Thursday, November 30, 2006

Salonen not leaving LA

I have been reading the stories online about Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen accepting a job as the main conductor for the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and wondered if it meant he was leaving his post at the LA Philharmoinic. (Salonen is a friend to modern classical music so his departure would be a real loss). A dispatch in the Los Angeles Times clarifies that Salonen is not leaving LA. "It doesn't affect my work in Los Angeles at all in any way," the story quotes Salonen as saying. "What this means is that I will consolidate my European conducting into one place. Some guest conducting activities in Europe with other orchestras are going to end."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Interview: Contemporary Classical Radio's maestro

This is my exclusive interview with Adrian Koren, the founder and owner of Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

modernclassical: Can you tell me something about yourself, and why
you started the station?

My name is Adrian Koren. I have no background in music, in fact I can
barely carry a tune, altough I am related to the late violinist Isidore
Cohen. But I developed a serious enthusiasm for classical music while in
college, not quite 20 years ago.

Over time, I found that my tastes, in CDs and concerts, were drifting to
less well known repertoire, particularly more recent music. Given a choice
between a concert of all Beethoven works, or a world premiere of something
by Judith Weir, the premiere would win hands down.

I thought it was a shame that there weren't many opportunities for someone
with my tastes to hear a lot of modern classical music. Classical radio
stations have become more conservative, if they survive at all, and of
course concerts tend to focus on standards, with a few modern pieces
thrown in occasionally, which the audience would tolerate out of

I also thought that if listeners had a chance to hear more modern music,
on a regular basis, they might develop more enthusiasm for it.

So one day, I was sitting at my computer (I'm a software developer, so I
spend a lot of time there), when it occured to me that the Internet might
provide a way to present a radio show. Within minutes I had found Live365,
which provided a very easy way to get a station started, and they even
handled the legal/copyright issues. It was a no-brainer: two days later I
launched CCIR. That was 24 October 2003.

modernclassical: What are your policies for what you will play?

I try to be as flexible as possible. I play works written after 1900,
although I sometimes stretch that for early works by important 20th
century composers (e.g., Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, 1899).

Stylistically I am wide open. I've got complex music like Wuorinen, more
accessible music like Alan Hovhaness, and some "downtown" rock/classical
hybrid pieces from Bang on a Can. The goal is to have every aspect and
style of classical music of the last 106 years represented on the station.

I often receive discs from composers or small labels looking for exposure.
I'm always happy to give the discs some airplay, and I've found some real

modernclassical: How often do you update the playlist with new

The station is usually updated every weekend. [Note: Playlist updates available here.]

modernclassical: It seems to be what you are doing is kind of important -- there are no commercial radio stations that I know of that concentrate on modern
classical music, and it isn't even offered on satellite radio, as I've
noted on my blog. Do you see yourself as kind of an MTV for modern

I've never thought of the station as being MTV, although I appreciate the

I think Internet radio has the potential to change the way people listen
to music. Because an Internet station is relatively cheap to launch, has
worldwide reach, and is not limited by the number of frequencies, a
hobbyist can launch a niche station without having to worry about
financial viability. Thus, the Live365 catalog is filled with stations
playing formats that couldn't possibly survive in another environment.

"Modern classical music" definitely fits into the "not financially viable"
category, so Internet radio can be a revelation for those who care about
it. There are several Live365 stations playing modern classical music in
addition to my own, many of them even more specialized than mine.
PostClassic Radio, for example, which is run by composer/author Kyle Gann,
focuses on recent American music, especially music associated with New
York's "Downtown" scene. And I would love to see more people launch
classical Internet radio stations with their own personal stamps.

But CCIR has certainly caught on more than I expected, and I'm thrilled
that so many people are listening and discovering new music. I often get
emails saying something like "I'd never heard of composer X until I
listened to your station, now I want to hear more!" And that is why I
launched the station in the first place.

modernclassical: How many people listen to your station?

Live365 measures stations with TLH ("Total Listening Hours"), which is the
total time listeners have listened to the station over the last 30 days.
CCIR has about 11000 TLH at the moment; on a typical weekday, I get about
400 hours of listenership.

I don't know how many individuals are listening to the station, but I do
get listeners from all over the world.

modernclassical: When you program, do you try to "mix it up," for example, do you avoid playing two atonal pieces back to back?

Because the station is continually running, I can't possibly program every
minute by hand. I do some program planning, but much of the time the
playlist is selected by computer.

Now I realized when I started out that just having the computer pull
tracks out of a hat would be very unsatisfying. So I have a script that
tries to "think" in the same way I do when I am planning playlists. Since
"diversity" is the theme of the station, this means that you will rarely
hear two pieces by French composers in a row, or two solo piano works. And
yes (to finally answer your question) it tends not to play a lot of atonal
or avant-garde works in a row.

After a lot of tweaking, I'm pretty happy with the way the script works
now; when I review the playlist each day I usually feel like it did as
good or better than I could have done by hand.

Of course, I also play automatic requests from the website, and when that
happens all of the "rules" go out the window!

modernclassical: You listen to a great deal of contemporary music. Who are your favorite living composers, the people you believe deserve a much wider audience?

It is really difficult to try to rate living composers, especially younger
ones, because typically we only have a couple of hours of recordings to go
on. We have multiple recordings of every scrap that Mozart wrote when he
was 5, but a composer today has to scramble for funding to get a single
disc released by a label like New World, and that could be the composer's
entire recorded legacy. And that just isn't enough to judge someone's
place in history.

So when I thought about the composers that I consider truly great, I
mostly came up with names that have a good recorded legacy and the support
of some major or mid-sized labels: John Adams, Kaija Saariaho, Poul
Ruders, Henri Dutilleux, John Harbison, Giya Kancheli, Christopher Rouse,
Sophia Gubaidulina. (I could go on -- and Ligeti would be at the top of
the list if he were still alive.)

But there are also living composers who might well be considered among the
greats, if only we could hear enough of their music to decide. This list
might include Beth Anderson, Ezra Sims, Judith Weir, Kamran Ince, Noah

And who knows that discoveries await in the next batch of CDs to arrive at
my door?

Friday, November 24, 2006

My William Bolcom article

The Sandusky Register has published a brief article I wrote about composer William Bolcom for, the Register's weekly supplement and Web site, which covers arts and entertainment.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My Kaija Saariaho, Leo Ornstein ringtones

A cool Web site called Mobile17 allows visitors to make free custom ringtones from favorite tunes. I registered on the site and figured out how to make it work, and I now have ringtones from Kaija Saariaho's "Oltra Mar" and Leo Ornstein's "Waltz No. 7" on my phone. The sound quality is not as good as the excellent "Rhapsody in Blue" ringtone I bought a few weeks ago from T-Mobile, but the coolness factor is off the charts.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Copland America's best composer?

Robert Gable has a new post on Aaron Copland at his aworks blog which mainly interests me because it refers back to his earlier post proclaiming Copland as "America's greatest composer."

I want to stew about that a little while. But my first reaction -- other than immense relief he didn't say "Charles Ives" -- is that it's a logical suggestion. Gable said some folks mention Duke Ellington, surely the best jazz composer; I'm rather partial to Gershwin. (I love Stravinsky, but can we really claim him?) Copland's "Third Symphony" is one of my favorite pieces of music, and I also really like the clarinet concerto.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fighting for an audience for classical music

Two recent reports shed light on the vexing problem of how to grow the audience for classical music.

Judith Dobrzynksi wrote a Nov. 4 article in the "Wall Street Journal" highlighting a study by the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation on how to keep orchestras alive in this country. I've linked the study here; Dobrzynski notes the report debunks many current notions on how to help orchestra, such as the idea that free concerts will help.

Here are some highlights from the report's executive summary:

-- "Free programming and outreach do not turn people into ticket buyers. They simply turn them into consumers of free programming."

-- "Traditional audience education efforts – targeted to the uninitiated – generally end up serving those who are most knowledgeable and most involved with orchestras."

-- "There is growing evidence that participatory music education – primarily instrumental lessons, ensemble and choral programs – will turn people into ticket buyers later in life."

-- "There is no evidence that exposure programs for children – especially the large concert format offerings for school children – will turn them into ticket buyers as adults."

-- "To grow their audiences, orchestras need to do more research on those who do not attend their concerts rather than focus on those who are already buying tickets."

-- "Regardless of their aspirations for artistic excellence and prestige nationally and internationally, orchestras must be relevant and of service to their communities and to the people who live there if they hope to find the resources to survive."

The "Washington Post" reports that a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts faults public radio for slashing classical music programming; public radio executives have embraced the idea that news and talk is a better way to rake in money, but the NEA says NPR also has an obligation to provide music commercial radio won't offer. NPR says it will soon begin offering classical music online. I couldn't find a copy of the report at NEA's web site.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bolcom wins National Medal of the Arts

Composer William Bolcom is one of 10 Americans awarded a National Medal of the Arts by President Bush.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Discovering a forgotten master, Leo Ornstein

Lately, one of my favorite albums is "Leo Ornstein: Piano Sonatas," a Naxos disc recorded by pianist Janice Weber.

Ornstein (1893-2002) was a composer and pianist who enjoyed fame early in the century as a modernist composer and as a performer who premiered many modern classical pieces. He largely quit performing in the mid-1920s and opened a music school in Philadelphia in the 1930s, which he operated with his musician wife until 1958. He continued to compose for decades without attempting to attract attention to his work and he was largely forgotten until the 1970s, when the distinguished music historian Vivian Perlis tracked him down.

I had discovered Ornstein through a Gloria Cheng recording, "Piano Dance," a collection of short piano pieces by many different 20th century composers. I was fascinated by Ornstein's "Waltz No. 7." I had no idea who he was. Eventually, I got around to looking for more of his music, and downloaded the Weber album from Emusic.

The Weber recording is a mixture of very modernist pieces such as "Suicide in an Airplane" (written about 1918) and the "Seventh Piano Sonata," written in the 1980s, with very melodic pieces. Other pieces, such as the "Fourth Piano Sonata," are very melodic. What's consistent is the high level of quality of the work. There's always something interesting going on. Some of his other work is available on CD.

More information about Ornstein is available at the official site, which is maintained by Ornstein's son and grandson. The site includes a large library of downloadable MP3 files of his music, including music which isn't available anywhere else.

Weber, by the way, is an interesting person in her own right. She maintains a dual career as a musician with adventurous tastes and a novelist who has published five novels so far with titles such as "Hot Ticket" and "Devil's Food." Some of the novels are about a concert violinist and secret agent named Leslie Frost. In "Hot Ticket," she finds the body of a fellow secret agent after playing the White House. Weber has played the White House, too, and has a photo on her web site to prove it.

Perlis' dramatic story of how she persuaded Ornstein to speak to her and rescued decades of music manuscripts from being eaten by mice in a New Hampshire barn is available here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Torke reveals secret David Gates influence

Modern composer Michael Torke reveals a guilty pleasure in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece about two new compositions, by Torke and Kamran Ince, which will premiere at Present Music's annual Thanksgiving concert. Torke admits that he likes sentimental pop. "People say, 'Oh, you can't be serious,' but I love David Gates of Bread," Torke said. "And The Carpenters -- I love them!" The new Torke is a Christmas oratorio, with the text taken from the King James Gospel of Luke.
The Journal's music critic, Tom Strini, contends that Present Music, a Milwaukee music group, could be "America's most important new-music ensemble." The show advanced by Strini's article will be Friday, Nov. 17, and Sunday, Nov. 19. More information available here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

'General Electric' to be turned on in Washington

Composer D.J. Sparr's "General Electric" will premiere at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 17, at The Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, 1201 17th Street NW in Washington, D.C. The performance will be by The Great Noise Ensemble, a top Washington new music group. It should be interesting; my informant, Darren Zieger, explains that Sparr "has a doctorate in music and two BMI awards to his credit, has a great deal of formal training, but also appreciates 80's guitar riffs." Hey, who doesn't? If you have money, or a sense of humor, or both, be sure to check out Sparr's application for a personal benefactor.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Notes on the links, Part II

I've also recently linked to "aworks :: 'new' american classical music," a blog by Robert Gable which explains "why listening to this music is interesting, important, and maybe even fun." It's an interesting blog and you should check it out.

Mr. Gable's well-designed blog makes it easy to find posts about various topics, so naturally I eagerly looked up what he had to say about Igor Stravinsky, my favorite composer. Mr. Gable writes, "Igor Stravinsky has written no music I actually like..."

This must be some kind of a software bug. I'm sure that what he meant to post was, "I've loved everything Igor Stravinsky ever wrote, without exception."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Notes on the links

I've been adding quite a few links to the site lately, and I thought it would be helpful to explain some of the new ones.

Sequenza21 is an essential blog/web site on new music, written by divers hands. Steve Layton is a Seattle composer and a frequent contributor to Sequenza21 and other blogs. His well-designed personal site contains a large amount of free, downloadable music and has links to many other modern classical sites. New Music reBlog is a kind of news service which frequently reposts items from other modern classical blogs. It's done by Jeff Harrington, who is also a composer. I was surprised to see who it was, because I already had one of his pieces on my MP3 player. One of the tracks on Steve Layton's album on eMusic, "Different Light, Same Window," is a Harrington piece called "DeltaBandResonator."
Teachout: The case for Malcolm Arnold

Critic Terry Teachout has written a contrarian piece for "Commentary" which argues that the late Malcolm Arnold, who died in September, has been wrongly overlooked by critics and listeners. Teachout's conclusion: "...of all the many composers to whose careers the postwar avant-garde laid waste, Arnold may well be the one whose posthumous reputation is destined to soar the highest. Though it was only months ago that I heard his music for the first time, I already feel confident in ranking him with Elgar, Vaughan Williams, William Walton, and Benjamin Britten as one of the greatest English composers of the 20th century."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Alex Ross on Reich

You were probably hoping, gentle blog reader, for yet another posting that mentions Steve Reich. Well, maybe not, but is is too good to miss: An article about Reich by music critic Alex Ross, in a newly-online article.
Bumper sticker composing

Composers of modern classical music can promote their art the American way -- by putting a bumper sticker on their car. A new sticker says "Concert Music. Buy Local. Are You Listening? Commission and play music by local composers. We are all Mozart. More information at" You can read about the project and download a jpeg to make your own sticker here or just follow a link to buy one for $3.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Free show at Oberlin Saturday

If you live in northern Ohio, you don't have to go to the trouble and expense of traveling to New York City to participate in the hoopla over the 70th birthday of famed modern composer Steve Reich. Instead, you can attend a free show by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at Warner Concert Hall on the Oberlin campus. The program includes Reich's "Different Trains." They'll also do two pieces by visiting composer Philip Manoury, so you can join the Manoury hoopla, too. (Confusingly, Philip Manoury and Philippe Manoury are apparently the same person.) The concert also has pieces by Elliott Carter, Maderna and Harvey, so it sounds like an interesting program. Wish I could go, but I have other plans that are too late to cancel.
Duo46 coming to town

Duo46, a husband and wife team that plays modern classical music on violin and guitar, will perform 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, at Guzzetta Recital Hall at the University of Akron campus, as part of the school's Kulas Foundation Concert Series. Tickets are $10 for the general public, free for University of Akron students, and priced somewhere in between for old folks and adults with a University of Akron connection; details here. These folks have played around the world, get good press and specialise in "contemporary, audience-friendly chamber music," the folks at the University of Akron music school say.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bolcom rocks Berea

Composer William Bolcom is being featured in a several-day contemporary music festival at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. I caught the Saturday night concert at the Kulas Musical Arts Building on campus.
The first half of the show was a pleasant, upbeat sampler of Bolcom's Americana, with a brass quintet performance of the "Virtuosity Rag" and two compositions played by the symphonic wind ensemble, "Song for Band" and "Broadside (A Celebration for Winds)." The first half concluded with Bolcom getting an honorary degree, conferred by the college president and the school's composer-in-residence, Loris Chobanian.
The second half was something else again -- a large selection from "Songs of Innocence and Experience," Bolcom's long oratorio based on the poems of William Blake. Bolcom was surprised a small school would attempt the material. A large crowd of student musicians and several music faculty members were squeezed onstage, however, and they delivered an electrifying performance. It was one of the most exciting concerts I've ever attended. The Naxos recording of "Songs" won four Grammy awards. Let's hope the work finds the audience it deserves.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Nordschow: 'Trite' Mozart and the power of music's surface

Over at New Music Box, composer Randy Nordschow climbs down a bit from an earlier post -- "I probably went a little overboard last week when I called Mozart's music downright trite" -- and then offers an interesting assertion: "It seems to me the most important thing that composers should focus on is the outermost layer of musical surface—that visceral sense of what something actually sounds like before our minds have the chance to process it." He asks, "Does anyone know of any newborns who happen to be fans of Milton Babbitt? Just wondering."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Jerry's picks: Arvo Part and a new Maazel

Jerry Bowles over at Sequenza 21 has a useful roundup of recent recordings. The Arvo Part record sounds like a can't miss, and Bowles also convinced me to look for a new Loren Maazel recording on New World Records of orchestral works by Jacob Druckman, Stephen Hartke and Augusta Read Thomas.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

NY Times: New Reich 'radiant...inviting'

The New York Times' Steve Smith reviews
another concert in New York City honoring Steve Reich's 70th birthday, this one by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, led by conductor Grant Gershon. The show includes "Clapping Music" and "Tehillim" and a new work, "You Are (Variations)." Smith says of the latter, "Mr. Gershon’s sharp ensemble revealed the work as one of Mr. Reich’s most radiant, inviting creations." The LA Master Chorale has just released a recording of the work.