Archive for February 2011

Life looks for life…   1 comment

I miss Carl!

Posted February 14, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Music and Math   1 comment

Somewhat south of my alma mater in New Haven is Princeton, where you’d go if you were really interested in theoretical music. A former choir kid (she’s now a high-level Navy/policy wonk, but shhhhh…..) sent me this link.

I don’t pretend to understand it all by any means, but the basic idea is sure intriguing.

Posted February 14, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Super-Bowled Over by JSB   Leave a comment

While much of the U.S. watched the Big Game on February 6, my wife and I went to a special fund-raising concert for a choral group we sing in, Cantori Domino

There is no place I would rather have been.

And a rich feast of Bach’s vocal and instrumental chamber and solo music it was, including vocal solos and rarely heard duets, a charming early work for harpsichord, and the Cello Suite in D minor. One of the instrumentalists sang the echos from the (aptly named) Echo aria, obviously having a lot of fun, and ended with a look forward in time, with a trio sonata from the Tafelmusik by Telemann.

Ah yes, the Cello Suite in D minor (BWV 992) – the latter probably the best cello playing I’ve ever heard. You just never know when that is going to happen. And that’s why I’ll keep supporting live performance whenever I can.

I have rarely heard performances of this caliber – at the top of their field really “on their game” to such a degree.  And I’ve heard a lot of performances over the years – I’ve even played in quite a number.

But even if they hadn’t been so darn good, there is simply no substitute for live performance.

In a real-time performance the performers feed off, and take energy from, the audience and each other. It’s almost like they were dancing. And smiles all around.

CDs are wonderful. But they’re also too perfect! Every note is correct, the performers are perfectly balanced. That doesn’t happen in live performance, no matter how high-caliber the performers are.

Until very recently composers almost always wrote with live performance in mind. Unless a piece is written specifically for electronic media, live performance is the way virtually all music was meant to be heard.

(Here’s a personal aside: music with tape – whether alone or together with live performers – was fashionable 30-40 years ago. American composer Daniel Pinkham wrote his share of such pieces. But he told me in an interview for Clavier magazine that he quit, because he much preferred live performance, with all its imperfections, to something preserved one way on a recording, forever.)

This year’s Super Bowl is over. Bach goes on forever, and so does live performance!

(Oh, and they raised a nice sum, too. Bach would have appreciated that, as well.)

Posted February 9, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

Milton Babbitt 1916-2011 – Provocative and Challenging   6 comments

American composer Milton Babbitt, longtime professor at Princeton University, died last week.

He may be best known for his article Who cares if you listen, written in 1958. His title for this article was The Composer as Specialist. An editor at High Fidelity magazine changed it to the more controversial one.

Many years later Babbitt said that due to the  “offensively vulgar title” he was “still … far more likely to be known as the author of Who Cares if You Listen? than as the composer of music to which you may or may not care to listen.”

Here’s more:

“I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media.”

It may be an urban legend that he once said “teaching performance in a music department would be like teaching typing in the English department!”

These are definitely not my views, not by a long shot.  And his students include, believe it or not, Stephen Sondheim.

And here’s a great obit, saying among other things, “…with the cultural commentator Alex Ross describing him as an “emblematic Cold War composer” producing music “so Byzantine in construction that one practically needed a security clearance to understand it”.


Posted February 2, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

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