January 31 - Steinbeck and Company

Started preparing Mice and Men for publication.   Ironically, Mice Suite (now Mice Suite No. 1, three excerpts from Act II and one from Act III)  was among the first old scores to be published 15 years ago, and now the entire opera decidedly later...

Thanks to Sebastien Najand for showing more of the ins-and-outs of MySpace today -- startting to get the hang of it....

January 30 - Belle, Savage

Finished the January 28 Marin Symphony review at 1am. Will be in March 2007 issue of 21st-Century Music soon, and edited versions also in San Francisco Classical Voice and Commuter Times....

The Bell Curve

Steve Reich used to say something to the effect that his interest in early
music was keen, then tended to slack with regards to the baroque, reaching a
nadir in the classic era, and zooming up again during the time of Stravinsky and
beyond. There were many in musical academia in the late 20th-century who
would have agreed with this general sentiment, including -- to an extent -- this

So it was a surprise that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the big hit at Marin
Symphony, the evening of January 28 -- Mozart, that very epitome of order and
perfection, who was even found wanting when compared to F.J. Haydn, saved by his
humor, and Ludwig van Beethoven, saved by his power -- and both by their, at
times, restless unpredictability.

More than 200 years after Mozart penned his Symphony No. 35 ("Haffner"), the
work continues to move in its consummate balance of stasis and change, its
canny use of obvious devices for non-obvious ends, its clearly-argued yet
ingeniously original deployment of material and form. Music Director Alasdair Neale
made it all happen with an orchestra that has decidedly improved over the
years. Even in the reduced forces of a late 18th-century work, the strings worked
at a high level, and winds blended in understated ways very welcome after
past indiscretions. From the resounding introduction, through the dignities and
confidences of the interior movements, to the fevered finale, this was a
top-notch mainstream performance.

The concert opened with a Magnum Opus commissioned composition by Peteris
Vasks, entitled "Sala, Symphonic Elegy for Orchestra" (2006), in its premiere.
As the composer notes in the program, "'Sala' . . . means island. Every single
person is actually an island and this island is a source of sadness as well
as of energy power and also of dramaticism. So, everybody is an island and the
story [of the Symphonic Elegy] is about it, told from my own island. . . .
Every listener should seek their own island and experience their own symphonic

Nice sentiments (through the scrim of English-as-a-second-language), although
Magnum Opus, a joint project of the Marin, Santa Rosa and Oakland East Bay
Symphonies, has not exactly been knocking at most of our doors to write elegies.
This one is a solid 20-minute single movement, long on solemnity and beauty,
and short on rhythm, humor, and energy. It was persuasively realized, in
gorgeous bell-tone effects that evoked at once the spiritual world of Eastern
European post-minimalism and Dmitri Shostakovich's desolate Russian secularism
(the xylophones doubling strings a la the second movement of the DDS "Symphony
No. 5" helped). A measured chorale of three trombones popped up on several
occasions and there were no less than three climacti interupti, broken off just
at the point of resolution into more diffuse Ivesian textures. After the
fireworks. After the whatever. Sinuous, rambling melodies from English horn and
clarinet -- definitely an island with respect to our hustle-bustle contemporary
world. A retreat, but perhaps a confrontation and an antidote, too. In any
case, the music was warmly received, and garnered a standing ovation.

Kudos were also due for Orion Weiss, for his resolute performance of Sergei
Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 3," which has been rising on the popularity
charts recently, thanks to media connections. While less tuneful than other
of the composer's works, this piece is not without its late late late romantic
retro charms and Weiss and company gave their all. Still it was not hard to
let the mind wander back to Mozart and those crisp, rhythmic lines, surrounded
by the stew of emotions fore and aft.

January 29 - Reviewing...

Wrote review of  January 28's Noe Valley Ministry show this morning, for March 2007 21st-Century Music (21stc-centurymusic.com), with another version in San Francisco Classical Voice (sfcv.org), both appearing January 30....


New Music Packs 'Em In at Noe Valley Ministry

It's probably time to lay to rest the myth that contemporary concert music is
box-office suicide.  Of course, it still matters exactly what types of "new
music" are being offered (and the term can be ridiculously broad, encompassing
everything under the sun in the 20th and 21st centuries).  The January 28 Noe
Valley Chamber Music concert offered a slate of neoconservative or
progressively vanguard (or combination thereof, depending on the point of view) composers that filled to capacity the Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian Church at 1021 Sanchez.  The recital starred the wondrous duo of cellist Emil Miland and
pianist Sarah Cahill, and featured vibrant contributions by clarinetist Cary Bell
and violist Paul Ehrlich.

As in the Biblical Wedding of Cana (fitting in a house of worship after all),
where the best wine was saved for last (and there were fine libations at
intermissions), the concert was capped by the revelation of the afternoon: the
West Coast premiere of David Carlson's Quantum Quartet.  While this work found the most players on stage, there were relatively fewer in the audience, and
the early escapees missed an exceptional event.  With instrumentation akin to
Olivier Messiaen's great Quartet for the End of Time, the Carlson substitutes
viola for violin and finds its spirituality in science (i.e. that branch of
physics known as quantum mechanics).  The three-movement essay seems to be a product of an updated enlightenment, in fresh sounds packaged with the clarity
and wit of 18th-century classicism.  W.A. Mozart and Joseph Haydn came to mind respectively in the crisp viscerality of the melodic material and the
side-stepping, catch-me-if-you-can bits of structural surprises, where one had the
sense that the listener can follow the arguments clearly, and the composer knows
this and is prepared to throw auditors a few loops.

The first movement had all of the sinews of a traditional sonata-allegro
movement, with updated packaging, as in a fine progressive pop exercise that feels no need to reinvent the wheel of song form.  The second "Desolato" included
pre-recorded music by the ensemble -- a faint echo along the lines of George
Crumb, with the house-of-mirrors aspect found in recent Steve Reich works.  The
welcomingly pulse-quickening finale devolved into a mid-section lyricism that
was then re-ratcheted upward in a fugato worthy of Mozart, Mahler, Bartók,
you-name-it.  And the coda -- once again, expectations were set up, then dashed
and delighted.

The first half of the program was full of more understated joys.  In Suite
for Cello and Piano (In Honor of Robert Korns), Lou Harrison takes his East
Asian consciousness through a mill of chamber music classicism, and finds
intrigue in modality and gentle tone clusters.  Can tone clusters be gentle?  Here
they were, in sensitive outbursts from Cahill, with Miland's soulful cello
shining alongside.  Much of Harrison's music is focussed on the sensuality of
melody ("I'm a melode," he was given to say), and this translated here in
knowingly simple textures, often incorporating surprising unisons/octaves and earthy ostinatic accompaniments.

The other offerings with local connections (Carlson is a past and Harrison a
passed-on Northern Californian) were short works by Darius Milhaud (who, while of early French fame, taught for many years at Mills College) and Clare Twohy
(a 22-year-old violinist composer who is about to head off to points unknown
for graduate school).  Milhaud's 1945 Elegie is probably not in many
people's top drawer (beyond cellists and pianists) as a great work, but was
nevertheless a minor masterpiece, one of many from this master who had the curse of profligacy, with over 400 opus numbers to his credit -- right up there with Alan
Hovhaness and certain other Bay Area composers.... The world premiere of
Twohy's Adagio showcased a promising voice who has both lyricism and first-rate contemporary compositional techniques at her disposal.

Benjamin Britten was the odd-composer-out of the Bay Area pantheon.  Sonata
in C for Cello and Piano (1961, Opus 65), shows much this fine English
composer's mid-century concerns, including sharply characterized motives and a
five-movement arch structure that has been part of contemporary consciousness
reaching back to Bartók and up to present times in some of Reich's work.  Like the Carlson and Harrison, clarity is of utmost importance here, although, as in
Peter Grimes occasionally perhaps a bit too self-conscious for its own good --
which is perhaps part of the appeal of this oft-lauded musician.

As has been the case in several instances, the printed program lacked
information about the composers and there music.  It may be that presenters feel that by talking about the music before their performances (and Miland did so to
engaging effect), that they have fulfilled their obligations.  But such is not
the case, and inquiring minds still want to know, without having to dig through
their New Grove Dictionaries of Music the day after.....

January 28 - Overview

Back in the Diablo Valley

College Music Technology Lab to record all of above,

then off to San Francisco for Noe Valley Chamber Music at Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian Church on Sanchez (4pm) and

San Rafael for Marin Symphony at Veterans Auditorium (7:30pm), both for San Francisco Classical Voice and 21st-Century Music, and the latter additionally for Commuter Times.

January 27 - Rolling Along

At home putting finishing touches on

Deploration Passacaglias, Op. 43, for publication: XVI. Brahms (bi-modal, distended, compressed version of German Requiem: IV. How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place),

XVII. Ravel (denatured, slightly atonal, quick/impartial take on Pavanne for a Dead Princess),

XVIII. Schoenberg (folk-tonal distortion of the beginning of A Survivor from Warsaw),

XIX. Stravinsky (waltz-talea on first movement of Requiem Canticles),

XX. Weill (boogie-habanera i-bVII-bVI-v Pirate Jenny from Threepenny Opera),

XXI. Shostakovich (the composer's  signature soggietta cavata (sp?) "D.Sch." [D-Eb-C-B] on a grid of the Ralph Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 4: IV. . . . Epilogue opening),

XXII. Britten (the War Requiem: Dies Irae in happy-face major as an 8/4 [sorry!] riff),

XXIII. Bernstein (superimposing second movement I-vi-IV-ii-V refrain of Chichester Psalms with the final chorale of Mass).

January 26 - Specs

Day 2 of myspace, still getting the hang of it -- probably will take a long time...

Meanwhile, have recorded the XIII. Chopin,  

XIV. Verdi, and  

XV. Wagner movements of  

Deploration Passacaglias, Op. 43, for the upcoming  

Lost in Place CD.

January 25 - Beginning Somewhere

Started the MySpace.com band website today, although, if anything, I'm more of an orchestra or a small opera company or an electronic whatever, thanks to talented friends and associates....

Also recorded X. Creole Banjo Player II from Out On the Porch (libretto by Harriet March Page) for the studio version of the upcoming Halfway Mark show (8pm, April 20, Old First Church, 1710 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA).