Introducing America

Michalis at  La Taza de Oro

While Michalis Karakatsanis was here I also tried to introduce him to the breadth of American cuisine, hence our meal at the classic and very authentic Puerto Rican eatery La Taza de Oro.

Last week at New Music USA we had the pleasure of hosting Michalis Karakatsanis, Director of the Cyprus Music Information Centre, as part of the Office Exchange Program of the International Association of Music Information Centres (IAMIC). Through this program—which, you may recall, is what enabled me to travel to Germany and to Norway—guests spend a week learning about how their colleagues work and are immersed into the host country’s (or, at least, the host city’s) new music culture. When I went to Germany, I stretched my experiences as far as I could by travelling to the Donaueschinger Musiktage after a week crammed full of meetings and concerts in Bonn and Cologne plus a brief side trip to Dusseldorf. In Norway, however, I stayed in Oslo the whole time; there was a ton to do there and I barely scratched the surface. In the previous exchanges I’ve coordinated for visitors from Poland, Belgium, and Germany, it was sometimes possible to work in jaunts to other cities along the Northeast Corridor. In an ideal world, I’d love to be able to send an exchange guest off to the Twin Cities as well as to various places along the West Coast. But the United States is a big country and the logistics as well as the finances for such excursions would be a hurdle.

This time we stuck to New York City, but, as per usual, it turned out to be a pretty packed week nevertheless. In addition to having Michalis spend time with everyone on our team, to get a better sense of what we do, as well as witness an entire grant panel from start to finish, I shepherded him around to meetings with a variety of music organizations, and filled his ears with live new American music almost every night in as many formats as possible given the limited time of his visit. On his docket were performances by a chorus, a jazz quartet, indie rock bands, and several different chamber groups. Thanks to the generosity of the groups and/or the venues in which they were performing, he was able to attend these events for free.

Meeting Molly

Thanks to Skype, Michalis was able to sit at my desk and get a crash course on Counterstream Radio from Molly Sheridan in Baltimore.

In the original plan, he was scheduled to arrive here a few weeks earlier, and I’m disappointed that he wasn’t here to hear the American Composers Orchestra’s most recent concert which offered such a wide range of what composers in this country are writing for the orchestra as well as one of the classics of our repertoire—Charles Ives’s Third Symphony. Thankfully, however, the original plan fell through and he missed Hurricane Sandy and its immediate aftermath. That said, it was disheartening that there were no orchestral performances of American music in New York City last week. The New York Philharmonic was doing a Brahms marathon. And although the Cleveland Orchestra, which was visiting Carnegie Hall, did a new work, it was by German composer Matthias Pintscher. Since Pintscher now lives in New York City—he moved here in 2008—he could technically qualify as an American composer, but since he already had a firmly established reputation in Europe before he emigrated, it seemed more appropriate to take my European guest to hear music by composers he would not have previously been exposed to.

It was a whirlwind. Every evening there were several equally viable options to choose from. On Monday night, I took him to Roulette to hear Face The Music, a group comprising young musicians from elementary to high school age who exclusively perform the music of living composers. While I was floored by their performance of the Fifth String Quartet of Philip Glass (admittedly a composer whom Michalis had heard of before), I was blown away by their inclusion of a work by 11-year-old composer named Abe Gold who not only crafted some extremely inventive sonic depictions of life in New York City, but also wowed the audience with comments before his performance in which he described being inspired by the recent Cindy Sherman exhibition at MoMA. The Metropolis Ensemble has also performed Gold’s music this year, but this was the first time I had heard any of it. I’m eager to hear more.

Merkin Bassoon

No cell phones went off during the Da Capo Chamber Players concert on Thursday night, but hearing someone try to keep up with what they were playing on a bassoon would have been pretty amazing.

On Tuesday, Michalis went to hear Sybarite5, winners of the 2011 Concert Artist Guild competition, perform premieres by Mohammed Fairouz, Dan Visconti, and Francis Schwartz for their Carnegie Hall debut at Zankel Hall. On Wednesday he wanted a night off to connect with a friend who is now living here, but on Thursday night the regime continued with the Da Capo Chamber Players at Merkin Concert Hall. They played music by Charles Wuorinen, Michael Gordon, Anna Clyne, Christopher Theofanidis, Elliott Carter, and Steve Reich. On Friday night, to make up for lost time, I took him to two concerts. First was a performance of all new unaccompanied choral works by C4, the Choral Composer-Conductor Collective at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields. This performance also afforded me an opportunity to tell him about and give him a recording of Wuorinen’s Mass which was composed to inaugurate the reopening of the church after a serious fire in the early 1980s. (It was one of 42 CDs I wrangled up for him to take back to Nicosia, which hopefully will cover some of the ground that we were unable to cover in person at live performances.) Then, we went to the Village Vanguard to catch the late set of the Greg Osby Quartet. On Saturday, some other colleagues of mine arranged for him to attend the Dither Quartet’s marathon at the Invisible Dog Arts Center, and then Grace Potter and The Nocturnals plus the Stepkids at The Beacon Theatre; these groups are not yet on my own musical radar but I love the Beacon. I still remember the first time I was there, more than 30 years ago, to hear Chinese opera. At the time it seemed a fait accompli that this beautiful venue was slated to be torn down and replaced by a fast food fried chicken emporium. Luckily, that birdbrained plan was averted.

But now Michalis is back home and life here returns to normal—well, my version of normal, which admittedly is actually not all that different from the week he was with us. A lot of ground was covered, but inevitably a lot was left out. If you were given the task of hosting someone for a week and introducing that person to American music, what would you include? What would you leave out? I would appreciate the input since I hope to be doing this again next year!

6 thoughts on “Introducing America

  1. Mark N. Grant

    Frank, in reciprocation didn’t Mr. Karakatsanis ever get around to mentioning the music of the greatest 20th century Cypriot composer, Anis Fuleihan? Fuleihan, best known for his short theremin concerto but a prolific composer in many genres, had a natural lyric gift and a wonderful ear for color. His music, to me, always sounds well in whatever guise. He is very unfairly neglected and well deserving of rediscovery and concert programming. He died in 1970. That shouldn’t make him uncontemporary or unmentionable.

    Reply
    1. Frank J. Oteri Post author

      Mark, thanks for the advocacy of Anis Fuleihan herein. I would love to hear his music; I’m obviously intrigued by a theremin concerto. How could I not be?

      As per always, however, I am extremely uncomfortable with declaring someone “the greatest” anything. Despite my own futile attempts to do so, I still have not heard the music of every composer (as you remind me of by mentioning Fuleihan herein) which I know makes me unqualified to declare anyone the greatest. But even if it were possible for me or anyone else to have heard every composer, wouldn’t you concede that the one who ultimately emerged as “the greatest” (if determining such was deemed to be the goal of all that listening) would have attained that status as a result of personal opinion which is ever variable?

      I tire of the pronouncements that Bach, Beethoven, Mozart or name your hero here was the greatest composer of all time. I’ve heard many such declarations over the years and believe them to be the scourge of classical music appreciation since they not only hinder people from discovering the wealth of extraordinary music that is out there (particularly the music of living composers who in such discussions can rarely compete with the dead), but also prevent a true appreciation for the music of the very icons they purport to elevate. How can you have a unique personal listening experience with something you accept as the greatest through a received opinion?

      Anyway, sorry for the rant here. You pressed one of my buttons! I am nevertheless thrilled to have been made aware of Fuleihan, so I thank you. But now to track his music down. It does not seem to be widely available at this point. But from what I’ve been able to glean thus far, he arrived in the USA at the age of 15, became a U.S. citizen at the age of 25 (in 1925), and lived mostly here for the remainder of his life, dying in California in 1970, so most likely I’ll have better luck searching for it in the United States rather than at the Cyprus Music Information Centre. But of course I’ll ask.

      Reply
      1. Colin Holter

        Two hearty “rights on” – one to Mark’s advocacy for Fuleihan and one to Frank’s skepticism toward greatests.

        Reply
      2. Houtaf Khoury

        Dear Mr. Mark,
        First of all, i am very delighted to know that we still have people who are interested in the Art of Anis Fuleihan . I doubt even if a FEW in this world could recognize his name even if he was popular in the 30/40th in the 20th Century . I would like to accent that Fuleihan is also a Lebanese from Lebanese Parents .. and he was the founder of the National Lebanese conservatory in the 50′s before going to Tunis and Finally to the States – San Fransisco . You are Right , we cannot find a lot of his recordings – The Most Famous one is his Theremin Concerto with Clara Rockmore .. but also a very fine recording of Carolina Eyck ( you can find easily her Website)… and Also there is a very beautiful recording of his own symphony N.2 performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under his direction . I cannot understand why this recording is not available!! As for his piano works, i started with my wife ,pianist Tatiana Primak khoury a project to record all his piano sonatas .They are 14 .. but we still missed out many’s . Also the next week the sonata N.9 will re-appears again among other Lebanese composers , please check our youtube ( houtafkhoury or tatiana primak khoury)
        Also you can see other recording . This is All for now. Hoe to hear from you.
        All the Best,
        Houtaf Khoury

        Reply
  2. Mark N. Grant

    Yes, you’re right, both of you! “Greatest” was surely not my best choice of word there. Sorry about that! I certainly cannot make any claim that Fuleihan is the greatest this, or that any composer is the greatest that. Did not mean to push your buttons!

    Frank, I couldn’t agree more with you on the urgent need to bring to recognition so many of history’s deserving composers, and that the “greatest” notion is a stumbling block to reviving the works of armies of obscure good composers. Perhaps that’s why I tried to flag Fuleihan, albeit with the wrong epithet here. Your article piqued my curiosity as to whether the contemporary musical community in Cyprus today views Fuleihan as a favorite son, as a disinherited outlier, or even as anything at all. To take another example from that area of the world: is Ennio Porrino, for instance, remembered at all by the contemporary musical community of Sardinia as a notable Sardinian composer? I have a CD of Porrino’s music and I find it interesting music, notwithstanding his Fascist sympathies (of some stripe like Mascagni or Casella, I don’t know). Porrino died in 1959, Fuleihan-who was widely performed in America in the 1940s by top players and orchestras-in 1970.

    How quickly passes the glory of even a brief candle in musical annals.

    Reply
  3. Robinson McClellan

    Thanks Frank for mentioning Abe Gold! He is a member of ComposerCraft, a seminar for middle-school composers I run at the Special Music School and Lucy Moses (both at the Kaufman Center. Abe is one of 11 frighteningly talented young composers in ComposerCraft, and the piece you mention is from a string quartet reading we held last March.

    Here is the rest of that String Quartet reading:

    And here is the ComposerCraft page, with more info and videos:
    https://www.facebook.com/ComposerCraft

    If you like what you see/hear, I’ll be expanding this composition curriculum to the High School level, in the brand-new SMS High School – applications due this Thursday.
    http://kaufman-center.org/sms/SMS-High-School

    Reply

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