Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tale 5: Chosen Family - Episodes 2-5 rough draft first quarter

"I would like to begin this lecture by addressing the obvious question which it poses. I call this an antisemitic lecture. Why? Because there has been an unfortunate stigma in recent history surrounding antisemitism and I feel it is very important to consider the benefits of antisemitism as well as the disadvantages. To state this fact is not, my god, to condone acts of antisemitism, but to defend the very useful concept of antisemitism itself from the threat of its disappearance.

I find the concept of antisemitism very interesting because it is grounded in certainties that should be obvious to all of us. First thing: Through an accident of history, Judaism was positioned at the center between Europe, Asia, and Africa, a center through which ideas could travel with a facility which is impossible elsewhere. Monotheism may have been invented twenty or three-hundred thousand years before Judaism in Myanmar or Peru, or discovered millions of times in millions of places, but in an age before mass communication or transit, the widespread exportation is impossible in any place but Israel. In an age before monotheism, no legal codes could be binding because all legality was grounded in holy protection, and no god of one region could have binding authority in another. But when there is one God, law becomes universal. The necessity of records becomes permanent.

Second Thing: The greater organization of the Hebrew people enabled an accelerated human rate of development. Their empire under David and Solomon rose to eminence at far greater speed due to their greater intellectual and organizational development, but the newness of their techniques and outlook also facilitated a decline just as sudden.

Why? Because until their empire, the Hebrews were a tribe of bedouin refugees, absorbing the influences of the Canaanites, of Egypt, of Mesopotamia, and not only was the encirclement what sealed their sudden decline, it was also the newness of their outlook that threatened the superstructure - in places where values are less universal, organization is less necessary. The Hebrew Empire declined so quickly that its subjects never forgot how to live as refugees.

What I find so interesting about this is the ideological roots of Judaism in a pre-ideological era then causes Judaism to forever walk its certainties back. It is the original Hegelian dialectic. Everything in the world is ideology, and Judaism commits the original sin in believing that ideology can be transcended. It arrives at the universal superstructure, but believes that by study and reason and statistics, we can limit ideology and dogma by arriving at an interpretation of dogma that is more flexible and humane. But humanity does not need a humane dogma, it needs ruthlessly correct dogma and ideology applied to all things.

Third thing: the malicious original sin of Judaism is that by accepting incorrect ideology, it perverts incorrect ideology into something humane and livable, a practical and pleasant temporary solution that can only work for a few thousand years rather than forever. And there is therefore a direct line from Judaism to capitalism, which prevents the enactment of permanent solutions, and it is Judaism that prevents seeing the incorrectness of of capitalist ideology which sanctions inequalities.

The misnomer is that any circumstances exist outside of the ideological superstructure. There is no perception that exists outside of ideology. Therefore, the ideology which controls our lives is capitalism. Why? Because capitalism is the ideology that allows for individual differences that allow for inequality and authorize murder, torture, rape, exploitation, capitalism and Judaism. Many people like to point to the relative inequalities of capitalism that make inequality tolerable. These capitalists point to statistics that demonstrate the apparently relative inequalities of the capitalist hegemony. Why? Because statistics and facts are an incorrect ideology that require theological faith to believe, and therefore contorts dogma into intolerable ambiguities that prevent permanent solutions.

The ambiguity

With the isolation enforced upon them in exile, the Jewish people had to assume all those characteristics which they were assumed to possess - thereby becoming the simultaneous possessor of the greatest and worst of humanity's qualities, at all times inhabiting the spirit of both Jesus and Caiaphas in dialectic, and in doing so become humanity's most perfect victim and most perfect predator. No sooner are they granted communities and countries of their own than they resume the detestable intolerance which has always been their modus operandi, an intolerance which they then taught to Christians and have no one to blame but themselves for the revisitation of the persecution they perpetrated upon Christians then upon themselves, however many thousandfold times more severe. In traumatic and dangerous circumstances, they developed their most particular qualities to the greatest extremes. They developed intelligence to such an extent that they turned it into pedantry, and similarly turned criticism into intolerance, industry into greed, altruism into fanaticism. The most fanatical champions of capitalism and communism, inventors of the Church and the greatest champions of liberalism and pluralism, the first to spread the Gospel in West and the last to deny it. the most influential monotheistic thinkers like Solomon and Jesus, and the most influential atheisticals like Marx and Spinoza. They even became extreme, and perhaps especially extreme, when trying to pursue moderation. So preoccupied with dogma and the elimination of ambiguity that they perpetually dwell in an ambiguous neither region between dogmas, where mankind cannot transcend the dogmas of its human condition into any greater state of being. It is, through an accident of history, Judaism, which at first glance looks like such a blessing, yet is clearly humanity's greatest impediment. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tale 5: Chosen Family - Episode 1

We begin with an antisemitic lecture by Miroslav Zuckerman-Rabinovich. Since 1980, Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovitch has been a Professor of Marxist Theory at the University of Bratislava. In the mid 1980s, he rose to prominence in Czechoslovakia for refusing to sign his name to a document condemning thirty-two of his colleagues already fired for counterrevolutionary tendencies, though recent evidence has shown that he was in fact the author of the document. In 1993 he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Sexuality at the Freiuniversitat of Berlin on account of his treatise on perversion: Die Geschichte der Perversionen von der urzeit bis zum Dritten Jahrtausend und von der Saülingsalter aus dem Totenstarre. Eine historische und soziologische und psychologische betrachtung über die Ursachen und Wirkungen und so weiter which became an international bestseller. In 1999, he was appointed Distinguished Fellow of Lacanian Fetishism at the Ontological Institute of Social Action at the London School of Economics following the runaway success of his second best seller - Capitalism: A Degenerate's Instruction Manual. In 2003, he was appointed Professeur Distingue at the Sorbonne for his French bestseller: La Dialectique, l'autre, et la jouissance dans Bush, Saddam, et Jerry Lewis. The book did not do as well in translation. In 2006, Columbia University appointed him University Professor, their highest Professorial chair given to only twenty people throughout the history of the school. In his case the Robert Guccione University Professor of Pornographic Cinema on account of his third international best-seller: The Phenomenology of Ejaculate. 

In the last ten years the Professor has written no less than fifty books, none of which contain footnotes. He gained particular recognition in May 2013 when in the span of a single week, he submitted four books for publishing under the titles:  Harry Potter and The Epistemological Break, Revenge of the Sith at The End of History, The Dark Knight's Historical Unconscious, Tokyo Drift: The Fast and The Furious and the Sublimation of the Death Drive - but he was thereafter sued by MIT publishing because all four books contained the exact same text. The Professor's defense attorney claimed he intended it as a heuristic statement.

While Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovitch describes himself as an unreformed Marxist, he's also had something resembling a second career as a copy editor for the J Crew Catalogue, ensuring that all of its catalogue descriptions have a self-reflexive, ironically knowing, and implicit Marxist critique of itself which allows consumers from the bourgeois elite to congratulate themselves for their awareness of their imminent demise due to the superstructure and everything the superstructure tells them to hold dear drawing ever closer to collapse with every shirt purchase. The Guardian recently reported that Professor Rabinovitch is paid $40,000 per issue.

In 2014 the Professor also found himself embroiled in simultaneous paternity suits from graduate students at every Ivy League University. Each case was settled out of court, but Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich used the experience to write a controversial book on feminism in which he argues there can be no true feminism until feminists recognize the inherent right of every woman to choose to subject herself to exploitation. It was hailed by Jacobin magazine as a ground breaking work of social theory. Z Magazine called it the greatest revelation in feminist thought since Stan Goff. The eighty-page book can be found in stores everywhere for $34.95.

Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich has occasionally been mentioned as a socialist candidate for President of the European Union Council. He has, however, stipulated that the dissolution of the EU is a precondition of his accepting the job. In the past two years, Zuckerman-Rabinovich became a surrogate speaker on campaign trails for socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Jeremy Corbyn, and Jean-Luc Melenchon. Each campaign refused to disclose how much the Professor was paid for his assistance, but the Professor assured the public in an interview with Russia Today that he was only paid what every person should earn in properly administered social democracies. Tune in tomorrow to hear the antisemitic insights of one of the intellectual giants of our time. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Orchestral Review Dump (more reviews added in coming weeks)

Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nezet Seguin Tchaikovsky/Bartok - Yannick Nezet-Seguin is so unbelievably gifted and charismatic, it's doubly a shame he's clearly such a superficial personality. Perhaps he's the perfect man to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra into a long-term renaissance - the Philly O was the pioneer of the orchestra as a luxury product. Stokowski performed all manner of new music in his twenty-five years in Philly, but one could make the argument that it was in 1910's, 20's, 30's Philadelphia that classical music making first became more an exotic media event than a way of life. Perhaps such a development was inevitable in America, but if we have anyone to blame for it, blame the city of Philly and their orchestra which is greater than it deserves to be. Philly has apparently longed for all manner of deeper conductors to be their MD over the years, Simon Rattle, Riccardo Chailly, Vladimir Jurowski... Can you really imagine any of them in Philly? They hired Christoph Eschenbach, who for all his faults can 'out-deep' any baton-wielder in the world, and the result was apparently a disaster.

I have faith that other young'un Maestrini based in America like Andris Nelsons and Gustavo Dudamel can grow into great musicians. I have faith in YNS's skill, but he makes music like a person who banks on the fact that charm can get him everywhere in life. What if it can't?

In music for which charm works its magic - non-German Opera, fin de siecle French rep, YNS is magnificent. Swan Lake is perfect for him, Petrushka was nearly perfect for him (extraordinary as it was, it was missing a Russian exoticism that Dudamel provided in google quantity). Some people love his Bruckner and Mahler, I have yet to be impressed by it. But Bluebeard's Castle? Please. Bluebeard's Castle should never be taken on by a musician who is well-adjusted. There are bigger operatic tragedies, even among the one-acters, but there has never been an opera that can match it for sheer glum feeling. What better way to celebrate my 35th birthday...

Glum, yes, and with an exceedingly perky conductor to warp it into something it's not, but it was a chance to hear the Rolls Royce of Orchestras play a daunting score I adore. And oh my god, has anyone ever heard that level of clarity in Bartok? I barely remember anything about Michelle De Young or John Relyea's performances, and all I can say for YNS's contribution is that he made Bluebeard's Castle feel like a 1930's B-Movie creeper played with a fantastic sound system - this was an entirely too healthy Bluebeard, fast tempos and the loudest sounds I've ever heard an orchestra make. The New York Times loved it, but this performance seemed to beckon to me by saying 'listen to how ghooooulish this is.' If Ravel had composed Bluebeard (a Borgesian idea I suppose...), it would have sounded like what we heard. But for all the performance's loudness, the violence of Bluebeard's Castle never came through. Bluebeard's Castle can never wink, because it is something far more quiet and inward. Bluebeard's had a number of podium masters over the years who understand how to dig deep into its expressionistic gloom, (Top 5: Dohnanyi, Dorati, Sawallisch, Solti, Kertesz but more in his case for his singers) and understand that there is something far subtler and more devastating at work. The score exists in that expressionistic neither region between depression, eroticism, and violence. That dark well of the spirit, the animal that appears without warning, so ready to swallow its prey that by the time the victim sees the beast, it doesn't have a chance. Bartok paints with the orchestra in the colors of Grosz and Dix and Schiele and Kokoschka. There was no expressionistic opera composer equivalent to Wagner, but if you combine the results of semi-expressionist works like Pelleas, Salome, Elektra, Bluebeard, Makropulos Case, Wozzeck, Lulu, and the 4 of Schoenberg, you get an achievement that can hold its own to Wagner. Perhaps a style that is so dark that no artist can keep it up for the entirety of his career, and eventually everybody (except Schoenberg) has to lighten up...

Christoph von shows how it's done...

Baltimore Symphony Concerts (more added in the coming weeks with NSO concerts too...)

Nicholas McGegan: Gluck/Schubert/Mozart/Mendelssohn - Most of it was great. A great violinist in Hakan Kraggerrud who managed the near-impossible feat of making Mozart's 3rd violin concerto interesting, Schubert;s Overture in the Italian Style - hardly Schubert's best piece but rhythmically precise and punchy in the way Schubert needs while letting the harmonies emerge and the melodies breathe. Some delightful small Rameau numbers from his opera Dardanus which made a fantastic case for Baroque composers other than Bach.

But then came a depressing moment when I realized that I'm sick of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony. It's an exercise in agility needs enormous amounts of rehearsal, it needs a conductor with a fantastically clear beat, and even on the rare moments it's played well, it's an astonishingly trivial piece of music. A good performance of it needs crystalline technical acumen, and it yields very few rewards deeper than its technique.

The goodness of the program's first half was purchased at the fact that the Italian Symphony got a leaden, lifeless performance in which tempos slowed in the fast movements and slow passages passed without nary a thought about phrasing and expressivity.

Here's a performance so good it can convince you the Italian Symphony might be better than it seems...

Yan Pascal Tortelier: Dukas/Chausson/Ravel/Stravinsky

I was really, really, REALLY looking forward to this program. Unfortunately, it had nearly the exact same problem as the program before.

Yan Pascal Tortelier, so far as I know, nearly became the BSO music director at least once, maybe twice, and who knows, perhaps he turned down an offer to be their Principal Guest too. Whether Baltimore or anywhere else, he is as beloved a guest conductor as the world has. He's musical royalty, his father, whom he looks exactly like, was Paul Tortelier, one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. He goes around the world, playing the repertoire favorites, occasionally using the credit he earns to introduce the world to less familiar pieces of music. He can be magnificent, but you have to figure that a world traveller has to phone it in as often as he catches fire. He beats time with his bare hands with as little emphasis as a jazz band director (or Boulez and Harnoncourt), and if he feels like it, he dances around to indicate the character of the musical moment in a manner orchestras seem to find very inspiring.

He's as far from a musical drill sergeant as the podium world gets, and seems perfectly content to let music breathe to its fullest potential. If the tempo slows down, so be it, if ensemble hangs by a thread, who cares. It's perfectly fine if there's enough rehearsal time for the orchestra to acclimate to what will happen in concert, but if there isn't, hoo boy...

The Sorcerer's Apprentice was clearly well-rehearsed. The already slow tempo got a little slower as the performance went on, nothing was particularly precise, but every phrase seemed to have a newly minted emphasis, an inner voice pointed up, a special color, hundreds of details a standard performance wouldn't make you notice. You'd never think this music could sparkle at so slow a tempo, yet it practically gleamed.

Augustin Hadelich is one of the world's great young violinists, and in these small French pieces he lived up to his enormous reputation. The problem, for me at least, is that Chausson's Poeme is a truly dull piece of music - generically pretty but little more. Ravel's Tzigane on the other hand, is a genuine masterpiece in miniature. Another of Ravel's dozens upon dozens of perfectly cut jewels. The first half-or-so of the piece the violin plays alone, and then the orchestra and violin both have nearly impossible jobs to fulfill. The violinist, impossible technical feats, the orchestra to keep up with him. Tortelier, even with his lassez-faire approach to ensemble, was right with Hadelich.

Which made the final piece on the program, which should be the crowning glory, even more disappointing. A Petrushka performance should always feel like a party, and yet this was a party that consisted of five nerdy dudes who don't know each other sitting on the couch. Ensemble was embarrassingly ragged, which would of course be excusable if there were any character in the playing, but there was none, nor was there much indication that there should be from Tortelier. What a disappointment from such a wonderful conductor.

Tortelier when he's on

Lodivic Morlot - Paganini/Berlioz: I had no idea whom Ray Chen was before tonight, but this is clearly a violinist determined to be as big as Itzhak Perlman. His technique is fallible, which in Paganini is both understandable due to Paganini's impossibile demands and unforgivable due to Paganini's substancelessness. But Chen's communicative energy is infinite, he gave an introduction to the piece that was as substanceless as it was clearly designed to establish rapport with the audience. After the 40 minute concerto, for which the violinist basically plays alone with an occasional chord from the orchestra, Chen played two encores, each of which were well over five minutes long. A Paganini caprice - I think the eighth, and a movement from the Ysaye sonatas. I don't know if this violinist has the goods to be a superstar, but he certainly has the ambition, and could easily drive himself to get there.

I would also like to hear a performance of the Symphonie Fantastique in my adult lifetime in which something besides the last two movements are rehearsed (top 5 recordings: Munch/Paris, Bernstein/Paris, Dudamel/Paris, Monteux/San Francisco, Gardiner, HM's to Norrington/London, Paray/Paris, Boulez/Cleveland, Muti/Philadelphia, Munch/Ten other performances). As a teenager I was fortunate enough to not only hear David Zinman play the piece, in which he excelled, but also Mariss Jansons, which was a once-in-a-lifetime, bone-chilling experience from a conductor who has lost the special something he had before he became a generational superstar.

Lodivic Morlot can get a very impressive sound from the orchestra, and the loud moments and crescendos could probably be heard in the next county. But I can't say there was much to otherwise recommend this performance. The first three movements might as well have been conducted by a robot. I was grateful to hear the third movement taken at a heady clip to offset the boredom it sets in so often, but only in the last two movements heard we something that sounded like anybody cared. Ensemble tightened, the sound became more focused, the dynamic range extended. I know an all-flash conductor when I hear one, and this was a performance designed to get a standing ovation and then be forgotten. Morlot has clearly done some admirable work with the Seattle Symphony, like a complete Dutilleux cycle, but if he's leaving after eight years, he probably only did it to chase larger-name orchestras.

Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony doing the Symphonie Fantastique for all time. 

Marin Alsop - Part/Stravinsky/Rachmaninov: When Marin Alsop is good, she is really really good. I think we all wish it would happen more often.

Once a year, I understand the phenomenon that is Arvo Part, and then the appeal of it disappears. Clearly, he's beloved for his predictability, his meditativeness, his unquestioning faith, his lack of demands upon the listener. Once a year, his music seems to cast a spell on me. The next day, I put the music on again, and could scream from boredom.

But the Credo was written by the young Part, still finding his musical voice, in the midst of transition from twelve-tone music to his later style. Building a third layer on top of the Bach 1st WTC prelude and the Gounod Ave Maria, and contrasting it with the 'evils' of twelve-tone and aleatoric music. As dry as I often find it, I can't say that I find either style to be 'evil.' And yet, it was simply used as a manifestation of pain and suffering, and did a wonderfully moving job as such. The work can't possibly make the same impact on recording that it does live, but the live experience was unforgettable. In many ways the singular concert hall experience I've had in 2017.

For the first time, I found tears in my eyes while listening to a composer who seems to provoke tears in so many others. This was music of an unpredictability found in late-Soviet cohorts like Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Schchedrin, Penderecki, Balakauskas, but never, so I thought, in Part. Perhaps it was thinking of '68 and the Prague Spring and the general air of resistance that surrounded the world in that year, or my own turn to religion in the last two years, but it was precisely the piece of music I needed to hear in 2017.

To my astonishment, I'd never heard the Symphony of Psalms live until Friday, and objectively, I know that the Symphony of Psalms is a towering masterpiece, one which I love deeply (top 5 recordings: Ancerl, Gardiner, Stravinsky I, Preston, Celibidache) but even though the BSO and the UMD Concert Choir and Alsop gave a very good performance in many ways, there is simply no way its austerities could compete in my mind with the unexpectedness of Part's Mahlerian theatricality. It seemed apiece with still later Stravinsky, giving no compromise in its hermeticisms to the demands of an audience not in a frame of mind to apprehend its difficulties. I hope I can hear this piece I love again live in a better frame of mind...

Symphony of Psalms - eternity in twenty minutes...

I honestly thought I'd made my peace with Rachmaninov's second symphony. A few months ago I heard a few performances that convinced me that this music is something other than predictable (Top 5 - Svetlanov, Sanderling, Gergiev in London, Pletnev II, N Jarvi in Amsterdam, honorable mention to Rozhdestvensky in London and Golovanov's bewildering weirdness... - sometimes I really love this piece), expressing emotions in nothing but their most obvious and insipid states. And yet, here I was, rolling my eyes yet again at Rachmaninov's sentimental slop. His technique is faultless. I know this piece nearly by memory and yet I find new formal relationships every time I listen. Rachmaninov constructs absolutely perfect musical paragraphs, but why don't they say more than they do?

It's doubly a shame, because the BSO's performance was as good as it was ever going to be. Anne Midgette didn't much care for it and blamed the performance for what seems to me to be Rachmaninov's fault. As a musician, there is little you can do but be unashamed of Rachmaninov's sentimentality and throw caution to the wind. Except for a few awkward rubatos in certain places, this was a completely straightforward, no muss, performance. It's not a lousy piece of music, but it's one of those weird pieces whose greatness will only reveal itself when you wake up on the east side of your bed. 

How to play Rach 2 like the great symphony it sometimes seems...

Markus Stenz: Mendelssohn/Ravel/Stravinsky

Let's skip the (excellent) first half of the concert. Even though it had two favorite pieces of mine - Ravel's Piano Concerto (the 'two-hand' one...) and Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyages Overture. In most ways, they're better pieces of music than the main course, but in the face of a Firebird of such molten power, all I can say is that a master was on the podium, and the Finnish pianist, Juho Pohjonen, is going to have a major career. Let's get straight to the point, which is that I doubt either I or you will ever hear The Firebird played better than we heard it this weekend.

Excepting perhaps its difficulty, I don't understand why more conductors don't do The Firebird complete. It's an absolute feast of music, and there. To be sure there are a few duds among recordings, even among the greats - Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, and Michael Tilson Thomas, all of whose recordings are praised to the skies, and Mariss Jansons, whom I heard play The Firebird with vividness of which I thought I'd never hear the equal until this weekend. 

Nearly every conductor who takes on the complete score seems to make it into their own. Best of all is perhaps Pierre Boulez, not a musician I generally warm to - nor one to whom I'm meant. Per usual, he takes music which others make shimmer and put it into a marvel of pristine clarity. In Boulez's all too precise hands, the sense of theater is banished. Moments that pack a thrill and wallop a minute are deliberately underplayed, and in its place is a human-sized score that perhaps should be larger than life. But Boulez finds a depth few other conductors explore. By emphasizing the modern objectivity of Stravinsky's most romantic score, The Firebird becomes as logical and even melodic as anything in Mozart or Beethoven. 

One must work with the composer instead of against him. In Mahler, such deliberate order in the face of Mahler's visceral chaos is thoroughly inappropriate, in Stravinsky it's almost demanded. Stravinsky's own recording of the ballet is not too distant in spirit from Boulez; the unbendable logic of Stravinsky's mind makes this supposedly exotic score into something utterly apiece with everything else he wrote. 

In Ernest Ansermet we not only had a conductor who knew Stravinsky intimately well (until their falling out), but also directed an orchestra for fifty years with a make of instruments that the the young Stravinsky would have recognized. By the technical standards of today, the Suisse Romande Orchestra sounds like a not particularly elite conservatory orchestra, and they can barely handle the 'Infernal Dance' when they play it at 80 % normal speed; but the textures of their old-style French instruments attain a new and natural clarity with French instruments that obdurately refuse to blend with each other - give us this sloppiness a thousand times over the antisepsis of contemporary ensembles. Ansermet, longtime conductor of the Ballet Russes, seems to conjure the spirit of the Ballet Russes. The music becomes gestural, almost cinematic in how it paints moods. You can almost hear Folkine and Diaghilev saying "We need sixteen bars of fear here, then about two minutes of flight music, then give us some ominous rumbles over here, maybe you could use a bass drum?..." Other conductors give you Stravinsky's music, but Ansermet gives you what Stravinsky's music is for. 

The lightening quick rise of Francois-Xavier Roth is matched by a performance that takes flight. His quasi-period band, Les Siecles, does not sound particularly different from other orchestras, certainly not in comparison to Ansermet's Geneva orchestra of old, just a bit mellower and blended than a traditional symphony orchestra - and aren't French instruments supposed to not blend? But the mellowness of their timbres allows for a kind of lightness of virtuosity that is positively astounding. 

The twenty-something Esa-Pekka Salonen (who looked exactly like the fifty-something Esa-Pekka) gives a reading that is very much a Boulez-in-training. There's the same inexorable logic and mastery of pacing. In a manner perhaps no other reading does, it 'feels' exactly right. But unfortunately, Salonen clearly aims for a virtuosity beyond what Boulez demands, and the young Salonen is not quite up to obtaining it. Salonen represents the first generation of musicians for whom Stravinsky's idiom holds no challenges. As he matured, he's become perhaps the greatest of all Stravinsky conductors - greater even than Gergiev and Rattle in his generation, perhaps even greater than Ansermet and Bernstein and Craft and Ancerl. When the mature Salonen re-records The Firebird, it's hard to believe he won't unleash a Firebird of a depth beyond even Boulez's. 

On the other hand, in the meantime there's a youtube live relay of The Firebird by Salonen in Los Angeles that thoroughly lives up to Salonen's potential and the greatness of his achievement in LA. The middle-aged Salonen still hasn't 'solved' the second half of The Firebird, and in both cases, the performance loses a bit of steam a few minutes before the Danse Infernal. Even so, the performance is utterly different than either Boulez or the young Salonen - much closer in many ways to the more passionate performances listed below. When Salonen finally nails it, it'll be greater than Boulez. If Boulez is great in three dimensions, then Salonen is great in four. His Stravinsky effortlessly marries logic and precision to passion. Salonen is the best evidence we have that the world finally 'gets' Stravinsky.

We still don't have a great complete Firebird that's truly 'Russian', Gergiev's performance with the Mariinsky has the rawness of Russian instruments and extremes of tempo and dynamics, but they take half the work's length to truly heat things up. In Andris Nelsons's recent Birmingham recording, The Firebird is its traditionally shimmering, languid self. Modernism is utterly banished from its vocabulary, and it's much closer to the world of Stravinsky's mentor Rimsky-Korsakov than later Stravinsky. It's not wrongheaded, it's just not the whole story. Dmitri Kitaenko, a much older Soviet conductor, creates languor with a relaxed poetry that never pushes the music - like a Russian Debussy or Delius. Rattle's recording (with the same orchestra as Nelsons twenty years earlier) is shimmering in a much more theatrical, ecstatic, way. Similar to Kitaenko, it looks neither forward nor backward but sideways, in Rattle's case to more elephantine and Teutonic contemporaries of early Stravinsky like Mahler and Richard Strauss. Rattle captures the zeitgeist of the era that created Stravinsky, and which Stravinsky would soon rebel against. If Rattle captures a zeitgeist, then Valery Gergiev captures an ortgeist, or a traumgeist. His archetypally 'Russian' Firebird, ironically best captured in a video with the Vienna Philharmonic, arrives from a dark well of spirit, where dream-like images arrive to our minds unbidden - perhaps Scriabin's stepchild. 

But there is very little shimmer in Stenz's Stravinsky. The closest recordings in spirit to it are Christoph von Dohnanyi's and Antal Dorati's - electric Firebirds with the strangeness of every sound maximized. Continuous visceral thrills in which the excitement of listening can be felt in your body. In Dohnanyi's case, the interpretation unmistakably feels a bit like shallow virtuosity (Bernard Haitink's is the opposite - rigorous and deep at the expense of virtuosity and excitement). However brilliant the playing, the lyricism of the score is nowhere to be found. But not even Dorati could compare to Stenz's theatricality. Over and over again, I was put in mind of Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces, not just for the enormity of the dynamics, but the pointilistic way Stenz illuminated the orchestral colors which registered like dots on a canvas, or like Schoenberg's endlessly discussed way of altering colors, the 'Klangfarbenmelodien.' 

(Ranking of Best Recorded Firebirds
Honorable Mention to the Salonen aircheck in Los Angeles
1. Boulez/Chicago (Depth)
2. Gergiev/Vienna (Dynamism)
3. Dorati/London (Fire)
4. Rattle/Birmingham (Romanticism)
5. Stravinsky/Columbia (Authenticity) 
6. Salonen/Philharmonia (Rightness)
7. Ansermet/Suisse Romande ('Frenchness') 
8. Kitaenko/Danish Radio (Poetry and Ease)
9. Nelsons/Birmingham (Languor) 
10. Roth/Les Siecles (Propulsion)  
11. Dohnanyi/Vienna (Virtuosity)
12. Haitink/London (Rigor)

This was an 'expressionist' Firebird, akin to how Mitropoulos or Scherchen might have interpreted it. I've been fortunate enough to hear at least four live Firebirds, Jansons, Noseda, Nezet-Seguin, and Stenz. All good, and fully three of them - Jansons, Nezet-Seguin, and Stenz, were no less than great. But only Stenz had extra insight and nuance that gave the more substance than merely superlative playing and excitement give. I recall vividly the enormous range of dynamics Jansons presented, with colors as vivid as those you see. In the finale, he went from the faintest whisper to a glorious firing of all torpedoes in the Pittsburgh Symphony. And yet when Stenz did the same passage, it was a continual crescendo, every bass drum hit louder than the previous one, the brass slightly louder than a moment previously, the orchestra accumulating intensity from one beat to the next, until he emphasized that glorious D-Flat Major brass chord with its hidden tritone against the the orchestra's pedalpoint B at full fortississimo. It was a master class in how to build harmonic tension. 

Even had he not played so much in Baltimore, I'd call Markus Stenz easily one of the greatest conductors in the world - or at least he would be if he occasionally took things ten metronome points slower. He's one of a very few who can measure up to my favorite modern conductor, Simon Rattle, and be unashamed. Like Rattle, he's a conductor who plays literally everything, and all of it with incredible musicality, insight, and uniqueness. There is no mistaking his performances for anyone else's. Except for Baltimore, every major orchestra on the East Coast suddenly has a conductor who is, at least, unquestionably very good. I'll go to bat for Marin Alsop as exactly the kind of music director every orchestra in America needs, but I can't pretend I find her musicmaking particularly compelling much of the time. With the arrival on the East Coast of Zweden and Noseda, she is now the weakest conductor at the head of a major orchestra in the Northeast US - Noseda (generic but incredibly viscerally exciting and plays lots of unfamiliar repertoire), Honeck (along with Ivan Fischer probably the greatest contemporary interpreter of standard rep in the whole world - HM's to old-timers like Blomstedt & Haitink & Dohnanyi), Nezet-Seguin (shallow but almost always exciting), Zweden (too disciplined and rigid but always dependable, usually exciting, and with a huge repertoir. He also can surprise you occasionally with his warmth), Nelsons (if he doesn't burn himself out he could be another Furtwangler...). Unless Nelsons's stature grows very quickly or Honeck starts playing a wider variety of music, Stenz is clearly better than them all. If Alsop leaves, Baltimore has an obligation to snap Stenz up, and if we do, the BSO will be the best orchestra in driving distance, and music lovers from all around the East Coast (and surely there have to be a couple dozen...) will drive down to Baltimore and marvel.

Pittsburgh Symphony/Manfred Honeck - Bruckner 8 A half-century ago, it was a truth universally acknowledged that the greatest orchestras were in America. They were not the most sincere of expression, but in the era of recording, they never seemed to make mistakes, and their sound had the same glamor as American automobiles, power tools. Whether it was the silken sheen of Boston, the x-ray clarity of Cleveland, the velvet bath of Philadelphia, or the raucous virtuosity of Chicago and New York, the American orchestras were miracles of engineering. They rarely exhibited the kind of musical sincerity that inspires great composers, but they were glorious gadgets - exhibited for display like the latest models from General Electric or Boeing.

What American orchestras once were, the orchestras of Northern Europe are today. But if the American orchestras of yesteryear seemed to never make mistakes, the Germanic orchestras of today literally never do. Germans were always known for their engineering, and these orchestras are so perfect as to be eugenic. Supertechnicians like Herbert von Karajan, Bernard Haitink, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Lorin Maazel, Claudio Abbado, Mariss Jansons, Riccardo Chailly, (and no doubt a new generation soon including Vladimir Jurowski, Daniel Harding, the Petrenkos) have assembled orchestras of such inhuman perfection that even the driven tension which the old American orchestras generated - the tightly-coiled sound it took to produce that made you wonder if it could come undone, is gone from them, and once unique orchestras like the Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, can produce an all-purpose sonic velvet in any passage, regardless of difficulty. Is it musical greatness? Well... certainly of a type, and like those old American orchestras, they can surprise you - with the right conductor, on the right night, with the right repertoire, they can be humanly moving and much more than just an Orchestra with a Capital O. Any knowledgeable music lover can name great performances by any of the aforementioned recent maestri or orchestras, but at the same time, merely everything in its right place is not great musicmaking. True mastery grows out of imperfection, through which the greatest artists of any genre develop qualities which are absolutely unique to them.

But while German-ish orchestras grow more generic, German-ish conductors grow more interesting. Ten years ago, a knowledgeble music lover could be forgiven for thinking that the great line of German Kapellmeister was gone. But the Kapellmeister didn't die, even if there are fewer, it just evolved. Many of the best qualities of the German School are adapted by non-Germans like Barenboim, or Runnicles, or Nelsons and Dudamel, who have the warm sounds and flexible tempi of another generation. The conductors who are actually from German-speaking lands, are branching out in ways that would have mystified Walter and Furtwangler (maybe not Klemperer...).

Imagine Furtwangler doing Shostakovich 8, let alone well...

The two biggest stars among them are in some ways, the most old-fashioned and least interesting. Franz Welser-Most is better than he's generally given credit for being, but that hardly makes him great. In the music of his native Austria - Mozart, Schubert, Bruckner, Schoenberg and Berg, he can be truly inspired. Otherwise, he's always prepared, competent, self-effacing, responsible, able and willing to direct any repertoire with authority. In other words an ideal modern incarnation the old-fashioned Kapellmeister. Christian Thielemann is an inspirational director of the German classics - Beethoven, Schumann (though strangely he doesn't seem to perform Mendelssohn as often...), Brahms, Strauss. He goes through the motions of other standard rep, and seems to perform no music post-1945. He's not a relic, he's a brilliant reactionary, determined to turn the clock back to Furtwangler, and gifted enough that it's astonishing how close he comes.

Thielemann pressing the reset button and making Vienna sound like the Vienna of old

But the 'next rank' down, matters get more interesting. We can leave aside a few who deserve more recognition than I'll give them here - Ulf Schirmer, Ingo Metzmacher, Marc Albrecht, Claus Peter Flor, the Sanderlings, Sebastian Weigle, and we won't even get started on the extraordinary list of Scandinavians dominating every concert hall. Let's just focus on three...

Let's start with Thomas Hengelbrock, who first came to eminence as an early music conductor, and who directs early music and the thorniest avant garde as brilliantly as he does standard repertoire. Of the 'superorchestras' of Northern Europe, the only one who strikes me as getting to a consistent level of human expression is Hengelbrock's NDR Elbphilharmonie. More astonishing than the universality of Hengelbrock's repertoire is his seeming mastery of it all. Fundamental musical virtues like rhythmic vitality, vocal line, extremity of dynamics, variety of colors, stand next to extraordinarily fresh interpretive ideas (listen to the beginning of either his Beethoven 5 or Brahms 4 on youtube to get a kick in the ass...).

Hengelbrock doing Mahler 1 in its original version, shock inducing yet totally Mahlerian

Then there's Markus Stenz, our local principal guest, and a virtuoso in the very best sense. No matter how good he is, I often wish Stenz would slow the tempos down a bit. Like Hengelbrock, he seems to perform everything and perform it superbly. But unlike other 'tutti-Allegro' conductors, he gets nuance after nuance. Every single moment is a continuous interpretation in which one detail adds to the one before.

Mahler 1 done by Stenz as both novel and ballet...

With Hengelbrock, with his musical sense that's utterly individual yet finds its way into every corner of the repertoire, I'm often put in mind of Rafael Kubelik (my ultimate compliment). With Stenz and his super-technique which he seems to use to tell a novel in pantomime, I'm often put in mind of Carlos Kleiber. Kleiber is the perhaps the great 'what if' of orchestral rep, 'what would he have made of this', 'this' meaning a thousand different pieces of music. Some predecessors clearly influenced him: his father Erich most obviously, but also Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan, perhaps even some America-based virtuosi like Fritz Reiner or George Szell. Some of his contemporaries put me in mind of him - German-speakers like Gielen and Dohnanyi who came as refugees to the 'New World' as children like Kleiber, certainly Abbado and Blomstedt and Jansons could channel that superhuman head, heart and hands; most surprisingly, perhaps the best missing link seemed to be the Australian, Sir Charles Mackerras.

How Kleiber might have done Don Giovanni (if he got worse singers, orchestras, and productions)

But still more Kleiber-like than Mackerras, and of all Kleiber's dozens of children who dance ballet on the podium, none seem so to channel the performances we never got better than Manfred Honeck, the former violist of the Vienna Philharmonic who played for Kleiber and dozens of others. Honeck seems to be an extremely religious Catholic, but he's no reactionary like Thielemann. He plays new music, if not quite in enormous quantity, and plenty of music outside a narrow Austro-German specialty. He is, perhaps rather, a conservative in the very best sense, soaked in our glorious history, who incarnates the long, wise tradition of music. No conductor can be the greatest in the world who doesn't put contemporary music at the center of his achievement, but there is not a single conductor in the world who performs standard repertoire at a higher, more human and humane, more expressive, more moving level. Perhaps because of this, he channels not so much Kleiber but to put him at a still more exalted level, the middle-aged Bruno Walter.

Before Honeck, the PSO had Lorin Maazel and Mariss Jansons, two supertechnicians if ever there were. Maazel, a native Yinzer, achieved some of his best work in his hometown, but until the Celibidache-like zen of his final few years, there was nothing warm and fuzzy about this ice cold virtuoso who was never happier than when he made enormous, gleaming, refined yet brutal sounds, seemingly etched at the same worktable as musical drill sergeants like Fritz Reiner and Erich Leinsdorf. And twenty years ago, Mariss Jansons was a different conductor. As technically adept as he is now, but the fact that he made less than brilliant orchestras sound like brilliant ones was what made him so special. Everything that now sounds bombastic in Munich and antiseptic in Amsterdam was luminous in Pittsburgh and Oslo. He had a Klemperer like magnetism that made every detail, however predictable, register perfectly into a whole. Everybody agreed that Jansons's premature departure from Pittsburgh was a tragedy, but what no one foresaw was that the tragedy would be for Jansons.

From when Jansons was the underdog...

But after nine years of Manfred Honeck, the technical perfection is nowhere to be found except on Honeck's baton. The Pittsburgh Symphony is both shockingly responsive and shockingly unresponsive. There are ensemble and intonation problems every thirty seconds, and yet these are clearly the mistakes of over-concentration, not under-concentration. There's no mistaking the clarity of Honeck's beat, but there's also no mistaking the extremity of his musical demands. Every phrase seems to require nuance atop nuance - tiny rubatos and dynamic swells everywhere, loud passages to wake the dead and soft passages in which you hear the silence surrounding the sound. Aside from Michael Tilson Thomas, the great current batons who make the bulk of their careers in America seem to be Honeck, Osmo Vanska, and Jaap van Zweden (let us pray, soon Gianandrea Noseda too). But both Vanska and Zweden, formidable as they both are, are bitten by the perfection/precision bug. If you box music-making into something that has to be a certain way, it cannot express anything ambiguous. Music under them is only the thing in itself, but under Honeck, it suggests infinities. Perfection, the disease that hounded Kleiber and a hundred years of classical musicians, is nowhere to be found with him, and in its place precisely what should be there, pure expression. For all their imperfections, and perhaps because of them, I would rather hear the Pittsburgh Symphony in standard repertoire than nearly any orchestra in Europe.

Gunter Herbig does a Bruckner 8 for the ages

Honeck seems to have recorded much more Mahler and Strauss than Bruckner, and I've often wondered what the Bruckner of this Austrian Catholic sounded like. The answer is both more and less extraordinary than I hoped for. In the last few years I've heard the work live form Bychkov and Chicago, Barenbom and Berlin, and Herbig and Baltimore. The best live of this three was, without a doubt, Gunter Herbig's in Baltimore. Herbig is an 85 year old East German who no doubt has been contemplating the work in his head for seventy years. By comparison, Honeck's conception was a little airless - perhaps a little too ponderous for my tastes (top 5 recordings: Tennstedt, Herbig, Kubelik, Bohm, Walter. HM to Tintner and Gielen for doing the original version. Further HM's to Furtwangler, Barbirolli, Jochum, Harnoncourt, Eichhorn, Venzago, Andreae, Celibidache in Munich, Thielemann for doing something other than business as usual... I can't take the usual Karajan/Giulini recs in this piece, Wand is a little better but still not great IMHO) I expected this maestro who shakes the heavens in Beethoven and Mahler and Tchaikovsky and Strauss to give no quarter in this composer whose music has been synonymous with monoliths for far too long.

No, this was clearly devotional Bruckner - I don't know why I was surprised that an Austrian Catholic would conduct Bruckner like an Austrian Catholic. And yet, I wonder if I've ever found devotional Bruckner as absorbing as yesterday. Even if the speeds were Karajan or (even) Giulini-level slow, there was nothing of their imperious distance from the music. I suppose the closer analogy would be Gunter Wand or Karl Bohm, but there was nothing of Wand's (misguided to my mind) attempts to blend every sound or Bohm's insistence on staying in tempo. Those awesome and abundant brassy climaxes felt like religious ecstasy - I was put in mind of any number of awesome religious paintings; Michelangelo, Bosch, El Greco, Titian, Caravaggio...

The fact that such loud sounds feel earned is a miracle in of itself. The orchestra is so unbelievably bass heavy, warm, overtone-rich, that decibel levels which should sound as though they come from nowhere sound completely natural. This is perfect for Bruckner, and the ability to obtain it is of a musical knowledge far beyond my paygrade. Like a great organist with registers for every shade of color and dynamics, the big pipes seem brought out at precisely the right moments. In between, there were so many moments that bent time with the individuality of their musical ideas. In the Adagio particularly, I can't put into words the fragility of the music we heard. Bruckner 8 in Pittsburgh was not my Bruckner 8, but I had the honest and perhaps too rare sense that the fault was mine. This was a better than any Bruckner 8 of which my mind can conceive.

How to do Tchaikovsky 6

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tales from the Old New Land - Tale 4 1/2 - An Interview with Ivan Ticoczki - Three-Quarters of it

AC Charlap: We have just heard the fourth and worst of the Psalm settings by the Composer of the Old New Land, Ivan Ticoczki, whose settings of the Psalms we broadcast all throughout our podcasts. Ticoczki is a recipient of the Polar Music Prize, known also as the Musical Nobel, and is known particularly for a joint statement of protest against his receiving the award co-signed by famous critics and musicologists Norman Lebrecht, Edward Said, Robert Craft, Richard Taruskin, Jay Nordlinger, Martin Bernheimer, Alan Rich, and John Simon as being the worst possible recipient of the Polar Music Prize. You responded in your acceptance speech that you agreed with them and said, and I quote: "when you survive the Camps they want to give you a lot of awards."

Ivan Ticoczki: That's true.

Charlap: Evidence was then presented that you were not in fact in the Camps and had escaped during World War II and at various points lived in New York, London, and Los Angeles.

Ticoczki: Also true.

Charlap: Whatever the truth, you've clearly lived an extremely fascinating life. You've at least claimed to have been witness to most of the major cultural developments of the last hundred-three years.

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: How did this come to be, can you tell us where you're born?

Ticoczki: I was born in a town called Bransk.

Charlap: It's known for its Science Yeshiva yes?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: Now Bransk is in a part of Europe that has belonged at various points in your life to Austria-Hungary, Czarist Russia, Poland, the Free City of Danzig, The Soviet Union, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, then Slovakia, and now I believe it's part of Belarus. Is that correct?

Ticoczki: Who cares.

Charlap: Fair enough.

Ticoczki: I did not live there long enough to go to the Bransk High School of Science, we left by the time I was three.

Charlap: And I believe you were born on June 28, 1914, the day of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand is that also correct?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: It is said that there is a picture of you being held by your father in the October Revolution when he stood next to Lenin.

Ticoczki: Yes, my father was a Chassidicher Rabbi turned Orthodox Marxist who personally shot the family of Czar Nicholas.

Charlap: But the dates for that don't quite line up. Your father fell out of favor with Lenin because of his failure to starve more than half-a-million peasants by the time of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk's signing so that the provisions Germans provided for Russia's withdrawal from the war would last the Red Army through the coming Civil War against the Whites. This was in March 1918, so your family escaped from the Soviet Union a full four months before Czar Nicholas the Second was assassinated.

Ticoczki: Is that my fault?

Charlap: I suppose not. But even if your father was not the assassin of Czar Nicholas, you played an pivotal role in the death of Walter Rathenau.

Ticoczki: Yes indeed, we had to make a living in Germany, and for a bit less than a year I was Rathenau's personal shoeshiner. I was not quite eight years old yet, and in the climate of Weimar, he did not even trust his personal chauffeur. He chose me because I told him I was fifteen, not eight. The circumstances of the death of Rathenau were very similar to that of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand. I thought I knew a shortcut to the Foreign Office on Wilhelmstrasse. Unfortunately, we were intercepted on the way by right-wing extremists in a car with a machine gun. The machine gun missed me and may have missed Rathenau, but when they lobbed a grenade into my seat, I reflexively threw it in the direction of Rathenau, and it exploded half his body. This means that I may not only have been Rathenau's cause of death, but therefore the cause of eighteen-million more deaths due to Hitler - a fact of which I am both ashamed and deeply proud.

Charlap: It's also interesting because one of the first deaths at the hands of Nazis was your father's a year later.

Ticoczki: My father believed greatly in believing in things. He died in Munich during Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch the day after a Nazi threw a brick at him. He was so thrilled by the experience that he made me promise on his deathbed to try to join the Nazi Party.

Charlap: Records show that you became a Nazi party member in 1933 for exactly one day.

Ticoczki: Yes, I joined the Nazi Party in the hope of getting musical commissions from Albert Speer. We had an appointment to go swimming in a Berlin gymnasium followed by a Turkish Bath. My membership was revoked when it was discovered I was circumcised.

Charlap: How did you not see that coming?

Ticoczki: There were lots of Jews in 1933 who wanted to join the party.

Charlap: How can that be?

Ticoczki: We didn't think Hitler was serious!

Charlap: You didn't??

Ticoczki: He could a man that swish be a Nazi???

Charlap: But this was a very interesting period for you. In the Early 30's you lived in Berlin, and apparently had an affair with Hannah Arendt.

Ticoczki: Indeed.

Charlap: Apparently you went into hiding when your rival for Arendt, Martin Heidegger, put you on an arrest list, and escaped to Paris with Raymond Aron.

Ticoczki: Ja.

Charlap: And Aron would later claim that his book, The Opium of the Intellectuals in which he criticized the fashionable flirtation of intellectuals with totalitarian systems...

Ticoczki: ...was based on the contempt he felt after talking on the train with me. Arendt also later said that 'the banality of evil' was based on her experience of our relationship.

Charlap: That claim was proven to be a lie.

Ticoczki: If you say so.

Charlap: But let's stay on Berlin for a moment. You were also involved briefly with Lotte Lenya, weren't you?

Ticoczki: Everybody was. Brecht, Einstein, Heinrich Mann, Georg Grosz, Fritz Lang, one night she went home with the entire Frankfurt School.

Charlap: How did Kurt Weill feel about this?

Ticoczki: He didn't know.

Charlap: It's interesting that you mention Fritz Lang. When you were 17 you wrote a score to accompany M.

Ticoczki: Yes, Lang hated it so much that he burned it.

Charlap: Really?

Ticoczki:  He told me that he could just have Peter Lorre whistle Hall of the Mountain King and it would be better than what I wrote.

Charlap: That's pretty harsh.

Ticoczki: Nein, it was scheissemusik.

Charlap: Did you have any involvement with the great opera companies of 20's Berlin?

Ticoczki: Indeed I did. I sang third boy in The Magic Flute with Bruno Walter and he was so impressed with my performance that he immediately agreed to premiere my fourth symphony in his concert series at the Berlin Philharmonic.

Charlap: That was known as a disastrous premiere.

Ticoczki: Indeed, Bruno Walter had a stomach ailment, but it was said that he was so disgusted with the music that after the symphony was over he threw up in the Wagner tuba.

Charlap: Nevertheless, shortly thereafter you got a commission from Otto Klemperer to write for the Kroll Opera.

Ticoczki: Ja, it was only a chamber opera for which I wrote the book in which the Emperor of a distant kingdom goes off in search of a woman with the perfect nosejob. It was six hours long, had a cast of a hundred fifty plus chorus and an orchestra of three hundred. It has not been staged in full since 1928.

Charlap: You absconded to Paris but you didn't spend much time there until after the war.

Ticoczki: Quite true.

Charlap: By 1934 you were living in Vienna.

Ticoczki: Yes, I went to Vienna to abandon music.

Charlap: Vienna is the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Berg at the time... That seems rather counterintuitive.

Ticoczki: Perhaps, but I wanted to be a writer.

Charlap: Did you write anything?

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: Then how were you a writer?

Ticoczki: There were lots of writers in Vienna who did not write.

Charlap: Then what did they do?

Ticoczki: They sat in the coffeehouses, where they would loudly proclaim witticisms to rich bourgeois who would make a great show of laughing, even though the din was so loud that they could not hear properly most of what we said.

Charlap: So, in a sense, you were a professional former of witticisms?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: Can you tell us any of them?

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: You can't remember any of them?

Ticoczki: They lose meaning in translation.

Charlap: But surely...

Ticoczki: The Vienna of those years is impossible to convey to those who were not there. It was a great and unrepeatable gathering of intellect, and being intelligent was so important that nobody did anything.

Charlap: Fascinating.

Ticoczki: There were writers like Musil and Broch and Canetti who wrote very long books that we all claimed to have read and none of us made it past the second page.

Charlap: But you all read Stefan Zweig.

Ticoczki: Yes, but he paid us to read him.

Charlap: I'm told that when the Nazis came to Vienna you attempted suicide half-a-dozen times.

Ticoczki: This is true.

Charlap: You must have been quite despondent.

Ticoczki: No I actually felt I that in suicide finally had a metier to become a great artist. Suicide in Vienna was a great art into which many artists and philosophers put great effort into staging. I had a magnificent idea for a suicide in which I would be strung along by pulleys into a pile of marzipan, between getting my head caught in the pulleys and the molasses, I was sure I would die. Unfortunately, the pulley's broke, and I contracted diabetes for which I lost a foot in the Jewish hospital.

Charlap: You then arrived in London and claim you were the lover that drove Virginia Woolf to suicide.

Ticoczki: She was a very confused women. She was a lesbian who was also an anti-semite, but she was also attracted to particularly ugly and dwarf-like Jews, whom she thought possessed a cheap and low cunning which she found incredibly erotic. She could live very easily with her attraction to women and with infidelities to Leonard, but she hated herself for being attracted to Jews, and planned on blaming her suicide on me as an assassination. The famous suicide note she left for Leonard Woolf was in fact planted by me, when I realized that she would use her letter to frame me, and I made a copy of a new letter in her handwriting.

Charlap: This resulted in your being accused by George Orwell of having murdered Virginia Woolf.

Ticoczki: I will not answer any more questions about this matter.

Charlap: You also became a frequent houseguest of John Maynard Keynes in London.

Ticoczki: Yes, and he was a swine.

Charlap: What do you mean?

Ticoczki: I have known many many geniuses in my life, but Maynard Keynes was, without a doubt, the most unpleasant in addition to being one of the most brilliant. He was an anti-semite and a snob who was always trying to throw me out of his house for having sexual relations with people who were not him.

Charlap: Why didn't you leave?

Ticoczki: I had to have somewhere I could bring Virginia, and being at the receiving end of Maynard's abuse was much less boring than staying with Forester or Elliot...

Charlap: You also claim you were in Terezinstadt during this same period.

Ticoczki: I had a rich Capo who was a very great fan of music, and he allowed me week-long visits to Virginia and John in England on chartered planes for which he would pay the full expense.

Charlap: But there were so many great musical figures in this period living in Terezin in circumstances that were truly sub-human: Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krasa, Karel Ancerl, Gideon Klein, Alma Rose, Ilse Weber....

Ticoczki: Oh... Ja, they were let out too.

Charlap: What??

Ticoczki: They went to see their various lovers in Prague and Vienna for weeks at a time on furlough so long as they promised to return.

Charlap: This will be news to the entire music world. Why did they return?

Ticoczki: They believed the camps were their best chance for survival.

Charlap: How is that possible?

Ticoczki: We all believed that Terezin would eventually change and be the humanitarian city for the Jews which the Fuhrer claimed it was.

Charlap: How could you have possibly believed that?

Ticoczki: In Vienna we were vermin. In Terezin we had a chance to be the most honored Jewish composers in history.

Charlap: That's the most incredible thing I've ever heard!

Ticoczki: Remember, none of us thought that the Deutschen Volk would be as stupid as they were. Eventually, the German people would rise up and atone for their sins and we would be the honored artists of the Deutschen Reich who were rewarded extra performances for our persecution.

Charlap: But you never returned to that area after the war.

Ticoczki: Not to live no....

Charlap: In fact, during that period of the early 40's, both Stravinsky and Schoenberg claimed you took lessons with them in Los Angeles.

Ticoczki: Ja. I was on furlough from Terezin.

Charlap: They flew you there and back from California???

Ticoczki: Why is this so unbelievable.

Charlap: You'll just have to permit me a minute of disbelief.

Ticoczki: I learned very little from either Schoenberg or Stravinsky.

Charlap: They both seem to have agreed with that statement.

Ticoczki: Ja...

Charlap: Schoenberg apparently wrote of you to Thomas Mann and said that 'He is by such great a margin the most incompetent pupil I ever had that even John Cage is Mozart in comparison.'

Ticoczki: I can't help it if Schoenberg did not accept the theories of music I tried to teach him.

Charlap: You had theories you tried to teach Schoenberg???

Ticoczki: Ja! He was so rigid and dogmatic. His music required such great order that it sounded like disorder. I told him that the crucial key to writing great music which he missed was incompetence and amateurism. I deliberately wrote terrible part exercises to show him that bad musicianship is more beautiful than good.

Charlap: He claimed that you wouldn't know how to write better counterpoint even if you tried.

Ticoczki: What does that matter?!?

Charlap: In any event, one thing at which you were clearly not an incompetent at was bartending. In fact, when not even a teenager, you were remembered as the youngest bartender in Paris.

Ticoczki: Oui, I was still only eleven and a bit over four feet tall. So I would stand on the bar of the Moulin Rouge and take the orders of many Americans like Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, at twelve I lost my virginity to Josephine Baker and again to Sergei Diaghilev. I threw Hemingway out of the Moulin Rouge many times and nearly beat him to death with the soprano saxophone of Sidney Bechet. And I was drawn by Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Matisse, Mogdiliani.

Charlap: All of these drawings, by the way, are evidently lost.

Ticoczki: They were confiscated from my Ile Saint-Louis flat by Vichy.

Charlap: I see.

Ticoczki: I also invented the Boulevardier for Zelda Fitzgerald and the Jack Rose for Maurice Chevalier.

Charlap: Did you have much to do with music during this time?

Ticoczki: I wrote a lot of Charleston Dances for Josephine and ghostwrote about a hundred thirty pieces for Darius Milhuad, but no. Not really.

Charlap: Your biography says that immediately after the war you went to New York.

Ticoczki: Yes, this period was the favorite period of my life, but I'm afraid I must get some sleep now.

Charlap: Can we talk about it when you wake up?

Ticoczki: We can talk about it when you come back in a year or two, I'll still be here.


Charlap: About four years before you got the Polar Music Prize, you published a rather infamous memoir.

Ticoczki: I don't understand what was so infamous about it.

Charlap: Well, first of all because it was a three volume, twenty-eight hundred page memoir in which you claimed yourself the greatest cultural figure since King David. 

Ticoczki: Is it such a crime to be a great man? 

Charlap: Don't you find the claim rather extravagant?

Ticoczki: Is it my fault to be what I am?

Charlap: Well regardless of what you are, I think a lot of people thought you should have been more charitable to others?

Ticoczki: What about this world is charitable? The charity of tolerance has given us the chaos of the twentieth century. I strive to bring a bit of order to a world experiencing much chaos. 

Charlap: Your opinion is your opinion, but it does not seem to be shared by anyone.

Ticoczki: History will vindicate me. 

Charlap: Well, let's take just a few examples of your... we'll just call them uncommon opinions. For example this one: "The music of Bach is the Christian lie set in musical form. It presents an all-knowing, infinitely compassionate God whom in his ever loving mercy sends all but a hundred-forty-four thousand of us to hell. Bach's music is supposedly the music emanating from Heaven's organ-loft, but it is in fact the Devil's Trill."

Ticoczki: What's wrong with that opinion?

Charlap: Well nothing's wrong with it, but you must admit that your opinion is uncommon.

Ticoczki: Common opinions are for common people. I still believe that Bach was a minorly great composer after a fashion and it is not Bach's fault that he was the instrument through which posterity subsumed an entire millennium's worth of Christian music, but the music of Christianity is a music of a transcendence that does not exist nor would it be desirable if the world allowed for it. 

Charlap: Well then there's the infamous passage when you said that there were a half dozen better composers in the generation preceding you than Stravinsky, Bartok, or Schoenberg. Milan Kundera pointed out in 'Testaments Betrayed' that you excoriate Stravinsky for having abandoned feeling and Bartok for having abandoned didacticism in the same paragraph.

Ticoczki: You should not forget that I also attacked Hindemith in this passage for abandoning both. But it is not my doing. I cannot help it if Bartok's two transcendent masterpieces are musical instruction manuals.

Charlap: You mean the 44 Violin Duets...

Ticoczki: ...and the Mikrokosmos. In the growth of this music's sophistication we hear the evolution of intellect and human soul to its full capacities. 

Charlap: But these are instructional pieces to help children play their instruments.

Ticoczki: I knew Bartok, you didn't. He was a human robot, only his children moved him. 

Charlap: But what about your praise of pieces like the Third Piano Concerto and the Concerto for Orchestra?

Ticoczki: Yes, they still have problems but they are better.

Charlap: And you really believe that Kodaly is a better composer than Bartok?

Ticoczki: Insofar as his artistic priorities are more correct, yes.

Charlap: There are people who dislike Bach, but this is an opinion shared by literally no one.

Ticoczki: History will prove me right.

Charlap: And then you talk about Stravinsky, from whom you received an enormous amount of financial help in Los Angeles during the War, and you say that after Les Noces he should have never written another note because all he ever produced was notes. 

Ticoczki: Stravinsky wouldn't have given me a penny if he wasn't interested in my ex-wife. 

Charlap: But nothing Stravinsky did was worth anything? Oedipus? The Rake's Progress? Agon? The Symphony of Psalms? The Fairy's Kiss? The Violin Concerto?

Ticoczki: Well, the last three you mentioned are better. Stravinsky wasn't a composer, he was a brilliant musical thief. 

Charlap: That's a direct quote from your autobiography.

Ticoczki: Yes. When he stole from the Russian sources that meant something to him, his thievery was very moving, but when he tried to steal from other cultures the act of stealing meant nothing to him. 

Charlap: Speaking about what you said about your wife, you also seem to allude to the idea that Stravinsky....

Ticoczki: Yes, he stole my wife too, but she was German, and therefore his act of theft was not sincere at all.

Charlap: You also say that there have only ever been exactly nine great composers, and every other composer is at best a composer who wrote great music by accident.

Ticoczki: Monteverdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Mussorgsky, Janacek, Mahler, Ives, Shostakovich.

Charlap: You then talk of nine levels of lesser greatness - you call it 'lesser receptivity.'

Ticoczki: Yes, the first and highest level of receptivity are those composers whose ears act as the crown from which you can survey the entire kingdom of music, and can absorb and adapt all modes of influence into their music and render them in such a way that any expressive or emotional reaction is possible. They are pure expression through sound. I then refer to the nine lesser levels of receptivity under different names, there are nine different composers in each category, because there are exactly nine great composers, exactly eighteen composers who are good, and exactly twenty-seven who are decent, and exactly thirty-six composers who are competent. It is my belief that there will be another ten composers who are greater than incompetent before music ceases to be altogether.

Charlap: I suppose our audience will want to know which composers are which.

Ticoczki: The good composers are divided between the wise composers: like Haydn and Mendelssohn and Liszt and Brahms and Nielsen who are masculine, and the intuitive composers like Schubert and Dvorak and Bizet and Poulenc and Gershwin who are feminine.

Charlap: That's truly insightful.

Ticoczki: We then move to realms of the decent composers. The kind composers like Faure and Copland and Vaughan Williams, severe composers like Schoenberg and Bartok and Sibelius, the beautiful composers like Chopin and Debussy and Purcell. Beneath them lies the realm of the competent composers: the eternal composers like Bruckner and Messiaen and Josquin, the splendid composers like Richard Strauss and Handel and Berlioz, and the foundational composers like Bach and Gluck and Machaut. Underneath them, you have the king-composers. A king is an unjust man who takes what should be rightfully the property of others, therefore they are the composers who emulate other composers but are in fact only imitative of greater voices. Neo-classical composers are particularly in this sphere: Stravinsky is one, Hindemith is another, Prokofiev, Milhaud, Martinu, but also Wagner, and pre-classicists like Vivaldi, Lassus and Palestrina who plagiarized themselves hundreds of times.

Charlap: But isn't this a little too mathematically neat?

Ticoczki: That is not possible. Music requires formal cohesion.

Charlap: But isn't it possible you have to make exceptions for composers you haven't heard yet?

Ticoczki: Do not question me.

Charlap: Alright. I'm sure you know what the obvious question is about your nine great composers...

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: What made them great?

Ticoczki: I already defined them. These are the nine which had the correct artistic priorities.

Charlap: Which are?

Ticoczki: I explained it as simply as I could, and if it could be properly explained I would do so.

Charlap: But you spend 450 pages doing exactly that.

Ticoczki: But that is a failure, I estimate that it would require another eight-thousand pages.

Charlap: Nevertheless, I'm going to quote you. "The correct artistic priorities are a willingness to be open to all the diverse possibilities of the universe's expression. All expression of human experience, animal and plant experience, biological, chemical, physical, must manifest themselves in the greatest music, and one must have an omnipresent sense of the unpredictability of experience's totality."

Ticoczki: I would not be nearly so dogmatic today. I was a young man when I wrote that.

Charlap: You were eighty-five.

Ticoczki: Nevertheless...

Charlap: You also write of tragic examples of composers who came close enough to the correct artistic priorities that we can only mourn that their music is not better than it is.

Ticoczki: Rather more numerous.

Charlap: You pretty much rip apart every composer who ever lived for their badness. Henri Dutilleux commented that he wasn't sure his music was any good because he was not at the receiving end of your abuse.

Ticoczki: He was alive when I wrote that book, I prefer not to talk about the living.

Charlap: You talk for ten pages about how horrible you find Arvo Part!

Ticoczki: He's not alive.

Charlap: Sure he is!

Ticoczki: His music is not alive.

Charlap: Well what about other living composers?

Ticoczki: Their priorities are generally not mine.

Charlap: Meaning that their priorities are incorrect?

Ticoczki: I did not say that.

Charlap: Surely there are living composers whose music you love.

Ticoczki: Of course there are, but I do not find their priorities appropriate.

Charlap: What does that even mean?

Ticoczki: You seem to know my book better than I do so I shall defer to you for an answer.

Charlap: Well in the book you even say that there are at least a few dozen reasonably famous composers of whose work you're reasonably fond. Can you tell us who they are?

Ticoczki: I cannot.

Charlap: Why not?

Ticoczki: Because that will be three-hundred-fifty pages in the fourth volume of the autobiography.

Charlap: Well, I see then... When will that be released?

Ticoczki: Sometime between 2019 and 2021. It will be fourteen-hundred-eighty pages long.

Charlap: Why so long?

Ticoczki: It is not long, the editor insisted I cut another twelve-hundred pages from this volume. In this volume I outline the importance and purpose of the Psalm project.


Ticoczki: I chose to focus on the first seven in this interview because these seven animate a very important didactic philosophical principle.

Charlap: Which is?

Ticoczki: Untranslatable into verbal language in less than five million words.

Charlap: Can you try?

Ticoczki: Why must you push me?

Charlap: Talking about the Psalms is sort of the point of this broadcast.

Ticoczki: Well, what's important to say about it is that I have made a bargain with God, and He will keep me alive until I complete all one-hundred fifty Psalms.

Charlap: You've made a bargain with God?

Ticoczki: Yes, I had a vision of Him.

Charlap: A vision?

Ticoczki: A vision, it may have been induced by the medication.

Charlap: What was the vision?

Ticoczki: i'm a hundred-three years old, I was ninety-nine when I had the vision. How should I remember what the vision was?

Charlap: So this interview was all for nothing?

Ticoczki: Perhaps.

Charlap: Well, can you try at least?

Ticoczki: In order to talk about it I must speak about my encounter with Yossele Rosenblatt in Berlin on February 27th, 1933, the day of the Reichstag fire. The world's greatest cantor was in the middle of a world tour and exhausted, he had been swindled by two New York journalists who wanted to start a Yiddish paper to compete with the forty-nine Yiddish papers published daily in New York. Rosenblatt was not a practical man and the great venture was a disaster that put him millions of dollars into debt which he had to pay off in the middle of a Great Depression which cursed the whole world. I have heard all the great tenors: Caruso, Gigli, Melchior, Vickers, Corelli, del Monaco, De Stefano, Domingo, Pavarotti, but none were as great as Rosenblatt and he had standing offers from every opera house in the world to sing but he was too orthodox to sing anything but Jewish music. Needing the money and realizing that he could make more, I came to him with an offer to write him Jewish music in the style of Verdi.

Charlap: That sounds amazing but Rosenblatt was already long since living in Jerusalem by then.

Ticoczki: Whatever. I told him that the most obvious Biblical Texts to set are the Psalms, the Tehillim. I told him by '35 I could write him all 150. He was very enthusiastic but told me he didn't have much money so I just write him one and he would tell me as we go how many he could pay for and wire me payment upon receipt. I wrote him the first Psalm and sent it to him in Jersualem, but in July it was returned to me in a package that said 'returned upon death of recipient.'

Charlap: Well, whatever the truth, that's a shame.

Ticoczki: So the first Tehilah was written in 1933, just as Hitler came to power. The project then languished for eighty years until I had a vision from God.

Charlap: And the vision was?

Ticoczki: Well, it wasn't technically God. It was more some combination of the archangel Michael and Elijah and Moses, telling me some end of the world stuff.

Charlap: They told you the world is ending?

Ticoczki: Not ending, just taking a break.

Charlap: What does that mean?

Ticoczki: Not the world, just this particular era, epoch, of the world.

Charlap: How do you explain that?

Ticoczki: This is where the didactic philosophical principle happens.

Charlap: OK...

Ticoczki: My music is not very good. We've established that and everybody agrees.

Charlap: They most certainly do, but what then is the point?

Ticoczki: The didactic philosophical principle is to point a way forward for music in a new dark age when Jews will be coerced back into the ghettos and shtetlach.

Charlap: What??

Ticoczki: The lack of specifically liturgical Jewish art music is an embarrassment. We now have a long tradition of secular art music with Mahler including Klezmer and Bloch providing a poetic Judaism of the spirit and Bernstein providing dramatic reenactments of scenes and dialogues with God. But Christians have a long tradition of their greatest composers providing settings of the mass and Biblical texts in Latin and Greek. We have nothing yet to compete.

Charlap: So you're trying to compete with composers like Byrd and Tallis and Palestrina and Machaut?

Ticoczki: Not particularly. Their music is grounded in the Christian eschatology: salvation, redemption, judgement, the material world being a test and foretaste of the greatness of the world to come. Eschatology is not the purpose of Judaism, the purpose is teleology - direct action and experience bringing us closer to God through a series of tactile actions.

Charlap: So your music then is didactic spur to action?

Ticoczki: No. Jews are not a particularly musical culture. We are, as the Islamic saying goes, the 'people of the book,' and the greater share of Jewish contemplation is not of the world to come but of how to act in our world. Art and music in Judaism cannot provide a spur to direct action, but a didactic spur to contemplate the sacred texts. Particularly in such a visual age, when literacy is so trivial that there is no longer great spiritual impact in reading.

Charlap: That all sounds full of shit.

Ticoczki: You are the one who wanted this interview!

Charlap: Have you said a single thing that is true this whole time?

Ticoczki: Probably not.

Charlap: So what am I supposed to do with all this footage?

Ticoczki: What should I care?

Charlap: Alright,... so can I get you to talk more about each of the first seven Psalms?

Ticoczki: I already told you about the first Psalm. It was written in 1933 against the backdrop of Hitler in the style of Rosenblatt's Shir HaMaalos. it includes a brief quote from that piece's melody.

Charlap: What about Psalm 2?


Charlap: Alright.

Ticoczki: Psalm 2 was written eighty years later if you must know, Psalm 2 is a War Psalm full of apocalypse and carnage. I developed from a first version of it I wrote in 1946 after hearing about the camps.

Charlap: I thought you were in the camps!

Ticoczki: Of course I was in the camps! But I didn't die in the camps!

Charlap: Alright, (sighs)... just keep going...

Ticoczki: What I realized was that the ending of it was always unsatisfactory, so I had to rewrite much of it, and it is no simple task to write choral music in 2013 that approximates a style of orchestral music written by Shostakovich and Mahler as I did then. I could not simply write myself back into a style I used seventy years ago, particularly because at the time I could not think of a satisfactory ending, so I incorporated a much more modern style like the Rendering of Schubert by Berio or the rearrangement of the Vier ernste Gesange by Glanert. it was a self-rendering.

Charlap: Was there a particular point to Psalm 2?

Ticoczki: Yes. It is thus far the most difficult and the least liked of the Psalm settings, but I think it is the finest.

Charlap: I liked it very much too.

Ticoczki: Young composers will always be unaccepted, their music is the air of another planet to their audiences.

Charlap: But you're... alright, never mind.

Ticoczki: The first Psalm was a simple piece of liturgical music. This, in its original conception, would have been the style of all one-hundred fifty.

Charlap: That sounds rather monotonous.

Ticoczki: Perhaps, but an artist must challenge himself. With the perspective of age I do not doubt that relative to my expectations it would have been a great failure had I even reached Psalm ten or twenty.

Charlap: So you wrote the first version of Psalm 2 in 1946. I suppose one must wonder if it was in relation to hearing about the Holocaust.

Ticoczki: No, not at all. I was the director of a amateur Jewish choir for a very brief time in Baltimore and wrote it for them as a challenge, but they were barely good enough to sing Psalm 1.

Charlap: That's a shame.

Ticoczki: The Baltimore Jews, they were the most difficult people I ever encountered, and remember, I was a Nazi Party Member.

Charlap: That might be why they found you difficult...

Ticoczki: They didn't know that!

Charlap: Anyway, so nearly seventy years later, you came back to Psalm 2. Clearly some of these things must have been based on things you learned from your time as a teacher at Darmstadt.

Ticoczki: Yes, but it was more from my relationships in New York with Edgar Varese and Charles Ives. From Varese I learned the great value of electronic music, or musique concrete, from Ives I learned the great value of backdating music so that I could claim that I was the first to use certain techniques.

Charlap: That second problem led to a rather contentious relationship with some figures at Darmstadt.

Ticoczki: That is a common misunderstanding. I've always had a very productive friendship with certain figures: Berio, Messiaen, Haba, Ligeti... But the trouble with Boulez was not at all about backdating pieces I wrote, but because Boulez commissioned me to write a companion piece to write to Stockhausen's Gesange der Junglinge - which I misunderstood as re-arranging songs for children. Because of this misunderstanding I sang polytonal versions of The Wheels on the Bus and The Itsy Bitsy Spider with accompaniment from an Ondes Martinot.

Charlap: Ah yes, that was the performance which Adorno compared to Bergen-Belsen.

Ticoczki: Indeed. In fact, Boulez was not at all upset about the Children's Songs, he was upset that I used polytonality instead of atonality.

Charlap: Polytonality has been a very important part of your work all throughout.

Ticoczki: I would not necessarily call it polytonality or even progressive tonality. I believe the most progressive harmonies in my work go back not to Stravinsky or Schoenberg or even Bartok, but to Ives and Lutoslawski, Berio, yes, perhaps even Stockhausen. I would therefore call it a 'radical tonality.'

Charlap: But Berio and Stockhausen were both significantly younger than you and Lutoslawski is your exact contemporary...

Ticoczki: Oh yes... I suppose I'm front-dating my music.

Charlap: Would you say that John Cage has any influence on what you try to accomplish?

Ticoczki: No, Cage is very different. The electronic music I use always has an acoustical basis that occurs outside of real time.

Charlap: What does that mean?

Ticoczki: Like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, I give my musicians an outline that is a page long on which all the musical themes are given, and tell them to improvise upon them in takes that are ten or twelve minutes long. I then experiment with manipulation and juxtaposition so that the most fitting of their improvisations are used.

Charlap: This sounds a bit like rap or DJ sampling.

Ticoczki: Well, as you know, in the 90's I was briefly a hip-hop artist.

Charlap: MC Cossack.

Ticoczki: Yes, I'm told that occasionally my album is still played in illegal New York clubs.

Charlap: But it still doesn't sound like your process for the Psalms is at all like the composers you mentioned.

Ticoczki: It doesn't matter because I influenced all of them. I used all of their techniques before they did.

Charlap: Your use of all of them was proven to not happen before 1990.

Ticoczki: That's what they want you to believe but all the people who can prove it are dead.

Charlap: Uh huh. Anyway, I think most people's problem is about three and a half minutes in when you have a ninety second polytonal cluster that may in fact be the loudest recording of all time, and the chord does not move at all, the listener must simply absorb a chord of maximum volume and dissonance for what at the time will seem like half the length of the work.

Ticoczki: Music lovers should be able to withstand physical pain.

Charlap: I'm sure that's true, but lots of people probably think it's a very stationary chord that has no motion at all.

Ticoczki: When one portrays the wrath of God, one should not simply use a chord that allows listeners a way out. The listener must feel boxed in and made crazy by the vibrations of forty-four different notes going at maximum volume for an excessively long period.

Charlap: Couldn't you maybe have given some motion within the chord?

Ticoczki: I honestly thought about doing something like that, in the way that Mahler does at the climax of his Tenth Symphony's opening, and yet that would also blunt the impact and give charity to a listener who deserves none.

Charlap: I can't imagine why people didn't like that piece... But then there's the entire second half, which is simply an entire avant-garde collage of assembled parts from the Psalms, sometimes manipulated or played backwards? Isn't that a bit like feeding scraps to a dog after you're done with a meal?

Ticoczki: You're lucky that no one has talked to me in a month or I would walk out of this interview.

Charlap: I'm sorry but seriously, what is the point of six and a half minutes of biblical noise?

Ticoczki: It is, so far as I can create it, the unknowability of the divine. The entire world is assembled from disparate parts, and we never experience the totality of it. If I cannot give the unknowability of the divine, I can, in my small way, give an experience of the world's totality.

Charlap: Well that's a very pretentious explanation. And if you really wanted to create the totality of the world, couldn't you take from other sources than your own compositions?

Ticoczki: Not this world's totality, but the totality of the spiritual world, the world to come. By including all the prayers together, perhaps we create a conduit to a world of the spirit and how it would present itself to us in our physical forms.

Charlap: Well again, that is breathtakingly pretentious.

Ticoczki: You asked...

Charlap: I suppose I did... But a number of people who didn't much care for Psalm 2 have had nice things to say about Psalm 3.

Ticoczki: Yes, in Psalm 3 we have the emergence of the Soprano figure. Psalm 3 is the first Psalm of King David, and therefore a singer must make an appearance.

Charlap: Why did you choose a soprano?

Ticoczki: Why not? People are much concerned with casting conforming to type today. In my day I both played Olivia in a production of Twelfth Night for Max Reinhardt and I watched Sarah Bernhardt play Hamlet.

Charlap: Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet fifteen years before you were born.

Ticoczki: Whatever. That's what you think.

Charlap: It might have been the film version they made.

Ticoczki: No, it was theater and she played Hamlet.

Charlap: She died when you were nine.

Ticoczki: Do not question me!

Charlap: Alright, so in Psalm 3 you went for something much more tonal.

Ticoczki: So long as the human ear eventually retreats to stability, there are no limits to the dissonance it can absorb. This was one of the many great insights of Charles Ives, and I suppose I had in mind the the Fugue from his Fourth Symphony.

Charlap: Well you certainly create something a world apart from Psalm 3. And yet there is also a passage of great turbulence in this one as well.

Ticoczki: Yes, but it is quickly dispelled. It is a very different kind of Psalm than the one before it. Psalm 2 demands vengeance, Psalm 3 is an assurance that God will save us from long lasting pain.

Charlap: You seem to set that turbulence as though it were a dream.

Ticoczki: Yes I do, I very much had Jacob's dream of the Angels on the Ladder in mind.

Charlap: Or perhaps the Schoenberg piece based on that?

Ticoczki: Not one of Schoenberg's finer moments. My setting is better.

Charlap: (sighs) If you say so... It's certainly shorter, and yet this setting truly takes its time as well.

Ticoczki: Yes, I am of two minds about concision. It is very important to properly give time for music to unfold, and yet in a hundred and three years I have never understood if one can absorb a listener through empty space. Many composers, particularly contemporary composers like my friend Karlheinz Klopweisser believe that attention can be absorbed through silence, I am not so certain, and many composers who believe in attaining spirituality through meditative music like Morton Feldman sound like an emptiness which requires a boiling liquid poured into it.

Charlap: That's an opinion that ought to piss someone off.

Ticoczki: Nobody likes Morton Feldman anymore, it's alright.

Charlap: There is something about that Angel's Ladder that sounds very much like the Rhinemaidens in Rheingold or the Flower Maidens in Parsifal.

Ticoczki: Yes, I had those in mind.

Charlap: Now, about Psalm 4.

Ticoczki: Yes, it's not very good is it?

Charlap: No, not at all.

Ticoczki: Let's not talk about it then. I plan on revising it by the time I turn a hundred and forty.

Charlap: I'm sure people look forward to that.

Ticoczki: Psalm 5 was my attempt to write something simple, it turned into a chamber of horrors.

Charlap: How many different clarinet lines do you have going at the beginning of Psalm 5?

Ticoczki: It's difficult to remember, I believe at least eighty.

Charlap: An orchestra of atonal clarinets?

Ticoczki: Once again, it is radical tonality.

Charlap: You then quote a melody quite blatantly from the Ma Tovu from the Jewish shacharit service.

Ticoczki: Indeed, the line from the Ma Tovu comes from this Psalm, and a blatant quote eliminates the need for me to compose more.

Charlap: I'm sure there are people very grateful for that.

Ticoczki: Indeed they are.

Charlap: You then do something completely unexpected with the end.

Ticoczki: Quite so. I have three choirs of eight sopranos singing different notes simultaneously, each of which then are manipulated in a glissando, a slide, all the way down to the lowest pitches which the ear can perceive and then a second glissando/slide up the highest notes.

Charlap: What motivated you to do that?

Ticoczki: I often find the most productive way to set the text is to find the most visual dramatic imagery and find a musical equivalent to it. In the case of the last tenth perek, or sentence, of Psalm 5, the greatest image is of the heathens, about which the Psalmist says: 'For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulcuhre; (some modern translators translate that as 'yawning gulf'); they flatter with their tongue.' I image of the open sepulchre, or yawning gulf, in the throat is quite striking. And I think I came up with quite an appropriate musical metaphor for it.

Charlap: Indeed. One can almost imagine you a good composer after such an unexpected musical event.

Ticoczki: I almost convinced myself.

Charlap: Now the setting of Psalm 6 is quite concise, you have three sections.

Ticoczki: Yes, the first section is supposed to be something approaching a divine heartbeat.

Charlap: Quite pretentious.

Ticoczki: Indeed. By heartbeat, I do not know if I mean human consciousness or the likeness of the human image to God, or how humans waste their divinity with their lack of closeness to God, or divine anger at humans straying from their path. But whatever it is, the divine heartbeat goes very far up, and then slows to the point of near death.

Charlap: One can hear a very similar closeness to the theme from Mad Men.

Ticoczki: I only realized that after I wrote it. In many ways, I was more interested in the similarity to minimalism. It began with a very minimalist pattern, but minimalism depends upon consistency of pulse for its organization. It is, by definition, music that is very difficult to dramatize, and dramatization is the point of what I attempt to do.

Charlap: Many people say you fail.

Ticoczki: They're probably right.

Charlap: But the second part of Psalm 6 is extremely different.

Ticoczki: Yes, it is perhaps an erotic dream, or divine despair, or simply the despair of humans.

Charlap: You set it with a Schoenberg-like series of sprechstimme lines, but it also sounds strangely...

Ticoczki: Erotic? Sensual?

Charlap: I'm wondering if people will need a cold shower after listening to it.

Ticoczki: The erotic connotation of the line being set is unmistakable: I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Like much of Schoenberg, it is both a line of great despair and great sensuality.

Charlap: Aren't you worried you might eventually be sued for having singers sing like that?

Ticoczki: If I am not subpoenaed by the end of this project I have done it incorrectly.

Charlap: The ending is much more tranquil.

Ticoczki: As befits a text which says that the Lord has heard the Psalmist's prayer.

Charlap: Now Psalm 7 is jazz, and yet....

Ticoczki: I have no idea how to write a jazz piece of music. It is jazz influenced, I doubt it is properly jazz.

Charlap: It's also very long.

Ticoczki: Yes, it is currently too long by approximately three minutes. By the time it is broadcast here I hope to cut it significantly.

Charlap: Will it be an easy fix?

Ticoczki: There have been easier. There are a number of moments when the invention is simply too thin. It is a battle Psalm and I required a musical style that had a great deal of motion and cacophony. No music has more of either than Hard Bop.

Charlap: I also understand that it was extremely expensive.

Ticoczki: Hiring musicians, at least hiring them properly so that you can earn their trust for further work, is not an easy expense to fulfill.

Charlap: Many people did not like this Psalm.

Ticoczki: Once again, I find that mystifying. Not because it is particularly good, but it is certainly better than ones which escape comment.

Charlap: Well, maybe that's because the worse ones are not even good enough to make people notice them, but the better ones are at least good enough to make people angry at how bad they are.

Ticoczki: That gives me great consolation...

Charlap: This sounds a bit like Rothko, who wanted to create a new artistic language to compete with his great heroes like Rembrandt and Turner and Michelangelo.

Ticoczki: No this is not Rothko. Marcus was an artist of inspirational integrity but he believed in tragedy, he believed the importance of the human was such that only tragedy was worth any rendering into art. He had no sense of absurdity and did not assimilate himself to comedy which surrounded him everywhere in New York. The suicide of such men is foreordained.  What I wish to create is an artistic world that resembles The Bible in all its diversity in which every character has space to be human yet what matters is the totality to which they contribute.

Charlap: But you're a musician. 

Charlap: I understand you're quite fond of some popular musicians too.

Ticoczki: Certainly. I think their artistic priorities are better.

Charlap: Can we try to get a better definition of what you mean by artistic priorities?

Ticoczki: I'd rather let my work speak for itself.

Charlap: But how many people want to read twenty-eight hundred pages.

Ticoczki: You cannot contain the complexity of the world. It must contain all the nuances and details of the world at hand.

Charlap: That makes no sense.

Ticoczki: Because you do not examine the full complexity of the statement.

Charlap: Can you convey it?

Ticoczki: Not in the time allotted for this interview.