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


9/28: Composition Recital in Princeton

CBC July 28 2013

Emerged: A Recital of Compositions by Christian Carey

Saturday, September 28th at 2 PM

Prince of Peace Church, Princeton Junction, NJ

Free event (Directions here)


Performed by:


Righteous Girls

(Gina Izzo, flute; Erika Dohi, piano)


(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




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


________________ Intermission ______________________


“Fuller Brush Music” 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

David Felder’s Inner Sky (Review)


David Felder

Inner Sky

Albany Records Blu-ray Audio/CD Troy1418


When I wrote about Felder’s flute concerto Inner Sky (1994, rev. 1999)) in a concert review of Tanglewood’s 2011 Festival of Contemporary Music, I mentioned how much I looked forward to hearing the piece again on its (then in preparation) recording. What I didn’t mention at the time: my concern that it would be difficult to capture the many details of the piece on record. Enter blu-ray audio.


Indeed, David Felder’s music is perfect to demonstrate the capacities of blu-ray audio. Musical climaxes feature piercingly fierce highs and rumbling lows. Elsewhere, shimmering diaphanous textures, frequently blending electronic and acoustic instruments, surround one immersively in this multi-channel environment. By the way, if one doesn’t have access to blu-ray, the recording package also includes an audio CD.


One of the magical things about Inner Sky, not just as a demonstration of an audio platform but as an expertly crafted composition, is the use of register to delineate the structuring of the three main facets of the piece: its solo part, the orchestra, and the electronics. Over the course of Inner Sky, flutist Mario Caroli is called upon to play four different flutes: piccolo, concert flute, alto flute, and bass flute. Moving from high to low, he negotiates these changes of instrument, and the challenging parts written for each of them, with mercurial speed and incisive brilliance. Even though all of the orchestra members are seated onstage, we are also treated to a spatialization of sorts through the frequent appearance of antiphonal passages. This ricochet effect is more than matched by the lithe quadraphonic electronic component. Featuring both morphed flute sounds and synthetic timbres that often respond to the orchestration, it is an equal partner in the proceedings.


Tweener (2010) a piece for solo percussion, electronics, and ensemble, features Thomas Kolor as soloist. Kolor is called upon to do multiple instrument duty too, using “analog” percussion beaters as well as a KAT mallet controller. An astounding range of sounds are evoked: crystalline bells, bowed metallophones, electronically extended passages for vibraphone and marimba. The percussionist’s exertions are responded to in kind by vigorous orchestra playing from University of Buffalo’s Slee Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra, conducted by James Baker. The Slee group flourishes here in powerful brass passages, avian wind writing, and soaring strings. The brass pieces Canzonne and Incendio are also played by UB musicians in equally impressive renditions. These works combine antiphonal writing with a persuasive post-tonal pitch language that also encompasses a plethora of glissandos.


The Slee Sinfonietta again, this time conducted by James Avery, gets to go their own way on Dionysiacs. Featuring a flute sextet, the piece contains ominously sultry low register playing, offset by some tremendous soprano register pileups that more than once remind one of the more rambunctious moments in Ives’s The Unanswered Question. What’s more, the flutists get to employ auxiliary instruments such as nose whistles and ocarinas, adding to the chaotic ebullience of the work (entirely appropriate given its subject matter).


Clarinetist Jean Kopperud and pianist Stephen Gosling are featured on Rare Airs, a set of miniatures interspersed between the larger pieces. These works highlight both musicians’ specialization in extended techniques and Kopperud’s abundant theatricality as a performer. Pianist Ian Pace contributes the solo Rocket Summer. Filled with scores of colorful clusters set against rangy angular lines and punctuated by repeated notes and widely spaced sonorous harmonies, it is a taut and energetic piece worthy of inclusion on many pianists’ programs.


Requiescat (2010), performed by guitarist Magnus Andersson and the Slee Sinfonietta, again conducted by Baker, is another standout work. Harmonic series and held altissimo notes ring out from various parts of the ensemble, juxtaposed against delicate guitar arpeggiations and beautifully complex corruscating harmonies from other corners. Once again, Felder uses register and space wisely, keeping the orchestra out of the guitar’s way while still giving them a great deal of interesting music to play. Written relatively recently, Requiescat’s sense of pacing, filled with suspense and dramatic tension but less inexorable than the aforementioned concerti, demonstrates a different side of Felder’s creativity, and suggests more efficacious surprises in store from him in the future.



Puppet Opera does well at Box Office


Composer David Smooke’s “nonopera” Criminal Element will be performed in Brooklyn on Thursday and Saturday at JACK (ticket info here).

Apparently, the Thursday performance is already sold out (there’s a waiting list for tickets). Smooke is a wonderful composer and Rhymes with Opera has a devoted following – Add the presence of puppets, and you’ve got the recipe for an avant opera sellout!

Monday – League of Composers at Miller Theatre


Leon Kirchner

Leon Kirchner


Last week, I learned that I have been elected to the Board of Directors of the League of Composers – ISCM. I am honored and excited to be working with this organization. Thus, what follows is some cheering for the “home team.”


On Monday, June 17, the League’s finishes its 90th season with an orchestra concert at Miller Theatre. The program includes premieres of two works commissioned by the organization. Keith Fitch’s In Memory is written in memory of Frederick Fox, with whom Fitch studied at Indiana University. Wang Jie’s Oboe Concerto for the Genuine Heats of Sadness, which is co-commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation and Aspen Festival, is written for the extraordinary oboist Liang Wang. This past year, I’ve heard Wang assay the stratospheric tessitura of Poul Ruders’ concerto and the beautiful Oboe Quartet by Sean Shepherd; I’m eager to hear what he does with Wang Jie’s work.  Recent pieces by Eve Beglarian and Bruce Adolphe will also be performed.


Commemorating longtime League member Elliott Carter, who passed away last year, the concert includes his brief fanfare Call. Highlighting the work of another recently deceased elder statesman, the concert will conclude with Leon Kirchner’s Suite from Lily. There will be an onstage discussion of Kirchner’s life and work.

Having just recently finished editing the entry on Kirchner for the forthcoming new edition of Grove’s Dictionary of American Music, I am particularly keen to hear this work live!


Event Details

League of Composers Season Finale

Monday, June 17 at 8 PM

Miller Theatre


Hosted by John Schaefer, WNYC
Orchestra of the League of Composers

James Baker, Louis Karchin, conductors; Liang Wang, oboe;

Sharon Harms, soprano



Bruce Adolphe                Crossing Broadway (2007)
Eve Beglarian                   Waiting for Billy Floyd (2010)
Wang Jie *                       Oboe Concerto for the Genuine Hearts of Sadness (2013)
Elliott Carter                     Call (2003)
Keith Fitch*                      In Memory (2013)
Leon Kirchner                  Lily, version for Soprano and Chamber Ensemble (1978)

* World premiere, League-ISCM commission