Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations.
Yale Philharmonia played Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie here in New Haven last night. They’re repeating it tomorrow night at Carnegie. If you’re in NYC and have the evening free I urge you to go hear it. I know everyone’s probably Messiaen’ed out by now (and it’s not often one can say that) but to hear this piece live is really a special occasion. Even though the piece is really long— about 80 minutes— the concert feels short, thanks to Reinbert de Leeuw’s brisk, almost neoclassical reading; it reminds me of the way Boulez does Mahler— he doesn’t stop to look to the heavens (or look at himself in the mirror).
I’d been obsessed with Turangalîla when I was about 16— probably the appropriate time to be obsessed with that kind of piece— but hadn’t listen to it much recently. Coming to it with fresh ears, I was surprised just how gamelan-y the music is. Besides the seven or eight percussionists, there’s a central battery of celesta, keyboard glockenspiel (!), and solo piano, all of which seem to play almost constantly. (The sound of that little key-glock cuts through anything. I wonder if the player had any idea just how prominent her instrument was, even from Woolsey’s super-balcony). The sum effect was that kind of massed, jangly sound one hears with Balinese gamelan, smashed together with a loopy Wagnerian orchestra (someone tell Evan Ziporyn).
So apparently at CalTech, they have over 130 olive trees around campus and press their own olive oil. I could not possibly be any more jealous. Things like this make me feel even more dismal facing the long New Haven winter.
I spent last week at my family’s ancestral home in Washington, CT. I don’t remember what I did, exactly, but I think it involved many days of alternately cooking and eating.
I also got to play the piano badly and for fun, which is not something I usually have the time or energy to do in New Haven, perhaps because I don’t have a piano in my apartment’s living room. I took out all my volumes of Schubert sonatas and even pounded through the Hammerklavier. It was epic.
My brother Wells’s violin playing has blossomed to the point where he can sight-read Brahms and Beethoven with aplomb. We were reading through Brahms’s third sonata, and I had a shocking realization in the first movement development: it has a constant dominant pedal. I can’t think of any other examples of this in the classical literature. Can I even still call it a "development"? It’s really just an extended dominant pedal leading into the recap. Here, listen:
Robert Mann, violin; Stephen Hough, piano
I guess what astonished me was not the presence of the pedal, but how it threatens and ultimately subverts the feeling of sonata form in the movement. There is none of the bluster and bombast that Brahms usually brings into his developments; all the tension is roiling just beneath the remarkably calm surface. Instead, all of the outward drama gets postponed until the recap’s transition into the second theme, which swings wildly and at top volume between harmonic regions. In the normal trajectory of a sonata, one has a sense of "release" or "return" at this point; here, that sense has been completely undermined by the relative stasis of the development.
Just wanted to briefly plug a cool show I’m excited to be a part of, coming up this Saturday. My friend Doug Fisk has brought together a group of nine composer/pianists, each of whom will perform one of their own pieces. This show is at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, and we’re gearing up for another one at
Miller Theater Merkin Hall in NYC this spring. More info over at the calendar page (along with some new events).
Here’s the poster I designed for the event, which reveals my continuing obsession with the work of Josef Müller-Brockmann (click for larger):
Instead of your traditional puff piece on voters’ states of mind today, NYTimes.com has a puff multimedia widget. I like this trend. (I also like Helvetica.)
For the record, I am feeling both excited and distracted. Connecticut isn’t exactly the most thrilling place to be today, and I voted absentee weeks ago in my hometown. But for some reason it still feels like a holiday. I have a new piece called Some Connecticut Gospel, which I wrote over the last couple of months. It’s partly about Ives, and how his music and inimitable personality have become a legend for composers, and also about these strange feelings (hope? patriotism?) that have been welling up inside me recently (see my Oct. 10 post).
This is not something I’m particularly used to. Connecticut is unlike some other states, whose residents seem to have a strong sense of group identity and even pride. I never feel "Connecticutian"; I tend to think of myself as a misplaced Californian, even though I only spent the first five years of my life in the Bay Area. Why is that? Did Connecticut used to have more of a personality? Before the factories shut down, before every city became a depressed corpse, before Route 7 became a parade of strip-malls and the southwest corner a spec-house paradise, the state must have had some real charm. Some Connecticut Gospel is a song of praise to this imagined place— Ives’s Connecticut. It will be premièred in Miami (of all places) on January 30th by members of the New World Symphony, and likely reprised up here in New Haven in February.
We went deep-sea fishing yesterday and hung out with some Republicans! Actually, I’m only kidding. We didn’t talk to them, but we did gawk a lot and talk about them. I was initially kind of shocked to see someone wearing this hat— non-ironically (not an early Halloween costume or anything!). But it made me think about how in a certain way my circle is very narrow, much more even than when I was an undergrad (the School of Music is, predictably, much less diverse). It made me wonder that I wasn’t seeing the world wrong from some deluded, far-left point of view. When I listen to or read the news, I like to think I know how to spot bias, and that as a result I "know the facts" about all the "issues". But truthfully, I haven’t even given the other side a chance.
My gut reaction is to scorn conservatives I’ve met who are really just like me— who’ve inherited their ideas from their parents and have never had to deeply question their own worldview. It’s a terrible double standard, and I’m sure I hold conservatives to many more. Should I be doing more questioning of my political beliefs, simply because I hold the same views as my parents (and their parents)?
I caught four good-sized bluefish (the first four fish I’ve caught in my life!). The Republicans looked like they caught about 27 each, but really, isn’t sport-fishing expertise practically a requirement for joining the party?
This may be the first day in my life I’m actually proud to be a Connecticutian.