- David Patrick Stearns offer a substantial interview with Esa-Pekka Salonen.

- The inimitable Jeremy Denk writes about the Goldberg Variations on Deceptive Cadence.

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Here are some pictures from last week’s New York New Music Ensemble concert at Penn. The performance was superb, at times astounding. All the pieces had merit – I was especially struck by On That Swirl of Ending Dust by master of electronic media Eric Chasalow. The piece combined Eric’s exquisitely crafted electronic sounds with the live ensemble in tight synchrony. There were hints of jazz in the second movement, while the third movement was a quiet ritual, with bits of spoken text in the electronic component that made me think of a sober family gathering. Rand Steiger’s exuberant tribute to Elliott Carter, Elliott’s Instruments, enfolds fragments from an array of Carter’s own pieces. It was interesting how one could still recognize references to essentially athematic music. Yiorgos Vassilandonakis’s Quatuor pour la fin d’une ère evocatively explored liminal sounds, a dreamscape not quite in focus.  Cloud Earth by Pulitzer Prize winner Zhou Long was less densely worked than some of the other music on the program. There were imaginative textures here, as well as a little too much wood block for me.

Here are (l to r) Linda Quan, Steve Gosling, Chris Finckel and half of Jean Kopperud in rehearsal:

James Baker, Steve Gosling, Jean Kopperud, Jayn Rosenfeld, and guest artist Dave Shively (regular NYNME percussionist Daniel Druckman couldn’t make it):

and the band bowing after the show:

Here’s the program for Wednesday night’s concert by the New York New Music Ensemble, to be held at 8:00 pm in Rose Recital Hall, located in Fisher-Bennett Hall on the Penn campus:

Rand Steiger — elliott’s instruments (2010)
Eric Chasalow — On That Swirl of Ending Dust (2012) Written for NYNME
Yiorgos Vassilandonakis — Quatuor pour la fin d’une ère (2012) Written for NYNME
Zhou Long — Cloud Earth (2012) Written for NYNME

Lots of new music at Penn in coming weeks. Music by Penn faculty past and present will be heard on Wednesday, March 28, at a program playfully called “Wail of the Voice”, with reference to the Crumb work that will end the program, Voice of the Whale. There will be music by current faculty Anna Weesner and Jay Reise, as well as myself. The Daedalus Quartet will play Anna’s piece, Greg DeTurck will offer my Piano Variations, and there will be a piece for saxophone and piano by Jay. In addition to Greg and the Daedalus, Matt Bengtson (piano), Sam Lorber (saxophone), and Michele Kelly (flute) will also be heard. A pre-concert discussion will be at 7:00, concert at 8:00, all this in Rose Recital Hall at Fisher-Bennett Hall on the Penn campus.

One week later, April 4, same place, same time, the New York New Music Ensemble will appear. The program includes:

Rand Steigerelliott’s instruments (2010)
Eric ChasalowOn That Swirl of Ending Dust (2012) Written for NYNME
Yiorgos VassilandonakisQuatuor pour la fin d’une ère (2012)  Written for NYNME
Zhou Long Cloud Earth (2012) Written for NYNME

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Hear whales wailing here.

My colleague Matthew Greenbaum is raising money on Kickstarter for a concert by violinist Mari Kimura as part of Matthew’s Amphibian series in NYC on April 25 Kimura will play her own fascinating interactive pieces (using IRCAM technology, etc.), Mario Davidovsky’s 9th Synchronism, and premieres by Eric Chasalow and Matthew. The concert takes place at HiArt Gallery in Chelsea.  Go here to support the concert. Another post about Matthew here. Here is Mari in action with a robot guitar:

- New music choir The Crossing offers three performances of Kile Smith’s Vespers, collaborating with Piffaro, The Renaissance Band. I don’t know a better contemporary piece for old instruments – for that alone the work is a remarkable achievement. But instrumentation aside, this is exceptionally beautiful music. January 7 and 8 in Philadelphia, January 9 in New York, details here.

- Eric Chasalow’s new horn concerto will be heard at the Southwest Horn Conference in Phoenix on January 14, and in Boston at a BMOP concert, January 27. Eric is perhaps best known as a master of the electronic medium, but his acoustic music is just as superb.

- There will be an evening of music by Hayes Biggs at Manhattan School, January 15. I earlier wrote about the Avalon Quartet’s recording of Hayes’s touching O Sapientia/Steal Away here. Update: more info about the concert here. Susan Narucki and Christopher Oldfather will offer a new song cycle.

- The seventh and final volume of George Crumb’s American Songbook will be premiered by Orchestra 2001 on January 28 and 29 in Philadelphia.

Two Arms of the Harbor, my new motet, was premiered at the 10 am Eucharist of Emmanuel Church, Boston this past Sunday. In the past, Emmanuel has slotted my motets after the opening prayer but before the first reading. This time they did the piece after the first reading, in lieu of a responsorial psalm, I suppose. I am not sure this was the best strategy. The readings were very well done, but I think the music had too much expressive weight to successfully work between them. Music between the readings should not overwhelm the scriptures, which are the primary focus of that part of the service, and my piece is too emotionally hot and packed with incident to not be a little overpowering in that spot. At the time I thought about how I would not want to be doing the second reading right after the motet. The vibe in the room was attentive and I think the piece hit home, partly because of how it felt at the time, partly because of the warm comments after the service. Thank you to whoever removed their vocalizing child from the church while my piece was being done!

I was sorry to not hear the church’s rector, Rev. Pamela Werntz preach, but the visiting homilist, Rt. Rev. J. Clark Grew (a retired bishop, if I understand correctly) did well. And it was a pleasure to celebrate a baptism as well – congratulations to the Miles Family! I thought Sumner Thompson, bass, did a superb job with the cantata after communion, BWV 158. John Harbison has a good note speculating about this somewhat unusual piece. The aria with chorale – layering a florid (flaying a lurid? sorry.) solo singer with an even more florid violin obligato (Heidi Braun-Hill), a walking continuo bass and a chorale tune sung by the women of the chorus – was the quietly spectacular high point. The text of the final chorale, right out of Luther, is almost surrealistic:

Here is the true Easter-lamb,
offered up by God,
which was, high on the cross’ stalk,
roasted in hot love,
the blood marks our door
faith holds it against death,
the strangler can no longer harm us,
Hallelujah!

There was a lovely brunch after the service and coffee hour, glad to have a chance to chat with various Emmanuel friends, including fellow blogger Joy Howard, who is Rev. Pam’s spouse.

Sunday evening I attended a fund raiser for Collage New Music. The event featured some chat between the group’s music director, David Hoose, and guest Augusta Read Thomas with some short pieces of Gusty played in first-rate performances. I’m sorry I didn’t catch the name of the violinist and cellist, but the pianist was the splendid Christopher Oldfather – Chris and I go back some 20 years or more, to the first performance of my Three Sacred Songs with soprano Christine Schadeberg. His performance of excerpts from Gusty’s Tracings was stunning. Here are some pictures from the event, including a shot of Gusty and I with Gunther Schuller:

 

and one with Chris Oldfather:

The coda to the Boston trip was a visit to NYC for the American Music Center annual meeting. The AMC/MTC/ACF merger/re-arrangement was discussed, official decision not yet made until votes are tallied. John Harbison received an award:

Among the friends at the meeting were fellow Columbia alums Eric Chasalow (l.) and Paul Moravec:

Now it’s back to grading papers and chairmanly duties at Penn. But good to see friends, good to hear some music.

After Saturday morning’s rehearsal with Emmanuel Music, I had a great lunch at 29 Newbury with Ryan Turner (Emmanuel Music Director) and Pat Krol (Emmanuel executive director). (Check out the tomato soup and the pulled pork sandwich.) After a long walk in the Public Garden (amazing tulips) I made my way over to Brandeis where the 2011 BEAMS Electronic Music Marathon was in progress. Twelve hours of electronic and mixed media works! I caught nearly half the event, arriving – regrettably – too late for music by some familiar names, among them: David Felder, James Dashow, William Coble, Kaija Saariaho, Hans Tutschku, and Dennis Miller – and some not so familiar names: Ferdinando De Sena, Jeremy Podgursky, Michel van der Aa, Malin Bång, and a good many others. The unfamiliar names were mostly European, and one of the good things about the mix of pieces was the inclusion of music from Europe that is not often heard in this country. There was a chronological mix as well including older pieces such as …sofferte onde serene… of Nono, from 1976 (has not worn well) and Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco from 1980 by Jonathan Harvey (still sounds fabulous, especially nice to hear it in a hall with a multi-channel setup). There were a lot of pieces that involved live processing, but much of this mostly just involved putting a live player through a laptop that served as a sophisticated stomp box providing variations on delay. There seemed to be a limited array of compositional options: either the processed version accumulates the notes as though the piano pedal was depressed (the homophony strategy); or something that was just played gets repeated, looped or not (sort of canon at the unison). Pieces for what we used to call “instrument and tape” – now the expression is “instrument and fixed media” – were also heard. Performances were at a very high level throughout the evening. A few standouts:

the forgotten dialect of autumn by Heather Stebbins – memorably lyric violin lines played by Krista Buckland Reisner, with live electronics.

Winter Fragments by spectralist master Tristan Murail – the Boston-based group Sound Icon playing with live processing, plus video imagery by Herve Bailly-Basin – mostly aqueous images, sometimes crystalline, mostly responding to the music in a direct way, and therefore suggesting a high end  iTunes visualizer. (Just as the laptop ends up being a fancy stompbox. Fancy technology does not always mean a fancy result.)

Rope and Chasm by Matthew Greenbaum –  Re’ut Ben Ze’ev, mezzo soprano, narrating, singing, and interacting with a video. The piece is based on Nietzche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra; one memorable moment was when the mezzo reached up her hand to a wounded figure in the video, casting her hand’s shadow onto the screen – a simple gesture, but quite touching.

Strange Autumn by Steven Kazuo Takasugi – a theater piece with narration, electronic sound and a percussionist making amplified noises with various pieces of paper. Something oddly moving about making a piece with such impoverished means.

Scuffle & Snap by Eric Chasalow – an heir to the Davidovsky tradition, Brandeis faculty member Chasalow, who curated the marathon, offered another one of his finely crafted studies in, as he put it in a program note, “building heightened dramatic structures around traditional instruments”. He continues, “I like to use a wide variety of sound sources, recontextualized, but very resonant with memories.” Chasalow’s work is important because he is not just an electronic music composer, he is an electronic music composer; the way he carefully shapes musical gestures and their interaction was a welcome contrast with much of the music heard that day.

The last piece I heard was Davidovsky’s Synchronism No. 12, played with her customary verve and lively array of colors by clarinetist Jean Kopperud. This is the most recent in the series of pieces for instruments and electronic sound by the original maestro of the medium. Here is Jean just before playing the piece:

By now it was getting close to midnight, and time for me to go get some sleep before the next morning’s church service with my motet at Emmanuel. More soon.

- audio of music by Pultizer finalist Fred Lerdahl here; video of music by finalist Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon here.

-Alex Ross podcasting about  Wagner.

-I plan to catch a couple of performances in Boston when I visit for the premiere of my new motet. Dawn Upshaw sings at Jordan Hall on Friday, April 29; her unusually varied program is here. (I count 22 composers on that list.) Brandeis is holding its annual electronic music marathon the next day, again, lots of variety as lined up by curator and superb electronic (and acoustic) composer Eric Chasalow; excellent performers as well.