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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hear the Trombones!

Via Tim Mangan, here's Harrison Reed, an amateur trombonist, playing Sequenza V in his garage. Why not?

Headbanger Music

Money shot from about 0:46-1:22....

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Okay the Sesame Street clip was pretty great. Via who else.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Demand Footage of The Mac

Thanks to Loyal Reader Graham for pointing out that the Pulitzer-winning Double Sextet is supposed to turn up on tonight's Colbert Report. So if you're on the West Coast you still have time to set your TiVos! I won't be able to watch, but we're guessing it'll be something like Colbert's thoughtful and sensitive John Zorn coverage?

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Let me know how it is in the comments.

Krystian Zimerman Not Down with America

Uh oh, did you read this? Mark Swed blogs the Disney Hall recital of Krystian Zimerman, one of the world's greatest concert pianists:

Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski’s "Variations on a Polish Folk Theme," Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world. “Get your hands off of my country,” he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. About 30 or 40 people in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities. “Yes,” he answered, “some people when they hear the word military start marching.”
Now, my first impulse here is to delicately suggest that Mr. Zimerman might, perhaps, consider fucking himself, but then I realize that what he's probably referring to is the U.S.'s stated desire to establish military bases in Poland, and I wonder how Americans would react if the shoe were the other foot and we were suddenly being pressure to host Polish missiles on our soil. I'm guessing the dudes who jeered and walked out of that Disney Hall concert would have TOTALLY LOVED THAT. And then I read on, and maybe we can understand why Zimerman's animus against our government is so deeply personal when Mark Swed reminds us:
Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years. He travels with his own Steinway piano, which he has altered himself. But shortly after 9/11, the instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. Thinking the glue smelled funny, the TSA decided to take no chances and destroyed the instrument. Since then he has shipped his pianos in parts, which he reassembles by hand after he lands. He also drives the truck himself when he carries his instrument from city to city over land, as he did after playing a recital in Berkeley on Friday.
Emphasis mine. Also, Swed notes in his final review,
Three years ago at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, he substituted Gershwin for Chopin because the Transportation Security Administration had held up his piano at the airport and he didn’t have time to practice to adjust it properly.
So I think I'm starting to get where Zimerman is coming from, here. (Swed also notes that most in the audience cheered Zimerman's diatribe against the U.S.'s militarism and its un-American treatment of detainees, and that the applause, at the end of his recital, was "deafening.") So, yeah, our government does suck sometimes. A little police state-y. Our military really does want, for better or worse, to control the world; we really haven't treated our detainees humanely; though Zimerman didn't mention it, the TSA really is, didja notice, The Worst. But I hope he changes his mind. If not—well, here's some video of the young Zimerman to remind us what we're missing: Swed links via The Standing Room.

Monday, April 27, 2009

R.I.P.

I should, of course, have posted this days ago.

In Which the Obvious and Perhaps Inevitable Joke Manages to Delight Us All the Same

Probably the best way to experience Mike "The Streets" Skinner's somewhat bangin' Skinimix 8 is via blind taste-test. So open your mouth and close your eyes and click here:

Skinimix 8
Tracklist here, via the Guardian.

Lives of the Great Composers: Ingram Marshall Impersonates Julia Child

Guess who was at the grocery store the other day! Composer Ingram Marshall. He's the greatest! We hang out all the time, he and I, just kidding no we don't, I'm namedropping. But so he says to me, "Kyle said you were laughing about the Julia Child thing," and at first I had no clue what he was talking about, like honestly at first I thought he was referring to the forthcoming Julia Child biopic starring Meryl Streep (pictured) but then he said, "He said you guys were reading Hallelujah Junction..." and OF COURSE, Kyle (my colleague at ye olde record shoppe) and I had both read the following passage from John Adamses memoir and then laughed like idiots about it:

Ingram, when I first met him, lived in a drafty garage space under the Fell Street freeway ramp. Dressed in an old Marimekko striped pajama, a relic of his days at the Swedish Radio, he cooked gourmet meals for any number of guests with a wok and a green two-burner Coleman camp stove. Only a few feet away froom the cooking area was his Serge modular synthesizer, his microphone, and several two-channel Revox tape recorders that constituted his studio. Nearby next to a case of prized California wines, slept a large, phlegmatic dog of uncertain breed named Ibu. On one occasion, during my brief fling with video art, I filmed Ingram doing a Julia Child impersonation while he cooked fonds d'artichaut farcis, lecturing the camera at every step of the preparation while Strauss's Ein Heldenleben soared in the background.
Unfortunately, Marshall reports, this work has been lost; "Videotape was expensive back then," and they had to tape over it and record something else. The good news is, I hear rumors of an upcoming anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall, for which So Percussion, Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass and Wu Man will all dress up like Julia Child and cook us a lovely artichoke dish, in order to pay tribute to this minimalist masterpiece. I'll see you there!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Auto-Tune the News

Loyal Reader Greg writes,

Dan, blog about this, and make a snide comment about [Sasha Frere-Jones], k?
Gladly, Greg! This is episode 2 of a largely self-explanatory You-Tube skit called "Auto-Tune the News," in which various TV news personalities are subjected to the ol' T-Pain treatment:Also, Sasha Frere-Jones is racist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reich's Pulitzer

Sheesh, it's nice to be able to say that, finally. Yes, this award reflects better on the prize than it does on Steve Reich. Yes, it misses Reich's very best work by a few decades. But—well, I'll get to that in a second. First, notice that the reaction on Twitter was, not surprisingly, swift and, a bit more surprisingly, thoughtful. Steve Smith was unimpressed by the committee's decision: "Lest it seem unclear, I am elated that Reich won a Pulitzer. That is not a source of complaint whatsoever"; but, "When is Pulitzer even going to award a composer for the right piece, and in the right year? Always 2, 5, 10, 50 years late." Corey Dargel was concise: "Let's just say it would be nice if the Pulitzer was a trend-setter rather than a buzz-killer." Yea verily. But (I'm getting to that "but" now) y'know what? The Double Sextet really is one of Reich's best pieces. To my mind, it's his greatest work in, well, decades. Being realistic here, and also a little sad, let's admit that the committee was never going to recognize his very greatest or most important scores, as obvious as it may seem to us that Music for 18 should've gone home with the gold that year. However, it ain't—as it pretty much did with John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls—rewarding the piece solely on the basis of the composer's name, rather than on the the merits of the piece. When Adams won, we easily could single out scores premiered just a few years before as being far more substantial and deserving: El Niño, Naïve and Sentimental Music both showcase, on a grand scale, all the things John Adams does better than anybody else. Is Double Sextet overshadowed by anything Steve Reich wrote even in the past ten years? I said it before and I'll say it again: it's a great score. Prime Late Reich. There remains, however, the matter of whether the sex appeal of the ensemble premiering the work may have swayed the judges' decision. I plan to investigate this possibility further in the months to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Just So We're Clear

This song is terrible: I'm a little burnt out on the setting of quirky and/or willfully inappropriate texts in general, but I'm willing to forgive a lot on aesthetic grounds. Rock Cookie Bottom man, you get no mercy. BUT. He did draw my attention to this text, which is utterly insane. They define the ban on inflicting "pain and suffering" to mean that inflicting suffering is okay, as long as it's not accompanied by pain. But for that to make sense, the converse would also have to be true—that pain is okay, as long as it's not accompanied by suffering—which would mean what exactly? What's pain minus suffering? Is that when there are safewords? How are these people still practicing and teaching law? And what can I do, as an ordinary American, within the bounds of the law, to cause them personal harm?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Define "Diff'rent"

I think my friend Ethan used to demonstrate the subliminal power of music by, like, showing his students the shower scene from Psycho, but the tape was overdubbed with the Ode to Joy in place of Herrmann's famous murder music. Or something like that? Anyhow, the idea was that the scene became something incredibly different with an altered set of emotional cues. Well Ethan, if you're reading this, chuck that VHS out your window, because this is what you're going to be screening next semester. Ready? "What might be right for you, may not be right for some. It takes... Diff'rent Strokes." via Videogum.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More on that Nigerian Steven Mackey Scam

The Ojai Music Festival blogs further on the subject of that Fake Steve Mackey scandal which they had yesterday entwittered:

Last week, someone started calling the offices claiming to be Steven Mackey - the great American composer, and featured performer on the 2009 OMF lineup. His story was pretty complicated, but the gist of it was this: poor fellow got stuck in Jamaica over spring break, and now needs our producer to wire him money to get home. Our producer works remotely for most of the year, so after speaking with "Steven," we called her. She was occupied, so she asked us to call Steven ourselves, and we found him, sitting rather undramatically in the dentist's office.
Hello, what?? Who would DO this? Why Ojai? Why Steven Mackey? I guess the hope must have been that the possibility of somebody's running a scam like this would seem even that much more improbable to the "mark," at the time, than it does to all of us who now know it actually happened. Or, another possibility: there's just been a terrible misunderstanding. John Mackey is still trapped in Jamaica, for a week, with no money.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Life Is, Indeed, a Pitch

Inspired by the festival's charming Twitter feed, I just emailed a young classical music magazine my idea for a fabulous article on Ojai 2009, curated by eighth blackbird. See, it would be my funny, hip, subjective, irreverent, first-person account of the festival—sort of like "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas," only without all the drugs. I ran it by a Greg, who thought it was great, but missing one thing: all the drugs.

Greg: Do you have a coke hook-up in LA? Dan Johnson: Not yet! Dan Johnson: I'll ask around Greg: I'll put out some feelers on your behalf Dan Johnson: haha thanks Dan Johnson: I'm not going to do coke at Ojai. Dan Johnson: not even if it meant that I could offer some to the Oberlin alumni of 8th Blackbird and call the piece, Dan Johnson: OH HI, O HIGH OJAI OHIOANS
Which is basically the most genius thing I have ever come up with. But also, kids? Say no to drugs.

Glass Violin Sonata!

The unassuming "New Releases" blog of WITF-FM (89.5 on your radio dial) presents a sneak peek at Philip Glass's gorgeous new Violin Sonata (No. 1!): So elegant. People don't tend to think "melody" when you say "Philip Glass," but he really is a superb melodist. I think a lot of violinists are going to want to learn this piece. (I do.) If you like this video, by the way, why not leave a comment thanking these fine fellows? Via, as ever, Glass Notes.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's True Though, Pears Are Really Delicious

YouTuber joshuainwood has uploaded this video of Susan "Stop the Insanity!" Powter eating a pear, remixed with some heavily-delay'd synths. Now, the interesting thing about this video is that it is GREAT. Susan Powter Dub SoundSystem! Where's my melodica? (via, um, Greg)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Defining the Word Rather Loosely

Li Wenxing can sing across six octaves! He's practicing to steal the world record from this guy:via Shanghaiist, thanks to loyal reader Greg.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Just Now

I was reading Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marías, and I had forgotten that I bought it secondhand, until I got to these lines and was surprised to find that they had already been underscored:

I can still feel her; nothing has changed and yet everything has changed, I know that and I cannot grasp it.

"'David Robertson...' she murmurs. 'David...'"

Over the last year, I've noted the increasing amount of times my father will bring up David Robertson. David Robertson, in case you don't follow classical music, isthe American conductor of the moment. Pouring off of him are literally tsunami waves of heat. ... This time the particular show my dad was raving about was a behind-the-scenes look at symphony orchestras. The tale told was mesmerizing. It was like—Carnegie Hall, sold out, old famous conductor suddenly becomes ill (some kidney thing?), in flies this unknown ringer with a mere 24 hours to learn the terrifyingly complicated score... Our David doesn't just deliver it, he nails it! The audience is electrified! He gets four standing O's! Next, on camera: Beverly Sills, the hands over the heart, voice is husky. "David Robertson..." she murmurs. "David..." I think my dad, gallon of mint chip ice cream in hand, may actually have had an aneurysm.
—Sandra Tsing Loh, "Stalking David Robertson" Does David Robertson just have a knack for saving the day? The actual story of David Robertson's last-minute substitution for an ailing Hans Vonk can be found here, and Tsing Loh is not exaggerating all that much (though, sadly, Vonk was not really so old when he took ill). But now, via Alex Ross, Sarah Bryan Miller reports on David Robertson's latest superhero adventure:
Foul weather in the New York area meant lots of canceled and delayed flights from the rest of the country. The orchestra made it to Carnegie Hall less than an hour before the concert's start -- fortuitously set for 8:30 p.m. -- and some of their luggage arrived even later. Fortunately, the handsome, acoustically friendly sub-basement space of Zankel Hall lacks the formality of the big hall upstairs, and the occasional pair of onstage blue jeans was just fine. Composer/Chansonnier H.K. Gruber, whose performance in his “Frankenstein!!” was to have been the evening's climax, never made it at all; he was unable to escape Chicago in time. That meant a new role for music director David Robertson; he became Chansonnier-for-a-Day, learning the difficult piece in one afternoon. Resident conductor Ward Stare took over the podium duties. Both triumphed. Stare was just terrific, leading the eclectic score with confidence and style; the musicians followed along perfectly. Although in last week's performance at the Art Museum this came off as a one-artist work, crafted by and for Gruber's overwhelming persona, Robertson proved it wasn't necessarily so. His performance at times seemed to be channeling Gruber, but Robertson was at his best when he put his own mark on the material, and he did that often.
Okay WHAT?? HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?? Oh hey sorry our featured vocalist couldn't make it tonight David Robertson, could you please do THIS? (Sound clip via Boosey.) Note to everybody, next time you see David Robertson's name on your Carnegie Hall brochure, just buy that ticket. He'll probably manage to give the beat and cue the horns while dousing a wildfire and delivering a baby live on stage.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Oh No, This Is the Worst Promotional Item Ever

"Why don't we give out matches?" "Great idea! Everybody needs matches. And it'll be a hit with those ghetto kids. They're always..." "Ha ha, oh you're bad!" "Wait, isn't one of these guys dead or something? Isn't this, like, a post-..." "Posthumous, yeah! Like Biggie. Yeah, good thinking, let's put something on there, that's a big selling point." DIGNIFIED. Annnnnd, scene.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A List of Operas that Use the Word "Blockhead" in the Libretto (UPDATED)

1. The Bear, William Walton 2. What Next?, Elliott Carter 3. King Arthur, Henry Purcell. (Dryden musta been on FIRE that day.)
Did I miss any? And no, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown is not technically an opera.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Don't Cry Out Loud

Thanks to Loyal Reader Greg for pointing out that this week's Friday Face-Off was AMAZING this week, at David "Get Your War On" Rees's blog. Click here and watch all of the finalists, in order.

Aw C'mon Heck Yes

More images are coming out of the L.A. Opera's new Ring Cycle, directed by Achim Freyer. I find the insane Mexican cubist puppet show aesthetic of this whole thing immensely appealing. I wish I were there. Full gallery of Walküre stills at Tim Mangan's house; more images here.

This Is Also Free and Awesome

NewMusicBox is happy to report that Schirmer has begun making perusal scores available online, here, for the immediate gratification of performing arts organization programmers. In unrelated news, I am happy to report that I have been appointed Music Director and CEO of the Nicoll Street Chamber Opera, and we are thinking of putting on Ghosts of Versailles. I can haz scoar, pls? Kthx, bye.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU SHOULD BE DOWNLOADING IT RIGHT NOW

I know it's silly to even pretend that anybody who's reading this blog today didn't already read Alex Ross's blog today but just in case, here is a three-line poem:

Free In C mp3.
Okay now click here and download that mother already. When's the last time you got 42 golldamn minutes of Terry Riley for free?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

NSFW Opera Update

I know it was a week ago now, but La Cieca did post, along with a tasteful is-that-a-shadow-or-is-that-your-scrotum nude photo of barihunk David Okulitch, the rumored 2009-2010 season of the New York City Opera, George Steel Edition, and I know you've all been holding your breath until I weigh in with my opinion—seeing as I've already put my money on Maestro Steel as opera impresario. (Oh look, and the Times confirmed those rumors today. "I'm hopeful we'll return to our right size," says George Steel, which if you're reading this, John Ashbery, please use that line in a sonnet.) Well, I'm going to keep my thumb in the Up position, for the time being. This is a nice, short season—five operas, 33 performances—and it's exactly the stuff that you want to see the City Opera doing. It's their niche: Okulitch sings Don Giovanni in a new staging, we blow the dust off Charbrier's adorable L'Etoile, we get our Puccini fix with Butterfly, we get Handel's Partenope because City Opera did Handel before it was cool, and we get Lauren Flanigan singing the title role in Hugo Weisgall's Esther because Lauren Flanigan IS CITY OPERA. Wait hold on did you just say Hugo Weisgall's Esther? YES I DID. Well the reason I ask is, how often do you think about Hugo Weisgall's Esther and here it's come up in conversation like three times for me already in 2009. First I thought of it when chatting about The Death of Klinghoffer with the Straussmonster, apropos of this conversation—she I had both read Robert Fink's intriguing article on Klinghoffer's reception (PDF here because Robert Fink is not afraid to share—AWESOME), and he uses Esther as a sort of control subject for the public and critical reception of Jewishly-themed operas. Then for the Timeses "Talk to the Newsroom" feature, somebody asked Anthony Tommasini what opera did he most want to see produced in New York, and he was all, "I wanna see Hugo Weisgall's craggy, atonal Esther!" And now here it is getting produced. I'd say that he must be in Hog Heaven but clearly he will not be in Hog Heaven until they finally produce Wuorinen's Brokeback Mountain, an opera that promises to be craggy, atonal AND strapping. Speaking of which, I've saved the best news for last. Someone seems to have uploaded footage of either the Met's gripping new production of Trovatore or the earlier, identical production at Chicago; it's a short clip, and the sound doesn't quite synch up, but it's worth a peek for anyone who didn't get to see Tony T's new favorite "Anvil Chorus" live. UPDATE: Some have complained that the embedding didn't work; link here.

Tomorrow Night in New Haven

This week's article for the New Haven Advocate was more stressful to write than usual. I think I've configured my Gmail settings in some moronic fashion such that my messages just get sucked straight into spam filters and die there, and so I found myself sending repeated, increasingly crazed emails to the composers involved (Martin Bresnick, Ted Hearne, Polina Nazaykinskaya, Andrew Norman, Naftali Schindler), culminating in a last desperate phone call to a composer's house on Sunday morning, just before this issue went to press. So, yeah, MANY thanks to all of the above for their patience. (The best part was when I wrote to another composer, bitching that I hadn't heard from him, and then discovered that he had in fact responded in time, but HIS response had been eaten by MY spam filter. Er, sorry about that.) I'm also sorry this piece is so short—the conversations I did manage to have with those involved were incredibly rich, and I wish I could have presented them in full. If you get a chance to go to the concert I wrote about, tomorrow night at 8 in Sprague Hall, it should be pretty exciting. Lisa Moore and So Percussion are playing Bresnick's recent Caprichos Enfáticos, which you can preview here. Ted Hearne wrote a piece, Eyelid Margin, for a consort of outdoor instruments (brass and double-reeds), which should be interesting to experience in an medium-sized recital hall; Polina Nazaykinskaya's presenting a trio of Blok songs for mezzo and piano; Andrew Norman will play a new piano piece, called I think Make Believe; and Naftali Schindler has written a Violin Duet, one of my secretly favorite combination of instruments—see B. Bartók, H. Górecki, D.H. Jóhnson—which claims to be influenced by both klezmer and Tuvan throat-singing, so, awesome.