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Hans Werner Henze: The Last Interview?

Months before his death, he reached back 50 years in his mind to talk about his "odd, old Elegy."

Michael Hersch, 9/11, and the twin towers of light

With each 9/11 anniversary, I still don't know how to process the experience. Of course, I was glad on Sunday's 15th anniversary of 9/11 that the new World Trade Center is up and in what has become one of the most vibrant, architecturally advanced sections of Manhattan. I was happy about my photographic accident to the left, which had the emblematic twin columns of light, which appear every 9/11,  reflecting off an adjacent building in ways that made me feel somehow protected by the heavens. But the idea of airplanes crashing … [Read more...]

David Lang’s new opera The Loser may yet win

Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang has written several operas so far, none of them in the least bit conventional, and all of them showing how much the ultra-minimalist Bang on a Can aesthetic can be fascinatingly at odds with an art form that's traditionally grand. His latest is The Loser, which was unveiled Wednesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House in a production whose apparatus alone guaranteed sold-out houses. Only the mezzanine in the huge auditorium was available to ticketbuyers, severely limiting the seating capacity, … [Read more...]

Bach’s Brandenburgs: Liberated by the Sebastians?

The world probably wouldn't be appreciably different had Bach's Brandenburg Concertos not been discovered sitting on some shelf, possibly unplayed and unexamined, a century or so after they were finished in 1721. J.S. Bach still would've been re-discovered. His works would be as venerated as they are now. But the Brandenburg Concertos are so singular in Bach's output, in the history of concertos or, for that matter, in western music that their impact on audiences was inevitable. But their influence on composers? Well, who else but J.S. Bach … [Read more...]

Boulez haunts the Philharmonic – with music from from his noisy youth

Pierre Boulez has been haunting the New York Philharmonic mercilessly. On Monday night at the fashionable Williamsburg, Brooklyn venue known as National Sawdust, the recently deceased composer was heard alongside the French contemporary he often hated, Olivier Messiaen, as well as younger somewhat-modernist composers such as George Benjamin and Oliver Knussen. Hosting was a Boulez champion, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. You wouldn't think that such an evening would be such fun. Oh, but it was. For the Philharmonic, Salonen is the … [Read more...]

David Amram at 85: Distilling his multiple personalities

He doesn't look much older than when he was 60. But he's showing his age in a way that true artists do. His 2014 piece, Greenwich Village Portraits, is one of his very best. David Amram has led multiple lives simultaneously. He's a jazz musician able to improvise an actual song on the spot, the master of many ethnic and folk musics who plays at Farm Aid concerts (and fits in), but most importantly, is a composer of classical concert music. Maybe I was too bewildered in past years to put it all together. Then I was asked to work on the … [Read more...]

Bach at the Armory – with gongs, noise-canceling headphones and deck chairs

Every concert should be as comfortable as this. Goldberg, a new performance art piece created by Marina Abramovic that involved a full performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations, was a marriage made in ... well, the drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Abramovic was quoted as saying she would make audiences suffer for their Bach - a scary prospect: one of her pieces had her combing her hair until her head bled - but I'd love to hear any concert in these circumstances, with the pianist in the center and four large rectangular … [Read more...]

John Luther Adams makes the earth speak (while tourists cover their ears)

John Luther Adams often seems like an Alaska Impressionist - or so I've said in the past, perhaps misleadingly. The implication of that moniker implies pretty-sounding Arctic Debussy, something more descriptive than Sibelius and surely full of more bears than lions and tigers. In fact, Adams (who lived in Alaska for years) has an all-embracing attitude toward sound that could only have come in the wake of John Cage. His Strange and Sacred Noise, which I caught at a free lunchtime concert at Trinity Wall Street in New York, was performed with … [Read more...]

The Pope, the music and the evacuation

A pope without music is like a ship without a flag. It's part of the papal aura - but, unlike incense, it doesn't send your sinuses into spasms. At the Festival of Families Saturday night on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the music at a gala concert in Pope Francis's honor was quite secondary - almost a footnote that was all-too-easily ignored, even with big-personality artists such as Jackie Evancho, Andrea Bocelli and the Philadelphia Orchestra onstage. Among the things you maybe didn't see in the televised version (including … [Read more...]

Harry Partch’s sonic cathedral – and what others have built around it.

Harry Partch's biggest and most accomplished work,  Delusion of the Fury, long stood alone like some singular Gaudí-designed cathedral in a desert. But now, 46 years after its premiere, it appears at Lincoln Center Festival with a like-minded artistic community having grown up around it. Strange no more, the music maintains its singularity while feeling familiar. Long considered the ultimate American maverick composer, Partch (1901-1974) resisted the typical compositional norms of the mid-20th century, inventing his own instruments - often … [Read more...]

Handel for hipsters: Revolution or red herring?

Small scale revolution might be fitfully brewing in operatic theater amid a current trilogy of Handel productions by the director R. B. Schlather in the White Box Gallery at New York's Lower East Side. The second installment was Orlando, premiered on Sunday April 26 with superficialities many of us have all seen before - a small-scale, modern-dress production with sexy, punky, hyperphysical  theatricality as well as many cuts made in the service of de-cluttering typical Baroque-era narrative and circumventing any possibilities of … [Read more...]

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