John Adams’ “Harmonielehre” and the Ghosts of Late Romanticism

A terrifying raw energy, released in thirty-nine unrelenting E minor hammer blows… So begins John Adams’ monumental 1985 symphony in three movements, Harmonielehre. This titanic opening statement, which Adams has equated to “a grinding of gears,” sprang from a strange and vivid dream. For Adams, it brought a sudden end to a “perplexing and deeply disturbing creative block” which had paralyzed him for eighteen months. In his autobiography, Hallelujah Junction, the composer writes, At what seemed like the absolute nadir …

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Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” in Eight Versions

This one note, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements – with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation. Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my …

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Philip Glass at 80

Tomorrow marks the 80th birthday of American composer Philip Glass. In celebration, conductor Dennis Russell Davies will lead the Bruckner Orchestra Linz in a world premiere performance of Glass’ Symphony No. 11 at Carnegie Hall. Along with Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young, Philip Glass was a leading voice in the American minimalist movement which emerged in the late 1960s and 70s. His music from this period, which includes the gradually unfolding Music in Similar Motion (1969) and …

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Back to the Future: The New Spirituality of Joep Franssens

“Our new century is the most exciting time to be making and listening to music.” That’s the bold statement Frank J. Oteri makes in an article that appeared last week at NewMusicBox. He characterizes our hyper-connected twenty-first century world as a place where boundaries disappear. Here is an excerpt: For listeners, there’s more music to hear than ever before–and it’s happening all over the world. Of course, it always has, but nowadays, it’s not limited to …

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Even Better Than the Real Thing

In 1984, a bold, new skyscraper emerged on the Manhattan skyline, which captured everyone’s attention and became the subject of intense controversy. The Chippendale-inspired broken pediment crown of architect Philip Johnson’s AT&T Building shocked the architectural establishment because it so profoundly violated the ruling aesthetic of the day. This bizarre new icon seemed to be cheerfully thumbing its nose at the solemn, modernist glass boxes which surrounded it. Postmodernism was born. Modernism, …

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Arvo Pärt: Spirit in Sound and Space

In June the Metropolitan Museum of Art and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary hosted a thought-provoking discussion, Spirit in Sound and Space- A Conversation Inspired by Arvo Pärt, in conjunction with this summer’s Arvo Pärt Project. The discussion brought together architect Steven Holl, neuroscientist Robert Zatorre, and musician and theology professor Peter Bouteneff. For Steven Holl, one of the most visionary contemporary architects, ideas often emerge through the process of painting watercolors. Buildings like the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle and the Knut …

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Singing Along with the Vacuum Cleaner

What inescapable sounds surround us in the twenty-first century and how do they influence music? Nico Muhly’s 2012 album, Drones, is music which seems to emerge from the hum of the refrigerator or vacuum cleaner. Muhly (b.1981) studied with John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse at Julliard, served as Philip Glass’s copyist, and has collaborated with Björk and Usher. Like Gabriel Kahane, his style, which blends elements of rock and electronic music, is hard to pin down. Read …

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