Hudson leads Genre benders/blenders in debut CD

Galactic Diamonds
Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble
Groovaholic Music CD

New York based composer and pianist Steve Hudson performs his compositions with several groups. He’s currently working in a quartet setting with violinist Zack Brock, singing cellist Jody Redhage, and percussionist Martin Urbach. The group just released their debut CD and will be touring in Europe in March 2011.

All of the members of the Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble are skilled genre benders and genre blenders, able to adroitly move between styles such as jazz, tango, and avant classical – and many points in between. “Tune with Tango” (video below) is a signature example of their simpatico sense of ensemble and deftly phrased, gently articulated, yet still zesty sense of rhythm.

A more eclectic offering is the title tune, which moves from fusion tinged modern jazz to a lushly harmonized neoromantic coda. There are tender stretches too, like the ballad “Song for John Lennon.” It’s one of Hudson’s most affecting solo turns; he combines impressionist post-bop chord voicings with wistful waltzing.

Galactic Diamonds is indeed a versatile outing; and by no means does it only showcase its leader. Brock lends a bluegrass fiddle’s inflections and gentle swing to “Keep it Simple.” Redhage crafts a cantabile, double-stop laden solo on “Moving On” and doubles her cello line with supple vocalise on “PG.” Urbach never swamps the acoustic instruments, but still makes his presence felt in fulsome grooves, as on the effusively syncopated “Speak Out.”

Meanwhile, Hudson doesn’t restrict himself to just playing piano. He plays cafe jazz solos on melodica on the lilting “Para.” On “Funky Hobbit,” he tears it up on a Fender Rhodes electric piano, moving the ensemble closer to ‘out improv.’ Both Brock and Redhage are encouraged to shred a bit in response to Hudson’s enthusiastic acid jazz riffing.

Whether pushing the envelope with energetic improvisatory exertions or crafting more gradually developing essays, the Steve Hudson Ensemble is consistently engaging. Galactic Diamonds is a thoroughly enjoyable recording.

Startin’ ‘em young – indie classical style

On my last visit to my brother’s home, my 3-year old niece told me about her new favorite music star – Dr. Stringz.

She and her folks then showed me the good doctor in question: Andrew Bird, making a guest appearance in 2007 on Jack’s Big Music Show.

Bird’s kept the segment’s musical number in his repertoire, and often plays it when he gives concerts. It’s a toe-tapper that appeals to “children of all ages.”

Hilary Hahn CD review

Higdon and Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos
Hilary Hahn; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra;Vasily Petrenko
Deutsche Gramophon

It’s pleasing to see mainstream media picking up the story of Hilary Hahn’s recent recording of Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto. Like her previous pairing of Schoenberg with Sibelius,  Hahn presents something new to most classical audiences alongside a “warhorse,” the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. She plays both superlatively; I wouldn’t want to have to choose which performance to prefer.

Far from seeming like an odd pairing, the two concertos complement each other wonderfully. Higdon has a compositional voice that doesn’t eschew contemporary orchestration – witness the brash percussion in the Violin Concerto’s first movement. But at the same time she makes numerous connections to the Romantic concerto tradition in her sense of phrasing and the unabashed lyricism of much of the work. But this is no mere “Neoromanticism:” Higdon gives us the real thing, with guts and, often, gravitas. Thus, it’s an excellent choice to pair with Tchaikovsky.

I’m particularly fond of the Higdon concerto’s pastoral, poignant second movement, which not only evinces a supple contemporary Romanticism, but also reminds me in places of a Twentieth Century American composer: Aaron Copland. Also, its passages for the woodwinds are just spectacular. And the final movement is a winning showcase for both the orchestra and its soloist: it fits Hahn perfectly.

One hopes that, someday, we’ll be seeing future recordings where the Higdon concerto is the repertoire work paired with a piece of “new music:” it’s not hard to imagine!

Hilary’s Higdon on Soundcheck

Hilary Hahn was on Soundcheck yesterday, promoting the release today of her recording of Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto. The other big contemporary classical artist with a release today, Nico Muhly, gets a cameo. She very kindly name checks Sequenza 21 at ca. eighteen minutes in…

Ra Ra Riot: The Orchard (Review)

Ra Ra Riot
The Orchard

Syracuse, NY’s Ra Ra Riot is a chamber pop band in the most organic sense of the word. In addition to the usual rock instrumentation – guitar, bass, drums, & keyboards – they also include a violinist and cellist in their complement. While their debut The Rhumb Line demonstrated that RRR’s brand of chamber pop was able to summon both the delicacy of indie classical with the heft that rock requires, their latest recording, The Orchard, further synthesizes these various elements into a potent musical concoction.

Recorded near a peach orchard in Upstate New York (hence the album title), this recording documents a band just hitting its stride, in effusive polyglot fashion. Ra Ra Riot marries both lilting pastoral pop, as on the lovely “Keep it Quiet,” with supple rhythms. Indeed, the syncopated beats and pan-ethnic grooves that populate their leadoff single “Boy” would likely make Vampire Weekend jealous!

The title tune’s efficacious amalgam of minor-key string ostinati, soaring vocals, and a loping pop groove makes for a convenient snapshot of Ra Ra Riot’s music circa 2010: catchy, clever, multihued, and memorable.

Laurie Anderson talks about Homeland (video)

Composer, violinist, and performance/video artist Laurie Anderson has never been one to rest on her laurels. But Homeland, her latest project for Nonesuch takes her farther afield than she’s previously been.

Rather than staying at home to record, Anderson developed the album’s songs over a two year period of touring. And, for the first time, she’s involved her partner Lou Reed in a collaborative recording process (he receives a co-producer credit). The results sound recognizable as songs by Laurie Anderson; but the sonic formula has been tweaked – indeed, refreshed – by the risks taken and departures made during the recording process.

A recurring character is Fenway Bergamot, Anderson’s “male alter-ego,” who graces the album cover and performs on the recording.

Below are a couple of “making of” videos Nonesuch has posted to YouTube.

Owen Pallett's Heartland: Score, CD review, video, touring


Making the classical aspects of the burgeoning indie classical movement abundantly clear, crossover albums are now crossover marketing musical scores. Via his website, composer Owen Pallett has released a limited edition score for the music on Heartland, his latest Domino recording.

Owen Palletts Heartland

Owen Pallett's Heartland

Joined by the Czech Symphony Orchestra and a host of guests (including composer Nico Muhly) Pallette has crafted his most consistently engaging music to date. In some critical circles, indie classical has, rightly or wrongly, been under the microscope for making pop into a ‘longhair’ genre, robbing it of its immediacy in favor of overt sophistication. I’d submit that this vantage point doesn’t give enough credit to indie audiences, who seem to be just fine grappling with orchestral arrangements by Pallett and electronic experiments by Animal Collective alike.

What’s more, recordings like Heartland amply demonstrate that one can, if they’re talented, craft sophisticated music that has just as many catchy hooks as a three-chord, three-minute anthemic single. A case in point is the loop-laden and jaunty “Lewis Takes off his Shirt;” the music, and the video below, suggest that pop can indeed combine sophistication with immediacy, and that its orchestral incarnation can be downright cheeky!


For those of your with a case of ‘artifact avarice,’ the full orchestra score for Heartland is $46 and has been printed in a limited run of 300. In addition to the music it also provides lyrics and a chart of diagrams of patches for the ARP 2600.

Owen Palett’s touring a bunch in support of Heartland. Here are some dates:

04-08 Toronto, Ontario – Queen Elizabeth Theatre
04-10 Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
04-11 Minneapolis, MN – Varsity Theater
04-12 Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall
04-13 Columbus, OH – Wexner Center
04-14 Pittsburgh, PA – Andy Warhol Museum
04-15 Washington DC – Black Cat
04-18 Indio, CA – Coachella Festival
04-20 Boston, MA – Institute of Contemporary Art
04-22 New York, NY – Webster Hall
04-24 Baltimore, MD – Metro Gallery
04-25 Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church
04-27 Atlanta, GA – The Earl
04-29 Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
04-30 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
05-05 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
05-08 Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
05-09 Vancouver, British Columbia – The Vogue Theatre
05-10 Victoria, British Columbia – Alix Goolden Hall
05-11 Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater
05-13 Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
05-14 Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge

New Music in New York

Upcoming Concerts in NYC



Wednesday January 28, 2009 @ 8 PM

Merkin Concert Hall

Kurtag: Kafka Fragments

Tony Arnold, soprano

Movses Pogossian, violin



Saturday, January 31, 2009 @ 8 PM

Riverside Church

An Evening of Contemporary Chamber Music with the Locrian Chamber Players

Works by Milton Babbitt, Earle Brown, Nils Vigeland, and David Dzubay




Sunday, February 15, 2009 @ 3 PM

Christ and St. Stephen’s Church

Recital by pianist Lisa Weiss

Includes works by Bruce Mahin and James Caldwell

FREE (donations accepted)

Random Bests of ’08: Best collusion of violinist and accordionist

Hearts and Daggers


Petra Haden and Miss Murgatroid

Hearts & Daggers

File Under Music


Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Petra Haden collaborates again with accordionist Miss Murgatroid on Hearts and Daggers, released on File Under Music (no relation to this blog). Haden possesses a chameleon-like versatility. She’s involved in various collaborations with members of her musical family, records as a solo artist, and has become something of a YouTube sensation for a cappella renditions of Journey and covering the Who.


Hearts and Daggers explores her interest in creating chamber pop that draws upon a variety of influences: Gypsy music, Celtic folk ballads, minimalism, and classical repertoire. All this is stirred into a pot with the aforementioned classic rock inflections and a cappella layered singing to create willfully eclectic, but eminently attractive material. Murgatroid’s penchant for long, sustained harmonies has the efficacious side effect of slowing down Haden’s lightning fast musical metabolism, allowing the songs to settle; taking more organic shapes despite their disparate starting points.