Andrew Poppy – Definitely Disco (2009)

On Sunday April 19, 2009, Definitely Disco premiered, a new short string quartet to be played by five different string quartets. “A battle of the quartets!” Part of the International String Quartet Festival at Trinity College of Music in Greenwich at 1.30pm and followed at 7.30pm by a Smith String Quartet concert including a performance of Hatch. [Source]




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Alban Berg – Lulu (1937)

She seduces, she kills, she winds up a prostitute and gets murdered by Jack the Ripper. Greed-filled, lusty Lulu is the 20th century’s greatest opera.

I was 14 and in hospital with an appendicitis that had turned into peritonitis. The BBC was broadcasting a piece of opera history – the first ever performance of Alban Berg’s Lulu in its entirety. It was 24 February 1979, and I watched as much as I could. Even though I was feeling terribly ill, the opera made an unforgettable impact on me. Some youthful enthusiasms diminish over time. Lulu never has. It has grown richer and stranger over the years.

The premiere took place at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, and the BBC put it out on prime-time TV; things have certainly changed in the last 30 years. What strikes everyone, on first viewing, is the apparently tawdry quality of Lulu’s subject matter compared with the sumptuous beauty of the score. Lulu is a woman of limitless sexual allure, who takes one man after another, rising in the social scale while killing them or driving them to suicide in turn. She is arrested for the murder of one husband, Doctor Schön, and so begins her descent. By the end, she is prostituting herself in a London garret; her last client is Jack the Ripper, who murders her and her lesbian lover, Countess Geschwitz.

Thirty years on, Berg’s opera seems an indisputable candidate for the greatest opera of the 20th century. But that 1979 performance of the three-act Lulu came 44 years after Berg died, apparently from blood poisoning caused by an insect bite. After the composer’s death, the work was regarded as a decadent oddity – perverse, bizarre and, most importantly, unfinished. The long delay in the work being given a proper performance was a catastrophe for 20th-century music. [Source]



Read the German reviews of the performace at the Berliner Festtage 2012 here, here and here.

There are still tickets for the last three of five performances in Berlin here.

Matthew Whiteside – Ulation (For Viola and Computer) (2012)

Ulation uses the computer as a second instrument to listen to and enhance the viola. This is done through intended glitches and samples triggered when certain notes or gestures are hit. I would like to thank Iain Jennison for the hours spent helping me write this piece. Ulation is also loosely inspired by Jason Staddon’s Barotrauma. Recorded by Iain Jennison April 2012 (who also does a bit of a dance at the end).




Frederic Rzewski – The People United Will Never be Defeated! (1975)

The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (1975) is a piano composition by American composer Frederic Rzewski. The People United is a set of 36 variations on the Chilean song “¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún, and received its world premiere on February 7, 1976, played by Ursula Oppens as part of the Bi-Centennial Piano Series at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall. Rzewski dedicated the composition to Oppens, who had commissioned it as a companion piece to Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, and who recorded it in 1979; her recording was named “Record of the Year” in that year by Record World, and received a Grammy nomination. The song on which the variations is based is one of many that emerged from the Unidad Popular coalition in Chile between 1969 and 1973, prior to the overthrow of the Salvador Allende government. Rzewski composed the variations in September and October 1975, as a tribute to the struggle of the Chilean people against a newly imposed repressive regime; indeed the work contains allusions to other leftist struggles of the same and immediately preceding time, such as quotations from the Italian traditional socialist song “Bandiera Rossa” and the Bertolt Brecht-Hanns Eisler “Solidarity Song.” In general, the variations are short, and build up to climaxes of considerable force. The 36 variations, following the 36 bars of the tune, are in six groups of six. The pianist, in addition to needing a virtuoso technique, is required to whistle, slam the piano lid, and catch the after-vibrations of a loud attack as harmonics: all of these are “extended” techniques in 20th-century piano writing. Much of the work uses the language of 19th-century romanticism, but mixes this language with pandiatonic tonality, modal writing, and even serial techniques. As in the Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, the final variation is a direct restatement of the original theme, intended to be heard with new significance after the long journey through the variations.



[Dedicated to Eriko Makimura]

There is a live recording of the piece on this blog here.

Laurie Spiegel – Sediment (1972)

On Wired.com, Geeta Dayal spoke with the composer and electronic-music pioneer Laurie Spiegel. The reason? A bit of Spiegel’s 1972 piece “Sediment” has cropped up in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games. A 9-minute slice of pure atmospheric portent, “Sediment” is a perfect fit for any dystopian flick. Unlike a great deal of self-styled “experimental” music, it manages to deploy a mood of grimness with a counter-intuitively light touch. [Source]




[via Matthew Whiteside]