Professionalism as a Mask for Confusion

I liked what Nicholas Kristof wrote in the Times about academics using jargon to remove themselves from public relevance, and considered blogging it: A related problem is that academics seeking tenure must encode their insights into turgid prose. As a double protection against public consumption, this gobbledygook is then sometimes hidden in obscure journals — or published by university presses whose reputations for soporifics keep readers at a distance. Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian who writes for The New Yorker and is an exception to … [Read more...]

Zombies Are Composers, Too

The other night before his wonderful concert, pianist Emenuele Arciuli, who is a great advocate for American piano music and has published a book, Musica per Pianoforte negli Stati Uniti, told me and composer Martin Bresnick that in Europe he often has to defend American music, which is attacked by composers there as being superficial, commercial, and lacking in technique. The next day, at New Music Box, web site of the American Music Center, composer Mara Gibson described how inspiring it was for her to study with German composer Helmut … [Read more...]

The Genius in His Spare Time

It is time again, next fall, for me to teach my Analyzing Beethoven class, which I am always happy to do. But I have been threatening for years to make it a Late Beethoven class, and I am on the point of succumbing. Every time I'm frustrated at how little of the late music I get around to teaching. I always spend two weeks analyzing the Hammerklavier and at least a week on Op. 111, and we go quickly through the C#-minor Quartet and the Grosse Fuge. Maybe I can get through the Kyrie and Gloria of the Missa Solemnis, and one year I dawdled for … [Read more...]

Unidentified Foreign Contacts

In addition to Emanuele Arciuli playing my Earth-Preserving Chant tomorrow evening in New York City, and my recent Helsinki premiere, this Saturday Nicolas Horvath is playing my piano piece Going to Bed: Homage to Philip Glass in Kiev, at the Night of Minimal Piano #2. I've been noticing for awhile, from my Hostmonster statistics, that the Ukraine is regularly in the top rankings of countries from which my web site gets hits; this week it's fourth, behind the U.S., Lithuania, and the U.K., in that order. For a long time Romania was near the … [Read more...]

More Electrons Arranged into Dots on Lines

Two new PDF scores went up on my website this week. One is not a terribly new piece: Mystic Chords (2012), which I've written about here before, and which consists entirely of quarter-notes with a different tempo marking on each beat. I had been waiting on putting up the score until I revised the opening, which I have now done. So there's a new recording as well, and I'm much happier with it. As often happens with mp3s, my computer keeps going back to the old mp3 when I click on it, and no amount of reloading has yet succeeded in bringing the … [Read more...]

Passing the Blame

Wow: famous Japanese composer I'd never heard of admits his music was ghostwritten. I sometimes wish I could claim that my music was ghostwritten, but I'm afraid I must accept responsibility for every note. UPDATE: Actually, subsequent reading about this has made me think that the real scandal is that this patent mediocrity was ever considered "the Beethoven of Japan" - showing that compositional celebrity is just as uncorrelated to talent or achievement in Japan as it is here. … [Read more...]

A Prayer for Restraint


A week from tonight, Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli (pictured) will play my piece Earth-Preserving Chant at a 7:00 concert at Columbia University's Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Ave. between 116th and 118th. The Hungarian/American program includes works all by my kind of guys: Haydn, Bartok, Liszt, John Adams (Phrygian Gates), Martin Bresnick (Ishi's Song), and my piece, which Emanuele commissioned. The day he first wrote me, I had just been reading about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and was pretty despondent about the projected … [Read more...]

Various Announcements

I hope that the music world has been focusing plenty of attention on Sarah Cahill's recent concert at San Quentin of works Henry Cowell wrote while he was incarcerated there. The more I read about it, the more historic it sounds, not only in terms of an understanding of Cowell's life, but also in terms of touching the musically talented inmates held there now. Apparently there's a long tradition of music as an outlet for prisoners there, Cowell being only the most celebrated (if that is the proper word yet) example. Minimalists in the news: … [Read more...]

Unfortunately Not Lost in Translation

Juhani Nuorvala tells me that my Finnish debut, his playing of Fugitive Objects, went well. But he adds, "the problem with these microtonal concerts is that the intervals are so small there's never enough time for a decent drink." (Sigh.) … [Read more...]

Should Have Played Long Night, Methinks

I find out too late to make the trip, but Juhani Nuorvala informs me that he's playing my retuned keyboard piece Fugitive Objects on a program of experimental music in Helsinki tomorrow. There's also music by Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, Roger Smalley, Maija Hynninen, Timo Tuhkanen, and others, plus a celebration of Alvin Lucier that extends through the 26th. Helsinki, of course, will be the site of the 2015 minimalism conference, and I'm much looking forward to being there myself in a year and a half. … [Read more...]

Mainstream Camouflage

Pardon a little self-indulgence, but wow, what a great gig I had in Buffalo today. It was a Gann/Ives program at the Unitarian Universalist Church; Paula McGirr sang my song "Faith" (which she'd sung 25 years earlier) and Ives's "Serenity," and Daniel Bassin conducted The Unanswered Question and my Transcendental Sonnets, with the UUCB Choir and members of the Buffalo Philharmonic. TS was a stretch for the choir, but they sang their hearts out, were totally focused, the momentum grew with each movement, and it was one of those occasions in … [Read more...]

Those Unitarians Don’t Hold a Grudge

I have two public gigs this month. The first is this Sunday, Jan. 12, at 2, when I will appear on a panel at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum called "John Cage and the Contemporary Cultural Landscape," being presented in connection with an art exhibit on the theme of silence. I appear to be the only musicologist, along with featured artists Xaviera Simmons and Simon Blackmore, and Fluxus curator Jon Hendricks. The Aldrich is at 258 Main Street in Ridgefield, CT. The more ego-gratifying event will be a performance of my Transcendental … [Read more...]

The Return of Pythagoras

Make sure you don't miss David First's cosmic and bumptiously entertaining article "The Entertainer" that went up on New Music Box today. Along with his own personal view of music history, it's a plea for composers to start making music that actually heals people and makes life better, a return to the Renaissance concept of music as magic. As someone who's followed David's career closely for a quarter-century, I can attest that this is an endpoint he's been visibly and aurally heading towards for decades. And I'm very sympathetic. It was … [Read more...]