Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spotify. (I knew there was something up with that.)

Ok, so I thought there was something going on with Spotify.  As I mentioned in my previous musings about Yo-Yo Ma and Ton Koopman, Spotify is one of my new best friends.  Yes, I had my reservations and doubts, but somehow I just knew this music streaming technology was a particularly special type of new phenomenon, especially for seekers of classical music recordings. (Otherwise, how else would I have found "Vivaldi's Cello," one of my favorite Vivaldi renditions?) Then, the New York Times music critic Steve Smith wrote an article highlighting and praising Spotify's delightful perks. He, too, finds the music streaming technology both convenient and surprising. Spotify, though developed and established in Sweden, allows Americans to have access to certain recordings, such as keyboard works featuring Bach and John Cage played by pianist Francesco Tristano Schimlé on the Deutsche Grammophon label, which would otherwise be unavailable in the US. The count is endless for the amount of times I've researched the Naxos Music Library and had the proverbial "Oh, this recording exists, but only in the European Union, China, Japan, and Russia" slap me in the face. Woe is me at that point, and I turn to the capricious audio quality of Youtube. (The black-market Spotify in my opinion. You never know what you're going to get:  anywhere from crackles, pops, and whistles to muted sounds, distortions, and ridiculous images and lyrics to who-knows-what. Impressive indeed.)

However, when I received my invitation to enjoy this technology for free, I've never turned back or had my regrets about signing up. Of course, like Steve Smith says, I'm not ready to give up CDs or LPs, but in this gal's future, there are no more cracks, whistles, or pops. Good-bye Youtube.      

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vivaldi's Cello: Yo-Yo Ma, Ton Koopman, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Spotify

While rifling through the endless, yet convenient lists of musical artists featured on Spotify, one of my newest best friends, I typed "Vivaldi" in the search box and discovered a compilation of works by the Red Priest. Illustrious and commercial-friendly pieces, like the allegro movement of the Spring concerto and the other Four Seasons, were drawn from my search query. Various artists, some who I'd never heard before, also spattered my computer screen (like Pavel Sporcl, the Czech Republic's gypsy rock-star).  I came across, however,  Yo-Yo Ma's 2004 CD release of Vivaldi's Cello.  Intrigued, I stopped searching to listen further.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Jazz Gallery presents: Steve Coleman and Five Elements


     The Jazz Gallery, a cozy, mysterious music venue nestled between New York's famous Soho and its outskirts at 290 Hudson Street, hosted a performance the previous two nights featuring Steve Coleman and Five Elements. As their name, Steve Coleman and Five Elements, suggests, Steve Coleman lead the ensemble and his five elements (Jen Shyu, vocals; Johnathan Finlayson, trumpet; Marcus Gilmore, drums; Miles Okazaki, guitar; and David Virelles, piano and keyboard synthesizer) supported him by coloring Coleman's compositions with their distinct musical voices and sounds. 
    Upon entering the Gallery, one is greeted by a set of aged, wooden steps.  If you look closely enough, each step's varnish is worn away where, over time, the footprints of the many people traversing its steep climb has exposed the woods' grains leaving only worn, white spots.  These weathered spots serve as a reminder that, after all, the role of the jazz musician is a role that depicts honesty and self-identity.  Because the wood's appearance is so bare with nothing left to protect it, the jazz musician, during a performance, is similar by the way his or her voice is revealed during improvisation.  The slow but gradual sense of growth towards developing a voice (i.e., how one moves away and toward a piece's melody during improvisation) is like the wood: polished and exposed through the continuous progression of time and the elements which rub its varnish away.  
       Passing the ticket man who sits at the top of the steps, there is a room with at least ten rows of chairs and a stage which is practically on top of the audience.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rufus Wainwright, a modern savior of American opera?

Could it be? Rufus Wainwright -- singer, songwriter, son of legendary folk singers Loudon Wainwright III  and Kate McGarrigle as well as brother to Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche -- may be New York City Opera’s (i.e. City Opera or "the people's opera") saving grace?

For City Opera, the past two years have witnessed thorough attempts at revitalization.  There was a $107 million plan to refurbish the company's home at Lincoln Center -- the David H. Koch theater --  along with faulty managing of funds, poor repertoire choices, and a dangerously low audience attendance rate.  Optimal budget solutions have been proposed, agreed on, attempted at meeting, and sadly, have garnered no success.  Artist management authorities, such as Gerard Mortier  -- the former general director of Opéra National de Paris and director of numerous European music festivals (la Monnaie (Brussels), the Salzburg Festival, and the German Ruhr Triennale arts festival) -- have endeavored to save "the people's opera."  However, even the brilliance of Mortier's budget-torial planning did not save the company from making its decision to leave Lincoln Center which was officially announced a month ago in the NY Times.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Conversation with Tobias Fischer, writer and editor-in-chief of

Recently, I had the rare opportunity to speak with Tobias Fischer, writer, cultural editor for Germany's upmost publication for the world of recording "Print", and editor-in-chief of  -- a blog that unites classical music alongside contemporary music, jazz, electronic music and the various other popular musical sub-genres.  Fischer has contributed pieces for publications such as All About Jazz,, Earlabs, Oro Molido, and MacLife.  Additionally, he regularly writes for New Zealand's art-based magazine "White Fungus" which informs readers of worldwide visual arts, comics, literature, history, political commentary, satire, and experimental music.  Since my area of focus is steeped in the idea of bridging the gap between music past and present, I wanted to hear his thoughts on today's classical music scene and its affect for the world at large.     

MF: How do you view the impact of contemporary music in today's classical music scene?

TF: On the one hand, I feel very strongly about the inclusion of contemporary works into the program of classical concert halls, both as an enrichment and a logical continuation of lineage from the past into the present. At the same time, the mechanism which awards 20th and 21st century composers their 15 minutes of exposure in a system otherwise dedicated to Mozart and Beethoven seems to be mostly based on a vague sense of duty and a guilty conscience rather than passion. To me, there needs to be a tangible connection between the different pieces of a concert program which extends beyond the merely intellectual: At the opening might of the Mini-Mahler series in Berlin (, Mahler's music was juxtaposed with pieces by the second Viennese School – a both historically intriguing and musically sound concept, which did not take any long explanations to be understood. Allowing an audience to get to know a piece of new music before they come to the hall also makes sense. Perhaps the acceptance of contemporary music in classical concert halls would be higher if audiences were to receive a CD with selected recordings of the pieces as part of their subscription prior to the events?
MF: Why did you decide to become a writer and when?

TF:  Probably as a boy in first grade. I can still remember being given the time to finish a story in an otherwise empty class room, while the others pupils had long sumbitted theirs, and thinking distinctly: This is what I want to do. Grammar school and a bad internship-experience at a local newspaper put that vision out of focus for a while - which is why it took another decade for me to finally make journalism my profession. Looking back, these years may not have been in vain: I spent entire days during my college-years reading nothing but reviews and articles and building up a huge desire to write about music. 
MF: What did you write for All About Jazz, and how do you think jazz as a writer?

TF: I wrote a piece on Tom Heasley and Toss Panos' „Passages“ for them and it's been a highly interesting experience. I don't think any other online magazine out there sports a similarly thorough review process and thinks as deeply about the coherency and quality of the contributions to the site. Heasley, of course, isn't, strictly speaking, a jazz-musician and my personal interests have since tended even more towards the intersection between sound art and improvisation, which is why the review may actually be the last text I'll contribute. But it has to be said that jazz writing has influenced me greatly. Bill Evans liner notes to „Kind of Blue“ or, in fact, all of the wonderful introductions to the entire Blue Note catalogue are markey by the fusion between a kind of poetic vagueness and informational quality that I strive for. In my liner notes to the albums by drone/jazz/space/avantgarde ensemble 3seconds of air (, I am paying homage to these influences.
MF: What do you find is most crucial to depict about it for your readers?

TF: Jazz oscillates between personal freedom and elements of group interaction, so one of the interesting aspects is to portrait how the two relate within a particular ensemble constellation. I also enjoy the idea that complex strucures can arise from very simple premises – documenting and commenting on that process is part of the allure of writing about it.
MF: For writing about music in general, what do you think is key to convey to the reader?

TF: The point in music journalism has long been to describe and rate compositions, but these two topics are probably farthest away from what I feel to be important. To me, music journalism should offer a glimpse at the ideas behind a work of music and at the artistic vision invested into it. Ideally, it should work both as an introduction to the material, a spark for a fruitful debate and as a source of reference to which one can return after having listened to the music to compare one's thoughts with those of the author. This - rather than providing an opinion - engages an audience from my perspective. At the same time, I feel it is also vital to not just consider the reader in this equation. Music journalism is always a three-party-relationship and should involve the musician as well. 
MF: Are conservatories in Europe readily accepting of teaching contemporary music technique and theory?

TF: Having actually never studied music at consevatory, I may not be the right person to ask here, but from what I hear, they definitely are. Turkish pianist Seda Röder ( told me how her insight into 20th century composition was decisvely changed through her university-years in Germany and how, in general, universities serve as focal points of the scene. An important aspect is that a lot of this teaching is done by people genuinely passionate about the music and imbued with a desire to take it to a wider public. 
MF: How do you view Historical Performance's future?

TF: Despite its quick rise to prominence, I think the movement is really just at its beginning. Probably the biggest problem lies in actually turning it into an artistic movement at all rather than, as is often the case, a marketing fad. Historic Practise deals with questions of interpretation an when applied sensibly, it simply means searching for the most precise realisation of a composer's intentions and to scrape away the obscurring layers of dust that have amassed over the centuries. Just putting on a wig and playing on badly-sounding instruments is not a valuable contribution to the debate.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tristan Perich

During the weekend of April 29 - May 1, Tristan Perich, a New-York based composer/artist, came to Oberlin's Frank-Lloyd Wright House  and Cleveland's SPACES Gallery to present a modernist extravaganza.   

Serenity and unyielding power are nature’s most elegant and alluring facets.  That is why, when mixing elements of a computer (a purely human-derived contraption) along with the natural composure of sound found in acoustic instruments, Tristan Perich receives the attention he does.  Both quietly intriguing and beautiful, Perich’s work 1-Bit Music  is powerful in its sophisticated design which embodies the concept of naturalness.  Returning to the origin of electronic music, Perich incorporates square sound waves which interplay between electrical states 1 and 0.  He applies the philosophies of mathematicians Kurt Gödel and Werner Heisenberg which revolve around the idea that if something is consistent, then it is never complete.  Perich, driving this notion in 1-Bit Music, delivers a fascinating sonic display of cyclical motion.  Acoustic sounds intermingle with electronic ones that, at certain moments, bring out distinct lines of pulsations and tones which transfix the listener.  

Minimalist at its core, Perich’s 1-Bit Music contains its own rhythm which feels primitive, and this combined with his layering of oscillations between electronic and acoustic sounds, creates an effect where specific beeps and pulsations stick out over others.  This affect is felt most powerfully in his first piece titled Observations for two sets of crotales, three-channel 1-bit music (2008).  This implementation was developed by the interaction between the acoustic sounds presented in the crotales (which were played by Oberlin Conservatory students Austin Vaughn and Ryan Packard) and the electronic noises.  Each voice (electronic or acoustic) stopped completely to allow each other to shine at explicit landmarks in the composition.  All together, the effect was bewitching.  

Consistency, drive, and the interplay between electronic and acoustic sound waves  thrived throughout Perich’s presentation.  Three other compositions included: Momentary Expanse for solo vibraphone with two-channel 1-bit music (2008), qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq for three toy pianos and three-channel 1-bit tones (2009), and Dual Synthesis for harpsichord and four-channel 1-bit electronics (2009).  

Upon hearing Dual Synthesis, Perich’s ideal of circular motion, natural rhythm, and the interaction between acoustic and electronic sounds were brought to a higher level of fruition.  Synthesis (the longest) was a grandiose polyphony of circular motion allowing the individual sounds of the harpsichord to be heard, which would in response, invite the four-channel 1-bit electronics to solo as well.  At distinct points, harpsichord and electronics would convene in unison, and the result was mesmerizing.  Portions of the circle (or circular motion) conveyed by Perich’s 1-Bit ideal were distinguishable and clever.  Impressive on harpsichord, Daniel Walden was illustrated this effect tactfully and with tireless vigor.  
As an event spanning over three venues (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Weltzheimer-Johnson House, SPACES Gallery in Cleveland, and Fairchild Chapel -- cancelled due to an emergency in Perich’s family), 1-Bit Music is only one counterpart of Perich’s 1-Bit Project which incorporates his visual art as well.  

Beginning at the Wetzhimer-Johnson House, 1-Bit Music depicted an enchanting atmosphere which permitted the audience to be surrounded by nature and the ambience of home.   It was as though listeners were experiencing a premier of Haydn or Liszt especially with the application of the harpsichord and toy pianos.
Made possible through the funding of the Oberlin Creativity Fund and the Meet The Composer’s Metlife Creative Connections Program, the 1-Bit Project is, hopefully, a beginning towards bridging the gap between musicians and visual artists at Oberlin.