Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Vanity Googling

This is not to be believed. Read the chapter heading, read down a few paragraphs...

Well, everyone's got their 15 minutes!

A Good Review for the Critic

Apropos of what Steve and Alex had to say about Richard Dyer's sad departure from the Boston Globe, I want to thank him semi-publically. He gave me the only review my music has ever gotten in a major paper (aside from a two word mention--"attractively chromatic"--in the Paper of Record) which said of a song cycle I wrote, settings of poems by e.e. cummings: "Thank You, Goodnight is a large, generous work, mediating between honky-tonk and high art." How much of my life, before and since, has been spent doing just that he could not have known, but I was thrilled with his percetive critique of my work. He managed to divine and then worry my whole mission (at that time at least) down to a single spry sentence. In other words, he really did his job.

I was a student in Boston for six years, and as I essentially grew up as a composer there, I can say I grew up reading Dyer's reviews. I did not always agree; sometimes, being in that especially "piss and vinegar" stage of Graduate School, I disagreed rather violently; but I always appreciated and above all respected his insights, his encyclopedic knowlege, and, as evidenced by the kind and thoughtful words he granted me, his ability to quickly and exactly use language to put a razor fine point on whatever he addressed. This will be tough to replace.

So should he be reading this, by some act of chance, allow me to offer my own humble thanks for his keen words, from a composer who feared him to a critic who caught what was there to catch in the work. What you said was not only appreciated, but drunk in, turned over in my head, and (hopefully) spit out in the form of more developed, more mature work. I am sure I am not the only one to feel this way.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Welcome to Decades Hence

A startling article in the Wall Street Journal (discovered by way of Arts Journal) by one Jacob Hale Russell reads that some composers reject the academic ideas put forth in the 1950s, and that there's been, a craze that's sweeping the nation "...from Sioux Falls to Philadelphia," mirabile dictu, a return to "prettiness" rather than the mid-century serial strictness. This might have been something worth noting were this, say, 1952, but articles like this are part of the reason we live in a small, fragile soap bubble. In a composer's mind--especially, as this article cloyingly states, a composer "...reared on Phish and Jimi Hendrix"--of course we all wrestle with complexity vs. non-complexity, but when we do this, we wrestle not with current ideological demands but with the past. So Daniel Kellogg has written a piece that rejects "complexity for its own sake" and this reporter (not through any fault of the mentioned composer) chooses not to tell us anything about the piece other than the stance it takes and reveal a few cloying details? Would Kellogg want his 21 minute orchestral commemoration to be remembered as simply not being of a certain school of thought? Is this even news? Certainly not due to the fact that the WSJ Article mentions discs by John Corigliano, Joan Tower, Steve Reich, John Adams and George Rochberg, none of whom are part of this fantastic revolutionary "rediscovery." The title of the link on ArtsJournal, "The New Classical" poses the question: Is this really new? Would be news to many of the most successful composers in America who have been at it for years, from Ned Rorem to Philip Glass to Gian-Carlo Menotti to David Del Tredici to infinity...

Kellog wants to write music that "..he wants to hear," framed also as novel by the WSJ. This presumes something totally egregious: that adherents to the serial procedures did not want to hear the music they themselves produced. I am not Charles Wuorinen or Elliot Carter, so I cannot speak for them, but I would be willing to wager that the music they write, like it or not (subscribe to the concert series or not), was and is the music they wanted to hear, music that tickled their ears and thrilled their minds. I've no doubt about it: nobody, like their work or not, sits down to write a bad or unlovable piece of music.

I do not come down on either side of this argument because frankly I think it is an old and dead struggle. These are no longer the sides any more than the Yankees and the Confederates. We hear daily of the "problems" in classical music, and if we are ever to take a step to solving them we have to address the issues of our own time (even if we do not like our own time) rather than a more simplistic contrempts of a vanished world. The implication--that serial music and its descendants rules the roost while there is a new generation trying to upturn it by returning to the old ways--is a quaint and lovely notion that might have been riveting half a century ago but in 2005 it is laughably far from true...though I, like Mr. Russell, wish these were the only problems we faced. Our world would be a better place were this true.

It is arguments like these, posed in this specious fashion, that aids and abets the far-too-often-vaunted "death of classical music," rather than anything Mr. Babbitt--one of the usual straw men hung out to dry in these insubstantial posings--did, especially in his always misquoted (or rather, not quoted at all, save for the title, not his doing) article written in the throes of a different era. And bravo to the Journal for finally noticing, and including those revelatory details about the shrinking audience and the median age.

Before judging, everyone should read Babbitt's article. I am no rabid fan, but feel it does not say what people presume it says. Based on the title, the article is a screed in defense of incomprehensible and offensive ugliness, an excoriation of subscription audiences who ran screaming; based on its content, it simply explains how some composers who might or might not be ahead of their time can get pretty lonely. At least read the first line, this explains it all.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Lull

It seems that the classical music blogosphere has taken a hit this holiday, with vacations and overstuffing taking precedent over postings. I have been as guilty as anyone, but my excuse lies not only in a family holiday (replete with visiting nieces, aged five and seven) but a severely gashed index finger on my left hand, an injury which happened while chopping celery at a friend's house. Let this be a lesson to you all: don't be too helpful around this time of year, as it will double back and harm you in some way.

Being home makes me vastly nostalgic, and I always attempt to skew my listening accordingly. This trip I've been unable to keep away from Sir Michael Tippett's The Rose Lake, a work whose American premiere I was fortunate enough to witness more than once while a student in Boston. I sat in a box for all the performances, and had one of those early life-changers which is part and parcel of any artist's story. Each night, apart from being just completely enraptured by the work--think of a vast sea of tuned rototoms stage left and you can only imagine the little composer's eyes lighting up at the possibilities; I'd be willing to bet many a percussionist had hoped composers would not see this concert--I got to watch the frail, almost senescent Tippett, a hero of mine from way back, as he listened, not only to his own work but to Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Maybe this is romantic projection, but I sensed something in his demeanor as he listened that made me grow to love him more. His eyes lit; he leaned forward; his trembling hands crossed.

So driving around the weird wasteland that is Los Angeles, The Rose Lake is an odd soundtrack, especially its desultory "plop" of an anti-ending. Combined with lurid and overwhelming nostalgia, it takes on new life and new symmetries for me which I will no doubt be trying to recapture on my next sojourn here.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Like all bloggers, I just now suffered the indignity of losing a huge post. Suffice it to say I wrote something engaging, witty, forlorn, with just a hint of self-deprocating humor. You would have smiled through tears on this holiday. I will do what I can to recreate it; now, I must give the room where the computer lies over to my nices, age 4 and 7, who are guest. I hope everyone is having as good a holiday as I am.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


After a rather gruelling week bronchia-wise, I (unfortunately) boarded a plane for Los Angeles, from whence I hail. And in my jelagged/besotted state, I decided to dip into a little television, which I only do when I am here. Specifically, I tuned into half of an episode of the controversial Nip/Tuck, an extreme look at plastic surgery. On this episode, the two doctors (whose names escape me) were set to perform a facial transplant, moving the face of a dead girl to that of a victim of a carnival accident. Though when one of the exceedingly handsome surgeons faltered from an excess of cocaine, the original partner (who had apparently abandoned the practice for life in the witness protection program) needed to be called in last minute. As a consolation, the coked-up wing of this trio, forced to assist, was allowed to choose the music. And what did he choose? Not something obvious like "Dance Ten, Looks Three" from A Chorus Line, nor something awful like "I've Grown Accustomed to her face." No, he chose--get this--Proverb by Steve Reich, available on his excellent CD City Life. "How small a thought it takes to fill a whole night" is the only text set in the great composer's homage to Perotin. And in the case of this show--and perhaps of most television in general--truer words were never spoken.

Was nice to enjoy part of the show, however; how often do marimbas feature on even the edgiest Fox presentation?

Correction: Whoops, its: "How small a thought it takes to fill a whole LIFE". Thanks Carl. I've always played that wrong in my head.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

New Messiah

After writing a biography of Handel for adoloescents, which followed not long after leading sections in a course called First Nights wherein important premieres throughout the ages were discussed, one of them being Handel's Messiah, not to mention being obligatted to hear the oratirio every season for years because some friend or another was singing (or, in my youth, I was playing the organ part on a synthesizer) I don't know what inspired me to listen to Nikolaus Harnoncourt's new recording on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi--I thought I never wanted to hear the piece again. Perhaps it was the presence of soprano Christine Schaefer, who I saw in every performance of Lulu several years ago at the Met...or perhaps, it being close to Thanksgiving, I was edging on the yuletide spirit. But lo! Even from the first notes of the "Sinfony" I was locked in, and barely breathed until the end. What a beautifully paced, persuasive, passionate and resounding performance. How crisp everything sounds, but without being simply about that crispness. It was like I'd never heard the work before.

Now, if you are a purist of any kind you might well be shocked to hear that the recording of this piece that has most moved me over the years has been the Thomas Beecham "tricked out" version. I liked it not so much for the fleshed-out scoring but for the heft of sentiment behind it--after all, this work is about a rather powerful, emotive and ecstactic event (weather you believe the legend or not) and I felt Beecham used the forces at his disposal to match the weight of what was being said. But Harnoncourt does it too, without changing so much as an accent mark in Handel's score. His understanding that this piece, though not an opera, needs to be shot through with the vivid sensibility that makes for the motor of the best opera is what makes this not just another reading but a thrill-ride re-telling of this apocryphal story.

Of course, Christine Schaefer was all I hoped she would be--so precice, so emotive, so perfect--but I was also knocked sideways by Gerald Finley: there is a voice built for this work. He does not rumble through it (as a lot of bass baritones are wont to do) but nails both runs and held notes alike. And what's more, there is undue emphasis in this recording (from every singer) on the words. They are so clear, so potent, so part of the piece, which is something I've not really heard in a recording of this work. These singers (the cast also included Alto Anna Larsson and tenor Michael Schade) seemed complelled not only to execute the difficult vocals but to communicate the story as well. Because of this, I felt I'd heard this work for the first time tonight.

I plan to do a lot of re-listening, but these are my first impressions. I feel as if, for me, I've found the perfect Messiah and am now beginning to see why this piece is so deeply beloved by all.

Son of Accountability

As if on cue, maverick intellectual A.C. Douglas takes the critic to task with his trademark eloquence cum outrage. Just when you thought it was safe to write a review...


One of my most vicious screeds is how critics--and I am mostly speaking of those who write for the New York Times--have power but it comes without accoutability. In a small but forceful way, the blogosphere is changing that with violent deconstructions of what the critics write. Click here to read a scathingly funny vivisection. While I am not sure this is exactly the way to do things, this is still vibrant, vivid stuff on the excellent, passionate, open-throttled Sieglinde's Diaries.

Blog on!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Gimme Shelter

The bronchitis remains, so I will not be seeing Shelter tonight at BAM, which kills me because I hear it is so good and am a dedicated Bang on a Can fan/supporter/enthusiast. Rats. Stuck inside, inhaling ecalyptus, downing antibiotics and herbal treatments, and longing for the ability to breathe. Sorry David, Michael and Julia, sorry all--I was actually looking forward to reporting on it here on the newly minted Felsenmusick.

Next time, I hope...

In the meantime, there's been some hilarity involving myself, miracle pianist Amy Dissanayake, and one Marc Geelhoed on various blogs. I am enjoying it tremendously in my haze. I feel like a real blogger now.

Thanks yet Again...

I want to give a quick thank you to yet another kind wind added to what is still the first days of my maiden blogging voyage, one A.C. Douglas who runs the fantastic Sounds and Fury. He mentioned that I might want to include my surname on the blog, lest I presume that, you know, some of us simply need no introduction. So here I am, no need to guess the name any longer, it is emblazoned across the top of your screen in its full German-Jewish glory. So allow me to properly introduce myself...

Though I should have run a guessing contest; that would have been sporting and hilarious.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


I've been a devoted Proustophile since 1994. It began--this obsession with oplulent surroundings described in spindly sentances of unearthly metaphoric beauty--as a competition between a friend of mine and myself as to who could finish the book first. (He won, incidentally, but by the end we had given up caring and were calling each other daily with reports of sheer beauty: inevitably, I, reading about 300 pages behind him, would bring up something he did not even remember. Such is the nature of the Proust-verse.) I became totally sick with it, neglecting everything I could get away with neglecting to do hours of dedicated poring. I stayed up all night more than a few times at a Carrow's restraunt, grey volume in hand, reading, living, falling in love with each monstrous word. (I went to school in Southern Calfornia, which lacked the opulent cafes replete with fainting couches I wished for as I read these volumes, so we were stuck with Denny's--or worse.)

Perhaps this is why, for my money, I have yet to encounter a single persuasive adaptation. Tonight I again watched Volker Schloendorff's plush Swann in Love with Jeremy Irons and the translucently beautiful Ornella Muti. It should work: the pacing is elegant, the mood captivating, the decor beyond reproach, the people pretty, the mood simply dripping with sinful sex--even the music, by Hans Werner Henze (who tries desperately to enchant us with a cheekily modernist, fictionalized"little phrase" of M. de Venteuil, though many believe that sound must have been closer to Cesar Franck) is rapturous and strange. So why does it not work? Why does no adaptation work? Not this one, not Chantal Akerman's La Captive (a sexy updating of book five) and especially not Ricky Ian Gordon's My Life With Albertine, a feaux-Frenchy musical (read: accordions)? The answer is simple: some things are meant to be text only, and this is one of them. I dread most of all the opera of any part of La Recherche fo for the simple reason that, like Finnegan's Wake, The Making of Americans, The Man Without Qualities, The Sleepwalkers and Paradise Lost, it is already being sung on its pages, projected onto our own screens. It does not defy adaptation; it is, in an of itself, already atapted from within. Any other takes play at it, but can never capture--like trying to make a really effective music video for a Beethoven symphony.

There is no "peg" to this post, but I wonder if there are brilliant and satisfying adaptations lurking about that I've simply never come accross. Perhaps today, in some part of the world, there is being born at this very moment a soul who can, eventually, bring these luminous pages (brilliant even in translation, though that might be due to the genius of Moncrieff) to the screen with the even-handed overindulgence or the shocking propriety crossed with down-dirty prurience needed to effectively carry it off, but until then, I will stick to the reading--and re-reading.

Any thoughts from the void?

Not for the Faint of Heart

Composer David Rakowski is nothing short of a force of nature. His music is brilliant, inspired, zany, loving, unfettered and organized all at once, and his open-throttle wit is beyond any composer out there. Allow me, still in bronchial spasm (and therefore wholly reliant on the brilliance of others), to be the last to point you to this page, a rather vivid depiction of those things he felt he had to spend time after grad school removing from his...

PS. It can also be found simply by performing a Google search with the parameters of David Rakowski + butt

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

PSA: E-Verse Radio

For those who enjoy poetry, scintillating miscellany, top-five lists, unbelievable-but-real film titles, oddly named towns, or quite simply the most diverse and intelligent readership around, you should subscribe to E-Verse Radio, a workdaily issuing from the mad, brilliant mind of poet Ernest Hilbert, one of the few true geniuses I know. Each day you will get a fascinating email full of information that will make you the hit of any party, from a heavy metal concert to an academic cocktail hour. And its free. Write here and ask to be addded to the list.

More Thanks...

In my antibioticked fugue state, where else does one turn but the blogosphere to catch up? And while browsing Marc Geelhoed's blog Deceptively Simple--which I've enjoyed for a while now--I was pleased to find a kind reference to yrs truly. So thank you Mr. Geelhoed, whoever you are...


Tonight I was supposed to attend Shelter at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, but a nasty dance with bronchitis has me down for the match. (Once, in a letter Tom Robbins wrote to me, he explained he had been out of touch due to "...a few hot weeks in bed with my least favorite actress, Flu Barrymore." It has never been put better.) So I've deported my tickets to Friday, God (read: lungs) willing. Tomorrow night, again barring coughing complications, I will be attending a harpsichord recital by Jory Vinikour so that I might hear the piece by the excellent Harold Meltzer.

But for now, its Vicks Vap-O-Rub and a stack of movies. Not good at illness, not at all. Any helpful hints from the void?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

PSA: Lysistrata

To let all of you know, an opera (and a damn good one!) by Mark Adamo called Lysistrata will be broadcast on NPR on November 19. This is his follow up to his runaway success Little Women, and it is quite a moving piece, funny, human, sexy, zealous. It will be coming to the New York City Opera (for those in town) next March, so think of this as a fantastic preview. For more information, click here.

My Other Work

I thought I'd point anyone who has not read my more "serious" writing (read: non-offhand, non-blog) to my articles on NewMusicBox called "Putting the *I* Back in H*story" and "What are We Waiting For?"

Monday, November 14, 2005

You Wanna / Madonna?

My God, if all pop criticism said it this well, we'd live in a better world. Apropos of Madonna's new album, Josh Tyrangiel nailed it in his review for Time Magazine:

"The defining moment of the new Madonna album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, arrives during the song I Love New York. Over a pulsing synthesizer, a ticking clock, a rumbling timpani and countless other perfectly calibrated whirs and beeps, Madonna declares, "I don't like cities, but I like New York/Other places make me feel like a dork." This is not the most ridiculous lyric ever uttered in a pop song--that remains "Yummy yummy yummy/I got love in my tummy." Still, it is awfully silly, and before you press on with the album, you will need to ask yourself, Am I a serious person who listens to music for intellectual enlightenment and makes it a point of pride not to dance under any circumstances? Or am I merely a semi-serious person who makes it a point not to be seen dancing under any circumstances? If you're the former, Confessions on a Dance Floor is not for you. If you're the latter, close the blinds"

As the former, I will not be buying this album, but at least I can sleep better with a clear reason as to why not.

Rabbi William Jefferson Clinton

I know this is a sad occasion the (lamentably) former president and our distinguished senatrix are attending, but this photo does my semitic heart a world of good and gives me a good, hearty smile. Bill looks great in a yarmulke; perhaps he should consider becoming a Rabbi should he elect not to enter the poltical arena once again. His memoir is of talmudic heft, and though not exactly of a Jewish deportment (longwindedness aside) I imagine he'd be well suited. He would have to convert, but apparently he has nothing but time so that would not be so much of an inconvenience. Or if he ran again, and here's hoping, he could be our first Jewish president. So maazel, Mr. Clinton, maazel.


In a 1931 edition of the Boston Evening Transcript, apropos of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, Nicholas Slonimsky writes:

"During his first visit to the United States, in 1924, upon being asked what he thought of modern music, Stravinsky replied that he is not a modern composer. On another occasion, he stated that a piece of music should be composed in the spirit in which a notary's contract is drawn. He enlarged on this exasperating notion when he related to the world how the Violin Concert was written; the form being compressed as it is in this work, Stravinsky says it took him sometimes a full day to compose a single measure to achieve maximum results within a minimum of musical denotation. In this, so the report goes, he opposed himself to composers of a happier and lighter day, such as Mozart, who did not have to economize musical matter in this drastic fashion."

Is there anything un-modern about that? I do appreciate the sentiment, but had to read the paragraph over and over again to make sure I'd not missed anything. If Stravinsky is not a moderinst, should he not be graced with the (allegedly) carefree notions of, say, a Mozart?

But you have to love not only Slonimsky's dab hand at ferreting out this contradiction and presenting it without qualms or qualifiers, but also the notion that these were discussions being had within the confines of a newspaper column!. He is engages the laypeople as we today engage the initiated, and even when spouting what would today be dismissed as "jargon" (can you imagine any newspaper copyeditor today who might understand the expression "economize musical matter"?) without so much as a sentence of explanation. Bear in mind also, this is not a review, it is a preview.

If that stands as a portrait of a more enlightened time--though does not every time that has passed seem more enlightened to present eyes and minds?--a capsulated tour of some of the world's composers, written for the very same paper, offers this chilling portent, dated 1934:

"The venerable German periodical, "Die Musick," has been "leveled." The recent issues are strewn with thick, black, swastaki-shaped clawprints, and at the end of a learned article, the reader finds a piece of wisdom from Adolf Hitler: "Jeder Deutsche Kunstler kommt zu uns." ("Every German artist comes to Us.") There follows a fine, unsigned antisemitic article directed against Alfred Einstein the former critic of the Berliner Tageblatt, now safe in London."


"The Austrian Government may not like musical geniuses of Jewish blood, but places no restrictions of the twelve-tone system and similarly subversive theories."

Good night, and good luck. I prefer my own time, thank you.

A Thousand Penguins

If anyone is looking to get this blogger a small token of their esteem, the thousand-plus volume Penguin Classics Library Complete Edition, a mere $8,000 on amazon.com, would be acceptable. You can read the darling article in the Times to learn a little more. I will look forward to the books arriving in the mail...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Do Composers and Bloggers Sleep?

Can anyone else out there not sleep at all? I've had this condition--chronic, relentless insomnia (which means not an inability to fall asleep but to stay asleep)--since I was born, apparently. Its actually one of the reasons for the advent of Felsenmusick: another cast member in the ever-evolving insomnia theater, which also contains political talking points sites, amazon.com (one click is killing me), The Simpsons on DVD, the radio noir of Joe Frank (if you don't know him, you should) Dostoyevsky and --none of which is conducive to a more relaxed state of mind. Now I blog. Sometimes. I just assumed, from when I was a kid, that nobody slept well, but as I've grown I have found that most people sleep just fine, a few off nights aside, and require six or seven uninterrupted hours a night to be themselves.

I used to adore my sleeplessness in college: it meant I could work harder than just about everyone else while still enjoying a reasonable social life, because all of my composing was done between the hours of one and six a.m. Now I find it a little wearing, though at least the freelance writing lifestyle is as conducive as school was. Now I also browse websites about insomnia: we are a little community, us midnight toilers, though one that does not communicate with one another.

At a friend's wedding, the bride's stepmother incautiously informed me that I would live a shorter life because of this torment, a fact that was not exactly restful: now I get to lie awake at night pondering my unintentionally adumbrated life.

Does a blog shorten or lengthen one's tenure on the earth, I wonder?


Finally, at long last, and to much hoo-hah in the press, a woman will conduct the Vienna Philharmonic, a famously stubborn all-male holdout organization which had the grace, a few years back, to finally admit a female to their orchestral ranks--a harpist, of course. But hell, this is progress!

Louis Lortie and Ravel

My favorite composer for the piano has always been Maurice Ravel, and my favorite interpreter of his works for that instrument is the Canadian pianist Louis Lortie. His two-disc set on the Chandos label, a tour through the complete piano ourvre, is a must own. Lortie's wild tonal range on his instrument--he can, as Ravel would have it, careen quickly between stentorian and isolated to plush and vivid to puckish and amusingly self-satisfied--is on par with his whiz-bang technical excellence and sophisticated ear. His reading of Gaspard de la Nuit is one of the most devastating I've ever heard, especially the electric dwindling of the second movement, the calm before the frantic tocatta of the final section (executed with startling ease). But where he is at his most heart-rending (and yet somehow most removed) is his light-handed rendering of Pavane for a Dead Princess. Priceless. I would have a hard time choosing between this set and (believe it or not) Boulez's Bolero. If you own one Ravel CD own those two.

It's been a sad couple of days for personal reasons, and this music has served as an effective bulwark...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pleased to Meet Me

Perhaps overdue, I thought I might more properly introduce (and even explain) myself.

I am a composer, one who has made a living (such as it is) writing about matters musical for various publications. I've also written books, mostly pitched at the enthusiastic but musically uninitiated. My career as a composer is on one of those inclines so un-steep it occasionally seems a little flat to the hungriest part of myself, but I am slogging it out and making some good headway. At the moment I am in the middle of several exciting projects: a string trio for the New Gallery Concert Series in Boston (Ms. Sarah Bob, pianist extraordinaire, presiding) and a piccolo piece for the amazing Stephanie Mortimore, the Metropolitan Opera's own piccolateer. (Steve Smith wrote glowingly of her in his blog.) But my main love is opera, and at the moment I have one in the works, in collaboration with poet (and raconteur!) Ernest Hilbert.

My beginnings are humble, plastic. Originally, I hail from the cultural epicenter of Orange County, California, a town called Placentia (insert uterine joke here), far too close to Disneyland, where I got my start not as a "serious" author of grand symphonies or swooner to the intricacies of string quartets but as a pianist in the bar of the Anaheim Hilton, and the composer of five musicals, all written under the sway of Stephen Sondheim. However, Beethoven was a sub rosa obsession of mine, however, and I used to sneak off to listen to him (like it was porn), between performances of Annie or Pippin or The Pirates of Penzance (or worse) for which I was inevitably seated at the keyboard, conducting with my nodding head. There is no Placentia Philharmonic or Placentia Lyric Opera (though if there were, they would most likely be embedded in a strip mall or a vast, enclosed shopping center), so my experience with the orchestra and the opera came later (I became nuerasthenically intoxicated at the Rhapsody in Blue with the Fullerton College Orchestra when I was a wee lad of 19!) but when they did, I was hooked. At 24, I very fortunately decamped to Boston to attend the New England Conservatory (where I was determined to be the next Samuel Barber or Aaron Copland) and got a vast education into the ways of the 20th musical century.

So from this odd morass comes the gritty-edged (sic) New York composer blogging before you. Thought you might want to know.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Many Thanks...

I have to give props to the kind souls who mentioned me so warmly in their own blogs: Alex, Steve, Marion, Antastasia and Quinn (a.k.a. Jeff). It has been encouraging to get such open support from people I respect so much, and even (as one of them is sometimes my editor) a few helpful corrections! It sure beats the blog recap I found (in the midst of a "vanity google"...admit it, you all do it!) which referred to the spawning of Felsenmusick as "another blog by a classical composer." As if we outnumber, say, those who write about cats or movies or sports. Sigh.

Nevertheles, the respective outlets of those mentioned above are listed to your right; visit often, as they are all keen observers and scary smart to a one. Blog on, you voices in the void, blog on!

PSA: West of Then

Just letting anyone out there who is interested know that a friend of mine, one Tara Bray Smith, will be reading from her achingly beautiful book West of Then at the Brooklyn library tomorrow, November 12 at 2pm. For more details, click here. This book is really something, human, humane, sometimes terrifying, and Tara is a dignified and compelling reader of her own material. Hope to see a lot of you there!

The Agony of Defeat

On the same day that Pat Robertson claimed that the small town of Dover, Pennsylvania--which had wisely decided not to include God (or so called "intelligent design") in their science program -- had "rejected" the Lord, Bush's approval rating sunk to 37%, many points below Nixon's in the midst of Watergate. Let 'em dangle...


In swanky Upper-West Side breakfast place:

Well-Coiffed Elderly Woman: "I don't want any furniture in there, let alone a piano. I think rooms look so much better without furniture, and no room ever benefitted from a piano."

(Italics Hers)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A.W.O.L. (not about George Bush)

Spent tonight at a theatre called 59E59 seeing A.W.O.L., a play by Oliver Cadiot with music (scored for onstage men's chorus!) by Adam Silverman. The play--more an extended prose poem than anything--is a loose, non-linear mush, sort of like French Pynchon with a nasty british hangover, all backtalking colenels and spies and conspiracies. Adam's music is chattery and charming, and the performance by one Steven Rattazzi is technically nothing short of breathtaking. He seethed through some not-terribly-dramatic material with humor and grace, shaped from the poetic morass by director Marion Schoevaert. It is "experimental theatre," sans narrative (but thankfully rife with laughs), so if that's your bag (it is only sometimes mine) than do take in this strange dystopian work. It even makes Coke cans look pretty!

Slowly sampling Kate Bush's new record Aerial because I do not want to run it down too quickly. She seems not to have changed a bit. With a deep whiff of nostalgia, my post-18-yr.-old heart is glad to have her back.

John Fowles

Today is a sad day for me because of the passing of a great man, the author John Fowles who was 79. When I was 21, a student at Cambridge University, his labrynthine fiction was the most eye opening thing I could imagine: the double ending of The French Liuetenant's Woman, the subtle shift of narrators in Daniel Martin, the description of the dying Mozart in The Collector and, above all, the wild twists of one of the great books of the past century, The Magus. His Journals have been recently released, with a second volume forthcoming, and though his last novel came out over two decades ago, his work was still a vital part of our--or at least my--landscape until his sad passing. Too young, too soon...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Thanks to Quinn Skylark, who pointed out that it is not "blogsphere" but in fact "blogosphere." I weep the lament of the unedited.

And thanks to Steve Smith, who pointed out that Tobias Picker actually has three operas, including Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I do know rather well but did not want to mention because why tease my vast, salivating, readership, who of course cannot wait for each thrilling new post, with a recording they could not dash out immediately and purchase.

And sorry Tobias...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Why Blog?

If, as I said in my first post, there is a new blog initiated every second, why do it? What is the point? The reason I haven’t done it sooner is the consideration of the possible pompous vanity, typing out little thoughts in the sanctity of my home under cover of night and presuming that others will follow, sharing my broad opinions about breakfast cereals and incisive political viewpoints as if people cared. However, there actually are compelling reasons why composers (or artists who aim high in general) should get “on the air” and speak to the teeming untold. Simply put, pop culture is replacing the so-called “lively arts” in the vast, vivid consciousness of America. Not a good thing or a bad thing, but an unimpeachable truth. We composers are prone to lamentations, the sad refrain of unrequited love, but we do not suffer alone. I am certain that even someone with a broad cultural appeal like a Bjork or a Rick Moody or a Laurie Moore—purveyors of “high art” that many outside of their genre know and respect; successful souls both artistically and financially—feel the same pull of the at-large media as does the poor composer toiling in icy obscurity. I would say that only artists like, say, David Lynch or perhaps Quentin Tarantino, who are of an independent spirit yet able to reach millions with their work, have little to complain about—and I am certain, late at night when they are faced with their own truths, they feel this disconnect as well.

So as “high art” ebbs (temporarily, I believe) what we need more than ever are voices and documentation, even if this is unpaid work, largely unnoticed, the collective shriek of voices crying in the wilderness—even if they only cry to one another. Classical critics agree about the shrinking coverage of this music; therefore, with limited range, they become, in the best of circumstances (and certainly not by choice) stentorian cheerleaders, soldiers trying to persuade, unable to engage matters in any depth because a surface-scratching is all editors feel people can handle, true or not. As a critic myself, I find that I am often told to “dumb it down,” to speak to the common man only, lest what I write be perceived as “academic.” And, so I’ve been told, the common man will never consult a dictionary or Google something, despite the vast resources available.

We compete with any number of more immediately sexy things for the time of the (imaginary)aesthetic swing voter (apparently the longest anyone will read an article online is 18 minutes, so get to the point!), including sex. A new string quartet by Henze is no match for the season premiere of The Sopranos or the next installment of the Star Wars sexology, even to those like myself who are invested in Henze. So as coverage declines, interest dwindles concomitantly—a “chicken and egg” scenario, but look around and you will see the results—and the so called “high-arts,” aching for love, fame, money, cultural viability and an earthly presence aside from the fringe, inevitably push toward the popular. After all, we just want to be loved too. This breeds less originality, more white noise.

So without coverage, with envy running hot, and with so many of us hoping we can break this pattern by drifting ever downward to the masses, posterity will reflect strangely on our time—a period of incredible productivity, constant invention, an increased and ever-brilliant creative class, and important work in all disciplines even if nobody is there to consume it. But look to the surface—that being The New York Times and the like—and the musical world of these days will read, to future generations, as a nexus of Mozart sonatas, Mahler symphonies and tarted up Traviatas. Look to the grassroots groundswell of us bloggers and this is in fact a golden age, with so much fascinating and resonant work being done in all corners, on all fronts, and by a voulenteer army. Few bloggers get paid; few composers get paid, at least in any sort of commensurate way. For once, we are all on the same side. These blogs are upturned stones beneath which teems a whole colony of “under the radar” productive minds with live hands and good hearts. History will benefit from all of us—so join, blog, raise awareness, show posterity what we are and were. Fight.

A Little Confusion

Just for the record--and because I've gotten a lot of emails regarding this--I am not getting married anytime soon. And if I were, I think it would be best to clear this with the girlfriend rather than announce it on the BLOG! So thanks for all who wrote, I appreciate your thoughts (and good to know SOME read this) there is no wedding for me on the horizon.

The Morning After

Strange. I put myself into cyberspace in the middle of the night and awoke to a small hail of posts from people I did not know. Yes, my Delillo fixation got some attention, but apparently, according to a certain "anonymous," "...GIRLFRIEND has a ring." This one, it seems, is hungry for news of my wedding. I suppose thats to come, in the future, so thank you anonymous for your concern.

Today, Ms. Kate Bush releases her first studio effort in twelve years. I know I will be getting a copy. More on that later, I suppose.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Darkening Sky of the First Night

So yes, I have caved to my own pressure and joined the blogsphere, the new century's route to stardom. According to the Harpers Index (cannot remember when) there is a new blog created every second here in America. So here is my second. Ready. NOW.

As a musician, composer, sometimes critic, I will comment mostly on these matters. But hell, this is the blogsphere, so read on to find out much more--what I think, am reading, listening to, etc. Why not?

Forgive my pace at getting techno things in place--like inserting links or whatnot--because I am slow to learn, begrudging, impatient, busy, etc. Soon I will figure it out.

Lets see, to begin: I am not listening to much at the moment, being bereft of a stereo due to some housecleaning. But I have to say that last week I listened to a recording of Tobias Picker's amazing piano concerto Keys to the City and could not stop. His opera An American Tragedy will premiere at the Met this December (I am the proud author of the program notes for same), and so I've been deeply invested in his music most of this past few months. Worth hearing, multiple times. I am also an enthusiast for most of his work, but find both of his operas - Emmeline and Therese Raquin - to be totally effective. The new one is great too!

Apart from that, I am now in the middle of a re-tour through all the books authored by Don Delillo, who I think outlines not only the vast conspiracies and plastic mechanations within the sad postmodern landscape in America, but also nails on so many levels the searching sadness a lot of us feel. To write about Delillo on a blog seems deeply appropriate, as a blog--a technological wonder which both brings people together and isolates them at the same time--could be a shadow character in one of his lucid, lurid novels. In the past month, I've already read Americana, Underworld, Libra and Mao II.

Alright, I seem to be off and running. Anyone reading, I'd love your comments any time. I look forward to your kind welcoming of yr, blogger to cyberspace, where there are no word limits.