Notable in 2011: Duo Gazzana debuts on ECM (CD Review)

For the rest of 2011, among our coverage will be “notable” recordings, highlighting some of our favorites for the year that we haven’t as yet covered on File Under ?.

Duo Gazzana

Five Pieces: works by Takemitsu, Hindemith, Janacek, and Silvestrov

ECM New Series CD

Despite its already impressively deep catalog, Manfred Eicher’s ECM still finds new perspectives and new interpreters to present on the imprint’s recordings. Sisters violinist Nastascia Gazzana and pianist Raffaella Gazzana have been performing together since the 1990s. But they waited until 2011 to make their recorded debut, in a chamber recital CD. Surprisingly, they are the first Italian chamber group to perform on an ECM release!

The disc features works by four different Twentieth century composers, all of whom are displayed in works that operate from the  more traditional side of the stylistic spectrum. Even Toru Takemitsu’s Distance de fée, from 1951, early in his catalog, displays the composer’s affinity for Impressionism overtly, with only hints of the experiments and polystylism to which he would later turn. Paul Hindemith’s E major Violin Sonata, cast in two movements, features a buoyant allegro movement followed by a sober langsam tinged with melancholy, which abruptly shifts to a brilliant finale. Both the piece, and its interpreters, are able to adjust to these rapid changes of mood without it ever seeming unnatural. Instead we are given a succinct yet complete account of a sonata’a narrative arc – in exquisite miniature. It’s worth mentioning how the shifts in timbre elicited by Nastascia are luminously detailed throughout this work.

Inspired by the clangor and rigors of WWI and begun near the outset of that conflict, Leos Janacek’s Sonata for violin and piano is filled with its own poignant twists and turns. Understandably, it displays considerably more angularity and angst than the Hindemith, and both sisters really dig in to its brash gestures while providing a detailed account of its nuanced articulations ( an aside: both pieces were programmed side by side in 1923, with none other than Hindemith performing the violin part).

But wait, there are four composers: why’s the disc called “Five Pieces?” It’s the title of the last group on the CD, a set of violin/piano duos by Valentin Silvestrov. Although there is certainly an affinity between some of the Eastern European folk inflections found in both the Janacek and Silvestrov works, there is an even wider reaching retrospective quality in the Silvestrov that seems to encompass all of the styles presented on the CD. Indeed, it mines many of the veins of tonally oriented 20th century music, providing an elegiac and Neo-romantic viewpoint that never confuses genuine emotional resonance with bald sentimentality. Raffaella brings out a warmly resonant quality from the pieces’ harmonic progressions, all the while supporting with careful balance and phrasing the long-lined legato playing of Nastascia. And while one can find many grander musical statements in Silvestrov’s oeuvre, he has distilled some of his most affecting music in these five miniatures. Indeed, the lilting Intermezzo and Barcarolle movements are truly magical microcosms.

Displaying consummate musicality, featuring a fascinating program of repertoire that should be heard more widely, with sumptuous sonics to boot, Duo Gazzana’s debut is one of my favorite discs of 2011. Let’s hope the Gazzana sisters get right back into the recording studio with Mr. Eicher in 2012!

Hilary Hahn Skypes with Max Richter (video)

Hilary Hahn. Photo: Peter Miller

We all know Hilary Hahn as Sequenza 21′s resident video blogger; oh, and she’s a world class violinist and DG recording artist.


Wearing both of those hats simultaneously, Hilary had a video chat via Skype with composer Max Richter earlier this week. Richter is one of 27 composers commissioned to write an encore for Hahn; she begins debuting the pieces this coming October. In order to spotlight the featured composers, Hilary’s planning to release a video interview with one each month. It makes us here at Sequenza 21 feel kind of special. After all, how many other websites have their video blogger booked two years out?

Christian Carey sings … Philip Glass?

Back in 1992, I sang in violinist Paul Festa’s recital at Juilliard. I was part of a quartet that sang “Knee Play 4″ from Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach. Paul even got us an audience with the composer himself. We travelled downtown and sang the piece for Philip Glass at his home. He was very helpful, offering several suggestions and even playing the piano for us.

I came across this video of the performance, taken at the recital. The most startling thing, besides seeing myself singing on YouTube, was seeing an earlier incarnation of myself that had a full head of hair!

Hauschka: “The Key” (Video)

Salon des Amateurs
Fat Cat CD

Hauschka’s latest recording, Salon des Amateurs, continues his path of prepared piano explorations. But it includes additional layers of instruments, with a host of collaborators that includes John Convertino and Joey Burns (Calexico), and occasional Sequenza 21 blogger (and world famous violinist) Hilary Hahn.

Likewise, much has been made of its allusions to electronica and even dance music (the album is named after a club in Hauschka’s hometown Düsseldorf). But rather than seeming out of place, this becomes yet another facet of the musical landscape of Salon des Amateurs; playfully integrated with imaginative wit.

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

Owen Pallett on tour (video)

Indie songwriter/violinist Owen Pallett is an excellent example of an artist who blends pop and classical styles. Judging by his record sales, Pallett, at least initially, came at things starting from the pop vantage point. But his career is increasingly intersecting with venues and artists from the classical side of the ledger. For instance, his music was recently featured on the Ecstatic Music Series at Merkin Concert Hall, a festival that celebrated crossover and dialogue between indie and post-classical concert music.

This spring, he’s touring in support of his 2010 CD Heartland (Domino), his first recording with full orchestra (dates below). Among the performances are a full orchestral presentation of Heartland at the Barbican (London), a special performance at the String Theory Music Festival featuring Nat Baldwin of Dirty Projectors (Minneapolis), and a performance at the MusicNow Festival (Cincinnati).

He’s also released a video for album track “The Great Elsewhere,” directed by Yuula Benivolski and Geoffrey Pugen.


15th April, USA, Minneapolis, History Theatre (String Theory Music Festival)
20th April, GERMANY, Erlangen, Markgrafentheater
21st April, GERMANY, Berlin, Berghain (Friction Festival)
23rd April, POLAND, Gdansk, Centrum Stocznia Gdanska
25th April, SWITZERLAND, St. Gallen, Palace
26th April, SWITZERLAND, Fribourg, Fri-son
28th April, AUSTRIA, Krems, Halle 1 (Donau Festival)
30th April, DENMARK, Aarhus, Voxhall (Pop Revo Festival)
1st May, MALTA, Hamrun, Gejtau Band Club
4th May, SPAIN, Barcelona, Bikini
8th May, UK, London, Barbican Hall (Reverberations: The Influence of Steve Reich)
14th May, USA, Cincinnati, Memorial Hall (MusicNOW Festival)

Cutting Edge Concerts Kicks off Tonight

Thus far, 2011 seems to be the year of the festival. From Tune Up to Tully Scope and beyond, a wide variety of adventurous outings have been offered in New York. Starting tonight, Symphony Space joins in the fun with their Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival.

If each festival has had its own identity – Tune Up reveling in the Park Avenue Armory’s generous space and acoustics, Tully Scope celebrating the diversity of its offerings and its newly remodeled digs – the emphasis of Cutting Edge seems, like so many events at Symphony Space, to be outreach and interaction.
All of the composers will be present at the concerts featuring their music. Each program will include onstage discussion between the featured composers and Victoria Bond. One hopes that meeting composers “in the flesh” and learning about their works firsthand will encourage audience members to approach their works with open minds and ears.

Tonight’s concert includes a world premiere by talented up and comer Hannah Lash, as well as a New York premiere by perennial audience favorite Peter Schickele. Kathleen Supove performs a work by Randy Woolf. Topping it all off is Hidden Inside Mountains, a new multimedia work by downtown luminary Laurie Anderson.

Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival is on four Monday evenings at 7:30 pm on
March 28, April 4, April 11 and April 25, 2011 at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre in
Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street in New York City.
More information about the Festival, including program notes, performer and composer bios, and
video interviews is available at
Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors).
To purchase tickets, visit or call 212-864-5400.
Program for Monday, March 28, 2011

Hannah Lash: Folksongs (world premiere)
MAYA: Sato Moughalian, flute; Bridget Kibbey, harp, John Hadfield, percussion
MAYA’s appearance is supported by the Jarvis and Constance Doctorow Family
Peter Schickele: Music for Orcas Island (NY premiere)
Renee Jolles, violin; Daniel Panner, viola; Maxine Neuman, cello; Kathleen Supove,
Jon Deak: Bye Bye
Sato Moughalian, flute; Kathleen Supove, piano
Randall Woolf: Righteous Babe
Sato Moughalian, flute; Kathleen Supove, piano
Laurie Anderson: Hidden Inside Mountains
Laurie Anderson, video and music

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.