MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Silvestre Revueltas and Social Justice Art

Cultural historian Joseph Horowitz considers the case of the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1939) in his latest piece for NPR. According to Horowitz, Revueltas was not only “Mexico’s greatest composer but the supreme political composer of concert music produced in our Western hemisphere.”

A related project of Horowitz’s PostClassical Ensemble endeavor is the world premiere recording of the complete soundtrack Revueltas wrote for the 1935 film Redes, conducted by Angel Gil-Ordonez.

Filed under: Mexican composers, PostClassical Ensemble

Aaron Copland: American Populist

This new film from PostClassical Ensemble’s More than Music Project explores Aaron Copland’s far left activism — including a rare performance of his prize-winning workers’ song “Into the Streets, May First,” with its call “Up with the sickle and the hammer!”

Notes Joseph Horowitz of PCE, “It’s all eerily pertinent today, this saga of an iconic American composer jostled by Populist currents on the far left, then the far right – and finally retreating from the fray.”

Among the film’s participants are the American historians: Michael Kazin (on populism) and Joseph McCartin (on the Red Scare). The soundtrack includes excerpts from PCE’s Naxos DVD of The City (1939), which Horowitz regards as “Copland’s highest achievement as a film composer, and the least-known consequential music that he composed.”

Aaron Copland, he concludes, “somewhat resembles ‘a cork in a stream,’ buffeted by political and social currents — a saga that raises many questions, including: What is the fate of the arts in the United States?”

An index to the 75-minute film:

10:14 – Copland on that Communist picnic

11:48 – Copland on workers’ songs

12:34 – “Into the Streets, May First” sung by Lisa Vroman and William Sharp

16:37 – Copland on Hollywood film music (with some Korngold to listen to)

20:00 – Excerpts from The City

39:20 – Joseph McCartin on the Red Scare

44:34 – Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn grill Copland

58:25 – Music historian Beth Levy on Copland’s quest for musical identity

1:04:32 – Michael Kazin on Copland and the Popular Front

1:06:30 – Horowitz’s summing up — a “cork in a stream” – with comparisons to Charles Ives and George Gershwin: composers with deeper roots

1:12:54 – The last word goes to pianist Benjamin Pasternack, recalling an illuminating meeting with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. 

Filed under: Aaron Copland, American music, PostClassical Ensemble

Bernard Herrmann’s Whitman

aThe latest production from PostClassical Ensemble explores a side of Bernard Herrmann that is scarcely acknowledged today. Herrmann is best known for his chilling score to Psycho and six other Alfred Hitchcock films, as well as his collaborations with Orson Welles. But he started out as a conductor at CBS, becoming music director of the pioneering  Columbia Workshop.

As a significant contributor to the medium of radio drama, Herrmann in 1944 composed music for Whitman, a drama focusing on Leaves of Grass. The half-hour show was produced by Norman Corwin with a contemporary aim: to boost morale back at home during the Second World War. Those were the days when millions of Americans tuned in to radio drama — in this case, a drama about a poet, with a first-rate, fresh score as accompaniment.

Angel Gil-Ordonez conducts the ensemble and William Sharp as the poet in this newly restored version of Whitman released on Naxos. In conjunction with the release, PCE has also produced the documentary Beyond Psycho– The Musical Genius of Bernard Herrmann. The film features commentary by Joseph Horowitz (who regards Hermann as “the most underrated 20th-century American composer”), Gil-Ordonez, Karen Karbiener (a Whitman scholar), Murray Horwitz (an expert on radio drama), Dorothy Herrmann (the composer’s daughter), and Alex Ross. 

Filed under: American music, PostClassical Ensemble, radio drama

The Artist and State: Political Art in Mexico and the US


Excerpts from the Zoom chat:

This first clip includes commentary by: 
Lorenzo Candelaria – Dean, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University
Gregorio Luke – Lecturer and author, specialist in Mexican Art and Culture
Ana Lara – Composer, Mexico City
Ix-Nic Iruegas – Executive Director, Mexican Cultural Institute, Embassy of Mexico
(47 minutes)
This second clip provides the historical context of Mexican cultural by John Tutino – Historian, Georgetown University (11 minutes).
Additional resources related to this chat:
To purchase PCE’s acclaimed Naxos DVD of Redes, with Revueltas’s soundtrack newly recorded by PostClassical Ensemble, click here:
Ix-Nic Iruegas, Executive Director of the Mexican Cultural Institute,  recommended two books by one of Mexico’s most outstanding authors: Sergio PitolThe Art of Flight (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2015); and The Magician from Vienna (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2017). 
For more on the Mexican Cultural Institute, visit:

The latest installment in the PostClassical Ensemble’s (PCE) More than Music series takes up the issue of political art, with a focus on the landmark 1936 film Redes — and its powerful score by Silvestre Revueltas.

Some of the questions to be explored in PCE’s Zoom discussion on 2 September at 6.30pm EST: How did the Mexican Revolution galvanize political muralists and composers? Why was Mexico more hospitable to political art than the US? What’s the pertinence of political art today?

The Zoom-chat will feature Gregorio Luke’s presentations on Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralists, plus commentary by composer Ana Lara and by historians Roberto Kolb, John Tutino, and Lorenzo Candelaria, and Ix-Nic Iruegas Peon of the Mexican Cultural Institute. Registration is free: simply sign up here.

From Joseph Horowitz’s blog post “’Redes’ Lives! — The Iconic Film of the Mexican Revolution and What It Says to Us Today”:

“It’s a pity that Silvestre Revueltas is not at least as well known as Rivera. I would unhesitatingly call him the supreme political composer of concert and film music produced in the Americas. His music combines ideology with personal understanding…Revueltas’s peak achievements include his singularly arresting score for the film Redes (1936), in which impoverished Mexican fisherman unite to storm the bastions of power.”

More from Joe Horowitz:

On “The Artist and the State” in Mexico (where political art has greatly mattered) and the U.S. (where the artist remains an outsider):

Filed under: PostClassical Ensemble

When the Federal Government Was Serious about Arts Funding

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Zoom panel talk referenced below.

The Great Depression has been repeatedly invoked of late as we try to gauge the enormous impact of the current pandemic and the related economic crisis. But in the 1930s, Americans had a government in place that recognized the importance of the arts through the Works Progress Administration. These programs employed massive numbers of artists, writers, musicians, actors, dancers, and photographers.

On 5 July, together with Naxos and The American Interest, PostClassical Ensemble (PCE) presents the next installment in its More than Music series: Behrouz Jamali’s documentary on The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936), which focuses on the Dust Bowl, and The River (1938), a modern ode to the role played by the Mississippi River. With scores by Virgil Thomson, both were the first-ever films created by the federal government for commercial release (i.e., not merely informational or educational films). Both champion a distinctly anti-Hollywood aesthetic.

There will be a follow-up Zoom chat on 9 July at 3pm EST. A panel will explore government funding for the arts during the pandemic: conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez, PCE Executive Producer Joseph Horowitz, historian David Woolner, and film historians Neil Lerner and George Stoney. Also on the agenda is a discussion of how Roosevelt’s New Deal addressed issues of race in the era of Jim Crow. To register, click here.

See also Joseph Horowitz’s blog post “The New Deal, the Arts, and Race — and Today”.

Filed under: American music, history, PostClassical Ensemble, social justice

Porgy and Bess Roundtable from PostClassical Ensemble

Following up on my post from the beginning of the month, here’s a distillation of PostClassical Ensemble’s 10 June zoom chat titled “Porgy and Bess Roundtable: What’s It About and Who’s Singing It?”

The panelists include George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, the bass-baritone Kevin Deas, one of the leading Porgys on today’s scene, Conrad Osborne, an expert in opera in performance, will also join in, and PCE founder Joseph Horowitz, with Bill McGlaughlin hosting. They also sample some historic Porgy recordings.

For more on this topic, here is Horowitz’s recent post: “Porgy Takes a Knee — Porgy and Bess and the American Experience of Race“:

“It’s interesting that Gershwin chose as his protagonist a person who’s on his knees. ‘Taking a knee’ has never been more relevant.”


Filed under: African-American musicians, American music, George Gershwin, PostClassical Ensemble

PostClassical Ensemble’s More than Music Turns the Spotlight on Gershwin

PostClassical Ensemble — the “experimental orchestral laboratory” founded in 2003 by Joseph Horowitz and Angel Gil-Ordonez — has been reflecting on music’s role in society through a series called “More then Music,” which presents audio/video webcasts and associated zoom chats.

With the new challenges it poses to institutions we’ve taken for granted, the coronavirus pandemic has intensified the urgency of thinking about these issues of music and its social function — as opposed to abstracting the art into a “purely” aesthetic construct.

The latest edition of PCE’s More than Music series focuses on George Gershwin and a time of creative ferment that was tearing down conventional walls around self-described “serious” music.

PCE has just released the video linked above, The Russian Gershwin, featuring commentary by Joseph Horowitz (PCE Executive Producer) and Angel Gil-Ordóñez (PCE Music Director), with Bill McGlaughlin as the host.

There will be two follow-up zoom chats free and open to the public, both from 6 to 7pm EST. The first one, on 4 June, “A Gershwin Roundtable,” will be a discussion with Horowitz, Gil-Ordóñez, the pianist Genadi Zagor, and Mark Clague, director of the Gershwin Initiative at the University of Michigan. It will also include a live performance by the jazz artist Karrin Allyson.

The 10 June chat is titled “Porgy and Bess Roundtable: What’s It About and Who’s Singing It?” Along with Horowitz, Gil-Ordóñez, and Clague, special guests will include two pre-eminent singers who are authorities on Porgy and Bess: George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing lead roles at the Metropolitan Opera, and the bass-baritone Kevin Deas, one of the leading Porgys on today’s scene. Conrad L. Osborne, an expert in opera in performance, will also join in, and there will a discussion of historic Porgy recordings. Bill McGlaughlin hosts both zoom chats.

More details and sign-up links to the free zoom chats here.

Filed under: African-American musicians, George Gershwin, PostClassical Ensemble

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