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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: January 11, 2007 Archive

Mad Max

Posted at 7:09 AM on January 11, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Sounds like it might be another "Farewell to Stromness" for Peter Maxwell Davies ("Max" to his friends). This most distinguished of British composers, Master of the Queen's Music no less, has been denied permission to pledge his troth to his longtime partner, Colin Parkinson by the Orkney Islands Council in the Scottish islands he calls home.

They were to arrive on a miniature train pulled by a burgundy steam engine, in a lavish ceremony involving celebrity guests (Elton John was rumored to be one), but if Orkney won't have it, Davies says he'll move his party to London. Not only that, he also is threatening to write a comic opera making fun of the Orkney council.

An estimated 16,000 gay weddings have taken place in Great Britain since the Civil Partnership Act was passed in Britain in December of 2005. More details in yesterday's story from the UK Telegraph.

Bolcom's permission to borrow

Posted at 4:44 PM on January 11, 2007 by Don Lee

Composer William Bolcom is in the Twin Cities, preparing for VocalEssence's April festival celebrating his music. Bolcom is known for his eclecticism, evident in the massive work to be featured in the festival, his Songs of Innocence and Experience. It ranges from madrigals to modernism to reggae.

In a luncheon today at the Minneapolis Club, Bolcom tried to explain where that eclecticism comes from. Here's a partial list:

• From Monteverdi, whose concept of opera harked back to classic Greek drama, which Bolcom says used various means to appeal to all strata of society

• From Mozart, who tested ideas by rejecting them. When the ideas wouldn't go away, he knew they were good (which is how Bolcom accounts for a country/western setting of Blake's poem "The Shepherd").

• From John Cage, who once told Bolcom there are two kinds of people: those who immediately judge a thing as good or bad and those who take it all in and then decide.

Bolcom didn' t say whether he's ever followed Cage's example of making artistic decisions by rolling the dice.

Smashing Opera

Posted at 8:07 PM on January 11, 2007 by Alison Young

The other day I was asked a question that I've been asked at least a couple dozen times in the last few years. And no, it was not is it flutist or flautist (it's flutist!) The question was is classical music on its death march?

The question was part of a live interview and I was without any notes, so I pointed to two things off the top of my head, two performances that have stirred up an almost rock-concert hysteria and both of dreaded NEW classical music. One was the concert by nine emerging American composers, part of the annual Composer Institute at the Minnesota Orchestra last November, mentioned in this blog. The other is the Met's new opera by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Tan Dun about the emperor who unified China and began building the Great Wall. The First Emperor is the final installment in a three-opera commission begun a decade ago. An epic of power and yearning, with an all-star cast, including Placido Domingo and Raise the Red Lantern's director Zhang Yimou, the opera melds West with East; in fact the opera begins with the classic smashing percussion sound of traditional Peking Opera. In spite of some mixed reviews, (the AP's reviewer called it "Fascinating but Flawed") the opera is sold out for the rest of its run. And it has earned a place with five other operas to be shown in High Def on the big screen this season; Emperor will play in two locations in the Twin Cities this weekend. I'll miss the theater presentation as I have the privilege of working the buttons that broadcast the Met to Minnesota, so I’ll be listening in without benefit of sets and costumes, but trust me, I’ll be listening.

So is classical music dying? I think people are not only hungry for classical music, but also hungry for NEW classical music. Tan Dun said "This subject - the first emperor trying to find a piece of music - it's a kind of a metaphor, spiritual metaphor, for him to find a destiny, find a spirit of the nation.”

And maybe for us, we’re finding the destiny of classical music through projects like these.