A Cultural Comment at the New Yorker website.
Giannini's work, commissioned for the opening of the IBM World Headquarters in 1938, rings variations on the IBM Rally Song, "Ever Onward" (see the quasi-Wagnerian passage at around 4:30, the motoric Allegro at 7:30, and the peroration):
There's a thrill in store for all,
For we're about to toast,
The corporation known in every land.
We're here to cheer each pioneer
And also proudly boast
Of that "man of men," our friend and guiding hand.
The name of T. J. Watson means a courage none can stem;
And we feel honored to be here to toast the "IBM."
EVER ONWARD — EVER ONWARD!
August 10, 2015 | Permalink
George Benjamin will take over the Mostly Mozart Festival next week, as Written on Skin, an honest-to-God twenty-first-century operatic masterpiece (my review is here), receives three performances at the venue formerly known as the New York State Theater. Alan Gilbert conducts. On Aug. 16, Benjamin himself will lead ICE in a program of Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques, Ligeti's Piano Concerto, and his own Into the Little Hill. Pierre-Laurent Aimard is the piano soloist at the latter concert.... On Sedge Clark's blog, Victoria Bond gives an insider's perspective on Musikfabrik's recent performances of Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury: she was the Old Goat Woman in the original production.... I'm proud to be a mere footnote in Kyle Gann's soon-to-be-canonical study of the Ives Concord Sonata.... At the site Hyperallegric, Alison Kinney has a superb piece on African-American opera singers and the Met's belated decision to abandon blackface.... Musical America notes that Orin O'Brien, the first woman to join the New York Philharmonic, was recently honored at the Music Academy of the West. Bernstein hired her in 1966; she is still a member of the double-bass section. She is the daughter of the actor George O'Brien, the male lead in F. W. Murnau's Sunrise, widely considered one of the greatest films ever made.
August 07, 2015 | Permalink
An excerpt from Scott Worthington's Space Administration, for double bass, playback, and projected text, recently heard at WasteLAnd. The text comes from Ken Hunt's poem "Apollo Spacecraft," which is drawn from voice transcripts of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Alicia Byer has a review at New Classic LA. Coming soon from Populist Records is Prism, the label's second album devoted to Worthington's music; there will be a celebratory concert at Arts Share LA on Aug. 9.
August 06, 2015 | Permalink
"Temple Bells Voice," the final section of Toshio Hosokawa's Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima, a requiem for the composer's native city. The text is a haiku by Matsuo Bashō: "tsuki izuki / kane wa shizumeru / umi no soko" ("Where is the moon? / The temple bell is sunk / At the bottom of the sea").
At the New Yorker website, you can read, in its terrifying entirety, John Hersey's 1946 article "Hiroshima." It was preceded by a note: "The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. — The Editors."
August 05, 2015 | Permalink
Listening to Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers at Bard College two weekends ago, I thought, as many have thought before me, of Peter Grimes. The coastal village setting, the counterpoint of church hymns and solo voices, the massed choruses of suspicion and rage, the ostracizing of a rebellious fisherman, his trial, the woman who breaks from the crowd to protect him, sea interludes of impressionist character — the overlap is considerable. There is nothing in Britten's score that inarguably smacks of Smyth, and Montagu Slater's libretto is rooted entirely in the George Crabbe source. Smyth is mentioned only a couple of times in Britten's collected letters and diaries, with no sign of interest. In 1931, the teen-aged Britten heard several of Smyth's songs on the BBC and described them as "despicable." All the same, I can't help feeling that there is a more than coincidental connection between the two scores. Consider the bloodthirsty chorus that ends Act I of The Wreckers:
From the 1994 Conifer recording, with the Huddersfield Choral Society and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Odaline de la Martinez.
Compare "Now is gossip put on trial" from Grimes:
Or "Who holds himself apart":
One can imagine Britten listening to The Wreckers and saying to himself, in his youthful, superior way, "That could be a good opera, if done properly."
Did Britten hear The Wreckers or see the score? Jane Bernstein addressed the question in her 1986 essay "Shout, Shout, Up with Your Song!," which appeared in Jane Bowers and Judith Tick's anthology Women Making Music. Bernstein noted that a score of The Wreckers could be found in the Britten-Pears library at Aldeburgh, and asked Donald Mitchell, Britten's longtime associate, how well Britten knew it; Mitchell told her that he didn't, and that the score was a later acquisition. But this doesn't rule out the possibility that Britten had encountered The Wreckers earlier. The opera was revived at Sadler's Wells on April 19, 1939, in what seems to have been a run of six performances. Around that time, Britten was in Aldeburgh, preparing to go to Birmingham for the première, on April 21, of two songs from what would become his song cycle Les Illuminations. It's unlikely that he could have made it to London for the opening night. He did go to London afterward, as he prepared to make the long voyage to America, on April 29. He might have attended a later performance; he could certainly have tuned in to the BBC, on April 22, for a live broadcast from Sadler's Wells. The central role of Thirza was sung by Edith Coates, who, six years later, would create the role of Auntie in Grimes, at the same house.
Dame Ethel was present for that opening night in 1939. The critic Ronald Crichton recalled the occasion in a 1994 article for Opera: "Noise, bracing noise, of crashing waves is what one most remembers from the Sadler's Wells revival of 1939, especially during the last act, with the chorus, Edith Coates and John Wright all singing fit to burst. Loud as they were the composer, who was present at the first night, was unable to hear them because of her deafness, as she told us without self-pity in a curtain speech when she came on to the stage at the end, stoutly dressed, with a laurel wreath slung over folded arms."
Previously: An Ethel Smyth moment.
August 05, 2015 | Permalink
New recordings of interest.
— Anna Thorvaldsdottir, In the Light of Air; ICE (Sono Luminus, available Aug. 28)
— Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10, Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony (DG)
— Rossini, Guillaume Tell; Andrew Foster-Williams, Michael Spyres, Judith Howarth, Nahuel Di Pierro, Tara Stafford, Alessandra Volpe, Artavazd Sargsyan, Antonino Fogliani conducting the Virtuosi Brunensis and Camerata Bach Choir (Naxos)
— Niccolò Castiglioni, La Buranella, Altisonanza, Salmo XIX; Gianandrea Noseda conducting the Danish National Concerto Choir and Danish National Symphony (Chandos)
— Hindemith, String Quartets Nos. 1 and 4; Amar Quartet (Naxos)
— Bacewicz, String Quartets Nos. 1, 3, 6, 7; Lutosławski Quartet (Naxos)
— Leonardo Vinci, Catone in Utica; Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli, Juan Sancho, Valer Sabadus, Vince Yi, Martin Mitterrutzner, Riccardo Minasi conducting Il Pomo d'Oro (Decca)
— Murail, Le Partage des eaux, Contes cruels, Sillages; Pierre-André Valade conducting the BBC Symphony and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, with Wiek Hijmans and Seth Josel, electric guitars (æon)
— Jürg Frey, Mémoire, horizon, Extended Circular Music Nos. 1-7, Architektur der Empfindungen; Mondrian Ensemble, Konus Quartet (Musiques Suisses)
— James Saunders, assigned #15; Apartment House (another timbre)
— Gubaidulina, Complete Guitar Works; David Tannenbaum, with various players (Naxos)
August 04, 2015 | Permalink
New and recent publications of interest.
Elijah Wald, Dylan Goes Electric! (Dey Street)
Leonora Saavedra, ed., Carlos Chávez and His World (Princeton University Press)
Carl Wilson, Let's Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste (new and expanded edition) (Bloomsbury)
Amy C. Beal, Johanna Beyer (University of Illinois Press)
Roger Evans, Music and Power (RogerEvansOnline)
John Cage, Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) (Siglio, coming in October)
David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny, eds., Keywords in Sound (Duke University Press)
Danielle Fosler-Lussier, Music in America's Cold War Diplomacy (University of California Press)
Michael Hall, Music Theatre in Britain, 1960-1975 (Boydell)
August 01, 2015 | Permalink
David Byrne on the obscure collusion between major labels and streaming services: "Perhaps the biggest problem artists face today is that lack of transparency. I’ve asked basic questions of both the digital services and the music labels and been stonewalled ... I asked Apple Music to explain the calculation of royalties for the trial period. They said they disclosed that only to copyright owners (that is, the labels). I have my own label and own the copyright on some of my albums, but when I turned to my distributor, the response was, 'You can’t see the deal, but you could have your lawyer call our lawyer and we might answer some questions.'"
July 31, 2015 | Permalink
July 31, 2015 | Permalink
It is said that when the young Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu went to Bayreuth, in 1889, he fainted in ecstasy after the prelude to Tristan and had to be carried out. Gilles Thieblot's 2006 biography of Lekeu declares, however, that the story is probably apocryphal.
Everyone knows of the LA Phil's new-music adventures; many are becoming aware of wild Up, which will appear in the SONIC Festival in NYC in October. Mark Swed, in the LA Times, investigates lesser-known corners of the LA scene: wasteLAnd, Southland Ensemble, gnarwhallaby, the wulf. As Mark notes, wasteLAnd's summer series continues this weekend with Scott Worthington's Space Administration (Friday night) and a program of songs by Deyoe, Lachenmann, and Furrer (Saturday). I caught wasteLAnd's Tactile Sound event in May, and am still marveling at the memory of the Trio Kobayashi's all-brass version of James Tenney's Saxony.
Brigitta Muntendorf's Key of presence, for two pianos, tape, and live electronics, was developed at the SWR Experimental Studio and had its premiere earlier this year at the ECLAT Festival in Stuttgart. The GrauSchumacher piano duo performs; the text comes from Javier Salinas's poem "Something is coming, my friend." Muntendorf aims here to explore the interaction between "analog" and "digital" worlds — between transient phenomena, such as a sound resonating and disappearing in space, and the infinite data banks in which we attempt to "freeze the present," as she writes in her notes.
Robinson Meyer, in a piece for The Atlantic on the increasingly sorry state of classical music on iTunes, points out that when the metadata system for MP3s was introduced, in 1996, it allowed for only three categories: artist, song name, and album title. From the start, this brave new world of music storage failed to acknowledge that composer and performer may not be the same — indeed, that any kind of composing was happening at all. Small wonder that composers and songwriters have seen their royalties plummet in the digital universe: their existence is erased in the architecture of the technology.
Previously: The Anxious Ease of Apple Music.
July 29, 2015 | Permalink