Monday: NJPE Premieres works by Morris and Jarvis

The New Music Series at William Paterson University has long been one of the most interesting musical destinations in the Garden State. On Monday, November 26th, its director, Peter Jarvis, along with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and guest pianist Taka Kigawa, present an ambitious evening of music that includes works by leading lights Boulez, Ligeti, Babbitt, Carter, and Stravinsky. In addition, 21st century composers Daniel Levitan, Evan Hause, and Gene Pritsker are also represented on the program.

If that weren’t enough, the concert features two premieres. Jarvis conducts his Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Sextet; WPU faculty member John Ferrari will play the solo part. Guest composer Robert Morris has contributed another pocket concerto for percussion ensemble to the proceedings. His Stream Runner (2007), written for marimba soloist Payton MacDonald (also a member of WPU’s faculty). will conclude the evening.

Event Details

Monday, Nov. 26, 2012
7:30 PM in Shea Center’s
Shea Auditorium
Suggested contribution $5
(Free for students)

William Paterson University
College of Arts & Communication
Department of Music
present
New Music Series
Peter Jarvis, Director
music
with guests
Robert Morris – Composer
Taka Kigawa – Pianist
and featuring
The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble
with soloists
John Ferrari, Payton MacDonald, and Peter Jarvis

Thursday: Alabama Symphony at Spring for Music

Tonight, the Alabama Symphony, conducted by Justin Brown, appears at Carnegie Hall as part of Spring for Music, a week long celebration of out-of-town orchestras with adventurous programming aesthetics. Many of them are making their Carnegie Hall debuts; all of them are bringing programs of interest and demonstrating that, despite the oft-reported economic vicissitudes in the world of classical music, there remains a tremendous vitality of orchestral music making throughout North America.

Quattro Mani

In addition to a repertory standby, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the ASO presents two New York premieres of pieces they commissioned: Avner Dorman’s Astrolatry and Paul Lansky’s Shapeshifters. The latter work is a double piano concerto for the duo Quattro Mani.

The same forces recently recorded it, as well as two other pieces by Lansky, for Bridge . The disc, titled Imaginary Islands, shows off Lansky’s music at its most colorful, filled with virtuosic passages for the soloists and formidably propulsive post-minimal writing for the orchestra. The composer’s take on minimal figuration is a fascinating marriage of an “enhanced” harmonic palette, one evocative of Messiaen as often as it is of Adams, with crackling ostinati and pileups of syncopation.

The recording demonstrates how far the ASO has come in a relatively short period of time: less than twenty years ago (in 1993), the orchestra had declared bankruptcy and its future was very much in doubt. The musicians and Brown, who soon departs from his position as their music director, should be proud of the successes the ASO has enjoyed in recent years. The standard of playing has risen, the orchestra’s programming has included a number of new works including several commissions, and they have been featured on several recording projects. This week’s visit to Carnegie Hall: a well-deserved victory lap!

Tanglewood FCM Highlights Part Two

David Fulmer plays his Violin Concerto at FCM. Photo: Hilary Scott

David Fulmer, Violin Concerto: Written in 2010, Fulmer’s chamber concerto revels in complexity. Those who have heard his performances of the music of Brian Ferneyhough or that of his teacher Milton Babbitt, which sizzle with hyper-virtuosic playing, can readily understand such predilections. Fulmer’s performance as soloist on the Sunday morning FCM concert (on 8/7) was imbued with similar intensity.

Compositionally, it’s an abundantly promising work: but it isn’t perfect. Occasionally, one feels that a bit of crowd control might be brought to bear on the thickly scored busyness of the orchestration, to better clarify the angular counterpoint that propels the proceedings. Also, the inclusion of three keyboard instruments for one player – piano, harpsichord, and celesta – (without terribly extended parts for either of the latter two) seems an impractical choice that may limit the number of ensembles who will mount the piece. That said, Fulmer’s compositional language and performance demeanor exemplify an edginess and gutsiness notably in short supply among many of his contemporaries in the emerging composer realm.

Marie Tachouet plays the solo part in Felder's Inner Sky. Photo: Hilary Scott

David Felder, Inner Sky: Tanglewood is blessed with excellent student performers. And while there were a number of fellows who distinguished themselves on the festival, the standout for me was flutist Marie Tachouet. A member of the New Fromm Players, Tanglewood’s SEAL Team Six equivalent for contemporary music, Tachouet played on several FCM concerts. But she took her solo turn on its finale, an orchestra concert held in the evening on Sunday, August 7th.

The flutist was featured in David Felder’s Inner Sky. Composed in 1994 and substantially revised in ’99, this piece requires the soloist to perform on four flutes: piccolo, concert, alto, and bass flute. The trajectory of the piece is charted by the move from high to low flutes, which is registrally mimicked by a supporting quadraphonic electronics part that features both distressed flute samples and synthetic sounds. An “analog” surround effect is also created by an even distribution of strings and percussion across the stage.

Inner Sky is an immersive listening experience. It’s also a highly sophisticated colloquy between soloist, ensemble, and electronics; one that achieves a carefully choreographed balance of elements, both acoustic and musical: a balance that is all too rarely found in works for orchestra plus electronics. It certainly helped to have Tachouet’s sensitive performance and Robert Treviño’s fine direction of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

Later this year, Inner Sky sees release in both stereophonic and surround-sound formats. I’m looking forward to checking it out again (hopefully in both versions!).

League of Composers tonight at Miller

LoC Orchestra in 2010, conducted by Louis Karchin. Photo: Ron Gordon

League of Composers/ISCM has their season finale tonight at Miller Theatre. Louis Karchin conducts a program of five recently composed works.

True to form, the evening is chock-full of premieres, including the US debut of Elliott Carter’s Concertino for Bass Clarinet. How many concerts can boast a new orchestra piece written by a centenarian? The concertino features longtime Carter associate Virgil Blackwell as soloist.

David Rakowski is also represented by a new concerto. His Talking Points, written at the behest of the League of Composers, features the estimable soloist Fred Sherry as its protagonist.

Shulamit Ran’s Silent Voices, written for the Israel Contemporary Players, receives its US premiere. The work includes an optional part for reader, who declaims “Draft of a Reparation Agreement,” a poem by Holocaust survivor Dan Pagis.

New Yorker Missy Mazzoli contributes Violent Violent Sea, her first orchestra piece in five years. Connecticut’s Arthur Krieger rounds out the show with Sound Merger, a new piece for orchestra and electronic sound. Krieger, in my opinion, is one of the most persuasive exponents of melding live instruments and electronics. I’m intrigued to hear this new piece for a larger cohort than this medium is often afforded.

As usual, WNYC’s Jon Schaefer is kind enough to serve as master of ceremonies. Brief onstage interviews of the featured composers will accompany the musical proceedings.

Going to the show? Live tweet with the hashtag #fileunder?: we’ll run these microreviews next week on the File Under ? blog.

Tickets are $20/$10 for students (details here).

LoC Orchestra in 2010. Photo: Ron Gordon

Cutting Edge Series Continues Tonight



I’m looking forward to hearing violinist Miranda Cuckson premiere a new chamber concerto by Jeffrey Mumford tonight at Symphony Space.



Cuckson is a tremendous talent. Her recent CDs of music by Ralph Shapey, Donald Martino, and Michael Hersch are required listening for anyone interested in post-tonal chamber music.


The concert also includes works by Harold Meltzer, Victoria Bond, and Brian Ferneyhough. Cuckson is joined by the Argento Ensemble; the Da Capo Chamber Players will also perform (details below).


Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival Program
Monday, April 11, 2011, 7:30 pm; $20/Seniors $15
Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater in Peter Norton Symphony Space
Ticket information here

Jeffrey Mumford: through a stillness brightening (world premiere)
Argento Ensemble

Commissioned by the Argento New Music Project through the generosity of Marianna Bettman (in memory of Judge Gilbert Bettman) and Sonia Rothschild.

Brian Ferneyhough: La Chute D’Icare
Argento Ensemble

Harold Meltzer: Exiles
Da Capo Chamber Players, Mary Nessinger, mezzo soprano

Victoria Bond: Instruments of Revelation (NY premiere)
Da Capo Chamber Players

Christian Tetzlaff talks Bartok

As we reported earlier this week, despite losing their music director James Levine, the Boston Symphony is still playing at Carnegie Hall on March 15 (info here). The program features the extraordinary violinist Christian Tetzlaff pulling double duty, performing Bela Bartok’s Second Concerto and premiering a concerto by Harrison Birtwistle. He discusses the Bartok work in the video below.

Levine resigns from BSO; Birtwistle premiere still a go

We’re saddened to learn of James Levine’s cancellation of the rest of his appearances this season at the Boston Symphony Orchestra and his resignation from the post of BSO Music Director. Levine has been in that position since 2004, but has had to cancel a number of appearances during his tenure due to a variety of health problems. In an interview published today in the New York Times, Levine indicated that he will retain his position as Music Director at the Metropolitan Opera. Apparently, conversations between Levine and the BSO about a possible future role with the orchestra are ongoing.

The BSO plans to keep its season underway with minimal changes apart from substitute conductors. They’re even going to premiere a new work this week under the baton of Assistant Conductor Marcelo Lehninger. In Boston’s Symphony Hall on March 3,4,5, and 8, and at Carnegie Hall in New York on March 15, the orchestra and soloist Christian Tetzlaff will be giving the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s Violin Concerto.

It’s bittersweet that Levine is stepping down during a week when an important commission, one of several during his tenure, is seeing its premiere. I made a number of pilgrimages from New York to Boston (thank goodness for Bolt Bus!) to hear him conduct contemporary music with the BSO,  including pieces by Harbison, Wuorinen, Babbitt, and Carter. He helped a great American orchestra (with a somewhat conservative curatorial direction) to make the leap into 21st century repertoire and was a terrific advocate for living composers.

Many in Boston and elsewhere have complained that by taking on the BSO, while still keeping his job at the Met, Levine overreached and overcommitted himself. Further, when his health deteriorated, some suggest that he should have stepped aside sooner.

I’ll not argue those points. But I will add that, when he was well, Levine helped to create some glorious nights of music-making in Boston that I’ll never forget. And for that, I’m extraordinarily grateful.

***

I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised to hear that Birtwistle was composing a violin concerto, as it seemed to me an uncharacteristic choice of solo instrument for him. After all, the composer of Panic and Cry of Anubis isn’t a likely candidate for the genre that’s brought us concerti by Brahms and Sibelius (and even Bartok and Schoenberg!).

But then I thought again. Having heard his Pulse Shadows and the recent Tree of Strings for quartet, both extraordinary pieces, I can see why he might want to explore another work that spotlights strings. Perhaps his approach to the violin concerto will bring the sense of theatricality, innovative scoring, and imaginative approach to form that he’s offered in so many other pieces.

I’m hoping to get a chance to hear it when it the orchestra comes to New York. No pilgrimage this time. My next Bolt Bus trip to Boston will likely have to wait ’til next season to hear the BSO in its post-Levine incarnation.

Unsuk Chin’s Cello Concerto gets US Premiere

Unsuk Chin

Unsuk Chin (b. 1961) is a decorated composer and  an important figure on the international scene. But even though she’s won the prestigious Grawemeyer Prize, one could still argue that she isn’t programmed nearly enough as yet in the United States. I was very taken with the Ensemble Intercontemporain’s 2009 performance of Akrostichon-Wortspiel at Alice Tully Hall. It sent me in search of scores and recordings to study. Sadly, I haven’t since had the opportunity to hear more of her work live. Fortunately, events this month in New York and Boston provide excellent opportunities for US listeners to become better acquainted with her beguiling and imaginative music.

The big event occurs up in Boston. Her Cello Concerto (2009) will receive its U.S. premiere with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of conductor Susan Mälkki with cellist Alban Gerhardt on February 10-12, 2011.

Chin describes the work as “antithetical to (her) other concertos… While in my concertos for violin, piano and percussion I was seeking to merge a solo instrument into a virtuoso super-instrument, here it’s all about the competitive approach between cello and orchestra… In my cello writing, I often ask the soloist to become a kind of illusionist, disguising the nature of this instrument. However, I feel also strongly that the cello has a kind of intrinsic emotional character, which can’t be denied.”

Right on the heels of the concerto’s premiere, the Talea Ensemble and guest pianist Taka Kigawa will perform an Unsuk Chin Composer Portrait at New York’s Bohemian Hall on February 16, 2011 at 8:00 p.m. The concert includes selections from her Piano Etudes (1999), and the New York premieres of Chin’s ParaMetaString (1996), Allegro ma non troppo (1994), and Fantaisie Mécanique (1997). Ms. Chin will be present for the concert and featured in an onstage interview with Dr. Anthony Cheung, Talea’s Artistic Director.


Avner Dorman Concerti on Naxos

Avner Dorman
Mandolin Concerto; Piccolo Concerto; Concerto Grosso; Piano Concerto in A
Avi Avital, mandolin; Mindy Kaufman, piccolo;
Arnaud Sussmann, Lily Francis, violins; Eric Nowlin, viola;
Michal Korman, cello; Aya Hamada, harpsichord;
Eliran Avni, piano;
Metropolis Ensemble, conducted by Andrew Cyr.
Naxos American Classics CD 8.559620

On the second Naxos CD devoted to the music of  Avner Dorman, concerti take center stage. At first blush, the composer seems to display a palpable streak of traditionalism. Triadic language abounds in his works and he makes many tips of the hat to Baroque music and neoclassicism. But there’s much more beneath this attractive, if familiar, surface. Dorman is also interested in uncovering some of the undiscovered potential of the concerto, exploring its capacity for different narrative arcs and recasting the genre with some unusual protagonists.

Indeed, it was for a work with an unlikely soloist, the Mandolin Concerto, written in 2006 for Avi Avital, that the disc has received the most attention. Avital’s incisive and nuanced performance has garnered a Grammy nomination. The Mandolin Concerto itself is one of the most adventurous works Dorman has yet composed. Its explorations of many timbres, orchestral effects, and myriad shifts of tempo & demeanor make it a dazzlingly mercurial and potent essay.

There’s more on the CD to recommend as well. Metropolis Ensemble, with a passel of soloists in concertino tow, sparkle in the Concerto Grosso (2003). The work features virtuosic string writing and cinematic sweep. Indeed, here Dorman displays a fluency of orchestration that in places reminds one of John Corigliano, his teacher during doctoral studies at Juilliard.

One would be forgiven if they assumed going in that a Piccolo Concerto would be a piercing prospect and too limited a palette to work satisfactorily. I’m still not convinced that this is a genre that requires a plethora of options, but soloist Mindy Kaufman’s rendering of the Dorman concerto for the instrument reveals striking versatility. The piece itself combines jazzy rhythms, neo-Baroque signatures, and resonances of the pipes and whistles found in a variety of folk music traditions.

Written when he was just 20 years of age, Dorman’s Piano Concerto in A Major is a splashy technicolor work that embraces virtuosic showmanship, combining a prevailingly Neo-romantic aesthetic with occasional post-minimal ostinati. Pianist Eliran Avni captures the concerto’s spirit, performing its often dizzyingly paced passagework and cadenzas with pizzazz. While no one will mistake it for the mature voice found in the Mandolin Concerto, the youthful exuberance of the Piano Concerto is frequently charming.

Concerto in A – 1st Movement from Metropolis Ensemble on Vimeo.

Hilary Hahn CD review

Higdon and Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos
Hilary Hahn; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra;Vasily Petrenko
Deutsche Gramophon

It’s pleasing to see mainstream media picking up the story of Hilary Hahn’s recent recording of Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto. Like her previous pairing of Schoenberg with Sibelius,  Hahn presents something new to most classical audiences alongside a “warhorse,” the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. She plays both superlatively; I wouldn’t want to have to choose which performance to prefer.

Far from seeming like an odd pairing, the two concertos complement each other wonderfully. Higdon has a compositional voice that doesn’t eschew contemporary orchestration – witness the brash percussion in the Violin Concerto’s first movement. But at the same time she makes numerous connections to the Romantic concerto tradition in her sense of phrasing and the unabashed lyricism of much of the work. But this is no mere “Neoromanticism:” Higdon gives us the real thing, with guts and, often, gravitas. Thus, it’s an excellent choice to pair with Tchaikovsky.

I’m particularly fond of the Higdon concerto’s pastoral, poignant second movement, which not only evinces a supple contemporary Romanticism, but also reminds me in places of a Twentieth Century American composer: Aaron Copland. Also, its passages for the woodwinds are just spectacular. And the final movement is a winning showcase for both the orchestra and its soloist: it fits Hahn perfectly.

One hopes that, someday, we’ll be seeing future recordings where the Higdon concerto is the repertoire work paired with a piece of “new music:” it’s not hard to imagine!