Heat Wave Miscellany

new music in Philadelphia
When pointing out the Feldman and AACM festivals coming up in Philly, I should have also pointed out the Month of Moderns by Donald Nally’s choir The Crossing, and the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s performances of Henze’s Phaedra, featuring Tamara Mumford, whose performance in Queen of Spades I enjoyed so much earlier this season.(Thanks to David Patrick Stearns’s article in the Inquirer for the reminder.)

recent listening:
The Great Chicago Concerts (Jazz Heritage).  Two very fine live 1946 performances by Ellington, including excerpts from Black, Brown & Beige (very different from the RCA Victor studio version), the Deep South Suite, a wonderfully strange take on Caravan, a rhapsodic Frankie and Johnny featuring a good bit of Ellington piano, and several loosely contructed tracks featuring, of all people, guest artist Django Reinhardt.

Chamber music of John Harbison (Naxos). Anchored by two piano trios, from 2003 and 1968, this incisively played album by the Amelia Piano Trio also features a number of miniatures: a set of charming Micro-Waltzes for piano, sets of solo viola pieces, the Gatsby Etudes based on music from Harbison’s opera, and more. There is an all-star viola quartet that includes Steven Tenenbom and Ida Kavafian, as well as  Anthea Kreston, the violinist from the Amelia, and the composer himself. The early Trio, written when the composer was only 30, shows that Harbison had a darn good command of an edgy high-modernist atonal idiom, something he subsequently largely set aside; yet the more familiar voice that emerged is still present.

recent reading:
The Anthologist
by Nicholson Baker. A gentle, melancholy first-person narrative about a minor poet failing to complete the preface to a poetry anthology. The hyper-detailed observations of Baker’s first books have drifted away, but he is still a keen observer. There is also a good deal of rather cranky and doubtful technical stuff about rhyme and meter (you may be startled to learn that pentameter doesn’t exist), and tales of the great poets that show the narrator’s – and the author’s – love for the world of poetry and the larger world through poetry.

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