Signal plays Reich at Miller Theatre

Opening Night at Miller Theater

Steve Reich Photo: Jeffrey Herman

Steve Reich
Photo: Jeffrey Herman

On September 15, Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman, presented an all-Steve Reich program to open the season at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. There was a sold out crowd, populated both by contemporary music devotees and over 200 Columbia students. Reich turns eighty later this year, and this is one of the many birthday concerts that will fete the composer.

 

Signal has recorded several albums of Reich’s music, including a 2016 release on Harmonia Mundi that features his Double Sextet and Radio Rewrite, recent works that demonstrate the undiminished energy and invention of their creator. The Miller Theatre concert focused on two sets of “variations,” composed in the prior decade: Daniel Variations (2006) and You Are Variations (2004). The amplified ensemble featured a superlative small complement of singers, a string quintet, a quartet of grand pianos, and a bevy of percussion and wind instruments. They were recording the concert, one hopes for subsequent release.

 

Daniel Variations is, in terms of instrumentation, the slightly smaller of the two. Alongside the aforementioned piano/percussion group, Reich employs a quartet of vocalists (two sopranos and two tenors, singing in a high tessitura for much of the piece), string quartet, and two clarinets. There are two textual sources for the piece. The first are the words of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who, while reporting on the conflict in Pakistan in 2002, was captured and killed by Islamic extremists. These are offset by quotations from the Book of Daniel, a text from the Old Testament of the Bible. The texts underscore Pearl’s Judaism and also his love of music (he was an amateur string player). Indeed, the last movement of the piece, “I sure hope Daniel likes my music, when the day is done,” is a trope on a Stuff Smith song, “I Sure Hope Gabriel Likes My Music,” found in Pearl’s record collection after his death.

 

You Are Variations finds Reich exploring texts from his spiritual roots, including Psalm 16, quotes from the Talmud, the Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and Wittgenstein (Reich’s undergraduate thesis subject). Musical quotes are diverse as well, ranging from L’Homme Arme to a song by James Brown. The harmony is prevailingly in D mixolydian but unorthodox bass progressions and layering often give it a polytonal feel. From where I was sitting, the vocals seemed a little recessed in favor of the winds, something that I am confident can be worked out in subsequent mixing of the projected recording. It still worked live, giving the impression that the singers were sometimes supported by the ensemble and sometimes vying in a struggle for discernment of the weighty texts.

 

Lubman conducts Reich’s work with the authority of someone who has both an intimate knowledge of the scores and of the formidable musicians at his disposal. Reich seemed to approve. Taking the stage with trademark baseball cap firmly planted on his head, he volubly demonstrated his pleasure to everyone from Lubman to the sound designer. The percussionists, in particular, beamed as they accepted his greetings: they had done right by Reich.

Andy Plays Jay

Three cheers for the home team! Jay Batzner, a Contributing Editor to Sequenza 21, has a new recording out on the Irritable Hedgehog imprint. as if to each other …, a 25 minute long EP played by pianist R. Andrew Leeis now available via their website.

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Monday: NYNME features Foss

Foss NYNME


Monday at the DiMenna Center, New York New Music Ensemble presents a program of works by Lukas Foss (1922-2009). Lukas (with whom I studied in the 90s when I was at BU) was a man of many musical talents with a near-omnivorous interest in a host of musical styles. Rather than try to present a comprehensive portrait of them all (a tall order in a single evening!), NYNME will focus on pieces from the mid-sixties through the mid-eighties, the period during which he was in his most experimental phase. In Echoi (1963), Foss made use of vast swaths of serial-inspired charts – there are pictures of them taking up whole walls of his studio. However, his performance directions add a measure of postmodern theatricality and there’s more than a bit of aleatory at work too. These seemingly disparate elements come together in a piece that is a masterful melange. Paradigm (1968), is more ebulliently chaotic still. Incorporating clangorous percussion and vociferous shouts alongside quasi-rock riffs from electric guitar, it channels more than a bit of the cultural and political revolutions afoot in the year of its composition.

Rendezvous - Tashi


Solo Observed (1982), began its life as a virtuosic solo piano piece, Solo, which found Foss experimenting with minimalism and maximalism at the same time. Solo Observed (1982, in versions for both orchestra and chamber ensemble), adds additional instruments, who observe, comment on, and sometimes even obstruct the pianist’s solo. The last work on the program, Tashi (1986), written for the star-studded chamber ensemble of the same name, is one of my favorite of Foss’s chamber works. Abundantly virtuosic and sumptuously harmonically varied, it is one of the best syntheses of the various styles and varied materials that fascinated Foss. Hunt down Rendezvous, the group’s 1989 recording on which it appears. Better yet, catch it live tonight.


NYNME

Princeton Recital is Tomorrow – Join Us!

loadbang

Emerged:

 A Recital of Compositions

by Christian Carey

Saturday, September 28th at 2 PM

Prince of Peace Church,

Princeton Junction, NJ

free event

Performed by:

Righteous Girls

(Gina Izzo, flute; Erika Dohi, piano)

loadbang

(Jeffrey Gavett, baritone, Carlos Cordeiro, bass clarinet,

Andy Kozar, trumpet, Will Lang, trombone)

Peter Jarvis, drum set

Sara Noble, soprano

Megan Ihnen, mezzo soprano

Carl Patrick Bolleia, piano

Zheng Yuan, viola

                                                                                                                                                                         Natalie Spehar, cello

In One Week: Recital in Princeton

Christian Carey recital postcard

Emerged: A Recital of Compositions by Christian Carey

Christian Carey headshot

Saturday, September 28th at 2 PM

Prince of Peace Church,

Princeton Junction, NJ

Free Event

Performed by:

Righteous Girls

(Gina Izzo, flute; Erika Dohi, piano)

loadbang

(Jeffrey Gavett, baritone, Carlos Cordeiro, bass clarinet,

Andy Kozar, trumpet, Will Lang, trombone)

Peter Jarvis, drum set

Sara Noble, soprano

Megan Ihnen, mezzo soprano

Carl Patrick Bolleia, piano

Zheng Yuan, viola

Natalie Spehar, cello

Program

Prayer  (2011)    loadbang

3 Bagatelles (2006)    Righteous Girls

“He Wishes for the

Cloths of Heaven” (2009)   Megan Ihnen and Zheng Yuan

3 Flourishes (2008)            Gina Izzo

Solo for piano  (2013)            Erika Dohi   (World Premiere)

“Fuller Brush Music”    (2010)             Peter Jarvis

“Blue Symphony” (2013)   Sara Noble & Carl Patrick Bolleia

Two Miniatures  (2012)    Carl Patrick Bolleia

“Gloss on Guston”

“Fiery Sunset”

3 Kenyon Settings  (2009)    Megan Ihnen and Natalie Spehar

For Milton   (2011)     Righteous Girls

NY Virtuoso Singers Celebrate 25th Anniversary

When a musical omnivore such as Harold Rosenbaum declares that the concert you are about to hear is “the most diverse program I have conducted in my forty year career,” hang on to your seat! On Sunday March 3rd, Rosenbaum led the New York Virtuoso Singers in the aforementioned amply diverse program in a concert at Merkin Hall. A baker’s dozen of new pieces, part of an ambitious commissioning project: 25 pieces to celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary.

While the selections were stylistically diverse, there was a unifying thread. All of the composers had done their homework, and composed with the formidable capabilities of NYVS in mind. The ensemble lived up to its reputation for peerless preparation, assaying all of the pieces with fortitude and an almost intimidating level of technical skill. Intonation and rhythm, regular pitfalls for mortal choirs, proved scarcely to be hurdles for the singers, even in the thorniest of passages. And there were plenty of those provided to them on Sunday afternoon.

Particularly impressive were works by David Felder and Augusta Read Thomas, which pushed at both the harmonic fabric with daring chromatic writing and at the capacities of the voices with parts written in punishingly high tessitura. Others, such as Roger Davidson, opted to revel in the group’s sound and suave divisi in a more straightforward setting.

One of the challenges in being part of a bouquet of occasional works: how expansive should one’s piece be? Both Thea Musgrave and Richard Danielpour opted for aphoristic yet attractive tributes, while Richard Wernick and Joseph Schwantner created evocatively atmospheric works that probably overstayed their welcome a bit. David Lang created a slowed down spiritual for the singers, poking fun at the perky arrangements of doleful texts by choral mainstays such as Alice Parker and Robert Shaw. For all of her protestations that setting text doesn’t suit her, Joan Tower’s memorial tribute to her recently departed sister was eloquent and unforced.

Sadly, I found another of the memorial works on the program, Memorial by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, more problematic. In the midst of snatches of the requiem mass’ text, the use of children’s choir intoning the names of Sandy Hook victims is heavy handed and borderline exploitative. No doubt, some will argue that the work’s topicality and pacifistic message is moving. Indeed, it was moving, but, to me, manipulatively so. One could have gotten the subtext from a more subtle use of forces and an approach to the topic that was sensitive and less opportunistic.

Most of the works hewed to the celebratory mood of the occasion. William Bolcom provided a puckish setting of a Blake poem about Cupid; a footnote to his mammoth Songs of Innocence and Experience project, but a savory and supple one. Mark Adamo contributed the only work with piano accompaniment, in which the singers and instrument nimbly dance around the subtext of a grimly jocular Stoic postmortem. Aaron Kernis was on hand not only to introduce his piece (as did several of the other composers) but also to substitute as a “clapper” (hand percussionist) for his jubilant setting of the translation of a Hebrew spiritual poem.

All in all, it was a fine afternoon of singing. The commissions are being recorded for release on Soundbrush Records. Hopefully more choirs will hear them and want to program them.

 

Deep Sea Diver on KEXP

DEEP SEA DIVER ON TOUR

w/ Hey Marseilles

27-Feb Wed Vancouver, BC @ The Media Club
2-Mar Sat Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theatre
5-Mar Tue San Francisco, CA @ The Chapel
6-Mar Wed Los Angeles, CA @ Satellite
7-Mar Thu San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
9-Mar Sat Denton, TX @ Denton 35 Festival
11-Mar Mon Houston, TX @ Fitzgerald’s Downstairs
12- Mar Tues Austin, TX SXSW (tba)
13- Mar Wed Austin, TX SXSW (tba)
14- Mar Thu Austin, TX SXSW (tba)
15- Mar Fri Austin, TX SXSW (tba)
16- Mar Sat Austin, TX SXSW (tba)

With Pickwick:

18-Mar Mon Aspen, CO @ Belly Up Tavern
19-Mar Tue Denver, CO @ The Bluebird Theater
20-Mar Wed Telluride, CO @ Sheridan Opera House
22 Mar Fri Boise, ID @ Treefort Music Festival

Saturday: Frank J. Oteri at Tenri

Photo: Jeffrey Herman.

This Saturday at 8 PM, composer Frank J. Oteri has a portrait concert at Tenri Cultural Center. Many of you know Oteri from his regular contributions, editing, and advocacy at New Music Box. He puts just as much thought and imagination into his own original works.

Vocalist/pianist Phillip Cheah and pianist Trudy Chan present two world premieres by Oteri. Versions of the Truth (2012) is a song cycle dealing with the poetry of Stephen Crane (1871-1900). Setting the World at Five and Seven (2008) is a solo keyboard work that will be performed by Chan. The program also features the solo piano piece Palindrome (1984), performed by Cheah, and the first complete rendition of another song cycle: the nurturing river (1982), settings of sonnets by James R. Murphy. You can hear a partial performance of the latter work here. You can also hear Oteri’s work as part of our latest Mixcloud mix.

Tickets are $15 at the door (venue details here).

Sunday in LA: Eagle Rock Music Festival

Mak Grgic

I’m hoping to beat the blizzard out of town and make it to the premiere of my Three Fantasies for Cello and Guitar in Los Angeles. This Sunday, it will be heard twice during a day filled with concerts of American works at the Eagle Rock Music Festival. Cellist Jay Campbell and guitarist Mak Grgic are performing at 1 and 6 PM and JACK Quartet gives a concert at 3:30 PM. If you are in sunny southern California, instead of facing down winter storm Nemo, I hope you’ll consider attending.

Ticket info may be found here.