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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 30, 2005
What is Music For?

The question was triggered in my mind by Rodney Lister's tribute to Harold Shapero in the Composers Forum. Next to my desk I have a handful of CDs that I play while I'm working during days or evenings. They are my little friends. I've heard most of them 50, 100, God only knows, how many times. One of them is the New World recording of the Lydian String Quartet playing Shapero's "Serenade in D for String Quartet," his "String Quartet" and "String Trio."

Another, also on New World, is Arthur Berger's Orchestral Music. There's the Naxos recordings of the Norwegian composer Geir Tveitt's A Hundred Hardanger Tunes. There are a half dozen others but you get the picture.

I have thousands of CDs around the house and I listen to music most of the day but the reason I return to my friends so often is precisely because--like true friends--they provide me with comfort and pleasure and don't hold it against me if I fall asleep on their couch while they're still talking. They know it doesn't mean I don't respect their opinions and will make it up by paying extra attention another time.

There are people who believe that the only way to really listen to "serious" music is to go somewhere and sit in a straight-back chair with a bunch of strangers and give the performance your full attention. Some people even insist on doing nothing else while they listen to CDs. And, there is some music that demands this level of concentration. But, frankly, most music doesn't.

I suspect that it is this formal stiffness of classical music that puts off so many young people for whom iPods deliver a running soundtrack of their lives. The music they listen to is friendly and accessible and part of their everyday world--not a special occasion. I can listen to Harmonielehre two or three times a year because it demands that I take out the trash and run the sweeper and then sit down and pay full attention. Harold Shapero's String Quartet can drop by anytime unannounced, no matter how cluttered my mind, or apartment, may be.
The List (Continued)

Lawrence Dillon is still pruning THE LIST:
"I�m looking for suggestions as to which work from the 1980s had the most powerful impact on American composers of the time, the piece that made the most composers reconsider what was possible. Not necessarily the best piece, but the piece that, through a combination of inspiration, prominence and luck had the most widespread, immediate influence."
Man doesn't want much, does he? See if you agree with his personal choices...Tom Myron discovers an old "artist's statement" and finds that he still pretty much agrees with himself...Galen Brown weighs in on the can you have a real job and still be a composer discussion in the Composers Forum.
Angel Music

Toning Up

Ringtones have become a hot new business for composers and performers. Read how Jeffrey Biegel caught the wave more than five years ago and sample some of his tones...Do you have to make your living from composing in order to be a composer? I suspect the ranks would be greatly diminished if the answer is yes but give us your thoughts in the Composers Forum.
Sir Max, God of Fertility

For anyone who didn't already believe that Peter Maxwell Davies is a brilliant nut case.
Jefferson Friedman�s Third String Quartet at Alice Tully

Having your latest Quartet sandwiched on a program between Mozart and Brahms is not necessarily an enviable position. But last night that�s what happened to Jefferson Friedman as the Chiara String Quartet premiered his Third. While his language has some settling down to do, Friedman�s Quartet contained some breathtaking passages and made a serious impact.

The Quartet�s short outer movements bracket a much longer middle movement entitled "Act." Both open with long, dense, gradually swelling sonorities. But whereas the first movement bursts forth into jagged ostinatos, the third movement maintains a murmuring quiet, eventually settling on a major triad that rolls gently beneath a high melody in the first violin.

The content of the middle movement is more varied. Ranging from close Ligeti-like chromatic counterpoint to spacious Copland-esque chorales, "Act" doesn�t quite reconcile its contrasting materials satisfactorily. (Particularly disappointing is the easy major resolution that concludes the movement.) But, about two-thirds of the way through, something special happens: the instruments climb into their highest registers, start playing quick glissandos and unisons of varying vibrato widths, and, for a few breathless moments, break into birdsong. When the music returns to Earth again, the resolution is beautiful, and one realizes one has just heard something a little amazing.

Friedman�s Third Quartet is uneven. The first movement never quite emerges; there are passages of ostinato that feel like un-melodied accompaniments; there are too many broad crescendos that terminate in sudden pianos. But, if this work is any indication, Friedman goes a lot further toward sustaining interest and tension than many composers twice his age (and with Pulitzer prizes). One looks forward to hearing more.

Naked Saxophonists

Saxophonist/composer Fred Ho in the buff. Score one for us chubby guys. (Memo to Brian Sacawa: Are you going to take this fully-clothed? Send us a naked picture and we'll run it here even though our own taste runs more to Helen Radice and teenage female fiddle players)...Ian Moss tackles the tricky question of copyright in the age of the internet in his first post in the Composers Forum...Tom Myron has a piece on how he's been influenced by Richard Yates...Check back later, we may have some more new stuff.
Busy Monday

Lots of new stuff today. D'Arcy Reynolds has checked in from South Africa with a post about Rhodes University and the International Library of African Music...Everette Minchew (got to be a Cajun name) discovers that it is easier to write for yourself than to write for others...Elodie Lauten says nudity is not what it used to be...Lawrence Dillon wonders whether this list-making business has gotten out of hand and then lists his non-musical influences...David Salvage has some new CD Reviews...Ian Moss has joined the Composers Forum.
Cooking With Sir Max

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen�s Music and notorious plucker of exotic fowl, delivered the Royal Philharmonic Society Annual Lecture at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last night and used the occasion to attack government cutbacks in music education and lament an assumption by the vast majority of people that classical music was elitist. He added that classical music could become �extinct� in Britain.

He also said swan tastes "pretty much like chicken."
Ferneyhough at Miller Theater

There is something deeply extravagant about the hyper-complex music of Brian Ferneyhough: he is not the sort of composer who writes five notes when five hundred will do the same thing. Last Friday Ferneyhough�s most extravagant work, the Piranesi-inspired cycle "Carceri d�Invenzione" ("Dungeons of Invention"), received its US premiere at Miller Theater. On stage and off, people were working hard: musicians struggled to weave their way through a barrage of notes while the audience did its best to be patient and appreciative. Were the results worth all the effort?

In a genial pre-concert discussion, Ferneyhough expressed his fascination with art that pushes "beyond its frames." This is a good phrase to keep in mind while experiencing his music. Without careful listening, it amounts to little more than relentless cacophony: one piece after another presents prolonged, overstuffed, polyphonic thickets of sound. The rhythms keep changing, the techniques keep changing, the colors keep changing � nothing holds still. During the concert, different similes for listening to Ferneyhough kept coming to mind: it�s like trying to stay on a bucking bronco, or being stuck in a room with birds flying around you, an occasional wing slapping your face. Ferneyhough is famous for stuffing more music into his measures than musicians can play, and, for the audience, he stuffs his works with more sound than one can intelligently listen to. His is music that pushes well beyond the frames of the medium.

I can�t think of another living composer so taxing to listen to. Yet if you can stick with him, you realize Ferneyhough is a more sensitive composer than at first he might seem. The overarching structure of "Carceri d�Invenzione" is very satisfying. The seven movement work, which is scored for various large and small combinations of instruments, opens with a hysterical, screaming solo movement for piccolo and concludes with a more reflective solo for bass flute playing against a ghostly chorus of pre-recorded bass flutes. This last movement, entitled "Mnemosyne," comes as a wonderful resolution to the penultimate movement, "Carceri d��Invenzione III," which is one of the cycle�s most riotous and bruising. The fourth and fifth movements, "Carceri d�Invenzione II" and "Etudes Transcendantales/Intermedio II" respectively, conclude with flittering gestures separated by long silences. These silences were absolutely precious and among the most beautiful things I�ve heard all year. Elsewhere, particularly in the second movement "Carceri d�Invenzione I," Ferneyhough pits faster and slower textures against one another, and the terrific effect is like hearing a cadenza and a chorale played simultaneously. He also has a sharp sense of when to vary the size of the ensemble: within movements, he can be big and small.

I came away with enormous respect for Ferneyhough, but, as with "Decasia" last fall, I had to admit to myself that, despite all the hullabaloo, I hadn�t felt much. Sure "Carceri d�Invenzione" has spectacular moments, but, at almost two hours, my ears grew extremely fatigued, and whole passages devolved into monotony. My ears grew tired of fighting for a thread to hold on to. I began to yearn for such old fashioned essentials as harmony and melody. Ferneyhough�s experimentalism began to feel more absurd and sadistic as the evening wore on. One of the performers confessed to me at intermission that he would never chose to play this music himself.

Was it worth the effort? Probably not. But Ferneyhough intrigues me nonetheless, and I�ll be there at the Lincoln Center Festival this summer for the premiere of his opera "Shadowtime." Meanwhile, though, I�m not sure how much Ferneyhough I�ll be listening to: a little goes a long, long way.


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