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.

October 26, 2016

Breakfast of penitence

Today I ate for breakfast my words about Till Fellner.  What made me change my mind about this pianist was his playing of Bach - not the hideously disembodied floating-in-vacuum studio recordings he made for the ECM label, but broadcast recordings of his recitals where he played selections from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier.  Having long given up on Glenn Gould's juvenile pranksterism and Sviatoslav Richter's Soviet-Industrial grimness, I found Fellner's calm, reflective, Apollonian approach to Bach very attractive.  I doubt I'll ever hear a more telling example of what Charles Rosen had in mind when he described Bach's keyboard music as deeply private and meditative.

Those of you who have been waiting for an opportunity to vindicate your suspicion that I can be as much of a judgmental asshole as any professional music critic now can do so with these Fellner performances from Schwarzenberg (BWV 874-877, VIII.24.2014), Rohrnbach (BWV 878-881, VI.25.2015), and Hohenems (BWV 888-893, X.7.2016).

September 25, 2016

One of those absurdly overcomposed monstrosities

i)  ... eccentric without being amusing; and laborious without effect.

ii)  ... a crass monstrosity.

iii)  ... oh, the pages of stupid and hopelessly vulgar music!

iv)  ... eccentric, unconnected, and incomprehensible ... wanting in aesthetical feeling and in a sense of the beautiful ... monstrous and tasteless.

Stretching to the very last year of the 19th century, these dismissive criticisms of Beethoven's symphonies[1] show that even the long-term reception of a musical work is a very poor indicator of the work's artistic significance.  Where is today the once so successful and praised music of Hasse, Hummel, or Dittersdorf?  By contrast, there isn't a major orchestra these days whose season programs do not include Mahler's symphonies - the symphonies which half a century after their premieres were still dismissed by major music critics as "cheap", "banal", "interminable platitudes".[2]

September 20, 2016

On the side of angels...

If angels indeed favor the harp among all musical instruments, they must have given a warm welcome to Elliott Carter - the composer of Trilogy for Harp and Oboe (1992) and Mosaic for Harp and Ensemble (2004) - when he arrived at the Pearly Gates of Heaven on November 5, 2012.
      Trilogy was written for Ursula and Heinz Holliger, and their affection for Carter's music can be heard in this live recording from their all-Carter concert given in Frankfurt on February 4, 2009.  The couple also performed Mosaic at the same concert, with Heinz Holliger conducting Ensemble Modern.
      For the sake of contrast, here is a live recording of Mosaic from a 2008 concert given by Nieuw Ensemble in Amsterdam.  And then there is this very recent American performance of Trilogy by Bridget Kibbey (harp) and James Austin Smith (oboe) recorded at the 2016 Look & Listen Festival.

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.