Archives for the Month of May 2008 on Jeffrey Quick's Blog

Global warming Hot air at La Scala

Italy's premiere opera house has just commissioned on opera based on OwlGore's "Inconvenient Truth" from Giorgio Battistelli, currently artistic director of the Arena in Verona. It's not mentioned which librettist will have the duty of producing a drama from an alleged book of nonfiction, though Battistelli has done his own libretti, including that for Cenci (after Artaud), but not for the recent The Fashion (by Bob Goody) or Richard III (Ian Burton)

I've not heard a note of his music, which has been described as "post-modern atonality" and "a colourless gouache of synthetic sub-Birtwistle". George Loomis of the International Herald Tribune wasn't easy on his skills in the one non-negotiable of opera:

The chief fault of "Richard III" lies in its text setting. Proponents of opera in English — "Richard III" was written in English and performed with Flemish supertitles — argue that if only singers enunciate clearly and conductors keep the orchestra under control, words will come through. But Battistelli stacks the deck against them with heavy, though interesting orchestration, and angular vocal writing with long note values doesn't help.

...though given that this is An Inconvenient Truth, the inept text-setting might help the project.

But the real issue here is plot. This being opera, we need a concrete love interest. Perhaps Battistelli could cast the prima donna as the goddess Gaia, and the lead tenor (or countertenor!) could sacrifice himself to her by being buried alive in a huge compost pile.

Symphony in D

For those who missed it last weekend, here is the Schimpfonie (as its dedicatee, Vienna-based composer David Babcock, calls it), performed by the Suburban Symphony Orchestra under Martin Kessler. It's about 26' long. Enjoy!

Symphony report

They pulled it all together in the end. Balances were better, all involved had a good grasp of the thought of the piece, and, most importantly, it connected with the audience.It was not a perfect performance (as if there could be such a thing), but most errors didn't make ME look bad.

The conductor, Martin Kessler, made an interesting comment to me that might be useful to any of you composer types out there: even though the piece was really too hard for them, in another sense it was perfect for the group, because everyone got to play a lot and everyone had something meaningful to do, so it was fun for an amateur orchestra to play. So if one wrote an easier piece with the same characteristics, it could find a niche. That sort of describes the Still Afro-American. I've never been a big fan of the content of that piece, but it sounds; the scoring is solid, colorful and effective, and nothing gets in the way of anything else. I just wish he'd done more with the banjo.

The Plain Dealer had a nice promo piece for the concert in yesterday's paper. My name got mentioned, but otherwise it was Eric Dina (guest conductor for the Still) and Still all the way.I wish that had had a bigger impact on the demographic of the audience.

Here's Marty Kessler, talking to an orchestra member during the post-touchup/pre-concert nosh.

I took a picture of the orchestra seated before playing, but it didn't turn out...underexposed, and no amount of dial fiddling could make it presentable. And I didn't think to outfit my wife with the camera for any "victorious composer taking his bows" shots...which probably would also have been underexposed.

In Knoxville, Marian Vogel's diction was as crisp as her tone was clear, and I got my usual weepy self with that piece. They began the 2nd half with an unannounced selection: Happy Birthday for a member of the 1st violins who had turned 90 that day.

Robot conductor in MI

To highlight a gift it made to music education, Honda brought out a robot to conduct the Detroit Symphony. I'm going to eschew the cheap conductor and Detroit jokes, and simply note that the 'bot was programmed to a particular interpretation of a Broadway tune, and could not interact with the musicians. Artificial intelligence isn't there yet (and I'll skip the obvious joke there too.)

The next logical step is to program an orchestra of robots to do an authentic performance of Wellingtons Sieg.

Fighting for crumbs

As the Endarkenment continues apace, composers are getting desperate for attention. Tuesday the Cleveland Composers Guild put on a wonderful concert by the Cleveland Duo & James Umble. Not a word about it beforehand in any of the print media that we've seen, despite having been double-sent the press release, and we got the customary 50 or so bodies. My symphony is on Sunday, and there's nothing in the two weekly bourgeois-Marxist papers. Any publicity out there is hit-or-miss Internet stuff, or paid for (spots are running on WCLV). Meanwhile, funders want to measure RoI by audience size. I can't think of any other objective way to do it, but I've seen it lead to aesthetically wrongheaded decisions. There is too much happening, and too few interested, to make for big audiences. And new music is stylistically fragmented; there is no one new-music audience, but many. I'm even seeing beginning signs of an Uptown-Downtown split, as if Cleveland once again were a NYC wannabe.

We've got a local composer griping because not enough other composers show up to new music events (meaning in this case the new music events he shows up to, generally performances by recently-dead European males). He's retired, and he's got the time to go. But what are the rest of us supposed to do, who are balancing career, family, non-career composition and running an arts organization? Yes, we should support each other. But if I have the right to tell other people how to apportion their time, I'm their slavemaster.

We are the real indie/alternative music, and had might as well accept it and act accordingly. Rock clubs are for others; new music is for YOU.

A word for James Wilding

I spent my drive in the AM getting to know the music of James Wilding from the University of Akron, and well worth knowing it is. You could call it "neo-impressionist" but not in a Gallic way; it's maybe more akin to Szymanowski or Griffes, but doesn't really sound like either (unsurprisingly, given it's 80 years later). Nice sounds, clear but not simple-minded construction, subtly dramatic.

I don't talk much about local composers because they're mostly Guild members and politically it's risky, especially if I don't like them. But we haven't voted James in yet (that's WHY I was listening).

One thing though: I HATE HATE HATE composer websites that blare music at you when you open them up. I often listen to Naxos in the morning before we open and forget to turn my sound off, and suddenly in the library the staff needs shushing. You have been warned.

Seeker Variations

Here is the premiere of my new cello and piano piece, played by Eden Raiz (age 16) with Elizabeth Johnson on piano.

Upcoming new music concerts: there or square

May 13, 2008, 8 PM
Drinko Hall, Cleveland State University
Cleveland Duo & James Umble

Works for violin, saxophone and piano, written expressly for this concert by members of the Cleveland Composers Guild:

O'Connell: Unfoldings
Underhill: Arugula
Quick: Trio for violin, alto saxophone and piano
Emerson: Tattoos
Rollin: The Chagall Miniatures

My contribution to the festivities is in 3 movements, running 10 minutes or so:
1. Closer Than They Appear
2. The Answered Question
3. Battlefield Dance

May 18, 2008, 3:30PM
Beachwood High School Auditorium, 25100 Fairmount Blvd, Beachwood OH

Suburban Symphony Orchestra under Martin Kessler
Premiere of Quick, Symphony in D, with works of Barber and Still.
24 minutes of boogie, conflict, angst, and serenity