listen to a short piece of music in which every moment has been crafted by the composer to add to the overall narrative/design/emotional content of the piece, rather than a long piece interlarded with “filler” used to pad the dimensions of the piece with pretensions towards grandiosity/seriousness/weight.
Shostakovich, I am looking squarely in your direction. Lili Boulanger, je t’adore, girl.
Dash’s brother turns out to be a wildly impressive multi-media artist, and you should totally check out the rest of his work here: Hunter Nesbitt. If you ask him nicely (as have I), he may even make you a reproduction of the above piece.
Post script: Have you ever heard of two brothers with better names than Hunter and Dashiell?
Here’s the (strangely unlisted) video that got me going down this rabbit hole:
“Most of it sounds like simply nothing else at all,” quoth Sir Simon. Now my curiosity was piqued. Could this Haas fellow truly have created such a novelty? Such statement must compel me (and all other snobs musicals) to find in every note, chord, and phrase an exact sonic equivalent somewhere else. Listening to this piece would be a challenge.
Lo and behold, that challenge turned to joy. Yes, this music does have notable influences: as Sir Simon mentioned, many tendencies in late Ligeti are distilled here, and there is Scelsi, and perhaps Ben Johnston, and certainly his fellow “Spectralist”* Gérard Grisey. But so what? In the end, this is fabulous music and in its combination of and expansion upon these various influences, it transcends them. Perhaps that’s what Sir Simon was getting at, but of course, one must be a cheeky literalist bitch and call such things out.
*[I've been totally meaning to "get into" Spectralism for a while now, and it turns out I did it and didn't even know it!]
Herr Haas himself
As SS says, this piece is indeed an hour long. I’ve listened to it five times now straight through, and it’s held my rapt attention on each occasion. I usually end up playing FLOW on my iphone even during Downton Abbey, the most entertaining show ever to exist, so that’s saying something. You can listen to it on Spotify, hear it on YouTube, buy it on iTunes or best yet, watch it on the Berlin Phil’s Digital Concert Hall. That way you get to see (rather, experience) the musicians playing in the dark. Speaking of which: how they be playing all this shit in the dark?? Color me impressed!
At the climax, all these shimmering fragments are derived from a fundamental C, meaning that the music accumulates a glorious sheen, like a new dawn of tonality. Repeated gong strokes add to the sense of elemental ritual. A revelation is at hand. But it all goes awry: notes bend from their “natural” paths, the lights come back up, the frantically scurrying figures return, and, after several herky-jerky accelerations and decelerations, the music abruptly switches off. And you finally understand the title: a new kind of beauty seems ready to come into the world, but in the light of day it falters, and we end up back where we started.
I didn’t act on Alex Ross’s words in 2011, but I exhort you to heed mine now: listen to this music!! It is totally baller!!
Have you all heard of this thing called “The Boar’s Head Festival”, not to be confused with the deli meats? ‘Twas begun in Oxford in 1340, and apparently it’s so very English that I hadn’t come across it, but lo and behold it’s a big deal at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, and I was unwittingly roped into participating this year.
Now look. There are Christmas Pageants, and then there’s This thing. We’re talking a cast of thousands. This is Cecil DeMille meets Franco Zeffirelli meets the Renaissance Fair meets the Anglican liturgy. Here’s a description of some of the costumes directly from the program book:
and this (!)
A longtime participant in the festival told me that to get a role as a Beefeater (solder, not gin) someone literally has to die. That is how hardcore the Boar’s Head people are.
The first big number in the show is called “The Boar’s Head Carol“, sung by a saucy master-of-ceremonies type, and akin to “In Dulci Jubilo” in its mashing-up of old English and Latin texts:
Worthy of note is that this tune is basically a variation on that most lascivious ditty, Watkins Ale:
Now let’s pause and look at the first three lines of the BHC, because now we’re getting into pet peeve territory:
The boar’s head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you, my masters, be merrie.
I think it’s such a shame when we perform this Old- or Middle-Englishy stuff with modern pronunciation, because guys, here’s a little secret, in that last stanza, I, rosemary, and merrie are all supposed to rhyme, and in the 16th century, they did. I just finished reading The Oxford History of English, and I’ve watched this YouTube clip like 5 times, so I’m kind of an expert (see esp. 4:53):
The last comment I’ll make about the Cincinnati Boar’s Head Festival is the carols are scored for a medium-sized orchestra of strings, oboe, brass, percussion, and organ. I wish I’d had the wherewithal to record some of the orchestrations during our performances, because they are certainly interesting. All the tunes were orchestrated, for some reason, in 1962 by one Frank Levy, a cellist in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra, and all I can say is that if a cellist in the Radio City Music Hall orchestra were to have orchestrated a number of Christmas Carols in 1962, this is what they would sound like. The most interesting bits were a verse of “Kings to thy Rising” which got a bongoized 007 treatment and a particularly dark verse of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” which was accompanied by a hazy, Menottian cluster of strings.
Oh, and the very last thing: from this experience I learned what Waits are, and you should to.