Solti and New Music

I lived in Chicago from 1977 to 1989, where I frequently heard Georg Solti conduct the Chicago Symphony, and several times reviewed him and wrote about him. Around 1985, Solti held a press conference which I wasn't present for, but a tape recording was made that I transcribed shortly afterward. Someone asked why the orchestra didn't perform more new music. Solti responded to the effect that new music was always experimental, and that a great instrument like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra could not be used for "experiments." This is why, in my … [Read more...]

Happy Anniversary!!

Yes, that's right - hard to believe, but my blog is a month old today, and it's time to assess how I'm doing. I've been a music critic since February of 1983 (my first appearance in the Chicago Reader), and not once have I ever marked one of my own anniversaries - nor, except for a couple of modest conflict-of-interest disclosures and a couple of articles on my own web page, have I ever drawn attention to my own music in print. So no one, I think, can charge that I am habitually self-promoting. But in one month on this blog I've e-printed more … [Read more...]

More Classical Heresies

Apropos of nothing, and only because I've had a virtual 17-year hiatus in writing about classical music (limited as I've been to postclassical music at the Voice and living composers in Chamber Music and the Times), here are some more of my classical music views considered heretical in my academic milieu: - Greatest piano work between Schubert and Ives: Liszt's Annees de Pelerinage, three hours' worth of remarkably sustained inspiration, with innovations that had an obvious impact on Debussy and thus helped jump-start the 20th century. In fact, … [Read more...]

Unapologetic Heresy, As Usual

I heard the Beethoven Seventh live the other night. It was a superb performance, the Albany Symphony under the very energetic direction of David Alan Miller. I doubt that I've ever heard a Beethoven symphony so dashingly rendered live, so I'm sure the performance had nothing to do with the discomfort I felt. But there are passages in the first movement of that piece that I've always found rather stunningly slipshod, as though Beethoven didn't take the trouble to write a convincing transition. The piece too often strips down to single repeated … [Read more...]

Gone Composin’

Sorry, a little light on the blog this week. I got an opportunity to do some concentrated work on my almost-completed microtonal chamber opera, The Watermelon Cargo (libretto by Jeffrey Sichel). With the exception of my Transcendental Sonnets for chorus and orchestra - which netted a large enough commission to justify my refusing all other work for a month or a little more - every note I've written in the last fifteen years has been written during time stolen from something else I was supposed to be doing for money. And now I'm stealing time … [Read more...]

Mr. New Music Weighs In

Matthew Wellins responded at some heat and length to my piece on the Reich Remixed album. Matt is a student of mine, a published critic, and Mr. New Music around Bard. He's always bringing me new music discs from obscure labels I've never heard of, including rare recordings I'd never heard by composers I'm obsessed with, and he's been my primary source of information about Jim O'Rourke and the techno crowd. He knows that, in sympathy, I believe in keeping up with the absolute latest music out there, and he's disappointed that I no longer … [Read more...]

You Could Do Something with That

A reader suggests that the fragment of Steve Reich's Piano Phase that I heard blip by on NPR might have been from a Nonesuch disc called Reich Remixed, an album of DJs playing around with various Reich recordings. It wasn't; the piece on that disc that riffs off Piano Phase uses the actual sampled recording of two pianos, whereas what NPR flashed by was a synthesizer version, with glitzy electronic timbres, that had to have been completely reprogrammed. But to prove my memory hadn't misled me I listened to Reich Remixed for the first time since … [Read more...]

CDRs Explained

In response to my general query, a helpful reader has given me a helpfully non-technical rundown on how CDRs differ from CDs, from the machine's point of view. To avoid hearing from the lawyers of Sony, Verbatim, and Maxell, he wishes to remain anonymous, but his detailed account is much appreciated: ...[A]s it's been explained to me (by people who probably refer to me as a mouth-breather in the technology arena), while real CDs transmit the 0s and 1s to the computer by physical pits in the surface of the medium, CD-Rs do a fake version of that … [Read more...]

My Burning Question

Well, I have a question to bring to the world. I finally have the technology to burn my own compact discs, and everything's almost unbelievably ducky. My one remaining problem in the world (aside from my new Toyota Prius whose transmission died after ten months, and Toyota wouldn't cover it under warranty - I'd love to tell you about it sometime) is, some CD players have a lot of trouble reading CDRs. My computer has never rejected a disc; my car stereo has only once rejected one; but my home CD players of the last few years, three of them (one … [Read more...]

Walking the Jazz Tightrope

I went Friday night to hear my friend John Esposito and his band play at the Uptown in Kingston, NY. (Imagine making me visit a place called the Uptown; but Kingston is not Manhattan.) Esposito is the kind of jazz pianist for whom jazz is still a dauntingly rigorous discipline, and his band - Eric Person on sax, Greg Glassman on trumpet, Kenny Davis on bass, and Pete O'Brien on drums - is made up of people able to meet exacting standards. The tunes were mostly Esposito's own, carefully defined but with harmonies and rhythms often too complex … [Read more...]

The Turning Wheel Pauses

First the good news: Roulette as a presenting organization will live on. Now the bad: Roulette the new-music performance space at 228 West Broadway, Manhattan, has closed down. I'm sentimental about it, for during all the years I was most active at the Village Voice, Roulette was the Downtown space where I went to the most concerts, and it was, in its low-expectation new-music way, perfect. It was the right size - an audience of seven people (which I've seen there) wasn't embarrassingly few, and probably 70 could squeeze in and create a feeling … [Read more...]

Spoke Too Soon

Well, I have to retract one item I said wasn't available on CD: the Bernstein recording of Roy Harris's Third Symphony. There were a few years when this was true, and the only CD of the piece out there was by (once again) Neeme Jarvi, but the great old 1961 Bernstein recording finally appeared, and I forgot that's the one I have. There are also a couple of CDs of the Harris Seventh. So the first nine symphonies of this once-celebrated American romantic can be found - but what about the last five, which seem never to have been recorded? … [Read more...]

Rubbing the Vinyl Lamp

I was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but I've learned to love it. Over the summer the hard drive on my Mac G3 laptop crumpled over in agony, and I spent a week cursing technology. A technician was able to retrieve all my info except for my Eudora e-mail box (in case some of you out there wonder why you never heard back from me). But perforce I bought a G4 with 10 times the hard drive space - enough to handle humongous audio files - and a CD burner. And now, with some cheap audio software my son gave me, I'm making my own … [Read more...]