Saturday: Tallis Scholars at St. Mary’s (Concerts)

Tonight I’m covering the Tallis Scholars, who are performing “Masterpieces for Double Choir” at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin as part of Miller Theatre’s early music series. Selections include works by Lassus, Vivanco, Arvo Pärt (I’m interested to hear the Tallis Scholars sing this composer’s work!), and Praetorius. Below here a sample of their rendition of the latter’s “In Dulci Jubilo.”

 

Event Details
Saturday, December 1, 2012
8:00 PM
Church of St. Mary the Virgin (145 W. 46th Street)

To order tickets online: click here

Jonny Greenwood plays Steve Reich (Video)

Below is an embed of Jonny Greenwood playing Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint.

 

For more contemporary classical excursions by the talented Radiohead guitarist, check out his split release with Penderecki on Nonesuch, one of our favorite releases of 2012.

RIP William Duckworth (1943-2012)


Earlier today, Kyle Gann reported on his blog that composer, educator, and writer William Duckworth has succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He was 69. Tom Huizenga has more over at NPR Classical.

I’ve long been an admirer of Bill’s music and writings. After a colleague mentioned his illness to me, I corresponded with him a few months ago, letting him know how helpful his book Talking Music was to my students and mentioning a former student we both had in common (Ashi Day). Bill was very gracious. I’m pleased to have told him before his passing about the great value of his work to young musicians, composers in particular.


One of the ways I’ll commemorate Duckworth’s life is by spending time with two of his best works; the first, the aforementioned book, Talking Music, a collection of interviews with composers that sets the bar high for such volumes. The other, Andy Lee’s recording of Time Curve Preludes (available via Irritable Hedgehog).





Ann Southam: “Soundings” on Irritable Hedgehog (CD Review)

Ann Southam

Soundings for a New Piano

R. Andrew Lee, piano

Irritable Hedgehog CD EP/DL

Canadian composer Ann Southam, who passed away in 2010 (Alex Ross and Tamara Bernstein eulogize her here), wrote in a number of genres. But her solo piano works are particularly distinctive. Written in 1986, Soundings for a New Piano is an evocative title. One can imagine many a contemporary composer doing similarly when confronted with a “fresh instrument:” trying out various post-tonal harmonies, arpeggiating them to test the piano’s tone, tuning, and voicing propensities.

As William Robin points out in his astute liner notes, Southam combines the minimal repetition of ascending and descending arpeggiations with a harmonic tendency characteristic in her later music: a single twelve tone row that she morphed into various guises throughout multiple works. Combining the regular rhythms of post-minimalism with a row that contains consonances leavened and savored, rather than eradicated, by widely spaced dissonances, Southam creates a polystylistic world that is singular, self-contained, and often quite lushly attired.

Pianist R. Andrew Lee is a sensitive interpreter who recognizes the detailed and delicate character of Soundings. He uses pedaling in an impressionist manner, with delicate blurring around the edges of the omnipresent verticals, to further give these harmonies an organic and interconnected ambience. At twenty-three minutes, Soundings doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, it may well whet the listener’s appetite for some of her more extended compositional excursions: Recommended.

ACME at ATP (Video)


Our friends (and the performers on the last Sequenza21 concert) ACME appeared at All Tomorrow’s Parties last week. Quite a coup for the indie classical group, which is enjoying increased crossover success. Below check out video footage of them performing Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” live at ATP.

Interview: Terry Riley (11/07/2008)

Thursday morning I talked with composer Terry Riley, who is in New York this week to collaborate with the Bang on a Can All-Stars in the US premiere of his work Autodreamographical Tales at Le Poisson Rouge on 8 November.

Riley is famous for being one of the “Big Four” of American minimalist composers (the others: LaMonte Young, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass). But while his early works, such as A Rainbow in Curved Air, Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band, and the seminal In C, were musical rallying cries during minimalism’s ascendance in the 1960s, Riley’s been involved with many other important pieces, styles, and activities since then. His palette encompasses North Indian music, jazz, electronics, various intonation systems, and increasingly in recent years, projects incorporating guitar and spoken word.

As an admirer of his music, it’s somewhat frustrating to read review after review in which he’s asked to talk about the importance of In C and his work is then pigeon-holed as minimalist in style. In planning for the interview, I promised myself that both minimalism and In C would be off-limits. When the composer mentions in passing an upcoming performance of In C (April 24, 2009 at Carnegie Hall, but you didn’t hear that from me), I tell him of my secret pact and he enthusiastically agrees! Instead, we focus on recent, current and future projects.

Riley says, “Autodreamographical Tales started out a while ago as a piece for radio in which I narrated and played all the instruments. There were overdubs and samples. The Bang on a Can All Stars wanted me to create a new version of the piece to perform with them. My son Gyan, who’s also a guitarist and composer, helped me to orchestrate the piece. While there are still a few samples, we’ve figured out how to perform live many of the things that were looped or overdubbed.”

“The piece is based on a dream journal that I was keeping at the time. Some of my dreams had evocative images and stories that I felt would work well in the piece for radio and, now, in this new version for Bang on a Can. We got together and rehearsed it this past summer during a week-long residency in Italy. A performance there was the world premiere and this one in New York is Autodreamographical Tales’ second performance.”

Riley also spent time this past summer in New England at Bang on a Can’s Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA. “It was an inspiring setting: a number of talented composers and performers, the galleries, and so many excellent concerts.”

We return to the subject of his son, a talented musician in his own right who encouraged the elder Riley to explore composing for the guitar. “Gyan came home with all of these recordings of the guitar: he was just crazy about it and wanted to share his enthusiasm with me. We listened to all sorts of players, especially classical and Brazilian artists.”

During the past two decades, Riley has created a number of works for the instrument, including the solo collection Book of Abbeyozzud and Cantos Desiertos, a beautiful set of pieces for flute and guitar. When I comment that Riley has managed to combine expected, idiomatic passages with some very fresh-sounding guitar writing, he replies, “It was challenging to write for the guitar as a non-guitarist. I really worked hard to learn about the instrument: there’s a lot to know in order to compose effectively for it.”

New music guitarist David Tanenbaum, Gyan’s principal instructor, has also been the beneficiary of several recent works for the instrument, including a 2008 piece for national steel and synthesizer entitled Moonshine Sonata. Riley says, “The national steel for which I wrote the sonata is a special model, redesigned so that it’s tuned in just intonation. The company that made the instrument for David loaned me one while I was composing the piece; it’s amazing how resonant, how loud it is all by itself – it doesn’t need amplification!”

Tanenbaum and Gyan Riley, along with violinist Krista Bennion Feeney, premiered another 2008 Riley work: the Triple Concerto Soltierraluna. The concerto form is one to which Riley is drawn of late: a project in the pipeline is a violin concerto commissioned by a symphony orchestra in Bari, Italy for soloist Francesco D’Orazio. “I don’t approach the concerto form in the conventional manner, as this heroic thing; I like to find ways to integrate the soloist into the ensemble; to foster interactions between them that you don’t get in the big Classical or Romantic pieces. In a sense, what I’m writing is more akin to the concerto grosso form.”

Since the 1970s, Riley has frequently collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, producing a number of pieces for them. He’s currently at work on another, titled Poppy Nogood and the Transylvanian Horns. The title refers to one of Riley’s best known early works, Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band; but this successor also includes the Kronos group playing some newly adopted instruments. The “Transylvanian horns” in question are called “stro instruments:” string instruments fitted with trumpet or trombone bells. The composer seems to relish the challenge of learning about and composing for these hybrid instruments. Even when called upon to revisit ideas from his past, Terry Riley is ever eager to try something new.

Happy 75th Birthday Philip Glass!

Philip Glass is 75 today. The American Composers Orchestra gives the American premiere of his 9th Symphony at Carnegie Hall tonight.

My interview with Dennis Russell Davies, who is conducting the ACO concert, is up on Musical America’s website (subscribers only).

If you’re looking for a terrific way to celebrate PG’s birthday, Brooklyn Rider’s latest CD on Orange Mountain Music includes Glass’s first five string quartets. The earthiness with which they play the music may surprise you at first, but it provides a persuasive foil for some of the more motoric, “high buffed sheen” toned performances of minimalism that are out there.  In a 2011 video below, they give a performance of a more recent work, a suite of music from the film Bent.

Philip Glass turns 75 tomorrow (concert preview; video)

Philip Glass. Photo: Raymond Meier.

“Seventy-five used to be a very old age for a composer. Of course, with Elliott Carter around, it makes me feel like a youngster!” – Philip Glass.

The American Composers Orchestra, led by Conductor Laureate Dennis Russell Davies, gives the American premiere of Glass’s Ninth Symphony tomorrow at Carnegie Hall. Also on the program: the NY premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Lamentate for piano and orchestra with Maki Namekawa as soloist.

Tomorrow, Musical America will be running my interview with Davies.

Happy 75th Birthday Steve Reich!

Steve Reich in 2011. Photo: Jay Blakesberg

Steve Reich turns 75 today. One of the premiere maestros of minimalism continues to dazzle us with thought-provoking and musically moving creations.

This morning, I introduced some of my undergraduate BA students to Reich, playing excerpts from Piano Phase, Music for 18 Musicians, and Different Trains. Some of them were unfamiliar with his music, but one student piped up,”What about Four Sections? I like that one too!”

If our students, particularly our student musicians, are picking out favorites and learning to perform Reich’s music, that is indeed a promising sign for the future of his works. As a small online musical offering, below are three student performances of Reich. The first is the trailer for Grand Valley State University’s Music for 18 Musicians recording. It was released a couple years ago, but has remained in heavy rotation in these parts! The second is an excerpt of Six Marimbas by students at the University of Kentucky. The third I’ve shared before, but can’t resist posting again: a pianist playing both parts of Piano Phase - at once!

And, just for my morning class, a video of a dance performance of Four Sections.

Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 (CD Review)

Revised cover artwork for Reich's new CD

Steve Reich

WTC 9/11, Mallet Quartet, Dance Patterns

Nonesuch CD

Now that we’ve gotten the cover art discussion out of the way – and Nonesuch has acquiesced to the concerns of those who felt the artwork exploitative and inflammatory – let’s consider the music on Steve Reich’s latest recording.

An interest found throughout Steve Reich’s output concerns spoken word recordings, which he has employed in a number of pieces, from his early phase compositions to his most recent multimedia works. One of his watershed pieces from the 1980s, “Different Trains,” was written for the Kronos Quartet.  It juxtaposes spoken word recordings detailing train travel in the US in the 1940s (Reich was frequently traveling from coast to coast to visit his estranged parents) with spoken word accounts of the treatment of deported victims of the Holocaust in transit to concentration camps.

“WTC 9/11” (2011), also for Kronos, employs similarly emotionally charged taped material, this time referencing the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. Scored for three quartets (using overdubs), field recordings, and electronics, the piece’s outer sections are propelled by the jarring sound of a telephone’s “dead wire” signal, and also incorporate alarmed shouts of air traffic controllers and emergency first-responders. These are woven into the gestural fabric of the quartet’s music, which outlines each utterance with a melodic motif. Also incorporated are snippets of 2009 interviews with lower Manhattan residents, recalling their reactions to the tragedy and reflecting on how it has changed them.

The central passage is particularly evocative: the voices of Jewish officiants chanting and singing psalms over the remains of victims in the months following 9/11 interweaves with angst-filled sustained passages of string writing. One wishes that this area of the piece had been allowed more time to develop and register. Instead, Reich cuts it short, returning to the pensive and dramatically charged material of the opening to close out the work in portentous fashion.

In comparing it to its predecessor Different Trains, I would say that this piece takes a similar approach to the treatment of material. That said, its affect is entirely different. At around fifteen minutes long, “WTC 9/11” is a terser utterance than one might imagine as a response to an event with such far-reaching consequences. But in so crafting it, Reich has recaptured some of the blunt force trauma to our nation’s psyche in the days following the initial event. He’s also avoided some of the overt sentimentality that other artworks commemorating 9/11 have been unwilling to forgo.  It is this quality that gives “WTC 9/11” a potent dramatic heft that, though jarring at times, proves taut and unflinchingly eloquent.

Rhythmic drive and insistent pulsation underpin most of Reich’s music. A signature aspect of his style is the incorporation of polyrhythms, which he learned from his studies of African drumming. Reich has created a number of pieces for percussion ensembles or featuring percussion as a strong component. But the Mallet Quartet (2009) is a nod towards the continuing evolution of pitched percussion instruments; it’s his first work to incorporate the largest member of the mallet family: the five-octave marimba. Two of these populate the piece with layers of ostinato repetitions and thrumming, resonant bass thwacks. Meanwhile, two vibraphones supply shimmering chords and sustained lines. The piece juxtaposes these forces of wood and metal, pulsation and sustain, demonstrating that these two instruments can provide abundant variety and color. Engaging in nimble interplay, So Percussion’s rendition of this piece is informed by their years-long association with Reich’s music; they’ve also release an excellent rendition of his earlier work Drumming. When I saw them perform Mallet Quartet live at Carnegie Hall, they did so from memory. This intimate and comprehensive knowledge of the piece is reflected in its authoritative recording.

Reich himself appears, as part of the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble, in the recording of Dance Patterns (2002). It was originally written for Ictus to accompany Thierry de Mey’s film Counterphrases of Anne Terese de Keersmaeker’s Choreography. Here, mallet instruments are joined by pianos. While the limpid counterpoint and fulsome polyrhythms found in the Mallet Quartet prevails here, the addition of concert grands adds richness to the harmonies; some of the piano writing takes on a positively jazzy cast. Vibrant and accessible, it may not be a watershed work like his pieces for Kronos, but it’s the perfect way to introduce Reich to a new audience. Maybe a passel of foreign film buffs will catch the minimalist bug!