November 29, 2006

Ossia Concert

Ossia is a student-run new music ensemble at Eastman. It's the group where Alarm Will Sound got together. Tomorrow (the 30th) at 8:00pm in Kilbourn Hall, the following program of mainly amerikanische Musik is on tap:

Alban Berg - Chamber Concerto
Morton Feldman - Rothko Chapel
Lou Harrison - Concerto for Violin with Percussion
Baljinder Sekhon II - Lou [Concerto for Cello with Percussion]
Lou Harrison - Canticle no. 3

(The Berg was actually rescheduled from a prior concert. Baljinder is an ESM grad student. I'm working the celesta during the Feldman.) Any questions?

November 07, 2006

Feldman Explains It All

At least, that's how I feel when I read a Morton Feldman interview. Every one of them seems unique and uniquely insightful, so it was hard to resist checking out a copy of Morton Feldman Says when I saw it on the library's new books shelf. The material is mostly reprints from the collection of interviews on Chris Villars's Feldman site (Villars edited the volume).

The value in the book isn't so much in unpublished material, but in the extra scholarship that went into putting it together. All the interviews have been outfitted with footnotes, so if you aren't familiar with all the minor figures of the 1950s New York art scene, you'll get a few lines on who's being mentioned. If an allusion is made to an instrumentation choice in an unnamed musical piece, Villars tells you which piece.

A brief chronology gets into Feldman's personal life in spots, something that most writers gloss over when discussing him. Perhaps I shouldn't complain for the usual glossing over, because it would probably be more annoying to have people try to make tenuous connections between his music and his personal life. Anyway, it's nice to have a basic reference of the "what he was doing/where he was doing it" type of information.

Other useful bits in the volume are photographs (including one of Feldman with his mother, who he looks more than a little like) and some score samples. In general, the book's combination of chronology and photos provides a fuller picture of Feldman-the-man (versus -the-musician) than most sources get at. It doesn't strike me as indispensible in the same way Give My Regards to Eighth Street is, but most Feldman afficionados would probably like having a copy on their bookshelves.

That book is valuable for many reasons. His writing, with its distinct blend of humor and pentrating observations, is about as unique as his music. However, what really makes it essential is Feldman's efforts at answering a question of concern any kind of artist: you're at your desk, implements of the trade in hand. Now what the hell do you do?

Don't get me wrong. A solid technical piece on "so you think this music is intuitively assembled, but really it's highly structured and organic" is invigorating in its own way. There is something particularly probing, though, about Feldman writing about "concentration," or why he only worked only in pen, or the time when he finally found the perfect chair. It's a view of composition not fixated on the end product, but as a process that is a kind of performance.

Last year, I wrote about perhaps why composers are so guarded about these issues. I still feel the same way, that the act of writing music is a very personal process, one that other people shouldn't necessarily be privy to. With that in mind, Feldman's writings on compositional process strike me now as courageous in a certain way.