Estonian composer Arvo Pärt turned 75 yesterday. His record label ECM Records is celebrating his three-quarters of a century with two new recordings.
Pärt’s 4th Symphony is a long-anticipated follow-up to his 3rd – which was written back in 1971! In the interim, the composer has moved from a modernist style to an idiosyncratic version of minimalism; one the composer calls the “tintinnabuli” style of composition. From bell-like resonances and slowly moving chant melodies, Pärt has crafted a personal compositional language of considerable appeal. And while this has included a number of stirring instrumental works, such as Tabula Rasa and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, more recently Pärt has been known for his choral music. His return to symphonic form is thus an opportunity to explore his mature language in a different milieu.
Perhaps in part as an acknowledgement of the home of the orchestra commissioning the Fourth Symphony – the “City of Angels” – Pärt decided to use a text as a formative – if subliminal – device in his preparations of the piece: the Canon of the Guardian Angel. Thus, while this is certainly not merely a transcription of a vocal piece – it sounds idiomatic and well orchestrated – there is a certain chant-like quality which demonstrates the symphony’s affinity with the vocal music and chant texts that are Pärt’s constant companions.
The live recording is of the work’s premiere in Disney Hall in LA. Salonen and the LA Phil give a muscular rendition of the piece, emphasizing its emphatic gestures while still allowing for the symphony’s many reflective, meditative oases to have considerably lustrous resonance. And while one can certainly hear a palpable connection to Pärt’s chant-inspired tintinnabuli pieces, the symphony also allows for dissonant verticals and melodic sweep that recalls both Pärt’s own Third Symphony and the works of other 20th century symphonists, from Gorecki to Shostakovich.
Perhaps in order to clearly attest to the connection between text and symphony, the disc is balanced out with a fifteen-minute serving of fragments from one of his important choral works from the 1990s: Kanon Pokajanen. The composer has pointed out the relationship between the canon that was his reference point for the symphony and the texts upon which the latter choral work was based.
He says, “To my mind, the two works form a stylistic unity and belong together. I wanted to give the words an opportunity to choose their own sound. The result, which even caught me by surprise, was a piece wholly pervaded by this special Slavonic diction found only in church texts. It was the canon that clearly showed me how strongly choice of language preordains a work’s character.”
Kaljuste and the Estonian Chamber Choir are seasoned handlers of Pärt’s works, having made a number of recordings of his music. They do not disappoint here, providing a performance that juxtaposes the ethereal eternity found in the texts with an earthy and corporeally passionate rendering of the music.
In order to further fete Pärt, ECM also plans a lush reissue of their landmark 1984 recording, Tabula Rasa, complete with a generous accompanying book with newly commissioned essays about the composer.
Steve Reich’s latest Nonesuch CD recently arrived, sans artwork in a little cardboard case. The disc features Double Sextet and 2×5, his collaborations with Eighth Blackbird and Bang on a Can. The former piece won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The latter is his most explicit use of rock instrumentation to date.
According to the Nonesuch site, it’s still in the “pre-order” phase of activities, so we’ll be good and hold off on a proper review ’til it’s closer to the actual release date (9/14).
Suffice it to say, if you’re a regular visitor to Sequenza 21, you’re likely going to want one, possibly three, copies of this recording. An intergenerational summit – minimalist elder statesman meets post-minimal/totalist ace performers – that, in terms of importance, is more or less the Downtown version of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.
It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Hurricane Katrina. The CD release of Ted Hearne’sKatrina Ballads on New Amsterdam Records is a grim reminder that New Orleans still remains a devastated city, one that has yet to recover from the storm, doubtless at least in part due to all manner of official incompetence and governmental neglect. Source recordings that chronicle the previous administration’s bungled handling of the disaster serve as a jumping off point for Hearne’s scathingly satirical, yet often affecting, song cycle.
The record’s out on 8/31, but there’s a release party at Le Poisson Rouge to welcome the album on 8/24 at 7:30 PM. In the meantime, we’ve got a teaser video:
Here’s CBS News’ take on the city’s condition when President Obama visited last year. I’ve also linked some more recent articles from Slate in the comments section below. While Chris Becker’s comments suggest that improvements have been made, it seems like there’s still a lot to do for New Orleans to fully recover. If Hearne’s song cycle can serve as one of many reminders for us to stay the course and continue to rebuild the city, I’m all for it.
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.
Victoire, a Brooklyn based quintet of female alt-classical performers, is currently doing a mini tour in the Midwest to support the impending September release of their album Cathedral City on New Amsterdam. Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes are taking their show on the road, performing selections from Matt’s opera Little Death Vol. 1.
Missy Mazzoli and company have been kind enough to allow us to share the title track from the LP on File Under ?’s Tumblrhere. The track combines vocalizing courtesy of Missy with skittering glitchy percussion and a somewhat jazzy harmonic background. Kind of like Julee Cruise meets BoaC on Steely Dan’s patio, sharing drinks with Matmos…
In this space just a year ago we told you about Asphalt Orchestra‘s Lincoln Center Out of Doors hit-the-streets, in-you-face debut last summer. Well, what a year they’ve had! In August they performed during lunchtime at Philadelphiaʼs 30th Street Amtrak Station; it’s a testament to the band’s transcendence of genre that The Philadelphia Inquirer named that show one of the 10 Best Classical Performances of 2009, even though it took place in a train station and featured almost no classical music! In late 2009 the band was selected to play the official opening of Lincoln Centerʼs newest space, the David Rubenstein Atrium, and garnered even more critical hoo-hahs. Their ever-changing set list now includes commissions from Tyondai Braxton of Battles, Stew and Heidi Rodewald of The Negro Problem and Passing Strange, celebrated Balkan musician-composer Goran Bregovic, as well as new arrangements of Björk, jazz legend Charles Mingus, Swedish metal pioneers Meshuggah, the eminent American experimental composers Conlon Nancarrow and Frank Zappa, the playful Brazilian songwriter Tom Ze and the iconic Zimbabwean artist Thomas Mapfumo.
AO brings together some of the best rock, jazz and classical musicians in New York City and beyond: Jessica Schmitz (piccolo), Ken Thomson (saxophone), Peter Hess (saxophone), Alex Hamlin (saxophone), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Alan Ferber (trombone), Jen Baker (trombone), Kenneth Bentley (sousaphone), Yuri Yamashita (percussion), Sunny Jain (percussion) and Nick Jenkins (percussion). Is it classical? Yes. Is it rock, prog, jazz, world-party street band? Yes. Is it useless to try and pigeonhole this vital bridge between the arty and the party? Yes.
Among their here-there-and-everywhere, they’ll be premiering new commissions by David Byrne and Annie Clark, and Yoko Ono (they’ve been rehearsing with both Ono and Byrne the past weeks). If that weren’t enough, following their own set on August 5th they’ll be featured in the Taylor 2 performance of Paul Taylor’s piece “3 Epitaphs,” in celebration of Taylor’s 80th birthday. Appearing with the company’s dancers, the band will premiere new arrangements of pieces originally played by the Laneville-Johnson Union Brass Band.
But wait, there’s still more! AO’s eponymous first CD on Cantaloupe Music just dropped today, allowing happy listeners around the world to hear much of this music. The recording was made live-in-studio at Water Music Studios, Hoboken, NJ, in August 2009; here’s the tracklist:
1. Frank Zappa: Zomby Woof
2. Goran Bregovic: Champagne
3. Charles Mingus: The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers (arr. Jose Davila)
4. Meshuggah: Electric Red (arr. Derek Johnson)
5. Bjork: Hyperballad (arr. Alan Ferber)
6. Stew and Heidi Rodewald: Carlton
7. Tyondai Braxton: Pulse March
[Ed. note -- Our long-time contributor Steve Hicken is usually to be found helping out in the CD review section of S21. But a recent shipment of a number of band music CDs prompted Steve to group them together as a larger essay, and we thought it should end up here on the main page. Recordings discussed in this essay: BARNES: Symphonic Overture; Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Nicolo Paganini; GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue (Hunsberger, arr.); Overture on Themes from Porgy and Bess (Barnes, arr.); REED: Ballade. Raimonds Petrauskis, p; Oskars Petrauskis, a sax; RIGA Professional Symphonic Band/Andris Poga. PPOR-CD002 -- GRAINGER: Band Music. Dallas Wind Symphony/Jerry Junkin. Reference 117 -- GRAINGER: Transcriptions for Wind Orchestra. Ivan Hovorun, p; Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra/Clark Rundell. Chandos 10455 -- CORIGLIANO: Circus Maximus; Gazebo Dances. University of Texas Wind Ensemble/Jerry Junkin. Naxos 8.559601]
Tragic but true: when the smoke had cleared, the new music wars had been won not by towners up or down or coasters east or left, but by a rear guard of trained symphonic band composers from big state universities in the middle of the country. — Daniel Wolf
According to the American Bandmasters Association (ABA), there are some 40,000 bands in the United States.1 Almost every high school, most junior high or middle schools, and many elementary schools have at least one band. On the college level, the situation is one of even more abundance—just about every college has more than one band, and the big public institutions have a handful or more. In addition, many municipalities have amateur bands, and some larger cities have professional wind orchestras.
Given these numbers and the exceptional quality of USA wind and percussion playing, you would expect that bands would be at the center of concert music in America. In reality, band music runs on a parallel track to the rest of concert music, and it has for a long time.2 There are stars in the world of band music, just as there are in the rest of concert music. These stars tend to be the conductors of the top bands at the big public universities of the Big 10, Texas, the west coast, and a few places in the Southeast, and composers at most of the same institutions, as well as a handful of composers making a living as freelancers. More about these composers later.
The music played by these bands falls into three very broad categories:
Marches! — To a very great extent, the wind band began as a military unit, designed to play music for armies to march to. There is evidence of ensembles consisting of what we call brass instruments and drums playing martial music in ancient civilizations in both the east and the west. Much of the music played by these groups was in reality signals, such as “charge”, “reveille”, etc. By the seventeenth century the instrumentation of what we now consider the standard military band had begun to settle, with the development of the position of the “drum major” whose function was to keep the soldiers marching in time.
As the instrumentation became fairly standard, more and more music was written for these bands to play. And most of this music was for marching. Tempos are within a certain range (mostly quick), phrases are clear, melodies stirring and carried, for the most part, by the flutes and clarinets. The march tradition is so deeply ingrained in the band world that many band directors wouldn’t dream of beginning a concert program with anything but a march.
Transcriptions or arrangements — A transcription is a note-for-note translation of a piece from one kind of instrumentation to another. In the case of band transcriptions, the vast majority of these are orchestra-to-band transcriptions. In these pieces, flutes, clarinets, and sometimes oboes, substitute for violins, and lower woodwinds for the lower strings. Solo instruments from these same choirs take the same roles as their orchestral counterparts, and the brass and percussion tend to have the same roles as they do in the original compositions.
A sizable number of orchestral works that have been transcribed for bands comes from the late Romantic period through the early part of the 20th century. From Dvorak to Shostakovich, symphonies and other orchestral works have provided grist for the transcriber’s mill. An important reason for this is that the winds in the original works (like Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony) had important roles and recasting this music for winds is not as radical a change as it would be in most, for example, Beethoven. Arrangements consist in taking pre-existing pieces of music (usually popular or Broadway tunes) and orchestrating them for the available forces (in this case, a band), usually as a medley, with newly-composed connecting material. There isn’t a rigorous line between transcriptions and arrangements, but it seems to me that the adding of this connecting material is a crucial distinction.
The third large category is that of original compositions.3 Igor Stravinsky, Gustav Holst, Arnold Schoenberg, and Paul Hindemith were among the many major early 20th-century composers who wrote music for band. As the century progressed, however, band composition came to be a specialty — people that wrote band music tended to write little else, and people who were not band composers never touched the medium.
Heads-up, listeners! WPRB‘s Classical Discoveries host Marvin Rosen has a couple nice treats through the day this Wednesday:
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 11:00am (EDT) Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde will present the world premiere broadcast of Morton Feldman‘s 21-minute ‘lost work’ Dance Suite [For Merle Marsicano] (1963), recorded by Glenn Freeman, percussion and Debora Petrina, piano-celeste. This is ahead of its September limited-edition release on OgreOgress Records. Originally composed for the dancer and choreographer Merle Marsicano, it was the longest work Feldman had composed to date and provides insight into his upcoming 1964 solo percussion work The King of Denmark. This very unique and haunting sound world, created with various keyboards, mallet instruments and exotic percussion instruments, can later be heard in several of Feldman’s epic length works of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Then from 12:00pm till 2:00pm (EDT), world-renowned Israeli cellist and new-music champion Maya Beiser — whose latest and most excellent CD release Provenanceis riding high in the charts – will join Marvin live in the WPRB Studio to chat and perform.
As always, NYC’ers can tune in directly to WPRB at 103.3 FM on the dial; everyone else can head to the WPRB website and click the “Listen Now” link on the left side of the page.
I’m still reveling in the memory of So Percussion’s appearance with the Orchestra of the League of Composers last week. And here’s a new recording of music of another sort altogether!
So’s latest collaboration is with Baltimore electronica duo and frequent Björkcollaborators Matmos. On Treasure State, a recording for the Cantaloupeimprint, they create a patchwork quilt of found object percussion, glitchtronica beats, synthetic signatures, and complex rhythmic structures. Despite the multifaceted nature of the proceedings, the underlying groove remains eminently danceable.
Here’s a taste of their work: a YouTube clip from their recent show at Le Poisson Rouge.
Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon CD
True, Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps is a watershed work. It serves as many a classical listener’s jumping off point when first exploring Twentieth Century repertoire. But can a work, no matter how seminal, have too many recordings? Can it get programmed so often on concerts that it loses its zing?
I have several recordings of the piece myself, but I’d begun to wonder in the past couple years whether the Rite was in danger of being overexposed. And I’m not the only one…
Enter young conductor Gustavo Dudamel and his even younger colleagues from the Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Their version of the Rite is viscerally powerful, rhythmically muscular, and impressively wide in its dynamic range. After getting a bit burnt out by the piece and its attendant folklore, I’m refreshed by hearing Dudamel’s rendition.
In a clever programming touch, the Stravinsky is paired with Silvestre Revueltas’ La Noche de los Mayas. Originally a 1939 film score, a concert suite of the work was only fashioned some two decades after Revueltas’ death. Latin dance signatures and melodic inflections are offset by virtuosic percussion writing, including some cadenzas that help to make evident the musical kinship between Rite of Spring and La Noche de los Mayas.
The sociocultural resonances are obvious as well. It might seem gruesome to pair works based on their common interest in human sacrifice, but Rite restores the vitality and bite of early modernism’s interest in still-earlier primitivism.