I write from the fair city of Houston, where tonight I will give a pre-concert talk for Da Camera of Houston on the intimate side of the avant-garde — the emergence of radical musical ideas from fin-de-siècle salon culture. I've encountered Da Camera by way of their periodic visits to New York; they're expert at creating programs that place music in a broader cultural context, particularly a literary one. Some years back they presented excellent evenings devoted to the musical worlds of Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust. This season, celebrating Da Camera's twentieth anniversary, artistic director Sarah Rothenberg has put together a kind of secret history of the twentieth century, going from the Belle Époque of Debussy and Fauré (tonight's concert) to the Symbolist mystery of Schoenberg's Book of Hanging Gardens, and on to the postwar abstractions of Cage, Feldman, and Elliott Carter.
As it happens, LA has a series not unlike Da Camera in spirit: Jacaranda, based in Santa Monica. Their theme for the season is "the OM Century" — the twentieth century seen through the prism of Olivier Messiaen. The opening concert, "Diana's Quiver," is all-Debussy; it happens on November 10. I recommend this group very highly.
Tomorrow I will be at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. Then two appearances in Chicago, at the University of Chicago and at the Art Institute. On Nov. 7 I have my Garrison Keillor moment at the Fitzgerald Theater in Minneapolis. Then I will return home for Berlin in Lights.