A Cultural Comment on reactions to Wagner at the Oscars.
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
My reading into the curious life of Olga Plümacher-Hünerwadel, born in Lenzburg and buried in Beersheba Springs, Tennessee, probably won't make it into the final manuscript of Wagnerism, but I enjoy having this book on my desk.
The author explains Tennessee to his readers: "Hundert Kilometer weiter östlich von Beersheba Springs liegt Chatanooga. Das war einst Zentrum der Stahlindustrie (Carnegie) und der kühnen Eisenbahnprojekte der amerikanischen Gründerzeit (Vanderbilt). Die berühmte 'Chattanooga Choo-Choo'-Lokomotive ist heute im Museum zu besichtigen. Das Kohle- und Eisenbahnzeitalter, die Epoche der 'Robber Barons,' der rücksichtlosen frühindustriellen Großunternehmer, ist längst vorbei. Die großen Geschäfte werden nicht mehr in Tennessee gemacht. Tennessee hat heute nur noch drei weltberühmte Exportartikel: den Jack Daniels-Whisky aus Lynchburgh, die Western Music aus der 'Grand Old Oprey' in Nashville und Elvis Presley aus Memphis."
February 13, 2016 | Permalink
— Hans Abrahamsen, let me tell you; Barbara Hannigan, with Andris Nelsons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony (Winter & Winter)
— Górecki, Symphony No. 4; Andrey Boreyko conducting the London Philharmonic (Nonesuch)
— Liza Lim, Winding Bodies, The Heart's Ear, Jon Øivind Ness, Gimilen; Cikada Ensemble at the Huddersfield Festival (LAWO Classics)
— Pachelbel, Un orage d’avril (Suites from Musikalische Ergötzung, Canon & Gigue, Arias); Hans-Jörg Mammel, Amandine Beyer leading Gli Incogniti (Harmonia Mundi)
— Rihm, Two Other Movements, Abkehr, Schattenstück; Roger Norrington and Christian Arming conducting the SWR Radio Symphony (SWR Music)
— Anders Hillborg, Beast Sampler, O dessa ögon, Cold Heat, Sirens; Ida Falk Winland, Hannah Holgersson,
Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Swedish Radio Choir, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic conducted by Sakari Oramo, David Zinman, Esa-Pekka Salonen (BIS)
— Luzzaschi, Madrigals, Motets, and Instrumental Music; Profeti della Quinta (Pan Classics)
— Linda Catlin Smith, Nocturnes and Chorales, Thought and Desire, The Underfolding; Eve Egoyan (Earwitness Editions)
— Kati Agócs, The Debrecen Passion and other works; Agócs, Lisa Bielawa, Lorelei Ensemble, Gil Rose conducting the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP)
February 11, 2016 | Permalink
Ben Ratliff, Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty (FSG)
A. O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism (Penguin)
Matthew Bribitzer-Stull, Understanding the Leitmotif: From Wagner to Hollywood Film Music (Cambridge UP)
Walter Moskalew, Anna Moskalewa-Richter, and Dagmar von Reincke, Svetik: A Family Memoir of Sviatoslav Richter (Toccata)
Edward Dusinberre, Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet (Faber & Faber, University of Chicago Press May 2016)
Renée Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach, eds., Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music (University of Rochester Press)
February 07, 2016 | Permalink
The City of Birmingham Symphony, which in recent decades has shown exceptional acuity in hiring gifted young conductors (Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo, Andris Nelsons), today announced as its next music director the young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who is presently Gustavo Dudamel's assistant at the LA Phil. I first encountered Gražinytė-Tyla in 2014 at the Hollywood Bowl, where she delivered a potent Mahler First. I've seen her on two other occasions, and each time she has exhibited musicality, intelligence, confidence, and, above all, vitality. Perhaps the biggest obstacle she faces as she rises in the profession is her intimidating name. The above video may be of assistance.
February 04, 2016 | Permalink
The viol consort Sonnambula is set to explore the music of the seventeenth-century Flemish composer Leonora Duarte, who came from a distinguished family of converted Portuguese Jews. Sonnambula is recording her seven Sinfonias, and on Feb. 13 they will give an allied concert at the Church of St. Ignatius of Antioch in NYC.... The gifted young composer Ashley Fure, an agile manipulator of instrumental, electronic, and environmental sounds, will be the subject of a Portrait Concert at Miller Theatre tomorrow night, Feb. 4. David Allen recently profiled her in the New York Times. ICE will present Fure's opera The Force of Things in Darmstadt on Aug. 1, with a preview in NYC preceding. A trailer provides tantalizing glimpses.... When the Minnesota Orchestra had its near-extinction lockout crisis a few years ago, a Sibelius series in progress fell by the wayside. No earthly power can stop Osmo Vänskä from conducting Sibelius; he and the orchestra will return to the field in coming weeks, first revisiting the Kullervo Symphony on Feb. 4-6 — their 2010 performance sent me into a fit of superlatives — and then reviving the "lost program," of the First and Third symphonies, first in Minneapolis Feb. 18-20 and then at Carnegie Hall on March 3. .... On Friday night in Boston, the Sound Icon series will explore the eerie, crystalline music of Hans Abrahamsen, performing his Winternacht and Schnee. The composer will be on hand for an interview. More soon on the subject of Abrahamsen's vocal-orchestral work let me tell you, a superb recording of which is now available from the Winter & Winter label, with Barbara Hannigan singing and Andris Nelsons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony.... The polymathic New York Times critic Ben Ratliff has a fascinating new book called Every Song Ever, in which he organizes a huge variety of music not by genre but by texture or gesture (slow, fast, dense, repetitive, etc.). On Feb. 8 I will talk to Ben at Skylight Books in Los Angeles, one of the country's finest independent bookstores.
February 03, 2016 | Permalink
Carnegie Hall has announced a handsomely varied 2016-17 season. There are various noteworthy events — a new Steve Reich piece, Pulse; a Barenboim marathon of Bruckner symphonies and Mozart concertos; the Boston Symphony playing George Benjamin's Dream of the Song; the St. Louis playing John Adams's Gospel According to the Other Mary; some finely curated Simon Rattle programs — but the centerpiece is a sprawling celebration of the music and culture of the Venetian Republic. I haven't been so convinced in the past by Carnegie's geographical festivals, but this one has an impressively lavish scope and lineup. New York early-music groups have complained that Carnegie ignores them in favor of European imports; the hall has paid heed, and this time features Tenet in two presentations, of Vivaldi's Juditha triumphans and of women in seventeenth-century Italy. Quicksilver is also included, alongside such groups as the Venice Baroque Orchestra, Il Pomo d'Oro, Gallicantus, Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI, the Tallis Scholars, Cappella Mediterranea, and Concerto Italiano (in a concert performance of L'incoronazione di Poppea). La Serenissima should be pleased.
January 27, 2016 | Permalink
A Cultural Comment on the New Yorker website.
A further thought: when the remarkable Carlos Moseley was in charge, in the sixties and seventies, the Philharmonic pursued a consistent vision. Bernstein and Boulez were very different personalities, but they both believed in modernizing the orchestra, and took steps to achieve that goal. Since then, the Philharmonic's choices have been more reactive than purposeful. When Boulez was perceived as too cool and controlling, they picked the effusive Zubin Mehta. When Mehta was perceived as lacking in discipline, they chose the taskmaster Kurt Masur. When Masur was seen as too domineering, they went for Lorin Maazel, a minimalist in rehearsal. When Maazel was seen as too unadventurous, they chose Alan Gilbert. When Gilbert was thought to be limited in his approach to mainstream repertory, they chose van Zweden. And so on: this is an orchestra going around in circles, lacking clear direction.
January 27, 2016 | Permalink