Milton Babbitt (1916-2011)


George Tsontakis just wrote to tell me that Milton Babbitt died this morning, just in time for me to get his death date into both my Ashley book and my introduction to the new edition of Cage's Silence. I've written so much about him that I don't have much left to say; it was a love-hate thing. I was looking up a reference in one of his Perspectives articles just this morning. The one time I met him (I was representing the ailing Nancarrow on a Babbitt/Nancarrow panel) he didn't seem too thrilled. He was certainly a sharply-defined character. … [Read more...]

How to Talk to String Players

I have now had a string quartet performed. The premiere recording of The Light Summer Land is up here and the performers are Ethan Wood and Megumi Stohs, violins; Sarah Darling, viola; and Josh Packard, cello. I am indebted to my composer friend Carson Cooman for arranging the performance. It went very well, though it almost didn’t. Luckily my composer friend Scott Wheeler came by for the dress rehearsal. Scott is not only a very good composer of operas and chamber music (he’s one of the ones who years ago insisted I refer to his music as … [Read more...]

In Which the Mainstream Notices Us


Holy cow! The ancient comic strip Mary Worth quotes John Cage today!. And Josh Fruhlinger of Comics Curmudgeon (a very funny blog I've mentioned here before) responds to it with a 4'33" reference. It's kind of a Hallmarky sentiment by Cagean standards, but I'm having fun picturing the comic with some other Cage quote in there. Like, "If you have no particular togetherness in mind, there are chronometers. Use them." (h/t David McIntire, though I would have seen it myself by afternoon.) UPDATE: I have to include Ernest Ambrus's cartoon he sent … [Read more...]

The Difference Revealed

From today's press release from Other Minds: "In America, there is not enough angst!" Louis Andriessen once told the journalist K. Robert Schwarz.  I frequently daydream about moving to Europe. Then there are times that I think I should just stay in America. This pronouncement occasioned one of those times. I've heard this from Europeans before. What the hell is supposed to be so goddamn wonderful about angst? Andriessen and I are both featured composers at Other Minds next month. And next October we are both giving keynote addresses … [Read more...]

My Life as a Transcendentalist


    In response to a question after one of my recent Cage lectures, I happened to mention Emerson, Thoreau, Ives, and Cage in the same sentence, and then said with a chuckle, “That’s the rectangle I’ve spent my entire life in.” This month it’s come to seem like more than a joke. I’m writing a piece of music about Thoreau, as a companion piece to my On Reading Emerson, for which I read a little of Thoreau’s journal each morning, which has given me quite a few sonic inspirations. For instance: I am brought into the near neighborhood … [Read more...]

Enthralled Them Throughout

My new string quartet The Light Summer Land got a nice, even generous review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer, as did the quartets by Thomas L. Read and Arnold Rosner. I think the piece needs a little revision. But I'll post the recording when I get it, as well as what I learned about string quartets on my maiden voyage with one. … [Read more...]

Finally Catching Up to MTV


    The Relache ensemble conceived the really brilliant idea of getting a grant to commission a video piece to accompany my suite The Planets when they tour it. So I approached John Sanborn of Perfect Lives fame, thinking he was probably way out of my league, and to my surprise and gratification he leaped at the chance. Now he's finished Venus and Mars, and they are absolutely magnificent: dancers, galaxies, poetry, astrological symbolism, paintings, planetary landscapes, labyrinths in whack, a whirling universe of imagery. So what … [Read more...]

Steven Bodner, 1975-2011


I couldn't attend the performance of two of my Planets at Williams College Saturday because there was a snowstorm, and the roads leading from the Hudson Valley into northwest Massachusetts are slow two-lane roads up and down mountains behind trucks, uncomfortable driving even in sunshine. So I e-mailed Steven Bodner, the ensemble director, to say I wouldn't make it, and he e-mailed back that he wouldn't be there either because of a bad flu. And now Eve Beglarian informs me he died Monday night! I'm absolutely shocked. Steven was a vital, … [Read more...]

Ha Ha, Made You Read


Quite a few years ago I found a packet of cocktail napkins with the image pictured below in a little house furnishings store in McKinney, Texas, where my mom lives. I had had some contact with Yoko Ono at the time, and had garnered quite a collection of her CDs, and it seemed like a hilarious idea to save these for just the right party, and hand them out to guests. It didn't occur to me at the time that I don't have any friends, and so parties aren't a very regular event in my life, and so years later here they are, still in the original … [Read more...]

Language-Spinners and Image-Cutters


I've been thinking about the style-and-narrative issue from a new angle, and as you know, my blog thinkpieces tend to come in groups of three anyway. During the semester I rain forth repertoire on my students, and sometimes when I get a free moment I just obsessively need to hear something I don't already know. A Christmas DVD of Cavalli's Calisto, one of my favorite operas, put me in an early Baroque mood, so I digitized all my Cavalli and Carissimi and Cesti vinyl, and remembered that I had always wanted to be more familiar with … [Read more...]

Space Is the Place

After a dry fall I have two big performances coming up within a week of each other. Steve Bodner, dynamic young conductor who gave the American premiere of my Sunken City, has his annual I/O Festival coming up Jan. 6-8 at Williams College in northwestern Massachusetts. The Saturday afternoon concert of Steve's Opus Zero ensemble, 1:00 on Jan. 8, is an all-astrology concert - Stockhausen's Tierkreis, "Neptune" and "Venus" from my suite The Planets, and three pieces by Sun Ra, including Saturn (1958) and Space Is the Place (1974). I think I heard … [Read more...]

Gambling Tips for Smart Performers

I want to draw attention to Allan Kozinn's thinkpiece about the vagaries of new-music performance in yesterday's Times (tried to post then, got caught in a holding pattern involving site changes), which is pitch-perfect in talking about why, how, and with what expectations performers should undertake the performance of newly composed music. I would add one thing. I would urge new-music performers to look for composers to commission outside the usual roster of composers on the regular chamber-music or orchestra circuit. Many of the best … [Read more...]