Posted inHistory

The Pianist who Killed Stalin

In his 2017 film “The Death of Stalin,” Armando Iannucci links the titular event to a letter penned by pianist Maria Yudina: “Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, you have betrayed our nation and destroyed its people. I pray for your end and ask the Lord to forgive you. Tyrant.” In Iannucci’s history-as-farce, the dictator reads this note […]

Posted inProfile

Sandcastles on the Beach

Sometimes you can figure things out just by thinking them through; sometimes you can figure them out by watching other people. But sometimes you just have to grab onto the electric fence with both hands yourself. For those of us who prefer to learn by doing (including with the occasional low-voltage shock), contemporary classical composition […]

Posted inInterview

The Nature of the Mind

Laurie Anderson, the 71-year-old performance artist, storyteller, musician and wife of Lou Reed, was looking out at the fog. She seemed exhausted, but her green eyes were alert. I met her in her green room in the middle of a packed four-day festival at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, where she was joined by her colleagues, […]

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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, […]

Posted inEssay

End Transmission

Early on in her debut essay collection, Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession, Alice Bolin gives us a definition of the Dead Girl genre: highlighted by the dark specter of a deceased female character—more often than not murdered—who is depicted with an alternating degree of mature sexualization and infantilizing naiveté that earns her […]

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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 […]

Posted inInterview

Uncanny Songs

Before she moved to London as a third-year undergraduate student less than a decade ago, Na’ama Zisser had never even been to the opera. This week sees the production of her very own, “Mamzer Bastard,” by London’s Royal Opera House at the Hackney Empire. Taking place within an orthodox Hasidic community and featuring Jewish cantorial […]

Posted inInterview

In Fuzzy Color

Jessica Cottis has always had a hypersensitivity to sound. As she walks into the cafe at the British Film Institute cinema to meet me, she is acutely aware of little noises—like the man at a table on the right tapping away at his laptop keyboard. She describes this sound to me with a harsh burst […]

Posted inPlaylist

A Women Film Composers Playlist

“If I may be so honored,” said Frances McDormand in her acceptance speech for Best Actress at last Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, “to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me tonight,” and they did—actors, directors, writers. But how many standing were composers? Although there were three women nominated for the original song […]