Snow Day Miscellany

The white stuff is not coming down that hard in Philadelphia – yet. But my day job has shut down for today, and I have a moment to catch up on a few things in this post.

– I want to add my voice to the chorus of praise for the Met’s Elektra, which I saw on March 9. Christine Goerke (known on Twitter as @heldenmommy), Elza van den Heever, and Michaela Schuster were all fabulous in the principal roles, and the Met Orchestra was comparably superb under Yannick. I don’t know why Elektra never clicked for me until the past few years; I preferred Rosenkavalier. Lately, Ochs is a stumbling block for me in the latter, and the intensities of Elektra hold me. My inner jury is still out on Salome.

– recent listening: Reading a review of Dudamel conducting the Vienna Phil in the Ives 2nd made me pull the Philadelphia Orchestra recording of the piece off the shelf. It had struck me as terribly unlikely that the Vienna would play Ives, but the 2nd is not that forbidding, wide-ranging materials and final splat notwithstanding. The polished sound of the Philadelphia, under Ormandy, certainly makes a good case for the piece simply as an attractive late romantic work. Far more interesting, of course, is the 4th, on the same CD in a performance by the London Philharmonic under José Serebrier. This is truly one of the greatest American symphonies, and listening to it again I found the piece deeply touching, especially in the first and last movements.

The other disc I’ve been listening to lately is a new collection of music by Charles Wuorinen. This Bridge release features brilliant performances of some fiercely challenging music, with two substantial vocal works framing Wuorinen’s most recent piano sonata.  Loadbang performs  Ashbery Alphabetical, a piece that weaves together settings of four John Ashbery poems with instrumental sections into a continuous whole. The piece’s beauties are more austere than those of the album’s other vocal work, It Happens Like This, a big (39-minute) setting of James Tate’s funny and disturbing poetry for four singers and a chamber orchestra of 12 players. Anne-Marie McDermott’s virtuosity and (in Wuorinen’s words) “demonic intensity” serve the Fourth Piano Sonata dazzlingly well.

– I recently finished my contribution to the upcoming Network for New Music tribute concert for retiring artistic director Linda Reichert, scheduled for April 29. It’s an honor to be part of that program, not just for the chance to celebrate Linda, but to be part of a roster of contributing composers that includes Andrea Clearfield, John Harbison, Jennifer Higdon, Bernard Rands, August Read Thomas, Melinda Wagner, Richard Wernick and Maurice Wright. Two Sketches is scored for Pierrot instrumentation; I’ll play the piano part myself at the premiere. Here is my program note:

Two Sketches

  1. Riddle
  2. Circles (Little Variations)

Program Note

Two Sketches was composed on a commission from Network for New Music in honor of its long-time artistic director, Linda Reichert on her retirement. Linda’s extraordinary record of advocacy for a wide range of composers, taking the form of excellent performances, commissions, recordings and more, has made a tremendous contribution to our musical life in Philadelphia and beyond.

For a visual artist, a sketch can be a memorandum, a way of keeping eye and mind and hand limber, a place of experimentation, or simply a work employing a certain modesty of means. All of these attributes were at play for me in writing these musical sketches.

The riddle of the opening movement resides in the mysterious chorale-like passage first sounded by the clarinet and cello, and later repeated in the flute, violin and clarinet. The third repetition explodes. Hypnotic repeated figuration in the piano ponders the question, but offers no answers.

The theme of the second movement’s variations is a pattern known to musicians as the circle of fifths. The moods of the short variations shift quickly, including gently lilting passages and cryptic mutterings. The last variation sounds fragments of the previous sections over widely-spaced, ringing piano writing.

 

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