Posts Tagged ‘alex ross’

In this week’s New Yorker

December 20, 2011


The issue starts off right with a fabulous seasonal cartoon by Danny Shanahan, closely followed by this amazing illustration by Kristina Collontes for the music listing of a show at Glasslands Gallery: “Tokyo’s Trippple Nippples, fronted by Yuka Nippple, Qrea Nippple, and Naabe Nippple, powers through overcaffeinated electronic art rock, but the music is almost secondary to the group’s outrageous appearance: they’re dressed as giant mammary glands, spewing milk, and have often swathed themselves in mud, feathers, or old spaghetti. Neat freaks may want to stay home.”


(Speaking of illustrations: did you see the amazing creation by David Plunkert that accompanied composer John Adams’ intriguing review of Richard Rhodes’ book Hedy’s Folly, about how “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood” helped design sophisticated weapons systems with George Antheil??? But I digress….)


The double-issue is devoted to World Changers, and the subject ranges wildly from how thieves are handled at a mosque in Tahrir Square (Peter Hessler’s “The Mosque on the Square”) to the austere music and wild life of 16th century Italian composer Don Carlo Gesualdo (Alex Ross’s “Prince of Darkness”). But the most compelling read is “The Civil Archipelago,” the long, well-sourced, knowledgeable Letter from Moscow written by David Remnick, the New Yorker‘s editor-in-chief and, I must acknowledge, a real culture hero of mine, for the way he has maintained if not exceeded the magazine’s high standards of journalistic excellence. (Read, by the way, his blog post about the Republicans and gay rights.)

There are also terrific critical columns by Joan Acocella, writing about Alvin Ailey, and Hilton Als, exercising his usual, admirable, self-given freedom to transcend conventional theater criticism while writing about David Adjmi’s play Elective Affinities.

Oh, also interesting to learn from Abby Aguirre’s Talk of the Town piece that Occupy Wall Street has, in three months’ of existence, acquired $650,873.59 in donations.)

In this week’s New Yorker

November 28, 2010

Trust Alex Ross to turn me on to some fascinating corner of contemporary classical music previously unbenownst to me. Now I know something about Swiss composer Georg Friedrich Hass, whose Third String Quartet, Ross says, “makes such extreme demands on players and audience alike that at one concert in Pasadena listeners were required to sign a waiver absolving the venue of legal responsibility….”

The work is subtitled “In iij. Noct.,” a reference to the Third Nocturn of the old Roman Catholic Tenebrae service for Holy Week, which marked Christ’s sufferings and death with the gradual extinguishing of candles. Haas, who grew up in Tschaugguns, a Catholic village in the Austrian Alps, asks for total darkness during performances of his quartet, the score specifying that even emergency lights should be covered.
In September I saw, or didn’t see, a performance [by the JACK quartet] at the Austrian Cultural Forum, on East Fifty-second Street. When the blackout began, I initially felt a fear such as I’ve never experienced in a concert hall: it was like being sealed in a tomb. No wonder the members of JACK usually try out a brief spell of darkness with each audience, to see if anyone exhibits signs of distress. (Indeed, one young man sheepishly got up and left.) yet the fear subsides whne the music begins. The perfoemrs who are positione din the corners of the room, seem to map the space with tones, like bats using echolocation to navigate a lightless cave. They have memorized the socre in advance, and it is an unusual document: Haas sets out eighteen musical “situations” — with detailed instructions for improvising on pre-set motifs, chords, and string textures — and a corresponding series of “invitations,” whereby the players signal one another that they are ready to proceed from one passage to the next.
Often, the music borders on noise: the strings emit creaks and groans, clickety swarms of pizzicato, shrill high notes, moaning glissandos. At other times, it attains an otherworldly beauty, as the players spin out glowing overtone harmonies. Toward the end comes a string-quartet arrangement of one of Carlo Gesualdo’s Responsories for the Tenebrae service (“I was like an innocent lamb led to the slaughter…”). That music is four hundred years old, and yet, with its disjointed tonal language, it sounded no less strange than the contemporary score that surrounded it. Weirdness is in the ear of the beholder.


In another direction altogether is “Nutty,” Paul Rudnick’s latest bit of comic ephemera — definitely good for a chuckle.

In this week’s New Yorker…

October 4, 2010

…actually, before the moment passes and the new issue arrives in my mailbox, I want to mention a couple of noteworthy pieces in LAST week’s issue.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a thoughtful essay about the difference between social activism and social networking, contrasting the world of Facebook/Twitter with civil rights actions in the 1960s, like the day when four college students in Greensboro, NC, sat down at a segregated Woolworth’s counter and asked to be served. To me, the piece was a good reminder that online networking is useful for disseminating information and staying in contact with friends and acquaintances, but when it comes to Getting Things Done, there’s no substitute for community action that you do with other people in the same room.

Music critic Alex Ross did an excellent piece about one of my all-time culture heroes, John Cage (above), on the occasion of the publication of Kenneth Silverman’s biography, Begin Again. Here’s a story I’d never heard before: after years of living on the edge of poverty, “by the end of the fifties, Cage’s financial situation had imiproved, though not because of his music. After moving to Stony Point [NY], he began collecting mushrooms during walks in the woods. Within a few years, he had mastered the mushroom literature and co-founded the new York Mycological Society. He supplied mushrooms to various elite restaurants, including the Four Seasons. In 1959, while working at the R.A. I. Studio of Music Phonology, a pioneering electronic-music studio, in Milan, he was invited on a game show called ‘Lascia o Raddopppia?’ — a ‘Twenty-One’-style program in which contestants were asked questions on a subject of their choice. Each week, Cage answered, with deadly accuracy, increasingly obscure questions about mushrooms. On his final appearance, he was asked to list ‘the twenty-four kinds of white-spore mushrooms listed in Atkinson.’ (Silverman supplies a transcript of this historic moment.) Cage named them all, in alphabetical order, and won eight thousand dollars. He used part of the money to purchase a VW bus for the [Merce] Cunningham company.”

%d bloggers like this: