are, where they are being held, or what they might be suspected of doing. Our precariously-selected President has issued a directive that allows non-citizens to be tried, convicted, and executed by military tribunals—without the public ever knowing why. Our attorney-general says it's alright to eavesdrop on attorney-client conversations. The President's press secretary warns people to "be careful of what they do and say," then takes back part of it, although he keeps his fingers crossed.
Our vice president—who many suspect is the real President--is living in an undisclosed cave in southern West Virginia, running the war in Afghanistan and directing the pursuit of the administration's "stimulus package"--a baldfaced corporate welfare raid on the Treasury that will leave the public coffers empty for decades. His wife is keeping busy with something called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative group that keeps a list of "unpatriotic" things said by academics. What sort of things? Here are two examples from the ACTA's own web site: "If Osama bin Laden is confirmed to be behind the attacks, the United States should bring him before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity" and "Ignorance breeds hate."
The public—apparently convinced that these repressive un-American measures apply only to swarthy brown men named Omar or Mohammed—appears to be solidly behind the restrictions of liberty. Fearful of being accused of a lack of patriotism, the Democrats have completely surrendered to the Administration's sleazy use of an enormous national tragedy to advance a mean-spirited little domestic agenda designed to roll back 50 years of history and start again with Ozzie and Harriet.
All of which makes the Boston Symphony Orchestra decision to drop from its schedule three choruses from John Adams "The Death of Klinghoffer" so much sadder and more dangerous. The orchestra had planned to play the Klinghoffer pieces this week and next but decided to replace them with Copland's Symphony No. 1. Given the current mood of its audiences in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the orchestra said in a statement, it decided to "err on the side of being sensitive." After receiving a regretful letter from the orchestra that contained bromides about how great music can be a solace in times of trouble, Adams went public with his rage and told the BSO what to do with its solace. And, of course, he's right to be enraged.
True, the opera has been controversial since it premiered in Brussels in 1991, shortly after the Gulf War ended. The story is about the 1984 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists and their eventual murdering of one of the passengers, a retired, wheelchair-bound American Jew named Leon Klinghoffer. Alice Goodman's libretto is disturbing for many because in her text, she gives voice to the sufferings of both Jews and Palestinians. The words of the Exiled Palestinians that open the opera are to some listeners not a simple statement of fact, but rather a provocation.
My father's house was razed
But, for audiences that hang on after the beginning,, the opera is remarkably nuanced and well-balanced in its treatment of both the Jewish and Palestinian perspectives in its attempt to fairly portray the social and economic issues that underlie the conflict.
And whether it's fair or not is really beside the point—art and music are not created just to make people feel good. If they did, three quarters of the world's masterpieces would not exist. Great music and drama and literature allow us to experience the world in ways that are new and surprising and different from our previous perspective. They are transforming.
By canceling the Klinghoffer
concert, the Boston Symphony Orchestra missed a rare opportunity to engage
the larger community in a valuable debate around issues that are directly
affecting our lives today and allowed the forces of intolerance to triumph
On Finding Kurtag
Gyorgy Kurtag “found himself” in and around 1959 after returning to Budapest from France where the process of self-exploration and discovery had started. On the way he had a further personal and artistic transformation in Cologne, hearing Stockhausen’s Gruppen and Ligeti’s electronic compositions. He realized that he was a contemporary central European composer of Hungarian descent--but part of a larger context. In his words: “I began a new life with my (string quartet) opus 1.”
In a sense that work is the centerpiece of this ECM recording and serves to centralize and focus on another of its important aspects; the performance by the Keller String Quartet.
This is music to really listen to. Having it on in the background or for passing glances will greatly detract from its beauty.
form and many shapes; connected by
and very personal; almost austere but
counterpoint and understated lines, dark and curious chords
Ninth Symphony And The Creative Rights of Artists
reasonable people have no trouble with the idea that authors do not necessarily
embody the same beliefs or prejudices as the characters they create.
Iago and Falstaff are not nice guys but nobody boycotts Shakespeare's plays--or
Verdi's operas--for the things they do or say. Without villains, there
can be no heroes.
Unfortunately, this view is currently unpopular in Washington where a number of the sanctified--like the vice president's wife--stepped forward to condemn his music and the judgment of the brave, if porcine, Sir Elton John, who had agreed to sing with him. All of which guaranteed, of course, that the duet would be watched by millions.
The second was at the U.S. premiere of Hans Werner Henze's epic Ninth Symphony, a seven-movement, 55-minute work of fierce remembrance for huge orchestra and mixed choir, clearly--if not explicitly--dedicated to the memory of the OTHER great victims of Hitler's war, the ones we don't hear much about in America--the communists and socialists who tried to stop the march of fascism in places like Spain and Italy before it was too late.
Played and sung passionately by the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Radio Choir, led by Kurt Masur, with whom the work surely resonated, it is a harrowing account of darkness and fear and evil in which Henze uses all of his powers of music and theatre to capture the tragedy of war for individuals. As a work of art, it most resembles Lena Wertmuller's film "Seven Beauties" in dramatic reach and approximation of genuine horror.
In his book, Music and Politics (1982), Henze had summed up the essence of the time: “No one who had not gone through it would ever believe it. It was a time of utter lawlessness, terror, fear. The tragedy of fascism left its mark on every individual, either as a source of despair or of resistance and hope. And the Germans showed their worst side. One got to know hatred, deception, betrayal, racism, the loss of human dignity.”
Like Eminem, Henze is no stranger to controversy--largely because of his individualism and refusal to play musical politics. Few would dispute his modernist credentials but at a performance of Nachtstucke und Arien in 1958, three of the most prominent personalities in postwar music stalked out of the auditorium. Boulez, Stockhausen and Nono apparently thought they heard a "folk" melody.
Ten years later, Henze wrote an oratorio called "The Raft of Medusa" in honor of Che Guevara. When the work was to be premiered, students hung a portrait of Che on the podium. The organizers tore it down, so the students replaced it with a red flag. Riot police were called, the librettist was arrested, audience members were beaten up. Eminem and his posse would have been proud.
For the Ninth Symphony, the poet Hans-Ulrich Treichel created a libretto inspired by the wartime novel Das siebte Kreuz (“The Seventh Cross”), by Anna Seghers (the pseudonym of Netty Radvanyi) who had settled in East Berlin, where her social-realist fiction earned her a Stalin Prize. In a note affixed to the symphony’s score, Treichel provides a comment that doubles as a sort of plot summary:
Anna Seghers’ novel . . . tells the story of an escape attempt. Seven prisoners escape from a concentration camp and are sentenced to death by crucifixion. Six of the escaped prisoners are recaptured, but one of them gets away, and the seventh cross from which he was to hang is left empty. He manages to board a ship that delivers him out of the country.
The symphony’s emotional high point is its sixth movement, “Nighttime in the Cathedral,” a shattering 17-minute expanse of terror, in which the escapee hides in a cathedral, only to find there is no spiritual solace to be had in this "sanctuary." He is surrounded by the chattering of the dead--represented by the choir--and an organ sounds creepy, dissonant notes that that magnify the terror of the darkened church. Twelve members of the chorus moved to the third-level rear of Avery Fisher Hall to sing separately from the rest of the ensemble, portraying the martyrs and saints memorialized in the cathedral’s gallery. The movement’s focus alternates between the fugitive, seized by mounting panic and delirium, and the ghosts of the dead, who sometimes sing sweetly in the distance and sometimes converse in whispers. Henze appears to be saying, how can anyone believe in God in the face of such monumental horror. The choir sings:
died for us, you saved us.
bad that Mr. Bush, Mrs. Cheney, Ralph Reed and other newly resurgent guardians
of America's morality don't pay any attention to serious modern music.
If they did, Henze could be at least as famous as Eminem. --JB
The Shape of Things...and Things to Come
Many of our friends and colleagues--as no doubt many of you--wince at the term “contemporary classical music”. Many of us even wonder just what is it we are talking about when we use that term or others like “new music” or “contemporary music”. And then there are all of the sub divisions; “accessible contemporary classical” (yikes!), “chamber rock”, “serious music” (yikes again), “free improvisational music”. And just where does one genre begin and another leave off? Is all this worth talking about anyway? It’s just superimposed categorization and philosophical wrangling about a subject that so far has attempted to resist any commonality with itself or anything else. Things, it seems, are constantly in a state of flux and change and nobody wants to be grouped into any school or movement, even if they seemed to have started it.
So what does all this mean? If you’ve got any insights or answers please, jump right in here.
Meanwhile, another ping on this particular sonar occurred this last Saturday night in New York City at The Church of the Holy Apostles.
The event was called Coming From Us. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it was music by Constance Cooper, a New York-based composer. The reason I say that is because even Ms. Cooper would say that it was not entirely her “own” music. She designed it that way. Interesting food for thought. Much of it was written down but much of it, in various means and ways, was not.
“Coming From Us is a book of ensemble string pieces. It employs seven instruments of the incredible violin octet (http://www.sequenza21.com/www.violinfamily.org) that Carlen Hutchins built using the construction principals of the violin. Every piece in the book makes the performer a co-generator of the music’s fundamental pitches and rhythm, hence the works title”.
Cooper says the music of Coming From Us, comes from the microtonal music that she has heard in her head since childhood. “To generate the microtonal content I have replaced familiar intervals with microtonal intervals generated by the unique size and width of each players hand.
Cooper also attempts and achieves in other ways to link improvisation and the player’s physical and emotional reactions to her written out score. The player often encounters words such as “unmetered”, unsynchronized”, appropriate” and irregular.
To link Cooper’s compositions even more to the concept of improvisation, the evening’s works also employed the “Improvisational” ensemble First Avenue. They would do an improvised “reaction” to a piece after it was played or would “improvise along” combining with parts or all of the violin ensemble profoundly linking those to often separated worlds.
of the violin ensemble:
First Ave is: Matt Sullivan – oboe, english horn, electronics; William Kannar – contrabass, electronics, computer and C. Bryan Rulon – piano, synthesizer, computer.
So, what in the world is one to call this music? Good question! Any takers? Any thoughts?
several things came to mind as I was listening to the music and as I was
--Duane Harper Grant
Once in a while, sometimes a very long while, a work comes along that has the ability to elevate and transport the human soul and upon the first listening bypasses one's intellect and critical ear and goes straight to that provocative place where it all comes together; human emotions, the spirit and life force as it is, both seen and unseen and a profoundly romantic sense that somehow this all exists in some beautiful and unfathomable poem somewhere, mostly hidden. But, one catches glimpses of its beauty and its connection with some kind of divine purpose.
Such a work is Arvo Part’s Te Dium, the title piece of the ECM New Series disk 1505 released in 1993. Not exactly current events I know but I had never heard it until two months ago when I came across it one rainy afternoon during a stay at my cousin’s in London. The recording, done in the beautiful setting of Lohjan Kirko Finland, brilliantly captures the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Tonu Kalijuste.
Using a concept akin to the early music practice of placing different sections of a choir throughout a cavernous church, the piece creates and accentuates a unique counterpoint and call and response. Each phrase seems to occupy its own galaxy combining to form this ever changing and evolving universe of intrigue and wonder that captures a listener like the heavens capture a star gazer. It is counterpoint, counter-phrase and counter-theme, using the notes and more importantly, the spaces in-between them to great effect.
There is also the orchestra’s presence in this mix. It enters like a soul beginning to stir, waking up, quickening, questioning; “where do I go next? What do I do? It stops to listen. The answers come. The scenario evolves. Where will this quest finally lead?
The pieces on the cd also include two solemn and reflective works: Silouans Song, for chamber orchestra and Magnificat for accapella choir. It ends with the Berliner Messe, a mass in a traditional setting with the distinct touch of Mr. Part.
All in all a very beautiful and moving recording in my very humble opinion.
--Duane Harper Grant
If it is true that nice guys finish last, you wouldn't have suspected it at the end of an evening called Classic Ellington at Carnegie Hall when my friend and neighbor Luther Henderson, the venerable 81-year-old orchestrator/ arranger finally got his moment in the sun.
by a beaming Sir Simon Rattle and such jazz luminaries as Joe Lovano, Bobby
Watson, Wycliffe Gordon, Regina Carter, Dianne Reeves, and Clark Terry,
Luther looked both pleased and slightly
are the unsung heroes of the music business--the people who dress up other
people's melodies for their walk in the sun. Try to imagine Frank
Sinatra's version of "Night and Day" or "I've Got You Under My Skin" without
the Nelson Riddle arrangements. Take a "Sleigh Ride"
As one of the first handful of African- Americans to attend Juilliard and arrive in the business classically trained, Luther's arrangements have always been a kind of bridge between European- centric written music and the more folky, oral, improvisational traditions of jazz.
His best work--"Ain't Misbehavin'
and "Jelly's Last Jam"--captured perfectly the musical genius of Fats Waller
and Jelly Roll Morton and extended their music into corners of the world
that it might
As a young man, Luther became close friends and partnered on a number of projects with Ellington's alter ego Billy Strayhorn, who wrote many of the songs that are now most associated with Ellington (like Take the 'A' Train" and "Lush Life," for example) and discovered first hand that the Duke was not good about sharing credit. In 1955, the Ellington band was scheduled to make its debut performing with a symphony orchestra, The Symphony of the Air, at Carnegie Hall. Ellington engaged Luther to re-orchestrate a few extended works for the occasion — "Harlem," "New World A-Comin'" and "Night Creature." Having been warned by Strayhorn, Luther asked for a credit and Ellington said "Sure, sure." When the posters went up, Luther rushed over to Carnegie Hall to see his name in print. It wasn't there.
So the Carnegie Hall evening must have been sweet revenge, indeed--for both Luther and for his long-deceased friend Sweetpea, whose compositions dominated the first half of the program. Just goes to show, as the Fatman liked to say that: "One never knows, do one?"