Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I Come Not to Praise Davy

Almost without exception, composers have dorky web pages. From the breathless self-written descriptions of the work — which, more often than not, combines x and y from over here with a and b from over there to create a new and engaging — transformative! — m and n, right here in my hand (I'm not excepting myself from their company) — to the cherry-picked quotes that give the impression that sliced bread has nothing on this person — well, as a self-admitted transgressor, I can only roll my eyes.

Actually, that's not true: I can also rub my stomach. And chew gum.

I also like pickles.

"What the critics are saying" is an oft-used heading on composer web pages (and writer web pages, and movie trailer pages...). Nobody — nobody! — ever disliked anything this composer did.

Speaking only for myself. If you never got a bad review, you haven't been working hard enough. To wit, I included all my reviews on my dorkathon of a page (they're now here), with the disclaimer that both good and bad reviews are equally true. After all, how much wisdom can be imparted by a stranger with a word count limit hearing a piece for the first time, not even knowing if it was a good performance? (That's a rhetorical question).

Come on, composers! Show me a bad time! I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours.

Right now.


  • It's a short stretch (about six minutes) of finely worked, agreeable, but unmemorable music (Andrew Porter, New Yorker)
  • [Rakowski's Duo] ... struck me as [an] exercise in schematic sound construction (Joshua Kosman, SF Chronicle)
  • the latter (Slange) I found dry and humorless (George W. Harper, Patriot Ledger)
  • .. this 20-minute (sic) concerto for bass clarinet and clarinet ... seems at odds with its title. Instead of portraying the fearsome hound with three heads who guarded the gates of Hades, it has an almost pastoral effect; a dreamy, lulling pattern emerged out of layers of suspensions, imitations and resolutions. It is more liquid than animistic (Edward Rothstein, NY Times)
  • Machine gun-like repeated notes predominated with not a whole lot of melodic line, a challenge for the pianist and rather hard on a classics-oriented audience (Janice Riese, Peninsula Times-Tribune)
  • it is hard to imagine that David Rakowski's "Sesso e Violenza," a concertino featuring two flutes and commissioned by the ensemble, would have got any listener hot and bothered without the composer's program note about the instrument's sexiness and violence in its extreme registers. It is hard to imagine that it did so anyway, though the maundering unisons worked the conductor, Peter Jarvis, into an incongruous lather with their evident metrical complexity. (James Oestreich, NY Times)
  • ... an instrumental mass that contrives to be both bright and dense. It was nothing if not busy, as if a positive horror of empty staves - also known as "Roger Sessions Syndrome" - had been stalking the young composer (Richard Buell, Boston Globe)
  • ...Unfortunately, the ending didn't work and it seemed wrong; it suddenly broke off. All that energy can't just stop without preparation; the effect was disquieting. (Marvin Tartak, SFCV
  • ...they came to little more than a thin, grayish fog of abstraction, of having been willed into existence. (Richard Buell, Boston Globe)
  • ... They sound like they would be challenging and enjoyable to play, but after a while they begin to take on a grey cast, perhaps owing to a rather constant level of harmonic tension--and not much tension, at that. These well-made pieces could probably find a place in the college recital repertoire. (American Record Guide)
  • The skillfulness of David Rakowski’s variations of the theme in “Ten of a Kind” throughout the four movements, while almost ascetically preferring the woodwinds over the brass, leads almost nowhere. And to use ten solo clarinets seemed like taking it too far, making it more difficult to achieve the effect of a concerto. (Von Fritz Schaub, Luzerner Zeitung)
  • "Locking Horns" lacked a convincing overall structure. Though just 15 minutes (sic), it seemed long-winded. The surprise ending — the music flutters upward then just stops midflight — sounded arbitrary. (Anthony Tommasini, NY Times)
  • Rakowski could focus his ideas a little more sharply by giving the music a stronger melodic profile, though his preference for simple forms, clearly articulated, makes each piece easy enough to follow at first hearing. (David Hurwitz, Classics Today)
  • There is also an unfortunate reference to Rakowski's continuation of great Etude writing, from Chopin to Ligeti. Such claims are far-fetched and although there are some relatively attractive exceptions (Nos. 14, 23, 26 and 29), few of these works achieve anything approaching the genuine order and complexity of the two composers named above. (Bryce Morrison, Gramophone)
  • "Locking Horns" by David Rokowski (sic) sounds a little like warmed-over Zappa, who himself can sound like warmed over Varese. (amazon.com review)
  • A new work, David Rakowski's Dream Symphony, proved less interesting. The work had some softness and elegance that complemented (sic) the string ensemble, but generally failed to deliver the musical goods. Waiting for development, instead we found introspection. Looking for insight, instead we found confusion. Davenny Wyner dragged the most out of the score, but in the end no substance could be ascertained. (Keith Powers, Boston Herald)
  • ...if I were going to infer anything from the titles bestowed upon his compositions, my guess would be that this guy is a total goofball (Randy Nordschow, NMB)
  • David Rakowsky (sic) in these three études summarizes some of the esthetics of the twentieth century, without adding anything to the originals. Absofunkinlutely, which wants to be inspired by funk music, makes one think of of Stravinsky mixed with Ligeti (ah! the famous “blocked keys”), Rick’s Mood is a kind of “musical bet” to write only major triads (Erik Satie already did that) and NOT, with his recitation of a minimalist poem (“Happy? not happy… Unhappy!!!”) returns to the happenings of John Cage in the Fifties. Pieces that aren’t very interesting in spite of the energy given them by Adam Marks. (Maxime Kaprielian, Resmusica)
  • ...it was unclear that Rakowski had attempted to understand the poetry or interpret for the listener anywhere beyond the most superficial. Mr. Hoose’s performance with Collage presented an attentive interpretation of Rakowski’s difficult score, but an almost juvenile understanding of Levin’s work, combined with unreasonable melodic lines that bordered on sustained “parlando vocalise” (what, exactly, does one sing when there’s nothing to sing? More precisely: how?) simply seemed a molestation the ensemble’s considerable talents (Sudeep Argawala, The Tech)
  • ...I think it's the material itself that lacks character. The big, overarching concepts are imaginative and effectively rendered, and so are a great many of the details and gestures (like that toy piano flourish). But melodically, thematically, motivically -- however you see fit to describe this particular "horizontal" aspect of music -- there's not much to grab on to. (Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone)
  • Ms. Levin’s poetry is often sweet and sometimes childlike, but except for the closing setting, “On Time,” Mr. Rakowski’s angular vocal writing resists giving it the melodic allure it seems to demand. Judith Bettina, the soprano, sang these settings gracefully, but they remained emotionally distant. (Alann Kozinn, NY Times)

Your turn.

Update June 26, 2011:
  • (about Talking Points (Right Wing Echo Chamber) for cello and 16 strings) Mr. Rakowski told Mr. Schaefer that he had written the work while on sabbatical, when he read political blogs and began thinking about how political messages are spread by repetition. The work lived up to its title: after a lively introduction it outstayed its welcome like pundits’ ceaseless chatter. (Vivien Schweitzer, NY Times)
Update June 25, 2014:

  • [about YouKyoung Kim's performance of Fists of Fury} Skillful , talented , crafted, professional , awesomeness all yes. But... Piano , or any solo instrument play at that speed & that many notes, just sounds like jumbled ........ & noise. it's like " look @ me ". as the saying goes " all about quality not quantity " . — Paul Wagner, World Piano Competition Facebook page, June 24, 2014.
  • [about YouKyoung Kim's performance of Fists of Fury} It sounded like a two year old banging on it. Sorry but it did! I.havr heard many professional piano players play a fast tempo song in competitions and they've sounded like real notes, but this no! — Steven Lawson, World Piano Competition Facebook page, June 24, 2014.
Update October, 2014
  • ... At times, Rakowski’s ideas seem to burn themselves out prematurely, the movements stopping short of full realization... — Ryan Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review, October 26, 2014.
  • …The same could be said of the evening’s other premiere, David Rakowski’s Dance Episodes, Symphony no. 5. ... But, to these ears, the whole piece didn’t quite click. The second movement, “Masks,” is too static, it’s two themes not balancing each other nearly enough. They’re overly similar and, as a result, the movement’s five-some-minute duration feels like much longer. The finale also runs long, with a substantial, developmental stretch around its middle sounding tedious and unconvincing. ... At the very least, Rakowski’s written a piece that, if it doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts, plays very well to the ensemble’s strengths and the quality of their performance returned the favor handsomely.  — Jonathan Blumhofer, Arts FUSE, October 27, 2014.