good deal of what I have written here is related (sometimes only tangentially) to serious music. Some posts are accompanied by live broadcast recordings. To contact me, email at boomboomsky at gmail dot com.
There are no commercial recordings on this blog.
A word of warning: Occasionally I use strong (and insensitive) language in referring to various arrogant and incompetent assholes who managed to get on my nerves. Or simply because it gets a point across with greater directness and transparency. If you are squeamish about such language, then stay away from this blog.

August 20, 2016

Those who missed the train...

... the most interesting American symphonist is the subtle and introspective Roger Sessions.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Now I know how Schumann must have felt when he first heard the music of Brahms.
Arnold Schoenberg to his pupil Leon Kirchner after listening to a recording of Roger Sessions' Piano Sonata No.2. (Andrea Olmstead, Roger Sessions: A Biography, Routledge, 2008)

The greatest symphonist since Mahler.
Lighton Kerner, The Village Voice

Everybody loves Roger Sessions except the public.
Donal Henahan, New York Times (Roger Sessions' obituary, March 18, 1985)

He always has been an accomplished technician rather than a very original composer.
Harold C. Schonberg, New York Times (March 5, 1976).

[The music] has almost everything but individuality ... and there is little in this score that rises above eclectic academism.
Harold C. Schonberg's 1968 New York Times review of the premiere of Sessions' 8th Symphony (performed by the New York Philharmonic under William Steinberg).

According to some of the above critical opinions, the complete disappearance of Roger Sessions' orchestral music from public performances should be seen as a proof that the music lacks aesthetic merits required for long-term survival even on the fringes of the standard repertoire.  According to others, it should be seen as a depressing fate of art music in the age ruled by populist demands for instant intelligibility and gratification.
     You can decide for yourself by listening to Sessions' Symphony No.7, recorded live (in stereo) at the October 5, 1967 concert of the Chicago Symphony conducted by Jean Martinon. 

August 15, 2016

The feminine mystique

As a welcome contrast to Emmanuel Pahud's extroverted performances of Elliott Carter's Flute Concerto, here is a gentler, dreamier, but no less captivating interpretation by Elizabeth Row, the principal flutist of the Boston Symphony.  From a November 2011 concert conducted by Ludovic Morlot.

July 4, 2016

The Blah-Blah Studies

A couple of days ago, against my better judgment, I picked up Edward Said's book Musical Elaborations at my local library.  The title of the fist chapter - Performance as an Extreme Occasion - sounded intriguing.  The expression "extreme occasion" seems apt for describing an armed bank robbery or a jetliner's engine fire during takeoff, which is why I could not wait to find out what exactly is "extreme" about playing a musical instrument for a paying audience.

June 12, 2016


A 15-year old New Yorker, David Sacks does not seem to think of Elliott Carter's piano sonata as being any more challenging than those of Beethoven or Chopin.  When talented youngsters like Sacks begin to learn - and perform! - Carter's music along with the music of the 18th and 19th century masters, perhaps there is still some hope for the survival of modernist art music in America.

Just for the fun of it, you can compare Sacks' performance with a live recording of the same sonata by the much older (and vastly more experienced) New York-based pianist Ursula Oppens (b. 1944), who has been one of the most active advocates of Carter's music as well as a friend of the composer.  Her performance was recorded in October 2008 at the Fraser Performance Studio, WGBH, Boston.

May 26, 2016

Eloquence or logolepsy?

When a review of an opera CD in a respected non-specialist general magazine* uses words like uxorial and oneiric -

"...the apotheosis of chaste, uxorial devotion is set against a lush orgiastic orchestra..."

"The proper name for the resplendent, oneiric terrain where the kitsch-Kundry reigns is Tinseltown."

- what does this say about the author?  Personally I find such words irritating not because they are obscure but because their use strikes me as gratuitous.  Familiar English words wifely and dreamy (or dream-like) respectively would do perfectly well in the above quoted sentences.  But then my preference for linguistic clarity, transparency, and directness may have more to do with the fact that English is not my mother tongue than with some objective criteria of literary aesthetics. 

* Richard Taruskin, 'The Golden Age of Kitsch', The New Republic, 1994.  Reprinted in The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays, U. of California Press, 2008.

May 19, 2016

Geriatric Cool

A 70-year old soloist (Daniel Barenboim) and a 76-year old conductor (Zubin Mehta leading Staatskapelle Berlin) performing a new composition by a 103-year old composer (Elliott Carter) while a famous 87-year old conductor-composer (Pierre Boulez) listens intently from his seat in Row 2.  This kind of Geriatric Cool, captured on HD video at the Berliner Philharmonie (Barenboim's 70th Birthday Concert on November 15, 2012), surely makes old age seem less depressing than it really is.