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A Tale of Three – (Vanishing?) – Cities

“What the colonizers desire and replicate is gritty New York without the grit. Punk and jazz and poetry without the enlivening shock of unpredictability,” Jeremiah Moss in Vanishing New York

It’s amazing what can happen when you walk into a bookstore.  A couple of months ago I had an appointment in Union Square in Manhattan and because the subway unexpectedly functioned not well but perfectly adequately, which is a minor miracle and frankly a bit of a surprise, I arrived twenty minutes early and decided to while away the extra minutes in the Strand bookstore.

I thought I’d see if I could pick up the new Jonathan Lethem or perhaps this satirical science fiction book from 1936, War With the Newts by Karel Capek that I had read about in the Review of Books the previous weekend, but the fiction section at the store was jammed with tourists so, somewhat ironically, I found myself in the New York section, which was empty, where a book called Vanishing New York immediately called to me.

I bought the book and started reading it on the trip back home.  The author is Jeremiah Moss and his book is a neighborhood by neighborhood chronicle of independently owned businesses: music venues, bars, restaurants, cafés and shops, that have been forced to close because of high rents and that have been replaced by chain stores.

The book gives some history too about why people are moving back to the city from the suburbs and how the eternal search for lower rents combined with the city’s willingness to give tax breaks to major corporations combined with the fact that there is no cap on what a landlord can charge for an apartment or storefront combined with the fact that landlords actually get tax breaks for empty spaces so they can afford to keep them empty while they wait for the perfect corporate chain tenant, how all of this has led to, in Jeremiah’s view, the erosion of the city’s very soul.

And if that wasn’t enough, now the rent has gotten so high that many of the big chains can no longer afford to stay open either and so we have a proliferation of high-end empty storefronts throughout the city, what’s known as high-end blight.  I read all of this on my A-train ride back to Bed-Stuy and decided to build an event around the theme of the Vanishing City.

I wrote Jeremiah through his website and asked if he’d participate in a panel discussion about this and I asked the head of Open House New York Greg Wessner as someone who would have a more positive counterpoint and then for more of an urban planning, what are the factors behind this, kind of perspective I asked Vishaan Chakrabarti who is an accomplished architect and the author of the book Country of Cities.  Amazingly they all said yes and I immediately panicked.  This isn’t my field after all, I’m just some guy who read a book on the train.

But then I thought it could be interesting to pair this panel presentation with a concert of “vanished” New York composers, folks who thrived in the New York of the ’70’s and ’80’s which everyone says was the golden era.  I talked to my friend Frank Oteri, who will also be on the panel, and he suggested Arthur Russell and Tui St. George Tucker, neither of whom I had heard of though I’ve since immersed myself in their life, times and music.

I knew I wanted to program something by Julius Eastman too and then another friend recommended Ben Weber, a composer who knew each of the others and was a kind of mentor figure to artists in the Village in that era. I pitched the idea to Lincoln Center and, again amazingly, they said yes.  So it’s all happening on September 20th at 7:30 PM.  The event will be taped for broadcast on Relevant Tones and we’ll be streaming it live from WFMT’s Facebook page so I hope you can tune in.

And in the meantime I’ll stay out of bookstores for a while.  Don’t need to get inspired again anytime soon after this one.

Chicago: ‘Songs About Buildings and Moods’


For years I’ve written and commissioned new music inspired by architecture in Chicago, Milwaukee and in Barcelona.  For ACM’s first concert of our Chicago season we’re presenting several of our favorite architecture-inspired pieces over the years performed in a concert setting with videos of the buildings.

Highlights include the original Sears Tower (the one they built before the famous one,) Mies van der Rohe’s Carr Chapel, the former Women’s Lounge at Union Station, the International Museum of Surgical Science, and the piece I wrote for the gorgeous Casa Mas de Miquel in Barcelona.

The show is Monday, September 10 at 7:00 at the Davis Theater in Chicago.  More info here.

New York: ‘Vanishing City’ at Lincoln Center

This is it, the event I was just telling you about in the top, text-only portion of the newsletter!

Vanishing City features a panel presentation with some seriously accomplished people including Vishaan Chakrabarti, Jeremiah Moss, Gregory Wessner and Frank J. Oteri as well as yours truly as moderator.

Musically we’re working with Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble Connect, Opera on Tap and the fabulous conductor Mila Henry to perform works, several of which have never been performed before, by Arthur Russell, Julius Eastman, Tui St. George Tucker and Ben Weber.

You can watch it in real time at 7:30 PM eastern time on WFMT’s Facebook page. I hope you’ll tune in or, if you live in NYC, come on down. It’s free!  More info here.

Doors Open Milwaukee

And now the third city…  ACM will be in Milwaukee on September 22nd for our fourth annual collaboration with Doors Open, a project that celebrates homegrown architecture and lets folks be tourists in their own town.

As part of the project we’ve commissioned three composers to write music for three different buildings: The Vue, the Gaslight Building (pictured above) and the Prizlaff Building.

Musicians will be placed in the buildings on the day of the event to perform the music every fifteen minutes for the hundreds of curiosity seekers who come through. Videos will be posted shortly after.

72 Choral Project Performance

Painter Rainer Gross has made a depiction of each of the 72 Hebrew names for God and the Composers Concordance has been busily commissioning composers to write short choral pieces inspired by each of them.

I’m honored to be part of this project and was assigned the name Kaf Vav Kuf which according to my Google search means “connection to spirituality ignites sexual energy.”  So that’s the direction I took it in.

Several of the pieces, including mine, will be performed on September 25th at William Paterson University as part of their New Music Series at 7:30 PM.  I’m looking forward to hearing the other works!

NY Phil Emcee Gig

I’ll return to Lincoln Center on September 27th to host a panel presentation for the New York Philharmonic with composer Conrad Tao, President Deborah Rutter and perhaps, if we’re lucky, conductor Jaap van Zweden. 

A Little Seth Music: Marginal Capacity



I wrote this short piece for the Concept Lab series that I started at Cornelia Street Cafe in Manhattan.  Happening every three months, Concept Lab is an experimental music series that let’s composers and performers experiment in real time in front of a small but enthusiastic audience.

This piece is for piano, violin and cello and features myself, Irene Fitzgerald-Cherry and Talia Dicker. The microphone was practically on the stage so you can hear everything including the creaks from the piano bench when I shifted my weight.

Last Month on Relevant Tones

Hey, I host a radio show dedicated to contemporary classical music.  This is what we did last month!


Aug 6     Henryk Górecki
Aug 13   Musical Miniatures
Aug 20   Just Intonation
Aug 27   Joan Tower

Miscellany, mélange, hodgepodge, etc.



To prepare for moderating this panel I’ve been reading like a crazy person. I’ve read or am reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Jacob Riis’ incredible and moving How the Other Half Lives, Jane Jacobs’ Death and life of Great American Cities, Tim Lawrence’s Hold Onto Your Dreams, Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene 1973-1992 and many others.  I feel like I’m in school again cramming for a final.

If you don’t know Arthur Russell check him out.  He wrote music in every style imaginable but especially a kind of experimental pop folk music, though also disco, a lot of disco and classical as well.   I went to the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library and dug through the collection of his manuscripts, notebooks and other effects.  It was an incredible experience.


I was at the Performing Arts Library two days after Aretha Franklin died and the person who was helping me had a manila folder of some of her personal effects on his desk and he showed me one.  It was the original document of her application to ASCAP from way back in the day.  Under hobbies she listed “singing, golf and bowling!”  (The exclamation point after bowling is hers.)

I smashed the index finger of my right hand in our basement door yesterday.  I don’t think I broke it but the tip and fingernail turned purple and now the fingernail is turning black and I think it’s going to fall off soon.  It’s a pity because that’s the finger I use for reading.






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