The New York Philharmonic has found a splendid way to mark the anniversary of the Rite. No, they're not playing the piece; rather, they have announced details of the new-music Biennial, to be held in late May and early June, 2014. In a culture saturated in nostalgia for a nineteenth-century past, the Rite signalled that new visions were not only possible but essential: it commenced a reordering of the repertory and of the very mindset of the classical orchestra. I can think of no finer tribute to the spirit of the work than to focus relentlessly on the new — and the Philharmonic, to its credit, is doing so.
May 29, 2013 | Permalink
For the third installment of Anti-Anniversary Week (explanation here), I'm reposting Stefan Prins's Generation Kill, which I encountered at the 2012 Donaueschingen Festival and chose as one of my events of the year. It's a musical meditation on video-game technology, social media, and drone warfare, in which live performers undergo instant manipulation by way of Playstation devices. "Meditation" is, in fact, not quite the right word; this is a work of fierce, unsettling tension, one that got under the skin even of a seen-it-all German new-music audience. Performing above are members of the Nadar Ensemble, with the composer himself supervising the sound mix.
May 29, 2013 | Permalink
In joint tribute to Wagner, who famously said "Kinder! macht Neues!" ("Children, make something new!"), and to Stravinsky, the enfant terrible of 1913, I'll be featuring younger composers this week, with an eye toward those who seem to be finding new sounds and new fusions. Today, Raphaël Cendo's scratch data, performed by Tom De Cock. Cendo is featured in a concert by Ensemble Linea at CUNY this Friday. For Cendo at his black-metal wildest, see Introduction aux ténèbres.
May 27, 2013 | Permalink
It may not be entirely a coincidence that the centennial of the Rite of Spring scandal, which arrives on Wednesday, follows closely upon the Wagner bicentennial. At last fall's "Reassessing the Rite" conference, which I covered for The New Yorker, Annegret Fauser brought up the Wagner-Rite relationship, noting that in the weeks leading up to the première the French papers had been full of Wagneriana, including accounts of the legendary Tannhäuser riot at the Opéra in 1861. In a way, Fauser suggested, Paris audiences may have been primed to restage that affair: Stravinsky would be the new Wagner, the foreign musician of the future. It's a fascinating speculation — although, of course, Parisian audiences needed little historical prompting to go into culture-riot mode. Nijinsky's suggestive dancing in Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun" had set off a brouhaha the previous year. (Incidentally, Fauser's new book Sounds of War makes a major contribution to our understanding of music during the World War II period.)
Suffering somewhat from anniversary fatigue, I'll let others carry the Rite baton this week. Will Robin is completing his season-long immersion at Reflections on the Rite; WQXR is hosting Rite Fever, with a twenty-four marathon scheduled for Wednesday; and NPR's Deceptive Cadence has had a string of interesting posts. Note this excellent overview of the Rite and jazz; it includes a link to Charlie Parker's Stravinsky homage at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1949. (Go all the way to the bottom of this page.) Note also the rise of the Zany Rite Video meme; Will has a collection of them, and has contributed his own striking kitty choreographies. The Bad Plus have added a node to the Rite-jazz nexus with their vivid arrangement of the score; in June, Mark Morris will make of it a dance called Spring, Spring, Spring, to be introduced at Ojai North. (The Bad Plus will also play the piece at Ojai proper, sans danse.) The Théâtre des Champs-Elysées will mark the anniversary by presenting Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky in two back-to-back Rite performances: the first of Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer's re-creation of the original Nijinsky choreography, the second of Sasha Waltz's new Rite staging. [More: you can watch the Arte broadcast here.] In New York, of course, nothing is happening, although Stravinsky will be the focus of this summer's Bard Music Festival.
We're being bombarded by reissues of Rite recordings: Decca has released a twenty-disc box set, and Sony has remastered Bernstein's feisty NY Phil version, with extremely detailed notes by Jonathan Cott. I'd like to draw attention to Pristine Classical's superb new transfer of Stravinsky's own 1929 account, with the Walther Straram orchestra. As Richard Taruskin has pointed out in his centenary lecture, modern renditions of the Rite, vivacious and showily perfect, have robbed the work of some of its ominous energy; this recording, while full of mistakes and messy moments, has a raw, spooky power all its own. Back on the Wagner front, Pristine has done wonders for Furtwängler's La Scala Ring.
May 27, 2013 | Permalink
Photograph by Jason Shure.
This is Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, which also holds Leonard Bernstein and Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The headstone for Mr. Carter's wife, Helen, is just out of sight on the lower right; his parents, Elliott and Florence, are above him.
May 25, 2013 | Permalink
Reminders about archived concerts online: you can listen to the New York Philharmonic's Kraft at Volkswagen, a Curtis Symphony Turangalîla, Riccardo Muti's Franck Symphony with the Chicago (an account I praised last fall), and, of course, all of the Spring for Music events (don't miss David Carpenter's powerful reading of the Schnittke Viola Concerto, with the National Symphony)... Miller Theatre has announced a sterling twenty-fifth anniversary season: featured are John Zorn, Steven Schick, Kaija Saariaho, Joan Tower, Steve Reich, G. F. Haas, Rand Steiger, Anna Þorvaldsdóttir, Roger Reynolds, Unsuk Chin, Jean-Baptiste Barrière, and Liza Lim.... Taking issue with Leonard Slatkin's remarks about his much-lauded Spring for Music event, Kyle Gann has an excellent defense of the Ives First Symphony, which I, too, prize highly. The great recording is by Morton Gould, whose own Third Symphony is another Spring for Music highlight.... Congratulations to Derek Bermel, who has been named the new artistic director of the American Composers Orchestra.... Joyce DiDonato, diva de nos jours, is submitting the title of her "greatest hits" compilation to popular vote. I like "ReJoyce."
May 24, 2013 | Permalink
The solitary French master, who maintained as high a standard for his work as any composer since Berg, died yesterday at the age of ninety-seven. Paul Griffiths has written a beautiful obituary for the New York Times. One way to remember Dutilleux, or to become acquainted with him, would be to pick up Esa-Pekka Salonen's superb new disc on DG.
May 23, 2013 | Permalink
Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig two hundred years ago today. For the New Yorker website I have perpetrated a Wagner Birthday Roast, the second in a sporadic series of bicentennial commentaries. (The first was A Walking Tour of Wagner's New York.) I've written at least a dozen Wagner-centered pieces over the years; the one I'm happiest with, and the one I'd offer to anyone asking why this ever-problematic composer still matters, is my Walküre essay from 2011. Elsewhere on the Internet, I recommend Mark Berry's posts at Boulezian, the Wagnerian's Scrapbook, and Sam Hawke's perceptive essay on Wagner's politics at Social Justice First. A reminder that the WKCR marathon is in progress; also, you can listen to the entire 1953 Clemens Krauss Ring at Minnesota Public Radio. Happy birthday, old magician! May your third century be more peaceful than your second.
May 22, 2013 | Permalink
The distinguished Boston-area composer, a deft practitioner of mid-century neoclassical style, has died at the age of ninety-three. He was the last living representative of the Copland generation, that remarkable phalanx of American composers who came to the fore in the thirties and forties. While others went in for brawny populist gestures, Shapero was always elegant and restrained, a faithful yet distinctive devotee of Stravinsky in his Symphony in C phase. Shapero's Symphony for Classical Orchestra, from 1947, is a masterpiece of its time and place — a "marvel," Leonard Bernstein once called it, in a letter to Koussevitzky. It deserves to be heard more often, or, indeed, heard at all. Tony Tommasini argued for its revival in 1999, but I'm unaware of any recent performances. I once had dinner with Shapero and his wife, the artist Esther Geller Shapero. For a composer of such exquisite habits, he was surprisingly boisterous in person. My condolences to Esther, to whom Harold was married for nearly seventy years.
May 18, 2013 | Permalink
A program from 1913, courtesy of Joan Matabosch.
Wagner's two-hundredth birthday arrives on Wednesday, and most of the world's major music cities will mark the occasion in some way. In Leipzig, Wagner's birthplace, there will be a celebratory concert, a staging of Götterdämmerung, and an afternoon coffee party; in Venice, where he died, La Fenice has a day of music and lectures. In London, as part of Wagner 200, the Philharmonia will give a special concert at Royal Festival Hall, with Andrew Davis conducting and Susan Bullock singing. In Berlin, you can see The Flying Dutchman; in Milan and Vienna, Götterdämmerung; in Hamburg and Copenhagen, Tannhäuser; in Santiago, Parsifal. The numerous Wagnerians of Barcelona may assemble at L'Auditori. Dresden will have a flurry of events next week, including a Thielemann / Jonas Kaufmann affair on May 21. In Paris, you can attend Götterdämmerung on the same night, and sing happy birthday to the old wizard at midnight. And Thielemann will conduct at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth on the birthday itself, with a no doubt wild street party to follow.
Curiously, though, almost nothing is happening here in New York. Igor Stravinsky, a professed Wagner-hater, would have been delighted to know that Lincoln Center will be presenting, on the day of the bicentennial, a Bard College concert entitled Stravinsky and His World. Juilliard is holding an Elliott Carter memorial, which makes me think that when Carter was born Wagner had been dead for only twenty-five years. The only live Wagner event I can find is a vocal recital at the German Consulate, sponsored by the Wagner Society of New York; it is sold out. Also, WKCR, the Columbia radio station, is hosting a Wagner marathon, beginning at midnight on the 22nd. But the most Wagnerian thing you could do in the city next Wednesday, aside from listening to the confused Parsifal bells at Riverside, would be to recall Wagner's famous slogan "Kinder! macht Neues!" ("Children, make something new") and go see the Missy Mazzoli concert at (Le) Poisson Rouge. I will be spending most of the day on Amtrak — so it goes.
Update: I asked on Twitter whether any American orchestra or opera house was performing Wagner on the day of the anniversary, and so far not much has come up. The closest is the Dallas Symphony, which played an all-Wagner program this weekend. The Boston Wagner Society is presenting a concert at Old South Church; the Seattle Opera is holding a Sing Along; and the New Century Chamber Orchestra will play Siegfried Idyll in San Francisco on May 23. This is not in the nature of a lament; anniversaries are generally overdone, and Wagner gets enough attention. Still, it's curious.
See also: The Ring in 2013.
May 18, 2013 | Permalink
What do the brothers Wesendonck, Guardian Life Insurance, Confucius Plaza, the Roerich Museum, Grant's Tomb, West Point, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the Temple of the Grail have in common? Needless to say, they are all part of "A Walking Tour of Wagner's New York."
May 16, 2013 | Permalink
Major news from the Boston Symphony: the impassioned young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons has been chosen as the orchestra's fifteenth music director, succeeding James Levine. "I am deeply honored and touched that the Boston Symphony Orchestra has appointed me its next music director, as it is one of the highest achievements a conductor could hope for in his lifetime," Nelsons says in the press release. "Each time I have worked with the BSO I have been inspired by how effectively it gets to the heart of the music, always leaving its audience with a great wealth of emotions." Last summer in the New Yorker, I wrote about Nelsons's memorable appearances with the BSO at Tanglewood. I also heard his splendid Lohengrin at Bayreuth in 2011. I believe him to be a very strong choice — indeed, about the best that the orchestra could have made. Daniele Gatti was also considered a candidate for the post, but Jeremy Eichler, in recent Globe reviews, pointed out an "airless," mannered quality that I, too, have noticed in Gatti's work. Nelsons is a more natural, spontaneous musician, not to mention more widely liked, and his energy will be welcome in Boston.
May 16, 2013 | Permalink
May 13, 2013 | Permalink
May 08, 2013 | Permalink
Spring for Music begins tonight with a performance by the Baltimore Symphony: Marin Alsop conducting John Adams, Jennifer Higdon, and Prokofiev. The following night, the Albany Symphony revives Morton Gould's Third Symphony, and after that comes the Buffalo Philharmonic, with more than fifteen hundred Buffalonians in tow. The most ambitious of the week's programs will be the Detroit Symphony's survey of the four numbered symphonies of Charles Ives. In the video above, Leonard Slatkin, Detroit's music director, unpacks the layers of Ives's phenomenal Fourth, which, as it happens, the New York Philharmonic just played the other week. As before, all tickets for Spring for Music events top out at $25.
May 06, 2013 | Permalink