6 min read

Not Drowning, But Waving

News you can use, a video of the week by Apartment House featuring Julius Eastman's music, listings for upcoming new-music performances online, and an update about where things stand here.
Not Drowning, But Waving


At the risk of this opening paragraph becoming a habitual space for apology, I feel compelled to acknowledge that I’ve still not hit my groove for optimum productivity in this venture. As I expect we all know far too well, our present isolated-at-home existence too often amounts to a continuous flux of tasks, deadlines, and unforeseen circumstances. It’s easy to get tugged into what can feel like an inescapable undertow. Focus is difficult even at the best of times.

I’ve put real effort into being consistent with For the Record, my weekly Friday round-up of new and coming recordings. But it’s been difficult to try to maintain a rhythm for conducting, transcribing, editing, and producing interviews, and also tracking and sharing listings of noteworthy live/online events, while at the same time completing freelance assignments, seeking new employment, attending to real-life duties, and carving out even just a little bit of physical and mental respite, now and then.

All of which said, the fact that a significant minority among you newsletter recipients have paid to underwrite my privilege of pursuing self-directed work asserts an obligation that I need to work hard(er) to meet. So to everyone reading this – and especially to those who’ve invested faith and funds – please know that a steady stream of conversations with remarkable artists is soon to resume. Work toward a more robust ongoing performance calendar continues, and I continue to think about further premiums for paying subscribers.

While I continue to juggle all of that, I’ll thank you anew for your support, and direct your attention now to things elsewhere that merit your attention—even as all of our most ferevent and compassionate thoughts are directed toward Louisville, KY.

(with acknowledgement to Stevie Smith)

Here Is the News

Doug and Jean Carn, from the cover of Spirit of the New Land
Courtesy Real Gone Music
  • Reporting for NPR Music, Martin Johnson recounts the saga of Black Jazz Records, a storied California label that provided artists like Doug and Jean Carn, Walter Bishop Jr., and Chicago band The Awakening with an outlet for self-determination. Now that contemporary artists like Kamasi Washington, Nubya Garcia, and Angel Ben Dawid are tapping into cultural, spiritual, and political themes found in Black Jazz releases from the early ’70s, the time is ripe for rediscovery, and reissue label Real Gone Records has obliged—though as Johnson relates – and as Geoff Edgers reported for the Washington Post in August – ownership of the label has prompted dispute and legal action. Read more here.
  • Newly reported by Michael Cooper in The New York Times, the Metropolitan Opera has announced that it will not reopen at all for what would have been its 2020-21 season. This development comes in the wake of an earlier report in the Times revealing that the company paid out $3.5 million to make disgraced music director James Levine and his lawsuit go away, even as artists have seen vital bookings cancelled and employees have gone unpaid since April. That the company has professed its plan to reopen next fall with Fire Shut Up in My Bones, an adaptation of the Charles M. Blow memoir by composer Terence Blanchard and librettist Kasi Lemmons, is at most cold comfort. Read the article here.
  • “There are three challenges in my life,” Beverly Glenn-Copeland says in a statement featured prominently on his website. “The first is being black in a white culture. The second is being transgendered in a hetero-normative culture. The third is being an artist in a business culture.” After decades of obscurity, the trailblazing singer and composer is making new fans and new music—and, in the process, making headlines: Grayson Haver Currin wrote a terrific profile for The New York Times, which you’ll find here, while Sasha Geffen has a perceptive review of Transmissions, a new career-spanning anthology, in Artforum, here.
  • The tagline for the podcast Anominy Questionable Movies is “Two guys try to watch all the movies so that you don’t have to,” and its typical fare ranges from John Casavetes to Super Mario Brothers. But in their latest episode, posted on Sept. 21, hosts Daniel Levine and Ron Blum focus on Perfect Lives, the groundbreaking television-opera series created by composer Robert Ashley. The presentation – which, full disclosure, I’ve not had the chance to hear just yet – reunites original cast and crew members Peter Gordon, Mimi Johnson, Barbara Mayfield, John Sanborn, Carlotta Schoolman, Paul Shorr, David Van Tieghem, and Dean Winkler. You can listen here, or on your podcasting platform of choice.

Video of the Week

On Sunday evening in London, the dynamic chamber ensemble Apartment House played two pieces by the iconoclastic American composer and performer Julius Eastman, Femenine and Joy Boy, live at Wigmore Hall. The concert was played to an extremely limited in-person audience, but also streamed live around the globe—and you can watch the entire concert, free of charge, on YouTube. (Wigmore videos remain available for 30 days following the initial live stream—don’t miss out.)

Stream On

All events listed at Eastern Daylight Time.

Ashley Bathgate
Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8pm

Cellist Ashley Bathgate, formerly of Bang on a Can All-Stars and presently of eighth blackbird, presents a ticketed online performance of House Music, composed by Michael Gordon expressly for intimate domestic gatherings. In addition to my New Yorker listing (above, with illustration), you can read the New York Times account of the work’s local premiere – held in the Brooklyn apartment of Times classical-music editor Zachary Woolfe, in February – and view a video of the world premiere in Amsterdam. $20; live.bangonacan.org

Live@National Sawdust
Thursday, Sept. 24, 5pm

Next up in my erstwhile employer’s New Works Composers Sessions is… well, me. In conversation with composer and National Sawdust co-founder Paola Prestini, I’ll be talking about the interactions of composers, performers, and critics in a healthy musical and cultural ecosystem, and how that’s been altered by our present pandemic and isolation—for worse and just possibly for better, as well. After the chat I’ll field questions from some of the 20 composers recently named winners of the 2020 New Works Commission, for which I served as a jurist. Free; live.nationalsawdust.org

Brandon Lopez
Thursday, Sept. 24, 8pm

Bassist, composer, and bandleader Brandon Lopez initiates a new season of performances streamed live from the stage of the essential downtown Brooklyn performance venue Roulette, presenting a string trio with violinists Gabby Fluke-Mogul and Marina Kifferstein. (Also this week: saxophonist Stephen Gauci and pianist Cooper-Moore on Sept. 25; and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Kenny Wollesen on Sept. 30.) Free; roulette.org

John McCowen & Madison Greenstone
Thursday, Sept. 24, 8pm

John McCowen, a clarinetist and composer presently in residence at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, is known best for his intense solo music, in which he treats the contrabass clarinet as an “acoustic synthesizer” to mesmerizing effect. Tonight, he’s performing with fellow clarinetist Madison Greenstone in original compositions collectively titled Mundanas—some reprised from the duo’s impressive recent CD on Editions Wandelweiser, others new to the collection. Free; issueprojectroom.org

Houston Symphony
Saturday, Sept. 26, 9pm

For many weeks now, the Houston Symphony has been back in action onstage at Jones Hall, playing chamber music and works for Classical-scale orchestra with distancing and other precautions in place. The music making has been consistently ingratiating, and some of the programming now reflects the challenging times in which we’re living. This weekend’s program is especially enticing: Reena Esmail’s Tuttarana (from Khirkiyaan, for brass quintet), Florence Price’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, and songs for mezzo-soprano by Ethel Smyth, sung by Kelley O’Connor. $20; houstonsymphony.org

Hyde Park Jazz Festival
Saturday, Sept. 26, 4pm

This ambitious Chicago presenter is planning to host pop-up performances all over town on Sunday, Sept. 27. But the rest of us can catch a generous sampling of premier talent on Saturday, including Greg Ward, Dee Alexander, Marquis Hill, and a starry gathering of Mike Reed, Tomeka Reid, and Jason Adasiewicz, plus guests. Check out the complete schedule here. $5 suggested donation; hydeparkjazzfestival.org

Sunday, Sept. 27, 8pm

Presented by Festival Nueva Ópera Buenos Aires, this chamber opera by composer Sebastián Zubieta (known among New Yorkers as the music director at Americas Society) and visual artist Juliana Iriart transforms an anonymous Medieval tale of chivalry into a contemporary vision for digital art and distanced performers. Amber Evans, Sarah Brailey, Kirsten Sollek, and Thomas McCargar provide the voices; the ensemble comprises violist Stephanie Griffin, harpist Nuiko Wadden, and percussionist Russell Greenberg. The pre-recorded opera will remain online through Oct. 4; poke around the FNOBA website for information about the festival’s further offerings. Free; festivalnuevaopera.org