Receiving this album for review the fact is I actually shed a tear when, upon opening my mail, I found the cover of this album cause my emotions to jump to regions of nostalgic memories deeply treasured.
Another fact is that, due to COVID 19, the virtual stoppage of all live concerts, and shifts in my scheduling priorities I had stopped following the career of Mr. Gibson (1940-2020) for the last few years and I wasn’t even aware that this disc had been released. I had heard that he had died in October, 2020. Gibson is a musician I first encountered, as most people had, via his omnipresence at concerts of the Philip Glass Ensemble where he was a founding member. Gibson’s performances of the saxophone solo in Glass’ “Facades”, which I first heard in 1980, are forever etched in my memory. And I caught pretty much every concert they did in or near Chicago from 1980 to perhaps 2000. So that little personal history gives you some idea as to why seeing this album was a “gut punch” of emotion to me.
I lifted this discography of Gibson’s releases from discogs.com and it does not include his work the Philip Glass Ensemble in which he was a member since 1968. It is probably not definitive but it provides some perspective on Gibson’s range of repertoire and his musical affiliations.
The Dance (CD, Album) Orange Mountain Music 70072013
Relative Calm (CD, Album)New World Records 80783-22016
Jon Gibson’s Visitations Otoroku2017
Violet Fire – An Opera About Nikola Tesla (2xCD, Album) Orange Mountain Music70182019
Songs & Melodies, 1973-1977 (2xLP, Album) Superior ViaductSV1732020
David Behrman with Jon Gibson & Werner Durand -Viewfinder / Hide & Seek (LP, Album, Ltd)Black Truffle BT08220211
Gibson’s brand of minimalism resembles Glass’ at times but Gibson’s eclecticism, his mix of styles bear the fingerprints of a style which will be easily recognized by listeners familiar with some of his previous albums.
This is an album’s worth of music written for a performance piece with choreography by the wonderful Lucinda Childs (who choreographed Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” and commissioned Gibson in 1981 for this piece). Relative Calm (1981) is in four sections (or movements) each with its own character.
1. Relative Calm (Rise) (1981) Composed By, Wind, Keyboards, Autoharp, Sounds [Field Recording] – Jon Gibson Keyboards – Joseph Kubera Percussion – David Van Tieghem
2. Q-Music (Race) (1981) Composed By, Keyboards – Jon Gibson Keyboards – Joseph Kubera
3. Extensions RC (Reach) (1981) Sopranino Saxophone, Composed By – Jon Gibson
4. Return (Return) (1981) Keyboards – Joseph Kubera Percussion – David Van Tieghem Saxophone, Composed By – Jon Gibson
Gibson’s fondness for jazz is evident here but the dominant style is the composer’s brand of minimalism. Relative Calm was commissioned and choreographed by Lucinda Childs with decor by Robert Wilson, it received its world premiere by the Lucinda Childs Dance Company at Théatre National de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France on November 26, 1981. It’s wonderful and it is a blessing to have this recording available.
This was released in 2016 on New World Records and is now available for streaming on Bandcamp. The excellent liner notes are by Kyle Gann and Dean Suzuki tell you pretty much all you need to know and the album sounds great. Thanks, Mr. Gibson, RIP.
My review of Carpenter’s Sony Classical release Flash with Substance, Cameron Carpenter Takes on Rachmaninoff and Poulenc, in which he played his transcription for Organ and Orchestra of Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Paganini Rhapsody paired with his exciting rendition of the always welcome Poulenc Organ Concerto. It’s kind of a gutsy move to perform the Rachmaninoff with an organ instead of a piano, bordering on sacrilege for some. Given that programming though, the choices for this recording are a little less surprising as both further stretch the notion of what an organist is actually able to play and demonstrate the sheer breadth of this composer/performer’s musical vision.
Here’s the track list for his Decca Gold debut. Take a good look and meet me at the end of this list:
J.S. Bach – The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (1741)
Variatio 1. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 2. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 3. Canone all’Unisono. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 4. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 5. a 1 ô vero 2 Clav.
Variatio 6. Canone alla Seconda. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 7. a 1 ô vero 2 Clav. al tempo di Giga
Variatio 8. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 9. Canone alla Terza. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 10. Fughetta. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 11. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 12. a 1 Clav. Canone alla Quarta in moto contrario
Variatio 13. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 14. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 15. Canone alla Quinta. a 1 Clav.: Andante
Variatio 16. Ouverture. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 17. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 18. Canone alla Sesta. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 19. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 20. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 21. Canone alla Settima
Variatio 22. a 1 Clav. alla breve
Variatio 23. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 24. Canone all’Ottava. a 1 Clav.
Variatio 25. a 2 Clav.: Adagio
Variatio 26. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 27. Canone alla Nona. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 28. a 2 Clav.
Variatio 29. a 1 ô vero 2 Clav.
Variatio 30. a 1 Clav. Quodlibet
Aria da Capo
Howard Hanson (arr. Carpenter) – Symphony No. 2 in D-flat Major, Opus 30 “Romantic” (1930)
Andante con tenerezza
Allegro con brio
Yup, the Bach Goldberg variations played on the organ followed by Carpenter’s transcription of Howard Hanson’s (1896-1981) lovely Second Symphony, subtitled, “Romantic” (Trivia: the finale of this work is played over the end credits on the Ridley Scott film, Alien). But I’m willing to wager that neither Hanson aficionados (always among my faves) nor fans of Alien ever imagined hearing this piece played on an organ. But it works.
And that is Carpenter’s genius, or a portion of his genius. He is a man with a mission. He is a virtuoso of the highest order, he is a showman such that earns him a membership in my “glam classical” category, and he is a scholar with wide ranging tastes whose choices have challenged and charmed this humble listener and doubtless many others. My God, the man had a digital portable touring organ custom built for him! It is the instrument upon which he recorded this and the previously referenced disc.
He has antecedents such as Virgil Fox and Anthony Newman, musicians who eschew the stoic musician stereotype (nothing wrong with stoic, either) and engage the audience in their more theatrical manners. And it is the delicate balance between the musicianship and the stage presence that is worth the audience’s time. By my count this is his 8th album released. Check out his web page for more.
Watch any of his YouTube videos where his stage presence is as engaging as his virtuosity. Sure, he plays the “standard repertoire” authoritatively. His Bach is as engaging as his genial manner. This is one exciting composer/performer and it is a joy to watch him develop his brand. All sorts of ideas chase themselves in my mind when I ponder what he’ll do next. But I’d rather be surprised.
Were it not for the wishes of some of my valued readers I would not produce such a list. It has no more validity other than, “These are my personal choices”. But there is some joy to be had in contemplating these past 12 months as I have lived them on this blog. So here goes.
First I have to tell everyone that March, 2022 will mark the 10th anniversary of this blog, a venture which has been a rich and exciting one. Future blogs will soon include, in addition to album/concert reviews, some articles on subjects which I hope will be of interest to the select group of people who read this material and who share my interest in this music (which I know can be anywhere from difficult to repulsive to many ears). But I have deduced that my readers are my community, a community of kindred spirits freed from the boundaries of geography, a number rather larger than I had imagined was possible and one that I’ve come to cherish. Bravo to all of you out there.
COVID 19 has reduced the number of live performances worldwide and I have not attended a live performance since early 2020. But, happily, musicians have continued to produce some amazing work, some of which gets sent to me, and a portion of that gets to be subjected to the analytic scrutiny of my blog.
My lack of attention to any music should never be construed as deprecatory, rather it is simply a matter of limited time to listen. So if I have provided a modicum of understanding or even just alerted someone to something new I am pleased and if ever I have offended, I apologize. All this is my personal celebration of art which has enhanced my spirit and which I want to share with others. Look what Ive found!!!
So, to the task at hand (the “best of” part):
The formula I’ve developed to generate this “favorites retrospective” has been to utilize WordPress’ useful statistics and look at the top viewed posts. From these most visited (and presumably most read) articles I produce a list of ten or so of my greatest hits from there. Please note that there are posts which have had and continue to have a fairly large readership from previous years and they’re not necessarily the ones I might have expected but the stats demand their inclusion here.
Following that I then toss in a few which are my personal faves (please read them) to produce what I hope is a reasonably cogent and readable list. Following my own description of my guiding principles I endeavor to present the perspective of person whose day job and energies are spent in decidedly non-musical efforts but whose interest and passion for new music drives this blog where I share those interests.
As a largely self taught writer (and sometime composer) I qualify my opinions as being those of an educated listener whose allegiances are to what I perceive as pleasing and artistically ideal based on my personal perception of the composer’s/performer’s intent. I am not a voting member for the Grammys and I receive no compensation for favorable reviews. I have the hope/belief that my blogs will ultimately garner a few more listens or performances of art that I hope brings my readers at least some of the joy I feel.
New Music Buff’s Best of 2021
As of this writing I have published 37 blog posts in 2021. COVID, job and personal stressors have resulted in my failing to post at all in December, 2020, January, June, and July of 2021. And only one post in February, 2021. Surprisingly I have managed to get just over 9300 views so far this year (a little more views than last year actually) and it is my plan to publish 4-5 blogs per month going forward into my tenth year.
Not surprisingly, most of my readers are from the United States but I’m pleased to say that I’ve had hits from 192 countries at last count. Thanks to all my readers, apologies to the many countries who didn’t make the cut this year (you’re all welcome to try again in 2022). So, following the United States here are the subsequent top 25 countries who have viewed the blog:
Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, China, France, Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Ireland, India, Italy, Turkey, Nigeria, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Poland, Philippines, Ghana, Norway.
Top Ten Most Read of 2021
The following are the most seen articles of 2021. Some of these are articles whose popularity surprise me as they were written some time ago and are not necessarily, in my opinion, my best work. But readership is readership and I am grateful for that.
Top article, Linda Twine, a Musician You Should Know. Twine is a musician and composer who has worked for some years in New York theater. I chose to profile her and I guess she is well liked because this article from 2018 is one of my top performers. Kudos, Ms. Twine.
Next up is, The Three Black Countertenors, an article suggested by my friend Bill Doggett whose website is a must visit for anyone interested in black classical musicians. This one, from 2014, continues to find readers. It is about the first time three black countertenors appeared on the same stage. Countertenors are themselves a vocal minority when considered in the company of sopranos, baritones, tenors, contraltos, and basses. Being black adds another level of minority in the world of operatic voices so this was indeed historic.
Art and the Reclamation of History is the first of the articles written this year to make the top ten most read. It is about a fabulous album and I hope more people read about it. This Detroit based reed quintet is doing something truly innovative. You really need to hear this.
Number four is another from this past year, Kinga Augustyn Tackles the Moderns. This album, kindly sent to me by the artist is worth your time if you like modern music. This young Polish/American violinist has both technique and vision. She is definitely an artist to watch.
Number five is a truly fabulous album from Cedille records, David Schrader Plays Sowerby and Ferko. This double CD just fires on all cylinders, a fine artist, excellent recording, interesting and engaging repertoire, amazing photography, excellent liner notes, and love for all things Chicago. This one is a major classic release.
The Jack Quartet Plays Cenk Ergun was a pleasant surprise to this blogger. The Jack Quartet has chosen wisely in deciding to release this recording of new string quartet music by this young Turkish composer of serious substance. I’m glad that many folks read it.
Number seven on this years hit list among my readers is another album sent directly to me by the artist, one whose work I had reviewed before.
Catherine’s Oboe: Catherine Lee’s New Solo Album, “Alone Together” is among the best of the COVID lockdown inspired releases that flooded the market this year. It is also one of the finest examples of the emerging latest generation of “west coast” composers. Dr. Lee is a master of the oboe and related instruments and she has been nurtured on the artistic ideas/styles that seem to be endemic among composers on the west coast of the United States. She deserves to be heard.
Number Eight is an article from 2014, Classical Protest Music: Hans Werner Henze’s “Essay on Pigs” (Versuch uber Schweine). This 1968 noisy modernist setting of leftist political poetry combines incredible extended vocal techniques with the dissonant modernism of Hans Werner Henze’s work of that era. Also of note is that his use of a Hammond Organ and electric bass guitar was allegedly inspired by his having heard the Rolling Stones. It’s a classic but warn anyone within earshot lest they be terrified.
As it happens there is a three way tie for the number ten spot:
Black Composers Since 1964: Primous Fountain is one of a short series of articles I wrote in 2014. I used the date 1964, 50 years prior to the date of the blog post, because it was the year of the passing of the (still controversial) voting rights act. As a result of this and a few related articles I have found myself on occasion categorized as a sort of de facto expert on black music and musicians. I am no expert there but I have personally discovered a lot of really amazing music by black composers which is way too little known and deserves an audience.
I am pleased to tell you that this too little known composer (and fellow Chicagoan) is being recognized by no less than Michael Tilson Thomas who will conduct an entire program of his works in Miami next year. If my blog has helped in any way then I am pleased but the real honors go, of course, to Mr. Fountain and Mr. Thomas (who first conducted this composer’s music many years ago). Stay tuned.
And the third contender for my tenth most read of 2021 is, Kenneth Gaburo, the Avant-Garde in the Summer of Love. This is among the first volley of releases on the revived Neuma label with Philip Blackburn at the helm. Blackburn’s instincts guided Innova records to release many wonderful recordings of music rarely on the radar of larger record companies and this first volley was a harbinger of even more wonderful releases to come. Just do a Neuma search and see what I mean.
The Ones That Didn’t Make the Top Ten
I would be negligent and boringly formulaic to simply report on these top ten. This is not a democratic blog after all, lol. So here are my choices for the ones that many of my dear readers may have missed and should definitely check out. It is anything but objective. They are, in no particular order:
Dennis Weijers: Skill and Nostalgia in an Auspicious Debut Album is a sort of personal discovery for me. This reworking of Philip Glass’ “Glassworks” and Steve Reich’s “Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards” scored for solo accordion and electronics pretty much knocked me over as soon as I heard it. Read the blog to see why but you have to hear this. This is NOT your granddaddy’s accordion.
Vision, Virtuosity, and Interpretive Skill: Igor Levit’s “On DSCH” is an album I just can’t stop listening to. I raved about his earlier set of piano variations by Bach, Beethoven, and the late Frederic Rzewski and I look forward to this man’s musical vision as he expands the concert repertoire with works you probably haven’t heard or at least haven’t heard much. You owe it to yourself to watch this artist.
Black Artists Matter: The Resurrection of the Harlem Arts Festival, 1969 is one of the relatively few times when I write about so called “pop” music. It is wholly unconscionable that these filmed performances from 1969 (many of which predated Woodstock) languished for 50 years in the filmmaker’s basement and were nearly lost. One of the recurring themes in this blog is the lament over unjustly neglected music and this is a glaring example. I was delighted to see that the filmmaker Questlove received an award at the Sundance Festival for his work on this essential documentary of American music.
Less “flashy” but sublimely beautiful is Modern Tuning Scholarship, Authentic Bach Performance: Daniel Lippel’s “Aufs Lautenwerk”. This is a masterpiece of scholarship and a gorgeous recording on a specially made Well-Tempered Guitar played with serious passion and interpretive genius by a man who is essential to the productions of New Focus recordings as well as being a fine musician himself. Read the review or the liner notes for details but just listen. This is another one that I can’t stop listening to.
Unheard Hovhaness, this Sahan Arzruni album really rocked my geeky world. Arzruni, a frequent collaborator with Hovhaness turns in definitive performances of these previously unheard gems from the late American composer. A gorgeous physical production and a lucid recording make this another disc that lives on my “frequently played” shelf.
New Music from Faroese Master Sunleif Rasmussen with soloist Michala Petri is an album of world premieres by this master composer from the Faroe Islands. It is also a tribute to the enduring artistry of Michala Petri. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting both of these artists some years ago in San Francisco and anything they do will demand my attention, they’re that good.
Last but not least, as they say, Robert Moran: Points of Departure is another triumph of Philip Blackburn’s curation on Neuma records. I have personally been a fan of Moran’s music since I first heard his work at the Chicago iteration of New Music America in 1982. Blackburn’s service to this composer’s work can be likened to similar service done by David Starobin at Bridge Records (who have embarked on complete works projects with several contemporary composers) and Tom Steenland’s work with Guy Klucevsek and Tod Dockstader at Starkland records. Blackburn had previously released the out of print Argo recordings of Moran’s work and now, at Neuma has released this and a few other new recordings of this major American composer’s work.
My apologies to the albums I’ve reviewed which didn’t make it to this year’s end blog but I have to draw a line somewhere. Peace, health, and music. And thank you for reading.
Kinga Augustyn is a new musician to these ears. She kindly sent me this wonderful very recent release for review. And she certainly found a reviewer sympathetic to new music here. A quick review of her releases reveals that she has been releasing recordings since at least 2010 and, in addition to many of the “usual suspects” or “warhorses” of the repertoire, she has demonstrated a keen interest in lesser known works as well as recently minted works hoping for a place in the repertoire.
Her album count by my reckoning is up to 13 now and her musical interests appear to range from the baroque with Telemann’s 12 violin fantasies (no, not a transcription of the better known solo flute works) to the very recent works presented on the present disc. Her choices of repertoire for recording are delightfully unusual as she ventures into the work of neglected composers such as Astor Piazolla (1921-1992) and Romuald Twardowski (1930- ). And she has chosen to release an album of Paganini’s 24 Caprices rather than the Bach solo violin works (though these may come later). The point is that she seems interested in bringing out performances of music which gets less attention than the standard repertoire. Indeed she appears to be attempting to influence and add to the canon of solo violin performance repertoire.
How often can one expect to find a solo violin disc where the only familiar piece is one of Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas? Well this is that disc. The earliest work here is Grazyna Bacewicz’s (1909-1969) Sonata No. 2 (1958). Berio’s Sequenza VIII (1976). Along with Isang Yun’s (1917-1995) Koenigliches Thema (1976) are also 20th century pieces. And though the four movements of Elliot Carter’s (1908-2012) Four Lauds begin in the late 20th century (Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi, 1984 and Remembering Aaron, 1999) they end in the 21st century with Remembering Roger, 2000 and Rhapsodic Musings, 2001.
The brief, almost “Webernian” miniatures that comprise Carter’s “Four Lauds” each have an individual character, the first an homage to Aaron Copland (1900-1990) which doubtless represents the composer via a quotation or perhaps some more personal inside reference. The Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi is the longest and seemingly most complex of the group (I don’t know Petrassi’s music as well as I would like so I’m not sure about the references here). The Rhapsodic Musings are not apparently directed to any musician or composer in particular and The Fantasy-Remembering Roger does seem to embody the sound of Roger Sessions’ style.
The Berio is one of a set of 14 pieces for solo instruments (depending on how you count them) and they are a sort of compositional manifesto utilizing extended techniques. Augustyn delivers a very convincing reading of this intentionally challenging work. It is the longest single work on this recording.
This Polish born, New York based violinist has done homage to the music of her homeland before with her Naxos album of miniatures that I doubt you will find elsewhere. On this album she does homage to Polish musical culture by her inclusion of the inexplicably too little known Grazyna Bacewicz and a world premiere of a solo violin work by the well documented Krzysztof Penderecki in his 2008 Capriccio. As one who fell in love with the avant-garde Penderecki of say 1958-1972 I have not paid as much attention to Penderecki’s later works. In a pleasant surprise these ears heard this very late Penderecki piece as almost a summation including tasty bits of avant-gardist techniques along with nicely lyrical passages. I am now convinced I need to do a reappraisal of my knowledge of this composer’s later work.
She follows this with a very significant work by a criminally neglected composer, Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969). Her Second Sonata for Solo Violin (1958) is an adventuresome work which challenges the violinist while holding the listener’s attention. It is definitely time for a major reassessment of this woman’s work and one hopes that Augustyn’s reading will help encourage more interest in Bacewicz’s work.
Augustyn next chooses another unjustly neglected composer, Isang Yun (1917-1995) whose biography including kidnapping by the South Korean intelligence officers and subsequent sequestration in a South Korean jail stirred artistic outrage which eventually resulted in his release. The piece played here, “Koniglisches Thema”(1976) brings us back to the beginning of solo violin composition by its quotation of a Bach theme. Not a theme from any of the solo violin music but rather the theme given to Bach by Frederick II of Prussia. The origin of the theme is not by Bach and its compositional origins are much debated but what is not debated is that fanciers of Bach know this theme instantly. Isang Yun writes, apparently, a set of variations on the theme, an offering of his own to the master.
This is a dream of an album for people who appreciate modernism, new music, and undiscovered gems but Augustyn’s readings of the unfamiliar Carter “Four Lauds” and, the most recent work on the disc, Debra Kaye‘s (1956- ) “Turning in Time” (2018) are, for this listener, worth the price of the disc by themselves. Carter is no easy task for listeners and certainly for performers but she manages to find the late post-romantic/post-modern lyricism in these pithy little works. And the Debra Kaye work is “hot off the presses” so to speak, having been written just before the second of the two recording sessions that produced this album. The Kaye work is the second longest on this recording and fits well as a concluding work on this ambitious and engaging program.
New music is in need of talented musicians willing to search for and learn their work and Augustyn happily seems to be willing to fill that bill. Her acumen in being able to know music of substance when she sees it and the ability to bring those scores to life bodes well for listeners interested in this repertoire. After all it’s hard not to notice that the Bacewicz Sonata is her second and completists will want to hear that first one. But, more seriously, I look forward to the upcoming releases by this artist who, when sighted on my radar again, will not be let go without a serious listen.
Ramón Sender Barayón at Arion Press in San Francisco (Photo Creative Commons 2011 by Allan J. Cronin)
This crowd sourced video opens with a sort of exposition of the various identities of its subject Ramón Sender Barayón (also known as Ramon Sender, Ramon Sender Morningstar, Ray Sender, and Ramon Sender Barayón). His father was the renowned Spanish novelist Ramón J. Sender whose work was unappreciated (to say the least) by the Franco regime resulting in his spending the last part of his life as an expatriate in the United States of America. His mother Amparo Barayón fared far less well. Her short life and her death at the hands of the Franco regime are memorialized in her son’s book, “A Death in Zamora“, an experience which has understandably informed his life. As a writer, in order to distinguish himself from his father, he adopted his mother’s maiden name appended to his given name. Happily this and some of his other works are making it to the kindle format.
The film unfortunately does not appear to be available in any commercial outlets at the time of this writing but one hopes that Amazon or some internet distributor will make it more widely available. One small critique is the use of sometimes English narration and sometimes Spanish narration with attendant translation subtitles in the opposite languages is a bit difficult to get used to but hardly an insurmountable issue.
Sender’s personal website continues to be a source of useful information. Links can be found here to many of his writings and other work as well as some discussion of his musical compositions.
In addition to being a writer he is an acknowledged pioneer in the area of experimental music. He, along with Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros, Joseph Byrd, William Maginnis, Tony Martin, Joseph Byrd, and Terry Riley (among others) founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1962. This later became the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music and remains in operation as of the date of this review. Barayon’s ” novelized history of this time in his life titled, “Naked Close Up” finally found itself in a Kindle release after having circulated in PDF format for years on the internet. (This history is also further documented in David Bernstein’s excellent, “The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde“)
His curiosity and wide ranging interests saw him participating in alternative commune living situations (beginning in 1966) in northern California exploring spirituality and challenging established social norms through the exploration of viable alternatives. He writes most eloquently about this in his recently published “Home Free Home“, a large edited tome on the Morningstar Ranch and Wheeler’s Ahimsa Ranch which includes material by several other former residents. The book is as much compilation as it is historical writing and memoir. It is a fascinating read and is filled with historically significant recollections and commentary by many of those one time residents of these (now sadly defunct) communities.
This DVD is one of those increasingly popular crowd sourced productions (here is the Indiegogo link) which has allowed independent publication of countless books and CDs and countless other projects which stimulate little interest among traditional venues despite the significance of their content. The content here is of a profoundly important nature to fans of new music as well as fans of alternative living experiments and 60s counterculture and philosophy. It is contemporary history and biography.
Ramón is man possessed of both wisdom and humor as well as deep thought. This film is the first documentary to cover the diverse interest and involvement of this affable cultural polymath. It begins with an interview of Mr. Sender in the living room of his home in San Francisco. From there it traverses more or less chronologically among the dizzyingly diverse events which comprise his life thus far.
From his birth in Spain in 1934 to his present role as a sort of spiritual/intellectual guru running a lecture series called, “Odd Mondays” in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood which he and Judith Levy have managed for some 17 years with a variety of carefully chosen speakers. The film covers a variety of topics and while it leaves out details at times it is a cogent and balanced biographical documentary.
His early involvement in the establishment of the influential San Francisco Tape Music Center finds him connected with fellow luminaries such as Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, Morton Subotnick, William Maginnis, Steve Reich, Joseph Byrd, Tony Martin, and Donald Buchla. This institution, now relocated as the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, saw the creation of a great deal of musical technology and significant musical compositions (Terry Riley’s groundbreaking “In C” was first performed there in 1964).
Sender was one of the organizers of the Trips Festival in 1966 along with Stewart Brand (later of Whole Earth Catalog fame), Bill Graham, Ken Kesey with his Merry Pranksters. Following this he left San Francisco for Sonoma County in northern California.
He states at one point that he has not wanted to be identified with a single career (as his father was) so, following his experimental music work, he became among the first to experiment with communal living in the Morningstar Ranch and later in the Wheeler Ranch in Sonoma County, California. These are now well documented in his book, “Home Free Home” mentioned earlier.
Happily the film does a nice job of acknowledging the role that his wife Judith Levy has played in his life since their marriage in 1982. In particular her support in Sender’s research into his mother’s death at the hands of Franco’s thugs in Spain is both sweet and heartbreaking. The two appear to be constant companions in a mutually supportive relationship he sought for many years. They are frequently seen together.
A segment of his work which gets less attention here are his fiction and spiritual writings including Zero Weather, Being of the Sun (co-authored with Alicia Bay Laurel), Zero Summer, and Planetary Sojourn. He has a collection of unpublished manuscripts and is reportedly now working on his autobiography. Something which will doubtless be worth the wait.
Sender with unidentified man walking out of the Pauline Oliveros Memorial Concert at Oakland’s Chapel of the Chimes in December, 2016 (Photo Creative Commons 2016 by Allan J. Cronin)
Strictly speaking this is a recording a a film score suite and a cantata derived from a film score but these are perhaps among the finest examples of film score music. The earliest piece here is actually Prokofiev’s first commission, the 1934 Lieutenant Kije. This film (released in the US under the title of “The Czar Sleeps”) is a satire/comedy film based on a novella. The score is by itself very tuneful and entertaining and deserves to be heard more often.
The larger work here, Alexander Nevsky (1938), the cantata extracted one year later from the film score by the composer is of course the score to one of the early masterpieces of cinema. The film is the slightly fictionalized account of the reign and military prowess of one Alexander Nevsky (1200-1263). It is without doubt one of the most successful pairings of image and sound at its time. One need only listen to a snippet of John Williams’ score for the battle on the ice planet in the Star Wars series to hear the homage he gives to this score.
Both works here receive a very fine performance and recording by the Utah Symphony conducted by Thierry Fischer. He is assisted by the Utah Symphony Chorus, the University of Utah A Capella Choir, and the University of Utah Chamber Choir under the direction of Barlow Bradford as well as soloist, mezzo soprano Alisa Koslova. Fischer’s tenure would seem to be the surest and most successful since that of the much lauded and beloved Maurice Abravanel. In addition we have here a recording by the reliably high quality Reference Recordings label.
Many collectors will already have a recording of Alexander Nevsky but this performance and recording, along with the inclusion of the earlier film score make this a marvelous addition to any library. And if you have one of those fabulous sound systems you will hear the intricate detail of the recording and feel those bass drum thumps most viscerally. This is an exciting release of exceptional quality on all fronts.
Rachel Barton-Pine is one of the finest and most interesting performers working today. Her unique look at the performing repertoire for her instrument continues to be one of the most salient features of her artistry. Certainly her interpretive abilities are foremost but her choices of neglected repertoire make any release of her recordings a reason to pay close attention.
In the past she has recorded many a neglected piece based on her interest in the music. She has featured black composers from the baroque to the present and has managed to resurrect unjustly neglected concerti from composers of pretty much every racial and national description. Here she features two lovely seldom heard concertos. The Dvorak concerto from 1789 and the Khachaturian concerto from 1941. Both are major works and a challenge to the soloist and both fit pretty much into the late romantic genre (arguably that would be “post romantic” for the Khachaturian).
The present recording is released on the Avie label which is a progressive independent label which itself boasts an impressive selection of musical works in very fine performances. This disc is a fine example of the work they do and is a great selection for the listener’s library. These two concertos were popular in their day but have not seen inclusion in live performances or recordings as much as other romantic concertos. One could speculate endlessly on why this is so or one could simply celebrate the fact that we are getting to hear them in these fine and definitive recordings.
The Dvorak from 1879 is as tuneful and entertaining as any of its contemporaries (Bruch, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, etc) but for whatever reason has not received as much attention. Regardless of why this is so I would recommend just listening and drawing your own conclusions. This three movement work is as challenging technically and as entertaining a concerto as any currently in regular performance. This work is one of the finest examples of the high romanticism of the late 19th century and one hope this recording will help cement the piece into a more frequent visitor to both concert halls and recordings.
The Khachaturian (from 1940) began its life during the throes of the WWII under the oppressive political scrutiny of Josef Stalin and his regime. Khachaturian, who is now recognized quite properly as an Armenian composer, was then subsumed into the mix of the vast gaggle of countries and cultures under the rubric of the USSR. And while this is not particularly or obviously ethnic as other music from this region it is important to know that the composer’s identity was “Russian” by default and not by choice. Regardless of those considerations one must be grateful for the fact that the oppressive regime was able to recognize a quality work (also one in three movements) and give it the “Stalin prize”. Doubtless there are influences gleaned from the composer’s efforts to not offend the conservative tastes of the ruling elite but the bottom line here is that we have a true masterpiece of the concerto genre and one which deserves serious attention and continued performances.
The useful liner notes are by the soloist, a fact which spotlights her musicological interests and her ability to communicate with an audience verbally as well as musically. In fact a quick perusal of Rachel’s web site will lead the interested to some of her more pedagogical efforts featuring scores of some of these lesser known masterpieces.
And, oh yes, there are large orchestral duties here too. The wonderful Royal Scottish National Orchestra is led by the rising star conductor/composer Teddy Abrams who recently took over leadership of another supporter of new and/or neglected musics, the venerable Louisville Orchestra. Founded in 1937 they have carried the torch for new music and celebrated the inclusion of all genders and ethnicities in their musical vision, an embodiment of the very intent of the phrase, “E Pluribus Unum” especially in this musical context.
All in all a great disc which is unlikely to duplicate anything in your collection but one to which you will doubtless return for sheer entertainment and joy.
Philippe Manoury (1952- ) is a French composer who worked at IRCAM and is professor emeritus at UCSD. Knowing just these facts I must admit that I let this one languish a bit before giving it a good listen. I was just not ready for some obtuse Boulez-oriented complexity. But Manoury is nothing if not original and even if his music has complexities it does not fail to communicate very well to the listenter. My apologies to Third Coast Percussion and the ever interesting New Focus recordings for the delay now that I’ve put my fears to rest and given the music a chance.
There are two works on this disc, Le livre des claviers, Six pieces for 6 percussionists (1987) and Métal for sixxens sextett (1995). The first piece, which translates as, “Book of Keyboards” invites connotations of monolithic masterpieces such as Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Boulez’ Livre pour Quatuor, or any of a number of pieces with such aspirations that have the word “book/livre” in the title. The second piece is strikingly similar in sound to the first and is a fitting companion on the recording.
Indeed the 6 movement Livres is a monumental work but its aspirations are to produce a lovely and complex set of pieces for percussion sextet. Third Coast handles this work, as they do with all they approach, with thought and virtuosity. This is not a grandiose attempt to create a landmark of western music but rather to add to the oeuvre. The same can be said for the later work which follows it.
While Manoury has worked with electronics and computers, none of that is in evidence here. This is purely acoustic, just six virtuoso percussionists and the music is well crafted and shows off the composer’s inventiveness as well as giving these fine young musicians something to show off their considerable skills. It is absolute music (ie music for the sake of music) and if there are metaphorical aspects they are not immediately evident.
Doubtless there are complexities here, most of which lay beyond the ken of the average listener (your humble reviewer included) but the joys of the sounds and the lucidity of the writing make for an enjoyable experience. It’s not the minimalism of Philip Glass, nor the complexities of Boulez, nor the dissonances of Xenakis. This is intelligent, approachable chamber music that will speak to the listener who allows it to unfold.
The first piece has six movements which are named simply for the instruments called for in the score:
6 Thai Gongs and 2 Marimbas
6 Thai Gongs and 2 Marimbas
As you can see, not all six percussionists are kept equally busy throughout. Each movement seems to have its own character and probably a great deal of complexity which will entertain and perhaps frustrate musicologists. All in all a very entertaining work.
The second work coming in at just over 22 minutes is cast in a single movement and has a more pensive quality. It does require attention and, like all good music, reveals more on repeated listens.
The recording is, as always with New Focus, lucid and complementary. This recording also serves to demonstrate the incredible range of this rapidly rising star in the percussion players universe.
This is a big work written expressly for these musicians and commissioned by conductor Jonathan Haas. It is titled percussion “symphony” which suggests a grand undertaking. It is the only work on the disc.
The composer, Tomas Kozumplik is an American composer unfamiliar to this writer and most likely to most listeners. Kozumplik is a percussionist and composer based in Brooklyn. He is perhaps best known as a film composer but his interests and his collaborations reveal him to be embracing a wide variety of musical interests.His website is definitely worth your time as it describes this artist’s range.
This work is neither noisy modernism nor “lite classical”. It is almost neo-romantic at times as it lives up to the grand promise of its title. It is a great example of how to write for percussion. Indeed the genesis of this work lies partly in the collaborative. Kozumplik worked closely with the musicians to mold this work into its final form. Multiple listens reveal more of the structure and unity of this work. It is not, strictly speaking, difficult music but it is also not simple either.
Indeed, as the titles suggest this piece has a sort of external program, “Child of the Earth” and the subtitle, “Un nino busca a Dios” (which my limited Spanish means, “A child looks to God”) are referred to in greater detail in each track. It’s not clear how these ideas are integrated musically it does couch this work in a sociopolitical genre. The music certainly works well by itself but astute listeners will want to be aware of the meaning these ideas have had for the composer’s and, doubtless, the performers whose intimate investment here is ultimately the joy in this release.
The Julliard Quartet is a hallowed name in classical music. This release reflecting its current generation of musicians is consistent with their practice of playing established classics alongside the modern. These are interesting choices of string quartets from the 18th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
Many will likely speculate on the motivations for these choices but it is a typical set of choices for a Juilliard Quartet recital, an intelligent mix of standard repertoire, not the “usual suspects” or most popular but musically solid pieces. And, of course, there is their all important embrace of the modern.
The Beethoven and the Barton are lovely choices intelligently played but the real draw, at least for this reviewer is the Davidovsky. Mario Davidovsky (1934- ) is a major American composer who deserves more performances and documentation of his work. Fortunately Bridge Records has taken on this task.
He is best known for his “Synchronisms” series pairing electronics with various acoustic instruments. This won him a Pulitzer Prize. But his music sans electronics is just as substantial and this 2016 String Quartet, his sixth, provides ample evidence of that substance.
Near as I can tell this is only the second recording of any of his quartets but it is sufficiently intriguing to whet the appetite for the other 5.
As a recital disc this one is thoroughly enjoyable and it’s inclusion of the Davidovsky is gloriously consistent with the overall image of the hallowed name of the Juilliard Quartet.
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.
Bridge Records is one of those labels whose every release is worth one’s attention. Their series of music of Elliott Carter, George Crumb, et al are definitive. And while this listener has yet to hear the first two volumes of the Harry Partch series this third volume suggests that Bridge continues to maintain a high standard as they do in all the releases that I’ve heard.
Harry Partch (1901-1974), like Philip Glass and Steve Reich would later do, formed his own group of musicians to perform his works. For Glass and Reich they could not find performers who understood and wanted to play their music. For Partch this issue was further complicated by the fact that he needed specially built instruments which musicians had to learn to play to perform the very notes he asked of them. And keep in mind that Partch managed to do a significant portion of his work during the depression. He is as important to the history of tonality as Bach, Wagner, and Schoenberg.
I will confess a long term fascination with Partch’s music. Ever since hearing a snippet of Castor and Pollux on that little 7 inch vinyl sampler that came packaged with my prized copy of Switched on Bach I was hooked. That little sampler also pointed this (then 13 year old) listener to Berio’s Sinfonia, Nancarrow, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley. And so it continues. But it is not just nostalgia that recommends this disc, it is the definitive nature of the scholarship, the intelligence of the production, and the quality of both performances and recordings that make this an essential part of any serious collector of Partch, microtonal music, musicology, and good recordings in general.
With the aforementioned interest/fascination I reached a point where I had pretty much collected and listened to all I could find of Partch’s music. Certainly everything of his had been recorded, right? Well ain’t this a welcome kick in an old collector’s slats? Not only have the folks at Bridge (read John Schneider) found and recorded a heretofore practically known composition but they’ve done it with a brand of reverence, scholarship, and quality of both recording and performances such that this is a collector’s dream and a major contribution to the history of microtonal musics and American music in general.
John Schneider from a You Tube screen capture
Let me start with the liner notes by producer John Schneider. As one who is given to complain about the lack of liner notes I am so pleased to encounter such as these. They alone are worth the price of the CD and read at times like the adventure they describe, to wit, this recording. The tasteful and well designed (by one Casey Siu) booklet provides an intelligent guide to the music which enhances the listening experience. Schneider’s web site also provides a wealth of information and references for further research. Many would think that these liner notes are comprehensive as they are and there should be no need for anything more…so the link provided to even more info on the web site of the performing group on this disc, PARTCH. These folks are Grammy winners and they perform on scholarly copies of the original Partch instruments executed by Schneider and his associates. This release is solidly built from the ground up.
PARTCH performing at RedCat copyright Redcat
PARTCH includes: Erin Barnes (Diamond Marimba, Cymbal, Bass), Alison Bjorkedal (Canons, Kitharas), Matt Cook (Canon, Cloud Chamber Bowls, Spoils of War), Vicki Ray (Canons, Chromelodeon, Surrogate Kithara), John Schneider (Adapted Guitars, Bowls, Canons, Spoils, Surrogate Kithara, Adapted Viols, Voice), Nick Terry (Boo, Hypobass), T.J. Troy (Adapted Guitar II, Bass Marimba, Voice), Alex Wand (Adapted Guitar III, Canons, Surrogate Kithara)
The 21 tracks contain five Partch compositions. It opens with one of Partch’s more unusual pieces (for him), Ulysses at the Edge of the World (1962). This piece was written for Chet Baker but Baker never got to play it. It kind of sits a bit outside of Partch’s work and is his most direct use of the medium of “jazz”. The piece has been recorded twice before. For this recording two fine new music/jazz musicians were chosen, saxophonist Ulrich Krieger and trumpet player extraordinaire Daniel Rosenboom. Excellent choices for this too little performed piece.
Tracks 2-13 contain the Twelve Intrusions (1950) which is basically an accompanied song cycle with instrumental pieces placed at the beginning. These are great vintage Partch works but do read the liner notes on the evolution of Partch as he was writing these. They describe some of Partch’s evolution during that time.
Next is another discovery (or restoration if you will). Partch’s scores exist in various versions for various reasons. Windsong (1958) was written as a film score for the Madeline Tourtelot film of that name. It was later reworked into a dance drama (Daphne of the Dunes, 1967). Here we have a live performance of the entire score which (read them notes) includes things not heard before, not to mention the most lucid sound of this recording.
Now to the putative star of this release, the Sonata Dementia (1950). It too comes with some nice detective work allowing listeners to hear substantially what Partch intended but neither recorded nor rejected. There are three movements and let me just say that they are captivating and substantial. This deserves to be heard again and again.
Now two little bonus tracks (reminiscent in nature but not in content of the sampler I mentioned earlier) add significantly to Partch and his place in music history. First is a Edison cylinder recording from 1904 of a traditional Isleta Indian chant which Partch, who had been hired to transcribe these songs, later incorporated into his music. It’s early date and the nature of that old recording method provide a picture of early ethnomusicological work.
Photo of Partch with adapted guitar found on web
The second bonus is a real gem. Again, read the liner notes for more fascinating details.This is an important find, an acetate recording made of Partch performing his Barstow (1941) for an appreciative audience at the Eastman School of Music from November 3, 1942. This early version (of at least three) for adapted guitar and voice was reconstructed by John Schneider and released on the Just West Coast album of 1993 (Bridge BCD 9041) and later performed so beautifully at Other Minds 14 in 2009. But I believe that Schneider’s reconstruction predated the discovery of this recording. Pretty validating to hear this now I would think.
It is this reviewer’s fondest hope that this wonderful Partch project will continue with its definitive survey of Partch’s work. Bravo!!
This is an epic minimalist masterpiece that has the same sort of almost full orchestral impact that one hears in works like Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’, Riley’s ‘InC’, and perhaps Glass’ ‘Music with Changing Parts’ or ‘Music in 12 Parts’. The point is that it is entrancing and engaging music that deserves to be heard.
Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was an American singer, performer and composer whose work was little known until after his untimely death. It was the efforts of composer Mary Jane Leach who performed a labor of love essentially saving Eastman’s work from obscurity when she called upon her fellow musicians and artists to help her gather all the extant recordings and scores many of which were lost after Eastman was evicted from his apartment not long before he died. Her Julius Eastman page is a valuable reference and her work has inspired further research and performances of Eastman’s music.
Leach’s substantive initial efforts resulted in the release of the 3 CD set, Unjust Malaise which made available all of the then known serviceable recordings of this composer’s music. Since then this recording became available and it may be the finest that Eastman did.
This is a live recording of a performance from 1974 which is quite lucid and listenable. It starts slowly but quickly finds its rhythm and pace and provides an uninterrupted 70 minutes of consonant, even romantic sounds. It’s relation to femininity or any gender issues is not clear, perhaps not even the point. This piece also seems to have had a companion (called masculine) which is sadly now lost.
Anyone interested and entertained by the minimalist works already cited will find this work very inviting. Hopefully the release of this recording will encourage a revival of this work and it will be performed again soon. We as consumers are blessed to have this major work by this major composer available for listening and study. Eastman deserves recognition as a composer and this disc certainly is a strong support for that.
Since her debut in 1969 at the tender age of 11 Danish born recorder virtuoso Michala Petri has been one of the finest masters of the recorder. This ancient instrument, a forerunner of the flute, has existed since the Middle Ages and has amassed a huge repertoire and Petri seems to have demonstrated mastery over all of it and has been an advocate and promoter of new music for her instrument as well. She has inspired composers to write new works for her and she continues to entertain audiences and has assembled an ever growing discography of startling range and diversity. Nearly single handed she has managed to honor past repertoire and firmly ensconce this instrument in the 21st century.
In this release, produced by Lars Hannibal (himself a fine guitarist and frequent Petri collaborator) Petri takes on the music of Brazil and, despite the fact that recorders have seldom found their way into the music of this geographic region, she delivers a convincing and hugely entertaining program on this disc. Along with Marilyn Mazur on percussion and Daniel Murray on guitar the listener is given an entertaining cross section of Brazilian music ranging from the more classically oriented work of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) and Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) to the smooth jazz/pop sounds of Antonio Carlos Jobim (1925-1994) and Egberto Gismonti (1947- ). In between are included works by the album’s guitarist Daniel Murray (1981- ) and a few names unfamiliar to this reviewer including Paulo Porto Alegre (1953- ), Paulo Bellinati (1950- ), Hermeto Pascoal (1936- ), and Antonio Ribero (1971- ).
There is a remarkable unity in this Danish production which stems from a meeting between producer Lars Hannibal and Daniel Murray in Vienna in 2014. Hannibal’s ear found a kindred spirit whose musicality is a good match for that of Petri. And like a good chef he added the delicate and necessary spice of the tastefully understated (but extraordinary) percussionist Marilyn Mazur to create a unique trio that sounds as though they’ve played together for years. Here’s hoping that they’ve secretly recorded enough material for a second album.
All the tracks appear to be transcriptions though the transcriber is not named (I’m guessing they’re collaborative). What’s nice is that there is nothing artificial or uncomfortable about these arrangements. The overall impression left is that of a skilled ensemble and listeners encountering the original forms of these works might well assume those to be the transcriptions. So convincing are these performances.
One last thing. The sound. This super audio CD release was engineered by Mikkel Nymand and Preben Iwan and the sound is fabulous. I don’t have a machine that can read the super audio tracks on this hybrid disc but what I can hear is a lucid recording which embraces the subtleties of this unique ensemble. Enjoy!
Nicole Paiement led a touching performance of Lou Harrison’s La Koro Sutro
Nominally this was a celebration of the life and music of Lou Silver Harrison (1917-2003) but this last concert of Other Minds 22nd year celebrated so much more.
Curator and Other Minds Executive and artistic director introduces the night’s festivities with these artistic icons titled St. Lou and St. Bill (Lou Harrison and his partner, instrument builder Bill Colvig). The portraits were sold by silent auction.
One can’t celebrate the life and music of Lou Harrison without acknowledging his life partner of 30 years, Bill Colvig (1917-2000). Colvig was the man who designed and built the American Gamelan percussion instruments used in tonight’s performance. These repurposed industrial materials were inspired by the Indonesian Gamelan which Lou Harrison encountered at the 1939 world’s fair which took place on Treasure Island just a few miles away. Amirkhanian added another fascinating historical footnote when he informed the audience that Harrison had come to this very church to learn to sing Gregorian Chant some time in the 1930s.
A further and very intimate context was revealed when Amirkhanian took an informal poll of the audience asking who had met and/or worked with Lou Harrison. By his count he estimated that about 40% of the audience had encountered “St. Lou” (this writer met the magnanimous gentleman in Chicago in the early 1990s). Indeed many of the musicians had encountered and/or studied with Harrison and the passion reflected in their performances and the audiences response clearly shows why he (and Bill) were elevated tonight to secular sainthood.
The wonderful acoustics of the Basilica easily accommodated Harrison’s dislike of electrical amplification. Even the solo and small ensemble music was heard as it was intended.
The organ console at the Basilica.
The well attended concert began with an early rather uncharacteristic piece called Praises for Michael the Archangel (1946-7). It reflected the influence of Arnold Schoenberg, one of Harrison’s teachers (Henry Cowell and K.T.H. Notoprojo were also among his teachers). Harrison also famously worked with Charles Ives whose Third Symphony he premiered. He also worked with John Cage and collaborated on at least one composition with him (Double Music). The angular and dissonant sounds were lovingly interpreted by Jerome Lenk, organist and chorus master at the Basilica.
Organist Jerome Lenk acknowledges the audience applause and allows himself just a touch of a satisfied smile for a well wrought performance.
Next was a solo harp piece Threnody for Oliver Daniel (1990). (Oliver Daniel (1911-1990) was a composer, musicologist, and founder of Composer’s Recording Incorporated. He was a friend of Harrison’s and a great promoter of new music).
The Threnody was performed on this smaller troubador harp in Ptolemy’s soft diatonic tuning.
Meredith Clark played with focused concentration and gave a very moving performance of this brief and beautiful composition. Harrison was fond of paying homage to his friends through music.
Clark was then joined by cellist Emil Miland for a performance of Suite for Cello and Harp (1948). Composed just a year after the angular organ piece which opened the program this gentle suite is entirely tonal and very lyrical in its five movements using music repurposed from earlier works. Clark here used a full sized concert harp.
The artistic connection between these performers clearly added to the intensity of the performance. Despite the varied sources of the music the suite has a certain unity that, like Bach and indeed many composers, justifies the re-use of material in the creation of a new piece.
This was followed by another organ piece from Mr. Lenk. This Pedal Sonata (1989) is played solely by the musician’s very busy feet on the pedals alone (no hands on the keyboard). Listening to the piece it was easy to believe that more than just two agile feet were involved in this challenging and virtuosic composition. It appeared to be quite a workout but one accomplished with great ease by the performer.
Emil Miland and Meredith Clark smiling in response the the applause following their performance.
Following an extended intermission (owing to a dearth of restroom facilities) there was an awards ceremony. Charles Amirkhanian was awarded the 2017 Champion of New Music Award (tonight’s conductor Nicole Paiement was also a previous awardee). Presentation of the award was done by American Composer’s Forum President and CEO John Neuchterlein and Forum member, composer Vivian Fung.
Amirkhanian took the time to pay tribute to his mother (who also would have been 100 this year) his father (who passed away in December at the age of 101) and his charming wife of 49 years, Carol Law, who continues her work as a photographer and her participation in Other Minds and related projects. He also gave thanks to the staff of Other Minds and his former associates at KPFA where Charles served as music director for over 20 years.
American Composer’s Forum President John Neuchterlein looks on as composer Vivian Fung presents the prestigious 2017 Champion of New Music Award to a very pleased Charles Amirkhanian.
In a touching and humorous move Mr. Neuchterlein advised the audience that Mr. Amirkhanian would be given yet another award tied to Minnesota which is the home of General Mills (yes, the cereal people). Amirkhanian (who himself has quite a gentle sense of humor) was surprised and charmed to receive a box of Wheaties emblazoned with his image from whence he can now reign in the rarefied group of breakfast champions in addition to his other roles.
The breakfast of new music champions.
The second half of the concert began with the co-composed Suite for Violin and American Gamelan (1974). Co-composer Richard Dee was in the audience for the performance of this work written two years after La Koro Sutro (1972) and incorporating the same gamelan instrument created for that piece. The substantial violin solo was handled with assurance and expressivity by Shalini Vijayan, herself a major new music advocate.
Composer Richard Dee waving thanks for the performance of Suite for Violin and American Gamelan.
At about 30 minutes in performance the multiple movements all but comprised a concerto with challenging roles for both the percussion orchestra led by the amazing William Winant and his percussion ensemble and the soloist. All were masterfully coordinated by conductor Nicole Paiement.
Shalini Vijayan smiles from behind her bouquet acknowledging the thunderous applause following her performance.
In a previous promo blog I had noted that the location of this concert is a designated pilgrimage site, one where the faithful journey as part of a spiritual quest. Well, having been sidelined by a foot injury for the last 3 1/2 months this amounted to a musico-spiritual pilgrimage for this writer who has not been able to be out to hear music for some time. The last piece on the concert in particular was a powerful motivation for this personal pilgrimage and I was not disappointed.
The American Gamelan was played by the William Winant percussion group consisting of master percussionist Winant along with Ed Garcia, Jon Meyers, Sean Josey, Henry Wilson, and Sarong Kim.
They were joined by the Resound Choir (Luçik Aprahämian, Music Director), Sacred and Profane (Rebecca Seeman, Music Director), and the Mission Dolores Choir (Jerome Lenk, Music Director).
Meredith Clark joined on concert harp and Mr. Lenk on the small ensemble organ. All were conducted with both discipline and panache by Nicole Paiement.
This multiple movement work is a setting of the Buddhist Heart Sutra and is done in an Esperanto translation by fellow Esperantist Bruce Kennedy and, though written for the world Esperanto Convention in Portland, Oregon, it was premiered at the University of San Francisco in 1972. This was the fourth performance in the Bay Area, a fact that reveals the love that this area has had and still has for its beloved citizen Lou Harrison.
Warm smiles proliferated as the bouquets were distributed amid a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience.
In fact this concert can be seen as a affirmation of so many things. Harrison was a composer, teacher, dancer, calligrapher, Esperantist, conductor, musician, musicologist and early gay rights advocate. It is a testament to Lou that he has been given a most spectacular birthday celebration which gave credence and appreciation to all aspects of this west coast genius and all his extended family. It happened 50 years after the fabled Summer of Love and apparently the love continues in its way.
A clearly very happy conductor Nicole Paiement’s smile echoes both her feeling and that of the attendees, a wonderful night.
The relationship between politics and music is complex and varied. There are many instances of clashes between these two disciplines from the politics of state and church sponsored music to its repression by those same institutions.
After centuries of Catholic church sponsored music a decision was made in 1903 to repress the performance of anything but Gregorian chant and any instruments except for the ubiquitous organ. The reasons for this decree have been discussed but the end result was less work for musicians.
More recently the Nazi “degenerate art” concepts and the later proscriptions on “formalist music” in Soviet Russia similarly put artists and musicians out of work. In fact many were jailed or killed. Shostakovich and Prokofiev were high profile musicians who endured bans on performances of their music based ostensibly on claims that it brought (or potentially brought) harm to the state’s political visions.
Even more recently the blacklist created by Joseph McCarthy and his acolytes perpetrated a similar assault on actors, directors and writers like Dalton Trumbo (recently dramatized in the excellent film Trumbo with Bryan Cranston leading the fine cast). This sad chapter of history did not completely end until the 1970s and only recently have efforts succeeded in restoring suppressed screen credits to these films. Many lives were destroyed or irreparably harmed. One hopes, of course, that such travesties will not be repeated but the recent efforts to eliminate the NEA suggest that such struggles remain with us.
On February 18th Other Minds will present a centennial celebration of two composers’ births. Lou Harrison certainly expressed some political themes in some of his music but did not incur state sponsored political wrath. Unfortunately this was not the case with the other honoree of Other Minds’ 22nd season.
In 1967 Korean composer Isang Yun was kidnapped by South Korean intelligence officers and taken to South Korea to face accusations of collaboration with the communist government of North Korea. He was held for two years and was subjected to interrogation and torture based on information later acknowledged to have been fabricated. Even so South Korea declined to allow the ailing composer’s request to visit his hometown in 1994. He died the following year in his adoptive home in Berlin, Germany.
A petition signed by over 200 artists including composers Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hans Werner Henze, Gyorgy Ligeti and conductors Otto Klemperer and Joseph Keilberth among the many was sent to the South Korean government in protest. A fine recent article by K. J. Noh, Republic of Terror, Republic of Torture puts the incident in larger political context. It is a lesson sadly relevant even now in our politically turbulent times.
The concert will feature works from various points in his career, both before and after the aforementioned incident. It is a fine opportunity to hear the work of this too little known 20th century master. Conductor and pianist Dennis Russell Davies knew and worked with both Harrison and Isang. It is so fitting that he will participate along with his wife, justly famed new music pianist Maki Namekawa, in this tribute to the the late composer. This can’t right the wrongs but what better way to honor a composer than by performing his music?
The performance is at 7:30 PM at the historic Mission Dolores Basilica at 3321 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114. Tickets available (only $20) at Brown Paper Tickets.
This is an beautiful album. The main attraction is the world premiere recording of Serere (2012) by James B. Maxwell in two versions separated by a shorter piece by Nico Muhly. Ravello Records brings us a wonderful Canadian duo, Couloir consisting of Ariel Barnes on cello and Heidi Krutzen on harp.
Maxwell, a Canadian composer, is new to this writer but the present work suggests that there is good reason to pay attention to this artist. I’m not sure of the wisdom of two versions of the same piece on one disc but it does allow for close comparison. It is basically an intimate and episodic piece of chamber music which is filled out with some electroacoustic material in the second version. I don’t mean to sound dismissive because this is an engaging and enjoyable listen and a piece which seems to contain a certain depth and wisdom which suggests a well crafted work. Both versions are clearly challenging from a technical aspect but all seems to be integrated in service of the music and not simply empty effects. The second version of course has a fuller sound due to the augmentation of the electronics. Both versions benefit from multiple listens and I certainly don’t intend to set this disc aside for a bit.
This is actually my first encounter with Nico Muhly’s work. I have certainly heard of him but I am not familiar with any of his other work so I have nothing against which to compare the present piece except in the context of this disc. Given that, this briefer piece, Clear Music (2003) is also finely wrought and engaging. Maryliz Smith plays celeste on this track. It functions basically as an interlude here but it does help clear the palate (so to speak) without taking the listener too far out of the musical context.
The recording from 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia is clear and pleasant and the performances are simply wonderful.
It has always seemed to me that the saxophone has had a difficult time integrating into the mainstream of classical performance. Since its invention by Adolphe Sax in the mid 19th century this family of instruments has amassed a somewhat limited solo repertoire and has only really made it as an orchestral instrument in the twentieth century. The subsequent adoption of these instruments at the forefront of jazz and pop has forever changed the perception of this hybrid woodwind/reed/brass instrument which, for those who segregate musical genres, complicates matters even more.
It is the twentieth century that this album represents and it is the classical voice, not jazz or pop which speaks here. This intelligently chosen set of pieces is like a little tour of the saxophone and piano literature representing some of the best of the early to mid twentieth century repertoire. If that makes it a niche market then so be it, it is a lovely niche.
Now Robert Schumann (1810-1856), whose work opens this disc, is hardly a twentieth century composer but these transcriptions by Frederick Hemke (long time saxophonist of the Chicago Symphony and a highly respected teacher) are definitely contemporary and work well for saxophone and piano. Drei Romanzen Op. 94 (1849) are originally for oboe and piano.
Tracks 4 and 11 contain pieces by Astor Piazolla (1921-1992), the Argentinian composer best known for his work with the tango forms. Here we have two film music excerpts in apparent transcriptions.
There are four other sets of pieces on this recording by Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958), Jean Francaix (1912-1987), Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) and Paule Maurice (1910-1967). The Vaughn Williams Folk Song Suite is originally for cello and piano and is vintage Vaughn Williams at his English folk song best. The Ibert and the Francaix are suites of the sort of nervous, jazz inflected music that characterized an era between the wars. Paule Maurice is a new name to this listener and the artists are to be commended for their part in saving her work from obscurity.
The Aeolian Song by Warren Benson (1924-2008) is probably one of the best known (and deservedly so) pieces on this disc. This is actually the slow movement of a concertino for saxophone and orchestra but has become a sort of recital classic in its incarnation for saxophone and piano.
The Harrington/Loewen Duo are based in Canada and that may be their only flaw. The curious but annoying lack of attention to the musicians who are our neighbors to the north is certainly mitigated to some degree by this release. It is a lovely recital and the musicians are both committed and creative. One hopes for another volume of recital pieces to follow this delightful release.
The lovely cover photo for this album by San Francisco born pianist Lara Downes is reminiscent of any number of socially conscious folk/rock stars of the 60s and 70s. It would seem that this is no accident. This delightful album of short pieces by a wide variety of American composers takes its title from the Langston Hughes (1902-1967) poem, Let America Be America Again (1935). By so doing the pianist places this interesting selection of short piano pieces firmly in the context of black racial politics and the artistic expression of black America as well as those influenced by this vital vein of American culture (both musical and literary). It is a graceful and deeply felt effort and I hope that the metaphor of the title of my review is not too tortured a one to reflect that.
This is also a very personal album. Downes seems to share some deeply felt connections with her materials. This artist, born to a white mother and a black father, invokes a careful selection of short piano pieces steeped sometimes in jazz and blues but also the political directness (and optimism) which was characteristic of the inter-war years that brought forth the Hughes poem. There is both sadness and celebration in these virtuosic and technically demanding little gems (most apparently recorded for the first time or at least the first time in a while). The pianist’s comments on each individual piece are also critical to the understanding of this disc as she shares the impact and meaning that the music has had for her.
There are 21 tracks by 19 composers in all and the selections themselves are quite a feat. They range from the 19th to the 21st centuries and are composed by both men and women of a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. All seem to share the sort of populist charm befitting the idealized America yearned for in the poem which is to say that they represent a kind of idealized or hopeful nationalism. Downes is well acquainted with a large variety of American music and recognizes no distinction between classical and so-called “vernacular” traditions.
In fact none of these things are atypical for this artist. Her previous albums Exiles Cafe (2013) featured music by composers exiled from their homelands, A Billie Holiday Songbook (2015) celebrated the life of this iconic black artist and her American Ballads (2001) demonstrated her deep mastery and affection for populist (but not jingoistic) nationalism. Her tastefully issue oriented albums define a very individual path and the present album appears to be a very logical and well executed next entry into her discography.
This disc shares a similar heritage to that of Alan Feinberg’s four discs on Argo/Decca entitled, The American Innovator, The American Virtuoso, The American Romantic and Fascinating Rhythm: American Syncopation. Another notable antecedent is Natalie Hinderas’ groundbreaking two disc set of music by African-American composers.
And now on to the music:
Morton Gould (1913-1996) was a Pulitzer Prize winning composer and conductor with a style informed by his study of jazz and blues in a vein similar to that of Bernstein and Copland. He is represented here by American Caprice (1940).
Lou Harrison (1917-2003) was a composer, conductor and teacher. He was a modernist and an innovator in the promotion of non-western musical cultures. His New York Waltzes (1944-1994) are three brief essays in that dance form.
The traditional folk song Shenandoah (apparently in the pianist’s transcription) is next. This tune will be familiar to most listeners as a popular selection by choral groups and the melody is a common metaphor for things American.
Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944) was one of the first successful female American composers. Her “From Blackbird Hills” Op. 83 (1922) is representative of her late romantic style and her incorporation of Native American (Omaha) elements in her music.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) is a English composer with Creole roots, a black composer, known as the “African Mahler” in his day. Deep River (1905) is his setting of this spiritual which also was one of Marian Anderson’s signature pieces.
Dan Visconti (1982- ) was commissioned by the International Beethoven Festival to write his Lonesome Roads Nocturne (2013) for Lara Downes. It receives its world premiere recording in this collection.
Swiss-American composer and teacher Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) is certainly deserving of more attention. His At Sea (1922) is used here to represent the sea voyages of the many immigrants (willing and unwilling) whose journey defined in part who they were.
George Gershwin (1898-1937) mastered both the vernacular tradition (as one of the finest song writers of the 20th Century) and the classical tradition in his too few compositions written in his sadly abbreviated life. His opera Porgy and Bess (1935) is contemporary with the Langston Hughes poem mentioned earlier. Downes most arrestingly chooses the arrangement of “I loves you, Porgy” by the classically trained iconic singer, musician and civil rights activist Nina Simone (1933-2003). Quoting from Downes’ notes (Nina Simone expresses what she knew) “…about being a woman, being black and about being strong and powerless all at the same time.” Indeed one of the most potent lines of the Hughes poem reads, “America was never America to me.”
Angelica Negrón (1981- ) was born in Puerto Rico and now lives and works in New York. Her Sueno Recurrente (Recurring Dream, 2002) is a lovely little nocturne which is here given its world premiere.
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) held credentials as composer, conductor, teacher and ardent civil rights supporter. His Anniversary for Stephen Sondheim (1988) is one of a series of Anniversary piano pieces he wrote. Bernstein did much to help modern audiences (including this reviewer) comprehend the vital musicality of jazz and blues. Like Downes, he drew little distinction between popular and classical and celebrated all the music he believed was good.
David Sanford (1963- ) is a trombonist, teacher and composer who works in both classical and jazz idioms. His work Promise (2009) was written for Downes and this is the world premiere recording.
Howard Hanson (1896-1981) was a conductor, teacher and Pulitzer Prize winning composer (though not at all an advocate of ragtime, jazz or blues). His brief but lovely piano piece Slumber Song (1915) is a nice discovery and one hopes that it will be taken up by more pianists.
Scott Joplin (1867/68-1917) was discovered largely due to the scholarship and recordings of musicologist Joshua Rifkin (who incidentally did some arrangements for folkie Judy Collins) whose three volumes of piano rags on Nonesuch records introduced this wonderful black composer’s work to a wider audience once again. Marvin Hamlisch famously incorporated Joplin’s music into his score for the motion picture The Sting (1973). Downes chooses the Gladiolus Rag (1907) to represent this composer.
Irving Berlin (born Israel Isidore Baline 1888-1989) is another of the greatest song composers this country has produced. In another characteristically clever choice Downes chooses the arrangement of this hugely optimistic song, “Blue Skies”(1926) by the great jazz pianist Art Tatum (1909-1956).
Florence Price (1887-1953) was a black female composer (the first to have one of her orchestral works programmed by a major symphony orchestra) whose work is only recently getting some much needed exposure. Her Fantasy Negre (1929) is based on a spiritual, “Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass”. Price was involved in the New Negro Arts Movement of the Harlem Renaissance and was professionally connected with Langston Hughes among others.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is perhaps the most iconic American composer. Dubbed the “Dean of American Composers” his earliest work has strong jazz influences and his later work created the American romantic/nationalist sound incorporating folk songs and rhythms. For this recording the artist chose the first of the composer’s Four Piano Blues (1926) which also appeared on her 2001 album of American Ballads.
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) was a composer and band leader whose sound virtually defined the Harlem Renaissance during his tenure at the famed Cotton Club. Melancholia (1959) is the piece chosen here, again a nice little discovery.
Roy Harris (1898-1979) was, like Copland, a populist but the Oklahoma born composer studied Native American music as well as American folk songs. His American Ballads (1946) was included on Downes’ American Ballads album. Here she includes an unpublished work from a projected (but never finished) American Ballads Volume II. This piece is a setting of the spiritual, “Lil Boy Named David”.
The album concludes with one of the ultimate hopeful dreamer songs, Harold Arlen’s (1905-1986) Over the Rainbow (1939) from his score for The Wizard of Oz (1939). The adolescent yearning of Dorothy for something better than her dust bowl farm life touched a chord in many over the years and it is a fitting conclusion to this beautiful and hopeful collection.
As mentioned earlier the insightful liner notes by Lara Downes complement this production and tactfully position its politics. She shares a personal journey that is as American as the proverbial apple pie. The album is dedicated to the artist’s ancestors in recognition of their struggles as well as to her children in hopes that dreams for a better future can become their reality.
This beautiful sound of this album is the result of work of Producer Dan Merceruio and Executive Producer Collin J. Rae along with Daniel Shores and David Angell. The lovely photography is by Rik Keller and as with the previous release Skylark: Crossing Over (reviewed here) the graphic design by Caleb Nei deserves special mention for its ability to truly complement this disc.
It is scheduled for release on October 28, 2016.
A shamanic effort to raise consciousness and further socially progressive ideas.
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.
Let me start here with a confession: I have never been a real big fan of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. However I am a huge fan of Jennifer Koh and of Cedille Records in their intelligent productions which place music like this in a more proper context. The usual pairings of this concerto with Brahms or Beethoven only seem to highlight the distinct difference in style rather than a context more conducive to the appreciation of the music. Another problem with Tchaikovsky is that his reputation tends to hang on the 1812 Overture, the Violin Concerto, the first Piano Concerto and the last three Symphonies. He wrote a lot more than that (including ten operas and three string quartets).
Now with that bit of whining out of the way let’s take a look at the recording at hand. Jennifer Koh is one of the shining lights of contemporary violin soloists and that alone should be sufficient recommendation to listen to any of her recordings or performances. She holds a special place in this reviewer’s heart for her attention and expertise with contemporary music and for having performed the solo violin part in the most recent production of Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach. In costume with a shaggy wig she brought new and highly virtuosic life to that obbligato violin part.
It is her virtuosity and her perspective as one of the more recent generations of artists to wield this classic string instrument that holds the main interest here. The Tchaikovsky concerto has been the darling of all the great violinists from Heifetz and Kreisler to Milstein and Stern. I suppose that every violinist must confront this work at some point and it is a genuine challenge as well as a showpiece for virtuosity.
The other works on this disc (which are presented chronologically) are the Serenade Melancolique Op. 26 (1875), the Valse-Scherzo Op. 34 (1877) followed by the Concerto Op. 35 (1878) and finally the Souvenir d’un lieu cher Op. 42 (1878, originally for violin and piano orchestrated by Alexander Glazounov and published in 1896). Hearing this concerto in the context of the composer’s other works for violin and orchestra does more clearly delineate the composer’s process.
In addition to providing a complete accounting of Tchaikovsky’s violin and orchestra music listeners are able to hear the interpretation by this wonderful artist. Indeed she does truly grasp the grand romantic sweep of the concerto and the more intimate shorter works. Let me say too that if you like the concerto you will also find much delight in the shorter works which frame it on this disc. Her virtuosity shines and Koh’s ability to handle romantic as well as modern repertoire certainly mark her as a versatile modern master.
Of course one can’t miss the powerful contribution of the orchestra in considering these performances. The Odense Symphony Orchestra (Denmark) is absolutely stunning in its clarity and drive. The conductor Alexander Vedernikov is of Russian musical royalty (both his parents were accomplished musicians) and was the conductor of the Bolshoi from 2001-2009. He is definitely a name to follow and his feel for this music of his homeland is most genuine and exciting.
This truly excellent recording is produced by Grammy winning veteran producer Judith Sherman. Session engineering is by Viggo Mangor with post-production and editing respectively by Bill Maylone and Jeanne Velonis. Audiophiles might even want to have this disc for the sound alone. It’s that good.
This tasty little disc of world premieres commissioned through grants to Cedille Records in Chicago consists of new works which celebrate the culture of the Sephardim, the Jews of southwestern Europe, primarily Spain. It both memorializes and resurrects the rich music of this all but lost culture. In the last few years we have seen a growing interest in this culture through settings of texts in the original Ladino language as well as in the melodies which sprang from their folk traditions.
The Cavatina Duo consists of Eugenia Moliner, flute and Denis Agabagic, guitar. Moliner is originally from Spain and Agabagic is originally from Yugoslavia (now Bosnia-Herzegovina) and they are husband and wife. Both have a strong interest in the folk musics of their respective cultures and in exploring other folk music cultures. Their previous album for Cedille, The Balkan Project, similarly demonstrates their affection and scholarship for the cultures of that region of the world.
Five composers were commissioned for this project: Alan Thomas (1967- ), Joseph V. Williams II (1979- ), Carlos Rafael Rivera (1970- ), David Leisner (1953- ) and Clarice Assad (1978- ). This is one of those wonderful crowd funded efforts through Kickstarter.
Thomas’ contribution adds a cello (played by David Cunliffe) to the mix for this Trio Sephardi in three movements each of which is based on a traditional Sephardic song. The piece makes good use of the vocal qualities of the songs quoted and the lyrics seem to exist as a subtext even though they are not sung here.
Isabel by Joseph V. Williams is a sort of homage to Isabel de los Olives y López, a Sephardic woman who lived during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. She outwardly converted to Catholicism but lived secretly as a Jew. One can hardly miss the sad irony of this tale of religious intolerance from the 15th century and its relevance for today. This piece is based on a resistance song which masquerades as a love song, again a metaphor for our times. It is scored for flute and guitar.
We move again into the realm of the trio, this time with violin (played by Desiree Ruhstrat), for this piece by Carlos Rafael Rivera called, “Plegaria y Canto”. This is the most extensive single movement amongst all the works on the disc and is a deeply affecting and dramatic piece for which the composer’s notes provide insights.
The last two pieces utilize the forces of the Avalon Quartet for whom this is their second appearance on the Cedille label. Their first disc, Illuminations, was released last year. They are currently in residence at Northwestern University and Cedille does a great job of promoting the work of talented Chicago area musicians.
Love and Dreams of the Exile is David Leisner‘s poignant contribution. Its three movements tell an aching tale of love, pain and, ultimately, transcendence.
Clarice Assad is a Brazilian composer too little known in the U.S. She is indeed related to the famed Assad family of musicians and she clearly has as abundant a talent. Her Sephardic Suite concludes this program with this three movement essay on love and relationships.
Bill Maylone is the engineer with editing by Jean Velonis and the executive producer is James Ginsburg. Photography of the Alhambra Palace by Maureen Jameson graces the cover. Design is by Nancy Bieshcke.
This is music of an oppressed culture and it is tempting to look upon the creative impetus which oppression sometimes seems to provide but the message here is one of sadness and nostalgia but also of hope. It is perhaps a tribute to the ultimate triumph over said oppression even if it took 500 years. There is some comfort and healing to be had from the celebration of this lost culture and that is the triumph of this disc.
William Ballard Doggett, better known as Bill Doggett was born in Philadelphia in 1916 and was introduced to music by his church pianist mother. He played in a combo while still in high school and went on to work with a plethora of stars in rock, jazz, rhythm and blues amassing a string of hits but, sadly, seems to have barely been noticed on this the 100th anniversary of his birth. Where is NPR at a time like this?
Well, all is not lost. Fortunately his nephew and namesake Bill Doggett is doing justice to the memory of this important American musician. This younger Doggett is an archivist, lecturer, curator, strategic marketer, photographer, filmmaker, and arts advocate (his website is well worth your time). I am hardly as well prepared to provide more than an overview of this musician’s work but I feel obliged to do my small part in recognizing this man’s work.
Promotional poster for the September 28, 2016 centennial celebration curated by nephew and namesake, Bill Doggett.
Doggett’s list of chart singles:
“Be-Baba-Leba” (vocal by Helen Humes) (Philo/Aladdin 106) 1945 (#3 R&B)
“Moon Dust” 1953 (#18 R&B)
“Early Bird” 1953 (#21 R&B)
“No More In Life” 1953 (#20 R&B)
“High Heels” 1954 (#15 R&B)
“Honky Tonk, Part 1″/”Honky Tonk, Part 2” (King 4950) 1956 (#1(14) R&B/#2(3) Pop)
“Slow Walk” (King 5000) 1956 (#4 R&B/#19 Pop)
“Ram-Bunk-Shush” (King 5020) 1957 (#4 R&B)
“Soft” 1957 (#11 R&B)
“Leaps And Bounds, Part 1″/”Leaps And Bounds, Part 2” (King 5101) 1958 (#13 R&B)
“Blip Blop” 1958 (#11 R&B)
“Hold It!” (King 5149) 1958 (#3 R&B)
“Rainbow Riot, Part 1″/”Rainbow Riot, Part 2” (King 5159) 1959 (#15 R&B)
“Monster Party” (King 5176) 1959 (#27 R&B)
“Yocky Dock, Part 1″/”Yocky Dock, Part 2” (King 5256) 1959 (#30 R&B)
Bill Doggett photographed in France in 1980 by Lionel Decoster (from Wikipedia article)
The Hammond Organ is known for being the workhorse of modern classical as well as rock, rhythm and blues and jazz. It was Bill Doggett who became one of the early masters of this (then new) electronic instrument. While he was also a highly competent pianist, it was with the Hammond Organ that he had his greatest success. There is little doubt that his playing has influenced subsequent musicians who took on this instrument.
Here’s hoping that astute musicians and producers will take on the task of recognizing the work of the late great Bill Doggett. Toward that end here, from Wikipedia, is a discography of his work:
10 inch LPs
Bill Doggett: His Organ And Combo, Volume 1 King 295-82 (1954)
Bill Doggett: His Organ And Combo, Volume 2 King 295-83 (1954)
All Time Christmas Favorites King 295-89 (1954)
Sentimentally Yours King 295-102 (1955)
12 inch LPs (on King Records)
Moon Dust King 395-502 (1956)
Hot Doggett King 395-514 (1956)
As You Desire Me King 395-523 (1956)
Everybody Dance The Honky Tonk King 395-531 (1956)
Dame Dreaming With Bill Doggett King 395-532 (1957)
A Salute To Ellington King 533 (1957)
The Doggett Beat For Dancing Feet King 557 (1957)
Candle Glow King 563 (1958)
Swingin’ Easy King 582 (1958)
Dance Awhile With Doggett King 585 (1958)
12 Songs Of Christmas [reissue of King 295-89 plus 6 additional tracks] King 600 (1958)
Hold It! King 609 (1959)
High And Wide King 633 (1959)
Big City Dance Party King 641 (1959)
Bill Doggett On Tour [this is NOT a live album] King 667 (1959)
For Reminiscent Lovers, Romantic Songs By Bill Doggett King 706 (1960)
Back With More Bill Doggett King 723 (1960)
The Many Moods Of Bill Doggett King 778 (1962)
Bill Doggett Plays American Songs, Bossa Nova Style King 830 (1963)
Impressions King 868 (1963)
The Best Of Bill Doggett [compilation] King 908 (1964)
Bonanza Of 24 Songs [compilation] King 959 (1966)
Take Your Shot King 1041 (1969)
Honky Tonk Popcorn King 1078 (1970)
The Nearness Of You King 1097 (1970)
Ram-Bunk-Shush [compilation] King 1101 (1970)
Sentimental Mood [compilation] King 1104 (1970)
Soft [compilation] King 1108 (1970)
14 Original Greatest Hits [compilation; reissued as ‘All His Hits’] King-Starday 5009 (1977)
Charles Brown: PLEASE COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS [this vocal album includes 4 instrumental tracks by Bill Doggett] King-Starday 5019 (1978)
12 inch LPs (on other labels)
3,046 People Danced ‘Til 4 A.M. To Bill Doggett [this is a live album] Warner Bros. WS-1404 (1961)
The Band With The Beat! Warner Bros. WS-1421 (1961)
Bill Doggett Swings Warner Bros. WS-1452 (1962)
Rhythm Is My Business (Ella Fitzgerald with Bill Doggett) Verve V6-4056 (1962)
Oops! The Swinging Sounds Of Bill Doggett Columbia CL-1814/CS-8614 (1962)
Prelude To The Blues Columbia CL-1942/CS-8742 (1962)
Finger-Tips Columbia CL-2082/CS-8882 (1963)
Wow! ABC-Paramount S-507 (1964)
Honky Tonk A-La-Mod! Roulette SR-25330 (1966)
The Right Choice After Hours/Ichiban 4112 (1991) Note: this is Bill’s last recorded album of original material; also released on CD.
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.
Sono Luminus continues their dedication to high quality performances and recordings of a wide variety of music from the 20th and 21st centuries. In this lovely disc we are treated to a great deal of interesting and very listenable a capella choral music from the mid-twentieth century to the present.
It is this reviewer’s perception that a capella choral music is somewhat of an outlier in the classical music field and is generally not as well known as solo instrumental, orchestral, chamber music and such. (Band music is a similarly neglected area which is not frequently explored by many composers and not as familiar to audiences.) It is not an area very familiar to me but this recording appears to be one that can expand this niche considerably by virtue of the sheer beauty of these recordings.
There are eight pieces by seven composers of varying levels of familiarity. The most familiar names here are those of the late John Tavener (1944-2013) and William Schuman (1910-1992). (Schuman was also no stranger to writing for band music.) Some listeners may have heard of Jon Leifs (1899-1968), an Icelandic composer who should definitely be better known. (Curiously the only comprehensive information available in English on this composer is in Wikipedia.)
The disc opens with Elegy (2013) by Daniel Elder. It is the only piece which features soloists and is a touching piece which demonstrates the composer’s skill with this specialized genre.
Butterfly Dreams (2002) by John Tavener is a series of eight choral meditations based on Chuang Tse known for his “…Am I a man dreaming he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he is a man?”. Tavener’s work has pushed the solo choral genre more to the mainstream than nearly any composer of the last 50 years and this piece is a good example of how he has managed to do this. Tavener’s inspiration comes in part from the choral styles of eastern rite church music, a rich and sonorous sound.
Otche Nash by Nicolai Kedrov is apparently a classic in sacred music circles. In Latin this would be Pater Noster and in English, Our Father. This is a beautiful setting of the classic Christian Prayer.
Requiem (1947) by Jon Leifs is based on Icelandic folk poetry. It was written in response to his grief at the loss of his daughter who drowned at the age of 18. While not exactly representative of Leifs’ modern style it is a good example of the power of his invention in this heartfelt homage. This is perhaps the composer’s best known work.
Heliocentric Meditation by Robert Vuichard is another example of the deep knowledge of the specialized techniques available to composers in this genre. Vuichard appears to be a niche choral composer and one who has considerable skill. There is a rather modernist feel to this powerful meditation.
William Schuman’s Carols of Death (1958) is a sort of modern classic which has been recorded many times. There are three movements, each on a separate track. It is curious how well these pieces fit in style with the rest of the disc given the date of composition.
Beyond the Veil (2005) is a setting by Anna Thorvaldsdottir of an old Icelandic psalm. It is a prayer which is, in part, a meditation on death. The composer has a mystical/impressionistic style that suits this music particularly well.
Funeral Ikos (1981) by John Tavener is definitely a modern classic. This piece pretty much marks the beginning of the change from his early modernist style to the sort of “holy minimalist” (if you will) style that followed his conversion to and immersion in eastern rite sacred music.
Skylark is a chamber choir (five voices to each part, SATB) and this is their second album. They were formed in 2011 and are under the direction of Matthew Guard.
This review is basically about the music but I have to say that this is also one of the most beautiful booklets I have seen. It is short on info about the music but the photography and graphic design by Collin J. Rae and Caleb Nei deserve special recognition as well. Each page features a photograph and texts of these pieces are tastefully printed across the photos. This really enhances the experience and seems to be in harmony with the overall production.
Dan Mercurio, producer, has definitely made something special here and one hopes that this will help promote this compositional and performance niche to a more common experience and will encourage composers to write for a capella choir as well. Daniel Shores is the recording and mastering engineer. I am unable to assess the DVD audio and can only imagine how it must sound. The CD itself is amazing to hear.
For an album ostensibly about death there is great joy and beauty to be found here. Highly recommended, and not just to fans of choral music.