30 March 2010

2 of 2 (in part)

Both of Sine Nomine’s performances of the Passion were wonderful, as good as the composer could have hoped, and better. The recording of the 21 March performance arrived, and fully vindicates the warm-fuzzy feelings.

I have been introduced (via e-mail) to a clarinet/percussion duo from Atlanta, DMC Duo (“DMC” stands for “devil may care”). Not surprisingly, they are open to new music (the devil you say?). And they will be touring in June, including a date here in Cambridge . . . so, yes, I’ve begun work on a 9-minute piece, Angular Whimsies (Heavy Paint Manipulation).

Last minute-ish, I have been engaged as a substitute tenor at First Church for this Sunday past (when we sang Casals’ O vos omnes) and next. For Easter, we are singing (almost all of) Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb . . . only the second time I’ve been part of a performance of it, and really a fun piece. Paul found it understandably difficult to find an organist to hire for next Sunday . . . so he will play at the console. It was easier to find a conductor to hire, and so the Britten will be conducted by Tim Harbold, director of Oure Pleasure Singers — the choir who will join together with Sine Nomine in a May program to sing the Vaughan Williams Mass for double choir. Paul has also suggested that I give Tim a complimentary copy of the Alleluia in D for women’s choir . . . which I do think I have ready to hand, and can bring along this Sunday morning.

The Opus 48 is a convenient narrative hinge, for I called the St Paul’s Cathedral administrator yestermorn, and what should I hear over the phone receiver while I was on hold, but the Alleluia in D (SATB version). Probably still the old, old recording, but hey, my music is still in there. The occasion for my call was that I heard recently from an old friend that they had sung my Nunc dimittis (from the 2006 Evening Service in D) not long ago; so, I was calling to research the precise date (14 March). So there is still the occasional ‘residual’ Henning performance at 138 Tremont Street.

Even as I have been composing this message, I have had incoming e-mail messages to finalize the next rehearsal of Lunar Glare (this Friday) for which I will need to ‘finish’ my clarinet part (in the sense of adding the needed cues). And if I can practice, well, that won’t be a bad thing, either, at all, at all. That piece we will play on 12 May.

It turns out that Heinrich Christensen at King’s Chapel will be out of town that week, so he cannot accompany me for a cl/org program on 18 May. I am still considering Plan B. Strike that: As soon as I typed the phrase Plan B, I realized I have been meaning to call Peter Bloom to check his availability for that Tuesday . . . and I suddenly had enough with the “meaning to.” I called; Peter is in.

28 March 2010

Mobile Listening

Sprawling four-day shuffle:

1. Ravel, Malagueña from Rapsodie espagnole (Detroit Symphony, Paul Paray) [654/1172]
2. Ravel, ii. Très vif from the Sonata for violin & cello (members of the Nash Ensemble) [375/1172]
3. Martinů, Paraboli, H.367, i. The Parable of a Sculpture (Cz Phil, Karel Ančerl) [1028/1172]
4. Stravinsky, Abraham & Isaac, “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering” (David Wilson-Johnson, London Sinfonietta, Oliver Knussen) [32/1172]
5. Prokofiev, Cinderella, Opus 87, Act II, № 28 Mazurka (Cleveland Orchestra, Ashkenazy) [110/1172]
6. Zappa, “Montana” (You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. II) [553/1172]
7. Ravel, i. Modéré from the Piano Trio in a minor (members of the Nash Ensemble) [629/1172]
8. Debussy, Six épigraphes antiques, № 1 Pour invoquer Pan, dieu du vent d’été (Jean-Philippe Collard & Michel Béroff) [782/1172]
9. Stravinsky, Pas d’action (Vivace) from Orpheus (LSO, Robert Craft) [203/1172]
10. Shostakovich, Sonnet LXVI (Shakespeare) from Six Romances on Verses by English Poets, Opus 62, № 5 (Fyodor Kuznetsov, bass; Yuri Serov, piano) [793/1172]
11. Shostakovich, Prelude & fugue in a minor from the Opus 87 (Tatiana Nikolayeva) [376/1029]
12. de Victoria, O magnum misterium (Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly) [538/1172]
13. Talking Heads, “Houses in Motion” (Remain in Light) [344/1172]
14. Messiaen, Quatuor pour la fin du temps, i. Liturgie de cristal (Ensemble Incanto) [511/1172]
15. Stravinsky, Symphonies d'instruments à vent (Netherlands Wind Ensemble, Thierry Fischer) [914/1172]
16. Shostakovich, Symphony № 14, Opus 135, ii. “Malagueña” (Marina Shaguch, soprano; Prague Symphony; Maksim Dmitriyevich) [715/1172]
17. Nielsen, Sinfonia espansiva (Symphony № 3, Opus 27, FS 60), ii. Andante (SFSO, Blomstedt) [568/1172]
18. Beethoven, Symphony № 5 in c minor, Opus 67, iv. Allegro (Gewandhausorchester, Masur) [932/1172]
19. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 10 in A-flat, Opus 118, i. Allegro (Emerson String Quartet) [850/1172]
20. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 3 in F, Opus 73, ii. Moderato con moto (Emerson String Quartet) [764/1172]
21. Bartók, The Miraculous Mandarin: The girl sinks down. . . (LSO, Doráti) [1015/1172]
22. Bartók, String Quartet № 3, Sz.85 / BB93, i. Prima parte (Emerson String Quartet) [833/1172]
23. Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “Electric Aunt Jemima” (Uncle Meat) [274/1172]
24. Palestrina, Gloria from Missa Aeterna Christi munera (Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly) [961/1172]
25. Stravinsky, Gloria from the Mass (Westminster Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia, James O’Donnell) [526/1172]
26. Genesis, “The Chamber of 32 Doors” (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway) [978/1172]
27. Vaughan Williams, Symphony № 5, iv. Passacaglia: Moderato (London Philharmonic, Haitink) [439/1172]
28. Bartók, Piano Concerto № 3, Sz.119 / BB 127, ii. Adagio religioso (Géza Anda, Berlin Radio Symphony, Ferenc Fricsay) [377/1172]
29. Shostakovich, Symphony № 7 in C Leningrad, Opus 60, iii. Adagio (Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich) [743/1172]
30. de Victoria, Sanctus from Missa O magnum misterium (Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly) [539/1172]
31. Genesis, “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” (Selling England by the Pound) [237/1172]
32. Genesis, “The Carpet Crawlers” (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway) [194/1172]
33. Bartók, Piano Concerto № 2, Sz.95 / BB 101, i. Allegro (Géza Anda, Berlin Radio Symphony, Ferenc Fricsay) [357/1172]
34. Jethro Tull, “Bourrée” (Stand Up) [176/1172]
35. Stravinsky, The Flood: The Covenant of the Rainbow (London Sinfonietta &al., Oliver Knussen) [993/1172]
36. Genesis, “Heathaze” (Duke) [335/1172]

25 March 2010

Return to Emotion

Of the Passion, a friend in Colorado asks:

What was it like, emotionally speaking, writing music to underscore this event?

Emotionally rich; finding the right ‘tone’ for the music was a process of reflecting on Good Friday devotions in years past. My setting was not going to be heart-on-sleeve dramatization; but I did think about the plainchant Passion setting which had been in use at St Paul’s for some 4-5 years prior . . . and while I appreciate the musical ‘detachment’ of singing the text of the Passion story to a plainchant Psalm-tone — and I was well content to utilize that musical method and dynamic in part of my own setting — the character of the traditional Psalm-tone we had been using is in major-ish mode, Lydian in bits as I recall, and one of my immediate thoughts was to compose my own Psalm-tone in the more ‘keening’ Phrygian mode.

It’s not a very technical thing to say about the composition, nor does it offer a clear answer to the emotional question, but in some ways the overarching determinative musical factor for my Passion, was musical memory of a different component of the traditional Good Friday service at St Paul’s: the plainchant Psalm-tone to which we would sing Psalm 22 for the stripping of the altar at the service’s end.

Emotionally, I did not need to micro-manage the narrative; that was an aspect which I simply knew I should find ready as I got to that measure in the score, you might say. Compositionally on the ‘granular’ scale, I felt that I would discover the right materials as I was embarked. Compositionally from the architectural angle, I felt directly ready for most of the task, as I knew that I wanted to start out with a Psalm-tone (whose ‘base form’ I composed almost in a breath), that I would drive toward a Nuhro-like method for the Crucifixion, and that in between I would employ ‘wrong-note-Monteverdi’ polyphony for select passages, in a manner I had well explored in the Nunc dimittis which I had composed for the 2006 Evening Service in D. With those ‘structural supports’ established, I expected that I could manage fairly improvisationally . . . and that if I just found the time to work, the work of composition would about perform itself.

As with many a piece I’ve written, I did some of the creative work on the bus ride to or from work, and if anything, in the case of the Passion, I found it even easier than usual to ‘zone in’ on the task. Most of the chant and organum and polyphony modules of the first part, I had in place from ‘commuter composing’, when I set the task aside in (I think) August. I was well ahead of schedule, and there was another composition or arrangement, or two, which wanted attention sooner. Even so, the Passion must have been ‘slow-cooking’ in the back of my mind.

When in January 2008 I was vacationing, visiting friends in Florida, the environment was perfect. My friends were most hospitable, and gave me plenty of space to do as I liked, and when I liked; the weather was clement – clement even for Daytona Beach at that season, and so, in comparison to Boston in January, perfectly paradisal; and my musical mind was, simply, ready to be focused entirely on the task of writing out the remainder of the Passion. Although in my thinking before the trip, I had budgeted on the first full day in Florida as non-work, recuperative time, in the event, my spirit was already refreshed, and before the first day was done, I had finished up the chant section entirely, and I was now waiting at the foot of the cross at Golgotha.

Again, I did not especially concentrate on the emotional aspect, that was a matter of memory, and musically, I knew what tools I had selected for that passage . . . it wasn’t nose-to-the-grindstone, nor was it unimpeded outflow: it was something in between, looking at the palette, and knowing when I had found the right color, and sometimes, the slightly additional effort of blending two paints together for the right hue.

Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

When I got to this point, I had not really considered what I should do musically. The texture and the harmonies (or, the almost game-like means by which I arrived at the harmonies) just came to me at the time when I needed to write this passage . . . and yet, it feels to me as if all the piece before was written in order to arrive at this. The Burial, too, emerged as a kind of improvisation (months before, I had probably thought no more sophisticatedly than that, I would continue to do ‘something like’ the Crucifixion passage — but of course, if I had done simply that, it would have grown wearisome, I should think). So for me, in the writing, there was a special immediacy in my awareness of the task as I was fulfilling it, which I think has made something of an imprint on the music itself; and the music always feels fresh to me when I hear it, because I remember how it did not occur to me, until practically when I needed to set it to paper.

23 March 2010

L’acqua rallenta

Water . . . watch it drip again, for the first time:

Our man in Yorkshire suggests:
p.s. Might be better to watch it muted. Really, no need for those sound effects.
Viewer discretion is advised.

21 March 2010

1 of 2

There we were, in the Providence Journal:

Karl Henning’s Passion According to St John and J.S. Bach’s motet, Jesu Meine Freude with Mai-Lan and Hendrik Broekman continuo.

And what did those who accepted the journalistic invitation hear? In part, this:

20 March 2010

18 March 2010

Shuffle du jour

A little peculiar that the shuffle on this beautifully sunny spring day, should be a Christmas carol:
1. Mannheim Steamroller, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” (some Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album or other) [371/1172]
2. Genesis, “The Lamia” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [997/1172]
3. Mannheim Steamroller, “Good King Wenceslaus” (some Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album or other) [322/1172]
4. Captain Beefheart, “Frownland” from Trout Mask Replica [315/1172]
5. Prokofiev, Visions fugitives, Opus 22, № 18: Con una dolce lentezza (Michel Béroff) [1102/1172]
6. Astor Piazzolla, Contrabajísimo from Tango: Hora Cero [218/1172]
7. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 2 in A, Opus 68, ii. Recitative & Romance: Adagio (Emerson String Quartet) [760/1172]
8. The Bonzo Dog Doo/Dah Band, “Cool Britannia” from Gorilla [219/1172]
9. Shostakovich, Symphony № 4, Opus 43, First movement (Prague Symphony; Maksim Dmitriyevich) [731/1172]
10. Shostakovich, Symphony № 13, Opus 113 (Babi Yar), iv. “Fears” (Peter Mikulas, bass; Prague Symphony; Maksim Dmitriyevich) [712/1172]
11. Vivaldi, Le quattro stagioni: L’autunno, i. Allegro (Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica) [477/1172]
12. Prokofiev, Piano Concerto № 5 in G, Opus 55, i. Allegro con brio (Michel Béroff, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Kurt Masur) [624/1172]


Oops! Mis-pasted in yesterday’s post, and so this video (the pride of the fleet) was missing) . . . .

Conclusion of the Crucifixion, and the Deposition from the Cross:

17 March 2010

Shut Up ’n’ Let the Music Do the Talkin’ Some More

The start of the Crucifixion section:

16 March 2010

Allô, soleil!

This sunshine thing: I could quite take to it.

Here at King's Chapel to hear Paul Cienniwa play Couperin's Huitième Ordre.

Dress Rehearsal

Gosh, what a blast last night was. The imminent performances of the Passion are going to transport the audience to another and a better world. In addition to all the [good kind of] chills which were vibing in abundance . . . as I listened to the Deposition from the Cross, it brought me back almost physically to a warm visit to a southerly friend. This was as I conceived the piece, as I hummed it back to myself from the MS., on that day 26 months ago, when the ink was only drying on the page.

Listening to Sine sing the piece through last night, was a larger-than-my-musical-grasp experience, and it seemed to me as if I had written the piece for this very collection of musicians. There are no words for the feeling a composer gets, of so profound an attunement with the universe, a ‘condition’ to which his work has somehow attained, yet not (apparently) any mere result of exercising his own sonic will, as it depends upon the participation — indeed the dedication — of other free beings.

There are no proper words for it, but it is certainly an exalted joy.

13 March 2010

One Brilliant Corner

There was blood and a single gunshot,
but just who shot whom?

— Barry Manilow (in a parallel universe in which pop song writers exult in the joys of grammar)

Listening to a lot of Thelonious Monk lately. And why?

Mostly, just because I like the music, the verve, the scoring, the nimbleness.

The occasion, though, was seeing a book of the title Straight from the Fridge, Dad, a lexicon of 50s slang. I had actually worked out that the title was an elaboration of cool before I looked into the book to check; but on checking, my eye fell upon the phrase which followed: Straight, no chaser. In this book, the editor appends an instance of the phrase’s use after its definition . . . and the reference for Straight, no chaser was a 1959 recording by . . . I forget just whom, but not Monk. In the spirit of proper attribution, I was curious to find out when Monk had composed the tune (for I was even then sure it must be his), and he recorded it as early as 1951.

Anyway, that’s the story of the catalyst of the sudden spike in Thelonious Monk listening.

And now, for some Schnittke . . . .

09 March 2010

If I Had a Hammer . . . .

An Apple a day? . . .

G-man, Chorosity & Flowers Onto a Canvas

Fascinating word comes in from an old schoolmate. And a big thank-you to A Certain Soprano Saxophonist for setting a none-too-high threshold:

Thanks to comedian Mike Birbiglia, my kids have a passing knowledge of the horror of Kenny G. It came up in conversation at supper this evening and I said, “Here’s some really good clarinet.” And we listened to Heedless Watermelon from your Emory concert. They liked it, too.

Most encouraging news, in the form of a post-rehearsal communiqué to the choir:

We are in really good shape right now. I suspect that many of you are dwelling on the last 30' of rehearsal, but, believe me, this is really on its way to being a great concert. Once we worked out the pitch issue, we didn't have much time to pick at the crucifixion—but I’m not terribly concerned.

The first half of the Passion was really, really good. Just remember to be dynamic on the polyphonic sections. (Please practice them and note the tempo differences.) The Bach is great fun, and you are singing it really well. Again, remember to be dynamic, and, for now, don’t be afraid to sing out!

We will begin next week’s rehearsal with a review of the two famous crucifixion passages, first trying w/o sopranos and then adding them. From there, we’ll give a complete run of the program, followed by some spot-checking.

Thank you for your patience, flexibility and ability to stand for three hours of rehearsal!

Three hours is a passel of rehearsal . . . it’s good (and necessary) for building the stamina needed to sing such a program without petering out towards the end. Very excited at what promises to be a brace of powerful concerts!

And, my idol:

[ click for larger image ]

The Lion Drinks

[ click for larger image ]

Spring (or a tease) comes to Boston, and a lion refreshes himself on Post Office Square.

Keenly looking forward to word of the rehearsal last night (I am, not the lion) . . . .

08 March 2010

First Limitation

Watched “The Galaxy Being” tonight, the first episode of The Outer Limits (originally broadcast on 16 September 1963). The music by Dominic Frontiere (born in New Haven, CT on 17 June 1931) was pretty good.

According to Wikipedia, Frontiere was also a jazz accordionist; and he was incarcerated for scalping tickets to the 1980 Super Bowl (his wife at the time owned the L.A. Rams). Some composers sure do live.

Changing Money

Elgar cashes out:

“Will you notice when he’s gone?” asks Lisa Bachelor.

02 March 2010


She ruled . . . every newt in Idaho.
— Frank Zappa (in a rare herpetological observation)

The wind has gentled down. Though more may yet fall before spring can really be said to have arrived, the snow has largely melted away. And a composer’s thoughts turn to beams, flags, stems and black dots.