Opera: Spinning the Dial

As a youngster in The Bronx, Composer Stanley Silverman was fascinated by the blur of sounds he got from spinning a radio dial. Pop tunes, speeches, symphonies, soap operas—all jostled each other in a way that struck Silverman as symbolic. "I decided," he says, "that life itself is like switching the dial of a radio."

Last week Silverman's experimental "pop opera," Elephant Steps, had its premiere at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, and it sounded—well, like a giant radio with its dials spinning crazily. Dissonant 12-tone textures melted into a gypsy air. A rock beat crashed...

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