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Janet Cardiff. The Forty Part Motet, 2001; installation view, Fuentidueña Chapel at The Cloisters museum and gardens. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Wilson Santiago.

Getting to the Janet Cardiff installation at The Cloisters was like a modern-day quest for some kind of Holy Grail, which in the end seemed appropriate. After my phone died at the 191st St. subway stop—leaving me with no guide through the unfamiliar paths of Fort Tryon Park—and after circling the labyrinthine rooms and hallways that make up The Cloister’s architecture, I finally found The Forty Part Motet, Cardiff’s sound installation.

For the 11-minute score, Cardiff reworked the Tudor-era composition Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui (In No Other Is My Hope) (1573) by Thomas Tallis. The piece, originally intended for recital in churches and cathedrals, logically suits the religious iconography of The Cloisters, while also mirroring the compound’s collaged nature. Constructed in reference to no singular structure, the Cloisters function as an ensemble of many historical precedents. In the Fuentidueña Chapel, Catalan frescos of the Virgin and Child as well as the Adoration of the Magi cover the walls, and a life-size wooden crucifix hangs at the foot of the 12-century apse. The installation of The Forty Part Motet bridges both centuries and geographic borders.


Amelia Rina
Daily Serving


The subway provided its own performance of the John Cage piece “4’33” ” recently.(Photo: Christian Hansen for The New York Times)

I had a spectacular John Cage moment on an uptown A train recently.

You know about Cage moments, don’t you? We all have them, whether we think of them that way or not. They occur when happenstance kicks in, and surprising musical experiences take form, seemingly out of nowhere. They can happen anywhere at any time. This year, thanks to the Cage centenary, official Cage moments have been plentiful, with performers of all stripes — students at the Juilliard School; ensembles like So Percussion, Iktus Percussion and the pianist Taka Kigawa, and the Flux Quartet and friends — inducing them through spirited renditions of Cage’s music.

But the unofficial moments are the ones to wait for. My earlier favorite Cage moment occurred just over a year ago, when I sprained an ankle and had an M.R.I. The technicians warned me that I might find the noise annoying, but as it turned out, I couldn’t help focusing on the machine’s repeating rhythmic patterns, pitches and changing overtones. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although in truth I found the M.R.I.’s music closer to early Philip Glass than to Cage.

On the A train I wasn’t thinking about Cage at all. I had just heard an exquisitely turned, energetic performance of Schubert’s String Quintet in C at a church in Greenwich Village, and Cage could not have been further from my thoughts. Nor did the crowded subway car bring him to mind at first. But I noticed that it was unusually noisy.

Typically, most of the noise you hear comes from the subway itself: its din drowns out conversations, and people tend to stare at their feet, or at whatever they are reading, and listen to their portable music players. But this Tuesday evening just about all the people were talking, and working hard to drown out both the subway and the chats taking place around them.

I would normally have tuned all this out, but instead I sat back, closed my eyes and did what Cage so often recommended: I listened. I made no effort to separate the strands of conversation or to focus on what people were saying. I was simply grabbed by the sheer mass of sound, human and mechanical. It sounded intensely musical to me, noisy as it was, and once I began hearing it that way, I couldn’t stop.


Allan Kozinn
New York Times

Henry Cowell

Which composer exerted the greatest influence on 20th-century American classical music? Thursday and Friday, Other Minds, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to such music, will make the case for Henry Cowell.

Cowell, who died in 1965, was a prolific composer whose own music was eclipsed by the works of his students. Other Minds director Charles Amirkhanian discovered Cowell through the pioneering percussion music of the composer’s famous pupils John Cage and Lou Harrison. “I found that a lot of the experimentation on the West Coast emanated from him,” he said. “The more I looked at it, the more he seemed like a key figure who gave American music an original vision when it had none.”

Born in Menlo Park, Calif., in 1897, Cowell toured the world in the 1920s as a pianist, winning amazed reviews and publicity when he, for example, smashed rows of adjacent piano keys with a forearm or played directly on the piano strings and sound board. Such techniques added musical color and atmosphere, and “moved music away from the idea that every pitch of a chord should be heard, and toward masses of condensed sound being used for novel kinds of harmony,” Cowell scholar Joel Sachs explains. Cowell would have a profound impact on succeeding generations of American composers, most notably Cage, who won fame with his 1940s “prepared piano” pieces, which were inspired by Cowell’s experiments.


Brett Campbell
Wall Street Journal


Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, who fought South America’s dictators with her voice and became a giant of contemporary Latin American music, died on Sunday at age 74, her family said in a statement…

Known affectionately as La Negra — ‘the Black One’ due to her dark hair and skin — Sosa was dubbed “the voice of the silent majority” for championing the poor and fighting for political freedom.

Her version of Violeta Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida” (“Thanks to Life”) became an anthem for leftists around the world in the 1970s and 1980s when she was forced into exile and her recordings were banned.


Helen Popper

Keyboardist Jordan Rudess makes music with his iPod Touch’s help (Photo: Lance Iversen / The Chronicle)

After progressive metal band Dream Theater finished its hard-charging second song at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, the lights dimmed and three large monitors above the stage flashed to keyboardist Jordan Rudess’ fingers.

hey began sliding over the screen of a small black device, difficult to identify from the audience. The sounds that emerged fell somewhere between a slide guitar and a theremin, that standard eerie accompaniment when UFOs appear in movies, the pitch gliding up and down with his digits.

What Rudess was playing before 1,500 fans was the iPod Touch. Specifically, his fingers were artfully manipulating the sounds of Normalware’s Bebot application, which costs all of $1.99.

Among the tens of thousands of applications created for Apple Inc.’s iPod Touch and iPhone are more than 100 that transform the devices into music makers: synthesizers, guitars and drum machines that allow you to tap out rhythms and melodies, as well as trombones, flutes and ocarinas activated by blowing into the microphone.

Professional musicians are increasingly embracing the more sophisticated digital instruments, using them in live performances, DJ sets and recordings.


James Temple
SF Gate
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Clearly, those of us in the business of presenting classical music cannot take any listeners for granted, and in fact should welcome any kind of listening. And I don’t say that because it is economically good for us (though I’ll admit that it is). I say it because any approach to listening means that the listener is at some level appreciative of the music, and most of us are in this business because we are proselytizers. We believe in this music. We believe in its transformative power, its ability to fundamentally reach human beings on a level way beyond words. And therefore any listener, however he or she approaches the music, is something we cherish.

However, it is also our job to make clear that there is much more to this music than lush, rich sounds. And yet much of our industry has encouraged the “just let it wash over us” approach–almost presenting it or talking about it as high-quality background music. Classical music radio in much of the United States is perhaps the prime casualty of this kind of thinking…


Henry Fogel
On the Record

Jean-Guihen Queyras plays one of Bach’s cello suites at a specially designed space at the Manchester Art Gallery (Duncan Elliott)

A rewarding experiment in creating an ideal space to hear some of Bach’s most intimate music — the solo suites for piano, for cello and for violin — is taking place here at the Manchester International Festival. Zaha Hadid Architects was commissioned by the festival to take a top-floor exhibition room at the Manchester Art Gallery and turn what is basically a big black box into an acoustically and visually perfect place for performances of the Bach works.

When the festival opened on July 3 (before I arrived), the Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski played three programs offering three solo keyboard suites. On Saturday night, for the second installment in this series, I heard the elegant French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras play four of Bach’s six solo cello suites in this specially conceived environment.

Working with Sandy Brown Associates, an acoustical company, the team from Zaha Hadid has temporarily created a space within a space. Like an enormous, puffy ribbon, a long span of translucent off-white fabric with an inner metal skeleton twirls down from the ceiling in expanding circles, until it nearly surrounds the low platform stage and the seating area for some 200 listeners. The fabric, which undulates against the metal frame, both absorbs and deflects the sound. Clear acrylic acoustical panels, blended seamlessly into the overall design, hover over the stage area to further diffuse the sound.

Sitting in the enclosure was like hearing music from inside a supersize conical seashell. Between the gaps in the ribbon you could see the black gallery walls, so the effect was to create a sort of safe listening enclave within a much larger room.

In a program note Zaha Hadid, founding partner of the firm that bears her name, writes that she and her associates tried to articulate the “rhythmic and harmonic range” that Bach achieved “within the mathematical framework” of his music by exploring “a coherent integration of formal and structural logic.” I will have to take her word on this. All I know is that the space was a delight to be in and that the music sounded up-close and exceptionally vibrant.


Anthony Tommasini
New York Times

Jill Sobule


If the prospect of a single company mounting a Guns n’ Madonna tour worries you, it also concerns some in the business. Via e-mail, Tom Morello, the guitarist in Rage Against the Machine, told me that a Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger could have huge consequences.

“Fewer and fewer gatekeepers mean fewer choices and higher prices for fans,” he wrote. “One huge monolith means no choice at all. Fans and artists must develop some organized counterweight quickly or resign themselves to their fate.”

A pretty grim forecast. Then on Thursday, a new CD by Jill Sobule arrived in the mail. “The California Years, Vol. 1” is a wonderful record, but the back story is just as good and a reminder that in among the giants, new models are emerging.

Ms. Sobule is a Denver native, a singer-songwriter who has been in the business for more than two decades and is probably best known for her 1995 song, “I Kissed a Girl.” In that time, she has been signed and dropped by two major labels and had two independent labels sign her, then go belly up.

Reluctant to go the label route again, she posted a question in a blog on, the digital technology site owned by Dow Jones:

“How do I pay the rent?”

After listening to her fans, she came up with an updated version of the Medici model. To raise the $75,000 she needed for an album, she set up a Web site — — in which her fans would serve as patrons for her next record in return for various rewards.

Ten bucks earned them a digital download of the record, $50 an advance copy and a thank you in the liner notes, while $1,000 got them a personalized theme song written by the artist. Three people who paid $5,000 had Ms. Sobule play at their house. The person who gave $10,000 sang on the record.

If it sounds cheesy, like a virtual Tupperware party, consider that the record was produced by Don Was, who has produced Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. The sessions, recorded in Hollywood at Henson Recording Studios, were available for streaming and comment on Ms. Sobule’s Web site before she chose the final songs. (One listener’s verdict? More cowbell, please.)

Reached at the TED conference (Technology, Education, Design) in Palm Springs — Ms. Sobule is that rare plugged-in folkie — she said her version of digital busking had real benefits.

“I have never received a single cent on a record that I have ever made,” she said, because sales never seemed to pay back the money she owed for an advance. “With all of this talk of new models and all of these big companies like Clear Channel and Live Nation trying to figure out a way to make a buck, this is one thing that makes sense for an artist like me. I have a small group of fans, but they are mighty.”

Ms. Sobule said that while the top of the business is busy finding ways to own more and more of what seems to be a shrinking pie, artists like her were tunneling their way to a direct route with their public. In a sense, the diminution in value of the CD has allowed musicians to re-examine what a contract with a label or a promoter really means.

A year ago, Ms. Sobule sold thumb drives to people at her shows and gave them a password so that within a week, they could download a version of the live show. “The people who come to your shows are going to want to share an experience, to have something to remember, and it just makes sense that you give them that kind of opportunity.”

Ms. Sobule is less the tech evangelist than a working musician who likes what she does. is not always as earnest as it sounds: It offered a $500 “Gold” level of donation in which your name was to be sung at the end of the record, but also a cheeky “Gold Doubloons Level”: “Exactly like the gold level, but you give me more money.”

“I am never going to be a top 10, MTV person at this stage of my career, but this approach allowed me to make a record that I am proud of and I don’t owe anybody,” she said, and then corrected herself. “I still owe about 10 people theme songs.”

David Carr
New York Times

This commemoration, from one of Foss’ students:


When Foss called something “naughty,” it was a compliment.

He regularly quoted Stravinsky: “I know exactly what I want to do, and then I do something else.” He revered Mozart for his ability to “put things together that don’t belong together” and make it sound sublime. He liked to say that composition was the search for “the right wrong notes.” What Foss really wanted was to make the unexpected seem inevitable.

Emigrating from Nazi Germany, Foss embraced the American habit of reinvention. Irresistibly drawn to possibility, he took his journey through life like a vacation, trying as many new things as he could. Populism, serialism, minimalism. Foss could adopt any musical vocabulary. But each was subsumed into his own personality, which, at its core, contained a deep love of the classical canon.

One of his greatest and craziest works, the “Phorion” movement from 1967’s “Baroque Variations,” violently deconstructs a Bach violin work. But, breaking it down for students, Foss’s own delight in its exuberant invention showed it to be as much a fulsome love letter from one composer to another.

He eagerly connected even the most radical break to the legacy handed down by past masters. As a teacher, he didn’t care what style you wrote in, he just tried to make sure that you did it well; no idea, however outlandish, was inimical to conscientious craft.

Foss was a fount of anecdotes that showed a lifelong knack for his being in the right place at the right time. During the early seasons of the Berkshire (later Tanglewood) Music Center, he shone among a firmament that included Copland and Bernstein; Serge Koussevitzky made Foss the pianist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a partial sinecure to encourage his composing.

Retracing the American experience, Foss then went West, taking over Arnold Schoenberg’s teaching position at UCLA, conducting marathon concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, mingling with stars and patrons. (He once revealed that Katharine Hepburn had seen him in his underwear: He rented her guest house for a time, and Hepburn was not prone to knock.) At the same time, he mistrusted the charm he displayed so effectively, once remarking that the greatest artists “walk on stage the same way they walk to the bathroom: in a hurry, nothing charismatic.” His 1959 one-act opera “Introductions and Goodbyes” sardonically distills a social gathering into nine minutes of greetings and names.

Foss the conductor could be notoriously chaotic, but his joy and energy usually carried the day, restoring the standard repertoire’s original unpredictability and immediacy, making it live again. One of his favorite stories concerned a performance of Brahms’s “Ein Deutsches Requiem,” for which he made some changes in the orchestration. Back at his hotel, as he told it, he found a note taking him to task for his temerity. When he asked who had left the note, the clerk replied, “A short German with a beard.”

Once, with a student orchestra, I watched him lead the opening of Brahms’s First Symphony by standing rock-still, letting the timpani pound out the beat, willing the rest of the orchestra to tap into its thrashing energy – half expressionism, half heavy metal. If he composed to bring the brash and the new into the fold of tradition, he conducted to make the tradition sound brash and new.

By the time I studied with him, tales of his absent-mindedness were legion. (BU students dubbed him “Focus Lost.”) But his musical recall remained exact. If I was unprepared for a lesson, I’d pull out a year-old sketch and try to pass it off as new, which would unfailingly be greeted with his bright rasp: “I’ve seen this.” Names and faces might come and go, but notes and rhythms were fixed points. It was as though, as his curiosity led him on, he deliberately forgot nonmusical things in order to pack more music into his brain.

Lukas Foss died last Sunday. He was 86 years old and had been suffering for some time from Parkinson’s disease. And yet his passing nonetheless managed to be something of a surprise; even knowing his increasing infirmities, the idea that his restless spirit would ever be stilled remained at least nominally incredible.

Having lived an irrepressible life, at its end, Foss flipped his musical ideal around: He made the inevitable seem unexpected. It was very naughty of him.

Matthew Guerrieri
The Boston Globe


A giant of classical music died this week: Lukas Foss. Was he as well known as Leonard Bernstein or Aaron Copland? No, I am sorry to say. There’s something about the way classical music is changing, where it seems that only the most marquee names are remembered. That’s a shame.

Foss was a powerhouse of a talent: conductor, composer, pianist. The glory days of the Milwaukee Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Brooklyn Philharmonic, were all tied to Foss’s tenure, one that highlighted new music.

He had a reputation for sight reading the most difficult new scores at a first rehearsal, which some found to be a hallmark of genius, while others found it less than respectful to the composer in particular.

When they say they don’t make ’em like they used to, that was certainly the case with Lukas Foss. Want to discover the genius of his work as a composer: listen to Time Cycle…It is a masterpiece.

“I strongly suggest that we play down basics like who influenced whom, and instead study the way the influence is transformed, in other words: how the artist made it his own.”
Lukas Foss

“To come to grips with creativity, I must ask creative, adventurous questions – the kind which, in all likelihood, cannot be answered.”
Lukas Foss

“Anybody can put things together that belong together. to put things together that don’t go together, and make it work, that takes genius like Mozart’s. Yet he is presented in the play Amadeus as a kind of silly boy whom the gods loved.”
Lukas Foss

Richard Kessler