There were no percussion ensembles in Western music until the early twentieth century, at least not anything close to the size and instrumental diversity we see now, but since then there have been a variety of percussion ensembles which have popped up. some touring, some recording, but all investigating the possibilities of this collection of pitched and unpitched instruments. Notable examples from this writer’s memory include the Paul Price Percussion Ensemble, the Donald Knaack Percussion Ensemble, Amadinda, and the Canadian group, “Nexus”. Each of these ensembles (the list is not comprehensive) has put their own stamp on the flexibly nebulous group subsumed under the title, “Percussion Ensemble”.
All of these groups have chosen which instruments to include in their group, which to exclude, and they have done their own curation of music to expand their respective repertoires and the percussion group repertoire as a whole. And the present recording presents yet another Third Coast Percussion CD on Cedille Records for this busy Chicago based group. The relationship between this energetic ensemble and the equally energetic Cedille Records has been a mutually beneficial one artistically. this release is the fifth release for that label. They have at least nine other albums as a group and have collaborated on many more recordings.
As noted on the album this disc contains all world premiere recordings that reflect varying degrees of collaboration. One of the unifying threads of this CD is the variety of compositional approaches. The Elfman piece being perhaps the most traditionally notated and structured. The others involve different compositional methods which are not exactly traditional in classical music. It is the exploration of such non-traditional methods and the expansion of the definition of composition that is a characteristic of this always interesting classically trained group of musicians.
Let me just start by saying WOW!!!
The first work on the album is by Danny Elfman (1953- ) is best known for his work in movies and television as the composer of “The Simpsons” theme and similarly energetic scores for Tim Burton’s films among others. His roots were in his work with the unusual pop band “Oingo Boingo” whose manic style is still present in much of Elfman’s work. And this is not his first appearance in this new music blog either. His Violin Concerto was reviewed here. He manages to succeed in pop, film, and the concert hall, a feat that few can match.
Elfman’s rather blandly named, Percussion Quartet (2019) is appropriately described in the liner notes as the most conventional work here in terms of how it was written. It is fully notated in in traditional notation and consists of four movements ranging in length from about 4 minutes to about 6 and a half. The work resembles traditional sonata forms with Elfman’s energetic and sometimes quirky melodies that successfully draw the listener through the composer’s journey. That bland title is almost ironic as it belies the really entertaining qualities of this piece. Third Coast’s realization is definitive as one would hope for a world premiere recording.
The second composition is a transcription by Third Coast of a popular Philip Glass piano work, “Metamorphosis No. 1.” But this is a transcription influenced by another transcription, that of the Brazilian group, “Uakti”. So this can be said to be tantamount to a collaboration with another performing ensemble. Clocking in at nearly ten minutes this track is a familiar interlude that cleanses the aural pallet for what is to come.
And what does come next is a collaboratively composed seven movement work entitled, “Perspective”. This more poetic title is the source of the album’s title. This work by Jlin (Jerrilynn Patton 1987- ) was originally written by first recording multiple tracks or layers and then working with the musicians of Third Coast to transcribe these ideas into traditional notation and into a form playable by the quartet of percussionists. This, of course, resembles the methodology that brought forth the wonderful Devonte Hynes album (also on Cedille) reviewed here.
The music is arguably entirely composed by Jlin with the orchestration creatively realized by Third Coast Percussion (doubtless in direct discussion with Jlin). What results is a dizzying and energetic set of movements whose styles derive in part from minimalism and from the rhythmic complexities of African drumming and contemporary dance music. Jlin, who hails from Gary, Indiana, works from a perspective of a DJ spinning dance music. But this is hardly your typical DJ. This is a fascinating musical mind who just happened to have started with DJ equipment.
Another example of Third Coast Percussion’s creative collaborations has resulted in “Rubix”, a three movement work written (mostly) by Flutronix, a genre busting duo. Flutronix is Nathalie Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull, both classically trained flautists who aren’t afraid to cross dated boundaries to create music that speaks their minds.
This is some high energy music which reflects a variety of styles but always demands much from all players involved. The duo, whose rendition of Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” demonstrates their virtuosity and interpretive rigor. Rubix is essentially a chamber work for flutes and percussion but their defiance of categories seems to be as much a critical element of their music as is their virtuosity. Bottom line is that this is engaging, creative work that leaves the listener wanting more even as they may be unsure what they just heard. Kudos, all!
William Robin is a musicologist whose credentials (nicely enumerated on his web site) are more than adequate to the task at hand. This is a socioeconomic and political perspective on the seminal Bang on a Can organization. At its core, Bang on a Can is the foundational work of three people now recognized as major American composers: Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon, all of whom met as students at Yale University.
This is the (much needed) first book on the history of the collaboration of these composers and how their work helped transform and move ahead the new music scene. First in New York, then nationally, and now internationally these individuals experimented and embraced innovative ideas while navigating the labyrinth of of social, political and economic hurdles involved in the production and promotion of non-pop new music. Therein lies the “agony” referenced in my title. This essential background information makes for some slow going reading but also serves to demonstrate how daunting their task has been.
The book documents the early efforts both to define their concepts and to learn the politics of the new music economy. But, painful as they are, these efforts are ultimately instructive for anyone involved in the production of new music. This reader comes away with a new found respect for those who wrangle with the varied and complex elements behind the production of concerts in general, and new music in particular. It is “how the sausage is made” so to speak. And it is a useful perspective for the average listener to better understand the incredible complexity of new music production and promotion.
The book is divided into 7 chapters and an epilogue which focuses not just on the trials and tribulations of the gestation of Bang on a Can but also its context among several other new music initiatives that preceded BOC. Meet the Composer, New Music America, and the New York Philharmonic’s New Horizons Festival loomed large in their time and the “downtown” loft scene which nurtured the likes of Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Rhys Chatham, etc. contributed to the promotion of new music during their respective eras.
Robin identifies the innovative efforts by BOC in their use of marathon open air concerts to showcase their innovative programming which effectively blurred the lines of genres like jazz, free jazz, classical, pop, rock, etc. But their challenges were essentially the some, the politics of concert production, funding, advertising, etc. They characterized their efforts in contrast to the economically dominant Lincoln Center. The evolution of BOC from its beginnings through the establishment of the Bang on a Can All Stars touring ensemble, the establishment of a record label (Cantaloupe) and their later performances at Lincoln Center, the stodgy institution against which they railed dubbing their music as “downtown” as an alternative to the “uptown” mainstream. There is the beginnings of a history of new music in recordings that remains to be written but the point here is context and the socioeconomic and political motivations involved.
Author William Robin does his work well in this academic tome which is richly annotated and referenced with a bibliography to take the interested reader to a wealth of information on new music and its production. And while this is more about “how the sausage is made” so to speak, it is a necessary exposition which provides both history and context, something to think about the next time you buy a ticket to hear new music. Admittedly its not a pretty picture but it certainly illuminates the side of new music virtually unknown to the average listener.
While this reader had hoped for more information on the music performed (which deserves a book unto itself) this book takes its place alongside Tom Johnson”s “The Voice of New Music”, Kyle Gann’s “Downtown Music”, Renee Levine Packer’s wonderful history of the Buffalo New Music scene, “This Life of Sounds”, Benjamin Piekut’s “Experimentalism Otherwise”, George Lewis’ “A Power Stronger than Itself”, Luciano Chessa’s “Luigi Russolo, Futurist”, and David Bernstein’s “The San Francisco Tape Music Center” (to name a few) as an essential history of new music.
Jacob Greenberg will be a name familiar to many primarily for his essential role as the keyboard artist in ICE, one of those fine New York based new music ensembles that can play just about anything. At one time composers were forming their own ensembles to play the strange and difficult music they were writing (Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Steve Martland to name a few). Now ensembles like ICE are ready made, able to provide a flexible instrumentation and, with each musician, a stunning level of technical competence and a true affinity for the music of now.
Mr. Greenberg here is one of those multitasking, technically refined artists whose curatorial ear makes him an artist you need to have on your radar. In an earlier blog post I reviewed his solo (mostly) piano release Hanging Gardens in which he created an insightful contextualization by the choices of repertoire he made for the album. In response to this review he sent me a copy of this, the latest of his solo piano (mostly) projects.
The context of this album is of compositions all commissioned by Greenberg and written for him over the span of 2013-2019. It is a marvelously diverse collection which speaks to the wide scope of his interests and skills as well as the range of personal relationships he cultivates with other musicians.
The disc begins with music by probably the best known composer on this release, Japanese composer Dai Fujikura (1977- ). White Rainbow (2016) is a sort of tone poem for harmonium evoking the visual atmospheric phenomenon of a “fogbow” or “white rainbow”. It has an impressionistic feel much like Debussy. This is followed by the more experimental “Bright Codes” (2015-2018) for piano, four pieces which can be played in any order, but with the caveat that they be played without pause.
The next 5 tracks are dedicated to the 2018 “Funf Worte” (Five Words) by Amy Williams, five miniatures, each exploring a single German word. The piece is for harmonium and voice and the voice is the wonderful new music soprano, Tony Arnold. This is followed by a much larger piece for solo piano, “Cineshape 4” (2016) developed after the structure of the film “Run, Lola, Run” (1998). this virtuosic piece starts three times, each time developing differently analogously to said film.
“The Memory of Now” (2021) by IONE. This is a work for harmonium and voice. This time the voice is of the composer IONE, poet, dramatist, musician, playwright, and life partner of the late, great Pauline Oliveros. The piece has improvisational, indeterminate elements which require the performer(s) to listen to internal and external sounds.
The album ends with two large and powerful pieces by Nathan Davis. “Ghostlight” (2013) and “Seedling” (2019). Ghostlight is for “lightly prepared piano” and evokes the ambiance of those small single lights that shines on a darkened stage when the theater is closed. The preparations hep produce the ghostly microtones and gong-like sounds.
This sampling of some of the latest in contemporary composition reflects the use of extended instrumental and vocal techniques. It also makes use of experimental compositional techniques that demand deep involvement of the musicians in the execution of the music in ways that diverge from the conventional classical music paradigm. And it is the expansion of old paradigms that are ultimately what makes Greenberg and his ICE colleagues so compelling.
William Susman (1960- ) may not be a household name but, since my first encounter (purely by chance) with this man’s work I have heard, enjoyed, and reviewed several fascinating CDs of chamber music and film music which demonstrate a significant musical voice with some mighty substantial compositions. I don’t know how Mr. Susman feels about being called a “minimalist” but that is the most useful way I can convey with words his musical style. That much used word is a sort of catch all for what is in fact a plethora of compositional styles based in some basic, though hardly rigid, set of practices like static harmonies and repetition.
There are, as of this writing, four books of Quiet Rhythms (2010, 2010, 2012, 2013), each book contains 22 pieces further divided into 11 “Prologues” followed by 11 “Actions”. While I have only the vaguest idea of what processes the composer uses in these works (Book I at least) sounds to these ears like music which should share company with the likes of Terry Riley’s “Two Keyboard Studies” (1965), William Duckworth’s “Time Curve Preludes” (1977-78), Jeroen van Veen’s “Minimal Preludes” (four books1999-2013), Philip Glass’ “Etudes” (two volumes1994-2012). Spiritually they share a kinship with antecedents such as Bartok’s “Mikrokosmos” (six volumes1926-1939), and, ultimately I suppose, Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” (1722-1742). Yes, these are a diverse set of works for comparison, but to my ears they seem to share attempts to codify and/or experiment with their respective materials. They are the composers’ working out of their ideas.
And, in a delightful coincidence the pianist chosen to interpret these works is none other than Nicolas Horvath, a name that has graced these pages numerous times since our first online meeting in about 2014. Horvath has become a sort of pied piper for minimalist composers. He has performed solo recitals lasting up to 35 hours including Philip Glass’ complete piano music, a solo rendition of Erik Satie’s “Vexations” (1893-94), whose 840 repetitions were first performed by a tag team of pianists helmed by John Cage (of course) in 1963. He has also recently recorded all the piano music of little known French minimalist composer Jean Catoire (1923-2005) and numerous other projects including his own original compositions and sound/art installations.
Horvath was born to play this music and Mr. Susman kindly informed me that he will indeed record the remaining three books. This musician’s curatorial radar is as unique as it is accurate. That is, he knows good music when he sees/hears it and he searches far and wide. He delivers loving and authoritative performances here. It is, after all, his métier.
Susman’s etudes are experimental only in the sense of a composer exploring his inspiration, transcribing the dictation of his muses. The title “Quiet Rhythms” is quite apt as these are really kind of soothing in their harmony and meandering developments. And, more importantly, they have the weight of substance.
Three of these have been recorded before and I’m pleased to say that the remaining 8 compositions are equal in quality to the ones I’d already heard. Each numbered piece is actually two pieces, a prologue of 90-120 seconds followed by a more complex sounding work using similar methods. At first I had wanted to write about each of the pieces but I found myself enraptured by the music and insufficiently skilled in musicology to do a respectable analysis of these works.
So I’ve chosen to simply say that these are fascinating and engaging pieces whose structure is very much secondary to the quality of the musical content. These are truly post minimal works with a much wider harmonic palette than its minimalist predecessors. The sound is quite rich and the pieces engage the listener transporting them to a powerful emotional experience. The music echoes Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley but they also are destined to share a place in the repertoire alongside similar works by William Duckworth, Jeroen van Veen, and Simeon ten Holt.
Horvath is truly in his element here and his performances are hypnotically engaging. I can’t imagine these works being done better but, that said, they are attractive concert pieces for adventuresome pianists to program. Above all these are listener friendly despite the feel that they are almost a sort of textbook or manifesto by the composer which describes in music his vision of minimalism/post-minimalism.
If you’re a fan of minimal/post-minimal music this is a must have. but beware and remember to budget for the forthcoming 3 discs. You will want them all.
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.
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.
I feel as though this artist is a personal discovery for me. Whilst surfing You Tube I found a series of his videos which greatly appealed to me and I contacted him via email. I learned that he was about to release his debut as a solo artist. The logistics of sending CDs by mail “across the pond” as the saying goes are fraught with financial and logistical hurdles so I was glad to find that he was releasing via Bandcamp, a music vendor and streaming service whose business model appeals more to me every day. This album is also available on Amazon music and probably other streaming sites as well.
Let me first issue a disclaimer, to wit: that I am an unreformed and unashamed Glass groupie whose live performances with his ensemble will doubtless comfort me well into my waning years. Those memories echo in my head even now.
“Dennis Weijers is a Dutch musician and composer. He followed a traditional education at the conservatories of Rotterdam and Enschede, and got in touch with experimental electroacoustic music after moving to Berlin. Dennis started to merge his accordion with electronics. Dennis works with a variety of instruments and gear (from accordions and modular synths up to a 1948 wire recorder, tape machines and more curiosities). In 2018 he did a concert series in which he performed the complete version of Philip Glass’ Glassworks. In 2021, his debut album Accordion + Modular Synthesizer was released.”
The present disc is apparently one of those “crowd sourced” deals which allows public funding for a given project not easily funded otherwise. I missed this project but I will be on board for his next release. So I delved into his online presence and found a young highly skilled man whose primary instrument is the accordion and whose interests take his composing and transcribing skills into the electroacoustic and sound installation realms. His choice of accordion as primary instrument puts him in the company of other innovators such as Pauline Oliveros, Guy Klucevsek, William Schimmel, Miloš Katanić, and others to whom I apologize for not naming here. Do click on his You Tube link (provided above) to get an idea of his creative foci. They include a excerpts from a couple of sound installation works as well as a bit of Terry Riley’s “Rainbow in Curved Air”.
But let’s get to the album at hand. This recently release contains a complete performance of Philip Glass’ “Glassworks” arranged for accordion and electronics. This could have been done purely as a recording but it seems clear that Weijers is enamored of live performance so these arrangements can be done live (which is apparently how he developed them).
The “Opening” begins with apparently with a brief section with (apparently to these ears) a lo fi/hi pass filter which sounds like a glitch and shortly morphs into a full spectrum sound for the rest of the performance. In fact compositional notions like glitch, sampling, looping, etc. appear strategically in other movements but I will leave that to the listener to discover. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a recomposition but rather a recasting in which the artist provides a context and uses a few effects judiciously providing a personal touch much as a painter signs a painting.
This faithful, loving rendition segues into the second movement, called “Floe”. For those who have heard Glass’ ensemble do this live (as I did in 1980) you will likely feel nostalgia. The experience is one of a good transcription of a familiar piece and the nostalgia likely comes from the life memories attached to that first hearing.
The third movement, “Islands” is a glorious minimalist slow movement which serves as much to relax the listener as it does to provide a significant contrast in anticipation of the next movement.
Movement 4, “Rubric” is a manic masterpiece which I recall playing so much that I wore out those grooves on my vinyl copy. Weijers really shows his interpretive musical chops here. He makes the piece rock and his rhythmic sensibility suggest a fondness and familiarity with jazz.
Movement 5, “Facades” is one of Glass’ early hits and, as I recall, was liked even by folks who didn’t like his other music. My recollection is that this piece had originally been written for the Godfrey Reggio film, “Koyaanisqatsi” but not used. Like any good composer does it was repurposed into the present multi-movement work. This movement triggers sadness with my nostalgia as I recall reveling in the beautiful playing of the now late Jon Gibson.
“Closing” is basically a reworking, an orchestration of the “Opening” section which kind of opens the door to inviting transcriptions. It is a full orchestration of what had been a solo piano piece at the beginning. Weijers seals the deal on nostalgia when he ends this movement by reintroducing that high pass filter and adding a little vinyl groove scratches at the fade out. That brought a bit of a tear to my eye.
I don’t know Weijers age but I doubt that he was even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes at the time I saw those performances but he has clearly absorbed this music this music completely and shows a deep love and affinity for it. It is a mark, perhaps of genius, that he frames his performance of the complete work with the lo fi/glitch at the opening and vinyl crackles at the end. It was a reminder to this age denying listener that this was indeed long ago. (Over 40 years).
The major work on this album is the following track. It is the performance (excerpted on You Tube) which first gave me that delightful twinge I feel when I believe I have discovered something new and meaningful. It was a performance of a too little known work by Steve Reich (Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards, 1979), another minimalist composer who was a frequent visitor to my turntable. The work, roughly contemporary with Glassworks, was only recorded once by the San Francisco Symphony under Edo De Waart, is an overlooked masterpiece.
It’s impossible to miss the Dutch connections with Glass (whose 1979 opera “Satyagraha” was commissioned by the city of Rotterdam) and the only recorded performance of Reich’s Variations performed by the prominent Dutch conductor Edo de Waart. Well now comes Mr. Weijers delivers a beautiful transcription and spectacular performance which very well might raise this work out of its languished state. At the very least this is a tribute to Reich.
It is wonderful to hear this Reich piece again. I have never heard it live and, as far as I know, Reich never attempted to recast it in a new orchestration (as he did with the “Octet” orchestrated and played more commonly now as “Eight Lines”). The point is that we have a younger generation encountering, appreciating, and celebrating what is now “old school” minimalism. Whether you are encountering these pieces for the first time or basking in the nostalgia of rediscovery through creative and dedicated new performances this is a truly auspicious debut of a musician who has given new life to music which clearly has endured and will likely continue to endure into further generations. Bravo, Mr. Weijers.
As if this weren’t enough the curious collector gets two extra bonus tracks if you download via Bandcamp. They are two brief pieces that provide a peek at Weijers’ other musical efforts. The first is a beautiful meditative tribute to minimalism, a gentle elegiac piece for accordion and electronics. The second, a collaboration with Koen Dijkman, a musician who appears on other releases along with Weijers. This piece has a more prog rock/improv feel.
If old school minimalism appeals to you or contemporary accordion, you will want to hear this album. But regardless I’m willing to bet that you will be hearing more from this wonderful artist. And I bristle with anticipation.
This is not a Philip Glass album. This is also not a tortured Magritte metaphor. It is a Maya Beiser album. Yes, she is playing her transcriptions of several of Philip Glass’ pieces: (Piano) Etude No. 5, Etude No. 2, Mad Rush, Music in Similar Motion, and four movements from Glass’ score to the third of Godfrey Reggio’s trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaaqatsi, Naqoyqatsi): Naqoyqatsi, Massman, New World, and Old World.
It was after my second hearing of the disc that it occurred to me that Beiser’s transcriptions for cello with electronic looping and layering are in fact her own recompositions of these works in her own image, so to speak. Think Stravinsky’s Tchaikovsky transcriptions in “The Fairy’s Kiss” or Henze’s reworking of Telemann in his Telemanniana (other examples abound). Of course Beiser is working on a smaller scale but she is recomposing these works from a very personal perspective much as those composers did. I had been expecting to not like this album but once heard…
Beiser, a founding and long time member of the Bang on a Can All Stars, cut an elegant figure even when she was at the back of that venerable performing ensemble (got to be good looking cuz she’s so hard to see?). She has always been a highly skilled and accomplished cellist and a thoughtful, intelligent musician. That is true of all the members of the All Stars who started as highly skilled musicians with an interest in new music. Beiser is certainly also a member of the “glam classical” musicians following in the traditions of performers like Nigel Kennedy, Yuja Wang and, well… back at least to Liberace and perhaps Chopin and Liszt. The appellation, “glam classical” is descriptive rather than pejorative in intent. The reality is that all the aforementioned artists remained fine musicians throughout their careers. An imposing physical presence, after all, does not necessarily detract from the music. Quite the opposite sometimes.
Amazon lists this release as Beiser’s 14th album and she comes out strong on all fronts. Her playing, her interpretive skills, and her arrangements make for a very strong, complex, but listenable album. The first two etudes will be familiar to most listeners and are perhaps the most methodical with clear structures though very different from the piano originals. “Mad Rush” (also originally a piano piece) and “Music in Similar Motion” (originally for the Philip Glass Ensemble) both come off as driving ritual symphonic pieces, thrilling new readings of the original compositions (Music in Similar Motion a personal favorite for this writer and this version really rocks). The last four excerpts from Naqoyqatsi are the most lyrical and easy listening works, but again Beiser creates the music in her own personal context, glamorous but authentic and with a warmth that lasts long after the last tones fade. Fabulous album!
As I write this I am seeing images of the 20th anniversary commemoration of the twin towers attack and can’t help being reminded of another of Robert Moran’s works designed for resonant spaces like cathedrals. His “Trinity Requiem” (2011), written for the 10th anniversary of this tragic event, was written for the space in which it was subsequently performed, Trinity Cathedral in New York. Its setting of Psalm 23 lingers in my head as I write. The present work was written for and performed within the Kollegienkirche in Salzburg, Austria.
These two very different works serve to demonstrate the range of Moran’s creative palette and his ability to use disparate techniques to achieve remarkably personal and effective results. In the Trinity Requiem we hear a composer using fairly conventional tonal harmonies but with the unusual orchestration of children’s chorus, organ, cellos, and harps. His compositional methods, his harmonies are friendly and familiar, sweet and poignant without being saccharine.
By contrast, in Buddha Goes to Bayreuth” (2011/14), the composer uses a chamber orchestra, chamber choir, and the distinctive sound of a countertenor. And the orchestral writing involves the use of chance operations of the Chinese classic text, I Ching. As he tells it in his liner notes, the composer had been introduced to the I Ching by his friend John Cage. What is most interesting is how Moran is able to use a Cagean technique to produce his desired result and come out sounding nothing at all like Cage. It is a mark of Moran’s skills that he is able to draw on a wide variety of compositional techniques and a thorough knowledge of the subtleties of orchestration to create a sound which achieves his compositional goals.
The second part of this work, as you can see from the track listing, is nearly twice the length of the first. The second part was composed in 2011 and the first part to fulfill the request for an evening length performance piece.
Stylistically this work has more in common with Moran’s earlier mystery play, “Game of the Antichrist” than it does with the Requiem, though both are designed to take advantage of the resonant spaces of the cathedrals in which they were performed. This work relies more on the randomized chords in which Moran utilizes aleatoric structures in a way that are uniquely his. He did something similar in one of the pieces on another album reviewed here, “Points of Departure“.
This Dada-like dramatic work is but one side of Moran’s stylistic output. His sonic toolbox ranges from aleatoric and graphic scores to unabashed romanticism, from Cagean chance operations to scary minimalism (as in the yet unreleased “Spin Again” from 1982) and post-romantic singable melodies as in “Towers of the Moon” and his collaboration with Philip Glass in “The Juniper Tree”. In the end he is one of America’s finest composers whose music deserves more hearings and rewards listeners for the effort.
Producer Philip Blackburn clearly has an affinity for Moran’s work and he deserves thanks for making much of the composer’s work available in fine recordings. The entire spectrum as described above is available on recordings right now on both the Innova and Neuma labels. Get them while you can.
This is another in this first volley of new releases from Neuma. Philip Blackburn did fine service by reissuing the out of print the wonderful Argo recordings of Moran’s works and released two new collections from this all too little heard American composers as well as the gorgeous Trintity Requiem (2011) on Innova Records. He now continues his advocacy of this composer in the release on Neuma of two new Moran recordings, The second, Buddha goes to Bayreuth (2015) will get its own review shortly.
The present disc consists of five works, only one of which (Points of Departure) has been recorded before. Composition dates range from 1973 to 2017. Moran’s work is widely eclectic reflecting his early study with Second Viennese composer Eric Apostel, his M.A. studies at (the now lamentably defunct) Mills College where he studied with Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud. HIs work ranges from graphic scores to post minimalist and post modern/neo-romantic styles doubtless influence at least in part by the various places he has lived (Vienna, Milan, Berlin, Portland, San Francisco, and Philadelphia where he now makes his home).
All of the works on this album are of the very listenable and sometimes unabashedly beautiful category. But these compositions belie the processes that underlie their structures and methods. What is most fascinating is Moran’s ability to use quasi aleatoric procedures (as in Star Charts and Travel Plans I) and produce results so gentle on the ear. This is a beautiful disc.
The all new recordings presented here begin with the titular Points of Departure (1993). It is a work for large orchestra which, according to Philip Gentry’s fine liner notes, is excerpted from a larger dance work. It is a rhythmic and exciting piece which demonstrates the composer’s mastery of the orchestra. One can easily imagine this accompanying choreography but it stands alone successfully as a concert piece.
The second track is Angels of Silence (1973) is seemingly anachronistic given it’s composition date when Moran’s output was arguably at it’s most experimental. Written during Moran’s time in San Francisco, it is one of a trilogy of works (between Messages from 1970 and Emblems of Passage from 1974). This trilogy followed on the heels of such grand experimental pieces as Thirty Nine Minutes for Thirty Nine Autos (1969) and Hallelujah (1971) for the city of Bethlehem, PA.
Here, despite the modernist use of chord charts for soloist and orchestra, we hear a very consonant piece which has an ethereal, gentle quality. To my ears it has much in common with the sound world of Stimmen Des Letzten Siegels(Voices of the Last Seal) (2001). The viola soloist, the Romanian-American Maria Rusu, handles her role beautifully with the university of Delaware Symphony Orchestra under the guidance of conductor James Allen Anderson. This writer’s fingers are crossed in the hopes of hearing the remaining two pieces of this trilogy in the near future.
Next up is the five movement Frammenti di un’ opera barocca perduta (2017). The title translates to something like “fragments of a lost baroque opera” and reflects Moran’s deep interest in early opera. The composer mentioned in an email exchange with this writer some years ago that he greatly enjoys listening to early baroque operas and this influence is in evidence here (in fact the texts he sets are texts from operas of this era). Scored for large orchestra with countertenor, a vocal artistry nearly extinct in the 20th and 21st centuries save for Philip Glass’ (with whom Moran collaborated in the fine fairy tale opera, The Juniper Tree) casting of the lead in his opera Akhnaten.
This gloriously lyrical suite can be sung by a soprano (and on first listen done before consulting program notes my guess was soprano) but it is sung as written by a truly fine vocal artist, Daniel Bubeck. The orchestral intro is followed by three arias (fast slow fast) followed by a brief orchestral epilogue. The piece is in some ways Moran’s Pulcinella, an homage to the past in the garb of the 21st century.
Star Charts and Travel Plans I (2016-17) is yet another example of the composer’s remarkable ability to use non-traditional notation to achieve his compositional goals. This rather meditative piece is very much in keeping with the overall sound of this fine release.
The disc ends with another vocal piece, Yahrzeit (2002-18), described by the composer as a “memory piece”. It has much in common emotionally with his wonderful Trinity Requiem (2011). Yahrzeit is a Jewish custom practiced on the annual celebration of the memory of the honored deceased. It is in memory of AIDS victim Michael Neal Sitzer whose life partner, poet James Skofield, wrote the beautiful text. Commissioned by friends of the couple, it was originally scored for male chorus and orchestra. It is presented here in a version for basso profundo, sung most movingly by Zachary James .
This is another major addition to the still too small discography of this great American composer. It is beautifully performed and recorded, a joy for fans of Moran’s work and a gift to listeners.
Watching the flowering career of this wonderful violinist has been both a joy and a labor. First, the labor: she is so consumed with projects that it is difficult to keep up sometimes. Second, the joy: All her projects and recordings are fascinating in concept and satisfying to the attuned listener’s ear and to her collaborators.
So it is with this marvelous 2 disc set from Cedille Records (now celebrating its 30th anniversary as one of the finest independent classical labels) which consists of duos with composers. She partners with a variety of up and coming composers in this varied but always interesting collection. These sincere and intimate collaborations exude quantum sparks of creative genius.
Eight composers and nine compositions span two discs demonstrating the Chicago native’s eclectic interests and marvelously collaborative nature. These compositions represent some of the cutting edge nature of her repertory choices as well as the respect earned from these composers.
It begins with The Banquet by Qasim Naqvi who is perhaps best known for his post minimalist acoustic group, Dawn of Midi. Here Naqvi works with a modular synthesizer utilizing that instrument’s quirks to create a sort of drone with minimalistic effects created by his exploitation of those quirks (this could even be classified as a species of glitch). Koh’s part interacts in ways that seem quasi improvisational, doubtless the product of close collaborative efforts.
Next are the lovely Sanctuary Songs by Lisa Bielawa, a fine singer whose solfege singing was for years part of the defining sound of the Philip Glass Ensemble. (Koh masterfully played the solo violin dressed in costume in the title role in the recent revival of Einstein on the Beach.) She comes to us on this disc as a both composer and singer in this lovely cycle.
Bielawa has developed her own compositional voice and this little song cycle is a fine example. Both voice and violin are given challenging roles in exploring this unusual combination of musical timbres. Bielawa compositional voice is entirely her own and her gift for it is evident in this and all that this writer has heard. The work is in three short movements.
Du Yun, whose astounding work was recently reviewed here is represented by her voice and violin duo, Give me back my fingerprints. The link on her name will take the curious listener through this composer’s amazing accomplishments but nothing can prepare the listener for the raw energy that characterizes her work.
Rapidly rising star Tyshawn Sorey uses his amazing ear to create this memoriam for one of his mentors, Muhal Richard Abrams. Sorey uses a glockenspiel as a counterpoint to Koh’s violin in this all too brief memorial piece written on the passing of AACM (a gaggle of brilliant musicians whose grouping reminds this writer of France’s “Le Six”, the “Russian Five”, and the early twentieth century “American Five”) founding member, a truly great composer, collaborator, and performer. The AACM was founded in Chicago.
I had the pleasure of meeting the genial and quick minded Sorey at OM 17. The link to my blog review is provided for the curious listener. The concert took place in 2012. Here is the shortcut to the Other Minds archival page. Sorey provides no liner notes perhaps because he has succeeded in saying everything he wanted to say in the music (Koh seems quite appropriately tuned in here.
Nina Young‘s Sun Propeller involves the composer on electronics which interact to some degree with the solo acoustic instrument to extend the range of what the audience hears from the violin. The title refers to the rays of sun one sees when the sun is behind a cloud and the sunbeams radiate out in glorious fashion. This serves as a metaphor for the process involved in the composition. But not to worry, the complexity does not hide the beauty of the music itself.
As if all the preceding weren’t enough there is a second disc continuing this collaboration. First up is another name new to this writer, Wang Lu . This Chinese American composer uses electronics alongside acoustic instruments in much of her work. Her digital sampling reflects the eclectic nature of her world comprising everything from Korean pop to Chinese opera and a host of environmental sounds. This piece also contains an opportunity for the composer to do some free improvisation as well as provide accompaniment to Koh’s violin part. It is a dizzying and mind manifesting experience.
Next up is Vijay Iyer. Iyer is perhaps best known as a jazz pianist and, as such, he is a fine example but his south Asian heritage doubtless has had an influence on him musically though that is but one aspect of his work. The American born Iyer, like many of his generation, mine their and our collective heritages as needed for inspiration. The present composition, “Diamond” also draws from his rich cultural background as it refers to the Buddhist Diamond Sutra and utilizes the structure of that religious parable to create the piece. It is probably the most conventional sounding work here but that tells the listener little given the wide ranging eclecticism. It is a piece which gives homage to jazz filtered through the experience and the person that is Vijay Iyer and, in this case, shared with the violinist.
The last composer is Missy Mazzoli, an established American composer. She is represented by two works, “A Thousand Tongues” and (the now Grammy nominated) “Vespers”. The composer provides accompaniment with piano and electronics. The first piece has more the ambiance of a pop song though an avant garde one. The last piece, the Vespers, feels deeper and more haunting. Both provide more than adequate writing to keep soloist Koh both busy and happy.
Indeed this album will keep the astute listener happy for its musical content, its progressive interest in new music, its wonderful soloist and beautiful sound.
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.
Third Coast Percussion is one of Chicago’s finest musical exports along with groups like Eighth Blackbird and doubtless others with whom I have less familiarity. Their deservedly Grammy winning album of music by Steve Reich was reviewed here. All percussion ensembles are somewhat the rage these days judging by the amount of such albums that come my way. Percussion instruments are common in eastern cultures but only really made its way into western ensembles in a big way in the last 100 years or so largely due to composers like John Cage and Lou Harrison studying music of other cultures and writing new music for both existing and newly invented percussion instruments.
Percussion is like the junk drawer of the orchestra in that any instrument which does not fit into the categories of strings, winds, or brass is handled by the percussionist. The taxi horns in Gershwin’s American in Paris are a good example. However what we have here is an ensemble entirely comprised of percussion instruments with some seriously virtuosic players here performing music written for them.
This two CD set from Orange Mountain Music contains five works by five composers. The first CD is dedicated to the largest work on this release, “Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities” by ensemble member David Skidmore. It is, at about 35 minutes, the longest piece in this collection and is virtually a symphony for percussion and electronics. It is in seven movements, each with a cryptic title no doubt related to the musical content. It is an engaging work of some complexity with fascinating writing for percussion instruments. Multiple close listens will reward you with details not immediately apparent and reveal some of the structure of this large work.
The second CD begins with a shorter work by ensemble member Peter Martin called “Bend”. It has the characteristics of an orchestral work using largely pitched percussion. It presents themes, develops them, and has a detectable harmonic structure. It is a showpiece for the musicians but it does communicate with the listener.
Next up is Philip Glass in his first all percussion work, “Perpetulum” (2018) has four movements and clocks in at about 25 minutes. This is music by a seasoned composer, not the experimental music of his earlier years (which hooked this listener) but rather a recognizable and comfortably familiar style with some really nice writing for percussion. Glass has frequently used percussion of various sorts in his works but this is the first thing he has written entirely for percussion ensemble. It is an audience pleaser and a challenge to the musicians.
This is followed by a work by another member of the group Robert Dillon. “Ordering-Instincts” (2018) is cast in one movement it is a relatively brief (7min approx) piece which successfully challenges the players and entertains the audience. It also seems to provide a nice segue to the final cut.
The disc concludes with a major percussion work by British minimalist Gavin Bryars. “The Other Side of the River” (2018) is a commission by Third Coast Percussion and is a valuable addition to Bryars gentle, pensive oeuvre. For this listener this piece is the highlight of this collection. Bryars is at his best in his meditative mood. Sinking of the Titanic and Farewell to Philosophy come to mind as similarly relaxing and thoughtful. This is a big piece and well worth the journey of listening.
Bryars at the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco, 2016 (Creative Commons license by Allan J. Cronin)
This CD set is a massive undertaking and a fine production illustrating the range of compositional interests of Third Coast Percussion as well as their own compositional chops. It is also a great sounding recording. Very well done.
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!!
I first encountered the composer William Susman (1960- ) when one of his works appeared on a program which included a solo cello and electronics piece by Vivian Fung. This solo electroacoustic piece, the work I was initially asked to review, was nestled in the middle of an interesting program by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. I chose to review the entire concert which was a fascinating selection of new music. William Susman’s “In a State of Patterns” (2018) struck me immediately as interesting post-minimalist work.
Mr. Susman read my review and rather promptly sent me this 2014 CD on his Belarca label. It contains four of his works from 1992-2010 and is a fine sampling of his work. All works are here performed by the Octet Ensemble which includes: Alan Ferber, trombone; Mike Gurfield, trumpet; Melissa Hughes, vocals; Elaine Kwon, piano; Eleonore Oppenheim, double bass; Demetrius Spaneas, saxophone; Greg Zuber, drums and percussion; and William Susman, electric piano.
There are four pieces on 12 tracks. The disc begins with Camille (2010), a very listenable post-minimal chamber work. It is followed by a melancholy song cycle, Scatter My Ashes (2009) on poems by the composer’s sister Sue Susman.
The third piece is a wonderful piano concerto. There are not a lot of convincing concertos in the minimalist genre but this one is a candidate for being a poster child. It is for piano with chamber ensemble. Here the composer goes not for the finger busting virtuosity that seems to be the current vogue but rather he evokes a latter day Mozart with more technically modest but highly entertaining music that communicates directly. Curiously (is this a carry over from the Steve Reich and/or The Philip Glass Ensemble?) he uses a wordless vocal (Hughes) as a part of the instrumental texture. Elaine Kwon handles the featured keyboard part. It works very well.
He ends with an arrangement for OCTET of Moving in to an Empty Space (1992, arr 2010), another setting of his sister’s lovely poetry. Again he evokes the somber but it is more in the nature of exorcising the demons of sadness much like the mission of the poet.
The arrestingly beautiful portrait that graces the cover of this album should be enough of a cover to judge this release favorably. Just the presence of these two women suggests that you’re in for some serious music making. Add to that the fact that this is one of those impeccable Cedille releases and you know that you, the listener, will not be disappointed. Here is another offering for Women’s History Month (even though the disc was released in November, 2018).
Kaija Saariaho (1952- ) is possibly the hottest composer to come out of Finland since Sibelius. Her career has steadily grown and she has written for chamber ensemble, stage, and orchestra. It is somehow satisfying to have this little portrait of her work. (This reviewer’s first encounter with the composer was in 1987 when the Kronos Quartet premiered her Nymphea for string quartet and electronics.) Five works are selected here and, if you don’t know this composer’s work, think Debussy, Takemitsu, and their ilk. No electronics on this disc though. Her work is a unique expression and pretty much listener friendly whether or not she uses electronics.
There are four chamber music pieces and a nice new performance of her masterful violin concerto, “Graal Théâtre”. Saariaho is so prolific such that one can only do a sort of “snapshot” selection of her work on a single CD. A decent retrospective would likely require several more discs.
Jennifer Koh is without doubt one of the finest violinists working today, especially in contemporary music. She even broke ground in one of the coolest blind castings in contemporary performance playing Einstein in Glass’ opera, “Einstein on the Beach”. For those who are unfamiliar the role of Einstein requires a violinist wearing a wig who plays some mighty difficult violin music at different points during the opera. This writer heard her in performance of this role at the revival in Berkeley a few years ago and it is a mark of Koh’s expertise that she made the role her own. Her range (which includes more conventional repertoire like Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc.) is simply astounding and her technical ability puts her in competition for an ever growing list of commissions and other works she has added to her repertoire.
On this CD we get to hear Koh in the intimate settings of chamber music where the skills of listening to others is so critical as the individual voices weave their parts though the texture. While Saariaho is basically a well trained modernist romanticism and perhaps impressionism still remain a part of her palette. Joining Koh in the chamber pieces are: Nicholas Hodges, piano; Hsin Yun Huang, viola; Wilhelmina Smith, cello; Anssi Karttunen, cello;
Of course the big showpiece here is the violin concerto from 1994. This large scale work is actually as lucid and detailed as her chamber music, albeit with a larger range of sounds. It is a masterful composition and this appears to be the second recording it has received though apparently the first recording of the version with reduced orchestra played by the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble conducted by Conner Gray Covington (another reason to want this album). I wasn’t able to locate the other recording with Gidon Kremer but it is a good sign when you have more than one top soloist recording your work. Brava Ms. Koh and Ms. Saariaho! This is a collaboration blessed by the Gods. Saariaho x Koh = bliss.
Let me start with an apology. I received this lovely CD digitally, that is, I had to download it, catalog it (so I don’t lose it), download a picture file, burn a CD, listen and write a review. OK, by now most readers have recognized the whine of a pre-millenial grappling with changes in the music distribution system. The bottom line and the reason for the apology? It took me a bit longer to process this submission.
Now let’s get down to the main reason for writing this, the CD itself. Miloš Katanić (1991- ) is a musician who hails from eastern Europe and is just beginning to gain international recognition. This, as far as I can tell is his first release. It consists of twelve short tracks representing ten composers of which this writer is able to recognize three, Philip Glass, Gene Pritsker, and Robert Moran.
Now just a bit about accordions. This writer’s understanding of accordions is that they are a group of instruments which use reeds to generate sound and a bellows to compress air to vibrate those reeds. Sounds like an organ, right? Well, the concept is basically the same only with an accordion (and with those foot pumped organs once popular), the wind is generated by the operator of the instrument.
The accordion certainly has a history in its folk band origins. It is a rather maligned instrument whose provenance fails to connect it to “respectable” instruments such as one would find in an orchestra (though it has had an occasional appearance in orchestras beginning in the late 19th century.
In the mid to late twentieth century several very serious and talented musicians took up this instrument and forever changed the public’s perception. In order by age I am speaking of Pauline Oliveros who took the accordion places no one imagined it could go, Guy Klucevsek who embraced the maligning and the folk aspects of the instrument, and William Schimmel who simply developed it as a classical instrument capable of virtuosity and, most of all, respect.
So along comes Mr. Katanić who now throws his hat in the ring. He is led in part by the most eclectic and prolific Gene Pritsker who I believe directed him to send me this disc. This young musician has a passion for much music which finds a frequent home in one of my audio players. And, as I suspected, the composers whose name were unfamiliar (Tauan Gonzalez Sposito, Antonio Correa, Wolfgang W. Mayer, Anthony Fiumara, Wellington E. Alves, and Ivan Bozicevic) are also of significant interest. The only problem here is the lack of liner notes and hence there is little on these other composers.
No matter really, This is a very enjoyable album by a truly talented musician. Of course my first stop was the Philip Glass Modern Love Waltz (originally for piano but now in many arrangements particularly those by Robert Moran). It is a delightful reading of the piece and hooked the Philip Glass junky in this reviewer in the process.
He manages to include two additional pieces by this really poorly represented master of American music (Moran) as well as two pieces by the also always interesting Gene Pritsker. The remaining pieces are by the composers that are not household names (. This will take a bit more time to listen but in the meantime I think we have here an auspicious debut by a musician who is poised to define his instrument, the accordion, for the 21 st century.
Admittedly I am a sucker for nearly all things minimalist and post-minimalist. Such programming can lead to some potentially dull or cloying experiences. Not so with this lovely collection of miniatures though. While minimalists like Glass and Pärt make their appearances the concept here seems to reach for larger goals. We have a mix of relatively simple chamber compositions along with electroacoustic works, a revelatory take on Ravel’s Tzigane and and arrangement for violin and orchestra of a solemn choral piece by Morten Lauridsen.
This eclecticism seems to flow from the artist’s choices rather than choices imposed by a producer. In this respect she reminds this reviewer of pianist Lara Downes whose repertoire choices are similarly eclectic but born very personally from the artists’ experiences and preferences.
The opening Philip Glass Metamorphosis Two (1988) is presented in an arrangement by none other than Glass’ long time champion Michael Riesman. It is followed by two violin and piano pieces by Arvo Pärt, Fratres (1977) and Spiegel im Spiegel (1978). These lovely works serve to draw the listener in most pleasantly. Akira Eguchi is the fine pianist who plays on all but tracks 4, 7, and 8.
Next up is a piece of musical archaeology. Tzigane (1924) was originally written for violin and piano. It was later orchestrated and it is that version which is best known and probably most recorded. Well it turns out that Ravel had made a version for a now defunct instrument called a Luthéal which is an instrument invented in the early 20th century (patented 1919). It’s actually not so much an instrument as an add on. It modifies the sound of a piano. The device now exists in museums but that hasn’t stopped innovative producers from utilizing an electroacoustic version. Elizabeth Pridgen plays the keyboard to which the lutheal is virtually attached.
Apparently this version has been recorded before but this writer encountered it first in this release. It is a very different sound than the piano or orchestral versions and is a lovely take on the music. Many may buy the album for this track alone.
This is followed by a charming lullaby written for Meyers’ youngest daughter. John Corigliano has absorbed only a small bit of the minimalism bug (maybe his 1985 Fantasy on an Ostinato qualifies) but he is one of our finest living composers and he appears to infuse this violin and piano miniature, Lullaby for Natalie (2010) with a tender romanticism that is both sweet and touching. In the notes we learn that it did seem to put her daughter to sleep but I doubt it will do that to most listeners.
The next two tracks are works by one Jakub Ciupinski (1981- ) who also has a stage persona under the name Jakub Ζak under which he performs live electronic music. This Polish born composer is now based in New York and works with various forms of electronics including a theremin. Both “Edo Lullaby” (2018) and “Wreck of the Umbria” (2009) come from a similar place musically. Both use electronics in varying degrees to enhance and accompany the solo violin. Both are delightful little gems that give a nod to some minimalist roots but stand on their own merit and prompt this listener to keep an eye/ear out for more of this composer’s work.
The concluding piece is an arrangement by the composer Morten Lauridsen (1943- ). The performer states she pursued Lauridsen for a new piece and when he finally acquiesced he presented this lovely arrangement of his well known choral piece, “O Magnum Mysterium”. The arrangement is for string orchestra and violin and orchestra here given its world premiere performance. It should come as no surprise to new music fanciers that the Philharmonia Orchestra is conducted by none other than Kristjan Järvi, a fine conductor, composer, and avid new music advocate who can always be found near some interesting musical projects.
This album stands out in that the choices of the musical selections and the personal connections between the composers and the soloist are clearly collaborative and inspired. This is substance rather than fluff but it may appeal to a wider audience. This one can be said to have crossover hopes but it does not pander. This is a wonderful album and will likely prompt listeners who, like this writer, have yet to know this soloist to go and seek more of her recordings and live performances. Brava!
It has been interesting to watch the progression of Philip Glass’ career. From his driving amplified ensemble music that so entranced this writer to as near groupie status as he will ever be to the more mainstream orchestral work of his work since at least the 90s the fascination remains at some level.
The familiar arpeggios are still to be found along with basically diatonic harmony with occasional polytonal sections. What is interesting about Glass’ third piano concerto is a sort of chamber romanticism. A Far Cry is a small chamber orchestra ideally suited to works like the Bach first piano concerto. Though technically originally written for harpsichord pianists have successfully broken the taboo on strict adherence to using the harpsichord and have developed techniques to optimize the sound of the piano (which has very different qualities from a harpsichord).
Simone Dinnerstein is an artist who I first met (albeit virtually) on Facebook. Her reading of the Goldberg Variations from a few years ago seemed to signal her entrance into the mainstream of performers. The choice of works on this disc are a sort of characterization of her interests. She is an accomplished Bach performer with, obviously, an interest in new music. So pairing her as soloist with A Far Cry whose interests appear to be in a similar range was perfect.
The performance of the Bach G minor piano concerto (No.7) is as delightful as it gets. Dinnerstein and the ensemble seem work together very well. These intense little chamber orchestras seem to be proliferating and one could speculate on the economic and political reasons for that but what is more interesting is the commitment and intensity that these small ensembles can bring to music.
The Glass concerto has the feel of a sort of miniature romanticism. This writer heard it as echoes of Brahms but on a far more intimate scale. It is difficult to say whether this new work (or for that matter, the other two piano concertos) will become a regular part of the repertory but it is clear that Glass continues to have his champions both in musicians and listeners.
There is nothing groundbreaking here and that is not what is apparently intended. What we get in this recording is a couple of dedicated and thoroughly enjoyable performances by clearly dedicated musicians. This is not an original instruments or musicological discoveries type of album. It is simply good music making.
If you are a fan of Philip Glass and/or Simone Dinnerstein you will want this disc. But don’t forget to pay attention the this little chamber group. They are superb and energetic musicians and this reviewer expects to be hearing more from them in the near future. Maybe we will get a new set of Bach and/or Mozart concertos. Here’s hoping.
Had to save this one for Christmas. If ever there was an album that conjures more of the positive intents of the Christmas season this one gets my vote. Imagine celebrating a living acknowledged master artist in a milieu of his actual and artistically extended family. That may seem an extreme notion to some but this writer is utterly charmed and thrilled to hear this “one of a kind” collection. Other interpretations will, of course, be valid but none will ever match this one. It’s like the Carter family of the avant-garde (and I mean that unambiguously with great respect).
Any release by Bay Area pianist Sarah Cahill is reason enough alone to perk up one’s ears but this massive four disc collection of all new recordings in honor of Terry Riley’s 80th birthday (Terry was born in 1935) is a major release of (almost) all of Riley’s music for piano, piano four hands and two pianos. In addition two of the discs are dedicated to pieces commissioned in honor of Riley. This set belongs in the collection of anyone interested in mid to late twentieth century music and especially fans of minimalism and the curiously west coast iterations of modernism.
As a listener I have always treated every Terry Riley release as a major event as well and this collection does about as fine a job as one can imagine in paying homage to one of the brightest artistic lights of the Bay Area. Riley came to prominence (at least historically speaking) with his open score piece, In C (1964). It is among the earliest examples of the style which, for better or worse, became known as “minimalism”. Since then he has continued to produce music in pretty much all genres, chamber music, orchestral music, solo music, concerti, etc.
Riley’s style, however, continued to evolve and his later works show diverse influences from his days playing barrel house piano, his interest in progressive jazz, and his studies of Hindustani and Carnatic musics (under the tutelage of Pandit Pran Nath). Like pretty much every composer of that first wave of “minimalists” Riley has evolved a much deeper and individualized style but, even with the diversity of influences as mentioned, he remains uniquely Terry Riley.
Throughout his career as composer and performer Terry has been a teacher and an advocate of new music. His enthusiasm and talent has affected all who know him and, I dare say, all who have experienced his work.
This collection ranges over his entire career from the early “Two Pieces” (1958/9) to later solo and four hand compositions on the first two discs. It is worth noting that Be Kind to One Another (2008/14) was one of the commissions in Sarah Cahill’s wonderful series of anti-war pieces, “A Sweeter Music”. It then goes on to the homages which, of course, can also be said to be influenced by Riley’s work.
This is not simply a collection of Riley’s piano music. What we have here is a lively celebration of most of Riley’s music for piano, two pianos and piano four hands from the full spectrum of his career (as the liner notes say a couple of large compositions were not included, most likely a matter of space) along with a touching set of homages by composers related musically and aesthetically to Mr. Riley. They range from contemporaries to students, artistic descendants to actual family. It is a multi-generational tribute and a loving artifact that celebrates this artist on a very personal level.
Regina Myers supplies the other two hands in the disc of four hand piano pieces by Riley. She credits another Bay Area composer/teacher/conductor, the Mills College based Steed Cowart for recommending her for this crucial role. Such touches add to the sense of this being a Bay Area family project on so many levels.
The interrelationships that comprise this lovely production make it stand distinctly apart from the (no less significant or lovely) homages to fellow minimalists Philip Glass and Steve Reich. This is a much more personal album which reflects Riley as composer, teacher, inspiration, father, icon and friend. Anyone who has met Terry or experienced him in performance has experienced a certain warmth like that of a wise and gentle guru.
After the two discs of Riley’s music we are treated to music inspired by another generation of artists and, last, by long time colleague, the late great Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016), another wise and gentle guru who died just about a year before the release of this album. She and Terry worked together (along with Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, Steve Reich, William Maginnis, and Tony Martin) as founders of the San Francisco Tape Music Center which would become the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music (still operating today). The producers wisely dedicated an entire disc to one of Oliveros’ last compositions, this loving tribute to her friend and colleague. It is now, sadly, a tribute to her memory as well. Samuel Adams shares the performing duties along with Ms. Cahill on this extended homage.
There is little doubt that the other composers whose music graces this tribute will continue on their unique paths to continued success always acknowledging their connections to Mr. Riley. Danny Clay is among the less familiar (to this reviewer) names here but his Circle Songs seem to fit quite well to open the first tribute disc. Gyan Riley is, of course, one of Terry’s children and a fine guitarist and composer in his own right. Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing Gyan and Terry play together cannot miss the close bond personally and musically of these two. They are a joy to behold. The affectionate Poppy Infinite is a reference to the elder Riley’s Poppy Nogood’s Phantom Band which was the “B side” of his classic Rainbow in Curved Air. Samuel Adams is the son of Pulitzer Prize winner John Adams whose early work China Gates was written for and championed by his fellow classmate at the San Francisco Conservatory, Sarah Cahill. The younger Adams’ contribution here is called Shade Studies.
The eclectic Christine Southworth also seems to embody the (perhaps loosely defined) West Coast style. Her interests in electronics and world music describe this superficially but her sound is a welcome one here as well. Keeril Makan earned his PhD. in music at Berkeley which doubtless has left a stamp on his style. His composition “Before C” makes reference to what is doubtless Terry Riley’s best known work, the oft performed, “In C”. Elena Ruehr is a composer whose connection is not as clear as some of the others here but her work, “In C too” demonstrates her understanding of and her respect for Riley’s work. Last on this disc of tributes is Dylan Mattingly. He is a Berkeley native and can frequently be seen/heard performing in various venues in the Bay Area. His contribution YEAR demonstrates both his individual style and his connection to the West Coast Style mentioned earlier.
The liner notes by Sarah Cahill are part of the tribute and a good description of the various influences behind the man of the hour, Terry Riley. Credit is properly given to the artistic influences that inspired Mr. Riley and a brief description of what must have been an intimidating but loving project. It is likely that there are even more connections involved in this undertaking but that must be left to future musicological and historical research.
The Kronos Quartet has long ago championed Riley’s work for that medium and new versions of his classic, “In C” continue to come on the scene. One can only hope that the energy embodied here will inspire recordings of some of Riley’s lesser known work with orchestra which richly deserves hearings. But regardless there is much to celebrate here and best holiday wishes go out to Mr. Riley and his talented progeny. Happy listening, all.
This book took me a while to absorb. It is the first book length treatment that this writer has seen on the subject of Philip Glass’ film music. Some have suggested that his film music may wind up constituting his most enduring legacy and one need only listen casually to any number of film scores to hear his influence.
This is basically an academic treatise which is what one can reasonably expect from the Routledge imprint. However the author seems to have taken care to transcend the adequate but sometimes dull prose which suffices for publication reasons but whose weight challenges the attention of all but the most stalwart of academic readers. This book is quite readable and deserves to be read.
Admittedly it is risky to tread on the “meaning” of music but Evans here makes a case that places him in the company of Leonard B. Meyer’s book, Emotion and Meaning in Music. Though it is clearly not an attempt to extend Meyer’s work, Evans is in good company as he seeks to examine the emotional content of Glass’ work that underlies his success as a film composer. Film music, after all, tends to underscore the emotional content of cinematic images to some degree and those mechanisms can and should be examined. The alternative would be to simply dismiss it as “magic” I suppose.
The cover which depicts one of those wonderful live performances of Koyaanisqatsi triggers memories of this writer’s first viewing of this intimate and effective scoring of Godfrey Reggio’s non-narrative, no dialogue sequence of images. Never had I seen/heard a more mesmerizing collaboration since the (stylistically very different) Carl Stallings cartoon scores which exist forever in the near subconscious recall of anyone who was exposed to his work in their childhood.
For many film music means the classic Erich Korngold, Alex North, Alfred Newman, etc. and their more recent successors like Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, etc. But film music continues to evolve and, though this evolution will not likely supplant these classic styles, there is room for innovation and change.
Glass’ work in Koyaanisqatsi relied on the hypnotic minimalist patterns which amplified the character of the images. Who knew then that his style could translate to more mainstream films? But that is exactly what he has done and it is exactly why such a book needed to be written and Evans has accomplished a great deal here.
This is an intriguing and insightful book which opens potential for research in Glass’ music as well as film music in general. While not the easiest of reads this book covers a lot of territory and is generously referenced. Clearly there is much work to be done here and Evans has given a wonderful and pretty comprehensive start. Highly recommended.
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.
This is the ninth CD and the fourth Sony release by harpist Lavinia Meijer (1983- ). This South Korean born artist was raised and educated in the Netherlands by her adoptive parents. Her musical talent has earned her Cum Laude Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music and she has successfully pursued a career as both a soloist and an orchestral musician. She appears to have a thorough grounding in both classical and contemporary harp repertoire and a passion for music.
In this double CD she presents her own transcriptions of ten of Philip Glass’ piano etudes and a second disc of music inspired in part by Glass’ style. The Herculean tasks of transcribing and learning these etudes elicited collaboration with the affable composer and any Glass fan will want to hear her take on these pieces.
Meijer has chosen ten (of the now twenty) piano etudes for this album. Now the harp is very close to the piano in many ways. I believe it has basically the same pitch range and it does rely on strings and a sounding board. However the playing of the instrument and the range of possibilities playable by two trained hands differs quite a bit. There are problems on transcribing piano music for the harp. It is not clear that all twenty can ever be successfully transcribed and played on Meijer’s instrument but this reviewer is truly grateful to hear the ten she has done and holds hope for the future that the remaining ten may find their way to a future release. Her interpretation of these works help to provide the listener with insight to their complexities both technically and in their interpretation.
The sassy neo-punk haircut on the album cover conjures comparisons in this reviewer’s mind of the hipness in both dress and presentation that characterized the wonderful Kronos Quartet, especially in their early days. Indeed she does seem to be following a similar trajectory and Sony no doubt has hopes that she will establish a similar marketing niche doing for her instrument what the Kronos did (and continues to do) for the string quartet. It certainly appears to be a safe bet.
One need only look to the second of the two discs to find Meijer championing some recent works written in contemporary styles that owe something to Glass’ compositional style. The disc which includes Meijer’s take on portions of Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi score along with compositions by five other composers is definitely a lighter even more pop-inflected experience at times. That is not to say that this disc is lesser in any way but that it does seem to be reaching perhaps for a younger audience less versed in the classical harp repertoire. Classical music needs to embrace other genres as the very concept of genre becomes more divisive than useful. Another Strategy reminiscent of the Kronos.
Whether or not this album manages to attract a wider audience to the charms of her instrument it does serve to showcase the range of this artist’s technical skills and the delightfully broad reach of her repertoire. This rapidly rising star seems poised to be writing a bright new chapter in the life of the concert harp, a truly exciting prospect.
David Toub is a composer whose name is known to perhaps relatively few right now but whose star is clearly rising. Born on the east coast he studied at Mannes College and at Julliard with Bruce Adolphe and others but his musical education reached maturity when he was studying at the University of Chicago and running the contemporary music programming at the college radio station. While he had written some twelve tone and freely atonal music it was his encounter with a 1979 WKCR broadcast of Einstein on the Beach that changed his compositional vision. The musics of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and protominimalist Morton Feldman would henceforth infuse his style.
He is also what I have termed a composer with a day job. Like Charles Ives (who sold insurance) and Alexander Borodin (who was a chemist, physician and surgeon) he makes his livelihood in the decidedly non-musical world of gynecologic surgery. Another analog for people like David would have to be William Carlos Williams, a pediatrician whose place in American letters is assured by his poetry and novels.
I personally discovered David’s music via his website where one can find a great deal of his scores and (very helpful) sound files of many of his works. It is definitely worth your time to browse these scores and sounds if only to get an idea of the scope of the composer’s visions. By his own admission his music resembles that of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Morton Feldman but perhaps it is more accurate to say that one may be reminded of these composers since his music is anything but derivative.
Some of his music has been championed by the fabulous Monacan pianist Nicolas Horvath whose You Tube Channel is a feast for new music aficionados. In fact Horvath’s reading of “for four” (2012) can be heard and seen there. David also has a You Tube Channel with some live performances that are well worth your time.
Many of David’s scores do fit the more conventional (ca. 20 min) time frame of most concert music but some of his most interesting scores lean toward the extended time frames common to Morton Feldman’s late work (in the liner notes he refers to a recent piano piece which lasts four hours). These require a bit more concentration and multiple hearings to be able to perceive the compositional unity but, having done that, I can tell you that my time was well spent.
Stephane Ginsburgh (from the pianist’s web page)
Stephane Ginsburgh is a Belgian new music pianist whose repertoire traverses some of the work of Morton Feldman as well as Frederic Rzewski and others. He, along with Alessandra Celetti and Louis Goldstein were the dedicatees of the “quartet for piano”. Having been already familiar with Toub’s work I was pleased to find that Mr. Ginsburg’s interpretive skills both do justice and provide insight to these scores which on paper (or in a PDF file) are difficult to grasp. In fact these performances are mesmerizing.
“quartet for piano” (2010) comes in at 46:48 and the second track “for four” (2012) comes in at 22:58 but the timings are ultimately superfluous once the listener allows themselves to be taken by the collaborative adventure of this composer and performer. I don’t think I can do justice speaking of the structure of this music except to say that, in this listener, it was like listening to the slow ringing changes of Zen Temple bells in a distant dream. I have had the opportunity to play this CD without distraction a few times and each time found it transporting with the music taking on almost symphonic dimensions despite it’s outward simplicity.
This is a crowd funded effort in which I was a willing participant. The lovely graphic design is by faberludens utilizing detail from a mysterious photograph by Richard Friedman (long time host of Music from Other Minds) and provides an apt visual metaphor for the music therein. The conversation between the composer and Udo Moll dominate the liner notes and provide very useful insights to the origins and intents behind the composer’s work.
The sonorous piano is a Bösendorfer 225 and the recording was done by Daniel Léon with mastering by Reinhard Kobialka. CD production curated by Udo Moll on Maria de Alvear’s World Edition label. Soon to be available on iTunes and Amazon.
The other supporters named include: Maria de Alvear, Sergio Cervetti, Carson Cooman, Chris Creighton, Kathie Elliott, Paul Epstein, Sue Fischer, Alex Freeman, Richard Friedman, Stephane Ginsburgh, Louie Goldstein, Matthew Greenbaum, Hazem Hallak, Barnabas Helmajer, Christian Hertzog, Robert Kass, Harry Kwan, Steve Layton, Connie Lindenbaum, Richard Malkin, Shadi Mallak, Leah Mayes, Kirk McElhearn, Juhani Nuorvala, Rebecca Pechefsky, Lou Poulain, John Prokop, Simon Rackham, David Reppert, Larry Roche, Larry Rocke, Dave Seidel, Kel Smith, Beth Sussman, Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, Samuel Vriezen, and Ann Wheeler. The composer also includes his family, Debbie Bernstein, Arielle Toub and Isaac Toub for their emotional support and (in his typical self-effacing humor) “tolerance” of what he calls his “odd compositional habit”. As habits go this one appears to be a winner.
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.