Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ei yi yi

Only effing Norman Lebrecht could describe Elliott carter's Cello Concerto as "phlegmatic." In his review of Alisa Weilerstein's recording, he plays the old saw that the performer is solely responsible for breathing life into a lifeless work — as if anyone could. Idiot. Charles Rosen liked to tell the story about the time he played "Night Fantasies" in Toronto. A critic who reviewed the performance hated the piece, Rosen said, and said any emotion in the piece was the result of the way Rosen played it. Rosen's comment on the episode is that one cannot put emotion into a work if it isn't there.

Why do we bother?

This morning I listened to Marvin Rosen's last broadcast of "Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde," which only made me realize how much I'm going to miss it. Interestingly, he played nothing that I would call atonal, which is what I think of when I think of avant-garde. There was nothing from the Carter-Boulez-Babbitt school of composition, if it can be called a school — which is fine, I guess. As I've said, I don't need Marvin to get my fix of that sort of stuff, and he did widen my outlook a bit, even in his final moments on the air. Best pieces, from my point of view, were by Crumb, Cage, Takemitsu, and Terterian, who turned out to be the discovery of the day. I had not heard of him before. Marvin also programmed a 38-second waltz for guitar that Frank Zappa wrote when he was about sixteen. It was a student piece, with none of the brash creativity he became famous for.

And I have decided I can live without John Zorn. Clever, but what's the point?

Relevant Tones on WFMT

This was sent to me yesterday in reponse to my post about the cancelation of "Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde." While I applaud the programing of modern music in all its forms, few of the shows listed below fill the gap for me. For the most part, this show seems closer to Marvin's regular "Classical Discoveries" program than the avant-garde edition. 

Hi Joe,

I came across your blog entry on Liberated Dissonance via Sequenza 21, and while I am disappointed to hear about Marvin Rosen's show being canceled, I did want to let you know that contemporary music on major broadcast stations is alive and well over at WFMT in Chicago. I produce a weekly program called "Relevant Tones" that celebrates the accomplishments of contemporary composers… here are some of the shows we've featured in the last year:
11-01: Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony
11-02: The Modern Piano
11-03: Improvising
11-04: George Flynn
11-05: Composers inspired by Radiohead
11-06: Mystical Minimalists, Part 1: Arvo Pärt
11-07: Mystical Minimalists, Part 2: John Taverner
12-03: Mystical Minimalists, Part 3: Henryck Gorecki
12-01: eighth blackbird
12-02: Gabriel Prokofiev
12-04: JacobTV/Fulcrum Point
12-05: Electric Guitar
12-06: CD Grab Bag
12-07: Gabriela Lena Frank
12-08: Chicago Composers' Orchestra
12-09: Doug Cuomo & Arjuna's Dilemma
12-10: Remixes
12-11: ACM Weekly Readings
12-12: Boulez's Notations
12-13: Lincoln Trio Live
12-14: Spectral Music
12-15: Bang on a Can, Part I
12-16: Bang on a Can, Part II
12-17: Bang on a Can, Part III
12-18: Starting from Scratch
12-19: Thirsty Ear Festival (live)
12-21: Anna Clyne
12-22: John Cage & Third Coast Percussion
12-24: Fall Season Preview
12-25: Just Intonation
12-26: Atlanta School
12-27: 60x60 Electronic Music live request show
12-28: Lisa Bielawa
12-29: Maya Beiser
12-32: George Flynn special, Part I
12-34: George Flynn special, Part II
12-35: dal niente
12-36: Aaron Jay Kernis
12-37: Xmas Grab Bag
12-38: Robert Lombardo
13-01: Haitian Composers/Crossing Borders Music Collective
13-02: Eve Beglarian 
13-04: Esa-Pekka Salonen
We've received nothing but positive feedback and encouragement from our listeners, so it gives me hope for contemporary music programmers in other markets. I hope you might be able to tune in sometime-- the program airs Saturdays at 5 PM Central on 98.7WFMT in Chicago and streaming via

With Kindest Regards,

Jesse McQuarters

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another avenue closes

Marvin Rosen, host of "Classical Discoveries" on WPRB Princeton, announced a few days ago has announced January 23 that the avant-garde edition of his program has been canceled. The last broadcast is scheduled for this Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

I spoke with Marvin by phone Friday evening, and he said that a student DJ wanted the time slot, and since 'PRB is a student-run station, students take precedence over adults and other outsiders in programing decisions.

"Basically, that was the reason I was given. Students get first crack," he told me. "I don’t know if you know this, but I need to apply for my show three times a year." Marvin will continue to host the regular edition of "Classical Discoveries" Wednesdays from 5:30 to 11 a.m., but he said he has no intention of combining formats or inserting and any token avant-garde or electronic pieces into his show. He tried it once before and received nothing but complaints, he said. For better or worse, "Classical Discoveries" and "Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde" are two different programs with two different audiences.

The avant-garde program was canceled once before, he said, and eventually came back. It might come back a second time, but for the moment, I am disappointed and sad, and I am sure other fans of modernist music are, too. Marvin is the only radio personality I can name who regularly programed modernist music, and while he is a wonderful man and the most engaging personality at the station, I must confess I find much of the music he plays on "Classical Discoveries" somewhat dreary. I like my modern music to sound modern. I don't care for pastiche, and I'd rather listen to Debussy than to some kid who is trying a little too hard to sound like Debussy because he can't think of anything else to write.

Of course, I appeared on the avant-garde edition of the show last July when Marvin and I discussed and played the music of Elliott Carter. It doesn't look as I'll be on the air with him again anytime soon. Not that I thought I would be, and I certanly don't need WPRB to hear Carter or any of my other favorite composers, but Marvin introduced me and his other listeners to the music of many younger composers whose names we would never have known without him. How many more will we never hear of now?

One source of encouragement — Marvin has received many expressions of support on his Facebook page.

“It’s gone crazy,” he said. “People are reacting. They think it stinks.” It does indeed, but Marvin remains loyal to the station that has given him so much airtime. .

“I can do what I want,” he said. “This is priceless. No one [else] would let me do a 24-hours music marathon.”.

Another source of encouragement: Marvin promises the show will go out with a bang.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

David Schiff on Elliott Carter

David Schiff's personal reminiscence of the early years of his relationship with Elliott Carter has just been printed online at The Nation, and can be read here. The piece focuses on the Cleveland Orchestra's performance, under Boulez, of Carter's Concerto for Orchestra. Schiff attended the rehearsals. I was particularly impressed by his description of Carter's calm demeanor in the face of the musicians' hostility.

At one point, Schiff says that 40 years after premiering the work, he NY Philharmonic has yet to revive it. I don't think that's quite true. The NYPO did play it again, under Boulez, in the mid-70s, and a fine — one might even say legendary — recording exists. It's available from the orchestra in a six-CD box set of American music. Perhaps Schiff means the orchestra has not revived the work since the seventies.

In any event, I envy Schiff his life and his talent, but then I envy everyone's life and talent.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I am very sorry I missed this

A concert in memory of Elliott Carter was presented in Greenwich Village Sunday. Unfortunately, I had to work. I would have especially enjoyed hearing the Quintet for Piano and String Quartet and seeing the many Carter hands I have met and befriended over the years. It might be the last time for many years they are all gathered in the same place.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Anyone want to play Charles Ives on stage?

The following announcement showed up in my email this week:

Charles Ives Take Me Home – Equity Principal Auditions
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Category: Performer

Written by: Jessica Dickey
Directed by: Daniella Topol
Artistic Director: David Van Asselt
First Rehearsal: 4/29/13. RUNS: 5/29 – 6/13/13

When a father's love of music clashes with his daughter's passion for basketball, modernist composer Charles Ives is the perfect referee. Charles Ives Take Me Home is a comedic and poignant story of dissonance, defense, and devotion.

CHARLES IVES: The modernist composer. Well into the latest years of his life, but full of enthusiasm and mischief and humor and mental acumen. Deeply subversive and humanist.

COACH LAURA STARR: 30s. Slightly butch, geeky, high school basketball coach. Takes the game very seriously. Great dribbling skills. Tough and vulnerable.

JOHN STARR: 50s. A talented violinist. Strict, patriarchal, devoted to his music, a cold father. Resentful of sports.

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

Audition Information
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
9:30 AM — 5:30 PM
Lunch from 1 - 2.
At the Actors' Equity Audition Center
165 West 46th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY
Notes/What to bring:
Please prepare a contemporary dramatic monologue under 2 minutes.
Bring picture and resume, stapled together.

I would love to play Ives, although I haven't acted in 20 years, and I would probably be a much better fit for the role of John Starr. I am also not a member of Actors' Equity. I also want to get in touch with Jessica Dickey, the playwright, about this project. I have only one request of her: Please make sure that whoever you cast gets the voice right. Charles Ives was a softspoken New Englander, not a crusty old coot. Joe

We don't need the Times' approval

On his blog at the New York Times, William Ferguson has posted a reply to New Yorker critic Alex Ross, who was apparently angry that Elliott Carter was not included in some year-end, postmortem Web mix called "The Music They Made." My advice to Ross would be to forget it. Neither he nor Elliott Carter requires the approval of the New York Times. And neither do I. I had not heard of Ferguson, but reading his post, titled "Why Elliott Carter Wasn’t in ‘The Music They Made,'" I have to say that he strikes me as something of a patronizing twit.

Ferguson says he admires Ross (though more for what he has had to say about Radio Head than anything he's written about classical music), and yet, he says, Ross and other classical critics "have missed the point." And the point, apparently, is that a musician who has died in the past year does not merit Ferguson's attention unless he or she has somehow influenced the popular culture. I get the impression that even the great Ravi Shankar would not have made the list if he had not been adopted by George Harrison like some sort of pound puppy.

We have come a long way from the days when the New York Times ignored pop culture. Now it ignores serious culture, because, the argument goes, serious culture is no longer mainstream. Imagine — Elliott Carter, one of the great composers of the century, is not "mainstream, “despite the appearance of his music on programs the world over. Neither, I imagine, is Charles Rosen, who died not long after Carter did and who performed the most mainstream classical music imaginable. In Ferguson's epistemological universe, intrinsic achievement counts for nothing. What counts is public relations — how well something penetrated the media consciousness.

I was reminded of Pauline Kael's reply to listeners of KPFA who asked her why she did not like or review more so-called "name" pictures:

"How completely has mass culture subverted even the role of the critic," she wrote, "when listeners suggest that because the movies a critic reviews favorably are unpopular ad hard to find, that the critic must be playing some snobbish game with himself and the public? ... You consider it rather 'suspect' that I don't praise more 'name' movies. Well, what makes a name movie is simply a saturation advertising campaign, the same kind of campaign that puts samples of liquid detergents at your door. The 'name pictures of Hollywood are made the same way they are sold: by pretesting the various ingredients, removing all possible elements that might affront the mass audience, adding all possible elements that will titillate the largest number of people."

Not to worry: Ferguson assures us that in the future, he will be open to our suggestions for including dead classical musicians in his year end mix. My response to that is essentially to words. In the first pqalce, as I said, I don't need his approval, and in the second, the offer is too little, too late. Mr. Carter and Mr. Rosen are already dead. That hole cannot be filled by paying attention to less important figures in the years to come.