Classical Music News of the Week, November 11, 2012

Composer Elliott Carter Dies at 103

Classical composer Elliott Carter, whose challenging, rhythmically complex works earned him widespread admiration and two Pulitzer Prizes, died Monday at age 103.

His music publishing company, Boosey & Hawkes, called him an "iconic American composer." It didn't give the cause of his death. In a 1992 Associated Press interview, Carter described his works as "music that asks to be listened to in a concentrated way and listened to with a great deal of attention."

"It's not music that makes an overt theatrical effect," he said then, "but it assumes the listener is listening to sounds and making some sense out of them."

The complex way the instruments interact in his compositions created drama for listeners who made the effort to understand them, but it made them difficult for orchestras to learn. He said he tried to give each of the musicians individuality within the context of a comprehensible whole. "This seems to me a very dramatic thing in a democratic society," he said.

While little known to the general public, he was long respected by an inner circle of critics and musicians. In 2002, The New York Times said his string quartets were among "the most difficult music ever conceived," and it hailed their "volatile emotions, delicacy and even, in places, plucky humor."

Carter had remained astonishingly active, taking new commissions even as he celebrated his 100th birthday in December 2008 with a gala at Carnegie Hall. "I'm always proud of the ones I've just written," he said at the time.

In 2005, his "Dialogues," which had premiered the previous year, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in music. And in 2006, his Boston Concerto was nominated for a Grammy Award as best classical contemporary composition. Carter won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for his Second String Quartet; his second award was in 1973 for his Third String Quartet. The Juilliard String Quartet chose to mark its 45th anniversary in 1991 with a concert of all four Carter string quartets. A fifth quartet came out in 1995. When the first National Medal of Arts awards were given in 1985, Carter was one of ten people honored, along with such legends as Martha Graham, Ralph Ellison and Georgia O'Keeffe. The awards were established by Congress in 1984.

The New Grove Dictionary of American Music said that at its best, Carter's music "sustains an energy of invention that is unrivaled in contemporary composition." Carter said he found Europeans more receptive to his works than his fellow Americans because music in Europe is not purely entertainment but part of the culture, "something that people make an effort to understand."

The lack of widespread attention didn't seem to bother him. "I don't think it means anything to be popular," he said. "When we see the popular tastes and the popular opinion constantly being manipulated by all sorts of different ways, it seems to me popularity is a meaningless matter."

Carter as born in New York in 1908. As a young man he became acquainted with composer Charles Ives, who encouraged his ambitions. He studied literature at Harvard and then studied music in Paris under famed teacher Nadia Boulanger, who also guided Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Virgil Thompson. As Carter turned 100, he recalled a visit to the hall in 1924 to see the New York premiere of Igor Stravinsky's revolutionary work The Rite of Spring. "I thought it was the greatest thing I ever heard, and I wanted to do like that, too," Carter recalled. "Of course, half the audience walked out, which was even more pleasant to me. It seemed much more exciting than Beethoven and Brahms and the rest of them."

In 1939, he married sculptor Helen H. Frost Jones. They had one son. He is survived by his son and a grandson.

--Deepti Hajela, Associated Press

Orion Invites Audiences to “A Night at the Opera”
Verdi, Weber, Liszt/Wagner Nov. 25 (Geneva), Dec. 2 (Evanston), Dec. 5 (Chicago)
The Orion Ensemble, Chicago’s nationally recognized and critically acclaimed chamber music ensemble, continues its 20th Anniversary Season with “A Night at the Opera,’ featuring works by two well-known composers of opera along with a piano transcription of an opera excerpt. Performances take place November 25 at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church in Geneva, December 2 at Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston and December 5 at the PianoForte Salon at the Fine Arts Building in Chicago. Roger Chase on viola and Stephen Boe on violin join Orion for this program.

The Program:
Carl Maria von Weber may have been best known as a composer of opera, but he also made important contributions to the German Romantic movement as a conductor, pianist and critic. He also composed more work for the standard repertoire of the clarinet than most any other composer. Like Mozart, whom he revered, Weber seems to have been drawn to the clarinet because of its expressive vocal qualities. No composer has used this to greater dramatic effect than Weber, emphasizing the clarinet’s potential for navigating huge leaps, producing brilliant scales and arpeggios and expressing great warmth in legato passages. Orion performs the Quintet in B-flat Major for Clarinet and String Quartet, Op. 34, completed in August 1815, which is undeniably a virtuosic tour de force with the clarinet in the starring role.

Renowned as the most virtuosic pianist of his time, Franz Liszt used his incredible musical mind to disseminate the music, including operatic works, of other composers by writing piano transcriptions, paraphrases or arrangements of their works. It is not surprising he chose to transcribe “Am Stillen Herd,” S. 448, an excerpt from Die Meistersinger by Richard Wagner that is on this program, since Liszt admired Wagner’s approach to composition, and the basis for this comedic opera involves the aesthetic of music. While the piece has less extraneous virtuosity than some of Liszt’s other arrangements, it uses the richness of the piano to full advantage to communicate the depth of the subject matter in a way that is true to the opera.

Written after Aida (1871) and before the Requiem (1874), Giuseppe Verdi’s String Quartet in E Minor (1873), which Orion performs, was his only chamber music work. He wrote, "I've written a Quartet in my leisure moments in Naples. I had it performed one evening in my house, without attaching the least importance to it and without inviting anyone in particular. Only the seven or eight persons who usually come to visit me were present. I don't know whether the Quartet is beautiful or ugly, but I do know that it's a Quartet!" Given Verdi’s early education and respect for the Viennese classicists, it is no wonder that the piece contains Haydnesque counterpoint and development combined with Verdi’s own lyrical and dramatic gifts—a winning combination for a quartet from the pen of the composer of 29 operas.

Orion’s 20th Anniversary Season:
Orion’s 2012–13 season continues in March with “A Voice from Heaven,” featuring guest soprano Patrice Michaels and works by Schubert, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Shostakovich; and in May with “Folk Inspirations with a Mexican Flair,” featuring special guest pianist Miguel de la Cerna contributing his second work commissioned for Orion on a program also including Márquez, Ponce and Brahms and welcomes back Stephen Boe on viola.

In addition to its annual four-concert series in three areas, the Orion Ensemble will appear on the broadcast series “Live from WFMT” November 26, 2012 and May 6, 2013 and in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Lunchbreak Series “Classical Mondays” October 15 and November 19, 2012. Orion also tours, performing in chamber music series across the country. Its most recent CD is Twilight of the Romantics.

The Orion Ensemble
Founded in 1992, the Orion Ensemble boasts a roster of five superb musicians—Kathryne Pirtle (clarinet), Florentina Ramniceanu (violin), Diana Schmück (piano), Judy Stone (cello) and Jennifer Marlas (viola)— who have performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony, Moscow Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chicago’s Music of the Baroque orchestra, and at music festivals including Ravinia, Aspen, Mostly Mozart, Hollywood Bowl, Taos Chamber Music, Salzburg and Banff. The Chicago Tribune called Orion “one of Chicago’s most vibrant, versatile and distinctive ensembles,” and the Chicago Sun-Times said Orion is “what chamber music should be all about: Individual virtuosity melded into a group personality.” The Orion Ensemble received a Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming for its critically acclaimed millennium celebration, “An Inside Look at Contemporary Music.” The Orion Ensemble is supported in part by grants from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; the MacArthur Fund for the Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation. For a brief history, click here.

Performance and Ticket Information:
The Orion Ensemble’s “A Night at the Opera” concert program takes place Sunday, November 25 at 7 p.m. at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, 227 East Side Drive in Geneva; Sunday, December 2 at 3 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston; and Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the PianoForte Salon in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. A four-ticket flexible subscription provides a 10 percent savings on full-priced tickets. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit orionensemble.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Berkeley Symphony Announces 2012-13 “Under Construction Composers Program”
Berkeley Symphony announces the selections for its 2012–13 Under Construction Composers Program, designed as an opportunity for Bay Area emerging composers to work with a professional orchestra. Three selected composers—Andrew Ly, Michael Nicholas and Davide Verotta—will each write a symphonic work to be read and performed by Berkeley Symphony at the Under Construction New Music Concerts on December 9, 2012 and March 24, 2013, at the Crowden Music Center in Berkeley. Music Director Joana Carneiro and Music Alive Composer-in-Residence Steven Stucky will curate the concerts.

Andrew Vi-Luan Ly is a current Ph.D. student in Music Composition at UC Berkeley. He holds a B.A. in Music from Yale University, where he was awarded the Southeast Asia Studies Summer Fellowship and Richter Summer Fellowship for the study of traditional music in Vietnam. He also holds an M.M. in Music Composition from the University of Southern California. Andrew is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2007 Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State and the 2007 Chinese Cultural Scholarship awarded by the Chinese government for a one year study at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. In addition to his studies in composition, Andrew also performs as a baritone with the San Francisco Choral Artists.

Michael Nicholas is also a current Ph.D. student in Music Composition at UC Berkeley. Originally from Los Angeles, Michael earned a B.A. in composition from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria, and an M.A. in composition from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, Czech Republic. He also studied at the renowned Rimsky Korsakov St. Petersburg State Conservatory in Russia where he took a preparatory course from the department of composition. In 2005, he won First Prize in Composition at the 15th Internationale Sommerakademie PragWienBudapest in Reichenau, Austria, for his work titled Zephyr. (www.michael-nicholas.net)

Davide Verotta attended the Milano Conservatory in Italy before moving to San Francisco to pursue his studies. After changing his academic focus to mathematics, he earned a Ph.D. in Biostatistics at UC Berkeley, before returning to his musical studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He earned his M.A. in composition from San Francisco State University. His piano teachers include Isabella Zielonka, Robert Helps and Julian White; composition teachers include Carlos-Sanchez Gutierrez, Richard Festinger, Ronald Calabiano, Josh Levine, Kurt Rohde, and Laurie San Martin. He currently studies with Allan Crossman in Oakland. (www.davideverotta.com)

Berkeley Symphony’s Under Construction Composers Program offers a rare and invaluable opportunity for emerging composers to further develop their skills and gain practical experience in writing for a professional orchestra. During the yearlong program, each selected composer will workshop and complete one large symphonic work to be presented at the two Under Construction New Music Concerts. They will regularly meet with composers Steven Stucky and Paul Dresher in private and small group sessions, receive feedback and orchestration lessons from Music Director Joana Carneiro and guest composers, as well as participate in workshops led by key orchestra members. They will chronicle their experiences and the growth of their pieces at the Under Construction Composers blog at underconstructioncomposers.wordpress.com. Each composer will also receive a CD of the performance for their personal and non-commercial use.

For more information, visit: www.berkeleysymphony.org/education/uccp.

Under Construction New Music Series:                                                     
Sunday, December 9, 2012, 7 PM
Sunday, March 24, 2013, 7 PM
Crowden Music Center
1475 Rose Street, Berkeley, CA
$20 Priority Admission / $10 Regular Admission
Available by phone at (510) 841-2800 x1 or online at www.berkeleysymphony.org

--Karen Ames Communications

ArkivMusic Marks Its 10th Anniversary This Fall, Having Sold 3.25 Million Albums in a Decade of Specialized Classical Service
With a greater selection of classical music than any other retailer, a tailored interface for the classical aficionado, and over 10,000 titles available in its pioneering ArkivCD program.

“Classical music is lucky to have a dedicated retailer with the enthusiasm and expertise of ArkivMusic.” — Naxos of America CEO Jim Selby

Over the past decade, music lovers have come to rely on ArkivMusic as their dedicated, specialized source for classical recordings — with the largest selection, most intuitive search and most expeditious delivery of any retailer. ArkivMusic marks its 10th anniversary this Fall 2012 — having sold 3.25 million albums and counting since its launch in 2002. With a unique network of more than 20 distribution centers across the country, ArkivMusic makes more classical products available everyday than any other online retailer — some 120,000 titles on CD, DVD, SACD and Blu-ray Disc, as well as 320-kbps MP3 files. The company’s pioneering ArkivCD reissue program — an invaluable service for classical collectors — makes available more than 10,000 previously out-of-print albums from myriad major and independent labels. Coinciding with its 10th anniversary, ArkivMusic launches a website redesign this month with a fresh new interface.

“Our 10th anniversary is certainly a milestone of staying power,” says Eric Feidner, president of ArkivMusic. “The key, I think, is that we are passionate about what we offer, we love classical music. To service this unique niche you have to care a great deal about what you are selling not just how you sell it.”

Working closely together over the past decade, ArkivMusic and Naxos of America — the world’s leading independent producer and distributor of classical music — have become key partners. Naxos of America CEO Jim Selby says: “For me, our genre — classical music — is uniquely fortunate to have a successful boutique service online, which is what ArkivMusic provides. I don’t think any other sizable niche genre — jazz or Broadway, say — has one of such quality. Arkiv has become invaluable for many classical collectors. The site has a great search and browse engine, one especially designed for classical. They solved a lot of logistics and distribution issues with their supply chain that other retailers struggle with. Classical music is lucky to have dedicated retailer with the enthusiasm and expertise of ArkivMusic.”

The story of ArkivMusic is unique in Internet commerce, with the company “bootstrapped at the start with no external funding,” Feidner explains. “But there was a real business there and we were sure of it. With little cash, we established a business that was quickly profitable and self-sustaining. We were able to do things that were desired by the classical community but rarely thought feasible, such as our on-demand CD service for out-of-print titles that we started in 2004. We were able to license large catalogs from the major labels — titles that collectors knew were artistically worthy but that the big companies no longer saw as commercially viable. It’s a service that collectors love, and we’re very proud of it.”

In 2008, Steinway Music Instruments Inc. purchased ArkivMusic, although the company remains operationally independent. “There hasn’t been a real change with how we run the business, but we have a better capital base and more flexibility,” Feidner says. We’re devoted to serving the core classical consumer, but we’re also trying to make good on a larger mission — reaching out to as many general music lovers as possible and offering them a gateway into what for many is a challenging but incredibly rewarding genre of music to appreciate.

Looking to ArkivMusic’s next decade, Feidner says: “We have a lot of things on our ‘to-do list.’ One has to imagine what the market will be beyond the CD era. We are transforming what we have with ArkivMusic into a service that provides access to the music in expected and unanticipated ways. We’re neutral when it comes to the delivery mechanism for music. Whichever way classical lovers want to access their music — downloading, streaming, whatever the evolution of delivery — we will be there providing that dedicated service for them.”  www.arkivmusic.com

--Amanda Sweet, BuckleSweet Media

Seattle Symphony Presented Five World Premieres by Up-and-Coming International Composers in Nine Days
The Seattle Symphony presented an extraordinary and adventurous display of new music in October with five world premieres, including two by female composers, in nine days at Benaroya Hall — all conducted by Music Director Ludovic Morlot. The Seattle Symphony commissioned Alexandra Gardner, Kenneth Hesketh, Arlene Sierra and Scott Teske to create four new works for its second annual Sonic Evolution concert on October 26. The Symphony’s critically acclaimed “Sonic Evolution” project creates a bridge between symphonic music and Seattle’s storied reputation as a launching pad for some of the most creative musicians on the popular music scene. In celebration of the past, present and future of Seattle’s musical legacy, Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony commissioned three world-class composers to write orchestral world premieres inspired by bands that launched from, or are related to, Seattle.

The program began with Sierra’s Moler, which was inspired by the music of Alice in Chains, followed by Hesketh’s Knotted Tongues, a composition inspired by hip-hop group Blue Scholars. The Seattle Symphony then performed Gardner’s Just Say Yes, a piece inspired by the band Yes, and featuring major percussion solos by Seattle-area resident Alan White, the band’s long-time drummer.

After intermission, the concert turned toward up-and-coming alt-country band Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs, who performed three songs together with the Orchestra, including “Sat Beside the Dark,”--a world premiere by Teske--with lyrics by Star Anna.

Additionally, the Symphony premiered Dai Fujikura’s Mina on its Wyckoff Masterworks subscription programs on October 18 and 20 with soloists from the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

Arlene Sierra (b.1970 in the U.S., resides in London):
Moler (World Premiere)
“Working with an orchestra is an immense privilege for any young composer, but the chance to have a newly commissioned work premiered by the world-class Seattle Symphony is like a dream come true. In realizing brand-new scores by young composers with such assuredness, the Symphony provides not only a showcase for its own adventurousness, but also an important platform for new and interesting voices in classical music. I found the invitation to engage with Seattle's popular music in my own orchestral style, avoiding any quotation, to be a welcome challenge. It encouraged me (in a paraphrase of the Symphony's current tagline “Listen Boldly”) to ‘Write Boldly,’ knowing that the audience and setting would challenge expectations of what an orchestral concert could be.”

Kenneth Hesketh (b. 1968 in Great Britain, resides in London):
Knotted Tongues (World Premiere)
Working with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and its Music Director Ludovic Morlot was one of the most pleasurable and rewarding commissions I have yet fulfilled. Making the concert hall and such a wonderful orchestra relevant and visibly so to a wider and younger generation of concertgoers is profoundly important. The amazing work that the Orchestra does all year round should not be seen as simply supporting a museum of extant works, but with the dedication and foresight of the artistic and administrative staff the funding given to the Orchestra would truly make its Sonic Evolution project one to be emulated further by other orchestras.”

Alexandra Gardner (b. 1967 in the U.S., resides in Baltimore, MD):
Just Say Yes (World Premiere)
“Participating in the Seattle Symphony Sonic Evolution project was an amazing opportunity and an incredible challenge! Composing orchestral music can at times be difficult, even grueling work; what helped the process go smoothly was the professionalism and enthusiasm of the entire organization from start to finish. That the Seattle Symphony is so dedicated to the commissioning and performance of new works that they have presented five premieres within a space of two weeks is not simply progressive — it's revolutionary!”

Scott Teske (b. 1982 in the U.S., resides in Seattle):
“Sat Beside the Dark”(World Premiere)
"Having grown up in Seattle, to hear my work performed by the Seattle Symphony in Benaroya Hall was a dream come true. As a teen in the Seattle Youth Symphony, I'll never forget the first time I stepped onstage at Benaroya Hall; I was absolutely floored by its beauty and phenomenal acoustics. To return to the Hall 13 years later to work with many of my childhood mentors is an experience I'll cherish always."

Dai Fujikura (b. 1977 in Japan, resides in London):
Mina (World Premiere)
“Commissioned and world premiered by the Seattle Symphony — there is no better way to be in this situation as a composer. How I saw the Seattle Symphony quickly realize my work in the rehearsal was remarkable. It was as if I was watching a rehearsal documentary footage in fast forward!  I have worked with many orchestras before in various countries, but I have never experienced such in the past!”

About the Seattle Symphony:
The Seattle Symphony is internationally acclaimed for its innovative programming and extensive recording history. Under the leadership of Music Director Ludovic Morlot since September 2011, the Symphony is heard live from September through July by more than 315,000 people. Its pioneering education and community engagement programs reach over 100,000 children and adults each year. The Orchestra has completed more than 140 recordings, and has received 12 Grammy nominations, two Emmy awards and numerous other accolades. The Seattle Symphony performs in one of the world’s finest concert venues — the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall — in downtown Seattle.  For more information on the Seattle Symphony, visit www.seattlesymphony.org.

--Kirshbaum Demler & Associates

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa