MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Lou Harrison’s 100th

May 14 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lou Harrison. NPR’s Tom Huizenga has this lovely appreciation:

The composer’s motto was “Cherish, Conserve, Consider, Create.” He was a published poet, a painter and a calligrapher, and was openly gay back in the 1930s. […]

Harrison was fond of saying, “Enjoy hybrid music, because that’s all there is.”

“He knew that all music actually comes from other musics and combinations,” [biographer Brett] Campbell says. “There’s no such thing as a pure music.”

And from Brett Campbell himself, at Oregon Arts Watch:

Since Harrison’s death, his music is played somewhere every day, often in dance works, several choreographed by his great friend and colleague Mark Morris. It’s a colorful story, told in Eva Soltes’s film Lou Harrison: A World of Music, and in the new biography I co-authored with Bill Alves, Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick— and it all began here.

Harrison’s legacy extends into this century: his work with Asian musical forms and instruments and his exploration of new tuning systems opened a whole new world of possibilities to modern music, allowing composers to take resources from various cultures and use them to make new music.

 

 

Filed under: American music, anniversary, Lou Harrison

Remembering Lenny

In honor of Leonard Bernstein’s birthday — just two years away from the centenary now! — I’m reposting a link here to some thoughts from a few years ago.

Filed under: American music, anniversary, Bernstein

Proustiana

240x775July is my favorite birthday month for artists (Mahler, Kafka, Hesse, Neruda, Thoreau, GB Shaw, Klimt, Janáček, etc.), so it’s always pleased me that Proust, one of my supreme idols, managed to be born in the heart of summer.

In honor of Marcel Proust’s 145th birthday (10 July), here are some reflections that have been circulating recently.

Biographer William C. Carter, who believes À la recherche du temps perdu is “arguably the best book ever written about perception,” on Why You Should Read Proust:

I think he helps us to see the world as it really is, not only its extraordinary beauty and diversity, but his observations make us aware of how we perceive and how we interact with others, showing us how often we are mistaken in our own assumptions and how easy it is to have a biased view of another person.

Daniel Mendelssohn, one of  Literary Hub‘s Six Writers on the Genius of Marcel Proust rails against the cheapening of the term “Proustian,” which has come “nowadays to refer to pretty much anything sepia-toned, anything having to do with ‘memory.'” Time, he asserts:

is not just the subject, or one of the subjects, of In Search of Lost Time; it is also the medium in which the novel must be read, if it is to be understood. To read this novel takes time; there is no faking it, there are no short-cuts, like five-minute yoga (one of the many fatuities of a frenetic era that is obsessed with “wasting” time, as if to spend time on anything were somehow a loss).

And Laure Murat ponders How the French Reread Proust:

To read or reread Proust brings about this symbolic identification at every level. From the first example to the last, it has really only ever been a question of being named or naming oneself: from “I am a writer” to “I am asthmatic”(or both), the Remembrance systematically determines names given and names taken individually, thereby establishing a relationship between the reader-rereader, the author, and the book that has no other parallel in the accounts of rereading other texts I have gathered.

 

Filed under: anniversary, Proust

Happy 101st, Randolph Hokanson!

hokanson

Randolph Hokanson with pianist Judith Cohen – a day before he turned 100 (photo by Thomas May)

This is a belated birthday salute, as Mr. Randolph Hokanson’s actual birthday happened on 22 June. He’s now into his second century. Today I’ll be attending a recital by Mr. Hokanson. In honor of the occasion, here’s a profile I wrote a couple of years ago about this remarkable pianist (also at work as a composer these days):

“I’ve seen it all!” announces Randolph Hokanson before losing himself in a mischievous gale of laughter. With someone else, you might be tempted to indulge that as hyperbole. With Hokanson, who was born in 1915 in Bellingham, it’s tempting to take it literally.
This gifted pianist and teacher has witnessed almost a century of not just ceaseless but accelerating change: epochal shifts in technology, in education, in how music and the arts are valued.

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Filed under: anniversary, pianists

An Auden Birthday

Auden portrait

Today marks the 109th anniversary of Wystan Hugh’s birth. I managed to find a link to an early poem Auden wrote for his friend Christopher Isherwood’s birthday here [pdf, p. 7]:

TO A WRITER ON HIS BIRTHDAY

August for the people and their favourite islands.                                                                           Daily the steamers sidle up to meet                                                                                                           The effusive welcome of the pier…

And here’s an interview  Aidan Wasley (author of THE AGE OF AUDEN: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene) conducted with John Ashbery:

John Ashbery: I first met [Auden] when he gave a reading at Harvard, I think in the spring of ’47, perhaps … He said he preferred America, though he preferred the English countryside because it was much tidier looking… I was always a bit intimidated by him, as I think many people were.

 

 

 

Filed under: anniversary, Auden, poetry

Ravel: Kaddish

Filed under: anniversary

Happy Birthday, Oscar

And some favorite quotes:

“You must not find symbols in everything you see. It makes life impossible.”
(Salome)

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” (Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime)

“Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.”
(Lady Windermere’s Fan)

“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.” (The Soul of Man Under Socialism)

“It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”
(The Picture of Dorian Gray)

Filed under: anniversary, Oscar Wilde

Remembering Auden

W.H. Auden died on this day in 1973 in Vienna. And just in time to mark the great poet’s legacy: Edward Mendelson’s splendidly edited series of Auden’s complete prose writings has been completed with volumes V and VI.

“This is what scholarly publishing is meant to be,” writes the critic Michael Dirda. His review continues:

Over the years I’ve collected Auden’s books — both his own and the works he edited — and so I feel reasonably familiar with his writing. But there’s much here I’d never seen before. At the same time, these pages refresh our appreciation of, say, the poet’s introduction to Anne Fremantle’s “The Protestant Mystics” or to his own selection of Dryden’s verse by showing them as products of a busy professional life.

Moreover, Mendelson’s notes and appendices contribute illuminating, and sometimes amusing, extra-textual detail….

[E]verything [Auden] says about poetry is sharp and authoritative: “In judging a poem, one looks for two things: craftsmanship — it should be a well-made verbal object; and uniqueness of perspective — nobody but the author could have written it.”

Filed under: anniversary, Auden, poetry

A Milestone Birthday for Arvo Pärt

Today the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt — as bearded as Brahms — turns 80. “[H]ere’s where it’s easy to be fooled by preconceptions about Pärt’s work. To dismiss it as cliched and sentimental holy minimalism is simply wrong,” observes Tom Service in a smart intro to his work.

From my recent notes about Pärt and “the contemporary sublime” for a Los Angeles Master Chorale program last season:

This year the music world is celebrating a milestone anniversary for Arvo Pärt, who was born 80 years ago, on September 11, in the small Estonian town of Paide. Although he gravitated toward music quite early (at the age of seven), Pärt points out that in fact he “matured very late, and that back then I wasn’t in a position to find the path that might have led me toward what I was really looking for.”

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Arvo Pärt has had a longterm partnership with producer Manfred Eicher and his label ECM, beginning with the pivotal release of Tabula Rasa. For the occasion, ECM is releasing Musica Selecta, a special two-CD collection of remastered ECM recordings of Pärt’s music curated by Eicher.

Per the label: “Musica Selecta proposes an optimal crash course in Pärt on ECM for the newcomer, and evokes fresh associations for the experienced listener with its juxtapositions of pieces, as we are invited to hear the music anew.”

Filed under: anniversary, Arvo Pärt

Terry Riley at 80, on 20 Fingers

zofo

“That’s the sort of thing that’s always interested me: things where you can’t quite figure out what you are hearing,” says Terry Riley — and the maverick composer’s curiosity hasn’t abated a bit over the years.

Today Terry Riley has reached the milestone age of 80. “In addition to his artistic legacy — a long and varied creative record that includes some of the most notable works in the history of minimalism and post-minimalism — Riley must hold some kind of record as the happiest and least stress-afflicted musician now working,” writes Joshua Kosman in his recent profile.

A new release from the piano duo ZOFO offers an intriguing perspective on the work of this Minimalist pioneer (who played jazz piano early in his career).

Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi — the pianists who comprise ZOFO (decoded as a visual pun for “20” plus “fingered orchestra”) — started their collaboration with a performance of “Cinco de Mayo” from The Heaven Ladder, Book 5, a collection of the native Californian’s pieces for piano-four-hands originally commissioned by Sarah Cahill.

“There is nothing quite like hearing the full eight octaves of a piano sounding in all its orchestral richness,” according to Riley. “ZOFO realizes the full potential of four-hand playing. They think and play as if guided by a Universal mind.”

Riley was so impressed by what ZOFO had done with “Cinco de Mayo” that he encouraged them to take on the rest of his four-hand piano oeuvre, which consists of the four other piece in The Heaven Ladder, Book 5: “Etude from the Old Country,” “Jaztine,” “Tango Doble Ladiado,” and “Waltz for Charismas.”

To expand this body of work into a full-length CD, Nakagoshi made arrangements of two additional pieces, consulting and collaborating with the composer: “G String” and “Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight” (both string quartets). Zimmermann meanwhile made a four-hand arrangement of “Simone’s Lullaby,” a solo piece from Book 7 of The Heaven Ladder originally written for Gloria Cheng. ZOFO commissioned Riley to write a short additional piece, “Praying Mantis Rag.”

Regarding the role of improvisation in Riley’s aesthetic, Zimmermann says: “For me to see Terry perform also played a big role in how I approached this recording session. He is so totally free when he performs, improvising over his own ideas. It’s so much about the moment and the essence of the music. This is so healthy for me as a perfectionist….”

Filed under: American music, anniversary, CD review, piano

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