Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This week Libby Larsen's three Cowboys Songs (1979) are featured at Pytheas. Here are some thought on them by Stephen Smoliar ...
"I have come across the name of Libby Larsen every now and then in the music reviews I read; but last night, at the end-of-term Art Song as Theatre recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I had my first opportunity to hear one of her songs. The song was the second of her three Cowboy Songs, "Lift Me Into Heaven Slowly," a setting of the poem "Sufi Sam Christian" by Robert Creeley. "Sufi Sam Christian" has received a blues interpretation by Steve Swallow in his combo ... but Larsen's approach is more like a latter-day perspective on the traditional "Cowboy's Lament," "The Streets of Laredo." This is not to say that she has imitated or borrowed (or deconstructed in the tradition of Charles Ives); rather, she managed to capture the way in which this particular folk song is mournful without being morose and translate that atmosphere to a contemporary piece of poetry. The "mission" of the Art Song as Theatre program is to get vocal students thinking about how best to express song texts by imagining them in a dramatic situation of their own making. For this particular song Creeley's cowboy was translated into a (female) victim of an automobile accident. I have no idea what the late poet would have thought of this approach to his text, but it certainly seemed to help the student performing Larsen's piece to achieve an effective level of poignancy in her delivery. As far as the general "mission" is concerned, I would say that sometimes the strategy works; and sometimes it doesn't. The performance of "Lift Me Into Heaven Slowly" was certainly one of the most effective of the evening, providing me with an excellent first impression of the music of Libby Larsen."

For more in-depth reading check out the the article "Songs from Letters and Cowboy Songs by Libby Larsen: Two Different Approaches to Western Mythology and Western Mythological Figures" by Glenda Denise Secrest.

As this week's Featured Thought Philip Glass brings a unique perspective on the world of non-pop art music in his inaugural Carte Blanche article, A Composer's Century available at Other articles in the Carte Blanche series include Forging the New: A Century of Performance Art by RoseLee Goldberg, On Sewing Machines and Self-Expression: Mapping the Future in Sound by Lisa Bielawa, Borne Back Ceaselessly Into the Past? by Greg Sandow, and Music and Technology: A Roundtable Discussion: Philip Glass moderates a discussion with four composers about digital technology's impact on new music.

And for all around fun and enjoyment check out this week's Pytheas Sighting from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) with music by the great Bernard Herrmann.

As always . . . let us know what you think.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

We start this week with some wonderful music - Silvestre Revueltas' String Quartet No. 4, "Música de Feria (Fair Music)" (1932) and George Crumb's Vox Balaenae, Part I (1971). Please share your thoughts on theses pieces and get the dialog started!

I'd also love to hear your reactions to this week's Pytheas Sighting Der Brandstifter (The Arsonist) (2003), a film by Ütz Matthias Stocklöw with music by Arnold Schoenberg . What a wild and creapy little film . . .
Welcome to Pytheas! This is an exciting time for the Pytheas Center as we reach out and share the world of contemporary non-pop music with all who are open to this wonderful art source. Just a few thoughts from minds greater than my own to get us going. EXPLORE, LISTEN & ENJOY!

Some people wish above all to conform to the rules, I wish only to render what I can hear. There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law.
~ Claude Debussy

I'll have to satisfy myself by knowing that the way I do my public service is by creating good art.
~ John Adams

Whether one calls oneself conservative or revolutionary, whether one composes in a conventional or progressive manner, whether one tries to imitate old styles or is destined to express new ideas, one must be convinced of the infallibility of one's own fantasy and one must believe in one's own inspiration.
~ Arnold Schoenberg