Archive for the “Women Composers” Category

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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beiser.JPGAlmost Human. BEGLARIAN: I am writing to you from a far-off country; TALBOT: Motion Detector; Falling. Maya Beiser, cello, narration; Alexandra Montano, vocals. KOCH 7686. 54 minutes.

I’ve written before in praise of Eve Beglarian. Her music is pop-inflected and immediately accessible without being cloying. Maya Beiser’s recording of Ms. Beglarian’s I am writing to you from a far-off country cements that impression and shows a deepening of the composer’s art. I am writing to you from a far-off country is an eight movement piece for cello, narrator, vocalist and electronics based on letters by Henri Michaux.

According to program notes by percussionist Steven Schick, the piece grew out of a collaboration between the composer and the cellist, using Michaux’ letter (about the differences and similarities between his own country and one that, on the surface, should be exotic and unknown) as a basis for exploring their own musical personalities. The melodies of the piece come from Ms. Beglarian’s Armenian background, and their development and performance is a playing out of the balance between what Mr. Schick calls “what we know and what we sense”.

The soundworld of this piece is rich and it insinuates itself into your ears, head, and heart. The cello sound is distorted at times and at others it is pure. It is often difficult to distinguish between the cello and Alexandra Montano’s wordless vocals. The electronic “accompaniment” is rich and serene at the same time, and the few fast sections really stand out. The combination of familiarity and exoticism in I am writing to you from a far-off country creates a sonic dreamscape that will stay with you long after the piece is over.

The two compositions by Joby Talbot are good companions to the Beglarian work. They are both slow and insinuatingly expressive. Motion Detector is something of a high concept piece, with a constantly rising (and intensifying) glissando defining the gestural language, which partakes of post-minimalism far more than Ms. Beglarian’s piece.

Falling is an insistent response to the experience of loss, a fall. It’s long, arching lines define a more capacious musical space than we hear in Motion Detector. It is an expressive, haunting work.

Maya Beiser is an exceptionally gifted cellist. Her musicality, technique, and commitment show in every note she plays on this fine disc.

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women composers
Tomoko Mukaiyama, piano

There are two comments that I want to make in preface to all of this.

First, the CD cover alone is intriguing enough, consisting of a tantalizing photo of the pianist (I’m assuming it’s her) in a state of undress. Of course, that begs these questions: does the album need sex to sell it? Doesn’t this depersonalize women, which seems antithetical to the idea of an album of “women composers?”

Second, isn’t there something wrong when we seem to find albums dedicated to women composers, gay and lesbian composers, Jewish composers, composers born in months without the letter “a,” etc.? Women composers aren’t novelties; they make up a significant proportion of the population of active composers.

All of this said, this album isn’t a novelty. It’s actually a very nice compilation of expertly-performed music by a good selection of female composers. On this album, we find music by the well known (Meredith Monk, Sofia Gubaidulina) and the less well known (Vanessa Lann, Adriana Holsky, Galina Ustvolskaya). Three of the five women are from Eastern Europe/Russia, and two studied with Shostakovich, one of my favorite composers. All of the works are different in style, making this a varied CD that is a pleasure to listen to.

The included works are:

  • Horfenster fur Franz Lizst (Holsky)
  • Inner Piece (Lann)
  • Piano Sonata VI (Ustvolskaya)
  • Piano Sonata (Gubaidulina)
  • Double Fiesta (Monk)

Not surprisingly, I was most enamored with Double Fiesta. This is a piece for voice and piano (I’m assuming Mukaiyama is singing along with the piano, but it sounds remarkably like Meredith Monk herself, which is a complement, of course) that is nicely repetitive, modal and engaging.

The Holszky piece is in two parts and involves some extended keyboard techniques that are mainly percussive in nature but also involve some vocal work by the pianist. At times, the work reminded me of some of the piano works of Cowell. Much of the piece is percussive, and overlays new ideas on top of some fragments from Lizst’s music. The music also includes an “out-of-tune piano” for good measure. Overall, an intriguing piece.

Inner Piece (great title, if nothing else) is a very pleasant, mellow work that at times sounds minimalist but also evokes jazz piano writing. I liked this music a lot, and found it to be fairly distinctive.

The Ustvolskaya work is angry. Really angry. I thought it reminded me of some of the more avant-garde and percussive sections of Shostakovich’s first piano sonata, which is a great, under-appreciated work in its own right, as well as some of the early piano works of Wolpe. I liked the Ustvolskaya very much and would like to hear more of her music. Interestingly, the last part of the sonata is a retrograde version of the first part.

Gubaidulina’s Piano Sonata uses many different techniques, including what sounded to me like piano preparation. It dates from 1965 and is largely tonal, but sounds very modernistic just the same.

The performances are first rate, and while I don’t have the benefit of scores to look at, none of these pieces are easy, with several requiring what I would consider a great deal of virtuosity. So in total, we have a very thoughtful collection of works by female composers expertly performed. That in itself would sell this album, making the provocative cover seem like a bit of overkill.    

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