It is a truth universally acknowledged that American critics have a cloth ear for the composer Harrison Birtwistle. They simply don’t hear what we hear – that Harry is one of the true originals, an inventor of languages of which he is the only speaker. Even Alex Ross struggled in The Rest Is Noise to get to grip with the grit of a Birtwistle score. It’s a cultural thing. British and European critics have similar difficulties with, for instance, Harry Partch, George Crumb or Robert Ashley.
So here’s an exception.
George Grella of New York Classical Review went to a Birtwistle concert and came away wondrously confused:
This is a difficult proposition in Western classical music, built on the premise that music moves through time to resolution. Birtwistle works with short phrases and patterns that do repeat, but the repetitions come after a complex sequence of events, and there is no explicit sense of progress leading from one to the other. Sometimes the phrases sound the same as before, sometimes they sound different.
Hearing these great compositions is like being lost in the woods, searching for a path, and finding oneself going in circles. But time has elapsed, so the landscape changes through each iteration.
Read the full review here.
Did the New York Times review this concert? Is it still, was it ever, a paper of record?