Monday, August 16, 2021

RIP Boom


Professor Vadim Batitsky, the "Boom" who wrote the Boom's Dungeon blog. 

Of course Carter's audience is still relatively small.  But then the audience for art music in general is minuscule compared to the millions who crave endlessly recycled vapid clichés of pop music.  Which only proves that those who (like Richard Taruskin) evaluate a composer's style in terms of the size of his audience simply confuse art music with gay porn where size indeed matters...

-- Boom Boomboomsky

Lately I have been listening to a lot of Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter. I like Sessions quite a bit, but this action is also meant as a tribute to my favorite classical music critic, "Boom," of the Boom's Dungeon blog.  He died recently; I can't tell you when, but only that it was confirmed in a June 23 blog post which I reference below. 

Boom -- in reality, the late Vadim Batitsky, a philosophy professor at St. John's University, although he did not reveal himself until last year -- blogged since 2009 at the Boom's Dungeon blog.  

Blogging as "Boom Boomboomsky," wrote about many topics covering classical music, but concentrated on trying to find converts to many of his favorite modernist composers, particularly Elliott Carter but also Sessions, Helmut Lachenmann  and many others. He did succeed in winning me over to Sessions but becoming a Carter fan remains a bit of a work in progress for me. 

Boom's witty blog posts heaped scorn on listeners and critics who refused to take Carter seriously. For example see the blog post "Fuck the Future,"  a December 2019 post about New York Times critics who waited decade after decade for interest in Carter to fade. "The recent past is pretty much all that can be surveyed with sufficient clarity and, as far as I can see, it shows no signs of diminishing interest in Carter's music," Boom wrote, surveying recent performances of Carter's music.

                                                                     ***

Buddhist monks, I'm told, are all good people.  Too bad I'm not interested in meditation, gardening, and other things with which they occupy themselves in their monasteries.  What I am interested in is what composers and musicians do.  Unlike Buddhist monks, however, musical artists are a checkered lot.  The ranks of even the most distinguished ones include murderers, supporters of totalitarian regimes, plagiarists, racists, pedophiles, fraudsters, pederasts, sadistic bullies, abusive husbands, habitual liars, and just plain assholes.  In short, with respect to variations in moral character, musical artists do not differ significantly from members of other professions, which is to say that, as a group, they are worse than Buddhist monks but better than convicted felons.

-- Boom 

The above quote is from another of Boom's better blog posts, "The company we keep,"  inspired by the disgrace of James Levin. Boom muses. "The passage of time does not make evil acceptable.  It only makes it impersonal.

"Which is why I do not consider myself a moral defective for listening to music composed by card-carrying Communists or recorded by card-carrying Nazis.  Or for enjoying operas whose librettos are full of misogyny and sexual violence.   And when it comes to the music of Elliott Carter - the music which over the years has meant more to me than that of any other composer save for Beethoven - I feel no need to make excuses for returning time and again to concert recordings of Carter's works by the now disgraced American conductor James Levine.  Whether in Carter's late-period Three Illusions (Boston Symphony, 2007) or in the early Variations for Orchestra (Munich Philharmonic, 2003), Levine's measured tempi, rich (but never thick) textures, and vocal shaping of melodic lines offer a fascinating alternative to the coolly analytical readings of Pierre Boulez or the airy, fleet, and sparkling interpretations of Oliver Knussen."

As befits a philosophy professor, Boom is very erudite, his writing filled with many references (including a surprising number of quotations from rock music), but he is also very direct, as in the post, "Who gives a fuck about how it makes you feel!"

In the post, Boom denounces "impressionistic drivel which, despite the seeming objectivity of wording, is only about whatever it is that pops into the writer's head when he/she listens to (or reflects on) such-and-such piece of music.  When confronted with this kind of writing - whether in the form of metaphysical mumbling (Wagner), Marxist yapping (Adorno), feminist babbling (Susan McClary), or diarrhetic torrents of metaphors, free associations, and misused scientific concepts (insert here the name of any so-called new musicologist) - the only appropriate response I can think of is the one given by the title of this post."

I didn't agree with some of Boom's opinions. I happen to like some of the music written by minimalist and postminimalist composers, for example; Boom, as far as I can tell, never had much use for Philip Glass and John Adams. (It must have bothered him that the modern music he dislikes is the kind that gets played most often on classical radio stations.) And I certainly like Shostakovich's music better than Boom did. 

But Boom's posts always forced me to think, and he turned me on to composers I had not even heard of. I particularly liked the live recording of Edison Denisov's second symphony, featuring the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra led by conductor Jörg-Peter Weigle, that Boom shared. 

All of these blog posts were in service to a great love of classical music, fed by what must have been a large collection of commercial recordings, but also apparently a vast collection of live recordings of classical music, apparently recorded from the radio, which Boom shared on his blog and also in correspondence with friends. 

And despite the truculent tone of many of his blog posts, Boom in fact was very kind to me, sharing quite a bit of music with me; I listen again and again, for example, to the live performances of Roger Sessions that he shared with me. 

He also was good about sharing his thoughts with me. I wrote to him last year, mentioning that I particularly liked Sviatoslav Richter's recordings. of Beethoven. I asked if he had a favorite pianist for Beethoven. He replied, "With Beethoven (as with other important composers) I've always found it impossible to identify a 'favorite' pianist (or conductor).  Music of such richness invites a wide variety of interpretative approaches, and different musicians are more attuned to some but not other aspects of the music.  I suppose that's what makes art music in performance so endlessly fascinating.  I have multiple performances of various works in my portable player, not because I like 'diversity' for its own sake, but because being so different in their emphasis on various aspects of music (formal, dramatic, 'modernist', etc) each gives me something the others do not, and together they give me a deeper and more satisfying understanding of the music's richness and depth."

I don't know when Professor Batitsky passed away; he was very private and I have not found any announcement. I do know that he wrote in a 2020 blog post that he was suffering from a terminal condition and would not live long. His death was announced in a self-penned farewell obituary  posted on June 23, 2021, "I GO TO WHERE MUSIC WAS BORN (reportedly J.S. Bach's last words)."

In the blog, Professor Batitsky/Boom thanked everyone who had read the blog and commented on it, or taken the time to write to him.

"My blog was only my way of having fun by advertising my enthusiasms and venting my frustrations derived from encounters with art music, art criticism, journalism, academia, and a few other subjects I found worthy of my time.  At the risk of flattering myself, I took it that those few people who periodically visited my blog did so because they were interested in, if not always pleased by, what I wrote about these subjects.  And this made me feel that such readers deserved to know that this blog had become inactive not because I got bored with it or ran out of things to say, but for a biological reason beyond the reach of modern medicine."

Goodbye Boom, and thanks for all of your words.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

'Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk' available online

 


Dimitri Shostakovich's opera, Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk, is available free through August 14 at OperaVision. The Birmingham Opera Company production, recorded in March 2019, moves the setting to a nightclub. 

Here's the blurb from the website: "Birmingham Opera Company's 50th production relocates Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to a disused, iconic nightclub where, amidst the 150 volunteer actors and chorus, audience members encountered bloody brides, oversized rats and poisoned wedding guests. Accompanied on stage by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a band from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and with a radical set design by the Banksy collaborators Block 9, ‘the production is perhaps its most brilliant so far’ (The Observer)."

Go here to watch or learn more. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Alex Ross listening recommendations for Schnittke

Alfred Schnittke (public domain photo)

Ethan Iverson recently interviewed Alex Ross, the New York music critic. The whole thing is worth reading, but I found it particularly valuable because Ross explains where to start in listening to Alfred Schnittke's music. I wish I ran cross this sort of thing more often, as it can be helpful to know where to start with an unfamiliar composer. Here is the relevant part of the exchange:

Iverson:  I’m surprised that Schnittke is not a little more in the conversation today, because his best work is so strong.

Ross: Yeah, certain pieces are played, but he’s been somewhat pushed aside. You hear more Pärt, Gubaidulina, Silvestrov, others of that generation. Partly, it may have to do with the fact that he died fairly young and his legacy was in some disarray at the end. Some pieces—the First Symphony, the Piano Concerto, the String Trio, the string quartets—are very powerful. A lot of other pieces feel somewhat cobbled together.

There is more on Schnittke at the link. 





Sunday, March 7, 2021

Great resources at Ubuweb


 Album I like at the Wolf Fifth Archive.

Not directly related to the topic of this blog, but something of interest to serious listeners: The Wolf Fifth Archive of modern classical music apparently has been completed at Ubuweb. It's been there for years, but it took a long time for it to be completed. Lots of Stockhausen, Boulez and Cage and a little bit of everything else. Not a lot of Russian material, unfortunately. "Wolf Fifth was a modernist music blog, featuring out of print and orphaned classics," a note on the site explains.

Ubuweb also provides access to a similar site, The Avant Garde Project. 

If you are familiar with Ubuweb, I suggest taking a look.  The "Top Ten" lists on the home page are a good place to browse. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

More rare Mosolov will be recorded for release


Maestro Arthur Arnold and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. See the orchestra's website.

The two premiere recordings of the two pieces by Alexander Mosolov on the new Naxos recording of his Symphony No. 5  and his Concerto for Harp and Orchestra are only the beginning of a new effort to make more of his music available. There are also plans to release a recording of his 3rd and 4th symphonies. That's the interesting bits of news in a press release from Naxos issued earlier. Max Gutbrod, the executive producer the new album, says some of Mosolov's chamber and choir music also is being considered.

The press release, which Mr. Gutbrod passed on to me, has quite a bit of information I did not have when I did my previous blog posts on the album (you can read my review and also read my interview with harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman). Here is the release. -- Tom 

Moscow Symphony Orchestra releases world premiere recording Dec. 4 CD is the first to include Alexander Mosolov’s 5th Symphony & Harp Concerto 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

December 4, 2020 

Today, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra (MSO) makes history with the release of a world premiere recording of rare works by Russian composer Alexander Mosolov. Now available on the Naxos label, the CD features Mosolov’s Symphony No. 5, as well as his “lost” Concerto for Harp and Orchestra

Though no longer a household name, Mosolov (1900–1973) was once dubbed the “experimental head” of Soviet avant garde music. His 1927 work, Iron Foundry, remains his best  known composition in the western world. But to be experimental and boundary-pushing did not come without consequences, and by 1937 Mosolov had been expelled from the Union of Composers and arrested on accusations of anti Soviet propaganda. He was granted early release in 1938. After the experience Mosolov altered his style significantly. Most of his post-Gulag works took influence from Central Asian folk music rather than Soviet politics, and were performed only once or twice, if at all. 

Mosolov’s Concerto for Harp and Orchestra had its premiere in December 1939 at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. By all accounts it should have become one of his signature works, but after an initial performance featuring famed Russian harpist Vera Dulova and maestro Aleksandr Gauk, it was soon forgotten. Only the cadenza lived on, and to this is day studied in the harp class of the Moscow Conservatory. Mosolov’s 5thSymphony, his last, was completed in 1965. It met a similar fate and the work was never even performed in his lifetime. 

Enter entrepreneur and music philanthropist Max Gutbrod. Over the past three years, the retired lawyer, mentor to startups, and avid flute player has supported the restoration and resurgence of these compositions, in collaboration with MSO music director Arthur Arnold. 

“I came across the legendary Russian musicologist Ina Barsova who showed me some manuscripts of Mosolov,” Gutbrod recalls. “I immediately contacted Arnold, whose concerts with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra I have been admiring for years now, to see if we could bring these unperformed works to life. Together with Barsova I went to a play-through of the 5th Symphony that Arnold arranged with the MSO. When the music sounded I realized we had found valuable hidden gems.” 

The MSO’s managing director, Marina Levine, agrees. “As soon as I heard the 5th Symphony I knew that we had something unique in our hands,” she says. “How wonderful that the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is part of this exciting project.” 

The only source for the 5th Symphony is a conductor’s score from now-defunct publisher, Kompositor Moscow and a reprint from Schott. No one knows what happened to the original manuscript. The only source for the harp concerto is the composer’s manuscript that Arnold discovered in the library of the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow. Orchestra parts were created to get the works ready for performance. 

By the winter of 2018, Arnold and the MSO were preparing for a concert and recording session. “There were clear mistakes in the printed score of the 5th Symphony, but with no manuscript to reference, I could only compare notes with other parts of the score and with the manuscripts of his other symphonies. There are no traditions to fall back on. It’s exciting to discover a never performed work to that depth.” says Arnold. 

The harp concerto offered a particular thrill in this regard. Not only had it never been completely performed (Gauk decided to scrap the third movement Gavotte for the premiere in 1939) but Arnold was able to share the groundbreaking event with a young musician connected to one of his other artistic projects — the Pacific Region International Summer Music Association (PRISMA) Festival & Academy in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada.

American harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman was the winner of PRISMA’s 2018 Concerto Competition. The first prize is the opportunity to perform in the MSO in Russia. The 24-year-old got a whole lot more than she bargained for. 

“For me it was obvious to give Taylor the chance to be the soloist for the harp concerto,” says Arnold. “It’s so important to support young musicians. She’s an excellent harpist, has proven herself at PRISMA and was ready for the big leap. What a great opportunity for her career.” 

Arnold and Gutbrod expect that the album, recorded at the Mosfilm Studios, will result in future performances of Mosolov’s music by other orchestras around the world. An upcoming biopic by filmmaker Matthew Mishory, entitled Mosolov’s Suitcase, is also part of their multi-faceted plan to bring the composer more recognition. 

“What Shostakovich was so afraid of—being deported at night—happened to Mosolov,” says Arnold. “How did the actions of the regime impact his writing? He has a clear change in style after his imprisonment, but why? Natural development, political influence, a combination? We will probably never know. It is clear however that the musical language of Mosolov is his unique own and needs to be heard. I feel privileged to be able to discover and study manuscripts of these never-performed symphonies and it is an honor to premiere and record them, so that Mosolov’s musical voice doesn’t get lost and will be known to a broader public.” 

Arnold recently discovered the manuscripts of Mosolov’s 3rd and 4th symphonies in the Russian State Library and is preparing them for performance with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and for recording on Naxos “World Premiere Recordings.”

Currently Arnold is working closely together with music publisher Kompozitor St. Petersburg to create an official edition of the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra that will be available for performance in the near future. 

To purchase a copy of the album, visit https://naxos.lnk.to/8574102. 

For bookings, commissions and music rental, contact Latitude 45 Arts Management: latitude45arts.com. 

ALEXANDER MOSOLOV 

Alexander Mosolov was one of the foremost composers of the Russian avant-garde during the 1920s. His music was considered 'a testament to the revolutionary spirit of his time’, but the legacy of his fame from that period now rests solely on his work The Iron Foundry. Soviet-era politics brought persecution and imprisonment, and these two recorded works were both composed after his ‘rehabilitation’. The harp concerto – a piece worthy of a place in the mainstream repertoire – is Mosolov’s ‘response ’to the harp concerto by his teacher Glière, and is heard here in its first complete performance. Coupled with the first recording of his final and colorful 5th Symphony, these are fascinating additions to the corpus of neglected Soviet-era works. 

ARTHUR ARNOLD – MOSCOW SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA 

Dutch-born conductor Arthur Arnold is the Music Director of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra since 2012 and the Artistic Director of the Pacific Region International Summer Music Association (PRISMA) Festival & Academy in Canada. He is a guest conductor for orchestras all over the world. 

The Moscow Symphony Orchestra is one of Russia’s leading orchestras, recognized for its outstanding discography, with its recording of film music by Bernard Herrmann (Marco Polo 8.225168) named among the top ten recordings of 2001 in The Economist. International awards for its recordings include CD of the Month awarded by CD Review, the prestigious Diapason d’Or and the Chairman’s Choice at the Cannes Classical Awards. 

TAYLOR ANN FLESHMAN 

Young harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman has, among numerous awards, been First Prize winner of the 2018 Pacific Region International Summer Music Association’s concerto competition. After performing and recording the Mosolov Concerto for Harp and Orchestra in Moscow for Naxos she was invited to the PRISMA Festival to perform the work as a guest soloist for the North American premiere with the PRISMA Festival Orchestra under the baton of Arthur Arnold.


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Mosolov concerto harpist: Piece 'shows off the brilliancy of the instrument'

 

Taylor Ann Fleshman (photo courtesy of the artist) 

I've been listening often to the important new Alexander Mosolov recording that includes two previously unavailable pieces, Mosolov's Symphony No. 5 and the composer's harp concerto. 

The recording demonstrates there's more to Mosolov than his best-known works from the 1920s and 1930s. And listening to the harp concerto made me wonder: What was recording it like for the harpist? What did she think of the work?

The soloist on the concerto is Taylor Ann Fleshman, a young North Carolina native now based in New York as principal harpist for The Orchestra Now. I wondered how a Southern lady wound up recording a Russian concerto in Moscow, and she obliged me by taking my questions: 

Russian Futurism: How did you get involved in the project to record the "lost" Mosolov harp concerto?

Taylor Ann Fleshman: In 2018, I attended the PRISMA Festival in British Columbia, Canada and competed in their concerto competition. If one wins, they can either choose $1,500 or they can play one concert with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. I ended up winning the concerto competition and chose to play with the MSO, but the prize is to play as a regular orchestra musician, not as a soloist. Months later, I believe it was September, I received a phone call from Arthur [MSO conductor Arthur Arnold] with exciting and unexpected news. They originally planned to do the concert with a trumpet soloist, but it was cancelled, so they decided to go down another route, which was an all Mosolov concert. This included the harp concerto, and I immediately said yes!

Russian Futurism: Do you think the Mosolov concerto deserves to enter the performance repertoire? Are you hoping to get invitations to perform it with various orchestras?

Taylor Ann Fleshman: I believe the Mosolov harp concerto deserves to enter the repertoire. It’s definitely one of the larger and longer harp concertos, totaling about 35 minutes. The work offers a wide range of colors and shows off the brilliancy of the instrument.

I do hope to get invitations to perform this work again! I did get the chance to perform it twice the summer of 2019 in Powell River, Canada. Every time I perform it, I uncover something new or find different ways to phrase melodic lines.  

Russian Futurism: Why did you pick the harp as your instrument? What are your favorite pieces for harp? 

Taylor Ann Fleshman: My parents saw a harpist on TV back in 2003 and thought to themselves “Wow, you don’t see many people who play the harp.” I was seven at this time and had been taking piano lessons for two years already, so they thought that it was maybe time to get me involved in a second instrument. One night, my dad asked me if I wanted to play it, and I responded with “David played the harp in the Bible so why not?” At that age, that was my only connection with the harp. 

Henriette Renié (public domain photo)

I really love the repertoire by Henriette Renié, a French harpist, composer, and teacher who was a pioneer in the harp world. One of my favorite pieces by her is “Ballade Fantastique,” which is based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The harp is clichédly associated with the angelic, but in this piece, it is linked with horror. One can hear in the music the actions that are occurring in the short story, such as the narrator’s stalking and hiding of the old man’s body.

Russian Futurism: Piano players usually have to use whatever piano is available locally, while violinists travel with their instruments. What's it like for harpists? How often do you get to use your own instrument when you are on the road?

Taylor Ann Fleshman: Most of time, when in the U.S. I will use my own instrument, especially if I am playing with an orchestra or a gig. There have been times though, like when I’ve performed in Europe, Asia, or even the West Coast, where I’ve rented a harp. It is a lot more convenient and safer to rent an instrument than to fly with it. 

Russian Futurism: Please tell me a little bit about The Orchestra Now and your role in it.

Taylor Ann Fleshman: The Orchestra now is a pre-professional orchestra program that trains the upcoming generation of musicians from across the globe.  We perform concerts across the Hudson Valley as well as in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Met Museum of Art. Not only do we perform concerts, but we also write concert notes, have discussions with patrons during intermissions, and do outreach programs in the community, and we also do coachings with leading musicians in our field along with mock auditions to practice taking orchestral jobs. While we're doing all of this, we're also getting degrees at the Bard college in either a Master of Music or an Advanced Certificate. I am the only harpist (principal harp) with The Orchestra Now and earning my Advanced Certificate at the Bard College.


Friday, December 4, 2020

A fine new Alexander Mosolov album

I'm really excited about the new Alexander Mosolov album issued by Naxos. It has 68 minutes of music that's never been available before, so it would be of interest even if the music wasn't that great. But in fact I like the album and expect to listen to it many times. 

The recordings feature Dutch born conductor Arthur Arnold, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman. There are two pieces: A harp concerto that dates to 1939, and a Fifth Symphony in E Minor that according to this chronology dates to 1960. The harp concerto is pretty and charming, four movements about 37 minutes; the three-movement symphony apparently was Mosolov's last. I wouldn't call the symphony avant garde, but it is interesting enough to hold my attention; the notes for the album (by Anthony Short) say, "Its colourful, if uncontroversial, scoring makes it an enjoyably fascinating addition to the corpus of neglected Soviet-era symphonies now seeing the light of day for the first time." That seems like a fair judgment to my ears.

Short's notes say about the harp concerto "Three of its movements were first performed in 1939 at the Moscow Conservatoire with Vera Dulova as the soloist, but the manuscript score and parts were subsequently consigned to oblivion before being rediscovered and restored for performance by the conductor Arthur Arnold." Short says the symphony was never performed in Mosolov's lifetime and was not even published until 1991.

I even like the album cover, a detail of Wassily Kandinsky's 1929 artwork Jocular Sounds

Taylor Ann Fleshman

Arthur Arnold

RIP Boom

Professor Vadim Batitsky, the "Boom" who wrote the Boom's Dungeon blog.  Of course Carter's audience is still relatively s...