The Best Disinfectant

Stirling Newberry, posting at the Agonist, asks bloggers to remove On an Overgrown Path from our blogrolls because of this post, which links to an article in the American Spectator on affirmative action in orchestras. Mr. Newberry believes that the linking of the article is an indication of "soft bigotry" on the part of Pliable, the Path blogger.

The article is indeed a fetid pile of half-truths, unsupported assertions, condescension, frat-boy style bigotry, and false concern. (I say "false concern" becuase in the world dreamed of by the editors and writers of that magazine, there would be no elite orchestras, because they wouldn't be able to make it in that market-driven pit.) However, I won't remove the blog from my roll because I believe that we do better in fighting for what we believe in when those we opposed are exposed to the light of day. I don't know if that was Pliable's point in linking to the article, because he doesn't comment on it.

And that brings me to the action that I will take in response to this. I frequently post links to other sites, be they blogs, magazines, etc., and offer them without comment. In the future I will endeavor not to do that.


Oh, why not?

Matthew Guerrieri's Proustian quiz:

1. Name an opera you love for the libretto, even though you don't particularly like the music.

Stephen Paulus' The Postman Always Rings Twice.

2. Name a piece you wish Glenn Gould had played.

Basic Training, Lee Hyla.

3. If you had to choose: Charles Ives or Carl Ruggles?

Ives, but I love Ruggles' Sun-Treader.

4. Name a piece you're glad Glenn Gould never played.

Trois Gymnopédies, Erik Satie.

5. What's your favorite unlikely solo passage in the repertoire?

The piccolo solo that ends Carter's Symphonia.

6. What's a Euro-trash high-concept opera production you'd love to see? (No Mortier-haters get to duck this one, either—be creative.)

Parsifal in Vegas.

7. Name an instance of non-standard concert dress you wish you hadn't seen.

Pass; we don't get much of that around here. One I'm glad I did see was Dr. John Boda wearing a scarlet tux to play on my doctoral recital.

8. What aging rock-and-roll star do you wish had tried composing large-scale chorus and orchestra works instead of Paul McCartney?

Ugh. Jeez. Hell, I don't know. Crap. The guy that sang for the Ides of March, I guess.

9. If you had to choose: Carl Nielsen or Jean Sibelius?

The Finn.

10. If it was scientifically proven that Beethoven's 9th Symphony caused irreversible brain damage, would you still listen to it?

It doesn't?


The Times Are Never So Bad (II) (Updated)

Stirling Newberry has another essay up at The Agonist, the subject of which is the response of the arts to the events of the last five years. Needless to say, he finds the response inadequate, to say the least. However, there is hope, if not for redemption, at least for realization and rebuilding.

The first comment is very good.

Update: Mr. Newberry puts his music where his mouth is, with a video based on the last three minutes of the second movement ("There Must Be Peace") of his C Major Piano Sonata (Ares), from a soon-to-be-released CD. I'm agnostic on the idea of attaching images to concert music, but it is certainly one way to to provide entrée into the music.



Stirling Newberry posts on the "liberation of classical music" over at The Agonist. The questions that Stirling raises in this piece are not new; in fact, raising them again and again in new contexts seems to be an important part of his work. They are worth asking and worth thinking about.


Class Divide

Daniel Wolf wants to start a campaign to get publishers to make study scores available on the web for free. That's a very good idea. An indication that publishers would not be the only roadblock to this open source conception of music comes in this article (from The New York Sun) by Fred Kirshnit (h/t to Robert Gable):

Copyright and royalties are a major issue as well. Mr. [John] Corigliano recalled encountering a student in Beijing who is writing her thesis on his Symphony No. 2, a work neither published nor commercially recorded. She possessed on her computer not only the score to the piece, but a pirated recording as well.

I'm assuming here that Mr. Corigliano was not celebrating this as a triumph of the internet's ability to spread our music all over the world, and if I'm wrong about that I'd love to be informed about it. (I'm less thrilled about a pirated recording, but I don't know the specific circumstances of that, either.)

My point in quoting this is to say that there is a class divide between the haves of the composition world, represented by Mr. Corigliano, and those of us who struggled to be heard and studied. Mr. Wolf's idea, even if it were to be implemented on a modest scale, would be a step in the direction of getting more of us studied, played, and heard.


Catching Up

The American Music Center has launched Counterstream Radio, billed as a "showcase for new music by United States composers". Check it out.

I want to echo Daniel Wolf's call for music publishers to make study scores available for downloading over the internet at no charge. Mr. Wolf makes a convincing case that any hit the publishers might take on sales of these scores (which wouldn't be all that much) would be made up for in the increased performances and the related performance and mechanical reproduction fees. A few of my scores are posted (in pdf form) at my Classical Lounge page. I'm working on ways to get more of them out there, and am interested in hearing from composers and performers about what works from their repective perspectives.

Not un-related to this is Mr. Wolf's earlier call for those of us with an interest of one kind or another in new concert music to increase the web presence of ourselves and our music:

After having spent too much of the past two weeks monitoring activity in the online new music blogs and fora, I've come to the conclusion that one problem is that we, as a community, are generating simply too little heat: too little new of interest in the way of sounds, scores, or ideas, and too little controversy or passion, and even too little in the way of intellectual challenges. But most of all, through the underwhelmingly small amount of material we present to the world, we're simply giving out the impression that nothing is really happening in little Newmusicville. At this point in time, a new music equivalent of the "Instapundit" could probably get by with a bi-weekly post delivered by burro.
Matthew Guerrieri posts a thoughtful, evocative response to an essay on the atmosphere at performances of concert music by Erika Lange, a student of Greg Sandow. Ms. Lange's essay includes a number of extra-musical suggestions for "add[ing] some spice" to concert music events, including lighting effects, attire, etc. Mr Guerrieri sums up his disagreement:

. . . I finally figured out that it's not about being knocked out of my chair, it's about being able to aurally go up to the music and engage it actively, openly, maybe even foolishly. The more that classical music borrows from popular music, the more the artistic content is skewed in a pop direction: towards sensation and away from contemplation, and more crucially, towards expectation and away from exploration. The most important music is the music we don't yet know that we want. Structuring the presentation along popular lines makes it that much more unlikely that we'll ever find it.

I come upon performers blogs less frequently than I do composers' or crtics' blogs, but when I do I always learn alot about performers' all-important perspective. So it is with soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird's blog. In this post, she links to a discussion by baritone Thomas Meglioranza about the process he goes through to learn complex and/or pantonal pieces. Note the comment by a listener to the effect that this kind of inside knowledge is valuable to his experience with music.

Adam Baratz has a quote from Jon Brion (composer of some of my favorite film scores):

The truth of the matter is, most rock bands are classical musicians and they don’t know it. Because it’s "This song starts with this drumbeat, at this time; halfway through, the guitar comes in, playing this part, with all down strokes on the fifth, with a clean sound; at this point you turn on your distortion and you play the barre chord, and then it’s muted at this point . . ." And every time they play the song, it’s the same thing. That’s classical music!

Actually, it's my experience that there is far more of this particular form of anality in the rock/pop world than there is in concert music. Stories of rock/pop performers wanting the concert to sound just like the record are legion, while it is very rare for (especially experienced) concert music performers not to try new things during a performance, even if they've played a piece hundreds of times.

The Standing Room offers this observation:

Snobbishness is not the opposite of ignorance; in fact, I would argue that they share space on the same side of the coin.

Finally, if you are thinking of getting me a gift, I'd really like to have this.

Borodin Quartet

Review, Tallahassee (FL) Democrat, 12 March 2007.


Workshop (VIII)

At the risk of giving A. C. Douglas the vapors, I want to talk a little bit about my working methods on the percussion concerto I'm writing for John Parks.

The piece is cast in three movements, with the second movement constituting an interruption of the first and third. I find myself approaching II very differently from I/III. II is a slow movement in which I'm "building" the percussion part as I write the band part--the solo part is growing as the piece grows. On the other hand, in I/III, which is mostly fast music of one kind or another, I find myself writing the percussion part first, and following 20 measures or so with the band, so the percussion line is like a spinal cord, holding up the whole thing.

The three movements share a common harmonic basis, which I'm not inclined to discuss at this time.


Walkin', Miles Davis All Stars
"Someone to Love", Fountains of Wayne