Pictured: Writer Alex Ross comes to Cal Performances October 14, 2010. PHOTO: David Michaelk
Pictured: Writer Alex Ross comes to Cal Performances October 14, 2010. PHOTO: David Michaelk

Opening Cal Performances’ Strictly Speaking series and celebrating the release of his sophomore book, author and the music critic of The New Yorker, Alex Ross comes to Wheeler Auditorium on Thursday, October 14 at 8:00 p.m. For one night only, Ross gives a whirlwind history of music as told through bass lines in a lecture titled Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues: Bass Lines of Music History. In an audio-rich talk based on a chapter of his new book, Listen to This (September 2010), Ross shows how lusty Spanish dances were transformed into somber masterpieces by Purcell and Bach, and how figures of lament appear variously in Eastern European folk music, Renaissance masses, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and songs by Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. Ross describes his speech as “a tale of the interconnectedness of musical language and the universality of human emotion.”

Born in Washington DC, Ross began studying piano at the age of 10 and started to compose music around the same time. One of his first great experiences as a listener was hearing Leonard Bernstein rehearse and conduct Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony at the National Cathedral. In college, Ross studied music, history, and English literature and wrote a thesis on James Joyce. After a belated discovery of jazz and rock, he played keyboards in a band called Miss Teen Schnauzer.

Ross’s first attempts at music criticism appeared in the program guide of WHRB, a Harvard student radio station where he had a show called Music Since 1900. After college, he began publishing reviews and articles in The New Republic, Fanfare, Symphony, and The New York Times. Ross wrote for The New York Times from 1992 to 1996 covering indie rock, jazz, and classical music. His first article for The New Yorker appeared in 1993, and he became the official music critic for The New Yorker in the fall of 1996. There he has published profiles of Valery Gergiev, John Adams, Björk, Peter Sellars, Mitsuko Uchida, and Michael Giacchino, and critical essays on Mozart, Schubert, Verdi, Wagner, Schoenberg, Leonard Bernstein, and Marian Anderson.

Ross’s first book, The Rest Is Noise (2007), a project that took him 10 years to complete, won numerous awards, including the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism and the 2008 Guardian First Book Award. “A work of immense scope and ambition…a great achievement” (The New York Times). The book was selected as one of The New York Times’s 10 best books of the year, translated into 16 languages, and has sold nearly 200,000 copies worldwide.

Ross has served as a McGraw Professor in Writing at Princeton University and received honorary doctorates from the New England Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music. In 2008, he was named a MacArthur Fellow. He now lives in Manhattan with his husband, actor and filmmaker Jonathan Lisecki, and with their three cats.

Ross last lectured in Berkeley in 2007 soon after the publication of The Rest Is Noise.


Thursday, October 14 at 8:00 p.m.

Wheeler Auditorium, UC Berkeley Campus
Bancroft Way at Telegraph Ave., Berkeley

Strictly Speaking
Alex Ross
Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues: Bass Lines of Music History

Program: Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker and author of the award-winning international bestseller The Rest Is Noise, conducts a whirlwind history of music as told through bass lines.

Tickets: $28.00

Monica Turner
Contributor to Stark Insider for tech, the arts and All Things West Coast for over 10 years.