The Composer is Missing – Carnegie Edition

My recollection is that the ads for Carnegie Hall in the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday NY Times used to list the composers for each concert – but this season only a few of them do. It’s another example of our unhealthily performer-centric classical world – the Toscanini effect, I suppose Joe Horowitz would say.

On a related topic, I thought it was odd that no composer is listed in the ads for the new Broadway adaptation of Woody Allen’s Bullets over Broadway as a musical. I had to dig through several sites (including the show’s own site) before finding one mentioning that period music will be used for the show – without saying which composers of the period. More missing composers here, here, here, and here.

Gatsby from Albany

IMG_0080Last night I was at the first of two important Harbisonian Gatsby performances happening within a few days of each other (the other being this). The Albany Symphony’s appearance at the Carnegie Hall “Spring for Music” festival offered a program of Morton Gould’s Third Symphony, the Gershwin Second Rhapsody (with pianist Kevin Cole), and The Great Gatsby Suite. Harbison writes that he avoided including in the Suite music from the opera’s overture or its six principal arias, preferring to rely instead on the instrumental interludes and the stage and radio band sequences. The result is not just a succession of tunes, but a newly shaped musical narrative, freed from the narrative depicted on stage in the opera while retaining its DNA. The piece remains a suite, but this sense of a new narrative, plus the fact that it plays continuously save for a single break, means it has something of a symphonic flavor.

David Alan Miller, Albany’s music director, believes strongly in the Morton Gould Third, and to a great extent he is right to do so, for there are remarkable pages here of harmonic beauty and rhythmic verve. It’s a big-boned four-movement piece, of its time in its neo-classicism, dissonanted tonal vocabulary, and jazzy gestures. The seven beat funeral march in the first movement and the polychords in the strings in the last movement were only a few of the striking moments. I found a fair bit of Shostakovich in the piece, though with many more meter changes and other rhythmic asymmetries. The ending struck me as a miscalculation, the few pages that return to the quick tempo unconvincing after the soulful dissonances that provide what would have been a sufficient cap to the piece.

Throughout the evening, the orchestra sounded terrific with a fine command of the jazz aspects of all three pieces. It remains a mystery as to how Albany can do such important and polished work on a budget that is not just a shoestring budget, but a broken shoestring budget – the short portion of the string.

My photo above shows Maestro Miller on the left with composer Harbison after the concert.

Gatsby Videos

Go here for a substantial set of videos featuring Emmanuel Music’s Ryan Turner, along with John Harbison and Richard Dyer discussing John’s The Great Gatsby, to be performed by Emmanuel in Boston’s Jordan Hall this coming Sunday, May 12. Of particular interest in the videos are segments where John and Ryan perform excerpts from the piece, illustrating how the same motives and harmonies can be heard in both the synthetic period pop songs and in the main body of the work.

The Albany Symphony’s performance of a suite from The Great Gatsby as part of Carnegie Hall’s Spring for Music festival is tomorrow night, May 7 – tickets here.

Piston’s Harmonies

For certain generations of musicians, the words “Piston Harmony” were synonymous with the study of tonal harmony because composer Walter Piston‘s textbook dominated the field. That’s no longer the case, and I should not be surprised when grad students don’t even recognize the composer’s name, either for the textbook, or for his role as one of the more important American composers of the mid-20th century. Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra will address the neglect of Piston’s music with an all-Piston concert at Carnegie on March 29. There will be two symphonies, the 2nd and 4th, and two concerted works, with superb soloists: Miranda Cuckson will play the Violin Concerto #1 and Blair McMillen plays the Concertino for piano and chamber orchestra. Do check out the “Dialogues and Extensions” on the concert page linked above – there are worthwhile essays on Piston by Maestro Botstein and Carol Oja. Many more essays related to ASO concerts here. A Mark DeVoto talk on Piston here.