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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