“Notes of Thanks” is Coming

Go here for tickets to the upcoming “Notes of Thanks” concert in honor of Network for New Music’s outgoing artistic director Linda Reichert on April 29 at 1:30 pm. The concert features 10 premieres, including my Two Sketches. (Scroll down for the portion of that post about the new piece.) There’s a nice article by Linda about her experiences with Network on New Music Box.

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.

 

On Davidovsky’s String Trio

Network for New Music played Mario Davidovsky’s String Trio here in Philadelphia yesterday. I wrote a program note for the performance:

The very first sound we hear in Mario Davidovsky’s String Trio – a short sharp attack in the viola combined with the same notes sustained in the violin –  reflects the composer’s pioneering work in the medium of electronic music. In that opening sound he creates a composite gesture just as he constructed such gestures by splicing together bits of magnetic recording tape in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center beginning in the early 1960’s. Building up a musical discourse from elemental particles became Davidovsky’s practice when writing purely instrumental music as well. The lightning speed of articulation, the rapidly shifting dynamic levels, the sense of a musical space in constant flux, all of which we hear in the String Trio, can be traced to Davidovsky’s work in the electronic medium.

But there is more to this music than an acoustic replication of electronic idioms. The hard-edged intensities of this music also reflect an urban sensibility, a response to the experience of living in New York City as Davidovsky has for most of his life. This aspect of his music requires a super-charged playing style with exaggerated dynamics, and razor sharp rhythms. In contrast, amid the stinging attacks, flurries of activity, and sudden swells, there are moments in this music of the utmost delicacy, singing lines that intersect in what composer Ross Bauer has characterized as an “almost Renaissance purity”.

The pleasure of Davidovsky’s Trio springs from attending to the play of forms, the way fragmentary elements are deployed over time, how they are juxtaposed, layered, and transformed into one another. In its fiery vehemence, its scintillating exuberance, and its extreme tenderness, Davidovsky’s Trio offers us an uncommonly eloquent musical narrative.

Davidovsky’s String Trio was commissioned by the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation and premiered in Venice in 1982 by members of the Arditti Quartet.

Here’s a recording of the Trio from a Bridge Records album. (Note that the image shown in the video is from some other album!)

Upcoming in Philly

I’m looking forward to tonight’s Philadelphia premiere of George Crumb’s Metamorphoses, a recent work for piano, played by Margaret Leng Tan. This takes place at the Barnes Foundation at 8 pm. Other events of interest coming up in Philly are the Network for New Music concert at the Print Center this coming Sunday, Nov. 12, with music by Cynthia Folio, Robert Maggio, Jeffrey Mumford, Roberto Pace, and Mario Davidovsky; and Orchestra 2001’s presentation of Steve Mackey’s Slide, Thursday, Nov. 16 (additional performances in Princeton on the 14th and at National Sawdust on the 17th.)

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.

Network recalling Persichetti

In connection with its celebration of the Vincent Persichetti centennial, Network for New Music held a panel discussion with several former Persichetti students plus composer Daniel Dorff who worked alongside him at the Theodore Presser Co. Find videos of the discussion here. The last of the set also includes a fine performance of the Serenade for flute and harp. My own experience with performing Persichetti was as a member of the Cleveland State University Wind Ensemble where we played the well-known Symphony for Band and a work for chorus and wind ensemble on texts of Walt Whitman called CelebrationsI remember greatly enjoying playing both pieces.

Mid-October Miscellany

There has been a lack of posting here due to a deadline for my Philadelphia Chamber Music Society commission. But this week I sent the last movement of my new violin and piano to my brilliant editor/computer notation wizard, and I am now catching up on various neglected tasks. I’ll write about the PCMS piece in another post, for now I’ll just say it is called Five Poems – it was originally going to be a Violin Sonata, but the movements feel more like character pieces than something “symphonic” in conception.


The soprano soloist for the New Juilliard Ensemble performance of my From a Book of Hours has been named: Alexandra Razskazoff. There is a brief bio of her here (scroll down) from a press release on a Juilliard performance of Le nozze di Figaro this past spring.


So many events worth your attention this weekend in Philly:

Guthrie Ramsey’s Musiqology at Annenberg
Network for New Music has a panel and a concert for the Persichetti centennial
Bowerbird explores Julius Eastman
The Crossing is at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian with encore performances of several pieces
Kile Smith has a premiere on the first Mendelssohn Club concert under new artistic director Paul Rardin


And if you are in New York City this weekend, Mimi Stillman and Bart Feller will be doing my Badinerie Squared at a New York Flute Club program this coming Sunday.


Recent reading:

Bluets – Maggie Nelson
A Dance of Polar Opposites – George Rochberg


Music is undervalued in more ways than just through insufficient royalty payments for streaming audio – read this essay by Craig Havighurst.

September Heat Wave Miscellany

  • Check out two recent pieces on composer George Walker from the Washington Post and The Guardian – the latter including a Spotify playlist.
  • Network for New Music is building its programs for the coming season around the centennials of Babbitt and Persichetti, while Orchestra 2001 will offer four concerts, each featuring as conductor a different candidate for the position of successor to James Freeman as music director of the ensemble.
  • I recently finished reading Harvard Composers: Walter Piston and His Students, from Elliott Carter to Frederic Rzewski by Howard Pollack. The book is made up of brief essays on 33 composers who were all students of Walter Piston, some of whom you know and others you have probably not heard of, like Nicholas Van Slyck and Eugenia Frothingham. It presents Piston as a central figure, with influence comparable to that of Hindemith and Stravinsky, a curious way to think about a composer whose music I have never heard live (apart from practicing the piano part to his Flute Sonata years ago). But the main focus is on the students, not the teacher. Pollack offers appreciations of several composers whose work I was pleased to get to know a little better, including people like Billy Jim Layton, Robert Moevs, Arthur Berger, and many others.

Coming Up in Philly

– The Prism Saxophone Quartet and pianist Uri Caine collaborate in a program at the World Cafe this Thursday, April 16 at 7:30 PM (The program is repeated in NYC on the 17th.) I’m going to be writing a piece for Prism and piano myself for next season.

Bowerbird is presenting an evening of “visual music” by composer and video artist Matthew Greenbaum at Temple University’s Rock Hall this coming Saturday, April 18, at 7:30 PM. The program features pieces that combine live performer with video. You might see this an extension of the live performer plus electronic sound genre so brilliantly cultivated by Matthew’s teacher Mario Davidovsky, but Matthew’s language – both sonic and visual – is very much his own.

– On April 19 at 3 pm, at the Curtis Institute, Network for New Music offers pieces by Michael Hersch, Jan Krzywicki and David Ludwig in a collaborative program bringing together Network with Curtis and the Print Center.