About Us
Essential Library
Read Past Issues Resources Composer Links
  May 12-19, 2003

Neocomplexity and
James Dillon
Scottish composer James Dillon won the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award this week  for the best composition at the chamber orchestra scale for his new work, The Book of Elements, Volume 5

Dillon was born in Glasgow on 29 October 1950. He first became involved in music through playing in traditional Scottish pipe bands and in rock groups. He studied Music, Acoustics and Linguistics in London, but received no formal training in composition.

Dillon is now associated with the New Complexity movement of British composers, one that includes Brian Ferneyhough and Michael Finnissy. The complexity of the music is in its intricate rhythmic demands, but it does not disguise a fundamental love for beautiful polyphony, sometimes even a transparency of texture that is always present on some level in Dillon's compositions. On the other extreme are the works in which no attempt is made to temper their ferocity, like helle Nacht and Nine Rivers. 

A major retrospective of Dillon's compositions took place at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 1995. He has received commissions from the BBC, Ensemble 2E2M, Festival d'Automne a Paris, IRCAM, the International Society for Contemporary Music and Radio France. A large portion of Dillon's output can be organised into enormous cycles or series. He has written an eight part cycle of duos and trios called L'évolution du vol, as well as the nine-part electro-acoustic series known as Nine Rivers (Oceanos).


James Dillon's Notes  on The Book of Elements Volume I (1997)

"Arranged as five piano volumes each of approximately the same length, and with a varying number of works to each volume, the title here refers to a double reading of the term element: first (as in chemistry) an 'irresoluble substance' and secondly (as in the ancient belief) in the elements for the 'foundation' of everything. Within the eleven brief, elliptical works that make up Volume 1 there are a number of symmetrics, pairings and ratio crossings which are arranged to maintain unity within an apparently fragmented and heterogenous constellation of works. The initial plan was to create a set of irreducible musical elements from which I could construct a number of works of varying scale. In this first volume the 'aphoristic' informs the scale, and these elements are exposed to a kind of intertextual and naked playfulness - a confrontation with style - which arrogantly traces a lineage (not as some post-modern appropriation) as a particular conceptualisation of (keyboard) transparency. Volume I may be seen as a meditation for and an opening to Volumes II-V which will expand on these 'genetic' fragments in various ways; the idea being to weave a group of independent yet interrelated works, where the initial material is filtered through some symbolic re-conceptualisation and where the interrelations are a question of heterogeneity. The Book of Elements gathers in the folds of rhythm, of silence and resonance.

What's Recent

An Interview with Tobias Picker
Handmaid Tale's Debuts in English
Rautavaara Joins B&G 
Who's Afraid of Julia Wolfe
Derek Bermel's Soul Garden
 The Pianist: The Extraordinary 
True Story of Wladyslaw Szpilman
John Adams' Atomic Opera
A Bridge Not Far Enough
Turnage Signs With B&H
Sophie's Wrong Choice
Copland's Mexico
On Being Arvo
Rzewski Plays Rzewski
Praising Lee Hyla
David Lang's Passing Measures
Three Tales at BAM
Naxos at 15
On the Transmigration of Souls
Dead Man Walking
David Krakauer's The Year After
Steve Reich/Alan Pierson

Our writers welcome your comments on their pieces.  Send your witty bon mots to jbowles@sequenza21.com and we might even publish some of them here.  And, don't forget--if you'd like to write for Sequenza21 (understanding that we have no money to pay you), send me a note. JB

Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for our Editor's Pick's of the month.  Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, NY, NY 10019  Also, feel free to nominate your favorite composer-- even if it's you--for Spotlight of the Week.
Why Orchestras Are Hurting... New Jersey orchestras are struggling in the recession. So why do orchestras seem to do so poorly when times are bad? "Everybody knows this is a tough environment. This will be a hard year to even come close to a balanced budget. Every time there is a recession, by definition, orchestras do badly. We are labor intensive - 80 percent of what we do goes to product, and we plan years in advance. There's not much flexibility." Newark Star-Ledger 05/08/03

Louisville Mining Its American Legacy The Louisville Orchestra was the first American orchestra to set up its own recording company. It recorded American - one of the most ambitious promotions of American composers ever. "By 1959, when the commissioning component of the Rockefeller grant came to an end, the Louisville Orchestra had commissioned, performed and recorded 116 works by 101 composers." Now the orchestra is in financial difficulty, and its trove of historic recordings offers an opportunity... Louisville Eccentric Observer 05/08/03 

Let's Dance Wid Dubya Several musicians have fallen in love with Dubya's voice and have sampled his words into dance music. "Bush's speeches to the American people, particularly those concerning the Iraq war and September 11, have proved a popular source of material for a number of dance music producers and a host of releases featuring the voice of George W are now available." The Guardian (UK) 05/07/03 

MPR's New Take On Contemporary Music MPR's new "American Mavericks" series explores contemporary music. "In some ways as daring as the composers it brings to life, the show departs from the standard classical-radio recipe, using sound effects from train whistles to ocean waves to shrieking cats. It plays rock and art music in the same episode. It deftly moves music from background to foreground and back again. It tells complicated stories with a breezy, youthful irreverence underpinned by airtight research and writing, courtesy of Village Voice music critic Kyle Gann." The Star-Tribune (Minneapolis) 05/11/03 

Opera For Prudes An Opera Colorado production of Mozart's Don Giovanni has been ordered 'toned down' after a group of home-schooled students viewed a dress rehearsal, and complained about the overtly sexual nature of a scene in which "a woman - dressed in a one-piece bustier, fishnet stockings, garter belt and high heels - [cavorted] with a sometimes shirtless Don Giovanni." Since the entire plot of this particular opera is based on the sexual exploits of its title character, one might have expected the company to tell the complainants to get bent. But the president of the company was apparently similarly shocked to discover that there is sex in opera, and ordered that the show be sanitized for audience protection. Denver Post 05/07/03 

The New New Composing A new music learning program - a toy - teaches kids about composing music. "Hyperscore, the composing portion of Tod Machover's 'Toy Symphony' trinity, is a sophisticated musical tool in the guise of a simple computer game. Children position drops of sound and colored lines on the screen, building up layers and length into a texture that is as complex as they can manage. It is not, however, just a matter of drawing a picture and getting a pretty tune..." Newsday 05/11/03 

"Handmaid's Tale" American Premiere In Minnesota Minnesota Opera is staging the American premiere of Poul Ruders' "A Handmaid's Tale (based on the Margaret Atwood book). Company officials have already cast "The Handmaid's Tale" as a "financial bath. They couldn't attract a corporate sponsor, and while the opera comes from a popular book, it's not from a beloved one. 'Maybe it was just a backlash of the times, with the war and all, but make no mistake, we created something extremely volatile and controversial. You have illicit sex, perversion, betrayal, hope and love and such heartbreaking loss. But if audiences are going to be trapped for three hours, you have to grab and entertain them, and this does that quite well'." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 05/09/03 

Where Operas Come To Be Born New York City Opera's annual opera workshop is the place new operas come to to be seen - a kind of coming-out party. "Portions of 10 new American operas be presented, including one by Lou Harrison, who died in February. This year's other composers range from the young and unknown (Patrick Soluri, 28) to the decorated (the Pulitzer Prize winner Bernard Rands). All events are free and open to the public, offering a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of the country's operatic future. From a performer's perspective there is nothing else quite like it in the country. Opera scouts and industry insiders have been present in past years, and there are stories of works being picked up at the Vox and slated for full production." The New York Times 05/06/03 

The Music Critic Problem - Hearing It On Radio Is Better What's wrong with contemporary music criticism? "The customary practice is that anyone can be approached for his or her opinion on the latest film, play, novel or exhibition. Behind the convention is an ideology: that the less you know about the subject in advance the better, since your ignorance connects you to the audience." On radio, however, one can hear and compare the music and be guided by someone who knows what they're talking about... The Guardian (UK) 05/10/03 

What Makes A Great Piano? "Yes, pianists grouse that Steinways are not what they used to be. Yes, pianists ascribe whatever faults they found in whatever Steinway they just played to every Steinway. And no, the majority would never play anything but. Steinway knows all this. Every new piano that rolls out of the Steinway & Sons factory — in Astoria, Queens, next to oil tanks that block the view of the Rikers Island jails — is an attempt to refute the notion that the only good Steinway is an old Steinway." The New York Times 05/11/03 

Are Recording Studios Obsolete? "In just a few years, the commercial recording studio has become an endangered species. Between a troubled record industry and new technology that makes studios and their expensive equipment all but obsolete, only a handful are still able to stay in business. With the extraordinary capabilities of the digital recording system called Pro Tools and the rapidly dropping cost of hard disk storage and blank CDs, musicians can set up their own recording studios for a fraction of what it used to cost to make albums at commercial facilities. The days are over for a pure music recording studio." San Francisco Chronicle 05/06/03 

See The Concert, Buy The Music Clear Channel, which dominates the American radio business and is also a major concert promoter, is offering a new deal - go to the concert, then five minutes after it's finished, buy a recording of the concert you just heard. "Although initially modest, involving only small-audience clubs and theaters in the Boston area, the venture could eventually extend beyond radio and concerts into music distribution. And that could prove troubling to critics, who already complain that the company's rigidly formatted radio stations prevent diverse artists from reaching the airwaves and that its dominance of the concert business too often forces touring acts to accept unfavorable deals." The New York Times 05/05/03 

Over One Million Served: Apple Music Downloads A Hit In its first week, Apple's new music download service (99 cents a song) sold one million downloads. "In less than one week we’ve broken every record and become the largest online music company in the world,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. Apple 05/05/03 

 Last Week's News
Advertising and Sponsorship Info

Caught in the Act
Michael Harrison’s Revelation 
At The American Festival Of Microtonal Music

by Stuart Isacoff

Johnny Reinhard’s American Festival of Microtonal Music presented three performances of Michael Harrison’s Revelation: Music for the Harmonically Tuned Piano in late April and early May, with Joshua Pierce as the formidable piano soloist. I had heard an early incarnation of this work in a private recital a couple of years ago, with the composer at the keyboard. Harrison’s approach, which grew partly from his work with composer La Monte Young, exploits the overtones generated naturally by vibrating strings—the series of pitches that resonates softly above every “fundamental” tone. For acoustical reasons these are obscured in the modern piano’s usual equal-tempered tuning. The results here are often surprising and wondrous.

For example, in the midst of clouds of dense clusters rapidly drummed in the bass end of the instrument, an astute listener can perceive high ghost tones—sometimes bell-like, at other times vaporous—as if a choir of angels were singing along. The piece can run as long as 90 minutes, and its sections build toward a climax during which I would have sworn that Brazilian singer Milton Nasciemento had entered the room and begun chanting around a high B Flat. Joshua Pierce’s rendering of the score was virtuosic in the best sense: technically accomplished and emotionally committed in every moment. When the piece was pensive, he was tender and thoughtful; when it wanted to soar, he unleashed a torrent of energy.

The intricate textures and remarkable effects of Revelation are the result of Harrison’s desire to “emancipate the comma.” This re-working of Schoenberg’s famous phrase about the emancipation of dissonance registers the seriousness of his goal. A “comma” is the difference between two intervals with same name—a third, for example, or an octave—arrived at through different tunings systems. For example, a major third produced in Pythagorean tuning (based on a series of pure fifths) is wider than one produced by a naturally vibrating string.  Play these two versions of the same third together and the result is a jarring dissonance. For centuries, musicians sought to avoid these clashes; Harrison incorporates them into the texture of his music.

In some ways, Harrison’s vision represents the philosophical flip side of Schoenberg’s. Schoenberg’s revolution in Western music, through which he broke down conventional harmonic models, was by its nature horizontal: everything built from rows of tones scrupulously ordered, with no one tone more important than another. Harrison’s approach is vertical: harmony built on subtle harmony, overtones wrestling or reinforcing each other—producing a concoction of sound filled with otherworldly resonances. The difference between these approaches brings to mind an age-old argument, voiced in the eighteenth century between Rameau and Rousseau, over whether music attains expressivity through harmony or melody. 

Schoenberg dissolved the distinction between consonance and dissonance. In similar fashion, Harrison rehabilitates the comma into a newly welcome constituent of the harmonic universe. This gives rise to an exciting and often moving musical dimension—one that may well be the path toward music’s future. 

Stuart Isacoff, a pianist and composer, is founding editor of the magazine Piano Today, Executive Editor of Sheet Music Magazine and a recipient of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music. 

NWEAMO 2003: The Exploding Interactive Inevitable 
October 3-5, 2003: Portland, Oregon (B-Complex) October 10-12, 2003: 
(San Diego State University) 

Miller Theatre: 
2002-03 Season at a Glance

Previous Interviews/Profiles
Simon Rattle, Michael Gordon,Benjamin Lees, Scott Lindroth, David Felder, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Erkki-Sven Tüür,John Luther Adams, Brett Dean, Judith Lang Zaimont, Meyer Kupferman, Evan Chambers, Poul Ruders, Steven R. Gerber, Gloria Coates

Previous Articles/
Busoni The Visionary
The Composer of the Moment:  Mark-Anthony Turnage
Electronic Music
Voices: Henze at 75
Henze Meets Emenim
On Finding Kurtag
Charles Ruggles:  When Men Were Men
Ballet Mécanique
The Adams Chronicles

             EDITORS PICKS - May 2003 

The Shock of the Old
Composer:  Common Sense 
Composers' Collective
 Santa Fe New Music - #513 

Consider the possibility  that ancient instruments like the harpsichord, Baroque flute and so on can  be used to play  contemporary music as well and you have the idea behind this very fresh and appealing collaboration between the Common Sense Composers' Collective--an eight-member cooperative based in New York and San Francisco--and American Baroque, an early-music consort that makes its home in the Bay Area.   Remarkable stuff that should make converts on both ends of the musical spectrum.

Darkness into Light
Composer: Composer:  John Tavener
Performer:  Anonymous 4
Harmonia Mundi Franc

Four pieces by contemporary mystic composer John Tavener framed by medieval hymns illustrate the passage from darkness to light in this hypnotic collaboration between Anonymous 4 and the Chilingirian Quartet. The most substantial piece is the world premiere of Tavener's "The Bridgegroom," which is nearly 18 minutes long and spellbinding from start to finish.



Overture to the Creole 'Faust'
Ollantay, Pampeana No. 3
Dances from the Ballet, 'Estancia'
Composer: Alberto Ginastera
Performers:  Odense Symphony Orchestra, Jan Wagner, conductor

 The nice folks at Bridge Records are obviously thinking Latin America these days with their recent fabulous Villa-Lobos release and now this superb collection of music from the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginaestera--played, as was the Villa-Lobos, by the Odense Symphony Orchestra under Jan Wagner.  This is bold and flavorful music served fresh and hot--the way you like it. 

Thirteen Ways
Composers:  Tower, Perle, etc
Performer(s): Eighth Blackbird

You got to love a group that takes its name from one of Wallace Stevens' best poems but you'd love them if their name was Band X.  This  six-member ensemble mixes flutes, clarinets, violin and viola, cello, percussion and piano to create a big sound for chamber pieces.  The composers here--Joan Tower, George Perle, David Schobar, and Thomas Albert--are all given polished and enthusiastic readings.  Absolutely first-rate and highly recommended. 

Untaming the Fury
New American Music for Guitar and Violin
Summit Records  SMT-346
As  Duo46, guitarist Matt Gould and violinist  Beth Ilana Schneider  make exciting music together. On this CD, they work their magic on ten pieces specially commissioned from composers who are not household names yet--but all of whom display great potential. Gould and Schneider are polished players who imbue these short works with a full-range of emotional context.


Baltic Voices 1
Composers: Arvo Pärt, Einojuhani Rautavaara, et al.
Conductor: Paul Hillier
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #907311
Paul Hillier leads the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in Volume 1 of Baltic Voices — a three-year project to explore the choral riches of the Baltic Sea countries. With a special attention to the choir’s native Estonia, these recordings will highlight the mainstream tradition of the past hundred years, complemented with music of earlier periods and commissions from younger composers. Volume 1 features haunting secular and sacred works by 20th-century composers Cyrillus Kreek, Arvo Pärt, Einojuhani Rautavaara,  Sven-David Sandstrøm, Peteris Vasks, and Veljo Tormis.  Cool, ethereal, other worldly music from a hot bed of great contemporary composers.

Awakening at the Inn of the Birds, etc.
 Composer: Michael Byron
 Performers: FLUX Quartet, Sarah Cahill, Joseph Kubera, and Kathy Supove
Cold Blue Music CB0012
Michael Byron blends  minimalist and maximalist techniques and rigorous processes with freely composed music to create works that range from the hynotic to the boisterous.  Continents of City and Love and Tidal, written 20 years apart, are both arch-form pieces scored for two pianos, synthesizer, string quartet, and doublebass. This new CD collects four of Byron’s very recent works and a new recording of a piece from 1981, all performed by some of today’s most-respected new-music champions, including Sarah Cahill and Joseph Kubera on pianos, Kathleen Supové on synthesizer, and the FLUX Quartet.

Level 7 
Composer: Evan Ziporyn, et al. 
Performer: The Robin Cox Ensemble
The Robin Cox Ensemble is a unique new music group that combines violin, cello, percussion, and live electronics to create vivid performances of new music. In its first three years, this quartet with a one-of-a-kind instrumentation has already staged more forty performances and collaborated with many prominent choreographers and composers, including on this--the group's second CD--the marvelous Evan Ziporyn. 

Orchestral Works 4
Composer: Krzysztof Penderecki
Peformers: Chee-Yun, violin; Wit, 
Polish Nat'l Rso,  Naxos 
The two violin concertos presented here are from the 1970s when Penderecki returned from strict modernism to more traditional modes of composition. The first concerto dates from 1977, and was written for Isaac Stern, its solo writing containing prodigious technical difficulties. The second is not much easier but both violinists on this CD produce lively, impressive accounts.

Albert Herring
Composer: Benjamin Britten
 Performer: Bedford, Northern Sinfonia
 Naxos - 
In which young Albert Herring, the May King (apparently no female virgin could be found to serve as Queen) is taken into hand by the lovers  Sid and Nancy, fortified with rum, and treated to a night on the town where he does--or does not--lose his virtue.  Wonderful, gay comedy and beautifully sung.

Complete Orchestral Works 3
Composer: John Carbon
Conductor: Vladimir Valek, Marin Alsop, et al.
Mmc Records - #2120 
Recent recordings of Carbon's dazzling Violin Concerto, performed by Violinist Peter Zazofsky with Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra; also a marvelous reading by Richard Stoltzman of Carbon's Clarinet Concerto, and Notturno for Trumpet, Harp, and Strings, performed by Gerard Schwarz (with Jeff Silberschlag on trumpet) and the Seattle Symphony.  Valuable recording of an unjustly neglected composer.

Works for Wind Band 3 
Composer: John Philip Sousa
Performer(s): Brion, Royal Artillery Band
Born in Washington DC on 6 November, 1854, the father of American march music was the son of a trombonist with the United States Marine Band and a true prodigy.  He began music lessons at age six and by the age of eleven he organized and led his own ‘quadrille orchestra’. The rest of his orchestra consisted of seven grown men and quickly became a popular dance orchestra in the Washington area. At the age of 25, he was chosen to become Director of the United States Marine Band in Washington. He began leading the Marine Band in January 1880, beginning a fabled 52 year career as a bandmaster. 
Composer: Arvo Part 
Performers: Tonus Peregrinus/Antony Pitts, director

Arvo Part’s Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John is widely regarded as one of the most significant choral works of the 20th century. Born in Estonia in 1935, Part studied at the Tallinn Conservatoire, his early compositions strongly influenced by Russian music from the Shostakovich era. Thirty years ago, he began to embrace polyphonic forms linked with Gregorian chant.  Passio echos the earliest American minimalism, with short melodic and rhythmic patterns repeated to form a more extensive narrative.   The British-based vocal ensemble, Tonus Peregrinus performs solidly.  Another great bargain from Naxos

Requiem and other Sacred Music
Composer: John Rutter:
Performers: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge / Timothy Brown, director

John Rutter's gentle Requiem, written in 1985, was composed with a special affection for choral sound. If you prefer the quiet requiem of Fauré to the bombastic requiem of  Verdi, you will love Rutter's work, created from a personal selection of texts, some from the Requiem Mass and others from the l662 Book of Common Prayer.


Uirapurú, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, The Emperor Jones (Premiere Recording)
Composer:  Heitor Villa-Lobos
Performers: Odense Symphony Orchestra, Jan Wagner, conductor

 For years, Villa-Lobos was regarded by many as a minor composer who wrote terrific little pieces for the guitar.  Not anymore.  A veritable explosion of recordings of orchestral works shows Villa-Lobos to have been one of the 20th century’s giants.  These vibrant performances of some of the less recorded Villa-Lobos works are a jaw-dropping revelation of music at its most romantic and sublime. 

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 17
Symphony No. 22, Op. 236, "City of Light"
Composer: Alan Hovhaness
Performers:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Starker, Davis
A premiere of Hovhaness’s 1936 Concerto for Orchestra and a return to print from a previous Delos release of the City of Light Symphony, conducted by the composer himself.  Hovhaness was a pioneer of that East/West fusion that has become part of the common currency of contemporary music and his music is neither as easy to love as detractors claim nor as profound as adherents would have it.  Like Martinu, Hovhaness wrote a lot of music and virtually all of it is of a high quality.  Nothing wrong with that. 

Search WWW Search www.sequenza21.com 

Sequenza21/The Contemporary Classical Music Weekly is part of
Classical Music Web Ring
The free linking service provided by Classical Music UK
[ Previous 5 Sites | Previous| Next | Next 5 Sites | Random Site | List Sites ]
SEQUENZA21/is published weekly by Sequenza21/, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019
Publisher:  Duane Harper Grant  (212) 582-4153
Editors:    Jerry & Suzanne Bowles   (212) 582-3791
Contributing Editor: Deborah Kravetz 
(C) Sequenza/21 LLC 2000