New ring!

New ring!

I’m in Baltimore covering the world (intergalactic) premiere of Judith Lang Zaimont‘s piano concerto, “Solar Traveller” with Timothy Hoft and the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble led by Harlan Parker. I caught the dress rehearsal yesterday and a composer masterclass, and will do some interviews today and film the concert tonight. (There is also Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 and Carolyn Bremer’s Early Light [based on the Star Spangled Banner] on the program!)
So I was amused to find this as I was checking news this morning:

(CNN) — Scientists at NASA have discovered a nearly invisible ring around Saturn — one so large that it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it. Its diameter is equivalent to 300 Saturns lined up side to side. And its entire volume can hold one billion Earths, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said late Tuesday. The obvious question: Why did it take scientists so long to discover something so massive?
The ring is made up of ice and dust particles that are so far apart that “if you were to stand in the ring, you wouldn’t even know it,” Verbiscer said in a statement. Also, Saturn doesn’t receive a lot of sunlight, and the rings don’t reflect much visible light. But the cool dust — about 80 Kelvin (minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit) — glows with thermal radiation. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, used to spot the ring, picked up on the heat.

Coincidence? Maybe not. And of course, Zaimont has a charming piano suite “Callisto” based on the moons of Jupiter, as well as other astral works: ASTRAL… a mirror life on the astral plane…; Sky Curtains: Borealis, Australis; and Chroma: Northern Lights. Look for video of the new concerto in an upcoming Composing Thoughts.

Here are the program notes supplied by Zaimont about the new concerto:

I. Outward Bound (10:00)
II. Nocturne (Lunar) (8:40)
III. Ad astra per aspera (6:50)
Concerto “Solar Traveller” is absolute music, following no implicit program. Yet the work and its individual movements carry descriptive titles rather than the more traditional tempo markings. This is because the Concerto is one of several of my works drawing inspiration from the impress upon our consciousness and imagination of the vastness, wonder and beauty of the natural world of sky, season and space. These pieces (all instrumental works) share a dramatic and coloristic emphasis, and their forms are far from traditional. (This inspirational thread began with the twelve solo-piano preludes of A Calendar Set, and continues in similar works, including the orchestral Chroma – Northern Lights and the piano trio ZONES.)
While the Concerto outwardly observes the usual three-movement large form, its individual movements digress in key ways from an orthodox ‘concerto’ template. “Outward Bound” contrasts two themes, one heroic, energetic and the second inward and moody. The motive-filled first theme is announced by the piano and soon becomes a communal statement for soloist and ensemble. When the second theme enters, it too is stated by the piano alone and it remains predominantly soloist’s terrain throughout. Extensive development centers on extrapolations of the heroic theme; to balance, the cadenza is devoted entirely to the second theme. The movement concludes heroically .
“Nocturne (Lunar)” is the soloist’s terrain, punctuated and frequently partnered by the ensemble in music largely expansive, as if in ‘stopped’ time. As it proceeds a tune arises (heard first as a flute solo above quiet piano accompaniment), fashioned from the simplest of materials; each of the tune’s appearances anchors the movement, calming the mercurial, fragmentary outbursts from the piano. At times as desolate and unfamiliar as a lunar landscape, the nocturne eventually calms, concluding serenely.
A driving sprint, “Ad astra per aspera” grows from an insistent rhythmic cell freshened by hemiolas and other cross-rhythms and chromatic clashes. Percussion is spotlighted throughout, and the soloist shifts frequently from foreground to combining with the ensemble — a change of function which in itself becomes textural counterpoint to the forward thrust. A brief respite (trumpet solo) occurs during which the incessant beating disappears, but the essential rhythm returns shortly in full force. Towards the end the Nocturne’s theme enters in the ensemble, in overlapping meter with the soloist, who continues the main drive; just prior to the vehement close a fragment of the heroic first movement is again heard.
The work ties together through a technical feature: Each movement is built from the raw material of a progressively smaller interval.
Outward Bound’s themes are built from 3rds and all of the development highlights that consonant interval. (At one point there is a scale upwards across two-thirds of the keyboard in parallel thirds, played entirely by the left hand). Built from 2nds, the Nocturne achieves its uneasy, fragmentary quality from the clash of 2nds hammered loudly or (stretched to 7ths and 9ths) in glittering scherzo filigree. “To the stars, through adversity” is formed by ultimate compression: pounding unisons. Thus, the Solar Traveller pianist physically experiences the compressive forces and increased tensions we associate with space travel’s incredible speeds, through the analog of progressive intervallic compression throughout the piece.

5 Responses to “Out of this world”
  1. The-Antiharpist says:

    Hey, can’t wait to read what you thought. Having attended tonight, I have my own thoughts on the piece, but it would be good to see what other people have to say about it!!

  2. Steve Layton says:

    Oh Antiharpist, c’mon, lead the way! We don’t bite (too hard, anyway..)

  3. This just erased my long post–TRYING AGAIN: So, I basically said that I’m relatively new to contemporary music so I didn’t really feel comfortable expressing too much of an opinion on a site that I know (now) frequently gives good reviews and opinions on the contemporary music scene. I attend a conservatory on the east coast—and while I won’t say which one, I will say that I am still learning that it’s okay for me to break out of the box that classical musicians tend to put themselves in….but I was lucky enough to get the opportunity and time to get myself down to Peabody and attend last night.

    To be honest, I had mixed feelings about it. I liked the majority of it but I just had issues with parts. I’d really like to be able to see the score, because the one thing that bugged me a lot was the random percussion. Every now and then there would be a cymbal, particularly, or a triangle that interrupted the music, and it wasn’t cohesive to me. I mean, I like pieces with interruption, I like music that surprises you. But for some reason that jarred me, and I couldn’t tell if it was just the performers or the actual score. She had some lovely sweeping moments though where the audience members just sighed, and I really enjoyed that. I heard–at least I THINK I heard–a lot of influences from a lot of tonal sources (because I’m not really an expert on atonality yet.) I heard some Bernstein Age-of-Anxiety on some of the piano flourishes, and Shosty’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in a few spots. LOTS of Stravinsky, particularly Rite of Spring in one glaringly obvious spot (but it was fun, it didn’t bother me, and reactionary chuckles around me were great.) I comment on this in depth on my blog because I had to write a review for it for a class next week…I included the link if anyone really wants my full opinion but again–I’m still just a student! (don’t bite me, please!) I don’t trust my opinion yet because I still feel largely uneducated in music, even as far along in that education as I am…but the class I had to write the review for is also very good in training us to trust our instincts and speak our musical minds so…I’m trying!

    One thing I should share that’s just really great: I asked her after the performance what her influences were, and she said: “I like things with a lot of stuff in them”. I DEFINITELY got that from listening!!

  4. Steve Layton says:

    T.A.H., don’t let that ‘student’ thing hold you back. Your opinions are as good as anyone else’s, and the only way to exercise them is to put them out there! You make good points and mean/say what you say/mean. Keep it up!

    (and sorry about the long comment getting trashed… I’ll repeat this again for new people: The wonderful apps that keep the ‘Online Casino’, ‘Marry Russian Girls’ and ‘Buy Viagra’ spam at bay here and you all can just read about the music, also have a quirk that might delete a long comment that a person takes a long time to write before clicking ‘post.’ So I ALWAYS recommend that, just before you’re ready to post your comment you select and copy the whole thing. Then, if it doesn’t go through just go back to the comment box, paste the whole thing back in, and click ‘post’ again. It’ll go through no problem.)

  5.