The promise of the unknown, the mysterious, the surprising—of the NEW!—can generate anticipation and instill excitement, or it can sow uncertainty and envelop us in dread. The New Lens Concert Series proposes that the unknown and the unanticipated are our friends, and that the element of surprise can and should enliven a listener's encounter with music, whether that music is familiar or, better yet, new. The inaugural New Lens program as I heard it on Wednesday evening in a performance by Seattle's Finisterra Piano Trio at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music makes its case persuasively.
Two young composers—Garrett Schatzer and Juhi Bansal—and Finisterra Trio cellist Kevin Krentz are the artistic directors and moving forces behind the New Lens series, which aims not only to provide exposure for their own music, but to expose perhaps unforeseen strands of connection between the music of today and music of earlier periods that has succeeded in lasting until today. New Lens posits that an audience's assumptions about the music it will hear stand as impediments to actually hearing it, and proposes to toss that impediment aside by simply keeping the music as a secret until it is played. What was revealed beforehand was only that the members of the Finisterra Trio would be playing, that there would be eight compositions presented, and that the years of composition would range from the 19th century to the 21st. The printed program provided little more in the way of clues.
When all was revealed—in performance, each piece was identified after it had been played—the program turned out to be:
Alexander Scriabin, Trois Morceaux [Three Pieces], Op. 45 (1905);
Juhi Bansal, Wings (2010), parts I and III [listen to all three sections, as Piano Trio, via Soundcloud here]; and
Antonín Dvořák, Piano Trio No. 4 (1891), sections I, II, and VI.
The juxtaposition and sequencing of the evening's selections was a strength. Finisterra pianist Tanya Stambuk wove deftly through the late Romantic hothouse mysticism of Scriabin's tiny theosophical morsels—the longest of them lasting little over a minute. Jalbert's piano-cello coupling was similarly unmoored but with a more angular and abstracted aesthetic. Garrett Shatzer's trio productively collided sturm und drang and the nervous twitchy soulfulness of Prokofiev or Shostakovich, with the urgency and intelligence of Beethoven concluding the first half as a sort of reanchoring in the trio tradition.
Matthew Whiteside's Oyster is not, I think, actually about oysters, but its methodical poking and scraping could be taken as a reference to the persistent irritation by which a pearl is made. Watery things also underlay Näcken, which takes its name from a fiddle-toting Swedish stream-spirit, a sort of siren/kelpy whose music is perilous to mere humans; it provided a highly-arpeggiated solo showcase for Finisterra violinist Brittany Boulding. Juhi Bansal's Wings, as its title suggests, draws on the form of birds in flight, and would have been entirely at home on wild Up's "Ornithology" program back in January. Wings is a strong, appealing piece and, alongside the Shatzer Trio, was the item on the program I would most hope to hear again. After travels by water and air, the Dvořák Trio's roots in village dances provided a satisfyingly grounded and earthy conclusion.
The New Lens mission, as described in the program notes, is to "Juxtapose eras.... Evolve the program [and].... Transcend assumptions." In this, I would have to say the lensistas have succeeded. The program in Pasadena worked, in the manner of a fine multicourse meal, by dint of variety and its combination of the familiar and the unexpected, bound together by a commitment to quality of performance. The organizers' ambition is to present New Lens concerts at least annually, and more frequently if possible. Given how well this initial venture seems to have come out, one can only hope those ambitions will be fulfilled.
Congratulations to @NewLensConcerts and the Finisterra Trio on a fine, various, thoroughly satisfying program. San Franciscans take heed.
This initial New Lens Series began in Seattle before arriving in the Los Angeles area, and concluded with two performances in San Francisco, April 19 and 20. I chose to hold this post until the series had concluded, because Nobody Likes a Spoiler.
Illustrations: Isamu Noguchi, "California Scenario" [detail], Costa Mesa, California. Photo and rudimentary processing by the blogger.
Acadia is the product of a "microcommission" process in which hundreds of donations of all sizes were pooled to fund the composition and premiere as part of Minnesota Orchestra's "Inside the Classics" series. The premiere took place on March 30 (the recording is of the second performance) on a program in which it was the only piece played: the first part of the evening was given over to a discussion of the work and its workings, followed by performance of the work itself.
The title, Acadia, refers in part to Acadia National Park in Maine, and to that region where New England ends and shades into maritime Canada. Judd Greenstein has written that the roots of the work lie in a long weekend camping and hiking trip that he made to the Park with a friend, which proved in some important way to be "a pivotal time — literally, in the sense of a pivot — in my life. If I were to break my life into two sections, the first part would end in that Acadian weekend...."
Not a symphony per se, but symphonic in scope, Acadia lasts roughly 35 minutes and is organized in four movements, played without interruption. One way to hear it, as suggested by the composer's description of the change of direction that inspired it, is in very loosely dialectical terms of thesis, antithesis, and seeming resolution through synthesis—followed by a coda of sorts, expanding back out into the larger world. A parallel, in a very different style, might be John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.
The first and shortest section, "Moving," begins with an avian burble and thrum in the strings and winds from which the low brass emerge to state for the first time a rising four-note motif that grounds the entire piece, a marker in the landscape from which the metaphorical traveler can strike out and to which the traveler can at need return. In the second segment, labeled "Adagio," additional motifs appear—a new horn figure descends before circling back in on itself, a dance-like line advances crabwise—and tension builds in with bursts of horns and urgent percussion. The central arguments of the piece are joined in the third and longest segment, "Fast," in which, over a distant bed of metallic percussion that ticks and clangs like a Nibelung pocket watch, musical ideas draw in from every direction, combining or glancing off of one another, yielding unanticipated connection and the sense of new purpose. That purpose is built upon in the concluding section, "First Tempo," in which earlier strains return renewed and emboldened, the opening motif achieving a connection with its more circular cousin in what proves to be a false ending; a brief passage of meditation leads to the true conclusion in slow chords and a swell of bell and tympani.
Judd Greenstein has a compositional voice that is his own, and those familiar with his compositions for smaller groups such NOW Ensemble will hear it plainly in Acadia. It scales up exceedingly well from chamber size to full orchestra. The composer has often acknowledged Ravel as a major interest and influence, and that strand can be spotted running through Acadia. I also hear echoes of Leonard Bernstein—the rhythmic and modal approach to the dance-motif I mention, for example, would not be out of place in Mass—and the unexpected presence of Carl Nielsen, particularly when the hurly-burly suddenly falls away at a critical central moment of the third movement.
Acadia is always serious but never ponderous. Its forward momentum is constant but never frenetic. Its rhythmic and tonal palette is shifty and mercurial but never flippant or confused. It asks for, and never fails to reward, the listener's attention.
Beyond the excellent recording that Minnesota Orchestra is generously sharing with the world, Acadia deserves to be taken up and widely played by other orchestras, and to become a permanent addition to whatever equivalent we have to a contemporary canon. It is, in the true and original sense, sublime.
Surprise! Blawg Review, the blog carnival for everyone interested in law, is ready for its comeback and its close up.
Launched originally in April 2005, and overseen by the still-anonymous Editor, Blawg Review ranged about across the legal blogging landscape, appearing each Monday in a new and different exotic locale for the next six years before seemingly going silent following its 314th edition this past August.
It has been my pleasure to host Blawg Review on my legal blog, Declarations and Exclusions, on five occasions, beginning with Blawg Review #51. Since April 1, 2006, I have also hosted, here, five April Fools' extra editions, in the same week as the Decs&Excs editions. That's ten hosting turns for me, an ample store of evidence from which our Editor was able to infer that, yes, I'm just a blogger who can't say "no" if you were, hypothetically, to float the notion of refiring the boilers under Blawg Review and ending its sabbatical on an April Fool-ish note. Thus it comes to pass that Blawg Review #315 will be up at Decs&Excs on Monday and that the sixth annual April Fools' Edition is now before your disbelieving eyes.
While the original installments of Blawg Review were simple collections of links to the prior week's best or most interesting or most curious legal blogging, it early on became common, albeit never mandatory, for each host to adopt a Theme for his or her presentation. On this day last year, Blawg Review #305 took the form of a tribute to and adaptation of "I've Got a Little List," from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado. Today, I hope I may be pardoned if I return to the same well and build this 2012 April Fools' edition around another popular G&S number, the introductory song of Major-General Stanley from The Pirates of Penzance, best known by its opening line:
"I am the very model of a modern Major-General."
We need not go into the absurd plot of Pirates today. Suffice it to say that it involves pirates, an unfortunate young fellow apprenticed to their service until his eighteenth birthday, the difficulty posed by his having been born on the 29th of February and thereby having had only four birthdays in eighteen years, a collection of young lovelies who are wards in chancery to the aforementioned Major-General, a collection of unhappy policemen, and a joyous, nuptial ending.
Major-General Stanley himself is a figure of a kind W.S. Gilbert delighted in mocking: a man who has risen to a position of stature for which he has no practical qualifications whatever. What the Major-General does possess is a vast store of arcane and useless knowledge bearing on most every topic except those that might make him an effetive military man. He would likely have made a fine blogger, had the Victorian era offered that outlet.
Upon his arrival in Act I, Major-General Stanley demonstrates his breadth of study with this famous patter song. Here it is, as performed by John Reed, principal comedian with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in the 1950's and 1960's:
Here, George Rose performs it in the wildly successful 1980 New York Shakespeare Festival staging in Central Park, with Linda Ronstadt as Mabel and Kevin Kline in his star-making turn as the Pirate King:
Sir Arthur Sullivan's catchy tune has achieved a further measure of immortality thanks to its having been adapted by Tom Lehrer to provide the melody for his cataloging of the chemical elements, "The Elements." (Clever title, that.)
Lehrer's song drew renewed attention recently when the performing of it was revealed to be a favorite party trick of Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. Allow him to demonstrate:
And so, with that tune now well-implanted in your ears, we may turn to the matter at hand. Friends, the 2012 April Fools' Prequel to Blawg Review #315:
THE BLAWGER-GENERAL'S SONG
Blawger-General: This is the snappy patter-singing April Foolin' Blawg Review. We're bringing back this legal blogging carnival to all of you Who've missed it or forgotten it while it's been in absentia: (A weekly dose of blawging is believed to slow dementia.) There's many kinds of blawging, folks: it may be theoretical, From time to timerhetorical, and sometimes alphabetical. We hope you'll find this parody enlightening and risible.... Inspired by Major-General Stanley's rapid polysyllables.
Chorus: Inspired by Major-General Stanley's rapid pollysyllables, Inspired by Major-General Stanley's rapid polysyllables, Inspired by General Stanley and his rapid Polly Polly syllables!
Chorus: We do not understand it, all this complicated push 'n' pull! To find it inter-esting you would have to be delusional! We like a nice long walk, yes that's a proper daily "constitutional."
Blawger-General: You, too, could be an expert, so be sure to trim your cuticles And brighten your appearance through the use of cosmeceuticals. Now take the time to listen to a podcast full of Georgery Or head out to a gallery where ev'ry work's a forgery. Our time here it is fleeting and I fear I hear it flittering Or fluttering or flattering or maybe even Twittering This Prequel's the embodiment of ev'rything that's ex- cell- ent....
All: And now that Blawg Review is back, You'll wonder why it ever went!
Here are gathered stand-alone links to all of the blawgs embedded in the lyric above. Where multiple entries originate from the same source, I have kept them together, so the order of links below does not necessarily follow the order of links above.