Happy holidays to all

Time for a Christmas break. I don't think I'll blog again till January. And I do need a rest. So to everyone who reads me (and to everybody else), all the best for the holidays, and for the new year. Let's hope that 2005 brings good things. My thanks, too, to all my readers. Simply knowing you're there means a lot to me. Your responses -- either in person, or by e-mail -- or even just your telling me that you like to read this, makes me see (among many other things) that this business can really change. I used to think the things I said were … [Read more...]

Far into the past

For various reasons -- a project with an orchestra, a pending review (which my wife and I are writing jointly) of Richard Taruskin's five-volume history of western music -- I've been listening to renaissance music, by Josquin and Ockeghem. And I'm both bored and irritated by some of the performances I hear. That pure sound of unaccompanied (and, all too often, uninflected) voices, rising and falling, without any evident point or purpose, no rhythm to speak of, every piece taken at the same tempo…yuck! That's not very musical, if you … [Read more...]

Judging conservative composers

This morning, for a project with an orchestra, I'm listening to the Sibelius Fourth Symphony (in a moving performance by the Slovak Philharmonic, conducted by Adrian Leaper, streamed from the Naxos website). I find it riveting. And I remember having the same experience a year or so ago with the Sibelius Fifth, which I think I also blogged about. But now I think of how despised Sibelius used to be, among many serious musicians and, above all, by anyone who took new music seriously. Virgil Thomson, for instance, in a review of the Second … [Read more...]

Power metal and my own composing

A footnote to my last post: What connection do Pantera and Jackson Mac Low have to my own composing? Not that they have to have one, of course; I can admire music that plays no role in my own. But still I wonder. When I was studying composition in graduate school, I began to write in what I then would have called a "downtown New York" style, with (for instance) pieces for speaking voices, whose music wasn't completely determined in advance. My score for the piece I'm thinking of was a set of verbal instructions, whose outcome would be … [Read more...]


Today I was intrigued to see obituaries for two very different people juxtaposed on top of each other in The New York Times. One of these people was Jackson Mac Low, the Fluxus poet who made his poems with random procedures, the way John Cage often composed music; the other was Dimebag Darrell, the metal guitarist who was shot last week while he was playing in a Columbus, Ohio club. It would be hard, I thought, to find two more different people either in music, or (in Mac Low's case) with strong musical connections. Idly, I began wondering how … [Read more...]

How to do it

Two posts ago, I complained about critics using empty words of praise ("masterpiece," etc.), and suggested that all of us describe our experience with music, rather than pin inflated labels on it. Now I'm happy to pass on an evocative example of a critic doing just what I like to see. It's from Anthony Tommasini's review of a recital by Simon Keenlyside, in today's New York Times: Mr. Keenlyside, accompanied by the splendid pianist Julius Drake, was also in his element in Ravel's "Histoires Naturelles," a song cycle about animals. A standout … [Read more...]

A dire statistic

Last week I learned that ticket sales for the Big Five orchestras haven't declined all that much in the past 10 years (though this year's, people tell me, are troubling, and I don't know what the decline might be for all professional orchestras). But I also learned this stunning, dire fact: In this same period, the cost of selling a ticket rose 40%. Yes, you read that right. It now costs large orchestras 40% more to sell tickets than it did 10 years ago. Why? Because orchestras sell fewer subscriptions, or, to put this more precisely, the … [Read more...]

Enough already

In the past week I've read -- in newspaper pieces by respected critic colleagues -- that a Mozart piece is "sublime," and that a Mahler performance was "stamped by magnificence." It's not exactly rare to read things like this, of course, and I'm sure I've been as guilty of this puffed-up praise as anybody else. But I'd like to call a halt to words like "sublime" and "magnificent," when classical music is talked about, along with "great" and "masterpiece," and a host of other empty ways to say how good the music (or a performance) is. Why are … [Read more...]