Archive for the “Recordings” Category
Posted by Chris Becker in CDs, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, Houston, Improv, jazz, Recordings, Review, tags: free improvisation, Free Jazz, Richard Cholakian, Robert Boston, Seth Paynter, The Core Trio, Thomas Helton
The Core Trio (photo by Jonathan Jindra)
(Houston, TX) The music of the Houston ensemble The Core Trio, featuring Richard Cholakian on drums, Thomas Helton on upright bass, and Seth Paynter on saxophones, is an utterly convincing amalgamation of jazz, free improvisation, heavy metal, electronic sounds, and music from across the Asian continent. Their repertoire includes compositions by Helton and Paynter, as well as arrangements of songs by Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio. They often invite guest musicians to join them in performance, including trumpet players Kris Tiner and Tim Hagans, myself on laptop, and pianist Robert Boston. This Friday, Boston, saxophonists Warren Sneed and Martin Langford, and former Houston Symphony clarinetist Richard Nunemaker will perform with The Core Trio at their CD release party at Houston’s the long-standing jazz venue Cezanne’s.
The Core Trio’s new self-titled CD is welcome document of the high level of musicianship and inventive interplay that defines their sound. The album consists of two extended and completely improvised performances, skillfully captured by engineer Ryan Edwards. Boston, a former Houston musician now based in New York City, joins the trio on the new CD.
On both pieces, the classically-trained Boston casts the music into a further relief. His presence opens up the ensemble sound creating the space each player needs to be heard and to play with conviction.
“When I freely improvise with players on this level, something special happens,” says Boston. “No one feels any pressure to play in any particular style. Everyone is listening and responding to what is happening in the moment. When it’s good, the thoughts don’t get in the way, but there is a logic present that follows its own momentum.”
“It’s very similar to a speaking conversation with someone,” says Cholakian of his experience playing with The Core Trio. “If they (Boston, Helton, Paynter) choose a topic, I will converse with them on that topic. If they don’t, I will converse with them on a topic I choose, the bottom line being, what is my point and will it be heard?”
Cholakian is one of the most creative and dynamic drummers I’ve ever heard. He’s always listening, contrasting or complimenting the contributions of his band mates, and often steering the music into unexpected and unpredictable territory. Eleven or so minutes into the new CD’s second track, where the trio plus Boston explore a textural, musique concrète-like approach to ensemble playing, Cholakian brings the music to a crescendo with an almost primal-sounding drum solo that stops suddenly and startlingly at one point for six seconds of dead silence before returning to its bruising ritual.
Paynter possesses a truly original and honest voice on his instruments, which includes soprano and tenor saxophone, EWI, and lots of gongs. The technique and versatility that makes a great jazz and improvising musician is all there but somehow, his playing never strays into what Helton calls “the trappings of licks or patterns.”
“By learning to play with a defined structure, one can then learn how to venture away to new ones,” says Paynter when describing playing a tune verses freely improvising. “Everything has structure no matter how abstract.”
“As soon as I play a sound, that is the foundation for what comes next regardless if I’m playing a tune or not. Its basic function is structural. I can vary it slightly by subtly changing a rhythm or drastically with a timbre or emotional change. And those are just a couple examples of the variables one can employ.”
Helton concurs that being able to play in a traditional manner will allow a musician to be more musical in their free playing. But “tradition” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “jazz.”
“I get something different out of all the different styles I play,” says Helton, who also plays in the Houston metal band Echo Temple. “Whether it is jazz, classical, metal, country, funk, or whatever, there is some payoff personally, spiritually or musically.”
“With The Core Trio,” says Helton, “I get the most satisfaction, since there is a lot of passion, thought, aggression, finesse, communication. It is sort of the sum of all the things I love in music.”
The Core Trio with special guest Robert Boston perform Friday, February 8, 9 p.m. at Cezanne’s, 4100 Montrose Blvd. $10 cover.
The Core Trio’s self-titled CD is available for purchase Febraury 8 from Thomas Helton’s website, CD Baby, and iTunes.
Posted by Chris Becker in Classical Music, Composers, Contemporary Classical, Houston, Piano, Recordings, Review, tags: Expansions, Frozen Heat, Kris Becker, Nu-Classical, Rice University
Pianist and composer Kris Becker (photo by Bhavin)
(Houston, TX) “Ah! Expression!” That’s the first thing that came out of my mouth when I cued up and heard “Elegy,” the poignant, yet unsentimental first track on Houston-based pianist and composer Kris Becker’s
new recording Expansions
. Becker is a classically trained pianist and composer with a passion for both 19th century and prog-rock piano and a compositional vision well served by his formidable technique. Like the song says, “Oh, yeah! The boy can play!” But it’s the range of expression in Becker’s playing and writing that ultimately resonates with me.
Real quick, let me explain the name thing. Kris and I are not related, although we are definitely brothers in spirit. We’ve even performed on the same bill, albeit separately, me on laptop cuing and mixing electronic and sample-based sounds to accompany avant-garde films, and Kris on Nord playing both what he calls his “nu-classical” repertoire and rock influenced songs. When I first relocated the Houston, the local press managed to mix the two of us up at least once (my photo appeared above Kris’ name in an ad for a gig with his rock band Frozen Heat). So just to clarify, it’s Kris with a “K,” okay?
Okay. Now back to the music. Expansions features 13 tracks, 11 of them compositions for solo piano. “Covenant” is a feisty dialogue for clarinet (played by Sarunas Jankauskas) and piano, and the title track is a seven and a half minute theme and variations for solo flute beautifully performed by Victoria Hauk.
There’s no question Becker’s formidable (that word again) piano skills have everything to do with generating the compositional material he has shaped into an award-winning, body of work. But there’s heart and soul in the man’s music, not just technical fireworks. His compositions, especially the compositions on Expansions, are intensely programmatic and poetic, a fact one can gather not only from Becker’s liner notes but the expressive and dynamic directions you see in his scores (a couple of my favorites include “scintillating and terrifying” and “twisted”).
Expansions closes with a four-movement monster of a of a piece “Piano Sonata No. 1,” which is dedicated to Becker’s Rice-era piano instructor Robert Roux. Becker appreciated my description of this piece as a “monster,” and told me that in fact that’s how the piece struck him after he first heard it back in its entirety. Several tempo and meter changes, as well as the breadth of expressive demands on the player, sets the piece firmly outside of the camp of this generation’s latest batch of post-minimialists. It’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. At times, especially in the first movement, I’m reminded of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, though Becker is quick to name check Keith Emerson as he is Chopin and of the usual 19th century long hairs. “Piano Sonata No. 1″ deservedly won the 2012 National Federation of Music Clubs Emil and Ruth Beyer Composition Award.
Like any good romantic, Becker is determined to realize his music, his way, maintaining what a friend of mine calls “aesthetic ownership” of a very personal musical vision. Sure, Becker can tear up Mozart and Beethoven, but why play it safe? His drive compels him to a road a little less traveled. It’s a hard road, but many classically trained musicians these days are similarly deciding to forgo the traditional and instead cut their own artistic path. So Kris with a “K” is in good company!
Becker’s Expansions is available now on CD Baby and iTunes.
…and the results were not good… One of the brightest small labels for new music in the last 4-5 years has been NYC’s New Amsterdam Records. Founded by Judd Greenstein, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and William Brittelle, its catalog is full of some of the best young, fresh composers working today, performed by a bevy of equally fresh & talented players. This label has quickly risen to the forefront in capturing and disseminating the newer American scene.
All of that hard work has unfortunately just gotten a lot harder; Their offices are in the Redhook area of New York City, and weren’t dealt kindly with by Hurricane Sandy. As Sarah Kirkland Snider writes on her Facebook page:
Our new New Amsterdam HQ in Red Hook was totaled by Sandy. The water mark is over 4′. We had moved much of the office to higher ground prior to the storm, and elevated everything else, but we still lost all files/paperwork, a hard drive, some furniture, vintage synthesizers and music gear, and most of our CD stock. Our landlord does not have flooding insurance, and our attempts to acquire it before the storm were denied. There is some talk of FEMA helping uninsured Red Hook businesses, but that seems like a long shot. Stunned and heavy-hearted we are.
Truly a catastrophe for a small company like this… Clean-up and picking through has begun, but they’re certainly going to need a lot of help to get back to a point where they can continue the outstanding service they’ve done to new music listeners, performers and composers alike. Nothing is set yet, but at the very least you can “like” their Facebook page to show your support, and to stay aware of any coming requests for help, donations, or benefits.
New Amsterdam is truly a treasure, and we’re absolutely rooting for a comeback.
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Long a fixture here at S21 until just a few years ago, composer David Salvage has been busy teaching at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Back in 2010 he conceived the idea of keeping his compositional chops up by starting an open-ended series of piano pieces, called Albumleaves. At the same time David started a blog as an integral part to showcase them, in which each new piece features not only the score but a recorded performance as well. The series is now pushing 90 pieces (!), and some of them have just come out on a recording on the Navona label. It’s an elegant, smartly realized project, and I asked David to give a little recap and backgroud on how it came to be, and what it’s meant to him:
I wanted to write a lot of music; I wanted to play the piano more. And I wanted to write a blog. I figured out how to put these desires together in January 2010, when the idea occurred to me to start a blog that would consist of posts that would be musical instead of verbal, and that would nonetheless reflect the offhand, freewheeling, and autobiographical character of conventional blogs. And now that I had a piano in my home for the first time in twelve years, I was especially fired up to get the project going. The next month, I came up with the title Albumleaves, and, in late March, I began composing the “leaves,” as I thought I’d nickname the posts.
I thought that in order to maintain the blog-like nature of the site the posts would have to be written quickly and manifest a high degree of musical variety. Initially, my goal was to write three leaves every two weeks. While I was only able to maintain this rate for a month or two, the pace of composition remains rapid: in the 139 weeks since beginning Albumleaves, I have completed 89 leaves, which is more than one leaf every two weeks (and there is both an 81a and 81b). As for musical variety, click here, here, and here to hear for yourself. By maintaining variety, the blog remains casual, surprising, and attractive to listeners—and full of fresh challenges for me.
The original vision for the site always went beyond original composition. Since 2010, I’ve been posting recordings of music by other composers—like Federico Mompou—and quotations about music by authors like E.M. Cioran. More recently, I’ve started excerpting from free improvisations that I record and posting them as improvisation fragments.
Over time, I’ve grown more confident about the project’s integrity. Since I listen to such a wide variety of classical music (from Notre Dame organum to twentieth-century atonality with few gaps in between), I’m not concerned by my reluctance to develop a personal style of composition. Writing good pieces is challenge enough for me at the moment; if they do not synthesize their disparate influences into a unique musical voice, I’m not going to worry about it. Nor do I worry anymore about inconsistency of quality: even the greatest composers (and authors and painters and everyone else) produced works of varying quality. And I don’t see how writing quickly or slowly has anything to do with consistency: some of the strongest leaves were written in two hours; some of the weakest took weeks. (And even though it took him much less time to write, Brahms’s second symphony is just as good as his first.) For now, the quality of my playing troubles me more than the quality of my composing: I admit to posting a few sloppy recordings. (Here’s one.) But hopefully the music always comes through anyway.
I am proud of the nine lucky leaves that made it to market on the new CD Lock and Key; they are representative of the site, and I thank Navona Records for their enthusiasm and interest. I also would like to thank the 2,404 unique visitors from 75 countries who have visited the site to listen—though surely it’s not for purely musical reasons that the most popular leaf remains “Manatee.” Happy listening, everyone, and see you at Albumleaf 100!
Posted by Jonathan Lakeland in Chamber Music, Choral Music, Classical Music, Composers, Conductors, Contemporary Classical, Criticism, Orchestral, Orchestras, Percussion, Performers, Recordings, Review, tags: bevely morgan, buffalo, carl ruggles, judith blegen, michael tilson thomas, philharmonic, ruggles, speculum musicae, tilson thomas
If you were having a conversation with fellow music lovers about the great American composers, Carl Ruggles would not be the first person to come to mind. The “Great American Composer” honor is most often bestowed upon Copland, Ives, or even depending on the company you are with, Bernstein.
Courtesy of SONY Music & Other Minds Records
This is not to say, however, that a popularity contest equates to greatness. An equally adept and creative composer, Carl Ruggles produced a small yet intriguing output of pieces for a variety of ensemble types. It is only fair, then, that when recording the complete works of a lesser known composer such as Ruggles, top-tier musicians should be brought in to lead the process. This recording does not disappoint, and the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the leadership of Michael Tilson Thomas, have produced an earnest and committed recording of Ruggles’ entire catalogue.
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Our friends at RCRDLBL
are sharing an MP3 of “Lots” by indie classical composer Dan Deacon
Dan Deacon’s new full length recording, America, is out August 28th via Domino Records.
Ittai Shapira's new CD, released this month, includes his new violin concerto, to be premiered on April 20th.
Ittai Shapira is best known as an internationally acclaimed soloist with an impressive list of collaborators that includes some of the world’s finest conductors and orchestras. He is a champion of contemporary music, having premiered concertos by many of todays most renowned composers, including Kenji Bunch, Shulamit Ran, Theodore Wiprud, Avner Dorman, and Dave Heath.
While still a violin student years ago, Shapira studied analysis and composition with Mark Kopytman. He loved composing, but his performance career soon grew too busy to allow for any other callings, so he kept his creative spark alive by writing his own cadenzas to the standard violin concertos. Over the last decade, his many collaborations with composers have reconnected him to the creative process and rekindled his early passion for writing music. Since 2008 he has written two violin concertos, as well as a series of fiendishly challenging solo violin caprices.This month the British label Champs Hill Records released a CD of Shapira’s two violin concertos, Concierto Latino (2008) and The Old Man And The Sea (2011), as well as his Caprice Habanera (2010).
The most recent of these works, The Old Man And The Sea, is an exciting, larger-than-life piece in the grand tradition of the virtuoso violin concerto. Inspired by Earnest Hemingway’s classic novel of the same title, the work is full of soulful melodies, dramatic orchestration, and dazzling technical passages, all delivered on the recording with Shapira’s smooth tone and powerhouse virtuosity. While the piece keeps a close programmatic relationship to the novel, it also stands on it’s own as a compelling work, and a substantial contribution to the violin repertoire. The recorded performance is with Neil Thomson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
In a recent conversation, I asked Shapira about his compositional process for The Old Man And The Sea. He explained that the idea first came to him while on a concert tour in 2008, when he found himself based in Key West, Florida, for several days. Not surprisingly, he was struck by the beauty of the locale, but he also became very interested in the local fishing culture. Shortly after this trip, when the BP oil spill devastated the whole region, Shapira felt moved to write a piece that was in some way related to the lives of the Gulf Stream fishermen. As a long time fan of Hemingway, it did not take him long to connect his new inspiration to Hemingway’s great novel, and when Molloy College commissioned him to write a piece for the “Innovative Classics Series” all the pieces fell into place.
As with his first concerto, Shapira prepared for this new endeavour by composing some solo pieces, in this case caprices with Carribean and Cuban stylistic elements. Describing his process, Shapira says,” In every piece I write there is an ‘outside influence’ because that is how I learn; this leads to different harmonic languages, different sound worlds, and consequently different bow techniques. The caprices that I write are always studies towards these new styles.” The solo piece included on this disc, Caprice Habanera, was indeed a study for The Old Man And The Sea.
Shapira will be performing the world premiere of his new concerto with the chamber orchestra known as The Knights on April 20 at Molloy College in Long Island. The combination of Shapira’s playing, his music, and this hot-shot orchestra should make the event one of the most exciting of the month.
Ittai Shapira rehearses The Old Man And The Sea with Neil Thomson and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra:
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I recently gave an interview about our activities at Sequenza 21 to the blog A Closer Listen. I also curated a mix for them, consisting of selections by composers who participated in our 2011 concert.
You can read the article and hear the mix here.
- Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova Photo:Alex Fedorov
Pianists Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova are very much their own acts. But they became close partners when they debuted their Arensky CD and, in the process, founded their own record label, LP Classics, Inc. Since then, they’ve performed as a duo, as they will on May 6 at Get Classical’s inaugural concert series event at New York’s Rose Bar.But their friendship began much earlier, back in 1999, when the two pianists were freshmen at Julliard.
They instantly connected over their shared Russian heritage, but on top of that, their personalities just clicked. “Of course, we have had our share of fights, regular stuff that happens when two egos are involved…and we have our own lives,” volunteers Lavrova, during our animated interview over dinner with Primakov. “But we love each other.”
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
Married to photographer Alex Fedorov, Lavrova often brings her husband on board withher projects.Fedorov is responsible for all of the photographic work featured on the Arensky CD, which Lavrova and Primakov recorded to great reviews. James Harrington of the American Record Guide wrote that the two “capture the essence of each suite, and through their considerable talents, share with us some of the most enjoyable almost unknown music I have heard in quite a while.”
Artistic collaboration was a natural extension of Lavrova and Primakov’s friendship, says Primakov. “We do think alike; there is a spiritual connection and a feeling for the music that just got more serious over the last two years, when we decided to get involved with recording the Arensky’s suites,” he says, reminiscent of their past years spent under teacher Jerome Lowenthal at Juilliard’s chamber music program (where they spend more time partying then practicing, they admit). “We were both excited, when we heard this music and started to perform it in concert to great reviews and decided we needed to record this interesting, yet virtually unknown program,” says Primakov. “We had two options—either pitch it to an established label or try to do it on our own. As we were thinking about this music, we both realized we wanted to have more control of the process, and it became a project that started so many things for the both of us. It also brought us even closer.”
While Primakov has already catalogued a number of recordings with Bridge Records, the Arensky CD was a first for Lavrova, who spends most of her time, when not performing, managing her own music school program. As the director of Music School of New York City, she teaches pianists of all levels and ages, applying her passion for music education that she inherited from her own teacher, Zalina Gurevich, who, many years ago, recognized their shared enthusiasm for teaching and kids in a young Lavrova. “She allowed me to sit in her lessons and gradually take over teaching some of her kids,” says Lavrova. “At first she would monitor the lessons and then give me feedback. It made all the difference in my learning how to become a good teacher.”
A very important factor in Lavrova’s teacher selections is a teacher’s performance experience. “That inspires students in a way nothing else can,” she says. One of her favorite teachers at her school, no wonder then, is Primakov, even though, between his busy performance and recording schedules, he can only take on a limited number of students.
But despite both of the artists’ busy daily routines, they are committed to and infatuated with their newest project, LP Classics. From the initial excitement over finding the pianos and dealing with tuners and sound engineers, they are both planning on fully integrating the record label into their careers. “We had turned to our friend Sarah Faust of Faust-Harrison Pianos to obtain two matching pianos for the recording.
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
She had a new Yamaha CFX in her vast studio, which we loved, and then put us in touch with Bonnie Barrett, the director of Yamaha Artist Services, to find another. We tried it, and it sounded great, and this developed our future relationship with Yamaha.” Primakov and Lavrova are now Yamaha artists. Their Arensky CD was the first ever recording on two Yamaha CFX model pianos, and their CD release performance was live-streamed from the Yamaha showroom. Right now, the two are working on a lot of four-hand, one-instrument repertoire—an easier and more economical setup—exploring less-played pieces such as the Czerny Sonatas and works by Milhaud and John Corigliano, which they plan to perform at Get Classical at the Rose Bar.
In the future, Primakov says, they want to open up their record label to young artists looking to produce resume-building and career-launching first CDs. They also want to unbury historical, undiscovered past recordings of great, established performers, introducing old, forgotten gems to the public, as they did with Vera Gornostaeva Vol. 1 Chopin, a historical recording found through archived tapes in a Moscow library. “We obtained the rights and re-mastered the tapes of this amazing recording,” explains Primakov. “Another hidden secret we are now releasing is our teacher Jerry Lowenthal’s playing, which we both grew up on, and there are so many more to come.”
Very important to their mission is their ability to rely on efficient and passionate
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
music professionals involved in the recording process. “You are so exposed as a performer, you have to be able to trust the people you work with to make you look your best,” says Primakov. “We have built a wonderful little family that includes Charlie Post, who became sound engineer, editor and producer in one, and technician Terry Flynn, who can achieve the most amazing results in the short in-betweens of the recording process. As soon as he hears just a slight irregularity in tone voicing, he informs the sound engineer and matches up everything in the matter of minutes while we step out for a glass of water.”
Also important to Primakov and Lavrova’s goals is the opportunity to constantly engage with new audiences, which they will have the opportunity to do this May 6, when the two perform excerpts of their four-hand program as well as some solo repertoire at Get Classical’s music series launch at the trendy Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar in New York. Primakov and Lavrova will be two of four pianists presenting a program geared to new and old classical fans, including GetClassical.org readers, by bringing 19th-century salon-type performances to the 21st-century lounge. Hosted by the Gramercy Park Hotel and myself, your devoted GetClassical.org blogger, Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring classical music to audiences that might prefer listening in the comfort of an armchair, aperitif in hand, to the formality of the concert hall. The series will give listeners the chance to meet artists in the intimacy of the cool Rose Bar and hear them talk about their music and lives as concert artists. And it is exactly this exchange that performers like Primakov and Lavrova, as well as David Aladashvili and Marika Bournaki, the two performers featured alongside them in the evening’s program, are looking forward to—to play and relate to both staying fans and interested spectators in a personal way. “We always want to test drive our program with new audiences. It’s one of the most exciting things one can do as a performer,” Primakov says.
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We had just seen John Cage recite his mesostic/theater work, James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet. My composition teacher, a tenured faculty member who had won many awards including a Pulitzer Prize, told us, “Everyone should see John Cage once.”
And then, as if to underscore the idea that one only needed to see Cage once, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer added, “But of course, his ideas are much more important than his music.” At that time (the early 1980s), there weren’t many recordings of Cage’s music available, and I rarely encountered any performances of his music, so my professor’s utterance was a reasonable statement for many.
Three decades later, there are 279 recordings featuring one or more works by John Cage available on arkivmusic.com; my old teacher has under 30 listed. It isn’t just that Cage is the most-recorded member of the postwar avant-garde—he has more recordings than plenty of conservative composers. Here’s a list of the top 10 recorded composers born in the 20th century at arkivmusic.com
1. Shostakovich 1449
2. Britten 958
3. Bernstein 632
4. Barber 541
5. Rodrigo 461 (and 103 of those are the Concierto de Aranjuez)
6. Messiaen 431
7. Walton 413
8. Khachaturian 357 (138 of those are the Sabre Dance)
9. Cage 279
10. Arvo Part 239
Clearly, Cage’s compositions, as well as his ideas, are very important in the classical music industry. This year you’ll be hearing a lot of his music, as various cities and organizations celebrate the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birth. The John Cage trust is a useful web site to learn about upcoming performances, but if you live in Southern California, you’ll want to consult this list I compiled for the LA Weekly of Cage events this year.
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