Music from Huang Ruo's Dr. Sun Yat-Sen
, plus other selections from the composer. Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY. "The composer Huang Ruo has not yet reaped these benefits from the sudden, unexplained cancellation of the Beijing premiere of his first opera, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen
, but it could happen. Mr. Huang spent four years writing the opera about Sun, a revered figure in Chinese history who helped overthrow the monarchy and became the first president of the Chinese Republic after the 1911 revolution. Mr. Huang prepared two versions: one for Western instruments for Beijing, another for Chinese instruments for Opera Hong Kong. The libretto, by Candace Chong, had received official approval, and Mr. Huang’s colorful, eclectic style is known in China, so he was blindsided when the Beijing production was scrapped at the 11th hour last year. The Hong Kong version had a successful premiere, but Mr. Huang is intent on having his Beijing scoring heard as well. Some of it has been. Last May, New York City Opera included a concert excerpt in its Vox festival. And Mr. Huang conducted several arias and duets in a new chamber arrangement at Le Poisson Rouge on Tuesday evening, as part of a program of his recent works. Not surprisingly, the excerpts offer only a vague sense of the work, not least because they are sung in Mandarin and Cantonese. But Mr. Huang has a lyrical gift, and even in the absence of translations or projected titles, the emotional arc of each piece was clear. Laurence Broderick, the tenor who sang the title role, offered an impassioned account of a first-act aria that conveys Sun’s anguish over his people’s suffering. And Fang Tao Jiang, a soprano, ably brought out the drama and intensity in an aria in which Lu Mu-zhen, Sun’s first wife from an arranged marriage, turns up at his wedding to Soong Ching-Ling and serves a divorce decree. Ms. Jiang also gave a strong performance of Ching-Ling’s aria from a scene following her loss of a child. The supporting score is supple and richly textured, even in this pared-down version, and Ensemble FIRE and the Momenta Quartet gave it a warm, graceful reading. They also gave vigorous performances of two typically inventive chamber works by Mr. Huang. In the four-movement Book of the Forgotten
(2009), clarinet and viola lines are deftly interwoven. Each instrument slips in and out of the spotlight with music that is alternately haunting, playful and brash, with occasional bent tones and glissandos evoking a Chinese folk style amid the Western melodic flights. Vasko Dukovski gave a lively account of the clarinet writing, and Stephanie Griffin was the eloquent violist. Mr. Huang’s sumptuous String Quartet No. 3 ('Calligraffiti,'
2009), draws similarly on Chinese and Western tunings and influences but is painted on a broader palette and, often, in more somber hues. In a focused, fluid performance by the Momenta Quartet the work’s first two movements were kaleidoscopic and tumultuous, yet the piece was at its most affecting in the quiet finale, with its elegant descending slides and tactile ornamentation" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 1/12/12].
January 13New York Guitar Festival: Alternative Guitar Festival
. Rockwood Music Hall, New York, NY. Through 1/15. "It was a concert that posited instrument as inspiration: the physicality of the instruments was at the heart of the music. Mark Stewart, who leads Paul Simon’s band and is a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, opened the night with pieces for a menagerie of instruments. Playing mandocello, a cello-size mandolin, accompanied by David Cossin on djembe (hand drum), he had a robustly folky melody with a hint of Indian modes. A duo for four-stringed plectrum guitars, with Gyan Riley on the second instrument, also mingled India and Appalachia, gathering speed on the way from an Eastern-tinged drone to brisk banjolike strumming. Mr. Stewart and Mr. Riley also played two varieties of an instrument Mr. Stewart designed, the uboingi: guitar-shaped metal frames suspending a guitar neck on springs. They generated all sorts of plunks, rustles, tinkles, scrapes and clangs, in a piece that ambled through a hushed metallic junkscape of isolated sounds and turned rhythmic as the players traded little high plinks. For a final piece Mr. Stewart did get around to acoustic guitar, accompanied by Mr. Cossin tapping a well-tuned cardboard tube, as he fingerpicked a piece exploring the intricacies of a Cameroonian guitar lick. Joel Harrison, the festival’s curator, performed with Anupam Shobhakar on the sarod, a fretless Indian lute with sympathetic strings, and Todd Isler playing exotic percussion instruments. Mr. Harrison’s instrument was a National steel guitar, and his project with Mr. Shobhakar was a colloquy between two vocabularies full of bending, sliding notes: blues and Indian music. It was a fusion of equals, respecting differences as much as similarities: the liquid microtonal curves of the sarod lines and the twangy urgency of the steel guitar, the disparate modes of each idiom, the separate kinds of percussive acceleration each instrument could summon on the way to a big finish. Ben Monder, playing electric guitar in a duo with Pete Rende on electric piano, devoted his set to two songs by Jimmy Webb. He took his time reaching Wichita Lineman
, via an abstract rumination perhaps distantly related to some of the song’s chromatic turns. It moved from contemplation to apocalyptic distortion to a sparse pianissimo before the song itself emerged, with all its odd, plaintive leaps. Up, Up and Away
became a somewhat more conventional, harmonically elaborated jazz ballad, although Mr. Monder and Mr. Rende had shifted its meter into 7/4. Pillow Wand, the duo of Nels Cline from Wilco and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, wielded their electric guitars in a noise duet that Mr. Cline introduced as 'the potentially antisocial sound we’re going to make.' It was a considered bombardment from their fingers, implements and effects pedals: not an unmodulated blitz but a mutable, multifarious one. At various times Mr. Cline used a metal bar to strum, scrape and hit his strings; Mr. Moore inserted a drumstick under his strings and slid it up and down the frets for a wrenching glissando. There were sustained drones and frantic ones, sawmill-run-amok buzz assaults and tractor-pull roars, klaxons and feedback squeals, gamelan peals and minimalist ostinatos, calliopelike tootles and earth tremors. It was the kind of music no other instrument could make" [Jon Pareles, The New York Times, 1/15/12].
January 16The Song Continues
: Marilyn Horne's 78th birthday, featuring Francis Poulenc’s Banalités
. Weill Recital Hall, New York, NY. "[W]hen the mood was sober, [Elliot Madore] sang with exciting confidence and detail, delivering Poulenc’s elegantly bleak Sanglots
with subtlety and concentration" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 1/17/12].
Kamala Sankaram's Miranda
. Here Arts Center, New York, NY. Through 1/21. "As a singer Ms. Sankaram is remarkably flexible: she seems as completely at home in a soaring operatic style as she does in the music of Philip Glass, Phil Kline, John Zorn and Anthony Braxton. And as a composer she has an ear for so many styles -- and the magpie instincts to draw on them all -- that her music seems tailor-made for Here’s genre-disdaining audience. Ms. Sankaram’s new opera . . . is a mash-up of so many elements, popular and classical, that you are bound to miss a few on a single hearing. For starters, it’s a murder mystery that satirizes the justice system, reality TV and the glamour industry. Nick Francone’s sets, Jacci Jaye’s costumes and Matt Tennie’s video couch the production in partly retro, partly futuristic steampunk style (a science-fiction conceit that proposes a universe in which modern technologies were invented during the era of steam power). Ms. Sankaram’s score embraces electronica, beefy 1950's pop riffs, Baroque string figuration, lush Romantic texturing, Hindustani classical music, R&B vocals, tango and direct quotations from rock songs (The halting chord progression of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir
is prominent at the start and end of the work, and Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust
makes a cameo). And the choreography, by Lauren Yalango and Christopher Grant, mashes up elegant classical touches, 1960's dance-floor moves and unclassifiably stylized gestures. Yet for all that, Miranda
is strikingly original, mainly because its principal vocal lines, which Ms. Sankaram sings in the title role, are inventively shaped, full of character and emotionally direct and authentic. That is as it should be: though the work is comic on its surface it is woven around the murder of Miranda Wright, a diet-pill heiress, and a trial that is meant to determine whether her killer was her fiancé, Cor Prater; her father, Izzy Wright; or her mother, Anjana Challapattee Wright. In her arias Miranda sorts out her fraught relationships with them all. Granted, the courtroom is a game show (The Whole Truth
), presided over by D.A.V.E., a digital judge, with an M.C. as the bailiff and the audience as the jury. Not that the audience members’ (very mixed) response, when asked for their verdict, has any effect: the libretto, which Ms. Sankaram wrote with the show’s director, Rob Reese, is not interactive. In the spirit of the band Alarm Will Sound, the instrumentalists double as the vocal cast. That may explain why Ms. Sankaram gave herself the most challenging and extended music, though Pat Muchmore, the cellist (and Izzy), sings a melodically supple tenor line pleasingly. Drew Fleming, the guitarist (Cor) and Rima Fand, the violinist (Anjana), sing their simpler music ably, and the two reed players, Ed Rosenberg and Jeff Hudgins, take short, amusing vocal turns" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 1/17/12].
Goat Hall Productions presents The Kurt Weill Project: Songs from The Threepenny Opera
. Cafe Royale, San Francisco, CA.
Internet protests, including Wikipedia's 24-hour shutdown of its English-language version and a black banner on Google, quickly cut into Congressional support for anti-web piracy measures as lawmakers abandon and rethink their backing for legislation that pits new media interests against some of the most powerful old-line commercial interests. Washington, DC.
Philip Glass's Les Enfants Terribles. Fletcher Opera Theater, Progress Energy Center, Raleigh, NC. Through January 21.
Neutral Milk Hotel and Music Tapes. New York, NY. "Sex, devastation, war, death, God, reincarnation, and 'how strange it is to be anything at all' were some of the things Jeff Mangum sang about on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the second album by his band Neutral Milk Hotel, released in 1998. Then he made himself scarce, rarely performing in public until 2010. Meanwhile, the album’s reputation snowballed, particularly among musicians. Mr. Mangum has said the album was inspired by, among other things, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl; one of its singles was Holland, 1945, the place she lived and the year she died in a concentration camp. The recordings revolved around Mr. Mangum’s voice and acoustic guitar, often strummed with the unswerving drive of punk, and sometimes joined by sparse circus-band horns, woozy keyboards or full band. By the time Mr. Mangum made his decisive return last year, headlining the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival and a Town Hall concert, he had the kind of devotees who shout -- as someone did on Thursday night when he opened a three-night stand at the Brooklyn Academy of Music -- 'You’re the reason we make music!' The concerts were announced as his last New York City shows for some time. Mr. Mangum was jovial. 'You guys can yell at me,' he said, drawing fervent responses; he also got singalongs any time he asked for them. When plugging in an instrument made noise, he joked that it was a 'new song, sort of John Cage-inspired.' The hourlong set didn’t include any new material; nearly all of it came from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Mr. Mangum performed most of the concert solo, playing one of four acoustic guitars and singing loud and clear, including some of the album’s horn parts. Nearly every song started at full throttle and stayed there. That kept the music straightforward -- a handful of chords, a steady strum, a folky melody -- to carry Mr. Mangum’s avalanches of imagery. It could grow incantatory, as it did in the tolling ballad Oh Comely. But it also, despite the worshipful crowd, courted monotony. Mr. Mangum’s vocals, unvarying and absolutely steady on pitch when he held a note, could suggest a flesh-and-blood version of Auto-Tune. So it was welcome when members of the opening act, the Music Tapes, occasionally joined Mr. Mangum to add musical saw, horns or percussion; that band is led by Julian Koster, the saw player, who also appeared on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The songs breathed a little and differentiated themselves. And that opened up the yearning and sorrow, the spiritual questions and childhood memories, the mourning and stubborn hope that still draw listeners to Neutral Milk Hotel" [Jon Pareles, The New York Times, 1/20/12].
Death of Etta James (b. Jamesetta Hawkins, 1/25/38, Los Angeles, CA), of complications related to leukemia, at 73. Riverside Community Hospital, Riverside, CA. "James was not easy to pigeonhole. She is most often referred to as a rhythm and blues singer, and that is how she made her name in the 1950's . . . . She was also comfortable, and convincing, singing pop standards, as she did in 1961 with At Last, which was written in 1941 and originally recorded by Glenn Miller’s orchestra. . . . For all her accomplishments, Ms. James had an up-and-down career, partly because of changing audience tastes but largely because of drug problems. She developed a heroin habit in the 1960's; after she overcame it in the 1970's, she began using cocaine. . . . [James's] mother, Dorothy Hawkins, was 14 at the time [of her birth]; her father was long gone, and Ms. James never knew for sure who he was, although she recalled her mother telling her that he was the celebrated pool player Rudolf Wanderone, better known as Minnesota Fats. She was reared by foster parents and moved to San Francisco with her mother when she was 12.
Though her life had its share of troubles to the end -- her husband and sons were locked in a long-running battle over control of her estate, which was resolved in her husband’s favor only weeks before her death -- Ms. James said she wanted her music to transcend unhappiness rather than reflect it" [Peter Keepnews, 1/20/12].
Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Tate, performs Olivier Messiaen's Des Canyons aux Étoiles. Roulette, New York, NY. "Everything about Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars) is vast. This audacious 100-minute work is scored for 44 individual instruments, including all manner of percussion, and features a formidable solo piano part. It was inspired by Messiaen’s 1972 visit to Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks in Utah, where he looked in awe at craggy rock formations and reddish-orange geological vistas. You might think “Des Canyons,” which was commissioned by Alice Tully and had its premiere in 1974 at the Lincoln Center hall that bears her name, would be way too much for a small performance space. But . . . the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, as part of an American tour with its principal conductor, Jeffrey Tate, proved otherwise. The orchestra performed Des Canyons at the new home of Roulette, a hotbed of contemporary-music programming that operated for years out of a TriBeCa loft but moved in September to the historic Memorial Hall at Atlantic and Third Avenues in Brooklyn, which has a simple, handsome refurbished auditorium that seats 300. Hearing the piece there was certainly an experience of sonic saturation. But the music came through with striking clarity and no excess reverberation. And it was exciting to be so close and enveloped. As in Hamburg, Mr. Tate and his players performed the piece with a video installation by Daniel Landau, which was projected on three screens above the orchestra. The video added grim images of environmental ruin and human alienation that are not suggested by Messiaen’s music. The composer intended the piece as a spiritual celebration of America in anticipation of the bicentennial. He certainly saw the cycles of life and death and the sometimes brutal forces of nature. But he titled the movements of this piece What Is Written in the Stars, Cedar Breaks and the Gift of Awe and Zion Park and the Celestial City. Messiaen’s wondrous-strange music is anything but depressing. . . . Structured in 12 parts, the piece explicitly takes listeners on an ascent from the canyons to the stars and beyond. The music flows in episodic waves, with sustained brassy harmonies that are like cosmic chorales, bursts of fitful instrumental writing, spans of jagged counterpoint, and -- a Messiaen trademark -- skittish birdcalls. Phrase by phrase, Mr. Tate and his players conveyed the stunning inventiveness of the music. . . . The rising young pianist Francesco Tristano played the formidable solo part brilliantly. He had rhythmic bite and color galore, while bringing engaging impetuosity to the music. The audience that packed the small hall gave the performers a whooping, cheering ovation. How cool for the Hamburg Symphony to have played Roulette. New York has an inviting new space for contemporary music just a short walk from the Brooklyn Academy of Music" [Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 1/24/12].
New York Philharmonic Chinese New Year gala. Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY. "[T]here is no question that China has produced a significant number of prominent composers and outstanding performers. . . . After a traditional dragon dance, performed across the front of the stage by the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, Long Yu, a distinguished conductor who holds prominent posts with several Chinese orchestras, opened the program with Spring Festival Overture by Li Huanzhi. The fizzy 1956 work fused a distinctly Chinese lyricism to a robust exuberance familiar from countless Romantic overtures. Bao Yuankai’s China Air Suite, drawn from a collection of folk-song adaptations, showed a sophisticated instrumental palette redolent of Debussy’s. The Quintessenso Mongolian Children’s Choir made its American stage debut with five Mongolian folk songs, orchestrated by Zou Ye. The songs were reharmonized for Western ears -- surely the ascending chords of Ehulan, Dehulan weren’t originally those of Twist and Shout? -- and the choreography could resemble what you might see among Broadway tykes. . . .
The second half of the program featured three brilliant soloists. Liang Wang, the Philharmonic’s principal oboist, performed superhuman feats of circular breathing in the relentless flurries of Chen Qigang’s Extase. Junqiao Tang, a bamboo-flute player, was no less impressive in Zhou Chenglong’s Raise the Red Lantern. . . . [Lang] Lang['s] . . . encore, Spring Dance by Sun Yi-Qian, set frolicsome volleys and exaggerated tenderness over a robust tango rhythm" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 1/25/12].
Death of Patricia Neway (b. 9/30/1919, New York, NY), at 92. East Corinth, VT. "[She was] an opera singer who won a Tony in 1960 for her role as the Mother Abbess in the original Broadway production of [Richard Rodgers's] The Sound of Music. A dramatic soprano praised for the intensity of both her voice and her acting, Ms. Neway was known as an interpreter of new work by 20th-century composers. She was also one of relatively few singers of her era to move seamlessly back and forth between the opera house and the Broadway stage. She had a long association with Gian Carlo Menotti. As Magda Sorel, the oppressed heroine of his opera The Consul, in its original production, Ms. Neway drew glowing notices from critics and thundering ovations from audiences. Ms. Neway, who with her pale skin, lush dark hair and strong features cut a striking presence on opera and recitals stages worldwide, was a principal singer with the New York City Opera from 1951 to 1966. Her roles with the company included Leah in the world premiere of The Dybbuk, by David and Alex Tamkin, and the Mother in the world premiere of Hugo Weisgall’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, as well as Marie in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck; the Governess in The Turn of the Screw, by Benjamin Britten; and Laura Gates in Mark Bucci’s Tale for a Deaf Ear, the story of a disintegrating marriage. . . . The family name is pronounced NOO-way. . . . Her father was a printer who had sung briefly in vaudeville; as a girl, Patricia studied the piano. Fittingly, given her Tony-winning Broadway role, she was encouraged to pursue a singing career by the mother superior of her high school. The young Ms. Neway earned a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame College of Staten Island, with a major in sciences and a minor in mathematics. She later studied voice privately and at the Mannes Music School, as it was then known. . . . [I]t was as Magda in The Consul that she made her reputation. . . . The opera had its world premiere in Philadelphia in March 1950 before moving to the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York later that month. As was widely reported, Ms. Neway’s long aria, To This We’ve Come, sung in Act 2 as Magda rages against the consul’s secretary, brought down the house nearly every night. She reprised the role many times around the world, including at City Opera. The Consul, which won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for music, was recorded for television in 1960. The telefilm, starring Ms. Neway and long presumed lost, was rediscovered after many years and released on DVD in 2004. Ms. Neway appeared next on Broadway in 1958, singing the role of the Mother in Menotti’s opera Maria Golovin. She returned two years later in The Sound of Music . . . . For her performance, which included the anthem Climb Ev’ry Mountain, Ms. Neway received the Tony for best featured actress in a musical (In the hugely successful 1965 film version, the Mother Abbess was played by Peggy Wood,with her singing dubbed by Margery McKay) . . . . Her recordings include music by Menotti and Samuel Barber. In the late 1950s and ’60s she directed her own chamber opera company in New York -- originally called the Patricia Neway Opera Workshop and later the Neway Opera Theater -- devoted to contemporary works. For all the ovations she received as Magda, Ms. Neway said that the greatest tributes came after the curtain went down. The original Broadway production of The Consul was staged just five years after the end of World War II, a fact of which those in the theater were painfully aware. 'There were awards and accolades,' she said in 2004. 'But most of all there were those people from the audience who came backstage with tear-stained faces to thank me for telling their story'" [Margalit Fox, The New York Times, 2/1/12].
Gaudeamus Muziekweek. Wet Ink New Issue Project Room, New York, NY. "In Nucleus Alex Mincek, the composer and saxophonist, offered a philosophical look at repetition and variation, moving between repeated (but subtly different) figures and sudden changes that retained some of the melodic DNA of the repetitions. Not surprisingly, the similar phrases arrested the ear, but the quick changes in tempo, volume and density proved more memorable. Another of the ensemble’s composer-performers, Kate Soper, sang her own cipher, an exotic score in which her vocal settings of text fragments from Wittgenstein, Freud, Jenny Holzer, Michael Drayton and Sara Teasdale closely matched, in timbre and gesture, a brash violin line played energetically by Joshua Modney. Sometimes Ms. Soper ran a hand along the fingerboard. Mr. Onishi, though not a member of Wet Ink, conducted his Départ dans ..., a delightfully tactile score for two harps, oboe, viola and cello. At first the work’s variegated strands move at different speeds and compete for attention, but they gradually fall together to create an interlocking contrapuntal texture with the precision of a Swiss-watch mechanism. Ted Hearne’s Vessels, for violin, viola and piano, creates an abstract yet alluringly visual image. The piece is in two layers, with an ethereal outer sheath built of pianissimo high-lying figures moving at different speeds and a solid inner core of more assertive themes. The program also included Christopher Trapani’s Passing Through, Staying Put, a study of contrasting motion (languid lines versus rhythmically driven ones), and Richard Barrett’s codex I, a fascinating, semi-improvised collision of modernity and an imagined antiquity, with spacey electronic sounds as a sort of glue holding the two worlds together" [Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 1/27/12].
New York Philharmonic performs Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements and Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Choloe Suite No. 2. Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY. "Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, completed in 1945 and introduced by the Philharmonic the next year, was a steely, splashy remix of the composer’s styles and methods. The jagged rhythms of The Rite of Spring and the breezy propulsion of Petrushka fused with the lucidity and poise of Stravinsky’s Neo-Classical works to striking effect in Mr. Gilbert’s adrenalized account. The concert ended with a voluptuous rendition of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2, with playing of liquid beguilement from the principal flutist, Robert Langevin. Predictable? Perhaps, but no less extraordinary for that" [Steve Smith, The New York Times, 1/27/12].
Ludovic Morlot conducts the Seattle Symphony in the premiere of Nico Muhly's So Far So Good. Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA. "So Far So Good, in which small themes recur as they move around the orchestra over low, shifting harmonies, had the same kind of slowly developing phrases as the first movement of Schubert’s Eighth Symphony, which followed it on the program. Mr. Morlot is especially good at sustaining pulse and finding overarching lines of energy through works, and the Muhly piece, whose individually lovely moments didn’t always cohere, benefited from a sure hand guiding the changeable score" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 1/27/12].
Focus! 2012 Festival: John Cage. Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Juilliard School, New York, NY. "Cage, a brilliant man with a mischievous sense of humor, rejected the Romantic ideal that music should affect listeners emotionally, and instead he wrote pieces that perplexed his first audiences. He created a huge body of often groundbreaking works that remain intriguing, atmospheric, provocative and occasionally silly. . . . [T]he programs, organized by Joel Sachs, represent the wide spectrum of Cage’s career and his innovative approach to sound and noise. In an article for The Juilliard Journal, Mr. Sachs writes that when he started teaching at the school in 1970 a Cage festival would have been unthinkable, given the hostility often directed toward Cage’s music, particularly after the 1952 premiere of his noteless 4’33”. The cellist Patrick McGuire found the humor in 59 1/2" for a string player (1953), which opened the program . . . . Inspired by Zen Buddhism and his studies with the composer Henry Cowell, Cage wrote it while abandoning traditional notation and experimenting with chance procedures. Nocturne for violin and piano (1947) and In a Landscape for piano (1948) represent the melodious, ephemeral side of Cage. His passion for Satie is evident in the misty, wistful qualities of In a Landscape, performed evocatively here by Oskar Jezior. There is a strong theatrical element to works like Living Room Music (1940), performed with sofa, table, chairs and props all used as percussion instruments to create percussive-speech woven around a brief spoken text by Gertrude Stein. The performance-art element is even stronger in Theatre Piece (1960), one of Cage’s many indeterminate scores, which requires interpreters to become quasi composers using a sort of script. On the prop-strewn stage, eight musicians whistled, read newspapers out loud, bounced a ball, made animal sounds and uttered dramatic statements like 'I’m melting.' The surrealist and often amusing tableau seemed random but didn’t incorporate improvisation, rarely part of Cage’s scores. Mr. Sachs conducted Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (March No. 2) (1951) for 12 radios and 24 players, a work now dated simply by the difficulty of finding those required historical instruments. Seven harpists, each using a chart with ragas, performed Postcard From Heaven (1982). The program ended with excerpts from Song Books, Vol. 1 (1970), whose quirky multilingual texts were delivered with flair by the soprano Lara Secord-Haid and the bass-baritone Davone Tines" [Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, 1/29/12].
Orchestra 2001 performs Pierre Boulez's Anthemes II, Louis Andriessen's Letter from Cathy, and the world premiere of George Crumb's Voices from the Heartland: American Songbook VII, the culmination of the American Songbooks cycle. Trinity Center, Philadelphia, PA. Repeated 1/29, Swarthmore College (PA). "Throughout much of the 1990's, [Crumb] was silent. The rumor in new-music circles was that he had had to give up his multi-pack-a-day smoking habit, and that that had somehow derailed his intuitive gifts. Typically, Crumb won't say anything definite on the subject. But he does quote Alban Berg, who supposedly asked a prospective student, 'How can you compose if you don't smoke?' Ultimately, nothing truly excited him until his daughter, Ann -- who has starred in several Broadway shows and will head the cast of Media Theater's production of Wings -- suggested he write a piece based on folk songs. The silence was borken in 2002 with the first of this songbooks, Unto the Hills, which had her singing 'I am a poor wayfaring stranger' amid percussive explosions that suggested the song's protagonist was navigating lad mines. Crumb routinely claims the latest songbook is his last, but often he has a few outtakes from the 'last' piece, and they grow into the next one. Any future pieces, he says this time, will involve returning to Lorca' [David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/24/12]. "Like its six predecessors, Heartland transforms folk songs, hyns, and chants not with typical re-harminization, but by transplating the tunes -- sung, spoken, and whispered by Ann Crumb and Patrick Mason -- into an alien sound environment. Often, the extremity of the juxtapostion unleashes levels of meaning long ago lost as the tunes transcended their functiona dn became historic artifacts. This new collection show the comosier deploying 100 or so percussion instruments, with large forces often used like chamber music in a series of episodes crafted with exquisite precision. The opening song, Softly and Tenderly, put the melody in a sort of gravity-free negtherworld that reminded you how much any Christ-like arrival would thrust the world into starling new ground. Only occasionally did Crumb specifically illustrate the words, such as the distnat church-bell effects in Beulah Land. Most often, tunes felt like islands of man-made organizaton amid the chaos of the natural world -- with the comoposer declining to judge which side he preferred. Crumb's inclusion of Native American chants was more poetic than faithful . . . Crmb probes for inner meanings,sometimes writing his own melodies to incredibly vivid Navajo words. The end of this Heartland collection had quiet sirens and rattles suggesting an undertone of cicadas that felt earthy and otherworldly. The rest of the program was no less significant . . . . Pierre Boulez's 1997 Anthemes 2 had the fearless Gloria Justen playing an encredibly intricate violin part -- sometimes suggesting explosive, atonal Bach -- while her sounds wer electronically manipulated and spectacularly ricocheted in surround-sound speakers. [The concert also included] Dutch minimalist Louis Andriessen's 2003 Letter from Cathy, a rich musicalization of a letter the composer received from singer Cathy Berberian" [David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/3/12].
New York Guitar Festival: Bell'Italia. 92nd Street Y, New York, NY. [T]here was not a moment in the three-and-a-half-hour evening session that was less than beautiful. It was worth staying until the final set of the sprawling concert, when the eminent guitarist Eliot Fisk, one of the marathon’s organizers, played a work that had been composed for him in 1988: Sequenza XI, one of Luciano Berio’s series of works for different solo instruments and one of the most important pieces in the modern guitar repertory. Gently percussive at the opening, the work remains rigorously controlled while branching out in many directions: now scrubby violence, now calm astringency. Berio liked to interpolate stage directions of a sort in his Sequenzas. At one point in the Sequenza XI the guitarist’s right hand conducts in the air while the left does a repeating riff on the fingerboard, a moment that seems to mock the empty virtuosity of certain guitar music. Jason Vieaux played well in gently melodic solo selections from the works of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and was joined by Gary Schocker in Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s . . . Sonatina for Flute and Guitar. Pino Forastiere played four of his eight recent Études for Solo Guitar, which use the innovative techniques -- left-hand plucking and playing with both hands on the fingerboard -- introduced by guitarists like Michael Hedges. The Fifth Étude evokes a misty sound world somewhere between Minimalism and the blues. . . . Carlo Domeniconi works [were] played by Dale Kavanagh; the peeks of the Eastern Mediterranean in Calata from Tryptichon (1986) and the jazzy accents in Toccata in Blue (1997), composed for Ms. Kavanagh, were subtle variants on a basically mellow mood. Gyan Riley performed Nuccio D’Angelo’s Two Lydian Songs (1984), the first being the more memorable: a soulful romance from another world, with soft harmonic pings over a bass line. Emanuele Segre ripped into the arpeggios with metallic bite in a solo sonata composed for him by Carlo Boccadoro but also receded for softly delicate lines" [Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times, 1/31/12].
Death of Camilla Williams (b. 10/18/1919, Danville, VA), at 92. "On May 15, 1946, an unknown singer named Camilla Williams took the stage at City Center in Manhattan as Cio-Cio-San, the doomed heroine of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Her performance would be the capstone of a night of glorious firsts. Miss Williams, a lyric soprano who began her career as a concert singer, had never been in an opera. The New York City Opera, the young upstart company with which she was making her debut, had never before staged Madama Butterfly. But there was another, far more important first, though its significance has been largely forgotten over time: As Cio-Cio-San, Miss Williams, the daughter of a chauffeur and a domestic in the Jim Crow South, was the first black woman to secure a contract with a major United States opera company -- a distinction widely ascribed in the public memory to the contralto Marian Anderson. Miss Williams’s performance that night, to rave reviews, came nearly a decade before Miss Anderson first sang at the Metropolitan Opera. As Miss Williams . . . well knew, it was a beacon that lighted the way to American opera houses for other black women, Miss Anderson included. That Miss Williams’s historic role is scarcely remembered today is rooted in both the rarefied world of opera-house politics and the ubiquitous racial anxiety of midcentury America. And though she was far too well mannered to trumpet her rightful place in history, her relegation to its margins caused her great private anguish. 'The lack of recognition for my accomplishments used to bother me, but you cannot cry over those things,' Miss Williams said in a 1995 interview with the opera scholar Elizabeth Nash. 'There is no place for bitterness in singing. It works on the cords and ruins the voice. In his own good time, God brings everything right.' Miss Williams’s hiring by City Opera was of a piece with the tentative first stabs by postwar America at integrating the worlds of culture and entertainment. In 1945, the year before she first sang there, the baritone Todd Duncan, who in 1935 had created the part of Porgy in the original Broadway production of [George Gershwin's] Porgy and Bess, made his City Opera debut as Tonio in Pagliacci. In so doing, he became the first black man to sing a featured role with a prominent company. The year after Miss Williams’s City Opera debut, Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball. . . . Miss Williams sang Bess in what was then the most complete recording of Porgy and Bess,” released by Columbia Records in 1951 and featuring Lawrence Winters as Porgy. . . .
In 1977, Miss Williams became the first black person appointed to the voice faculty at Indiana University in Bloomington, where she taught until her retirement in 1997. Her death, at her home in Bloomington, was announced by the university, where she was an emeritus professor of voice. Miss Williams’s path crossed Miss Anderson’s many times. At the 1963 March on Washington, she substituted for Miss Anderson, who was stuck in traffic, before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, racing up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to sing The Star-Spangled Banner. By all accounts, the two women maintained a warm, enduring friendship. Why, then, is Miss Williams’s name not uttered in the same breath as Miss Anderson’s? For one thing, Miss Anderson (1897-1993) spent far longer in the public eye. She had been a cause célèbre since 1939, when she was denied permission to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned from the D.A.R. in protest and helped arrange a concert by Miss Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, a landmark event that drew 75,000 people and was heard by many more on the radio. For another, the longstanding David-and-Goliath relationship between the scrappy City Opera and the august Met inevitably came into play. 'Camilla never did sing at the Met,' Stephanie Shonekan, the co-author of her memoir, The Life of Camilla Williams (2011), said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. 'And that’s something that sort of haunted her all her life. The Met, in many people’s minds, was superior to the New York City Opera. So there’s that tendency, then, to discount what happened at the New York City Opera and count only what happened at the Met.' A third reason, said Professor Shonekan, who teaches ethnomusicology and black studies at the University of Missouri, was rooted in the fact that Miss Williams happened to come of age as a singer toward the start of the civil rights movement, timing that seemed to make her managers wary. 'She signed with Columbia Artists, and as we moved into the ’50s, Camilla’s feeling was that Columbia Artists did not want to put her ‘out there’ too much, because they didn’t want her to deal with the race issue,' she said. 'And she wouldn’t have anyway: her personality is not to be ‘out there’ with an Afro, holding up her fist. But I think that there was a fear from her management that she would deal with the race issue as other artists were doing at that time.' . . . 'As the first African-American woman to appear with a major American opera company,' Miss Williams said in 1995, 'I had opened the door for Miss Anderson”" [Margalit Fox, The New York Times, 1/2/12].
Dennis Russell Davies conducts the American Composers Orchestra in Philip Glass's 75th Birthday Concert, featuring the U.S. premiere of his Symphony No. 9. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY.