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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

If you have written a lot of program notes and gone to a lot of concerts you may have noticed a certain sameness to programs: something 18th century followed by something modern, intermission, big 19th century work in the second half. But some manage to find a creative way to organize a recital: Tamara Stefanovich: 20 Sonatas review – a remarkable feat of sustained pianism.

In 2019 Tamara Stefanovich treated London to a thrilling survey of the piano étude in the last century, from Scriabin to the present day, which was one of the highlights of the musical year in the capital. Now she has turned her attention to sonatas, and devised a three-part recital – over two and a half hours of music, taking in 20 works – that mixes the baroque and the modern, and carefully avoids what many would see as the heyday of the piano sonata, from Haydn and Mozart to Brahms and Liszt.

Lots of interesting sonatas in that program!

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I am always attracted to papers on taste as it is such a slippery topic to get a grip on. Here is one: “Taste typicality” is a foundational and multi-modal dimension of ordinary aesthetic experience

Aesthetic experience seems both regular and idiosyncratic. On one hand, there are powerful regularities in what we tend to find attractive versus unattractive (e.g., beaches versus mud puddles). On the other hand, our tastes also vary dramatically from person to person: what one of us finds beautiful, another might find distasteful. What is the nature of such differences? They may in part be arbitrary—e.g., reflecting specific past judgments (such as liking red towels over blue ones because they were once cheaper). However, they may also in part be systematic—reflecting deeper differences in perception and/or cognition. We assessed the systematicity of aesthetic taste by exploring its typicality for the first time across seeing and hearing.

This study looks at reactions to ordinary aesthetic phenomena, not high art, and compares them to typical reactions, not those of experts, so it offers a somewhat different approach. Nothing too earth-shaking, though it is interesting that people who have unusual tastes in visual areas also have them in audible areas.

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We mentioned the new piece by Tyshawn Sorey written for the Rothko Chapel, now Alex Ross has a review of the performance: Music Fills the Rothko Chapel.

Two formidable artistic creations bear the name “Rothko Chapel.” The first is an ecumenical spiritual space, in Houston, built to display huge, dark paintings by Mark Rothko. The second is a half-hour composition by Morton Feldman, which had its première in the chapel in 1972, a year after the site opened. Each work possesses a legendary aura. The chapel, the brainchild of the art patrons Dominique and John de Menil, projects an abyssal stillness that mesmerizes more than a hundred thousand visitors every year. Feldman’s composition, a sparse soundscape for viola, chorus, celesta, and percussion, long ago became a classic of modern music; according to the Feldman archivist Chris Villars, in the past two decades it has received more than a hundred and thirty performances, in twenty-seven countries. Together, the music and the art constitute a monument of twentieth-century modernism—a locus of its dreams and sorrows. Fifty years on, a third voice has joined this interdisciplinary conversation: that of the composer Tyshawn Sorey, whose “Monochromatic Light (Afterlife)” had its première in the chapel last month.

A very large part of the review is actually about the Morton Feldman piece and about the personal relationship between Feldman and Rothko.

The building blocks of “Monochromatic Light (Afterlife)” are essentially the same as those of “Rothko Chapel”: sustained choral chords, questing viola lines, rumblings and chimings of percussion. Yet significant differences soon appear. The viola is broader, more restless, more impassioned. One phrase is marked “legato, molto espressivo”—editorializing that is absent from “Rothko Chapel.” In the Feldman, members of the ensemble seem independent of one another, coinciding like parts of a mobile; the chorus is indifferent, otherworldly. Sorey plots subtle connections among the disparate parts.

Read the whole thing.

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And finally, why your pianist friend never answers the phone:

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 Apart from innumerable articles about whose performances got cancelled because of the Russia-Ukraine war, the pickings were slim this week. One of the lesser-heard sonatas in Tamara Stefanovich's program was Hanns Eisler's First:

Here is Everything Changes, Nothing Changes by Tyshawn Sorey:

 And finally, a piece by Takemitsu for traditional gagaku orchestra:

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