Yes, it's the future mezzo playing the Sonata for Viola Four Hands, S. 440, in conjunction with Robert Levine, who sent the picture along. Now the principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony and also a contributor at Polyphonic, Robert often shared a stand with Lorraine during her viola-centric years, especially at George Cleve's Midsummer Mozart Festival. He remembers her as a gifted and generous player. Incidentally, the oddest of Bach's twenty-odd children is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his none-too-belated rediscovery.
January 07, 2015 | Permalink
Eduard Tubin's Sixth Symphony, with Neeme Järvi conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony. Apropos of nothing, the opening and closing of the second movement served as theme music for my college-radio show, "Music Since 1900." Tubin also composed one of the most viscerally thrilling endings in the symphonic literature, the timpani-driven coda of his Fifth Symphony. Järvi conducted a tremendous New York Philharmonic performance of the Fifth in 1995.
The Los Angeles blogger CK Dexter Haven has devised an amusing game: pick your favorite numbered symphonies, one through nine. Brian Lauritzen has added his own entry, and there are sure to be others. I have decided to make the bold choice of omitting Beethoven — he gets enough publicity — and am offering this mildly eccentric list:
Nielsen, Symphony No. 1
Ives, Symphony No. 21
Lutosławski, Symphony No. 32
Brahms, Symphony No. 43
Ustvolskaya, Symphony No. 5
Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 6
Sibelius, Symphony No. 7
Schubert, Symphony No. 8
Mahler, Symphony No. 9
It's painful to leave out Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Martinů, and my beloved Eduard Tubin, among many others, but so the chips fall in one neck of the woods.
1. These first two could easily have been reversed. Also, I was sorely tempted to include Popov's astounding First.
2. An agonizing number, with the Eroica, the Roussel, and the great American Thirds. But the Lutosławski enchants me so deeply every time I hear it.
3. Another agonizing number, with Sibelius, Nielsen, and Shostakovich at their most intense. But the finale of the Brahms obliterates all.
"I could point you to important pieces written for a set of completely voiceless trumpets that I call the bugles of Silence, after the model of the unrecoverable buccins that once overthrew the walls of Jericho. "
— the composer Pouyadou, in Léon Bloy's "Le musicien du silence" (1893)
Previously: Imaginary Concerts.
Andrew Norman's Play, recorded here by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, is a sprawling, engulfing, furiously unpredictable piece in three symphonic movements. (Above is the first, "Level 1.") Will Robin has gone so far as to declare that Play "might be the best orchestral work that the 21st century has seen thus far" — an announcement that spurred a lively Twitter discussion of other candidates for that accolade, with emphasis on purely orchestral works more than half an hour long. I seconded Tim Rutherford-Johnson's nomination of Adès's Totentanz and Czernowin's MAIM, but, having listened to Play at least a dozen times, I won't dismiss Will's suggestion out of hand. I'll have more to say further down the line, particularly when an opportunity arises to hear the music live. At the BMOP site, you can read fine notes by Daniel Stephen Johnson and the composer's own reflections.
January 05, 2015 | Permalink
Here, belatedly, are a few more thoughts on the organ-and-orchestra repertory, in the wake of last month's column on the subject. Michael Barone, prefacing his master list, points out how many orchestral works require an organ part, and how much is lost when some feeble electronic replica is substituted. In the column, I named three obvious cases: Mahler's Second and Eighth Symphonies and Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra. Barone also highlights, among others, Vaughan Williams's Sea Symphony, Ives's Fourth Symphony, Elgar's Enigma, several big Respighi pieces, and Janáček's Glagolitic Mass. (In October, the last-named received an exceptional performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Alan Gilbert conducting.) Barone writes: "Remove the organ from Tchaikovsky’s Manfred, Bartók’s Bluebeard, or Mahler’s Resurrection and you’ve got a flat soufflé." It really is fairly crippling that New York's two big concert halls both lack a proper organ.
There are some neglected gems to be found on Barone's list, and orchestras with access to a concert organ should program them more often. A personal favorite is Jón Leifs's Organ Concerto, an astonishingly bold piece completed in 1930. Medieval-sounding chants in parallel fifths, inspired by the old Icelandic practice of tvísöngur (twin-song), collide with pinwheeling triads and brazen dissonances. The core of the concerto is an immense, grittily orchestrated passacaglia of thirty variations. The opening is also very memorable:
From a recording on the BIS label, with En Shao conducting the Iceland Symphony and Björn Steinar Sólbergsson at the organ.
A plea also for Frank Martin's Erasmi monumentum, a 1969 work honoring the quincentennial of Erasmus. Here the organ tends to brood behind and within the orchestra, representing the great Dutch humanist's quizzical relationship with the world around him. There are three movements: "Homo pro se" ("A man unto himself"); "Stultitiae laus" ("In Praise of Folly"); and "Querela pacis" ("The Complaint of Peace"). The middle movement is a freewheeling scherzo in an irregularly dancing triple metre, with the organ cast in vernacular, irreverent guise. Martin was apparently unhappy with the result of his labors, but Erasmi monumentum is not only among his strongest late-period works but one of the most finely controlled, fully realized organ-and-orchestra pieces in the repertory. The YouTube video at the top of this post has Matthias Bamert conducting the London Philharmonic, with Leslie Pearson at the organ; the recording is from Chandos's invaluable Martin cycle.
A fascinating subculture of the contemporary organ world involves the meeting of this oldest and grandest of instruments with avant-garde discourse — a confluence that goes back to pioneering postwar works of Messiaen, Ligeti, Hambraeus, and Kagel. Over in the UK, the composer-organist Lauren Redhead has given particular attention to music for organ and electronics; you can watch one of her recent programs on Vimeo here. See also her release entoptic landscape; version 1 of the title piece is scored for a sonorous blend of trombone, four tubas, and organ. In these parts, David Broome has been cultivating works for organ and electronics, notably in a Qubit Music concert last fall. You can here watch a video of David Bird's Commercial Vignette, whose musical material is generated by barcodes for various products: Clorox bleach, a Red Bull, the complete Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc. I'm sorry to have missed the Qubit event, which also included Lisa Streich's Seraph, for cello and organ.
January 01, 2015 | Permalink
My column in this week's New Yorker makes brief reference to the Irish-born composer-vocalist Jennifer Walshe. Above is an excerpt from Walshe's video-and-live-performance piece The Total Mountain, which was presented at the most recent Donaueschingen Festival, at the invitation of the late and widely lamented Armin Köhler. It's hazardous to generalize about what is going on, but we here see a variety of composer-generated personae vocalizing happenstance tweets: one is fixated on the young males who constitute the pop band One Direction; another is very much concerned with secret incursions of the Illuminati into pop culture; and a third recites lines from the work of Harold Pinter. You can sample more of Walshe's work on the We Are Grúpat YouTube channel — Grúpat being an one-woman art collective in which Walshe assumes nine different alter egos.
I also mention Corey Dargel, whose new album, It's OK It's Not OK, will appear in late January on the New Amsterdam label. The I Care If You Listen blog has a preview of one of the tracks. Dargel's 2009 NewMusicBox essay on "artsongwriters" is an important document of the hard-to-define tendency I discuss in the column. This is the place for a fond reminiscence of the now apparently dormant Professor Heebie McJeebie.
UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance will present Gabriel Kahane's The Ambassador in February.
December 31, 2014 | Permalink
Like many of my colleagues, I am unhappy to hear that Allan Kozinn, a hugely knowledgeable observer and chronicler of the New York music scene, has been laid off from the New York Times. He had been writing for the paper since the 1970s and became a staff critic in 1991. Will Robin has a compilation of classic Kozinn stories. In the past couple of years, Allan was inexplicably relegated to covering the felonious escapades of pop stars; let's hope that at other publications he will return to the classical beat he knows so well. I can do no better than to quote Jeremy Eichler: "Superb critic, treasured colleague, extraordinary mensch."
December 20, 2014 | Permalink
Jane Freilicher, "Yellow." Courtesy of Tibor de Nagy.
Over at WQXR, Anne Midgette, David Patrick Stearns, and Zachary Woolfe have an excellent wrap-up of the year's highs and lows. Also worth noting is a capacious CD list by George Grella. He's absolutely right about the Harbison disc — the String Trio is a piece in which every note seems to count. A few other notable discs that I overlooked in my year-end list: Panufnik's Ninth Symphony and Bassoon Concerto (Heritage), the Seattle Symphony's Dutilleux disc, Philip Thomas's Christian Wolff collection on Sub Rosa, and Olga Bell's Край (Krai), the last of which can be filed with Gabriel Kahane's masterly The Ambassador under Genre TBA.
Notable music books: Tim Page's Virgil Thomson: Music Chronicles, Thomas Forrest Kelly's Capturing Music, James Klosty's John Cage Was, Eric Weisbard's Top 40 Democracy, Mark Berry's After Wagner, Nicholas Mathew's Political Beethoven, Susan Tomes's Sleeping in Temples, Ellen Harris’s George Frideric Handel, Mark Evan Bonds's Absolute Music, Chris Walton's Lies and Epiphanies, Mina Yang's Planet Beethoven, David Grubbs's Records Ruin the Landscape.
The Rest Is Noise Person of the Year is Iván Fischer, a singular force of political and artistic courage. The Turkey of the Year is, of course, the Klinghoffer protest, which succeeded in making a box-office hit of the work it aimed to suppress.
As in past years, I will strain the patience of even the most indulgent readers by picking a few highlights outside my zone of nominal competence. Amid the endless Wagnerism reading — L'Ésotérisme et le symbolisme belge, anyone? — I took in Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch, Mark Harris's Five Came Back, and the new Walter Benjamin trove Radio Benjamin, which arrived too late for mention in my Frankfurt School piece. D'Angelo's Black Messiah is as sonically and thematically rich as pop colleagues claim. My favorite film of the year was Steve James's Life Itself, an affecting documentary about Roger Ebert. I also enjoyed Nightcrawler, a jolt of black comedy in the Billy Wilder tradition, and Grand Budapest Hotel. On the TV, the great event was the return of The Comeback; I also admit to relishing Penny Dreadful, not least for its Tristan scene.
December 18, 2014 | Permalink