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Title:Sequenza21/ - The Contemporary Classical Music Community
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Aug
17
2017
Tanglewood FCM 2017 #8211; Highlights, Part One
Posted by Christian Carey in Boston, Chamber Music, Concert review, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Festivals, File Under?, tags: Ben Johnston, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Christian Carey, concert review, Festival of Contemporary Music, George Lewis, Jack Body, Jacob Greenberg, Kathryn Bates, Katie Soper, Lei Liang, Nadia Sirota, Nathan Davis, Sequenza 21, Tanglewood
#8220;The Sand Reckoner, #8221;by Nathan Davis.Photo: Hilary Scott.
This year鈥檚 Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood (in Lenox, Massachusetts) was curated by three youngish stars of the new music community: pianist Jacob Greenberg (ICE), cellist Kathryn Bates (Del Sol Quartet), and violist Nadia Sirota (Q2, ACME). 聽Each planned 聽a chamber music concert, consisting of commissioned new works and contemporary repertory selections. The curators combined forces with the BSO in selecting pieces for the festival鈥檚 finale, an orchestra concert conducted by Stefan Asbury and Vinay Parameswaran.
Commissioned works included vocal pieces by Nathan Davis and Anthony Cheung, a string quartet (with copious use of water-filled glasses and glass bowls) by Kui Dong, and Clip, a chamber ensemble work by Nico Muhly (for which I contributed program notes). These showed a diversity of musical approaches. Davis and Cheung took postmodern textual compiling as the jumping off point for stylistically varied and technically demanding singing. Dong revelled in glassine textures, both in the strings and with the water glasses themselves, while Muhly presented one of his most rhythmically intricate works to date, in places extending the language of post-minimalism towards the polyrhythms of late modernity.
George Lewis with the performers of #8220;Anthem. #8221; Photo: Hilary Scott.
A standout on the concert curated by Greenberg on Thursday, August 10th was Columbia University professor George Lewis鈥檚 first appearance at Tanglewood (at age 65). Noteworthy for his work with AACM and a catalogue of compositions encompassing facets of concert music, jazz, improvisation, and electronics, Lewis was represented by Anthem, a 2012 piece originally written for Wet Ink Ensemble. At Tanglewood, Wet Ink鈥檚 vocalist Katie Soper, herself a prominent and creative composer, delivered a supersonic performance of a part written in Sprechstimme to Lewis鈥檚 own text about TV talking heads and subversive political commentary. Teddy Poll conducted, Greenberg contributed electronics, and the rest of the players, to a person impressive, were mostly guest musicians from ICE. Imaginatively scored and surpassingly energetic, Anthem was a rousing closer to FCM鈥檚 first evening.
Fromm Players performJohnston #8217;s String Quartet No. 4, #8220;Amazing Grace. #8221;Photo: Hilary Scott.
Friday afternoon featured a program of string quartets curated by Bates. A detailed and fine-tuned performance of Ben Johnston鈥檚 microtonal Fourth String Quartet by the Fromm Players (for which I was fortunate to contribute program notes) loomed large, but Bates introduced other fine pieces to Tanglewood audiences as well.
Croatoan II for string quartet and percussion by Moritz Eggert, supplied the proceedings with a welcome dose of humor, treating the mystery of a disappearing colony of early American settlers with more whimsy than tragedy. Percussionist Tyler Flynt, using what Bates described as a 鈥渟uitcase鈥檚 worth鈥 of hand percussion instruments, made the quick changes both in tempo and instruments seem effortless. Rene Orth鈥檚 Stripped (2015), a piece written in memory of the trumpeter Alex Greene, her Curtis classmate, began with noise-based sound effects and traversed an imaginative pathway to soaring harmonics. Although it didn鈥檛 quite gel in the Tanglewood performance, Terry Riley鈥檚 G Song is an attractive deployment of all manner of scalar patterns and jazzy cadence-points (look for Del Sol Quartet鈥檚 next CD to hear it more authoritatively rendered).
Eggert #8217;s #8220;Croatoan II. #8221;Photo: Hilary Scott.
Violinist Cameron Daly and cellist Chava Appiah performed Lei Liang鈥檚 Gobi Canticle, a piece that incorporates material and techniques from Mongolian string music. Liang visited the Nei Monggol region in 1996 to learn more about its music-making. This is deftly demonstrated in Gobi Canticle, which is at turns gently lyrical and boldly dramatic in cast.
I was most pleased to be introduced to the work of Jack Body (1944-2015), 聽the recently departed New Zealand composer whose works 聽synthesize ethnomusicology and composition. The wonderfully fleet and attractive Flurry (2002), in a version for three string quartets, opened Friday鈥檚 concert. Led by Bates, this all-too-brief work was immediately encored. One was glad to have the chance to hear it again and, unlike some encores, the performance was just as strong the second time around.
Kathryn Bates leads three string quartets in a performance ofJack Body #8217;s #8220;Flurry. #8221;Photo: Hilary Scott.
Later this week I will be writing more about FCM, as well as the BSO concerts that coincided with the festival. The article will appear on both my blog and Sequenza 21.
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Jul
24
2017
Interview: Julia Adolphe
Posted by Christian Carey in Classical Music, Composers, Conductors, Contemporary Classical, Festivals, File Under?, Interviews, Orchestras, tags: Alan Gilbert, Christian Carey, composers, Cynthia Phelps, interview, Julia Adolphe, New York Philharmonic, preview, Vail, viola
This week, The New York Philharmonic premieres their second commission by composer聽Julia Adolphe.聽The first, 2016 #8217;s聽Unearth, Release,聽was a warmly received viola concerto for Philharmonic Principal Violist聽Cynthia Phelps.聽The latest,聽White Stone,聽will be premiered July 26th as part of the orchestra #8217;s聽Bravo! Vail聽series in Colorado. I recently had a chance to catch up with Adolphe about both of these collaborations, as well as her opera聽Sylvia.聽
Who were/are your composition mentors at Cornell and USC? What is something that you鈥檝e learned from each?
I鈥檝e had two incredible mentors who鈥檝e inspired me to become a composer. The first was Steven Stucky, who gave me private composition lessons for four years while I was an undergraduate at Cornell. I arrived at Cornell without any formal training in classical music and was very intimidated by the large group of (all male) doctoral students pursuing composition. Professor Stucky made me feel included and welcome, allowing me to take graduate level courses alongside his other students. Steven Stucky essentially taught me how to compose, to go from nothing on the page to crafting a vocabulary, playing with colors, and communicating ideas through music. At USC, I spent four years studying with Stephen Hartke, who taught me an enormous amount about writing for the orchestra and writing opera. With Professor Hartke, I learned how to write larger forms and develop a musical narrative. Hartke encouraged me to embrace my love of storytelling through my music. Most importantly, both Stucky and Hartke taught me specific compositional techniques and tools while encouraging me to trust and believe in my own voice.
聽
You fashioned both text and music for your opera Sylvia. Tell me a bit about your work as a poet/librettist?
My first musical pieces that I wrote as a child were folk songs comprised of my own original lyrics. I always loved writing lyrics and stories as well as acting in plays and musicals. Opera seems like a natural extension of these early passions. I wrote Sylvia in 2012 and it is based on the real life experiences of my best childhood friend. The opera鈥檚 content was deeply personal and I wrote the libretto out of a need to tell Sylvia鈥檚 story. I love working with living poets and am currently setting a poem entitled Equinox by Elizabeth Alexander. For my next opera, A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, I will be working with librettist Stephanie Fleischmann. I am very excited to have such wonderful collaborators!
聽
I have sung at Bargemusic and it can be a wobbly place to get your bearings. What was it like producing Sylvia there?
It was a lot of fun and an incredibly dramatic, yet intimate venue. I think the surreal setting and off-kilter feeling you experience on the boat fit perfectly with the dreamlike nature of the opera.
聽
There are some great viola concertos in the literature, but the challenges facing composers of them is legendary: balance, orchestration, etc. Was writing for viola and ensemble an upfront part of the commission for Unearth, Release or did you choose to write for these forces?
The New York Philharmonic asked that I compose a viola concerto for their principal violist Cynthia Phelps. I was extremely excited about the challenge: the viola does not possess the same carrying power in terms of volume and brightness as the violin or the cello. It is a subtle instrument with dark tones and fragile qualities. Yet is has a singular expressive beauty. I worked closely with Cynthia, ensuring that every gesture was idiomatic and communicative for her instrument. During the rehearsals of the work鈥檚 world premiere with the Eastern Festival Orchestra, I was able to make revisions so that the viola could speak more clearly over the orchestra. Both Alan Gilbert and Jaap Van Zweden gave me feedback throughout the writing and rehearsal process and I learned an incredible amount about the orchestra along the way.
聽
Did you know which pieces were going to be programmed alongside yours in Vail? If so, did that impact your composition of White Stone?
I knew from the beginning that my piece would be premiered alongside Gershwin and聽Dvo艡谩k, but I chose not to think about that. My goal when I write is to express my own voice and be as true to my own emotions, dreams, atmospheres and sounds as possible. Of course I am influenced by a host of composers, but to purposely seek out composers on the same program would make it harder for me to clarify my own thoughts during the writing process.
聽
What else would you like for audience members in Vail to know in advance about the piece?
A white stone is an object that is both unique yet familiar, a jewel and a pebble, emerging from the dirt to become something treasured. The music rises from dark, murky textures, striving towards brightness and clarity. The cello and timpani are the first to surface from the discord, stirring action in other sections of the orchestra. The percussion serves to rally and activate the music, leading the orchestra upwards towards brighter harmonies and unified rhythms. White Stone captures the struggle to be resilient and powerful in the face of overwhelming obstacles and fear of defeat.
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Jul
22
2017
Required Reading: Experimental Music Since 1970
Posted by Christian Carey in Books, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, File Under?, tags: Bloomsbury, Book Review, Christian Carey, Experimental Music, Experimental Music since 1970, Jennie Gottschalk
Book Review:
Experimental Music Since 1970
By Jennie Gottschalk
Bloomsbury, 2016
284 pp.
From the very beginning of Experimental Music Since 1970, author Jennie Gottschalk lets us know that her perspective is that of a 鈥渕aker,鈥 a composer. This is instructive as to the book鈥檚 approach and to its inclusion and, in some cases, exclusion, of experimental composers who have made an impact over the past five decades. These decisions are based on a particular composer鈥檚 vantage point rather than an attempt to construct an all-encompassing canon of 鈥渋mportant鈥 figures, which in the fragmented and various perspectives of the postmodern era no book could truly do without devolving into mere name-checking and cataloging. Happily, Gottschalk鈥檚 book is anything but a catalog #8212; her portraits of various wings of experimental music are vivid and often detailed. It is the viewpoint of a fascinating 鈥渕aker,鈥 someone who embraces an array of imaginative approaches to musical experimentation.
Gottschalk suggests that one of the purposes of her volume is to serve as a continuation of Michael Nyman鈥檚 seminal Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. Perhaps in response to the centrality of Cage in the earlier volume, she begins Experimental Music Since 1970 with a deconstruction of the composer鈥檚 4鈥33鈥, pointing out the various pathways into experiment that the piece still affords today. Gottschalk identifies these central concerns as follows: indeterminacy, change, non-subjectivity, research, and experience. While it is quickly pointed out that not all experimental music engages all of these issues, they prove to be pivotal in the way that Gottschalk defines and describes experimentation.
With these initial precepts laid out, the book proceeds to further parse experimentation into particular spheres of activity, with each chapter tackling one or more of these. Thus we are spared a chronological overview and when concerns overlap in composers鈥 works, they may reappear throughout the volume. This does lead one to question certain choices of space allocation. For instances, even given all of his fertile creativity, why is Peter Ablinger so often referenced while microtonal composers Ezra Sims and Joe Maneri and hypercomplex composers Brian Ferneyhough and Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf are not mentioned even once? Apparently, the second modern school falls outside of Gottschalk鈥檚 purview. While one can fall back on her statement that she is a composer rather than a historian, it is somewhat disappointing that these significant types of experimentation seem 鈥渂eyond the pale鈥 (interestingly, there is similar neglect of American late modernism in Tim Rutherford-Johnson鈥檚 recent After the Fall: Music Since 1989). The presence of experimental jazz is also spotty, with a few references to artists such as Anthony Braxton and George Lewis but nothing about, for instance, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, and Sun Ra. Another challenge is some haphazard copy-editing, particularly in the book鈥檚 latter half.
These caveats aside, what is covered here is a splendor of imaginative music-making that will supply much food for thought. Gottschalk is particularly in her element when discussing the Wandelweiser collective, approaches to instrument-building, ad hoc electronics, improvisation, sound art, ecomusic in general and site-specific works in particular. The book鈥檚 inclusivity in terms of race, gender, and sexuality may, along with Rutherford-Johnson鈥檚 similarly sensitive treatment of these issues in Music Since 1989, help to slay a few stereotypes about composers. Gottschalk鈥檚 website, Sound Expanse, continues to build upon the achievements and aims of Experimental Music Since 1970, providing a valuable companion to the book and a 鈥渕ust bookmark鈥 resource all by itself.
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Jul
20
2017
Opera Parallele Presents Glass/Cocteau Les Enfants Terribles
Posted by Michael McDonagh in Contemporary Classical
Our Buddhist friends like to remind us that the idea that we are separate is an illusion and not a fact but try telling that to anybody anywhere these days desperately trying to #8220;connect #8221; by every mobile device known to man. And if that doesn #8217;t spell separation/alienation we might need a new word for this state of mind.
Leave it to French poet-artist-playwright-novelist-filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889-1963 ) to set things right because the characters in his work are often desperately trying to connect as in his lyric tragedy with composer Francis Poulenc La Voix Humaine (1958 ) where the speaker is quite literally at the end of her tether. And let #8217;s not forget the fact that Cocteau was always making war on established truths, and toying with what appearances mean or seem to mean. I walk around my block and nothing makes #8220;sense #8221; but that #8217;s crazy because nothing really ever does.
Cocteau, at any rate, rarely tried to make #8220;rational #8221; sense in his work, and composer Philip Glass began his Cocteau trilogy with Orphee (1992) in which he took the script of Cocteau #8217;s 1950 film of the same name and made it into an opera for singers and chamber orchestra, and though crystal clear in construction and sound it was almost as dreamlike as its source. Francesca Zambello #8217;s white-on-white original production which I caught at The Brooklyn Academy Of Music was impressive, though much more so in its second half. Glass went further with La Belle et la Bete (1994) in which he used Cocteau #8217;s 1946 film of the same name as both visual environment and text. The film #8217;s sound was turned off which meant losing the actors #8217; voices as well as Georges Auric #8217;s original incidental #8212; partial #8212; score which Glass replaced with a wall to wall one of his own for singers, with Glass and his Philip Glass Ensemble playing live. The result was a remarkable fusion of image, words, and music which I caught in Charles Otte #8217;s US premiere at BAM, and in a slightly different but equally successful production by the PGE in 2013 at聽www.ybca.org, and in an overly busy and diffuse one by Oakland Opera Theater minus the film.
Glass went even further in his #8220;dance/opera/spectacle #8221; Les Enfants Terribles: Children of the Game (1996) which he and director-choreographer Susan Marshall derived from Cocteau #8217;s eponymous 1929 novel and Jean-Pierre Melville #8217;s 1950 film. The result was a highly theatrical work for singers, dancers, and three digital/grand pianos which foregrounded the reality which Elisabeth and her brother Paul construct as a substitute for their boring day to day life. Dance mirrors their animal natures, or as Glass put it in a program note for its original production which I wrote about for the defunct gay arts mag Provocateur #8212; #8221; Here, time stands still. There is only music, and the movement of children through space #8221;, which Opera Parallele re-imagined in surprising but perfectly apt ways They made the unreal real, and the real unreal and that #8217;s catnip for opera.
The snow which fell onto the BAM stage from above was here projected on a scrim with the cast behind it facing the audience, and when the scrim went up, they stepped forward and the drama hurtled towards its dark inevitable end. Paul felled by the #8220;marble-fisted.. marble-hearted blow #8221; of a snowball with a rock inside it thrown by his male friend Dargelos whom he #8217;s in love with. `Paul convalesces at home with his sister where they seal themselves off from the world in their #8220;Room #8221; where they play the #8220;Game #8221; which devours them and everyone who enters it. Entrapment. Betrayal. Incest. Poison. Death. And let #8217;s not forget that Cocteau was coming off opium when he wrote Les Enfants so every production of it has to have the perfervid force of a dream, and this one had that in spades. Amy Seiwert #8217;s dancers doubled baritone Hadleigh Adams #8217; Paul and soprano Rachel Schutz #8217;s Lise disturbingly; director Brian Staufenbiehl #8217;s fluidly calibrated movement surrounded / opposed tenor Andres Ramirez #8217;s Narrator / Gerard who #8217;s Paul and Lise #8217;s friend mezzo Kindra Scharich enacted both Dargelos #8212; Cocteau on Paul #8217;s view of Dargelos 聽 #8212; #8220;He had imagined himself in thrall to an accidental likeness between a schoolboy and a a girl #8221; #8212; and the siblings #8217; friend Agathe to ambiguous and exacting effect. Ambiguous because everything here is ambiguous yet clear as your face in the glass, and exacting because though Cocteau may have been on opium when he wrote it his French is dispassionately clear, precise, a sealed off language in which even the biggest flights of fancy don #8217;t quite take off because French has always been about where you should touch down, and that means rules understood and obeyed to a tee.
And this distance between the implied and the said is so very Cocteau, and so very Philip Glass which is here in his two against three rhythmic oppositions which hide and reveal his clear yet always moving harmonic structures, and it #8217;s here when these three superb pianists build those structures one upon the other like floors in a building, utterly separate yet conjoined, indefinite space clearly defined, or as Debussy advised Satie #8212; #8221; Music should stay where it is, not follow the play. It should be like a decor. A property tree doesn #8217;t go into convulsion when an actor crosses the stage #8221; and it #8217;s here where Staufenbiehl #8217;s silent film isn #8217;t an invention or an intervention but part of a barely glimpsed whole complete in its incompleteness. Or should we leave it to Cocteau who said #8221; style is a simple way of saying complicated things. #8221; And to think that I saw the final dress of Verdi #8217;s Rigoletto at聽www.sfopera.com聽just after Opera Parallele #8217;s Glass Les Enfants. Two masters of our music theatre art operating at the very top of their respective games. We like to think we #8217;re separate but we aren #8217;t.
Music by Philip Glass
Libretto by Jean Cocteau聽
Sung in French and English with English supertitles聽
Caroline H. Hume Hall
www.sfcm.org聽
Directed by Brian Staufenbiehl
Conducted by Nicole Paiment聽
Pianists : Kevin Korth; Keisuke Nakagoshi; Eva-Maria Zimmerman
Choreography: Amy Seiwert
Dancers: Steffi Cheong; Brett Conway
Singers; Rachel Schutz; Hadleigh Adams; Andre Ramirez; Kindra Scharich
www.operaparallele.org
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Jul
20
2017
Kurt谩g on ECM
Posted by Christian Carey in CD Review, CDs, Chamber Music, Choral Music, Contemporary Classical, File Under?, tags: Christian Carey, ECM Records, Gyorgy Kurtag, Reinbert de Leeuw
Gy枚rgy Kurt谩g
Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir
Asko | Sch枚nberg and Netherlands Radio Choir; Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor
ECM Records 3xCD 2505-07
Composer Gy枚rgy Kurt谩g was born in Transylvania, but his many years of association with the Budapest conservatory have identified him as one of the foremost composers of Hungary, heir to Ligeti鈥檚 mantle as forward thinker and brilliant creator. ECM has been the label most associated with his music. Their release last decade of his string works was revelatory and one could certainly heap plaudits on the label鈥檚 celebration of Kurt谩g鈥檚 eightieth birthday in 2006 with a recording of his brilliant Kafka Fragments.
To celebrate his ninetieth year, just a smidge late, ECM has released a 3 CD set of Kurt谩g鈥檚 Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir. Even before listening, it is something to behold. ECM rightly has a reputation for lovingly curating their releases, but a number of interviews and essays (including program notes by Paul Griffiths), inclusion of the complete texts in sympathetic translations (no matter how thorny the originals), and many samples of the composer鈥檚 handwritten scores and ink drawings make this release a feast for the eyes. As for the ears, it has a remarkable dynamic range, clearly rendering everything from the softest whispers to thunderous bass drum thwacks with a sense of energetic potency.
The variance of dynamics is just one part of the multi-layered structures found in this music. From fragments of instrumental sound and disordered declamation to walls of choral sound and altissimo register vocal climaxes, Kurt谩g鈥檚 work encompasses a wide range of expression. In terms of desire, grief, fear, exhaustion, resiliency, and pain, there seems to be not a shade of emotion missing: his music is a complete catalog of the modernist project. Conductor Reinbert de Leeuw elicits each of these emotions and musical demeanors in turn with the surest of hands, drawing consummately detailed performances from the assembled forces. If you make it your business to get one recording of music by Kurt谩g, this is it.
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Jul
06
2017
Aaron Parks Trio at Smalls
Posted by Christian Carey in CDs, Concerts, File Under?, jazz, New York, tags: Aaron Parks, Ben Street, Billy Hart, CD preview, concert review, ECM Records, gig review, jazz, jazz piano
Aaron Parks Trio
Smalls Live
June 16, 2017
By Christian Carey
聽
NEW YORK #8211; Nestled snuggly in the midst of Greenwich Village, Smalls Live is an intimate space, but a vital one for the jazz scene. Over the past decade, the venue has hosted thousands of performances #8211; 11,000 of them are archived on the site for subscription-based streaming. With a nice piano and fastidious sound, it is an enjoyable place to experience live music. 鈥淣estled snuggly,鈥 but comfortably, was how I felt on June 16th, as my partner and I were fortunate to garner two of the last seats. The venue was full of a wide cross section of attendees; seasoned jazz buffs and regulars mingled with a decidedly younger set. If pianist Aaron Parks #8212; and Smalls #8212; can continue to draw such a healthy-sized audience from a similar cross-section of demographics, signs are most encouraging.
聽
Parks was celebrating the release of Find the Way, his second CD as a leader on ECM. He was joined, both on the recording session and at Smalls, by bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart, veterans who have played together in various contexts in the past. Find the Way consists of eight originals and one tune by Ian Bernard: the CD鈥檚 title track. The live set featured selections from the album, as well as two tunes from elsewhere: an as yet unrecorded Parks original 鈥淚sle of Everything鈥 and George Shearing鈥檚 鈥淐onception,鈥 which Parks has recorded with Anders Christensen. The first of these vacillated between free tempo bluesy excursions and more incisive post-bop passages. Hart played his cymbals with abandon while Street juxtaposed walking lines with countermelodies high on the neck of his double bass. 鈥淐onception鈥 was tightly knit and taken uptempo, demonstrating the pianist鈥檚 facility with wide-ranging arpeggios and the rhythm section鈥檚 seamless coordination.
聽
The trio sidled into a mid-tempo groove, with a plethora of gestural imitation between them, on the album cut #8220;Melqu铆ades. #8221; 鈥淎drift鈥 included a guest musician: the saxophonist Dayna Stephens. Both Find the Way and Stephens鈥檚 Criss Cross recording I鈥檒l Take My Chances feature this composition. Parks and Stephens spurred each other on, creating ebullient soaring lines in some of the most inspired playing of the evening. Not to be outdone, Hart played forcefully and dexterously on 鈥淗old Music,鈥 a piece written by Parks to showcase his colleague鈥檚 legendary drumming. The final number of the set was the CD鈥檚 title track, which demonstrated the pianist鈥檚 impressionist leanings, boasting limpid splashes of harmony redolent of Debussy and Ravel. As we departed, there was a line out the door, eager to hear the trio鈥檚 second set. Encouraging signs indeed.
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Jul
05
2017
Brightwork newmusic at Monk Space
Posted by Paul Muller in Concert review, Contemporary Classical, Los Angeles, tags: Brightwork newmusic
On June 27, 2017 Tuesdays@Monk Space hosted a concert titled The Flood. A full house gathered on a warm Koreatown evening to hear works by five contemporary Southern California composers as performed by the Brightwork newmusic ensemble.
First up was Kaleidoscope (2014) by William Kraft, who was in attendance. This opened with a series of bright tutti notes that had a vivid luminescence combined with a sense of the mysterious. Some solid duo playing by the bass clarinet and the piccolo was followed by a softer, slower section that contained a lovely flute solo, all adding to the mystical feel. The full ensemble then stoked up the intensity with a series of syncopated tutti passages, while a nicely expressive violin solo down-shifted the emotional color yet again. All of this unfolded before the audience almost without warning. As William Kraft stated in the program notes: 鈥淚 do like to enjoy the adventure along the way. In that way, the balancing of phrases and events reveal the form, as it is being developed.鈥
The constantly changing tempos, textures and dynamics required a high level of musicianship from Brightwork, and they delivered with their usual accuracy and flair. The close acoustics of Monk Space brought out every detail of this stimulating piece 鈥 Kaleidoscope is well-named. At the conclusion the composer, one of the great eminences of the Los Angeles new music scene, rose to acknowledge the prolonged and sincere applause.
I will learn to love a person (2013) by Chris Cerrone followed, and for this soprano Stacey Fraser joined Brightwork #8217;s Aron Kallay on piano, Brian Walsh on clarinet and percussionist Nick Terry. I will learn to love a person unfurls in five short movements that survey the difficult emotional terrain of a relationship under stress. The opening movement, That night with the green sky, sets the scene with a few tentative notes from the piano that are soon joined by the vibraphone whose deep tones form a sort of musical shadow. The voice enters quietly, full of brief phrases and a questioning feel, all tinged with sadness from the text by Tao Lin: 鈥淲hy did you want me gone?鈥
The second movement, Eleven page poem part III, is brightly active, starting with a long piano trill that accelerates as fast arpeggios are heard in the clarinet. The vocals here are strongly declarative even as the accompaniment becomes more animated and intense. The feeling stops just short of anger, but is in clear contrast to the unguarded sensitivity of the opening movement. As the piece continued into the later movements, more stridency is heard in the voice which often dominates. The range of expression was impressively negotiated by Ms. Fraser, especially in the higher registers. A slower, more gentle section followed with a distinctly aspirational feel, highlighted by a finely wrought vocal passage set against a helpfully thin instrumental texture. This was followed, however, by darker colors that portrayed the feelings of frustration and helplessness that result as a close relationship comes to a regrettable end. I will learn to love a person is a powerful and intimate look at the many vulnerabilities that surface when personal relationships are in crisis.
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Jun
27
2017
Marc Sabat and JACK #8211; Harmony (CD)
Posted by Christian Carey in Canada, CD Review, CDs, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, File Under?, tags: Another Timbre, JACK Quartet, just intonation, Marc Sabat
Marc Sabat
Harmony
JACK Quartet
Canadian Composers Series #5
Another Timbre
Euler Spirals Scenery (2011), Claudiu Ptolemy (2008), Jean Philippe Rameau (2012)
A long time fixture on the Toronto scene as a string performer, improviser, and composer, Marc Sabat now resides in Berlin. However, he has taken his experimental penchant for tuning systems with him, writing in extended just intonation with a fluency that rivals Harry Partch and Ben Johnston鈥檚 own explorations of pitch. On the CD Harmony, JACK Quartet plays two quartets and a duo with rapt attention to the detailed nuances of Sabat鈥檚 pitch language and a keen sense of its corresponding flowing rhythms.
Euler Lattice Spirals Scenery (2011) is a five movement work that name checks various elements and personages of the intonation studies milieu. The first movement, Preludio, is subtitled 鈥淟es Quintes Justes鈥 and it indeed does deal with sustained pure fifths in evocative fashion. Two of the movements, numbers two and five respectively, are titled Pythagoras Drawing. Movements three and four are each dedicated to a different composer who has been influential on Sabat; they are titled Harmonium for Claude Vivier and Harmonium for Ben Johnston. Each successive movement sends us a little further into the dark forest of dissonant overtones that accumulate on top of 鈥淟es Quintes Justes.鈥 Thus, the entire piece can be seen as gradually revealing the compass of Sabat鈥檚 pitch palette.
Claudius Ptolemy (2008) is a duo, played by JACK violinist Christopher Otto and cellist Kevin McFarland (note: Jay Campbell now plays with the group). Open string double stops as well as dissonant intervals, harmonics, and ambling melodies combine in this adagio essay to make a fresh-sounding conglomeration of familiar playing techniques. The aforementioned 鈥渁mbling affect鈥 is one that Sabat shares with a number of his Canadian colleagues, not least Linda Catlin Smith, whose volume in the Canadian Composer Series (#1) appeared as a review here earlier in 2017. The final work on the Sabat CD is named after another important music theorist: Jean-Philippe Rameau (2012). Here the simultaneities are particularly fetching, with double-stops from multiple quartet members overlapping into beautiful chords. In one of his treatises( from 1737), Rameau struggled to describe the consonant and dissonant properties of just intonation: Sabat鈥檚 Rameau lays it out for all to hear with abundant clarity.聽
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Jun
23
2017
Dog Star 13 鈥 The Mean Harpsichord
Posted by Paul Muller in Concert review, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, Los Angeles
On Thursday, June 15, 2017 Dog Star Volume 13 landed at the Cal Arts campus for a concert titled The Mean Harpsichord. No fewer than three harpsichords were in place at The Wild Beast, where every chair was filled with someone interested in hearing experimental music at the cutting edge. The 2017 Dog Star Orchestra series, a local new music tradition since 2005, featured a total of eleven concerts this year and has been running at various locations all around Los Angeles since June 3.
The first piece on the concert program was Tasten, by Eva-Maria Houben and for this two harpsichords were employed, manned by Robert Holliday and Sepand Shahab. Two soft notes by Holliday began Tasten, followed by an extended silence. About 30 seconds later, and almost as an answer, three separate notes were heard from the second harpsichord. More silence followed, allowing the notes to ring out and slowly decay. This pattern continued with the sounding of one, two or a few notes by each harpsichord, followed by an extended silence between.
The two harpsichords seemed to alternate in turn, but not strictly, and the extended silences acted to draw the listener into a heightened level of concentration. It was as if each set of notes added a clue to some larger form or structure. There were occasional seven or eight note phrases, but no chords, and the sounds were never hurried. This is very spare music, and it often seemed like a quiet conversation between two people who know each other very well 鈥 perhaps after dinner on a dark porch #8211; with the long silences actually adding to the communication. The score for this was not conventionally notated, but was rather a page of instructions followed by several more pages of symbols and letters that gave the harpsichord players their cues. Tasten reduces pitch, rhythm and dynamic content to the minimum while at the same time raising the listeners awareness in ways that are not otherwise experienced in a conventional musical performance.
Arianna (Monteverdi) by Mark So followed, and for this some 10 musicians with their various instruments gathered while a field recording of street sounds and construction equipment was heard over the speaker system. A solemn, deep tone was heard from something like a small hand-pumped portable organ accompanied by softly sorrowful notes from a violin. Harpsichords joined in as well as a cello, creating a feeling of disconnection and loneliness that was very effective in combination with the impersonal sounds coming from the field recording. All of this was slow and stately #8211; there was nothing rapid or with a rhythmic beat. The texture was smooth and lush, and some lovely harmonies were heard at times among the various instrument groupings. A pop tune and then some faint voices were heard in the field recording that contrasted with a series of low, mournful chords from the portable organ and strings. The strongly expressive feel of this piece was the result of distributing small sections of an original Claudio Monteverdi score to the various acoustic instruments. There was no effort to quote this music per se, but rather fragments of chords and harmonies were employed in diverse ways to create the richly haunting mood. Arianna (Monteverdi) is an impressive example of the creation of a new contemporary piece fashioned from the musical DNA of a 17th century Italian master.
Shadow Earth, by Michael Pisaro was next and this was performed by Sepand Shahab at the harpsichord. This began quietly with a few short sequences of notes, followed by some simple chords that unfolded into a modest dissonance as the piece progressed. Counterpoint appeared in the lower registers and this led to a series of thick chords that precipitated a dark, mysterious feel. There was no continuous beat or pulse in this music, but rather a sequence of brief, disconnected passages; sometimes these included chords with harmony and at other times just a few singular notes. It was very much the musical equivalent of a woodcut relief print 鈥 where the total is the sum of the ink markings and the white space #8211; so that the viewer #8217;s brain forms the completed image. The abstraction of the sound that is heard in this piece partners with the listener #8217;s imagination. Shadow Earth nicely evokes the contrasting darkness and light of shadows in the same way 鈥 the music paints only a part of the image and the listener completes the picture.
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Jun
21
2017
LA Percussion Quartet #8211; Beyond (CD)
Posted by Christian Carey in CD Review, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, File Under?, Percussion, tags: Andrew McIntosh, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Chris Cerrone, Daniel Bjarnason, Ellen Reid, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Percussion Quartet
Los Angeles Percussion Quartet
Beyond
Works by Daniel Bjarnason, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Christopher Cerrone, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh
Sono Luminus 2XCD
Los Angeles Percussion Quartet performs on聽one聽of the most compelling releases of early 2017.聽Beyond聽(Sono Luminus, June 16, 2017)聽is a double-disc helping of new works for percussion ensemble by聽Daniel Bjarnason, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Christopher Cerrone, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh.聽All of these composers are up and coming stars in the new music world. Both Reid and Cerrone are New Yorkers (Reid is now based in NY and LA) who have taken Los Angeles by storm in recent seasons with opera and orchestra projects.聽Bjarnason and Thorvaldsdottir are Icelandic composers who both have a strong connection to the West Coast. McIntosh is very strongly identified with the LA scene, as a composer, string performer, and the guiding force behind聽Populist Records,聽one of the most interesting experimental labels out there (here is my recent review of a Populist release by聽Daniel Corral).
One of the fascinating things to hear on Beyond聽is the way in which each composer translates their musical approach to the percussive idiom. Thus, Bjarnason #8217;s penchant for dynamic and scoring contrasts is demonstrated in聽Qui Tollis,聽a composition equally compelling in both its pianissimo and聽fortissimo聽passages.聽Thorvaldsdottir #8217;s聽Aura聽maintains its creator #8217;s fascination with pitched timbres and colorful clouds of harmony; these are deployed with a deft sense of ensemble interplay. Cerrone imports acoustic guitar and electronics in the five-movement suite聽Memory Palace.聽The places he references are familiar to New Yorkers, from the pastoral hues of #8220;Harriman #8221; to the tense ostinatos of #8220;L.I.E. #8221; (Long Island Expressway, for those of you who have the blissful fortune to be unaware of this stress-filled commuter highway), and his depictions ring true.聽Fear-Release聽by Reid presents a dramatic use of unfurling cells of rhythmic activity alongside pensive pitched percussion. Its coda for metallophones is particularly fetching; after all of the built up tension of the piece #8217;s main body, it serves as a kind of exhalation.
The culminating, and most substantial, work on the recording is McIntosh #8217;s I Hold the Lion #8217;s Paw,聽a nine-movement long piece some three quarters of an hour in duration. Much of its composer #8217;s music concerns itself with microtones and alternate tunings #8211; he is experienced in playing both Early music #8217;s temperaments as well as contemporary explorations of tuning. Thus it is no surprise that McIntosh #8217;s pitch template for聽I Hold the Lion #8217;s Paw聽is an extended one. However, this is just one aspect of a multi-faceted piece, which also makes extensive use of low drums and cymbals for a ritualistic colloquy. Still more ritualized, taking on an almost sacramental guise, is the pouring of water and striking of ceramics filled with water. Every percussionist I know loves an instrument-making assignment and McIntosh doesn #8217;t disappoint: DIY elements include aluminum pipes, cut to fit. None of the elements of this significant battery of instruments seems out of place: despite the use of water,聽I Hold the Lion #8217;s Paw聽is no #8220;kitchen sink #8221; piece. On the contrary, it is a thoughtfully constructed and sonically beguiling composition. Several excellent percussion ensembles are currently active: Los Angeles Percussion Quartet is certainly an estimable member of this elite cohort.
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