Archive for the “Judith Lang Zaimont” Category
Just in time for Halloween comes the eerie coincidence to read at one sitting Richard Taruskin’s (TNR)Â articleÂ and Lawrence Dillon’s recent comments on the composer’s dilemma:Â WhatÂ choice of outlook to adoptÂ for new-made music?Â Either give the public what you believe it already wants, or write to push the high-art envelope in terms of innovation.Â Â Â
Calculated? â€“ yes.Â Valid? â€“ no.Â [ Unless you're writing jingles. ]
If our work has any integrity, it already speaks inimitably as we speak. We don’t ordinarily have such decisions to make â€“ there turns out to be one right way for the piece to manifest, and that’s the one right way it should come to life.Â
Artists can (if they wish) make taste.Â And there are, among us,Â Â composers who see their place as being neither revolutionaries nor panderers,Â but evolutionaries.Â Â These are folks who do not put on new coats for each piece.Â Â Â Their music knows and respects what came before; presses innovation forward when the moment calls for it;Â andÂ Â cares not too much if â€“ at first hearing â€“ all of the piece is revealed to all the listeners.Â Â
These composers know that art is a mirror and a lens â€“ they presume a piece will have future performances which continue to reveal its contents, flavor, and character across time.Â Â Â And they count on being able to reach listenersÂ repeatedly over years with various works, each of which is meant to have lasting resonance in some way.
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Gloss: Itâ€™s the Words, not the Music Â
October 29, 2007
Reading Taruskinâ€™sÂ â€œthis is the way it wentâ€ summary of classical musicâ€™s 20th-century tribulations in The New Republic, I was uncomfortable: naturally â€“ Iâ€™m in this business, and would like to know itâ€™s a going concern.Â But I did have to nod finally when I remembered the following:
Iâ€™m a big science-fiction fan.Â Â Recently, I read a compendium of short fiction culled from the early golden-age (the pulps period), including some early Asimov, and then moved right on toÂ Richard Morganâ€™s Thirteen.Â Music references couldnâ€™t be more different:Â Space explorers of the future in the early stories routinely reference purely instrumental music, citing composers quite up-to-date for their day — Bartok, Shostakovich,Â even Stravinsky and BarberÂ — and sometimes talked about what the music did along the way, and how it made them feel.Â Yet similar characters in newer sfÂ refer only to texted music, even in made-up titles — and the music is exclusively rock (not even jazz).Â
This exposes a trend Iâ€™veÂ noticed in the last decades:Â WeÂ now needÂ the presence â€“ the â€œcrutchâ€ â€“ of words, no matter the artform.Â ( Think Jenny Holzer in visual art.)Â Â Â
Whatever happened to the ability to revel simply in sounds, without engaging the sense side of our brains?
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Recently Frank Oteri wrote to describe a currentÂ project of AMC and ACF to prepare an updated statiscal portrait ofÂ today’s composers –Â where we live, what genres we address, where our financial support comes from, etc.
Â Â Â Â I’m more interested in who we are artistically.Â Do we still write complex music?Â Are our fabrics rich or thin?Â How have today’s habits of listening looped back, affecting the content/style of what we produce?Â Â How have general financial constraints — coupled with the beckoning finger of the educational market –Â affected decisions as to what we produce?
Â Â Â So I ask again (as in my August post) Pete Townshend’s question:Â Â Who are YOU? Â
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The phenomenally gifted Harlem QuartetÂ offered the first three performances ofÂ my new Â String Quartet â€“ Â eight, seven and six days agoÂ back EastÂ (Cornell, Eastman, Syracuse).Â Â I was able to be present only for the very first performance and without questionÂ believe it to beÂ theÂ best world premiereÂ to date ofÂ any of my works. Yes, the audience response was prolonged and effusive â€“ butÂ whatÂ most touched me was the superb close attention to â€“ and love of â€“ my notes on the part of this great quartet.Â Â This was the real deal: Â Â They absolutely the music, and made it their own.Â Â Â Â I was personally sure about this piece Â once I had wrestled it into final form on the page – Â but now, thanks to HQ, Â anyone can hear itÂ just the wayÂ I imagined it would sound.Â Â Hats off to Ilmar, Melissa, Miguel and Desmond!Â
Ed. Note:Â The Harlem Quartet will be appearing at Carnegie HallÂ this Tuesday night, September 25, as part of the Sphinx Laureates Concert.
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Coming up this weekend is the premiere of my new String Quartet â€“ The Figure, performed by the excellent Harlem Quartet.Â ( 9/ 15 â€“ Syracuse University,Â Â 9/16â€“ Eastman ,Â 9/17 â€“ Cornell)Â
The 16-minute Quartet was composed in January and February, duringÂ which time I felt almost as ifÂ I was working in a trance:Â the materials grabbed me and wouldnâ€™t let go.Â Â Â It is traditional in no wayÂ â€“Â not in its forms, norÂ its sounds norÂ its character.Â Â Itâ€™s cast in 2 movements,Â but only as I was about half-way through the second did the a titleÂ suggest itself.Â Â (Playing on the fact that the term â€œfigureâ€ isÂ meaningful in visual arts and literature, as well as in music.)
Everything in the Quartet derives from the materials of its tripartite figure.Â Â And since these are revealed differently in the two movements â€“ obscured in the first;Â in the second initially outlined harshly, but then interruptedÂ increasingly by a softened, melodic version ofÂ itself –Â Â IÂ titled each movement accordingly:Â Â 1 -Â In Shadow ,Â Â Â 2 â€“ In Bright Light.
OverallÂ the Quartet isÂ dramatic in its character, but woven in its form.Â It changes on a dime from inward to outward musics,Â fromÂ romantic sweep toÂ angular exclamation –Â Â at one pointÂ (at the height ofÂ Shadowâ€™sÂ central sprint),Â I ask the players to stamp their feet,Â several times,Â Â for unison emphasis â€“ and the movementsÂ interrelate .Â Â Â Example:Â Thereâ€™s a shard which appears only once in the first movement thatÂ in the second becomesÂ seriously meaningful.
The Harlem Quartet is very interested in the piece, and weâ€™ve already had some spirited rehearsals (by electronic means); we meet in person at Syracuse on Friday.
[Five other of my works will also be done at Syracuse acrossÂ the twoÂ Saturday concerts. ]
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During September and OctoberÂ in addition to firstÂ performances ofÂ three brand-new pieces thereâ€™ll be aÂ sort-of first performance of a fourth.Â ThisÂ â€˜sort-ofâ€™ premiereÂ (at Syracuse University, September 15th 8:00 PM)Â is of my SerenadeÂ for Violin and Organ.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
At times composers canâ€™t accurately predictÂ what will spark performer interest.Â I know itâ€™s a surprise to meÂ sometimes: More than once when Iâ€™ve written a piece just for myself to play thatÂ caught on with other pianists,Â developingÂ a hardyÂ after-life.Â Â
Serenade was composed in one day in March of 2006, originally for piano.Â AÂ close relativeâ€™s serious illness had me brooding, so I sat down to write musicÂ she would enjoy hearing.Â Â She loves the kind of lush jazz chords typical of â€˜40s big-bands, so I began with the same major-7th chord asÂ David Raksin used inÂ â€œLauraâ€Â and progressed from there inÂ sustained quiet affect.Â Â Â The resultingÂ five-minute movement is something of a lone-wolfÂ — it staysÂ in one meter throughout with aÂ circular melody that never resolves;Â andÂ the music begins and ends almost without definition.Â BecauseÂ its background rhythm is a consistentÂ slow syncopation, I included it on the Prestidigitations CD asÂ coda.
When the Syracuse concert came up,Â the organ professor wanted to play, so IÂ suggested he adapt Serenade ( a melody withÂ worked-out harmonic support ) and sent along the music.Â Â He really liked it and slated the transcribed version for the mid-September concert (Iâ€™ll be there).
The music is mine, but this version is his.Â Vested interest is spread, and anticipated pleasure in the offering is shared.Â (A report on the transcriptionÂ will follow later this month.)Â
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