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 release completes Sarah Cahill’s monumental survey of piano music written by women which saw its first two CD volumes last year.last year. This, the third volume titled “At Play”, follows the first two as seen below. This trilogy is not, of course, the last word, the end on the subject of piano works by women. There can be no last word but these selections are a reflection of Cahill’s perspective as a performer but also a producer/programmer whose scholarship and advocacy are well known and respected worldwide. These releases speak to women, certainly. But they also speak to audiences in general, producers, and fellow musicians. They comprise a careful sampling of some three hundred years of music which effectively demonstrates that “there’s gold in them thar hills” (after all Cahill is a Californian). Here’s hoping that this survey will help start a metaphorical gold rush to unearth the gold that can be found in this neglected music.
I recall my fascination with Cahill’s earlier commissioning project which resulted in her CD “A Sweeter Music” (2013). I recall attending a very preliminary recital at Mills College where she did brief run through of some of the compositions and spoke about the project. She later toured the music (sometimes with John Sanborn’s wonderful accompanying visuals, sometimes without). Little did Cahill know that she hit upon a genre of classical music dear to this listener’s heart, that of politically inflected classical music. As a result, my interest in her artistry and choices of repertoire escalated tremendously (I heard two of her Bay Area recitals of this music and reviewed the recording in the early incarnation of this very blog). So another project, this time supporting female composers, with even greater dimension than that earlier project has similarly grabbed my attention in this landmark collection of music by women composers which has largely been neglected by mainstream artists, producers, and programmers.
This trilogy of recordings hardly solves the egregious neglect of this music but it does contribute rather authoritatively to the canon (there is one now) of music by non-male composers. Cahill is not the first artist to do this, and there are multiple ongoing projects exploring the work of female composers, but this project deserves top billing as it casts a mighty wide net with its three volumes covering about 300 years (of neglect). These recordings of some 30 pieces are but a fraction of music by women composers in this pianist’s repertoire. But, more than simply righting wrongs, this is about celebrating a legacy of artists getting their due recognition. (The “bad idea” Biblical metaphor of hiding a lamp beneath a basket comes to mind). Just look, er, listen at/to what’s been under that basket!
This now completed trilogy doubtless will not mark the end of Cahill’s advocacy but it will stand as a major manifesto of sorts and will hopefully bring more performers and producers to be open to performing and recording them. Simply hearing these recordings exposes the listener to music of stunning substance selected by an artist whose curatorial radar is finely tuned and whose choices will speak definitively to listeners (and likely fellow performing artists) for years to come. (N.B. Listeners would do well to check out Cahill’s YouTube channel where one can find a gold mine of music which reflects the scope of her performances and advocacy, not just for women composers, but for an amazing range of artists.)
This third volume is entitled, “At Play”. Like the previously released volumes, this collection gets a collective title that vaguely hints at the character of the music herein. The sequencing of the music is, like the previous two volumes, pretty much chronological. The essential program notes by Ms. Cahill (in all three volumes) provide just enough background to provide useful contexts for the listener. And you have to love the “Cahill and friends” photo galleries (on each volume) reflecting the deeply personal nature of this undertaking. That may sound hyperbolic but just listen to this music and feel the love, the passion, the connections, the sincerity, and the incisive playing. (Should I throw in a “Pied Piper” metaphor?) Listen and you’ll likely get hooked.
There are 16 tracks comprising nine works by nine female composers over nearly three centuries. Four of the nine works receive here receive their first (or first commercial) recordings. As noted earlier, the track sequence is chronological. (N.B. That makes 30 + works over the 3 CDs), a little less than half of the total commissions.
We begin with the last of 9 sonatas by Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836). Her lifespan covers the classical to the early romantic eras in western musical history but recordings of her music didn’t begin to appear until about 2006 when Jérôme Dorival published a biography of her. Listeners will likely find this music similar to that of Mozart, Haydn, and early Beethoven but with a level of virtuosic writing that anticipates Chopin and Liszt. This three movement sonata was published in 1811. This is apparently the second recording of this work as another new music champion, Nicolas Horvath, released a recording of all nine of these in 2021, further testament that time has come for this composer (and perhaps women composers in general).
Next is the Thème varié, Op. 98 (1895) by Cécile CHAMINADE (1857–1944). This late romantic composer is probably the only name with which most listeners may be acquainted. A recording of her Concertino for flute and orchestra (1902) continues to receive attention by classical broadcasters but most of her work remains very little known. Cahill makes a strong case for this music with her interpretation of this virtuosic early romantic styled work. She is far better known in her native France. It is time we see what the French have been hiding.
Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909–1969), represented here by her Scherzo (1934), has gotten recognition in her native Poland but has only fairly recently become known internationally. This early work, less modernist than her later work, has apparently been recorded before but is new to this reviewer’s ears. Bacewicz was a prolific composer and this fine piece, a virtuosic showpiece, is likely to encourage listeners to further explore her extensive catalog which includes Symphonies, Concertos for violin, viola, cello, and for piano, 7 string quartets, symphonies, operas, songs, and much more.
Now Cahill brings us into present time, featuring living composers, beginning with the music of Chinese-American composer Chen YI (b. 1953). Guessing (1989) is a small piano piece which incorporates a Chinese folk song in a set of variations.
This is the first commercial recording of this music. To be honest, I am not familiar with much of this composer’s work (nor most of them here) save for Oliveros and Wong) but this piece as with all the selections here are sufficiently intriguing to prompt listeners to explore further. That is the point of an anthology such as this, to spark curiosity, suggest another path for the journey. Mission accomplished.
Franghiz ALI-ZADEH (b. 1947), born in Azerbaijan, incorporates elements from her ethnic heritage into modern classical idioms. Music for Piano (1989/1997) utilizes Cagean-like preparations, in this case a glass beaded necklace laid across the strings. The resulting sound, evoking Alan Hovhaness and/or Henry Cowell at times, is intended to evoke that of the traditional Azerbaijani string instrument called “tar” (not a reference to the recent film). The composers use of different scales also seems to derive from folk models. The piece is in several sections delineated by dynamics and by register in which is, I believe, an ingenious use of register used to control when to allow for those prepared strings to sound. The piece is by a composer with a wide expressive pallete and the ability to use those methods judiciously toward her unique creative ends.
Next, in the briefest entry at just over 4 minutes, we get one piece from a set of commissions (all by women composers) Cahill made to honor the 100th birthday of American composer Ruth Crawford (1901-1953). Pauline OLIVEROS (1932–2016) submitted this work (her first notated composition since the 60s) which uses her own unique approach to indeterminate composition in Quintuplets Play Pen: Homage to Ruth Crawford (2001), here in its world premiere recording. Oliveros, who exerted a profound influence on a generation of composers, performers, and listeners via her work in electronic music and improvisation, but most powerfully via her “Deep Listening” concepts which effectively define the role of the listener as being a part of the compositional process.
Hannah KENDALL (b. 1984) is a black British composer whose three movement “On the Chequer’d Field Array’d” (2013) is based on the 1763 poem Caissa by Sir William Jones and depicts the three sections of a game of chess. The lengthy Elizabethan styled poem can easily be read as protofeminist given that the female chess piece heroically wins. Read it if you don’t believe me. And there are musical metaphors as well. It is these: mindplay, middlegame, and coda into which the work is divided. The music, like the poem is an intimate perspective which invites the reader (or hearer of the music) to create their own meanings here.
Aida SHIRAZI (b. 1987), an Iranian born composer, takes the performer inside the piano. Her blandly titled, “Albumblatt” (2017) belies her deep understanding of the piano and its possibilities. This is arguably the most avant garde (or modernist if you prefer) composition of the trilogy. Cahill’s choices reflect her eclectic approach to music programming.
In addition to a chronological approach, this trilogy is stylistically diverse. This music borrows from forbears such as John Cage and Morton Feldman as well as Henry Cowell. This meditative music only reveals itself fully to the focused listener. This is like an etude comprised of sounds you rarely hear (intentionally) from a piano. Played much of the time inside the piano but also at the keyboard more conventionally, the piece also demands close attention to dynamics (down to silence). Here is where the recordist’s art shines through. The subtleties of dynamics and the ability to capture the variety of harmonics evoked. Of course said performer had to accomplish rather large postural changes and do so silently if the performance adheres to the score, lol. And both are accomplished here in what sounds like a single take. This is a pretty great listen.
Regina HARRIS BAIOCCHI (b. 1956), a native Chicagoan poet and composer is given the last word with her, “Piano Poems” (2020). Last but not least by any means is a testament to Cahill’s singular but relevant choices as well as her advocacy of young composers as their stars begin to rise. This artist is new on my radar but one that will remain there. As both poet and composer, this young artist, commissioned by Cahill with a request that the music be about poetry, specifically by fellow (adopted) Chicagoans Gwendoline Brooks (one of this formerly Chicagoan reviewer’s personal faves) and Richard Wright.
The response was these 4 meditations on Brooks, Wright, and on the composer’s own poetical musings. The language here seemingly derives, appropriately, from 30s to 40s jazz of Ellington and Basie and a seemingly latter day version of that in the last two pieces describing the composer’s own literary utterances. Both virtuosic and apparently written by a composer very familiar with the instrument, a fitting and hopeful glimpse to the future.
Each of these discs contains at least one piece that reflects a deeper than average commitment by the performer. Cahill’s collaborative wok (with Dr. John DesMarteau) in the Agi Jambor sonata in volume I, her advocacy of Teresa Wong premiering the first performance of (She dances Naked…),the justly celebrated bay area artist’s selection on volume II. And her reaching out to Regina HARRIS BAIOCCHI for a commission (in volume III) all reflect another valued aspect of this performer.
The recording by Matt Carr is very listener friendly demonstrating serious skills at times in dealing with the many sonic challenges. This album and its two predecessors belong in any serious collector’s library. If the future is indeed female, then this is a fine soundtrack. Listeners, performers, Brava!!
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.
This album is satisfying on several levels. It is a return to the label that contained the composer’s his first big release, the three disc set on DG which contained “Drumming” (1971), “Six Pianos”, and “Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ” (both from 1973). Of course it was the ECM release of “Music for 18 Musicians” (1974-6) that became his signature work incorporating the experimentation heard in the music in that DG box set into the composer’s now familiar mature compositional language. The present release, also available on vinyl, seemingly reflects the post experimental composer’s grappling with the oh, so classical form of the string quartet. It’s a truly fine release and an homage to the composer.
Like many of his peers, Reich eschewed many of the conventions of western art music. His work at the San Francisco Tape Music Center helped him discover “phasing” and use of the speaking voice as a compositional element. His study with master drummers in Ghana taught him about quasi improvisational large ensembles and his subsequent study of Hebrew cantillation further refined his understanding of speech and song in his compositional contexts.
As he is quoted in the accompanying booklet, Reich never thought of attempting to use the string quartet form in his work. But along came the delightfully forward looking and genre breaking Kronos Quartet. That collaboration brought forth his landmark, “Different Trains” (1988). And the rest is, as they say, history. “Triple Quartet” for string quartet and tape (but no voices) came in 1998 and his WTC 9/11 (2010) which used sampled voices much as he did in Different Trains.
To be fair, Reich never appears to have intended to engage with the classical form of the string quartet (or any other classical forms for that matter). He uses the convenient availability of musicians sympathetic and sufficiently skilled to perform his compositions. The fact that they happen to be in string quartets is incidental. Much as the inclusion of a singer (as Schoenberg did) bent the quartet to fit his compositional goals, many have subsequently done similar alterations and additions to that classical ensemble. The difference is that Schoenberg adding a soprano, Kirchner (among others) adding electronics, etc. did so but clearly defined their works as “string quartets”. Reich did not do this but this disengagement with classical forms (string quartet, concerto, symphony, etc.) does not detract from the absolute quality of his music.
It would be unfair and would miss the point to try to judge these works via comparison and contrast with Haydn, Beethoven, Bartok, etc. In fact these works are not a part of that canon. Ultimately they stand on their own as part of Reich’s unique vision as a composer and, as such, they succeed very well.
WTC 9/11 and Different Trains are political statements with specific spoken word samples entered into a musical counterpoint. They succeed very well as protest and memorial for the respective events they frame. Triple Quartet, however, is absolute music concerned solely with Reich’s largely contrapuntal techniques of shifting repeated patterns. All three works succeed very well in their ability to engage audiences. All three are finely wrought compositions by by a major composer true to his maverick, experimental beginnings, true to the artist’s personal vision.
The Mivos Quartet does a fine job of navigating these technically difficult works and produce a fitting homage to a wonderful composer and make a strong case for the deeply substantial nature of this music. This is a great release. Highly recommended.
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.
This double album by guitarist, composer, producer, etc. Dan Lippel is sort of his Yellow Brick Road, an album which listeners of a certain age know well. Elton John’s album was more about dropping the shackles of adolescence and conformity but Mirrored Spaces is more about setting aside the shackles of Lippel’s very busy life with ICE (The International Contemporary Ensemble), Flexible Music, and the daunting task of producing for (the also very busy and wonderful) New Focus Records. Here he presents a virtual manifesto of works for solo guitar with electronics which, if only by proximity of release date, suggests a comparison with Jennifer Koh’s Limitless.
Promo photo from the artist’s web site
The present disc is at once a virtual CV of his interests as performer and composer as well as a forward looking compilation by which future new chamber music with guitar will be compared. It is a collection which looks like he culled the best of his current working repertoire to present a sort of photograph of his vision.
The two discs are actually an overwhelming listening experience of new material. Here are the tracks:
Its easy to see the richness and complexity of this release from the track listing alone. Having already demonstrated his facility with minimalist classics like his wonderful recording of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint he presents selections from what appears to be his current active repertoire. It is a joy to see the diversity of composers he has chosen. Clearly he confronts the new and technically challenging works with the same zeal with which he approaches his various other responsibilities as performer and producer. We even get to hear some of his chops as a composer in the live recording of Scaffold as well as his collaborative work with Oriana Webb on the eponymous Mirrored Spaces. These are unusual works, not the “usual suspects” nor the latest rage but new and interesting music. Even the presentation of Kyle Bartlett’s pithy Aphorisms are scattered among the other tracks like pepper on your salad at a restaurant (personally my obsessive nature wants to re-order these tracks in sequence) demonstrating a sensitivity to alternate ways to present music.
I have at best a passing knowledge of most of these composers having heard some of the work of Douglas Boyce and some of Kyle Bartlett. I know Ryan Streber via his work as a recording engineer. the rest of the names are new to these ears. And that is exactly the point of this wonderful collection. I really can’t say much useful about the individual pieces except to say that they are compelling listening. The liner notes included in the CD release are useful and informative. (Now last I looked the CD version is not available on Amazon so you will have to go to Bandcamp to order it but I highly recommend it for the notes alone.) Many of these pieces will have a significant performance life and you heard them here first. Much as Jennifer Koh defines new collaborative adventures in Limitless with her trusty violin, Lippel brings his axe down on some challenging but substantive music in this forward looking collection.
I don’t recall when I first heard Guy Klucevsek but I think it was the early 90s. I grew up hearing a great deal of accordions in polka bands at weddings throughout my childhood. This instrument had, pretty much since its beginnings in the early 19th century, been associated primarily with folk bands and not at all with classical music. I don’t think one can find an accordion used in a classical orchestra before Tchaikovsky’s 1822 Second Orchestral Suite and only sparingly after that. So when I discovered this New York musician via his releases on the Starkland label, Transylvanian Software (1999) and Free Range Accordion (2000) and the CRI disc Manhattan Cascade (1992). I was curious to see what this musician would do with this traditionally “low brow” folk instrument.
I had come to trust the Starkland label (which began in 1991) as one whose releases were usually very much to my taste and I was not disappointed to hear Klucevsek’s playing of pieces written by him and other composers for this instrument. Unlike Pauline Oliveros who did much to expand the very nature of the instrument itself, Klucevsek retained, and sometimes parodied, the humble folk/pop origins and reputation of the instrument while still pursuing its possibilities in the New York downtown experimental music scene where he worked with people like Laurie Anderson, Bang On a Can, Brave Combo, Anthony Braxton, Anthony Coleman, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Rahim al Haj, Robin Holcomb, Kepa Junkera, the Kronos Quartet, Natalie Merchant, Present Music, Relâche, Zeitgeist, and John Zorn among many others. Klucevsek expanded the role of the accordion in his own way.
Klucevsek later put together a commissioning project called, “Polka from the Fringe” (1992), a project which echoes the 1981 “Waltz Project” by Robert Moran and presages another accordionist William Schimmel’s “The Tango Project” of 2006. All of these commissioning projects utilized dance forms common in the 20th century as a “stepping off” place for a new musical piece. And it was Starkland which rescued the fascinating two disc release of Polka from the Fringe (2013) from over two decades languishing in “out of print” status. These projects are significant in that they invite composers to get out of their comfort zone and demonstrate their take on the given dance form. Like Klucevsek’s earlier releases this Polka collection is a veritable Who’s Who of working composers of the era much as the Variations (1819) project of Anton Diabelli collected some 51 composers’ works based on Diabelli’s waltz-like theme (Beethoven’s gargantuan set of variations was published as volume 1 and the other 50 variations in volume 2 which included composers like Schubert and Liszt).
So here comes Starkland to the rescue again in this (languished for some 25 years after only having been available for two years) very personal recording which displays Klucevsek’s substantial compositional chops as well as his knowledge and use of extended instrumental techniques for his instrument. It presents pieces written for a dance performances and shows a very different side of Klucevsek, one which shows more of his substance as a composer alongside his virtuosic skills on his instrument. In this digital only release there is an option to include (for a mere $3.00 more on the Bandcamp site) a series of 13 videos featuring Guy Klucevsek talking about the music on this album and his various musical interests. A gorgeous 10 page booklet providing further detail including the original liner notes with updates is included in all purchases. The album will also be available on Spotify, You Tube, and other streaming services but the videos are only available on Bandcamp.
Listeners may find this new release has some in common with Starkland’s previous Klucevsek release from Starkland, “Teetering on the Verge of Normalcy” (2016) which features some similar compositional diversity in a disc entirely of Klucevsek’s works. The line from Citrus, My Love to Teetering on the Edge of Normalcy seems to be a logical succession in Klucevsek’s compositional development. In addition to his accordion studies Klucevsek studied composition in Pittsburgh but it was the influence of Morton Subotnick with whom he studied in his independent post graduate work at the California Institute of the Arts that exposed this east coast artist to some of the splendors of the west coast encountering artists like Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros. Indeed Klucevsek can be said to be “bi-coastal” in his compositional endeavors. And though this is a “tongue in cheek” characterization it does speak to the roots of Klucevsek’s diversity in style.
There are 12 tracks on “Citrus, My Love” representing 3 separate works: the three movement, “Passage North” (1990), the single movement, “Patience and Thyme” (1991), and the eponymous, “Citrus, My Love” (1990) in 8 movements. The production of this album is by none other than Bobby Previte, another valued east coast musician and colleague. The notes have been updated under the guidance of Tom Steenland with input from Klucevsek who, understandably, expresses great joy in having this album available again.
The first three tracks are dedicated to a single work, “Passage North” (1990) written for accordion and string trio consisting of Mary Rowell, violin/viola, Erik Friedlander, cello, and Jonathan Storck, double bass. They are dubbed “The Bantam Orchestra”. This Copland-esque work was commissioned by Angela Caponigro Dance Ensemble. The second movement is for string trio alone and is dedicated to the memory of Aaron Copland who died in 1990.
Patience and Thyme (1991) according to the composer “is a love note to my wife, Jan.” He composed the work while in residence at the Yellow Springs Institute in Pennsylvania, which coincided with his 22nd wedding anniversary. It is scored for piano and string trio, no accordion. Compositionally it seems at home between the larger pieces.
Citrus, My Love was commissioned by Stuart Pimsler for the dance of the same name. It is in 8 scenes and is scored for Klucevsek’s accordion accompanied by his personally chosen Bantam Orchestra. Klucevsek describes the music on this album as representing his transition from hard core minimalism to a more melody driven style and this is the missing link, the “hole” to which I referred in the Beatles metaphor in the title of this review.
For those who already appreciate Klucevsek’s work this album is a must have. To those who have not gotten to know this unique talent this is a good place to start.
For those seeking to get more deeply into Klucevsek’s work (a worthwhile endeavor) and to provide a perspective on the range of this artist’s work I’m appending a discography (shamelessly lifted and updated from the Free Reed Journal) :
Scenes from a Mirage (Review) Who Stole the Polka? (out-of-print) Flying Vegetables of the Apocalypse (Experimental Intermedia) Polka Dots & Laser Beams (out-of-print) Manhattan Cascade (CRI) Transylvanian Softwear (Starkland) Citrus, My Love (Starkland) Stolen Memories (Tzadik) Altered Landscapes (out-of-print) Accordance with Alan Bern (Winter & Winter) Free Range Accordion (Starkland) The Heart of the Andes (Winter & Winter) Tales from the Cryptic with Phillip Johnston (Winter & Winter) Notefalls with Alan Bern (Winter & Winter) Song of Remembrance (Tzadik) Dancing On the Volcano (Tzadik) The Multiple Personality Reunion Tour (Innova) Polka From The Fringe (Starkland) Teetering On the Verge of Normalcy (Starkland)
Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach, Who Gets the Guy?, This Guy’s in Love With You (Tzadik) Planet Squeezebox, The Grass, It Is Blue, Ellipsis Arts Legends of Accordion, Awakening (Rhino) The Composer-Performer, Samba D Hiccup (CRI) Koroshi No Blues, Sukiyaki Etoufee, Maki Gami Koechi (Toshiba EMI) Norwegian Wood, Monk’s Intermezzo, Aki Takahashi (Toshiba EMI) Music by Lukas Foss, Curriculum Vitae (CRI) Here and Now, Oscillation No. 2, Relache (Callisto) A Haymish Groove, Transylvanian Softwear (Extraplatte) A Confederacy of Dances, Vol. I. Sylvan Steps (Einstein) A Classic Guide to No Man’s Land, Samba D Hiccup (No Man’s Land)
WITH JOHN ZORN
The Big Gundown (Nonesuch Icon) Cobra (Hat Art) Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, Der Kleine Leutnant Des Lieben Gottes (A&M)
On Edge (Mode) Open Boundaries, Parterre (Minnesota Composers Forum McKnight Recording) Pauline Oliveros: The Well and The Gentle (Hat Art)
Laurie Anderson: Bright Red (Warner Bros) Anthony Braxton: Four Ensemble Compositions, 1992(Black Saint) Mary Ellen Childs: Kilter (XI) Anthony Coleman: Disco by Night (Avante) Nicolas Collins: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night (Trace Elements) Fast Forward: Same Same (XI) Bill Frisell: Have A Little Faith (Elektra Musician) David Garland: Control Songs (Review) Robin Holcomb: Rockabye (Elektra Musician) Guy Klucevsek/Pauline Oliveros: Sounding/Way, private cassette release (out-of-print) Orchestra of Our Time: Virgil Thomson, Four Saints in Three Acts (Nonesuch) Bobby Previte: Claude’s Late Morning (Gramavision)
Pauline Kim Harris is a marvelously accomplished violinist. Her resume includes her work as composer as well as performer. At first glance this disc would seem to be an unusual choice for a solo debut but a quick look at her discography reveals that we have here a musician who has chosen experimental and potentially cutting edge music to define her work. This album is a collaboration with another musician, Spencer Topel, who has chosen a similarly difficult and complex challenge to define his career.
I have chosen for the scope of this review to forego attempts at analyzing these nascent artists and their uniquely defined personas as musicians and have simply provided links to their respective websites. What I feel obligated to do however is look at the nature of this genre of this music. Is it ambient? Is it drone? Is it transcription? And who is the intended audience? Musicians? Listeners sitting in a seat in a concert hall? Background music a la Eno’s Music for Airports? How will this disc be used?
One clue as to this music’s intended purpose is the recording label itself. Sono Luminus, a new music label defined largely by a concern with producing the finest sound via digital signal processing. This independent classical label has sent me several CDs which are reviewed (most favorably) elsewhere in these pages. One of the things that is notable about this label is the intelligent choice of programming. Rather than settle simply for quality sound alone they seem to focus their repertoirial radar on new and/or unusual music which is not being heard on other labels. Their choices have been intelligent in the past.
OK, now to the disc. There are but two pieces here. One is a sort of deconstruction of the Chaconne from Bach’s solo violin partita (BWV 1004). This much lauded masterpiece has received a great deal of attention and composers such as Feruccio Busoni have done transcriptions of the work. Another recent recording (reviewed here) features a just intonation version of the work. I’m not sure what Bach would have thought of either of these but the fact is that this is a work very much representative of western music in the high baroque era and one which endures in performances to this day.
The sound, of course, is wonderful. The range and the clarity of the recording beg to be heard on the highest quality sound system the listener can commandeer. It is beautiful. It is in a tonal idiom. But what volume is needed? Well that depends on your listening context. For the purpose of this review I listened on my factory sound system in my 2015 Toyota RAV 4. Not the highest end of audio reproduction but one which did allow me to perceive the quality of the recording.
So I listened at a volume which allowed the music to be heard above road and traffic noise. I wondered if I would have appreciated this from an audience seat. Hmm, not sure. Then the more ambient notion suggested itself to me. Maybe this could be music that is played in the foyer of a concert hall before the concert and during intermissions (regardless of the content of the actual concert to be heard). Intriguing idea but I know of no one willing to consider this notion in any sizable venue.
I listened to the second track, a “reimagining” of Deo Gratias by renaissance composer Johannes Ockeghem. Same thoughts…dedicated listener in a chair, music to modify a sonic space. Both tracks are listed as “Composed by Pauline Kim Harris and Spencer Topel.” So the artists think of these as their compositions. Fine by me. The long standing and ongoing tradition of working with older music and recasting it by changing its instrumentation, writing variations, changing its performance context, etc. is well known and has been put to good use in any number of subsequently respected musical compositions.
So in the end I remain undecided as to the intent (other than experimentalism) of these pieces and will leave my readers with the suggestion that they simply listen and utilize the music as it fits your own life. It is certainly beautiful but it is not dramatic or assertive, rather it almost subsists inviting listeners to contemplate and choose to do more deeply or to simply allow the music to exist as a pleasing sound object (the listener indeed may be the “Heroine” of the title). Either way this disc provides much more than what initially meets the ear. And that would seem to be a significant artistic achievement.
The selection of repertoire suggests that this release is targeted Stan audience which enjoys contemporary solo cello music. No pairing with earlier established warhorses such as Brahms Cello Sonatas, and no electronics either. Just a highly skilled musician and her incredible technique navigating these relatively recent examples of this genre from two acknowledged living masters, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho. It is a daring and unusual program for cellist Wilhelmina Smith but it works as a dazzling display of her skills.
Salonen is, of course, one of the best known composer conductors working today. This reviewer’s only other exposure to Salonen’s work thus far has been the gorgeous Cello Concerto reviewed here. No question that this is a name worthy of your attention.
And if you enjoy new music you will be familiar with Kaija Saariaho (1952- ). Since she first burst on the scene in the early 1980s she has produced one success after another in pretty much all genres. Like Salonen she is Finnish by birth but has taken her rightful place as an internationally renowned composer.
The performances are virtuosic and deeply felt. The complex range of sounds evoked are rich and stunning. Highly recommended.
This is heresy. It is not, strictly speaking, faithful to the 1964 score and it is a sort of cultural appropriation which is actually the very basis of Brooklyn Raga Massive, a sort of latter day “Oregon” (to those who recall that band) which takes on all sorts of music and filters it through the unique lens of this flexibly populated group of musicians whose backgrounds range primarily from Hindustani and Carnatic traditions (though hardly in the most classical sense) but also from western classical and jazz. Their “heresy” comes from their choices. The root of heresy is the Greek word, “hairesis” which means choice. There is a lovely selection of their musical heresies on their You Tube Channel.
No this is not purely heresy and it is certainly not blasphemy. Quite the opposite actually. And I would prefer to think of this effort as cultural integration. The choices made here instead lead to some mighty ecstatic music making which pays honor to Terry Riley who turned 80 in 2015 and provides a unique perspective on this classic work.
“In C” (1964) is without doubt Riley’s best known work by far and the one which pretty much defined what would later become known for better or worse as “minimalism”. It is an open score meaning that no instruments are specified for performance making this music heretical in nature as well. In addition there is no conductor’s score as such. Rather there are 53 melodic cells numbered 1 to 53 and the ensemble is held together by the expression of an 8th note pulse played by at least one of the musicians involved. The defining reference on the intricacies of this work is composer/musicologist Robert Carl’s masterful book entitled simply, “In C”. He describes the wide variety of potential choices which can be made in performance and the different results which can be achieved.
There are a great deal of recordings available of this work from the first (released 1968) on Columbia’s “Music of Our Time” series curated by the insightful David Behrman to versions involving a wide variety of instrumental combinations of varying sizes. The first “world music” version this writer has heard is the version for mostly percussion instruments by Africa Express titled, “In C Mali” (released in 2014).
Not surprisingly BRM, as they are known, have chosen a largely Hindustani/Carnatic take on this music. The unprepared listener might easily mistake this for a traditional Indian music recording with the introduction which incorporates a raga scale and adheres to the traditional slow free rhythm improvisation of the introductory “alap” section common to such traditional or classical performances.
The familiar sound of these (largely) South Asian instruments with their rich harmonics sets the tone gently. This writer has at best a perfunctory working knowledge of these complex and beautiful musical traditions but one must surmise that the choice of Raga Bihag may have some intended meaning. Indeed such music is by definition integrated into the larger cosmology of Hinduism, the Vedas, the Gita, the Sanskrit language, and, no doubt other references. This is not discussed in the brief liner notes but is worthy perhaps as a future interview question.
It appears that many of the musical decisions were made by sitarist Neel Murgai though it becomes clear as the performance develops that individual soloists are allowed wonderful improvisational freedoms at various points. The recording is intelligently divided to let the listener know which set of melodic cells is being expressed at a given time.
The alap gives way to the sound of the tablas which initiate the pulse mentioned earlier. The structure of this piece produces a range of musical experiences from a sort of didactic beginning to the swirling psychedelic waves of sound which stereotypically define much of the music born in the mid 1960s in this country. In fact Terry Riley’s deep study of South Asian musics (most famously under vocalist Pandit Pran Nath) did not occur until later in his career. Nonetheless there seems to have always been some affinity between Riley’s vision and the sort of music whose popularity was driven in the United States most famously by the efforts such as Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Alla Rakha in the 1970s.
What follows is a riot of musical ecstasy involving some inspired improvisational riffs and some stunning vocalizations as well giving us a fascinating take on this music which was written well before these musicians came into the world. We have a later generation paying homage to the beloved American composer and to the beautiful traditions of their own eclectic ethnic heritage.
The set concludes in this live and lively recording with a traditional fast paced Jhalla, the traditional ending to classical Indian musical performances. This will likely become known as the “Indian” recording of “In C” but it is so much more than that. It is an homage. It is a look back from the view of at least a couple of generations of artists. And it is heresy in the best sense of that word, choices made judiciously to achieve higher artistic goals. Not all art is heresy and not all heresy is art but the heresies perpetrated here definitely deserve our ears.
The heretics are: Neel Murgai, Sitar and Vocal; Arun Ramamurthy, Violin; Andrew Shantz, Vocal; Josh Geisler, Bansuri; Sameer Gupta, Tabla; Roshni Samlal, Tabla; Eric Fraser, Bansuri; Timothy Hill, vocal; Trina Basu, Violin; Ken Shoji, Violin; Kane Mathis, Oud; Adam Malouf, Cello; Michael Gam, Bass; Lauren Crump, Cajon; David Ellenbogen, Guitar; Max ZT, Hammered Dulcimer; Vin Scialla, Riq and Frame Drum; Aaron Shragge, Dragon Mouth Trumpet.
I recall excitedly taking a class in college in the late 70s which dealt with post 1950 composition. The professor emphasized that the reigning characteristic of this music is “pluralism”, that is to say that anything goes and one gets less useful information from labels like, “classical”, “baroque”, “romantic”, “post-romantic”, “post-modern”, etc. There is no question that this maxim remains very true and we now are seeing composers well-versed in virtually every technique known to the world of composition.
This album is a fine example of such pluralism. Seeing names such as Elliott Sharp and Gareth Davis one might expect something of the “free jazz” genre and that would not necessarily be an inaccurate description. But it would fail to capture the wonderful writing for Ensemble Resonanz by the eclectic (yes, pluralistic too) Elliott Sharp. As a composer Sharp draws on late twentieth century modern/post-modern compositional techniques along with a fair amount of his own creative innovations gleaned from his own experimentation and, no doubt, from his exposure to the wildly creative milieu of the Downtown New York scene of the 80s and 90s.
The result is like listening to shades of Penderecki and Xenakis as they wrote in the late 1950s though the 70s. This is far more homage than derivation however and the achievement here is how well the soloists on guitar and bass clarinet fit into the work as a whole. They fit remarkably well.
This could easily be called “Symphony for Ensemble with Obligatto Guitar and Bass Clarinet” or even Concerto if you like. The point is that Sharp is an engaging composer whose works are very substantial. From his beginnings on the New York Downtown scene with its mix of jazz, experimental and classical he has continued to explore and grow as a composer and that is what ultimately makes this release so compelling.
The musicianship here from Ensemble Resonanz, Sharp and Davis is of the first order and there is a certain sense of a tight fit such that, whatever may be improvised here sounds as though it were carefully written into this large orchestral fabric. This is a powerful piece of music and repeated listenings will doubtless reveal more and more depth. This is a very engaging piece.
Sharp is clearly evolving and growing as a composer and still hasn’t lost his marvelous collaborative and improvisatorial abilities. This is a major work and a lovely recording.
I first encountered the music of this undeservedly obscure but unique composer/pianist in the late 1980s with the purchase of a double vinyl album of his “Lund-St. Petri Symphony” a work for solo piano which is stylistically one of the tributaries of minimalism. Melnyk was born in Germany of Ukrainian descent and now lives and works in Canada. I began this article for inclusion in my series about minimalist composers (the designation of “minimalist” is imposed by the author and is not necessarily the identity embraced by the artist). In addition to providing a sketch of the artist I am pleased to be able to review this major label release.
Ilirion marks this composer/pianist’s big label debut and this is a fitting recognition for this long established composer, pianist and teacher. Lubomyr Melnyk (1948- ) has been performing since the 1970s and has released over 20 albums. His web site is in need of updating and here’s hoping that this release will help provide the impetus for that and for the greater distribution of this artist’s work.
Below is the description of Melnyk’s music from his web site:
Melnyk’s Continuous Music is based on the principle of a continuous® and unbroken line of sound from the piano — this is created by generating a constant flow of rapid (at times EXTREMELY rapid) notes, usually with the pedal sustained non-stop. The notes can be either in the form of patterns or as broken chords that are spread over the keyboard. To accomplish this requires a special technique, one that usually takes years to master — this technique is the very basis of the meditative and metaphysical® aspects within the music and the art of the piano. Moreover, in his earlier works, Melnyk devoted much attention to the overtones which the piano generates, but in his more recent works, Melnyk has become more and more involved with the melodic potential of this music. Melnyk’s earlier music was generally classified as Minimalism®, although Melnyk strongly refutes that term, preferring to call his music MAXIMALism®, since the player has to generate so many, many notes to create these Fourth Dimensions of Sound®. Because his piano music is so difficult and requires a dedicated re-learning® of the instrument, no other pianists in the world (so far) have tackled his larger works — and so, his recordings are truly collector’s items (both as LP-s and CD-s). He has however recorded extensively for the CBC in Canada, as well as various European stations. He has performed and given lecture-recitals across Canada and in Europe.
I’m not sure how useful this explanation will be to listeners but I think it’s important to acknowledge that the composer has attempted to establish a system explaining his work. However one does not need to be deeply familiar with the underlying theory to appreciate the music. One does not need to understand Schoenberg’s twelve tone theories or Anthony Braxton’s far out ideas to appreciate their music. One doesn’t even need to understand the basics of western classical harmony to appreciate Mozart, for that matter but such knowledge can contribute to appreciation. I certainly lay no claim to understanding this man’s music and I am not aware of any musicologists or critics who have written anything analyzing Melnyk’s work but I find his music compelling and worth wider attention.
Rather than attempting a comprehensive review of Melnyk’s output (and risking muddying the field) I am simply going to recommend a couple of discs which I have found particularly interesting and may help put this latest release in useful perspective. The disc which is intended to provide a sort of exposition of his work is KMH.
The other disc, and the one which I have admired most, is the Lund St. Petri Symphony. I bought it as a two disc vinyl album and it does not appear to be easily available now but it is well worth seeking (and maybe Sony will consider re-releasing it).
The present release on Sony contains 5 tracks:
Beyond Romance is the first and longest track on the disc (16:12) and is certainly representative of his work. The composer’s brief notes describe this work only as a grand romantic piece. It perhaps has echoes of Liszt but certainly with at least an echo of minimalism.
Solitude No. 1 is a much briefer piece (7:36) and is a live improvisation by the composer recorded in the Netherlands.
Sunset (3:49) is the briefest on the disc and is an impressionistic description of its title.
Cloud No. 81 (16:02) is a far more extended impressionistic essay with more harmonic variety than the other tracks.
The title piece, Ilirion (14:12) is another extended essay more akin to the first track.
These discs range from interesting to enthralling for this reviewer and the limited descriptions contained in this release do little to guide the listener. So I guess I can only say, “Please listen”.
Tracks 1, 3, and 4 were recorded at Clearlight Studios in Winnipeg, Canada. Track 2 is a live recording from Tilburg, Netherlands and the last track is described as being an archive recording from also from Tilburg. All were recorded between 2012 and 2015.
The rather sparse liner notes are by one Charles Bettle who is described as a “long time friend and admirer” of Melnyk’s work. The even sparser notes on the music are by the composer. The beautiful photography is by Alexandra Kawka.
It is difficult to say why this artist remains as marginally known but, as I have asserted before, artists from Canada get strangely little notice here and Mr. Melnyk does not appear to be a very good publicist. I hope that this endorsement by Sony results in more releases and, more importantly, in more good studio recordings of his work. It is unique and highly recommended to aficionados of piano music and minimalism.
As someone who grew up attending Polish weddings and hearing more than his share of polka music I was fascinated at the unusual role of the accordion as I began to get interested in new music. People like Pauline Oliveros and Guy Klucevsek completely upended my notions of what this instrument is and what it can do. The accordion came into being in the early 19th century and was primarily associated with folk and popular musics until the early 20th century. It has been used by composers as diverse as Tchaikovsky and Paul Hindemith but the developments since the 1960s have taken this folk instrument into realms not even dreamed of by its creators.
Guy Klucevsek with some of his accordions
Guy Klucevsek (1947- ) brought the accordion to the burgeoning New York “downtown” new music scene in the 1970s. He began his accordion studies in 1955, holds a B.A. in theory and composition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. (also in theory and composition) from the University of Pittsburgh. He also did post graduate work at the California Institute of the Arts. His composition teachers have included Morton Subotnick, Gerald Shapiro and Robert Bernat. He draws creatively on his instrument’s past even as he blazes new trails expanding its possibilities. The accordion will never be the same.
Klucevsek has worked with most all of the major innovators in new music over the years including Laurie Anderson, Bang on a Can, Brave Combo, Anthony Braxton, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Rahim al Haj, Robin Holcomb, Kepa Junkera, the Kronos Quartet, Natalie Merchant, Present Music, Relâche, Zeitgeist, and John Zorn (who also recorded him on his wonderful Tzadik label). He has released over 20 albums and maintains an active touring schedule. He recently completed a residency (April, 2016) at Sausalito’s Headlands Center for the Arts.
Starkland has released no fewer than three previous albums by this unusual artist (all of which found their way into my personal collection over the years) including a re-release of his Polka from the Fringe recordings from the early 1990s. This landmark set of new music commissions from some 28 composers helped to redefine the polka (as well as the accordion) in much the same way as Michael Sahl’s 1981 Tango and Robert Moran’s 1976 Waltz projects did for those dance genres.
The present recording, Teetering on the Edge of Normalcy (scheduled for release on September 30, 2016), continues this composer/performer’s saga. His familiar humor and his unique experimentalism remain present but there is also a bittersweet aspect in that most of these compositions are homages and many of the dedicatees have passed from this world. Klucevsek himself will turn 70 in February of 2017 and it is fitting that he has chosen to release this compilation honoring his colleagues.
On first hearing, many of Klucevsek’s compositions sound simple and straightforward but the complexities lie just beneath the surface. What sounds like a simple accordion tune is written in complex meters and sometimes maniacal speed. To be sure there are conservative elements melodically and harmonically but these belie the subversive nature of Klucevsek’s work which put this formerly lowly folk instrument in the forefront with the best of the “downtown” scene described by critics such as Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann. You might mistake yourself as hearing a traditional music only to find that you had in fact wandered into the universe next door.
Many favorite collaborators have been recruited for this recording. Most tracks feature the composer with other musicians. Four tracks feature solo accordion, two are for solo piano and the rest are little chamber groupings from duets to small combos with drum kit.
The first three tracks are duets with the fine violinist Todd Reynolds. Klucevsek’s playful titles are more evocative than indicative and suggest a framework with which to appreciate the music. There follows two solo piano tracks ably handled by Alan Bern. Bern (who has collaborated on several albums) and Klucevsek follow on the next track with a duet between them.
Song of Remembrance is one of the more extended pieces on the album featuring the beautiful voice of Kamala Sankaram along with Todd Reynolds and Peggy Kampmeier on piano. No accordion on this evocative song which had this listener wanting to hear more of Sankaram’s beautiful voice.
The brief but affecting post minimalist Shimmer (In Memory of William Duckworth) for solo accordion is then followed by the longer but equally touching Bob Flath Waltzes with the Angels. William Duckworth (1943-2012) is generally seen as the inventor of the post-minimalist ethic (with his 1977-8 Time Curve Preludes) and he was, by all reports, a wonderful teacher, writer and composer. Bob Flath (1928-2014) was philanthropist and supporter of new music who apparently worked closely with Klucevsek.
Tracks 10-12 feature small combos with drum kit. The first two include (in addition to Klucevsek) Michael Lowenstern on mellifluous bass clarinet with Peter Donovan on bass and Barbara Merjan on drums. Lowenstern who almost threatens to play klezmer tunes at times sits out on the last of these tracks. Little Big Top is in memory of film composer Nino Rota and Three Quarter Moon in memory of German theater composer Kurt Weill. These pieces would not be out of place in that bar in Star Wars with their pithy humor that swings. They also evoke a sort of nostalgia for the downtown music scene of the 70s and 80s and the likes of Peter Gordon and even the Lounge Lizards.
The impressionistic Ice Flowers for solo accordion, inspired by ice crystals outside the composer’s window during a particularly harsh winter, is then followed by four more wonderful duets with Todd Reynolds (The Asphalt Orchid is in memory of composer Astor Piazolla) and then the brief, touching For Lars, Again (in memory of Lars Hollmer) to bring this collection to a very satisfying end. Hollmer (1948-2008) was a Swedish accordionist and composer who died of cancer.
As somber as all of this may sound the recording is actually a pretty upbeat experience with some definitely danceable tracks and some beautiful impressionistic ones. Like Klucevsek’s previous albums this is a fairly eclectic mix of ideas imbued as much with humor and clever invention as with sorrow and nostalgia. This is not a retrospective, though that would be another good idea for a release, but it is a nice collection of pieces not previously heard which hold a special significance for the artists involved. Happily I think we can expect even more from this unique artist in the future.
Guy Klucevsek, looking back but also forward.
The informative gatefold notes by the great Bay Area pianist/producer/radio host Sarah Cahill also suggest the affinity of this east coast boy for the aesthetic of the west coast where he is gratefully embraced and which is never far from his heart (after all he did study at the California Institute of the Arts and has worked with various Bay Area artists). Booklet notes are by the composer and give some personal clues as to the meaning of some of the works herein. Recordings are by John Kilgore, George Wellington and Bryce Goggin. Mastering is by the wonderful Silas Brown. All of this, of course, overseen by Thomas Steenland, executive producer at Starkland.
Fans of new music, Guy Klucevsek, accordions, great sound…you will want this disc.
Reiko Füting (1970- ) is the chair of the music department at the Manhattan School of music. The present album is actually my introduction to this man and his work. It consists of a series of 15 works written between 2000 and 2014.
These works tend to emphasize brevity especially the solo vocal pieces (tracks 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10). These, originally for baritone and piano are here rendered very effectively as solo vocal pieces. They are used as a sort of punctuation in this recording of mostly brief pieces which remind this listener of Webern at times. They are in fact the movements of a collection called, “…gesammeltes Schweigen” (2004/2011, translated as Collected Silence). It is worth the trouble to listen to these in order as a complete set.
The first track here is also the longest piece on the album at 15:43. Kaddish: The Art of Losing (2014) for cello and piano is an elegiac piece inspired by several people and seems to be about both loss and remembrance. The writing in this powerful and affecting piece is of an almost symphonic quality in which both instruments are completely interdependent as they share notes and phrases. The cello is called upon to use a variety of extended techniques and the piano part is so fully integrated as to make this seem like a single instrument rather than solo with accompaniment. It has a nostalgic quality and is a stunning start to this collection of highly original compositions.
tanz, tanz (dance, dance) (2010) is a sort of Bachian exegesis of the Chaconne from the D minor violin partita. This sort of homage is not uncommon especially in the 20th/21st century and this is a fascinating example of this genre. The writing is similar to what was heard in the cello writing in the first track. This piece is challenging and highly demanding of the performer. It is a delicate though complex piece but those complexities do not make for difficult listening.
leaving without/palimpsest (2006) for clarinet and piano begins with a piano introduction after which the clarinet enters in almost pointillistic fashion as it becomes integrated to the structure initiated by the piano. Again the composer is fond of delicate sounds and a very close relationship between the musicians.
names erased (Prelude, 2012) is for solo cello and is, similar to the solo violin piece “tanz, tanz”, a Bach homage. The performer executes the composer’s signature delicate textures which utilize quotes from various sources including the composer himself. And again the complexities and extended techniques challenge the performer far more than the listener in this lovely piece.
Track 9 contains two pieces: “ist-Mensch-geworden” (was-made-man, 2014) for flute and piano and “land-haus-berg” (land-house-mountain, 2008) for piano. Both pieces involve quotation from other music in this composer’s compact and unique style. Here he includes references to Morton Feldman, J.S. Bach, Alban Berg, Gyorgy Ligeti, Schumann, Debussy, Nils Vigeland, Beat Furrer, Jo Kondo and Tristan Murail.
light, asleep (2002/2010) for violin and piano apparently began its life as a piece based on quotation but, as the liner notes say, lost those actual quotes in the process of revision.
finden-suchen (to find-to search, 2003/2011) for alto flute, cello and piano is a lyrical piece with the same interdependent writing that seems to be characteristic of this composer’s style.
…und ich bin Dein Spiegel (…and I am Your Reflection, 2000/2012) is a setting of fragments by a medieval mystic Mechthild von Magdeburg for mezzo soprano and string quartet. This is deeply introspective music.
All of Fùting’s compositions have a very personal quality with deeply embedded references. His aesthetic seems to be derived from his roots in the German Democratic Republic having been born into that unique nation state both separate from the West German state and still deeply connected to it. He is of a generation distant from the historical events that gave birth to that artificially separate German nation but, no doubt, affected by its atmosphere.
The musicians on this recording include David Broome, piano; Miranda Cuckson, violin; Nani Füting (the composer’s wife), mezzo soprano; Luna Cholong Kang, flutes; Eric Lamb, flutes; Joshua Rubin, clarinet; John Popham, cello; Yegor Shevtsov, piano; Jing Yang, piano; and the Mivos Quartet. All are dedicated and thoughtful performances executed effortlessly.
The recording is the composer’s production engineered by Ryan Streber. This is a very original set of compositions which benefit from multiple hearings.
I first heard of this young Monacan pianist and composer when a composer friend, David Toub, told me that he was going to program one of this piano pieces. That piece along with quite a few other performances are available on Nicolas Horvath’s You Tube video channel here.
Horvath developed a strong interest in contemporary music from Gerard Frémy among others and has been programming a great deal of new music ranging from the more familiar such as Philip Glass to a host of others including quite a few pieces written for or premiered by him as well as his own transcriptions and reconstructions. He is known for his concerts in non-traditional venues with very non-traditional lengths of performance as well as traditional concerts.
His current projects include Night of Minimalism in which he performs continuously for 10-15 hours with a wide variety of minimalist and post-minimalist pieces and Glass Worlds in which he performs the complete solo piano works of Philip Glass (approximately 15 hours) along with pieces by an international list of composers written in tribute to Glass. He is also an electroacoustic composer (he counts Francois Bayle among his teachers) and a visual artist all with a passion for contemporary works.
The artist standing in one of his installations.
We had corresponded via e-mail over the last year or so and when I suggested the idea of interviewing him he responded by arranging time after a (traditional length) concert he gave in Minsk, Belarus on December 1, 2014. I prepared for what I anticipated would be a one hour interview after which I imagined he would probably need to get to sleep. But when I attempted to wrap up our conversation (at a couple of points) he immediately asked, “Don’t you have any more questions?”. What followed resulted in approximately three and an half hours of delightful and wide-ranging conversation about this man and his art which he ended with the comment, “I must go, the piano is calling me.” It appears that his seemingly boundless energy extends well beyond the stage. The following January (2015) he gave the world premiere performance of all of Philip Glass’ 20 Etudes in none other than Carnegie Hall.
Horvath with spent score pages as he traverses one of his extended performance ventures. (copyright Jean Therry Boisseau)
Since that time we have continued our correspondence and this affable, patient young artist continues on various projects and no sign of his interest or energy waning. He recently sent me various photos of him in various settings pursuing his varied artistic interests for this article.
Composer as well as performer in an electroacoustic performance without piano.
Horvath was born in Monaco in 1977. He studied piano at the Académie de Musique Rainier III de Monaco and the École Normale de Musique de Paris. At 16, Lawrence Foster took notice of him in a concert and, securing a three year scholarship for him from the Princess Grace Foundation, was able to invite him to the Aspen Music Festival. After his studies in the École Normale de Musique in Paris, he worked for three years with
Bruno-Léonardo Gelber, Gérard Frémy who instilled in him a sensitivity to music of our time as well as Eric Heidsieck, Gabriel Tacchino, Nelson Delle-Vigne, Philippe Entremont and Oxana Yablonskaya. Leslie Howard got to know him and invited him to perform before the Liszt Society in the United Kingdom. He has been playing professionally for 7 years and puts his own characteristic style into his productions and performances.
In a move reminiscent of Terry Riley’s all night solo improv fests Horvath has performed several lengthy programs. He has performed Erik Satie’s proto-minimalist Vexations (1893) in performances that ranged widely in length. One notable performance at the Palais de Tokyo lasted 35 hours, the longest solo piano performance on record as far as I can determine. Previously this piece has been performed by tag teams of pianists (the first in 1967 in New York was curated by John Cage) to perform the 840 repetitions of the piece whose tempo or recommended duration is not specified. Horvath, taking on a musicological mantle is preparing his own edition of this unique work. He has published an 24 hour version on his You Tube channel here.
Given his intense schedule and vast repertoire he has been remarkably responsive and has an irrepressibly strong appetite for new music. He tells me that he had worked on a project in which he planned to play all the piano music of the French composer Jean Catoire (1923-2005), some 35 hours of material (in a single program, of course). Unfortunately that composer’s relative obscurity seems to have resulted in insufficient support for the project which is, for now, on hold. Here’s hoping that this can be realized sometime soon.
Horvath’s fascination with authenticity, completeness and performances of unconventional lengths uninterrupted by applause where audiences are invited to lay on the floor with blankets and sleeping bags and approach the piano seems unusual but he has been getting enthusiastic audiences and has enjoyed overflow crowds. Like Terry Riley and perhaps even some of Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts there is a ritual feel to these marathon performances. Regrettably I have not yet been able to attend one but I would love to partake in what must be a powerful shared experience. He invites people to come to the piano and to watch, look at the score. It is unlike the conventional recital and therein lies some of its charm. At least one of his videos features a small sign which reads, “Don’t feed the pianist” and attests to his warmth and wonderful sense of humor.
His passion has parallels in his spirituality and he has pursued sacred pilgrimages which require a great deal of time and energy but without doubt fill a very deep and sincere need. More details and photos are available on his blog. And, as with music, he is very open to discussing this very personal aspect of his life.
The artist braving the elements on one of his pilgrimages.
There are conventional two hour with intermission style recitals in more conventional concert venues that he has played and Horvath also enjoys playing with an orchestra. His performances of both of Philip Glass’ piano concertos can be viewed on You Tube and you can see the intensity of his execution. This came through in the course of our interview as well when Mr. Horvath would speak of the music and then verbally imitate the rhythms (no doubt endlessly practiced) which drive his enthusiasm. The music seems to be deeply integrated into his very being.
His first solo commercial recording was released in 2012. It consists of Franz Liszt’s ‘Christus’, an oratorio composed in 1862-66 for narrator, soloists, chorus and orchestra. Horvath plays a piano reduction done by the composer. This is the first known recording of this unique and virtuosic set of piano works. It is certainly an unusual choice for a debut recording but it is consistent with his very personal tastes. (He lists Scriabin and Chopin as among his favorite composers.). He is in the process of recording all of Philip Glass’ piano music for Grand Piano records distributed by Naxos. At the time of this writing four well-received volumes have been released. He is also planning to record all of Satie’s piano music and he has just recently released his rendition of Cornelius Cardew’s indeterminate masterpiece, Treatise.
I have seldom encountered a musician with such intensity and drive. He is also one of the most skilled in using the internet to promote himself and his projects. And though this is no doubt a man with a considerable ego he is in fact very unpretentious and very genuinely turned on, driven by the music itself. Don’t get me wrong, he is concerned with developing his image and career but he seems happy to be doing the work he has been doing and he is, like any really good musician, self-critical and a perfectionist.
A quick look at his YouTube channel here reveals some of the range of his interests which include the standard repertoire along with interest in contemporary works. Just released is a creative video with Horvath playing Glass’ Morning Passages while he apparently experiences a reverie involving a beautiful woman which could have been on MTV at its height. Perhaps he is even channeling Oscar Levant who embraced roles in films along with his pianistic talents. His website is a good resource for updates on his various projects and performances.
Focused concentration at the keyboard.
As of the time of this writing his discography includes:
Hortus Records 100 (2012)
A very unusual choice for a debut recording. Nonetheless this is a distinctive recording which reflects the virtuosity as well as the careful scholarship which continues to characterize his work. He managed to locate a couple of previously lost pieces in this set of composer transcriptions. One also can’t miss the spiritual dimension here, as close to his heart as music and an equally important aspect of his personality.
Grand Piano GP 677 (2015)
This first disc in the series manages to provide the listener with truly inspired interpretations of Glass’ keyboard oeuvre and gives us a world premiere recording of How Now as well.
Grand Piano GP 690 (2015)
The complete Piano Etudes by the man who premiered the set at Carnegie Hall. These etudes were also recorded by the wonderful Maki Namekawa and the opportunity to hear these really different takes is positively revelatory.
Grand Piano GP 691 (2016)
The third disc in the traversal of Glass’ piano music (original and transcribed) also offers world premieres. Horvath’s inclusion of Glass’ early Sonatina No. 2 reflects his work under the tutelage of Darius Milhaud and provides insight into the composer’s early development before he developed his more familiar mature style.
Grand Piano GP 692 (2016)
Haven’t yet heard this disc but I have in queued for ordering in the next few weeks.
Demerara Records (2016)
Haven’t heard this one yet either but, again, it’s in my Amazon shopping cart.
Horvath’s interpretation of this important work by Cornelius Cardew
Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) was sort of England’s John Cage, a major voice in 20th Century experimental music. Scholarship has yet to do justice to the late composer’s work but this disc is an important contribution toward that end..
Horvath’s career is characterized by innovation and passion combined with astute scholarship and a keen sense of what is new and interesting in music while clearly being schooled in the classic repertoire. The piano calls him as do his other passions and I highly recommend paying attention as he answers those calls. He is truly an artist to watch.
N.B. Mr. Horvath generously read and approved an advance draft of this article shortly after arriving in the United States for concerts at Steinway Hall in Rockville with a Chopin program and a recital at The Spectrum in New York City which will include two pieces written for him by Michael Vincent Waller along with some Chopin pieces.
Michael Nicolas is the new cellist of Brooklyn Rider as well as member of the International Contemporary Ensemble and numerous other affiliations. This French Canadian/Taiwanese young man now residing in New York is definitely an emerging artist to watch and his debut album does much to demonstrate why he deserves serious attention.
This selection of mid/late twentieth and twenty first century cello pieces comprises an intelligent survey of this repertoire introducing new music and providing a younger performer’s take on some classics of solo cello with electronics as well some more recent works. As he says in his liner notes this survey is concerned with the dichotomy between the solo instrument and the attendant electronics in various guises (even the quasi-Max Headroom cover art seems to reflect this). Erin Baiano did the photography and Caleb Nei did the graphic design. If I have a criticism of this fine album it is perhaps that the liner notes provide less detail than this listener prefers so I have tried to provide a few details here.
Beginning with Mario Davidovsky‘s classic Synchronisms No. 3 (1964) for cello and electronic sounds (one of twelve such works for solo instrument with electronics) and continuing with Steve Reich‘s Cello Counterpoint (2003) Nicolas begins his survey with two relatively well-known pieces in this genre and he certainly does them justice. These pieces serve as Nicolas’ sort of homage to the past which he follows with some very current compositions.
He introduces some pieces unfamiliar to this writer. David Fulmer‘s Speak of the Spring (2015) is a piece for solo cello with electronics. Fulmer is a composer/performer apparently worth watching from a quick read of his web site. As I was unable to determine the date of composition I contacted the composer who graciously responded despite his busy travel schedule: “The work was written last year, in 2015 specifically for Michael Nicolas and this particular project (cello and electronics). Michael had asked me for a piece for his recording project, and having known him (we went to school together) for many years, and admiring his playing so much, I was very interested in writing this piece for him. As for perspective…as a string player, I always enjoy writing string works. I’m interested in the beautiful timbres that the strings have. Tuning is also an important concept for me; at the end of the work, the cello electronics (pre-recorded cello) is scordatura.All of the prerecorded lines are recorded by Michael. I see this as a work written for Michael, played by Michael, and many versions of Michael.”
Next are two pieces by Annie Gosfield for cello and sampler. Four Roses (1997) and “…and a Five Spot” (2015, commissioned by Nicolas as a companion to the former). Both pieces are basically lyrical with spectral effects, microtonal passages, extended techniques and the samples of course. The first piece is more assertive and direct while the second seems more introspective. Both appear to be typical of Gosfield’s fully developed style.
Next up is a piece by the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir whose album length “In the Light of Air” performed by ICE was reviewed here. Her piece on this disc for solo cello and electronics Transitions (2015) has a similarly ethereal character but one gets the impression that her approachable style belies complexities that underlie her work.
The last piece is flexura (2015) by Jaime E. Oliver La Rosa, a Peruvian born composer now working in New York. This piece functions almost like a bookend with the Davidovsky piece that opens this disc (Davidovsky also comes from South America having been born in Argentina). La Rosa holds a PhD. in computer music from the University of California San Diego and is developing open source software (and hardware) for live performance. His MANO controller can be seen in the video on his website. This last piece inhabits a similar sound world to that of the Davidovsky. It is thorny and modern sounding and works as a showcase for the cellist. Strictly speaking I suppose this piece is more of a duet in that there are two musicians required to perform it.
As always the impeccable production by Sono Luminus makes for a wonderful listening experience and this is quite an impressive debut for this interesting young musician. Kudos to producer Dan Mercurio recording technician David Angell and executive producer Collin J. Rae.
Perhaps I am premature in saying this but this release has the earmarks of a being classic survey of the current status of this genre. One of the joys of such a project is to hear new interpretations of established works and to hear an intelligent selection of new pieces. Definitely want to hear more from Mr. Nicolas as well as from the composers represented.
Eighth Blackbird is Chicago’s more than adequate answer to New York’s Bang on a Can and this album is solid proof of that. The liner notes tell us that this is “a collection inspired by a collection” and these 9 tracks are sonic impressions by the individual composers of an art exhibit. The end result is very much like the romantic/impressionistic Mussourgsky gem updated to the post-minimalist era.
It is well worth your time to check out the artwork which inspired this music (here) and this writer imagines that this piece could really work well as a film score, a DVD perhaps of these images. The music invokes various minimalist and post-minimalist composers and styles. It is almost a sonic tour of post-minimalism. And apparently there are plans for a multimedia tour of this piece as well. Sounds like a wonderful idea.
This album is the work of a composer’s collective called Sleeping Giant and consists of Timo Andres, Andrew Norman, Robert Honstein, Christopher Cerrone, Ted Hearne and Jacob Cooper. Each has chosen a selection of art to which they wrote a piece of music providing their musical impressions. The result is a remarkably coherent set of pieces which, while each different, seem to flow into a unity.
Casual listeners may be familiar with the names of Timo Andres or Andrew Norman but all these composers are basically new to these ears and it appears to be a talented lot that deserves some serious attention as they may very well be THE ones to watch/listen to in the coming years. They utilize a variety of techniques in their compositions but there is never a feeling of this being experimental or tentative. These are fully fleshed out works by master composers.
The music is appealing immediately upon first listen. One hears the influences of Terry Riley here, John Adams there, David Lang, etc. In short these pieces are informed by the preceding generations of minimalists much as they also address their debt and do honor to their mentors. It has some of the character of Lang’s “Child” in that this is essentially a suite of pieces of post-minimalist chamber music (though this music has an almost symphonic quality at times).
The recording is superb and up to the high standards of Cedille releases and the musicianship, as always, is superb. The liner notes by Sleeping Giant along with Tim Munro are lucid and the album design by Karl Jensen is eye-poppingly psychedelic. This project was funded by the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Carnegie Hall, the Andrew W. Mellon and the Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.
OK, bear with me here for just a moment. The proliferation of string quartets (and by that I mean the grouping of musicians as a performing entity) has been positively dizzying over the last 30 years. For those who grew up with the standard Julliard Quartet, Guarneri Quartet, etc. there were just a few outstanding names in this genre. However since the advent of the new quartets like Kronos and then Turtle Island, Arditti,etc. the field has expanded rather prolifically. Couple this with a boom in string quartet writing notably Elliot Sharp, John Zorn, Wolfgang Rihm. Elliot Carter, Peter Maxwell-Davies, Ben Johnston among many others and I was filled with some trepidation upon receiving this disc for review. I mean, how many things can you do with a string quartet?
Apparently there is a great deal more to be explored in this genre. I am happy to say that these folks are up to the task as are the composers whose work they present. Serious Business is some seriously interesting music performed with serious skill by this new quartet, the Spektral Quartet. They are the string quartet in residence at the University of Chicago, itself a venerable place for new music.
We start here with a piece by Sky Macklay called Many Many Cadences (2014) a piece that seems to come from a similar place to that of the work of Conlon Nancarrow with intricate rhythms within a somewhat conservative tonal idiom. The title is suggestive of Gertrude Stein (Many, Many Women). It was commissioned for the Spektral Quartet by the Walden School. The piece is immediately engaging and ultimately satisfying.
The second piece, The Ancestral Mousetrap (2014) by David Reminick features a less common use of a string quartet in that there is a vocal component. This is not the vocalist component pioneered by Schoenberg in his second quartet. These vocalizations are performed by the quartet. This is no simple feat either because the vocal writing is itself a challenge in its rhythmic complexity. The piece resembles a little opera and indeed the text by poet Russell Edson is here called a libretto. This piece was commissioned by the Spektral Quartet.
The third piece here is an unusual choice (and the only one not commissioned for the Spektral Quartet) which is explored in the liner notes . Haydn’s Quartet Op. 33 No. 2, subtitled “The Joke” is one of the relatively few examples of attempts at program music (vs absolute music) to be found in the classical era. First, no one will buy this disc just for the Haydn. Second, many collectors will already have this Haydn piece in their collection. But with that said this is a lovely performance of one of the emblematic pieces of music that created the need for the performing ensemble known as the string quartet and it is a lovely performance as well. I will leave it to other listeners to read the program notes and get into the rationale about its inclusion here.
The final piece, Hack (2015) by Chris Fisher-Lochead is perhaps the most unusual of the lot in that the composer uses vocal inflections by a collection of comedians (yes, comedians) as the source for his rhythmic and melodic contours and creates 22 separate pieces about 16 comedians (some get more than one piece). This piece requires more concentration by the listener but, like any well-written piece, it reveals more of itself with repeated listenings. The Barlow Endowment at Brigham Young University commissioned this piece for the Spektral Quartet.
The Spektral Quartet is Clara Lyon, violin; Austin Wulliman, violin; Doyle Armbrust, viola; Russell Rollen, cello. The recording, as with every Sono Luminus release I’ve heard is glorious and lucid.
This is the first disc devoted entirely to the music of Paula Matthusen who as of July is a newly minted associate professor at Wesleyan University where she walks at least partly in the footsteps of emeritus professor Alvin Lucier whose course Music 109 she inherited from him. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Matthusen at Other Minds 18 where she was one of the featured composers. In our all too brief conversation she was affable and unpretentious but certainly passionate about music.
Paula Matthusen performing her work, ‘…and believing in…’ at Other Minds in 2013
She holds a B.M. from the University of Wisconsin and an M.A. and PhD. from New York University. She announced her recent promotion to associate professor on Facebook as is, I suppose, customary for people of her generation. It is on Facebook that I contacted her to request a review copy of this CD to which she quickly and graciously agreed.
This CD contains 9 tracks representing 8 works. They range from solo to small ensemble works, some with electronics as well. Her musical ideas seem to have much in common with her emeritus colleague Alvin Lucier but her sound world is her own despite some similarities in techniques, especially her attention to sonic spaces and her use of electronics to amplify sonic micro-events which might even include her heartbeat.
sparrows in supermarkets (2011) for recorder looks at the sound of birds in the acoustic space of a supermarket and their melodic repetition. It is for recorder (Terri Hron) and electronics
limerance (2008) is another solo work, this time for banjo (James Moore) with electronics. She says she is working with the concept of reciprocation here but that seems rather a subjective construct. Like the previous piece this is a contemplative and spare work with some spectral sounds as well.
the days are nouns (2013) is for soprano and percussion ensemble and electronics. Here she is concerned with resonances within the vibrators of the instruments as well as the acoustics of the room. It is a dreamy, impressionistic setting of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye whose poem supplies the title but the text is fragments of a Norwegian table prayer. A very subtle and effective work.
AEG (2011) is represented by two movements (of four?) all of which were written for the Estonian ballet. It is similarly concerned with resonances and words at times. Of course it would be interesting to hear those other movements but perhaps another time.
of architecture and accumulation (2012) is the first of two purely acoustic compositions on this disc. This one is for organ solo (Will Smith) and explores long tones within the acoustic space. It is a very satisfying work even if one doesn’t go into the underlying complexities.
corpo/Cage (2009) is the longest and largest work here and is the second purely acoustic piece on this recording. It has echoes of Stravinsky at and it is an enticing example of Matthusen’s writing for orchestra. This reviewer certainly looks forward to hearing more of this composer’s works for larger ensembles. Very effective writing.
in absentia (2008) is the earliest work here. It is written for violin, piano, glasses and miniature electronics (not quite sure what that means). Like many of the works on this disc the concern or focus seems to be on small events and sounds. This is a rather contemplative piece that nicely rounds out the recording.
Matthusen resembles Lucier in some of her techniques and focus on small sounds otherwise missed and she certainly owes a debt to people like Pauline Oliveros. But in truth she sounds like no one as much as Paula Matthusen. The composer presents a strong and intelligent voice and one wishes for more from this interesting artist. Thank you for the opportunity to review this.
When Marti Epstein kindly sent this disc to me for review she “warned” me that it was gentle music. In her liner notes she elaborates that her Midwestern roots will always inform her work. As fellow Midwesterner (I hail originally from Chicago) I have an idea what she means. There is a certain gentle affability which seems to characterize folks from the Midwest and no doubt this affects artist expression as well.
This disc contains four such gentle compositions ranging from Grand Island (1986) to A Little Celestial Tenderness (2013). As such it is a cross-section of Epstein’s work though it is hard to say, of course, if it is an accurate picture or overview.
The first piece Hothouse (2000) is a piece for two pianos which works on a couple of levels. It is quite listenable as a concert piece and seems to be a very effective way of using short phrases replaced by silences as a valid compositional technique. Loosely interlocking phrases are replaced by silences gradually which lull the listener to the conclusion.
The second track is Grand Island (1986) which is the composer’s depiction of a drive to the city of Grand Island in Nebraska. This piece for piano, two harps and two percussionists is complex enough to require a conductor (Jeffrey Means) but the complexity does not make for difficult listening. Rather this is an impressionistic audio narrative of the composer’s experience driving through the Midwest as a child. It has a very similar character to the first piece with silence being very important to the texture which fades to silence as the journey ends and perhaps the restless child has fallen asleep.
A Little Celestial Tenderness (2013), the most recent on the disc, comes in at under two minutes and evokes Copland-like harmonies in a “tiny” piece written in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Ludovico Ensemble who perform the music on this disc (the composer plays one of the pianos on Hothouse). The unusual instrumentation here is flute, clarinet and cimbalom.
Hypnagogia (2009) is the most experimental music here and is very much the star of this release. It exists only in parts with no unified score and asks the performers to perform as if they were alone. It is an attempt to depict the state of mind between waking and sleeping. This piece is more concerned with sound than silence and the mobile-like appearances of the sounds does create a dream-like texture which, as warned, is also very gentle but not without a touch of anxiety at times. It is perhaps the most substantial (over 45 minutes), striking and successful piece on the disc and brings it to very satisfying conclusion.
The recording has a warmth and presence and the musicians seem well-suited to the tasks at hand. This writer will be pleased to hear more from these artists in the future.
Starkland is one of the few American labels that regularly pays attention to Canadian composers. I previously reviewed their Paul Dolden release here. This challenge to the curious apartheid we seem to maintain with Canadian culture is most welcome of course and one can obtain a great deal of Canadian music via Canadian labels but retail distribution of their non-pop music is limited to mail order and Internet sales (and I don’t mean Amazon either). I strongly recommend perusing the web site of the Canadian Music Center for a truly stunning selection of this too little known recorded repertoire. I should note that most of Brady’s releases are readily available from actuellecd.com. You can find several of those other symphonies here as well as many other pieces and collaborative releases. After hearing this disc I couldn’t resist hearing more by this artist whose work has been known only faintly to me thus far. That order is now being shipped.
Now to the disc at hand. The use of electric guitars as a primary instrument conjures immediate comparisons to Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham as well as to rock and blues but this music is quite different from all of these. This is one aspect of the work of a composer whose work includes writing for orchestra, chamber and solo instruments as well. Brady, largely set taught in music until he attended college (Concordia University 1975-78; New England Conservatory 1978-80) is an interesting composer and performer with a widely varied palette. Brady’s Wikipedia page is surprisingly informative as well. You can find that here.
Tim Brady (1956- ) is an artist of many talents and this recording represents his most recent work, a symphony. It is his fifth essay so titled and his choice of instrumentation for each (of his now 6 symphonies) is unique. In this case he has chosen to score for four guitars (his Symphony No. 4 is for full orchestra) and also presents a separate solo version backed by electronics. It is subtitled, “The Same River Twice” (2013) and I struggled a bit initially getting wrapped up in trying to discern the differences between the two versions but realized that is rather beside the point in a way. What makes this music interesting is the way in which it differs from the likes of Branca and Chatham. Brady clearly comes from a different perspective. The myriad ways in which creative musicians find to integrate cross genre elements fascinates me as a listener. He is 8 years younger than Branca, 4 younger than Chatham but his perspective of the inherently “pop” inflection of the electric guitar differs greatly. He is writing another vital and welcome chapter in this loosely defined group of guitar based experimental musics of the last 40 years and his work deserves attention.
He seems to have more in common (broadly speaking) with Pat Metheny than Fred Frith and his discography reflects encounters with several ECM artists. I’m not sure who influences who here but this is a pleasant and intelligent exploration sometimes virtuosic, sometimes drone-like but a consistently engaging piece.
As I said there are two versions of this symphony on the disc. Along with those are two shorter tracks by Antoine Berthiaume and Rainer Wiens. Fungi by Berthiaume is another example of the integration of pop motives into a broader quasi-improvisational context and is most successful. The disc is rounded out with a sort of little summation “remix” by Wiens entitled “What is time?” which reportedly uses breath as a rhythmic determinant.
The playing is competent and intuitive, not flashy or self-consciously experimental. Rather this is the work of a seasoned composer who uses his materials well .
Recording and mastering, all expertly done, were done in Canada by the artists who also did the useful liner notes (Allan Kozinn writes the gatefold notes). The cover art and the production of the CD belong to Starkland and it is a very nice production.