This Terrible Week

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The last time I saw Matt Marks was in the middle of March. I was heading into the stage door at Carnegie Hall to pick up my press ticket for the concert in Zankel Hall where Alarm Will Sound was to present Ligeti. He was hanging around outside, and before he caught sight of me I pointed at him and said “I’ve got my eye on you tonight, I’m going to be extra tough on you.” Now, sure, I can be an asshole, but I’m not that kind of asshole, it was a joke I could pull on Matt because he had a sense of humor about what he was doing.

And at the same time he was serious about it, and he was a seriously fine musician and performer (not the same things) and also a talented composer who was working at the edge where contemporary opera and contemporary rock-based musical theater meet. I don’t need to go on, best for you to read Steve Smith’s obit and the interview with him by Will Robin at NewMusicBox. I have only to add my personal experience, which is that we were friendly but not friends, the time I interviewed him was to talk about the TV show Hannibal, which I started watching because I knew he was and I respected his values and taste, and that those close to him have lost even more than those of us who care about music.

And then Glenn Branca went. I never knew the man (Phil Kline did, read this). My thoughts about his music was that it didn’t always succeed, but it was necessary. Before Branca did it, no one thought about a guitar ensemble playing rock in symphonic form, and once he started making his Symphonies, we all realized we had wanted and needed someone to think about it and do it. My personal favorite is still The Ascension—not just the music, but the Robert Longo graphics are part of my life’s experience—but he demands attention and he has a permanent legacy in modern music. And I will always admire him for putting Cage’s disparagement of his work on one of his albums.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.