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Henri Dutilleux, Leading French Composer, Dies At 97

Henri Dutilleux, a leading French composer who wrote music of luminous perfection, died Wednesday in Paris at age 97. His family announced the death, which was reported by one of his publishers, Schott Music, and the Agence-France Presse.

Throughout his career, which took off after World War II with performances of his First Symphony, Dutilleux wrote music with particular musicians in mind. His cello concerto Tout un monde lointain was written for Mstislav Rostropovich and the violin concerto L’arbre des songes for Isaac Stern. One of his last works, Le temps l’horloge, was composed for soprano Renée Fleming, who won a Grammy for her recording of the work.

Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, whom Dutilleux asked to record his 2003 piece Correspondances, attested to the composer’s perfectionist tendencies. At a record release party in Paris in January to celebrate the composer’s 97th birthday, an event recorded for a promotional trailer, Salonen recalled the recording sessions: “I indeed remember moments in Correspondances, when after a take I would turn towards Mr. Dutilleux and I said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ and he said, ‘Well, you know, this phrase should be a little faster and maybe you might want to take a little bit more time there.”

Dutilleux, who continually revised his works, abandoned most of his compositions that preceded his Piano Sonata, begun in 1946. He composed the piece for the pianist Geneviève Joy, whom he married the same year.

Born in Angers in 1916 into a family with artistic connections (his grandfather was a composer and close friend of Gabriel Fauré, his great-grandfather a painter and friend of Eugène Delacroix), Dutilleux studied first at the local conservatory in Douai. As a teenager, after the family moved to Paris, he attended the Paris Conservatory, winning the Prix de Rome in 1938 on his third attempt. After the outbreak of World War II, Dutilleux was enlisted to carry stretchers. Later, he held posts at the Paris Opera and French Radio. His teaching jobs were few, but significant, with stints at the École Normale de Musique and Paris Conservatory and frequent visits to Tanglewood as a guest instructor.

Tom Service, writing for the Guardian, notes that Dutilleux never fit (or associated himself) with any particular school of composition. His anti-ideological approach to music history, Service says, resulted in “some of the most poetically flexible music of recent decades.” Dutilleux’s rich coloration, shifting textures and streams of melody seem to form a style of his own, with influences of Debussy and Bartók.

Dutilleux’s love of literature resulted in numerous songs, incidental music for Wuthering Heights, and Correspondances, in which he set texts by Rainer Maria Rilke, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Vincent Van Gogh. His family ties with visual artists and his lifelong love of painting surfaced not only in the calligraphy of his beautifully crafted scores but also in one of his best-known works, Timbres, espace, movement, a 1978 orchestral piece inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

In 2012 Dutilleux was the first to receive the New York Philharmonic’s newly established Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music. The award resulted in performances of three of his works at Avery Fisher Hall last summer. His other awards include the French Grand Prix de la Musique, an honorary membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a MIDEM lifetime achievement award.

At a Paris event in January marking the release of a new album and his 97th birthday, Dutilleux, in a wheelchair and slightly frail, was appreciative of both his longevity and of the musicians and recording industry colleagues gathered around him.

“I have had the great joy of living a long life,” the composer announced. “And you are, each and every one of you, doing all that can be done to make the end of it as easy and enjoyable as possible. Thanks to all of you.”

Dutilleux’s legacy will hang on relatively few perfectly polished compositions such as The Shadows of Time, his symphonies, Timbres and the concertos. But it’s not the quantity of pieces that’s important to Tom Service:

The influence of Dutilleux’s music on the 20th and 21st centuries isn’t to be measured in how his work revolutionized the languages of musical possibility, or even in the roster of his pupils (who include Gérard Grisey). Instead, his music is a realization of a complete world, independent of concerns for cutting-edge contemporaneity, and one that becomes more essential the more you hear it, above all for how he transforms his astonishing compositional refinement into real emotional immediacy.

China’s Artist Provocateur Explores New Medium: Heavy Metal

The man ArtReview magazine named the most powerful artist in the world is trying his hand at rock stardom. In 2011, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei spent 81 days in detention. He was later let go and charged with tax evasion. Now, he has released his first heavy metal song, based on his time in police detention.

Ai monitors the reaction to his new song on Twitter on Wednesday, the day the song was released. Enlarge image i

Ai monitors the reaction to his new song on Twitter on Wednesday, the day the song was released.

Louisa Lim/NPR

Ai monitors the reaction to his new song on Twitter on Wednesday, the day the song was released. Louisa Lim/NPR

The video for the song, “Dumbass,” opens with a scene showing Ai Weiwei sitting in a chair, a black hood over his head. Written on the hood are the words “suspected criminal.” As he paces the cell, two guards pace with him. As he sleeps, one stands over his bed. Even seated on the toilet, they are just feet away, always present. These scenes dissolve into the fantasies of one of the prison guards, including plastic blow-up dolls taking Ai’s place in his bed, and the whole video ending with Ai, head shaved, dancing in drag. Ai says this dystopian nightmare — shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle — reflects his detention experience. “At least you shared my nightmares. I had terrible nightmares after I was released,” Ai says during an interview in his Beijing studio Wednesday. “But think about so many political prisoners, they’re still in jail. So I make my music to give to them.” Ai’s voice is angry, and the lyrics are explicit, at one point comparing China to a prostitute. The music was written by Zuoxiao Zuzhou, known as “China’s Leonard Cohen.” The song’s title refers to anybody, Ai says, “who still has illusions about this political condition and have illusions to think there is possibility to make some kind of change. I think the system itself refused to make any kind of change.” This is the first track issued from The Divine Comedy, an album set to be released on June 22, the anniversary of his release from detention. As he taps away incessantly on Twitter, Ai Weiwei seems to be becoming a global brand. He can’t leave China because the government never gave him back his passport after he was released from his detention. But he has ongoing projects scattered around the world. He has an exhibition in Indianapolis and another piece in Hong Kong. Three projects are coming up in the Venice Biennale,, and he has a traveling exhibition heading for Princeton, N.J.; Cleveland; Toronto; and Miami. He’s the featured interview in this month’s Playboy magazine, while filmmaker Alison Klayman’s documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry has played in theaters around the world.

Related NPR Stories

Outspoken Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei (shown inside his compound on the outskirts of Beijing) was detained by the government for nearly three months. Now, the government says he owes $2.4 million in taxes and fines. Supporters are sending him money, raising nearly $1 million so far.


Giving Defiantly: Chinese Help Artist Pay Tax Bill

Images of the bearded face of detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei have been popping up across Hong Kong, thanks to a young graffiti artist who calls herself Tangerine.


Hong Kong Graffiti Challenges Chinese Artist’s Arrest

There’s even a book about his arrest, “Hanging Man: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei,” which has been adapted into a hash-tagged, live-streamed stage play in London, “#aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei.” Ai says he’s “amazed” by the experience of watching someone portraying his experience on stage on the other side of the world. But playwright Howard Brenton sees the play as a collaboration, pointing out that it was Ai’s own idea. “We are part of his project really,” Brenton told the BBC. “Ai Weiwei’s work is like stones being thrown into a pond; the ripples, sort of like shock waves, get everywhere.” So what is his project anyway? “My project is very simple,” Ai answers. “It’s freedom.” Though Ai Weiwei may not be able to carry a tune, he’s not deterred. It may be dumb to speak out, he says. But Ai believes every citizen with a voice should use it to speak up for those who cannot. “Courage,” he says, “is not something you should sacrifice.”

Microsoft confirms Halo Bootcamp

 In addition to Halo 5, Halo 6, and the new Halo TV series, it appears Microsoft is working on yet another project in the science-fiction series.

A listing for “Bootcamp” appeared on the Korean Game Rating Board today (via GameFront) with Halo 3 mentioned in its product description, suggesting the project could be the long-rumored Halo 3 PC port.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed with GameSpot that Bootcamp is something unrelated to the company’s other Halo  Wow Gold endeavors, but wouldn’t go into further detail.

“What’s Bootcamp? It is not related to our Xbox One efforts, or the Reclaimer Saga, but rather a project we’re very enthusiastic about and will have more to say about in the near future,” the company said.

As GameFront points out, Bootcamp is referenced in the title of Brian Reed’s novel Halo: Fall of Reach: Boot Camp.  

The Doors’ Keyboard Counterpoint Goes Silent: Remembering Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek, the founding keyboardist of the Los Angeles rock band The Doors, died in a clinic in Germany on Monday after a lengthy battle with bile duct cancer, according to his publicist. He was 74.

The Doors

Music News

Morrison In Miami: The Doors’ Manzarek Tells The Story

The Doors arrive at London Airport in 1968.

The NPR 100

Set The Night On Fire: Behind The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’

Born Raymond Daniel Manczarek Jr. and raised on the south side of Chicago, he resisted piano lessons when he was young, until he heard Chicago blues and jazz on the radio. In 1965, he formed The Doors after moving to Los Angeles and meeting Jim Morrison. “We were aware of Muddy Waters. We were aware of Howlin’ Wolf and John Coltrane and Miles Davis,” Manzarek told WHYY’s Fresh Air in 2000.

Manzarek brought the Chicago sound to L.A.’s beaches, and The Doors added beat poetry and psychedelic drugs to rock ‘n’ roll. “As the sun is setting into the Pacific Ocean at the end, the terminus of Western civilization, that’s the end of it,” Manzarek said. “Western civilization ends here in California at Venice Beach, so we stood there inventing a new world on psychedelics.”

The group became well-known for Morrison’s magnetism and volatility. Drummer John Densmore says Manzarek recognized Morrison’s talent for words.

“He saw in Jim the magic before anyone,” Densmore says. He also figured out how to add something new to the band. “We didn’t have a bass player, which is really against the rock ‘n’ roll rules, but we found this keyboard bass. And so Ray’s left hand and my drumming were … cooking up the groove for [guitarist] Robby [Krieger] and Jim to float on top of.”

Manzarek pulled double duty: Not only did he provide half of the rhythm section, but he played melodies too.

“I had a keyboard bass sitting on top of a Vox Continental organ,” he told Fresh Air in 2000. “The Vox Continental organ was what I played with my right hand and the Fender keyboard bass with my left hand.”

It was Manzarek’s interpretation of Bach — with that right hand — that launched The Doors’ first hit, “Light My Fire,” in 1967.

“That was like a giant hook,” Densmore says. “Schools of fish bit that. Ray’s keyboard licks will go down in history as the most memorable hooks you could never forget.”

His keyboard playing would drive many classic Doors songs, like “Riders on the Storm” and “Break on Through (to the Other Side),” but just four years after “Light My Fire” hit the top of the charts, Morrison was dead. Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger tried to continue, recording two albums with Manzarek singing some of the lead vocals, but eventually called it quits. Manzarek recorded several solo albums, collaborated with poets and produced for other groups, including X, another Los Angeles trailblazer.

In 1998, Putnam published Manzarek’s autobiography to critical acclaim, though Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors, was more about Morrison than Manzarek. He also wrote two novels. And in 2002, he reunited with Krieger to play The Doors’ songs live. But he maintained that his identity was formed in Los Angeles with his three bandmates nearly a half-century ago.

“Once you open the doors of perception,” he said, “the doors of perception are cleansed, they stay cleansed, they stay open, and you see life as an infinite voyage of joy and adventure and strangeness and darkness and wildness and craziness and softness and beauty.”

And Ray Manzarek leaves all of that behind in his music.

Draco Rosa: A Pop Survivor Returns From The Brink, With Friends

Menudo, the hugely popular Puerto Rican boy band, cycled through dozens of lineups in its decades together — but it’s best remembered for the 1980s era that featured two stars in the making. One, a then-pubescent Ricky Martin, would become one of the most successful pop artists of the 1990s.

The other was Robi Rosa, whom Martin has to thank for the hit songs that launched him to international fame. Rosa was Menudo’s lead singer during its glory days, but since then he has taken a behind-the-scenes role, writing and producing for Martin and others and making his own records. Three years ago, Rosa was diagnosed with cancer. So he decided to get together with some of his friends — who happen to be some of the biggest names in Latin music — and record what he thought might be his final album.

After leaving Menudo, Robi became Draco Rosa — a little less boyish (it means “Dragon” in Spanish). He now has a farm in Puerto Rico, a clothing company and a line of rum, as well as a recording studio and performance space he built in West Hollywood.

“This place is on fire when we have what we call the Fairfax sessions,” Rosa says in his studio. “Avant-garde jazz. It’s fantastic. A few nights ago, we had Cuban night. It was on fire.”

These days, the 43-year-old has a cult following for his experimental, alternative Latin rock — a far cry from the bubblegum songs he sang and danced to with Menudo. A certain amazed nostalgia remains.

Sitting in his studio, Rosa remembers one particularly insane concert tour in Brazil.

“We had arrived on a private jet that belonged to the Shah of Iran. The manager bought the jet, so it had Menudo on it, the logo,” he says. “I looked out the window and I was like, ‘Are those people running?’ It was fans. They had broken through. They had to close the airport, shut down all these flights, ’cause all these kids were on the tarmac. It was nuts. Then I was like, ‘Wow, this is definitely scary.’ ”

Two women died during chaotic shows that became a mob scene, with inadequate security.

“I was like, we’re a part of this mess. The pop, idolatry, the whole massive-appeal thing,” Rosa says. “Towards the end, I wanted out. And I think I spiraled into the void for many years.”

Rosa says the void included years of drugs and rehab. For a while, he lived in Brazil and New York, where he performed with alternative rock bands. He traveled the world and even starred in the 1988 dance movie Salsa, where he met his wife. Rosa became known as a “vagabond poet.”

“They always say he’s like the Latin Lenny Kravitz or the Latin Prince,” Billboard magazine editor Judy Cantor-Navas says. “He does these very, very intimate songs; they’re very atmospheric, and they’re often about life and death.”

‘La Vida Loca’

Some of Rosa’s songs have been commercial hits. In the late 1990s, he helped launch the crossover career of Ricky Martin — a fellow Menudo alumnus — by co-writing the songs “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” “She Bangs” and “Shake Your Bon-Bon.”

Rosa reunited with Martin to record, perform and make a music video for Rosa’s new album, Vida. It’s a collection of 16 songs Rosa has written over the past 20 years, including “Más y Más,” a duet he sings with Martin.

“When it comes to Ricky, we go way back,” Rosa says. “I was 14 or something; he was 12 or something. Here we are, with being in the group together and having the success, and we stayed in touch. He was like, ‘Definitely, count me in. And it was the perfect song.’ ”

Martin wasn’t the only one: Shakira, Marc Anthony, Juanes, Ruben Blades, Juan Luis Guerra and the bands Maná and Calle 13 all rallied to support their friend by singing duets on the album while he was battling disease.

“I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, just for those who don’t know,” Rosa says. “So I was dealing with that and I was really excited about doing this record, and I thought, ‘Well, if it’s my last and that’ll be it, at least I’m gonna go out with a big bang with all the fellas and friends.’ I thought, one last hurrah.”

Colombian superstar Juanes says that during recording for the album, Rosa’s cancer was in the back of everyone’s mind.

“At that time, he was trying to cure himself with raw food,” Juanes says. “He was drinking this juice, green juice, talking about God, faith and how his life was changing.”

In addition to alternative and experimental treatments, Rosa underwent chemotherapy. In the end, doctors in LA replaced the stem cells near his liver.

“After that was all said and done, Dec. 31, 2012, I was declared cancer-free,” Rosa says. “I always had faith, beyond life itself, because I am a romantic.”

‘A Celebration Of Life’

“You know, Robi sometimes talks like Yoda, like a Buddhist,” says Ruben Blades, who adds that he never believed this would be Rosa’s final album. “He’s very spiritual, so I knew he had it in him. Summoning the love he has for the music, I really think the record was as important as the actual treatments that he received.”

In their duet “El Tiempo Va,” Blades and Rosa sing about time going by so quickly, like an arrow, like water leaking through fingers, like an hourglass in your veins, drop by drop.

“The sense of mortality that accompanied the song, the mixture of nostalgia with hope with resignation, with illumination … ” Blades says. “It was a very strong, emotional song.

Cancer-free, and with a hit album, Rosa says he’s gone from a brooding rocker to an optimist who looks forward to many more years of music.

“I’m very thankful,” he says. “It’s amazing to be walking amongst the living. It’s a celebration of life for me, and I’m reflecting on that, most definitely.”

Can You Define Good Singing

What defines good singing? Technique or feeling? That argument, a perennial among music lovers, roared back into the foreground last week after Harry Connick, Jr. appeared on American Idol. The fortysomething pianist and crooner found himself trending on Twitter for the first time since his acting run on Law & Order: SVU ended in 2012 after bullying the four young finalists about their failure to grasp the basics of the American Songbook. His cruelest moment came when teenager Amber Holcomb revealed that she thought “My Funny Valentine” was about a boy who told good jokes.

Connick adopted the demeanor of a self-satisfied high school history teacher as he told to Holcomb to go do some Google research on the miserable life of lyricist Lorenz Hart. The young singer, flustered beyond repair, sang terribly and was eliminated the next night. As for Connick, his stern-professor schtick paid off: pundits all over the Web lauded his insight, and his name was soon floated as a possible Idol judge.

Connick was certainly right on one level — when it comes to the standards to which he’s devoted his own career, the words do matter, and in any case, it’s helpful to learn a song before performing it. But what happens when his criteria for quality singing are applied to today’s most popular music? A complicated reality emerges, one that goes beyond Idol to show that there are many versions of “classic” today, and many ways to be good.

The No. 1 charting album last week was Michael Buble’s To Be Loved — a well-measured leap beyond the standards for the retro-Canadian, who made his fortune following Connick’s advice to the letter. He’s been changing up his style lately, though, and on this new album, Buble inches even further away from his son-of-Sinatra persona. He’s mentioning Frank Ocean as an influence, and is blithely discussing his use of Auto-Tune with interviewers, including NPR’s Rachel Martin. Buble wants to get on pop radio; he also wouldn’t mind some love from critics who’ve long considered him too safe. It seems to be working: Buble’s received friendly write-ups in both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe declared that he’s found his “true voice.” For Buble, originality currently tops craft when it comes to being a good singer.

Two ubiquitous pop ballads also show how different contexts produce different definitions of pop vocal success. Pink and Nate Ruess’s “Just Give Me a Reason” is the nation’s most popular song, a mid-tempo ballad that epitomizes what might be called the post-Glee take on standards-style singing. It’s grounded in Broadway-inspired interpretive belting, but it also uses rock and contemporary R&B as touchpoints. Pink, one of those versatile stars whom the Idol judges would identify as being able to “sing anything,” tones down both her diva runs and her rock shouts here. She honors the melody in a way that’s very current. This relatively simple but emotionally charged approach taps into two distinct but related sources of the modern-day singalong: emo, the punk offshoot that stresses feelingful melody and romantic confessionalism, and theater-kid culture, where countless teenage pop fans get their own first taste of the thrill of performance. Not coincidentally, these two strains are exactly what Ruess’s band, fun., has mined to become both critical and popular favorites. “Just Give Me A Reason” defines good singng as method acting — there’s a theatrical quality to Pink’s and Ruess’s emotionalism, but it’s in the service of communicating big, hard to master emotions. (In terms of standards singers, think Judy Garland here, not Billie Holiday.)

Close on that song’s heels on the Top 40 is Rihanna’s ballad, “Stay,” a single that’s been hanging around since January, and which started gaining steam after the controversial singer performed it on the Grammys in February. Rihanna is the kind of multi-platform star whose core talent as a vocalist has often been questioned; she’s a mistress of arena pop, a fashion icon, and a tabloid omnipresence, but few would call her one of this century’s great singers. In her recent article on the simmering tensions between Idol judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, the writer Heather Havrilesky argued that Minaj’s brand of identity-driven stardom has replaced the more convention-driven ideal of the “pop-star factory” that favored big voices like Carey. Rihanna’s success reinforces that view. Her singing style is the opposite of pyrotechnic: it’s flat and malleable, though also instantly recognizable, like a streak of iridescent green paint added to the canvases of the many dance hits it embellishes,

Yet “Stay,” a song that shows no sign of fading away, is Rihanna’s bid for respect as an old-fashioned vocalist. Its minimal arrangement puts her imperfect voice at the center. Her delivery is conversational, but not in the clever, carefully modulated way that Connick prefers. If anything, it’s amateurish — nasal, with its breaks and strained moments left intact. The legacy Rihanna taps into with “Stay” is that of the rock balladeer: she’s invoking Janis Joplin in the first verses of “Me and Bobby McGee,” or Mick Jagger singing “Wild Horses.” Those singers dared rawness and almost painful intimacy; good singing, in those moments, was made stronger by being a little bit bad.

In the end, no definition of good singing can suffice when it comes to popular music. The very purpose of pop — whether in the American Songbook era or now — is to absorb the energy of its time and give it back, illuminated and intensified. And that spirit always moves in many directions at once, wafting out like smoke from tiny cabarets, bursting forth in the shape of praise from churches, clanging through the walls of the rock basement, bouncing in rhyme against city pavement. Learn the song? Sure. But there’s never one clear lesson plan.

American Idol at its infrequent best gives fans a framework for debating these very issues. The show’s lost so much steam this season that only Connick’s outright condemnations have resonated beyond its shrinking fan base. And that’s too bad, because even as it Titanically sinks, Idol is shedding light on a new top talent — and she’s the kind of singer that in 2013 could only gain mainstream attention from a singing competition. Candice Glover, the gospel trained striver from the South Carolina sea island of St. Helena, is neither a glitzy diva like Carey or a mistress of the current like Minaj — in fact, she’s so unconcerned with (or unskilled at) projecting a marketable image that she’s currently undergoing personality training to increase her odds of winning against her more easily branded competitors.

But Glover can make a song — or even the snippet of a song, which is what you get on Idol — tell a story that’s compelling and complex. You can see her mind working as she diverges from a melody or employs her mighty voice on a churchy run. She’s passed the Adele test by mastering that singer’s take on The Cure’s “Lovesong,” in what instantly became the season’s most talked-about performance. She’s bent hits by Bruno Mars and Drake to her will and delivered on classics, too. And after Connick tried to get her to tone down her delivery, she hit him back with a version of the torch song “You’ve Changed” that did take liberties, but only deeply intelligent ones. Like Kelly and Carrie before her, Glover is an Idol-slayer: she opens her mouth and the show’s silliness gives way to sheer beauty. That’s a way to sing well, too.

Giving It Away

You can give away almost anything — your time, money, food, your ideas. Giving helps define who we are and helps us connect with others. And thanks to the Internet and a rise in social consciousness, there’s been a seismic shift not only in what we’re giving, but how. In this hour, stories from TED speakers who are “giving it away” in new and surprising ways, and the things that happen in return.