On my trip to Budapest in January, I got to hear a rare revival of Zsolt Durkó's 1972 oratorio Halotti beszéd, or Burial Prayer. The performance took place under the auspices of the Mini-Festival at the Palace of Arts; Mátyás Antal led the MÁV Symphony and the Hungarian National Choir. At one time, in the seventies, Durkó seemed poised for wider renown; Burial Prayer won acclaim after a BBC performance that the tireless Bálint András Varga helped to bring about. Then, as Varga comments in his recent book From Boulanger to Stockhausen, Durkó "disappeared from the international scene almost without a trace," along with such contemporaries as Sándor Balassa and András Szőllősy. This is a pity: Burial Prayer, setting the oldest extant text in the Magyar language, is a substantial, powerful work. It's strongly reminiscent of Ligeti and Lutosławski in places, but the finely calibrated contrapuntal writing and the juxtapositions of complex textures and chantlike recitation show a distinctive personality. The ending, in which the tenor whisper-sings "Kyrie eleison" over a cloudlike chorus and tremolo double basses, is breathtaking. Admittedly, it's hard to imagine performances abroad: as the composer Gyula Fekete pointed out to me, even Hungarians have difficulty with the medieval text. But Durkó is certainly worth a second look. In my library is a 1996 Hungaroton CD of his music, pairing Burial Prayer with excerpts from the sprawling, rhapsodic 1989-91 piano cycle The History of the Spheres.
"I have four razors and a dictaphone."
— Andrey Tarkovsky, 1979
I started blogging ten years ago today, in what seemed a passing act of procrastination. Three thousand three hundred fifty posts later, I'm still at it, however sporadically. I should be offering a thoughtful retrospective, as did Kyle Gann, Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Charles Downey, and Jessica Duchen upon reaching this anniversary, but work is piling up, and so I will simply give ardent thanks to all those who have followed my meanderings over the past decade. Here's a semi-random selection of favorite posts from the archive: Tiny Valhalla, Star-Spangled Wagner, Björk's Favorite Records, Chord of the curse, Ligeti's Third Quartet, Herrliche or herrlichste?, Wikileaks, music, and power, Aptest eve, Applause, Schoenberg buys a car, The Popov Discontinuity, Vivaldi in Antarctica, Fanfare for the Royal Wedding, Benchmark and Send, David Raksin, Full fathom nine, For Peter Lieberson, Deep River.
May 09, 2014 | Permalink
A typically meticulous and revealing post by Michael Lorenz, on the subject of Beethoven's wills, sent me on an extended detour, the endpoint of which was the curious case of Beethoven's grand-nephew, Ludwig van Beethoven, otherwise known as Louis von Hoven. He was the son of Beethoven's beloved nephew, Karl, that unhappy figure who gave the composer no end of worry. Ludwig seems to have been a more energetic and determined character, though somewhat lacking in moral fibre. The most thorough account of his sketchy life can be found in Paul Nettl's article "Beethoven's Grand-Nephew in America," published in 1957 in Music & Letters.
Ludwig was born in Vienna in 1839. In his late teens and early twenties, he was in the employ of King Ludwig II, recommended by none other than Wagner. He perpetrated various frauds, including an escapade in which he passed himself off as the composer's grandson, under the name Baron von Beethoven. Facing a prison sentence, he fled to America in 1871. Stateside, he traveled widely with his wife, Marie, who seems to have been a pianist of considerable ability; for a time, he found work with the Michigan Central Railroad. Having taken the name von Hoven, in order to escape his misdeeds in Munich, he found temporary prosperity as an inventor and as an impresario of various enterprises. According to Nettl, his most successful venture was the Commissionaire Company, a red-cap messenger service on the European model; branches of this business opened in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia in 1874 and 1875. He also ran a scheme renting wheelchairs to elderly people at what Nettl identifies as the New York World Fair. I wonder whether he means the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, where a "Roll-Chair Company" did business. Searching Internet archives, I found two more traces. One is a taxi-meter patent attributed to a Louis von Hoven of Philadelphia; it may be the same man, since von Hoven is known to have been living in Philadelphia at this time.
In the late 1870s, evidence of von Hoven becomes scarce, but he seems to have returned to Europe for several extended periods. Nettl last glimpses him in 1890, in Paris, where he was said to be ill and destitute. His time and place of death are unknown. He had a son named Karl, who died in a Viennese military hospital in 1917. Thus ended the Beethoven name.
May 08, 2014 | Permalink
As in past years, WQXR's broadcasts of Spring for Music events at Carnegie Hall are being archived at the station's website. You can now hear Christopher Rouse's Requiem, which the New York Philharmonic performed on Monday night, and the Seattle Symphony's program of John Luther Adams, Varèse, and Debussy, which caused a sensation last night. In advance of that event, Adams gave an interview to the Times's Corinna de Fonseca-Wollheim, in which he revealed that he would be not only hearing his Pulitzer Prize-winning work Become Ocean for the first time — he missed the premiere because of eye surgery — but making his first visit to the main auditorium of Carnegie. Of his recent scores, he said, “I like to be on that razor’s edge between beauty and terror. What in the 19th century they called the sublime. That element of fear just makes it more beautiful.”
Carnegie's mellow, resonance-rich space brought out the Wagnerian aspect of Become Ocean, favoring sonorities of strings and brass. From the orchestra seats, I found that much of the score's glittering detail was lost: for example, one could seldom hear the epic piano part (Kimberly Russ was the superhero of the Seattle visit, playing also in Déserts and at the orchestra's Poisson Rouge event), and the most delicate percussion effects disappeared as well. On the broadcast, WQXR's microphones compensate somewhat. What will presumably be the definitive document of the work will appear next fall, when Cantaloupe Records releases a studio recording that the Seattle made in Benaroya Hall last November.
May 07, 2014 | Permalink
The midpoint of Become Ocean.
The final edition of Spring for Music, the four-year festival of inventive programming at Carnegie Hall, unfolds next week. The lineup includes the New York Philharmonic, playing Christopher Rouse's monumental Requiem; the Rochester Philharmonic, presenting a concert performance of Howard Hanson's Merry Mount; the Winnipeg Symphony, in an all-Canadian program of Derek Charke, Vincent Ho, and R. Murray Schafer; the Cincinnati Symphony, giving a rare revival of R. Nathaniel Dett's remarkable oratorio The Ordering of Moses (I reviewed a 1993 rendition); and the Pittsburgh Symphony, with an intriguing combination of Bruckner's Ave Maria, the final scene of Poulenc's Carmelites, James MacMillan's Woman of the Apocalypse, and a dramatized version of the Mozart Requiem, with readings by F. Murray Abraham. Perhaps the most anticipated offering is the Seattle Symphony's: Varèse's Déserts, Debussy's La Mer, and John Luther Adams's Become Ocean, which just won the Pulitzer Prize. The previous night, at 1opm (just after the Rouse), Seattle players will give a chamber program at LPR, featuring JLA's The Light Within. In past years the festival has struggled a bit with sales, despite eminently affordable prices ($12.50-$25), but the good news this year is that the parquet and the first tier are already sold out for all six concerts. I wouldn't be surprised if Seattle plays to a full house; the balcony is open.
Over the years, one of the more popular posts on my blog has been "CD shelving tips (with Maulina)," mainly because it ranks high on search engines when someone types in "CD shelving tips" (not to mention "Maulina"). Sadly, the Jazz Loft, from which I've purchased thousands of those space-saving plastic sleeves, is going out of business. Their last orders will be taken on May 5th, and big discounts are being offered for such items as John Luther Adams's For Lou Harrison and the Tubin Second and Sixth Symphonies. The sleeves will, however, still be for sale, on a separate site. As I said back in 2004, they have very nearly saved my life, or, at least, my sanity. Maulina also endorses them strongly; a stray sleeve feels nice against one's teeth.
The Munich Biennale for new music theater opens next week with Marko Nikodijević's Vivier, an opera based on the vibrant life and violent death of the French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier. Bob Gilmore's biography of Vivier arrives in June.... IRCAM's ManiFeste festival runs in June and July; Georges Aperghis's Luna Park is among the offerings.... The Birmingham Opera's production of Stockhausen's Mittwoch, in 2012, was an astonishing feat. It seems as though Graham Vick and his company have pulled off another tour-de-force, a Khovanshchina deftly retitled Khovanskygate; Fiona Maddocks reports.... In the Boston Globe, Colin Fleming has an informative piece about life on the church-music circuit.... The Flux Quartet's latest traversal of the Feldman Quartet (II), at the Park Avenue Armory, is available on demand from WQXR — all six hours.... Marina Harss, in The Nation, writes thoughtfully on dance at the Met, with particular attention to Prince Igor.... The Sonnambula viol consort plays Dowland's Lachrimae at Spectrum Saturday night.... Kristin Norderval has a solo event at the New Museum on Friday night.... The Argento Ensemble's next concerts at the Austrian Cultural Forum, on May 2 and 4, will feature world premieres by Erin Gee and Aaron Cassidy. Much more from the same adventurous group follows later in the month, on the theme of "emerging American composers and Viennese masters."
April 30, 2014 | Permalink
April 26, 2014 | Permalink
A denial-of-service attack on the good people of Typepad knocked my blog out of circulation for a few days, and so I have been unable to celebrate publicly the news that Steve Smith has been hired by the Boston Globe as an assistant arts editor, overseeing music and visual-arts coverage. It's a huge loss for the New York music world, not to mention the New York Times, but I'm tremendously happy for Steve. His successor at Time Out New York will be the excellent Seth Colter Walls.
April 22, 2014 | Permalink
In the Goings On About Town section of next week's New Yorker, I look ahead to David Lang's week-long festival collected stories. It's a feast of inventive programming that includes everything from Beowulf to Cage's 27'10.554"—or, at least, quite a few things between those far-flung stations. In the video above, Lang explains a program juxtaposing Arvo Pärt's Passio with Tuvan throat-singing. In another, he talks about Beowulf and Harry Partch. Other videos can be found here.
April 19, 2014 | Permalink
The Mexican-English composer has a website here. She is well served by a 2005 Mode disc, which features superb performances by the Arditti Quartet, Ian Pace, Ensemble Modern, and Neue Vokalsolisten Stuttgart. In 2012 she appeared in Miller Theatre's enduringly vital Composer Portraits series; needless to say, Steve Smith was there.
April 15, 2014 | Permalink