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August 18, 2009

Music we've been missing (Part 6); maverick Heiner Goebbels

Last week, I advocated for more performances of music by composers who tend to scare American audiences: Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. I figured I might as well follow that up with music by a composer who would be even more frightening: Heiner Goebbels.

This extraordinary creative artist has been writing some amazing stuff, music that, in my experience, is really quite unlike anything else out there today. And that's reason enough for orchestras to take note. I'll never forget the delicious shock nine years ago of encountering the US premiere of ...

Goebbels' Surrogate Cities at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, my first exposure to his work. This gargantuan piece blew me away, so fresh was the language, the structure, the feeling of the score. It was quite the event, and I've been waiting to repeat it ever since.

I don't really expect the Baltimore Symphony to tackle it any day soon, especially while the orchestra is carefully watching every penny (Surrogate Cities would cost plenty to produce, I'm sure). But it would be the sort of thing that Marin Alsop ought to have a fab time with. And I'd bet that a whole bunch of unsuspecting folks here would find themselves ultimately won over by the audacity and brilliance of Goebbels' vision.

There are, of course, other pieces to choose from, and I've rounded up the only ones I could find from that ever-treasured source, YouTube. They provide just the slightest taste of what the composer has to offer, but I hope you'll agree that this is precisely the sort of music we need to stir things up once in a while, the sort of music we've been sorely missing.

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:08 AM | | Comments (1)


You wonder out loud in a later post if you didn't scare some readers away with this feature. It seemed a good idea to wend a response your way.

As a professional musician, I'm fascinated.

Mind you, you had me from Finzi. But where your other features make me pump my fist and shout 'Yes!' this one made my eyebrows shoot up. This body of work is a new discovery for me. It's a welcome surprise.

This series is a service for music lovers everywhere. Thank you for doing this.

Is the music of Sofia Gubaidulina finding its way onto more concert programs now? When I lived in the USA in the 1990s I hoped to encounter her work more often.

Thanks very much for your encouraging words. And for mentioning Gubaidulina, whose music I always intended to include on this series and will now move to the head of the line. Her work is routinely and absurdly ignored. Cheers. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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