The Dutch composer/performer/poet Samuel Vriezen and I go waaay back on the web, to a time when musicians found each other and some musical conversation on the old Usenet newsgroups. In the dozen-plus years since that time, I’ve watched Samuel be pretty darn active on all kinds of fronts: producing concerts, composing a wonderful body of music, writing and translating poetry… He’s even been invited over this way to the U.S. a few times for presentations of his work.
Samuel’s own musical inclinations have evolved since his time in university, but for a long while now what really interests him is how to set up relatively “simple” musical parameters, that become very “unsimple” and rich through both their process of unfolding, and the performers interaction with those processes and each other.
Given that predilection, I suppose it was almost fated for Samuel to be drawn to the music of Tom Johnson. One of the American composers closely associated with New York Minimalism in the heady 70s and 80s (and well-known at the time as music critic for the Village Voice), Johnson left the U.S. to settle in Paris in the mid-80s, where he’s been ever since. Unlike the ever-more-elaborate, eclectic and programmatic direction his then-compatriots Reich and Glass have traveled, Johnson has remained pretty much focused on exploring purely musical processes; simple “germ” ideas that are rigorously followed, yet result in surprisingly rich music. One such piece is Johnson’s very long 1986 piano work The Chord Catalogue. Johnson simply asked “What would it sound like to play all the chords possible in a single octave?” …Of which there turns out to be 8178 of them! needless to say, though the concept is extremely simple the execution by a pianist is tremendously difficult.
Which brings us back to Samuel Vriezen. Samuel some years ago became so intrigued with the work, that he knew he had to learn and present it himself. And learn and present it he has, many times, to very enthusiastic audiences. His involvement with the piece has even led Samuel to compose some excellent new works, that riff on the same kind of idea that Johnson had.
The reason I’ve been telling you all this? because Samuel has decided that the time has come to get this piece and his performance down on CD, and to do that he’s decided to ask all of us new-music-lovers out there to help raise the money to make that CD a reality. Using the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, Samuel has in rather short order already drummed up over half his $8,000 goal; I think there are a lot of people out there who know this will be one great CD. So click those links I just gave you, head to the Indiegogo site, and let Samuel himself tell you about the piece, his passion, and the project. Besides making this wonderful CD a reality, your donation can score you some really nice perks (see the right side bar for a description). To quote Rosie the Riveter, WE CAN DO IT!
The group that helped to start the indie rock plus classical crossover genre, Clogs, doesn’t often make it out to Brooklyn. But, if Monday’s show at Galapagos is any indication, when they visit the borough, the group goes all out.
In addition to selections from Clogs’ previous studio recordings, the concert features “Shady Gully,” a new group of songs written by Padma Newsome. Those in attendance will also get a sneak preview of “2 Moon Shine,” his forthcoming opera project.
Also on the bill is Clogs member Thomas Kozumplik’s project Loop 2.4.3. I’ve been greatly enjoying their latest full length recording American Dreamland (out now via Music Starts from Silence). Kozumplik, joined by Lorne Watson, have created a percussion heavy and somewhat jaundice eyed view of the American dream, referencing everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Easy Rider to urban blight along the way. While the album’s subject matter could easily become a colossal bummer, Loop 2.4.3 creates supple beats and several fetching tunes (the radio ready single “So Strong” noteworthy among them) that make even a dystopian post industrial landscape sound like far better a destination than its likely to be!
A small caveat for fans of the National: guitarist Bryce Dessner is not playing the Galapagos show. Ben Cassoria will take over his duties for the evening (no mean substitute!).
with Agnès Vesterman, cello & Sylvain Lemêtre, percussion
ECM Records CD 2157
Dance music in multiple forms, from the saltarello, a Venetian dance dating back to the Fourteenth century, to Breton and Celtic folk music, as well as transcriptions of medieval era compositions, Renaissance era consort music, and contemporary fare, are featured on Saltarello, violist Garth Knox’s latest ECM CD. Among the early music slections, Particularly impressive is a Vivaldi concerto, performed in a duo arrangement for viola d’amore and cello. Its interpreters, Knox and Agnès Vesterman, take this continuo less opportunity to accentuate a supple contrapuntal interplay between soloist and bass line. Equally lovely is a piece that combines music by Hildegard and Machaut in a kind of medieval style mash-up. Also stirring is this duo’s version of John Dowland’s most famous piece, Lachrimae, perhaps known best in its incarnation as the song “Flow My Tears.”
Knox, who is a past member of both Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Arditti String Quartet, also performs the disc’s newer material with consummate musicality: he also has the bedeviling habit of making virtuosic writing sound far too easy to play (his poor violist colleagues!). Knox’s own composition, “Fuga Libre,” combines jazz rhythms and neo-baroque counterpoint with ever more complicated harmonic tension points and several instances in which Knox demonstrates various extended playing techniques. Meanwhile, Kaaija Saariaho’s Vent Nocturne, an eerily evocative and tremendously challenging piece for viola and electronics, is given a haunting, sonically sumptuous rendering.
Tomorrow night, Knox celebrates the release of the CD at LPR (details below). Early music, new pieces by and for Knox, and lovely comestibles on menu and on tap? Sounds like my evening’s planned!
Tuesday May 22nd – Doors open at 6:30, show starts at 7:30
Congratulations to pianist Peter Poston for winning the David Lang 2011 Competition.
Below is his award-winning entry, a performance of Wed, submitted via YouTube:
Poston will get to perform as part of an all Lang program at le poisson rouge in New York City on May 6, 2012 at 5pm. The concert at LPR includes Andrew Zolinsky performing selections from the CD, a new 4-hand piano work premiered by Zolinsky and Poston, a new 6-hand piano piece for the 3 runners-up – Catarina Domenici, Katherine Dowling, and Denise Fillion – and performances by guitar legend Derek Johnson and other special guests.
This Was Written by Hand
Piano Music by David Lang
Andrew Zolinsky, piano
Cantaloupe Music CD
Wed, the audition piece for the David Lang 2011 Competition, is featured on This Was Written By Hand, David Lang’s latest CD, a recital disc recorded for Cantaloupe by pianist Andrew Zolinksy. It isone of eight “Memory Pieces” included on the disc. This group serves as postminimal “Characterstucke,” an attractive and mercurial group of contrasting miniatures.
Then there is the touching title work. One of Lang’s most organically constructed pieces, it was, indeed, written by hand and intuitively constructed. A meditation on the ephemeral nature of life, it captures a similar poignancy to Lang’s recent vocal work “Little Matchgirl Passion,” but writ smaller, more intimately. To both this and the Memory Pieces, Zolinsky brings a fluid grace and subtlety that abets the spontaneous, almost improvisatory, character of the material.
My interview with Dennis Russell Davies, who is conducting the ACO concert, is up on Musical America’swebsite (subscribers only).
If you’re looking for a terrific way to celebrate PG’s birthday, Brooklyn Rider’s latest CD on Orange Mountain Music includes Glass’s first five string quartets. The earthiness with which they play the music may surprise you at first, but it provides a persuasive foil for some of the more motoric, “high buffed sheen” toned performances of minimalism that are out there. In a 2011 video below, they give a performance of a more recent work, a suite of music from the film Bent.
On Monday, January 16 at Carnegie Hall,Distinguished Concerts International New York brings together over three hundred musicians to give the world premiere of The Peacemakersby Karl Jenkins. The composer will conduct this work for choir, orchestra, and instrumental soloists. It is the first world premiere of one of his large-scale works to take place in New York.
The recording of The Peacemakers just came out this past Tuesday on EMI Classics. It features the strings of the London Symphony Orchestra and three choirs: the City of Birmingham Youth Choir, Rundfunkchor Berlin, and the 1000-strong Really Big Chorus.
EMI is offering a free download of a track from the album here.
The label’s also been kind enough to offer us several copies of the limited edition version of The Peacemakers for a CD giveaway. Interested parties should email me here.
I’ll use a Cageian (random) method to determine the “winners.” The contest is open until Monday, 1/16 at midnight.
Bang on a Can is celebrating twenty-five years of music making in generous fashion. Between now and Jan. 25th, you can download their new album, Big Beautiful Dark and Scary, via bangonacan25.org.In exchange, they ask for an email address and a memory of a BoaC moment: the former is kept confidential, the latter is published in a scrapbook commemorating the album.
Think this is marketing against one’s own self-interests? Probably not. The iTunes version is for sale from 1/31, and features a bonus track of the ensemble performing Philip Glass’s Closing, with Glass, live. When the physical streets on 2/28, it will be a double disc of premiere recordings that will also feature films of the ensemble. So, instead of a “loss leader,” I tend to think of this release as downtown’s answer to Radiohead’s In Rainbows. In the meantime, Happy New Year, and happy downloading, all!
One of my favorite projects this past Fall was writing the program essay for American Composers Orchestra’sSONiC festival. I had the chance to interview several composers (though only a small sampling of the many fine participants) featured on SONiC, includingHannah Lash, Anthony Cheung, Keniji Bunch (an old friend – one of my classmates at Juilliard), and the National’sBryce Dessner.
All of the interview subjects proved diverting. But I was particularly glad to have a chance in the essay to spotlight Ensemble Klang, a Dutch new music group that performedOscar Bettison’sO Death on SONiC.Their performance was critically acclaimed as one of the highlights of the festival. And if you weren’t fortunate enough to be there, my recommendation would be to get thee hence to the group’s web store for a copy of the O Deathstudio recording (with liner notes by Alex Rose!).
While you’re there, I’d recommend checking out Ensemble Klang’s other studio recordings. Cows, Chords, and Combinationsa portrait disc of minimalist composer/theorist/critic Tom Johnson has proved to be an extraordinarily valuable recording to me. It has reframed my thinking about the process-based components of minimalism: how they can be crafted into quite complicated structures and how they remain a vital component of whichever post (post post?) incarnation of minimalism we’re currently experiencing. The slowly evolving, spectral-inspired structures found on Waves, a disc of music by Peter Adriaansz, is equally engaging: a collection of soundscapes that require, nay demand, immersively intensive listening. (I haven’t yet heard Ensemble Klang’s recording of music by Matthew Wright; an oversight I hope to correct shortly).
Below, I’ve included an excerpt of my interview with Bettison, in which he discusses his creative process and the collaborative genesis of O Death.
Traditional instruments are one way to go in new music. Another is to find or create new instruments altogether. Such is often the pathway of composer Oscar Bettison. He enjoys incorporating unconventional instruments, such as those made from found objects or junk metal, into his scores.
Bettison says, “This was all a result of moving to Holland to study in the early 2000s. Before that, I had written a lot of music for traditional forces and I wanted to get away from that: to stretch myself as a composer. So, I started to play around with things, even going as far as to build some instruments; percussion mostly, but later on I branched out into radically detuning stringed instruments – there’s some of that in the guitar part of “O Death.” These things I called “Cinderella instruments: the kind of things that shouldn’t be ‘musical’ but I do my best to make them sing. And I suppose as a counterpoint to that, I shunned traditional instruments for a long time.”
Cinderella instruments, as well as references to popular music of many varieties, are signatures found in his work O Death, played on SONIC October 19, 2011 by Ensemble Klang.
Of O Death, Bettison says, “It was written for Ensemble Klang between 2005-7 and is my longest piece to date. It’s about 65 minutes long and I wrote it very much in collaboration with the group. We were lucky enough to have a situation in which I was able to try things out on the group over a long period. This was very important in writing it. The piece is in seven movements and is a kind of instrumental requiem, which references popular music elements (especially blues) and kind of grafts them on to the requiem structure. It’s something that I fell into quite naturally. This I think is tied to my idea of ‘Cinderella instruments:’ eschewing the “classical” tradition somewhat.”
Bettison continues, “The thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I come from a very strict classical background. I was a violinist; indeed I went to a specialist music school in London as a violinist from the age of 10. My rebellion to being in a hot-house classical music environment was getting into metal, playing the drums and listening to avant-garde classical music that was seen as outside the ‘canon’ and I think that carried on into my music. So, to psychoanalyze myself for a minute, I think I’ve done both things in a response (quite a delayed response!) to the classical tradition precisely because I feel so at home in that tradition.”