PostClassic: June 2005 Archives
Very interesting where having the word "Nude" in the title of my CD will get it listed on the internet. (You'll have to scroll almost all the way down, to "classical music," to see it.)
Jennifer Higdon's article Caged Heat at New Music Box is the frankest admission and most thoughtful self-analysis I've ever seen of why an Uptown composer doesn't like (some) Downtown music. I wish more of them would be so forthcoming, rather than just eternally pretend that it's all a matter of quality.
All the Wiki activity at Sequenza 21 has drawn my attention to how much needs to be filled in about new music at Wikipedia, the reader-written encyclopedia. I looked up "Downtown Music" and was astonished to find this (I quote the article in its original entirety):
Downtown music is a style of contemporary music first defined as such by Village Voice music critic Kyle Gann. It is used largely in opposition to the prevailing uptown aesthetic which it opposes.
Very flattering, but since La Monte Young, Richard Maxfield, and Yoko Ono started the Downtown scene in 1960 when I was five years old, and the Voice hired me in 1986 to cover a Downtown scene that it had already been covering for two decades, I have to modestly refuse the credit. I wrote them a new entry.
You old codgers my age will remember that on Morton Feldman's vinyl recordings from the '70s, there was often a warning on the back cover: "Play at a low volume level." The music was supposed to be soft, but it seemed a disservice to record it at a low level - might as well get the best signal-to-noise ratio possible and leave the composer's intended dynamics to the mercy of the consumer and his volume knob. Well, pianist Marilyn Nonken gave me her new Mode recording of Feldman's Triadic Memories, and told me that it had been recorded very close-miked on a magnificent piano so that you could hear every nuance of what went on around the piano strings, and therefore I needed to play it at a quiet level. I chuckled at the memory, and then, sure enough, on the back of the program booklet is a warning in big letters: "play softly."
Well, she's right. The sound on this disc is so superbly present that if you leave your stereo at a normal level, you get the bizarre effect of a piano being softly played and outrageously amplified. You have to turn it down, and even so, every detail is just as close as if you were leaning over the soundboard while she plays. Nonken's performance is equally detailed. There's such a temptation with Triadic Memories - Feldman's greatest piano piece, and thus one of the great piano works of the 20th century, 80 to 90 minutes long and now available on at least seven different recordings - there's such a temptation to smooth out the prickly rhythms, and let the music float and turn ambient. Nonken resists. Her rhythms twist and turn with Feldman's peculiar notation, and her tone color, though soft, is melodically urgent, not self-effacing. It's a dynamite performance captured on a spectacularly pristine recording.
...is that my public career continues to flourish and expand even at a time when the music I love, the music I write, the music I champion, the music on which I am the world's leading expert, is utterly out of fashion in every segment of musical society. No one believes me; the terms I have defined are allegedly meaningless, the movements I chronicle are said not to exist, even the existence of Downtown music itself, which was around for two decades before I started writing about it, is deemed chimerical - and yet people keep paying me to write about it. Ultimately I suppose I should take it as a tremendous compliment to my personal magnetism that while no one wants what I have to sell, they nevertheless can't resist frequenting my shop.
At long last I've added some mp3 audio examples to my web page on alternative tuning, Just Intonation Explained (generally the most frequently accessed page on my website, sometimes tied by my uncle's chili recipe). Reading about tuning theory is a little like reading about ice cream flavors - it ain't very evocative if you can't also have the experience yourself. I hope readers will find this a much stronger entry into the microtuning world, and I plan to do something similar with my page on Historical Tunings later in the summer. Let me know if you have problems with the site.
Jerry Bowles over at Sequenza 21 raises a provocative, and eternally recurrent, question, that begs to be answered at greater length than I can over there:
The comments under the announcement of David Diamond's death on the front page [alleging that he was a bitter, petty, often malicious person] raise a question that has always intrigued me as a civilian in the world of the arts and that is: to what extent, if at all, does the character of the creator matter in the evaluation of his or her body of artistic work. Should it matter to listeners whether Diamond was a nice man or not or whether Wagner was an anti-semite?
I think that composers need to be very wary of the attempt to judge musicians partly on their politics and character, and that we need to put up a unified front against critics who write thinkpieces around the hey-this-guy-was-a-jerk-maybe-we-shouldn't-listen-to-his-music idea.
Let's take a hypothetical. I'm pro-choice. There are people who think that being pro-choice is as bad as being antisemitic, or worse. Say after I'm dead the prolifers have all their wildest dreams come true, and the country veers to the extreme right on this issue. I can imagine some music critic of 2105 AD writing a thinkpiece in the Times headlined, "Did Kyle Gann Have Baby-Killer Sympathies?," and people beginning to shy away from my music in response. Given that many people truly consider abortion murder, and therefore just as bad as killing Jews, this is basically what happened to Wagner. He was one of many Germans who felt, however irrationally, that the Jews were standing in the way of German unification. It was a stupid opinion, and his shrill vociferousness on the point embarrassed many of his friends. But not until the Holocaust sank into consciousness did antisemitism come to seem, in retrospect, the evil thing that all sane people now agree that it is.
Remember that during World War I, Wagner's antiroyalist participation in the Dresden Uprising was taken as a sign that he was politically correct, and therefore it was OK to enjoy his music even though he was German. How fair is it, in either case, to judge a person's politics based on events that occur decades after he died?
An artist's relationship to his art and his relationship to politics are entirely different. I have spent my life studying music. My ideas about music have been tested in the fires of professional argument and public opinion. I am a self-proclaimed leader in that field, I come up with my own ideas, and I am not afraid to defend a position of which I am the sole exponent. My reputation will and should rise or fall depending on how much resonance my musical ideas find. By contrast, I have never studied political science. I have never held or run for public office, I have never been given political responsibility, and my political beliefs have never been tested by fire. I am a follower in politics - I read the papers, books, the internet, and I respond to the arguments than make sense to me; I'll even post political opinions on my blog, though you'll notice I'm usually passing on something I read elsewhere - and I do not invent my own political ideas. My music is the result of intense and conscious self-scrutiny and continuous evolution; my politics are the vague, accidental, and unsupervised result of temperament (not being personally aggressive, I generally root for victims and the underdog) and environment (19 years at the Village Voice, after all, and 16 in academia). Judge me by my music - but the idea that my music might someday be judged by my amateur political thought is repellent. Might as well judge Nixon's performance as president based on his piano playing.
When I was a teenager I supported the Vietnam War, because I believed what LBJ said about it. The day I learned that LBJ had lied, my support evaporated. I don't consider it my fault that I supported that war at first - I was misled, with millions of others. Who knows what political beliefs I may be currently misled about? But in music, however wrong I may be, I am not misled by others.
I don't see that Wagner was any different. Nothing about his idiot antisemitism suggests that he was on the cutting edge in that department, that he was the first to come up with ideas that others later accepted. Musically he was way out in front of everyone else, politically he carried around some boneheaded ideas that he did not originate. Being German and full of himself, and living in a time in which genius was not quite yet accustomed to being relegated to specialization, he mistakenly thought that his musical genius conferred authority on his political opinions. So because he made this mistake, I'm not supposed to enjoy Die Meistersinger? There are not many parallels to Wagner's reputation, but remember that when antisemitism is not the crime, the reactionary tendency looks more sinister. Copland was blacklisted for awhile for supposed Communist sympathies, and if you're as suspicious of Commies as most of us are of antisemites, then the musics of Copland, Nancarrow, Diamond, Siegmeister, and Riegger are avenues of pleasure closed off to you.
And what's the point of that closing off? Number one, to punish the composer for having been misled; Number two, to prevent enthusiasm for music that might be somehow "infected" with bad character or bad politics. If the composer's dead, how does neglecting his music punish him? The music exists, it's there to do with what we want, and if we can benefit, why not benefit? I'm more open to the second argument, that music is a window into the soul, and that bad character will manage to express itself in musical weaknesses. But if this is true, then it must work both ways, and strengths in the music must also be evidence of strengths in the character. Let's study the music, and if we find weaknesses, then we will assign it a lower position in our estimation. But to read the biography, see weaknesses, and then go searching for corresponding weaknesses in the music is to grant validity to self-fulfilling prophecies.
I've analyzed loads of Wagner's music, and have never run across an antisemitic melody or chord progression. The most compelling argument I've seen for antisemitism being expressed in his operas (and I've read a lot about it) is the contention that Beckmesser and Mime represent Jewish stereotypes; but since they are not identified as Jewish in the librettos, we can only make this argument by assuming what we set out to prove, extracting what we think Wagner's stereotype of Jews was and matching it up, more or less self-evidently, with our impressions of Beckmesser and Mime. I do think Wagner's music has weaknesses - I think the music often rises to an emotive intensity that the libretto fails to support - and I think these weaknesses may well point to a lack of emotional maturity in the composer. But I'm disappointed with the music before I transfer that disappointment to the composer, and what this particular weakness would have to do, directly, with antisemitism, I haven't the faintest idea. As a person, responsible to his friends and the society in which he lived, Wagner was horribly flawed by his antisemitism. But I fail to see any respect in which his music was tainted by it, and it seems like a different kind of crime - and a category mistake - to assume that we'll find evidence of that flaw in the music.
As for ill-judging the music of composers whose personalities are considered unpleasant, this puts us on even more subjective territory. Certainly, if one decides not to perform or program music by a certain composer because he's too big a pain in the ass to deal with, that's a completely rational response, and an appropriate punishment. But after he's dead, what point does further neglect serve? One of the composers who's been trotted out as Exhibit A of unpleasantness is Ralph Shapey. Me, I had a blast with Ralph. I was never his student, I wasn't connected to the U. of Chicago, I wasn't the right sex for him to make passes at, and he was thoroughly sweet to me, and I found him delightful. (I seem to have a knack for dealing with composers considered "difficult.") Likewise, I think I'm a pretty nice guy overall, but I'm aware there are people out there who would put me in the "unpleasant" category. No one is on good behavior all the time, or bad, and I think that there are certain people, like Feldman, who put all their obnoxiousness into their personality so they could keep it out of their music. A person's artistic expression is sometimes not only reflective, but compensatory.
Not much ill has resulted, yet, from this tendency to cast doubts based on antisemitism on the musics of Wagner, Ruggles, or Varèse, or based on homophobia against the music of Ives (this last a completely bogus charge in my view, but don't get me started), or based on unpleasantness against Shapey, Diamond, and others. But I fear that if we grant validity to holding composers morally responsible for their lives as well as artistically responsible for their works, listening to their music only if their behavior and views also meet our standards, we leave all artists vulnerable to witch-hunts arising in the ebb and flow of political fashion, based on whatever unreliable biographical evidence their enemies present. I shudder to think what sins I've committed, what mistakes I've made, what political positions I've taken subject to historical re-evaluation, that may be held against my music in the future. I may be responsible for my music, but my music is not responsible for me. When we love the music and are disappointed in the musician, we can only tolerantly shake our heads and wonder at what fallible vessels the Spirit of Music embraces to express itself through.
Q. What happens to George W. Bush when he takes Viagra?
A. He gets taller.
Most of the reviews are presumably in on my CD Long Night, and as I said earlier, though complimented by the general positivity, I didn't feel any of them exactly grasped the piece, so I thought I should maybe show how it's done. After all, there's no Kyle Gann out there to review me - except for Richard Taruskin, actually, who once wrote an evaluation of my work so detailed and deadly accurate, in both positive and negative points, that I changed my compositional priorities in response to it.... anyway, I decided that if I was really going to get Long Night summed up, I'd better do it myself. So watch.
Long Night is an early work - only the fourth or fifth on Gann's worklist to later escape his "juvenilia" bag - and like many young works it inadvertently says something different from what its composer intended. Gann's program notes for the piece, back to the original ones he wrote in 1982 for New Music America, note the influence of Martin Heidegger, with particular regard to that philosopher's characterization of moods. For Heidegger, moods are perception-altering, and also come and go with an independence of our volition that imposes a certain nonlinearity on not only our emotions, but our very cognition of our environment. What Gann tried to do in Long Night, then, was to bring nonlinearity to a succession of musical moods - to create a moment form, in fact, a series of textural nonsequiturs in illustration of Heigegger's description. Only, instead of the sharply intercut moment form familiar from works by Stravinsky, Stockhausen, and others, he - under the influence of ambient music - tried to create a gradual moment form, in which each texture would blur into the next.
To do this Gann fused, as young composers so often have to start by doing, two strong influences that were not terribly commensurate. The basic technique of Long Night is that of Terry Riley's In C: three pianists play repeating figures, moving on to the next whenever they feel like it (though there are certain aural cues to be followed, to preserve the integrity of the work's seven sections). The differences from In C are that the pianos do not play identical material, but are contrasted by tessitura; and that they are not rhythmically synchronized, which is why on the recording it is no problem for pianist Sarah Cahill to overdub all three pianos. Technically the work comes straight from Riley, but melodically and texturally it owes more to Morton Feldman and especially Harold Budd, whose slowly meandering tonality had a tremendous impact on Gann in the late 1970s. (There is also a touch of Eno, especially Music for Airports and Discreet Music: Gann's original idea for Long Night, never fulfilled, was to have the pianists widely separated in a casual environment, providing ambience for something less formal than a concert setting.)
The problem is that over 25 minutes the Heideggerian idea becomes evident only in two places, one in particular. The first four sections are in C Dorian mode, the fifth in A major, and the last two in C# minor (the pitch A being common to all three). It is in the peculiarly sharp overlapping change from the C Dorian to A major that the Heideggerian nonlinearity suddenly asserts itself, and the essence of the piece is heard. One reviewer has pointed this out as an arbitrary-sounding weak point; actually, the correct response would be, "That's the most interesting moment in the piece, Gann should have fulfilled its implications more throughout so that it doesn't sound arbitrary." A similar but less shocking change comes with the gradual move from A major to C# minor. Lacking the audacity to repeat such puzzling effects, the rest of the piece changes moods by texture but not by key, and is a little too monochrome to make its central point clear.
And so for the listener, who after all is unlikely to reinterpret the entire piece around a change that comes 4/7ths of the way into it, the piece loses its intended nonlinearity and becomes simply about mood, a single if gradually transforming mood, and secondarily about the accidental melodies that arise from the random interaction of the three pianos, which years of being steeped in Cagean thought had led Gann to accept. The In C device, creating mini-echoes among the pianos, is fertile enough to survive the lack of synchronization, and the soft, pandiatonic wash of minor scales can hardly help but be pretty - an insight that, two years later in 1983, drove Gann to veer into a more challenging, rhythmically precise idiom. Aside from the bitonal moments, the one gesture that seems like more than a reflexive response to the minimalist/ambient concerns of 1980 is the quasi-autobiographical summing up of the piece's melodic motives at the end, in ten loud notes as the music dies away - an effect Cahill manages with grace and dignity. Yet this too is another Eno-esque touch: the isolated melodic figure as self-evident sonic icon, which Gann attempts to integrate into a structure more ambitious than Eno's ambient vignettes.
Otherwise one can hear in the work's inchoate, scattershot prettiness the confusion of a young generation eagerly responding to minimalism but not quite sure how to do it yet. The real legacy of Long Night is that its watery textures of bobbing notes will return two decades later in Gann's Disklavier music, where the technology will make the problem of key changes in multitempo music much easier to negotiate.
There ya go. It's the most negative review the disc has received, but the most intriguing because it locates the piece historically, and also the most flattering because it takes the structure seriously. You've got to tear into the piece with your teeth a little, and if it doesn't survive, then it didn't deserve to.
Big changeover on Postclassic Radio today - more than a 30 percent change in content since yesterday. For one thing, Charlemagne Palestine month continues, and I've got some new tracks that will surprise you even if you know his work. Last week I went to Other Music in New York, the store where I go to find things so obscure even I don't know about them, and I came across four new Palestine discs, of which I bought two. One I'm playing for you is a hauntingly strange little vocal performance, only four minutes, from a gig at Sonnabend Gallery (in 2001, I'm guessing, though there's almost no info on the disc). The other is a very peculiar 1998 soundscape called Jamaica Heinekens in Brooklyn. Charlemagne made an environmental recording during the Jamaica Day parade in Brooklyn, then superimposed it beneath a multilayered drone texture. Very weird and beautiful, and I hope not too irritating for radio, because it's 61 minutes.
Also, I've put up a choral festival. There's very little Downtown choral music, but a few people have cultivated it. I'm playing three large works for chorus and orchestra:
Daniel Lentz's Apologetica (50 minutes), a work in honor of the indigenous people wiped out by European colonization of the New World;
Janice Giteck's Tikkun - Mending (42 minutes), a work on Jewish spiritual texts featuring tenor John Duykers (her former husband) (and unless you live in Seattle or California you haven't heard this, because it's unreleased); and
my own Transcendental Sonnets (35 minutes), based on poems by Emerson's mad protege Jones Very, which will surprise you.
Around those I've interspersed four lovely a capella works by Mary Jane Leach, from her CDs Celestial Fires and Ariadne's Lament. I'm not including Bill Duckworth's Southern Harmony, because I played that in its entirety last November. But it's already some three hours of choral music, all in a row. I hope you like choral music. I meant to ask, forgot to.
Plus, a major chamber work by political composer Jeffrey Schanzer, No More in Thrall, a tribute to an armed uprising of prisoners at the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp in 1945. If you're as tuned in to the Left as you should be to be listening to this station (and a man of your age, after all), you'll recognize the title as being a quote from "The Internationale." New mbira music by Richard Crandall and music box music by John Morton, too. One nice thing about Postclassic Radio - if you're not springing for the ad-free version, you'll hear fewer ads here because I play a lot of pieces longer than half an hour.
Do you remember John Cage's book Notations - a 1970 compilation of pages from more than 300 various composers' scores, mostly presented without comment, and ranging with wild diversity from conventional notes to graphs to pictures to unintelligible scrawls? I used to look through it when I was young and wonder what all those notations meant. The fantasy they offered pushed me into some of my own notational experiments.
Well, there's sort of a new Notations out. Composers Torsten Müller, Kunsu Shim and Gerhard Stäbler have put together a book called SoundVisions with excerpts from about 150 scores. You might expect that musical notation in 2005 wouldn't exhibit anything near the same experimentalism or diversity as in 1970, but actually, it nearly does; if the experiments are not quite so ambiguously outrageous, the different ways in which music can be precisely notated have increased, and there are more routes today for even relative traditionalists to take. There is a Max/MSP diagram by Kenneth Atchley and another by Achim Wollschied, a digitzed map of the world showing locations of sound recordings by Klarenz Barlow, eight channels of audio waveforms by François Bayle, a diagram of slide-projector placement by Maria Blondel, instructions for creating video and music by Gene Coleman, Philip Corner's scrawled ms. for his piece "At some point during this concert the hall might be blown up or bombed," directions for representing shifts in the resonant frequency of the earth by Pauline Oliveros, a John Oswald score for brass and Ondes martenot that looks like it melted in the middle, a kooky-looking score to Stockhausen's Hoch-Zeiten of 2002, a real minimalist-looking work with noteheads and numbers by Michael Pisaro, instructions for making your own Larry Polansky canon, a musical score with cartoon interpolations by Sven Herman, some splotches showing how to play Judy Dunaway's Molto for balloons, plus sketches by György Kurtag and Helmut Lachenmann, and precompositional drawings of parameter curves by Julio Estrada. There are also pages from more conventional scores: two pages of the ms. of Boulez's Sur Incises, and excerpts by, among many others, Sofia Gubaidulina, Steve Reich (Three Tales), Lois V Vierk (Europa for brass quintet, 2003), Jo Kondo, Alvin Lucier, Wolfgang Rihm, Frederic Rzewski, my friend Frank Abbinanti, and two pages from my own Disklavier piece Bud Ran Back Out. It's a truly international collection with composers from at least three continents (I'm in because I've known Gerhard Stäbler for 20 years), and there are a lot of European women composers I hadn't heard of.
I don't know what your chances of getting SoundVisions are, but the publisher, PFAU Verlag in Saarbrücken, has a web page for it here. No free examples given, unfortunately, and the price is 39 Euros.
I note with satisfaction that there are now, finally, "Gann" bins at the uptown and downtown Tower Records stores in Manhattan. But at Other Music, which is devoted to Downtown, experimental, ambient, and other oddball genres, my CDs are still under "Miscellaneous G." My brilliant son suggested that I become a rapper and take "Miscellaneous G" as my stage name, which will then make that my bin.
I'm going to talk about myself as a composer for a moment, so if my own music isn't what you read Postclassic to learn about - if you agree with the blogger who recently complained that my blog is too introspective - this is one to skip.
I've written about 60 musical works, or a little more, depending on which pieces I'm in a mood to acknowledge on a given day. Nominally, 20 of those pieces, one third, are now available on commercial CDs, ten of them on this most recent disc. It's ironic how much getting a CD out feels like having just scaled a mountain - considering that the bulk of the work was done years ago, and I've hardly done anything to bring this one about in recent weeks, it just arrived in the mail. Unrecorded pieces feel like children still living at home. I'm directly responsible for whatever exposure they get, I tell them when to get up and when to go to bed, I exercise control over how they're presented to other people. Now that they're on CD, they're like children who have left home and are living somewhere else. In a way they are no longer my pieces, they have to make their own way in the world based on what merits they possess. And the world will soon judge them, which I guess accounts for the mountain-scaling feeling - the echo of my achievement is about to come back to me, and I will be forced to accept, with humility, whether the world thinks it was a large achievement or a small one.
Very different from giving a concert, especially one in New York. New-music concerts, at least the Downtown, non-orchestral variety, are given largely for one's friends, and it is primarily one's friends who walk up afterward and say something. What they say, of course, is mostly flattering, or at least only unintentionally discouraging. Rare is the Downtown concert reviewed by more than one critic, and a single critic is an unreliable barometer. A CD on a well-distributed label, though, will be written about by people in Lafayette, Arkansas and Spokane, Washington, people who have never met me and never expect to. I've always said that a review is like a snapshot - you can always claim that it caught you from an unflattering angle, but only in rare cases of patent incompetence can you claim that it contained no grain of truth. In the welter of reviews that arrive I will have to look at the average between the best and worst as some kind of objective index of what resonance the music has found publicly. At age 49, I have been thickly involved in this process for 23 years, but I have not been much on the receiving end. The majority of the reviews I've had in my life have all come from one CD - my recent Long Night on Cold Blue. They have far outnumbered all the concert reviews I've ever had, and the existence of the internet has vastly increased their number. I can't say that any particular review of Long Night has nailed the piece, with its strengths and weaknesses and achievements, the way I hear it and them. But I can say that, on balance, the proportion of positive and negative comments has pretty precisely matched what I hear as the proportion of strengths and weaknesses in the piece.
But I wrote Long Night when I was 24, 25 years old. The present disc, Nude Rolling Down an Escalator, is far more representative and intensely personal. Representative, because I wrote these pieces between ages 42 and 48, and no excuse is permissible. Personal, because I produced every note of these Disklavier pieces myself, and don't even have a performing intermediary to share the blame with. That's not to say the "performances" are perfect: the Disklavier is a less tractable machine than you'd expect. You move the damn thing into a recording space, it gets jostled, the acoustics have changed, and all the subtle balances you labored to achieve are now a little different, and there are thousands of notes, and you do your best to reshape the nuances, but the recording engineer is waiting, the recording space time is limited, and at some point you have to say, "Oh well, close enough." But I chose the medium, and the medium is no excuse. It is commonplace to assume, presumably rightly, that the dozens of little imperfections I notice will not garner much attention from those who know the music less intimately.
Being such a personal collection, the reaction will feel like a referendum on my personality itself. My sense of humor is much in evidence, also my morose streak, and my innate melodic tendencies, some of them arguably sentimental, are everywhere. I fret that the stylistic variety will prove confusing - inside, I feel like I keep writing the same piece over and over, but they come out almost as though composed by different people. The disc begins in chaotic hilarity and dies away in pensive mourning, which is much more me than the other way around would have been. And there are places (most recently the last minute or two of Tango da Chiesa) that make me shout, "Yes! Yes! That's exactly the effect I've been aiming at my entire life!" The possibility is always there, as it is for every composer, that, as Charles Ives worried, "my ears are on wrong." But to learn that once and for all will be infinitely preferable to sitting and wondering. Best of all, I feel like I suddenly have loads of psychic space available for new composing - because that's ten fewer pieces I have to carry around with me anymore.
My new CD on the New World label, Nude Rolling Down an Escalator, has just arrived - at my house, anyway. Details, including cover and liner notes by John Luther Adams, here.
A.P. wire story:
Bursting into tears, eighth-grader Anurag Kashyap of California became the U.S. spelling champ Thursday, beating 272 other spellers in a tough two days of competition. He said he felt "just pure happiness."
Anurag, 13, of Poway clinched "appoggiatura," a melodic tone, to take home some $30,000 in prizes. He won in the 19th round of the 78th Annual National Scripps Spelling Bee.
"A melodic tone," my ass. But after all these years of trying to teach students how to spell "appoggiatura," I can finally prove that it can be a helpful thing to know.
George Rochberg's Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth String Quartets, written for the expert Concord Quartet and thus referred to as the "Concord Quartets," represented a return to startingly traditional tonality in the dissonantly 12-tone 1970s. Composer Mary Jane Leach tells a story of their premiere:
I was at the premiere of Rochberg's 4-6th String Quartets at Alice Tully. People's jaws were dropping right and left. However, the funniest thing happened on the way out - I was walking behind two older women after the concert and one of them said "that group didn't make nearly as many mistakes as the other modern music groups we've heard."
Are you ready to chill out for the summer? I sure as hell am. That's why I've made Charlemagne Palestine June composer-of-the-month on Postclassic Radio, so you can lie on your deck in the sun and get lost in 50 minutes of Strumming Music, or 70 minutes of pipe organ drones in Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone. (That's probably some kind of litmus test - if you can't take seriously any piece titled Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone, no matter how transcendent it sounds, you're no Downtowner.)
If you don't know Palestine's music, consider yourself lucky that you can catch up. He was notorious in the '70s underground for long, long performances in which he hammered away on the piano for hours with relentless endurance, creating masses of overtones that seemed to give his music relevance in microtonal circles. Then, circa 1979, he left music and New York at once, and disappeared to Amsterdam. For years he was a famous name whose music you couldn't hear for love or money. Finally, in 1995 CDs of historic and even new performances started coming out, and now there are at least six on labels like New Tone, Barooni, and Organ of Corti - you know, the important labels that you have to go to Other Music in New York to find. And at last, in September of 2000, Charlemagne appeared in New York in person to give one of his historic performances, with cognac and teddy bears, just like old times, an experience I documented with a review in the Village Voice - and I even got to have lunch with him! (In the on-line review the Voice has replaced the nice photo of Charlemagne with an ad, dammit, but I don't make their policies.)
Interestingly, born in 1945, Charlemagne is ten years younger than La Monte Young or Terry Riley, half a generation removed from the original minimalists with whom he's associated. There's a lot of time left to study his music with his cooperation, and I hope someone's doing it. Meanwhile, enjoy getting the sounds for free that I longed for for 15 years.
Sites To See
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog