Sunday morning a recent piece of mine, called On Prayer and Praying, got its first performance at the 11:15 Mass at the Church of the Advent in Boston by the excellent–very excellent, in fact–countertenor (and composer) Martin Near and the also very excellent organist Ross Wood. Since it was in the middle of a quite long church service, there didn’t seem to be any good reason to let anybody who wasn’t going to be there anyway know about it beforehand. Edith Ho, the music director at the Advent, has been, and continues to be, very good to me. She’s done two or three pieces of mine with the choir (which is absolutely top-notch) for years now, and will also schedule other pieces, like this one, periodically. This particularly service also included the Josquin L’homme Arme voces musicale Mass and pieces by Philippe de Monte and Contanzo Porta (both from the 1500’s, neither of who I’ve ever heard of).
The piece was a sort of “political” statement, albeit pretty lame as agitprop: I get tired of hearing on radio and tv from Fundamentalists that there should be prayer in school and prayer before ball games and prayer during graduations and prayer where ever else (There is an old joke: As long as there are math test there’ll be prayer in school), so I decided to set the words of Jesus on the matter (Matthew 6:5-13), which forbids praying in public. (Well, “forbids” isn’t exactly the right word, but he certainly didn’t endorse it. He actually says that praying in public is its own reward.) Anyway, Martin and Ross did a great performance. I thought it sounded great.
Later in the day I worked with a chamber music group, a piano quartet, I coach at the NEC Prep School who are playing a house concert next week. They’re playing pieces by students Jeremiah Klarman (13) and Stephen Feigenbaum (17) and the Schumann Piano Quartet, along with the first Piano Quartet by Gerald Barry. I have to say that the Barry, which I think is a really really good piece, is one of the strangest ones I’ve ever encountered: unremittingly diatonic, with folky tunes, sometimes agressively imitative to the point of inpenitribility, having a straight-line, but very highly disjunct continuity, absolutely non-developmental, relying completely on the repetition and juxtaposition of the same material. It’s extreme, rollicking, brutal, and a little mistifying; I think it’s probably best described as sounding like a rough and rowdy night down at the pub or maybe Grainger with heavy boots and explosives. We’ve been working on it for about eight months now, and it doesn’t get any less strange (and sort of disturbing) with greater acquaintance. I like it a lot.
The Schumann is also really great, and very beautiful.