NB, I have made corrections on errors very publicly posted on the composer’s website. The changes are factual corrections and copyright citations. My blog is intended to provide the perspective of an avid listener and to promote music which I believe deserves attention and I believe I have done that. I’m always happy to correct errors of fact but I retain the right to my opinion. To be clear, I like the album very much.
I hope that my flippant title for this review does not offend. But an artist who creates new acoustic instruments of unusual tunings which he plays and for which he has written music sounds a lot like spiritual progeny to Harry Partch. Partch had no children and even if he did it is unlikely they would have followed in his footsteps. Strictly speaking, Cris Forster may be more like “nephew of Partch” given that he is following his own distinct trajectory and is doing so in a very different time. But he embodies the ethic and has made it his life’s work to compose in non-standard tunings and to create instruments capable of playing those tunes accurately and effectively. Forster is, in a metaphorical sense, a sort of spiritual progeny, one that would have made daddy proud.
Cris Forster (1948- ) was born in Brazil, became a US citizen in 1966, and earned a degree in history from UC Santa Cruz in 1970. After graduating in 1974 from Lone Mountain College (now the University of San Francisco) with a degree in piano performance, he began building his own instruments in 1975 and, in 1976 (two years after Partch died), he began a four year stint as curator, archivist, and performer for the Harry Partch Foundation. While there he maintained the original Partch instruments, created what I’m calling “Post Partch” instruments, and subsequently performing both Partch’s music and his own compositions. In 2000 he published “Musical Mathematics”, a comprehensive accounting of his researches.
It is fairly easy to write about Forster, his book, his CD. But it is extremely difficult to communicate meaningfully about the sound of his music and how these beautiful but odd looking instruments are played. To that end I will provide a few YouTube links so that readers can experience the music itself: “A child said What is the grass” (1986); “Blue Nights” (2013). These are from Forster’s YouTube channel where you can see/hear more. Don’t worry about the unusual tuning. After a few listens (at least for this listener) one begins to hear it as the beautiful music that it is, a worthy successor to the Partch legacy.
There are eleven tracks featuring selections from two large works, Song of Myself: Intoned Poems of Walt Whitman (1977) written for Chrysalis I, Harmonic/Melodic Canon, and Voice; and Ellis Island/Angel Island (1978-2023) for a larger ensemble but without voice consisting of four groups of instruments: Stringed instruments: Chrysalis I, Chrysalis II, Harmonic/Melodic Canon, Bass Canon, and Just Keys; percussion instruments: Diamond Marimba I, Diamond Marimba II, and Bass Marimba; friction instrument: Glassdance; and wind instruments: Simple Flutes. And the informative liner notes are by Heidi Forster who also plays in the ensemble.
1.Song of Myself: Intoned Poems of Walt Whitman Song of Myself (Excerpts): No. 2, “A Child Said What Is the Grass?” Cris Forster: voice, Chrysalis I
2. Ellis Island/Angel Island (Excerpts): X. Blue Nights David Boyden, Heidi Forster, Isabelle Jotterand, Benjamin Koscielak playing Glassdance, Just Keys, Bass Canon, and Bass Marimba
3. Ellis Island/Angel Island (Excerpts): IX. Dream Time Jacob Richards playing Diamond Marimba II
4. Song of Myself (Excerpts): No. 10, “The Past and Present Wilt – I Have Fill’d Them, Emptied Them” Voice and Harmonic/Melodic Canon played by David Boyden
5. Song of Myself (Excerpts): No. 11, “The Spotted Hawk Swoops by and Accuses Me, He Complains of My Gab and My Loitering Voice and Harmonic/Melodic Canon played by David Boyden
6. Ellis Island/Angel Island (Excerpts): “I. Good-Bye” Just Keys played by Isabelle Jotterand
7. Ellis Island/Angel Island (Excerpts): “II. Farewell” Just Keys played by Isabelle Jotterand
8. Ellis Island/Angel Island (Excerpts): “III. Far Away” Just Keys played by Cris Forster
9. Ellis Island/Angel Island (Excerpts): “VII. Lullaby” Glassdance played by Heidi Forster
10. Ellis Island/Angel Island (Excerpts): XI. Wild Flower Cris Forster and Benjamin Koscielak playing Diamond Marimba II and Bass Marimba
11. Ellis Island/Angel Island (Excerpts):“IV. The Harbor” Heidi Forster, Benjamin Koscielak, and Jacob Richards playing Glassdance, Bass Marimba, and Diamond Marimba II
The tuning sounds unusual at first but it grows on the listener. Happily there are plans to release the rest of the Whitman settings. Meanwhile we have this lovely release produced by John Schneider and Heidi Forster (with Cris Foster doing the recording and Scott Fraser the mastering) to listen to while we wait.
This is Tim Brady’s fourth Starkland release, a distinction shared by only two other composers, the late Tod Dockstader and (the delightfully very much living) Guy Klucevsek. And given the impressive track record of the Starkland label’s ability to find and promote innovative composers and performers who later achieve much wider recognition, this is an event that demands serious attention.
With a catalog presently numbering some 39 plus CDs and a CV that boasts 4 operas and a massive catalog of compositions for ensembles ranging from solo to large orchestra, this proudly Canadian composer has mounted (metaphorically, of course) an invasion from the United State’s northern border of his distinctive artistic vision prompting this reviewer to suggest a comparison to the pop “invasion” of the Beatles in the early 60s.
My admittedly tongue in cheek Beatles comparison is not meant to eclipse the incredible artistry of this obviously very industrious artist. My previous reviews compared his work to electric guitar giants like Rhys Chatham and the late Glenn Branca. But this only serves to illuminate a fraction of this man’s work. I invite listeners to peruse his well organized website to get a perspective.
But let me get back to this release. It is undoubtedly a bold move to use the term “symphony” to describe a work for a solo artist. Charles Valentine Alkan (1813-1888) wrote a symphony for solo piano (opus 39 nos. 4-10 from 1857) Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988) referred to his third piano sonata (1922) as a symphony and later wrote six more symphonies for solo piano between 1938 and 1976. And more recently the late Glenn Branca (1948-2018) wrote several works for various configurations of guitars he called symphonies. But this is the first symphony written expressly for solo guitar as far as I can determine.
“Symphony in 18 Parts for solo electric guitar (2021) – 50 minutes For solo electric guitar, FX pedals and looper, in 18 movements” as it is listed on the composer’s website is (if I counted correctly) his 8th Symphony. Brady apparently numbers his symphonies in order of composition without reference to instrumentation. While several of his symphonies involve one or more electric guitars, this is the first solo guitar work to which he gives the weighty title of “Symphony” (unless, as noted above, you count the solo version of Symphony No. 5).
The term “symphony” carries with it connotations, at least, of grandeur, painstaking structure, and serious music making. And this work is very serious and meticulously constructed. It is, of course, reflective of a mid career composer who has written a great deal and has learned from that experience. It has as much a right to be called a “symphony” as any similarly large and painstakingly written piece of music.
First, let me say that, other than a tendency to use one (or a lot more than one) electric guitar in his music, Brady’s music has relatively little in common with Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham. In fact, Brady seems to have more in common with Steve Reich and Elliott Sharp. But while Chatham and Branca emerged from a music scene dominated by punk in all its iterations, Brady seems more connected to the Beatles and Les Paul.
The work is divided into 18 sections, each running a modest 1.5 to just under 5 minutes. It is a structure similar in this listeners mind to American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911-2008), whose Symphony No. 9 (1949-50) “St. Vartan”, a similarly epic masterpiece in no fewer than 24 short movements. It is the interrelatedness of those movements that make them a part of the whole symphony. And so it is with Brady’s Symphony. David Lang (Pulitzer Prize Winner and founding Bang on a Can” member) says essentially this in his segment of the liner notes that come with the recording. Tim Brady acknowledges much the same in his segment of the liner notes.
The cover art by fellow adventuring guitarist and composer Elliott Sharp is functionally an homage to Brady and his work. The recording by Tim Brady and Morris Apelbaum, mastered by Brady, Apelbaum, and John Klepko is lucid (and great on headphones especially when Brady pans the sounds across the stereo field).
The 18 movements all have titles which are metaphorically related to the music therein. David Lang aptly describes these varied and intense movements as sort of biographical statements about what the composer can do with his instrument. Each movement has both form and development much as one would expect of a symphonic movement.
On the one hand, this symphony is not easy listening. On the other hand it is likely catnip to electric guitarists as well as to new music enthusiasts including your humble reviewer. Brady’s Canadian invasion, far from a takeover, is simply a musician sharing his substantial art from across the northern border and presenting his latest efforts. Like the Beatles, Brady deserves to be welcomed. This prolific composer/performer/teacher/innovator has interesting things to say.
At first I attempted to write something about each of the 18 movements but I don’t think that would have added anything useful for prospective listeners. This piece taken as a whole most aptly deserves the descriptor “tour de force” as each movement seems to have its own character deriving from the composer’s use of various (apparently deeply studied and judiciously chosen) techniques and ideas which sometimes threaten to overwhelm the listener, sometimes with sheer volume, sometimes with dazzling virtuosity, sometimes with softness, sometimes with silence, and always with interesting ideas.
In some ways this is a collections of ideas and techniques the composer has amassed over some 50 + years of playing. Each movement seems to be a more or less self contained exposition of playing techniques and the composers own approach to harmony and invention. That sounds potentially very dull but this is not a collection of etudes didactically accounting for and crystallizing his ideas. It is the organic appropriation of personal achievements in developing his compositional style. And it is an homage to electric guitarists that preceded him. Not a textbook as much as perhaps a signpost defining his present stage of development even as he moves forward with other projects.
I suppose one could challenge the notion of calling this a work for solo guitar given the effects pedals, looping systems, etc. but the use of electronics and looping techniques as a compositional aid or method is so ubiquitous that point is moot. Call it what you like but just listen. Let the music flow over your ears. At the very least this is a defining milestone in Brady’s long and productive career. It’s hard to to imagine what he might do next but I’m sure he’ll think of something.
This is the most recent recording by Italian pianist Agnese Toniutti. (her third release by my research). It is also the most recent recording of John Cage’s masterful Sonatas and Interludes (1946-8) for prepared piano, a defining work for that unusual instrument. It has been recorded at least 30 times but is rather rarely heard in live performance.
John Cage is perhaps best known for his challenges to the philosophy and the very definition of music itself epitomized in his infamous silent piece titled 4’33” premiered in 1952. The composer eschewed the notion of a “masterpiece” but irony loving “fate” would hand him that title at least for this set of pieces.
Toniutti, a graduate of The Conservatory of Venice, seems to be as much a researcher and activist as she is a widely skilled pianist. While doubtless schooled in the commonly played repertoire for her instrument, she favors new music and music undeservedly neglected in her performances and recordings as well as the commissioning of new works and finding yet unplayed that strike her fancy.
The Sonatas and Interludes, now some 80 years old doesn’t really qualify as “new music” per se nor can it really be called neglected having been recorded 30+ times. In the context of this release this cycle of pieces seems to function much as a new recording of the Goldberg Variations or the late Beethoven Sonatas might function to introduce the skills of a musician whose trajectory was aimed at the conventional recital hall circuit. Toniutti clearly has other plans.
I won’t attempt to compare this most recent interpretation to the other available recordings. I believe this recording does much to validate the music as an essential work in the western canon of art music and to display the estimable understanding and widely skilled competence of the performer whose work is and will continue to embrace new music and advocate for that music to earn an esteemed place in the minds and hearts of listeners and other performers.
This is a very enjoyable recording whether it is to be a collector’s only recording of this music or one that stands most favorably in comparison to previous recordings. If this is to be your first recording of this work or if you simply want to hear another interpretation, you will not be disappointed. This is a wonderful performance.
Pianist Agnese Toniutti previously released a very forward looking recording on Neuma Records. The 2021 release pictured below is a collection of much more recent music. I listened numerous times and didn’t feel I “got it” well enough to say something reasonably intelligent (if not insightful) until this second release. And while I may not fully understand these “subtle matters” I now have a better context.
This collection which I had yet to review represents Toniutti’s understanding and appreciation as well as her apparent mission to expand the experimental repertoire for piano. Here is a fascinating set of composers, each with a unique view of her instrument. Just listen, trust this artist. You’ll be glad you did.
Keep your eyes and ears open for Agnese Toniutti, an advocate for and a master of the avant garde. And to Ms. Toniutti, I greet you at the beginning of a great career.
There were no percussion ensembles in Western music until the early twentieth century, at least not anything close to the size and instrumental diversity we see now, but since then there have been a variety of percussion ensembles which have popped up. some touring, some recording, but all investigating the possibilities of this collection of pitched and unpitched instruments. Notable examples from this writer’s memory include the Paul Price Percussion Ensemble, the Donald Knaack Percussion Ensemble, Amadinda, and the Canadian group, “Nexus”. Each of these ensembles (the list is not comprehensive) has put their own stamp on the flexibly nebulous group subsumed under the title, “Percussion Ensemble”.
All of these groups have chosen which instruments to include in their group, which to exclude, and they have done their own curation of music to expand their respective repertoires and the percussion group repertoire as a whole. And the present recording presents yet another Third Coast Percussion CD on Cedille Records for this busy Chicago based group. The relationship between this energetic ensemble and the equally energetic Cedille Records has been a mutually beneficial one artistically. this release is the fifth release for that label. They have at least nine other albums as a group and have collaborated on many more recordings.
As noted on the album this disc contains all world premiere recordings that reflect varying degrees of collaboration. One of the unifying threads of this CD is the variety of compositional approaches. The Elfman piece being perhaps the most traditionally notated and structured. The others involve different compositional methods which are not exactly traditional in classical music. It is the exploration of such non-traditional methods and the expansion of the definition of composition that is a characteristic of this always interesting classically trained group of musicians.
Let me just start by saying WOW!!!
The first work on the album is by Danny Elfman (1953- ) is best known for his work in movies and television as the composer of “The Simpsons” theme and similarly energetic scores for Tim Burton’s films among others. His roots were in his work with the unusual pop band “Oingo Boingo” whose manic style is still present in much of Elfman’s work. And this is not his first appearance in this new music blog either. His Violin Concerto was reviewed here. He manages to succeed in pop, film, and the concert hall, a feat that few can match.
Elfman’s rather blandly named, Percussion Quartet (2019) is appropriately described in the liner notes as the most conventional work here in terms of how it was written. It is fully notated in in traditional notation and consists of four movements ranging in length from about 4 minutes to about 6 and a half. The work resembles traditional sonata forms with Elfman’s energetic and sometimes quirky melodies that successfully draw the listener through the composer’s journey. That bland title is almost ironic as it belies the really entertaining qualities of this piece. Third Coast’s realization is definitive as one would hope for a world premiere recording.
The second composition is a transcription by Third Coast of a popular Philip Glass piano work, “Metamorphosis No. 1.” But this is a transcription influenced by another transcription, that of the Brazilian group, “Uakti”. So this can be said to be tantamount to a collaboration with another performing ensemble. Clocking in at nearly ten minutes this track is a familiar interlude that cleanses the aural pallet for what is to come.
And what does come next is a collaboratively composed seven movement work entitled, “Perspective”. This more poetic title is the source of the album’s title. This work by Jlin (Jerrilynn Patton 1987- ) was originally written by first recording multiple tracks or layers and then working with the musicians of Third Coast to transcribe these ideas into traditional notation and into a form playable by the quartet of percussionists. This, of course, resembles the methodology that brought forth the wonderful Devonte Hynes album (also on Cedille) reviewed here.
The music is arguably entirely composed by Jlin with the orchestration creatively realized by Third Coast Percussion (doubtless in direct discussion with Jlin). What results is a dizzying and energetic set of movements whose styles derive in part from minimalism and from the rhythmic complexities of African drumming and contemporary dance music. Jlin, who hails from Gary, Indiana, works from a perspective of a DJ spinning dance music. But this is hardly your typical DJ. This is a fascinating musical mind who just happened to have started with DJ equipment.
Another example of Third Coast Percussion’s creative collaborations has resulted in “Rubix”, a three movement work written (mostly) by Flutronix, a genre busting duo. Flutronix is Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull, both classically trained flautists who aren’t afraid to cross dated boundaries to create music that speaks their minds.
This is some high energy music which reflects a variety of styles but always demands much from all players involved. The duo, whose rendition of Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” demonstrates their virtuosity and interpretive rigor. Rubix is essentially a chamber work for flutes and percussion but their defiance of categories seems to be as much a critical element of their music as is their virtuosity. Bottom line is that this is engaging, creative work that leaves the listener wanting more even as they may be unsure what they just heard. Kudos, all!
Make no mistake. This release, a long time in coming, is an essential document of the work of two Bay Area artists whose contributions (frequently behind the scenes) receives some richly deserved attention.
The dyad here consists of Carol Law and Charles Amirkhanian, partners in both life and art, collaborators in sound and image now release this collection of their collaborative works from 1973 to 1985 entitled, “Hypothetical Moments: Collaborative Works (1975-1985)”. This lovingly produced DVD brings together a series of performance art pieces demonstrating an intimate set of collaborations between these two Bay Area artists. Law is a photographer and visual artist whose art works have been displayed internationally in several galleries. Her designs can also be found in some of the striking wearable art she made as promotional/souvenir collectible items sold at concerts and online from the OM store. Amirkhanian is a composer and sound artist as well as a broadcaster and producer who has curated concerts and produced radio programs promoting new and innovative music in the bay area (and beyond) since about 1969.
Their respective artistic outputs include both individual and collaborative works but, until now, the only chance to experience their collaborative efforts has been in the rare occasions in which these works were performed live. The booklet accompanying this DVD gives a partial list of live performances the most recent of which was in 2018 when OM 23 “The Wages of Syntax” presented a 6 day series of concerts which was an international survey of linguistic sonic arts. Visual analogues and deconstructions of vocal sounds as practiced by artists inspired by language and the expansion of the very definition of art, music, and performance.
My tardiness in completing this review afforded me a unanticipated perspective on Amirkhanian’s art. The performance of his new composition, “Ratchet Attach It” (2021) at OM 26, pictured here integrates his roots as a percussionist with his penchant for spoken word and sound sampling.
The collaborations here have roots going back at least to the early twentieth century with the experimental visual innovations of Vassily Kandinsky, Picasso, Miro, and the photographic experiments of Man Ray, etc. Their sonic antecedents include the work of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Antonin Artaud, Luigi Russolo, and a panoply of sound artists that Law and Amirkhanian visited in the late 1960s.
In addition to these early experiments one must understand that these creative meldings of sonic and visual art were flourishing in the Bay Area, most obviously in San Francisco where Allan Kaprow’s “happenings”, Bill Graham’s rock concert productions, and similar sound/light shows dominated the fare at performance venues like the Fillmore and similar spaces where innovation in pop/rock music mixed with innovation in visual light shows combined with bands performing for audiences immersing them in mind manifesting artistic assaults that drew crowds frequently also experimenting with not yet illegal psychedelic drugs (the word “psychedelic” is a neologism which means “mind manifesting”). The emblematic event here was the so called “Trips Festival“, a three day event held in 1966 at the Longshoreman’s Hall. I have elsewhere referred to Mr. Amirkhanian as the “Bill Graham of new music”, a comparison which still seems valid.
speaking is speaking (by Bay Area poet Richard Brautigan)
We repeat what we speak and then we are speaking again and that speaking is speaking. Tokyo June sometime, 1976
Well, drugs are not the issue here but mind expansion is. What is documented here is the multimedia collaboration of two essential Bay Area artists who, via their individual and collective efforts effectively expanded the possibilities of both visual and sonic media. These are innovative on many levels. Amirkhanian’s unique take on sound poetry (his anthology “10 + 2: 12 American Text Sound Pieces”) is an essential survey of that genre released on vinyl (now available on OM records ). And Law’s photographs, design, deconstruction and collage methods are integrated into her own unique style of visual art. The performances on this DVD constitute another uniquely San Francisco Bay Area chapter in multimedia, collaborative performance art now made available to a larger audience.
This defining anthology of Law and Amirkhanian’s explorations of sound poetry (first released on vinyl in 1975 on the now defunct 1750 Arch Records) has defined the genre for many (this writer included). Aram Saroyan, Clark Coolidge and Beth Anderson would later appear live at Other Minds 23 in 2018 which outdid the aforementioned “Trips Festival” in a week long festival of sound poetry from an international roster of poets and sound artists.
Now keep in mind that the original presentations of these works from the early 80s utilized the technology of its era, analog recording, magnetic tape, and slide projectors (remember those?). So this 21st century rendition takes this work into contemporary technology and makes available for the first time since their premieres the original marriage of sound and image as intended by the artists. Without getting into McLuhan-esque analyses of the differences and subsequent meanings of the original media versus those on this DVD one need only celebrate the fact that listeners/viewers can now see these works with their originally intended melding of sound and image.
There are 12 tracks:
History of Collage (1981) (original audio release on Mental Radio CRI, 1985)
Tremolo Bank (1982)
Dog of Stravinsky (1982) (original audio release on Mental Radio CRI, 1985)
Maroa (1981) (original audio release on Mental Radio CRI, 1985)
Hypothetical Moments (in the intellectual life of southern California) (1981) (original audio release on Mental Radio CRI, 1985)
Dreams Freud Dreamed (1979)
Too True (1982)
The first nine tracks are the digital adaptation of sound and image accomplished by Dave Taylor. These are the pieces originally performed live in an era using equipment as distant from current technology as MP 3 files are now from magnetic tape. The last three bonus tracks are actual live performance videos (restored by Jim Petrillo) of three 1985 performances which give some of the flavor of the original experience of these works.
Several of these pieces have been released as audio only tracks on Amirkhanian’s CD releases (as noted) and, while they certainly work as audio only experiences, the images add a welcome dimension. The equally striking design by OM resident design master Mark Abramson add a deserving touch of class to the videos and the accompanying booklet which features informative texts on the works as well as a nostalgic collection of photographs featuring the dyadic duo.
I am honored to have a quote reprinted there from my blog review of OM 23 where I and a sizable audience were treated to a fabulous week long live experience of sound poetry featuring this duo’s work alongside that of exhilarating selections of other similar minds’ work. Of course nothing can take the place of the live experience but this production comes close.
This is a must have collectible document for anyone interested in sound poetry and Bay Area artists.
I had previously reviewed an Innova release by this fine Italian pianist whose compelling musical choices and interpretive skills make him one of the bright lights on the current musical scene. And his European perspective (and affinity for) American composers provide an extremely valuable perspective for both listeners and performers.
It comes as no surprise that that Innova album was produced during Philip Blackburn’s tenure and this release is another illuminating journey guided by Arciuli’s finely tuned curatorial and interpretive skills. The journey here focuses on the late post-minimalist William Duckworth (1943-2012).
The first 12 tracks comprise book I (of two) of Duckworth’s genre defining work, “The Time Curve Preludes” (1977-8). These have been recorded three times, first in 1983 by Neely Bruce (who premiered them in 1979 at Wesleyan). Bruce Brubaker recorded Book I in 2009 and R. Andrew Lee recorded the entire set in 2011.
In addition to Arciuli’s take on this composition (I expect a future release will contain Arciuli’s interpretation of Book II) we get a previously unrecorded set of songs for voice and piano, “Simple Songs About Sex and War” (1983-4) to texts by Hayden Carruth. Here Arciuli is joined by Costanza Savarese, a classical guitarist and vocalist, an artist new to this writer. Here she displays her vocal prowess in these pithy little songs reminiscent in some ways of Barber’s “Hermit Songs”.
Duckworth deserves more exposure and Arciuli’s work is always revelatory. So what Duckworth will be paired with the Book II recording? Delighted listeners want to know.
This release appears to be as much about the musician as it is about the music. Ives’ second piano sonata has had numerous recordings since John Kirkpatrick’s landmark recording of 1948. It is a gargantuan work that requires formidable technical skills simply to play it and interpretive skills at a very high level. Here is a recording by an artist who certainly possesses the skill sets required.
Pianist Philip Bush has spent over twenty years playing, teaching and recording. He is well known in new music circles as a versatile and committed artist very familiar with Charles Ives’ music. Doubtless many have heard his work but his name is far better known among his peers than his listeners. Why? Well despite at least 24 releases his role as accompanist or ensemble member leaves his name recognition to his fellow artists and to fans who read credit listings on those recordings. This writer is reminded of another artist of a previous generation whose skills were unquestioned but his name less known. I’m talking about the wonderful Gerald Moore whose work as an accompanist graced many recordings of the 50s, 60s, and 70s where he worked alongside many different instrumentalists and singers. Moore’s charming album, “The Unashamed Accompanist” (1955) is a good humored tour of the hard work of the accompanist, the unsung hero. I don’t mean to suggest that Mr. Bush is an exact match for this analogy, but this album certainly puts him more in that soloist spotlight than any other he has done.
Despite many recordings of this masterpiece, ostensibly a landmark of American modernist composition, this work has yet to achieve the prominence it deserves in the recital hall. Bush’s performance along with his very clever inclusion of lesser known Ives contemporary, Marion Bauer’s Six Preludes for Piano, Op. 15 (1922) helps to provide context for the listener. Bauer was later the first American to study with Nadia Boulanger whose pedagogy would shape the careers of many of the great composers of the 20th century in many countries. The preludes are apparently included here as representing American music played more commonly in recitals of that time.
For a thorough summary and perspective on the Concord Sonata I have found Kyle Gann’s recent book on the subject to be illuminating. Ives himself felt the need to “explain himself” when he wrote a little book to be published concurrently with the sonata. Ives’ title for his book “Essays Before a Sonata” provide the inspiration for Gann’s subtitle (Essays After a Sonata). Ives’ near constant revisions add to the difficulties in even determining a final version of the score itself. The composer’s revisions and the partial recordings he did of the work add to the performer’s burden in the performance of the work. There’s even optional parts for flute (included in Bush’s recording played by Jennifer Parker-Harley) and for viola (not in Bush’s recording).
The Bauer preludes are far more conservative musically than the Ives of course but one could argue that nearly everything contemporary with the Concord Sonata sounds conservative by contrast. Bauer’s Op, 15 are relatively early works in her output. She lived and worked another 33 years after these little works which were apparently influenced by French Impressionism. There is no indication that Bauer and Ives ever met or discussed music but her work was the new music more commonly heard than that of the roughly concurrent work of Ives. The use of the stereopticon style slide on the album cover, a current technology of the time, also serves to provide a charming nostalgic reference to an era about to experience many rapid changes historically, technically, and conceptually in which the Concord becomes an American work analogous to The Rite of Spring (1913) as a signpost of the beginning of another era.
Despite the complexities, Bush’s reading of the Concord and the Bauer preludes are eminently listenable. That clarity is ultimately the value of this release. This recording is a wonderful opportunity to hear the artistry of a dedicated artist and academic. It helps make a case for the Concord to be recognized as an important work whose complexities are made clearer with each interpretation. Bravo, Professor Bush!
Let me start with a positive image from a brief photography trip which I managed this year. It was one of the highlights of what has been a difficult year for many of us. Weather, politics, COVID, itinerant employment issues, financial, and personal difficulties were an encumbrance but now stand in relief to the many positive aspects of 2022.
First, let me say that nothing musical fell into the category of “worst of” so fear not, what follows is essentially my “best of” from 2022. In my head I blame the aforementioned encumbrances for delays and sheer lack of production on my part. Whether that is the ultimate truth does not matter really so here, for better or worse, is my celebration of the positive experiences enumerated in this music blog in 2022.
My first post for the year struck a sad note. It was my personal tribute to a composer, A Belated Fan Letter: Homage to George Crumb described George Crumb, who had been one of my “gateway drugs”, so to speak, which helped put me on the exciting roads of new music upon with I continue to travel with great joy. Recordings of his complete works are still being released on the visionary Bridge Records.
Carolyn Shaw’s striking and much performed “In Manus Tuas” (on solo viola as well as solo cello) was originally written for Collins. Her selections on this album, including that Shaw work, suggest to this writer/listener that she has both vision and an encyclopedic knowledge of music, especially that written for her instrument. She will be among the major shapers of this repertoire via her vision as well as her interpretive talents. And Sono Luminus’ superb sonics certainly helps make this a great release.
I have followed the work of Sarah Cahill since her first solo CD (music of Ravel). Like Collins, she has been an artist who, by her intelligent selection of repertoire, serves as a guide to listeners (and musicians) as well. She has championed many composers as a pianist and as a broadcaster on her weekly KALW broadcasts. Her curation of concerts throughout the Bay Area, such as her solstice concerts at Oakland’s Chapel of the Chimes, have showcased a large variety of creative performers.
As she focuses her lens on women composers (neglected is implied) she embraces a stunning range of styles from the baroque era to the present and it seems as though she can play anything she chooses well. She is also collaborative with an amazing ability to discern the substance in the works she chooses to play. And she has discovered (or rescued?) much music from obscurity via scholarship and intelligent collaboration. Can’t wait for the next release. She is consistently interesting and relevant.
This album was sent to me by a friend. I knew the Ligeti pieces but heard them with new ears in this release and I was amazed by the Kodaly works too. Marcus Creed may not be as well known in the U.S. as he is across the pond but he should be.
This album was kindly sent to me for review by John Schneider of Microfest records. Read the review. Listen to this album. And watch for more from Chris Votek, another rising star in 2022.
Dan Lippel is one of the founders of the fabulous new music label, New Focus Recordings. Here he is acoustic, electric, conventional, and experimental but always interesting. Keep his name on your radar.
This is a gorgeously designed, very collectible art object. It is a beautiful hard cover, full color book which also contains a CD of a recording (from acetate masters) which had languished in the archives of the Eastman/Rochester Music School where Harry Partch gave this lucid lecture/performance in 1942. Mr. Schneider, who sent me the Votek release as well, fronts an ensemble called PARTCH which, in addition to performing Harry Partch ‘s work, is recording Partch’s complete works for David and Becky Starobin’s Bridge label. This one is both eye and ear candy to my ears.
Rescuing those acetate masters from obscurity is a major find that rises in significance (in the musical sense) almost to the level of the archeological discovery of Tut’s Tomb. Schneider is a musician, a composer, a radio broadcaster, and an archivist and now a sonic archeologist I suppose. He also sports a collection of authentic copies of Partch’s curious instruments which were built to play the microtonal scales required. Partch is a major American composer whose work is now gaining its rightful place among the best of American classical music.
I first discovered Mr. Susman’s work when I was asked to review a performance of another composer’s work. I heard one of his works played by the remarkable San Jose Chamber Orchestra on that same concert. Here we have another multi volume release of these lovely and significant piano works. The remarkable pianist (mentioned often in these pages) has contracted to record all 4 books of this sort of “Well Tempered Clavier” type gesture which effectively provides much insight to this composer. Nicolas Horvath, known for marathon concerts performing (and subsequently recording) all of Philip Glass’ piano music, among others. (We’re talking 15 hours or so. There is also a 35 hour live rendition of Erik Satie’s “Vexations” on you tube.) Who better to record these? The remaining three volumes are due some time this year. Who better to take on this post minimalist set of pieces? Can’t wait for the next volume.
Yolanda Kondonassis is about as household a name that you can find among harpists. These five minute (more or less) pieces are a significant addition to the solo harp repertoire. They are forward looking works for her instrument. Very interesting work, excellently performed.
I remain in awe at the curatorial and historically aware work of this truly fine pianist. Greenberg helped me grasp the historical context of the Second Viennese School in a new way with his earlier release “Book of the Hanging Gardens”. In that release he played all the Debussy Preludes along with Schoenberg’s pre twelve tone song cycle, Webern’s Variations, and the Berg Sonata which helped this listener to better grasp the historical context of this music. This small collection of works written for him reflects a collaborative and visionary ethic akin to that of Sarah Cahill’s. Keep an ear out for this guy.
I have received some good natured teasing about the fact that this, one of my longer reviews, is of a 15 minute piece of music. But this act of musical archeology by the bay area’s Kate Stenberg (who is a regular collaborator with Sarah Cahill BTW) has made the first recording of this little work. It’s Webernian duration belies a style very much in character with this beloved composer’s other work. My review was as much about the music and the recording as it was about the dedication of Stenberg to new music. This release is from Other Minds, another shining example of advocacy of new music and collaboration among composers and performers. Get it. Listen to it. And don’t miss a chance to hear Stenberg live performances or to hear anything Harrison has written.
The Chicago based Cedille label is one of my favorite classical music labels. Producer James Ginsburg has a golden ear and Cedille is the finest Chicago based classical label since the justly fabled Mercury records. All their releases deserve attention but this two disc set of little known works for String Trio written between the world wars is a feast of substantive, if slightly conservative, voices. This one is a great listen and, trust me, none of this music is in your collection.
While circumstances conspired to limit my attendance to only one of the three days of OM 26, I would be loathe to leave this world class music festival off my “best of” list. My first published blog of 2023 was of the 30th anniversary celebration which showcased Marc-Andre Hamelin’s stunning reading of Charles Ives’ massive Concord Sonata. Anything OM does deserves your attention but the roughly annual festival continues to present composers and performers from around the world. Not to be missed.
Another exciting release of Cahill’s visionary series. Like the previous volume (and the aforementioned Cedille release) the consumer will suffer no unnecessary duplications if the music herein. Fascinating and expertly done. This set (the third volume due this year) is a testament to Cahill’s encyclopedic knowledge of piano music as well as her collaborative nature and, of course, her skills as a pianist.
I’m cheating a bit here since I wasn’t able to complete my review until 2023 but this Starkland disc was released in 2022 and definitely earns its place in my “best of” list. This rising star is another one to watch. Starkland, run by the dynamic Tom Steenland is one of those labels that reliably finds interesting and substantive new music. This one is no exception. It goes a long way to alleviating my skepticism of the electroacoustic genre.
And, in order to be fair I must cheat equitably. Charles Amirkhanian kindly sent me this exciting and excellent DVD of his collaboration with his partner in life and in artistic crimes, Carol Law. My more extensive review will appear shortly but this was a major release in 2022. Amirkhanian spends far less time promoting and performing his own unique compositions so this is an especially welcome release.
Last but not least of my best of 2022 is this wonderful Neuma release which, when I began my research to write a cogent and informed review, left me stunned at how little I actually knew about composer David Tudor and the astounding dimensions of this unusual piece that evolves with every performance. After gathering a whole ton of data I finally decided that I could not write a comprehensive review without more research so I settled on a tasteful (I hope) summary with the expectation that I will write a larger piece on Tudor and his work. The review will be out very shortly. This is an amazing and significant release.
Happy 2023 to all my readers and thanks to those who kept reading my blog during more fallow times. I have many blogs currently in preparation that I look forward to sharing in the months to come. Peace, health, and music to all.
On the back of the CD case, in the right upper hand corner, like a warning on the back of a medicine bottle, an entreaty:
“Binaural Recording: Please use headphones.”
Even those of you who think they know this masterpiece of experimental electronics by David Tudor (1926-1996) will find here a unique and important collaboration in this production initiated by Pauline Oliveros, then director of the Center for Music Experiment (CME) at UCSD. She invited a group called CIE (Composers Inside Electronics). And the resulting product of that collaboration documented here advances the understanding of this music and will henceforth be an influence on all future performances.
Unfortunately for this writer’s timing, the wealth of information gathered in the course of researching this review, the sheer volume of possibilities in performance and the wider scope of historical and technical elements embraced by this work required a deeper reading and contemplation on my part. In short, it has taken some time for this reviewer to get a grasp of how to express the significance of the deeply substantive work at hand. I simply didn’t know enough about the history of electronic music and the work of this seminal musician.
So now, after some serious study, is my perspective on this landmark composition and, in particular, the deeper significance of this performance. In short, there will likely be many more performances of this work but this one will always be a standout. Not the ultimate version perhaps, but one of the most memorable.
David Tudor was a pianist who championed contemporary piano music and then began a career as a composer. But he was no ordinary composer. Taking inspiration from the composers whose work he championed, Tudor developed musical ideas with structures that contain indeterminate elements within a larger structure. Such is the case with Rainforest which was first developed in 1968 against a cultural backdrop of the height of the psychedelic sixties and the political “days of rage”, a time of artistic innovation like Allen Kaprow’s “happenings” which expanded the concepts of what constituted art, a time of wild experimentation. His work crossed paths with the San Francisco Tape Music Center (which later became the Mills College New Music Center). Tudor traversed some of the same territory as Donald Buchla, Pauline Oliveros, Maggie Payne, Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, as well as many others.
The first iteration of Tudor’s innovative and experimental “Rainforest” was in 1968. It is a testament to Tudor’s creativity to have created a structure that contains the indeterminate sonic events called for in the score (not a formal score but a set of performance instructions) in such a way that the piece evolves with each iteration, each performance. That, rather than the varying sonic content, is the heart of this major work of contemporary sonic art.
First, this is a binaural recording, meaning that it was recorded with a technology intended to deliver the sound directly to headphones of the listener hopefully producing an experience much as would have been experienced by sitting in the audience. Earlier versions of this technology involved, basically, microphones embedded in the ear canals of an anthropomorphic head which is placed in front of the performance as a listener would sit in their seat. However, the present recording recording involved another generation of this technology which is particularly well suited to this music. Here the microphones are worn in the ears of the recordist as they meander through the space in which the piece is being performed. The result is the listener being able to (almost literally) get inside the head of the person wandering within the space and listening to the sounds created, sometimes at a distance, sometimes more closely.
Despite the entreaty that the listener wear headphones when listening to this recording (you really should try that at least once), one can play this recording as one would any other musical recording. It can also be appreciated by playing it on speakers in any space as a sort of sound installation. This piece challenges conventional concepts of music and its audience.
The Julliard Quartet is a hallowed name in classical music. This release reflecting its current generation of musicians is consistent with their practice of playing established classics alongside the modern. These are interesting choices of string quartets from the 18th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
Many will likely speculate on the motivations for these choices but it is a typical set of choices for a Juilliard Quartet recital, an intelligent mix of standard repertoire, not the “usual suspects” or most popular but musically solid pieces. And, of course, there is their all important embrace of the modern.
The Beethoven and the Barton are lovely choices intelligently played but the real draw, at least for this reviewer is the Davidovsky. Mario Davidovsky (1934- ) is a major American composer who deserves more performances and documentation of his work. Fortunately Bridge Records has taken on this task.
He is best known for his “Synchronisms” series pairing electronics with various acoustic instruments. This won him a Pulitzer Prize. But his music sans electronics is just as substantial and this 2016 String Quartet, his sixth, provides ample evidence of that substance.
Near as I can tell this is only the second recording of any of his quartets but it is sufficiently intriguing to whet the appetite for the other 5.
As a recital disc this one is thoroughly enjoyable and it’s inclusion of the Davidovsky is gloriously consistent with the overall image of the hallowed name of the Juilliard Quartet.
This is the second album I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing by this wonderfully talented composer and conductor from Iceland. The other album which put his name forever into my watch list was Recurrence. Daniel Bjarnason conducted on that recording which features his work as well as that of fellow Icelandic composers.
The present release is also conducted by Bjarnason and features three amazing works by this young composer and conductor. The works include, “Blow Bright” (2013) for orchestra, “The Isle is Full of Noises” (2012) for chorus and orchestra, and the title work, “Collider” (2015).
Blow Bright and Collider are performed by the lucid Icelandic Symphony. They are joined by the Hamrahild Choir for the three movement, Isle Full of Noises. The recording is also listener friendly (with detail that sent this listener to find headphones to hear them).
It is a mark of genius that this composer already has a clearly defined sound all his own. Hearing these left this listener wanting to hear these pieces again and to hear more of this man’s work.
Blow Bright and Collider are significant contributions to the modern orchestral repertoire and Isle Full of Noises is an opportunity to hear Bjarnason’s vocal writing with orchestra. This listener, no surprise was charmed. His facility in melodic invention, judicious use of modern harmonies make for very listener friendly music that challenge gently but always entertain. Classical music is alive and well…at least in Iceland.
Kenji Bunch (1973- ) is a musician whose name has made it to my personal orbit many times but this is my first encounter with his music and what an encounter it is! This two disc set comprises a full length ballet commissioned and performed by the Eugene (Oregon) Ballet.
Bunch is an American composer who hails from Portland, Oregon the child of a Japanese mother and a Scottish father. He studied at Julliard and this is approximately the 18th CD release to contain his music (if I counted correctly). A prolific composer, one can find a decent listing of his compositions on his website. And he was a violist performing with the esteemed Portland Youth Philharmonic from 1986-1991/
There are at least two symphonies, numerous soloists and orchestra pieces as well as solo instrumental music. Though I’ve heard just snippets of his music aside from the disc under review here I think I can safely say that his style can be described as essentially tonal, even perhaps somewhat conservative, but the accessible qualities of his music do not translate into mediocrity. Quite the contrary, he is a very exciting composer and his style seems very well suited to an undertaking such as this ballet. Bunch appears to be a master of orchestral color and he uses it to great effect here.
The two discs comprise 23 tracks much like one would expect of most classical ballets. The individual movements are 3-10 minutes approximately and they correspond to specific scenes that tell the classic story of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story. No doubt cost is the barrier which precluded a DVD release which looks like it was a gorgeous production.
It is at least this writer’s impression that much of classical ballet music does not do well without the visuals of the dance. I am referring to 19th century models such as Coppelia whose music might be best performed in excerpted suites if dancers are not a part of the performance. Bunch’s ballet is more in the spirit of perhaps Prokofiev or Stravinsky wherein the music stands quite well on its own and even does a great job of evoking the images of the given scenes. Basically the music stands on its own as a narrative.
Orchestra NEXT is a training orchestra and resident ensemble with the Eugene Ballet Company. They handle this complex and musically challenging score with seeming ease under music director Brian McWhorter.
There is little doubt that those who were fortunate enough to see this fully staged production will appreciate the opportunity to relive their memories by hearing again the recorded score. But this will likely appeal to most fans of new music as well. It is a major work by a composer who deserves serious attention. This writer will certainly be listening.
The choice of repertoire, performers, and the quality of their recordings make any BIS records release worthy of attention. This two disc set is a fine example. Three major choral/orchestral works which celebrate the justly proud Finnish culture are given very fine performances in this live recording from 2016.
The earliest work, Jean Sibelius’ Kullervo Op. 7 (1892) is one of the less recognized masterpieces by Finland’s best known composer. Based on the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala, this massive symphony has acquired a bit of its own mythology. Though several recordings of this work now exist the world world premiere recording by the late Paavo Berglund (1929-2012) from the early 1970s brought this neglected masterpiece to a larger listening audience. The intelligent liner notes by Andrew Barnett (and Olli Kortekangas) document and dispel the myths that Sibelius suppressed all or portions of this work which was premiered in 1892 yet had to wait until after the composer’s death in 1957 to receive its first twentieth century performance.
In fact it seems more likely that the large forces required along with programmers’ preference for the composer’s later masterpieces were responsible for the unfortunate neglect of the present work. It was the more romantically inclined myth of mysterious oppression that greeted Berglund’s triumphant premiere recording and this reviewer recalls being both charmed and intrigued by it. Whatever the story the music is now a recognized early triumph by its creator and it is given a gorgeous reading by Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä, (principal conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra which plays powerfully and definitively.
So why a second disc? Well, Maestro Vänskä saw fit to commission a new work by contemporary Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas to serve as a companion piece to Kullervo and, then include a version with chorus of Sibelius’ best known work, Finlandia. Together these three works would very satisfyingly fill an entire concert program.
Olli Kortekangas (1955- ) chose poetry by Finnish-American poet Sheila Packa and composed a 7 movement work (three are interludes for orchestra alone) in celebration of the 150th anniversary of modern Finnish migration to the United States. The work, Migration (2014), is similar in orchestration with its use of male chorus and two soloists backed by a large orchestra. The composer’s style is a sort of 21st century romantic style with tasteful modern touches.
The focus of this fine new work is an affirmation of Finnish culture and its impact on the United States. It seems both fitting and satisfying then that this program conclude with the landmark work of Finnish pride and nationalism, Sibelius’ best known work, Finlandia (1899). But rather than just another reading of this classic of the concert hall Vänskä chooses to do a version with chorus. This was not the composer’s original intent but this version fits remarkably well in the context of this album.
This is a very enjoyable album, well conceived and executed in every way. Soloists Lilli Paasikivi and Tommi Hakala sing their roles with skill and passion as does the YL Male Voice Choir. The applause track at the end of the Finlandia performance echoed the emotional experience of this reviewer and will likely do so for anyone who chooses to avail themselves of this fine example of recording art.