Wednesday Morning Miscellany

Here are some random events and a few other items.

Ensemble 20/21, the Curtis Institute’s new music ensemble, does an all-Stucky program this coming Friday, March 1. Concert at 8 pm, interview with the composer at 7:30.

New York Virtuoso Singers has another concert packed with premieres, including works by: Richard Wernick, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Mark Adamo, Richard Danielpour, Augusta Read Thomas, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, William Bolcom, Roger Davidson, David Felder and Joan Tower. Merkin Concert Hall in NYC, Sunday, March 3 at 3 pm.

– Matthew Greenbaum’s Amphibian series returns with a program by the Temple University Percussion ensemble, with Cyndie Berthézène, soprano. Works by
Augusta Reade Thomas, James Tenney, and Andrew Taylor along with a showing of Maya Deren’s classic experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and a new piece by Matthew himself for video animation and electronic sound. The HIART Gallery 227 W29 St. in NYC,  March 7 at 8pm.

– Soprano Stacey Mastrian will offer a program of 20th century Italian music at the University of Pennsylvania on March 13 at 8 pm. The big piece will be Luigi Nono’s La fabbrica illuminata for soprano and four-channel electronic sound; the program will also include the Berio Sequenza for voice and works by Dallapiccola and others.

– My current Lenten reading is The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery, a fairly early book by Henri Nouwen. This is reminiscent of Thomas Merton‘s journals, a mix of narrative about life in the monastery combined with deeper, heartfelt reflections on what Nouwen confronted during his months living there. You gotta love a book where one of the chapter titles is “Nixon and St. Bernard” (Nouwen is writing at the time of Watergate).

Here is a list of 500 movies you can see online, legally (so far as I know), and for free.

Amphibian in NYC

Composer Matthew Greenbaum curates a series of concerts called Amphibian that features chamber music and video art. The first concert is coming up on January 16 at 8 pm, with the Momenta Quartet offering works by Haydn, Cage, Elizabeth Brown and two Temple U. students, Kenneth Brown and Daniel Fox. The program is at the HiArt Gallery, 227 W. 29th Street in Manhattan. Do check out the other concerts in the Amphibian season – highlights include music by Augusta Read Thomas, Maurice Wright, James Tenney, Hayes Biggs, Gérard Grisey, and Jason Eckhard, as well as Matthew himself.

Amphibian and more

– Go to Matthew Greenbaum‘s website for information on the Amphibian performance series: music and video from Maurice Wright, Dalit Warshaw, Beth Wiemann, Steve Jaffe, Wuorinen, Scelsi, Davidovsky, Wolpe, Rakowski, Nancarrow and many others, plus Matthew himself. Performers include the Momenta Quartet, Cygnus, and Mari Kimura.

– Looking forward to reading some things Santa brought me: the 2nd volume of the Sondheim lyrics with commentary and Gunther Schuller’s autobiography; also, some items from the new acquisitions shelf at Penn: At the Piano: Interviews with 21st Century Pianists by Caroline Benser (the pianists are Leif Ove Andnes, Jonathan Biss, Simone Dinerstein, Marc-André Hamelin, Stephen Hough, Steven Osborne, Yevgeny Sudbin, and Yuja Wang); and Kaija Saariaho: Visions, Narrative, Dialogues, edited by Tim Howell, with Jon Hargreaves, and Michael Rofe.

– I’ve recently been listening to The Bad Plus album For All I Care. This is the one with the brilliant Ligeti, Stravinsky, and Babbitt covers, and with Wendy Lewis on vocals. She’s awfully good – she’s not so much a “jazz” singer, more of a singer/songwriter sound, but better in tune, with clearer diction and not whiny. Her natural register seems to be a rather low contralto, but she can get into a plaintive head voice as well as a Broadway-ish belt. The reading of Roger Miller’s Lock, Stock and Teardrops is heartbreaking. But if she is so good, why are there times that I am dismayed when the voice enters? On the track Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, the trio builds to an ecstatic texture focused on a little scale segment, with some chimes layered in – it’s a wonderfully joyous moment. But then the voice comes back in, and suddenly the track becomes ordinary – very good, but mundane. It’s a figure/ground problem – I was happy to be digging the wonderful instrumental texture; that was the “figure” to which I attended. But when the voice entered, the instruments became “ground”, they seemed to recede, almost as though the level had been reduced on their channels in the mix.

The modern musicologist likes to snigger at the notion of the transcendent purity and independence of instrumental music. But that quality of going beyond the everyday is exactly what enthralled me about instrumental music when I was starting out. As a kid I remember having that feeling that I think C. S. Lewis describes somewhere – of finding oneself at home in a land you never knew existed before – when the turntable stylus hit the first groove of Kind of Blue or the Mahler 7th when I brought them home from the library. I remember my brother complaining about the lack of vocals in the jazz records I played – he felt unmoored – exactly what I loved. This special quality of music that is freed of the human voice may be a cultural construct and an illusion to be deconstructed, but that doesn’t make it invalid. I say this as a composer of plenty of vocal music. Notes and rhythms create their own world, their own voice – it’s one of the worlds I seek to live in as a musician.