Make Way for the Guitar Era

Something else I meant to add about my students and the piano: Perhaps it's just Bard culture, but I see many students today, perhaps a majority, coming to musical creativity from the guitar rather than the piano, as they used to, or any other instrument. This could have profound consequences. In the Renaissance, composers usually got their start as child singers. Baroque and Classical composers were often string players (Corelli and Haydn, the violin; Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, the viola). Romantic and modern composers were more often than … [Read more...]

Responses to the Postclassical Dilemma

Matt Wellins add his own words to my account of his postclassical approach to writing for classical instruments: Just wanted to clarify: The piano does speak to me as a cultural icon, though not necessarily one that reeks of "high European culture." As you said, it is very much in any number of different worlds. I think we even discussed several other composers in addition to Cage and Feldman today, I think Nancarrow and Zorn came up. But hell, any number of 20th century composers seem to have reinvented the piano, I can't believe Messiaen … [Read more...]

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Speaking of the piano, I've been cleaning out my garage, and I found (among many, many other sentimental items you'd be grateful I'm sparing you) a cassette tape of the piano recital I gave as a high school senior, on May 18, 1973, at Skyline High School in Dallas. The program was ambitious, well over an hour, and, as you can see, studded with 20th-century American music, for which I was already a staunch advocate: Johannes Brahms: Rhapsody in E-flat, Op. 119 Robert Muczynski: Solitude " " : Night Rain " " : Jubilee George Rochberg: … [Read more...]

On (Not) Buying into the Illusion of Transparency

Somewhere between me and Matt Wellins lies the postclassical dilemma. Matt, you'll recall, is a student of mine at Bard, of aggressively postmodern tendencies. He writes mostly electronic music, with samples and environmental sounds: old recordings, noises outside his apartment, kids playing in Central Park, old TV cartoons. He thinks about the cultural provenance of each noise he includes, and is politically aware of the sonic associations he invokes. Now he's writing a piano piece, though, and having a predictable problem. The piano, to him, … [Read more...]

Vexedly Varying

I mentioned awhile back Art Jarvinen's 24-hour piano piece. I said he was producing a one-CD excerpt of it, and he has, on Los Angeles River Records, and he sent it to me. The piece is called Serious Immobilities, which, if you're new-music literate, should bring a ready reference to mind: Erik Satie. "To play this motif for oneself 840 times in a row," Satie write in somewhat ambiguous French on a little scrap of music found after his death with the title Vexations, "it will be good to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the greatest silence, … [Read more...]

System and Its Discontents

I'm teaching Bartok again. I use the little Erno Lendvai book that explains the "systems" with which Bartok allegedly composed. One is the "axis" system, which luckily has nothing to do with the "axis of evil," but is rather Bartok's tendency to equate four tonics separated by minor thirds; thus, the "tonic axis" of a particular piece might be C, Eb, F#, A, the subdominant axis F, Ab, B, D, and the dominant axis G, Bb, Db, E. This is especially clear in the piece I usually analyze, the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. The first movement … [Read more...]

Time Will Not Exist at Storm King

If you find yourself in upstate New York this coming Sunday, I have a performance of my music at the Storm King Music Festival. Emily Manzo, a dynamite young pianist just a few years out of Oberlin, and with an abiding interest in the latest music, will play my solo piano piece Time Does Not Exist at 2:00 at the Ogden Gallery of the Museum of the Hudson Highlands in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. Other composers on the festival include Carman Moore, Stefania de Kenessey, Wendy Griffiths, Jonathan Hallstrom, Peter Kirn, Bruce Lazarus, Yuzuru … [Read more...]

John Adams Tuning Update

Following up on a previous blog entry, I've received two reports of John Adams's The Dharma at Big Sur, his new orchestra piece with the LA Phil premiered at the Disney Center, which was to be Adams's first foray into the alternative system of tuning known as just intonation. According to one third-hand rumor, there wasn't enough rehearsal time to deal with the tunings, and the piece was played in conventional tuning. However, according to a more official report I received, this wasn't quite true. Finnish composer Juhani Nuorvala subsequently … [Read more...]

Just Engaging in Speech Here

An interesting bit of news from Wired: It's been ruled, in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, that bloggers can't be sued for libel as a result of republishing information. I found the logic intriguing: "One-way news publications have editors and fact-checkers, and they're not just selling information -- they're selling reliability," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But on blogs or e-mail lists, people aren't necessarily selling anything, they're just engaging in speech. That freedom of speech wouldn't … [Read more...]

Orwell Given the Orwellian Treatment

Recent attempts, ironically enough attending his centenary, to make out George Orwell as less than a saint grate on me. Orwell was less than a saint and freely and honestly admitted it, which is what makes him so human, such a kindred and readable spirit. He distrusted the aura of sainthood, and admired Gandhi, for instance, only insofar as he could strip away the suspicious illusion of selflessness that was placed around him. Whether great or not, Orwell remains well worth reading because he was trustable: he told the truth even against … [Read more...]

Initial Attempt at a Typology of Flaming

Last week I voluntarily subjected myself to a flaming war at New Music Box, which maintains a policy of allowing anyone to post anything they want, anonymously if so desired. I had been libeled as a writer, and rather than sit idly by and take it, I was in a mood to fight back. After a couple of weeks of exhausting college work, I had a free day with nothing else to do, and - as they say - it was just the wrong day to piss me off. But the activity was so repetitive that I learned a lot about flaming - the practice of posting incendiary e-mails … [Read more...]

West Coast Minimalist Blues

I rarely pay public attention to reissues - I've been collecting records since 1967, after all, since the recorded birth of new music itself, and I got most of the music that interests me the first time around. But a new three-disc set reissued from the hip southern-California label Cold Blue has me so mesmerized I can hardly quit listening to it, and there was only one piece on it I'd heard before. In the 1980s, like a flash in the night, Cold Blue released seven 10-inch vinyl records epitomizing the then-state of California minimalism, and … [Read more...]

Greg, of Course

Ahh, back to Arts Journal, the land of sanity, and I don't even want to tell you what lunatic asylums I've spent my week in. My bright spot of the week was Greg Sandow's very touching compliment to my blog. Thanking him for that strikes me as a private, not a public matter, and I have. But to give some idea what it means to me, picture me 17 years ago at 31, going into the Village Voice office on weekends and reading old Greg Sandow and Tom Johnson columns for hours on end, trying to figure out what they did, what I could learn from them, what … [Read more...]