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“Moral Fire”

I have a new book, just published: Moral Fire: Musical Portraits from America’s Fin-de-Siecle. Here’s a sampling: “If the Met’s screaming Wagnerites standing on chairs in the 1890s are in fact unthinkable today, it is partly because we mistrust high feeling. Our children avidly specialize in vicarious forms of electronic interpersonal diversion. Our laptops and televisions ensnare us in a surrogate world that shuns all but facile passions; only Jon Stewart and Bill Maher share moments of moral outrage disguised as comedy.” My portraits … [Read more...]

San Francisco’s American Mavericks

I review the San Francisco Symphony's remarkable "American Mavericks" festival in the current Times Literary Supplement (UK) as follows: There is a type of American creative genius whose originality and integrity correlate with refusing to finish their education in Europe. Herman Melville and Walt Whitman are writers of this type. In American music, Charles Ives is the paramount embodiment. The unfinished in Ives is crucial to his affect. Emerson, whom Ives revered, put it this way in his poem “Music”:”’Tis not in the high stars alone . . . … [Read more...]

Schubert Uncorked

For a variety of reasons, raw spontaneity is less common at symphonic performances nowadays than in the nineteenth century and before. In the days when they were also composers, performers were of course more prone to improvise. In the days before recordings and airplanes, there was no centripetal norm for interpretation. PostClassical Ensemble’s “Schubert Uncorked” in DC last weekend was the least predictable concert I have ever produced. At the close of the dress rehearsal the same afternoon, we had little real idea how the evening concert … [Read more...]

Orchestral Summitry

The recent “Orchestral Summit” at the University of Michigan was a labor of love on the part of Mark Clague of the university’s Musicology faculty. Mark is a tireless advocate of conciliation and consensual change in a field wracked by frustration and dissent. The conference had its ups and downs. I was especially impressed by the gravitas and honesty sustained by a panel of conservatory-level educators, alert to the need for fresh thought in preparing young musicians for a rapidly changing cultural landscape. Peter Witte, who heads the … [Read more...]

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