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A Soldier’s Tale for Today

In the wake of World War I, Igor Stravinsky was living in Switzerland, cut off from his family estate in Russia. He was receiving no royalties from his publisher in Berlin. Stage performances of his music by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe were very infrequent. His concert works were virtually dormant. With the Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz, he conceived a small, portable entertainment, requiring neither a large theater nor a large orchestra, in fact suitable for outdoor performance. They imagined a small touring company of players – as an aspiration that … [Read more...]

A Gripping New Version of The Rite of Spring

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring might at first glance seem an unlikely candidate for keyboard transcription. It calls for a huge orchestra, colorfully deployed. But the percussive ferocity of the writing, its sheer physicality, is an irresistible lure for pianists.  Stravinsky himself left a piano-duet version. It’s actually the first version, part of the compositional process and never intended as a concert work. But a concert work it has become, typically played on two pianos. Solo piano versions have also been created. … [Read more...]

Savage Beauty

https://youtu.be/5uXpjzEX1hI One of the highest achievements in present-day world music is the Chinese-American fusion. It is wondrously explicable. China’s seismic political and cultural upheavals produced an earthquake of creativity. Conservatory-bound composers wound up on the countryside, absorbing folk music styles exploring timbre in ways they had never imagined. And – following Chinese speech, in which tonal inflections impart meaning – Chinese folk tunes subtly manipulate pitch, sliding between notes that are separately voiced by … [Read more...]

How Do You Play a Flower Pot?

https://youtu.be/IMzY6IRIr9E How do you play a flower pot? What makes washtubs sound best? How about coffee cans? For the answers, check out Lou Harrison’s instructions, in his exquisite hand, for his Concerto for Violin and Percussion, e.g.: “For the washtubs, drill holes (4) up from center on the sides of inverted galvanized iron tubs & suspend by strong elastic cords.” For the coffee cans, “cork or rubber-ended pen-holders make good beaters . . . & are best for the clock coils as well.” So far as I am aware, Harrison’s … [Read more...]

A “Unique Addition” to the Whitman Repertoire

https://youtu.be/3XM6wpfTv7c When PostClassical Ensemble undertook our world premiere recording of the 1944 radio play Whitman, we did so in the conviction that Bernard Herrmann’s score was a Whitman setting of such distinction that the result was more than a radio play. Rather, we had stumbled upon a sngular addition to the symphonic repertoire of “melodramas” – compositions for music plus the spoken word. The latest (and longest) review of our new CD, by Jack Sullivan, agrees. Sullivan’s opinion matters here, because he is the author … [Read more...]

Aaron Copland: “One Red to Another”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkZGcJCGczs&feature=youtu.be “If they were a strange sight to me, I was no less of a one to them. It was the first time that many of them had seen an ‘intellectual.’ I was being gradually drawn, you see, into the political struggle with the peasantry! I wish you could have seen them – the true Third Estate, the very material that makes revolution. It’s one thing to think revolution, or talk about it to one’s friends, but to preach it from the streets -- OUT LOUD – well, I made my speech and I’ll probably … [Read more...]

“An Act of Empathy” — a Dvorak Radio Documentary

When PostClassical Ensemble produced an hour-long film about Dvorak and “the American experience of race” last September, we hardly envisioned turning it into a 45-minute public radio special for the holidays. But that’s what happened, thanks to an invitation from Rupert Allman, who produces the nationally distributed radio magazine “1A.” You can hear, it and read about it, here. Jenn White, the 1A host, begins:  “Hip Hop, Jazz, Pop – whatever the genre, music has the power to move us – and teach us something else about our own … [Read more...]

The Erasure of the Arts

This week’s The American Purpose carries another of my essays on the erasure of the arts from the American experience – how it happened and what to do about it. It’s a sequel to my piece in the current American Scholar on the impact of the pandemic on culture. My new piece takes the form of a response to The Upswing, the important new book co-authored by the sociologist Robert Putnam (who also wrote Bowling Alone) on the disappearance of “social capital.” It’s another way at looking at today’s fragmentation of American … [Read more...]

FDR, Radio, and What’s Wrong Today

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OCuCMhn8o4&feature=youtu.be “I can recall walking eastward on the Chicago Midway on a summer evening. . . . Under [the elms] drivers had pulled over, parking bumper to bumper, and turned on their radios to hear Roosevelt. They had rolled down the windows and opened the car doors. Everywhere the same voice, in old Eastern accent, which in anyone else would have irritated Midwesterners. You could follow without missing a single word as you strolled by. You felt joined to these unknown drivers, men and … [Read more...]

The Pandemic and the Arts: A “Climate of Fear” and “Radical Upheaval”

The current American Scholar includes my 8,000-word essay on the impact of the pandemic on the arts in the US. It seems to me a terribly important topic -- please find time to read the whole thing. Here’s a readers’ guide: I begin by contrasting the European rush to “rescue our cultural institutions” to an eerie American silence. I write: “Why is no one in Congress or the White House talking about protecting vital cultural interests, echoing discussions abroad? For three centuries, Americans regarded Europeans as cultural parents; we … [Read more...]

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