Four Play

Four jobs you've had in your life: Ladies' wear stock clerk; library technical assistant; grantswriter; teacher

Four movies you could watch over and over: The Searchers, Nashville, Godfather II, Chinatown

Four places you've lived: Poughkeepsie, Ithaca, Durham, Iowa Citry

Four TV shows you love to watch: Scrubs, Law & Order (mothership), Boomtown, 24

Four places you've been on vacation: Atlanta, Tampa, Chicago, New York

Four websites you visit daily: All of the sites on the blogroll plus dailykos, bopnews, Salon, Slate

Four of your favorite foods: fresh pasta with marinara sauce and cheese, various Indian dishes, black beans and rice, salad

Four places you'd rather be: Atlanta, New York, Italy, France



[Up front disclaimer: I've known Stirling Newberry for nearly ten years of internet discussion and arguement. It's impossible for me to hear his music without my experience of him affecting my perceptions, and I wouldn't want to hear it that way.]


Political activism and music are among the passions/obsessions of Stirling Newberry's life. These obsessions come together in the two string quartets recorded on In The Year of Storms.

The two quartets on this disc, (No. 7 in Eb, Op. 35, and No. 8 in B, Op. 36) were written in response to the storm season of 2005 and its aftermath, both political and human. A combination of grief, anger, and longing suffuse the music of both quartets.

Mr. Newberry's music is tonal/modal in both forward and backwards senses. The works are governed by large-scale harmonic and melodic ideas while at the same time there is often a hint (or more) of the minimalist project underlying the surface. And it's a compelling surface. Mr. Newberry's melodies are memorable enough to carry the musical weight they are given in these pieces, though they aren't tunes you'll whistle afterwards (for the most part). His admiration (obsession, really) for Beethoven is reflected in his melodies, which are almost always ripe for contrapuntal treatment.

The composer's brand of post-modernism comes out in his stylistic references. The opening of the first movement of Quartet 7, for example, recalls the opening of Beethoven’s Ninth and a later movement includes the Dies Irae as a theme. Mr. Newberry is also fluent in many popular styles of the past and present and deploys them with ease.

I can recommend this disc without serious reservation. It brings up important issues about the nature of performance (and what constitutes a musical work) and the distribution of concert music, which I will discuss later.


Happy Birthday, Chronometros

My work was submitted under the pseudonym of Chronometros . . .

--Elliott Carter in his entry in the 25th Anniversary Report of the Harvard Class of 1930, referring to his First Quartet and its entry in a composition competition.

Carter goes on, quoting a letter he received after the Quartet won the competition:

I don't know if Feldbusch, the 'cellist of the Liege Quartet, has written you, but if not, here's his story, which may please you. He and Koch, the leader, detested the quartet all through rehearsals and the first performance. The eve of the final desicion, the judges listened to tape recordings and for the first time F and K were able to listen, not play. They were overwelmed, and F, a big hulk of an extrovert, not at all given to romanticism, I assure you, said he found himself on the verge of tears, and K also was moved. Meeting an old friend the day of the final concert, F insisted he come, deliberately telling him he must hear Chronometros, a terrible work, nonsensical, no rhyme or reason. Now the old friend was a coal miner, a guy who went down in the pits at the age of fourteen and has done nothing else in his life, is now forty-five, and goes once a year or so to the opera for Manon or Carmen. He came to the concert and the next day looked up F, threatened to bash his nose in, called him every dirty name in the Walloon vocabulary, said F knew nothing about music and deserved to hear nothing better than Manon or Carmen if he couldn't understand Chronometros. Says he: "This is the first time I have felt in music that a man was talking to me like a man; the guy who wrote that understands the fear I experience when I get down into a new mine not sure whether or not it is going to cave in on me; he's got guts and muscle, and he digs in his music like I dig in hard rock; he sweats like I do, he's a worker like I am; and you, Feldbusch, you're nothing but a goddamned fool of a musician if you can't understand that."

Other Carter posts at listen.:

Carter in Atlanta

More on Carter in Atlanta



A Different Perspective

This column by Chadwick Jenkins, from the PopMatters 'zine, is the first in a series of pieces on why "classical" music should matter to consumers of popular culture. I look forward to the rest of the series. It has the makings of an important contribution to the ongoing discussion of the place of concert music in postcontemporary life.