William Bolcom is seventy today. In a year of major composer birthdays, this one comes as something of a surprise, perhaps. If anyone is in the high noon of his musical day it is Mr. Bolcom.

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Why Make Music?

May 22, 2008

In an address in England last month to a conference of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, Frank Furedi asked hard questions and gave harder answers about the rôle of music in society and, more specifically, in politics.

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Even though Jack Bethards designed and executed the instrument to be versatile and complete, he told me that he was at first a little taken aback when he heard that the dedicatory recital last Saturday would feature Liszt’s monumental Fantasy and Fugue on the Chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam,” based on a theme from Meyerbeer’s opera Le Prophète. But the enormous success of the performance itself was no accident and testified to serious progress that a niche-within-a-niche of the musical world has been making.

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One wonders if Allesandro Cadario realizes how unusual it is for someone to come to New York for the first time and have a work premiered at Lincoln Center. For that’s the fortunate situation the young Italian composer-conductor finds himself in. His Cantata for Revival will have its first hearing at the Rose Theater on Monday night, performed by Musica Sacra, whose late conductor Richard Westenberg commissioned it. The new music director of the ensemble, Kent Tritle, will lead it, along with Orff’s ubiquitous and emphatically non-sacred Carmina Burana, in its version with two pianos and percussion.

Part of the novelty of the new work lies in its instrumentation: seven cellos, piano, percussion, mixed double choir, three soloists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone), and eight tuned crystal glasses. Its text is Biblical and in English.

In a conversation with the Milan-based Mr. Cadario, his pride in his origin in Gian Carlo Menotti’s hometown was expressed, as was his admiration for Leonard Bernstein. While I didn’t question him about how much his own style derives from these 20th-century masters, that may be in the back of the mind as the new work is unveiled on Monday. That and how it would feel to be 29 and first visiting a world capital to hear one’s own new work. Buona fortuna indeed!

In the 19th century, education in the liberal arts and the professions was handled in very different ways in different places. For example, in Germany a university education generally resulted in a law degree, but then that credential might be employed in a great variety of ways. In England a lawyer might or might not have had university studies at all when he began to “read law” in preparation for the Bar. Though lawyers like Abraham Lincoln followed that traditional path, Americans began early on to ally the study of the law with universities, but as a specialized study within the larger institution.

Musicians have been trained just as variously. Read the rest of this entry »