Mario at the Americas Society

ICE presented an all-Davidovsky concert last Friday at the Americas Society in New York, and the program covered a remarkable span of time. The earliest piece was the Chacona for piano trio dating from 1971, and the newest was from this year, a premiere for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, and four strings called Divertimento No. 8, “Ambiguous Symmetries”.  This was Mario’s return to composing after a hiatus of several years, and although he described it in an intermission conversation has having an entirely different syntax from his earlier music, it still had the electric crackle, sly wit, and poignant lyricism for which his music is so admired. The program began with soprano Tony Arnold’s vivid rendition of Romancero, a set of four songs on anonymous Spanish texts. Here a mixed quartet of strings and winds frame the voice with alert gestures, or shadow it with plaintive musings. David Bowlin was a brilliant soloist in the Synchronisms No. 9 for violin and electronic sound, with the live and recorded elements merging into a hybrid “super-instrument”. It was beautiful to see the young players of ICE advocating for this music with such passionate commitment, and reassuring to know that the tradition of virtuosity called for by this body of work continues.

Here’s Mario during that intermission talk:

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Thursday Miscellany

– I was sad to see that Frank Music has closed. I’ve not experienced any combination of internet resources that can compare with going into a shop, leafing through every page of a score, comparing it with another edition of the same piece, consulting with a knowledgeable salesperson about options, and fortuitously finding items that you didn’t know you needed, beyond anything an Amazonian algorithm can offer.

– an all-Davidovsky concert with ICE is coming tomorrow, March 13, at the Americas Society in NYC, including the premiere of a new piece.

– go here for a podcast in which Charles Rosen talks about Chopin, illustrating his points at the piano.

Icy Miscellany

3-lazy-polar-bears-thumbYes, it’s pretty chilly here in Philly. Blogging has been sparse lately as I have been finishing the third in a set of six songs I am writing on texts of Susan Stewart. The cycle is called “A Sibyl”, and this latest song is one where the Cumean Sibyl is telling Aeneas about his trip to the underworld. My next task will be to complete a revision of the score and parts for my Chamber Concerto, a piece for clarinet and six players that will be done by Network for New Music here in Philadelphia on April 5. Here are a few links to keep you amused while I get back to work.

– my fellow Columbia alum Paul Moravec has a new album of orchestral music performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project that was selected as WQXR’s album of the week. I had been looking forward to the upcoming New York premiere of Paul’s opera The Letter, but this has been delayed until next season. UPDATE: a nice piece on Paul at Deceptive Cadence.

– you can hear performances from Yellow Barn at their website. Current offerings include Eight Songs for a Mad King of Peter Maxwell Davies. An excerpt from the Davies performed by ICE here.

– Lots of electronic music at Penn this spring. Benjamin Fingland, Steve Gosling, and Jessica Meyer present a program including my Icons for clarinet, piano and tape (tape? well, OK, a CD, actually. “Fixed media” is the fashionable term.) on February 13 at 8:00, Rose Recital Hall in Fisher-Bennett Hall. Two days later, Network for New Music will screen videos of interviews with electronic music pioneers, more info here. Soprano Stacey Mastrian offers a program at Penn including a Nono work with electronics on March 13, and the Network performance mentioned above is part of their season of electronic music.

– The most inconvenient USB here.

Heat Wave Miscellany

– Two upcoming concerts by the Argento Ensemble feature important French composers and celebrate the renovation of Philadelphia’s Rodin Museum. Music by Tristan Murail on Sunday, July 22 at and by Philipe Hurel on Saturday, July 28 – both concerts at 5:30.

– A massive interview with Fred Hersch has been posted at Do the Math.

– The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE to you) has put up a nICE library of videos – performances as well as chats.

– Miss Ella shares her thoughts on the weather.

– Blogging will continue to be very intermittent until more progress is made on the current composition projects including this one.

Bravo, Mario

Mario Davidovsky is best known for his work in the electronic medium, with his series of works for live instruments and electronic sound called Synchronisms serving as exemplary models for the genre. But Mario, who was my mentor during my days as a Columbia University doctoral student, has mostly worked in instrumental music for a number of years. There were samples of instrumental, vocal, and electronic works heard at Friday’s all-Davidovsky concert at Miller Theater in New York. The performances by the International Contemporary Ensemble were very strong, although the dry acoustic of Miller robbed their playing of some of its vibrancy. The ninth and twelfth Synchronisms were heard, played respectively by violinist David Bowlin and clarinetist Joshua Eubin. There were three purely instrumental works from the ’90s as well. All this music continues to dazzle, not just for the scintillating rapid gestures, but for the intensely lyrical lines that constitute the heart of the piece – “heart” both in the sense of telling affect, and of inner structure.

I think one reason Davidovsky’s instrumental music is less widely known than it should be is that his music resists ready labeling. Although he is usually bracketed with so-called “uptown” composers such as Babbitt, Wuorinen, and Martino, his music stands a bit apart from those masters because it is not really serial music – twelve-tone (fully chromatic), yes, but rather more non-systematic than genuinely serial works. (Or should I say “even more non-systematic”?) Good luck trying to trace rows, etc. in Mario’s music.* There are games with hexachords (go through the piano Synchronism), and strategies involving the deployment of registers. But Mario, though he admires the surfaces of various kinds of serial music, relies on different forms of rigor than someone more closely aligned with serial techniques.  It is a rigor that springs more exclusively from the play of forms, the interaction of motifs, from the fantastical patterns woven from vivid, passionate gestures.

The most memorable performance of the night was given by soprano Tony Arnold, who lent her clear, pure sound to Mario’s settings of Spanish folk poetry, Romancero. The final song in the set is about King David lamenting Absalom. Here the accompaniment is very spare, with hushed cantillation from the violin. Tony’s singing was utterly heartbreaking, all the more powerful for the restraint of Mario’s setting.

Interviews with Mario here and here. Three works can be heard at Art of the States. Picture above taken at last Friday’s concert.

*It is interesting that Joseph Straus omits Mario from his collection of short analyses of music by 37 twelve-tone composers in his recent book on the history of twelve-tone music in America; I would say he is the most important composer left out. Of course, Straus couldn’t cover everyone of importance, and if anyone can figure out the technical aspects of Mario’s music, Joseph Straus can. But still, I wonder if the non-systematic nature of the music played a role in Straus’s choice.