Bach, Mahler, Murail, Eastman

Alex Ross recently posted a list of concerts and operas he attended during a recent European trip. I haven’t been to Europe lately, but I did get to a memorable and varied series of concerts in Philadelphia recently. Here are some brief comments.



I was delighted to see the Church of the Holy Trinity filled for a program of Bach cantatas – it seats about 1100! Very fine performances, with the singers and obbligato players ably commanding Bach’s long lines. The second aria in BWV 170 is a contender for the strangest Bach aria ever, with the organ playing the obbligato while the violins in unison play the bass!


My favorite pieces here were the Murail works and the Messiaen. The latter was written on the death of his mother, while the former on the death of his teacher Messiaen; good to hear those in succession. The big hall at the Barnes is not ideal for every concert situation, but it worked for the spectralist pieces with their emphasis on resonance, sculpted in sensuous layers in Marilyn’s virtuosic performance. Here’s how the piano was set up, followed by a shot from the Q and A with Marilyn and Robert Whalen, co-artistic director, along with Katharine Skovira, of the concerts at the Barnes.



  • The Philadelphia Orchestra offered the Mahler 3rd in its last subscription set of the season. I was there for the May 19 performance.


This was a magnificent performance of a staggering piece. Certainly hearing the orchestra in full cry was thrilling, but I was constantly struck by the intensely eloquent solo playing – trombone in the first movement, offstage “posthorn” (I assume played on trumpet?) in the third, to name just two of many. Karen Cargill’s voice was richly sonorous, and the choirs were splendid. Am I the only person who hears an echo of “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places” in the cello tune of the finale?

  • The last event in my recent bout of concert going was the final concert of the Julius Eastman retrospective presented by Bowerbird at The Rotunda.






The ensemble pieces were intriguing, but the highlight for me was the a cappella solo performance of Eastman’s Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc by Davóne Tines. He was positioned at the lectern pictured above. His powerful bass-baritone cast an incantatory spell as he repeated the work’s few short musical phrases, a setting of this text:

Saint Michael said
Saint Margaret said
Saint Catherine said
They said
He said
She said
Speak Boldly
When they question you

The piece served as an invocation, and I sensed an unusual concentration in the audience; it was exceptionally quiet during the pauses between phrases, giving us a chance to attend to the reverberation The Rotunda offers.

Hear Davóne singing music of Caroline Shaw here, and Jerome Kern here.

Mid-October Miscellany

There has been a lack of posting here due to a deadline for my Philadelphia Chamber Music Society commission. But this week I sent the last movement of my new violin and piano to my brilliant editor/computer notation wizard, and I am now catching up on various neglected tasks. I’ll write about the PCMS piece in another post, for now I’ll just say it is called Five Poems – it was originally going to be a Violin Sonata, but the movements feel more like character pieces than something “symphonic” in conception.

The soprano soloist for the New Juilliard Ensemble performance of my From a Book of Hours has been named: Alexandra Razskazoff. There is a brief bio of her here (scroll down) from a press release on a Juilliard performance of Le nozze di Figaro this past spring.

So many events worth your attention this weekend in Philly:

Guthrie Ramsey’s Musiqology at Annenberg
Network for New Music has a panel and a concert for the Persichetti centennial
Bowerbird explores Julius Eastman
The Crossing is at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian with encore performances of several pieces
Kile Smith has a premiere on the first Mendelssohn Club concert under new artistic director Paul Rardin

And if you are in New York City this weekend, Mimi Stillman and Bart Feller will be doing my Badinerie Squared at a New York Flute Club program this coming Sunday.

Recent reading:

Bluets – Maggie Nelson
A Dance of Polar Opposites – George Rochberg

Music is undervalued in more ways than just through insufficient royalty payments for streaming audio – read this essay by Craig Havighurst.

If You Can’t Be in Brookline…

I’ll be heading to my performances this weekend in Peterborough, Boston, and Brookline, but if I didn’t have gigs of my own I would be considering the following:

– my Penn colleague Guthrie Ramsey plays at the Blue Note this Friday, April 24 (see poster below). Check out Dr. Guy’s blog, Musiqology.

– The New York Virtuoso Singers offer a program with works by Luigi Dallapiccola, Elliott Carter, Thea Musgrave, George Perle, George Tsontakis, Hugo Weisgall, Karol Rathaus, Joel Mandelbaum, Leo Kraft, Allen Brings, Edward Smaldone, Bruce Saylor and David Schober at Merkin Hall in NYC on Saturday, April 25, 8:30 pm.

Bowerbird presents Either/OR playing For Philip Guston by Morton Feldman in a free concert at The Rotunda in Philadelphia this coming Sunday, April 26. The performance begins at 3 pm. Scored for piano/celesta, flute, and percussion, this is a work in Feldman’s late super-long style; the piece will last about 4 and a half hours.



Coming Up in Philly

– The Prism Saxophone Quartet and pianist Uri Caine collaborate in a program at the World Cafe this Thursday, April 16 at 7:30 PM (The program is repeated in NYC on the 17th.) I’m going to be writing a piece for Prism and piano myself for next season.

Bowerbird is presenting an evening of “visual music” by composer and video artist Matthew Greenbaum at Temple University’s Rock Hall this coming Saturday, April 18, at 7:30 PM. The program features pieces that combine live performer with video. You might see this an extension of the live performer plus electronic sound genre so brilliantly cultivated by Matthew’s teacher Mario Davidovsky, but Matthew’s language – both sonic and visual – is very much his own.

– On April 19 at 3 pm, at the Curtis Institute, Network for New Music offers pieces by Michael Hersch, Jan Krzywicki and David Ludwig in a collaborative program bringing together Network with Curtis and the Print Center.



Berio, Walker, Ran

– An extraordinary event in Philadelphia today, Friday, and Saturday:  performances of all 14 Sequenzas of Berio, presented by Bowerbird. More info here.

Memeteria has posted some recordings of composer George Walker‘s superb pianism.

Da Capo Chamber Players offer an all-Shulamit Ran concert to open their 44th season in New York. Program notes here.

Claire Chase at The Rotunda

I just got in from the Claire Chase concert presented by Bowerbird at The Rotunda here in Philadelphia. This was fantastic playing, a program of nearly continuous music lasting some 75 minutes, without intermission. Given the taxing nature of the evening, it was a feat of stamina, but her careful shaping of the music, and the light-footed precision of her rhythm made it more than an athletic event.

All the pieces save one involved pre-recorded sound. The evening began with a brief overture for electronic sound alone, Gradient Density by Du Yun. I have to admit that I enjoyed the playing more than the compositions, which offered one take or another on a minimalist viewpoint, including the cheerful dance of Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint (curious how, when all the multi-tracked flutes get going, the sound takes on a percussive quality we associate with Reich’s music for actual percussion instruments); and the more austere patterns of Glass’s Piece in the Shape of a Square. The music of Marcos Balter and Mario Diaz de León was more concerned with atmosphere, mood and dramatic gesture than with steadily pulsed processes, but, like Glass and Reich, both composers were interested in working with multiples of the same material as played live by Chase. To me the electronic components of these pieces were not terribly impressive – the Balter was yet another piece that recalled the sound of the Echoplex effects popular many decades ago, while the sound palette of the Diaz de León gave me a flashback to the sounds of the ElectroComp 100 that I used in my first undergrad electronic music class back in the same period. I was held more by Alvin Lucier’s work, which came off as a kind of installation piece: isolated single tones on Chase’s array of differently sized flutes played against slowly drifting sine waves – single petals of a Calder mobile floating in a silver room of elastic dimensions.

The evening’s closer, the only piece without electronics (sort of) was the classic Density 21.5 by Varèse. I say “sort of” because the flute was lightly amplified and reverberated, making for the best key pops I’ve ever heard in this piece. Chase brought to the piece, after more than an hour of punishing playing, a diabolic intensity that recalled the performance I heard Harvey Sollberger give at the very first new music concert I attended in NYC. When I heard Harvey, I got a sense of what the level of performance among New York players could be; that exalted level lives on.


clairechase1I plan to attend tonight’s appearance by Claire Chase, flutist, as presented by Bowerbird here in Philly at The Rotunda. This is the concert where she plays the entire set of pieces from her recent CD, Density. Here is the program:

Steve Reich: Vermont Counterpoint (10 min) – 10 flutes
Alvin Lucier: Almost New York (23 min) – 4 flutes
Marcos Balter: NEW PIECE (5 min) – 3 flutes
Philip Glass: Piece in the Shape of a Square (13 min) – 2 flutes
Mario Diaz de Leon: Luciform (14 min) – 1 flute and electronics
Edgard Varese: Density 21.5 (4 min) – 1 flute

Here is her MacArthur video:

Lachenmann and Xavier Le Roy

An intriguing program presented by Bowerbird here in Philly this weekend: Xavier Le Roy is a choreographer interested in the relationship between not just music and movement, but specifically musical performance and movement. For this program he works with music by Lachenmann, performed by members of Klangforum Wien. The music alone, played by an important ensemble, makes this of interest.

New Music in Philadelphia calendar alert

For your convenience, here is a summary by date of the astonishing array of new music coming up in Philly (I have omitted a couple of pre- and post-concert events) AS = American Sublime; MoM = The Crossing‘s Month of Moderns; AACM = Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

Friday, June 3, 8:00 pm Opera Company of Philadelphia performs Henze’s Phaedra. Perelman Theater

Saturday, June 4, 8:00 pm Marilyn Nonken plays Feldman’s Triadic Memories. Rodeph Shalom. [AS]

Saturday, June 4, 7:30 pm Prism Saxophone Quartet premieres works by David Rakowski, Matthew Levy, Cara Haxo, Perry Goldstein, Lisa Bielawa. First Unitarian Church.

Saturday, June 4, 8:00 pm Ars Nova Workshop AACM/Great Black Music: solo performance by Wadada Leo Smith. Philadelphia Art Alliance.

Saturday, June 5, 2:00 to 6:00 pm “Finding Feldman” panel with Bunita Marcus, Kyle Gann, Marilyn Nonken, Tom Chiu. Crane Arts Building [AS]

Sunday, June 5, 4:00 pm The Crossing sings works by Gabriel Jackson, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen. David Lang, Ingram Marshall, and Mark Winges. Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. [MoM]

Sunday, June 5, 7:00 pm JACK Quartet plays Feldman, Brown, Cage, Webern. Crane Arts Building. [AS]

Sunday June 5, 8:00 pm Ars Nova Workshop AACM/Great Black Music: Henry Threadgill’s Zooid.

Sunday, June 5, 2:30 pm Opera Company of Philadelphia performs Henze’s Phaedra. Perelman Theater

Wednesday, June 8, 8:00 pm Gordon Beeferman plays Feldman’s Palais de Mari. Biello Martin Studio. [AS]

Wednesday, June 8, 7:30 pm Opera Company of Philadelphia performs Henze’s Phaedra. Perelman Theater.

Friday, June 10, 7:15 pm Joan La Barbera performs Feldman’s Three Voices. Philadelphia Museum of Art [AS]

Friday, June 3, 8:00 pm Opera Company of Philadelphia performs Henze’s Phaedra. Perelman Theater.

Saturday, June 11, 3:00 pm Williams/Golove perform Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field. Fleisher Art Memorial [AS]

Saturday, June 11, 8:00 pm Either/OR performs Feldman’s Crippled Symmetry. Fleisher Art Memorial. [AS]

Sunday, June 12, 2:00 pm FLUX Quartet performs Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2. Philadelphia Cathedral. [AS]

Friday, June 10, 8:00 pm Opera Company of Philadelphia performs Henze’s Phaedra. Perelman Theater.

Saturday, June 11, 8:00 pm Ars Nova Workshop AACM/Great Black Music: chamber music of Roscoe Mitchell, S.E.M. Ensemble, Thomas Buckner, Joseph Kubera, Roscoe Mitchell-Evan Parker Duo. German Society of Pennsylvania.

Sunday, June 12, 2:30 pm Opera Company of Philadelphia performs Henze’s Phaedra. Perelman Theater

Monday, June 13, 8:00 pm Mike Reed-Jeff Parker Duo. 10:00 pm The Collide Quartet performs Henry Threadgill’s Background. The Maas Building.

Saturday, June 18, 8:00 pm The Crossing performs music by Kile Smith, Kamran Ince, and Gabriel Jackson. Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. [MoM]

Sunday, June 26, 4:00 pm The Crossing, performs music by Ēriks Ešenvalds, Maija Einfelde, Gabriel Jackson, Tarik O’Regan. Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill [MoM]