Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Where are......


Where oh where are the fungi of yesteryear?
This has truly been the worst year for mushrooms in memory. I kept waiting this Fall for that thrill of discovery that permeates one's very existence when coming across, say, a patch of boletes or a cluster of honeys or a white cascading "Old Man" or a barely visible troop of black and gray "trompettes de morte" but no, despite warmer weather and plenty of rain, October turned out to be no better than September or August; the fungi just weren't biting--no florescence! How does this dismal scenario square with the photographs above? The bottom one is by Robert Adams, part of s series of forest images called, inexplicably "Skogen." (That's Swedish for "The Woods")It is a brooding, opaque vision; there seems to be a barrier between the viewer and the forest--do not enter.The other picture is by Jim Bengston my colleague and partner in mixed media crime, who has the most extraordinary eye for penetrating the Scandinavian forest he frequents. Jim's photo is luminescent; it invites you in, there is a slightly dark quality to his work but it doesn't prevail.   It would appear that both of these photos have nothing to do with fungi (in actuality they do because trees and fungi live in extensive mycorhizal relationships under the ground. So even though thee are no mushroom "showing" in these  empty forests, we know they are there
   Thinking of all the walks I've taken in various woods this past year, with nothing (myco-wise) to show for it, makes me wonder what the real purpose or joy is in hunting for mushrooms.
The satisfaction of finding golden chanterelles year after year in the same spots is not to be discounted, but how much better it is when you aren't particularly looking for anything, and suddenly are struck by a flash of sunlight on a green lactarius or a red capped bolete, and the shock is real. There's something about the fortuitous find that trumps everything. The unexpected guest in the form of an unexpected; canterellus cinnibarius in the mossy back yard. Its a little bit like the second movement of Gyorgy Ligeti's Piano Conceto where a very low bass note, just audible, underlying a series of bizarre flute and ocarina sighings, creates an edgy almost scary atmosphere, only to be shockingly interrupted by a blast of brass and percussion, just for an instant, and then again a bit later, but still a remarkable surprise. Even if you know its coming it doesnt disappoint.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dancing Partners

We went to NY to the ballet, the NYC Ballet. It was a glorious Fall afternoon and I didn't feel like spending it inside the vast theater (formerly known as the New York State Theater and now named the Koch Theater after the billionaire slightly to the right of Rush Limbaugh) but the opportunity to see three Balanchine/ Stravinsky collaborations could not be passed up. The string of collaborative woks that Igor S and George B put together over several decades is unique in dance history. The reason so many of these pieces work is that both artists were at home in the other's discipline-IS knew dance and GB was an accomplished musician. Strav's Apollo is one of my favorites but only for the music-the whole story of the Muses and Apollo is a bit ho hum. Agon, which has no story at all--it's pure, abstract, strictly about itself--seems to me the best of the three "Greek" works. Orpheus starts off well enough, but gets bogged down and since I stole a few things from it for my own "Orphic Memories" I cant deny my debt to it. But Agon is the most memorable. It is icy, pristine, exact-- a dance about dance, and Strav's incursions into serialism actually work here--you  don't notice it.

   During the wild applause at the end of the show I was suddenly struck by the realization that there was another pair, a duo of composer and choreographer, who are due equal billing
     Everyone has been making a fuss about John Cage because he would have been 100 this year-performances and festivals are happening.Cage's great "idea"in music was that of indeterminacy or chance operations, and the notion that anything could be music depending on our openness to it. The other great idea of the 20th century was, of course, Arnie S's "composition with twelve tones (aka serialism) But  these are ideas about music and notl likely to generate much music. I m reminded of Larkin's caveat that a poem must start with poetry, not an idea about poetry.But so much of Cage's music is music and that's the rub because he's not likely to like hearing that.'He and his long time partner. Merce Cunningham are the other great dance partners of the 20th c. but radically opposed to Strav and George. Cunningham's brilliant technique and choreography served as a back drop to Cage's noises or is it the other way around? Either way, the Non intentional nature of the result is uncannily effective--if you go into it. Resist it and you are liable to be bored to the tenth degree.
      IS and GB vs. JC and MC--what anchors or beacons if you will, of the last century's Music and Dance world . Terpsichore herself would be delighted to swing back and forth between them.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In My Own Backyard

Usually in mid to late August I find chanterelles , and plenty of them, in a few selected woodsy spots not far from here.This year, the harvest was meagre to say the least, in fact almost non existent! A week ago upon returning home from week on the Cape (where I searched in vain for the elusive Matsutake),I was delighted to find a small but pretty patch of chants growing in some moss in our back yard-- a small array but we werent picky- this turned out to be the only florescence of canterellus cibarius for the season. My expected woodland cache of these golden mushrooms was a forgotten dream, a fantasy. But these little back yard guys were real (and tasty).

Another backyard discovery was last May when I was trying to come up with a text to set for a commissioned work for chorus. I wanted something that might signify a connection to New Haven or Yale (I even thought about the Wiffenpoof song --to the tables down at Morrys etc..) One day I was walking in the expansive New Haven Green and was admiring the symmetry of the three churches which stand on it, when I thought how these Colonial-Federalist era congregations sustained and nurtured a number of singing master--composers, one of whom, Daniel Read, was a quite prolific publisher and composer of psalm settings; his famous "Windham" ("Broad Is the Road") is still popular in shape note singing societies.
There it was, right in my "backyard" a genuine New Haven source for my piece. Indeed I am sure Read led his choristers in many a robust singing of that particular psalm in one of those actual churches, in my own "backyard." of New Haven.
If you can't find what you desire, try looking closer to home.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Boletus edulis (Sierran)

As if to counter my profound disappointment in this year's meager crop -actually no crop at all-of Morels, the elusive porcini of the Springtime Sierra Nevada revealed themselves to me and my fellow mountain men in a surprising array of fecundity lats week while I was at my hut in the Sierra, These beauties were all over the place, and nice and young, so eminently edible (no pesky maggots!)
I was expecting morels but instead got these plump, perfectly proportioned examples of Sierra Nevadan nuggets and I dont mean gold! Usually when I find these spring time boletes, they are huge and bloated and over the hill--the pore surface (underneath the cap) has turned from creamy white to lurid yellow-green and is crawling with hungry maggots.
We cut up and died a bunch , and the rest we frilled on an open fire- an excellent cooking method I might add as long as you avoid burning them! Make sure you brush them well with olive oil and roast over glowing coals.
I know they dont look very appetising in the photo, but they were still covered with that good old Sierran dirt--once cleaned they were beautiful

Monday, May 14, 2012

M and Ms

M and M's--Mozart and Marshall, get it? Thanks to the brilliant creative thinking of the PR folks at Orchestra of St Lukes, my visage and that of old Wolfie have been immortalized onto the fabled sweet morsels. My music, Evensongs, was performed sweetly as it turned out, by a string quartet from that excellent ensemble, sandwiched in between ditties by WA.
I still haven't quite figured out the message behind this curious publicity "stunt." But the patrons at the concert earlier this month at the Morgan Library seemed not to care, so absorbed were they by the music (its one of my best piece). But by the end of the evening the bowl was almost empty.

WHAT I HAD HOPED TO POST THIS TIME WAS A BOWL OR BASKET OF MORELS!! Its that time of year, but alas, global warming is happening right under our noses--the season was at least two weeks early. Despite two forays to favored spots, I came up with nothing but a pleasant walk in the woods.
Every thing is early it seems. The mountain laurel has started to blossom in our yard and that doesnt usually happen until June.

Speaking of Mozart, whenever I find my back pains increasing in intensity as I hunch over my desk trying to compose, I htink of Morton Feldman's comment that if only he'd had the right chair he could have given Mozart a run for the money (or words to that effect)

Addendum: Another example of my "M and M"-ness has come to my attention.In this week's New Yorker, in the musical events previews, is a short piece on Timo Andres's upcoming piano recital at Le Poisson Rouge, wherein he will play (stunningly I am sure) my "Authentic Presence." The writer (Alex Ross, I assume) reffered to me as a "Modern Master."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Some famous Mavericks

Mavericks--I'm saturated with'em! A few weeks ago the San Fran Symphony blew into town wit h a pot pourri of programs featuring so called American mavericks. I've always thought of myself as a kind of maverick, if that meant being outside the main stream, wandering off among the outskirts into some uncharted wilderness, generally being outside the norm--although I dont think anyone else, certainly not the SF Symphony, has officially designated me a Mav. (Indeed they conspicuously left me outside the outside back in the '96 when they had their first American Maverick festival; in fact they have managed to avoid playing my music since Fog Tropes in Davies Hall way back in '81)
But let bygones be... back to the present. Both Carnegie Hall and WQXR bombarded us with constant reminder of their moveable feast, but weren't some of the alleged Mavericks quite the opposite now? I mean, come on, John Adams, Aaron Copland, David del Tredici and Steve Reich are hardly "outside" the mainstream; they are now leaders of the pack, among the most frequently performed composers. Back in the day (say the late 70's) sure they were Mavericks, but how long did that last?
A few years ago when he was appointed a composer in residence at Carnegie Hall with curatorial and conducting duties, John Adams was heard to chortle--"The inmates have taken oven the asylum."
It strikes me that if major cultural institutions such as the SF Symphony and Carnegie Hall team up to put on a festival of "Mavericks" they are, by this very action of mainstreaming, de-mavericking them!
This makes we wish that I too were to be officially designated an American Maverick so that I too could be dragged, (not kicking or screaming) into the main stream. That's where we all want to be, in the end.

Addendum: Not to disparage the actual concerts--Adams' piece for St Lawrence Quartet and Orhestra "Absolute Jest" was absolutely wonderful and full of charm and good humour, but not without its somber moments,
The stage poduction of the Cage Song Books was quite fun with diva Jesse Norman, flutter tonged angel Meredith Monk, and vocal magician Joan La Barbara, flitting around the set with Maesro MTT operating the cuisinart blender--brilliant if a civilized sort of chaos one could expeience as theater or as 45 mins of glorified boredom--take your pick

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reverb untamed

Reverb has allays been my friend, both the natural and electronic kinds. While the "soup" simile may not be very attractive, it's better than the dry toast effect you get in some dead concert halls. Sibelius remarked somewhere that the orchestra needs a "pedal" and his orchestration often demonstrates that built in kind of resounding acoustic.
The other night I went to a concert of the Dessoff Choirs "Bach Refracted" st the cavernous Church of St Paul the Apostle near Columbus Circle. Two of my pieces, September Canons and Holy Ghosts, were played by two excellent musicians, Todd Reynolds and Libby van Cleve, and in both cases we had to tone down the reverb as the space itself was delivering plenty--too much in fact. This was especially apparent in the choral music--the strange effect was that the initial attack was at a lower level than the echo, and there was plenty of that.The idea that a space might not only reverberate sound but actually amplify it as well is kind of unusual.
Last night I happened to be watching the wonderful film Passage to India. There is a marvelous scene at the spooky Malabar Caves where the echos produced disappear momentarily and then come back louder.I'm not sure if this is possible acoustically, but it made for a awesome moment in the film.The strange echo in St Pauls seemed to me to mimic that. I wonder if Paul of Tarsus ever got to India? He certainly traveled a lot.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Sometimes, everything seems strangely connected
In my last post I spoke of the Swede Tomas Transtromer and his love of Schubert and his poetic idea that somewhere in the multitudes of New York on a given night, someone must be playing Schubert, and to that person everything else is insignificant.
Yesterday I was perusing a slim volume of his more recent poems, one of which--indeed the title poem--is entitled "The Sorrow Gondola"(Sorgengondolen).It's actual a poem about a piece of music,Franz Liszt's "La Lugubre Gondola II". This very bizarre piano piece uses angular melodies and weird harmonies to create a world of mystery and sorrow--its one of Liszt's very late pieces, composed in Venice (where else!). His friend (and son-in-law!) Wagner died shortly afterwards.also in Venice. I was playing the piece at the piano trying to fathom Liszt's odd chord changes, when I remembered that amongst the vast corpus of the music of John Adams, there is a transcription he made for orchestra of this music; I found the CD and listened. It made so mach more sense in the orchestration than as a piano piece, and this thrilled me to rediscover this strange Adamsian opus.
Now I am going to re read the poem as a musical entity, as if it were to travel in time, as if it was a kind of music.
And then I thought--what would Franz Schubert have thought about it as a lieder text?