Buckle up, we've begun the descent into the fall arts season

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Judging by the volume of ALL-CAPS PRESS RELEASES in my inbox, the fall symphony seasons are underway. Question: can an orchestra start its season without announcing it in a convoluted, overcooked five-graf screed with names, pieces & personnel inconsistently bolded? Apparently not.

Just once I wish some group would play it coy. Send an email with a mysterious single-click button, maybe. Or try something, anything, new. Everything is tedious and our primate brains crave novelty. Shake our food & make it look alive before you drop it on the plate.

With that said … enjoy this long & detailed mailer — written in a style that’s remained unaltered over four-and-a-half years — which grew SNAKE-LIKE in my drafts folder until I had no choice but to send it with unprecedented haste.

Thanks for reading & supporting the CDA mailer. Here’s a link to our sign-up page — let your friends know that yes, this is yet another newsletter to sign up for, and yes, it is compulsory.

Keep it clean,


Composers, arrangers, & dabblers: sit back, sip a pumpkin spice flat white, and revel in this extremely thorough critique of Sibelius composing software

Sibelius is so washed it’s rinsed. This is twenty minutes well-spent.

Composer Keiko Yamada: unmasked

It’s hard to know where to start with this one, so let’s keep it simple.

Once upon a time there was a Japanese composer named Keiko Yamada. She wrote and published educational pieces for beginner-level school bands & orchestras. Neat! Go Keiko Yamada.

But wait! It turns out “Japanese composer Keiko Yamada” was actually….. white American composer Larry Clark? What?

Larry Clark — as has apparently been discussed in Facebook music groups the past few years, but less so in the general internet ecosystem — took it upon himself to write using a pen name to attract a certain type of attention to the music. The attention he sought may or may not have been related to the fact that the pseudonymous “Keiko Yamada” seemed to be a Japanese woman, while Clark himself — already an accomplished composer for young musicians — was white. To write as Yamada just might have helped garner interest from band leaders looking for works by non-white, non-male composers.

At least, this is the operating theory of Owen Davis, a composer, percussionist and music instructor who became the latest to level a complaint against Clark on Facebook. (Davis credits fellow educator Amelia Joy* for sounding the alarm about Yamada/Clark in other groups, so there’s our o.g. source. See? A little complicated.)

So, to cut to the chase: Davis’s post gained traction, Larry Clark’s publisher got wind, and all the compositions by “Keiko Yamada” were eventually pulled. An apparently contrite Clark took to FB to offer an apology, including explaining that in 2016 (!) he & his publisher (Carl Fischer, for whom he previously worked) agreed to replace Yamada’s name on the offending pieces with his own. Fischer later removed them all from their online catalog.

I was surprised by the number of supportive comments on Clark’s apology post, including one likening him to a modern-day Mark Twain or George Eliot (this is … a reach). These would seem to counterbalanced by a more general feeling that any projects linked to Clark must be forensically re-examined. Some have called for a boycott of his music, and for Clark to be disinvited from music conferences.

Anyway, if you’re keen to see Larry Legend in all his infamy, book a first-class flight to Honeoye, New York because Clark is a featured “Guess Conductor” (sic) at an elementary honor band concert in early 2020. White men! What’ll they get away with next!?

H/t to NextShark for their write-up.

*For what it’s worth, Amelia Joy told me moderators in certain FB groups were none too pleased about the Yamada/Clark revelations being posted, and went so far as to shut down discussion multiple times. This is why Owen Davis’ recent signal-boost was important, although Joy & others had been raising questions for a long time before.

A short debate

Q: Should LA Opera fire Plácido Domingo?

A: Yes.

The Classical Dark Arts mailer presents: some albums you might want to listen to, maybe

I promised more music this time out, and here it is. Click on the artist name & album title to hear the music in question.

  1. Hania Rani, ESJA

Summary: These are concise, pop song-length tunes. Rani relies on ostinato figures swirled around with pedal, and deploys slow and deceptively uncomplicated lines of melody. It’s beautiful, very filmic, and has an unmistakable Philip Glass-ian vibe.

You’ll probably: catch at least one track on some “classical chill” streaming playlist.

Best track(s): Sun, Glass Esja, and Now, Run.

Meaningful PR blurb: “Recorded at Rani’s apartment in Warsaw […] and at her friend Bergur Þórisson’s studio in Reykjavik, Esja is a series of beautiful melodic vignettes, inspired by, Berlin, Iceland and the wild mountains in Bieszczady as well as a love of art and architecture.”

  1. Jane Antonia Cornish, SEASCAPES

Summary: Cornish’s new album sounds like Anna Þorvaldsdóttir with a touch less Icelandic bleakness. While listening I pictured a time-lapse scene of social media influencers snapping selfies in front of rhythmic waves, while in the corner of the shot there’s like a decaying fish that nobody notices and you think “whoa. Who knew” at the very end. But maybe you will arrive at a different visual cue. Cornish’s music really takes you somewhere without you being able to say exactly how you got there. It’s quite lovely.

Best track(s): Seascapes I, II & III.

  1. Alma Quartet Amsterdam, Henrik Schwarz, CCMYK

Summary: This project sees Dutch string group Alma Quartet linking up with DJ and composer Henrik Schwarz. Alma Quartet’s tight, nicely structured aesthetic is the cocktail on top of which Schwarz floats an eyedropper of eau-de-synthé. Everything goes down smooth. The writing is club-ready.

Best track(s): CCMYK3 is the most beat-heavy cut here, but CCMYK9 & CCMYK1 find nice grooves, too. Less danceable tracks remind me of Kronos Quartet joints (in a good way), especially Requiem for a Dream-era Kronos.

I’m not going to even: make fun of them for describing their recording process as an “open conversation between piercing intellects” in the album boilerplate. I just won’t do it.

  1. Andrew Norman, LA Philharmonic, Sustain

Come for: Andrew Norman, creator of Play, one of the best orchestral works of the 2010s.

Stay for: wavery strings sounding like a drunk church organist playing a Hammond B3. You might also like to know this is the first recording of Sustain, which was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2018.

Summary: Norman swings for the fences in his latest piece, which he wrote after wondering what people would be thinking about & listening to a hundred years from now. Judging anecdotally by a few critics’ reactions on social media, this release came as a bit of a surprise - there wasn’t a lot of fanfare in the lead-up. Sustain is the whole album, and it runs just a touch over a half-hour.

Best track(s): um, Sustain I would say? since it’s the only track.

Why do musicians fail? Let us count the ways

Kate Wagner is the author of a new piece recounting her time as a budding violinist in rural North Carolina. Wagner recalls the leap she made from her small town to bigger stages and higher stakes, as well as her unexpected crash shortly after.

Wagner wasn’t a lackadaisical practitioner or some shrinking violet. She was for real. Her problems were financial and geographical. When you don’t live in a big metro area and don’t come from a musical and/or wealthy family, then you’re automatically at a disadvantage. At a minimum you need institutional and familial connections, guidance from teachers, and talented peers to compete against. And you need money to do it all — whether it’s from a crusty old trust fund, or (more realistically) grants to help buy instruments, pay for school, and travel to festivals and camps.

In the piece Wagner interviews musicians with similar stories as hers: they talk about lagging behind peers, going to the “wrong school,” barely paying off school debt with gig money, and being stuck in a career that was vastly different than what they expected. After all that, quitting the business would seem a wise choice.

Go read this. (And afterwards go read McMansion Hell, Wagner’s magnificent blog. Just keep scrolling.) The next time someone prattles on about a strict classical music meritocracy, politely tell them to go f themselves.

She might be onto something

Pound these links with your cursor like you’re tenderizing meat

📻 Does classical music radio have a payola problem too or nah?

🎧 Pod watch: The Open Ears Project with Clemency Burton-Hill (h/t Danielle)

🌌 Weed-powered classical Groupmuses are now a thing

🤖 Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood starts his own classical label (h/t Alex)

🍸 Gimme a Double Xenakis: composers as cocktails

🙏 Hear more, see more: B-more strike over

Dark thoughts

  • This is cool — the story behind the tremendous work to bring the Cosmic Crisp, a brand-new apple variety, to market. My year-round favorites are Granny Smith, Cripps Pink & Honeycrisp, but when fall hits things get freaky. Anything goes. Can’t wait to try.

  • Ann Powers generated some heat with her review of Lana Del Rey’s new album. You seldom read an album write-up like this: a punctilious untangling and re-contextualization of a highly-praised release. LDR bristled, but Powers was fair.

  • Seriously, how is Plácido Domingo still performing? Why do his enablers still have jobs? Due process blah blah blah. Enough is enough. Shut it down.

  • Shouts to my son whose shoot first, ask questions later photo technique produced that winning header image.