Deep inside the bowels of our great nation, I am revising my yMusic piece. There is a Steinway in front of me and beside me a machine that spits out passable coffee.
A couple of rather exciting premières coming up this week—unfortunately, on the same day—Wednesday, the 22nd. If you are in Washington, D.C., you may want to attend this concert by the Attacca Quartet at Library of Congress. They will be playing a little quartet I wrote them called Early to Rise.
On the other hand, if you’re in New York, you’ll want to find yourself at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, where yMusic will be playing new pieces by Mark Dancigers, Marcos Balter, Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Norman, and Nico Muhly (quite a list!) alongside my new piece for them, Safe Travels.
I want to issue my highest recommendation for the Living Earth Show’s May 12th concert at the Cell Theater. Travis Andrews and Andy Meyerson (electric guitarist and percussionist, respectively) have commissioned a remarkable body of work for themselves over the past few years, and they throw themselves into playing it with a gusto that is inspiring to behold.
And you needn’t take my word for it; their YouTube page features many compellingly-performed/produced music videos of their commissions. In this video, the duo performs Sam Adams’s Tension Study no. 2, with the fetching trapeze artist Deanna Hammond swinging overhead.
I recently had the good fortune of my name appearing on a poster in the NYC subway for the first time. More people in my own age bracket responded to this advertisement than to any other listing I’ve ever gotten—comprising the coveted “young people who don’t necessarily rush to buy every new David Lang album, and in fact may not have even heard of David Lang” demographic. And the audience ended up packed with those very people.
I’ve made fun of BAM’s subway posters in this space before (that’s because they were terrible), but I think they’re a great music-PR strategy, especially when deployed on the G line, where one is bound to spend dozens of minutes on the platforms staring at the advertisements. I remember seeing a Chamber Music Society subway poster a few years ago featuring the excellent cellist Nick Canellakis, and maybe one with Wu Han in a red drapery? Classical presenters should clearly be doing more of this!
Practicing Shostakovich this week, along with his comrade-in-angst Mieczyslaw Weinberg, for a concert with ACME. I haven’t much thought about Shostakovich’s musical language since sophomore year of high school, when my attractions tended toward the loud, the dissonant, the minor-mode. Shostakovich symphonies were just the ticket.
It’s presenting me with an interpretational challenge this time around—what to do with all the filler, the stuffing in between the themes. There’s so much of it, both in the Shostakovich and the Weinberg (which sounds a bit wackier, maybe just because I wasn’t familiar with it), page after page of passages like the following:
One of the first great mysteries of writing music was, for me, just this—how to stuff a piece so it wasn’t just a theme, repeated a few times. What was all that musical caulk filling in the gaps? What do you do after you’ve stated your theme (and restated it, in Weinberg’s case)?
It’s still kind of a mystery to me, what fills in the gaps in Shostakovich. We’re told the stuff is somehow “political”—that it’s purposely banal, or ironic—saying lots of words and meaning the total opposite. How to convey that in a performance, though? Powerless as music is to communicate a concrete thought, is it even worth trying? Maybe the best I can hope for is to shout “Loud, Dissonant, Minor”, and the rest will take care of itself.
I sanction everything but the music in this video (thanks to @ukeleleuser for the tip).
If you’re a longtime Sibelius user, like me, your favorite person in the world is probably Daniel Spreadbury. This morning he posted a new blog at Steinberg, where he and the former Sibelius team are working on an entirely new notation program. Pretty thrilling stuff.
But did you catch this epic dig at his former employer, Avid, basically implying that they have abandoned Sibelius entirely (despite their insistence to the contrary)?
…the number of companies actively working on professional music notation software is very small, and perhaps now numbers only two (one being Steinberg, the other MakeMusic).
The Polonaise-Fantaisie is to be classed among the works which belong to the latest period of Chopin’s compositions which are all more or marked by a feverish and restless anxiety. No bold and brilliant pictures are to be found in it; the tramp of a cavalry accustomed to victory is no longer heard; no more resound the heroic chants muffled no visions of defeat—the bold tones suited to the audacity of those who were always victorious. A deep melancholy—ever broken by startled movements, by sudden alarms, by disturbed rest, by stifled sighs—reigns throughout. We are surrounded by such scenes and feelings as might arise among those had been surprised and encompassed on all sides by an ambuscade, the vast sweep of whose horizon reveals not a single ground for hope, and whose despair had giddied the brain, like a draught of that wine of Cyprus which gives a more instinctive rapidity all our gestures, a keener point to all our words, a more subtle flame to all our emotions, and excites the mind to a pitch of irritability approaching insanity.
—Franz Liszt, Life of Chopin.
On The Gramophone Blog, James McCarthy writes:
All composers, but particularly composers who are salaried by academic institutions, need to be aware of their audience … If the composer is writing music as an academic pursuit then they should go into it fully aware that this is what they are doing, and not be crushed when the world doesn’t want to storm the concert hall demanding to hear their music. If they are writing music to say something about themselves and the world we live in today, then they need to be aware that what they say needs to be a least partly intelligible to the average concert-goer.
It is academically interesting to ask a cellist to pluck their A string with their teeth while de-tuning their C string with their right hand and slapping the body of the instrument with a kipper with their left. That is an expansion of orchestral technique, and it is certainly original. But as soon as you transport the kipper-slapping cellist out of the sphere of academia, put them in a concert hall and ask people to cough-up 25 quid and give up an evening of their lives to come and listen to them, the paradigm shifts.
Because this is why composers go into academia: to research new extended techniques involving seafood. Allow me to retort with a Steve Jobs quote:
This is what customers pay us for–to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Take desktop video editing. I never got one request from someone who wanted to edit movies on his computer.