"Just Don't Call It Minimalism"
The New York Times, August 10, 2007
My second Times record round-up. I wish my tone was a bit more personable here, especially as compared to those of Bernard and Anne. (I might have been a little distracted!) I also kind of wish I'd picked something as deliberately provocative as Bernard's inclusion of Count Basie -- good one, that! Tom Johnson's An Hour for Piano, in the recording by Frederic Rzewski, very nearly made my cut; other pieces that tried to crash the list were Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting in a Room, Gavin Bryars's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet and Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports. And of course, by the time I submitted my wish list, a few seminal pieces -- Drumming, Music for 18 Musicians, Einstein on the Beach -- had been nabbed by quicker hands.
Still, in the end I'm completely happy with my choices. Including Glass's Music in 12 Parts was a no-brainer, although I actually prefer the rough energy of the earlier Virgin recording, now out of print, to the muted suavity of the technically more-assured Nonesuch remake. If the new live recording Glass's Orange Mountain Music is issuing one section a month on iTunes is ever issued in full audio fidelity on CD -- or even in lossless FLAC format -- it'll be the clear first choice.
Glassworks, the second Glass recording I ever owned (after The Photographer), was literally a life-changing experience, and remains the best single point of access to the composer's world for the absolute newcomer. Likewise, John Adams's The Chairman Dances rocked my world sufficiently to convince me to fly home from college to Houston for opening night of Nixon in China. Would that I'd been sufficiently clued-in when Akhnaten was staged by the same company: The notion of hearing the glorious "Hymn to the Aten" live in the opera house gives me shivers.
“Akhnaten.” Vocalists; Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra and Chorus,
conducted by Dennis Russell Davies (Sony Classical Germany 91141; two
(Barnes & Noble)
UPDATE 3:53pm: Kyle Gann unsurprisingly pulls no punches in his sharp assessment of this exercise, and cites a number of works that might have been included in a broader survey. He, too, cites Tom Johnson's An Hour for Piano, and also mentions a mesmerizing set I'm acutely embarrassed to have forgotten, Eliane Radigue's Adnos I-III (still in print in a beautifully packaged box from Table of the Elements). David Toub and Mary Jane Leach make good points in Kyle's comments field. But David -- and Kyle, too -- surely you have to admit that it would have been nearly impossible to cite a representative recording of La Monte Young's music that's currently in print?