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Composers: August 2008 Archives

Ravishing Spectralism

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Kaija Saariaho

Compassion, Not Revenge, After a Rape in a War Zone

By Anthony Tommasini
New York Times

SANTA FE, N.M. – Contemporary composers looking for an easy way to create a big effect often turn to what could be called the orchestral pileup technique. Want to wallop your audience? Just add pummeling percussion, thick chords and more to create a barrage of noise. Or if the desired effect is ruminative, then lay on hazy harmonies and doodling melodic bits, though the result can sound like the mindless music a massage therapist employs to get clients to relax.

Something like the pileup technique is a basic component in the music of the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. But Ms. Saariaho uses it with ravishing subtlety and to haunting effect, as was clear from Wednesday night's performance of "Adriana Mater" here at the Santa Fe Opera. The production is the American premiere of this 2006 work, directed by Peter Sellars.

Ms. Saariaho is not a mere purveyor of coloristic orchestral effects. She spent formative years working at Ircam, the center for experimental music in Paris, where she has lived since 1992. She immersed herself in the school of French composers who practice spectralism, which isolates the higher overtones of pitch to create sonorities at once amorphous yet elemental. She has one of the most acute ears in contemporary music. And during long stretches of this bleakly humane opera, elegiac vocal lines spin out over the thick-textured, nervously undulant orchestra. Striking details in this multilayered music come through with uncanny clarity.

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/01/arts/music/01adri.html?

Entering a New Phase

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Paul Lansky

A Computer-Music Man Unplugs

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times

After 35 years immersed in the world of computer music, the composer Paul Lansky talks with wonder about the enormous capacities of primitive objects carved from trees or stamped from metal sheets: violins, cellos, trumpets, pianos.

"To create the sound of a violin – wow!" he said in a recent interview. "I can't do that on a computer."

Mr. Lansky has written a new chapter, or at least a fat footnote, in the annals of artistic reinvention. A professor at Princeton, he was a pioneering figure in the computer music field and wrote one of its important programs, Cmix. (He also earned a place of honor with Radiohead fans when the band used an excerpt from an early piece.) But Mr. Lansky has abandoned the art form that made his name and has turned to more traditional composition.

"I hate to say this, but I think I'm done," Mr. Lansky said. "Basically I've said what I've had to say. Here I am, 64, and I find myself at what feels like the beginning of a career. I'm interested in writing for real people at this point."

Read more about this at the New York Time website:

   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/arts/music/03waki.html

End of an Epic Biography

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Mahler triumphant

A great composer nears the end of a great biographical voyage

By Hugh Wood
Times Online

The long voyage is nearly over, and the great ship is at last approaching land. But we are not quite yet in harbour; for Henry-Louis de La Grange's revision of Gustav Mahler: Volume One still awaits translation into English. Then the labours of a dedicated lifetime may be at an end. Meanwhile, we have here, at over 1,750 pages, the longest of the four volumes, and in every way the climactic one. So much in it is new, or newly re-explored, or freshly and radically re-interpreted. The portrait that emerges is surprising because it is so straightforward: that of a great conductor at the height of his powers and a great composer striking out boldly into new territory. What has previously been obscured and diminished by mythmaking, melodrama and malice is now at last given its full stature. That this new depiction is the underlying intention of the author is made quite clear from the first page: to realize how well he has succeeded, it is necessary to read the whole book. But this is not just a biography: it is more of a Mahler-Lexicon, almost a history of the age. De La Grange has found himself irresistibly drawn down every avenue that offers itself, and his interests are wide. By the time one has read through all thirty-three of the Appendices, and has discovered in the last one the recipe for Mahler's favourite dessert (Marillonknödel – and it sounds delicious), one feels not only triumphant but replete.

Read more about this at the Times Online website:

   http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article4429303.ece

Trumpet