Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Don't let's start

On Phawker, an interview with They Might Be Giants. The maestros of off-kilter pop play two shows this evening, at 7:30 and 11:30, at the TLA. New Year's Eve shows have long been a TMBG tradition; the last Philly one happened about ten years ago.

During the interview, John Linnell frequently slipped into speaking in a kind of "Behind the Music" announcer-voice. This is indicated with italics perhaps once in the transcript; in reality, it occurred considerably more often.

See you in 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A new wrinkle

A bit of non-music-related writing: for the Winter 2008-09 issue of MBA Jungle, I wrote a short piece on the etiquette of the "business kiss," and a longer feature on the pros and cons of MBA rotational programs. Different from my usual stuff, of course, but both were a lot of fun to research and report.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Off the wall

Can music and pictures coexist? A review of concerts by Network for New Music and Jason Moran for Broad Street Review, in which I examine the interaction between music and image during concerts held in art galleries.

Jason Moran's performance was one of the finest I heard this year, but I found the video art that accompanied his concert distracting. The Network concert was a nice exposure to the work of Sherif Habashi and Jennie Thwing, but also a mixed bag in terms of interaction with the artwork. Both featured pre-concert talks -- by the composers at the Network concert, and by David Adler with Moran and his concert -- that were tremendously revealing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let men their songs employ

From a few days ago, a review of the Philly Pops' holiday program for the Bulletin -- now with newly-revamped website. The Pops' show contained numerous jokes about lederhosen; I considered adding some of my own but thought better of it.

I also had to refrain from including an extended passage on Peter Nero's version of "White Christmas," the spacey feeling of which came from playing the opening passage with a whole-tone scale, long used to conjure images of aliens and other worlds. I wish I could remember which familiar tune Prof. Duckworth adapted in the same fashion during my first year of undergraduate music theory, but that memory seems to have been lost to the ages.

Hopefully forthcoming: an article for Broad Street Review reflecting on several concerts held among art exhibits. Image vs. sound, with various forms of abstraction: how do these kind of multimedia events play out? Stay tuned.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Top 10

Philadelphia Orchestra w/ Time for Three, Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto 4-3. Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, January 12.

Society for New Music, Marc Mellits’ Second String Quartet. Hendricks Chapel, Syracuse, January 27.

Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, The Rite of Spring. Mulroy Civic Center, Syracuse, March 14.

Stew and the cast of “Passing Strange,” “My Keys/It’s Alright.” Belasco Theatre, New York City, March 29.

Bucknell University Rooke Chapel Choir, Eleanor Daley’s “Do Not Stand By My Grave and Weep.” Weis Center, Lewisburg, PA, May 18.

Andrew Bird, “Armchairs.” Electric Factory, Philadelphia, August 9.

Nico Muhly w/ Sam Amidon, Nadia Sirota, et al, “The Only Tune.” First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, August 22.

Philadelphia Orchestra w/ Martha Argerich, Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto. Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, October 6.

American Composers Orchestra w/ Seth Josel, Keeril Makan’s Dream Lightly. International House, Philadelphia, November 18.

Jason Moran w/ the Bandwagon, Bill Frisell and Alicia Hall. Philadelphia Museum of Art, December 12.


I wondered last week if my list of the ten best performances I've seen would need some adjusting after this past weekend. It does.

I actually took in three concerts (an offer to see this group came up at the last minute), and though all three had strong points, I was most consistently thrilled and excited by Jason Moran's performance at the Art Museum. His commissioned piece, inspired by the Gee's Bend quilt exhibit and a visit to the Alabama town where the quilts were constructed, was a dizzyingly eclectic display, and the crowd, mostly gathered on the steps in the Museum's Great Hall, was enthralled throughout. So Moran, his backing group the Bandwagon, guitarist Bill Frisell, and soprano Alicia Hall take the Number 10 spot on my list (it's based on chronology, not quality). A formal review of the concert is forthcoming.

Kudoes also to Symphony in C, the training orchestra based in Camden. Their version of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony was very, very fine indeed: an honorable mention, if I were to tack one onto my list. In both the Sibelius and the Grieg piano concerto, the Symphony had some of the best pianissimos I'd heard in quite a while -- a good sign for this young group and for the big-name orchestras who will one day inherit some of its players.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The air of other planets

A double dose today on Phawker: first, the latest edition of Paperboy, which includes a digest of PW's cover story on UFO sightings in the Philly area and the enthusiasts who track them. Writer Steven Wells has made a niche of skewering American subcultures, but this story cuts deeper (and weirder) by just letting the abductees tell their own stories.

Also, a Q&A with Shara Worden, the singer/songwriter behind My Brightest Diamond. She's a very thoughtful, inspired performer with deep roots in opera and art-song, and we talked at length about her favorite classical composers and their impact on her. I would have loved to have heard that reconciliation-recital a few years back with the Purcell, Piaf and Weill songs. I'll just have to settle for the Piaf cover at Friday's show.

Photo by Matt Wignall.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

When does it end?

..."it" being the musical year, as opposed to the calendar year. I ask because I've assembled my ten favorite performances of the year, and I'm wondering when it's appropriate to post. I'm likely to take in a few more concerts before 2008 is through (including one this weekend which I previewed for a local newspaper), so I don't want to close off the list prematurely. One ten-item list recently appeared from a much loved and respected source, and I feel relatively sure he'd be open to having a strong December performance bump one from earlier in the year off the list. Whatever the case, I have my list ready. Okay, Philly-area music groups (these two in particular): make me change my mind.

Monday, December 08, 2008


What does hope sound like? A preview of Symphony in C's Dec. 13 concert, featuring Clint Needham's "Radiant Nation," written for the Courier-Post. December 7, 2008.

I mention Needham's current playlist in the article, but I wasn't able to include some of his recent classical favorites: Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts, Vaughan Williams' Vagabond Songs, and the DVD of John Adams' Doctor Atomic. Apart from a setting of Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" for baritone and orchestra (available on his Myspace) Needham hasn't done much vocal writing and was at a loss to explain his current infatuation with opera. We didn't much discuss his upcoming projects, but I can only hope there will be a flowering of busy, energetic vocal music in the future.

Also, big ups to Frank Ticheli, a band and wind ensemble composer who has had an impact on Needham's development, as well as my own.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Society Hill happenings

With a rehearsal and performance with the Choral Arts Society, I thought my weekend would be too booked for any concert attendance. Happily, I had Friday evening free and was able to take in a show by a tight, thoughtful jazz quartet, Shot x Shot. My review just went up on Phawker.

I'm glad that I was finally able to attend a concert presented by Bowerbird, a local outfit that puts on jazz and avant-garde music and dance events in some unlikely spots. One November concert was held at the museum across from my apartment, but I still couldn't go. Though their musical offerings have been mostly of the non-notated variety, their director gave me a little hint about some future programming: Morton Feldman's Second String Quartet. That's what I'm talkin' about.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Yuletide splendor

In the Bulletin's Winter Culture Guide, I have previews of holiday concerts by the Mendelssohn Club and the Philadelphia Singers. Great programs both, with several contemporary pieces -- Stephen Paulus and Steven Heitzig by the Singers, Glenn Rudolph and Anthony Mosakowski by the Mendelssohn Club -- balancing older, more traditional works.

Also, after a Thanksgiving hiatus, Paperboy went up on Phawker yesterday. Food, gifts, pretty typical holiday stuff -- with an extra note of sadness on account of former CP editor Brian Hickey, who I hope will soon return to blogging and dispensing badassery here. Get well soon, Brian.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Southern rock, Northern hospitality

On Phawker, a little preview for The Modern Society, a band out of Atlanta that's trooped north to play The Khyber tonight. Fans of Kings of Leon and the Whigs (also from Atlanta) will find a lot to enjoy, or at least to nod their heads to while frowning slightly. Jangly-pop enthusiasts should be able to dig it as well; I think triangulating The Modern Society between KoL, REM, and the Goo Goo Dolls has them pretty much pegged.

Forthcoming: even more concert previews, including pieces on a strong, young orchestra from the other side of the river and on holiday programs by several Philly choral groups.

Current/recent listening: Ligeti Cello Concerto, Apti by Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition, selections by Kyle Bartlett.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ballroom blitz

A review of Ingrid Michaelson's "Ballroom Madness" show at the TLA, just posted on Phawker. I wish I could have provided photos from last night, but bad lighting and the crush of a sold-out crowd prevented me. I did attempt a kind-hearted parody in place of concert pics: I had Lindsay write 'BE OK' across my face, a la Miss Michaelson's recent album cover. She took a photo that also showed that I was wearing a suit and tie, standard attire for the evening, and I'd hoped to have my written-on face alongside the album cover as an illustration. My editor passed on the photos, making it a fun but fruitless exercise.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Black holes and Super balls

A review on Phawker of SOUND/ART/SPACE, a concert by Network for New Music. I'd first heard that the two works on the program, both world premieres, would be performed twice a la Schoenberg's salon concerts. I was curious: did Schoenberg really present his concerts this way, or is that new-music apocrypha? After consulting with an expert source, I learned that this was true, but it ended up not mattering: just one performance of each piece on Friday, and I think the second performance this afternoon will be the same. Highly recommended, though.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hairy situations

The latest edition of Paperboy just hit Phawker. Philadelphia native John Oates is featured prominently, along with his sweet, now-discarded 'stache. I'm not actually jealous; sideburns have always been more my thing.

The other surprising sight this week: Tim Whitaker still on the masthead of PW, even after last week's news. What gives?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do you hear what I hear?

The Inquirer's Peter Dobrin reports that renovations to the Kimmel Center are being considered. Cultivating greater public access outside of performance times is sure to win cheers; my first suggestion would be setting up a reliable wireless connection, not just for those who'd like to file reviews quicker, but for encouraging any and all to come early to events or to stay late afterward.

Apart from developing the Kimmel into a more public space, the project also seeks to "redress the widely criticized acoustic of Verizon Hall." Though Dobrin points to studies which state that the hall "suffers from a 'low level of reverberance' and a 'relatively low level of impact of the orchestral sound'," I have to say that in my visits, the sound has never seemed as bad as everyone makes it out to be -- a little thin in the low strings, but good presence for the upper strings, woodwinds, and brass. I'm usually on the orchestra level on an aisle, though. I have yet to explore how the sound plays out from the balcony or, more intriguingly, from the seats behind the orchestra that have proved so controversial since the Kimmel's opening in 2001.

News has a kind of mystery

The A-List in this week's issue of Philadelphia Weekly includes my preview of an event at the Central Library. Critic Alex Ross is having a discussion with composer John Adams on Thursday night, and even non-classical fans will find a lot to enjoy in what is sure to be a wide-ranging, energetic talk. Both men attended the same august institution in Cambridge, Mass., spent formative years in Boston and Berkeley, and listen to all varieties of music with passion and interest.

When I spoke with Ross last month, he wasn't sure whether he would be able to take in a concert while in Philly. Friday's matinee of Bruckner and Mozart at Kimmel is tempting, but I hope he might be able to stay for Friday night's concert by Network for New Music.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Though I was unable to attend the Bay-Atlantic Symphony's performance of Joseph Schwantner's "Chasing Light," this year's Ford Made in America commission, NPR has once again come to my aid. Shortly after my article on the Bay-Atlantic appeared in the Courier-Post, NPR's All Things Considered ran a story on the Reno Chamber Orchestra's premiere of "Chasing Light" complete with audio (see left side of the NPR story page) of the piece's first movement. It's an energetic opening, with lots of spinning, sinuous lines and a sense of alternately knotting and unraveling. Wish I could have heard it live, but the RCO's recording certainly comes across as vibrant and vital.

Previously: A Kaleidoscope Blooms

After the fact

In reviewing concerts in Philly, I'm often in the position of seeing a show on Friday night and writing the article the next day. Whether the review is intended for almost-instant publication online or for print on Monday, I regularly have to avert my eyes from other coverage of the same event in the Inquirer. Though I value the thoughts and opinions of that paper's writers, I hate to feel as though I might be swayed by their arguments before making my own.

What a delight, then, to review a concert that had already been presented in New York and not to have a review of that performance hanging over my head. Steve Smith's account ran in the Times today.

We grouped the five pieces slightly differently, and though our opinions differ on Fred Ho's "When the Real Dragons Fly!" (I found it sort of crass, though Fred himself is as relaxed and friendly offstage as he was furiously possessed on it), we both found a lot to like about our respective concerts. Hats off to Jeffrey Milarsky, who led the ACO both at Zankel Hall in NYC and here in Philly. I don't think I gave him sufficient praise in my article, but he tackled all five works with poise and gusto.

Monday, November 17, 2008

When the real critics fly!

Today on Phawker, a Q&A with the NY Times' Ben Ratliff, who is in Philly for an event in support of his newest book, "The Jazz Ear." Tonight, he and pianist Orrin Evans will chat about the craft of jazz, Evans' favorite music, and anything else to which fancy leads them. I'm leaving for the event in a matter of minutes.

Also, a review of the American Composers Orchestra at UPenn's International House, also the site of Ben Ratliff's talk tonight. A good concert with a few very strong pieces. The ACO's Philadelphia season has been, for me, one of the year's most pleasant surprises.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's so funny?

Latest Paperboy just hit Phawker. Suggested title: "Intimacy Issues Edition," with a scary four-letter acronym in one, and a creepy four-letter word (unless "smut" is actually an acronym) in the other.

One note, that started out with musing and led to bemusement: One local blog says it covers "the funniest city on earth." I've wondered about that: is Philly really funnier than other cities? I haven't heard much about the local comedy scene, and articles about other humorous enterprises (improv comes to mind) have left me unmoved. But I saw a van parked up the street from my apartment that may have turned around my thinking on this.

Plastered on the van's rear window, in bright green stencil: "Having Fun is So Much Fun!" Also on that window are images of a hand grenade and what appears to be a monkey; these are rendered in pink. On the van's right side window, in the same color as the message about fun, is "Show Us Your Boobs." I don't know who the drivers are, or why they're sending these messages. If these folks are from Philly (the tags on the van are from Alberta - seriously - so they may not be), this city may just lay claim to the title that DMac is putting out there. Van photo to come if the rain lets up or if they haven't driven away yet.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A great day

The soundtrack to yesterday was Copland, which I thought appropriate for the civic-minded spirit. Today, it's my long-time favorite, The Dismemberment Plan. A reminder that I've been voting for Change since 2002, when it was the Plan's latest album.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"A gigantic concerto for detergent and human being"

That stupefyingly brilliant line from theater director/visionary Peter Sellars can be found in Steve Smith's solid and sensitive profile of soprano Dawn Upshaw. Sellars is referring to a collaboration with Upshaw in performing Gyorgy Kurtag's "Kafka Fragments" in which Upshaw performs simple domestic tasks while singing fiendishly difficult music in German. Within the frame of Smith's article, though, the quote hints at a washing machine's spin cycle, reminiscent of the busy schedules that both Sellars and Upshaw maintain; Upshaw does so in spite of her recent treatment and successful recovery (thank goodness) from breast cancer.

The line struck me not because I have loads of laundry waiting to be done, but because of the swirl of activity following my recent move. I write this from the new friendly confines in Philly, where the internet connection is still spotty and from which I can hear the hooves of horses as they draw carriages down cobblestone streets. More news, and more delighted observations of this city, to come.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Philadelphia freedom

On Phawker, Goodbye Garden State, some thoughts on moving out of the New Jersey suburbs and into the city. It's an auspicious time to be doing so.

No concert coverage this weekend; the demands of moving, unpacking and copious revision of another assignment forbid it. Look for an update from the new, cozier digs on Monday.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pre-electoral tension

Today on Phawker, the latest Paperboy entry. Pretty obvious album reference in the title, of course, but there's a slightly more obscure one in the text. First one to find it wins a prize of some sort.

Forthcoming: a reflection on moving out of the New Jersey suburbs and, at long last, into Philly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Other people's words

Philadelphia's Orchestra2001 took the George Crumb work that they premiered (and which I reviewed) in September to Carnegie Hall. The Times' Allan Kozinn reviewed it as part of a program also featuring "Vox Balaenae" and "The Sleeper." Saith Mr. Kozinn: "Mr. Seeger’s plaintive antiwar text has never sounded more grim." Amen.

Two more reviews of the program I sang over the weekend with the Choral Arts Society have surfaced. The Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reviewed Saturday night's show at Daylesford Abbey, and Tom Purdom of the Broad Street Review wrote about our program on Sunday afternoon at Philadelphia Cathedral.

I'm most awed by Mr. Stearns' kind words, especially since the weather and the travel to Paoli were so horrid on Saturday, making both choir and audience somewhat out of sorts. I disagree, though, that a retrospective concert for a composer under the age of 40 is premature. Some composers certainly deserve such treatment, and Carnegie Hall seemed to agree (Bernard Holland didn't, but no matter).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend triumphs

There was this. Oh, and this. Owing to a late start and an even later finish to Game 3, both victories actually took place on Sunday.

But outside of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, there were other resounding successes this weekend. The Philadelphia Orchestra gave an excellent concert Friday night, which I reviewed for the Bulletin. The Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns might have put it best in his lede: "What a fun concert." I agree.

Nestled between the end of the Eagles' game and the start of the Phillies' yesterday was a concert by the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia. Reporting from my spot in the tenor section, I think that the concert was a success, and I can assert that there was no coercion on my part with regard to Lindsay Warner's review in the Bulletin.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A kaleidoscope blooms

A whole new 'Light.' A preview of the Bay-Atlantic Symphony's performance of this year's Made in America commission, written for The Courier-Post. October 26, 2008.

Based on a performance of "Ancient Runes and Incantations" I heard with Orchestra2001 in Philadelphia, I characterized Joseph Schwantner's music as "mystical" during my conversation with Maestro Gaylin. He assured me that "Chasing Light..." was "rooted in the natural world." If that means no gongs being immersed in water as they are struck, I will be sorely disappointed.

Also of note: the Bay-Atlantic's performance of "Chasing Light..." will be the only one in the Philadelphia area until mid-2010, when the University of Delaware Symphony will perform it. Keystone State performances are being held in York and Williamsport.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whirled Series

For the rapidly descending Mid-Atlantic temperatures, there's piping-hot Paperboy today on Phawker. I declared PW the winner this week - I'm a sucker for a Dogfish Head mention, wherever it occurs - but the real winner is the Phillies, not just for their win last night, but for uniting and igniting the city after tough times (the violent death of a police officer, budget shortfalls, and general economic uncertainty) in the early fall.

One PW oversight: no preview of Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer at the Kimmel Center. The classical offerings at KC often get the short end in PW, but there's no reason to have missed this one. C'mon, BMac.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Happy birthday Dizzy Gillespie

Composer Shulamit Ran, too, but she was never on the Muppet Show. John Birks Gillespie is one of many notables born today, sharing the date with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Nobel, and Carrie Fisher.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Roger Murtaugh edition

The latest on Phawker: A review of a jam-packed punk lineup at the Electric Factory. I was in the rare position to review an event scheduled to be repeated - in this case, tonight. Last night show wasn't perfect - Alkaline Trio's sludginess sometimes came off as sloppiness, and the Gaslight Anthem's occasional use of disco hi-hat made them sound like a sub-par All-American Rejects cover band - but riding the high points of each band's set made for a wild, Warped Tour-esque romp.

Also, another edition of Paperboy, one whose title I did not and do not approve. I suggested "Drop Beats Not Pucks," in light of the Republican vice presidential nominee's recent visit to Philly. I would have put up a more spirited defense, but my editor called when I was already at the aforementioned punk show, and high levels of volume and exhaustion would not allow it.

Re: today's title, Roger Murtaugh is the character who famously exclaimed "I'm getting too old for this shit" in the movie "Lethal Weapon." The 15-year-old me (or even the 18- or 19-year-old me) certainly would have been in the pit last night, but the almost 24-year-old version knew better. After more than 10 years of punk show attendance, I think it may be time to phase out that preoccupation.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Swing and two misses

A couple of dumb mistakes in the Inquirer's review of Anthony Braxton's concert. First, the late Karlheinz Stockhausen is bafflingly referred to as "Markus." Anyone familiar with Braxton's music (or anyone who read David Adler's thoughtful preview) wouldn't have gotten that important detail wrong.

Also, Braxton did not play "contrabass sax." The large, throaty instrument he played was clearly listed in the program as "contrabass clarinet." This also means that the earlier characterization of Braxton playing "a battery of saxophones and clarinet" is not entirely correct either.

The writer, A.D. Amorosi, is a frequent contributor to the Inquirer and a prolific writer and gadabout for City Paper. I'm too much of a newcomer to recognize him by sight, but we were definitely in the same room on Friday night.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quick hits

Q&A with Girl Talk, published in advance of his Thursday show. I'm told it was quite the affair.

The usual Paperboy column. Even as a Gentile and a recent transplant to Philly, the cover stories this week more than held my interest.

Review of saxophonist/extraterrestrial Anthony Braxton, who was inscrutably brilliant. That bassoonist was kind of doggin' it, though. Photos of his graphic scores courtesy of my cell phone.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Classy and cosmopolitan

Title comes from an ad for Symphony in C, formerly the Haddonfield Symphony, seen at PATCO stations throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey. Alliteration sells, don't ya know. I haven't yet had a chance hear to this orchestra, which is led by the estimable Rossen Milanov, but I'm trying to work my way into another regional media outlet, so hopefully more to come on the Fabulous Philadelphians' Camden counterparts.

A new wrinkle in my writings for Phawker: classical and new music! I wrote a wrap-up of this weekend's programs at Kimmel Center. My suggested title: "Tuxedo Junction: Bustin' Loose at Broad and Spruce." Another attempted reference to DC go-go music foiled. I know ALM feels my pain.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Editions, early and late

I let Thursday and the weekend go by without putting forth my latest Paperboy column for Phawker. Great offerings all around last week, and I was especially pleased that a link to one of my favorite writers, Mark Singer, was appropriate to include. John Hall and his biker-gang memories did indeed haunt my dreams last week. Even more troubling: Hall now apparently lives in Central Pennsylvania, though I haven't been able to track down precisely where. Could he have been just around the corner during my time at Bucknell? I shudder to think.

Also, my review of the Philadelphia Orchestra's Opening Night gala appeared in today's Bulletin. The flashy dress I mention in the last paragraph was indeed daunting; I turned up at the concert in jeans and an untucked dress shirt. My plan, if I was met with any glares, was to say I was just coming from an important meeting with The Boss. I came to Saturday afternoon's rally a decided (and registered) voter, but I imagine that many others left converted.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Broad Street bravos

The Inquirer's Peter Dobrin has an outstanding essay in today's paper that reflects on the Philadelphia Orchestra's connection to the city and the community it serves. Especially notable is his commentary on Associate Conductor Rossen Milanov's role with the orchestra:

It's salient to realize that all this happened before the arrival of Charles Dutoit, who takes the podium in his new role as chief conductor and artistic adviser for the first time on Thursday. Rossen Milanov was the artistic leader last week, as he generally is for activities that used to fall dismissively into the category of "other" for the orchestra, but which now nearly constitute core identity.

Though the job of reviewing the Orchestra's concerts on Friday and Saturday fell to the Inquirer's other, equally able critic, David Patrick Stearns, Dobrin captures what those concerts meant to the Orchestra's presence in the city and viability for the future. A great piece for classical music fans, Philadelphians, and anyone eager to drown out the death-knell some would sound for professional orchestras and for classical music in general.

At the season's kick-off on Friday, held on a rainy afternoon, I was pleased to find a mostly-full orchestra section with plenty more in the balconies. I hope and expect that tonight's concert will be even better attended and that Milanov and the Orchestra will once again whip into a frenzy for Lutoslawski's Concert for Orchestra.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Philadelphia Orchestra season debut

Review appears today in the Bulletin. The program will be reprised tomorrow night at 8 pm.

One note of regret: I was unable to attend the Orchestra's weekend performance at Macy's with the Wanamaker organ, featuring Joseph Jongen's Symphonie concertante and the world premiere of a piece by Howard Shore. Lindsay Warner reviewed the concert for today's Bulletin, and David Patrick Stearns' take appeared in yesterday's Inquirer.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good news from Broad and Spruce

My preview of the Philadelphia Orchestra's 2008-09 season ran today in the Bulletin, just in time for the year's first subscription concert. I can report, based on this afternoon's matinee, that the players are sounding great, even with Maestro Dutoit out of town to kick off the Chicago Symphony's season. Associate Conductor Rossen Milanov filled in capably and showed warmth, care and considerable athleticism in leading a program of Tchaikovsky, Haydn, and Lutoslawski. My review of today's concert will appear in Monday's Bulletin, and the Orchestra will reprise the program on Tuesday night at 8 pm. Maestro Dutoit will make his first appearance in leading the opening gala next weekend.

Quoted for truth

I discovered the following in doing some Tchaikovsky research before this afternoon's concert. I had to nab it before sharp-eyed Wikipedians fix it.

From the entry on The Five, a group of Russian nationalist composers in the mid-19th century:

In May, 1867 the critic Vladimir Stasov wrote an article, Mr. Balakirev's Slavic Concert, on a concert given for visiting Slav delegations to the "All-Russian Ethnographical Exhibition" in Moscow. The four Russian composers whose works were played at the concert were Glinka, Dargomïzhsky, Balakirev, and Rimsky-Korsakov. [1] The article ended with the following statement:
We fly high, no lie; you know this... BALLIN!! God grant that our Slav guests may never forget today's concert; God grant that they may forever preserve the memory of how much poetry, feeling, talent, and intelligence are possessed by the small but already mighty handful of Russian musicians

Looks like there was a Furious Five long before Grandmaster Flash.

Aggrieved in the Cleve

The news of Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg's reassignment from the orchestra beat had raised many questions, considerable fervor in the blogosphere (the Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith has amassed a good list), and a sizable lump in my throat.

Rosenberg occupied a fairly lofty position in Cleveland as critic of the city's most notable musical institution, one praised all over the world. Did his frequently negative criticisms of Orchestra director Franz Welser-Möst lead to this decision? Did the Orchestra put pressure on the newspaper to make this move? I've read Rosenberg's reviews occasionally over the last few years, and he has always appeared to me to be deeply knowledgeable. His commentary on the unfortunate situation with the Columbus Orchestra was equally thoughtful and incisive.

Whatever pressure might have been brought to bear, I certainly hope that Mr. Rosenberg will seek recourse and that he will continue to put his gifts as a writer and critic to use, either in Cleveland or elsewhere. Best of luck to Zachary Lewis, the Plain Dealer's new orchestra critic; for him, for Mr. Rosenberg, for me (I'm reviewing the Philadelphia Orchestra at its matinee this afternoon), and for all of us who try to put this ineffable stuff into words, it's all we can do to listen close, play it straight, and tell the truth.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Snarc: A Stephen Starr restaurant

This week's edition of Paperboy has landed on Phawker. Not much more to add, though I can say it was compiled in between rounds of copious revision for a freelance assignment that has held my attention for most of the last two weeks. Some odd echoes in the PW cover story of some friends and classmates in college who set up Christian "intentional communities" by block-booking rooms in dorms. Not my style then, and even less so now, but it seems to put author Steven Wells - British by birth, atheist by his own admission - positively off his lunch. Barely concealed disdain for your subject isn't exactly a tenet of journalism, Gonzo or not, but from what I know of Wells, he's PW's go-to rabble-rouser. I wonder if he gets a bonus per angry letter.

Kudos also to CP for a funny, breezy Choice Awards issue, with the one caveat I mention at the end of my column: the C-word mention. Liz Lemon hates that word, and so do I.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stringing you along

A banner day on Phawker, with the latest edition of Paperboy as well as my review of the latest album by Old Crow Medicine Show.

I first saw OCMS at a small venue at Bucknell University in 2004, and subsequently caught them numerous times on Prairie Home Companion. The percussive upright bass-sound to which I refer in my review is no exaggeration; you'd swear they had a drumkit backing them up. Playing full-tilt, their sound verges on the punk-rockabilly of The Living End and Tiger Army, but their slower tunes don't sacrifice any intensity. The new CD drops next Tuesday, and I highly recommend it. Also, tonight's show at the Electric Factory in Philly is the first on the band's fall tour. I can't make it (Quizzo beckons), but catch them if they come to your area. It's a hootenanny and a half.

There's not much that didn't make it into Paperboy, but I will say it was a bad week for typos in both publications. PW was bursting with good content this week - kudos on that - but many errors were missed. From the Way Too Common Mistake department, "Ghandi" (see fourth section) is not an acceptable alternative for the Mahatma's last name.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where be your gibes now?

The sad news of David Foster Wallace's death came as a particular shock to me, as I'm currently about 600 pages into Infinite Jest and have been planning a kind of retrospective-review for several weeks now. I can't add much to the reams of generous, thoughtful tributes that have surfaced in recent days, but I will say this: I came upon his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College only a few months ago, and I've come to value it very highly as a plea for kindness, understanding and awareness not just of self, but of the larger world. When I first read it, I was spending a good deal of time sitting at a desk in an office, walking the aisles of grocery stores, and driving alone in my car, and it was tempting to retreat into my own private obsessions and thoughts. How refreshing it was to read a message that was essentially moral without being high-and-mighty and to be reminded of the largeness of the sea in which we all swim.

My heart goes out to his wife and family, his former students, and to all those at Pomona College and elsewhere who are now deprived of a chance to share in his wisdom.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Causes for celebration

After a drought of several weeks, my girlfriend and I were victorious once again at a Philadelphia Quizzo event. I owe it to remembering the two Best Picture-winning movies that Paul Haggis has written (though I only liked one of them -- try to guess which) and to Lindsay's recollection of a popular new restaurant in Center City.

Also, even though I'm a recent transplant to Philly, the Phillies' victory last night also qualifies as reason to make merry.

Finally, I'm getting involved in choral singing once again and have joined this group. Rehearsals start this Saturday for an all-Eric Whitacre concert at the end of October, and the rest of the season is dominated by J.S. Bach. I can't wait.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Konichiwa Bitches

Today, a less-joke-laden-than-usual issue of Paperboy on Phawker. What can I say? Serious, well-written journalism tends to defuse snark. In particular, the Weekly cover story is weighty and award-worthy, and the fall arts calendar in City Paper brought some great stuff to my attention (Orchestra 2001 doing Elliott Carter for his centenary). Kudos to both establishments.

I did get to indulge my fact-error-crazed side a bit, though. Sean of the Dead? Heh. Interestingly, I found that very DVD under the coffee table at the place I'm house-sitting for the next week. Weird.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A rhyme that's right on time

Tricky at the Troc, reviewed for Phawker. Not an artist I knew a whole lot about before this week, though I remembered him being in the lineup for Lollapalooza in 1997 back when I was first discovering alternative rock. The opening vamp the band played (after taking the stage to "In the Air Tonight," a strange choice that the crowd loved) was even featured on radio spots for the touring festival in '97. I didn't know the name of it then, and I couldn't figure it out last night and this morning as I wrote my review.

A great show, though, with a lot more presence and volume than I anticipated. In addition to Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy, to whom I referred in my review, Tricky's stage presence and sound also reminded me of a different kind of MC: Lajon Witherspoon, lead singer for the heavy metal band Sevendust, whom I saw on Warped Tour in either '99 or 2000. Not my cup of tea then or now, but Witherspoon definitely owned the stage, much the way Tricky did last night. Highly recommended if he comes to your area, and if you missed him in New York two nights ago, the NYT's Jon Pareles can fill you in on what you missed.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Someday my prints will come

Today on Phawker, an unusually meta edition of Paperboy. Allow me to explain.

The cover story for Philadelphia Weekly is by George Miller, a journalism professor at Temple University and a former staff reporter and photographer for the city's two daily papers. As I read his stories from the trenches and the way in which he has struggled with educating young minds in the ways of an industry in decline, I couldn't help but reflect on my own training, both in the basement of Roberts Hall working on a college weekly and in the hallowed Newhouse complex. Much of the "takeaway" value of his article mirrors the advice I received from instructors in my masters' program, which I've been drawing upon since I graduated and especially since I moved to Philly. I semi-call Miller out for his notebook-dump of quotes from local media authorities, but all in all, it's a very thoughtful and, ultimately, hopeful piece.

The other bit of meta-commentary comes from articles by two staff members of Phawker appearing in this week's edition of the City Paper. Props to Jeff Deeney for his intrepid reporting in Chester and to Citizen Mom, aka Amy Quinn, for bringing some attitude and standing up for the vitality of the Jersey suburbs. Still, I'm writing for a website about a print publication featuring people who write for the same website which started as an alternative to print publications... I think the heat may be getting to me.

Still looking for thoughts on a title for my Phawker position. Given my interest in both pop and classical music and my fondness for New Yorker-style journalism, how does "Middlebrow Correspondent" sound?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From my ink-stained hands

The latest edition of Paperboy hit Phawker this afternoon. I'd like to add my own huge props to the Live Arts and Philly Fringe Festival, on top of the recommendations and rundowns already printed in City Paper and Philly Weekly.

Two little nitpicky things I noticed in CP, but that didn't merit mention: The Pennsylvania state treasurer who killed himself on live TV was named Budd Dwyer, not "Bud", as indicated on CP's Quality-of-Life-o-meter. Also, Dogfish Head Brewery is in Milton, Delaware, not Lewes. I don't catch every mistake, but where American microbreweries and topics from my communications law class are concerned, I consider myself something of an expert.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Canon fodder

New today on Phawker, my retrospective review of Don DeLillo's Underworld. It's under the heading "Re-Consider This," and I look at what a book that catalogs post-Cold War anxiety has to offer today's readers and society. I focus on a somewhat narrow slice of the book; I wish I'd had the space to dig into Klara Sax's swords-to-plowshares art project, converting a weapons surplus into a work of art. Alas, that's the stuff dissertations are made of, I suppose. It's my first venture into serious, or semi-serious, lit-crit since college. I'm wondering what my staff title, on the left side of Phawker's homepage, ought to be, since I've covered rock concerts, new-music happenings, and literature, and figure to do more of all three in the future. Any thoughts?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Catch a rising star

Today on Phawker, a Q&A with Nico Muhly, composer of sweetly nuanced contemporary music and author of funny, thoughtful blog posts with eccentric spelling. I've been a fan since transcribing an interview with him for NewMusicBox in February 2007. I asked him about his current tour with Doveman and Sam Amidon, which comes to Philly's First Unitarian Church this evening. Muhly's method for getting his music out there - get a group of friends together and play it yourselves - recalls his employer and semi-mentor Philip Glass' approach during the 1980's, though it remains to be seen whether it will land Muhly and friends on Saturday Night Live, as it did Glass and his ensemble.

I recall seeing a video of that performance (March 22, 1986 with host George Wendt, if several websites are to be believed) but can't track it down, so this one, from Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1982, will have to suffice.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Alternative, strongly.

Today on Phawker: my first effort as Paperboy, providing a digest of Philly's two alt-weeklies, Philadelphia Weekly and City Paper. Note: despite the headline, I do not think, and have never thought, that you are a bitch. I'm reviving the column for the first time since April; if the headline has caused you offense, please contact my editor.

Stay tuned. Preview of the 802 Tour featuring Nico Muhly, Doveman, and Sam Amidon to be posted soon, including a Q&A with current new-music "it" boy Muhly.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The bleeding heart show

Another review up on Phawker, of the New Pornographers and Andrew Bird at the Electric Factory on Saturday, August 9. (Bird was the opening act, but listing them in performance order makes it sound like the New Pornographers are Bird's backing band, a la Paul Revere and the Raiders, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, etc.)

Extra stuff that didn't make it in:

-Though Kathryn Calder has the unenviable task of replacing the luminous Neko Case on harmony vocals, she performed admirably.

-Calder also played tambourine on a few songs and, at one point, went to fetch the instrument from the drum riser a full two songs before she would actually need it. Preparedness might not seem very rock-and-roll, but something about the clean (but not antiseptic), tight and somewhat-remote nature of the New Pornographers songs seems to demand that kind of advance planning.

-The tuxedoed mannequin that joined the Pornographers on stage during their encore seems to be a replica of someone famous, but I couldn't place whom. Can anyone help me? Also, a mannequin of John Wayne joined them during "From Blown Speakers" to somewhat less riotous applause than the first statue received.

-Though I was only intermittently thrilled by Andrew Bird's performance - too many technical snags, and too many sample-dumping pileups - I'd love to see him try his hand at leading a chamber orchestra, or maybe even composing something more akin to "concert music" for one. Maybe the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which has an outstanding, though recent, tradition of taking on "artistic partners"? Or maybe the always forward-thinking Brooklyn Academy of Music, which took a risk in commissioning a piece from indie-rock savant Sufjan Stevens, a musical polymath like Bird - a risk that paid off in a big way.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Viva la freelance

I'm doggedly tracking down freelance work in Philly and have landed a gig contributing to the website Phawker. Though the name might suggest something similar to the website Gawker only located in Philadelphia, it's something slightly different: Philly-centric cultural coverage, a digest of national cultural coverage, more of an attitude of just-putting-it-out-there than just-making-fun-of-what's-out-there.

In any case, my first assignment for the site was a review of the Download Festival, an eclectic affair that played previously in LA and San Francisco with slightly different lineups. I hadn't done a formal review of a rock concert in a while (the rust shows in the lede, I think, despite some help from my editor), and I made my initial pitch to them about covering the new and classical music. Though I know I'll get around to reviewing the offerings of Relâche, Network for New Music, the Curtis Institute, and maybe even the Philly Orchestra, it looks like I'll have free rein to write about whatever I'd like. Next up: a retrospective/book review of DeLillo and David Foster Wallace. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In hand and in ears

Currently reading: Don DeLillo's Underworld. I saw it on the library shelf, half-remembered Colin's hearty recommendation from a year ago, and am now nearly halfway through and utterly engrossed.

I'm now a thoroughly devoted Pandora user. The transitions between my current lineup of channels can be a little jarring at times, but this will give you an idea of both my longtime favorites and current tastes:

-Punch Brothers
-Edgard Varèse
-The Dismemberment Plan
-Olivier Messiaen
-Nickel Creek
-Steve Reich

A note about the first artist on that list: They were robbed in the ESPN Battle of the Bands, in which recording artists presented their adaptations of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Thanks to Marc Geelhoed for informing me about the competition. I've been without a cable hookup for the better part of a week and haven't been receiving my regular dose of sports programming.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Alarmism will sound

Ordinarily, I'd be elated to discover a prominent media mention of my former graduate program in arts journalism, but this most recent one, in an article by Financial Times' Martin Bernheimer, is hardly cause for celebration. With daily newspapers scaling back or eliminating their coverage of the arts, notable music critics are being dropped left and right, and Bernheimer wonders whether programs like one from which I graduated last June might be fighting a losing battle.

...several academic institutions are offering programmes dedicated to improving the quality of arts journalism. The University of Southern California is spending $1m to train incipient critics. Syracuse University has created a master’s degree programme for the same purpose. One wonders where the graduates will find work.

Upon learning of USC's establishment of a degree-granting program, supplementing its already very highly-regarded mid-career Fellowship program, I must confess I wondered the very same thing.

I count myself lucky that I was able to find work writing about music, in some form, immediately after graduating; I know that many of my classmates were not so fortunate. I don't know what awaits the program's most recent graduates or the journalists that began their studies in the 2008-09 edition of the Goldring Arts Journalism program this past week. To both of those groups, I can only offer this: be curious, do your research, and be dogged in the pursuit of stories, regardless of the subject or the audience. There are always ways to make yourself heard and to make your work read.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Resonance and remembrance

As a fan and performer of contemporary choral music, I often speculate about the potential of poems for musical setting. Today, I was struck by this poem, which was recently recorded by the BBC in remembrance of journalists and reporters killed while serving as war correspondents. The poem, aptly titled "Memorial" and written by James Fenton, accompanies a statue commissioned by the BBC in honor of those brave reporters. I have the deepest respect for those who enter war zones to write and to report - not only as a journalist myself, but as a member of the human race.

Fenton's poem is almost deceptively traditional; I had to read it twice before realizing it was in a simple "ABAB" scheme. The following enjambed sentence speaks volumes as it runs its course across a stanza break:

...Some seemed honour-bound
to take the lonely, peerless track
conceiving danger as a testing ground
to which they must go back

till the tongue fell silent and they crossed
beyond the realm of time and fear.

I discovered the poem via the New Yorker's recently-launched and frequently-updated Book Bench blog, which also excerpted much of that achingly wrought line. I think it must be the idea of the tongue falling silent that so begs to set to music, almost as a musical act of defiance against death.

At a baccalaureate service for a college graduation last month, I heard a setting of the poem "Do Not Stand By My Grave and Weep," believed to have been originally written by Mary E. Frye. The piece came from a version of the Requiem by composer Eleanor Daley, and the choir dedicated its performance to two members of the graduating class who passed away during their first year at the college. Though I'm told the poem is a popular funeral oration, the choral performance was the first time I'd encountered it. Fenton's poem, with its regular scheme and elegant build to a spare but powerful ending, reminded me of Frye's. I was stunned by both, but nearly brought to tears by the latter. Properly set, I believe the Fenton poem might have a similar effect, and not merely on myself.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Inviting chaos

This article by The New Republic's David Hajdu holds two very personal attachments for me. First, the author advised me in my master's program in arts journalism; his guidance in writing and his recommendations in reading have scarcely left my mind in the year since I completed my degree.

Secondly, the invitations that Hajdu addresses by the bands Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails for fans to remix their songs have a clear analog among my own musical tastes and experiences. The 2003 album of remixed versions of songs by the Washington, DC-based band The Dismemberment Plan is a precursor to the current wave of fan-driven invention. The band is among my all-time favorites, and the album, titled "The People's History of the Dismemberment Plan," is a creative endeavor similar to Nine Inch Nails "The Limitless Potential": a collection of re-imagined songs drawn from raw tracks of individual instruments and voices. Some were done by longtime fans, others by casual listeners, and one notable contribution came from an artist who had never heard any of the Plan's music until after submitting his contribution.

The Plan's project was somewhat wider in scope than Trent Reznor's. Tracks from three of the band's four albums could be downloaded and remixed, more than just the two most recent releases that Reznor made available. The experiment, though conducted less than five years ago, also took place in a different era with respect to music technology. The band attempted to sell actual CDs of the remixes, rather than offer them for download.

Without having the CD in front of me, I don't know whether the Plan claimed ownership over the remixes in the way that Radiohead does in its current project. I suspect not; after a short-lived flirtation with Interscope Records, the Plan never strayed from its roots on the DC-based independent label DeSoto Records. "The People's History" is wild, weird and uneven - modifiers that might describe the band's early output, albums titled "!" and "The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified." Only one track from those albums appear on "The People's History," though, and the remixes of songs from later albums "Emergency & I" and "Change" presents more staid material in a newly unhinged fashion. The band's music, in its original and altered forms, remains vital today, with a irresistible tension between exuberance and melancholy in its lyrics and a blend of the rubbery and the robotic in its playing.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The week ahead

Rehearsal tonight for this weekend's performance of Haydn's Mass in the Time of War. Dress rehearsal Saturday, with much time in between sure to be spent distractedly contemplating the balance between choir and orchestra and the relative ease or tension of the maestro's conducting.

I don't know what the program notes for Sunday's concert (3 pm, Most Holy Rosary Church in Syracuse) might hold, but given that this country is at war - five years on now; I let the anniversary pass without comment last month - I wonder whether the maestro might make a comment at the concert. There's no explicit message, whether pro- or anti-, in the text of the work - it sticks closely to the traditional Mass setting - but some conductors I've worked under would never pass up an opportunity for some sort of florid pronouncement.

For my part, and not merely the tenor line that I'm holding down, I think it fitting that the piece ends with the "Dona nobis pacem," with the phrase repeated again and again and again at a brisk pace (quarter note = 132). I imagine it as an mantra-like supplication, fervent, almost manic, but still joyous:


We say it again and again, perhaps with some hope of its fulfillment, however distant. That idea, along with the careful pauses and the delaying of the expected that I love about Haydn, makes singing this work a joy for me.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tickling ivories and fancies

The placement of pianos around Birmingham, England by the artist Luke Jerram and the Fierce Art Collective has garnered lots of media attention, as amateur players all over the city have sat down to plunk at the keys. I ran across the story last week in the Guardian (via Artsjournal.)

A quote from the NPR report: "It's getting people talking you wouldn't normally talk to, and the people you couldn't"

This reminded me of one of my favorite poems, "Self-Improvement" by Tony Hoagland. Linked here, but here's the last stanza's kicker:

So the avenues we walk down,
full of bodies wearing faces,
are full of hidden talent:
enough to make pianos moan,
sidewalks split,
streetlights deliriously flicker.

Cold weather and moisture have taken their toll on the keys, hammers, and internal action. Some of the sounds captured by the NPR report sounded almost like some of John Cage's preludes and inventions for prepared piano. A little off-kilter, but delightful nonetheless. When the pianos are taken away, sometime around the end of the month, the world will still be a strange place, but less magically and less musically so.