Thursday, September 25, 2008


I've got to add my baritone to the chorus of voices singing the praises of recent MacArthur award recipient Alex Ross. For the last twelve years Ross has been the music critic for the New Yorker magazine, where he writes about new music with amazing passion and fluency, often introducing obscure or over-looked music with great enthusiasm and without a hint of condescension. In 2007 Ross published the remarkable book The Rest Is Noise, (the name from Ross' must-read blog of the same title) an extremely lively cultural history of 20th-century music that journeys through pre-World War I Vienna, Paris of the 1920s, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and New York of the 1960s and 1970s. I haven't read the book cover-to-cover, but instead have been dipping into it as the occasion arises for a treasure trove of revealing anecdotes about Arnold Schoenberg, John Cage and Duke Ellington. Ross champions all manner of music, but more than anything else he encourages listeners to keep their ears, and their minds, open to new sounds and new experiences. The book brilliantly has its own online audio guide, to which any music lover can devote many, many hours.

Ross also has something of a Seattle connection. Earlier this year Ross hosted the local Icebreaker Festival, which featured nine world premiere performances by young composers, and in 2006 he donated a fully loaded iPod to a charity auction whose proceeds benefitted Northwest Harvest, Washington's statewide hunger relief agency. Somewhere in Seattle, some lucky person is riding the bus with his or her ears tuned in to the musical selections of a verified genius.

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