Daniel Goode

Composer & Performer

Tag: Thumbnail Review

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

 

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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  

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

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

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.

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