Alex Ross has a brief review of the Eternal Music String Ensemble 70th birthday concert performance of Young's Trio for Strings ("an awesomely strange landscape of slowly shifting tone"). He also comments:
The experience wavered between the unbearable and the transcendent, coming to rest on the latter.
The same comment may also apply to the music of Philip Glass, although more often coming to rest on the former...
It's interesting that even at the age of 2 or 3, I began to get an
intuition about the way to create music. I didn't really start to do it
until 1958, when I wrote the Trio for Strings, which is the first work in the history of music that is completely composed of long sustained tones and silences.
This reminds me of one of those Rob Kapilow lectures on why Mozart is so great:
Things are never as simple as they seem.... The next phrase of music continues elegantly...followed by an astonishing measure of complete silence.
Ok, I'll grant the music is graceful and elegant but after hearing the art of Cage, Young, and Johnson, sorry, "classical" silence like this no longer astonishes.
Although I don't want to cause Fred dismay, in order to re-calibrate my ears for "legacy" music, I'm taking Hucbald's suggestion to focus on Haydn rather than Mozart. And I have yet to decide if I'll attend Kapilow's Stanford program on Copland's Appalachian Spring.
In a recent New York magazine, Alicia Zuckerman interviews Ricky Ian Gordon on his new song cycle, Orpheus and Euridice, written for clarinet and soprano. The composer was struggling as his partner died of AIDS and came up with a middle-of-the-night idea:
I see Todd [Palmer] as Orpheus with his clarinet, and Euridice gets a mysterious virus that steals her from him incrementally.
Gordon is currently working on an opera of The Grapes of Wrath.
Both Gordon’s text and music are couched in an accessible idiom of disarming lyrical directness, a cleverly disguised faux naïveté that always resolves dissonant situations with grace and a sure sense of dramatic effect—the mark of a born theater composer.
Gordon's music is gentle-souled; intense passion, high fury, and deep anguish are not in his delicate vocabulary...My guess is that understatement will enable the piece to age well: As it gets revived time and again, the deep emotionality it supports is likely to become more and more visible.
In doing a little investigation about Adams' (annoying albeit American) use of banjo in his Gnarly Buttons, I found this prognostication in a Fanfare review by Christopher Abbot:
think Adams's true genius lies in pieces like these [Gnarly Buttons and John's Book of Alleged Dances] and Grand Pianola
rather than in the operas or the Chamber Symphony (the Violin Concerto
is an exception -- I think that will endure).
Dunno but after the Doctor Atomic extravaganza (and a run-through of the so serious Varèse), the small-scale works sound refreshing. Moo.
Update: I'm reading Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. I never knew the banjo had West African predecessors. Wald also makes the point of how whites have romanticized blues history; we forget that rural legends like Robert Johnson were basically unknown at the time compared to more polished and professional urban black artists that still get tagged with the "country blues" label e.g. Leroy Carr. (Checking, I see that Carr doesn't even have an entry in Wikipedia. I'll start the stub). Finally, he points out classifications like classical, jazz, country, and blues only became common as a way to market records and that in the early 1900s, musicians were likely to play a variety of styles, even if they only recorded in one. This includes concert pianists who would add arrangements of say, Yankee Doodle Dandy, to their usual repertoire of European concert music. Most interestingly, Wald cites textual evidence canonical bluesman Muddy Waters, early in his career, played such pop songs as Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Deep in the Heart of Texas, and Down by the Riverside.
Twentieth-century music, long the bogey of
classical music's mostly conservative fans, seems finally to be coming
into its own, at least if last night's near sell-out audience at the
Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle is any indication.
Those who might anticipate the visionary, cutting-edge music of, say,
Charles Ives or Henry Cowell will be disappointed. Rather, it was
Beethoven, Palestrina, J.S. Bach and Boccherini whom Wright favorably
commented on in his writings.
Erikson also mentions a credo written by Wright and set to music by his wife Olgivanna:
I'll live / As I'll work / As I am! / No work in fashion for sham /
Nor to favor forsworn /Wear mask crest or thorn / My work as befitteth
Act 1. The libretto was more coherent and significant the second time, and a result, the act had more dramatic tension. Last time, a "mythic" engineering lab seemed preposterous, even to this engineer-by-training; this time, maybe it could be.
Gerald Finley. Listening to his new Ives CD this week helped me calibrate his baritone, and I enjoyed his performance. Or maybe he just had a better night.
"Oppie." Maybe it was Finley, but this time I actually cared about Oppenheimer as a character.
Love scene. Although still odd in both music and text, the Baudelairean rhapsody clicked.
Batter My Heart. Last time, I liked the way Findley acted. This time, I also liked how he sang. A lot.
Pasqualita. Barely remembered from the first performance (due to operatic sensory overload), this time Beth Clayton's contralto was other-worldly.
Sound. Before, we were row P in the orchestra; last night, I was upstairs in balcony circle. The result? The chorus in particular had more presence and the electronica sounded better integrated. The opening sounds last week gave a ping-pong effect, as if being at a cinema multiplex. Of course, I couldn't see much from the cheap(er) seats. Does Findley actually smoke that cigarette?
Stage: Actually, from the balcony, I noticed for the first time that "ground zero" circle on the stage, where much of the action was centered.
Spouse. Without Laura, it's not as fun. No strangers complimented me on my clothes last night and unlike last time as I excitedly parked, no one asked if I was going to run to the opera house.
Pre-concert lecture. Adams talked more about his other operas and how in all of them, he clearly was aiming for an American response rather than a purely mythological one as in say, Faust or the Greeks. He also was gratified it might be necessary to attend several performances to fully grasp the opera. Finally, he mentioned receiving a letter from the retired director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator that suggested, if I got this right, there is no historical proof to indicate Oppenheimer had, er, marital relations. [Is the SLAC guy wrong given that Lisa Hirsch points out they did have children? Is he suggesting "relational disconnect" only occurred during the Trinity Project? Or is he just being, at best, facetious?] Adams said we were free to leave during that scene if it bothered us.
Act 2 libretto. I found this part of the libretto even more tedious. At some point, I quit listening to and reading the text and just waited for the countdown.
The ending. This time, I just felt the horror of the atom bomb. Last time, I felt a breathtaking sense of compassion.
Groves and the Meteorologist. Confused by them the first night, I was annoyed by them the second.
Pre-concert lecture. This time, Adams explicitly described the ending.
While he pointed out one aspect I hadn't comprehended, I wonder if overall, he
weakened its impact. It was like that old presentation saw "tell
them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them
what you just told them." Fine for tech presentations but too explicit for art?
Teller. I understand he's there to advance the story but especially during the second act, I found myself annoyed hearing speculative pessimism about the pending explosion from a government guy a WWII technical authority wearing jeans.
Electronica. The introduction to Act I sounds "Euro avant-gardish" where the rest of the opera sounds contemporarily traditional. The latter is what Adams does best, I suppose. The former, along with the truck, airplane and radio fragments, was superfluous disjoint from the rest of the opera. This from a listener who enjoys John "nihilism" Cage, who thinks organized sound is inherently musical and who bought the new Boards of Canada CD in a harried trip to the Castro before the show.
Chord. The chord at the beginning of Act 2 startled me last time, this time not so much.
Kid: That kid in pajamas strikes such an innocent note.
Da Bomb: Less obtrusive from the balcony although this time it reminded me a bit of a fish with eyes.
Melodic material: I walked to the car with a melody from I Looked through the Ceiling... playing in my head. Not a good sign.
Orchestration: Again, maybe Adams' best use of percussion since the first movement of El Dorado.
Kitty. The line about her motive being loneliness is still vivid but I still don't see Kitty as the Gaia-like humanist that Adams suggests. Are we still disappointed about Lorraine Hunt Lieberson?
Earbox. At the store, people inspected the $99.99 John Adams CD collection but no one bought it.
Orchestra. Sounded fine again, especially the solo instrumental lines. There's a second act string passage that shows Adams is in fact entering a phase of "new complexity," at least relative to the old Adams. He's not likely to turn into Brian Ferneyhough, though.
Target list. The sense of foreboding and doom when they review the potential target list was still powerful, especially when the horns played as they mentioned Hiroshima.
Dance. The Gap Kids were great again, e.g. when a couple of them are carried by the others during Act 2.
Audience. Compared to the Sunday matinee, the Saturday night crowd was older and I
heard more foreign language spoken. The guy next to me dozed off
half-a-dozen times. During some line about the US being a great, honorable nation, somebody laughed. And on the way out, I heard this exchange:
Opera-goer: That's why they call it an experiment. Spouse: You can't have everything.
I don't know if they were speaking of the opera or the country. On the whole, Doctor Atomic was a little better than the first time, even if it is not (yet) the all-encompassing transcendental art we might secretly hope for.
Via tingilinde, Apple and Stanford University combine to present Stanford on iTunes. From the link, click on Open Stanford on iTunes, then from iTunes click on Music, click on the Concerts tab and finally, click on the Get Tracks button. Voila, thirty free downloads of concert music presented at Stanford for the Daniel Pearl concerts including tracks by Mark Applebaum, Virgil Thomson, Mozart et al:
Stanford on iTunes provides university-related audio content via
the iTunes Music Store, Apple’s
popular music jukebox and online music store. Stanford on iTunes gives
alumni and the general public free access to a wide range of Stanford-specific
digital audio content.
Only one Stanford Marching Band track though (and it was sedate)...
Slight listening tonight: a slightly sinister North by Northwest by Bernard Herrmann, a slightly precise Chanticleer performance of William Billing's David's Lamentation and a slightly incisive Aspen Quartet by Burt Goldstein.
Art of the States streams a slightly rural version of David's Lamentation.