New and recent titles of interest.
Daniel Bergner, Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family (Lee Boudreaux)
Virgil Thomson, The State of Music & Other Writings, ed. Tim Page (Library of America)
Michael Marissen, Bach & God (Oxford UP)
Jack Hamilton, Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination (Harvard UP)
Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School (Verso)
Jennie Gottschalk, Experimental Music Since 1970 (Bloomsbury)
Branden W. Joseph, Experimentations: John Cage in Music, Art, and Architecture (Bloomsbury)
Michael Reynolds, Creating Der Rosenkavalier: From Chevalier to Cavalier (Boydell)
September 12, 2016 | Permalink
Cantos Cautivos is an extraordinary digital archive devoted to music written, sung, and heard in centers for political detention and torture in Chile under the regime of Augusto Pinochet, who seized power on September 11, 1973, with clandestine American support. I've only just begun to explore the library, which includes not only musical examples but also testimonies connected with performances in the camps. Here is Renato Alvarado Vidal talking about a spontaneous rendition of the "Ode to Joy" in Cuatro Álamos: "...The warm air of a Santiago autumn entered the cell together with the 'Ode to Joy,' sung by the recognized prisoners of the adjacent prison section: '…Listen, brother, to the song of joy…' And of course he listened, and he sang. I am a terrible singer. Once at Puchuncaví concentration camp, they noticed that out of 320 singers I was the one singing the National Anthem out of tune. But at that moment, I sang too. With all my heart I joined my comrades’ chorus, and I sang. I sang all my joy of staying alive and standing up on my own two feet."
Previously: Music and Violence.
September 10, 2016 | Permalink
In my column this week on the wide world of Wandelweiser, I mention Jennie Gottschalk's new book Experimental Music Since 1970 (Bloomsbury). Jennie has built an amazing website called Sound Expanse, which contains vast quantities of material relating to the exploratory music of recent decades. A few days ago she put up a Wandelweiser page, gathering links to many of the principal composers. See also her previous "resource guides" to Jürg Frey and Michael Pisaro, either of which will keep you listening for hours.
A 2009 essay by Pisaro gives an elegant, personal overview of the history and philosophy of the group. In my column I quoted Pisaro's essay "Time's Underground" and Houben's note for her double-bass piece nachtstück. Much helpful information is contained in J. Douglas Barrett's essay "The Silent Network," which appeared in a 2012 Wandelweiser issue of the Contemporary Music Review; in Tim Rutherford-Johnson's 2012 essay "Some Recent Silences," for NewMusicBox; and in Steve Smith's 2014 Boston Globe piece on Pisaro. I was late in coming to terms with Wandelweiser, and I'm grateful to Tim, Steve, and Will Robin's writing for guiding me past some quizzical first reactions.
Points of departure? I might suggest Frey's Second Quartet (a Soundcloud version of the Quatuor Bozzini's Edition Wandelweiser recording); Eva-Maria Houben's abgemalt (a stream of Andy Lee's Irritable Hedgehog recording); a segment of Manfred Werder's stück 1998, with Cristián Alvear, also on Irritable Hedgehog; Antoine Beuger's memory waves, on Vimeo (many more Wandelweiser videos here); and a YouTube excerpt from Pisaro's fields have ears (1) (drawn from Philip Thomas's recording on Another Timbre). Those prepared to make a more substantial investment can pick up Another Timbre's six-CD set Wandelweiser und so weiter. Beyond that, the catalogues of Edition Wandelweiser, Another Timbre, Irritable Hedgehog, Erstwhile, Gravity Wave (Pisaro's personal label), diafani (home of much Houben), and others run to hundreds of entries. More is on the way: I've been listening to an early version of Reinier van Houdt's three-disc survey of Pisaro piano music, soon to emerge on Erstwhile. As I say in my column, many of these releases are not as effortlessly summoned from the ether as we've been conditioned to expect in the digital era, but one can, for example, easily obtain a download of Pisaro's Tombstones.
The percussionist Greg Stuart, one of Pisaro's closest collaborators, will be touring the East Coast this month. On Sept. 16, he'll collaborate with OpenICE on the first full live performance of Pisaro's ricefall (2), at Abron Arts Center in NYC. The sounds of rice grains falling on metallic surfaces will be joined to sine tones and pitched instrumental parts. Read more in Jennie Gottschalk's recent interview with Stuart. The Wandelweiser calendar brings news of events around the world.
September 04, 2016 | Permalink
The latest issue of the journal Music and Literature pays deservingly lavish tribute to the critic, scholar, novelist, and librettist Paul Griffiths. One can read online a wide-ranging interview with Paul, in which he gives an unsparing perspective on the decline of music criticism: "Criticism, in the sense of an engagement that strives to elucidate and interpret rather than award points, seems to me to be integral to a shared culture and unsustainable without such a culture." Several pieces describe the genesis of Paul's Ophelia novel, let me tell you, and the subsequent adaptation by Hans Abrahamsen, one of the great works of recent years. I was particularly interested in Paul's report on recent festivities in Budapest marking the ninetieth birthday of György Kurtág. The event gave tantalizing glimpses of Kurtág's opera-in-progress, Endgame. A series of announcements and postponements of the première, at Salzburg and then at La Scala, has raised fears that the opera may never see the light of day, but the score is clearly at an advanced stage of composition and is already being rehearsed. In Budapest, Kurtág was seen coaching the contralto Hilary Summers on a setting of Beckett's poem "Roundelay," with which the opera will begin. According to Paul, the excerpt suggests that Endgame will be "more abrupt, more disrupted, to be delivered by voices less sure of where the next note, the next word, will be coming from, but that it will also be lit by the later lyricism." One can hear a snippet of the music and catch sight of the full score in a Euronews video, which also shows Kurtág to be in seemingly robust health. Paul reports that the opera is now "confidently expected" for Salzburg in 2018.
August 27, 2016 | Permalink
“Art’s a funny thing, doesn’t seem to have any connection with our lives, just gets itself made—and when it is good there’s no time in it at all. Kills time, that’s art. Brings up a lot of old ideas we thought were dead. Not dead at all. Time can’t kill anything, says art. Art kills time.”
— William Carlos Williams, A Voyage to Pagany
August 26, 2016 | Permalink
New and recent releases of interest.
— John Adams, Scheherazade.2; Leila Josefowicz, violin, with David Robertson conducting the St. Louis Symphony (Nonesuch, released Sept. 30)
— Sibelius, Symphonies Nos. 3, 6, 7; Osmo Vänskä conducting the Minnesota Orchestra (BIS, released Sept. 9)
— Robert Carl, Symphony No. 4, The Geography of Loss, and other works; Christopher Zimmermann conducting the Hartt Symphony, various other performers (New World)
— Messiaen, Des Canyons aux étoiles; Alan Gilbert conducting forces from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, with Inon Barnatan, Daniel Druckman, Jeff Milarsky, and Philip Myers (eOne)
— Stravinsky, Threni, Requiem Canticles; Philippe Herreweghe conducting the Collegium Vocale Gent (PHI)
— Verismo: Anna Netrebko, with Antonio Pappano conducting the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (DG)
— Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Real Enemies (New Amsterdam)
— Bartók, String Quartets Nos. 1-6; Chiara String Quartet (Azica)
August 25, 2016 | Permalink
An important, dismaying read: Ethan Iverson on Steinway, John Paulson, and Donald Trump.... Earlier this month, a group led by the composer Ashley Fure unsettled the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music with GRID, or Gender Research in Darmstadt, an activist initiative highlighting the severe under-representation of female composers in Darmstadt's history. Fure's essay "Reflections on Risk" is a crucial document. In the midst of the furor, Fure's opera The Force of Things had its official première.... On the horizon: Infinite Now, a major operatic score by Chaya Czernowin, will have its première in Gent next April. Czernowin discussed the project in Darmstadt.... The Carlsbad Music Festival returns Aug. 26-28: the lineup includes two shows by SoCal new-music heroes wild UP, the acclaimed "West" program and a new one entitled "Future Folk" .... Listen on the BBC website to the recent Thomas Adès Prom, with Francisco Coll's Four Iberian Miniatures and the new orchestral version of Adès's Lieux retrouvés.... Tim Rutherford-Johnson writes about Linda Catlin Smith.... On Aug. 27, Rite of Summer will present John Luther Adams's Inuksuit on Governors Island in NYC. Amy Garapic directs more than sixty percussionists.... In Van, David Menestres examines the welcome surge of interest in Julius Eastman, with particular focus on the new Frozen Reeds release of Femenine (also touted by Hua Hsu on the New Yorker website).... Two longtime Noise friends are taking up new jobs: Marc Geelhoed, of Time Out Chicago and the Chicago Symphony, will become Director of Digital Initiatives at the Detroit Symphony; and Steve Smith, of Time Out New York, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe, will be Director of Publications at National Sawdust. Congrats to both! ... I neglected to post a link here to Will Robin's doctoral thesis, "A Scene Without a Name." Will, once my summertime assistant, is now teaching at the University of Maryland. Huzzah!
August 20, 2016 | Permalink
New and recent recordings of interest.
— Liszt, Transcendental Etudes, Concert Etudes, Grandes Études de Paganini; Daniil Trifonov (DG, released Oct. 7)
— Liszt, Transcendental Etudes; Kirill Gerstein (Myrios)
— Bacewicz, Complete String Quartets; Silesian Quartet (Chandos)
— Kristin Norderval, Ida Heidel, Nusch Werchowska, Parrhésie (Losen)
— Jürg Frey, String Quartet No. 3, Unhörbare Zeit; Quatuor Bozzini, Lee Ferguson, Christian Smith (Edition Wandelweiser)
— Peter Adriaansz, Attachments, Phrase, Fraction, Enclosures; Saskia Lankhoorn, Ensemble Klang, Trio Scordatura (Ergodos)
— Mozart, Piano Concertos K. 413-415; Kristian Bezuidenhout, Freiburger Barockorchester (Harmonia Mundi)
— Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli, Guerrero, Regina coeli, Victoria, Missa O quam gloriosum, Gaudent in coelis; New York Polyphony (BIS)
— Brahms, Violin Sonatas; Christian Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt (Ondine)
August 12, 2016 | Permalink
In yesterday's New York Times David Segal complained about the arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that is being played at the Olympics in Rio. Ordinarily, I'm all for harmonic analysis in the mainstream press, but the article takes an irritatingly jingoistic tone, arguing that the presence of a few minor chords creates a "defeatist" atmosphere. To my ears, the harmonization reflects the influence of pop arrangements created for Whitney Houston and others. Listen, for example, to the chord under "free" in the version by that defeatist melancholic Mariah Carey. There is, of course, a long history of hysteria over allegedly unpatriotic treatments of "The Star-Spangled Banner," going back to the police action against Stravinsky's ill-fated arrangement. Yet John Philip Sousa got away with his blatant Wagnerization of the anthem.
More: Tim Smith, of the Baltimore Sun, recalls that we have been down this road before, in the kerfuffle over Peter Breiner's arrangement of the anthem in 2004. Philip Kennicott wrote a thoughtful Washington Post piece on the subject.
August 12, 2016 | Permalink
The German composer, a poet of tense simplicity, will appear at Café Oto, in London, on Aug. 30, playing her works for piano. On CD, Andy Lee's recording of abgemalt, on Irritable Hedgehog, is a good point of departure for an exploration of Houben's spare, spacious world. The composer and organist Carson Cooman has recorded several of Houben's large-scale works for organ; on YouTube, you can hear his renditions of drones and finished — unfinished. Edition Wandelweiser has the composer's own account of her Orgelbuch. The double-bass piece Nachtstück, excerpted above, has been recorded both by Dominic Lash, for Another Timbre, and by Scott Worthington, for Bandcamp.
August 10, 2016 | Permalink
This segment of John Oliver's show Last Week Tonight is far too brutally accurate to get the laughs that it deserves. Even the throwaway jokes are precisely sourced: for example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution indeed cut its full-time film critic in 2007, along with the remainder of its arts-critic staff. (Pierre Ruhe, at one time the AJC's excellent classical critic, is now the director of artistic planning at the Alabama Symphony.) One irony missed in the Spotlight parody at the end: the Boston Globe took great pride in that film, and yet it has been cutting back on arts criticism because it's not "clicky" enough.
August 08, 2016 | Permalink