Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Long Gestation

In Joshua Kosman's obit for Henry Brant - whose music, I'm sorry to say, I don't know at all - there's this:
His orchestration textbook, "Textures and Timbres," begun in the 1940s and completed last year, is due to be published this year.

In the Can

A shout-out, and big congratulations, to Tim Rutherford-Johnson, who is about to file his doctoral thesis.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Carl Ludwig Hübsch & Gino Robair at the Hillside Club, Berkeley

This concert sounds very cool:

Carl Ludwig Hübsch & Gino Robair
Sunday, May 4th at 7:00 pm
Admission $15 ($10 for HSC members and Seniors)
The Berkeley Hillside Club
2286 Cedar Street
Berkeley 94709
Info: (510) 845-1350

The Berkeley Hillside Club excited to present German tuba virtuoso and composer Carl Ludwig Hübsch, and Bay Area percussionist and composer Gino Robair in a concert of improvised music that will stretch your ear and your mind. Don't miss this exciting exposition of sound on the cutting edge of creativity in our acoustically-wonderful hall.

The Concert:

Carl Ludwig Hübsch plays accoustic music that melds the traditional brass sound of the tuba with the extended sound/noise music genre, along with strong influences from electronic and contemporary compositions. Perhaps one could say Hübsch plays electronic music with mechanical means. In composition Hübsch's work focuses on interweaving improvisation and ideas written in advance of the performance. In the concert at the Hillside Club he will play in a duo with the renowned percussionist Gino Robair. Together with the audience they step into the unknown and let music grow from there.

For more info, Carl Ludwig Hübsch & Gino Robair.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


I've seen more than one definition of music written to exclude a particular style. ACD likes to say that music that doesn't contain a cohesive narrative - read "music ACD can't follow" - is gibberish, and not music. His definition excludes...hmmm...whichever composers he says it excludes. He has specifically named Stockhausen, Cage, and Carter. I have seen a definition written to exclude rap.

Doesn't work for me. It's fine to dislike a style, any style; I support your right to hate any music you can't tolerate, can't follow, run away from. But it's intellectually dishonest to justify your dislike by claiming the composer or style is at fault: it's just not music!

I'll propose a definition of music broad enough to include all styles worldwide: Music is organized sound moving in time.

I'm modestly uncomfortable with that definition, but for a very specific reason: by "organized" I do not mean to exclude aleatoric music, where there are elements of chance or where the performer is asked to make something up on the spot. What I mean by "organized" is that the composer's mind has been brought to bear in organizing or making decisions or giving instructions about the work, not that any particular process of organization is expressed in the work.

I suppose the definition could be broadened a bit: Music is organized sound moving in time, usually, but not invariably, incorporating at least one of melody, harmony, and rhythm or meter.

Haydn at San Francisco Symphony

Bernard Labadie's all-Haydn program at SFS is a winner: three terrific pieces, mostly executed with brilliance. The music is within his comfort range, best when performed briskly even at slow tempos, if that makes any sense. You rarely try to float Haydn.

The rough spots in the chorus detected by Joshua Kosman weren't in evidence; the chorus sounded gorgeously transparent and sang with splendid attack and commitment.

I wonder a bit about Labadie, because this is not especially complicated music to conduct, and yet there were several noticeable minor bobbles at the openings of movements or at transition points, where he apparently didn't communicate his intentions clearly enough to the orchestra and chorus.

Amplification, Part Umpty-Ump

Opening this week at Berkeley Repertory Theater is what sounds like an entertaining production by the Theatre de la Jeune Lune called Figaro, described as "inspired by Mozart and Beaumarchais". Now, I am a sucker for all things Nozze, which ranks rather high on my, and everyone else's, list of greatest operas. The poignancy of the situation, the brilliance of the music, the clockwork timing of the plot, the varieties of love, all add up to an eternal delight.

Last week I got email from Berkeley Rep offering a big discount on tickets for a limited number of performances. Before biting, I emailed Berkeley Rep to ask about use of amplification, and they wrote back that there will be "a little bit" of amplification on both the orchestra and singers.

I say it once again: if I can hear unamplified singers over a full orchestra in both Davies (seats more than 2000) and War Memorial Opera House (seats about 3200), Berkeley Rep is doing something wrong if they need to amplify anyone in their 400- and 600-seat theaters.

Meme from Elaine

Elaine Fine tagged me with the following meme:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

I waited to be home from work, where you'd be reading a few tasty lines from Head-First Java or worse. Instead, I give you this:

The common subject of these disparate assessments is Cesare Lombroso's theory of l'uomo delinquente--the criminal man--probably the most influential doctrine ever to emerge from the anthropometric tradition. Lombroso, an Italian physician, described the insight that led to his theory of innate criminality and to the profession he established--criminal anthropology. He had, in 1870, been trying to discover anatomical differences between criminals and insane men "without succeeding very well."

From The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould. The book immediately under it was The Rest is Noise, but I resisted. The book under that? Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories.

Matthew, David, Joshua, Patrick, and Carrie, you're it if you'd like to play.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


In his latest commentary stemming from Bernard Holland's George Perle CD review, ACD has this to say:
It's something much more fundamental: the lack of a perceptible and coherent musical narrative from work's beginning to end, which is to say the lack of the work's saying comprehensibly something beyond and exclusive of commentary on its own processes and methods which are — or ought to have been and be — but the mere tools used in its making.
And this (you should read the Justin Davidson quotation at Sounds & Fury):
To put the matter more bluntly and much less eloquently than Mr. Davidson, a musical composition absent a perceptible and coherent musical narrative from beginning to end is gibberish, and not music.
(Justin's point is quite a bit subtler and more suggestive than ACD's matter put more buntly.)

As in so many things, one's personal experience of music is one's own. It's not necessarily universal. I don't have problems following Carter's narrative. If you can't, it's not necessarily Carter's fault.

I don't have a problem with the outright dislike of any particular style of music. We all have our own ears and preferences. I know people who can't follow a Mozart symphony and others who can't follow Wagner. As I've posted, I couldn't deal with St. Francois d'Assisse. I just don't happen to think it's Messiaen's fault.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Catching Up

Concerts, links, etc.
  • Molly Sheridan, blogger! Read her new ArtsJournal Blog, Mind the Gap.

  • I went to the Alan Gilbert program at SFS a few weeks ago. What do you know - Marc Geelhoed's suggestion, The Great Nielsenist, turned out to be exactly right. The Steven Stucky curtain-raiser, Son et Lumiere, was pleasant but insubstantial. Richard Goode's account of a Mozart piano concerto (no. 17?) was competently uninteresting. The Nielsen, Symphony No. 2, The Four Temperaments, blew everything else away, with Nielsen's characteristic energy and wit. It's good to have gotten a look at Gilbert in more repertory. So far, I've liked him in late 19th c. through 21st c. music, though I have found almost everyone else I've heard in that repertory more interesting an exciting, including MTT, Robertson, Alsop, and Foster.

  • I also saw Dutoit's Don Quixote program. I'll go along with everyone who loved the Strauss, principal cellist Michael Grebanier, and acting principal violist Yun Jie Liu. I have to part company with both Georgia Rowe and Joshua Kosman on the subject of Manuel de Falla's Master Peter's Puppet Show. I loved the acerbic wit and dry orchestration of the piece and think it suffered rather badly in concert presentation. The Symphony didn't project supertitles or, annoyingly, keep the lights up enough for us to read the libretto in the program booklet. I suspect it's quite funny when there's an actual puppet theater on stage. This program also reminded me that I need to read a biography of the notorious Princess de Polignac (nee Winaretta Singer, 20th child of sewing machine zillionaire Isaac Singer, a famous lesbian, etc., etc.).

  • Bernard Labadie conducts an all-Haydn concert this week at San Francisco Symphony, including Symphony 100 ("Military") and two choral masterpieces, the Te Deum and the "Mass in Time of War."

  • I have in hand a press release about the launch of HDtracks.com, described as "the world's first high resolution digital music site offering DRM-free music in multiple formats, as well as cover art and complete liner notes." It's from David and Norman Chesky, who brought you the excellent audiophile label Chesky. Stereophile covers the launch here.

  • Plácido Domingo celebrates the 40th anniversary of his LA Opera debut on May 11 - Mother's Day - with a gala concert. Don't worry - James Conlon conducts. And if you don't hapopen to be in Los Angeles, you can catch the program on the silver screen. Go to Landmark Theaters for details.

  • If you'd rather see a live performance on May 11, try the San Francisco Bach Choir's Venetian Brilliance, a program of music in the round by Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Schuetz, and Willaert. The prgram is being given twice: Saturday, May 10, 8 PM and Sunday, May 11, 4 PM, at Trinity Episcopal Church, Gough & Bush, SF. Prices are $28/$24 ($15 Student) in advance, $35/$30 ($20 Student) at the door.

Monday, April 21, 2008

He Beat Me to It

Tim Rutherford-Johnson has written a sharp takedown of Bernard Holland's ghastly George Perle review, which ran in the Times on Sunday, April 20. Yes, Mr. Holland, as a professional music critic, you should feel guilty about your intellectual laziness. I don't mind the fact that you dislike serial and atonal music. I mind a great deal that you don't have the honesty to recuse yourself from writing about music you're incapable of writing about in a fair manner. And whoever continues to assign you to review music for which you happily demonstrate your contempt should feel ashamed of himself.

And Marc Geelhoed beat me to dissecting Holland's review of the Stravinsky concert held in the Park Avenue Armory. I hope Alex Ross made it there so I can find out what it was really like. Perhaps chere La Cieca will do one of her famous pie charts of the Stravinsky concert.

Correction: Marc tells me that his posting was not tongue-in-cheek. He admires the sentence he called out. This means I'll have to dissect the review myself, but since it's 3 a.m. my time, for now I'll just say that the review says quite a bit more about the Armory's acoustics than the performances.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sweet Spot

I went to the Bernard Labadie program at SF Symphony last night, a concert that, left to my own devices, I would have skipped entirely: Excerpts from Gluck's Orfeo, Ravel, Pavane pour une infante défunte, Mozart, Clarinet Concerto, Bizet, Symphony in C. But my girlfriend wanted to see it, so back in January I picked up a couple of inexpensive tickets during the sale.

The Gluck and Ravel were strictly snoozers. The Gluck is uninteresting to start with, and it was not strongly conducted. The Ravel was worse, startlingly lumpy and thick, and very un-French. Joshua Kosman's review noted that Labadie's strength is in peppier music, and he's right. The Gluck and Ravel suffered accordingly.

I'm glad to have heard the Symphony's new principal clarinetist, the wonderful Carey Bell, strut his stuff in a beautifully played, and marvelously ornamented, account of the Mozart, but I have heard the piece approximately five thousand times and couldn't bring myself to be especially enthused about hearing it yet again, no matter how masterful the performance. I'd rather hear Bell play the Nielsen or Lindberg or something else from the last hundred years. The Bizet is a fine piece, especially for a teenager, about on the scale of one of the first four Schubert symphonies and with a decided Gallic air to it. Still, it runs on a bit too long, and occasionally Bizet's inexperience shows. Some of the modulations are completely unprepared, as though he knew where he was going but not quite how to get there.

My problem with this program is not with any individual piece. It's that it could have been taken from a typical two-hour stretch of KDFC. It's comfortable and breezy, nothing challenging. It's all music most of us have heard a little too often. Other than when Carey Bell was playing, it never quite got my full attention.

There was one unexpected benefit, though: by some miracle my randomly-assigned seats in the second tier were sonic perfection for the evening's orchestral configuration of about 30 to 40 players. The strings were always clearly audible, all of them; the orchestral sound transparent. It makes me wonder if one of the problems in Davies is that it's acoustically balanced for a small orchestra, not a full-sized symphony; I hears lots of the big-orchestra pieces there, and they almost always blare a bit and sound poorly balanced and blended unless I'm in the orchestra or terrace.

So, for those times when a reduced orchestra is in use, remember this: Section GG, Row F, Seats 10 and 12.

Arrived in the Mail

The Complete Recordings of Marie Delna and Selected Recordings of Jeanne Marié De’Lisle
, only weeks after I received the Grieg, Saint-Saëns, Pugno, and Diémer piano set, which also includes Massenet and Debussy.

This means the Marston mystery release is up next.

At ArkivMusic

I buy CDs at ArkivMusic for a number of reasons: great sales, good prices, and the availability of out-of-print sets. They've negotiated deals with some major labels to press-on-demand a range of otherwise unavailable sets. That's how I got my copy of Satyagraha, for example.

I get email from ArkivMusic once or twice a week, and usually have to bang my head against the wall a few times before clicking Delete, since I already have dozens of sets I've never heard. Currently tempting me is a boxed set of orchestral works by Mexican composers. Back, back, I say!

Not tempting me, because I already own the set, is John Eliot Gardiner's Schumann symphony set, with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. This set should, however, be tempting you. They're first-class performances in excellent sound, - and that ORR! The set includes the marvelous Konzertstück for Four Horns, both versions of the Fourth Symphony, and the "Zwickau" symphony. How can you possibly go wrong, for $29.99?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


The 2008 Proms schedule.

Jerry Kuderna at the Hillside Club: Carter, Nin-Culmell, and Others

The pianist Jerry Kuderna is playing one fantastic program at Berkeley's Hillside Club this Friday, April 11, 2008:

Two Centenaries: Elliott Carter and Joaquin Nin-Culmell

Claude Debussy: Etudes (1915)
Pour les arpeges composees
Pour les cinq doigts

Milton Babbitt: Tableaux (1973)

Elliott Carter: Night Fantasies

Joaquin Nin-Culmell: Tonadas (selections) (1957-1972)

Federico Mompou: Musica Callada (selections) (1959-1971)

This is for the bargain price of $15! I can't be there, but maybe you can:

Admission $15 ($10 for HSC members and Seniors)
The Berkeley Hillside Club
2286 Cedar Street
Berkeley 94709
Info: (510) 845-1350

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Pulitzer Prizes, 2008 (III)

In connection with an article I'm working on, Columbia University sent me a complete list of all the jurors for the music prize. If you've ever wondered who decides on the winners of this extremely visible prize, wonder no more. The (slightly ragged-looking) table below lists all Pulitzer music prize jurors since 1943 and how many times they served.

Clifton, Chalmers


Ward, Robert


Kastendieck, Miles


Schuller, Gunther composer


Baker, David N.


Hamilton, David


Harbison, John,


Schwantner, Joseph, composer


Copland, Aaron


Luening, Otto


Wernick, Richard


Lang, Paul Henry


Page, Tim,


Persichetti, Vincent,


Bassett, Leslie


Bergsma, William


Bernheimer, Martin


Dello Joio, Norman


Hume, Paul


Kirchner, Leon


Lewis, John


Lowens, Irving


Peterson, Wayne, composer, professor emeritus, San Francisco State University


Wyner, Yehudi, professor of music, Brandeis University


Abrams, Muhal Richard, pianist and composer


Cowell, Henry


Crumb, George, professor of Music, University of Pennsylvania


Druckman, Jacob, composer, (Chairman) of composition dept., school of music, Yale University


Gideon, Miriam, composer


Guzelimian, Ara, senior director and artistic advisor, Carnegia Hall, (Chairman)


Husa, Karel, composer, professor of music, Cornell University


Kolodin, Irving, music editor, Saturday Review


Kriegsman, Alan M., dance critic, Washington Post


Lockwood, Norman


Martino, Donald


Monson, Ingrid


Perle, George


Porter, Quincy


Reich, Howard


Reynolds, Roger


Rouse, Christopher


Sollberger, Harvey


Trimbel, Lester


Webster, Beveridge


Weisgall, Hugo


Zwilich, Ellen Taafe


Andres, Dwight


Argento, Dominick


Babbitt, Milton


Blier, Steven


Bolcom, William


Craft, Robert,


Davidovsky, Mario


Davidson, Justin


Davis, Peter G


Eyer, Ronald


Fine, Vivian


Finney, Ross Lee


Freed, Isadore


Hanson, Howard


Hartke, Stephen


Henahan, Donal J.


James, Philip


Kalodin, Irving


LaMontaine, John


Ran, Shulamit


Rhodes, Willard


Riegger, Wallingford


Rockwell, John


Sargent, Winthrop


Schaefer, John


Scherman, Thomas C.


Schuman, William


Sherman, Thomas B.,


Steinberg, Michael


Stucky, Steven


Swed, Mark


Thomson, Virgil


Tower, Joan


Wagenaar, Bernard


Wagner, Melinda


Wallenstein, Alfred


Wen Chung, Chou


Wilson, Olly


Wuorinen, Charles


Zinman, David


Updated, April 10: Removed duplicate row.

Pulitzer Prizes, 2008 (II)

I'm having a fine time right now listening to David Lang's Pulitzer Prize winning composition, The Little Match Girl Passion; for the recording and information about the piece, go here.

Pulitzer Prizes, 2008 (I)

Various and sundry bloggers have mentioned that The Rest is Noise was a nominated finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, but I have not yet seen discussion of the fact that Gene Weingarten's Joshua-Bell-the-Busker story actually won a prize. I'm now in the position of saying to people who loved the story when it ran "well, it was badly flawed and was roundly criticized by classical music writers and bloggers." I would like to provide links to blog postings or articles about the story; if you have some handy, or remembering having your head your hands over it, please email me or post 'em here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


A day or so ago, I received email from the Royal Opera House, complete with lovely embedded graphics, about the upcoming premiere of Harrison Birtwhistle's new opera, The Minotaur. There was a link, prominently labeled SEE THE TRAILER.

I clicked the link. At the other end, there's a YouTube video of the librettist, David Harsent, talking. And talking and talking and talking, interspersed with an occasional still photo that I presume to have been taken at rehearsals for the opera. Yes, it's an opera, and the Royal Opera has chosen a talking head to represent the piece in the trailer.

People! It's an opera! Put up some of the music! And even some video from the rehearsals! Whatever you do, do not bore your (potential) audience!!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


So, what I think ACD's methodology shows is that a smallish group of bloggers links to me often enough to get me up up up in his standings. The other interesting measurement, of course, is hits. See my previous postings for his reasons that this can't be reliably compared.

But I thought I'd put out what I do know about my hits. Now, I do not use Google Analytics , which is incredibly complicated and geared for users of AdWords and AdSense. (Maybe I shouldn't admit that in public, or maybe I should go install it.) I don't even use the paid version of SiteMeter, so I get comparatively stripped-down statistical information.

In a good week, I get up to 140 hits, with maybe 175 or 200 page views. Sometimes that sinks down to 85 to 100 hits per week, if I'm not blogging much. The free version of SiteMeter doesn't seem to provide a count of unique visitors, which I would take to mean unique originating IP addresses.

Alex Ross posted some time ago - maybe it's in the About info at Noise - that he gets 2,000 hits per day. Matthew Guerrierri and Opera Chic have both posted information indicated readerships far larger than mine.

You can see why I'm skeptical about being listed as no. 12.

Here's the latest report from SiteMeter; there'll be a new one tomorrow:

                    -- Site Summary ---                  

Total ....................... 54,384
Average per Day ................. 99
Average Visit Length .......... 1:13
This Week ...................... 692

Page Views

Total ....................... 75,135
Average per Day ................ 130
Average per Visit .............. 1.3
This Week ...................... 911

--- Visits this Week ---
Hour 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25 3/26 Total
---- ----- ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ -------
1 3 3 0 0 3 1 1 11
2 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 12
3 3 1 2 1 2 1 1 11
4 0 0 0 2 1 0 2 5
5 3 1 2 1 2 1 2 12
6 2 2 3 1 0 6 2 16
7 2 3 6 2 4 5 5 27
8 7 7 3 4 4 4 8 37
9 6 6 6 5 7 6 7 43
10 10 5 6 4 6 8 9 48
11 7 3 5 6 7 8 6 42
12 1 4 4 9 8 7 4 37
13 6 6 2 7 8 4 8 41
14 2 3 3 2 7 6 7 30
15 4 5 5 1 4 1 6 26
16 10 11 4 4 3 5 3 40
17 4 9 4 4 7 7 6 41
18 5 2 2 7 8 6 6 36
19 6 4 7 3 8 3 5 36
20 5 3 3 5 2 4 9 31
21 7 7 2 3 2 14 9 44
22 3 0 2 1 3 3 4 16
23 5 5 1 3 2 4 5 25
24 0 2 5 4 3 6 5 25
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ -------
104 94 78 80 102 112 122 692

--- Page Views this Week ---
Hour 3/20 3/21 3/22 3/23 3/24 3/25 3/26 Total
---- ----- ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ -------
1 3 4 0 0 3 1 2 13
2 4 6 1 1 1 3 2 18
3 4 1 3 1 2 4 1 16
4 0 0 0 2 1 0 2 5
5 4 1 5 1 2 1 2 16
6 4 3 4 1 0 9 2 23
7 2 6 14 2 4 5 7 40
8 9 7 5 5 4 4 10 44
9 8 10 9 8 8 8 10 61
10 11 5 6 5 6 10 10 53
11 10 3 12 9 8 9 9 60
12 1 8 5 11 10 10 9 54
13 7 8 2 7 11 4 18 57
14 2 4 3 2 7 6 8 32
15 4 7 6 1 4 1 7 30
16 14 12 6 4 3 8 4 51
17 6 25 5 5 11 12 8 72
18 11 3 2 8 8 11 6 49
19 7 4 8 3 10 4 7 43
20 5 3 4 6 3 5 13 39
21 7 7 5 3 2 17 9 50
22 3 0 3 1 3 3 7 20
23 10 6 1 3 2 6 5 33
24 0 2 5 7 3 7 8 32
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ -------
136 135 114 96 116 148 166 911

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I Would Do It Differently, Myself

A.C. Douglas has posted a list of what he's calling the top 50 classical music blogs. He has used an idiosyncratic means of determining the ranking, based on a listing of incoming links "generated by Google."

If I were ranking any group of blogs, I'd do it by hits, which give an indication of the size of a blog's readership. That's a better gauge than incoming links. There is just no way this blog should be ranked above parterre box and Opera Chic, which I would guess have a readership an order of magnitude greater than mine.