Post-Motet Miscellany

Not post-mortem, but post-motet, meaning I finished the piece I wrote about here, just have to take care of the editing. I’ll post a page or two when it is ready. A few items for your consideration:

– Do the Math on Morton Gould. Gould is one of those composers who seems more prominent as a name than as a composer – people have heard of him, but don’t know his music as much as they should. Iverson’s post is a welcome first step at correcting that. I had a few words about the Gould Third Symphony here.

– a thoughtful piece by John Halle, as cited by Alex Ross. He mentions the New Republic article I wrote about here and here.

– Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell are working on The Shining for Minnesota Opera – the novel, not the movie. Details here, via a message from the MacDowell Colony.

– I’ve been reading The Bernstein Letters, and reading reviews about them as well. I think I come down somewhere in the middle of the critical spectrum – they are sometimes (but not always) fascinating, even if they don’t reveal a great deal about the music he was writing and conducting. I have to get the Burton biography, some folks have been citing the letters as a supplement to that book. Of the many excerpts I could offer, how about this one from Randall Thompson:

Dear Lenny,

I felt grateful to you when I heard that you and the Philharmonic were to play my Second Symphony – “our symphony”. Now that you have done so and I have the way you did it, I have no words worthy to express my gratitude and admiration. At a rough guess this must have been about the six-hundreth performance. I have never heard a more beautiful one, or one that expressed so fully and lovingly what I wanted to say…

Wait a minute – “six-hundreth performance”? Is he exaggerating? by how much, if at all? For those of us who live in the shadow of the problem of the second performance, this is jaw-dropping. We are not talking about the Copland 3rd, but a piece that is rather less well known.

– the idea of intellectual property is being abused on one side (patent trolls) and reviled on the other (“information wants to be free”, meaning, we don’t want to have to pay you for your work). The same journal that published the John Halle piece mentioned above has an interesting article on the matter.

The issue of intellectual property came to mind when I stumbled across this, and this. Aren’t the relevant portions quite similar? (This supposedly has something to do with the other two, if Wikipedia is to be believed, though obviously not musically, just the title.) Does the resemblance bring this and this to mind? As my first composition teacher observed in seminar one day, there are only so many chords to go around.

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.