Pas mon ami Pierrot

Will Robin over at New Music Box had the inspired idea to write an homage to the Pierrot ensemble, since the centennial of Pierrot Lunaire is upon us. The flute/clarinet/violin/cello/piano combination took a few decades to take off, but it has conquered: we are awash in such ensembles, and no student achieves professional status until he or she has written his or her "Pierrot piece." It's the lingua franca of the (academic) new-music performance world. As I mentioned in a comment there, I'm not thrilled about the development. I wrote one piece … [Read more...]

One Less Critic

I've been meaning to mention that my March profile of David Borden was my last "American Composer" column for Chamber Music magazine. It was a great gig, but in recent years it was becoming an onerous burden to interrupt my other projects every two months and have to get my head into someone else's music. Overall I wrote 69 articles for the bimonthly magazine from 1998 to 2012, profiling 61 composers individually plus several others in the September articles I wrote about more general subjects. When I started, my predecessors in that column … [Read more...]

The Line Between A and B

Some of you may recall the Consumers Guides, the full-page record review columns, that we used to run in the Village Voice. They may still do so, I haven't looked in years. The format and its accompanying grading system were invented during the late medieval era by the Voice's dean of critics Bob Christgau; at least, so the legend was passed down to me by my forefathers, whose knowledge I would never presume to challenge. The grading system was intended to be unalterably strict. A B was the top grade for music that would be considered excellent … [Read more...]

Strange Bedfellows Department

Here's a pop quiz for a lazy summer day. One person played a role in advancing the reputations of both Charles Ives and Ronald Reagan. Who was it? I'll save up answers until I get a few before posting them. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * UPDATE: Wow, I'm rather surprised no right answers today, but the experiment does confirm something about my perception of the literature. Henry Bellamann (1882-1945) was one of the first people to respond to receipt of Ives's Concord Sonata, the first to write an appreciative public … [Read more...]

Literature as a Mirror


I've been devouring novels all my life. I discovered Louisa May Alcott in third or fourth grade, and, having inhaled Little Women and Little Men, would quietly slip library copies of her lesser-known books into my backback, knowing that the Texas bullies who kept an eye on me would declare open season if they caught me carrying femmy-looking titles like Rose in Bloom or Jack and Jill. I remember that I was reading The House of the Seven Gables in July, 1969, because my mother dragged me away from it to come watch the moon landing. It’s kind of … [Read more...]

The New Yorker of My Dreams

In a vivid dream, I took my son to a new day-care center. (In waking life, he's a 27-year-old rock star on his way back today from a gig in Denmark.) I stayed around to observe the class, and was appalled at how simplistic the musical activities were. I was carrying around a large metal can, like a lidded watering can, in which I kept all the knowledge of music I go around disseminating, but it was unwieldy, and I kept bumping people with it. I ran into Alex Ross, who sympathized and explained to me that one could never draw from the general … [Read more...]