Music

A tribute to Puccini and Patti Smith

December 15, 2010
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A tribute to Puccini and Patti Smith

Did anyone else watch Patti Smith on the Colbert Report Monday night? We’re Luddites without a TV, we admit, and this pales in comparison to her insanely gracious impromptu live appearance with the Tiny Cover Band at Columbia College in Chicago, but. . . . Sigh. Ms. Smith. May all of our cultural heroes continue to inspire with such ferocity. Speaking of: if you haven’t read Just Kids yet, why are you waiting? In the book’s opening, Robert Mapplethorpe is dying—going, going—and then (heart wrenches): gone. Smith wakes up, knowing and undone, to “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca: “I have lived for love, I have lived for art.” I admit to having read Just Kids three times over within 72 hours of purchase. I admit to my own repeated listening to the music that informs the work, Smith’s own life: Puccini; Tim Hardin; an awkward, failed reevaluation of the Doors; Radio Ethiopia again and again. But the Puccini—there must be something in the air. One-hundred years ago, this past Friday, Puccini’s la Faniculla del West (adapted from David Belasco’s play, The Girl of the Golden West) premiered at the Metropolitan Opera. From the New York Times‘s recent centenary commemoration: Toscanini . . .

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Mahler Mania!

October 13, 2010
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Mahler Mania!

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal featured a lengthy appreciation of the work of Gustav Mahler, tied to a new book by Norman Lebrecht, Why Mahler?. In the article, Leon Botstein points out that this year and next offer two Mahler anniversaries, first of his birth and then of his death, But even without an anniversary to celebrate, Mahler’s music dominates the symphonic repertoire all over the world. Indeed, we have been experiencing Mahler mania for almost four decades now. Fortunately for Mahler fans, Mahler mania extends to books as well, and Botstein’s article comes with a useful sidebar listing of key works on Mahler’s life and music. One of those is our own Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, by Theodor Adorno, which Botstein calls “the most challenging interpretation of the music.” Given the depth of Adorno’s engagement with music throughout his career, it’s no surprise that his writings on Mahler are challenging—nor that they’re insightful enough to be worth the trouble. For Adorno, writes Botstein, “Mahler’s music was unsentimental: a reaction against Romanticism and a harbinger of Modernism. . . an exercise in the use of art as an instrument of ethics.” For more information about Adorno’s book, go here. And if . . .

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Duke Ellington’s America reviewed in the Telegraph

July 12, 2010
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Duke Ellington’s America reviewed in the Telegraph

The Telegraph recently ran a review of two new books on two of the greatest names in twentieth century jazz. In his review Ian Thomson sets Harvey G. Cohen’s Duke Ellington’s America alongside a new book on Thelonious Monk, both of which, Thomson argues, eloquently demonstrate how these “two giants of jazz … reinvented black American music.” The review begins: At a funeral in New Orleans in 1901, Joe “King” Oliver played a blues-drenched dirge on the trumpet. This was the new music they would soon call jazz. A century on, from the hothouse stomps of Duke Ellington to the angular doodlings of Thelonious Monk, jazz survives as an important musical voice of America. Ellington was the first jazz composer of real distinction. No other bandleader so consistently redefined the sound and scope of jazz. As a classically trained pianist he fused the hot, syncopated sounds of Jazz Age Harlem with an element of dissonance to produce something unique: a dance music of trance-inducing charm, originality and attack. Continue reading at the telegraph.co.uk and read this excerpt from Cohen’s book. . . .

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Harvey Cohen on BBC’s Nightwaves

May 18, 2010
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Harvey Cohen on BBC’s Nightwaves

Harvey G. Cohen, author of Duke Ellington’s America was recently interviewed by Philip Dodd on the BBC Radio 3 program Nightwaves. In the program Cohen discusses the profound influence Ellington and his music had on American culture and the complex role he played in America’s civil rights movement. You can find the archived audio from the interview on their site. (You’ll want to fast forward to about 17.10 for the beginning of Cohen’s interview.) Read an excerpt. . . .

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Duke Ellington’s America in the New Yorker

May 13, 2010
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Duke Ellington’s America in the New Yorker

Duke Ellington’s influence on the world of music is well documented, but less so his impact on race relations in twentieth century America. In his new biography, Duke Ellington’s America, cultural historian Harvey G. Cohen shows how, as Ellington’s music propelled him to international fame, he was able to harness his unique social status and artistic genius to influence issues of race, equality and religion. A recent article on Ellington in the New Yorker draws on Cohen’s biography to offer a glimpse into Ellington’s life and his strategies for manipulating American cultural attitudes towards race. In the article, Claudia Roth Pierpont paints a picture of Ellington as a man constantly struggling to maintain a broad appeal, (even in the American south where he occasionally played for segregated audiences), while making his music the front on which he waged war against the racism that inevitably shaped his compositions, performances, and his life. Read it online at the New Yorker website. Also read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Martha Feldman awarded 2010 Laing Prize

April 30, 2010
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Martha Feldman awarded 2010 Laing Prize

Since 1963, the Press has awarded the annual Gordon J. Laing Prize to the Chicago faculty author, editor, or translator whose book has brought the greatest distinction to the Press’s list. This year, at a ceremony held at the International House on the University of Chicago campus, the prize honored U of C professor of music Martha Feldman for her book Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth-Century Italy. Performed throughout Europe during the 1700s, Italian heroic opera, or opera seria, was the century’s most significant musical art form, profoundly engaging such figures as Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. Opera and Sovereignty is the first book to address this genre as cultural history, arguing that eighteenth-century opera seria must be understood in light of the period’s social and political upheavals. Taking an anthropological approach to European music that’s as bold as it is unusual, Martha Feldman traces Italian opera’s shift from a mythical assertion of sovereignty, with its festive forms and rituals, to a dramatic vehicle that increasingly questioned absolute ideals. She situates these transformations against the backdrop of eighteenth-century Italian culture to show how opera seria both reflected and affected the struggles of rulers to maintain sovereignty in the face . . .

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Philip Gossett—resurrecting the masterpieces of the 19th-century Italian opera

April 5, 2010
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Philip Gossett—resurrecting the masterpieces of the 19th-century Italian opera

Though he works behind the scenes, Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor in Music and the College at the University of Chicago, has become nearly a household name amongst aficionados of the modern opera, for decades having played an instrumental role in bringing to the stage some of the greatest masterpieces of the nineteenth century Italian repertoire. As this article from the University of Chicago News Office points out, among his many contributions to the stage, Gossett has acted as a consultant to some of the worlds most renown opera companies and superstars—including conductor Riccardo Muti, and soprano Renée Fleming—as well as taken on a role as general editor of the critical editions of the works of Verdi and Rossini—work which has attached his name to nearly every contemporary performance of 19th-century Italian opera. The piece from the U of C’s News Office, (complimented by a nice slideshow and video from the Chicago Multimedia Initiatives Group), offers an interesting look at Gossett’s career and the important role he has played in producing some of the most critically acclaimed modern operatic productions, but in his 2006 book, Divas and Scholars—Performing Italian Opera, you can find Gossett’s own first-hand . . .

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Premiere at Met Features a Forthcoming UCP Verdi Edition

February 24, 2010
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Premiere at Met Features a Forthcoming UCP Verdi Edition

Two notable firsts took place at New York’s Metropolitan Opera last night: Italian conductor Riccardo Muti made his Met debut, and he was conducting Giuseppe Verdi’s Attila from our forthcoming critical edition by Helen Greenwald. Muti specifically chose Attila for the occasion and worked from second proofs of our score; after the performances, he will give us his input which we will incorporate into the final volume, to be published later this year. In conjunction with the premiere, the American Institute of Verdi Studies, based at New York University, is holding a symposium on Friday, Feb. 26, prior to the second performance on Saturday, the 27th. The speakers will include Greenwald, the volume editor; Philip Gossett, general editor of the series (and author of Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera; Francesco Izzo, editor of our forthcoming Verdi volume Un giorno di regno, David Lawton, editor of Macbeth and Il trovatore; and the moderator is Roberta Marvin, editor of the volumes I masnadieri and Hymns. Go here for more information on the program. The verdict? The New York Times reports a mixed reaction at the premiere: cheers for Muti and the performers but boos for the production. They go so far . . .

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Jazz.com interview with George E. Lewis

December 16, 2009
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Jazz.com interview with George E. Lewis

Jazz.com‘s Ted Panken recently posted an in-depth two–part interview with George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. In the interview Panken and Lewis engage in a detailed dialogue on the history, theory, as well as practice of one of the most influential jazz collectives of the 20th century—The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. From Panken’s preface to the interview: A Power Stronger Than Itself is a landmark work. The bedrock of the text is an exhaustively researched linear narrative history, constructed on over 90 interviews from which Lewis traces keen portraits of numerous members; AACM archival records; encyclopedic citations from contemporaneous literature, both from American and European sources; and vividly recounted personal experience. Furthermore, Lewis contextualizes the musical production of AACM members—a short list of “first-wavers” includes such late 20th-century innovators as Muhal Richard Abrams, who stamped his character on the principles by which the AACM would operate; the founding members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye); Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgil, Amina Claudine Myers, and John Stubblefield—within both the broader spectrum of experimental activity . . .

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Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell trio at the Chicago Jazz Festival

September 3, 2009
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Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell trio at the Chicago Jazz Festival

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