5x5 (Updated)

1) What five operas would you most like to see performed?

2) What five pieces would you most like to hear performed?

3) What five living performers would you most like to meet?

4) What five living composers would you most like to meet?

5) What five living musicians (composers, performers, writers, scholars, etc) would you most like to play three-on-three basketball with/against?

Post your answers in comments or on your blogs. Thanks. I'll post mine later.

2 Nov: My answers are in the comments.



The Florida State University Percussion Ensemble played a concert last evening to kick off a brief tour that will culminate in a performance at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention this Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

My personal and working relationship with the Ensemble's Director, John Parks, keeps me from writing real reviews of his work, but I can say with all honesty that if you dig percussion (and who doesn't?) you should hear them on this tour:

29 Oct: McEachern High School, Atlanta, GA;
30 Oct: Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond; and
2 Nov: PASIC, Columbus, OH.

The program includes, among other pieces, Edgard Varese's epoch-making Ionisation, which the Ensemble gave a powerful performance here last night. The concert also includes pieces by Clif Walker, Rüdiger Pawassar, Pietro Mascagni (yes, you read that right), Astor Piazzolla, and David Skidmore.

Skidmore's From In Contact (2007) was commissioned by the Ensemble, and is notable because it is a very good piece and because it confirms a trend that Alex Ross noted nearly three years ago--a turning away from the relatively simple surfaces/designs and overt pop references of the music of composers who came of age in the 1960s and 70s (in other words, my generation) and an opening up to include a wider array of materials, especially in terms of harmony and rhythm. I was glad to hear such a piece by a young composer (Skidmore was born in 1982) and to hear that it was very good, and well received by the audience.

Check 'em out if you can.


Stephen Robinson, guitar. Review, Tallahassee (FL) Democrat, 29 October 2007.


Taruskin and Katz

As many of you know by now, Richard Taruskin has published a lengthy essay-review of three new books on music in The New Republic. ACD has the particulars here, along with a representative quote. I admit to being surprised that ACD didn't castigate Mr. Taruskin for a good number of his ideas--I think he would have called me an "idiot" had I written some of it.

I haven't digested all of Mr. Taruskin's food for thought, but it is definitely worth a read.

Ivan Katz, writing in The Huffington Post, calls for a revolution in concert program notes. I completely agree. He rightly bemoans the credential lists that routinely pass for artist profiles, as well as fatuous descriptions of musical phenomenon. Others have written about this problem before, maybe somebody will take notes (as it were) and do something about it.

[Edited on 8 Mar 14 for spelling and usage.]


Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry?

The new issue of The High Hat is out, and in addition to literate and insightful articles on a wide variety of cultural and social topics, also contains three things I wrote; an article on place in American music, a review of Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise, and an interview with Mr. Ross.


The Faces on the Stage

Allan Kozinn reviews a concert by the Juilliard String Quartet, joined by clarinetist Charles Neidich, playing music by Wolfganag Mozart, Ralph Shapey (premiere), Elliott Carter, and Johannes Brahms.

A correspondent notes (after reading the review and seeing the photo that accompanies it):

Call me a grump, but 5 old white guys playing old/dead white guys’ music doesn’t thrill me so much. (Quoted with permission)

This is an interesting observation, and brings up an important issue in opening up our music to broader audiences. I do think that it is more a matter of presentation than of substance, and I think my correspondent would agree:

On the flip side, a woman’s presence doesn’t make it automatically better.

I don't think I've been to a concert recently where the faces on the stage were as old and as white and as male as this one. In fact, the only pictures like this one I've seen recently were a George Bush bill-signing and a GOP presidential debate, but at least Neidich and the Juilliards had musical instruments in their hands.

It's a complicated issue. Elliott Carter is quite old, but he wasn't at the time he wrote his Second Quartet, and the Juilliard Quartet was present at its creation, so there is a connection to youth in their performance. Ralph Shapey was old when he wrote 2 for 5, but the piece itself is young. Mozart never was old, but he was white and he is long dead. Brahms was near the end of his life when he wrote the Clarinet Quintet, but it is precisely that work's autumnal glow that we cherish.

The point is not about eliminating DWMs from the culture, or even old ones (pop would thin out pretty damn fast, no?), or about criticizing the Juilliard Quartet; it's about providing as many ways into concert music for people without experience in it. People notice the make-up of ensembles and programs, and it's not limited to "PC"-types and liberals: My correspondent is a political and social conservative.



Sportswriter King Kaufman, in Salon:

The Red Sox win and the continuation of the ALCS should go a long way toward preventing total sports-media saturation coverage of the Joe Torre story in New York, though they'll have their hands full on that score. Torre turned down the Yankees' offer of a one-year contract with a big cut in his base salary but incentives that could have paid him more than he made this year if the 2008 Yankees reached the World Series.

That ends by far the longest, most stable and most successful managerial era of the Steinbrenner era for the Yankees, and it probably would have totally overshadowed the ALCS if the Red Sox hadn't been playing. As it is, ESPN is playing it cool, though it has commissioned Philip Glass to write an opera about Torre's contract negotiation that will debut Sunday afternoon.


Here and There

Alex Ross has a good overview of concert music's web presence here. And speaking of Mr. Ross, today is publication day for his first book, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. I'll have a review of the book and an interview with the author, at a time and place to be announced.

And speaking of people named "Alex", I've been listening to Alex Shapiro's new CD, Notes from the Kelp, also released today. I like this CD very much. Ms. Shapiro handles a wide variety of instruments and idioms with style and expression. My favorite piece so far is Current Events, for string quintet (adding a viola to the traditional quartet). The piece is well-written for the instruments, expressive, and compelling. Ms. Shapiro's music stakes out so much musical territory that I am sure just about everyone will find somethng to like on the program.

I don't usually do politics here, but this post by Phil Nugent, who contributes to The High Hat and elsewhere, is as cogent a staement about where we are as anything I've read recently.


And so it begins

Many if not most of us in the concert music blogosphere having been awaiting the publication of The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross's book on 20th century music. The first review is out, and there is commentary on that review.

The review is by Adam Kirsch of The New York Sun. It's a positive review, but it reperents a misreading of some of what Mr. Ross has to say about the last third or so of the century. (I'll have a review of the book later this month.)

What I wanted to point to here, though, is a reaction to that review. Eugene David, who bills himself as "The One-Minute Pundit" has castigated Mr. Ross, saying that he is, in the book, a critic who "won't get mad when anger is justified". This is based not on the book, but on Mr. Kirsch's review. Telephone game to ensue, no doubt.

At any rate, I look forward to many discussions of this book. I only hope they are largely based on what is actually in the book.

UPDATE: I note the appearance this morning of Terry Teachout's review in Commentary magazine. This is one I have looked forward to, given that they have some important overlaps in aesthetics while having serious disagreements about politics. It doesn't disappoint.

Also, congratulations to Mr. Teachout on his impending marriage. I can say with some authority that he has a lot to look forward to; my 30th anniversary is next week.