Archive for the “Women Composers” Category
Songs of Ascension
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble, Todd Reynolds Quartet, The M6, Montclair State University Singers/Heather Buchanan, conductor
ECM New Series
(to be released 5/17)
Meredith Monk has been among my favorite composers since I first heard works like Tablet and Key in the 70′s. Her work since Dolmen Music has remained consistently good, and has built on her considerable work with extended vocal techniques.
Songs of Ascension in part refers to one concept for the work in which performers ascend a double helical, dual staircase, which meant that strings were in, as keyboards and mallet percussion would not be feasible since schlepping them up the stairs is difficult at best. The title also refers to the title “Song of Ascents” that alludes to the changing of psalms during pilgrimages to Jerusalem, which begs the question, why is going up considered sacred and going down, not so much?
This is the first piece for string quartet by Meredith Monk that I’m aware of, although she certainly has used isolated stringed instruments before (the cello solo of Dolmen Music immediately comes to mind). The string quartet, which includes the venerable Todd Reynolds, is also augmented at times by a shruti box, which creates a drone. There are other forces involved as well, including several vocal ensembles, winds and percussion.
But the music is quintessential Monk, with a clear evolution from the earlier works of the 70′s. The strings work very well, both by themselves and in concert with the other performers. Some sections worked better for me than others, particularly the last section titled Ascent, but that’s just my own personal preference. This is an extremely well performed album, and I can’t imagine it was easy to put together. The string writing is challenging, and the performance by The Todd Reynolds Quartet and Allison Sniffin on violin is impeccable. The various vocalists must perform extremely difficult parts, and they make it sound easy. The percussion and winds are also first-rate. It is always a good thing when performers come together to play new music; when they also clearly have an affinity for the music, that is especially uncommon. This is an album that any Monk devotee should have. But it is also an album for anyone interested in new music. And on May 17th, it becomes available.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, minimalism, Women Composers, tags: Cantaloupe, CD Review, Ensemble Resonanz, Jay Batzner, Julia Wolfe, postminimalism, strings
Brad Lubman, conductor
The big question I had when putting in this disc for the first time was “Will a string orchestra be able to recreate the visceral power and energy that I find vital in Julia Wolfe’s string quartets?” My fear was that the harder and sharper attacks I enjoy will be too diluted with more players in the ensemble. It was a silly skepticism to hold and any trepidations I had quickly melted away once I started listening. Also, Ensemble Resonanz is the same group that recorded Weather and a disc of Xenakis. I was pretty sure I was going to have a good time with this CD.
Ensemble Resonanz and Julia Wolfe make an excellent team. Not only did Wolfe obviously compose music better suited for an orchestra than a quartet (it was foolish of me to doubt that she would) but Resonanz also threw serious energy behind both pieces. Cruel Sister, inspired by a dark Old English ballad, is expressive and emotive balancing the programmatic elements with a clean dramatic line that makes sense in the abstract. The hollow open intervals which throb away at the beginning enmesh with more angry and spiky punctuations. The four attacca movements are woven together in a solid and disrupted narrative. Ensemble Resonanz brings power and control to the whole range of the sonic spectrum and Wolfe adeptly showcases register and texture. I am especially fond of the transition between the second and third movements which is (to my ear) simultaneously abrupt yet smooth.
Fuel is a far more abstract work driven by the problems the world faces regarding the necessity of fuel. Ensemble Resonanz masterfully blends in a variety of coloristic techniques, making sounds like scratch tones a part of the woven tapestry of sound. The CD notes go so far as to state that electronics were not used at all and that all the sounds in the piece are acoustic. I think that disclaimer is a bit much. There is certainly a wider variety of string techniques and timbres in Fuel than in Cruel Sister but I never had a “What the heck was that?” reaction. Scratch tones, harmonics, tremolo, and filtering the sound via bow placement are all active parameters in the sound world. Again, Resonanz brings a whole lot of power throughout the registers and forms a massive hyper-instrument blend the likes of which make string quartets secretly jealous.
Wolfe’s music is also doing what she does best: frenetic power created through post-minimalist techniques that transcend mere repetition. The music materials are sharp, taut, basic, and the economy of material is expertly managed. Wolfe knows how to make a lot out of a little AND pull the listener along for the ride. Both works have programmatic elements but not knowing the program does not interfere with the listening experiences. These works sound fresh and contemporary and I’m confident that audiences in the future will continue to relate and connect with the ideas therein.
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In Media Res / Roam / Double Violin Concerto / Synopses 1-15
Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose
With Carla Kihlstedt, violin and voice; Colin Jacobsen, violin; Lisa Bielawa, soprano
Lisa Bielawa is a phenomenon. The perky San Francisco native who, judging from her booklet photo, appears to be very much on the sunny side of life, first gained fame as a singer, touring with the Philip Glass ensemble from 1992, although she had concurrently been a composer since her earliest years and had received several performances when she was in her teens. She founded in 1997 the MATA Festival to promote the work of new composers, and began concentrating on her own compositions. Right from the beginning, she has shown a decided preference for the larger forms of music. Her dense, robust symphonic style is not at all what you would expect of a vocalist turned composer, although she does not ignore the lyrical element in her music.
Roam (2001), one of the earlier works on this program, already reveals Bielawa’s gift for perusasive, moody orchestration and her passionate love of literature. The inspiration in this case was a quote from Pushkin’s novel in verse Eugene Onegin: “I roam above the sea, / I wait for the right weather, / I beckon to the sails of ships. / … / When shall I start on my free course?” In keeping with the verse, which has more to say about the inner state of the speaker than it is a tone picture of the sea, Bielawa focuses on the tension between the exhileration of freedom, like a ship moving freely on the sea, and the danger that freedom entails.
Double Violin Concerto (2008) was dedicated “to Colin, Carla, Gill, and BMOP” and reflects Bielawa’s close personal and professional relations to three key figures in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (see above). It represents a further step beyond Roam in its great melodic and tonal warmth. After the contrapuntal solemnity of the opening movement, “Portico,” we are in for a surprise in “Song,” as violinist Kihlstedt sings an English translation of a passge from Gorthe’s Faust accompanied by her own scordatura violin and Jacobsen’s deft arpeggios in support of the vocal line. The text is appropriate, too, a tribute to the transformative power of the imagination: “Leave the great world, let it run riot, / And let us stay where it is quiet. / It’s something that has long been done, / To fashion little worlds within the bigger one.” Jacobsen takes the center stage in the final movement, Play with a Play,” which begins in deeply moving music inspired by Gregorian settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, grows more intense, and almost imperceptibly metamorphoses into, first, a stately dance episode, and then an evocation of gypsy fiddling with an improvided cadenza.
Bielawa herself is the vocalist in Unfinish’d, Sent (2000), inspired by a line from Richard III in which the protagonist excuses his evil proclivities by blaming them it on his physical deformity: “Unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world, scarce half made up.” In the first half of the piece, which is all orchestra, a gesture struggles mightily to no avail, to coalesce into a melody. When the singer enters with an eery setting of Shaespeare’s verse, it reinforces the sense of something (such as a work of music?) striving to be born. Sound echoes sense again in an unsettling, rhythmically-recast, quote from Vivaldi’s Winter, emphasizing the play’s opening line, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer.”
Lisa Bielawa saves the best for last on CD1. Titled In Media Res, the 2009 work is perhaps the most exacting of all genres, the concerto for orchestra. Bielawa wrote it to commemorate her tenure with BMOP and her friendships with its members. She based it, in turn, on her 15 Synopses, pithy, aphoristic pieces lasting on the average about five minutes that typically develop out of small kernels and crystallize to give a distinct impression of the personality and prowess of each musical artist. The individual Synopses are further distinguished with whimsical 6-word titles, such as “In The Eye Of The Beholder,” “It Takes One To Know One,” “No-No-No, Put That Down” and “Two days after you left, I,” further underscoring the orchestral concerto genre itself as a species of serious play. (The 15 Synopses are collected together on CD2, which, at 68:45, cannot exactly be considered an “extra” on this program.)
What Bielawa did, amazingly, was to fashion her Concerto for Orchestra (which truly deserves the name: it is not by any means a pastiche) by assembling the various Synopses like a skilled lapidary into a very impressive and solidly cohesive whole that is infinitely more than the sum of its parts. Like the major work of symphonic music that it is, it ranges over all the emotions, from rising excitement mounting to terror at the very opening, to sadness, pensiveness, hope, and even joyous affirmation. Add the glowing, luminous orchestration, revealing a composer who understands well the range and expressive capability of every instrument, and you have a concerto for orchestra that will stand up with the most distinguished achievements in this genre of the past hundred years. Seriously, I urge every aficionado of 20/21 music to give full attention to this rising star.
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Piano Works (revisited)
I was surprised when the two-disc collection of piano music (composed and performed) by Elodie Lauten had me entranced from the opening of the first track: Cat Counterpoint. I approached this particular track with a fair amount of apprehension. I’ve simply been around too many instances of composers using their pet’s meanderings on music instruments as source material. Any hesitation I felt towards the track melted away within seconds. Instead of Lolcats, the room filled with driving and energetic punctuations. You can’t judge a track by its title.
The collected Piano Works from 1983 take the lead on the first disc: Cat Counterpoint, Revelation, Adamantine Sonata, Alien Heart, and Imaginary Husband make for excellent character pieces as well as a cycle of works. There is a foundation in minimalism present, as one would expect from an icon of the Downtown scene. Lauten’s minimalist language is one full of play and punk, separating it from the austere minimalism found safely inside textbooks. The underlying simplicity lends to a strong sense of flow over process. Each piece creates a moment that rarely extends beyond itself nor do they need to extend. These 1983 pieces were constructed with an ear and not a slide rule. I find Adamantine Sonata particularly charming.
The inclusion of ambient sound and supporting electronics is frequent in the 1983 works and the technique is put in overdrive for Lauten’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory. This 1984 set uses a quilt of disconnected instrumental and electronic textures to create eight signature moments. Each of these segments is strongly focused around a shape, texture, or groove and throughout the segment’s lifespan the idea simply is. There is a zen element in this concerto, each track is totally of the moment. Some listeners may want more of a sense of trajectory and dramatic shape but I am not among them. These moments are what they are and as such they are fascinating. The spacious Orchestral Memory and the cheeky Tempo di Habanera form polar opposites of affect and, for that very reason, appeal to me the most. Disc one closes with a fairly straight-ahead Tango with a mournful and husky vocal line.
If you are looking for a deep end off which to go, then disc two will be happy to serve you. Instead of many short tracks, disc two provides two beefy works: Variations on the Orange Cycle and Sonate Modale. Any criticisms laid out about disc one’s lack of trajectory can be laid to rest in Orange Cycle. Within the opening seconds I knew I was going to be here for a while, letting the hypnotic and resonant sounds wash over me, La Monte Young-style. After about seventeen minutes, Lauten does the most amazing thing. The low drone, the foundation of the very work, goes away. The listener drifts and floats, untethered for some time, and when the low voice returns it is not the same static firmament we had left behind us. Where I expected the drone to reassert itself, it never finds full strength again. The piece closes on that drone pitch but with uncertainty, timidity, and quiet. The world of the piece has changed and Lauten did not take the easy way out. Variations on the Orange Cycle is worth every second.
Sonate Modale, in this live recording from Toronto in 1985, is a rather intimate experience. I felt as though I was a fly on the wall while Lauten created all the 1983 pieces and the Concerto. The ambient electronic environments are cut from the same cloth as the earlier pieces and the live piano meanders through gestures and stream-of-consciousness improvisations. Dramatically, the piece works well as a whole, as if Lauten decided to stich together the quilt of the Concerto.
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Simple Lines of Enquiry
Eve Egoyan, piano
You have to be in an unfamiliar mindset to listen to Ann Southam’s Simple Lines of Enquiry. If you’re not, you might find yourself waiting just under an hour (58:41 to be exact) for something momentous to happen, and then leaving with the feeling that you have been cheated. As presented here with great discipline and sensitivity by pianist Eve Egoyan, who has often collaborated with Southam and gives the present work its premiere recording, the twelve movements that make up this major work for piano come across as the aural equivalent of twelve abstract paintings hanging by themselves in a gallery, generating an atmosphere of silence instead of sound, stasis instead of the activity we usually expect from a work of music.
This, of course, is minimalist, and very slow. The emphasis is on a 12-tone row, or rather a 12-interval row, as Southam would have it, with a slow, gentle, and precisely sequenced exploration of these intervals and the sonorities they create. As Southam has explained it elsewhere, the two notes in the right hand at the end of the sequence provide a kind of tonal center around which the 12-tone row works. At the same time, Southam’s music is distinctly atonal. Her silences are as eloquent as the bell-like sounds she is fond of deriving from repeated notes. In this recording you will typically hear Eve Egoyan play a cluster of 5-10 notes which seem to hang in the air, mingle their overtones, and then fade into near silence before she resumes her attack on the next cluster. Egoyan talks of Southam’s “magically suspended, weightless sound world, a place for deep listening and contemplation.”
And here we get to the crux of the matter. In Southam’s writing, the usual linear aspect of music takes on a very different meaning. Notions such as melody, rhythm and counterpoint exist, if at all, in a personal context. Tones and their overtones take on the character of the principal subject of the music. The end result is to create a deep listening experience that focuses and relaxes the mind of the listener, facilitating a contemplative state. Since these ends are so highly intimate and personal, it is difficult to imagine Simple Lines of Enquiry inspiring much enthusiasm from a concert audience, as opposed to the performer or the home listener. As contemplatives, we exist as individuals, not en masse. Depending on your own mood and your listening needs at the moment, attending to the music on this CD may leave you feeling deeply relaxed and centered. (If, however, you prefer things Canadian served up with a bit more excitement, go and watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs!)
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Innova, Jay Batzner, Piano, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, Innova, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Millikan, Piano
Music of Ann Millikan
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Grigor Palikarov, conductor
- Ballad Nocturne (with Emanuele Arciuli, piano)
- Trilhas de Sombra
- Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal
Ann Millikan’s music is a wonderfully eclectic mix of several contemporary compositional styles and yet Millikan retains an individual and consistent voice throughout each work on this Innova CD. Ballad Nocturne, (2009) for piano and chamber orchestra, puts jazz harmonies and figurations through a Druckman-esque prism. Neither straight-ahead jazz nor purely-abstract instrumental music, this piece encapsulates Millikan’s musical personality: that of a synthesizer. Disperate elements flow together and mix in seamless compositions. Around the 8 minute mark of Ballad Nocturne, time simply stops as high strings and a repeated high piano figure float over a slightly-disturbed walking piano bass. The piece switches gears from pseudo-lounge to Morton Feldman without dislocating the listener’s eardrum. Instead of ending the piece at this moment, which I fully expected, a more traditional jazz ballade lugubriously emerges and clarifies everything we’ve heard previously with the subdued juxtaposition of earlier elements.
Perhaps jazz transformations aren’t your thing. No worries there, because the orchestral triptych Trilhas de Sombra, (2009) a programatic work based upon a story written by Millikan’s niece, feeds any needs you have for good ol’ American atonal expressionism. Except, of course, when Millikan doesn’t need such language to express the ideas in the story. Gestures and textures tend to abound instead of melodies but the music is still a cohesive unit that moves in a single, unified direction. The melodies that emerge are long and fluid and showcased with solid and direct orchestrations. Millikan doesn’t get caught in the trap of being overly clever and instead crafts a wonderfully picturesque and programatic work and like many great programatic orchestral showcases, Trilhas de Sombra doesn’t come across as a movie soundtrack without the visuals. Unabashedly contemporary in sound, this is an approachable and enjoyable work that does not condescend to the listener.
Millikan has been flexing her synthesis muscles in the previous two works and the final composition, as one would expect, merges elements from the previous two (even though it is the earliest piece on the disc – 2008). Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal is just as trippy and fun as the title might suggest. I don’t know how to land “inside the inside” of something, nor do I wholly understand how the spacey, abstract, atonal music of the first half relates to the Afro-Cuban inspired dance rhythms that drive the second half. I also don’t know how this all ties into the “story of initiation” mentioned in the program notes. You know what? I don’t care that I don’t know how this works. It works. Being a fan of WTF moments in compositions, Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal hits me right where I live. This piece is a journey but, unlike Trilhas de Sombra, there didn’t seem to be a predetermined path to follow. It is as if Millikan just struck out to go somewhere and ended up in the most wonderful and fantastic places.
I do have one problem with this disc. While the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra sounds great on each piece, it really irks me that such purely American music written in the last 2 years had to be outsourced for the recording. I should think that American orchestras would be falling all over themselves to perform and record Millikan’s output.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Jay Batzner, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, chamber music, free improvisation, Jay Batzner, Piano, saxophone, strings, Vocal, voice
Vivian Houle, vocalist
- Mandrake (with Peggy Lee, cello)
- Molehills mumps (with Lisa miller, piano)
- Paperthin (with Coat Cooke, saxophone)
- Gratte-moi le dos (with Kenton Loewen, drums)
- Quiet eyes (with Ron Samworth, guitar)
- It’s not the moon (with Chris Gestrin, analog keyboards and live sampling)
- Betters and bads (with Jesse Zubot, violin)
- Finely tuned is my heart (with Jeremy Berkman, trombone)
- Au revas (with Paul Plimley, piano)
- A little storm (with Jeff Younger, guitar)
- Bells hung in a tree (with Clyde Reed, bass)
- Song not for you (with Brent Belke, guitar)
- Curve (with Stefan Smulovitz, kenaxis)
The very essence of chamber music is perfectly captured in these thirteen tracks. Viviane Houle’s duets with each of these artists is raw music making – free improvisations that transcend the ordinary and provide sonic experiences unlike anything else. Houle’s sonic repertoire is no short of astonishing. Half of the time I can’t tell which sounds she is making and which are being made by her instrumental counterpart. On the same token, both performers on each track are so adept at listening to each other that the flow of events sounds totally organic and alive. While the bulk of the tracks are showcases for Houle’s vocal fireworks she is always blending with the ensemble and creating a sonic “hyperinstrument” that is neither one nor the other.
A few of the tracks feature a more traditional melodic and sung role for the voice. Houle, who also wrote all the texts, trends towards the smokey and hazy sounds of somber jazz or beat poetry. Her rich sound and warm emotional expressions are further featured on one of my favorite tracks, It’s not the moon. Houle’s voice is the DNA of Chris Gestrin’s synth work creating a haunting, graceful, and eternal sounding track.
The last three tracks on the disc transition smoothly from one to the next, making an excellent journey. Bells hung in a tree has a subdued ending that sounds like it continues as the next track fades in. Song not for you hits me right in my Heavy Metal spot. Houle and Belke sound like a great thrashing metal duo from somewhere in the Oort Cloud who have recently learned to sing using random Japanese phonemes (and I mean that in the best possible way). The thrash continues while the ambient sizzle of Curve takes over. Like It’s not the moon, Curve puts Houle’s voice in the background and she inexorably emerges from the synthetic world into an oozing and pulsating mass of delicious aural goo.
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“HOW SHE DANCED”
String Quartets of Elena Ruehr
Performed by the Cypress String Quartet
Cypress Performing Arts Association
I was enchanted with this, my first acquaintance with the music of American composer Elena Ruehr, and I think you will be, too. A strong, engaging personality suffuses her music. She was born and spent her early years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, an area of much natural beauty that is said to have the most beautiful fall colors in America. Her music reflects a variety of traditional and world influences in addition to her formal education under mentors William Bolcom, Milton Babbitt and Vincent Persichetti. The daughter of a mathematician, she admits to a fondness for solving intellectual puzzles such as 12-tone rows, but she decided at an early stage in her career to leave the complicated stuff beneath the surface of what people hear, incorporating it into the musical form (For the record, Mozart did much the same thing).
As a result, her music, of which we get a good sampling here from String Quartets 1, 3 and 4, written between 1991 and 2005, is both accessible and challenging. We sometimes forget, in analyzing the art of the string quartet, how sensually beautiful the sound of these four strings can be. Ruehr reminds us. Her art consists in large part of long melodies, long intonations and exhalations, gorgeously swelling tones and smartly struck pizzicati. The members of the Cypress Quartet – Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violins; Ethan Filner, viola; and Jennifer Kloetzel, cello – attest to the challenges they encountered in performing these works in an interview with radio host Bill McGlaughlin, excerpted in the program notes. They speak from experience of the 17-bar melody with a canon in 3 parts, with all four players playing fragments of it here and there, in the slow movement of Quartet No. 3. In this movement, entitled “The Abbey” and taking its inspiration from the style of 12th Century Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, the chant-like melody is supported by a catchy rhythm derived from it. The trick, which the Cypresses bring out with deceptive ease, is to make the music sound as simple and natural as possible.
Quartet No. 4 was written in 2005 on commission from the Cypress Quartet as part of its “Call & Response” series. In this instance, the task was to look at relationships between Mozart’s “Dissonant” Quartet in C, K465 and Beethoven’s Op. 59/ 3 in the same key. The intriguing opening movement draws in the listener. The second movement (Aria: Andante) plays like a long, hauntingly beautiful improvisation. The third is marked Minuet: Grazioso, though I wouldn’t advise trying to dance to its intricate patterns. The final movement has a pronounced motor rhythm and striking pizzicati.
Quartet No. 3 looks to ancient and traditional music for inspiration. Besides the afore-mentioned “Abbey” movement, Ruehr evokes the music of South American pan flutes and West African drums in the movements entitled “Clay Flute” and “Bell Call,” respectively, while “How she Danced” was inspired by the sight of her young daughter dancing in the kitchen. Ruehr disclaims writing that tune, citing a traditional source, and for sure it has the distinct echo of folk fiddling.
So, surprisingly, does the second movement of Quartet No. 1, which Ruehr says was intended as a tribute to Bach and the Well-Tempered Clavier. It starts off reverently enough, but by the end the rhythm has taken on an existence of its own. The opening movement, a tribute, to the 13th Century composer Perotin entitled “Patterns,” evokes both the medieval composer’s sequences and his gently rocking lilt. The Third movement, “Let’s Sit Beneath the Stars,” is achingly beautiful and sad, like a lullaby. The last, Estampie, is inspired by the old French “stamping dance” of that name. It builds in excitement, helped by the vigorous phrasing and sensational pizzicati of the Cypress Quartet members. The ending is typically abrupt for Elena Ruehr. Having said what she had to say (which is a lot), she stops.
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CD cover art
Amy Horvey, trumpet
Music by Scelsi, Arditto, Hōstman, Purchase, and Horvey/Morton
- Quattro pezzi per tromba sola – Giancinto Scelsi
- Míºsica Invisible – Cecilia Arditto
- Interview – Anna Hōstman
- Apparatus Inconcinnus – Ryan Purchase
- Overture to “The Queen of the Music Boxes” featuring Jeff Morton
This is not your typical solo trumpet disc. Some folks might dismiss a CD made up almost entirely of solo trumpet music, but when the most straightforward thing on a disc was written by Scelsi, I get kind of excited. Amy Horvey tackles exciting and provocative repertoire on this offering and nails all of it.
The Quattro pezzi by Scelsi kick off the disc and highlight Ms. Horvey’s chops and musicality. Her tone is dark and somber, her ability to connect the lengthy lyrical lines in each piece is uncanny, and the only thing that would make the performance better would be hearing her live. These are demanding pieces and she squeezes every nuance of music from them.
Cecilia Arditto’s Míºsica Invisible is in three movements (Sfumato, Chiaroscuro, and Anamorphosis) and uses both flugelhorn and trumpet. Each work involves the use of extended techniques such as singing while playing, extreme pedal tone melodies, and putting the bell of the trumpet into a bowl of water. Regardless of the techniques, which are intrinsic to the sound worlds of the pieces and not mere gimmicks, the music is haunting and meaningful. Each gesture is given time and space to develop and mature and, at about 12 minutes, I could stand to listen to a whole lot more.
The next two works both feature spoken passages as well as played passages. Anna Hōstman’s Interview relates to a larger work about trumpet soloist Edna White called “Queen of the Music Boxes.” The fragments of text coax listeners into an emotional world with very little said. The music that follows is sometimes playful, sometimes sorrowful, and Ms. Horvey communicates the text well without being too hammy or too stoic in affect. In contrast to the fragmentary Interview, Apparatus Inconcinnus by Ryan Purchase contains more of a linear narrative about remembering how to count by Russian author Daniil Charms. This humorous anecdote takes some serious musical terms and would be, of course, most effective in a live performance. The story holds the music together very well. My only quibble of this disc, if I have to have one, is that these two very similar works were programmed back to back.
The final work, Overture to “The Queen of the Music Boxes”, includes the electro-acoustic/circuit-bending/composer Jeff Morton working with prepared music boxes, toy instruments, and electronics. The composition is largely about Morton’s sound world of dreamy, lo-fi mechanical music making than it is Amy Horvey’s trumpet playing. When the trumpet melody does emerge, the dreaminess of Morton’s contraptions becomes more accompaniment than ambient. The whole piece projects an introspective mood and is the perfect sound world to close off the CD.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Clarinet, Innova, Jay Batzner, Piano, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, chamber music, Clarinet, Innova, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Piano, saxophone
Ward De Vleeschhower, piano; Peter Verdonck, saxophones, and Marco Antonio Mazzini, clarinets
Music by Junchaya, Lee, Carpenter, Honor, Mazzini, Walczyk, and Benadon
- Rafael Leonardo Junchaya – Tres Danzas Episkénicas
- HyeKyung Lee – Shadowing
- Keith Carpenter – The Devil His Due
- Eric Honour – neither from nor towards
- Marco Antonio Mazzini – Imprevisto
- Kevin Walczyk – Refractions
- Fernando Benadon – Five Miniatures
The Thelema Trio’s modular nature, even within the context of being a trio, is one of its primary strengths and they strut their stylistic, coloristic, versatile stuff with this collection of pieces. No two works share the same instrumentation nor do any of the compositions share the same sound world. The only performer not showcased with a solo feature of some sort is the pianist but Ward De Vleeschhouwer is a superb collaborative artist who can highlight his abilities within a chamber music setting. Peter Verdonck has excellent tone and energy on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones and Marc Antonio Mazzini has a lithe and supple sound on standard or bass clarinet. Together, the two reed players have a perfectly communal sound quality.
Each piece on the disc showcases the Thelema Trio’s mercuriality. Rafael Leonardo Junchaya’s Tres Danzas Episkénicas is equal parts sultry, ethereal and playful. This work uses the most instruments overall with the reeds changing from bass clarinet to clarinet and use of baritone and tenor saxophones. Overall, these dances are attractive, slightly thorny pitch language and extremely well orchestrated.
HyeKyung Lee’s Shadowing is a canonic/imitative work for clarinet and alto saxophone. Long melodic lines weave in and out with sinewy and twisty motions. The blend between the performers is spot on and the whole piece has great long-term trajectory. The high climax reached early on in the work is the exact right music at the exact right time. Keith Carpenter’s raucous The Devil His Due for baritone sax and piano is a punchy, aggressive, and energetic toccata for the two instruments. Instead of the baritone sax being the “front man” of the piece, both instruments engage in funky rhythmic interplay.
The title track on the CD, neither from nor towards, is an extended rhapsody for baritone sax, clarinet, and piano written by Eric Honour. This obsessive piece spends a lot of time spinning its wheels (in a good way) where the music is, indeed, neither from anywhere nor moving towards anywhere. Long overlapping tones in the reeds and mid-range piano are broken by the occasional spiky piano accents in extreme registers. Gradually a melody emerges and by the halfway point we are in a soaring, melodic section. The soaring becomes frenetic, dies down, but then trashes around with one last outburst. If you were to drop in on any single section of the piece, you might wonder how it all fits together. But listening to the complete work, Eric Honour draws an excellent through-line. The programming for this piece is perfect since it showcases not only the coloristic blend between the reeds but also the rhythmic punctuation possibilities found in earlier works.
The only solo composition on the disc, Marco Antonio Mazzini’s Imprevisto sounds like music we aren’t really supposed to be hearing. The slow unfolding work for clarinet gives the impression that we are eavesdropping on the performer while they worked out musical/emotional stuff. This piece is haunting and captivating. Refractions, by Kevin Walczyk, brings back some playful and bouncy music back to the disc. The motoric repeated notes in the piano provide a platform for melodies and shapes in the alto sax and clarinet. The energy is constantly pushing forward, even when the music slows and becomes more tender. The light and springy material returns to close out the composition.
Finally, the Five Miniatures for baritone sax, bass clarinet, and piano by Fernando Benadon are delightfully quirky pieces that present a focal idea, perseverate upon said idea, and then vanish. Niether of the five movements feels underwritten and, while one might hear how each idea could become longer, I think it would destroy the chiseled nature of these pieces. There is a lot of fun and whimsy in their brevity, making this piece the perfect waft of light flavor after a satisfying meal.
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