Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Questions of Vacation

Questions Of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"

Monday, August 10, 2009


A dear flutist friend stopped by for dinner tonight and wanted me to listen to her play a Bach unaccompanied sonata in preparation for upcoming performances. She played from memory and gave me the score, but I didn't follow along, I wanted to watch her play and enjoy this private performance from my couch.

There regularly is music in my place. I practice, but practicing often is repetitive ruckus, metronome aclacking. I have chamber music rehearsals here, too, but what I heard tonight was a full-fledged performance: poised, eloquent, full of persuasive rhetoric. Even the finest hi-fi could not match the aural pleasures of a live chamber music performance in one's own home.

Let me encourage everyone: treat yourself. (Eschew Netflix for a night.) Invite musicians to play chamber music in your living room. Offer a good meal (they will say yes) and invite just one or two special friends to share with you. Not too many.

You will not forget the experience.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

An Uplifting Proposal

Right before Tuesday's Imani Winds concert at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, the director of the series asked the ensemble whether a young man could propose to his girlfriend on stage during the concert.

Of course!

He and his soon-to-be fiancée live in Atlanta and had met at an Imani Winds concert eighteen months ago. They had travelled to New York City for tonight's concert.

Before the last piece on the first half, flutist Valerie Coleman told the audience that before we proceeded, there would be a special announcement. "Hello New York." the young man said into the microphone, his arm around his girlfriend. He calmly went on to explain that they were on stage to thank the Imani Winds for bringing them together and for their music which had continued to be an important part of the couple's eighteen-month relationship. And then he said good night and turned to leave the stage. We thought he had lost his nerve, but he swung back to the mic and said, "Oh, and one more thing . . . " whereupon he reached into his pocket and knelt. The audience exploded with applause and shouts of encouragement. The young woman, clasped her hands to her head, spun around, and before the question could even be asked, she yelled out: YES!!!

The ring placed on her finger, the couple thanked each of the musicians. Everyone was feeling a bit giddy, the audience was nicely stirred up, and before we continued with the program I stepped up to the mic, and asked, "Is there anyone else?"

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


It will be a beautiful night for a summer concert in the park.

Tuesday August 4th, 2009 at 7:30 PM

Scherzo for woodwind quintet, Op. 48
Marquez Danza de Mediodia
Medaglia Suite Popular Brasileira
Schifrin La Nouvelle Orleans
Ligeti Sechs Bagatellen
Barber Summer Music, Op. 31

The Naumburg Orchestral Concert begins at 7:30pm at the Naumburg Bandshell on the Concert Ground in Central Park located south of the 72nd Street cross-drive.

Admission is free.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Rest is Silence

Two eighth rests, how long are they?

I have had such a good time this summer playing with the Imani Winds while their oboist, Toyin Spellman-Diaz, is on maternity leave. I've enjoyed learning new repertoire for our concerts, but there is something special about working on pieces I've played for decades with Zéphyros Winds now with new colleagues. In these works—Barber's "Summer Music," Ligeti's "Six Bagatelles," Paquito D'Rivera's "Aires Tropicales," and Lalo Schifrin's "La nouvelle Oreleans"—I reengage my ears to another set of musical imaginations.

In these situations, a musician's opportunity to learn is ripe. And if we don't hear other players and play with other players, our various "chops" can atrophy for lack of attention.

In 1998, I was hired to play a single performance of "Annie Get Your Gun." It was a benefit for Lincoln Center Theater featuring Patty Lupone
and Peter Gallagher. The audience was filled with notables, Rosie was there, Barbara Walters seemed unpleasantly shocked by how politically incorrect the show was, Rex Reed was reported to have said, "Well, they didn't have to cut 'I'm an Indian, too.'" (Political correctness? And, yes, it did have to be cut.) And the orchestra, contracted by Red Press, was filled was the finest cats on the scene. I was pretty green (OK, very green). Out of Juilliard for just three years, I didn't know any faces in the band, but over the next decade I would come to. The first rehearsal began, naturally, with the overture. It looked pretty straight forward to me. Often in "tutti" sections (times when the whole orchestra is playing), orchestrators will give the oboe the same line as the first trumpet. The oboe doesn't make its most important contribution during these sections—you can't really hear it—so, we end up playing along with the loudest instrument, and that way we stay out of the way. Though I didn't know him at the time, one of New York's top lead trumpet players, Bob Millikan, was on the job. The overture started and I began to play my part, pretty much exactly how it looked on the page, in other words, totally square. The lead trumpet was playing in such a different style, and with so much style, I had to just stop and listen. "How does he know how to do that?" He knew. I didn't, but wanted to, and here, I realized was my opportunity to learn how it really went.

Each year in his Juilliard class, Albert Fuller would pick up a violin part to a Beethoven sonata and ask the students what he was holding. Always someone fell into the trap, "It's music." "No," Albert replied, "you cannot hold music. You can only hear music." Bob Millikan's trumpet playing brought that point home.

Lalo Schifrin's wind quintet, "La nouvelle Orleans," ends with an elaborate oboe cadenza meant to imitate the sound of a blues harmonica. After several performances with the Imani Winds, their flutist, Valerie Coleman, asked whether she could offer me a suggestion for that solo. It was a small thing, she assured me, but it would really help. The oboe cadenza begins after a loud chord played by the whole ensemble. There are two eighth rests between the chord and the oboe solo. "Could you wait a little bit longer before you start?" Valerie asked. One of the most challenging sounds for a musician to make on stage is silence. Modulating the right amount involves some risk. Concerts are about sound, after all. That night, I held onto those rests, the silence, just a little longer. The tension increased, and the solo landed with much more force.

When I was performing with Issa (Jane Siberry) a few years ago for her Carnegie Hall debut, she was coaching me on passage I was improvising. Again her urging was for less sounds, fewer notes, and more silence.

Listening to Albert Fuller's harpsichord recordings, again and again I am amazed at the role silence plays in his music making; especially as a tool to highlight a particular musical moment. He prepares that moment with a break in the sound, the silence features the next music.

Those two little rests written by Lalo Schifrin, how long are they, then? It depends on knowing what you are about to say next.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

On Whitman

This passage opens the second chapter of Susan Sontag's "On Photography."

As Walt Whitman gazed down the democratic vistas of culture, he tried to see beyond the difference between beauty and ugliness, importance and triviality. It seemed to him servile or snobbish to make any discriminations of value, except the most generous ones. Great claims were made for candor by our boldest, most delirious prophet of cultural revolution. Nobody would fret about beautify and ugliness, he implied, who was accepting a sufficiently large embrace of the real, of the inclusiveness and vitality of actual American experience. All facts, even mean ones, are incandescent in Whitman’s America—that ideal space, made real by history, where “as they emit themselves facts are showered with light.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

36 Hours in Aguascalientes

Our concert in Mexico was a great success. We signed autographs and posed for pictures for at least an hour after the performance.

The historic city center of Aguascalientes is a romanticized picture of Baroque, colonial decay mixed with 21st-century urban renewal. Low stucco buildings in pink, robin's egg blue, and pale yellow, impressive 19th-century French-style government buildings, and elaborate Baroque churches were interspersed with modern structures, cell-phone stores, and ATMs for world-wide banks. (North American chains were mercifully rare, the only exceptions were Starbucks and KFC.) Planted, manicured parks with fountains offered shade from the sun, and though the gardens were in the French style, the flora was decidedly Aztec.

On Sunday morning, handsome couples strolled to church, looking like Italian socialites from the 50s. Cowboys brought their families for a day in the city. Children ran and played everywhere. The churches overflowed with congregants, their interiors clangorous in pink, blue, gold, and silver, and their hefty Baroque spires supporting weightless neon crosses that advertised the resurrection next to gleaming Coca-cola signs.

In this part of the city, little poverty was in evidence, but when it came, it could be shattering. Walking back to the hotel after our concert we were approached by a man begging for money. He had no legs and was pushed in a low cart by a young boy. As they got closer, we realized that the man was made up as a woman, with a blouse, wig, and rouged cheeks. He spoke in an animated, hoarse falsetto. His elaborate appearance and gestures were in stark relief to the boy's affectless silence. What did they need from us? From the world? They were headed out into the city square at twilight; their stage set, though the stakes were higher than any performance I've been involved with. How many pesos should I give them? The contents of my pockets? My wallet? My bank accounts? Do I have empathetic capacity enough to imagine their life? Perhaps for a moment this morning in my Manhattan apartment high above West End Avenue, but hardly equal to the relentless, Baroque difficulties of their lives.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Guest Turn

Last year, the wonderful oboist of Imani Winds, Toyin Spellman-Diaz asked if I could cover her maternity leave this summer. I was thrilled. Imani Winds is the indispensable wind quintet and one of the nation's cultural treasures. On top of that, the members are, to a one, wonderful people and excellent musicians. Often, when I mention my own quintet to someone, the response is, "Oh, aren't you in Imani Winds?" Their cultural penetration is so deep that they have put the genre back on the musical map and made it relevent to new audiences and exciting for the establishment. The evidence is their packed schedule.

The rehearsals this week have been nothing but fun. We have a number of concerts this summer, try to come if you're in the area.

Sunday, July 19, 2009 Imani Winds in AGUASCALIENTES, MEXICO Festival de Música de Cámara

Time: 6:00 pm. Festival Opening Performance. PROGRAM Scherzo – Eugene Bozza; Danza de Mediodia – Arturo Marquez; Suite Popular Brasileira – Julio Medaglia; La Nouvelle Oreleans – Lalo Schifrin; Sechs Bagatellen – Gyorgy Ligeti ; Aires Tropicales – Paquito D’Rivera; “Freyleka” from Klezmer Dances – arr. Gene Kavadlo
Monday, July 27, 2009 Imani Winds in CHICAGO, IL National Association of Negro Musicians Annual Conference

Time: 7:30 pm. PROGRAM Scherzo – Eugene Bozza; Danza de Mediodia – Arturo Marquez; Suite Popular Brasileira – Julio Medaglia; La Nouvelle Oreleans – Lalo Schifrin; Sechs Bagatellen – Gyorgy Ligeti ; Aires Tropicales – Paquito D’Rivera; “Freyleka” from Klezmer Dances – arr. Gene Kavadlo
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 Imani Winds in BROOKVILLE, NY C.W. Post, Long Island University Chamber Music Festival

Time: 8:00 pm. Masterclass 4-6. PROGRAM Scherzo – Eugene Bozza; Danza de Mediodia – Arturo Marquez; Suite Popular Brasileira – Julio Medaglia; La Nouvelle Oreleans – Lalo Schifrin; Sechs Bagatellen – Gyorgy Ligeti ; Aires Tropicales – Paquito D’Rivera; “Freyleka” from Klezmer Dances – arr. Gene Kavadlo
Tuesday, August 4, 2009 Imani Winds in NEW YORK, NY Naumburg Bandshell, Central Park

Time: 7:30 pm. PROGRAM Scherzo – Eugene Bozza; Danza de Mediodia – Arturo Marquez; Suite Popular Brasileira; Julio Medaglia; La Nouvelle Oreleans – Lalo Schifrin; Sechs Bagatellen – Gyorgy Ligeti; Summer Music – Samuel Barber; Libertango – Pizzolla/Scott

Thursday, July 09, 2009

What Helicon Understands

By Albert Fuller (November 1996)

“It’s not enough for poetry and song to be beautiful; they must entice the listener’s soul to follow wherever they lead. Just as laughing begets laughter in others, likewise our face responds to the tears of another. If you want me to cry, then you yourself must grieve.” --- Horace, Ars Poetica, lines 99-103, 23-20 BCE

Helicon believes that art works are the principal recorded evidence of humankind’s consciousness. Existing from all periods of human life on earth, art works demonstrate the connectedness of the human family’s imagination in all times and all places.

Helicon demonstrates this consanguinity with evidence of the sources of imagination by showing how the content and form of musical art works are arresting and lure the heart into profound imagination. Art not only offers a form of self-expression, it, in fact, creates an external, concrete vessel in which the souls of our lives can dwell and communicate with others. Just before his death, Albert Einstein noted to a friend: “To us [physicists], the concept of past, present, and future is only an illusion . . . albeit a stubborn one.” Einstein understood how humankind’s soul practices the arts to the benefit of all humankind, everywhere.

Helicon’s musical activities seek to profit from our expanding knowledge of the many and diverse areas exercised by our own human nature. In the case of those composers whose creations strike us strongly and deeply, it is our specific intent to maintain the integrity of their affective messages by seeking musical results that reflect as closely as possible their creators’ expressive intentions. Unlike today’s normal performance practice, Helicon believes that music should be performed so as to preserve the affects of the composer. If the composer’s messages are not to the taste of the conductor, the performer, or the comfort of the audience, and, consequently, are changed to accommodate that, the composer’s intent is eroded if not actually betrayed. Therefore, the music we love must be understood as of greater value to us as a product of its own period, than if subjected to an attempt to bring it “up to date.”

That is why Helicon so often employs the specific instruments (of the finest copies of them), techniques, and expressive interpretive styles that were the coin of our beloved composers. We do that for a single purpose: to recreate by approaching as best we can the emotional or affective content that the musicians form different times and places had in mind. The philosophy, demanding change and growth, has immeasurably enriched our artistic receptivity and experience. From this point of view, affective musical understanding are sharpened by observing them in historical context, integrating the meaning of music’s invisible—but not inaudible—messages with the other arts, and with the contemporary technological, philosophical, and socio-economic milieus of their times.

All knowledge is based on the past; all work stands on what has gone before. However, present technology suggests to many that we are not connected with the same past that has brought us into being. Electricity’s new role in spreading information implies to some that we are only just now beginning to know. The flood of new information, carried around the world principally by the computer-satellite-television complex, has often obscured the role of feelings in human affairs. This leads a consumer-oriented society to care more for the agora than the individual; more for the package than for the content. But we must ponder about the resultant pride in today’s acquisitions and achievements, asking whether they have not led us to feel our inheritance is poor, and that only now are we beginning to pull out of dark-age ignorance.

Sadly today, the role of feeling—of the soul in the life of the world—has temporarily dropped from general public consciousness, in spite of the fact that our souls are the prime source and stimulus of our imagination, the surest guide to mankind’s destiny.

At Helicon we feel that when we ignore our souls we “are starving in the sight of supply” of the vast riches of knowledge and artworks that the human race has created in arriving at the present. Helicon intends to give witness to the strength of our inheritance by engaging in activities that demonstrate the affective, communicative power of those riches and our gratitude for having received them.

Art creates an external vessel in which the souls of our lives can dwell and communicate with others. Musical art, not being concrete or tangible, is thus often misunderstood, and thereby, its central meaning betrayed. Helicon intends to maintain the integrity of composer’s affective messages by seeking musical performances that reflect as closely as possible their creator’s expressive intentions. By these means, we hope to recreate, as best we can, the emotional or affective content that composers from different times and places had in mind. Helicon is a kind of travel of the imagination through past time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Opera for All

Congratulations to the beleaguered New York City Opera. This week, the company that Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia nicknamed "the people's opera," brought three vibrant performances directly to the people of New York City in a series of free outdoor performances in conjunction with the River-to-River Festival.

From my seat in the principal oboe chair, I enjoyed watching the thousands gathered really engaged in the performances. Tonight, smiles spread throughout the crowd during Largo al factotum. The audience could barely conceal their delight, basking in the joy of live performance.

In the face of the company's very public missteps and a recent—and disgraceful—article in Times (no link supplied), this week the NYCO is working hard, directly focused on their mission. With The Met offering no operas in the park this summer, "the people's opera" has taken up at least some of the slack. And during the last three nights, there were rapt listeners, not picnickers, many standing through the entire performances.

I, for one, am encouraged. The tables selling season subscriptions were swamped tonight. Why don't you subscribe, too? You don't want to miss out, do you?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vivaldi's "Big Band" with The Little Orchesta Society

Randall Ellis and I played Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Oboes in D Minor (RV 535) in Zankel Hall Tuesday night with The Little Orchestra Society and Dino Anagnost conducting. The concert was nearly sold out and many friends were there.

I was happy to read about it in the Times this morning. Vivien Schweitzer praised the "polished interpretation of Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Oboes in D Minor (RV 535) by Randall Ellis and James Roe, who both played with a clear tone and elegant phrasing." New York Times, June 20, 2009

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Writing Jazz

Please come to Merkin Hall tonight. The Zéphyros Winds is joining forces with The Lark Chamber Artists and pianist Anthony de Mare for a program that ends with a world premiere by David Rakowski, Stolen Moments for winds, strings, and piano.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Knight after Knight

As part of the run-up for their first European tour, The Knights are giving two performances in New York City.

Please try to catch these fascinating programs on whichever side of the Atlantic you happen to find yourself.

May 15, 2009
8:00 PM
Schubert and Solitude with Osvaldo Golijov - Angel Orensanz Foundation, NYC
The New York Institute for the Humanities and the Humanities Initiative at NYU in association with In a Circle present "Schubert and Solitude" with Osvaldo Golijov, in conversation with Fred Child.

The Knights
Eric Jacobsen, conductor
Tehila Nini Goldstein, soprano
Brooklyn Rider

Golijov - She Was Here (a cycle of four songs steeped in Schubert)
Works by Beethoven, Schubert, Glass, and Ives

Art Exhibition and Projections by Lennie Peterson

Free and Open to the Public

May 16, 2009
8:00 PM
Benefit Concert for Riverside Food Pantry - Riverside Church, NYC
The Knights present a benefit concert for the Riverside Soup Kitchen. This will be the final concert before they head off to Germany and Ireland for their European tour!

The Knights
Eric Jacobsen, conductor

Bach (arr. by S. Beck) - O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (Chorale for Orchestra)
Copland - Appalachian Spring (13 instrument version)
Songs of Golijov, Sondheim, Rodgers, and Bernstein
Beethoven - Symphony No. 7

Suggested donation $10

Riverside Church - www.theriversidechurchny.org

May 20, 2009
8:00 PM
Opening Night at the Dresdner Musikfestspiele - Dresden, Germany
The Knights, in their first European tour will open the Dresdner Musikfestspiele with soprano Dawn Upshaw as their guest soloist at the Frauenkirche.

The Knights
Eric Jacobsen, conductor
Dawn Upshaw, soprano

Ives - The Unanswered Question
Golijov - She Was Here
Golijov - Night of the Flying Horses
Rodgers - He Was Too Good To Me
Sondheim - There Won't Be Trumpets
Sondheim - What More Do I Need?
Bernstein - "Somewhere" from West Side Story
Bach (arr. by S. Beck) - O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (Chorale for Orchestra)
Beethoven - Symphony No. 7

Dresdner Musikfestspiele - www.musikfestspiele.com

May 21, 2009
8:00 PM
The Knights with Christina Courtin at the Dresdner Musikfestspiele - Dresden, Germany
The Knights present their second concert at the Dresdner Musikfestspiele with Nonesuch recording artist Christina Courtin at the Alter Schlachthof.

The Knights
Eric Jacobsen, conductor
Christina Courtin, vocal
Ryan Scott, guitar

Ives - The Unanswered Question
Beethoven - Coriolan Overture
Glass - Company
Copland - Appalachian Spring (13 instrument version)
Christina Courtin - Original Songs

Dresdner Musikfestspiele - www.musikfestspiele.com

May 23, 2009
7:30 PM
The National Gallery in Dublin, Ireland
The Knights continue their European tour in Dublin with soprano Dawn Upshaw and Nonesuch recording artist Christina Courtin.

The Knights
Eric Jacobsen, conductor
Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Christina Courtin, vocals

Bach (arr. by S. Beck) - O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (Chorale for Orchestra)
Glass - Company
Golijov - Night of the Flying Horses
Rodgers - He was Too Good To Me
Sondheim - There Won't Be Trumpets
Sondheim - What More Do I Need?
Bernstein - "Somewhere" from West Side Story
Copland - Appalachian Spring (13 instrument version)
Christina Courtin - Original Songs

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ryo Toyonaga at The Vilcek Foundation

From 18 March to 15 May 2009, The Vilcek Foundation presents an exhibition of eighteen ceramic-based sculptural works by Ryo Toyonaga, curated by Midori Yamamura. Created in the seclusion of a cabin in the Catskill Mountains from 1991 to 2003, these works seem to arise from both organic and man-made sources. To contemplate these objects pulls the mind through the paradoxes of appearance and reality. This duality between archaic and contemporary, of organic and constructed, brings to mind the similar duality in the best work of Martin Puryear. As either fossils from the future or distant past, the question is unavoidable: How did these things come to be? And the corollary question, Why can't I take my eyes off of them? The creative impulse that birthed this work—and their organic quality makes the metaphor of birth particularly apt—had to have been a well-spring, the sculptures in this show were selected from a body of 300 pieces. Each is a perfectly conceived unity, almost with its own DNA, making sense by the force of its own presence. We all have thoughts, fantasies, obsessions, whose force on our lives is as powerful as any physical object; sometimes these unseen forces are stronger than reality. Toyonaga has given form, shape, and physical presence to the actors of our unconscious theater, and offers the chance to confront them face to face.

From part 15 of Esthétique du Mal by Wallace Stevens

And out of what one sees and hears and out
Of what one feels, who could have thought to make
So many selves, so many sensuous worlds,
As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming
With the metaphysical changes that occur,
Merely in living as and where we live.

Ryo Toyonaga: Mephistophelean
18 March through 15 May 2009
The Vilcek Foundation
167 East 73rd Street
New York City
(212) 472-2500

Viewing from
Wednesday through Saturday
Noon to 6:00 P.M. and by appointment
Catalog available

Sunday, March 01, 2009

On Paper

The crush of major art fairs is coming! Among them, my favorite is the Stanford L. Smith Works on Paper Show running through Monday at the Park Avenue Armory.

The materials an artist employs affect what she says, and paper brings out the lyrical impulse, the poetic, and the intimate. Ink, paint, charcoal, pencil, and the acts of mark making all change not just the surface of the paper, but the paper itself as it accepts the artist's marks. Stretched canvas projects a picture out into the room, creating a dramatic stage for the theater of the artist's imagination. Paper is used (or once was) for personal correspondence, for documenting life's achievements, births, deaths, weddings, for books, for newspapers, for menus, for sheet music, for money. Paper is in our hands everyday and nothing is quite as meaningful as a handwritten note from a friend, a unique object expressing a personal idea, intended just for you; no saved version on the hard drive, rejected drafts crumpled in the author's wastebasket. Art on paper inhabits this intimate touchability. It speaks in private, sometimes intense, whispers, right in your ear.

Exploring this most explorable of art fairs is like searching for just such a personal message from an artist. So many works, so many sizes, such intimate mark making, and then you see it, the message to you. It's signed and dated. You were very young when this message was sent out into the world, but it found its mark. There is a rush standing in front of an immense Titian canvas in a museum, overwhelming, transporting, a feeling experienced and shared publicly and from a distance. The private rush of realizing a work on paper speaks its secret message just to you is a thrill I associate with love and affection.

"Would you like to hold it? Bring it over into the light," I was asked.

Once in your home, the the work and its messages enrich your life; revealing its secrets over the course of a life time.

Many thanks, to Stuart Denenberg of Denenberg Fine Arts.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sounds Viennese to Me

With the Vienna Philharmonic in town this week, there has been much talk among New York's classical musicians about the sound of this storied ensemble. I heard their Carnegie Hall concert on my one night off this week, Wednesday, and was captivated by the orchestra's sounds, plural, because these players do not, as some orchestra's do, play with only one sound and apply it (indiscriminately?) to every kind of music they play.

The first element of the Vienna sound I responded to was its clarity; the distinctness with which all parts were clearly heard. This created a sophisticated sound more than merely a luxurious one. The way the orchestra applied vibrato contributed to this clarity. Melodic lines certainly were played with expressive vibrato, but accompanimental music was played with little or none. The melodies never had to struggle to be heard, and all the middle voices contributed in proper balance. In fact, the crispness and concision of the inner lines gave buoyancy and energy to the sound. It was lit from within. This kind variety of sound was evident in the wind playing as well. Solo lines were performed with individuality and freedom, and then, turning on a dime, the same player made an entirely different sound to blend with another instrument in the next passage.

The impression was of orchestral power that rarely was welded full force. Fortissimo passages had poise as well as power. Quiet passages drew the audience close, whispered messages are so sweet.

The sounds of the Vienna Philharmonic arise from unity of purpose, artistic commitment, and a deep understanding of how best to communicate music's messages. I wish I could hear their Schubert 9 tonight.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Music History

I love that Carnegie Hall program notes list the date each piece received its first performance in the hall. It offers an interesting glimpse of the history of musical life in New York City, and places the current concert in that context.

This is from last night's Vienna Philharmonic concert program:

Wagner Rienzi Overture
Comosed: 1838-1840
Carnegie premiere: 10 Jun 1891, J. M. Lander conducting an unnamed orchestra during a Columbia College graduation.

Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2
Composed: 1829
Carnegie premiere: 2 Dec 1893, Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra with Richard Burmeister, piano

J. Strauss II Die Fledermaus Overture
Composed: 1873-1874
Carnegie premiere: 27 May 1906, James F. Boyer conducing the Amicitia Amateur Band*

J. Strauss II "Wo die Citronen blüh'n!"
Composed: 1874
Carnegie premiere: last night

J. Strauss II "Annen" Polka
Composed: 1852
Carnegie premiere: 1 Oct 1949, Ott Sorosoto conducting the Symphonic Accordion Society

J. Strauss II "Unter Donner und Blitz"
Composed: 1868
Carnegie premiere: 9 Mar 1918, Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra

J. Strauss II Kaiser-Walzer
Composed: 1889
Carnegie premiere: 8 Jun 1892, J. M. Lander conducting an unnamed orchestra during a Columbia College graduation

J. Strauss II "Tritsch-Tratsch" Polka
Composed: 1858
Carnegie premiere: 7 May 1947, David Broekman conducting the Carnegie Pops

*An ensemble that comprised over sixty prominent New York business men, attendance at their Carnegie concerts was by invitation only.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Family Affair

Márta and György Kurtág made their New York debut at Zankel Hall Sunday night, with a performance of four-hand piano music that has become something of a legend in music circles. I wasn't surprised to see the hall full, and so full of musicians—composers and performers—some who had traveled long distances especially for this performance. At intermission, friends and colleagues shared stories of Kurtág's famously detailed chamber music coachings and his sophisticated fixation on the production of musical sound.

Yet, the touching sight of the 82-year-old modernist master and his wife seated on an extra-wide piano bench in front of an upright piano (when was the last time an upright was heard in performance at Carnegie Hall?) belied the challenging intensity and intellectualism that characterize his music. The last music of Kurtág I heard was a performance of his bracing masterpiece, Kafka Fragments, so the Biedermeier aspect of a family gathered around an upright piano (literally around in this case, as Gÿorgy Kurtág, Jr. was seated behind the instrument mixing the amplified sound) was poignant and not a little surprising. The theatricality of the scene—a new, polished-ebony upright piano with its two lids raised on either side (like small vestigial wings) flanked by tall cylindrical speakers of a distinctly sci-fi hi-fi sort connected by cords and microphones—made me think of Virgil Fox's famous line (oft-quoted by my dear friend, Albert Fuller), "Honey, they see you before they hear you." But what did this array of high-end electronics and dowdy piano portend?

The piano's soft pedal was engaged for the entire performance, so the supple, electronic sound manipulation produced a muted hush that mirrored the intimacy of the familial scene on stage. The veiled, slightly diffuse sound drew the listener near, yet the quiet amplification also acted as a barrier, an element of remove, even artifice, separating performer and audience. It created a sonic vitrine containing lovely musical curiosities in miniature. This scene was enhanced by the innate theatricality of some of Kurtág's transcriptions. Martá, seated on the right, spread her arms wide to simultaneously play notes in the extreme bass and and treble, while her husband toiled in the mid-range, their arms entwined in a kind of lovingly inefficient distribution of labor that makes certain domestic chores so pleasant to share.

The music itself, selection from Játékok by Kurtág for both performers or one, and four-hand transcriptions of music by Bartók and Bach, flowed with little break and no applause (until the standing ovation rewarded with two additional Bach encores) through a variety of affects and images, so engaging, so inventive, we would have gladly listened all night. The warm waves of applause at the end seemed oddly anonymous after the intensely personal music and music-making we'd just experienced. Instead, it felt as though we each should exchange kisses, shake hands, and thank our hosts for sharing such a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Day Dawning in America

"Behold, America! (and thou, ineffable guest and sister!)
For thee come trooping up thy waters and thy lands;
Behold! thy fields and farms, thy far-off woods and mountains,
as in procession coming."

---Walt Whitman from "Song of the Exposition"

---Zoe Strauss "Matress Flip"

Monday, January 19, 2009

Brooklyn Bridge

In a cab from Brooklyn to the upper east side Saturday night, I was swept up in the stunning urban pleasures of crossing the East River at night and flying up the FDR, city scintillant, gracefully curved edges belying its gridded rigors.

The crowd of us musicians who toil in the mid-town temples of classical music or the theaters of Times Square can easily become provincials, traversing the straight, underground pathway from the upper west side into various orchestra pits (also underground) rarely seeing the city seductively reflected in the river or curving north under girded bridges.

"way out; way in; romantic passageway
first seen by the eye of the mind,
then by the eye. O steel! O stone!
Climactic ornament, a double rainbow..."

---Marianne Moore from "Granite and Steel"

"O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,--

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms."

---Hart Crane from "To Brooklyn Bridge"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Please, Read

Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction: It Must Give Pleasure

by Wallace Stevens

To sing jubilas at exact, accustomed times,
To be crested and wear the mane of a multitude
And so, as part, to exult with its great throat,

To speak of joy and to sing of it, borne on
The shoulders of joyous men, to feel the heart
That is the common, the bravest fundament,

This is a facile exercise. Jerome
Begat the tubas and the fire-wind strings,
The golden fingers picking dark-blue air:

For companies of voices moving there,
To find of sound the bleakest ancestor,
To find of light a music issuing

Whereon it falls in more than sensual mode.
But the difficultest rigor is forthwith,
On the image of what we see, to catch from that

Irrational moment its unreasoning,
As when the sun comes rising, when the sea
Clears deeply, when the moon hangs on the wall

Of heaven-haven. These are not things transformed.
Yet we are shaken by them as if they were.
We reason about them with a later reason.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Please Read

Bruce Haynes
"A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-first Century"

Haynes has produced the essential text for understanding musical performance style today. Every page, I think, "finally someone has said this, and so persuasively."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Affect in Music

"And since instrumental music has, without words, to express different passions and to carry the hearer from one to another, as well as vocal music; we can readily see that to do that, and supply it in the absence of word or human voice, the composer and he who performs the music must alike have a feeling soul, and one capable of being moved."

Joachim Quantz, 1752
On Photography

"Photography, though not an art form in itself, has the peculiar capacity to turn all its subjects into works of art." --- Susan Sontag

What can it mean for photographic subjects to be turned into works of art? Do they remain so after leaving the photographer's gaze or the photograph's frame? Does artistic meaning alter the viewer's memory and so live on?

Garry Winogrand said, "I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed."

The following images are corners intersected by morning light. I wanted to see how they looked photographed.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Nicholas Carone

"I start immediately with paint. Just get involved with that. Because I feel that it's all one. I don't separate drawing from painting. I don't separate organizing the surface from really drawing. I think that's drawing. Drawing to me is designing space really, organizing it. It's not just rendering a particular form . . . calling that drawing an arm or a head or a figure."

Oral history interview with Nicholas Carone, 1968 May 11 - 17, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Nicholas Carone (B.1917)
"Untitled" (1961 - 1964)
oil on paperboard
18 x 20.2 in
signed 'Nicolas Carone'
oil on paperboard

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Issa in the mail box

I was so pleased to come home today and find three copies of Issa's new CD in my mail box. I popped it in my stereo and found I was hearing entirely new work in a language I knew—but didn't know it could say these particular things, in this particular way.

I am fortunate to know Issa, and to have worked with her on this project, and others. Time with Issa surprises with joy!

"May the first word on our lips in
thankfulness be ...


Monday, January 05, 2009

Hitting Home

Sad news tonight.

It was just announced that the Miami City Ballet could not raise enough money to pay the live musicians they had contracted for their New York debut at City Center in a few weeks. The company, accustomed to working with live music, will dance to canned music, and the musicians will not work that week.

Of course, we were alerted to this possibility in the Times a couple weeks ago, but the personal impact on each musician and the diluted artistic impact of the performances underscores the cultural price exacted by our economy's plight.