recent concerts: Scott Wheeler and Paul Salerni

recent concerts: Scott Wheeler and Paul Salerni

23 November 2021 / William Anderson / On the Beat

A modernist composer joined a music composition faculty, but not without first being interviewed by a minimalist already on the faculty.


–We understand you’re a modernist and we’re OK with that.


–Thank you very much – I’m looking forward to working here.


–But please just try not to be judgmental.

Yes, modernists are judgmental. Minimalists think they live and let live, but minimalism might be a modernist ideology. A modernist’s judgmental stance has something to do with the historical thinking that -Norman O. Brown- objected to.

A meme reportedly going around now–we’re all composers. The composer is no longer on a pedestal. And we see real respect between players and composers of all stripes. This feels like a positive development.

“12-EDO, like that’s never been done before.” We must make history. Norman O. Brown explains how that can become annoying. He finds it the neurosis of the century. There are infinte musical innovations to be discarded for being unmusical. The neurosis places too great a temptation to explore them all. We adapt good-naturedly to some of these explorations, and sometimes they adapt reciprocally.

In the US today we see composers doing music that we have not yet scrawled with words and ideology. It can make history without being obsessed with epoch-making innovation–life by a thousand musical felicities. Kyle Gann speaks of this “music for which there is as yet no name”, and we, the proud, judgmental, old time modernists are slowly coming around to it.

Last Friday at Carnegie, Scott Wheeler’s violin concerto, *Birds of America* for the great Gil Shaham & Leon Botstein breaks all the molds. NY Times gave it some nice words.

NY Times Review

I felt it flourishes in a vast universe of musical idioms not excluding American music theater.

On the following Tuesday Paul Salerni’s birthday concert at Merkin kept surprising.

The production brought together the Salerni family – Paul the composer father, son Miles on marimba, and son Domenic, the violinist.

“Vola Vola” ranges from charming to hilarious, showing the composer being endlessly inventive within a distinctly Italian musical idiom and sense of humor, but with bountiful details that could only be Salerni. Salerni’s son Domenic was the brilliant violinist, contending with the lithe, nimble Antonello DiMatteo on the clarinet. You can hear it on YouTube–

Salerni wrote an entire CD for the Bowers Fader Duo,represented with some samples. Jessica Bowers never sounded better, floating effortless high notes, acting roles that have become utterly natural for her.

Salerni trades children with Lou Karchin. Marisa Karchin sang beautifully on the birthday concert, and Paul’s son Domenic plays music composed for him by Karchin–

I was surprised by the string quartet, which was very sweet, but always smart & deft enough to avoid being too sweet. I hope that piece is recorded somewhere.