Age, With Grace. The New Yorker, May 29, 2006.
Crossed signals: For "bass trombone" read "bass trumpet."
Is it possible we could have a President Sibelius? Probably not, but people are beginning to mention Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, as a dark-horse candidate for 2008. A cursory search fails to reveal whether Sebelius's husband Gary, son of former Congressman Keith Sebelius, is of Finnish descent, or related in any way to the great symphonist. (Via Alex Star.) [For more information, see Michael Kaulkin, with additional comments by Ingram Marshall.]
May 18, 2006 | Permalink
In the course of a lively critics' conversation at ArtsJournal, Terry Teachout recommended something called Pandora, which is supposed to "help me discover more music that I'll like." You enter the name of an artist or song, and it suggests more music in the same vein. I'm afraid I had bad luck with the device on my first few tries. I typed in "Mahler." It said:
We found several. Which 'Mahler' did you mean?
— The Mausker, by Deerhoof
— Masher, by the Mountain Goats
— Madner, by Underworld
— Madder, by Groove Armada
I then typed in "Debussy." It said: "Do you want 'Debussie' by Daphne Loves Derby?" Not right now.
Update: Maryann Devine has queried Pandora on this issue. She was told that "classical music is so complex that they haven't been able to incorporate it into their algorithm." Mm-hm. To play fair, I entered "Simple Twist of Fate," my favorite Dylan song. I got Neil Young's "Thrasher," another all-time favorite, together with other songs from Blood on the Tracks and a bunch of strummy stuff I didn't immediately care about.
Update 2: Ace young composer Timothy Andres points out that the similarly constituted Last FM site has assimilated notational music, up to a point. Type in "Mahler," and you receive recommendations ranging from the obvious Bruckner to the less obvious Leadbelly to the one and only Дмитрий Шостакович.
May 17, 2006 | Permalink
Here's another fascinating glimpse into the musical mind of our Secretary of State, whom Tony Tommasini recently interviewed in depth for the Times. Her current playlist includes Mozart's D-Minor Piano Concerto, Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love," Aretha Franklin's "Respect," Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," Brahms's Second Piano Concerto and F-Minor Piano Quintet, anything by U2*, Elton John's "Rocket Man," Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov.
*A conspiracy-minded reader wonders whether this choice is in any way related to the fact that U2's Bono is the guest editor of the special edition of The Independent in which the list appears. Musical taste dictated by cultural context? Surely not!
May 16, 2006 | Permalink
1) Geoff Edgers is writing an arts blog at the Boston Globe. 2) Congratulations to Jeremy Eichler, who will succeed Richard Dyer as the Globe's chief critic. My alarmism of last year was unwarranted. 3) Ernst Toch's Gesprochene Musik, or Spoken Music, one of the great experiments of Weimar-era Berlin, is about to receive its first complete performance since 1930. It will be heard in June as part of a program by the Christopher Caines dance company, at New York's City Center. The final movement, "Geographical Fugue," is a longtime choral favorite; here's a rendition by the Lycoming College Choir.
May 14, 2006 | Permalink
Very warm birthday wishes to Milton Babbitt, who turns ninety today. The composer is fêted tonight in a concert at Carnegie's Weill Hall, which includes works from various stages of his vast career. You can get a sense of Babbitt's rapid-fire intellect — entirely undimmed by age, as I can attest from seeing him last week — in this 2001 NewMusicBox interview, which ranges from state of twelve-tone composition to the state of beer. Asked if he steers students in the serialist direction, he says, "God no! I mean who am I to send these people to their death? No, absolutely not. I try to come to terms with what they want to do." The only topic that stumps him is hip-hop: "What is all this scratching of records?" (There is also, I must say, an inexact description of the New Yorker's music issue of 2001.) Difficult only on the surface, Babbitt's music exhibits, like his conversation, a deeply playful view of the world.
May 10, 2006 | Permalink
1) Steve Hicken's homage to Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, courtesy of The High Hat; 2) George Hunka's interview with pianist Marilyn Nonken; 3) Richard Dyer on Osvaldo Golijov's teaching session with a teen-aged composing prodigy; 4) high-concept pranks at Improv Everywhere, esp. Chekhov's Barnes & Noble reading (via Standing Room); 5) new O. C. blog by Timothy Mangan.
May 09, 2006 | Permalink
May 08, 2006 | Permalink
Last year, the Juilliard-based choral conductor Judith Clurman inaugurated Prism Concerts, at the recently renovated Central Synagogue in Manhattan. The synagogue is an opulent space, more acoustically contained than the average religious venue, and I've enjoyed both concerts I've attended there. I'd planned to mention the first event, an all-Handel evening, in a recent column, but space did not allow. Participating were Clurman's Festival Singers, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and a vocal team made up of soprano Jennifer Aylmer, mezzo-soprano Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, countertenor Randall Scotting, tenor Nicholas Phan, and bass Kevin Burdette, handsomely delivering arias from Solomon, Esther, Belshazzar, Samson, and Judas Maccabaeus (all of Act III). Organist Martin Ennis played the "Cuckoo and the Nightingale" Concerto, and in a departure from the theme, the American Brass Quintet gave the premiere of Paul Moravec’s ingratiating Cornopean Airs. The second Prism concert, drawing on the services of the superb Brentano Quartet, presented music from Vienna, specifically Schubert, Brahms, Zemlinsky, and Schoenberg. Prism's season ends on May 14 with a thoughtful program devoted to three composers of Jewish origin — Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. None other than Deborah Voigt will be the soprano soloist. Little-known fact about Zemlinsky: his mother was the child of a Sephardic Jew and a Bosnian Muslim, and his Catholic father converted to Judaism in order to marry her.
May 06, 2006 | Permalink
In a letter to the New York Times, John Cage scholar David Grubbs takes issue with the widespread assumption that Cage's As Slow as Possible, or ASLSP, which Daniel Wakin has amusingly and edifyingly covered in the Times, is the longest work in musical history. In fact, Grubbs points out, it is "but a blink of the eye of Parsifal (1882-39,969,364,735 A.D.), by the Canadian artist Rodney Graham. Mr. Graham's composition takes a short, supplementary passage of music prepared by Wagner's assistant, Engelbert Humperdinck, for the 1882 premiere of Parsifal and extends it more than 39 billion years. In his notes to the project, Mr. Graham cautions that this estimate as to the work's length does not take into consideration the projected extinction of our solar system."
May 06, 2006 | Permalink
Mr. W.D. Dunham
Washington and Los Angeles Street
Dear Mr. Dunham;
I have a Ford Black Dx 34 Sedan bought from you and have to ask you about some things.
It happened today that the cooling system was without water, so that we saw the steam coming out and when we went to the next garage and he opened, boiling water was in. It is astonishing for, the day before the car came to you, we had filled gasoline and the garagist looked at the cooling system. Then, as before said the, car was in your service department, and surely, you should have seen it, if no water should have been in. Yesterday and the day before yesterday the car was not used and stood in our garage which is locked by a reliable lock. And nevertheless: nearly no water was in the cooler. The garagist told as the car is in order and he could not understand how this is possible. As our garage is locked, it is an enigma and the only solution thinkable is, that somebody took out the water, when the car was not in our garage. I ask you to examine kindly this case, which is not without danger.
Secondly; As before said, we bought gasoline the 26th of october for the fuel gauge showed only a few above zero. After filling eleven gallons it was full. But when the car came back from the lubrication it showed only one half. And today, though we had driven only about 50 miles, it showed a quarter.
III. You gave me keys for all the doors, but they dont shut, for there is no lock!!
I hope you know, that my check went already to the Credit Company.
Looking forward with much interest to your kind answer, I am
yours very truly
From the archives of the Schoenberg Center.
May 04, 2006 | Permalink
Leighton Kerner, longtime classical-music critic of The Village Voice, died on April 29 at the age of seventy-nine. He started writing for the Voice back in 1957, two years after the downtown weekly began publication, and joined the staff in 1961. In recent years, as the Voice pruned classical coverage from its pages, he wrote for Opera News and other publications. No critic I know was more assiduous in attending concerts, or more delighted by the sheer variety of music on offer around New York. His experience was vast, his outlook ever-youthful. Someone once jokingly asked him who his favorite Spice Girl was; he answered, "Lorraine Hunt Lieberson." As Robert Christgau said last year, in a comment quoted in Susan Elliott's Musical America obituary, he had "the virtue, rare in his field, of writing like a fan, always warm, never magisterial." Leighton will be missed. (More at Opera News and Kyle Gann.)
May 02, 2006 | Permalink
A reader who attended a talk I gave in Seattle last weekend — an MP3-driven tour of twentieth-century composition, inspired by my forthcoming book The Rest Is Noise (fall '07, FSG) — requested a playlist. I managed to get through the below in
90 105 minutes, but only by practicing triage on the final decades of the century; fewer than half of the last twenty selections were played. I've left in the rest, to preserve the original utopian scheme of one hundred tracks. N.B.: The idea was not to represent all the most important compositions of the period but to illustrate a diversity of styles. [Robert Gable has gone to the trouble of finding sound links for many of these — thanks!] At the end I've listed a dozen significant recordings. Many thanks to my excellent hosts at On the Boards, and also to the EMP Pop Conference for inviting me into their dazzling mélange. Some highlights of the latter: Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer eulogizing Sassy magazine, Jody Rosen exposing the Jewish novelty number inside "God Bless America," David Grubbs pondering John Cage's imponderable dislike of recordings, Daphne Carr inveighing against the phrase "art school."
April 30, 2006 | Permalink
Some footnotes to my recent column. The obvious first choice among electronic simulations of Kaija Saariaho's music is the DVD of her first opera L'Amour de loin. Second choice is the 1993 Ondine recording of her early orchestral masterpieces Du Cristal... and ...à la fumée, both outwardly fearsome works that contain manifold hidden beauties. Each hinges on a dramatic entry of an E-flat-major triad in the brass (listen six minutes into Du Cristal). Also worth exploring is the Sony CD of Graal Théâtre and Château de l'âme. Saariaho's next big piece is the oratorio The Passion of Simone, on the subject of Simone Weil, which will have its debut at Peter Sellars's New Crowned Hope festival in Vienna in November. The new John Adams opera The Flowering Tree will have its premiere at the same event.
There are two recordings of Gérard Grisey's awe-inspiring Les Espaces Acoustiques. I picked up an Accord recording in Paris, and, when I got home, I found that Albany Music had sent along a recent Kairos recording. Both sets are expensive and difficult to find, but either is absolutely worth hearing. At moments you can sense Grisey's admiration for Sibelius, who often conceived his harmonies and textures in terms of natural resonances. Murail, the other founding member of the "spectral" school (as in all such schools, the designation is disdained by most of its practitioners), will be featured prominently at Columbia's IRCAM festival in early May. Works of Joshua Fineberg, Michael Jarrell, Philippe Leroux, and Rand Steiger will also be on display. Fineberg and Julian Anderson wrote excellent accounts of spectralism for the Contemporary Music Review in 2001. Anderson discusses Sibelius's influence on spectralism in the Cambridge Companion to Sibelius.
I had planned to work in a little digression on Saariaho's fellow-Finn Magnus Lindberg, whose career has followed a similar arc. Space did not allow, but I wish to reassert that Lindberg's Clarinet Concerto is a brilliant and beautiful piece that deserves to become a semi-popular classic. It helps that Kari Kriikku plays with blazing force on the Ondine recording; he should be a superstar in his own right. There is an obvious family resemblance between the concerto's main theme and that of Debussy's Rhapsody for clarinet and orchestra, but Lindberg can rightly claim it at his own invention. The interplay between this gracious, gorgeous melody and the roiling apparatus of the twenty-first-century orchestra is joyous to the end.
The new mindset seems to be this: Never mind Schoenberg and Stravinsky, it's all about Debussy and Sibelius.
April 21, 2006 | Permalink
Many thanks to those who came to see my grim talk at the Peabody Institute. I am relatively sure that at some point I said "Carlos Kleiber" when I meant to say "Erich Kleiber." Also, Judd Greenstein writes to point out that the Godfather of Noise is not Boulez but Rahzel. Boulez and Rahzel should work together, as Bourahzellez.
Take note of: Random-in-NYC's brilliant made-up Sufjan Stevens albums; a new blog called A Beautiful Theme; and the rather beautiful semi-pop songs of Gabriel Kahane (who describes himself temptingly as "the bastard child of Alban Berg and Rufus Wainwright"; see esp. "Libertine").
April 21, 2006 | Permalink
I have never been arrested. Dave Grohl is not, to my knowledge, gay. The precise identity of the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes is unknown, but he was probably a glum chap. I still don't know what Pavement's lyrics mean. I still don't have naked pictures of Karita Mattila; buy Joe Volpe's book. Dr. Gene Scott did have some trouble with the IRS. I don't know of any sonnets about World War II, but there's got to be a few. Dave Grohl probablemente no es gay. I have no recordings of murder noises. I have no downloads of Alfredo Casella. My summer hits probably aren't yours. Yes, Mandisa was a scandal. I kind of doubt that 50 Cent has sampled classical music, but ask Sasha. "Bashmet says"? Don't worry, be tragic. Pierre Boulez is definitely the Godfather of Noise. The dress code for Smith College permits shorts and jeans on Funky Groovy Daddy-O Day. Anne Midgette does not have a blog, but she wants one. Hi, UCLA kids!
Previously: Ask Mr. Noise.
April 19, 2006 | Permalink