Some addenda to my column on Giacinto Scelsi, out in the New Yorker this week. First, a couple of people have asked for a pronunciation guide. It's ja-CHEEN-to SHELLsi (almost like the hotel, or the boys). Second, Tony Tommasini reminds me that the personnel of the Flux Quartet has been in flux since they performed Morton Feldman's epic String Quartet (II) in 1999. Tom Chiu remains first violinist; the others in 1999 were violinist Cornelius Dufallo, violist-composer Kenji Bunch, and cellist Darrett Adkins. Profuse apologies, gentlemen. Dufallo and Bunch, by the way, will be performing George Crumb's Black Angels this Saturday at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, next to the great Gowanus canal. Finally, I wish to lament the fact that some of the best Scelsi recordings have dropped out of circulation. Mode's five superb Scelsi discs are readily available, including the orchestral volume with Konx-Om-Pax. You can also get a Kairos disc with Anahit. But Jürg Wyttenbach's pioneering Accord recordings are out of print, as is the Arditti Quartet cycle of the quartets (most recently on Naïve). I hope these return to the catalogue soon.
Scelsi was an original but not solitary figure. Many composers of the late twentieth century have made slow-moving soundscapes their milieu, perhaps in reaction to the sheer fidgetiness of so much early and mid-twentieth-century composition. Some composers have been directly affected by the Count's example (idea for a mashup: Count Basie plus Count Scelsi); others have simply worked along similar lines. Minimalism is one obvious analogue, having its origins in La Monte Young's "long tones." The question of whether Ligeti influenced Scelsi isn't quite resolved; obviously, the great Transylvanian's Atmosphères and Lontano inhabit a not dissimilar world. The Paris spectralists — Gérard Grisey, Tristan Murail, Hughes Dufour — had exchanges with Scelsi. The late, great Claude Vivier was a kindred spirit; so is Pascal Dusapin, who's turned into one of the most significant European opera composers (his neo-Futurist opera Perelà, on Naïve, is a fabulously strange voyage). Julian Anderson knows his Scelsi; Alvin Curran worked closely with the Count in his later years. (I've been meaning for a while to sing the praises of Curran's monumental piano cycle Inner Cities. Daan Vandewalle's staggering performance on a Long Distance recording is now available in the US.) The list goes on: Joshua Penman is one young composer with Scelsic tendencies.
Go to NewMusicBox for an interview with Curran that contains some lovely anecdotes: "Scelsi ... came to all my concerts in Rome even right up to the very last one I gave just a few days before he died.... This was in the summer time, and he was such a nut about being outdoors. He was there in a fur coat and a fur hat. It was an outdoor concert. He waved from a distance, beautiful sparking eyes and smile that he always had, and that's the last time I saw him."