Monday, December 31, 2012

Marvin Rosen's 21st century marathon

I appeared on Marvin's Rosen's 21st century music marathon on Classical Discoveries Saturday morning. The mp3s of the entire 24 hour-show may be heard here. I show up in the 10:00 - 11:00 hour at about 42:00 minutes, right after a beautiful piece for contrabass flute and recorded whale song by Alex Shapiro. I talk too fast, and too high, and I repeat myself and say "kind of" too often, but at least I make all of the points I intended to make when I walked into the studio.

It was a beautiful winter day in Princeton, with snow falling and outlining the branches of the trees. After leaving WPRB I spent some time at the Princeton Record Exchange and the Labyrinth Bookstore (resisting the temptation to spend money at each). Then I returned to the station, where I met up with Marvin, his wife, Beate, and his other guests, the composers Christanne Lane and Daniel Dorff, and Daniel's significant other, Cindy Broz a flutist. We were all in the booth when Marvin signed off with a public service announcement about the dangers of sleep deprivation. At this point, he has been awake for about 34 hours.

He was more hungry than sleepy, however, and he wanted pasta. At his invitation, the six of us met up again at the Olive Garden on Route 1. I had the minestrone and the linguini marinara, and the portion was so large that I didn't have to eat again until noon the next day. Beate and Cindy carried the converstation while Marvin slowly collapsed into himself like an inflatable lawn ornament. For reasond known only to her, Beate insisted on intermittently taking photos of his deterioration. Perhaps she intends to embarrass him with them later.

In any case, I thank Marvin for having me on his show once again, and for agreeing to play Alisa Weilerstein's recording of the Cello Concerto.

Oh, and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Another Concord

For reasons I won’t go into, the Italian pianist Roberto Ramadori found me online and sent me his recording of Ives's "Concord Sonata." It's an exciting, thoughtful performance, and it was especially refreshing coming after my disappointment in Jeremy Denk's clotted, overpraised version. Where Denk bangs away as though Ives were an American Liszt, Roberto approaches the "Concord" almost like Bach — not in a way that dries it out, but in way that clarifies the textures and equalizes the independent voices. I was especially impressed with his treatment of the Hawthorne movement, which has in general been my least favorite of the four.

The timings are longer than on most other recordings. Roberto brings in the piece at just 12 seconds shy of any hour &# an almost epic duration — and the music only accumulates power as it goes on. I have at least a dozen recordings of the "Concord," and I can see myself spending more and more time with this one.

It is not available in the US, but it can be found at Amazon Italy. At 13 euros, it’s a steal.

The little yellow stripe in the upper corner of the booklet touts this CD as the "first Italian recording." I don't know why that should make any difference. When the first Latvian recording appears, I'll know we've arrived.

Don't forget to tune in to Marvin's Rosen's Classical Discoveries 21st century marathon at 10:30 a.m. EST on Saturday, Dec. 29, when I'll be introducing Carter's Cello Concerto. WPRB is at 103.3 on the FM dial in the Princeton area. The show may also be heard online at

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sleigh Ride Watch

It isn't Christmas until I hear Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," and the season came a little later this year than it usually does. I heard the piece for the first time this year only last week. It was the Carpenters' cover — who knew there was such a thing? — with a treacly background chorus. Yucky, but it counted. I was in the car, driving home from my new job in Norristown, where I work the evening shift. It was after 11 p.m., dark and cold.

I have heard it only once again since then. This time, I was on Route 76, on my way to work. It was the real thing — the original, classic orchestral version with the jazz inflections and the horse neighing at the end. It made me very happy, and anything that can make me happy while I'm driving on Route 76 qualifies as a Christmas miracle.

I had one other holiday treat on the hideous commute yesterday: Beginning at 2 p.m., WRTI broadcast an hour-long program of Anderson's Christmas music, hosted by his son, Kurt, and featuring interviews with the composer (Anderson died in 1975). The playlist included the "Christmas festival," a concert overture, and the suites of carols. It also included Sleigh Ride, but I was parked and in the office before we got to that.

Some interesting parallels between Anderson and Elliot Carter: They were born the same year (1908). They attended Harvard at the same time, though there is no indication they knew each other (Anderson was Class of 1929, Carter Class of 1930). They lived for years within a few miles of each other (Anderson in Woodbury, Conn., Carter in Waccabuc, N.Y.). And each was an accomplished linguist: Carter spoke French and Italian fluently, while Anderson, whose parents were Swedish, was an expert in Scandinavian languages. (During WWII, he was posted in Iceland, where he wrote an Icelandic grammar for US military personnel.) The only real difference is, Anderson has a website. Carter does not.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Word from Conecticut

Of course, when I heard of the shootings in Newtown Friday morning, my first thougyt was, "How far is that from Danbury?" — the only town up there I know or care anything about. Only 12 miles, I learned later. I sent a quick note to Nancy Sudik, the executive director of the Danbury Music Centre, a fellow Ivesian and friend. The note said only, "You're in my thoughts on this terrible day."

"Thank you Joe," she replied. "We're getting through one day at a time. It is horrible beyond words."

Life in Hiding

Saturday I finished reading Salman Rushdie’s Memoir, Joseph Anton, about his life under state protection after the Iranian fatwa of 1989. Zoe Heller has a deliciously mean-spirited review in the New York Review of Books. (It’s been called the hatchet job of the year.) I don’t care to take her on point by point. I’ll just say I found the book much more valuable than she did. Indeed, I found it more valuable than most reviewers have. Yes, he comes off as selfish and short-sighted, but the issues he deals with — the right of an author, or of anyone, to say what’s on his or her mind — are larger than the personal failings of a star-struck hound-dog who likes to drop names. (And boy, does he like to drop names.)

The reviews I’ve read barely mention what is for me the most interesting part of the book — the day-to-day workings of "prot," as the police protecton effort was called. The cops who kept Rushdie alive for ten years are, as a group, much more fun to read about than the author’s big-deal pals from the worlds of literature and entertainment, at least as he presents them here. Almost as interesting are the arguments with the higher-ups in the Metropolitan Police and the intelligence service. Invariably, they want him to stay put, and just as invariably, he wants to lead as normal life as possible — and for a prominent author, “normal” means very public. In these sections, Joseph Anton provides a window into a profession and an existence that most of us, luckily, will never see.

As soon as I put down Rushdie’s book, I picked up John Le CarrĂ©’s Spy Who Came in From the Cold, which I intend to follow with The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. by George Steiner. I mention them only because Rushdie singles out Steiner and especially Le CarrĂ© as two of the so-called liberal authors who gave him a hard time in print during the years of the fatwa.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Once more into the breach

Hi, there: It looks as though I'll be appearing again on Marvin Rosen's radio show on Saturday, Dec. 29. Marvin will be doing a 24-hour marathon on 21st-century music Dec. 28 and 29, and he's invited me on to introduce Alisa Weilerstein's wonderful new recording of Elliott Carter's Cello Concerto - written in 2001, so it qualifies as 21st-century. He is planning to play the piece about 10:30 a.m. I'll only be on for a few minutes. I'm told that during these marathons - scheduled to take advantage of the Christmas break, when all the student DJs are on vacation - Marvin invites previous guests of the show to drop by the studio to keep him company, and to keep him awake. His devotion to the cause of new music is boundless.

For those of you in the Princeton broadcast area, WPRB is at 103.3 on the FM dial. The rest of you may tune in at Marvin also archives his shows temporarily at

Or better yet, just buy the damned CD.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Beethoven is keeping me alive

I started a new job Monday in Norristown. The hours are 3 to 11 p.m., the commute is twice as long as I am used to, and I am still not sure what exactly it is I am supposed to be doing. This week I've been going to be late and sleep late. I have a couple of free hours before heading off to the office, time I spend fluctuating between anxiety and read. It doesn't really feel like leisure time if you're counting the minutes before the long drive. For the past couple of mornings (early afternoons, really), I have been listening to Charles Rosen's recording of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas Op. 31. The second CD of this two-CD set — “The Great Middle Period Sonatas” — will follow tomorrow.

This music has been the only thing that has prevented me from either a) resigning or b) throwing myself under a truck. My gratitude to both of these immortal artists for saving my life. The sonatas and the performance together are an extraordinary affirmation.

And remember, only three more shopping days until Beethoven’s birthday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mr. Carter at 104

Today is the 104th anniversary of the borth of Elliott Carter. Note the change in phrasing. Last year, we observed Mr. Carter's 103rd birthday. He was still celebrating birthdays then, and he would have celebrated another today if he had lives just one more month.

To mark the anniversary, as well as the passing on Sunday of Charles Rosen, I listened to Rosen's recordings of 90+ and the wonderful Piano Sonata from 1945. (Also listened to Rosen's excellent recordings of the Beethoven Sonata Op. 111 and Webern's Variations Op. 27.)

There are several works Mr. Carter wrote in the last few years of his life — some quite significant — that still cry out for commercial recordings, among them In the Distances of Sleep, a Sunbeam's Architecture, the Three Illusions, the Flute Concerto and Nine by Five. Now that the catalog is closed, I am hoping we may all see (or hear) all of it on CD. Bridge, that indispensable label, has already issued eight volumes in its Carter series. Vol. 9 is due, and I'm sure it is being planed, but money, of course, is always a consideration.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Charles Rosen anecdote

In my previous post, I neglected to mention the little story about Charles Rosen that David Carter, Elliott's son, told me when I spoke with him at Tanglewood in 2008. Like me, David has been an avid fan of the Marx Brothers ever since he was a teenager. Once, in the 1950s, not long after Rosen and Elliott Carter had made each other's acquaintance, Carter brought Rosen home and, for some reason, left him alone with David for a little while. An awkward silence ensued, and, to break it, David asked Rosen if he could play stunt piano like Chico Marx.

It turned out Rosen could, and he kept David entertained, shooting the keys, etc., until Elliott came back into the room.

Davis said he was 13 or 14 when this occurred, but Rosen himself has said that he did not meet Elliott Carter until 1956, which would have made David 15 or 16.

First Elliott, now Charles

I have just learned that the pianist Charles Rosen has died in New York City, just one month after the composer he had championed for most of his career, Elliott Carter. He was 85. I last saw him play at Tanglewood in 20008, performing the piano in Carter's Double Concerto opposite Ursula Oppens.

Mr. Rosen was not only a great pianist. He was also one of my favorite writers on music. I have learned more on the subject from The Classical Style than from any comparable text. His short monograph on Arnold Schoenberg is indispensable, and his essays in the New York Review of Books — especially those that followed the header "Charles Rosen responds" — were enlightening and wickedly entertaining.

Lordy, who will save us from Richard Taruskin now?

Marja Kaisla performs at Woodmere

Marja Kaisla played an engaging if lightweight recital yesterday at the Woodmere Art Museum, Chestnut Hill. It was a cozy way to spend a dark, rainy afternoon. The program was split between Rachmaninov and Gershwin. The former was represented by the famous C# minor Prelude and the Corelli Variations, the latter by a selection of songs arrangements and the solo piano version of "Rhapsody in Blue." In her opening remarks, Marja drew a comparison between the two men, who were friends in the 20s, and played sections of the Rhapsody and Rachmaninov's Concerto No. 2 to illustrate the similarities in harmony and melodic treatment. Based on juxtaposition, one would guess there was no difference between the two except the one used jazz rhythms. Marja is an engaging personality and a sensitive interpreter with a mighty technique. I saw her perform the "Emperor" Concerto a couple of years ago, and last night's recital made me wish I could hear her in more substantive repertoire again very soon.

Just to catch up: I neglected to mention the wonderful American program at Arcadia University on Nov. 17. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra played music of Copland (the Clarinet Concerto), Ives (The Third Symphony), and Barber (Adagio for Strings, Knoxville: Summer 1915). The orchestra, under the direction of Allan Scott, seemed rather under-rehearsed in the Ives (and I didn't care for the synthesized church bells at the end), but it shined in "Knoxville" behind soprano Elizabeth Ann Murphy. The Copland was well-played by clarinetist Beth Vilsmeire, but again, the strings seemed a ragged. The concductor, Allan Scott, told me afterward the string writing is quite difficult, requiring a great deal of fast bowing off .

I was also told by the PR that Scott became rather nervous, knowing I would be in the audience. Apparently, he was afraid of what I'd find fault with the Ives Third. The musicians tried to reassure him, saying that most people don't know what to expect when it comes to Ives, but he said something like, "No, this guy knows things normal people don't know."

That pretty much says it all.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Alisa Weilerstein interview

Alisa Weilerstein, who performs Elliott Carter's Cello Concerto on her new CD, will play the other big piece on the disk, the Elgar Concerto, next week with the Philadelphia Orchestra. As a last-minute thing, I got to interview her last Thursday. She spoke to me by phone from Ireland. The article may be seen here. As a bonus, I have included the Carter video at youtube, although Mr. Carter is not really the focus of the piece.