Today is a heartbreaking day at The New Yorker. Ann Goldstein, the head of our copy-editing department, is leaving the magazine after a quietly glorious forty-three-year career. Copy editing — two words — may sound to outsiders like a job of lesser significance, but it is, in fact, fairly monumental. The New Yorker has an idiosyncratic and byzantine array of house rules concerning style; I wrote some years back about the disconcerting experience of being edited by the legendary Eleanor Gould Packard. Ann has long been the supreme custodian of the sense of a New Yorker voice, and she has a way of applying those rules without disrupting the flow of a writer's thought. Indeed, being herself a writer and translator of great skill, she invariably makes the prose more elegant. It is as if a slightly blurry image were snapping into perfect focus. I learned as much about writing from Ann as from any teacher in school. (She would surely have improved that sentence.) The loss is made heavier by the recent departure of the no less beloved Mary Norris, another copy-editing mainstay. Not long ago, Mary embarked on a new career as an author, with her book Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Ann, too, has lately moved into the limelight, with her acclaimed translations of Primo Levi and Elena Ferrante, among others. We New Yorker writers are tremendously happy for them, and yet it is difficult to say farewell to editors of such brilliance, not least because they make us all look better, one clarifying comma at a time. My own gratitude is limitless. "Almost limitless?" Ann might suggest, fearing imprecision. No, limitless.
March 15, 2017 | Permalink
"At the back of us were great blue spaces in the cloud. But now the colour was going out. The clouds were turning pale; a reddish black colour. Down in the valley it was an extraordinary scrumble of red & black; there was the one light burning; all was cloud down there, & very beautiful, so delicately tinted. The 24 seconds were passing. Then one looked back again at the blue: & rapidly, very very quickly, all the colours faded; it became darker & darker as at the beginning of a violent storm; the light sank & sank; we kept saying this is the shadow; & we thought now it is over — this is the shadow when suddenly the light went out. We had fallen. It was extinct. There was no colour. The earth was dead. That was the astonishing moment: & the next when as if a ball had rebounded, the cloud took colour on itself again, only a spooky aetherial colour & so the light came back. I had very strongly the feeling as the light went out of some vast obeisance; something kneeling down, & low & suddenly raised up, when the colours came. They came back astonishingly lightly & quickly & beautifully in the valley & over the hills — at first with a miraculous glittering & aetheriality, later normally almost, but with a great sense of relief. The colour for some moments was of the most lovely kind — fresh, various — here blue, & there brown: all new colours, as if washed over & repainted. It was like recovery. We had been much worse than we had expected. We had seen the world dead. That was within the power of nature.... Then — it was all over till 1999."
— from the diary of Virginia Woolf, June 30, 1927
March 09, 2017 | Permalink
In recent years, orchestra and concert-hall websites have been infected with a virus called What's On. This is a style of divulging concert information that avoids the traditional calendar format and instead presents a horizontal or vertical dribble of events day by day. It works well enough if you are looking at the next few days of programming — the template seems designed for people on mobile phones who want to know what the New York Philharmonic is playing tomorrow night — but when you try to skip ahead a month or two you may find yourself slogging through week after week of listings before being kicked back to your point of departure. For example, if you want to look at April events on the Elbphilharmonie website, you must first click on "What's On," then click on the current month, then click the arrow for April, then click on a particular date to see what's happening. The website for the new Boulez Saal does offer a calendar option, but it works badly. You click on Concerts, then on Calendar View, then advance to April. Yet when you look at a particular event and then try to return to the calendar, you lose your place and lapse back into early March. You must click on Calendar View again, move to April again, etc. This is intensely annoying. Why is it so difficult for organizations to put a clean, legible calendar on the main page? The LA Phil website is a model of clarity. I click on Calendar, I hit the arrow for April, and all the info is right in front of me. Or I can click on Full Season Schedule and see every work, composer, and performer on offer — a feature that can be maddeningly difficult to find on other websites. (As it was in 2005.) Carnegie Hall is also fairly easy to navigate. Lincoln Center, on the other hand, is a stupefying mess. At the moment, their Calendar option causes my browser to crash.
March 08, 2017 | Permalink
New and recent publications of interest.
Bill Alves and Brett Campbell, Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana UP) [available March 2017]
Marian Wilson Kimber, The Elocutionists: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word (University of Illinois Press)
Pauline Fairclough, Classics for the Masses: Shaping Soviet Musical Identity under Lenin and Stalin (Yale UP)
Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture since 1989 (University of California Press)
Seth Brodsky, From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious (University of California Press)
Erling E. Guldbrandsen and Julian Johnson, eds., Transformations of Musical Modernism (Cambridge UP)
Kenneth Marcus, Schoenberg and Hollywood Modernism (Cambridge UP)
Karol Berger, Beyond Reason: Wagner contra Nietzsche (University of California Press)
Theodore Ziolkowski, Music into Fiction: Composers Writing, Compositions Imitated (Camden House)
Huib Schippers and Catherine Grant, eds., Sustainable Futures for Music Cultures: An Ecological Perspective (Oxford UP)
February 16, 2017 | Permalink
DRUM MAJOR: Shall I pull your tongue out of your throat and wrap it round your neck?
— Wozzeck, Act II
Previously: An Alban Berg Valentine, Another Alban Berg Valentine, Yet Another Alban Berg Valentine, Return of Alban Berg Valentine, Nothing says forever like an Alban Berg valentine, Alban Berg Valentine (10th anniversary edition).
February 14, 2017 | Permalink
In memory of the fallen heroes of Kellyanne Conway's febrile imagination, I have composed a Threnody to the Victims of Bowling Green, for six independent orchestral groups. Above is the first section, Exordium Lamentationis. The second section, Consummatum Non Est, is as yet unfinished. Scores and parts are available for rental from various publishers, although my name may not necessarily appear on them.
Previously: Fanfare for the Royal Wedding.
February 04, 2017 | Permalink
One mark of the dishonor that has fallen on this country in the wake of Donald Trump's morally repugnant, profoundly un-American actions as President is that the brilliant Syrian-born clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh does not know whether he will be able to return to his Brooklyn home. I wrote about him in 2013, when he appeared in conjunction with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
January 30, 2017 | Permalink