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A “Unique Addition” to the Whitman Repertoire 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” “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 “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...]

Bernard Herrmann’s “Whitman” — A Subversive Yet Inspirational Entertainment for Today In 1944, Bernard Herrmann collaborated with the producer Norman Corwin on “Whitman,” a half-hour dramatic presentation invoking America’s iconic poet to rally the home front during World War II. It was heard by millions of listeners. It’s a classic exemplar of a forgotten creative genre: the radio drama.  The clip at the top of this column samples a moment of hypnotic eloquence: Herrmann’s treatment of Whitman’s famous meditation on the graveyard grass – witness to Civil War dead, young and old. This … [Read more...]

“Nothing Left to Lose” — My First Orchestra Job, etc. I was delighted today to join my friend Donato Cabrera for his latest “MusicWise” youtube show. We talked about Dvorak and Revueltas, about PostClassical Ensemble's “More than Music” films – and about my own professional odyssey, which I traced back to feeling “disillusioned” and “betrayed” as a young New York Times music critic in the 1970s.  After that, as I told Donato, I wrote Understanding Toscanini “as an act of therapy.” At the end of that once notorious book, I identified Harvey … [Read more...]

Dvorak and the American Experience of Race — An Antidote to “Checkbox Diversity” “I know there has been a lot of discussion about how we can make a difference by programing one African-American composition per concert,” says Lorenzo Candelaria, the incoming dean of Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.   “I call that ‘checkbox diversity.’ What I’ve found to be far more impactful is to take a piece and really live with it for a while, sit with it, talk about it  -- contextualized programing. I’d think that would be a far … [Read more...]

On “Wagnerism” by Alex Ross

In this weekend’s “Wall Street Journal” I review Alex Ross’s important new book “Wagnerism.” I write in part: Great works of art are so powerfully imagined that their intent and expression mold to changing human circumstances. But the operas of Richard Wagner are arguably unique in this regard: No other creative genius in the Western canon so unerringly holds up a mirror to time and place. . . . Thomas Mann’s claim that Wagner “was probably the greatest talent in the entire history of art” cannot be dismissed as hyperbole. Alex … [Read more...]

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