A recent clue on Jeopardy. No one got it.
The New York Philharmonic has announced its 2015-16 season. The principal news is that Esa-Pekka Salonen is beginning a term as composer-in-residence, presiding over a Messiaen series in March of next year and introducing a new large-scale orchestral piece the following June, as part of the second edition of the Biennial. Also notable: the première of an Andrew Norman piano concerto on Dec. 10, 2015.... Some meaty offerings at this summer's Lincoln Center Festival: the celebrated MusikFabrik production of Partch's Delusion of the Fury, a Danny Elfman / Tim Burton evening, a Yarn/Wire program including works of Misato Mochizuki, Raphaël Cendo, and Tristan Murail, and the Cleveland Orchestra playing Strauss's Daphne.... The Detroit Symphony has announced a raft of premières for 2015-16: Mohammed Fairouz, Gabriela Lena Frank, Aaron Jay Kernis, Tod Machover, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Leonard Slatkin.... Not to be outdone, the Cincinnati Symphony is giving seven world premières next season: works of Sebastian Currier, Thierry Escaich, Zhou Tian, Gunther Schuller (his Symphonic Triptych), Jonathan Bailey Holland, Kristin Kuster, and T.J. Cole.... Vulnicura, the new album by Björk, has appeared a couple of months ahead of schedule. Ann Powers has an overnight review. Björk will have a retrospective at MoMA in March.... The oboe's James Austin Smith has a new disc entitled Distance; he will give a related concert at Tenri on Jan. 27 ... Mozart in the Jungle, the classical-music TV show, has inevitably stirred critical debate: Zachary Woolfe is pro, Anne Midgette is con.... Rebecca Saunders has received the Mauricio Kagel Music Prize. In Februrary, Munich's Musica Viva will give the first performance of her trumpet concerto, with Marco Blaauw as soloist.... A happy sight: Allan Kozinn, late of the New York Times, writing about classical music, at length, in the Wall Street Journal. The topic is the New Music Gathering in San Francisco.
January 22, 2015 | Permalink
— Montage: works of Bruce Broughton, Don Davis, John Williams, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Giacchino, Randy Newman; Gloria Cheng, piano (Harmonia Mundi)
— Distance: works of Hindemith, Vasks, Carter, Bach, Krenek, Schumann; James Austin Smith, oboe, with Luís Magalhães, piano, and Bridget Kibbey, harp (TwoPianists)
— Saariaho, Quatre Instants, Terra Memoria, Émilie Suite; Karen Vourc'h, soprano, with Marko Letonja conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg (Ondine)
— Stockhausen, Complete Early Percussion Works; Steven Schick, James Avery, red fish blue fish (Mode DVD)
— Simon Steen-Andersen, Black Box Music and Run Time Error; Håkan Stene conducting the Oslo Sinfonietta (Dacapo DVD)
— Harold Shapero, Piano Music; Sally Pinkas and Evan Hirsch (Toccata)
— John Luther Adams, The Wind in High Places, Canticles of the Sky, Dream of the Canyon Wren; JACK Quartet, Northwestern University Cello Ensemble (Cold Blue)
— Nielsen, Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3; Sakari Oramo conducting the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic (BIS)
January 17, 2015 | Permalink
The 2015-16 season announcements have begun to trickle in. Of particular interest is Jake Heggie's Great Scott, at the Dallas Opera, next October. I mentioned this opera-about-opera in my profile of Joyce DiDonato; she will play the title character, an American diva returning home for the world première of a lost bel-canto work entitled Rosa Dolorosa, Daughter of Pompeii. Complications ensue... As Michael Cooper reports in the Times, a decision is pending on the assets of New York City Opera. Of the proposed plans for a "renaissance," only BAM's strikes me as plausible.... Kyle Gann has been posting previews of his hotly anticipated book about the Ives Concord Sonata. Congratulations to Kyle on the completion of his First Symphony, modestly subtitled the "Implausible." .... If your neighborhood falls strangely quiet this week, the reason may be that all the contemporary-music types have gone to San Francisco for the New Music Gathering at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Such luminaries as Claire Chase, Sarah Cahill, and the Kronos are taking lead roles in three days of performances, talks, discussions, and demonstrations .... Ekmeles sings Johnston, Cage, Tenney, Evan Johnson, Matthew Ricketts, Andrew Waggoner, and Aaron Cassidy at NYC's DiMenna Center on Jan. 23.... Some tickets remain for late performances of Bora Yoon's Sunken Cathedral, part of this year's Prototype Festival. Most of the rest is, I believe, sold out.... The resurgent LA Opera, pursuing a Beaumarchais theme, presents ¡Figaro! (90210) Jan. 16-18 and then turns to Corigliano's Ghosts of Versailles, with The Barber of Seville and the full Figaro to follow later in the season.... The music department of The New Yorker is disconsolate at the departure of its pop-music magus, Sasha Frere-Jones. In a little over a decade, he revolutionized music coverage at the magazine. May he flourish at a site promisingly entitled Genius.
January 12, 2015 | Permalink
Yes, it's the future mezzo playing the Sonata for Viola Four Hands, S. 440, in conjunction with Robert Levine, who sent the picture along. Now the principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony and also a contributor at Polyphonic, Robert often shared a stand with Lorraine during her viola-centric years, especially at George Cleve's Midsummer Mozart Festival. He remembers her as a gifted and generous player. Incidentally, the oddest of Bach's twenty-odd children is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his none-too-belated rediscovery.
January 07, 2015 | Permalink
Eduard Tubin's Sixth Symphony, with Neeme Järvi conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony. Apropos of nothing, the opening and closing of the second movement served as theme music for my college-radio show, "Music Since 1900." Tubin also composed one of the most viscerally thrilling endings in the symphonic literature, the timpani-driven coda of his Fifth Symphony. Järvi conducted a tremendous New York Philharmonic performance of the Fifth in 1995.
The Los Angeles blogger CK Dexter Haven has devised an amusing game: pick your favorite numbered symphonies, one through nine. Brian Lauritzen has added his own entry, and there are sure to be others. I have decided to make the bold choice of omitting Beethoven — he gets enough publicity — and am offering this mildly eccentric list:
Nielsen, Symphony No. 1
Ives, Symphony No. 21
Lutosławski, Symphony No. 32
Brahms, Symphony No. 43
Ustvolskaya, Symphony No. 5
Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 6
Sibelius, Symphony No. 7
Schubert, Symphony No. 8
Mahler, Symphony No. 9
It's painful to leave out Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Martinů, and my beloved Eduard Tubin, among many others, but so the chips fall in one neck of the woods.
1. These first two could easily have been reversed. Also, I was sorely tempted to include Popov's astounding First.
2. An agonizing number, with the Eroica, the Roussel, and the great American Thirds. But the Lutosławski enchants me so deeply every time I hear it.
3. Another agonizing number, with Sibelius, Nielsen, and Shostakovich at their most intense. But the finale of the Brahms obliterates all.
"I could point you to important pieces written for a set of completely voiceless trumpets that I call the bugles of Silence, after the model of the unrecoverable buccins that once overthrew the walls of Jericho. "
— the composer Pouyadou, in Léon Bloy's "Le musicien du silence" (1893)
Previously: Imaginary Concerts.
Andrew Norman's Play, recorded here by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, is a sprawling, engulfing, furiously unpredictable piece in three symphonic movements. (Above is the first, "Level 1.") Will Robin has gone so far as to declare that Play "might be the best orchestral work that the 21st century has seen thus far" — an announcement that spurred a lively Twitter discussion of other candidates for that accolade, with emphasis on purely orchestral works more than half an hour long. I seconded Tim Rutherford-Johnson's nomination of Adès's Totentanz and Czernowin's MAIM, but, having listened to Play at least a dozen times, I won't dismiss Will's suggestion out of hand. I'll have more to say further down the line, particularly when an opportunity arises to hear the music live. At the BMOP site, you can read fine notes by Daniel Stephen Johnson and the composer's own reflections.
January 05, 2015 | Permalink
Here, belatedly, are a few more thoughts on the organ-and-orchestra repertory, in the wake of last month's column on the subject. Michael Barone, prefacing his master list, points out how many orchestral works require an organ part, and how much is lost when some feeble electronic replica is substituted. In the column, I named three obvious cases: Mahler's Second and Eighth Symphonies and Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra. Barone also highlights, among others, Vaughan Williams's Sea Symphony, Ives's Fourth Symphony, Elgar's Enigma, several big Respighi pieces, and Janáček's Glagolitic Mass. (In October, the last-named received an exceptional performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Alan Gilbert conducting.) Barone writes: "Remove the organ from Tchaikovsky’s Manfred, Bartók’s Bluebeard, or Mahler’s Resurrection and you’ve got a flat soufflé." It really is fairly crippling that New York's two big concert halls both lack a proper organ.
There are some neglected gems to be found on Barone's list, and orchestras with access to a concert organ should program them more often. A personal favorite is Jón Leifs's Organ Concerto, an astonishingly bold piece completed in 1930. Medieval-sounding chants in parallel fifths, inspired by the old Icelandic practice of tvísöngur (twin-song), collide with pinwheeling triads and brazen dissonances. The core of the concerto is an immense, grittily orchestrated passacaglia of thirty variations. The opening is also very memorable:
From a recording on the BIS label, with En Shao conducting the Iceland Symphony and Björn Steinar Sólbergsson at the organ.
A plea also for Frank Martin's Erasmi monumentum, a 1969 work honoring the quincentennial of Erasmus. Here the organ tends to brood behind and within the orchestra, representing the great Dutch humanist's quizzical relationship with the world around him. There are three movements: "Homo pro se" ("A man unto himself"); "Stultitiae laus" ("In Praise of Folly"); and "Querela pacis" ("The Complaint of Peace"). The middle movement is a freewheeling scherzo in an irregularly dancing triple metre, with the organ cast in vernacular, irreverent guise. Martin was apparently unhappy with the result of his labors, but Erasmi monumentum is not only among his strongest late-period works but one of the most finely controlled, fully realized organ-and-orchestra pieces in the repertory. The YouTube video at the top of this post has Matthias Bamert conducting the London Philharmonic, with Leslie Pearson at the organ; the recording is from Chandos's invaluable Martin cycle.
A fascinating subculture of the contemporary organ world involves the meeting of this oldest and grandest of instruments with avant-garde discourse — a confluence that goes back to pioneering postwar works of Messiaen, Ligeti, Hambraeus, and Kagel. Over in the UK, the composer-organist Lauren Redhead has given particular attention to music for organ and electronics; you can watch one of her recent programs on Vimeo here. See also her release entoptic landscape; version 1 of the title piece is scored for a sonorous blend of trombone, four tubas, and organ. In these parts, David Broome has been cultivating works for organ and electronics, notably in a Qubit Music concert last fall. You can here watch a video of David Bird's Commercial Vignette, whose musical material is generated by barcodes for various products: Clorox bleach, a Red Bull, the complete Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc. I'm sorry to have missed the Qubit event, which also included Lisa Streich's Seraph, for cello and organ.
January 01, 2015 | Permalink
My column in this week's New Yorker makes brief reference to the Irish-born composer-vocalist Jennifer Walshe. Above is an excerpt from Walshe's video-and-live-performance piece The Total Mountain, which was presented at the most recent Donaueschingen Festival, at the invitation of the late and widely lamented Armin Köhler. It's hazardous to generalize about what is going on, but we here see a variety of composer-generated personae vocalizing happenstance tweets: one is fixated on the young males who constitute the pop band One Direction; another is very much concerned with secret incursions of the Illuminati into pop culture; and a third recites lines from the work of Harold Pinter. You can sample more of Walshe's work on the We Are Grúpat YouTube channel — Grúpat being an one-woman art collective in which Walshe assumes nine different alter egos.
I also mention Corey Dargel, whose new album, It's OK It's Not OK, will appear in late January on the New Amsterdam label. The I Care If You Listen blog has a preview of one of the tracks. Dargel's 2009 NewMusicBox essay on "artsongwriters" is an important document of the hard-to-define tendency I discuss in the column. This is the place for a fond reminiscence of the now apparently dormant Professor Heebie McJeebie.
UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance will present Gabriel Kahane's The Ambassador in February.
December 31, 2014 | Permalink