Spears and Supko share Galapagos Double Bill

Due East. Photo: Peter Dressel

Time Out New York’s Steve Smith is sparing with the 5-star CD reviews, but he gave his highest score to Drawn Only Once, Due East’s New Amsterdam release. It features two beguiling multimedia works by John Supko, which feature video, electronics, Due East (Erin Lesser, flute and Greg Beyer, percussion), as well as a number of other instrumentalists and vocalists. These various elements are overlaid in a busy patchwork quilt, sometimes contemplative, at others dizzying: but it’s always a beguiling sound world. Despite the sometimes dense colloquy of events found on Drawn Only Once, the release will likely draw listeners back to fathom its depths in successive hearings.

Lesser and Beyer live in Wisconsin and Illinois, respectively. But on Monday night, they’re bringing Supko’s music to Galapagos Art Space, which will be bathed in the glow of video and the envelopment of surround sound.

Sharing the bill with them is another New Amsterdam artist – Gregory Spears – whose newly released Requiem is his debut CD. This is another disc that’s spent a lot of time in the short stack near my favorite listening spot, ready to be pressed into service for repeated hearings.

Spears combines early music instruments and singers with a 21st century aesthetic sensibility in a contemplation of mortality that eschews both dogmatism and morbidity. Although it’s a far more ambient motivated work than the Fauré Requiem, Spears’ essay in the genre shares a comforting and cautiously affirming demeanor with its predecessor, as well as a sensuousness of sound and intriguing modality that is most fetching.

Doors open at 7:00 and the show starts at 8.

Galapagos Art Space is located at 16 Main St, Dumbo, Brooklyn.

Call 718/222-8500 for more information.

Ekmeles performs Randy Gibson on 11/18

Ekmeles at the Italian Academy

Last month at Columbia University’s Italian Academy, I was formidably impressed by an evening of madrigals old and new performed by the vocal ensemble Ekmeles. One of the revelations of the evening began with an idea ofensemble director Jeff Gavett. He thought that the madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo might benefit from Nichola Vicentino’s 31-tone equal tempered scale, most famously employed in the tuning of an instrument of his design, the archicembalo.

While, as Gavett admitted in the concert’s program notes, there is not direct evidence that they were ever performed this way in the presence of Gesualdo, there is some documentary evidence that Vicentino’s writings and an archicembalo were available to the composer. But here, the proof was in the singing. Gesualdo’s music sounds glorious in 31-TET. Indeed some of its idiosyncratic cross-relations and chordal voicings glisten: equally, wonderfully, strange, but somehow refocused.

Ekmeles contains several youngish singers with winsome voices: Gavett, soprano Mary Mackenzie, and countertenor Eric Brenner are notable standouts. Their interpretative maturity and skill in preparing the challenging works on the program bely the freshness of Ekmeles’ sound. The group also brought in a “ringer of ringers” for the second act. New music superstar soprano Lucy Shelton joined Ekmeles for a spirited rendition of Elliott Carter’s late Ashbery setting Mad Regales.

The program also featured several deconstructions of the madrigal aesthetic. Peter Ablinger’s Studien der Natur,in which sounds of nature and commerce alike are recreated using only voices, was a rather charming one-upping of Josquin’s El Grillo. Johannes Schöllhorn and Carl Bettendorf took the madrigal into postmodern, often craggy, territory. Martin Iddon’s hamadryads required the group to play water-filled glasses and employ headsets to grok its very expanded Pythagorean tuning,  notated down to 100ths of a cent! Incredibly challenging to perform. But then, Ekmeles revels to be challenged.


This Thursday, composer Randy Gibson’s work will be in full force on the Music at First series. The concert features the world premiere of Gibson’s Circular Trance Surrounding the Second Pillar with The Highest Seventh Primal Cirrus, The Utmost Fundamental, and The Ekmeles Ending from Apparitions of The Four Pillars (fit that title on a postcard!), a concert length work in just intonation for sine wave drones and seven voices. Also on the bill is a set from Canadian harpsichordist Katelyn Clark.

    Performance details

Date: Friday, November 18th 2011
Time: 7:30pm
City: Brooklyn, NY
Venue: First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn
Address: 124 Henry Street
Admission: $10

Introduction to Modal Theory

Today I’ll be giving a talk at the Westminster Choral Pedagogy Institute. I’ve been asked to give a brief introduction to modal theory, including construction and cadences. Below are two handouts that I’ve prepared.

Introduction to modes 1

introduction to modes part 2

The scores we’ll be consulting during the talk are:

“Ave Maria…” – Josquin

“Why Fum’th in Fight” – Tallis

“O Magnum Mysterium” – Victoria

“Mass in G Minor: Kyrie Eleison” – Vaughan Williams

Anonymous 4: “The Cherry Tree” (CD Review)

Anonymous 4
The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols, and Ballads for Christmas
Harmonia Mundi SACD/CD

On their latest holiday recording, The Cherry Tree, Anonymous 4 brings together two of their principal musical interests: the chant and polyphony of early English and Irish music alongside repertory from the American spiritual and shape-note singing tradition. This shift between musical eras is accompanied by appropriate shifts in style. The quartet remains impressive in their ability to capture a variety of affects: the suppleness of chant, the vibrancy of early carols, the formalized music-making and rounded tone of polyphonic church music, and the varied inflections of Anglo-American folk music. Thus, fans of their earlier recordings, Wolcum Yule and American Angels alike, will find much to enjoy here.
What’s more, the diversity of the programming poses few problems in terms of cohesion. This is, in part, due to careful curating by the ensemble (certainly helps that they have trained musicologists and folklorists among their number!). But the recording is also unified by themes from the miracle ballads of “Joseph and Mary.” This story is first found in the apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and is famously set in the Coventry Play (c. 1400). It has remained a part of folklore, providing fuel for legends, ballads, and songs since the 15th century. Indeed, it’s fascinating to see how many musical responses there have been to the Cherry Tree legend over the years, making the CD both a history lesson and musical delight.

Stile Antico helps me wrap presents…

Well, not literally… although I bet that a tree-trimming party with this young ensemble would be be a lot of fun. But this disc has been a frequent companion in the lead up to the holidays. It’s an excellent antidote to the treacly fare with which one often is assaulted when doing their Christmas shopping!

Stile Antico

Puer Natus Est: Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas

Harmonia Mundi SACD/CD

Stile Antico’s latest recording presents Christmas music by some of the great English choral composers from the Renaissance, during the reigns of the Tudors. Working without a conductor, this is a chamber choir in the true sense of the word. Yet whether they are performing plain chant or polyphony, it’s a group that is marvelously in sync. This sense of collaborative musicianship pays dividends, showing itself most clearly in their fluid sense of delivery and enviably creamy blend and tone.

The disc’s centerpiece is Thomas Tallis’ “Puer Natus Est” mass. It is interspersed with selections by William Byrd, John Sheppard, John Taverner, and Robert White.

Stile Antico does particularly wonderful things with the music of Byrd, as you can see below. (Since we ran their EPK in an earlier post, the group was kind enough to supply fresh video of “Tollite Portas.”) And their singing of the Tallis mass is truly marvelous. They manage to balance its often complexly arrayed contrapuntal passages, finding a through-line even when it is at its most dense. Tallis’ music also contains considerable chromaticism and many cross-relations. Stile Antico relishes each dissonance and savors their resolutions, clarifying the Mass’ overarching harmonic trajectory.

Though White may be less of a household name than some of the others on the disc, his Magnificat setting is a particularly felicitous inclusion. The work intersperses ambitiously ascendant passages of counterpoint with sections of plainchant. While it’s in a style that may be less intricate than Tallis’ mass,  the Magnificat is, in its own way, its equal in terms of eloquence.

Puer Natus Est may consist of music for the Advent and Christmas seasons, but I have a feeling that many listeners will want to play it year ’round.

Lamentations never sounded so good

‘Not even the words of the gloomy prophet sound so sad as the sad music of my composer’.

-Robert Dow in his copy of Robert White’s Lamentations

Hymns, Psalms, and Lamentations

Sacred Music by Robert White

Gallicantus; directed by Gabriel Crouch

Signum CD

There’s much to lament these days – just the news about the BP oil spill alone makes my blood boil. And while no one can entirely assuage our feelings of loss and dismay, even with the most beautiful music, I’m willing to give the newly minted early music ensemble Gallicantus an inside track on trying to make us, for a moment, forget. Hymns, Psalms, and Lamentations is an exquisitely beautiful disc of church music by Tudor-era composer Robert White.

In their debut recording, the all-male octet Gallicantus sing with lovely tonal purity and seamless blend, but they never seem dispassionate. Indeed, under the direction of Gabriel Crouch, their performances find that delicate balance between graceful stylistic care and emotive text-painting.

There are a number of stirring works on the disc, including a heart-rending Miserere Mei Deus and an equally engaging Manus tuae facerunt me. But the standout performance is its closer: White’s 6-part Lamentations setting. While there’s plenty included on the CD – it clocks in at a generous 73 minutes – one can’t help but get a little greedy and wish that they’d also recorded his 5-voice Lamentations setting as well.

White is not the household name that Tallis or Byrd is in choral circles. But then, he had less time to make an impression. He and his entire family perished in an outbreak of plague in Westminster in 1574. Scholars aren’t sure of his birthdate, but most put his death well shy of his fortieth birthday. One hopes that this disc invites further exploration of this composer’s repertoire: relatively small, but poignant nevertheless.