I'm overwhelmed by this news from the MacArthur Foundation and by the response from so many friends and colleagues. A simple, deeply heartfelt "thank you" to all.
September 24, 2008 | Permalink
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Bruno Maderna, and Michael Gielen conducting the WDR Orchestra; Stockhausen Edition 5.
In an enormous hangar at Tempelhof Airport, the Berlin Philharmonic is giving four performances of Stockhausen's massive 1955-57 work Gruppen, for three orchestras, under the direction of Simon Rattle, Daniel Harding, and Michael Boder. Above, the score itself (hovering over Wannsee), together with an audio snippet (not of the passage shown, but of the electrifying sequence in which a set of chords goes spinning around the hall). Below, the orchestral groups distributed left, right, and center in Hangar 2:
September 21, 2008 | Permalink
Photo: Ken Howard.
At this year's New Yorker Festival I will be interviewing Dawn Upshaw. The event is on Saturday, October 4, at 7:30 p.m., at the Ailey Citigroup Theater on West 55th Street. Tickets can be obtained here. Upshaw won't be singing, but we'll be showing some video of her performances. The photo above is from Kaija Saariaho's Amour de loin. Below, Upshaw sings "Tancas serradas a muru," from Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre:
September 16, 2008 | Permalink
Schoenberg, "Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide" (excerpt); Jan DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish, Nonesuch 79237.
Last December, I attempted to generate a wave of enthusiasm for Worldwide Atonality Day, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Schoenberg's dreamily dissonant song "Ich darf nicht dankend." A resounding silence greeted my proclamation, perhaps because it wasn't entirely persuasive; the song was, after all, published with a key signature, thereby retaining at least the appearance of normalcy. Either that, or no one cared. In any case, I now offer September 27 as a more plausible candidate for atonality's big birthday. On that date in 1908, Schoenberg wrote "Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide" ("You lean against a white willow"), the thirteenth of his Buch der hängenden Gärten, or Book of Hanging Gardens, songs on texts of Stefan George. The snippet above comes from the eternally awesome Schoenberg Center; to see the entire manuscript, go to this page and click on 418. A few rogue triads notwithstanding, it is difficult to hear this music as tonal in any meaningful sense. Another significant date will be December 21 — the centenary of the premiere of Schoenberg's Second Quartet, which caused the first great music riot of the twentieth century.
By an interesting coincidence, this month also brings the fiftieth anniversary of the tonality-rejuvenating phenomenon of minimalism — insofar as anyone can define a late twentieth-century musical tendency that has caused endless terminological angst. In September 1958, La Monte Young finished his Trio for Strings, which, with its glacially slow harmonic movement and its hypnotic concluding meditation on the interval of the fifth, is often dubbed the first minimalist piece. On Wednesday, September 17, at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village, NYC, the online composer community Sequenza21 presents a Minimalism at 50 concert, celebrating an occasion that has otherwise gone unmarked. The Trio won't be heard — apparently a performance is slated at Young's MELA Foundation later this season — but there will be exceedingly rare performances of piano pieces by Terry Jennings, one of the first composers to follow Young's lead. Terry Riley's In C, an arrangement of Steve Reich's Piano Phase for marimbas, and Philip Glass's Piece in the Shape of a Square fill out the program. For some relevant samples, see this page of my Audio Guide.
September 16, 2008 | Permalink
Readers may be surprised to hear that I spent much of the summer working on The Rest Is Noise — a book I supposedly finished writing last summer. These things have a way of pulling you back in. In anticipation of the paperback edition (to be published by Picador Books on Oct. 14), I have been devising a couple of web-only features that will become operational in the next few weeks. The paperback itself required a little more work than expected. And I have been preparing the manuscript for translation into German, French, and various other languages. The task has been to track down, as much as possible, the original-language versions of all quotations that appear in the book. Only the translators will see this somewhat ridiculous multilingual incarnation, but here's a sample paragraph:
“Il y a trop de musique en Allemagne,” Romain Rolland wrote, back in the heyday of Mahler and Strauss. Something was lurking, the French writer suspected, in these humongous Teutonic symphonies and music dramas—a cult of power, un “hypnotisme de la force.” Germans themselves recognized the demonic strain in their culture. During the First World War, the not yet liberal-democratic Thomas Mann wrote a manifesto titled Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen, in which he praised all the backward German tendencies that he would later come to lament in the pages of Doktor Faustus. In the earlier work, Mann states that die Kunst “hat einen unzuverlässigen, verräterischen Grundhang; ihr Entzücken an skandalöser Anti-Vernunft, ihre Neigung zu Schönheit schaffender ‘Barbarei’ ist unaustilgbar . . . .”
To summarize briefly, there is too much music in Germany, and beauty-creating barbarism may also be a problem.
The other exciting development around here is that I have finally acquired Sibelius — the software, not the composer. Up above is the Salome clarinet line that I'm always rattling on about, the one with the scale that starts off in C-sharp major and then detours weirdly into a semblance of G major. For more, go to my Chapter 1 page, now featuring l'auteur lui-même at the piano.
September 13, 2008 | Permalink
"We are driving the pig train."
— Bill O'Reilly, on the media's coverage of the election.
September 13, 2008 | Permalink
Karlheinz Stockhausen would have celebrated his eightieth birthday last month. On the other side of the Altantic, the late avant-garde master is being honored with a slew of concerts, as you can see from the official Stockhausen calendar (click "concerts" for the pdf). There are big events this fall at the Berliner Festspiele, the Festival d'Automne in Paris, London's Southbank Centre, and Warsaw Autumn, among other venues. Over here, practically nothing — unless you live in Omaha, Nebraska. On September 12, the ARTSaha! festival will present an all-Stockhausen program that includes the American premiere of Cosmic Pulses, his final electronic piece. There'll be a live webcast at 7:30PM CDT. The trumpeter and composer Joseph Drew, who co-founded ARTSaha! and blogs at ANAblog, recently attended the Stockhausen summer institute in Kürten.
September 08, 2008 | Permalink
Go here for an audio companion to my book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.
September 04, 2008 | Permalink