In what must surely be the most important career development of 2015, I have made my cooking show début. Thanks to Adrienne Stortz for the video.
The album is a little different from your typical composer-compilation, which is a good thing. I’d say it’s more of an interpretive album, albeit of music that all happens to have been written for the group. But it’s not weighed down trying to be the definitive version of any of these pieces, a burden which can sometimes lead to dutiful, bland recordings. This is largely a factor of the sheen of futuristic studio production provided by Ryan Lott (a.k.a Son Lux).
It also helps that the music is so good and varied throughout—I’m chuffed to be sharing space with Marcos Balter, Andrew Norman, Mark Dancigers, Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, and Jeremy Turner.
And yes, if it wasn’t already evident, we live in the age of the Instagram Album Cover.
yMusic plays live in NYC on Oct. 10, at Rockwood Music Hall.
I figure if anything goes up here, it’s this photo. Tweets are fleeting, blog posts are forever, or something like that.
David Cossin (center) anchors our performance of Steve Reich’s Four Organs last night at BAM, with Philip Glass, Nico Muhly, Mr. Reich, and yours truly. You can see Nico & me engaging in some subtle conducting. Photo by Stephanie Berger.
Here is a liner note I wrote to accompany the CD/DVD release of Louis Andriessen’s La Commedia in 2014.
Louis Andriessen initially found notoriety as something of a provocateur, a composer whose noisy, audacious juggernauts combined minimalism, leftist politics, and his characteristic “terrifying twenty-first century orchestra”. La Commedia is his fourth “opera”, really a cycle of five mini-cantatas—not exactly an adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, but a wide-ranging setting of parts of it. But what happens when Andriessen—at 75, still something of an iconoclast—decides to tackle one of the monuments of western thought? And is he doing so with a straight face, or being a bit of a prankster?
The first tableau, The City of Dis or: The Ship of Fools opens with a busy surround-sound collage: car horns, bicycle bells, jackhammers, sirens, and motorcycles blend with lightly unpredictable minimalist urbanity. It sounds familiar, appear nonthreatening—the soundscape is of Andriessen’s native Amsterdam—but the city’s earthly appearance masks what truly happens in Dis. Its world mirrors our own, but not everything is as it seems. Though it resembles a typical city, with its frenzy of activity and profusion of architectural styles (including Jewish and Islamic ones—heretical, after all), Dis is essentially a huge, hot torture chamber. A rowdy men’s chorus sings a passage from “The Blue Barge”, a common Renaissance version of the “Ship of Fools” allegory; crewed by variously inept and sinful characters, the barge is a symbol of the unknowing and uncaring damned. In fact, we are already deep inside the pit of Dante’s Hell. Dis (a name given to the Devil as well as a city he sometimes occupies) encompasses the sixth through ninth circles of “Nether Hell”, and it is here that the most malicious criminals are punished.
Though La Commedia calls for a mish-mash of vocal styles, the default Louis Andriessen affect is close to that of early music singing. Much of the exposition of the piece is in dense Bach-ian chorale, but notes and words remain intelligible thanks to minimal use of vibrato. Falling, melting gestures characterize much of the vocal writing of the first three parts of La Commedia, denoting both physical downward motion and keening lamentation. Chords take on an overwhelming gravity; normal major and minor triads have been larded with tritones and seconds, and can do nothing but descend.
Just a quick note to say that I’ve put up a provisional 2014-15 season calendar. Lots of exciting things happening, and of course more will be added as they’re announced.
In scraping information from lots of presenter’s web site calendars, I’ve noticed that many of them are astoundingly unusable. I don’t think I’ve solved the calendar problem too well myself, and I don’t even have much data to present. The best I’ve seen is probably Lincoln Center’s master calendar, though it links to a bewildering assortment of sub-sites, not all of which are as good. Berlin Philharmonic’s calendar is rather attractive, and they include a nice archive of past seasons going back to 1934 (!).
Here’s a nice video of Chris Cerrone’s I Will Learn To Love a Person, which I performed back in March with Mellissa Hughes, Christa van Alstine, and Ian Rosenbaum. All microtones absolutely intentional.
I also wrote a little “editor’s note” about the piece, to preface its imminent publication:
I’ve been immersed in Christopher Cerrone’s music for several years—performing, discussing, observing the process, and occasionally offering advice—and I’ve come to think of it all as “vocal music”, even in its purely instrumental moments. In his Invisible Overture, one of the earliest pieces I heard, an arching woodwind melody emerges from violent string gestures, a premonition of the elegiac opera to follow (Invisible Cities). It’s a recurring setup in his music: relentless development of a single musical point, until it is almost forced to become a song.
Chris’s I Will Learn to Love a Person is a piece about relationships—personal, romantic, harmonic, and timbral. Like all of his music, it obsessively controls its limited musical materials in service of big emotional catharses.
There are two contrasting “types” of song in I Will Learn to Love a Person. The first, third, and fifth songs emerge from extemporaneous-sounding clouds of harmonies and words: call it text message recitative. The second and fourth songs are bright and motoric, with a candid humor that counteracts the extreme vulnerability of the slow movements. The five songs are masterfully sequenced in a harmonic palindrome, with short interludes of repeated E’s acting as pivot points. Harmonic changes are few, and withheld until they feel revelatory.
The relationship of text and music is no less painstaking. It’s a rare case in which a musical setting is more than the sum of its parts: Tao Lin’s poems, which can be difficult to pin down on the page (are they sincere, or a bit glib?) and the music, so diaphanous at times it seems in danger of evaporating—powerfully concentrate each other in combination. Both elements sound simpler than they actually are. The pianist offhandedly touches some notes, outlining a harmony, over which the singer declaims what could be a series of self-pitying text messages:
seen from a great enough distance i cannot be seen
i feel this as an extremely distinct sensation
of feeling like shit
I Will Learn… requires a wide-ranging and nuanced dramatic performance in order to work correctly; perhaps more than a song cycle, it should be thought of as a self-analytical monodrama. Its protagonist is a precocious observer of the world and other people, but also immature and wildly heartbroken; the process of the piece is the discovery that there is, of course, no set of rules that govern human relationships.
In last night’s dream I somehow placed Mozart’s rondo “alla Turca” within Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata (the big A major, D. 959). I’ve never understood why Schubert put a double scherzo in that sonata, I said to myself. Played it very loud and fast because I didn’t know what else to do, and it sounded all right.
We need a work song about working on Work Songs.
Beginning to realize that I dislike repeat signs, notationally and conceptually. They are tiny wormholes in music during which I seem to give up on anything interpretive; I don’t know what to do with them.
I sometimes feel a creeping dissatisfaction with my performances of the first section of Kreisleriana (and yes, I realize my obsession with Kreisleriana)—even when the phrases were phrased, the notes hit accurately, and the pedaling clean, the overall form had an inappropriately sing-song quality, the over-neatness of rhymed couplets. The relentless modulations and impulsive rhythms felt pinned down.
The problem, I think, is with the little air-spaces between repeats—between achievement of the high D and return to the initial A—during which the whole thing slackens and comes tumbling down; the visual disruption of moving one’s eyes backwards over a chunk of music becomes a few milliseconds of helplessness. My theory is that this all could have been avoided by writing out the repeats, so the music was simply continuous, which of course is how it should sound.
According to a global search of my iMessage database:
you don’t have a laptop.
you don’t have to justify your evils to me.
you don’t have a printer?
you don’t have to punish yourself :)
you don’t have that problem
you don’t have a performance?
you don’t have this problem, do you?
you don’t have my extra rugs, do you?
you don’t have to fuck to be a fucker.
you don’t have a score, do you?
you don’t have to worry about how you stuff it in your pocket.
you don’t have to drank.
you don’t have to give me a comp.
you don’t have 5 seconds to respond saying “sorry i’m busy”
you don’t have an iPad
you don’t have any interest in selling a tux, do you?
you don’t have almonds?
you don’t have an iPhone 5?
you don’t have to say why.
you don’t have a Japanese girlfriend
you don’t have to come all the way here :)
you don’t have to make your own quesadilla
you don’t have to tell me
you don’t have HIV
you don’t have to kill them to get the feathers!
you don’t have to thank John Adams.
you don’t have to go to school tomorrow!
you don’t have iOS 7 on your iPhone?
you don’t have a toilet-side table?
you don’t have your songs played on the radio
you don’t have to wait an extra month
you don’t have to get on a plane
you don’t have a thermometer.
you don’t have a big ego?
you don’t have any money?
you don’t have to write them out, but they’re confusing how you’ve got them