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It turns out that Olympic music has an experimental wing. Sources on multiple continents inform me that Ombretta Agró Andruff is curating sound-art installations both in Torino and in the mountains above, and that a major new boombox work by New York's own Phil Kline will be the centerpiece. See Echoes from the Mountains for more info. Ah, Europe!
February 13, 2006 | Permalink
Peter Gelb talks to Dan Wakin of the New York Times about forthcoming Met seasons. The prospectus is much as advance rumor led one to expect: a chic list of directors for repertory pieces (Patrice Chéreau, George C. Wolfe, Robert Lepage doing the Ring), a starry assortment of guest conductors (Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Esa-Pekka Salonen), various collaborative ventures and technological tie-ins. I mentioned the Anthony Minghella Butterfly in my column in December. A lot of this sounds good. After years of committee-ish, catch-up choices at the Met, it's a relief to have an identifiable sensibility at work. I'm especially encouraged by the news that Gelb is lowering prices on a big bloc of tickets, even as he raises prices on the choicest seats. Less encouraging are his ideas about new music. An Osvaldo Golijov opera is a splendid notion, but not exactly daring; the composer had already talked to Joe Volpe about a commission. So what else? I'm not sure what to make of plans for a music-theater workshop with the likes of Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Guettel, Wynton Marsalis, and Michael Torke. It's intriguing, but I have a hard time visualizing how music theater would play in such a huge house, and there's a long list of composers I'd have gone to first (though the choice of Rufus Wainwright may turn out to be inspired). The Met should be doing late twentieth-century classics like Messiaen's St. Francis, Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre, Glass's Einstein on the Beach. It should have new grand operas by John Adams, Kaija Saariaho, Thomas Adès. It should have an avant-garde wing, in talks with Robert Ashley or Helmut Oehring or Björk or whom have you. Of course, I'm not the one asking for the checks. It's not yet time to pass judgment; check back in 2011. By the way, the Times piece appeared on page 1, which was cool to see.
Correction to the above: It turns out that although Volpe did once suggest an idea for an opera to Golijov the conversation hardly amounted to official talks about a commission.
February 11, 2006 | Permalink
Some interesting musical programming is tied into the Torino Winter Games, no trace of which is likely to make it onto the television broadcast. Daniel Harding leads the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in programs of Beethoven and Sibelius (wintriest of composers). Composer Carlo Galante has created a new version of The Tempest, inspired by Purcell. Puccini's Manon Lescaut and La Bohème will be performed in Torino's Teatro Regio, where both works had their premieres, in 1893 and 1896. If I understand the site correctly, Manon will be directed by French movie star Jean Reno (Le Femme Nikita), who is to "take his first steps in an opera production, together with a tried and tested team of French authors who always follow him in his theatrical and film creations." Don't tell Peter Gelb. (Charles Downey at ionarts, always a step ahead, has more.) The major event is the Feb. 15 premiere of Arvo Pärt's La tela traslata, a work for chorus and orchestra inspired by the Shroud of Turin. I hope some report leaks out about all this. Perhaps a Noise reader is in attendance? A Ferneyhough-obsessed bobsled champion, or Furtwänglerian figure-skater?
February 10, 2006 | Permalink
Many thanks to Justin Davidson for filling in beautifully while I
hacked away at my book. No one will ever look at Carnegie stagehands
pushing around a celesta the same way again. The moment Justin's own blog commences — I suggest the name Davidsonbündler — it will be properly advertised here. I'm tempted to mark my return by
whining about classical neglect at the Grammys — how great if Dawn Upshaw and the Andalusian Dogs had been up there — but
here instead are silly tidbits. 1) Like M. C— and Steve Smith, I am an oboe. 2) Because people who love classical music necessarily love Finns, you will enjoy this CNN story — and, more importantly, the accompanying video — about Conan O'Brien's ascent to stardom in Finland.
February 10, 2006 | Permalink
Alan Rich reviews Radu Lupu's playing of Schubert's G-major Sonata, savoring certain qualities but finding it inferior to Schnabel's playing of the same piece. Live, in 1948. Alan is also not easily contradicted on the subject of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra; he was at the 1944 premiere, and went backstage to shake the composer's hand.
February 09, 2006 | Permalink
Alex has promised to reclaim this space soon, for which I'm grateful, because I've missed my daily dose of his thoughtful prose. My thanks to him and to the smart and engaged readers he shared with me. Alex has commanded me not to drop off the edge of cyberspace, and to start a blog of my own. I will of course comply. Stay tuned.
— Justin Davidson
February 09, 2006 | Permalink
The nonpareil label Nonesuch has released the cast album of Sweeney Todd, from the savagely spare Broadway production now at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. You can practically smell the bitter fumes rising from the speakers – a combination of bloodlust, Brecht and Berlin cabaret. I’m not completely convinced by the production, which accentuates the show’s nastiness and glosses over its snarling charm. Michael Cerveris, he of the curled lip and glowing pate, does not rely on charm or elicit much sympathy as Sweeney, so we’re left with a protagonist who on top of being a serial killer is also an unpleasant man. Patti LuPone plays Mrs. Lovett the only way she knows how, as a cockney Patti LuPone. The standout in the cast is the astonishing Manoel Felciano, whose damaged, blinking, straitjacketed Tobias haunted me all night after I saw the show.
Visually, this incarnation of Sweeney is blistering in its simplicity. The only set is a tower of Victorian tchotchkes. The principal props are a collection of ferociously glistering razors and a cheap black coffin. (It’s about death, dontcha know.) The cast sings straight out past the proscenium. Hardly anyone makes eye contact with anyone else. Musically, it’s more rusty bread knife than tempered razor. With the exception of Cerveris, the cast accompanies itself. Judge Turpin plays the trumpet, Pirelli squeezes the accordion, Tobias strokes the violin. Even LuPone clinks a triangle and blows a few notes on the tuba, which sounds like a natural extension of the pawn-shop flugelhorn in her throat.
In the theater, the sheer thrill of watching the multi-skilled cast at work lasts most of the evening. Get the same crew in a recording studio, though, and they have to make the music work on its own merits, which it does. A few years ago, the New York Philharmonic showed that Sweeney could take a high-gloss symphonic treatment without losing its sharpened edge. This version produces the opposite: a minimalist wheezefest of wobbly tremolos, vamping bass riffs, and biting dissonances. It’s a tribute to Sondheim that his score works equally well at such extremes of scale.
- Justin Davidson
JDavidson8 at nyc.rr.com
February 08, 2006 | Permalink
Anne Midgette of the New York Times has written an excellent piece about the situation of classical music on the Internet, and I say this not merely because she was kind enough to include a mention of this site (and, clandestinely, of The Standing Room). She suggests lucidly why the now defunct Andante.com failed to catch fire, despite its obvious editorial excellence, while other sites have thrived. She also garners a startling statistic from iTunes — that classical music comprises twelve percent of sales on that site. Back in October I linked to a piece by Marc Shulgold in which Mark Berry of Naxos asserted that classical music accounted for six percent of all Internet downloads. We've been told for some years that classical music makes up only three or four percent of record sales overall. Something's happening here, and Time, Newsweek, and Entertainment Weekly (to name three magazines that have dropped all classical-music coverage) don't know what it is. For more, read Anastasia Tsioulcas in Billboard and Scott Timberg in the LA Times.
May I extend a warm welcome to Times readers who are new to this site. You will find here a sporadic blog going back to 2004 — most of the very recent posts are written by guest-blogger Justin Davidson, of Newsday — together with archives of my New Yorker columns and articles on the left and links to the wonderland of the classical Internet on the right (see especially Music Blogs). For those interested in mundane statistics, I average two thousand visits a day, and I've had eight hundred thousand hits since I started operations a year and a half ago.
Justin's back momentarily. I'm listening to a new World Music Institute disc entitled Endless Vision, Iranian and Armenian songs played by Hossein Alizadeh and Djivan Gasparyan, whose mournful beauty is intensified by the news of the day.
P. S. Adam Baer cannily identified Andante's limitations the moment it opened for business: "It is a content-rich, virtual ivory tower, designed by and geared toward aficionados who desire in-depth, genre-specific information and who agree that it will be worth something in addition to what they already pay their ISP to access everything the website has to offer.... The andante team is right to argue that the classical music world needs to take seriously the challenge of finding new listeners and that it must do a better job of opening wide its doors to let them in. The trouble is, you could say the same thing about andante."
February 08, 2006 | Permalink
A reader sent me a clipping from a regional American newspaper, in which one learns the following fun facts about Mozart: 1) he was home-schooled; 2) his music has been featured in such films as Agent Cody Banks 2, Runaway Bride, Welcome to Mooseport, Daddy Day Care, and GI Jane; 3) he wrote 49 symphonies, 22 piano concertos, and 45 violin sonatas; 4) if you want to get to know Mozart's music, you should start with the Piano Concert 21 in C major (Elvira Madigan), Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and, of course, the Goldberg Variations.Tom Hartley adds: "I look forward to the CD cover that says, "Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 (The Agent Cody Banks 2)." Another reader writes in to point out that the Goldberg Variations are actually by Bach. Indeed they are. The point was that — oh, never mind.
February 04, 2006 | Permalink
I noted previously that the end of January presented a maddening excess of promising NYC concerts. The glut continues in the early days of February. Tonight at Joe's Pub, for example, the deft young composer Nico Muhly and associates perform alongside the languid experimental band Doveman. Pop and classical elitists alike should stay away: Muhly has collaborated with Antony and Björk, while Thomas Bartlett, lead singer of Doveman, is a recovering piano prodigy who studied with the legendary London piano maven Maria Curcio. Icelandic sound-magician Valgeir Sigurðsson will also participate. Simultaneously, Juilliard's Focus! Festival comes to its orchestral climax with Zhou Long's The Enlightened, Jukka Tiensuu's Spiriti for accordion and orchestra, and the premiere of Paul Schoenfield's mini-oratorio Channah. I was at Juilliard the last two nights, and was struck by the huge range and energy of the offerings. Saturday night is a crisis. Lincoln Center hosts Osvaldo Golijov's astounding Ayre, with Dawn Upshaw, Kronos, and the Oscar-nominated Gustavo Santaolalla (please rise for the singing of the gay national anthem: "pling-pling-pling pling...pling... pling"); a few tickets still seem to be available. Meanwhile, at Merkin Hall, the Ear Dept. series presents Michael Gordon and Bill Morrison, creators of the stupefyingly powerful film symphony Decasia, in three other audiovisual collaborations: Light Is Calling, Gotham, and the brand-new Who By Water. Finally, as the Felsenfeld reports, Marc Mellits's Brick will be given its premiere on Saturday by Orpheus. I don't know Mellits's music, but I've heard his name dropped by knowledgeable types, and I will investigate.
— Alex Ross
P.S. Speaking of Brokeback Mountain, there's been an outbreak of insanity in Colorado: an elementary-school teacher was accused of promoting homosexuality and devil-worship after playing her students ten minutes of Gounod's Faust.
February 03, 2006 | Permalink
A couple of recent conversations have sent me riffling back through Richard Powers' 2003 novel The Time of our Singing, a big, shaggy, rough-hewn book about a phenomenally talented black tenor, narrated by his younger brother and sometime accompanist, a hard-working and more modestly gifted pianist. Their careers follows the sweep of postwar American history (their father, a German Jewish refugee physicist, meets their mother, a black church-going singer from Baltimore, at Marian Anderson's 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial). The book has a symphonic sweep, and it's replete with precise and exquisite writing about music, like this description of the pianist practicing, trying to absorb music into his flesh:
I worked through the Lyric Pieces, one every two weeks, a dozen bars every afternoon. I'd repeat the phrase until the notes dissolved under me, the way a word turns back to meaningless purity when chanted long enough. I'd split twelve bars into six, then shatter it down to one. One bar, halting, rethreading, retaking, now soft, now mezzo, now note for staggered note. I'd experiment with the attacks, making my hands a rod and striking each machine-coupled note. I'd relax and roll a chord as if it were written out arpeggio. I'd repeat the drill, depressing the keys so slowly they didn't sound, playing the whole passage with only releases. I'd lean on the bass or feel my hands, like an apprentice conjurer extracting hidden interior harmonies from the fray.
JDavidson8 at nyc.rr.com
February 02, 2006 | Permalink
Besides holding the de facto office of U.S. Composer General, John Adams is also a crackerjack curator of music festivals. His next production is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Minimalist Jukebox. I went to graduate school for composers at Uptown Central (also called Columbia University) and it's startling how easy it was for the tweedy modernists I knew there in the 1908s to write off an entire musical earthquake just because it annoyed them. It's heartening now to see an American orchestra, especially one led by the Finnish modernist Esa-Pekka Salonen, grapple with the movement on such a massive scale. One program is devoted to Arvo Pärt and Louis Andriessen, but otherwise the festival chronicles an all-American revolution - a continuous revolution that to my ears improved with age. In 1964 Terry Riley's In C was momentous for its mind-numbing simplicity, and it gave a well-earned kick in the pants to imported Viennese angst. But it's at least as great a distance from that bare-bones landmark to Adams' huge, churning, intricate Doctor Atomic forty years later. Minimalist pieces evolve slowly; minimalism as an aesthetic hustled along at a good historical clip.
— Justin Davidson
Jdavidson8 at nyc.rr.com
LA readers should also be aware of a Thomas Adès mini-fest next weekend at the Philharmonic. Adès will conduct scenes from his Tempest opera and his new Violin Concerto, together with Tempest music by Tchaikovsky and Sibelius. He'll also play his Piano Quintet in a chamber concert and lead a Green Umbrella concert with LA Phil musicians. Meanwhile, at the New York Philharmonic ... The Magic of Mozart!
February 02, 2006 | Permalink