Posts Tagged “Morton Feldman”
It was an evocatively strange and ambiguous experience to hear Anton Batagov play Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories last Sunday evening in the newly restored Board of Officers Room at the Park Avenue Armory. The room is stunning, beautiful and elegant in a way that speaks not just of easy riches but of plutocracy and power. It’s the size of a studio apartment, and sitting in it is like being in the intimate quarters of the people whose riches ensure their legacy in and on buildings across the city.
And there we heard Feldman, the last of three concerts to inaugurate the Armory’s chamber music series. Fitting and strange — a born and raised New Yorker from a middle-class that won’t exist for many more generations, and one of the great and most uncompromisingly avant-garde composers in the Western classical tradition. A Jew in what is essentially a castle for old-money WASPS, making music that utterly ignores conventions of form, structure, development, harmony, melody and rhythm.
By the time in his career of Triadic Memories (1981) Feldman was not avant-garde anymore, that’s what my composer’s sensibilities tell me. He was, as the piece tells me both on paper and in my ears, a great composer in both history and craft; making music that developed and spread ideas important to the continuing development of knowledge about how to compose music, and notating those ideas with imagination, concision and profound skill. It’s a great piece of musical aesthetics and a great piece in the piano literature, pianistic in a way that makes it an absolute peer to Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Shostakovich, Ravel, Nancarrow, Carter and Ligeti.
Batagov dedicated the concert to Lou Reed — we had heard news of his death that morning — another ambiguous element. Reed is important and rightfully beloved, but his status in rock music and pop culture was, just before his death, cemented by his licensing of his song “Perfect Day” to sell PlayStations. Rock is part of mass culture and has never been able to escape commodification, selling is part of the point of its existence. Feldman is never going to sell any product, the three evenings of performances probably sold about 400 tickets. That many people heard Batagov’s transparent, affecting performance.
His concentration, his thinking, were exceptional. The music is terrifically challenging in a way that the likes of Lang Lang would never dare approach. The pianist must be on the knife’s edge of awareness, keeping a strict tempo for ninety minutes and placing notes in rhythms that are both exact and exceedingly finely varied. The technical point is to keep many pulses going at once through a specific period of time. Harmonically the music is tonal and dissonant, but there’s no predictable harmonic rhythm and there are few phrases, a handful of tightly confined one-handed patterns in the middle and towards the end. The physical demands are rudimentary, save for stamina, the intellectual demands are daunting. His measured tempo, slower than most of the recordings I know, shaded the experience with an initial and enticing feeling of tension: could he make it work at this pace?
Unerringly. I praise Batagov when I write that his playing never made the demands of tempo, thought and action noticeable. These are the things I did notice: uncanny and rich timbres of difference tones and especially overtones morphing out of the piano (the pedal is halfway down throughout the piece) — the first octave and fifth were almost as strong as the fundamental pitches — and demonstrating the great acoustic of the room, which gives even the softest notes fullness and presence; the audience so quiet that the sound of a second-hand ticking on a watch somewhere in my row was noticeable (although several people left during the performance, highly disruptive and puzzling — why did they come?); the sense of time not passing but accumulating. There are intellectual and mystical depths to Feldman, paths through those can be explored by each listener. What is objectively true about the piece is that it defines time not as notches on a line but a container to hold a set of events, it beings, proceeds through action and ends, and the arbitrary points that mark the first measure and the last could just be windows into something that is eternal. That’s as great as it gets.
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If you’re in the LA area this Sunday, and can spare 4 hours and then some (4 hours for the concert, then some for the commute and parking), 3 young musicians attending the Music Department at University of California, San Diego will perform Morton Feldman’s For Philip Guston.
While Feldman performances at UCSD are common enough, the sheer scale of For Philip Guston makes any production a rare event: 4 hours of late Feldman. Rachel Beetz will play flute (can you imagine playing a wind instrument for 4 hours with no breaks outside of the rests the composer gave you?), Dustin Donahue will play percussion (he has to stand for 4 hours), and Martin Hiendl will be the pianist (doubling on celesta). You can read an essay by Petr Kotik on the difficulties in performing this composition here.
I don’t know much about The Wulf, but readers will perceive it to be on the right track as a venue, presenting some of the far-out works on Michael Pisaro’s Dogstar Orchestra series this year.
Feldman always credited visual artists as having the biggest influence on his music: Rothko, Rauschenberg, Johns, and Guston. Guston’s daughter remembered Feldman thus:
Morty Feldman was a tall, heavyset man with a thick shock of almost black hair over an absent forehead, and eyes that were obscured by glasses with lenses like the bottom of a bottle… His morose, sardonic demeanor concealed a quick and biting critical intelligence. He was a man whose appetites more than rivaled my father’s They both loved to eat and drink and smoke, and they loved doing it together. The two men prowled the city for movies and good cheap restaurants. My memories of Morty have him stretched out and snoring on our wicker chaise, following some feast the two friends had shared.
Read more by Guston’s daughter, Musa Mayer, about Feldman and her father, here.
Philip Guston’s portrait of Morton Feldman may be viewed here.
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Posted by Chris Becker in Chamber Music, Choral Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Houston, Percussion, Performers, Piano, viola, tags: Da Camera, Erik Satie, Houston, Houston Chamber Choir, John Cage, Kim Kashkashian, Mark Rothko, Morton Feldman, Rothko Chapel, Tigran Mansurian, twitter
(Houston, TX) On February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30 pm (the third date added due to popular demand), the Houston Chamber Choir and Da Camera present Music for Rothko, a concert program of contemporary music in one of Houston’s most unique performance spaces. All three performances are sold out.
Presented in the interior of Rothko Chapel, the Music for Rothko program includes piano works by John Cage and Erik Satie, Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord for viola and percussion by Tigran Mansurian, and choral compositions by John Cage including Four. Feldman’s Rothko Chapel for soprano, alto, choir, celesta, and percussion, is the centerpiece of the program. The performers include the Houston Chamber Choir conducted by Robert Simpson, pianist Sarah Rothenberg, percussionist Brian Del Signore, and violist Kim Kashkashian in her first Houston appearance in more than 20 years.
New Yorker Magazine music critic Alex Ross recently tweeted: “It’s Rothko Chapel week” in reference to several performances taking place this week across the country of Feldman’s elegy for his friend painter Mark Rothko. It is exciting to find out via Twitter that this piece is receiving so much well deserved attention. Last Fall on Sequenza 21, I wrote about the Houston Chamber Choir and this upcoming concert. But I didn’t know at the time that several other performances of the piece would take place within a short span of time. And now I’m interested in contemplating what will set the Houston performance of Rothko Chapel apart from those taking place in other cities?
In his wonderful collection of writings Give My Regards to Eighth Street, Feldman describes Rothko’s paintings as “…an experience in depth…not a surface to be seen on a wall.” Music for Rothko will be complimented by the fourteen paintings Rothko painted for Rothko Chapel; and this setting is one that venues in other cities will not be able to approximate. Rothko’s paintings seem to move beyond the edges of the canvases, their surface appearances changing constantly thanks to the light coming through the chapel’s skylight and Houston’s unpredictable weather patterns. A fusion between the paintings, the architecture of the octagonal room, AND the live music is in store for the chapel’s capacity audiences.
Music for Rothko takes place February 25th and 26th at 8pm and February 27th at 2:30pm at Rothko Chapel. All three Music for Rothko concerts are sold out.
A standby list will be created beginning one hour before the performances, and if there are unoccupied seats, ticket will be sold for $35 at the door beginning about 10 minutes before the concert begins.
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