If you believe in a piece, never give up on it!

It’s understandable for composers sometimes to wonder if one of their pieces has been orphaned or abandoned. Years go by without it being heard from and its creator asks him or herself: will I ever hear this piece performed again?

It can be particularly hard to countenance when it is a piece that you believe in; one that you feel is representative of what you had to offer during a particular period of your creative life.

Last week, going through some tapes, I found an old cassette of my Quintet (1998), the first piece I composed while at Rutgers University as a doctoral candidate studying with Charles Wuorinen. It was also the first in a group of pieces inspired by abstract expressionist artworks.

I paused for a moment before resuming filing, thinking, “I’d love to hear this piece again sometime. I’ve sent it out to a bunch of places and no one has programmed it. Guess I’ll have to keep trying.”

Last night, I got an email from pianist and conductor Paul Hoffmann asking for score and parts for an old piece, my Quintet for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and vibraphone. Helix! will be reviving it on Sunday, October 28.

Quintet was first played at June in Buffalo by New York New Music Ensemble in 1998 and was later performed by Helix! in Fall ’98 and by Ionisation (Darren Gage’s excellent group) in 2006.

This will also be the first time I’ve had something done at Rutgers – except in masterclasses – since I graduated in 2001.

If you are feeling poorly about a particular piece’s future chances, hang in there. Keep sending it out to sympathetic professionals and performing ensembles.

Here’s a SoundCloud recording of a digital transfer of that old tape!

For those of you in the area, Quintet will be performed by Helix! on 10/28 at Rutgers’s Mason Gross School for the Arts on Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ at 2 PM.

Hilliard Ensemble Sings Gesualdo (CD Review)

Carlo Gesualdo

Quinto Libro di Madrigali

Hilliard Ensemble

ECM New Series CD

It’s tempting, yet often misleading, to create direct parallels between life and art. The music of Carlo Gesualdo (1561-1613), effusively expressive and, at times, wildly chromatic to many 21st century listeners, has likely become inextricably linked to the scandalous facets of his biography. But the musical traits which made Gesualdo’s madrigals so memorable needn’t be treated as isolated phenomena perpetrated by an unbalanced individual. Gesualdo was not the only composer in his circle who experimented with what are now considered unusual musical practices: unprepared modulations, colorfully chromatic melodic embellishments, and audacious text-painting devices. He’s just the Neopolitan madrigalist who did so most memorably.

For this ECM recording of Gesualdo’s fifth book of madrigals, Hilliard Ensemble members countertenor David James, tenor Rogers Covey-Crump, tenor Steven Harrold, and bass Gordon Jones join forces with guest artists soprano Monika Mauch and countertenor David Gould: both singers who have appeared with the ensemble, in concert and on record, in the past. Their intonation, throughout the wending and widely diverging chromatic pathways found in these pieces, is flawless. In addition, one senses a forward momentum and particularization of articulation that impels us to savor as well the considerably intricate rhythmic dimensions of this music.

Another joy in hearing this recording is noting that, despite attention to these various details, the Hilliard Ensemble never exaggerates them. With such rich and evocative repertoire at their disposal, all too frequently, one hears vocal groups overplay their hand. Balancing passion with restraint is too rarely found in Gesualdo recordings; negotiating the correct calculus for this makes the Hilliard Ensemble’s rendition a benchmark one. Recommended.

Pecou’s Tremendum

Pecou tremendum

Thierry Pécou: Tremendum

Ensemble Variances and Percussions Claviers de Lyon

Harmonia Mundi

Harmonia Mundi’s third release of music by French composer Thierry Pécou (b. 1965) features the “carnival concerto” Tremendum (2005-’10) as its centerpiece. The version presented on this recording was revised to highlight the considerable talents of its interpreters: Percussions Claviers de Lyon. The influence of Brazilian carnival is overt, with boisterous syncopated rhythms clamoring for attention amid whistles and mallet percussion in a jubilant, dancing celebration. Cast in two movements Arbre des Fleurs (2010) for percussion quintet retains the carnivals sense of relentless energy and occasional whimsy,  but the dissonance quotient is upped to create a spicier harmonic palette. More angst-filled too, and effectively so, is Soleil-Tigre (2009) for cello and piano, a piece that contains the ostinati which are Pécou’s signature; but these contend with the cello line’s throbbing, angular melodic gestures.

Paseo de la Reforma (1995-2011, perhaps the latter date implies a revision of an earlier piece?) is relentless in its reiteration of jazzy riffs. There is elegance in the instrumentation of the work, but the repetitions don’t transform as interestingly as the material tends to do in his more recent works. Another earlier piece, Danzón for solo flute, incorporates microtones, key clicks, harmonics, and multiphonics seamlessly in a pliant dance with considerable charm. Manoa (2005) features bass flute, employing a considerable array of technical extensions, in another composition that brings together traditional dance rhythms with gestures of the avant-garde: a microcosm of Pécou’s considerably wide ranging domain.

Theo Bleckmann Performs Kate Bush (CD Review)

Theo Bleckmann

Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush

Winter & Winter CD

Often, we discuss covers – artists interpreting songs written by others – in relation to their original renditions. Hello Earth!, a quintet outing by vocalist Theo Bleckmann and a quartet of musicians with jazz and contemporary classical backgrounds, is devoted to the music of prog pop songwriter Kate Bush. It is a loving homage to Bush’s textured arrangements, and thoughtful, atmospheric, and, at times quirky, catalogue. However, to frame Bleckmann’s recasting of this music as a set of covers is to undervalue the considerable transformation these songs undergo here.

This doesn’t mean wholesale deconstruction. Although it starts out tempo rubato, one’s pulse will still surge by the second verse of Bleckmann’s rendition of “Running Up That Hill.” Both it and the title track inhabit a world of morphing, flexible, and swinging rhythms that are the stuff of modern jazz. But Bleckmann and drummer John Hollenbeck are well aware that, in order for the pop propensities of Bush’s songs to also be respected, this pliability of tempo must be met with corresponding forward momentum. Add to this the experimental touches that appear on the CD, such as prepared harpsichord, toy instruments, and other atmospherics, and the balance that is achieved would be the envy of many tight rope acts.

What the artists avoid doing, and perhaps this is a secret to some of the record’s charm, is seeking to recreate Bush’s well nigh inimitable and often theatrical performance persona. Bleckmann is a singer with a powerful and singular sounding instrument and formidable stage presence of his own; he wisely avoids any whiff of caricature. While the aforementioned affection and awareness for the originals is evident, there is no by the numbers recreation attempted on the instrumental musical front either. Instead, Bleckmann and his estimable cohorts pleasingly avoid literal mindedness when crafting their arrangements. The clearest demonstration of this: in “Saxophone Song” Caleb Burhans’ violin replaces the saxophone solo of the original. On “Violin,” the band moves from the more acoustic-based sound world that prevails on the album to a more rollicking and plugged in aesthetic. Burhans shreds on guitar in tandem with thrumming bass licks from Skúli Sverrisson, Hollenbeck unleashing an uncharacteristically aggressive barrage, and pianist Henry Hey’s Leslie-saturated rock organ work.

Bleckmann also refuses campy choices. “This Woman’s Work” could certainly have been accommodated at pitch in the singer’s attractive falsetto; As Ann Powers pointed out on NPR, this approach once helped to supply a big hit to Maxwell. Instead, Bleckmann allows the lead vocals, and backing vocals overdubs, to span his range from low to high; inhabiting the song’s emotive content rather than consigning it to a gender stereotype. It’s a masterful, and affecting, album closer.

8/24: Locrian Chamber Players Celebrates Cage Centennial

On Friday, August 24 at 8PM, Locrian Chamber Players celebrates the John Cage centennial with brand new works for prepared piano and ensemble by Christian Carey and James Bunch. The piano in these works is prepared to the specifications of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes.

Program

  • Georg Friedrich Haas de terea fina
  • Caleb Burhans Contritus
  • Caleb Burhans Escape from New York
  • Christian Carey Gilgamesh Suite*
  • James Bunch Permanent Emotions*
  • David Macdonald New Ostinati*

* World Premiere

Riverside Church

10th Floor Performance Space,

91 Claremont Avenue,

New York, New York 10027

Directions - North of W. 120th Street – One block West of Broadway

Subway: 1 Train to 116th

Ph: 212-870-6700

(Church’s homepage)

free admission

Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up (CD Review)

Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up
The Air is Different
482 Music CD 482-10719

Pictures of Tomas Fujiwara’s grandparents, dressed elegantly and exuding warm yet somewhat reserved countenances, grace the cover and sleeve of his latest CD: The Air is Different. The jazz drummer and composer helms this, the second recording of his “Hook Up” group, which includes guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Trevor Dunn, tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson. The Air is Different is in an outing that blends contemporary chamber jazz with fleeting references to trad jazz and Twentieth century neoclassicism. Thus, it embodies both reflection on the traditions of one’s elders and the resolve and courage that their example gives to descendents to forge their own pathways; Fujiwara’s inclusion of family photos is no mere dedicatory happenstance.

Compositions like “Lineage” and “For Ours” present tight structures and duetted thematic melodies that often reference their progenitors; in homage, not parody. Plummy tone from Finlayson and supple, dynamically nuanced drumming from Fujiwara prove particularly distinctive in these pieces. Meanwhile, listeners are treated to a strong and urgent polymetric groove (and shredding solos from Halvorson and Settles) on “Double Lake, Defined,” and free play with a raucous rhythmic underpinning and bracing dissonance on “Cosmopolitan, Rediscovery.”

The CD’s final two selections — “Smoke-Breathing Lights” and “Postcards” — are a bit more extended; allowing the quintet to change demeanors, soloing roles, and accompanying textures a number of times. It’s in these variegated landscapes that Fujiwara and the Hookup shine most brightly, sensing the shifts in one another’s playing with the  near-prescient perception. This is no ESP; it is hard won acquaintance that comes from the chameleon like exchange of roles occurring nearly nightly on a variety of Brooklyn bandstands among these, and many other, frequent collaborators in the ecstatic jazz tradition.

Standing on the shoulders of avant jazz giants, and not afraid to occasionally look over their own for inspiration, Fujiwara and company make exciting music together.

-Christian Carey

Maya Beiser at Sunday’s BoaC Marathon




We’re pleased to introduce cellist Maya Beiser performing Michael Harrison’s composition “Just Ancient Loops,” with film by Bill Morrison, which will receive its premiere at the Bang on a Can 25th Anniversary Marathon this coming Sunday in NYC.


Maya Beiser and Bill Morrison via Vimeo


This is just one of many performances that will occur over the marathon’s 12 hours of free live music-making: check out the complete schedule online here.

Congrats to the can bangers – may you have many more seasons of marathoning!

Tonight: Locrian Chamber Players

The Locrian Chamber Players perform tonight at their customary venue, the tenth floor performance at Riverside Church. The group’s mandate: performing repertoire less than a decade old. Their catholic programming aesthetic and crack unit of performers assures a varied and interesting evening.

Locrian Chamber Players

Thursday, May 31 at 8PM

  • Judith Weir Piano Trio No. 2
  • Ned Rorem Lullaby
  • Jason Freeman Piano Etudes***
  • Russell Platt Duo
  • Rita Ueda Like the Trickling of Melted Snow*
  • Yao Chen Sotto voce***
  • David Macdonald New Work*

* World Premiere ** U.S. Premiere *** New York Premiere

10th Floor Performance Space, Riverside Church

Directions


A Combustible Combination

Tonight (May 30th), C4 Ensemble, a choir comprised primarily of composers and conductors, partners with amplified chamber ensemble Fireworks for a gig at Le Poisson Rouge: C4′s first at the venue.

In a program titled “When Sparks Fly,” these combined forces present music by Fireworks founder Brian Coughlin, Jonathan David, Karen Siegel, and Martha Sullivan. The program is repeated on Saturday at MMAC (details below).

WEDNESDAY, May 30, 2012

(Le) Poisson Rouge

158 Bleecker St (Thompson & Sullivan)

7:30 PM (doors open at 6:30)

$15 Advance Purchase/$20 Day of Performance at lepoissonrouge.com

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Theatre at MMAC

248 West 60th St (10th-West End)

8:00 PM

$15 at the door or online

5/30: Amy X. Neuburg debuts at the Stone

This month, Gyan Riley is curating for New York venue the Stone. One of the San Francisco residents that he’s invited to visit the Big Apple for a gig is avant-cabaret artist Amy X. Neuburg, who performs there tonight (details below).

Neuburg eschews the usual instrumentation of a cabaret performer, instead using an electronic drumset. But the music isn’t isolated to percussive utterances; rather the synth drums serve as a control surface with which she can trigger live recording and overdubs. Thus, a drum hit might ‘sound’ like drums, or it might just as easily trigger backing vocals or synth patches.

Using this setup, Neuburg often creates multiple loops, each with its own place in the sound field. Her set at the Stone (her first appearance there) will introduce some new works, but also revisits her back catalog, updating several pieces to accommodate this ”spatialized” aesthetic.

Amy X. Neuburg at the Stone

May 30 at 8 PM

The Stone,

Corner of Avenue C and Second Avenue

NY, NY

Tickets: $10 at the door