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. 

 

NPR Shares Dessner/Kronos Collaboration

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.

 

 

Dmitri Tymoczko – Crackpot Hymnal (CD Review)

crackpot hymnal

Dmitri Tymoczko

Crackpot Hymnal

Bridge Records CD

In recent decades, there’s been a move in some American academic circles to put more separation between the disciplines of music composition and music theory. It seems especially curious to those of us who have, to greater or lesser degrees, modeled our careers and aesthetics on our forebears, adopting the “composer-theorist” approach (some of us even adopt the “composer-performer-theorist” tag, but that’s another story for another day). Happily, academics like Dmitri Tymoczko thrive, pointing out that a hyphenated or, more properly, interdisciplinary existence is still amply possible without compromising one’s standing in either or both disciplines.

Tymoczko is one of the best known scholars discussing geometric modeling in music theory; his “The Geometry of Musical Chords” was the first music theory article published in Science Magazine; his first book, A Geometry of Music (Oxford University Press, 2011) is thought-provoking and, given its subject matter, surprisingly accessible: It has engendered a great deal of discussion in music theory circles. However, Tymoczko teaches at Princeton University in the Composition Area; while many important theorists have studied at Princeton, there is no Theory Department in the Graduate Music program, only Composition and Musicology.

On his first CD, Beat Therapy (Bridge, also 2011), Tymoczko flexed his third stream muscles, presenting a program of concert works influenced by jazz including improvised solos. Crackpot Hymnal, his second recording for the Bridge imprint, features fully notated chamber pieces played by estimable ensembles: the Amernet and Corigliano Quartets and the Illinois Modern Ensemble with pianist Daniel Schlossberg. The pieces address crossover, or polystylism, though, for the most part, instead of jazz, popular and rock styles interact with folk and modern classical music. Given Tymoczko’s early background playing popular music, and his subsequent theoretical writings that point out the ways that geometrical modeling of scales and chords is applicable to the analysis of both classical and popular music, his exploration of similar issues in his compositions makes perfect sense.

He has a bit of fun as well with this idea of similarity of collections between disparate styles. In the album opener, The Eggman Variations (2005), a quintet for pianist John Blacklow and the Corigliano Quartet, the first movement, titled “Pentatonia,” overwhelmingly employs pentatonic collections. But is the listener guided to hear them as aspects of Asian folk music, Impressionist chamber music, or box riffs by a guitarist in a garage band? Depending on where you are in the piece, it could seem to be any one, or several, of these archetypal references to a five-note scale. Alongside the glissandos one might expect, permutations of chordal extensions (7th chords, 9th chords, et cetera), populate the piece’s second movement, “Bent.” “A Roiling Worm of Sound” (what a fantastic title) mixes multiple layers of ostinato repetitions into an ebulliently undulating whole.

Another aspect of polystylism that Tymoczko embraces in these pieces is the ever-expanding condition of our varied digital music libraries, with the concomitant use (abuse?) of the shuffle button on our iPod, iTunes, or other digital delivery system. With a few clicks of a mouse or remote, listeners can leapfrog throughout music history and a plethora of musical geographies. Typecase Treasury (2010), another piano quintet for Kevin Weng-Yew Mayner and the Amernet Quartet, is a seven-movement suite of miniatures that revels in stylistic juxtaposition. It is neoclassicism versus post-minimalism in “Where We Begin.” “Hurdy Gurdy” channels Nancarrow in its not-so-well oiled musical motor and bluesy cast. Sheared off blocks of angular rhythms and deliberately schmaltzy chords inhabit “Crackpot Hymnal” in a quirky coexistence. You can imagine what happens in “This One was Supposed to be Atonal.” The composer describes “Russian Metal” as “Shostakovich orchestrating Black Sabbath,” which is a nice summation for this simmering aural snapshot.  “Intermezzo” explores polytonality and harmonics in an appealingly piquant scoring that seems to take Bartók as its starting point. “Anthem” brings the piece to a close in rollicking fashion, bringing back some of the material from the opening, but transformed into a kinetic finale.

This Picture Seems to Move (1998), is also played by the Amernet Quartet. Even though it is a relatively early Tymoczko work, one can already hear a penchant for juxtaposition. Its first movement’s title, “Twittering Machine,” is a Paul Klee reference; obviously, it significantly predates our default assumptions about “twittering” today. It pits a modernist rhythmic language against a neoromantic harmonic palette.  The work’s other movement, titled (after Boccioni) “Those Who Go,” features a beautifully brooding quasi-tonal melody alongside five-against-three pizzicatos.

The recording’s final piece, Another Fantastic Voyage (2012), is a chamber piano concerto. Schlossberg and the Illinois Modern Ensemble supply a rousing performance of the piece, which is filled with abundant virtuosity for the soloist and hairpin turns and tricky rhythms aplenty for the sinfonietta. Its title references Asimov, and one can image the subtitles being the names of short stories by Ray Bradbury. As the three movements’ monikers – “The Mad King,” “Changeling,” and “An Evil Carnival” – suggest, this is a piece in which Tymoczko is willing to explore darker thematic terrain. It is also where he best demonstrates a flair for the dramatic.

Once again, we hear the composer unwilling to take received norms – the formality of the concerto form, for instance – at face value. Instead he seeks to subvert our expectations of what a piano concerto does by placing it inside the inspirational context of genre fiction. Of course, the piano concerto is one of the classical forms that is longest in the tooth, and there are a significant number of 20th and 21st century works that seek to deconstruct it. That Tymoczko is able to find still another way to reframe the concerto design is no mean feat. If you are one of those who distrust the “hyphenated” contingent of composer-theorists, assuming their music is overly cerebral and lacking immediacy, take a listen to this piece. When one hears its vividly orchestrated and vibrantly paced carnival ride closer, all bets are off.  You’ll likely think twice before making extravagant claims about “interdisciplinary types” again.

- Christian Carey

RIP Lou Reed (1942-2013)

lou_reed_286

“One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”

- Lou Reed

Much of my music passes the above “into jazz” marker. That said, Lou Reed taught me a great deal about productivity, creativity, and the maxim that “sometimes, less is more.”

Sad tonight for Laurie Anderson, and for us, who are deprived of more “more with less.”