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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."

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...]

The Prototype Festival’s Scarlet Ibis (and the day I almost ate glue)

When I was a kid, my older brother tried to feed me a tube of airplane glue. I'm sure he thought it was for my own good. Perhaps the glue resembled toothpaste? It made a great story over the years: Mom caught brother in the nick of time though with so much glue flying around that nearby furniture had to be re-varnished. Now, this micro-confession is a disclaimer for my hopeless capitulation, really from moment one, to The Scarlet Ibis.. This new opera with words by David Cote and music by Stefan Weisman created a quiet sensation at the … [Read more...]

The weirdest day of my recent life

The invitation sounded innocent enough. Somebody had died, leaving a massive classical record collection. Would I take a look to see if it's worth donating to a school or something - despite the formats (LP and 78s) being out dated? "Sure." "You'll have to wear a haz-mat suit." "Really? Who was this guy?" "He was a morbidly obese shut-in and lived in squalor." The sketchy story that unfolded - nobody wanted to talk details - is this: The man was the son of opera aficionados, was one himself, but had few if any relatives, and … [Read more...]

The Henry Mollicone underground operas

Who ever said that opera had to be grand? It wasn't in the original mission statement when opera was invented more than 400 years ago with composers setting out to recapture the power of once-sung Greek drama. And they did so in royal courts that couldn't have been very large. But even as opera became gargantuan, smaller chamber works have been written, performed and loved over the centuries but rarely embraced with the fervor of bigger, louder Elektra and Turandot. The starting point of this grandeur-challenging train of thought was the … [Read more...]

Curlew River: Britten’s madwoman as samurai

Never do I listen to Britten's Curlew River as an opera-goer. Partly because I've always had to travel considerable distances to hear the piece live, I am, in effect, a pilgrim - and one who happens not to be inclined toward pilgrimages. More than that, Britten's 1964, 80-minute piece about a madwoman looking for her lost son is a confluence of so many things that my expectations about well-made lyrical drama are left far behind. It's an aesthetic vacation of sorts. With ritualistic deliberation and allegorical formality, Curlew River … [Read more...]

Scott Johnson’s Mind Out of Matter: Should music make so much sense?

When music starts talking to you in plain English, what - if anything - are you supposed to learn? Imagine a brilliant, engaging lecture on the origins of species encased in an ongoing musical narrative and you have Scott Johnson's  Mind Out of Matter.  Days after the premiere, I am still wondering what the piece wanted to give me, vs. what, in fact, I got. The aesthetic here isn't pieces for narration and orchestra, but pre-recorded speech embedded into a musical composition - which clearly reached a new level the weekend of Oct. 5 at … [Read more...]

4X4 Baroque Music Festival: Bach’s subversive multiple messages

More J.S. Bach cantatas? Yes, and that's good news not just for Bach devotees but for psychotherapists who stand to profit from the guilt that some (though not all) cantatas can induce among those who take them too literally. After centuries of neglect, Bach cantatas are becoming a regular part of the concert landscape, thanks to Bach@1 at New York's Trinity Church at Wall Street and Choral Arts Philadelphia's Bach@7, which mixes cantatas with music by other composers of Bach's time. The 4X4 Baroque Music Festival, slightly uptown from … [Read more...]

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