Thursday, July 22, 2010

Varese Lives!

Allan Kozinn's review of the two-night more-than-complete Varese retrospective at the Lincoln Center Festival is terrific.

He situates Varese well, writing,
Varèse has long been a name to conjure with in new-music circles, and elsewhere too: the rock musician and composer Frank Zappa consistently cited him among his influences and published a touchingly naïve but enthusiastic essay, “Edgard Varèse: The Idol of My Youth,” about his early encounters with his music, and an attempt to meet Varèse himself. The brassy pop band Chicago admired him too, saying that Varèse expanded the group’s ideas about what was possible, and opening its fifth album with a song called “A Hit by Varèse.”
And then he describes the music itself quite articulately:
But one difference between Varèse and other modernists (and particularly Serialists) is that when Varèse’s music is not being assertively noisy it is built of shapely, smoothly flowing melodies rather than the angularity that characterizes so much contemporary music. Yes, these are wildly dissonant works. ... But perhaps audiences tolerate dissonance so long as a work offers melody and structure, and those were elements Varèse never abandoned.
He compliments the New York Philharmonic:
Mr. [Alan] Gilbert and the Philharmonic turned up to show — as it did in Ligeti’s “Grande Macabre” a few weeks ago — what this orchestra can do when it steps away from the 19th-century canon. The rumble, roar and magnificent intricacy of “Ionisation” and “Octandre” (1923) were thrilling for their drive and textural changeability. But the real highlight was “Amériques,” usually a barnstormer — or, really, a tornado that hurls a barn across a field — but here offered as a subtle essay in the distance between brutal volume and gentle delicacy.
And he even cites a Speculum Musicae concert of Varese's music at Miller Theatre from a decade ago.


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