Friday, January 1, 2016
Volume 23, Number 1
Charles Ives's Symphony No. 4 at c. 100 / Elizabeth Agnew
Calendar / For January 2016
Chronicle / Of November 2015
Recording / Shostakovich Cello Concerti
Illustration / Charles Ives, 1913
Harriet March Page
Patti Noel Deuter
Carol Marie Reynolds
Lisa Scola Prosek
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While the final page of Charles Ives's Symphony No. 4 is dated 1916, it was likely written between 1910 and the mid-1920's, with II. Comedy, perhaps finished as late as 1924.
The work is scored for
2 Oboes (IV.)
Alto / Tenor /Baritone Saxophone
4 Horns (III. op. solo and IV.)
Chorus SATB (I. and IV.
Ether Organ (most probably Leon Theremin's Keyboard Harmonium)
2 Gongs (High/Low)
The Ives Symphony No. 4 is in four movements of drastically disimilar compositional history, duration, instrumentation, and spirit.
The origins of I. Prelude: Maestoso date to 1901, in a now-lost setting of Lowell Mason's
the Advent / Epiphany hymn Watchman, Tell Us of the Night 1825, John Bowring, 1792-1872) for soprano and organ, sung in late November of that year by Annie Wilson (Mrs. Comstock) in a Y.M.C.A. service. In the summer of 1905, at Saranac Lake, with his classmate (and future brother-in-law), David Twitchell, Ives started a variant of Watchman for horn and strings, also lost. About a year later, he incoporated Watchman into
Violin Sonata No. 1: III -- originally designated as No. 2, and ink-dated "Aug. Sept. 1907."
An orchestral version was finished in 1911 at Elk Lake in New York's Adirondack Mountains, which Ives notes in a memo of that year: "The 'Eternal Question' -- Watchman, what of the night? - Pell's, Sept. 4, 1911."
A further setting is found in114 Songs: 44. Watchman!, from 1914.
I. Prelude begins with a fortissimo maestoso bass line (D: Do Ra Mi Me Re Ra De), immediately followed by a military trumpet fanfare (D: Do Sol Do Mi Me) and an inversion of the opening two intervals in violins (Fa Mi Ra - also an important motive in Ives's Piano Sonata No. 1), leading to a pianissimo contrary chamber music of harp, two violins, and viola (E: Mi Re Do Re Mi),
alluding to Mason's Bethany (1856; Nearer, my God, to Thee, 1841;
Sarah Fuller Flower Adams, 1805-1848).
Various shreds of Watchman are suggested (D: Do Re Mi Re Mi Fa Sol), notably in solo cello (A: Do Re Mi Re Do Re Do), in a course identical to the
Joseph Philbrick Webster (1819-1875)
In the Sweet By and By
(1868; Sanford Fillmore Bennett, 1836-1898), before two mostly unison choral verses (Watchman, Tell Us of the Night, 1825; John Bowring, 1792-1872) unfold in slight rhythmic distortions over contrapuntal dreamlike orchestral waves.
Above, a flute takes phrases of the Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
Proprior Deo / Nearer to God (D: Mi Re Mi Do Sol La - itself close to Bethany's Mi Re Do Do La La), Thomas E. Perkins's Something for Thee,
the cadential phrase of I Hear Thy Welcome Voice by
Lewis Hartsough (1828-1919), and further strains of Bethany (the outline of M3 seemingy a through-line throughout)-- with Westminster Chimes (1793, Joseph Jowet, 1751-1813, possibly after measures 5-6 of I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" from G.F. Handel's Messiah) on the celesta.
Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o'er yon mountain's height,
See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes – it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.
Watchman, tell us of the night;
Higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
Peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
See, it bursts o'er all the earth.
Watchman, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace,
Lo! the Son of God is come!
Watchman, tell us of the night,
What the signs of promise are:
Traveller, o'er yon mountain's height,
See that Glory beaming star!
Watchman, ought [sic] of joy or hope
Traveler, yes – it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.
Dost thou see its beauteous ray?
Ives's "second verse" begins on the sixth line of the original, with the chorus breaking into brief four-part (1 female / 3 male) contrapuntal / homophonic texture at the repeated concluding line -- the assembly dying away in quadruple-pianissimo.
II. Comedy: Allegretto is inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne[1804-1864]'s
The Celestial Railroad (1843), itself a response to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progess (1678). In Ives's projected list of Men of Literature Overtures, he included one on Hawthorne, which he sketched in 1910 at Elk Lake. This was re-composed into Piano Sonata No. 2 ("Concord"): II. Hawthorne, dated April-October 1911.
The final phantasmagorical Hawthorne march is on the Thomas a'Beckett (1808-1890) Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, which -- while Ives also utilized in the Symphony No. 2 (1902) and A Symphony: New England Holidays: IV. Fourth of July (1913) -- here sounds as a precurser to its use in II. Comedy. The movement is an orchestral expansion of Ives's piano solo, The Celestial Railroad (1924), and may thus be one of Ives's last orchestra works. It is his most extreme endeavor in overlapping themes, along the lines of the Holidays: Fourth of July, but more complex in polymetrics and contrary musics.
The complexity of the work requires a second conductor, right from the introductory growls and invocation of hymns (some in quarter tones), which includes Watchman in violins. George F. Root[1820-1895]'s Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (The Prisoner's Hope, 1864) grows out of a bustling cacophony, only to subside again into a dreamy evocations of Watchman and The Sweet By and By, which alternate with the tramping madness and a suggestion of The Caisson Song (1908, Alfred C Montin (1880 - 1964), until combining surreally.
In the prison cell I sit,
Thinking Mother dear, of you,
And our bright and happy home so far away,
And the tears they fill my eyes
Spite of all that I can do,
Tho' I try to cheer my comrades and be gay.
Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up comrades they will come,
And beneath the starry flag
We shall breathe the air again,
Of the freeland in our own beloved home.
Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail
As the caissons go rolling along.
Up and down, in and out,
Countermarch and right about,
And our caissons go rolling along.
For it's hi-hi-hee in the Field Artillery,
Shout out the number loud and strong.
Till our final ride, It will always be our pride
To keep those caissons a rolling along.
Ragtime, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, more distorted Watchman / Sweet fragments, and the anonymous/undated Reveille (some of this dating back to the earlier Hawthorne material), head towards a "Collapse," where one orchestral group in slow 3/2 initially sychronizes with another 4/4 entourage. This latter ensemble then accelerates and collapses, waiting for the first posse to catch up and resynchronize. Another quieter section "a take off here on polite salon music . . . pink teas in Vanity Fair social life" leads to still more Watchman / Sweet, building back up into another rag evocation.
Trumpets punch out the eighth notes of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (1808) first-movement motif, while trombones raucously intone Beulah Land
(1875, John Robson Sweney, 1837-1899) and cornets belt out
Massa's in de Cold, Cold, Ground: Down in de Corn Field (1852, Stephen Foster, 1826-1864).
Another quiet section, on Jesus, Lover of my Soul (Martyn, 1834; Simeon Bulkley Marsh, 1798-1875) is violently interrupted by Beulah Land noise and shimmers, before returning to a larger Jesus, Lover passage, filligreed by quarter-tone piano.
This is shattered again by the finale cacophony of Marching Through Georgia (1865, Henry Clay Work, 1832-1884), Ives's own Country Band March (1905, augmented in Three Places in New England: II. Putnam's Camp, Redding, Connecticut, 1912),
Ye Christian Heralds (1832, Heinrich Christoph [Charles] Zeuner, 1795-1857 -- its three-note opening corresponding to the Beethoven Fifth),
Yankee Doodle (1780), Turkey in the Straw, Long Long Ago, Reveille, The Irish Washerwoman, and more ragtime. Aside from the spiritual comedy, this seems also World War I, in patriotism spiralling into madness, concluding with a fizzing away, again reminiscent of the Holidays: Fourth.
III. Fugue: Andante moderato con moto is an elaboration of a keyboard work Ives wrote at Yale for Horatio Parker (1863-1919),
on Mason's Missionary Hymn (1823; From Greenland's Icy Mountains, 1819, Reginald Heber, 1783-1826),
with one countersubject on Oliver Holden's Coronation (1765-1844;
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name, 1779, Edward Perronet, 1726-1792). Scholastic in stretto, mirror, pedal-point, and augmentation -- it was re-composed for String Quartet No. 1 ("From the Salvation Army"): I. Andante con moto (1902). In the orchestral version, first composed in 1909 at Elk Lake, the fugue ends with a brief interior-phrase quotation of Mason's Antioch (1839, derived from G.F. Handel motives from Messiah, 1741;
Joy to the World. 1719, Isaac Watts, 1674-1748). Ives characterized the work as "an expression of the reaction of life into formalism and ritualism." Paradoxically, because of its juxtaposition with the other three complex section, Ives biographer Jan Swafford calls this "in a way the most revolutionary movement of all."
The composer characterized IV. Finale: Very slowly – Largo maestoso as "an apotheosis of the preceding content, in terms that have something to do with the reality of existence and its religious experience." The music dates back to 1901, when Ives was organist at New York's Central Presbyterian Church (then at Broadway and 57th) when he wrote the now-lost Memorial slow march on Mason's Bethany / Nearer, my God -- 'a slow, out-of-doors march . . . in part, the remembrance of the way the hymn sounded in some old Camp Meeting services . . . also had something to do with . . . a scene one evening in Cafe Boulevard, New York, after [William] McKinley's assassination in [September] 1901; Everybody stood up and sang this hymn." String Quartet No. 2: III ends with a mountain-top vision of Bethany and Westminster Chimes, an expanded D Major over descending whole-tone scales in cello. The symphonic movement opens with a spatially separated percussion section that performs in a contrary tempo from the main ensemble -- sychronization between the two groups changing over the course of the movement in specific ways.
Choral forces return, after their absence since the first movement, now for a wordless dream on interior phrases of Bethany / Nearer, my God, (the chorus here and previously thereby on material exclusively derived from Mason), which, by this point, certainly would have called to mind the sinking of the Titanic (April 14-15, 1913), and the yearning for peace during World War I (1914-18).
I-II were first performed on a Pro Musica International Referendum Concert, by 50 members of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Eugene Gooosens, January 29, 1927, Town Hall, New York. While this ensemble was sufficient for the chamber scoring of the first movement, the second requires almost twice as many performers. It was Ives's only experience of the symphony live.
Henry Bellamann's note to this performance (very much in the spirit of Ives's own characterization), as his tone of voice and use of language is obvious throughout) states, "The aesthetic program of the work is that of many of the greatest literary and musical masterpieces of the world -- the searching questions of What? and Why? which the spirit of man asks of life. This is particularly the sense of the prelude. The . . . succeeding movements are the diverse answers in which existence replies" (In Memos, Ives misquotes Bellamann's program note by attributing to it the previous description of the Finale).
An arrangement of III by Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) was performed on May 10, 1933, again in New York.
The symphony did not have a complete performance until Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, April 26, 1965... 11 years after Ives's death.
It was soon recorded by the same forces for the first time for the Columbia label.
The 1965 performance score, published by G. Schirmer (AMP), has recently been augmented by the new Charles Ives Society Critical Edition, 2011 (edited by William Brooks, James Sinclair, Kenneth Singleton, Wayne Shirley, and Thomas M. Brodhead), which presents the music in the largely unperformable but compositionally intriguing state in which Ives left it in his manuscripts, and then a necessary corresponding Performance Score (ed. Thomas M. Brodhead), which was premiered at the Lucerne Festival, August 26, 2012, under the direction of Peter Eötvös.
Arnold Schoenberg's Moses und Aron. Paris Opera, Paris, France. Repeated 11/6 and 9. "As Moses sings in the opening scene, [God] is “unique, eternal, omnipresent, invisible, unrepresentable.” That’s the paradox of Arnold Schönberg’s . . . landmark opera Moses und Aron . . . in a visually dazzling, thrillingly radical production . . . . If God is unrepresentable, as Schönberg and Moses have it, how to stage this opera, which is essentially a long argument between Moses and Aron about the clash between the purity of an idea — in this case, the revelation of a single God -- and its corruption when it is put into words and images? . . . Moses und Aron . . . was originally written by Schönberg as an oratorio in the early 1920's and then transformed into an opera from 1930 to 1932 (Born Jewish in 1874 in Vienna, Schönberg converted to Protestantism at 18, but reclaimed his Jewish identity after confronting Nazi anti-Semitism. It seems likely that the composition of “Moses” was part of a personal confrontation with religious thought). . . . The huge chorus (117 people, including 30 children, in this production) must whisper and shout, sing and speak. The effect is complex, dissonant and powerful . . . This “Moses” starts slowly, almost sleepily, with an old-fashioned double tape reel spooling into the hands of Moses as the wonderfully atmospheric opening chords and choral voices begin. . . . An orgy and virgin sacrifices are enacted with stylized violence, given form in dances of knotty intertwining" [Roslyn Sulca, 11/4/15].
Violinist Leila Josefowicz and Pianist John Novacek, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Josefowicz took every rhythmic detour in Erkki-Sven Tuur’s Conversio (1994), which starts stuck in a rut, confused and circling, and seems to get out by remembering how to be silent, despite interruptions by slashing chords. She gave the highways and byways of [John] Adams’s Road Movies (1995) childlike wonder. The music seemed to wake, disoriented, from a nap at the end of the first movement, Relaxed Groove, and overdose on sugar in the hyperactive finale, 40 Percent Swing. Her repertoire of tone was just as broad in the dances of [Manuel da] Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole, with ethereal halftones in Nana, caustic aggression in Polo and a wheezy fug in Asturiana. If the heavenly light of Messiaen’s Theme and Variations began a little dim, it blinded by the end. Most affecting of all was the encore, Claus Ogermann’s arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, at first watery, then content [David Allen, The New York Times, 11/11/15].
Arnold Schoenberg’s The Book of Hanging Gardens (Stefan George) and Alban Berg's Five Orchestral Songs on Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg, performed by Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber. Park Avenue Armory’s Board of Officers Room, New York, NY. "[Gerhaher] said that the cycle is 'like Christmas, 15 times over.' . . . Schoenberg creates an entirely new set of colors for every emotional nuance, likening each stanza to a gift . . . . Schoenberg’s The Book of Hanging Gardens is situated in a monstrously fertile landscape in which every luscious plant and sinuous animal conspires to heighten the poet’s erotic agony. , , [I]t’s the piano part that charts the topography, and Mr. Huber’s warm and attentive playing brought each to life. Mr. Huber also stole some of the spotlight in Berg’s Five Orchestral Songs on Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg, in which the poet looks 'beyond the borders of the universe' for consolation. The piano arrangement maintains much of the watercolor delicacy of the original orchestral score, allowing Mr. Gerhaher’s clear, sometimes painfully fragile voice to skirt the border between singing and speaking" [Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The New York Times, 11/11/, 2015].
As part of a series of attacks across Paris, three gunmen conduct a mass shooting during a sold-out (1,500) Eagles of Death Metal concert, killing 89 concertgoers and wounding 200, before two of the attackers detonate explosive vests, and the third is killed by police. Bataclan, Paris, France. "[Eagles of Death Metal] from Palm Desert [CA], mixes driving blues-rock of 1970's vintage with a heavy dose of humor. For fans of Eagles of Death Metal, the band’s name is part of its irreverent charm. 'We kind of have a rule with Eagles of Death Metal that it’s the fun show, and we want everyone to belong' Jesse Hughes, one of the group’s two leaders, said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. But as news spread across social media, fans -- as well as many more who had probably never heard of the group before -- expressed horror over the scene at . . . Bataclan. . . . The band’s members were reported safe. . . . The band, formed in 1998, is closely associated with Queens of the Stone Age, which specializes in the fuzzy guitar sounds of 1970's metal. Joshua Homme, the leader of Queens of the Stone Age, is the other primary member of Eagles of Death Metal, which was on a European tour . . . . Homme, who rarely tours with Eagles of Death Metal, was not with the group . . . . U2 announced that it had canceled a concert scheduled in Paris on [November 14]. 'We watched in disbelief and shock at the unfolding events . . . and our hearts go out to all the victims and their families across the city tonight,' the band said in a statement. 'We are devastated at the loss of life . . . and our thoughts and prayers are with the band and their fans'" [Ben Sisario, The New York Times, 11/13/15]. "Designed in 1864 by the architect Charles Duval, [Bataclan] refers to [Jacques Offenbach's] Ba-Ta-Clan . . . but it is also. . . the expression 'tout le bataclan' (the whole caboodle), the oldest written use of [this locution] which predates Offenbach in a journal entry of . . . [November, 11 1761] by [Charles Simon] Favart" [Wikipedia, 11/14/15[.
Yefim Bronfman Plays Sergei Prokofiev Sonatas Nos. 1-4. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Before the pianist Yefim Bronfman’s concert on Friday evening at Zankel Hall, Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, requested a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Mr. Bronfman has a businesslike demeanor: After a curt nod to the audience he sat down and plunged straight into Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 1 without a moment of mental preparation or any of the customary fussing with the piano bench. He seemed to channel the rage and grief of multitudes into his magnificently communicative playing in this concert, the first of three this season featuring Prokofiev’s nine piano sonatas in chronological order. Prokofiev eventually deemed his short Piano Sonata No. 1, a student work, 'a naïve and simple little piece,' but there was nothing trivial about Mr. Bronfman’s performance, in which the melody emerged with stately warmth amid the tumultuous chords. In the enigmatic, lyrical Piano Sonata No. 2, he conveyed the work’s roiling, unstable moods, with a gently seething Andante and a brilliantly articulated Vivace. Prokofiev’s single-movement Piano Sonata No. 3 also traverses eclectic terrain. With a silky touch, Mr. Bronfman rendered the serene moments starkly against the emotional outbursts elsewhere. The Piano Sonata No. 4 is equally tense, its dark undercurrents illuminated here with riveting intensity and the bravura finale dazzling for its energy and clarity" [Vivien Schweitzer, 11/16/15].
Philip Glass's Appomattox. Kennedy Center, Washington, DC. "Since the first version of Appomattox was given its premiere in 2007 at the San Francisco Opera, many states have passed laws making it harder to vote, and, in 2013, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. So [Philip] Glass and [librettist Christopher] Hampton significantly revised the opera and made voting rights a central theme. . . . The rethought opera harks back to the days before texts were considered sacrosanct, when composers like Handel, Verdi, and Puccini continued to tinker with and transform their finished works over the years. The new Appomattox, even though its subject is history, can feel as timely as a Twitter feed, with its explorations of race, police violence, civil rights, and voting rights. And it is joining a long operatic tradition of using historical subjects in ways that resonate with contemporary issues — from the way Verdi’s Va Pensiero chorus in the biblical epic Nabucco came to be heard as a nationalist anthem to how his Don Carlo used Spanish history to weigh in on realpolitik and the church. . . . The original version of [Appomattox] portrayed the final days of the Civil War, and dramatized Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the village of Appomattox Court House, Va., before flashing forward to brief scenes from Reconstruction and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. While the first act of the new, expanded Appomattox is still set in the 19th century, the second is now devoted to civil and voting rights. The opera now opens with Frederick Douglass visiting the White House in 1865 and telling Abraham Lincoln he would like to see 'voting rights for all free men of color.' In the second act, a century later, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visits the White House to press President Lyndon B. Johnson on the Voting Rights Act. Mounting an opera about voting rights in the nation’s capital is 'so fitting and appropriate,' said Representative John Lewis of Georgia, whose skull was fractured by a state trooper during the 1965 march in Selma, Ala., that became known as Bloody Sunday, and who said he had been surprised to learn that he was a character in the opera. . . . One dramatic thread that has been expanded in the revised opera seems especially timely in the age of the Black Lives Matter movement: the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson, the 26-year-old civil rights marcher whose death in 1965 at the hands of a state trooper led to the historic marches in Selma. . . . [When] Francesca Zambello became the artistic director of Washington National Opera in 2013 and, she recalled, was 'shocked' to discover that the company had never staged an opera by Mr. Glass. She said that she found the idea of mounting Appomattox appealing, but worried that the original version felt unfinished.'. . . Glass clearly relishes the thought of bringing a political opera to Washington. . . . Given the fast pace of change in the country, Mr. Glass added that he wondered if this version of Appomattox would be the last. 'I can easily imagine,' he said, 'saying we have to write a new third act'" [Michael Cooper, The New York Times, 11/10/15]. "[11/14/15's presentation was] also called a world premiere. For this year’s 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Mr. Glass and Mr. Hampton condensed the events of 1865 and wrote a new second act that dramatizes President Lyndon B. Johnson’s passage of that seminal piece of legislation in 1965 against the backdrop of protests. A chilling epilogue, set in a Mississippi jail in 2011, shows the unrepentant murderer of three rights activists spewing hatred and boasting of his crime. . . This Appomattox . . . is a frustratingly uneven work that presents well-known historical facts on a conveyor belt of forgettable music. . . . The score to this first act features some of the most nondescript music Mr. Glass has written, with a soft, string-heavy orchestration laced here and there with percussion. The language is made up of Mr. Glass’s trademark undulating arpeggios and cloudy modulations but never builds up to the transcendent poetry of his music for the Gandhi opera Satyagraha. An arrangement of the Civil War song Tenting on the Old Campground opens the opera on a note of guileless vulnerability that is unrelated to the ensuing three hours of generic music. When the black journalist T. Morris Chester, sung resplendently by Frederick Ballentine, delivers an anguished report on the post-Civil War massacre of black soldiers, the orchestra sounds mildly detached. 'My heart is too full to say more,' Lee, sung with great warmth by David Pittsinger, tells his troops after he has told them of the surrender. . . . Mr. Glass only offers a squiggly line of undulating strings to fill in the blank. The period of Reconstruction is an even bigger blank. Instead, Act II fast-forwards to 1965. The characters of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (the sonorous bass Soloman Howard, who sang Douglass in Act I) and President Johnson (the baritone Tom Fox, doubling as Lincoln) bring forth some of the freshest writing from Mr. Hampton . . . . This new act is altogether brighter and more confident -- entertaining, even, despite the acts of racist violence invoked in upsetting detail. A few rousing and idiomatic orations by Dr. King (written by Mr. Hampton) provide Mr. Glass with the kind of musical dramaturgy lacking in the older material. The reverend’s rising rhetorical cadence and call-and-response with his congregation is a natural fit for opera and Mr. Glass’s music in these scenes is the most successful" [Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, 11/15/15].
Olga Neuwirth's In Nacht und Eis, Pierre Boulez's Dialogue de l’Ombre Double (two versions), George Lewis's Emergent. Sawdust, New York, NY. "[New York] has not done right lately by Pierre Boulez, who turned 90 in March. The . . . Philharmonic -- of which he was music director from 1971 to 1977, in a tenure now often criticized as recondite in its programming (untrue) and dire in its ticket sales (ditto) -- did nothing to honor the birthday. Nor did our other major cultural institutions. It has taken a series of concerts this week at National Sawdust . . . for Mr. Boulez to be the focus of a sustained tribute here. And it’s a well-plotted tribute that does justice to a composer, conductor, pianist and theorist whose influence looms peerlessly large over the past half-century of music. The four concerts juxtapose Mr. Boulez’s works with those of other artists and, appropriately, center on his Dialogue de l’Ombre Double (1984), which recurs throughout the week. Dialogue is, as you can imagine, a conversation, but it’s unexpected: between a clarinetist (here the alert Joshua Rubin) and that musician’s recorded self. Skipping, fluttering, demanding, the score moves with perplexing yet alluring smoothness between live and amplified sound, as the recorded lines slip stealthily around the room, from one speaker to another. Mr. Boulez later created versions of the piece for different instruments, and in 1995 made one for [bassoonist Pascal] Gallois. The bassoon brings a more grounded, earthy quality to the score than the clarinet, especially since Mr. Gallois’s interpretation, while just as virtuosic as Mr. Rubin’s, is less pert and more natural. In Olga Neuwirth’s new version of her In Nacht und Eis for two bassoons, Rebekah Heller matched Mr. Gallois in inspired naturalness. The music, a genial if passionate partnership, moves from low, oscillating growls to husky floods of notes. George Lewis’s Emergent surrounded the flutist Claire Chase with electronic echoes of her ferocious yelps, like the ricocheting calls of a flock of excited birds. . . . Eight months late, it’s the birthday gift [Boulez] deserves" [Zachary Woolfe, 11/18/15].
New Juilliard Ensemble in the New York premiere of William Primosch’s From a Book of Hours, plus Du Yun's Quatrain (Slow Portraits iii), Michael Zev Gordon’s Sehnsucht, Elliott Sharp’s Wannsee Noir, and Gyorgy Kurtag’s Brefs Messages. Paul Hall, Juilliard School, New York, NY. “'Why so little Rilke-music?' a critic from The New York Times asked over 20 years ago, noting how many composers have kept a respectful distance from this great poet. Among those who have heeded the challenge of setting his texts is the composer James Primosch, who has turned to Rilke’s religious poetry for a number of songs that elegantly combine personal fervor and worldly sophistication. . . . Primosch’s From a Book of Hours [is] set to devotional texts Rilke first published in 1905. With one evoking 'the calm between two notes' that get along with difficulty, yet 'are reconciled, with trembling, in the dark rest,' it’s the sort of poetry that’s aching to be sung. Alexandra Razskazoff gave a beautiful performance of this captivating work, which benefited as much from her richly faceted, slinky soprano as from the expressive clarity she brought to the German text. Art song requires a singer to lavish as much thoughtfulness and art on diction as on musical phrasing, and Ms. Razskazoff appears to have the makings of a great recitalist. The ensemble, under the assured direction of Joel Sachs, sounded most comfortable in this work, with its late-Romantic language laced with idiosyncratic colorings. In some of the other works, all premieres, there was a certain respectful rigidity in the playing that seemed more concerned with getting it right than making it speak. Du Yun’s Quatrain (Slow Portraits iii) plunged the listener into a noisy bazaar of sounds and styles, in which Moorish melodies played on the oboe wrestle for attention with Chinese-flavored violin solos, hard-edge percussion and conciliatory strains from guitar and harp. In the end the music seemed to dissolve into thin air like a mirage. Michael Zev Gordon’s Sehnsucht for mixed ensemble opened with the kind of musical gestures one might expect in a work titled Longing: a flourish that won’t quite let go of its final note; a swelling cello sigh. But what followed was a fascinating play on textures with moments of fit-to-burst tension, pulsating with microtonal heat, that eventually led to a delicate, fragile ending. Jaunty short ensemble phrases and spirited solos, interspersed by flat patches of sustained dissonant chords, characterized Elliott Sharp’s Wannsee Noir with spotlight-stealing turns by the trumpeter Matthew Mead and cheeky challenges by the clarinetist Shen Liu and the bass clarinetist Kristina Teuschler. A polished performance of [Gyorgy[ Kurtag’s Brefs Messages (Op. 47) also offered opportunities for individual players to shine in a witty and economically drawn series of portraits that investigated the nature of musical conversation and community" 9Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, 11/18/15].
Olga Neuwirth's In Nacht und Eis; Pierre Boulez's Incises, Dialogue de l'Ombre Double, and Piano Sonata No. 2; and Elliott Carter's Two Diversions and Two Thoughts About Piano. National Sawdust, New York, New York.
Julliard Opera presents Francis Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tiresias (The Breasts of Tiresias, 1947) and Viktor Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Oder der Tod Dankt Ab (The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Abdicates, 1943). Peter Jay Sharp Theater, New York, NY. "Though contrasting in style and mood, are both [the Poulenc and Ullman are] lunatic satirical responses to the carnage of World War II. The zaniness of Les Mamelles starts to become evident in the title, since Tiresias is the male name adopted by Thérèse when she declares her independence, wanting to make war instead of babies, growing a beard and shedding her breasts (Balloons, the inevitable stand-ins for free-floating breasts, are about all I remember from Seiji Ozawa’s presentation of the opera with the Tanglewood Music Center in 1997). But France needs to repopulate, according to the stated (tongue at least partly in cheek) moral of the opera, which is based on a 1917 surrealist play by Guillaume Apollinaire written in reaction to another devastating war. So Thérèse’s unnamed Husband has to learn how to make babies without her and does so prodigiously in some unexplained manner . . . producing 40,049 of them in one day. Der Kaiser is an altogether darker affair. Ullmann, who was murdered at Auschwitz in 1944, composed it inside the belly of the beast, at the Terezin concentration camp, to a libretto by a fellow inmate, Peter Kien. An allegorical figure, Death, who has been rendered all too obsolete by mass slaughters, squares off against Emperor Überall, pretty much a dead ringer for Hitler, if slightly more rational in the end. Even Kien and Ullmann, it seems, could not imagine the worst. . . . The “Kaiser” production is especially evocative, incorporating the creators’ prison experience into the play, as it were, with a striped-pajama motif in most of the costumes, designed by Paul Carey. That Terezin inmates did not wear stripes matters little in this fanciful context. As announced beforehand, the performance of Mamelles, set in Paris (or Zanzibar; it is never quite clear), was dedicated to “the spirit of the French people" [James R. Oestreich, 11/19/15].
Olga Neuwirth's In Nacht und Eis, Sabrina Schroeder's Flatspin (stircrazer IV), Franck Bedrossian's Transmission, Mario Diaz de Leon's The Soul is the Arena, and Pierre Boulez's Dialogue de l’ombre double. Sawdust, New York, NY.
The Opus Project presents Opus 35: Numbers Up. Selections from Jean Sibelius's Jubal, Albert Roussel's Chinese Poems, Alexander Scriabin's Piano Preludes, Sergei Rachmaninoff's The Bells, Gustav Holst's Songs for Voice and Violin, Arnold Schoenberg's Six Pieces for Male Chorus, Cyril Scott's Pierrot, Karol Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No. 1, Ernst Toch's Cello Concerto, Sergei Prokofiev's Melodies without Words, Alois Hába's Mother, Paul Hindemith's The Serenades, Paul Creston's Symphony No. 2, Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1, Samuel Barber's A Hand Of Bridge, Alan Hovhaness's The Lord's Prayer, Benjamin Britten's Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Vincent Persichetti's King Lear, Gyorgy Kurtag's Holderlin Gesange, George Crumb's Makrokosmos - Volume II, Robert Muczynski's Piano Sonata No. 3, Mark Alburger's Missa California, and Michael Stubblefield's Six Short Piano Pieces on Twelve-Tone Circles. Diablo Valley College Music Building, Viking Drive, Pleasant Hill, CA.
Luigi Nono's Polifonica-Monodica-Ritmica, Pierre Boulez's Éclat and Le Marteau sans Maitre, and Karlheinz Stockhausen's Kontra-Punkte. Sawdust, New York, NY.
New York Youth Symphony in Maurice Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, George Gershwin's An American in Paris, and the premiere of Gabriella Smith’s Lost Coast. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Lost Coast . . . is a 20-minute work featuring solo cello . . . inspired by a five-day backpacking trip the composer took on the remote Lost Coast Trail in Northern California. The score is like a landscape in sound, unfolding in a shimmering haze with earthy string sounds, flecks of woodwinds, swelling brass bursts and thematic fragments that never quite coalesce into themes. The solo cello has long, demanding stretches of scratching sounds, slides and rhythmic bursts hand-tapped on the body of the instrument" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 11/23/15].
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performs Arnold Schoenberg's Kammersymphonie No. 1. Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "The highlight was an arresting performance of Schoenberg’s breathless Kammersymphonie No. 1, performed here in Anton Webern’s ingeniously effective arrangement for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 11/23/15].
MusicNOW presents Ted Hearne's Law of Mosaics, Kaija Saariaho's Petals and Daniel Wohl's Glitch. Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Chicago, IL. "Kaija Saariaho's 1988 Petals, for cello and electronics, [was] an otherworldly soundscape played with literally crunching virtuosity by [Chicago Symphony Orchestra] cellist Katinka Kleijn. In his electro-acoustic piece for string quartet, Glitch (2009), Wohl makes the pops and clicks of old vinyl records, the skips of scratched CD's and other accidents of recording playback an integral part of the piece. The conceit results in a series of increasingly violent confrontations between acoustical order and electronic distortion, before looping consonances restore calm. Hearne's string-orchestra opus Law of Mosaics (2012) attempts nothing less than a grand deconstruction of several hundred years of string-orchestra music, in six movements. The starts and stops that play hob with linear momentum (the lifeblood of much Baroque string music) in the opening section give rise to postmodernist mashups of Bach, Vivaldi, and Mahler later on. It was all done with enormous punch and precision by an ensemble of CSO string players and guests, under the firm guidance of conductor Christopher Rountree" [John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 11/27/15[.
Juilliard String Quartet in Elliott Carter's String Quartet No. 1. Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "Joel Krosnick, the quartet’s cellist since 1974 and its longest-serving member by far, announced in May that he would leave the group at the end of this season. With no musician remaining on the roster who played with any of the Juilliard’s founding artists, a new era for a hallowed institution awaits. The cello, first grand, then ruminative, plays alone at the start of Elliott Carter’s Quartet No. 1, written during a period in the Arizona desert in 1950-51. Mr. Krosnick rendered this solo with craggy glory, later plucking with gruff majesty as the violist Roger Tapping unspooled a velvety, elegiac line. The group was endlessly agile in the twists of Carter’s quartet, defined by its myriad, complex shifts of tempo. Lively dances suddenly opened into rhapsodic yearning; a moody dialogue between cello and viola was interrupted by hovering, glassy high tones in the violins (Joseph Lin and Ronald Copes). Sudden floods of spidery runs and bursts of quivering energy were like sparks popping from a fire in a desert night. Now largely characterized by the sleekly intense sound of Mr. Lin, its first violinist since 2011, the ensemble can beef up, too, broadening into the Carter quartet’s passages of sunset richness" [Zachary Woolf, The New York Times, 11/24/15].
Juilliard Orchestra, conducted by Alan Gilbert, in Alban Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Gilbert and his players conveyed the dramatic conflicts and complexities of the music, especially in the opening Präludium, in which a mass of quivering figures and hazy textures crest into tortuous outbursts, and the final movement, a hurtling . . . deconstruction of the march idiom. The piece culminates with pummeling percussive hammer strokes that surely nod to Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. The performance was at once raw and radiant" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 11/25/15].
Music on the Edge. SubCulture, New York, NY. "in [Eric Moe's] Let Me Tell U About R Specials (2005), live and prerecorded flute lines chatter like customers at a table, trying to talk as a waiter’s sampled monologue interrupts. . . . Burr Van Nostrand’s Fantasy Manual for Urban Survival (1972), an underappreciated trio for alto flute ([Lindsey] Goodman), cello (Dave Eggar) and prepared piano (Mr. Moe). In six movements, including one that has the flutist and cellist intone a [Friedrich] Hölderlin poem (Hälfte des Lebens) in Sprechstimme over evocative, wintry tones, Mr. Van Nostrand’s distinctive voice pushes each instrument’s sonic boundaries to the breaking point. The mood is predominantly violent, an allusion to campus violence during the Vietnam War. The composer allows the flute and cello to arrive at havens -- single notes in which their timbres seem to merge -- but these oases don’t last long before carnage intrudes. Yet it’s the sadness of these moments that seems to be the piece’s essence, particularly in three movements marked Schwangesang (Swan Song). . . . Roger Zahab contributed two for percussion (Lisa Pegher, tremendous): A Spunky Twenty-Eight (1998), a fanfare for snare drum and tom-toms, and the alluring Deceived by Starlight (1996) for vibraphone. [Mathew] Rosenblum’s Northern Flicker (2012) is a more ambitious percussion work, a pounding showpiece of rhythmic flair. Mr. Moe played a piano dance dedicated to him by Lee Hyla, One Moe Time (Waltz for Eric), its rhythms distorted by abrasive runs. And Amy Williams’s First Lines (2006), with the composer at the piano, created satisfying miniatures from the opening lines of several poems. Shhhh, my grandmother is sleeping, from verse by Marilyn Chin, prompted snores from Ms. Goodman’s flute" [David Allen, 11/25/15].
Marin Alsop conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Samuel Barber's Second Essay for Orchestra, and Anna Clyne's Masquerade. Chicago, IL. "Like her famous mentor, Leonard Bernstein, Alsop can be a dervish on the podium when the music is fast, busy, and highly charged. But she is her own musician in terms of considered emotional response and the way she conveys intensity of feeling to her players. . . . [Anna] Clyne's brief Masquerade . . [is] an ideal curtain raiser, the swirling sounds eventually coalescing into a quotation of an old English drinking song, complete with rhythmic hiccups. The conductor's recordings of the complete Barber orchestral works for the Naxos label reveal her as one of the composer's most eloquent champions. Her sensitively shaped, deeply felt reading of Barber's Second Essay for Orchestra returned to the CSO repertory one of the finest American orchestral scores of the 1940's, and 'brava' to her for that. Alsop got her feel for jazz, and for Gershwin's music in general, early in her career when she operated her own swing band, so the idiomatic ease with which she had the CSO musicians tugging at the jazzy rhythms of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue came as no surprise. . . . Pianist Jon Kimura Parker . . . continued in the same high-energy, jazz piano with his solo encore, the bouncy Blues Etude by his late, great fellow Canadian, Oscar Peterson" [John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 11/27/15[.
Willima Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, directed by Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford, music by Patrick Doyle. Garrick Theatre, London, UK. "When it comes to writing music for the plays of William Shakespeare, few living composers can claim as much experience as Patrick Doyle, the two-time Academy Award nominee who has collaborated with Kenneth Branagh on screen adaptations including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet. Doyle has written music for more than 40 movies, most recently Disney's live action Cinderella, which was released earlier this year. His latest effort represents a return to his roots on the stage. . . . For The Winter's Tale, which co-stars Branagh and Judi Dench, Doyle has composed songs and dances as well as thematic music. He said he usually takes his inspiration from the actors' delivery of Shakespeare's verse. . . . In person, Doyle, 62, is friendly and animated. He speaks at an allegro gallop, with a thick Scottish accent that itself is often musical in its tonal variations. Growing up, he studied piano, singing and the tuba, and he graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. Early in his career, he worked as a music director and actor in the British theater and joined Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987. Their first collaboration was a stage production of Twelfth Night. 'It was clear that I was part of this team instantly,' Doyle recalled. 'I could read his mind. I got him. There's a kind of telepathy between us.' The Winter's Tale is part of Branagh's new company . . . . Doyle is scoring the entire season, which includes Terence Rattigan's Harlequinade, currently in repertory, and an upcoming staging of Romeo and Juliet. Working with Branagh, Doyle is often on set with the director and is sometimes required to come up with music on short notice. For Cinderella, he received a call the day before a big ballroom scene was shot asking for a waltz to be performed on playback as cast members entered the room. 'It was finished by 10 p.m. that night because it had to be ready for the sound department the next morning,' recalled Doyle. For The Winter's Tale, he had to write most of the score in the first week of rehearsals. . . . The Branagh-Doyle partnership is similar in some ways to the close collaboration between Laurence Olivier and composer William Walton . . . Walton worked with Olivier over three decades and wrote music for his film adaptations of Henry V, Hamlet, and, Richard III. 'Both have tended to work with one particular director, so they build up a kind of relationship with a shorthand and set of expectations, [Notre Dame Shakespeare specialist Peter] Holland said. When writing the opening music for Much Ado About Nothing, which is heard over Beatrice's line, 'Sigh no more, ladies,' Doyle said he adapted an unused melody from his score for Branagh's 1991 thriller Dead Again. The reworked tune became a recurring theme throughout the movie. 'You learn by experience,' said Doyle.'You come up with a strong theme. That's part of your technique as a dramatic writer. That's the joy of it'" [David Ng, Los Angeles Times, 11/27/15].
Dmitri Shostakovich. The Cello Concertos [Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major, Opus 107 (1959);
Cello Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Opus 126 (1966)]. Gautier Capuçon, Mariinsky Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev. Erato 0825646069736. "Only seven years separate the composer’s . . .[cello concerti], but they are worlds apart in terms of mood. Both works were written for Mstislav Rostropovich, whose premier recording of the First, with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, established it as an instant classic, and the most popular cello concerto of the second half of the 20th century. No amount of his advocacy could do as much for the Second, a rarity prized by cellists, rather than audiences. Capuçon’s gripping account, recorded live in St Petersburg with Gergiev’s Mariinsky, might alter its fortunes, as collectors will undoubtedly want his extrovert account of the First, recorded at a Paris concert with the same forces" [The Times of London, 11/29/15]. "Two live recordings, made in December 2013 at Paris’s Salle Pleyel and June 2014 at St. Petersbourg’s Mariinsky Thetre with the Mariinsky Orchestra. . . . The first was composed . . . a year after the Central Committee of the Communist Party admitted that in 1948 there had been unjust condemnation of Shostakovich and other composers as ‘Formalist' . . . . The two concertos are different in spirit and shape: the first is often assertive and energetic, and features a huge cadenza for the cello that is almost a movement in its own right, while the second is introspective and enigmatic" [mdt.co.uk].