Reviews of “View From the Strangers’ Gallery”


Bravo! I like your piece. It is fresh and different. You have your own voice…you employ a very original use of jazz, of dissonance. The work is very convincing and humorous. Looking forward to hearing it live…and more great music from both of us!” – Lukas Foss, legendary composer; Principal Conductor, Brooklyn Philharmonic, 1971-90; Music Director, Milwaukee Symphony, 1981-86; Conductor-Laureate, Milwaukee Symphony, 1986- present; guest conductor with many of the world’s leading orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, and the Leningrad Symphony; Professor of Composition at Tanglewood; composer-in-residence at Harvard, the Manhattan School of Music, Carnegie Mellon University, Yale University, and presently, Boston University; currently Vice Chancellor of The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters

Brian Felsen’s ‘View From The Strangers Gallery’ is a most remarkable piece of art in progress — I say only ‘art’ because I’m reluctant to pin or reduce it to any given genre or medium, so far-reaching and flexible is its idiom. It is a stellar work and I’m very taken with it, both in its implicit aspirations and what’s already accomplished. Much like James Joyce instinctively reaching through linguistic art toward music and graphic art in his pursuit of a less exclusive portrayal of human consciousness, Felsen’s work has that omnivorous, inclusive, polyphonic texture which allies it with the modernist highway, still glimpsed now and again through the forest of postmodernist static. For me, a writer engaged with neurology as a metaphor for consciousness in fiction, this is vital and inspiring stuff.” – Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Novel of 1999

It is a most impressive work and your orchestration is especially fine. There are many terrific musical ideas here – I wish you much success with this work!” – Samuel Adler, author of The Study of Orchestration; composer of over 400 published works; conductor; Professor of Composition at the Juilliard School of Music

Well, I’ve listened to your CD twice…And it delighted me. I especially liked it on second hearing, picking up things I missed the first time. As a musical setting of the Multiple Drafts Model, it is insightful, amusing, full of deft touches, and more musical than I had expected. And the precision with which it was both conceived and executed was more than impressive…But seriously, you didn’t sing the soprano doing the delicious BEETHOVEN bit at the end, did you? (Your letter says you did, but that ain’t no falsetto)…Thanks for sending me your View from the Stranger’s Gallery. May it soon be given the performance it deserves!” – Daniel C. Dennett, author, Consciousness Explained, Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University

I am very excited about the piece: it has an immediate impact on a musical and human level. It is uncanny to have such an accurate, sympathetic and musical representation of what it is to be conscious! I am sure the piece will speak to people with such clarity and humanity that it will become an important part of the repertoire. I wish the piece every success, and would be delighted to have the opportunity to conduct it myself some time!” – David Murphy, Conductor, Sinfonia Verdi

What a feast of insight and creativity! Rich and fascinating…Congratulations on the good news about the reception to your piece – I’m delighted to hear it.” – Steven Pinker, author, How the Mind Works; Peter de Florez Professor, Dept. of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT

“Your piece is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was amazed by your ability to perform it all…it is such a wild tapestry of small bits that still manage to cohere somehow (in a way that I can only sense, but not understand) and create a large-scale form, almost like a huge pile of legos that should topple over, one would think, but doesn’t. But I thoroughly enjoyed it all…I did particularly welcome the bits of extended lyricism and relief from extreme polyphony and diversity of materials when they occurred, and wondered if perhaps the very parts that came most easily to the composer were not some of my favorites. (A comment that gets sent my way all the time, much to my irritation!) All of the popular references are a delight. The piece, with all of its many voices, reminds me textually of the party scene in Les Noces…Congratulations on creating a fascinating piece of work!” – Allen Shawn, film, orchestra, ballet and opera composer; recipient of the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship for composers from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Professor of Composition, Bennington College

Your piece is really interesting and I can’t wait to hear it performed! You explore a lot of different styles in the various sections and they all flow nicely from one section to the next, and at the same time, you managed to achieve a musical cohesiveness throughout the entire piece. Not an easy thing to do! There’s also a nice sense of balance on a number of levels from individual motives to larger structures (i.e. balance in the sense of the relationship between sections of music, not instrument volume). Frank Zappa said that one of the most difficult things to do in a composition was to achieve such balance. He equated it with the way Calder constructed his hanging mobiles–asymmetrical constructions which still maintain consistency and balance all the way from the individual elements to the entire sculpture as a whole. You did this nicely in ‘View…'” – Charles B. Kim, official composer for the Times Square 2000 New Year’s Eve Celebration (broadcast internationally on all TV networks); winner of the Otto Ortman, Frank D. Willis, and Randolph Rothschild Prizes in Composition

This piece rides the blurry line between pop and classical music perfectly. The polyphony is profound and deep. It has heart, soul, emotion, innocence, humor…A crazy collage of everything from Schoenberg to the Beatles – I’d love to hear it with Bobby McFerrin and Renee Fleming on vocals!…Above all it sounds like what consciousness feels like – it rings true.” – Martin Hennessy, composer, pianist, vocal coach; fmr. faculty member, Juilliard American Opera Center, Carlo Bergonzi’s Bel Canto Seminar and Joan Dornemann’s Opera Training Institute in North Carolina

I just finished listening to your CD with enjoyment, as well as awe for the many hours of work which it represents. I found your rhythms to be continually fascinating…the writing appeared to be natural and idiomatic for both voices and instruments. I was really taken with your idea of presenting a kind of realistic timeslice of consciousness…stunningly perceptive…a fascinating and impressive work, full of conviction and passion.” – Roy Whelden, writer, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Indiana Music Theory Review, and the Charles S. Peirce Society Transactions; Composer- in-Residence with American Baroque

“I think that Strangers’ Gallery goes very far in expressing a theory of the self and consciousness. The poetic elements rise to the immediate surface…the text has its own form, and that’s somewhat in the style of an epic poem, which has intimacy, because it’s dialogical between the reader and the author and between the authors and his characterizations. Hence, at one and the same time it reminds me of poetry in the patrimony of Plato–since it moves in the direction of a philosophical dialogue–and poetry in a mix of American traditions, namely the objective, yet intimate, reporting of Sandburg and the subjective experiences of internal and external events that Whitman offers…It’s as if the music sounds like the way William Calvin conceives the writing of consciousness as a construction paralleling evolutionary processions. Yet, there are structure/self dialectics in the text that reveal the internal as well as the external sources of the final causes of the self…” – Harwood Fisher, Professor Emeritus, City College of the City University of New York.

Captivating music, fabulous text, and original sonorities reminiscent of Henze…an extremely ambitious debut work that reminds me of Messaien’s Turangalila!” – Rudolph Palmer, Professor of Composition, Mannes School of Music

This work is musically very powerful and exciting. The structure is captivating – I’ve had an operetta based on my anti-nuclear writings years ago, but this is in a different league…extremely impressive!” – Nicholas Humphrey, professor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics; author, A History of the Mind and How to Solve the Mind-Body Problem

Felsen evokes Erik Satie, Kurt Weill, Frank Zappa and surrealist film director Luis Bunuel…and it works.” – Alternative Press magazine

I will definitely air this work if it is musically grabs me and is thematically very out-of-the-ordinary – fascinating stuff!” – Larry Nuckolls, Brave New Music, WMHT-FM, NY

Your oratorio impresses me as very creative and intriguing, musically as well as conceptually.” – George Graham, author, Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction; Professor of Philosophy & Professor of Psychology; Chair, Department of Philosophy; Associate Director Doctoral Program in Cognitive Science, University of Alabama at Birmingham

I like the way you use contrapuntal forms in “Strangers’ Gallery…most modern fugal composers make works that are dry, academic, and boring.” – Eric Altschuler, author (with Stephen Jay Gould), Bachanalia: The Essential Listener’s Guide to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier

I must congratulate you on your very interesting musical ideas. It is certainly novel to try and capture the conflicting elements in consciousness (and behind them the different views of personal identity) in music…you have produced something distinctly novel.” – Richard Swinburne, author, The Evolution of the Soul; co-author (with Sydney Shoemaker), Personal Identity; professor, Oxford University

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