No Slave to History: George Rochberg, 1918-2005

You might assume that the late George Rochberg (1918-2005) was not the kind of composer a Downtowner and experimentalist like me would be interested in, but you'd be wrong. In everything I've ever written about Rochberg - and there has been a lot, notably the long lead section of my chapter on the New Romantics in my book American Music in the Twentieth Century - I always cited him as one of the best 12-tone composers ever. His works from the 1950s, notably Serenata d'Estate and the Sonata-Fantasia, were important to me as a teenager, and I … [Read more...]

Report: Costa Rica

I'm told that among Latin American countries Costa Rica is second, after Chile, in its standard of living, and that due to the excellece of its health care system, the country has now surpassed Japan to become number one in the world in the average longevity of its population. Certainly a lot of Americans flock to Costa Rica for dental work and plastic surgery, for professionals in those fields are well-trained in the U.S. and Europe, and their fees significantly cheaper than those at home. Americans are also buying up land for retirement … [Read more...]

Postminimalism in the Village Voice

One of my now-rare Village Voice articles appeared this week, a review of Charles Amirkhanian and Paul Epstein on the Interpretations series. I've uploaded to my website one of the Epstein pieces I talk about so you can listen to it, the lovely Palindrome Variations. … [Read more...]

Custer in Costa: Really the Last Stand

Anyone out there reading me in Costa Rica? Hello? No? This Wednesday I'll be appearing at the fourth annual Seminario de Composiciòn Musica organized by the University of Costa Rica in San Jose, May 25 at 7 PM. I'm performing Custer and Sitting Bull again for the thirty-somethingth time (if I still can remember the words - yikes!), along with several of the Disklavier pieces from my upcoming New World CD. I'll also give a composition master class and a lecture on American (Yankee) music later in the week. If any of you happen to be in San Jose, … [Read more...]

The Young, the Political

New on Postclassic Radio this week: Jenin, by Frank Abbinanti, an hour-long, partly improvisatory piano work. Abbinanti is a political composer somewhat in the Rzewski mold, and a Chicago associate of the late Cornelius Cardew. I've uploaded some tracks from Phil Kline's new CD Zippo Songs, with found texts from Vietnam GI's, and a couple of pieces by Eve Beglarian that aren't commercially available yet. Also, music by two composers in their early twenties, John Brady and Bernard Gann (no relation to me, aside from direct descent). … [Read more...]

New Hits from the Beetles

Today we presented the Herb Alpert Award to David Dunn. Dunn is an "electronic composer" - though I put the term in quotes because it falls so far short of doing him justice. He makes sound installations, but a lot of his work borders on biology. One of his available recordings, Chaos and the Emergent Mind of the Pond, is a recording of minute underwater creatures, and sounds like an elegantly complex piece of musique concrète. More recently he's invented a microphone that can be inserted into tree bark to record the sound world of the bark … [Read more...]

Mistaken Identity

In response to my post on classical musicians rejecting scores for being deficient in dynamic markings, a fellow blogospheroid objects, Since a score is just a set of instructions for performers, surely it's not unreasonable to expect that a composer will tell the performers what he wants - say whether it's supposed to be loud or soft and where.... Otherwise, at least in my experience, something like that is the first thing the players want to know - with good reason, I think. So leaving it all out just ends up wasting time later when the … [Read more...]

Disappointments of Memory

Transferring my vinyl to CDs is a trip through my musical adolescence, and part of the trip I retraced today was Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Heroshima. What an incredibly original soundworld with all those prickly col legnos and mass glissandos, what a stunning breakthrough in 1960. No wonder the piece made Penderecki famous. And yet, listening to it today with fresh ears, what a lifeless structure, what a limp succession of effects that never add up to anything, even in the recording conducted by Bruno Maderna. Now that so many … [Read more...]

Strategies For and Against Sophistication

We moved to a house whose owner had been absent a couple of years. The trees and bushes are so overgrown with parasitic vines that their growth is being stunted. I've pulled down hundreds of feet of vines, releasing the trees underneath to uncurl and grow toward the sky again. New music is similarly overgrown with vines: the school-taught classical assumptions about what constitutes musical sophistication. Composer A sent me a new score to an orchestra work. She wanted to submit it for an award for which Composer B is on the panel, and asked my … [Read more...]

What Teaching Music History Is Like in Heaven

Awhile back I wrote about my project to put all of the CDs I use for teaching on an external hard drive, and the subject seemed to generate some mild interest among music blogospheroids. I continue apace: I now have just over 4000 mp3s, some 20 days' worth of music, occupying 33 gigs of a 250-gig hard drive. But I also just received a new G5 desktop for my office at Bard, with a 75-gb capacity. And since I hardly use my office computer, doing most of my business on my laptop, I decided to transfer all of those mp3s to my G5 as well, and keep … [Read more...]

May Lentz? Lentz May

Postclassic Radio's May Composer of the Month - Flavor of the Month? - is Daniel Lentz, naturally. He's got too much really compelling music that's been out for too long, and friends of mine whom I consider new-music mavens remain inexplicably unacquainted with it. Richard Friedman reminded me, though, that the station hasn't yet aired any Giacinto Scelsi, which I immediately remedied. And there are two new string quartets up, the Fourth ("Beneath thy tenderness of heart") by George Tsontakis, a really lovely work, and a 2004 quartet by young … [Read more...]