The Flexible Orchestra with a core of bassoons and contrabassoons performs September 28th, Thursday, 7:30 at the Ukrainian Restaurant, 140 Second Av. At 9th Street, conducted by our wonderful, Tara Simoncic.
It’s a “Concerto Program” with works by Daniel Goode (the orchestra’s founder), Krystina Bobrowski from San Francisco, David Demnitz from Gamelan Son of Lion, and violist/composer, Stephanie Griffin of the Momenta Quartet. In addition, as a gesture to the history of “multiples” of one instrument, we will revive Mary Jane Leach’s “Feu de Joie” for solo bassoon and six recorded bassoons. The soloist will be Sara Schoenbeck, our first bassoonist.
Goode’s “Concerto for Lecturer and Orchestra” is a setting of his wife, Ann Snitow’s lecture on how to survive backlash—ominously relevant to now. Ann will perform the solo lecture.
David Demnitz’s “Savor Pelog/Shading: Clarinet Concerto” is written for Goode playing his instrument. It was originally a piece for gamelan orchestra, which he as transcribed for the Flexible Orchestra.
Bobrowski’s premiere will feature her on french horn. Stephanie Griffin will feature herself on viola.
For further information, write Daniel Goode at
No reservations are needed for the concert. For before the concert dinner reservations, call the restaurant at:
Remember the concert starts at 7:30!
Gorgeous, beautiful, moving! Just to start with: the set by Robert LePage represents the sea with wall-to-wall horizontal strings of LED lights flecked with sprays of lighting changes. Glittering minimalism at its best. The characters play in between the rows of lights. The story makes the sea a central character. It separates and then unites the lovers.
I’m going to be able to cut corners on facts because of Alex Ross’s excellent review(s) in the New Yorker. I’m sure the NYTimes has good stuff to google also.
So Saariaho. She’s Finnish and 64. She’s so good it’s almost scary! Most contemporary opera never gets to this level. And she’s the first woman opera composer at the Met since Dame Ethyl Smythe in 1903. I just learned that Smythe’s opera was on a double-bill. But this is opera about a troubadour where the love story is actually moving, the physical encounter at the end though limited, is passionate and sexy. The death of the hero—this time, unlike so many opera deaths—from illness at sea is reasonable in Medieval times. She’s a “countess” (Susanna Phillips) and a fabulous, passionate creature who comes alive both to the fantasy of the hero from across the Mediterranean, and the real one in the flesh, The troubadour is a powerful baritone with a tenor upper range (Eric Owens). The Pilgrim is the only other character, genderless, but beautifully sung by Tamara Mumford. She’s the go-between for the lovers.
Yes, Wagner’s Tristan…, Yes, also Debussy’s Palleas…” and also the neoclassical revivals of “antiquity” by Lully and Gluck and others. The chant-like chorus emerges importantly as a part of the feel of antiquity. But Saariaho is her own person. The libretto in French is syllabic (one note per syllable). That makes it declamatory. It’s delivered almost entirely in a double-gapped scale (larger than one step between consecutive scale notes, like the “harmonic minor” but with a second gap earlier in the scale).
I found this an over-used device that made the singing feel contricted by the scale, though the singers worked against it. And the wonderful mid-views and close-ups possible in the movie theater created so much drama, character and emotion that it hardly mattered in the end. The camera was active without being intrusive. The sound was excellent at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. This is an amazing medium for opera. What will it do to the Met live performances? Well, that’s their problem. They must reduce Met ticket prices at least.
I’m still bothered and always will be by the opera singer’s vibrato, especially in this case by the baritone. In the close-ups of the Pilgrim, you could see her lower jaw vibrating to create the vibrato. Less so with the lead soprano. Whenever a “straight” tone emerged, I was enlivened. A mixture is what one hopes for.
More has to be said of the cluster-y, drone-using orchestral harmony. Vocal pitches are almost always embedded someplace in the orchestra texture. Sometimes, as in the ending, a very persuasive bass tone underlies a tonal center. At other times the texture with filigrees of solo instruments takes over, and a kind of pan-everything pleasurable sound suffuses us.
Thumbnail Review No. 50
All eighteen of his Etudes for Piano, composed between 1985 and 2001. A tour de force of composition, and of pianism by Taka Kigawa. Several of them played from memory. Most read from huge cardboard paste-ups. No page turns! The notes must be very small and the pianist, very good eyesight. I’ve been an admirer of Ligeti since the days of LPs. I have many. I should look at his notation. But Taka carries away the huge cardboard paste-ups after each of the three sets.
I’m amazed by what I’m hearing. Speechless, but I would like to say something. Rather bland words below. Add color!
Up the piano it went.
Down the piano it went.
In the middle of the piano it stayed. Then up, then down. To the top. To the bottom. Bam! Tonal? No, but something like it. (Schoenberg said there was no such thing as atonal.)
Fast, faster and fastest it went. Then faster. Loud, loudest. Terribly soft. Terrific activity then over, there’s another layer, low, softer, slowly ending underneath. That happened again in another etude. And again. Is there another way of listening to this? Should a “Schenker diagram” be forming in my head? N/A.
Dreamy slower, but never too slow. Suddenly come in some irregular accents. Dream is over. Louder, much. Regular accents, violent, but not for long. Nothing too long. This is Europe, not the U.S.
Why do I think that this piano converts everything into 19th Century music? It’s not the pianist. He’s doing more than just his job. Still, I think: Chopin, Liszt (that other Hungarian). Debussy. But how can this be since the program notes by Taka Kigawa tell us of the fantastic numerical and rhythmic facts about the pieces. Algorithms gone wild. Or maybe semi-wild—”poly” is just not strong enough a word for these rhythms. Super-Poly? Is my impression of the Romantic era because of the pedaling? and is that Ligeti’s or Kigawa? Seems right for the material. Not too much. Just enough. So, why? Should the touch be more “mechanical?” That seems wrong. So, why?
Poetic titles: L’escalier du diable, Vertige, A bout de souffle, White on White, Automne å Varsovie—is this last an in-joke about the Warsaw Autumn Festival, or composed for it?
I notice the pianist’s frequent use of the soft pedal—for all soft passages. Yes, I can hear the difference. I like the sound. Is it in the score? or is it the pianist’s decisions? (Should I ask him, I think afterwards. But there’s a line.)
I’m in the front row of tables. Across the table is the NY TImes music critic. I ask him if he’s going to write about it (I saw him scribbling in tiny red handwriting). He says: yes.
In Wednesday’s edition. I’ll get it. It’s a big crowd at LPR. They are enthusiastic. So am I. I try my “bravo” whistle at the end, but it doesn’t come out. Wet my fingers?
I’m weary. So much effort by these tours de force dazes me. Maybe I need a drink?… Oh, I already had a drink, Le Poisson Rouge requires it.
Do I like the music? That almost seems superfluous.
And I really don’t know.
Maybe I’ll know in a week or two. Or more. If yes to like, could it be like a lot Maybe admire is safe. Respect? No problem. But like? That’s the issue, isn’t it? To have on that desert island with you. And what about love, need? Another thumbnail for that. And another for the issues that lie behind this post.
Thumbnail Review No. 49
It’s hard to know where to start with Larry Polansky’s new Three Pieces for Two Pianos. There are more than three pieces on the New World CD, and they are not all for two pianos. But let’s say we start in the middle, with the third of the three pieces which Michael Winter rightly calls, in his excellent liner notes, an “epic.” Or, on the other hand, let’s jump in with the next track, Old Paint, a rather sad folk song that was sung to me as a child by Tony Kraber, actor and folksinger, at our school fair.
It is sung softly to us here by the young, talented pianist, Rory Cowal, too soft to hear the words, but with the slow swinging rhythm of the original which acts like a baby’s crib for the song, cradling it in a bath of non-related piano tones. So beautiful! Half-way through I started to sing softly with Rory, even though I don’t remember most of the words. It was more than an exercise in nostalgia—though that is the sentiment of the song about leaving a favorite horse and his home town of Cheyenne. It’s a piano piece that just moves you in a slow triple rhythm.
So on to the epical third movement of the Three PIeces for Two Pianos, played by such sensitive pianists, Marilyn Nonken and Joseph Kubera. Like many of his pieces this one begins softly, poignantly, only to betray that mood gradually with an outpouring of wonderful “cacophony.” Caused apparently by what I’d like to call Larry Polansky’s “irrational canons.” They quickly stream into a low bass-register stream, and into at least one stream in the treble range. The ear tends to simplify at least in early hearings, so I’m saying one treble stream for now. Larry has used canonic practices in many earlier pieces, typically staggering the voices’ entry times so that they all end together. Here the canonic texture can only be heard as fabulous heterophony. This gluing together of tones into streams that decorate unisons into spikey non-unisons is such an important development in modernist (and beyond) music. One can’t really account for much great music of our times and before without heterophony. You can get there—to heterophony—by many routes. Mike Winter, composer and liner-notes writer can help you with Larry’s!
I sense that his usual canonic practice is not the case here with piece no.3, but rather there is a big bubble effect that starts at the beginning, then continues on with a maximum explosion of energy in the middle, and a soft, again poignant, ending. Not all algorithmic composers do as Larry does, shaping the expressive output along with the notes.
The first of the three pieces starts out almost like a Chopin prelude. But overlays soon obscure a single-minded trajectory. There are dominant seventh chords, and a couple of re-beginnings. You sense that inside of the complexity there are the modules of the earlier material. Only the second of the three pieces and its following “Interlood” feel amorphous. But even here as throughout, the harmony however generated, algorithmically or otherwise, is complexly interesting, and probably immune from chord labels and any simplistic analysis.
There is more to say about the other pieces. The k-toods, for example, which for the composer is about parenting, and for the listener about a set of romps, some of which claim a kind of motoric, ostinato quality that says to me: ‘I’m not a minimalist, but I can repeat and excite!’ Interestingly, much of these latter pieces is based on guided improvisations. So bravo for the two players, Tobin Chodos and Ittai Rosenbaum. Both have backgrounds in improvisation and jazz. Ending the CD is an arrangement with stretched-out harmonies made from a Shaker hymn. played beautifully by Amy Beal.
So what is our conclusion—though none is needed: There is grandeur and quietness, sheer positive energy, and complexity of composition. Ives feels to me like a progenitor, but new algorithmic and compositional ideas have come since Ives. Finally one can only ask the listener to listen. And then, listen again!
Thumbnail Review # 48
Esa-Pekka Salone turned the Hugo Ball poem, KARAWANA, into a huge, sumptuous, post-modern orchestra piece so very much like the huge, sumptuous MODERNist orchestra piece he just conducted by Messiaen, his Turangalila Symphony. At the Philharmonic this week and last. I went to open rehearsals both times. Wonderful experiences. But:
Somehow I’m dying from too much chocolate. And yet—the symphony is so sexy; it hardly matters whether it’s sumptuous or not. It glows in the light or the dark.
So, what’s to complain about? Really not much, just that the great Dada master, Hugo Ball’s wonderful nonsense poem with allusions on almost every made-up word, like bung (which occurs three times in the short poem), is not really audible, intelligible in the orchestra piece, or worse, not funny in the declamatory way it is funny if you recite it yourself. Try it in the attachment I’m including.
There’s nothing funny in the Messiaen piece. It’s too beautiful to be funny. So, two non-funny, almost too beautiful orchestra pieces. Then there’s the deflationary Hugo Ball telling you it’s all bung. And he’s telling you in a beautifully collaged sound-text graphic which he designed. Now we’ve got three beauties, and very little satire left.
But Ball will win it back from beauty once we recite his poem in our own voice. And also…let’s get off it about beauty being bad for art. Not true. Even in the most mundane, unbeautiful Fluxus event, presentation can be beautiful: the toy paper boats being blown about in a tub of water. Whose beautiful piece was that, I don’t remember. It might be George Brecht. Bob Watts’s F/R Trace has the performer walk on stage with a French Horn, bell up. He (there was only one female Fluxus artist, Alison Knowles, with Yoko Ono a runner-up), thus he, would face the audience, bow, and out would come from the bell of the horn a myriad bunch of ping-pong balls. They would bounce and bung all over the stage, even into the audience; the sound and the sight was awesome. A one-liner. How beautiful!
So that’s what was missing. We don’t get it all from one artist, and that’s a little complicated to take in. We assemble it from parts made by several people, including from a gigantic, gorgeous orchestra that, nevertheless…leaves something out.
Thumbnail Review No. 47
January 24th, 2016
Birthday Concert #1: Chamber Music
167 Spring Street, 7:30 PM
with Joseph Kubera, piano; and Pauline Kim Harris, violin
Sonata for Violin and Piano (2014)
Piano Sonata #1* (2015, premiere)
OoMPAH for piano (2002, revised: 2007)
Relaxing at the Piano (‘70s) – performed by the composer
Piano Sonata #2* (2015, premiere)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (reprise)
• The two piano sonatas use piano music composed in 1959, extended and developed with newly composed material.
Birthday Concert #2 takes place on February 12th, 7:30 PM at the Cell: 338 West 23rd Street. Premiere of Clarinet Quintet, for clarinet solo (Moran Katz) and string quartet (Momenta Quartet) and a revival of Tunnel Funnel for chamber orchestra (Flexible Orchestra conducted by David Gilbert who premiered it in 1988), dubbed by VV critic, Kyle Gann, “Tune of the decade.”
From: Noah Creshevsky
Date: February 29, 2016 2:14:55 PM EST
To: Daniel Goode
Subject: Your clarinet quintet
That is such a beautiful piece–written on a quite large scale, technically assured, expressive, and–yes, a rare word–inspired!
I had great pleasure hearing it now. Thank you for posting it.
My best to you,
The “symphony of a thousand.” At the premiere in Munich, 1910 there were apparently 1,0030, counting the conductor, Maestro Mahler. I haven’t counted last night’s forces, swelled by very big choruses, but it might not be a thousand, and of course it often isn’t and it doesn’t need to be. Punkt! Big: yes, very.
I was anxious to have Ann, my wife hear it, and though I didn’t really hear it very well, even though “enhanced” by the big loud speakers a few yards from our seats, still, it communicated a great and fabulous glowing sound.
What was this Jewish composer, who converted to Catholicism before becoming artistic director of the famous Vienna Imperial Court Opera under the Hapsburg emperor, doing in setting, in Part 1 of the symphony, a ninth-century religious hymn, “Come, Creator Spirit” and in Part 2, the final scene of Goethe’s two-part, “Faust” poem? Very god-infested, yes it is!—(and why that from the humanist, cosmopolitan, Goethe? I don’t know.)
Well, Mahler called it an allegory of what cannot be spoken of. A good defense! He was a well-read intellectual, interested in ideas, progressive aesthetically and helpful to, for example, the young composer, Schoenberg who befriended him. That’s a good story.
Back to Ann who, not knowing the music as I do, coming to the event fatigued and ready for bed, was revived and full of enthusiastic appreciation. She said: “A superfluity; staggering, complex; moments when a kind of screaming enters from the side like a blue-note.”
That’s a complex review, probably not what Mahler consciously intended. As Theodore Adorno says in his excellent short book, Mahler, a Musical Physiognomy, “Mahler was a poor yea-sayer.“ So the Eighth Symphony is a kind of anti-phobic answer to a difficulty in his psyche. Fine! It works and the marvelous, doleful, dark shadings, in the beginning of Part 2, and in Part 1 with the verse that begins “Infirma” —“[strengthen] our weak body”—we get the wonderful part of Mahler who can’t say “yes.” And we know that he continued not to say “yes” persuasively in the Ninth Symphony, some of Das Lied Von Der Erde, and the uncompleted Tenth Symphony. We don’t really like false positive-ness! Quite amazing, also, that neither of these three amazing works did he hear in his lifetime.
He was obsessed with death (well documented in marginalia), and in fact, though vigorous and athletic, was struck down by endocarditis at 51, an infection of the heart, now easily treatable with antibiotics. Heart! But there was more to it. He’d lost one of his two daughters to a childhood disease. And he’d also very late in life lost his beloved Almschi to a lover, the architect, Walter Gropius. Lots to cry about. He was bereft, finally, and sick, even while conducting the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera as a European star! At the same time composing his Ninth and Tenth symphonies, mostly in the summer, back home in the Austrian countryside. He was recognizably “modern,” 20th Century even with his rich, opulent, essentially late 19th Century musical language (thank you, Barry Goldensohn, for this accurate adjective: opulent).
So in Mahler-time, he races through a huge amount of material in an hour and a half. It’s efficient, with no lovely dallying as in the “Night Music” of the Seventh Symphony. We get to the last line of text, “the eternal feminine leads us up” sung by the Chorus Mysticus, and that’s it. Terrible pre-feminist politics: masculine is striving, ambitious, heroic; feminine is nurturing, comforting, satisfying. But hey, he sort of lost his loved one. And also, how could he contradict his beloved, German, Goethe (he hated Austrian culture, was a Germanophile)!
At the same time he suffered from the standard anti-Semitism of the time, saying that being Jewish was like going through life with one arm shorter than the other; yet having to identify with the dominant Christian culture which repeatedly hired him to more and more prestigious positions. We are luckier living among the diaspora in New York, not in Budapest and Vienna of his time.
But of the performance at St. John the Divine under its music director and organist, Kent Tritle conducting: what was it like? Well, really not very intelligible to one who knows the music. The cathedral succeeded in muddying the very precise rhythms of the excellent players from the Manhattan School of Music, and making such things as the wonderful bass pizzicati throughout the beginning of Part 2 sound like random dull thuds. A “sound-designer” failure? Probably. And what about the stridently over-amplified, over-vibrato-ed soprano soloists (google the performance for names). It’s a lingering operatic disease from Wagnerian times on: vibrato amplifies the volume of the sound for very well-documented scientific reasons. The justification used to be that the Wagnerian orchestra was always in danger of drowning out the Wagnerian sopranos and tenors. But why now! in a piece of music where Mahler’s superior orchestrational knowledge allows a less strident vocal style? No answer to this persistent question.
And what of Adorno’s disparaging and sarcastic remark about the Eighth Symphony as a “genre chef d’oeuvre?.” (page 138, op. cit.) A genre masterpiece. What’s the genre? Spectacle? Conflation of religion and art? He answers: “To glorify the collective sounding through him as an absolute… That he did not resist, is his offense,” his “false consciousness.” Adorno prefers, and maybe we do too, that part of the composer that looks “questioningly into uncertainty.”
So why given Mahler’s “offense,” and that last night when we couldn’t really hear Mahler in St. John the Divine’s, did we jump to our feet at the end, clapping and cheering with tears in our eyes?
Because we knew he was there! His temporary “Yes” was our temporary Yes.
—Thumbnail Review No. 46