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Jerry Bowles
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Contributing Editors:

Galen H. Brown
Evan Johnson
Ian Moss
Lanier Sammons
Deborah Kravetz
Eric C. Reda
Christian Hertzog
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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, July 15, 2006
Crossing Over (The good but unknown composer)

Judith Lang Zaimont writes:
It takes a lot to get my dander up, but it’s up now. Why? Because of the lack of attention to the death of a really good composer, Ruth Schonthal.

Ruth’s death brings into relief everything I thought had gone away but hasn’t: The fact that music blogs, music sites, bulletin boards are the province predominantly of slick young men who know everything about the next ‘up-and-coming’ European-tapped composer ‘god’, about obscure indie bands trying to break in here in the US, about graduate students’ peculiar-eye-view of the world of music (and petulant take on music in higher ed) -- but much less about US composers of the recent past who have done DONE IT: Written truly GOOD work over many years: but who may not have swum in the style mainstream of the moment just prior to now. Especially, these guys pay little heed to good composers who are female.

The career path for a composer is pretty well unchartable. Despite that, though, there’s a border that has to be crossed : becoming a ‘Name’ . A new tactic to get there is to build composer ‘brand loyalty’ for oneself, using mass market mechanisms, some of them honorable, but some of them not. ~~ By all means, get talked about, even perhaps identified by your brand: uptown, downtown…. notown. ~~ This astounds me because I thought being a Name came only and exactly from writing terrific music. That’s what it used to mean; but more than ever today though, guys, it ain’t so!

Used to be that conductors, writers, critics got to know a fair percentage of a composer’s work so that when a new piece came along it wasn’t being evaluated in a void, but was understood to be the next step in a life of development. (This hit me first with a review of a recording of a piece by Joan Tower. The reviewer didn’t much care for the piece, but explained away his response by understanding this piece as a sideways investigation for her, something not part of the main trip her art is traveling.) Today, it’s a whole lot more glib, tempting composers to calcify styles pretty early, buying into the prevailing flavor. ( Pace all “Americanistas” ! ) What happened to music that touches you, that grips you? Whether it’s disscussable is pretty much beside the point.

Women get short shrift -- mostly because we don't actually know the music. Which reader here knows any piece by Ruth Schonthal? Some of Ruth's music is truly marvellous: emotional, pure in its unbending, gripping. What will happen, now, though, is she’ll be a name in *some* textbooks, and that’s it.

Why? Ruth (like many of us) paid almost no attention to cultivating a public reputation: she had no outrageous persona, no glamorous private life, no rich benefactor, little gossip. But she did have a family to raise, and heavy financial responsibilities. So for Ruth, music had to pay its way and pay in real dollars. That’s why she taught, that’s why she composed a fair number of (good) teaching pieces, why she took any/every gig that came her way. And at every step Ruth was incredibly generous to other composers, especially the up-and-coming ones.
( Remember Germaine Tailleferre's history: 2 disdainful husbands [= failed marriages], responsibilities to look after both a mother and a daughter virtually throughout her adult life. No wonder that at one point she supported herself by painting furniture.)

Because women don’t (usually) swoon for other women, Ruth's fan base was limited. (She fared better in Germany than in the US, especially in the last 15 years. ) In the US once women get to middle-age, they are invisible. In Ruth’s case, change that to ‘inaudible’. This is a shame, because she’s a GOOD composer.

The ONLY thing we should ask of a composer is that the individual write GOOD music -- music ticked to a level/echelon that intends to reach people (and to endure). The composer need NOT be a celebrity, or flamboyant public figure of any kind; the composer need not teach, need not perform, need not pronounce, need not pontificate. The way composers contribute to the profession is by writing music, and writing to the highest artistic standard. Period.
Happy Bastille Day

Grendel was more enjoyable than I expected, given the decidedly underwhelming reviews it has gotten. If nothing else, it provided an opportunity to see Eric Owens (as Grendel) perform the most demanding bass role I've ever seen on the stage and Denyce Graves do a hilariously campy turn as The Dragon, a character that emerges from the head of a snake. Ms. Graves appeared to be playing a woman playing a man playing a woman, hitting baritone notes that were truly scary.

The main problem with Grendel is not that it's bad or dull or without a certain degree of artistic merit, the problem is that it is too much of everything, including the now fabled 18-ton stage set. Composer Eliot Goldenthal, director Julie Taymore, and main librettist J.M. McClatchy all seem to working at cross purposes, each one determined to make his or her individual element dominate. It's like getting the three brightest kids you know in a room and having them work on a project in which there is only one prize and winning requires squashing the others.

It's like putting Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker on stage together. The result is more like a war, than a performance. It's fun to watch but at a certain point you want to yell "Why don't you kids all play nice together."
Ruth Schonthal - the loss of a unique voice

News has come of the passing of the composer and teacher Ruth Schonthal (left). She was born in Hamburg in 1924 of Viennese parents, began composing at five and became the youngest student ever accepted at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin where she received piano and theory lessons. In 1935, as a Jew, she was banished from the Conservatory. The persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany led the family into exile in Stockholm where she attended the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.

Ruth Schonthal never followed the prevalent contemporary aesthetic fashions. At a time when Anton Webern and John Cage were the American role models, she followed her own musical path, never denying her own classic-romantic heritage. The extraordinarily varied impressions she absorbed in the course of her life in the different parts of the world provided the foundation of her musical style. For the latter part of her career Ruth Schonthal was on the composition faculty of New York University.

For an expanded tribute and links take An Overgrown Path to In Memoriam Ruth Schonthal.

Image credit - Milken Archive of Jewish Music: Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Capital M at Full Force Festival

Hey, let's have a couple of big cheers for the Full Force festival which is going on at Tonic this week. Capital M, with our contributor, Ian Moss, is playing tonight at 9 pm, with Jerseyband at 8 pm and Rashanim at 10:30 pm. The festival continues tomorrow with kick-ass bandsembles like Newspeak and Kevin Gallagher's Electric Kompany. John Zorn curated the festival and will speak at a roundtable discussion before Saturday's show. If you want to review the show for S21, Ian can fix you up with the guest list. Send him a note if you can make it.

Google's quote of the day: "Music is essentially useless, as life is." - George Santayana
It's a Wide, Wired World

Things are hopping around the internets during these hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer. What we are witnessing, friends, is an acceleration of the morphing of the web from a static set of informational pages into a full-scale services delivery platform. To wit, when Jiri Belohlavek lifts his baton at Royal Albert Hall on Friday night, you and I will be able to catch it all on the Beeb's new broadband site at And, as usual, every Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and available online for 7 days after transmission.

If podcasts are your thing, the great city of Indianapolis, hog butcher of the world or maybe that's brickyard of the world, is helping the Indianapolis Symphony celebrate its 25th Anniversary with a Podcast/Video of Symphony on the Prairie, an event that took place over July 4th weekend filled with food, families and music. You can watch the whole darn thing right here.

I have an out-of-town guest, we're off to see Grendel tomorrow night, and I have stuff to do tomorrow so if I don't check in, talk amongst yourselves or check out another one of my test blogs Enterprise Web 2.0. This one seems to be getting some decent traction.
Finding ecological balance in our everyday lives

Question - which contemporary composer is talking here about his new opera? - 'It is a story not only of love and trust, but also a story about finding ecological balance and awareness in our everyday lives. Where my last opera presented Faustian vision of power and aggression, the new one gives us a message of hope and reconciliation'. Answer - John Adams talking about A Flowering Tree which will be premiered in Vienna in November.

Question - what do John Adams, Thomas Adès and many other fine musicians, and Audi, American Express, BMW, Petronas, Ford, MasterCard, Esteé Lauder, and Singapore and Malaysian Airlines have in common? Answer - they are all clients of IMG Artists, one of classical music's super agents - IMG manages John Adams for North and South American conducting representation and special projects.

To get new music (or any classical music coming to that) into the mainstream today you need to leverage the hidden powers of the super agents, and if that means sharing deskspace with airlines, auto manufacturers, and oil companies that is the price you must pay. John Adams candidly confirmed this in a November 2001 interview when he said: 'You might be surprised to hear that I don't think art has much power to effect political change. I think if you really want to change the world, feed the starving, stop war and promote equality among people, you are better off using your energies doing direct social work.'

But the hidden power of the music super agents is surprising, and some may feel disturbing. To find out more about these powers click over to today's article On An Overgrown Path. And perhaps the role of the super agent in getting your new music performed is the hot topic Jerry is looking for over on Composer's Forum?
Blogging for the Greater Good

Stephen Hartke and the PR folks at Glimmerglass are keeping a blog of the events leading up to the world premiere of Hartke and Philip Littell's new opera, The Greater Good, or the Passion of Boule de Suif which will debut at Glimmerglass on July 22. Based on Maupassant's short story, Boule de Suif, the story is about "a wildly diverse group of French citizens, trapped behind enemy lines during the Franco-Prussian War," which is as good a place to start as anywhere. I'm not sure if there will be any head or chest-butting involved.

The production is being staged by David Schweitzer who did a spectacular job with The Mines of Sulphur, which got its second wind at Glimmerglass in 2004 before moving on to an extremely well-received run last year at New York City Opera.

Meanwhile, NPR is gearing up to broadcast this month three programs from last summer's festival season, including a double bill of Massenet's Le Portrait de Manon and Poulenc’s La Voix humaine, Donizetti's Lucie de Lammermoor (the original French version) and Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice.

We desperately need a new hot topic for the Composers Forum.


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