Contemporary music, piano and me

Since my sophomore year at Trenton State College (now College of New Jersey) I have had a fatal attraction to contemporary music against my parents’ wishes.  I often wonder if that was my way to escape to a place, where I could be myself without their interference, since they totally disapproved contemporary music.

During that year I heard for the first time a live performance of Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur with organist Albert Ludecke, who had a profound influence on developing my musical taste during college days.

No, I never played the organ, but thanks to him I became very interested in 20th Century French organ repertoire and composers such as Marcel Dupré, Charles Tournemire, Jehan Alain, Maurice Duruflé and many others.  That led to my research into the repertoire by those composers and into the discovery of a variety of their piano works.

I will never forget my excitement when I found and purchased a copy of the Préludes” of Olivier Messiaen, four of which I included on my college senior recital. As I recall, these pieces received the biggest applause at my recital.

Olivier Messiaen is almost a regular fixture on many recitals now, but years ago his music was not.

This led later to more discoveries of piano repertoire like the wonderful set of 12 “Préludespoèmes” by Charles Tournemire – something between the music of Debussy and Messiaen.  The interesting thing about this music was that some of it was written on 4 or more staves!

Through the years, I performed a number of these as well as the original piano version of Marcel Dupré popular organ workCortège and Litanie, Op. 19, No. 2” and of course, much Messiaen.

My master’s thesis at the Manhattan School of Music was of course, devoted to the music of one of the 20th century French organists and titled “A Seventy-Fifth Birthday Tribute to Maurice Durufle.” I still have 2 letters I treasure, written to me by the composer.

My fascination with obscure contemporary music continued when I discovered the music of Alan Hovhaness. This eventually led to the meeting and my friendship with the composer as well as to doctoral dissertation on a number of piano sonatas, and later 2 recordings of his piano music. I am planning in the near future to go more deeply into the subject of Hovhaness and my feeling about the very disappointing centennial year tributes.

From the time I turned my world upside down by researching piano music by French composers, I have that strange feeling, similar to hunger, that forces me to look for obscure music, almost to the point of obsession (at least my wife thinks so). When I see an exciting première recording coming out I almost get the shakes from all the excitement.

I do not know if I would be who I am without good music education and inspiring teachers. My interest in music has expanded in many different directions, and I do know that some of my interests have changed over the years. I might not care much now about music I loved before and vice versa.  Sometimes I must listen to a new work a few times before I like it, and I almost never reject anything permanently.  I am also evolving and a few years later I might change my opinion.

We should always try to remember that some of the musical warhorses of today were given poor reviews when they were first presented.

Regardless of what I am teaching, I always remember my teachers, what they did for me, and what I liked about them.  I might be the first to open the door of knowledge and encourage young students to discover the world of new music, the world I am so passionate about.

My students must learn repertoire from all periods, but I rarely see excitement when I hand them a new piece of Mozart or Schubert.  I know that eventually they may possibility learn to love this music, but for now I let them love the music of today such as that by Jennifer Castellano, René Eespere, Ludovico Einaudi, Philip Glass, Jaan Rääts, Yoichi Togawa, and the works of other living composers.

One of my young students confessed to me that after learning a piano work by Einaudi, he downloaded 20 different tracks of his music to his IPod. Not Lady Gaga but Einaudi? I was very excited to see this.

I enjoy seeing young faces when they shake the hand of a young composer (someone they can relate to) who wrote a work they just played.  I do remember how my student reacted after finding out the year a composer wrote a work she was playing. “Wow, I was 8 years old when this work was written.”

This is why new repertoire must be introduced to young students if we want them to step into 21st Century.

Whether I present, my Classical Discoveries program, a lecture or a piano recital, people are always asking me why we do not hear more music of our time. I know that only through exposure  you can change a person’s general opinion, but I also know that this is a rather complicated issue. Sometimes I do not know what to say to people without hurting their feelings.

The hardest thing for me is to understand why some people are so inflexible and closed-minded and are not willing to open their mind and ears, and accept the fact that there is much more to music than Mozart and Schubert. The answer may simply be is that people are comfortable only with the familiar.

These are typical comments I hear when strangers find out what I am doing:

  •      A.   I hate new music!
  •      Q.    When was the last time you heard music you hated?
  •      AO! In the seventies or eighties and now I never go to any new music concerts.
  •      Q.  That was many years ago. If you never heard any recently how do you know if you will still hate it?
  •      A.   No one can be better than Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky.
  •      Q.   Do you ever listen to recordings of new music?
  •      A.   No, I would not give this crap a chance, and all new music is crap!!!
  •      Q.    If you try just a little, you may change your opinion and like it.
  •      A .  No way.

It sounds like talking to the wall, but what is interesting, is that some of those non-believers have actually changed their mind. There was a commercial many years ago which included the phrase “Try it, you’ll like it.”  Maybe this should be the phrase to try to encourage listeners to give new music a chance?

A few weeks ago I presented a workshop “21st Century Piano Literature’ for the “Piano Teachers Forum” in Central New Jersey.  I performed and discussed new works from all over the world for all levels of piano students.

This is briefly what I wrote in my introduction to the list of recommended works for piano students:

I have been disturbed by the general lack of interest in the music of our time, for not only the piano, but for other instruments and ensembles as well.  Over the years, after speaking to some of my colleagues, I realized that it was not a lack of interest, but rather a lack of exposure. I have acquired many interesting recordings from all over the world for my radio program and have also received from composers some of their piano works for my personal use, due to my interest in contemporary piano literature. I am very happy to share some of that music with you.  In earlier centuries new music was greatly supported and I hope that this trend will eventually return.  I know that my students are very excited about playing music composed during their lifetime.

Based on the reaction during and after the presentation, as well as e-mails I received, the participating teachers were very excited about this workshop. Hopefully, some of the attending teachers will share this excitement about new music with their students. It is important for musicians and teachers to support the music of living composers.

I will be presenting 2 more workshops featuring 21st Century Piano Repertoire in the beginning of February. This time they will be with this year’s commissioned composer for “New Jersey Music Teachers Association (NJMTA), Jennifer Castellano. Jennifer will perform her own compositions and discuss her challenges as a visually and hearing-impaired musician. Jennifer (the second half of the Rosen – Castellano Duo) and I will be recording a CD of contemporary works for piano four-hands during the summer and will be presenting a few of these works during the upcoming workshops. The workshops will also include my performances of new piano repertoire as well, that I also intend to record soon.

If you are in the neighborhood of Princeton or Willow Grove and wish to attend as a guest either of those workshops please contact me at: marvinarosen@gmail.com

Music and copyright by Jennifer Castellano

Music and copyright by Jennifer Castellano

René Eespere:

Ludus Tactus (2008)

Yuko Yoshioka, Piano

Music: Yoichi Togawa
“Kaze no ha”for Piano
Piano: Yoshiko Takase

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Fourteen years already, where did the time go?

The  Classical Discoveries  home page motto is:

“Host and producer Marvin Rosen celebrates new music and living composers all year-long, on the air since May 1997”

The months of May and June are always memorable for me at the time when WPRB shifts into the summer schedule.  This is when, in 1997, I presented my first Classical Discoveries broadcasts.  The Avant-Garde Edition became a regular weekly program in the summer of 2008.

The best way to celebrate this is with music of course – especially with new music  composed from the time Classical Discoveries went on the air.  I am going celebrate my 14th radio anniversary with a trio of programs with music I love – New Music, Music by American Composers as well as music from the Baltic Region.

  • Monday, June 27, 2011 – 5:30 – 11:00 AM – LATVIA – FROM RIGA WITH LOVE – 2nd  show from Classical  Discoveries Around the World  Summer Travels Series, with special Latvian guest at 8:30.

Riga. View from St Peters Church

View of Riga

Ēriks Ešenvalds - photo by Aivars Krastiņš

I am very excited about this special that will be crowned by the visit of the very talented, young (born in 1977) Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds, who is known mainly for his choral works but  has written other works including the opera “Joseph Is a Fruitful Bough” (2007).  He is in the USA for a world première of his music by the Philadelphia Chamber Choir “The Crossing.”  Despite his young age, he has received many awards and has had his music performed in many countries around the world.

I am proud to say that his works were broadcast for the first time in the USA on Classical Discoveries.

The other composers that you can expect to hear on the first part of Monday’s program are: Rihards Dubra, Maija Einfelde, Janis Ivanovs, Imants Kalniņš, Juris Karlsons, Arturs Maskats, Georgs Pelecis, Pēteris Vasks, Jāzeps Vītols and Imants Zemzaris plus others.

  • Wednesday, June 29, 2011 from 5:30am till 1:00pm

7½ Hours Around the World.

Last year, on June 02, 2010 on a combined edition of both programs, I celebrated the 13th Anniversary of “Classical Discoveries” with a special: 11½ Hours Around the World. 

This year again,  7½ Hours Around the World.

I will present only music written in the last 14 years – the length of time “Classical Discoveries” has been on the air.

And here again, I am trying to prove that we do not have to be scared of new music and that there is so much exciting and wonderful music being written today. There will be some known names for listeners of my show and some totally unknown ones as well.  Included will be music by Robert Aldridge, Eric Biddington, Sylvia Bodorova, Ross Edwards, Gareth Farr, Giya Kancheli, Victoria Poleva, Somei Satoh, Valentin Silvestrov and many more.

 

 

  • Monday, July 04, 2011 – 5:30  – 11:00 AMUSAAMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL 15th July Fourth Special.

For the last 14 years I have presented one of 2 programs: Viva America – devoted to all American Composers or America the Beautiful – devoted to music describing USA landmarks.

Many composers have been inspired by the wonders and beauty of our country and that will be our theme this year when we travel this time just around the USA.

What can you expect from this special? You will definitely not hear Antonin Dvorak’s America inspired works and  will leave these for other stations.

You will instead hear works by, for example, Nancy Bloomer Deussen, Carson Cooman, Michael Daugherty, Don Gillis, Alan Hovhaness, Michael Mauldin, just to name some.

I hope that you can listen to at least some of these specials. Please check my website for more information closer to the broadcasts as well as Facebook.  It should be a very exciting trilogy. This is definitely a great way to celebrate the beginning of my fifteenth year on the air.



 

More about me

About me – continues

So what is so special about the radio and me?

I do not know? Maybe the fact that after 14 years I am still passionate about what I do. Luckily my wonderful wife, Beata, supports what I do. On our first date instead of ordering dinner we talked about Hovhaness, Penderecki, Bacewicz and the Górecki Third Symphony, which was little known here in the west then. I think I impressed her with my knowledge of Polish music!! I remember she also loved the way I played Chopin! I think I melted her heart at the time since she is very fussy about the interpretation of Chopin!

You must be thinking that I am crazy to do all this work as a volunteer. I am crazy and enjoy every moment of it.  I am also excited that I am in the position to share all the obscure works I air with my listening audience.

From the beginning, whether it was early or new music, I always wanted the listening audience to hear something that other radio stations were not playing.

Yes, I am very lucky that my radio station does not impose any guidelines and programming restrictions, otherwise it would not be possible to develop my program the way it is, and prove to the world that listeners are ready for change.

So far, I have broken every rule governing traditional classical music programming with the exception (to the point), of the more difficult modern music, which I never program during drive time but after 11:00am.

And yes, some might think that I do have rather unorthodox ideas regarding classical programming, but every one of my programs is well thought out and unique and has to my knowledge never offended anyone.

Oh no, I lied, on my first WPRB program I played the Rossini Cat Duet without announcing it and some lady called, yelling at me. She told me that everyone at WPRB was off the deep end or something to that effect.  I politely thanked her for her call, with the wild satisfaction of waiting to announce the composer. I would have loved to see her face at that moment. I also had a listener that I considered to be a stalker. He called me often and criticized my work all the time. I was wondering why he was listening, but now after all this time I actually might know why.

I always want to prove to the world that there is so much wonderful new music fitting every discriminating taste in our century. To illustrate this I presented my 1st annual program devoted to music of 21st century on January 1, 2003.

In addition, I have presented 4, 24 hour Marathons of new music. I have presented hundreds of $0 budget special programs focusing on various countries and regions as well as variety of programs on different subjects. I have presented programs on Young Composers (age 30 and below) and women composers. I have had over 60 guests, presented many Voyages Around The World and early music specials, etc.  All of these are posted on my website, where I have a page which lists all the special programs.

In addition to the programs I have created already, my head is still full of ideas about programs that I never will be able to share due to the lack of time. With all the new music coming from all over the world something must give.

 

I have presented many world and American première broadcasts. My listeners have known Peteris Vasks and Paweł Łukaszewski long before they hit the NY radio waves and yes, Grażyna Bacewicz was on my first program 14 years ago.

I do not believe in occasional tokens in between the warhorses. I do not believe that you only can play certain types of music during drive time (no choral music) etc.

My listeners come from all social and age groups from college professors to tractor-trailer drivers. I am always trying to prove that there is music for everyone!

I have found out that once a listener develops trust in you, they would be willing to give anything a chance. My listeners have told me that because of my program they now attend concerts of new music.  With today’s CD prices, no one will buy music that they never heard before.

I know for a fact that many listeners have purchased CDs they have heard on my program and composers have gotten commissions for new works, after someone heard their music on my show.Yes, this is music to my ears.

I do not claim that every work written today is good. I do not claim that the music I present is or will be considered a masterpiece in the future.

Based on the past experience it would be arrogant of me to do that.

The music that I share with my listeners must have some value for me and bring me joy. I must like it or find it interesting.

Only the future will tell if the various works I play from the end of the 20th or 21st centuries will someday be considered great, stipulating that we have a 22nd century and our planet survives mistreatment, abuse and rape.

 

 

 

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