Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pittsburgh -- a new music town

While I was in Pittsburgh last weekend, I discovered a program on WQED FM 89.3 at 10 p.m. Saturday night called "Modern Masterpieces." The night I stumbled on it, they were playing compositions by Frederic Rzewski by the group eighth blackbird. I could not find a podcast archive for the show on the station's web site, but listeners can catch the show using streaming audio on Saturday night.

Pittsburgh also is home to the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, which plays modern classical music and has a standing promise that any first time visitors to one of their concerts gets in free.

Addendum: "Modern Masterpieces" is not a local show, but a nationally-syndicated show hosted by Allan Chapman. I can't find a Web site for the show, but a list of stations the show appears on is available here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sequenza21 concert coming up

Sequenza21, the online "contemporary classical music community," has announced a concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, at CUNY in New York. The free concert will feature music from 12 composers, including Jeff Harrington, Mary Jane Leach and Frank Oteri.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Time shifting local radio

If you live in a town of any size, you probably have a local radio station devoted to classical music. And some of these stations will have a program, broadcast probably one day a week, devoted to modern classical music.

These programs are not necessarily offered at a convenient time for listening. In my town, Cleveland, the local station, WCLV, has a program devoted to local composers called "Not the Dead White Male Composer Hour." It runs late Sunday night, after a Christian Science talk program.

If you happen to be listening, many MP3 players with an FM radio tuner included have the ability to record a sound file. But for many people, it will be more convenient to use a "radio VCR" and tape the program for later listening. I use a program called Power Record, available for a reasonable price from Blaze Audio. I taped Sunday's episode of the show, and duly listened to a group of recordings by l ocal composer Delores White.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

All star show honors Steve Reich

The Steve Reich 70th birthday hoopla continues with a review of Carnegie Hall concerts by Allan Kozinn in the New York Times. The performances feature jazz guitarist Pat Metheny and the Kronos Quartet and major works such as "Music for 18 Musicians."
Rzewski a 'hot bootleg'

A posting at Sequenza21 by Jerry Bowles points to a bootleg recording of Frederic Rzewski's "Coming Together." The posting says, "Not available commercially. Rzewski says it’s his favorite recording of the work." Recording is available here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Composers Wernick and Harrison honored

NewMusicBox reports that the Classical Recording Foundation named Richard Wernick "Composer of the Year" at a fifth annual awards ceremony on October 10. NewMusicBox explains, "An influential composer and longtime composition professor at the University of Pennsylvania (1968-1996), Wernick (b. 1932) is the only ever two-time first-prize recipient of the Friedheim Award and was given the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1977 for his composition, Visions of Terror and Wonder, for mezzo-soprano and orchestra." The same source also reports that another composer, Michael Harrison, received the 2006 Classical Recording Foundation Award. Philip Glass was the presenter.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Emusic piles it on

My favorite music downloading site, Emusic, has been aggressively adding modern classical music in the last couple of months. Emusic just added Kaija Saariaho's album "Cinq Reflets de L'Amour de Loin, Nymphea Reflection & Oltra Mar," maybe my favorite of hers so far, and the site suddenly has 13 albums by Michael Torke, up from 2-3 only a few weeks ago. The site also recently added a William Bolcom album I'm listening to as I write this, a Dennis Russell Davies recording of his violin concerto and Fifth Symphony.

One tip if you are using Emusic for modern classical music: Many modern and composers aren't filed in the search engine's classical database for some reason. So if you search for pianist Gloria Cheng under "Classical Performer," they can't find her, but if you search under "Artist," she pops up and you can download her excellent (and hard to find) first album, an all-Messiaen set. Similarly, the site can't find Mary Jane Leach or Steve Layton under "Classical Composer," but if you search for each as "Artist," both pop up.

Incidentally, you can buy Mary Jane Leach's album "Celestial Fires" from Emusic, then download the the liner notes from her official web site.
Crimson lauds Adams' 'Dharma at Big Sur'

The Harvard Crimson reviews the new John Adams two-CD release, "The Dharma at Big
Sur/My Father Knew Charles Ives," with Crimson arts writer Eric W. Lin praising "Dharma" as "what may be Adams' best composition of the past 10 years...." He's not quite as high on the Ives tribute, but concludes the album is "not one to be missed."

Friday, October 20, 2006

NY Times: 'Violet Fire' doesn't burn bright

Steve Smith of the New York Times isn't very enthusiastic about "Violet Fire," a new opera about inventor Nikola Tesla by composer Jon Gibson. (I confess I did not know who Mr. Gibson is, but the piece helpfully explains that he is a longtime member of Philip Glass' ensemble and "his own music has been built on a foundation of early Minimalism.") Mr. Smith finds the music "seldom sufficient to support the weight of Miriam Seidel’s weighty, wordy libretto" and complains about Gibson's "simplistic accompaniment."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Free music: Weixler, Andersen and Sirota

Composer Steve Layton has posted his second "recommended listening" contribution for Sequenza21, listing web sites by modern composers and performers which offer free music files which Layton believes are worth downloading. This time he suggests Andreas Weixler ("a strong interest in integrating digital and visual elements into his work, often in interactive, fluid situations"), Simon Steen Andersen ("pretty virtuostic, with a love for instrumental high-drama")and Nadia Sirota (a violist who likes works by "close contemporaries").
Bolcom comes to town

Cleveland residents will want to know that composer William Bolcom will be featured in three days of concerts set for Nov. 3 through 5 at Baldwin Wallace in Berea. And if you don't live in Ohio, here's a chance to mention that Bolcom's official web site is unusually good, chock-full of information.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Backing up your music collection

America Online is trying to become the next Yahoo by adding free services which will attract visitors and thus advertising. One of its new services is XDrive, a site which offers up to 5 GB of free storage. I've been using it to back up MP3 files of some of my favorite music, CDs that would be hard to immediately replace if they were misplaced or stolen. The site has a built-in media player, so the tunes can be played (or downloaded) at just about any computer in the world. If 5 GB of storage isn't enough, XDrive will be happy to sell you more space.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Radio station adds Adams, Crumb and Wuorinen

Contemporary Classical Internet Radio has added several new works to its playlist: John Adams: The Dharma at Big Sur (Nonesuch), George Crumb: Makrokosmos III: Music for a Summer Evening (Mode), Charles Ives: Symphony No. 4 from Symphonies Vol. 2 (Hyperion), Charles Wuorinen: String Sextet (Naxos),Evan Ziporyn: The Ornate Zither and the Nomad Flute from Frog's Eye (Cantaloupe) and Darius Milhaud: Symphony No. 2, op. 247 from Complete Symphonies (cpo).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Napster unfriendly to classical music

One of the most common ways to buy music at Napster is through a prepaid card, one that allows a customer to buy 15 songs for a card which costs about $15 at electronics stores. The card allows the holder to buy individual tracks, but not an entire album.

This poses a problem for classical music fans, because Napster bans purchases of individual tracks longer than 10 minutes or so -- such tracks can only be purchased as part of an entire album, which can be bought with a credit card but not a Napster card. That means a Napster prepaid download card can rarely be used to download a classical music album track by track, because invariably there's a track or two from a symphony or a suite which lasts longer than 10 minutes. (Pop music songs, of course, usually last only about five minutes or so.) I searched and searched for a classical album I could use my 15-song card to download, and finally found "Michael Torke: 3." I downloaded it, burned it to make a CD, and then discovered one of the tracks was messed up and had about 30 seconds of silence.

I don't think I'll be using Napster to buy classical music. My experience reinforces my opinion that Emusic is the best online service for building up a music collection.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

MacMillan 'never so entertaining'

The Week magazine excerpts reviews of the new James MacMillan album, "A Scotch Bestiary; Piano Concerto No. 2" on the Chandos label. Rick Jones in the London Times says MacMillan "was never so entertaining or provocative as on this disk," while David Patrick Stearns at the Philadelphia Enquirer says MacMillan "regularly pushes boundaries without breaking into modernistic atonality."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Contemporary Classical radio adds new works

Contemporary Classical Internet radio (see link on the side of the page) has posted the new works it's added this week to the playlist. They include John Corigliano: Chaconne from 'The Red Violin' (Naxos), Joaquín Rodrigo: Tres Piezas Españolas from Jérôme Ducharme's Guitar Recital (Naxos), Augusta Read Thomas: Chant for Cello and Piano from Sound Vessels (Centaur), George Antheil: Serenade No. 2 (New World), Shulamit Ran: Private Game (CRI), Martin Bresnick: *** from Opere della Musica Povera (CRI), Luigi Dallapiccola: Due Studi from Elogio per un'ombra (ECM) and Linda Catlin Smith: Diagonal Forms from ArrayLive (Artifact).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cheap CDs from Internet site

I recently joined SwapaCD which requires members to post CDs you are willing to trade with others. It's a great way to get used CDs, cheaper than a brick and mortar store, and with a larger selection. A member gains one credit for initially posting CDs and then gains additional credits as others request your surplus CDs and then report receiving them in the mail. The site also requires members to deposit at least $5; each time a CD is requested, about 50 cents is deducted. I looked through the classical section for modern stuff and found music by composers such as John Adams, Crumb, Corigliano, Glass, Reich, Rorem, Tavener, Torke and others.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

WSJ disses 'Sophie's Choice'

Wall Street Journal opera writer Heidi Waleson criticizes the new opera "Sophie's Choice" by composer Nicholas Maw in a review in Wednesday's Journal (it's a paid site, so I can't link to it.) Waleson says the story is a poor choice for an opera and that the flashbacks work better in the Meryl Street movie than in the opera, which had its premiere last month at the Washington National Opera. Waleson says the music, "while attractive and sometimes dramatic, is more illustrative than gripping."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

John Zorn, genius

Last month, the MacArthur Foundation handed out 25 new $500,000 grants to 25 new MacArthur Fellows. These are the grants commonly known as MacArthur "genius" grants. One of the recipients was composer and musician John Zorn. Past MacArthur Fellows include composers Charles Wuorinen, Milton Babbitt, John Eaton, Osvaldo Golijov, John Harbison, Conlon Noncarrow, George Perle, Ralph Shapey and others.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Free music: New Dave Holland

My favorite jazz musician, Dave Holland, has released a new album by one of his bands, the Dave Holland Quintet. Dave's Web site has three free downloadable MP3 songs from the new album, "Critical Mass."

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Free music: Hirs, Paz and Ingalls

Apparently inaugurating a new feature, the excellent Sequenza21 Web site has a posting from composer Steve Layton listing three sources of free music from contemporary composers Rosalie Hirs ("beautifully poised work, full of play and color") Erel Paz (traditional, but "an idiosyncrasy that I find pretty appealing" and Matt Ingalls ("one of those Bay-Area powerhouses").

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sandow: Sell modern classical to young people

In Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Greg Sandow argues that young people who enjoy edgy rock music are the obvious audience for musicians and record companies that offer modern classical music. Sandow reviews "Warp Works and Contemporary Masters," a two-CD set from the British Warp Records label. One disc, classical arrangements of modern rock, is pretty much a waste of time, Sandow opines, but the disc of music by John Cage, Steve Reich, Gyorgi Ligeti and Karlheinz Stockhausen is "wonderfully worth hearing." A colophon says that Sandow is "writing a book on the future of classical music." That should be worth reading, given the range of Sandow's interests; I had assumed from articles by him that I've seen over the years that Sandow was a rock critic.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Levine promotes new sounds

A Thursday article in the Wall Street Journal by Barbara Jepson about Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor James Levine (it's a paid site so I can't link to it) says that Levine has tried hard to promote modern music, including music by composers such as Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen, although "the rollicking rhythms of the postminimalists have so far not attracted Mr. Levine." The article, citing Boston Globe statistics, says subscription sales were down 9 percent in the 2005-2006 concert season but that single ticket sales from generally younger listeners rose 7 percent.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

New works from Adams, Saariaho

Playbill reports that Carnegie Hall's 2006-2007 season "will feature an unusually high number of commissions: the works of ten established figures (such as John Adams, Kaija Saariaho and Elliott Carter) and ten emerging composers in their 20s and 30s will be premiered throughout the year. The younger composers will be mentored through the Weill Music Institute Professional Training Workshops." The article says the Emerson String Quartet will perform a new quartet by Saariaho, while Adams will mark his 60th birthday by premiering his Doctor Atomic symphony.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Yankee go home

A digital archive of music and film called theEuropean Archive has just been launched. Allegedly it has a large archive of classical music for download, but I can't personally verify that because visitors from the U.S. are blocked from getting access to the music. The site explains, "Due to copyright issues, the items in this category cannot be displayed in your jurisdiction."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Turn your cell phone on

The Chicago Sinfonietta generates some ink and a story on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" with the debut of "Concertino for Cell Phones and Orchestra by David Baker. The Chicago Tribune explains that the audience was invited to participate in the concert.
Happy 70th, Steve Reich

Steve Reich turns 70 later this month, and the New Statesman offers a longish article which notes "he has been dubbed America's - even the world's - greatest living composer." The article's author, Mike Barnes, offers some opinions on Reich vs. Philip Glass and provides a handy brief guide to Reich's most important works.