Waiting for the Next Revolution (or Did I Miss it?)

A few months ago electronic composer Nic Collins sent out a heartfelt questionnaire to several of his new-music maven friends. (I should say, I don't know whether "electronic composer" is still a meaningful term, but I'll qualify it by adding that Collins makes the most touching and humanistic examples of electronically-produced music I've ever heard.) Nic was having a kind of intellectual crisis due to his perception that there was no aesthetic revolution going on among his students comparable to the Cage/sound art/minimalism revolution of the … [Read more...]

Disproportionate Reactions

Here I am, the third-string composition teacher at a small undergraduate college. I write uncontroversial, peer-reviewed books about Nancarrow, Cage, Ashley, Ives, three of whom are dead. I never sit on the Guggenheim committee, the Fromm commission committee, the Pulitzer committee, and I can count the prize committees I've been on with less than one hand: the Grawemeyer one year, and no one I voted for won; the Herb Alpert Award about ten years ago; and the ASCAP Young Composer Awards about 18 years ago. I used to be a music critic and have … [Read more...]

A Rite of Passage

Rite-in-Lights

I noticed about a year ago that the centennial of Le Sacre du Printemps was coming up fast, and I wondered if a big deal would be made about it - of course, the interest has been immense. Amazing to think that a piece that still sounded so revolutionary when I was a kid is now passing into the category of history-more-than-a-century-old. I don't know of a better convenient way to celebrate the anniversary tomorrow than by watching Stephen Malinowski's elegant videos of the entire MIDI information here: Part I and Part II. … [Read more...]

What Writing Has Taught Me about Composing

Daniel Felsenfeld asks, as someone does occasionally, what is wrong with being an academic composer. I’m tempted to say, if you have to ask, then you won’t understand the answer; but let me try a new tack. My wife is a professional arts administrator; she started out at the St. Nicholas Theatre in Chicago, founded by David Mamet. She’s back in professional theater again now, but in-between she spent quite a few years presenting theater, dance, and music in academia. Her academic colleagues didn’t always appreciate why she was such a stickler … [Read more...]

Ives, Caught Between Two Caricatures

Conductor Leonard Slatkin is conducting all four of Charles Ives's numbered symphonies in New York tonight. Good for him. Wish I could be there. It's kind of too bad, then, that he marred the occasion by writing a rather condescending article about the works for New Music Box, with undue but apparently characteristic emphasis on how much he hated Ives's music when he first heard it. I myself found Mahler's symphonies overblown and too grandiosely emotional when I first heard them at 17, but I've been musically mature for quite awhile now and I … [Read more...]

You Weren’t Doing Anything This Evening Anyway

Sorabji enthusiast David Carter has given me a link to Jonathan Powell's world premiere performance of Sorabji's Sequentia Cyclica Super Dies Irae Ex Missa Pro Defunctis (1948-9) - at seven hours, apparently Sorabji's longest, and some say greatest, work. [UPDATE: Oops - Sorabji's Symphonic Variations for piano (1935-7) is nine hours long, so not true.] (After you click the play icon, don't be put off by the brief orchestral passage that announces the show.) It is indeed magnificent and exhausting. UPDATE: David warned me that the piece was … [Read more...]

Dull Life, Interesting Omission

This time of year I am always preoccupied with getting the students whose senior projects I supervise graduated, and though I am teaching less, I have more seniors (six) than usual (one to three is what most Bard faculty have). In addition to that, this year for the first time, as chair of the arts division I am trying to corral our arts faculty into all the necessary committee slots for next year. The number of committee positions that require tenured faculty is just barely smaller than the number of tenured faculty, and so what with the … [Read more...]