The Year in Mahler 2016


What a year. There are more concerts to come, but my experience hearing Simon Rattle lead the Philadelphia Orchestra in Mahler 6 Monday night at Carnegie put a cap on a run of unforgettable performances. Read my review of last night at the New York Classical Review here, and catch up on these reviews from earlier in the year of New York Philharmonic performances: Mahler 6 with Semyon Bychkov, Mahler 9 with Bernard Haitink, Das Lied von der Erde (and Sibelius 7) with Alan Gilbert.

Sharing reviews is always tinged with the frustration of not being able to share the experience, nor of recalling anything but the memory of an overall impact. But there’s a welcome exception: the Philharmonic has released a digital recording from the Bychkov/Mahler 6 run, and it is as great as my memories, one of the finest performances of the symphony you’ll hear. You can stream it/buy it from iTunes, or do the same at Amazon, where the audio is better. Note that the cover image has Gilbert’s name, but it’s Bychkov conducting.


Absolutely, Totally, Mozart

This might be something like the experience of buying a multi-volume encyclopedia in days of yore: you didn’t know you needed it until you saw and coveted it, then there it sat on your bookshelf, admired by visitors yet rarely visited by yourself.

This is something different though: Mozart 225: The New Complete Edition (200 CD Box Set). This is something you will actually open up and play and enjoy through the years.

Yes, it’s expensive, and cost alone is an issue. So is it a value?

  • 200 discs for $410 = $2.05/disc, which is only slightly more than the per track cost of the latest pop hit.
  • Actual cost can be lower than $410, which is the Amazon price as of this writing. Presto Classical has it for $344, but shipping costs are high. Amazon UK has this for the best price (again as of this writing); with shipping included the price in USD is around $350. That’s $1.75/disc.
  • That per disc value only matters if the contents are, well, valuable to the consumer. And if you want a complete Mozart box, the Brilliant Classics one is $169 and it’s quite good, full of solid recordings. Is this box 1.5 – 2 times better?81os0jbut3l-_sl1500_

In my critical opinion—as long as you wish to have recordings of all of Mozart’s works—it is:

I have not heard the whole set (and am certain no one will be sending me a promo), but I am familiar with a substantial number of the recordings collected—there is a PDF of the CD contents here.

The first thing to note is that there is a heavy emphasis on period performance. The box collects Symphonies from the English Concert, the Academy of Ancient Music, the English Baroque Soloists, and a handful of others, all excellent ensembles (the bulk comes from Trevor Pinnock’s excellent English Concert recordings). There are also the fortepiano Piano Concerto recordings with Malcolm Bilson and Robert Levin, which are full of improvisation and are absolutely essential.

There are also some period performance recordings of the operas, but not exclusively so, and here is where the virtues of the box are most clearly represented. This is a Decca release,  but Decca is currently under the ownership of UMG, which also owns Deutsche Grammaphon, Archiv, etc, which means that they have a superior, rich catalogue to choose from. Here are some of the opera recordings included:

  • La finta giardiniera, Mozarteum-Orchester Salzburg, Leopold Hager
  • Zaide, Staatskapelle Berlin, Bernhard Klee
  • Idomeneo, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
  • Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood
  • Le nozze di Figaro, Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra, Arnold Östman
  • Don Giovanni, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séquin
  • Così fan tutte, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Georg Solti
  • Die Zauberflöte, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Claudio Abbado

These are the best versions in the company’s archives, no matter the philosophy, mixing period and modern performances.

There are also many CDs with what are labeled “Classic” and “Historical” performances, so the piano works from Uchida and Brendel are augmented by Gulda and Haskil and Horowitz, the Symphonies are duplicated through a handful of Karl Böhm’s recordings, which at their best are fabulous. And these just scratch the surface of material that is supplemental to the core purpose, but generous and essential for delivering insight into the legacy of recording Mozart; there are 7 CDs of classic aria performances, there is the complete Erich Kleiber Figaro, which may be no longer essential but is incredibly musical. There are 3 CDs of music meant for private performance, 21 CDs of fragments, music that Mozart arranged (his own and others), and incomplete works finished by others, and a further 7 of what are labeled “Doubtful Works.” (Five hours of the music included has been recorded new just for the set.)

So yes, this is the one, complete not only in that it presents all of Mozart that is in common practice, but complete in that it is every work that the man produced, and with multiple views of some of the most notable ones. Documentation includes of a new Kochel guide.

This is a lifetime supply of the greatest musical art. Available October 28.

P.S. In the spirit of less perhaps being more, I also strongly recommend the upcoming release of Teodor Currentzis’ latest Mozart opera recordingDon Giovanni. Currentzis is the only conductor who is as interesting as René Jacobs in Mozart, and his style and ideas are dramatically different and equally rewarding.


Glass Totems



Along with Steve Reich, another major American composer is turning 80 this year: Philip Glass. There are no ongoing celebrations of his life and work, though that’s nothing to regret.

Glass has always had a rare, extensive appeal into popular culture, and his career was buttressed by last year’s memoir, Words Without Music, which is full of fascinating insights into his ideas, his work, and the general task of living in modern America as a (once) avant-garde artist. (Of the latter, the book usefully outlines how his best earliest audiences were theater, dance, and visual artists, not musicians and music lovers, and that foundation helped advance his profile.)

He’s also had a prolific at sometime unfocussed career. His sound is both familiar and inimitable, except by himself, and there’s sufficient music in his catalog that sounds enough like other of his works that one can feel a comfortable but soporific response to his music. At the same time, his style and ideas have developed and changed through the years, especially this century.

All this is exceedingly well documented, especially now that his own imprint, Orange Mountain Music, has been releasing previously obscure recordings from early in his career when his music had an exhilaratingly relentless focus on one thing, when it was truly avant-garde, taking classical ideas of counterpoint and voice leading to their ultimate extremes.



Along with the early music, Orange Mountain has put out an affordable collection of his 10 symphonies. I heard all these works gradually as they were issued, and my attention waned in proportion to the increasing numbers, but having them together brings this body of work into greater prominence. While I still feel his chugging rhythms don’t translate well to an orchestra (they don’t always work with his ensembles), there is a lot of good music here, tightly made despite the seeming sprawl. While I’m still on the fence about the programmatic symphonies, this convinces me that Glass is the natural musical descendent of Bruckner.



His recordings on Nonesuch are necessary, but the previous 10 disc retrospective Glass Box is currently out of print and at aftermarket markups (and the set of his film scores has disappeared, presumably bought up by Orange Mountain). There’s a new, different box coming out October 28, The Complete Sony Recordings, and while this has some looseness appropriate to his career, it also has some of his most important music: the operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten (the finest recording of the first and the sole recordings of the others), Glassworks, and other important theater works, it’s essentially the core of his theatrical work, and recommended if you don’t already have these in your library. (Importcds has the best pre-order price as of this writing.)



And there’s still more, especially the great early works (which outside the operas are my favorites): a new release with the European ensemble Cluster playing Two Pages, Music in Fifths, Music in Contrary Motion, Music in Similar Motion, and Music in Changing Parts, and the third version of the Glass Ensemble’s own performances of Music in 12 Parts.

Sorry About Your Budget


Available November 11; 36 CDs of live recordings from the 1966 tour with The Band. Currently $150 pre-order at Amazon (available nowhere else as of this posting), a bit more than $4/CD, and that comes with pre-order guarantee, so that you are charged lowest price that appears anytime before release date.

Yeah, it’s still a chunk of change, but since the odds that we’re all going to hell after January 21 of 2017 appear to be decent, enjoy what’s left of your life.

via Bob Dylan Set to Release Massive Box Set of 1966 Live Recordings

Stumbling Upon

I have mixed feelings about the newly robust editorial side at Bandcamp. I’m a fan of the site in general, and have worked with the talented new editor in the past (and have written something for the site that was apparently killed, likely due to the subject’s irrelevance). They are covering a lot of music, which is good, but the shotgun approach has so far been highly promiscuous and stretched thin, pushing the views towards the consumer rather than the content of the music.

But here’s one that they got (in my totally self-involved ass-holish opinion) right. This new release is excellent synthesizer music, with not just a classics sound but the classic open-eyed, optimistic view of the future. Ignore the editorial content and just listen (and buy).


The collaboration between two generations of Buchla enthusiasts is soothing and unsettling all at once.

via Album of the Day: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani, “Sunergy” — Bandcamp Daily

17 Years in Ektachrome | Fossil Aerosol Mining Project


Simulated Mutation, 1987 cassette, Fossil Aerosol Mining Project

Some of the most powerful stuff that has reached my ears over the past year and half has been the sounds captured and disseminated by Fossil Aerosol Mining Project. What they have produced, collecting the media detritus of society over three decades, is stunning, hauntings of the past and future. For more, and more on what they mean, reading my article “Sounds of Futures’ Past” at New Music Box.

They have been reissuing their recordings, and out now is a digital version of 17 Years in Ektachrome, with a bonus track. Stream it below, and buy it and other items in their catalogue through the FAMP bandcamp page.

September of His Years



80 is going to be a very good year for Steve Reich (born October 3, 1936). There are concerts around the world celebrating his achievements, and he will be a prominent, season long presence here in New York City.

You can read my reviews of two recent concerts, and looking closely ahead:

  • October 25: Ensemble Signal is back at Miller Theatre for one of their 6 p.m., free Pop-Up Concerts, playing Cello Counterpoint, NY Counterpoint, and the early, experimental Pendulum Music.
  • October 29: At Juilliard, Jeffrey Milarsky conducts the AXIOM ensemble in early and recent pieces, including the gorgeous Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ, and City Life, which increasingly builds an importance equal to Music for 18 Musicians.
  • November 1: In Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, ICE, So Percussion, Synergy Vocals, and conductor David Robertson will play Quartet, the video opera Three Tales, and the world premiere of Pulse. It’s worth noting here that Reich continues to put make outstanding new pieces that are moving his style forward into new areas of harmony, rhythm, and form.
  • December 10: National Sawdust and the World Music Institute are presenting a concert with Ghanaian master drummer Gideon Alorwoyie and Mantra Percussion, playing traditional music and excerpts from Drumming.

And if you can’t wait, or you can’t make it, order yourself Steve Reich: The ECM Recordings, a neat little box to be released September 30 that collects the first recording of Music for 18 Musicians, probably the single most important record of the last 50 years, along with everything else ECM released (which includes Octet, which Reich later revised into Eight Lines). Consider this an essential part of your music library.


Ooh, Look Out You Rock ‘n’ Rollers

Pretty soon now, we’re all gonna get older …

When rock music first developed, it was inevitable that it would become part of the cultural nostalgia machine. It’s an inherently human thing to think the present is awful, the future is worth, and to look backward at some prelapsarian moment in the past. Those of us who are aware of this tendency can see possibilities ahead, those who aren’t vote Republican.

Not that nostalgia doesn’t have its rewards. Who doesn’t miss artists like Bowie and Lou Reed, who doesn’t regret that there will be no new ideas? (don’t trust anyone who doesn’t feel that way). The emotional fetish of nostalgia is easily transformed into the material fetish object of the box set, work neatly cubed, with concentrated impact. If you’ve been saving your money to splurge, or if you can rationalize spending money you don’t have (I sure can!), here are upcoming objects of desire:


David Bowie: Who Can I Be Now? (1974 to 1976)

What a strange fucking year, it not only feels like it began with Bowie’s death, but that his death inaugurated all the bizarre crap that came after, as if he were a totem here to absorb our cultural oddities and project them back to us in a less harmful manner. The final release, the wondeful Black Star, was followed by a superb box set that collected releases and extra material from 1969–1973. Now comes something even more exciting: this new set includes the underrated Diamond Dogs, the marvelous Young Americans, and Station to Station, a popular choice for Bowie’s best record. There is the live material of David Live and the amazing Nassau Coliseum performance, there are new mixes (the mixing on the previous set was excellent), and there is a mystery/surprise in the form of The Gouster, a completed album that was never released and that is only available in this box. Collected B-sides and alternates conclude the 12 CD contents. A must. (Best price is currently at importcds, but Amazon pre-order drop may beat it.)


On (and Off) The Road 1981 – 1984

I am a relatively recent convert to the Church of Crimson, so I apologize if there is any inadvertent fanaticism. What has turned me into a fan has been the series of 40th anniversary boxes, which collect original albums like Red (which in the past I found interesting without being particularly jazzed about them), with extensive live recordings that document both the tours and process around the records. Process is the key, it’s the term Robert Fripp uses to describe King Crimson, and the live sets are magnificent, and taken as a whole lay out a profound and thrilling process of making and remaking musical material—not just songs, but the very organization around which the bands play and improvise. The group improvisation is often astounding, using the songs themselves as a foundation upon which to collectively build a skyscraper of form, a city of sound. Now comes the box that I know throngs have been waiting for: music from and around the tremendous early 1980s Crimson, the band with Ardian Belew, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford. Give it any label you want, this unit made new music that rivalled what any composer, experimental artist, or jazz players were doing contemporaneously. My mind is screaming to hear this (Best price is currently at importcds, and probably will remain there.)



The RCA & Arista Albums Collection

Post-Velvets, Lou Reed recorded 16 albums (including the Take No Prisoners live double-album), for RCA and Arista. The list of titles is a list of classics, great albums full of live, freedom, and intelligence:

  1. Lou Reed (1972)
  2. Transformer (1972)
  3. Berlin 1973)
  4. Rock n Roll Animal (1974)
  5. Sally Can’t Dance (1974)
  6. Metal Machine Music (1975)
  7. Coney Island Baby (1975)
  8. Rock and Roll Heart (1976)
  9. Street Hassle (1978)
  10. Lou Reed Live Take No Prisoners (1978)
  11. The Bells (1979)
  12. Growing Up in Public (1980)
  13. The Blue Mask (1982)
  14. Legendary Hearts (1983)
  15. New Sensations (1984)
  16. Mistrial (1986)

It was Reed’s own project to collect, remaster (he was nothing if not meticlous about the sound of his albums), and rerelease this catalogue, and apparently he was able to supervise the bulk, if not all, of the process before he died. Essential stuff (and don’t pass over his Sire releases, which are terrific). Out October 7 (best price currently is at Amazon UK).



The Rollings Stones in Mono

Only available through Amazon, this set covers 1963–69, when the Stones released (among others), Let it Bleed, Beggar’s Banquet, Their Satanic Majesties, Aftermath, and a few eponymous titles. As for the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and pretty much every other rock band in the early to mid–1960s, the recordings were made and initially released in mono (stereo mixing was an after thought), and the punch and richness of the original sound should be dramatically enhanced by the DSD transfers made from the original masters. 15 CDs, 186 tracks, 56 tracks available in mono (again) for the first time in the digital era. Guaranteed satisfaction. (Current best price is at Amazon UK.)

Where It’s At

My transfer back to is fundamentally complete, though cleaning up graphics and taxonomy on the back end is an ongoing project. As great as my previous host, WPEngine, was, I just can’t afford it; freelance writing produces a below poverty level income, and this blog has never produced any income.

As for the lack of writing here—it was summer! My life is, after thirty years, once again organized around the school calendar, and I had a slow summer, concentrating on my little girl’s fun and on writing music—like Mahler except happier (I hope) and far less competent. I did cover a few concerts at the New York Classical Review, though.

Labor Day is past, and I’m back at it. This new article at New Music Box was written into the summer, and it was difficult to think about music after it was done. The subject is what sounds might be left behind after civilization falls apart, or is inundated, and how future peoples’ idea of what our music was will be nothing we expect:

“This haunting, wrenching, agonizingly complex concept of a post-apocalyptic cultural legacy has certainly existed in music for thousands of years. Fragments of Medieval music concerned with the End of Days have come down to us, and apocalyptic thought began neither in Europe nor with Christianity. But the context of that music is the Second Coming, a redemptive and transformative event. And with no means to preserve the sounds of what was the present in the 10th century, nor that advantage of a post-Cageian concept of what constitutes music, there was no thought toward what the past might sound like to those who might come after.”

Read the rest here

My book Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew is currently available, and you can order it directly from the publisher at a currently discounted price. The New York Review of Books reviewed it in the latest issue (article is behind a paywall), and critic Adam Schatz took it authoritative:

“… a perceptive new monograph by George Grella Jr. in the 33 1/3 series…”

Lastly, for this post, the September installment of the Rail Tracks podcast is up, check it out for some selected 2016 releases, and read out whole excellent issue here.