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Fanfare Music Magazine was founded in 1977 by Joel Flegler who, after 38 years, is still the publisher. The H.Q. of this bimonthly magazine is in Tenafly, New Jersey. It describes itself as “The magazine for serious record collectors”. It has also “become the magazine for serious musicians”. So not many jokes or laughs here then. It has more than 50 (serious) contributors, three of which were sufficiently attracted by the CD to forward a review.

I am fortunate again.   All three reviews report my music in a charitable vein and have kind, generous comments and opinions to offer. This is not always so, especially with new music and new composers which so often seem to attract contentiousness and polemics for many reasons, some obvious, some not so. Q: To what extent is the evaluation of new music a subjective process dependent upon the personal values and preferences of the reviewer?

The first review is by Peter Burwasser who lives in Philadelphia. He has written about music for many years and, from an early age, seems to have been thoroughly engaged, immersed in music in many different ways, roles and capacities, one of these being editor of a new magazine Philadelphic Music Makers. He states that “my single most important goal as a writer about music is to get more people to listen… if we stop listening, it dies”. He feels “a special bond with the music of living composers”. I am one of those, just.

His review is mainly a technical appraisal of my non-prescriptive techniques. He goes on to say “[Craven’s] kind of wide ranging technique allows for considerable diversity in the music itself… it is not Minimalistic in the motoric, repetitive style of pioneering American practitioners such as Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Elsewhere the music is dense, even lush, especially in the Sonata No. 9, a three movement work that has the most traditional profile of the three here. He is a very interesting musical thinker, and there are intriguing ideas here”.

The second review is by Carson Cooman who is a research associate in Music and Composer in Residence at the Memorial Church Harvard University. He is a staggeringly prolific composer and, from what I have heard, his music is often charged with tremendous energy. He is also a concert organist, performing exclusively repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Of all the reviewers of these sonatas he is the only one who possesses a score to Sonata No. 8 because, as you might have read in an earlier post, after having listened to my “Set for Piano,” Carson contacted me and asked me to write a piece for him. I don’t for one second imagine that he would have expected anything like this sonata which is written almost entirely and uniquely in Middle Order format.

After a brief technical explanation of my compositional methods employed in the pieces he goes on to say “Craven’s interest and background in open form writing comes not from the John Cage aesthetic, but rather through the freedom found in improvisational styles (such as jazz). Thus the resulting music is not nearly as avant-garde as the description of its construction might lead one to believe. Scott McLaughlin’s extensive booklet notes provide a detailed trip through the pieces and their similarities and differences… The overall result of all three sonatas is an engaging listening experience that repays revisiting. There is nothing at all off-putting about Craven’s material, and while at times the forms are illusive on a first hearing of such large-scale music, subsequent listens (sic) begin to reveal further connections… Mary Dullea inhabits and conveys Craven’s musical landscape with both sensitivity and virtuosity”.

The third review is by Mary Nockin who lives in “a piece of beautiful desert land between Casa Grande and Gila Bend” where she writes and paints. Indeed some parts of her review are quite painterly. She was born into a family of classical music enthusiasts in New York City and studied piano, violin and singing. Later at Long Island she taught English and theater (sic), arts and was a soprano soloist at the local cathedral. She now writes for a number of music publications and is an opera critic.

Her article commences with a very brief introduction to Non-Prescription which precedes a brief analysis of the sonatas. One of her comments echoes Fanfare’s description of itself “This is not music for casual listening, but it is fascinating for the serious music lover” which, in a very tenuous way, provides some sort of symmetry,  a book-ending for this post.

To read the complete reviews please enter Reviews of Metier MSV 28554 Eric Craven Piano Sonatas

No 10/10 here

Last August in the post entitled “May I Present……….”   I promised to report every review “good or bad”.   Well, here’s one that is quite different from the others in several respects.

The American Record Guide has reviewed recordings since 1935.   It is published bimonthly and claims to offer “500 reviews every issue written by a freelance staff of over 80 writers”.   In presenting itself it strikes a bold, jaunty, in-your-face posture…..   “no stuffy British sentences (what, I wonder, is a British sentence?) or academic circumlocutions.   If you resent hype and jargon you will like our writing”.   For what kind of readership is this magazine targeted?

One of the writers is George Adams.   I cannot find too much information about him other than he is working on a music PhD (no specifics), that he is a composer (no further detail) and “plays most string instruments (even guitar) sic and keyboards”.  (An impressive range of skills).

After quoting from the cover of the CD – not the sleeve notes – he delivers his opinion.   For those of a weak disposition, stop reading now………   “I don’t find the music particularly compelling, partly because it doesn’t sound “non-prescriptive” at all.   The novelty of indeterminacy doesn’t save the more straight forward sections from their rather unexceptional material and substance”.

That’s it really.   Ammunition exhausted.   Unlike the other reviewers  Mr. Adams does not review the three sonatas individually.   He refers only to the opening of the seventh so one is left wondering whether his comments apply to all three sonatas or to this one section.   Personally I find this incompleteness to be ambiguous, unsatisfactory and confusing.

For the complete review please enter Reviews of Metier MSV 28544 Eric Craven Piano Sonatas.

Blog Stats

Yesterday I received the 2014 Annual Report from WordPress detailing the blog’s activity over the year.   The following is a selection from the stats provided:

During 2014 the blog was viewed about 1900 times.

There were 4 views on Christmas day!

Curiously there were 111 views on the 4th November.   Why there should be this spike completely eludes me.   This day precedes the (rather splendid) review from ClassicsToday by 2 days and my reporting of the Sheffield University concert was posted on the 22nd October.   Very odd.

Visitors to the site came from 48 different countries.

Most were from the UK and the USA.

Some other countries identified by the stats include: the Netherlands, Brazil, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian Federation, Croatia, Kyrgyzstan, Puerto Rico and the Republic of Korea.

This has prompted me to consider if the geographical distribution of the sales of the CDs has any correlation to the above.   I doubt if Divine Art generates such data but I will enquire and I will keep you …… posted.

As 2015 beckons with all its unknowns and challenges may I wish you all good health, good fortune, success and contentment.

Myself?   I hope that my underlying chronic dissatisfaction with what I am will continue to motivate me to write more, learn more and understand more.

Album du jour

Until last year John Montanari hosted a music programme on a Massachusetts radio station WFCR-FM.   “One of the best parts of the job”, he says, “has been learning about newer composers and just how broad the classical canon is”.   After reading his review, I wondered to what extent did his broadcasting voice mirror his prose?   He appears to be a very thorough and conscientious reviewer, having listened to the sonatas several times and having studied the sleeve notes before delivering his verdict.

“Yes”, he writes, “they’re abstract, angular and dissonant.   But unlike in more severe modernism (e.g. Carter, Boulez), you can actually hear what the hell is going on.   There’s no way to predict what will happen next, but when it happens, you understand why it did”.

“(Sonata) No. 7 is my favourite.   In five related but well differentiated movements, arranged symmetrically, their moods ranging from jazzy to spectral, it’s a cogent, concise and worthy addition to the latter-day piano sonatas of Prokofiev, Copeland, Tippett and Carter”.

Sonata No. 8 “Here we have at least one foot (one hand?) in the world of Morton Feldman……. for now I don’t mind the ride, I have no idea where I am most of the time…… then by reading the programme notes after a few listens, as is my usual procedure, I found that my disorientation was the intended effect, and that the works’s (sic) seeming randomness was built into its compositional method”.   Obviously Mr. Montanari’s Damascene moment.

Sonata No. 9 “Though the two composers in no way resemble each other, I get the same emotional tug from Craven’s 9th Sonata as I get from Franz Schubert’s final three works in the same genre”.   Schubert?   Now there’s a new label!

To read the full review: https://www.johnmontanari.com/2014/11/17/album-du-jour-mary-dullea-eric-craven-piano-sonatas-7-•-8-•9

This review is from ClassicsToday.com. The reviewer is Jed Distler, his title, “Eric Craven’s Open-Ended (and quite beautiful) Piano Sonatas”. ClassicsToday.com appears to be quite unique amongst its peers as it updates its news and reviews each day. It has also developed a rating system which assesses both performance and sound quality of the CDs that are reviewed. There are quite specific criteria. 10/10 is considered to be …”superior, qualities of unusual merit…. If the performance under review is truly exceptional and is supported by sound that neither artificially enhances, detracts from, nor draws attention away from the music, the critic may award 10/10″.

Mr. Distler is generous with his comments ….”what we hear on these two discs is  fluid, cogent, pianistically idiomatic, alternately energetic and lyrical, and just plain beautiful”. I am appreciative of reviewers such as he who avoid quotidian levels of prose on the one hand and the oracular and sententious on the other.

Sonata No 8, being so radically different and novel, generates difficulties for a critic to construct any review or analysis that carries with it real understanding or insight without him/her (always a him….) having  recourse to the score. Scott McLaughlin’s “necessary” sleeve notes constitute the sole source of written information regarding the compositional and performance processes. I am always fascinated by the labels and references the reviewers attach to this  music.This reviewer hears Messiaen, Boulez and Feldman. Thankfully there is space left for some Craven.

Mary, Alex, Scott, Peter and Stephen will be quite delighted when I inform them of this review especially when they see that our C.D. is so highly regarded as to be included in “a select group of the month’s best recordings”. To read this review:http://www.classicstoday.com/review/eric-cravens-open-ended-quite-beautiful-piano-sonatas/

Yes.   Just so.   A series of concerts held in the high-vaulted  Firth Hall on the University of Sheffield Campus commencing 17.45.

I meet Mary Dullea on the stage in the Hall.   Her welcoming embrace somewhat tempered by the fact that her allotted warm-up time is ticking away and the piano is still under lock and key.   Mobile calls, runners dispatched, the key duly arrives.   Mary and her page-turner immediately begin practice.   Precious time has been lost.   She will not appreciate me hanging around, so I leave to join my friends in the cafe downstairs.

17.15.   The first of the audience arrives.   The start of an intermittent trickle which culminates in a sudden infusion of students three minutes before the concert is to begin.

I have two concerns.   The first is that Firth Hall is adjacent to a main arterial road.   Four lanes of traffic at rush hour… This, compounded by the imposing presence of a large arched window at the rear of the stage.   Concert halls should try not to have windows – and there is a hospital three hundred metres near.   My concerns grow into anxieties as I imagine the recital being punctuated by a constant series of strident minor thirds and a wailing glissandi of police and ambulance services racing past.   But remarkably this was not to be the case.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks to the considerate folk of Sheffield who so kindly postponed their heart attacks, falls from scaffolding and RTA’s for the duration of the concert.

My second concern was that this hour did not constitute the best of times to expect people to attend a concert.   My head imaged Mary and me sitting on the edge of the stage kicking our heels staring at row after row of unoccupied seats.   But no, there they were studying the programme, texting, reading newspapers, leaning, whispering.   A few going to the foot of the stage attempting to catch a glimpse of the scores neatly positioned by a now absent Mary.

It’s time.   The students have arranged themselves en bloc. The Hall, the piano and the page turner anticipate and from side stage she is amongst us, welcoming, bowing, smiling, scanning.    Settles herself on the piano stool, positions herself, body leaning slightly forward, touches the music, feels for the pedals, listens to the audience, focuses, pauses.   Expectancy builds.

Music is suddenly permeating the Hall..   Numbers FOUR and TEN from THE SET.   A nice contrast, a gentle easing into what is to follow which is the recently released Piano Sonata No. 9.   It’s a good audience.   There is an intensity of listening, a concentration.   Everybody has become part of the performance.   Each person is now an extension of the realisations unfolding before their eyes, in their heads.   Each has become part of the synergy.

There is a pause at the end of the first movement and the Director of Performance gets up from the piano and walks a few feet to the foot of the stage, stoops and collects three large pieces of card upon which are attached the pages of the second movement.   She returns to the piano and, standing, clips them carefully on to the music stand.   Sits, settles again, hovers.   The audience have taken a keen interest.   This is different, as is the High Order realisation that Mary has already started.   This realisation is not quite as “aggressive” or as “violent” – reviewers’ words – as the one on the recording but it again ends with a thunderous cascade of sounds underpinned by a furious repeated ostinato figure low in the base.

The pieces of card are passed to the page turner and yet again Mary goes through her routine before commencing the third and last movement.   Forty five minutes of music and perhaps three or four coughs.   Not bad for this time of year I think to myself.   The applause is enthusiastic.   Mary calls me up from the second row.   I reach up and take both her hands before turning to the audience.   I wait for the applause to cease and briefly thank them for their support.   Whilst I wait for Mary some students engage me in questioning conversation and make some interesting and valid points. They have not encountered non-prescriptive music before.  It’s all rather novel not having to be told how to play, what to do. The idea obviously appeals.

And then to a nearby tavern.   Mary is revived by a glass of Shiraz.   A large glass.   I am driving back to Manchester so it’s a lime and soda for me.   My small circle of friends are gathered around Mary, our conversation competing with another very different genre of music.

An Airing

Last month the third movement of Piano Sonata No. 7 was broadcasted on Divine Art’s British Music Radio Programme.

The aim of this programme is “to explore the heritage of the musical culture of the British Isles and especially to promote discovery …”   On the same programme were part of Michael Finnissy’s Violin Concerto and the first movement of Christopher Wright’s Concertino.   I am informed that “more Craven will be featured in one of our future piano concert programmes”.

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