June 29, 2009 | Permalink
— Sweelinck, Music for Harpsichord; Glen Wilson (Naxos)
— Sonic Youth, The Eternal (Matador)
— Ann Southam, Simple Lines of Enquiry; Eve Egoyan (Centrediscs)
— Mozart, Violin Concertos; Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica (Nonesuch)
Playlist:— David Lang, The Little Match Girl Passion (Har. Mundi)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Thing Around Your Neck
Tash Aw, Map of the Invisible World
Wilfrid Sheed, The House That George Built
Jane Mayer, The Dark Side
Philip Hoare, Leviathan or, The Whale
June 24, 2009 | Permalink
In 2007, Justin Davidson wrote here about Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron's spectacular design for the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Despite delays and overruns, the hall is rising steadily from the waters of the Elbe, as this webcam attests, and is due to open in 2012. The dedicated website is spectacular in itself; you can even control the webcam remotely.
June 24, 2009 | Permalink
My long article on Marlboro Music, Rudolf Serkin's fabled chamber-music retreat in Vermont, appears in The New Yorker this week. It's available to subscribers, digital readers, and newsstand buyers. A post on our website contains two recordings from last summer's edition of Marlboro: the slow movement of the Schubert E-flat Trio, with Mitsuko Uchida, Soovin Kim, and the late David Soyer; and Samuel Barber's Summer Music, for winds. Some more pictures appear below.
June 22, 2009 | Permalink
June 20, 2009 | Permalink
Next week Lorin Maazel conducts his final concerts as the music director of the New York Philharmonic. The Mahler Eighth is his send-off. Noise reader Tammy Hepps has discovered a trove of reports of Maazel's child-prodigy years in an online archive of the Jewish Criterion, Pittsburgh's Jewish newspaper. At the time, Maazel was attending Peabody High School in Pittsburgh. One report reads: “For as long as Pittsburgh claims him, it can preen its feathers proudly. But it had better do so quickly for we fear he will soon be taking off for greener pastures. And with a talent like that, why shouldn’t he?” Another goes a little over the top: "Scan all musical history for a parallel of Lorin Maazel and the only approximation found is that of the young Mozart...." But the articles leave no doubt that Maazel was born with phenomenal gifts of memory, skill, and musical understanding.
June 20, 2009 | Permalink
Summer solstice events: the Garden of Memory in SF, Roots and Rhizomes in Banff (with the premiere of JLA's Inuksuit), Make Music NY (with the long-awaited reprise of Henry Brant's Orbits).... To tweet or not to tweet? Amanda Ameer ponders the new fad for Twittering during concerts, checking in with David Lang and Hilary Hahn. Greg Sandow is pro; Matthew Guerrieri is con; Lisa Hirsch takes a historical perspective. Although I enjoy reading mid-concert reports from Steve Smith and others, I have to join the old-fogey camp on this one. When Parissa sang last Friday night, the guy in front of me started tweeting on his iPhone, puncturing the mystical state into which I'd drifted. His chatter had nothing to do with the Iranian election, which was on everyone's mind that night.... The average age at French classical concerts is thirty-two? So says Norman Lebrecht, who also notes a surge in classical record sales across the channel.... Larry Lash reviews a wild Threepenny Opera in Vienna.... Justin Brierley is presenting up-to-the-minute playlists on WRIU in Rhode Island.... VOX, New York City Opera's annual new-opera workshop, offers up music and videos from its 2009 edition.... The gifted young conductor Joana Carneiro has been appointed the music director of the Berkeley Symphony, replacing Kent Nagano. On a June 28 KALW broadcast / webcast you can hear her conduct John Adams, Magnus Lindberg, and Beethoven.... Community MusicWorks hopes to play for Obama.... Best wishes to the humbly brilliant New Zealand singer-songwriter Chris Knox, who, as his family reports, is recovering from a stroke. Knox's "Not Given Lightly" is — with some debt to "The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" — one of the great love songs of the late twentieth century.... A few days late, fulsome happy-birthday wishes to the great Alan Rich, who turned eighty-five on June 17.
June 19, 2009 | Permalink
June 18, 2009 | Permalink
Some readers may wonder why this site seems perennially obsessed with the career of the Atlanta-based music critic Pierre Ruhe. It's not for any personal reason; I had a nice dinner with Pierre the last time I was in Atlanta, but I don't know him well. Rather, the ups and downs of Pierre's career, which you can follow by browsing these posts, stand in for the general twilight struggle to maintain music criticism in American newspapers and magazines. Perhaps, after all, the profession is destined for extinction. It became widespread only in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and music managed to thrive for centuries without its assistance. Nonetheless, to take a phrase from Morton Feldman, let's try to keep it going for a little while more.
A digression on the sufferings of the newspaper business. I think the firing of critics and of various other thoughtful journalists will be seen as one of the industry's major blunders. The greatest mistake has been the panicky preoccupation with all things Internet — the decision to give away "content" for free, the attempt to sound "bloggy," the urge to make writing interactive, the narrow-minded focus on counting hits. Several years ago I wrote in passing: "I never took economics, but it seems to me that a company that gives away its product for free is committing suicide." I received a flurry of e-mails saying that if I had taken economics I would have understood that in the brave new world before us paid circulation didn't matter and newspapers would recoup any losses with online advertising. As in other areas of postmodern finance, my lack of training in economics didn't necessarily hinder my understanding of the situation. I'm generally a fan of the wacky world wide web, but I don't believe that it will put traditional journalism out of business, any more than television replaced movies or recording replaced live performance. The false either/or of Internet vs. print should be put to rest. And publications should emphasize their strengths and not their weaknesses.
Readers may recall that in 2007 I got into a bit of a public tiff with Hank Klibanoff, then the managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who vigorously protested my and others' contention that the AJC was gutting its arts coverage. Well, Klibanoff stepped down in 2008, and in April of this year the AJC let go of most of its critics. Several of them have banded together to start a new site, artscriticATL.com. Here is the founding statement: "With this new blog, former staff writers from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution have come together to offer opinion, news and ideas about our growing local scene. The editors are Pierre Ruhe, the former AJC classical music critic, and Catherine Fox, former AJC visual arts critic. We'll also recruit some of the sharpest writers around. In addition to art and music, artscriticATL.com will cover theater, dance and more. We believe that thoughtful criticism is a key component of a vibrant arts community, not only as an important link between art and its audience but also as a platform for debate and dialogue." Can the site pick up the functions that the AJC has set aside? Can it become a fully functional, salary-paying, ad-selling publication? The national arts community will be following its progress with intense interest. I think they're off to a strong start.
Last Friday night, as part of the Muslim Voices Festival, the Persian classical singer Parissa gave ethereally powerful performances of mystical poems of Rumi, with accompaniment by the composer and tar player Iman Vaziri and the tombak player Dara Afraz. Among the lines she sang were these: "How should I know how it all happened / Since how is drowned in the Howless?" The somber major-key melody with which she closed, a majestic slow march, rang in my ears all weekend.
June 11, 2009 | Permalink
John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles pleased most critics when it opened at the Metropolitan Opera at the end of 1991. I wasn't among them; in a review for the New Republic I described the opera as "nowhere music," a miscellaneous pastiche of Romantic and modernist styles. I recently listened again to a recording of the work and liked it a great deal more. Even if the composer's voice remains at times elusive, the craftsmanship and vitality of the writing make a powerful impression. St. Louis audiences may judge for themselves when a new, streamlined version of Ghosts opens at the Opera Theater of St. Louis on June 17.... Noise reader John Branch reminds me that the helpful folks at Carnegie Hall have been uploading streaming audio of their recent new-music commissions. You can hear the two most recent Pulitzer Prize winners, Steve Reich's Double Sextet and David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion, together with John Adams's Son of Chamber Symphony, David Bruce's Gumboots, Matthias Pintscher's Osiris, and Anna Clyne's Blush, among others. In many cases MP3 downloads are available.... The gifted young composer Andrew Norman, soon to be in residence at the American Academy in Berlin, has unveiled a richly stocked website of his work. Worth a listen is his vibrant orchestral piece Unstuck. I also recommend checking up on the recent activities of Timothy Andres, whom I wrote about briefly in The New Yorker five years ago. His hour-long two-piano piece Shy and Mighty is a major achievement for a still very young composer. Paula Matthusen, whom I also mentioned in that 2004 piece, has a concert on Saturday night at Roulette.... The International Contemporary Ensemble, aka ICE, has been devoting a good part of its seemingly limitless energies to the late, great Iannis Xenakis; last weekend it put on a Xenakis concert in Chicago, selling out the house and drawing a rave from Bryant Manning in the new Chicago Classical Review. ICE has also set up a Xenakis blog, which features a lively interview with Françoise Xenakis, the composer's widow.... The Baltimore series Mobtown Modern is seeking participants for a July performance of Mauricio Kagel's Eine Brise, for 111 bicyclists.... Envying London: Lulu is playing at Covent Garden, and Kaija Saariaho's awesomely beautiful L'Amour de loin opens at English National Opera on July 3.
Photo: Les Amis de Xenakis.
June 10, 2009 | Permalink
A long-unused stretch of elevated railroad tracks on the far west side of Manhattan has now reopened as one of New York's most remarkable parks. The miniature amphitheatre below, with Frank Gehry's IAC Building and Jean Nouvel's Nouvel Chelsea in the background to the left, would make a nifty performance space. It's already a kind of John Cage concert hall in which Tenth Avenue is the perpetual concert:
A few more shots at sunset:
Growing up in Washington DC, I rode a school bus every day past the intersection of Canal Road and Arizona Avenue, where a railroad bridge crosses overhead. For much of the nineteen-seventies, one of the bridge's pillars was emblazoned with the legend MAHLER GROOVES, next to a painting of a French horn. The image fascinated me, well before I had heard a note of Mahler's music: it was a cryptic message I yearned to decipher. I recounted this story in a 1995 New Yorker article, and received a lovely note from Dr. Stephen Chanock, of the National Cancer Institute, who corrected my account — I had remembered the slogan as "Mahler Lives" — and revealed that he and two other adolescent Mahlerites had executed the graffiti one summer day in 1972. Dr. Chanock was kind enough to enclose a MAHLER GROOVES bumper sticker, which I've treasured ever since; it's on the wall of my office, on top of my Bob Dylan poster. The bumper stickers were manufactured by the Mahler Society of Los Angeles, which was long under the leadership of William Malloch. One of the stickers fell into the hands of Leonard Bernstein, who affixed it to the first page of his score of the Mahler Sixth. The score resides proudly in the archives of the New York Philharmonic.
June 05, 2009 | Permalink