Words Finally Fail me

Something else I've been thinking lately builds on my recent post What Composers Talk About -  and it will seem self-contradictory to say it, but I can't tell the absolute truth if I'm constantly on the watch-out against self-contradiction. Someone nominated me for some award, and for the first time in quite a few years I had to write an artistic statement. I used to love doing this. I had all kinds of "reasons" that had led me to write the kind of music I write, I had studied subjects that backed up my choices, I had followed a logical chain … [Read more...]

Entrepreneurs in Training

Two Bard students, violinist/pianist Erica Ball and flutist Kylie Collins, have taken it upon themselves to commission four young composers to write pieces for them, and will perform the premieres twice this weekend. The composers are Caroline Mallonée, Jim Altieri (both of whom worked with me at the Atlantic Center for the Arts), Alex Ness, and Sam Pluta. Plus, the duo will be playing a couple of pieces by Joan Tower and myself ("Saintly" from Private Dances). The first concert is at Bard College on Friday, 7 pm at Olin Hall. The second is at … [Read more...]

What Composers Talk About

I'll bet that if you ran a new-music series and gave composers the following choice - "We'll either give you a $500 honorarium, or you can have $100 and talk about yourself to the audience for 20 minutes" - almost all composers who aren't in dire financial straits would choose the latter option. When the subject is ourselves, we do not like to shut up. I was on a panel of composers last night preceding the Cutting Edge series concert at Symphony Space, and the desire to chatter on was palpable. William Bolcom was the grand old man of the group, … [Read more...]

One Pitch-Splitter to Another

Microtonal guitarist John Schneider of KPFK conducted an interview with me and pianist Aron Kallay today, who's been playing some of my microtonal keyboard pieces. You can still hear it. My portion doesn't start until almost halfway through. For the interview to work, John has to pretend he doesn't understand microtonality as well as I do. I remember that hazard of doing interviews. I used to feign ignorance so well that an interviewee once mentioned bar lines and then asked, "Do you know what a bar line is?" I replied, "I have a doctorate in … [Read more...]

The Cruelest Month, Indeed

Among other rites of April I'm heavily involved in faculty evaluations, part of my obligatory committee work - which I grumble about like everyone else, but secretly find rather refreshing. My fellow music faculty are thoroughly predictable, but the contact with faculty from other fields has a bracing effect. While music's fit within academia is inevitably uneasy, some of these people in religion, classics, literature, biology, et al, are the soul of institutional life, and I find their ethic inspiring. In the course of this work (to change the … [Read more...]

Serbia / New York

If you're in the Bard area, tomorrow afternoon I'm sponsoring a talk on Serbian music by my musicologist friend Dragana Stojanovic-Novicic, who's in the States researching Cage's early music for one of her many projects. She's a fantastic scholar, obsessed with detail, and has taught me a lot about Nancarrow from his correspondence - I'm trying to convince her she's the perfect person to write a biography. Here she'll be going through the variety of 20th-century Serbian music, talking most importantly about Ljubica Maric (1909-2003), Serbia's … [Read more...]

A Modernist by Any Other Name

I noticed John Brackett's new book about John Zorn at Barnes and Noble the other day. I didn't have time to look through it, but here's what Alan Licht had to say about it, as quoted on Amazon.com:"Brackett's first move is to loosen Zorn from the moorings of postmodernism and that most critical assessments of his work attach him to. For Brackett, Zorn is as much modernist as postmodernist...Rather than rehash the postmodern critical blather about 'channel surfing' and borrowed materials from high and low culture that is so often used to … [Read more...]

All Stick, No Carrot

I feel bad that an upcoming minimalism conference co-directed by myself, of all people, has been criticized for its absence of attention to woman composers. I don't quite know how to go about addressing the collective guilt of the musicological field. As I said in the comments, I don't know why Meredith Monk, not to mention Pauline Oliveros and Elodie Lauten, get so little attention in the nascent scholarly attention paid to minimalism. Monk's scores, when she uses them at all, don't really circulate; I managed to coax one of her opera Atlas … [Read more...]

When Students Cancel, You Have Time to Think

A couple of insights gleaned from recent teaching: - In my 20th-century orchestral repertoire class I happened to start teaching the minimalists on the same day I finished up the style-mixing postmodernists, like Bolcom, Rochberg, Del Tredici, Jonathan Kramer. And it occurred to me what they have in common. Both groups place the locus of innovation (I can still write fluent academese when I need to, though the Voice trained me out of it and I have no desire to start up again) - both rely for a sense of newness on the amount and variety of … [Read more...]

Not a Joke, the Date Notwithstanding

Life has been too hectic lately (in mostly good ways) to be attentive to my own PR. I do have a performance tonight, and a local one. The Da Capo ensemble gives their "Celebrate Bard" concert tonight (I affectionately call it "Calibrate Bard," on the rationale that it shows us how we're doing), at 8 PM in Olin Auditorium on campus. The program is as follows:John Boggs '09 ~ This Estranged LandCameron Bossert '06 ~ CeleritasBrian Fennelly ~ Sock MonkeysKyle Gann ~ Kierkegaard, WalkingCasey Hale '02 ~ of AnotherJoan Tower ~ AmazonBoggs is a … [Read more...]