The Guys on the Other Side of the Repertoire

I had coffee yesterday with a rising young orchestral conductor, one of the assistant conductors to the New York Philharmonic. He made the remark that he had never seen an orchestra that showed a strong commitment to new music run into financial trouble. When I mentioned the obvious counterexample of Louisville, he said that they had abandoned their interest in new music (or rather, lost funding for the program) ten years before folding. He also commented that conductors who cultivate new and adventurous repertoire (e.g., Salonen and my boss … [Read more...]

Trivial Memory Triggered

I don't know much about the Schoenberg scholar Dika Newlin, who just passed away. But from 1965 to 1978 she taught at North Texas State University, and I remember my high school composition teacher speaking of her with reverence and awe. Then one day in college, in a library, I ran across her name and realized she was a woman. I had always thought he was saying "Deacon Ewlin," as though it were a religious honorific, like "Reverend." Perhaps because of that, I never managed to bring her into focus. The composer Mason Bates studied with her in … [Read more...]

There’ll Always Be an England

I bought, because a reader recommended it, The Pimlico Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Composers (1999), by Mark Morris - not the famous dancer, of course, but a Welsh music critic resident in Canada. It is organized by country, which creates some curious ambiguities: for instance, Foss is listed under the U.S.A. and Wolpe under Germany, even though both were born in Germany and emigrated to America. (I think of Wolpe's late music as highly American, while Foss retains his German accent.) But it has certain advantages, such as listing Iceland's … [Read more...]

New Guy in Blogtown

My old friend Joshua Kosman, irreverent critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, whom I don't see often because he's on the wonderful coast and I'm on the dull one, has succumbed to the tempation to start a blog, titled On a Pacific Aisle. It promises to be entertaining. Joshua is the coiner, among other things, of "Kosman's Law": never trust a piece whose title is a plural noun. (Think of all those horrible academic '70s pieces with titles like Algorithms and Perspectives and Concatenations.) [UPDATE: The final two sentences of the above entry … [Read more...]

Private Dances in Japan

I am informed that my Private Dances will be performed August 12 by pianist Kentaro Noda, at Tokyo Music University, at the end of a four-day piano festival. Mr. Noda's program for that afternoon (1:00), titled "The Next American Piano," is: Justin Henry Rubin: Monumentum pro Giacinto Scelsi ad annum C (2005) Kyle Gann: Private Dances (2000-2004) Larry Polansky: tooaytoods #1-11 (2001-2005) Dary John Mizelle: Piano Sonata no.4 (2001) Dary John Mizelle: Transforms 1-34 (1976-1994) All of these are Japanese premieres, and the Polansky and … [Read more...]

New York Debut of a Critic’s Son

My son's band Architeuthis played CBGB's last night. (I know, I should have advertised it in my blog. But he had thought they'd play after 10, then they were supposed to start at 8, until they found out there was an opening singer and they were moved to 8:30, so I wouldn't have been able to tell you when they'd be on anyway. That's what I always hated about reviewing groups at CBGB's and Tonic and even the Knitting Factory - the lackadaisical time aspect, the lack of printed information, the casual conviction that you should just hang out with … [Read more...]

Zemlinsky in Bali

It doesn't get better than this. I just had another serendipitous conflation of recordings. I'm transferring Zemlinsky's Fourth Quartet, with its marvelously nervous fugue theme in the sixth movement, all 8th-16th-16th, 8th-16th-16th, 8th, and on the other computer was, precisely in tempo, the Balinese monkey chant: "Chaka chaka chaka chaka chaka!" Perfect. … [Read more...]

Diagnosing Dmitri

I spent all day writing program notes for the Shostakovich Eleventh Symphony, and I finally pinpointed why I can't love his music as much as I do Mahler's. It often demonstrates the same contrapuntal saturation, timbral variety, and rhythmic drive as Mahler, but it lacks meaningful background harmonic movement. A foregrounded chord, tensely sustained, will finally shift to another chord - and then back again, instead of onward toward another, continuing harmony that would make the move seem significant. Long sequences are not unified, as they … [Read more...]

From Vintage Vinyl to Your Ears

Unfortunately, I have a lot more urgent things to do than update Postclassic Radio, but I did manage to give it a long overdue facelift today, and will continue. I acceded to listener demand by adding some of the out-of-print vinyl I've been transferring to disc, including the following: Morton Feldman: Piece for Four Pianos Per Nørgård: Spell Per Nørgård: Gilgamesh, side one Pauline Oliveros: Horse Sings from Cloud Pauline Oliveros: The Well and the Gentle (excerpts) Henri Pousseur: Trois Visages de Liège Stefan Wolpe: Form IV: Broken … [Read more...]

Well, Would You?

Somewhere recently, and I've forgotten where, I read an essay by a Cage fan so avid that he had gone to some trouble to secure a recording of the piece Quantitäten (1958) by the Swedish composer Bo Nilsson, just because of a joking reference Cage had made to it. In his lecture "Composition as Process," Cage repeats over and over at intervals, as kind of a refrain, the question, "Would you like to hear Quantitäten by Bo Nilsson whether it's performed for the first time or not?" I chuckled, because I've always, thanks to Cage, had a humorous … [Read more...]


It is with some pinch of nostalgia that I put the final touches, this morning, on the list of my complete Village Voice articles, which you can find here. There were 522 of them, from Rebecca LeBreque and Iannis Xenakis to Barbara Benary, from December 2, 1986 to December 5, 2005, 19 years to the week. I decided not to stick around for my 20-year gold watch. I was proud of having outlasted all previous Voice new-music critics, though of course my longevity was dwarfed by Leighton Kerner's, who was kinda the Uptown critic, but he wrote … [Read more...]

Time for Theory Class, Where Are My Bulgarians?

You know, no one ever taught me how to teach music theory. I've been winging it in 16 years of on-the-job training. And if anyone's got a new idea of how to teach it, I'm all ears. Several people, in response to my long case for the prosection against college theory, have suggested that a theory curriculum should begin with the study of rhythm. I'm much in sympathy with this idea. Who wouldn't be? Rhythm is the part of music everybody likes, the part that can lead to every different culture. African mbira music, and Balinese gamelan, and … [Read more...]

Match Made in Music Heaven

For the first time in many years, I'll be teaching a 20th-century history survey this fall. In preparation I'm transferring a lot of old vinyl records to CD, and a lot of CDs to my external hard drive (more than 8500 mp3s so far), so that any time a title flashes through my mind, I'll be able to punch it up and play it in class. My entire musical youth, including many pieces never available on CD, is going onto this hard drive, and it's a trip down memory lane. I'm using one computer to record the vinyl, another to rip the CDs, and so I've been … [Read more...]