What I’ve been up to

This is a busy time for me—a little too busy, but also wonderful. Here’s a taste of what’s going on, some of which will show up in this blog, at greater length:

  •  This Thursday, October 21, comes the first of the Symphony with a Splash concerts I program and host with the Pittsburgh Symphony, this time with something very personal—a performance of a piece of my own, A Frankenstein Overture. This orchestral music based on my opera Frankenstein, with an extravagant trombone solo (representing the Creature, who’s meant to sound tortured, noble, and eloquent, as he’s depicted in the Mary Shelly novel). You can hear a synthesizer version on my website—or, of course, the real thing at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh on Thursday

  • This weekend, the public radio show Studio 360 repeats the program on orchestras I did with them some months ago, updated with some new material about the current contract negotiations. This was one of the happiest projects I’ve undertaken, above all because of the terrific segments the producers came up with—discussions of orchestras and orchestral music which I had fun reacting to. The reaction both I and the producers got last time the show aired was very strong and very positive. Studio 360 goes on at 10 AM Saturday in New York, on WNYC; see the show’s website for the day and time in other cities.

  • I’m working on a website for the American Symphony Orchestra League, designed to introduce new listeners to the pieces that will be played most often this season by the 100 largest American orchestras. We’ll cover the top 17 works, and it’s a surprising list, including (besides the usual Mozart, Brahms, and Mahler) Jennifer Higdon’s Blue Cathedral, Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, the John Adams Violin Concerto, and Joseph Schwantner’s Percussion Concerto. The introductions I and others will write (I’m in charge of finding all the writers) will be anything but orthodox—they’ll be personal and informal. On the site right now is an introduction to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, by Arved Ashby, a musicologist at Ohio State, who asks why Beethoven was, not to speak timidly, so crazy. And the previous entry was my own take on the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto, centering on the introductory theme, and its hard-to-explain disappearance.  

And, very quickly, because these deserve more space:  

  • There was a major music critics’ conference in New York this past weekend, which I was part of. The talk was very radical—all about changes in classical music, and how the old ways of doing things just don’t work any more.

  • And with the Pittsburgh Symphony I’m doing a new project, helping them to get their audience talking back to them about music. The first sessions, two weeks ago, were tremendously encouraging—and helped David Robertson (as I think he’d be the first to say) to introduce a difficult Berio piece he conducted at a Pittsburgh concert.

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