— Gabriel Kahane, Book of Travelers (Nonesuch)
— Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F; Kirill Gerstein, David Robertson conducting the St. Louis Symphony (myrios)
— Blitzstein, The Cradle Will Rock; Ginger Costa-Jackson, Keith Jameson, Christopher Burchett, Aubrey Babcock, John Mauceri conducting Opera Saratoga (Bridge)
— Linda Catlin Smith, Wanderer and other works; Apartment House (another timbre)
— Anthony Cheung, Cycles and Arrows; Spektral Quartet, Claire Chase, Winston Choi, Atlas Ensemble, ICE (New Focus)
— Bach, Six Cello Suites; Yo-Yo Ma (Sony)
— Cassandra Miller, Just So: String Quartets; Quatuor Bozzini (another timbre)
— Ruth Gipps, Symphonies No. 2 and 4, Knight in Armour, Song for Orchestra; Rumon Gamba conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (Chandos)
August 28, 2018 | Permalink
In my state-of-new-music essay in this week's issue of The New Yorker, I had originally intended to discuss several recent books on early-twenty-first-century composition. In the end, I chose to concentrate on Tim Rutherford-Johnson's Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture Since 1989. But I'd like to mention various others that have informed my listening and thinking. Jennie Gottschalk's Experimental Music Since 1970 has quickly established itself as an essential text, mapping the vibrancy of experimentalism in the post-Cage age. David Metzer's Musical Modernism at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century focuses on established, quasi-canonical figures like Ferneyhough, Lachenmann, Sciarrino, Kurtág, and Saariaho. In so doing, Metzer vigorously opposes the idea of an endpoint for, or drastic transformation of, the modernist tradition: instead, he sees a network of continuities from the heroic early years to the present. The Cambridge anthology Transformations of Musical Modernism contains Susan McClary's crucial essay "The Lure of the Sublime" and much other work of value. Finally, I was fascinated by Seth Brodsky's study From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious, even if its extensive deployment of Lacanian theory went somewhat over my head. Brodsky proposes a Lacanian distinction between "master modernism" and "analytic modernism," which could be aligned with the dividing line between past and present traced in McClary's essay. Brodsky writes: "A master modernism, dominating discourse with its calls for the new, fantasizes the future as its (Real) object. An analytic modernism, dismantling domination through its desire for absolute difference, takes the past as its (split) subject." Still, I find myself most in sympathy with Tim's approach, which avoids getting caught up in categorical debates around modernism and instead strives to address contemporary music very much on its own terms.
While working on the article, I also read or re-read George E. Lewis's indispensable A Power Stronger Than Itself, Benjamin Piekut's Experimentalism Otherwise, Robert Adlington's Composing Dissent, the Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music, Joshua Clover's 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About, and Nate Chinen's just-published Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century.
August 21, 2018 | Permalink
The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress has recently added much new material to its online trove. Above is a letter from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to "Felicia and Lennie," dated January 1970 — some months before the appearance of Tom Wolfe's reactionary hit-job on the Bernsteins.
August 14, 2018 | Permalink
I passed through Bayreuth to see Yuval Sharon's new production of Lohengrin and last year's Meistersinger, by Barrie Kosky. A report will appear in a future issue of The New Yorker. In keeping with my composer-grave habit, this year I not only paid homage to the Meister, the Meisterin, and their dogs but also went to the Stadtfriedhof to see the resting places of Liszt, Hans Richter, and various other Wagners. Above lies Richter. An attempt to find the grave of Oskar Panizza, author of Das Liebeskonzil and "Bayreuth und Homosexualität," was unsuccessful.
Seldom does the ordinary operagoer have the opportunity to see stars just before they go onstage, but in a parking lot near the Festspielhaus a fortunate few caught a glimpse of the canines playing the roles of Marke and Molly in Kosky's Meistersinger. That production opens with a delightful pantomime of a day at Wahnfried, circa 1875.
Incidentally, last year saw the publication of Franziska Polanski's Richard Wagners Hunde, in which the history of Wagner's dogs is told in full.
For the first time I took a tour of the Mystic Abyss, the legendary orchestra pit at the Festspielhaus. How the man thought of this arrangement — and knew that it would work — is beyond understanding.
I was sad to find that the Markgrafen Buchhandlung, the book and music store opposite the Goldener Anker, had closed. Its replacement, Cosima, seems to be faring no better.
To achieve the requisite overstuffing of my luggage, I went to the Antiquariat Walter Bösch, where, amid a lavish collection of old Wagner books, scores, and programs, I found Max Kalbeck's monograph on the Parsifal première.
Sadly, I will miss Boybands Forever.
My first night in Bayreuth coincided with the recent lunar eclipse. A crowd of Bayreuthers gathered on a hill above the Festspielhaus to observe the event. In the end, the Blutmond was mostly hidden by long-hanging clouds, but it was a pleasant hour in the dark.
Until the Ring in 2020....
August 01, 2018 | Permalink
The Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat has received permission to give the world-première performances of a previously unheard early work by Pierre Boulez: the Prélude, Toccata et Scherzo, from 1944. The first performance will take place at the Paris Philharmonie on September 8; van Raat will then play it on the occasion of his Carnegie Hall début, on Oct. 24, and in Rotterdam on Nov. 25. Van Raat reports that the work begins in with gestures reminiscent variously of Bartók and Messiaen, but that hints of Boulez's mature style become increasingly evident in the breaking down of melodic material into cells. Aside from the historical interest, van Raat believes that the piece will be a valuable addition to the twentieth-century piano repertory. Let's hope a recording ensues.
July 18, 2018 | Permalink
New and recent releases of interest.
— Haydn, Piano Sonatas Nos. 49, 50, 32, 40; Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi)
— Bernstein, A Quiet Place, adapted by Garth Edwin Sunderland; Claudia Boyle, Joseph Kaiser, Gordon Bintner, Lucas Meachem, Kent Nagano conducting the Montreal Symphony and Chorus (Decca)
— Bach, Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord; Rachel Barton Pine, Jory Vinikour (Cedille)
— Michel Lambert, Leçons de Ténèbres des Mercredi, Jeudi et Vendredi Saints; Marc Mauillon, Myriam Rignol, Thibaut Roussel, Marouan Mankar-Bennis (Harmonia Mundi)
— Benet Casablancas, Dove of Peace, Homage to Picasso, Octeto, Four Darks in Red, Mokusei Gardens, ...der graue Wald sich unter ihm schüttelte, Dance, Song and Celebration; Felix Krieger conducting the London Sinfonietta (Sony)
— Christian Wolff, John, David, Rhapsody; Lothar Zagrosek conducting the SWR Symphony Baden-Baden and Freiburg, Petr Kotik, Peter Rundel, and Roland Kluttig conducting the Ostravská banda (New World)
— Songs and Poems: works of Andreas Dohmen, Hans Thomalla, Walter Zimmermann, Wolfgang Rihm, Aldo Clementi; trio accanto (Wergo)
— Shostakovich, Symphonies Nos. 4 and 11; Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony (DG)
July 08, 2018 | Permalink
New and recent publications of interest.
Gundula Kreuzer, Curtain, Gong, Steam: Wagnerian Technologies of Nineteenth-Century Opera (UC Press)
Jamie Bernstein, Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein (Harper Collins)
Randol Schoenberg, ed., The "Doctor Faustus" Dossier: Arnold Schoenberg, Thomas Mann, and Their Contemporaries, 1930–1951 (UC Press)
Susan Tomes, Speaking the Piano (Boydell and Brewer)
Emily Abrams Ansari, The Sound of a Superpower: Musical Americanism and the Cold War (Oxford UP)
Naomi André, Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (University of Illinois Press)
Brian Olewnick, Keith Rowe (powerHouse)
Katherine K. Preston, Opera for the People: English-Language Opera and Women Managers in Late 19th-Century America (Oxford UP)
June 26, 2018 | Permalink
On June 24, the New Opera Days Ostrava festival will give the belated world premiere of Thy Kingdom Come, by the pioneering Czech microtonal composer Alois Hába. Completed in 1942, the work draws inspiration from the Anthroposophical writings of Rudolf Steiner, intermingling mystical and socialist themes; Act II features a colloquy among Christ, Ariman, and Lucifer. The program also includes Salvatore Sciarrino’s Luci mie traditrici, new pieces by Daniel Ting-Cheung Lo and Rudolf Komorous, and a rendition of Julius Eastman's graphic score Macle.... Eamonn Quinn, the director of the Louth Contemporary Music Society in Ireland, has won the Belmont Prize for Contemporary Music. He will receive the prize at the outset of Louth's Book of Hours festival (June 22-23), which will include new works by Sciarrino, Michael Pisaro, Rebecca Saunders, and Karen Tanaka.... Earlier this season I wrote about Augustin Hadelich's striking performances of the Britten Violin Concerto with the Detroit Symphony. Marc Geelhoed, the ace director of Detroit's pioneering free webcasts, informs me that the video is online.... I wrote about last year's solstice celebrations at The Tank, in Rangely, Colorado. This year's edition includes performances by Ryan Ruehlen and Ron Miles.... Also on the solstice, Make Music NY will offer its usual welter of sounds, including Mass Appeal concerts for banjos, buckets, French horns, guitars, harmonicas, mandolins, and ukuleles.... Ethan Iverson and Miranda Cuckson perform a striking program at Spectrum in NYC on June 24: music of Louise Talma, George Walker, Martino, the ubiquitous Sciarrino, and Josiah Catalan.... Ethan wrote a beautiful memorial to the great Lorraine Gordon, grande dame of the Village Vanguard.... Read Joshua Kosman and Lisa Hirsch on the latest iteration of the San Francisco Opera's Ring. I caught the Götterdämmerung, and was gripped throughout. I may have heard some parts better sung, but I've never seen the work acted with such verve and invention; Daniel Brenna's Siegfried was especially impressive in this regard.
June 20, 2018 | Permalink
The formidable Russian conductor has died at the age of eighty-seven. One of his signal feats was leading the world première of Alfred Schnittke's First Symphony in 1974 — a venture that would have been daring in any context, but was particularly courageous in Brezhnev's Soviet Union. His Soviet-era recording of the Shostakovich Fourth, embedded above, remains incomparable; listen to the strings at 14:35.
June 16, 2018 | Permalink