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.

Piston’s Harmonies

For certain generations of musicians, the words “Piston Harmony” were synonymous with the study of tonal harmony because composer Walter Piston‘s textbook dominated the field. That’s no longer the case, and I should not be surprised when grad students don’t even recognize the composer’s name, either for the textbook, or for his role as one of the more important American composers of the mid-20th century. Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra will address the neglect of Piston’s music with an all-Piston concert at Carnegie on March 29. There will be two symphonies, the 2nd and 4th, and two concerted works, with superb soloists: Miranda Cuckson will play the Violin Concerto #1 and Blair McMillen plays the Concertino for piano and chamber orchestra. Do check out the “Dialogues and Extensions” on the concert page linked above – there are worthwhile essays on Piston by Maestro Botstein and Carol Oja. Many more essays related to ASO concerts here. A Mark DeVoto talk on Piston here.