Robert Carl: "I’ve come to feel that Feldman was to Cage somewhat as Berg was to Schoenberg—the composer who took a technical and conceptual armature from his mentor and combined it with an ear that was able to render even the most dissonant harmonic materials sensuous. The great surprise is that his music is some of the most beautiful of the second half of the 20th century."
August 26, 2015 | Permalink
My column in this week's New Yorker, on symphonies of the post-Mahler era, is rooted in old loves. I fell for Mahler and Sibelius as a teenager, and soon began exploring the myriad byways of twentieth-century symphonic writing, often following recommendations in Fanfare magazine. Fanfare led me to, among others, Eduard Tubin, whose symphonies I blasted at high volume throughout my freshman year of college, to the puzzlement of my roommates. At my college radio station, I presented a show called The Twentieth-Century Symphony, which featured not only the obvious Mahler, Sibelius, Nielsen, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, and Ives / Harris / Schuman / Copland but also the likes of Bax, Hartmann, Pijper, Vermeulen, Henze, Killmayer, Kelterborn, Bentzon, Holmboe, Valen, Haug, Saeverud, Nørgård, Kokkonen, Sallinen, Nystroem, and Pettersson. Tubin's Sixth was the theme music for my other radio show, Music Since 1900. And my first published piece of music writing, in a WHRB Program Guide from 1988, was a review of the Hyperion CD of Robert Simpson's Sixth and Seventh Symphonies.
There is, to be sure, a great deal more to be said about latter-day symphonic writing than my New Yorker piece could accommodate, and for some months I expect to be receiving letters of the "What about Schreker?" variety. At least twenty or thirty other symphonists* might have been mentioned, in addition to the above-named and those who appear in my column: for example, Hindemith, Schmidt, Schnabel, Wellesz, Honegger, Roussel, Milhaud, Chávez, Villa-Lobos, Casella, Gerhard, Florence Price, Cowell, Sessions, Riegger, Siegmeister, Piston, Thomson, Carter, Harrison, Bernstein, Foss, Antheil, Mennin, Diamond, Creston, Rochberg, Bolcom, Harbison, Walker, Branca, Zwilich, Rangström, Langgaard, Alfvén, Aho, Rautavaara, Szymanowski, Górecki, Lutosławski, Prokofiev, Miaskovsky, Popov, Shebalin, Weinberg, Karamanov, Ustvolskaya, Kancheli, Pärt, Tüür, Narbutaitė, Alwyn, Britten, Arnold, Lloyd, Tippett, Rawsthorne, Frankel, Grace Williams, Davies, Isang Yun, Toshi Ichiyanagi, etc, etc. My ever-patient editors would, however, have balked at publishing an annotated telephone directory. So few of these works stand any chance of being played in today's orchestral culture, which, as Bob Shingleton has often observed on his Overgrown Path blog, runs on a celebrity logic, with a select roster of brand names being used to sell tickets and hundreds of others being thrown by the wayside. Fortunately, recorded archives are vast, and in the digital age can be explored more easily than ever before.
*Note: I'm excluding from the category "symphonists" those who composed just one or two symphonies, no matter how fine (Webern, Korngold, Weill, B. A. Zimmermann, Barber, Walton, William Levi Dawson, Shapero, Fine, Wolpe, Dutilleux, Berio, Gubaidulina, R. Murray Schafer, etc).
August 25, 2015 | Permalink
The superb Boston-based choir Blue Heron have released Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, vol. 4, featuring works of Robert Jones, Nicholas Ludford, and Robert Hunt in reconstructions by Nick Sandon. Almost nothing is known about Jones (fl. 1520-35), yet his Missa Spes nostra is, as Scott Metcalfe writes in his notes, the "unique creation of a mature composer with a distinct individual voice." Flowing vocal lines are interspersed with tart, ambiguous harmonies; there is a canny use of musical space, a sense of height and depth to the unfolding structures. As on previous releases, the singing is both precise and fluid, immaculate and alive. In Robert Hunt's Stabat mater, another remarkable piece by an otherwise unknown composer, the choir swells to a darkly splendid climax at "Stabat natus sic contentus / Ad debellandum Sathanam," the latter name slicing through the air.
The eternally fascinating La Monte Young spoke to Will Robin in advance of an exceedingly rare performance of Young's Trio for Strings, ground zero for American minimalism. The big event takes place on Sept. 3, at Dia:Chelsea, as part of a multi-month Young /Marian Zazeela / Jung Hee Choi series.... ACME kicks off its season on Sept. 11, with a program featuring Timo Andres, Caleb Burhans, Clarice Jensen, Ben Russell, and Caroline Shaw, both as composers and performers. It's part of the Five Boroughs Music Festival.... On the same night in LA, wild Up presents the winners of the American Composers Forum National Composition Competition: Alex Temple, Nina C. Young, and William Gardiner all receive premieres.... There are many fascinating pages on Frank Gehry's musical architecture in Paul Goldberger's new biography, Building Art.... The new Sono Luminus recording of Anna Thorvaldsdottír's mesmerizing In The Light Of Air is streaming on NPR Music. You can also watch an ICE video above.... Never mind those celebrity Baltic conductors: Q2 is today presenting a twenty-four-hour marathon of twenty-first-century music from Latvia. There will be a repeat on Aug. 29.... At WFMT, the gifted young composer-conductor Matthew Aucoin has a thoughtful response to some absurdly overblown comparisons (Bernstein, Mozart) that he has lately inspired: "When a young playwright is getting attention, no one says, ‘Oh, this person is the next Shakespeare.'" His children's opera Second Nature had its première at Lincoln Park Zoo last week and will return on Oct. 17.... Floating Opera, New York's newest alternative opera company, will make its début on Oct. 16, with a production of Pelléas. The venue will be the Lehigh Valley Barge No. 79, Red Hook's beloved arts barge. Cage's Europeras 3 and 4 will follow later in the season.
— Loyset Compère, Magnificat, etc.; Orlando Consort (Hyperion)
— Chou Wen-chung, Eternal Pine I, II, III, Ode to Eternal Pine; Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea, Boston Musica Viva, Taipei Chinese Orchestra, etc. (New World)
— Bach, Harpsichord Concertos; Andreas Staier, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi)
— Panufnik, Concertos for violin, cello, piano; Łukasz Borowicz conducting the Konzerthaus Orchestra Berlin, with Alexander Sitkovetsky, Raphael Wallfisch, Ewa Kupiec (cpo)
— Lukas Foss, Complete Symphonies; Gil Rose conducting the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP)
— Nielsen, Symphonies Nos. 2 and 6; Sakari Oramo conducting the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (BIS)
— Dutilleux, Métaboles, L'Arbre des songes, Symphony No. 2; Ludovic Morlot conducting the Seattle Symphony, with Augustin Hadelich (Seattle Symphony)
— Robert Jones, Missa Spes nostra, Nicholas Ludford, Ave cujus conceptio, Robert Hunt, Stabat mater; Blue Heron (BHCD)
August 20, 2015 | Permalink
With another carefree Bayreuth summer winding down, Micaela Baranello has a New York Times report on the current state of the festival, and Jens Laurson supplies a very thorough review of the revival of the Castorf Ring. The complete Katharina Wagner Tristan, this summer's new show, has shown up on YouTube; also, David Robertson and the Sydney Symphony have begun to stream their recent Tristan-in-concert, with Act I now available and the rest to come shortly.... Programs from the 2015 MATA Festival are now archived on Q2.... Also on Q2, Nadia Sirota hosts a Meet the Composer episode devoted to Kaija Saariaho, with a Library of Congress performance of Saariaho's Light and Matter tacked on for good measure.... The Detroit Symphony, the most tech-savvy of American orchestras, has launched a new service called Replay, archiving its popular video streams. A one-time donation of fifty dollars buys you access.... Ensemble Dal Niente, in Chicago, has announced an enticing 2015-16 season; the U.S. première of Stefan Prins's Generation Kill is on the schedule, as well as world premières by Johannes Kreidler, Natacha Diels, Kirsten Broberg, and Ben Sutherland, among others.... On Sept. 7, Annie Gosfield will have a semi-retrospective concert at The Stone in NYC.
August 17, 2015 | Permalink
Marco Blaauw, the brilliant trumpeter of Musikfabrik, plays Georg Friedrich Haas's I can't breathe (In memoriam Eric Garner). Haas writes: "[The piece] begins quite traditionally with a dirge: a free cantilena in twelve-tone space. Then the intervals constrict; the song becomes more and more smothered, ultimately in a 16-note scale. The dirge constricts within a sonic space of other trumpet notes of extreme registers and changing colours — cautionary symbols, perhaps, of the world from which the victim was violently torn away. I give no notes to the perpetrators." (Via Emre Tetik.)
August 13, 2015 | Permalink
Lalo Schifrin, the composer of the Mission: Impossible theme, studied with Messiaen in the nineteen-fifties. In an interview with Royal S. Brown (published in Brown's excellent book Overtones and Undertones), Schifrin described how his time with Messiaen left its mark on his Hollywood work: the cue above, from the music for the Mission: Impossible TV show, is based on Messiaen's second mode of limited transpositions, better known as the octatonic scale.
August 12, 2015 | Permalink
Giannini's work, commissioned for the opening of the IBM World Headquarters in 1938, rings variations on the IBM Rally Song, "Ever Onward" (see the quasi-Wagnerian passage at around 4:30, the motoric Allegro at 7:30, and the peroration):
There's a thrill in store for all,
For we're about to toast,
The corporation known in every land.
We're here to cheer each pioneer
And also proudly boast
Of that "man of men," our friend and guiding hand.
The name of T. J. Watson means a courage none can stem;
And we feel honored to be here to toast the "IBM."
EVER ONWARD — EVER ONWARD!
August 10, 2015 | Permalink
George Benjamin will take over the Mostly Mozart Festival next week, as Written on Skin, an honest-to-God twenty-first-century operatic masterpiece (my review is here), receives three performances at the venue formerly known as the New York State Theater. Alan Gilbert conducts. On Aug. 16, Benjamin himself will lead ICE in a program of Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques, Ligeti's Piano Concerto, and his own Into the Little Hill. Pierre-Laurent Aimard is the piano soloist at the latter concert.... On Sedge Clark's blog, Victoria Bond gives an insider's perspective on Musikfabrik's recent performances of Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury: she was the Old Goat Woman in the original production.... I'm proud to be a mere footnote in Kyle Gann's soon-to-be-canonical study of the Ives Concord Sonata.... At the site Hyperallegric, Alison Kinney has a superb piece on African-American opera singers and the Met's belated decision to abandon blackface.... Musical America notes that Orin O'Brien, the first woman to join the New York Philharmonic, was recently honored at the Music Academy of the West. Bernstein hired her in 1966; she is still a member of the double-bass section. She is the daughter of the actor George O'Brien, the male lead in F. W. Murnau's Sunrise, widely considered one of the greatest films ever made.
August 07, 2015 | Permalink
An excerpt from Scott Worthington's Space Administration, for double bass, playback, and projected text, recently heard at WasteLAnd. The text comes from Ken Hunt's poem "Apollo Spacecraft," which is drawn from voice transcripts of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Alicia Byer has a review at New Classic LA. Coming soon from Populist Records is Prism, the label's second album devoted to Worthington's music; there will be a celebratory concert at Arts Share LA on Aug. 9.
August 06, 2015 | Permalink
"Temple Bells Voice," the final section of Toshio Hosokawa's Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima, a requiem for the composer's native city. The text is a haiku by Matsuo Bashō: "tsuki izuki / kane wa shizumeru / umi no soko" ("Where is the moon? / The temple bell is sunk / At the bottom of the sea").
At the New Yorker website, you can read, in its terrifying entirety, John Hersey's 1946 article "Hiroshima." It was preceded by a note: "The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. — The Editors."
August 05, 2015 | Permalink
Listening to Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers at Bard College two weekends ago, I thought, as many have thought before me, of Peter Grimes. The coastal village setting, the counterpoint of church hymns and solo voices, the massed choruses of suspicion and rage, the ostracizing of a rebellious fisherman, his trial, the woman who breaks from the crowd to protect him, sea interludes of impressionist character — the overlap is considerable. There is nothing in Britten's score that inarguably smacks of Smyth, and Montagu Slater's libretto is rooted entirely in the George Crabbe source. Smyth is mentioned only a couple of times in Britten's collected letters and diaries, with no sign of interest. In 1931, the teen-aged Britten heard several of Smyth's songs on the BBC and described them as "despicable." All the same, I can't help feeling that there is a more than coincidental connection between the two scores. Consider the bloodthirsty chorus that ends Act I of The Wreckers:
From the 1994 Conifer recording, with the Huddersfield Choral Society and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Odaline de la Martinez.
Compare "Now is gossip put on trial" from Grimes:
Or "Who holds himself apart":
One can imagine Britten listening to The Wreckers and saying to himself, in his youthful, superior way, "That could be a good opera, if done properly."
Did Britten hear The Wreckers or see the score? Jane Bernstein addressed the question in her 1986 essay "Shout, Shout, Up with Your Song!," which appeared in Jane Bowers and Judith Tick's anthology Women Making Music. Bernstein noted that a score of The Wreckers could be found in the Britten-Pears library at Aldeburgh, and asked Donald Mitchell, Britten's longtime associate, how well Britten knew it; Mitchell told her that he didn't, and that the score was a later acquisition. But this doesn't rule out the possibility that Britten had encountered The Wreckers earlier. The opera was revived at Sadler's Wells on April 19, 1939, in what seems to have been a run of six performances. Around that time, Britten was in Aldeburgh, preparing to go to Birmingham for the première, on April 21, of two songs from what would become his song cycle Les Illuminations. It's unlikely that he could have made it to London for the opening night. He did go to London afterward, as he prepared to make the long voyage to America, on April 29. He might have attended a later performance; he could certainly have tuned in to the BBC, on April 22, for a live broadcast from Sadler's Wells. The central role of Thirza was sung by Edith Coates, who, six years later, would create the role of Auntie in Grimes, at the same house.
Dame Ethel was present for that opening night in 1939. The critic Ronald Crichton recalled the occasion in a 1994 article for Opera: "Noise, bracing noise, of crashing waves is what one most remembers from the Sadler's Wells revival of 1939, especially during the last act, with the chorus, Edith Coates and John Wright all singing fit to burst. Loud as they were the composer, who was present at the first night, was unable to hear them because of her deafness, as she told us without self-pity in a curtain speech when she came on to the stage at the end, stoutly dressed, with a laurel wreath slung over folded arms."
Previously: An Ethel Smyth moment.
August 05, 2015 | Permalink
New recordings of interest.
— Anna Thorvaldsdottir, In the Light of Air; ICE (Sono Luminus, available Aug. 28)
— Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10, Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony (DG)
— Rossini, Guillaume Tell; Andrew Foster-Williams, Michael Spyres, Judith Howarth, Nahuel Di Pierro, Tara Stafford, Alessandra Volpe, Artavazd Sargsyan, Antonino Fogliani conducting the Virtuosi Brunensis and Camerata Bach Choir (Naxos)
— Niccolò Castiglioni, La Buranella, Altisonanza, Salmo XIX; Gianandrea Noseda conducting the Danish National Concerto Choir and Danish National Symphony (Chandos)
— Hindemith, String Quartets Nos. 1 and 4; Amar Quartet (Naxos)
— Bacewicz, String Quartets Nos. 1, 3, 6, 7; Lutosławski Quartet (Naxos)
— Leonardo Vinci, Catone in Utica; Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli, Juan Sancho, Valer Sabadus, Vince Yi, Martin Mitterrutzner, Riccardo Minasi conducting Il Pomo d'Oro (Decca)
— Murail, Le Partage des eaux, Contes cruels, Sillages; Pierre-André Valade conducting the BBC Symphony and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, with Wiek Hijmans and Seth Josel, electric guitars (æon)
— Jürg Frey, Mémoire, horizon, Extended Circular Music Nos. 1-7, Architektur der Empfindungen; Mondrian Ensemble, Konus Quartet (Musiques Suisses)
— James Saunders, assigned #15; Apartment House (another timbre)
— Gubaidulina, Complete Guitar Works; David Tannenbaum, with various players (Naxos)
August 04, 2015 | Permalink