Saturday, December 31, 2011

Got $123.14?

This just in from the Charles Ives Society Newsletter:

The Ives Society Critical Edition of Ives。ッs Symphony No. 4 was published today by Associated Music Publishers (subsidiary of G. Schirmer). This is a landmark publication, among the most important accomplishments of the Ives Society, and made possible by the support of the Maxwell Foundation.

Mvts. 1&2 were premiered in 1927, mvt. 3 in 1933. The whole work was heard for the first time in April 1965. Since then the symphony has been performed hundreds of times, and recorded by at least nine conductors (Stokowski, Farberman, Serebrier, Ozawa, Dohnanyi, Thomas, Karabtchevsky, Adams, Litton, all using problematic performance materials. Under the guidance of Ives Society executive editor James Sinclair, four editors contributed to the new edition. A new performing edition, based on the Critical Edition, is now available for performances. This monumental work will now seem rather easier to rehearse!

You may now pre-order the cloth-bound score (with its attendant CD-ROM) from various locations including where the publication shows a list price of $195.00 and a selling price of $123.14 (shipping starting January 8th).

The hell with that holiday contribution to the SPCA. This is much, much more important.

Musicale for Three

I had a nice afternoon, and it had nothing to do with New Year’s Eve. The young pianist William McNally, a student of Jacob Lateiner and Ursula Oppens, is in Philadelphia this week to audition for Astral Artists. He needed a place to practice, and Renee Goldman lent him her living room and her piano. She also invited me over to listen to him, because one of his audition pieces is Elliott Carter’s rapid-fire “Caténaires.” He played it for us from memory, while I leaned against the far end of the piano and followed the score — or, rather, I tried to follow it. Bill faltered a few times and said he was unhappy with the effort, although he was confident he could work the piece back up before the audition. I on the other hand, was quite happy. It’s a rare day you hear a Carter piece up close in a small room, with the notes thrumming through the instrument and into your hands.

I paid for the treat by going to the market with Renee and carrying the groceries in from her car. It was a small price. As we were leaving through the basement, Bill started up the “Caténaires” again, this time with the metronome on. Speed is 96 to the quarter note, and it doesn’t change throughout the piece, which is unusual for Carter.

Best of luck to you, Bill. And thanks again.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

More on Carter's 103rd

The pianist Charles Rosen has posted his impressions of Elliott Carter's 103rd birthday concert on the New York Review of Book website. The post includes some nifty audio clips recorded at the concert, so you can hear what all the fuss was about. A clip from another new work, Three Explorations, appears at the bottom. The piece, on poems of T.S. Eliot, were premiered at Alice Tully Hall the week after the concert at the 92nd Street Y.

I was happy to see Mr. Rosen expressed reservations about Retracings III for solo trumpet, much as I did. I'm not a critic or a very well-trained musician, but the convergence of our opinions almost makes me think I heard the music as well as he did.

I must say, however, that I found his opening paragraph puzzling. The principal attraction of Mr. Carter's music, for me, has never really been the time issue, and when Mr. Rosen states that it captures perfectly our experience of time in the modern world, I have no idea what he means.

"We do not measure time regularly, like clocks do, but with many differing rates of speed," Mr. Rosen says. "In the complexity of today’s experience, it often seems as if simultaneous events were unfolding with different measures."

It does? I honestly cannot remember ever experiencing time in this way. None of my friends has ever mentioned it, either. The theory of relativity does describe time as elastic, depending on speed and mass, but it's unlikely you will ever witness the effects of relativity firsthand unless you have access to a particle accelerator. If, today, our experience of time differs from that of medieval peasants, it's because we are ruled by it more rigorously and more minutely. Our employers break the workday into fifteen-minute intervals, and we are expected to account for every second. It's the pressure and the tedium that get me, not the complexity.

"These different measures coexist and often blend but are not always rationalized in experience under one central system," Mr. Rosen continues. "We might call this a system of irreconcilable regularities."

We might, but I doubt it.

I had a similar problem with the theorizing in James Wierzbicki's little study of Carter, which reminded me that while the composer's music is often extraordinarily exciting, his musings on the nature of time are much, much less so.

And oh — thanks to my good friend (an occasional commenter here on the blog) EH, who sent me the Nonesuch Carter anthology as a Christmas present. He must have found it on my wish list at Amazon. I was holding off on buying it, since I already have most of the music on individual CDs, but now that it's here, I'll give it up when you pry my cold,dead fingers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Elliott Carter's vocal music

Soprano Tony Arnold has written an informative blog post on the challenges inherent in singing the vocal music of Elliott Carter. Brief as it is, it has implications beyond the ostensible topic and says a lot about Carter's aesthetic in general.

On a side note, I have difficulty reading musicological articles. They can be so technical as to be either confusing or soporific, and frequently they are more about other musicology than about the music itself. Tony's post, written from the standpoint of a teacher and working musician, avoids both pitfalls.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sleigh Ride watch - IV

This from a friend this morning, via email:

Heard on KYW this morning that the most popular Christmas song this year is "Sleighride," the Leroy Anderson classic. They even credited Anderson by name.

The Kinks' "Father Christmas" wasn't even in the top 5.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sleigh Ride watch - III

Thanks to John Baron (no relation) for recommending this version:

This doesn't really count, since I didn't come across it accidentally on radio or int the stores.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sleigh Ride Watch II

Heard the ding-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding version of Sleigh Ride again last week, this time on WRDV, Hatboro — which, incidentally, plays terrific big-band music during the day — and I did hear the announcer name the group. It was the Ronettes, which I think was lurking somewhere in my subconscious. The number appears on an album called "A Christmas Gift for You," released in 1963 and produced by Phil Spector, about whom the less said the better.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Barron centenary

My father, Adam T. Baranowski, was born 100 years ago today, on Dec. 18, 1911. That same year, Stravinsky finished Petrushka and began work on The Rite of Spring, Schoenberg composed Herzgewächse, Nielsen his Third Symphony and Violin Concerto, and Charles Ives had a number of projects in various stages of completion, including the Second String Quartet and the Robert Browning Overture.

Dad would never be aware of any of this. His own musical tastes ran to the Lawrence Welk Show, which to this day I regard as a form of child abuse. Of course, he felt assaulted by my preferences, too, and so the most meaningful way I can remember him today, I think, is to put on a Beatles album, or a Mahler Symphony, and imagine him yelling at me to turn it down.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What is a journalist?

From the great Harry Shearer, who once performed it on his radio program Le Show and emailed it to me on request. It's been sitting in my inbox for six years, and I thought I'd post it because (a) I want to get it out of my inbox and (b) it sums up my chosen profession better than anything I've ever read. For maximum impact, imagine the words are being spoken by Casey Kasem over some sappy inspirational background music. (That's the way Harry did it.)

what is a journalist?

he’s a hard drinking, soft spoken, burn up some shoe leather, sit on
his hiney sort of son of a gun who’s seen it all before, and can’t wait
to see it all again.

a journalist is someone who gets shot at in a war zone so he report
back material that can’t be broadcast because it might be too

a journalist is someone who reads teleprompter better than anybody, and
writes better than the guy who just won the pulitzer.

Journalists like:
a bigger news hole.
free food.

journalists don’t like:
cramped press facilities at major news events.
media whores.

journalists like to know how does it feel, and what’s the mood here
now. journalists don’t like to know how
the social security system really works.

a journalist is often found at news conferences,
presidential visits, crime scenes, hospice vigils, and the sites of
snowfalls. a journalist is seldom found advertising his
services on a website for gay escorts.

journalists sometimes make too much money getting out of the studio too
seldom so they can mingle with other journalists who are resentful
because they never get into the studio at all.

journalists can be anchors, but never
sails. they can be reporters, or just repeaters. a journalist looks
down on celebrities until the day he
becomes one.

a journalist spends too much time covering a story that gets too little
space so it can be skimmed by a reader who has too little time.

journalists can’t resist: miracle puppies. children trapped in wells.
killer bees.
journalists almost always resist: stories with three
or more sides , computer terminals without a nexus
account, angles that might make their colleagues
think they were flaky.
a journalist will fly halfway around the world to
stand where a tsunami took place, and he’ll stand
in freezing rain for two hours to point out that it’s

journalists are more curious than anybody, attacked
by everybody, and lent money by nobody.

a journalist will share a quote, but won’t reveal a source. a
journalist thinks the first amendment is the
only one the founders really meant.

what is a journalist? a journalist is someone who earned pretty good
money telling us what was really going on in the world, until he
realizes he could earn better money by telling us about the social
lives of the people who earn really great money telling us fairy tales
about the world.

a journalist knows: who’s got the best rolodex.
who’s got the best satellite phone circuits.
how much backlight he needs.
a journalist doesn’t know: where to find krygystan in
on a map. where to find the smart people in a small
town. how you’re supposed to fit a five minute story into a 90 second hole.

a journalist is just like the rest of us...except he’s
more tenacious, lazier, sloppier, got better hair,
and does his best work in the comfort of the herd.

what is a journalist? next time you see one, just ask him: how does it

(c) 2005, Century of Progress Productions. All rights reserved

Thursday, December 15, 2011

By golly, that's me!

"Elliott Carter and guests."

Pete Matthews has posted a review and several photos of the Dec. 8 concert at the blog Feast of Music. His camera caught me just at the moment I describe in my own blog post when I bent over and said hello to Mr. Carter.

Thanks for the memento, Pete.

Monday, December 12, 2011

So sue me

From this week's New Yorker:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Overlooked concerts

Performers in the Oct. 29 program of Russian music and poetry, from left: Katarzyna, Tatyana, Inna, and Rollin.

I let my blogging lapse for a while, and I’ve neglected to mention two memorable performances I attended earlier in the fall, both in Philadelphia.

The first was a Russian salon at the Institute for International Culture out on Lancaster Avenue. It took place Oct. 29, on the evening of the first snowfall we’ve had this season, which was appropriate, I think. Tatyana Rashkovsky sang, and Katarzyna Marzec-Salwinski and Rollin Wilber played piano. The music was by a bunch of Russians, including Rimsky, Rachmaninoff, Borodin, Scriabin and a young Boris Pasternak. My friend Inna Lobova-Heasley read Russian poetry from the early 20th century. The room was intimate, the performances committed, but Russian music is Russian music, and there’s only so much of it I can take. Intermission lasted almost an hour as guests consumed potatoes, blini with chives sour cream, caviar (which I avoided), and vodka punch (which I also avoided). I asked Inna how long these Russian soirees were supposed to last.

“Until the vodka runs out,” she said.

The other program was held Nov. 12 at Ravenhill Chapel on the campus of Philadelphia University - another concert Inna did the publicity for. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon. Lyric Fest presented premieres by Maurice Wright, Curt Cacioppo and Allen Krantz. Performers were soprano Elizabeth Weigle, baritone William Sotne, and the Ravenhill String Quartet, which consists of young musicias from the Philadelphia orchestra. The centerpiece of the program was Wright’s “To Kiss the Earth” for baritone and string quartet. The words were taken from the diaries of the Bauhaus potter Marguerite Wildenhain, translated into English by Stone, who was a student of Wildenhain and the motivating force behind setting the diaries to music. All three pieces on the program were well-crafted and attractive, though I can’t say much more about them so long after first hearing.

Wright remembered my earlier blog post criticizing his percussion piece “Movement in Time,” and he graciously gave me a recording of it.

After the concert, Inna, Krantz and I walked over to Suzanne DuPlantis’ home for a reception and buffet dinner. (The spread was as memorable as the concert.) Suzanne, accompanied by Laura Ward at the piano, sang La Vie en Rose and a song by Michael Tilson Thomas about the simple joys of life. The first stanza offered thanks for a wonderful plate of herring, and it made me uncomfortable. I know we should be grateful for our sustenance, but do we really need to rub in our status at the top of the food chain? I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor fish.

So we sat, we talked, we had a nice schmeer.

It’s a clear, cold afternoon, and I’m inside. My bicycle chain broke last Sunday afternoon while I was out riding, forcing me two walk several miles home, and I haven’t bothered to have take it to the shop for repair.

One dead spot

I don't want the enthusastic review I posed yesterday to create the impression I'm completely, imbecilically uncritical when it comes to Elliott Carter's music. There was one piece on Thurday's program that puzzled me: Retracing III, for trumpet. This little fantasy is a transcription of the opening solo from "A Symphony of Three Orchestras" of 1976, with a few pauses added to make it less taxing on the lungs and lips. The original music was written for Gerard Schwartz, who was principal trumpet player of the New York Philharmonic at the time, and on the recording of the Symphony (with Boulez conducting), Schwartz plays with a stunning definition: every note, every phrase is crystal clear. I don't know if the problem Thursday night was with the original piece, the transcription, or Peter Evans's preformance, but the piece seemed, well, blurred. In any event, I was excited before it started, but somewhat deflated when it was over. It was a rare letdown in an exciting evening. (When he was through, Evans sat down to join the ensemble for the Double Trio, and from what I could hear, he was flawless.)

By contrast, Peter Kolkay's performance of Retracing, for bassoon, was a delight. Something about the acoustics of the Kaufmann Hall enhanced the instrument's inherent warmth. And it's a funny, intimate little piece that doesn't try for soaring grandeur.

I can Carter's brief solos becoming favorites of music students everywhere.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Elliott Carter at the 92d Street Y

Elliott Carter with Carol Archer at the Dec. 8 concert. (Richard Termine for the New York Times.)

I met Elliott Carter for the first time thirty-five years ago after a concert of his music at a YMHA in Philadelphia. The musicians onstage included Fred Sherry and Rolfe Schulte.

My most recent meeting with Mr. Carter place Thursday evening after a concert of his music at a YMHA in New York. The musicians onstage included Fred Sherry and Rolfe Schulte.

I’m afraid I’ve fallen into a rut.

But I can’t say Mr. Carter has. Thursday evening’s concert at 92ndStreet Y, presented in celebration of the composer’s 103rd birthday on December 11, was far from a rehash of the his greatest hits. None of the 13 pieces on the bill existed back in 1976, and eight of them have appeared since 2008, when Mr. Carter turned 100. Two world premieres were listed in the printed program, and two more were announced from the stage: “Mnemosyne” for solo violin (named for the mother of the Muses) and “Rigmarole,” a witty little argument for the unlikely combination of cello and bass clarinet, were both completed just last month.

The oldest work on Thursday’s program was the beautiful harp solo “Bariolage,” from 1992, a favorite of mine, played with ravishing intensity by the young Bridget Kibbey.

OK, so he’s told. So what? Longevity is a statistical glitch, a spot on the actuarial bell curve. Mr. Carter’s age and productivity wouldn’t be so remarkable if his recent music wasn’t so good. Now, the sense of celebration and the warm acoustics of the Kaufmann Concert Hall are probably influencing my reaction, but some of the short works at played Thursday’s concert — none was longer than 12 minutes — felt like major statements. “Mnemosyne” sounded to me like a hyperdistillation of the Bach Chaconne, and all during the last piece — “A Sunbeam’s Architecture,” for tenor and chamber orchestra, on poems by E.E. Cummings — I kept thinking of Mahler.

After the performance, audience members and musicians crowded into the little art gallery beside the hall. Mr. Carter sat in a wheelchair, and while a young man in a suit and tie tried to arrange the players around him for a picture, I bent over him and an took his hand.

“I just wanted to say congratulations, and thank you so much,” I said.

“Well, thank you!” he replied with that big smile of his and empahasis on the "you."

And that was all.

Anthony Tomassini has a nice review in today’s New York Times. He calls Mnemosyne “sometimes agitated, sometimes mercurial,” which is odd, because I remember it as meditative. The difference in impression just shows you how we’re all just coming to terms with Mr. Carter’s music.

A shout out and thank you to Karen Yager, who sat next to me in the hall. I had never met her, but she was a knowledgeable and warm-hearted concert companion.

And, in the New York Is Not for Sissies Department: Due to construction, the E train, which I had planned to ride back to Penn Station, was not running after the performance. I didn’t know that until I tried to transfer from the 6 train at 51st Street, and no one I asked had any idea of an alternative route. After peering at the map (which had been scraped white just over the 51st Street interchange), I took the 6 back to 59th Street, transferred to the N, which took me to Times Square, where I caught the 3 back to Penn. My Jersey Transit train was scheduled to leave at 11:06. I got to the station at 11:01. My legs and back were stiff all day Friday from running up and down the steps in Gotham’s underground caverns.

Finally, to the woman I met on the E train platform: if you see this, email me.