Archive for February, 2006

Sometimes I think the word ‘downtown’ is doomed because it has the prefix ‘down’ – obviously, it is preferable to go up than to go down… And lately, I find that the only downtowners who are going up are uptown transfers, i.e. people who used to do downtown but have somehow managed to get the uptown gigs. So where are the real downtowners right now?

There are several issues that preclude the development of a creative music scene:
- the prevalence of commercialism
- an atmosphere of conservatism and timidity in the arts
- as in other professions, age discrimination – limited opportunities are shuffled off to the youngsters, never mind those who spent their lifetimes making new music and really have something to say;
- the cost of performing: between the mailings, the telephone calls, the transportation costs, the performers’ fees, any concert, even at a very small scale, has a price tag – and people don’t even buy CDs at concerts any more;
-composers are pitted against one another for scanty opportunities, instead of uniting towards the common good;
-audiences are lacking – small events used to attract 30 people, but not any more: due to the rising cost of everything, you quickly find that those same people don’t go out as often and it is much more difficult to draw an audience without a major publicity effort
-a general preference for screen entertainment and internet activities versus live music
- a tremendous resistance to acknowledging downtown music – Kyle Gann often complains that when he writes about downtown music, he gets inundated with nasty responses. What is it about downtown music that can trigger such reactions? It is being perceived as threatening?

Right now, it seems that we’ve all taken deep cover – maybe the downtown scene is fading away – hopefully, only to be rediscovered 25 years from now as an important movement like Dadaism in art and literature.

What can we do? I would like to propose an event – at least a panel discussion –focusing on downtown music … and its virtual happenings.

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Marvin Rosen’s annual feature on women on WPRB Classical Discoveries(103.3FM, Princeton, NJ) is getting double air time this year… The series, beginning March 1st, will continue every Wednesday morning from 6AM to 11 AM during March, with works by over 100 women composers, 80% devoted to modern music (20th and 21st centuries). On March 15 Marvin will welcome Katherine Hoover as a featured guest, a composer whose orchestral pieces have been performed throughout the United States.

What makes this program, entitled In Praise of Women, particularly interesting, is the depth of the research on women from all time periods and nationalities. Some names on this list are familiar but some are true ‘classical discoveries’. Here are some historical and geographical data on past programs from the last two years:

Joan Tower (USA 1938-)
Maria Xaveria Perucona (Italy 1652- ca.1709)
Olga Gorell (USA 1920-)
Catharina van Rennes (Holland 1858-1940)
Gunild Keetman (Germany 1904-1990)
Ruth Schonthal (USA 1924-)
Sister Marie Keyrouz (Lebanon -)
Binnette Lipper (USA -)
Estelle D. Ricketts (USA 1871-?)
Mari Takano (Japan 1960-)
Libby Larsen (USA 1950-)
Hildegard von Bingen (Germany 1098-1179).
Kassia (Greece 810-?)
Germaine Tailleferre (France 1892-1983)
Denise Broadhurst (USA – )
Juana Ines de la Cruz ( Mexico 1648-1695)
Betty Olivero (Israel 1954 -)
Alice Ho (Canada -)
Ellen Taffe Zwilich (USA 1939-)
Beata Moon (USA -)
Elizabeth Hoffman (USA 1961-)
Carin Malmlof-Forssling (Sweden 1916-)
Zara Levina (Russia 1906-1976)
Amy Beach (USA 1867-1944)
Henriette Bosmans (Holland 1895-1952)
Nadia Boulanger (France 1887-1979)
Jeanne Demessieux (France 1921-1968)
Lady Killigrew (England 17th c.)
Galina Grigorjeva (Ukraine/Estonia 1962-)
Gayaneh Tchebodarian (Armenia 1918-1998)
Eleni Karaindrou ( Greece )
Stefania De Kenessey (USA)
Sister Marie Keyrouz (Lebanon )
Becky Llewellyn (USA/Australia 1950-)
Adeline Shepherd (USA 1883-1950)
Rachel Portman (England 1960
Lucilla Galeazzi (Italy)
Betty Anne Wong (USA 1938-)
Iva Bittova (Czech Republic 1958
Elizabeth Poston (England 1905-1987)

Classical Discoveries (winner of ASCAP Deems Taylor Award 2005)
web site: http://ourworld.cs.com/clasdis/index.html
Marvin Rosen: clasdis@cs.com

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David Rudge, director of orchestras at SUNY Fredonia, is an ardent supporter of minimalist and post classic music. He regularly performs works by John Adams, Robert Moran and the like; he gave my Strange Attractors an exciting premiere last Fall. He is also an innovator in his methods: he invited me to participate in a free-form workshop with 20 students on a wide array of percussion instruments, while he and I improvised on piano and violin. I have never had this kind of experience with any of the conductors I have worked with in the past! Last and not least, when he told me he had a brief Tai Chi session at the beginning of his orchestra rehearsals, I became very interested. I often felt that music students should be taught body techniques that promote concentration and relaxation, as musicians are prone to stress and a good performance is both loose and focused. I asked David to give me some details about his experience with the use of Tai Chi for the orchestra.

“Years ago, while studying the Alexander Technique, I became interested in Tai Chi, the Chinese form of exercise. Tai Chi is a martial art, usually practiced in slow-motion, a form of “moving meditation.” I’ve stayed with my practice of Tai Chi for many years, and last year I met an old friend who had been teaching Tai Chi for over 10 years. We were practicing on a beach over the summer, and when finished, he turned to me and asked, “What do you think would happen if you did this with your orchestra for 10 minutes in every rehearsal?” I knew what he was getting at. Being a dancer/choreographer, he knows well the artistic and creative process, and the role a healthy, aligned body plays in it. I replied, “Well maybe for 5 minutes. I’m sure there could be great possibilities.”

The summer came to a close and right before school began I remembered our conversation. I knew it was a good idea, but wasn’t sure I wanted to jump into such a foreign practice with a room full of possible skeptics. However, as the first rehearsal of string players wore on, and I noticed the familiar bad habits of sitting and usage, I thought to myself, “OK. It’s now or never.” I immediately found myself asking the room of musicians to put their instruments down and stand in front of their chairs. I briefly explained Tai Chi, and how it’s been practiced for thousands of years in China. I told them that practicing Tai Chi has changed my violin playing, conducting and ultimately my life–and I’d like to share it with them. It would be an experiment. I asked that we take 5 minutes of each rehearsal, try basic concepts of it together, and see at the end of the semester, whether it was helpful or a waste of time. I admitted that some may find it ridiculous, but asked that they all be open to this idea, all do it, and evaluate what we have done afterwards.

I led them through a few simple movements. We shifted our weight from one foot to the other, we breathed from our center, sent the breath into the arms and lifted them “as if floating on the water in a swimming pool.” There were a few sideways glances, but everyone followed as best they could. I was surprised at how stiff and awkward some of them looked and even more surprised at how such simple basic movements could be so elusive and disconnected. Soon however we were all moving as one, and the room became very quiet. After our 5 minutes were over, I asked them to sit back down and play what we had been working on—the C Major theme from the end of Brahms Fourth Symphony. Wow! What a difference!! I was amazed. It was a deeper sound, with richer vibrato, and much more nuanced and musical. I suddenly stopped and asked how many of them felt different. Three quarters of the room raised their hands–and I decided then and there to do this at the next rehearsal, which will be with the full orchestra, and continue for the rest of the semester.

After a couple of rehearsals I brought the Tai Chi teacher who inspired the original idea to a rehearsal. He spoke to them about the bad chairs musicians are forced to sit in, and led them through a sequence of movements with great experience. I continued these mini Tai Chi sessions each rehearsal until it became the routine. If I missed a day, some players would ask for it. They were starting to practice it alone during their practice time. In fact, when I was out of town and my graduate student took the rehearsal, they wanted to do it so much that one of the principal strings decided he would lead it.

After a few weeks I noticed how quiet the room was becoming. This 5-minute silence was not the same as a 10-minute “break” of social chaos. The focus during the 2-hour rehearsal was improving, and everyone’s attention span was increasing. We were learning something profound: How to relax the body and focus the mind, instead of the other way around–tensing the body and scattering the mind.

As the first concert drew closer and the rehearsals more intense it gave me a chance to stop, release my orientation towards the goal, and “reset”, to use a computer term. But this was more than starting over, and certainly not about “setting” anything. Nothing in Tai Chi is “set”. One is constantly in motion, just like when making music, and each moment is new and fluid. Those few minutes made me instantly more award of my own mental, physical, and spiritual patterns, and gave me a chance, in public, to change them.

I announced the day before the concert that there would be a 30-minute class right before the performance. I expected a few players to show up, but 50 people came and continued their practice right up until they walked on stage. At the end of the semester ALL the course evaluations told how much benefit the students got from the Tai Chi, how much they wanted me to continue it with the orchestra, and how those 5 minutes were a great investment of time.”

For more information you may contact David Rudge directly: david.rudge@fredonia.edu.

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Annea Lockwood has a new DVD entitled Ear Walking Woman. This piano music is performed by the outstanding Lois Svard.

On March 4, at Symphony Space Leonard Nimoy Theater, the Azure Ensemble performs works by Beth Anderson, Marilyn Bliss, Judith Smith, Hilary Tann and Chen Yi.

On March 7, Da Capo presents a Russian program featuring Elena Antonenko, a composer-soprano who performs her own work.

On March 9 at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, Eve Beglarian has a grand premiere featuring cellist Maya Beiser and vocalist Alexandra Montano who will perform a 40 minute setting of French surrealist Henri Michaux.

On March 21, under the auspices of Mannes College, Music Under Construction presents works by Wendy Griffiths and Faye-Ellen Silverman. This is free!

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My ‘future of the music business’ blog triggered a number of comments and reactions. I want to respond to those and explain my position in more detail.

Clearly, there are two different issues at play here.

One, is post-classic music likely to benefit from direct digital distribution, and through what particular channels, i.e. whether it is better to operate out of one’s own web site or through an internet distribution outlet such as amazon or cdbaby and the like.

Two, should post-classic underground music actually be pitched to sell. This issue is actually more important to me personally. I have always appreciated to LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela not only for their work, but for the way they do things. For instance, LaMonte’s music was not available on disc for many years. In order to fully appreciate it, you had to go and visit the DIA Foundation space and sit and listen in an environment that they had designed for optimal intake. This is how I came to appreciate The Well-Tuned Piano, sitting on the carpet at the DIA Foundation, in a room by myself, in the total, meditative isolation that was provided by the composer. Many years later, Grammavision released the work on CD, and I remember being surprised that LaMonte even accepted this release, with the interruptions due to the multiple CD format. This taught me that selling and marketing is not always appropriate for music that is meant as a cultural contribution.

In the post-classic realm, we don’t have to think like pop artists. If we had to worry about selling a number copies offsetting the record company’s investment before making a penny, I think the work might be seriously flawed by the intent. In my world, the expectation of CD sales plays no role in what I release, and I would like to keep it this way. I set up my web site as a .net, not a .com – so as to express that it is not a marketing tool, but rather an archive documenting my work. I wonder if some of you feel the same way.

My experience with distributors of any kind has grown worse over the years. In the early eighties, with New Music Distribution Service, I used to sell a few hundred records with every release. When they went out of business, nothing replaced them in providing an alternative distribution outlet that got the CDs to the Tower Records bins. In the 90s, I had CDs at Tower Records through 4-Tay and to our dismay, we never received a cent on The Deus Ex Machina Cycle from Tower Records. My reaction was to go in the opposite direction: make fewer CDs, and not pitch them for selling, but as art works, collectors’ copies. I even went as far as questioning whether selling CDs is relevant. I think making CDs and DVDs is very important, but that to try and sell them is almost in bad taste: when people visit your site, do you really want to tell them, “buy me, buy me”?

Now we are faced with the dilemma of digital distribution. Should we make our music available on the internet on a 99c per track basis? Is it actually worth the trouble – after all, a PayPal account is twenty bucks a month, and I am not sure I would even sell enough to offset that expense. Some artists have an online licensing agreement for those who want to use the tracks for film! But I believe that without a commercial visibility, this could be a wasted effort.

Meanwhile, Postclassic Radio and other internet radio stations broadcast our tracks, and make it easy for people to copy them. Is it worth the effort to set up a site to ‘sell’ the music, as if there were a market for it, which still remains in question. I’m afraid that post-classic music might be condemned to remain “too hip for the straights, too straight for the hips…” as Jon Szanto put it. (a percussionist and composer from San Diego who worked with Harry Partch, and with whom I had a long post-blog discussion about selling music.)

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On Thursday, February 16, the SEM Ensemble Orchestra, directed by Petr Kotik, will present recent works by Charlie Looker, A. Vincent Raikhel, Anne Guthrie, Jose Luis Hurtado, Brendan Connelly, plus a tribute to Morton Feldman, with his 1978 Why Patterns?

Who are these interesting new composers, some of whom just out of school or still in school? Charlie Looker (b. 1980, New York City), is a member of the New York-based Ensemble Zs. A. Vincent Raikhel (b. 1984, Athens, Georgia), is a student at Manhattan School of Music. Anne Guthrie (b. 1983, Minneapolis) attended the University of Iowa and Goldsmith’s College in London. Brendan Connelly is a founding member of the Wet Ink Ensemble and the Theater of a Two-Headed Calf (in residency at LaMama. José Luis Hurtado, from Mexico, is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard.

This annual orchestral reading will take place at the lovely Willow Place Auditorium, 26 Willow Place, in the heart of Brooklyn Heights (8PM).

Suggested Contribution is only $5!
For information or reservations please email info@semensemble.org or call
718-488-7659.

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The Future of the Music Business, a book by Steve Gordon, published by BackBeat Books, San Francisco (2005), provides an excellent update on copyright legislation, and assesses the opportunities offered by the new digital technologies. The author, by way of interviews with various artists and entrepreneurs, encourages the sale of music over the internet and provides this interesting statistic from TowerGroup: in 2003, internet transactions for media, internet publishing services and digital music totaled $1.9 billion; it is estimated that this market will grow to $11.5 billion by 2009. With this in mind, we should all set up web sites to sell our tracks at 99 cents each.

However, I question whether classical music is really part of this potential boom. All the artists represented or described in the book are in the mainstream. For example, there is a lengthy interview with Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, one of the main online distributors of digital music, but as a classical composer, my experience with CD Baby has been quite different from what is described. My CD Waking in New York is currently available through CD Baby, but since 2003, only one copy was officially sold. This lack of sales could have several explanations: a) CD Baby is not where the classical music audience shops; b) the sample tracks available for free download may have somehow replaced the need to buy the actual CD and actually encourage piracy.

I would like to find a book about “the future of the classical music business”, which seems to be an entirely different beast.

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I attended a concert at the Conservatoire, one of the loci of new music in Paris. I am told there is an alternative scene to Boulez but I was hard pressed to find its focus. This could take months of research, it is deep underground. I heard a chamber piece by Bacri and a piece by pianist/composer Noel Lee, an American who moved to Paris in 1948, as student of Nadia Boulanger. It is amazing how much influence this woman had on the scene. Her name keeps popping up. I also approached conductor John Nelson for some pointers – he is another American turned Parisian, but he was too busy recording Beethoven and said he didn’t know much about the contemporary music scene in Paris.

The real Mona Lisa – if you ever want to bother going through the crowds at the Louvre – is a small, rather dreary-looking painting in mousy colors, the mystery of it being that it is likely a self-portrait of De Vinci as a female, and this androgynous icon keeps puzzling the viewers – or does it… Marcel Duchamp drew a moutache on a reproduction of it, with the mention of four letters, L.H.O.O.Q., a sequence which reads, in French, she is hot in the buns (or something to that effect).

I desperately looked for an internet café, but the yellow pages only listed a couple of locations. The traditional cafes are not what they used to be: they are now lonely and deserted as the pricing is somewhat prohibitive and Parisians will rather spring for a ‘MacDo’ instead of a coffee at 4 Euros a pop. Due to a clever or absurd law, smoking is prohibited only at the counter, while allowed at the tables, reflecting the pervasive double standard that applies to many categories besides smoking, especially with regards to male domination. For most important matters, it is necessary to see the ‘man in charge’ – doctor, lawyer, whatever, which reminds me of the saying “I’ve got to see a man about a horse.” The woman is not in a position to solve the problem, but she can chat about it with her friends and make a fuss and drive everybody crazy until she gets her way.

The subways are fast and pleasant-sounding, but the seating seems fit for really small people – an average-size male or a large female will take one and a half seat. Also, if you are traveling on foot, beware of the distances from the subway to your location. Using a car is a challenge as the traffic jams and parking problems are worse than in New York.

There are water issues, besides the frequent rain. The hand showers can be a problem – how can you hold the shower head and the soap at the same time? As many Americans will suggest, you are best off taking baths. Most apartments have a washing machine but no dryer, I have no idea why. With the humidity, drying clothes in the apartment can be difficult. Be prepared to bring your wet clothes to the Laundromat (if you can find one within walking distance) for a pricey spin in hot air.

If you need to do an errand, be sure to assess whether the store is closed for lunch hour (some stores are closed between 12 and 4PM!). Once there, you may have to wait on line for a long time as the storekeeper will take the time to chat at length with each regular. Lo and behold, being a regular at the pharmacy for my mother’s medications, I was entreated to one of those long chats myself!

Just remember if you have to do any business, nothing is fast an easy. Be prepared for a loop or a wait in every situation.

The supermarkets are bountiful and loaded with all sorts of ‘produits biologiques’ (what we can organic products) but rather expensive.

The clothing styles, once the height of fashion, are either impractical or utterly conservative. Mostly, every creation is contorted and twisted into decadence with unnecessary details, which makes is difficult to find anything usable, especially since the price of clothing is absurdly high except during the ‘soldes’ where women make a mad dash for it.

As every time I come back to New York, I am overcome with a feeling of gratitude for being able to live here. Next time I will write my Impressions of Paris like Raymond Roussel wrote his Impressions d’Afrique, from the inside of a moving car anywhere.

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