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.

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.

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.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Happy birthday, Shostakovich

Today marks the birthday of Dmitry Shostakovich. NPR marked the occasion with a feature on "Morning Edition," tied to essays on its main web site. Meanwhile, the essential Arts and Letters Daily has a roundup of articles in publications such as the Los Angeles Times and Moscow Times.
Malcolm Arnold dies

British composer Malcolm Arnold is dead at 84. Obituaries are noting his "unfashionable tonality," as the New York Times puts it, and the fact he won an Oscar for writing the soundtrack for "The Bridge Over the River Kwai."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Beatle Paul's new classical album

Paul McCartney's latest classical music work, "Ecce Cor Meum," will be released Tuesday. Early reviews for Paul's fourth classical release have generally been good. Jason Newman of the Associated Press writes, "Where past efforts seemed disjointed and scattershot, 'Ecce' revels in its majestic fluidity within, and between, movements and is beautiful scored for choir and orchestra." Newman also says it is "a mature, stunning piece of work."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Free music: Steve Coleman's "Alternate Dimension"

On the theory that listeners who enjoy modern classical music also might be open to avant garde jazz, I wanted to let you know that one of Steve Coleman's albums is an Internet-only release, available as a free download. I enjoy Alternate Dimension Series One and listen to it quite often. Many of Coleman's other albums also are available as a free download.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Review: Hakan Hardenberger plays three trumpet concertos

Hakan Hardenberger, Gruber, Eotvos, Turnage, Deutsche Grammaphone

The Week magazine, which does a rather good job of running reviews of modern classical recordings, quotes three reviews of a new album of modern trumpet concertos, and all three reviews give the album good marks. The good notices come from newspapers in the United States, England and Ireland. Michael Dervan in the Dublin "Irish Times" writes, "This single disc may well contain more viable trumpet concertos than the entire 19th century managed to yield up."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

He's got a little list

Emusic is a great resource, because it sells music cheap and provides recommendations from experts on many different kinds of music -- including modern classical music. See, for example, a list of Hip Classical Music compiled by critic John Schaefer which includes music composed by Arvo Part, Steve Reich, John Adams and other moderns.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Glass, Bolcom works premiere

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that a new $200 million concert hall debuted in Orange County, Calif., over the weekend with performances of new works by Philip Glass and William Bolcom.

The dispatch by the Union-Tribune's arts editor, James Chute, says the Pacific Symphony's performance of Glass' "The Passion of Ramakrishna" was met by "Absolute silence. And then a thunderous ovation began."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Look to Internet for our radio stations

The other day when I was hanging out in the electronics section of Target, I looked at brochures for the two satellite radio services, Sirius and XM. Both offer nearly-identical classical music channels: A mainstream channel, one focusing on vocals, and "pops" broadcast. None offer a modern classical music channel.

So it's obviously important to support the Internet radio stations which offer contemporary music. I've included a link on this site to the Contemporary Classical Internet radio station. See also Modern Times Music.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

John Adams: Read all about me

Composer John Adams is promoting the release of "The John Adams Reader: Essential Writings on an American Composer" edited by Thomas May. The book includes essays, critical articles and interviews. Details here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

News: We add the Pulitzer Prizes

We've just added links to a list of Pulitzer Prize winners for music. We'll be adding other useful links as they come to our attention.

In case you missed it, Yehudi Wyner won this year for his piano concerto, "Chiavi in Mano."

Friday, September 15, 2006

News: Gloria Cheng live in LA

One of my favorite artists, pianist Gloria Cheng, will star in a concert recital in Los Angeles Tuesday. Modern works are prominent on the program, as they usually are when Cheng takes the stage. Details available here .

Cheng has released three solo albums, available at Amazon and other such venues.
Free Music: Tim Crowley

Yeah, I know you've never heard of him, but I went to a concert of Crowley's compositions several years ago at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and I enjoyed it. The first half of the show was Crowley's computer music, followed by a choral piece.

I remember that the music dean praised Crowley's compositions and the dean's stunningly beautiful daughter was one of the singers. Despite this supportive creative atmosphere, the young composer left Cameron (where he was an assistant professor) and went to Fort Hays State University in Kansas (where he is a full professor.)

Crowley's personal web page with downloadable Windows Media and Real Player files of his music is available here

The files don't have a lot of tags and I had to add "Tim Crowley" as the artist tag to my copy of "Canonic Dances" to get it show up on my MP3 player.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Review: Early and late Elliott Carter

CARTER: Piano Concerto / Symphony No 1 / Holiday Overture. Mark Wait, piano. Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Kenneth Schermerhorn, conductor. Naxos, 2004.

Most albums try to present a consistent program of similar music. This album has a really weird mix -- two tonal pieces which sound like Aaron Copland, along with the very modern, atonal piano concerto.

The symphony (1942) and overture (1944) is very early Carter, written in a style he later disparaged as "a masquerade in a bomb shelter."

Yeah, well, all I know is he wrote really good masquerade in a bomb shelter music. The symphony is shamelessly enjoyable, and I like the overture only a little less. The Nashville Symphony and Schermerhorn should be commended for excavating those early pieces and making them available.

The piano concerto (1965) is very modern, but the sounds are interesting and dramatic, if not melodic. It's been growing on me each time I listen to it.

Consumer alert: The album is available at The cheapest plan there is 40 tracks for $10. That works out to 25 cents a track. There are six tracks on this album, so you get a pretty good recording for $1.50.

Addendum: I've been listening to the piano concerto more and more, and I like it. It's like Stravinsky, with the melodies removed but the tone colors emphasized. I'm going to look for more of Carter's modernist work.