Archive for the “Women Composers” Category

HEGGIE.gifHEGGIE: For a Look or a Touch; SCHWARZ: In Memoriam; LAITMAN: The Seed of Dream. Morgan Smith, Erich Parce, baritone; Julian Patrick, actor; Julian Schwarz, cello, Mina Miller, piano; Music of Remembrance. Naxos 8.559379. 61 minutes.

Music of Remembrance is a Seattle-based ensemble/organization dedication to the creation (through commissions), performance, and dissemination of music whose subject is the Holocaust, especially victims of the Holocaust who were musicians.

This Naxos disc includes first recordings of three memorial pieces, two of which (are Lori Laitman’s The Seed of Dream and Jake Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch) are Music of Remembrance commissions. The Seed of Dream, for baritone, cello, and piano, is a setting of poems by Vilna Ghetto survivor Abraham Sutzkever. The mood is, naturally, dark, but there are often rays of light and hope in Laitman’s direct and lyrical music. Erich Parce sings the vocal line in a rich baritone voice. Cellist Julian Schwarz and Music of Remembrance Artistic Director Mina Miller (piano) provide solid and poetic accompaniment.

Gerard Schwarz’ In Memoriam is a very straight-forward lament. His experience as a conductor (he is currently Music Director of the Seattle Symphony) shows in how well he writes for string instruments. The piece is in three clearly laid out sections, and is ably played by Julian Schwarz and member of Music of Remembrance.

The revelation of the disc, for me anyway, is Jake Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch. Heggie is best known as a composer of opera (Dead Man Walking) and this piece, though not an opera, shows its composer as an artist who knows his way around narrative and drama. For a Look or a Touch (libretto by Gene Scheer) is a story of a Holocaust survivor and his struggle to remember his lover, who died at Auschwitz. It is a romantic and harrowing work, one of the first to deal directly with the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis. Heggie’s music is eclectic, with touches of romantic jazz along side passages that explore the darker aspects of the story without ever wallowing in bathos. Morgan Smith ably sings the role of survivor Gad, while the role of his doomed lover, Manfred is read by Julian Patrick. The device works, and the piece is very moving. Members of the Music of Remembrance ensemble play Heggie’s music with skill and conviction.

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KapralovaThe Music of Ví­tezslava Kaprí¡loví¡

Virginia Eskin, piano
Stephanie Chase, violin

Koch International Classics

April Preludes, Legend, Burlesque, Five Compositions for Piano, Elegy, Sonata Appassionata, Vriations sure le Carillon de L’Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, Little Song

Czech composer Ví­tezslava Kaprí¡loví¡ lived only 25 years (1915 – 1940) yet her musical language is surprisingly mature and well crafted (much better than what I was doing when I was in my 20s, that is for sure). The works on this disc, all from the 1930s, show a variety of stylistic influences synthesized into a personal vibrant language. Her music sounds to be equal parts of early Bartok, pre-atonality Berg, and of course Janacek. Each piece is remarkably expressive (of course it helps that the performers here are so wonderfully expressive as well) with equal amounts of moribund and ponderous music balanced by spunky and fiery compositions.

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Leon.jpgLEí“N: Bailarí­n; Singin’ Sepia; Axon; Arenas d’un Tiempo; Satiné; Horizons. David Starobin, guitar; Tony Arnold, soprano; Continuum; Mari Kimura, violin; Speculum Musicae; Quattro Mani; NDR Sinfonie Orchester/Peter Ruzicka. Bridge 9231. 56 minutes.

Tania Leí³n writes music in a lyrically Modernist vein. Her music is colorful and virtuosic, but the virtuosity is filtered through the composer’s strong sense of “play”, the kind of “serious lightness” that informs much recent Modernist art.  This sampler of Leí³n’s solo, vocal, chamber, and orchestral music from Bridge Records begins with guitarist David Starobin’s winning performance of Bailarí­n. The composer’s Cuban background is evident in the piece, but not in a heavy-handed or clichéd way. Bailarí­n is lithe, attractive, and idiomatically written.  

There is virtually complete expressive identification between music and poetry (by Rita Dove) in Singin’ Sepia, a cycle of songs on slavery and its diasporic effect. The music, for soprano, clarinet, violin, and piano/four-hands, is, by turns, joyous and reflective. Tony Arnold’s performance is rich and intimate.    

Axon is a remarkable piece for violin and interactive computer. Both instruments “dance” and sing. The material is spiky and rhythmically alive (those adjectives can be applied to all of the composer’s music). Mari Kimura is a talented violinist. She gives a fine performance of this difficult piece.

The program closes with three instrumental works (Arenas d’un Tiempo, for clarinet, cello, and piano, Satiné, for two pianos, and Horizons, for orchestra) that show off the composer’s stylistic interests, especially rhythmic invention, and expressive skills. The performances here, and on the disc as a whole are first-rate. I’ve heard Tania Leí³n’s name many times, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to heard of her music. I hope to hear much more of it, and soon.  

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Alexa StillAlexa Still

Carl Vine: Sonata for Flute

Koch International

Ian Clarke: Orange Dawn
Paul Shoenfield: Achat Sha’alti; Ufaratsta [Valentine]
Carl Vine: Sonata for Flute and Piano
Sofia Gubaidulina: Allegro Rusticana; Klí¤nge des waldes [Sounds of the Forest]
Dan Welcher: All the Words to All the Songs
Joseph Schwantner: Soaring; Black Anemones
Paul Ben-Haim: Three Songs Without Words
Glen B. Cortese: I Dream’d in a Dream
Anne Boyd: Goldfish Through Summer Rain

The combination of Alexa Still on flute and Stephen Gosling on piano creates a veritable “Brangelina” of musical technique. Both performers are constantly praised for their technical prowess and amazing ability to make the most challenging works sound effortless and easy. Reviewers far and wide agree that Alexa Still doesn’t make anything sound tough. She gracefully sprints and hurdles through menacing challenges without seeming to break a sweat. On a similar note, I once heard Stephen Gosling begin a sentence with “When I played Eonta…” and I just kind of blanked out after that. It just wasn’t something I’d ever heard a pianist say before. Added to this technical superiority comes an equally superior sensitive musical side. This disc isn’t just flautistic fireworks.

There is a perception that flute music is light and twee stuff. Yes, there are plenty of twee flute works out there, recorded ad nauseam. My better 15/16ths plays flute and I have several of “those” recordings. This disc is a delicious collection of works that are less known but still connected in spirit to those countless Parisian salon discs that include yet one more recording of Poulenc’s sonata. The title work for the disc, Carl Vine’s Sonata for flute and piano, is a delightful and serious work that I want to hear more often. Luckily, I get to keep this disc.

The two selections by Gubaidulina are more conservative earlier pieces that show the underpinnings of her colorful and crafty later works. Of Schwantner’s two pieces, Black Anemones sounds more restrained than his better-known large ensemble works. Soaring is a treacherous journey despite its rather mellow title. To my ears, it sounds like a beginning and doesn’t really sound complete after its brief 1:35 runtime. Paul Schoenfield is the third composer with two works on the disc and it feels good to hear something other than his ubiquitous (yet enjoyable) Café Music. Achat Sha’alti and Ufaratsta show two sides of his Jewish music inspirations. Achat Sha’alti is beautiful, sometimes mournful, and rich while Ufaratsta bubbles along with joyous energy. Dan Welcher’s extended quote of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” in All the Words to All the Songs seems downright cheeseballish but it is instead intended as a elegy for an old friend.

There really isn’t anything, composition-wise or performance-wise, on this disc that I didn’t enjoy. The opening track of Orange Dawn by Ian Clarke sucked me in right away and I’ve been spinning the disc a lot ever since. Paul Ben-Haim’s Three Songs Without Words are wonderfully lyrical. I Dream’d in a Dream by Glen B. Cortese balances the dark and dramatic side with the hopeful in an effectively fluid form. The closing track, Anne Boyd’s Goldfish Through a Summer Rain is a picturesque closer played with much sensitivity. Good stuff abounds on this disc. If you like flute music or hate it, I’m betting that you will enjoy this CD.

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product149462image.jpgBRYARS: And so ended Kant’s travelling in this world; Pí„RT: The Beatitudes; LOMON: “Transport”, from Testimony of Witnesses; DUCKWORTH: Selections from Southern Harmony; WALKER: Selections from The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion. Boston Secession/Jane Ring Frank. Brave 720. 52 minutes.
The house of minimalism has many mansions. In fact, minimalism itself moved out (probably in order to sublet) around the time of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, a piece whose relatively spritely harmonic rhythm (the pace at which the chords change) indicates a break with “pure” minimalism. Since then, the label of “minimalist” has been accepted and rejected by composers of a wide range of musical attitudes and attributes.
The music on Surprised by Beauty: Minimalism in Choral Music shows that the choral and instrumental group Boston Secession takes a broad view of minimalism. The common characteristic among the pieces is a certain level of simplicity on the surface and a commitment to tonality in one form or another.

Gavin Bryars’ And so ended Kant’s travelling in this world is a meditative setting of a brief prose description of the last, minor occurrence in the philosopher’s life. The text is from Thomas de Quincey’s biography, and Bryars sets it in straightforward speech rhythms, with no counterpoint and only occasional harmony. The expressive power in the piece comes from Bryars’ use of melodic dissonances, which usually consist in lowering scale degrees and lengthening the syllable. And so ended Kant’s travelling in this world is an almost perfect match of subject/text and technique.
Arvo Pí¤rt’s Beatitudes is even more austere than the Bryars, in some ways. It is scored for chorus and organ, and the organ supplies volume, counterpoint, and drama. On the other hand, the text is given a ritualistic setting, letting the words speak for themselves free of expressive ornament. The result is a piece both lean and haunting.
Ruth Lomon’s Testimony of Witnesses is an evening-long oratorio based on poetry by victims of the Holocaust. The “Transport” section is a setting of short verses about the trains that carried people to the concentration camps. Lomon uses the considerable resources of the Boston Secession instrumental contingent (Testimony of Witnesses was written for them) to paint a harrowing sound picture of these events. The music is tonal and directly expressive. It’s powerful and deeply moving.
The program proper concludes with selections from William Duckworth’s Southern Harmony, a reworking of hymn-tunes from William Walker’s 1835 The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion. Duckworth is one of the founders of post-minimalism, which employs minimalist techniques (repetition of notes, motives, or phrases and clear, usually relatively fast pulsation) along with techniques from both more traditional and more Modernist techniques. Walker’s original hymn-tunes provide excellent grist for Duckworth’s mill. The result is an exultant updating and deepening of music that already was part of America’s artistic DNA when Duckworth got hold of it. The disc closes with “bonus tracks”, lively readings of some of Walker’s hymn-tunes that Duckworth used as source material.
The performances, led by Boston Secession Artistic Director Jane Ring Frank, are uniformly outstanding and sound very good””you can hear everything. Highly recommended for those interested in recent trends in choral writing and performing.

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coates.gifCOATES: Symphony 15; Cantata da Requiem; Transitions. Teri Dunn, soprano; Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Michael Boder; Talisker Players; Ars Nova Nuremberg/Werner Heider. Naxos 8. 559371. 59 minutes.

Originality is no longer the coin of the realm in music composition. It’s been over forty years since Charles Wuorinen wonder how you could have a revolution when the revolution before last declared “anything goes”. However, there are still many ways a composer can produce works whose hallmark is a striking originality. Given that anything goes, one avenue towards originality is in the striking juxtaposition of disparate musical elements.

Gloria Coates is a master of this juxtaposition. In his informative notes to this recording, Kyle Gann describes the signature elements of her music:

. . . slow string glissandos. Another is wavery textures of faster glissandos, at varying rates. Another is conventionally tonal chorale writing, often quoting previous music. Another is simple, even marchlike rhythmic patterns, sometimes offset within her favorite 5/4 meter.

What makes this music so compelling is the way these simple, clearly identifiable gestures are put together. Actually, they are often forced together, and it’s the strain of the disparate elements coming together that gives Coates’ music its dark, expressive power.

A fine example of this power is the second movement of the Fifteenth Symphony (“Homage to Mozart”). A wind chorale is gradually overcome by massive, slow glissandos in the strings. Simplicity itself, but indelible nonetheless.

All of the performances on this remarkable program are top notch. Soprano Teri Dunn gives a moving reading of the soprano part in the Cantata da Requiem, a setting of texts by American and German women written during the Second World War. The instrumental ensembles all play Coates’ difficult-sounding music with apparent ease, born of commitment and understanding.

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LeBaron.jpgLeBARON: Pope Joan; Transfiguration. Kristin Norderval, Lucy Shelton, soprano; Dorothy Stone, flutes; Camilla Hoitenga, flute; Keve Wilson, oboes; Jim Sullivan, clarinets; Lorna Eder, piano; Eric km Clark, violin; Andrew McIntosh, viola; Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, cello; June Han, harp; Nicholas Terry, William Trigg, percussion; Mark Menzies, Rand Steiger, conductor. New World 80663. 70 minutes.

Anne LeBaron writes ritualistic music of excitement and power. LeBaron uses techniques from a dazzling array of styles and periods to craft pieces that hang together as expressive wholes. Pope Joan and Transfiguration are both settings of texts that deal with secret or alternative histories, in which the world is either very different from the world we think we are in (Pope Joan) or a world that has turned out differently (Transfigurations).

LeBaron brings her considerable talent and imagination to bear in these pieces, producing works of deep political commitment that are not swallowed up by the politics. LeBaron’s voice is a distinctively late 20th century American one, embracing the European and American avant-garde traditions and American pop gestures with equal effect.

The performances here are assured and expressive. Everyone involved is on the composer’s wave-length and make the stylistic changes seamlessly. The sound is very good and the notes, especially an essay by musicologist Judy Lochhead, are excellent. Highly recommended.

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cds-ARScover.jpgROREM: After Reading Shakespeare; MORAVEC: Mark Twain Sez:; SPRATLAN: Shadow. Matt Haimovitz, cello. Oxingale 2012. 72 minutes.



HENDRIX/Haimovitz: Machine Gun; MACHOVER: VinylCello; WOOLF: Apres Moi, Le Deluge; SANFORD: Scherzo Grosso. Matt Haimovitz, cello; Uccello; DJ Olive; University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir/Beverly Taylor; Pittsburgh Collective/David Sanford. Oxingale 2011. 77 minutes.

Matt Haimovitz is an outstanding cellist. He has a big, rich sound, a strong rhythmic sense, and a keen feel for musical structure, both on the local and global levels. His playing is marked by passion and musicality.

And he’s committed to modern and contemporary music.

Ned Rorem’s After Reading Shakespeare leads off a disc of pieces for solo cello. It’s one of the best works of the composer that I have heard. It is a suite of sharply-etched character pieces inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. It makes a convincing whole as well, and Haimovitz plays it with authority.

Mark Twain Sez, by Paul Moravec, inspired by Twain aphorisms, is naturally in a somewhat lighter vein than Rorem’s work, and in a more immediately accessiable idiom. It provides many technical challenges for the cellist, and Haimovitz handles them with seeming ease.

The program closes with Lewis Spratlan’s Shadow, which is cast in four large movements, in contrast to the shorter forms of Rorem and Moravec. Spratlan’s rhetoric is more expansive than in the other pieces as well, and the forms unfold at a more leisurely pace, with highly characterized gestures recurring throughout, holding the piece together. These three works are in contrasting styles and take very different approaches to musical material and how it is structured. Haimovitz is in tune with all three approaches and delivers a strong case for all three works, as well as for the unaccompanied cello itself.

The other disc contains the first fruits of Buck the Concerto, Haimovitz’ commissioning program, whose mission is to create a body of literature for cello and unusual ensembles. The evidence on this disc is that the program will be a rousing artistic success. The program opens with Haimovitz’ own arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’ anti-war “Machine Gun”, for cello and cello ensemble. It is by far the best example of an arrangement of a rock song for concert music performers I have heard. It is nearly thirteen minutes of hard-driving rhythm, noise, wildly expressive melody, and passion.

Tod Machover has long been an innovator in the area of combining instruments and live electronics. His VinylCello, for cello, DJ, and live electronics, is inspired by the cello’s ability to sound like the human voice and the scratching of a DJ. The sounds of the cello are processed by the DJ (DJ Olive) and the cellist responds to them in real-time. The result is a sonic dreamscape that moves seamlessly between melody and pure sound.

Luna Pearl Woolf’s Apres Moi, Le Deluge, for cello and chorus, is a searing requiem for New Orleans, to a text by Eleanor Wilner. The words and music move through fear, anger, mourning, and finally, resolve. Woolf’s eclecticism is born of a rich set of associations in the poem’s subject. We hear gospel and jazz along modernist harmonies and effects. Under, around, and above it all is Haimovitz’ cello, now singing, now moaning in lament. The piece ends with a lone soprano, singing her hope of someday returning home.

Scherzo Grosso is a four-movement concerto for cello and big band by David Sanford. It is mostly notated, though there is some improvisation. Sanford uses the full timbral resources of the big band to great effect, with the cello line sometimes doubling the saxes, sometimes the electric guitar, and so on. The style is similar to that of the Don Ellis big band or Orange Then Blue. Haimovitz is as at home here as he is in the other sonic environments of the disc.

This would be  an important release if only because of the work of Haimovitz’ Buck the Concerto program. But it is also a great listen.

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PolytopiaMari Kimura


Bridge Records

Variants, Jean-Claude Risset
Toccata, Conlon Nancarrow
Polytopia, Mari Kimura
GuitarBotana, Mari Kimura
The Old Rose Reader, Frances White
ComeCryWithMe, Milica Paranosic
Submarine, Robert Rowe
Axon, Tania Leí³n

I love this disc. Mari Kimura is a superb violinist, a compelling composer, and a Max/MSP junkie. If I wasn’t already married…

This CD features pieces for violin and electronics that runs the gamut of possibilities. Ms. Kimura performs against an “old-school” tape part, with live computer manipulation, and with musical robots. The aesthetics on the disc are just as varied as the electrical manipulations. Ms. Kimura’s performances, however, do not change. They are always musical, dynamic, thoroughly engaging, and captivating. I love this disc.

The CD opens with Jean-Claude Risset’s Variants, which uses live signal processing. The violin part is angular, hectic, and playful. The processing (revised in 2006 from the 1994 version) is seamlessly integrated to the gestures and never grows stale. The violin sound takes on 4th, 5th, and 6th dimensions through the ethereal chorusing effects. The music is not about the violin, nor is it about the processing. The music is about both and it is always refreshing to hear a master composer who remembers that.

Toccata by Conlon Nancarrow, is a feature of the musical robot, and is the finest recording of this piece that I have ever heard. Ms. Kimura throws some serious smack down on the artificial piano. The rough and aggressive sound from these performers still sounds effortless and it creeps me out to think of that dichotomy.

The next two pieces are by Ms. Kimura herself. Polytopia is a stunning piece for violin and interactive computer. The opening processing shows that Ms. Kimura has learned all the right things from Mr. Risset. Going beyond that, though, Ms. Kimura takes us through a vibrant array of sound worlds and processing. These sound worlds are all built upon simple pitch-shifting and delay techniques which further displays Ms. Kimura’s creativity. GuitarBotana uses another musical robot, the GuitarBot. There is also a YouTube movie of Ms. Kimura playing this piece, but the audio leaves much to be desired. GuitarBotana is just as mind-blowing as the Nancarrow Toccata. Ms. Kimura puts herself in a slippery and mercurial landscape that would be torturous on most performers. Instead, since she made the map, she navigates the world without a single misstep.

Frances White’s The Old Rose Reader is a meditative and abstractly poetic work that juxtaposes a lyrical melody with fragmented readings about roses. The music is fascinating as the various sound objects hang in the air. At this point of the disc, the listener has been craving this kind of tender and serene music. Ms. White’s piece is perfectly programmed (in a computer and non-computer sense).

ComeCryWithMe, as one might expect, is an emotionally charged work. Milica Paranosic has created quite a compelling world. Ms. Kimura’s approach to the recording is quite innovative. She has improvised several different paths through the piece and then layered them on top of the emotionally direct soundscape created by the computer. The end result is visceral and haunting.

Robert Rowe’s Submarine is one of the most picturesque works on the disc. The signal processing seems tightly controlled while maintaining a healthy amount of spontaneity. This work also takes advantage of Ms. Kimura’s “subharmonic” technique in which she is able to play her G string an octave lower by some mystical bowing method. The growly low Gs are peppered throughout the CD but are most featured on this selection.

The final piece, Axon, by Tania Leí³n, reminds us that beat making is an integral part of the electronic music world. Ms. Kimura’s work on the piece is two-fold. Obviously she performs the dickens out of the thing. She also created the processing based on Ms. Leí³n’s musical descriptions. The end result is a free-for-all in the best possible way. Events emerge, beats struggle to start up, and energies get initiated and deflected. This teases us along and we never quite get the release that a full-blown beat track would provide, only enough hints to make us want more.

I love this disc. Did I already say that?

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7437779.jpeAUERBACH: La Fenice: Sonata 1; Il Segno; Memento Mori; Fantasia; Images form Childhood. Ksenia Nosikova, pft. Profil PH07064. 65 minutes.

The piano music of Russian composer Lera Auerbach embraces both sides of a number of musical binaries that have pre-occupied us for decades: tonal/pantonal, dramatic/lyric, contrast/stasis, simple/complex, etc. The music frequently veers drastically from one extreme to another, and sometimes you’ve been moved a tremendous amount of expressive distance without even noticing it has happened.

Ms. Auerbach’s music is both immediately engaging and elusive enough to warrant deeper investigation. She displays a mastery of form in the Sonata and a skill for aphorism in the Images. The piano writing is idiomatic and exploratory.

Ksenia Nosikova’s playing is top notch. This is a fine disc, one that I am sure I will return to.

I noticed on finishing this that I didn’t really say very much about the music. I just want you to hear it.

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