Archive for the “Orchestral” Category

David Schiff

While well-known for his writings about music, including books about Elliott Carter and George Gershwin, David Schiff is also a prolific and active composer. A professor at Reed College, he’s visiting New York this week to hear the American Composer’s Orchestra premiere a revamped version of Stomp, a piece that celebrates the music of James Brown. The concert, part of the Orchestra Underground series, also includes premieres by Margaret Brouwer and Kasumi, Rand Steiger, Fang Man, and Kati Agócs.

 Carey: Stomp was written in 1990 for Marin Alsop. How did you decide to write in homage to James Brown?

Schiff: I was asked for a concert opener and somewhere in the process I realized that one of my rhythmic motives was from James Brown’s “I Feel Good” (as recorded Live at the Apollo). I then re-conceived the piece as a tribute.

Carey: Have other rock or jazz legends figured in your music?

Schiff: There’s a big Motown section in my Scenes from Adolescence (1987) and my Slow Dance for orchestra (1989), written for the Oregon Symphony, has a lot of Charles Mingus in it, but I have also had the great honor of working with two living legends in jazz, Regina Carter and Marty Ehrlich.

Carey: What’s “re-lit” about this new version for the ACO?

Schiff: ACO asked me to reduce the size of the orchestra slightly to fit in Zankel Hall. This gave me the opportunity to re-score the entire piece. The wind section now is much better suited to the style of the piece: flute, E flat clarinet, two saxes, trumpet horn, trombone and tuba. But there are also a lot of musical changes everywhere. I think that in the years since I first wrote Stomp I have become more experienced with the style. The new version is much hotter than the original–even though the orchestra is smaller.

Carey: You’re currently at work on a book about Duke Ellington. Is that research infiltrating your composing at all?

Schiff: Ellington’s music influences everything I do. I go to school with his music every day and I find his melodies, rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation endlessly inspiring.

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I heard the world premiere of Absolute Ocean by Augusta Read Thomas in Houston Thursday night at Jones Hall.
1. Thomas spoke before the concert about her compositional process and specifically about Absolute Ocean. Her talk was engaging, direct and charming; Thomas included showing the audience some of the manuscript score, and explained how 15 seconds of music might take five hours to score by hand!
ART talking before the concert
2. Absolute Ocean is a work for Soprano, Harp and Orchestra in three movements from poetry by ee cummings commissioned by the Houston Symphony. The soloists, soprano Twyla Robinson and harpist Paula Page, performed with conviction and panache – putting the music first without extraneous movement or distractions. The texts were projected (not always coordinated, but hey, they were there!) on each side of the stage and added to the performance.
3. The opening “Graceful” movement was pointilistic and bright. Robinson pulled pitches from nowhere and was matched beautifully by Thomas’ instrumental colors and combinations. Page was often backed by four percussionists and divisi solo strings.
4. Perhaps the most charming of all was the second movement, “Playful, spry and jazzy.” Hans Graf was direct and precise with the orchestra, making it easy for the musicians to move in and out of the lines deftly. Again Robinson caught the feeling perfectly of cummings text and Thomas’ frolicsome and vivacious score. Page was purely color for the most part, but had a chance to shine with a cadenza between this movement and the finale. Evidently this cadenza was added later at Page’s request – which certainly went more to weigh the harp part…I would not call Absolute Ocean a double concerto, but rather an orchestral work for soprano with a prominent harp part. I had heard it referred to as a concerto – and would be disappointed as such – luckily it is such a wonderful work, the nomenclature is not important.
5. “Resonant and elegant” finished the 18 minute work and the short first half (the second half was Mahler’s Fourth Symphony) of the concert. The finale paints the words with creative combinations, and has a satisfying and direct ending. Absolute Ocean is a complete success for the Houston Symphony, and kudos to Graf for adding such a gorgeous work to the symphonic world.
There are two more performances of Absolute Ocean, Saturday night at 8pm and Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm. There is another pre-concert talk Saturday at 7:10pm open to all ticket holders. The 2009-10 season has just been announced for the HSO, and includes another Houston Symphony Commission, for chorus and orchestra by Kevin Puts.

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Wendy plays Ken’s viola concerto with BMOP! Hear harmonies analyzed from Wendy’s ankle bone!

Friday, November 14, 2008 / 8:00pm – 10:00pm

Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory

290 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA

The amazing violist Wendy Richman plays Ken Ueno’s concerto Talus, with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the incomparable Gil Rose.

Here’s the program:

Martin Boykan Concerto for Violin and Orchestra / Curtis Macomber, violin

Robert Erickson Fantasy for cello and orchestra / Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello

Arnold Schoenberg Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra / BMOP Principals

Elliott Schwartz Chamber Concerto VI: Mr. Jefferson / Charles Dimmick, violin 

Ken Ueno Talus, concerto for viola and orchestra / Wendy Richman, viola 

Tickets for this concert are available at the Jordan Hall Box Office. Call (617) 585-1260 or visit the box office at New England Conservatory (30 Gainsborough Street), Monday – Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 12pm-6pm. The box office opens at 6:30pm on the day of the concert. 

For an explanation of x-ray picture and how it relates to the piece:

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I heard the world premiere of Steven Stucky’s August 4, 1964 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and soloists with Jaap van Zweden last night in Dallas.

1. Not since the golden age of Handel oratorios has something like August 4, 1964 been so touching and well crafted; from the amazing libretto by Gene Scheer to the vocal soloist’s costumes, the evening was thought provoking and emotional. Supertitles brought clarity to the work, but with the diction of the soloists, it wasn’t needed but certainly appreciated. Still, small details like the italics for the Stephen Spender poem used in the score that hung on one of the mother’s wall after hearing about her son’s death, was brilliant to make a distinct between the rest of the libretto.

2. The mix between the Civil Rights and Vietnam War was just right – kudos for the balanced libretto from Gene Scheer, and for Stucky’s expressive score. Especially moving was the interaction of baritone Robert Orth and the chorus, often contrasting and supporting the storyline. Also the lyric lines of the female soloists, Laquita Mitchell and Kelley O’Connor, were not only performed exquistely, but had touching elements such as holding hands. (All four of the soloists were in period clothes of the 1960s, complete with hats for the women and slender ties for the men held by tie bars.) Staging had been thought about, complete with an oval office set, but was left undone without sufficient rehearsal time. Also, there was an idea to have an audio prelude or overture, with the actual White House tapes and news reports about this day in 1964. It was decided with the Meyerson’s acoustics, NOT to play it beforehand, but if you catch a pre-concert talk they play it there…perhaps it should be put online as well?

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How does it sound – a double concerto written by a musician weaned on Beethoven, salsa, Stravinsky and Bulgarian folk music? In short – like nothing else!

The Danish composer Anders Koppel (b. 1947) is himself. “My music consists of the life I have lived,” is as close as he gets to a definition of his style.

Anders Koppel grew up with music all day long. His father, Herman D. Koppel, was one of Denmark’s leading composers and pianists, and worked in the living room at home. Anders and his siblings were eye-witnesses to all aspects of the musical creative process and got to know about the smallest components of music. As adults all four became some of the most prominent Danish musicians.

The key words for Anders’ music are energy, collectivity and festivity. After one of the most versatile careers in Danish music, which still includes intense improvisations on Hammond organ, Anders Koppel is now concentrating on writing classical solo concertos. He has written over 20 since the mid-1990s, most recently also a couple of double concertos.

On two CDs from Dacapo you can hear Anders’ mixture of vital energy and classical forms. On one CD his son Benjamin is the soloist in his Saxophone Concertos 1 and 2, and on the other you can hear Anders Koppel’s double concertos: one is for violin and accordion with a definite touch of tango. The other is for saxophone and piano and drags Beethoven along to a nightclub. There are inserted improvisations that give the music freedom and personality – a good indication of the attitude of this congenial composer, who was one of Denmark’s best known hippies in the 1960s and is still a passionate representative of breadth of taste and a zest for life.

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Marvin Rosen’s Classical Discoveries program is a  special one this week involving, as it does, several members of the S21 community.  Marvin’s doing the first radio broadcast of OgreOgress’s world premiere recording of Alan Hovhaness’s Janabar, a 37-minute Sinfonia Concertante for Piano, Trumpet, Violin & Strings.  The recording features Christina Fong on violin, Paul Hersey on piano, and Michael Bowman on trumpet, with the Slovak Philharmonic, conducted by Rastislav Stur.

The piece is scheduled for Wednesday, July 18th during the 10am EST hour. The program, from Princeton, NJ, can be heard locally on 103.3 FM  or online.  Lots of details about the new recording here.

Also scheduled is the one hour Symphony No. 6, for chorus and orchestra by the Latvian composer, Imants Kalniņš in a recording produced by the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra. That piece will air beginning at around 8:00 am EST.
Marvin is also doing a series of special summer programs of avant-garde music titled Classical Discoveries goes Avant-Garde, which is devoted to more modern works than one normally hears on his Wednesday morning Classical Discoveries program.  Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde can be heard every Friday from 11:00 am until 3:00 pm on WPRB.

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Anonymous 4 with Darol Anger and Mike Marshall
Harmonia Mundi

Appalachian songs of faith and hope sung with passion and amazing grace by the gifted ladies of Anonymous 4.  Unlike the New England Presbyterian and Methodist “high church” affirmations of American Angels, these are the songs of tent revivals and roadside tabernacles, soul music for people like me who grew up in deep hollows, surrounded by ancient worn mountains.  The virtuoso fiddle, mandolin and guitar accompaniment of Mike Marshall and Darol Anger add exactly the right note of “high lonesome” authenticity and give Gloryland the joyous sense of music lived, not just performed.

Arvo Pärt: Da pacem
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Paul Hillier
Harmonia Mundi

Stunningly powerful sacred music from another isolated corner of the globe by Arvo Pärt, arguably the most popular  contemporary composer alive.  These shorter pieces range from the recent–Da pacem Domine, a quiet and powerful prayer for peace composed in 2004–to the early and glorious Magnificat, written in 1989.  Of special note is the world premiere recording of Pärt’s Two Slavonic Psalms (1997), his first acappella work using the “tintinnabuli” style.  The Eastonian Chamber Choir, under Paul Hillier’s direction, is magnificent.

Five Sonatas
Andrew Rangell, piano

 Despite a continuing battle with dystonia in one hand that sidelined him completely for seven years after 1991 and has since severely limited his performing career, Andrew Rangell has built a reputaton as one of the great living pianists.  His few public performances in recent years are legendary but he has maintained his reputation mainly through a series of extraordinary recordings like this one–his fifth for Bridge–and one of his absolute finest.  Here are five 20th century sonatas by four of the century’s leading composers–George Enescu, Igor Stravinsky, Leoš Janáček, and Ernesto Halffter, who accounts for two of the sonatas, dated nearly 60 years apart.  Rangell’s playing is so highly personal and unconventional, his interpretations so brilliant but quirky, that he is inevitably compared to Glenn Gould, although Rangell is stylistically more adventuresome. 

Declarations: Music Between the Wars
Pacifica Quartet Quartets by Paul Hindemith, Leoš Janáček and Ruth Crawford Seeger

Three treasures of the post-war years played with enormous skill and passion by one of the best of the current crop of string quartet players.  Janácek’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters,” written in 1928, the year of his death, is an astonishing final valentine to his longtime muse Kamila Stösslová, a woman half his age, with whom he had a fervent, but platonic, relationship. It is also one of the greatest of all string quartets and the Pacifica deliver a magnificent performance.  Paul Hindemith’s String Quartet No. 4 of 1922 is not played that much these days which is unfortunate because it, also, belongs in the pantheon of great string quartet music.  The unexpected delight here is Ruth Crawford Seeger’s String Quartet of 1931,  a spiky, dramatic gem that demonstrates that she was every bit as good as the boys and makes one wish she had been less of a dutiful wife.

Ives: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2
Blair String Quartet

Ives wrote his First Quartet when he was a mere 22 and it provides an early example of his unorthodox creative style and his generous borrowing of revival and gospel hymns as musical sources. The much more complex Second String Quartet was written over a long period–between 1907-1913–and reflects his contempt for the polite drawing room chamber music of a genteel age. Ives himself summarised the work’s program as: ‘four men – who converse, discuss, argue … fight, shake hands, shut up – then walk up the mountainside to view the firmament’. No girly-man, Charlie. Vanderbilt University’s Blair String Quartet play up a storm.

Jacob Druckman, Stephen Hartke, Augusta Read Thomas
New York Philharmonic conducted by Lorin Maazel
New World Records

 World-premiere recordings of orchestral works by three of the most acclaimed contemporary American composers.  I heard this performance of Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 3 (for countertenor, two tenor, and baritone soli with orchestra) on the original radio broadcast in September 2003 and was so haunted by it that I regularly checked over the next couple of years to see if it had been released on CD.  The recording holds up so well on second and third hearing that I’m almost reluctant to mention that it is a September 11 remembrance piece commissioned by Maazel because its transcends any particular moment in time.  The symphony features the voices of the Hilliard Ensemble with a setting of a poem by an 8th century Anglo-Saxon writer musing on the past splendor of an ancient Roman city now in ruins and is cast in one movement consisting of four, smaller sections.  It is a haunting and shattering work.

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