Daniel Goode

Composer & Performer

Category: Thumbnail Review

“L’Amour de Loin” opera by Kaija Saariaho in HD screening

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

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Ostinato Hungarica: Ligeti played by Kigawa at LPR last night

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

 

Polansky’s Three Pieces for Two Pianos

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

Blago bung, anlogo bung, Esa-Pekka done agung!

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

Mahler’s 8th Symphony at St. John the Divine, February 25, 2016: What was it like?

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

Click Here to Read an Open Response to This Thumbnail  

A Response to a Kind Letter

Hey, Very thoughtful writing, yet again, it would have been a fine night of being surrounded by profound sound, I imagine. Maybe it was the amount of acoustical vibration that got everyone so excited? (Not that there’s any other kind of vibration – but that is a special place to listen.) -g
                                                                          ~composer, Gayle Young, Toronto

I agree. The vibrational thing over-ruled the exact musical thing. Also, I didn’t mention the off-stage trumpets at two points, and the off-stage trombones (which I never located), but were in balconies above the audience. And also making vibrational geschrei was the organ, at key points. The very first sound is a giant Eb major chord from the organ, an instant before you here the first instrumental entries. It switches you instantly into a different mode of listening. I also didn’t say in the essay, but mentioned to Ann that visual grandeur (= the sublime, in some quarters) like a huge cathedral, and auditory grandeur as in a huge orchestra and chorus have different needs: like a really great concert hall in the latter. So I wasn’t exactly a happy camper at St. John’s, but registered it as a moment of the “sublime” in experiential terms, probably for much of the audience. And cheered for that. The great church organist composers (Bach and others) did make both visual and auditory grandeur in the same place. But Mahler symphonies need different acoustics.

Thanks for your comments. Definitely adds to what I felt was going on, but didn’t really have the words for.

-Daniel

Tom Johnson’s Other Harmony

 In spite of my continuing series of “Thumbnail Reviews,” this is not a review. First because I haven’t finished Tom’s book yet, and second because I don’t do reviews in the journalistic meaning of the word. More like: reflections.

I’ve known Tom since he appeared in the downtown scene of new music in the ‘70s around when I did, and admired his music, his theoretical approach, and his important role as a music critic for the Village Voice; his “beat” being the very downtown scene we were part of. I’ve performed some of his music with my DownTown Ensemble, and Flexible Orchestra. And I visited him after he had become an ex-pat in Paris in 2005, and where he has lived since leaving New York in the ‘80s.  His habit for visitors was to offer to play you some of his “deductive music” and when he thought you had heard enough he would say something like: that’s enough deductive music for today—and stop.

So this important, and I hope, controversial (and index-less book), which goes “beyond tonal and atonal” music (that’s his subtitle) pits once more the music as a listened-to phenomenon against the theory of music: a tradition of quasi opposition that goes back to Greek and Roman times. The most interesting of these writers are the ones who are also important composers, like Olivier Messiaen, about whose theory Tom has much—very positive—to say.

I’ve been ambivalent about this opposition. Partly because on one side, I contributed to a “structuralist” approach through my minimalist pieces, and through the “systems group” which we briefly had in the late ‘70s in New York with artists from several media, including composer, Philip Corner. Tom doesn’t remember this group when I recently brought it up to him. But it was a fun and wonderful thing to have for its short life. The other side of the ambivalence comes out below.

My biggest question about the kind of structuralist approach that equates notes with numbers, is: Would any of this have happened if we didn’t have discrete entities like twelve pitches to our “Western” scale? And my answer to my self is: maybe we have to have discrete numbered entities because of who (or what) we are. We are counters, enumerators, makers of discrete intellectual things, alphabetizers, and so on. But is that what music should be doing? All counting, I thought, was in the service of music, not music in the service of counting. But then Tom and Charlie Morrow did counting pieces. And they were interesting, even fascinating. Whether or not they were “music” seemed beside the point. Even when “boring.”

“Equal and Complete” is one of the chapters of the book. In it he means that the system behind the notes should have equality and completeness. An example of equality might be the interval between notes of a chord, like a major 7th. Or, simply, our system of “equal temperament” whereby the distance between each note of the 12 in the octave is the same. Completeness is something like: what are all the four note chords made up of such-and-such group of notes in a scale.

So then the eternal question is: What is the purpose (and use) of music? Is it to exhibit or manifest a system or process or structure, OR to move, invite, satisfy, transport, or amuse the listener? Can it be both? Difficult, but yes, it can be.  I count my self in both camps, at least for several of my pieces. Though Tom is firmly in the former, some of his earlier compositions like the Shaggy Dog Operas are in both camps. In those, the system or process was kept discretely (other meaning of that word!) behind the surface sound. And they were comedic, theatrical.

What is true of this book is that Tom Johnson has thoroughly brought the discussion up to date. Will he compose captivating music now, from the “other harmony” he’s written about? Does it have to be captivating? I would hope yes. But that’s because I like as much to be happening as possible.

Thumbnail Review No. 45

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorial for Elaine Summers (1925-2015) at Niblock’s, NYC

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tonight at 9
224 centre
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Phill Niblock’s email to me. The memorial was just like any other Experimental Intermedia event. The sound was too loud for my left ear. My right ear was less complaining. The audience members, some young, some not so, seemed dazed in the pleasant trance of the avant-garde. Friends gathered beforehand in Phill’s kitchen, sipping wine, eating seitan, talking occasionally. I spoke separately to one or two people about how important Elaine was to me. They seemed glad to hear it.

Elaine’s dance loft at 537 Broadway, 5th floor was where I did my first solo concert. Was it 1973? ’75? I’ll have to check. The faded flyer pops up every so often among other papers. I think the concert started at 8:30—before the standardized 8 PM had taken effect. Elaine was like an open door, encouraging me to come in, to make a piece, have an audience. Nothing like that had come my way in the New York of my birth. (Had that happened to me earlier, I might not have exiled myself from New York for ten years after graduate school.) I took her movement class, Kinetic Awareness: the body is important, pay attention! I did.

So it’s all the more amazing to me that after all the years until now, the night of her memorial, I had never seen a film of hers, though I knew she was a filmmaker as well as dancer and choreographer. She didn’t push them. She didn’t push herself. So un-New York. It takes people not born in NY to make the city humane.

Five of her films were shown, the longest was seventeen minutes. Jerky hand-held camera in most, muted colors. A video by someone else in which she appears is mainly about Malcolm Goldstein—the shamanic violin improviser whose bright red hair, long red side-burns, pearly white skull punctuated his manic closed-eyed playing. Action-painting, but on a violin, and on the roof of her loft building. TV ariels and pipes, nearby buildings panned—hard not to say ugly. But they are, and no music can change that.

“Judson Fragments” was an interesting cross-cutting of dance moments, dancers in street clothes walking towards and away from each other (I think I recognized Simone Forti), other odd collaged images, somehow reminding me of Alain Resnais’s  “Last Year at Marienbad.” Not surprising. Both are in the same time capsule.

What do I come away with from the films? The grittiness, materiality of New York, not gussied up. An object is an object, neither beautiful nor ugly. Perfect fantasies of special effects are not yet in fashion. One can relax in this. Take a deep breath. Thank you, Elaine!

Thumbnail Review No. 44

Nielsen, McGill, the NY Phil, and the Future

Such delicacy in the large orchestra which, incidentally, had two harps in the Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, and was then chamber-sized for the Carl Nielsen Clarinet Concerto, beautifully performed by the NY Phil’s Anthony McGill in this January’s New York Philharmonic concert. It has fiendishly difficult cadenzas, and I’ve just only “played at it,”  His playing was exquisite, delicate, very straight, and more like a clarinet solo emerging from the orchestra’s wind section than a front-and-center concerto style. Though I’d never heard a live performance of it before, I hear the concerto in a more raucous style than McGill’s Mozartian sound. Nevertheless his is a valid interpretation and Nielsen is a refreshing composer—one without rhetoric who found a way of threading through 19th century symphony style into 20th century modernism, while holding on to poignant, sometimes witty, always expressive sound. Often this concerto shaped itself into treble-bass two-part counterpoint with occasional hectic fast figuration in the strings which became a texture within that frame. Shifting harmonic implications. A satisfying piece!

Delicacy was again the quality, in the Tchaikovsky suite from Swan Lake. The solo violin and harp movement, the violin and cello and harp movement, for example. Then, unexpectedly the full orchestra tutti brass-laced chords. What a sudden voluptuous, extravagant sound!… Thrilled.
The “future of the orchestra,” my concern. Ever since I started playing and listening to Indonesian gamelan music, a “national” music, I’ve reflected on our own, Western “gamelan”—the symphony orchestra, suddenly valuing it more because it is a unique sound in world music: nothing else like it. I wonder about its ability to negotiate the poly-stylistics of all the music around us which competes for our attention, and especially that of young people. Everything is “niched.” But symphony is not low-overhead, unlike gamelan, punk bands, or  myself!… Also gamelan can use relatively inexperienced, or untrained musicians who can count. Only amateur choruses can do that with professional orchestras. Think symphony and then think doctor’s and lawyer’s training. And think ticket prices. Third tier, row DD was $55 and the back wall was just behind me. Binoculars were glued to my face because I like to watch orchestration. [Clear throat: Ahem.] Binoculars were glued to my face, but not only because I like to “watch” the orchestration. I couldn’t tell without them where the second violins and violas were placed. I’m not sure even now. I was “living to the back.” (Talk to your Jewish ancestors or friends about this phrase).
Though Ravel and Nielsen are firmly 20th century composers, their roots were in the 19th, and the 19th century is still the basis of the symphony orchestra’s repertoire. The kaleidoscopic variety of sound, even its wonderful excess come from that century. What of the future? The Flexible Orchestra is my commentary on the symphony orchestra, and my attempt to secure its future by trying different palettes, all firmly orchestral. But more will have to be done, imaginatively done, I suspect. And composers will have to do it. With some help. Think: copyist, parts editing, revision and recording. Think arts and market capitalism. I did. I am.
Thumbnail Review #43
All thumbnail reviews are at danielgoode.com

Pina Bausch’s “Kontakthof”- a reaction not a review

Too long by a lot, yet magisterial, a spectacle, with twenty-three dancers on stage much of the time. Women in ballroom solid color dresses danced either in heels or barefoot. Men were in ugly charcoal black or grey suits over white shirts with ties. Music hall, tango-ish numbers on scratchy low fidelity recordings, in German, dancers often speaking, in English, sometimes screaming, insufferable repetition of “darling” by one, overuse of the same recorded songs became finally a good move, supplemented by the “Third Man” theme, and a music-hall kind of recording of Sibelius’s “Valse Triste.”

Yes, “kontakt,” lots of it: from curiosity, sensuality, hostility, mixtures of all, sometimes very fast transitions from one to the other, very heterosexual. Sense of discomfort, awkwardness was an affect of the dancers, a theme of the choreographer. A lot of this piece appeared in Wim Wenders wonderful documentary of the Tanztheater of Pina Bausch (who died in 2009). Typical of the company’s easy-going approach to time was a line-up of all the dancers sitting in a row facing the audience each telling some personal story softly in their own language while another took the mic from to each one of all twenty-two, letting each story fall where it may in the middle. “Heavenly length?” An issue worth pursuing. In spite of the speaking, singing, screaming, no attempt to have a sculpted vocal theater like Meredith Monk’s.

Big age range, it seems, in the dancers. Lots over forty and beyond.

The appropriation of everyday movements into dance is familiar to us, and I’m guessing this piece is from the ’70’s or so when this was happening here too. It must have been shocking to a staid German audience of the time. Yet even now, some images were frightening: a female dancer being felt, felt up, slapped, lifted, manipulated by a large group of the men dancers. With my binoculars I was able to see that it was not a smile on her face, but an open-mouthed crying. Not funny. Yet a lot of the piece was mildly parodistic, and just plain pleasant. Especially the large rings of dancers walking in time over the generous whole of the Howard Gilman Opera House at BAM.

Thumbnail Review #42