I received an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award yesterday for my article "Ghost Sonata," and I was honored to be in the company of many writers I admire: jazz critic Gary Giddins, whose imposing new collection of reviews I'll talk about in a separate post; Dean Robert Christgau; Kyle Gann, who won an award for his internet radio station PostClassic; Michael Beckerman, whose New Worlds of Dvorak may be the best book yet about the composer; Denise Von Glahn, whose book The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape studies neglected links between geography and music; Joseph Dalton, formerly the pathbreaking head of CRI Records, now a critic in Albany; and Henry Fogel, head of the American Symphony Orchestra League. It was great to see Michael Tilson Thomas' Keeping Score project recognized. The highlight of the evening, though, came when one of the presenters read aloud from James Pegolotti's highly entertaining biography of the critic, composer, and radio personality Deems Taylor, who gave his name to the awards. In 1923 Taylor found himself in the awkward position of reviewing a concert at which one of his own works was played, and his solution reveals why he won a place among the wits of the Algonquin Round Table:
The novelty of the evening was another of the American works that Henry Hadley is introducing this month, a symphonic poem, "The Siren Song," by Deems Taylor. The work was written in 1912. As George Bernard Shaw points out in the preface to "The Irrational Knot," human beings are entirely renewed every seven years, so that an author may properly treat a twenty-year-old novel of his own as the work of a stranger. Such being the case, perhaps a reviewer may be similarly distant toward his own eleven-year-old symphonic poem. So far as we are concerned, "The Siren Song" is virtually a posthumous work, written by a young man. We thought it a promising work with a certain freshness of feeling and a disarming simplicity of utterance that partly atoned for its lack of well-defined individuality. On the whole, "Siren Song" interested us. We should like to hear more works by the same composer.