Due to the limited resources for connectivity on the cruise ships, I feel sorely out of touch with the world around me. I get the CBC and NPR blog feeds but rarely have enough time to investigate them past the headlines.
The last time I called home, I asked my parents what was going on in the world aside from the murder of al-Zarqawi, the ongoing saga of Israel/Palestine and World Cup. The first thing they told me was that Billy Preston had passed on. I'm no authority on his work, but I remember watching his playing on Eric Clapton's recent One More Car, One More Rider DVD and seeing him revel in the joy of music, and the way he interacted with David Sancious without stepping on any toes, and being mightily impressed. Of course, his classic contributions to the Beatles, Stones, Aretha, Ray Charles and many others are not to be ignored.
And as I check my blogs today, I see that Ligeti has died. The best tribute is here, courtesy of Ethan Iverson. Again, I am no expert in Ligeti (and certainly not to the extent that Iverson and Alex Ross are), but my introduction to his music remains vivid in my memory. At the beginning of my dalliance with 20th-century classical music in high school (which, incidentally, lay dormant until I got to university), I asked my band director for some of the weirdest stuff he could give me that he'd still think I'd like. In the pile was the Sony recording of Ligeti's Horn Trio, Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet, Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet, and Sonata for Solo Viola. At the time, I didn't understand what was going on musically (and to this day I haven't investigated the scores enough to make that claim), but it was immediately affecting. Now I additionally admire Ligeti's struggle to find new forms of expression, his references to folkloric material without parroting or cheapening it (in the line of Stravinsky and Bartok) and his attention to instrumental detail (the French horn instructions in the wind quintets are maddeningly specific), but the emotional connection still remains strong.
It's unfortunate that my further investigation of Ligeti's music (and to a certain extent, Billy Preston's as well) will be catalysed by his passing.