Tuesday, November 1, 2011

21ST-CENTURY MUSIC / November 2011


November 2011

Volume 18, Number 11

Reminiscing in Tempo / Michael McDonagh

Chronicle of September 2011



Illustration / 9/11

Editorial Staff

Mark Alburger


Harriet March Page

Patti Noel Deuter

Erling Wold

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


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

Subscription rates in the U.S. are $96.00 per year; subscribers elsewhere should add $48.00 for postage. Single copies of the current volume and back issues are $12.00. Large back orders must be ordered by volume and be pre-paid. Please allow one month for receipt of first issue. Domestic claims for non-receipt of issues should be made within 90 days of the month of publication, overseas claims within 180 days. Thereafter, the regular back issue rate will be charged for replacement. Overseas delivery is not guaranteed. Send orders to 21ST-CENTURY MUSIC, P.O. Box 2842, San Anselmo, CA 94960. email: mus21stc@gmail.com.

Typeset in Times New Roman. Copyright 2011 by 21ST-CENTURY MUSIC. This journal is printed on recycled paper. Copyright notice: Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by 21ST-CENTURY MUSIC.

The Journal is also online at 21st-centurymusic.com and 21st-centurymusic.blogspot.com


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

Prospective contributors should consult The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), in addition to back issues of this journal. Copy should be sent to 21ST-CENTURY MUSIC, P.O. Box 2842, San Anselmo, CA 94960. e-mail: mus21stc@gmail.com. Materials for review may be sent to the same address.


Send all inquiries to 21ST-CENTURY MUSIC, P.O. Box 2842, San Anselmo, CA 94960. e-mail: mus21stc@gmail.com.

Reminiscing in Tempo / Michael McDonagh

New York was abuzz with 9/11 activity and Fashion Week when I was there the second week of September for a working vacation. There were of course 9/11 musical events all over town, and the media, ever ready to milk a hot story, commemorated and pontificated on the 10th anniversary of "the attacks" -- with special editions crowding the newsstands and shelves of Duane Reade and CVS. The musical events on that overcast day ranged from uptown at Merkin Hall where clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh told me he and his pianist and fellow composer Dinuk Wijeratne played a set as part of a Musicians in Harmony program which celebrated New York's enormous ethnic-cultural diversity, while composer-pianist Jed Distler went it alone at The Jazz Gallery on Hudson, scant blocks from ground zero, where I saw a few cops in navy blue out on the street.

How does one respond to an event of the magnitude and horror of 9/11? Distler's solution was to write 110 for 911 (2003), for speaking pianist and electronics, from the Bob Holman curated collective poem Tower Two, which combined efforts of 110 poets -- the number of stories in the tower -- famous and obscure.

Distler's 911 skillfully theatricalized both moment and mood with a large compendium of styles which underscored, amplified, and sometimes played against the words, from the stark opening, to Holman and Eileen Myles' "In times of crisis, poets lose words. Find some: / soul, soul I say..." to strident passages, with clusters at "love should be put into action" which alternated with nearly motionless lyric ones, and different kinds of vernacular music, including boogie woogie. But there was never a sense of pastiche in the equally wide-ranging music and text, sometimes recorded, but more often spoken or sung by Distler, with hair-trigger timing.

Any piece stands or falls on the inspiration and technique of its performer and Distler's technique combines a thorough grounding in the classical tradition with solid jazz chops, his assaults on the piano sometimes evoked the visceral force of the great and not well enough known Randy Weston. 110 for 911 is an accomplished work, and the small but deeply attentive audience in the gallery's intimate space seemed both entertained and moved. Distler followed it with 2 touching encores – Ellington's exquisite The Single Petal of a Rose and a Bill Evans-like ballad for a new friend. Because maybe as one line in Distler's has it "We are all just walking each other home."

We're vulnerable. That's all.

Chronicle of September 2011

September 1

Here and Now. Bargemusic, New York, NY. "Yoed Nir, playing unaccompanied on an acoustic cello, opened with Esperanza, an original composition that flowed from a Debussian motif through passages that seemed to connect Led Zeppelin with English pastoralism (not such a stretch) and onward to regal arpeggios and peasant-dance vivacity. He took up a solid-body electric instrument for Twilight Zone, a dreamy sequence of digital loops, echoing gestures and melodic lines reminiscent of a theremin’s spooky wail. Much of what followed adhered to more conventional ideas of modern classical music yet still covered a range that could fill a slim encyclopedia. Rasp, Scours, Gleam, by Elizabeth Adams, evoked in slow motion and at extreme magnification the gesture of pulling a bow across violin strings. Vita Wallace played Ms. Adams’s exacting litany of scrapes, slurs and hisses diligently and potently. Three movements from Marc Mellits’s Fruity Pebbles, played by the cellist Dave Eggar with members of the American Modern Ensemble, wedded post-Minimalist rhythmic dynamism to puckish wit; Lera Auerbach’s Piano Trio, performed by Trio Vela, pursued a more conservative line rooted in Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Two brief, appealing new pieces used the classical canon as raw material for personable recombination: Robert Paterson’s Elegy, played by Mr. Eggar and Arash Amini, another cellist, wistfully adapted material by Bach, while Peri Mauer’s Rhapsodance, vibrantly interpreted by Moran Katz, a clarinetist, and Alexandra Joan, a pianist, set a tart chromatic melody dancing to frisky rhythms akin to Poulenc. Phyllis Chen, a dazzling performer who wrings novel sounds from the humble toy piano, opened the second half of the concert with two original works, Carousels and Taroko Hypnos; both made imaginative use of a hand-cranked music box. In For the Birds, by Wendy Mae Chambers, warbling birdcalls dispersed among audience members answered Ms. Chen’s flits and trills. A final set by Mr. Eggar’s trio, Deoro, dispensed with classical concert conventions. Accompanied by Ariel de la Portilla, a bassist, and Chuck Palmer, a percussionist, Mr. Eggar segued through Leaving Manila, an original piece filled with the wobbles and slurs of traditional Filipino string music; a moody version of Messiaen’s Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus; . . . Bob Marley’s reggae ballad Redemption Song . . . and ended with a reeling reinvention of “Bring Me to Life,” a bombastic emo-metal anthem by the rock band Evanescence. Closing an evening of seemingly exhaustive exploration, Mr. Eggar’s boundless imagination revealed still limitless possibilities" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 9/5/11].

September 6

Soheil Nasseri. Merkin Hall, New York, NY. "Soheil Nasseri’s piano recitals . . . over the last decade have shown him to be a thoughtful, if assertive, interpreter, given to surprises. A Californian of Iranian descent who now splits his time between New York and Berlin, Mr. Nasseri takes a cosmopolitan view of the repertory and has been known to devote concerts mostly to new music by Iranian, Israeli and American composers, music he plays with passion and discernment. . . . Nasseri . . . opened with the premiere of Hormoz Farhat’s Sonata No. 2 (2011). Mr. Farhat, an Iranian composer, wrote to Mr. Nasseri’s strengths: the piece opens with a Lisztian flourish that quickly morphs into a theme with modal touches and graceful decoration that give it a vaguely Middle Eastern accent. East and West flirt throughout the piece. Structurally it is a classic sonata form, and in parts of its slow, expressive central movement, modal melodies give way to passages cast in a mildly angular, modernist style. Mr. Nasseri played the piece with the flexibility and power it seemed to demand" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 9/7/11].

September 7

Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story performed by the New York Philharmonic. Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY. "When it came time to make a movie of his West Side Story, a busy Leonard Bernstein entrusted the score to Hollywood and his loyal arrangers. But he was less than enchanted with the results. On hearing the overture for the first time on the stereo of the music director, John Green, he burst out, 'Johnny, how the hell could you have done it so badly?,' one of the film’s producers, Walter Mirisch, said. Regardless of his opinion then, the guardians of Bernstein’s musical legacy have painstakingly recreated a written score of the soundtrack to be performed live by an orchestra during a screening of the movie . . . . Through some remarkable audio engineering, the original dialogue and singing of West Side Story will remain, while the Philharmonic plays along. It is like a version of Music Minus One: recordings of solo works without the solo line, to be played along with in your living room. But in this case, think of it as Music Minus 100. 'I wanted to find new ways for people to enjoy Lenny’s music,' said Paul H. Epstein, the senior vice president of the Leonard Bernstein Office, which oversees and perpetuates all things Bernstein. 'I wanted to prepare the new generation for Lenny. I thought this would be a way of reaching them.' The West Side Story production coincides with the issue of a restoration of the original MGM movie by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD 50 years after its release in theaters. The film won 10 Oscars. An extraordinary amount of detective work and sound-engineering wizardry went into the realization of the live-orchestra screenings. Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal orchestrated the original Broadway musical in close collaboration with Bernstein. 'He was very much involved,' said Mr. Ramin, 92, who was a childhood friend of Bernstein’s. 'He put his seal of approval on what we had done.' They were assigned to orchestrate the movie score under the guidance of Saul Chaplin, the associate producer. For Broadway, the arrangers wrote for roughly 30 musicians. MGM allowed them an orchestra three times the size. 'It was like giving us a big candy store and saying, 'Eat what you want,'' Mr. Ramin said. What resulted was a lush, large score with six saxophone parts, passages with eight trumpets and others with five pianos added to five xylophones. The movie arrangers created a new overture, doubled the size of the opening dance prologue, moved scenes around and added musical overlays to the two-and-a-half-hour movie. They won an Oscar for best original score. 'The score as a whole was nearly as daring for the film as it had been for the stage,' wrote Misha Berson in her book Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination (Applause, 2011). No American movie, she added, 'had such an adventurous sound palette.' Bernstein, Ms. Berson wrote, found the sound mix 'overbearing and lacking in texture and subtlety.' Jamie Bernstein, a daughter of the composer’s, said by e-mail that her father 'didn’t love everything' about the arrangement, or the movie, for that matter, but kept tactfully quiet. Mr. Ramin said of Bernstein’s reaction to the movie score: 'He liked some of it, and he didn’t like some of it. Lenny was really a purist at heart.' Mr. Mirisch, 89, who wrote about Bernstein’s reaction in his memoir, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History (Wisconsin Film Studies, 2008), said in an interview, 'I assume if he was like the rest of us, he thought he could have done it better himself.' Fifty years later, those who have reconstructed the movie score defend their own efforts, saying they have gotten closer to Bernstein’s vision. 'Bernstein as a populist would want to have as many people exposed to his music, even with the compromises,' said Garth Edwin Sunderland, the Bernstein Office’s senior music editor and the man who created the new score. 'We’ve pulled it somewhat back from the excess of the film score. We made it closer to his theatrical intentions.' Mr. Sunderland said the theater orchestration formed the backbone of his work. He also used a partial version of Mr. Ramin’s personal score, which was found in Columbia University’s archives, and a reduced version that belonged to Mr. Green. Eleonor Sandresky, a Bernstein office researcher, tracked down the Green materials in the collection of the movie’s co-director, Robert Wise, at the University of Southern California. Some orchestrations had to be reproduced by ear. Passages impractical for onstage orchestras, like a section with five pianos and xylophones, were slimmed down. Mr. Sunderland made the Cool dance music more jagged; it had been smoothed out for the movie, he said. Next the arrangers had to contend with the many tiny cuts and expansions that came with the film editing, so that the live performance would synchronize precisely with the progression of the movie frames. 'That’s just a mind-boggling, complicated process,' Mr. Sunderland said. The final score fills 465 pages and contains 90 minutes of music. 'The music is hard,' said Bing Wang, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s associate concertmaster. 'It’s fast, with a lot of tempo changes. We had to switch gears constantly.' The technical process of stripping away the orchestra from the soundtrack was done in parallel. The job was given to Chace Audio by Deluxe of Burbank, Calif., a sound-engineering company that handled the restoration of the soundtrack for the DVD and Blu-ray release. Because the orchestra, voices and dialogue all existed on the same soundtrack, the task was enormously difficult. The orchestra could not simply be subtracted. It had to be scraped away. Chace brought in Audionamix, a Paris-based audio technology company, which had developed a technique used to extract Edith Piaf’s voice for the movie La Vie en Rose. According to Audionamix’s chief executive officer, Olivier Attia, the technique involves sampling sound waves for instruments and instructing a computer to scrub out their appearances on the soundtrack. 'Think about it as Photoshop for music,' Mr. Attia said. The voices and dialogue remained. Engineers had to restore some sound effects, including dancing step sounds and many of the finger snaps that are so emblematic of the work. The hard part in performance is coordinating the orchestra with the images on the screen, especially difficult in the dance scenes choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the movie’s co-director. . . . The orchestra musicians will wear earpieces that deliver rhythmic clicks to indicate the beat. Mr. Newman will have a monitor in front of him, with a light bar moving across the screen, indicating cues. The orchestra will be amplified, Philharmonic officials said. Meanwhile, the performances in New York this week will have a special resonance. Mr. Mirisch recalled that the production team found a neighborhood of condemned tenements in Manhattan to film the opening dance sequence. 'We had all those streets to ourselves,' Mr. Mirisch said. 'It was a marvelous piece of good luck.' That neighborhood soon became Lincoln Center" [Daniel J. Wakin, The New York Times, 9/7/11].

September 9

Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot opens the San Francisco Opera. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA. "David Hockney’s brightly stylized, Beijing-meets-Whoville production. The gleefully chauvinistic work depicts an icy China overcome by warm, Western force, and closes with the fantasy of a conquered culture celebrating its conquest" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 9/11/11].

September 10

Christopher Theofanidis's Heart of a Soldier (after the book by James B. Stewart) premiered by the San Francisco Opera. War Memorial Theater, San Francisco, CA. "The audience, once in its seats, was asked to stand and sing the national anthem, while a flag was projected on a video scrim in front of a set of the twin towers. Two hours later -- and two hours before the calendar clicked over to Sept. 11 -- the orchestra played what everyone could recognize as portentous music. The stage shook. The sky filled with falling papers. Office workers fell to the floor. The scrim showed smoke. The audience was visibly shaken. At the curtain call a few moments later, many still had tears in their eyes. The great baritone Thomas Hampson, a larger-than-life Rick Rescorla, won our hearts. The standing ovation was the kind every composer and every opera company dreams of for a premiere. Lest no emotional button go unpushed, San Francisco Opera left us with this final image: extras in firefighter costumes, in full regalia, standing proudly in the towers as the cast took its concluding bows. This was no place for critics. Under these circumstances, dare one call Heart of a Soldier -- which was given a convincing and engaging production by Francesca Zambello and a committed performance conducted by Patrick Summers -- a failed opera? It had the external elements of conventional tragic opera -- action, heroism, exotic locales and love scenes. The villains who masterminded and carried out the 9/11 attacks remained unseen, but we know who they are. Hampson chewed the scenery and sang magnificently. The overall narrative was clear as a bell (even if many details and motivations were sketchy), and the opera moved with welcome efficiency. But beyond obviously effective theatricality and memorializing, to say nothing of downright emotional manipulation, there was Theofanidis' obvious score and an obvious libretto by Donna Di Novelli, who produced an operatic précis of the book Heart of a Soldier, which James B. Stewart adapted from his New Yorker profile of Rescorla. Theofanidis has a flair for showy orchestral color, big effects and likably sinuous tunes he elevates into Hollywood style climaxes. He makes a splash, then another, then another. Theofanidis' score suggests Cornwall and Vietnam and Texas (where the composer is from). There are thumping march tunes. The orchestra swells when Rick’s chest swells or Susan’s emotions swell. John Williams is an influence. The vocal writing is effective, not remarkable. Heart of a Soldier doesn't question, but it leaves one wondering. . . . Should writing an opera about courage be, itself, an act of courage?" [Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, 9/11/11]. "As the critic Daniel Mendelsohn has noted, the best operas about blameless figures -- like Philip Glass’s Satyagraha or Messiaen’s St. François d’Assise -- tend to work because they abandon traditional dramatic and musical structures in favor of more innovative ones. . . . The score, conducted by Patrick Summers, has taut moments . . . . If there was any fear that an opera involving Sept. 11 might be overly sentimental, it was misplaced. “Heart of a Soldier,” it turns out, is not nearly sentimental enough." [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 9/11/11].

September 11

Wordless Music Orchestra presents Remembering September 11. Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. 'The main offering was The Disintegration Loops, dlp 1.1, a 40-minute work by the experimental composer William Basinski, presented here in the premiere of an orchestrated version by Maxim Moston. Musically and metaphorically, it was a powerful piece to reflect on what happened 10 years ago. In the summer and fall of 2001 Mr. Basinski began digitizing an archive of analog tape loops he recorded in the early 1980s, mostly snippets of beautiful American pastoral pieces, as he put it in a program note. But during the recording process, as each loop played over and over on his tape deck, the loops started to disintegrate. Flakes of magnetic material were steadily wiped away, leaving bare spots on the tape and holes in the music, which was literally turning to dust. It turned out that on the morning of Sept. 11 Mr. Basinski was on the roof of his apartment building in Brooklyn, about a mile from the World Trade Center. He and his neighbors witnessed the horrific destruction of the towers, with the disintegrating loops playing all the while in the background. Mr. Basinski fashioned the loops into a four-disc recording released in 2002. Mr. Moston’s orchestrated version of one extended piece from that set had an overwhelming effect on the audience that packed the temple on Sunday, with people seated on chairs, sitting on the floor, leaning against walls and standing in the lobbies just beyond the rope lines at the entrances. This orchestrated version begins with a simple, wistful tune, like some singsong refrain or a gentle chant for a slow march, with the melody carried mostly by the trombone, backed up by winds and strings and a subdued riff on a snare drum. The tune is looped, that is, repeated over and over, creating an obsessive and transfixing effect. Gradually the music develops little blips of silence: certain notes drop out; coordination among the instruments goes out of sync; rhythms hiccup. The changes come slowly but steadily. Eventually there is not much left but hints of the melody, blurry inner harmonies and an increasingly pervasive and elemental pedal tone on the bass and lower strings. Slow disintegration is a natural process in life. The disintegration of the twin towers was the result of a violent act of destruction. But presented in the context of this somber anniversary concert, The Disintegration Loops offered a chance to find some solace in the tragedy, some sense that this loss will also, in time, be folded into the cycle of life. When the assured conductor Ryan McAdams put his arms to his sides at the end of the 40-minute performance, no one in the audience made a sound. Musicians and listeners joined in a spontaneous period of reflection that lasted nearly two minutes. Then Mr. Basinski and Mr. Moston appeared to an ovation. The concert began with three ruminative works for string quartet: Osvaldo Golijov’s Tenebrae (2002); Ingram Marshall’s Fog Tropes II, for quartet and tape (1993); and Alfred Schnittke’s Collected Songs Where Every Verse Is Filled with Grief (1997), in an arrangement for string quartet by the violinist David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet. The impressive performers (from the Wordless Music Orchestra) were the violinists Keats Dieffenbach and Caroline Shaw, the violist Nadia Sirota and the cellist Clarice Jensen" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 11/12/11].

September 13

New York Chamber Music Festival. Symphony Space, New York, NY. "French music was in the spotlight . . . [in] a concert by the pianists Pascal Rogé and his wife, Ami Rogé; Howard Wall, a French horn player in the New York Philharmonic; and Elmira Darvarova, a former concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the artistic director of the festival. The Rogés walked on- and offstage holding hands. They began the program with an infrequently performed four-hand piano version of La Mer that Debussy wrote a few months before finishing the famous orchestral score, which received its lackluster premiere in 1905. Composers often wrote piano versions of their own (and others’) orchestral works, an easy way to disseminate them to a wider public in the era before recording. La Mer, a masterpiece of swirling colors and vivid seascape evocations seems inseparable from its varied orchestral palette, although Debussy was also a genius at creating pianistic evocations. . . [T]he reduced version, elegantly . . . performed by the Rogés, clearly reveals Debussy’s inventive harmonic and melodic touches. The couple joined forces again for a colorful interpretation of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole, also written for piano duet before Ravel orchestrated it. His Spanish heritage (his mother was Basque) inspired the four-movement work, which concludes with the lively Feria. Mr. Rogé and Mr. Wall offered a . . . reading of Poulenc’s Elégie for horn and piano, written in 1957 to honor the British horn player Dennis Brain, who died at 36 that year in a car accident" [Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 9/14/11].

September 14

Steve Schick conducts the American premiere of James Dillon's Nine Rivers, Miller Theater, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Opening of the 23rd season of Sacred Music in a Sacred Space. Ken Tritle conducts the New York premiere of Juraj Filas's Oratio Spei (Prayer of Hope). Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York, NY. "[A] grandly scaled requiem . . . [t]echnically, the work is not a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but it has a connection that makes it a fitting commemoration. Mr. Filas, a Czech composer based in Prague, was commissioned to write the piece in 2000, and when the attacks happened, just as he was completing it, he decided to dedicate the work “to the victims of terrorism,” as he put it in his program note, broadening the purpose to make a more global point. Surely the sense of occasion at the church could be attributed partly to the anticipation of a major new work and partly to the 10th anniversary of the attacks, a few days earlier. But much of it had to do with Mr. Tritle, who announced in July that he was leaving St. Ignatius Loyola, and the series he founded in 1989, to become the music director and organist at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. This was his final performance as director of the superb St. Ignatius choir and orchestra, and it seemed that the 10-minute standing ovation that ended the evening was as much for Mr. Tritle’s work over all as for the score and the richly textured, finely polished, high-energy performance. Mr. Filas writes in a melodic, accessible style, rooted in the traditions of the late 19th century. He also clearly approached his work with a sense of where he wanted it to stand in relation to other beloved requiem settings. The gentler parts of the score -- the Introitus and the Kyrie, the Recordare, the Lacrimosa and the Libera Me, in particular -- have the light textures and easygoing lyricis of Fauré’s Requiem and some of the melodic litheness of Mozart’s. Mr. Filas rejected Brahms’s ecumenical approach; he not only uses the traditional Latin text but also adds a concluding section that revisits the day of judgment and includes a mystical dialogue between Jesus and St. John, and a bright-hued prayer for deliverance. And in the more terrifying parts of this Mass for the Dead -- the vision of the final judgment in the Dies Irae sequence, most notably, but also in parts of the Offertorium -- Mr. Filas followed Mozart’s and Verdi’s leads in supporting choral vehemence with orchestral thunder. He actually outpaces Verdi in his passion for soul-shaking percussion. Mr. Filas put his most attractive music in a sweet, often soaring soprano line, to which Susanna Phillips brought a beautiful, velvety tone and dignified, carefully shaped phrasing. The solo passages for male voices are more pointedly dramatic, often pitting the soloists against dense orchestral and choral scoring. John Tiranno, the tenor, sang pleasingly . . . John Michael Moore, the baritone, summoned . . . consistent power, and sang with a warm, commanding tone in the Tuba Mirum and Confutatis" [Allan Kozinn, The New YorkTimes, 9/15/11].

September 17

Henry V by William Walton (narration by Christopher Plummer) performed by the New York Philharmonic. Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY.

September 21

Next Wave Festival. Kronos Quartet presents Awakening: A Musical Meditation on the Anniversary of 9/11. BAM Harvey Theater. "Though performed without an intermission and mostly without pause, the program is arranged as a triptych: its opening section is devoted to Asian music (from Uzbekistan, Iraq, Iran and India), with assertive, avant-garde Western pieces in the central grouping and introspective, consonant scores -- music of reflection and solace -- in the concluding set. Most of the works were composed well before 2001, but direct responses to the attacks by Michael Gordon, Osvaldo Golijov and Gustavo Santaolalla (and, arguably, Terry Riley, whose gently repetitive 2002 “One Earth, One People, One Love” offers a more generalized philosophical reaction) lay at the program’s heart. Typically for Kronos, there is a visual component too. The set, designed by Laurence Neff, is a mess of twisted metal, broken wood and ruined everyday objects (a cabinet, a bathtub, an ironing board, toys). Some of the wreckage, it turned out, was meant for the ensemble to whale on in the percussive sections of Armenia (1983), by the German noise band Einstürzende Neubauten (the name means 'Collapsing New Buildings'), offered here in a vigorous arrangement by Paula Prestini. Most of the dozen works here had an electronic element; in fact, a recording of an oud and a drone were playing as the ensemble took the stage, and the track continued as part of the backdrop of Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky’s Awakening (1993), the tactile, melancholy opening piece. Lev Zhurbin’s arrangement of an outgoing, rhythmically vital Iraqi song, Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me and Jacob Garchik’s transcription of an ornate Iranian lullaby let the ensemble flex its multicultural interpretive muscles. But the point was probably to erode cultural borders, and the group succeeded best in the finale of the Asian set, a version of the alap section of Ram Narayan’s Raga Mishra Bhairavi, recast as a passionate viola solo and given an exquisite, moving performance by Hank Dutt. Mr. Gordon’s Sad Park (2005) is built on looped recordings of children’s descriptions of the Sept. 11 attacks as an introduction, but the voices, soon manipulated beyond comprehensibility, become part of the texture, and the music -- slow, eerie and slightly nightmarish in Part 1, rhythmically driven and howling with the intensity of a rock band in Part 4 -- commands the attention more fully, in any case. The collaboration by Mr. Golijov and Mr. Santaolalla, Darkness 9/11 (2002), is a more conventionally mournful score, etched in slow-moving, lustrous chords, and it set the stage for a concluding sequence of works in the same spirit. Particularly striking was a version of Aulis Sallinen’s Winter Was Hard (1969), in which the quartet was joined by the warm-toned, wonderfully unified Brooklyn Youth Chorus" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 9/22/11].

September 22

Paul McCartney’s first ballet score, Ocean’s Kingdom, performed by the New York Ballet. New York, NY. "McCartney's . . . Ocean's Kingdom is in no way an important addition to the corpus of ballet music, but it deserves a better staging than the one it’s been given by New York City Ballet. Never less than agreeable, it has plenty of color and melody. Curiously, it sounds as if it had been composed in the neo-Romantic era before the Beatles: some of its most expansive tunes have hints of Borodin and Samuel Barber; some of its atmospheres evoke Ravel; and its jolliest passages are on the cusp of Bernstein’s Candide. . . . The highlight . . . was the introductory See the Music ... session, in which the company’s music director, Fayçal Karoui, spoke about the score, playing excerpts to illustrate several different aspects of Mr. McCartney’s composition: the nature of its melodies; the way it transforms a bass figure through orchestral variation into a theme; its creation of intimacy and humor; its rhythmic urgency and heightened suspense; and, finally, its nobility and optimism. . . . Because of Mr. McCartney’s involvement, there was tremendous media excitement about Ocean’s Kingdom. And yet I know of no regular balletgoer who felt any great advance hopes for the work . . . . Ocean’s Kingdom isn’t offensive: it’s just harmless, forgettable, bland, thin and occasionally incompetent. In a note for the program, Mr. McCartney writes that he was already working on 'a piece of music with an underwater theme' when Mr. Martins invited him to consider a ballet. Mr. McCartney then returned to the underwater idea, now with dance in mind. . . . The ballet, planned like a symphony, is in four movements and is about 50 minutes long" [Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times, 9/23/11].

September 24

Pianist-composer Stephen Prutsman and the Afiara String Quartet in Sherlock, Jr., performed to the 1924 Buster Keaton comedy. Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, NY. "At the peak of the silent-film era movie theaters provided nonstop work for instrumental musicians in America. In most houses just a single pianist would play, usually improvising, and often folding in songs or classical pieces. Some theaters had organs equipped with sound effects to evoke thunderstorms and galloping horses. Large auditoriums brought in whole instrumental ensembles, working from cue sheets provided by the studios with specific titles keyed to moments in the film. . . . [T]he mystique of the silent-film era was recreated (and musically updated) with a screening of Buster Keaton’s 1924 comedy Sherlock, Jr. accompanied by a live performance of a jazzy, eclectic and inventive score for piano and string quartet composed by Stephen Prutsman. Mr. Prutsman played the piano, joined by the Afiara String Quartet, the former graduate resident quartet at the Juilliard School, whose game young members doubled on kazoos, clackers and toy instruments. This was the New York premiere of the 2006 score, and the hall was packed. . . . Sherlock, Jr. is a 45-minute Keaton classic. The sad-sack Keaton plays a lowly film projectionist who secretly yearns to be a private eye and reads How to Be a Detective in every spare moment. His pretty, shy and slow-witted love interest is the Girl (Kathryn McGuire). His rival for her affection is the town swindler, the Sheik (Ward Crane). At the Girl’s house the Sheik takes a pocket watch belonging to her father and frames Keaton as the thief. . . . As a composer Mr. Prutsman has worked with collaborators including the Kronos Quartet, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, folk ensembles and jazz orchestras. His multistyled facility was given full vent in Sherlock, Jr. The music one moment evoked a lilting, lyrical Fauré and the next a jaunty rag. When the villain appeared, there were ominous string tremolos and thumping piano themes. During the dream segment there were strange, slightly off, wrong-note waltzes. The big chase scene was prodded along by a relentless peasant dance. And some effective borrowings included a reference to the love-at-first-sight chords from Strauss’s Rosenkavalier. The Afiara players and Mr. Prutsman received a hearty ovation for their vibrant performance" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 9/25/11].

September 26

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Opening Gala: Fireworks. Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "Looking around the auditorium, you were confronted with a . . . compelling cause for celebration: . . . offering a program largely comprising unfamiliar works, the society had sold every available seat. The evidence seemed clear: what the cellist David Finckel and the pianist Wu Han, the society’s artistic directors since 2004, have achieved with their hands-on approach to blending standard, unusual and new repertory, played by a mix of familiar and emerging performers, has connected with a large, enthusiastic constituency. Greeting the audience from the stage, the effervescent Ms. Wu practically levitated as she rushed through a litany of coming events: new tour stops in Chicago and Athens, Ga.; new residencies in Germany, South Korea and London. . . . Vivian Fung’s Pizzicato, a 2001 bagatelle filled with allusions to Chinese stringed instruments and Indonesian gamelan rhythms, had an appropriately plucky account by the Escher String Quartet. The flutist Tara Helen O’Connor brought her characteristic authority and lucidity to Henri Dutilleux’s 1943 Sonatine, with supple support from the pianist Alessio Bax" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 9/27/11].

The Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players. Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church, New York, NY. "Felix Weingartner’s Octet (Op. 73), is a piece worth a fuller revival. Weingartner, whose career was based mostly in Vienna, was among the first conductors to record plentifully, and collectors still prize his recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies. As its opus number suggests, the Octet is a mature work, composed in 1925, when Weingartner was in his early 60s. Granted, the work pays little heed to the experimental approach to harmony that Schoenberg and his students were exploring at the time. But its 36 minutes are packed with richly lyrical themes, sumptuously scored in a late Romantic style, with occasional nods -- well, O.K., full-scale salutes -- to Brahms and Mahler. Yet it also has an original spark, and its challenges for the performers -- an ensemble that mirrors the woodwind, brass and string scoring of Schubert’s Octet -- are ample. Most notably, it has a prominent, perilously chromatic horn line, which Karl Kramer played beautifully here, and its clarinet and bassoon writing is spirited and shapely. Michael Brown was a supportive accompanist and held the spotlight ably in . . . a vital, thoroughly Romantic (here the most prominent influences were Brahms and Dvorak) Piano Quintet that George Szell composed in 1911, when he was about 14" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 9/27/11].

September 28

Patricia Spencer and the Mannes Orchestra, conducted by David Hayes, in the New York premiere of Elliott Carter's Concerto for Flute and Ensemble. Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "[He complege it] in March 2008, back when he was only 99. The astonishingly prolific Mr. Carter is about 10 weeks shy of 103. Since he turned 100, he has written 14 works. . . . [This is a] rhapsodic and brilliant 14-minute concerto. . . . Mr. Carter’s concerto had its premiere in Jerusalem — by the flutist Emmanuel Pahud and the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Ensemble, conducted by Daniel Barenboim -- in 2008. James Levine gave the American premiere in 2010 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Carter’s composer’s note for the piece reads almost like a mea culpa for not having written a flute concerto earlier. 'I kept putting it off, because I felt that the flute could not produce the sharp attacks that I use so frequently,' he writes. 'But the idea of the beautiful qualities of the different registers of the instrument and the extraordinary agility attracted me more and more.' The work, scored for an ensemble including piano and percussion, was performed here by 22 players. It opens with startling, crisp orchestral chords that prod the flute into scurrying figures, quickly taken up by other instruments. The flute’s skittish riffs and winding lyrical lines sometimes ignite agitated orchestral responses; at other times they are cushioned by subdued, sustained harmonies. Even when the music breaks into a jumpy back-and-forth, the mood is industrious, not aggressive. Mr. Carter’s language has lost none of its piercing, atonal bite. Yet like most of his works from his 90s and later, this score is less densely complex and layered than those from earlier decades. The enhanced clarity is a welcome turn, making it easier to hear Mr. Carter’s scintillating sonorities, myriad instrumental colors and complex rhythmic interplay. About midway through the concerto, as the orchestra remains quite feisty, the flute, as if in its own zone, just keeps playing steady, pensive passages. Eventually the flute prevails, and the piece turns ruminative. But not for long. An extended, scherzolike section full of fantastical flights takes off and builds to a final flourish of every-which-way spiraling figures. Ms. Spencer’s impressive performance had all the 'beautiful qualities' and 'extraordinary agility' Mr. Carter could have asked for. The young players under Mr. Hayes seemed engrossed by the music and in command of it. Mr. Carter stood up from his seat, a little shakily, to salute the players and acknowledge the ovation" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 9/30/11].

September 29

Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love. El Cosmico, Marfa, TX. "Five hundred concertgoers -- most staying in one of a hundred tents, six trailers, four safari tents and four yurts -- three security guards, four sound men and one lighting specialist heard the voice of Led Zeppelin perform onstage. It seemed random and a little surreal, but somehow there was Robert Plant, live in the middle of nowhere. The 'somehow' was a well-timed invitation from Liz Lambert, the Austin hotelier behind El Cosmico, a Marfa campsite 'hotel' built around restored vintage trailers. Mr. Plant’s appearance was supposed to be a surprise, but in the days leading up to the festival -- which, with the tents and the abundance of free-roaming dogs and children, felt more like a 1960s-style gathering -- there was buzz that the singer-songwriter Patty Griffin would not be playing her Thursday night set solo. Instead, she would be introducing a new band featuring her boyfriend, Mr. Plant. The small crowd suggests that the rumor sounded too good to be true, and that for all its attention, Marfa is still a geographically inconvenient place to visit on a whim. What may not have been a terribly well-kept secret still felt unexpected. On a small handmade stage a few hundred feet from U.S. 67, under the name Crown Vic, Mr. Plant and Ms. Griffin shared vocals on Led Zeppelin classics . . . . Plant may always remember the show as Crown Vic’s first gig, but to the people of Marfa a visit from a bona fide rock icon seemed like an important step in Marfa’s slow, but steady, evolution into a viable music town. Sure, it’s still a 'what if,' but what if Marfa had a true calling card beyond Donald Judd’s minimalist boxes? 'Marfa is a small community, but it’s a small community of people that have truly committed themselves to the arts and creativity,' said Ms. Lambert, a West Texas native whose first Marfa project was the renovation of the ’50s-era Thunderbird Hotel. “That extends nicely to music'" [Andy Langer, The New York Times, 10/1/11].

September 30

Premiere of John Corigliano's One Sweet Morning, given by the New York Philharmonic. Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY. "The commission was for a work to commemorate the anniversary of Sept. 11, and it was the orchestra’s second request. Soon after the terrorist attacks the Philharmonic asked him for a first-anniversary tribute to those who had perished. Mr. Corigliano declined, feeling that the shock was too fresh, and the orchestra turned to John Adams, who provided . . . On the Transmigration of Souls. For the 10th anniversary Mr. Corigliano was ready. His new work -- One Sweet Morning, an unsettlingly vivid 28-minute score for mezzo-soprano and orchestra -- will have its premiere . . . with Alan Gilbert conducting and Stephanie Blythe as soloist. Mr. Adams 'did a smart thing,' Mr. Corigliano said during a recent interview in his Upper West Side apartment. 'At that time, so close to the event, a work about it had to be specific, and his was. He dealt with people’s names and used actual recordings, and it was exactly the right thing to do. But now, 10 years later, we have a chance to look back at 9/11 and then look back further, to see how it fits into the drama of all the world’s wars, all the world’s battles, all the world’s horrible mistreatments of people. That decade gives us perspective, which is why this is a different kind of piece. I thought we should be looking at 9/11 now as one of those things that will always be with us. We’ve seen it before. We’ve seen it since.' Mr. Corigliano, 73, has spent his career solving self-imposed compositional puzzles, often by considering essential qualities of the instruments or performers he is writing for. He opened his Oboe Concerto (1975), a work he regards as a watershed in the development of his style, by focusing on the oboe’s role as the instrument the rest of the orchestra tunes to, and ended it with a dance based on the sound of an Arabic oboe. His flute concerto Pied Piper Fantasy (1982) drew on James Galway’s impish charisma. And so on through a catalog now packed with orchestral works (including three symphonies), film scores, chamber music and virtuosic solo pieces. This time -- as in his Symphony No. 1 ('Of Rage and Remembrance') (1988), a memorial to victims of AIDS -- the subject was more emotional. Mr. Corigliano’s main problem was finding a way to achieve the perspective he mentioned. 'I felt that an orchestral piece was absolutely out of the question,' he said. 'We have a movie clip in our minds about 9/11. Everybody knows the movie, and everybody plays it. And there’s no way you can write an orchestral piece, without a text, and not have listeners playing that movie. So I went to the Philharmonic and said that I had to have a text.' Mr. Corigliano, who has been known to reconfigure works in his back catalog with a Handelian efficiency, had already written a piece he thought could be useful. In 2005 he set One Sweet Morning, a poem by E. Y. Harburg -- the lyricist of Over the Rainbow and Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? -- first for voice and piano, then for children’s chorus. 'It says what I would like to say about the hope for peace, and it has a wonderful finality,' said Mr. Corigliano, who made the original setting without a commission. 'I knew that this orchestral work would have to end with it. So the next question was: What precedes it? What am I saying to get to this?' Some research at the 92nd Street Y’s Poetry Center turned up three more texts that answered that question. Czeslaw Milosz’s Song on the End of the World, written in Warsaw in 1944, contrasts the mundane with the apocalyptic; in the context of Mr. Corigliano’s work it stands for what he calls 'the 9/10 world.' Percussion and brass figures lead into a horrific passage from Homer’s “Iliad,” which catalogs the names of Trojan warriors massacred by Patroclus in a desperate battle and tells how each was killed. The Homer gives way to War South of the Great Wall, by the eighth-century Chinese poet Li Po: a poem that describes a battle in the hazy distance from the perspective of a woman watching her husband and sons fight beneath a red sun and bright flags, to the pounding of war drums. A brief interlude weaves together the themes of the first three movements and melts into the setting of the Harburg poem. Like many Corigliano works of the last three decades the score is awash in melody and drama and uses techniques from the full spectrum of contemporary musical language, all within an accessible frame. Always a colorful orchestrator, Mr. Corigliano draws here on a wealth of textures that include the eerie timbres of bowed vibraphones, in the Milosz section; a passage in which the brasses climb steadily from the lowest note on a tuba to the highest on a trumpet, with a closing percussion barrage representing the mound of corpses amassed during the Homer excerpt; and Chinese drums accompanying parts of the Li Po. Mr. Corigliano’s stylistically untethered approach has always appealed to audiences and to orchestras keen to find new works that attract subscribers by updating the conventions of Romanticism. Soloists like Mr. Galway, the clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the pianist Emanuel Ax, the guitarist Sharon Isbin and the violinist Joshua Bell have embraced Mr. Corigliano’s music too: exuberant quotations from a starry roster of musicians scroll across the top of his Web site. But critics, and composers and performers of a modernist bent, have often been chilly to Mr. Corigliano’s work, seeing its accessibility as a form of pandering and arguing that a style as freewheeling as his is no style at all. Reviewing Mr. Corigliano’s First Symphony for The New York Times in 1992 Edward Rothstein described the work as vulgar. Bernard Holland, in a critic’s notebook in The Times soon after, described that work as 'high dudgeon masquerading as high art' and added that The Ghosts of Versailles, the quirky period-spanning 1991 work Mr. Corigliano wrote for the Metropolitan Opera, offered 'not one bar of truly durable music.' Such attitudes have been changing over the last decade. The pianist Ursula Oppens, whose tastes have always gravitated toward the complexity of Elliott Carter rather than Mr. Corigliano’s neo-Romanticism, has just released Winging It (Cedille Records), a CD of Mr. Corigliano’s solo and two-piano works (with Jerome Lowenthal as the second pianist). 'I think the problem in the past was that there were culture wars,' Ms. Oppens said. 'But the culture wars have stopped. John wisely just wrote his own music, without feeling that he had to join a side. I came to his music late, and mostly through my students. Whenever I’d teach a piece of his, I’d think, ‘This really is fabulous.’ His music is more complex than you might think. When Jerry and I were practicing Chiaroscuro, we both kept stopping to admire the brilliance of what was going on.' Meanwhile a generation of stylistically omnivorous young composers has followed Mr. Corigliano’s lead. Quite a few -- Nico Muhly, Mason Bates, Jefferson Friedman, John Mackey and Avner Dorman among them -- studied under Mr. Corigliano at the Juilliard School, where he has taught since 1991. 'Sure, his music has elements of Romanticism, but that’s but one color on a huge stylistic palette,' Mr. Bates wrote in an e-mail. 'His ear for novel sonorities rivals Ligeti’s or Penderecki’s, and his ability to work everything into a cohesive architecture has no match. He appreciates that as a time-based medium, music can cover a lot of stylistic territory. But many critics hear a few Romantic gestures and stop listening.' Mr. Muhly described Mr. Corigliano’s Clarinet Concerto (1977) and First Symphony as 'constant companions in my formative high-school years' and added that a live performance of the symphony was 'a life-changing experience, because the small musical gestures existed in a very well-constructed, larger architecture.' Like their teacher, these young eclectics have avoided stylistic dogma, and they draw on everything: serialism, Minimalism, pop, electronica, jazz, world music, soaring Romanticism, directness and complexity. Listeners weary of severe modernism and unconvinced by Minimalism -- noncombatants in the culture wars -- have become a reliable audience for them. And critics praise their music for the same things that once brought Mr. Corigliano opprobrium. You might expect Mr. Corigliano to say that this change of spirit was inevitable; that, like Mahler, he knew his time would come. Not so. 'Nothing is inevitable,' he said. 'Yes, the change has surprised me. Do you remember how Bernstein’s Mass was torn to shreds when it was new? But when Marin Alsop conducted it a few years ago, suddenly it was a great, rediscovered piece. Things change. Times change. And I think it has a lot to do with young composers. They want to write music for people. They don’t want to be held back by the fashion of the time. They do anything they want to do . . . . It’s a different world'" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 11/23/11]. "John Corigliano['s] . . . new work, One Sweet Morning, a 30-minute song cycle for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, had its premiere . . . with the magnificent Stephanie Blythe as soloist and Mr. Gilbert conducting a colorful and intense performance in a program that included works by Barber and Dvorak. With a viscerally emotional score One Sweet Morning shifts in mood from ruminative to bellicose, from mystical to wrenching. Mr. Corigliano has long drawn from diverse styles to fashion his musical voice. Those who find the Romantic elements of his music excessive, as I sometimes do, may be put off by this work’s cinematic stretches. But the skill and vision at play are impressive. And Ms. Blythe was in her glory. In that interview Mr. Corigliano said that a decade after the horrific events, 'we have a chance to look back at 9/11 and then to look back further, to see how it fits into the drama of all the world’s wars, all the world’s battles, all the world’s horrible mistreatments of people.' That may sound like a dangerously sweeping agenda for a song cycle. But with his inspired choice of texts Mr. Corigliano found poignantly specific ways to place Sept. 11 in context. The first is 'A Song on the End of the World' by Czeslaw Milosz (translated into English by his son Anthony Milosz), written in Warsaw in 1944, a poem that presents a scene of seeming calm and everyday affairs, with images of a sleepy drunkard at the edge of a lawn, vegetable peddlers in the street, women walking through fields under umbrellas. Even those who expect signs that the end of the world will come amid 'archangels’ trumps,' in the words of the text, do not believe 'it is happening now.' Mr. Corigliano sets the words to music of shimmering tranquillity pierced with unsettling orchestral details. The mezzo-soprano’s first lines ('On the day the world ends/A bee circles a clover,') are sung in subdued, observant tones, enshrouded by glowing, pungent orchestral harmonies that lend nervous perplexity to the contemplative mood. Brass chorales at the end of the song evolve into a gnarly orchestral transition into the second text, 'Patroclus,' an excerpt from Homer’s Iliad (in Robert Fagles’s translation). It relates in graphic detail the brutal individual deaths of Greek soldiers under the command of Patroclus. The music is fitful and dense, with militaristic brass flourishes and driving dotted-note rhythmic riffs. Ms. Blythe, whose penetrating voice can usually cut through any orchestra, was sometimes covered by the blaring orchestral sound here. Still, making the voice just a part of the cataclysm seemed the intention. Another roiling orchestral transition segues into the third text, 'War South of the Great Wall,' by the eighth-century Chinese poet Li Po (in David Hinton’s translation), in which the narrator describes looking at her husband and sons in battle from a great distance, where 'convulsions of men seem like armies of ants.' Here the textures thin, and the music, while still raw, achieves the distance and space that Mr. Corigliano was after in the work as a whole. The final section, based on a song for voice and piano that Mr. Corigliano wrote in 2005, gives the work its name . . . The words are by the Tin Pan Alley lyricist E. Y. Harburg. This tender, nostalgic text imagines that 'out of the flags and the bones buried under the clover' peace will come. Here the vocal lines turn almost breezy. Yet the skittish orchestra, especially the piercing strings that almost cling to the voice, suggests otherwise. After the two vocally taxing middle songs Ms. Blythe . . . sang [the final song] with lyrical grace and touching directness. And she seemed deeply moved by the experience of singing this meaningful piece. Mr. Corigliano received a prolonged ovation when he appeared onstage.
Mr. Gilbert preceded Mr. Corigliano’s work with a vibrant performance of Barber’s Essay No. 1 for Orchestra, an eight-minute clear-textured and exuberant score written in 1937 and ’38, when the composer was in his late 20s" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 10/2/11].

Weilerstein Trio. Bargemusic, New York, NY. "The barge hosts well over 200 concerts a year, featuring a fine mix of performers, including the occasional celebrity. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein . . . is a star. She met the works’ challenges with . . . rhythmic swing in Ives’s Piano Trio" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 2/10/11].



When the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman was a young man, he led a committee to write a new part of the curriculum for Israeli high schools. The committee worked for a year, and Kahneman asked his colleagues how long they thought the rest of the project would take. Their estimates were around two years. Kahneman then asked the most experienced among them how long such work took other curriculum committees. The gentleman pointed out that roughly 40 percent of the committees never finished their work at all. But what about those that did finish? The gentleman reported that he had never seen a committee finish in less than seven years and never in more than 10. This was bad news. They might fail to finish a task that they thought would be done in three years. At best, the project might consume eight or nine years. Yet this information didn’t affect those on the team at all. They carried on, assuming that though others might fail or dally, surely they wouldn’t. As it turned out, their project took eight years to finish. By the time it was done, the Ministry of Education had lost interest, and the curriculum was never used. In his forthcoming book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” . . . Kahneman calls this the planning fallacy. Most people overrate their own abilities and exaggerate their capacity to shape the future. That’s fine. Optimistic people rise in this world. The problem comes when these optimists don’t look at themselves objectively from the outside. The planning fallacy is failing to think realistically about where you fit in the distribution of people like you. As Kahneman puts it, “People who have information about an individual case rarely feel the need to know the statistics of the class to which the case belongs.”

David Brooks
The New York Times, 9/15/11


Gustavo Dudamel and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra: Bruckner, Sibelius, Nielsen. Deutsche Grammophon. "Gothenburg is Gustavo Dudamel’s other orchestra. His work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela is well documented on recording. But this three CD set of Bruckner, Sibelius and Nielsen symphonies, recorded live, is his first with the Swedish orchestra he has led since 2007. The Gothenburg sound that Dudamel inherited is darker and muskier than we in sunnier climes of L.A. or Caracas are used to. A sense of tradition in Sweden's second city is unmistakable, but so is Dudamel's tweaking said tradition. Sibelius conducted his Second Symphony in Gothenburg. Nielsen conducted his Fourth and Fifth symphonies, also on this set, with the orchestra. Dudamel approaches the scores with a contagious sense of wow, learning odd and wonderful music from musicians in whose DNA it flows. But he also eggs on these Swedes. The strangeness of Nielsen is gripping. Dudamel’s Sibelius sails on wings of celebration and his excitement at the symphony’s end is over the moon (check out the Finale on YouTube)" [Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, 9/13/11].

Miles Davis. Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1. Columbia/Legacy. "[I]t captures Davis’s finest working band at its apogee, straining at the limits of post-bop refinement. As the subtitle suggests, some of this material has circulated in bootleg form; the DVD footage, from Germany and Sweden, was featured in one of the recent Legacy doorstoppers. But Live in Europe 1967, as an objet d’art, still feels momentous. The music sounds staggeringly contemporary, pointing toward some crucial attributes of our present jazz era even as it ratifies, more firmly than ever, the singular dynamism of Davis’s 1960s quintet. And as the first release in a series of previously unsanctioned music -- the plan is to put out at least one a year for the next several years -- it answers the question of what we could possibly hope for from a Miles Davis estate that has already exhausted the catalog, more than once and in more than one sense. . . . He was a bandleader whose resourcefulness was matched only by his restlessness. There are more distinct phases in Davis’s career than in most artists of his stature, and a lot of the transitional evolution took place onstage, at the hands of some of the most gifted American musicians of the 20th century. Among them were the members of Davis’s second great quintet: the pianist Herbie Hancock, the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, the bassist Ron Carter and the drummer Tony Williams. With the exception of Williams, who died in 1997, these are all still major figures in jazz, shapers of the language. (Just so we’re clear: Williams was one of those too.) By the end of 1967 they had been a working unit for more than three years and had recorded four albums, all gleaming with intrigue. Among their cohesive trademarks were a slippery, open-ended approach to harmony and a magically elastic way with rhythm" [Nate Chinen, The New York Times, 9/8/11].