Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Carl Nielsen's "Living Music"

At last, I have found a reasonably priced copy of Carl Nielsen's little book Living Music, which has been out of print for what seems like forever. I hope to have more to say about it after I give it a second read (it's only 76 pages), but I was struck by this paragraph, which seems to me prescient from a man who died in 1931:

The rests, then, are just as important as the notes. Often they are far more expressive and appealing to the imagination. For this reason one could wish that many modern composers would confine themselves to rests — but perhaps this is too much to ask.

Hmm. Whom does this remind us of?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More from the Carter symposium

When Elliott Carter died in November, his obituaries mentioned that he finished his last work, Epigrams for string trio, the previous August. At the symposium I attended in New York February 14, however, John Link told me the work was not quite complete as Carter left it. The notes are all there, and five of the twelve short movements are in final form, but seven of them do not have the dynamics or articulations marked. Allen Edwards is currently editing the piece, preparing it for a premiere over the summer, John said. Edwards is placing his additions in brackets, as suggestions. The final product will be a substanital, twelve- to eighteen-minute piece.

This information makes me wonder about the state of Carter's health during the final two months of his life. If he couldn't be bothered to put the finishing touches the score, he must not have been feeling at all well. I emailed John about it and received this reply:

I saw him last at the French Embassy when he was inducted into the Legion of Honor [Sept. 21 - JB] and he was looking a bit wan. I believe his health deteriorated fairly steadily from there, although I do know he was alert until almost the very end of his life. But I think he realized it was time to go.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beethoven's Ninth

The Independence Sinfonia will perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony March 3 at the new arts center at Upper Dublin High School. I might be wrong, but this could very well be the work’s Upper Dublin premiere. I had a nice chat last week with Jerome Rosen, who will conduct. You can read the interview here.

The Sinfonia has been around since the mid-90s, and I'm embarrassed to admit I'd never heard of it before.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Elliott Carter Symposium

A symposium about Elliott Carter was held last Thursday — Valentine's Day — in New York City. I was off that day, and, fearing I'd been spending too much time in my apartment, I drove to Trenton and caught a train to Manhattan. The gathering was held just across Fifth Avenue from the Empire State Building, just two city blocks from Penn Station, in a little space called the Segal Theater. (The building, a former department store, now belongs to the City University of New York.) About twenty Carter fans listened to a panel of experts swap anecdotes and discuss Carterian performance practice. I might have been the only person there who was not a musician, but I must say I felt at home. It's heartening to hang out, if only for a little while, with folks who share one of your greatest enthusiasms.

The panel was moderated by John Link and consisted of the pianists Ursula Oppens and Steve Beck, violinist Rolf Schulte, soprano Lucy Shelton, cellist Carrie Bean, and composer Jason Eckart. Not surprisingly, the oldest members — Oppens, Shelton and especially Schulte — has the most to say, since they had worked with Carter for many years. (I first heard Schulte and Oppens play Carter's Duo in 1976.)

It was all interesting, of course, although, witnessing the affection the performers obviously felt for the composer, my principal impression was of a gentlemanly soul with very strong opinions. Schulte summed up Carter's personality in three points: (1) He was respectful and never “stepped on your toes." (2) He had very clear idea of how he wanted his music to sound, but (3) once he gave you his advice, he backed off and let you go your own way. Schulte contrasted Carter's manner with the week he spent in Budapest playing for Kurtag, which, he said, was the worst week of his life.

There have been many different interpreters and many different interpretations of Carter's music, and the composer was happy with them all, Oppens said, and that knowledge has informed her approach to older music: it’s freed her from the tyranny of her teachers.

I could go on, but I've already passed five hundred words, and I’ll add only a few more observations.

I was tickled that Oppens remembered me by my email address. When John introduced us, the penny suddenly dropped and she explained, "You're Triple Duo!" It is apparently an easy address to remember.

John began the discussion by reading a quotation from the flutist Robert Aitken, who said that for all the attention given to Carter's technique of metrical metrical modulation, the subject never took up a moment of rehersal time. Carter was always more concerned with the expressiveness and the character of his music than with its mechanics.

Schulte told me afterward that Joan Peyser, author of tell-all books on Bernstein and Boulez, once asked him for the dirt on Elliott Carter. He defiantly — and truthfully — told her there wasn't any.

I finally, finally managed to clear up the misconception that the 15-year-old Carter attended the American premiere of the Rite of Spring in 1924. He did not. He attended the New York premiere. When the subject came up, I raised my hand and pointed out the American premiere took place in 1922, under Stokowski, in Philadelphia. One has to stand up for one’s home town.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Headline of the year

We were sitting in the editorial meeting todaty, trying to think of a brief headline — or "hammer" — for the front-page articles on the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI. Our content editor Samantha Gray came up with the prizewinner, which, unfortunately, we couldn't use:

Exit Benedict

Pure genius.

The NY Daily News could get away with it, or the Daily Mail, if it still existed.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

No, I don't pray, but if I did ...

Three members of the Norwegian Parliament have nominated Malala Yousafzai for the Nobel Peace Prize. I do hope the public does not lose interest in this courageous young woman before the next recipient is announced next year. The Nobel Committee would finally redeem itself for Henry Kissinger.