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340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Jerry Bowles
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David Salvage

Contributing Editors:

Galen H. Brown
Evan Johnson
Ian Moss
Lanier Sammons
Deborah Kravetz
Eric C. Reda
Christian Hertzog
(San Diego)
Jerry Zinser
(Los Angeles)

Web & Wiki Master:
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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 26, 2005
Sunny Saturday

"Can we hear two cheers for lyrical beauty in contemporary music? Many listeners will remember that elusive quality, a gentle swirl of songlike melody backed by sweet-toned harmonies," writes Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle, in a review of "Bellini Sky," a piece by Berkeley composer John Thow commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony for its English hornist Julie Ann Giacobassi that had its world premiere in Davies Symphony Hall on Thursday night.

Make that three cheers, Joshua.

Here at home, Elodie Lauten has a terrific piece called Underground Economics; Lawrence Dillon reports on his visit to the Cafe Idiot in St. Petersburg and our Composers Forum is the place to be heard these days.
Good Friday

James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra will unveil the orchestra's 125th season today. Lots of Beethoven and Schoenberg, including �Gurrelieder�' with Karita Mattila, Hunt Lieberson and Johan Botha. An all-American program on October 6-8 will feature a world premiere by Elliot Carter. Another season highlight should be a Levine-led evening of famous BSO commissions, including Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra; the world premiere of a new cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma by Osvaldo Golijov; and performances of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex� conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi.

Back here at the ranch, Brian Sacawa has a new piece on extended techniques and Lawrence Dillon is still catching up from his Russia trip.
Snowy morning here in Nuevo York�ARRG!

It�s probably snowing in Boston too which reminds me that if you�re not a regular visitor to the online site of WBGH Radio�s Art of the States, you�re missing out on one of the most valuable, free new music resources on the internet. From Adams to Zorn, there are hundreds of complete works permanently available for your immediate listening pleasure. Art of the States also reaches hundreds of thousands of other listeners through its network of radio broadcasters in 52 countries.

The program and website focus on a specific topic each month and this month the spotlight is on musical life of the American South around the time of the Civil War. If you mosy over there and click on the Current Feature link, you�ll hear all kinds of music from the period, including shape-note hymns, brass band pieces, Creole composers and Civil War-era songs. Complete pieces are presented in high-quality audio streams accompanied by extensive notes on the music and artists and links to related Web sites.

Art of the States has presented over 650 pieces by 275 American composers in its 13 years of existence. Other recent programs include microtonal and electroacoustic pieces by Charles Ives, Du Yun, Eyvind Kang, Paul Koonce, and Easley Blackwood; traditional and nontraditional etudes by David Rakowski, Matthew Burtner, and David Lang; compositions by Peter Mennin, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, and Virgil Thomson; and recent works by Roberto Sierra, Eleanor Hovda, Jorge Liderman, and Chaya Czernowin.

Lawrence Dillon has a fascinating account of a meeting with several Russian counterparts and a question from them that he would like your help in answering: "What pieces from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s have changed the way composers think about composing?" Leave your answers over there so he'll be sure to find them...And Everette Minchew has a confession: he likes Pierre Boulez' music.
Notes on Teaching Composition

There are probably as many theories of teaching composition as there are composers. I will give you a few of mine, and I�d like to hear yours.

My first comp teacher in college was an old German gentleman, a disciple of Richard Strauss. Would you believe that the only instruction he gave me pertained to my calligraphy. My second teacher, at the University of Texas at Austin, didn�t do much more. For the first assignment he assigned the writing of a passacaglia, all without any background or specifics. He was furious when everyone brought in pieces in the style of J.S.Bach. A year or so later, another teacher instructed us to go out and write something and he would critque the pieces.

It wasn't until I attended Eastman that I began to get some real composition instruction. Wayne Barlow had us begin with the old Percy Goetchius books, supplementing them with study and writing examples using modal and synthetic scales, extended tertian harmony, secundal, and quartal-quintal harmony. It opened a whole new world to me, and set me on the creative and teaching course I have followed since I graduated. Of course, at that time (the late 40s), there was no teaching of atonal theory. I had to investigate that myself some time later.

In the years since, I�ve used a number of different composition texts, and learned by trial and error what works and what doesn�t. Ellis Kohs had an interesting approach, but proved too complicated for my students. Persichetti�s book was interesting, but, again, more as a compendium of techniques. I found what worked in my classes was to be as specific as possible. For example, I began by giving students 2 or 3 notes to use in short projects for their own instruments. I preceded this by devoting some time to techniques of motive variation. I showed them that, even with material as limited as this, it�s possible to employ unity, variety, and contrast. When the pieces were finished, the class heard and evaluated each student�s efforts. Later, we wrote examples of formal units- phrase and period construction, part forms, sonatina, and the variation forms. More advanced students studied and wrote using the ideas of Paul Hindemith and the Second Viennese School.
Artists or Schmucks?

While the lads are busy over in the Composers Forum beating the endless, if engaging, dead horse of moribund musical styles, perhaps we should consider the weighty matter of �artistic freedom� or�from the alternative perspective--�why are composers (and other artistic types) so damned self-destructive?� The question is prompted by this report from Russia about �Rosenthal�s Children,� the first new opera commissioned by the Bolshoi in more than 30 years. The opera has drawn heavy fire from Putin�s rightwing stormtroopers in the Duma for being �pornographic, vulgar and unsuitable,� which students of musical history will recall pretty much sums up Stalin�s distaste for Shostokovitch�s Lady Macbeth of Minsk.

"Rosenthal's Children" is about a scientist who clones five great classical composers -- Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Wagner, Mussorgsky and Verdi. The scientist then dies, and the cloned musicians -- unprepared for life on their own in the 1990s -- end up on the street. Mozart, the youngest of them, falls in love with a prostitute whose pimp is always interfering. In the end, the pimp poisons all five geniuses.

One Russian lawmaker�apparently unfamiliar with the nocturnal habits of current leading members of the British avant garde�said: "It is immoral to depict the world's greatest composers ... as bums who drink vodka and rub shoulders with prostitutes that play music in a train station and beg for money.�

Leonid Desyantnikov wrote the music and Vladimir Sorokin, whose books have previously been burned by Putin�s goons (a fairly reliable clue to their reaction to his operatic endeavor), was commissioned to write the libretto.

Now �artistic freedom� is a wonderful thing and nobody except people like Putin and George Bush and Dick Cheney likes censorship. But, if you were the director of the Bolshoi and you got your first public funding in 30 years for a new opera, would you spend it on something you knew was going to make a lot of trouble and maybe kill funding for another 30 years? Or, for that matter, if you were Scottish Opera and had just survived a near-death experience, would you choose �Klinghoffer� as your comback vehicle? At what point does principle become self-defeating?
Wednesday Will Be Our Good News Day

Kafka Sings but does he swing? Alex Ross has a New Yorker review of two new operas--Poul Ruders' Kafka's Trial and Mark Adamo's Lysistrata--and it's online here. Reading between the lines he seems to cut the Ruders a lot of slack but there's so little new opera out there that a little charity does not seem out of place...Looks like we're irritating people again. Steve Hicken writes in his excellent blog: "I find the current production of Style Wars!, now playing at Composer's Forum and in its permanent run in Kyle Gann's blog (We are at war with serialism. We have always been at war with serialism.) desultory, tired, and sad." He talking about our Composers Forum, folks. Since Steve's very next post directs readers to Kyle Gann's latest assault on 12-tone I'm guessing that while he may find such discussions "desultory, tired and sad" he does not find them unamusing...Tim Rutherford-Johnson also has some fuel for the fire.

Midday Update: Lawrence Dillon has posted some photos from his trip to Russia last week and some delightful insights into new music in the old Soviet empire.
Tuesday News

As I mentioned in a comment over in the Composers Forum the other day, Tobias Picker�s Emmeline is one of the two or three best new American operas of the past decade so it�s a delight to discover that the Metropolian Opera has scheduled the world premiere of Picker�s latest effort, An American Tragedy, for December 2.

Commissioned by the Met and based on the 1925 novel of the same name by American writer Theodore Dreiser, the opera has a libretto by Gene Scheer. James Conlon will conduct, with Patricia Racette as Roberta Alden, Susan Graham as Sondra Finchley, and Nathan Gunn as Clyde Griffeths. The cast also includes Dolora Zajick as Elvira Griffeths, Jennifer Larmore as Elizabeth Griffeths, Kim Begley as Samuel Griffeths, William Burden as Gilbert Griffeths, and Richard Bernstein as Orville Mason. Francesca Zambello will direct, with sets designed by Adrianne Lobel in her Met debut, costumes designed by Dunya Ramicova, lighting designed by James F. Ingalls, and choreography by Doug Varone.

For a neat insight on how Picker works, see his comment under Rodney Lister's post on Cults over on the Composers Forum page. (Scroll down the comments; it's near the end.)
Larry Bell on Vincent Persichetti

The vinyl recordings released by the Louisville Orchestra were, for many listeners, their first real contact with the world of modern American orchestral music. In addition to music by William Schuman, Roy Harris, and Aaron Copland were pieces by Carlos Chavez, Paul Hindemith, Roger Sessions, Luigi Dallapiccola, and many, many others.

Thanks to the First Edition Music label, the Louisville Orchestra�s entire catalog�over 400 works by over 250 composers�is being systematically released on compact disc. The unique mission of the Louisville Orchestra recording project, a long and fascinating story, is summarized in the First Edition Music CD booklets.

These new recordings have wonderful presence. They prove that this quality can be achieved in one-track mono! They also show that with the proper amount of rehearsal, twenty minutes of usable recorded music can be generated in forty minutes of studio time. (Unions required a twenty minute break for each hour of recording.)

Vincent Persichetti: The Louisville Orchestra,
Robert Whitney and Jorge Mester conductors;
First Edition Music CD FECD-0034

Orchestral music of the prolific Vincent Persichetti (1915�1987) is featured on a new First Edition reissue. Serenade No. 5 appears with the Symphony for Strings (Symphony No. 5) and Symphony No. 8. When were these pieces written? 1950, 1953 and 1967, respectively, but it turns out dates don�t matter so much with this composer. In an interview with Rudy Shackelford in The Musical Quarterly, Persichetti declared that his music is not like a woman, that is, it does not have periods! From the Serenade for Ten Instruments, Op. 1 (written when the composer was thirteen, in 1928) to his last completed piece, �Winter Solstice,� for solo piano (1987), all of Persichetti�s music sounds remarkably like the voice of a singular and determining personality.

Each of these orchestral pieces points to an interesting aspect of Persichetti�s work. Every composer may be said to have a dominant genre; for Persichetti this genre is Wind Ensemble. Even the Symphony for Strings is preoccupied with rhythmic articulation and attack and less concerned with sostenuto and decay in the sound.

The conclusion to Eighth Symphony points to one of Pershichetti�s important influences: the Big Band music of the thirties and forties. The constant and restless syncopation, the parallel interval patterns, and the pile up of tertian sonorities, common features of Big Band music, find their way into almost every work by Persichetti. Persichetti had an over-riding faith in the development of a new common practice as evidenced by his famous book Twentieth-Century Harmonic Practice. These three pieces demonstrate that his music of mid-twentieth century America was not only practical to execute, but expansively rhetorical in expression while at the same time not self-consciously nationalistic. This music�s lack of intellectual pretense and its conspicuously direct message seem like statements from a bygone era when we as individuals were optimistic and full of hope for the future. Perhaps this is exactly what we need now. Larry Thomas Bell
Welcome to Monday

Our thanks to Alex Ross for the great shout-out about the doings here on Sequenza21. Things have been pretty lively lately and we're grateful to all of you who have joined us to re-fight some old battles and start some new ones. Alex describes the site structure as "complex," which is fair enough. I could say it's because we agree with the architect Robert Venturi who once wrote that he preferred "messy vitality over obvious unity" but the truth is that what I've done is cobble together a bunch of separate blog streams and a few html pages into a poor man's low-maintenance content management system. If you're a technie/designer with a idea about how to get us better organized, for a big credit, and no cash, let me know.

Lawrence Dillon has been in Russia for the past week and he's been turning out some terrific posts. Catch up with his adventures here...And we have a new blogger this morning, young man name of Everette Minchew, who'll be sharing his thoughts with us from time to time.


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