FSU Percussion Tour

The Florida State University Chamber Percussion Ensemble, under the direction of John W. Parks IV, is giving a performance at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City this coming Friday, 4 May 2007, at 8pm.

DISCLAIMER: I am proud to consider John Parks a friend and colleague. I am writing a concerto for him, and consider him an artist of the highest caliber. I want to be upfront about that.

The Ensemble will play music by David Skidmore, Blake Tyson, Andrew Thomas, Bob Becker, and Minoru Miki on the program, which they previewed here in Tallahassee last night. Post-minimalism carried the day in just about all of the pieces, and its influence could be heard throughout the program.

The performances were really good--intense, tight, and expressive. The Ensemble will be stopping along the way to New York to paly the program:

April 29, The University of Georgia (Athens) School of Music , 8pm
April 30, Furman University (Greenville, SC), Daniel Recital Hall, 8pm
May 1, Spring Arts Festival, Kimbrell-Warlick Fine Arts Center (Gastonia, NC), 7:30pm
May 2, The University of Virginia (Charlottesville) School of Music, 8pm

If you have the opportunity to hear them, go. You won't be sorry if you do.


Tristan Does New York

What do A. C. Douglas and Savanna Samson have in common? A love of Wagner, of course!

Ms. Samson is interviewed as part of WNYC radio's multimedia "Tristan Mysteries" project, a web and radio enterprise timed (it runs from 28 April to 5 May) to coincide with the Lincoln Center presentation of the Los Angeles Philharmonic performing the Peter Sellars/Bill Viola/Esa-Pekka Salonen Tristan Project.

(Alex Ross vividly reviewed a Paris performance here.)

"Tristan Mysteries" includes an interview with composer/writer Danny Felsenfeld, among others. An overview can be found here.

Tristan und Isolde was the first opera I ever saw. It was at the Met in January 1975, with Erich Leinsdorf conducting. I had studied the "Prelude and Liebestod" in school, but had not heard the rest of the opera. It was an overwelming experience, and perhaps the fastest five hours of my life.

If you build it . . . (I)

A reader writes:

What determines the formal structure in 20th century music? It seems that much of the music written in the early decades of the 20th century would lack structure (so it sounds to me)... Any thoughts?

I'll deal with this in some detail soon, but I want to open the question up to anybody who cares to take a shot at it, either in the comments or from their own podium.

I think that musical structure is, regardless of style, a very useful illusion. Wallace Stevens built an entire poetics around the idea that the human mind has such a "rage for order" that we will impose order, or "structure", even where there is no inherent order:

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Composers place "jars" in their music as ways for listeners to create/perceive and order to the music they are hearing. Performers can differ as to where in the piece the jars are located, and through accents of various kinds point them out to the listener.

We think of structure in functionally tonal music as a result of the deployment of changes and different melodies in time, to create a convincing musical argument. How is structure created or implied or facilitated in music that is not functionally tonal? Conversely, given our rage to order, is unstructured music even possible?


The great Russian cellist, conductor, and artistic rights champion Mstislav Rostropovich has died.

Allan Kozinn's New York Times obituary includes this:

As a cellist, Mr. Rostropovich played a vast repertory that included works written for him by some of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Among them were Shostakovich Cello Concertos, Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto, Cello Sonata and Symphony-Concerto, Britten’s Sonata, Cello Symphony and three Suites. He also played the premieres of solo works by Walton, Auric, Kabalevsky and Misaskovsky, and concertos by Lutoslawski, Panufnik, Messiaen, Schnittke, Henri Dutilleux, Arvo Pärt, Krzysztof Penderecki, Lukas Foss and Giya Kancheli.

As if that list wasn't amazing enough, for its variety as well as its length, there's this:

Mr. Rostropovich always said that one of the principal lures of the podium was that the orchestral repertory seemed so vast when compared with the cello repertory. But he did not confine himself to the established classics. He commissioned regularly, and led the premieres of more than 50 works. Two of the pieces written for him during his National Symphony years — Stephen Albert’s “Riverrun” Symphony and Morton Gould’s “Stringmusic” — won Pulitzer Prizes. Leonard Bernstein, Jacob Druckman, Richard Wernick, Gunther Schuller and Ezra Laderman were among the other composers who wrote for him, or whose works had their world premieres under his baton.

He will be missed, but his artistic legacy remains as comfort, inspiration, and living memorial.


Future: Tense

The debate about the future of our music continues apace.

With friends like Gene Weingarten, who needs enemies? The condescending tone of Mr. Weingarten's article about Joshua Bell playing in a Washington (DC) subway station, has drawn notice elsewhere in the popular press and in the political blogosphere. I'm not sure concert music's worst enemy could have put together a more embarrassing and guaranteed-to-blow-up-in-everbody's-face cock-up if they had tried.

[Side note from the Pedagogy Department here at listen101: Mr. Bell oversells the Bach "Chaconne" here:

not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It's a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.
I can tell you from painful experience that that is a set-up for a tepid response, even though it's true. Tell them it's got some great moments, show them how to follow it, and make sure they know it's long.]

And speaking of pompous, Norman Lebrecht doesn't even have the whatever to name ALEX ROSS by name when attempting to refute ALEX ROSS' very fine post on the sale of recording of concert music. Mr. Lebrecht seems to equate the world of concert music with big recording companies, which equation doesn't add up, as ALEX ROSS demonstrates. Also, be sure to read ALEX ROSS' survey of the New York music scene here.

Finally, Helen Radice offers her always-more-than-two-farthings-worth:

Some people may be more fufilled by literature, galleries, the theatre, football, or even by what I believe is called 'popular music'. But there remain many people throughout the world passionately in love with 'classical music' (if so it must be called). Like any other major art form, it - recorded or otherwise - is not fucking dying. It is evolving, like anything else alive. It may be there is less of a market for more CDs of 'The Four Seasons', but there now exist 435 recordings of this piece, and even a seminal pop album like The Bends only comes out the once, give or take some re-mixes.

Read the whole enlightening thing here.


Arts Funding

The Tallahassee (FL) Democrat published a piece by a local political columnist this past Thursday, which piece called for the elimination of public funding for the arts.

My response is here. There's a lot more to say on this topic, and I hope at least some of you will say what you have to say in comments.



According to Maynard Solomon (my memory may be less than perfect on this, and any corrections would be more than welcome) about 400 people heard the three premiere performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto 24, in c minor (K. 491, 1786). The fame and reputation of the concerto and its composer has grown exponentially since that beginning. Of course, Mozart was, well, Mozart, and times are different, but I wonder if there isn’t an encouraging lesson to be found here.

Among these 400 there must have been other musicians of the professional or amateur variety. Musicians who talked about the piece, obtained a copy of the score, and learned it. More important, there must have been people in the audience who heard the piece and were struck or moved by it, and proceeded to talk about it with others, people who weren’t in the audience for the premiere.

Mozart’s time was a before mass markets and mass media, obviously. Just as obviously, our time is an age of mass media and related markets:

We live in a society that observes very much the mass reactions, and is all about markets, including in music. I think our responsibility is to work against that, to have a taste for adventure, to be courageous enough to go forward into the emptiness, to open new doors, and then be followed—or not—by our audiences. --Pierre-Laurent Aimard, quoted by Jeremy Eichler in the Boston Globe, 25 March 2007

I think Mozart’s experience and Aimard’s comments point us to a new approach, one that is rooted, in part, in the long tail theory and in compound interest. Concert music is a niche market, very small and diminishing, or slowly growing, depending on who you read and on their agenda. The new and emerging technologies of internet distribution and electronic “rendering” of scores in recordings that are very close to performance quality enables composers to find their 400. If they are like the audience Mozart had you may see interest in your work grow. It’s a long, agonizing process, but if you can get 400 people to “go forward into the emptiness” with you, it will be worth it in the long run.