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Hans Werner Henze: The Last Interview?

Months before his death, he reached back 50 years in his mind to talk about his "odd, old Elegy."

Messiaen in a crypt: New meaning to ‘the end of time.’

Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time made a high-prestige appearance Feb. 5 as the one and only work in concert series known as The Crypt Sessions - a sought-afte insider ticket for a few years now, presented at the Church of the Ascension Crypt in Harlem by the non-profit organization Death of Classical. Always a thoughtfully-curated series, this concert had the kind of repertoire, performing space and penetrating performance that yielded fresh questions about the nature of, well, everything. The lineup of strong personalities but … [Read more...]

Bang on a Can composer Julia Wolfe ignites the New York Philharmonic

History would seem to be in the re-making at the New York Philharmonic.  The new Julia Wolfe multi-media oratorio Fire in my mouth, premiered Jan. 24-26 at Lincoln Center, commemorated the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in a spirit that can make critics cringe preemptively. How many socially responsible pieces have implored us to weep, pray and feel guilty to what amounts to a pathos-laden film score? Instead, this piece was a breakthrough, something perfectly in step with 2019 with smartly-channeled passion that carries the … [Read more...]

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Greek’ is back after 30 years — and its tattoos still aren’t smeared

Mark-Anthony Turnage redefined British opera with Greek, his 80-minute updating of the Oedipus myth to modern, working-class London, with a raucous score and a perversely happy ending. But that was in a different world: 1988. Nowadays, Thomas Adès seems to be the defining composer of British opera, like it or not. And when Greek arrived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Dec. 5-9 in a production by Scottish Opera/Opera Ventures, I imagined it like some seriously aging hipster whose many once-edgy tattoos are turning to mud. I was throughly, … [Read more...]

Arnold Schoenberg survived Nazi Germany, Vienna and Hollywood. But Boston?

Opera thrives on iconic figures, whether from mythology or history. But maybe composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) hasn't been gone long enough - or was never outwardly heroic enough - to fill Tod Machover's new opera Schoenberg in Hollywood, premiered Nov. 14-18 by Boston Lyric Opera. Schoenberg was the springboard for modernism in the second half of the 20th century; though he died in 1951, he cuts a Moses-like figure, leading serious music beyond atonality, creating a system by which its complete freedom could be managed, and taking the … [Read more...]

I have my come-to-Arvo moment

Arvo Pärt, disarmingly, lacks barriers. He hides nothing. Evasion, irony and pretension are unknown in his music. The 80-something Estonian composer is, however, the master of implying far more than he says. At its most spare, his music seems to barely exist. And that's probably why I've had such a long road to the full appreciation of this internationally acclaimed composer whose devotional works led to the coining of the term "holy minimalism." Arvo Pärt: The Sound of the Sacred — a concert on Nov. 12 at the Church of St. Ignatius … [Read more...]

Glass’ Satyagraha imported from Sweden with stunts under precarious circumstances

Philip Glass used to say he was never composed opera per se, but ended up rubbing shoulders with Verdi and Wagner because opera houses had the needed theatrical apparatus. Was he buying time while figuring out how to write recitatives his way? Was he creating a hybrid? Both? Whatever the case, Glass’ first mainstream-ish opera, Satyagraha, was no easier to define Nov. 4 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a Sweden-imported production by Folkoperan and Cirkus Cirkor  after 37 years of making the opera-house rounds. It looks, sounds and … [Read more...]

Life gets lush: Gregory Spears meets The Crossing

Finding one's voice is an elusive matter for composers - a combination of circumstances that may or may not be in their control, plus the unpredictable factor of artistic evolution. Somebody like Jennifer Higdon doesn't necessarily wake up in the morning and declare herself ready to write, say, a tuba concerto. People come to her with those kinds of requests, and if the Higdon genie can inhabit that bottle, everybody ends up happy. In vocal works, words, drama and prescribed scoring dictated by the performers at hand merge with what the … [Read more...]

American musical theater mythology: What does it say? What can it say? How much do we care?

The quickest way to the public's heart is through the manipulated past. Politicians through the ages have played upon the public's national identity by conjuring up nostalgia for an age that never quite existed but has a close-enough resemblance to one that did. Then comes the promise of recapturing that lost world. (I'm sure you can think of examples.) In theater, however, the repurposed past can reflect much of what's going on now, particularly when re-repurposed in the face of the looming mid-term election. Specifically, I'm talking … [Read more...]

Sympathy for the monster: Frankenstein opera-in-progress debuts at Green-Wood Cemetery

After walking through David Lang's Mile Long Opera on the High Line last week, Gregg Kallor's double bill of The Tell-Tale Heart and still-in-progress Frankenstein at the Green-Wood Cemetery catacomb almost seemed mainstream. Well, somewhat. There was a genuine acoustic, a real piano, cultivated singers and a literary base line in operatic works drawn from Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley. The catacomb is a narrow hall with vaults along the way, all dimly lit, with a miniature stage at the far end where the opera unfolded with a small … [Read more...]

The near-accidental eloquence of The Mile-Long Opera by David Lang

Walking into The Mile-Long Opera by David Lang, I thought I knew what opera is. Well, the definition didn't change. But the piece, performed last week on New York's elevated walkway known as The High Line, changed the boundaries of opera, theater and artistic expression, and in ways that I couldn't have imagined before taking the elevator up three floors and then trudging from 14th to 34th street. This Pulitzer Prize-winning composer is making a life's work out of writing music to be heard outside the typical venues and … [Read more...]

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