Friday, December 27, 2019

Let Us Praise the Netherlands Bach Society

I have mentioned this before, but the Netherlands Bach Society is engaged in a really fine project: to make high-quality film recordings of all the music of J. S. Bach. Here is a cantata for the Christmas season, "Christen, ätzet diesen Tag" recorded last December and just posted yesterday. The performances are following the principles of historical accuracy (yes, with all the usual caveats!) and the performers are talented and devoted. The three hundred or so cantatas by Bach, for a remarkable variety of instrumentation, this one uses four trumpets, three oboes and tympani in addition to the usual chamber ensemble of strings with small chorus and soloists, are one of the greatest repertories in classical music. Enjoy!

Friday Miscellanea

As everyone knows, Austrians are just a bit more effervescent than Germans. Here to prove it are two divas with a Christmas message from a Columbian beach. Courtesy of Norman Lebrecht who titles it "Topless divas take down Christmas"

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The classical music scene in Toronto is doing very well, in contrast to so many other places in North America: Surprise! Year’s end finds classical music and opera thriving in Toronto.
In this city the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company and Tafelmusik have grown their endowment funds — money collected from lovers of classical music, period-instrument performance and opera — to total nearly $100 million collectively.
The Royal Conservatory of Music sells out pretty much every piano recital at Koerner Hall months before the performance date.
Toronto now has a half-dozen respectable miniopera companies run by people with creativity and drive, if not money.
The conservatory and the universities continue to graduate dozens of incredibly talented and capable young musicians and singers into the working world every spring.
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Here is an interesting historical recording: Stravinsky conducting the Sacre in Paris in 1929:

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Norman Lebrecht has a review of a recording of two early works by Shostakovich when he was a wild and crazy guy.

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The gretathunbergization of the media continues apace: Classical music must play its part in tackling the climate crisis.
Welcome work by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research examines all the areas of impact touring has on the environment and recognises that the issue is complex: it cannot be solved by planting a set number of trees per tour. From audiences travelling to concerts to the power required by the halls, this crisis is the responsibility of all of us. Everyone must be conscious of their behaviour and acknowledge the active part they have to play. Planning permission for all new concert halls, for example, should only be given if the buildings will be carbon neutral. Existing concert halls must make radical changes to ensure they are as close to carbon neutral as possible.
And of course, all those people who take private jets to the various international conferences devoted to the "climate crisis" are going to stop that henceforth. Right?

* * *

At The New Yorker, Alex Ross has his list of Notable Performances and Recordings of 2019 and the Decade. But wow, he feels he has to preface it with statements like these:
Righteousness continues to wither away; evil is trending; a time or space outside the machine may no longer exist. Major classical-music institutions are generally too enmeshed in networks of power to make meaningful gestures of resistance.
He just doesn't sound happy. Odd, because from another point of view, this past decade, in terms of the reduction of poverty and deaths from natural disasters and disease, has been the best in human history.
Let nobody tell you that the second decade of the 21st century has been a bad time. We are living through the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. Extreme poverty has fallen below 10 per cent of the world’s population for the first time. It was 60 per cent when I was born. Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline.
 * * *

Neuroscience continues to struggle with the only really important question: what is consciousness and how does it relate to brain processes? I Me Mind: The unending quest to explain consciousness
THE HARD PROBLEM, DAVID CHALMERS CALLS IT: Why are the physical processes of the brain “accompanied by an experienced inner life?” How and why is there something it is like to be you and me, in Thomas Nagel’s formulation? I’ve been reading around in the field of consciousness studies for over two decades—Chalmers, Nagel, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Jerry Fodor, Ned Block, Frank Jackson, Paul and Patricia Churchland, Alva Noë, Susan Blackmore—and the main thing I’ve learned is that no one has the slightest idea. Not that the field lacks for confident pronouncements to the contrary.
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When Opera Parallèle gave the world premiere of “Today It Rains” in San Francisco in March, the entire show was staffed with freelance artists. The singers portraying painter Georgia O’Keeffe and her friends and loved ones, the instrumentalists playing composer Laura Kaminsky’s score, the stage personnel and designers — they all worked as independent contractors on a production budgeted at around $335,000.
But once AB5, California’s groundbreaking “gig work” bill, takes effect on Jan. 1, that model could be taboo.
* * *

For our envoi today, here is a concert from the new German Elbphilharmonie hall of the Munich Philharmonic conducted by Valery Gergiev doing an all-Russian program ending with a terrific reading of the Symphony No. 4 by Shostakovich.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Best Music Salon Posts of the Year

For those of you, you know who you are, who have not diligently read every post. Here is the best post, in my somewhat biased view, from each month:

  • January: The General and the Specific in which I do an analysis of music aesthetics from the point of view of the Platonic theory of Forms. No, really!
  • February: Five Kinds of Vibrato in which I discuss how vibrato is produced on string instruments, especially on my instrument, the guitar.
  • March: Lots of possibilities this month, but I am going to choose this one on Aleatoric vs Improvised Music which is really just about definitions, but has some interesting musical examples.
  • April: I discovered Jean Rondeau, harpsichord and there are several clips to enjoy.
  • May: Saw a post on What I Owe to Bach with, again, some nice clips.
  • June: This month I did some posts on Luigi Nono, but didn't keep going for very long. Here are two: Introducing Luigi Nono and Nono the Venetian.
  • July: Here is a rather nice Friday Miscellanea that is probably as interesting as anything I posted in July.
  • August was my Salzburg excursion so there are lots of posts about concerts and food and so on. Here are a couple: Tourist Day: the Hohensalzburg Fortress with lots of photos and Igor Levit, Haus Für Mozart. The Haus Für Mozart is a medium-sized concert hall right next to the Grosse Festspielhaus.
  • September: The longest and certainly the most involved post this month was one on a French sociologist who wrote a lot about culture: Was Pierre Bourdieu Right About Taste?
  • October: Among a lot of pretty decent posts I think the one on Variations stood out.
  • November: One of the most enjoyable events for me this month was giving a talk on my compositions for a small group of people in a house in the country: Talk on Composition
  • December: I finally posted the recording of my piece for violin and guitar, "Dark Dream" with a bit of an introduction: "Dark Dream" (2018) for violin and guitar
And that was 2019. Fewer posts than in previous years, but some good ones perhaps worth a re-read. And for an envoi, here is Igor Levit playing the Piano Sonata no. 30 in E major, Op.109 by Beethoven which I will hear at the Salzburg Festival this coming August where Levit will play all the Beethoven piano sonatas in a series of concerts.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Let's start with a very Jewish Christmas: ‘Christmas With Your Jewish Boyfriend’: A Jewish jazz guitarist recorded a dozen famous Christmas songs written by Jews.
“If you imagine a Norman Rockwell Christmas image, you can imagine that the music that would be playing in the background would be something like ‘White Christmas’ or ‘Winter Wonderland,’ which was written either by an Eastern European Jewish immigrant from the Lower East Side or a descendant of one of those people,” Curtis said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
To Curtis, the fact that Jews wrote so many Christmas classics isn’t a coincidence. From the 1880s to the 1920s, the United States experienced a huge influx of European Jewish immigrants. They weren’t readily welcomed into American society. Many universities had strict Jewish student quotas, and many industries weren’t keen on hiring Jews.
The music industry, however, was wide open, and Jews excelled in it. From about the dawn of the 20th century until the advent of rock and roll in the 1950s, pop music was dominated by Jewish songwriters. Most of it was done behind the scenes, with many songwriters changing their names to sound less Jewish.
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Yes, it is possible to make a good income with classical music. Case in point, André Rieu: André Rieu: ‘I see a lot of jealousy around me’
We shouldn’t be surprised that Rieu is a box office sensation. In an era when, we are told, nobody sells DVDs and CDs anymore, Rieu has sold more than 40 million of them. Last year, the Dutch violinist and conductor sold more than 700,000 tickets to his concerts, bringing in $55.9 million (€50.6m) from 71 shows. It’s an impressive haul for someone who has seldom been the beneficiary of media hype.
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It simply wouldn't be Christmas without the traditional bemoaning of the loss of prestige of classical music. Nationalist Anthems: Remembering a time when composers mattered more
To be sure, the dwindling interest in classical music in the latter part of the twentieth century flowed from a number of sources, not least the ubiquitous appeal of more vernacular genres such as rock and other forms of pop music; a decline in music education curriculums, which no longer offered a broad musical education in elementary through high school; and the pervasive attraction (and distraction) of television and digital culture. At the same time, the end of the convergence between the world of classical music in the United States and international political developments meant the music no longer exercised the powerful hold on the American people that it had from the Great War through the Cold War.
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If you met a genie who offered to grant you one musical skill for the rest of your life, a skill that would flow effortlessly and masterfully from you whenever you needed it, what would you choose? Stage charisma? The ability to move your audience? Technical prowess? If you are wise, you might choose the skill of practice. Because mastering the skill of musical practice could mean mastering all musical skills.
We all know that quantity of practice is important. The popular claim that 10,000 hours of practice is the key to becoming an expert in any task holds some truth – you don’t get to Carnegie hall without spending a sizeable chunk of your waking hours cranking out scales and etudes.
However, music psychology studies have shown that quantity of practice alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Expert players vary a lot in the number of practice hours they put in, and on average amount of practice can only account for about 30% of variation in performance quality, meaning that 70% of the story about musical expertise remains untold. Here we turn to the real topic of interest: quality of practice.
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Imagine you have a million dollars, and someone offers you a wager. ”Invest it all with me,” she says. “We’ll wait 10 years, at which point you’ll have nothing 99 times out of a hundred.”
“Hmm,” you think, “that 1% must be one hell of a payoff with those odds.
“Oh,” she says, “you’ll get nothing that time, too. Actually, not quite.” She pulls out a calculator, punches in a few numbers, and smirks. “That 1% of the time, you’ll owe me…$600,000.”
Would you take that bet?
If you’re a full-time performing artist, you already have.
Read the whole thing for the details. But the sad truth is:
For full-time performers, the game is rigged. There is simply no chance of making it given the start-up costs of building an arts business and maintaining it over time in a high cost of living city. The best-case scenario is you walk away early and have time to rebuild. The worst-case scenario is you have a middling career, strung along with a few opportunities every year, just enough to keep you going, and you are staring down the barrel of 40 at a mountain of debt with no other skills.
Except for the 1/10th of 1% who do manage to achieve an international virtuoso career, of course.

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Our envoi really needs to be André Rieu doing "White Christmas" does it not?

Ok, I have tortured you enough! Here is the Quatuor Ebène doing the String Quartet No. 4 by Bartók:

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Adieu to the Avant-Garde

Adieu to the Avant-Garde is an old, old essay in Reason that is still worth reading.
"Exactly a hundred years ago," Wolfe is saying, "there was a survey taken by a French newspaper–they used to love to take this kind of survey–in which they asked leading French art dealers, critics, curators: Who would be the French artists of the 19th century who would still be the giants of art in the year 1997? By the standards of that day, it was a huge survey. And the results were, number one, Adolphe William Bouguereau; second, Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier; and, third, Léon Gérôme. They were looked upon as the giants."
Who? Wait, there's more. "Even after the era of Andy Warhol, who left an estate of $510 million, we cannot begin to comprehend the scale on which these artists–Bouguereau, Meissonier, Gérôme–lived." Wolfe sketches in some detail. "Two- and three-story-high studios. Belgian hangings on all the walls. There were always Persian rugs strewn wherever you could strew one: on top of the piano, on top of the balcony railing, on the bed, everywhere, even on the floor." 
"By 1920, all these people were forgotten. They had become, overnight in terms of the passage of history, zeros, grand zeros in art history." Why that happened–the coming of the various movements of modernism, from the Berlin Secession to Cubism–is not Wolfe's subject. Regime shifting is.
"The `Regime Shift,'" says Wolfe, "is a term that I'm borrowing from economics. It refers to a situation in which suddenly the rules are changed. And when that happens, suddenly a lot of assets are lost, chaos results….Well, such things oddly enough can happen in art. Not quite as rapidly, but they have happened extremely rapidly."
I'm not entirely sure that this is true, but the really interesting question is, why isn't it true in music? The great names in composition around 1919, Mahler, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, are just as big today.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the music theory of pop music: The Secret Sauce Behind Pop-Music Hits.
Why did Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s “We Found Love” top the charts for 10 weeks? Partly because of the song’s unconventional structure, say podcasters Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding. The two examine “We Found Love”—and more than a dozen other 21st-century hits—in their book, “Switched on Pop,” which comes out Friday.
The volume borrows its title from the podcast the two 33-year-old friends began five years ago about the subtle techniques shaping today’s Top 40 hits. Mr. Sloan is a University of Southern California musicologist and Mr. Harding is a songwriter and musician who plays the guitar, drums and keyboards, as well as other instruments. Their podcast and book are filled with sophisticated but accessible discussions of pop hits from the 2000s and 2010s, from the catchy hook of Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” to Drake’s use of simple rhymes in “God’s Plan.”
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The Guardian, on the other hand, takes a look at the characteristics of English music: This isle is full of noises: the trouble with 'English music'
When Arnold Schoenberg died in 1951, Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote that the composer “meant nothing to me – but as he apparently meant a lot to a lot of other people I daresay it is all my own fault.” To English composers working in the 1920s – such as Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and Gerald Finzi – the sounds of European modernism, and especially the 12-tone music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, came to symbolise disorder and chaos. Following the first world war, stability and reassurance, folksong and archaic modality, the refuge of unspoilt rural idylls, had become the prevalent direction of English music. Folksong earthed music in fundamental truths – the very same roots that Schoenberg’s atonality, apparently, weeded out.
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There is something going on at the Grand Teton Music Festival, but what it is ain't exactly clear:
The Board of the Grand Teton Music Festival met last night and decided to reinvite three musicians who had been dismissed for ‘disruptive behaviour’. Two of the musicians, Kristen Linfante and Juan de Gomar, are members of the orchestra’s Players’ Committee; the third, Jennifer Ross, was principal second violin of the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Their dismissal provoked widespread protests, together with a threat from conductor Donald Runnicles to quit the festival. Runnicles Donald flew in to attend this board meeting.
High-profile coverage on Slipped Disc and local media have forced the festival director, Andrew Palmer Todd, to back down.
There are some hints in the comments.

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I'm not the only one to be critical of the Grawemeyer Award: THE WORLD’S TOP COMPOSER PRIZE HAS TURNED INTO A SORRY IN-JOKE.
The Grawemeyer Award – a life-changing $100,000 prize for the best composer of the year – hit rock bottom this week with the selection of a Californian academic, Lei Liang, who had a climate change piece performed in Boston.
But lots of people in the comments think this was an unfair characterization.

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Sometimes really creative promotion can go--horribly--wrong: Cameron Carpenter and the Feedback Loop of Notoriety.
In November 2014, Sony Masterworks released a documentary called “Cameron Carpenter: The Sound of My Life.” Intended to accompany the American organist’s album “If You Could Read My Mind,” released that August, the film included footage of Carpenter ripping off his T-shirt to reveal a sculpted chest; dancing at the once-legendary Berlin gay party Chantal’s House of Shame; and moodily smoking a cigarette while leaning against an electrical pole. And that’s just the two-minute trailer. The footage looks like a cringe-worthy attempt to create the mythology of a rock star—if everything the director knew about rock stars was gleaned, say, from a former groupie’s nephew.
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I'm not finding many items for the miscellanea today, but NewMusicBox has something interesting: TEACHING INEQUALITY: CONSEQUENCES OF TRADITIONAL MUSIC THEORY PEDAGOGY.
Western art music is not a universal language. It does some things well, other things not as well, and many things not at all. And yet, although the majority of undergraduate students do not listen regularly to this style of music, the standard theory curriculum continues to privilege it at the expense of all other styles. Given this disconnect, how can we justify our near-exclusive reliance on traditional pedagogy, especially in situations where it isn’t necessary to do so? What biases do we create in our students when we declare Western art music to be mandatory knowledge for anyone pursuing formal studies in music? What biases does this reveal in us?
There are some characteristic kinds of arguments that are frequently used these days that one should beware of. A typical strategy is to put your most glaring assumption right up front and hope that no-one will notice that it is just an assumption. This is a type of "begging the question" that has become so prevalent that one forgets it is a logical fallacy. Apart from the first sentence in the above quote, which is somewhat true, everything else here is a concocted assumption thrown against the wall in hopes that it will stick. Let's list some of them:

  • the majority of undergraduate students don't listen regularly to Western art music? Really? Why oh why are they enrolled in music school then?
  • "standard" theory "privileges" Western art music in university music departments because they are university music departments. The word "privileges" is a smear because it replaces the correct words "focuses on" or "gives foundational place to."
  • "disconnect" is another clever smuggling in of assumptions through special vocabulary--what is disconnected from what?
I could go on, but these tactics are so common and so ubiquitous and never lead anywhere useful, so why bother?

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Time for our envoi. The Guardian article mentioned a piece by Vaughan Williams I didn't know, his Flos Campi, an elegy to the fallen in WWI. Here is a performance by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta:

Sunday, December 8, 2019

"Dark Dream" (2018) for violin and guitar

Dong Qichang, Eight Views of Autumn Moods, dated 1620. Album of eight leaves, leaf five
I picked this painting by the great Chinese artist and scholar Dong Qichang to introduce this piece because I have become more aware that there is a significant Asian influence on my aesthetic. This includes Chinese art, philosophy and aesthetics as well as that of Japan and the music of both Japan and Indonesia. I don't mean anything like a direct influence, but rather a kind of aesthetic tendency. For example, where you might expect a resounding climax at the 2/3 or 3/4 point in "Dark Dream," instead there is a significant silence, a kind of negative climax. This roughly corresponds to the "negative space" that is often found in Chinese and Japanese art towards the centre of the image. You can see an example in the painting above. A large empty space occupies the center of the painting. I tend towards very spare and transparent textures, which also reflects more of an Asian sensibility. I think this probably came to me because some of the first aesthetically interesting artforms I encountered were the Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts. In my teenage years I was living on Vancouver Island and the Asian influence was omnipresent including the books on art in the public library. Sure, there was lots of Western influence as well, but it was more ordinary and less striking in my eyes.

I encountered a lot of Asian music when I was young as well, both directly in the form of Folkways recordings of music from Java, Bali, India and Japan as well as indirectly through a composer friend of mine who studied with Toru Takemitsu in Tokyo. I encountered the music of Jō Kondo in a lecture he gave that I attended as a young undergraduate. I was also fortunate to hear Ravi Shankar in concert when I was still in high school.

Being aware of these influences actually helps me solve some aesthetic problems, particularly of structure, as it frees me from either conforming to, or consciously avoiding, Western structural concepts.

"Dark Dream" is, for me, a fairly long piece, its single movement coming in at over fourteen minutes. I wrestled with the structure a lot, re-writing the piece several times. One of the basic thematic ideas is an accelerating and decelerating repeated note figure that is played against itself. Another element is the octatonic scale which I use fairly freely. One section is aleatory, with both instruments playing individual cells in an order that can vary with each performance. Unusual timbres are also used which include a "snare-drum" effect on the guitar, playing with the wood of the violin bow, preparing the guitar with a paper-clip and frequent glissandi on both instruments. All this sets up a contrast between discrete, incremental passages and ones where there is sliding from one pitch or rhythm to another.

The piece is dreamlike in that it features unexpected transitions and timbres that tend to estrange the listener from the melodic and harmonic elements.

I hope that you will enjoy the piece!

UPDATE: By the way, is everyone able to access the piece through the link ok?

Technical Difficulties

I promised to post my new piece Dark Dream today and I have been trying to do so. But when I try to upload it to YouTube it seems to just hang. I can't seem to find a reason for this in any manuals but I will keep looking. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!

Friday, December 6, 2019

What Happened to YouTube?

I use YouTube clips quite a lot here at The Music Salon. And I used to browse around on it a lot more than I do now. A few weeks ago it seemed they made a big change in the algorithm. They used to divide suggestions up into different categories or streams and there was an option to delete streams and categories. I started deleting a lot of the ones I wasn't interested in like athletics, pop music, pet videos and so on. Then, recently, all that changed. Now there are four rows of suggestions at the top that correspond to what I tend to be interested in. Then below that are gazillions of videos most of which I have no interest in. Also, they took away the delete option. I have also noticed that there is more and more a predominance of videos that have nothing going for them except their click-baity titles. The actual content is less than moronic and most of them have the same extremely irritating narrator.  YouTube seems to be on its way to being unwatchable except for your own searches.

Some examples:

I swear, I have never searched for anything or viewed anything that would lead the algorithm to think I would be interested in any of those!

YouTube used to have lots of quirky and intriguing videos by people that often had something interesting to say. But now it is turning into a version of People Magazine and the most idiotic top ten lists you can imagine. Does this follow some kind of network mass distribution rule? Every mass media ultimately becomes horrible?

Mind you, they still have stuff like this, that just popped up today:

Friday Miscellanea

The world's top two earning musicians this year are Taylor Swift, number one at $185 million and Kanye West, number two at $150 million. This has to be the golden age of music, right?

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Every now and then you can catch one of those retro tv shows out in an anachronism they are not likely to be themselves aware of. I've been watching Mindhunter lately, which is quite an interesting show. It is set in the late 1970s and as far as I can tell, there are no anachronisms in the cars, sets, fashions, etc. However in one early episode a character uses the phrase "to beg the question" in a way that shows that the show was written in the last couple of years. I am old enough to remember when people used to know the meaning of phrases like "to beg the question" and "to coin a phrase." But in the last ten or twenty years, this has all gone away and you almost never hear them used correctly. "To beg the question" refers to the logical fallacy that occurs when the premiss of the argument assumes the conclusion. But in recent years it has come to mean "to pose the question" which seems more common sense, even though wrong. Similarly, the phrase "to coin a phrase" meant to invent a new expression, but recently it has come to mean "to repeat a stereotypical sentiment." Ceteris paribus, I prefer the original meanings.

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Norman Lebrecht has a lovely tribute to conductor Mariss Jansons who just passed away this week.
If you were fortunate enough to know Mariss Jansons, you soon became aware that he was one of the kindest men alive and that he had no interest whatsoever in the business of music.
I spent a morning with him once in a deprived area of Pittsburgh, where he devoted as much respect and attention to a classroom of welfare kids as he did to the Vienna Philharmonic in their finest suits. Respect was his watchword. He treated every person as his equal.
I had a ticket to see him conduct at the Salzburg Festival last summer, but sadly, that was a concert he had to cancel and so I saw Yannick Nezét-Séguin instead.

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I found this interesting clip through Slipped Disc--a comparison of three great pianos: Steinway, Fazioli, Bösendorfer.

I have had this long-standing liking for Bösendorfer, based on a recording from long ago and I don't even remember which one! I am totally objective because I don't even play piano. Based on the first round, the Steinway sounds absolutely lovely in all registers, the Fazioli is really dry in the treble and the Bösendorfer is quite nice in the bass, but not as nice as the Steinway in the treble. Your thoughts?

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I used to think the Grawemeyer Award was the best, or at least, the least-bad, composer award because of its multiple stages. It depended on more than the votes of a few cronies. Alas, I'm not sure if this is still the case: LEI LIANG WINS 2020 GRAWEMEYER AWARD FOR CLIMATE CHANGE-INSPIRED PIECE.
Chinese-American composer Lei Liang has won the 2020 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for an orchestral work that evokes the threat posed by climate change and the opportunity it offers for redemption. Boston Modern Orchestra Project commissioned the winning piece, A Thousand Mountains, a Million Streams, which premiered in 2018 in Boston’s Jordan Hall with Gil Rose conducting. 
“The world we live in today is dangerous,” explained Liang. “Our very existence is threatened by global warming, which is causing violent disruptions to the living things on our planet and being made worse by human irresponsibility. When creating the work, I wanted to convey the importance of preserving our landscapes, both physically and spiritually, to sustain a place where we and our children can belong.”
AGH! Sorry, that expostulation was solely for the well-massaged clichéed sentiments, not for the music itself, which I hope is a lot more creative. And no, our existence is not in the slightest threatened by global warming, which only exists in speculative computer models. Annual deaths in the US from falling down the stairs: 1,300. Annual deaths from global warming: 0. Ban stairs! Or, alternatively, my next piece is going to be a meditation on the danger of going down stairs.

I eagerly await your outraged comments!

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Professional violinist Joanna Maurer recently played on the film scores of both the comic book-inspired drama Joker and the holiday comedy Noelle. She did the same work, for equally prominent companies.
But the New York-based musician says she'll earn 75 per cent less for Noelle simply because it was released on Disney Plus, the new video-streaming service that launched on Nov. 14 and has already garnered more than 10 million subscribers.
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Working-class libraries and archives, the writings of autodidacts and the annals of adult education reveal a dynamic tradition of working-class access to the ancient Greeks and Romans, not only through language study but through translations and visual culture. Classical materials have been present in the identity construction and psychological experience of substantial groups of working-class Britons. Dissenting academies, Nonconformist Sunday schools and Methodist preacher-training initiatives all encouraged those who attended them to read widely in ancient history, ideas and rhetorical handbooks. Classical topics were included on the curricula of Mutual Improvement Societies, adult schools, Mechanics’ Institutes, university extension schemes, the Workers’ Educational Association, trade unions and the early Labour Colleges. These initiatives did much to counter the sluggish legislative response to workers’ demands for education: it was not until the Elementary Education Acts of 1870 and 1880 that even rudimentary instruction in literacy and numeracy, let alone access to classical culture, became universally and freely available to children under 13.
The whole article is worth reading for its detailed discussion. I came from a very lower middle class background. Both my parents never rose above Grade 8 in formal education. But I was always attracted to libraries and serious writing both fiction and non-fiction and never felt anything else other than encouragement my whole life in educational institutions. So you can imagine with what horror I regard the current attempts to ban authors because they are dead while males, to "de-colonize" literature, to ban every manifestation of Western Civilization that does not meet "woke" standards.

* * *

For our envoi today, let's listen to some of the Lei Liang piece. It is in many separate clips on YouTube. Here are the first three (and of course, Blogger won't embed):

I don't know about you, but I listened to several of these mini-sections and it reminded me a lot of Messiaen with extra Asian influence, but with more threat and less joy.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Musical Form

Schoenberg writes in 1929:
I have, above all, repeatedly pointed out the purpose of all forms: a layout which guarantees comprehensibility. I have then shown what are the conditions that go with comprehensibility; how it is a question of the kind of listener one is writing for (and, in so doing, defined the difference between light and serious music...); how there is always a manifest relationship between an idea's difficulty and the way it is presented, so that an idea which is hard to grasp demands a slower and broader presentation than does one which is easy to grasp; the role played here by tempo, so that when the notes move quickly, things must unfold more slowly. How, for example, when the harmonies are hard to grasp, the tension must be lower in other directions--and other things of the same kind. Obviously one cannot formulate this kind of consideration of material without psychology, since the material is destined to affect the psyche and only comes into consideration at all through this function.
--Arnold Schoenberg, Style and Idea: Selected Writings, p. 316.
I'm not sure anyone else has expressed these things with the same degree of clarity.

Bartók knew something about form. Here is his Piano Concerto No. 3 with Martha Argerich:

UPDATE: While we are on Bartók piano concertos, this is a pretty interesting performance of number 3. The soloist is Jean-Efflam Bavouzet with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, conductor. Notice how the conductor cues the hard-working pianist as well as the orchestra. Also, they have moved the percussion from being in the back to being in front, level with the solist. Good performance.

UPDATE: Sorry, I meant to write that the clip by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is the Concerto No. 1 by Bartòk, not no. 3. Apologies!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Kronos 25: Discs 9/10

Disc 9 is devoted to the music of Alfred Schnittke, a Russian/Jewish composer born in the Soviet Union. His father was posted to Vienna and so the young composer began his education exposed to the musical traditions of Viennese classicism which influenced his later work. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory where he taught from 1962 to 1972. He is sometimes regarded as an heir to Shostakovich because of the extremes of parody and despair in his music. Like Shostakovich he tends to quote stylistic elements if not literally from historical pieces. He was plagued by ill-health much of his life. Kronos play the Second and Fourth Quartets as well as their own transcription from the Concerto for Mixed Choir. This is some of the most challenging music in the whole collection and in many ways it reminds me of the very late works of Shostakovich in its bleak intensity.

You might think of Disc 10 as the "post-colonial" disc as it contains music by Australian Peter Sculthorpe, Vietnamese P. Q. Phan and South African Kevin Volans. I know some of this music as it was on a Kronos album I bought in the 80s with music by Sculthorpe and Volans. Both composers were very influenced by the indigenous music of their countries as was Phan. On one of the pieces by Sculthorpe, he adds two didgeridoos, instruments native to the Australian aborigines, to the quartet. But for the most part the influences are in the area of rhythmic ideas.

For our envoi, here is Kronos with a movement from the Volans piece White Man Sleeps.

What I really miss from this collection is their absolutely best ever string quartet encore, their transcription of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze"

Summary? This is a pretty good cross-section of the four hundred-some works commissioned by Kronos, certainly the most adventurous and prolific string quartet active today and the model for many other young string quartets. Is there any truly great music here? There is some very good music by the usual suspects: John Adams, Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman and Steve Reich, and there is some interesting music by most of the other composers. What was valuable to me in listening to these ten discs is to get a sort of overview of what is going on with the string quartet these days. What I didn't hear too often was structurally interesting music. There sure were a lot of interesting surface textures, though. There was nothing coming up to the level of quartets by the Viennese masters (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, but also Schoenberg, Berg and Webern), or Bartók or Shostakovich.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Kronos 25: Discs 7/8

Disc 7 consists of two pieces that are pretty central to the contemporary string quartet repertoire. The first piece is Different Trains (1988) by Steve Reich that is a kind of musical documentary using vocal fragments and melodies derived from them. The conceit of the piece is a kind of connection between the trains Steve Reich rode from New York to Los Angeles when he was a child, traveling between one parent and another, and the trains that took the Jews of Europe to the death camps like Auschwitz. The piece is for live string quartet accompanied by three pre-recorded quartets and recorded voices and train sounds. Rather a miracle of coordination. The music was written for Kronos and yes, they pretty much own it.

The second piece, Black Angels (1970) by George Crumb, was what inspired David Harrington to form Kronos to play pieces like it and as many more new pieces for quartet as they could persuade composers to write. The piece is an icon of contemporary music and is written for amplified string quartet and exotic percussion. Some of the names of the movements are evocative: "Night of the Electric Insects" and "Sarabanda de la Muerte Oscura." It seems a lot more durable than a lot of other pieces from that era and in the Kronos performance, is powerful and convincing.

What unites these two composers is that they are both East Coast guys as opposed to the composer on Disc 8, Terry Riley, most certainly a West Coast guy. I could never quite figure out if I was a West Coast Canadian guy (I grew up on Vancouver Island) or an East Coast Canadian guy (I spent over a decade living in Montreal) so I resolved the problem by moving to Mexico.

Terry Riley is something of a legend in 20th century American music. After inventing minimalism in 1964 with his piece In C, he disappeared for a couple of decades. It was Kronos that lured him into composing notated music again. Disc 8 contains two complete pieces and excerpts from a third. Riley's music is a fusion of Eastern and Western elements together with ones from Native Americans. You can certainly hear the results of his study of North Indian vocal music. The first piece Cadenza on the Night Plain (1984) incorporates cadenzas for all four instruments into the suite structure. G Song, with its scalar material has just a slight resemblance to Philip Glass.

UPDATE: I forgot to say anything about the last piece on the Riley disc: this consists of excerpts from a much longer piece Salome Dances for Peace (1985-86). There are a lot of ornamented drones and one section that sounds like where Lady Gaga got her lick from Bad Romance.

Here is G Song, the first piece written for Kronos by Terry Riley.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

And a little Bach

I'm always discovering new stuff on YouTube, despite their new algorithm which seems designed to force you to listen to a weird miscellanea of pop music no matter what! I recently discovered this excellent, spare performance of the Bach B minor Mass with Van Veldhoven and the Netherlands Bach Society:

They seem to have a choir of sixteen which includes the vocal soloists. All original instruments of course, which particularly changes the brass and tympani sounds. I grew up with the Karl Richter Munich version recorded around 1970, but this performance sounds just as full despite having many fewer performers. Very fine!

Klipsch and a little Sibelius

The other day when I was burning some CDs of my music for the talk I was giving, suddenly my computer speaker system just died. Nothing, nada. So I looked around on Amazon. There are a lot of possibilities, of course. My old speakers were these modestly priced ones from Creative Labs:

I thought they were ok, better than the iMac built-in ones. But as I am something of a power-user, I decided to upgrade to the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1, about twice the price:

Big heavy box, and when I unpacked it I discovered a speaker system that would not be out of place in a component stereo system. Big sub-woofer, nice satellite speakers and when I got it set up, big, BIG sound. I was just listening to Sibelius Symphony No. 5 and with the speaker volume on about 2 it was plenty loud enough. Excellent sound. Klipsch is a well known name in speakers and these sure do the job.

I used to like to listen to Salonen's recording of the Sibelius 5 with the Verbier Festival youth orchestra, but that seems to have disappeared from YouTube. So I am moving over to this Frankfurt Radio Symphony version conducted by Hugh Wolff which is excellent. Never heard of him before, but he seems a very good and precise conductor. He has a tendency to conduct the rests between the final chords in the last movement, but apart from that...

Kronos 25: Discs 5/6

Nice diverse repertoire on Disc 5:
  • Osvaldo Golijov: The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind (1994)
  • Sofia Gubaidulina: Quartet No. 4 (1993)
  • Franghiz Ali-Zadeh: Mugam Sayagi (1993)
Whatever happened to poor Osvaldo? A few years back he was in high demand, but then a couple of accusations of plagiarism surfaced and he was unable to deliver some new commissions on time and then he just disappeared. The piece on this disc is a lovely example of cultural globalism: intense, wailing klezmer music written by a Jewish composer born in Argentina, educated in Israel and the US and played by some folks from California.

Gubaidulina is currently one of my favorite composers for her spiritual yet exploratory music and because she has written quite a lot for guitar. In her Quartet No. 4 she uses a number of unique techniques including ricocheting a ball off the strings. There are also two prerecorded quartet parts. The piece is in one brief, twelve minute, movement. The ricochet effect makes the strings sound like an eerie quartet of skeletal mandolins.

Ali-Zadeh is an Azerbaijani composer educated in Western Europe and currently living in Germany like Gubaidulina she has explored the folk traditions of her country and incorporated them into her musical conceptions.

The three composers are connected to three different religious traditions: Judaism, Russian Orthodox and Islam.

Disc 6 has two quartets by Henryk Górecki. They are in reverse order on the disc:

  • Quasi una Fantasia, Quartet No. 2 (1990-91)
  • Already it is Dusk, Quartet No. 1 (1988)
Górecki is of course best known for his Symphony No. 3 which in 1993 stormed not only the classical charts but also the popular ones in Europe. Both of his quartets were written for Kronos. Sometimes his music is described as "spiritual minimalism" akin to that of Arvo Pärt. The Quartet No. 2 takes its time developing short enigmatic motifs. Górecki is not only strongly influenced by folk music, he is also a devout Catholic and elements of Polish liturgical chant can also be found in his music.

How odd, in a supposed post-religious world, that all of the composers on these two discs are influenced by their religious roots and traditions.

Here is the Quartet No. 1 by Górecki in the Kronos recording (isn't it odd that you can search for the Kronos recordings on YouTube, but you can't embed them?):

Friday, November 29, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

I almost forgot to put up my Friday Miscellanea! Just too much excitement this week, I guess. First up, here is a new video from Kanye on the song "Closed on Sundays":

I wonder what effect Kanye is having on the culture? This is a pretty interesting video from that point of view. Thoughts?

* * *

Shall I rub salt into the wound by linking to this tweet from the BBC: Clara Schumann is the greatest composer of all time!

* * *

After the musicologists, historians and theorists have all had their way with George Frideric Handel, is there anything left for the accountants? Yes, apparently.
George Frideric Handel was a master musician — an internationally renowned composer, virtuoso performer, and music director of London’s Royal Academy of Music, one of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses. For musicologists, studying his life and works typically means engaging with his compositional manuscripts at The British Library, as well as the documents, letters, and newspapers that describe his interaction with royalty, relationships to others, and contemporary reaction to his music. But when I began to explore Handel’s personal accounts at the Bank of England twenty years ago, I was often asked why. For me the answer was always ‘follow the money’. Handel’s financial records provide a unique window on his career, musical environments, income, and even his health.
Read on for a discussion that is just as dull as one would expect...

* * *

I don't know if I ever said so in so many words, but I basically ended my concert soloist career by going on strike. One day I just said "enough!" A new book by a pianist informs us about the vicissitudes of a concert artist:
Before reading the book, I would have said that I had a fairly good understanding of the work that goes into the career, but I was dreaming. Here are some of the more stressful examples: In London, Hough gets a call to play Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto, which he knows, but hasn’t played for a couple of years, with the Chicago Symphony, ie in Chicago – the next day. Another cancellation has him playing Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which he has only played once before with a youth orchestra (badly, he says), at the gigantic Hollywood Bowl, where the “heads of the audience in the back rows were as small as the notes on the page of my miniature score”. Again, when he is in Amsterdam to play the Grieg Concerto, a cancellation offers him the opportunity to play it with another orchestra – on the same day. He rehearses at 11 am with the first orchestra, at 12 with the second, gives performance one at 2:15, has a dress rehearsal at 6:15, performance two at 6:30. Or simply the extraordinary task of playing both the Brahms concertos on the same programme. I would find that emotionally draining even as a listener. You might say that Hough had it in his power to turn down some of these opportunities, but that is not the life of a freelance artist, where the only good excuse for turning down a gig is that you are already booked for another one.
And this is the life of someone whose career is doing really well.

* * *

 If you will forgive the pun, here is a piece beating the drum of multiculturalism in music: CULTURAL APPROPRIATION IN CLASSICAL MUSIC?
A lucid example of the Western music aesthetic versus an indigenous one would be to consider the concert hall experience and that of a powwow. In the concert hall, the quality of the sound becomes the preeminent value, conceptually superseding the players and the audience. In a concert hall, the audience and orchestra are kept in separate spaces, and the flow of activity is directed from the orchestra to the audience, which remains seated, silent, and motionless. The performers all wear black to hide any individuality, and concerts are typically appraised on the “ugliness” or “beauty” of their collective sound.
* * *

Over at The New Yorker, Alex Ross has a laudatory piece on the record label ECM that has put out a host of great contemporary recordings: The Pristine Empire of ECM Records.
ECM is one of the greatest labels in the history of recording. Manfred Eicher, who founded ECM and remains its sole proprietor, has forged a syncretic vision in which jazz and classical traditions intelligently intermingle. ECM’s catalogue of some sixteen hundred albums contains abrasive sounds as well as soothing ones, clouds of dissonance alongside shimmering triads. All benefit from a crisply reverberant acoustic in which an instrument’s timbre is nearly as important as the music played on it. Simply put, Eicher’s releases tend to sound better than other people’s. Some of ECM’s best disks were made in league with the Norwegian recording engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug, who died earlier this month.
The occasion for this column is a new Beethoven cycle with some interesting twists by the Danish String Quartet.

Every now and then I forget that the level of culture in, well, our culture has been declining for the last few decades. And then along comes an article that reminds me: Three quarters of young Britons have never heard of Mozart while one in five think Bach is still alive, poll reveals. And this is in the UK, which is usually presumed to be more culturally educated than North America.
Three quarters of young people in Britain have never heard of Mozart, a survey reveals.
One in five think composer Johann Bach – who died in 1750 – is still alive, fewer than one in five had heard of violin star Nicola Benedetti and only a third knew that Sir Simon Rattle, who performed at the 2012 London Olympics, is a conductor. 
By contrast, 94 per cent knew Adele was a singer. Leading composer Debbie Wiseman said she was alarmed by the findings, which revealed a widespread ignorance of classical music.
* * *

In her last column for the Washington Post, Anne Midgette reveals what she really thinks of the National Symphony:
People often say that an orchestra is a metaphor for excellence. But it’s also a metaphor for life itself: not an isolated event but an activity to be engaged in, through dry spells and misfires and, sometimes, moments that overwhelm you with their sheer magnificence. Orchestra lovers are like fans of a baseball team, who accept that it sometimes does badly and exult when it does well, and like a sportswriter, I call out the bad moments while, in my heart, always rooting for the group to do its best. In that spirit, I can say that “Zarathustra” on Thursday had some shockingly lackluster spots, like the dry, piercing flute notes on which the piece ended, and some richly beautiful ones that made me appreciate the depths of a score usually remembered only for its first 60 seconds.
* * *

 We haven't had any Richard Strauss for a while, so let's listen to Thus Spake Zarathustra. This is Jonathan Nott conducing the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra at the Proms in 2009:

Kronos: 25/Discs 3 & 4

Disc three is devoted to one long (80 minutes) piece by Morton Feldman. A good friend of mine, Anthony Genge, did a doctorate in composition with him at SUNY Stony Brook. Feldman wrote a lot of very long pieces in his later years and the Salzburg Festival is doing a mini-festival of his music next summer. Listening to Piano and String Quartet from 1985 is a strange experience. The piece is simplicity itself, with slow arpeggios on the piano answered by quiet sustained chords from the string quartet. The music slowly changes like the movement of clouds in the sky, or the slow advance of the tide on a lonely beach. As the music goes on, the piano and quartet change roles, occasional pizzicati appear, but the simplicity remains. One realizes that this music has a healing quality. It is as if a hundred hours of bad, crashing, awkward and unpleasant music was slowly washed away by the honest simplicity of these chords.

This is a performance by Víkingur Ólafsson (piano), Sigrún Edvaldsdóttir (violin), Bryndís Halla Gylfadóttir (cello), Una Sveinbjarnardóttir (violin) and Thórunn Ósk Marinósdóttir (cello) from a festival in Iceland in 2013:

Disc four has String Quartets 2, 3, 4, and 5 by Philip Glass. They are so terribly busy after listening to the Feldman. At this point Glass' music is hardly surprising. He somehow manages to find more possibilities within the fairly narrow range of rising minor thirds, lots of eighth notes and diatonic scales. Mirabile visu, Glass has managed to construct a new tonality that offers a stable, repeatable platform for any number of string quartets, symphonies (is he up to ten by now, or eleven?), concertos, operas and so on. He is the Vivaldi of the late 20th century avant-garde.

For some reason Blogger won't embed the Kronos recording, so here is the Catalyst Quartet with the Closing of the Mishima quartet, No. 3:

As I recall, we had the Catalyst Quartet down here for a winter series chamber concert a few years ago and they may have even played this piece.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Kronos Quartet: 25 Years

At my talk yesterday, one person asked about the Kronos Quartet. Coincidentally, that same day I received from Amazon the box of ten CDs of their 25th Anniversary collection.

The Kronos Quartet, as we learn from the extensive notes in the booklet accompanying the discs, was founded in 1973 in Seattle by violinist David Harrington. In the first few years there was some turnover of personnel before settling into the long-term lineup that included violinist John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. The plan from the very beginning was to reconceive the string quartet in a new way that would be an ideal medium for composers in the last quarter of the 20th century and on into the future. They were spectacularly successful in this regard and ended up commissioning some four hundred pieces by a wildly diverse group of composers. They created an audience of young, enthusiastic listeners who were open to all sorts of new kinds of music.

What the heck, let's review the box. Disc 1 is devoted to John Adams and Arvo Pärt. I have mixed feelings about John Adams--some pieces I really love, but others I find tedious. The music here, John's Book of Alleged Dances (1994) is new to me and on first listening, it is a real winner, displaying Adams' humorous side with titles like "Dogjam" and "Toot Nipple." The music is a suite of crazed and inventive dances that continues to surprise. This is followed by four pieces by Arvo Pärt that, while not very surprising if you know his music, are certainly a faithful performance of his mystical, hazy harmonies. The piece new to me was the Missa Syllabica for string quartet and quartet of singers.

Disc 2 is music by Ken Benshoof, the first composer commissioned by the quartet (first commission payment was a bag of donuts!) and Harrington's composition teacher at the University of Washington. The  first piece, the original commission, Traveling Music (1973), is a real delight, moving imperceptibly from downhome sashaying to more incisive expression. Also included is a newer piece, Song of Twenty Shadows (1994). The rest of the disc is devoted to music by Astor Piazzolla and the quartet are joined by the composer himself on bandoneón. This is a very faithful performance of Piazzolla which means that since I didn't like his music much before, I like it even less now. Sorry! But I find Piazzolla to be tedious in the extreme with his meticulous exploration of two and only two moods, neither of which I care for.

Up next are two discs devoted to Morton Feldman and Philip Glass which I will take up in a future post. For now, let's have an envoi of Ken Benshoof's Traveling Music:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Talk on Composition

Yesterday I gave a short talk on composition. I was asked to give the presentation by a friend, Ben, who lives in a grand and rustic house in the country. Apart from a couple of friends I really didn't know who was going to show up. I was surprised and pleased to see two ex-presidents of the chamber music festival there. There were also a few writers and painters so it was an artistically aware group. Here is a shot of the space:

Click to enlarge
That doesn't give a good sense of the room, which had a fourteen foot ceiling and lovely bullseye windows on the other end. Just right for this sort of presentation. My violinist was out of town so I played some recordings of my music and talked a bit about what composers do and what different kinds there are. I mentioned that historically composers largely provided music for the church and nobility. Nowadays an important group of composers are those nearly anonymous Swedish songwriters that provide a lot of the material for the pop divas. Yes, Swedish! Then there are the film soundtrack composers like John Williams. And finally, there are the "contemporary classical" composers like myself.

I played some of my older pieces, like this song, "Listening to a Monk from Shu" on a poem by Li Po:

I explained that the influences on that piece were the sound of the pipa or Chinese lute. Next I played a piece for violin and guitar that is influenced a bit by Debussy called "Cloudscape."

Next I played a piece for violin and piano called "Chase." This was a pièce d'occasion written for a couple of friends of mine and it uses some Latin American rhythms. The intent was merely to be musically enjoyable. Here is the link:

Finally I played a recording of my new piece, "Dark Dream." I am going to finally post that piece over the weekend. I have been hesitating because it was such a departure for me, the first piece in which I really feel I have ventured onto unexplored ground and brought something new to composition. Though, indeed, there is some Asian influence and it owes a bit to the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. But more about that later.

What impressed me so much was the reaction to my music. Everyone was so positive. They said they really felt that the music was deeply expressive and took them on a journey. In other words, my music touched them. As a composer, you spend so much time working alone and often you don't know how your music will be received, especially if it is exploring new territory. So this experience was very gratifying for me. Here are some photos afterwards.

From left to right, our host, Ben, a guest, myself, Barbara (ex-president of chamber music festival) and John, author of numerous books
Myself, with Barbara, who has asked me to give some presentations at her house in town next year

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Salzburg Festival 2020

I just placed my order for tickets to next summer's Salzburg Festival. Looking at the offerings I decided to focus on concerts in the second half of August. Here is what I ordered:


CONCERT 11:00, Grosses Festspielhaus

Vienna Philharmonic · Muti

1 Ticket
Category 6
€ 85.-

CONCERT 19:30, Stiftung Mozarteum — Großer Saal

Beethoven Cycle 8 – Levit

1 Ticket
Category 3
€ 55.-

OPERA 20:00, Felsenreitschule
Richard Strauss


1 Ticket
Category 6
€ 75.-

OPERA 18:00, Grosses Festspielhaus
Modest Mussorgsky

Boris Godunov

1 Ticket
Category 7
€ 75.-

CONCERT 18:00, Stiftung Mozarteum — Großer Saal

Camerata Salzburg · Lonquich

1 Ticket
Category 4
€ 60.-

CONCERT 11:00, Stiftung Mozarteum — Großer Saal

Mozart Matinee · Á. Fischer

1 Ticket
Category 4
€ 60.-

CONCERT 19:30, Felsenreitschule

Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester · Metzmacher

1 Ticket
Category 4
€ 85.-

CONCERT 19:30, Grosses Festspielhaus

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra · Honeck

1 Ticket
Category 6
€ 80.-

CONCERT 11:00, Grosses Festspielhaus

Vienna Philharmonic · Dudamel

1 Ticket
Category 6
€ 80.-

The Vienna Phillies are performing the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven which I have never heard in concert. The Levit concert is part of his complete cycle of the Beethoven piano sonatas. This concert includes op. 109, 110 and 111, three of my favorites. Back in the late 80s when I was a student there, they did a lot more of this. That year Brendel played all the Schubert sonatas, the Alban Berg Quartet did all the Beethoven quartets and Stockhausen's ensemble did seven concerts of his chamber music.

Then I am going to two operas. I chose operas I didn't know over a couple of Mozart operas which I sort of know! Hope I made the right choice. I am really looking forward to Boris Godunov. This version was orchestrated by Shostakovich. The concert on the 21st is rather a marathon. It goes from 6 to 11pm and will include ALL the Beethoven piano concertos with Alexander Lonquich both as soloist and conductor. The Mozart Matinee includes an early symphony and the 41st. The Mahler Jugendorchester has this program:
Prelude 'Dawn over the Moscow River' from the opera Khovanshchina
Songs and Dances of Death
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43

The Pittsburgh Symphony concert includes the Beethoven Violin Concerto and the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra. The Dudamel concert includes a Liszt Piano Concerto and the Firebird. And I forgot to book a ticket to the Daniil Trifinov concert with a terrific program of 20th century music. So I went back and added that one. Sometime around the end of March I will find out if I have been "alloted" the tickets.

So, looks like a very full and satisfying festival. Will I see any of my readers there?

For our envoi, how about that Symphony No. 4 by Shostakovich? This is the one he withdrew from rehearsal in 1936 after he was denounced in Pravda. He wrote the Symphony No. 5 to restore his standing with Stalin. Bernard Haitink probably conducting the Concertgebouw: