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.
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!).
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.
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
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.
Edgard Varèse: Octandre
Brad Lubman: Gallery Music
Zosha Di Castri: The Thinking Eye
Dai Fujikura: Joule
György Ligeti: Piano Concerto
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.
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.
This week, NPR’s First Listen program is sharing a streaming preview of Ayhem,a collaboration between Kronos Quartet and Bryce Dessner of the National. Out via Anti Records on November 5th, the recording is Dessner’s first full length album of concert works. That said, Dessner is no newbie to writing for classical instruments; he has composed for various contemporary ensembles. In 2011, I interviewed him about his part in American Composers Orchestra’s SONiC Festival. A recording of the resulting piece, St. Carolyn by the Sea, is slated for release soon on DG.