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

Oliver Knussen on Lukas Foss

Echoi performed by New Fromm Players at FCM. Photo: Hilary Scott

At the preconcert lecture at Tanglewood on Monday night, Oliver Knussen had this to say about Lukas Foss’ Echoi, which was featured on the 2010 Festival of Contemporary Music. “When you look at a work like Echoi, which is filled with all of this crazy improv stuff that’s very much of its time – the early ’60s – whatever strange systems Lukas used to create the music, he always chose the ‘right notes.’ There was an innate musicality there that transcended the chaos to create very affecting music. Many other composers’ works from that era haven’t worn well and sound dated, but Echoi remains a piece that really works.”

“When Lukas passed away, I took out all my old LPs of his music and put them onto my computer. I’ve really been enjoying go through and listening to them again. I’ve been sharing them with friends, and many of them, including a number of young composers, are just blown away by the music.”

Sounds like Foss deserves a revival. And, in my opinion, Knussen’s the man to do it!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear his Foss mixtape – fancy a trade, Olly?