Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ultimate Meal

In my zeal to let the world know about my mushroom bounty, I gave short shrift to my colleagues at Montalvo who contributed so much to the retrospective concert on Nov 21. Hats off to Julie Lazar (who started it all) and Kelly Sicut (who organized it) and Michelle (who fed us brilliantly),the young members of the Afiara Quartet who played soulfully, and of course Jim Bengston whose sublime photography over the years has inspired me more than anything or anybody. He has been my muse and my helpmate--without Jim, no Alcatraz and Eberbach, no beautiful CD covers which so perfectly illustrate my music.(Stay tuned for new CD announcement soon!)
Note in one of the above snap shots you see Jim consuming a green liquid; this is some kind of magic elixar which he alleges keeps the demons of geezerdom at bay, and is called, actually, "The Ultimate Meal." It ocurred to me that had we consumed our amanitas wrongly identified, then they too would have been an ultimate meal!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Forbidden fruit

As the mushroom season wanes here in the East, it comes into its own in California.I arrived in Saratoga CA just a week ago, ostensibly for a concert of my music at the Montalvo Arts Center. The event went very well, thanks to the presence of old pal and collaborator Jim Bengston. We showed our visual-musico opus Alcatraz and its younger cousin, Eberbach. The Afiara Quartet was also in residence and played (beautifully) my Fog Tropes II and Evensongs. But the most excitement for me was the possibility of finding chanterelles or boletes or whatever the forest, after the first Fall rains, might offer up.
The oak and redwood forests around the Villa Montalvo have miles of trails and tempted us daily. The first morning out we stumbled across a cluster of mushrooms that I couldn't believe--the fabled "Coccora" or Amanita Calyptroderma (see above photo).This is a species that I had often looked for in my old Calif days, but in vain. This time they were all over the place.
But alas, I couldn't' find the courage to actually eat them (they are considered a prize edible in Italy where they are sold in markets in October). The genus Amanita has among its members several of the deadliest toxic species. The so-called "Destroying Angel " is among them (colorful name!).There was no question in my mind that these were coccora and not poisonous amanitas --the white "skull cap" veil remnant on the top, the color, the large sac (or volva) on the bottom etc..The illustrations in David Arora's book assured me I was right. But I just couldn't make that leap of faith.
Had I the time I would have sought out a local fungophile (such as Arora who lives in nearby Santa cruz) to positively ID them. Next time!
Saturday I said goodbye to the coccora infested sylvan climes of Montalvo and flew down to LA to hear the LA Master Chorale under Grant Gershon perform my Savage Altars in the spectacular Disney Hall. I couldn't have been happier --it was a stirring realization
It would have been a pity had I ingested amanita ocreata ("Death Caps") instead of "coccora"--I wouldn't have heard that stellar performance.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Character in Music

Alfred Brendel. a great legend in a field littered with legends, came to Yale the other night to give a talk on "Character in Music." It was mostly illustrated with examples he played from the Beethoven sonatas, with a few bits of Schoenberg thrown in.
The heart of his peroration was, quite simply, that form and structure do not explain music nor reveal its character;rather inherent character reveals form and structure, in fact. To fully appreciate music such as Beethoven's (or Schoenberg's for that matter) one must have an understanding of the affects and moods the composer expresses through his music. So, character is not to be dismissed as the province of the "amateur" (his word), but ought to have equal status with structure and form amongst the "cognoscenti."
His playing of fragments quite convincingly made his case.
My old pal John Adams touched on similar thoughts in a recent blog wherein he talks about the famous Proustian reference to a musical phrase from a fictional composer, Vinteuil.
One of the great benefits of our so called Post Modern culture is that we can talk about expressivity in music and not be scoffed at or dismissed. Music MEANS THINGS (although not "concrete" things as JA points out)
Or look at the expression on Brendel's visage above. Is it delight or sorrow? It could be either, but it is something; there is Character!

I haven't said anything about mushrooms on this post. I had thought about making a comparative study of Brendel's and Schubert's faces (Schubert, of course, is a huge composer in the Brendelian cosmos). because Schubert's friends called him schwarmerl
which means "little mushroom." I don't see much value in pursuing that path, but I must say that watching Brendel's face as he plays is almost like a movie.It is full of animation and, yes, CHARACTER. I'll think of the right mushroom later.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Big Splash at Galapagos Art Space

Above photo reveals two blewits hiding beneath autumn leaves; like the music of Ben Johnston mentioned below, they dont reveal their beauties to just anyone!

Tuesday night I ventured down to the ultra hip DUMBO district of Brooklyn to hear a performance of Holy Ghosts at the super cool Galapagos Art Space. The relaization by oboist Sarah Schram as part of the American Modern Ensemble concert was great--she played like an angel. The amplification and mix (pre-recorded tape part vs. live oboe d'amore) wasn't quite right but that's my fault for not showing up for the sound check!
The interior of the space is quite dark and there's a number of large pods with seating around large tables,; in between the pods are bridges over pools of water; in other words there are moats between the pods. I didnt know this and stepped right into the water (dark waters at that) soaking my leg up to the knee. So I made a big spash even before the concert started. Thanks to composer Spencer Topel for coming up with a dry pair of socks for me.
Composer Ben Johnston was there and his String Quartet No. 9 was given a riveting performance by members of the AME.Ben is not as well known as he should be; he is one of the few "microtonalists" who actually writes beautiful, exprerssive music using just intonation. It's sort of a miracle.To call him an American original or national treasure is not going too far. Check out the New World recording of his quartets (including #9 and the amazing "Amazing Grace" # 4)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Devil Made Me Do It!

Above photo is of "Mutinus Elegans" or "Devil's Dipstick"

This is not a mushroom I have found around here, but its cousin, "Phallus Impudicus" ("Devil's Stinkhorn") does pop up now and again, especially in gardens. It seems that bizarre or overtly sexual analogues in nature seem to attract the "Devil's" name.
And speaking of the Devil....

Last week John Adams was here in New Haven to give two lectures at the Whitney Humanities Center. The first was a well thought out and handsomely presented exegesis of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, from a composer's point of view. Those familiar with the book will know that it is concerned with the fate of a brilliant composer, Adrian Levrkuhn, who literally sells his soul to the devil in order to attain ultimate acceptance and unparalled artistic achievement.
Besides being the story of a personal tragedy, it is also an allegory about the rise of Germam nationalism and Fascism--heavy stuff.
The second lecture was more about John's music, especially the character of Robert Oppenheimer, or Dr. Atomic in the opera of that name. Oppenheimer's sense of guilt and remorse, mixed with pride and determination (about sucessfully testing the bomb)is powerfully exemplified in the aria "Batter My Heart"A video of Gerald Finley singing the role of Oppenheimer was a crushingly intense musical statement. One almost thought John himself had made a diabolical pact. This is too good!! Does John see some of Dr Faust in himself?
I refer you to John's new blog appropriately called "HellMouth"

And John's latest orchestral essay is fiendishly hot and cool. City Noir Gustavo Dudamel (no, we won't call him "the Dude")whipped the LA Phil into a frenzy with this 30 minute symphony (it has three movements); he also calmed it down for some lovely sentimental moments, but on the whole it's pretty raucous and over the top.PBS broadcast it live and part of that is still on line at the PBS website