My Naxos colleague Elysha Miracle is a professional violist and I was thrilled to convince her to interview violist Eliesha Nelson for the Naxos blog and Sequenza21. A member of the Cleveland Orchestra since 2000, Eliesha’s debut recording on the Dorian Sono Luminus label features the Complete Works for Viola by American composer Quincy Porter.

When I first learned of Eliesha Nelson’s upcoming release of Quincy Porter’s Complete Viola Works from Dorian Sono Luminus, I was overjoyed to have such a wonderful release from a violist. As a violist myself, I find we tend to band together as a group more so than many other instrumentalists. I can’t be sure why this is the case, but as a result I find myself rooting for violists, and particularly one who brings such excitement to the repertoire and instills respect for her instrument. Eliesha Nelson’s performance of the Quincy Porter works does just that. Since she plays the instrument closest to my heart and we share unique spellings of the same name, I found myself very attached to this recording! With a brand-new album coming out, being a member of the Cleveland Orchestra, and motherhood on the way, she is an inspiration to many, including myself. After contacting Eliesha to tell her how much I enjoyed her new recording, her kindness and enthusiasm for the music made me want to learn more about her background and what led her to this point in her career as a musician. So I went straight to the source to learn more about this talented violist and her passion for music.

How did you first develop a love for music? What inspired you to begin playing?

My parents come from a generation where learning an instrument, usually piano, was commonplace. It was considered part of being a well-educated, well-rounded individual irrespective of one’s economic status. My mother played violin and piano, so I and my sister did too. Viola came later, in my early 20’s.

I began playing the violin when I was 6 years old. I was raised in the interior of Alaska, and when I was first learning violin, the Suzuki Method was being introduced to the area. My first violin teacher was a cellist, but she must have done her job well because I developed a love for playing. I think that’s the most important thing a young child gets with a good beginner’s teacher. No one wants to play an instrument if it’s tedious, boring or too academic.

Although this is not the case for myself, like many violists, you began your musical instruction on the violin and later switched to viola. What ultimately made you stick with the Viola, and what do you enjoy most about playing Viola as opposed to the Violin?

I began playing viola out of curiosity and a desire to learn something new. I stuck with viola because I got an orchestral job as acting principal viola of the Florida Philharmonic immediately after getting my master’s degree, so I needed to play viola! Now I’m happy it turned out that way. I’m researching and learning a lot of fantastic viola repertoire that has been lost or underplayed, plus I love learning standard repertoire I “should” have learned as a kid.

I view the violin and viola as two separate instruments with different sonorities. I don’t necessarily value one over the other, but I do prefer the sound of the viola. I also find it more physically difficult to play, and sometimes when I’m feeling tired, I wistfully recall how much easier technical feats are on the violin. Paganini Caprices are much easier on the violin than the viola!

Artur Nikish believed that ‘a player’s psyche depended upon the instrument he played,’ and he characterized violists as being ‘calm and good-natured.’ It has also been often said that ‘viola players are the least troublesome’ in orchestra settings. Do you agree?

Hmmm. That’s what I’m told, that all violists are calm and good-natured. However, I have certainly met high-strung, very competitive and supremely self-confident violists! I think it takes all types, even in a viola section.

What are some of your favorite compositions to play? Do you have an era you prefer?

I love to play whatever pieces I’m performing at the moment. I prefer variety in repertoire. So far, I’ve had the luxury of not being told what repertoire I must perform for most solos with orchestra and recitals, so it’s been my choice. I use the opportunity to learn new music as well as perform pieces in my repertoire I love.

My favorite era is Renaissance music, so that means I listen to a lot of vocal music. There’s something about the purity of the voice and the use of intervals that I find captivating. I have Josquin des Prez, John Dunstable and Orlando de Lassus among others on my iPod. However, I have a wide range of musical interests from Appalachian folk music to Balinese gamelan.

Your first album Quincy Porter’s Complete Viola Works, is coming out at the end of September. What did you enjoy most about the recording process? Least?

My friend and colleague
John McLaughlin Williams who plays and conducts on the album, suggested several years ago that I do a recording. It took a while for me to come around to the idea. My assumptions were that the process is boring, tedious and interested primarily in note and ensemble perfection. I found it to be quite the opposite. This is not a competition, but a foray into creativity. I found myself more interested in exploring the types of sounds I could make, and aiming to play in a manner that best represents the purpose of the music.
There’s nothing I really disliked about the process. It is physically taxing to play so many hours a day with such intensity, so that is one challenge.

If you could choose one composer, conductor or artist, deceased or living, to meet who would it be? Why?

There are so many fascinating artists and composers, but I would especially love to meet the Chevalier de Saint-George (1745-99). He was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, and equally well regarded during his life. What amazes me about him was that he was a true Renaissance man – not just a violinist and composer, but master swordsman and fighter for the French Revolution. He taught Marie-Antoinette, conducted and premiered Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies, and became the first “music director” of one of Europe’s great orchestras, yet very few know of him, and his music/life is all but a footnote in history. Perhaps if his mother had not been a black slave and his father a wealthy French nobleman, he would not have suffered from the French
code noir of that time, but his accomplishments and experiences are phenomenal for anyone.

When you’re not performing or practicing, what activities do you enjoy?

I enjoy physical activities like yoga, running, hiking and weight lifting. I’m also the “handyman” of the family, and I’m always finding things around the house to fix up. I have a book club that meets about every 2 months, but I do read quite a bit during the summer and when I travel. I’m expecting my first child early October, so motherhood will be the newest all consuming activity coming up!

Which composer would you most like–or would have liked–to contribute to the instrument’s repertoire?

It would be fascinating to see what a Brahms, Beethoven or Prokofiev viola concerto would sound like.

There are countless viola jokes. Can you share a few of your favorites?

The MIT web site has a fantastic list of viola jokes. One of my favorite shorter ones is about a violist and conductor. You see a violist and a conductor crossing the street. Which one do you hit first? The conductor – business before pleasure!
What projects or exciting events do you have planned for the future?

I’m in the process of researching new pieces by little known or neglected composers for future recordings. I have wonderful help from Victor Ledin, one of the producers I worked with on the Porter album. I would have liked to have had a release party for the album, but being that the release date is September 29 and I’m expecting a child four days later, I decided against it! I’m not doing much in the fall and early winter due to the newborn, but in January things pick up again with a talk at Trumbull College at Yale about the Porter Project. Later in the spring I have a recital and other performances.

Comments Comments Off

Next morning: full dress rehearsal at the Palace goes surprisingly well. The final movement is still challenging. A fast 3/8 flourish that begins the movement still sounds sloppy and the ending isn’t quite as emphatic as it needs to be. I spent the rest of the day wandering the canals and streets, and drinking espresso, which is a silly thing to do to calm one’s nerves. The musical sites of St. Pete’s are so abundant as to be laughable. I had coffee in a building where Tchaikovsky lived and died. I visited the famous Mariinsky Theatre and the statues of Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov at the Conservatory. Most important to me of anything I might do in this city was to visit 66 Krukov Canal, which happened to be around the corner from Dima’s, and a rite of pilgrimage I had longed to take for years. This was the home of the Stravinsky’s until Igor’s triumphant Paris premieres with the Ballets Russe. The Revolution would keep him away from his birth country for another 55 years. A Firebird plaque hangs on the entrance to the building. I would return to this spot over and over, as well as to the Shamrock Pub, directly adjacent to it. Old habits die hard.

Arriving in the Palace again was a sobering experience. It was certainly the most glorious setting for my music, and I say this knowing I’ve been blessed with performances at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully, Steinway and a few smart college campuses. We very nearly had a full house and I was surprised to see Anna, a woman I spoke to on the flight over for no more than 10 minutes and to whom I briefly mentioned the concert. She joined us after the day-long wedding of her sister in Pushkin the day before. Charles, Vladimir and the band gave a strong performance of the Aikman piece, with its wonderfully tuneful middle movement. I’m happy to report that the performance of my Cello Concerto – the product of some six months of labor – went off extremely well. Dima played like someone absolutely possessed and Vladimir held the orchestra together nicely, and created a real sense of pacing. The crowd was more silent than any I had ever experienced, especially in my hushed central movement with its cadenza for cello and percussion. Tempos were as I had them indicated, and the applause for the performers was hard-earned. The US embassy and the St. Petersburg Times sent four officials who I never managed to talk to but I was pleased to hear English spoken elsewhere in the crowd a bit. A bunch of us went out to celebrate afterward to a far-too-hip-for-me club and restaurant. I got a little thrill from seeing my name rendered in Cyrillic on the concert posters. We wandered the streets in the only hour of darkness in the city.

A minor mishap on the way to the studio the next morning: Dima’s car breaks down in the middle of the busiest part of the Nevsky Prospekt. Fortunately, Vladimir and I are able to push it around a corner where, lo and behold, a car is vacating a parking spot. I will tell you this: parallel parking a car without a working motor is no easy feat. But since this car weighs slightly more than a watermelon, we managed fine. We quickly hitched a ride, which is surprisingly simple (and cheap) to do. Also no easy feat is cramming three musicians and a cello into the average Russian car. We all had to pile out just to reach our wallets.

The Melodiya Studios – which some consider the Abbey Road of Russia – resides in a small, rather shabby and nondescript church on Vasilievsky Island, across the Neva. We would be spending some ten hours here. I refused to believe that we could record this three-movement work, nearly 30 minutes of music for 51 players, in one day. Melodiya, established in 1964, was the state-sponsored record label of the USSR, making heralded recordings of classical, pop and jazz in a network of studios throughout the Soviet Union. This was where some of the first studio recordings of the last three Shostakovich symphonies were made and where some of the greatest conductors – Kondrashin, Svetlanov, Rozhdestvensky – put their stamp on the classics. The smoke-stained control room didn’t portend well, and I did my best not to judge the small and primitive mixing board. Up three flights of stone stairs and separated from the recording space by seven heavy iron doors, the control room is certainly isolated. Yosha, the engineer/producer (they are generally one and the same here) opened my score just before Vladimir gave the first downbeat. All prejudices were quickly laid aside. It was clear that this man had a valuable set of ears. In a matter of minutes, he know my score better than I. No detail escaped his attention. After a he uttered a gentle “spasiba” into the control mic, he would ask the group to play again. A few seconds later, they’d be playing. No fuss, no preparation. It went on like this for five hours with only two breaks. His understanding of this group, with whom he has made hundreds of recordings, was humbling to say the least. At one point, I left one of the seven doors open on my way from the bathroom to the control room. Once the mics were rolling, he stopped the orchestra and closed the door.

With the exception of two violists who played dominoes on a piano bench, each fifteen-minute break consisted of the band filing outside for profuse smoking. Most players carried with them a flask or thermos of tea, and a small sandwich. Once the personnel manager clapped his hands, the band gathered and the tape was rolling again in five minutes. After five hours, we took a break and Dima, Volodya and I headed to a Georgian restaurant for an epic lunch, washed down by lagidze, a tarragon-flavored soda, followed by a nap.

Back in the studio at night, which of course feels like early afternoon. Four more hours and we have it, including some good takes of the third movement. In all, we’ve recorded more than 300 minutes of music. Dima is unstoppable. At no point was there a need to stop because he had made a mistake. The third movement cadenza, the trickiest part of the whole piece, took only one take. We did a second just for the hell of it and I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. After divvying up the cash in the control room and a discussion on mixing, we’re done. I almost feel ripped off because the whole thing happened so fast, but I’m more amazed at the work ethic of these wonderful musicians. They make a meager existence performing and that explains the especially punishing schedule, especially in summer. They would do four more recording sessions in the next week.

After the sessions, I found some time to see more sites, including visiting Peterhof on the Gulf of Finland. A rival to Versailles, and in my opinion more spectacular with its hundreds of gravity-controlled fountains, it’s a forty-minute hovercraft ride from the Neva Embankment. Dima also took me to the impressive Peter and Paul Fortress and the Aurora Cruiser, which fired the salvos that signaled the start of the Revolution. Dmitry, Vladimir, Natasha, Charles and I ended our trip with a great meal and a final visit to the pub, where pianist Peter Laul joined us. Truly one of the most gifted musicians I happen to know, he helped us tow Dima’s broken car over every bridge in the city to find a shop where the sad thing could be parked. A two-hour nap before boarding the plane home, where I will make copious notes on the recording for purposes of mixing next month. I hope to report more soon. Next up: recording my Clarinet Concerto.

-Sean Hickey

Comments Comments Off

At Naxos, we are fortunate to have a very eclectic group! Our National Business Developer, Sean Hickey is a very talented composer. Here he recounts his experience with his first Russian recording.

In late 2007, I was commissioned to write a concertante work for cello and orchestra by the brilliant cellist Dmitry Kouzov, in collaboration with Vladimir Lande, principal guest conductor of the St. Petersburg Symphony. I completed the three-movement concerto in 2008, working very closely with the soloist in New York, particularly in the cadenzas, and dedicated it to the spectacular artistry of Dmitry. Composing this work in this degree of collaboration was new for me and I think I gained a lot from it.

In May, Maestro Lande led the Chamber Orchestra of Southern Maryland in two performances (in two different towns) of the work with Kouzov as soloist. Though the semi-professional orchestra clearly had difficulties with the score, it allowed all of us – composer, conductor, soloist – to address the hurdles in the work before taking it to St. Petersburg for its official world premiere. That concert took place on June 21st, 2009, in the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace, one of the many palatial residences Catherine the Great built for her lovers in St. Petersburg.

Never traveling to Russia before but knowing a good handful of St. Petersburg musicians based in the States meant that this would be an interesting trip in a lot of ways. I would be staying with Dmitry and his parents on the Moika Embankment. Dima and I had organized a series of chamber music concerts in New York over the previous six months to raise money for the recording of my concerto. We were helped along by a couple of generous donations from individuals who have supported my work over the years.

Dima picked me up in a newly-purchased but old-as-dirt Soviet Lada, which required two strong hands on the glass in order to roll up the passenger window. Driving up the broad Moskova Prospekt, we sped through Soviet history: a statue of Lenin high on a pedestal in front of a hammer and sickle bas relief; the spot where the Nazis stopped in their siege of Leningrad, now a memorial dedicated to the defenders of the city; rows of Soviet housing estates, most of them looking like they could be toppled by a light breeze. At Dima’s comfortable flat, his mother served us an array of Russian delicacies and we set out to explore the city at night. St. Pete’s is the world’s northernmost city with more than a million people. In fact, nearly 5 million people call it home and it’s easy to see why in June. During this time of White Nights, the sun sets for about an hour and a half. It’s only truly dark for about an hour, around 2:30 AM. Most Petersburgers don’t seem to go to bed at all and I wouldn’t sleep much either.

Entering Palace Square, with the Alexander Column in the center, the massive Hermitage surrounding, and the Admiralty and St. Isaac’s in the near distance, was an unforgettable experience. Dima and I walked around extensively, along the broad Neva and across the exquisite bridges that bisect the many canals and rivers of the city: Fontanka, Moika, Griboeveda. Summer time usually means dinner around midnight, and most restaurants on the Nevsky Prospekt – Russia’s most famous street – make accommodation for diners at all hours. Amazing to think of this city built on islands and swamps, made to order by Peter the Great in the 18th century and where some 200,000 people perished in its construction, is actually younger than New York.

Next morning Dima and I drove to the pink and graceful Palace of Beloselsky-Belozersky on the banks of the Fontanka. The grand staircase was opulent, the enormous rooms of the palace sumptuous in their rococo detail. We ascended staircase after staircase to reach the smallest room on the whole place: the rehearsal space for the St. Petersburg Symphony. All composers feel anxiety in rehearsal and I’m certainly no exception. As soon as Vladimir gave the downbeat, the strings struggled with intonation, the nicely-dovetailed chorale-like wind passages weren’t so in tune or chorale-like and the overloud percussion sounded as if they were playing instruments manufactured in the Stone Age. My greatest fear, of course, was errors in parts, much of which was ameliorated in the Maryland performances. I was confident everything was proofed and reproofed. Alas, it was not quite. A xylophone part went mysteriously missing and though I had my files on disc, we couldn’t find a copy shop or hotel to read the files. Dima later bought some manuscript paper and I stayed up late the second night rewriting the part from score. Rosemary, a great friend from Ireland, came with me to the first rehearsal and after lunch the two of us headed to the impossibly opulent Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood. With more mosaics than any church in Europe, the place is almost too extreme in its color and detail. Inside, the stones where anarchists assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881 form the centerpiece opposite the altar. The church’s setting on the banks of the Griboedov makes it one of the most photographed places in Russia.

Alas, I’m getting carried away. I used to do a lot of travel writing but this is supposed to be about my musical experience. We had some late-night discussions with Vladimir before the next morning’s rehearsal. Dima played like a demon and the orchestra had improved, though not to any great degree. I was worried and Dima was clearly tense. Alexander Titov, music director of the orchestra and a well-known conductor, gave a few pointers and tried to rally the orchestra to concentrate. We were two days away from our concert, which also happened to feature another concerto premiere, the Violin Concerto of James Aikman, performed by an extraordinary violinist, Charles Wetherbee. Two American premieres in one concert! To the disbelief of the non-Russians present, the orchestra was recording this work the day after mine. In fact, between rehearsals, concerts and recordings, the orchestra worked some ten days straight, in many cases for 8-10 hours at a time. Their calm and quiet determination was astonishing.

The contrast between the opulent, wedding-cake facades and behind-the-scenes areas is shocking throughout St. Petersburg. Dima dragged me to the stage door of the Large Hall of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic where a friend was waiting. She led us through a cavernous catacomb of dripping light bulbs, rusty pipes and exposed wiring. Then up a few flights of crumbling stairs and through a musician’s lounge of cigarette butts and chessboards, through another long hallway where she then parted a heavy velvet curtain. In an instant we were on stage with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic – mid-concert mind you – in the most sumptuous hall, replete with glittering chandeliers. We sat close enough behind the basses to read their parts of Prokofiev’s L’enfant Prodigue.

Dima and I had some serious discussions with Vladimir on this premiere and recording and I was reminded that I carried not an insignificant wad of US dollars in my pockets on the plane, and I wasn’t going to see it go to waste. Volodya assured us that the concert would be good and the recording – scheduled for the next day – would be better than good. Russians like to smoke like Americans like to eat and it was obvious that Dima was worried as he took drag after drag at a café on the Nevsky Prospekt. I wandered around on my own, snapping pictures of the Yussupov Palace (where Rasputin was poisoned and dumped, still alive, in the Moika), and climbed the steps to the top of St. Isaac’s, where I could look out over the entire watery city. That night, I got caught up in controlled mayhem and ran into a tank-reinforced line of hundreds of police officers. Hundreds of thousands of graduating 17-year-olds descend on the Neva to watch fireworks and hundred-foot tall fountains spew from barges. As all intersections to Nevsky were closed, I had to backtrack several blocks and canals, going against a tidal wave of traffic, each person with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of beer or champagne in another. For a few moments, I was genuinely scared as bottles flew, a few pretty close to my head. I met up with Dima in a sudden downpour which turned the million-plus crowd into a writhing, soused, but well-dressed mess.

I commented to Sasha, Dima’s dad, how their television always seemed to be showing scenes from WWII, or the Great Patriotic War, as it’s considered by Russians. As I was reading Antony Beevor’s book on Stalingrad, I should have known that my premiere would take place on the very anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Russia. In my concerto’s second movement, there’s a not so thinly-veiled quote from Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony “Leningrad”, first in the flutes, then in the bass clarinet. The musicians picked up on it in the second rehearsal. Talking to Sasha over a couple of scotches, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the very fact that the two of us could talk about growing up in our respective countries; he, born in Leningrad during the siege where family members starved or later disappeared during the Stalin purges; me, growing up safe but with a Cold War suspicion and even hatred of anything Russian, helped by Reagan’s endless rhetoric. The truth was that the two of us could not have had this discussion even fifteen years earlier.

-Sean Hickey
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Comments Comments Off

This week Naxos of America’s new e-marketing manager, Taylor Vick, weighs in on the revolution taking place in the way we consume music.

Run! The sky is falling!

Or at least, that’s what most of the media would tell you when it comes to classical music. But there is a classical revolution happening right in our back yard. As the older, traditional ways of performing classical music inspire less and less audience participation and subscription, newbies to the scene are bringing classical music to the masses. And not in conventional ways.

Take for example a great article on WBEZ. Lynette Kalsnes interviewed a group called Classical Revolution and asked them all sorts of questions about playing chamber music in bars and pubs in Chicago. One of my favorite quotes is from Mike Muszynsk, the group’s bassoon player,

I remember the first time I played, there was some guys watching the Hawks game and they were getting pretty hammered. At the end of every movement that we played, they were the loudest people in the bar, showing their praise for us.”

Classical Revolution isn’t the only classical group bringing their music to the masses. Classical music is also beginning to dominate the New York Club scene. Take for example, Le Poisson Rouge. One of our Naxos artists, Ge Gan-Ru, performed there last night. And, another Naxos artist, Philippe Quint, had an wildly successful CD Release party at Le Poisson Rouge last month, primarily because of all his fans! There are tons of these small, intensely loyal classical music communities bubbling up in major metropolitan areas in the US as well as in the UK. In fact, one of my favorite classical newsletters comes from the UK: DilettanteMusic.

So my Top 5 Reasons for digging the classical revolution taking place in the US are:

  1. Combining 2 of my favorite past times: Drinking adult beverages & listening to great music
  2. Hanging out with people who also dig classical music in a relaxed environment
  3. Clapping, whistling and generally carrying on when a musician does something extraordinary
  4. Watching friends faces as it dawns on them that classical music is cool
  5. Meeting the musicians afterward and congratulating them on great performances!

Have you gone to any of these kinds of performances before? What was your impression? Would you go again? Who’s been your favorite performer to watch?

I wish I could’ve been at Le Poisson Rouge for Ute Lemper, or for either one of Peter Breiner’s CD release parties. One of my all time favs was the New Amsterdam/Non-Classical Records concert. Talk about wild! That party featured artists such as The Elysian Quartet, John Matthias & Nick Ryan, NOW Ensemble, DJ Gabriel Prokofiev and Sam Z. Solomon. Most of these guys also played at SXSW, which I got to see when I was there back in March. It rocked.

I think opening up classical music to the masses and making it accessible can almost be synonymous with making the Bible available in languages other than Latin. Exposing my friends and family to all the great classical musicians and composers is a great first step, but I’m hoping to turn them into lifelong devotees! Well, at least expand their horizons…for now.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Comments Comments Off

On June 30, Naxos releases its first recording devoted to three chamber masterworks by the Shanghai-born composer Ge Gan-ru performed by ModernWorks (Airi Yoshioka, Mayuki Fukuhara, violins; Veronica Salas, viola; Madeleine Shapiro, cello): String Quartet No. 1, Fu; String Quartet No.4, Angel Suite and his String Quartet No. 5, Fall of Baghdad.

For anyone not familiar with this wonderful composer, you can meet him and hear his music performed by ModernWorks at Le Poisson Rouge on Wednesday, July 8 at 9:30 PM.

Born in 1954, the young Ge Gan-ru studied the violin until the onset of the Cultural Revolution, during which he was sent to a labor camp to plant rice. When the Shanghai Conservatory reopened at the end of the Revolution in 1974, Ge matriculated as a violin student, but, three years later, he shifted his focus to composition, studying with Chen Gang. During this time, he became familiar with scores by 20th-century Western composers including Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Cage, and Crumb, as well as music by the Japanese composer Takemitsu. In 1980, when British composer Alexander Goehr became the first Western composer to visit China after the Revolution, Ge was among the few students to receive lessons from him. Upon his graduation in 1981, Ge was appointed assistant professor of composition at the Conservatory. At that time, Chinese composers were still basing new works on traditional Western styles. The controversial 1983 Shanghai premiere of Ge’s Yi Feng (Lost Style; 1982)-a work for “radically detuned” solo cello-served as the “opening salvo” in what was to become the Chinese musical avant-garde movement.

In 1983, Ge began work on his String Quartet No. 1 – Fu (Prose-Poem), but before he could complete it, he relocated to New York City, recruited by Chou Wen-chung at Columbia University. While supporting himself as a restaurant deliveryman, Ge managed to complete the piece, and the Kronos Quartet-celebrated for its commitment to new music-soon made it part of their repertoire. Fu and Yi Feng are both milestones in Ge’s canon, as they represent the development of his individual style: “They are the first of their kind in China, exploring individualism and the essence of Chinese music characteristics while avoiding sentimental melodies then prevalent in China ”¦ Fu in Chinese refers to descriptive prose interspersed with verse. In this piece, I tried to express some of the most basic aesthetic feelings typical of Chinese classical poetry and calligraphy, such as subtlety, free form, and masterly strokes.”

The interval of the minor second figures prominently in Fu and generates much of its musical content. Unorthodox means of tone production dominate this work (though instruments are conventionally tuned), including snap pizzicato, harmonics, glissandi, tremolos, and various combinations of these techniques. Moreover, throughout the work, unmeasured, rhythmic passages alternate with more regularly-patterned music.

Some of the same sounds from Fu are prominent in the introductory measures of Angel Suite – String Quartet No. 4 (1998). And, interestingly, the minor second also figures significantly in its second, third and fourth movements. The composer writes: “Of all my works, this piece is the closest to the Western classical music tradition, and it offers a contrast to my other music … The title comes from my interest in Christianity ”¦ In this work, I try to express my curiosity in, and observation of, various aspects of Christianity. The titles of the movements (Cherub, Gnomes, Prayer, and Angel’s March) refer to the subjects that I wanted to represent musically. For instance, in the first movement, the harmonic glissando represents a cherub; the second movement focuses on dance rhythm ”¦ In the prayer movement, I use contrasting consonant and dissonant chords to draw out feelings of purity and sincerity in praying. In the middle section, I also use the beginning few notes from Schubert’s Ave Maria. For the last movement I chose to write a march, as I always imagine an angel as young and vibrant.”

Fall of Baghdad – String Quartet No. 5 is at once a tribute to George Crumb’s Black Angels for electric string quartet (1970) and an expression of the composer’s own feelings about the war in Iraq. Like Crumb’s work before it, the music comprises three long sections divided into thirteen shorter ones. “Hair-raising squeals” produced by “applying pressure to the strings behind the bridge to create a scraping sound of indefinite pitch” open the work. In this quartet, Ge uses extended techniques neither as cultural relics, as in Fu, nor as suggestions of ethereal spirits, as in Angel Suite, Instead, he uses his unique musical language to symbolize the devastation and despair associated with war. (For contrast and relief, the middle section, “Music from Heaven,” incorporates light percussion; the “Heaven” to which this movement refers, incidentally, is a different paradise than the one Ge depicts in Angel Suite.) Ge employs microtonal inflections to suggest Middle Eastern music (which shares some of its idioms with the music of his native country) and also makes use of (as he explains): “glissandi and distorted sound to create the ”˜hellish’ effects; playing col legno (striking the strings with the [wooden part of the] bow) both in front of and behind the bridge for the Caliph’s drum and using extreme high notes on low strings for ”˜moaning’ sounds.”

Comments Comments Off

This week composer Sean Hickey, Naxos’ National Sales and Business Development Manager, weighs in on the growing trend in alternative performance venues, a subject which has been covered at length in The New York Times and many other publications including the June issue of Gramophone.  On May 18 at 8 PM in Alice Tully Hall, [...]

Comments Comments Off

An Interview with Magnar Åm
In May, Naxos of America begins distribution of 2L, a Norwegian label known for releasing the world’s first audio-only Blu-Ray recording, Divertimenti, which subsequently received three Grammy® nominations. Founded in 2001 by Morten Lindberg, 2L’s mission is to achieve state-of-the-art sound and packaging within all future formats of classical music. “What [...]

Comments Comments Off

When I was a child, Blackglama® Mink used to run ads on TV and in all the fashion magazines featuring movie stars, models, and famous men and women from all walks of life all bedecked in luxurious mink coats, paired with the simple caption: “What Becomes a Legend Most? … Blackglama® Mink.” The ads were [...]

Comments Comments Off

This week Naxos of America’s Collin Rae weights in on Italian movie soundtrack music of the 1960s and 1970s:
So much has already been written about Italian movie soundtrack music of the 1960’s and 70’s that I certainly won’t shed any new light on this subject, instead I will simply highlight some of the wonderful [...]

Comments Comments Off

Collin Rae, Naxos of America’s Marketing and Special Projects Manager, recently started a series of email discussions with composers, which have been posted on PMS #286 Appreciation Society, the Naxos of America blog. This discussion with composer David Lang yielded some interesting answers— including one heck of a 15-track music compilation!
In February of this year [...]

Comments Comments Off