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.

 

More Pix From Tanglewood

First, a few shots of the campus being gorgeous:

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Now, some composers. Left to right, Casey Ginther, Augusta Read Thomas, Bun-Ching Lam:

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Gerald Levinson, Yehudi Wyner, and John Harbison at a rehearsal of Levinson’s Here of most amazing now:

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Here’s the ensemble for the Levinson:

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(Jiyeon Kim, guitar; Blair Francis, flute;Nicholas Tisherman, oboe and english horn; Mary Patchett, saxophone; Matthew Howard, percussion; Jakob Alfred Paul Nierenz, cello, Nash Tomey, double bass. Obscured at left is pianist George Xiaoyuan Fu, piano.)

Harbison and Levinson at Jerry’s dress rehearsal:

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Bright Sheng conducting his own Deep Red:

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Yehudi Wyner at a rehearsal for his new work on an Elizabeth Bishop text, Sonnet: In the Arms of Sleep:

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Yehudi’s singers at work – Lucy Shelton, Paulina Villareal, and Quinn Middleman:

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John Harbison conducting a Dallapiccola rehearsal:

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The dress rehearsal for the late Gunther Schuller’s Magical Trumpets. The piece is scored for 12 trumpets – or, to be more precise: 1 piccolo trumpet in F, 1 D trumpet, 3 B-flat trumpets, 3 C trumpets, 1 cornet, 1 flugelhorn, 1 bass trumpet in E-flat, and 1 bass trumpet in B-flat. Jonathan Berman is conducting.

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Michael Tilson Thomas rehearsing the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in the Copland Orchestral Variations:

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MTT exhorting the players as they work on the Ives Holidays Symphony. That’s Marzena Diakun on the podium next to him; the blonde head between the first two violins is that of another conductor assisting in the Ives, Ruth Reinhardt. Christian Reif rounded out the team of conductors for the Ives.

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More composers now – a blurry shot of a pre-concert chat with John Harbison, Charles Wuorinen, Helen Grimes, Shulamit Ran, and program annotator Robert Kirzinger:

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One more group shot: Robert Kirzinger, Yehudi Wyner, Eric Chasalow, myself, Augusta Read Thomas, and I’m sorry to say I don’t know the name of the gentleman on the far right – help me out by identifying him in the comments, please.

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Stephen Hough and the piano quintet

Stephen Hough writes here about some interesting programs he has devised for a Wigmore Hall series – the pattern of piano solo, string quartet, piano quintet is simple and brilliant, and I was pleased to see the diversity of the American program he has planned – Feldman, Carter, Lieberman. I tried and failed to comment on the post, but couldn’t get it to work, despite registering a Telegraph account. So I will say here what I planned to say there – that Americans have served the genre of the piano quintet well, with significant pieces by Wuorinen, Rochberg and Harbison, in addition to pieces by two of the composers already on Hough’s program – Carter and Feldman. (It’s a crime that the recording of the Rochberg by the Concord and Alan Marks is out of print.) It’s a genre dear to my heart, having had a wonderful time playing the Brahms with the Cassatt Quartet a few years ago, as well as playing and recording my own quintet with the Cavani and later, at Alice Tully, with the Miami.