Writing, & al.
The Best of All Possible Worlds: The Philadelphia Orchestra presents Bernstein's "Candide" (Playbill, 1 Apr 2019)
Bernstein was a quintessentially American artist, and in Candide, he produced a quintessentially American work of art. Like the Statue of Liberty, it is of French provenance, based on Voltaire’s 18th-century novella Candide, ou l’Optimiste. So, too, does Bernstein’s score—what he described as a valentine to European music—honor the continental forebears of his art. Its Overture nods to Rossini, and the proceedings are rife with European dances: gavottes, marzurkas, polkas, waltzes. The coloratura of Cunegonde’s aria “Glitter and Be Gay” would not be out of place in a Donizetti opera, while the duet “You Were Dead, You Know” recalls the bel canto duet “Son geloso del zefiro errante” from Bellini’s La sonnambula. But Candide wraps these European traditions in the distinctly American garb of musical theater—“an art,” Bernstein said while hosting the 1956 television special The American Musical Comedy, “that arises out of American roots, out of our speech, our tempo, our moral attitudes, our timing, our kind of humor.”
Thus sprung from its European origins, Candide is a work that entertains, as American politics aspire to entertain, a contest of ideas.
Help Me Help You: What Orchestra Managements Need from the New Music Community (New Music Box, 7 Nov 2018)
Many of us fundamentally assume that homogenous programming results from cowardice and/or lack of imagination on the part of our orchestras. The first step in constructively addressing the problem is to challenge this assumption.
Conversations with Composers: John Luther Adams (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, 2 Apr 2018)
Jeremy Tusz, video producer
In the last of a series of composer conversations I had the opportunity to moderate for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, John Luther Adams discusses the road from rock-n-roll garage band to Pulitzer Prize-winning classical composer and shares insights into Become Ocean.
Presented with support from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music.
65,000 Shades of Van Gogh: Clint Mansell Scores Stylish 'Loving Vincent' (Q2 Music, 4 Oct 2017)
A stylish soundtrack by the English film composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) amplifies the homage to van Gogh. Explaining her practice of leaving flowers daily at van Gogh’s grave, Marguerite Gachet (an intimate of van Gogh’s and the subject of more than one painting) tells Roulin, “He would appreciate the delicate beauty of their bloom.” The same might be said for Mansell’s ethereal vignettes, rife with melancholy piano motifs, hazy string textures, and pulsating rhythms.
Attacca Quartet and the Irrepressible Freshness of Michael Ippolito (Q2 Music, 24 Apr 2017)
The Attacca’s latest release is another portrait disc: Songlines features six works for quartet by the thirty-two-year-old American composer Michael Ippolito. Throughout the disc, the quartet plays with a bright, forward sound, well-suited to Ippolito’s language, luminous and direct.
Rothko and Americana Inspire Orchestral Works of Adam Schoenberg (Q2 Music, 27 Feb 2017)
The Kansas City Symphony has just released an all-Schoenberg album, and it’s unlikely to be anathematic to the orchestra’s subscribers. The album features three works by the American composer Adam Schoenberg. By contrast to his more notorious namesake, Schoenberg possesses a directly approachable compositional idiom, marked by a sweet-toothed tonal language, widely spaced chords, and generous orchestral textures.
yMusic and Son Lux's 'First' (Q2 Music, 13 Feb 2017)
“Crossover” efforts to serve pop-music audiences a classical side have flooded the market over the last decade or so, with questionable effectiveness. But as a refreshing foil to some of the more commercially craven attempts (life’s too short to name names), a cadre of genuinely un-genre-bound, insatiable-eared artists have successfully united the energy of jazz, folk and rock music with the technical rigor of classical composition. At the forefront of this class of musicians since 2008 has been the New York City sextet yMusic.
Kjartan Sveinsson's 'Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen' (Q2 Music, 9 Jan 2017)
The cover art to the Icelandic composer Kjartan Sveinsson’s debut solo album portrays distant waves rolling over rock formations beneath a vast gray sky. The image bespeaks the quiet majesty of Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen, Sveinsson’s four-act opera, conceived in collaboration with the performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson.
Pianist Vicky Chow Cultivates Vast Arsenal of Sound in 'A O R T A' (Q2 Music, 21 Nov 2016)
A O R T A, the latest solo album by pianist Vicky Chow, features music by six composers – Andy Akiho, Christopher Cerrone, Jakub Ciupinski, Jacob Cooper, Molly Joyce, and Daniel Wohl – with whom Chow has enjoyed longstanding collaborative relationships. Fittingly, the album makes an impression as a deeply personal statement from the stalwart proponent for contemporary music. “I wanted to create an album about light, love, emotion and humanity,” Chow says. A O R T Acertainly succeeds in reaching the listener’s heart; even more so, the album titillates the ear with its vast arsenal of sounds.
From Björk to Costello with Anne Sofie von Otter and Brooklyn Rider (Q2 Music, 26 Sep 2016)
Here’s a fun listening exercise: put on the Metropolitan Opera’s 1991 recording of Le nozze di Figaro and drop the needle on Cherubino’s first number, “Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio,” sung by the Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Then cue the opening track of So Many Things, an intriguing new release by Otter and the intrepid string quartet Brooklyn Rider. The album begins with an arrangement of Kate Bush’s “Pi,” and the back-to-back listen is bound to amaze. Otter, who made her acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut nearly two decades ago in the role of Mozart’s oversexed teenager, turns from opera diva to dusky chanteuse with startling ease.
David T. Little Sets Dystopian Excess with Opera 'Dog Days' (Q2 Music, 12 Sep 2016)
David T. Little’s Dog Days, based on a story by Judy Budnitz and setting a libretto by Royce Vavrek, uses a bracing score to psychoanalyze this family’s degeneration. Little grafts pop music, musical theater, industrial electronica, and other influences onto an expansive post-minimalist canvas, creating an opera in turns catchy, kitschy, beautiful and violent. Dog Days poses uncomfortable questions about human nature: how much can the bonds of a desperate family withstand? At our most wretched, what separates us from animals?
'Considering Matthew Shepard' an Ode to Inclusivity and Compassion (Q2 Music, 31 Aug 2016)
Considering Matthew Shepard’s stylistic diversity provides an apt metaphor for the spirit of inclusivity fueled by Shepard’s legacy nearly two decades hence. The work begins and ends on the single word, “All.” The sentiment is clear: the passion of Matthew Shepard is for, and about, us all. In its kaleidoscope of styles, Johnson’s unabashedly sentimental tribute is equally a testament to the oneness of humankind and to the compassion that oneness demands.
New York Philharmonic Records Christopher Rouse, Past Composer-in-Residence (Q2 Music, 30 May 2016)
Some years ago, a student composer observed Alvin Lucier and Christopher Rouse discussing repertoire favorites. Rouse, a celebrated orchestral master, name-checkedCarmina Burana. Lucier, the cerebral artist whose signature work entailed him sitting in a room, sat perplexed.
Alive and Composing: Patrick Castillo (innova Recordings, 4 Apr 2016)
Composer, performer, writer Patrick Castillo talks about his work and his innova album, The Quality of Mercy, with Philip Blackburn.
Young British Generation Impresses in Second 'Panufnik Legacies' (Q2 Music, 28 Mar 2016)
On its heady new release, The Panufnik Legacies II, the London Symphony Orchestra offers music by 18 young British composers (and one elder statesman). The album is the LSO’s second featuring music by composer-alumni of its Panufnik Composers Scheme, a program launched in 2005 in partnership with Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik’s widow, Lady Camilla Panufnik. The Scheme invites six emerging composers each season to compose and workshop new orchestral scores with the LSO. Panufnik, who died in 1991, “worried about how young composers could nowadays attain essential experience with highest level orchestras,” explains Lady Panufnik. “This project fulfills his dream.” From the sound of this new release, conducted by François-Xavier Roth, it appears the Scheme is working splendidly.
Shout (NYC Pride, 1 Jun 2015)
Video by McGann + Zhang; Hyeyeon Park, piano
A sweet little spot for NYC Pride that I got to write some music for.
To kick off Pride month, NYC Pride (The Official NYC LGBT Pride Organizer) produced a video to remind everyone that, while we live in a world where LGBT has become part of the mainstream, there are millions who lived and continue to live in fear of being their true selves. Come out to Pride this year and shout for those who can't.
Jennifer Koh: Bach & Beyond: Part 2 (Cedille Records, 12 May 2015)
Notes on the Program
“Once he had heard a particular theme,” read Johann Sebastian Bach’s Obituary, “he could grasp, as it were instantaneously, almost anything artistic that could be brought forth from it.” This assessment of Bach’s fugal writing, in which a brief melodic subject holds the key to a majestic musical creation, may equally well testify to the brilliant conception of the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. These works, as lyrical as they are virtuosic, demonstrate the same godlike powers of creation by which such fantastical musical realms as The Art of Fugue and The Musical Offering flourish from within extreme constraints. Fueled by what the Obituary identified as his “desire to try every possible artistry,” Bach defies the seeming limitations of writing for violin alone without harmonic accompaniment. From a single melodic instrument, he fashions polyphony and counterpoint, conjures a kaleidoscopic array of characters and textures, and honors numerous formal traditions (church sonatas, dance forms, and, yes, fugue), but reimagines them with such extraordinary vision that these works sound today irrepressibly fresh. Extrapolating Bach’s guiding principle of “all from one and all in one” to the broader historical plane: just as one instrument inspired such a wealth of musical ideas, and just as from an innocuous subject is borne a dizzying fugue, Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas have continued to serve as a definitive point of reference for the violin’s solo repertoire across more than two and a half centuries.
Order Jennifer Koh's Bach & Beyond: Part 2: http://www.cedillerecords.org/albums/bach-and-beyond-part-2
5 Questions to Patrick Castillo (American Composers Forum) (I Care If You Listen, 5 May 2015)
By Arlene & Larry Dunn
Brooklyn-based composer Patrick Castillo is the vice-chair of the board of directors for the American Composers Forum, which has an open call for scores from composers to participate in an artist delegation to the 28th Havana Contemporary Music Festival in November 2015. Castillo attended the Havana festival last year, making him the ideal person to tell us more.
In memoriam Claude Frank (1925–2014) (27 Dec 2014)
My conversations with Mr. Frank about Beethoven and Schubert were, without exaggeration, among the greatest privileges of my life. Here's a brief word on the Schubert B-flat Sonata from the brilliant artist and beautiful human being we lost today.
RIP Claude Frank (1925–2014)
Eight Days in Havana (1 Dec 2014)
In November 2014, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Cuba: ostensibly to attend the Festival de La Habana de Música Contemporánea (Havana Contemporary Music Festival), where two of my chamber works were to be performed—but moreover, por supuesto, to explore a place that remains, for most of us norteamericanos, so shrouded in mystery, in certain ways even vilified, that an entire people, and their breathtakingly rich culture, can feel to us a taboo.
Knowing in what great detail I would want to report back to friends and family, and moreover to freeze-frame each confounding moment for myself, I kept this travelogue throughout my eight days in Havana. It aspires neither to comprehensive cultural nor political commentary, nor to anything beyond one visitor’s experience. It will surely feel both overly verbose and hopelessly inadequate.
Is it time to stop calling classical music 'relaxing'? (WQXR, 1 Oct 2014)
As a postscript to my editorial for Classical MPR lambasting the classical-music-for-relaxation trope, I was invited to debate the topic further on WQXR's "Conducting Business" with Michael Morreale, host of CBC Music's "Serenity Stream."
Beethoven didn't write the Eroica Symphony for your yoga class (Classical Minnesota Public Radio, 16 Sep 2014)
As an advocate and practitioner of the art form, few tropes cause me greater distress than the old saw that classical music is relaxing. So Sheila Regan's recent article listing "Ten times when classical music can help you relax" got my heart rate going molto più mosso, let me tell you. Following Regan's advice, I reached for some Mozart to help settle me down. It didn't work.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Composer Guide (Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Sep 2014)
As seventeenth-century social and cultural traditions gave way to modern Enlightenment values, so too in music did new principles take hold. Following the music of the Baroque period—characterized by an ornate melodic sensibility, intricate counterpoint, and pyrotechnic virtuosity—a new musical aesthetic emerged in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In the Age of Reason, symmetrical, four-bar phrases replaced the biblical polyphony of Bach’s fugal writing; in the part-writing and melodic clarity in Haydn’s chamber music, one could hear the rights of the individual asserted as clearly as in the writings of John Locke.
What has since become known as the Classical style had its patriarch in the aptly nicknamed “Papa” Haydn, but was fully crystallized by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The startling melodic beauty, harmonic and textural clarity, and perfect synthesis of form and expression to be found in Mozart’s music render it the apotheosis of Viennese Classicism.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Composer Guide (Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Sep 2014)
Dear Beethoven. You are going to Vienna in fulfillment of your long-frustrated wishes. The Genius of Mozart is mourning and weeping over the death of her pupil. She has found a refuge but no occupation with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him she wishes to form a union with another. With the help of assiduous labor you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.
These were the prophetic words of Count Ferdinand von Waldstein to Ludwig van Beethoven in 1792, the year after Mozart’s death, as Beethoven departed his native Bonn for the musical capital of the Western world. But even with such lofty expectations, Waldstein, one of Beethoven’s most important patrons, could not have foreseen how prescient his words of farewell would be. Beethoven would indeed inherit the mantle of Haydn and Mozart, then extend the tradition of Viennese Classicism into the nineteenth century, creating music of such imposing power that generations of composers since have not ceased to feel its weight. After Beethoven’s Opus 131 Quartet, Schubert wondered, “what is left for us to write?” Indeed, the entire Romantic era felt paralyzed by the echo of Beethoven’s voice. Brahms famously delayed attempting his First Symphony, explaining when pressed, “You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the footsteps of a giant like Beethoven.” For Igor Stravinsky, Beethoven’s Große Fuge remained, in the twentieth century, “an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever.”
Double Helix: Five new works commissioned by violinist Kristin Lee (15 Apr 2014)
Film by Zac Nicholson
The Passion according to Sebastian Bach (Music@Menlo, 8 Aug 2013)
The final Encounter of the Music@Menlo's 2013 season, "From Bach," exploring the role of spirituality in Bach's life and art.
"Religion represented an all-encompassing dimension of Bach's worldly experience, from the influence of his spirituality on his personal life to that of the church on the course of his career. In his music, too, we encounter the centrality of Bach's faith to his identity. Considering the profound connection between what Bach believed in, who he was, and what he created, Patrick Castillo discusses a quintessential component of Bach's oeuvre: his sacred music, including the cantatas, passions, and other works. In addition, he considers how Bach's worldview, as shaped by his faith, affected his instrumental secular works – and, indeed, his musical identity at large."