Yarnell Requires Re-listening

Ultimately, what I want from a piece of music is to make me miss it, to make me yearn to hear it, to run through my head in a quiet, seductive way, creating a nagging temptation that can only be satisfied by playing the recording yet again. Even among the hundreds of postclassical pieces I really like, there are few that come up to that level: the A++ pieces among all the A’s. I’ve found a new one: The Same Sky by San Francisco composer Carolyn Yarnell, as played by pianist Kathleen Supove on her new CD Infusion on Koch International Classics … [Read more...]

Prickliness Versus Normalcy: The Debate

I’ve been remiss in responding to the replies to my blog entry on the alleged death and irrelevancy of modernism, with reference to the Eugenides-Lewis debate in Slate magazine - first because I was waiting to see if there would be more, then because I descended back into my composing fog. But today’s a writing day, and I had received an impressive missive from the redoubtable Matt Wellins, which I will answer as it goes along: You bring up how Modernism is still very alive in composer circles, but I think you're ignoring how dead it is in … [Read more...]

The War Behind the War

I’m no film critic, as I’ve noted. But I’ve read every review I could find of Fahrenheit 911, maybe two dozen of them, and not one of them quoted the sentence that seems to me, now that I’ve seen it, the film’s central thesis. All through the film, Moore keeps mentioning that the purpose of the Iraq war, of the War on Terror, of the Patriot Act, could not possibly be what it pretends to be, but he never gets around to telling you what the purpose is. Until the penultimate sentence, spoken by Moore in a voiceover (I’m quoting from memory): “The … [Read more...]

Godzilla of the Piano Repertoire

The work is intended for pianist-musicians of the highest order. Indeed, its intellectual and technical difficulties place it beyond the reach of any others. It is a weighty and serious contribution to the literature of the piano, for serious musicians and serious listeners only. The above is the proud caveat appended to the score, by the clearly not-very-modest composer, of Kaikhosru Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum, which I heard Jonathan Powell play at Merkin Hall last night. For those who’ve neglected your education in esoteric composers, … [Read more...]

Putting Modernism Behind

Alert reader Gavin Borchert ran across some comments in Slate that he found relevant to the concept of postclassical music, and I agree. The subject was James Joyce as a founder of modernism, and the forum was a collegial debate between novelists Jim Lewis and Jeffrey Eugenides. (I’d missed it, though I’ve been reading Slate regularly lately - their Reagan legacy coverage was refreshingly non-delusional.) Lewis says: What I'm slowly learning is that vanguardism isn't the only form of ambition. There are others, and always have been - lyric, … [Read more...]

Newspaper Biz = Capitalist Victim

According to a Pew Foundation report on the media carefully dissected by Jay Rosen in his exemplary Press Think blog: "Significant majorities of journalists have come to believe that increased bottom line pressure is 'seriously hurting' the quality of news coverage. This is the view of 66% of national news people and 57% of the local journalists questioned in this survey." No one asked me, so please add me to the 66% or 57% (depending on whether you consider the Village Voice a national or local paper - opinions differ). … [Read more...]

Ran in the Family

Larry Polansky is here for a couple of weeks - important composer, prof at Dartmouth, director of Frog Peak Music, a composers’ collective for publishing works by subversive outsiders like him and me. (Although, as he reminds me, we may be considered unspeakably outré by the Pulitzer crowd, but we’re thought old-fashioned by our students - we still write notes on paper.) Anyway, he’s found, and is hoping to republish, a novel by Clarissa Dixon - Henry Cowell’s mother. You always read that Cowell’s parents were writers, but who now living has … [Read more...]

The Rare and Underappreciated Administrator

I forgot to mention last week that I would be on Jon Schaefer’s “Critic’s Corner” program on WNYC last Wednesday afternoon. Sorry. (Honest, I get the chance to compose full-time and I go into a complete fog. Right now, for instance, it’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I’m still in yesterday’s clothes.) I’m always astonished at how little one can say in 20, 30 minutes of radio time. So I’ll expand here on what I started to say there. Which was about the Pulitzer Prize. As you know, the Pulitzer board is planning to expand the music prize beyond … [Read more...]

Death Needs a Holiday

The Times finally came up with a not terribly informative obituary for Jonathan Kramer. Mine will appear in the Village Voice soon [I mean my obit for Jonathan, not an obit for me - knock on wood]. Kate Sullivan's obituary appeared in Newsday. And then there's Ray Charles and Steve Lacy and... well, no one else worth remembering. But it was a busy week for the Grim Reaper. … [Read more...]

Catching Up with Riley

Terry Riley performed here at Bard last night. I hadn't heard him play piano in over a decade, and I had forgotten, if I had ever realized it, how superb his piano technique is. Maurizio Pollini would have had to work hard to duplicate that performance. A few hours before the concert I asked Terry what he was going to play, and he replied thoughtfully, "I don't know... haven't decided yet." And he hadn't. He didn't announce all the pieces either, though he played a new one called Pagoda and a Requiem for Wally in honor of the man who taught him … [Read more...]

All Is Illusion

My favorite Jonathan Kramer story from his memorial service today, about Jonathan teaching music theory class: Jonathan: Most of you have probably learned the fiction that there are three kinds of minor scale. Student: If that's the fiction, what's the reality? Jonathan: There is no reality. Fuckin' A, Jonathan. … [Read more...]

Landmarks in Postclassical Recognition

This note from the ever-vigilant Herb Levy: Thought you'd be interested/amused/whatever: the clue for 24 across in the NY Times Crossword puzzle for June 5, 2004 is "Piano composer ______ Nancarrow." While I don't see the puzzle everyday, I think this is the first such mention of Nancarrow. Thomas Arne, move over. … [Read more...]