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Happy birthday, Philip Glass.
John Scott at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue
The New York Times, January 30, 2007
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In an interesting pair of posts on his blog, David's Waste of Bandwidth, David Toub has sounded off on the pros and cons of the Internet music store eMusic.com. In his first post, Toub succinctly described the way the site works -- a subscription format entitles you to X-number of downloads per month, which are provided in MP3 format without DRM coding. And unlike some other subscription-based services, if you cancel your eMusic subscription, the files you've already downloaded continue to work. But Toub also noted that the site's offerings, limited to independent labels only, can be limiting if you know exactly what you want but can't find it. In his second post, Toub reconsidered that position, noting that a more diligent search turned up unanticipated treasures.
I bring this up because eMusic has hired me to review a few jazz albums for them lately -- Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar, Cecil Taylor's The World of Cecil Taylor. Recently, I was invited to create what's called an "eMusic Dozen": a sort of starter pack organized by a certain theme -- a genre, a style, an artist, a label, a historical period. Specifically, in response to the New York Times article about the alternate canon of '70s jazz that roared into being as the result of challenges from Dave Douglas and Ethan Iverson, I was asked to compile a '70s jazz Dozen, which was posted at the end of last week.
The project was a serious challenge, since I was limited to eMusic's holdings, ruling out all major-label recordings and a substantial number of indie releases mentioned during the original flurry of blog posts. Some artists -- Coleman, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett -- could not be included at all. In a few other cases, I had to choose a representative recording that might not have been an overall first choice for an artist or group, but which nonetheless gave a representation of what made their work significant.
In the end, I tried to balance old and new, traditional and avant-garde, domestic and international releases, in order to present a concise overview of vital '70s recordings. I don't expect that everyone will agree with my conclusions, but here's what I came up with, in alphabetical order:
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Chi-Congo
Duke Ellington - The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse
Dizzy Gillespie - Dizzy's Big 4
Steve Lacy - Scratching the Seventies/Dreams
Art Pepper - Straight Life
Flora Purim - Butterfly Dreams
Revolutionary Ensemble - The Psyche
Sam Rivers - Waves
Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio - Pakistani Pomade
Woody Shaw - Blackstone Legacy
Sun Ra - Languidity
McCoy Tyner - Echoes of a Friend
(Full disclosure: I am compensated for my eMusic writing, both through payment for reviews and access to a limited number of complimentary downloads. But let me state for the record that I'm not posting this to sell eMusic subscriptions and I don't get a kickback; I'm just putting my effort out there in the blogosphere, to keep discussion and debate alive.)
"A Serialist Island Thrives in a Sea of Minimalism"
The New York Times, January 28, 2007
An article about composer Charles Wuorinen, whose recent orchestral works have found a powerful, enthusiastic champion in conductor James Levine.
Theologoumenon, the symphonic poem premiered by Levine and the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall exactly two weeks ago, is indicative of the level at which Wuorinen continues to create. A restless, occasionally eruptive 21-minute orchestral meditation with especially fine writing for percussion, this was one of the composer's most unambiguously beautiful creations. ("Beautiful" was precisely the word Levine chose to describe the piece in our interview, too.) The ending, in which descending instrumental strands gather into a cluster of shivering overtones, then descend through a whole-tone transition into a radiant G-major triad that fades into silence, was breathtaking. The concert also included magisterial accounts of Brahms's Symphony No. 3 and Beethoven's Violin Concerto; you can read Tony Tommasini's perceptive, detailed recap here.
Theologoumenon is the first part of a two-part construction; on February 15, Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra will offer the premiere of a related work, Wuorinen's Eighth Symphony, "Theologoumena." At some point in the future, Levine intends to conjoin the pieces into a single, 50-minute span, as Wuorinen intended.
A few tantalizing prospects loom ahead closer to home. On April 5, Jeffrey Milarsky will lead the combined percussion sections of the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School in Wuorinen's Percussion Symphony, an amazing piece that's seldom performed since it requires 24 players and a massive complement of "furniture," as Wuorinen put it. The piece consists of three large movements arranged in a traditional fast-slow-fast order, separated by two haunting transcriptions of a Vergine bella setting by Guillaume Dufay. The concert will be held in the Manhattan School's Borden Auditorium at 7:30pm (details), and repeated at Alice Tully Hall on April 16 at 8pm (details).
And on April 14, the dynamic violinist Jennifer Koh will be featured in the premiere of Wuorinen's Spin 5 at the Miller Theatre (details). Brad Lubman will lead the Perspectives Ensemble in this concert, which marks the second year of Miller's "Pocket Concertos" commissioning project. Also on the program are a cello concerto by Huang Ruo, a clarinet concerto by Anthony Davis and a piano concerto by Sebastian Currier.
Grateful Dead - Spirit of '76 (Grateful Dead/Rhino)
Type O Negative - Dead Again (SPV, out on March 13)
Tristan Murail - Winter Fragments; Unanswered Questions; Ethers; Feuilles à travers les cloches; Le Lac - Erin Lesser, Argento Chamber Ensemble/Michel Galante (Aeon)
Victor Krauss - II (Back Porch)
Brad Shepik - Places You Go (Songlines)
Johannes Brahms - Symphony No. 2 - London Philharmonic/Eugen Jochum (EMI Classics)
Ennio Morricone - 50 Movie Theme Hits (Cooking Vinyl)
Charles Wuorinen - Percussion Symphony - New Jersey Percussion Ensemble/Charles Wuorinen (Nonesuch)
If the reviews of Waiting for the Barbarians, the announcement of Satyagraha at the Met and ENO, and the news of Appomattox hadn't already tipped you off, 2007 is a Philip Glass year: the composer celebrates his 70th birthday on January 31. But he's wasted no time getting the celebration underway: a new recording of Music in Twelve Parts, Part 1, has just been issued as a download exclusive by Glass's Orange Mountain Music label, via iTunes.
Yes, just Part 1. The idea -- and it's a pretty clever one -- is that a new section of the twelve-part composition will be released each month this year. Collect them all, and by the end of the year you'll have the whole megillah. Music in Twelve Parts is essentially Glass's minimalist manifesto, his Art of Fugue: comprehend it, and you'll basically grok everything that follows in his oeuvre, in construction if not always in motivation. (That's fodder for another post, perhaps.)
I'm mildly fascinated by the flux in timings among the various recordings of this segment. The original, recorded for Virgin in 1975, clocked in at 18 minutes. On the sleek Nonesuch remake, recorded in 1993, it was 18:16. The version that appeared on Live in Monterrey, Mexico, another Orange Mountain Music exclusive download via iTunes -- a really fine gig, by the way -- clocked in at a breathless (or perhaps truncated) 11:24. The new version, recorded live in Italy last year by the current Philip Glass Ensemble, is back up to 16:09. Clearly, even within this seemingly systematic music, there's plenty of room for flexibility and spontaneity.
If you already own the Nonesuch version, you're safe sticking with that (even if it's a bummer to have Part 5 split across two CDs). But if you're a patient soul interested in owning a recording of Music in Twelve Parts but not stuck on having something you can file on a shelf, the new version will provide good value. Part 1 is priced at $1.99; if the remaining parts follow suit, you'll eventually own the entire composition for less than it costs to buy the Nonesuch set on iTunes, and certainly less than it costs to buy it on those old-fashioned CD things.
Philip Glass - Music in 12 Parts, Part 1 - Philip Glass Ensemble (Orange Mountain Music/iTunes download)
Philip Glass - The Light; Heroes Symphony - Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop (Naxos)
Peter Sculthorpe - Earth Cry*; Memento Mori; Piano Concerto**; From Oceania; Kakadu - William Barton*, Tamara Anna Cislowska, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd (Naxos)
Exploding Star Orchestra - We Are All from Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey)
Richard Strauss - Elektra - Gerda Lammers, Hedwig Müller-Bütow, Georgine von Milinković, Covent Garden Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Rudolf Kempe (ROH/BBC)
Grateful Dead - Spirit of '76; Dick's Picks, Vol. 10 (Grateful Dead/Rhino)
Philip Glass - Glassworks (CBS)
Sometimes a vacation just isn't a vacation. That's why I'm at home today, recovering from a four-day excursion in which practically nothing -- apart from attending the Philip Glass opera and spending some quality time with my sister (whose birthday is today -- cheers!) and nephew in Houston -- went according to plan. I've been running on fumes for days, and now I'm paying for it: I feel like an old shoe.
Still, it's a good excuse to do a little bit of housekeeping on the blogrolls. Under "Prompter's Box," please welcome at long last the tasty, titillating Opera Chic. In the "Blue Notes" section, I've finally added Rifftides, an Arts Journal blog by the estimable Doug Ramsey. In "Poptones" you'll now find a link to Audiofile, Salon.com's MP3 blog, updated daily by David Marchese. And way down in "Players," I've finally updated my link for Thomas Meglioranza's blog, which moved to a new address way back in November; the blog formerly known as Tomness can now be found at Meglioranza.com.
I'm so completely behind in getting around to posting about The First Emperor (attended December 26) and the Dark Funeral/Enslaved show at B.B. King's (January 10) that I might as well apply a statute of limitations and admit that I'll never get around to doing either of them. About the first, I will say that I'm in agreement with Alex Ross's typically elegant, sober-minded New Yorker essay, and thought that James Jorden provided strong additional insights in his Gay City News review. Regarding the latter, Enslaved was epic and glorious, Dark Funeral predictable but entertaining to watch nonetheless. Over at the Determined Dilettante, my Time Out New York colleague Elisabeth Vincentelli posted on The First Emperor and fashioned a killer black-metal essay for the Dark Funeral rites; go read them.
I feel better already.
Edit: Mere moments after I hit "save," a fine new review of The First Emperor went up on the U.K.-based MusicWeb International, by Bruce Hodges (of Monotonous Forest repute). His essay includes valuable insights drawn from the movie-house simulcast he caught a few weeks after seeing the work in the opera house. Good stuff.
Charles Wuorinen - String Sextet - Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; Second String Quartet; Piano Quintet - Group for Contemporary Music; Divertimento - Tashi (Naxos)
Grateful Dead - Live at the Cow Palace, New Year's Eve, 1976 (Grateful Dead/Rhino)
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The Daedalus String Quartet at Alice Tully Hall
The New York Times, January 19, 2007
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For lovers of Robert Ashley's oeuvre, Concrete is a wonderfully revealing, even intimate experience. At first I missed the rigor of Ashley's earlier operas, but the improvisatory freedom of this work had its own rewards. Plus, Joan La Barbara = funny! More than that I can't say, because I'm reviewing the piece for The Wire. (Allan Kozinn's New York Times review is here.) Meanwhile, you've got
three four more chances to see it for yourself.
I'll be in Texas this weekend, reviewing Waiting for the Barbarians at Austin Lyric Opera on Friday night, then spending the next three days with family and friends in Houston. Despite the ridiculous workload that's coming along with me, I'm feeling really happy about the notion of temporary escape.