Yearly Archives: 2011

Two questions

Better put, two question groups.

Question Group the first relates to this video:

You guys, does anyone else think it’s weird that Valery Gergiev is dressed like a trucker in the Leningrad Denny’s (Денниз) at 2:00 am?  I mean, I know that the whole unkempt look is like, his thing or whatever, but come on, baseball cap?  Really?  And doesn’t it just make his already eccentric Fluttering Butterfly conducting moves look even more bizarre?

Meanwhile, Gautier Capuçon looks like a contestant in a River Phoenix/Johnny Depp lovechild lookalike contest.  It’s all about contrast, people.

Question Group the second is all about why won’t La Piel Que Habito just open already, in this country, in my city, NOW?

Pedro Almodóvar is the reigning king of the cinema.  I mean, is anybody seriously going to dispute that?  There are other great directors out there, but Almodóvar consistently writes, directs, and releases a new film almost every other year that maintains or raises his already incredibly high standards.  Each one explores similar themes, re-intermingled and re-imagined, so that they all have that Almodóvar stamp and are all so completely different.

And yet, we have to wait months and months after the European premier of each new film to see it in the U.S.  Not only is this the best art that we have available to us IN THE WORLD, but this movie has Antonio freaking Banderas in it.  Who wouldn’t like that?

There were all these rumors that La Piel was going to be different, that they were going to release the movie all over the world at the same time, something about the Spanish government not enforcing international copyright law and blah blah blah just give the movie, alright??

So now the movie just opened in Britain, strangely enough before the Sept. 2 opening in Spain (um, what?).  And then it’s only being released in New York/LA on October 14 or something?  Ugh!  Just bequeath it unto the world, Pedro!  We will love you for it heartily.

In the meanwhile, you can watch more, and listen extensively.  A little Alberto Iglesias goes a long way to calming down my frazzled nerves, y’all.


My friend Will made an excellent film called Mulligan, set for release in 2012.  He kindly asked me to write the score and his producers kindly allowed me to post some of the music I wrote here.

Mulligan centers around an emotionally stunted 30-year-old loser, John, who can”t get past the fraught relationship he had with his father (now deceased).  He channels his emotions into a “pictorial epic” called Golfing with Apollo – a comic book in which the god Apollo serves as his own heroic alter ego.

Here”s the opening title sequence in which the main character feverishly draws, paints, writes and splatters his ideas onto the page.  There”s some really brilliant animation that goes along with this sequence:

Here”s the “Nostalgia” theme:

And here”s a later comic book scene that deals with reconciliation (hence the reappearance of the Nostalgia music):

There’s a mystery at the center of the plot, as John seeks to uncover the money his father secretly buried where only he (John) could find it, thus proving that he (the father) did love him (John) after all.  I”ll spare you the various “Spooky” cues as they go hunting for the loot and run into a variety of shady characters, but I will include the director”s favorite music, a cue called “Mystery”:

And here’s the composer”s favorite, the “Nostalgia Tarantella”, a delightful romp based on the Nostalgia theme:

More reasons to love Hector Berlioz

Because he composed his Roméo et Juliette and called it a “dramatic legend”, since no genre was big enough for him, and because in the section depicting the Ball at the Capulets, he begins with a melody expressing Roméo’s grief, which sounds like this:

and follows it with a theme representing the masq’d ball itself, which sounds like this:

and then he combines the two themes together (which sounds like this:)

Those are all great reasons to love Hector Berlioz, but the best reason is that, at the spot in the score where he overlays the two themes, he actually wrote these very words and had them typeset and printed in the published score

so that noone would miss this masterful stroke of compositional prowess and fail to recognize his genius.  Forget the fact that the art of counterpoint was well over 700 years old, and that people like Bach and Tallis had composed far more complex contrapuntal textures simply for the Grace of God — no, M. Berlioz did what every other composer wishes he had the cojones to do, and let you know exactly how good he was, in three different languages.

Bravo, Hector.

Travel diary, pt. 2

I’m writing from a place called Matamoros, PA, because my car just broke down in nearby Port Jervis, NY.  If I were to walk a mile away from my hotel room (and trust me, I am not) I would come to the exact place where Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York share a border.  I can’t vouch for the details, but one intuits very quickly in the Matamoros region that one of these three states does allow fireworks while the other two do not, because there are some serious firework emporia up in this neck of the woods.  There are also approximately five hundred ‘cigaret shoppers’ here, so if anybody needs like 20 cases of Camel Lights, just send me a text.

I’m coming from Hancock, ME and heading to Cincinnati, OH.  I just spent another fruitful 6-week stint at the Pierre Monteux School for Conductorz & Orchestra Musicianz playing the viola, conducting the orchestra, running seminars, swimming in lakes, eating lobster, etc.  I got to premiere a new piece, a narrated viola concerto about Cinderella with my super cool friends Maija and Matt (violist and narrator, respectively).  We played to a sold-out house bethrong’d with little kids who were like SO into it.  Then I wrote the score for my friend Will‘s new movie.  It was a crazy time.

[I should mention that the above cover page was drawn by my super cool and incredibly talented friend Anna who, by no coincidence, happens to be with me in Matamoros, PA and is being a total trooper about this whole car issue.]

One of the perks of my position at the PMS is that I get a charming little house in the cutest village in Maine all to myself.  The house was built over a hundred years ago by a ship’s captain, but the family that still owns it descends from one Frank Olmstead, who apparently ran the advertising department for Kellogg’s cereals in the 1930’s and ’40’s or something like that.  I don’t know exactly what he did, but there’s a copy of David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising floating around the house, which I’ve now read no less than four times, and which I must recommend to everybody.

And then there’s the vintage 1930’s and 40’s adds hanging on the walls around the house.  Let’s just say, I think the buying public had a very different response to visual stimuli 70 some years ago.  For example, this ad, which hangs just above my summer sink, is in fact TERRIFYING:

These little girls are at least 3,000 times more frightening than the Children of the Corn and the twin girls from The Shining combined.  I would never attempt to sell a breakfast cereal – or, in fact, any consumer product – with their images.  Here is the headline on the top of the ad:

which I can only presume replaced the original headline, “All in Favor, Summon Your Inner Daemonry!”  I mean, look at this little girl – LOOK AT THIS GIRL:

I have now spent a sum total of four and one half months of my life waking up every morning and having this little girl stare me in the face as I prepare my morning repast.  No wonder I switched to toast for breakfast.

On What Music Criticism is Not

I normally try to ignore the random angry missives sent to me from cyberspace, but every once in a while I get to feeling kind of frisky and internet-bellicose.  So here goes nothing:

In May of 2009, a piece of mine was released on a CD.  The album was reviewed rather favorably in the press, including a review in Fanfare Magazine by a contributor named Jerry Dubins.  The album included a piece by a colleague of mine, one Egon Cohen.

Mr. Dubins’ wondered about Egon’s piece,

why a young, Jewish composer would be drawn to this deeply Roman Catholic 13th-century sequence that meditates on the suffering of the Virgin Mary.  Surely, as Rochberg and many other Jewish composers have, Cohen might have found an equally moving text from the Hebrew liturgy.

I took issue with this comment on my blog, because, well, it just doesn’t seem like a germane thing for a music critic to second-guess a composer’s choice of text based on nothing more than an assumption about the composer’s cultural or religious identity.  I wondered if Mr. Dubins would lodge such a complaint against Mendelssohn’s Christus or Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei on the same grounds.

Well lo and behold, because the internet is a crazy place, TWO YEARS LATER, I get an e-mail in my inbox from one Jerry Dubins.  He writes:

Well um, excuse me, Mr. White. But Mendelssohn did write a very popular oratorio based on the biblical story of a Hebrew prophet. The work is called Elijah. But then I’m sure you already knew that, which is why your question makes no sense.

Right, so a) you are excused, b) yes I did know that, and c) I’m pretty sure you missed my point entirely, so let’s see if I can clarify:

A music critic’s job is to review the music that a composer did in fact write.  You might begin by trying to figure out what the composer set out to accomplish in his or her piece.  Then you might ask if he did it well.  You might try to describe the experience of listening to this music on a visceral or intellectual level.

This particular review involved a vocal work, one in which a pre-written text was set to music.  So yes, the composer’s choice of text is a perfectly valid compositional element to comment upon.  It’s essential to the composer’s work.

Now, if you feel that the composer did not do justice to the text that he chose, so be it.  If you have cause to suspect that the composer’s personal background may have adversely effected his setting of the text, we get into a little bit of a danger zone, but there could still be valid room for criticism.  There’s a lot to be said, for example, about the fraught relationship between Mahler’s Jewish heritage and later conversion to Christianity and how that affected his music.  It is a well-documented subject and one rife with interest.

In his review, Mr. Dubins suggests that Egon ought to have found a suitable Hebrew text to set simply because he (Egon) is Jewish.  Actually, since I’m assuming that Mr. Dubins never interviewed Egon, it’s more likely that he assumed Egon was Jewish because of his name.

Is this really the purview of the music critic?  Mr. Dubins states in his review of Egon’s piece that,

The music effectively captures the doloroso character of the text.

So, that’s great then!  That’s music criticism.  Not very insightful music criticism and not very much of it, but music criticism all the same.  Speculations about the source of another text that the composer might have chosen instead is not music criticism, and it doesn’t belong in a magazine purporting to publish the same.  If Egon’s piece ‘effectively captures the doloroso character of the text,’ what does it matter if he is a Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, or Lithuanian Orthodox composer?

In regards to Mr. Dubins’ point about Mendelssohn’s Elijah, I’m not sure I quite get it.  Is he implying that, because the Jewish-heritaged Mendelssohn also wrote an oratorio on a Hebrew subject, he earned the right to compose another one on a Christian subject?  That doesn’t exactly make sense to me, but when logic’s off the table, it’s hard to figure out what’s going on.