Archive for the “Chamber Music” Category

Sean Shepherd with the Claremont Trio. Photo: Michael Lutch

In the Kaleidoscope: the Music of Sean Shepherd

April 23, 2012

Music Mondays at Advent Lutheran Church

NEW YORK – Sean Shepherd’s music was featured in last week’s Music Monday concert at Advent Lutheran Church on New York’s Upper West Side. One of the fast rising stars of contemporary classical music’s thirty-something set, Shepherd has already been performed by the New York Philharmonic, on their Contact contemporary music series, and is currently in residence with both the orchestras Cleveland and Reno. Upcoming performances of his works are this summer at the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music and in the Fall with the National Symphony (both under Oliver Knussen). His publisher – a little house you may have heard of – Boosey and Hawkes.

Although the aforementioned accomplishments indicate that Shepherd is making a name for himself as a composer of orchestral music, the concert at Advent Lutheran demonstrated that he’s also creating compelling works for chamber forces. The centerpieces of the program were two oboe quartets – Mozart ‘s K. 370 paired with a new piece by Shepherd. In discussing the work in an onstage interview, the composer mentioned his undergraduate degree in bassoon performance as an entry point into composing for winds and as a reason for his selection of the Mozart work as a companion piece to his own music on the concert. Another inspiration surely was oboist Liang Wang (of the New York Philharmonic), whose superlative control in the Mozart buoyed a supple performance with many lovely dynamic shadings.

Shepherd’s Oboe Quartet (2011), which received its New York premiere, takes inspiration from the Mozart; but not in any direct or referential sort of way. Rather, the graceful balance of elements found in the earlier piece serves as a totemic point of reference, allowing Shepherd’s postmodern language to be imbued with large-scale formal clarity. Wang adopted a more mysterious tone quality here, befitting the arcing filigrees that characterized his more virtuosic passages. His collaborators, violinist Miranda Cuckson, violist Jessica Meyer, and cellist Julia Bruskin were also impressive in the work’s darting counterpoint and frequent tightly coordinated entrances.

Cuckson, joined by pianist Aaron Wunsch, gave a performance of Shepherd’s Dust (2008) that underscored its variegated moods, ranging from diaphanous Impressionist verticals to fierily angular melodic ricochets. Dust encompasses both Shepherd’s flair for the dramatic and his capacity for fetching lyricism.

The Claremont Trio was on hand to give the New York premiere of a brand new piano trio, written for them by Shepherd. Some of the signature elements found in the evening’s earlier pieces were here too: quickly rendered angular passages in rhythmic sync, wide contrasts of mood between more ruminative sections and those busily attired with nervous energy, and a varied harmonic palette that encompasses passages that, while not exactly tonal in orientation, provide a sense of lyricism and centricity, as well as places where the pitch language is replete with dissonance. But more heightened here than elsewhere on the concert was the sense of multiple time streams and a catalog of metric shifts that I presume may be architectural in design (I hope to get my hands on a score to verify this presumption). Regardless, it’s one of Shepherd’s most thoughtfully constructed works to date. The Claremont Trio plays it throughout with assuredness and enthusiasm. Collectively and as soloists, Shepherd has given them many places to shine: and shine they do. Dare we hope that a studio recording is forthcoming?

Incidentally, Music Mondays hosted a packed crowd for this event. While it doesn’t hurt that admission is free, whatever they are doing to get out the word is working!

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(from Left to Right) Line Upon Line Percussion's Matt Teodori, Cullen Faulk and Adam Bedell

This coming Friday, May 4, marks the beginning of Austin-based percussion trio Line Up Line’s Xenakis festival, dubbed “Perspective: Xenakis” (go here for ticketing information). While most fans of 20th/21st-century music have come to know Xenakis’ music as a staple of the percussion repertoire, the program for “Perspective: Xenakis” is surprisingly broad, featuring, among other chamber pieces, a complete performance of Xenakis’ string quartets by the renowned JACK Quartet.

I caught up with Matt Teodori, one of Line Upon Line’s founding members, and dug a little deeper into how this festival came about. As he explained to me, the impetus behind their programming began by looking at Xenakis’ entire chamber output and locating different paths the composer pursued in his career. Line Upon Line wanted to illustrate these paths as best as they could, and designed the festival’s three evenings of performances to account for the remarkable sonic diversity Xenakis’ output. According to Mr. Theodori, involving the JACK Quartet was, “a no-brainer”, because their reputation performing Xenakis’ music is, “extraordinary”, and the works they bring to the table enable Line Upon Line to showcase a wider range of Xenakis’ oeuvre than otherwise possible.

In addition to this weekend’s concerts, Line Upon Line is providing a couple non-musical experiences for concertgoers who are interested in learning more about Xenakis’ life and personality. Prior to each performance, the Line Upon Line is presenting the BBC’s 1991 documentary Something Rich and Strange: The Life and Music of Iannis Xenakis; and, following the concerts, Xenakis scholars Nouritza Matossian and Benoît Gibson will join that night’s performers in an open conversation with audience members. These opportunities are meant to, “illuminate [Xenakis] as a man and composer”, and should be a worthwhile supplement to the festival’s musical offerings.

Friday and Saturday’s evening concerts begin at 7:30 PM, with Saturday’s afternoon performance running from 1-2 PM. For those who are interested, the documentary runs about 50 minutes and is shown one hour before each concert. The events are housed at Austin’s Floating Box House, St. Elias Eastern Orthodox Church and Angelou residence, respectively. The first two performances feature the members of Line Upon Line Percussion, with the JACK Quartet closing the festival on Saturday evening with a presentation of Xenakis’ complete quartets.

If you are interested in learning more about the “Perspective: Xenakis” festival, visit Line Upon Line’s website.

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Cutting Edge Concerts
presents
Great Noise Ensemble
Conducted by Armando Bayolo
Guest soloist, Cornelius Dufallo
Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space, NY
April 16, 2012

DC’s Great Noise Ensemble made a vibrant and yet intimate New York debut at Symphony Space. The contemporary music ensemble, performing in the smaller room known as Leonard Nimoy Thalia, and the ensemble not having its full lineup on this occasion, presented a night of works for varied paired-down ensemble setups. Each of these selections was presented by composer Victoria Bond, who acted as emcee and conducted interviews with each composer of the program’s works that was present (Save for the absent Marc Mellits, who conductor/composer Armando Bayolo spoke for–Bayolo also interviewed Bond for her piece).

The most memorable moments during the evening were the world premiere of Cornelius Dufallo’s short violin (with pickup and loops) concerto Paranoid Symmetry. Written for Great Noise and inspired by a real story involving someone in his family, the piece is Neil’s meditation on one’s sanity and examines human conditions that range between paranoid delusion, psychosis and love. The 15-minute piece displays great dynamics in both virtuosity and versatility, going from the 1st movement’s post-modern layered drone, to a classical arpeggio during the cadenza, to blues-oriented phrases during the coda.

Marc Mellits’ Five Machines, originally written for the Bang On a Can All-Stars, was in equally capable hands on this occasion. Mellits’ work, with some superb percussion and wild time signatures, reminded me that there was a reason that progressive rock had to happen at some point in history.
I even had gooseflesh from the duet between the cello and bass violin.

The Way of Ideas, composed by Baltimore’s Alexandra Gardner, was an ornate piece reminiscent of her own Electric Blue Pantsuit, sans the electric loops and featuring more players, and is reflective of the process from a composer’s point of view.

Victoria Bond’s Coqui was another throwback to classics for me for its violin yelps reminiscent of Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto, except here they represent the voice of the Puerto Rican tree frogs.

Another favorite piece was Carlos Carrillo’s De la brevedad de la vida (The Brevity of Life), a chilling meditation kicked off perfectly with a wavering clarinet.

The dry, intimate sound of the Thalia seemed to serve these pieces and their settings fittingly. Great Noise made a great New York debut, and I hope to hear their brand of noise many more times in these parts.

Great Noise Ensemble.com

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This weekend, the Austin New Music Co-op celebrates its 10th year of wild music with two nights of concerts. The programs will function partly as a retrospective on those years, reprising some of their most ambitious and unique projects, like last year’s massive US premiere of Cornelius Cardew’s “The Great Learning” (excerpted now with the Texas Choral Consort). Other group milestones on the program include:

Two of Morton Feldman‘s chamber works “de Kooning” and “The Viola in my Life”
Alvin Lucier‘s “Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas” for vibraphone and sine waves, as well as an installation in the lobby for “unattended percussion” and sine waves.
Excerpts of Earle Brown‘s “Folio” performed by chamber ensemble
Arnold Dreyblatt‘s 2007 “Kinship Collapse” commissioned by NMC

The New Music Co-op is also a cohort of composers, and a selection of their pieces will also appear on the programs:

Brent Fariss‘ “I apologize Julius, for judging you” for amplified chamber ensemble.
Nick Hennies‘ “Second skin with lungs” for snare drums
Keith Manlove‘s “Becoming Machine II” for voice and electronics
Bill Meadows‘ “Loose Atoms” for wacom graphics tablet.
Travis Weller‘s “Toward and away from the point of balance” for violin, viola, cello and custom instrument “the owl”

Here’s to many happy returns.

WHERE/WHEN/HOW:
Friday March 23rd 8pm &
Saturday March 24th 7pm

At the MACC (600 River St, Austin TX)
Advance tickets available now at End of an Ear (http://endofanear.com)
$17 one night / $25 both nights
Student and advance tickets discounted to $15 one night / $20 both nights

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Our friends (and the performers on the last Sequenza21 concert) ACME appeared at All Tomorrow’s Parties last week. Quite a coup for the indie classical group, which is enjoying increased crossover success. Below check out video footage of them performing Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” live at ATP.

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Composer Bernhard Lang

Some of the arts organizations in New York are venerable establishments. Others may be relative newcomers, but take little time to install themselves as intrinsic parts of the music scene. It has only been here since the early aughts, but many of New York’s performers and concertgoers would have a hard time envisioning musical life here without the countless collaborations and imaginative programs brought to fruition at the modest-sized, yet mightily influential, Austrian Cultural Forum.

ACF begins its tenth season with a celebration: a concert this Friday at Bohemian Hall: a more commodious space. At Bohemian Hall, they have an enlightened take on the acquisition of celebratory libations: according to the press release, ”Concert-goers can buy a glass of wine, liquor or Czech beer to enjoy at the performance. The bar at Bohemian National Hall will be open before, during and after the concert.”  Beat that Avery Fisher Hall!

Bernhard Gander

Appropriately enough, the event spotlights three Austrian composers: Clemens Gadenstätter, Bernhard Gander, and Bernhard Lang. The program, which includes two US premieres, will be performed by the Talea Ensemble with guest vocalist Donatienne Michel-Dansac. Both Lang and Gander will be in attendance. They will join Columbia University professor George Lewis for an onstage discussion. And did we mention that this event, as well as the nine subsequent programs on ACF’s season, are free of charge?

For those of you unfamiliar with soprano Donatienne Michel-Dansac, she’s a highly regarded performer of European composers from the second moderns school. Check out the video clip below of her performing an excerpt of a work by Georges Aperghis.

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Event Details

February 17, 8:00 pm: Talea Ensemble with soprano Donatienne Michel-Dansac

Bohemian National Hall at Czech Center, 321 E 73rd St., New York, NY

Program: Works by Clemens Gadenstätter (US premiere), Bernhard Gander (US premiere) and Bernhard Lang

Clemens Gadenstätter

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Vicky Chow performing with Ekmeles at the Avant Festival about a year ago; 2/12/11 (Photo courtesy of Avant Media)

Celebrating John Cage at 100
Avant Music Festival
The Wild Project, NYC
February 11th, 2012

The Wild Project (a tiny venue that is kind of like The Stone with bleachers) is where the Avant Music Festival is going on from now (it started on Fri, Feb 10) until Saturday the 18th. This is the third annual festival, and on this particular night, I witnessed a program that I never dreamed I would have been able to sit through when I was younger and still shunning the works of modern composers like David Del Tredici. An entire program of John Cage in person seems like a lot to swallow, but it seemed to have something for everyone. Read the rest of this entry »

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Washington, D.C. readers may have noticed that the new music scene in the District has been exploding lately.  This week brings another significant event when New York’s Cygnus Ensemble makes its Washington debut at the Library of Congress.  The concert, part of a mini-residence by Cygnus at the Library, is presented as a tribute to legendary violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler.  Rarely heard music by Kreisler from the Library’s Fritz Kreisler collection will be performed, featuring guest violinist Miranda Cuckson on Kreisler’s own Guarneri del Gesù violin.

Most notably for new music fans, the concert features the world premiere of Harold Meltzer’s Kreisleriana, for violin and piano, commissioned by the Library of Congress’ McKim fund.  The concert also features Meltzer’s Pulitzer-Prize finalist work Brion, commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for the Cygnus Ensemble.

The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium.  There will be a pre-concert discussion by Mr. Meltzer and Cygnus founder William Anderson at 6:15 p.m. at the Library’s Whitall Pavillion.  No tickets are required for the pre-concert talk.  Tickets to the main concert are free but require reservations and may be obtained by contacting Ticketmaster online or at 202.397.7328.

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Philip Glass is 75 today. The American Composers Orchestra gives the American premiere of his 9th Symphony at Carnegie Hall tonight.

My interview with Dennis Russell Davies, who is conducting the ACO concert, is up on Musical America’s website (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.

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Steve Reich and Music for 18 Musicians comes to Disney Hall on Jan. 17

For the LA Weekly, I compiled a list of what appear to be the best classical music events next year in Los Angeles. (Of course, the 2012-13 seasons haven’t been announced yet, so there will likely be events in the fall that I’ll be crazy about, and REDCAT had not published its Winter/Spring concert schedule by the time I turned my copy into my editors)

Just about all my picks involve 20th/21st century music (there’s lots of pre-20th century music at Ojai, and although Mahler may not seem 20th-century to many classical music mavens, over half of his output was composed after 1901).  Here they are, in order of Most-To-Least Amount of Regret One Will Have For Not Attending The Event:

1) Steve Reich played by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and red fish blue fish, Jan. 17

2) The LA Philharmonic’s Mahler Project, but in particular the rarely performed 8th Symphony

3) The Ojai Festival–lots of new music, but especially the West Coast premiere of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit on June 7

4) Jacaranda’s March 17-18 concerts, featuring the LA premiere of Christopher Rouse’s astounding String Quartet no. 3, played by the group which commissioned it, the Calder Quartet

5) Violinist Shalini Vijayan will perform Cage’s One6 and One10 with musical sculptures by Mineko Grimmer (which Cage approved as appropriate companion works to his music), as the opening concert of Cage 2012

My story, along with lots of links and videos, can be read here.

Some observations and amplifications I couldn’t squeeze into a 500-word story:

  • REDCAT is doing a 2-night Cage Festival, including performances of 103 and Fifty-Eight on the first evening. But from what I can see right now, that and Southwest Chamber Music’s Cage 2012 are the only big birthday celebrations going on for Cage in his native city. Green Umbrella will present Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano, performed by Gloria Cheng and conducted by John Adams; the other works scheduled for that program include Stockhausen’s Tierkreis (the “Carnival of Venice” for new music groups) and a new work from Oscar Bettison which is more likely to be in Cage’s spirit than Stockhausen’s goofy Zodiac pieces.
  • The all-Andriessen Green Umbrella concert looks very promising–2 multimedia works, (the lurid Anais Nin and Life) plus the US premiere of La Giro. It’s worth attending just to see the riveting Cristina Zavalloni, who’s become one of Andriessen’s chosen interpreters
  • I feel sorry for all the other composers on the above Jacaranda program (Richard Rodney Bennett, William Schuman, and Leon Kirchner)–memory of their music will be completely obliterated by Rouse’s compositional juggernaut, his Third Quartet. There’s a video of the Calder Quartet ripping it up (the West Coast premiere) here. The Calder will also play Rouse’s Second Quartet, but the ending to that work has always struck me as contrived
  • Jacaranda has 2 other exciting programs coming up: the American premiere of Terry Riley’s Olson III, a work from the time of In C, and a January concert of chamber music by Dutilleux, Takemitsu, Ung, and Saariaho. It was a real coin toss for me to choose between Olson III or Rouse Third Quartet, but I ultimately went with Rouse because the Calder knows the work cold, and a successful performance is certain (unlike Olson III)
  • In addition to Inuksuit, JLA’s Red Arc/Blue Veil and the two-piano-plus-tape version of Dark Waves will be heard at Ojai. Marc-Andre Hamelin, a pianist I would not associate with JLA’s music, will be performing in the latter 2 pieces–I look forward to hearing what he does with the piece. I imagine he’ll get authoritative guidance from Steve Schick, his partner in Red Arc, and from JLA himself. Amusingly, John Adams’ Shaker Loops will be on the same program as Dark Waves. I wonder how many inattentive audience members will think they’re works by the same composer? Much more up Hamelin’s alley: Ives’ Concord Sonata and Berg’s Four Songs, op. 2, and following his performance of Dark Waves with Leif Oves Andsnes, the pianists will play Stravinsky’s 4-hand arrangement of Rite of Spring (done on 2 pianos, because the hand crossings and elbow bumpings are ridiculous)

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