Daniel Goode

Composer & Performer

Category: Thumbnail Review

Waves of Noise at the Climate Change March, Sept. 21st

But first, my favorite signs around me as we marched, leisurely, I have to say, pleasantly, were:

“There is no PLAN-et B”
“Shower together—Save water”
“Extinction is forever”
“Their greed crushes our spirit” (a sad looking young man in a baseball cap wore this T-shirt)
“Save the Humans” (spoken by a bunch of endangered animals, pictured)

We were still about a couple hundred yards from the head of the march at Columbus Circle at 1 PM when a mighty noise was scheduled to happen. Later I learned why it started a little early: there was to be a minute of silence before the giant noise made by everyone. And as surely as people can hardly be silent for long, that minute was cut short, so the big noise started about a minute or so before 1 PM. But it was a wonderful sound wafting over Columbus Circle to where we stood south of the front-most part of the marchers.

Later, when we had joined, and more than once, and mysteriously—why did it happen? a large mostly vocal noise swept up from behind us. We joined, and it subsided. It was thrilling each time. Ann and I had loud metal rattles from India, and a couple of mouth whistles. Some drums with a “sol-do” (up) tonality were happening near us, fun to play along with. We got quite tired by 42nd St. and took the subway home. Struck up conversations with others on the subway that never would have happened on a normal day.

I heard that at Wall Street civil disobedience today (the day after), the “people’s mike” technique was used to forward information to the protesters. (That’s this fabulous innovation of Occupy Wall Street in which succeeding rows or clumps of people repeat the message to the next group and on and on as necessary to reach the whole crowd.)

The estimate was of 311,000 people at the Sunday march.

Thumbnail Review #41

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Gustav Mahler: After Nine

Two young composers influenced by Mahler’s 9th Symphony were performed:  by the Argento Chamber Ensemble, playing Matthew Ricketts’s After Nine: Fantasia on Mahler; and by the JACK Quartet, playing Taylor Brook’s Arrithmia——as a prelude to the Argento’s September 15th performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 9 (see my Thumb Nail Review #39.)

The latter of the two scarcely seemed serious. The composer wrote: “What does Mahler have to do with a string quartet written in 2012? It may be the result of an ‘anything goes’ attitude on my part.” Yes, anything goes; and anything went…He claims the “melodic quotations promote a clear connection to Mahler’s symphony…” I couldn’t hear them, though maybe the recurring mi-re-do stood in for that (if you remember that the first movement is mostly mi-re, and very little do till the the last note). In any case the JACK Quartet hacked through the piece with great vigor, though it seemed to very little artistic effect from the composer.

The Ricketts piece was a sensitive timbral study that moved from pitch level to pitch level, staying, expanding, then moving on. I’m thinking that there is newish style of creating tonal puddles based on this format. Each puddle gives way to the next. Then the piece ends. In Mr. Ricketts’s case, the penultimate moment was a passionate, but quickly disappearing climactic moment, re-orchestrated, from the Mahler first movement. It couldn’t stay long, or it would have been Mahler. Just a swipe at it.

I’m ambivalent about putting these two young composers with short pieces before the gigantic Mahler symphony. A little unfair. At the end of the evening my head was filled to overflowing with “ear worms” from its four movements. Usually it’s days, if not weeks for these ear worms to subside. Not much room for anything else. These things rise up from the unconscious, or someplace in there, just to the level of singability, but of course can’t be sung, because the underlying pulsing harmony can only be thought. I’m not sure I like this ear worm thing, but I know I can’t control it. It has to die down at its own rate, and something else must replace it.

Now a little poem on varied repetition: Iterative, re-iterative, iteravia, via, vi…. Another meaning to repetition in music is this continuous varied-repetition of long, well-formed melodic sentences. (One of my mentors in composition idly mentioned, the great length of a musical sentence in Mahler, which surprised me coming from a indomitable modernist.) Well-formed, by the way, includes ellipses, contractions, interruptions as part of a whole sentence, not some abstract symmetrical balancing.

Did Mahler have (“suffer” from) ear worms? How would we know?The simplicity of the melodic phrases—the parts of his long melodies— seems to force him into a paroxysm of increasing intensities of varied repetitions in the melodies and their orchestral counterpoints. Because of the simplicity of the original, and the obsessional nature of the composer? Were his putative ear worms vernacular borrowings or originals that sound inspired by vernacularities? Whatever you think about this, you have to create a special category of the archetype Repetition to account for Mahler’s underlying insistence on a musical gesture—call them themes, melodies, motives, or sentences. It’s not like Bruckner’s or Wagner’s iterative-ness. Nor Terry Riley’s nor Steve Reich’s, nor my own. Something special! It digs into you. It’s another kind of trance. I can imagine hating it because you believe that restraint is an essential part of art. But the only restraint necessary is that required by the instruments playing, and, historically, this has changed, partly because of Mahler’s composing. And every new generation of composers.

(Just to correct: the Argento string section: was 4,4,3,2,1)

Thumbnail Review #40

Mahler’s 9th Rules – Even in a Chamber Version!

So, it was reduced forces like 2 horns instead of 4, 1 trumpet, 2 clarinets, 1 flute, etc., no lower brass, and strings: 3,3,3,2,1. No harp? It’s impossible without harp to do the 9th! But so cleverly, the piano and yes, that was an accordion, did amazing things to sound like all those missing instruments—the piano as harp was my favorite, but also its “lower brass” explosions were tasty. It was the Argento Chamber Ensemble conducted by Michel Galante. My friend and collaborator, Stephanie Griffin led the viola section and tipped me off to this September 15th New York premiere (of the chamber version)—seems to me it was a first—at the Advent Lutheran Church, Broadway and 93rd where they have a free Monday music series.

What worked amazingly was the completely adequate volume in the loud sections. It was overpowering where required. I sat close to minimize excess church reverb, but the direct sound was satisfyingly loud. (An aside: the emotional climax driven, formally clinched pushing-through (Durchbruch, or breakthrough—Adorno) must, of course, leverage the sheer phenomenon of acoustic volume, Must! Mahler is all about how to do climaxes right, and then what should follow.)

What didn’t work in the chamber orchestra version was interesting. Not the missing instruments: and especially not-missing were all those piquant solos in Mahler’s full orchestra original, no problemo! No, rather it was the counterpoint—I really mean something more generic even than counterpoint, the counterbalancing of competing rhythmic channels—among the five string groups, especially the upper three. So much information, expressional verve, sheer thrill is in the way these bodies play against and with each other within the generous harmonic framework of the whole. But strings merged as one body all too often, and especially in loud tutti sections.

But the symphony as a successful artifact was all there, and wove its amazing web. And we thank Klaus Simon, a theorist commissioned by Universal Edition, Mahler’s publisher, for this brilliant feat. And for Michel Galante’s directing these fabulous musicians. A free concert on the Upper West Side is a dangerous demographic act if you want to attract people as young as these performers were. Yes, dangerous, because it was, movingly, a geriatric crowd with lots of walkers and wheelchairs in the aisles… We love our culture, and many of us, our Mahler! I’m thinking of images of those young string players biting down and into those forte attacks in those crucial places, because expression is a function of the gestures’ placement in music’s time experience, and in feeling’s time.

I loved the lilting regularity of the opening Andante, first movement. I once touted this quality of the piece to Ann as being the perfect long, long theme for “meditative walking” (yes: the meaning of the best andantes for me is meditative walking). But when I took her to a full orchestra performance, the conductor made so many stretchings, speedups and slowdowns of these opening bars and pages, that I had to look at her helpslessly and say, oh: I guess not. Anyway, Michel Galante understood the movement’s beginning in the right way for me. The unfolding of the long, long theme and its varied repetitions was hypnotic because of the regularity, and much more cumulatively affecting than those other ways of doing it.

Only the viciously contrapuntal Rondo Burleske third movement didn’t work that well. The fast clip meant that the final stretto section had to be too fast to hear much detail, becoming an exciting mess of sound, only, instead of a hilariously thrilling combining of all the ideas at once in a headlong race to the end.

Another review on the two new pieces by young composers influenced by Mahler’s 9th will come in another thumb nail review..

Thumbnail Review #39

Beauty, a Thumb-nail Review

I’m more convinced than ever, and long before today’s text from NASA (below), that we are hard-wired for finding beauty “in nature,” including, of course, the cosmos. Repeating patterns and symmetries bent by the complex processes of “nature” (including ours) is what we see all the time, even when we are just seeing our own retina. It just keeps happening. Of course it’s not the only kind of beauty we find, but it’s a start. And it’s as true of sound as it is of sight. Morton Feldman’s title, “Crippled Symmetries” puts an odd spin on it, but that piece and others of his testifies to the connection I’m making. Once, looking down from an airline on snow patterns scattered on a rectangular grid of Mid-Western farmland, I thought of the term: “collage of processes” to describe what I was seeing. That’s also a way of describing some kinds of composing. (Fractals is another part of what we see and hear. Let’s leave them for another time.)

“Explanation: Beautiful emission nebula NGC 6164 was created by a rare, hot, luminous O-type star, some 40 times as massive as the Sun. Seen at the center of the cosmic cloud, the star is a mere 3 to 4 million years old. In another three to four million years the massive star will end its life in a supernova explosion. Spanning around 4 light-years, the nebula itself has a bipolar symmetry. That makes it similar in appearance to more common and familiar planetary nebulae – the gaseous shrouds surrounding dying sun-like stars. Also like many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164 has been found to have an extensive, faint halo, revealed in this deep telescopic image of the region. Expanding into the surrounding interstellar medium, the material in the halo is likely from an earlier active phase of the O star. The gorgeous skyscape is a composite of extensive narrow-band image data…” [My emphases.]
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ for May 22nd, 2014.

The passage from NASA goes on to talk about “glowing atomic hydrogen gas in red and oxygen in blue hues” Glowing red and blue hues is an invitation to beauty.

Thumb-nail Review #38

Chou Wen-Chung in His 91st Year, at Merkin Concert Hall Last Night

February 21, 2014 10:16:31 PM EST

With only three pieces on the program it wasn’t exactly a Retrospective. Nor was it a Recital (as in ‘here’s what I do’). Better than either of these, it was an Event!

Student of Varése after he arrived from China in 1946; his copyist and editor, he completed Varése’s Nocturnal, orchestrated his Etude Pour Espace—Chou is also his literary executor and lives with his wife, Yi-an, in Varése’s house on Sullivan Street in the Village along with some of Varése s cherished instruments. And as you might expect, he was influenced by Varése’s aesthetic. But with a new self-imposed task: to make a personal synthesis of “East and West.”

Cursive for flute and piano was beautifully played by Jayn Rosenfeld (flute) and Christopher Oldfather (pianist, with coloristic inside plucks, et al). Cursive hand-writing which is no longer taught or readable by young people, was Chou’s bridge to the calligraphies of Asia. I resolved then and there to practice my own cursive which is now deficient from over-use of the computer. The piece was quite atonal on first listen.

Twilight Colors for a luscious sextet of three winds and three strings, was the first piece on the program, played vividly by Boston Musica Viva, and conducted by Richard Pittman. Right away I felt a difference in the role of rhythm. A dotted rhythm, a triplet was not a Western “authority figure” driving the music motivically. Rather, it was more like a loving receptacle of a sound, of a tone, of several tones. There was room for a breath of contemplation, time slowed down. Different from Cage’s ‘let the sounds be themselves,’ but equal in setting itself apart from the European grammar of connection. 

Echoes from the Gorge was the last piece on the program, played brilliantly by the percussion quartet,Talujon, on a large array of quite standard Western percussion instruments. A glorious noise piece in many movements. Often in the silence between movements the wooden chimes, charmingly, had a few more soft sounds left to say. I was thinking while listening: all these instruments, didn’t they come from “the East?” I watched one player repeatedly strike the giant tam-tam near its rim with three small-headed mallets, eliciting nothing but high piercing frequencies, not the low bonging we expect from a big gong. Just then there was a huge noisy climax of “ear-cleaning” zinging tutti tremolos. 

Since color was a theme of the concert, I must report that all but two of the players wore the standard ho-hum uniform of black. Only Jayn Rosenfeld in a pale purple blouse, and Christopher Oldfather in a mauve shirt, begged to differ. 

It was a small, but loving audience. Chou Wen-chung came up on stage to receive the applause and a bouquet. Small, dapper, charming, with a full head of grey-flecked hair—when I introduced myself later, he graciously thanked me for coming to the concert. 

Thumb-nail Review #36

Film Ventriloquizes Itself Into Opera

From: Daniel Goode
Date: January 3, 2014 12:39:54 PM EST
To: Jennie Punter
Subject: Film ventriloquizes itself into opera

Today’s epic films with ear-flattening immersive soundtracks (like Lord of the Rings with its odious prize-winning score by Howard Shore) practically force its music into the voices of its characters, giving us the impression of opera, while replacing that medium with the newer, more flexible, more accessible, cheaper medium of film. No one is the wiser, except the poor opera company, opera composer, and their donors and subsidizers. Film has stolen their show.

But opera has not completely slept through this development: The Metropolitan Opera has filmed many of its productions in HD, and now, worldwide wherever there are movie theaters, you can once again hear and see opera at reasonable prices. Still, film is the master medium, live theater, the loser.

I’ve seen two HD filmed operas this season, both wonderful experiences: Shostakovich’s The Nose, and Verdi’s Falstaff. William Kentridge’s visual and directorial masterpiece of the former was one of the most fabulous theatrical things I’ve seen in years. And Falstaff, while not an avant-garde production, was entrancing. Verdi’s last opera is his own quick-cut version of his earlier lyric style. So easy and fresh sounding, you wonder how he does it. Magic!

I have one dark suspicion, however, about this whole HD enterprise. I think that in the final mix, the orchestra is mixed lower in volume than you would hear it in the opera house. Shostakovich’s spiky, acerbic dissonances within his stripped-down modernist orchestration weren’t as present as I would have liked. The camera’s close-ups seduce us into concentrating on the visual—and for the singers: they are more exposed as actors. There is so much to see. Yet I strained my ears during the famous fugue finale in Falstaff, trying hear if it was a “real” fugue or just fugue-like. Not that it matters. But the orchestra as equal is a treasure I refuse to give up. So, reformers of opera if you are still out there, there isl plenty to do.

Thumbnail review.

Just Another Thumbnail Review – Mahler’s 7th

From: Daniel Goode
Date: December 22, 2013 8:56:31 PM EST
To: Jennie Punter
Subject: Just another Thumbnail review-Mahler’s 7th

Looking down from my magnificent box seat (thank you, cousin Martin), straight ahead at the Met Orchestra under James Levine in Carnegie Hall this afternoon playing the 80-minute Mahler Seventh Symphony—I saw so many bald and grey heads, and hardly a youngin’. Could it be the prices (my seat was $142)? Could it be ignorance? Or all of the above. This orchestra is wonderful. The playing was thrilling, oh I wanted a slower beginning, but so what, it was gorgeous, warm, brilliantly together. Why wouldn’t the younger generations be thrilled at the sound, the drama, the pazazz of this invention of European origins with so many hundreds of versions throughout the world? Tell me! before I cry in despair.

Brought up on the “Three B’s” (Wagner substituted Bruckner for Brahms, the dumbkoff), I never heard a note of Mahler until I was in my 20s. I still try to understand why it worms its way into me.

It’s something about the statement and the commentary being almost simultaneous because the orchestra is such a fabulous monster, so big, so various, it can do both at the same time. So a “one-liner” which is where Mahler starts, becomes in a few seconds, a multi-liner, and your breath is taken away. (This ignores the accumulations of form, the travel, the experience of being on a journey…just as important.)  But it starts with the phenomenon that feeling is transmitted when he tells you why this theme, this chordal passage, this rhythm turns him on: by making the orchestra say it in many varied voices, right from square one—to the very end. It’s anti-classical in that sense. The classics just lay it out, and let you take it or leave it.

Mahler is not of that ilk. He can’t let you go home without telling you, showing you, why you should be moved by this scrap, or that, this odd piece of tune, chorale of chords, this walking or marching or dancing rhythm. Then he connects the dots and you have a symphony. It works.

Hats off to the Met Orchestra for bringing this out.

Thumbnail review.