Here and There

Alex Ross points us to the New York music scene blog of Steve Smith. I have added it to the blogroll. It is a style wars-free zone, so far.

Greg Sandow posted the first installment of his book on the future of concert musc today. The issues he brings up will be familiar to his readers, as well as to readers of this and other music blogs and publications. I find these questions particularly interesting and in need of answers:

Are performances of classical music very interesting, these days? Are they creative? Surprising? Individual? Why all the emphasis—in program notes, for instance, or music education—on scholarship, history, and technical analysis? If all this is changing (which it is), is it changing fast enough? And what’s our relation—all of us in the classical music world—to contemporary culture? Theater companies do plays by living playwrights; classical musicians, in striking contrast, play music from the past. And, sure, there’s more new classical music played now than there was 10 years ago, but how much of it sounds new? How much of it sounds like the world outside the concert hall, the world we really live in?

I look forward to Greg's exploration of these and other questions.


Workshop (V)

I finished a short piece for oboe solo, called Night Music, this weekend. As usual, a score is available in Finale format (*.mus) for those interested. A PDF version may be available later this week.

The opera is trying to get attention, but there are a couple of other pieces in front of it. More on those later.

This coming weekend in reviewing: 50th anniversary production of Tallahassee resident Carlisle Floyd's Susannah at the Florida State Opera. More about that as the week progresses.



To Ayre is Human

GOLIJOV: Ayre; BERIO: Folk Songs. Dawn Upshaw, s; Andalucian Dogs; Ensemble. DG B0004782. 62 minutes.

First, up front: Dawn Upshaw is a force of nature. Her performances on both Osvaldo Golijov's Ayre (2004) and Luciano Berio's Folk Songs (1964) are nothing short of spectacular. Her voice is warm and rich, her phrasing expressive, and she has a strong sense of style that comes into play in both of these pieces.

Ayre is a cycle of recreations/arrangements of traditional songs from Arab, Jewish, and Christian cultures. Golijov weaves the differences between the cultures in a form of counterpoint, where slight changes is harmony or melody shift cultural gears. The result is an amalgamation that Alex Ross calls "a new beast, of bastard parentage and glorious plumage" that should appeal to pop and concert music fans alike. To my ears, the piece is a little long at 40 minutes, but it works very well if I listen to it a song or two at a time. Some of the rapid sections sound a little like Tears of Joy era Don Ellis, without the metric complexities. Ayre is a worthy composition; it makes me want to hear more Golijov and to revisit his Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, which I reviewed in my days as a style warrior at ARG.

Berio's Folk Songs are also recreations/arrangements (Golijov wrote Ayre as a companion piece). Berio's work is subtle and spare, and never gets in the way of the melodies or the texts. Again, Ms. Upshaw gives a very fine performance, one that does honor to Berio and to the legendary Cathy Berberian, for whom they were written.

Alex mentions the excellent sound on this disc. It has an immediacy that is unusual in concert music performances. I hope we hear more like it in the furure.

Finally, the notes (by Ara Guzelimian) are excellent--no tedious lists of commissioning bodies and performance organizations. The biographical details given are only those that have some resonance to the art at hand. Otherwise, they do what notes should, in my opinion, do. They provide several entry points into the music.

Workshop (IV) and Miscellany

I've completed the second-and-God-as-my-witness-final draft of A Certain Light, for brass quintet. If anyone is interested in playing it or punishing their students with it, let me know. The opera is still on the backburner. I'm going through a change. It's really more of an approach change than a style change. And it's very much related to EiG and opera in general. More later.

I've added Andrea Burnsworth to the 'blogroll. Please give her a read.

The New York Times has an article on Van Gogh's drawings. He called drawing "the root of everything". What is the root of everything for composers? Performers?



Review: Jupiter String Quartet.

Stirling Newberry begins a series of posts taking the uptown/downtown model out for a spin. He finds it inadequate to even begin to describe the current situation.

Stirling also has kind words to say about one of me pieces. The post includes a link to a streaming performance.

Radiation Sickness: I'm sure I'll eventually get to see/hear Doctor Atomic, the new opera by John Adams that was premiered on Saturday. In fact, given the hype/attention (take your pick) paid to it in the music press, I was surprised not to see a recording of it at my local Borders on Sunday morning. I do look forward to it, but I must say that every new piece of his gets this treatment (to an extent) and is written about by the best writers in the business, and is so pre-sold that his music is always a disappointment to me when I finally get to hear it. The ideas behind the compositions seem somehow bigger than the resulting music can deal with.

Another good young writer waxes eloquently about Mr. Adams, but if I had a dollar for every time in the last 35 years I've read that a composer "doesn't shy away from an occasional tonal center" I could get my own hype machine.