Saturday, December 10, 2011

Blessed Be The Music Makers

When I ventured into the world of contemporary classical/new music last year, I wasn’t at all sure how to proceed.  I followed every lead suggested by composer John Metcalf, reached for book after book (notably Alex Ross’s indispensable The Rest is Noise), searched the internet, and read reviews.

The internet portion of my journey was imponderable and overwhelming, until I discovered two things:  a site called Instant Encore (where I first learned about Contemporaneous), and something called Listening Listfully 2010, on a blog by the name of A Fool in the Forest.  The person behind the blog is George Wallace, and he’s back this year with a fabulous new 2011 edition of that list.  I commend it, and the more detailed posts that will follow, to you all.

Along the way, my contemporary/new music journey took an unexpected turn, all due to another blog, I’ll Think of Something Later.  The person behind that blog is David Nice.  Nice, whose knowledge of classical music (and a lot of other things) is matched by his passionate engagement and generosity of spirit, has led me back into the entire canon of classical music and immeasurably enriched my listening life.  Also thanks to him, I was reminded of the BBC Music Magazine, to which I have once more subscribed and which I find an indispensible guide.

I can’t begin to come up with a year-end list that’s anything more than my own idiosyncratic trip down memory lane.  (I endorse in full what George Wallace writes in the introduction to his list this year.)  At the same time, I couldn’t let the year go by without marking at least some of the music that has brought me such joy.

My lists are in alphabetical order, not by rank.  It is beyond me to rank this music; I love it all.

Music I’ve Listened to a Lot This Year 

The list is by composer, listing a favorite work or works, and limited to works that are available to the public in some form.  (The lack of public availability, as of yet, is the only reason you won't see Mattingly's Atlas listed here.)  For CDs with multiple composers, the CD is listed by the name of the ensemble. The selections aren't confined to music recorded in 2011, but reflect music I've listened to a lot this year.

 1. Adams, John Coolidge (Dharma at Big Sur)
 2. Bach, Johann Sebastian (Cello Suites)
 3. Britten, Benjamin (Illuminations); more on Illuminations here
 4. Bryars, Gavin (The Solway Canal)
 5. Chen, Qigang (Iris dévoilée, Reflet d’un temps disparu)
 6. Elgar, Edward (Sea Pictures)
 7. Friedman, Jefferson (String Quartets Nos. 2 & 3)
 8. Greenstein, Judd (Escape, The Night Gatherers, Le Tombeau de Ravel); more on Le Tombeau here
 9. Harrison, Lou (Suite for Violin and American Gamelan)
10. Janus Trio (i am not CD); more on Janus and i am not here
11. Kirkland Snider, Sarah (Penelope CD); more on Penelope here
12. Mattingly, Dylan (Going To Where The Rain Falls, Lighthouse, Six Night Sunrise); more on Mattingly here
13. Metcalf, John (Paths of Song CD); more on Metcalf here
14. Pohjonen, Kimmo & Kosminen, Samuli (Uniko CD)
15. Ravel, Maurice (Complete Solo Piano Music CD, Steven Osborne, pianist); more on Ravel’s La Valse here and here
16. Schubert, Franz (String Quintet in C Major)
17. Sculthorpe, Peter (My Country Childhood, Earth Cry)
18. Shostakovich, Dmitri (24 Preludes and Fugues CDJenny Lin, pianist)
19. Sibelius, Jean (Luonnotar, Kullervo & a whole host of other symphonic poems); more on Luonnotar here and here
20. Tchaikovsky, Pyotr (The Tempest)
21. The Sixteen (Ikon CD)
22. Twining, Toby (Eurydice CD); more on Eurydice here
23. Vaughan Williams, Ralph (The Lark Ascending)
24. yMusic (Beautiful Mechanical CD)
25. Weinberg, Mieczslaw (Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra)

Memorable Live Performances

 1. Bard Chapel of the Holy Innocents:  Contemporaneous, The Roots Run Deep
 2. Bard Chapel of the Holy Innocents:  Contemporaneous, I Used to Know Her Name
 3. Bard Fisher Center:  The Music of Lou Harrison
 4. Ecstatic Music Festival:  Sarah Kirkland Snider, Shara Worden & yMusic 
 5. Green Space:  Trout Week, Janus Trio 
 6. Metropolitan Opera:  Nixon in China (John Coolidge Adams, composer and conductor; James Maddalena as Nixon)
 7. Metropolitan Opera:  Satyagraha (Philip Glass, composer; Dante Anzolini, conductor; Richard Croft as Ghandi) (this from someone who does not generally warm to Philip Glass and went only at the behest of friends)
 8.  Metropolitan Opera:  Wozzeck (Alban Berg, composer; James Levine, conductor)
 9. Park Avenue Armory:  Inuksuit (John Luther Adams, composer)
10. Poughkeepsie Day School:  In C (Terry Riley, composer; Contemporaneous with PDS students, parents, and faculty; for more on PDS, click here and here)

A Prufrock’s Dozen of Ensembles To Look Out For 

 1. Ahn Trio  (Thanks to Mark Kerstetter for spotting this)
 2. Chiara String Quartet
 3. Companion Star
 4. Contemporaneous
 5. Eighth Blackbird
 6. Janus Trio
 7. Kronos Quartet
 8. NOW Ensemble
 9. Roomful of Teeth
10. Skogensemble
11. The Smith Quartet
12. yMusic, with special mention of the redoubtable Nadia Sirota; more on Sirota here.

Selections for Listening

John C. Adams, Dharma at Big Sur, Part 1:  A New Day

Lou Harrison, Suite for Violin and American Gamelan II:  Estampie

Janus Trio playing N. Cameron Britt's Gossamer Albatross

With grateful thanks to Thomas Deneuville at I Care If You Listen for creating this wonderful video.  At about 5:57, you can hear the Janus Trio perform Gossamer Albatross.

John Metcalf, Mapping Wales (Vivace)

© John Metcalf.  By kind permission of John Metcalf.

Kimmo Pohjonen & Samuli Kosminen, Uniko, Part 1: Utu

Sarah Kirkland Snider, The Lotus Eaters, from Penelope

Piotr Tchaikovsky, The Tempest (excerpt)

The Next Generation: Terry Riley's In C at Poughkeepsie Day School


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Susan:
Thank you for the pointers of places to look for guidance through what at least is always for us the choppy seas of contemporary music. And, what a listening list you have provided us with here. We have marked the post as a favourite in order that we can return for listening or reference at leisure.

It is, as you say, such a delight when one finds individuals whose taste resonate with one's own and whose knowledge extends one's own understanding and enjoyment. We shall certainly be following up the many musical pathways you offer us here.

David said...

Well, you've enriched my listening by introducing me to Dylan Mattingly, for a start. Delighted to see Weinberg, Sibelius's Luonnotar and even the Tchaikovsky Tempest there!

One I'd have to say chariots of fire couldn't drag me to again: Glass's Satyagraha. I lasted an act.

George Wallace said...

Thank you for your kind endorsement, Susan. That's a very nice list you have there yourself.

It is a treasure and a pleasure to have made your long-distance acquaintance over these musical posts, and there's a certain frisson to having (apparently) been something of an enabler in speeding your journey. You've more than returned any good turns I may have done in that regard, for which my thanks.

Something in the wind tells me the coming year should be at least as interesting as this one, musically, so let's all fare forward, shall we?

Rubye Jack said...

This is so great Susan! I've been able to successfully listen to the first two and love Lou Harrison, but now my Internet connection is stalling. So, I will go over to the club house where the modem is and listen again. Of course, the locals may come in and ask what's that "stuff" I'm listening to, but I will only tell them I am trying to understand.

Suze said...

Impossible to rightly appreciate this excellent post in one sitting. On first visit, a few things:

I love the term, 'passionate engagement.'

I felt a frisson of something very much like delight on seeing Mattingly's name on the list.

This is a page to bookmark, Sue. To come back to and relish with time and attention.

Thank you.

Mark Kerstetter said...

I really like the Kronos Quartet. The Uniko piece is really nice - love the use of accordion. Really enjoyed listening to NOW's 'Awake' too. There are some other things on your list I'm strongly attracted to as well (heard Ralph Vaughan Williams' 'Sea Symphony' - a choral work based on Whitman - live). Benjamin Britten and Sibelius are two composers I intend to learn more about. As always, thank you for sharing your passion.

klahanie said...

Hi Susan,
I very much enjoy contemporary classical music. However, I will readily admit my knowledge pales into significance when I note all the fascinating info you so kindly share.
My awareness and knowledge has been greatly enhanced, thanks to you.
With respect and warm wishes, your way, Gary

Suze said...

Listening to Uniko, I'm reminded that my husband is a big fan of Kronos Quartet, a group I had trouble with, when I first married him almost ten years ago, for its exploration of cacophony. This included my husband's collection of John Cage.

I hope I have grown to be able to take into myself much more, now. (A fool emerging from the forest ... ?)

Britta said...

Dear Sue,
what a rich year you have had - so full of beautiful music, so much to be thankful for!
I have copied your list. And have raved so much to Husband that I anticipate what will be one present at my birthday, end of December.
You are really a connaisseur now, and I admire your stamina and enthusiasm!
I hope that you will teach us even more next year. And thank you for that what you have so interesting presented and made accessible to us till now. Britta

Dylan Mattingly said...

Sue, what a wonderful year of music! It's so exciting how much great stuff there is.

Just wanted to leave a comment and mention, if I haven't before, that Dharma At Big Sur is my favorite thing in the universe.

Can't wait to find out what next year creates!

David said...

Dharma at Big Sur is driving-through-big-country music. I didn't get it when I heard it at the Proms, but listening to that concert repeated on Radio 3 sitting in a car on the way to the Lake District in August, with not a cloud in a sky, made me understand what it was all about.

If you'd said Satyagraha, Dylan, I'd have had to think again about your own music. But really, I love what I've heard.

I still think JA's Hallelujah Junction is THE book about going through the crises and one-track arguments of 20th and 21st century music. Whereas The Rest is Noise is just a lively one-man's-view.

Susan Scheid said...

Jane and Lance: Now that I’ve closed the door on the office for the holidays, I can do what I’ve wanted to do ALL WEEK! (It’s true.) It’s a great gift to me that you thought enough of the list to mark it for reference. I do hope you’ll find music there to enjoy. It’s also been my great pleasure to come to know you a bit this year. I look forward to continuing the conversation in the year ahead.

David: As, to my delight, you’ve graced this post with not one, but two, comments, I will come back to you in full below.

George: As I hope you know, I’ve very much enjoyed our many musical exchanges over this past year. You did indeed serve as “an enabler in speeding on” my journey, in more ways than one. I agree absolutely that the coming year is likely to be at least as interesting, and I look forward to comparing notes. So, onward to 2012 we go!

Rubye Jack: How truly lovely that you undertook to listen (I love to think of you at the club house!) and came up with a little gold for yourself. Lou Harrison is new to me, too. Like you, I was immediately taken with the Suite for Violin and Gamelan (from which the excerpt you listened to came). I am absolutely delighted to be able to share that “find” with you.

Suze: As you, too, have graced my post with two comments (to my delight), I’ll respond to both below.

Mark: Isn’t Uniko good? I love that accordion, too. You’ve led me into so many rich, new worlds (the world of John Ashbery’s poetry is but one), it’s a particular delight to be able to offer you something in return. If you haven’t already noticed this, Arvo Pärt makes several “stealth” appearances on my list, through the means of The Sixteen’s Ikon. (I have Friko to thank for reminding me of this CD, by the way.) I enjoyed seeing your Spotify list as well—many old friends on there: Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten is an especial favorite of mine. I don’t know the Vaughan Williams piece you mentioned and will definitely follow up on that. I very much look forward to our continuing exchanges in the coming year.

Susan Scheid said...

Gary: I hope along the way you’ll share with us some of the music that you particularly like. It’s been a pleasure to get to know both you and Penny the Jack Russell Dog and modest internet star. I wish you and your family the very best for the holidays and look forward to our continued conversations in the coming year.

Suze: So, back to you, and where to begin? First of all, when I think of the words “passionate engagement,” it strikes me that those words also apply squarely to you (not to mention Dylan Mattingly, eh?). And further on music: how I laughed on learning of your first encounters with Kronos, not to mention John Cage. As for Kronos, I know what you mean. Several years ago, I bought a Kronos CD, pleased with myself at how experimental I was, then couldn’t get my ears around a bit of it. (I still find that CD a difficult listen.) I feel quite differently about Uniko, as you can see by my list—and, by the way, it’s George at a fool in the forest I have to thank for that. Aren’t we all fools emerging from the forest, and isn’t it rich?

Britta: So many wonderful excursions you’ve taken us on this year—I love coming with you on your journeys in Berlin, by photograph and prose—and so many other delights you bring our way! This is just to say that, it’s lovely to think that, in turn, there might be something on my music list for you to enjoy. (Of course, I’m bursting with curiosity to know what it might be—but you needn’t say a word, you know!)

Dylan: How nice to see you here again so soon! As you must be aware, you’re the one I’ve often quoted on the subject of how much great stuff there is out there—you’ve been proven right, in my view, again and again! Dharma at Big Sur is a piece I’ve only just come to know (thanks to a tip-off when I met your parents, you might be amused to know). I listen to it again and again. I, too, can’t wait to find out what the New Year brings!

David: Well, you know, I do think your taste impeccable, and even with a Maserati, I wouldn’t try to tempt you to Glass. Whether I will recover from this terrible lapse, who knows? I don’t like Glass, and I debated quite a bit Satyagraha’s inclusion on the memorable performances list. In the end, I caved in, and here’s a bit of why. I went only reluctantly, at the behest of two dear friends. I faced it with some dread, and only with great restraint did I resist looking at my watch through the interminable first act. (For one, I thought, here he’s got this incredible orchestra, and he’s given it nothing to do!) The second act was better—the set design I liked, the singing was beautiful, and at long last, the orchestra had at least a little something to do. The last act was the one, though, that put Satyagraha on the list. In this act, I forgot about Glass. As Richard Croft walked slowly forward, lyrically singing a simple rising line, as behind him Martin Luther King, Jr., on a platform with his back to us, gestured to an imaginary crowd, what I thought about was the line that runs from Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., and I remembered, it is possible for the world to be a better place. In that act, the music met the meaning, and I was moved. So, albeit with trepidation, on the list it went. (Right now, as I write, I’m listening to Mahler’s Ninth, Bernstein this time, having watched the Abbado DVD twice so far. Had I come to this sooner, it would have been on the list. Thank you so much for this and for so many other gifts of music.)

David said...

Sorry, that was me trying to correct what follows. You prove to me, Sue, that even after the interminable first act I should have kept an open mind (I hasten to add I wasn't reviewing at the time). I do applaud the sentiments, of course. But I also went with an artist friend who'd loved Robert Wilson's production, and found this one by Improbable - the same as you got at the Met - cliche-ridden in the extreme.

Well, we can't and shouldn't like everything in comon. But it seems that even here we're probably on the same wavelength. Loved the Lou Harrison, BTW.

shoreacres said...

What a valuable resource you've provided here, especially for those of us who are just beginning an exploration of such music.

I'm especially glad of this post because it allows me to set aside exploration until after the holidays. It's recently occurred to me I may not be giving some of this a fair hearing because at this time of year my emotional preference is for the familiar and traditional, whether Bing Crosby or the O Antiphons.

I do know where I'll begin - with Dharma at Big Sur. David's remark that it's "driving-through-big-country-music" caught my interest, since some driving through big country is on my agenda.

Your posts only add to my conviction that I've too few years left for learning all I wish to learn!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for this, Susan - yes, a great resource you make available here. I'm listening to a lot more classical/contemporary classical music these days, and your list is of great help and interest. Much I do not know at all, and probably some stuff I would find difficult and intimidating ('Wozzeck' I couldn't get into one little bit!) - though I love Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich - and Bach, of course. And Schubert's 'Quintet in C' is sublime.

Susan Scheid said...

David: Ah, well, though it’s certainly a bit of heaven to share enjoyment of a piece of music, how boring life would be if we all had everything in common, no? (That said, I agree it’s likely we’re on the same wavelength when it comes to Glass.)

Shoreacres: Well! As for Bing, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post! I hope you enjoy Dharma—and perhaps others on the list—come the New Year. It’s been a real pleasure to come to know you and read your posts. I can hardly wait to read about your “big country” explorations in the coming year.

Solitary: Thanks so much for the follow. Rest assured, while I found Wozzeck in live performance enthralling, it’s not something I’m likely to try and listen to at home. I do hope, in addition to the greats that you mention, you’ll find something among the younger composers that attracts you. No matter what, I’m so pleased you find the list of possible use. It’s a great gift to me that you might.

Thomas Deneuville said...

Thank you so much for sharing our video, Susan! Happy Holidays!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan .. I know I've been missing here .. but I knew I need to be able to take in your words.

Now I can see you've given me a course that I can in due time follow to get an understanding of your music makers.

For someone with a blank in my life here - I will be back and follow your ideas through .. and listen in peace to the performances you offer.

Great post - many thanks for sharing with us .. love it - cheers Hilary

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