RIP Peter Lieberson (1946-2011)

We’re saddened to learn from David Starobin of the passing of composer Peter Lieberson in Israel, due to complications from Lymphoma. He had been battling the disease since 2006 and for a time it had been in remission. But in late 2010, Lieberson travelled to Israel to seek treatment for a recurrence of the cancer.

Alex Ross has posted a touching remembrance on The Rest is Noise.

Lieberson’s music was an extraordinary mixture of disparate strands of influences. It encompassed  an intuitive post-tonal vocabulary, rooted in dodecaphonic training but also capable of lush verticals and, particularly in his vocal music, supple lyricism and sweeping melodies. In later years, his interest in meditation and Zen Buddhism contributed another layer of resonances and an intriguingly metaphysical counterweight to some of the modernist tendencies of his oeuvre.

Among the many honors he attained was the prestigious Grawemeyer Prize, which he won in 2008 for Neruda Songs. Although he was a finalist for the award on multiple occasions, the Pulitzer Prize eluded him. Back in 2004, I suggested that this injustice made him the “Pulitzer’s Susan Lucci.”

Of course, during this sad time, one can’t help but think of the passing of Lieberson’s late wife, the extraordinary mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, also of cancer. Lieberson wrote a number of memorable pieces for her, including the aforementioned Neruda Songs. If there’s a signature example to use when we advocate for our government to continue to fund medical research, I’d offer this one up: two brilliant creators in the prime of life laid low so cruelly. Both had so much yet to offer. It’s a tragedy that we’re bereft of their artistry and humanity far too soon.

Time Out NY makes Viola & a “Critic’s Pick”

I was so pleased to see that Wendy Richman’s upcoming “Viola &” recital (1/24 at 8 PM at the Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn) got a very nice mention in this week’s issue of  Time Out NY. The program includes premieres by Arlene Sierra, Lou Bunk, and yours truly, and features works both for singing violist and viola plus electronics. Thanks very much to Steve Smith for listing the show.

Thanks too to Armando Bayolo for taking the time, amidst packing and preparing for a big trip to Europe, to interview Wendy on the Sequenza 21 homepage. And ICE for plugging the show too.

This Friday, also at the Bushwick Starr, is the opening of Gilgamesh Variations. The play is an adaptation by eleven playwrights of the stone tablets depicting the ancient Mesopotamian tale the Epic of Gilgamesh. I’ve contributed the incidental music: a score featuring electronics, prepared piano, percussion, and singing.

The show runs for two weeks – you can grab tickets here.

Seven kinds of throat-singing… and an eighth

Thanks to David Smooke for sharing this astonishing video. Throat singer Alexander Glenfield demonstrates seven kinds of throat singing from the Tuvan tradition:

And an eighth kind of throat singing from a more hybridized approach, courtesy of Ken Ueno:

This week, I heard some nice news about Ken. In December, he’s getting a retrospective concert on the Mobtown Modern Music Series in Baltimore. Not bad for forty!

Missy plays the Midwest

Victoire, a Brooklyn based quintet of female alt-classical performers, is currently doing a mini tour in the Midwest to support the impending September release of their album Cathedral City on New Amsterdam. Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes are taking their show on the road, performing selections from Matt’s opera Little Death Vol. 1.

Missy Mazzoli and company have been kind enough to allow us to share the title track from the LP on File Under ?’s Tumblr here. The track combines vocalizing courtesy of Missy with skittering glitchy percussion and a somewhat jazzy harmonic background. Kind of like Julee Cruise meets BoaC on Steely Dan’s patio, sharing drinks with Matmos

Missy Mazzoli tours the Midwest

Victoire with Matt Marks & Mellissa Hughes,Brian Harnetty, and The Wet Darlings
Sun., Aug. 8, 8pm, $10 adv./$12 door
583 E. Broad St.
Columbus, OH 43215

Mon., Aug. 9, 6:30pm, Free
The Dusk Variations Series
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park
N. Michigan Ave. & E. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60602

Victoire with Pantree Owl
Tues., Aug. 10, 8pm, $5, 18+
The Bishop
123 S. Walnut St.
Bloomington, IN 47404

Victoire with Matt Marks & Mellissa Hughes & Lord Scrummage,
Wed., Aug. 11, 8:30pm, $5, all ages
The Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID)
5141 Rosa Parks Blvd
Detroit, MI 48208

Sting’s Symphonicities: new CD, concerts at the Met

As David Itzkoff reported in the NY Times yesterday, tonight and tomorrow, Sting will be appearing at the most venerable of venues: the Metropolitan Opera House! But instead of being backed by his own band, reuniting with the Police, or even engaging in a revival of his Elizabethan-era lute song collaboration with Edin Karamazov, he will be accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They will be presenting selections from Sting’s new album Symphonicities.

Sting plus symphony

The Deutsche Grammophon recording reprises Sting’s back catalogue, treating a dozen songs from his work with the Police and as a solo artist to full blown orchestral renditions. Abetted by conductor/arrangers Rob Mathes and Steven Mercurio, Sting refashions some of his biggest hits — Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “Roxanne” among them — as well as lesser known songs: “I Hung My Head,” “The Pirate’s Bride,” etc.

Given Sting’s longstanding interest in classical music – his first solo effort included liberal quotations from Prokofiev – and his recent forays into concert repertory – singing Dowland and Schubert, narrating Prokofiev and Schumann – perhaps a symphonic project was inevitable. And some of Symphonicities works quite a bit better than most pop-orchestra collaborations. Those songs which previously included classical instrumentation, such as “Englishman in New York” and “When we Dance,” actually serve to more fully realize the proto-symphonic ambitions of the pop originals to stirring affect. Repertoire from the brooding Soul Cages LP, such as “We Work the Black Seam,” with its darkly hued harmonies and a more expansive formal design than your average pop song, also lend themselves to orchestration.

By now, Sting’s versatility and curiosity are well known. These two traits alone are enough to explain his willingness – some scoffers might say temerity – to tour with a renown orchestra and appear at one of the most important opera houses in the world. But Symphonicities also serves as a reminder of why Sting has in recent years steadily moved away from more straightforward pop ventures and toward crossover projects: to preserve both his voice and his hearing.

In his late fifties, Sting still possesses a suave croon, and the ballad numbers on the DG recording are served well. But he’s no longer entirely comfortable above the staff. Even a bevy of background singers can’t save “Every Little Thing She Does (is Magic)” from sounding strained. On “Roxanne,” Sting abandons the upper register altogether, murkily riffing on the tune in a faux-improv down the octave. Since the song’s clarion – stratospheric – cries were a signature element of its appeal, one cannot help but feel a little let down.

That said, the care with which the music on Symphonicities has been prepared, and the musicality which both singer and ensemble display in abundance, set it a cut above many crossover affairs.

McFerrin’s extended Vocabularies

Bobby McFerrin
UMG/Decca CD

Bobby McFerrin and many many friends

Vocalist, composer, and conductor Bobby McFerrin has won ten Grammy’s and acclaim for his tremendous musicality, as well as his eclectic approach to a host of musical styles. It’s refreshing that he seems increasingly willing as the years pass to take his time and refine a project. His previous recording was eight years ago. His latest, VOCAbularies, was some ten years in the making.

In a recent interview with John Schaefer on Soundcheck, McFerrin also mentioned that this patience has infiltrated his performance demeanor. McFerrin said that he no longer felt he had to work so hard with his voice, that he didn’t have to force things. He was more willing to trust the instrument; more willing to accept how it behaves from day to day. This level of trust in one’s technique, continual thirst for exploration, and acceptance of the ebb and flow, the digressions and surprises, allows McFerrin continue to be a formidable force in the high-wire realm of vocal improvisation.

McFerrin has proven again and again to be a generous collaborator. One notices the painstaking detail with which all of the vocalists and instrumentalists who appear on the CD are cited for their various contributions. And while McFerrin, in fine voice, takes a central role in the proceedings, he graciously shares the spotlight with a number of other singers. Vocalist/composer/producer Roger Treece serves as a frequent co-author and co-arranger on the recording. He seems to have a fine understanding of McFerrin’s musical and sonic predilections. If anything, his work helps to keep things on an even keel in terms of traffic control, balancing the myriad voices in the mix. This is particularly challenging on “Wailers,” a live track from a concert in Norway on which some 2500 audience members are heard! There are few places where audience participation manages to come off without a hint of mawkishness: this is one of them!