Mario at Merkin

It was a fantastic concert of music by Mario Davidovsky in honor of his 80th birthday tonight at Merkin in NYC. There were several veteran performers on hand, players I first met in 1979 at the Composers’ Conference that Mario still directs, now at Wellesley College. All the musicians, longtime Davidovsky advocates or not, projected the scintillating and lyrical gestures of this music vividly, and with pinpoint precision. It was a pleasure to hear such commanding performances.

Hearing a string of Mario’s pieces in succession brought home to me just what a remarkable body of work he has created. The music is full of high contrast juxtapositions yet manages to convey a sense of long line. The point of view is consistently contrapuntal, but with aerated, economical textures. Always, there is an a exquisite sense of timing – none of these pieces outstay their welcome.

Here are a few pictures. Mario taking a bow, with cellist Chris Finckel at right:


Mario and I, after the concert:


some Columbia classmates (l to r, Hayes Biggs, Sheree Clement, myself, Rick Baitz): IMG_3899

Mario speaking with another Columbia classmate, Eric Chasalow (Nice hat, Mario!):

IMG_3905 - Version 2

Mario at 80

cpemcMario Davidovsky will soon be turning 80. His birthday, and his music, will be celebrated at an all-Mario concert, to be held in NYC at Merkin Concert Hall on March 4. The performers are first-rate and include several long-time advocates of his work:

Cygnus Ensemble
Elizabeth Farnum, soprano
Aleck Karis, piano
Curtis Macomber, violin
Barry Crawford, flute
Chris Finckel, cello
Lois Martin, viola

I had the privilege of studying with Mario in the 1980’s, and have always admired his music for its passion, wit, and exquisite craft.

Go here for a New Music Box interview with Mario.

The picture above shows Mario with colleagues at one of the studios of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center – I would say this is from the mid-sixties.  In the front row (L to R) are Milton Babbitt, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Otto Luening; behind them are Bulent Arel, Pril Smiley, Mario Davidovsky, and Alice Shields. (For you gearheads: yes, that’s a Buchla that Milton is leaning his hand on; I think the 4-track that Otto is leaning against is an Ampex. The mixer is behind Pril and Mario, and is a custom-built device with rotary potentiometers, not sliders, and switches to direct a channel’s signal to various locations in the studio. The rotary knobs permitted tricks like doing a one-handed crossfade by fitting a rubber band around adjacent knobs with a twist in the band – turn one knob clockwise, the other would move counterclockwise. On the tape recorder behind Alice, the part sticking up above the device at a slight angle held an adjustable capstan. You could run the tape up to that capstan, which would permit you to adjust the distance between the recorder’s heads, resulting in longer or shorter intervals of time between attacks for tape echo.)

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.

Upcoming in New York and Philly

– Sunday, January 29th, the League of Composers/ISCM celebrates the Cage centennial by presenting Eliza Garth playing the complete Sonatas and Interludes; Merkin Hall at 8:00.

Dolce Suono offers a Shulamit Ran premiere and Pierrot Lunaire*, with guest Lucy Shelton on February 3 at Haverford College, February 5 at Trinity Center in Center City, Philadelphia, and February 6 at Symphony Space in NYC. Lucy’s Pierrot is the most spirited and colorful interpretation I have ever heard, and I have heard many great ones.

*) It’s also the centennial of Pierrot.

(Photo: Cage at work.)

Thursday morning miscellany

– I’ve been listening to the all-star quartet led by Joanne Brackeen on her 1980 release Ancient Dynasty: Eddie Gomez, Jack DeJohnnette, and Joe Henderson. The title track has a little of everything – a theme with distantly related triadic harmonies; a small hint of fusion a la Return to Forever; some straight ahead passages shading into high-energy free blowing – but it all hangs together convincingly. It appears to not have been reissued on CD, or at least isn’t presently available – it really should be.

– Pat Spencer, flutist from the Da Capo Chamber Players, offers Stockhausen (U.S. premiere), Korde, Chen Yi, Georgescu and Musgrave in a March 2 concert at Merkin in NYC. The instrumentation includes tabla, piano, bass clarinet and there will be a “sound projectionist” presumably taking the role Stockhausen used to perform.

Celebrating George Perle

The late George Perle will be the focus of a concert by the Da Capo Chamber Players at Merkin Concert Hall in NYC on January 26. Four Perle works will be heard, along with music by Paul Lansky (who worked with Perle on formalizing his theory of twelve-tone tonality), Leo Kraft (a colleague of Perle at Queens College) and Scriabin. Why Scriabin? Perle’s best known theoretical writing is on the Second Viennese School, especially Berg; Bartok; and to a lesser extent, Varese and Stravinsky. But Scriabin also drew his attention because the symmetrical structures in Scriabin’s music point toward the patterns that so fascinated him in those later composers.

If you don’t know Perle’s music, try Michael Boriskin’s disc of the piano music, or the two-disc retrospective on Bridge.  Richard Goode’s recording for Nonesuch is still available as a download. (Would that Richard Goode was still playing new music!)

Update: Allan Kozinn’s review in the Times is here.

If you are not in Chicago

I shouldn’t let all the excitement about the upcoming CSO premiere lead me to neglect mentioning upcoming performances of my Dancepiece by the Da Capo Chamber Players. They will include the piece as part of a program of music by Philadelphia composers, to be given at Merkin Hall in NYC on Tuesday, October 27. They then take the program up to Bard College the next day. Da Capo has been a mainstay on the New York scene for a good long while now. Joan Tower was the original pianist with the group. It now includes a mix of veterans (Andre Emilianoff, Pat Spencer, Curt Macomber) and younger players (Blair McMillen, Meighan Stoops). I last hear them playing a sober and elegant contribution to the memorial service for George Perle earlier this year.