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, April 25, 2007

Tristan Mysteries

A few weeks ago a remarkable person named Amy O'Leary came to my house to interview me about Tristan and Isolde for a radio show. We chatted for hours about the piece (well, I did a lot of the talking; those who know me can attest to this as a very real possibility) and now it has reached fruition as a series of fascinating radio programs with quite the superstar lineup. I mean, where else can Peter Sellars, New York City Opera Dramaturg Cori Ellison, Author and Scholar Joseph Horowitz, Adult Film Star Savannah Sampson (quite the opera fan, apparently), and yr blogger all be included on the same lineup. I've attached the entire press release below, because its expansive, curious, and at points laugh-out-loud funny. You can even download a ringtone!


WNYC® Radio Presents
"The Tristan Mysteries"

A Weeklong Multi-Media Immersion
into Wagner's Timeless Tristan und Isolde

Festival Includes Probing Features, Rare Recordings, Interviews with Key Figures,
In-Depth Web Exclusives, and 24/7 Dedicated Music Stream on WNYC.org

Kicks off Saturday, April 28 to coincide with Lincoln Center's Presentation
of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Production, opening May 2

(New York, NY) How did Wagner's Tristan und Isolde permanently alter the terrain of Western culture, affecting all music and theater that followed it, from Gustav Mahler to Radiohead? What draws people to a five-hour opera, and is it ok to fall asleep? What makes Tristan und Isolde the first X-rated opera, causing original male audience members to cover their female companions' ears?

From Saturday, April 28 through Saturday, May 5, WNYC, New York Public Radio®, will explore these and other questions with "THE TRISTAN MYSTERIES," a sumptuous feast of music, stories, recollections and features about Wagner's enduring work of raging passion, diabolical betrayal and transcendent love.

Crafted as a comprehensive Wagnerian universe to accompany the visionary multi-media production by Peter Sellars / Bill Viola / Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LA Philharmonic, "THE TRISTAN MYSTERIES" will offer opera buffs and novices alike an unprecedented multiplatform opportunity to fully immerse themselves in all-things-Tristan through radio broadcasts, web exclusive material – including a downloadable Tristan ringtone! -- and 24/7 Wagner and his musical progeny on WNYC2, the station's HD and online classical stream. Highlights include interviews with playwright Terrance McNally; anthropologist Helen Fisher; adult film actress / "Vivid Girl" and Wagner fanatic Savanna Samson; choreographer Mark Morris; and video artist and creator of the Tristan Project concept, Bill Viola.

The festival will be anchored in WNYC's Evening Music, spotlighting issues specific to the innovative Viola production, and illuminating broader ideas and themes around Tristan through the ages, Wagner as an artist, and the world of opera. Other Tristan-related segments will appear on Soundcheck, Morning Edition, and Studio 360. A complete schedule can be found at: http://www.wnyc.org/music/tristan.html.

EVENING MUSIC SCHEDULE 7-11pmon 93.9 FM & wnyc.org

· THE MYTHIC MYSTERY: What is this opera really about, anyway?
Airs Monday, April 30
Tristan has always generated heat: a love-it or hate-it reaction. Before coming around to champion it, Richard Strauss said the music "would kill a cat and turn rocks into scrambled eggs from fear of [its] hideous discords." Others thought it was musically and thematically indecent and corrupting. Still others found it rocking their bodies, shaking their nerves, and keeping them up all night, crying, standing "in wonder and terror." We begin with a fast-paced tour through the story of Tristan & Isolde, starting with a summary of all the action in the opera. We convene a "virtual round table" of experts, enthusiasts, artists, writers, students and performers to figure out what Wagner's Tristan is really about, from sex, to death, to a lovely young woman named Mathilde, to Buddhism.

· THE SONIC MYSTERY: How does the Tristan Chord work?
Airs Tuesday, May 1
What happens when a composer opens a five-hour opera with a slow and dissonant chord, then chooses not to resolve that chord for nearly 5 hours? We engage composer Danny Felsenfled to explain the mechanics of the famous Tristan Chord, "the beauty of it, the power of it, and the game of it." Next, we hear examples of how the Tristan Chord has been used in other compositions and recordings, from Debussy to Radiohead.

· THE FIVE HOUR MYSTERY: Is it OK to fall asleep at the opera?
Airs Wednesday, May 2
A lot of people are afraid to attend a five-hour opera. It sounds too long, too boring, and what if you fall asleep? Wouldn't that be the ultimate humiliation? As it turns out, lots of people – even unexpected famous people – fall asleep during Tristan, at sometimes the most inconvenient moments. What's more shocking: they recommend it. The length of the performance can create surprising reactions in people. Dr. John Forest, an anthropologist specializing in performance ritual explains why especially long performances, like Tristan und Isolde can create dramatic psychological and physiological reactions in the human body. And we ask the question, if this piece is meant to take the audience on a journey from resistance to surrender to transcendence, is it, in fact, too short?

· THE SEXUAL MYSTERY: What can you hear in the music?
Airs Thursday, May 3
From Coney Island, to Carnegie Hall, to a college dorm room in Ohio, we investigate at the places where this music has aroused more than just applause. From a surprising discovery in the Gilded Age, to a shocking moment at one of our country's great concert halls, we explore how Wagner's music can arouse and unleash—to devastating effect—latent sexual passions. And we hear from Terrance McNally, the acclaimed playwright, who explored the topic in his play The Stendhal Syndrome where sex, performance and Tristan und Isolde collide.

· THE VISUAL MYSTERY: What visual production could match the music?
Airs Friday, May 4
Producing Tristan has always presented a steep challenge for directors: what to put on the stage during a five-hour opera that consists of mostly internal emotions and monologues, with very little action? When video artist Bill Viola teamed up with Director Peter Sellars and Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen to create 40-foot video backdrops for The Tristan Project, it was considered a breakthrough event. Some have said it is the "Tristan for the 21st Century." We invite Bill Viola to discuss the how he created his response to Wagner's opera with his friend Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney Museum. Viola talks about what it's like to create five hours of compelling video, and what it was like to collaborate on creating this production, by far the largest and most ambitious of his career. As Viola describes the final scenes, we meet up with audience members streaming out of The Tristan Project at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and hear their reactions.

Additional features on Evening Music include:
Interviews with Christine Brewer, who sings Isolde in The Tristan Project; Ben Heppner, one of the great Tristans of our time; and Ulrike Hessler, Executive Managing Director of the Bavarian State Opera, where the piece was premiered.
Conservatory kids have long referred to a certain passage in Tristan und Isolda as "Pornophony." Acclaimed adult film actress / "Vivid Girl" and opera lover Savanna Samson joins us in the studio to talk about the bluest opera and what makes it so corporeally pornographic.
A roundtable of Wagner fanatics on their favorite recordings of Tristan und Isolde.
The musical legacy of Tristan and Wagner: works that were directly influenced by Wagner, from Berlioz's later works to Liszt, to Skriabin to Chausson (Wagner and Debussy's illegitimate love-child) to Bernard Hermann, Phil Spector and Radiohead.
An exploration of obsessive love and sexual desire in Tristan und Isolde with Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of "Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love."

A selection of participants in The Tristan Mysteries:
Bill Viola, Video Artist; created the video installation for this production
Adam Weinberg, Director, Whitney Museum; close friend of Viola's and life-long supporter of his work
Peter Sellars, the director of the Tristan Project in Paris and Los Angeles
Ben Heppner, Tenor; one of the greatest Tristans of all time, and premiered the role in the recent Paris production
Terrance McNally, Playwright, Author of Prelude & Liebestod which dramatizes a performance from the opera
Mark Morris, Choreographer
Savanna Samson, Adult Film Actress / "Vivid Girl" & Vintner
John Rockwell, Author & Critic
Joe Horowitz, Author & Critic
Cori Ellison, Dramaturg, NYC Opera
Danny Felsenfeld, Composer
Perry Lorenzo, Education Director, Seattle Opera
Dr. John Forrest, Head of Anthropology, SUNY, Purchase College
Meg Kinney, a Marketing Consultant in Los Angeles
Christopher Mika, a metal guitarist and sometimes waiter in San Francisco
Colin Levin, music student at Oberlin College
Audience members at a performance of The Tristan Project
A Soprano who wishes to remain anonymous

TRISTAN 24/7 ON WNYC2: HD Channel and Classical Webstream

A Tristan Orgy. All week long WNYC2 will feature a vast assortment of great recordings of Tristan und Isolde in their entirety, from Melchior to Domingo, from Flagstad to Stemme, from Furtwaengler to Pappano, you'll hear great interpretations old and new, as well as a host of other stunning Wagner recordings chosen by WNYC's opera-besotted music staff.


Comprehensive web offerings at wnyc.org will satisfy the curious neophyte and insatiable aficionado alike, with exclusive and explanatory features, including:

· Synopsis of the opera
· Production images
· Tristantimeline
· Recording and DVD picks and links to where you can find them on Amazon.com
· Archival material / historic recordings of the piece
· Links to interesting Tristan websites
· Full interviews from which material for radio broadcast were excerpted
· Listener comment line: Listeners write back
· Historical reactions to Tristan
· Musical samples of topics covered in the programming
· A Tristan Chord ringtone for download
· Additional features to rouse the latent Wagnerite in every listener

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pulitzer Agita

Every year I promise myself I am not going to get riled up over the Pulitzer Prizes--they are, after all, just trumped-up journalist awards (a kind of "for us by us" inside the profession, which then gets trumpeted as important by the journalists)--and every year I end up in a tizzy, especially sparked by an article in the Los Angeles Times which not only accuses the Pulitzers for music for being traditionally "stodgy," but also cites John Adams' who, having just being given his Pulitzer a few years ago, said that this award tended to ignore "visionaries" and some of the great musical minds of his time--presumably, in his eyes, a trend that was broken when the award was granted.

Not to brag, but I number among my friends winners and nominees of this award, and often think it goes to great things or great people. But every year the same story is dragged out: that Thomas Pynchon did not win it for Gravity's Rainbow, thereby illustrating that the committee is a gaggle of arch conservatives. I think these arguemnets--almost always rehearsed and advanced by journalists--still see things as an either/or, and that the committee perhaps has a dictum to right this wrong?

Now I know I am going to get a lot of grief for saying this, but the whole idea that jazz is somehow less stodgy than classical music seems to moot and unconscionably reductive, and that offering an award to Winton Marsalis somehow represents not a change in the committee's aesthetic point of view or an on-high mandate, but a move to Deep Elvis, to hipness, to edginess, a contrast to the stodginess of Say, John Adams or John Corigliano--neither of whom are especially stodgy, except that they work in what is considered an "old form." But then again, don't novelists and playwrights?

I've few illusions about the place of so-called "classical music" in our at-large culture--how could we, as we are often reminded how poorly we are faring by Sandow, Lebrecht, et al--but to think that the work of even the finest experimental jazz pioneer (Ornette Coleman certainly is that) or a bebop preservationist (no finer than Mr. Marsalis) is somehow more "with it" is really displaced. Yes, I've also strongly disagreed with some of the choices for Pulitzer, including this year's, but that's a matter of taste and politics (and, frankly, envy). But I do object to the idea that somehow dipping into another genre is the across-the-board answer.

But then again, now I wonder why I comment. After all, it's just a prize. A trumped up prize. But then I wonder: why not, rather than trying to say music is music, regardless of intention (thereby qualifying Andrew Lloyd Webber, Christina Agiulera, Bjork, Dave Brubeck, Glenn Branca, Psychic TV, David Rakowski, The Shaggs, Justin Timberlake, James Tenney, Regis Philbin, Van Morrison, Dave Matthews, Justin Timberlake, Don Byron, Fred Ho, Shaggy, Moby, Cher, Boz Skaggs, Joe Walsh, T-Bone Burnett, Scarlett Johannsen, and Raffi to compete in the same category) can there not just be a few music Pulitzers given out?

Call me crazy.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Again Back from the Muck, I Say

I've returned again--this log is a series of returns, maybe it's tiresome. But I've been really under it writing a few pieces, not least of which was a setting of the poem (in English, alas) "True Love" by the always-brilliant Polish poet Witstawa Szymborska at the request of my friend Tara Bray Smith for her wedding to photographer Thomas Struth, another friend. It was a beautiful wedding--and a difficult text to set, it being devoid of any metrics, and funny-quirky-strange at that--and the weekend commenced with Thomas' opening at the Marian Goodman Gallery. Now I know Thomas and was semi-familiar with his work, but the opening was shockingly beautitful, stunning, eye-opening, as encapsulated in Michael Kimmelman's generous Times review. I would write about the work, but he says it in a way I certainly cannot. Needless to say, to those in New York, go see it, as the meta-levels of these gorgeous photos need to be experienced in context to be wholly understood.

In the meantime, blogging resumes, as there will be much to talk about, not least of which is my all-but-uncontainable excitement at my anticipation of seeing Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia marathon in a few weeks! I am assiduously doing my homework for the event--that and heaps of composing, grading, writing, etc.