8/11/08

Anti-Anti-Modernism

Ah, New York City, where you can go to contemporary music concerts on…barges?

Floating, Personalizing, and Performing

Everyone knows about the three B’s of classical music: Bach,
Beethoven and Brahms.


Here is a list of classical composers whose last names start with “B”. But that’s not the point. Chiding a well-known pithy truism is the point, Well, actually, that’s not the point either.

The pianist David Holzman, speaking from the Bargemusic stage before his recital on Friday night, introduced a new wrinkle with three A’s: austere, abstract and academic.

Oh, here we go again with the modernist-hating again. Wait, I thought Mr. Holzman was a specialist in the contemporary piano repertory?

Mr. Holzman, a specialist in the contemporary piano repertory and a congenial commentator, brought up those qualities to debunk them.

Ah, pity poor Sator Arepo; his straw man has been set up and knocked down before he could even get there. Well played, Steve Smith of the New York Times.

True, his program was chock full of challenging works by some of the 20th century’s more formidable musical thinkers, including Roger Sessions, Ralph Shapey, Stefan Wolpe and the now ubiquitous Elliott Carter. But Mr. Holzman’s intent was to humanize these figures and to provide an entry point for comprehending their music.

Awesome. Slightly subjective, perhaps, but awesome.

The first half of the program was largely devoted to works by Sessions and Shapey, whose music is also paired on the Holzman CD issued in December by Bridge. He spoke of Sessions’s patrician upbringing and personal melancholy and of Shapey’s rebellious contempt for polite society.

Ah, Shapey, the consummate curmudgeon. And..?

The music supported his comments. Sessions’s lean, muscular Piano Sonata No. 1, a Neo-Classical work from 1930, was tonal and even jazzy at times. But its melodies were usually limited to solitary lines with little counterpoint: a sign of isolation, Mr. Holzman said. In Shapey’s “Mutations” (1956) and “Mutations II” (1966), flinty, atonal kernels were objects of cool, obsessive scrutiny from varying angles.

First: “flinty”?

Second: This is a great way to (at least) give listeners who are perhaps [read: probably] unfamiliar with the rep to get some leg up on a way to try to understand the music.

In his comments Mr. Holzman also made a connection between Sessions’s piece and Mr. Carter’s Piano Sonata (1946), which opened the second half of the program. Mr. Carter considers Sessions to have been a major influence. But in place of his mentor’s melancholy, Mr. Carter offers an exuberant optimism, maybe even a cocky flexing of newly honed muscles. Mr. Holzman’s account was not spotless. But a few missed notes during the work’s most agitated passages were a small price to pay for playing so full of blood, steel and unshakable conviction.

Again, a noble pursuit. Sorry so little snark. I really liked the article and the concept. Last but not least:

In Pozzi Escot’s Sonatina No. 5 (“For Hobie,” 2006), serene bell tones alternated with manic outbursts of Ivesian cacophony.

Yay! Pozzi Escot!

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[Edit] This post, in fact, was composed by Sator Arepo (if you couldn't tell already), which may account for the unfamiliarity with barge music. See: Alvin Curran.]
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5 comments:

Sator Arepo said...

Thanks for fixing my formatting issues, E!

Sator Arepo said...

And touche' on the Alvin Curran reference.

AnthonyS said...

"Flinty" is an awesome word.

Gustav said...

The "flinty" Seinfeld episode was just on today.

"I just can't spare a square."

"He's a mimbo."

Hi-lar-i-ous. Well, mostly.

Murderface said...

"Flinty" is no goofier when applied to music than it is when applied to wine. Don't act like you've never waxed obscurely rhapsodic with adjectival deluges yourself, Herr Arepo.

Barge music would be rad. You sure couldn't walk out if you hated the piece, though. Sounds like a perfect Purgatory for Mr Holland.

QOXMDL: Ask your doctor if Qoxmdl is right for you.