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The Antidote

At the end of our conversation, Andrew Manze says something puzzling. We’ve been speaking for nearly two hours, about Brahms, Bruckner, Brexit, orchestral honeymoons and the right time for a conductor to say goodbye; about tempi, literature, and how to nourish the imagination. Manze is a maestro, but our conversation is an antidote to the […]

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The Listener is Present

I. (beauty) “I really think that beauty can come from ugliness,” Marina Abramović told me as she gestured to several pictures of her boobs. We were seated across from each other at a long wooden table in her Greenwich Village apartment, casually sparring about the place of silence, violence, and beauty in art. The performance […]

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The Inner Mountain

I worked in a music library for some years. One of our regular visitors was an elderly Irish nun whose eyes twinkled with purpose. She was working on her book, she told me, about the Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya. Ustvolskaya’s music was little known in the West when Sister Andre Dullaghan had first heard it, […]

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33 Variations on Vladimir Jurowski

Theme Vladimir Jurowski will become music director of the Bavarian State Opera in 2021. He has been leading the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Enescu Festival in Romania since 2017. He will remain principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and artistic director of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation, based […]

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Challenging Dispositions

Almost directly beneath the composer Patricia Alessandrini’s feet, in a basement performance space, lurks a sheet of steel. We are sitting in the garden of a café next to Goldsmiths College, London, where she lectures in sonic arts, and after our conversation she invites me to have a look. Large enough to bend slightly under […]

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Out of the Piano’s Shadow

“I like leather,” the famous harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková once said. Amid the harpsichord’s renaissance in the 20th century, a debate arose as to the materials that should be used for the plucking mechanism (plectra): leather or quill? While historically inspired instruments use quill or Delrin imitation, the material of choice for plectra in larger, piano-like […]

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Studio Metaphors

“I don’t even know what it means,” Morton Subotnick admitted, when I asked if his music could be called psychedelic. We were sitting in his hotel lobby on a Friday afternoon, a few days before his concert at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. The influential experimental/electronic music composer’s appearance fit right in the spirit of their program. […]

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Excavated Timbres

By the time he started pursuing a formal education in the avant-garde, John McCowen had already traversed to both ends of the spectrum of rock popularity. During the 2000s, he was singing and screaming in hardcore bands at house shows around his native Carbondale, Illinois. Then, in 2009, he was playing flute and sax in […]

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Incense

The Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, just a few days until New Year. A period of “Nutcrackers” and overpriced tickets, seeing and being seen. Of course, one can continue to be satisfied with this fossilized mainstream, but the Muscovites have long since developed a taste for new trends, especially when served to them in […]

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The Mischief I Made

When a friend sent me a YouTube video of Helmut Lachenmann’s newest piece, “Marche fatale” for orchestra, I texted him back asking, “Holy shit, is this a joke?” The eminent German, who writes noisy works of intimidating craft and intelligence, who has probably single-handedly invented more new instrumental sounds than anyone in music history, had […]