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Classical Music

People Are Talking: UMS presents The San Francisco Symphony American Mavericks Festival

Posted: 3/23/12 -- 11:00 am

110

avatar by Sara Billmann

Tell us what you thought! This is the place to comment on the San Francisco Symphony American Mavericks festival and talk to other people about what you’ve seen and heard, or are excited to see and hear.  Don’t forget to click the option to be notified when new comments are posted.

From the video booth…

Concert 1

“It’s incredible how something so bizarre could be so beautiful…”

“It was very good. Other words come to mind that mind not be appropriate for the internet and UMS…”

Concert 2

“A lot more younger people…”

Praise for John Adams & St. Lawrence String Quartet:

A visitor from Orchestras Canada:

“It nice to listen to a beautiful Mozart symphony but…”

And sometimes it’s just hard to find the words:

Kids on mavericks:

Sometimes you have to toot your own horn… (Mark Inouye, SFS, principal trumpet)

A trumpet player from Georgia.. “The trills were exquisite…”

Concert 3

“A heightened sense of awareness..”

“Paul Sinclair reporting back…”

“Very Bay Area-esque…”

“I loved this performance hardcore…” [adult language warning]

 

Sara Billmann is UMS's Director of Marketing & Communications. A former UMS intern, she has spent half of her life working with UMS.

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  • avatar

    What a fantastic concert. Bravo to the San Francisco Symphony and to UMS for bringing such an innovative and exciting program to Ann Arbor. Great start to what promises to be a signature weekend of music.

    Peter Jacobson

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  • avatar

    Great concert, great programming, great risk talking.

    Bravo SFS and UMS!!!

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  • avatar

    It’s so exciting to go to a performance featuring purely “maverick” composers and find yourself truly enjoying each piece for what it is-music! I was expecting to find each piece interesting, but I surprised myself by the beauty that was in all of them. Who can say tone clusters can’t be beautiful after listening to the Piano Concerto by Henry Cowell?! My favorite, however, was Mason Bates’ piece Mass Transmission, which was stunning. The electronica didn’t feel forced or out of place, but instead, relevant. The middle “Java” segment was so cool how it played out, and the emotional swells in the music were powerful.

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  • avatar

    What a concert. It was musically mind expanding, visually beautiful to watch MTT interact with his performers and they with him… The organ was eerie and beautiful.. What a night and two more to go…

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  • avatar

    Exciting, Intriguing, Personal and Pleasant – the entire evening. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s concert, and Saturday’s, and Sunday’s. UMS and the SFO has done so much to make this series audience friendly, though the music stands on its own.

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  • avatar

    What an incredible performance! It was great to hear all those rare pieces and what a wide variety! I was really impressed with the Copland piece it sounded so full and rich with the massive orchestra behind it. The level of playing and the diversity of ensembles in this performance was intriguing and impressive!

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  • What a terrific performance! Bravo to all involved! I’m excited for the next three performances!

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  • I cannot thank you enough for tonight’s wonderful concert!! I’m a native of San Francisco, so naturally it warms my heart to hear my hometown orchestra again. But far more importantly, this was an evening of truly extraordinary music-making! All the musicians — directors, player, singers — gave their very best. And the compositions were all striking, fascinating, and a great pleasure to hear.

    I was bewildered when I first read about this series: all music of the past 100 years or less? Four different concerts on consecutive nights?! By a visiting orchestra?!?! The orchestra touring with expanded instrumentation (for e.g. Varèse)??!! To call such programming “daring” is gross understatement! I cannot sufficiently applaud this initiative, and all those who have worked so hard to bring it about.

    THIS is the kind of lively, engaging, stimulating, and yes, _challenging_ programming which must serve as a model to for modern classical orchestras to emulate. This is exactly the sort of daring initiative we need to invigorate and grow an audience for classical music.

    Bravo, bravo! And I look forward to Friday’s and Saturday’s concerts with eager anticipation!

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  • avatar

    It would be nice if the house lights were turned up enough to allow one to read the text during vocal performances!

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  • So great! Incredibly diverse, “mavericky”, and beautiful all at the same time. I love how the organ was incorporated with electronic music and a choir and also really enjoyed its pairing with the percussion ensemble as well. Very impressed.

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  • avatar

    The San Francisco Symphony gave a very passionate performance tonight! The group played with incredible blend and togetherness. I was especially delighted by Mr. Denk, who even played tone clusters with such care and commitment.

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  • It was a unique evening. I have never heard the concerto of Cowell before. It is a very interesting piece. I could definaterly hear to influence of Liszt on it although the language was very different from Liszt. The Copeland Variations were also interesting piece and it was interesting to hear the orchestration of the piano piece. The piece by Mason Bates had for me clear connections also to techno music and it was interesting how those elements were incooperated into the piece. The Harrison Concerto for Organ and Percussion Orchestra clearly showed the affinity of the composer for asian instruments and ton language from asia.

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  • Incredible. A simply incredible performance. This felt like what a concert should feel like. A concert should challenge notions, push the audience into new places, and hopefully create something really moving as a result. And I think the SFS succeeded here. Stunning program, brilliant execution, and great music. Bravo.

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  • avatar

    Many of the pieces transported me to a prehistoric era where brontosaurus and triceratops roomed the land… Im thankful to UMS for giving me the opportunity to listen to such progressive music and expand my musical intellect. Excellent !

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  • avatar

    Thursday’s performance was amazing. The music was much more accessible than I had thought it would be, even the Cowell piece. I had overheard that the house sold only about a third of capacity. Where is the adventurousness of the classical audience? They are really missing out on some fantastic music.

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  • avatar

    Invigorating and profound, fun and serious, last night’s concert was a great experience. All of the music was new to my ears and I’m grateful the SFS takes these risks and invites us to come along. Just….great.

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  • avatar

    One of the best concerts I’ve heard in a long time: the programming, the audience education (thanks also to the UMS for this) and of course the performance. Interesting, enjoyable, ACCESSIBLE modern and contemporary music. If such music were included in the repertoires of other orchestras, I would buy season tickets! Many many thanks to the UMS for presenting this wonderful series.

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  • avatar

    This was an absorbing and stimulating evening. I’ve heard the piano version of the Copland before. But this one is less austere, and I welcomed that. As to the Cowell, there was, among other things, something amusing about it: beyond the tone clusters, which caused snickers in our vicinity, the concerto had the arc and inner structure of a romantic-era concerto, complete with the occasional solo in one or another of the orchestral instruments and the grand cadential finish. The whole thing seemed to me a reminiscence of an imaginary 19th century concerto.

    The Bates piece is very touching – not just a paean to early radio, but striking a deeper universal chord with its wonderful evocation of maternal love. The mother’s joy and care on hearing her daughter across thousands of miles (“Are you there, my child?”) felt like the adult version of any mother’s first look for recognition in her baby’s eyes.

    The Harrison concerto is yet another demonstration of how globalized music has become – earlier this year we heard Messiaen! — what with African rhythms taking turns with Southeast-Asian modes and sonorities.

    But, but, but, but, but..

    We’ve already discussed the unwisdom of creating a special wildlife preserve for modern music. (BTW, this is modern, not contemporary music – from the first ¾ of the @0TH century.) This strategy amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy: “People don’t really like modern music and will stay away!” Well, duh! It takes a special interest and preparation to attend and enjoy a whole evening of this – just like a whole evening of Vivaldi or an entire afternoon spent in an aquarium. The proof is now in. Entire sections of Hill seats were empty.

    I doubt that any conductor would balk at an invitation to insert one of this evening’s pieces between a short classical composition and, say, a Strauss tone poem or a Rachmaninoff symphonic piece that requires similar large forces. Would people stand up and scream in protest? No! People would discover that there is nothing to be afraid of and that this is interesting music, to say the least. Such programs would soon become routine, especially if Tilson-Thomas could teach some of his stodgier colleagues how one gets the audience in the right groove! He really knows.

    One more thing: there were a large number of young people in the hall whom we don’t usually see there. Maybe they were music students who’d gotten reduced price tickets. The point is that they CAME.

    What to do!? The UMS doesn’t build the programs; it is offered programs and can more or less take them or leave them. But the UMS is not the only organization worried about the future of concert music. Could we not spearhead a new direction? We keep hearing that we are the great love and favorite venue of every soloist, orchestra and chamber group. What if we were to use this renown to tell the League of American Orchestras (see their Google page) that if they were to get over THEIR fears and stop treating modern music in this gingerly manner, they could attract the young people and retain the older customers?

    THAT’S THE WAY YOU CARE FOR THE FUTURE OF A CULTURE.

    Meanwhile, Michael and Co., great thanks for presenting this series!

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  • avatar

    First off I was glad that Hill Auditorium was cool, the last time I saw SFS it was a bake house. All the pieces were spectacular. I’ve really heard a lot of Orchestras in the time I’ve been in Ann Arbor & vivre le difference of SFS! The piano player looked like he was having so much fun on the second piece I had to bite on a pice of buffalo jerky to keep from laughing. Can’t wait to see what they’ve cooked up for us tonight!

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  • avatar

    Long time reader, first time commenter (full disclosure: I work at UMS). The Thursday evening concert was amazing. MTT did an incredible job of encouraging the audience to jump down the rabbit hole with him – he spoke to us directly and wasn’t afraid to dish about the composers (knowing that Lou Harrison built his house out of hay bales honestly made Concerto for Organ with Percussion more enjoyable for me). Anyhow – I definitely felt like Alice traipsing about in a brand new Wonderland. If only every conductor on earth treated orchestral music — contemporary or not — with that same “jump right in, the water’s fine” attitude, perhaps we would see more “young people” (however you choose to quantify that) in the audience. Looking forward to more fantastically weird music this weekend. Like Alice, the first concert only made me curiouser and curiouser….

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    • Another evening of music that moves, intrigues, surprises…
      What an opportunity for Ann Arbor or have SFS here and so avaiable musically and personally.
      Thanks UMS,
      Whoever in the LOBBY said that MTT invites you to jump down the rabbit hole with him is SOOO RIGHT. Perfect way to say it.. Thanks whoeve u are that works at UMS!

      Reply
    • Another evening of music that moves, intrigues, surprises…
      What an opportunity for Ann Arbor or have SFS here and so avaiable musically and personally.
      Thanks UMS,
      Whoever in the LOBBY said that MTT invites you to jump down the rabbit hole with him is SOOO RIGHT. Perfect way to say it.. Thanks whoever u are that works at UMS!

      Reply
  • avatar

    Amazing program! I loved every second of it. It was a true demonstration of how modern music is every bit as emotional, beautiful, and enthralling as traditional orchestra repertoire. The Mason Bates piece was stunning, the Copland was incredibly exciting, and I am amazed at how accurate Jeremy Denk was with his elbows and fists! In all seriousness, the Cowell piece was such a pleasant surprise… So beautiful and expressive. Can’t wait for Concert #2!!!

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  • avatar

    Last night’s performance was one that truly resembled the notion of maverick. It was challenging, took me away from my comfort zone, and allowed me to see music in a different light–all that which I came for. My favorite was the Mass Transmissions piece, where I could literally feel the emotions of the mother in her part longing to hear the voice of her daughter. The whole night itself was executed beautifully and I can’t wait for the next installations.

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  • avatar

    The concert was incredible and all of the performers were outstanding. It seemed at the end of Mass Transmission when the choir sang its last note and Jerry Blackstone still had his arms raised in a directors pose, the audience began clapping too soon. As people applauded, the expressions on Bates’ and the choir members’ faces seemed to suggest that the piece was not over, and it was supposed to continue. If anyone who is familiar with the piece and heard it on Thursday evening, did the audience cut short the work’s performance. Mass Transmission was captivatingly sublime.

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    • The piece had concluded in its entirety but the magic of the lingering sound in the hall — one of the most cherished moments of any memorable performance for me — was killed by someone who over-enthusiastically started applauding. For me, it is always important to watch the performers. You can always tell when they are done. You will notice that MTT “held” the silence as the reverberations of the gong died away in the Harrison Organ Concert…and everyone — performers and audience alike — followed his direction. I love that moment at the end of a piece when you can hear the whole audience concentrating quietly together…the sound of silence supporting the music.

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    • avatar

      Yes, there would be some very quiet sound still coming from electronic media. And Bates wanted the final cord of the chorus to be soft and linger. I was not there at this concert, but I did sing in the chorus during its world premier in San Francisco 03/15-17. So, you just attended the 4th performance of this new piece. :)

      The longest silence I have ever experienced was under maestro James Conlon. It was Verdi Requiem that we performed in October 2011. I believe the silence with longer than 30 second.

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      • Shawn, so great of you to chime in! I’m so happy to see some people from San Francisco joining the conversation. I hope you had fun singing the Bates piece. I know I loved it in Ann Arbor.
        -Liz Stover, UMS

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        • avatar

          It was definitely interesting. We had two full rehearsals with Bates on the stage to work out the details and some additional last minutes modifications. Poor Mason had to go back and forth between the stage and audience seating area to check the balance so many times. I think we finally got it right. Did you also get your first note from the last note of the recorded song?

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      • My favorite silence after a piece of music had to have been the very long tutti silence after Jessye Norman performed the Vier Letze Lieder (Four Last Songs) in Hill Auditorium at the 1989 May Festival with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. We had to leave the hall after it was over and skip the second half of the program — a Bruckner Symphony. It was just that special.

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  • avatar

    Interesting snapshots of American music. It’s hard to dislike a piece with an ensemble of this caliber—

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  • avatar

    Even though I consider myself to be an open minded person, I was surprised by how engaged I was with all of the pieces tonight. I particularly enjoyed the last two pieces. There were moments in the Bates piece when I got chills. I have to say that out of all the pieces, the Bates was the most mavericky and also the most enjoyable for me. The Harrison piece was full of energy and was very well executed. I found the use of Gamalan and experimental instruments refreshing.

    What an incredible performance by the San Francisco Symphony! Bravo!

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  • avatar

    Great Performance! I was thrilled to hear each of these works for the very first time. Many times, with works I have never heard before, I find the initial listening not enough to know the whole piece or to understand it, but with the fine performances by the soloists and San Francisco Symphony, they made these works a successful experience on the first listen, Bravo!!

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  • avatar

    It looks like everyone here, including me (see my earlier comments), had both an enjoyable and mind-opening experience at the concert. You don’t have to wait for MT to return so you can keep on broadening your musical horizons, though; our own School of Music, Theatre and Dance regularly performs modern and contemporary music of all kinds throughout the school year. These are free concerts performed by extremely talented students and faculty. Here’s the website – take a look:
    http://www.music.umich.edu/performances_events/event_display.php?f=m
    And no, I don’t work in the SMTD! Just thankful I can take advantage of this wonderful musical resource.

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  • avatar

    For the record, the stunning student soloists, both members of the UM Chamber Choir, were misidentified on the front page of the program last night. They were properly named, however, in the back of the program as members of the UM Chamber Choir. They are Samantha Winter and Emily Goodwin. BTW, Michael, can we please bring Jeremy Denk back as soon as possible? He comes up with fabulous recital programs, such as the pairing of the Goldberg Variations with the first Ives sonata that we heard last year in Kalamazoo.

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  • avatar

    I really enjoyed the versatility of the program. Also a huge thanks to all the stage crew members who did an awesome job with all of the different aspects of the performance. I liked that MTT talked to the audience quite regularly which made everything much easier to follow

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  • I don’t know if I’ll ever be the SAME. OMG. What an amazing, amazing evening. The SFS is spectacular, MTT a brilliant conductor and the music tonight and last night was moving, exciting, dramatic, discombobulating, awakening.

    WOW. Can’t wait for tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon.

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  • avatar

    I was really impressed by the level of excellence at tonight’s performance! The Cage was very intriguing to see performed and the orchestra played phonomenally. However I felt a little worn out by the end of the performance because it was such a jam packed program. Any one of the works would have been enough on its own and the jarring, shocking nature of some of these pieces made for a long evening (not to mention with the set change at intermission). I just felt like it was a lot to take in for one evening, but at least I definitely got my money’s worth!

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  • avatar

    This concert was so much fun-the John Cage Songbooks were hilarious and serious, broad and pointed at the same time. I’ll never get to see anything like this again, in all likelihood, so I’m really thankful I got to see it tonight! I was impressed with the range of vocal techniques used by the singers, and by the overall setup/concept for the performance. Absolute Jest was probably my other favorite piece of the night-it had so much energy and I was frankly dazzled by the St. Lawrence String Quartet and the San Francisco Symphony’s performance.

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  • Y E S !!!!

    I was the one who leaped to his feet and just yelled at the end of Amériques! What else could I do?!

    Varèse is one of my very favorite composers, and that was without doubt the best performance of the composer’s final version that I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t just the orchestra’s incredible precision and fantastic ensemble work. It was how ALL the gestures were clear and vivid, and rang true with full drama and passion, and then fit together as a vibrant, coherent whole.

    When I first heard Amériques on recording many years ago, it seemed a good work, but perhaps not quite as strong as e.g. Varése’s Arcana. But tonight’s performance left utterly no doubt: Amériques is a masterwork, fully the equal of Arcana or any other of Varèse’s other masterworks; it just needs a fully-committed and masterful performance to realize its great potential.

    The performance’s intensity was so white-hot in places that it was a miracle it didn’t set Hill Auditorium on fire! And if it actually had… well, frankly, it would’ve been worth it!

    The rest of the program was just as stunningly well done. The Cage was performed to the hilt: no compromise, no apology, no condescension; total understanding, sympathy and commitment to realizing the composer’s invitation to exploration, creativity, and just plain surreal good fun! Casting Jessye Norman was a stroke of genius: her magnificent dramatic persona and striking voice crowned the whole performance gloriously — and the other two vocalists were just as amazing, each in their own way.

    The Cowell is a fascinating piece, well worth hearing. I’m astonished to have heard two different orchestral works by Cowell… and that on consecutive nights! This is a clearly a composer who deserves to be heard more and more — a truly original voice. And the performance was perfectly stunning.

    The same goes for the Adams: a magnificent performance of a truly engaging work, full of color and imagination!

    SFS is a rather different orchestra now than when I knew them when i lived in SF more than 30 years ago. If anything, it’s better than ever! What I find especially impressive now is the palpable esprit-de-corps: I plainly sense that this is a group of musicians who all love what they do and love doing it together — and they especially love doing out-on-a-limb programs like this series.

    MTT comes across as the antithesis of The Great Dictator who imposes his will on his peons; no, he’s clearly The Ultimate Colleague, the collaborating musician who serves as leader and visionary, a great coordinator who allows and nurtures a wonderful artistic ferment to brew among all these superb musicians.

    Tilson Thomas has earned my profound respect: here’s a superb musician, who has won the complete trust of his orchestra and knows exactly how to bring the best out of them all.

    Bravi tutti!!

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  • My favorite piece of tonight was Amérique by Varese. It was really colorful and exciting. Full with Energy. I actually did not like Absolute Jest so much. The work had not a real goal for me. It was like huntung for Beethoven fragments. But the performance was great. I found the Cowell quite interesting and colorful. The Cage was interesting to see but was quite aimless. It was an experience. Not more and not less.

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  • avatar

    I think my favorite part about the concert tonight was where I was sitting; in the very front row! It was so neat to see each performer’s face (especially during the Cage piece). I found it rather funny to watch MTT gulp down a very chunky smoothie made of cucumbers, carrots, and bananas, and play it off as if it were delicious (well, maybe it was?). The Cage piece especially made me ask questions such as “what is art,” “can anything be art,” and “do the performers have to believe that what they are performing is art in order to give a committed performance?”

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  • avatar

    I loved the Cage. I loved the three, so different, singers, and the fun of the whole staging. So many people were smiling through intermission, and more people were talking to other people they didn’t know than usually happens at concerts. I think Cage would have been happy.

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  • avatar

    I loved this concert. Comparing it to the other concerts throughout these Renegade series, this one concealed its own unique blend of modern skills and truly unique styles. The piano and symphony piece was astounding in that the expression and passion seen on the face of the pianist made the entire experience worth so much more than an average piece. The expression exhibited by the pianist paired with the description of the usage of the song allowed for an image of synchronized beauty frolicking in the woods that the composer depicted for us.

    Every combination of ensembles proved to be an experience in itself as I came to enjoy the concert. I am very excited to see more of these performances throughout the weekend.

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  • avatar

    Incredible! Last night’s performance of Cage’s Song Book was truly a Maverick Production and Experience. There were so many moving parts and right when you thought everything could be exhausted, something new was brought to view. A once in a lifetime experience! The Orchestral half of the program was just as inspiring, Bravo again!

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  • avatar

    What an intriguing program! The two pieces that fascinated me the most were the Cage and the Adams. Though I enjoyed taking in the Cage it really made me ask myself some tough questions. Is it art? (Yes, I believe so). Is it good art? (I’m more unsure about my answer there). Was it entertaining? (Most definitely). I really loved the Adams. It was the first piece San Francisco has played all weekend that I knew I would enjoy performing. The quartet was so fun and inspiring to watch and the piece was full of moments of excitement a beauty. Another amazing performance by the SFS!

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  • avatar

    A fascinating evening. It is time to acknowledge that the aleatoric art of the last century is dead, dead, dead. It was an interesting idea worth a try, but we have to acknowledge that the experiment is a failure. The John Cage piece was nearly unbearable to sit through. Twenty minutes of pointlessness is really hard to take. Because the intermission was then an hour the wise viewer would have put off coming until 9:30, when the music began. The Cowell was odd but very nice, a series of episodes, all of the interesting. Absolute Jest had some moments of heartbreaking beauty, and other sections of what has been called sewing machine music. But I think I need to her this incredibly complicated piece again to understand it. Varese exemplifies what some one has called the odd French combination of sophistication and naivety. Some of Ameriques is goofy and dated (that siren), but the last five minutes is immensely powerful, staggeringly great music. I am grateful that the SF Symphony did these pieces. Even the Cage serves to eliminate any romantic notions that Cage’s “music” is worth hearing.

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  • I hated the first part. What a waste of talent and money. I HATED IT.

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    • avatar

      I too was thinking of the expense of having a full orchestra flown from S.F. And quartered for 4 days in Ann Arbor and weighed it against the dissonance on stage. I ran into a music professor friend from another school in the lobby afterwards and he said he had seen it performed before and not only that, he had once sung part of it! So I guess this is a big To-Do in the rarefied world of modern composers. At the end of the show I ran out, not because I was upset, rather the opposite but walked to the garage with a man who said he hoped it wouldn’t give him nightmares. Well I said what I always say about Friday performances, avoid them if you can, everyone is sleep deprived and traffic is horrible. But he said he was retired. The series is titled American Mavericks so the label is accurate. I was not as overjoyed as I might have been if I had seen my hometown Cleveland Orchestra. All opinions count!

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  • avatar

    Seeing Cage on the composer’s list I knew what I was walking into last night. His style of composition and the angle he takes on music is truly maverick, and thought provoking. That being said, I myself could not relate to the performances that took place; the dissonance and atonality was a bit much. However the sheer thought and practice that went into the compositions and work were enough for me to appreciate the night. I commend SFS as well as UMS for exposing us to such bold and challenging works of art.

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  • avatar

    I am utterly in awe of this tour. I’ve never seen an orchestra perform so many complex, difficult works in one go. Seeing them performed so well, and seeing them communicated to the audience with such enthusiasm and commitment: this is what orchestral playing should be about, and so rarely is.

    Moreover, they’re doing this with composers and pieces that are too often ignored. When Berlin was here a few years ago, they renewed my faith in orchestra playing, but they did it primarily with Brahms. San Francisco has done it again, but with Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, and even John Cage. (I’m sure they would have done it with Varèse, which I sadly had to miss.)

    Other orchestras (e.g., our own vision-devoid Ann Arbor Symphony) take note: you ignore ambitious programming at your peril. The audience universally *reacted* to these performances. They *listened*. You could feel it in the room. Sure, the reactions weren’t all positive. But many were, and people that hated the absurd randomness of Cage may well have loved the finely crafted soundscapes of Varèse.

    The really old stuff can be great, but there’s so much more out there. Real art requires a coevolutionary dialogue among human beings—artists and listeners need to have their brains modified over time!—and that’s what we’ve been seeing this weekend.

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  • Without a doubt one of the greatest concerts and performances I’ve ever seen anywhere (even though I sat four rows from the stage, far left). I can’t get enough of the SFS. I thought I hated Cage but seen as performance art, not music, his Songbook was entrancing, perfectly staged, engaging, funny, adventuresome, and balanced. Some people booed at the end. Were they set up, or only demonstrating their own cluelessness? Adams’ new piece was mesmerizing and brilliant, a lecture of sorts. He’s one of the greats, much more inventive than Cowell. I can’t wait until it’s recorded – it deserves and demands multiple hearings. I’ve often felt he does what Glass only wishes he could do. But maybe Glass made him possible, (as did Beethoven!).

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  • avatar

    Concert #2 was such a contrast to the first San Fransisco performance, but certainly just as enjoyable. I applaud UMS for taking such a risk… I only wish more people in Ann Arbor were open to at least experiencing these maverick performances. Attendance seemed low at both concert #1 and concert#2, and I heard a women say loudly during the Cage piece “I can’t believe we paid money to see this,” before storming out. The Cage piece was not my favorite composition on the program, but I was open to experiencing it and waiting to pass judgement. Overall, fantastic program. I feel so lucky to be able to see such an all star orchestra with such amazing soloists performing such incredible and rare works. Bravo UMS and San Fransisco!

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  • avatar

    Such a great evening. Cowell’s tone clusters sounded absolutely enchanting in the hall, and are something that must be appreciated live. All the pieces where very unique, especially Mass Transmission, which featured a very captivating text. I also really liked the driving rhythms of Concerto for Organ and Percussion, something that’s often missing from the symphony.
    I’m excited for Saturday’s performance.

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  • avatar

    This was a very nice concert, and a definite risk for UMS compared to their normal repertoire! It was a very enjoyable time, and definitely different. The Cage Songbook performance was a delightful mashup of weird and expressive, and was filled with expressive moments and wonderful weirdness. The set was fantastically designed and showed the marvelous skill and adaptiveness of the San Francisco Symphony. Great job!

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  • avatar

    I enjoyed Concert #3-the programming definitely had a lot of contrast! The Concord Symphony was such an epic way to end the evening. My favorite movements from the piece were probably the Hawthorne and Alcotts…I hadn’t realized how short the Alcotts was and found myself wishing it was a longer movement when it ended somewhat suddenly. The Morton Feldmen was interesting to listen to, and although I am glad I got to hear it I am not sure how much I actually enjoyed it.

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  • avatar

    I cannot believe how marvelous the 3 concerts I have heard by the SFS. Hearing and seeing the Cage sSong Books was an event to be remembered and I will probably not be able to hear it again. I could not believe the boor who booed so loudly amd long at the end.
    The Cowell Symphony and piano concertó were wonderful.
    I cannot imagine hearing a finer Concord Symphony.
    I have loved everyting and cannot understand why Hill was not sold out for all performances

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  • avatar

    Conert #3 was breathtaking! I was feeling a bit of synesthesia thinking about the music in accordance with images. After the Feldman was introduced and described in accordance to abstract painting, I couldn’t help but picture the different sounds and orchestral tone “colors” to an image being created on a canvas. I thought this idea transferred well to the Ives piece which conjured up musical segments from a variety of genres, from Beethoven to hymns, to make a sort of aural collage that went along well with the images associated with these different musical samplings. Great playing, great concert, wow!

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  • avatar

    Thanks very much to UMS for bringing this festival to Ann Arbor! If I can make a small request for a follow-up, now that we’ve had this excellent performance of the Concord Symphony let’s see if we can book Jeremy Denk to come back sometime soon with the Concord Sonata.

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    • avatar

      I agree. There were impressive parts of the Concord Symphony, but Ives’s original version is amazing. I have heard it only once but would love to hear it performed again. Maybe since Emanuel Ax didn’t have a lot to do in the Feldman piece (which I loved), maybe MTT should’ve given the orchestra some time off and had Ax come back after the intermission to play the Sonata instead! :-)

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  • avatar

    Another fine performance by the SFS in concert #3 of the mavericks festival! The orchestration of Ives’ Concord Sonata was masterfully executed and was “Epic” as MTT had described. Although I loved the orchestral version dearly, some of the sections just longed for the intimacy of a solo piano. But nonetheless a fantastic end to a stellar program!

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  • avatar

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Feldman piece which is unlike any other piece I have ever heard. I especially found the use of dynamics in this piece to be interesting. There was a sort of peace and tranquility that permeated this piece both as a result of Feldman’s harmonic palette and his use of silence.

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  • avatar

    I am so thankful to be living in a city that brings such talent and innovation as the San Francisco symphony’s maverick tour. I was so honored to be able to participate in the Bates’ “Mass Transmission” and it was so cool to be able to work hand in hand with the composer, watching his dreams come to life was certainly an experience that will not be forgotten. I also loved the Cowell piece in the first performance. Mr. Denk performed the work with such conviction and musicality there were many times that I forgot that he was playing with his arms or elbows! I was surprised how melodic this piece was in many parts and I enjoyed watching Mr. Denk. He seemed like he was loving every moment that he was playing! Thank you UMS for bringing the San Francisco Symphony to us! What a treat!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comments Emily, but thanks even more for your beautiful solo on Thursday!! You, Samantha, and the Chamber Choir were so great. Thank you and your colleagues for your hard work in preparing the piece for this amazing program. We had a photographer at the performance and I have some photos to share with you and Jerry of your performance, so look for those soon!
      Liz Stover, UMS

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  • avatar

    There was sustained applause and whooping after almost every composition w heard the last three nights. There was also isolated booing after the Cage piece. I have been going to Hill for decades and have sat through the good, the very good, the bad, and the ugly, but I have never heard booing here before. In Europe it’s common for one half the house to clap, the other to boo. But we are a patient and hospitable audience; that’s part of our success with performers. Who wouldn’t like to play before such a receptive hall? Some might say “undiscriminating” or “stubbornly enlightened,” but that’s clearly a slander. The Cage piece seems finally to have overstepped our high threshold for outright rejection. Then there was attrition: two people sitting behind us walked out and the chap next to us did not return after intermission. That’s three defections all within just an arm’s length. I also heard some bitter remarks in the hallways and elevator – about feeling swindled — even though you wouldn’t guess this from the UMS Lobby. I’ve had it confirmed that half the house had been unsold. So do the math. Folks, we got a problem.

    Administrators at the UMS have said they don’t want audience size to be the indicator that’s used to measure success. What they care about is helping people to have a favorable introduction to modern and contemporary music, maybe even to turn some people on to it, to make these forms more acceptable. When I hear this, I am filled with pride and gratitude to be living here and benefitting from this organization. Where is there another like it?!

    Sure, a smaller audience is not a sign of failure; but neither is a large one.

    Allow me to repeat myself. Hearing eleven new-to-the-ear compositions in three days, representing a kind of music the general concert-going public hardly ever hears, is not the best way to achieve these worthy goals. Receptivity declines soon and sharply. We need more time and closer exposure if we are to assimilate each such work –if our attitudes are to change. (How many people actually learn how to swim when tossed into the deep end of he pool? Few swimming instructors use this method.)

    To start with, let’s acknowledge that after having clung to the 19th and early 20th centuries as the outer limit of most concert programming – with only an occasional score thrown in on which the ink is still moist – we cannot make up our lag in taste development in one grand leap. We need the long haul.

    Here is just one way to start this conversation. Please contribute your ideas and bear in mind that we who write may not be representative of the entire audience. The UMS says it wants to hear our thoughts.

    If I had the chance. I’d invite the SFS back. They are phenomenal. I liked almost everything I heard. Yesterday’s program, too, was very fine. Have them give 4 concerts. Each program will have two traditional pieces, selected from the Baroque to the Neo-romantic canons, say, Bach to Ravel, Respighi, Rachmaninoff or Strauss. And in between something by Cowbell or Webern or Boulez or middle Stravinsky. It could also be an American composer – Barber, Harris, Riegger, etc. THIS LESS FAMILIAR PIECE WILL BE PLAYED TWICE in two consecutive concerts – work A in concerts 1 and 2, work B in # 3 and 4. THAT’S ENOUGH FOR ONE SEASON. Repeat the following year with similar programs. This allows for a gentle immersion rather than a tsunami. The second time you hear something, you can recognize some things and discover new ones.

    I believe this is a more effective way to change minds and hearts and interests.

    In a previous post I acknowledged that UMS does not make up the individual programs; it more or less has to take or leave what is offered. What I’m hoping is that concert presenters, such as UMS, who worry about the future of this musical culture will agree with each other on an effective model and urge orchestras to try it.

    Reply
    • I couldn’t possibly disagree with you more. First of all, booing, though crass and mildly unpleasant to hear, is what it is: hopefully an honest (not planted) response, indicating live, reactive listeners, however clueless and unashamed they may be to display their narrow-mindedness. Second, if Ann Arbor can’t sustain the honor of having this brilliant, world-class orchestra and conductor play here for four days, and play a uniquely designed program of “modern” music rarely performed elsewhere, especially closely together, when the experience is most likely to enlighten, instruct, and energize listeners, then it doesn’t deserve the reputation it has as an enlightened, intellectually adventuresome city. It is completely absurd to question the appropriateness of programming this concert series on the basis of some imagined limits of musical tolerance and “balance.” Let Fox News be “balanced.” A great many people loved all these concerts and made it very clear at all performances. That is all that matters, and more than enough proof of what a great gift it has been to have the the SFS here. I can only hope UMS continues the intense and brave programming the SFS embodies for all kinds of listeners and of all kinds of music. If you don’t like a program, don’t buy a ticket.

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      • avatar

        I applaud your passion, Mr. Wiener, more than your optimism. You advise those who don’t like this kind of music not to buy a ticket. The worry is, however, that even those who do, may not have a chance to buy one. Concert organizers cannot afford to present such works with any regularity to half a house including numerous indifferent and disgruntled patrons. (Carnegie Hall sold even worse than Hill. Do the math.) When was the last time you heard Ruggles, Cowell or Ives in Hill Aud? When do you suppose you will again? The question is how to swell the ranks of those who are at least open to such music or even like it. Any ideas?

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        • I have no answer. The ranks were swelled enough. The series was, or should be treated as, a loss leader. The many people here who loved the music deserve it and won’t forget it. We’re grateful! Many other symphonic concerts here have sold and will sell out. We love those too. I’ll concede that 4 such SFS concerts in a row may have been too much for people here: two would have done. Still, it’s wonderful that there was so much interest, enthusiasm and love for these concerts – not merely for the music but for the musicians, who at times far outshown the music.

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        • avatar

          It’s wrong to think of half a house as a failure. Hill Auditorium seats 3538. An audience of over 1700 for such challenging music is surely a success. I am grateful to UMS for bringing this show to us; I was happy to hear (and see) even the things I didn’t like, to learn, to be challenged, to have something new to think about, to hear a new kind of beauty. If UMS decides that it will only book shows that sell out, that can sell 3500 tickets, the music that we hear will become much more limited.

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    • avatar

      People, we got the same sushi bar that they will be enjoying at Carnegie Hall this week! I for one prefer not to sleepwalk through life. This was not ear splitting decibel-age. We got to see what they teach about in better music schools. And for a final time, I grew up with the Cleveland Orchestra and close family members went to Oberlin. “Ditto” Music Lover

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    • avatar

      I really enjoyed the booing, actually. Nice to see people express passion over challenging art. If given a time-machine, a must-see stop for me would be the aftermath of the Rite of Spring premiere. But in all seriousness, what were they expecting? They bought tickets to a Cage piece.

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  • avatar

    The 3rd installment of this SFS Maverick series was just as grand as the ones that preceeded it. The music and images intertwined to give a breathtaking effect and evoke many more senses than before. I personally enjoyed the piano concerto and thought it was exectued wonderfully. And of course, the finale of the concord symphony was just beautiful, using bits and pieces of such a wide plethora of music styles. I’m so glad to have been part of this event.

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    What a great performance Saturday evening. Ruggle’s Sun Treader was heart wrenching Gloomy. So much despair, I wonder if he had a good life. I felt like a was stuck in fits of rage. Fieldman’s Piano and Orchestra was a nice contrast, with its delicate impressionist touch. The Conchord Symphony was perhaps the perfect middle ground. It is a wildly weird exposition. It carried a sense of mystery, peace, but also frustration. IT was my favorite, and I particularly liked the gruesome big band section with jazz drum kit.

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  • avatar

    Once again I was blown back by the excellent performance witnessed by many. The Piano and Symphony piece was again the piece I attributed with great imagery. Compared to the first night, this round was much more delicate. But to no lesser degree did it administer profoundness and pomposity as it drew my attention in and made all 25 minute of it seem so peaceful.

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    The piece I enjoyed the most today was “Echoi” by Lukas Foss. I could definitely tell that there were elements of improvisation at play which were not as evident in the other pieces. The percussionist Jack Van Geem was impressive. I really enjoyed the use of extended techniques by pianist Jeremy Denk, Percussionist Jack Van Geem, and Clarinetist Carey Bell. The chaos implemented by the use of extended techniques in “Echoi IV” was highly comical.

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  • avatar

    The third installment of the San Francisco Symphony’s Maverick works was wonderfully delicate yet exciting at the same time. It definitely fit the notion of a concert more, without all the excitement and extreme staging of Cage’s songbook the previous night. I particularly enjoyed the Concord Symphony; it really spoke to the performers’ ability to create simplicity, excitement, relaxation, and expression all in one piece. The Ruggles piece was particularly dark and gloomy, and likewise the Feldman piece kept me uneasy yet felt lighter. This was a truly Maverick performance by the SFS, and a great pick by UMS.

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  • avatar

    Concert 2: what an interesting evening! I loved how the Songbooks put the audience directly inside. The whole first act was fascinating and enjoyable to watch. I really appreciate the risks that were taken. In contrast, the second half was a bit less entrancing and low-energy, but still very beautiful and talented.

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  • I was really looking forward to today’s performance because chamber music is perhaps where the majority of new music is being written. It’s no longer exactly feasible for a contemporary composer to write for orchestra, so we turn to the chamber ensemble, where virtuosity can be pushed, sounds can be exploited, and a clarinet can easily walk over to play into a timpani. The San Francisco Symphony’s musicians did not disappoint. This was a wonderful program (if perhaps just a little too heavily weighed toward music write approx. 60 years ago) that was a great final evening for this festival. I wish there were at least one more new piece being performed (Meredith Monk’s work was great, just I wanted more of this modern sound world) but, on the whole it was impeccably performed, wonderful music. Thank you UMS for bringing to Ann Arbor such an exciting and ear-opening festival!

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  • avatar

    Great performances from the final concert of the SFS Mavericks Festival. The performers today truly displayed a stunning amount of virtuosity. These are very difficult pieces to perform and grasp, and they brought these pieces to a high level of existence. Bravo!

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  • The San Francisco Symphony’s installments were a definite change in what most people are accustomed to hearing. It was incredibly interesting to hear the contrasting facets of each song that caused them to be unique. While it was difficult for me to fully appreciate most of the pieces today, I really enjoyed Meredith Monk’s piece. There were definitely aspects of the other pieces I really enjoyed (for example, playing the strings in the piano, throwing the singer’s voice through the use of 3 microphones), the music did not align with my preferences. However, I thought everyone performed wonderfully and was really glad I was able to experiences these performances.

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  • avatar

    What a great ending to a outstanding series of maverick performances. I thoroughly enjoyed the chamber works, particularly the monodrama. The eccentric style of music stood out, and I especially enjoyed the beautiful solo voice. These few nights have brought upon many challenging ideals and have set a stage for a new style and generation of music. I commend UMS for sharing this experience with everyone.

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  • I was saw the 3rd and 4th performances and was pretty surprised by both of them. I must admit, I find it very hard to relate to the type of music found in many of the pieces performed. Lots of it felt very random and hard to follow. This left me wondering what the purpose of these pieces were.

    Yet, what amazed me was how beautiful some of the contrasts in songs were on saturday (#3). The Ives piece especially had a great combination of dissonant and strange parts along with very subtle and beautiful parts. This had a very emotional effect on the audience because the changes were so apparent.

    At sundays performance (#4) I found myself again frustrated with the lack of melody and order. It seemed the aspect that was really missing in lots of these pieces was the audiences sense of anticipation. Much of the music was so random that you never quite felt the buildup and resolution that is so critical for “feeling” music. Meredith Monk’s piece was the exception. Like Ives piece the night before, a combination of dissonance and unrecognizable rhythms complimented elegant melodies very nicely.

    There was certainly no shortage of innovation and ideas in these performances. But I feel that lots of the pieces failed at evoking an emotional response from the audience, probably because they were meant to be appreciated instead of enjoyed.

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  • avatar

    I heard a rumor that it was Jim Leonard booing at Friday night’s concert can anyone substantiate this?

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  • avatar

    I saw the Friday night performance, and while it was truly remarkable (and an honor to see a new Adams a week after its premiere) there really should have been a warning that there would be an hour-long intermission. That was unexpected after being told by the box office that the program would run 80 minutes.

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  • [N.B. This entry is submitted with Glenn Watkins’permission and is taken from an e-mail exchange between him and UMS Director of Programming, Michael Kondziolka.]

    Dear Michael,

    The concert on Friday night was a special one in the history of UMS, I think. I’ll leave it to you to identify the memorable or the forgettable, as the case may be.

    What prompts this note to you is my memory of an epigraph that sits at the top the last chapter of Soundings. It’s from a David Cope interview with John Cage in 1980.

    “I can’t recognized [my] Cartridge Music from one performance to the next. Somewhere I tell the story of going into a house . . . and the hostess to be nice had put Cartridge Music on in another room. . . . I turned to her and asked, “What is that music?” And she said, “You can’t be serious.” I said, ‘It’s very interesting, what is it?” And then she told me. I was pleased that I couldn’t recognize it . . . I don’t hear it, you see. I performed it . . . with David Tudor, and we made a recording when Earle Brown was in charge of Time Records. Earle asked David and me if . . . we wanted to hear the end result. Neither one of us wanted to hear it.”

    The responsibility for programming Cage’s Song Book, surely one of the most extraordinary wastes of star-power (combined with unnecessary staginess, I might add) in the history of UMS, rests solely with MTT. But that can be put aside in light of the other wonderful and challenging pieces of the evening. It was a grand experience which suggests that innovation (renegades) cannot only open fascinating new vistas for all of us but that they can sometimes misfire—big time, in that they belong specifically to an age and do not respond well to revival. The reprise of SB, the remnant of an age now recognized as the third reincarnation of Dada, was a momentary embarrassment, but quickly put aside (thought not forgotten).

    Onward! to the next project. Can’t wait.

    Glenn

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    • Dear Glenn,

      As you point out so gently, both halves of Friday night’s concert feel like they belong in special, yet very different, places in the annals of UMS history. I will never forget either. The Varese is still ringing in my ears…what a performance. I am less concerned by the “waste” of star power on the first half of the program. I am just not convinced that the staginess was at all necessary or even appropriate. It all felt so controlled to me and, therefore, false. I don’t question MTT’s need to represent JC’s voice within this frame of American Mavericks, it is obvious. BUT, so extravagantly? He could have offered the iconic 4’33’’ as “an encore” one evening and made his point.

      Reflecting on the context of “a time or cultural moment” or the placement of a work in its time and asking the question of what happens when one pulls it out of that moment is for me, the central dilemma. I actually think it may be one of the real dilemmas of the 20th century and certainly a problem when dealing with what has come to be called “time-based art” and “performance art” where TIME and the context of the moment is viewed as a consciously contributing medium. There was much brouhaha around the “retrospective” of the performance art works of Marina Abramovic at MOMA last season. Many felt that it was, again, a false or even disrespectful and naïve move on the part of MOMA. I have so much respect for Merce for intuiting all this and disbanding his company when he died. Your opinion seems to support a similar position.

      The generally accepted metric we use to establish the real importance of art is usually framed in the form of a question: will is stand the test of time?

      Hmmm….

      Some interesting food for thought when it comes to these works.

      Michael

      P.S. Do you mind if I publish this correspondence on UMS Lobby…so that others can weigh in?

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      • Dear Michael,

        You, of course, refine and add to my observations. But what a journey for your audience—it should keep them talking for years to come, and I think that’s spectacular. We constantly complain about the same old, tired repertoire (until somebody comes along and plays it with such insight that we agree that it was necessary to hear it again). But the unprecedented repertoire history amongst the music makers of the 20th century was clearly a special moment, when time seemed to stop and the 18th and 19th centuries became the standard, sometimes almost exclusive, fare. It had never happened before in the history of music. We are beginning to shake things up now, and the Renegade series was an extraordinarily important first step—which I would hope leads to steps 2, 3, and 4. People like to be challenged and also be free to reject (even to “boo” I suppose—although that was a first for me in my Hill Auditorium experience, which began in 1947-49, and has been continuous since 1961 ).

        The more recent, sometimes desperate, attempts to vivify the listening experience and move away from entrenched habits as seen through the mixing of hi-low, popular-classical, folk-gentry, have been typically undertaken as a way of appealing to a larger audience that can sustain and maintain our legendary arts organizations. The initial failure, however, was not one of refusing to mix categories (folk, pop, classical, jazz, etc.) but of failing to make annual offerings of art from the current scene—the real music of their (the audience’s) time. The habit once lost brought a distancing between the living creative artist and his potential audience. Perpetuated over a century, the consequences were disastrous.

        On Friday night there should have been no need for such an excessive demonstration of who Cage was. He is by this time vieux jeu, important as a renegade, a catalyst, as someone who offered different options—but too many not to become tiresome very quickly. There was little sustainable art, though some of his early piano sets are quite remarkable and even beautiful. Yet, like the Dadaists, he was part serious in intention, part spoofer waiting for a reaction. His I ching even hit Boulez and Stockhausen, who momentarily were caught up in his spell, but it lasted for a very short period of time. Those beautiful-to-look-at scores, like Boulez’s 3rd Piano Sonata, that allow the performer to make a million choices or Stockhausen’s compositions which have no notation at all, only verbal directions, can only be looked on today as a kind of embarrassment, or, more specifically, of Cageian overrun. But something of the idea of controlled-“chance”, beautifully present in a work like Boulez’s Rituel for Bruno Maderna (from which I played clip at the Boulez interview, and which you said you liked), suggests that there is some aspect of the Cageian perspective that can work. Why? The composer has built in a careful set of controls that allows the machine to operate beautifully within narrow parameters.

        And so forth on this bright and shiny, slightly nippy afternoon.

        Glenn

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  • avatar

    SFS #2: The Cage certainly succeeded as a polemic work— many left, some gave it a standing ovation, a few booed. I wonder what about it moved people to a standing ovation aside from those in the audience that left? Audience members seemed to react as much to others audience members as to the performance of the work.

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  • [submitted with the permission of the writer.]

    Three Nights of Cacophony
    Hearing the American Mavericks
    by James Leonard
    posted 3/26/2012 on arborweb.com
    NIGHT ONE: March 22

    None of the pieces performed in the first of Michael Tilson Thomas & the San Francisco Symphony’s American Mavericks concerts were much good, though the Copland was certainly the best and the Bates was probably the worst.

    Copland’s Variations for Orchestra sounded like Webern but with too many notes and not enough sense.

    Henry Cowell’s Piano Concerto sounded like Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto but with tone clusters.

    Mason Bates’ Mass Transmission sounded like a Vaughan Willliams choral piece on top of a Philip Glass organ toccata with random electronic noises on top of that.

    Lou Harrison’ Concerto for Organ and Percussion Orchestra was astonishingly dull considering how loud it was and astoundingly dreary considering how many drummers were on stage. With nine drummers, you’d think just once they’d wander into a compelling rhythm.

    But all that’s perfectly acceptable because all four piece, even Harrison’s dull and dreary concerto, were interesting, something that can’t be said about most of the classical music concerts I’ve been to in the last thirty-four years.

    Sure, Cowell’s Concerto was nowhere near in the same league as Brahms’ Second Concerto, but at least we haven’t heard it 99,999,999 times. And just because the music wasn’t very good, doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting. After all, who knew what Cowell or Harrison would do next? And even if what they do next wasn’t exactly a stroke of genius, at least it wasn’t expected. That might not sound like much – and it’s not – but it’s enormously more interesting than another night of Brahms.

    Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony played the hell out of everything, except Mass Transmission, which the U-M Chamber Choir sang the hell out of. And surprisingly the folks in Hill Auditorium gave only Copland’s Variations a standing ovation, which shows unexpected taste on the part of the local audience.

    I don’t know if I splendid time was had by all, but I more or less enjoyed myself and not once did I feel the overwhelming urge to throttle someone, which hasn’t happened at a Hill Auditorium show in years.

    Reply
  • [submitted with the permission of the writer.]

    Three Nights of Cacophony
    Hearing the American Mavericks
    by James Leonard
    posted 3/26/2012 on arborweb.com
    NIGHT TWO: March 23

    The second night opened with what I’d call the worst piece of music I’ve ever heard if there were any real music in it.

    But there wasn’t a note of music in John Cage’s Song Books – lots of gibberish, plenty of nonsense, and a whole lot of balderdash, but no music whatsoever. There were texts “sung” by three women to any random vocal noise that went through their heads. In the case of Jessye Norman, that’d be quasi-operatic howling. In the case of Joan La Barbara, that’d bleeps, bloops, and burps. In the case of Meredith Monk, that’d be screams, screeches. and shrikes. These noises were accompanied by a handful of musicians from the orchestra making occasional noises on their instruments or anything else that came to hand, including a basketball. And for all the work’s half-hour duration, the performers wandered aimlessly across an onstage set reminiscent of a very cheap off-off-Broadway production.

    The first two minutes of this farrago was fairly funny – especially Monk’s chicken-imitation. But it was annoying after five minutes, irritating after ten minutes, infuriating after fifteen minutes, and it lasted half an hour. The Hill Auditorium audience gave it a standing ovation. I booed long and loud, the first time I’ve ever booed at a classical concert. Apparently, this cracked up Jessye Norman. I’m glad one of us was having a good time.

    The second half of the concert was much better mostly because it featured real pieces of music. Henry Cowell’s Synchrony based on a theme familiar from Stravinsky was essentially a one-movement Russian symphony tarted up with tone clusters. It was no better than Cowell’s Piano Concerto performed the night before, but no worse, either.

    John Adams’ Absolute Jest takes three themes from Beethoven – from the scherzo of the Ninth Symphony plus the scherzos of his Opus 131 and 135 string quartets — and puts them through the orchestral blender for 25 minutes. The first two minutes were relatively interesting though not particularly funny; the rest was full of sound and fury signifying nothing and not at all funny. Adams would do well to recall that the brevity is the soul of wit.

    The best came last: Edgard Varese’s Ameriques, a brilliant, brutal, and beguiling work for very large orchestra augmented by sirens. Ameriques is literally bursting with everything missing from the rest of the concert’s works: intelligence, passion, soul, coherence, energy, wit, and an original but authentic voice

    Reply
  • [submitted with the permission of the writer.]

    Three Nights of Cacophony
    Hearing the American Mavericks
    by James Leonard
    posted 3/26/2012 on arborweb.com

    NIGHT THREE: March 24

    The last night was by far the best night of the three.

    Not that Tilson Thomas and the symphony didn’t perform superbly all three nights with a tight ensemble, well-balanced colors, careful dynamics, and seemingly flawless technique. But on the previous nights the music was garbage as often as not, and no amount of technique can turn garbage into gold.

    But with Cark Ruggles’ Sun-Treader and Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra, MTT & the SFS finally got to play true modernist masterpieces, and they gave them performances as great as any ever heard in Hill Auditorium. Sun-Treader is an extremely unlovely and unlovable work with gargantuan dissonances, grinding rhythms, and groaning melodies, but it is beautiful in its way, and a more compelling performance in impossible to imagine – primarily because no other orchestra and conductor are ever likely to play it in Hill again.

    Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra is the opposite of Sun-Treader in just about every way: it’s incredibly quiet with extremely spare textures – and virtually no melodies just motive, no rhythms just tempo, and no motion just stasis. But with Emmanuel Ax at the piano, MTT & the SFS made compelling music that fused deep sensuality with profound spirituality.

    After the intermission, MTT & the SFS played Henry Brant’s orchestration of Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata. The orchestration was a success, adding, enhancing, and clarifying Ives’ sometimes clotted colors and textures. The performance was a success, too, making the best possible case for the orchestration and the work. But the music is, in a word, boring because, like so much of Ives’ music, it’s incoherent. If the composer had any idea of what he was doing when he quoted Beethoven’s Fifth and Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, it doesn’t show, and if he had any idea where he was going from moment to moment, from movement to movement, or even from start to finish, it doesn’t show. As too often in Ives, invention outstrips sense, and all that’s left is a buzzing, blooming confusion.

    But in the end, so what? Like all the rest of the music performed over the last three nights, at least the Ives’ piece hasn’t been played to death. And for this critic, that was enough to justify all everything – except Cage’s Song Books, the worst piece of crap I’ve ever heard played in Hill Auditorium.

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  • avatar

    I thought the American Mavericks Festival was absolutely fantastic! It was really a wonderful experience to be able to hear so many seldom performed works in a single week.

    The first concert was an amazing kick-off to the whole thing, particularly the Cowell concerto. I was really impressed with how lyrical Jeremy Denk’s playing was, even though the majority of the piano part is cluster chords. I think it’s really a testament to how powerful these kinds of sounds can be when treated seriously rather than as a bunch of gimmicky effects. I also really enjoyed Mason Bates’ piece, and the Harrison concerto.

    I seem to be one of the few among the people that I’ve talked to that actually enjoyed the performance of the Cage on the second night. However, I didn’t really consider it to be a piece of music. The work seems much more in line with the performance art and fluxus movement that were taking place at the time, and I think it’s helpful to view it in that context more than in the context of the concert hall. The rest of the concert was full of great music, although I didn’t care too much for the Adams; I’m a big fan of his music, but “Absolute Jest” felt really unfocused to me.

    The third concert was probably my favorite night of all. I was unfamiliar with the Ruggles piece, and I ended up really enjoying it. From what I had read about Ruggles, I was surprised at how colorful and delicate the piece was at times. Feldman’s “Piano and Orchestra” and Ives’ “Concord Symphony” were probably my two favorite pieces on the whole festival.

    I have to admit that I was a little let down by the chamber concert. The first half was fine, but the second half didn’t seem to balance out the concert very well. I found the Monk piece uninteresting, and the Subotnick seemed overly long, and didn’t benefit from the poor audio quality of the speakers in Rackham.

    As a side note, I must say that I was somewhat upset at the Friday night concert when, after I was seated, I overheard the ushers continuously bad-mouthing the program from the previous night to each other and to the other incoming patrons. While they are certainly entitled to their opinions, it’s incredibly unprofessional for the people representing the UMS to speak so derisively of their events.

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    As a whole , I thoroughly enjoyed the entire weekend. On this final, there definitely a completely different feel due to the change of scenery as well as the cutback in performers. Although the quality was there, I different mood put me in a different state of mind when it came to fully appreciating the performances. I felt there were more times in which I felt like the concert was dragging on. However, the final piece was one of my favorites off the entire weekend due to how unique it was in the different electronic as well as instrumental features it used. Overall, yet again another great performance.

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  • from Alex Ross’ blog “The Rest Is Noise” (New Yorker music critic)

    “In a Rest Is Noise exclusive, I can reveal to an anxiously waiting world the contents of the smoothie that Michael Tilson Thomas prepared onstage at Carnegie Hall the other night, during a rendition of Song Books and other works by John Cage. To wit: cucumber, celery, carrots, apple, and banana. Leaving nothing to chance, Maestro Tilson Thomas brought his own Cuisinart from San Francisco for the occasion. The above photo — a still life or nature morte taken by Oliver Theil, the director of public relations at the San Francisco Symphony — hauntingly captures the ingredients before their glorious disintegration.”

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    This was the first symphony orchestra I actually saw live. They were super impressive, I loved sitting so close to the members – I could see some instruments and people up close, I liked seeing the intensity on their faces. It was cool to see such a huge group of people playing different or similar instruments to create one large cohesive (sometimes) sound.

    My favorite was Ive’s Concord Symphony. There were moments I felt like I was with the sound itself.

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    Wow! What an experience this was! I had the pleasure of hearing the concerts on Friday night and on Sunday. From the spectacle that was Cage’s Songbooks to the collaboration of strings, voice, and electronics in Subotnik’s Jacob’s Room, the SFS put on a terrific festival. It was very exciting to hear these pieces performed at such a high level when they are so rarely performed at all! I am thrilled to have been a part of the weekend!

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  • San Francisco’s American Mavericks
    April 18, 2012 By Joe Horowitz

    From Joe Horowitz’ blog “The Unanswered Question” and the London Times Literary Supplement (UK) as follows:

    There is a type of American creative genius whose originality and integrity correlate with refusing to finish their education in Europe. Herman Melville and Walt Whitman are writers of this type. In American music, Charles Ives is the paramount embodiment. The unfinished in Ives is crucial to his affect. Emerson, whom Ives revered, put it this way in his poem “Music”:”’Tis not in the high stars alone . . . /Nor in the redbreast’s mellow tone . . . /But in the mud and scum of things/There alway, alway something sings.” The “Emerson” movement in Ives’s iconic Concord Piano Sonata (1910-15) is both literally and figuratively unfinished. He regarded it as a permanent work in progress. He also intended to make something orchestral out of it.

    Over a period of 36 years (1958 to 1994), Henry Brant – a composer variously admired for spatial effects and a sure symphonic hand – transcribed the Concord Sonata for large orchestra. Brant’s Concord Symphony not only orchestrates Ives; it finishes him: the mud and scum are mostly cleaned away. (Ives’s actual voice, which we can hear singing on a 1943 recording, was itself arrestingly frayed.) The result is improbable, provocative, and important: music that demands to be heard. At its first American hearing, at Carnegie Hall in 1996, the Concord Symphony was weakly conducted by the composer. It has rarely been given since. In recent seasons, Michael Tilson Thomas has emerged as its crucial advocate – with his San Francis Symphony (in concert and on CD), with his Florida-based New World Symphony, and most recently as part of the San Francisco Symphony’s indispensable “American Mavericks” Festival, with stops in Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Carnegie Hall.

    Brant’s decision not to attempt an Ivesian orchestration makes sense – the Concord Symphony establishes its own sonic identity. His symphonic textures and sonorities do not resemble those of Ives; he paints with acrylics where Ives would use oils. Measure for measure, the score corresponds to its source. But there are countless surprise timbres and voicings. In the Concord Sonata, “Thoreau” evokes bells across the water; Brant here uses no bells. “Thoreau,” as composed by Ives, ends with a tolling bass line in octaves: an Ur-pulse. Brant here thins the bass. Ives’s simplest, most finished movement, “The Alcotts,” generates the most finished orchestration, climaxing with a peroration as stirring as any by Copland; this tremendous six-minute cameo should be sampled by every American orchestra. Ives’s most pianistic Concord movement – “Hawthorne” – is necessarily the movement Brant most makes his own: some pages are unrecognizable as transcription. In Ives, “Emerson” is wild and “Hawthorne” demonic. “The Alcotts” adduces a parlor plainness. “Thoreau” is a seer. None of this registers completely in the Concord Symphony. And yet the ear can still trace the arresting mutations of Ives’s faith tune – a derivative of Beethoven’s Fifth – en route to its final transcendental ascent.

    Neither a highly literal appropriation, like Ravel’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” (after Mussorgsky), nor an interpretive paraphrase, like Liszt’s “Don Juan” Fantasy (after Mozart), the Concord Symphony is genuinely eccentric – but not in the ways that Ives is eccentric. At its belated 1939 premiere, the Concord Sonata was decisively reviewed by Lawrence Gilman in the New York Herald-Tribune as “exceptionally great music — . . . indeed, the greatest music composed by an American, and the most deeply and essentially American in impulse and implication.” Decades later, Brant wrote of his orchestration: “It seemed to me that the complete sonata . . . might well become the ‘Great American Symphony’ that we had been seeking for years. Why not undertake the task myself? What better way to honor Ives and express my gratitude to him?” The Concord Symphony, whatever its possible disappointments, makes this bold impulse seem wholly understandable and commendable.

    The San Francisco Symphony’s festival (which I heard partly at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium and partly at Carnegie Hall – both acoustically resplendent spaces) was from start to finish musically, viscerally, and intellectually enthralling. At least two of the featured mavericks — Lou Harrison and John Adams – are highly polished craftsmen. If they qualify as mavericks, it’s because their renegade spirit remains intact. Harrison is chiefly known on the West Coast of the United States. He is an unclassifiable hybrid who consummately synthesized East and West long before it became musically fashionable. His 35-minute Piano Concerto (composed for Keith Jarrett in 1985) is a rangy American masterpiece whose lean, uncluttered textures connect with Copland and Roy Harris – and yet is more polyglot, more idiosyncratic, more remote from European models and experience. Tilson Thomas’s festival did not offer the Harrison Piano Concerto. Instead, we heard the kindred Harrison Concerto for Organ and Percussion, music of extraordinary sonic freshness capped by a cluster-laden perpetual motion finale anticipating the Piano Concerto’s rambunctious “Stampede.”
    Of Adams, the festival offered a terrific premiere: “Absolute Jest” for string quartet and orchestra. During the second half of the nineteenth century, landscape became the iconic genre for American painters, with Frederic Church in the lead, inspired by a New World vastness of topography. This trope has long found its way into American music. Among contemporary Americans, Adams brings to the act of composition an acute visual sense; he keenly translates widescreen imaginary vistas, often majestic or phantasmagoric. “Absolute Jest” keys on late Beethoven fragments — in particular, a passage from the Vivace of Op. 135 that doubtless appealed to Adams as one of the most raucous string quartet passages ever conceived. In “Absolute Jest” this Beethoven scrap goes viral. Absorbed into an expansive Adams soundscape, it generates a dialectic between New World and Old. The disparate elements combine or collide in a fast and furious 25-minute trajectory that peaks and improbably peaks again, but not without glimpses of serenity. I would like to hear the Berlin Philharmonic play this music.

    “American Mavericks” also formidably sampled two “unfinished” composers of great influence whose compositions are more acknowledged than heard: John Cage and Henry Cowell. The loudest “Mavericks” pieces included “Sun-Treader” by Carl Ruggles. The quietest was “Piano and Orchestra” by Morton Feldman. Having known both Ruggles and Feldman, Tilson Thomas at Carnegie Hall offered a little talk juxtaposing the two composers as antipodes. The real purpose of his too subtle speech, however, was to urge a large audience to remain silent. Feldman’s music attunes the ear to the softest sounds. At Carnegie, these included shuffled papers and chairs, coughs muffled and unmuffled, and a passing subway train. The score’s sonic prickles and washes were challenged by sounds less exquisite.

    Aaron Copland, not normally considered a “maverick,” was represented by the Orchestral Variations — a 1957 reworking of his 1930 Piano Variations: spare, hard skyscraper music preceding Copland’s populist/Popular Front phase. The festival’s youngest composer, Mason Brown (b. 1977), contributed its most conservative composition: “Mass Transmission,” an affecting choral work with organ, superficially spiced by electronics. The oldest piece was Edgard Varese’s “Ameriques” (1921; revised 1927), which in any company retains plenty of mustard. Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” is here an obvious influence. But to the degree that Stravinsky is Russian, Varese, transplanted to New York, became categorically and brazenly rootless. His title, as he once explained, does not refer to the Western hemisphere, but rather is “symbolic of discoveries — new worlds on earth, in the sky, or in the minds of men.”

    The orchestra brought with it a host of eminent soloists all of whom proved suited to the tasks at hand. The virtuosic organist in Harrison’s concerto was Paul Jacobs. The slashing string quartet for “Absolute Jest” was the St. Lawrence. The gripping singers for Cage’s “Song Books” were Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk, and Jessye Norman. The pianists for Cowell’s Piano Concerto and Feldman’s “Piano and Orchestra,” Jeremy Denk and Emanuel Ax, relished unusual expressive possibilities. In Ann Arbor and New York, the festival also included chamber works (which I did not hear) by David Del Tredici, Lukas Foss, Meredith Monk, Harry Partch, Steve Reich, and Morton Subotnick. A cumulative festival statement, both impressive and startling, was that twentieth century American composers discovered a variety of avenues to originality other than modernist complexity born in Europe.

    Michael Tilson Thomas’s first season as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony — 1995-96 — featured an American composition on every subscription program and ended with an American festival. Four seasons later, he presented an “American Mavericks” festival that registered nationally as a signature event. This season’s “Mavericks” installment, marking the orchestra’s centennial, testifies to a resilience of mission and implementation: the San Francisco musicians tackled everything with unfailing concentration and polish. At a time when other ensembles are retrenching, the tour party totaled 129 musicians, 23 guest artists, and a stage/technical crew of 21. I cannot imagine that another American orchestra will offer as necessary a series of concerts anytime soon.
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    For those of you who don’t know Joe Horowitz, he is a noted scholar and important international voice on classical music and American music, specifically. (That’s why he is writing for the London Times Literary Journal ! )

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    Michael Tilson Thomas has always been a great programmer, and the Ruggles, Feldman, and Ives was proof of that. Great Job San Fransisco and Emmanuel Ax for his extremely virtuosic performance in the Feldman.

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