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.)

Upcoming in Philly and elsewhere

-There will be two more workshop sessions on Paul Moravec’s new opera Danse Russe this weekend, one in Delaware, one in Philly. Details here, video on Danse Russe here.

-The Buffalo Philharmonic is presenting works by emerging composers (not yet identified in the announcement I received) on its February New Music Festival.

– Thursday January 27, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia will present a program of music inspired by the Society’s collection of materials relating to Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt, an eccentric Philadelphia inventor and musician. According to the Society:

“Greenewalt developed an art form that she called “nourathar,” which uses an organ to display colored light scored to music using her own custom notation system. The image (at left) shows Greenewalt’s mapping color sequence for Claude Debussy’s “And the Moon Descends on the Temple That Was.” In order to fulfill her musical pursuits, Greenewalt entered the engineering world and was awarded several patents. In the 1930s, she spent much of her time in court, suing others for patent infringement. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds extensive records on Greenewalt’s life.”

Music by Andrea Clearfield, Willhem Echevarria, Ted Houghtaling, Max Lawrence and Maurice Wright will be heard; more info here.

Remembering and forgetting Varèse

The Lincoln Center Varèse concerts are this week; Alex Ross has various links and video of Varèse as a silent film actor. (I’m afraid I found the ICE theatrical trailer pretty dopey.)

These concerts remind me of being a student at Columbia at the time of the Varese centennial, and, as we were all Chou Wen-Chung students, being roped into working on an all-Varese concert. There was a panel discussion earlier in the day – all these elderly folks, I think Otto Luening and Meyer Schapiro among them – reminiscing about Varèse. Or, actually, talking about all kinds of things except Varèse. (The panel was called “Remembering Varèse”, but fellow student Paul Moravec referred to it as ‘Forgetting Varèse”.) The climax of the panel was when it was time for Varèse’s widow Louise to speak. Finally, we thought, this will be the real thing, the profound insight, the key to understanding the man and the artist. Louise leaned toward the microphone and said:
“There was never a dull moment.”
And that was all she said.
I notice that the Lincoln Center programs omit one very rare piece. Varèse actually composed three electronic works – everybody knows the Poéme and Deserts, but he also did some electronic music for a film by Thomas Bouchard called Around and About Joan Miro. The music was for a portion of the film called Procession at Verges. I only know about this because we projected the relevant portion of the film at that all-Varese concert at Columbia, along with some home movies of Varèse talking with Carl Ruggles. Ruggles sounded like Jimmy Cagney playing a gangster (“I thought Walt Whitman was the greatest American poet, see?”) while Varèse sounded like, well, like somebody doing an imitation of a cosmopolitan boulevardier.
(The image above is of Calder’s wire sculpture of Varese)

PMP online

The Philadelphia Music Project – a grant making initiative of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage – has put its magazine online. Composer Rob Maggio has written a short essay about his upcoming premiere with Orchestra 2001 this weekend. Those concerts will also feature music by Barber, a premiere by Paul Moravec, and a local premiere by Andrew Rudin.