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The Lincoln Center Festival schedule is out and, as usual, it has lots of goodies for new music lovers.  The festival opens with Danny Elfman’s music from the films of Tim Burton, July 6-12.  Expect lots of fans dressed as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorshands and, alas, Batman.  Of more interest to the hardcore, the Queens-based piano and percussion chamber ensemble Yarn/Wire will debut new works from three extraordinary contemporary French composers—Tristan Murail, Misato Mochizuki, and Raphaël Cendo—at Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse.

For the really hardcore, there’s two events featuring the music of Harry Partch:  In Harry Partch: Bitter Music on July 23, David Moss performs a portion of Partch’s musical text in a hybrid lecture-performance and on July 23 and 24, Heiner Goebbels will lead Ensemble Musikfabrik in Partch’s final large-scale work, Delusion of the Fury.  For us older people, the Cleveland Orchestra will perform  Messiaen’s Chronochromie and Dvorák’s  Symphony No. 5 on July 16.

There are also some dances and plays and stuff.

See details.

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The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) has received a $450,000 award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support OpenICE, a new  initiative, that will yield more than 150 new concerts featuring more than 60 newly commissioned works over the next three years. The concerts will be presented through seasons in ICE’s home cities of New York and Chicago, as well as new seasons in cities and rural areas throughout the United States, and will extend internationally to diverse corners of the world including Greenland and the Amazonas region of Brazil that have little to no access to contemporary music.

Read the full press release:

OpenICE

Launch of a new multi-year initiative with leadership funding from

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Abrons Arts Center — January 29-31

New York — The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) has received a $450,000 award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support OpenICE, a new three-year initiative to develop, engage, and sustain diverse, new 21st-century listeners through an outpouring of artist-driven programming that is free and open to the public. By serving constituencies with little access to the art form, working with students of all backgrounds, forming new partnerships with community leaders and cultural organizations in nontraditional venues, and making ICE’s work available through DigitICE, the ensemble’s online library of contemporary music performances, OpenICE will yield more than 150 new concerts featuring more than 60 newly commissioned works over the next three years.

The concerts will be presented through seasons in ICE’s home cities of New York and Chicago, as well as new seasons in cities and rural areas throughout the United States, and will extend internationally to diverse corners of the world including Greenland and the Amazonas region of Brazil that have little to no access to contemporary music.

As an evolution of ICElab, ICE’s in-house commissioning program from 2011 to 2015, OpenICE expands the concepts and practices of “the lab” onto a much larger scale, with greater numbers of commissioned works, performances, and listeners reached. Whereas ICE’s musicians were elemental in the collaborative processes of ICElab, OpenICE will provide further means of artist engagement by transforming the breadth of ICE’s roster into a curatorial collective. ICE artists, in collaboration with guest composers and other artists, will be the creative engine behind the programming and production of OpenICE. All artists will be involved in extensive educational outreach as a part of each OpenICE project.

A key enabler of OpenICE will be a framework of new partnerships with community organizations in OpenICE locales. Claire Chase, co-Artistic Director and flutist of ICE, comments that “rather than just partnering with academic institutions, venues, and traditional performing arts presenters, through OpenICE we will partner with libraries, humanities councils, community centers, community organizers, public housing developments, artist collectives, and many other outfits not typically associated with the performing arts. The aim is to get new music into the wider world.”

At its core, OpenICE is inspired by the quintessentially American institution of the public library, with its enduring commitment to the social value of public access to knowledge. Parallel to our libraries, which provide a variety of entry points for people with different backgrounds and levels of education and experience, OpenICE aims to remove the velvet rope associated with classical music and offer a no-barrier-to-entry experience for broad new constituencies. OpenICE programming serves our current audience, provides multiple entry points for new listeners, and offers opportunities for everyone to learn, fulfilling our fundamental belief that we are responsible to make our best work accessible to diverse new audiences.

Chase continues, “OpenICE puts into practice our learnings over the past decade about commissioning, producing and advancing the music of our time with the social responsibility of building a diverse 21st century audience. How does a small organization make a big impact, and how do we do it in the most open and forward-thinking way? By looking at performance, commissioning, education and audience development as part of the same breath, rather than as separate arms of an organization, OpenICE enables us to take a crack at this.”

George Lewis, composer and faculty member of Columbia University, as well as a frequent collaborator of ICE, notes that “OpenICE’s boldly conceived, open-source vision of new music programming will convene an international, multi-generational conversation of unprecedented scope to bring emerging ideas and emerging communities together. One can only imagine the swarm of new sounds and convergences that will result.”

OpenICE New York will launch in January 2015 at the Abrons Arts Center, the performing and visual arts program of Henry Street Settlement. Through July, the six-month launch period will be anchored by free monthly concerts designed and curated by ICE musicians which feature a wide range of the ensemble’s performance forces — from large ensemble to solo and chamber performances. The programs include music by Pauline Oliveros, electronic duo and ICElab collaborator exclusiveOr, saxophonist/composer Steve Lehman, George Lewis, and John Zorn, among others. OpenICE Chicago launched in October 2014 at The Hideout, a celebrated hub of Chicago’s independent music scene, and continues monthly.

The launch season of OpenICE will be made possible through leadership support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional support from The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Paul R. Judy Center for Applied Research at the Eastman School of Music, New Music USA, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, as well as public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council for the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

OpenICE New York Launch — Abrons Arts Center

466 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002

The launch of OpenICE celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Henry Street Settlement with three concerts representing the best of New York’s new music. All events are free and open to the public.

January 29, 2015 | 8:00pm

Concert #1: Smythe/Evans, Wolff, Zorn

Cory Smythe/Peter Evans: New Work TBA WORLD PREMIERE (2015)

John Zorn: Il n’y a plus de firmament, for woodwind quintet (2014)

Christian Wolff: Pete, for chamber ensemble (2014) NEW YORK PREMIERE

January 30, 2015 | 8:00pm

Concert #2: Music of Lewis, Zorn and Oliveros

George Lewis: Born Obligato (2013)

Pauline Oliveros: Buffalo Jam

John Zorn: Baudelaires (2013)

January 31, 2015 | 8:00pm

Concert #3: Zorn, Oliveros and ICElab’s ExclusiveOr

ExclusiveOr: Magnets (2014)

John Zorn: selections from Book of Heads

Pauline Oliveros: Ear Rings

John Zorn: Oviri (2014) WORLD PREMIERE

Digital press kit: iceorg.org/about/media

twitter.com/iceensemble

facebook.com/iceorg

instagram.com/iceensemble

OpenICE

Launch of a new multi-year initiative with leadership funding from

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Abrons Arts Center — January 29-31

New York — The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) has received a $450,000 award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support OpenICE, a new three-year initiative to develop, engage, and sustain diverse, new 21st-century listeners through an outpouring of artist-driven programming that is free and open to the public. By serving constituencies with little access to the art form, working with students of all backgrounds, forming new partnerships with community leaders and cultural organizations in nontraditional venues, and making ICE’s work available through DigitICE, the ensemble’s online library of contemporary music performances, OpenICE will yield more than 150 new concerts featuring more than 60 newly commissioned works over the next three years.

The concerts will be presented through seasons in ICE’s home cities of New York and Chicago, as well as new seasons in cities and rural areas throughout the United States, and will extend internationally to diverse corners of the world including Greenland and the Amazonas region of Brazil that have little to no access to contemporary music.

As an evolution of ICElab, ICE’s in-house commissioning program from 2011 to 2015, OpenICE expands the concepts and practices of “the lab” onto a much larger scale, with greater numbers of commissioned works, performances, and listeners reached. Whereas ICE’s musicians were elemental in the collaborative processes of ICElab, OpenICE will provide further means of artist engagement by transforming the breadth of ICE’s roster into a curatorial collective. ICE artists, in collaboration with guest composers and other artists, will be the creative engine behind the programming and production of OpenICE. All artists will be involved in extensive educational outreach as a part of each OpenICE project.

A key enabler of OpenICE will be a framework of new partnerships with community organizations in OpenICE locales. Claire Chase, co-Artistic Director and flutist of ICE, comments that “rather than just partnering with academic institutions, venues, and traditional performing arts presenters, through OpenICE we will partner with libraries, humanities councils, community centers, community organizers, public housing developments, artist collectives, and many other outfits not typically associated with the performing arts. The aim is to get new music into the wider world.”

At its core, OpenICE is inspired by the quintessentially American institution of the public library, with its enduring commitment to the social value of public access to knowledge. Parallel to our libraries, which provide a variety of entry points for people with different backgrounds and levels of education and experience, OpenICE aims to remove the velvet rope associated with classical music and offer a no-barrier-to-entry experience for broad new constituencies. OpenICE programming serves our current audience, provides multiple entry points for new listeners, and offers opportunities for everyone to learn, fulfilling our fundamental belief that we are responsible to make our best work accessible to diverse new audiences.

Chase continues, “OpenICE puts into practice our learnings over the past decade about commissioning, producing and advancing the music of our time with the social responsibility of building a diverse 21st century audience. How does a small organization make a big impact, and how do we do it in the most open and forward-thinking way? By looking at performance, commissioning, education and audience development as part of the same breath, rather than as separate arms of an organization, OpenICE enables us to take a crack at this.”

George Lewis, composer and faculty member of Columbia University, as well as a frequent collaborator of ICE, notes that “OpenICE’s boldly conceived, open-source vision of new music programming will convene an international, multi-generational conversation of unprecedented scope to bring emerging ideas and emerging communities together. One can only imagine the swarm of new sounds and convergences that will result.”

OpenICE New York will launch in January 2015 at the Abrons Arts Center, the performing and visual arts program of Henry Street Settlement. Through July, the six-month launch period will be anchored by free monthly concerts designed and curated by ICE musicians which feature a wide range of the ensemble’s performance forces — from large ensemble to solo and chamber performances. The programs include music by Pauline Oliveros, electronic duo and ICElab collaborator exclusiveOr, saxophonist/composer Steve Lehman, George Lewis, and John Zorn, among others. OpenICE Chicago launched in October 2014 at The Hideout, a celebrated hub of Chicago’s independent music scene, and continues monthly.

The launch season of OpenICE will be made possible through leadership support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional support from The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Paul R. Judy Center for Applied Research at the Eastman School of Music, New Music USA, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, as well as public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the New York State Council for the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

OpenICE New York Launch — Abrons Arts Center

466 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002

The launch of OpenICE celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Henry Street Settlement with three concerts representing the best of New York’s new music. All events are free and open to the public.

January 29, 2015 | 8:00pm

Concert #1: Smythe/Evans, Wolff, Zorn

Cory Smythe/Peter Evans: New Work TBA WORLD PREMIERE (2015)

John Zorn: Il n’y a plus de firmament, for woodwind quintet (2014)

Christian Wolff: Pete, for chamber ensemble (2014) NEW YORK PREMIERE

January 30, 2015 | 8:00pm

Concert #2: Music of Lewis, Zorn and Oliveros

George Lewis: Born Obligato (2013)

Pauline Oliveros: Buffalo Jam

John Zorn: Baudelaires (2013)

January 31, 2015 | 8:00pm

Concert #3: Zorn, Oliveros and ICElab’s ExclusiveOr

ExclusiveOr: Magnets (2014)

John Zorn: selections from Book of Heads

Pauline Oliveros: Ear Rings

John Zorn: Oviri (2014) WORLD PREMIERE

Digital press kit: iceorg.org/about/media

twitter.com/iceensemble

facebook.com/iceorg

instagram.com/iceensemble

January 22, 2015

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In two days, the American Modern Ensemble joins forces with Del Sol, JACK and PUBLIQuartet to tackle a dynamic program of premieres and 21st-century stalwarts involving string quartet. Members of AME will start the evening by premiering Jacob BancksString Theory, for string quartet, and return to deliver premieres of Sidney Boquiren‘s in a mirror dimly, for string quartet and harp, and Robert Paterson‘s I See You for string orchestra and “tape”.

Del Sol will play Chinary Ung‘s Sprial X “In Memoriam”, which violinist Charleton Lee describes as, “a powerful cry for the common people suffering continuing atrocities throughout the world.” Next, PUBLIQuartet takes the stage in advance of their Carnegie Hall debut to play founding violinist Jessie Montgomery‘s work Breakaway and JACK will perform John Zorn‘s The Dead Man. Finally, the evening will close with all the players retaking the stage to perform John Luther AdamsDream In White On White.

The concert takes place a SubCulture this coming Thursday at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 the day of the performance. More information about the program and purchasing tickets is available on SubCulture’s Website.

11 days ago | |
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camillaNext to the early and unlikely appearance of Mr. Eliot’s cruelest  camellias, the most anticipated January event for many of us wintering in the Low Country is the arrival (in the other mailbox out by the street) of the annual printed Spoleto USA program. For those of you who may not know much about it, Spoleto USA is one of the world’s major arts festivals–bigger and better, for example, than the annual summer Lincoln Center Festival, whose programming is similar.  It is safe to say that Spoleto USA has been a key factor in making Charleston, SC–also blessed with great winter weather, gloriously inventive southern cooking, and Bill Murray–the biggest little city in America.

We have the composer Gian Carlo Menotti to thank for that.  He founded the festival in 1977 as a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy.  Over the early years, budgets were overrun, deficits mounted, philistines were elected to the board.  There were the usual artist vs. accountant hissy fits and Menotti bailed for the good in the mid-1990s. The philistines and the angels have generally played nicely together since with the result that the programs are still excellent and finances are much more stable.

The program for the 17-day, May-June festival are a combination of classical and jazz music, dance, theater and a curious category  called Physical Theater, which features the kind of tumbling, and acrobatic circus sort of dance, sort of not dance that I thought had disappeared with the Ed Sullivan Show.  But, apparently not.

Not sure who to credit (I suspect John Kennedy) but there is also an especially generous amount of new music to heard each year.  The featured opera this year is the world premiere of Huang Ruo and Jennifer Wen Ma’s opera Paradise Interrupted, featuring Qian Yi. May 22, 24, 27, 29, 31.  And they’re also doing Huang’s  The Lost Garden Chamber Concerto on May 23.   There’s a conversation about the opera with Huang and Wen at the Charleston Library Society on May 24.

Bank of America sponsors a great series of 11 Chamber Music concerts which are usually sprinkled. with a healthy dose of music by composers who are still, more or less, breathing.  This year’s composer-in-residence is Mark Applebaum, who will be premiering a piece. The St. Lawrence String Quartet will celebrate its 20th year of Spoleto USA residency.  Alisa Weilerstein will be there.

Joe Miller’s Westminster Choir Concerts at St. Luke’s and St. Paul usually pair old and new works.  Urmas Sisask’s Oremus and Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine join Montiverdi’s Si Ch’io vorren morire and the opening chorus of Bach’s Cantata 79 on May 24 and 27.  David Lang’s marvelous The Little Match Girl Passion, with choreography by Poitus Lidberg, is scheduled along with Giacomo Carissimi’s Jephte for May 30 and May 31.

The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, directed by John Kennedy, will do Bill Morrison/Michael Gordon’s Decasia (that old thing–just joking, just joking) on June 1.  Kennedy is also directing a great-looking series of concerts called Music in Time that features the aforementioned Huang Ruo, Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata , Hans Otte’s concert-length piano suite The Book of Sounds, an evening of new commissioned works by Christopher Cerrone, Anna Meredith, Adrian Knight, Timo Andres, Nicole Lizzee and Samuel Carol Adams and–finally, for the hardcore–an evening called Quarter-Tone Shredding featuring the Living Earth Show, San Francisco’s electric guitar and percussion duo–performing Damon Waitkus’ North Pacific Garbage Patch, Brian Ferneyhough’s Renvoli/Shards, Ken Ueno’s WATT and assorted other stuff.

I’m sure I missed some things so take a look at the online program, get yourself some tickets, and get on down heah.  You heah?
.

15 days ago | |
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Cross-posted from my home site, The Big City, here are my lists for top new music recordings of the year, in a few different categories:

Best 2014 Albums of New Classical Music:

  • Dan Becker, Fade. Not just a set of excellent compositions, but a rarity in classical music, a set that is thought-out and made to work as an album. Becker’s music shares some of the hints of pop sensibility with that of Michael Torke, but has a tougher, more abstract edge. Terrific chamber pieces, played b y the Common Sense and New Millenium Ensembles, are interspersed with Diskclavier realizations of Becker’s “Reinventions,” harmonic structures from Bach on which he’s placed his own, improvisatory lines. Listening to the album is an affirmation of the past, of the incredible accumulation of music and ideas, and the possibilities of the future. Deeply enjoyable.
  • Martin BresnickPrayers Remain Forever. Bresnick has been indispensable as a teacher to the current generation of new composers, and his own music is sublime, with exquisite craft, an ear and heart for the beautiful, and a transparent, graceful and unselfconscious connection to the common musical materials all around us. This is a superb collection of recent chamber works, beautifully played.
  • Ralph van Raat: Fred Rzewski: Four Pieces.Rzewski’s political themes, as strong as they are, have overshadowed his achievements as a pure composer. The People United Will Never Be Defeated is a statement, and also one of the great works of variations in the classical literature. If that is his Goldberg, then Four Pieces is his “Hammerklavier,” a tremendous piano sonata in classical form.
  • Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, John Luther Adams: Become Ocean. A welcome Pulitzer Prize winning composition that actually deserves the award, a concentrated culmination of JLA’s strengths as a composer. The recording is also superior to the live performance at Carnegie Hall in May, where the piano part was buried under the orchestral textures.
  • Arditti Quartet, Bernhard Lang: The Anatomy of Disaster. Another installment in composer Bernhard Lang’s Monodologies series, and one of several excellent Arditti Quartet albums released this year. This made the list due to my personal affinity for Lang as a composer and a man. Based on Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ, Lang’s writing is bitingly expressive, destabilizing, and a real ethical and moral antidote to the problem of endless, quantized, manufactured loops and repetitions.
  • Camerata Pacifica, John Harbison: String Trio, Four Songs of Solitude, Songs America Loves to Sing. I have mostly grudgingly admired Harbison’s composing, appreciating how his music was made without enjoying it, so this set of chamber music and songs was a surprise. The musical language has both greater expression than I’ve heard from him before, and also greater, coherent rigor. He’s pared down his materials and now says more. The Camerata Pacifica plays with natural ease and assurance.
  • Jeroen van Veen, Van Veen: Piano Music. Give the pianist some. Van Veen has produced two great, comprehensive sets of minimalist piano music, as well as the ultimate collection of Simeon ten Holt’s Canto Ostinato, so why not gives us this multi-disc box of his own compositions? Not all of the 50 tracks are great, but so much of this music is, especially his Minimal Etudes
  • yMusic, Balance Problems. Terrific chamber pieces from composers in and around the orbit of New Amsterdam records; clear, tough-minded post-minimal music, just skip the series of chords at the end, from Sufjan Stevens, that masquerade as a composition.
  • George Crumb: Voices from the Heartland, Sun and Shadow. Not fade away. Critical interest seems, oddly, to have turned away from Crumb, as if he is neither productive or relevant. This album proves otherwise, especially in the premiere recording of Voices from the Heartland, which concludes his American Songbook cycle. Crumb is misapprehended as belonging to a particular, dated, intellectual fashion for mysticism, when it is his critics who are lost in the vagaries of the zeitgeist. The beauty and craft of Crumb’s music are timeless.
  • Steve Reich: Radio Rewrite. Indispensable as every other new set of pieces from Reich, this is sure to please his pop followers with Jonny Greenwood’s solid playing of Electric Counterpoint and the premiere of his Radio Rewrite, a subtly strong piece that is part of an on-going transitional period. But most impressive is Vicky Chow’s fantastic solo performance of Piano Counterpoint.
Post-WWII composing

  • Tyshawn Sorey Trio, Alloy. My personal favorite and overall best record of the year. One reason for that is the musical ideas inside it are so deep and powerful that they’re a little bit frightening, it’s a large universe in which to lose oneself. Alloy is on a lot of jazz lists, but I can’t put it on mine: Sorey is most closely and accurately defined as a jazz musician, but this is an album, like his others, of his compositions, and there is so little jazz concept and aesthetic in them that they are pretty much sui generis. One of the fascinating features of his music is that, while he can be heard at the drum kit, the sense of rhythm as time is almost nonexistent (except in “Template”). The music is full of space, a sense that notes and events are placed intuitively (which I deeply admire, it’s extremely difficult to develop the ear and confidence to write such sparse yet finely structured music), the feeling of an internal journey without beginning or end. Feldman is the heuristic commonly applied to Sorey’s composing, but that’s misleading. Feldman, especially his mature music, wrote scores that are dense with activity. Sorey shares a taste for low dynamics, but the sparseness of his music sounds closer to Cage, only with an entirely different idea of expression. Imagine a Miles Davis trumpet solo removed from a tune, with the space inside expanded by magnitudes, and you get some idea of both the manner of this album, and how great the music is.
  • Bora Yoon, Sunken Cathedral. Tremendously beautiful and involving. This is the audio portion of Yoon’s ambitious multimedia project that will appear at the Prototype Festival next month. The sound combines the purity of her voice. chant, electronic textures, folk instruments, spoke word, and more. Another concept that is fiendishly difficult to hold together, and the firmness of her form makes this exceptional.
  • Tristan Perich, Surface Image. Perich’s work combines imagination and process: as his pieces go along, or as you see them in an installation, the path connecting conception, process and execution is always clear. That alone is both important and satisfying, but the results, like this mesmerizing, new post-minimal piece for piano and electronics, are great music in their own right.
  • a.pe.ri.od.ic, Jürg Frey: More or Less. It’s a good year when I have to choose between this and Andy Lee’s album of Frey piano music, the difference being that I found myself listening to this set of amazing chamber pieces, in excellent performances, a little more often.
  • Harry Partch, Harry Partch: Plectra and Percussion Dances. Self-recommending. This is the first complete recording of the title work, and the CD includes a spoken introduction by Partch that he delivered in 1953.
  • Peter Söderberg, On the Carpet of Leaves Illuminated by the Moon. Söderberg plays the lute, and on this record he performs music by Alvin Lucier, James Tenney, John Cage and Steve Reich. That’s really all you need to know.
  • Flux Quartet, Morton Feldman: String Quartet No. 1. Utter masters of this music. Flux followed up what is now an almost routinely great concert of Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 with this release. The finest recoding of the String Quartet No. 1, and the finest traversal of the complete string quartet music by Feldman.
  • Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, Meredith Monk: Piano Songs. Not songs, but piano music, with occasional shouts and yelps. Echt-Monk, the physical vitality of her music, the way the pianos sound like they are hopping and dancing, is a tribute to her compositional ideals. A little disorienting at first to hear her style applied to the keyboard, but it gets better with every listen.
  • Dai Fujikara, Dai Fujikara: ICE. This is simply one of the finest collections of music at the cutting edge of the classical tradition that I’ve heard in years. Fujikara renders the densest and most complex ideas with complete clarity and control of his materials, and ICE plays the music like they’ve been working on it for years. Which they pretty much have.
  • Sarah Cahill, Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants. Fujieda’s work is one of the most striking compositions in contemporary music. The music is literally organic, composed out of Fujieda’s recordings of electrical activity in plants. What comes out is music that has an uncanny feeling of belonging to every place and epoch, yet having no identifiable national or temporal features. It is truly strange and beautiful. Cahill plays it with the attention to detail and musicality that one usually hears pianists bring to Schubert. Not a complete set of this magnum opus, but the most extensive to date.
Post-WWII playing

  • Nils Bultmann, Troubadour Blue. A set of musical rich and beautiful viola improvisations that delve deep into the history of western music.
  • Bernd Klug, Cold Commodities. A gripping, surprising, unique and accomplished album that combines found sounds, electronics and improvisation with tremendous rigor and expression.
  • Asphalt Orchestra plays the Pixies: Surfer Rosa. An amazing record. These arrangements are imaginative sonic adaptations of the classic Pixie’s album, transforming the originals into something more complex and more consistently satisfying.
  • Robin Williamson, Trusting in the Rising Light. A strange, entrancing disc from one of the founders of The Incredible String band. This is a collection of songs that, though originals, have deep roots in ancient memories and traditions. WIlliamson’s voice is ravaged with age, making the expression that much more effective. Fantastic accompaniment from Mat Maneri and Ches Smith.
  • Lumen Drones. Post-rock meets Hardanger fiddle. Difficult to describe, the music drone based, full of rhythm and improvisation, tough and delicate at once. Must be heard, it’s completely wonderful.
  • Carolina Eyck, Christopher Tarnow, Improvisations for Theremin and Piano. Much more than a curiosity, this is fascinating set. Eyck is a tremendous theremin player, with complete command of tone and texture. Mostly quiet and tonal, the playing is superb, don’t be thrown by the twee track titles.
  • Battle Trance, Palace of Wind. I have the privilege of experiencing a performance of this piece by this quartet of tenor saxophonists, and it was jaw-dropping and powerful. Imagine Colin Stetson times four, playing non-stop for about forty five minutes with a romantic conception of transcendence, and you have some idea of the depths of this album.
  • Travis Just + Object Collection, No Song. Downtown to the max, turned up to 11! The good natured aggression of this record adds a sense of fun, but the playing is purposeful, intense, and heavier than the doomiest sludge. (http://shop.khalija.com/album/no-song)
  • Plymouth. The members of this band are Jamie Saft, Joe Morris, Chris Lightcap, Gerald Cleaver and Mary Halvorson. They play dense, lively, passionate, intelligent noise improvisations. Excellent in every way, and the best release so far from Rarenoise records.
  • Thurston Moore/John Moloney, Caught on Tape. Loud, but delicate. The muscularity hides what, underneath, is a severe, even ascetic aesthetic, a search for beauty in the midst of conflict, like the edge of razor blade, shining through a pile of trash. Pretty much Moore’s finest moments as a guitar player.
Electronic Music
  • Dave Seidel, ~60Hz. As pure as music gets. Seidel’s pieces are made by combing sine waves and letting them play. Engrossing and gorgeous.
  • John Supko, Bill Seaman, s_traits. This record is astonishing. I’ll refer you to Marshall Yarbrough’s article for the details, but this upends every idea of structure and form and makes it work. Hard stop listening to.
  • No Lands, Negative Space. A prime example of the possibilities of electronic music: this band’s debut (mainly it’s Michael Hammond), is as abstract as Ussachevsky and as appealing as Tangerine Dream. Excellent.
  • Guenter Schlienz, Loop Studies. A haunting exploration of looped acoustic instruments and electronics. The music seems to be coming from the type of future that the past imagined would arrive. (https://sinkcds.bandcamp.com/album/loop-studies)
  • Philip White, Documents. Plastic, complex sound produced from the raw musical data extracted from a series of well-known, popular recordings. (https://philipwhite.bandcamp.com)
  • Michael Pisaro, Continuum Unbound. Field recordings and instrumental music, listening across the three discs is a transporting experience. (http://michaelpisaro.blogspot.com/2014/05/continuum-unbound-fall-2014.html)
  • Rand Steiger, A Menacing Plume. Electro-acoustic works with a classical feel of modernism. Steiger is fine composer and the pieces, including the superb title work and Résonateur, are played expertly by Talea Ensemble.
  • Jacob Cooper, Silver Threads. There are many projects that combine voice and electronics, but they are rarely as accomplished as this set of electronic art songs, with the terrific Mellissa Hughes singing.
  • Juan Bianco, Nuestro Tiempo. Electronic music from Cuba that might have been a mere object of curiosity, but Bianco, who was unknown to me when this arrived, is a serious and excellent composer, with a sense of vitality.
  • Faures, Continental Drift. Like atmospheric haze composed of tiny, shiny crystals; pristine, warm, enveloping. (https://homenormal.bandcamp.com/album/continental-drift)

This is not the type of music in which there are frequent reissues, but notable this year is a Cello Anthology, a box set of four CDs with a beautiful, thick book. This collects performances and biographical information of the new music cellist Charlotte Moorman, without whom the musical landscape would be very different and far more impoverished. 
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New Series

ECM’s New Series has been producing classical releases of highest caliber since 1984. As the German imprint quietly celebrates its 30th anniversary, these words attempt an affectionate survey of its output. Then again, how does one delineate a history of that which is so much a part of it? Jean-Luc Godard addresses this very question in his Histoire(s) du cinéma, of which the soundtrack saw a New Series release in 1999 and from which this essay borrows its title. The parenthetical “s” of Godard’s masterwork serves not merely to hinge the singular and the anural, but to unravel the multiple, simultaneous registers of the filmic medium—moving, as it were, from an “either-or” to a “neither-nor” approach. A film breaks down not only into individual frames, but also into molecular compounds within those frames, until signs of the original become nothing more than the breath expended to describe it. Similarly, the New Series vision, under the watchful ear of producer Manfred Eicher, has for three decades programmed music as if it were a field of signs that live among and within us, each an ephemeral capture that begets infinite others.

The New Series bears no discernibly overarching aesthetic. Just as ECM proper has diversified the pasture of jazz with flowers of stark variation, so has the New Series loosened the borders of the classical landscape through democratic enhancements of technique, instrumentation, and concept. Indeed, the success of the New Series vision has grown in direct proportion to its inclusivity, even as it has refined an idiosyncratic corpus of composers. If one can say that Eicher has brought a classical sense of detailing toward the jazz-oriented records that earned him first renown, one might also say that he brought to classical recording a feeling of jazz, insofar as whatever spirit animates the improviser with unquantifiable purpose also thrums like a shell around every classical recording worthy of the ECM moniker.

Inception of the New Series traces back to 1980, when Eicher first heard Arvo Pärt on the radio. Not knowing what it was, he searched for quite some time before connecting those angelic sounds to a name that would define the label to come. In its role as the first New Series release, Pärt’s Tabula rasa is said to have introduced an ancient world to a new sound. And yet, it would be just as accurate to say that the album introduced an ancient sound to a new world. In other words, it wasn’t the newness of Pärt’s music that turned the album into such a watershed moment. It was, rather, its resonant heart, to which listeners across genres and affiliations found immutable connections, points of relatability, and glimmers of familiarity in its starry sky. Such an interpretation existed already in the name: New Series. As for the “new,” one finds it in the recordings and performances. The word “series,” on the other hand, connotes linkages between past and future tenses in an unbroken chain of influence. Like the single line that underscores the label’s logo, it’s a horizon, either side of which brings innovative possibilities to the old, and old possibilities to the innovative.

Within the parameters of Eicher’s discerning archaeology, much credit must go to ECM’s committed engineers, of whom Peter Laenger and Stephan Schellmann stand out for their clear, adaptive methods. Schellmann’s tenure with the label has been remarkably varied, ranging from violinist John Holloway’s benchmark accounts of transitional Baroque repertoires to the chamber music of 20th-century Korean composer Isang Yun. Moreover, Schellmann has shadowed András Schiff’s 10-disc traversal of the complete Beethoven sonatas and, within the last year, an extraordinary account by Anna Gourari of Sergey Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives. Laenger’s most commercially successful intersections with ECM have generated collaborations with the Hilliard Ensemble, including the much-beloved Officium project with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. He has also been involved in Pärt productions, Tabula rasa not least of all, and made audible the slightest whispers of Russian contemporary Alexander Knaifel. The contributions of these and others at the mixing board are integral by presence so tangible that their all-too-often-ignored efforts would be impossible not to notice.

Binding these artistic confluences is Eicher’s willingness to not so much think outside the proverbial box as redefine and expand what that box may contain to begin with. An especially fascinating orbit of the ECM solar system has been traced by a relatively small but no less life-sustaining planet of spoken word projects. These have taken various forms, as in the above-mentioned Godard soundtrack and in the unaccompanied recitations of actor Bruno Ganz, who has lent his voice to the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, T.S. Eliot, and Giorgos Seferis. There is, too, the gorgeous pairing of Frances-Marie Uitti and author Paul Griffiths, there is still time (ECM 1882), which dovetails poetry by Griffiths, limited to the 482-word vocabulary as spoken by Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, into the cellist’s fully immediate improvising.

I recently caught up with Griffiths, who kindly offered his insight into working with Eicher in the studio.

“Manfred said almost nothing, but what he did say was crucial. No less crucial was his just being there. We hadn’t prepared very much—hardly at all. We tried some things out that didn’t work. Others did, sometimes at a first take. It was hard work, and extremely easy. No pressure. Just let it happen. Room for spontaneity. We kind of relaxed into intensity. Frances’s playing was—you can hear this, and though I don’t like the word I have to use it—an inspiration.”

Griffiths’s summary of the recording process happens to be an effective description of the listening that attends it. One may come to each New Series recording afresh, suspending expectations toward even standard repertory in favor of the novel expositions sure to take place. Sometimes the listening clicks, achieving unity of absorption at first meeting. Other times, understanding grows as experiences bond with the music, little by little. There is room for spontaneity in how one may hear the sounds and, yes, an inspired communication behind it all.

I began, though, by asking Griffiths about his first experience as New Series listener. “That would have to have been the Arvo Pärt album Tabula rasa, when it came out, in pre-CD days, in a foot-square sleeve of unglossy white, which would be so difficult to keep clean, but one would try,” he said. The historicity of his reply would seem to treat the album in question as an artifact and reminds me that my first copy of the same was on the even more outmoded medium of cassette. And his initial impressions?

“I was bowled over, like everyone else, especially by the title piece. Before that ‘Arvo Pärt’ was just a name floating around—one of the younger Soviet composers who’d taken modernism on board—without that name being grounded in any experience of the music. We’re talking of a time, of course, when knowledge of music from the Soviet Union was very limited. To anticipate your third question, I can’t remember what came next—maybe the second Pärt album, Arbos, or a Lockenhaus compilation. But I’m not sure I was aware that the Lockenhaus disc came from the same stable; it took a little while, for me at least, before I began to have a notion of an ECM identity.”

And what did that identity signify once he became aware of it as such?

“There was the matter of design, which impressed in a very different way when sleeves were 12” by 12”—I vividly recall the beautiful starkness of, especially, the Arbos cover, with the title in blue-green against dark grey. Then the notes were always good. But of course it was the sound, the combination of intimacy and distance, and the awareness that a recorded performance is not simply a recording of a performance but something distinct—the Glenn Gould lesson, absorbed with total simplicity and straightforwardness. It may have taken me a little longer to notice that ECM was also creating its own repertory.”

On the topic of notes, any fan will have become acquainted with the contributions of Griffiths, who along with music critic Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich has brought his erudition to the lion’s share of New Series booklets. In addition to an encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary classical music and its lineages, Griffiths has given beautiful, narrative readings to handfuls of compositions in ways thitherto unexplored. I inquired about his first assignment, which to his recollection was Kim Kashkashian’s disc of three Hungarian viola concertos—by Bartók, Kurtág, Eötvös—with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra (ECM 1711).

“That would have been in the late nineties. I knew it had to be good. I would guess that everyone working for Manfred, in whatever capacity, strains to deliver only the best. That’s part of his skill and his success, that he doesn’t impose but somehow opens, lets you achieve as much as you’re able. The terms are perhaps too grand in which to talk about liner notes, but I felt—and still feel, maybe twenty or thirty albums later—an ECM assignment to be a special opportunity.”

Special, too, for those on the receiving end of their intellectual labor.

No such musical body would stand without the nourishment of its composers. In this respect, ECM has widened the listenership of previously insularly known figures. Pärt, to be sure, heads the list for his inaugural significance, but more lastingly for the unpretentious depth of his notecraft. Here is a human being of flesh and less tangible things who tends the latter with such integrity that even those who wouldn’t normally consider themselves classical listeners have made his motives a staple of their listening diet. I hesitate to describe Pärt as a “universal” composer, implying as the term does a reach fanning out from this blue orb and its galaxy into countless more beyond, when in reality his power has the opposite effect, burrowing so far inward that it caresses the spark which makes each of us unique.

Pärt’s ruminations comprise but one landmass in a changing map that has lowered its waters to reveal archipelagos, canyons, and glaciers—each possessed of its own topographical influence. In this respect, one value of the New Series is its vested interest in the marginalized, the exiled, and the misunderstood. Estonia has blessed us further with the folkloric choral interpretations of Veljo Tormis and the glowing architectures of Erkki-Sven Tüür, while the former Soviet state of Georgia has given the thematic persistence of Giya Kancheli, Ukraine the postludinal elegies of Valentin Silvestrov, and Armenia the open loom of Tigran Mansurian’s threadbare prayers. On the European continent, we find the meticulous microscopy of György Kurtág, while Gavin Bryars emotes from across the English Channel with his sonorous fusions. Through all of this, the works of Bach—and, more recently, Schubert and Schumann—have become touchstones. Hence, my final question for Griffiths on the nature of ECM’s classical interests, to which he replied:

“Yes, there certainly is an ECM repertory—a world where Schubert and Schumann are more prominent than Beethoven, and certainly than Mozart—but I’m not sure its rationale can easily be defined. Factors include Manfred’s taste, of course, but also his loyalty to artists and his curiosity, or perhaps his eagerness to go against his own grain. Perhaps there’s a sort of intimate yet intense expressiveness that links all these things. And an absence of show. Is it possible to think of a composer unimagineable on ECM? Wagner? But then I could imagine the Siegfried Idyll, with the right performers and the right context. Oh, perhaps the key is in some sense of the music—and the performance—creating an arc of an uncompleted circle, a sense of something beyond.”

Mention of performance speaks to the talented musicians that have lent their hands, bows, and voices to the above repertoires. Notable among them are violinist Thomas Zehetmair and his famously score-less quartet; cellist Thomas Demenga for his pairing of Bach’s cello suites with contemporary chamber works, to say nothing of his phenomenal homage to Paul Sacher (ECM 1520/21); Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica for their sense of adventure; Kashkashian for her impeccable tone and tireless championing of modern music; the now-disbanded Hilliard Ensemble and their thriving protégés Trio Mediaeval for likewise expanding vocal repertoires with utmost professionalism and respect; pianists Alexei Lubimov and Herbert Henck for their artful assemblies and contrasting touch at the keyboard; and tenor John Potter’s Dowland Project for unusually organic permutations of the troubadour’s heart. These are but a few.

There are those—namely Meredith Monk, Heinz Holliger, and Thomas Larcher—who fulfill both categories with comparable proficiency, and still others who are in categories all their own: violinist Paul Giger, composer Heiner Goebbels, and keyboardist extraordinaire Keith Jarrett. That Jarrett has been able to cross the line so fluidly between jazz and classical realms speaks to the blurriness of that line. Whether playing Bach’s French Suites on harpsichord (ECM 1513/14), the 24 Preludes and Fugues of Shostakovich on piano (ECM 1469/70), or fronting an orchestra in sweeping accounts of Mozart piano concertos, his contributions to the label circle back to where it all began: with him at the keyboard and Kremer at the violin ushering in an age of discovery as Pärt’s Fratres prepared to speak its mantra for all time.

In line with an arbitrary and subjective tradition, I conclude with the following “Top 10” list of New Series recommendations. More than anything, it reflects a hierarchy of personal engagement and as such may or may not overlap with your own experience of the label. Either way, I hope it will be cause for (re)discovery. The astute fan will note that a good portion of my picks was recorded in the first half of the 1990s. This is no coincidence. Many of my favorites immediately proceeded from my introduction to the Series by way of Pärt’s Te Deum (ECM 1505) and represent something of a golden age for the label, during which production, aesthetic, and selection were for me at their peak of harmony.

  1. Giya Kancheli: Exil (ECM 1535). Kancheli’s Exil will forever be the crowning achievement of all for which the New Series stands. Recorded in the defining acoustics of Austria’s Sankt Gerold monastery and featuring the incomparable soprano Maacha Deubner, its sounds are of an order beyond the craft of any wordsmith. Hear it, and you may just find that your heart has been holding a space for it since before you were born.
  2. Paul Giger: Chartres (ECM 1386). The Swiss violinist combines improvisation and through-composed scripture in a peerless—all the more so for being solo—exploration of the Chartres cathedral. Through extended techniques such as overtones, percussive tapping, and choral textures, Giger forges an effect so unearthly that it pulls ghosts from every stone.
  3. Heinz Holliger: Scardanelli-Zyklus (ECM 1472/73). Holliger’s seasonally inflected obsession is a masterpiece. From the album’s mysterious cover, in which the autograph of Hölderlin’s alter ego floats in a sea of stars, to the shuffling of a cappella settings into small orchestral longings, and all of it sheltering an epic flute solo by Aurèle Nicolet, there’s enough here to satisfy a lifetime of returns.
  4. Erkki-Sven Tüür: Crystallisatio (ECM 1590). With a background in progressive rock and abiding interest in jazz-like sonorities, Tüür pulls out all the stops in his ECM debut. Shorter works for various orchestral combinations build to the title composition for 3 flutes, glockenspiel, strings, and live electronics, and beyond it to the 1994 Requiem, which stands as one of the most compelling examples to ever bear the title.
  5. Gavin Bryars: Vita Nova (ECM 1533). Though Bryars seems to have faded from the label’s auspices, there was a time when he flourished, and never to such beauteous effect as on Vita Nova. The album documents some of countertenor David James’s most articulate singing on record, both among the Hilliards and with a haunting trio of strings, and amends the composer’s atmospheric precision with textual resonances, even in the absence of words.
  6. Arvo Pärt: Miserere (ECM 1430). Of the many recordings I might have selected from the Estonian composer’s archive, Miserere stands apart. Pärt’s handling of the title work balances the apocalyptic and the introspective with such care, it’s a wonder the musicians don’t weep as they play. The singers’ interactions with organ and winds prepare the skin until the ritual drumming of Sarah Was Ninety Years Old anoints with holy genealogy.
  7. Christopher Bowers-Broadbent/Sarah Leonard: Górecki/Satie/Milhaud/Bryars (ECM 1495). There’s nothing quite like this rarely mentioned record, which combines the smooth limb-work of organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent and the atmospheric reach of soprano Sarah Leonard (both featured to astonishing effect on Miserere) across a bridge of music by Górecki, Satie, Milhaud, and Bryars. While the middle two are writing for organ alone, the album’s massive bookends feature the unusual duo, and the results shatter. Between the declamatory punctuations of Górecki’s O Domina Nostra and the stream-of-conscious narrative of The Black River, for which Bryars sets words of Jules Verne, listeners might very well find themselves transformed.
  8. Hans Otte: Das Buch der Klänge (ECM 1659). Even more rarely mentioned is this enchanting album of solo piano music by Hans Otte, which in Henck’s capable hands comes alive in a most assured interpretation. Otte’s infusion of fundament and fragment belongs to a world unto itself.
  9. J.S. Bach: Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (ECM 2229). Despite the fact that Bach lurks in so many places, some more overtly than others, it wasn’t difficult to settle on this recording by master oboist Heinz Holliger, violinist-director Erich Höbarth, and the Camerata Bern, though Keith Jarrett and Kim Kashkashian’s rendering of the viola da gamba sonatas (ECM 1501) comes a close second. The sheer fullness of Holliger’s phrasing and feel for rhythm alone make this one worth owning. That, and one of the finest Bach programs ever assembled.
  10. Arianna Savall/Petter Udland Johansen: Hirundo Maris (ECM 2227). So many albums might have occupied this place in my list, but this one is a more recent discovery and therefore freshest in mind. Singer-harpist Arianna Savall, daughter of Jordi Savall and the late Monstserrat Figueras (in whose memory the album is dedicated), and Oslo-born singer and multi-instrumentalist Petter Udland Johansen form the core of the titular project, which explores folk roots in early music of Norway and Catalonia. Bound by an uncompromising instinct for melody and augmented by spirited arrangements, their artistry seems boundless in one of the more surprising bouquets to sprout from ECM soil.

Honorable mentions might just as well include every other release from the label, but I would highlight, in catalog order: Meredith Mon’s Dolmen Music (ECM 1197), Steve Reich’s Tehillim (ECM 1215), Paul Hindemith’s Viola Sonatas as played by Kashkashian (ECM 1330-32), Thomas Demenga’s pairing of Bach’s 4th Cello Suite with works of Heinz Holliger (ECM 1340), Gesualdo’s Tenebrae as sung by the Hilliard Ensemble (ECM 1422/23), the same ensemble’s landmark recording of selections from the Codex Speciálnik (ECM 1504), an impressionistic rendering of Federico Mompou’s Música Callada by Henck (ECM 1523), an all-Sándor Veress program which includes his Passacaglia Concertante under baton and oboe of Holliger (ECM 1555), Eleni Karaindrou’s soundtrack to the film Ulysses’ Gaze (ECM 1570), Arvo Pärt’s a cappella magnum opus Kanon pokajanen (ECM 1654/55), the Trio Sonatas of J. D. Zelenka (ECM 1671/72), Heiner Goebbels’s spectral Surrogate Cities (ECM 1688/89), Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble’s sophomore album Mnemosyne (ECM 1700/01), H.I.F. Biber’s Unam Ceylum as played to perfection by Holloway and friends (ECM 1791), the Italian Duo Gazzana’s dynamic Five Pieces (ECM 2238), Dobrinka Tabakova’s label debut String Paths (ECM 2239), and Victor Kissine’s profound Between Two Waves (ECM 2312).

Finally, no New Series conspectus would be complete without at least passing mention of Valentin Silvestrov’s Silent Songs (ECM 1898/99). Though not originally an ECM production, Eicher saw fit to reissue these invaluable recordings of poem settings for baritone and piano. Like the label that revived them, they speak for the forgotten so that we might remember.

 

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Hey Composers! It’s that time of year again, when the ever-intrepid Marvin Rosen climbs into to the saddle for a LONG trip through today’s music; 25 hours of music by composers like — well, like YOU! But if you want to jump on the wagon, you need to get Marvin a recording by December 15th, so pick your tushies up and move!

………..

the 10th Live Marathon (9th devoted to 21st century music) curated and hosted by Marvin Rosen, host of the award-winning program Classical Discoveries, and presented on WPRB, Princeton NJ at 103.3 FM or on line at: www.wprb.com

The title of this year’s radio extravaganza is “24 HOUR PLUS – VIVA 21-ST CENTURY” and will start Saturday, December 27th at 2:00pm (EST time) and will go nonstop live until 3:00pm on Sunday, December 28th, and yes, this year’s Marathon will run like last years did – 25 hours.

This year Marvin is requesting composers to send him recordings of works completed between 2010 – 2014.

Only recordings on CD (no MP3’s, no downloads) will be accepted and must be received by Marvin no later than Monday, December 15, 2014. The maximum length of each work submitted should be no more than 15 minutes. All private recordings must have good sound quality and released for radio broadcast by the owner of recording (a statement from submitting person is sufficient).

(Marvin knows that in today’s time many music transactions are done via downloading etc., but since he has a full time job, as well as other volunteer duties, the recording submission process has to be done as conveniently for Marvin as possible.)

If you are interested in being part of this crazy annual new music marathon please e-mail Marvin directly for more instructions at: requestformarvin@gmail.com

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The gulf between pop music and “serious” or “new music” can be a big one, and the first concert of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players 2014-15 season TenFourteen set this in high relief. Put another way, the pleasure principle tends to be the guiding light in pop music which isn’t always the case with new music which often tries to be dark or “profound”, or as my late friend Virgil Thomson once observed ” composers look at the history of music as leading up to them,” so it may as well be “heavy.”

George Crumb is an obviously gifted and highly regarded composer whose place in music history seems secure today, and his SFCMP’s commissions “Yesteryear “( 2013 ) and “The Yellow Moon of Andalusia ” (2012) were strong entries in his catalogue. The first was compact and mysterious with sudden eruptions of violence from extra busy percussionists William Winant and Nick Woodbury, and impressive contributions from Kate Campbell on amplified piano, and soprano Tony Arnold whose vocal text was a singularly dull fragmentation of Francois Villon’s eponymous poem. The second, which continued Crumb’s vocal/ instrumental settings of the poems of Garcia Lorca, which began with his landmark 1970 “Ancient Voices of Children” had a wonderful, timeless sense of space, and was beautifully realized by Arnold and Campbell, though his 1962 “Five Pieces for Piano ” came off as a stale and unmotivated codification of new techniques — playing within the piano — which were novel and exciting when Cage first used these gestures.The young Lebanese pianist-composer has absorbed this now common performance practice into his own work which is always vital because, though he’s very cerebral and knows the standard piano rep backwards and forwards, he doesn’t write “thinking” but emotional music.

And speaking of thinking Georges Aperghis’ solos “Recitation 9 ” and ” Recitation 10″ ( both 1977-78) , though perhaps trying hard to be a sort of emotional breakdown ala Artaud’s “La Peste”, which Nin recorded in her Diary, came off as “thought” music, despite the obvious complexity of the writing and Arnold’s spectacularly engaged performance. It was like Gertrude Stein without her wit and gift for multiple /ambiguous meanings.

Things didn’t get much better in Elena Ruehr’s SFCMP commission written for clarinet, violin, cello, harp, guitar, and percussion “it’s about time” (2014) which sounded superficially “pop”, meaning accessible, but didn’t add up to much despite the players’ obvious enthusiasm for its quasi classical-baroque sound and SFCMP’s Steven Schick’s alert conducting.

Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s 2014 SFCMP four-movement commission “Corporea” was dedicated to her country’s diplomat Gilberto Bosques Saldivar, who helped save thousands of Jews, exiles from Franco’s Spain, and those escaping the Third Reich, from certain death. It had a welcome but unforced gravitas and lightness and seemed to easily inhabit both the pop and new music worlds. Solidly grounded in colorful yet expressive popular gestures — think Revueltas, or Julian Orbon — yet classical-modernist in layout and content, with a very affecting yet contained third movement adagio. And the audience which was more or less forced to sit on their hands for most of the concert rose to their feet and gave it rapturous and much deserved applause.

You don’t have to wear a hair shirt to be “serious. ”

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Just a little “heads-up” —

This coming Tuesday, November 25, The Center for Architecture and The Institute for Performance Sculpture will be presenting an inter-disciplinary program that looks interesting.

Architect/composer Chrtistopher Janney and bassist/producer Bill Laswell will join forces with  Sara Rudner (choreographer), Sunny Hitt (dancer), and an assortment of acclaimed musicians including vocalists, percussionists, and a turntable artist. The performance, entitled Exploring the Hidden Music, will endeavour to “make architecture more physical, and to make music more physical.” The details are attached below. Seems intriguing, especially for those who are interested in the crossing and mixing of artistic media.

DATE:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014; 8PM

 ADDRESS:

Gramercy Theater

127 E 23rd St.

New York, NY 10010

Tel: 212.614.6932

http://venue.thegramercytheatre.com/

ADMISSION:

$25

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rv20On Tuesday November 11, 2014 Piano Spheres presented a concert by Richard Valitutto entitled NAKHT. The venue was the RedCat performing arts space at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles, and the 275 available seats were mostly filled to hear an evening of solo piano nocturnes. This was the first major recital by Richard Valitutto, who is a member of several leading new music ensembles that appear regularly throughout the city.

The concert opened, appropriately enough, with Nocturnes (1929 – 38) by Francis Poulenc. Five nocturnes were played from this piece and the first of these, No 1 in C major, began with a warm and welcoming feeling and reflecting, from time to time, just the slightest tinge of regret. This piece gracefully unfolded with an accessible beauty. The acoustics in the hall were good and Richard applied a sensitive touch to the flowing melody line and its stately ending. The second movement, No 5 in D minor, has a much quicker feel, like a group of children running about inside a large house. The subtitle of this nocturne translates to “moths” and perhaps this accounts for the lively feel. The fast runs and rapid rhythms were accurately and precisely rendered while at the same time allowing the playfulness of the music to come through.

Other nocturnes from Poulenc were variously slow and stately with an introspective feel, sophisticated and engaging, like a group of friends out on the town or dramatic and expressive. The last nocturne, No 8 in G major, was softer and more reserved, almost church-like in its solemnity, but with a certain uplifting sensibility. All these Poulanec nocturnes were played with an ease and smoothness that highlighted a sense of openness and warmth.

The second piece in the concert was as above, so below (2014) by Richard Valitutto and this occasion was the world premiere. Some adjustments were required; the music rack on the piano was rotated allowing access to the strings within. As above, so below began with the plucking of isolated strings – with those in the higher registers sounded with a bell-like purity and were left hanging nicely in the air. The lower notes produced more of a clanking sound, but this made for a good contrast. The listener soon became accustomed to the use of these extended techniques, and as the piece proceeds they become a normal feature of the sound palette. Eventually notes were struck from the keyboard and this registered as a more percussive sound compared to the lovely sustained pitches of the plucked strings. A dialogue unfolds between the two sounds as the piece gradually develops into a quiet, meandering mystery. It is like a nocturnal wandering inside an old house while hearing the chimes of a grandfather clock. Based on the lunar cycle and “..simple canonic procedures like those we hear in Renaissance and Baroque music” as above, so below has a more flowing, introspective feel than its underlying structure might suggest, resulting in a pleasing level of thoughtful reflection.

Due Notturni crudeli (2000) by Salvatore Sciarrino was next and the first movement Senza tempo e scandito started with a series of strong, pounding high notes followed by a pause, a short passage and then a repeat. This became a steady, march-like pulse as the piece progressed, broken only by rapid runs that skipped down the keyboard. The feeling was quite unlike a traditional nocturne and was more reminiscent of an automaton caught in some perpetual factory process. Intimidating and impersonal, this movement only turned softer towards the end as it slowly died away. The second movement, Furia, metallo, was even more forceful, with loud pounding chords and rapid runs in the middle registers. There were a few quiet stretches but these simply served to reinforce to harshness of the more robust sections. The program notes for this piece state “…the predominating attitude is one of violence and hysteria, examining the dichotomy of disparate gestures and their pugnacious incompatibility.” The playing by Richard Valitutto was skillful throughout and carefully attuned to the strong emotions present in Due Notturni crudeli – the cruel nocturnes.

After a short intermission La chouette hulotte (1956-58) from Catalogue d ‘oiseaux, 3 Livre by Olivier Messiaen began with an ominous feel, like walking outside into the inky blackness of a cloudy night. Changing rhythms and running passages ensued, with a building sense of uncertainty and tension. The title of this piece translates to Tawny Owl, and is part of the Messiaen series of piano works that focus on birds and bird calls. He writes about this piece: “Darkness, fear, the heart beating too fast, the meowing and barking Little Owl, the cries of the Long-Eared Owl, and then there is the call of the Tawny Owl: sometimes gloomy and painful, sometimes vague and disturbing (with a strange tremor), sometimes shouted out in terror like the cry of a murdered child!” All of this is viscerally present in La chouette hulotte; at times Richard Valitutto seemed to be attacking the keyboard and at other times caressing it, artfully drawing out all of the foreboding and drama that is packed into this piece.

Next was a work by Aleksandr Skryabin, Poem-Nocturne, OP 61, (1912) and this began with a light, rolling melody accompanied by warm chords. This is a more traditional type of nocturne and is evidence of very controlled writing – there is a sense of slight tension and of something held back. Skryabin was heavily influenced by Chopin and, as the program notes state: “…during his middle years Skryabin became interested in composing ‘poems’, an appellation he derived from the late-Romantic concept of tone poem. However, unlike those heroic and tragic chronicles, most of Skryabin’s piano poems focus on the ephemeral beauty of a few simple gestures, favoring grace over grandiosity.” The delicate sense of anticipation in Poem-Nocturne approaches impressionism in its simplicity and subdued texture, and the understated feelings were all carefully articulated in this performance.

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The final work of the evening was NCTRN (2014) by Los Angeles composer Nicholas Deyoe, commissioned for this concert by Piano Spheres. For this piece the piano was prepared so that the right-most key made a wooden knocking sound instead of hitting the string to make a note. This simple adjustment became an effective focal point as the piece progressed. Anyone familiar with the music of Nicholas Deyoe would normally expect to hear a thunderous roar from the piano, but apart from a few sharp chords NCTRN was a model of carefully controlled atmospherics. This is surprisingly economical music, with pauses and silences that added to a deep, evocative feel. The knocking sound made by the prepared key produced a keen sense of slowly building anticipation, becoming more insistent as the piece progressed. The sudden ending was the perfect, unexpected finish. The playing was everything NCTRN required – a fine touch with precise control that sustained the tautness throughout. The audience received this performance with sustained applause and cheering.

With artists like Gloria Cheng, Mark Robson, Vicky Ray and others, Piano Spheres has, with this satellite series concert by Richard Valitutto, recognized a new voice for the music of an upcoming generation.

2 months ago | |
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