Archive for the “Women Composers” Category

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.

 

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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

Polytopia

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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Thousand Year Dreaming
Annea Lockwood

Thousand Year Dreaming

Pogus Productions


Performers on Thousand Year Dreaming: Art Baron, conch shell, trombone, didjeridu; Libby Van Cleve, oboe, English horn; Jon Gibson, didjeridu; Annea Lockwood, voice; J.D. Parran, clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Michael Pugliese, tam-tam, clapping sticks; N. Scott Robinson, conch shell, frame drums, pod rattle, tam-tam; John Snyder, didjeridu, waterphone; Charles Wood, tam-tam, stones; Peter Zummo, trombone, didjeridu

Imagine doing the aural equivalent of Fantastic Voyage with a didjeridu. Or three. That should be reason enough for you to want this recording. Thousand Year Dreaming is a re-release of the recording previously available on What’s Next and is accompanied by an electroacoustic soundscape piece floating world. Thousand Year Dreaming is a tremendous composition. It sucks you in right away with simple glissandi and microtones. Ms. Lockwood permeates each gesture with spaciousness and slow pacing, weaving a smooth fabric throughout the 5 movements. Nothing is rushed, nothing is abrupt, everything flows so smoothly that once you hear real didjeridus you feel as though they had been playing all the time.

The performance of the work is incredibly nuanced and detailed. You simply fall into this piece and don’t get out until it is done. The performers exude a sense of community and musical understanding which is critical to the success of Thousand Year Dreaming. This disc is an excellent recording of a dynamite composition.

floating world is a soundscape composition made from recordings donated by Ms. Lockwood’s friends. The simple sounds mask the editing techniques applied to the material and it is possible that one can hear the piece and be oblivious to the sensitive treatment of the recordings. In other words, Ms. Lockwood makes soundscapes sound easy. They aren’t. Each of the three movements provides a lovely aural window to places I’d rather be (instead of my windowless office). The subtleties and spaciousness of floating world makes it an excellent counterpart to Thousand Year Dreaming.

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570347.gifMOON: Piano Sonata; Submerged; In Transit; Guernica; Inter-Mez-Zo; Toccata; Ode; Piano Fantasy; Nursery; The Secret; Prelude. Beata Moon, piano. Naxos 8.570347. 60 minutes.

Composer/pianist Beata Moon performs a program of her own compositions on this new Naxos release. Performing your own compositions entails risks on both sides of the “/”. When composing for your instrument you will be tempted to equate your limits as a player with the limits of the instrument””to write what you can play. If you are playing your own music the temptation may be to play what you meant whether you wrote it or not.

I haven’t seen Beata Moon’s piano music in print, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of her readings of her own compositions, but it is hard for me to escape the idea that her comfort zone as a player has a great deal of influence on her music. The music, all of it well-crafted and pianistic, stays within a relatively small expressive and technical range.

Within that range, it can be very good indeed. The Sonata is a solid work, a 17-minute statement of the composer’s view of the instrument. The harmony is unabashedly tonal, the melodies capable of carrying the expressive weight and structural duty they’re given. There’s a lot of monorhythmic writing in this piece (and in most of the others on the disc), and to my ears it keeps the music from going to places it seems to want/need to go.

Ms. Moon is a fine player, her technique is clean and her musicality fits the music she is playing.

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663-130.jpeMILLIKAN: Trens Coloridos Para Gabriela; Three Reflections; Red Migration; The Woodcarver & The Blacksmith; Cantando Para A Oní§a; 221B Baker Street. California EAR Unit/Marc Lowenstein. Innova 663. 60 minutes.

This disc is my first encounter with Ann Millikan’s music, and I’m pretty impressed. She knows instruments, has a good command of harmony and structure, and a solid sense of style. Make that “styles”. There’s a little something here for everyone. Ms. Millikan’s eclectic music moves seamlessly (usually) between such diverse stylistic poles as late modernism, totalism, jazz, and expanded tonality.

My favorite piece is Red Migration, a taut (seven and a half minutes packed with incident) exploration of the emotions involved with moving halfway across the country. The gestures and recurring motives are vivid and expressive, and as with everything else on the disc, expertly written for the instruments.

Less successful, for me at least, is 221B Baker Street, which is, in the composer’s words, a “quirky jazz/rock detective story inspired by the brilliant Sherlock Holmes series portrayed by Jeremy Brett”. It’s built on a 5:4 groove but seemed less groovy than that. It may be that I’ve been listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder lately and his grooves are more satisfying.

The California EAR Unit gives incredibly clean and committed performances and Innova’s sound is clear and detailed. Recommended.

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