Monday, October 29, 2007

Newest Music

Last evening after the NYCO's Carmen, I tried to join my friend, clarinetist Michael Norsworthy for the Met Orchestra chamber concert of Babbitt, Carter, Harbison, and Stravinsky. Nothing better to get the Bizet matinée out of my ears. Alas, it was sold out. While Michael and everyone else in Weill Hall enjoyed their new music, I walked around trying to bide my time until the concert was over so we could have dinner together. I headed over to Fifth Avenue and walked into St. Thomas Church for an organ recital. It turned out to be a great stroke of luck.

Ansgar Wallenhorst performed Liszt's Fantasy and Fugue on the Chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” followed by an extensive improvisation. It may have been 20 minutes or more, I quite lost track of time, the music was so brilliant. He brought forth colors from the instrument that were strangely delicious, seductive, and mysterious. His use of harmony and tonality were at once communicative and challenging. Soft dynamics were especially affecting with sounds shaded timbrally by nearly silent notes moving in and around others. Lowest possible notes were more felt than even heard. High twitters and sound specks seemed to come from unseen birds visiting the upper sanctuary. Through quiet accretion, he created new aural landscapes. As the improvisation moved to its conclusion, Wallenhorst layered repetitive galloping figures to build excitement. Responding fanfares resounded between the front and back of the church and in a dramatic rush of notes the work came to an end. If he had played more, I would have stayed all night.

Throughout the performance I thought of the singularity of this experience. This music, never heard before or since was being lavished on us. Like a life, it was the expression of one distinct personality, and because it is of no value or use alone, it became our shared delight.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Metro Mandala" 2007 by Gayle Tanaka

This small work by Gayle Tanaka is a photograph under a solid crystal dome, three inches in diameter and about two and a half inches tall. It is clever, charming, and, to me, irresistible. Below is an image of the photograph and a picture of all the "mandalas" on a table in the the gallery show.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Noise, and the rest

When I showed up in the pit of the State Theater tonight for NYCO's performance of Cav/Pag, piccolo player, Kathleen Nester, asked me, "Did you see your blog mentioned in The New Yorker?"

Extrapolation, enthusiasm, etc.

The mention was oblique, but it was there. Click here to count the ways. This self-publishing venture has changed my life in ways little and big and the attention Maestro Ross has given my little corner of the blogateria has been meaningful.

In fact, here, the many are united. No one is blogging about classical music for the wrong reasons! We love it. We love to play it, we love to hear it, we love to write it, we know, oh how we know, our lives would not be as rich without music. We want everyone to love it the way we do, and so, we write, and we self-publish.

I remember playing the 2nd oboe part to Brahms' second piano concerto with the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra when I was a high school student. In Brahms I first heard the promise of something larger than small town Michigan where I grew up. I followed that promise to Juilliard and New York City.

Extrapolation, enthusiasm, etc.

Tonight at dinner between matinée and evening operas, my friends—civilians—talked about their upcoming vacations. I don't take vacations. I have a day off every few months, no more than a handful a year, really, but what would I do with time away from music. A musician's life is full of questions, strains, uncertainty, and utter splendor. There are riches unaccountable by accountants. There are secrets musicians know.

The very best ones will share.

"To A Friend Contemplating Her Biography Of Hawthorne" by Richard Howard

“We were not, it is true, so well acquainted
at college, that I can plead
an absolute right to inflict
my ‘twice-told’ tediousness
upon you; but I have been glad of your
success in literature,
and in more important matters.”
What had been—

what could have been, I wonder—
“more important” to Hawthorne, sequestered for
a dozen years in Salem,
struggling to make himself a writer? And for
his initially cautious
correspondent, the fatally fluent
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
savoring the first of those dread successes:
for him, too, could there have been
matters more important than literature?

And then of course I wonder
about you and me—about all of our tribe,
whom Montaigne identified
without contempt as la gent écrivassière,
secreted so managably,
as luck would have it, in this apprehensive
and inadvertent city—
whether it is something of the same kind
that, every dreaming midnight
and every waking dawn, glows (glowers) for us
like the radium on our clocks:
matters more important than literature.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wolfgang Rihm "Jagden und Formen" Reviewed in the New York Times

Click here to read the review.

Rihm's music has scampered around in my head since last week, hunting for forms, chasing, searching. Maybe I'm the one chasing its form, hunting its secrets. Pamela Drexel, a friend and Helicon board member who was in attendance, specifically mentioned the virtuoso chase between English horn and viola (played by my friend since Juilliard, Daniel Panner). Other Helicats in attendance were sculptor, Ryo Toyonaga, and board member, Karen McLaughlin.

Excerpt (of some personal interest, ahem) from the Times review by Allan Kozinn:

"Several times a lone English horn rises from the sonic maelstrom to sing an attractive, jaunty melody before the chaotic chase figures reclaim the foreground. Elsewhere sustained melodies, almost buried at first, wrest attention from the pandemonium."

"Jeffrey Milarsky led the Manhattan Sinfonietta in an energetic performance that . . . was the picture of ensemble virtuosity."

(But who played the English horn?????)

More: Later today, Helicon board member, Karen McLaughlin and I tried to extract an excerpt of the Rihm review for my bio. Something along the lines of: "Hailed by the New York Times as ' . . . lone . . . attractive, jaunty . . . ' and ' . . . almost buried . . . ,' English hornist, James Roe, was praised for his ' . . . chaotic chase . . . ' and ' . . . pandemonium . . . '" Run for the hills!!!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Helicon's 23rd Season

Symposium LXXXIII - 14 October 2007
Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven

Mark Steinberg, violin
Myron Lutzke, ’cello
Pedja Muzijevic, fortepiano

Mozart Violin Sonata, K. 454
Haydn Piano Trio in C
Beethoven Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1

Helicon's 23rd season opened last evening with our 83rd Symposium. Mark, Myron, and Pedja brought so much alertness, poise, and sheer joy this performance, it was the ideal way to begin the season. They all took great chances last night, nearing the quietest end of the dynamic spectrum, at times barely whispering. And then, as in the final movements of the Haydn and Beethoven trios, they performed with full boisterous exuberance. Rod Regier's Walter fortepiano is really a masterpiece of an instrument, and Pedja played it with utter assurance. It is easy to say that Albert would have loved this concert, and it's true.

Here are some pictures taken by Joe Hsu.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

What are days for?

Hours disappear each day, slipping through my fingers, rolling down the stairs.

I've planned Albert's memorial concert at Juilliard (and it will be quite wonderful), tomorrow is the opening Symposium of the Helicon season, next week is the Rihm concert at Miller Theater, tonight I sight-read principal oboe in Carmen with the NYCO, and tomorrow morning I play the funeral of another friend who's taken his leave this fall.

A thousand details attended to does not balance the scales. Grief is neither measurable nor containable. Loss is only and always loss and nothing can take the place of the missing.

My phone feels heavy in my pocket these days, dead weight waiting for a call. Incoming, outgoing, there is so much left I wanted to say—so much I hoped to hear.

The unaswered question is simply, "How are you?"

by Philip Larkin

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

By Heart

In 2003, a favorite pair of actors, Marian Seldes and Brian Murray performed an evening of one-acts, titled "Beckett/Albee." There were three monologues by Samuel Beckett before intermission (Not I, A Piece of Monologue, and Footfalls) and a one-act play for both by Edward Albee after (Count the Ways). It was a thrilling and confounding evening, thrilling because of the virtuoso performances and confounding because of the obfuscating density of Samuel Beckett's texts. Seldes and Murray were interviewed by Leonard Lopate on his eponymous WNYC program (a favorite companion while I make reeds) and spoke about learning the difficult, non-narrative Beckett monologues. To speak their lines as personal utterances of their characters required intensive preparation, both physically and mentally. At times, they explained, the body was more dependable than the mind. Their preparation began with phonetic repetition until the inner structure revealed itself and gave them something to hold on to, and eventually, something to say.

That interview and their performances comes to mind while I'm learning the thorny music of Wolfgang Rihm for next week's Miller Theater concert. At first the notes on the page seem a snarl, quite outside the narrative vernacular of Western music. Learning this material requires repetition to just get the music into the body. Albert Fuller talked about confronting the organ works of Messiaen as a young man; none of the finger patterns were familiar to him. I find the same with Rihm. Yet as the body begins to accept the music, the mind does seem to catch up. Rihm's rhetoric is persuasive, and through repetition, the music moves from notation, through the body, and then into the mind. Finally, it comes out with inner motivation. This process is basically the same when learning a work of Bach or Mahler, however the extreme demands of Rihm's musical language make the inner workings of preparation more pronounced.

This morning while making coffee, I was a little surprised to find myself singing one of the most puzzling passages over and over to myself. My unconscious was learning the music by heart, even away from my instrument.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Over the edge

Over the edge of the orchestra pit, I mean. The musicians are there every show, it's the audience that's different. We look and enjoy the various interesting and odd people who assemble facing us, we facing them.

Yesterday before the 1:30 matinee of Don Giovanni at the New York City Opera, a mother and her son of about 8 years old, walked into the front row of the State Theater. The look on the boy's face as he surveyed the orchestra pit was one of such wonder and anticipation. Eyes wide, mouth agape, he quickly turned to his mother as if to say, "You mean I'm going to experience ALL of THIS???" and his gaze shot back to the pit.

Their seats were dead center right behind the conductor. When David Wroe walked in for his bow, the boy became even more excited, so close to the center of attention. With the opening chords, he lifted from his seat, and spent the whole overture leaning over the conductors shoulder, eyes darting between baton and musicians. It's just how I would have reacted.

On the M104 going home, I thought about how vital and important this performance must have felt to him. It felt that way to me, too.