Comments from ACOs December 7, 1997 concert at Carnegie Hall
Without a doubt, Robert Ashleys When Famous Last Words Fail You, which received its world premiere performance, was the most controversial piece on the program, eliciting the widest gamut of opinions. The piece featured baritone Thomas Buckner and a chorus of Joan LaBarbara, Jacqueline Humbert, and Sam Ashley. The text, written by Ashley, concerns a jazz musician who has invented the immortality salve which allows the user to live forever. The orchestral parts of When Famous Last Words Fail You consisted entirely of one pitch: A.
Many in the audience felt When Famous Last Words Fail You was experimental and some found it surprising that Ashley, a composer better known for his work with electronics and music theater rather than orchestral forces, was included on the program. Some thought When Famous Last Words Fail You was the most effective work on the program, others felt it was "a waste of time." A sampling of the comments we received:
"I'm impressed it was programmed...
One audience member suggested renaming When Famous Last Words Fail You "The Endless Drone." Here are some other alternate title suggestions from the audience:
"A 437, 438, 439, 440, 441, 442, 443""Orchestral Rap""'The Age of Stupidity on A' after V. Nabakov""Prophetic Revelations""Four Singers in Search of a Tune""When All the Rest of the 11 Notes Fail Him""Science at the End of Time""Much Ado About Nothing""The Agit-Prop Revue""Flake or Fake?"
Sebastian Currier's Microsymph, also commissioned by ACO, received its world premiere on December 7. The composer described the piece as "a five movement symphony squeezed into ten minutes. A frantically paced, restless, quick-changing kaleidoscope." The work included a "minute waltz" and what the composer calls a "60 billion nanosecond scherzo." Many in the audience picked up on the composer's novel play on symphonic traditions, form and orchestration, and on the composer's compression of time and sense of fun, citing Microsymph as the most effective piece on the program:
"Microsymph was chock full of ideas, concise and to the point.
One listener suggested renaming Microsymph "Sinfonietta." ("Microsymph sounds like software"). Another called it, "The Little Symphony That Could." One creative dissenter suggested "Macrobore." Here are a few more suggested titles:
"Grand Canyon Symphony""Danse Microphonic""It's Not All Pink on the Inside""Star Searching""Classical Symphony"
Many commented that Lou Harrison's Symphony on G sounded the most "traditional" of the works on the program. Certainly the fact that this is an early work of Harrison's bears this out. Curiously though, it was written based on Schoenberg's 12-tone technique, which has--in the minds of many casual listeners--been synonymous with the avant-garde. Among the comments:
"It is fascinating how dated twelve-tone music has become.
A few listeners commented in particular on the effectiveness of the Symphony on G's finale:
"it tied the whole piece together.""Most effective was the clarinet playing
And not to be left out, a few creative listeners suggested that Harrison's Scherzo movement be re-christened "Dance of the Feisty Felines." Others suggested:
"The Sound of Mathematics""Symphony on an American Mountaineer""Totally Tonal""Symphonic Expressions"
Kim Kashkashian was the soloist in the first American performance by this French/American composer, who is a former student of Messiaen's. Several listeners commented on what they perceived as a conservative streak in Ms. Jolas' music:
"Betsy's piece sounded traditional in its debt
On the other hand one member of the audience felt that
And one concertgoer, who clearly knows the repertoire of viola jokes commented that the Frauenleben showed that "The viola is not as bad as it sounds." Another called the piece "Nine Witty Ideas for a Viola Concerto," while a third suggested the music sounded like "Dull Songs for Viola & Orchestra (performed well)."
Last But Not Least...
Several style-conscious subscribers couldn't refrain from commenting on how effective music director Dennis Russell Davies' new hair style was. Over the summer, maestro Davies lost his trademark ponytail. We hadn't thought of including a survey question on hair... maybe for the next concert.