Archive for May, 2007

To outsiders to the classical music world, out of the holy trinity of classical music, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, it is Beethoven who appears to represents the ultimate icon of the composer: it is Beethoven who is told to ‘roll over’ in the early rock n’ roll song; it is Beethoven whose name is borrowed by an 80s alternative rock group from California,Camper Van Beethoven. I once taught music to a very little girl who thought Beethoven was a big fluffy St Bernard, but now she knows, and now I know what it feels like telling a child Santa Claus is not real.

I recently saw the film Copying Beethoven by Agnieszka Holland, produced in Budapest and London, with Ed Harris in the role of Beethoven and Diane Kruger in the role of Anna Holtz, from a screenplay by Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson. This film is for the most part about the circumstances in which the Ninth Symphony received its premiere. I immediately liked this premise, because for a composer, certain premieres are really once-in-a lifetime events, especially when you have to conduct a huge chorus and orchestra work but can’t hear a thing. I also liked the imaginary character of Anna Holtz, the copyist who longs to be a composer, a character undeniably not from Beethoven’s time, but from our time: it seems that the increased interest of women for composing, and the personas that have come to the fore in the late twentieth century have had some influence on this screenplay, and I appreciated that. In the beginning of the film, Anna is told by Beethoven that “no woman can compose…” – which may be consistent with the views of the time – but he later condescends to brutally critique her piece. At one point in the film, after behaving rudely in all kinds of ways, Beethoven finally bares his behind for Anna while talking about the “Moon”-light sonata (I am not convinced that Beethoven himself has nicknamed his piece that way), and the heavy-handed joke in an otherwise serious, sexless movie, was however enjoyable because so… utterly ridiculous.

Immortal Beloved, released over ten years ago, directed by Bernard Rose, with Gary Oldman in the role of Beethoven and Isabella Rossellini as a supporting actress, was focused on Beethoven’s rather elusive romantic interests. Below is a link to a site featuring the many movies about Beethoven. Strangely enough, aside from Amadeus, there haven’t been nearly as many movies about Mozart – although his music has been used in hundreds of soundtracks. There are even less films on Bach. It seems that his personality has failed to interest film makers, even though he so justly deserves to be remembered by a film; all I could find was a 1968 film entitled The Chronicles of Magdalena Bach, directed by Jean-Marie Straub. And while I’m at it, I’ll mention in passing the Werner Herzog documentary on Gesualdo, the composer who was a real-life Othello.

http://www.lvbeethoven.com/Fictions/FictionFilmsOthers.html

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I couldn’t go to many concerts this season because of a very tight schedule, but I managed to catch one not-to-miss event: on April 28, the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at New York University presented a celebration concert of Dinu Ghezzo’s retirement after 30 years at NYU – where, thank goodness for that – he will remain in a professor emeritus capacity and continue to be involved in a number of projects in both conducting and composition. This concert was a tribute to his major contribution to the composition program at NYU. Above and beyond teaching, he acted as a cultural ambassador for NYU in creating many international programs in Europe and Asia. I am glad I had the chance to study with him some twenty years ago. I still remember his exciting presentations, his positive energy and relentless enthusiasm for music.

But what I would like to emphasize here is that Dinu Ghezzo is, beyond his duties as an educator, an important composer, whose music is published both in Europe and in the U.S. and has been presented in major venues throughout the world, from Los Angeles to Tokyo to Helsinki, and has been critically acclaimed as “startlingly beautiful”, “haunting”, “exuberant”, “striking”, which does not begin to describe the unique style of his work. From a postmodern perspective, Dinu Ghezzo’s music encompasses and transcends the musics of his time, from Eastern European folk song to post-serialism, aleatory composition, experimental techniques such as prepared piano which he uses to perfection, to post-minimalism and onward. But ultimately, it has soul, and that’s why it touches me. Last fall I heard a clarinet and piano piece by him, Aphorisms (brilliantly performed by Esther Lamneck and Marilyn Nonken) and months later, I find I still try to recall its mood.

Talking about feelings – even though Dinu’s concert was planned for months in advance, upon the passing of his good friend and member of the NYU faculty, Ron Mazurek (which took place a couple of days before the event), he was compelled at the very last minute to change the entire program to include some of Mazurek’s compositions: Rockaby, for voice and piano, and Satori, for clarinet and tape. I found this very touching and most generous. At various points in the concert, we were surprised by the appearance of a Romanian folk singer in traditional costume, performing Dinu’s just-finished Easter Laments in memory of his old friend; that was truly heartbreaking.

Dinu Ghezzo’s other pieces on this concert included: Shadow Dances, an exciting orchestral piece which he conducted; Doina, a semi-improvisational piece from 1998 featuring Christine Ghezzo, a lovely modern-voice soprano; Music for Flutes and Tape (Wendy Luck performer); Imaginary Voyages, for clarinet, piano and cello (Esther Lamneck, Dan Barrett and Marilyn Nonken performers).

Other features on the program included Joseph Pehrson’s electronic work Microproj, with a sparkling and unexpected choreography by his wife, Linda Past; and a new work by John Gilbert, Becoming Cassandra, including state-of-the-art media.

More information on Dinu Ghezzo is available on the web at: http://pages.nyu.edu/~ddg1/
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Last week, Downtown Music Productions presented the work of the Boulanger sisters on the same program – Lili and Nadia Boulanger, whose music is largely forgotten, even if Nadia taught composition to an entire generation of Americans including Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Elliot Carter and Marc Blitzstein – and Philip Glass, I believe. Mimi Stern-Wolfe, artistic director of DMP, took lessons with Nadia Boulanger as well. Lili Boulanger, who died at 24, won the Rome Prize in composition for her Faust and Helene – not a small feat for a woman before World War I – and she received triumphant and unanimous acclaim for her music. I was pleased to see that someone is remembering the fabulous “Baker” sisters… The event is part of DMP’s East Village Concert Series on Sunday afternoons at St Mark’s Church. More information at: www.downtownmusicproductions.org.

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The Dalai Lama has just been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal… For many years I have collected pictures of this holy man, and especially admired his special smile, radiating warmth and compassion. Well, the smile is gone. And why would that be? Just at the time the withdrawal of the troops in Irak is being vetoed, this man of peace is being honored… The Dalai Lama has many reasons not to smile: after all nearly 50 years of struggle, he is still unable to protect Tibetans from religions persecution… still unable to stop the madness… And the truth is, with the leadership we have now, maybe, just maybe the American people do not deserve the Dalai Lama’s smile.
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