With a brashly broad title, Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) stakes out the familiar territory of 20th-century classical music: how Strauss, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and others disrupted music in the early 20th century; the rise of neoclassicism and atonality in the 1920s; Britten, Shostakovich, and others who bypassed the post–World War II avant-garde; and the current panoply of styles that borrow from every genre, including pop, jazz, and Ghanaian drumming.
In the preface, Ross admits that "much great music is left on the cutting-room floor." What remains dazzles. Dozens of composers—Mahler, Webern, Schulhoff, Bartók, Ligeti, Riley, and others—populate the book vividly. A gifted writer, Ross encapsulates composers with spot-on descriptions and an alert eye for cultural context. Parts of the book, especially the chapters on Sibelius and Copland, will be familiar to regular readers of the New Yorker, for which Ross serves as classical-music critic.
Yet Ross falters in the latter half of the 20th century. By page 500, with 43 pages to go, The Rest Is Noise arrives in the mid-1970s. The final chapter gallops pillar-to-post through late Boulez, Lachenmann, the spectralists, Arvo Pärt, and so on. At the end, I wanted fewer pages on Shostakovich, a second-rate composer, and more on Stravinsky, one of the main innovators of the last century.
Although Ross draws connections among classical and pop, jazz remains segregated. Thus, after Duke Ellington's token appearance, radical innovators such as Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, and Anthony Braxton earn but a few sentences and nothing more.
We still need a book on 20th-century music that not only comprehends recordings as music—on his blog Ross decrees "all recordings are fakes"—but makes new connections among the radical musics of the 20th century.
RAYMOND SCOTT PROJECT
Members of the Monktail Creative Music Concern honor the fountainhead of all that great Warner Brothers cartoon music ("Powerhouse," "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals," etc.) with a manically stampeding front line of horns and saxes. Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave, 547-6763, 5:30—7:30 pm, free with museum admission.
Three short, 10- to 20-minute sets of poetry, dance, and music: Poet Karena Youtz and choreographer/dancer Amy O'Neal share the bill with percussionist Jeffrey Allport. Along with Sean Meehan, the Vancouver-based musician is one of the new generation of drummers who transform the drum kit into a portable synthesizer of abstract, almost electronic tones. Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave, 322-1533, 8 pm, $5—$15 sliding-scale donation.
LIN & HONDA
Piano duets have since shrunk into a small cult corner of the repertory, but composers continue to make masterpieces for the genre. Pianists Tiffany Lin and Motoko Honda perform Játékok ("Games") by Hungarian composer György Kurtág, Debussy's Six Épigraphes Antiques, and Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV) by George Crumb, perhaps the greatest orchestrator of the 20th century. Fourth-floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 8 pm, $5—$15 sliding-scale donation.
Saxophonist Jensen celebrates the release of his CD One More Mile (Origin) with the excellent quartet who backed him up on the album: Bill Anschell (piano), Jeff Johnson (bass), and John Bishop (drums). I like this group's sly rendition of the standard "Alone Together," Jensen's near-ecstatic spiraling solo in "Birk's Works," and the collectively composed "Punt," a vital, agitated romp. Tula's, 2214 Second Ave, 443-4221, 8:30—12:30 pm, $15.
Although Georges Bizet (1838—1875) will always be revered for his opera Carmen, he wrote other tuneful and elegant pieces. Led by Roupen Shakarian, this orchestra plays Bizet's charming suite, Jeux d'Enfants, as well as the seldom heard Symphony No. 1 by one of Bizet's inspirations, Charles Gounod. Rachel Matthews is the piano soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 13. St. Stephen's Church, 4805 NE 45th St, 675-9727, 2:30 pm, $12/$18.
Before Steinway cemented its reputation as the piano of choice in the early 20th century, many other manufacturers made supremely good pianos. Here, pianists Françoise Papillon and Rie Ando perform piano music by composers who favored the Chickering piano: Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Franz Liszt, and Amy Beach. Queen Anne Christian Church, 1316 Third Ave W, 726-6088, 3 pm, $10—$25.
Cellist/composer Paul Rucker, Stephen Fandrich of the Seattle Harmonic Voices, and Wayne Horvitz lend their talents in this benefit for the Monktail Creative Music Concern (MCMC). Unlike mainstream arts organizations which boast a paid staff, an office, and (if tactically savvy) an endowment, the MCMC is but one of many local art instigators who operate "without portfolio." In lieu of a visionary millionaire, these organizers of the Sounds Outside series need your support. Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave, 322-1533, 7 pm, $10—$25 sliding-scale donation.