Saturday, October 1, 2005
Chronicle of August 2005
Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. Lenox, MA. "The festival is directed this year by the composer John Harbison, who wrote in an overview published in the program book that "this year's festival is not about themes, trends or surveys," but is instead an anthology of modern works, with contemporary classics set beside newer scores. It is, in other words, pretty much what it has always been, and indeed, several of the featured composers -- Elliott Carter, George Perle, Milton Babbitt and Mr. Harbison himself -- are festival regulars. But those composers are represented by works written since 2000. Mr. Carter's Dialogues (2003), a piano concerto, was a highlight of the opening-night program, not only because Mr. Carter's language here is both refined and playful, but also because the performance, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, was carefully polished and full of character. This is a work that, as its title suggests, depends on interplay. There is ample give-and-take between the ensemble and the kinetic solo piano line, which Ursula Oppens played with the right balance of sparkle and deep focus. But there are equally important dialogues between sections of the orchestra. The result is a texture rich in interlocking figures. Appealing as well was Mémoriale ( ... explosante-fixe ... Originel), a 1985 work that catches Pierre Boulez in an unusually gentle, lyrical mood. Alan Pierson conducted, and drew a velvety sound from his players, and Alicia DiDonato gave a beautiful account of the shapely solo flute line. Ms. DiDonato also contributed prominently to Harrison Birtwistle's quirkily dramatic Secret Theater (1984) as did Brad Shimizu, an oboist, and Erin Svoboda, a clarinetist. Mr. Metzmacher, on the podium again, is clearly the man to call for works that create drama through intensive interplay and almost constant character shifts. The program also included Luigi Dallapiccola's Commiato (1972), an affecting vocal work sung by Lucy Shelton, who was in fine voice, and led by Ludovic Morlot, the Boston Symphony's assistant conductor" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/6/05].
Aaron Copland's The Tender Land. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. "Copland's only full-length opera, was commissioned for television and intended for performance by students and opera workshops. So, Copland composed an opera with "simple rhetoric and a musical style to match," as he later wrote. Rejected for broadcast by NBC, The Tender Land, with a libretto by Erik Johns, was given its premiere by the New York City Opera in 1954. The tepid reception to the work was a disappointment for the composer, who sounded almost apologetic in talking about the score. The music was "very plain, with a colloquial flavor," he wrote, "closer to musical theater than to grand opera." Maybe so. But you can only hope that Copland finally understood what an affecting, honest and musically elegant work this modest opera can be in a sensitive production, like the one that opened here . . . at Bard College, part of the school's SummerScape festival. The opera is being presented in the version prepared by the conductor Murry Sidlin for a 1987 revival, with the orchestra effectively reduced to an ensemble of 13 instruments [get it? - ed.]. Bard College's Theater Two at the new Fisher Center for the Performing Arts proved an ideally intimate space for this wistful chamber opera. . . . If you think yourself immune to Copland in his Americana mode, just try listening to this winning cast in the hymnal quintet The Promise of Living and see if you don't get misty-eyed" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 8/6/05].
Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's Musica a Quattro (1998), Harbison's String Quartet No. 4 (2001), and Elliott Carter's Adagio Tenebroso (1994). Lenox, MA. "Skrowaczewski's Musica . . . a plangent, dark-hued work for clarinet and strings, . . . suggested that listeners who know Mr. Skrowaczewski only as a conductor are missing an important part of the picture. . . . Harbison's String Quartet . . . shared Mr. Skrowaczewski's dark coloration and deliberate pacing, but his work was more dramatic and shapely, and it gradually climbed into the light by way of a vigorous finale" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/6/09].
Jean-Yves Thibaudet performs Maurice Ravel's G-Major Concerto with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra (Avery Fisher Hall) and, later the same night, Claude Debussy's Preludes (Kaplan Playhouse). New York, NY. "[T]he second [concert was] a short walk across the street and an elevator ride to the 10th floor. Not quite a marathon, but a lot to do. Mr. Thibaudet's extraordinary technical facility made it all sound easy, but he would rightly resent anyone saying that it was. The concerto finds Ravel in his show-off mode, yet this is one of his most satisfying pieces. The first and last movements are jazzy, or at least what French musicians in the 1920's and 30's thought jazz was. The slow movement is perhaps the most demanding of the three, with its long, stripped-bare and terribly exposed melody and accompaniment. It takes courage to wipe away the performer's ego and play this music absolutely straight, something that Mr. Thibaudet is very good at. Before wine-sipping listeners at the Kaplan space, Mr. Thibaudet continued his thoughts with Book 2 of the Debussy Preludes framed by pieces from Satie and Chopin. Don't be misled by Debussy's fantasy and exoticism. These 12 pieces are some of the best piano music ever written because of their deep and mysterious sense of symmetry for which the evening's pianist showed understanding and respect. . . . The prettied-up orchestra version of Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, taken from his original piano duet for children, started this long but pleasant evening" [Bernard Holland, The New York Times, 8/8/05].
Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. Lenox, MA. Milton Babbitt's writing can be abstruse, but . . . he was represented by three recent songs in which the vocal lines, though still angular at times, seemed to bend to the poetry in ways that Mr. Babbitt resisted in his early works. Margaret Brouwer's fantastically eclectic Light (2001) filtered fragments of medieval and Renaissance pieces through a prism of free-ranging melody. Her work and Shulamit Ran's Amichai Songs (1985) both use a harpsichord in their accompanying ensembles; Ms. Ran included a viola da gamba as well, although her assertively post-tonal music does not glance backward, as Ms. Brouwer's does. Augusta Read Thomas's In My Sky at Twilight (2001) bridges those worlds effectively, but also stands apart: where Mr. Babbitt, Ms. Brouwer and Ms. Ran offer focused song settings, Ms. Thomas's score is an expansive, unfolding drama built on text fragments that range from Sappho to W. S. Merwin. Steven Mackey, a polystylistic provocateur, was represented by two quirkily inventive works in a Sunday morning concert. His Gathering (2005), a premiere, is an Alleluia setting, easygoing and artfully articulated, and scored for the odd combination of trombones, vibraphones and voices. An earlier work, Indigenous Instruments (1989), uses detuned instruments and a sense of humor to suggest what Mr. Mackey called 'vernacular music from a culture that doesn't actually exist.' The highlight of a percussion concert . . . was Gunther Schuller's Grand Concerto for percussion and keyboards (2005), an involving 22-minute work in which eight percussionists, a harpist and two keyboardists used an enormous array of instruments to produce a sound in which gentleness and nuance trumped the aggressive noisemaking that the vast stage setup led listeners to expect. Its companions were nearly as appealing. In Acid Rain (1997), Edward Cohen used the timbres of glockenspiels, vibraphones and pianos to create an appealingly metallic but changeable texture. Joan Tower's DNA (2003) took the idea of continual timbral evolution even further" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/10/09].
Eighth Blackbird plays works by Derek Bermel, Gordon Fitzell, Frederic Rzewski, and David Gordon.
Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. Lenox, MA. "This year's five-day festival, which ended [with this concert], was directed by the composer John Harbison, who described his programming as 'an anthology' of contemporary styles, with the main focus on the last decade. Listeners attuned to new music could easily carp about composers or styles that were slighted, but Mr. Harbison touched on most of the bases. And it became clear over the five days that stylistic dogma interests him less than emotional depth and clarity. Unquestionably the most immediate knockout of the series was the last piece performed, Steven Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra (2004), an electrifying display of orchestral fireworks that won the Pulitzer Prize this year. Composed for the Los Angeles Philharmonic to play in its new Walt Disney Concert Hall, the piece uses a large orchestra and keeps all its sections busy creating textures that shimmer, sizzle and seduce. And that's just its surface charm; Mr. Stucky uses all this, along with a rich lyricism, in the service of an imaginative structure with a set of wide-ranging variations at the center and no padding whatsoever. The performance by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, led by Stefan Asbury, was polished and fully engaged. Mr. Asbury also led Lee Hyla's Triadic Coast (2005), an appealing brassy score commissioned for the occasion, and Alan Pierson led Julian Philips's Out of Light (2001), a lush, fluid score that evoked Barber and Britten, slightly updated. There were real finds in the chamber programs as well" [Jeremy Eichler, The New York Times, 8/24/09]. Last week, as the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood was gliding to a close, the large student orchestra of the Tanglewood Music Center lit into Steven Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra. It is an electrifying piece: three movements that explore an orchestra's potential in much the way Bartok's and Lutoslawski's concertos for orchestra do, but in ways that sound fresh and exciting. It alludes to works by other composers without losing its own focus, and like many of the festival works it stands apart from academic disputes about style and language, and strives for direct communication" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/10/05]. "Last week, as the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood was gliding to a close, the large student orchestra of the Tanglewood Music Center lit into Steven Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra. It is an electrifying piece: three movements that explore an orchestra's potential in much the way Bartok's and Lutoslawski's concertos for orchestra do, but in ways that sound fresh and exciting. It alludes to works by other composers without losing its own focus, and like many of the festival works it stands apart from academic disputes about style and language, and strives for direct communication.My previous encounter with the work was from a distance. Mr. Stucky composed it for Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic to play last year, and it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in April. I wrote a brief description of it, based on Mr. Stucky's program note, for The New York Times roundup of prize winners. But although Mr. Stucky's description of the score and his method of composing it piqued my interest, there wasn't much to be done: it became one of those works you read about but have no access to. The best you can do is file away the impression and hope that the piece turns up, either in the concert hall or on disc. When I finally did hear the work, at Tanglewood, the exhilaration of discovering a vivid new score was tempered by a nagging question. While intending no disrespect to the Tanglewood Music Center or its superb young musicians, who produced a fantastic performance, I wondered why I had had to drive 150 miles to hear a student orchestra play it, some 17 months after a premiere that, by all accounts, was a success and four months after its Pulitzer? Where, to put it differently, were the New York Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the American Symphony Orchestra and all the other orchestras that while away the musical season in a city that regards itself as the center of the musical universe? And what about orchestras elsewhere that might have picked up on the work, then brought it to New York on tour? If you are an orchestra administrator, and you've just clucked your tongue and muttered, 'He knows perfectly well that it doesn't work that way,' maybe it's time to think again about how it can work, or should. The issue is not the Stucky work itself. Pieces with its energy and appeal turn up all the time, as do works that find their way into the news (The Pulitzer is by no means the only important composition prize awarded these days). The issue is whether orchestras can find the will and the flexibility to tap into hot works when they turn up, or whether their idea of exciting programming is simply to group repertory favorites under facile thematic banners, with the occasional premiere thrown in dutifully and the word 'exciting' splashed across the brochure. Yes, there are structural hurdles in the current programming model that make it difficult for orchestras to turn on a dime and seize on works that were hits elsewhere. Orchestral programming is typically done two to three seasons in advance, a lead time necessary for securing guest performers and drawing up budgets. And once the programs are settled, they are advertised and offered in subscription series, so that swapping Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony for a work that didn't exist when the brochure was printed might give the appearance of bait-and-switch. But those aren't good reasons. They are merely the reasons orchestras have become so sclerotic. Other corners of the music world are nimble enough to allow for the new or the newsworthy. Instrumental competitions, for example, arrange for recital and concerto appearances with their winners long before the winners are known: these are part of the prize, and they put winners before audiences immediately. In pop music, a band with a hit will turn up at your local arena within weeks: can you imagine someone touring a hot album three years after it's released because scheduling is rigid? Now and then the symphonic world stirs itself, but usually when no heavy lifting is involved. When a work purporting to be a youthful Mozart symphony was discovered in the early 1980's, Lincoln Center got it onto a Mostly Mozart program while the headlines were still fresh. But that doesn't happen often. If orchestras want to make their programming exciting and part of a vibrant cultural dialogue, they might consider ways to boost their metabolism, and one way to do that would be to build scouting and rapid-reaction mechanisms into their operations. When an orchestra is giving a potentially interesting or important premiere, other orchestras should have representatives on the scene. And if the music does prove exciting, their programming departments should kick into action, obtaining the scores and scheduling them quickly - not three years from now but next month. Find a repertory staple and play the new piece instead. Forget the potential bait-and-switch complaints: programs are changed all the time, for reasons far less interesting than the sudden appearance of an exciting new score. And forget the outmoded notion that where new music is concerned, only premieres are important. Audiences and composers don't think that way. There is no real prestige in giving the premiere of a work that no one else plays, and there is no loss of prestige in giving the second, third or fourth performance of a worthy new score. Less adventurous listeners, in fact, may feel better about new works that have been vetted than about the shots in the dark that premieres generally are. And once an orchestra establishes a track record of finding works that resonate, audiences will come to trust these changes and look forward to them. I'm not holding my breath. Orchestras seem content to be museums now, even as they wring their hands about dropping subscription sales and graying listeners. But maybe there's someone in a programming department somewhere who sees the percentage in shaking things up, in treating new works as if they not only matter but have the power to breathe life into this sleepy business. It takes only one: if it works, everyone else will follow suit" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/15/09].
Mario Sergio Miragliotta conducts the Aspen Festival Orchestra in Arthur Honegger's Pastorale d'Été. Aspen, CO. "In June 2001, as he was driving here from California for the academy's second season, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and had a serious accident near Green River, Utah. His spinal cord was broken and he emerged a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. Although his recovery has been less miraculous than slow and laborious, Mr. Miragliotta has regained some mobility in his arms and hands and has done a bit of low-profile conducting since. [Today] he returns to the festival for the first time since his accident, to conduct Arthur Honegger's Pastorale d'Été in a concert by the Aspen Festival Orchestra, working from a specially built wheelchair. 'I'm better in many ways,' he said . . . outside the music tent before his first rehearsal. 'In many ways I'm still a quadriplegic. I cannot move my legs. My hands are not useful. I cannot grab. That makes a lot of things difficult, but I can get by. A lot of it is all about finding solutions.' Mr. Miragliotta, 39, born in São Paulo, Brazil, to Italian and Japanese parents, was relentlessly but unforcedly upbeat throughout the interview. 'I think what really helped me is that I have always been very positive,' he said. 'I have always seen the good side of things, or how fortunate I have been. One can be negative about things, and I am at times. I'm not perfect at all. But I think inside me is the ability to be happy about very simple things. I still have a good amount of freedom, and I'm thankful for that.' That freedom has become an issue in recent years. Mr. Miragliotta spent the first months after the accident hell-bent on recovery. He moved from Los Angeles to San Diego, where he did intensive physical therapy at Project Walk, a recuperative program for people with spinal cord injuries. For a season, after some improvement, he conducted the Classics for Kids Philharmonic there. But he is now focused on carving out his independence. He left therapy and began to exercise on his own, and is planning to move back to Los Angeles. 'My goal now is to get a little bit out of the world of being completely separated,' he said. 'To be independent - now that's like a therapy in itself. It's very strenuous physically and mentally. And that starts becoming part of my life.' But it is his continuing relationship to music, he says, that gives him the most sustenance. He came to music relatively late for a professional. He took up guitar when he was 15 or 16, viola a year or two later and conducting a couple of years after that. It was an encounter with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring that made him want to conduct. He tried playing it on his guitar, with results one would rather not imagine. His résumé also shows at least a passing acquaintance with the French horn, clarinet and percussion. He has singing experience and can still sing, insofar as his restricted breathing allows. And he has recently dabbled with the harmonica. 'I can't begin to tell you how much I love music,' he said. 'And the music is just - I forget everything. That I'm disabled, it doesn't matter. But now I need music more than music needs me. How many good conductors are there out there? There are plenty. Who knows if the world needs a paraplegic conductor in a wheelchair? There may be space.' The appearance here was arranged by David Zinman, who directs the conducting academy and who will conduct the rest of the program tomorrow. 'He can conduct just as much as Klemperer conducted,' Mr. Zinman said, referring to the fabled maestro Otto Klemperer after his stroke. 'He has to find a way of making music with his face, his arms and little gestures. He has to be much more concentrated. But as I say, Klemperer also found a way.' Mr. Zinman was surely not implying that Mr. Miragliotta had yet achieved a level of profundity comparable to Klemperer's. But he did suggest that Mr. Miragliotta had become 'a deeper musician because of this.' As for the sweet disposition that seemed to pervade the rehearsal, as it did the conversation, Mr. Zinman said: 'He has become sweeter, I must say. He was more of a torero before he had the accident.' Mr. Miragliotta remains resolute in his optimism and his determination. 'America is a great place to be if you're disabled,' he said. 'Most everywhere you go, things are accessible to a certain extent. I'm going to have to knock at doors and try to open them, and as long as they let me, I will do it. Trust me, I will do it. But I'm not going to lie to you and say, 'I'm going to do this for all the disabled people in the world.' No, I do it because I love music. When I'm really going to be able to do it fully, yes, there will be people who are going to be inspired and touched, even if they're not in a wheelchair. There is a message there - we have everything - and I hope people see that.' Mr. Miragliotta says he values music not only for its sounds and sentiments, but also for the life lessons it has afforded him.'I have discipline," he said. "This is maybe one of the things that music taught me, understanding that today you can't do something at all, and six months later you may be able to do it a little bit, and having patience. Music teaches you that. Know how to plant your seeds, and give them time to grow. In the beginning it took me two hours to shower and get dressed. Now it takes an hour and a half. Someday it will take one hour. Those are victories for me.' In the background as Mr. Miragliotta spoke, Mr. Zinman was rehearsing Strauss's tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life). Although Mr. Miragliotta would surely not buy into the melodrama, people have been called heroes for less than what he has already accomplished" [James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 8/13/05].
Rediscoveries: Aaron Copland and His World. Copland's El Salon Mexico, plus music of Silvestre Revueltas, Heitor Villa Lobos, Alberto Ginastera, and Mario Davidovsky. Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. "Copland espoused a creed of Shaker simplicity. The hymn he set in Appalachian Spring begins with the words ''Tis the gift to be simple.' When asked in 1937 about his role in the music of his time, he replied 'to write something that is simple, yet very good.' True to his pledge, his most famous populist works are written in a straightforward and direct style, with a restless rhythmic energy that seemed native born and a palette of harmonies that were lean yet open. It was music both proud and frugal, like the midcentury America he came to symbolize. Yet just how simple was Aaron Copland? The question wafted through a densely packed three days of programs at Bard College . . . . As in past years, the festival mixed orchestral and chamber concerts with supplementary events like panels, preconcert talks and even documentary films, placing the composer's achievement in a rich web of context. Bard's formula seemed tailor-made for a figure like Copland, whose output remains little known by most listeners beyond the few works that made him famous. The festival dug deeper, not only by presenting the jazz-infused Copland, the early modernist Copland and the very unsimple 12-tone Copland but also by trying to integrate these disparate faces into a single whole with that elusive ring of unity. The festival is sensibly premised on the notion that a composer's choices are best understood when placed against the backdrop of his times. So Copland's music was often a minority presence on individual programs. . . . [T]he only Copland work [in this concert] was El Salón México, performed in Bernstein's two-piano arrangement by Blanca Uribe and Richard Wilson. The rest of the program was devoted to concert music of Latin and South America, where Copland traveled extensively, gaining inspiration not only to integrate folk melodies into his music but also to reimagine the social possibilities of his art. The Daedalus Quartet gave polished and vigorous readings of string quartets by Revueltas and Villa-Lobos, and Ms. Uribe returned for a blistering performance of Ginastera's Danzas Argentinas. But it was the work most peripheral to the program's theme that made the strongest impression: Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms No. 9 pitted Curtis Macomber's solo violin against a recorded tape track in an exhilarating electro-acoustic exchange" [Jeremy Eichler, The New York Times, 8/24/09].
Rediscoveries: Aaron Copland and His World, including Copland's Violin Sonata, Statements, Billy the Kid, and Quiet City. Olin Hall, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. "[This program] brought a survey of mostly 1940's Neo-Classicism, works you almost never hear by Walter Piston, Paul Bowles, Irving Fine and others. Elliott Carter's Woodwind Quintet stood out in this company, with its thickly woven counterpoint and whirling centrifugal energy persuasively conveyed by the Bard Conservatory Woodwind Quintet. David Diamond's String Quartet No. 1, by contrast, came off as airless and heavy, which helped a listener appreciate Carter's ingenuity, not to mention the clean and graceful lines of Copland's Violin Sonata, also on the program. Leon Botstein led the American Symphony Orchestra . . . . [in a concert that charted] Copland's move toward popular appeal . . . These works were framed by other forays into accessible mass concert music by Jerome Kern, Elie Siegmeister, Samuel Barber and Roy Harris" [Jeremy Eichler, The New York Times, 8/24/09].
Death of Robert Moog (b. 5/23/34, New York, NY), of an inoperable brain tumor, discovered in April, at 71. Asheville, NC. "[He was] the creator of the electronic music synthesizer that bears his name and that became ubiquitous among experimental composers as well as rock musicians in the 1960's and 70's. . . . At the height of his synthesizer's popularity, when progressive rock bands like Yes, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Emerson, Lake and Palmer built their sounds around the assertive, bouncy, exotically wheezy and occasionally explosive timbres of Mr. Moog's instruments, his name (which rhymes with vogue) became so closely associated with electronic sound that it was often used generically, if incorrectly, to describe synthesizers of all kinds. More recently, hip-hop groups like the Beastie Boys and rock bands with more experimentalist leanings, from They Might Be Giants to Wilco, have revived an interest in the early Moog synthesizer timbres. Partly because of this renewed interest, Mr. Moog and his instruments were the subjects of a documentary, Moog, which opened in the fall of 2004. In an interview last year with The New York Times, Hans Fjellestad, who directed the film, likened Mr. Moog to Les Paul and Leo Fender, who are widely regarded as the fathers of the electric guitar. 'He embodies that sort of visionary, maverick spirit and that inventor mythology,' Mr. Fjellestad said at the time. Mr. Moog's earliest instruments were collections of modules better suited to studio work than live performance, and as rock bands adopted them, he expanded his line to include the Minimoog and the Micromoog, instruments that could be used more easily on stage. He also expanded on his original monophonic models, which played only a single musical line at a time, creating polyphonic instruments that allowed for harmony and counterpoint. Even so, by the end of the 1970's, Mr. Moog's instruments were being supplanted by those of competing companies like Arp, Aries, Roland and Emu, which produced synthesizers that were less expensive, easier to use and more portable (Those instruments, in turn, were displaced in the 1980's by keyboard-contained digital devices by Kurzweil, Yamaha and others). In 1978, Mr. Moog moved from western New York to North Carolina, where he started a new company, Big Briar (later Moog Music), that produced synthesizer modules and alternative controllers -- devices other than keyboards, with which a musician could play electronic instruments. His particular specialty was the Ethervox, a version of the theremin, an eerie-toned instrument created by the Russian inventor Leon Theremin, in the 1920's, that allows performers to create pitches by moving their hands between two metal rods. It was the theremin, in fact, that got Mr. Moog interested in electronic music when he was a child in the 1940's. In 1949, when he was 14, he built a theremin from plans he found in a magazine, Electronics World. He tinkered with the instrument until he produced a design of his own, in 1953, and in 1954 he published an article on the theremin in "Radio and Television News," and started the R. A. Moog Company, which sold his theremins and theremin kits. . . . [A]lthough he studied the piano while he was growing up in Flushing, Queens, his real interest was physics. He attended the Bronx High School of Science, and earned undergraduate degrees in physics from Queens College and electrical engineering from Columbia University. By the time he completed his Ph.D. in engineering physics at Cornell University in 1965, his theremin business had taken off, and he had started working with Herbert Deutsch, a composer, on his first synthesizer modules. Mr. Moog was familiar with the huge synthesizers in use at Columbia University and at RCA and that European composers were experimenting with; his goal was to create instruments that were both more compact and accessible to musicians. The first Moog synthesizers were collections of modules, connected by electronic patch cords, something like those that connect stereo components. The first module, an oscillator, would produce a sound wave, giving a musician a choice of several kinds, ranging from the gracefully undulating purity of a sine wave to the more complex, angular or abrasive sounds of square and sawtooth waves. The wave was sent to the next module, called an A.D.S.R. (attack-decay-sustain-release) envelope generator, with which the player defined the way a note begins and ends, and how long it is held. A note might, for example, explode in a sudden burst, like a trumpet blast, or it could fade in at any number of speeds. From there, the sound went to a third module, a filter, which was used to shape its color and texture. Using these modules, and others that Mr. Moog went on to create, a musician could either imitate acoustic instruments, or create purely electronic sounds. A keyboard, attached to this setup, let the performer control when the oscillator produced a tone, and at what pitch. 'Artist feedback drove all my development work,' Mr. Moog said in an interview with Salon in 2000. 'The first synthesizers I made were in response to what Herb Deutsch wanted. The now-famous Moog filter was suggested by several musicians. The so-called A.D.S.R. envelope, which is now a basic element in all contemporary synthesizers and programmable keyboard instruments, was originally specified in 1965 by Vladimir Ussachevsky, then head of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. The point is that I don't design stuff for myself. I'm a toolmaker. I design things that other people want to use.' University music schools quickly established electronic music labs built around the Moog synthesizer, and composers like Richard Teitelbaum, Dick Hyman and Walter Carlos (who later had a sex-change operation and is now Wendy Carlos) adopted them. For most listeners, though, it was a crossover album, Walter Carlos's Switched-On Bach, that ushered the instrument into the spotlight. A collection of Bach transcriptions, meticulously recorded one line at a time, Switched-On Bach was meant to persuade casual listeners who regarded synthesizers as random noise machines that the instrument could be used in thoroughly musical ways. The album's sequels included the haunting Purcell and Beethoven transcriptions used in the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange. Rock groups were attracted to the Moog as well. The Monkees used the instrument as early as 1967, on their Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. album. In early 1969, George Harrison, of the Beatles, had a Moog synthesizer installed in his home, and released an album of his practice tapes, Electronic Sound, that May. The Beatles used the synthesizer to adorn several tracks on the "Abbey Road" album, most notably John Lennon's Because, Harrison's Here Comes the Sun and Paul McCartney's Maxwell's Silver Hammer. Among jazz musicians, Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer and Sun Ra adopted the synthesizer quickly. And with the advent of progressive rock, in the early 1970's, the sound of the Moog synthesizer and its imitators became ubiquitous. In 1971, Mr. Moog sold his company, Moog Music, to Norlin Musical Instruments, but he continued to design instruments for the company until 1977. When he moved to North Carolina, in 1978, he started Big Briar, to make new devices, and he renamed the company Moog Music when he bought back the name in 2002. He also worked as a consultant and vice president for new product research at Kurzweil Music Systems, from 1984 to 1988. His first marriage, to Shirleigh Moog, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Ileana; his children, Laura Moog Lanier, Matthew Moog, Michelle Moog-Koussa, Renee Moog and Miranda Richmond; and five grandchildren" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Time, 8/23/05].
Rediscoveries: Aaron Copland and His World. Copland's Symphony No. 3 and Roger Sessions's Symphony No. 2. Olin Hall, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. "The . . . program, which opened with short fanfares by Harris, Piston, William Grant Still, and Henry Cowell. We are often reminded how music was yoked to the war effort in Germany and in the Soviet Union, but these fanfares were all commissioned in 1942 to support the North American forces. Copland's famous Fanfare for the Common Man came out of this same project, and [this] program made it seem fresh when it appeared as part of the last movement of the Symphony No. 3, which showed Mr. Botstein and the orchestra in top form. The Third Symphony was placed in a fascinating context next to Roger Sessions's Symphony No. 2, a dense and challenging work that engrosses with its Schoenbergian complexity but fails to tug on the primal emotions in the way that Copland's symphony so effectively does" [Jeremy Eichler, The New York Times, 8/24/09].
Composers Collaborative and Jed Distler present Terry Riley's In C. Cornelia Street Cafe, New York, NY. "There is also usually a repeating C, in octaves, played as a pulse that runs through the work, although this time the ensemble -- billed as the Mighty CCI House Band -- elected to drop it. That decision, though it made the piece sound slightly naked at first, allowed for an extra measure of fluidity in this already free-flowing score. The band, shoehorned onto the tiny stage, included woodwinds, brass, strings, piano, percussion and sitar, and wended its way through the score in 25 minutes. Compared with the slickly polished, 60-minute account that the Bang on a Can All-Stars played at Alice Tully Hall last season, this was a wild, homespun performance, but it had an infectious energy and, most important, the sense of on-the-spot interaction that is the soul of this piece" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/23/05].
R. Murray Schafer's Patria 9: The Enchanted Forest. Haliburton, Ontario. "Richard Wagner had his Bayreuth, with its Festspielhaus specially designed to accommodate his music dramas. And now the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer has the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve here. At 72, Mr. Schafer is one of the few Canadian composers to have become known internationally. In the United States, his music has been performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the St. Lawrence String Quartet. His choral music is popular in Scandinavia. He won the Prix International Arthur Honegger for his First String Quartet; and his 10th String Quartet, commissioned by Radio France, is to have its premiere in Paris in February. These achievements affirm Mr. Schafer's position as a respectable contemporary composer. But beyond his concert works, there is another Murray Schafer: a mystical visionary who inhabits a nameless artistic category of his own creation. For 40 years, he has been writing a huge cycle of 12 music-theater works, collectively titled Patria. Larger than Wagner's Ring cycle or Karlheinz Stockhausen's Licht, this cycle challenges the boundaries of both music and theater. Many of the component pieces -- like Patria 9: The Enchanted Forest, which opened a run of eight performances here . . . - are unstageable in a theater and must be presented outdoors. To realize his dream of a 'wilderness Bayreuth,' Mr. Schafer has entered into an agreement with the forester and conservationist Peter Schleifenbaum to mount one Patria piece each summer over the next five years in Haliburton Forest, a 60,000-acre tract of land owned by the Schleifenbaum family. If Mr. Schafer is a modern Wagner, has he found his King Ludwig II of Bavaria? Mr. Schleifenbaum, who was born and educated in Germany, readily grasps the comparison. 'Well, first of all, I'm not a madman,' he said, laughing. 'But to be able to host Murray's work here is an honor. And certainly we'll do what we can to turn Haliburton Forest into the Canadian Bayreuth.' Mr. Schafer explained how the arrangement came about. 'I told Peter that I wanted a lake, to start with,' he said during a walk in the woods on Wednesday. 'And he said, 'O.K., I'll give you a lake.' And I said, 'I want a road into the lake.' And he said, 'O.K., we'll build a road.' And I said that I wanted help creating the infrastructure for some of these pieces that we'll perform. And he said, 'Tell us what you want, and we'll see what we can do.'' The Haliburton Forest, in central Ontario, is about 200 miles northeast of Toronto, on the southern edge of the vast Algonquin Park. It's far from any major urban area. But to Mr. Schafer, that's the whole point. 'There are some 'Patria' works that are for conventional theaters,' he said. 'But there are some other works that need a very large space - that make references to nature and that require a quiet environment.' He paused in a clearing and gestured with his hand at the landscape. 'If this were to be our playing space, I would say: 'What can you do here? Can we use that shed over there? Can we use those trees over there? Are we going to use the moon? Are we going to use the sun? Where does it rise, and where does it set?' In 'The Enchanted Forest,' when Earth Mother says the sun is setting, it really is.' And so, on Wednesday, about 200 people arrived at Bone Lake, about five miles into the Haliburton Forest. Some were curious locals, some were fans who had driven up from Toronto, and one devotee had traveled from Brazil. 'I am so fascinated by Schafer's mythological works,' Marisa Fonterrada, a retired professor from São Paulo, said just as the performance began. Guided along a trail cut through the bush, the audience encounters Earth Mother (Eleanor James, a mezzo-soprano) and other archetypal characters: White Stag (James McLennan, a tenor), Fenris the wolf (Timothy E. Brummund, a baritone) and Murdeth, an evil land developer intent on destroying the forest (Bradley Breckenridge, an actor). Leading the way on the dark, mile-long path is a group of children, seeking their lost friend Ariane (Zorana Sadiq, a soprano). Eventually Ariane is found, transformed into a birch tree. Magical powers are at work in the forest, protecting it, and Murdeth's plan is foiled. In the final scene, Earth Mother appears on the lake, in a circle of lights, to announce that "the animals want to be your friends, not your slaves." The audience . . . talkative at the show's opening, left the scene two hours later in silence. What the audience witnesses is brought about by a team of more than 100 people: singers, actors, musicians (often heard but rarely seen), two children's choruses and a small army of technical workers, operating sophisticated lighting and sound equipment in the wilderness. Mr. Schafer's works are put on by what is, essentially, his own company: Patria Music/Theatre Projects. Joseph Macerollo, the producer and an accordionist, said the budget for The Enchanted Forest was about $300,000. After four decades of creating Patria, Mr. Schafer has become many things to many people. He has been called an "acoustic ecologist," a sociologist, a visual artist, even a poet. Like Wagner, he writes his own librettos. Musically speaking, he is a stylistic chameleon, with a penchant for delicate and subtle shadings of timbre: in this respect, he could be compared with George Crumb or Toru Takemitsu. Virtually all of his music is programmatic - 'about' something, in some way - and the Patria cycle, he has written, is about 'the quest for unity and the homeland.' For inspiration, he has drawn freely on a wide variety of world mythologies. Patria 8: The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix (scheduled for performance at the Haliburton Forest next summer) is his 'Chinese' piece; Patria 6: Ra, an 'Egyptian' one. Patria 7: Asterion, the only part of the cycle not yet finished, is based on the Cretan myth of the Minotaur. When completed, it will be staged in a labyrinth. Throughout the cycle, characters migrate from one work to another. Sometimes Fenris is simply called Wolf or is thinly disguised as Theseus or Anubis. Ariane is also constantly present, as Ariadne or even the Moon. The most radical Patria work is the cycle's epilogue, And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon (also known as the Wolf Project), a mysterious weeklong event that takes place deep in the forest every summer, attended only by selected observer-participants. This is for hard-core Schaferites, some traveling here from the United States, Europe and South America, and predates the five-year agreement. On the subject of the epilogue, Mr. Schafer tends to be coy. 'What we've done in the Wolf Project,' he said, 'is what happens when you live in a small tribal society for a short time and create your own culture. You can sit around the campfire and drink beer. Or you can say no beer and create your own song repertoire. Everyone can create a song or a rhythm or something, and that's what we do'" [Colin Eatock, The New York Times, 8/27/05].
Posted by Mark Alburger at 8:00 PM
Labels: Robert Moog, Tanglewood Festival