Divas under Fire. The New Yorker, Jan. 4, 2016.
The German conductor died today at the age of eighty-eight.
His finest moment at the New York Philharmonic was, by general consensus, his performance of Brahms's German Requiem in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. I wrote this in The New Yorker:
During the Second World War, Wallace Stevens asked, quoting Shakespeare, "How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?" How, in other words, can artists respond to news that exceeds their most extravagant nightmares? Stevens answered that poets "help us to live our lives," and the best they have to give is a certain quality of nobility, which he defined as "a violence from within that protects us from a violence without." That phrase captures the phenomenal power of the Philharmonic's German Requiem, which also involved Thomas Hampson, Heidi Grant Murphy, the New York Choral Artists, and the American Boychoir, all under the direction of Kurt Masur. This was no refuge of melancholy, no place of sorrow and self-pity. You were aware at all times of the life force in the music—its steady drones and syncopated pulses, its bursts of anger, its consoling warmth.
Brahms's Requiem is German in the same sense that Luther's Bible is German: it was intended not for the élite but for the masses, and it was dedicated chiefly to the living. In the opening movement, "Blessed are they that mourn," there was a sense that the chorus was singing as much for itself as for the audience. Hampson sang magnificently, with a welcome lack of pretense. Masur, who is beginning his final season with the orchestra, chose tempos so unerringly natural that he almost removed himself from the picture. Before the performance started, he stood with the immobility of an honor guard, declining to acknowledge the audience. He was, in that moment, absolutely noble.
December 19, 2015 | Permalink
Ian Bostridge, Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession (Knopf)
Jessica Hopper, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (featherproof)
Rufus Jones, Jr., Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad (Rowman & Littlefield)
Elijah Wald, Dylan Goes Electric! (Dey Street)
Michael Church, ed., The Other Classical Musics: Fifteen Great Traditions (Boydell)
Renée Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach, eds., Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music (University of Rochester Press)
J. Martin Daughtry, Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq (Oxford)
Vincent Giroud, Nicolas Nabokov (Oxford)
Douglas W. Shadle, Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise (Oxford)
December 18, 2015 | Permalink
John Darnielle, of the Mountain Goats, has a long, fascinating meditation on the Halberstadt John Cage project in Harper's. This, of course, is the performance of Cage's Organ2/ASLSP (As Slow as Possible) that began in 2001 and is scheduled to continue until the year 2640. Right now the organ is playing the notes D-sharp, A-sharp, and E, and will hold them until 2020.... I can't quite bring myself to rank Strauss above Mahler, but I concur with Ethan Iverson's points in praise of the Sorcerer of Garmisch. Yes to the Parergon, and even more to the Panathenäenzug, one of whose variations skates dangerously close to Gershwin.... An excellent Wet Ink program at St. Peter's in Chelsea, NYC, on Dec. 15: Fernando Garnero's Ballad, Agata Zubel's Cascando, Alex Mincek's Color-Form-Line, George Lewis's Anthem, Fred Lerdahl's Give and Take, Sam Pluta's hydra.... The violinist Michelle Ross has been playing Bach's sonatas and partitas in spaces all over New York and recounting her journey in a series of perceptive, affecting blog posts. This week she'll be at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, among other places. On Dec. 22 she'll play the entire cycle in a Pied Piper Marathon.... The SEM Ensemble will give its annual Paula Cooper concert on Dec. 19, presenting the American première of Alvin Lucier's Orpheus Variations, alongside works of Xenakis, Eli Greenhoe, Liisa Hirsch, the seventeenth-century Czech composer Pavel Vejvanovský, and Petr Kotik, longtime leader of SEM. Hirsch, not to be confused with the proprietor of Iron Tongue of Midnight, is a discovery for me; she has some beautiful, ghostly pieces on her Soundcloud.... The lineup for the Peter Sellars edition of the Ojai Festival has been announced. It consists almost entirely of female composers: Kaija Saariaho, Pauline Oliveros, Caroline Shaw, Carla Kihlstedt, Dina El Wedidi, Aruna Sairam, Tania León, Sharon Hurvitz. Tyshawn Sorey, Claude Vivier.
December 12, 2015 | Permalink
Items of interest in BBC 3's temporary archive: Georg Friedrich Haas's opera Morgen und Abend, from the Royal Opera, and Andrew Norman's percussion concerto Switch, from the BBC Symphony. The latter also has absorbing accounts, under the direction of Sakari Oramo, of Hovhaness's Mysterious Mountain and Strauss's Alpine Symphony — a fun pair. Both links will expire in a few weeks.
December 11, 2015 | Permalink
The author's feline assistants are still culling items for a year-end list of notable performances and recordings, but here is an early selection of discs that have made the cut.
Anna Thorvaldsdottir, In the Light of Air; International Contemporary Ensemble (Sono Luminus)
Scott Worthington, Prism (Populist)
Andrew Norman, Play and Try; Gil Rose conducting the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP)
Ted Hearne, The Source; Hearne, Mellissa Hughes, Samia Mounts, Isaiah Robinson, Jonathan Woody, Courtney Orlando, Anne Lanzilotti, Leah Coloff, Taylor Levine, Greg Chudzik, Ron Wiltrout, Nathan Koci (New Amsterdam)
Michael Pisaro, A Mist Is a Collection of Points; Phillip Bush, Greg Stuart, Michael Pisaro, sine tones (New World)
Wolfgang Rihm, Et Lux; Paul Van Nevel conducting the Huelgas Ensemble and the Minguet Quartet (ECM)
Schubert, Sonatas in G (D894) and B-flat (D960), Moments musicaux, Impromptus D935; András Schiff, fortepiano (ECM)
Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10, Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony (DG)
Liszt Inspections: music of John Adams, Berio, Cerha, Feldman, Kurtág, Ligeti, Murail, Pesson, Rihm, Sciarrino, Stockhausen, Ustvolskaya, and Liszt; Marino Formenti (Kairos)
Salieri, Les Danaïdes; Judith van Wonroij, Philippe Talbot, Tassis Christoyannis, Christophe Rousset conducting Les Talens Lyriques (Ediciones Singulares)
Panufnik, Concertos for violin, cello, piano; Łukasz Borowicz conducting the Konzerthaus Orchestra Berlin, with Alexander Sitkovetsky, Raphael Wallfisch, Ewa Kupiec (cpo)
The Popular: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (Nonesuch); Björk,Vulnicura; (One Little Indian); Joanna Newsom, Divers (Drag City)
December 02, 2015 | Permalink
One of the early legends attaching to Orson Welles is that he made his stage début as an infant performer at the Ravinia Festival, playing Dolore, the infant in Madame Butterfly. Russell Maloney reported the story in "The Ageless Soul," a New Yorker Profile of Welles that appeared in 1938; Peter Noble stated in his 1956 biography The Fabulous Orson Welles that little Orson played various infant roles in opera but soon "became so heavy that sopranos finally refused to lift him." Later, the Welles biographers Charles Higham and Simon Callow denied that such an incident could have taken place, declaring that no full performances of Butterfly were given at Ravinia in that period. In fact, as I note in my Welles piece this week, Ravinia presented Butterfly on various occasions in 1918 and 1919, when Welles was three or four. He could well have been one of the unnamed performers assuming the Dolore role. I found the item above in the archives of the Chicago Tribune; the date is Aug. 4, 1919. Might he have been the "fairy child" mentioned here? Or, possibly, the "far heftier child" who replaced him? Almost certainly, we will never know.
Incidentally, the noted American soprano Edith Mason, mentioned here, later married Maurice Bernstein, who became Welles's guardian after his father's death. His name appears in a 1930 Tribune story investigating rumors of a rift in that marriage. Mason's personal secretary offers the explanation that the singer has moved out of Bernstein's home because his young visitor (not yet his charge) has caught a "terrible cold, a perfectly awful one," which she did not wish to catch. Mason and Bernstein soon divorced, and Mason returned to her first husband, the conductor Giorgio Polacco. The story, which appeared on page 3 of the paper, gives a glimpse of the strangeness of Welles's childhood.