Entries in the Category "Music"

Bumper crop of Quick performances

This afternoon I coached (if that's the word to use with artists who showed me things I didn't know existed in my own piece) Katherine DeJongh and Eric Charnofsky in my Flute Sonata. This is going to be something very special, and if you're around and available, you can hear it on Feb. 28th at 3 PM at Christ Episcopal Church, 3445 Warrensville Center Rd. in Shaker Heights.

Then yesterday I got email from Barbara Margolis, artistic director of Cantores Cleveland, saying that they're doing my Super Flumina Babylonis in their current run of concerts. Those will be at St. Anselm in Chesterland Feb. 28 at 3 pm, and then on Sat. March 6 at St. Albert the Great in North Royalton at 7:30. I don't know what else is on the program, but whatever it is, it'll be good.

RIP Richard Nanes

I was going to add this to the comment thread here, but the system is apparently choking on my URLs, as if I was going to spam my own blog

Here's his obituary.

I see his website hasn't been updated yet. And this hasn't hit the Gaylord Music Library obituary page yet.

I don't know if "DN" is Daryl Nanes, his nephew....if so, I am sorry for your loss. But really, "hatefulness?" I re-read this, and the only bit that could be construed as ad hominem is my crack about short-bus special. The rest is entirely about the music. And if you're going to represent yourself as a composer, particularly with the excessive puffery of Nanes' approach to self-promotion, you should expect that people will judge your music, one way or the other. He may indeed have been a perfectly delightful man. But he sucked as a composer. So did Thomas Fawick, another entrepreneur/musician (from Cleveland), but Fawick stuck to salon pieces, and didn't have the budget or modern media to hawk his pieces.

Now Richard Nanes belongs to the ages. I predict that the ages will forget him, but I could be wrong. We remember Florence Foster Jenkins, Silas G. Pratt ("The Wagner of America"), Bulwer-Lytton, and various other panache-filled figures.

My shawm band, Burgundy

OK, it's not Piffaro, by a long shot. But here's a little taste of what Paul, David and I do.

Mein morken gaf, (3 part version) on shawms and sackbut.

Fortuna desperata (shawms and sackbut)

Laultro jour (anon., Bologna Q16), on recorders

Ile fantazies de Joskin, by (who else) Josquin des Pres. Recorders.

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 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.

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

EU noise regs after pipe bands, big orchestras

Brussels is out to protect the hearing of participants in musical ensembles, with new work rules:

The rules are part of the control of noise at work regulations, introduced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following a Brussels directive.

The rules cap weekly average noise exposure at 85 decibels, meaning periods of loud play need to be cancelled out by quiet periods.

Now, this might not be a problem with orchestra music, which does get quiet. And rehearsals are only part of an orchestral musician's "work week" - there's also practice. But then there are the poor devils in bagpipe bands:

“You can’t play the pipe quietly; they haven’t got a volume switch.”

I don't know how many professional pipe bands there are. Since this is explicitly a work regulation, it shouldn't apply to amateur bagpipe bands, unless they have paid leaders. Nor to Belgian hunting horn clubs, which the story doesn't mention. Regardless, anyone who would take up the Highland pipes deserves what he gets, and the Euroweenies should butt out.

UPDATE: Thanks to Dr. Ross Duffin, this story about how the new rules are playing out in the orchestra world, including the scuttling of a premiere. As a linearly-oriented composer, I have to wonder about people who write excessively and incessantly loud music. What's the point?

Self-interview about my Symphony in D

In preparation for the Suburban Symphony premiere (May 18, 3:30, Beachwood High Auditorium), I was asked for "a little something" about the piece. I don't much like program notes, but I love to talk about myself (duh, I'm a blogger!). So I thought I'd do an interview.

ME: Why did you write a symphony?

JAQ: Because it was time. It was OK again to write a symphony in the ‘90s; it represented a conscious identification with the musical values of the past. I was about to turn 40, and figured it would be a nice birthday present for myself. I thought up this theme in Dec. 95 and waited for the Solstice to write it down ..because it seemed auspicious to do so.

ME: It took you awhile

JAQ: Yeah. It was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to get done by June of ’96. But then I got divorced, which was traumatic, made it hard to focus on composition, and put me behind. But that wasn’t all. I had a specific musical problem that I had to solve before moving past the exposition. That heartbeat rhythm in the 2nd theme group...”Lub dub [pause] lub dub”...came in fairly late in the process. Plus I was writing other pieces that had a better chance of being performed. So it ended up being more of a 50th birthday present.

ME: What are your influences, in this piece at least?

JAQ: You know composers hate that question! We’re all supposed to be totally original, you know. But I’d say it’s a piece in the Mahler tradition...if you can think of a Mahler who knew his Brahms well and lived in the US. That trad goes through Shostakovich, Pettersson, Chris Rouse, but it darkened up in the process. My symphony is not a dark piece, though it certainly has dark and ironic elements. The use of quotation is part of that. Most people associate that with Ives, but it’s present in Mahler 1 and Shosty 15. And for Ives, it’s mostly about scene-setting, but here the quotations are integrated into the thematic development.

ME: What do they mean?

JAQ: That’s another connection to the Mahler tradition: the disavowed program! I definitely had an extramusical idea when I began the piece, which I got away from a bit in the actual composition. If you want to see the piece as being about “the individual vs. the forces of oppression”, that’s OK. If you want to see it as about “fifths and 7ths in D vs. repeated notes and turns in Eb minor”, that’s even better.

ME: You dodged my question.

JAQ: I’m not going there, because to do it, I’d have to do the sort of program notes I absolutely hate: “Theme 2b appears in the relative minor of the Neapolitan, in a rhythm suggesting the march of ants in jackboots.” I’m not much of one for descriptive program notes anyway. The music either makes sense as music, or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, all the notes will do is provide distracting reading matter while the listener sits through nonsense. All I will say is that there are symbolic elements that aren’t particularly subtle. Listeners will probably get them, and if they don’t, in 50 years some not-too-bright musicology grad student can do his dissertation on it, if anyone cares by then,

ME: OK, no blow-by blow...but what about form? Anything general you can say?

JAQ: It’s a 24 minute sonata-allegro, another link with the Mahler trad. I actually had somebody suggest I should write 3 more movements. Yeah, like anyone is going to play an hour-long symphony by an unknown composer; I’m surprised and pleased that I got 24 minutes. More to the point, there is a vast array of different musics in the form, to the point that I felt no need for contrasts outside of the form. I said what I had to say.

ME: Since this is an avowedly tonal symphony, can we expect any big tunes?

JAQ: I’m not afraid of writing tunes. And since I’m primarily a linear thinker, there should be adequate melodic interest. But tunes, in the sense of Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninoff, whistle it leaving the auditorium, convert it into a pop song type tunes? Probably not. Though if I do hear anyone whistling it, I’ll be pleased.

The Cleveland Composers Guild: in the beginning

Here's a very early picture of the Cleveland Composers Guild (late 1950s?) courtesy of Larry Baker, who got it from Lucile Erb. I'm not sure what the venue is, though it looks like the Cleveland Music School Settlement to me.
Guild Picture2.jpg

Back row (L to R): Fred Koch, Bain Murray, Howard Whitaker, Julius Drossin, Klaus George Roy

Front Row: Rudolph Bubalo, Jane Corner Young, Starling Cumberworth, Susan Krausz, Donald Erb

I'd also sent this via email to the Guild, with the impish suggestion that the blank square in the lower left was to cover Fred Koch dropping his trousers. I got this response via email:

Glad you found some use for the picture! The date is pretty close. Maybe early 60s as Bain didn't come to Cleveland until 1959. And, sorry, the reason for the blank spot is not nearly that interesting.....I just had a label on it in the album!

Best D and L Erb

James MacMillan on the Left

From one of England's Scotland's brightest composers, a brilliant rant on why he is not "a liberal left-winger"-- one I wish I had written myself:

Even today, I manage to survive trendy dinner parties by keeping my mouth shut, nodding at the received wisdom of the bien-pensant, and avoiding nasty and surprising arguments. Anything for a quiet life. But the political education I received from old Catholics like my grandfather and even from old Marxists I met at Communist party meetings in the 1970s has made me contemptuous of the simplistic banalities of the modern progressive élites. They lack intellectual rigour and ethical integrity, their politics are bland and sentimental, their hatred of Christianity is fundamentalist.

Or this:

What passes in Britain for an intelligentsia has appropriated the Arts for their own designs — a recent debate at the South Bank proclaimed ‘All Modern Art Is Left Wing’. No dissent from the party line goes unpunished. What we are seeing here is a cultural regime which adjudicates artists and their work on the basis of how they contribute to the remodelling, indeed the overthrow of society’s core institutions and ethics

Before the performance of one of my orchestral works in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I gave a short introductory talk and quoted the philosopher Roger Scruton. The Guardian review denounced this as ‘perilous’. What or who was perilous? Were Scruton’s ideas perilous? Was my public association with him perilous? And, if so, for whom? For me? Was this a threat?

Trivial analytical insight

Gliere's Russian Sailors' Dance ain't nothin' but a gussied-up descending Aolian scale.

Shut up the print music stores, now.

I used to be in print music retail, and I can tell you just why the bricks-n-mortar paradigm has no place for contemporary music -- which is horrible, because more than other kinds of concert music, you need to be able to examine the score before buying. To the extent that it has existed at all, it's because of cross-subsidy by other forms of print, primarily method books and popular music, and people who care enough that they forgo the extra buck to keep an item on a shelf for a year or two.

We've known that print music has been ailing for some time. There has been consolidation in the industry, with companies merging with those companies whose order fulfillment is quick, accurate, and high-discount (in short, as much like online as possible). We've been told that the photocopier is the culprit. But to photocopy an item, somebody somewhere has to buy it sometime.

Now, I've been doing a sort of public service librarian gig at Yahoo Answers. And one of the most frequently-asked questions is, "Where can I download [piece of usually-copyright print music] for free?" Some of us have answered, "You can't; it's under copyright".

That's just not true.

I was a bit horrified when I started exploring some of these sites. I knew somebody once whose computer crashed while they were in an AOL chat room, and when they logged back on, their screen name was stuck in a kiddie porn trading room. It wasn't quite that horrifying; I don't go all moralistic on people about illegal downloads. But I could see where the economics were going. You can get just about anything in popular music, for free. Some sites are members-only trading, but at some of them, a pdf download was just a click away. I tried one download, of an item I used to sell (and no, I have no use for this except for research, and will be deleting the file). No, it wasn't a copy of the original. Rather, the original had been imported into a notation program. It appeared to be relatively accurate and literate, but nothing fancy (no dynamics, for instance).

Here's the problem: consider that RIAA has been suing the pants off anyone they can, and have accomplished little except to make themselves unpopular. MPA doesn't have those kind of deep pockets. And there is no more that can be done about print music downloads than audio downloads. Even in a secure online sales system like Sunhawk, there is nothing to keep the end-user from scanning the print, changing the format, and putting it up as a .pdf somewhere.

What this means is that the price of popular print music will tend towards zero. All published print can add is nicer paper and better accuracy, vs. a price and massive inconvenience in getting it. Legal downloads won't even have the nice paper. Classical print will end up like classical music, with the big players exiting the scene, to be taken over by niche marketers. I don't know if Subito will be the Naxos of classical print, but parallels could be drawn.

Where does that leave me? I'd planned on a big push this year to make as much of my music as possible available in print. I'm still going to do that, but even niche publishers have a limited future. I've been resistant to doing the self-publish thing, but ultimately, it may be my only choice.

Kyle Gann's Longyear lecture

One night in New York City after a concert I was having a drink with my fellow composer Larry Polansky. He was talking about the musicological and restorative work he was doing on music by Johanna Beyer and Harry Partch, I spoke of my analytical writings on the music of Conlon Nancarrow and Mikel Rouse. Finally, Larry said, "Composers are now doing the work that musicologists used to do, while the musicologists are all off doing gender studies."

It just gets better from there: some very perceptive comments about the relationship between modern composers and musicologists.

Cleveland Composers Guild Sunday 2/24

We interrupt our regularly scheduled discussion of dead Italian-American male composers to bring you this special announcement about a live composer event.

Sunday, February 24, 2008, 3PM
Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2592 W. 14th St., Tremont (Cleveland)

Auerbach-Brown: Album I (fl,cl,vl,vc,perc,synth)
Rollin: Seascapes (ob, trp)
Chobanian: Divertimento (6 vc.)
Lissauer: Portrait, Op. 33 "New York in September"
Houghton: In the Dunes (piano)
O'Connell: The Beautiful Changes and A Song (soprano, fl, hp, vibraphone, vc)

Performed by All Kinds of Extremely Competent Local Freelancers.

Be there or be square.

Flagello, revisited

Awhile ago, I made a offhand comment about the music of Nicolas Flagello, saying that what I'd heard had been "pug ugly." John McLaughlin Williams (conductor of the recording under consideration) posted a comment. John is too much the gentleman to say, "Quick, you're full of crap", but in fact I was full of crap, and he challenged me to listen again. That's understandable; John has done as much for Flagello's music as anyone since Paul Kapp (which is not to slight David Amos or others, but an objective evaluation), so such a dismissal could be taken personally as "Why are you wasting time with this guy?" (No, I don't believe John took it that way.)

Continue reading "Flagello, revisited"

New stuff

That cello piece for Eden Raiz on 4/27 is done. Seeker Variations is 4:20 long. I've also made a version for euphonium, a half step higher.

Over the weekend I finished my setting of Super flumina Babylonis, in 4 parts (3 men, 1 women...or take it up a little with altos on the 2nd line). It's in 2 partes (breaking after "highest joy") and is 5:00 long. It's in Phrygian with flatward tendencies. If Josquin had been a student of Gesualdo, it would sound a little like this. For a motet, it's a good madrigal.

Arnold Rosner on Naxos

I checked the new releases on Naxos Music Online this morning and was very pleased to see that they have released a recording of Arnold Rosner's Symphony No. 5, Op. 57, "Missa sine Cantoribus super Salve Regina", performed by the Ukraine National Radio Symphony Orchestra with Cleveland's own John McLaughlin Williams conducting. I only had a chance to hear half of it before opening the library, but first impression was that it was the best performance of a Rosner orchestral work that I've heard. The Altoona and Owensboro orchestras, appreciated as their efforts are, are no match for the UNRS, and I've long been an admirer of John's work. It's a gorgeous work, all Rosner. For those who don't know what that is, in this case I'd describe it as the intersection of Edmund Rubbra and Alan Hovhaness. I'll probably have more to say about this when I have my own copy and can give it the attention it deserves. Meanwhile, my congratulations to Arnold.

The fillup is Nicolas Flagello's Missa Sinfonica, which I haven't heard yet. There's been a movement to canonize Flagello as a martyr for the neoromantic cause (the instrument of martyrdom being alcohol). The problem here is that even though Flagello's rhetoric is romantic, the music I've heard is pug ugly. I would expect an orchestral "Missa" to be far less so, so I'm looking forward to giving the guy another chance.

UPDATE 2/4: I congratulated Arnold, and he says HE'S the fill-up. And the Flagello is NOT pug-ugly; it's pretty damn good. I must have heard some late stuff.

Early music Christmas albums

Yes, I know, we're inundated with holiday music. And "holiday music" is about right; very little of it references Jesus. We don't even escape it in classical radio, where we endure instrumental arrangements of the top 24 Christmas tunes, sometimes tricked out as parodies of the Air on the G String or some such. At least they drive the 19th century opera ballets off the air (an even more odious musical experience).

But there's an immense repertoire of music written for Christmas, going far beyond the Messiah-and-Corelli tradition. Some of the best of this is pre-Baroque. Renaissance ensembles tend to be thought of as "Christmassy" anyway, perhaps because of all those Whore's Bed Boar's Head Feastes we play. And some groups (Piffaro, Apollo's Fire) do regular Christmas concerts. So it's fairly easy for them to put together the near obligatory Christmas album. You'd think they'd be moneymakers, but I'm not sure they are. I'll be looking at several in this piece, and all are privately produced. They all also pass my test of a good Christmas album: "Would I consider listening to this in July?" Mandatory disclosure: they are all by people I have personal, collegial, or pedagogical connections to.

First up is Piffaro's Nowell's Delight, a compilation of recordings from concerts, done in Piffaro's well known extrovert style. There's a lot of shawm (especially in the early English carols), though many quieter moments as well. But no cute-lil-baby-Jesus stuff here; Piffaro has shown us through the years just how many things shawms can do well, but cute just isn't in the instrument. Soprano Laura Heimes does a lovely job adding the crucial vocal component. This one will work well at your Christmas party, in your car, anywhere.

A more intimate experience, more suited perhaps to hot chocolate and cookies with your kids as you attempt to calm them for bed, (or even for quiet cocktails with a special friend as you attempt to put him/her to bed!) is provided by Ellen Hargis (soprano) and Paul O'Dette (lute)on The Christmas Album. This doesn't avoid chestnuts as much as the Piffaro release, just because of the nature of the medium, but it doesn't matter, because Ellen and Paul make all things new again. There is a wide range of affects here, from the rowdy and joyous to (thankfully) the darkness of Merula's Canzonetta Spirituale sopra alla Nanna, in which Mary sings her Child to sleep with a fairly gruesome description of what's going to happen to Him when He grows up. And there's an encore: Frank Loesser's What are you doing New Year's Eve?, sung with the same attention to style as the rest of the album.

Perhaps my favorite early music Christmas album of all time (and one of the first early music recordings I ever owned) is Christmas carols & motets of medieval Europe (Bach Guild BGS 70680. p1965) by the Deller Consort with Rene Clemencic's Musica Antiqua of Vienna. It's not cutting edge performance practice, but very musical, and a wonderful selection of repertoire that doesn't get done often enough. A prime example is Fogliano's Ave Maria, a piece that hides its art in artlessness. Done with low recorders on the Bach Guild album, we'd do it nowadays with chamber organ or lute. Alas, it didn't make it onto Ellen's album, but it would be even more suited for Mignarda's individual style, and I was doing to drop Ron and Donna an email to suggest it.

But alas, last night I got an email saying that Mignarda had released a Christmas album -- and it's not on there! I haven't even had a chance to listen to the mp3 links. I'll probably pick it up when they next appear in town, on Sunday, December 30, 2007 at 4:00pm at The Lyceum School, 2062 Murray Hill Road in Cleveland, Ohio's Little Italy. I'm sure it's as wonderful as everything else they've done.

Stockhausen performing Luzifers Tanz for the dedicatee

He's gone.
Stockhausen was at the University of Michigan in the mid-80s for the premiere of some chunk of Licht (Luzifers Tanz?) which had been commissioned by the U of M Band. One of my wife's friends (John Grabowski?) had programmed a Stockhausen piece on his percussion degree recital. Stockhausen showed up, and went backstage during the intermission to ream him a new one over his interpretation.

While he was there, he did a concert with his son Markus and other acolytes, mostly of other chunks of Licht. My perception was that the guy could actually produce interesting musical ideas. But he seemed to eschew any idea of what to do with them.

I've got to wonder if the death of the Wagner of the 20th Century will inspire the same heartfelt art as the death of the first Wagner.

My quartet on Sunday

I was just at a dress rehearsal for my string quartet, which will be performed Sunday night at 8PM at St. Paul's Episcopal at Coventry and Fairmount. The great pleasure of working with the Cleveland Chamber Collective is that they really dig in and play what I've written. They've done my stuff before, so it's not an alien style for them. There was not much at all to do...a little encouragement to play a bit faster and lighter, a couple balances to fix, one unauthorized rallentando to remove, and it was there. I was surprised at how big the sound was...not quite Grieg Op. 27 big, but nearly, and the duets and trios were a real relief to the ear. I'm not quite as convinced by the end of the finale as I'd like to be; it sounds like it was dashed off in 3 days (well, because it was). But it's fun. If Kronos had been the resident quartet at Esterhaza, this would have been a Haydn quartet.

Now...sax trio on April 25, then a 'cello and piano piece I haven't begun yet on April 27, and the Symphony on May 18. So y'all gonna get your butts moving and come to hear 'em?

All-Ciconia concert Sunday 8PM in Harkness

The Case Early Music Singers and Collegium Musicum will be doing a program Sunday night, devoted to the work of Johannes Ciconia. I don't know what exactly Early Music Singers are doing. The singers of the Collegium will be doing Sus une fontayne, Le ray ay soleil, and Una Panthera. I'm involved in the Alta Capella and recorder group, which consists of Debra Nagy, Doug Milliken, and (for 1 number) Adam Corzatt on slide trumpet. Debra and Doug are both members of the Naxos recording group Ciaramella...no, Adam and I aren't doing the "Ciaramella Farm Team" sign routine, this being a real concert and all. But it's a great privilege to play with them. We'll be doing La fiamma del to amor, O Padua, sidus preclarum and O virum omnimoda on shawms, and Deduto sey and O rosa bella on Doug's Marvin recorders.

A couple performances coming up

Allison Ballard will be doing the premiere of my Flute Sonata on Katherine DeJongh's flute studio recital, "Night of the Living Composers", at 7PM Friday at Harkness.

And on the 18th at 8 at St. Paul's Episcopal at Coventry and Fairhill, the Cleveland Chamber Collective will premiere my String Quartet in A.

RIP Chas Smith

Charles V. (Chas) Smith died on the morning of Oct. 16, of double pneumonia, 4 other infections (he had no spleen, physically or metaphorically), Hodgkin's lymphoma, or a stroke...take your pick. Like most adjunct faculty (he taught rock history at Cleveland State), he had no medical insurance.

Chas and I were fellow students at Cleveland State. He was studying composition, and we sang together in Dr. William Martin's collegium (Bill referred to him as "the Chasuble"). But his real allegiance was not to the Western concert music tradition, but to his succession of bands and his radio show...a wild but temporary creativity. So we basically lost contact. We were nominally "in the same community" but in radically different corners: I as a Gardnerian Wiccan, he as a SubGenius participant. Hearing of his illness 3 weeks ago was the first I heard about him in several years.

It's pretty clear from the Yahoo Brushwood list that Chas had friends. There's a tribute site up at http://www.chastribute.com/

Visiting Hours will be

Thursday, October 18th
4:00 PM - 8:00 PM
37433 Euclid Ave.
Willoughby, Ohio 44094

Go to http://tinyurl.com/25zpeh for directions from your NE Ohio home

The Service, followed by the Funeral begins
Friday, October 19th
10:00 AM
Brickman Bros. Funeral Home

Auf wiederhören, oom-pa

Hmmm, here it is mid-October (well past Oktoberfest season, go figure) and no Oktoberfest gigs. Gee, I wonder why?

I haven't missed them. I think with the Composers Guild stuff, I would have gone nuts trying to do that. And I was just tired; it was time to quit. As it is, the farm is shaping up nicely for fall.

But I hate burning bridges or leaving on bad terms with anyone. Here's the story: der Chef (we'll call him that, because he's figured out ask.com; actually, he's probably figured out how to Google himself, but why be evil?) found the story and had problems with it. There was a little too much slice-of-life there about life on the road with dem Chef. His points were mostly good, and I didn't really want to cause problems for him or the band, so I cut away all the stuff about the road.

Well, when der Chef called about dates, he said it was much improved, but that it caused him a lot of trouble, and he wanted the whole thing gone. As the saying goes, "You can always tell a German, but you can't tell him much." And here were two Germans locking horns. I couldn't imagine what his problem was; I thought I'd dealt with it all. So I went back to the page, and realized that somebody in Baltimore must have given him grief about inviting Gov. Ehrlich onto the bandstand during election season. Now, Ehrlich had turned him down (which I praised profusely...and regular readers know just how often I praise politicians here, so I was loath to cut it), but I'd gone and told on him, and it appeared at least that der Chef had gone partisanly Republican at a non-partisan event. (I wonder if they ever found this?) Well, I don't like covering for anyone, and if I was going to do it, I was going to make it clear that I was covering. Which I did, knowing the risks. Oh well.

But I wish the man no ill. So let me clarify for the Deutschamerikanischer Burgerverein of Baltimore: der Chef doesn't play politics; he just loves to be associated with power. He's an equal-opportunity Arschkriecher; both Voinovich and Kucinich are his buddies, and he's no more associated with Republicans than the general population of elderly European ethnics is. Political arguments I've heard from him have been more on the Progressive side of things, but he's assured me that he doesn't believe anything that comes out of his mouth in that regard; he just wanted to get Don and me riled up so that we'd keep him awake in the van. So for all I know, the man has no political principles at all and would be just as happy onstage with FDR's Uncle Joe or this famous German as with Ehrlich. So...don't worry, Baltimore...he takes orders well, and nobody else I know of is doing music in quite that style. And he won't have that obnoxious hippie euphonium player with him.

Review: Cleveland Chamber Symphony 10/7

The Cleveland Chamber Symphony's concert yesterday at Baldwin-Wallace was their usual mix of new pieces, modern repertoire, and 20th-century classics. It began with a commissioned work, In Memoriam David Lelchook: For the Victims of War, by Michael Leese. The program says that the commissioning body was the "Cleveland Chamber Symphony", but the notes say that it was "commissioned by Judith Lelchook in memory of her beloved brother...", so maybe the version in the program should have been, "commissioned by Judith Lelchook for the Cleveland Chamber Symphony." This sort of private patronage should be encouraged as much as possible. Ms. Lelchook was present to hear "her" piece and was acknowledged by the audience.

She got a lot of bang for her buck. Micahel has always written solidly professional music, but nothing that has gotten into me quite like this piece. The program notes were not encouraging..."Oh gawd, another anti-war piece with snare drum gunfire" (which, in the event, I missed), but the reality was something different. The thing which made the work special was the coexistence of lyricism and "wars and rumors of war", not alternating, but as material that was somehow both. This is a piece that could grow legs, especially with world events being what they are.

This was followed by the John Adams Chamber Symphony. It's not the first time the CCS has played this work, but the first time in the Steven Smith, post-Ed London era. I was not much taken with it last time I heard them play it, but it's a piece that grows on you with familiarity. I tend to prefer the serious Adams to the "playful ear" Adams (though the portentious can easily become pretentious) and this is definitely in the latter category (So is Century Rolls, but concertos are supposed to tickle the ear.) The piece is hard as hell to play. Special mention should be made of the violin work of Susan Britton, especially in the last-movement cadenza with tambourine (played by Andrew Pongracz; easily the most musical tambourine playing I have ever heard, from an implement which I generally consider a "musical instrument" only by courtesy.)

After intermission was the old classic, Atlas Eclipticalis by John Cage. I was happy that they did it; Cage must always be remembered, even if only for the same reason we remember 9/11. It was a bit odd to do an orchestral piece with only 7 musicians though; it gave the work a post-Webern feel which I don't believe was intended. I entered into the spirit of the experiment, and found that "tonality happens"; indeed, I even heard an antecedent-consequent phrase or two. The instrumental parts (or in the case of bassoonist Mark DeMio, parts of instruments) were of course expertly played. I'd rather have heard Morton Feldman, but hey, you take what you get.

The final piece, Big Band, was by Elizabeth Joan Kelly, a recent MM grad of CIM who was born in Slidell LA but is now resident in Tallahassee. It was performed on last year's "Young and emerging" concert, and the band liked it so well that they repeated it on a regular concert. It was a good call. Kelly has taken sonic objects which are recognizably jazz-derived and worked them in a totally non-jazz way. In this, there's a superficial resemblance to the music of Jeff Harrington. But where Harrington's usable past is in minimalism (he hates to hear that, but it's so), what I heard here was the ghost of Xenakis (!), particularly in the opening. The work had a fresh voice and did not outstay its welcome, and I predict a bright future for its composer.

Tom Jackson's review is here.

Case Collegium concert Sunday 8PM

Sunday, October 7, at 8PM in Harkness Chapel, the Case/CIM Collegium Musicum will present "Binchois and His World", a program based around the chansons of Gilles Binchois and his contemporaries. Special guest artist will be Scott Metcalfe, director of the Blue Heron Renaissance Choir, on vielle (he's on campus filling in for Julie Andrijeski in the performance practice course.) I haven't heard the singers or the soft instruments yet. I'm in the alta capella that will be opening each half of the concert, doing pieces from Trent 87 among others. I'm on alto shawm, Debra Nagy (the director) on soprano, and new grad student Adam Corzatt on sackbut (the slide trumpet is in the shop). Adam is a real high-range monster, lots of face, a job made harder because this is (as far as I know) the first Case loud band to play at A460 (one of the more standard Renaissance pitches). Debra is of course the special non-guest artist, part of the grand Case tradition of shawm virtuosi extending through Adam and Rotem Gilbert back to some quite capable groups in the '80s led by Dr. Ross Duffin himself. It's both awe-inspiring and humbling (mostly humbling) to play with people who have solid professional careers...Debra recently got some nice press in American Recorder for her contributions to the recent Boston Early Music Festival.

Anyway, after the Cleveland Chamber Symphony concert, come out and hear us.

Concert Sunday: Cleveland Composers Guild

I meant to do this Thursday, when somebody might actually read it. But better late than never. There are more concerts here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007 3:00 p.m.
Drinko Recital Hall, Cleveland State University
free parking in garage East 21st Street between Chester and Euclid

Free Concert, Cleveland Composers' Guild

Quote Music by Eric Charnofsky
Ray Liddle, baritone, and Eric Charnofsky, piano

That Day by Steve Stanziano

Trio by Larry Baker
Lindsay Wile Charnofsky, clarinet, Susan Britton, violin, and Eric Charnofsky, piano

Beat It with a Stick by Amelia Kaplan

Songs for Young Lovers (Millay) by Margi Griebling-Haigh
Sandra Simon, soprano, Margi Griebling-Haigh, oboe, and Randall Fusco, piano

Whalefall and Calypso by Monica Houghton
Andrea Chenowith, soprano, and Eric Charnofsky, piano

New article on Nalini Ghuman case

I'd read a bit about this before, but the new story has more horrifying detail. What brought it closer to home is that Ghuman's squeeze is Paul Flight, whom I worked with this summer...who is considering moving to Britain to be with her.

She's been invited to speak at the AMS convention in November...which is fortunately, and ironically, not in America. Maybe all the musicologists ought to be banned from return to the US afterwards...because, you know, they were associating with this dread whatever-the-hell-she-is.

Why I haven't been blogging

I've been busy as hell.

Last weekend I finished a string quartet, "No. 1" because the torso of 1978 sucks. This is 14 minutes, three movements, with a vaguely Beethoveny 1st movement, a slow movement I am very happy with, and a kind of ethnic dance-rondo finale. It's been submitted for the Nov. 18th Guild concert, and I have somebody in Columbia (!) interested.

Then there's Guild stuff...trying to mount a workable publicity program with 2 weeks left before the 1st concert and with not enough help to get flyers out, and putting out other fires.

Then there's harvest/prepping the garden for winter, house winterizing stuff, practicing...and we're in the busiest part of the year (except for finals) at the library, where all the clueless n00bs are asking us for a clue about whatever (and we ARE paid to provide those clues, after all). This will all thin out by month end, and I can breathe again. But right now, I'm up against the wall.

"Minimalism" and Minimalism

Kyle Gann has an interesting riff going on about the usage of "minimalist" to describe the current music of Reich, Glass and Adams, diluting its applicability to the pattern music of the 60s and 70s (and following). It's kind of entertaining to see a notorious liberal do the Objectivist "words have meaning" thing (Hey, Kyle, I'll give you back "minimalist" if I can have "own"), but that doesn't make him less right. He accurately calls the disappearance of that music down the memory hole:

You could sense their relief when John Adams and Louis Andriessen started funnelling those repeated notes into big orchestral gestures, and breaking into actual melody. "Oh, thank god," all the classical mavens and music professors sighed in chorus, "we couldn't take another minute of those endless repetitions, those drones moving by infinitessimal degrees. Let's call this stuff minimalism, and hopefully everyone will forget about that old boring minimalism."

Except that people didn't really, so the ambiguity cuts both ways. Example: Joe Concertgoer's reaction to Glass. He's heard the joke:
"Knock knock" -- "Who's there?"
"Knock knock" -- "Who's there?"
"Knock knock" -- "Who's there?"
"Knock knock" -- "Who's there?"
"Phillip Glass"
So he won't listen to, say, the Violin Concerto. If that's Minimalist, then so is Vivaldi. But Joe will suck down the Four Sleazons for hours. And no musicologist ever discusses Vivaldi in terms of minimalism, and not just because it's an anachronistic concept.

Screw usage. Usage is wrong. We need a term for "Nonesuch minimalism". I'm all in favor of "pattern romanticism" myself. It's big enough to encompass the "holy minimalists" (who aren't and never were Gann minimalists), the Gorecki 3rd, parts of Vasks, maybe earlier Rouse. It's a big tent, because it's a loose concept. But minimalism was a tight concept: music that was process as opposed to music happening through process. Fight the good fight, Kyle; don't give up.

Yee-HA! Symphony premiere May 18

I just called Cleve Svetlik about doing the Composers Guild recordings again this season, and he said, "Bonnie [his wife, flutist in the Suburban Symphony] wants to talk to you." She'd been a major instigator in the CCG partnership with Suburban, and mine were the only parts from that which were not returned. But I got the official word: Suburban will premiere the Symphony in D May 18, on a program including Barber's School for Scandal and Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and Still's Afro-American Symphony. Stiff competition, but it's really a very different piece in its basic premises, so it should work well.

Tikhon Khrennikov is dead

at his home, age 94. There are those who would find such a late and serene passage to be not commensurate with that of Meyerhold or Mikhoels.But in a sense the torture was more exquisite: he lived to view the judgment of history.

Looking around on the Web, it was interesting to see the attempts to rehabilitate Khrennikov, making much of his flirtation with serialism in his Third Symphony (about the time that Shostakovich was doing similar things, and 6 years before his denunciation of the "Khrennikov Seven"), and claiming that it was Khrennikov who saved the ilk of Shostakovich and Vainberg from the fate of the actors noted above. This claim is good enough for Grove, but I'd like to see relevant USSR archives in its support; if it was Khrennikov's claim, it would resemble Carl Orff's claim to have been a member of the White Rose. And always, there's the implication if not the outright claim that he had to play along with the zhdanovschina. I'm willing to cut him the tiniest bit of slack with Stalin, but not with Brezhnev.

So it got him a peaceful life, and a boatload of medals. Shostakovich, his principal victim, is arguably the most beloved composer of the 20th century. At least two of the Khrennikov Seven are internationally renowned as leading Russian composers of their generation. Is Khrennikov's music unfairly neglected? I wish I could answer that. But I couldn't find any Khrennikov on Naxos Music Library (which has everyone nowadays), and Case Kulas Library has one donated LP. I think it cosmically just that the man who judged composers by their ideology is now himself judged by his.

More on Mignarda

Ron Andrico and Donna Stewart, AKA Mignarda, whose recent misfortune led to some musings here, are doing a free (they think it will be, anyway) concert August 12 at 7 at the Lyceum to thank Cleveland for the July 13 benefit concert. I was in Madison, otherwise there might have been some alta cappella stuff on that show. Sorry I couldn't make that one, guys.

In less happy news, several of Amazon's resellers have been offering "new, factory-wrapped" copies of Mignarda CDs. Gee, I wonder where they got those? That's been known for at least 3 weeks, and Amazon isn't in any hurry to quit facilitating fencing, as they were still there yesterday. It leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth about Amazon in general.

Meanwhile, Cleveland auto thieves continue their exquisite taste in targets, and good people continue to try to make it right.

Jerry Hadley off life support

The stuff I miss...the man who created the role of Harbison's Great Gatsby scrambled his brains with an air rifle and is not expected to survive...and certainly not to sing.

Suicide is the ultimate in self-cernteredness. But if you've got to, the state of NY could have made it easier to buy a gun that would do the job efficiently.

Damn it all...

UPDATE 7/18: And at 11:20, he was gone.

Hiram Community Band

Yesterday was the performance of the Hiram Community Band, an ensemble that, according to founder/director Tina Dreisbach, "appears once a year like Brigadoon." I joined because it was a short time commitment (3 rehearsals and concert), and an opportunity to meet local musicians, play a repertoire I don't normally play, and exercise my face for Madison. (Yes, spending that much time practicing sackbut would have been more effective, but I wasn't going to do that). For a no-audition group (beggars can't be choosers) there's remarkably little dead wood, and by the end, we had a reasonably balanced ensemble: 2 trumpets (the weak section), 2 horns (1 Eb!), 4 trombones (1 valve!), euphonium (me), tuba, 3 flutes, 6 clarinets, alto-tenor-bari saxes, and 4 hitters of things (I think only one was a real percussionist.) The group plays what Case-trained HIP performer Tina calls "historical arrangements", easier band music from the '40s and '50s. This is great for the (nonexistent) budget, but when a part is gone, so is the arrangement.

The concert is usually held outside, but the weather was iffy and the police had forgotten to block off the campus street where the group usually plays. So we set up chairs in the big ballroom-type room where we usually rehearse and ended up SRO with an audience in the 100-200 range, including the mayor and the man who is directing the upcoming performance of The Music Man.

I had volunteered to conduct 2 numbers:The Tennessee Waltz and The Thunderer. The 2nd horn, a woman apparently known only as "the Mother of the Twins", had only been at the first rehearsal (probably because of The Twins), and 15 minutes before, I found out there was no F horn part available for The Thunderer, and she was going to lay out because she didn't feel confident transposing. "That's not acceptable," I said, found in one of the supernumary horn folders a hand-copied part to something else, and proceeded to write out a transposed part in pencil. I finished 2 minutes before the end of intermission, she played and it was fine...and I achieved heroic status with her.

All went well...I declined to wear the silly military band hat for The Tennessee Waltz, saying "Nobody can fill your hat, Tina", but put it on for the Sousa because, well, it was Sousa. The crowd began clapping along after the breakup strain, so when it came back around, I turned around and conducted them.

Afterwards I had a lovely conversation with Tina's parents (Mr. Spencer retired from the trombone section this year at the age of 88.)

Going on vacation

Friday I'm leaving for the Madison Early Music Festival. My computer access will be spotty and I'll be busy. What blogging I manage will be about the event...but I find that people don't appreciate me blogging my musical adventures, because I tend to tell too much truth. So you'll get what you get.

Collected Bach is finished

Today marks the official completion of the Neue Bach Ausgabe.

On 13 June 2007, a ceremony marking the completion of the New Bach Edition will take place at St. Thomas’s Church, Leipzig as part of the Bach Festival. At this ceremony, the final volume of the edition will be symbolically presented to the public. Guest speakers will include the President of the Bundestag, Dr. Norbert Lammert, the Federal Minister of Education and Research, Dr. Annette Schavan and the President of the Union of Academies, Prof. Dr. Gerhard Gottschalk. Musical highlights will be provided by St. Thomas’s Choir, Leipzig, under the direction of the Kantor of St. Thomas’s, Georg Christoph Biller, and the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Works by Bach first published in the New Bach Edition will be performed.

5th grade band concert

I had to leave work early to go to my granddaughter's first (and last?) band concert. After all, her own mother wasn't coming because she "hates crowds". Well, so do I; suck it up. I have a cartoon on my office door, captioned "Fun with Venn diagrams", in which the intersection of "cute" and "painful" is "grade school music concert". Actually it wasn't painful. Partly, that was because it was short (half hour), there was a paucity of saxophones, and most of the music was, at least by intent, in unison. I found it interesting to notice how much music could be made from 3 notes, how various familiar tunes were orchotomised to fit technical limitations, the Scelsi-like microtonal harmonizations...all the technical stuff. Lots of kids gave little intros to the songs. Sara was the best announcer, as well as being best dressed.

Afterwards, she returned her cornet to me; she's taking general music in middle school next year. I was somewhat disappointed, but probably got points by affirming that, as an adult-in-training, it was a decision she was capable of making. If I'd been a parent rather than a grandparent, I might have urged her to stick it out, but then, I would have been more involved and it might not have come to that. Her real love is singing, which she does quite well, and she's learned something in band. I don't have an issue really about her doing music. But the girl needs to excel at something and to claim her power, and neither her mom nor stepmom really provide a culture of excellence.

Afterwards we had Madison (grandgirl #2), who was full of all kinds of difficult-to-answer questions like "Are soldiers bad?" and "Is the sun yellow all the way through?" She doesn't get talked down to by Grampa...

CCG Junior Concert

OK, I should have blogged that it was coming up - but then, you should have been checking http://www.en.com/users/jaquick/ccg.html. The show was SRO...but then, we were in the little side chapel in The Holy Oil Can (Epworth-Euclid United Methodist), so it was cozy; I spent the concert on the organ bench in back. But the acoustics were better, and the walls shut out noise better than the recital hall at CMSS where the Junior Concert was usually been done. For those not in the know about this institution (14 years...does that make it an institution?), student performers from Junior Fortnightly Musical Club and the Cleveland Music School Settlement are put forward by their teachers, composers volunteer, and then the two are randomly matched; you don't know what or who you are going to write for, going in. When I have participated, I've written for violin/piano, bassoon/piano. trumpet/piano, voice/flute/piano (for the charming and talented flutist Allison Ballard, now an employee at Kulas Library), string bass/piano, piano, and 2 pianos. I haven't volunteered in several years, but probably will next year. The pieces are crafted to the student's strengths and weaknesses. The student gets paid, their teacher gets paid, and the composer gets paid (when the grant money comes through). The last several years, we have included the opposite approach: student compositions played by professionals.

This year, the more interesting entries were by new members of the Guild. With some of the members who have done this a lot, I had the feeling that they were writing down a bit...not technically, which is necessary, but musically. Consider: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Only one big word there, and it's one everyone knows. But it sure isn't baby talk. Everything was more-or-less tonal (nuthin' wring with that though), with not an extended technique to be heard.

The three student pieces were all worthwhile listens. Eric Lin's Night Hunt evoked Yakov Smirnoff's signature line (What a country!); where else could a Chinese-American write music that sounded like Vivaldi hanging out in a Hungarian gypsy camp? But the best (and I blush to admit, the best piece on the program, as well as the most progressive) was from Monica Houghton's student Max Mueller, a senior at Lakewood High who is going to Cal Arts to study film music. His Glass for 3 cellos spoke a pop/minimalist language with eloquence and cohesion. He may not be another Mozart (or even another Jay Greenberg), but he's a talented young man who should do well.

And, miraculously, I already got the CD from Wednesday's Gramercy Trio concert, and it's even better the 2nd time around.

Gra-merci beaucoup!

Wednesday night's concert by the Gramercy Trio (Sharan Leventhal, violin; Jonathan Miller, cello, Randall Hodgkinson, piano) at Guzzetta Hall at the University of Akron was a true delight (though a delight, alas, shared by only 2 dozen people). The performance of my trio was sensitive, well thought out, and virtuosic.The 1st movement was played in a very light style that emphasized its scherzando qualities...not the way I'd conceived the piece, but it worked very well, maybe better than a more Sturm und Drang conception would have. I was thrilled with the performance.

Gramercy would like to do the whole program somewhere else, and Sharan Leventhal said that she would like to include my piece on some other concert. That would be wonderful if it happens, because I've had NO penetration on the coasts, which is where most American cultural consensus is built.

I see that Sharan is also a member of the Kepler Quartet, which would explain her remark about a "Ben Johnston-y moment" in the trio, and her good intonation. (They're recording all the Johnston quartets.)

Half my flute s'notta on the 22nd, then nothing scheduled until spring of '08, I guess I have time to compose and to promote some compositions.

Eurotrash staging comes to Handel oratorio

I never knew that Handel's Samson was a suicide bomber who brought down the King David Hotel in 1946.

Given that music and words are intact, and it's an oratorio and thus not a stage work anyway, why does Simon Capet (or any number of European opera-house stage directors) think that anyone at all is interested in his political glosses of Biblical stories? Especially since one thing is not like the other? I gess he just wanted to "get people talking about music". But this isn't about music; it's about politics, and epistemological and moral illiteracy. But he DID get people talking.

At least it's not claiming to be a "historically informed performance", though I suppose it is "informed" by late 40s history. I wonder if donors will tell them to "shut up and sing", or if they get enough money from Ottawa that they can afford "daring, cutting-edge productions" that offend their audience.

Tonight, 7:30, Harkness Chapel, English consort anthems

Tonight is Nathaniel Wood's lecture-recital on English consort anthems in the Chapel Royal of Charles I. The recital part is a performance of 6 consort anthems, newly-edited with missing bass parts restored. One will be done with voices alone, the others with cornetts and sackbuts, by the Case Collegium, with a few ringers from Oberlin.

- John Bull : How joyfull
- Jeffrey : My love is crucified
- William Cranforth : My sinfull soul araugn'd of wofull guilte
- Martin Peerson : Oh Lord, in thee is all my trust
- Thomas Ravenscroft : In thee o Lord have I put my trust
- Thomas Ford : Let us with loud and cheerful voice

We put in some good work this weekend, and if I don't fall asleep while playing, it should be a wonderful-sounding show.

Music history according to WorldNetDaily

While I agree with this guy's basic point -- that art subsides are bad -- this is a real howler, showing near-total ignorance of the biographies and music of the composers discussed.

However, FDR's artistic largess and legacy was artificial. Zero percent of these so-called "commissioned" works amounted to anything of lasting value, and few of them stand today or are even remembered. What does this say? When government, the State, monarchs or kings get into "supporting the arts," you usually get derivative or perverse art, miserable music, unremarkable sculpture, ugly architecture, uninspired poetry. This is why there have been no Michelangelos since Michelangelo, no J.S. Bachs or Handels since Bach and Handel, No Rembrandts, van Goghs or Wagners since Rembrandt, van Gogh and Wagner, and lamentably no Beethovens since that magnificent master put down his quill for the last time on his unfinished manuscript, the 10th Symphony, on a cold, stormy, rainy night on March 26, 1827.

Most WPA support was for performances rather than commissions, and I would submit that the only American music anyone really cares about came from the Roosevelt era. Using the same logic, one would conclude that all Soviet-era music was of no value, since it was all government-commissioned. Shostakovich, Kabalevsky, the later Prokofiev, Khachaturian...all trash. Not to mention that it was the Leipzig town council that hired Bach. Clearly there are many factors in the relationship between a composer and his patrons, some good and some bad. Describing Esterhazy's relationship to Haydn as "bureacratic" is patently unfair.

Sure, there have been no more Beethovens or Wagners. That's because there only could ever be one Beethoven or Wagner, one Bach or Handel. Today's equivalents are differnent. And if Mr. Washington wants to argue that "we haven't agreed on any equivalents today", I would ask, "How much of Graupner's or Telemann's sacred music do you know and love?", they being by contemporary evaluation greater composers than Bach.

If this is Joe Farah's idea of cultural analysis, maybe he'll hire me to do legal analysis.

Award for best use of a viola bow

Yeah, I know, a seriously out-of-control educator is nothing to joke about, and this woman deserves anything coming to her. But she would use a viola bow as the instrument of assault.

Windows Media Player and stylistic analysis

This from a loyal reader, via email:

After making my comment on Ave Regina, I noticed
Windows Media Player has identified the first three
movements of your Divertimento as being from a album
containing Bartok's Divertimento #1. So now you can
say your music has been mistaken for Bartok's.

When I went to get more info about the "album" it
didn't give any, but from what did get shown, it's a
Deutsche Grammophon (I could see from the cover art),
and contains some Stravinsky as well--Dumbarton Oaks
Concerto and Pulcinella Suite). So you are in very
fine company indeed.

That makes me a bit uneasy, given that it was the first tip-off on the Joyce Hatto affair. Suffice it to say that, while some of my other works could be confused with Bartok (at least in an alternative universe where he had done ethnomusicological field work in the US), this isn't one of them.

"Composer's Datebook" on IP, and other comp biz

I had to work yesterday; I was coming in and hit the tail end of "Composer's Datebook", which was about Walter Damrosch's first American performance of Parsifal. Wagner had wanted it reserved for Bayreuth, so parts were not to be had. But a miniature score was available, and when Damrosch found out that the penalty for unauthorized performance was only 50 pounds, he set some copyists to work, and did a concert performance at the Met in 1886 (with a member of the original cast, yet). The impression left was that it was a good thing that Parsifal was shared with the world, and so it was, I think. But I have to wonder what a contemporary composer (or, more accurately, his heirs, as Wagner was already dead) would have done in such a case, and whether Composer's Datebook at all represents an official ACF take on such things. Then, name me one living American composer that anyone would go through such trouble to perform. Would anyone bootleg parts to a John Adams opera?

I found out about a week ago that Suburban Symphony was going to read and record my symphony (thanks, guys). Only...er...the parts weren't done. I'd formatted (but not copied) the winds, but the strings (13 different parts!) were going to be a chewy bit. well, I finished all formatting and copying this afternoon, and the set is in a box waiting for instructions on where to deliver it. They aren't perfect parts; every time I look, I see little goofs, mostly graphic rather than content. I worry that there's not enough information, esp. bowings and cues...or too many notes. I hope I can get them into proper hands before their Weds. rehearsal...which would give players 2 weeks to woodshed before the reading. I've never had a reading of this long a piece (24'/640 measures), for this large an orchestra (2-2-2-2-2 4-2-3-1 3, strings 8-7-5-5-3), and the players are an unknown quantity to me, so I'm nervous, even though I had always aimed the symphony at a community-type orchestra.

Now to focus on trying to finish the sax/vl/pf trio.

Weapons control in Milan, mid-16th c.

The Euroweenies have a long precedent for gun control:

During the 1540s and 1550s it was illegal for musicians to perform at inns or private parties to which the guests carried swords, lances, spears, daggers, small hand-held swords, or other prohibited arms, including the newly popuar harquebus. The penalty for violation of this decree was 25 scudi (that is, 133 lire) or three lashes of the whip, fines which most freelance musicians were both unable and unwilling to pay. The proliferation and control of arms was of general concern to the state in early modern Europe, and numerous ordinances limiting their usage were enacted by the Spanish crown in order to curb the assembling of makeshift armies for the purposes of revolt or banditry. This particular law, however, no doubt arose from the conventional wisdom that mixing weapons with levity, dancing, and alcohol had tragic consequences...[gruesome story follows]

-- Getz, Christine Suzanne, Music in the collective experience in sixteenth-century Milan. Aldershot, UK; Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2005, p. 172-3.

Great Hatto Hoax

Gramophone magazine has been flogging the recordings of a little-known pianist, the late Joyce Hatto, who had retired from the concert stage many years ago because of a rare cancer, and had supposedly made wonderful recordings of a wide repertoire in her home studio. Now they're singing a different tune: apparently a number of the "Hatto" recordings have been proven to be by other pianists. Hatto's hubby and producer, William Barrington-Coupe, has some explaining to do, and isn't doing it yet. I assume that once BIS, Altarus, and especially the notoriously-ruthless-on-IP-issues Sony have their day in court, he will have explained it all.

Case Collegium Musicum concert tomorrow!

February 17 at 7:30 at Harkness Chapel
We're doing late-14th century music from France and Italy, some with singers with or without doucaine or sackbuts, some with an alta capella. It's shaping up pretty well. The ladies (I think Nate is singing in a couple pieces, but it's pretty much a concerto delle donne) are doing a pre-show at Thwing today at noon. Tonight the alta does the polishing we were going to do Weds. I'm pretty happy with things thus far, and it's a pleasure (and humbling) to be playing shawm with a world-class shawm player (Debra Nagy).

Early music and pinkos

I just read an interesting article in American Music, 24/4 (Winter 2006): "Noah Greenberg and the New York Pro Musica: Medievalism and the Cultural Front" by Kirsten Yri. The gist is that Greenberg's Trotskyism led him to specific decisions in his performing editions of Play of Daniel and Play of Herod. It also explores the broader cultural substrate of early music, folk music and the Left, particularly the widespread tendency (not just of the hard Left but certainly embraced by them) to see the Middle Ages as a Golden Age. The nostalgia for community and social meaning overwhelmed the realities of starvation and serfdom. A cynical capitalist might be forgiven for thinking that Marxists loved the Middle Ages because then the workers knew their place.

Of course, Greenberg was not the only one constructing the social meaning of early music. ("Constructing the social meaning"...God, I can't believe I'm using that phrase!). The recorder in particular was steeped in socialism (National and international). On the other hand, that was not the only possible narrative. The other story was specifically Catholic, with a leading light in the early years of the revival being Vincent d'Indy. If Vatican II had never happened and the Church had had the resources to put into performances of its patrimony, we would have a different view of early music today.

The question then arises: did early music in general have "a meaning" and did that meaning change? Looking over the past 30 years, I'd say "yes". In the 70s, all forms of early music, even Baroque, were anti-establishment. That generally had a Marxist tinge, just because there were no broad anti-establishment movements that were not of the Left (The Libertarian Party was founded in 1972, but was not really important - if it is important - until 1980. And the individualist strain of hippiedom was just that: individualist.) Since then, a number of things have happened. Baroque music has gone Establishment with the development of star conductors and soloists. The orchestra was always the the model par excellence of capitalist art: the privileged Boss conforming the workers to his will, each player with his specialized job. A baroque orchestra is a smaller shop, with fewer specialized jobs, but its basic nature is the same. Meanwhile, Renaissance music has been divorced from the peasantry. We expect skills from instrumentalists that are more in line with their highly trained professional forebears. The Church has begun reclaiming early music from the secularists, with the gradual and fitful return of the Latin Mass. And even the "we're all peasants here" Renaissance Fairs increasingly seem to eschew serious early music performers, finding more value in hiring pub singers with guitars. In addition, there is now new music that can be listened to without offence to the ears, so there is less impetus to make newness out of the old. Overall, I'd say that early music nowadays has very little political or social significance; we play the stuff because we like it.

Why I am NOT a postminimalist

Kyle Gann has a really intriguing (and long) blogpost about postminimalism.As a manifesto, it certainly clarified for me a lot of what's happening now. But like most really provocative writing, it asks more questions than it answers. So we're going to play a bit:

[Postminimalism] inherited from minimalism one thing: the value of limiting one's materials, of composing within a circumscribed range.

Limited materials have been the norm in music; it is only within the past century (and since WW II especially) that we've tried to make art out of everything. The possibilities within a classic-period symphony are pretty circumscribed, not only by style, but by the dynamics of how the thing works structurally...and even by the instruments (particularly the brass). The possibilities grew during the 19th cetury, and one can see serialism as an attempt to re-impose economy and consistency on music. There's a perception that "all serial music sounds alike". But all classical symphonies pretty much sound alike too. As Gann points out, individuality comes from what you don't use. But that only works if everyone is not restricting their materials in the same way. Mozart is not J.C. Bach because of his approaches to counterpoint and chromaticism; it's augmented, not diminished.
For postminimalism, there are no laws outside the composition, all tendencies are defined arbitrarily by a logic created within the specific piece of music,

The problem here is that no piece can be entirely self-referential. This is where Gann gets himself in trouble, logically, because later he says:

Thus, nothing is more characteristic of postminimalist music than that it avoids the representation of anxiety. Even when postminimalist music is partly dissonant, harsh, or rhythmically complex, it has a sustained, continuous character that gives an impression of overarching calm.

If the piece creates its own world, how do we know it's calm? And how do we know, outside of a statement of intent by the composer, that it's "meant" to create a better world? Perhaps it's all a description of the calm postnuclear world. Maybe it's prophetic instead of therapeutic.

I'm a compositional pragmatist at heart. I use what works for an audience to communicate various emotional states. Unfortunately, that leads to more involvement with received musical language than is ultimately good for my career. I've always reflected on "what I do-what I don't do". But I have to hold this as generalization rather than prescription, otherwise I risk writing the same piece over and over.

You need to read Gann. Certainly, I'm only touching the surface of his argument. But before I leave, one further comment:

Theoretically one could have argued that, if all materials are equally acceptable, then a piece of music could include anything and everything. This has certainly been the message and strategy of some of the so-called postmodernist composers such as John Zorn and William Bolcom, and one might even include the more traditionally Ivesian Henry Brant. But to allow and include everything in your music flirts once again with the idea of representing the world, reviving the illusion of non-artificiality.

But Bolcom is NOT an all-inclusive composer, even in the stylistically promiscuous Blake cycle. The music between borrowings always has stylistic fingerprints. Even the little piano piece that Billy Bolcom had published in Etude when he was 11 sounds like Bolcom. And even the music in borrowed styles does not sound like other music in those styles.


Kyle Gann comes out swinging against mediocrity, and -- oh horrors! -- Names Names:

Most of all, there is no buzz about the kleinmeisters among younger composers. Harbison, Chen Yi, Penderecki, Higdon, Zwilich, Sierra, Paulus, get to command vast musical resources, but no young composers heatedly argue the merits of their pieces.

You can't argue. There's a lot of solid and safe contemporary music out there, the Henry Hadleys and Emerson Whithornes of the age. What interests me is music that is either far-out, or so retro that it's far out... guys like Rosner or Sowash. Whatever it is, it doesn't have that whiff of "product" about it. That's a learned thing; I hear a bit of it in Lowell Liebermann's recent music but not the stuff he was writing at age 15.

I was lucky, I guess...rejected as a comp major during the 70s, then getting an MM in composition at a fairly minor league comp school (Cleveland State) which did have the advantage of a resident orchestra...and then having my mentor discouraging me from a doctorate in composition because "I didn't have a voice" (when I'd been experimenting and following my prof's leads because I thought that's what a student does.) It hasn't all paid off with some huge career (or any career at all really), but I'm writing what I want and am happy about it, and performers seem to be happy with what I write (a trap in itself).

Cleveland Chamber Symphony 1/21/07

Yesterday's concert began with a performance of Ives' 3rd.

Continue reading "Cleveland Chamber Symphony 1/21/07"

Score spamming

People love to give things to libraries. These are generally things they have no use for and think the library might (as opposed to things the library could use but they couldn't, like pamphlet binders, shelf label protectors, etc.) Sometimes these things can be very nice indeed.

Continue reading "Score spamming"

Dr. Duffin's book is catching on

I was at a party on Christmas night, and one of the guests asked, "Have you read Ross Duffin's new book? it seems like half the St. John's Cathedral Choir is carrying it around." It may be indicative of the the kind of parties I go to that anyone would ask...and that I could answer in the affirmative.

But lo, it got a review in the Wall Street Journal, after which it made it to 281 in the Amazon rankings (it's 550 as I write this).

Inevitably, there's been a certain amount of snark in the blogosphere..so Dr. Duffin has posted a letter to his readers, including some examples of late-19th century music played in the Lehman Bach temperament.

I like Ross, and am glad to see him doing well, and particularly glad to see this particular topic being opened for debate.

RIP Daniel Pinkham

Sequenza 21 brings news of the passing of Daniel Pinkham yesterday morning.

I never liked Pinkham's music as much as I would like to. It often seemed to me that his pitch choice was a bit sloppy for his expressive ends, as if he were deliberately avoiding the most effective choice because it was a traditional choice. But he was an inspiration to all of us who believe that liturgical music is not dead, and that new music doesn't have to be an act of penance. And he definitely died with his boots on, with a premiere less than a day pre-mortem.

Lame excuse, Roberto

Roberto Alagna now says it wasn't the boos that caused him to walk offstage at La Scala; it was low blood sugar.

Yeah, right. You "couldn't stay on [your] feet", but you could raise your arm in a fisted salute. And being booed is sooo much more stressful than singing all of Aida.

Look, I know about blood sugar issues. People who have them carry an emergency stash to get them through the plunge. If that was the problem, and you weren't prepared, that was a lack of professional preparation as egregious as not knowing the notes.

If the guy sweeping the streets outside La Scala walked off the job, he'd get canned. And, being un uomo, he wouldn't sue management for damaging his reputation as a street sweeper; he'd admit he damaged his own reputation.

Suck it up, Roberto. If La Scala doesn't want you, I'm sure you could work for Cleveland Opera for their going rate.

Greatest American composer?

There's been a new-music-blog meme going around about the Greatest American Composer: is it Copland?

Continue reading "Greatest American composer?"

RIP John Bassette

...dead at age 64, heart failure. His mind is mellowed out now...

I knew John from the Starwood Festivals of the early 80s, at Whispering Winds in Southern Ohio. A warm, peaceful guy, and an accomplished performer, someone who really stood out (epecially in generally-melanin-deprived early '80s witchiedom ;-) ). I was sorry to hear of his illness and destitution several years ago,and hope that, wherever he is, it's an improvement.

"I want to be a hedon
and have too much of everything.
I want my very own island in the sun
and I don't even want to have to sing."

Guns N' Roses to nanny state: see ya

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Guns N' Roses canceled a performance in Portland, Maine this week after being told by state officials that the band could not drink on stage.

I'm not a rock fan, or a fan of lubricated performance. But to the state fire marshals, I can only say: what's it to ya?

As for GNR...I don't know if they ended up stiffing anyone other than the civic center, but aside from that consideration, I say "Good on 'em". Governments need to be told "Non serviam" on a regular basis.

Beautiful weekend of music

The service at St. Stan's went well...not perfectly by a long shot, but nothing broke down, and a few things approached the condition of real music. Afterwards we (boir and priests) had cassata and just enough wine, and I tumbled into bed at midnight.

Sunday was the Fretwork concert, and the Composers Guild.

Fretwork reminded me what a good composer Thomas Lupo really was, and presented a marvelous new work by Orlando Gough, Birds on Fire. I'm not generally fond of new pieces for viols, or Holocaust pieces (it's a narrow path between "Never again!" and "Get over it!") But this went over well, both with me and the rest of the audience. Imagine Shostakovich taking up minimalism, and writing the score with a quill on parchment, and you'll have some vague idea of the piece. Of course, Chapel Court and Countryside had to add a propaganda piece for the Soak the Bums for Art tax (issue 18) to the program bundle, so we couldn't even escape electioneering by diving into the 17th century.

Afterwards, I thought there was an Indian restaurant on Coventry, but I'm behind the times, so I ended up at the Japanese place on the corner. Among other things, I had a natto roll. Natto is fermented soybeans, and since they are controversial and supposedly quite healthy, I had to try them. Well, it was just as nasty as you might imagine, but I ate it all; there was a biggish glob of wasabi on the plate, and given enough wasabi one could even eat poodle poo sushi...the bright light in your head would obliterate all thoughts of disgust.

The Composer's Guild concert was glorious. I had been very pleased with the dress on Saturday, but this was twice as good. I couldn't stop grinning all through the piece. It was a full, if small house. All the pieces were worth hearing. And, most shockingly, Bill Bolcom and Joan Morris were in attendence (brought by Loris Chobanian, who had them in at Baldwin-Wallace for a week's residency). Bill remembered me, and liked my piece. I got fan raves, particularly from Cleve Svetlik, our recording guy, who has some of my choral music on his Ipod for when he does his cardio workout. It's hard for me to imagine doing a workout to that music (unless he's preparing his soul for the risk of keeling over), but if it works for him, I am more than happy about it. I want my music to be useful to people.

Busy week for music

Lots of stuff happening musically here.

Monday morning I finished a flute sonata for the talented and charming Allison Ballard to play. (My apologies to the rest of my talented and charming flutist friends; it was a matter of proximity more than preference. You're welcome to play it too). I'd set myself a deadline of end of November to finish, but with the farm work largely done, I got cranking on it, and the 2nd movement took me only 10 days (ca. 25 seconds a day, fast for me). As it seemed possible that I'd have it done for the submission deadline for the February Guild concert, I spent all Saturday on it. I'm a bit nervous about sending it around before the ink is dry; I'll probably tinker with it a bit yet. It's 10 minutes long, in two movements, "Depressive" and "Manic", which share material.

Next is a trio for alto sax, violin, and piano, for the Cleveland Duo with James Umble.

Tonight I play the last gig of Oktoberfest season, Gott sei dank!

Saturday night, 7:30, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Slavic Village, the Mac choir is doing their annual memorial/Compline/late quasi-All-Soul's service. We're doing English music this year (aside from the obligatory Polish piece): Fayrfax, Tallis, Parsley, Byrd. I generally sing bass, and I find this stuff taxing, as one never gets out of the basement, and I'm singing all these low Fs I really don't have. But we have some good people singing, it's coming along, and worth the listen if your faith inclines you to such things.

Sunday night at 8, the Cleveland Composers Guild hosts the Cleveland Chamber Collective at St. Paul's Episcopal at Fairmount and Coventry. Among other worthy works by Margaret Brouwer, Loris Chobanian, Dana McCormick and Katharine O'Connell, there will be my Divertimento in C. I heard them Sunday night; they have the style, and with another rehearsal to woodshed the evil 1st movement, it will be perfect.

After that, a couple of Collegium concerts, and a Boar's Head run. Speaking of which, any Renaissance music players out there looking for a gig 12/5, 8, 9? My address book is getting a little thin.

In Wishek ND, a renaissance

6% of the high school students play accordion, which is taught in school.

Wunnerful, wunnerful!

RIP Tower

The ax discussed here has finally fallen:

On Oct. 6, a federal bankruptcy judge in Wilmington, Del., approved the sale of Tower to Los Angeles-based liquidator Great American Group for $134.3 million.

While no firm date has been set for the stores to close, "Going Out of Business" signs went up this week at Tower's 89 stores in 20 states and the chain's 3,000 employees have been told they will be laid off.

May I cry now?

Last night's premiere

I thought last night's Composer's Guild concert went very well. Even composers represented whose music I don't like or whose professional competence I question came up with interesting and worthwhile music, and performances were excellent.

I got to hear my Ave Regina Coelorum for the first time; the only chance I had had to hear and make comments was in the pre-concert run-through. I'd had my doubts about the value of the piece, but it works quite well. Hearing Brenda Pongracz nail the high stuff (up to altissimo e) was great fun. Some of the ensemble near the beginning was a little loosey-goosey, but it all fell together.

Comments we got included "magical" and "the sweetest thing you've done" ("Sweet" isn't a value I generally seek out; blame it on the BVM), and everyone was fascinated by the Queen of the High Cs.

I also got a recording of the Mac concert yesterday, so I'll be "going poddy" here Real Soon Now.

Malcolm Arnold is dead.

Thank God. His suffering is over.

The BBC obituary is unfair. "... superficial and flippant... unpretentious". There's a Jekyll and Hyde quality to Arnold's output. Much of his more serious output (esp. the symphonies) is so involved in staring at the squalid recesses of his soul as to be almost unlistenable. And even much of the early chamber music has a shadow side. Painting the guy as a fluffbunny and drunk is just not fair, especially considering that the alcoholism was largely self-medication for bipolar disorder. I think that things like the various sets of British dances are deservedly popular. But there is something about the dark pieces, a kind of spiritual nihilism. There's a certain kinship with Shostakovich, I think, but with Shosty the suffering is never meaningless, and with Arnold it sometimes seems to be.

Oh well; it's for history to sort out, now.

Better Telemann than Bach

People laugh at the old Leipzig City Council for preferring to hire Telemann instead of Bach for Thomascantor. But they weren't wrong.

Before you decide that I've gone off my rocker, let me say that, yes, Bach was an indescribably greater composer than Telemann was. But "greater" does not mean "better for all purposes." It's part of the Romantic cultural baggage, that we must always listen to the greatest, most imposing music, or we're betraying Art somehow. But yes, when I'm driving home from work, I'd rather hear Telemann than Bach. It's lighter and cheerier, more elegant, but there's still quite a bit of sophistication there. And I'd rather read L. Neil Smith than Finnegan's Wake.

Heck, I even play POLKA MUSIC. There is no way that stuff can be defended on musical grounds. Three chords, regular phrases, tunes pretty much alike, ridiculous lyrics. But it's happy, makes your toes tap, sends beer down well. And in these troubled times, anything that sends beer down (within reason) is a good thing.

Given the constraints of the new music world, where the first performance is often the last, I try to write in such a way that people can substantially "get" the piece on first hearing. But if there's nothing new to "get" on the second or thousandth hearing, then I'm not a very good composer.

If you want to check out how well (or not) I've succeeded, show up Monday night at 8 at Cleveland State's Drinko Hall, in the Music and Communications Building.


Just back from playing the largest display of public drunkenness in the US, Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, with the Joe Wendel Ensemble.

Continue reading "Oom-pa!"

Tower Records in trouble again

Each Tower Records location used to have its own buyer to stock inventory so that it reflected the preferences of the local population. But when it decided to centralize its buying so that all stores carried more or less the same titles, the company began to feel like the big chain it had become, VanCleave said.

That's the problem.

When I walked into a Tower in NYC in 1996. I was delighted and amazed to find they had a divider card for my old U-M classmate Karolina Eiriksdottir. That's the kind of place it was.

Now I know how Salieri felt

I just heard about Jay Greenberg, who has been signed to a contract by Sony, who is releasing his 5th symphony. He's 14. He for damn sure has more facility than I do. I don't know what his music sounds like yet..."Brahmsian" was suggested by one of the articles on his webpage. I'm getting little snippets (streaming audio doesn't work from this dialup), and as far as I can tell by the 3-second bursts of sound, it may indeed be Brahmsian, in a root sense, but it doesn't sound like Brahms...or like the zitfaced kid that stares from that page.


Dr. Josef Wendel does Baltimore

How I spent my Saturday:

Left to right: the festival's sound woman (whose name I forget; it's a luxury not to do our own sound, and it gets done right), Don Miller (tenor/clarinet...Don's been playing with Joe almost as long as Joe has had a band, which is now over 50 years), Halley Schoenberg (alto/clarinet, our regular sub from D.C., her 3rd time on this gig). Dave (trumpet from U. of Akron...his comment on Joe's arrangements was "Most music includes these things called rests.")

I'm a little conflicted about playing these gigs. The money really isn't worth the hassle, which in this case meant getting up at 4 AM so that I could meet the van leaving at 5:30 for a 12:30-5 gig in Baltimore, getting back home around 1:30 AM. "Too old for this shit" suggests itself, except that most of the band is older than I am. We've been capitalizing the farm like crazy, and Rusty isn't working, and money is money. Mostly I guess it's because I think this music needs to survive, and euphonium players don't grow on trees. One of these days Joe will die, or I'll die, and that'll be that.

(7/18/07: edited at the request of Dr. Josef Wendel.)


The Mac concert went well, and we had good attendence (I didn't count noses, but over 50 for sure).

Continue reading "Concert"

Liturgical concert at the Mac, 7/23, 3PM

Since the date is roaring down upon us, I thought I'd best blog about the project that's been soaking up my evenings:

Liturgical music by Cleveland composers and friends.
Sunday July 23, 3PM
Immaculate Conception Church
4129 Superior Ave. (at E. 43rd)

by the (augmented) Immaculate Conception Schola Cantorum
with guest artists Chris Toth (organ), Michael Leese (flute, conductor), Sean Gabriel (flute), Jocelyn Chang (harp).

The works on the concert are of varying styles. Some are very practical for everyday church use, some are more difficult to prepare. There's definitely a bias toward Latin liturgy (this is the Mac, after all), with nods toward old-style Anglicanism and a work written for Bay Presbyterian.

Here's the program, with a few comments:

Continue reading "Liturgical concert at the Mac, 7/23, 3PM"

Richard Nanes, Sim Phonyist

I was listening to Richard Nanes the other day. What brought on this fit of masochism is unclear. I had picked up the 4 symphonies at a used CD shop in NYC late in 1996. I was only going to buy 1 CD worth, but the other was $0.99, and Jeff Harrington who was with me appealed to my librarian's sense of completeness (only I wasn't yet a librarian then.) Anyway, I'd sort of forgotten what they were about, so I loaded #3 and 4 into the car changer; I figured he'd had 1 & 2 for practice.


Continue reading "Richard Nanes, Sim Phonyist"

Gyorgy Ligeti RIP

Ligeti died this morning in Vienna.

Not many composers in any generation have "it" (whatever "it" is), but Ligeti was surely one, and one whose music I often actively enjoyed (instead of merely respected).

Ulsamer Collegium

On the way to work, I was listening to an old (early '70s) recording of the Ulsamer Collegium doing early 17th-c. dance music, and it was like falling into another world. "What is that instrument that sounds so much like a Hammond organ? A tenor recorder with vibrato! Ach ja, sopranino rauchpfeife with gambas; that's the ticket." And there were more subtle things that don't jibe with modern performance practice: galliards too fast, a tendency to privilege local rhythmic activity over creation of a vocal line. Some people might laugh, but who knows whether our current early music performances might seem just as ridiculous 35 years from now? But the point and miracle is: these performances are not ridiculous. They're committed and energetic, and even the eccentricities are endearing (including that watery wavery recorder).

Arnold Rosner

This is the first of a projected series of articles on neo-tonal composers. These are people whose music I find worth of consideration (else, duh, I wouldn't consider it). There will be praise and criticism as I feel it is merited, but the general idea is that any news is good news for these guys.

I thought that, since I slagged Arnold Rosner pretty well for his comments on Mozart, it would be only fair to write on his music first.

Continue reading "Arnold Rosner"

The man who may finally kill Elvis

It's the end of American culture as we know it.

Now, however, America’s estimated 30,000 Elvis impressionists are really shook up. They fear that they are about to be put out of business. In a move that has made the ranks of the lookalikes queasier than the thought of a deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwich — the King’s favourite snack in the bloated autumn of his life — a New York businessman has bought the rights to Elvis’s name and likeness and has threatened to ban “unauthorised” Elvis clones.

Big weekend for music

Saturday I got a big wad of Easley Blackwood CDs from Cedille. I'll probably be writing about his stuff sometime in the future.

Sunday was the annual concert of the recovering Cleveland Chamber Symphony. As in the last one, "Music that dares to explore" meant "Music we have explored before." But most of it could stand more exposure.

Continue reading "Big weekend for music"

Listening lately: AFMM Ensemble

New CDs coming in at Kulas Music Library, so I'm gritting my teeth, taking my work home in my car, and getting to know the collection. :-)

Pitch P-200203, chamber music from the American Festival of Microtonal Music. Stuff all over the map... Julian Carillo's Preludio a Colon is one of the landmark works of microtonality, supposedly, but it basically sucks. There's a microchromatic wordless soprano line with some Rudimentary strings under it, some chords that make no apparent sense (certaily no imitation of ratios of small whole numbers), and it's at least twice as long as it needs to be. Then there's Lou Harrison's At the Tomb of Charles Ives, the only horrible Harrison piece I have ever heard. The worst was the parts for 2 bowed psalteries (an instument invented I am told in the 20s in Germany, and probably later used as a torture device by the Hitlerjugend.).I hate to jump on Lou since, if there were any such think as collective guilt, as an Ohioan I would have had a hand in his death. (Some students were bringing him in a van from the train station for a concert of his music at OSU. They stopped at Denny's and one whiff of the grease was as much as his ticker could stand.) But Reinhard did him no favors by programming this piece. Didn't know what to make of Scelsi's Ko-Lho for flute and clarinet, except that anyone who can make a minor third sound like an eruption into another universe deserves my respect. Xenakis' Anaktoria...well, Xenakis is not my thing. Then there was Ives' Quartet #2 played in extended Pythagorean, Reinhard's pet theory about Ives' perverse spellings. That worked for the Universe Symphony; it melded the bands of sound together. Here, it made the dissonances more consonant and consonances more dissonant. Combined with a "mezzofort-issimo" approach to dynamics, it pretty much killed the piece. Partch's Joyce settings were the best thing on the disc. Not top-flight Partch, but always good to hear other performers do his stuff. With soprano, 2 flutes and Kithara, it was easy to hear that Partch was a better harmonist than anyone gives him credit for. (As Wendy Carlos once pointed out, Partchs' instrumentarium seems at odds with his tuning, not showing it off to best advantage.) And he had ideas.

Which inspires a rant: why is so much microtonal music in general (and Just Intonation music in particular) about the system rather than ideas expressed through the system? I remember hearing something once on the old Tellus anthology I think, some guy just SITTING on this Just hexad."Oh, isn't this a cool sounding chord?" Well, duh, how is that different from Clementi sitting on some 5-limit triad with a diatonic scale over it, "Isn't C Major just so cool?" Compare this to Blackwood's Microtonal Etudes; there are always ideas there, though they can't help but be about the tuning to some extent, given the effort he had to go through to make some of those tunings listenable.

EU to kill organs and organ building?

Requiem for church organs

THE stops could be pulled for ever on many church organs because of an EU directive designed to control hazardous substances.

The instruments at Salisbury Cathedral, St Paul’s in London, Worcester Cathedral, St Albans Abbey and Birmingham Town Hall are among the first that may be silenced. They are due to be refurbished or rebuilt and will fall foul of the directives, which are aimed at limiting the amount of lead in electrical items.

The regulations permit electrical equipment to have a maximum of 0.1 per cent of their weight as lead. Organ pipes have a lead content of 50 per cent or more and the Department of Trade and Industry has advised organ builders that, in the interests of directive harmony, they must “prepare to comply”. Though pipe organs are essentially mechanical devices, they use electric motors to power the blowers that move air through the pipes.

The great Harrison and Harrison organ at the South Bank, which is now in pieces in Durham as part of the refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall, is under immediate threat. Under EU Directive 2002 95/EC RoHS and EU Directive 2002 96/EC WEEE, it will technically be illegal to reinstall it.

The directive, which seeks to minimise the amount of “hazardous waste” that finds its way into landfill after electrical products are scrapped, would also bring to an end the 1,000-year-old craft of organ building. In Britain there are about 70 companies employing about 800 people, and all their jobs are at risk.

Only straightforward repairs of old instruments, doing nothing to change or modify the organ, would be allowed.

Cromwell was right, just ahead of his time. If the English cared at all about their cultural patrimony, they'd have mobs protecting their organ builders (with baseball bats, as they gave up their guns), daring the Eurocrats to do anything about it. They don't care, of course, and since they'll be under Sharia in 50 years anyway and Salisbury Cathedral will meet the fate of the Afghan Buddhas, it's no biggie if Brussels gets part of the job done ahead of schedule.

I care. This hurts me. But the cowardly Europeans deserve every bit of this. it was a great culture while it lasted.

Better luck next time

I see I did not win the Frank Ticheli Composition Contest.

Anyone out there want to publish a beginning band piece?

Roy Harris chamber music

I've been listening to a recording by the Third Angle New Music Ensemble (Koch KIC-CD-7515) containing three of Roy Harris' finest chamber works, all from the '40s : the Piano Quintet, Violin Sonata, and String Quartet No. 3. It's nice to have modern recordings of these pieces. I think Harris has been unjustly neglected, and we won't know how unjustly until we get an integrale of the symphonies (esp. #11, said to be the most pessimistic). He's not a perfect composer, but he has a unique voice. These are capable performances, if a little laid-back.

The notes by Daniel Felsenfeld are pretty dreadful: "Influence of the Teutonic continent", "cross between a gentleman and a crank, between a maverick and a rube", "a high European sense of harmonic progression" (which, for all his root mobility, Harris really DOESN'T have, in the sense of directed harmonic function.). Then there's his list of "American symphonists": Schuman, Berger, Shapero, Diamond. He starts and ends well (Diamond may be our greatest American symphonist, at least of his generation.) But Shapero only wrote one symphony, and while it's a doozy, if one symphony makes a symphonist, then Beethoven was an opera composer. And Berger never wrote one at all, and precious little orchestral music; Sessions would be a better choice to fill that seat.

And the cover...why is it that "rural...open spaces" conjures up dilapidated barns? Is there something broken about Harris' music? Are we hicks too stupid and improvident to throw a coat of paint on our barns? How come when the "country landscape" is evoked, you never see a nice steel milking parlor with new silos, and a rust-free combine in the fields?

And while I'm ranting, what's with the sobriquet "the American ____"? Diamond has been called the American Bruckner, while Harris is the American Mussorgsky. It implies a second-handedness (why isn't Britten "the English Bernstein"?).And it doesn't even fit. The only Diamond piece I know which is remotely Brucknerian is the 2nd Symphony. But Harris has quite a lot in common with Bruckner, in rate of harmonic motion and in texture...but then not much with Mussorgsky. I know, it's marketing...but it's so limiting

David Ott

I caught a piece by David Ott (b.7/5/47) on public radio Sunday (WKSU from Kent OH). It was in a regular mixed Sunday-afternoon slot, which should tell you a bit about the style. The piece, Andante Cantabile, was for cello and orchestra. The title suggests Tchaikovsky, but the cantabile in this case more resembled the soprano line of Del Tredici's Final Alice...lots of high alternating 6ths. And way too much repetition of short motives, same stuff I was griping about in early Rosner (he outgrew it though). It was well orchestrated. But somehow, it didn't work. There was no sense of forward motion in the work, and what passed for voice was little harmonic lurches and grinds.

I had first come across David Ott in the form of a CD of his 2nd and 3rd symphonies (Koss Classics KC-3301) in a used CD store. It was the Grand Rapids Symphony with Catherine Comet, and Ott is a Youper (Michigan Upper Peninsula resident) by birth, so I wanted to see what the homies were up to. I'd only listened once, as Ott had a 2nd mortgage with Bank Shostakovich. But I figured I'd give it another listen, having heard the other piece.

He's not as dreadful as I thought. He gets pretty bombastic in his finales (that of #2 is particularly weak). He doesn't have great ideas and his forms aren't always terribly clear. and I didn't really catch any "wow" moments, those places in a piece when you suddenly know that you're breathing the air of another planet. (Well, maybe sorta when the harp comes in in the slow movement of #3.) But he keeps the piece going forward. There's a superficial attractiveness of color and harmony. I can see why he's getting performances; he delivers what a typical concert audience is expecting. I'm not at all convinced he's a great composer. But he's not an idiot. And he's got a goodly number of recordings out there.

Someone at MakeMusic needs killing. Slowly.

I've been working on orchestral parts in Finale 2006d...the usual hustle getting the page turns just right. I had all the winds done, and thought I'd print a few. I noticed I was missing the bottom staves of each page. Finally put a ruler on it and noticed that my pages were 8.5 x 14. I've never printed legal in my life. Turns out that some programmer, in his infinite wisdom, changed the default for parts, and since I don't generally have the whole think on screen, I never noticed they were too long.

Well, there goes a good weekend of work...

Clay Aikin to be sued for being gay?

If this case goes forward and is successful, it will constitute legal proof that "popular music" isn't about music or talent at all, since they paid for and got music which remains exactly the same regardless of their perception of the gender preference of the performer.

Beethoven as bug spray

Hartford CT hopes that classical music will drive the riff-raff out of the parks. And it may; certainly rap tends to drive me away from anywhere it is. Some have philosophical issues:

UCLA musicologist Robert Fink said the plan makes Hartford's crime-fighting efforts look desperate.

"Beethoven is not going to save you," he said. "There are many ironies in this proposal, not the least of which is the fact that some of the greatest composers in history are now being viewed as some kind of bug spray or disinfectant."

My issue? What is music (of any kind) doing in a park, where people presumably go to "enjoy nature"? Must my entire life have a soundtrack? (Well, yes; I'm a composer, and I DO hear music...but it's my music, damnit. And it's not bothering anyone else.)

Arnold Rosner blasphemes God

The frigging blogware doesn't seem to allow for post-level URLS.

I was lamenting the other day that Arnold doesn't post enough, and then he gives us THIS:

Do I dislike them all - Boccherini, Gluck, Haydn, early Beethoven? Yes, I do, but Mozart deserves a special place. It is not true that he is the worst of all composers; his prodigious technical skills developed by age six. Sometimes it is not so great to be a prodigy,- I often feel his emotional and dramatic palette is set at the same age. Rather he is the most overrated composer of them all. The difference between the (mediocre) quality of his music and the (celestial) reverance he is accorded is a gulf simply beyond belief.

He then proceeds to make his case, primarily by countering other people's cases in favor of Mozart. But his main problem with Mozart seems to be that...he wrote happy music! How DARE he use the major mode, and ideas built on triads? And this gives him a limited expressive palette...let's see, the joyous finale of the Jupiter vs. all of #40, the C minor wind serenade, or the A minor rondo (which if I ever kill myself, will be the music playing while I do so.)...I don't think so.

He saves special wrath for the Dies Irae of the Requiem. Now, to set the Tract in polyphony at all is somewhat presumptuous, I will grant, given that the chant is so perfectly suited for its purpose. But "tempest in a teapot"? I defy Rosner to give me a more terrifying piece of music written before the Mozart Requiem (there may be more terrifying pieces written after, but Mozart only had prior technology to work with). Then there's the Tuba Mirum, "the worst few minutes of music ever written" because it's "graceful and gentle", not a "trumpet of doom or wrath". I submit that this is the imposition of an Expressionist aesthetic on pre-Expressionist music, and that it ignores a crucial point: Mozart was a Christian. I firmly believe that the "letzte Posaune" will sound differently in a believer's ear; for him, the Trump will be the finale of the (Mozartean) opera, where all complications of plot and character are unravelled, and everyone lives Happily Ever After with Jesus. For the sinner, it will be a junior high band trombone sectional fed through a wall-high amp stack. Also, the Tuba Mirum is a compositionally necessary relaxation of tension after the Dies Irae, a tension that begins to build again with the entry of the tenor.

But there's Mozart, and Mozart. Far from "his prodigious technical skills develop[ing] by age six", Mozart didn't reach musical maturity until he discovered the music of Bach, about a decade before he died. Before then, Wolfie was beating J.C. Bach at his own game...good but not cosmic. Haydn and CPE Bach were both writing better music than Mozart when Mozart was 24...but were they doing so when THEY were 24? For that matter was Rosner? I don't think that Mozart would have been guilty of the inane phrase repetitions found in Rosner's 2nd Quartet.

There's an adage that states that the composers a composer most hates are the ones he owes (see Ives re Debussy or Ruggles re Brahms). Rosner's mature sophisticated use of sequence and thematic extension owes more to Mozart than he might admit.

Maybe in a future post I'll make up a list of better candidates for "the worst few minutes of music ever written" Just to stick with Classic-period literature by name composers, how about the "development" of the first movement of Beethoven's Op. 79? That's before we bring out the big guns like Asger Hamerik, Richard Nanes, or the operatic work of Stewart Copeland.

Some people would kill to see Kanye West

So it says here

Boortz wrote, "Today comes news that two security guards were shot at a concert in London by rapper Kanye West.", which led me to believe that Kanye was the shooter. No such luck; they were just disgruntled patrons.

I thought HRH's government had gotten rid of all handguns.

And I am just a little bit envious that nobody cares that much about hearing today's classical music.