Tomorrow at the Art Museum In Racine, Wisconsin: Megan Ihnenis performing a piece of mine for alto and viola as part of the Fresh Inc. Festival. If you haven’t seen Megan’s blog entries about the festival, you should check ‘em out here.
Walking Shadows, saxophonist Joshua Redman’s new Nonesuch CD, is a real pleasure to hear. The core quartet of Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Brian Blade are abetted by a chamber orchestra, which is given lush and spacious arrangements by Redman, Mehldau, Patrick Zimmerli, and Dan Coleman.
The recording features a number of standards, both old (“Easy Living,” “Lush Life,” and “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”), and new (John Mayer’s “Stop that Train”). When interpreting pop in a jazz orchestral context, there’s always the danger of “gilding the lily,” over-adorning the charts or the solos. Of course, it is impossible with tunes by Hammerstein and Kern, or by Lennon and McCartney (“Let it Be”), not to have their iconic stature and myriad interpretations set the bar very high for a new take on an old chestnut. Happily, this is that relatively uncommon recent release that leaves you enjoying what Redman and company have wrought, rather than immediately comparing it to the original.
The originals here, contributed by Redman and Mehldau, don’t pale in comparison to the “hit tunes” either. Mehldau is a known quantity as a persuasive musical creator; his “Last Glimpse of Gotham,” given supple strings and chiming pitched percussion backing, is, from an arranging standpoint, a standout track. It also contains one of Redman’s most potent ballad solos, arcing skyward and plumbing poignantly chromatic passageways in a contemplative cadenza. Redman’s own compositional language has become quite distinctive as well. His “Final Hour,” featuring a limpidly undulating accompaniment from Mehldau and the saxophonist unfurling one seamless legato line after another, is my favorite of his tunes to date. The album closer, Redman’s “Let Me Down Easy,” a ruminative minor key excursion with a haunting melody and impassioned solo playing from both Redman and Mehldau, is a memorable tune that is begging for a vocal rendition.
Final Hour is a compelling addition to the saxophonist’s discography.
On Thursday, June 6th, soprano Sara Noble premieres a new art song I’ve written for her at Montclair Art Museum.
Sara and Carl Patrick Bolleia (pictured above) both served with me as jurors to select the other works on the concert from submissions by NJ middle school, high school, and college composers. The works by these students are quite impressive!
Thank you to violinist Miranda Cuckson for this guest post – a remembrance of composer Henri Dutilleux, who recently passed away at the age of 97.
My visit to Henri Dutilleux was part of one of the most beautiful summers I’ve had. I stayed for several weeks in Paris just before beginning my doctoral degree. I was determined to pass out of the language-course requirement, so I rented a little apartment on the Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine and immersed myself in French, reading twenty pages a day, chatting with storepeople and watching French talk shows on TV. Besides exploring the city and making daytrips to Chartres and Auvers-sur-Oise, I visited many museums, including the small ones (Bourdelle, Zadkine), and heard music at the Salle Pleyel (Krystian Zimerman), Cité de la Musique (Ensemble Intercontemporain in Carter, Kurtag and Dalbavie), Théâtre du Chatelet (Bluebeard’s Castle) and Bastille Opera (Renée Fleming in Manon). Meanwhile I practiced every day, and sometime in the middle of my stay, I called up Henri Dutilleux.
I had been working on his violin concerto L’arbre des songes (The Tree of Dreams, which I fondly thought of as L’arbre des singes, The Tree of Monkeys) in my lessons at Juilliard with Robert Mann. I was becoming increasingly interested in contemporary music and working with composers, and Mr. Mann’s involvement in that kind of thing was very inspiring to me. Mr. Mann and the Juilliard Quartet had commissioned Dutilleux in 1976 to write the string quartet Ainsi la nuit. Having listened to me play the concerto, he contacted Dutilleux and asked him to hear me. I was of course thrilled that the composer agreed. When I called Monsieur Dutilleux, he asked if I had a pianist to play with. I said no, so he arranged for a young Japanese woman from the Paris Conservatoire to come and play the orchestra part.
One morning, I walked along a traffic-less, narrow street on the Île Saint-Louis, where pinkish-grey buildings glowed softly in the sun. The air was warm and stirred only by the sound of children’s playful shrieks, emanating from somewhere. Dutilleux greeted me at his studio – a rather small-framed man wearing a jacket with his trousers pulled high on his waist. He was entirely elegant and welcoming. His cozy studio was neat, with piles of scores and manuscript paper, and sunny. The children’s voices were louder now through his open window- closing them, he said that there was a school in the back and he enjoyed hearing their shouts. We talked a while, then I played his piece through. He made only a few comments – details of articulation, phrasing – then he signed my music and we talked a while more. We had tea and he gave me a copy of his CD, The Shadows of Time with the Boston Symphony, and talked about his use of children’s voices in the music. Then I went on my way.
I recently saw Dutilleux’s short posthumous homage to Elliott Carter, in which he said that they did not meet much and that he had few specific memories besides of “a nice and strong character, a very charming man, and though we were far from each other – the Atlantic Ocean between us – I remain close to him and his music.” That June day was my only meeting with Dutilleux, but it was very meaningful for me to meet the creator of this music, and to play his substantial work under his curious and attentive gaze. He reminded me of certain great artists I’ve known, who share a simplicity and contentedness in their way of living that comes, I feel, from their satisfaction in their work and their love for what they do. Listening to recordings, I again relish his music’s generous ardor and stimulating clarity, luscious warmth, sweeping ebb and flow, big-band homophonic blocks of harmonies, and sense of spaciousness between the deep low register and the radiant highs. I respect his fastidiousness in composing but I dearly wish he had been more prolific in writing chamber and solo works that we could play and program. Having few pieces of his to play, I feel about his music much as I do about my meeting with him – truly delighted and wanting more chances to engage directly. He definitely left us wishing for more.
Learn more about Miranda’s myriad activities at her website.
Our friends the Locrian Chamber Players are presenting a concert of works tonight in their usual haunt, at Riverside Church uptown, and also on Friday in their debut at Bargemusic. The concert features pieces by Harold Meltzer and Lois V. Vierk. (Details below).
Thursday, May 30 at 8PM in Riverside Church
Friday, May 31 at 8PM at Bargemusic
$35 ($30 for seniors/$15 for students)
The program for both concert is as follows:
Lois V. Vierk–Words Fail Me
David Shohl–Silhouette (World premiere)
Bernard Hughes–Suck It and See (U.S. premiere)
Vera Ivanova–Three Studies in Uneven Meters (New York premiere)
Cal Wiersma and Andrea Schultz, violin; Daniel Panner, viola; Greg Hesselink, cello;
You can’t escape it: ’tis the season to remember the Rite’s centenary. Some of the stuff floating around is getting a bit tiresome (There was a riot – really?) But there’s still plenty to celebrate about Sacre and the music it inspired. And not all of the post-Rite repertoire is so serious. Thanks to Daniel Felsenfeld and Frank J. Oteri for pointing out this wonderful bit of Rite ephemera via Facebook.
“Who wrote this fiendish Rite of Spring
What right had he to write the thing,
Against our helpless ears to fling
Its crash, clash, cling, clang, bing, bang, bing?
And then to call it Rite of Spring,
the season when on joyous wing
The birds melodious carols sing
And harmony’s in everything!
He who could write the Rite of Spring,
If I be right, by right should swing!”
–anonymous review in Boston Herald, 1924
I remember hearing Paul Sperry sing this for his American song lit. class back in the mid-nineties. Am glad that his rendition has been been recorded too.
Ensemble Signal’sCantaloupe recording Shelter, a collaboration between David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon, has been creating a great deal of hubbub throughout the classical music world. Small wonder – the creators are three of the biggest names in the downtown scene, synonymous with the Bang on a Can All Stars and with myriad other projects to their name. Ensemble Signal has proven their mastery of a wide swath of repertoire. One need only look at their discography, which readily attests to their versatility, from their recent Lachenmann disc on Mode (another stunner of a recording) to 2011′s live from LPR CD Glassworks (Orange Mountain).
But, in addition to the fulsome creativity of a triumvirate of Downtown leaders and crackerjack instrumental playing, there’s another very important ingredient that makes Shelter such a potent project: the singing. Sure, at first glance one might think that a cohort of three sopranos is not the most overwhelming vocal cast to assemble: but the sopranos in question are another formidable team. Mellissa Hughes, Martha Cluver, and Caroline Shaw (winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music) sing splendidly here. Together the trio create a sumptuous blend. They thread sinuous lines in seamless counterpoint, and know exactly when to lean into tangy dissonant collisions that occasionally burst like ripples to the surface of the music. Recommended.