A bit past the halfway mark in Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll comes a passage marked “Lebhaft” (lively tempo). It begins with a bright, energetic horn fanfare that is quickly answered by bird calls in the flute and clarinet. The flow of the piece makes it sound like Siegfried – Wagner’s son as much as his character – has awoken from gentle slumber to find himself in the woods. But there was nothing like that sensation when Alarm Will Sound played the original sinfonietta version last Friday to open their “The Permanent Collection” concert, which itself opened their new residency at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Limor Tomer is remaking the Met into the most interesting performance space in the city, with programming that rivals that of Miller Theatre and the use of the gallery spaces for live music. Alarm Will Sound has some great programming on tap, including an all Steve Reich concert November 16, but Alan Pierson and the group choose to set their first concert in the museum’s physical collection by showing the roots of their ensemble. Pierson hints at something of an argument about the sinfoniette being the prototypical new music ensemble, which is sort of true and sort of not – it depends on what year you’re look from, and which direction you turn your attention.
Wagner was certainly making new music in the nineteenth century, but that’s not what the Idyll is. It’s one of his loveliest works, but the aesthetic is entirely different than that of the new music movement that began around a hundred years ago. The music is about cadences, modulations between chords and tempos and the gestural language used to effect those. That’s where the expression is, and Alarm Will Sound is steeped in the aesthetic of non-narrative expressive language. They strung along the notes, played nicely, but had nothing much to say about the actual music. It had me searching for my recording of Glenn Gould conducting an intellectually critical and lovely take with the same forces.
Thomas Adés Living Toys is more in their style, but only superficially. I’m not a fan of the music, or his work in general. I find his composing masks an ordinary romantic sensibility in a lot of bravura hand-waving material that, if it doesn’t amount to something ordinary, amounts to little at all. There is a mismatch between the density of musical activity and the density of thinking. It suffered in inevitable comparisoin with all the great pieces from John Zorn I heard last month, music that is overwhelming with both detail and musical, aesthetic and intellectual meaning. But Adés is more old music in new music clothes.
Truly new, and truly excellent, were Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto and Ragtime Dances1 and 4 by Charles Ives. These works are at the heart of Alarm Will Sound’s purpose, music that explores the possbilities of the future and that was written with experimental values at the fore. Ligeti’s work comes from his cloud phase, a period when he heard music as something like a collection of webs, gossamer strends connecting to each other across distances and forming sections that fill in space with a tantilizing wispiness. This was a beautiful, concentrated performance, the music clearly excites the players’ interest and concentration, everything focussed and spooky. The Chamber Concerto doesn’t tell stories, and it displays instrumental prowess in subtly challenging ways, the results tickle the bass of the skull in rare ways.
The Ives’ dances are rarely played or recorded, which is a shame because they are brilliant and practical, distilled and sharply written examples of his art and his importance. Ives was always pinning popular tunes to his pieces, but there’s something about hearing him create and lay out his own ragtime beat that is revelatory. True to form, he fractures it deliberately and exuberantly, and like a pinata, the yield is delight, joy and real, substantial satisfaction.
Q2 will have the concert archive available to stream, check their site for availability
Sometimes, classical music gets a bad rap. To be perfectly honest, there is a chunk of the population that finds it to be synonymous with any number of derogatory terms: boring, annoying, or pompous. Some classical music lovers and advocates will counter this popular belief with arguments that only go to further the opinion of the other side: “Some people want to listen to mindless music”, “Some people simply don’t have patience”, etc. These ridiculous arguments only go to further the stereotype that classical music lovers are all pompous windbags who believe themselves to be uniquely educated and informed.
How, then, do we get people to forget their misconception, and believe that EVERYONE can enjoy or even love classical music, regardless of education, socioeconomic standing, or profession?
It all comes down to how classical music is presented; and now, for a limited time, you could join one organization that does it right.
“I always describe the viola as something that is kind of the wrong size for its body. It sounds like a man singing very high or a woman singing very low. And there’s something about that in-between-ness that is very attractive to me and the challenge of overcoming the fact that, physics-wise, it’s actually proportioned incorrectly, in other words, for a viola to be the right size for the length of its strings to play very easily, it would be something like the size of a small cello…There’s something about reaching in and having to get around that imperfection that really appeals to me, honestly.” Read the rest of this entry »
Our friends at Q2 are featuring the work of Paola Prestinitoday. the festivities include Prestini commenting on featured tracks at the top of every hour and this nifty live cut (available for download on the Q2 site):
The International Contemporary Ensemble will be featured at 7 PM tonight on Q2. Hosted by John Schaefer, this live broadcast from Yamaha Piano Salon in NYC is a sneak preview of Lincoln Center Festival’s Varèse: (R)evolution.
(R)evolution will present the composer’s entire oeuvre over two concerts on July 19 &20. Performers include the New York Philharmonic, conductor Alan Gilbert, percussionist Steven Schick, and ICE.
Program: Density 21.5 (1936) with Claire Chase, flute Un Grand Sommeil Noir (1906) with Samantha Malk, soprano Ameriques (NEW YORK PREMIERE of 8-hand piano version) (1929) with Jacob Greenberg, Amy Williams, Amy Briggs and Thomas Rosenkranz
Q2 and ICE have been kind enough to share a freebie that all the new music kids will be adding to their Droid/iPhone/Blackberrys: a Poème Électronique ringtone!
For the past eight years, Graham Parker has been the Executive Director of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Now, he’s going to work for New York’s classical music radio station.
It was announced today that Parker will be the new Vice President of Classical WQXR 105.9 FM and WQXR online. It appears that he’s been tasked with helping the station to develop its brand identity. For those who aren’t “New Yawkers,” this may require some explanation.
In 2009, New York’s National Public Radio Station WNYC acquired WQXR from the New York Times. WQXR’s frequency, 96.3 FM, was in turn traded to Univision’s WCAA, moving the classical station further up the bandwidth to 105.9. For those of us out in the ‘burbs, this has made it more difficult in many areas to get the station. Coverage routinely goes in and out on my commute down to Princeton as I get further from the city.
While signal weakness has been a concern for many listeners, there have been other growing pains associated with the move as well. Some of the music programming previously on WNYC, which was considered the station for more cutting edge fare, has been moved over to WQXR. Some longtime DJs from WQXR were kept on; others were let go to make room for their counterparts on WNYC. As a public radio station, WQXR also jettisoned commercials and religious programs.
The marriage of mainstream classical and public radio’s eclecticism has been a challenging balance to negotiate. The station’s 2009-’10 programming doubtless left a number of longtime WQXR listeners unhappy at the increased incorporation of new music into its mainstream broadcasts. WNYC listeners who hoped for the eclectic and innovative types of music heard on programs such as Soundcheck and New Sounds to be writ large on the rest of the schedule have probably been bummed out too. They’ve been subjected to far more Vivaldi and Telemann than they consider healthy!
A bright spot has been the station’s online new music programing at Q2. This week, they’re spotlighting the music of Xenakis. While one understands that this probably isn’t their best bet for “drive-time” fare, its too bad that more of Q2 hasn’t infiltrated the airwaves.
One hopes that enlisting Mr. Parker helps the station to find its footing and reassert the importance of classical radio – contemporary music and repertory favorites alike – in New York.
So, Sequenza 21 readers, its your turn. What should Parker focus on to make WQXR a better station?
A) Better signal quality/range/accessibility.
B) A more coherent vision for music programming.
C) Local identity and live events.
D) Limiting the amount of Vivaldi bassoon concerti played during any given four-hour period to no more than three.
I really enjoyed Q2’s broadcast tonight of New Sounds Live, a concert at Merkin Hall by the Bang on a Can All Stars that featured works by Nik Bartsch, Oscar Bettison, Christine Southworth, Michael Nyman, and David Longstreth. The first in a hopefully ongoing series of collaborations between Q2 and Merkin Hall, it was also a featured event in this week’s Composers Nowfestival.
I particularly enjoyed the Bettison work, The Afflicted Girl, in part because it’s quite affecting; but it also helps that I was able to study in advance and follow along with a perusal score sent over by the kind folks at Boosey. Funded by BoaC’s Peoples’ Commissioning Fund, the piece is what Bettison calls an “anti-pastorale.” Its based on a quote from Peter Ackroyd’s London: the Biography. It describes an afflicted girl frequently found in a busy thoroughfare, seemingly oblivious to the cacophony around her. Or, as in Bettison’s posits in his piece, perhaps she found a kind of music amidst the chaos.
Clangor is Bettison’s daily bread: many of his works employ junk metal percussion. The Afflicted Girl involves copious percussion batteries, prepared piano, a keyboard tuned a quarter tone flat, taped echoes of the ensemble, plenty of electric guitar harmonics, and a Shapey-esque scordatura tuning of the cellos C string – down to G for rumbled slackening. What’s more, all the players double on bicycle bells!
Alternately assaultive and contemplative, rhythmically charged and, briefly, eerily reposeful, its a demanding, challenging, harrowing, and memorable work.
Bang on a Can. Photo: Christine Southworth
Sad you missed out on the Q2 broadcast? Fear not: the performance will be featured on a March broadcast of New Sounds.