Signal plays Reich at Miller Theatre

Opening Night at Miller Theater

Steve Reich Photo: Jeffrey Herman

Steve Reich
Photo: Jeffrey Herman

On September 15, Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman, presented an all-Steve Reich program to open the season at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. There was a sold out crowd, populated both by contemporary music devotees and over 200 Columbia students. Reich turns eighty later this year, and this is one of the many birthday concerts that will fete the composer.

 

Signal has recorded several albums of Reich’s music, including a 2016 release on Harmonia Mundi that features his Double Sextet and Radio Rewrite, recent works that demonstrate the undiminished energy and invention of their creator. The Miller Theatre concert focused on two sets of “variations,” composed in the prior decade: Daniel Variations (2006) and You Are Variations (2004). The amplified ensemble featured a superlative small complement of singers, a string quintet, a quartet of grand pianos, and a bevy of percussion and wind instruments. They were recording the concert, one hopes for subsequent release.

 

Daniel Variations is, in terms of instrumentation, the slightly smaller of the two. Alongside the aforementioned piano/percussion group, Reich employs a quartet of vocalists (two sopranos and two tenors, singing in a high tessitura for much of the piece), string quartet, and two clarinets. There are two textual sources for the piece. The first are the words of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who, while reporting on the conflict in Pakistan in 2002, was captured and killed by Islamic extremists. These are offset by quotations from the Book of Daniel, a text from the Old Testament of the Bible. The texts underscore Pearl’s Judaism and also his love of music (he was an amateur string player). Indeed, the last movement of the piece, “I sure hope Daniel likes my music, when the day is done,” is a trope on a Stuff Smith song, “I Sure Hope Gabriel Likes My Music,” found in Pearl’s record collection after his death.

 

You Are Variations finds Reich exploring texts from his spiritual roots, including Psalm 16, quotes from the Talmud, the Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and Wittgenstein (Reich’s undergraduate thesis subject). Musical quotes are diverse as well, ranging from L’Homme Arme to a song by James Brown. The harmony is prevailingly in D mixolydian but unorthodox bass progressions and layering often give it a polytonal feel. From where I was sitting, the vocals seemed a little recessed in favor of the winds, something that I am confident can be worked out in subsequent mixing of the projected recording. It still worked live, giving the impression that the singers were sometimes supported by the ensemble and sometimes vying in a struggle for discernment of the weighty texts.

 

Lubman conducts Reich’s work with the authority of someone who has both an intimate knowledge of the scores and of the formidable musicians at his disposal. Reich seemed to approve. Taking the stage with trademark baseball cap firmly planted on his head, he volubly demonstrated his pleasure to everyone from Lubman to the sound designer. The percussionists, in particular, beamed as they accepted his greetings: they had done right by Reich.

Andy Plays Jay

Three cheers for the home team! Jay Batzner, a Contributing Editor to Sequenza 21, has a new recording out on the Irritable Hedgehog imprint. as if to each other …, a 25 minute long EP played by pianist R. Andrew Leeis now available via their website.

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Monk’s Piano Songs

 

Meredith Monk

Piano Songs

Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, pianists

ECM New Series CD 2374

 

Meredith Monk is best known for her vocal works. However, she has been writing for the piano since early on in her studies and has mature works in her catalog that date back to the 1970s. Starting in the 1980s, she began to write a number of pieces for piano duo. Both solo works and duos are represented on this ECM CD of her piano music, played expertly and energetically by Ursula Oppens and Bruce Brubaker. They even engage in a bit of hand percussion and vocal call and response on the ebullient “Folkdance.“

 

As Monk points out in her liner notes, these are pieces that may seem simple on the surface. This is deceiving. Accounting for all their details and dealing with the slightly off-kilter rhythmic sensibility that is so often brought to bear in the works is quite tricky. One might wonder why the selections are called “Piano Songs.” Truth be told, Monk’s work, be it for instruments or voices, retains such a strongly vocal quality to the shaping of its lines that calling these pieces songs, much like Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte, seems apt.

Jarrell’s Cassandra Receives US Premiere

Jarrell and Clementi. Photo: Andi Olsen

Jarrell and Clementi.
Photo: Andi Olsen

One of the oldest stories left to humanity, yet it still can withstand and even thrive in new adaptations…

On Thursday and Friday, Swiss composer Michael Jarrell opera Cassandra will be given its US Premiere at Bohemian National Hall in New York City (details below). Based on the 1984 novel by Christa Wolf, the monodrama deals with the fallout of the Trojan war for King Priam’s prescient daughter. Actress Anna Clementi is joined by an 18-member ensemble and bolstered by electronic music and the work of Czech video artist Dalibor Pys. 

For those subtitle weary among you, there’s good news: the work will be given in English (However, our teaser video below is in French!).

    Performance Details

Michael Jarrell’s Cassandra
Featuring Actress Anna Clementi and the Argento Chamber Ensemble; Michel Galante, conductor
February 6 & 7 at 7:00 PM,
Bohemian National Hall, 321 E. 73rd Street in New York City.
Free Event

Kremer plays Weinberg

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

Gidon Kremer; Kremerata Baltica

ECM New Series 2368/69 (2XCD)

The revival of music by Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) is provided significant momentum by this double-disc set from ECM. Violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica project prove to be ardent interpreters of Weinberg’s works. The release’s program includes chamber music and compositions for larger ensemble (including the centerpiece, his Tenth Symphony); it provides a fine overview of Weinberg’s aesthetic. He is often compared to Shostakovich, not unduly, as the solo sonata performed searingly here by Kremer attests, but Weinberg is a distinctive figure in his own right who deserves more frequent and prominent placement on concert programs.

You can hear Kremer and Co. performing this music tonight in New York and over the next week in other US cities (dates below).

Kremerata Baltica in Concert


January 30 – New York, NY at 92Y Kaufmann Concert Hall    

http://www.92y.org/Uptown/Event/Kremerata-Baltica.aspx

              

February 2 – San Francisco, CA at Davies Symphony Hall       

http://www.sfsymphony.org/Buy-Tickets/2013-2014/Gidon-Kremer-and-Kremerata-Baltica.aspx

 

February 4 – Houston, TX at Stude Concert Hall       

http://houstonfriendsofchambermusic.org/series/2013-14/Kremerata/

                             

February 6 – Ann Arbor, MI at Hill Auditorium                         

http://tickets.ums.org/single/EventDetail.aspx?p=1653

              

February 7 – Chicago, IL at Harris Theater   

http://www.harristheaterchicago.org/events/2013-2014-season/kremerata-baltica

                             

February 8 – St Paul, MN at Ordway Center for the Performing Arts  

http://schubert.org/concerts/international-artist-series/gidon-kremer-violin-with-kremerata-baltica/

Kigawa plays Ligeti at LPR

On Friday, pianist Taka Kigawa joins Ensemble LPR for a program of contemporary classical music, both watershed works and new offerings. The concert’s centerpiece is Ligeti’s Piano Concerto. The Ensemble also performs Varèse’s Octandre and Gallery Music by composer/conductor Brad Lubman (best known for his work with Ensemble Signal).

Kigawa also plays two solo pieces, Joule by Dai Fujikura and The Thinking Eye by area (Columbia U.) composer Zosha Di Castri. 

Check out a video of the Fujikura work below.

Taka Kigawa, piano; Ensemble LPR, Oliver Hagen, conductor

Friday, January 24th 8pm, at (le) Poisson Rouge.

Program

Edgard Varèse: Octandre
Brad Lubman: Gallery Music
Zosha Di Castri: The Thinking Eye
Dai Fujikura: Joule
György Ligeti: Piano Concerto

For more info and tickets, visit LPR’s website.

Levin – Minnemann – Rudess (CD Review)

LevinMinnemannRudess

S/T CD

Lazy Bones Recordings

 

Prog — especially NeoProg of the instrumental variety — gets a fair amount of heat from mainstream music critics. They throw around terms like  “noodly,” “artificial,” “overly showy,”  “bloated,” etc., and pretend that the state of middle-of-the-road rock or garage rock’s umpteenth incarnation is instead just fine, thanks very much. One hopes that they — and the listeners who read their reviews — won’t pass up this release because of a superficial prejudice or hangup about the genre in which it (loosely) resides.

 

Between them, bassist Tony Levin, guitarist/percussionist Marco Minnemann, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess have amassed an astounding list of recording credits. They each have the reputation of being stunning virtuosos who are also amiable collaborators — a simpatico mixture of qualities not often found. Putting them together is a combustible yet protean musical mixture.

 

LMR’s self-titled debut recording contains fourteen pieces of rhythmically complex and abundantly energetic music. While layering of tracks are necessary in this context (for starters, their guitarist is also their drummer!), overdubbing doesn’t equate to sterility here: LMR still retains the vitality and heavy rhythmic groove of an estimable power trio. From the hard rock riffs and polyrhythmic corruscations of “Marcopolis,” to the thunderous drumming and rampant arpeggiations of “Mew,” and the fearsome low end of “Enter the Core” and “Frumious Banderfunk” (gotta’ love that title!), each cut rocks harder than the last. There are also some affecting textural designs that demonstrate Rudess’ keyboard prowess and his talent for melding different patches on “The Blizzard,” “Orbiter,” and elsewhere.

 

In this era of shrinking attention spans and itchy fingers aching to punch the shuffle button, a likely response from some of the aforementioned hypothetical listeners might well be, “Fourteen tracks! C’mon how many do you really need?” In my opinion, there’s not an ounce of fat here — each piece offers a different facet of the trio’s music-making. Recommended.

 

- Christian Carey

RIP John Tavener

We were saddened to learn of the passing of John Tavener, English composer of concert music based on the Christian Orthodox liturgy.

John Tavener composed “Jesus Prayer” specifically for Björk Guðmundsdóttir’s voice.

She posted the following message on her website: “John tavener : i feel honoured that i got to know him … and that he wrote one song for my voice … incredibly pure composer

condolences to his family

warmth,
björk.”

Program note – Ionisation

Ionisation

 

Scientists describe ionisation as the process in which, by gaining or losing electrons, atoms or molecules come to possess a positive or negative charge. For his percussion ensemble work Ionisation (1931), Edgard Varèse uses this scientific principle both as the work’s title and as an extra-musical idea that impacts its form. For much of the piece, the composer explores instruments of indefinite pitch (drums, cymbals) or rapidly shifting pitch (sirens and the lion’s roar): the noise spectrum. It is only at the very end of Ionisation that, structured as dissonant chordal verticals, pitches from the 12-tone chromatic scale are significantly used. The listener can judge whether the addition of notes to noise is designed to give a positive or negative jolt.

 

The principal building blocks of the piece are small rhythmic cells that permute and develop, at one point or another appearing in most of the instruments’ parts. There is also a significant exploration of antiphonal sounds: the thirteen musicians specified in the score each have a motley assortment of instruments to play, thus treating listeners to a widely spaced and diverse palette of timbres.

 

No musical composition is created in a vacuum. When writing Ionisation, Varèse was influenced by a number of preceding pieces and artistic movements: Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps (1913), Dada, George Antheil’s Ballet Mechanique (1924), Amadeo Roldán’s Ritmica No. 5 (1930), and, of course, by the noise concoctions and sound art manifestos of Italian futurists such as Filippo Tomasso Marinetti and Luigi Russolo. But this debt has been more than abundantly repaid. Indeed, Ionisation has served as a musical touchstone for numerous subsequent pieces by composers such as John Cage, Lou Harrison, Nicholas Slonimsky, James Tenney, Charles Wuorinen, and Frank Zappa. In many ways, Ionisation was the percussion ensemble’s “Declaration of Independence.” Certainly, New Jersey Percussion Ensemble wouldn’t be the same without it.

New Jersey Percussion Ensemble plays Ionisation, as well as pieces by Saperstein, Kresky, Carey, and others, on November 25 at 7 PM at William Paterson University.