– and something goofy for no good reason (the visuals are superfluous, although I suppose they will identify a few characters for you).
LifeMusic III – Ying Quartet (Dorian). Strong works by Sebastian Currier, Pierre Jalbert, Paul Moravec, and Lowell Liebermann in polished and passionate performances. The Currier is of special interest as he is emerging as an important voice in the use of electronic media, as in Next Atlantis on this disc.
Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas – Richard Goode (Nonesuch). I recently returned to this set that was issued several years ago because I am starting to work on a new piano piece and have been feeding my ear with standard repertoire. I believe Goode was the first American to record the entire Beethoven sonata cycle. I love the sheer beauty of piano sound of these recordings – beautiful for the variety of colors Goode can produce, from luscious to crisp and million points in between, beautiful for the warm recording sound. I learn more about these sonatas every time I listen to Goode play them.
The Mind’s Eye – Oliver Sacks. The most recent collection of case studies by the neurologist and geographer of the human brain’s mysteries. The longest piece here is about the patient Sacks knows best – himself – a journal of notes kept during his struggles caused by a cancerous tumor on his eye, and the partial loss of sight that resulted.
Anthony Tommasini’s Arts and Leisure essay in the Times today speaks about the end of dogma in programming new music, citing an evening by the Ensemble ACJW at Poisson Rouge to make the case. Tommasini mentions the stylistic debates that dominated the lunch table during his time as a student at Yale, but it is not news that those arguments have quieted down.
More interesting to me in the article is the staying power of the high modernist composers that everybody is supposed to hate (the article mentions Babbitt and Davidovsky among others). It turns out that the music is less about compositional ideology (Davidovsky in particular is the most asystematic of uptown composers) and more about – among other things – a celebration of virtuosity. Since a performer is always happy to play something that makes him/her sound brilliant, it is not surprising that Ensemble ACJW would program Davidovsky’s Synchronisms #9 or that the Jack Quartet would advocate for Xenakis, or that the superb violinist Miranda Cuckson would issue first-rate discs of music by Shapey and Martino (about which more in a future post).
The other point of interest for me is one that Tommasini makes, but then backs away from as a “passing worry for now”, and this is the problem of the neglected “notes and rhythms” composer, to use the playful phrase of John Harbison that the article quotes. Tommasini mentions Hartke, Stucky, Rouse, Melinda Wagner, Currier, and Tower as (quasi-)mainstream voices that may be “slipping from the view of young musicians and audiences”. (I say “quasi-mainstream” because “mainstream” is a pretty vexed concept today. Also, check the composer links at right if you want to add more names to the list.) Part of the problem here is that these composers offer journalists or publicists little on which to hang a story – nothing about identity politics, technology or violent rebellion against mentors – merely excellent music. (The exception on that list being Sebastian Currier, whose impressive use of multimedia has not yet received the recognition it deserves.) If these composers are “slipping from view”, it is because their pieces all too often “slip away” after the premiere – the problem of the 2nd performance that I wrote about earlier. This is not a “someday” problem, as Tommasini suggests; rather, it is a problem now. Shouldn’t there be a dozen flutists planning to play Melinda Wagner’s Flute Concerto? Shouldn’t there be young groups touring with the string quartets of Harbison or Currier? In a healthier musical climate, repeated performances would mean the merely excellent would remain squarely before us instead of slipping from view.
-the Prism Sax Quartet celebrates its 25th anniversary with a concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday, January 29. Note the early start time of 5:45. Billed as a CD release party, the program includes music by Steve Mackey, Jacob TV, Roshanne Etezady, Bill Albright, and Lei Liang. New Yorkers have to wait till Sunday night to hear this show at (le) Poisson Rouge. Go here to read a fine piece by David Patrick Stearns about Prism, and here for a clip of Prism playing my Short Stories.
Update: Very nice to see Prism written up in the NY Times Arts & Leisure section.
-the American Composers Orchestra does a run-out of their Friday night Zankel Hall program to the Annenberg Center in Philly on Saturday, January 30. Anne Manson conducts music by Sebastian Currier, Roger Zare, and Paquito D’Rivera.
-the Daedalus Quartet (with guest colleagues) plays Beethoven, Schoenberg (your chance to hear Verklärte Nacht live) and a new piece by Lawrence Dillon on Sunday, January 31, in Amado Recital Hall on the U Penn campus.
There may be other events I am missing, but these three concerts alone add up to something of a new music festival.