Metametrics: Origins 3

Probably no one but me gives a damn whether John Luther Adams’s music is postminimalist or totalist. As far as the specific terms go, I don’t give a damn either. But when I started surveying, in the 1980s, all the music that passed through New York (and, via recording, the rest of the country as well), I couldn’t help but notice that, among composers who were continuing and developing the minimalist aesthetic, there were two groups of qualities that almost always went together. The composers whose music was based on a steady beat virtually … [Read more...]

Hitting the “Reset” Button

We have an MFA program in conducting, and I teach a course for it in 20th-century Orchestral Repertoire. I used to start chronologically with Busoni, Reger, and Holst, and work my way through the decades, but the class always broke down at some point into a discussion of the problems of programming 20th-century music for orchestra. The usual objections would arise: 20th-century music is more complicated than most orchestra subscribers can understand. It's more anxious and dissonant than they like. You have to have followed the course of … [Read more...]

More Difficult than She Sounds

Lovely article, painstakingly accurate in its description, about Meredith Monk by Ann Midgette in today's Times. It is overdue compensation for Ed Rothstein's scandalously contemptuous dismissal of a great artist in those pages after the premiere of Monk's Atlas in the mid-'90s. … [Read more...]

250 Years of Metametrics

Speaking of totalists, John Luther Adams turned 53 Monday; Mikel Rouse turned 49 today; Art Jarvinen turns 50 tomorrow (January 27). Had Mozart gotten a little more daring with his cross-rhythms, I might have noted his 250th as well. Those are the breaks. Come to think of it, though, the party scene from Act I of Don Giovanni, with dances going in three meters at once, is quite audibly metametric. Consider him celebrated. … [Read more...]

Nested 3:2 Addendum

For whatever reason, I was never much drawn to the type of nested 3:2 and 4:3 crossrhythms that I described in my last metametrics post, but I did use it once, and could have mentioned it. In 1985, on the verge of turning 30, I was under some psychological pressure to write something ambitous. I decided on a big set of variations for two pianos, somewhat inspired by the two-piano tradition of Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica, Wallingford Riegger’s Variations, The Art of Fugue, and such huge solo piano variations as the Diabelli and Brahms’s … [Read more...]

New ‘Trane a’Comin’

Next Monday night in New York my friend, classroom nemesis, and jazz harmony teacher John Esposito is involved in a concert in which will be premiered a couple of 1960 tunes by John Coltrane, recently discovered, that had never been recorded. The titles are "Out of a Dream" and "The Backbeat," the handwriting on the manuscript John recognized as Coltrane's, and since John is amazingly adept at historical styles (or so he keeps telling me), he was asked to harmonize and arrange them. He's playing with the Eric Person Quartet, of which he is a … [Read more...]

More Radical, Less Conservative

Composer and Sequenza 21 loiterer Steve Layton ran across this article pairing the two of us and discussing our gradual divergences from minimalism. It's the kind of composer-centered thinkpiece that I didn't think anyone wrote anymore except to praise Ligeti, Boulez, Adès, and that crowd that people praise to look cultured. Seems like old times. … [Read more...]

Metametrics: Origins 2

As a performer - and I was a pretty good pianist in college, it’s the regret of my life that I didn’t keep it up - I never liked the feeling of complicated tuplets that couldn’t be expected to be played exactly right. I imagine you know what I mean: septuplet quarter-notes over a 4/4 measure, or an 11-tuplet with a couple of notes missing, and the composer says, “It doesn’t have to be exact, just make sure you end the phrase on the downbeat.” I never liked cheating, and I was so obsessed with polyrhythms that I didn’t want to fudge them, I … [Read more...]

Up to the Performer

Pianist extraordinaire Sarah Cahill, whose browser somehow won't let her interact with Arts Journal comments pages, nevertheless chimes in on the dynamics issue: Leo Ornstein... was an excellent pianist himself, and wrote fabulously for the piano.  But most of his piano scores have absolutely no dynamic markings whatsoever.  He believed that it was the pianist's responsibility to come up with dynamics in the process of interpretation.  It's so interesting, because there will be a passage which to one person is a climax, to be played forte, and … [Read more...]

It’s All About Not Pushing the Listener Around

For years I have fought within musical academia for the right (for myself and students) to minimally notate dynamics, to not use dynamic contrast as one of the ways of structurally articulating a piece if you don't want to do so. I have seen student works cancelled or excluded because they were soft (or loud) throughout, or because within a certain range they wanted to leave dynamic nuances to the performer. I have paraded around with copies of manuscripts by Bach and Rzewski that are devoid of dynamic markings, to prove that their absence … [Read more...]

Microtonality in New York

The venerable Jerry Bowles of Sequenza 21 reminds me that I should be attending to my own PR, and I need the reminder. It never becomes a reflex, for some reason. But three members of the Da Capo ensemble, joined by myself and my son Bernard, will perform my new piece The Day Revisited this Tuesday, January 24, at 7:30 PM at the Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street. It's my first NYC gig in a year or two, I guess, and if Stockhausen can perform with his son Markus, I can perform with mine. Flutist Pat Spencer and clarinetist Meighan Stoops had … [Read more...]

Luc Ferrari (1929-2005)

I am hugely chagrined to learn from the latest issue of Signal to Noise that composer Luc Ferrari died last August 22 and I never even heard about it. Along with Henri Pousseur and Bruno Maderna, Ferrari was one of those figures peripheral to Darmstadt serialism who seemed so much more intriguing than the central protagonists. I can’t say I ever quite understood Ferrari’s music - in fact, that was what was so damned interesting about the three of them, whereas what Boulez, Stockhausen, and Nono were doing was so obvious, so minutely explained … [Read more...]