Posted inHistory

Bells

When you think of small towns in rural England, you envision medieval stone buildings, carefully manicured gardens, and tearooms with Thomas Hardy-esque quietude, serenity, even sleepiness. That is, until you hear the bells. In every church. Ringing every hour, on the hour. Every Sunday morning, I remember incessant calls to worship at the cathedral next […]

Posted inInterview

Detail and Plasticity

Piyawat Louillarpprasert’s composition “Tremble” unfolded as an almost literal translation of its title. The strings tapped col legno battuto, the woodwinds played rapid hairpin swells, single notes were articulated repeatedly and passed throughout the ensemble. At one point, the conductor compared a section to a “rainforest in Thailand.” It was August 25, a sunny morning. […]

Posted inHistory

Scores on the Sidewalk

In late 1981 or early 1982, the composer and vocalist Julius Eastman was evicted from his apartment in New York City. City marshals placed his belongings on the sidewalk, including all of his scores, and Eastman walked away, leaving everything behind. After years of drifting in and out of homeless shelters and bumming money from […]

Posted inEssay

Mezzo-sopranos from Outer Space

In 2015, the writer Lisa Bolekaja published a short story in Uncanny, a magazine for science fiction and fantasy, called “Three Voices,” inspired by the Morton Feldman piece of the same name. At the climax, a vocalist’s skin pigmentation drains from her body and her eyes pop out. “How could she sing with no head?” […]

Posted inProfile

Mythology Of Our Time

This Tuesday, I spoke with John Adams by phone from his studio, in Northern California. He will be the Artist in Residence at the Berlin Philharmonic next season, and I thought I’d give him some unsolicited advice about techno music here. Does he listen to it? “Sometimes.” Berlin also has a reputation as a paradise […]

Posted inHistory

An Exorcism

Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion,” Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”: These are considered some of the premier artistic anti-war statements of our time. Just as worthy to be a part of this company is French composer Arthur Honegger’s Third Symphony—a work that you may not have heard in quite a while. […]

Posted inInterview

Changing The System

I met the composer Christian Wolff for this interview some time ago in Hamburg, Germany. There were a few other people in the room—from the festival klub katarakt, which had a commissioned a new work from him—and I asked Wolff if he felt like performing an impromptu version of his prose piece “Crazy Mad Love.” […]

Posted inEssay

One Night’s Chord

At the heart of Schoenberg’s string sextet “Verklärte Nacht” stands a chord. In the midst of the work, an ambiguous, complex, chromatic tone poem, the chord stands out as uniquely ambiguous, complex, and chromatic. The work was controversial when it was written, its lush, shifting harmony having been too much for many early listeners, and […]

Posted inHistory

Black Magic

On the evening of March 7, 1983, the French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier went for a drink at a bar in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. He picked up a young man there and brought him back to his apartment for sex. The man then stabbed Vivier to death. If, before he fled, the killer had […]

Posted inInterview

Stay Worried

I first met Betsy Jolas, a distinguished composer with a nearly 70-year career, in 2005. I had received a scholarship to attend the Academie Villecroze in Provence, France, and performed a piece of hers there. The work was “Mon Ami,” for a pianist; it’s unique in that the pianist sings, her voice melding with the […]