Criticism, Composers, and Objectivity

Pauline Oliveros wants to start a blog for composers to write about new music. She deplores the current trend of newspapers refusing to hire composers as critics. So a week ago Sunday she put together a panel on the subject at her Deep Listening Space in Kingston, consisting of Sarah Cahill, Beth Anderson, Al Margolis, and myself. Virgil Thomson was the ghost of honor, and Pauline invoked the 1940s and '50s, when Thomson used to hire his fellow composers (Lou Harrison, Paul Bowles, Peggy Glanville-Hicks) as critics at the New York Herald … [Read more...]

Pardon Our Dust

I have time this week to perform a necessary makeover on Postclassic Radio, required by format changes on the web site. The reason I hadn't used the mp3PRO format they recommend in the first place was because of a reported incompatibility with some Macs, so please let me know at if you start having any trouble that you didn't have before. Theoretically, the sound is supposed to be an improvement. Anyway, I had to start over again with the playlist at six hours, and I'm slowly building it back up to 17. I'm re-uploading most … [Read more...]

Mistakes Were Not Made

Daniel J. Wakin interviews James Levine, Charles Wuorinen, and John Harbison today in the Times, devilishly playing off, as the Times insists on doing, Wuorinen's 12-tone beliefs against Harbison's neoromanticism. There are some delightful little knots in the conversation, this one being the most delectable, I thought: WAKIN: You wrote in your book, "Simple Composition" -- WUORINEN: Never write a book. WAKIN: Of course it was a long time ago -- WUORINEN: It's still in print. People use it. WAKIN: It was written in 1979, and you wrote that the … [Read more...]

Escaping from Classical Music

When I went from Dallas to Oberlin at age 17, I told friends I was going to school on the East Coast. From where I lived, Cleveland looked like a short bus ride from New York. Imagine my confusion when I arrived and the students, mostly from Long Island, called it the MidWEST. Composer Lawrence Dillon, who truly enjoys clearing things up and who has been a valuable sparring partner in internet new-music debates to more people than myself, writes with a well-considered objection. Pointing out that I use "Uptown" to refer to composers as diverse … [Read more...]

Reviewer Reviewed

May I blow my own horn a moment? I've had precious few reviews of my music in my life, and I just got the first comment about my new CD Long Night from the Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter, in a trope not only gratifying to its recipient, but enviably well phrased: The piece has rippling quality, like soft light illuminating a quiet room off an antique mirror, on a cloudy afternoon just before Easter, on the way downstream to later. Ambient without being minimal, classical without the powdered wig, and contemporary without being electronic. - … [Read more...]

Painful Truths

"Well, let us say that the old American republic is well and truly dead. The institutions that we thought were eternal proved not to be. And that goes for the three departments of government, and it also goes for the Bill of Rights. So we're in uncharted territory. We're governed by public relations." - Gore Vidal … [Read more...]

Out from the Ghetto

For 18 years I've written for the Village Voice, about Downtown music, for a Downtown audience and those who love Downtown music. In that milieu, I could always shout, any time I wanted, "Geeez, ya wanna know what sucks?! 12-TONE MUSIC!!" And I'd never get any response more threatening than, "YEAAHH, woo!!" Because nobody Downtown gave a damn about 12-tone music. Glenn Branca isn't going to exclaim, "Omigosh, he can't say that about poor Schoenberg!" It's more like, "Schoenberg!? Oh yeah, that guy." Now, on the internet, I apparently reach a … [Read more...]

Look Who’s Popular

An interesting sidelight to our little dodecaphonic discussion (trying to avoid the 3 x 4 number) is the recurrence of the name Luigi Dallapiccola. One hardly ever sees this name on concert programs - Leon Botstein conducted Canti di Prigionia and Canti di Liberatione a year or so ago, and past that I think I have to go back to the '80s to remember a live performance - and his major works can be impossible to find on recording. So I go along thinking that I'm one of the few who thinks that Dallapiccola wrote better 12-tone music (oops) than … [Read more...]

Once More into the 12-Tone Breach

I ruffled some feathers with my post about 12-tone music - I wonder if I'm capable of saying anything without ruffling some feathers - I wonder if there's anything that could be said without ruffling someone's feathers - I wonder if ruffling feathers is as heinous a crime as a lot of people apparently think - but in at least one sense my words weren't taken literally enough. One thoughtful respondent compared me to a fundamentalist trying to expunge all memory of 12-tone music the way the Christian right wants to expunge Darwin, Balzac, and any … [Read more...]

Long Night Again, After 25 Years

As of this evening, I have a new compact disc out: Long Night, on Cold Blue, with the formidable Sarah Cahill playing all of three pianos. It's a CD single, which means I'm really cool - only 25 minutes, and Jim Fox designed a beautiful cover that is perfect for the piece, a pastoral field at twilight with some kind of barn or house burning in the background. It even looks better in person than it does here. Sarah's playing is beautiful, and it was recorded at Bard College's Fisher Center, where the acoustics are like ice cream. I'm really … [Read more...]

Importance Greatly Exaggerated

In mid-semester I take a break from diminished seventh chords and take the students on a little foray into 12-tone technique, analyzing the Webern Piano Variations. I was explaining how rampant 12-tone music was from the 1950s through the '80s, and one of my savvier freshmen raised his hand and said, "You mean just in academia, right? That music didn't get played much outside of colleges, did it?" The next day, Petr Kotik, conductor of the S.E.M. ensemble told me that his then-upcoming performance of Webern's Op. 21 Symphony, which took place … [Read more...]

Shooting My Mouth Off this Sunday

I'll be appearing at 5 PM this Sunday, March 20, on a panel called "Reviewing the Reviewers," about the potential for composer-critics and why there are so few of us anymore. It's organized by Pauline Oliveros at her gallery at Deep Listening Space, 75 Broadway at the Historic Rondout in Kingston, New York. Also on the panel are Iris Brooks, Beth Anderson, Pauline Oliveros and Al Margolis. Following the concert, "no later than 7:00," is a concert with music by each of us, and the fantastic pianist Sarah Cahill will give the East-Coast premiere … [Read more...]

Invading the Ivory Tower

Composer Galen Brown has posted a very sympathetic response to my "Downtown Music and Its Misrepresentations" post. His sentence, "So Downtowners should at least seriously consider mounting an invasion of the ivory tower, not for dominance but for real inclusion," is practically a one-sentence biography of me. At a young age I realized that academia was only vulnerable to shots fired from within the walls. Of course, there are some problems with this formulation, since lots of Downtowners don't really have college teaching qualifications - but … [Read more...]