Brigitta Muntendorf's Key of presence, for two pianos, tape, and live electronics, was developed at the SWR Experimental Studio and had its premiere earlier this year at the ECLAT Festival in Stuttgart. The GrauSchumacher piano duo performs; the text comes from Javier Salinas's poem "Something is coming, my friend." Muntendorf aims here to explore the interaction between "analog" and "digital" worlds — between transient phenomena, such as a sound resonating and disappearing in space, and the infinite data banks in which we attempt to "freeze the present," as she writes in her notes.
July 30, 2015 | Permalink
Robinson Meyer, in a piece for The Atlantic on the increasingly sorry state of classical music on iTunes, points out that when the metadata system for MP3s was introduced, in 1996, it allowed for only three categories: artist, song name, and album title. From the start, this brave new world of music storage failed to acknowledge that composer and performer may not be the same — indeed, that any kind of composing was happening at all. Small wonder that composers and songwriters have seen their royalties plummet in the digital universe: their existence is erased in the architecture of the technology.
Previously: The Anxious Ease of Apple Music.
July 29, 2015 | Permalink
The melancholy news that Scott Cantrell, a critic of wide and deep experience, has accepted a buyout from the Dallas Morning News led me to update the critics' listing here on the blog. Every time I do this, I remove a few more names. If, as seems not unlikely, the News fails to hire a staff critic to replace him, the state of Texas will have no full-time classical critic — the Houston Chronicle has had none since the departure of Charles Ward — and there will be, by my count, fewer than ten newspapers in America with dedicated classical critics on staff. In the magazine world, the picture is even sadder: I am the only full-time classical critic at a national American magazine. (My superb colleague Justin Davidson, at New York, divides his time between music and architecture.) This is not, of course, a classical-music problem. Critics in all fields have been falling by the wayside, as American journalism abandons its historic mission and flails about irrationally in search of new readers. Fortunately, free-lance and blog activity remains lively.
July 29, 2015 | Permalink
In preparation for the Bard Summerscape presentation of The Wreckers — very much worth seeing, despite the opera's unevenness — I revisited the work of Ethel Smyth on recording: her chamber works, piano music, the Mass in D, and, of course, The Wreckers, which Conifer Classics recorded in 1994. She was, beyond everything else, a composer of impeccable technical skill, nowhere more so than in her String Quartet in E Minor (1902-12). It has a potent, unsettled slow movement and a finale enlivened by quirky whole-tone harmonies. Like many of her pieces, it deserves to heard much more often. A recording of The Boatswain's Mate, which has been described as her most politically pointed opera, is in the offing.
More: For a close and searching analysis of this quartet, see Amy Elizabeth Zigler's thesis on the subject of Smyth's chamber music. Zigler draws attention to Smyth's own comment about that uncommonly vigorous, adventurous finale: "If it is anything, it is . . . 'Suffrage!'"
July 28, 2015 | Permalink
The great Czech pianist died today, at the age of eighty-four. I heard him only once in solo recital, at Carnegie in 2001: Janáček's 1.X.1905, Debussy's Estampes and Pour le piano, Chopin's F-minor Ballade and Preludes. I had the sense of being transported many decades back in time, to some small hall in a Central European town between the wars, where composer, performer, and audience all lived in the same world and spoke the same language. It was playing of the utmost naturalness, strewn with unstressed, seemingly off-the-cuff subtleties. I have heard Chopin executed more brilliantly, more spectacularly, but never more persuasively.
July 27, 2015 | Permalink
Lisa Hirsch reports the death of the indefatigable Bay Area opera enthusiast Verna Parino, who, in her long life (she was born in 1916), saw no fewer than seventy-six complete performances of Wagner's Ring cycle, on four continents. San Francisco Classical Voice interviewed her in 2011. In the lovely video above, focused mostly on music education, she gives a succinct explanation for her Ring obsession: "It gives me a reason for getting out of bed."
July 24, 2015 | Permalink
Philip Kennicott on the Kennedy Center Honors: "The Honors have lost their way, and it will take far more than tweaks to the televised ceremony to improve them. What it will take, in fact, is courage, the courage to declare the Honors solely devoted to the arts that define the Kennedy Center’s mission."
See also: The Kennedy Center Honors Go Pop.
July 24, 2015 | Permalink
Here's an exceptionally useful page on the BBC 3 website: a listing of contemporary works recently broadcast on the channel and available for streaming. I'll be sampling Proms premières, giving a listen to Mark Simpson's The Immortal, and revisiting Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's Symphony-Antiphony, which I raved about in Fanfare a couple of decades ago.
July 22, 2015 | Permalink
A Rolling Stone ad from 1969, as seen in S. Andrew Granade's book Harry Partch: Hobo Composer. Partch's Delusion of the Fury plays this Thursday and Friday at the Lincoln Center Festival, courtesy of Heiner Goebbels and Musikfabrik. The festival website supplies a quick guide to the composer's life and work; Michael Cooper, in the New York Times, has more about the Partch instrumentarium; Russell Platt has a preview in The New Yorker. I will have a review in a future issue, pairing Partch with Ethel Smyth, a renegade of a different sort.
July 21, 2015 | Permalink
Dawn Fatale, at Parterre, pans the self-congratulatory memoirs of Reynold Levy, the former president of Lincoln Center. One might add that the book is riddled with errors: Kurt Masur does not spell his last name with a "z," and I did not win the Pulitzer Prize. I receive glancing criticism in the book, alongside my colleague Tony Tommasini, for having promoted the idea that City Opera should leave Lincoln Center and adopt a more independent profile. I agree with Tony's response: "Arts institutions have been granted nonprofit status to encourage them to take on noncommercial projects. Critics should demand that major opera companies and orchestras earn their select status by taking chances with challenging work."
July 21, 2015 | Permalink
Back in April, I linked to a notable discovery by the scholar James Schmidt: Adorno's own English translation of his Philosophy of New Music, which turned up in the papers of Virgil Thomson, at Yale. Schmidt has posted, on his blog, further details of the friendship between Adorno and Thomson, with extensive quotations from their correspondence. This relationship has been almost entirely overlooked in extant writing on the two men, and Schmidt's post is particularly revealing of Adorno's ambitions and frustrations during his American period. Among other things, Schmidt discovers that Adorno hoped to win a position on the staff of the New York Herald Tribune: "I think of working once again as a music critic . . . Do you know of any opportunity? What I should like most, of course, would be to collaborate with you, but I do not know whether there is any such chance." Thomson failed to respond to this inquiry, perhaps fearing that Adorno's English wasn't quite up to the task. But, as Schmidt points out, "it is only in retrospect that the prospect of Adorno working at the Herald Tribune seems less plausible than his having abandoned his studies in philosophy to begin a career as a music critic in Vienna or his leaving a bewildered Schoenberg in order to return to Frankfurt to resume his academic career and defend a Habilitation that would be published on the exact date of Hitler’s assumption of power." See also Part II and Part III of Schmidt's superb four-part series.
Previously: The Naysayers.
July 19, 2015 | Permalink
Micaela Baranello, on operatic depictions of rape: "For all its noble goals, though, this particular strain of directorial revisionism only occasionally concerns itself with women’s agency. It is not insignificant that most of these sexually charged productions were — like a vast majority of opera productions over all — directed by men."
Ann Powers: "Loving rock and roll requires engaging with a terrible reality, one that the music itself has not solved and sometimes helped its fans to forget. It's this: the real erotic freedom many women, and young people in general, have experienced through rock and roll is always partial and precarious. As great as it feels for a girl to let the noise and rhythm surge through her body, that body still moves within a world where others wield all kinds of weapons to contain you."
The Rwandan-Belgian composer, vocalist, and radio artist is currently on tour in the United States; she appears Saturday night at The Wulf, in Los Angeles, and in the Bay Area later in the month. She is known for, among other things, her soundscapes drawn on journeys in East Africa; the piece above is a portrait of a neighborhood in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Posted by The Dream Unfinished on Monday, July 13, 2015
In advance of The Dream Unfinished, a special concert marking the first anniversary of the killing of Eric Garner by New York City police, musicians give a preview of Jessie Montgomery's Soul Force in Grand Central Station and other locations.
I first encountered Montgomery in 2006, when she was a member of the Providence Quartet and Community MusicWorks; that remarkable group figured in my 2006 piece "Learning the Score," about music education.
July 16, 2015 | Permalink