Monday, February 26, 2007

"its great thingy grasp"

Thanks for visiting! I'll be on tour in New York with the New World Symphony until Thursday, when I'll have lots more to write. In the meantime, here's a passage I just read from a Salman Rushdie story, "The Firebird's Nest". It's collected in the anthology "Telling Tales" - you can find a link to that book over on the sidebar.

She cannot stop thinking of 'home': its nocturnal sirens, its cooling machinery. Its reification of the real. Amid that surplus of structures. of content, it is not easy for the phantasmagoric to gain the upper hand. Our entertainment is full of monsters, of the fabulous, because outside the darkened cinemas, beyond the pages of the books, away from the gothic decibels of the music, the quotidian is inescapable, omnipotent. We dream of other dimensions, of paranoid subtexts, of underworlds, because when we awake the actual holds us in its great thingy grasp and we cannot see beyond the material, the event horizon. Whereas here, caught in the empty bubbling of dry air, afraid of roaches, all your frontiers may crumble; are crumbling. The possibility of the terrible is renewed.

- Salman Rushdie, "The Firebird's Nest"

Friday, February 23, 2007

Yo-Yo on crossing the divide

Yo-Yo Ma's master class the other day was very much about crossing the divide between audience and performer. Yo-Yo himself was constantly bridging that gap, hopping up onto the stage and then sitting back in the first row of seats. He told one of the cellists to maintain eye contact with him and a group of audience members throughout the exposition of the Dvorak Concerto. Not only was she able to do it, smiling and laughing all the while, but her performance had an added brilliance and projection that it had lacked before.

The point wasn't that we should be making eyes with audience members, but that we're involved in conveying something, and the people receiving it are an integral part of the process. Another cellist played the same concerto, and was visibly frustrated that a passage of 16th-notes hadn't come off as he'd planned. Even though, as Yo-Yo pointed out, he and most everyone in the audience hadn't seen or heard any mistake. These things we worry about so much as performers, the fingerings and articulations we mean to execute, are rarely as prominent in the listener's attention. It might seem that the listener's perceptions are too much out of control, too intangible to worry about, when we have bowings and shifts to organize. And yet, when a performance really takes flight, it's because the performer has thought beyond those basic elements, to what Yo-Yo called "transcendent technique".

The paradoxical thing about this "transcendence" is that we often have to get away from our instrument to achieve it. We have to sing, dance, study, and absorb the piece's underlying meaning, and only then can we really grasp the content of what we're communicating. All four of the cellists who played in the master class sounded fantastic, and yet in each case Yo-Yo urged them towards deeper involvement, more comprehensive understanding, a greater emotional, psychological and even spiritual connection with the music - and with the audience across the divide.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

up in smoke

Today a building in our neighborhood ignited, just across the street from the Plymouth. It must have happened right around 1 pm, as we were leaving an orchestra rehearsal. Some New World fellows saw the fire and called 911, but I didn't even notice until 2:30. I was on my way to Yo-Yo Ma's master class (along with some other New World musicians seen crossing the street in the photo). There were helicopters hovering above and dozens of emergency vehicles, police, fire, and Red Cross. The block is still barricaded by police cruisers, and I haven't really gotten a good view of the wreckage yet.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

MTT's cinematic Shostakovich

Until recently, I had no idea that MTT was such a film buff. Whether he's quoting Cher from Moonstruck ("Snap out of it!), complimenting our Polish trombone player Maciej on his cowboy solo in Copland's "Buckaroo Holiday" ("The best tribute to the United States since Borat"), or recommending we check out director Andrei Tarkovsky for a flavor of Russian cinema, this week has been full of film references.

We're rehearsing Shostakovich's 5th Symphony, which we'll play this Friday in Lincoln Theatre, then Saturday in the Carnival Center (along with Shostakovich's Second Cello Concerto with Yo-Yo Ma) before taking all of it on tour to New York. MTT points out how Shostakovich structures the symphony using all sorts of film editing techniques: cross-cutting, fading in and out, dissolves, close-ups, etc. In the very beginning of the symphony, an angular, leaping figure cries out furiously in the strings, before moving off into the distance. MTT acted the whole thing out for us, becoming this angry, contorted figure first in close-up then out on the horizon. Those far-off howls and grimaces are heard in the lower strings, fading into the background as a new character emerges in the violins.

MTT will speak in detail about the symphony at the Discovery Concert on Friday (and next Wednesday in New York). Tomorrow evening at the Lincoln Theatre you can see a documentary film on the same topic, "Shostakovich Against Stalin: The War Symphonies". Check out the New World website for more information.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

pick a tempo

An anonymous commenter writes:
We're in trouble here, Matt. The second movement of Beethoven 5 has a metronome mark from the composer of eighth=92. So why were you presenting it at an audition almost 25% more slowly than that? That's bad, dude, and it's no wonder the guy said what he did....

Just to review, I admitted playing a tempo of 72 in that excerpt - guilty as charged. And tempo can make a huge difference in an audition, since it is one of the quickest ways to reveal inexperience. Committees hear lots of basically solid candidates, and have to make subtle distinctions between players, so if you come in and play a wildly inaccurate tempo, you hand them an easy excuse to eliminate you. No one wants an ignorant player in their section.

And besides that, a faulty tempo can make an excerpt much more difficult to play. That's especially true of this excerpt, with its forte dynamic, long slurs, need for smooth string crossings. Once I got it up to tempo, all those things came off with much more facility.

So I'm taking my anonymous commenter's advice to heart. In preparing for my next audition, which is for the Calgary Philharmonic on March 31st, I've been collecting tempos for all the excerpts. I'll start with Beethoven 5:

    Beethoven 5th Symphony, 3rd movement

  • Beethoven's tempo: dotted half = 96
  • Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin: Scherzo=72 in pp, 78 in f; Trio=76
  • Haitink / Concertgebuow: Scherzo=84 in pp, 90 in f; Trio=84
  • Harnoncourt / Chamber Orchestra of Europe: Scherzo=82 in pp, 96 in f; Trio=80
  • Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic: Scherzo=82 in pp, 90 in f; Trio=84
  • Rattle / Vienna Philharmonic: Scherzo=80 in pp, 88 in f; Trio=90
  • Thielemann / Philharmonia: Scherzo=74 in pp, 80 in f; Trio=74
  • Vanska / Minnesota Orchestra: Scherzo=80 in pp, 90 in f; Trio=90

Harnoncourt's recording was the only one that reached Beethoven's tempo, and that was only for certain sections. Like all the others, Harnoncourt went faster in the loud sections of the Scherzo, and relaxed in the softer ones. Probably the Haitink recording is the closest to a median in terms of tempi.

Here's what I found for the 1st movement of Mendelssohn's 4th Symphony:

  • Blomstedt / San Francisco: Dotted quarter=148
  • Flor / Bamberger: 138
  • Solti / Chicago: 156

All three interpretations seemed convincing to me - the differences were in the character and articulation of the repeated 8th notes. The winds really establish this sound, and so the wide range might reflect different styles of wind playing. I'm not sure, but I'd like to hear more recordings of this one. For a while the slower Bamberger tempo felt better to me, but lately I find Blomstedt's tempo works well.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spot's take on "The Academy"

A former New World colleague who blogs at "Spot's Doghouse" wrote a very thoughtful post reacting to the NY Times article, and putting the New World experience in perspective:

Being in NWS is like being in a really great relationship. She's fun, she's hot, she's young, and she's fantastic at what she does.

But at the end, whether that's three years or four, she is going to dump you for someone younger; someone new. You can't marry her. It's not an option. She was up front with you about that when you signed your letter, packed up your stuff, hopped in the car, and drove to Miami.

She'll let you move in. She won't charge you rent. She'll even be your sugar mommy while you're there. But no marriage.

And so you are left with two choices: she can dump you. Or you can dump her. There are no in-betweens. So in that regard, I am glad that I got to be the dumper.

While many fall into the habit of comparing NWS to a type of postgraduate residency, it isn't like medical school. Nobody's waiting at the end of the rainbow to hand you a job. There is no guarantee of employment.

It's more like being handed a parachute and being told to jump out of a plane. The ride is exhilarating, and the parachute will definitely open - but you've still got to guide it to the target. Being in NWS improves your ability to aim, but it's still up to you to find your way as close to the bullseye as you can.

I like both of Spot's analogies - both are definite improvements over "death row", Aaron Merritt's quote in the article. (He was a bit sorry that got in there!) We all land somewhere - it's just a matter of where, and how soon. A lot of the drama in the article, and in our lives, is that feeling of being in limbo, and watching all sorts of possible outcomes unfold. It seems like Spot's experience was mostly a positive one, and I'm glad he landed safely - and can write about it with such eloquence!

"Live from Miami Beach!"

This image was lifted from Critical Miami, which has covered the plans closely.

This week New World Symphony's musicians are unusually busy - preparing for a Shostakovich festival and concerts on Friday and Saturday, a master class with Yo-Yo Ma on Thursday, and a tour to New York's Carnegie Hall next week. It's hard to look beyond the next week when you have so much stuff to do.

The administration and staff are looking much further though, launching an ambitious project to build a new hall, designed by Frank Gehry. They've been planning the hall for several years, and occasionally inviting musicians upstairs to show off these fantastic blueprints and artist's renderings, like the one above. Last week, they brought the show and tell to the Miami Beach City Commission chambers, on 17th and Convention Center Dr., for a workshop meeting over a proposed $15 million grant. Tomorrow at 5 pm, the City Commission will meet there again and vote on the proposal.

As the Miami Herald reported yesterday, last week's meeting featured speeches by president Howard Herring, project manager Grant Stevens, and board chairman Howard Frank (the Herald mistakenly called him "Frank Howard"). The most illuminating speech, though, was by artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas, and wasn't mentioned in the Herald's piece.

MTT acknowledged congratulations for the two Grammy awards he had won the previous evening, then tied that into the larger missions of both the San Francisco Symphony (which received those Grammys for a recording of Mahler's 7th Symphony) and the New World Symphony. Both organizations are developing new relationships between classical music and the larger culture, and empowering their orchestral musicians to take an active role.

He described how the new hall would develop and enhance that role. He contrasted the Lincoln Theater, which for all its charm and history (music and porn, as Dan Wakin noted) is basically a "one-room schoolhouse." The new space would offer possibilities for broadcasting, multimedia, and engagement that we probably can barely imagine. He mentioned the use of video projections and Internet 2, and the dream of hearing "Live from Miami Beach!" all around the world. The design of the space is like a traditional concert hall turned inside-out, facing the community and the world through the use of new technology, and a very old tradition.

The whole presentation was really impressive - I was one of those NWS musicians packing the balcony with handmade signs - and it made me realize that what we do here does have a larger impact. Most of us won't be around in 2010-11, when the hall is slated to open, but I still came away thinking orchestral music might be about changing the world, not just earning a pension. When the hall does open, I'll definitely be tuning into my iPhone, VistaDoohickey, or whatever other newfangled gizmo is broadcasting that first "Live from Miami Beach!"

sightreading Strauss and burning bridges

Then came a passage from the last page of Strauss's tone poem "Don Juan." He had never seen it before, but he plowed through and nailed it. The audition was over. A laconic voice said, "Thank you."

- Daniel J. Wakin, "The Face-the-Music Academy"

Randy Wong, a fellow bassist who also studied at New England Conservatory, asked what this mysterious Don Juan sight-reading might have been. It was the passage from 4 measures before X to 2 after Y - hopefully I'm not violating any copyright restrictions by photographing the excerpt here:

I've played Don Juan several times - and the excerpt was specifically included in the Buffalo list - so obviously "He had never seen it before" is an exaggeration. Sometimes when you go on stage it feels like you've never seen the music before, but I really wasn't all that unprepared! I think what I more likely told Dan Wakin was that I had never played it before in an audition. So I was proud to have played it well - even though I wasn't quite sightreading.

It occurs to me that people in Buffalo are going to be reading this article, too - and hopefully won't be too upset by what I said about their Neil Sedaka program ("too uninspiring") or the upkeep of their hall ("Earplugs from a previous concert littered the stage"). Honestly, it wasn't like piles of earplugs - maybe just one or two pairs, and some wrappers. Dan Wakin asked me to tell him everything I remembered seeing on stage - obviously looking for some detail and color - and those were among the few things that stuck in my mind!

The Buffalo Philharmonic has a beautiful old hall - Kleinhans Music Hall - though all the pictures I found on their website seem to have been removed. Shown above is an outside view of the hall courtesy of Wikipedia's article on Kleinhans.

I assume they will also have another bass audition, since as Dan Wakin mentions, Scott Dixon (another New World alumnus) won the principal bass job only to win another job, in the Cleveland Orchestra, two months later. Which is why I hope I haven't burnt any bridges in Buffalo.

So if you happen to be reading this, Buffalo Phil members, patrons, audition committee, Neil Sedaka enthusiasts, et al. - no offense intended! You guys rock!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

thoughts and clarifications

Some more thoughts and clarifications about Dan Wakin's article:

  • The excerpt I was playing too slowly in the beginning of the article was Beethoven 5th, 2nd movement. Jeff Turner was right - Karajan's tempo on his 1963 recording is 75 to the eighth note, and I was routinely playing it around 72.
  • Scott Dixon, who is the real hero of my audition story, was a member of the New World bass section my first year. I wrote about that bass section and about Scott in particular.
  • This photo was from that year, and shows NWS fellows (from upper left) Alberto Suarez, Sean O'Hara, me, Katie Wyatt, Ebonee Thomas, Fritz Foss, Scott Dixon, and Elspeth Lacy, sailing on Biscayne Bay
  • Rebekah Heller, pictured in the article on page 24, is not related to me. She is the bassoonist who Dan Wakin describes as "a small, spiky-haired young woman in white cowboy boots and cutoff jeans who was harrumphing on a contrabassoon."
  • We don't often roast pigs at the Plymouth. ("Fellows loaf around the patio, where the occasional keg party or pig roast takes place.") We do, however, have an annual Oktoberfest during which a pig is traditionally roasted.
  • Dan Wakin sat in on two mock auditions I played for Jeff Turner, and later we talked for a long time in Miami, standing backstage. However, most of the quotes he used were from two long phone conversations while I was in Buffalo.
  • During the first phone interview I was in my hotel room, after advancing in the prelims. When he called the second time, I was walking around Buffalo, dejected after getting cut in semis. I was standing in the cold shivering, but somehow talking to Dan Wakin was cheering me up, and I spent 40 minutes more telling him my story that afternoon. Altogether the interviews probably lasted about 2-3 hours, which left me a bit worried about my cell phone bill that month.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

facing the music

My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

Joan Didion, Preface to Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I read this a few weeks ago, and it seemed an omen of mortifying things to come. You see, back in November I spent a long time talking with New York Times reporter Daniel J. Wakin, both in person and on the phone, as I prepared and took an audition in Buffalo. Wakin wasn't small or inarticulate - he's a very friendly, unaffected, and pleasant guy - but he was unobtrusive in a way that made me forget that I was, in effect, laying my soul bare to everyone destined to read the Sunday, February 18th edition of the Times.

Maybe you're one of those people, too - click here to read Wakin's article, "The Face-the Music Academy". You can also read a post I wrote about the interview back in November.

Wakin told me that I would be prominently featured in his article, which kind of made me nervous. I sort of consciously avoided him the last time he visited Miami, which I feel bad about now. It was the evening he talks about at the end of the article, a new music concert with HK Gruber's conducting his zany piece "Frankenstein!!". As Wakin writes, "After the concert many of the players gathered at Zeke's, the cheapest watering hole along Lincoln Road, where beers are $3." I didn't, actually - I walked back home alone, after talking briefly with Wakin and giving him the quote that ends the article, and then wrote another rambling blog entry.

I guess I was concerned that I'd say something even more revealing and embarrassing about that audition in Buffalo. But I shouldn't have worried so much. Not only did Dan Wakin not make me out to be the sad reject character I expected, he actually made me seem almost - likable?

Well, definitely obsessive, but possibly likable. People have been teasing me, saying I'm a 'celebrity' or a 'hero'. They want me to autograph the newspaper, which has a big picture of me (above). I can't quite understand how a failed audition made me so popular. Still though, I think Dan Wakin did me a great favor, listening to all my audition stories and neuroses, and using them in his article. He opened me up, got me facing some of the scary, funny, embarrassing things about auditioning - and reading the article now, I realize they're the same things everyone faces. Just as he says, I'm "in some ways a typical New World fellow." He wrote a great story, and best of all, he didn't sell anybody out.

I'll probably have more to say about the article as I digest it. Maybe I'll fill in some details about that audition that I didn't tell Dan Wakin, or that didn't survive the editing process. For now, check out this photo, which I thought was eerily similar to the one in the Times:

That's Peter Seymour back behind me, and also Ranaan Meyer, who I just saw this evening (see below). Also pictured is Jeff Beecher (now principal bass of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) and John Harrison. The photo was taken at the National Orchestral Institute in 2000.

Ranaan Meyer

Here I am with Ranaan Meyer, after his trio Time for Three played a set with the New World Symphony.

dept. of bassist nightmares

This is my bass in its big David Gage flight case without a soft case. I packed it this way in order to keep it under the 100 lb. limit - dirty secret here, it weighs 108 properly packed. I think I will not do this again, since when I received it in Cleveland the case was hanging open, with just one of the hex-locks secured.

Apparently David Gage has reworked his flight cases and cut some of the weight, and also done away with those troublesome hex-locks. They wouldn't be such a problem if TSA screeners knew how to operate an allen wrench; unfortunately, that seems to be asking too much! And at Ft. Lauderdale's airport, you can't even watch as they screen your instrument, so I have no idea what horrendous things they're doing. This is what causes bassists to wake up in a cold sweat.

Thankfully, my bass survived unscathed. Today, bassist Ranaan Meyer is borrowing it, performing with our orchestra as part of his bluegrass trio, Time for Three. They write and arrange Americana crossover stuff, touring all over the country to play it with orchestras. This week they've been commuting between Detroit and South Florida. I first met Ranaan a long time ago, playing at the National Orchestral Institute in Maryland. It's good to see an old friend having so much success - and apparently avoiding the nightmarish airport scenarios that haunt the rest of us!
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blimps, boats, and automobiles

The Boat Show is taking over the beach this weekend. Like the Super Bowl and other big tourist extravaganzas, every available surface seems to be plastered with advertising and promotions, jockeying for all those well-heeled tourists' attention. Not even the lovely blue skies are immune, as planes circle the beach dragging insurance ads!
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Friday, February 16, 2007

greatest ever?

According to NWS marketing guy Lorenzo Lebrija, Beethoven's 3rd is "the greatest symphony ever written. By far." That was what he told me the other day, after we read the first movement with conducting fellow Steven Jarvi.

It's hard to argue with a marketing guy, so I pretty much conceded the point. I'm not completely sold though - if you could convince me that the Eroica was Beethoven's greatest symphony, that might prove it, but lately I've been partial to the 7th. Or maybe the 9th. And how about 4? and 5...

Anyway, I think it's basically a marketing expert's job to pronounce things "the best ever." Even if you don't quite believe him, it still does make you wonder. And maybe buy a ticket to hear it and decide for yourself.

symphonies ahoy

It must be the Miami Beach Boat Show this weekend, because there is definitely a nautical vibe in the air around here. These enormous yachts have been filling the streets and parking lots, as well as the waterways, and this morning I saw a guy walking around in his life jacket. Maybe he just wanted an extra layer, since it's been cold by Florida standards - mid-50s this morning.

We haven't launched into any sea chanties yet at the symphony, but we have been lining up big symphonic warhorses, sort of like those behemoth yachts on the intracoastal waterway. MTT is around, and we've had some conducting workshops with young conductors. They take turns on the podium to read through big standard repertoire pieces like Brahms 1st, Beethoven 3rd, and Tchaikovsky's 5th, with coaching and advice from MTT. The conductors taking part this week are all very talented: Philip Mann, Jonathan Yates, NWS conducting fellow Steven Jarvi, and Daniel Stewart, a member of our viola section.

Playing the first movement of Tchaik 5 yesterday, MTT asked us to sound more like pirates, making all those 6/8 rhythms more "swashbuckling". It's actually been a lot of fun, playing through all these big pillars of symphonic literature, and though there's not the pressure of actually performing them, MTT gets into a lot of interesting details and ideas. And the young conductors get the orchestra on its best behavior, since MTT is walking around and looking over all of our shoulders.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

wheels and "Last Round"

I seem to be the only person in Miami who goes to concerts at the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts by bicycle. I'm wondering why no one else does this - is it rude to carry a bicycle helmet into a concert hall? I've heard that in some European cities everyone pedals to concerts, even in their fancy clothes - this might be a liberal fantasy though. Some friends warned me it might get stolen, but I'm more worried about losing my bike on South Beach, where bike thieves are rampant. And I've heard so many complaints about the Carnival Center's parking situation, even in the New York Times. Anthony Tommasini's recent piece about the Carnival Center described how during the Cleveland Orchestra they passed out refreshments after the concert to quell the angry mobs at the valet parking driveway.

Anyway, I'm happy to be the only bike guy, since there are only about three convenient places to lock up a bike around there. And it is nice riding across the causeway afterwards, in the peaceful night (as long as it's not raining). The latest concert I heard was this Tuesday, the Chicago Symphony playing Also Sprach Zarathustra, Elgar's Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham, and "Last Round" by Osvaldo Golijov. This seems to be the piece of the moment, at least around here. The Cleveland Orchestra also played the piece, and just this Monday a group of New World Symphony musicians organized by bassist Jory Herman played it on a Musicians' Forum concert.

Jory's group played the smaller version of the piece, with two string quartets bracketing a single double bass, while the Chicago Symphony did the full string orchestra version. The full strings fill out some of the harmonies in the slow second movement nicely, but I actually preferred the performance on Monday by Jory's group. The smaller ensemble brought out the edgy tango rhythms and the sexy glissandi, and they had an interplay and groove that the Chicago Symphony often lacked. And for whatever reason, CSO principal bassist Joseph Guastafeste had his solo part amplified, which came out oddly to my ears. I don't complain of too much bass very often, but this was occasionally bordering on gross.

Still, the audience at both concerts seemed to enjoy the performance. One older lady at the Musicians' Forum said, "I loved the playing, though I didn't like the piece" - which is maybe as much as you can ask for among contemporary music-averse listeners. I think as a piece like this becomes more familiar audiences will start to form a relationship with it, and realize that they can enjoy the piece on its own merits.

Check out the Golijov website for more information.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

New World's new website

The New World Symphony has a new website up, with lots of musician information and bizarrely cropped photos. I unfortunately haven't turned my survey in yet, so my profile is empty and generic. I'll get on that right away though.

new music amid the football frenzy

Last night we performed new music by Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Henri Dutilleux, and Wolfgang Rihm - probably not as big household names as Peyton Manning or Rex Grossman, but all still worth a listen. It's been interesting this week, practicing some rather severe, demanding music, while throngs of people all around South Beach party and celebrate football. As might be expected, our concert wasn't especially crowded. Not to judge our Super Bowl guests too harshly, but they probably aren't big contemporary music fans, while those who might have come had to face massive traffic and parking nightmares. So the barriers were pretty high, and the audience, as small as it was, seemed especially devoted.

They heard a spectacular performance from Barbara Hannigan, singing a beautiful setting of letters by Dutilleux, Correspondances. Dutilleux recently turned 91, and part of his longevity might be constantly setting challenges for himself - when we connected to him via Internet 2 in Paris, he insisted on speaking in fractured English, even as our conductor Reinbert de Leeuw tried to switch him over to French. His grammar, like the sonorities in his music, twists and turns between novel, puzzling, and delightful - always there is the sense of a searching imagination at play.

The other two pieces, Dalbavie's Color and Rihm's Two Other Movements, were not lacking in imagination either. Besides the obvious meaning, 'color' also signifies a practice common in medeival music, in which parts were layered and into overlapping melodic and rhythmic structures, called 'color' and 'talea'. It's one of those curious cul-de-sacs in music history, which long ago went out of style, only preserved in trivia and musicology courses, then modern composers like Messiaen and Dalbavie found new uses and brought it back to life in their music. There was a sense in Dalbavie's piece of music unfolding across different strata of time, freed from rigid bar lines even as the individual parts follow a careful logic.

So much new music can seem aimless - unlike football, we're not sure what the rules are, in what way they're being observed or stretched, or when the whole thing is likely to end. That was the case for me in the Rihm piece, which I found alternately fascinating and insufferable. (I try to be an advocate for the music while I'm playing it, but afterwards you can be ambivalent, right?) I honestly wasn't sure how it held together, and I was worried the audience's attention and patience might wander through the 40 minutes or so that it lasted. Still, the performance kept up a certain steady intensity, and I found I liked the whole thing better than I'd thought.

It's funny, even as music becomes easier to package, access, and consume, I think it sometimes becomes harder to really listen to it. I've listened to more music lately than ever before, on my iPod or stereo, but I surely forget, tune out, or miss more than I catch. Walking down Washington Avenue, trying to listen to a Corigliano Symphony, is like trying to catch water in your hands, with a bus bearing down from behind! In a certain way, I think we've returned (if we ever left it) to a time in which the concert hall is the only place this music can really live and breathe, and recordings can give only a vague suggestion. What once was practically impossible, hearing a symphony at any time, is now easy enough in theory. But for me anyway, the distractions always win out, and I'm left with the same old necessities: a concert hall, a live orchestra, an audience of fellow listeners - just like the composers intended.