Saturday, October 29, 2005


Of course I meant exchanging talent for fame.

Best music

We often see lists of "The Best 100 Pieces of the 20th Century" etc etc and etc. We never agree with them; see all the responses from people saying "Gee what about this piece by Ladoslav Villivich?" So I thought that I would list great pieces by composers of the 20th (and 21st, don't forget the 21st!) century.

Who to start with? Well, I will pick a name out of the hat - I will start with Philip Glass, simply because I was listening to some in my car yesterday. Here is a list of his best pieces - and not in any particular order:

1. Music in Twelve Parts

Ensemble: Philip Glass Ensemble
Label: Nonesuch
Catalog: #79324
Audio CD (September 17, 1996)
Number of Discs: 3

This is one of the top pieces by Glass, leading directly to Einstein. It is a summation of all of his techniques in minimalism to that point, and at the end of the piece, breaking out into full fledged slinky tonality.

2. Einstein on the Beach

Conductor: Michael Riesman, Robert Wilson, et al.
Ensemble: Philip Glass Ensemble
Label: Nonesuch
Catalog: #79323
Audio CD (September 28, 1993)
Number of Discs: 3

Definitely the opera to own. The orginal recording on Tomato Tecords (also relesed on CD, but no longer available) is also worth having, the Bed scene is much better on the original, and the new recording uses variant texts.

3. Satyagraha

Actors: Leo Goeke, Ralf Harster, Helmut Danninger, Inga Nielsen, Elke Estlinbaum, etc
Directors: Hugo K├Ąch
Format: Color
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Studio: Image Entertainment
DVD Release Date: December 11, 2001
Run Time: 148 minutes

This is the DVD. The opera is based on the life of Ghandi. You can also get the music on CD, but I prefer it with the opera.

4. Akhnaten

Label: Sony
Audio CD (October 28, 2003)

This is the third of the set of Einstein and Satyagraha. It is a bit weaker than the first two, but still has its moments.

5. Koyaanisqatsi

Director: Godfrey Reggio
Format: Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen, Dolby
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Studio: MGM/UA Video
DVD Release Date: September 17, 2002
Run Time: 87 minutes

Don't get the soundtrack! Get the whole stinking thing! Movie and soundtrack. That's how it should be heard!

6. The Photographer

Conductor: Michael Riesman
Label: Sony
Catalog: #37849
Audio CD (October 25, 1990)

Better to see it with the play.

You notice that these are all his earlier works. I find his later works to be too turgid, too four-square, replacing fame with talent.

Only six pieces, but some of the most influential pieces of our recent history!


Monday, October 17, 2005

Live Recordings

I printed out an application form today to submit some music to the 2006 New Music Festival at Illinois State University, and among the items requested, they want you to send a recording of the piece. They won't accept a MIDI version, only a live version. Now, where on earth am I going to get a recording of the piece. I don't work at the university or in a college situation where I have easy access to an orchestra or band or "fill-in-your-group-here" ensemble. How do composers do this? Do you pay for people to perform your music?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I've been listening to an album of music by Kevin Volans - specifically Cover Him with Grass (Landor CTLCD111, released 1989). I still think this album contains some of his best music. The original version of "White Man Sleeps" is here (two harpsichords tuned into a mbira tuning, viola da gamba and percussion) along with the version he did for string quartet (the Smith Quartet, this recording is much more satisfying than the Kronos Quartet version, meiner Meinung nach!).

He insists that "they are not minimalist. When I wrote them, I was frustrated both with the bland mechanism of repeat-pattern music and with serial technique. I wanted to move away from a conceptual approach to composition." Whatever he does, his use of interlocking and revolving rhythms still impresses.

I haven't heard any of his latest works, although I went and saw his dramatic work "The Man with Footsoles of Wind", written between 1988-1993. It uses several of the same melodies from the string quartet, and the stage presentation was wonderful, using shadow puppets and dancers.

Monday, October 10, 2005

More about Nicholas Maw

Tom DePlonty asked me today about Nicholas Maw - What kind of music does he write? Did the English Horn Concerto have anything redeeming about it at all? Well, You can read more about him here and here. The work is in an extended Romantic style, as he says:

"I'm becoming more and more concerned with what music has lost, with the things a composer can't do any more. I want to be able to do them again... There was a break in the natural tradition around 1914, for obvious social and political reasons... It seems that I am trying to regain that tradition."

Of course, the idea of trying to "regain that tradition" is ok, if you believe in the idea of "progess", that stylistic periods progress into one another. I, for one, do not believe this, I think that as our philosophies change, as our world changes around us, art changes with it. The change from the Baroque ideals to the Classical ideals is not one of "progess", but one of ideas building up to critcal mass, and then we head off in another direction, using bits and pieces of the rubble to create something new, perhaps better, perhaps not. Why not claim that the movement into the Romantic period was a wrong direction to move in and so we should return to Classical ideals? Or why not go back even further?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Like Watching Bread Go Mouldy

I listened to the premier of the English Horn Concerto by Nicholas Maw on NPR on Friday evening, with english horn player Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia, playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Did Mr Maw not put much effort into this piece? It was an instantly forgettable evening, the work winding sinuously from one end to the other, like smoke from a blown-out candle, the horn player dutifully playing the long, flowing lines, drifitng endlessly on and on and on and on. Get my point?

I have to admit, I had not heard any music by Nicholas Maw before this point. Or, considering that I promptly forgot the work immediately after hearing it, perhaps I had heard his music before this. He has been commissioned by various orchestras, including the Minnesota Orchestra and the American Composers Orchestra. He is on the staff of the Peabody Institute. His music is certainly very polished, like a melting ice sculpture. I can't help but wonder how much he got paid for this.

Friday, October 07, 2005


I was off in Seattle last week to hear the premiere of my piece Arounds for the Baroque Northwest. I had to get up beforehand and make a little speech beforehand, but altogether it came off very nicely. I enjoy the sound of early instruments playing new music, it is like silk thread - very fine and smooth.

And Seattle is a wonderful city! I like cities that one can really live in, with nearby shops, parks and sights.