My Waltzing the Spheres will be heard in San Francisco tomorrow night, with soprano Nanette McGuinness and pianist Dale Tsang. This is part of a concert presented by the Jewish Music and Poetry Project (though neither I, nor the author of the song’s text is Jewish, the folks in the Project reserve the right to treat their programming flexibly.) The concert is part of the SF Music Thursdays series held at the Center for New Music. More info here.

You can hear the “exquisite corpse” composition made by 30 Philadelphia composers to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Network for New Music by going here. Strictly speaking, it’s 30 Philly composers plus one from Chicago; there are a few bars from Augusta Read Thomas‘s Passion Prayers (commissioned and premiered by Network) to get the corpse rolling. Each composer contributed 6 measures, having been given only the last measure of the preceding segment.

Sadly, thanks to the failure of a car service that was supposed to pick him up, Dick Wernick was not at the concert we had at Penn featuring his music and that of George Crumb. However, George did get there, and here are a few pictures to prove it.

First, George and his wife Liz after the concert (in the background, Penn emeritus Tom Connolly with his wife):


Min-Young Kim, first violin of the Daedalus Quartet, which had just played George’s Black Angels, chatting with George:


Here’s a close-up of George:

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And a picture of many, many Penn composers:


standing from left: Andrew Davis, Kai Young Chan, Michael McMillan, Gerald Levinson, myself, Luke Carlson, Jay Reise, Ke-Chia Chen, Marc LeMay, with George and Liz Crumb seated.

I’ve recently updated the performances page. Some new items:

-  New York Festival of Song plans to include something of mine on its February 10 program.

- the “invention” that I am writing for Dolce Suono Ensemble to premiere in January has become a playful fantasy on the well-known Badinerie from the Bach 2nd Suite – the working title for this flute duet is now Badinerie Squared.

images- The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society has commissioned a new work for violin and piano. This will be a big piece, sonata-like in dimensions, if not actually called a sonata. The performers will be Tai Murray and Anton Nel. These are formidable artists, and I count myself lucky to be writing for them. The premiere has been set for February 3, 2016, at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. The image at left is the cover from Ms. Murray’s disc surveying American works.


I meant to take a lot more pictures at Network for New Music’s 30th anniversary celebration last weekend, but only got a few. Here at left is Philip Maneval of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (who was my classmate at Penn), alongside my Penn faculty colleague Jay Reise:IMG_4421


followed by my other Penn composition faculty colleague, Anna Weesner, with the conductor of the Network Ensemble, composer Jan Kryzwicki:



The view from the roof of the Settlement Music School (where all the composers involved in the Exquisite Corpse project posed for a group shot) is remarkable:



Here’s the group shot, taken by Annie Sarachan – sorry, I can’t identify everybody in the picture:



but the composers involved in the project were: Ingrid Arauco, Jennifer Barker, Kyle Bartlett, Richard Brodhead, Robert Capanna, Luke Carlson, Andrea Clearfield, Gene Coleman, Daniel Dorff, Paul Epstein, Cynthia Folio, Jeremy Gill, Gerald Levinson, Robert Maggio, Philip Maneval, Roberto Pace, Joo Won Park, James Primosch, Jay Reise, Andrew Rudin, David Shapiro, Kile Smith, Tony Solitro, Evan Solot, Van Stiefel, David Bennett Thomas, Augusta Read Thomas, Adam Vidiksis, Anna Weesner, Thomas Whitman, and Maurice Wright.

Go here for pictures from Network’s 25th anniversary.

Here is a program note for the work by George Crumb I will be playing in a few hours at a Crumb & Wernick program to be held at Penn:

A Little Suite for Christmas, A. D. 1979 was written for Lambert Orkis, who premiered the work at The Smithsonian Institution in December of 1980.

The idea of a set of piano pieces reflecting on different aspects of the Christmas event may remind the reader of the Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (1944) of Olivier Messiaen, and one can point to certain general stylistic traits shared by Messiaen and Crumb. But Crumb’s work is on a much more modest scale than the French composer’s massive pianistic compendium. In fact, it is a “little” suite by comparison with several earlier piano works by Crumb. It does not call for the piano to be amplified to create the “larger-than-life” sound quality desired in the four volumes of Makrokosmos (1972, 1973, 1974, 1979). Nor does the piece involve “symbolic” notations (where the staves are arranged in the shape of a cross or circle), vocal effects from the performer, or the use of additional objects to modify the piano sound, all of which appear in the Makrokosmos series. However, in the Little Suite, Crumb does continue in his refined use of harmonics, muted tones, and pizzicato, using these in combination with material performed on the keyboard in the conventional fashion.

The music created with these means is sometimes contemplative in mood, as in the hushed reverence of the second movement, or the surreal setting of the 16th century “Coventry Carol” in the sixth; sometimes visionary, as in the solemn repeated chords and melodic patterns of the first movement or the exuberant cosmic dance of the fifth.

Crumb uses a curious example of self-reference in the fourth piece, “Adoration of the Magi”. In this movement, there appears twice, in pizzicato, a melodic fragment from the “Wanderer-Fantasy” movement of Music for a Summer Evening, the third piece in the Makrokosmos series. A connection is thus made with the Magi who have “wandered” from afar to Bethlehem. Although this is a particularly private example of musical symbolism, it is consistent with Crumb’s use of quotation to add an additional level of musical expressiveness.

Here’s Richard Wernick’s program note for the Piano Trio of his that will be heard at Penn on November 5:

My Trio for violin, cello and piano was jointly commissioned by the Koussevitsky Music Foundation and the Mohawk Trail Concerts, and is dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitsky. It was written for violinist Joel Smirnoff, cellist Joel Krosnick and pianist Gilbert Kalish.

As composers grow older I think they get either more traditional or more radical depending upon the extent to which they were traditional or radical before they began to gage. I have always found myself stuck in the middle. My conservative friends think I’m an avantgardnik; my more adventurous friends view my style as rather conservative. But in these days of stylistic plurality the terms really mean nothing at all.

The Trio is cast in three movements, roughly fast-slow-fast which is traditional enough to begin with. And it does “take off” from traditional forms. But the harmonic language is very personal, and one that has evolved over many years. It is “bass line generated,” and involves the same sorts of tensions and resolutions found in music of the common practice periods. But the harmonies, although “functional,” are not those of the more familiar sort, however they are “harmonies” nonetheless, and are intended to treat musical time in precisely the same way as those of the major-minor system.

The first movement, mazurka, is not really a mazurka at all, but I called it that in retrospect because of the emphasis on the syncopated ¾ rhythm. It has that feel about it. It is generally bright and fast, with a good deal of contrapuntal interplay among the three instruments. The main sections are delineated not by change of key (there isn’t any), but more by the relationships created by the organic “modulation” of one speed into another. The first of these changes introduces a cascading descending figure that figures prominently in all three movements, and is intended to help bind the movements together.

The second movement is entitled passamezza. The Italian “passamezza” (half pace) is roughly equivalent to the French “pavane,” a slow and rather languourous dance step. In the trio this is realized by a slow moving ostinato of piano harmonics, with one or two cello ostinato interpolations. This movement was originally intended as an “interlude” between the outer movements, but it gradually took on a life of its own to the extent that it is almost one half of the entire piece.

The final movement is called a Tarantella, but with all its meter changes it does not have a single 6/8 bar. The persistent dotted rhythm that runs almost throughout came from the ending of my Violin Concerto. As a compositional problem I was interested to see if I could begin a piece with the same bit of musical material I had used to end one. The musical “stuff” is thrown around from player to player; there is a brief return of the music from the second movement; and there is an optional cadenza (a real one; I did not write it) for the violinist.

I express my thanks to the two Joels and Gil, as well as to Arnie Black, Artistic Director of the Mohawk Trail Concerts for giving this piece its life.

—Richard Wernick