29 January 2013

Extra, Extra

And . . . the review of this past Sunday’s concert.

(I am inclined to think that this represents the first reference to a performance of my music in a periodical, so quite the Red Letter day.)


I could scarcely credit my eyes when I read this, this morning:
Few composers evoke elevated sentiments such as “wow!” and “we get the picture” as powerfully as Locatelli.
Hard to imagine that any listener in our day should be “wowed” so easily by Locatelli. (And: is “we get the picture” an elevated sentiment?)

27 January 2013

Preface to a performance

Good afternoon. You’ve already heard how beautifully the choir sing under Paul’s direction, so I needn’t explain to you why a composer would wish to write a piece for them.  They’ve already made my talk a bit easier.

When Paul and I first met, I had already composed quite a bit of sacred choral music, actually.  And some of these pieces, Paul has had the choir sing from time to time over the years.  Many of the pieces in my ‘pre-existing catalogue,’ for one reason or another, did not quite suit.  So came a day when Paul and I talked about a new piece I might write for the choir.  And the conversation hadn’t even warmed up, when we happily lit upon this James Vila Blake text, which (if I do not mistake) is employed as a unison reading perhaps every Sunday morning service here at First Church.

As to how I wrote the piece – again, before Paul and I made our mutual acquaintance, I had served briefly as Interim Choir Director at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St Paul here in Boston.  While it is music which I have sung now and again practically from the time I first began to sing in a choir as a teenager, the task of directing a choir enriched my appreciation for the great Tudor and Elizabethan polyphonists: Byrd, Tallis, Gibbon, e.g.

I do not pretend that the idea is at all original with me, composers have made fruitful use of the practice for a long time . . . I took a sort of snapshot of that classic musical style, and adopted some of the musical means, while retaining my rather more musically recent sensibilities of materials, and of how the materials might agreeably play together.

One last observation of the piece:  in writing the musical setting, when I reached the end of the James Vila Blake text, that was the end of my final draught, and I sent it along to Paul for his thoughts. He responded favorably – so favorably, that his one complaint was, that it was too short. (And believe me, a composer far prefers being told that a score is too short, rather than that it runs on rather too long, thank you very much.)

So it was essentially at Paul’s behest, that I added a melismatic Amen, a musical notion which (to echo a remark Jeeves might make to Bertie Wooster) has generally given satisfaction.  The moral of the story is perhaps: If at some point you hear anyone offer the opinion that A Real Artist never entertains suggestions from anyone else, you can tell them from me that they hardly know what they’re talking about.

I thank you, and I do earnestly hope you enjoy the music.

26 January 2013

I know that feeling

The moon seemed to know something, for she stared at me oddly. — Geo. MacDonald, from Lilith

25 January 2013


Chap tweets: Yes, but what do you want the audience to feel?

If as an artist, I cherish my freedom, I gladly allow the audience theirs.

24 January 2013


In addition to his studies at a local college, Andrew worked part-time in the bookshop in a museum.  Simply in the course of working with the inventory, Andrew noticed that the catalogue for a current exhibition of fashion photographer Marco Tortilla includes a great many risqué (and, Andrew could not help feeling, for the most part pointlessly risqué) portraits.  (What sort of “portrait” is it, where all you see is a rear end, and a hand picking at the hem of the underwear?  Of what sort of person would this be the most important, interesting, or significant feature? Well, I guess the vapid flashes-in-the-pan who worship Tortilla as a photographic geeeenius.)
Remembering times in the past when a corner dime-store had a jar of jelly-beans on the counter, and ran a sort of betting-pool where the winner was whoever best guessed the number of jelly-beans in the jar . . . Andrew had the mildly wicked thought of proposing a similar game of chance among his co-workers, called How Many Exposed Nipples in the Artsy Catalogue?

21 January 2013

Airy on

Just heard from Meerenai, and I blush to say that it seems she may have taken an interest in Airy Distillates.  She has a busy schedule, so I suspect it may be a while before she may be able to learn the piece, but it is nice to learn that she intends learning it.

Most of my work (a little bird suggests that I might cast that noun in scare-quotes, but let it be) on the Organ Sonata over the past week or so has been cerebral, or ethereal, certainly immaterial: I hadn’t set ink to paper in quite some little while.  But this evening I re-awoke Sibelius, and added to the score some passages I had been thinking to add for some little time, and I quite like the result.  Will get back to actual paper to-morrow.

In addition to the Shostakovich symphonies and string quartets, I’ve spent some time with Charles Wuorinen’s string quartets (and Archangel, for bass trombone and string quartet). Oh, and with Hindemith’s Ludus tonalis.

19 January 2013

From the 134 bus

En route to rehearsal. Looked through the folder completely, starting with the Palestrina. Everything looks like music I've sung before, and rehearsal will be great fun.

18 January 2013

Pensée du jour

Basically, the idea is that with everyone striving to be revolutionary, you will be most revolutionary if you try to be ordinary. — Denise Scott Brown

17 January 2013


A young lady of four or so indicates over the phone matters of relative importance:  Call back later. I am listening to Mahler.
After who knows how long, I revisited Maurizio Pollini’s recording of Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Pétrouchka and the Prokofiev Seventh Sonata. An absolutely electrical brilliance.
Peering ahead to two days off, in order to catch up on some composing.
And realizing that it were high time I fetched in recordings of Charles Wuorinen’s Second and Third String Quartets.

16 January 2013


Ah-ha! A clarinetist writes back, and may soon look at These Unlikely Events.

15 January 2013

The Op.47 among the Liverpudlians

On revisiting Vasily Petrenko's recording of the Shostakovich Fifth, I must say that, actually, it strikes me overall as excellent.

There are a number of places where Petrenko takes a markedly deliberate tack. The first this becomes apparent, is the start of the development of the first movement — and in this case, the result is not entirely successful . . . there is some hesitancy/uncertainty in the band, I think, and it comes off sounding almost like a false step. This does not last long, as there are stepped accelerandi through the ensuing passage, and the band regains its footing.

Now, it seems to me that an 'unforgiving' listener may be apt to judge the later instances of tempi which feel slower than one may be accustomed to, as 'equally unsuccessful'; but actually, I think they all carry well.

As to the mixed (or negative) reviews, this is my take:

1) For some, there are 'classic' recordings which 'define' the symphony, for them. To these, Petrenko's 'deviations' from their 'standard text' of the piece, will be unpardonable misdemeanors.

2) That aside, there are near-flawless 'classic' recordings of the piece, and the fact that there is this one mis-step is an easy 'disqualification'.

To my ears, though, apart from a few seconds of wishing that the transition had been better secured before the performance, this is a genuinely fine account of the piece. The Largo particularly, and the tension in the coda of the last movement, I think are successes that more than justify the risk-taking.

13 January 2013


Just sang some Copland, Handel, Tye & Palestrina. There was talk of a Nunc dimittis, but I restrained myself, and did not suggest my own setting.

Talked a bit with Bill T. about the Organ Sonata, which in turn spurred recollections of the Toccata.

Time's up! Back to rehearsal.

11 January 2013

What I didn't know at the time

Posted five years ago to-day:

Within forty measures of the close of this Passion setting!

. . . although it was not quite true, as the text I was working from was missing the last verse or two. Still, practically a wrap. 

10 January 2013


Well, well, pretty serious Liszt and Chopin listening streak in progress. Falling in love with Martha Argerich all over again.

Some folder reorganization / file re-tagging on the devices, too.

Fun Glenn Gould quote of the day:  “Schoenberg does not write against the piano, but neither can he be accused of writing for it.”

Was leafing through A Natural History of the Piano the other day. Chap walks up, notes title, and remarks, “What would a natural history of the piano be? Talk about wood, sources of felt, &c.?”  He was dead right, of course, and at first I suggested simply that the adjective natural be dropped . . . but the book were better titled A Social History. That were le mot juste.

09 January 2013

Deviant sextets

Hadn't thought about this in quite some time, but the recollection is warmly pleasant.
While in Charlottesville, and inspired by Weberns example, I assembled a mixed sextet for which I arranged, first, the Bach Ricercar a 6, and then a Gibbons Fantasia a 6. There was, alas! certainly no recording.  May not even have made it to the performance stage, though I definitely remember a rehearsal, maybe two.
I remember my eye falling on the parts for one or both of these sometime last year; not sure they survived the paper purge.

08 January 2013

From the vault (and from the road)

Five years ago to-day:

Making great progress on the St John’s Passion setting for St Paul’s. Posting from an undisclosed roadside location, waiting for my bicycle to emerge from under the knife (or the wrench and sprockets, as it may be . . . .) 

Awesomely Simple

Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity. – Charles Mingus

Morning query

What may this day not bring?

05 January 2013


Elgar’s Op.68 is making more sense to me now than ever previously. In fact, it now seems clear as day.

So: where was I all this time?

04 January 2013


The new listening for to-day:

Shostakovich, Salute to Spain!
A Rakhmaninov Moment musical (I want to say c# minor)
Not absolutely new, as I've seen the opera … but the Suite from The Nose, Op.15a. The all-percussion Entr’acte is every bit as brilliant as its reputation.

Tired, sorry.

03 January 2013

The March of Time (two different steps)

When Shostakovich wrote the score to the film New Babylon (Новый Вавилон) he was at less of a remove from the Franco-Prussian War, than we are from WWII, to-day.
Four years ago to-day, I learnt that some organ pieces of mine would be used in the Prelude to the funeral service for former Senator Claiborne Pell in Newport, Rhode Island.

02 January 2013

Astride the rolling years

Things I had never guessed the missus and I would do together New Year’s Eve:
  1. Listen to bits of Shostakovich’s film scores to Hamlet and Alone.
  2. I’d read “Annabel Lee” to her.
The Poe is not particularly holiday fare (what of Poe’s is?) but then, this is partly why (to borrow a line from Kate Hepburn in The Lion in Winter) I should have been a great fool not to love her.
The resolution I slouched into is, to listen to something I’ve never heard before, each day of January.
Yesterday: Tchaikovsky’s Concert Fantasy for piano and orchestra, Op.56, and two “juvenile” string quartets by Rakhmaninov.
To-day: Shostakovich’s complete score to New Babylon, and Rakhmaninov’s The Rock, Op.7 – another early work, come to think of it.
Thinking bits of both the Organ Sonata and Annabel Lee to-day, must make sure to scribble some actual measures, to remain in compliance.

01 January 2013

Ring ’er in

In the tradition of rockin’ in the new year without the aid of any superannuated TV bandstand celebrity, my last listening of 2012 was (drumroll, please):

  • Tchaikovsky, String Quartet № 1 in D, Op.11(The Endellion String Quartet)
  • Shostakovich, Piano Quintet in g, Op.57(Boris Berman & The Vermeer String Quartet)
  • Rakhmaninov, Variations on a Theme of Corelli, op.42(Andrei Nikolsky)

(The listening followed ritual viewings of Christmas with the Addams Family and A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim.)

Why all the Russian listening? Well, honestly, it just happened that way.