Posted inEssay

Like the Volga Singing

Psychoanalysis and opera both have an uneven relationship to feminism, to put it mildly. The former, even when challenging the disorienting, traumatic quality of patriarchy, is a product of that same power. The practice’s roots lie in Jean-Martin Charcot’s Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, which turned the confinement of so-called “hysterical” women into a public spectacle. […]

Posted inI Know But

I Know, But: “Boléro”

If you remember the 1980s, you remember Ravel’s “Boléro.” Although the work became a fixture on orchestral programs shortly after its premiere in 1928, the ’80s was arguably the decade of peak “Boléro” saturation, bookended by the soundtrack for the 1979 Dudley Moore comedy, “10,” and Frank Zappa’s 1991 album, “The Best Band You Never […]

Posted inHistory

The Smoldering Progressive

Pity Paul Dukas. For most listeners—even serious music lovers—his work is the mere soundtrack to the anthropomorphic avatars of the Disney corporation. Despite floating in the same fragrant creative broth of early 20th-century Paris as Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy he has been rather overshadowed by both, to say nothing of his twelve-tone contemporaries in […]

Posted inProfile

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, […]

Posted inOpinion

Adams 2.0

Thanks to John Adams, I am no longer a snob. When I was studying composition in graduate school, I was possessed by a young man’s certainty about his own knowledge and taste. Still, I was exposed to enough contradictory opinions and ideas that I began to— fortunately—entertain doubts. What if I didn’t know everything? One […]

Posted inInterview

Degrees of Density

“99 percent of the day, we are in the thinking mode,” Peter Ablinger tells me across a table in the lobby of our hotel in Bergen. “And in opposition to that, if we decide now to be silent for a few seconds. Just…” His voice drifts off and he raises his eyebrows in anticipation. For […]

Posted inEssay

Doom and Womb

Few pieces within the contemporary classical repertoire concern themselves solely with pregnancy, a fact of which I am all too aware as someone living a double life as a music writer and a reproductive rights activist. Examples of womb-centric compositions include chamber and orchestral works by Dai Fujikura, in which he appropriates and musicalizes his […]

Posted inEssay

Honey in the Throat

“Life here is a John Cage score, dissonance made eloquent.” Bill Hayes, Insomniac City “This text is a mosaic of remarks,” begins the Florent Ghys composition “An Open Cage.” When I first hear it, I mistake John Cage’s voice for essayist David Rakoff’s. They share a raspy, disaffected tone, a soft sibilance that exudes ironic […]