Monday, November 26, 2012

Another Carter tribute

This poem has been taking up space on my hard drive since about 2000. Now seems like an approporiate time to share:

Three Dreams About Elliott Carter

My aunt sets out the cookies, and we wait.
The sunlight crawls across the floor. The chair—
The green one near the door— is empty. Late,
A ticking fills the room, then BANG! he’s there
And starts in right away: “I loathe your town.
A worthless, wasted effort getting here.
What music are you playing? Turn it down,
And while you’re on your feet, get me a beer.”
I let him know the composition’s mine —
Encomium for brass and children’s choir.
He doesn’t flinch. “I sacrifice my time,
And that’s the best I’m able to inspire?”
Apollo sniffed, and Orpheus went mad.
I tell my sister, “This guy’s worse than dad.”

the crowd
has left,
he sits
on a
chair. The
rain drips
through a
hole in
the big
tent and
bursts like
on his
“Do you
want to
come with
me?” I
say. “Some-
place dry?
Do you
want … ?” He
at my
touch and
a help-
less and
old man.

I’ve got it now. I know it cold —
The harmonies,
The tempo modulations,
The braided orchestrations.
Outside my bedroom, in the hall,
The newel at his hip,
I tell him everything he’s ever done.

And when I’m through, a silence hits
Like rests beyond a twelve-tone chord.
He looks me in the eye without expression,
Takes one step forward, shakes my hand.
“Goodbye,” he says
And turns and stumps off
         The stairs.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Classical Discoveries, Choristers

To mark the passing of Elliott Carter, Marvin Rosen has reposted the show he and I did on his "Classical Discoveries" radio program July 25. Those of you who missed it first time around can listen here. Those of you who didn't may want to listen again as a sort of memorial.

I hate that photograph, but the music is great, and I didn't embarrass myself too badly druing the interview.

The Chorister will present a wonderful concert of German romantic music this weekend in Upper Dublin, which I have written about. The program includes Brahms's of Liebeslieder Waltzes and three early songs of Richard Strauss sung by tenor David Hobbs. I attended the tryout performance last week in King of Prussia, of all places, and it was well worth the predictably hideous drive up Route 76. It even sustained me when, on the way home, my car broke down on the Roosevelt Expressway. First the radio died, then the headlights, then the engine. I rolled a stop not far from the Old York Road underpass, walked to the Walgreens on North Broad Street (I do not own a cell phone), and called for a tow at about 11:45 p.m. The truck, driven by Craig, my newest hero, arrived at about 12:35 a.m.

Problem was the alternator. Six days and hundreds of dollars in repairs later, my little red car is peppy again. Tomorrow it will, I hope, take me to hear Ives's Third Symphony at Arcadia University.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

More on Elliott's passing

One of the nice things about having a blog is that I get to argue with the New York Times. In the yesterday's obituary of Elliott Carter, Allan Kozinn quotes Harold C. Schonberg's review of the Concerto for Orchestra in 1970: "It may be a tour de force of its kind," Schonberg wrote, " but to me it is essentially uncommunicative, dry and a triumph of technique over spirit."

Because I have this blog, see, I finally get to call the guy an asshole. He's wrong, too. No piece of music in the past 40 years has shown as much spirit as Mr. Carter's Concerto. Yes, it's complex, and daunting, and [insert your cliché here], but it kicks neoromantic ass.

Anthony Tommasini has an appreciation in today's edition. He's much more understanding and insightful than Schonberg (who wouldn’t be?), although still drags out the usual shopworn stuff about “astringent” harmonies. And I disagree with him about the String Quartet No. 3. OK, so the music "unfolds in dizzying thickets of overlapping lines and jittery rhythmic explosions," but, you know, that's what I like about it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Oh, what the heck

My article about the Southeaster Pennsyvania Symphony Orhcestra's upcming American program may be read here. For the print version, we obtained permission from the Yale Music Library to reprint this wonderful photo of Charles and Harmony Ives at Elk Lake, N.Y., c. 1909, and I thought, since I now have the hi-res jpeg on my desktop, I would share it with all of you:

I offer this bit of history as a way to take our minds off the day's sad news, if only for a few moments.

Double click on it an download it for yourselves. There's no copyright.

Elliott Carter dies at 103

At last, this little life could no longer contain him. He required the larger space of history.

Carter's was one of the great lives of our time, longer and more productive than most. He truly used all of the time he was given, which was both an inspiration and a rebuke, and he left a body of work that will nourish me for the rest of my life. There is more here to celebrate than mourn, I suppose, but still, I can't help feeling a little cheated today. When a man lives long enough, I somehow expect him to live forever.

I'll miss Mr. Carter's preconcert talks, the interviews, the birthday festivals. Most of all, I'll miss looking forward to each new composition, and to the surprise and delight each one afforded. The store is now closed. The work is finite.

I'll always be grateful that the last time I spoke with him, at his 103rd birthday concert, was the one time it seemed we really connected. He was smiling and outgoing and seemed genuinely tickled with all the attention he was getting.

By happy coincidence, I recived Alisa Weilerstin's beautiful new recording of Mr. Carter's Cello Concerto the very day he died. I listened to it this morning as I was sending out emails, and I will get basck to it just as soon as I can.

Thanks to Colin Green for sharing this link:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Power Has Been Restored

The last cultural event I attended before sandy blew through town was the Philadelphia Singers’ all-American concert, which was held last Sunday, Oct. 28, at trinity Church, Philadelphia. Conductor was David Hayes. The program included Carter’s two Dickinson settings and Copland’s In the Beginning, as well as Persichetti’s Winter Cantata, which I had not heard before but hope to hear again. I’ve never much cared for Persichetti’s symphonies, but this piece, scored for chorus, flute and marimba, was attractive, in an icy sort of way.

I found the second half of the program somewhat weaker than the first (or maybe, I was just getting tired): Randall Thompson’s Odes of Horace and Morten Lauridsen’s Firesongs struck me as somewhat generic and anonymous, at least compared with the more personal statements of the other composers on the program. It’s hard to stand up to Carter and Copland in the best of times.

The performances were uniformly strong. Alyson Harvey, the soloist in the Copland, was angelic, standing up there in the pulpit, above the rest of the singers. I was most familiar with the Carter (naturally), and I used his music as my benchmark: Hayes & Co. did well by him, and I figured they must have done equally well with the others. Illogical, I know, but we tell ourselves such things to make sense of the world. In any event, I noticed no glitches. “Heart Not So Heavy as Mine” was beautifully done, and the fade out in “Musicians Wrestle Everywhere” made time stand still.

When the concert let out, the storm was on its way, but it wasn’t raining very hard, I walked over to FYI music, which was having a 75-percent-off sale on some classical overstock. Picked up some Schumann lieder (Matthias Goerne and Eric Schneider) and a complete Don Giovanni for twelve dollars all together. I should have listened to the Don Giovanni in the aftermath of the storm, but somehow I never got around to it. My apartment never lost power, but my office did, and I was home for three days.