Wednesday, March 1, 2006

21ST-CENTURY MUSIC / March 2006


March 2006

Volume 13, Number 3

Tod Machover / Phillip George

The Birth of the Modern / Mark Alburger

Chronicle of January 2006



Illustration / Bongani Ndodana

Editorial Staff

Mark Alburger

Harriet March Page

Patti Noel Deuter

Erling Wold

Alexis Alrich
Katherine Buono
Ken Bullock
David Cleary
Jeff Dunn
Phillip George
Brian Holmes
Jeff Kaliss
John Lane
Michael McDonagh
Tom Moore
William Rowland
Andrew Shapiro


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Tod Machover / Phillip George

Tod Machover (b. November 24, 1953, Mount Vernon, New York), son of pianistWilma Machover and computer scientist Carl Machover, attended the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1971 and received a BM and MM from the Juilliard School in New York where he studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions (1973–1978). Machover also started his Doctoral studies at Juilliard before being invited as Composer-in-Residence to Pierre Boulez's new Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in Paris.

In the fall of 1978, Tod Machover arrived at IRCAM and was introduced to Giuseppe di Giugno's digital synthesizer 4 series. Light was premiered at the Metz Festival in November 1979 using 4C, the brain-child of di Giugno's concept that "synthesizers should be made for musicians, not for the people that make them."

Machover was named Director of Musical Research at IRCAM in 1980.

In 1981 he composed Fusione Fugace for solo performance on a real-time digital synthesizer, called the 4X machine.

Joining the faculty at the new Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1985, he became Professor of Music and Media and Director of the Experimental Media Facility.

Machover is widely recognized for inventing new technology for music, including Hyperinstruments which he launched in 1986. Such instruments use use smart computers to augment musical expression and creativity. He has designed hyperinstruments for some of the world's greatest musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, as well as for the general public and for children.

Back at IRCAM that year and the next, Machover was motivated to score for keyboard and percussion duet with emphasis on complex sound layers. He composed Valis (1987) again using di Giugno’s 4X system, to process voices. This science fiction opera – called 'the first opera of the 21st century" by The New York Times – was commissioned for the tenth anniversary of the Centre Georges Pompidou.

This was followed by Media/Medium (1994), a "magic" opera for the magicians Penn & Teller.

Currently Professor of Music and Media at the MIT Media Lab, he is head of the Lab's Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group and has been Co-Director of the Things That Think (TTT) and Toys of Tomorrow (TOT) consortia since 1995.

The years 1996-98 brought fourth the audience-interactive Brain Opera (1996/8), commissioned for the first Lincoln Center Festival, toured worldwide, and permanently installed at the Haus der Musik in Vienna since 2000. Some of this occurred concurrently with Resurrection (1999), based on Tolstoy's last novel and commissioned by Houston Grand Opera

Machover gave a keynote lecture at NIME-02, the second international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, which was held in 2002 at the former Media Lab Europe in Dublin, Ireland, and is a frequent lecturer worldwide.

The Toy Symphony -- called "a vast, celebratory ode to the joy of music and its power to bring young and old together, diversity into unity (Boston Globe)" -- dates from this same year, and has been touring worldwide ever since.


Fresh Spring (1977) for baritone solo and large chamber ensemble

With Dadaji in Paradise (1977-'78, rev. 1983) for solo cello

Concerto for Amplified Guitar (1978) for amplified acoustic guitar and large chamber ensemble

Two Songs (1978) for soprano and chamber ensemble

Deplacements (1979) for amplified guitar and computer-generated tape

Light (1979) for chamber orchestra and computer electronics

Ye Gentle Birds (1979) for soprano, mezzo-soprano and wind ensemble

Soft Morning, City! (1980) for soprano, double bass, and computer-generated tape

Winter Variations (1981) for large chamber ensemble

String Quartet No. 1 (1981)

Chansons d'Amour (1982) for solo piano

Fusione Fugace (1982) for keyboard, two specialized interfaces, and live 4X digital synthesizer

Electric Etudes (1983) for amplified cello, live and pre-recorded computer electronics

Spectres Parisiens (1984) for flute, horn, cello, chamber orchestra and computer electronics

Hidden Sparks (1984) for solo violin Hidden Sparks

Famine (1985) for four amplified voices and computer-generated sounds

Valis: An Opera in Two Parts (1987) based on Philip K. Dick's novel

Desires (1989) for symphony orchestra

Flora (1989) for pre-recorded soprano and computer-generated sound

Nature's Breath (1989) for chamber orchestra

Towards the Center (1989) for amplified flute, clarinet, violin, cello, electronic keyboard and percussion, with five hyperinstrument electronics

Bug Mudra (1990) for two guitars (electric and amplified-acoustic), electronic percussion, conducting dataglove, and interactive computer electronics

Begin Again Again … (1991) for Yo-Yo Ma and hypercello Hyperstring Trilogy

Song of Penance (1992) for hyperviola and chamber orchestra Hyperstring Trilogy

Bounce (1992) for hyperkeyboards, Yamaha Disklavier Grand piano and interactive computer electronics

Forever and Ever (1993) for hyperviolin and orchestra Hyperstring Trilogy

Hyperstring Trilogy (1993, rev. 1997) for hypercello, hyperviola, hyperviolin and chamber orchestra Hyperstring Trilogy

Brain Opera (1996), an original, interactive musical experience that included contributions from both on-line participants and live audiences

He's Our Dad (1997) for soprano, keyboard and computer-generated sound

Meteor Music (1998) interactive installation Meteorite Museum

Resurrection (1999) (based on Leo Tolstoy's novel)

Sparkler (2001) for orchestra and interactive computer electronics Sparkler

Toy Symphony (2002/3) for hyperviolin, Children's Chorus, Music Toys, and Orchestra Toy Symphony

Mixed Messiah (2004), a 6-minute remix of Handel's Messiah Mixed Messiah

I Dreamt A Dream (2004) for youth chorus, piano and electronics

Sea Soaring (2005) for flute, electronics, and live audience interaction Music Garden

...but not simpler... (2005)

Jeux Deux (2005) for hyperpiano and orchestra

The Birth of the Modern / Mark Alburger

San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. January 25, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA.

Will we ever know what really happened in those crucial years before World War I? In 1905, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov musically enriched a nice Russian revolutionary tune in a charmingly totally non-revolutionary way. In 1911, Igor Stravinsky exploded musical consciousness by writing a ballet about a forelorn Pinocchoesque puppet come to life. In six years, Russian musical aesthetics were turned on end, and the musical world has never been the same.

Such thoughts came to mind when hearing these two pieces, along with Peter Tchaikovsky's grand Symphony No. 4, at Davies Hall with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas on January 25.

While Dubinuska is a serviceable little work in a textbook vibrant orchestration, Rimsky's pupil Stravinsky outdoes his master in virtually all regards in Petrushka. Where does this music come from, as a bolt out of the blue?

Well, some evidentally came from other sources, including five Russian folk songsm two waltz's by Joseph Lanner (a friend of Johan Strauss, Jr.), and one by Emile Spencer, "Elle avait un jame en bois," that turned out to be still in copyright (Spencer received royalties for years after). But, as is said in certain circles, it's not what you've got but how you use it., and Stravinsky's usages are totally original. Harsh bitonality, crazy scales and arpeggios, sparkling orchestration and animated rhythms at every turn -- this is a music that takes nothing for granted, and the San Francisco Symphony made the most of every moment.

If the Tchaikovsky symphony seemed tame by comparison, it was, although, in its day, the use of a recurring motive and various orchestrational nuances would have seemed fresh enough. Certainly the soloists in the Straivnsky and Tchaikovsky made every measure count, and a characteristic Russian wit and extravagance -- inherent in both scores -- was nicely brought out.

Particular commendations go out to pianist Robert Sutherland in the Stravinsky, and the string, woodwind, and brass sections in the third movement of the Tchaikovsky for crisp and intelligent musicality. On either side of a great stylistic divide there was musical excellence.

Chronicle of January 2006

January 4

French performance artist Pierre Pinoncelli takes a small hammer to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain urinal. Dada Exhibition, Pompidou Center, Paris, France. "Pinoncelli was immediately arrested . . . . The porcelain urinal was slightly chipped in the attack and was withdrawn to be restored. . . . Pinoncelli, 77, who urinated into the same urinal and struck it with a hammer in a show in Nimes in 1993, has a long record of organizing bizarre hapenings. Police officials said he again called his action a work of art, a tribute to Duchamp and other Dada artists. Indeed, Fountain itself was rejected for bing neither original nor art when Duchamp offered it for the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917. That version of the urinal, displyaed upside down and signed 'R. Mutt,' was subsequently lost. The Pompidou's Fountain is one of eight signed replicas made by Duchamp in 1964. After the attack on Wednesday, Mr. Pinoncelli was held by the police overnight. He was released on [January 5] and ordered to appear in court [in Paris] on January 24 to answer charges of damaging the property of others. As in 1993, he could face a prison term or a fine. (After the first urinal attack, he was jailed for a month and fined the equivalent of $37,5000. [Alan Riding, The New York Times, 1/7/06].

January 5

Ying Quartet. Thalia Theater, Symphony Space, New York, NY. Symphony Space not only wins points for adventurousness but also fills seats. For the group's latest adventure, . . . the Thalia was packed. . . . The Yings - they are siblings, Timothy and Janet on violins, Phillip on viola and David on cello -- have built some of their programs around combinations of the musical and the nonmusical. Some of their ideas have been sensible if commonplace (music and poetry); others have been a bit daffy (music and Chinese noodle-making). This time, with help from the composer Tod Machover, they hit on a fantastic (and entirely musical) notion. First, they commissioned Mr. Machover, who is best known for electronic works, to write them an almost entirely acoustic quartet, the only electronic aspect being light amplification to allow for spatial effects. Then they gave Mr. Machover a free hand to choose the companion works. Being a composer, Mr. Machover was not content merely to select works by his colleagues, antique or modern. Mainly, he arranged pieces from outside the quartet repertory. Among them were a straightforward rendering of Bach's chorale setting O Mensch, Bewein' Dein' Sünde Gross and a more freehand arrangement of a Bach organ prelude on the same hymn. A deferential transcription of an Agnus Dei by William Byrd preceded a wild, electronically augmented version of a Lennon-McCartney classic, A Day in the Life. Mr. Machover provided a handful of electronic interludes to link these pieces. Music originally written for quartet was included as well. The Yings moved with agility and precision through Elliott Carter's compact, ethereal Two Fragments (1994, 1999) and John Cage's more meditative Quietly Flowing Along (1949-50). Mr. Machover's new quartet, ... but not simpler ..., is a vigorous, exciting study in speediness, full of tremolando figures, racing lines and iridescent passages that move too quickly to grab onto but eventually dissolve into sweetly lyrical phrases. In a way, this was the perfect program for the age of the iPod shuffle. Yet the leaps were more purposeful than random" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 1/7/06].

The New York Times announces that the Metropolitan Opera has received the largest individual gift in its history -- $25,000 -- from Mercededs and Sid R. Bass. New York, NY.

William Walton's Violin Concerto performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY. "Edward Elgar was recently dead when Walton wrote his VIolin Concerto in the mid-1930's, but the hot breath of English Romanticism's main man could still be felt. . . . Walton [did not] seem . . . in the mood to argue. . . . The Walton concerto follows in Elgar's lyrical tradition but is a world away from Elgar's hot-blooded soul. Walton tries hard to please, and succeeds. He knows how to make melodic lines sing agreeably and how to arrange orchestal sound into birght and fastidious clors. He also knows how to treat good violinists . . . giving them a full lineup of virtuooso opportunities and making sure that every trick well executed will sound atrractive to audiences. Walton fails his soloist only when he writes orchestra parts so gorgeous and brilliant that the solos tend to disappear inside them. . . . Next to Elgar's Violin Concerto and its soulful ardor, Walton' sounds all cleverness, good manners and earest ingratiation. Along with a sincere admiration for the craftsmaknship comes a hint of mistrust as well. The word slick keeps popping into my head, but I work hard to suppress it" [Bernard Holland, The New York Times, 1/7/06].

January 7

Renée Fleming and the Met Orchestra, conducted by James Levine. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Berg's 'Altenberg' Lieder (Op. 4) are not songs you would immediately associate with [Flemming], but her accounts of these five short settings were full of character and gracefully (if heftily) supported by Mr. Levine and company. . . . Projection was not a problem in the closing soliloquy from Strauss's Capriccio" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 1/10/06].

January 8

Forensic experts announce that they still can't say with certainty whether a purported W.A. Mozart skull is indeed such. Vienna, Austria. "Since 1902, the skull -- which is missing its lower jaw -- has been in the possession of the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg. . . . Mazart . . . was buried in a pauper's grave at Vienna's St. Mark's Cemetery. THe location of the grave was initially unknown, but its likely location was determined in 1855. Legend has it that Joseh Rothmayer, a gravedigger who knew which body was Mozart's, sneaked the skull out of the grave in 1801. Today, the spot is adorned by a column and a sad-looking angel. The skull long has fascinated experts: in 1991, a French anthropologist who examined it made the startling -- though unconfirmed -- conclusion that Mozart may have died of comlications of a head injury rather than rheumatic fever as most historians believe Pierre=Francois Puech of the University of Provence based his belief on a fracture on the lieft temple. Mozart, he theorized, may have sustained it in a fall, and that would help explain the severe headaches the composer was said to have suffered more than a year before his death" [William J. Kole, Associated Press, 1/9/06].

January 12

Tom Waits is awarded damages in a case against the Audi division of Volkswagen for a commercial in Spain using music that was similar to his song Innocent When You Dream, sung in a voice like his. Barcelona, Spain. "Sixteen years ago he won an influential case against Frito-Lay over a vocal sound-alike in a Doritos commercial, and he has pursued imitators ever sicne. . . . Another lawsut is penidng in Germany against the Opel division of General Motors, this one for a version of the Brahms Lullaby performed in what he calls a suspiciously Waitsian voice. '[Y]our building a road that other people will drive on. I have a moral right to my voice. It's like property -- there's a fence around it, in a way.' At a time when musicians are increasingly open to licensing their music for advertising, television and other commercial uses, Mr. Waits has steadily built a reputation not only for refusing to license his music, but also for agtressively defending his style as a unique legal property. "i't part of an artist's odyssey,' he said, 'discovering your own voice and struggling to find athe combination of qualities that makes you unique. It's kind o flike your face, your identity. Now I've got thes unscrupulous dopelgangers out there -- my evil twin who is udnermingin every move I make.' The Frito-Lay case won him $2.5 million. The Spanish case was decided by an appeals court in Barcelona on Novembr 17, and damages were awarded last Friday. Mr. Waits is to receive $43,000 for copyright infrigement and an additional $36,000 for violiation of his 'moral rights' as an artist.

January 13

The Essence of Ligeti: Old Hungarian Dances, Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments, Mysteries of the Macabre from Le Grand Macabre. Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "'I did not choose the tumults of my life. Rather they were imposed on me by two murderousl dictatorships: first by Hitler and the Nazis, and then by Stalin and the Soviet system.' Born in 1923 to a Jewish family, Mr. Ligeti was conscripted into a labor camp during the last phase of the war. In late 1945 he resumed his musical studies at the conservatory in Budapest. But in 1948 composers working in the People's Republic of Hungary were subject to the Stalinist decree banning modern music . . . It was an inspired idea for this three-concert festival to begin the first program . . . with an example of the kind of pieces Mr. Ligeti was compelled to write in the late 1940's: Old Hungarian Ballroom Dances for flute, clarinet and strings. Below the surface of theis genial suite of dance tunes, you detect the young composer sticking it to the Soviet cultural police with seemingly ironic touches: sour voicing of chords; excessively filigreed clarient riffs; sturdy bass lines that turn thumpy" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 1/17/06].

January 15

The Essence of Ligeti: Four Piano Etudes, Horn Tiro, String Quartet No. 1 ("Metamorphoses Nocturnes"). Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "Ligeti, who is 82, and not well, is unable to be present for this important series . . . . For me, he is our greatest living composer" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 1/17/06].

New York Guitar Festival. 92nd Street Y, New York, NY. "In the second half of the 20th century, guitarists worked hard to distance their instrument from its Spanish roots. Most of the best players in the generations after Segovia were from other countries -- principally Britain and the United States -- and when they commissioned new works, they turned to composers like Britten and Hans Werner Henze, whose styles were international and decidedly non-Iberian. Still, the rhythms, colors and melodic twists of Spanish music are deep in the guitar's DNA: in the layout of its strings, in its tuning, timbre and technique. The New York Guitar Festival acknowledged that basic truth in its third biennial marathon . . . . The idea, as set forth by David Spelman, the festival's director, and Pepe Romero, the guitarist, was to bring together 11 guitarists to survey 450 years of Spanish music, mostly chronologically. And with a few striking detours, that was what they did, in two three-hour sessions that included interviews with players by John Schaefer, of WNYC-FM (it will broadcast sections of the marathon). . . . Departing from the historical tour, the composer and guitarist Gyan Riley played a three-movement suite. In a second set, during the evening concert, he played two more works, Food for the Bearded and Los Cambios Quedan Igual, which had been commissioned for the festival. Mr. Riley's music is reflective and appealingly chromatic, but it probably owes more to the blues (he is fond of string-bending) than to Spanish music. Spanish impressions flitted by only briefly, in arpeggiated and strummed figures. Another young American composer in the afternoon concert, Dominic Frasca, contributed a commissioned work that paid even less heed to the Spanish theme. His untitled piece, for 10-string guitar and computer, was built on a kinetic ostinato, from which melodies and tactile, elaborately tapped rhythms emerged. . . . The evening performance also included the premiere of Bryce Dessner"s Memorial, for guitar, viola and percussion, a neo-Impressionist essay built around a vibrant guitar theme. It was a welcome respite from the Spanish mainstream, as Mr. Riley's and Mr. Frasca's works had been earlier. Perhaps the next marathon should look to everything but the Spanish repertory, from Dowland and Visée to Mertz, Britten, Carter and Babbitt. The festival might reconsider amplification too. Printed programs listing the works would be useful" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 1/18/06].

January 17

The Essence of Ligeti: Sonata for Solo Cello, Sonata for Solo Viola, String Quartet No. 2 Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet, and Six Bagatelles. Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY.

January 18

Music teachers carrying out the work of the foundation established by Midori go on strike. New York, NY.

January 20

Ivan Fischer conducts the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Bela Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Ernst von Dohnanyi's Symphonic Minutes. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "[A] tight, effective reading of Dohnanyi's Symphonic Minutes, the second movement standing out for its delicate woodwind arabesques voiced over hushed strings. The American pianist Richard Goode was also on hand as the soloist in Bartok's Third Piano Concerto, a work written at the very end of the composer's life and left unfinished at his death. Its limpid quasi-Baroque middle movement comes with the very un-Bartokian marking of 'Adagio religioso.' With a delicate yet incisive touch, Mr. Goode proposed the music as indeed a reflection on ultimate things" [Jeremy Eichler, The New York Times, 1/23/06].

Bongani Ndodana: Hintsa's Dances, Sons of the Great Tree, Miniatures on Motherhood, Rainmaking, Threnody, Part 5. Miller Theatre, Columbia University, New York, NY.. "Memories of Dvorak, Grieg, Gershwin and the like have led us to the shopworn formula of raw beauty invigorating European style while being smoothed and shaped by it. Mr. Ndodana's music suggests that in the case of Africa at least, we may have things backward. Nine local musicians played seven pieces by Mr. Ndodana, a young South African. He conducted intermittently and also added a sociological or historical word or two explaining the origins of titles like Hintsa's Dances, Rainmaking, and Sons of the Great Tree. Actually, Mr. Ndodana's delicately made music -- airy, spacious, terribly complex but never convoluted -- has a lot to teach the Western wizards of metric modulation and layered rhythms about grace and balance. He reminds us that most of our notions about musical motion in the last century came in their roundabout way from Africa or Southeast Asia in the first place, and that Africans tend to do it better than we do. Mr. Ndodana has obviously had a lot of Western training as well. The light touch of his string quartet writing in Miniatures on Motherhood showed a man intimate with the possibilities and limitations of European instruments. This program mixed the quartet of string with flute (Marco Granados), clarinet (Anthony McGill), harp (June Han) and percussion - especially marimba (Makoto Nakura and Eric Poland). Jesse Mills, Tai Murray, Beth Guterman and Michael Nicolas were the string players. All had their hands full with the sophisticated shifts in speed and emphasis. In Rainmaking, five musicians were sent off simultaneously in their separate directions. Hintsa's Dances was professionally managed . . . . Threnody, Part 5, a solo cello piece more in the European tradition, was well played by Mr. Nicolas. Dawn Padmore's resonating soprano voice in Miniatures on Motherhood seemed uncomfortably big for the piece at hand, but one liked her stage presence. Mr. Ndodana is not a raw talent; he is a talent and, at 31, possesses a clear and gentle voice of his own" [Bernard Holland, The New York Times, 1/23/06].

January 21

Peter B. Lewis gives his alma mater Princeton $101 million to expend its creative and performing arts activities -- a record gift for the arts for the school. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

Robert Mang turns himself in for the 2003 heist of Benvenuto Cellini's Saliera (Saltcellar), valued at roughtly $60 million, leading police on January 22 to a wooded area 50 miles north of Vienna where he had buried the 10-inch high scultptue in a lead box. Berlin, Germany.

January 24

Houston Symphony in Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 and Pierre Jalbert's Big Sky. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Its reading of the Shostakovich Tenth Symphony . . . conveyed all the pent-up bitterness and rage that Shostakovich coded into it. The strings, fully unified and playing with an acidic edge, moved easily between the icy sheen required of them in parts fo teh first and third movements, and their propulsive role elsewhere. The winds matched those qualities, additng an edge of their own, but keeping their sound well short of stridency. . . . As for showing off the orchestrata [Big Sky] did that exceptionally, giving every section (most notably the percussion) a thorough workout" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 1/26/06].

New York City Ballet in Igor Stravinsky's Monumentum Pro Gesualdo, Movements for Piano and Orchestra, and Symphony in C. New York State Theater, New York, NY. "The program was City Ballet's annual New Combinations Evening, pairing classic Balanchine with a new work in observance of the anniversary of Balanchine's birth (He would have been 102 on Sunday)" [John Rockwell, The New York Times, 1/26/06].

January 25

Deborah Voigt. Allen Room, Frederick P. Rose Hall, New York, NY. "This Wagnerian soprano, accompanied by a chamber-pop quintet led by Ted Sperling on piano, gave what might be described as a formal cabaret recital. Like many cabaret shows, this one, conceived for Lincoln Center's American Songbook series, had a theme: travel. The songs were stitched together by a running monologue with mild jokes about an opera singer's travails on the road. . . . The songs in the show took Ms. Voigt on a journey from Paris (Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's 'Paree,' to China (Cole Porter's 'Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking,') to the South Seas (Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Bali Ha'i') and back (Ricky Ian Gordon and Tina Landau's 'Finding Home'). Two songs, 'Blame It on a Summer Night' and 'Children of the Wind,' came from the ill-fated Broadway musical Rags; two others were ballads by John Bucchino. . . . The Porter number, from the 1958 television musical 'Aladdin,' proved quite a mouthful. When she had finished it, Ms. Voigt joked that it had "more words than the second act of Tristan" [Stephen Holden, The New York Times, 1/25/06].

Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Arnold Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "[The orchestra's] sound under Sir Simon is different, too -- brighter, sonorous without being blaring, lush when called for, yet never gloppy. . . . [E]verything sounded freshly conceived, startling. . . . In programming Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra (Op. 31), Sir Simon was paying homage to the history of the Berlin Philharmonic, which gave the 1928 premiere of the work conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. This formidable 25-minute score, Schoenberg's first major piece for orchestra employing his 12-tone method, is scored for an enormous roster of instruments. The players, of necessity, were positioned across the entire span of the stage, emphasizing the spatial element of Schoenberg's conception of sound: themes and motifs are batted from one section of the orchestra to another, like a musical volleyball game. Even listeners who find Schoenberg's language confounding had to have been swept away by the sheer variety of colorings and the intricacy and inexorable sweep of this astounding score" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 1/27/06].

Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 4 and the New York premiere of Hanspeter Kyburz's Noesis. Carnetie Hall, New York, NY. "[A] gritty, raucous and complex recent work of high European modernism, Noesis (the title is a Greek word for cognition) is a dense and teeming three-movement score of some 20 minutes. As he has explained, the Berlin-based, 45-year-old Mr. Kyburz uses a computer to work out the aural and structural content of pieces he conceives in his imagination. The fitful first movement abounds in pungent atonal harmonies, thickly layered linear elements, frenzied outbursts and crackling orchestral sonorities. Yet imagine a dizzying riot of computer-conceived sounds as scored for and rendered precisely by a supersize orchestra, and you will have a sense of this music. The slow movement begins with a staggered series of shimmering, fidgety 12-tonish chords that before long crest and explode with hammering orchestral thwacks. The hellbent final movement seemed more predictable in its rough-and-tumble hyperactivity. Still, it was hard not to be swept away by this viscerally brilliant performance of a formidable new work. From the opening of the first movement of the Mahler, played with an intriguingly tentative gait until the entrance of the sunny and undulant first theme, Sir Simon made bold interpretive decisions, compelling you to hear this familiar score anew. Yet there was nothing mannered or deliberate about the performance. This was less a self-conscious interpretation of the music than a fascinating realization of it, based on keen insights into every phrase. The scherzo was too eerie to be rustic and safe. This was the dance of death out of German folklore that Mahler intended. Every individual element in this multilayered score came through in this lucid performance. The pensive slow movement emerged in long spans of softly quivering beauty. In the final movement, the mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena was the soloist for Mahler's tender setting of a German folk poem about a child's vision of heaven. Her earthy singing proved an ideal match for Sir Simon's wide-eyed and intricate account. There was nothing generically angelic about this performance. This concert set a high standard . . . . Count on Sir Simon and his Berlin musicians to meet it" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 1/28/06].

January 27

Juilliard Focus! Festival: New and Now. Peter Jay Sharp Theater, New York, NY. "[T]his year's Focus! festival spans six programs filled entirely with works composed in 2005. . . . The programs form a kind of burbling polyglot conversation among composers from Japan, China, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Argentina, Azerbaijan, New Zealand and New Jersey. There are plenty of the usual suspects represented but also at least one composer whose music has never been performed in the United States. And lest anyone fear that the forces of globalization are creating some kind of musical Esperanto, the four works in . . . [this] concert could hardly have been more different, beginning with the Japanese composer Akira Nishimura's artfully tangled Chamber Symphony No. 3, 'Metamorphosis.' As the title suggests, Mr. Nishimura's work is a study in gradual free-form transformation, a process he approached through a willful disunity of materials, a carefully plotted chaos. Anxious string tremolos coalesce around a hushed downward slide; short proto-melodies gesture toward bolder statements only to recede quickly into a subterranean ferment. Guus Janssen's Concerto for Three Clarinets and Ensemble was a sharp contrast, with its emphasis on full-frontal virtuosity. The able student soloists -- Vasko Dukovski, Moran Katz and Ismail Lumanovski -- played fast riffs spiced with klezmer and Balkan influences, but their lines, partly improvised, did not always sit comfortably with the orchestral accompaniment. Mr. Janssen is himself an improvising pianist, and his work sought to bridge the disparate kingdoms of jazz and strictly notated classical music. At times, however, the work seemed to reinforce their distance. The Chinese composer Jia Daqun showed a delicate sense of line and a fine ear for orchestral timbre in Three Images From Wash Painting. But the evening's most vivid statement came from Roberto Sierra's Bongo+, one of six works that Juilliard has commissioned for the festival as part of the school's centenary celebration. Mr. Sierra, a Puerto Rican composer who studied with the impish modernist master Gyorgy Ligeti, achieves a seamless link between the traditional orchestra and a battery of Afro-Caribbean percussion instruments, including bongos, congas, maracas and guiros, complemented by xylophone and marimba. The brilliant solo part was divided between two talented Juilliard percussion students, Jacob Nissly and Eric Roberts, who along with the New Juilliard Ensemble gave it an electric performance" [Jeremy Eichler, The New York Times, 1/30/06].

January 28

Death of Herta Glaz, at 95. Hamden, CT. "[She was] a mezzo-soprano who performed regualrly at the Metropolitan Opera during the 1940's and 50's and later taught at the Manhattan School of Music. . . . She was an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and an instructor at the Aspen Music School until 1994. . . . Glaz, who became an American citizen in 1943, came to the country in 1937 as part of a touring company from Salzburg managed by the impresario Sol Hurok. Just as the tour was concluding in March 1938, Hitler invaded Austria. Ms. Glaz decided to stay in New York, and Mr. Hurok lent her money to help her bring her parents to America" [Stuart Lavietes, The New York Times, 2/10/06].

Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Thomas Ades's Asyla and Maurice Ravel's Mother Goose. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "Asyla was written nine years ago by a 26-year-old, and Sir Simon . . . did the world premiere in Birmingham, England . . . . On repeated hearing, the last two movements seem less finished than the first two . . . Asyla conveys great quantities of information without the feel of congestion. We are given untuned or 'mistuned' percussion taken from the Far East. There is thumping, banging rudeness in lopsided metric schemes. In the pastoral second movement, voices move in imitation as if they belonged to the 19th century. Add in honky-tonk as well. . . . The conductorial feat . . . may have been the sleight of hand performed on Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oye . . . . Slender, charming -- indeed precious in both meanings of the word -- Ravel gives us childish innocence filtered through adult calculation. Sir Simon, with dramatically slower speeds, kneaded this music as if it were Mahler" [Bernard Holland, The New York Times, 1/30/06].

January 29

Death of Nam June Paik (b. 1932, Seoul, Korea, after a stroke and declining heath, at 73. Miami Beach, FL. "[He was] an avant-garde composer, performer and artist widely considered the inventor of video art. . . . Paik's career spanned half a century, three continuents and several art medi[a], ranging through music, theater and found-object art. . . . He presciently conined the term 'electronic superhighway' in 1974 . . . Paik's enoumous Amercian flags, made from dozens of sleek monitors who syncronized patterns mixed everything from pinups to apple pie at high, almost subliminal velocity, could be found in museums and corporate lobbies. Mr. Paik was affiliated in the 1960's with the anti-art movement Fluxus, and also deserves to be seen as an easthetic innovator on a par with the choreographer Merce Cunningham and the composer John Cage. . . . A lifelong Buddhist, Mr. Paik never smoked or drank and also never drove a car. . . . [A] writer once compared his New York studio to a television repair shop three months behind schedule. . . . [H]e once said it took three months to find an Arnold Schoenberg record in Korea. In 1949, with the Korean War threatening, [his wealthy manufacturing] family fled to Hong Kong, and then settled in Tokyo. Mr. Paik attended the Univesiy of Tokyo, earning a degree in aesthetics and the history of music in 1956 with a thesis on Schoenberg' work. He then studied music at the University of Munich and the Academy of Music in Freiburg and threw himself into the avant-garde music scene swirling around Colgne. He also met John Cage, whose emphais on chance and randomness dovetailed with Mr. Paik's sensibility. . . . Over the next few year, Mr. Paik arrived at an early version of performance art, combining cryptic musical elecments -- usually splinced audiotapes aof music, screams, radio news and sound effect -- with startling events. In an unusaully Oedipal act during a 1960 perfoamcne in Cologne, Mr. Paik jumped from the stage and cut of Cage's necktie, and event that prompted George Maciunas, a founder of Fluxus, to invite Mr. Paik to join the movement. At the 1962 Flusus International Festival for Very New Music in Wiesbaden, Germany, Mr. Paik peromfed Zen for Head, which involved dippind his head, hair and hands in a mixture of ink and tomato juice and dragging them over a scorll-like sheet of paper to create a dark, jagged streak. In 1962, seeking a visual equivalent for electronic music and inspired by Cage's perofrmances on prepared piano, Mr. Paik bought 13 used televisnon sets in Cologne and reworked them until their screens jumped with storng optical patterns. In 1962, he exhibited the first art known to invlve television sets at the Galeire Parnass in Wuppertal, Germany. In 1965 he made his New York debut at the New School for Social Research: Charlotte Moorman, a cellist who became his longtime collaborator, played his Cello Sonata No. 1 for Adults Only, performing bared to the waist. A similar work performed in 1967 at the Filmakers Cinematheque in Manhattan resulted in the brief arrest of Ms. Moorman and Mr. Paik. Mr. Paik retailiated with his iconic TV Bra for Living Sculpture two tiny television screens that covered Ms. Moorman's breasts" [Roberta Smith, The New York Times, 1/31/06].

James Levine conducts the Met Orchestra in Bela Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin Suite, Arnold Schoenberg's Erwartung, and Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "At a Century's Dawn: Fears, Longing and Energy. . . . It was probably just a coincidence of scheduling that the Met Orchestra . . . followed the four-day visit by the Berlin Philhamronic. Whatever the case, the comparison reflected very well on the home team. . . . Bartoks' raucous music for this eerie ballet . . . provided an ear-opening way to beggin. . . . The playing had blazing colors and clattering energy, and the deceptively calm stretches were just as riveting. After the garish Bartok, the Expressionistic Erwartung (1909) sounded harmonically sensual. . . . In The Rite of Spring Mr. Levine eschewed the sheer brute force that many conductors rely on to make an impact in this piece. Instead, he maximized the elegiac passages and transfixing colorings. . . . Take that, Berlin Philharmonic" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 1/31/06].

Bill Frisell. Zankel Hall, New York, NY.

January 30

Juilliard Focus! Festival: New and Now: Music by Augusta Read Thomas, Derek Bermel, Ursula Mamlok. and Mario Davidovsky. Peter Jay Sharp Theater, New York, NY.

January 31

Juilliard Focus! Festival: New and Now. Matthew Hindson's Didjeridubluegrass. Peter Jay Sharp Theater, New York, NY.


By the Numbers

Average pay for Boston Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic members


Average pay for New York Philharmonic members


Average pay for San Francisco Symphony members



Founded five years ago by Douglas Repetto, the dierector of research at Columbia University's computer music center, dorkbot is an informal club of artists, techies and geeks who do "strange things with electricity," according to their motto. In five years, chapters of the club have sprung up in nearly 30 cities around the world, form Seattle to Rotterdam to Mumbai. . . .

{A]t the [recent] dorkbot meeting were Alyce Santoro, an artist who weaves funky textiles out of a "sonic fabric" of audiotape and cotton, and Luke DuBois, a composer and "computational artist," who discussed a process he developed called "time-lapse phonography."

Mr. Dubois used his application, essentailly time-lapse photography for sound, to create a new pice of music out of the 857 songs that have appeared at the top of the Billboard charts since 1958. The result, called Billboard, is a 37-minute-long drone: each hit song is reduced to its average timbre and keyby an algorithm that speeds up the original work without giving it a chipmunk chirpiness.

"It's a great way to get a gestalt of a piece of music," Mr. DuBois explained.

Brian Braiker
The New York Times, 1/17/06

The stolen works include the enormous -- a hulking two-ton sculpture by Henry Moore -- and the comparatively modest -- a three-foot-long dung beetle by . . . Wendy Taylor. . . .

More than 20 large sculptures, all of them in bronze, have been taken from museums, sculpture gardens and private collections in and around London in the past year, most in the last six months. The method appears almost laughably simple: the thieves arrive with a van or a truck in the middle of the night, heave the works into the back and drive off, never to be heard from again (at least not so far)(.

The police are stymied.

. . . Sergeant [Vernon] Rapley said . . . "We're concerned that none of the pieces have been recovered and that we haven't received any information about them. That leads us to think that there's some truth to the rumor that they might be being melted down."

. . . Wihile Moore's Reclining Figure, which was stolen from the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire on December 15, is worth as much as 10 Million [pounds], or nearly $18 million, as a work of art, Sargeant Rapley said, its value as scrap metal is more like 5,000 [pounds], or roughly $9,000.

Sarah Lyall
The New York Times 1/26/06

Meredith Monk's music is etherieal, visceral and direct. It relies on building blocks of sound, bits of chanted tune interwoven with cries and clucks and other manifestations of what is known as extended vocal technique. It is about using the voice as expression without mediating elements, like words. And people often descibe it as simple.

But anyone who thinks it is easy has never tried to sing it.

Anne Midgette
The New York Times, 1/29/06

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

21ST-CENTURY MUSIC / February 2006


January 2006

Volume 13, Number 2

Towards a David Rakowski Biography / Phillip George

A Nightingale Sang on Van Ness Avenue / Mark Alburger

Chronicle of December 2005


Illustration / David Rakowski

Editorial Staff

Mark Alburger

Harriet March Page

Patti Noel Deuter

Erling Wold

Alexis Alrich
Katherine Buono
Ken Bullock
David Cleary
Jeff Dunn
Phillip George
Brian Holmes
Jeff Kaliss
John Lane
Michael McDonagh
Tom Moore
William Rowland
Andrew Shapiro


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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Towards a David Rakowski Biography / Phillip George

David Rakowski (b. St. Albans, VT) played trombone in high school and community bands and keyboards in the rock band Silver Finger.

He studied at New England Conservatory, Princeton, and Tanglewood, with Robert Ceely, John Heiss, Milton Babbitt, Paul Lansky, Peter Westergaard, and Luciano Berio.

After a year teaching at Stanford, Rakowski taught at Columbia University for six years, before his lengthy and current tenure at Brandeis University.

His music and prose writing are renowned for their wit.



A Fanfare, for Two Dozen Trombones, Whose Length Was Determined by the Amount of Space Remaining in my Brown Notebook (1978, 1-1/2') 24 trb. (for the New England Conservatory Trombone Ensemble)

Duo (1979-81, 8' 30") for violin and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 67262. (for Ken Sugita)

A Refusal to Mourn... (1979, 9') for baritone, fl, cl/bcl, vla, vc, hpschd, pno, offstage horn. (Poem: Dylan Thomas) (for Robert Hancock)

Elegy (1980, 82, 84, 5') for string quartet.

Elegy (1982, 84, 5') for string orchestra. (for the Cathedral Concert Orchestra)

Concerto (1982-83, 27') for violin and chamber orchestra. C.F. Peters, Edition 67454, rental. (BMI Student Composer Awards, 1983, 84; semifinalist, Friedheim Awards, 1991). Final movement is an arrangement of Duo for violin and piano.

Slange (1984-87, 14') for cl, bcl, hn, pno, vln, vla, vc, bass. C.F. Peters, Edition 67099. (for Parnassus)

Overderive (1985, 4') 4 tpt, 2ASax, 2TSax, BSax, 4 trb, Gt, Bass, Pno, Drums. (for the Brandeis Jazz Ensemble)

Imaginary Dances (1986-88, 16') for fl/afl, cl/bcl, ob/EH, vln, vla, vc, pno, perc. C.F. Peters, Edition 67382. (for Speculum Musicae)

Piano Études
BOOK I: (Peters Edition 67928a)
E-Machines (#1; 1988, 2' 30"), also available alone, Edition 67234. Repeated note étude (for Martin Butler).
BAM! (#2; 1991, 3'; étude on swirls of notes) (for Karen Harvey).
Nocturnal (#3; 1992, 4'; étude on slow repeated notes), also available, hand-copied, bound in same edition with BAM!, Edition 67588 (for Lyn Reyna).
Trillage (#4; 1993, 4' 30"), currently available by itself, Edition 67591. Trill étude. (for Alan Feinberg).
Figure Eight (#5; 1994, 3'), octave étude.
Mano à mano (#6; 1995, 3' 45"), étude on alternating hands (for Lisa Moore).
Les arbres embués (#7; 1995, 6'), étude on thick sonorities and embedded lines (for Martin Butler).
Close Enough for Jazz (#8; 1995, 3'), ostinato étude (for Sandra Sprecher).
Pollici e mignoli, or The Virus That Ate New York (#9: 1995, 3' 30"), étude for thumbs and pinkies.
Corrente (#10; 1996, 2' 30"), étude on left-hand running notes.
BOOK II: (Peters Edition 67928b)

Touch Typing (#11; 1996, 2' 40"), étude for index fingers only.
Northpaw (#12; 1996, 2' 40"), right-hand étude (for Lyn Reyna and Barbara Barclay).
Plucking A (#13; 1997, 1' 40"), inside-the-piano étude (for Marilyn Nonken).
Plucking A (#13a; 1997, 2002, 3'), inside-the-piano étude for Steinway "D" pianos. (for Amy Dissanayake).
Martler (#14; 1997, 2' 30"), hand crossing étude.
The Third, Man (#15; 1997, 2' 30"), étude on thirds.
Ice Boogie (#16; 1998, 2'), étude on octave leaps (for Steven Weigt).
Keine kaskadenjagd mehr (#17; 1998, 2' 15") étude on falling thirds and fourths.
Pitching from the Stretch (#18; 1998, 2'), étude on tenths.
Secondary Dominance (#19; 1998, 2' 30"), étude on seconds.
Fourth of Habit (#20; 1998, 2'), étude on fourths. (for Geoffrey Burleson).
BOOK III: (Peters Edition 67928c)
Twelve-Step Program (#21; 1999, 3'), on chromatic scales and wedges (for Marilyn Nonken).
Schnozzage (#22; 1999, 2' 10"), étude with melody played by the nose.
You Dirty Rag (#23; 1999, 2' 40"), for melody in the left thumb.
Horned In (#24; 1999, 2'), on horn fifths (for David Horne).
Fists of Fury (#25; 1999, 3' 30"), étude using fists (for Marilyn Nonken).
Once Bitten (#26; 2000, 2' 30"), on mordents.
Halftone (#27; 2000, 2' 00"), black vs. white keys.
You’ve Got Scale (#28; 2000, 3' 30"), on scales and arpeggios (for Teresa McCollough).
Roll Your Own (#29; 2000, 3' 00"), on rolled chords (for Jason Eckardt).
A Gliss Is Just a Gliss (#30; 2000, 1' 40"), on glissandi.
BOOK IV: (Peters Edition 67928d)
Usurpation (#31; 2000, 2-1/2') on a slow trill (also appears in Perspectives of New Music Boykan Festschrift). (for Martin Boykan at 70).
Boogie Ninths (#32; 2000, 2-1/2') on ninths.
Sliding Scales (#33, 2001, 3') gonzo étude on scales (for Marilyn Nonken).
Chorale Fantasy (#34, 2001, 2-1/2') slow étude on an embedded melody.
Luceole (#35, 2001, 2' 20") étude on ascending seconds and thirds (for Amy Dissanayake).
Purple (#36, 2001, 2-1/2") étude on a chord (for Amy Dissanayake).
Taking the Fifths (#37, 2002, 3') étude on perfect fifths.
Silent But Deadly (#38, 2002, 2-1/2') pianissimo étude (to Shehan Dissanayake).
Sixth Appeal (#39, 2002, 3') étude on sixths.
Strident (#40, 2002, 3-1/2') stride piano étude (for Amy Dissanayake).
BOOK V: (Peters Edition 67928e) commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation
Bop It (#41, 2002, 3') bop étude (for Geoffrey Burleson).
Madam I’m Adam (#42, 2002, 2') little palindrome étude.
Wiggle Room (#43, 2002, 2-1/2') étude on fast notes moving in parallel.
Triaddled (#44, 2002, 2-1/2') étude on triads.
Pink Tab (#45, 2002, 3-1/2') accelerando-ritenuto étude.
Durchrauscht die luft (#46, 2002, 2-1/2') étude on sevenths.
Fra diabolis (#47, 2002, 2-1/2') étude on tritones.
What Half Diminishes One (Half-Diminishes All) (#48, 2002, 2') chorale-étude on half-diminished seventh chords. (to Eric Chafe, on an idea stolen from Martler and encouraged by Rick M.).
Saltimmano (#49, 2002, 3') finger-pedaling étude.
No Stranger to Our Planet (#50, 2002, 2-1/2') étude on register shifts.
BOOK VI: (Peters Edition 67928f)
Zipper Tango (#51, 2003, 3') tango-étude on grace notes (for Amy Dissanayake).
Moody’s Blues (#52, 2003, 3') rock and roll étude on repeated chords (to Rick Moody).
Cell Division (#53, 2003, 2-1/2') treble étude on arpeggios.
Pedal to the Metal (#54, 2003, 3') pedaling étude (to Rick Moody).
Eight Misbeahvin’ (#55, 2003, 2-1/2') slow octave étude (for Amy Osborn).
Crazy Eights (#56, 2003, 3') fast octave/black-white key étude.
Chord Shark (#57, 2003, 2-1/2') slow étude on thick chords (for Corey Hamm).
Wound Tight (#58, 2003, 2-1/2') fast étude on all chords (for Corey Hamm).
Zeccatella (#59, 2003, 3') staccato-legato étude (for Amy Dissanayake).
Accents of Malice (#60, 2003, 3-1/2') accent étude.

Terra Firma (1988, 13') for Pierrot ensemble. (for Alea II)

Eleven Recital Pieces (1989, 1' each) for children aged 5 and 6, in duet with their instructor. (commissioned by Judith Bettina and James Goldsworthy for the Nueva Learning Center)

Six Bogan Poems (1989-90, 16') for soprano, string orchestra, harp and celesta C.F. Peters, Edition 67453, rental.

Three Songs on Poems of Louise Bogan (1989, 8') for soprano and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 67381. (for Judith Bettina and James Goldsworthy)

Crackling Fire (1990, 4-1/2') for piano four hands. Commissioned by James Goldsworthy and Sara Doniach.

Musician (1990, 3') voice, violin and piano (for Judy, Jim and The New Arrival, text by Louise Bogan) C.F. Peters Edition 67453a.

Symphony #1 (1990-91, 29') for soprano and orchestra (2(picc)23(bcl)2 2220 2perc,pno, str). C.F. Peters, Edition 67543, rental. (for the Riverside Symphony)

Diverti (1991, 6') for Bb clarinet and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 67542. (for Beth Wiemann)

O Rhode Island (1991, 1') voice and piano. (text by Tom Chandler)

Three Encores (1991, 8') for medium-to-high voice and piano. C.F. Peters Edition 67617 (for Judith Bettina).Vocal Ease, Vocal Angst, and Scatter.

Winged Contraption (1991, 9') for orchestra (22(Ehn)3(bcl)2 4220 2perc,pno,str). C.F. Peters Edition 67618, rental (to Marty Boykan at 60).

Cerberus (1991-92, 23') for clarinet and chamber orchestra. C.F. Peters, Edition 67515. (for Beth Wiemann, NEA Fellowship)

Hyperblue (1991-93, 13') for piano trio. C.F. Peters, Edition 67541. (commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation for the Itzkoff-Shapiro-Rider trio)

Firecat (1993, 10') for flute and piano. C.F. Peters Edition 67589. (for Margaret Swinchoski)

Trio (1993, 8') for piano trio, for teenagers. (commissioned by Sara Doniach) (score lost)

No Holds Barred (1994-95, 30'), for cello and chamber orchestra. C.F. Peters, Edition 67682, rental. (for the Crosstown Ensemble)

Silently, A Wind Goes Over (1994, 13') for soprano and piano. C.F. Peters Edition 67616. (Poems: Joseph Duemer, April Bernard, Robert Louis Stevenson, Wallace Stevens) (for Susan Narucki)
A Loose Gathering of Words (1993, 12') for soprano and mixed quintet (cl, bcl, vla, vc, bass). C.F. Peters Edition 67587. (Poems: Joseph Duemer, Louise Bogan, Wallace Stevens, Tom Chandler) (for the Composers Ensemble)

The Burning Woman, The Physics of Witches, and Last Dance (1995, 7') for mezzo-soprano., cl., and pno. C.F. Peters Edition 67647. (Poems: Joseph Duemer) (for Opus 90)

Mento (1995, 6') for Bb clarinet and piano. C.F. Peters Edition 67650. (for Beth Wiemann)

Nothing But the Wind (1995, 15') for soprano and orchestra (223(bcl)2 4220 2 perc, str). C.F. Peters, Edition 67709, rental.

Siren Song (1995, 1-1/2'), ostinato piece on Italian ambulance sirens.

Two Can Play That Game (1995, 4' 15") for bass clarinet and marimba, C.F. Peters, Edition 67710. (for Peter Josheff)

Weather Jazz (1995, 3' 40") for high voice and Pierrot ensemble or voice and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 67712, 67712a. (Poem: Joseph Duemer)

Boy in the Dark (1996, 18'), ballet/fantasy for children dancers, children's chorus and Pierrot plus percussion. C.F. Peters 67748. (for Boston Musica Viva)

The Burning Woman Revisited (1996, 7') for soprano and clarinet. C.F. Peters, Edition 67711. (Poems: Joseph Duemer) (for Susan Narucki and Beth Wiemann)

Sesso e Violenza (1995-96, 23') for fl/picc, fl/afl, vln, vla, vc pno, perc. C.F. Peters, Edition 67734. (commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation for Ensemble 21)

Tight Fit (1996, 5') for 'cello and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 67732. (for Rhonda Rider and Lois Shapiro)

Attitude Problem (1996-97, 15') for piano trio. C.F. Peters, Edition 67776. (for the Triple Helix)

Persistent Memory (1996-97, 21') for chamber orchestra (2(picc)22(bcl)2 2000 str(5-4-3-3-1). C.F. Peters, 67862, rental. Pulitzer Prize finalist, 1999. First movement, Elegy, may be performed by itself. (commissioned by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra with funds from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust)

Dances in the Dark (1996, 98; 14') for Pierrot plus percussion. C.F. Peters Edition 67748a. (concert suite from "Boy in the Dark")

Rowell Come Back Now (1997, 98, 18') for 5-string electric violin solo. C.F. Peters, Edition 67844. (for Mary Rowell)

Take Jazz Chords, Make Strange (1997, 12') for clarinet and string quartet. C.F. Peters, Edition 67823. (for Beth Wiemann, The Lydian String Quartet and the 50th anniversary of Brandeis University)

Feslpimal (1998, 10') for clarinet, cello and piano, for teenagers (commissioned by Sara Doniach)

The Squeaky Wheel (1998, 1-1/2') for E-flat clarinet solo. (for Beth Wiemann)

Pied-à-Terre (1999, 10') for violin and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 67943. (for Bayla Keyes and Lois Shapiro)

The Gardener (2000, 5') for soprano, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 67749. (Poem: Sophie Wadsworth) (for Network for New Music) (also song #2 of Sex Songs)
Georgic (2000, 2-1/2') for soprano and piano. (poem by Phillis Levin) (commissioned by James Goldsworthy for Judith Bettina). C.F. Peters, Edition 68130.

Gut Reaction (2000, 15') for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 67843. (commissioned by Network for New Music)

Martian Counterpoint (2000, arr. 2003, 7') ca. 25 clarinets (concerto group of 10, ripieno group of ca. 15 (9 parts) and one percussionist). C.F. Peters, Edition 67978a. For the clarinet section of the US Marine Band.

Sex Songs (2000, 2004-5, 21') for soprano, clarinet, piano and string trio. For Susan Narucki. Poets include Sophie Wadsworth, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ida Thøenkkittüpp, and Rick Moody (for Susan Narucki).

Ten of a Kind (Symphony No. 2, 2000, 27'), for clarinet section (Eb, 6 Bb, alto, bass, Bb contrabass) and wind ensemble (picc, 2fl, 2 ob, EHn, 2 bsn, Cbsn, 2 ASax, TSax, BSax, 4 hn, 4 tpt(C), 4 trb, 2 euph, Tuba, 4 perc). C.F. Peters, Edition 67978. Pulitzer finalist, 2002. (commissioned by "The President's Own" United States Marine Band)

When the Bow Breaks (2000, 13') for violin solo. C.F. Peters, Edition 67871. (for Curtis Macomber)

Locking Horns (2001-2, 18') for horn and chamber orchestra. (commissioned by Sequitur) C.F. Peters, Edition 67995.

Elegy (2002, arr. 2005, 3'). Sara arranged for organ by Carson Cooman. C.F. Peters, 68131a

Memorial (2002, 10') for clarinet, viola and piano. (commissioned by Richard and Linda Kerber in memory of Alan Widiss)

Sara (2002, 4') elegy in memory of Sara Doniach. Commissioned by Judith Bettina and James Goldsworthy for Sara's students. C.F. Peters, Edition 68131.

Trompe L'Oeil (2002, 2') for two marimbas. (for Double Play: Stephen Paysen and Dominic Donato)

Sibling Revelry (2002-2003/2004, 14') for wind ensemble (picc, 2fl, Afl, 2ob, Ehn, Ebcl, 3cl, Acl, Bcl, CBcl, 2bsn, Cbsn, 2ASax, TSax, BSax, 4hn, 4tpt, 4trb, 2euph,Tuba,4 perc). Arrangements of four piano études (Zipper Tango, Strident, Bop It and Moody's Blues) C.F. Peters, Edition 67928ff.

Dream Symphony (Symphony No. 3, 2003, 28') for string orchestra (8-6-5-4-2) (for the New England String Ensemble). C.F. Peters, Edition 68135.

Twofer (2003, 6') for violin and 'cello. (commissioned by Dinosaur Annex for dance by the Nicola Hawkins Dance Company). C.F. Peters, forthcoming.

Violin Songs (2003, 18') for soprano and violin. (Poetry: Chuileanean, Frost, W.C. Williams, Gluck, Rukeyser) (for Susan Narucki and Curtis Macomber).

Beezle Nose (2004, 1-1/2') for Robert Ceely's retirement tribute concert.

Four Rivers (2004, 10') for flute, clarinet, horn and marimba, for high school musicians (commissioned by the Rivers Music School)

Rule of Three (2004, 10') for fl, cl and piano (commissioned by Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge). C.F. Peters, Edition 68133.

Seven Duets (2004, 1' each) pno 4-hands for beginning to intermediate students aged ca. 10-11 (commissioned by James Goldsworthy)

The Bacchae (2005, 25'), 35 cues of varying lengths, for string quartet and timpani. For spring 2006 Brandeis production of the play by Euripides, directed by Eric Hill, sound design by J Hagenbuckle. With funding from the Poses Foundation.

Inside Story (Piano Trio #3, 2005, 14') for violin, cello and piano. C.F. Peters, Edition 68134 (Curtis Macomber, Norman Fischer and Jeanne Kierman, and Music in the Mountains).

It Takes Nine to Funk (2005, 4-1/2') 6 cl, 2 BCl, CBCl. An arrangement of Absofunkinlutely. C.F. Peters, Edition 67928gg

Snaggle (2005, 10') for solo hand drums, in three movements. (commissioned by Michael Lipsey). Calabrese Brothers Publishing.

A Nightingale Sang on Van Ness Avenue / Mark Alburger

All good things come to those that wait.

It took awhile -- 91 years, in fact -- but Igor Stravinsky's first opera, The Nightingale, arrived at Davies Symphony Hall on December 9, with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony continuing a tradition of presenting innovatively staged drama in a concert space, on a double bill with the composer's Oedipus Rex.

These were welcome and beautiful productions, the first of a work rarely seen or heard -- indeed, even the extracted ballet/concert work The Song of the Nightingale, sort of a Rite of Spring-also-ran, is presented infrequently, and the opera hardly at all (a recent Metropolitan Opera presentation being a notable exception). Certainly the piece is problematic: Stravinsky composed the first act prior to The Firebird, and the subsequent two after the stylistic catalysts of Petrushka and The Rite, so a lot of compositional water under the bridge, and a bit of a disconnect, too. But as Maurice Ravel echoed along with the composer, the style change, from a Claude Debussyesque palette to one of neoprimitive Russo-chinoiserie, is justified internally by a drama that moves from nature into the bustle of oriental urban life, with a lovely "Fisherman's Song" that works in both contexts.

This is important music, even if destined to be a sort of stylistic footnote to the "big three" ballets of the previous years, and Tilson Thomas and company gave it their all, with a sumptuous set and an expert lineup of singers headlined by Paul Groves (The Fisherman), Olga Trifonova (The Nightingale), Catherine Cook (nicely doublecast as both The Cook and Death), Tigran Martirossian (The Emperor), and Ayk Martirossian (The Chamberlain). Courtesans Saundra DeAthos, Sonia Gariaeff, Valentina Osinski, and Darla Wigginton provided able support; and Harold Meers, Brian Frutiger, and Eugene Brancoveanu checked in as comic, albeit a bit racist (a view of Japan through imperial Chinese eyes), Japanese envoys, with European suitjackets and penitudious bowings.

The work, in its Parisian premiere, split the difference between opera and ballet, with dancers on the stage and singers in the orchestral pit, and, while this may have been due to Stravinsky's evolving impersonal, "objective" aesthetics, it is easy to imagine this being primarily due to ballet impresario-producer Sergei Diaghilev's dance orientation (indeed, much crucial Stravinskian aesthetics can be traced to Diaghilev -- right down to the turn to neoclassicism embodied by his commissioning of Pulcinella as an orchestration of early classic Pergolesi and the like).

San Francisco's presentation split the difference, with the singers acting and the dancers dancing almost on top of each other on the magical but tight stage, with sensual and macabre pirouetting from Natalie Willes (The Nightingale), Titus West (Death), and Joe Duffy (Spectre). And what a knockout was The Mechanical Nightingale, as embodied by a trio of gold-plated contortionists (Fleeky Fanco, Tracy Piper, and Alexis Greene), who provided what was undoubtedly one of the more arresting interpretations of this role ever.

The San Francisco Symphony Chorus was in good voice, too -- maybe too good, as the clangorous instrumental fireworks that open Act II were partially obscured.

Small peeve in an excellent rendition, and the excellence continued in Oedipus Rex. Narrator Carey Perloff took the right stentorian part -- if a little flip at times. Michelle DeYoung was perfection personified both physically and vocally as Jocasta: here was a Mother-for-a-Son-to-accidentally-marry ever worthy of the part... sensuous, dangerous, and tragic. Stuart Skelton was her apt foil in the title role, decked out in a white suite and incongruous long ribbon, against her clingy voluptuousness. Tigran and Ayk returned respectively as Creon and Tiresias, and they were fine, but they set one wondering about Stravinsky's scoring. Certainly he needed all these basses as foils to his tenor Oedipus, and certainly the composer was interested in a dark male sound, what with the males-only chorus, but is the accompaniment right for these voices?

OK, let's take the gloves off (as opposed to the chorus, which looked greatly snappy in evening clothes, half-masks, and Michael Jackson one-glove-only reds). Does this music always work?

There are an awful lot of minor third triplets, and sometimes the composer sounds as if he's cruising (where does repetition-as-ominous monumentality end and I-can't-think-of-anything-better-to-do begin?). Promising melodies ramble down dark paths and then disappear into fusty, though intriguing, if not fascinating, arcana of counterpoint.

While Stravinsky remains at the top of my list of composers (all of him -- primitive, neoclassic, serial), Oedipus remains a personal also-ran. Certainly, it has its glories: the stirring opening/closing, the triplets before they go on too long, the vulgar descending major arpeggios, the wild "Gloria" counterpoint (why did the narrator's line "To kill his father and to wed his mother" not immediately precede the recap?), the Hollywood-Bowl trumpet fanfares, and the story is a Freudian keeper; but, perhaps partly due to the wink-wink artifice of a chopping up into traditional "numbers" (arias, duets -- do we need to hear these singers together, to move the non-drama along?), it doesn't add up to a whole. But maybe that's fine, too....

Nevertheless, in wholes and parts it was an arresting night of opera-ballet and opera-oratorio in the concert hall, and we look for further contemporary music-drama engagements with the San Francisco Symphony.

Chronicle of December 2005

December 2

Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy. Metropolitan Opera, New York, NY. "For a company of such international standing, the Metropolitan Opera has had an inexcusably timid record of commissioning operas in recent decades. Consequently, when the Met presents a new work, the stakes are almost impossibly high. . . . An American Tragedy, Tobias Picker's long-awaited operatic adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's landmark 1925 novel, with a libretto by Gene Scheer, opened at the Met. What composer would not covet Mr. Picker's success at winning this commission? But this was only the company's fourth premiere since the James Levine era began in 1971. Talk about pressure. Though An American Tragedy is essentially a conventional work and whole stretches of Mr. Picker's score would not be out of place in a Broadway theater, the opera is accomplished, dramatically effective and thoroughly professional. It's hard to imagine a more compelling cast. . . . The production by the director Francesca Zambello could not be more gripping. Still, in getting behind this project, the Met was playing it safe. The subject is taken from a lofty, though still relevant and troubling literary work. Mr. Picker embraces opera as a populist art form. Those wary of contemporary music will find Mr. Picker's Neo-Romantic idiom much easier on the ears than, say, that garish shocker Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. While John Adams (in Doctor Atomic), Thomas Adès (in The Tempest) and Poul Ruders (in The Handmaid's Tale) have pushed at the boundaries of the genre, Mr. Picker hews to melodramatic and operatic conventions. Yet he does so with undeniable skill. This is Mr. Picker's fourth opera (Emmeline is among the others) and in a recent interview he said that by now he had learned how to write for the voice, to pace the drama, to structure arias and ensembles. Many composers with greater musical originality could learn from Mr. Picker's know-how about the theater. Yet you almost always sense his controlling hand at work. . . . [T]he rousing music is generic and superficial. Paradoxically . . . [a] revealing moment seems a standard set piece with an applause-line final flourish, one of many set pieces in the score. Every time Mr. Picker summons his modernist vocabulary, closer to the idiom of his days as a young serialist, the music becomes more involving. . . . There are other . . . moments when you sense Mr. Picker working harder, taking more chances . . . . Below deceptively placid vocal lines, the orchestra erupts with quietly scurrying counterpoint and lurching, unhinged harmonies. Such moments stand out in a score that is mostly too eager to please with its undulantly lyrical outpourings and film-scorish flourishes. The bustling scene when we first see the chorus of women working at the shirt factory is very derivative, like pale Prokofiev" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 12/3/05].

December 3

Alarm Will Sound in five John Adams pieces. Miller Theater, Columbia University, New York, NY. "What makes Adams Adams or Adams American or Adams an artifact of his time begins with the idea that the world sounds different than it used to. It can shriek, bang and whine through loudspeakers. There was not a flowering lea or a mist-shrouded mountaintop in the Chamber Symphony at the end of this evening. Mr. Adams likes electrified guitars and keyboards, clarinets and brass in their upper-register jazz mode, and rock-band drum sets. On a street corner or in front of a television set, such sounds are received as intrusive, even hurtful. Mr. Adams tries to convince us that they are beautiful. Gnarly Buttons takes American folk and pop apart and reassembles them in looser fragments; only in Put Your Loving Arms Around Me does sadness sing out at length, here in the well-played clarinet solos of Elisabeth Stimpert. In Short Ride in a Fast Machine, arranged for piano and played by John Orfe, sheer brutality made its claim for respect. Mr. Adams's true fascination is with motion. And if American optimism is to be found in his music, look for it in the transformations of time and rhythm. Scratchband at the start of the evening, like the Chamber Symphony at the end, tells our ears that the motion we are hearing at this instant is more than itself. It bears the seeds of other kinds of motion. A little tic of movement, a tiny pattern from within, takes on its own life, blossoms and matures, leaving its parent phrase to die away. Mr. Adams's music is about birth and rebirth: life changes, life goes on. The result is terribly complex: a nightmare of sight reading for Alarm Will Sound's ardent and intrepid players and especially their conductor, Alan Pierson. What draws us to these pieces, I think, is the confidence and certainty that all this eccentricity exudes. What ought to make us nervous doesn't. The other music was from I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky and addresses California's clashing cultures in a kind of busy, but almost tender, oratorio. The visiting singers (almost everyone in the band sang as well) were Masi Asare, Evangelia Kingsley and Alan H. Green. The composer was on hand and spoke briefly" Bernard Holland, The New York Times, 12/5/05].

December 4

Emanuel Ax in a program of ballades, including works of Franz Liszt, Chen Yi, and Kaija Saariaho. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY. "The ballade is a notion disguised as a musical form. It doesn't adhere to formal dictates, like a sonata, or a defined rhythmic pattern, like a waltz. It doesn't even evoke a particular mood or distinct imagery, like a nocturne or a barcarolle. In theory, its roots are in the simple contours of the ballad, but most composers who have used the title have offered something structurally and dramatically grander. . . . Chen honored the form's roots by using Chinese folk melody as the basis of her ballade Ji-Dong-Nuo (2005), but if the traditional melody created the work's initial sound world, it was quickly submerged in thickets of Western modernism. By the middle of the work, which lasts less than five minutes, the simply harmonized melody heard in the opening bars had evolved into a virtuosic, texturally complex work that evoked Bartok's reconfigurations of Hungarian folk songs. Ms. Saariaho's Ballade (2005) is also a work of about five minutes, and like Ms. Chen's piece, it demands both a tightly focused technique and a poetic ear, two qualities that have long been prominent in Mr. Ax's arsenal. But Ms. Saariaho's ballade is concerned less with melody than with texture, or at least with the interplay between the score's emotionally tense figuration and the melodic strands that briefly arise from it. In some ways, Ms. Saariaho seems to have taken a page from Liszt's playbook for ballades. Though her work is more substantial than Liszt's Ballade No. 2 in B minor in every way but length (the Liszt is three times as long), they share rumbling basses and splashy, involved passage work. And by playing them side by side, Mr. Ax put a spotlight on their unlikely kinship" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 12/6/05].

December 8

Japan Society presents Miyako Itchu XII and ensemble. Three centuries ago in Japan, a former Buddhist priest turned musician named Miyako Itchu forged a style of narrative musical theater. His approach, Itchu-bushi, became the foundation of classical Japanese theater music, setting stories as suites that change seamlessly as a tale progresses. Itchu-bushi is sparse, somber music. Voices intone the stories in sustained phrases, swooping between speech and song. They are accompanied by a few notes plucked on shamisens . . . and peeped from a wooden flute (hayashi), to be punctuated by hand drums. Every so often a rhythm takes over and a melody is shared. For the stage, the austerity of Itchu-bushi gave way to a more vigorously rhythmic style, Tokiwazu-bushi, now regularly heard in Kabuki theater. But Itchu-bushi has survived as chamber music. . . . [T]he shamisen player who has been designated Miyako Itchu XII led an 11-member ensemble with pieces in both styles. The Itchu-bushi pieces were stories of enlightenment and contemplation. In Dojo-ji Temple, monks freed the troubled spirit of a princess from their temple bell, with music that moved from chantlike reverence to busy contention to stillness again. Chapter of Flowers, with lyrics taken from Junichiro Tanizaki's novel The Makioka Sisters [1943-1948], celebrated the fragile beauty of cherry blossoms. It was a duet by Mr. Itchu and the vocalist Miyako Ichisumi, whose voice could be sweet, almost disembodied or deliberately rough-edged. The Tokiwazu-bushi pieces were less abstract -- steadier in their rhythms, more succinct in their melodies -- but equally meticulous. Feather Robe on the Pine, about a celestial maiden whose robe is taken by a fisherman, featured a Kabuki dancer, Hanayagi Kiyohito, who grew convincingly fragile and earthbound without her divine robe, then turned regal when it was returned. Sanja Festival depicted a bustling, almost kaleidoscopic street scene with repeating, folky melodies and almost rowdy vocal interjections. It was easy to hear how Tokizawu-bushi supplanted the older style: its pleasures are simpler" [Jon Pareles, The New York Times, 12/10/05].

December 9

Bejun Mehta, with pianist Kevin Murphy, sings music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Roger Quilter, and Gerald Finzi. Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY. "[T]his was Mr. Mehta's evening, and his clear, cultured countertenor sound came through relatively unobstructed, at least to a listener three rows in front of him. The Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi and Roger Quilter songs created a bucolic, lyrical English style colored by syntheses of modal scales" [Bernard Holland, The New York Times, 12/12/05].

Death of Gyorgy Sandor (b. Budapest, Hungary), at 93. New York, NY. [He] studied [piano] with Bartok and remained a champion of his music throughout a long career as a performer and teacher. Mr. Sandor . . . [took] composition with Kodaly at the Liszt Academy of Music there. He began to travel widely as a concert pianist in the 1930's, and settled in the United States after his American debut at Carnegie Hall in 1939. Though the program of his debut at Carnegie featured Brahms, Schumann and Bach, he became best known for his performances and recordings of Bartok and Prokofiev. He recorded the complete solo piano works of Prokofiev and Kodaly, and the piano music and concertos of Bartok, for which he won the Grand Prix du Disque in 1965.
Critics praised his style for its grace and delicate coloration even in the brawniest and most technically demanding music, like Bartok's dense cluster chords. 'His playing serves as a chastisement to those who play Bartok with percussive sound,' Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times wrote in a review of a four-disc set that Mr. Sandor recorded for Sony Classical after his 80th birthday in 1992. In the 1940's he gave the premieres of Bartok's Dance Suite and Piano Concerto No. 3, and four decades later performed Bartok's long-lost piano reduction of his landmark Concerto for Orchestra. Bartok produced it in 1944 for a choreographic version of the piece by American Ballet Theater -- which never materialized -- and it was found in 1985 by the composer's son Peter, who asked Mr. Sandor to prepare it for performance and publication. Mr. Sandor maintained a busy touring schedule around the world, even after a heart attack three years ago. His last concert was in Turkey in April, his son said. He was also influential as a teacher. He taught at Southern Methodist University in Dallas from 1956 to 1961 and was then the director of graduate studies in piano at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor until 1981. The next year he joined the piano faculty at the Juilliard School. Among his students were Malcolm Bilson, Barbara Nissman and Hélène Grimaud. He wrote On Piano Playing: Motion, Sound and Expression (1981), and he recently completed the manuscript of a book on Bartok and his music, his son said. His marriage to Christina Sandor ended in divorce. Besides his son, of Manhattan, he is survived by two stepdaughters, Alejandra de Habsburgo de Riera of Barcelona, Spain, and Inmaculada de Habsburgo of Manhattan" [Ben Sisario, The New York Times, 12/14/05].

December 19

Speculum Musicae. Merkin Hall, New York, NY. "David Rakowski wrote Inside Story this year, while Charles Wuorinen's Fortune goes back to 1979. . . . Some of the music was very good, most of it interesting and all of it very well played. Curtis Macomber, violinist, Aleck Karis, pianist, Allen Blustine, clarinetist, and Chris Finckel, cellist, faced musical and technical puzzles with remarkable skill and true engagement. . . . Jacob Druckman's Dark Wind and Toru Takemitsu's From Far Beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog shared, in their different ways, an earnest pursuit of beautiful sound. Mr. Druckman's combinations of violin and cello tone showed a man in love with both instruments; the Takemitsu finds delicacy in the extreme ranges of the violin and the piano. Their mirror opposite was Mr. Wuorinen's two-movement quartet at the end, hard-bitten and complex - a tough guy next to these two soft and curvaceous duos. Chou Wen-Chung's Windswept Peaks, also for all four instruments, was high-strung, tumultuous and given to sending short phrases back and forth between the different parts. Mr. Rakowski's three movements begin with scurrying figures and sharp banging interruptions; they continue with a kind of baritonal nocturne and end with rumbling tremolos and a terribly complicated piano part running beneath them. Beauty in the feel-good, hedonistic sense was as absent here as it was in Mr. Wuorinen's Fortune. One could split the evening into two camps. One side says, 'The sensuous is still important'; the other, 'Here is the news, not all of it pretty'" [Bernard Holland, 12/21/05].

December 27

Alban Berg's Wozzeck. Metropolitan Opera, New York, NY. "If James Levine could zap himself back in time and conduct the premiere of any opera in history, what among his favorites might he choose? . . . My guess . . . is that Mr. Levine would choose the 1925 premiere at the Berlin State Opera of Alban Berg's Wozzeck . . . . Adapted by Berg from Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck, which was left in sketches when the author died at 23 in 1837, the opera was largely denounced by the critical establishment at its premiere. Yet it stunned and excited Berlin audiences with its excitingly radical musical language and brutally modern dramatic content. When Mark Lamos's arrestingly abstract 1997 production of Wozzeck returned . . . Levine once again showed himself the living master of this extraordinary work. It remains one of the greatest achievements of his career. Since coming to the Met in 1971, Mr. Levine has found it hard to fashion the company into a place that fosters new works, though he and the Met have done better at this in the last 10 years. But he has succeeded at another important goal: to make a few major operas from the early 20th century essential components of the Met's repertory, works like Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, and Berg's unfinished masterpiece, Lulu. He has said that simply by bringing these works back regularly he is convinced that he can win over Met patrons and the public. . . . During . . . [this] decade, Wozzeck has been presented in four seasons, including this one. . . . Many people would not consider this bleak, atonal opera appropriate holiday fare . . . . Levine could not have asked for a more attentive and appreciative audience. With his brilliant and searching conducting and an inspired and excellent cast, I could not imagine a more compelling production. Mr. Levine's achievement in Wozzeck comes from his ability to fuse its musical and dramatic elements. . . . On the surface the music seems volatile and fractured, teeming with Expressionistic fervor. . . . Though Mr. Levine illuminates . . . structure, the message of his performance to listeners is: 'Let me worry about all that; you just sit back and let yourself respond to dramatic sweep and musical power of this tragic story.' Through careful voicing of chords, attention to details, coaxing of inner lines, expressive nuances and sheer intensity, he drew an electrifying performance from the Met orchestra, revealing this pungent score to be deeply emotional and excruciatingly beautiful" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 12/29/06].