Sunday, December 31, 2006

Just call Duckworth Mr. January

One of my favorite composers, William Duckworth, hasn't updated the news on his official web site lately, so I don't know what he's going to be up to during 2007. But I'm pretty sure he's all too aware of how the passage of time puts pressure on today's creative artist. He's serving as the month of January for Spoken Days, a verbal calendar that's apparently an Internet project for artist Jerry King Musser. Duckworth recites "Monday, January 1" and so on, with various audio in the background, including dripping water. Disappointingly, the audio is supplied by Musser, not Duckworth, although Musser's site shows a range of interests and is worth a look.
Cleveland new music highlights

This is the time of the year when the newspapers write end-of-the-year news highlights (I wrote the "Top Ten News Stories" piece for The Sandusky Register) so the Cleveland Plain Dealer's classical music critic Donald Rosenberg weighs in with a roundup of the biggest local classical music news. Some of his items will interest fans of modern classical music.

Rosenberg doesn't mention the Grammy nomination announcement late in the year for Cleveland State pianist Angelin Chang and for the Cleveland Chamber Symphony (see previous post), but he does mention the death of local composer Frederick Koch.

Rosenberg also mentions Kent State University's Halim-El Dabh, under a brief piece headlined, "Opera Circle transcends time." He writes, "The tiny local opera company did a lovely job juxtaposing Mozart's incidental music for 'Thamos, King of Egypt' with an original score by Halim-El Dabh. The result melded the 18th and 21st centuries into an opera of universal delight." (El-Dabh's web site bio explains, "Halim El-Dabh is internationally recognized as Egypt's most important living composer of classical music.")

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Cleveland's Grammy nomination

After I posted the Grammy nominations for best new composition, I went through the comments on my blog and discovered I'd missed something very exciting: The Cleveland Chamber Symphony has been nominated for a Grammy Award! It's for a recording of Messiaen's "Oiseaux Exotiques" (Exotic Birds), made by Cleveland State University pianist Angelin Chang and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. More information here. More on Chang here and also here. The recording is available cheap from the label's web site. List of Grammy nominees in the category here (it's category #100).

Friday, December 29, 2006

Grammy nominations for new works

About: Classical Music lists the Grammy Award nominations for "Best Classical Contemporary Composition."

They are:

-- Boston Concerto, Elliott Carter (Oliver Knussen)
-- Golijov: Ainadamar: Fountain of Tears, Osvaldo Golijov (Robert Spano)
-- The Here and Now, Christopher Theofanidis (Robert Spano)
-- Paul Revere's Ride, David Del Tredici (Robert Spano)
-- A Scotch Bestiary, James MacMillan (James MacMillan)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I'm Stravinsky. Who are you?

A friend of mine, F. Brett Cox, recently directed me to a site which asks a series of questions and purports to tell the visitor which science fiction writer or composer he most resembles. (It also answers pressing questions such as "Which house paint are you?" and "Are you a Republican?") I tried the science fiction quiz first, and it told me I'm "Hal Clement," a writer I've never paid much attention to. I tried the classical composer quiz next, and it told me I'm Igor Stravinsky, who has pretty much been my favorite composer for decades.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

New Ornstein released

Good news for fans of composer Leo Ornstein (such as myself): a new CD of Ornstein's collected works for cello and piano has just been released by New World Records.

Severo Ornstein, the composer's son, reports that it's a "superb recording" which has several works never recorded before.

Mr. Ornstein could be accused of bias, but his recommendation is good enough for me. He recommended the piano quintet to me as one of his father's best works. I've been listening a lot lately to the recording of the quintet made by Janice Weber and the Lydian String Quartet and it's a great record.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Brouwer: Cleveland, New York, Columbus

Composer Margaret Brouwer's calendar on her official site reports performances early next year in New York, Columbus and Cleveland, including two premieres of new works. The Cleveland performances, March 28 through April 1, will offer a new violin concerto. I have information about the dates in my Cleveland calendar.

Monday, December 18, 2006

William Duckworth revealed

I few days ago, I mentioned I had discovered William Duckworth by listening to a piece called "Mysterious Numbers" on an album by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. Not that I'm a music expert, but it was interesting to hear such a wonderful piece by someone I'd never heard of. I tried to find out more about him but had trouble finding useful information on the Internet.

I finally found a weblog posting by composer and critic Kyle Gann provides useful insight into Duckworth's music and a handy list of works to look for. (I downloaded the "Time Curve Preludes" from Emusic a few days ago, and it's just as great as Gann says it is.) Here's a key quote from Gann's posting: "If there is any composer from the 1980s and '90s whose music is sturdy, enduring, and universal enough to go into the standard repertoire, it is Duckworth's."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rosenberg's modern Top 35

Donald Rosenberg, the classical music critic and correspondent for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, gets the cover of the arts section Sunday with a primer on classical music, an article about the "beloved staples" which form the foundation of classical music. The headline graphic lists the usual suspects -- Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach.

The big shock is when you turn the page and see a huge graphic accompanying the article listing Rosenberg's picks for a representative sampling of the repertoire. Rosenberg lists just three works from the Baroque period and only four from the Classical period. The Romantic period lists 19 works, but for the 20th Century, Rosenberg lists 35 separate composers and works, including Ligeti, Lutoslawski, and Messiaen. It's a really impressive effort on Rosenberg's part to educate readers about modern music. Subversive, almost.

Of course, the fun part about such lists is being able to argue with them. I would have dropped Charles Ives from the starting lineup and inserted Arvo Part, with perhaps "Tabula Rasa" as the representative work. But Rosenberg's list is really well done. The list of recordings is heavy on Cleveland Orchestra efforts, but it's kind of hard to quarrel with his choices, such as Pierre Boulez conducting Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."

I checked out Margaret Brouwer's "Light" CD from the library recently -- she is possibly Cleveland's most significant composer -- and noticed that Rosenberg penned the liner notes for the album.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

David Byrne, neurological theorist

The latest Richard Powers novel, "The Echo Maker," which just nabbed a National Book Award, has a scene in a noisy bar with two characters, Gerald Weber, a neuroscientist and author, and Barbara Gillespie, a hospital aide.

"She leaned across the table and shouted into his ear, " 'You may ask yourself, how did I get here?' "
"How's that?"
She looked at him, checking if he was serious. "Nothing. Talkin' bout my generation." (Page 322).

The reference is to a particularly brilliant Talking Heads song, "Once in a Lifetime," about the shock of looking at the world with new eyes, pretty much the theme of Powers' book. The song has lines like "How did I get here?" and "How did I get this beautiful wife?" Gillespie is a woman in her 40s, mysteriously well-read and well-informed for an ordinary hospital aide. No doubt she remembers the cool video on MTV. Of course, her comment also references the famous Who song, "My Generation."

Powers is a classical music expert but references to rock music don't pop up often in his works, so I wondered if the exchange in the book came from a real-life exchange he had with someone.

The modern classical music connection (you knew there would be one, didn't you?) is that Powers teaches writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also the home of a talented composer named Stephen Andrew Taylor (tantalizing sound samples from "Seven Memorials" here, but no CD yet).

Taylor says he hopes "to be collaborating with him [Powers] on a
quasi-operatic project sometime this year."

Monday, December 11, 2006

William Duckworth

I've been listening to an album by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony called "The New American Scene III." The album overall is pretty good, but the real surprise for me was a piece about 20 minutes long called "Mysterious Numbers," a composition in three movements by a guy named William Duckworth. (My wife heard it and asked me, puzzled, if it was "Rhapsody in Blue," if that gives you an idea of the work's charm.) Has anyone else noticed this dude? What else should I hunt up? Cathedral, his "work of music and art for the web," is here.

Addendum: Steve Layton suggests an album on Emusic, "The Time Curve Preludes"; Robert Gable at aworks recommends hunting up a copy of a piece called "Imaginary Dances."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Copland great? Oh, I guess so ....

Cleveland area composer Jeffrey Quick weighs in on whether Aaron Copland is the Great American composer and offers a mixed endorsement. Excerpt: "Personally, I have reservations about Copland's music. It doesn't have the emotional range I like, he couldn't write a good solid tutti, I can't think of a memorable Copland tune that he didn't steal. But there's so much good stuff happening there that yeah, we can cede the title."

I happened upon Quick by listening to a WCLV radio show, "Not the Dead White Male Composers Hour," which broadcasts music by Cleveland composers every Sunday night at 9 p.m.; his "Divertimento in C" caught my ear. There are no Quick CDs available yet, but the blog has a few podcasts for downloading.
Sergei's cool web site

I've been listening to a lot of Sergei Prokofiev's music lately, and thought I'd pass along a cool site I just discovered: a Prokofiev site which features a great deal of interesting material, including interviews, a long biography and many reviews of CDs. (Apparently Kuchar's version of the complete symphonies is considered quite good, which is fortunate for me because I can download them cheaply from Emusic.)

Last year, when I was on a Beethoven jag, I read a short biography called "Beethoven: The Universal Composer" by Edmund Morris. It seems to me if there were a "universal composer" for the 20th century, he would be Prokofiev -- melodic enough for traditionalists, yet interesting enough to catch the attention of modernists.

Monday, December 04, 2006

New Brouwer piece to debut next year

CityMusic Cleveland, a chamber orchestra that performs free concerts in the Cleveland area, will debut a violin concerto by composer Margaret Brouwer in a series of concerts scheduled for March 28 through April 1 next year.

Brouwer is quickly becoming one of my favorite composers, difficult to categorize easily and always interesting. Lately, I've been listening a lot to her and to Leo Ornstein and Igor Stravinsky. Two recent albums make much of her music available. A Naxos release issued early this year, "Aurolucent Circles," is a collection of orchestral music. It's also available on Emusic. "Light," on New World Records, is an anthology of her chamber music.