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Jerry Bowles
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Latest Posts

Love and Cow Bells
Sorceress of the New Piano
Well, That Was Fun
Naxos Dreaming
Reich@70: Let the Celebrations Begin
The Bi-Coastal Jefferson Friedman
Violins Invade Indianapolis
John Cage (born Los Angeles, 5 September 1912; died New York, 12 August 1992).
The People United Will Never Be Divided
Attention Sequenza21 Shoppers


Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for review. Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Saturday, March 12, 2005
What's New Saturday?

The American Music Center will give its annual Letters of Distinction on May 2 in Manhattan to a varied group, including Laurie Anderson; Lukas Foss; the jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal; and Gian Carlo Menotti. The center will also present Founders Awards posthumously to Charles Ives and Count Basie...Brian Sacawa and Christina Fong have newish posts and Lawrence Dillon is packing for a trip to Russia...We could use a couple of more composers with attitude for our Composers Forum or if you've really got a lot on your mind we'll fix you up with a composer or performer blog. Send me an e-mail if you're interested in participating in the S21 community.
Behzad Ranjbaran--Back Home Again in Indiana

Composer Behzad Ranjbaran was born and raised in Iran. He came to the United States in 1974, where he studied composition at Indiana University and later earned a doctorate at The Juilliard School, where he currently is on the faculty. During his years at the IU School of Music, he became friends with violinist Joshua Bell, a Bloomington native who made his professional debut at age 14 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and over time, a desire to collaborate ultimately came to fruition with the creation of a Violin Concerto, dedicated by the composer to his longtime friend. Bell premiered the work with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Gerard Schwarz, conductor, in January 2003. The Indianapolis Symphony will perform the American premiere of the work in three concerts--March 31-April 2.
What's New for Friday?

Cat-blogging, of course.

This is Howard, age four. He likes French films, chasing a string on a stick and napping, not necessarily in that order. His favorite magazine is Foreign Affairs (two of them stacked together make a great pillow) and his favorite composer is Messiaen. Love those birdsounds.

See Brian Sacawa's kitty Hotaru here.
What's New. How is the World Treating You?

Several goodies in the new Atlanta Symphony schedule next season. In November, the ASO will do a semi-staged production of Osvaldo Golijov�s one-act opera Ainadamar with Dawn Upshaw, for whom the piece was written. Lelia Josefowicz will play Oliver Knussen�s Violin Concerto and Knussen will conduct in October, if he makes it. Personally, I�ve gone off Olly and Thomas Ades and all those other British bad boys with their juvenile fuck-you attitudes toward civilians. Even the Stones show up straight and sober and start on time these days. Get over the diva thing, guys.

But, I digress. In May, the ASO will do Tan Dun�s "Dragon and Phoenix" from Heaven Earth Mankind, the symphony composed for the 1997 reunification of Hong Kong with China. On the same program James MacMillan�s Symphony No. 3 �Silence.�

Ever hear of a composer named Karol Rathaus? David Salvage thinks he�s one of the lost great ones...Brian Sacawa has posted a neat picture of his cat. I can't stand the pressure; I'm posting a picture of my guy, Howard, on Friday.
Voices at Harvard

Last weekend The Fromm Players at Harvard, conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky, presented a series of two concerts entitled Multiple Voices. "Curated," as the program said, by Elliott Gyger, Harvard composition professor, it featured, as one might expect from the title, various approaches to using more than one singer in pieces, ranging from unaccompanied small groups of soloists to tape pieces whose sources were primarily or entirely voices. I suppose it might be possible to complain about the mostly modernist/"academic" outlook that was clear from the programming, but that's after all where we were. The concerts seemed to me to be among the most interesting I've heard or even heard about; and the performances were universally splendid.

The Friday evening concert began with It's Gonna Rain (1965) by Steve Reich; consisting entirely of the recorded words of an itinerate preacher minipulated in various ways, the piece is the beginning of Reich's earliest minimalist style. It was followed by Grammarie des reves (1989) by Kaija Saariaho, where two singers, in this case the wonderful Tony Arnold and Julia Bentley, sang fragments of poems by Eluard, volumptuously and elegantly enveloped, amplified, and intertwined with and by an instrumental ensemble of two flutes, harp, viola, and 'cello. The second half of the concert began with the Leopardi Fragments (1961) by Peter Maxwell Davies; a piece for soprano and mezzo (the same singers as in the Saariaho) with five winds, harp, and 'cello. The Leopardi Fragments is one of Davies's earliest major piece, predating Eight Songs for a Mad King by about eight years. Reflecting the influence of its model, Monteverdi--particularly the Vespers, it is spare and intense, with occassionally vivid shimmering melismatic outbursts.

The concert ended with Syringa (1978) by Carter. Syringa is one of the most typical, even stereotypical, examples of a certain kind of Carter piece involving different ensembles doing pretty drastically different things at the same time. In this case a baritone, with his own ensemble, sings in a very impassioned and florid manner texts in ancient Greek, conterpointing and commenting on a long poems by John Ashbery about the Orpheus myth sung by a mezzo, with her own complementary ensemble, in an understated and conversational manner. I was quite interested in hearing this, since I like the piece quite a bit, but had only heard it on recordings. I had always had a nagging suspicion that it was something that could only really work in a recording studio where the balances could be externally controlled. It turns out, I think, that I was wrong. At least I think I was. It seemed from this performance as though everything could work, with a minimal ammount of external help--the guitar part here was very slightly amplified.

This particular performance, however, was not helped by the mezzo soloist, Marry Nessinger, who somewhat overdid the offhand, casual quality that Carter seemed to want, and as a consequence was often completed swamped, not so much in volume as in dramatic projection by Jan Opalach, who was going after his part with passion and verve, and possibly some equivalent of chewing the scenery.

The second concert opened with Bo (1979) by Jacob Druckman, for bass clarinet, marimba, and harp with three singers. Unlike most pieces with singers, where the instruments are the accompanying forces, Bo is really an instrumental work, accompanied by the vocal parts. The singers, seated and facing away from the audience, sang a Chinese text, fragmented, I think. The piece is elegantly clear and pretty, undemanding of the audience and good to hear. It was followed by the second version A-Ronne (1975) by Berio, for eight singers, electronically amplified and mixed. The text is a multilingal collage working through beginning, middle, and end, with quotes from the Bible, Dante, Machaut, and Elliot, among others. The performance was brilliantly assured; the piece, although skillful and enjoyable and certainly irreproachable, nontheless seemed awfully derivative of other Berio pieces, amongh them O King, Sinfonia, and Laborintus II. I suppose one shouldn't complain so much about a composer ripping off from himself, but nevertheless...

After Gesang der Junglinge (1956) by Stockhausen, about the earliest important tape piece, which seems to wear pretty well, the concert ended with Meridian (1971) by Harrison Birtwistle. Meridian is a big piece in a lot of different ways, using two mixed vocal/instrumental ensembles arranged symmetrically--both physically and conceptually--around a sort of concertino group of piano, horn, 'cello, and mezzo. It sets poems by Thomas Wyatt and Christopher Logue and is dramatic and vividly powerful, a really wonderful piece. Its strength was undercut in this performance by the rather pale singing of Mary Nessinger, and the lack of clarity of words and volume from the chorus, despite the fact that they were amplified. The stage of Paine Hall was just too small for both Meridian and Syringa, both of which needed space to spread out and separate their ensembles more, so as to clarify the antiphonal qualities of the music. These are small complaints, though, about concerts whose conception was compelling and whose performances were so very assured and so very good.
Classical Intimacies at ACF

Are you poor? Do you live in New York City? Do you like contemporary music?

Well if you�re like me, you�re all three. And people like us should extend a hearty Danke Sch�n to the Austrian government for bankrolling the Austrian Cultural Forum of New York City. Why?

Now through June the ACF is hosting an extensive series of concerts called "Classical Intimacies." Even though it includes a Mahler Song Festival � well worth catching by the way � the vast majority of the concerts offer a stimulating mix of classical and contemporary chamber music. Beethoven and Haydn are presented alongside Olga Neuwirth, Beat Furrer, and other young Austro-Germanic types you�ve probably never heard of. The performances at the ACF may not always be the most polished affairs, but the musicians tend to give the music everything they got. Last night�s rendition of the "R�ckert Lieder," by Elizabeth Wiley and Thomas Bagwell, brought tears to this jaded concert-goer�s eyes. Anyhow, I almost forgot to mention that all concerts at the ACF are free. Just be sure to call ahead to reserve seats.

P.S. The next concert with new music on it will be March 14th. It features works by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and . . . Shih, who�s worth hearing.

P.S.S. The building, on E.52nd St., will be interesting to you modern architecture buffs out there.
What's New Today?

The schedule for this summer�s Lincoln Center Festival is out and, as usual, there were a few trinkets for new music fans, in addition to usual lineup of whirling dervishes and tap-dancing gypsies and fire-breathing sock puppets.

On Tuesday, July 12 , opening night of the Festival, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will give the first of five performances of Ocean, the final collaboration between Cunningham and John Cage. Inspired by the multi-layered writings of James Joyce, Ocean is performed in the round with the dancers on stage, surrounded by the audience, which is in turn surrounded by 112 musicians.

Random Dance, Wayne McGregor's modern dance company, will give two performances of the choreographer's evening-length work AtaXia in its U.S. premiere at the New York State Theater on July 21 and 22. The music (from a score by Michael Gordon) will be performed live by the British new music band Icebreaker.

Icebreaker will also perform contemporary works by Louis Andriessen, Frank Zappa, Conlon Nancarrow, Thomas Ades, and others on July 23. And on July 24, Alan Pierson�s Alarm Will Sound will perform "Un-Remixed," a concert consisting of acoustic arrangements of songs by electronic-music master Aphex Twin, with experimental sound composer Richard Devine as special guest artist on July 24.

British composer Brian Ferneyhough's first opera, Shadowtime will have its U.S. premiere performances July 21 and 22 in the Rose Theater. Shadowtime is based on the life of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), one of the most influential philosophers and cultural critics of the 20th century, and has a libretto by New York poet Charles Bernstein. It features the Nieuw Ensemble Amsterdam and Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, both making U.S. debuts.

According to the press release, the work is divided into seven scenes, moving from Benjamin's death on the border of France and Spain fleeing the Nazi invasion of France, to his descent into the underworld, a Las Vegas cocktail lounge where he encounters a Liberace-like pianist. Whatever.

Joel Sachs will also lead the New Juilliard Ensemble in a free performance of works by Ferneyhough, in Paul Hall in The Juilliard School on July 18.
Another Fine Mess--Knussen's Ghost at Zankel Hall

Saturday night was supposed to have been Oliver Knussen/Peter Serkin night at Zankel Hall but the bearded wild man of British new music was nowhere to be found. A program insert informed the hearty few who turned out that Brad Lubman had graciously agreed to fill in on �very short notice� for the ailing Knussen. Since Lubman�s picture (not Knussen�s) appeared on the posters outside, the notice could not have been that short and the aptly named Olly, who does indeed resemble a scruffier version of Stan Laurel's screen partner, is either sicker than we know or got an advance peek at the gate and decided he couldn�t afford to make the trip. All things considered, staying home was not a bad move.

Which is not to say that Knussen was not implicated in the proceedings. Lubman and a lightly rehearsed pickup orchestra called the Zankel Band played two of Knussen�s own short pieces and there were brief works by Colin Mathews, Mark-Anthony Turnage, and George Benjamin which were written as tributes to Knussen for his 50th birthday in 2002. Of these, only Turnage�s Snapshots, composed from a memory of �a very memorable and drunken evening� spent in Knussen�s company in Frankfurt, showed any signs of life. The rest were pretty much DOA.

Alexander Goehr�s Marching to Carcassonne, a serenade for piano and 12 instruments, is a more substantial piece with amusing first and second Vienna school references and rippling piano passages that provided Serkin with an opportunity to demonstrate that he is an excellent sight reader. The Zankel Band was joined for this piece by Fred Sherry--who resembles Dick Cheney more with each passing day--on cello.

By the time we got to the merciful end of Charles Wuorinen�s 2002 piece Cyclops I had had a couple of small epiphanies. One is that Pierre Boulez (whose own work I actually find quite engaging) has inspired a lot of really incestuous, drab music. And, two, Knussen is doing his part to continue the tradition. If this is where modern music has gone the audiences are never going to get any bigger.

UPDATE: Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times apparently saw an entirely different performance at Zankel Hall on Saturday night.
Last Night in LA--Soprano and Flutes

Last night�s Monday Evening Concert was given by the second of the two resident groups for which the museum provides the platform for the performances of contemporary music. This group is Xtet, an emsemble of from two to twelve musicians, led by Donald Crockett, composer, conductor and professor of composition at USC. The program began with the Villa-Lobos �Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6� (1935) for flute and bassoon. This was a nice warm-up for the ears. The first half ended with the performance of Book I and Book II of George Crumb�s �Madrigals� (1965). These two sets of songs were written for Jan deGaetani to sing and were the first of a series of Crumb compositions for voice to use Lorca�s poetic imagery. They were early works in the period when Crumb began receiving notice (and performance) for his distinctive musical voice. Each madrigal is built around a phrase from Lorca and the music is an �impression� using a range of colors Webern would certainly have liked for the glints and sparkles of sound. The three songs in Book I are for soprano, vibraphone and double bass; the three songs in Book II are for soprano, flutes (alto flute, flute, and piccolo in successive pieces) and percussion. These Madrigals are 40 years old, hard to believe because hearing them last night was to hear works that were fresh and alive.

John Steinmetz is the bassoonist of Xtet and a mainstay of the Opera and many studio recording sessions. His compositions extend the repertoire for his instrument and Xtet performed his �Simple Pleasures� (2003) for alto flute, bassoon, vibraphone, piano, viola, and cello. The work was commissioned in honor of the artistic director of a local chamber music society, and its six movements begin and end with one of the director�s favorite piano themes, a Grieg arietta. The movements keep the folk-like simplicity of the Grieg in a set of treatments which relate to Glass-like minimalism as well as to Harrison-like gamelan sounds. The folks in �Bang on a Can� should hear this and consider it as a possibility for one of their concerts. Steinmetz� most recent composition is a bassoon concerto, commissioned by three orchestras.

The concert concluded with an early composition by Russell Peck, �Automobile� (1968). At the time, Peck had received his first two degrees from Michigan and was a grad student working for his doctorate there. In the work, you can hear the young student, impressed by Boulez and Stockhausen, but attracted by early rock and pop ballads. In two movements, the work ends with a wild and funny combination of techniques from academic modernism, with random non-musical interjections, ending in a dead-serious performance by the soprano of a love-sick ballad from the 60s. It was delightful in performance.

A side-comment. I mentioned how fresh and new the �old� music by Crumb sounded, as did that of Peck, for that matter. Three days earlier we had been to a performance by a Chinese dance company of a dance performed to the complete recording of �The Wall� by Pink Floyd. Oh, did that music sound dated, firmly enmeshed in 1980, days long past.
What's New for Monday?

You've come to the right place today, music lovers. The redoubtable violinist and new music performer Christina Fong has joined our roster of regulars with a wake-up call for symphony orchestras. There's also fresh stuff from Lawrence Dillon, Brian Sacawa and Elodie Lauten. That should take you up to noon...And Greg Stepanich, an editor and blogger at the Palm Beach Post, has a review of a new piece by Arthur Weisberg just below. Don't forget to leave provocative comments; these kids are working their hearts out for you.
Weisberg's 'Fives for Five' debuts in Florida

Here's a late dispatch on a good new piece of chamber music.
Arthur Weisberg, one of the more venerable names in contemporary music, debuted a work for woodwind quintet Jan. 30 in a concert at Florida Atlantic Universityin Boca Raton. Weisberg's Fives for Five was part of an excellent concert by FAU's ensemble-in-residence, the Florida Woodwind Quintet. Also on the program were French and Czech works from the 19th and 20th centuries (Ibert, Lefebvre and Reicha).

Weisberg was the bassoonist for the quintet. He still has a home in Boca Raton, the consequence of having taught bassoon and been the conductor at Boca's Harid Conservatory for some years. The music division of the Harid (also a dance school) was taken over in 1999 by Lynn University, also in Boca, and which as a result now has a music department.

The newly appointed chief of the Lynn department is Jon Robertson, fresh from his duties as head of the music department at UCLA. Weisberg now teaches bassoon at Indiana University.

As a composer, Weisberg's idiom is freely tonal but anchored in traditional harmonic practices. Here's the portion of my blog review that concerned Fives for Five:

Fives for Five takes its name from the size of the ensemble and the compositional conceit of the work, which is replete with five-note motifs and quintuple meters. Weisberg has a clear grasp of architecture that was clear right from the beginning of the piece: Each player weighed in with a five-note gesture that led into a polyphony of intersecting lines that increased in complexity until the listener could find his aural feet with a much slower five-note motif hammered out by horn and bassoon.

This useful bit of construction helped orient the movement as well as its auditors. It foreshadowed the few moments of unison playing of five-beat measures, as well as a five-part sequential chord at one of the climaxes, in which the players rattled off triplets in sequence as they threw up a tower of powerful sound.

Oboist Robert Weiner began the second, slower movement in tender fashion with a plaintive, barely moving five-note melody that again was taken up by each of the instruments, before hornist David Peel inaugurated a faster section with a martial-flavored theme. The third movement was centered around a quintuplet that hinted at Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, though used in a very different way.

This was music of great difficulty and admirable transparency at the same time. The language was stark and modern without being forbidding, and Weisberg's ideas were clearly laid out, easy to follow, and full of narrative interest. It was a piece that would bear repeated hearings, and it received what sounded to me on just the one hearing to be an exceptional performance.

The other members of the quintet are clarinetist Paul Green and flautist Elissa Lakofsky.

Weisberg told me after the concert that he's just finished a sextet for piano and woodwind quintet. It will be premiered June 7 at the International Double Reed Society's 34th annual convention, which will be held this year in Austin, Texas.

Again, it was a piece well worth encountering, and a good challenge for an enterprising group of woodwind players looking for some attractive repertoire.


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