Bringing Back the Dead

There’s more than one way to breath musical life into the dead.



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I’m not a purist—graduate school cured me of that—but lately I’ve developed misgivings about completions of works left unfinished when the composer died. The Mozart Requiem, as commonly performed, becomes less interesting and more irritating, and though I need to know every note Mahler ever wrote, my latest concert experience with a completion (Deryck Cooke’s) of Symphony No. 10 left me cold.

There are exceptions, and what makes them so is that they are not completions in the standard sense, i.e. finishing a work. Rather, these are completions where the standard formed is filled out by some other music entirely. That’s the magic of this wonderful recording of the Requiem, with Pierre-Henri Dutron’s original modern music, in a sort of classical style, talks with Mozart, offering him the use of contemporary ideas.


The same is true with this extraordinary concert that you should have already started playing! Teodor Currentzis has produced some of my favorite recordings of the past few years, entirely rethinking how some of the old classics should go (if you don’t want to start with the Da Ponte operas, get this amazing disc with Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and Les Noces). In this SWR Symphony program (Currentzis will be their next music director), he leads Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 and leaves it in the accidental and sublime perfection of its unfinished state. But he still delivers a four movement symphonic performance, by segueing from the peaceful end directly into Ligeti’s atmospheric and mysterious Lontano.

Not a completion, but an extension. If Bruckner’s music passes into the afterlife, Ligeti’s picks up the thread from there, traveling through a post-life dimension. I find the effect incredible and aesthetically and intellectually fantastic. Music is a continuum, and music from the past lives on in a timeless dimension.

Available to view to July 18, I’ve seen internet rumors that there will be a recording, but ¯_(ツ)_/¯ .

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“I ate your book.”

Bernhard Lang

“I dig the jacket!”

Kurt Elling

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.