Post-“Post-Puccini” post

There were intriguing and unfamiliar pieces, beautifully performed this past Wednesday at Penn’s Rose Recital Hall when Stacey Mastrian offered a program called “Post-Puccini: Modern Italian Vocal Music”. The first half of the concert featured liriche for voice and piano by Alfredo Casella, Roberto Lupi, Luigi Dallapiccola, and Bruno Maderna.  Casella is a name one finds more in history books than on concert programs; a playful excerpt from his Quattro favole romanesche had a healthy dollop of early Stravinsky’s harmonic flavor. I had never come across Lupi before. (He is apparently best known for RAI’s sign-off music.) The excerpts from Sette favole e allegorie struck me as sober and a bit melancholy. The Machado settings of Dallapiccola were my favorite group of the evening for their sharply drawn moods and economical means. Maderna’s early songs on texts by Verlaine were very different from his later work; I rather doubt he often returned to the tango rhythms of this set’s “Sérénade”.

The second half of the concert turned to the post-war avant-garde with a well-known piece by Berio and a little known one by Nono. The rapid-fire shifts of Berio’s Sequenza – maniacal muttering, hysterical laughter, lyrical singing and more, all abruptly juxtaposed – mask an essentially poignant piece about the nature of expression and about what it means to have a voice. While the broken discourse of the music depicts both inner and outer chaos, the piece’s text (by Markus Kutter) yet suggests that the voice can become a refuge from that chaos as well: “give me a few words for a woman to sing a truth allowing us to build a house without worrying before night comes”. It was a special treat to hear the Berio in the intimate space of Rose Hall – Stacey could be as quiet as she wanted, but every musical gesture still registered.

Nono’s La fabbrica illuminata was new to me, an example of his explicitly politically committed work, with an electronic component that drew on the sounds of workers shouting amid factory noises. The electronic technique in this 1964 work – only six years after Poéme Electronique – draws on the basic devices of the analog studio, and uses broad swaths of sound rather than more finely honed gestures. But the early technology could still create magical effects – as when a high pass filter gradually dessicated the shouts of a crowd, compressing them into a thin filament of fragile sound. Passionate declamation from the live soprano is counterpointed with dense textures that not only suggest a political context, but recall the intricate micropolyphonic orchestral textures that fascinated composers of the time.

In addition to the sheer beauty of her instrument, Stacey brought uncommon versatility to this smartly planned program – not only with respect to the varied styles of the composers, but to the range of affect of the pieces, and the general shift of performance mode from the liriche of the first half to the avant-garde edginess of the second. It’s not every soprano who is ready to perform an entire half of a program alone on stage – utterly alone in the Berio, and later with only the invisible support of Nono’s pre-recorded sound. Scott Crowne provided piano accompaniments in the first half that were sensitively shaped and colored, and Stephen Lilly ably assisted as sound engineer for the Nono. Here is a picture of the three of them after the show (l to r: Stephen F. Lilly, Stacey Mastrian, Scott Crowne):

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(Sorry about the heading, couldn’t resist.)

Stacey Mastrian and “Post-Puccini”

stacymastrianA reminder to come to Penn’s Rose Recital Hall this Wednesday, March 13, at 8:00 pm,  for a program of 20th Century Italian vocal music featuring soprano Stacey Mastrian. Rose Recital Hall is found in Fisher-Bennett Hall at 34th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. Admission is free.

I know Stacey from Songfest, and I am certain this will be a strong concert. I’ll be especially interested to hear the Berio voice Sequenza, and a big Nono piece with quad electronic sound called La Fabbrica Illuminata. Pianist Scott Crowne and sound engineer Stephen F. Lilly will assist.

Wednesday Morning Miscellany

Here are some random events and a few other items.

Ensemble 20/21, the Curtis Institute’s new music ensemble, does an all-Stucky program this coming Friday, March 1. Concert at 8 pm, interview with the composer at 7:30.

New York Virtuoso Singers has another concert packed with premieres, including works by: Richard Wernick, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Aaron Jay Kernis, David Lang, Mark Adamo, Richard Danielpour, Augusta Read Thomas, Thea Musgrave, Joseph Schwantner, William Bolcom, Roger Davidson, David Felder and Joan Tower. Merkin Concert Hall in NYC, Sunday, March 3 at 3 pm.

– Matthew Greenbaum’s Amphibian series returns with a program by the Temple University Percussion ensemble, with Cyndie Berthézène, soprano. Works by
Augusta Reade Thomas, James Tenney, and Andrew Taylor along with a showing of Maya Deren’s classic experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and a new piece by Matthew himself for video animation and electronic sound. The HIART Gallery 227 W29 St. in NYC,  March 7 at 8pm.

– Soprano Stacey Mastrian will offer a program of 20th century Italian music at the University of Pennsylvania on March 13 at 8 pm. The big piece will be Luigi Nono’s La fabbrica illuminata for soprano and four-channel electronic sound; the program will also include the Berio Sequenza for voice and works by Dallapiccola and others.

– My current Lenten reading is The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery, a fairly early book by Henri Nouwen. This is reminiscent of Thomas Merton‘s journals, a mix of narrative about life in the monastery combined with deeper, heartfelt reflections on what Nouwen confronted during his months living there. You gotta love a book where one of the chapter titles is “Nixon and St. Bernard” (Nouwen is writing at the time of Watergate).

Here is a list of 500 movies you can see online, legally (so far as I know), and for free.

Electronic Affinities

Penn is presenting a number of programs involving electronic music in the coming months, some organized by the Music Department, some created by Network for New Music. Here’s a list of events:

– Wednesday, February 13: Penn Contemporary Music presents violist Jessica Meyer and clarinetist Ben Fingland in recital, with pianist Stephen Gosling. The program includes music by Eric Moe, Vinko Globokar, Robert Karpay, alongside premieres by John Kaefer and Jessica herself. The program also includes a piece of my own: an oldie called Icons for clarinet, piano and tape, which was made in the analog tape studio at Columbia during my student days, and premiered at Tanglewood in 1984. You can hear it on a New World disc.

– Friday, February 15: Network for New Music will screen video interviews with pioneers of electronic music, including Milton Babbitt, Mario Davidovsky, Bebe Barron, Max Mathews, and Pauline Oliveros. Composer Maurice Wright and I will introduce the videos. Registration is required for this event – more information here.

– Wednesday, March 13: Penn Contemporary Music will present soprano Stacey Mastrian in recital, with Scott Crowne, piano. She will be doing a program of 20th century Italian music with pieces by Berio, and Dallapiccola among others. The featured event will be Nono’s La fabbrica illuminata, for soprano and electronic sound. Stephen Lilly will assist with the electronics.

– Friday, April 5: Penn will present one of the concerts in Network’s Third Space mini-festival of works with electronic media. There will be music by Mario Davidovsky, John Chowning, Paul Lansky, Judith Shatin, Kaija Saariaho, and my own Chamber Concerto for clarinet and six players – again featuring Ben Fingland.

All these events will take place in Rose Recital Hall in Fisher-Bennett Hall at 34th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. The concerts are at 8:00pm; the video session at 7:30 pm.

Here’s a video from Network regarding the Feb. 15 event: