Posts Tagged “Ives”

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A bit past the halfway mark in Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll comes a passage marked “Lebhaft” (lively tempo). It begins with a bright, energetic horn fanfare that is quickly answered by bird calls in the flute and clarinet. The flow of the piece makes it sound like Siegfried – Wagner’s son as much as his character – has awoken from gentle slumber to find himself in the woods. But there was nothing like that sensation when Alarm Will Sound played the original sinfonietta version last Friday to open their “The Permanent Collection” concert, which itself opened their new residency at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Limor Tomer is remaking the Met into the most interesting performance space in the city, with programming that rivals that of Miller Theatre and the use of the gallery spaces for live music. Alarm Will Sound has some great programming on tap, including an all Steve Reich concert November 16, but Alan Pierson and the group choose to set their first concert in the museum’s physical collection by showing the roots of their ensemble. Pierson hints at something of an argument about the sinfoniette being the prototypical new music ensemble, which is sort of true and sort of not – it depends on what year you’re look from, and which direction you turn your attention.

Wagner was certainly making new music in the nineteenth century, but that’s not what the Idyll is. It’s one of his loveliest works, but the aesthetic is entirely different than that of the new music movement that began around a hundred years ago. The music is about cadences, modulations between chords and tempos and the gestural language used to effect those. That’s where the expression is, and Alarm Will Sound is steeped in the aesthetic of non-narrative expressive language. They strung along the notes, played nicely, but had nothing much to say about the actual music. It had me searching for my recording of Glenn Gould conducting an intellectually critical and lovely take with the same forces.

Thomas Adés Living Toys is more in their style, but only superficially. I’m not a fan of the music, or his work in general. I find his composing masks an ordinary romantic sensibility in a lot of bravura hand-waving material that, if it doesn’t amount to something ordinary, amounts to little at all. There is a mismatch between the density of musical activity and the density of thinking. It suffered in inevitable comparisoin with all the great pieces from John Zorn I heard last month, music that is overwhelming with both detail and musical, aesthetic and intellectual meaning. But Adés is more old music in new music clothes.

Truly new, and truly excellent, were Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto and Ragtime Dances 1 and 4 by Charles Ives. These works are at the heart of Alarm Will Sound’s purpose, music that explores the possbilities of the future and that was written with experimental values at the fore. Ligeti’s work comes from his cloud phase, a period when he heard music as something like a collection of webs, gossamer strends connecting to each other across distances and forming sections that fill in space with a tantilizing wispiness. This was a beautiful, concentrated performance, the music clearly excites the players’ interest and concentration, everything focussed and spooky. The Chamber Concerto doesn’t tell stories, and it displays instrumental prowess in subtly challenging ways, the results tickle the bass of the skull in rare ways.

The Ives’ dances are rarely played or recorded, which is a shame because they are brilliant and practical, distilled and sharply written examples of his art and his importance. Ives was always pinning popular tunes to his pieces, but there’s something about hearing him create and lay out his own ragtime beat that is revelatory. True to form, he fractures it deliberately and exuberantly, and like a pinata, the yield is delight, joy and real, substantial satisfaction.

Q2 will have the concert archive available to stream, check their site for availability

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The 66th annual Ojai Festival was kicked off with the West Coast premiere of Inuksuit, the 2009 composition by John Luther Adams. Staged outdoors and directed by Steven Schick, some 46 percussionists and 3 piccolo players performed the 60 minute piece amid a large crowd in Libbey Park. The audience was encouraged to walk among the many scattered percussion sets, making the experience more like visiting a sound installation than attending a concert. Inuksuit is named after the distinctive stone markers of the Arctic Inuit peoples and the printed score has the outline of one such sculpture.

The piece begins quietly, the players imitating the sound of a soft breeze using cardboard megaphones, others rubbing rocks together and some with rattles – all moving outward from a central point through the crowd. At first the audience was not sure what to make of this – cell phones were answered and conversations continued – but eventually everyone quieted down as wind tubes were swung overhead simulating the eerie whistling of the wind through rocks or cliffs.

Distant horn calls from around the perimeter of the crowd followed, sounding a bit like moose calls. Drum beats, like the random thudding of rain drops, began to sound all through the assembly increasing in frequency and tempo much like an approaching storm. Cymbals followed and by now the crowd was fully engaged and circulating among the players. The drumming increased in intensity, along with loud cymbal crashes and rolls, as if standing on the banks of a roaring river.

The entire first half of the piece was essentially one long crescendo that could be reasonably heard as a convincing percussion sketch of a walk in the Alaskan wilderness. But just at the halfway point and at the peak of intensity, Adams introduces a series of sirens and bells into the mix – a distinctly urban sound. This departure from a strictly pastoral viewpoint is a masterstroke – it connects the urban listener with the environment most familiar to them. The sirens gradually abated and the second half of the piece declined in volume and intensity as the loud drumming slowly subsided.

At about 50 minutes into the piece, players holding triangles appeared around the edges and began moving inward through the crowd to the center. Their airy sounds created an ethereal quality, like the sprinkling of a light rain shower after a storm. The crowd followed, converging on three oak trees where piccolo players had been placed, standing above everyone on the lower branches. What followed was impressive: the piccolos issued a series of soft, bird-like calls that were answered by a few rapid bars of xylophone from several of the percussion stations. There was a sort of magical quality to this after all the drama of the heavy drumming. As the time between the piccolo calls and answers gradually lengthened, the sounds of children playing and cars making their way along the Ojai Avenue gradually became an integral part of the piece. In its final minutes Inuksuit manages to blur the distinction between performance and ambient life, achieving a sort of Cagean ideal by intersecting the musical arts with the outside environment– an impressive accomplishment.

The evening program was staged at the Libbey Bowl, an outdoor performance shell that was significantly upgraded in 2011 with improved , lighting, stage area and seating. Thankfully the upgrades included a decent sound system that proved its worth in Red Arc/Blue Veil, a 2001 composition by John Luther Adams scored for piano, percussion and processed sounds. This was ably performed by pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin and the aforementioned Steven Schick on percussion. Red Arc/Blue Veil features processed sounds that rumble and swell in and out of the foreground while the piano and percussion counter with rapid arpeggios. All of this creates an engaging texture and pleasant harmonic structure that reaches toward a sort of mystical quality, often succeeding. Credit here to the sound engineer who kept the balance between the recordings and the players to an agreeable level – the acoustic instruments could have been easily swallowed up. The outdoor ambiance of the Libbey Bowl did intrude, however, at the very end of the piece as it gradually dies away – some street noise broke the spell prematurely. Still, a credible outdoor performance for a piece better heard in the concert hall.

Following Red Arc/Blue Veil was the formidable Six Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (Op. 143a) by Dimitri Shostakovich. This was written in 1973, well after the trials and tribulations that Shostakovich had suffered under Stalin, but it reflects the anger and frustration of a life lived in difficult political circumstances. The work was performed by mezzo Christianne Stotijn and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The Six Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva are, by turns, solemn, melancholy, defiant, sad or resigned and these emotions were powerfully expressed by Ms. Stotijn who sang marvelously. Credit again to the sound system for bringing each nuance out to the lawn seating.

The concert closed with Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord” by Charles Ives. This was performed with a fine touch and expressive feeling by Marc-Andre Hamelin. The ‘Concord Sonata’ is written in four sections, dedicated to Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcott family and Thoreau, New Englanders who together shaped Ives’ thinking. This piece was written 100 years ago, and admittedly Ives revised it all during his lifetime, but it seems completely contemporary to our time and place. It is elegant, playful and nostalgic music, but it is right at home in the 21st century. The appreciative audience gave Hamelin a standing ovation for his carefully controlled, yet intense reading of this challenging work.

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Hilary Hahn
Hahn. Hilary Hahn. The violin superstar is about to premiere a new work by Jennifer Higdon tomorrow (Friday) night, attend the Grammy Awards this Sunday with two chances to win for Best Classical Album and Best Instrumental Performance with Orchestra, and then go on a recital tour playing Ives and Ysaye. She took out a few minutes to talk about the new piece and about the Grammys.
Part 1 (having a piece tailor made for her)
Part 2 (attending the Grammy Awards)
She has also just updated her YouTube Channel with Schoenberg’s grandson Randy:
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She mentioned that she’ll interview Higdon on her website, will perform at the Grammy Awards preshow and can be seen online, and if you haven’t seen it, her violin case twitters!

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