Not Only Europe

Oh yes - an alert reader caught that I glibly roped Claude Vivier into a roundup of European composers. Despite his considerable professional presence in Paris, Vivier was, of course, Canadian, and it would be churlish indeed to deprive the perennially underrated Canadian new-music scene of credit for so fine an ornament. … [Read more...]

“Time for Europe to Look Ahead”

My comments about new music in Europe received more resounding validation than I would have ever expected, from a composer in Amsterdam, Renske Vrolijk: I read your entry about New Music in Old Europe with great interest, since I am one of those "young" composers trying to free ourselves from the Darmstadt liberation. And I am not the only one.... In brief, the landscape looks as follows: 1 - The nomenclature still firmly in the saddle [by which she means, I presume, the postserialists from the Darmstadt era]. 2 - The Hague school, especially … [Read more...]

A 21st-Century Anecdote

On a boat going up the Spree River in Berlin, Tom Johnson introduced me to Wolfgang Heisig. Heisig punches player piano rolls and writes music for player piano. Naturally, he has a strong interest in the music of Conlon Nancarrow, and we agreed to trade MIDI files of my own music for computerized piano, his music, and Nancarrow’s. Wolfgang doesn’t speak English, and I don’t speak German, but we managed a warm conversation nevertheless. Afterward, Tom expressed surprise that Wolfgang and I managed to chat for so long. “But Tom,” I replied, “the … [Read more...]

New Music in Old Europe

Here’s the difference between Moscow and Berlin: I came back from Moscow with 35 compact discs of new music, one of which I paid for, the rest pressed on me by young composers eager for me to hear them; from Berlin I returned with 15 compact discs, almost none by young composers, for which I paid top-dollar prices. I have long had trouble finding out what the young Western European composers are doing. I picked up some discs by people I’ve been wanting to know more about - Helmut Lachenmann, Claude Vivier, Gerard Grisey, Walter Zimmermann, … [Read more...]

Thoughts on Attending a New-Music Festival

I’ve attended new-music festivals both as participant and as spectator, and I talk to a lot of composers at them. The composer who isn’t included in the festival sits there thinking, “How did that composer get invited to perform? Who did you have to know to get on this festival? What’s this doing for his career? Why isn’t my music ever taken seriously enough?” The composer who’s on the festival sits there thinking, “I knew I wouldn’t get enough rehearsal. They put that composer in a hotel much closer to the performance space than the one they … [Read more...]

Sibelius Version Compatability

From Daniel Spreadbury, Feature & Documentation Manager at Sibelius, I received some very good news about version backwards-compatability in the new Sibelius 3, in contradiction to what I had said about Sibelius 2: Sibelius 3 is able to save files in a format that allows them to be opened by Sibelius 2 (and, of course, Sibelius 3 can open files from all previous versions of Sibelius). There were too many radical file format changes between Sibelius 1.x and 2.x to make it possible to retain backwards-compatibility when we were working on … [Read more...]

Rzewski on Composition vs. Improvisation

Frederic Rzewski spoke at my college today, and said something I was pleased to hear (a lot of things, actually). Rzewski is one of the leading composers who's also a fantastic pianist improviser, right? One of the greatest of our time. He said (I'm paraphrasing from memory), "When I was young, I believed in the statement that 'Improvisation is composition in real time.' But as I've gotten older, I've come to realize that improvisation and composition are not only different mental processes, but even opposed to each other. In composing, you've … [Read more...]

Ives and Gann Meet in Berlin

Having returned last night from performing in Santa Fe, I am on my way to Europe. According to my site statistics only a small percentage of my readers come from Europe, but more from the German time zone than elsewhere. If anyone reading this happens to be in Berlin this Friday, I'll be presenting a paper that morning at the Maerzmusik festival. The festival is devoted to Charles Ives, and I'll be talking about Ives' influence on current American composers, with musical examples. It's a little awkward having been asked, because I do believe … [Read more...]

Saving the Arts from the Marketplace

I hope everyone has read William Osborne’s brilliant article on Arts Watch, ”Marketplace of Ideas” - not the first time he’s knocked my socks off with the clarity and multidisciplinary comprehensiveness of his writing. His clear-headed analysis makes the important questions easier to pose: Can we make the argument that, since the neo-liberal policies of supply-side economics, small government and free trade lead inevitably to homogenization and a reduction in diversity and choices (in the name of “efficiency”), they are a disaster for the arts? … [Read more...]

Notation Software Continued

I thought my blog entry on notation software might raise some passionate response - the relationship between a composer and his/her notation software is an intimate one, alternately exhilarating and maddening. Canadian composer Matthew Whittall wrote from Finland to recommend a new program, “apparently the most flexible thing out there,” called Igor available at (At least they didn’t name it “Stravinsky.”) Being away from home and my ethernet connection, I can’t check it out at the moment, but will try to soon. Whittall … [Read more...]

Battle of the Heavyweights: Finale Versus Sibelius

This month’s Keyboard magazine contains a detailed and very welcome comparison of Sibelius and Finale notation software, called “Notation Nation” by composer Peter Kirn. I’m a Sibelius user myself, currently on version 2.11 (though 3.0 recently became available). Though Finale’s been around several years longer, I never bought it; I was daunted by its reputation of being difficult to learn. For years I used a stupid little program called Encore, and I don’t mean stupid entirely negatively: it would let me get away with things I wanted to do … [Read more...]

The Truth Is Out There

Alert reader Marc Weidenbaum (web site here) found the PDF files of the Beethoven piano sonatas for me here at the Sheet Music Archive. This excellent little site also contains music by: Albeniz / Bach / Bach (C.P.E.) / Balakirev / Bartok / Beethoven / Bellini / Bizet / Boccherini / Borodin / Brahms / Chabrier / Chaminade / Chopin / Clementi / Couperin / Czerny / Debussy / Dvorak / Elgar / Faure / Field / Franck / Glazunov / Gottschalk / Granados / Grieg / Griffes / Handel / Hanon / Haydn / Henselt / Joplin / Kalinnikov / Liadov / Liapunov / … [Read more...]

Life in the the Two Composing Worlds

As a rare token Downtown composer in academia, and at a Northeastern college with strong classical music connections, no less, I inhabit a strange, slim intersection between different worlds. Sometimes I suddenly find myself thrust into the world of "Uptown" composers, the "mainstream" and arguably successful composers who live on the fringes of the orchestra circuit. It happened again recently, and while institutional secrecy prevents me from detailing the circumstances - I'll leave you to speculate what panel or award I was involved with - … [Read more...]