Tuesday, January 1, 2013

21ST-CENTURY MUSIC / January 2013


January 2013

Volume 20, Number 1

Carlos Chavez / Mark Alburger

Elliott Carter / Phillip George

Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra / Michael McDonagh

Calendar for January 2013 

Chronicle of November 2012

Illustration / Carlos Chavez

Editorial Staff

Mark Alburger


Harriet March Page

Patti Noel Deuter

Erling Wold

Elizabeth Agnew
Alexis Alrich
Katherine Buono
Ken Bullock
A.J. Churchill
David Cleary
Jeff Dunn
Phillip George
Elliot Harmon
Brian Holmes
Jeff Kaliss
John Lane
Arel Lucas
Michael McDonagh
Chip Michael
Tom Moore
William Rowland
Lisa Scola Prosek
Andrew Shapiro
Alice Shields


21ST-CENTURY MUSIC is published monthly by 21ST-CENTURY MUSIC, P.O. Box 2842, San Anselmo, CA 94960. ISSN 1534-3219.

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21ST-CENTURY MUSIC invites pertinent contributions in analysis, composition, criticism, interdisciplinary studies, musicology, and performance practice; and welcomes reviews of books, concerts, music, recordings, and videos. The journal also seeks items of interest for its calendar, chronicle, comment, communications, opportunities, publications, recordings, and videos sections. Copy should be double-spaced on 8 1/2 x 11 -inch paper, with ample margins. Authors are encouraged to submit via e-mail.

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Carlos Chavez / Mark Alburger

The seventh child of a creole family, Carlos Antonio de Padua Chavez y Ramirez's (June 13, 1899, Mexico City - August 2, 1978) paternal grandfather, Jose María Chavez Alonso, served as governor of the state of Aguascalientes and was ordered executed by Emperor Maximilian in 1864.  Chavez's father, Augustín, invented a plough that was produced and used in the United States, and died when Carlos was five years old.  The youngest of six children, Chavez was brought up by his mother Juvencia, who was well-suited to the task, as she served as directress of the Normal School for Young Women in Popotla.

Carlos began taking piano lessons from his brother Manuel at age nine, and began composing shortly thereafter.  He wrote several simple pieces and was adept at improvisation at the keyboard, studying briefly with Asunción Parra.  During the 1910 Revolution, all schoolteachers were ordered to leave Mexico City, so Carlos and his family relocated to Veracruz.  That same year, he became a student of Mexico’s leading composer, Manuel Ponce.

At age 12 he assiduously devoured Albert Guiraud’s Traité d'Instrumentation et Orchestration and through it learned to read and study the orchestral scores of the masters. He began composing his first symphony at 15, even though at the time he had heard a symphony orchestra only once.

In 1915 he met the man whom Carlos would say developed his musical formation, Pedro Luis Ogazon, who first introduced Debussy’s music to Mexico in 1903.  Through Ogazon, Chávez was largely influenced by the harmonic theory of Juan Fuentes.

On a trip to Mexico City when he was 16, Carlos was narrowly missed by a stray bullet during a skirmish between the warring factions. Nevertheless, the family survived these difficult times, and at the end of hostilities they settled again in Mexico’s capital city.

His family often went on vacations to Tlaxcala, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Oaxaca and other places where the cultural influence of the Mexican indigenous peoples was still very strong.

In 1916, Chavez and friends started a cultural journal, Gladios.

The Sinfonia para Orquesta was completed in 1918.  He also finished his formal studies at the National Conservatory and received a diploma in composition.  In 1920, the firm Wagner y Levien in Mexico City published some of his early Schumann-informed piano music.

After the end of the Mexican Revolution in this year, and the installation of a democratically elected president, Álvaro Obregón (serving from 1920-1924) -- Chavez became one of the first exponents of Mexican nationalist music.

The first public concert of Chávez’s music occurred in 1921, which included his Sextet for Strings and Piano. The performance was well received, and the new revolutionary governemnt shortly thereafter commissioned Chávez to compose a ballet based on ancient Aztec themes.   In El Fuego Nuevo (The New Fire), Chávez incorporated many indigenous Indian themes he recalled from his early years to create a distinctively sonorous orchestral work of seminal import to his future compositions.  Tthe work was turned down by Julián Carillo, director of the Orquesta Sinfónica, and not premiered until 1928 by the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, conducted by the composer.

In September 1922, Chavez married Otilia Ortiz, a fellow student of Luis Ogazón and an accomplished pianist.  Together they toured Europe and endeavored to promote Chávez’s music, from October 1922 until April 1923, spending two weeks in Vienna and five months in Berlin, where his Piano Sonata No. 2 was published by Bote and Bock. 

During the eight to ten days that followed in Paris, Chavez befriended composer Paul Dukas who encouraged him to concentrate on the heritage of Mexico, just as Falla had done in Spain and Bartók and Kodaly in Hungary.  Returning to his home country for the birth of their first child Anita, Carlos began organizing concerts of contemporary music at the National Preparatory School and promoted many works never before heard in Mexico -- including whose works by Satie, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Varese, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc... and Chavez.

Some months later, in December 1923, Chavez briefly visited the United States for the first time, returning in March 1924.  During his time in New York, Chavez acquired a taste for the then-fashionable abstract and quasi-scientific music, as is reflected in the titles of many of his compositions then, including Polígonos for piano (Polygons, 1923) and Exagonos for voice and piano (Hexagons, 1924). At the same time, classical tendencies of his early years re-asserted themselves in such works as Sonatina for Violin and Piano (1924).

He joined the staff of the newspaper El Universal in 1924, writing 500 items over 36 years. Threads of overlapping influences continued, with a second Aztec / nationalist ballet, Los Cuatro Soles (The Four Suns, 1925, and the compositions 36 for piano (1925) and Energia for nine instruments (Energy, 1925).

As public reception of his concerts continue to be only lukewarm, Chavez decided to travel again to New York in September 1926.  Leaving behind his wife, daughter, and newborn son Agustín -- he ventured to America with Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, with whom he shared a flat in Greenwich Village. Chavez soon became friends with both Aaron Copland and Edgard Varese, who assisted him in becoming introduced to the musical shakers of the time. His works began to be heard, and they received favorable reviews.

Having finally achieved his well-deserved acclaim, Chávez returned to Mexico in June of 1928 to accept the post of musical director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Mexicana. Reorganized under his leadership, the orchestra changed its name the following year to the Orquesta Sinfónica de Mexico and became the first stable orchestra in Mexico’s history, flourishing for 21 seasons under Chavez’s directorship. He also was appointed director of the Conservatorio Nacional where he taught composition and inspired a new generation of Mexican composers, among them Candelario Huizar, Silvestre Revueltas, Daniel Ayala, Blas Galindo, Salvador Contreras, and José Moncayo.  Chavez was instrumental in taking the orchestra on tour through Mexico's rural areas.

Also in 1928, Chavez was appointed director of Mexico's National Conservatory of Music -- a position he held for six years.  In that capacity, the composer spearheaded projects to collect aboriginal folk music.  At the same time, Chavez's scientific period came to its culmination in the ballet H. P. (Horse Power, Caballos de Vapor, 1931, a colorfully orchestrated score of ample dimensions and dense, compact atmosphere, notable for its dynamism and vitality, revealing the influence of Stravinsky and at the same time returning to folkloric and popular elements, with dances such as the sandunga, tango, huapango, and foxtrot.

Over the 1930's, Chávez returned to another of the main musical interests of his maturity, prefigured in the juvenilia: the traditional genres of the sonata, quartet, symphony, and concerto.

His six numbered symphonies begin with Symphony No. 1( "Sinfonía de Antígona", 1933), reworked from incidental music for Jean Cocteau's Antigone, itself an adaptation of the Sophoclean' tragedy. Here, Chávez seeks to create an archaic ambiance through the use of modal polyphony, quartal harmonies, and predominant winds.

Such concerns are also contained in Espiral for violin and piano (Spiral, 1934).

At the same time, national tendencies continued in the 1930's, notably in Chapultepec (1935) and Symphony No. 2 ("Sinfonía India") (1936, one of the few works by Chavez to quote actual Native-American themes), and Ten Preludes for Piano (1937).

In 1937, he published a book, Toward a New Music, which is one of the first books in which a composer speaks about electronic music.  In 1938, Chavez composed the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra and conducted a series of concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, during Arturo Toscanini's absence.

Chavez was commissioned in 1940 to compose a work to commemorate an exhibit of Mexican art New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the result was Xochipilli: An Imagined Aztec Music, scored for four winds and six percussionists, using a variety of indigenous Mexican instruments.  

In 1943, Chávez was inducted as one of 13 charter members of El Colegio Nacional and began lecturing extensively on musical subjects.  He also began Ediciones Mexicanas de Música which helped popularize the music of many modern composers.

By 1945, he had come to be regarded as the foremost Mexican composer and conductor.

Shortly after the inauguration of President Miguel Aleman in 1946, Chavez was appointed director of a new administrative body called the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes.

From January 1947 until 1952, Chavez served as director-general of the National Institute of Fine Arts. In his first year, he formed the National Symphony Orchestra.

Due to his new responsibilities, however, Chávez had to give up his position with the Orquesta Sinfonía de México, whose charter was dissolved in 1949, and his output of new compositions was also significantly diminished. Perhaps his most notable work from this period was his Concerto for Violin and Piano (1950).

Chávez retired from the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1952.  During the 1950’s and 1960’s he received a number of commissions for new works, including three symphonies: Symphony No. 4 (Louisville Symphony Orchestra), Symphony No. 5 (Sergei Koussevitsky Foundation), and Symphony No. 6 (Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts).

In May 1953, he was commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein, director of the New York City center of Music and Drama, for a three-act opera to a libretto by Chester Kallman based on a story by Boccaccio, to be titled The Tuscan Players.  Intended to be finished in August 1954, it was first postponed to April 1955, but only finally completed in 1956, by which time the title had been changed twice, first to Pánfilo and Lauretta, then to El Amor Propiciado.  The City Center waived its rights to the first performance, which was given under the title Panfilo and Lauretta in the Brander Matthews Theatre at Columbia University in New York on May 9, 1957, under the baton of Howard Shanet. Stage direction was by Bill Butler, scenic design by Herbert Senn and Helen Pond, and costumes by Sylvia Wintle. The principal singers were Sylvia Stahlman, Frank Porretta, Craig Timberlake, Mary McMurray, Michael Kermoyan, and Thomas Stewart. The opera would be revised twice more and the title changed again to Los Visitantes (The Visitors), for productions in 1968 and 1973, in Mexico City and Aptos, California, respectively.

From 1958-1959, he was the Charles Eliot Norton professor at Harvard University, and the public lectures he gave there were published as Musical Thought (1961).  In the fourth lecture, Repetition in Music -- he describes a mode of composition already observable in many of his compositions since the 1920's, in which "the idea of repetition and variation can be replaced by the notion of constant rebirth, of true derivation: a stream that never comes back to its source; a stream in eternal development, like a spiral."

He resumed administrative duties in 1969 when he accepted the post as Secretariat of Public Education, and after he had harshly criticized the current teaching methods of the Conservatorio Nacional, Mexico’s new president Luis Echeverría appointed him to develop a comprehensive curriculum for the public schools and bestowed on him the post of Head of the Music Department of INBA and music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional.  A dispute with the orchestra members’ union led to his resignation from both posts.

His orchestral composition Discovery (1969) was commissioned by the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.  From the next year to 1973, he served as the Festival's Music Director.

Most of his final years were spent in New York City, as he remained disillusioned with the state of musical life in Mexico.  He took an apartment directly across from the Lincoln Center in 1974, where he resided until his death. He gave his final performance conducting the premiere of his Concerto for Trombone on May8, 1978, in Washington, DC.

Carlos Chavez died on August 2, 1978, while visiting  his daughter Ana in the Coyoacán suburb of Mexico City.

His manuscripts and papers are housed in the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and in the National Archive of Mexico, in Mexico City.

Elliott Carter / Philip George

Elliott Cook Carter, Jr.'s (December 11, 1908 – November 5, 2012) father was a businessman and his mother was the former Florence Chambers.  The family was well-to-do. As a teenager, he developed an interest in music and was encouraged in this regard by the composer Charles Ives (who sold insurance to Carter's family). In 1924, the 15-year-old Carter was in the audience when Pierre Monteux conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the New York première of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.  "I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever heard, and I wanted to do like that, too," he recalled.  "Of course, half the audience walked out, which was even more pleasant to me.  It seemed much more exciting than Beethoven and Brahms and the rest of them."

Although Carter majored in English at Harvard College, he also studied music there and at the nearby Longy School.  His professors  included Walter Piston and Gustav Holst.  He sang with the Glee Club and did graduate work in music at Harvard, from which he received a master's degree in music in 1932.  He then went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger from 1932 to 1935, and in that year received the Mus.D. from the Ecole Normale.  Soon after, he returned to the US and wrote music for the Ballet Caravan.

Carter's earlier works were influenced by Stravinsky, Harris, Copland, and Hindemith, and are mainly neoclassical in aesthetic. He had a strict and thorough training in counterpoint, from medieval polyphony through Stravinsky, and this shows in his earliest music, such as the ballet Pocahontas (1939). 

On July 6 of that year, Carter married Helen Frost-Jones. They had one child, a son, David Chambers Carter.

From 1940 to 1944, he at taught St. John's College, Annapolis, mD.  

Some of his music during the Second World War is frankly diatonic, and includes a melodic lyricism reminiscent of Samuel Barber.

Following the war, he held a teaching post at the Peabody Conservatory (1946–1948),

His music after 1950 is typically atonal and rhythmically complex, indicated by the invention of the term metric modulation to describe the frequent, precise tempo changes found in his work. While Carter's chromaticism and tonal vocabulary parallels serial composers of the period, Carter does not employ serial techniques in his music. Rather he independently developed and cataloged all possible collections of pitches (i.e., all possible three-note chords, five-note chords, etc.). Musical theorists like Allen Forte later systematized these data into musical set theory. 

Some of these developments occurred while teaching at Columbia University and Queens College (1955–1956), including the composition of Variations for Orchestra (1955).

While teaching at Yale University (1960-1962), he received the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his String Quartet No. 2 (1960), finished the Double Concerto for Harpsichord, Piano, and Two Chamber Orchestras (1961) and began a series of works, which continued through the 70's, that generate their tonal material by using all possible chords of a particular number of pitches.

Such is the case with Piano Concerto (1965,  written as an 85th birthday present for Igor Stravinsky), utilizing the collection of three-note chords for its pitch material, and -- during a stint at Cornell University (from 1967) -- Concerto for Orchestra (1969,  loosely based on a poem by Saint-John Perse) and String Quartet No. 3 (1971), actualizing respectively all five- and four-note chords.  At the Juilliard School (from 1972), he wrote A Mirror on Which to Dwell (1975), based on poems by Elizabeth Bishop, with almost every pitch derived from the content of a single sonority.  He extended his interests to six note collections in Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976), a work which again also reflects literary concerns.

Indeed, througout his career, his vocal music has demonstrated strong ties to contemporary American poetry, setting texts of Robert Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore. 

Carter won a second Pulitzer Prize for String Quartet No. 3 in 1973. 

Of particular interest are "all-interval" 12-tone chords where every interval is represented within adjacent notes of the chord.  His 1980 solo piano Night Fantasies uses the entire collection of the 88 symmetrical-inverted all-interval 12 note chords. Typically, the pitch material is segmented between instruments, with a unique set of chords or sets assigned to each instrument or orchestral section. This stratification of material, with individual voices assigned not only their own unique pitch material, but texture and rhythm as well, is a key component of Carter's musical style.

Carter's use of rhythm can best be understood within the concept of stratification. Each instrumental voice is typically assigned its own set of tempi. A structural polyrhythm, where a very slow polyrhythm is used as a formal device, is present in many of Carter's works.  Night Fantasies uses a 216:175 tempo relation that coincides at only two points in the entire c. 20-minute composition. This use of rhythm is part of his goal to expand the notion of counterpoint to encompass simultaneous different characters, even entire movements, rather than just individual lines.

His use of rhythm allows his music a structured fluidity and sense of time perhaps unique in classical music. The music also is overtly expressive and dramatic.  He has said that "I regard my scores as scenarios, auditory scenarios, for performers to act out with their instruments, dramatizing the players as individuals and participants in the ensemble."

Carter has also talked about his desire to portray a "different form of motion," in which players are not locked in step with the downbeat of every measure.

He said that such steady pulses reminded him of soldiers marching or horses trotting, sounds no longer heard in the late 20th Century, and he wanted his music to capture the sort of continuous acceleration or deceleration experienced in an automobile or an airplane. 

Carter's music from 1981 has been published by Boosey and Hawkes, and characterized as his late period, with a tonal language less systematized and more intuitive. 

The last of his string quartets, No. 5 (1995), dates from this period.

Symphonia: Sum Fluxae Pretium Spei (1996) is his largest orchestral work, complex in structure and featuring contrasting layers of instrumental textures, from delicate wind solos to crashing brass and percussion outbursts.

Interventions for Piano and Orchestra received its premiere on December 5, 2008, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Levine, featuring pianist Daniel Barenboim

On December 11, 2008, Carter celebrated his 100th birthday at Carnegie Hall, with Boston Symphony Orchestra and Barenboim reprising Interventions.

Carter was also present at the 2009 Aldeburgh Festival to hear the world premiere of his song-cycle On Conversing with Paradise, based on an Ezra Pound text.  The premiere was given on June 20, 2009 by baritone Leigh Melrose and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, conducted by Oliver Knussen.

That same year, Figment V for Marimba, with Simon Boyar, was premiered on May in New York, and Poems of Louis Zukofsky for soprano and clarinet had its first performance by Lucy Shelton and Stanley Drucker on August 9 at the Tanglewood Festival.

The U.S. premiere of Flute Concerto took place with soloist Elizabeth Rowe and the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine, on February 4, 2010,

The last premiere of his lifetime was Dialogues II, written for Daniel Barenboim's 70th birthday and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel in November 2012, Milan

Between the ages of 90 and 100 he published more than 40 works,  and after his 100th birthday he composed at least 14 more.

Carter died of natural causes on November 5, 2012 at his home in New York City, at age 103.

Selected Works List

My Love Is in a Light Attire for voice and piano (1928)
Harvest Home for a cappella choir (1937)
Let's Be Gay for women's chorus and two pianos (1937)
Tarantella for men's chorus and two pianos (1937)
To Music for a cappella choir (1937)
Tell Me Where Is Fancy Bred for voice and guitar (1938) 
Canonic Suite for four alto saxophones or four clarinets (1939)
Pocahontas (1939)
Heart Not So Heavy for a cappella choir (1939)
The Defense of Corinth for speaker, men's chorus and piano four hands (1941)

Symphony No. 1 (1942)
Three Poems of Robert Frost for baritone and ensemble (1942)
Elegy for viola and piano, also version for string quartet (1943)
The Harmony of Morning for women's chorus and chamber orchestra (1944)
Musicians Wrestle Everywhere for a cappella choir (1945)
Piano Sonata (1946)
Emblems for men's chorus and piano (1947)
The Minotaur (1947)
Cello Sonata (1948)
Woodwind Quintet (1948)
Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for wind quartet (1949)
Eight Pieces for Four Timpani (1949)
String Quartet No. 1 (1951)
Sonata for flute, oboe, cello, and harpsichord (1952)
Variations for orchestra (1955)
String Quartet No. 2 (1959)
Double Concerto for piano, harpsichord and 2 chamber orchestras (1961)
Piano Concerto (1964)
Concerto for Orchestra (1969)
Canon for 3 (1971)
String Quartet No. 3 (1971)
Brass Quintet (1974)
Duo for violin and piano (1974)
A Mirror on Which to Dwell for soprano and ensemble (1975)

A Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976)
Birthday Fanfare for three trumpets, vibraphone, and glockenspiel (1978)
Syringa for mezzo-soprano, bass-baritone, guitar, and ensemble (1978)
Night Fantasies (1980)
In Sleep, in Thunder for tenor and ensemble (1981)
Changes for guitar (1983)
Triple Duo (1983)
Esprit rude/esprit doux for flute and clarinet (1984)
Canon for 4 (1984)
Penthode for ensemble (1985)
String Quartet No. 4 (1986)

Oboe Concerto (1987)
Enchanted Prelude for flute and cello (1988) 
Three Occasions for orchestra (1989)
Violin Concerto (1989)
Con leggerezza pensosa for clarinet, violin, and cello (1990)
Quintet for piano and winds (1991)
Scrivo in Vento for flute (1991)
Trilogy for oboe and harp (1992)

Esprit rude/esprit doux II for flute, clarinet, and marimba (1994)
Figment for cello (1994)
Fragment I for string quartet (1994)
90+ (1994) 
Of Challenge and of Love for soprano and piano (1994)

Gra for clarinet, also version for trombone (1994)
String Quartet No.5 (1995)
Clarinet Concerto (1996)
A 6-Letter Letter for English horn (1996)
Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretium spei (1996)
Luimen for ensemble (1997)
Quintet for piano and string quartet (1997)
Shard for guitar (1997)
What Next? (1997)
Fragment II for string quartet (1999)

Tempo e Tempi for soprano, oboe, clarinet, violin, and cello (1999)
Two Diversions (1999)
ASKO Concerto for sixteen players (2000)
Four Lauds for solo violin (2000)
Retrouvailles (2000)
Cello Concerto (2001)
Figment II for cello (2001)
Hiyoku for two clarinets (2001)
Oboe Quartet, for oboe, violin, viola, and cello (2001)
Steep Steps for bass clarinet (2001) 
Au Quai for bassoon and viola (2002)
Boston Concerto (2002)
Of Rewaking for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (2002)
Retracing for bassoon (2002)
Dialogues for piano and chamber orchestra (2003)
Call for two trumpets and horn (2003)
Mosaic for harp and ensemble (2004)
Réflexions for ensemble (2004)
Three Illusions for orchestra (2004)
Soundings for piano and orchestra (2005)
In the Distances of Sleep for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra (2006)
Two Thoughts about the Piano (2006)
Clarinet Quintet (2007)
Figment III for contrabass (2007)
Figment IV for viola (2007)
HBHH for oboe (2007)
Horn Concerto (2007)
Interventions for piano and orchestra (2007)
La Musique for solo voice (2007)
Mad Regales for six solo voices (2007)
Sound Fields for string orchestra (2007)
Flute Concerto (2008)
On Conversing with Paradise (2008) for baritone and chamber orchestra 
Poems of Louis Zukofsky (2008) for mezzo-soprano and clarinet
Tintinnabulation for percussion sextet (2008)
Tri-Tribute (2008)

Wind Rose for wind ensemble (2008)
Concertino for bass clarinet and chamber orchestra (2009)
Figment V for marimba (2009)
Nine by Five for wind quintet (2009)
Retracing II for horn (2009)
Retracing III for trumpet (2009) 
Tre Duetti for violin and cello (2009)
What Are Years (2009) for soprano and chamber orchestra
A Sunbeam's Architecture (2010) for tenor and chamber orchestra
Double Trio for trumpet, trombone, percussion, piano, violin and cello (2011)
Mnemosyné for violin (2011)
Retracing IV for tuba (2011)
Retracing V for trombone (2011)
Rigmarole for cello and bass clarinet (2011)
String Trio (2011)
Three Explorations (2011) for bass-baritone, winds, and brass
Trije glasbeniki for flute, bass clarinet, and harp (2011)
Two Controversies and a Conversation for piano, percussion, and chamber orchestra (2011)
Dialogues II for piano and chamber orchestra (2012)
Epigrams for violin, cello, and piano (2012)
Instances for chamber orchestra (2012)

Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra / Michael McDonagh

You don't have to have a degree in international studies to realize that change isn't happening in the first but in the third part of "our world."  Just look at Egypt, or much closer to the United States, Latin America, where Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has become a major and much feared player on the world stage.  And while the navel-gazing West keeps saying that everyone but them and their cronies are "on the wrong side of history" real living vital history has passed them by, or as the great Egyptian singer Um Kulsumm used to say when explaining why she would arrive at the train station way before it was scheduled to leave -- "wait for that which won't wait for you."

Going to a concert these days is a bit like going to a lecture.  Read the program notes, talk politely with friends, and when the downbeat comes sit on your hands.  But then history isn't going to wait -- how could it when it's head and shoulders next to you  -- for your approval, and conductor Gustavo Dudamel and his Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela,  on the first stop of their '12-13 US tour at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall on November 29, weren't waiting for anything, much less a train.  The first of their two touring programs showcased three pieces by three superb composers who turned European art music on its head. Carlos Chavez (1899-1978) was, by anyone's reckoning, a major figure, both as a composer, and like his U.S. compadre Copland, an inveterate organizer and promoter.  His 1935 Symphony No. 2  ("Sinfonia India") -- one of six symphonies -- was thoroughly classical -- in this case meaning restrained -- and impeccably made, which Dudamel and his band projected with great clarity and verve.  Chavez was sophisticated, though his Sinfonia India is now more of the past -- self-consciously fashioning an identity for his people as Copland did for his -- but a perfect curtain raiser for the rest of the concert.

Being gifted in more ways than one seems to have worked for and against Spanish-born composer and later Cuban, Mexican, and U.S. resident Julian Orrbon (1925-1991), who was a writer, teacher, scholar, and master of sound.  His Tres Variaciones Sinfonicas (1953) -- Slonimsky dubbed Orbon a neoclassicist -- but  this didn't prepare the listener for how it felt  live.  The fact that Orbon took his basic material for Variaciones 1 and 2 from a pavana by 16th century composer-lutenist Luis de Milan, and an organum-conductus from the 11th century master of the Notre Dame school of Paris, Perotin -- would lead one to think that the results would be derivative, but they're anything but, and they don't adhere strictly to their forms.  His pavana is a grand court dance of stunningly weighted colors -- every orchestral choir gets to shine -- with a typically mid-20th-century focus on rhythmic cross-cutting, which doesn't sound tied to its Iberian original.  Orbon's organum-conductus is a reflection/refraction from its capella source, with lines and gestures appearing and disappearing at will.  But the on youtube performance led by the gifted young Venezuelan conductor Cesar Ivan Lara and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela, the work is more fluent, and mysterious.  It's also idiomatic, and the slightly archaic medieval-sounding lines and cadences are solid, evanescent, yet in no way Gallic.  Dudamel was on much firmer ground with Variacion 3 -- Xylophone -- which Orbon derived from an Afro-Cuban dance tune, and Dudamel's band mined its strong colors and rhythms to a T, with the trombones near the end punching out their vamp as if there were no tomorrow.  I don't know how Dudamel found this piece, but thank God he's taking it around, and perhaps other conductors will take it up, for it's a knockout.  The Zellerbach audience erupted in cheers after the last note sounded.

What can one say about a force of nature like Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940)?  A genius certainly... a master colorist for sure.  And one with a passion, imagination and rhythmic acuity composers have seldom commanded.  I've known and loved Revueltas' work via recordings and performances for years, but hearing his composer friend Jose Ives Limantour's four-movement suite drawn from his cues for Chano Urueta's 1939 film La Noche De Los Mayas live was a caballo de un color diferente.  Revueltas seems to have been a largely instinctive composer -- one imagines him writing rapidly like other under-the-gun film composers and in white heat like Arnold Schoenberg.  But how fast you deliver the goods has precious  little to do with what you produce.  You might have five years and produce a bad opera, as my late composer-friend Earle Brown once put it to me, or you could have scant minutes and come up with gold.  Revuetlas's imagination operated in full force here.  The massive tuttti which bookends the beginning and end of the first movement -- with lyric material in between -- must be the main title, the subsequent Noche de Jaranas: Scherzo -- is a clear-as-air indigenous Mexican dance -- and the following Noche de Yucatan a tender meditation for strings.  The movement sounds vaguely Mahelerian at one point, which of course prompted one western writer to call the section Mahlerian -- can we ever get rid of the west?  But the movement most people will take home is its final raw savage Noche de Encantamiento -- Night of Enchantment -- Theme, Variations 1-4, and Finale, which has the biggest range and drama, compared to the succeeding three.  Revueltas was a very succinct composer -- one has to be when writing for the theatre, and it would be wonderful to see his music with the original film.  But any music lives or dies on its own merits, and Revuletas's here certainly thrives.  Delicate, tender in the second movement, urgent driven in the fourth, with its sudden out-of-nowhere silences, and just as sudden eruptions of fierce fiddling in opposing choirs, and polymetric enchantments in all.  Massed wind tritones, plus 12 percussionists  -- with one "doubling " as a wailing singer "on conch" -- which was probably what happened in the film.

The audience erupted in cheers as the last fff note sounded, and Dudamel's superb 179-at-least-member band, with a large ace percussion contingent, and cellos sitting center stage as in an 18th-century layout -- exhibited perfect ensemble and perfect unanimity of purpose.  The third part of "our world" is clearly leading the way.

Calendar for January 2013

January 4

Pianists Jerry Kuderna and Suzanne Bradbury, and counter-tenor Don Krim, present Claude Debussy's Preludes, Maurice Ravel's Alborada del Gracioso, Carlos Guastavino's La Rosa y el Sauce, and Peter Lieberson's Five Pablo Neruda Songs.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

January 5

Squonk Duo and the Hurd Ensemble.  Lost Church, San Francisco, CA.

January 6

Guy Barash (Laptop and electronics), Daniel Davidovsky (Electronics), Ilia Silzov (Guitars), Yakir Sasson (Saxophones, Percussion and Toys).  Barbur Gallery, Jerusalem, Israel.

January 11

Joan Jeanrenaud's Your Body Is Not a Shark.  ODC Theater, San Francisco, CA.

David T. Little's Soldier Songs.  Michael Schimmer Center for the Arts, New York, NY.

January 12

Chris Forsythe, Blood Wedding, and the Heule/Shelton/Wick Trio.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

January 13

Fortnightly Music Club.  George Gershwin's Three Preludes, and Maurice Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuitand Sonata for Violin and Cello.  Lucie Stern Community Center, Palo Alto, CA.

January 16

Josh Allen, solo tenor saxophone and Deconstruction Orchestra.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

January 19

Pianist Sarah Cahill.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

January 20

Pianist Greg Goodman and the Cremaschi/Goodheart/Ingalls Trio.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

January 23

Dirtier: Bloom Project, saxophonist Rent Romus and pianist Thollem McDonas.  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

January 26

Opus 1: A multi-media event including Claude Debussy's Symphonie (1880), Arnold Schoenberg's Two Songs, Op. 1 (1898), Bela Bartok's Rhapsody for Piano, Op. 1 (1904), Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in Eb, Op. 1 (1907), Anton Webern's  Passacaglia, Op. 1 (1908), Alban Berg's Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1909), Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 1 (1909), Dmitri Shostakovich's Scherzo in F-Sharp Minor for Orchestra, Op. 1 (1919), Alan Hovhaness's Oror, Op. 1 (1926), and Mark Alburger's Psalm 6, Op. 1 (1975).  Berkeley Arts Festival, Berkeley, CA.

January 31

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble presents Cool Music -- Clear Water: George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae,  Toru Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea, and water-themed selections from Debussy’s Images, along with world premieres by Eun Young Lee, Jen Wang, and Ramteen Sazegari.  Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley, CA.

Chronicle of November 2012

November 2

American Musicological Society, Society for Ethnomusicology, Society for Music Theory joint conference, with Oxford University Press and Grove Music Online.  Sheraton, New Orleans, LA.

November 4

Two Centuries of Music in Brooklyn.  S. Stevan Dweck Center for Contemporary Culture
, Brooklyn Public Library Central Library
, New York, NY.

November 5

Death of Elliott [Cook] Carter [Jr.] (12/11/1908, New York, NY), at 103.  New York, NY.  "[He] had continued to compose into his 11th decade, completing his last piece in August [2013]. . . .  Carter died in his Greenwich Village apartment, which he and his wife bought in 1945 and where he had lived ever since.  Mr. Carter’s music, which brought him dozens of awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, could seem harmonically brash and melodically sharp-edged . . .  And though complexity and structural logic were hallmarks of his works, the music he composed in the decade leading up to his widely celebrated centenary, in 2008, was often more lyrical . . .  Carter, a protégé of the American modernist Charles Ives, acknowledged that his works could seem incomprehensible to listeners who were not grounded in the developments of 20th-century music. . . . Yet he had many advocates among players, and his works were frequently performed and recorded.  'As a young man, I harbored the populist idea of writing for the public,' he once explained to an interviewer who asked him why he had chosen to write such difficult music. 'I learned that the public didn’t care. So I decided to write for myself. Since then, people have gotten interested.'  Mr. Carter never lacked for commissions from major orchestras, soloists and chamber groups, and late in life he was able to impose conditions on those who sought his works. He refused to be held to deadlines, saying he would release his compositions when he felt they were ready. And for many years he would not accept commissions from orchestras that had not played his earlier music. . . .  In the mid-1980s, he observed that hardly a year went by without at least one New York performance of his Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano With Two Chamber Orchestras (1961).  His Cello Sonata (1948) . . . Piano Sonata (1946) and Night Fantasies (1980) are performed regularly and have been recorded several times.  Mr. Carter continued to explore new ground into his later years. He avoided opera for most of his career because, as he put it in 1978, 'American opera is a novelty, to be played once and that’s all, even when they’re good pieces,' and because he doubted he could find a libretto that interested him. Yet when he was 90 he completed his first opera, What Next?  The opera, with a Dadaistic libretto by Paul Griffiths, a former music critic for The New York Times, had its premiere in 1999 at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden, with Daniel Barenboim conducting. It had its American premiere in a concert version at Symphony Center in Chicago in 2000 and its first staged performance in the United States at Tanglewood in 2006 — an event filmed and released on DVD.  As Mr. Carter’s centenary neared, the frequency with which his music could be heard only increased, making it clear that for at least two generations of young performers, even his thorniest works held little terror. In the summer of 2008, for example, the entire Festival of Contemporary Music at the Tanglewood Music Center was devoted to Mr. Carter’s work, with performances of dozens of pieces from every stage of his career (including several premieres). Mr. Carter attended most of the concerts. There were many such tributes that year, and the attention unnerved him, he said.  'It’s a little bit frightening, because I’m not used to being appreciated,' he said in an onstage interview at Zankel Hall the night after a celebration with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 'So when I am, I think I’ve made a mistake.'  Despite his years, he remained vital almost until the end. His last composition, 12 Short Epigrams, a piano work for Pierre-Laurent Aimard, was completed on August 13.  Another piece, Instances, for Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony (commissioned with the Tanglewood Music Center), was completed in April.  In June, the New York Philharmonic performed the premiere of Two Controversies and a Conversation.  'The applause for Mr. Carter, wheelchair bound but characteristically animated, [Steve] Smith wrote, 'resounded thunderously.'  . . . Carter . . . was . . . the son of a wealthy lace importer.  While . . . a student at the Horace Mann School, he wrote an admiring letter to Ives . . . who . . . responded and urged him to pursue his interest in music. When Mr. Carter attended Harvard, starting in 1927, Ives took him under his wing and made sure he went to the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, who programmed contemporary works frequently.  At Harvard, Mr. Carter completed a bachelor’s degree in English before deciding to study composition seriously.  He studied with a group of celebrated teachers, including Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame Hill and Gustav Holst.  He also received advice from Ives, although their friendship cooled after Mr. Carter made the mistake of showing Ives some compositions he had written in a neo-Classical style.  In 1932, after completing his master’s degree, Mr. Carter went to Paris for three years of study with Nadia Boulanger, both privately and at the École Normale de Musique. While in Paris in 1933, he was commissioned to write incidental music for a production of Sophocles’s Philoctetes at the Harvard Classical Club.  The work was his first to be performed in public.  Mr. Carter returned to the United States in 1935, settling first in Cambridge, MA, and then in New York City, where he began writing criticism for . . . Modern Music. In 1937 he began a two-year term as music director of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan, for which he wrote the ballet Pocahontas (1939), a work with echoes of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and the residue of an early interest in the music of the Elizabethan virginalists.  He also wrote incidental music for Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater. A choral work, To Music, won a 1938 contest sponsored by the Federal Music Project of the Works Progress Administration.  In 1939 he married Helen Frost-Jones, a sculptor and art critic. She died in 2003. Their son, David, survives Mr. Carter, as does a grandson.  Mr. Carter’s works of this early period are in neoclassical and neoromantic styles, their modernism kept in check because, as he later explained, the acidic experiments of the avant-garde seemed wrong for a world that was gripped by the Depression. Trying to write music that would appeal to a wide public, he composed an amusing setting of The Siege of Corinth (1941), to a Rabelais text, and his Symphony No. 1 (1942), an essay in a melodic, almost pastoral style.  By the mid-1940's Mr. Carter had won several prizes but had made little headway with the public, and he began to regard his consonant style as an unrewarding compromise.  In the Piano Sonata (1946) and . . . Woodwind Quintet (1948), he began writing with a sharper edge, and in the Cello Sonata he started the investigation of contrasting materials that remained a fascination. In this case the contrast was between a freely flowing, lyrical cello line and a disciplined, almost marchlike piano part.  The turning point in Mr. Carter’s style came in 1950, when a Guggenheim Fellowship and a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters allowed him to leave a teaching post at Columbia University and spend a year in southern Arizona, outside Tucson.  During that year in the Sonora Desert he wrote a single 45-minute work, his String Quartet No. 1.  Recalling his desert sojourn, Mr. Carter said in a 1960 interview: 'I had been waiting for just such an opportunity to give form to a number of novel ideas I had had over the previous years, and to work out in an extended composition the character, expression and logic these ideas seemed to demand. I felt that I was constantly pushing into an unexplored musical realm.'  What he came up with was a process he called 'metrical modulation.' Each instrument has a distinct personality and moves at an independent rhythm. The effect is of a constant change of tempos. Thereafter, virtually all of Mr. Carter’s works were driven by the tension between independent and starkly contrasting elements.  In the String Quartet No. 2 (1959), for example, each instrument is given its own distinct vocabulary of intervals and rhythms. In . . . Double Concerto of 1961, the piano and harpsichord, each allied to its own chamber orchestra, speak in languages appropriate to their timbres. In the first half of the work, the opposing groups move toward consensus; in the second, they split apart.  Between the 1950s and the late 1970s, Mr. Carter typically spent several years on each new work and saw every piece as an opportunity to overcome new challenges, some purely musical and others narrative and dramatic.  'I just can’t bring myself to do something that someone else has done before,' he said in 1960. 'Each piece is a kind of crisis in my life.'  Starting in the late 1980's Mr. Carter’s production picked up speed, and by 2005 he was routinely producing streams of works, albeit short ones, every year, sometimes at the request of musicians who admired his work and sometimes spontaneously for musicians he admired.  When asked why his early works took so long to complete, Mr. Carter explained that his method of composing dictated his speed. 'I like to sound spontaneous and fresh, but my first sketches often sound mechanical,' he said. 'I have to write them over until they sound spontaneous.' Many of his scores were completed only after he had filled thousands of pages with sketches. He meticulously dated and saved these, an idea he said he got from Igor Stravinsky. Mr. Carter intensified his use of contrasting forces in works like the String Quartet No. 3 (1971) and . . . Symphony of Three Orchestras (1977). In these compositions the main ensemble is divided into subgroups, each of which is given a distinct set of movements. The movements are played simultaneously with those performed by competing groups. But they are not played in a conventional way, from start to finish. Instead, the players may be asked to play part of a first movement, all of a second and part of a third before returning to where they left off in the first.  In works like Syringa (1978), a vocal setting of the poet John Ashbery’s updated version of the Orpheus legend, the internal oppositions are set forth more clearly. As a mezzo-soprano offers an understated account of the Ashbery text, a bass vehemently sings fragments of Greek classical texts.   'I regard my scores as scenarios,' Mr. Carter said in 1970, 'for the performers to act out with their instruments, dramatizing the players as individuals and as participants in the ensemble.'  That interest remained with him. His String Quartet No. 5 (1995), for example, conveys his fascination with a quartet’s rehearsal methods, including the debates between players about phrasing and coloration. The work is in 12 connected movements, five of which are interludes that describe the discussions, with one player offering a phrase from the section just heard and the others responding with embellishments, humorous turns or consternation.  Some listeners found his music cerebral, elitist and devoid of emotion. Even some who respected Mr. Carter’s erudition and the detail inherent in his compositional method were unmoved by his music.  Reviewing the Concerto for Orchestra (1969) when Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic in the work’s world premiere, Harold C. Schonberg wrote in The Times, 'It may be a tour de force of its kind, but to me it is essentially uncommunicative, dry and a triumph of technique over spirit.'  In the mid-1970's, Mr. Carter’s music began to return to forms that he had not addressed since the 1940's.  With A Mirror on Which to Dwell (1975) and Syringa, he began reconsidering the voice, and he continued his exploration in In Sleep, in Thunder (1981) and Of Challenge and of Love (1994), vocal chamber works that in retrospect seemed steps on Mr. Carter’s path to opera.  Around the same time, Night Fantasies (1980), an evocative description of the fleeting states of thought one experiences between sleep and wakefulness, was the first in a stream of solo instrumental pieces for guitar, violin, trombone, flute, harp, clarinet, cello and piano. He also composed a series of concertos for various instruments, including oboe, violin and clarinet, and a 50-minute orchestral triptych, Symphonia: Sum Fluxae Pretium Spei. Indeed, Mr. Carter began composing at a brisk pace in the mid-1980s. Instead of spending several years writing a single piece, he was writing a handful of pieces a year.  Moreover, they seemed to reach out to listeners in a way that the earlier works had not. The Oboe Concerto (1987) and . . . Violin Concerto (1990) were decidedly lyrical, even though Mr. Carter’s harmonic language remained essentially dissonant. And in the Triple Duo, (1983) the dialogues within and between the three independent instrumental groups are slyly witty and even overtly comic.  Mr. Carter taught at several American conservatories and colleges, including the Peabody Conservatory, Queens College, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell and the Juilliard School.  He was awarded Pulitzer Prizes for his String Quartet No. 2 in 1960 and . . . No. 3 in 1973.  A recording of his Violin Concerto won a Grammy Award for best contemporary composition in 1994. . . .  'There are many kinds of art,' he said in 1978, when asked what he had to say to concertgoers who felt that great music should have tunes that could be whistled. 'Some kinds are hard to understand for some people, and easy to understand for others. But if the works are very good, then finally a lot of people will understand them. And it seems to me that if a work has something remarkable to say, then someone who wants to whistle it will find something in it to whistle. But these things are very subjective.  Just this morning, I had a call from Ursula Oppens, who is playing my Piano Concerto. She said, ‘I finally know all the tunes in your concerto.’ I said, ‘Which tunes are those?’ And she whistled one. So there you are'" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 11/5/12].

November 9

Jerry Kuderna in Berkeley, The Bay Area, and Beyond.  Ross Bauer's Hither and Yon (from Birthday Bagatelles), Martin Boykan's A Little Star Looks Down On Me, Robert Helps's Three Etudes for the Left Hand, Roger Sessions's Five Pieces for Piano, Herb Bielawa's Now, Mark Alburger's Shuffle, Allan Crossman's Rondo a la Pollock, Ann Callaway's Etheria, Alden Jenks's The Tears of Gilles de Riaz, and Peter Josheff's In the Meadow.  Old First Presbyterian Church, San Francisco, CA.

November 10

San Francisco Sinfonietta, directed by Urs Leonhardt Steiner, premieres Jan Pusina's Springweather and Return, on a program with Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 4.  St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco, CA.

Student-Alumni Composer Recital.  Peter Schickele's Dona Nobis Pacem and Swing, Swing, Swing, Mark Alburger's Ecclesiastes Tropes, and Alejandro Sims's Call Drop Blues.  Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA.

November 11

Dan Locklair’s In the Almost Evening.  Brendle Recital Hall, Scales Fine Arts Center, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC.

November 13

Lisa Moore presents 120 Years of Solo Piano, including Leos Janacek's In the Mists (1912), the New York premieres of Martin Bresnick's Strange Devotion (2010) and Paul Kerekes's I Move to Keep Things Whole (2011), the world premiere of Hannah Lash's Fast Chords (2012), Philip Glass's Etude No. 2 (1994), and Frederic Rzewski's Piano Piece No. 4 (1979).  Miller Theatre, Columbia University, New York, NY.

November 17

Beth Anderson's The Bluebird and the Preying Mantis, Dr. Blood’s Mermaid Lullaby, September Swale, Kummi Dance, Eighth Ancestor, and Skate Suite,  St. John's Episcopal Church, New York, NY.

November 18

Peter Josheff's Sutro Tower in the Fog and a trio version of John Cage's Piano Concerto.  Yerba Buena Cener for the Arts, San Francisco, CA.