November 18, 2017
Noon to Midnight, Walt Disney Concert Hall
Fantasmagoriana (World Premiere, Co-Commission) Mark Grey (b. 1967)
I. The Revenant
II. The Grey Chamber
III. The Fated Hour
Three Choruses from Bakkhai (2013) Dylan Mattingly (b. 1991)
Chorus I, Chorus III, Chorus VII
Mount Tambora was the largest volcano to erupt since Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii in 79 AD. An ancient Roman painting survives depicting Bacchus framed by the dizzying pre-volcanic form of Mount Vesuvius, and giving us a sense today of what was lost in the heart of ancient Rome. Only two hundred years ago, however, the Indonesian island of Sumbawa – home to the Tambora stratovolcano – would model lasting climate consequences for the modern world now contemplating nuclear winter. With the greatest force yet recorded, Mount Tambora’s first eruption in April of 1815 propelled a stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil upward followed by ten billion tons of pulverized rocky material and ash. Three shafts of fire eventually merged into one column nearly 150,000 feet that dwarfed the 14,000-foot high mountain as it was reduced by a third – all the while gushing molten lava.
Year Without a Summer
Lesser eruptions followed building upon a much smaller but highly polluting 1814 volcanic eruption in the Philippines. Global temperatures dropped over one degree with a related death toll of 90,000. A massive epidemic of typhus was unleashed by the cold. Crops failed globally; monsoons magnified the flooding and torrential rains in Asia. In America, summer temperatures ranged within hours between 95 degrees to near freezing. A retired President Thomas Jefferson was nearly bankrupted by his crop failures. The worst famine of the 19th century brought about riots, burning and looting many European cities, as the coldest decade in recorded history prevailed. Eighteen hundred people froze to death. Many months after the eruption, the climate change effect was so pronounced that 1816 was dubbed the Year Without a Summer. The English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner captured the vivid yellow sunrises and sunsets caused by Mount Tambora’s pollution in paintings such as The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire. The cataclysmic events also inspired him to imagine the eruption of Mount Vesuvius as a spectacular 1817 watercolor using scraped encaustic. While the eruption may have had a lasting effect on Turner’s unprecedented use of color, several writers responded to the prolonged gloom by giving birth to the Gothic Horror genre – and what is now being dubbed by movie studios: the dark universe.
The promiscuously bisexual Lord Byron was granted an acrimonious divorce in March of 1816 after little more than a year of marriage. Charges of incest with his half-sister, mounting debts, and nagging scandals that generated the epithet “mad, bad and dangerous to know” forced his exit from England in April. Byron’s epic narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (two cantos in1812, and two more in 1818), which gave him overnight fame, inspired the symphonic poem Harold in Italy by Hector Berlioz. Like his disaffected hero, Byron wended his way through Belgium and Germany before settling at Lake Geneva from May to November.
Due to a congenitally deformed foot Byron traveled with his own personal physician, John William Polidori, a young specialist in sleepwalking who happened also to be a writer. The two strikingly handsome travelers met Percy Bysshe Shelley and his soon-to-be wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in Geneva. She introduced herself as “Mrs. Shelley.” The young literary couple had been traveling with Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, a thwarted singer, actress and would-be writer, who had dallied that spring with Byron immediately after his divorce. The volatile Clairmont was instrumental in bringing the “Shelleys” together, and also had a hand in the travel plans that reunited her briefly with Byron. The following year she would give birth to his daughter Allegra; Percy and Mary would actually marry.
Polidori augmented this medical employment with a publisher’s fee to maintain a diary including celebrity gossip of which there proved to be a rich trove during June of the Year Without Summer. Byron and his doctor companion took up residence at the Villa Diodati, a mansion in the village of Cologny, while the “Shelleys” and Clairmont took the smaller lakeside Maison Chapuis.
Cold rain fell incessantly in Geneva that summer. Nearby, in western Switzerland a conical ice dam began to form at the tongue of a glacier. After two years of relentless growth and fitful human efforts opposing nature, the mass of ice would collapse in a catastrophic flood. Such an atmosphere of mounting dread and unremitting gloom left this house- bound quintet near a log-burning fire reading in French from Fantasmagoriana, a recently translated collection of German ghost stories. Byron proposed, in moment of restless invention after hours of talking, often past midnight – and drafts of laudanum – that they “each write a ghost story.”
Monsters Among Us
Mary was unable to conceive an idea for several days. Polidori was inspired by a fragment written by Byron that would become The Vampyre, the short story published in 1819, and the first tale of the undead re-animated by the harvesting of hot fresh blood. They discussed Galvanism, the recent discovery of animating a recently dead frog, for example, when its nerves were touched to an electric current. On June 16, several hours past midnight came to Mary the terrifying idea of harnessing natures power to revoke the finality of death:
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
What began first as a short story became a vastly influential novel published anonymously in 1818. Multiple editions sustained speculation about which of the Shelleys wrote what. The latest iteration of the story will be the opera Frankenstein by Mark Grey to premiere in Brussels at the newly renovated Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in 2018-19. Grey has already extracted a Frankenstein symphony that was premiered by the Atlanta Symphony In 2016 marking the anniversary.
The composer’s research into the anthology of German ghost stories gave inspiration to a three-movement chamber symphony Fantasmagoriana co-commissioned by Jacaranda and the LA Phil for the new music marathon Noon to Midnight. Scored for string quintet, wind, quintet, trombone and percussion, its three movements have suggestive titles: I. The Revenant; II. The Grey Chamber; and III. The Fated Hour.
Bakkhai is a revolutionary tragedy by the most remarkable of ancient Greek playwrights at the end of his life. The work was given a prize-winning posthumous premiere in 405BC. Euripides makes civilization’s first argument for the opposing natures of control (Pentheus) and freedom (Dionysos). As such, Euripides pits the rational and analytic against the instinctive, and sensual, yet the latter – aligned as it is to the animal world – gives potential access to the force of spirituality.
Nonetheless, interpretations of this complex story of the charismatic god Dionysos, conceived by Zeus with Semele, a human, disguised as a human to undermine the rule of Pentheus, and ultimately inspire his Bacchantes, a cult of women outsiders, to a killing frenzy in which they tear Pentheus limb from limb, have changed over the centuries as the nature of the conflict and the understanding of power gets reexamined.
Dylan Mattingly has set the entire text of the play in its original ancient Greek as a cantata with the more accurate transliteration of the tile Bakkhai. All of the play has been incorporated. The work was completed in 2013. All seven choruses were premiered in Brooklyn by Contemporaneous directed by David Bloom. The instrumentation is 3 sopranos, high baritone, 2 oboes, cello, bass, re-tuned piano, and 2 percussionists. Mattingly has done extensive scholarly work into microtonality, as well as ancient Greek music and drama.
The following are two excerpts from a lengthy essay:
“There are numerous barriers between us and an understanding of the choral poetry and music of Greek drama from the fifth century B.C. But perhaps the strongest limiting factor in our ability to recreate a sonic world from 2500 years ago is the dependence of our own concept of music up- on the irrepressible tropes and traditions of the modern world. We define music by the soundscape that surrounds us. For us to imagine a different music, we must unlearn some of our own experiential knowledge of what music is. Because of this critical problem, it is unsurprising that a good deal of the attempts to recreate the music of ancient Greek tragedy is based in anachronistic projection.
The modern Western predilection for the twelve equally spaced notes in each octave on the piano, known as equal temperament, hinders our vision of a tuning system based entirely by the natural mathematical relationships between the notes. Likewise, the dominance of steady time signatures in all types of current music impedes our ability to imagine a music with a fundamentally unsteady beat. Although it is a Sisyphean task to approach ancient music from a clean musical slate, I will do what I can to bring about an understanding of the music of the Bakkhai, in as much of the ecstatic glory that Euripides poured into it.
The following material is divided into four parts. The first is a background of ancient Greek music and the Bakkhai in particular, and an attempt to clarify the aspects of the art form that may have been obscured by a scholarship steeped in the language of Western classical music. The second part is a complete scansion of the meter of the choruses of the Bakkhai. Third, I have written a guide through my own music for these choruses, written not as an attempt to precisely recreate the sound of ancient Greek music, but rather to use a comprehension of Euripides’ words, rhythms, and notes to build something that presents an emotional conception of the Bakkhai but is in itself entirely new. The fourth part is the music itself.”
And, specific to the music at hand this evening:
“The first and most important thing to clarify is that this music is not a reconstruction. It is not an attempt to recreate the potential sound of the music from 404 B.C. when the play was premiered. Although it is impossible for us to know exactly what that music would have sounded like, I feel fairly certain that it did not sound like this.
The music that I have written is very much my own, inspired musically by my own life as well as my own experience of and interpretation of the choruses of the Bakkhai. That said, the music attempts to use the premises that have been discussed…in order to create something that is true to the emotional content of the Euripides tragedy. This music is not what Euripides’ own mu- sic would have sounded like, but perhaps it sheds some light upon what his music would have felt like…
The instruments and singers in the ensemble are required throughout the work to tune to the just-intoned piano [synthesizer], although because these instruments (and singers) can achieve a great variety of microtones, they are also able to explore just-intoned harmonic zones beyond that of the fixed piano tuning. The instrumentation serves to juxtapose the ecstatic high voices and reeds with a very bass heavy rhythm section consisting of the cello, bass, bass drums, and often the piano.
The chorus in the Bakkhai are importantly foreigners, a group of women who have “left the hills of Tmolus to adore Bromios,” the music must be universal in its penetrating allure, but simultaneously strange and alien—unlike anything heard before in Thebes. Often I attempt to evoke a sort of imaginary folk music, complete with its own roots in the combination of its imaginary religious and imaginary popular strands of music. There are various elements throughout the music that come from each of those zones, the most easily ascertainable one being tonality.”
Mattingly has a very original voice. Despite the strenuous demands of performing this music the integration of all seven choruses into the whole is an extravagant dream that should not be unrealized for much longer. Hopefully, both Grey’s opera Frankenstein and Mattingly’s music theater work Bakkhai will both soon be heard in their entirety all the better to hear and understand the legacy of John Adams their enthusiastic mentor.
© PATRICK SCOTT 2017
October 21, 2017
First Presbyterian / Santa Monica
Varied Quintet (1987) Lou Harrison (1917-2003)
String Quartet No 9 (1988) Ben Johnston (b. 1926)
Jardin des Herbes (1989) Karen Tanaka (b. 1961)
Two Holy Sonnets of John Donne (1982) Steven Stucky (1949-2016)
Symphony No. 3 (1995) Philip Glass (b. 1937)
The growing presence of exotic tunings in classical music helps, by contrast, to unconceal the power of equal temperament, its inherent limitations, and diminishing dominance. This transformation – however incremental, subtle and under-appreciated – is among many accelerating changes in global climate, human migration, power dynamics, gender identity, and data access altering worldviews today.
Among the planet’s sixty-three generally recognized scales and modes, equal temperament dominates with only five. While equal temperament was a consolidating force during the Age of Enlightenment, its global impact can be traced to a business concession made when the industrial revolution overtook the production of pianos from artisans in the 19th century. Just intonation, Its functional opposite, is based on the physics of sound occurring as an overtone series, be it a vibrating string, or a column of air – the human windpipe, or a flute, for example. The intervals between notes are naturally uneven and tuned by ear. With equal temperament, however, all twelve notes are multiples of the same basic interval. This simplified system is a schematic standard that allows for enormous complexity, due to the ease of shifting from scale to scale.
Volcanoes & Tigers
A twentieth century American movement to compose music using just intonation emerged in the northeast quarter of the Pacific Rim’s ring of volcanoes. Harry Partch and Lou Harrison, the movement’s west coast tigers, were harbingers of micro tonality. After a privileged childhood in multicultural Portland Oregon, study in Los Angeles with Arnold Schoenberg, and conducting the world premiere of Symphony No. 3 by Charles Ives at Carnegie Hall, Harrison adopted scales and tunings derived from various Asian musics, some rooted in ancient China, and indigenous music – such as the Indonesian gamelan in later years. Partch invented wholly reimagined instruments to expand just intonation and accommodate his original 43-tone scale. However, it is his invaluable supporting research that drives the growing impact of Partch’s conceptual work.
The older Partch was key to Harrison’s ultimate reject-ion of international modernism. The hobo scholar’s exhaustive Carnegie-supported research into the mathematic theories of sound from ancient Greece – attributed to Pythagoras, his school, and Ptolemy (AD 100-170) the Greco Roman scientist living in Alexandria, Egypt. Ptolemy’s persuasive book, Harmonics, the theory and mathematics of music, gave Partch a touch-stone for much further musical archeology in Britain. Even more consequentially, he discovered a reprint of the 1877 English translation of Sensations of Tone (1863), the first scientific study of sound and human perception. Its author, the pioneering German physician and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz invented a resonator to, among other things, chart sonic waveforms. Partch sought to reconcile ancient theories with what was considered modern science.
Genesis of a Music
Partch’s 1947 manifesto Genesis of a Music devotes three whole chapters to his theories of scales, tuning, just intonation and the mathematic principles necessary for building fantastical instruments to perform within a microtonal system. Genesis of a Music summarized over 200 years of Western music in a examination Alex Ross calls "the most startling forty-five-page history of music ever written".
The book totally expanded the consciousness of the twenty-three year-old Johnston when it was published in 1949. Years earlier In Macon, Georgia – at age twelve, accompanied by his grandmother – Johnston first learned about Helmholtz from a lecture on Debussy and acoustic theory. By August 1950 he and his new wife Betty Hill moved to coastal Gualala, California – due west of Sacramento in Redwood country. As an apprentice, Johnston mostly helped Partch build and tune his unique instruments, but it was not his calling. With Partch’s blessing, the following year Johnston began study of polytonality at Mills College in Oakland with Darius Milhaud, who was at his teaching peak. During that year he composed a setting of John Donne’s poem A Nocturnall Upon Saint Lucie’s Day for baritone and piano. Shortly before he graduated from Mills a teaching position with duties to play for dance classes opened up at the University of Illinois, Champagne Urbana. Johnston remained there for thirty years extending Partch’s theories to their ultimate fruition using traditional instruments. Given the adaptability of string players, its is not surprising the core manifestation of Johnston’s theoretical work was composed for the ensemble at the core of Western chamber music – his utterly distinctive set of ten string quartets.
Was it coincidence or destiny that Partch’s treatise was published in 1949, the year when serialism first emerged as the ultimate codification of the twelve-tone system. Father figure of the entire Germanic tradition culminating with Schoenberg’s protégé Anton Webern, J. S. Bach (1685-1750) was strongly blamed by Partch for his sanctioning embrace of equal temperament. However, as Bach scholarship has matured around his 250th birth-day, which fittingly coincided with the millennium, this idea has been thoroughly discredited. Recent scholarship reveals Bach’s frustration with the idea of even temperament. Partch seems to have conflated well tempered (The Well-Tempered Clavier) with equal tempered. The California maverick’s bias may have derived from Bach’s singular orientation to the keyboard. However, the so-called father of Western music actually advocated for a more flexible territory between just and even temperament.
Partch did pioneering work in ancient music, while musicology was just emerging as a serious discipline, so his need for a scapegoat can be forgiven. The free-thinking Partch railed against the intrinsic hegemony of “equal-tempered tuning, which meant that composers could not absorb the scales of other world traditions; and the urge to make music ever more instrumental and abstract." By contrast, as he put it, the traditional vocal declamation with string accompaniment of China, Greece, India, and the Arab world are corporeal – more about being physically (in the Walt Whitman sense) than doing, striving and arriving. He saw equal temperament as the mu-sic of colonization and subjugation. Not unlike the English language, equal temperament is quite viral.
Partch’s hitchhiking, sexually self-expressed distain for the constraints of capitalist conformity resonated with Harrison. The atom bomb changed the world utterly for him. Working for world peace required a transformational set of tools. Among them, just intonation has certainly more currency in the world than Esperanto, the synthetic language Harrison championed. His bicoastal visibility and close friendship with bicoastal John Cage, his sunny personality and a more favorable orientation to the musical mainstream than Partch, helped him gain early attention. Harrison’s sphere of influence eventually expanded with his emergence in the sixties as openly gay – and partnered for life with the instrument builder William Colvig.
Decades before Johnston arrived in Oakland to go to Mills College, Harrison had explored the rich Bay Area dance scene centered at the girl’s school as a dancer, musician and composer in his twenties. Lester Horton (1906-53), the most influential California choreographer to follow Ruth St. Denis in Los Angeles, was invited in 1938 to bring his dance company and teach during the Mills summer session giving Harrison many opportunities for self-expression. Many years later in 1980, Harrison was invited to return to Mills to inaugurate the newly created Darius Milhaud Chair in music composition for a fixed term. He taught “Intonation in World Music” aside the resident Kronos Quartet and shared music making with Terry Riley.
Varied Quintet vs the Varied Trio
The renowned percussionist Willie Winant helped Harrison establish the Mills College gamelan. In gratitude the composer wrote a quintet featuring percussion for Winant, with Harrison playing harp, violinist David Abel, Julie Steinberg on harpsichord, and Colvig playing a tubular bell he made to which the ensemble tuned in just intonation. Winant struck and caressed a vibraphone, tambourine, drums, bakers pans and a set of tuned porcelain bowls played with chopsticks from India known as a jaltarang.
UC Berkeley celebrated Harrison’s 70th birthday two months early with a concert including the Suite for Violin and Gamelan and the premiere of the Varied Quintet in 1987. Since the harpist and bell player were a busy and committed couple, and the cartage for the fragile harpsichord and bulky harp added hassle and expense, a version that the Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio could tour be-came an obvious and immediate undertaking. To clinch its portability and popularity, the quintet was recast in equal temperament with the help of pianist Steinberg. Formed in 1984, the trio specializes in music of the Pacific Rim, North, Central and South America. Mills hosted the actual May 1987 birthday concert including premier-es of three extraordinary pieces: Varied Trio, Ariadne danced by Eva Soltes – who dedicated many years to the production of a brilliant full length bio-documentary on the composer – and the Concerto for Piano and Gamelan. The A-S-W Trio then went on to celebrate Harrison’s birthday in several cities.
The extraordinary popularity of the trio version with its distinctive scales makes a strong case for the trio version with equal temperament, but the subtle colors, textural delicacy, and bright bell in just intonation make the quintet cherishable, more so for the fourth movement’s far more idiomatic neo-baroque French rondeau – Harrison’s tribute to the lavish sensuality of the French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Quartet No. 9
During Harrison’s birthday year Johnston was finishing work on his Quartet No. 9 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina where he located after early retirement. The Palo Alto-based Stanford String Quartet premiered the work in 1988. Bob Gilmore, who edited Johnston’s collection of writings Maximum Clarity (2006, University of Illinois) writes in the book’s chronology that the ninth quartet “consciously evoke[s] earlier classical idioms as part of a new emphasis that becomes increasingly apparent in Johnston’s music of these years, and which he discusses in “Position Paper” published in Perspectives of New Music: that of exploring how European music might have developed had it been freed of the constraints of equal temperament. This form of musical revisionism, distinct in technique and intent from the neoclassicism of his earlier work.” This important book follows in the footsteps of Partch with four large chapters: On Music Theory; On Musical Aesthetics and Culture; Some Com-positions; and On Other Composers.
Gilmore observes in his notes to the 2006 Kepler Quartet New World Records CD, that this revisionism is:
“Especially clear in the third movement, a lyrical and fully Classical slow movement that invokes Haydn, but with melodic embellishments that are not possible in the language of the great Austrian Composer. The scherzo-like second movement perhaps suggests shades of Mendelsohn, but opens up his idiom to new harmonic adventures made possible by just intonation. The energetic finale…[is] classical in impulse (with perhaps a hint of a jazz walking bass). But the most extraordinary movement is surely the first, where Johnston achieves a real compositional tour de force in creating a six-minute movement, the pitch world of which remains entirely between middle C and the C an octave above and yet retains our interest throughout. Here the richness of just intonation with its luminous pure intervals and their microtonal variants, lets us hear as never before one of Western music’s most familiar clichés: the C major scale.”
Gilmore trusts that this Janus-like quartet will help listeners discover “new sounds and untried harmonies.” As writer, critic and composer Kyle Gann observed in 1995, String Quartet No. 9 uses intervals of the harmonic series as high as the 31st partial with “potentially hundreds of pitches per octave,” in a way that is "radical without being avant-garde," and not for making "as-yet-unheard dissonances," but to, "return...to a kind of musical beauty," that he feels has been eroded in Western music by equal temperament.
A Pervasive and Persistent Legacy
Several generations of composers now have moved beyond equal temperament in their embrace of noise via John Cage, electronic music, and the computer-assisted scientific analysis of sound underpinning the spectralist movement. So-called World Music has gained purchase in concert halls previously devoted only to Western music. The issue has become less contentious as is evident in Karen Tanaka’s Jardin des Herbes. The harpsichord with its origins in a world less defined by theoretical tuning is easily and often re-tuned for specific periods of music. The work succeeds in virtually any tuning, but thrives in the micro climate of just intonation. Her love of nature and concern for the environment has influenced many of her works, including Questions of Nature, Frozen Horizon, Water and Stone, Dreamscape, Ocean, Silent Ocean, Tales of Trees, Water Dance, Crystalline series, and Children of Light.
Tanaka was born in Tokyo, Japan where she began piano and composition lessons as a child. She moved to Paris in 1986 helped by a French Government Scholarship to study with Tristan Murail and to work at IRCAM as an intern. In 1987, she was awarded the Gaudeamus International Composers Award at the International Music Week in Amsterdam. She studied with Luciano Berio in Florence in 1990–91 supported by the Nadia Boulanger Foundation and a Japanese Government Scholarship. In 1996, she honored with a fellowship at Tanglewood. In 1998 she succeeded Toru Takemitsu as co-artistic director of the Yatsugatake Kogen Music Festival. In 2005 she was awarded the Bekku Prize.
After her 2012, selection as a Sundance Institute’s Com-posers Lab fellow for feature film, Tanaka served as an orchestrator for the BBC's TV series, Planet Earth II in 2016. Her works have been performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, LA Phil, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Brodsky Quartet, and the BIT20 Ensemble. The prestigious Nederlands Dans Theater is among numerous dance companies that have featured her music.
Tanaka has received commissions from Radio France, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Arts Council of England, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Michael Vyner Trust for the NHK Symphony Orchestra conduct-ed by Esa-Pekka Salonen, for cellist Joan Jeanrenaud and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano, and the National Endowment for the Arts for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Chester Music, London, Schott Music, New York, and Editions Bim in Switzerland publish her music. Tanaka lives in Los Angeles and teaches composition at Cal Arts.
Poetics of Steven Stucky
Following the tragic loss of Steven Stucky in January of 2016, Jacaranda and pianist Gloria Cheng wanted to remember the composer in this fifteenth season. Cheng had performed his Album Leaves on the inaugural season in 2004. Together we wanted to remember an extraordinary composer and dear friend. Cheng will devote her next CD entirely to the music of Stucky, so it was decided that a public performance of these valedictory songs would give the artists a public hearing of a lesser known work prior to its world premiere recording.
John Donne (1572 -1631) wrote the lion’s share of his Holy Sonnets over two years 1609-11. The form of his sonnet is based on a Petrarchan model ending with a rhyming couplet. The first eight lines follow the normal ABBA ABBA rhyming pattern, but the remaining six lines rhyme with an atypical CDCE EE. The sonnets are com-posed in iambic pentameter – five groups of unstressed syllables followed by one that is stressed. He was the leading representative of the metaphysical poetic movement that reacted against the conventional surfaces of Elizabethan poetry, and has proven to be a favorite source over the centuries for composers attracted to the invention of his metaphors, sensuality, and vibrant language.
This pairing from Donne’s most famous sonnets was given this beautiful setting before a clear trajectory was evident that Stucky would contribute greatly to making Los Angeles the center of contemporary music it is today. His relationship with the LA Phil was the longest such association between an American orchestra and a composer. He was appointed Composer-in-Residence by André Previn in 1988, and was Consulting Composer for New Music working closely with then Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen to expand contemporary programming, award commissions, and develop educational programs. The latter included mentoring pre-college composers under the groundbreaking Composer Fellows Program. Stucky hosted talks in the Green Umbrella series most memorably with Marc-André Dalbavie and Leif Ove Andsnes. Notable LA world premieres included Stucky’s Symphony (2012) by the LA Phil, and Piano Sonata performed by Cheng in the Piano Spheres series at Zipper Hall.
As conductor, Stucky frequently led the LA Phil New Music Group. Soloist Michala Petri joined the group for the US premiere of his recorder concerto, Etudes (2002). He conducted world and regional premieres of his con-temporaries and mentors, such as Donald Crockett, Jacob Druckman, William Kraft, Witold Lutoslawski, Christopher Rouse, and Judith Weir.
While Two Holy Sonnets of John Donne is not about issues of tuning in particular, the work reveals a probing mind and a sophisticate ear that seem to transcend any perceived limitations of equal temperament
Undermining ET: Glass at 80
Arguably the most famous and financially successful composer on the planet, Philip Glass has indefatigably applied his pliant minimalism to every classical music form, repeatedly and with and such determined energy that his the art gallery beginnings seem like ancient history. Looking to the rigor of his relentless teacher Nadia Boulanger reveal more about how he developed the capacity to write an unending stream of operas, ten symphonies, and concertos for every imaginable soloist or group.
Conductor Dennis Russell Davies led the Violin Concerto No. 1 (1987) that was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra for Paul Zukofsky and dedicated to the composer’s late father. Glass's remembered that "his favorite form was the violin concerto, and so I grew up listening to the Mendelssohn, the Paganini, the Brahms concertos. So when I decided to write a violin concerto, I wanted to write one that my father would have liked." The Concerto was so persuasively performed and recorded in 1992 by Gidon Kremer and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, that the die was cast for more orchestral concert music.
Davies told Glass at the time of his success: "I'm not going to let you…be one of those opera composers who never write a symphony". Glass promptly responded with two three-movement symphonies "Low" (1992), and Symphony No. 2 (1994). The first combined themes from tracks on the 1977 David Bowie/Brian Eno album Low, a crossover gambit perhaps. Moving more directly toward symphonic tradition, Symphony No. 2 is described as a study in polytonality making reference to the seemingly unlikely French tradition of Milhaud, the Swiss Arthur Honegger, and Brazil’s Heitor Villa-Lobos, who emerged with the help of Milhaud.
Davies commissioned Symphony No. 3 (1995), for his Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra using nineteen string players. Having perhaps worked through a return to his Boulanger past in Paris, the result was authentic, more transparently polished, and intimate. Finally Glass found a symphonic style upon which to generate seven more. The symphony’s third movement reuses the baroque chaconne as a formal stratagem and, as such, betokens the composer’s growing interest in Bach. The result is structurally taut and cohesive. Glass describes the shape and what gives the work its unity:
“The opening movement, a quiet, moderately paced piece, functions as prelude to movements two and three, which are the main body of the Symphony. The second movement mode of fast-moving compound meters explores the textures from unison to multiharmonic writing for the whole ensemble. It ends when it moves without transition to a new closing theme, mixing a melody and pizzicato writing. The third movement is in the form of a chaconne, a repeated harmony sequence. It begins with three celli and four violas, and with each repetition new voices are added until, in the final [variation], all 19 players have been woven into the music. The fourth movement, a short finale, returns to the closing theme of the second movement, which quickly re-integrates the compound meters from earlier in that movement. A new closing theme is introduced to bring the Symphony to its conclusion.
That being said, the overtones of nineteen solo strings can create a haze that is not helped by rooms with less than ideal acoustics. As the composers works have moved into the classical music arena like, perhaps, and invasive species, it was logical and welcome when Michael Riesman, Glass’s erstwhile music director arranged the work for string quartet plus viola and cello. This vastly successful reduction has been named String Sextet, however its origins should not be mistaken or disguised. Interestingly, the String Quartet No. 5 was written around the same time. It was eventually recognized as the finest work in the form by Glass. Hearing the two works side by side shows a fundamental kinship, so it was natural to have the Lyris Quartet, which made its Jacaranda debut playing the Glass fifth return to this sensibility for Jacaranda’s fifteenth season.
PATRICK SCOTT © 2017