Archive for August, 2005

Browsing through the artsjournal, I came across their annual music critics’ blog… The subject of the discussion was why there aren’t any BIG ideas in new music these days. Why does this sound like advertising executive talk? What’s the next big thing that’s going to sell? Actually, it is understandable that critics look for ways to understand the scene as a whole, but they are faced with a deconstruction process. Maybe the new style is Deconstructivism or simply No Style.

Due to the end of stylistic dominance – see my blog on the subject, archives 3-27-05, the critics are wondering whether there is actually nothing happening.

Fortunately, Kyle Gann is on the offensive with his discography list:

Thanks to him, its under 100 members are now officially ghettoized as downtown composers even though their individual styles are widely different, and the categories such as minimalism, post-minimalism and totalism are somewhat blurred. However, this visibility is still questioned by everyone else, and most of us are still nowhere on the real map of classical music. We also suffer from age discrimination, since many of us are baby-boomers, as if hipness were a matter of age …. But there is a good reason why baby-boomers became composers: they went through the sixties revolution at an early age. One of the results of this cultural revolution was to systematically question any given school of thought. Other generations may not have produced so many composers, and so many who do not belong to an existing establishment. Especially for women at that time, entering the traditionally male-dominated field of composing and was an active political statement as well as a musical one. Male or female, we are not easy to categorize, which means composers should be discovered solely on the basis of their own music, and even in relation to their earlier/later works, because styles are not necessarily consistent even for one single composer. We are actually making use of our freedom of expression.

Which means, maybe the new big idea is, STYLE IS OUT. We just went through 20 years of cross-culturalism and cross-pollination with virtually all the musical styles available worldwide. Under this climate, how can one expect a single dominant style to emerge? It is possible that composers are no longer interested in the idea of style! Has it occurred to anyone that style may be a thing of the past? To return to my women’s fashion metaphor (see my article Skirting the Post Classic Stretch published in New Music Box in November 2004, now available at, we don’t all have to wear mini-skirts. At one time, all women wore the same skirt length, but now, each and every woman has the freedom to choose her length. And every composer has the same freedom to choose not to follow any particular style but concoct one’s own. Moreover, the composer has the freedom to not follow his or her previous styles and to reinvent the next piece.

Corporations use style for conservative purposes: they require that their employees follow a dress code, which is an infringement on personal freedom – a small sacrifice to make in exchange for a paycheck. By looking for unified style in new music, one is acting like a corporation trying to update its dress code. The problem is, dress codes are out. Do people on the streets of New York follow a dress code? Take a look for yourself.

Besides, the reason why new ideas aren’t coming through is that the creative and original composers are not being presented by the institutions because of a pervasive ‘fear of new music’, and therefore no one can be exposed to their new, wonderful, horrible, or whatever ideas, and we are in a vicious circle. The conservatism of the presenters and the inadequacy of music programming, especially of pieces by women, have succeeded at preventing new ideas from coming to the fore; the true creators are in fact collectively shut out.

For further clarification and information purposes, I compiled the names on Kyle Gann’s abbreviated discography. I sorted them alphabetically by first names because we are – or should be – on first name basis.

Allison Cameron
Art Jarvinen
Beata Moon
Ben Neill
Bernadette Speach
Beth Anderson
Bill Alves
Carl Stone
Charlemagne Palestine
Charles Smith
Daniel Goode
Daniel Lentz
David Borden
David First
Doctor Nerve (Nick Didkovsky’s ensemble)
Eliane Radigue
Ellen Fullman
Elodie Lauten
Eve Beglarian
Gavin Bryars
Giovanni Sollima
Glenn Branca
Guy Klucevsek
Hans Otte
Ingram Marshall
James Sellars
James Tenney
Janice Giteck
Jean Hasse
Jim Fox
John Coolidge Adams
John Luther Adams
John McGuire
John Myer’s Blastula
Jon Gibson
Jonathan Kramer
Joseph Koykkar
Kevin Volans
Kyle Gann
Larry Polansky
Lois V Vierk
M. C. Maguire
Maggi Payne
Mary Ellen Childs
Mary Jane Leach
Michael Byron
Michael Jon Fink
Mikel Rouse
Paul Lansky
Paul Sturm
Phil Kline
Phil Winsor
Philip Corner
Phill Niblock
Rhys Chatham
Richard Maxfield
Sasha Matson
Stephen Scott
Tom Johnson
Tony Conrad
Wayne Siegel

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The Howl Festival, taking place August 23-28, features Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed this year… as well as Penny Arcade, a downtown classic. It’s funny how lately big names appear in what used to be modest downtown venues – Meredith Monk at Joe’s Pub a while back…Why aren’t these people getting better gigs? Another sign of the times, I guess… Either that, or downtown has become IT.

The Save CBGBs Festival is a not to miss with band names like World Inferno, Fearless Vampire Killers, Final Conflict, Electric Frankenstein, Dead Boys, Cheetah Chrome, Battallion of Saints.

Two Boots is featureing a new horror film named Chaos by David de Fulco. How appropriate a title.

Meanwhile, perusing the Village Voice, I noticed Kool Cigarettes are sponsoring a so-called New Jazz Philosophy Tour with names like The Roots, Floetry, De La Soul, Busta Rhimes, Miri Ben Ari… I don’t know about you but I have never heard of these people in jazz. Is this really jazz or well-marketed jazzed-up pop?

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The upcoming season (2005-2006) at the Miller Theater of Columbia University offers a mixed bag of classical, jazz and contemporary music.

I really like the Composer Portraits series, focusing each concert on one composer. This type of event that is very much needed, as one can’t really understand someone’s music based on a 4-10 minute piece mixed in with other people’s music, but the upcoming series is not as exciting as it was last year – there are no women on the program, and less living composers. Duly noted is the introduction of South African composer Bongani Ndodana on January 20; the Frederic Rzewski program on October 20; the program on Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg on March 24; and of course John Adams, who is everywhere these days, on December 3.

The chamber music program features a U.S. premiere by Shoko Shida and a New York premiere by Philip Glass, Six Pieces from Les Enfants Terribles (the name is misspelled on the program, trust my French, this is after the work of Jean Cocteau), on October 6 – unfortunately this is the same day the Brooklyn Academy of Music presents the new 90-minute Orion, performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble, October 6-8. The other chamber music premiere at Miller is a sextet by Charles Wuorinen on December 6.

A Bach in Context program presents old battleships such as Brandenburg Concertos and the Well-Tempered Clavier, but there is nothing in the program regarding the pitch and temperament at which these works are played. I am not sure whether a true Bach aficionado wants to hear yet another version of the Well-Tempered Clavier played on a piano, not a harpsichord, and without any tuning specifications. I take this opportunity to clarify an often-misunderstood notion about Bach’s relation to tuning. You may have been taught that Bach invented equal temperament – a tuning in which each of the 12 semi-tones in the scale is equal to 100 cents. This is actually inexact, and even if your professor told you so, it is wrong. I even found this error in an otherwise excellent ear training program by David Lucas Burge. Bach and his contemporaries Werckmeister and Kirnberger experimented with tunings so that all the various keys could be played in tune, which was not the case with earlier tunings such as Pythagorean and Mean Tone. Bach used the new tunings developed by Werckmeister and Kirnberger, and if you experience them for yourself, you will find they are actually superior to equal temperament (which came much later), because the intervals are closer to natural harmonics, subtly prettier and more satisfying, while they do not sound ‘out of tune’ to the untrained ear at all, as just intonation might. In addition, the reference pitch used by Bach and his contemporaries was much lower, around A at 415 Hz instead of 440 Hz. These are important aspects of the music that should no longer be ignored, especially when the pieces are staples.

I really hope that the Miller Theater to attract younger audiences by expanding its Composer Portraits program, which is one of the best concepts on the scene, and will make an effort to include women composers every year.

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Some people use blogging as a way to vent any kind of frustration, and if this outlet functions as a kitchen-sink form of healing (throw it all in there), it tends to use the readers as a bouncing device. But as blogging is an exercise in our newfound freedom of expression, I hesitate to recommend any kind of limit on what to say.

The question is, what does the blog accomplish? Is it simply a selfish, egotistical tool of power or revenge, or is it a way to serve the music community by providing positive, creative ideas?

Blogging etiquette is very much up to the blogger. My own etiquette, as I am an essentially ethical individual, is to avoid causing harm by what I say, which means that I will not criticize my colleagues, or praise my friends just because they are my friends – because I am not the most objective in that situation. If I mention someone else in the blog, I make sure they are aware of it by exchanging a few emails or calls with them before hand and fully approve of what is being quoted.

I also make an effort to check my facts and not print anything that is misinformed or misspelled.

There is nothing else, beyond these simple rules, to censor the chit chat.

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Once upon a time, Carnegie Hall was the either apex of someone’s career, or a highly desirable debut – but the excitement has somewhat faded the late 20th century, since anyone with a budget can buy themselves a debut at Carnegie Recital Hall. However, with the general renovation and the construction of Zankel Hall, Carnegie is kindling an old flame.

My friend Bobby tells a story about Zankel Hall… He went there to hear a John Cage piece where the performers are to react to a happening in the space… and during one of those quiet moments, when the performers stopped, waiting for a chance event as a cue, the faint rumble of the subway filled the silence and ebbed, and they resumed the piece. In New York, short of complete soundproofing, we have to accept extraneous noise as part of music. When I first started composing, I used to add noise soundtracks to all my pieces because that’s how I heard them, always mixed in with some unrelated noise that my keen ear would detect, no matter how soft.

The program for Carnegie Hall’s upcoming 2005-06 season reads like a Balzac novel, enhanced by 70s retro Polaroids, mostly of of the performers, more rarely the composers.. Overall, the quantity and variety of programs is simply amazing.

The following is a brief overview from the point of view of living composers.

Thomas Adès, Asyla, Berliner Philharmoniker
John Corigliano, Symphony No 1, National Symphony Orchestra
Jennifer Higdon, Percussion Concerto, Philadelphia Orchestra
Anders Hillborg, Exquisite Corpse, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Jarrell, Cassandre, St Louis Symphony
Giya Kancheli, …al Niente, St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Bright Sheng, (untitled as yet…), Philadelphia Orchestra
Melinda Wagner, Extremity of Sky, piano concerto, National Symphony Orchestra
Charles Wuorinen, Theologoumenon, world premiere, MET Orchestra
Chen Yi, Si Ji (Four Seasons), Cleveland Orchestra

Chamber Music
Cellist Maya Beiser will play works buy Jody Talbot, Brett Dean, Tan Dun, Chinary Ung, Michael Gordon, and Eve Beglarian, while Midori plays Judith Weir, Isang Yun, Alexander Goehr, Gyorgy Kurtag and Witold Lutoslaski
The Kronos Quartet has its own series at Zankel, with works by Alexandra Du Bois, Michael Gordon, Glenn Branca, James Thirlwell, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Rahman Asadollahi, Terry Riley, Chen Yi.

I omitted the dates since most of this will take place next year. But this is your chance to see who’s in and who’s not… I am happy to see an effort to include new American works, although the program shows the usual propensity towards Pulitzer prize winners and the like.

NOTE: is a new blog about John Cage posted by Michael Andre.

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