I saw Pierre Boulez conduct about twenty times. The last was in 2010, when he led the Chicago Symphony, Michelle DeYoung, and Falk Struckmann in Bluebeard's Castle. The most remarkable was the engulfing presentation of Répons at Carnegie in 2003, but I also prize memories of the Mahler Sixth, with the Staatskapelle Berlin, in 2009; the Berg Three Pieces for Orchestra, with the London Symphony, in 2000; and the Rite, with the London Symphony, in 1995 and again in 2005. The first time was in 1992, at the New York Philharmonic's 150th-anniversary celebration of itself. Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, and Boulez shared conducting duties; Boulez led La Mer. On YouTube you can find a video of the performance; working under what must have been peculiar conditions, the conductor is not at his best, but at the end of the third movement he elicits a perfectly Boulezian state of disciplined frenzy. The image above shows him holding the final sustained chord as if upon a silver platter — the maître d' at the Grand Hotel Abyss. This was, sadly, his final appearance with the orchestra that he guided through one of its most inventive periods.
January 10, 2016 | Permalink
The German conductor died today at the age of eighty-eight.
His finest moment at the New York Philharmonic was, by general consensus, his performance of Brahms's German Requiem in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. I wrote this in The New Yorker:
During the Second World War, Wallace Stevens asked, quoting Shakespeare, "How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?" How, in other words, can artists respond to news that exceeds their most extravagant nightmares? Stevens answered that poets "help us to live our lives," and the best they have to give is a certain quality of nobility, which he defined as "a violence from within that protects us from a violence without." That phrase captures the phenomenal power of the Philharmonic's German Requiem, which also involved Thomas Hampson, Heidi Grant Murphy, the New York Choral Artists, and the American Boychoir, all under the direction of Kurt Masur. This was no refuge of melancholy, no place of sorrow and self-pity. You were aware at all times of the life force in the music—its steady drones and syncopated pulses, its bursts of anger, its consoling warmth.
Brahms's Requiem is German in the same sense that Luther's Bible is German: it was intended not for the élite but for the masses, and it was dedicated chiefly to the living. In the opening movement, "Blessed are they that mourn," there was a sense that the chorus was singing as much for itself as for the audience. Hampson sang magnificently, with a welcome lack of pretense. Masur, who is beginning his final season with the orchestra, chose tempos so unerringly natural that he almost removed himself from the picture. Before the performance started, he stood with the immobility of an honor guard, declining to acknowledge the audience. He was, in that moment, absolutely noble.
December 19, 2015 | Permalink
Ian Bostridge, Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession (Knopf)
Jessica Hopper, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (featherproof)
Rufus Jones, Jr., Dean Dixon: Negro at Home, Maestro Abroad (Rowman & Littlefield)
Elijah Wald, Dylan Goes Electric! (Dey Street)
Michael Church, ed., The Other Classical Musics: Fifteen Great Traditions (Boydell)
Renée Levine Packer and Mary Jane Leach, eds., Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music (University of Rochester Press)
J. Martin Daughtry, Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq (Oxford)
Vincent Giroud, Nicolas Nabokov (Oxford)
Douglas W. Shadle, Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise (Oxford)
December 18, 2015 | Permalink
John Darnielle, of the Mountain Goats, has a long, fascinating meditation on the Halberstadt John Cage project in Harper's. This, of course, is the performance of Cage's Organ2/ASLSP (As Slow as Possible) that began in 2001 and is scheduled to continue until the year 2640. Right now the organ is playing the notes D-sharp, A-sharp, and E, and will hold them until 2020.... I can't quite bring myself to rank Strauss above Mahler, but I concur with Ethan Iverson's points in praise of the Sorcerer of Garmisch. Yes to the Parergon, and even more to the Panathenäenzug, one of whose variations skates dangerously close to Gershwin.... An excellent Wet Ink program at St. Peter's in Chelsea, NYC, on Dec. 15: Fernando Garnero's Ballad, Agata Zubel's Cascando, Alex Mincek's Color-Form-Line, George Lewis's Anthem, Fred Lerdahl's Give and Take, Sam Pluta's hydra.... The violinist Michelle Ross has been playing Bach's sonatas and partitas in spaces all over New York and recounting her journey in a series of perceptive, affecting blog posts. This week she'll be at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, among other places. On Dec. 22 she'll play the entire cycle in a Pied Piper Marathon.... The SEM Ensemble will give its annual Paula Cooper concert on Dec. 19, presenting the American première of Alvin Lucier's Orpheus Variations, alongside works of Xenakis, Eli Greenhoe, Liisa Hirsch, the seventeenth-century Czech composer Pavel Vejvanovský, and Petr Kotik, longtime leader of SEM. Hirsch, not to be confused with the proprietor of Iron Tongue of Midnight, is a discovery for me; she has some beautiful, ghostly pieces on her Soundcloud.... The lineup for the Peter Sellars edition of the Ojai Festival has been announced. It consists almost entirely of female composers: Kaija Saariaho, Pauline Oliveros, Caroline Shaw, Carla Kihlstedt, Dina El Wedidi, Aruna Sairam, Tania León, Sharon Hurvitz. Tyshawn Sorey, Claude Vivier.
December 12, 2015 | Permalink
Items of interest in BBC 3's temporary archive: Georg Friedrich Haas's opera Morgen und Abend, from the Royal Opera, and Andrew Norman's percussion concerto Switch, from the BBC Symphony. The latter also has absorbing accounts, under the direction of Sakari Oramo, of Hovhaness's Mysterious Mountain and Strauss's Alpine Symphony — a fun pair. Both links will expire in a few weeks.
December 11, 2015 | Permalink