Three orchestras in two days: Day 1


My 7PM flight to Indianapolis arrives at 1AM. After a few hours' sleep I proceed through Monument Circle to the Hilbert Circle Theatre, for an 11AM matinee by the Indianapolis Symphony. The gifted young French conductor Stéphane Denève, who is reportedly working wonders with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, leads Berlioz's Francs-juges Overture and Mahler's First. On Friday and Saturday he will add to the program Une Lueur dans l'age sombre (A Glimmer in an Age of Darkness) by the young French composer Guillaume Connesson, whom I have not heard but who comes pre-approved by Kyle Gann. Hilbert Circle Theatre is an ex-movie theater of the grand pre-war type:


By 2PM I'm heading south on I-65, which will be my constant companion on this Midwestern/Southern orchestra road trip:


The vehicle is a Pontiac G6. Visible in the background are trucks and cows, signifying America:


Playing on the stereo are the new Wilco record, Björk's Medúlla (meant to grab Volta), Georg Friedrich Haas's in vain (with regards to Sam Adams), the fabulous Mark Padmore Handel recital (soon out on Harmonia Mundi), and Golijov's Ayre (a favorite driving record). Believe it or not, the CD-recognition system knows what in vain is when I put it in the player. It refuses, however, to play it. So instead I find myself listening three times in succession to the Wilco record. The first thing that grabs me is the closer, "On and On and On," built on an unending two-note whole-tone ostinato against which the vocal line and accompanying harmonies gently clash. In general, though, this is a less new-musicky, noise-drunk Wilco; it's more an homage to the Band (Garth Hudson ghost-church organ) and Tonight's the Night Neil Young (Nils Lofgren-style guitar). I've never really raved about Wilco before, but so far I'm liking the record intensely. There is something piercing about its emotional landscape. It certainly chimes well with Kentucky, through which I regretfully zoom almost without stopping:


6PM, Music City:


The music in question will be Kevin Puts's Elgar-inspired ...this noble company, Haydn's Symphony No. 103, and Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, as performed by the Nashville Symphony, under Alasdair Neale's direction, at the almost brand-new Schermerhorn Symphony Center:



Just now, when the room-service guy brought me a late-night fried-chicken salad, he saw the above picture on my computer and asked, "That picture, is it in America?" Not just America, Nashville! A couple of shots from a late-night walk on the adjoining pedestrian bridge:



LaKisha? Melinda??

American Idol has ceased to be interesting or amusing.

Three orchestras in two days: Prologue


For some time I've wanted to go on a tour of American orchestras of the non-bicoastal variety. On Thursday and Friday of this week I will see three performances in rapid succession: Indianapolis in the morning, Nashville in the evening, and Alabama the following night. I have spent long hours studying Rand McNally and concluded that it's all theoretically possible, although unforeseen events may obtrude. The trip got off to a somewhat rocky start tonight as a weather situation caused me to sit for four hours in Newark Airport.

Salome day


It's the 101st anniversary of the Austrian premiere of Salome, an event that is described at some length at the beginning of my book. The photograph above, which appears in Gilbert Kaplan's wonderful book The Mahler Album, captures Mahler and Strauss together on the day of the premiere, apparently getting to leave for an afternoon expedition in the hills above the city. Alma Mahler described the day memorably in her memoir. It's worth noting that when Strauss read the book in the nineteen-forties he wrote in the margins of that description, "All untrue."

And happy birthday to Alex Star, the last New York intellectual.

Maazel successor found

George W. Bush made a surprisingly successful conducting debut in Jamestown, Virginia. He's free as of 2009....

Mark Morris Orfeo

Underworld. The New Yorker, May 21, 2007.

Birthday girl


Penelope, one of relatively few cats to have been featured in the pages of The Gramophone, turned four yesterday.

From Stockhausen with love


What you can find on the Internet! This is the hefty program booklet for the stage premiere of Stockhausen's Donnerstag aus Licht, La Scala, 1981. It belonged to the late Leonard Stein — Schoenberg's personal assistant, long-time director of the Schoenberg Institute in Los Angeles, teacher of La Monte Young, all-around force for good. Those who find Stockhausen an unduly forbidding figure may be charmed to know that he sometimes signs his name thus:


More Vexations


Click to enlarge.

In my files I've discovered the program to the 1963 world premiere (unexpurgated version) of Satie's Vexations. Arthur Conescu, the co-manager of the Pocket Theatre, which presented the event, sent it to me after I reviewed the Roulette Vexations in 1993. The performers — Viola Farber, Robert Wood, MacRae Cook, John Cale, John Cage, Christian Wolff, David Del Tredici, David Tudor, Philip Corner, and James Tenney — each ended up performing five times. Notice the listings in the program for Special Mystery Guest Stars. One of these, according to the Times review, was "Joshua Rivkin," who I assume must have been the future Bach specialist Joshua Rifkin, then a Juilliard student. Another was the Times critic Howard Klein, who, the review claimed, substituted for a pianist who failed to show up — although Mr. Conescu informed me in his letter that Cage had given approval to Klein beforehand.

Nutty Ives fact

The apparent first public performances of the Ives songs "The Innate," "Requiem," "Paracelsus," "Resolution," and "Majority" took place in Paris on March 5, 1936. The singer was Victor Prahl, the pianist was — Olivier Messiaen. (From Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone's superb biography Messiaen, pp. 60-61.)

Who reads Noise?

I recently signed up for a service that tells me more about who reads the blog. What delightfully varied social-security numbers people have! No, just kidding. In the interest of transparency I am posting some statistics. In the month of April I received 113,128 page loads, 77,440 unique visits, 50,128 first-time visits, and 27,312 returning visits. Traffic has approximately doubled in the last year. About ten or fifteen percent of readers seem to live in New York; roughly the same percentage come from outside the U.S. I've noticed hits from some sixty countries, from Argentina to Yemen. I'll be looking to expand my coverage of the new-music scene in Mauritius. Thanks to all for reading!

Blogger librettists

Congratulations to fellow blogger Terry Teachout, who is writing an opera with Paul Moravec for Santa Fe. It will be based on Somerset Maugham's story "The Letter" and will have its premiere in 2009.

Incidentally, some of you are probably curious about the status of my long-bruited Broadway musical, Zemlinsky in Larchmont, featuring such sure-fire hits as "One Cannot Find Even a Good Glass of Coffee," "I Once Knew a Girl Named Alma," "Ja, Hot Enough For Ya" (swing duet with Chet the Hep Mechanic), "Shostakovich Schmostakovich" (transcontinental telephone septet with Hindemith, Bartók, Stravinsky, Virgil Thomson, Theodor W. Adorno, and Gertie the Operator Gal), and the heart-rending "Schreker My Friend (Veren't You the Lucky One in the End)." The project recently experienced a setback with the death of Galina Ustvolskaya, who had promised to write the score and had sent me a few settings in a surprisingly peppy, Gershwinesque style (though the orchestra was austerely limited to contrabassoon, pipa, and cement mixer). With Milton Babbitt no longer returning my calls, I am again without a composer. But I just had an interesting conversation with Ringo Starr....


This MIT project converts ambient city noise into ambient music via a vocoder.... In conjunction with a recent realization of Meyerhold's aborted production of Pushkin's Boris Godunov, with incidental music by Prokofiev, Princeton has collected some rare and rather amazing pictures of Prokofiev and Meyerhold. This one shows Meyerhold speaking on June 15, 1939, his last public appearance before his arrest.... Fight in Symphony Hall — and it didn't involve a Charles Wuorinen premiere. Cue the media clichés: "usually sedate," "customarily tranquil,"  "ordinarily dignified," etc. Read a sharp report by Jeremy Eichler, with meditations on the pitfalls of pop-classical mix.... On a semi-related theme, watch Sid Caesar's Argument to Beethoven's Fifth. (Via Peter Stamos.)

Books lost in time

A brief review from New Masses, May 1934: "IN A NAZI GARDEN, by Lona Mosk. Vangard Press. $2. The story takes place during the year preceding the Nazi dictatorship. Anne Levy, an American Jewess, falls in love with an 'Aryan' German. They try to escape the Berlin 'nightmare' by moving to a small suburb where they live as man and wife. Nazi gossip and spying eventually make this impossible and in the end they are forced to leave. The novel is very meagre in content, and the author limits her portrait to a few of the surface phenomena accompanying the rise of Nazism." The problem may have begun with the title, which is a bit too Albert Ketèlbey.

Previously: The Strange Death of President Harding.

I am lost to the world


The BBC has reissued its Wigmore Hall Live recording of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in recital in 1998: Mahler's Rückert Lieder (whence the headline), "As with rosy steps" from Handel's Theodora, two of Peter Lieberson's Rilke Songs and "Triraksha's Aria" from his Ashoka's Dream, and, as a gently thunderous encore, "Deep River." I ran out of adjectives to describe Lieberson's singing some time before she died last year, so I'll just say this: the disc is almost certainly better than anything else you might be thinking of buying right now.

Looking for Mr. Schenzer/Schanzer

When I posted about John Cage's appearance on I've Got a Secret, Rodney Lister wrote in to say that he recalls seeing the show live and also remembers a second appearance by Cage in 1963, in the wake of his epic nineteen-hour production of Erik Satie's Vexations. On that occasion Cage brought with him the one audience member who had stayed for the entire duration of the program—and thereby received a full refund. (Customers got a five-cent refund for every twenty minutes they spent in the theater.) I mention this very patient gentleman in my book. In the New York Times his name was given as Karl Schenzer, his profession as off-Broadway actor. I wonder if he was in fact Karl Schanzer, an actor who appeared in Francis Coppola's unpromising debut films, the nudie Western Tonight For Sure and the low-rent horror flick Dementia 13, and who later co-edited the book American Screenwriters. If anyone happens to know a way of getting in touch with Mr. Schenzer/Schanzer, I would be interested to know if he has any piquant memories of the event itself and of I've Got a Secret.

Update: Frank Oteri writes in with the information that it was in fact John Cale who appeared on I've Got a Secret in the wake of the Vexations spectacle. Frank showed a DVD of the show as part of an eight-hour "pianoless Vexations" that he co-curated last year — an event that included everyone from Randy Nordschow and Margaret Leng Tan to Stephin Merritt and Rick Moody. (How did I miss that? You can listen to archived MP3s at UbuWeb.) Cale was one of the team of pianists who executed Vexations at the Pocket Theater in 1963. (David Del Tredici, incidentally, was another.) The young Welsh avant-gardist had just spent the summer at Tanglewood studying with Copland and Xenakis, among others; in his autobiography, the fascinating What's Welsh for Zen, he reports that he came to New York in Xenakis's car — one of my favorite details in twentieth-century music history. He soon joined La Monte Young's Theater of Eternal Music, which led him in turn, by various twists, to the Velvet Underground and arcane rock eminence.

Here is my 1993 report on the thirtieth-anniversary Vexations marathon at Roulette.

Werk it

In a sure sign that classical music is about to blow up in a major way, the art form was recently featured in the New York Times's explosively hip Styles of the Times section. It's a story about attempts to interest the fashion world in svelte artistes such as Janine Jansen. Sometime guest-blogger Justin Davidson drew my attention to a passage in which Eric Latzky of the New York Philharmonic suggests alternate choices for Fashion Week soundtracks: “It could be anything from a ubiquitous piece like Mozart’s ‘Turkish March,’ or something contemporary, like ‘Scherzoid,’ by Mark-Anthony Turnage." What other avant-garde works would work form a suitably edgy yet propulsive accompaniment for bony Czech models striding down the runway? Justin suggests Xenakis's Kraanerg and Revueltas's Sensemayá.  I'd nominate Adès's Asyla, Gordon's Decasia, Boulez's Rituel in memoriam Maderna, something by Electric Kompany, or, for the truly cutting-edge couturier, Petr Kotik's Many Many Women.

Under the weather

I'll be back in a few days.