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...]

Echoes Among the Young

From my minimalism seminar, I received analysis papers on Reich's Double Sextet, Dan Becker's Gridlock, Rzewski's Coming Together, Pärt's Tabula Rasa and Fratres, Laurie Spiegel, and Mikel Rouse's Dennis Cleveland. My 20th/21st-century history class yielded papers on Ives; Laurie Anderson; Julius Eastman (an analysis of Evil Nigger); a comparison of Emeralds, Eliane Radigue, and La Monte Young as drone groups/composers; Steve Reich (by a kid who had sworn he had no interest in minimalism); Cage as postmodernist; Henry Flynt and Milton Babbitt … [Read more...]

Unanticipated Claim to Fame

Holy shit. Critic Steve Smith of the Times has proclaimed Dennis Johnson's November, which I reconstructed and Andrew Lee recorded on Irritable Hedgehog, as the number one best classical recording of 2013. Of all of the ventures I've taken on in my life, I would not have picked this one to garner as much public resonance as it's received. I was talking to my good friend, radio personality, and songwriter extraordinaire David Garland about it recently, and pointed out that I had also resurrected Harold Budd's Children on a Hill, which is … [Read more...]

Off-Topic Economic Vignette

I took my boxes, paper, empty wine bottles, and what have you to the local recycling place after Christmas. The overweight old guy who runs the plant directed me to put all my trash in the garbage because the huge recycling bins were too full - the amount of recyclables people had brought in were off-the-chart voluminous. Obviously there had been a ton of Christmas presents locally (and it is a fairly upscale neighborhood). I faintly joked, "Well, I guess the economy must not be too bad." "Oh yeah," he replied, "there's nothing wrong with … [Read more...]

That Helps Clarify Things

There are authors of true originality in whom the least boldness offends because they have not first flattered the tastes of the public and have not served it the commonplaces which it is used to; it was in the same way that Swann roused M. Verdurin's indignation. In Swann's case as in theirs, it was the novelty of his language that convinced one of the darkness of his intentions. - Proust, Swann's Way … [Read more...]

Not with a Bang

The semester never rounds off to an end; it unravels. At some point you realize you've lost your students' attention; their roommates have scheduled their ride home during your final class in which you were going to sum everything up, or else they're skipping in favor of the graduation barbecue and their summer job; their final paper topics are not what you'd hoped, revealing that they weren't on the same wavelength as you after all; a couple of kids, sometimes the most eloquent, freak out or overdose and disappear from class; you yourself are … [Read more...]

Reports of My Misbehavior Greatly Exaggerated

Over at New Music Box, Frank Oteri, back from his world travels, finally weighs in with his own impression of the ISCM festival in Vienna. He emphasizes (and possibly exaggerates) my slender role there, and says very nice things about me, and I'm flattered. He writes, however, that some people "had their feathers ruffled" by me, and I'm a little sensitive these days about getting trapped in the feather-ruffling meta-narrative. I sometimes think people get shocked when I open my mouth because they're trained to think that's the proper response. … [Read more...]

Snapshots from Academe

martin_modern_big

Composer Martin Bresnick gave a composers' forum at Bard tonight that was absolutely fabulous. He played recordings of the most compelling music I'd yet heard of his - Every Thing Must Go for sax quartet, Prayers Remain Forever for cello and piano, Ishi's Song for piano, and some faculty played his *** for clarinet, viola, and piano - and his manner of explaining his music was understated, humble, yet inspiring. When someone commented with surprise on the simplicity of his recent pieces, he replied, "I don't write 'modern music.' I write my own … [Read more...]

Gavin and Me

Bryars-Gann

(Click for better focus.) Consequent to the recent post I wrote about analyzing Gavin Bryars's music, the man himself nicely got in touch with me, and since he was going to be in New York City anyway, we had lunch today, along with Tony Creamer (major supporter and fan of new music) and Norman Ryan, Gavin's publisher at Schott. Gavin's and my conversation really took off when we realized what big fans we both are of the music of Kaikhosru Sorabji; he was actually in touch with Sorabji, and presented the first concert of Sorabji's music in Italy … [Read more...]

I Walk Among the Dead

KGatBeethoven'sgrave

The biggest tourist thing I did in Vienna was visit the Zentralfriedhof, the big cemetery where many famous composers (more than I'd realized from my research) and artists are buried, even though some of them were first buried elsewhere and then moved. So here are some photos. It seems silly to include so many photos of myself (taken by my wife Nancy), but after all, you can probably find most of the tombstones on Wikipedia, and the point is to prove I was there. (Click on photos for better focus.) Here I meet the Great Man himself: But … [Read more...]

The World Turned Upside Down

[NOTE: If you're hear from a link at New Music Box, you might want to check out my response to that article as well.] [UPDATE BELOW] My journey into the very heart of musical Europe provides me with a renewed opportunity to reflect on how happy I am to no longer be a music critic, no matter how happy I once was to work as one. The day was when I would have attended every event of the ISCM’s New Music Days 2013, taken names and scrupulous notes, mentally organized the event into its own little symmetrical Theater of Memory, and presented its … [Read more...]

To Dance on Beethoven’s Grave

Friday morning I'm leaving for Vienna, where I will remain until the following Thursday. I'm speaking at the World New Music Days of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM). I'll be giving my talk on the state of American music next Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 9:30 AM in the Leonie Rysanek-Saal of the Konservatorium Wien Privatuniversität, and then I'm on a panel at 11:30. I appear to be the only U.S. representative on the conference. Never been to Vienna before. I'm trying to revive a little bit of German, and it's just as I … [Read more...]

Great Moments in Teaching, part 2

Four-Elements3

I don't know if this constituted a great moment for my students, but it did for me. My favorite piece by the British postminimalist Gavin Bryars, although I doubt that I've heard everything he's recorded, has always been his 1990 piece for ballet Four Elements. I once started analyzing it on my own and didn't get far, but we spent our entire minimalism class (two and a half hours) on it the other day, and I was quite impressed with what we found. The entire piece is drawn from a three-note motive heard in the chimes in the first two measures, a … [Read more...]