This weekend: Morton Feldman and Softly

Morton Feldman.

Beginning tonight, Morton Feldman, perhaps the greatest American composer of the twentieth century, will be stealing in and out of Philadelphia and New York, courtesy of Marilyn Nonken and friends. I most recently published this short item about Feldman, and New Yorker music critic Alex Ross threw a spotlight on the New York festival earlier this week.

At Philly’s University Lutheran Church (3637 Chestnut Street in University City), Marilyn will be joining Stephen Marotto for a performance of Patterns in a Chromatic Field (1981) at 8.00pm tonight, Thursday, September 13; they performed Patterns earlier this year at St. Bart’s in New York. The concert is being presented by the Bowerbird outfit; tickets are available for tonight’s performance here.

Marilyn and Stephen will then speed north for Softly: Music of Morton Feldman, a mini-celebration of Feldman’s music and career, at NYU’s Provincetown Playhouse this weekend, September 14 and 15. On Friday, September 14, at 8.00pm, Marilyn will be reprising her astonishing interpretation of Feldman’s lengthy piano solo Triadic Memories (1981; available on Mode Records). The next day, Saturday, September 15, a variety of performers will present a program of Some of Feldman’s Smaller Pieces, including “Four songs to e e cummings” and “Viola in My Life 3,” at 3.00pm; filmmaker Zahra Partovi will screen and discuss “Some Short Films About Feldman” at 5.00pm; then, after dinner, Steve and Marilyn clamber onto the small Provincetown stage for an encore performance of Patterns at 8.00pm.

Feldman’s music of the 1980s, especially Triadic Memories and Patterns, leads to a few timely thoughts about this music and T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, which I wrote about yesterday. Both artists most explicitly explore time, duration, and decay in works that hover between the secular and the sacred. Eliot in Four Quartets attempted to map this middle ground between the commonplace and the metaphysical (a trait he shared with several poets of the 17th century), doubting the ability of words themselves to express the search for salvation and the incarnation of the spirit in the flesh, while Feldman in Triadic Memories and in Patterns emphasized not the attack but the decay of the expression of a musical tone. In these long works, Eliot and Feldman require not intellectual concentration but active contemplation from the reader and the listener; the attempts at meaning are woven from discrete words and sounds into more complex arrangements of word and sound that only emerge gradually. At first these discrete words and sounds seem almost arbitrary, but over time and duration — and only over time and duration — they reveal their transcendental possibilities. This is not unique or innovative in the history of either poetry or music. One can turn to those metaphysical poets like George Herbert and John Donne or to composers like Machaut or Bach for similar endeavors. But both Eliot and Feldman are working in an entirely different culture, which requires new approaches to language and tonality — affected not least by a self-consciousness of poet/composer, audience, and listener that comes in more contemporary, secular forms than in the 16th and 17th centuries. It could simplistically be said that those centuries knew God and that the 20th century does not, at least in the wake of the world wars that undermined the Enlightenment confidence in science and rationality, and that to come to this knowledge requires new avenues of aesthetic experience. In short, Eliot and Feldman both create environments for this contemplation for the listener. How appropriate, then, that Feldman often finds himself in churches (the Philadelphia performance of Patterns will take place at a church, as its New York performance took place at St. Bart’s), and Eliot finds himself acceding to the Anglican Christian tradition.

The New York performances are free and open to the public, but seating is limited — and seats will go fast. More information at the web site for Softly and the Facebook page for the festival. We’ll see you there.

Softly

Morton Feldman.

In September Morton Feldman, perhaps the greatest American composer of the twentieth century, will be stealing in and out of Philadelphia and New York, courtesy of Marilyn Nonken and friends. I most recently published this short item about Feldman.

At Philly’s University Lutheran Church (3637 Chestnut Street in University City), Marilyn will be joining Stephen Marotto for a performance of Patterns in a Chromatic Field (1981) at 8.00pm on Thursday, September 13; they performed Patterns earlier this year at St. Bart’s in New York. The concert is being presented by the Bowerbird outfit; unfortunately, the Bowerbird website appears to be under construction or re-construction, and there’s little additional information available. If you’re interested, I suggest you email Bowerbird directly at music@bowerbird.org.

Marilyn and Stephen then will hop the northbound Acela for Softly: Music of Morton Feldman, a mini-celebration of Feldman’s music and career, at NYU’s Provincetown Playhouse on September 14 and 15. On Friday, September 14, at 8.00pm, Marilyn will be reprising her astonishing interpretation of Feldman’s lengthy piano solo Triadic Memories (1981; available on Mode Records). The next day, Saturday, September 15, a variety of performers will present a program of “Some of Feldman’s Smaller Pieces,” including “Four songs to e e cummings” and “Viola in My Life 3,” at 3.00pm; filmmaker Zahra Partovi will screen and discuss “Some Short Films About Feldman” at 5.00pm; then, after dinner, Steve and Marilyn clamber onto the small Provincetown stage for an encore performance of Patterns at 8.00pm.

The New York performances are free and open to the public, but seating is limited — and seats will go fast. More information at the web site for Softly and the Facebook page for the festival. We’ll see you there.

Roundup: Europe and back

Scott Joplin.

This week I detailed a few memories and meditations regarding my travels to Paris last week — just one step ahead of our esteemed leader, who seems to have made it his mission to destroy every last one of our transatlantic partnerships. Interestingly, in the hotel we stayed at, Marilyn caught a glimpse of Rudolph Giuliani stepping into an elevator, apparently an advance guard for the steamroller to follow. But I’m convinced there will always be a Europe, regardless of all the attempts to raze it to the ground.

Next week our usual programming, most of which seems to be associated with Americana, will resume. But to close out today, I offer Joshua Rifkin’s cheerful, driving rendition of Scott Joplin‘s “Stoptime Rag,” composed in 1910. It’s one of Joplin’s rare ventures into the novelty rag; note Rifkin’s footstomping beat in the below recording. (Marilyn herself will be performing Joplin’s “Bethena” on a program with Charles Ives’ “Concord” sonata at St. Bart’s next season; click here and scroll down to May, but don’t miss any of the other concerts, either.)

See you at Cafe Katja this afternoon. Prost!

This Sunday: Morton Feldman’s “Patterns” at St. Bart’s

Morton Feldman.

You have only a few more days to purchase your tickets for Morton Feldman’s landmark Patterns in a Chromatic Field (1981), which Stephen Marotto (cello) and Marilyn Nonken (piano) will perform as the last concert of this year’s Great Music at St. Bart’s series this Sunday, May 13, at 3.00pm.

Morton Feldman, the Queens-born son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, is on anybody’s short list of the great American composers of the 20th century, and I’d rank him way above even John Cage; Tom Service has a pretty good “guide to Morton Feldman’s music” at the Guardian. “My compositions are not really ‘compositions’ at all,” Feldman said. “One might call them time canvases in which I more or less prime the canvas with an overall hue of music.” The 80-minute Patterns is one of his late-period, long-duration compositions; it was immediately followed by Triadic Memories of similar length (and which Marilyn recorded for Mode Records some years ago). In a 2006 essay for the New Yorker, Alex Ross shared an anecdote that I do hope is not apocryphal; comparing Feldman’s burly, loud girth with the not-so-simple elegance of his music, Ross wrote:

The often noted paradox is that this immense, verbose man wrote music that seldom rose above a whisper. In the noisiest century in history, Feldman chose to be glacially slow and snowily soft. Chords arrive one after another, in seemingly haphazard sequence, interspersed with silences. Harmonies hover in a no man’s land between consonance and dissonance, paradise and oblivion. Rhythms are irregular and overlapping, so that the music floats above the beat. Simple figures repeat for a long time, then disappear. There is no exposition or development of themes, no clear formal structure. Certain later works unfold over extraordinarily lengthy spans of time, straining the capabilities of performers to play them and audiences to hear them. … In its ritual stillness, this body of work abandons the syntax of Western music, and performers must set aside their training to do it justice. Legend has it that after one group of players had crept their way as quietly as possible through a score of his Feldman barked, “It’s too fuckin’ loud, and it’s too fuckin’ fast.”

I told you he was from Queens.

Sunday’s concert begins at 3.00pm; more information and tickets here.  A few years ago, Arne Deforce collected several of Feldman’s own comments on Patterns into a convenient anthology of sorts; that can be found here.

Time canvas

Morton Feldman.

There’s no time like the present to purchase your tickets for Morton Feldman’s landmark Patterns in a Chromatic Field (1981), which Stephen Marotto (cello) and Marilyn Nonken (piano) will perform as the last concert of this year’s Great Music at St. Bart’s series on Sunday, May 13.

Morton Feldman, the Queens-born son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, is on anybody’s short list of the great American composers of the 20th century, and I’d rank him way above even John Cage; Tom Service has a pretty good “guide to Morton Feldman’s music” at the Guardian. “My compositions are not really ‘compositions’ at all,” Feldman said. “One might call them time canvases in which I more or less prime the canvas with an overall hue of music.” The 80-minute Patterns is one of his late-period, long-duration compositions; it was immediately followed by Triadic Memories of similar length (and which Marilyn recorded for Mode Records some years ago). In a 2006 essay for the New Yorker, Alex Ross shared an anecdote that I do hope is not apocryphal; comparing Feldman’s burly, loud girth with the not-so-simple elegance of his music, Ross wrote:

The often noted paradox is that this immense, verbose man wrote music that seldom rose above a whisper. In the noisiest century in history, Feldman chose to be glacially slow and snowily soft. Chords arrive one after another, in seemingly haphazard sequence, interspersed with silences. Harmonies hover in a no man’s land between consonance and dissonance, paradise and oblivion. Rhythms are irregular and overlapping, so that the music floats above the beat. Simple figures repeat for a long time, then disappear. There is no exposition or development of themes, no clear formal structure. Certain later works unfold over extraordinarily lengthy spans of time, straining the capabilities of performers to play them and audiences to hear them. … In its ritual stillness, this body of work abandons the syntax of Western music, and performers must set aside their training to do it justice. Legend has it that after one group of players had crept their way as quietly as possible through a score of his Feldman barked, “It’s too fuckin’ loud, and it’s too fuckin’ fast.”

I told you he was from Queens.

The May 13 concert begins at 3.00pm; more information and tickets here.  A few years ago, Arne Deforce collected several of Feldman’s own comments on Patterns into a convenient anthology of sorts; that can be found here.