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Jerry Bowles
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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
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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, April 09, 2005
Busy Weekend

It's may be a day of rest but our bloggers have been busy little beavers. D'Arcy Reynolds checks in from South Africa with some splendid photos and comments...Lawrence Dillon is getting ready for a big Da Capo concert tonight...and Jeffrey Biegel checks in with some thoughts on his concert at Bard last night. By the way, I fixed the comments links on Jeffrey's blog so you can now leave him messages. (Hey, folks, this geek stuff is hard for us old guys.) Oh, be sure to read Frank J. Oteri's take on the Pulitizers just below and some followup comments over in the Composers Forum.
More on Those Pulitzers?

Is it my imagination or am I the only person writing on the web who can't stop obsessing about the Pulitzer Prize for Music this week?

I pretty much couldn't do anything most of the week except to write a lengthy essay about my still completely conflicted thoughts about the whole thing which we posted on NewMusicBox last night.

Last year, after the Pulitzer issued its "Alter and Affirm" statement, everyone was coming out of the woodwork to chime in on what the Pulitzer should or should not award. This week Steven Stucky won the award, and everyone is silent. Not a single post on NewMusicBox, here at Sequenza21 or anyone else's blog for that matter. Where's the joy? Where's the outrage? In a nutshell, where is everybody? Are we happy the award still went to a formidable orchestral composition rather than the latest pop album fad as many worried?

Once I posted the article I thought I'd be done with it myself. But thoughts still linger. I've been trolling around Lawrence Dillon's list of pieces influential to American composers over the past several decades as well as Kyle Gann's thoughtful response to it and nary a Pulitzer Prize winner among them. Does that mean that the Pulitzer picks bad pieces as some have claimed? Or does it mean that the pieces that win don't get sufficient exposure after they do? Yes, Transmigration raked in the Grammys, but we're still waiting for a commercial CD of Henry Brant's Ice Field, despite the fact that innova has been putting out all those great Henry Brant recordings.

Far be it for me to suggest that a composer get less money—heaven knows we get so little as it is—but maybe the money for the monetary part of the prize would be better spent guaranteeing that the work had a viable commercial recording? Or maybe there'd be money left over from that $50 application fee to fund such an endeavor without taking away any money from the poor composer (or his representative advocate in some cases) who is already out $50 for applying in the first place.

Clearly this is a Pulitzer problem unique to the music prize since anyone could go out and look up the award-winning articles or buy the novel that won in any given year. But now my mind keeps thinking about the Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction and Poetry. I consider myself fairly well read and a big fan of modern American literature, yet precious few of the winners of the past couple of decades have made it into my reading library. What does that mean? And why isn't anyone complaining that Thomas Pynchon never got a Pulitzer and no one is worried that Danielle Steel might ever get one?

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

Our newest blogger, pianist Jeffrey Biegel, is a man with a mission--to create a repertoire of 21st century piano concerti by commissioning them from living composers. Read all about it...Brian Sacawa ponders the topic of cross-dressing...ur, crossover.
Pineapple Upside Down Cat

The Road to Riga

I am convinced that all Norwegian children are born wearing tiny skis which�-while inconvenient for expectant mothers�-assures little Margret and Ole Christopher a lifetime of good clean fun shooshing up and down the hills and fjords. Okay, I�m joking. But in Finland, all children really are given music lessons as part of their normal education and serious music occupies a huge share of the nation�s consciousness. As a result, there isn�t a country its size in the world that can match Finland as the homeland of so many successful composers, conductors and professional musicians. The resourceful Finns have over many years leveraged their Sibelian roots into a substantial industry.

Finland�s success in promoting itself as an eden for music lovers and performers has not been lost on its neighbors so I was only mildly surprised to receive in yesterday�s mail, nicely packaged in a plain brown wrapper, a letter from Ilona Brege, general manager of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, and a new CD called Latvija Simfoniska Muzika � XXI Gadsimts which, I�m taking a wild guess here, means Latvian Symphony Music - 21st Century.

Among other things, Ms. Brege writes that
�Today we have the possibility to offer the performances of the Latvian National Symphony to the audience worldwide, as well as to get experience of the best world models now the orchestra have begun to build up the image and identification with the production of recordings.�
She helpfully points out that most of the musicians in the symphony were trained at the same school in Riga that gave us Gidon Kremer, Mariss Jansons and Mischa Maisky.

A visit to the Latvija Simfoniska web site reveals the news that the main event of the year for classical music in Latvia is scheduled for tomorrow night (Friday) at the Great Guild-- a concert called "Peteris Vasks and his compeers," programmed by the reigning heavyweight champ of Latvian music Peteris Vasks and featuring Peteris Butans' Variations on a Theme of Peteris Vasks, "Hallooing" for soloists and orchestra by Peteris Plakidis, and Symphony No. 2 by Vasks, himself.

In explaining how he chose the program, Vasks uncorks some of that world-famous Latvian humor we hear so much about:
"First of all, my wish was that the concert programme contained music of those Latvian composers who, just like me, have once studied double-bass, then an idea flashed across my mind to gather in one concert my colleagues with the same first name � Peteris. But, if speaking seriously, this time I have chosen compositions of those Latvian contemporary composers whose music I appreciate really very high. Peteris Butans' music fascinates me for its sparkling humour, while Peteris Plakidis' "Hallooing" for soloists and orchestra is, in my opinion, a brilliant composition having been preformed undeservedly rarely, and I am very happy that we shall have the opportunity to listen to that wonderful music at the concert on April 8th."
The CD, by the way, is terrific; a witty tango by Arturs Maskats, a Vasks piece called �Viatore� that demonstrates his command of juicy strings, well-crafted pieces by Aivars Kalejs and Andreis Riekstins. Amazon doesn�t seem to have heard of it yet but you can maybe, or maybe not, order a copy here.
Sunshine. What a Concept.

Lawrence Dillon has posted his list of the most influential works of the 90s and the 00s (how are we pronouncing that, by the way?) Hye yourself thither and tell him where he's wrong, as Bill O'Really likes to say...In the Composers Forum, David Toub wonders how composers should react to negative criticism...And, Brian Sacawa, has caught the blogging fever and started himself another blog called Sounds Like Now. He's promised not to neglect us here at Rancho S21.
A Wet Night in New York

I have just returned to NH from a weekend in the Big Apple, and on Saturday night we ventured out in the pouring rain to see Steve Reich and Musicians at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

They opened with Clapping Music, which is short, sweet, and elegant -- two performers clap out a simple pattern, and then one of them rotates the cell by one note, and they repeat the new configuration several times, and then rotate again. They repeat this cell rotation until the two clappers are back in phase, and it's over. I have of course heard the piece recorded, but it was fun to see it live.

Next on the program was Triple Quartet. It's a good piece, and I have always liked it, but it has never been high on my list of great Reich works. This performance bumped it up a notch. The piece is much more dense and dissonant than most of his other work, and on the Kronos Quartet CD (Nonesuch, 2001) that denseness is slightly oppressive. I like the recently released Orchestre National de Lyon recording of the string orchestra version better, since I find that the orchestral sound makes the dissonance more lush than harsh (the recording of Different Trains on the same disc is, however, painfully sloppy -- be warned). This performance was the string quartet version, but the hall gave the notes the breathing room they needed and the performance was the best of both worlds -- the intensity of the close-mic-ed solo strings but the lushness of the orchestral performance. If you have heard this piece and like it, try to find a live performance to attend.

After intermission, before the presentation of Three Tales, Steve Reich and Beryl Korot came out for a conversation with Howard Stokar. They sat in white armchairs on the stage, which seemed slightly silly to me, but the conversation they had was informative. The discussion of Three Tales was mostly familiar information, but they spoke briefly at the end about new works. Reich has written and just finished recording You Are (Variations) for singers and a mid-sized chamber group, and he is working on a piece in memory of Richard Pearl (the reporter beheaded in Afghanistan). At the conclusion of the conversation, Reich and Korot went to the control booth in the back of the auditorium, the white armchairs were cleared from the stage, and the audience was presented with the movie version of Three Tales. I won't review the piece here save to say that I love it, but some people don't. If you liked The Cave, but wished it had more going on, you might like it too. The reason I won't review the piece here is that you can find reviews of the piece elsewhere and the disappointing audience reaction is a more interesting story.

Note that this piece was after intermission, and as far as I could tell most if not all of the audience had returned after intermission. But after the first act and again after the second act a number of people (maybe 5 or 10 each time) got up and left the theatre. At the conclusion of Act III -- the best act, incidentally -- the applause was merely polite, and many people stood and started putting on their coats immediately. Reich and Korot started down the right hand aisle, but could tell that the applause was not going to last. They hesitated, and then Steve grabbed Beryl's arm, said something, and they both starting jogging down to the front. They only made it about 2/3 of the way down before the applause was done, and they gave it up and went back to the control booth. Now of course I'm disappointed that the audience didn't think Three Tales is the masterpiece I do, but I understand that different people like different things -- I've been known to call Eliot Carter "America's most overrated living composer" -- but I do expect the audience not to be rude. I've been to plenty of concerts where I thought the music was awful, pretentious, amateurish, self-important, etc, but I've never walked out or got up to leave before the applause was over, or stopped applauding as the composers made his way to the stage.

After the concert we completely failed to find a coffee shop in the vicinity of the museum that was open and had to wait until we got back uptown to the Columbia area, where we were staying.

Last Night in LA--Honoring Dorrance Stalvey

For 33 years, Dorrance Stalvey has directed the music programs at the Los Angeles County Musem. He assumed responsibility of the Monday Evening Concerts, which had been directed by the iconic Lawrence Morton who brought the series to the museum, becoming �curator� of music. Stalvey has kept the program going through changes in the museum and in the city, through shifts in budget. He established an active, vital jazz program on Friday evenings, and the enclosed plaza at LACMA is a delightful place to be, along with a few hundred others, listening to a jazz group on a balmy evening. Stalvey focused the Monday Evening programs on contemporary music, changing from programs that would introduce a new work while also playing established music. Thirty-three years of programs of contemporary music; it would be nice to be able to review the list of composers and the list of premieres. Last year he received an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, the sixth such award for the Museum and for Stalvey. That is nice, but �adventurous� does not fully describe the values of the programming he has done.

This year is Stalvey�s 75th birthday. In his honor, several of the programs in this year�s Monday Evening series have included performances of Stalvey�s own compositions. But nothing seems to have been done by the museum, or by the Los Angeles Times, to recognize the contributions to Los Angeles life, and to the music world, by Stalvey. Last night�s program by Xtet included program notes by Xtet which gave recognition to Stalvey and his contributions. Since LACMA is used to providing retrospectives, it would certainly seem appropriate for them to offer a retrospective of Stalvey, even if only on paper.

The high point of last night�s concert was Stalvey�s �Pound Songs� (1985), a setting of five poems by Ezra Pound to music for soprano and a �pierrot� group-plus-percussion (flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello, percussion). The soprano was the excellent Daisietta Kim (performer of the best �Pierrot Lunaire� in Los Angeles). This was a good performance of good music. Stalvey�s atonal music is lightly presented, compatible with and amplifying the images of Pound�s words.

�Visual Abstract� (2002) by Pierre Jalbert [] opened the concert. This work is included in the CD of five Jalbert works recorded on Gasparo by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble who gave the premiere. This work, also for �Pierrot plus percussion� is in three movements and the titles of each movement give the images evoked by the music: the tolling of bells, the dome of a church, the movements of dancers. Jalbert is currently the Composer-in-Residence with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; his musical training was at Oberlin Conservatory with his doctorate from Pennsylvania. His web site at Rice gives three short excerpts from his work for a brief taste of his interesting, accessible music.

After intermission, the concert included Edmund Campion�s �A Complete Wealth of Time� (1990). This is a work for two pianos, performed last night by two of LA�s best, Vicki Ray and Gloria Cheng, who have had so much new music written for them. Several of Campion�s works are available for mp3 download; not this one, however. Ray and Cheng have performed the work several times, and they handle all of the variations of time and synchronicity which Campion presents with great skill and communicate the fun of the work.

The evening ended with the premiere of �Windup� (2005) by Daisietta Kim, a narration in music, dance and image of her artistic life. Supplemented by visual images, an off-stage speaker, and a dancer, Kim used extracts from established composers to present her feelings as a singer and a pianist and a dancer. The speaker frequently represented the nay-sayers of the established musical world.
Tuesday Haggis

Fort Smith, Arkansas is not exactly a highly-frequented oasis by classical music pilgrims but music director John Jeter and the Fort Smith Symphony are making a determined bid to put their little watering hole on the map. The Fort Smiths have just released their first compact disc called William Grant Still: Afro-American Symphony, as part of Naxos� splendid American Classics music series. The disk, which was released last week and is already number 57,742 on the Amazon charts, contains world premiere recordings of Still�s �Afro-American Symphony� (1930), �Africa� (1930) and �In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy� (1943). Still was born in Mississippi but spent his teenage years in Little Rock before moving East and becoming the first African-American to have his work performed by a major symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The music is moderately challenging but Jeter�s players deliver lively and engaging accounts of three seminal works by America�s first great black composer. The disk was recorded at the Fort Smith Convention Center and sounds a little thin and tinny in places but that�s a minor quibble. When you encounter a cup of water in the desert you don�t complain that it�s not Perrier.

The first symphony written by the first major black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was premiered in Cornwall yesterday. Symphony in A Minor was written in 1896 but was only recently discovered. Born in 1875, Coleridge-Taylor died of pneumonia in 1912 at the age of 37. His best-known work is probably Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, composed in 1898, but that may be changing. His last work, the Violin Concerto in G Minor, Op. 80, completed the year he died has received a couple of very sympathetic recordings in the past year, most recently from violinist Anthony Marwood with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins. The concerto is an attractive work that deserves a greater audience and Anthony Marwood plays like an angel. Sure there are echos of Dvorak and Elgar but Coleridge-Taylor had a distinct voice and knew how to write music filled with memorable tunes and melodies.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Yeah, yeah, but what other way? The DaPonte String Quartet, an ensemble based in Maine began plotting their upcoming April 15 debut at Carnegie more two years ago by commissioning David del Tredici to write his first String Quartet. DaPonte members hope the 30-minute quartet, which they have performed a number of times in recent months at concerts around the country, will become their signature piece. While I�m sure money is not important to the artists who frequent these pages, the quartet cost $30,000 and was raised mainly by sponsors and fans.
And the Pulitizer Goes to...

Steven Stucky has won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Second Concerto for Orchestra. The concerto was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Hall on March 12, 2004. Stucky's reaction: "I was caught completely unprepared. I in fact had forgotten that this was the week. Most writers and composers and journalists and so on memorize this week in the year, but this year I forgot to be ready for it."
Old Monday Rolls Around

First day of baseball season; why doesn't my heart go dancing? Lots of new stuff in our blogs from the weekend. J. Mark Scearce�s provocative article on New Music Box - The Ethics of an Education has drawn a lot of comment over in the Composers Forum and Lawrence Dillon weighs in with his own take. Brian Sacawa addresses another kind of education--the kind of well-meaning explanations of "the music you are about to hear" that are forced upon audiences as they file in which make the whole thing seem even more like a classroom lecture. Elodie Lauten writes of the end of "stylistic dominance."


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