Cold Snap Miscellany

A few items of interest on a chilly day in Philadelphia:

– Two choirs that have performed my music offer Christmas concerts this weekend: The Crossing, and  Cantori New York.

– Did you know you can hear performances from Yellow Barn online? Lots of new music, including works by Michel van der Aa, Charles Wuorinen, Oliver Knussen, Hans Abrahamsen and many more, as well as traditional repertoire.

– The extraordinary violinist Rolf Schulte has made archival recordings of his performances of concertos by Roger Sessions and Donald Martino available on CD Baby here. The Sessions is performed by the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, with Janos Kulka, and the Martino is with the New Hampshire Symphony and James Bolle. The music is also available on the iTunes store.

– The Association for the Promotion of New Music presents an all-Babbitt program in his centennial year on December 19 at the Di Menna Center in New York, including performances by the New York New Music Ensemble.

– There will be a concert of music by Robert Capanna on Friday, January 6, at the Settlement Music School’s Queen Street Branch here in Philadelphia. Presented in collaboration with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the performers include the Network for New Ensemble conducted by Jan Krzywicki, soprano Sharon Harms, pianist Charles Abramovic, and the Prism Saxophone Quartet.

Alice Shields and Eric Chasalow on Electronic Music at New Music Box

alice_lgAlice Shields and Eric Chasalow have written a series of posts on electronic music, including one in honor of Milton Babbitt, at New Music Box.

Here are links to Alice’s posts:

Structural and Playback Issues in Current Electroacoustic Music

Timbre, Envelope and Variation in Electroacoustic Music

Electroacoustic Music with Video: Comparison with Sound for Film

And to Eric’s posts:

The Opportunity of Electroacoustic Musicology

Cultivating a Sense of Belonging: Our Debate of Electroacoustic Music Terminology

Electroacoustic Music is not About Sound

Memories of Milton

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The Waltz Project Revisited

Here are some samples from Eric Moe‘s fine Albany disc that draws upon pieces written for publisher C. F. Peter’s Waltz Project of several decades back, along with some new waltzes. The clip includes music by:

1) Wayne Peterson: Valse Subliminale (2001)
2) (@02:58): Eric Moe: Pulaski Skyway Waltz (2002)
3) (@07:37): Milton Babbitt: Minute Waltz (1977)
4) (@08:51): Virgil Thomson: For a Happy Occasion (1951)

Eric is one of the pianists I am writing for in my consortium project.

Presidential singing

My friend Paul Moravec let me know about a series of posts on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog – a set of pieces in which various composers have put to music brief quotes from various American presidents. Paul did Eisenhower; Nico Muhly did Andrew Jackson, the late Milton Babbitt did Madison; there are pieces by Jake Heggie, Sam Adler and several more. (at left, a singing president – James Maddelena as the title character in Nixon in China.)

Farewell, Milton

Milton Babbitt has died at 94. Times obit here; WQXR notice here (via Soho the Dog); Sequenza 21 notice here.

Update: do check out the Babbitt documentary by Robert Hilferty, completed by my Tanglewood classmate Laura Karpman and found here.

Updates #2-5: David Rakowski offers a lovely memorial essay at New Music Box. A good interview with Milton here. And a reminiscence by soprano Judith Bettina here. And yet another interview here.

Update #6: Jim Ricci has recently posted his own reminiscences.

Boulez/Coke vs. Cage/Pepsi

I am pretty sure I can taste the difference between Coke and Pepsi, but I have to admit I have never tested this experimentally, blindfold and all.  And I am pretty sure I can hear the difference between the Boulez Third Sonata, and Cage’s Music of Changes. But, again, I have never actually confirmed this.

This post by Kyle Gann makes me think about the Coke/Pepsi problem. Gann notes some of the wackier ways of generating notes that can be found in Boulez’s Marteau, then comments: “What I can’t see is why this method of generating pitches has any significant advantage over Cage’s chance processes, which Boulez so vehemently rejected.” Now, please note that Gann isn’t saying you can’t hear the difference between Cage and Boulez. But his wondering about the advantages of the different techniques led me to think about the difference in the listening experience. Usually the dichotomy is laid out as Babbitt vs. Cage, the idea being that maximally and minimally intentional pieces end up sounding pretty similar. I have never found that convincing; the persistent density of a Babbitt piece is unlike the more variegated textures of Cage. But pitting those Boulez and Cage piano pieces against each other might prove tougher to discern. I think I can hear a certain degree of intentionality in Boulez, but am I just being fooled by the names on the CD boxes?

Of course, hearing something as admittedly vague as “intentionality” is a lot different from truly getting something meaningful out of the pitch games the composer is playing. And what does “getting something meaningful” mean anyway? What is it that I get out of Don Martino’s music that I don’t feel I get out of Babbitt? It probably has to do with the vivid gestures in Martino that are absent in Babbitt, but I still feel the pitches make sense to the ear in Fantasies and Impromptus in a way that they don’t in Partitions.  The latter piece is simply over my head. In Cage’s chance music, you aren’t supposed to “get” the pitches anyway – the music goes around my head. The Boulez Third Piano Sonata tries to be both Cage and Babbitt – irrational and hyper-rational – and ends up being neither. To me, Boulez is something of a naked emperor until Rituel, and even then I think he is overrated.

I am not saying twelve-tone music in general doesn’t make sense. There are too many ways of writing a twelve-tone piece to make generalizations of that sort. Joseph Straus’s excellent recent book, Twelve-Tone Music in America, amply demonstrates this. (More about that book in the Martino/Shapey post I still hope to finish at some point.)

I am in total sympathy with Gann’s esteem for Rochberg’s Second Symphony, and his Serenata d’Estate. That symphony truly deserves a revival, at least as much as – or more – than those of the “American symphonists” – Schuman, Piston, Diamond, etc.

Update: Kyle Gann stresses here that Coke definitely does not taste like Pepsi.