Sunday, July 16, 2006

PREMIERE://Maxwell Davies' A Little Birthday Music

The firebrand still burns

By Geoffrey Norris
From The Telegraph - 13/07/2006

Once a rebellious avant-gardist, Peter Maxwell Davies has just written a piece to mark the Queen's 80th birthday. But he remains fearlessly outspoken.

In his younger days, Peter Maxwell Davies was the enfant terrible of modern music, challenging our sensibilities and pushing back the boundaries of what was possible in terms of vocal and instrumental technique.
He wrote the score for Ken Russell's lurid, erotic film The Devils. His notorious theatre piece Eight Songs for a Mad King established a brave new world of Expressionist shock in music, graphically portraying the insanity of George III, locked in a cage and uttering piercing screams and half-remembered melodies against a savagely dissonant instrumental background. This was ground-breaking stuff. As a composer, Davies has always been fiercely independent.
Davies is now Sir Peter - and Master of the Queen's Music - but he rejects any suggestion that such accolades signal a softening of attitudes or a collapse into conformity.
He has written a new work to open next Wednesday's BBC Prom, which is to be attended by the Queen as part of her 80th birthday celebrations. With a text by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, A Little Birthday Music is designed, in Davies's words, to speak to the public immediately, though it has been composed "without compromises", he says.
"Looking back at someone I admire, like Mozart", he says, "he could write a Coronation Mass and suit the music to the occasion. I don't think that's compromising; I think it's practicality."
Davies has certainly not become reticent in the two years since his appointment to a post bathed in centuries of royal tradition. If anything, his views have become more trenchant.
"People tend to listen a bit more," he says. "If I sound off about music education, it gets reported. Whether anything happens or not, I don't know.
"The government is not interested in education. I think most members of the government don't see the point of classical music at all. They are only aware of pop music."
Davies acknowledges that he might be swimming against an inexorable tide. But, with the fixation on pop, he insists, "the values of civilisation are being drowned out by dross".
He has no rosier picture of the Opposition benches, either. "There was that awful Desert Island Discs that David Cameron did. The piece he would take to a desert island was some idiotic ditty [by comedian Benny Hill] about a milkman. The book he would take was something by a TV personality cook called Heatheringstall-Whittingham-Something.
"It's terribly sad that a leading politician has to portray himself as an utter idiot with no cultural background whatever."
Suggesting that Davies might be regarded as part of the Establishment would have been unthinkable in his radical years. Now, at the age of 71, it draws at least conditional acceptance.
"I don't mind being a member of the Establishment", he claims, "as long as I can write the music I have to write."
His move to Orkney in the 1970s heralded a new stimulus triggered by the islands' history, folk music and landscape. He still lives and writes there, though he has now moved from Hoy to the even remoter island of Sanday.
"Hoy was becoming flooded with tourists," he says. "Not that the tourists got on my nerves. But you'd go for a walk where previously you'd been entirely alone on a beach or a hilltop, and you'd see people. This is not constructive."
Isolation is an essential component of Davies's creative process. With nobody around, he says, "you can project the structure of what you're working on out of your head and on to the landscape. You're walking through a three-dimensional architecture of your music. You hear the whole thing happening in slow motion, and you can shift things around."
Isolation, however, does not mean detachment. The third of his continuing series of string quartets enshrined his reactions to the invasion of Iraq.
"I think my attitude to Blair and the Iraq war would not make me very popular with a great deal of the Establishment. In fact, I was so disillusioned when the whole of Parliament more or less supported Blair on this idiotic enterprise that I thought, 'This is not democracy.' The British armed forces have been hijacked by a foreign power for purely colonial imperialist purposes. And it is an utter disgrace."
The Master of the Queen's Music remains resolutely outspoken. As he says, "One just has to fight one's corner."

PREMIERE://Second Rolf Wallin composition for Arditti Quartet

The Norwegian composer has written his second work 'Concerning King' for the popular quartet

From SoundGenerator.com - 06.7.06

The Norwegian experimental composer Rolf Wallin has written a second work for the Arditti Quartet. "Concerning King" receives its world premiere in Stuttgart on July 15, 2006 as part of the ISCM World New Music Days festival. The piece is based on speeches by Martin Luther King, which Wallin has subjected to frequency analysis and then converted into purely instrumental music for the quartet to perform. The end result is a powerful work that represents the extraordinary intensity of King's speaking voice. Wallin is also the featured composer for the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra's 2006/2007 season. The orchestra will perform six of Wallin's works over the season. Last May they hosted a Wallin weekend devoted to his orchestral and chamber music.

Over the past 25 years, the Arditti Quartet lead by violinist Irvine Arditti has received many prizes for its work. They have won the Deutsche Schallplatten Preis several times and the Gramophone Award for the best recording of contemporary music in 1999 (Elliott Carter) and 2002 (Harrison Birtwistle). The prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Prize was awarded to them in 1999 for 'lifetime achievement' in music.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

PREMIERES://Birtwistle and Harvey

By Andrew Clements
From the Guardian - Saturday July 8, 2006

A new piece for solo harp may not seem the most enticing of prospects, but one of the marks of a great composer is the ability to transcend any medium and create something totally new and unexpected. Harrison Birtwistle describes his harp piece Crowd as a study on resonance, and has taken the title from the old English word for a plucked stringed instrument, emphasising the way in which he has gone back to the very basics of the harp and reinvented its character.

The UK premiere of Crowd was the highlight of Helen Radice's Cheltenham festival recital, given in the tiny Norman church of St Swithin's, Quenington; it's a piece whose intricate rhythms will tax the technique of any harpist, but Radice seemed completely on top of all of its challenges. The player has to ensure that the harp's strings resonate freely, so the pauses and silences that slice through the 11-minute piece are constantly coloured by decaying sounds, and the varied rhythmic patterns build up over resounding pedal notes. It is quintessential Birtwistle, darkly intense and slightly mysterious, and unquestionably a major addition to the harp repertory.

There was another premiere in the concert given by the Festival Players with trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, artist-in-association at Cheltenham this year: Jonathan Harvey's Other Presences, for trumpet and electronics. Stockhausen stood in the middle of the Pittville Pump Room, playing his trumpet with one hand and operating a sampling keyboard with the other, so that real-time recordings of what he was playing live were stored and projected to loudspeakers around the hall. Harvey relates this to his experience of hearing Tibetan Buddhist ceremonial music, and there's certainly a ritual element in its digitalised processes of call and response. Most of all, though, it's an enthralling and evocative essay in sonority, beautifully shaped, full of ravishing sound complexes, and one that Stockhausen played with consummate authority.

PREMIERES://Maxwell Davies and MacMillan honouring Beamish

By Richard Morrison
From the Times - July 07, 2006

On a steamy evening the prospect of hearing Das Lied von der Erde crashing round the marbled walls of the Pittville Pump Room was not wholly alluring. But this Cheltenham Festival concert had so many curiosities that the trainspotter lurking deep inside me felt obliged to tick them off his personal “been there, heard that” list.
For a start, this was not Mahler’s original Song of the Earth (you would never get the orchestra in the Pump Room, let alone an audience) but Schoenberg’s ingenious if severe reduction for 13 instruments, which the Nash Ensemble delivered with much finesse under Martyn Brabbins’s direction. Even 13 instruments, however, can sound tumultuous in this acoustic, and the two soloists — the mezzo-soprano Jane Henschel and tenor Peter Hoare — often had to push hard. It wasn’t always comfortable. But then neither is Mahler’s message.
That he could muster dark forebodings from an early age was evident from the piece that opened the concert: a piano-quartet movement he wrote as a 16-year old student at the Vienna Conservatoire. I defy anyone to identify this as Mahler from a blind tasting. The sad but sweet idiom is closer to Mendelssohn. Nevertheless, if you do know who wrote it you can certainly detect portents of the greatness to come — in the deft counterpoints, the wonderfully doomladen leitmotif that permeates the piece, and the histrionic modulations. By contrast, another early work exhumed here — Holst’s 1903 Wind Quintet in A flat (played for the first time in an edition by Raymond Hood that restores music cut by Holst’s daughter, Imogen) — offers virtually no clue that this is the composer who would create The Planets a decade later. It’s a well-crafted and vigorous work, but almost totally anonymous.

Two short new chamber pieces completed the programme. Both were 50th-birthday presents for Sally Beamish, the festival’s featured composer. I can’t say that either is the musical equivalent of a slap-up dinner and bouquet of roses. James MacMillan’s For Sally is a chilly treatment of what sounds like a snatch of folksong, while Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s Lumen cognitionis (“Light of Recognition”) follows a sombre, sour introduction with a lilting but tepid jig. Celebrating a 50th birthday is usually a matter of drinking oneself insensible. Perhaps these pieces were written the morning after.

PREMIERE://Beamish' accordion concerto

By Lynne Walker
From the Independent - 06 July 2006

Martyn Brabbins clearly has a soft spot for Scotland and its culture. He first went to work with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra 15 years ago and not only carved a reputation as an extremely able conductor with a clear head and an even clearer beat, but also as a champion of the country's creative talent. Now in his second year as artistic director of the Cheltenham Festival, Brabbins has brought in a tartan army of composers - Judith Weir, James MacMillan, Edward McGuire, David Horne, Anna Meredith and Alasdair Nicolson, as well as honorary Scots Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sally Beamish, whose 50th birthday is celebrated.

The opening concert, in which Brabbins conducted the Hallé, featured a new, 25-minute concerto by Beamish for an unlikely star, the accordion. If James Crabb, clutching his squeeze-box, looked a trifle out of place threading his way through the orchestra, he sometimes sounded it too. But that is part of the work's charm. Called The Singing, the three-movement work exploits the accordion's characteristics and colour. Inspired by that terrible blot on Scotland's history, the Highland Clearances, and the gap they left in the fabric of communities, The Singing is, at times, more a wailing, a gnashing of teeth and a sobbing lament. Beamish creates a vivid musical landscape, making use of Gaelic song and psalm, the insistent rhythms of the looms and the lamenting pibroch, as well as dance. Brilliantly resourceful in her use of "vocal" effects to portray emotional upheaval and frozen stillness with luminous colour, her evocative piece found a hugely sympathetic interpreter in Crabb, who relished the chance to explore his instrument's sonorities.

Mendelssohn's Hebrides overture has seldom sounded so inspired, while Mahler's Fourth Symphony, conducted with conviction and affection, drew eloquent strength of purpose from the Hallé, despite the Town Hall's acoustics.
But the Hallé, whose director Mark Elder has sounded off often enough about orchestra dress, could surely have shed its white tie and tails and dusted down its cream linen jackets on one of the hottest evenings of the summer.

BOOK REVIEW://Stravinsky by Stephen Walsh

A Fine-Tuned Legacy

By David Schiff
From the Moscow Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

Igor Stravinsky's compositions are marvels of lucidity; his life was a dense, disorderly counterpoint of multiple nationalities and languages, rival households and heirs and the constant, nasty pedal point of economics. Thanks to longevity and a cataclysmic century, Stravinsky's mode of existence was simultaneously pre-modern, modern and postmodern. When he could, he lived the life of a deposed, deracinated nobleman, celebrating the values of the ancien regime from the artificial paradise of a grand hotel. Yet at the same time he was one of the hardest working people in the music business, crisscrossing continents and oceans for a conducting gig here, an odd commission there, always with a sharp eye for the bottom line. After the brilliant arrivals of the three ballets that made him world-famous, his principal capital was his own celebrity, a highly valuable commodity carefully polished and spun over the years to heighten its cachet in changing circumstances. By the 1960s, a Baudrillardian Stravinsky-simulacrum, a walking, talking, opining brand-name, received far more attention than the (apparent) composer of short, sputtering "late pieces" like "Movements for Piano and Orchestra" and the Huxley variations.

Stravinsky's complex and, as is often said, Nabokovian, history will tempt scholars for ages to come. The British critic and musicologist Stephen Walsh has now completed a two-volume life; the first part, "A Creative Spring," covered Stravinsky's musical development, from his birth in 1882 through the composition of "Persephone" in 1934. "The Second Exile" focuses on the composer's late French and American years, ending with his death in 1971. One can only admire the amount of careful research that underlies Walsh's project. Like a good plumber, he connects the many disparate sources of Stravinskiana to his main line and keeps it all moving along. And yet the overall impression is of a stolid diligence glazed over by too much "colorful" writing, beginning with a hokey vignette of the composer as a stranger on a train; you can see the credits rolling over the studied misterioso of the prose.

As a biographer, Walsh gives the impression of having no agenda and just doing his job, which seems to be a slow and steady march through Stravinsky's life, occasionally reminding us of what was going on in the outside world. Stravinsky's own habits seemed to depend on a similar discontinuity between history and his own creative processes, a fruitful illusion which Walsh occasionally questions, but more often affirms; typically, he asserts that the finale of "Symphony in Three Movements," from 1945, "was not an expression of the excitement of the end of the war but the solution to a formal problem: how to unite two movements, one of them violent ... the other delicate and bardic" -- as if these two explanations were inherently incompatible.

Walsh's naïve acquiescence in Stravinsky's core values is less of a problem, however, than his relentless concern with the role that the composer's aide-de-camp Robert Craft played, and continues to play, in his life and legacy. From the opening of "A Creative Spring" to the close of "The Second Exile," Craft is center-stage, disguised as Mephistopheles. Craft would prove a problem for any biographer since he was at once part of Stravinsky's real life and the creator of the simulacrum -- witness and fictionalizer. Because Craft has covered so much of Stravinsky's life in the many volumes of "dialogues" written under both their names, and in the reminiscences and reconsiderations that have appeared since Stravinsky's death, Walsh finds himself in the impossible position of relying on Craft's account of events while casting doubts on Craft's memory, motives and linguistic abilities.

The crescendo of carping and accusation, sometimes in the main text, sometimes in the endnotes, leaves the reader confused and exhausted, especially since some of Craft's anecdotes are passed along at face value, while others are altered without explanation. For instance, Walsh omits one of the most horrifying examples of Stravinsky's tactlessness, when, as Stravinsky/Craft wrote in "Dialogues and a Diary," the composer returned Dmitry Shostakovich's praise for the "Symphony of Psalms" by saying that he shared Shostakovich's admiration for Gustav Mahler but "you should go beyond Mahler. The Viennese troika adored him also, you know, and Schoenberg and Webern conducted his music." Walsh merely reports that the two great composers discussed "Mahler and Puccini, but trivially and without touching on each other's deeper attitudes." He gives no indication of why he might doubt the much more vivid and chilling account of the meeting.

Craft's role in Stravinsky's life will challenge any biographer, but the difficulties that Walsh has with him are compounded by an apparent distance from the American scene. The very title of the new volume, "The Second Exile," betrays a Eurocentric prejudice made evident repeatedly in his stereotyped renditions of the American geographical and cultural landscape. In the United States, Stravinsky was not an exile but an accidental emigre who could just as easily have stayed in France during the war (though probably at the cost of his reputation) or returned to Europe after the war as did Paul Hindemith and Thomas Mann. The Stravinskys may have said that they hated Los Angeles, but for 20 years they hated it less than anywhere else they might have chosen to live.

Until Craft's papers become public, any biographer following Walsh's conventionally yet deceptively all-inclusive approach to Stravinsky's life will be pointless. It would be more productive to pursue subtopics than to try to erect a grand monument on an uncertain foundation. One important subtopic -- not at all peripheral -- would be Stravinsky and money. Whether it was the loss of copyright income on his most popular compositions that led, reasonably, to his ugly obsession with nickels and dimes, or whether this miserliness, which often escalated into accusations of treachery (filled out, when the situation called for it, with the crudest of anti-Semitism) was the flip side of his creative obsession with musical order remains to be seen. More mysterious is the juxtaposition of vulgar materialism and hauteur. Stravinsky needed a large income just to support his extended family, and yet he would rather run himself ragged conducting or appearing as a pianist than write another marketable moneymaker on the earlier models of the "Berceuse" from "The Firebird" or the "Russian Dance" from "Petrushka."

Another crucial subtopic would be Stravinsky's relation to modernism itself. Walsh privileges Stravinsky's most aggressively modernist music like the "Concerto for Two Solo Pianos" and the "Symphony in Three Movements" without explaining why these works were exceptional. In the first 15 years covered in the second volume, Stravinsky devoted himself mainly to transparent, lightweight bagatelles, the most exquisitely wrought divertimenti since Mozart. Walsh tends to ascribe the triviality -- some would say divine triviality -- of these works to opportunism. But this is a lazy prejudice, made worse by snobbery as, for instance, when Walsh describes the great Woody Herman Orchestra, for which Stravinsky composed his "Ebony Concerto," as a purveyor of "jazz cliches." The creation of finely made art for social use rather than as an outlet for romantic egoism was a serious aesthetic position of the interwar period, a position Stravinsky often expressed and which his works realized more successfully than those of such fellow gebrauchsmusikers as Hindemith and Darius Milhaud. Stravinsky's restless musical appetite kept him open to new stimuli, like the sound of the Herman band, and prevented him from formulaic self-repetition.

Rather than pursuing the modernist path that critics expected from the composer of "The Rite of Spring," Stravinsky became an ironic anti-modernist, until, with his neo-gothic mass of 1948, he discovered an even more unmodern (though less ironic) style of religious austerity, which, more than his embrace of Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone method, would define his late works. But that opens the biggest subtopic of all: Stravinsky and God. Musicologists, start up your computers.
David Schiff is the composer of the opera "Gimpel the Fool" and the author of books about the music of Elliott Carter and George Gershwin.

PREMIERE://Turnage writing ballet score

World a big oyster for Hubbard Street dancers

By Hedy Weiss
From the Chicago Sun-Times - July 5, 2006

Scan the roster of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's repertoire and you will see works by choreographers from Spain, Israel, Ireland, Germany and from right here at home. The company travels the world, too, visiting Portugal and Ireland later this month, and heading to Germany in January and Canada in August.
Very international. And during the 2006-2007 season, that global reach will only expand, as Hubbard Street embraces new works by Japanese and Finnish choreographers, as well as by a veteran Chicago-bred, New York-based dancemaker, and as the troupe fuels its programs with other pieces set to a wide array of world music.
Hubbard Street's fall 2006 season at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park (Sept. 27-Oct. 1), will arrive with the umbrella title, "Global Tapestry." On the bill will be the world premiere of a work by Toru Shimazaki, to be created on the ensemble later this summer.
The Japanese choreographer, whose works have been performed at the Polish Dance Theatre, Swiss Ballet Grand Theatre de Geneva, National New Tokyo Theatre and more -- and who earlier this year became a professor at the new University Dance Department at Japan's Kobe University -- will set his work to the charming music of Rene Aubry, the French dance and film composer.
Also on the fall program will be a new work by company member Alejandro Cerrudo, who hails from Madrid, Spain. Cerrudo will draw on material he created for Hubbard Street's "Inside/Out" choreographic workshop this June, using the music of Devendra Banhart, the Texas-born, Venezuelan-bred singer-songwriter.
A new version of company member Brian Enos' "Dipthong" (set to the music of Zap Mama, the Afro-Belgian band), along with Lucas Crandall's commanding duet, "Gimme" (set to a score by the Norwegian group, Bla Bergens Borduner), and artistic director Jim Vincent's "counter/part" (set to Bach's Brandenburg Concerti), also will be part of the mix.
The company's spring engagement, again at the Harris Theater (April 11-22, 2007), will feature two different programs -- "Fresh Visions" and "Vivid Blooms."
"Fresh Visions" will include a world premiere by Chicago-bred Lar Lubovitch (his second original work for Hubbard Street), while "Vivid Blooms" will be highlighted by a new work by Finland's Jorma Elo to a commissioned score by British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage.
Elo, currently resident director of the Boston Ballet, has created dances for the Nederlands Dans Theater, Finnish National Ballet, Basel Ballet and, most recently, the New York City Ballet.
Meanwhile, the company will embark on its fourth collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Jan. 25-27 at Symphony Center), with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, and will spend much of its time on tour, with stops from Texas and Pennsylvania to Florida and Mississippi.
A number of significant personnel changes also are afoot at Hubbard Street, with the lovely, brainy Erin Derstine relocating to San Francisco; John Ross seeking other professional opportunities; an impressively mature Patrick Simoniello returning to the Joffrey Ballet; Isaac Spencer off to Sweden's Culbert Ballet, and the elegant Julia Wollrab heading to the University of Chicago to study anthropology.
Joining the company are three new dancers, including: Prince Credell, 23, who trained at the Ailey school and performed with the Ailey II company and Alonzo King's Lines Ballet; Laura Halm, 25, who has been a member of Hubbard Street 2 since August, and will become an apprentice in the main company; and Chicago-born Terence Marling, 30, who has danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater and Germany's National Theater Mannheim.

OPINION://Contemporary Music's Hope Is Writ Small, Not Large

By Bernard Holland
From the New York Times - July 5, 2006


Recently I heard pieces by 12 American composers at two events. The American Composers Alliance at the tiny Thalia Theater played music by people hovering around middle age or beyond. The names at the Counter)induction concert at the equally tiny Tenri Cultural Center averaged about 35.
None of these 12, I think, will ever have festivals devoted to them. Their chances of big commissions by major symphony orchestras or opera houses are equally dim. They have been, or probably will be, recorded, the making of CD's having become such a user-friendly cottage industry. Judging by their program biographies, all seem to have first-rate musical educations and many teaching jobs.
Posterity does not beckon. There may be no entries in future music encyclopedias. Scholars will not pore over their techniques or the cultural contexts of their lives. Yet these composers are obviously devoted to their work, and to one another's work as well. A lot of them know exactly what they are doing. How high they aspire I don't know. I hope their aspirations are more on the order of personal satisfaction and the collegiality of fellow artists than of fame.
This may sound like a sad story, but it is not. That these concerts go on — indeed, thrive — tells us that music as an art keeps moving through time from generation to generation, from language to language and idea to idea. Such progress is usually unremarked by the serious music lover who looks to a Thomas Adès or the next grand premiere for signs of advances in music.
I suggest that it is my 12 men and women who keep music going. Any true lover of baseball will understand. We cherish the skills — indeed, the art — of players at the highest level, but we also feel that the essence of the sport is in the sandlot pickup game, or softball in Central Park. The most satisfying afternoons I have ever spent were not in Yankee Stadium but in minor-league parks in cities like Indianapolis or Richmond, Va.
Music at the highest levels is to be honored and sought after; mediocrity is no prize. But supreme talent can also be a victim of its own success. Size does matter. How many famous pianists have I heard with reputations big enough to command full houses at Carnegie or Avery Fisher Hall who would be so much more effective in spaces seating 500 or fewer? Music is a business, and if you can sell more tickets, you do. The Metropolitan Opera House is bigger than it ought to be because, economically, it has to be.
Indeed, intimacy is one of the prizes our 12 composers have won, though sometimes, I'm sure, in spite of themselves. Concerts like the recent ones at the Thalia and Tenri are invariably played by young musicians of astonishing skill and evident devotion. No one is in these kinds of events for the money. The waiving of fees is a common practice.
At Tenri loose chairs are pulled up around players in one corner of an art gallery space. Anyone who remembers the cinematic history of the Thalia will know how small it is. When I first started covering this kind of event, more than 25 years ago, I usually came away with a sense of having heard very talented people who were frustrated, forlorn and isolated. I hope I have learned better. Certainly these composers, musicians and audiences are at a distance from New York Philharmonic subscription concerts or Great Performers at Lincoln Center. But there is a community here, a kind of musical village, that is taking care of itself very nicely.
There is a quota of aspiring students at these events, a critic or two, a handful of the curious, or just plain admiring concertgoers. But more often than not, the composers and musicians onstage are being received by their colleagues sitting in the audience. A few weeks hence, perhaps in another place, the people onstage will be sitting in the audience, and the people in the audience will be up there playing.
We are still pretty well hypnotized by the big event, the international reputation and the march toward future greatness. This mentality has also caused us to misuse the word "provincial," which now implies "limiting" when it might more constructively mean "limited." Being limited need not mean being less sophisticated, less proficient or less intelligent. Small communities can do music's work at a high level without management or press coverage.
I don't pretend to understand how the Internet proliferates music as widely as it does. I do know that it is promoting many individual tastes for individual audiences. This makes the prospects for our 12 composers very promising. True greatness will always pursue universality, but it is the very good and the local that keep music's blood circulating.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

PREMIERES://Sydney Guillaume, Daniel Carlson and Edward Hart in Florida

Innovation will help us turn corner

By Enrique Fernandez and Lawrence Budmen
From The Miami Herald - Sun, Jul. 02, 2006

With the Miami Performing Arts Center set to open this fall and the visual arts thriving, South Florida's classical music offerings might be turning a corner.
It's a heavily challenged corner, with a state-of-the-art symphony hall -- but no full-time, resident symphony orchestra to play in it. Yet, the panorama has possibility. It all depends on how it's handled.
Julian Kreeger, director of Friends of Chamber Music, has been observing the South Florida classical music scene for many years and he sees the need to foster new classical music in the same way the area now does other arts. ''Otherwise, we become static,'' he said.
Kreeger's own series has featured contemporary master John Corigliano, as well as work by Pulitzer Prize winner Lewis Spratlan. This coming season, the musicians from the Ravinia Festival's Steans Institute for Young Artists will perform the Florida premiere of a commissioned work by Jaakko Kuusisto.
''It's absolutely important to encourage composers, even if we will not understand how great their work is for 25 or even 50 years,'' Kreeger said.

DRUCKER'S IMPACT

If anyone put South Florida on the classical map, it's Judy Drucker, whose Concert Association of Florida consistently brings leading figures in music and dance to area stages. With the Miami Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Drucker's organization will be enjoying resident-company status in an extraordinary new venue -- and perhaps a new musical focus.
The Concert Association's programming has often been considered ultra-conservative, but in the coming season two orchestras, from Chicago and Atlanta, will provide some needed contrast.
The Chicago Symphony under David Zinman, perhaps America's greatest unsung conductor, will play works by the iconoclastic avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti and Osvaldo Golijov, a master of cross-cultural fusion. Golijov's music also figures in the Cleveland Orchestra's residency at the MPAC, and the MPAC will independently present Golijov's large-scale La Pasión Según San Marcos in January.
The Atlanta Symphony also brings unusual offerings. Several seasons ago, the group hired Robert Spano, a contemporary music specialist, to spruce up its programming. True to form, Spano has scheduled Rainbow Body by American composer Christopher Theofanidis for the group's South Florida appearance.
At the other end of the spectrum, Miami's ace training ensemble, New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, has enjoyed a reputation for freshness. In 2003, New World won an award from ASCAP for innovative programming of contemporary music, prompting comments that Tilson Thomas was not nearly as adventurous a programmer on the West Coast where he directs the San Francisco Symphony. The coming season, however, finds the New World in a mixed mode of continuous commitment to new music and retrenching itself in the traditional repertoire.
The orchestra's three-concert Sounds of the Times series features a panoply of recent scores by such diverse creative voices as British mystic James MacMillan, Austrian chansonier H.K. Gruber, French master Henri Dutilleux, and American wunderkinds Michael Gandolfi and Jennifer Higdon (the latter two conducted by the omnipresent Spano). But on the New World's regular symphonic programs, next season's schedule is somewhat less diverse than in previous years.
Only Ligeti's Violin Concerto (with Christian Tetzlaff) and Corigliano's First Symphony, an American staple, come close to breaking the conservative mold. The group's chamber music series includes works by Elliot Carter and Leon Kirchner as well as a Notturno by Tilson Thomas.

A CHOIR AFIRE

Along with New World, Miami's often-miraculous chamber choir, Seraphic Fire, has excelled at showcasing new music. This year is no exception, as director Patrick Quigley mixes Renaissance and Baroque scores with modernist voices. Quigley will direct music by British choral icon John Rutter, electronic composer Ingram Marshall, Shawn Crouch (whose The Road to Hiroshima Seraphic Fire premiered two seasons ago), and Paul Crabtree. The choir will also premiere a new piece by Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume and present Ariel Ramírez's multicultural Misa Criolla.
The MPAC's most engaged resident company, Florida Grand Opera, is taking bold steps in its new home. To celebrate its first MPAC season, the company will present the world premiere of Daniel Carlson's setting of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. FGO's music director Stewart Robertson has championed this American composer's works -- he has led the premieres of Carlson's previous operas Midnight Angel and Dreamkeepers.
And, in a welcome turn, FGO will also return to conceiving and designing its own productions. During the 1970s under its late general director Robert Herman, the opera not only produced most of its own sets and costumes but rented them out to companies across the country. However, for most of the last decade, FGO has borrowed productions from other companies. This season, in addition to Anna Karenina, Verdi's Aida and Bellini's La Sonnambula will receive the new productions.

BROWARD ORCHESTRA

In Broward, Symphony of the Americas has occasionally presented new scores. At its Hispanic Heritage concert in October, the orchestra will premiere Edward Hart's A Tidal Concerto (with Uruguayan pianist Enrique Graf as soloist).
And South Florida hosts two yearly festivals entirely devoted to the new: Subtropics Experimental Music & Sound Arts Festival, organized by Gustavo Matamoros, who heads SFCA's interdisciplinary Sound Arts Workshop -- also known as South Florida Composers Alliance. And the New Music Miami ISCM Festival, hosted by Florida International University.
What the area lacks is a series for cutting-edge contemporary chamber music groups. The Studio Theater at the MPAC would be an ideal venue for something similar to that offered by the Miller Theater at New York's Columbia University. Here such contemporary specialist ensembles as Alarm Will Sound, the Contemporary Chamber Players, Counter Induction and the Absolute Ensemble (Kristjan Jrvi's iconoclastic World Music fusion orchestra) could present their musical wares.
On that front, the Friends of Chamber Music series broke the traditional mold when it presented the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra in an all-Corigliano program during the 2004-2005 season to an enthusiastic audience -- proof that there is a public for new music in South Florida. One hopes such feats will be repeated.
The University of Miami's Frost School of Music remains committed, as an educational institution well should, to new composition. This season, there will be a new jazz fusion work by Gary Lindsay (for string quartet and saxophone quartet), two more symphonies by Roberto Sierra, a set of variations on a Gershwin theme by Donald Grantham plus scores by faculty members, including Dennis Kam and Thomas M. Sleeper, and rarely heard music by Holocaust victims Pavel Haas and Gideon Klein.
And, how does South Florida compare nationally? The best comparison, if not geographically then symbiotically, is Cleveland. Its revered orchestra's repertoire for the coming season includes new or recent works by Pintscher, Dean, Kokkonen, Rorem, Anderson and Sortomme -- plus less familiar 20th century scores by Messiaen and Berg. Contemporary scores have been an important part of Cleveland's programming under both Christoph von Dohnanyi and current director Franz Welser-Mst.
The Cleveland Orchestra's first MPAC three-week residency is much less adventurous, a conservative move that the orchestra's management acknowledges is due to the novelty of the Miami venture, though it promises that in coming seasons repertoire will change.
In other cities comparable to Miami, both St. Louis, under David Robertson, and Minneapolis, under Osmo Vanska, have music directors who program classical and modern works in interesting juxtapositions -- sometimes thematically. The Seattle Symphony has long specialized in American music -- and has recorded quite a bit of it -- under Gerard Schwarz. The Colorado Symphony in Denver played a lot of American music under Marin Alsop, and she will likely do the same thing in Baltimore, where the programs have been very conservative, when she takes charge there.

THE CONSERVATIVES

It's not all a map of innovation. The Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City plays mostly standard repertoire. In Portland, the Oregon Symphony's concerts used to be very diverse under James De Preist. Now, under Carlos Kalmar, they have turned conservative.
Will South Florida, the country's -- and one of the world's -- most vital urban areas, now shiny with a new arts center, reflect that vitality in its classical music offerings? Our overview shows a mix of skittishness and boldness, perhaps to be expected in a post-orchestra-fiasco era. Yet, there are signs of change.
A bright new season is upon us and our ears are open. South Florida deserves to hear the full range of contemporary classical styles and voices.

FESTIVAL://Maxwell Davies' A Little Birthday Music at the Proms

Master of ceremonies

Fiona Maddocks
From TheScotsman.com - Sat 1 Jul 2006

The Queen has attended the Proms only once during her reign. Reportedly, it was not a success. So the significance of an entire concert being devoted to her on 19 July, to mark her 80th birthday and in her willing presence, cannot be overstated.

How has this come about? Whatever the persuasive powers of Proms director Nicholas Kenyon, the real influence seems to have been Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the composer who has breathed new life into the role of Master of the Queen's Music.

We need not review the startling unlikelihood of a firebrand like Max, as he is known, signing up to this quintessential establishment role. "Yes, I would have scorned - or even laughed aloud at - the idea when I was younger," he admits. His early reputation as a bad boy of the avant garde, producing abrasive and febrile scores on subjects as perverse as the madness of George III, Ken Russell's The Devils and the sexy dancing Salome, still lingers.

Now an agile 71, he has mellowed, but he could never be accused of going soft. Those of us who grew up, musically, to the ear-scouring precision and white heat of Ave Maris Stella or Worldes Blis still find the idea of this elfish figure chinking a tea cup with Her Majesty wilder than fantasy.

Is his willingness to take the job so seriously an almost nostalgic reflection on his own working-class Manchester childhood and upbringing? Max and the Queen's histories, however different, run in parallel.

A gifted only child, old enough to remember the Second World War, Max set himself free intellectually through libraries, grammar school, scholarships and the support of imaginative parents. Tradition and its subversion are central to his art.

"I couldn't have handled this before. Now I feel I'm old enough. I never tire of musical challenges. And I make no secret of wanting to use the chance to raise the profile of classical music. This is music as communal activity, which I believe is vital."

The new piece, A Little Birthday Music, is the setting of a short text by poet laureate Andrew Motion called The Golden Rule. It explores ideas of constancy and has already been used by Max for an anthem at St George's Chapel, Windsor. The new version employs 250 schoolchildren, the choirs of the Chapels Royal, the fanfare trumpeters of the Scots Guards, the Royal Albert Hall organ and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The composer admits it "ends slightly on the loud side".

Davies's great battle cry, hardly new but no less vital for that, is for all children to have the chance to learn instruments, write music, sing in choirs and play in bands. "The crucial point is to find a way of expressing yourself through music, however simple, in whatever form. Otherwise, we're shutting off part of our brains." All very well if, like Max, you hear music in every daily endeavour, whether in the harmonies of the wind across the cliffs in his adopted Orkney, or in the low E-flat (I'm guessing) rumble of the buses passing on the road outside his Marylebone flat where we meet.

For others less aurally aware, music is a passive pleasure and no more. "Yes, but even the simple effort of trying to put into words what listening to music does to you is a valuable exercise. It means you focus more, stop being a complacent consumer. The very process sharpens ears, heart, mind."

His own early listening was hardly sophisticated: Victorian salon tunes, from sheet-music kept in a piano stool. "And, of course, Gilbert and Sullivan. Then, when I was about 12, and learning the piano, I was given the complete sonatas of Beethoven and Mozart. I didn't look back."

His output now consists of several operas, six symphonies, 11 concertos, choral works, community pieces for Orkney such as The Yellow Cake Revue, a protest against uranium mining which includes a movement called "Tourist Song: Have You Heard of the Terrorist Suicide Squad?".

An anarchic liberal, Max never fights shy of independent political involvement. His ten string quartets commissioned for the award-winning Maggini Quartet and released - with visionary heroism - by Naxos, chart many pivotal events of the past decade. He is now completing the ninth.

"I was writing the Third Quartet at the time of the invasion of Iraq. It's all there in the score, if anyone cares to listen. Not that I expect Bush or Blair to." Maybe Condoleezza Rice, a talented musician?

"Hmm," says Max. "Music can transform people. But it doesn't always work. Hitler and Stalin went to concerts. Schubert military marches were played to lead Jews to the gas chambers..."

Quietly spoken though he is, Max is not averse to a rant: "The rape of Iraq will go down in history as a mistake as disastrous in its consequences as the crusades. It's quite clear, watching Blair and Bush, that it was as if they were reciting lines they'd learned. And the House of Commons followed like sheep. Or, rather, Gadarene swine - if they get the [Biblical] reference. It was a blow for democracy. How can one vote for such wilfully blind and ignorant people?"

We talk about Desert Island Discs. He's been on twice, his choices ranging from Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, to a piece by the Scottish composer Sally Beamish and The Beatles' Yesterday, a version of which Max has arranged. But conversation turns, inevitably, to Conservative leader David Cameron. "I do think our political leaders could set an example. There was a time when it was automatic to use this programme [Desert Island Discs] to try to give a normal and respectable sense of yourself to the public. But now it seems the leader of the Opposition has felt no compunction to prove himself other than a vacant idiot with nothing in his brain whatsoever.

"I don't think anyone in the past would have made such an utterly stupid and uneducated selection and expected people to vote for him."

A third person has been in the room as we speak: Max's partner of the past five years, Colin, a 50-year-old builder. They met 20 years ago when Colin was still married and bringing up his two young children, now grown up. They smile at the recollection. "I used to do the babysitting to give them time to sort their marriage out," Max remembers.

The presence of Colin in his life has led to changes for the once monkish composer. Now there's a television and a domestic life. What does Colin think of Max's music? "I've always been the kind of builder who gets in a house and asks first for a teapot, second for Radio 3, so it's never been a problem," he says.

"I remember when I first heard Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, I thought, what the hell's going on here? But, you know, with a little encouragement, anyone can concentrate and follow a musical argument."

He smiles across at Max. Before her next Proms outing, the Queen might welcome some advice from this eloquent advocate of her Master's music.

The Proms run from 14 July to 9 September. The Queen's birthday concert, including A Little Birthday Music, is on 19 July. For more information, visit www.bbc.co.uk/proms

APPOINTMENTS://Tod Machover joins the composition staff at one of Europe’s leading music schools

Unique composer and inventor joins Royal Academy of Music

From Soundgenerator.com - 25.6.06

London's Royal Academy of Music has augmented their composition teaching staff with the addition of Tod Machover to its impressive list.
American born Machover is a composer, inventor, educator and is Professor of Music and Media at the MIT Media Lab. He has been appointed to the position of visiting professor of composition. He joins Professor Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Craig Armstrong in this role, adding to an impressive roster of composition professors at the Academy led by Head of Composition Simon Bainbridge.
Tod Machover - called 'America's Most Wired Composer' by The Los Angeles Times - is widely recognised as one of the most significant and innovative composers of his generation, and is also celebrated for inventing new music technology. He studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions at The Juilliard School and was the first Director of Musical Research at Pierre Boulez's IRCAM in Paris. He has been Professor of Music and Media at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA since it was founded in 1985. Machover's music is noted for breaking traditional artistic and cultural boundaries, offering a unique and innovative synthesis of acoustic and electronic sound, of symphony orchestras and interactive computers, and of arias and rock songs. His music has been commissioned and performed by many of the world's most prestigious ensembles and soloists. He is currently working on two operas for first performance in 2008: Death and the Powers, a 'robotic' opera with a libretto by US poet laureate Robert Pinsky, and Skellig, based on the award-winning novel by David Almond.
Machover has designed his hyper instruments, which use smart computers to augment musical expression and creativity, for some of the world's greatest musicians - from Yo-Yo Ma to Prince - as well as for the general public and for children. Since 2004, he has been collaborating with composers and performers from the Academy on a hyperbow for cello.

More information can be found on Machover at the composer's website www.todmachover.com

FESTIVAL://Alasdair Nicolson premiered

By Keith Bruce
From The Herald - June 22 2006

Were it not for the Limbe Choir, the Nash Ensemble, back for the third year in a row, would be the most ubiquitous group at this year's St Magnus Festival. Clarinetist Richard Hosford has been the most featured player (with harpist Lucy Wakeford close behind) and his showcase has run from the performance of Mozart's sublime quintet and James MacMillan's Tuireadh on Sunday through to Aaron Copland's clarinet concerto, written for Benny Goodman, and performed with the Scottish Ensemble on Tuesday. Until the bridging cadenza, the Copland is neither very jazzy nor particularly clarinet-y, but the second movement, with pianist Ian Brown and bassist Diane Clark as rhythm section, just lacked Philly Joe Jones behind the drums.

Two of the 70th "birthday presents" to festival founder Sir Peter Maxwell Davies re-emerged in the Nash's repertoire as fully formed pieces. At St Magnus Kirk at Birsay on Monday, Simon Holt's viola solo Sickle Moon was joined by two other spooky movements, scored for an ensemble completed by harp and flute. Then, in the cathedral on Tuesday evening, The Stamping Ground was the premiere of the full development of Alasdair Nicolson's gift to Max two years ago, and an evocative sublimation of local traditional music into a work for a larger ensemble. A very similar group played David Horne's Splintered Instruments, directed with characteristic attention to detail and absolutely transparent intent by Martyn Brabbins.

Ravel's lovely Introduction and Allegro and Maxwell Davies's less well-known but equally elegant Dove, Star-Folded were followed by a peerless F Minor Piano Quintet by Johannes Brahms, its military scherzo and wonderfully constructed finale given a performance absolutely out of the top drawer.