State of Affairs is a call-in discussion program on Louisville’s NPR affiliate, 89.3 WFPL (kind of like Talk of the Nation), Weekdays at 11am (EST)
Tomorrow’s topic is NEW MUSIC. I will be a guest along with Marc Satterwhite, professor of composition at the University of Louisville. Marc also coordinates the Grawemeyer Award. Joining by phone will be Peter Lieberson, latest Grawemeyer winner.
It’s a call in show, so if you have a comment or question give us a yell (I don’t know the number, but it will be announced throughout the program).
“But Daniel, I don’t live in Louisville.” No worries, you can tune in online at http://www.wfpl.org/listen.htm
That’s tomorrow, Wednesday, January 9 at 11am.
After State of Affairs, move on over to Classical 90.5, WUOL (also public radio in Louisville) for Lunchtime Classics, a live concert program. Wednesday’s program features Marc’s compositions performed by faculty at the University of Louisville. He will also present some recorded selections and talk about his work. I’ll be hosting this program. You can listen online to 90.5, as well. Visit www.wuol.org.
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By evidence (stephan moore + scott smallwood)
Deep Listening (DL 35-2007)
This two-disc collection offers an audio CD with works by evidence, and a DVD that uses this audio in collaboration with videos from “video artists, VJs, vusicians, live video performers, and time-based visualists…”
Successful electronic/computer music is multi-dimensional. Chamber &Host (track 4, audio; track 1, DVD) offers a sonic depth and intricacy that allows detail and line to be felt and heard. The companion video by David Lublin & Jack Turner is simple and mesmerizing, hooking me as though it had a plot with a twist.
IRIS moves from the static and motionless to puzzling rhythmic patterns, offering sound worlds and moving, dancing lines. Most of the videos are captivating, and would do well on large screens.
R. Murray Schafer
Annie Tremblay, soprano
Tim Brady, guitar
Brigitte Poulin, piano
Canadian Music Centre (CMCCD/DVD 12006)
Our friends from up north at the Canadian Music Centre offer another look at their composers, with R. Murray Schafer and 3 Solos.
Music for the Morning of the World sets the text of Rumi (translated into English) for soprano and 4-channel tape. The original analog tape was restored into digital by Tim Brady. The tape is spacious and meditative, with deliberate motions that conjure up images related to the text. Soprano Annie Tremblay navigates a demanding vocal line, not always convincingly. This isn’t her fault, but rather the result of some awkward leaps that are not idiomatic.
Tim Brady returns as guitarist for Le Cri de Merlin, a work composed for Norbert Kraft. This is the first recording/performance on electric guitar. Schafer’s score asks the performer to supply a recording of birds from their native country at the end of the piece.
Concluding this album of electronic music, is a work for solo piano composed for Janina Fialkowska and commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Deluxe Suite, and all of Schafer’s works on this disc, moves from idea to idea in an improvisatory fashion, morphing between ideas with little preparation. Brigitte Poulin performs with remarkable skill.
Peter Scott Lewis
river shining through
Timothy Day, Marc Shapiro, Ciompi String Quartet, and Dorian Wind Quintet
Lapis Island Records 003
Peter Scott Lewis’s most recent release of his music on his own label Lapis Island Records is unassuming. All three performances are professional, the package is self-less and not a hint of inflated hyperbole inhabits the composer’s biography. This is all a relief from the barrage of over-dramatic, yet poorly produced homemade albums that sometimes inhabit my mailbox.
River Shining Through is well-crafted and engaging. Exploring ideal textures for string quartet, Lewis shows a knack for the medium. He gives the players some fun counterpoint through out, and spicy rhythmic ideas in the final two movements.
Lewis shows equal skill and intuition when writing for winds. Serenade for Winds is delightful and bouncy; with tender moments juxtaposed with driving chordal textures (“Serendipity”). Lewis’ works are full of contrast, alternating between complex harmonic motions and simple melodies.
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Music by Nicolas Flagello
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
John McLaughlin Williams, conductor
Elmar Oliviera, violin
Susan Gonzalez, soprano
Nicolas Flagello (1928-1994) was born in New York City, earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and, upon graduation, taught there until 1977.
Flagello’s music is romantic and firmly built on 19th century models with lush orchestrations and long melodic phrases. The Symphonic Aria from 1951 is moving, but sometimes too rich. Mirra (1955) concludes with an exciting “Dance” that allows the orchestra to show a lot of meat.
Many of the works were orchestrated post facto by Anthony Sbordoni, including a Violin Concerto, and several songs for soprano, featuring Susan Gonzalez. Flagello is a good writer for the voice, and sensitive to the text in his prosody and harmonic textures. The CD concludes with two songs, Polo and Polo II, and the liner notes indicate that the “polo is a genre of flamenco song of Arabian origin.” Both draw heavily on folk elements.
There are few film scores that stand alone as “concert” works. I’ve often felt that the best film music should either go unnoticed to the average viewer or play a prominent role in the film (The Red Violin). Music in film should enhance the overall experience, which combines with visual artistry and dialogue/monologue.
That said, the music by Andrey Dergatchev needs the film to be fully appreciated. I suppose if any composer were to peddle their notes before a film, we all might have a different opinion of the music. In this case, I’ve never seen the film, so I was absorbing this ECM release as an electro-acoustic composition (sans movie).
Several tracks use spoken word from the picture, and it’s in Russian, so I didn’t understand anything. If you’ve seen The Return, this CD will make a nice souvenir.
Nostalghia – Song for Tarkovsky
François Couturier, with
Moving from music for film, to music inspired by film, we have François Couturier’s tribute album to Russian film-maverick Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986).
According to the composer, Tarkovsky felt that film does not require music (I usually agree), and so Nostalghia has very little music. This CD is inspired by all of Tarkovsky’s films, with each movement representing “a specific emotion linked to the universe of this director.” (As a side note, Tarkovsky produced a successful Boris Godunov in 1984 for Covent Garden.)
The performing ensemble consists of the composer, François Couturier at the piano, Anja Lechner, cello; Jean-Marc Larché, soprano saxophone; and Jean-Louis Matinier, accordion. The scores are bare and thin, slow and melancholic, and the instrumental textures can be exciting, on occasion. Couturier makes reference to two of Tarkovsky’s favorite composers: Bach and Pergolesi, and also throws in Schnittke for good measure.
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A Midwinter Night’s Dream
Canadian Music Centre 12306
Any one considering an opera suitable for young people may want to consider Harry Somers’ A Midwinter Night’s Dream. The story takes place in very-north America, near the Artic circle, and tells the story of a bored young man who slips into a dream, thinking he is dead. The libretto, by Tim Wynne-Jones, shows a fusion of cultures, combining folklore and present-day ideas (like Star Wars and Miami Vice).
The score is atmospheric. Using a piano and percussion, along with a children’s chorus, the textures move the text (and I assume the action) to the foreground. The musical language is at times complex and “modern,” but also playful and perfectly suited for young singers and listeners.
Ben Goldberg Quintet
The door, the hat, the chair, the fact
The juxtaposition of relatively standard jazz numbers with abstract songs suits the Ben Goldberg Quintet: they are either a jazz combo or a new music ensemble (why not both). The opening work, Petals, is a compact prologue featuring Ben Goldberg for the first twenty seconds. Song and Dance is a bouncing ensemble piece complete with solos and catchy riffs.
Carla Kihlstedt intones the words of Ben Goldberg’s teacher, Steve Lacy, in Facts, accompanying herself on the violin, and later joined by the rest, in a seductive melody. The following track, Blinks, a composition by Steve Lacy, displays a delicate, pointillism that grows into an all out brawl.
Cello music from Bulgaria
Kalin Ivanov, cello
Elena Antimova, piano
Homesickness can do wonders for the creative mind. Roumi Petrova (b. 1970) expresses her love and longing for Bulgaria in Enchanted Rhythms. The musical language isn’t unique, but it does capture what, I suspect, is a Bulgarian sound. The rhythms are energetic; the melodies are real Bulgarian songs or made to sound that way. The opening Passacaglia on a Traditional Bulgarian Melody “pays tribute to the Bulgarian community in New York City.” Two cello sonatas and a five movement suite are also included, all remaining faithful to Petrova’s vision of creating strong Bulgarian music.
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Many apologies for going silent for several weeks (I just KNOW you’ve been losing sleep without this column). Without giving excuses, I’ll move right along to three recordings you may not hear about anywhere else:
New Music for Strings
Seattle Sinfornia; Joel Eric Sueben
(MSR Classics 1223)
Much of Mark Zuckerman’s music is infused with dance figures and folk melodic ideas, and makes us of titles in Hebrew and stories from the Old Testament. One such work, Out of the Wilderness, is a five-movement “symphony” based on a passacaglia and is “a metaphor for the continuing trek of eth Jewish people…” The Seattle Sinfonia performs well, but I must complain about the editing in track 5. A very poor splice is clearly evident at about 1:08, where the music “skips.” This isn’t something one should expect from a commercial release.
Two short, tonally centered works, Shpatsir (Yiddish for “stroll”) and Theme Song, are light interludes between the heavier fare.
The final work, a string quartet, provides for interesting listening, if the sound editing, again, weren’t so obvious. The fake reverb and echo is so apparent in the first few seconds, you can almost see Garage Band. This is nothing against Mark Zuckerman’s work, but I am unhappy with MSR Classics’ product.
Norman Dello Joio
Two Concert Etudes
Music for Piano Trio “The March of Folly”
Sonata for Piano
Ani Kavafian, Carter Brey, and Jeremy Denk
There are occasions when twenty-three minutes of music comes together in the last three minutes, as though to say “The moral of the story is…” Justin Dello Joio’s Piano Trio “The March of Folly” (inspired by Barbara Tuchman’s book of the same name) achieves such a climax (or anti-climax) in its Epilogue after twenty minutes of angst and anger. It is an optimistic finale, but one that doesn’t overshadow the message of its predecessor movements. Ani Kavafian (violin), Carter Brey (cello) and Jeremy Denk (piano) offer a compelling and powerful performance.
Garrick Ohlsson frames the trio with performances of two solo piano works, both tremendously difficult and complex. The music is often angular, interspersed with sweeping romantic gestures: One moment in the sonata is almost Lisztian.
New Music for Electronic and Recorded Media
Women in Electronic Music 1977
(New World Records 80653-2)
I like to read magazines from back to front. So, I listened to this CD from the last track to the first, causing a kind of aural time travel through electronic music.
The last two works by Laurie Anderson (b. 1947) are from 1977, and are short portraits of people: A New York artist (New York Social Life) and an art museum guard (Time to Go). In New York Social Life, Laurie Anderson plays two characters, one “live” and the other prerecorded on a telephone, accompanied by Scott Johnson on a tambura. This pre-Sex and the City diary-entry is humorous, and would be fun to see live. Time to Go depicts a museum guard telling people, well, “It’s time to go.” Once again, Laurie Anderson, singing and playing the violin, is accompanied by Scott Johnson on guitar and organ.
Ruth Anderson’s (b. 1928) Points from 1973-74, is a static sound journey using sine tones. Megan Roberts (b. 1952) was next (moving backwards) with I Could Sit Here All Day (1976) for drums, electronics, and screaming voices. Insane-asylum sound environment meets hypnotic drumming pattern.
Appalachian Grove I (1974) was Laurie Spigel’s (b. 1945) first composition of computer-generated tape music after studying the GROOVE programming system. Spiegel’s love for the banjo, fiddle playing and the plectra are explored through electronic sounds that evoke modes and gestures found in Appalachian music.
Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932) makes an appearance with Bye Bye Butterfly from 1964. It was created at the Tape Music Center studio. New Zealand-born Annea Lockwood (b. 1939) created World Rhythms in 1975 from sounds found in the environment (pulsars, earthquakes, human breathing, etc). A live gong is played throughout the performance and, when performed live lasts between thirty-nine to ninety minutes. This recording offers an eight minute version.
Johanna M. Beyer (1888-1944) created one of the first pieces of electronic music in 1938 (!) and called it Music of the Spheres. The premiere performance took place in 1977, at the Cabrillo Music Festival, given by Allen Strange who realized the score for this recording. It comes from a larger work for theatre called Status Quo and represents Beyer’s feelings of injustice during her days. A friend of Percy Grainger and a student of Henry Cowell, she was and still is largely unknown today. This recording features The Electric Weasel Ensemble.
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New York City – On Friday afternoon, March 9, at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, music critic Tim Page of The Washington Post hosted a panel discussion between five Grawemeyer-winning composers: John Corigliano (1991), Sebastian Currier (2007), Karel Husa (1993), Aaron Jay Kernis (2002), and Joan Tower (1990).
Grawemeyer Symposium: (left to right) Tim Page, Aaron Kernis, Sebastian Currier, Karel Husa John Corigliano, and Joan Tower.
Tim Page began with a quote from Virgil Thomson stating that to be an American composer, one must simply be in America and compose. All five composer/panelists contributed their thoughts on “style” and why American composers’ compositional voices are so varied. Following the discussion, moderator Tim Page took questions from the audience.
After the discussion, and a brief intermission, Karen Little presented a new publication that catalogs the first twenty years of submissions to the Grawemeyer award. Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition: The First Twenty Years, published by Scarecrow Press, contains scores from all submissions that were retained in the Grawemeyer collection until 2005.
2007 Grawemeyer winner Sebastian Currier talks about Static.
Sebastian Currier gave a brief talk on his winning work Static, which was followed by a convincing performance by performers from the University of Louisville: Kathy Karr, flute; Dallas Tidwell, clarinet; J. Patrick Rafferty, violin; Marlene Ballena, cello; and Brenda Kee, piano.
Brenda Kee, piano; Kathy Karr, flute; Patrick Rafferty, violin; Dallas Tidwell, clarinet; and Marlene Ballena, cello, performing Static.
Brave New World host Daniel Gilliam with Sebastian Currier.
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The University of Louisville descended on to New York City this week for a big event, and I don’t mean the Big East tournament (well, they did that also and lost). Musicians from the School of Music, the symphony orchestra and wind symphony, filled Carnegie Hall with music from Grawemeyer-winning composers and the 2007 Grawemeyer winner.
To begin the concert, the University of Louisville Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kimcherie Lloyd, presented two very distinct works by Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) and Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960). Fanfare for Louisville by Lutoslawski surrounded the concert stage with brass, winds and percussion in a blast of loud tone clusters and improvisatory passages for brass. To contrast, Aaron Kernis’s Musica Celestis for string orchestra painted the hall with lush chords and slow moving harmonies.
The largest work of the night invoked the sublime talents of Paul York, as cello soloist in the concerto by Karel Husa (b. 1921), one of the composers present at the concert. Beginning with an extended aria for all cellos (in the very low register), the soloist gradually separates from the section as an independent voice. The highlight of virtuosity comes in the second movement, which asks the cellist to perform for an extended time pizzicato (Instead of a bow, using fingers to pluck and strum). Unfortunately, it was interrupted by a string popping on Mr. York’s cello. He recovered magnificently, returning with a fresh string and beginning the movement over. The entire concerto concludes in the highest registers, implying a rise from the depths to hope and freedom.
Following Husa’s concerto, the Dean of the School of Music, Christopher Doane and President of the University of Louisville, James Ramsey introduced the 2007 Grawemeyer winner Sebastian Currier for his chamber work Static. Not unlike other award ceremonies, the announcement was made with a tad bit of suspense, followed by gasps (positive ones) and immediately by cheers and applause, from what seemed to be a fan base up in the tiers. Following the announcement, the University Symphony Orchestra performed Currier’s Microsymph.
The second half of the concert, featuring the Wind Symphony, conducted by Fred Speck, began with Joan Tower’s (b. 1938) Fascinating Ribbons, followed by two works for antiphonal brass, played without pause, by Krzystof Penderecki (b. 1933) and Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996). Karel Husa returned to the program by way of a premiere of Cheetah, commissioned by the University of Louisville Division of Music Theory and Composition. As one would expect, the title evokes this “magnificent wild animal, now an endangered species – it’s colors, movements, power, speed…” Considered by many to be one of the greatest composers for the wind ensemble genre, Karel Husa’s Cheetah lives up to its creators reputation. Fred Speck’s energy and momentum concluded the concert with a gripping interpretation of John Corigliano’s (b. 1938) Tarantella from Symphony No. 1 (arranged for wind symphony by Jeffrey Gershman). This musical description of John Corigliano’s friend moving through madness and lucidity, as a result of AIDS dementia, is powerful as music, but even more so because of the subject matter. Thunderous applause from a captivated audience greeted Mr. Speck and Mr. Corigliano, proof of both performer’s and composer’s ability to move listeners.
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Garden of Dreams
Dallas Wind Symphony
Writing for a large ensemble, especially a traditional, professional orchestra, can be a dangerous venture for today’s composer. Hours, days, and years (sometimes) of composition, orchestration, preparation of parts, and personal anguish over a score that may get two hours of concert hall rehearsal before a world premiere. However, should a wind ensemble ever ask for a commission, quickly say yes. Wind ensembles (symphonies, bands, etc), particularly collegiate groups, are gifted with practice time enviable by any orchestra and their directors tend to be excited about new music.
Jerry Junkin and the Dallas Wind Symphony have released 77 minutes of music by David Maslanka on the Reference Recordings label, proof that composers can get a break in today’s “orchestra-eat-composer” world. As far as I can tell, this recording was completely underwritten by someone other than the David Maslanka, and the performance quality leaves nothing to complain about.
The music itself combines Bach chorales as “emotional focal points” (composers words) and influences of John Adams, with long droning phrases and chords that build over time. The spaces can be wide, with little motion, but when David writes fast music, it it engaging and purposeful. A Child’s Garden of Dreams is based on the work of Carl Jung, and freely “describes” five dreams of a young girl who died of disease. In Memoriam is based on Bach’s “If Thou but Suffer God to Guide Thee.” The concluding work on this disc is a symphony, and is full of references to Bach chorales and hymn tunes, is predictable and forced (with a glaring reference to Philip Glass about two minutes into the first movement).
Lion’s Eye/Lion’s Tale
The Berkley Gamelan Ensemble
Carter Scholz, HTML programmer and sampler performer
Pauline Oliveros, composer-performer, has been a transforming force in music since 1961. Her broad range of activities, from Deep Listening (Oliveros’ orginal concept) to performances on her just tuned accordion, have made her a unique and compelling voice in modern composition.
By their very nature, Oliveros’ works can’t be reviewed. Each performance is different and “correct,” with limitless freedom for the performers. The Berkeley Gamelan Ensemble with Carter Scholz using a sampler, tackles the forty-five minute Lion’s Eye from 1985. Oliveros’ writes for gamelans in a way that suits each instrument. Higher pitched instruments are given more notes, while lower pitched are given longer note values. The sampler allows patterns and pitches to be repeated or sustained at impossible levels, but also participates with the ensemble as another member.
Lion’s Tale for sampler (1989) uses composer created patterns that are generated by computer, allowing for a unique performance each time.
Common Sense Composers’ Collective
New Millennium Ensemble
Rarely does one see the intentional joining of forces between composers. The competitiveness found in the performing arena is common in the composers’ world, though more passive-aggressive. Unfortunately, our animal desire to survive and rise above the pack isolates and divides us. So when a composers collective comes along, it can be refreshing to observe the fruits of friendship as expressed in the latest release through Albany Records of the Common Sense Composers’ Collective and the New Millennium Ensemble.
The performances by the New Millennium Ensemble are exciting and energetic (not to mention the very fine sound engineering). The composers represent an era influenced by Reich and Adams, jazz and rock, filtered through Guggenheims and Ivy League educations. Nothing sounds academic or contrived, and even when the post-minimalist clichés are apparent, the intensity and motivation behind the performance makes each work on this disc worthwhile.
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Ecce Cor Meum
Kate Royal, soprano
London Voices; Boys of Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; Boys of King’s College Choir, Cambridge
Colm Carey, organ
Mark Law, piccolo trumpet
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
EMI Classics 094637042427
That Paul McCartney was a member of the Beatles should be ignored for the next few minutes as you read the following.
Our expectations are immediately met within the first thirty seconds of music: Bland choral writing, sophomoric orchestrations (not by McCartney, I assume), and predictable melodies that are served with cliché “lyrics” in English (interspersed with Latin). To listen for another fifty-five minutes (which took “eight years to compose”) would be a waste of time, and unfortunately the liner notes provide no interesting reading material to justify the overly produced booklet filled with typical pictures and prose.
Some memorable quotes (not melodies) from the liner notes:
“I’ve never had a lesson in composition or notation.” – Paul McCartney
Speaking of Anthony Smith’s request for a choral work to induct a new concert hall at Magdalen College, Oxford, “His hope was for a ‘choral piece which could be sung by young people the world over – something equivalent to Handel’s Messiah.”
“McCartney instinctively did what many great classical composers have done before him…” – Peter Quantrill
Through Ecce Cor Meum, McCartney reminds us that despite tremendous pop success, not everyone makes a good composer (the opposite is also true). This vanity project gives us plenty of reasons to lament the state of “classical music” and renew fears that professionals will largely be ignored and forgotten and be replaced by frauds with money.
Veni Creator Spiritus
Philip Swanson, et al.
Philip Swanson, trombone
Barbara Bruns, organ
MSR Classics 1137
Philip Swanson (b. 1949), trombonist and composer, is joined by Barbara Bruns, organ, for a collection of duets for trombone and organ, with one organ solo. The literature for this combination isn’t enormous, but it works well. For anyone looking to compose church music, and not use voices or trumpet, may find the trombone/organ duet useful. Philip Swanson’s composition Variations on Veni Creator Spiritus is mostly meditative and slow, and one longs for the rhythmic energy and bounce present in the final variation (Variation IV). Overall the work is idiomatic and tuneful, and would work appropriately in a church setting.
Hugo Distler (1908-1943) was a prolific performer and improviser, and his Partita “Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland” is, like Swanson’s piece, a set of variations on the aforementioned chorale.
The other work by a living composer on this CD, Domine, Dona Nobis Pacem by Frigyes Hidas (b. 1923) is a meditative song for trombone and organ. I don’t know this work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it exists as a work for voice and organ. Think: “The Lord’s Prayer” by Albert H. Malotte. Also on present in this recording is Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise as arranged by Barbara Bruns.
Diving Bell (2002) for triangles and processing opens the disc with one color that is sustained, successfully, for eight minutes. The simplicity is moving and, even to a non-electronic music person, its message was clear. I was less enthused about Crawlspace (2002) a “study” in laptop sounds (literally, the sounds that a laptop makes) and how they interfere with the processing software and, apparently, another audio device nearby. Talking to Vasudeva (2002) for river stones, processing and field recordings “explores the intermutability of stone and water: the ease with which stone impels water to follow its form and the persistence of water to wear stone smooth.” Like Diving Bell, this work makes use of a limited palette, including stones from a river near the composer’s one-time residence, and sounds from his walks near the river.
Kaija Saahiro’s Six Japanese Gardens, for percussion and electronics, is a suite of six miniatures, each one based on impressions of actual gardens in Ryoan-ji, Saiho-ji, and other locations. The electronic component acts a vehicle for “chanting monks,” and is largely independent of the percussion writing.
Larkin Gifford’s Harmonica
Phillip Bimstein’s “alternative classical” is best described as collage work, taking found sounds, some completely unaltered, and combining original (acoustic) music from more traditional ensembles. Casino combines narrative from Tom Martinet, an ex-priest who has worked in Vegas since 1974 as a “dice-caller,” and various casino sounds (dice, poker chips, roulette wheels, etc.). Bimstein adds a wind quintet score to create a comical, but insightful, triptych that is as maniacal as Las Vegas seems (I’ve never been).
Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa, The Bushy Wushy Rag, and Larkin Gifford’s Harmonica continue the collage practice, combining sounds from across the country, from a St. Louis Cardinal’s baseball game and the “beer man,” to a harmonica player from Springdale, Utah. All are worth a listen or two.
Rockville Utah 1926 is for string quartet (no electronics) and is a straight-forward, lyrical work based on an earlier composition by Blimstein. It is meant to “evoke the life…of remote rural Utahns…before they had electricity.” At first, Rockville seems out of place, but when considering that the rest of the CD is mainly electronic, this rustic work sits well amidst the technology.
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Jerry sent me a box load of CDs for review under the agreement that I will choose lesser-known composers. So a new column called “Lost and Found” is born, and will (hopefully) be an every-other week installment.
American Women: Modern Voices in Piano Music (self-published)
Nancy Boston, piano
In American Women: Modern Voices in Piano Music, Nancy Boston explores piano literature from American women composers, or less specifically American composers. The recording title could do without the introductory gender reference, despite Ms. Boston’s good intentions. The music featured here represents American composers, in the same way an all male recording (often the case) represents American composers. The fact that we call attention to the femininity of this collection doesn’t change our impressions, good or bad, of the notes.
The music on Modern Voices in Piano Music represents a style of writing on par with some of the great piano composers (Schumann, Chopin, Debussy, etc). From the character pieces of Nancy Bloomer Deussen (Two Pieces for Piano), Judith Lang Zaimont (Suite Impressions), Beth Anderson (September Swale), and Beata Moon (Piano Fantasy), to the larger sonatas of Nancy Galbraith and Emma Lou Diemer.
In each case, these fine composers have shown their ability to write for an instrument that can so often be treated poorly. On occasion the music was too “easy” for my taste, but I’m just another listener. Nancy Boston’s performances are convincing and inspired, partly due to her affinity for the “cause” of women composers. Let’s hope that music by women continues to be considered equal to their brethren through performers like Nancy Boston.
The Louisville Project (Arizona University Recordings 3127)
Richard Nunemaker, clarinet
Featuring: Andrea Levine, Dallas Tidwell, Timothy Zavadil, clarinets; The Louisville Quartet (Peter McHugh and Marcus Ratzenboeck, violins; Christian Frederickson, viola; Paul York, cello); Krista Wallace-Boaz, piano
Richard Nunemaker’s CD published by Arizona University Recordings presents works composed since 2000, and recorded (mostly) in Louisville during 2003. This recording is dedicated to the memory of M. William Karlins (1932-2005), one of the composers featured on the disc, and one who was present at the recording of one of his works.
Rothko Landscapes (2000) by Jody Rockmaker is meant to be a musical realization of Rothko paintings and utilizes quite a bit of extended techniques. Rockmaker’s use of visual allusions doesn’t impede or help the listener, as the music stands on its own.
Marc Satterwhite’s two offerings Clarinet Quintet(2002) and Las viudas de Calama (The widows of Calama) (2000) use the clarinet in a more melodic way than other works on this disc. The Clarinet Quintet, scored for string quartet and clarinet (B-flat and bass), is a compelling work with long phrases and a scoring that is always careful and delicate. Las viudas de Calama is based on a poem of Marjorie Agosin, a Chilean writer, describing the atrocities of the Pinochet regime in a city called Calama, situated in the Atacama Desert. Agosin’s chilling prose, which seems particularly relevant in light of the recent death of Pinochet, is translated into a work for bass clarinet and piano.
Karlins’ work is characterized by long phrases and soft dynamics, requiring skillful breathing and careful articulation. Just a Line from Chameleon makes proud of the fact that it is composed “in registers of the instrument that are difficult to control at a soft dynamic level.” Improvisation on “Lines Where Beauty Lingers” is based on a jazz tune by Ron Thomas.
Meira M. Warshauser pairs two bass clarinets against each other, describing tensions and commonalities (past and present) between the descendants of Ishmael (Palestinians) and Isaac (Israelis). The title Shevet Achim (Brothers Dwell) is taken from Psalm 133, v. 1 “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together as one.”
Michael Hersch Symphones Nos. 1 and 2 (Naxos 8.559281)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
It is always an accomplishment to have an orchestral work performed. Greater still is to have that work performed and recorded by a leading orchestra and a conductor who is an avowed promoter of new music. Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have done so by recording four orchestral works by Michael Hersch (b. 1971) on the Naxos label, a company that never seizes to amaze in the risks they take.
Hersch’s Symphony No. 2 (2001) is a prime example of today’s typical orchestral composition: Sweeping crescendos, large chords filled with brass and percussion and punctuating gestures. Melodies are largely absent, and when they do appear, are short-lived, though not unskillful. The third movement offers a peek into a melody, one we could use more of. His first symphony from 1998 is an early, Second-Viennese-School-influenced work, with perhaps a few more tunes and weaker orchestrations.
Both Fracta (2002) and Arraché (2004) display a more “modern” style and, again, the kind of writing that appeals to the large orchestral sound. Arraché includes some fugal writing, and by implication melodies, though the modern clichés are never far off. Fracta is a reworking of an earlier chamber work, accompanied by a poem by Friedrich Hölderin.
Disasters of the Sun (Canadian Music Centre 11806)
Barbara Pentland, composer
Judith Frost, mezzo-soprano
Turning Point Ensemble
Barbara Pentland deserves a bit of introduction. Born in Winnipeg in 1912, Pentland began composing around age nine, but was plagued with bad health and strict parents, both which impeded her compositional growth and studies. While living in Paris, she was “allowed” to study composition, and did so under Vincent d’Indy. After returning to the North American continent, Pentland received a fellowship to study at Juilliard and studied with Copland in Berkshire. It was a trip to Darmstadt and exposure to Webern, through Dika Newlin, that turned her compositional voice from a style influenced by d’Indy to the post-serial style en vogue during the late 40’s and 50’s.
The works on this Canadian Music Centre release, represent works from the late 70’s to mid 80’s, and one work from her “early” period. The largest work (both in time and performing forces) is Disasters of the Sun (1977) for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble, based on a text of Dorothy Livesay (1909-1996), whom Pentland met in the 30’s. This is a dramatic work requiring thirty minutes of athleticism from the singer, and complex rhythmic counterpoint for the chamber orchestra. Commenta and Quintet for Piano and Strings, date from 1980-1981 and 1983, respectively. All three of the aforementioned compositions make generous use of extended and improvisatory techniques, but never stray from a lyrical writing, even if it’s rigid. The Octet for Winds is a neo-Classical work from 1948 composed while Pentland was at the MacDowell Colony (it was here where she met Dika Newlin), but begins to incorporate serial techniques (with a nod to Stravinsky). The Canadian Music Centre website (http://www.musiccentre.ca/) has a good biography, along with audio and score samples.
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