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Jerry Bowles
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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

Friday, August 18, 2006
Programming Notes

The estimable Frank J. Oteri will be Marvin Rosen's guest this Sunday morning, August 20th on WPRB from Princeton, NJ. The program will begin at 7:00 am (eastern time) and will be devoted to a complete performance of Oteri's Performance Oratorio Machiunas (author Lucio Pozzi) which was premiered exactly one year ago in Lithuania. To find more about this work please go to the Maciunas website.

Memo to Frank and any other stragglers: The absolute, final decisions on pieces for the November 20 Sequenza21 concert are being made tomorrow. (In the spirit of the great Algonquin J. Calhoun, I have recused myself). Last chance to send pieces to David Salvage.
My Time at the Proms--Pt 2

There were, it seemed to me, about twice as many people as usual for the Late Night Proms on August 10 to celebrate the 70th birthday of Steve Reich. The program included Clapping Music, Nagoya Marimbas, Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ, and Drumming. Richard Benjamfield and Colin Currie performed Clapping Music and Nagoya Marimbas; they were joined by Joby Burgess, Antoine Bedewi, Adrian Spillett, Dave Jackson, Owen Gunnell, Andrew Cottee, and Synergy Vocals (Micaela Haslam, Amy Haworth, and Heather Cairncross) for Music for..; then Sam Walton and Rowland Sutherland were added for Drumming. The audience was attentive--reverential, even--and wildly enthusiastic. Since the lateness of things was presenting transportation problems and the person I was with was, to say the least, not enjoying it at all, I left--reluctantly, since I'd never heard it live before--before Drumming. I found myself thinking, though, having heard three of the pieces, one of which (Clapping Music) seems to me to be a really fabulous, incredibly pure piece, and any of the three of which would seem completely and wonderfully strong to me by itself, of something Virgil Thomson wrote about Cage's music (not without some justice, I think--although I don't think it applies to any of my favorite Cage pieces, but anyway...): that once you figure out what a Cage piece is going to do, there's no particular reason to keep listening to it, because it's not going to do anything else. The performances I heard were of the level of spick and span, spit and polish, snap, crackle, and pop absolutely required by this music. There's no reason for me to suspect that the performance of Drumming was any less good.

One of the subsidiary parts of the Proms is a competition for students sponsored by the BBC and the Guardian. A concert of music by some of the winners, along with pieces by Ligeti (five of the ten pieces for wind quintet) and Birtwistle (Carmen arcadie mechanicae perpetuum)--neither of which seemed to have anything to do with the universer of the winners--was presented on Friday afternoon in Cadogan Hall, performed by members of Endymion, conducted by Peter Wiegold, who had also been one of the judges. Fiona Talkington presented the pieces and talked with Wiegold and the composers represented on the program (except for Ligeti and Birtwistle, of course). All of the pieces were fairly strong, the strongest, if seemed to me, being by Toby Young--17, a student at the junior division of the Royal College of Music--(Dirty Linoleum for Wind Quintet--something to do with his granny's floor), Michael Cutting--18, a first year student at the Royal Norther College of Music--(Shadows for a largish mixed ensemble), and most especially Mark Simpson--17, from Liverpool, who has also recently been a winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition as a clarinetist--who played his work, Lov(escape) for clarinet and piano. Each of the composers who was asked to name influences named Copland and Adams, something I found rather disturbing, not that there's anything wrong with either Copland or Adams, but, I thought, why not, from young British composers, Britten and Ades? All the performances, including the Ligeti and Birtwistle, were as good as anybody could want them to be.

I'm not sure if John Adams is a much bigger figure in the UK than in the US, or in the Uk and other places than in Boston, where I usually hang out, or just everywhere else except my little world, but he's certainly a mega-figure in the UK--witness the young composers on Friday afternoon. It's hard to find anything wrong with his music, it's all on such a high level of intelligence and skill. A lot of this was on display in the Prom on Friday night, an all Adams concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Adams himself. The program included My Father Knew Charles Ives, The Wound Dresser, and Harmonielehre. Adams certainly is the complete master of all of Ives's changes and he range them like mad. Although Impressed--how could one not be--I realized after a while that the music seemed very cool (in at least two senses of te word),smooth, and detached which Ives's music never is. The last movement, though, is a different matter. Not only does it not especially sound like Ives or that it's meaning to be sounding like Ives, it isn't detached. The idea, I guess, is meant to be like the end of Scenes from Childhood--The Poet Speaks. Probably the other two pieces are so well known that there's no need to describe them. Eric Owens, the soloist in The Wound Dresser was rapt and wonderful. Harmonielehre seems to me to be really strong and compelling at the beginning, and less so as it goes on. Soon into the third movement I was just wishing that he'd get on with it. (Sibelius does that kind of thing a lot better). The program notes quoted Adams as saying that he didn't like the 'aural ugliness' of Schoenberg's music. I wonder which pieces he was thinking of? Gurrelieder, Peleas and Melisande, any of the string quartets, the Serenade, the chamber symphonies, the five orchestra pieces?

The European Union Youth Orchestra and Vladimir Ashkenazy on Saturday night performed, along with other things, Schnittke's (K)ein Sommernachtsstraum (Not A Midsummer Night's Dream). It was commissioned by the Salzburg Festival in 1985, when the general theme of the festival was Shakespeare. What is supposed to make it not a midsummer night's dream is its 'surreal' and 'nightmarish'
quality. In fact in its starting from very clear and simple tonal material, which gets piled up with various versions of itself, at first with 'wrong notes', then in different keys, leading to various fairly exaggerated parodies of different kinds of pieces--finally a kind of Soviet military march--which then dissapears into the beginning music, it is in fact exactly what it is claimed that it isn't, a sort of fantastic dream sequence.

Sunday night's concert by Esa-Pekka Solonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra included the first performance in the UK of Steven Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra. The fact that this piece had won the Pulitzer Prize enhanced its interest. I liked it. I suppose one might cyncially say that its just the kind of piece that would win the Pulitzer Prize--a number of newspaper reviews were snide about its easy listening qualities. It's a big, about half-hour-long, piece, clear and concise in its progress and extremely well orchestrated, attractive and pretty much always engaging. I'm not sure what's wrong with that.

However, for this, and for all the rest of it, anybody can judge for him or her self, by listening to the any of it on line at the Proms website ( to the Listen Again section.


More later....
Some People

Peter Bucknell, the viola player/filmmaker/video producer of choice for sensitive people has alerted us to an unadvertised special. If you call (212) 721 6500 early enough on the morning of September 9, you can get two good seats for $25 each to the delicious Rinat Shaham’s opening night performance as Carmen at the New York City Opera. Check out Peter's blog for a link to a beautiful piece of Brahms that he and Rini (Peter calls her that so I thought I would too) did together.

The first three reviews in Gramophone this month, alphabetically speaking, are Eve Beglarian's Tell the Birds; Corey Dargel's Less Famous Than You, and Avner Dorman's Naxos disk of solo piano works. Good to see members and friends of our little extended community getting some recognition.

Patti versus Bernedette as Mama Rose...contrast and compare.
Santa Fe Opera Review

The Wall Street Journal published a review this morning of the Santa Fe Opera's summer line-up, which includes Thomas Adès The Tempest:
Paradoxically, the opera's most beautiful music is reserved for Caliban, the natural man. Mr. Adès is not sentimental about Caliban (William Ferguson), who lusts after Miranda and is easily tempted to murder and mayhem. But when the "civilized" characters depart at the end, to reconstitute their complex society back in Italy for better or for worse, Caliban's final song, echoed by Ariel's offstage vocalise, casts his island as a kind of Eden.

Jonathan Kent's skillful direction enhanced the pacing of the opera and precisely depicted its characters. Paul Brown's simple set was a clever metaphor -- the lovely yellow sands were actually quicksand, which could swallow up characters at a moment's notice, and his costumes were equally evocative, ranging from Caliban and Ariel's near-nakedness to the absurdly colorful contemporary dresses of the chorus women. Duane Schuler's lighting reflected the storms and calms. Conductor Alan Gilbert led a nuanced account of this complex and rewarding score.
The other operas reviewed are Mozart's The Magic Flute, Massenet's Cinderella, and Strauss' Salome
My Time At the Proms--Pt I

I assume that the amount of newish, new, and newer music at the Proms is constant over any one year and that one's perception of the whole (unless you're around for all of it) is really determined by the slice of it that one happens to get. My slice this year has lots. I got to London on Tuesday morning (when getting there was still relatively easy), and there was something every night this week.

Tuesday night Yan Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic did an all French concert, which, along with Ravel and Roussel, included Metaboles by Dutilleux. Written for, of all people, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra in the 60's, Metaboles is a sort of concerto for orchestra in five movements which are played without a break, each focussed on an "abstract" (whatever that means)issue, usually having to do with texture. The third, with pizz. basses (going through all 12 notes of the chromatic scale)and a certain amount of brass, suggest some sort of very cool jazzy music that would go to some very cool early Godard or Malle movie. It's really a first rate piece, and it got a first rate performance. (As did everything else.)

Wednesday's concert, by the BBC Scottish Orchestra and Ilan Volkov included ...towards a pure land by Jonathan Harvey. A pure land, the composer explained in his program notes, is a state of mind beyond suffering--paradise, in fact. In this case a Bhuddist concept. The work features a small ensemble, more or less hidden in the orchestra, refered to as the 'Ensemble of Eternal Sound,' which (surprise) plays slow and peaceful music, which a certain amount of 'exotic' percussion, most of the time. In the foreground the rest of the orchestra plays sequentially a variety of musics which moves toward and then away from a central point occupied by a sort of void. This progress is described by Harvey as being an arch, but an arch with developments. The realization of this does not sound particularly schematic or mechanical, in fact, it has a rather attractive surface.

In certain respects the main event of the week was the first performance on Thursday night by Volkov and the BBC Scottish orchestra again, joined by pianist Noriko Kawai, of James Dillon's Andromeda, a piano concerto in all but name--and in fact there's some confusion about that. Dillon is often classed with Ferneyhough and Finnissy as being part of the 'new complexity' school. This piece, which lasted 35 minutes, is certainly as fancy and busy as anybody could ever want. According to Dillon it is in 15 sections, which are like a series of waves, each 'giving birth to the next,'...'The rhythm of the unfolding sections remain the same, yet the internal forms are always different.' In fact the sections are grouped so that there are three large sections, in a fast, slow, faster (with breaks) pattern.

I find I have difficulties with pieces in this style in general, and I had them with this piece. If you have a lot of very complex lines going on simultaneously, lopped right on top of each other, you run the risk of their cancelling each other out and ending up with a big wash of sound with no particular texture or detail--and no particular rhythm or tempo. With a lot of activity of a fairly high degree of complexity of rhythm and notes going on all the time in all the registers it can get pretty hard to follow the argument of the piece. You (one, I) begin to wonder if it really would matter is section thirteen came where section eight does, for instance.

Given that, this was a pretty high class example of the genre. It has a certain luminous sound to it. It also got a completely committment and extremely accurate performance.

The difficulties the piece presented were not helped at all by the hall. Fortunately as well as streaming concerts on the web as they're happening, the BBC makes recordings of them available for a week after the actual performance. Since the concerts are rebroadcast later and the rebroadcasts are also available for a week, it's possible to listen to anything that's been played on the Proms for about two weeks after it's happened (For instance, Julian Anderson's new piece, which was played on August 6, is still available for listening). This means that you don't have to take my word for it, you can listen for yourself. Check out the Proms website ( and look for the Listen Again section.

(To be continued...)
Star Gazing

I know some of the regulars disagree but I think Osvaldo Golijov is a great composer. His new cello and orchestra piece called "Azul," composed for Yo Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony, debuted at Tanglewood a couple of weeks ago and was repeated at Ravinia a few days later. The rap on Golijov is that his music is too "world music-y," too easy to like. Richard Dyer gets it about right, I think:
Golijov's music has instant appeal, a glowing surface of sound that recalls the work of one of his mentors, the late Luciano Berio . In some quarters that makes him suspect, but it shouldn't, because his music is at least as elusive as it is accessible. He's a serious composer and ``Azul" is a serious work, appealing on first hearing, but also puzzling.

Sondheim has insisted that Johnny Depp take a singing test before he'll let him play Sweeney Todd. It's good to know that some people can still afford to have principles.
New music gets its own online archive

Finland is famous for Santa Claus, Nokia cell phones, the Linux operating system, Jean Sibelius, and many fine musicians and contemporary composers. Now the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) has launched an innovative internet archive that will give access to recordings of many contemporary Finnish composers that have been unavailable for years, including compositions by Jukka Tiensuu who is pictured above. The archive has been made possible by a ground-breaking agreement between the Finnish broadcasters, musicians, copyright holders and unions. The story is important because it makes new music available on the internet in performances by world-class musicians. But it is even more important because it creates a business model which can be replicated in other countries.

On An Overgrown Path has the full details of the new internet archive for contemporary music including the composers featured there. And it asks the question why other broadcasters, such as the BBC with their huge archives of Boulez, Stockhausen, Birtwistle, Maxwell Davies, and many others, are not following the same route as the Finns?

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
Early Music

The New York Times dumps another truckload of logs onto to the bonfire of hype attending 14-year-old musicial phenom Jay Greenberg, whose first recording for Sony Classical will be in shops on Tuesday. The disk contains young Greenberg's Symphony No. 5, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, and his Quintet for Strings, played by the Juilliard String Quartet and cellist Darrett Adkins. Writes Matthew Gurewitsch, perhaps a bit optimistically:
Who will buy it? All a contemporary composer of classical music can count on from the mainstream audience is indifference. On rare occasions a new symphony touches a universal chord (as with Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony more than a decade ago), but commercial success on this order cannot be manufactured. Conceivably a composer in his early teens could win a following for his music among his own generation and beyond, in the process winning converts to the art form more generally.

We've discussed the pros and cons of too much too soon for young Jay before but this new profile puts an endearing human face on a nerdy wunderkind who since the age of three has been hearing music in his brain and feeling compelled to write it down.


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