Multiple similars seems to be a meme in contemporary music. The notion of using an ensemble of the same or similar instruments is most frequently encountered in teaching situations where music departments have enough students to form trombone ensembles, cello ensembles, etc. But such combinations had been far less common in the concert hall until fairly recently.
Henry Brant was certainly an outlier when he wrote his Concerto for Flute and Flute Orchestra (1931) but the notion of a large ensemble of similar instruments developed further in the 20th century. Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos in his Bachianas Brasilieras Nos. 1 (1930) and 5 (1938) used a cello octet.
It wasn’t until much later in the 20th century that one would encounter Steve Reich’s Counterpoint works beginning with Vermont Counterpoint (1982) for flute solo and multi-tracked flutes, New York Counterpoint (1985) for solo clarinet and multi-tracked clarinets, Electric Counterpoint (1987) for guitar and multi-tracked guitars, and Cello Counterpoint (2003).
Mary Jane Leach, an American composer based in New York also writes for multiples in such works as 4BC (1984) for 4 bass clarinets, Tricky Pan (1999) for solo countertenor and 8 countertenors on tape, Bach’s Set (2007) for solo cello and 8 celli on tape, and Dowland’s Tears (2011) for 10 flutes.
The present disc is another incarnation of the ensemble of similars which is as different in sound as each of the above described sets of music for similar instruments. Here we have an ensemble of flutes with music written by Elainie Lillios, Cornelius Boots, and Mike Sempert.
Areon Flutes consists of Jill Heinke Moen, Kassey Plaha, and Sasha Launer. This performing, teaching, commissioning ensemble has been in existence since 2004 and is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to their website: Since 2004, Areon Flutes’ mission has been to make flute chamber music an equal voice in the chamber music world.
This is their third album and their first for Innova Records. This is a 2016 release so I must acknowledge a bit of a delay in getting this review out but I blame the beauty and complexity of both their mission and the works here represented for a part of that delay.
There are three compositions: Elainie Lillios’ two movement Summer Sketches, Cornelius Boots’ three movement Cthonic Suite, and Mike Sempert’s Uncanny Valley.
This is a stunning disc which redefines the ensemble of similars and helps to carve out a lasting place for the flute ensemble in the classical world. But even terms like “classical world” might be limiting as a way to describe this album. It is innovative but not really experimental. It is beautiful without being simple and it is virtuosic without being pure and empty showmanship. This is a substantial set of challenging works played with virtuosity and interpretive skill that will leave the listener stunned and unable to write a review (oops, sorry about the excuses again).
But seriously this is entertaining and substantial music making by a wonderful ensemble that serious listeners will want to keep on their radar.