Summer Listening List

Kids have their summer reading lists, and I have my self-assigned summer listening list. There’s recent listening here that I have enjoyed, and also discs I haven’t gotten to yet, but am very interested to hear.

I wish I could offer more than a few words about some of the discs, but that’s not practical; at least this bare bones list makes you aware of a few options that you might have overlooked. While some of these are relatively new, many are not – it’s simply a list of what happens to be stacked around my desk at the moment.

Recently heard and enjoyed:

- Undercurrent: Bill Evans and Jim Hall.
- Live at Blues Alley: Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts, Robert Hurst, Jeff “Tain” Watts.
- The Great Divide: Von Freeman, Richard Wyands, John Webber, Jimmy Cobb. Freeman is an elder statesman of the tenor who was new to me.
- Eternal Interlude: John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble. Brilliant writing and playing. Much for “classical” composers to learn here.
- An Exaltation of Larks: Jennifer Higdon; Lark Quartet, Gary Graffman, Blair McMillen, Todd Palmer.
- Go: Dexter Gordon, Sonny Clark, Butch Warren, Billy Higgins.
- Our Man in Paris: Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Pierre Michelot, Kenny Clarke.
This and Go are essential Blue Note classics. Check this re: Sonny Clark.

On deck:

- Crackpot Hymnal: Dimitri Tymoczko; Corigliano Quartet, Amernet Quartet, John Blackow, Kevin Weng-Yew Mayer, Daniel Schlossberg, Illinois Modern Ensemble, Stephen Taylor.
- Beyond Quantum: Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Milford Graves
- Written on Skin: George Benjamin; various artists.
- Piano Music (1960-2010): Bernard Rands; Ursula Oppens, Robert Levin.
- Time Machines: Sebastian Currier; Anne-Sophie Mutter, New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert (disc includes works by Penderecki and Rihm).
- Clouds: Chou Wen-Chung; Brentano String Quartet, Boston Musica Viva.
- Out of Chaos: Jason Eckardt; Ensemble 21.
- Body Mandala: Jonathan Harvey; Anu Komsi, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov, Stefan Solyom.

Upcoming Events

The performances page has been updated, with dates now in place for spring concerts by Peggy Pearson/Winsor Music, and the Philadelphia Sinfonia. A few more events will likely flesh out the schedule a bit, including a possible performance of the Piano Quintet at Penn, and a revival of a motet at Emmanuel Church. I’ll also be participating in an Exquisite Corpse project for Network for New Music, but more about that in another post.

Robert Levin on Mozart

The piano recital by Robert Levin that I attended last winter at Harvard, featuring music of Yehudi Wyner, John Harbison, and Bernard Rands, was dazzlingly good, but Levin is perhaps best known for his astonishing work with Mozart. Astonishing is not too strong a word, for he doesn’t just play beautifully, he improvises beautifully in Mozart’s style. Here are some fascinating videos. The first is an excerpt from the second, an improvisation on themes suggested by the audience that serves to close the lecture given complete in the second video – if you don’t have time for the whole lecture, at least give the first video a try.



Then this one on composing Mozart is the sequel to the previous lecture:

Penn Gazette on Philip Maneval

UnknownThere’s a nice post on the Penn Gazette website about my grad school classmate Philip Maneval. Philip is a marvelous composer who has done tremendous service to the field through his work with the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and Marlboro Music. Many, many years ago I gave a couple of performances of his big first piano sonata. I hope I get to perform his music again at some point, not least for the selfish pleasure of spending time in the practice room with some solidly crafted music.

Thank You, Lyric Fest

Last night at Westminster Choir College, Lyric Fest presented a reprise of the program they first offered in Bryn Mawr and Philly this past spring, featuring settings of poetry by American women, and including my “Waltzing the Spheres”, on a text by Susan Scott Thompson. Kelly Ann Bixby, soprano, and Laura Ward, piano, gave a beautifully shaped and deeply touching performance of the piece – indeed, the performances were at a very high level throughout the evening. Thanks also to the CoOPERAtive program for hosting the event, and to the warmly appreciative audience. I am told there will eventually be a video of the concert available online for streaming – will let you know when I hear the details.

Summer Reading List

Recent reading:

Bel CantoAnn Patchett
I finally got around to this, more than 10 years after it came out; you’d think that, as a musician, I would have read it sooner, given one of its principal characters is an opera singer. On the surface, it’s about the terrorist takevover of a South American government residence, but the real themes are the intensities of the human heart and the potency of music. The Lyric Opera of Chicago will premiere Jimmy López’s opera based on the book in 2015-16.

My Kind of Place and Rin Tin Tin – both by Susan Orlean
I am becoming a big fan of Orlean’s writing, beautifully crafted journalism, often on offbeat topics, that transcends reporting to become literature. My Kind of Place is an anthology of short pieces, mostly travel-based, while Rin Tin Tin is a book length exploration of a dog – and the idea of a dog – that persisted through most of the 20th century. Orlean is sometimes a presence in her own writing, but always appropriately so, and that presence helps her achieve some of her most touching writing. She is also terrifically funny. Visit her entertaining Twitter feed here.

In progress:

Thinking in JazzPaul F. Berliner
It is taking me quite a while to work through this tome, but it is worth it, for there are helpful insights everywhere, as well as many fascinating transcriptions. There are also passages of remarkable banality: “Typically, young learners cultivate their own performance skills with dedication and determination.” “The bass continues to develop within the jazz idiom in direct relationship to the skills and creativity of its master artists.” “One of the ways in which learners modify an initial mentor’s influence is by studying the styles of other artists…” There’s stuff like this on just about every other page. Some of the quotes from musicians are no better. I suppose Berliner is just trying to be thorough, but It’s as though he was trying to explain jazz to a Martian unfamiliar with Earth music. Nevertheless, I am learning a great deal about how musicians develop a vocabulary for improvisation and how they create and vary compositional structures – how they think in music, not just about music.

“Waltzing” at Westminster

A reminder that Lyric Fest will be presenting a program at Westminster Choir College next week, a reprise of this past spring’s concert that included the premiere of my “Waltzing the Spheres”. The concert will be Tuesday, July 15 at 7:30 in Bristol Chapel on the Westminster campus and is part of the CoOPERAtive program – read more here. Kelly Ann Bixby will be singing my song, with Laura Ward at the piano. Here’s a glimpse of the piece’s opening:



Leonard Meyer’s Papers

meyer4I got a message not long ago that the papers of music theorist Leonard B. Meyer have now been catalogued and are ready to be accessed by scholars in the Special Collections of the University of Pennsylvania library. Meyer’s writings in books such as Emotion and Meaning in Music, Music, The Arts, and Ideas, and Understanding Music are exceptionally insightful and elegantly written. I had the privilege of taking a course with Meyer while I was a grad student at Penn. I think he was especially hard on the composers in the class (“only a composer would think sonata form is a three-part form” – the implication being that only a composer would be so foolish) because of his own background as a composer, something of which I was not aware at the time. (I did manage to get a hard-won A- from Lenny for my Debussy paper.) He was generously supportive in attending New York performances of my music during his later years. Find a blog post about Lenny and his papers here.

Frank O’Hara, Addicted to Music

Unknown“So you think you’re going to be a great pianist,” my father said to me in 1943, “say, like Rachmaninoff?”

“Yep,” I said, “and a composer too.”

“Hmmmm,” my father said. My mother was eating an apple.

“What’s the matter, don’t you think I can?”

“Well, I think it’s more difficult than you do, apparently.”

My mother put down her apple and sighed. “I may as well tell you, Russel,” she said, “that he’s already told me about his great plans. I think it’s depressing. The other day when I was in Worcester I stopped in at a bookshop and read some of Mozart’s letters. Really, that poor man had such a miserable life! I’d just die if I thought he was going to be a composer. They have such terrible lives, I can’t begin to tell you.”

“So what?” I said. “And anyway, all of them didn’t. Just a few.”

“Now wait a minute,” my father said, glad to have the opportunity to be more permissive than my mother, for once. “If we don’t let him, he’ll always think we stopped him. And it isn’t so very much money, after all.”

My mother sighed again. “I’m not going to argue with both of you. But when it all began, remember, we just wanted him to have some general culture. I didn’t want him to become an addict!”

- from “Autobiographical Fragments” in the volume “Standing Still and Walking in New York” by Frank O’Hara. While we don’t remember O’Hara as a pianist/composer, this book of miscellaneous prose pieces by O’Hara does offer essays on Ben Weber and Morton Feldman. I believe that’s Larry Rivers standing to the left of O’Hara in the cover photo above.