December 18, 2013

Call rival out, initially; swords cross in challenge! (9)

New Music Boxes: Another Year's Gone By.
An occasionally topical crossword for NewMusicBox, December 18, 2013.

Also, what with the holiday rush, I forgot to link to this month's Score columns:

Score: Walter Marchetti's precision troublemaking.
Boston Globe, December 14, 2013.

Score: Ceremon[ies] of Carols and the collecting impulse.
Boston Globe, December 7, 2013.

Score: the crafty respectability of John Knowles Paine.
Boston Globe, November 30, 2013.

November 26, 2013

Beat the clock

Reviewing Boston Musica Viva.
NewMusicBox, November 25, 2013.

Reviewing Discovery Ensemble.
Boston Globe, November 26, 2013.

Something's coming

Guerrieri: Zeal and Patience (2013) (PDF, 73 Kb)

Hey, Matthew, did you pencil in a new Advent introit for this year and then forget to write it until the last possible minute?

Of course nooooeeeeeh, maybe.

To be sure, we hadn't been doing the last one for a while, and even the really-for-Lent substitution was getting a little musty, so out with the old, &c. I figured I'd put it up here for anyone whose church-music planning is as behindhand as mine.

In my apostatical way, I've always thought that Advent is the church-calendar equivalent of a cult movie. Most people just want to cruise right past it into Christmas, but there is a hardy band that's all "seriously, this is some of Carl Weathers' best work" (or whatever the theological equivalent of Carl Weathers is) and watches everybody else jump to yuletide conclusions with a kind of benevolent pity. But honestly, with Christmas colonizing more and more of the calendar—even as I was assembling Hallowe'en supplies this year, most stores already had Christmas displays—Advent is taking on the aspect of some weird temporal origami: a kind of of Marvel-comics-like pocket dimension, a pleasantly disconnected parallel limbo to the normal time-space continuum of conspicuous consumption.

November 20, 2013

Into the blue again

More concerts seen and considered:

Anniversary Waltzes: Kronos Quartet and Community MusicWorks in Providence.
NewMusicBox, November 18, 2013.

Reviewing Joshua Bell.
Boston Globe, November 19, 2013.

(Also, from last week: a NewMusicBox review of the new Alvin Lucier orchestra-works CD.)

I have two more articles to get out the door today, so of course I woke up and instead did this:

My skill at time management: same as it ever was.

November 16, 2013

Do You Remember?

Score: Musical memorials to JFK, explicit and implicit.
Boston Globe, November 17, 2013.

Cut-for-space fun fact: In 1965, the Beach Boys played a show at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst—their first college performance on the east coast—headlining a fundraiser for a "JFK Room" at the school, "a room which would be filled with 'books written for Americans by Americans.'"

(Click to enlarge. Source.) I am not sure the JFK Room was ever actually built.

November 11, 2013

Done Changed

arr. Guerrieri: The Angels Changed My Name (2013) (PDF, 213 Kb)

Sometimes, you (and, by you, I mean I) want to color in an otherwise nice spiritual arrangement with every crayon in the chromatic box. In spite of myself, I think this one is not bad. I actually wrote it back in September, but gave it the benefit of two months of edits via rehearsal and, this past Sunday, performance (by this faithful crew). Which went well! Except for the recording, which is why there is a computer-realized placeholder until a) I get a good recording, or b) I tweak the realization so it's less clunky. (Unsurprisingly, neither is likely in the near-term.)

This tune has, itself, after a fashion, changed its name a fair amount. I used the version in J. B. T. Marsh's The Story of the Jubilee Singers (1880), which I think is the earliest version in print. (Marsh's book is a really interesting document of the push-pull of trying to write about the African-American experience for white 19th-century readers—the story is told pretty much exclusively through the eyes of white observers, but then Marsh includes biographical sketches of each of the Jubilee Singers, which is by far the most fascinating part of the book.) Probably working from Marsh's version, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor included an arrangement of "The Angels Changed My Name" in his Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, published in 1905; when Coleridge-Taylor sent a copy to his former teacher, Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford, Stanford replied that the tune was, in his estimation, almost certainly Irish in origin. In 1939, Harry T. Burleigh reworked the tune into the hymn tune "McKee," altering the contour to fit the words "In Christ There Is No East or West," by English writer William Arthur Dunkerley. For his part, Dunkerley, too, enjoyed changing his name—he also wrote journalism under the name Julian Ross, and poetry and fiction under the name John Oxenham—a surname Dunkerley's daughter Elsie, a successful writer of children's books, also adopted.

A look that time can't erase

The New York Festival of Song celebrates Ned Rorem's 90th.
NewMusicBox, November 11, 2013.

We're putting the band back together

A double dose from yesterday's paper:

Previewing Gruppen at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Boston Globe, November 10, 2013.

The performance itself was marvelous, incidentally.

Score: Mozart and Salieri, yet again.
Boston Globe, November 10, 2013.

October 12, 2013

Carry high the Blue and Gold

Attention, upper Midwesterners: I am pleased and flattered to be part of this year's Chippewa Valley Book Festival, which will find me at the L. E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, this coming Monday, October 14 at 7:00 PM. I will be talking, of course, about the only book I have managed to write, which means some far-flung Beethovenian tangents. Fun for all ages! Unless the subject of the Minnesota Orchestra Association comes up, in which case the fun will rapidly turn NC-17 (language).

The Eau Claire Bears! I do hope to make a pilgrimage to Carson Park, in honored memory of Andy Pafko.

Doric, Ionic, Corinthian

Score: Mauricio Kagel's elegant sabotage.
Boston Globe, October 12, 2013.

I know I've been terrible about linking to my various writings in this space, but this "Score" column is something that's been going on for a few months now: the Globe lets me do a calendrical riff on something each week: a concert, an anniversary, a piece of repertoire. The list so far:

October 5: Jehan Alain and the Battle of Saumur
September 28: Carlo Gozzi and The Love for Three Oranges
September 21: The Legendary Pink Dots and the theology of psychedelia
September 14: Henry Brant's 100th
August 31: Frederic Fradkin and the Boston Symphony Orchestra's one and only strike
August 24: Duck That! and other musical birdcalls
August 17: Alfred Hitchcock's Waltzes from Vienna
August 10: Joseph Schuster and other mistaken identities
July 27: The precarious political life of Cardinal Francesco Barbarini
July 13: John Jacob Astor, piano salesman
July 6: The Lyricon and its adherents
June 29: Francis Hopkinson, revolutionary and composer
June 22: The Pythian Games and the birth of music competitions
June 16: Early music connecting Boston and Bloomsday
June 8: John Cage's Variations III
June 1: The Bach family, for multiple hands
May 27: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Hollywood moment
May 23: K. 550 and a Bollywood pioneer

September 05, 2013

Werk ohne Opuszahl 1

As you might have noticed, this space has been quiet for some time now. That is because we have been preparing Soho the Dog HQ for the arrival of our newest critic-at-large. We are pleased to welcome Helena Beatrice Kim Guerrieri, 8 pounds, 1 ounce. Her in-depth opinions on all things musical will be posted here as she sees fit to make them known. I can tell you that, in the womb, she was particularly fond of drums and bel canto tenor squillo. The future seems loud.

One of the more surreal and absurd things about expecting a child in 21st-century America—believe me, the competition is fierce—is that seemingly every pregnancy guide in the known universe insists on tracking weekly gestational development in terms of fruits and vegetables. Your fetus is the size of a blueberry! Your fetus is the size of a pear! Your fetus is the size of a casaba melon! Apart from making one's impending progeny sound like the product of some dystopian science-fiction hydroponics experiment, that isn't even accurate from a materials-science standpoint: I began to long for a pregnancy guide with at least enough integrity to say that our fetus was the size of, say, a haggis. At any rate, as we were running this gauntlet of comparative produce, I marked off the weeks by making a commemorative drink engineered around each week's fruit. This one was by far the best. It is surely only a coincidence that it is also by far the strongest. It is rather like parenthood itself: cool and sweet at first, but within minutes, you will be wondering just what it is you have gotten yourself into.

Helena B

2 oz high-proof rye whiskey
2 oz lemon juice
1½ oz peach liqueur (I like Mathilde)
1 oz black rum
1 oz pineapple juice

Shake all ingredients with a good handful of crushed ice, then turn, ice and all, into a big tall glass. Fill the rest of the way with seltzer.

May 14, 2013

Sync all devices

Reviewing the Boston Chamber Music Society.
Boston Globe, May 14, 2013.

Hopefully it's fixed by the time you click the link, but, if not, yes, Schubert's String Quintet is D. 956, not K. 956. At least I didn't give it a Hoboken number.

March 25, 2013


Reviewing Jonathan Biss.
Boston Globe, March 25, 2013.

Incidentally, to the guy who stomped the end of Davidsbündlertänze into the ground by bellowing "BRAVO" while the last chord was still hanging in the air: please don't ever do that again. Thank you!

February 27, 2013


Трудно высказать и не высказать
Все, что на сердце у меня.

It is hard to express, and hard to hold back,
Everything that is in my heart.

—Mikhail Matusovsky, "Подмосковные вечера" ("Moscow Nights")

The last time I heard Van Cliburn live was in 1998, at Tanglewood, when he played Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the last-minute scramble for student seats in the Shed, I had ended up sitting next to a British conductor. The performance itself was mannered and decadent—the melodic line brought aggressively to the fore, the tempo wayward and undulating, even meandering. Cliburn got a standing ovation, which slightly puzzled my conductor friend. "But it wasn't very good," he said. "Yeah," I said, "but he's Van Cliburn." We both agreed that it was more than enough explanation.

The audience was, of course, applauding the reputation as much as the man. This is not to say that Cliburn, who passed away today, was some sort of fraud. At his best, Cliburn could take his place among the greats. And even that Tanglewood performance, for all its interpretive oddness, still had plenty to marvel at: the athletically glamorous sound, the rubato, the accented chords landing with the impact of a blacksmith's hammer. But the reputation inevitably preceded him, the machinery of celebrity so familiar that it obscured just how singular that reputation really was. Because Cliburn's fame, his image—the fair-haired conqueror, the national hero, the eternal prodigy—was actually quite strange. That he eventually could wear it with a kind of grace was not the least of his achievements.

Cliburn's reputation was made, of course, at the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, but the reputation was built on something more than pianistic skill. The Russian public's reaction to Cliburn, after all, was not one of impressed acknowledgement, or hard-won respect; it was love at first sight. What was often missed in the translation of that reputation back into American terms was the fact that it was a product of Cliburn's nonconformity, his disinclination to stay within the bounds of musical propriety. I initially thought it an odd-couple pairing that both Glenn Gould and Van Cliburn made such sensations in the Cold-War-era Soviet Union, but the more I listened, the less odd it seemed. Gould's playing tended toward the hermetic, Cliburn's toward the hedonistic, but both of them also had a tendency toward the outré and the theatrical that seemed to connect with Russian audiences. Witness Cliburn, in concert in Moscow, performing Rachmaninoff's E-flat major Prelude, op. 23, no. 6:

One couldn't ask for a better example of a performer more in thrall to the musical flow, more eager to be buffeted by the music's implicated emotion, even sentimentality. The amount of rhythmic liberty Cliburn takes in that clip, the instances of subito-this-or-that, not to mention Cliburn's physical demeanor, verges on kitsch, but it never quite tips over, and the result is ravishing. Cliburn's playing possessed a special kind of fearlessness—risking vulgarity in the pursuit of an aura of heightened emotional earnestness.

It was in contrast with his persona, shy and reserved, but Cliburn was always more at home at the piano (if not necessarily in front of an audience) anyway. One of my most indelible memories of him is seeing television footage from his performance at the White House in 1987, at the time his first public appearance in years. He played one of his favorite encores—the Russian pop song "Moscow Nights"—while singing along with Mikhail Gorbachev and the rest of the Soviet delegation. While the Americans in the audience (I remember Nancy Reagan, in particular, who was sitting next to Gorbachev) looked pleased but slightly baffled, Cliburn was absolutely in his element. For all the celebrity, all the concert-opening performances of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Cliburn nevertheless seemed a little bit at odds with the American culture that lauded him; but, behind the keyboard, that quality was transformed into generosity and daring. Sometimes it came out mannered, but other times, it had an anchorite's ecstatic eloquence. That original Tchaikovsky concerto with Kondrashin, the Rachmaninoff concerti he recorded with Reiner, his terrific version of Rachmaninoff's second Sonata—Cliburn's best moments will remain both touchstones and, paradoxically, forever his own.

February 04, 2013

On the Page

Catching up on some recent reviews, since, now that I finally took down my festive holiday tree, I have to take it down from the blog, too.

Reviewing Corey Cerovsek and Paavali Jumppanen.
Boston Globe, January 15, 2013.

Reviewing Randall Hodgkinson—and the premiere of Gunther Schuller's Piano Trio no. 3.
Boston Globe, January 16, 2013.

Sounds Heard: Ehnahre—Old Earth.
NewMusicBox, January 22, 2013.

Reviewing the Boston Chamber Music Society.
Boston Globe, January 22, 2013.

Reviewing Dinosaur Annex.
Boston Globe, January 29, 2013.

New Enlgand's Prospect: Object Oriented. Reviewing the Callithumpian Consort.
NewMusicBox, January 31, 2013.

Oh, and this happened, too.

I think that calls for a drink!

I never did make that Oxford Swig from the last post, but here's a new one. Warning: it is a seriously musty drink. Having spent far too much of my life in various librarial iterations of the name, I'm guessing that funk is now permanently in my blood, because I like that sort of flavor. Anyway—

Basement Stack

2 oz. Ransom Old Tom gin
1 oz. rainwater Madeira
½ oz. lime juice
¼ oz. maple syrup
A few drops of vanilla extract
a couple healthy dashes of Fee Bros. plum bitters

Stir it up with ice and then strain into something that won't tip over onto your book.
Ever wonder why old books smell the way they do? Wonder no more.