Saturday, December 1, 2012

21ST-CENTURY MUSIC / December 2012


December 2012

Volume 19, Number 12

Hans Werner Henze / Mark Alburger

Adventures Big and Small / Michael McDonagh

Einstein on the Tour / Michael McDonagh

Chronicle of October 2012

Illustration / Hans Werner Henze

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


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Hans Werner Henze / Mark Alburger

Hans Werner Henze (July 1, 1926 Gutersloh, Germany - October 27, 2012, Dresden), the oldest of six children of a teacher, and showed early interest in art and music. That and his political views led to conflict with his conservative father, Franz, who had served in the First World War and was wounded at Verdun.  Books by Christian and Jewish authors were replaced in the Henze household by literature reflecting Nazi views.  The older boys, including Hans, were enrolled in the Hitler Youth.

Hans, who had heard broadcasts of classical music (particularly Mozart), began studies at the state music school of Braunschweig in 1942, studying piano, percussion, and theory.  He had to break off his education after being conscripted into the army in 1944, towards the end of World War II.  Trained as a radio officer, he was soon captured by the British and held in a prisoner-of-war camp.  In 1945, he became an accompanist in the Bielefeld City Theatre and continued his training under Wolfgang Fortner at Heidelberg University the next year.

Henze had successful performances at Darmstadt, including an immediate success that season with a neo-baroque work for piano, flute and strings, that brought him to the attention of Schott Music publications.  He also took part in the Darmstadt New Music Summer School, turning, in 1947, to serial compositions. 

During this time, he worked with 12-tone technique in his First Symphony and Violin Concerto.  In 1948, Henze became musical assistant at the Deutscher Theater in Konstanz, where he composed his first opera Das Wundertheater, based on Cervantes.  Subsequently, Sadler's Wells Ballet visited Hamburg, inspiring Henze to write the choreographic poem Ballett-Variationen , first performed in Düsseldorf in September 1949.

Following this, he became ballet conductor at the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden in Wiesbaden, where he composed two operas for radio, his Piano Concerto No. 1, and the jazz-influenced opera Boulevard Solitude, a reimagining of Andre Prevost's Manon Lescaut (1731, also the basis of Jules Massenet's Manon, 1884).

In 1953, Henze left Germany in disappointment, in reaction against homophobia and the country's general political climate, and moved to Italy, where he remained for most of his life, at first settling on Ischia in the Gulf of Naples.  Also resident were William Walton and his wife Susana, who took a great interest in the young German composer.  Two years later, Henze's Quattro poemi for orchestra made clear that he had moved far from the avant-garde.   In January 1956, Henze moved to Naples, initially he suffering disappointment, with the controversial premiere of the König Hirsch (The Stag King, 1957, Carlo Gozzi) -- despite its lush, rich textures.

A trend towards opulence was continued that year in Ondine, for choreographer Frederick Ashton, where the influence of Weber, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky (both Russian and Neoclassic), and jazz can all be heard.   Henze's spikier Maratona di danza (Luchino Visconti) even includes an on-stage band.

Henze's Five Neapolitan Songs, for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, were also composed soon after his arrival in Naples, as well as Serenades and Arias.  During a brief stay in Greece, he completed the harsh cantata-esque Kammermusik (1958), dedicated to Benjamin Britten and written for Peter Pears, the guitarist Julian Bream, and eight instrumentalists.  That same year, with librettist Ingeborg Bachmann, Henze wrote the operas Der Prinz von Homburg (1958, after Heinrich von Kleist).

In 1961, the composer, with his gardener-partner Fausto Moroni, moved to a secluded villa. La Leprara, on the hills of Marino, overlooking the Tiber south of Rome.  From 1962 until 1967, Henze taught masterclasses in composition at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, in 1964 composing Choral Fantasy (1964) and Der Junge Lord (Bachmann, after Wilhelm Hauff).  In the final year at Mozarteum, he became a visiting Professor at Dartmouth College.

Political concerns became prominent in such works as Symphony No. 6 (1969), Violin Concerto No. 2 (1971), and Voices (1973).  Because or despite this, Henze became an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, London in 1975, with his activism reaching high point the next year with the premiere of We Come to the River.

At this point, Henze founded the Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte in Montepulciano, where Pollicino premiered in 1980.  From here until 1991, he led a class in composition in the Cologne Music School. In 1981 he founded the Mürztal Workshops in the Austria, and two years later wrote The English Cat, subsequently followed by the setting up of the Deutschlandsberg Youth Music Festival.  1988 saw the foundation of the Munich Biennale.

His later works, while less controversial, continued in political and social engagement, including The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea (Das Verratene Meer, 1990, based on Yukio Mishima's Gogo no Eiko).

Henze's Requiem (1993) comprises nine sacred concertos for piano, trumpet and chamber orchestra, and was written in memory of the Michael Vyner.  In 1995 Henze received the Westphalian Music Prize, which has carried his name since 2001.  The choral Symphony No. 9 (1997, Hans-Ulrich Treichel) is based on motifs from Anna Seghers's The Seventh Cross, as a defiant rejection of Nazism. Invited by Walter Fink, he was the tenth composer featured in the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival in 2000, but he did not attend due to illness.  2003 saw the successful premiere of L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (The Hoopoe and the Triumph of Filial Love) at the Salzburg Festival, based on a Syrian fairy tale.  The next year included the composition of Sebastian im Traum (2004) and the reception of an honorary doctorate in Musicology from the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München.

Moroni cared for Henze when he suffered a spectacular emotional collapse during which he barely spoke and had to be encouraged to eat, living as though in a coma.  In the year of Henze's sudden recovery in 2007, he wrote Phaedra, and Moroni died after a lengthy battle with cancer.  Elogium Musicum (2008) with a Latin text by Henze, is an obituary to his partner of more than 40 years.

Works List

Kleines Quartett for Oboe, Violin, Viola, and Cello (1945)
Sechs Lieder (1945)
Kammerkonzert (1946)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1946)
Concertino (1947)
Fünf Madrigäle (1947)
Sonatina for Flute and Piano (1947)
Sonatina for Piano (1947)
String Quartet No. 1 (1947)
Symphony No. 1 (1947)
Violin Concerto no. 1 (1947)
Apollo et Hyazinthus (1948)
Chor Gefangener Trojer (1948)
Kammersonate (1948)
Der Vorwurf (1948)
Whispers from Heavenly Death (1948)
Wiegenlied der Mutter Gottes (1948)
Das Wundertheater (1948)
Ballet-Variationen (1949)
Jack Pudding (1949)
Serenade for Solo Cello (1949)
Suite (1949)
Symphony No. 2 (1949)
Variationen (1949)
Chanson Pflastersteine (1950)
Die Gefangenen (1950)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1950)
Sinfonische Variationen (1950)
Symphony No. 3 (1950)
Le Tombeau d'Orphée (1950) 
Das Vokaltuch der Kammersängerin Rosa Silber (1950)
Boulevard Solitude (1951)
Labyrinth (1951)
Ein Landarzt (1951)
Sinfonische Zwischenspiele (1951)
Der Tolle Tag (1951)
Der Idiot (1952)
Pas d’Action (1952)
Sodom und Gomorrha (1952)
String Quartet No. 2 (1952)
Tancredi (1952)
Tanz und Salonmusik (1952)
Wind Quintet (1952)
Das Ende einer Welt (1953)
Ode an den Westwind (1953)
Quattro poemi (1955)
Der Sechste Gesang (1955)
Symphony No. 4 (1955)
Vokalsinfonie (1955)
Die Zikaden (1955)
Concerto per il Marigny (1956)
Drei Tentos (1958)
Fünf Neapolitanische Lieder (1956)
König Hirsch (1956)
Maratona (1956)
Sinfonische Etüden (1956)
Hochzeitsmusik (1957)
Jeux des Tritons (1957)
Nachtstücke und Arien (1957)
Undine (1957)
Drei Dithyramben (1958)
Drei Fragmente nach Hölderlin (1958) 
Kammermusik 1958 (1958)
Der Prinz von Homburg (1958)
Sonata per Archi (1958)
Trois pas des Triton (1958)
Undine, Suite No. 1 (1958)
Undine, Suite No. 2 (1958)
L’Usignolo dell’Imperatore (1959)
Sonata for Piano (1959)
Antifone (1960)
Jüdische Chronik (1960)
Elegy for Young Lovers (Elegie für Junge Liebende) (1961)
Six Absences (1961)
Les Caprices de Marianne (1962)
Novae de Infinito Laudes (1962)
Symphony No. 5 (1962)
Ariosi (1963)
Being Beauteous (1963)
Cantata della Fiaba Estrema (1963)
Los Caprichos (1963)
Lucy Escott Variations (1963)
Muriel ou Le Temps d'un Retour (1963)
Quattro Fantasie (1963)
Three Arias (1963)
Divertimenti (1964)
Der Frieden (1964)
Der Junge Lord (1964)
Ein Landarzt (1964)
Lieder von Einer Insel (1964)
Tancredi (1964)
Zwischenspiele (1964)
The Bassarids (Die Bassariden) (1965)
Mänadentanz (1965)
In Memoriam: die Weisse Rose (1965)
Double Bass Concerto (1966)
Double Concerto (1966)
Fantasia for Strings (1966)
Der Junge Törless (1966)
Muzen Siziliens (1966)
Moralities (1967)
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1967)
Telemanniana (1967)
Das Floss der Medusa (1968)
Versuch über Schweine (1968) 
Symphony No. 6 (1969)
El Cimarron (1970)
Compases para Preguntas Ensimismadas (1970)
Memorias de "El Cimarrón" (1970)
L'Usignolo dell'Imperatore (1970)
Das Floss der Medusa (1971)
Fragmente aus Einer Show (1971)
Der Langwierige Weg in die Wohnung der Natascha Ungeheuer (1971)
Prison Song (1971)
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1971)
Heliogabalus Imperator (1972)
La Cubana, Oder Ein Leben für die Kunst (1973)
Tristan (1973)
Voices (1973)
Carillon, Récitatif, Masque (1974)
Sonatina for Trumpet (1974)
Heb Doch die Stimme An (1975)
Kindermund (1975)
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975)
Ragtimes and Habaneras (1975)
Amicizia! (1976 )
Capriccio (1976)
Mad People's Madrigal (1976)
Royal Winter Music, Sonata No.1 (1976)
String Quartet No. 3 (1976)
String Quartet No. 4 (1976)
String Quartet No. 5 (1976)
We Come to the River (1976)
L'Autunno (1977)
Aria de la Folía Española (1977)
Der Taugenichts (1977)
Ländler (1977)
Sonata for Violin (1977)
S. Biagio 9 Agosto Ore 12.07 (1977)
Trauer-Ode für Margaret Geddes (1977)
Il Vitalino Raddoppiato (1977)
 Five Scenes from the Snow Country (1978)
Margareten-Walzer (1978)
 Orpheus (1978)
The Woman (1978)
Apollo Trionfante (1979)
Arien des Orpheus (1979)
Barcarola (1979)
Dramatische Szenen aus "Orpheus" I (1979)
Epitaph (1979)
Etude Philarmonique (1979)
El Rey de Harlem (1979)
Royal Winter Music, Sonata No. 2 (1979)
Sonata for Viola and Piano (1979)
Sonatina for Violin and Piano (1979)
Toccata senza Fuga (1979)
Drei Märchenbilder (1980)
Montezuma (1980)
Pollicino (1980)
Sechs Stücke für Junge Pianisten (1980)
Spielmusiken (1980)
Cherubino (1981)
Euridice (1981)
Le Miracle de la Rose (Imaginäres Theater II) (1981)
Variation for Brass Quintet (1981)
Von Krebs zu Krebs (1981)
Canzona (1982)
Nach Lissabon (1982)
Un Amour de Swann (1983)
The English Cat (1983)
Orpheus Behind the Wire (1983)
Sonata for Piccolo Trumpet, 2 Trumpets, Fluegel Horn, Bass Trumpet, 2 Trombones, and Bass Trombone (1983)
Three Auden Songs (1983)
L'Amour à Mort (1984)
Deutschlandsberger Mohrentanz No. 1 (1984)
Une Petite Phrase (1984)
Sonata for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, Percussion, and Piano (1984)
Symphony No. 7 (1984)
Deutschlandsberger Mohrentanz No. 2 (1985)
Fandango (1985)
Kleine Elegien (1985)
Konzertstück (1985)
Liebeslieder (1985)
Selbst- und Zwiegespräche (1985)
Eine Kleine Hausmusik (1986)
Ode an Eine Äolsharfe (1986)
Serenade for Solo Violin (1986)
Allegra e Boris (1987)  
Cinque Piccoli Concerti e Ritornelli (1987)
La Mano Sinistra (1988)
Piece for Peter (1988)
Clavierstück (1989)
Drei Lieder uber den Schnee (1989)
Für Manfred (1989) 
Das Verratene Meer (1989)
Fünf Nachtstücke (1990)
Paraphrasen über Dostojewsky (1990)
Gogo No Eiko (1990)
An Sascha (1991)
Das Haus Ibach (1991)
Piano Quintet (1991)
La Selva Incantata, Aria and Rondo (1991)
Zwei Konzertarien (1991)
Adagio for String Sextet (1992)
Introduktion, Thema, und Variationen (1992)
Minette (1992)
Pulcinella Disperato (1992)
An Brenton for Viola (1993)
Adagio, Serenade (1993)
Heilige Nacht (1993)
Lieder und Tänze (1993)
Requiem: 9 Geistliche Konzerte (1993) Symphony No. 8 (1993)
Appassionatamente (1994)
Für Reinhold (1994)
Heimlich zur Nacht (1994)
Toccata Mistica (1994)
Le Disperazioni del Signor Pulcinella (1995)
Hirtenlieder (1995)
Venus und Adonis (1995)
Notturno (1995)
Erlkönig (1996)
Le Fils de l'Air (1996)
Leçons de Danse (1996)
Minotauros Blues (1996)
Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge (1996)
Pulcinellas Erzählungen (1996)
Serenata Notturna (1996)
Sieben Boleros (1996)
Violin Concerto No. 3, Three Portraits from Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus (1996)
Voie Lactee o Soeur Lumineuse (1996)
Zigeunerweisen und Sarabanden (1996)
Symphony No. 9 (1997)
Sechs Gesänge aus dem Arabischen (1998) 
Fraternité (1999)  
Ein Kleines Potpourri for Flute, Vibraphone, Harp, and Piano (2000)
Symphony No. 10 (2000)
A Tempest (2000)
Olly on the Shore (2001)
Scorribanda Sinfonica (2001)
L’Heure Bleue (2001)
Scorribanda Pianistica (2003)
L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (2003)
Fünf Botschaften für die Königin von Saba (2004)
Sebastian im Traum (2004)
Phaedra (2007)
Elogium Musicum (2008)
Der Opfergang (2010)
An den Wind (2011)
Gisela! Oder die Merk- und Denkwürdigen Wege des Glücks (2010)

Adventures Big and Small / Michael McDonagh

Sometimes a busy schedule can work to advantage.  You may not be able to squeeze everything but you can get a lot done.  And so it was that I went to Berkeley, on October 20, to see and review four films in the Arab Film Festival and then decamped to the city for the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra's Adventures Around the Lake with a Unicorn, at Old First Church.  I got there late, and the piece in progress was Allan Crossman's 2012 Two Walks, of which I seem to have caught the second A Walk at Lake Merritt, an imaginative chromatic affair, which , not wanting to disturb the performers, I heard in the vestibule.  And this odd vantage point once again exposed the sonic shortcomings of this brick walled hall.  High pitches tended to blur, overtones dropping in and out with a kind of "soundless" thud.

The venue's acoustic was far more forgiving with John Bilotta's five-movement Thurber Country (2012) which didn't push the sonic envelope, but was nevertheless well-crafted, and certainly charming. Lisa Scola Prosek's 2012 overture to her opera-in-progress L'Aventura, set to premiere in 2013, is easily one of  her best pieces.  The two excerpts here -- Si, che sono triste, perche' mi mancano le stelle -- for orchestra, with the Scola Prosek at the piano, and Bocca baciata -- which she sang with co-soprano Maria Mikheyenko -- featured deft part writing, seductive yet contained colors, and piquant or calming harmonies.  It called to mind what late composer-friend Virgil Thomson once said about his teacher Nadia Boulanger. "She taught you that writing music was like writing a letter.  All you had to do was say what you had to, and then stop."  Scola Prosek's music here was that letter, and the hall thankfully didn't get in its way.

I'm not sure what to make of Mark Alburger's 2012 Triple Concerto for Bassoon, Contrabassoon, and Harp (" Family"), though its scoring was certainly unorthodox, and the family in question -- Michael, Lori, and Samantha Garvey -- and the orchestra seemed up to its not inconsiderable demands.  The first of its three movements -- "Allegro " -- was easily the best -- tight, its musical argument apprehendable -- while the other two seemed incompletely thought out, and therefore less expressive. But the orchestra, under Alburger's firm beat, gave it their all.

Too bad I missed Varese's 1923 Octandre, and the opening Dances to Mytilini (2011), by Davide Verotta, who can be a very striking composer.

The performers throughout l sounded completely engaged, which isn't an easy feat in our "economic downturn " times.  But then music, and art have always mattered most when there's trouble at your door.  Boccacio was right.  Tell stories whatever the night.

Einstein on the Tour / Michael McDonagh

What becomes a legend most?  Well, in the case of two legends -- composer Philip Glass and director/designer Robert Wilson -- an international tour of their first and most famous of their five collaborations, Einstein on the Beach (1975), which began in Ann Arbor, Michigan in January 2012, goes on to Amsterdam in Jan 2013, and ends in Hong Kong in March 2013.  But there's an irony.  The piece "that broke all the rules of opera" -- there's no story, and certainly no star-crossed lovers, murder, or even betrayal -- is an endeavor on a par with the scale, ambition, and work force of 65 (onstage and off) of a standard repertory work, with according to lighting supervisor John Torres -- 800 cues, with about 75 each for its Dance 1 and Dance 2.  Its incarnation at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House, the University of California's Zellerbach Hall, and Mexico City's Palacio De Bellas Artes was the product of 4-5 days of tech (each scenic element and the actors and dancers are lit separately) and cast rehearsals, with about a week's lodging for all at each stop.  But did Einstein live up to or even exceed its reputation as a seminal work of 2oth century music theatre?  Judged by what I saw in New York and Berkeley, it clearly did, and it also drove home the simple fact that seeing it with others in a darkened theatre is a far more complete experience than hearing it at home alone on even the best sound system, and I've listened to both its original 1979 Tomato LP recording and its 1993 Nonesuch CD set many times over the years.  But let's face it: music is as confrontational as anything else.  It's like meeting someone online, and then live.   The latter is no longer an invention, but something implausibly real.

And much of Einstein does seem implausible.  Is the train which inches forward and back in Train One to Glass's rapidly shifting and rapidly modulating music really the Night Train and a Building; is the white toy plane slowly going up across the screen the one that causes the final scene, The Spaceship, which seems to be about nuclear catastrophe?  Are the two largely immobile and hieratic trials about something more than their exquisite tableaux look?  Glass has said that what you see is all -- "that's it" -- while Wilson says, "Here, it's a work where you go and can get lost.  That's the idea. It's like a good novel.  You don't have to understand anything."  One can easily come up on the side of either Glass or Wilson, but that's not the point, and it certainly isn't the matter because Einstein is something to be encountered live.  And it felt live in entirely different ways at BAM and Zellerbach:  the full bore purity of the sound with large banks of black speaker monitors at the Gilman, and the thicker, sometimes muddled sound in the Art Brut concrete interior of  Zellerbach which paradoxically allowed the music's different lines with their combination tones to come through loud and clear.  The images were just as astonishing each time, with dancers leaping from behind the masked proscenium at Gilman, and from the black curtained flies in Zellerbach.  The Trial looked even more epic and inscrutable at Zellerbach, and felt different too.  Was it personal circumstance that made me feel that Glass's colors in Trial One -- which he lays down as methodically but ineluctably as Arnold Schoenberg's Farben movement in Funf Stucke Fur Orchester (1909), was too little, too long in the first presentation, but felt just right in the second?  But then how long is long and how short is long?

Or maybe my response to Trial and other parts of Einstein has more to do with what Glass experienced perceiving his score for Mabou Mines 1965 production of Beckett's Play where the "quickening " he felt was in a different place each time.  And Einstein, if it's about anything, is about our experience of space, and/or time, in different times when we experience ourselves and time in a fresh way.  Time in the moment stilled, or perhaps open to another space, and time, in this present time.  And I think if Einstein questions anything, it's this.  Forget the critics saying Einstein's the new Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk.  It ain't.  It's just "very fresh and clean."  An eternal Gertrude Steinian "continuous present" in which nothing external obtrudes.

Chronicle of October 2012

October 20

San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra presents Adventures Around the Lake with a Unicorn: Mark Alburger's Triple Concerto for Bassoon, Contrabassoon, and Harp ("Family"), John Bilotta's Thurber Country, Allan Crossman's Two Walks (Lakes Merced and Merritt), Lisa Scola Prosek's Overture to L'Avventura, Edgar Varese's Octandre, and Davide Verotta's Dances to Mytilini.  Old First Presbyterian Church, San Francisco, CA.

October 21

Sonic Harvest.  Anne Callaway's Speak to Me my Love and Peter Josheff's Sutro Tower in the Fog.  Hillside Club, Berkeley, CA.    

October 23

Minimalism's Evolution, with Ensemble Signal.  Michael Gordon's Light is Calling (2001) and Industry (1992), Philip Glass's Selections from "In the Summer House" (1993), the U.S. premiere of Donnacha Dennehy's Overstrung (2010), Giacinto Scelsi's Duo (1965), and Louis Andriessen's Selections from "Xenia" (2005).  Miller Theatre, Columbia University, New York, NY.

October 25

WNYC Soundcheck Live! Pan Sonatas Steel Orchestra and the Brooklyn Philharmonic Players in the world premieres of Ted Hearne's But I Voted for Shirley Chisholm, Chris Cerrone's Flows Beneath, Matt Marks's Bluetooth Islands, and music of Kendall Williams, plus Tim Fite's Copycat, and Arnold Schoenberg's Accompanying Music to a Film Scene, Op. 34. World Financial Center Winter Garden
, New York, NY.

Percussionists Steven Schick, William Winant, Daniel Kennedy, and Christopher Froh perform Cage’s Constructions.  Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA.

October 26

Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach (Robert Wilson).  Zellerbach Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA.  Through October 28.

October 27

Death of Hans Werner Henze (b. 7/1/26, Gütersloh, Germany), at 86.  Dresden, Germany.  "[He was] a prolific German composer who came of age in the Nazi era and grew estranged from his country while gaining renown for richly imaginative operas and orchestral works.  Born into a European generation that wanted to make a fresh start at the end of World War II, Mr. Henze . . . did so without wholly negating the past. He wanted a new music that would carry with it the emotion, the opulence and the lyricism of the Romantic era, even if those elements now had to be fought for. Separating himself from the avant-garde, he devoted himself to genres many of his colleagues regarded as outmoded: opera, song, the symphony.  By the early 1960s Mr. Henze was an international figure with enthusiastic admirers in the United States. His Fifth Symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, which gave the work’s premiere in 1963, with Leonard Bernstein conducting. More than 40 years later, the orchestra took part in commissioning one of Mr. Henze’s last orchestral works, the tone poem Sebastian Dreaming.  He maintained relationships with other American institutions as well, including the Boston Symphony, which commissioned his Eighth Symphony (1992-93), and the Tanglewood Music Festival, where he was composer-in-residence in 1988.  His music expressed passionate but mixed feelings about his German heritage. His Nazi-era childhood alone would have produced, at the least, ambivalence about that heritage, but his homosexuality only further estranged him, particularly from the bourgeois West German society of the immediate postwar years. And he found little sympathy at home for his embrace of the Romantic past.  He had to escape, and in 1953 he abruptly left for Italy. But he went on writing operas for theaters in Germany, where he was far more popular than any other composer of his time. That success brought him material comfort, and he came to give a fair physical impression of the kind of well-to-do burgher he might well have feared and despised in his youth: tight-suited, bald, energetic even when still. What failed to fit this image of stiff propriety was his unfailing charm, his sardonic sense of humor and his fondness for his many friends.  As he grew older, the matter of Germany became increasingly important to his music. Having written his Cuban-inflected Sixth Symphony (1969) -- produced during a period when he spent a great deal of time in Cuba -- he composed his Seventh (1983-84) for the Berlin Philharmonic, taking Beethoven as his model. Again with Beethoven in mind and again writing for the Berlin Philharmonic, he made his Ninth a choral symphony -- and a drama -- telling a story of desperation and hope set during the Nazi epoch. . .  After army service in 1944 and 1945 he studied with Wolfgang Fortner at the Heidelberg Institute for Church Music and with the French composer René Leibowitz. He soon became acquainted with the modern music that had been banned by the Nazis -- notably Stravinsky and Berg, as well as jazz -- and gained the means to create a sprightly style that carried him through an abundant youthful output. By the time he was 25 he had written three symphonies, several ballets and his first full-length opera, Boulevard Solitude (1951).  In his Second String Quartet (1952) he drew close to his more avant-garde contemporaries, but the moment quickly passed. The next year he left his post as music director of the Wiesbaden State Theater to settle on the Bay of Naples, and his music at once became luxurious and frankly emotional, as exemplified by his fairy-tale opera King Stag, first performed in Berlin in 1956.  It was an exultant period, which also brought forth his Fourth Symphony (1955); the full-length ballet Ondine (1956-57), produced with choreography by Frederick Ashton at Covent Garden; Nocturnes and Arias, for soprano and orchestra (1957); and Chamber Music, for tenor, guitar. and octet (1958).  In his next opera, The Prince of Homburg, first produced in Hamburg in 1960, he caricatured German militarism within a style fashioned after the bel canto operas of Bellini and Donizetti. After this came Elegy for Young Lovers, to a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, about a poet’s use of his family and acquaintances in his art. The story’s alpine setting offered Mr. Henze the opportunity for glistening, radiant music, scored for a chamber orchestra. The work had its first performance in Schwetzingen, Germany, in 1961, and has been more widely seen than any of the composer’s other operas.  The Young Lord, presented by City Opera in 1973, is the only of one Mr. Henze’s full-length operas to have received a professional staging in New York (His one-act opera The End of a World was presented by Encompass New Opera Theater in 2003).  Working again with Auden and Kallman, he went on to a much bigger operatic project, The Bassarids, a remake of Euripides’ Bacchae, which was presented at the 1966 Salzburg Festival. The undertaking provoked a creative crisis, out of which Mr. Henze re-emerged as a radical socialist. He had contacts with student leaders, taught and studied in Cuba for a year, and composed several explicitly political works, among them The Raft of the Medusa (1968), a semi-dramatic cantata protesting racism and other forms of discrimination, and El Cimarrón (1969-70), a concert-length work for baritone, flute, guitar and percussion telling the story of a runaway slave.  But once again Mr. Henze moved swiftly on. By the time he composed what might have been his biggest essay in political engagement  the opera We Come to the River, with a libretto by the English socialist playwright Edward Bond, produced at Covent Garden in 1976 -- his musical interests had returned to his more characteristic moods of nostalgia, reverie, burlesque and erotic passion. Among his other important works of this period is Tristan for piano, orchestra and tape (1974), a symphonic poem on the medieval legend including quotations from Wagner’s treatment of it.  In 1976 Mr. Henze founded a festival in the small Italian town of Montepulciano, where he pursued his ideals as a musician in society, working with local performers and drawing other, younger composers to do the same. He was extraordinarily open and encouraging to student composers, and there are many whose careers he made by crucial advice or an important break.  Further works with Mr. Bond followed: the ballet Orpheus (1979) and the surreal-satirical opera The English Cat (1983). But Tristan had signaled a rapprochement with Germany.  From his home near Rome, his principal place of residence since 1961, Mr. Henze made increasingly frequent and lengthy returns to his native country, and in 1988 he established a biennial festival of new music theater in Munich.  He had begun his artistic life in the theater, and he found it hard to leave. Having announced that L’Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe) (The Hoopoe and the Triumph of Filial Love, which had its premiere in Salzburg in, 2003) would be his last opera, he went on to produce a Phaedra for the Berlin State Opera in 2007 and Gisela!, an opera for student singers, for the Ruhr Festival in 2010.  The crowning work of Mr. Henze’s late period is Elogium Musicum for choir and orchestra (2008), which he wrote in memory of Fausto Moroni, his companion of four decades, who died in 2007. At once vast and intimate, Mediterranean-Classical in its sunlight and German-Romantic in its expressive depth, it is also a fitting memorial to its composer" [Paul Griffiths, The New York Times, 10/28/12].

Irregular Resolutions, 8th Annual New Music Concert. John Bilotta's Brain Freeze and Renaissance Songs, Carol Belcher's Los Lazos del Ayer, Gary Friedman's Sticks and Tones, Steve Mobia's Nudge,
Ed Dierauf's Masonic Tectonic, and Davide Verotta's The Sofa.  Community Music Center, San Francisco, CA.

San Francisco Contemporary Music Players presents John Cage's Musicircus, Yerba Buena Center fot the Arts, San Francisco, CA.

October 30

John  Zorn Halloween Celebration, featuring the world premiere of Ceremonial Magic and organ improvisation.  St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

21ST-CENTURY MUSIC / November 2012


November 2012

Volume 19, Number 11

Einstein on the Beach at 37 / Mark Alburger

Calendar of November 2012

Chronicle of September 2012

Illustration / Philip Glass - Einstein on the Beach (2012, Montpelier, France)

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


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Einstein on the Beach at 37 / Mark Alburger

In 1973, the Philip Glass Ensemble performed at the Festival d'Autome in Paris, run by Michel Guy, who would later commission Glass's Einstein on the Beach, created with Robert Wilson.

Glass first saw Wilson's work that year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in one of the all-night performances of The Life and Times of Josef Stalin.  In the spring of 1974, the two artists decided to meet every Thursday for lunch, whenever they were both in New York, at an almost deserted, small restaurant on Sullivan Street.  Later they were occasionally joined by Christopher Knowles, a 14-year-old poet with some neurological impairment, who would eventually contribute texts to the project.  Wilson, always interested in famous historical figures, proposed Charlie Chaplin as the major character of a large joint project, or, alternately Adolf Hitler.  Glass countered with Mahatma Gandhi, later the portrait subject of Satyagraha.  It was Wilson's further suggestion of Albert Einstein that provided joint inspiration, as the scientist had been one of the composer's heroes in childhood.

The Wilson title in its original form was Einstein on the Beach on Wall Street, which Glass liked, and was never discussed again.  Somewhere along the line the moniker was shortened, although the composer recalls not when or why.

While neither artist had read the 1956 novel or seen the film, the opera is connected to Nevil Shute's work in an indirect manner.

The libretto was jointly conceived and created by Glass and Wilson, with an overall dramatic shape cast well before the music was written.

Since Einstein had been an amateur violinist, it was Glass's notion that the character should be playing the violin somewhere between the musicians and the group of dancers and singers.  Both artists began, and sometimes ended discussions with the question, "Is Einstein here?"  Sometimes he was, sometimes he wasn't...

Further spoken texts by Samuel M. Johnson and Lucinda Childs were incorporated, with the sung libretto of numbers and fixed-do solfege syllables reflecting the composer's study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.

Einstein on the Beach was written for the Philip Glass Ensemble (three woodwinds [doubling saxophones, flute, and bass clarinet], two electric organs, and one solo soprano voice), solo violin, vocal soloists (soprano [from PGE] and tenor), and chorus (16 voices SATB).  The original Tomato recording featured small (vocal quartet) and large choruses (14 singers) -- a distinction not observed in the 1994 Elektra Nonesuch version.  The "naive" (i.e. non-operatic, non-vibrato) tones of the vocalists were amplified, as were the fresh, raw, sythetic sounds of the instrumentalists.

Glass's work, intended to be the official Bicentennial gift of France to America ("The U.S. . . . sent us a flag.  Can you believe it?  A flag.  And that was that"), was written from spring through fall of 1975, at a rapid Mozartean pace.  The scenes were written in order, with the exception of the connective "Knee Plays", composed at the conclusion.  Most of the music was composed between 1 and 4am in Glass's garage.

Despite the humble studio, Glass and Wilson both had impressive organizational networks, and rehearsals began five-days-a-week, increasing to six as the winter wore on.  The three-hour practices allowed equal intervals for music, dance, and staging.

The four month period barely allowed for the memorization of the almost five-hour work, a duration not revealed to the singers until well into the rehearsal process, for fear of mutiny.  Taking a cue from tablaist Alla Rakha, Glass began each practice at the beginning, reviewing previously learned material, the proceeding incrementally onward.

As in Glass's earlier minimalist works, additive and cyclic structures play central roles, to which are added cadential formulae developed in Another Look at Harmony.

The three main musical/visual references of TRAIN, TRIAL, and SPACESHIP are scattered about rationally among the four acts and five connecting KNEE PLAYS of the opera, each growing and changing.  Two DANCES splayed symmettrically at the beginning of Act II and end of Act III serve as equidistant pillars, with further referential interconnection.

The four-hour forty-minute intermissionless work, beginning even before the arrival of the audience, is an episodic, non-narrative piece.  Indeed, the composer asserted in 1987 that, "after more than fifty performances of Einstein, I have never seen the entire work straight through wihout interruption, though many people constantly assure me that they have, as it were, taken it as a 'whole.'"

After a year of preparation, Einstein on the Beach had its premiere at the Avingon Festival, France, on July 25, 1975, conducted by Michael Riesman, with violinist Bob Brown.  A program note advised that the audience could leave and return at will.

Einstein caused a sensation in its first performances, and subsequent ones in Venice, Belgrade, Brussels, Paris, Hamburg, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam, before the first American performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on November 21, 1976.  Sellout audiences loathed or loved it, and some had sequential reactions.  The Times assigned its theatre critics Clive Barnes and Mel Gusnow to cover the event.

Despite the success du scandale, Glass returned to driving a taxi, as he had during most of the decade thus far.  Shortly after the Met premiere, a society woman got into his cab and, seeing his name and picture displayed (as required by New York law), announced, "Young man, do you realize you have the same name as a very famous composer?"

The artistic collaborators, who bankrolled Einstein, lost about $100,000 on the production.  Later Glass would be able to let other people do the producing, and get a composer's royalty.

Einstein on the Beach was revived in December 1984 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with staging by Harvey Lichtenstein.  As in the premiere, Lucinda Childs, Robert Wilson pupil Sheryl S. Sutton, and Samuel M. Johnson portrayed the primary characters.  Video documentation, which appeared on public television subtitled as The Changing Image of Opera, provided a model for future interpretations, including Achim Freyer's Stuttgart State Opera prodution in 1988 (following the director's 1984 premiere of Akhnaten) in an abstract style, with new spoken texts from the early 20th century, at the Stuttgart State Opera.  This version was also conducted by Michael Riesman.  Freyer also went on to mount all three "portrait" operas (Einstein, Satyagraha, Akhnaten) on three consecutive nights in January of 1990.

A 1992 revival included the participation of Wilson, Glass and Childs at McCarter Theater, Princeton University, and subsequently went to Frankfurt, Melbourne, Barcelona, Madrid, Tokyo, Brooklyn

The team that had organized an abortive New York City Opera production in 2009 put together another effort to remount the work in 2011, and, after a month of rehearsals overseen by Glass, Wilson and Childs, the first performance in 20 years took place on January 20, 2012, in the Power Center, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with two additional performances directly following.

Kate Moran and Helga Davis appeared in the Childs and Sutton roles, and violinist Jennifer Koh played the role of Einstein in the preview and alternated with Antoine Silverman the performances.

The tour schedule followed as:

March 16

Opéra et Orchestre National de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, Opera Berlioz Le Corum, Montpellier, France.  Through March 18.

March 24

Teatro Valli, Reggio Emilia, Italy.  Repeated March 25.

May 4

Barbican Theatre, London, United Kingdom.  Through May 13.

June 8

Toronto Festival of Arts and Creativity, Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, CA.  Through June 10.

September 14

Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House, Brooklyn, NY.  Through September 23.  

October 26

Cal Performances University of California, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA.  Through October 28

With upcoming performances including:

November 9

The National Institute of Fine Arts, Teatro del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Mexico.  Through November 11.

January 5, 2013

De Nederlandse Opera / The Amsterdam Music Theatre, Het Muziektheater. Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Through January 12

March 8

Hong Kong Arts Festival, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Hong Kong, China.  Through March 10

Two recordings have been issued.  The first, Einstein on the Beach, as performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble, conducted by Michael Riesman, with Paul Zukovsky violin (Tomato, 1979), has become somewhat of a collector's item since its reissue by CBS Masterworks / Sony Classical.  Due to the threat of a lawsuit, CBS was obliged to change Robert Palmer's orignal liner notes.  Lucinda Childs, Sheryl Sutton, Paul Mann, and Samuel M. Johnson perform the opera's texts, with Iris Hiskey taking the soprano solo role.  This original recording was held to 160 minutes in order to fit onto four LP's, and utilizes "paired overdubbings," where alternate measures are recorded on alternated tracks and then mixed totether for a continuous sound.  Engineer Kurt Munkacsi and Glass first made use of this technique in Northstar (1977)

The second, Einstein on the Beach, perfomed by the Philip Glass Ensemble, conducted by Michael Riesman, with Gregory Fulkerson, violin, Elektra-Nonesuch (1993), is a radical departure from the first album's radical departure.  Its duration is 190 minutes, thanks to compact disc technology.  Michael Riesman conducted both recordings.   Childs and Sutton repeated their roles, while Jasper McGruder replaced the late Mr. Johnson's role, and Jeremy Montemarano voiced "The Boy".  Most of the participants in the Nonesuch recording had performed in Einstein on the Beach during its 1992 world tour.

A 77-minute "highlights" CD from the 1984 Brooklyn Academy of Music performances, accompanied by a DVD documentary, was released by Philip Glass's personal label Orange Mountain Music in early September 2012, and a complete recording, 217 minutes long, was released as a download from the iTunes Store.

Calendar for November 2012

November 9

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

November 10

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

Chronicle of September 2012

September 4

Cage100. The Stone, New York, NY. "For a composer who was a true rebel, a pioneering American maverick, John Cage was frequently celebrated in programs and festivals at the world’s most prestigious concert halls. The festival, organized as part of a longer series by the composer Miguel Frasconi, opened . . . with a performance of . . . Cheap Imitation, a piece written in 1969 for solo piano, but played here in a new arrangement by Mr. Frasconi for eight toy pianos. . . . With its just-the-basics ambience, the Stone was an ideal place to hear the Noisy Toy Piano Orchestra, an ensemble that includes heroes of New York’s contemporary-music scene like Stephen Gosling and Kathleen Supové, play the gently tinkling sounds of this 40-minute Cage piece" [By Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 9/6/12].

September 5

100th birthday of John Cage.

New York Chamber Music Festival: John Cage at 1001. Symphony Space, New York, NY. "The . . . concert began with Dawn at Stony Point, New York, a sound recording from 1974 . . . [which] consists of quiet sounds from cars whistling by in the distance, ambient street noise, crickets and chirping birds. 'Everything we do is music,' Cage often said, a central tenet of his philosophy. . . . Four percussionists from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (Charles Barbour, Robert Knopper, Duncan Patton and Gregory Zuber) sauntered one at a time onto the stage and took a seat on two couches. . . . Then they segued smoothly into Cage’s Living Room Music. This 1940 piece has intricately notated, quite sophisticated rhythmic patterns, played here by the percussionists tapping small sticks on cups, glasses, household objects, magazines, cardboard, whatever. In one section, Story, the players spoke a line from Gertrude Stein ('Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around'), breaking it into rhythmic fragments, repeated words and syllables ('ti ti ti ti'), essentially using Stein as a prototype of rap. The performance was exhilarating and sweet. And the living-room setting was perfect. There was another arresting percussion piece, Third Construction from 1941. And for a performance of Branches (1976), the four Met players were joined by several more percussionists, stationed throughout the hall, including the balconies, to create a 'surround sound' of delicate, restless, rippling percussion music. The program ended with a rare performance of The City Wears a Slouch Hat, a 30-minute radio play from 1942 with a text by Kenneth Patchen, a patchwork of snippets and stories from urban life. The play describes people wandering rainy city streets, ducking under awnings, being held up by robbers and telling tragic personal tales (that may be made up) to strangers. Morris Robinson performed a role called the Voice; Karen Beardsley Peters was Woman; Jon Burklund was Man, MC, Second and Third Voices. The text is full of aural references to street noise, telephones, ocean waves, falling rain and more. Cage backs the text with a varied and rhapsodic score of sound effects, played here by six percussionists. Of special interest was a short work from Cage’s early 20's, when he was exploring his own kind of music for 12 tones: the Sonata for Two Voices (1933), played by the violinist Cornelius Dufallo and the cellist Wendy Sutter. This skittish piece is the work of a young composer grappling with the modernist currents of his time. Yet even writing in this more formal language, Cage’s quirky mind and rhythmic inventiveness come through. The piece suggests another path he might have taken. Thankfully, he found his own way" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 9/6/12].

September 6

Twelve in 12. Trinity Wall Street, New York, NY. "The season opened . . . with the first in a series of four midday concerts . . . celebrating the Pulitzer Prize-winning composers of the last dozen years. . . . The bookends . . . were half-hour pieces: Steven Stucky’s Sonate en Forme de Préludes, for oboe, French horn and harpsichord, and Paul Moravec’s Tempest Fantasy, for violin, cello, clarinet and piano. The Stucky, despite the seeming formality of its title, reads more like an extended fantasy, and its seven movements are more fancifully titled: Night Music, Jugglers, Fireworks, and the like. The Moravec, on the other hand, with movement titles like Ariel, Prospero, and Fantasia, is more classically scaled and plotted in its five-movement structure. Neither is particularly advanced in idiom. In Mr. Stucky’s sonata the harpsichord (played by Eric Dudley) lays the groundwork, from the tentative, softly rising figures of the opening to the churning Glassian arpeggios of the fireworks finale. The oboe (Christa Robinson) layers on plaintive melodies, with the horn (Kate Sheeran) sounding calls around them. The works in the Trinity series are not the ones that took the prizes, the lone exception being Mr. Moravec’s Tempest Fantasy, which won in 2004. This is indeed a well-wrought creation, heavily influenced by Gershwin in its jazz-leaning harmonies and its plain-spoken lyricism but with a voice of its own. Geoffrey Burleson thrived on a piano part that becomes at times almost concertolike. The third composer, Zhou Long, was represented by Dhyana, a piece half the length of those two but in some ways more eloquent. The title denotes a Buddhist concept, 'cultivation of thought,' and Mr. Long takes his scoring (as many have) from that of Schoenberg’s epochal Pierrot Lunaire . . . . With those instruments Mr. Long often emulates the qualities of Chinese instruments in a colorful work whose pointillistic, mostly nonlinear textures rivet the attention through understatement. Dialoghi, also by Mr. Stucky, is a short piece for solo cello written for Elinor Frey, who spoke about it and played it. Based on conversations between Mr. Stucky and Ms. Frey, it spots variations on a six-note motif derived from the name Elinor through a texture of virtuosic filigree. Before the concert Sleep Talking, from Ornette Coleman’s album Sound Grammar, which won the Pulitzer in 2007, was piped in -- a welcome introduction, with its riffs on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which will be a running theme of the cultural season with the approach of the 100th anniversary of its premiere in May 1913" [James R. Oestreich, The New York Times, 9/6/12].

September 7

Long Beach Opera presents the U.S. premiere of Gavin Bryars's The Paper Nautilus. Long Beach, CA. "By chance, Bryars happens to be a British minimalist composer who performed a complete [Erik Satie] Vexations in London in 1970 with one other pianist, and he credits that with influencing what became his own enthrallingly repetitive, meditative musical style" [Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, 9/11/12].

Jacaranda presents Cage 100: Erik Satie's Vexations. Miles Memorial Playhouse, Santa Monica, CA. c. 24 hours through September 8. "When it comes to Erik Satie's Vexations, I have thus far been a grazer. On the several opportunities I have had to experience a performance of the work, which entails repeating the same page of mystically unstable music 840 times, a 24-hour proposition give or take a couple of hours depending upon tempo choices, I have always (perhaps conveniently) had obligations keeping me from a full performance of it. That was the case again for a performance . . . that began [September 7] at 7 and concluded [the next day at] 6:56 p.m. Thirty-two pianists were employed, each occupying the piano bench for about 45 minutes. . . . According to John Cage, who organized the first notable performance of the work in New York in 1963, 70 years after Satie wrote it in Paris, the world is different before and after a performance of Vexations. It teaches you, Cage discovered, the difference between a concept and an experience. A somewhat dazed [director Patrick] Scott confirmed that notion when I asked him about it a few minutes after the final chord sounded, and others in the Vexations endurance club have said as much. Performances are maybe more common than you would imagine. An hour before the Santa Monica one ended, another had begun in Berkeley. We guard our time jealously, but Cage organized the Vexations marathon (12 pianists -- one was John Cale from the Velvet Underground -- played in that early performance and the New York Times sent a tag team of critics, one of whom was drafted to perform) with the alarming proposition that we should not. 'Why are we so stingy,' he asked, 'about time? What, for heaven sakes, is so precious about a half hour, an hour, an hour and a half?' Giving up ownership of time, Cage asserted, opens us to new experience. Satie gives little indication of how Vexations should be played, and the pianists I heard during my three visits were varied. Mark Menzies on [the] morning [of September 8] was very slow and uninflected. Mark Alan Hilt [later in the day] gave a different personality to each repetition, making a drama of the work. But somehow that made little difference. Vexations has the capacity to create the sensation of well-being, the awareness of continuity of time as a physical flowing substance.

September 8

Cage 100: John Cage's The Perilous Night and the first live public performance of The Ten Thousand Things. Santa Monica Bay Woman's Club, Santa Monica, CA. "[This venue is] where the composer had given his first concert in the early '30s. After a talk by Eric Smigel about the process through which Cage began the removal of his ego from his music, Aron Kallay performed The Perilous Night for prepared piano, a 1944 work of roiling expression written during the dark war years and when Cage's marriage was coming unraveled. . . . The Ten Thousand Things [consists of f]ive solo pieces with impossible time lengths as titles (such as 26'1.1449" for a string player) are written in graphic notation meant to keep performers open to the possibility of new discoveries. Cage allows for performing all simultaneously, which apparently had never been done before live (they've been recorded), although a short one 59½" for a string player) fell through the cracks. The performers -- pianists Vicki Ray and Kallay, bassist Tom Peters, percussionist William Winant and reciter John Schneider were exquisite. Every sound sounded considered, alive, worthy of our wonder.

September 9

Cage 100. John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes. Annenberg Community Beach House, Santa Monica, CA. Adam Tendler presented Cage's hour-long [masterpiece] for prepared piano . . . . He wrote the Sonatas and Interludes in the late '40s at the time he discovered a manuscript of the neglected Vexations and began in this luminous score the process of stripping predetermined expression from his music in the search for tranquillity. An exuberantly expressive pianist, Tendler vividly displayed his enthusiasm for every phrase by attempting to stop and start time at will" [Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, 9/11/12].

September 10

Composer-harpist Zeena Parkins's Spellbeamed: Fixexploded; Fixabolished, with the JACK Quartet and members of the Ne(x)tworks Ensemble. Roulette, New York, NY. "Parkins said that she had long had the recurring image of her harp as a patient. So . . . [she] treated the instrument as exactly that. A harp lay on its side on a table. Wearing surgical gloves and acting, the program said, as the 'guide,' Ms. Parkins handed various implements -- from a bundle of horsehair to a glass shard -- to Shayna Dunkelman, the 'researcher,' who used them on the harp, eliciting a variety of sounds alternately harsh, whispery and liquid. All the while the veteran vocalist Joan La Barbara read from Unpacking My Library, Walter Benjamin’s classic essay about collecting books, her voice distorted and deepened to the point of unintelligibility. Even after this opening sequence ended, Benjamin remained the spirit overlooking Spellbeamed, which shared a central concern of his work: the challenges and possibilities of translation. As Ms. Parkins said during the question-and-answer session, if traditional notated music arises from assigning meaning to 'dots on five lines,' why not see if, and how, it could arise from other things? So she asked the players to respond to objects and projected images, to transcribe spoken descriptions of objects and then, somehow, perform those written texts as a score. Spellbeamed, though intricately planned, felt refreshingly spontaneous, with exciting tension between the notated passages and the improvised ones (To the credit of the conductor, Ted Hearne, it flowed smoothly between the two). As disarmingly everyday images -- an old box of paper clips, a shoe, a bus -- passed by on a screen, Ms. La Barbara responded with her classic sounds: keens, creaks and warbles. She was joined by Ms. Parkins and Shelley Burgon on two harps and Christopher McIntyre on trombone in almost mystical growls. While the opening of Spellbeamed made it very literal, treating the harp as an object of experimentation is nothing new for Ms. Parkins, part of a generation of performers who exposed new horizons for the instrument far beyond its genteel reputation. Bringing in amplification and electronic effects, she made the harp shriek, hiss and dissolve in reverb. The sound world of the new work was attractive but less revolutionary: a noirish mix of sometimes Wagnerian sweep (with beef provided by Mr. McIntyre’s trombone) and dissonant spikiness, with memorable moments of nearly silent murmurs in the strings. Its conceptual underpinnings were the more intriguing aspect, an apt tribute, so close to the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birth, to his similar broadenings of what a score can mean" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 9/12/12].

September 11

Erik Jekabson String-tet in Anti-Mass. Freight and Salvage, Berkeley, CA.

Los Angeles Philharmonic in George Gershwin's Cuban Overture, Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait and Billy the Kid Suite, music from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (arranged by David Newman). Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA. "Billy the Kid provided surprising context to the evening. Copland celebrates the American spirit but also uses the Wild West as a lens through which to examine the complexities of patriotism. He makes the celebration of Billy's killing both entertaining and unsettling. Copland reveals how Billy and Lincoln, one operating outside of the law and one trying to make law, embodied something essentially American. They both died at the hands of those who disapproved of what they stood for" [Mark Swed, The New York Times, 9/12/12].

American Contempoary Music Ensemble in Steve Reich's Different Trains, Triple Quartet, and WTC 9/11 (2010). Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY. "In it, as in an earlier watershed string quartet, Different Trains (1988), Mr. Reich bases his melodies on recorded voices: here, those of Norad air traffic controllers and New York firefighters caught during the attacks; of friends and family members recalling being near the World Trade Center that morning; and of volunteers who sat with the remains, observing the Jewish ritual of shmira. The piece is intensely personal: Mr. Reich had an apartment just blocks from ground zero. Out of town on the morning of the attacks, he was in contact with his son’s family in the apartment. The confusion, agony and unresolved questions in the piece bear witness in startling, uncomfortable ways. For some listeners, including me, the piece is nearly unbearable. . . . [A] couple seated near me exited abruptly midway through the work, never to return. Mr. Reich composed WTC 9/11, like Different Trains and his Triple Quartet (1998), for the Kronos Quartet, which has performed the works together in a single concert. ACME played all three pieces in chronological sequence for its concert, which was broadcast live on the Internet by NPR Classical and the Web-radio station Q2. NPR has posted a recording of the concert. The approach proved illuminating, not least for providing a view of WTC 9/11 not predicated exclusively on horror and anguish. Hearing the piece after its precursors, you could discern how it refined and extended the speech-melody technique Mr. Reich first used in Different Trains, and how its grating dissonances and keening melodies resembled those of Mr. Reich’s abstract Triple Quartet. At the work’s end a portentous silence filled the room for long moments before rapt applause ensued. Four ACME members -- Caroline Shaw and Ben Russell, violinists; Nadia Sirota, violist; Clarice Jensen, cellist -- opened the concert with a superb account of Different Trains. In the Triple Quartet and WTC 9/11 the same four players remained the center of attention as others played lines usually provided by a recorded accompaniment. Mostly the additional players maintained supporting roles, thickening harmonies and providing propulsive rhythms, as the primary quartet handled melodies. But here too were moments of fresh perspective, as when Anna Elashvili, a violinist, elegantly echoed lines played by Ms. Shaw during the middle movement of the Triple Quartet. The conductor Donato Cabrera coordinated ensemble performances efficiently, and Richie Clarke, a sound engineer, maintained lucid balances throughout" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 9/12/12].

September 14

Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach. Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, NY. "Some works of art become mythical, either because they are so important or because few people actually know them. Einstein on the Beach, the . . . intermissionless four-and-a-half-hour opera by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass, qualifies on both counts. . . . Questions abound: Will a classic from the past, especially one full of timebound pop-culture references, look dated today? Will its eccentricities of pacing and form seem more or less convincing than they once were? And for those of us who loved the work in its previous incarnations, to what extent will these recast Brooklyn performances test the strength of our nostalgia? Even the creators and some of the performers have been newly encountering the work since preparations for the current tour began late last year. Mr. Glass and the choreographer Lucinda Childs, another key collaborator, had never actually seen the piece before, since both previously performed in it. Einstein on the Beach represents the apex of the early work of Mr. Glass and Mr. Wilson, and it played a crucial role in their careers. Mr. Glass has become perhaps the most prolific and popular of all contemporary composers, with a particular passion for opera; the success of Einstein led European impresarios to commission him to write operas as the term is more conventionally understood, starting with Satyagraha in the Netherlands in 1979. Mr. Wilson was already beginning to transcend SoHo amateurism. Einstein sealed his transition into a world-wandering director and designer who would mix riveting original works with highly stylized, controversial -- but, in many quarters, much admired -- stagings of classic operas and plays (On the side Mr. Wilson acts, designs furniture, makes remarkable video art, collects artifacts from all over the world and oversees his ever more ambitious Watermill Center on Long Island). Beyond the careers of its creators, Einstein was perhaps the proudest product of the extraordinary Lower Manhattan performing-arts scene in the 1970s. Its dreamy, painterly beauty; its mystical longueurs; its hypnotic music; its allusions to the brilliance and danger of Einstein’s work without ever quite stooping to the mere telling of a story: all spoke to a generation that still exerts a powerful hold on American, and global, vanguard arts. Einstein was called an opera because Mr. Wilson liked to call all his big pieces (The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin, Deafman Glance, and others) operas. It was scored not for an orchestra but for the Philip Glass Ensemble [and] chorus . . . [A] passel of SoHo artist-denizens both sang and danced, the singers dancing roughly and the dancers singing roughly. . . . [Lucinda] Childs and Sheryl Sutton and a few others told elliptical stories and acted out slow-motion tableaus (Patty Hearst holding her rifle, the young Einstein and his wife on a train’s caboose platform). That it didn’t mean anything, or so it seemed, infuriated some people (the critic John Simon dismissed Mr. Wilson’s previous work as a gay pothead bad joke) and thrilled others. At a news conference in Avignon, France, where Einstein was first performed, Mr. Wilson answered questions with bird squawks. Einstein was commissioned by Michel Guy and the Avignon Festival and had its first five performances there. It went on a wildly admired six-city European tour and washed ashore in America on November 22 and 29 at a sold-out Metropolitan Opera House. This was hardly because the Met was foresighted enough to present it. It merely deigned to rent the house on two Sunday nights when it would otherwise have been dark. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Glass gained prestige (or notoriety) but lost a cataclysmic amount of money. Mr. Wilson went deep into debt, and Mr. Glass was back driving a cab soon after taking his curtain calls at the Met. In 1984 Harvey Lichtenstein and the Brooklyn Academy produced a revival. It was meant to tour but never did. There was another revival in 1992, again in Brooklyn, and this time in six European cities but nowhere else in the United States. Linda Brumbach, who manages Mr. Glass, finally put together an ambitious itinerary for 2012. The tour was cast and initially rehearsed at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan, then had full-stage rehearsals and three preview performances in Ann Arbor, Mich., early this year. The tour proper began in Montpellier, France, in March and proceeded to Reggio Emilia, Italy; London; and Toronto. After Brooklyn come Berkeley, Calif.; Mexico City; Amsterdam; and Hong Kong. There is talk of extending performances, maybe even into 2014, with cities like Melbourne, Australia; Los Angeles; Buenos Aires; and São Paulo, Brazil, under discussion, and perhaps Bahrain, Berlin and Paris. Mr. Wilson is sentimental about the original French commission and would love for the final performances to be at the Bastille Opera. But adding new cities is expensive. The touring company numbers 65. So how is Einstein the same, how is it different and how does it hold up? No effort has been made to update the piece; there are still plentiful references to events (the Hearst trial) and pop culture of the mid-70s. But Mr. Wilson thinks it still works well. 'I’ve been curious myself as to why it does,' he said recently. 'One reason is that the bones are good, the structure is good.' (Mr. Wilson is fond of skeletal metaphors; he has always called his entr’actes knee plays.) For him the alternation of lively and meditative, slow and fast scenes provides a proper sequence of contrasts. For those of us steeped in Lower Manhattan performing arts of the ’70s, Einstein represented in part a grand (and it turned out, more or less final) flowering of the warmly human collegiality of that time and place. Of course there were tensions and rivalries. I can still remember the squabbles over who got credit for what. But mostly the 1976 Einstein cast was an assembly of artists, skilled in some things and amateurish in others, but with a kind of venturesome summer-camp atmosphere prevailing during the rehearsals and performances in Avignon. None of those in it knew what it was, but they began to realize soon enough that it was great. 'The first company was like the Living Theater or the Open Theater,' Mr. Glass said. 'No one had any money, but we did have that communal feeling. The theater spilled over into our personal lives. Life and art mixed together. Bob and I were just two guys in our 30/s. Later that went away. It would be surprising if those feelings were still there. This new cast feels almost honored to be in this piece.' What happened in 1984, 1992 and now 2012 has been a gradual professionalization of the company and a widening age difference between the creators and the performers. In 1984 Ms. Childs took over the choreography of the two long Field Dances from Andrew deGroat. Mr. Glass insisted on a separation of singers and dancers to get better singers, which meant a separate group of better dancers. According to both Mr. Glass and Mr. Wilson, Mr. deGroat was accustomed to the more natural, variably trained dancers of the original cast. Ms. Childs could stretch the capacities of more trained dancers, and her formal, almost intellectualized choreography seemed to suit the music and the imagery better" [John Rockwell, The New York Times, 8/31/12].

September 29

New York Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert, with Daniil Trifonov, in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3.  Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY.  Repeated October 2.  "[T]here were certainly no awkward moments during the terrific performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 . . . .  A slender man with an exuberant stage presence, Mr. Trifonov is certainly a virtuoso with a demonstrably prizewinning technique, evident as he fluidly sailed through bravura passages, his fingers moving in a blur through rapid octaves and chords. But he offered far more than mere virtuosity, which is now common among young pianists showing ever more dazzling technique. Mr. Trifonov demonstrated an elegant touch and witty grace in more lighthearted moments and poetic insight in more introspective passages.  After this concerto’s New York premiere in 1922, Prokofiev lamented that American audiences did not appreciate the piece, though he would surely be gratified to see its popularity almost a century later" [Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 10/1/12].

Monday, October 1, 2012

21ST-CENTURY MUSIC / October 2012


October 2012

Volume 19, Number 10

A Quarter-Century of Bang on a Can / Phillip George

Chronicle of August 2012


Illustration / Grand Band

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


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A Quarter-Century of Bang on a Can / Phillip George

Bang on a Can was founded in 1987 by three American composers who remain its artistic directors: David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon.

Its is perhaps best known for its Marathon Concerts during which an eclectic mix of pieces are performed in succession over the course of many hours while audience members are welcome to come and go as they please. For the twentieth anniversary of their Marathon Concerts, Bang on a Can presented twenty-six hours of uninterrupted music at the World Financial Center Winter Garden Atrium in New York City.

Among the many Bang on a Can events were performances by John Cage, premieres of Glenn Branca’s epic symphonies for massed electric guitars, and fully staged operas of Harry Partch, featuring the composer's original instruments.

The three artistic directors occasionally collaborate by jointly composing a large work, often without revealing which sections each contributed. Examples include:

The Carbon Copy Building - a "comic book opera" with words and drawings by MacArthur Grant recipient Ben Katchor. It was the winner of the 2000 Obie Award for Best New American Work.

Lost Objects - a contemporary oratorio, with a libretto by Deborah Artman. It is a fusion of baroque music and modern soundscapes, rendered in performance by the original instruments ensemble Concerto Köln with four electronic instruments, three solo vocalists, a choir, and a live remix generated by DJ Spooky.

The New Yorkers - a staged multimedia concert with additional contributions by filmmakers and visual artists including: Ben Katchor, Bill Morrison, Doug Aitken, and William Wegman.

Shelter - a multimedia work that in the words of librettist Deborah Artman, "evokes the power and threat of nature, the soaring frontier promise contained in the framing of a new house, the pure aesthetic beauty of blueprints, the sweet architecture of sound and the uneasy vulnerability that underlies even the safety of our sleep."

Bang on a Can has commissioned and premiered pieces by John Adams, Iva Bittová, Roberto Carnevale, Ornette Coleman, Donnacha Dennehy, Bun-Ching Lam, Michael Nyman, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Somei Satoh. In 1998 the organization began the People's Commissioning Fund which supports the creation of new musical compositions by pooling contributions from numerous member-commissioners. The fund has commissioned:

1998 Virgil Moorefield, Dan Plonsey, Pamela Z

2000 Miya Masaoka, Marc Mellits, Edward Ruchalski, Toby Twining

2001 Jeffrey Brooks, Susan Deyhim, James Fei, Keeril Makan

2002 Eve Beglarian, John King, Matthew Shipp

2003 Annea Lockwood, Ingram Marshall, Thurston Moore

2005 Cynthia Hopkins, Carla Kihlstedt, J.G. Thirlwell

2006 Yoav Gal, Annie Gosfield, John Hollenbeck

2007 Lukas Ligeti, Joshua Penman, Stefan Weisman

2008 Erdem Helvacioglu, Tristan Perich, Ken Thomson

2009 David Longstreth, Kate Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Lok Yin Tang

Bang on a Can is associated with the SPIT Orchestra and Bang on a Can All-Stars -- the latter consisting of clarinetist/saxophonist Evan Ziporyn, electric guitarist Mark Stewart, keyboardist Vicky Chow, percussionist David Cossin, cellist Ashley Bathgate, double bassist Robert Black.

Bang on a Can has released recordings on Composers Recordings Inc, Sony Classical, Point Music, Nonesuch, and its own Cantaloupe Music label. In addition to releasing works by Lang, Gordon, and Wolfe, and Lang -- the label has released music of Alarm Will Sound, Don Byron, R. Luke DuBois, Ethel, Gutbucket, Icebreaker, Phil Kline, and Evan Ziporyn.

Chronicle of August 2012

August 7

Grand Band. Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY. "[T[he new ensemble Grand Band is a piano sextet in the purest sense: six pianos, and only six pianos. It is an audacious, irresistible idea to have that many pianos onstage at one time. So it’s just icing on the cake when the musicians are as individually accomplished as Vicky Chow, David Friend, Paul Kerekes, Blair McMillen, Lisa Moore and Isabelle O’Connell, who formed Grand Band a few months ago and performed for the first time as a group in June as part of the Bang on a Can Marathon. . . . There was a public apology at the group’s second performance on . . . [August 7] that the concert would not feature real pianos, arranged in an interlocking array as at the . . . Marathon, but rather a circle of keyboards. This lowered the spectacle quotient somewhat, and along with the aggressive Poisson Rouge amplification system, it made the program of Minimalist and post-Minimalist works by Philip Glass, Kate Moore, Steve Reich, and Julia Wolfe sound powerful but also relentless. Ms. Wolfe began to write My Lips From Speaking (1993) one afternoon after listening to Aretha Franklin’s recording of Think. It begins with strong, saturated chords before moving on to fragmented versions -- some unison, some not -- of syncopated soul riffs that are like abstractions of the song. . . . Closing, the final movement of Mr. Glass’s Glassworks (1981), was more elegiac. It was instructive to see the different layers of his music physically separated among the different instruments. Some of the pianos played the slow, glacial figures that underlie his work, while others had the arpeggios that flow on top. Mr. Friend handled an insistent high-note phrase with subtle gradations of volume and touch. The tremble with which Ms. Moore’s Sensitive Spot (2007) begins soon yields to dense, violent poundings before the piece ends with twinkling in the piano’s upper reaches. And the group closed with Mr. Reich’s Six Pianos (1973), a classic phase piece from which little rhythmic gestures rise out of the bustling, changeable texture. The group played it, like the rest of the pieces in this interesting if unremitting concert, with relaxed but focused poise" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 8/8/12].

August 9

Festival of Contemporary Music. Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Lenox, MA. "The director this year is the British composer Oliver Knussen, who turned 60 in June and has a long history here. He came to Tanglewood as a student of Gunther Schuller in 1970 and directed the festival for several summers, from 1987 to 1993. Mr. Knussen’s program is devoted mostly to British and American composers. . . . The opening installment balanced the old guard -- Harrison Birtwistle, Mr. Carter and [Niccolo] Castiglioni -- against two relative newcomers, Luke Bedford (born in 1978) and Sean Shepherd (born in 1979). This is a diverse bunch, but their works share a fluid style that has eluded the labels that classical music listeners use as a handy descriptive shorthand. It is easiest to say what their music is not. It is neither serialist (though it tends toward atonality) nor neo-Romantic (though it has lyrical currents and sometimes Romantic heft). It largely ignores Minimalism (though it occasionally, if briefly, uses repetition as a driving force) and it is certainly not indie classical (its eclecticism notwithstanding). Maybe these composers should be called Texturalists, because in every case these works were most striking for the lively play of contrasting colors, tempos and dynamics that gave them a tactile sense of dimension. Sure, there is more to the music than appealing surfaces. Castiglioni’s Quickly: Theme and Variations for 23 Instruments (1994) uses a time-honored form in brilliant, original ways. Its angular solo violin theme is deconstructed and reconfigured in 23 short elaborations for a continually morphing stream of instrumental combinations: harp and harpsichord, for example, give way to celesta and glockenspiel; violins and wind chimes give way to woodwinds and bells. You can see the textural appeal. Mr. Birtwistle’s Cantus Iambeus (2005) is packed with arcane techniques: as its title suggests, its themes use the short-long alternations of iambic pentameter. It also uses hocketing, a medieval technique in which melodies are split between voices in interlocking figures. But the score’s immediate charm lies in its flighty pointillism, and the fleetness with which a shimmering harp and percussion figure is offset by the growl of the bass or the strained lyricism of the horn line. Medievalism was on Mr. Bedford’s mind too. Or Voit Tout en Aventure (2006) weaves three medieval poems, all touching on debates about the state of music in the 14th century, into a seamless cycle. Its vocal line, sung with suave clarity by YoonGeong Lee, a soprano, hints at the texts’ medieval roots, but the orchestral accompaniment, alternately a distant haze and a rich tapestry of timbres (including an accordion) is thoroughly up to date. Mr. Carter’s Double Trio (2011) -- like its earlier counterpart, the Triple Duo (1983) -- takes its energy from the interplay of competing groups (two trios) within the larger ensemble, though tempo and dynamic contrasts are everywhere, even within the distinct trios. And though Mr. Shepard’s work These Particular Circumstances (2009), written for the New York Philharmonic’s Contact! series, uses a broader palette and a looser approach to style, its energy and changeability made it seem linked to the Carter in spirit" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/10/12]. Birtwistle has not strayed quite as far as [David] Del Tredici [into neotonality], but you would hardly guess from his [Cantus Iambeus] . . . that he was once considered a hard-edged atonalist" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/12/12].

August 10

Festival of Contemporary Music. Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Lenox, MA. "[Harrison] Birtwistle’s Betty Freeman: Her Tango (2001), a playful, angular piece with an Argentine accent, opened Gloria Cheng’s wonderful recital of piano works written for her . . . . Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Dichotomie (2000) [is] a forceful evocation of the distinction between the mechanistic (in the vigorous first movement) and the organic (in the equally dense but more texturally supple finale). Mr. Knussen’s wistful, gently chromatic Ophelia’s Last Dance (2010) also proved irresistible. And the aphoristic movements of John Harbison’s Leonard Stein Anagrams (2009) are packed with character, their brevity notwithstanding. . . . The finale of Mr. Harbison’s work . . . briefly channeled Debussy’s harmonic language, an influence also evident in the opening of George Benjamin’s otherwise outgoing Shadowlines (2001) and in the first of Bernard Rands’s Preludes (2007)" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/12/12].

August 11

International Contemporary Ensemble. Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY. "[One of Olivier] Messiaen['s] 'little sketches of birds' Le Merle Noir (Blackbird), from 1951, [was heard] in an amazingly varied performance by the flutist Claire Chase, who is also the ensemble’s founder and director. Le Merle Noir is no idyllic or whimsical vision; in Messiaen’s music, birds are violent and changeable, beautiful and free, but always with an undercurrent of threat, and Ms. Chase, alert to the music’s quicksilver changes, kept the mood ominous. It was followed by Jonathan Harvey’s Bird Concerto With Pianosong (2001) in its North American premiere, conducted by Jayce Ogren and featuring a daring performance by the pianist Joanna MacGregor, who handled not just a busy piano part but also a bird-sound sample machine. The concerto is about extremes -- low winds under the piano’s high twinkle, shimmering percussion and the heave of William Schimmel’s accordion -- and its big surges have Messiaen-esque muscularity. The birdsong often comes close to sounding like feedback; the natural and technological worlds feel on the verge of collapsing into each other" [Zachary Woolfe, 8/13/12].

August 12

Festival of Contemporary Music, programmed by Oliver Knussen. Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Lenox, MA. "Niccolò Castiglioni, an Italian composer who died in 1996 and is said to be a favorite of [Oliver] Knussen’s. . . . [Castiglioni's] otherworldly Inverno In-Ver (1978) shared the bill with Mr. Knussen’s second opera, Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1985) . . . . Both are essays in changeable textures, sparkling, treble-heavy percussion and keyboard writing, and string scoring that hovers microtonally between notes. They leave questions of tonality aside in search of a smoothly flowing magical shimmer. The less seductive Tropi (1959) . . . is a 12-tone work presented as a series of harsh bursts and silences. David Del Tredici, like Castiglioni, began his career by writing music steeped in dissonance. But in the mid-1970s he left pointed harshness behind in favor of full-throttle Neo-Romanticism, expressed at the time through a series of pieces based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. . . . Del Tredici['s] Soliloquy (1958), for solo piano, was given a virtuosic performance by Alexander Bernstein. . . . Perhaps the wisdom of hindsight pushes us to hear Soliloquy differently now. It proceeds from a series of chords built on minor seconds, and Mr. Bernstein could not be accused of trying to prettify them. But its fast section sounds almost Brahmsian, with only a veneer of modernist acidity. . . . [In] Dinah and Nick’s Love Song (1970), composed for a friend’s wedding [Harrison] Birtwistle provides sublimely lyrical themes for three unspecified melody instruments (oboes here) and harp. But he offers an avant-garde twist: the players must use chance techniques to determine the order and combinations in which those themes are played. . . . Mr. Knussen’s Higglety Pigglety Pop! was unquestionably a hit. Like its predecessor, Where the Wild Things Are, presented here in 2010, it has a libretto by Maurice Sendak based on his own children’s book. . . . Knussen’s vocal writing is clear, shapely and strikingly direct. His orchestral music is colorful and painterly, and is essentially the oil that keeps the machine running. . . . [Among the] gems . . . [were] Helen Grime’s evocative, texturally vivid Seven Pierrot Miniatures (2010) and Sean Shepherd’s melody-rich, structurally inviting Quartet for Oboe and Strings (2011). Marti Epstein’s Hidden Flowers (2012), with its quiet, glassy string timbres, was a harder sell, though it had a concentrated, Feldman-esque appeal" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/14/12].

International Contemporary Ensemble presents For the Birds. Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY. "Tombeau de Messiaen (1994) . . . [is a tight, tense] work by [Jonathan] Harvey for solo piano and recorded sounds that the pianist Cory Smythe played. . . . [These] performances played with spatial arrangements; for the premiere of Marcos Balter’s sprightly Passará, many of the instrumentalists stood behind the seated audience, and for Suzanne Farrin’s new Serenade, the audience stood on the floor while most of the players performed from a balcony that wrapped around the room. . . . The score, alternately hushed and crashing, combines Renaissance harmonies and a very contemporary controlled chaos. The singer, here the vibrantly theatrical countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, sometimes echoes, sometimes ululates and sometimes disintegrates into a pained, nearly silent scream. In John Cage’s Telephones and Birds (1977) the ensemble served up . . . the cluck of chickens and the squawk of sea gulls — alongside the chatter of phone messages. The sounds, in classic Cage style, were ordered by chance, just as in George Lewis’s Artificial Life 2007 (2007), which exists as a set of undefined directions for the players to interpret. [Claire] Chase closed the residency with yet another extraordinarily alive performance in Kaija Saariaho’s Terrestre (2002), a condensed version of her flute concerto L’Aile du Songe [Zachary Woolfe, 8/13/12].

August 13

Festival of Contemporary Music, programmed by Oliver Knussen. Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Lenox, MA. "Stefan Asbury conducted the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in [David del Tredici's] Happy Voices (Child Alice Part III) (1980) . . . an unabashed orchestral showpiece, is decidedly Wagnerian, both in heft and in spirit. Energetic, driven and filled with broad strokes in bright hues, it carries the suggestion of a narrative undercurrent, although Mr. Del Tredici has offered no specifics. . . . Harrison Birtwistle['s] short Sonance Severance 2000 (1999) . . . [is] fundamentally consonant and command[s] attention with [its] subtly shifting coloration and wry humor. . . [Helen] Grime was heard . . . in Everybody Sang (2010), an orchestral score in which contrasting layers -- sober string and woodwind writing alongside glittering percussion and brass -- evoked a moment inspired by a Siegfried Sassoon poem, in which soldiers momentarily escape the tensions of war by singing. [This] festival-closing orchestra concert also included Luke Bedford’s Outblaze the Sky, an imaginative study in coloristic morphing, as well as [George] Benjamin’s Duet (2008), an anticoncerto in which a solo piano line (played deftly by Peter Serkin) keeps its distance from the orchestra, though both have similar material. The program’s centerpiece was Gunther Schuller’s Dreamscape (2012), a three-movement score that, Mr. Schuller wrote, came to him whole in a dream. Mr. Schuller, who founded this festival in 1964, is 86, and he looked thin and frail . . . . But Dreamscape is a vital, magnificently detailed work, with hints of Ivesian humor in its opening movement and incendiary brass writing in its finale" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/14/12].

August 17

Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, in Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto and Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. Tanglewood, Lenox, MA.

August 18

John Williams 90th-Birthday Celebration Concert, with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Tanglewood, Lenox, MA. "Williams conducted the Boston Pops from 1980 to 1993, shining both his talent and fame on it, and Tanglewood gave him the luxury treatment a treasured friend deserves: not just a birthday concert, but a weekend that resonated with his own music. . . . The main theme from Star Wars accompanied a rousing montage of clips from the films, but other excerpts -- including those from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Schindler’s List -- were performed as pure concert works. Played in their entirety, rather than as snippets of underscoring and without the benefit of the films they accompany, Mr. Williams’s themes can ramble, their structures slack. Taken simply as music, they can even embarrass. . . . And given how many films Mr. Williams has scored, it’s no surprise that they can blend into one another. I have never seen Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but when the orchestra played the raucous, whimsical Hedwig’s Theme, I couldn’t help but see in my mind Home Alone . . . . His concert music -- Boston Symphony players were the soloists in movements from his concertos for oboe, horn and tuba . . . -- suffers from the same problems: not a lack of surface detail but a persistent vagueness, a structure that is assured and tight in the big moments but loose elsewhere. Yet it is no crime to be brilliant in the big moments, particularly in a culture that loves them. Mr. Williams was hardly the first great film composer, but he was the first master of that great American genre: the summer blockbuster. . . . He has created a language of confidence, seriousness and achievement that has stayed reassuringly the same even as so much else has changed. He is a genius of the short theme" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 8/19/12].

August 19

Death of Donal Henahan (b. 2/28/21, Cleveland, OH), at 91. New York, NY. "[He was] a Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic who wrote, often provocatively, for The New York Times for nearly a quarter of a century. Mr. Henahan, an accomplished pianist and classical guitarist, reviewed operas, concerts and recitals for the daily newspaper and wrote longer-form essays on a wide range of cultural subjects for The Times on Sundays from 1967 to 1991, when he retired after 11 years as chief music critic. He won the Pulitzer for distinguished criticism in 1986. Mr. Henahan, who also wrote for The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Saturday Review, Holiday, High Fidelity, Harper’s Bazaar and other magazines, was the music critic of The Chicago Daily News early in his career. He wrote authoritative evaluations of singers, orchestras, operas and chamber groups, usually placing them in the context of comparable performances and the perspective of music history. . . . Henahan’s first review in The Times, on Sept. 14, 1967, captured the spirit of an era. It began: “The American subculture of buttons and beards, poster art and pot, sandals and oddly shaped spectacles met the rather more ancient culture of India last evening at Philharmonic Hall. The occasion was the first of six concerts there this season by Ravi Shankar, the sitar virtuoso, whose instrument traces back about 700 years and whose chosen art form, the raga, is said to be 2,000 years old.” Mr. Henahan’s essays for the Sunday Arts and Leisure section often drew barrages of letters from readers hailing or huffing over his commentaries -- on the flawed acoustics of the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, or Schubert’s sexuality, or Tchaikovsky’s purported suicide or the introduction of English-language supertitles in opera productions, which he called 'help for the befuddled.' And he often challenged the world of music and art with pointed questions about the shortcomings of government, business and private philanthropy in providing support; about the underrepresentation of black musicians in symphony orchestras; or about what he called a poisonous 'cultural apartheid' that was 'not being discussed candidly and openly by those who lead our major cultural institutions.' In a lighter vein, he wrote a 1982 Sunday piece about the misuse of words from his own reviews in advertisements. Once, for example, he called a high-budget production 'a staggering disappointment,' only to find an ad attributing a gush of adulation to him: 'Staggering!' . . . Henahan . . . studied at Kent State University and Ohio University before enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1942. After the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University and did graduate work at the University of Chicago and the Chicago School of Music. In 1947, while still at Northwestern, he joined The Chicago Daily News. He became the newspaper’s chief music critic in 1957. Days after arriving at The Times in 1967, he broke the news that the Metropolitan Opera’s 60-foot stage turntable, on which sets revolved between scenes, had been broken down for a year. It was built to carry 10,000 pounds, but 250 Egyptian soldiers and a Sphinx proved to be too much in a rehearsal for Antony and Cleopatra.
In 1980, he succeeded Harold C. Schonberg as The Times’s chief music critic" [Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times, 8/20/12].

August 21

Pauline Oliveros, with percussionist Susie Ibarra and pianist Thollem McDonas. Stone, New York, NY.

August 24

Lisa Scola Prosek's Daughter of the Red Tsar. Thick House Theatre, San Francisco, CA. Through September 2.

Francis Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites presented by the Dell’Arte Opera company, directed by Victoria Crutchfield. East 13th Street Theater, New York, NY. "Poulenc’s solemn, shattering 1957 opera . . . is an ambitious project: long, intense and trying. Though deceptively straightforward in its vocal lines and steady in its orchestral accompaniment, it requires great strength and purity of tone as well as the ability to convey nuance through the text. (Poulenc’s intention was for the work to be performed in the language of the singers and audience, but Dell’Arte did it in French, as will the Metropolitan Opera when it revives John Dexter’s classic production in May) . . . . The ensemble was fully prepared for the great final scene, as the nuns face the guillotine, and their chorus is inexorably reduced, one by one, during Poulenc’s granitic setting of the Salve Regina prayer" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 8/26/12].

August 25

Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Marcus Garvey Park, New York, NY.

August 29

Here and Now Labor Day Festival. Bargemusic, Fulton Ferry Landing, New York, NY. Through September 2. "[A] motley but spirited new-music celebration that brings together composers of all stripes and draws some of the biggest crowds the barge gets all season. Listeners don’t always know what they are in for. Though an overall schedule is published on the barge’s Web site, on each of the festival’s four nights . . . the performers and works are juggled anew for each program. That said, all the announced players were on hand for the first concert . . a program that began with the pianist Steven Beck’s clear-textured stroll through Peter Heller’s Two Nantucket Songs and ended just over three hours later with Trillo -- a clarinet, accordion and bass trio -- playing a Sephardic melody that morphed into a klezmer dance. Mr. Beck, a Bargemusic regular, found a delicate balance between ragtime form and mildly spiky melodic turns in Mr. Heller’s two pieces. He followed those with Fred Lerdahl’s invitingly contrapuntal Three Concert Studies, the first of which is a delightfully pointillistic, pedal-free fantasy. Philip Edward Fisher, another pianist, drew from the same well as Mr. Beck in his solo set: John Musto’s Concert Rags pull free from ragtime traditions more fully than Mr. Heller’s pieces: the first two, Recollections and Emma’s Waltz, draw heavily on Impressionistic nebulousness, though the last, the rollicking In Stride, takes a page or two from Fats Waller’s playbook. Mr. Fisher also accompanied Lauren Goldsmith, a soprano with a supple tone and a subtle but expressive style, in Libby Larsen’s bittersweet Songs From Letters -- a cycle based on Calamity Jane’s letters to her daughter, Janey, mostly about Janey’s father, Wild Bill Hickok -- and William Bolcom’s brighter, salon-style Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks. Rob Schwimmer presented a more up-to-date look at keyboard music by way of two recent works of his own, scored for electronic instruments -- a Haken Continuum (a flat, touch-sensitive surface played like a keyboard but capable of smooth portamento) and a theremin . . . and recorded sound. The more expansive work, Gauntlet, is a piano concerto of sorts: Mr. Schwimmer played a recording of his dense-textured Chopinesque piano line, and used the Continuum to cloak it in a fascinating orchestration that included string sounds, buzzing electronic tones and tactile, plucked timbres. Jeremiah Andrew Campbell, a cellist, and Meral Guneyman, a pianist, gave an electrifying . . . account of Due per Due, a beautiful, fast-moving dazzler by Justin Dello Joio. Several ensembles shared the bill as well. A sextet from the Knights (usually a chamber orchestra) performed lively, folkish improvisations from a work they jointly composed to accompany an exhibition at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach. The Declassified -- a clarinet, horn, bassoon and oboe quartet -- played intricate scores by Ted Hearne and Ken Thomson. But they were at their best on Caleb Burhans’s In the Dark of the Night, a score built on hat tips to Philip Glass. And Trillo closed the concert with an upbeat, cross-cultural set that included klezmer-tinged arrangements of Satie and Bartok, and two imaginative, painterly scores by its bassist, Remy Yulzari" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 8/30/12].

August 30

Janacek's Jenufa presented by Opera Slavica. Bohemian National Hall, New York, NY. "Jenufa . . . [recently] presented in a wrenching performance . . . has always struck me as a thoroughly wintry work. That may be because of its almost ceaseless grimness, or because its final act includes the discovery of a murdered baby, buried in ice. But then, much of the music that Opera Slavica specializes in -- the Russian and Czech repertory -- is set in dark, chilly landscapes. So a challenge that faces the company’s young singers, along with bringing the music and characters to life, is evoking a suitably icy spirit for an audience that has just wandered in from the summer heat.
Opera Slavica is a hybrid opera troupe and training program, founded in 2009 by the conductor and pianist William Hobbs with the idea of schooling singers in the works that must be sung in Slavic languages. Each class spends a few months working on a specific opera and presents a staged production at the end of the summer. Jenufa, based on Gabriela Preissova’s novel Her Stepdaughter, peers in on a tangled set of relationships in a Moravian village. . . .[U]ntil the curtain falls, tension remains at peak levels, as much because of Janacek’s scoring -- sharp-edged harmonies, a wrenching balance of lyricism and angularity in the vocal lines, and driven, pointed orchestrations -- as because of the narrative details. Even the reduced orchestration of [William] Hobbs’s arrangement for a 16-piece ensemble conveyed that energy fully. The production was directed by Kara-Lynn Vaeni, with simple but imaginative sets by Nick Francone that used framed photographs to create a psychological backdrop rather than a sense of place. That quality was supplied by Liam O’Brien’s colorful costumes, which suggested both the Moravian setting and a measure of class stratification" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 9/5/12].