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
A decade ago, Stockhausen's gargantuan seven-part operatic cycle LICHT seemed on the verge of a complete performance, then faded away. A 2004 BBC News story announced that a production was planned in Dresden in 2008, in conjunction with Stockhausen's eightieth birthday. Sadly, the composer lived to see neither. Hopes are surging again with a report by Erik Voermans, in the Amsterdam paper Het Parool, to the effect that the director Pierre Audi is looking into the idea of mounting a complete LICHT at Amsterdam's Gashouder space in 2019. Voermans cautions that the project is still in the "research phase." When asked about the scheme, Audi said, "Nothing to report about Stockhausen." And when I directed an inquiry to the Park Avenue Armory — mentioned as a potential collaborator — a spokesperson told me that "currently there are no plans" to produce the cycle there. Still, as Voermans later commented on Twitter, "If anyone can pull it off, it's Mr. Audi." In the meantime, Stockhausenites can proceed to Basel in June for a production of Donnerstag.
Photo: One of the Mittwoch helicopters in Birmingham, 2012.
January 22, 2016 | Permalink
One of the most impressive improvisational feats I've ever witnessed took place at Marlboro Music in 2008, when the pianist and composer Matan Porat provided live accompaniment to a screening of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The really amazing thing, it was revealed afterward, was that the version of the film shown was different from —and quite a bit longer than — the one that Porat had looked at in advance. You would never known from his ebullient, seamless playing. Porat has two concerts coming up at the 92nd Street Y: on January 25th, he will give a program entitled Variations on a Theme by Scarlatti, covering music from Bach to Boulez; and on the 26th he will accompany a screening of Buster Keaton's The General.... Trinity Wall Street's annual Twelfth Night Festival, in the period after Christmas, brought the inauguration of the multi-year Mass Reimaginings series. On Trinity's invaluable streaming portal, you can see Daniel Felsenfeld's potent, questing Astrophysical Mass, on a text by Rick Moody. The video also includes Lassus's Prophetiae Sibyllarum.... Eric Huebner has a pop-up concert on Jan. 26 at Miller Theatre, playing Roger Reynolds's Piano Etudes, Book I and Eric Wubbles's Psychomechanochronometer, both written for him.... The Spektral Quartet, young radicals of Chicago, have a delirious new record called Serious Business, on the theme of comedy in music. The central piece, Chris Fisher-Lochhead’s Hack, is a knockout: instrumental reproductions/revampings of comedy routines by the likes of George Carlin, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor, Sarah Silverman, and Dave Chappelle. Spektral will present live concerts in Chicago on January 29th and 31st.... David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony have unveiled their enhanced production of Messiaen's Des Canyons aux étoiles, with imagery of the Utah canyons provided by the photographer Deborah O'Grady. I listened to the radio broadcast and was enthralled by the playing. The orchestra will now bring the Canyons west, to Berkeley's Cal Performances series (Jan. 31) and LA's Disney Hall (Feb. 2). The latter concert is part of the LA Phil's Francophone series called City of Light, which will culminate in a semi-staged production of Pelléas et Mélisande, with Esa-Pekka Salonen presiding.... This year's Juilliard Focus! Festival (Jan. 22-29) is celebrating the centenary of the great, lamented Milton Babbitt. Will Robin has a good overview in the New York Times. Once again I urgently recommend Robert Hilferty's brilliant Babbitt documentary.
January 21, 2016 | Permalink
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