Saturday: Ekmeles visits Rutgers

ekmelesinconcert

When I was a graduate student at Rutgers (a little over a decade ago), the composition students were fortunate to have the Helix! Ensemble, a contemporary music group in residence at Rutgers, to perform our compositions alongside other new works. I have many fond memories of working with Helix!. Apart from that, other ensembles at the school occasionally (more occasionally than we would have preferred) worked with the graduate students, and we had a department forum with guest speakers.

Of late, RU’s composition program has a lot more going on. New chair Robert Aldridge seems to have brought with him a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, which has trickled down and improved things for composers. Helix! is still there and active as ever, directed by pianist and conductor Paul Hoffmann (the group’s Fall concert is on Sunday at 2 PM). Several other campus ensembles are regularly working with student composers. The students are also active in presenting their own and each others’s music in recital. Distinguished composers Charles Fussell and Gerald Chenoweth remain on the faculty and Christopher Doll is a more recent addition.  Aldridge is teaching composers as well as chairing the department; Tarik O’Regan is also teaching at Rutgers this year.

Another welcome addition: inviting guest artists to campus to work with composers. On Saturday, New York-based vocal ensemble Ekmeles performs a program of new pieces by RU composers. Ekmeles is well known for their tremendous facility with extended techniques: I’ve written in the past about their accomplishments singing Gesualdo (in Vicentino’s tuning), Carter, and contemporary microtonal music. I’m looking forward to hearing what the students will learn from Ekmeles – and try out in Saturday evening’s concert (7:30 PM at Schare Hall – Mason Gross School of the Arts).

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

10/19: Dar Williams at Symphony Space

dar williams picture

On Saturday, October 19th at 8 PM, Singer-songwriter Dar Williams will perform at New York City’s Symphony SpaceThe concert is part of a tour in support of Williams’s latest studio album, In The Time Of Gods (2012, Razor & Tie). The album presents ten tales from Greek mythology which are repurposed by Williams to address contemporary issues. Like much of her previous work, the recording sits astride folk and pop idioms, creating an  ear-pleasing yet thoughtful and substantial impression.

 

Those who enjoyed the second disc of Many Great Companions, the songwriter’s 2010 greatest hits compilation, with its stripped down renditions of songs from her catalogue, are likely to be pleased with the acoustic setting in which the Symphony Space performance takes place. Instead of a full band, Williams will perform as part of a duo, singing and playing guitar, accompanied by pianist Bryn Roberts. 

Opening act The Rebecca West operates in a similar “chamber folk” idiom. Alex Dezen (the Damnwells), Cameron Dezen, and Matt Hamon. Their first EP, Lost and Found, displays a capacity for generously melodic hooks and winsome three-part harmony vocals.

 

 

10/16: Cygnus at the Italian Academy

Giacomo Manzoni

Giacomo Manzoni



On Wednesday evening at 7 PM, the Cygnus Ensemble presents Modernism Through a Northern Italian Lens, a free concert at the Italian Academy at Columbia University featuring premieres by five contemporary composers: Giacomo Manzoni, Peyman Farzinpour, Daniele Venturi, John McLachlan, and Martin Boykan. The evening also features works by Dina Koston and Robert Martin as well as Columbia composers Fred Lerdahl and Georg Friedrich Haas. A co-production of the Italian Academy and League of Composers/ISCM, the event features a post-concert reception in the venue’s beautiful library.

Ice Age Covers Sinead O’Connor (Video)

ice age

In the video below, Ice Age covers Sinead O’Connor’s “Jackie.” The cover is one of the b-sides being released as part of a deluxe version of the band’s album You’re Nothing (Out Nov. 9 via Matador).

Catch the band on tour (Dates below).

ICEAGE TOUR DATES:

Thu. Oct. 3 – Budapest, HU @ Durer Kert

Fri. Oct. 4 - Vienna, AT @ Waves Vienna

Sat. Oct. 5 - Prague, CZ @ Pilot Club

Sun. Oct. 6 - Berlin, DE @ West Germany

Tue. Oct. 8 - Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst Atrium w/ the Videos

Wed. Oct. 9 - San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop w/ the Videos

Thu. Oct. 10 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo w/ The Men (Culture Collide Festival)

Sun. Oct. 13 - Mexico City, MX @ Corona Capital Music Festival

Tue. Oct. 15 - Brooklyn, NY @ The Acheron w/ Believer, Law

Wed. Oct. 16 - Brooklyn, NY @ The Acheron w/ Survival

Thu. Oct. 31 - Paris, FR @ Pitchfork Music Festival

Fri. Nov. 1 - Toulouse, FR @ Dynamo

Sat. Nov. 2 - Oviedo, ESP @ Whippoorwill

Sun. Nov. 3 - Madrid, ESP @  Charada

Mon. Nov. 4 - Barcelona ESP @ Apolo 2

Tue. Nov. 5 - Milan, IT @ Rocket

Wed. Nov. 6 - Bologna, IT @ Locomotiv

Fri. Nov. 8 - Den Haag, NL @ Rewire Festival

Sat. Nov. 9 - London, UK @ Old Blue Last

Fri. Nov. 22 - Moscow, RUS @ Manifest

Sat. Nov. 23 - St Petersburg, RUS @ Chetvert

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

Chris Thile Plays Bach

Chris Thile

Bach, Sonatas and Partitas, Vol.1

Nonesuch CD/LP/Digital

Why Chris Thile Playing Bach on the Mandolin is a Good Idea

(A gentle rejoinder to performance practice purists)

 

1- Attack and decay

The Partitas, three of which are played by Thile on his latest Nonesuch disc, were probably originally played on the violin. But harpsichord looms large in Bach’s chamber music. Like the harpsichord, mandolin also has a sharp attack and quick decay. There are a number of correspondences between the timbre and fleetness of the two instruments that one probably wouldn’t capture if they played the Partitas on, say, clarinet.

 

2- Melismas

 

Both baroque chamber works and bluegrass instrumental music share an affinity for melismatic passages (layperson language: lots of fast runs). Anyone who has heard Thile play a solo with Punch Brothers knows how cleanly he can execute fast passage work, sometimes dizzyingly fast passage work. Listening to the Nonesuch disc, it is clear that Thile even upped the ante; he practiced his tuckus off.

 

3- Edgar Meyer

 

One of Thile’s frequent collaborators, the composer and bassist Edgar Meyer produces this recording. He is also one of those who spearheaded the bluegrass/classical crossover phenomenon in the 1990s, writing for and encouraging colleagues ranging from Bela Fleck to Yo-Yo Ma to explore the fertile vein of American roots music in a “classical” context. Meyer has also recorded Bach. He “gets” how Bach and modern folk stringed instruments fit together.

 

4- Bela Fleck

 

Banjo player Fleck has recorded Bach’s music too, focusing on the Inventions. Didn’t this open the door for a mandolinist to try his hand at recording some JSB? Why should Fleck get to have all the fun?

 

5- This Isn’t a Lark … or a Stopgap

 

Unlike some classical crossover projects, which serve as catalogue placeholders or a means to cash in on one the few quasi-lucrative subgenres in the classical recording industry, it is clear that Thile is passionate about this project and humbled by the material he is assaying. In a live video posted on YouTube, after playing a selection by Bach, Thile says that Bach is a tough act to follow with one of his own songs. It’s a joke he often shares in interviews; the jocular self-deprecation contains a great deal of humility.

 

6- Vol. 1

 

This also isn’t just a one off. Thile plans to record all of the Sonatas and Partitas on Nonesuch.

7- Tempo and Lightness

 

Bach is often transcribed for instruments that weren’t prevalent in interpreting his music during his lifetime. Many of us first encountered Bach in translation – played on the piano instead of the harpsichord. Pianos existed during Bach’s lifetime, but he was “old school” in his choice of keyboards: he preferred harpsichord and, above all, clavichord. There is a famous story that illustrates this. Late in his life, Bach travelled to visit his son at Frederick the Great’s court. After having Bach play on his extensive collection of pianos, Frederick offered to give him a piano-forte to take with him. Bach declined, indicating that he preferred his harpsichord at home. (I think this may have had as much to do with carting it home on unpaved roads through a war zone, but that’s just my own suspicion).

 

While there have been a great many influential interpretations of Bach’s music by pianists – and I don’t seek to assail them here – there is a presto tempo that some movements of the Partitas seem to require, with a lightness of texture and touch, that is quite difficult to obtain. It isn’t so much about the metronome marking at which one can play all of those sixteenths and thirty-seconds, but the limpid fluidity of their utterance, that makes these sections of the Partitas succeed. Thile on the mandolin can achieve this delicate fleetness where many pianists have not.

 

8- Lute

 

While we on are the subject of transcription, Bach himself transcribed his own music (and others) for a variety of forces. We hear his violin Partitas played on the lute: why not his partitas on another plucked stringed instrument?

 

9 – Mandolin isn’t just a Folk/Bluegrass Instrument

 

We most often associate mandolin with vernacular styles of music: folk, country, rock, and bluegrass. But it has appeared in a number of pieces of Twentieth Century and contemporary classical music. Witness Gabriel Faure’s Verlaine setting Mandoline. Even Schoenberg used it, in his Opus 24 Serenade. Dare we hope for Chris Thile to record some Schoenberg? (I’m half kidding, but I bet he could make it work!)

 

10 – Historical Accuracy vs. Historically Informed Performance

 

Truth be told, none of us are hearing Bach’s solo instrumental works as he heard them performed. Most often, they were heard in an intimate setting, a small room, not in a recital hall, not in a formal concert with the etiquette (and ticket prices) of today, and certainly not on a recording. We are both fortunate to live in a time where we are able to turn on a Bach recording anywhere, and impoverished that Bach’s music has become cultural shorthand – for a formality and canonical type of thinking he likely wouldn’t have recognized. And perhaps this is why Chris Thile’s Bach performances get some of the purist crowd up in arms.

 

Thile does no violence to the aesthetic in which Bach’s music was conceived; indeed he is quite dutiful in executing the material. Perhaps some of the purists aren’t reacting to Thile’s performances, but the milieu in which he performs Bach. Thile presents sonatas and partitas alongside bluegrass tunes, solo originals, and covers of alt-rock songs by Radiohead. He plays Bach for crowds that hoot and holler when they are delighted. While he is playing, there may even be alcohol with hops (from a can!)  imbibed by the audience. No one, least of all Thile, wears formal attire, no one in a tuxedo is present. It goes to show, you can win a MacArthur Fellowship and there still will be naysayers.

 

11 – Brubeck, Carlos, Swingle, and others

 

Haven’t we been through this phenomenon before? Bach played by Dave Brubeck in front of college kids, Walter/Wendy Carlos playing Bach on a Moog synthesizer, Ward Swingle arranging Bach excerpts for the Swingle Singers and a jazz combo; at one time or another, all of these approaches to J.S.B.’s music have been viewed as heretical violations of the canon. It is due to the resiliency of Bach’s oeuvre that new types of arrangements are of his works are made and that they work. Notice that other great composers’ works wouldn’t hold up to this type of treatment. Bruckner hasn’t had many synthesizer albums made of his Te Deum. Grieg’s Piano Concerto would be an unlikely candidate for a jazz meditation. Partly due to the evolving instrumentation of the baroque scoring giving artists a sense of permission, and partly due to a performance practice that, as we’ve pointed out, has included transcription for decades, Bach will continue to be reinvented and reinterpreted in a host of ways. Relax, sit down, and enjoy. Or, if mandolin doesn’t float your boat, reach for one of the many easily available harpsichord renditions of the Partitas.

 

12- Outreach

 

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in the news media and at arts organizations about “outreach.” Who will be the audiences of tomorrow? Is classical music dying? How will we get the young people to love music when all that they seem to listen to involves twerking? You want to hear great music, played authentically, that works as artistic outreach to new audiences? It’s on this recording.

 

 

Julia Holter – Loud City Song

Julia Holter
Loud City Song
Domino Records

Loud City Song, Julia Holter’s latest full length recording, is her first foray into a professional recording studio. Eschewing the bedroom/laptop pop aesthetic supplies Holter’s music with greater ambience and roomier textures. However, in her case, polished product does not equate to losing creative abandon. Her approach to songwriting and arranging remain restlessly inquisitive and innovative. She even includes two different versions of the same song, “Maxim’s I” and “Maxim’s II.” These demonstrate the reach of her conceptualizing and arranging chops, moving from layered and gauzily atmospheric to pert and focused, delineating discrete vocal/instrumental textures.

Much of Loud City Song certainly is based on pop song paradigms; in that sense it may be some of Holter’s most straightforwardly structured work to date. That said, the comparison is relative. Holter’s credentials as a CalArts trained electronic musician are often cited by those discussing her work, and with good reason. There are still experimental bits peeking out from around corners: a blatting trombone intro, hissed underpinnings, breathy and percussive vocalizing, and tantalizingly elusive synth sounds. Moreover, Holter retains a “composerly” instinct that favors detailed structures and large-scale structural thinking in terms of song order and pacing. Thus far, each of Holter’s records has had a central conceit. As she mentioned in a recent interview (via our friends at Ad Hoc), Loud City Song references Gigi, both the 1944 novel by Collette and the eponymous 1958 musical film.

Rather than merely covering a song from Gigi, Holter instead decides to cover “Hello Stranger,” Barbara Lewis’s biggest hit from 1963. Reverb-soaked vocals and slowly undulating chordal pads give this a very different vibe from the original; sultry and evocative with nary a buoyant “she bop” to be found. This song choice, and its rendering, tease out myriad connections instead of favoring the obvious. On Loud City Song, Holter’s work has retained elusivity, while becoming further refined and even more becoming. Recommended.

-Christian Carey

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