The celebrated British composer, whose strong musical personality made itself felt across a broad stylistic range, has died at the age of eighty-one.
As a rule, non-specialist articles on classical music feel compelled to mention at the earliest opportunity that the art form is clutched in the bony hands of ghastly old people. A Times magazine profile of Caroline Shaw, obviously motivated by her recent collaboration with Kanye West, is no exception: "A few months ago, in Iowa City, I attended a recital by the avant-garde string quartet JACK ... The recital hall was crowded, with a sizable contingent of skinny-jean-clad locals. This incursion of youth into the securely aged domain of the classical-music audience was owed, it seemed, to the promised appearance of a guest performer, Caroline Shaw." Yes, the JACK Quartet usually attracts nursing-home residents on field trips, but on this occasion the group was blessed by a visit from a friend of Kanye, and young people materialized. At least, that's what the article seems to be suggesting. It's more likely that these "skinny-jean-clad locals" were composition students at the University of Iowa. Caroline Shaw, a gifted and individual artist, deserves better than to be introduced in this fashion.
March 12, 2016 | Permalink
Tomorrow at Williams College, as part of the Williams Music Department's Class of 1960 lecture series, I will speak on the topic "Brünnhilde's Rock: Wagnerism, Gender, and Sexuality." The event is in Presser Hall at 415pm. The next day, Judd Greenstein's much-anticipated first opera, A Marvelous Order, will have what is described as its "pre-première."
March 10, 2016 | Permalink
Frank Martin's austere choral masterwork will receive an exceedingly rare New York performance on Sunday at Trinity Wall Street, with the New Amsterdam Singers undertaking the task. The archives of the New York Times suggest that the last — indeed, only — local performance was in 1952, when the Dessoff Choirs presented it. Olin Downes, of the Times, described the work as "unfortunately invertebrate," a phrase that applies rather better to Downes's style than to Martin's. Tony Tommasini gave a much warmer reception to Harmonia Mundi's 2010 recording.
Previously: Busoni, Martin
March 07, 2016 | Permalink
Detail of Dürer's "Melancolia I."
Here, at the request of Michael Cooper of the New York Times, are various materials relating to the music of Adrian Leverkühn, as imagined in Thomas Mann’s novel Doktor Faustus. When I first became a Faustus obsessive thirty years ago, I jotted down a list of Leverkühn's works on a blank page of a beat-up paperback; I give an expanded version of that list there, alongside a partial selection of works that informed Mann’s descriptions and a list of real-life works that took inspiration from Mann’s fictional creation. S. Fischer Verlag’s critical edition of Doktor Faustus, edited by Ruprecht Wimmer and Stephan Stachorski, was of assistance.
Short biography: Adrian Leverkühn was born on June 6, 1885, in Kaisersaschern, Germany. He pursued theological studies in Halle and Leipzig, and from 1905 to 1910 he studied music privately with Wendell Kretzschmar in Leipzig. He lived in Munich from 1910 to 1913, then moved to Pfeiffering bei Waldshut, in Oberbayern, where he remained until his death. Independent of the Second Viennese School, he evolved a non-tonal, at times idiosyncratically serialist language, although he also incorporated parodic imitations of past styles and anticipated certain developments of the postwar avant-garde. The manifest difficulty of his musical idiom hindered public acceptance, although he received support from such leading conductors as Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, and Ernest Ansermet. His creative career ended on or about May 16, 1930, when, twenty-four years to the day after an apparent pact with the Devil, he suffered a mental collapse. He died on August 25, 1940, and is buried in Oberweiler churchyard. The principal source of information about his life is an unsystematic biography by his longtime friend Serenus Zeitblom.
March 06, 2016 | Permalink
On this week's episode of the miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson, Detective Mark Fuhrman, whose history of racial epithets helped to doom the prosecution of Simpson for double murder, is seen polishing his display case of Nazi memorabilia while the Meistersinger Prelude plays on the soundtrack. Apparently, Wagner is responsible not only for the Holocaust but also for systemic racism in American police departments.
March 03, 2016 | Permalink
The Italian-born composer Clara Iannotta, presently dividing her time between Berlin and Cambridge MA, transfixed an LA Phil Green Umbrella audience last night with the above-embedded work, Intent on Resurrection — Spring or Some Such Thing. It was part of an engrossing and far from conventional program, selected by John Adams and conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, that also included the world première of Annie Gosfield's Refracted Reflections and Telepathic Static, the American première of Chaya Czernowin's Knights of the Strange, and performances of Nancarrow's Sonatina and Lutosławski's Paganini Variations by the adventurous piano duo Michelle and Christina Naughton. The Naughtons have a new recording of Messiaen's Visions de l'Amen on Warner Classical; the disc also includes Adams's Hallelujah Junction and Bach's "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" in the Kurtág arrangement. They will appear at WQXR's Greene Space on March 23, playing the Messiaen alongside a semi-new Adams piece called Roll Over Beethoven (Preben Antonson's arrangement of Adams's Second Quartet).
March 02, 2016 | Permalink
The LA Philharmonic has announced its 2016-17 season, and, as usual, it makes most other orchestras look dull by comparison. There are twenty-one commissions and fourteen world premières, including new works by Kate Soper, Mario Diaz de León, James Matheson, and Gerald Barry (an evening-length piece entitled Alice's Adventures Under Ground). The major festival offering is a week of music from Iceland, co-curated by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Daníel Bjarnason. Gustavo Dudamel focuses on older fare, surveying Schubert symphonies, Mahler orchestral songs, and the Bartók piano concertos (with Yuja Wang), although he also addresses a number of contemporary works, including Andrew Norman's sprawling Play. The Schoenberg family will be happy to see the master's Piano Concerto sharing space with Mozart. John Adams's seventieth birthday is marked by performances of El Niño and Nixon in China. Thomas Adès is on hand to conduct his Totentanz and the Barry première. And Hopscotch mastermind Yuval Sharon, beginning a term as "artist-collaborator," presents an evening of Schubert songs and Beckett plays, featuring Ian Bostridge, and a staging of Lou Harrison's pioneering gay opera Young Caesar. The schedule is light on female composers, although that may change as more details of the Icelandic festival are announced. Deborah Borda, the orchestra's president, told Richard Ginell of Musical America that "Björk might well be appearing with the Iceland Symphony."
Across the street, LA Opera's 2016-17 season doesn't lag too far behind, featuring Glass's Akhnaten, Ted Hearne's The Source, a new Matthew Aucoin score for Murnau's Nosferatu, and Bernstein's Wonderful Town.
February 23, 2016 | Permalink
I've often complained about a classical-music marketing syndrome that might be called John Adams Conducts Respighi: the tendency to advertise concerts in a way that pointedly ignores new or unfamiliar works, as if they were mistakes to be covered up. If you want to bring audiences round to non-standard fare, you need to own it, take pride in it. So it was a pleasure to open Carnegie Hall's 2016-17 brochure, emblazoned with the words "Come Hear," and find that on many pages it is the new, unusual, lesser-known, or ostensibly "difficult" piece that is highlighted and briefly explicated: Vivaldi's Juditha triumphans, Webern's Pieces Opus 6, Adams's Gospel According to the Other Mary, Cage's The Seasons, Benjamin's Dream of the Song. In an inversion of the usual practice, a Boston Symphony program containing the "Eroica" is singled out on account of Gunther Schuller's Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee. More of this, please!
February 22, 2016 | Permalink
Photo: Parícutin, 1943, by C.S. Ross, USGS
There will be a major Kaija Saariaho première at the Netherlands Opera on March 15, with Peter Sellars directing: Only the sound remains, a pair of pieces inspired by Nôh drama. Philippe Jaroussky will sing the lead role, for countertenor. The work will also be heard at the Sellars edition of the Ojai Festival in June, this time with Anthony Roth Costanzo.... Peter Margasak, longtime music writer for the Chicago Reader, curates the experimental Frequency Series at Constellation in Chicago. Next week he will present a six-day festival, featuring the Fonema Consort playing Lachenmann, Kagel, and Maiguashca; a.pe.ri.od.ic playing prose scores; Mocrep playing Maximilian Marcoll and Mathias Monrad Møller; Tim Munro playing Sciarrino's L'opera; Claire Chase playing some of her recent "Density" commissions; the Spektral Quartet playing Thomalla and Furrer; and Ensemble Dal Niente offering a “Hard Music, Hard Liquor” program of George Lewis, Furrer, Barrett, and Sivan Cohen Elias.... Wandelweiser west: Manfred Werder appears tonight at The Wulf in LA, in a program including Werder's 20161, Michael Pisaro's A certain species of eternity, and Christian Wolff's Metal & Breath.... Also in LA, on March 1 the Green Umbrella series will present an Annie Gosfield world première and a Chaya Czernowin U.S. première (Knights of the Strange), with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting.... A few decades ago, the sound artist Bruce Odland came across an ultra-reverberant water tank outside Rangely, Colorado. Having saved the tank from being scrapped in 2013, Odland and allies are now seeking funds to open the space as an international arts center.... On Feb. 23, Lisa Moore will give a live rendition of her new Cantaloupe CD The Stone People at LPR in NYC: works of Missy Mazzoli, Kate Moore, Julia Wolfe, John Luther Adams, Frederic Rzewski, and Martin Bresnick.
February 20, 2016 | Permalink
In France, the literary world once elected the "prince des poètes" — the unofficial master of the game. The title "prince des compositeurs," shorn of gender, might go to György Kurtág, who celebrates his ninetieth birthday today. Above is his most recent work, Petite musique solennelle en hommage à Pierre Boulez 90, which was written for Boulez's ninetieth and which now sadly doubles as a memorial. An admiring world wishes Kurtág the best of health as he works on his opera Fin de partie, scheduled for a première at La Scala in November. Editio Musica Budapest has published a birthday greeting from Simon Rattle and a video of Kurtág playing Bach with his wife, Marta — "the most incredible team in classical music," as Rattle properly says. There will be a live stream of the Petite musique from the Berlin Philharmonic tomorrow, with Rattle conducting. I also strongly recommend Jeremy Eichler's 2007 profile of Kurtág.
Previously: Hold the Mozart.
February 19, 2016 | Permalink
When I was working on a column about the St. Louis Symphony's magnificent performance of Messiaen's Des Canyons aux étoiles, I saw mention of a story about Roger Kaza, the orchestra's principal horn. In 1982, Kaza had played the Appel interstellaire, the work's great solo-horn movement, in a branch of the Grand Canyon, and had sent a recording of the feat to the composer. Adam Crane, the St. Louis's vice president for external affairs, put me in touch with Kaza, who sent me a remarkable memoir of the event. I asked if I could publish it on the blog; he consented, and here it is.
"Messiaen’s Canyons, in the Canyon"
by Roger Kaza
I first heard about Olivier Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles… (From the Canyons to the Stars…) in 1974, the very year it was written. I was nineteen years old. An enthusiastic church organist in my hometown of Portland, Oregon was going on about it. “It’s got a huge horn solo,” he exclaimed. This struck me as improbable. I knew the composer’s iconic Quartet for the End of Time, with its solo clarinet movement, but could hardly imagine a work of such depth and quality for solo horn. If it did exist, neither I nor anyone I knew had seen the music. For years, the mythical Messiaen movement lingered in the back of my mind, like one of his reclusive birds.
Eight years later, however, curiosity returned. A group of us were planning a three-week self-guided raft trip down the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. I had applied for a National Park Service permit about four years earlier, and the long-awaited adventure was finally on the horizon. A number of musicians were going, including trumpeter Tim Morrison—who became John Williams’s soloist of choice in movies like JFK and Born on the Fourth of July—and violist/singer Lorraine Hunt, later of operatic legend. In addition to rafting and camping, we planned to explore side canyons and test the acoustics of the world’s most famous canyon. What better piece to play than the Messiaen Canyons, if it existed?
February 18, 2016 | Permalink
February 17, 2016 | Permalink
The community of American music is in mourning for Steven Stucky, a composer of consummate skill and a colleague of rare generosity. He died yesterday in Ithaca, NY, at the age of sixty-six; Michael Cooper, of the New York Times, reports that the cause was brain cancer. I knew him only slightly, but he struck me as the kind of person who takes pleasure as much in the success of others as in his own — a characteristic that made him widely beloved, not least among a couple of generations of students at Cornell. He was also a superb public advocate for contemporary music, notably during his long run as composer-in-residence at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Amid a sizable corpus of works, the environmental tone poem Silent Spring, based on the book by Rachel Carson, deserves particular praise. Its long, desolate fade from an apocalyptic climax shows that Stucky was more than a craftsman; like Copland and Bernstein before him, he could make the orchestra an oratorical medium.
February 15, 2016 | Permalink