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Classical Notes

Reawakening the Sacred: A Jeremy Denk Book Review

Posted at 3:31 PM on April 16, 2012 by Samuel Kjellberg
Filed under: Awards & Accomplishments, Fun finds, In the media

Jeremy Denk, the compelling and persuasive artist, American concert pianist, avid chamber musician, exploratory in his choice of repertoire has now moved from the ivory keyboard of his Steinway to his dimly lit laptop to become a writer for none other than the New York Times' book reviews.


Denkspan.jpg

Last Thursday (April 12th, 2012), Denk was published in the New York Times Book Review, an honor not stopping at simple publication. His review boasts the largest thumbnail picture on the page — the featured article!


The book: The Great Animal Orchestra written by Bernie Krause, a self-proclaimed child prodigy, folk musician, author and soundscape recordist in a newly coined term called biophony.


Krause's book comes years after his short stint with folk ensemble The Weavers, some exploration into electronic music, creating the synthesizer group Beaver & Krause (which you can hear with bands such as The Monkeys, The Byrds, The Doors and Stevie Wonder) and then years spent in the Muir Woods recording the sounds of nature.


Muir woods.jpg


As Denk puts it, the book "resembles a howl more than an argument" as Krause exposes our abandonment and exile of the world's sound. Krause uses scientific data, his own observation, and some hearsay in order to criticize our entire human culture as wall-building and ignorant of the beautiful array of sound in nature that is as much creative as it is practical.


This prominent review is no doubt a great honor for Jeremy Denk. But isn't this a story Westerners have been hearing about for quite some time — disillusionment and numbness to our world. As we continue down the overstated economic downturn, as education continues to be left to simmer on the back-burner, as our political system becomes unconscionably polarized (and no less corrupt), and as our religious and spiritual selves become bankrupt we are left with no choice but to turn toward nature, to seek refuge for some morsel of the sacred.


It is not as though our experience with nature is in anyway unique, quite the opposite. Rather, it seems a bit uncanny because of its nostalgia and necessity, a sort of overcompensation.


I can remember that during college the only refuge I had from the abundance of assigned papers, endless nights cut by the wedge of a coffee-induced stare, countless performances and the occasional breakdown was the soundscape piece by Steve Reich called "Music for 18 Musicians." This hour-long, harmonically swirling pulse would drive me into a trance. Often I would find myself with arms wide, leaning back, head held erect as I mentally wandered the mountain ranges of Montana (the place where I spent my summers), forgetting that I was sitting in a crowded computer lab lit by florescent bulbs.


Whether your experience with societal life is a positive or negative one, Jeremy Denk's review sheds light on the offerings of Bernie Krause's book The Great Animal Orchestra, a reawakening to the harmony and melody of nature.


After you peruse the review and maybe even the book, take time to notice the sounds of the world and think of your own refuge...


On a side note (and shamelessly promoting the Twin Cities music scene)... Jeremy Denk will be playing two separate concert series here in Saint Paul this weekend. The first, a series featuring works by Charles Ives, Mauricio Kagel and György Ligeti is showing from April 19-21. The second, featuring works by Edward Elgar, Hugo Wolf, Sergei Prokofiev, Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák showing from April 20-22. Get your tickets at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's website.