Music Review

R.I.P.: Colony Music

On Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 6:00 PM, Colony Music -- located on Broadway and 49th Street in New York City -- closed its doors for the last time. This venerable music store had been open for over 60 years, selling CDs, sheet music, and music-related memorabilia, including entertainment-related autographs. Its closing marks the end of an era (or maybe more than one) in New York City: after the closing of Patelson's Music House (which specialized in sheet music and scores for classical music) in 2009 after an 89-year run, Colony was nearly the last store devoted primarily to sheet music and music scores -- mostly for Broadway, jazz, pop, and rock, but also some classical music -- and by far the most visible.

Rest in Peace: Requiems for 9/11

Shortly after 9/11, and very definitely as a personal response to that event, I wrote an article about Requiems for CDNOW, where I worked at the time (just a few blocks away from Ground Zero; fortunately our workday started at 10 AM, so I wasn't there yet that day, but in the weeks that followed there were days where, if the wind came from the wrong direction, we would go home early, it made us so sick). In the years since, I have written about music composed in response to that tragedy, such as John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls. But now I find myself being drawn back to the Requiem idea. Here's a much-expanded take on it.

ANNIVERSARIES: John Cage Born 100 Years Ago: A 13-Album Introduction

john_cage.jpgJohn Cage (September 5, 1912 - August 12, 1992) revolutionized music as much as anyone in the 20th century. His first important music was for percussion ensembles, utilizing both homemade and ethnic instruments as well as "found objects." He achieved a breakthrough when he moved this style of composition onto the piano by placing objects between the strings to alter the sound and achieve a more percussive effect. This "prepared piano" style caught the attention of avant-garde tastemakers, and he moved to New York, where his music shocked mainstream audiences and critics.

The Quirkiest Bach

W.F. Bach (1710-1784) was Johann Sebastian Bach’s first son, and reputedly his favorite. Needless to say, he received a top-notch musical education. Despite his considerable talents as a composer and performer, though, he was eclipsed by all of his younger composing brothers: Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian, certainly, who even now are considered more important and played more frequently, but even by Johann Christoph Friedrich, who was more successful at the time, though nowadays W.F.’s work has a better reputation than J.C.F.’s now-obscure output. The difference, apparently, was that W.F. got along with employers even worse than his dad had.

Epic New Album from Revived Swans

Swans: The Seer (Young God)

The long and acclaimed history of this fabled Lower East Side band gets a new chapter with this two-CD, nearly two-hour studio album. When leader Michael Gira revived Swans after a 13-year hiatus, the result, 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, was not a rehash of the band’s past styles -- which, summarized simplistically, would be loud, abrasive noise for its first five years, then for the next eleven, a quieter, more nuanced sound (though with equally disturbing lyrics) that emphasized female vocalist Jarboe -- but rather a combination of them. On The Seer, Swans’ sound continues to evolve. Gira states, “The Seer took 30 years to make. It’s the culmination of every previous Swans album as well as any other music I’ve ever made, been involved in or imagined.”

ANNIVERSARIES: Claude Debussy Born 150 Years Ago

Born August 22, 1862 in St.-Germaine-en-Laye, France, Claude-Achille Debussy was a child prodigy pianist who was admitted to the Paris Conservatory at age 10. Now generally considered to have been the greatest French composer, Debussy is proof that great art can come from terrible human beings. He was supremely self-centered and selfish. Two women -- one his wife -- attempted to kill themselves after he ended his relationships with them in cruelly casual fashion; his behavior was so beyond acceptable norms, even by bohemian French standards, that many of his friends turned their backs on him. In the midst of his greatest personal controversy, when he'd left his wife for a married woman and moved with the latter to England for awhile after to escape the constant recriminations, he wrote his biggest masterpiece, La Mer.

Another Left Turn from Antony and the Johnsons

Antony and the Johnsons: Cut the World (Secretly Canadian)

It figured that Antony Hegarty's live album would be no rote effort; he's not one for half measures or meeting expectations. The first track, which gives its name to the album, is in fact a new studio track complete with orchestra; it comes from an opera he's writing with avant-gardist William Basinski, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, about a Serbian performance artist. Furthermore, the second track, "Future Feminism," is seven-and-a-half minutes not of music, but of Antony's ruminations on being a witch, the oceans as Earth's blood, the relative merits of masculine versus feminine political leaders, and more.

July 2012 Classical Review Roundup

Janice Watson/Dagmar Pecková/Peter Auty/Peter Rose/London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
Antonin Dvořák: Stabat Mater, Op. 58
Dvořák’s Stabat Mater was born out of personal tragedy; its inspiration, if that is really the right word in the circumstances, was the death of all three of the composer’s children. This beautiful, heartfelt masterpiece is not heard as frequently in concert as it should be, but has been very well served on recordings.

400-Year-Old Venetian Vespers Revived

I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth: 1612 Italian Vespers (Decca)

Here's a gimmick I can get behind. Last year, I Fagiolini's Decca debut presented the first recording of Striggio's Mass in 40 Parts and was quite successful by the standards of Renaissance choral albums. In a world where conductors record the same symphony four or five times, focusing on "new" old repertoire is quite refreshing. For their follow-up, the group and founder/director Robert Hollingworth give some more major works their recording premieres, this time focusing on Venetian composers on the cusp between the Renaissance and the Baroque.

Souther Rises Again

J.D. Souther
Studio 201
July 21, 2012

Fans of '70s rock know John David "J.D." Souther's work even if they don't recognize his name. Linda Ronstadt, always good with a bittersweet ballad, made several of his highlights of her mid-decade LPs. Fellow Detroiter Glenn Frey and Souther hooked up again after both had moved to Los Angeles, and this eventually led to Souther co-writing several of the Eagles' biggest hits.